Category Archives: Western Films

The Magnificent Seven-1960

The Magnificent Seven-1960

Director-John Sturges

Starring-Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen

Scott’s Review #961

Reviewed November 22, 2019

Grade: B-

The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a western in the classic sense that will satisfy fans of the genre. It features Hollywood stars of the day in heroic roles that give an aura of nationalism and conservative Americana. Other than a wonderful musical score, a pleasant romance, and some male bonding, the film feels quite dated with racial overtones that probably were not as irksome in the 1960’s as they are now. The film is a remake of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai.

The bullied residents of a small Mexican village decide to hire seven American gunslingers to defeat a gang of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach), who terrorize the villager on a regular basis. The gunslingers are led by Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) and feature Vin (Steve McQueen), Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn), Harry (Brad Dexter), Britt (James Coburn), and Chico (Horst Buchholz). Each is distinctive in some way- Lee is a veteran while Vin is a drifter, and so on.

The musical score is to be praised for its high energy and adventurous timing especially during key scenes. The introduction of the seven gunslingers is fun and popular for the western genre, especially in television series of the time. Considering most of the cast were handsome leading men this is a treat for audiences. The music also infuses the film with some pizzazz and is perfect for the genre that it is.

A romance between the hot-blooded Chico and gorgeous Mexican girl, Petra also works. An unlikely pairing, the couple has resounding chemistry and a West Side Story style connection. Not supposed to be attracted to one another, or hardly soul mates, the two blessedly share a happily-ever-after roll-up as the entire film does. Westerns in the 1960’s were meant to be crowd pleasing and not especially daring. Chico and Petra are a nice addition and provide a bit of diversity.

The swagger of Brynner and McQueen is filled with machismo that in a different film might be annoying, but in The Magnificent Seven, works. They both look great, are clearly in their prime, and are well suited for a feature meant to satisfy the tastes of men and make the women swoon. They prance around on their horses looking serious, cool and confident. But the film’s target demographic is clearly men and not teenage girls.

The over-arching story is irritating. The viewer is supposed to believe that the Mexican men are so incompetent that they do not even know how to shoot a gun or how to defend themselves. This seems to be a gimmick and a pro-American stance more than a reality. The gunslingers swoop in and take complete control showing the Mexicans how real men fight. It’s silly and trite and an obvious plot device. Contrived and offensive but common for the genre.

During the middle of the film the story meanders and the thirst for the inevitable, climactic finale makes the viewer a bit restless. Finally, we are treated to the battle between good and bad where much blood is spilled and even a few of the gunslingers are slain. Laughable, is how the characters die on cue but still look great while dying. The finale is marginally satisfying but predictable in its outcome.

Made during a time when the western was a popular genre and a box office success, decades later the film feels dated and rather unnecessary. Featuring big stars of the day this is not surprising and better genre films with more grit were soon to be on the way, think The Wild Bunch (1967), and are superior to The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Giant-1956

Giant-1956

Director-George Stevens

Starring-Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean

Scott’s Review #898

Reviewed May 14, 2019

Grade: A

Giant (1956) is a sweeping epic firmly ensconced in both the western genre and the dramatic field of play. The film is a flawless Hollywood production featuring three of the most recognizable stars of the time, as well as a slew of powerful supporting actors offering rich performances and good characterizations. The thunderous melodrama plays out over the span of decades with the dry and dusty locale and the superb cinematography one of the finest aspects of the grandiose film experience.

Dashing and wealthy Texas rancher Jordan Bick Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson), falls in love with and marries socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) after a whirlwind romance in Maryland. The pair begin their married life on Bick’s immaculate Texas ranch but not before two central figures thwart their happiness. Jett Rink (James Dean) falls obsessively in love with Leslie while Bick’s sister, Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge) despises Leslie, taking out her vengeance on Leslie’s horse. The trials and tribulations continue as the characters age through the years.

The trifecta of talents Taylor, Hudson, and Dean make Giant the ultimate in treats as one fawns over the good looks of each (or all!) of them over the lengthy three hour and eleven minutes of illustrious screen-time. Making for more powerful poignancy is that the film is Dean’s final appearance on-screen before his tragic death by car accident, his death occurring before the film was even released to the public.

Dean plays Jett to the hilt as a surly ranch hand jealous of the riches that Bick possesses and wanting to take Bick’s woman for himself. Jett is an unsympathetic character and the one I find the most interesting. Rivals for decades, Jett and Bick’s lives overlap continuously as Jett finally becomes rich and dates Bick and Leslie’s daughter much to their chagrin. The character of Jett is a racist- common in the early to mid-1900’s, especially in southwestern Texas. Sadly, the character never finds happiness, which is a main part of his depth.

