Tag Archives: Western

Strange Way of Life-2023

Strange Way of Life-2023

Director Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal

Scott’s Review #1,425

Reviewed April 22, 2024

Grade: A-

Pedro Almodóvar is a unique film director. Spanish, his films are flavorful, saucy, and unpredictable. He tends to mix melodrama, wacky humor, and a colorful landscape frequently sprinkling LGBTQ+ elements even if they are not classified with that specific genre.

I adore his films though they frequently blur together for me.

Though a Spanish film, Strange Way of Life (2023) is only Almodóvar’s second English language film and to my knowledge his first short feature film.

Watching the brief thirty-one-minute offering I fantasized about a full-length feature or even a television series based on the story and characters.

Since it’s short we get right down to business quickly.

One day Silva (Pedro Pascal) rides a horse across the desert to Bitter Creek to visit Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke). It is quickly revealed that twenty-five years earlier, the sheriff and Silva, worked together as hired gunmen.

They fell in love during a passionate encounter with three whores and barrels of wine who ditched the men when they realized they were not valued.

Silva provides Jake with the excuse that the reason for his trip is not to go down the memory lane of their old friendship but rather to rescue his son Joe (George Steane) from persecution for being suspected of killing Jake’s late brother’s wife, also a whore.

After Jake and Silva sip wine and enjoy a lovely meal they quickly engage in animalistic sex and reignite their long-dormant passion.

While Silva is gung-ho about reuniting Jake has reservations.

Pascal, who is everywhere due to the success of his television series The Last of Us is fabulous to watch. His sexy machismo pairs well with his passion for his soulmate. Because his character of Silva intends for him and Jake to live out their days running a ranch he is a more inspiring character than Jake.

This point is a nod to the groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain (2006) whose characters also flirted with running a ranch together during a time when any gay relations were forbidden territory.

Hawke is quite good too though I’m partial to Pascal. Buttoned up and law-abiding he rebuffs Silva’s advances, at first.

It’s nice to see Hawke in a gay role. Both characters are masculine thereby dismissing silly LGBTQ+ stereotypes that too often appear in cinema.

It also doesn’t hurt to get a glimpse of Pascal’s bare butt or Hawke’s buff physique as they while away time in the bedroom.

I love the sweaty and muscular Western genre being the backdrop of an LGBTQ+ film and tipped upside down. Not to reduce it to a tepid John Wayne film cliche there exists a gorgeous and melodic fado singer throughout the film.

It is performed by Manu Ríos.

This counterbalances the Quentin Tarantino-ish blood and violence with lovely music.

The film is titled after a 1960s Portuguese fado song by Amália Rodrigues

Since Strange Way of Life is a brief experience many facets could have been explored. Why did Silva leave Jake in the first place? What made him suddenly have a realization after twenty-five years? Were there other men at that time?

Being critical that the film is short and deserves full-length feature status it nonetheless deserves to be towards the top of Almodóvar’s catalog a testament to its power.

Strange Way of Life (2023) successfully takes a macho genre like the Western and lights it on fire proving that two men can be tough and tenderly love each other.

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone

Scott’s Review #1,406

Reviewed October 22, 2023

Grade: A

One great thing about legendary director Martin Scorsese, and there are plenty I could mention, is that he continues to challenge his audience with his films well into his eighties.

Any aspiring filmmaker, or any cinephile, should study his films.

Before I knew too much about his new picture, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) I knew I wanted to see it because I trust Scorsese as a director.

His most recent films, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019) are not easy watches but the payoff is tremendous.

Scorsese is not the kind of filmmaker to create feel-good fluff but leaves the audience pondering what they’ve seen long after leaving the theater.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, two frequent Scorsese collaborators and great actors appear in Killers of the Flower Moon assuring something of quality.

Be forewarned that at an enormous running time of three hours and twenty-six minutes, the film is long! Like a fine wine, it took me about an hour or so to immerse myself in the texture and storytelling but this only defends the richness of the experience.