The screenplay is peppered with important and relevant social issues that provide a sophistication and humanistic approach. The film inches towards a liberal slant as the plot progresses, the most famous example occurring in the final act as the Benedict’s stop at a roadside diner with a racist sign, implying the restaurant will not serve Mexican’s. Bick takes a dramatic stance and shows heart as his family, now multi-racial, needs his help. Culminating in a fight, the scene reveals the enduring love that Bick and Leslie share for one another.

Criticisms of the films enormous length and scope are wrong as these aspects deepen the film and components I find the most appealing. Director, George Stevens never rushes through a scene or makes superfluous edits to limit running-time. Rather, he allows each scene to marinate and graze, just like real-life would. Lengthy scenes play out with real conversations and slow build-ups allowing character’s opinions and motivations to take shape slowly.

On the surface a drama and western, the film can be peeled back like an onion to reveal deeper nuances. The racism, love story, and class structure ideals are mesmerizing especially given the true to life humanitarian that Taylor was. One can sit back and revel in the knowledge that she must have been enjoying the rich character.

Along with great epics like Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1963), and The Godfather (1972) sits a film that is rarely mentioned with the other stalwart films and that is a shame. With magnificent shot after shot of the vast Texas land and with enough gorgeous stars to rival the landscape, Giant (1956) is a must-see. A western soap-opera with terrific writing, rife with racism, prosperity and fortitude, the film deserves more praise than it’s given.

Once Upon a Time in the West-1968

Once Upon a Time in the West-1968

Director-Sergio Leone

Starring-Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #886

Reviewed April 17, 2019

Grade: A

At one time dismissed as either frivolous or cartoon-like, the derogatory genre classification “spaghetti western” originally played for goofs or contained a comical slant associated with bad lip syncing. Many of these films have aged tremendously well though and now have come to be appreciated more and ensconced in cinematic study.  Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is a lesson in camp art that marinates like a fine steak drizzling with texture and good atmosphere across a sprawling two hour and forty-six-minute landscape.

In a great sequence, the film begins with a mysterious harmonica-playing gunman (Charles Bronson), dubbed “Harmonica” for reasons eventually revealed shooting three men sent to kill him. Meanwhile, to get his hands-on prized railroad land in Sweetwater, crippled railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) hires killers, led by blue-eyed baddie Frank (Henry Fonda), who murder property owner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family. Immediately, the film exudes intensity with a severe revenge theme.

The story develops further with romance mixed in western style as McBain’s newly arrived bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), inherits the land instead. Jill is a former prostitute who catches the eye of most of the men she encounters. Both outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and Harmonica take it upon themselves to look after Jill and thwart Frank’s plans to seize her land. With standard western flare they are both attracted to Jill and yearn for her affections while also feeling protective over her.

Not professing to be enamored with the western genre- the stereotypical Cowboys and Indians and token damsel in distress have their limitations- Once Upon a Time in the West is a feast for the eyes and the ears with cinematography on par with Lawrence of Arabia (1963) and a killer musical score.  While the story may have a traditional backbone, the nuances are astounding. The sweeping mountains of the western United States feature heavily, and the tension infused music sets up every thrilling scene with gusto and foreboding tendencies.

Hot on the heels of another similarly themed masterpiece The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966) Leone delivers the goods at every turn most notably setting up each scene with sizzling elements that emit a clear sense of danger. The audience knows trouble is about to transpire but not exactly when the shit will hit the fan. The family death scene is paced astoundingly well as the family merrily goes about preparing a delicious summer meal unaware that destruction is around the corner.

Sure, the cast is a mix of American and Italian actors with varying degrees of accents not exactly mirroring the Wild West. Yes, Jill wears heavy mascara and a hairstyle straight out of the 1960’s and one character has brightly dyed red hair, but these intricacies give the film character rather than turn the production into a disheveled mess.

Forever known for heroic or every man roles Fonda plays against type instead cast as the central and sadistic villain, and the result is superlative. Leone’s ability to cast a legendary star in a production with little expectations is quite a feat and Fonda seems to revel in the role playing him dangerous and straight. With his piercing blue eyes and a gaze sure to make children run away in terror his brutal villainy is only wholly realized at the film’s conclusion.

Dozens of iconic comparisons to modern directing genius Quentin Tarantino’s style can be drawn upon. The director undoubtedly watched and studied this film repeatedly as numerous qualities mirror his own films. Viewers will delight at drawing these comparisons including a harmonica reference, the revenge story, and the climactic reveal at the end of the film via flashback pulling all the pieces together.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) is a quality film that has finally gotten its due. Tremendous and compelling story-telling are combined with flavorful qualities and a dusty atmosphere. The film is the sum of all its parts and while at first underappreciated has finally risen to the ranks of high-quality masterpiece. Influencing many great directors like Martin Scorsese and George Lucas and Tarantino is quite a testament to its staying power.

Django Unchained-2012

Django Unchained-2012

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz

Scott’s Review #699

Reviewed November 26, 2017

Grade: A

Quentin Tarantino, the brilliant film-maker, can do very little wrong in my opinion, and he releases yet another masterpiece with 2012’s Django Unchained, a western story centering around the delicate subject matter of slavery. As with several other of the talented director’s stories, the main focal point here is a revenge driven tale with plenty of bloody scenes and stylistic ferociousness, making Django Unchained yet another masterpiece in the Tarantino collection. Certainly not for the faint of heart, the film will please fans of film creativity and artistic achievement.

As with many Tarantino films a stellar cast is used and each actor cast to perfection- it seems almost every actor in Hollywood is dying to appear in the director’s films- this time Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson are the lucky ones, all featured in prominent roles- not surprisingly the acting is top-notch. An interesting facet to note is that whomever appears in a Tarantino film seems to be having the time of their lives- what creative freedom and interesting material to experience. A comparable director to Tarantino- as far as recruiting fine actors- is Robert Altman- also tremendously popular with talent.

The saga begins with clear western flair as Django Freeman (Foxx) is led through the scorching heat of Texas with a group of other black slaves, presumably to be sold by their abusive white captors- the time is 1858 and abolition of slavery has not yet occurred, in fact the Civil War is still two years away. Doctor King Schultz (Waltz) , a former dentist and current bounty hunter, is on a mission to find and kill the Brittle brothers and realizes that Django can help him find the men. To complicate matters, Django has been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Washington) and vows to find her and avenge her abductors. As circumstances lead Schultz and Django to a vast Tennessee estate, the duo become business partners and friends. The race to rescue Broomhilda takes the pair to sunny (and equally hot) Mississippi- the home of vicious Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) and his dreaded “Candyland”.

The crackling heat and the atmospheric nature of Django Unchained combined with the revenge theme make the film an immeasurable success. An ode to spaghetti westerns of yesteryear, the film incorporates similar music and grit so that the end result is a modernized version of those films, with lots more blood and violence. Certainly, slavery is a tough subject matter to tackle, especially when members of the Ku Klux Klan are featured, but Tarantino does so effortlessly, and as Django gains revenge on his tormentors, there is major audience satisfaction to be enjoyed. The indignities and downright abuse that several black characters suffer can be quite tough to sit through.

The climactic dinner scene in Mississippi is splendid and the best sequence of the film. Schultz and Django dine with Calvin at his spectacular mansion. Calvin’s sinister and loyal house slave (Jackson) suspects a devious plan is about to be hatched and a vicious shoot-out erupts between the parties involved. The ingenious and long sequence is a cat-and-mouse affair with all of the characters carefully tiptoeing around the others in fear of being revealed or discovered as fakes. The scene is exceptional in its craft as we watch the characters dine on delectable food and drink, all the while motivations bubble under the surface.

Django Unchained is not for film-goers seeking either a linear story or a mainstream piece of blockbuster movie-making-Tarantino is not a typical Hollywood guy. The film is exceptionally carved and constructed in a way that challenges the viewer to endure what some of the characters (specifically Django and Broomhilda) are made to go through. This discomfort and horror makes the inevitable revenge all the more sweet and satisfying.

Quentin Tarantino has created masterpiece after masterpiece throughout his filmography of work. Proudly, I can herald 2012’s  Django Unchained as one of the unique directors very finest and will be sure to be remembered decades and decades in the future as being able to challenge, provoke thought, and satisfy legions of his fans.

Johnny Guitar-1954

Johnny Guitar-1954

Director-Nicholas Ray

Starring-Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden

Scott’s Review #655

Reviewed June 15, 2017

Grade: B-

Johnny Guitar is an interesting film to review for a few reasons, but most distinct is for its challenging of the traditional mold of the classic western- front and center is an aggressive and strong willed woman, and a saloon owner no less, who is engaged in an antagonistic feud with another woman-with a similar disposition. Of course, since the film stars legendary screen actress Joan Crawford, she ought to be a strong character. The writing of the film is not brilliant and other western stereotypes abound, but Johnny Guitar is a decent watch-mostly for Crawford.