Based on David Grann’s broadly lauded best-selling book, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is set in 1920s Oklahoma and depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

In 1918, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) returns from World War I to his uncle, rancher William “King” Hale (De Niro), who lives with Ernest’s brother Byron (Scott Sheperd) on the reservation. Hale pretends to be a friendly supporter of the Osage people, but he secretly schemes to murder them and steal their wealth.

Lily Gladstone who has starred mainly in independent films makes her breakthrough performance as Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Native American woman who is the love interest of Ernest.

The cast is unwieldy and features stalwarts like Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow in small roles but the notable mentions are DiCaprio, De Niro, and Gladstone.

Each scene between the three crackles with phenomenal acting and attention to their craft. Gladstone quietly yet expressively emotes her character’s feelings and emotions. Mollie is a proud woman but not gullible as she presents a strong feminist quality.

Her scenes with DiCaprio resonate the most. His character of Ernest is complicated and possesses good and bad qualities. As Mollie professes early on he is handsome but not too smart.

Her statement comes further into play at the end of the film.

Amid the schemes and murders Killers of the Flower Moon embraces a sweet romantic story between Ernest and Mollie. They love each other and he adores her and their children but is it ultimately enough?

Any aspiring actors should hone in on scenes between DiCaprio and De Niro for inspiration. Each scene and line within the scene is delivered with naturalness. Carefully yet authentically executed their conversations are mesmerizing.

De Niro reportedly and unsurprisingly modeled his character after the callous and dastardly reality star turned-politician Donald Trump.  Pretending to be well-intentioned but instead bullying and scheming his way to fortune by bamboozling the weak, De Niro channels his inner asshole with precision.

I immediately recognized what the actor was going for concerning the hateful politician.

In what only enhances the film, Scorsese appears at the beginning and end with impassioned moments about the importance of telling this story.

Filmed in Oklahoma, many sequences of open land, fields, streams, and other natural elements appear. Scorsese often uses the same film crews which enhances the authenticity.

The cinematography is filled with early 1900s facets and real Native American people are featured. The colors and tribal outfits offer culture and a glimpse into their way of life.

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) is an important film because it teaches and reminds the audience that oppression and tragedy have existed in the United States and still do today.

The telling of one group of people is sound and a stark reminder of how many more stories exist each needing the help of a great filmmaker to bring exposure.

Scorsese does it again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actress-Lily Gladstone, Best Supporting Actor-Robert De Niro, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-1966

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-1966

Director Sergio Leone

Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef

Scott’s Review #1,320

Reviewed December 9, 2022

Grade: A

Any film lover cannot view The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) without realizing its enormous influence on Quentin Tarantino, one of the greatest filmmakers of modern times.

Obsessed with the ‘spaghetti western’ a derogatory categorization for cheaply made Italian western films with lousy lip-syncing and an over-the-top stylization, he made them ‘cool’ and interspersed moments and film scores from some of these films.

Director, Sergio Leone also created brilliant films like Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) and was famous for his sprawling epics at great length.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is top-notch in nearly every way. The instantly recognizable hauntingly operatic score is to be revered. It brings dubious and edgy energy that defines the entire film representing the title characters.

Unfortunately, the film received mixed reviews at best upon initial release but is now considered a masterpiece.

The sprawling landscape represents the American Western territory with lush mountains and desert dryness. In reality, the film was shot mostly in Spain but you’d never know it. It’s a pleasing feeling to possess this knowledge since it makes for more fun and comparisons to the fake world of the frontier.

The creative sweeping widescreen cinematography is also a major win. Combined with violent, stylized gunfights, the use of close-ups and long shots makes the film unique.

Story-wise, during the bloody Civil War, a mysterious stranger, Blondie ‘the Good’ (Clint Eastwood), and a Mexican outlaw, Tuco ‘the Ugly’ (Eli Wallach), form an uneasy partnership. Blondie turns in the bandit for some reward money, then rescues him just as he is being hanged. When Blondie’s shot at the noose goes awry during one escapade, a furious Tuco tries to have him murdered.