In the middle of an Arizona cattle town, circa the Wild West days, Vienna (Crawford) is a gorgeous and brazen woman, who owns the local watering hole, frequented by less than savory men. Vienna welcomes the men mostly because one of them is a former boyfriend. The rest of the town, led by Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), despises Vienna and her support of the incoming railroad, sure to make Vienna rich.

After a bank robbery, Vienna is pursued by Emma and the town into a standoff, in which lynchings, shootings, and fires encompass the rest of the film. Mixed in with the drama is a romance between Vienna and handsome guitarist, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), and some musical numbers, but mostly the film is a shoot ’em up led by women.

Let’s take the good with the bad surrounding the film- any picture starring Joan Crawford gets some credit in my book and the role of Vienna is certainly unchartered territory for the glamorous star. Tough talking, gun slinging, and with a short hairdo, rumors abounded that the character of Vienna was gay and in love with her arch enemy Emma. Perhaps, decades later, this might have transpired, but this was 1950’s Hollywood, after all. No, Crawford still dazzles with heavy makeup and bright red lips and is ever so feminine despite the masculine outfit.

Clever, especially for 1954 westerns, is having a tough female character in the central role and this bolsters Johnny Guitar above middling. Typically a genre that sticks to the tried and true, the main female rivalry between Vienna and Emma is the best part of the film, but sadly the back story is never fully explored. Why do they hate each other? Were they in love with the same man? Is their hatred simply because they are the only women in the town?

A chase scene, and the climax of the film is also quite good. How delightful to see Crawford prancing around in peril, riding a horse, and swimming in a creek. The film turns into a good, old fashioned adventure, and the cinematography and exterior sets are not bad.

Two aspects of Johnny Guitar stood out to me as negatives. The romance between Vienna and Johnny Guitar does not work. For starters, Crawford seems much too old for Hayden as Johnny and I never felt any chemistry between the characters- the back story scene with the reveal that they were once an “item” is weak. Besides Emma there are no other female characters at all (a coincidence?), which is a strange aspect to the film. One wonders if this was Crawford’s demand? (but I digress). The romance between the duo is lackluster, though admittedly, I did feel rooting factor for them as the final chapter commenced and the pair was in danger.

The storytelling is only mediocre as I never felt invested in the writing and the entire script feels silly and cheap. The story is laid out in a basic way- Vienna is told by (arguably) the leader of the town, Ward Bond, to close up shop and leave town within twenty-four hours or else there will be hell to pay. When some of the men rob a bank and plan to depart for California, Vienna is blamed in a sloppy contrived plot device, and is set to be hanged. The script is not the high point of the film.

For a gender bending experience and the fabulous addition of Ms. Crawford, Johnny Guitar is worth a watch, but do not expect a masterpiece in storytelling or to be dazzled by character development. Fans of the classic western may be disappointed.

High Noon-1952

High Noon-1952

Director-Fred Zinneman

Starring-Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly

Scott’s Review #638

Reviewed April 28, 2017

Grade: A

Billed as a standard western, but much more complex a film as a traditional, basic western, High Noon accomplished what no other western did in 1952- adding complexities from other genres , such as suspense and drama, to a film form. Additionally, High Noon challenged typical western themes such as male driven fights and chases, in favor of a moral and emotional approach, and oh is the film ever character driven.

The end results are astounding and the film ought to be studied in film school to understand and appreciate all of the elements going on. High Noon breaks the mold in a hearty way, being released at a time when the mainstream western was quite popular in film adding enormous risk-the results paid off in spades.

Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just wed his beloved bride, Amy (Grace Kelly), in a small ceremony in a tiny town in New Mexico. He plans to turn over his badge and retire to the prairie land with his new wife. Suddenly, the town receives word that a dastardly villain, Frank Miller, who was once sent away by Kane, has been released from a Texas prison, and plans to exact revenge on Kane. Miller is to arrive on the noon train as his three accomplices await his arrival, much to the chagrin of the rest of the town, who become panicked with each passing moment. The film begins at approximately ten thirty in the morning and ends shortly after noon.

High Noon has subtle yet prominent political themes and the messages taken from the film are clear examples of McCarthyism, though this is disputed by some. McCarthyism was a campaign launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy, which ended up blacklisting many artists suspected of communism. The main theme is how a group of people become frightened and blame and attack one another as a result of this fear. Our main protagonist (Kane) is faced with the dire feat of facing four angry gunmen, with revenge on their minds, alone, as a town full of people choose not to get involved.

Brilliant is that High Noon more or less takes place in real time. The inclusion of clocks in the film, and specifically of pendulums swaying back and forth creates a defined level of tension as character after character nervously glances at the time, knowing full well that with each passing minute they inch closer and closer to a fantastic and deadly showdown- much blood will be shed.

Cooper, old enough to be Kelly’s grandfather, is noticeable if one chooses to be nit picky, but the couple really do work well together and I bought the happily wedded couple as genuine.

I adore the character of Helen Ramirez, played by actress Katy Jurado. A Mexican character, Ramirez is a prominent business woman in the small town, owning a saloon. She is empowered, and confident, a character to admire regardless of one’s gender. A strong female character of Mexican heritage in film in 1952 was quite uncommon, also keeping in mind the film is set in the wild west.

Equally impressive and completely backwards for the time, the events of Amy coming to the rescue of Kane, instead of the standard, gender specific, “man rescues woman”, challenge the norm. Further groundbreaking is that Amy is written as a Quaker woman, not the traditional Christian woman, nor is she skittish or silly. Western stereotypes are completely turned upside down in the film which is arguably way ahead of its time.

Eerie, yet highly effective, is the use of a “theme song” either being sung or in another form (musical score or background music) throughout the film- the song is “Do Not Foresake Me, My Darling”, which became a hit forTex Ritter. Worth mentioning is that the success of this added “theme song” encouraged subsequent westerns to add similar songs to their films.

Challenging the standard in many ways, High Noon sets the bar very high in its thoughtfulness, its message, and its personal conflict. The film is an example of persons taking the film world and turning it upside down, the results being fantastic and inspiring.

Unforgiven-1992

Unforgiven-1992

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman

Scott’s Review #596

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: A-

Winning the 1992 Best Picture Academy Award, Unforgiven is a beautifully shot, well crafted Western film, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The film differs from that of classic westerns in that it questions the meaning of violence and is of a moral fiber. Eastwood was clearly influenced by director Sergio Leone.

Eastwood also stars in the film as William Munny, a former cold blooded murderer, is now retired and living as a farmer, a widower due to violence against his deceased wife. He is talked out of retirement to help kill some shady cowboys.

Unforgiven is a dark film and definitely character driven- certainly centering mostly on Eastwood’s character. Why does Munny really come out of retirement? Is he lusting after blood or enjoy the satisfaction of revenge?

The cinematography is second to none with gorgeous western United States locales and beautiful landscapes.

The film admittedly drags a bit at times, but is rich in character development and questions the motives of its central characters, which in itself is much deeper than most western, shoot ’em up style of films.

True Grit-2010

True Grit-2010

Director-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring-Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #525

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Reviewed November 24, 2016

Grade: A-

Having not seen the original, 1969 version of True Grit,  starring John Wayne,  I cannot compare the two, but the remake is excellent. I do not profess to being the greatest fan of the western genre as the stereotypes are usually peppered throughout and the good versus bad cliches done to death, but True Grit is a different, contemporary western. Fantastic looking with numerous big, current stars, humour, and quirkiness.

True Grit is definitely a mainstream (in camera and style) Hollywood Western (the Coen Bros. usually are more gritty in their stories), but a well made one. The odd supporting characters make this film fantastic and there is an edge to it that enamored me. The film also contains some Quentin Tarantino elements making it left of center in some ways.

It tells the story of a tomboy-like fourteen year old girl, Mattie Ross, also the narrator of the film, who hires an aging U.S. Marshal to avenge her fathers death. The story is well told, the cinematography and attention to detail are great, giving off a crisp feel of really being in the Wild West.

Bone Tomahawk-2015

Bone Tomahawk-2015

Director-S. Craig Zahler

Starring-Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson

Scott’s Review #403

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Reviewed May 10, 2016

Grade: B+

Bone Tomahawk, unfortunately a film from 2015 that almost nobody saw or heard of, is a unique independent horror/western hybrid, that has strong influences of Quentin Tarantino, and contains an impressive cast for such a low profile film. Bone Tomahawk is the proverbial diamond in the rough and is worth seeing for film fans with patience enough to sit through the slow moving pace in order to get to the good stuff, which largely comes in the final thirty minutes of the film.

Notably, the film was recognized by the Independent film committee and received two spirit awards, that for Best Supporting Male (Richard Jenkins), and for Best Screenplay- it won neither.

The film really does not have a “star”, but rather a myriad of heavy hitters in a clear ensemble. Kurt Russell plays Franklin Hunt, sheriff of a tiny town named Bright Hope, presumably somewhere in the west (Wyoming?) circa 1890. His deputy sheriff, Chicory,  is played by Jenkins.

When drifters kill some travelers, they accidentally stumble upon a mysterious Native American burial ground and taint its contents, leaving one brutally murdered by the tribe. The other (played by David Arquette) stumbles into Bright Hope and is immediately deemed suspicious. When he, a female Doctor’s assistant, and a young local man disappear, it is realized that they have been abducted by the owners of the burial ground, who are feared to be cannibalistic savages. Hunt, Chicory, a foreman named Arthur (the doctor’s assistants wife), played by Patrick Wilson, along with a local playboy played by Matthew Fox, decide to trek long terrain to find and rescue the missing.

The pacing of the film is extremely slow and this will undoubtedly turn off some folks seeking slicker, high-tech viewing, or even some CGI, but the payoff for patience is immense. To be fair, the groups trek through the desert in pursuit of the accosted seems endless, and I did have thoughts of what the point was, but the forthcoming turn of events makes this tedium worth it.

In defense of the long plodding journey, this aspect does make the audience get to know and begin to care about the characters- some make it out alive, others are not as lucky. The fun part is finding out who does and doesn’t.

Bone Tomahawk contains one of the most gruesome scenes that I have ever witnessed in my thousands of viewed films. A male character, nude, is brutally scalped and a spear is hammered into his throat in full view of the prisoners. As if this is not shocking enough, he is then turned upside down, split down the middle, and chopped in half, as his insides spill to the ground. The snapping sounds of his bones and the visual horror of the guts are even tough for the non-squeamish to view.

It is uncanny that Kurt Russell plays a very similar character in another 2015 film- the much higher profile, The Hateful Eight. Sure, in the latter he is a bounty hunter, but the time period, setting, and costumes are almost identical. One might wonder which was made first.

Bone Tomahawk is a guys movie, but not in the traditional sense- there are no explosions, no unnecessary machismo, or apparent clichés. But at the end of the day it is a western- the cast is mainly male- besides the Doctor’s assistant, the only other females are wives with small roles. The most glaring is Sean Young- given hardly anything to do in what amounted to a cameo appearance. Otherwise, the Native American females- blind, deaf, pregnant, and missing appendages are the only other females in sight.

A unique hybrid of film genres, Bone Tomahawk is a clever, different experience. I am a champion of independent film and this film is a good example of why I am. Evidently, with a stellar cast of A-list or former A-list stars banding together to make a piece of art, it seems others champion good film too.

River of No Return-1954

River of No Return-1954

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe

Scott’s Review #385

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Reviewed March 15, 2016

Grade: B-

A departure in genre and character for the iconic Marilyn Monroe, most notable for playing “bubble gum” roles,  in the 1954 film River of No Return she plays a dance hall singer living in 1875 northwestern United States. The film is of western genre with gorgeous scenery, some authentic and some staged, but the look of the film is a great selling point for me, as well as the performance and appeal of Monroe. However, the story has major negatives, mainly that it is not very compelling nor is it interesting, not to mention existing plot holes throughout.

The crux of the story is as follows- A widower, Matt Calder (Robert Mitchum), arrives in a tent city in pursuit of his ten-year old son, Mark, left in the care of Kay (Monroe), while the man who delivered the boy to the town has taken off for the hills. What follows is a mis-mash of storyline involving Matt, Mark, and Kay being chased by Indians, a love triangle of sorts between Kay, Matt, and Kay’s fiancé Harry, and the father/son reconciliation between Matt and Mark.

The story is not the strong point of the film, nevertheless it is certainly where the high drama exists.  Despite it being characterized as a western, a stark contrast to most Marilyn Monroe films, it appears a soft western with a romantic slant. There are some kills, to be sure, with vicious wild animals, guns, and knives prevalent, giving it an outdoorsy, naturalistic feel.

The film lacks a stream-lined direction and does not seem to know where it’s headed. Is it intended to be an all-out western, a romance, or some hybrid? Why does the story ultimately not work? I sensed a snippet of chemistry between Mitchum and Monroe, though they were hardly Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh. In fact, one could argue that Matt does not treat Kay very well and it is surprising that Matt is portrayed as the hero in River of No Return. Close to the middle of the film, while camping along the river, he attempts to rape Kay, where she struggles and ultimately submits. Then, almost as quickly, this fact is forgotten and the story forages forward as a love story. Huh? At times the film almost seems spliced together from a story perspective and it is just not that compelling or memorable.

As an aside, and upon some research, River of No Return was riddled with problems and setbacks amid shooting, most notably  drama existing with Monroe’s needed on-set acting coach who conflicted with director Otto Preminger, and star Robert Mitchum’s heavy drinking. Then there was Monroe’s broken ankle and numerous weather issues. Publicly, Monroe later stated that River of No Return was her least favorite film that she appeared in. Let’s just say that the gods were not with this film.

River of No Return is certainly an uneven film with a lackluster story and odd chemistry among the characters, but contains a marginal appeal to me, mainly due to the talents of Monroe, who carries the weight of an otherwise quite lackluster and forgetable film.

The Revenant-2015

The Revenant-2015

Director-Alejandro Inarritu

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #371

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Reviewed January 27, 2016

Grade: A

The Revenant is a fantastic 2015 film that is filled with intensity, great visual camera work/direction, and showcases the acting talents of one of modern cinema’s dynamic performers in Leonardo DiCaprio, who shines every minute he is on-screen. Almost all of the filming takes place outdoors (the American frontier time period), and is a revenge tale, only adding to the excitement and beauty of the film.

The film is set in the 1820’s, and we are immediately introduced to a large party of hunters and trappers in remote Wyoming as the film opens.  Right off the bat I was struck by the picturesque scenery. Shortly thereafter, we are treated to a compelling (and bloody) battle between the trappers and a tribe of Native American Indians. The Louisiana Purchase has just been passed, which has lead to tensions between various parties causing both conflict and blood to spill. The hunters are decimated so the remaining group must flee on foot, hoping to return to safety hundreds of miles away. The main character, Glass  (DiCaprio),  later receives a terrible injury and the main crux of the story develops as we embark on a tale of his desperation to survive and exact revenge on the men responsible for leaving him to die.

The film is a lesson in endurance. Glass is arguably put through almost every punishment imaginable and we wonder what more he can possibly endure. The film belongs to two actors- Dicaprio and Tom Hardy as the villainous John Fitzgerald- a hunter with a major rivalry with Glass. The film parlays into a revenge tale between the two characters. DiCaprio is a gem in this film- not only is he compelling from a physical standpoint- he looks broken, battered, and bruised, but DiCaprio gives a performance that I am fond of- he acts non-verbally. In one crucial scene, Glass is unable to move or speak as a violent act is committed. He is desperate yet helpless- the range of emotions that are portrayed by DiCaprio are astounding. The pain, hurt, and frustration are evident on his face and we sympathize greatly. This is a powerful performance by DiCaprio.

Tom Hardy is certainly compelling in his own right as the scoundrel he portrays. We despise this character and all of his dirty deeds and Hardy successfully pours all of his energy into this grizzled role. Hardy, quite handsome in real-life, is transformed into a partially scalped, dirty man. His fate at the end of the film is a clever aspect of The Revenant that helps make it not a typical run-of-the-mill western, but something so much more.

The, by now, infamous “bear scene” is second to none. How this compelling scene was shot is beyond me, but the end result is a realism I have seldom witnessed in film. The scene is so prolonged and violent that one will wish it comes to a conclusion quickly. A surprise comes that rivals any horror film.

The film is directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and following a vastly different type of film (Birdman), he does a wonderful job. The Revenant is arguably a “guy’s movie”.  There are almost no women featured and the ones that are are not treated well, which is unfortunate, however, sadly most likely true of the times. Interesting to note though, is Inarritu decided to have a female victim enact revenge on her abuser in a satisfying (though squeamish moment for the male viewer).

I found The Revenant to have definite left-wing leanings- the age-old controversy of the white man taking the Indians land is explored and the film has a way of bringing this up more than once as well as not making the Indian tribes “bad”, but rather sympathetic, especially since the character of Glass marries and Indian woman and bears a son with her.

Gorgeous cinematography morphed with a wonderful and intriguing story and peppered with brutality. The Revenant succeeds on every level and sets an important precedent for a film about perseverance in the face of hopelessness.

The Hateful Eight-2015

The Hateful Eight-2015

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #319

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Reviewed January 3, 2016

Grade: A

Quentin Tarantino does it again! The modern equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, or any of the great directors, his films are an experience to be reveled in.  The viewer is taken to another world and experiences a great fantasy. This time he dives into western territory with The Hateful Eight, a brutal tale of eight strangers holed up in a shelter during a Wyoming blizzard sometime shortly after the Civil war. Another gem of a film that delivers blood, unique characters, and brilliant writing.

We are introduced to Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) early on, as Marquis hitches a ride on John’s stagecoach.  They are both bounty hunters heading to Red Rock to deliver their prisoners and collect a large sum of loot. Marquis has three dead bodies, but John has captured brutal female criminal Daisy Domergue, played wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh, alive and well. The group then picks up the new Red Rock sheriff, Chris Mannix, who is headed there to accept his new position.  Everyone is in a panic to reach safety before a vicious blizzard hits and the group comes to a shelter where they meet the other films principals, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Oswaldo (Tim Roth), Marco the Mexican (Demian Bichir), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern). These eight make up “The Hateful Eight” in the title.

The setting could not be better. The cold, wintry blizzard and the grand mountains of the west are authentic. However, most of the film is set inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, an inn, of sorts, where the eight (and some others) spend most of the film.  I found the setting tremendously effective as the howling wind,  the driving snow through the windows, mixed with the glowing warmth of the lighting and the hot, steaming, soothing  stew that they ate, and the hot coffee, which is ingeniously featured throughout the film. These hot and cold elements contrasted so well.

Shot in 70 mm film to ensure a wide screen, epic look, the film succeeds in the snowy, outdoor scenes, though I am not sure I would notice this camera style without it having been touted with the release of the film.

The characters bristle with authenticity and engagement and each one is interesting in his or her own right- even the secondary characters. My personal favorites are John “The Hangman”, Daisy, Marquis, and Sandy Smithers. John is probably the most likable character of the bunch and Kurt Russell (almost unrecognizable under the thick beard), gives the character charm and wit. As the story unfolds, each character is mysterious and their motives unclear, which makes the film fun. Are some in secret cahoots with others? When someone poisons the coffee, a whodunit erupts. This is the beauty of the film- the characters motivations slowly come into play and a slow reveal occurs.

The gore/violence is fantastic. Without revealing too much, there are many deaths and the film is non-linear, the middle portion of the story occurring before the first section. In fact, to keep things organized, Tarantino divides the film into chapters, and at over three hours long, the film is a monster. I like how Tarantino features interracial an relationship (black inn owner Minnie and her white husband).

Favorite scenes include the vomiting blood sequence and the extremely brutal scene of severing of a characters arm.  There is also the scene of Marquis dragging a victimized, naked soldier through the snow that is intense and shocking, involving a brutal sodomy.

As with all of Tarantino films, the characters are cartoonish and not to be taken completely seriously and the violence will undoubtedly offend some, but that is the beauty of his films. A masterful work by a masterful modern director.

The Searchers-1956

The Searchers-1956

Director-John Ford

Starring-John Wayne, Natalie Wood

Scott’s Review #148

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Reviewed August 5, 2014

Grade: B+

The Searchers is an example of a classic film, considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, that took me a few viewings to appreciate and that I now admire more and more with each subsequent viewing. I now understand why it is on many Best films of all time lists. To be clear, I do not think it’s quite that great, but understand the outstanding qualities that it possesses. And while admittedly, I am neither a fan of the western genre nor of John Wayne, both are top notch in The Searchers. It tells the story of a Civil war veteran (Wayne) named Ethan Edwards, whose brother and his sister-in-law, whom Ethan is in love with, are brutally murdered by a Comanche Indian tribe. Ethan’s two nieces are kidnapped and for the remainder of the film, Ethan, along with his best friend, searches for the missing girls.

Two aspects that initially bothered me about the film were the overt racism involved in this film towards any Indians- the treatment of one Indian woman is cruel, and my disdain for the character of Ethan. The fact that I am not a fan of John Wayne- way overrated in the acting department in my opinion, may have something to do with this. But the character of Ethan is clearly racist and it is tough to root for a character like that. One could make the argument that he is also self-loathing due to the lusting after his sister-in-law. Over time, though, I have come to appreciate this western drama more and more, mainly due to the direction of John Ford and the sweeping cinematography of the old west and the, now understood, complexity of the character of Ethan. He is confident, masculine, even mean, but wounded and, in some way, sympathetic to viewers. The Searchers also captures what the real west was probably once like. An epic western that I have grown to admire.