The men re-team abruptly, however, to beat out a sadistic criminal named ‘Angel Eyes’ (Lee Van Cleef) or ‘the Ugly’ and the Union army and find $20,000 that a soldier has buried in the desert.

The hook is that each of the three principal characters is looking for loot, specifically a buried cache of Confederate gold. This plot enhances the duels and peril along the way which is surely a selling point to the viewer.

The finale and paired ‘noose sequence’ is the highlight of the film.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is purely a ‘guy’s film’ though this is not to say females who appreciate influential cinema will not get something from it. Even if the plot is a one-trick pony the other aspects of the film quality are worthy of admiration.

In 1966 Clint Eastwood was not the big Hollywood star he would soon become and certainly hadn’t tried his hand in the director’s chair.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is very early Eastwood, and worth noting that it’s the film that propelled him into a rebellious action hero he cemented with Dirty Harry (1971).

Studying the characters may be a superfluous approach for a film like this but Blondie’s nickname of ‘the Good’ is laughable. He’s a pure anti-hero and joins forces with ‘the Ugly’ a known criminal. Sure, he spares lives but he’s not exactly a goody two shoes. That just makes the character more appealing in my book.

Spaghetti westerns were derided and scoffed at when they were originally released. Nobody could have predicted that decades later a film like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) would be revered and influential.

The great filmmakers who appreciated this film mirrored their own after it.

The Power of the Dog-2021

The Power of the Dog-2021

Director Jane Campion

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons

Scott’s Review #1,199

Reviewed November 21, 2021

Grade: A

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a harrowing and brutally honest performance in The Power of the Dog (2021), a thought-provoking and layered film by Jane Campion. Parts western, gothic, and drama, Cumberbatch leads the charge but all players associated with the film knock it out of the park.

If the superior acting is not enough the eerie subtext and gorgeous cinematography put the viewer firmly in 1925 old Montana, where a vast and open range is the main setting. Characters are riddled with secrets and the fun is peeling back the onion on their motives and true desires.

There are enough bare male butts to titillate most viewers and Cumberbatch himself did not use the aid of a body double. He stated he wanted to be as raw and vulnerable as his character, the dastardly and cruel Phil Burbank.

Campion who hasn’t made a film in over a decade is back with a vengeance and imposes a nod to Ang Lee and his film Brokeback Mountain (2006).

From the first moment on screen, we know something is mesmerizing about Phil. He is handsome and severe, an alpha male if there ever was one, and attributes his savvy to his deceased father figure, Bronco Henry. His relationship with this man is key to the whole story.

Along with his brother George (Jesse Plemons), the Burbank brothers are wealthy ranchers. One day, at the Red Mill restaurant on their way to market, the brothers meet Rose (Kirsten Dunst), the widowed proprietress, and her impressionable and effeminate son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Phil behaves cruelly to Rose and Peter but George becomes enamored with Rose and they marry much to Phil’s chagrin. Now all living together, Phil taunts Peter and terrorizes Rose but slowly begins to take the boy under his wing. But what are his true intentions and what will Peter do to save his mother from a complete breakdown?

The acting is so brilliant that I immediately became immersed in their lives. Particularly fascinating is Phil but Rose, George, and Peter are all substantial characters. All the characters intertwine and have special relationships with each other and all the principal actors are central to our fascination with them.

Rose may be Dunst’s best role yet and Plemons is terrific as the kind and steady George. Smit-McPhee, unknown to me, is a revelation as the androgynous young intellectual.

There are enough homoerotic scenes to make the viewer question Phil’s sexuality. His secret stash of strong man magazines and his long gazes at nude male sunbathers may be enough to unlock the key but when he rubs a handkerchief belonging to Bronco all over his body the relationship between the two men oozes to the surface.

Campion has a lot of guts in taking on the male-driven western genre and she brilliantly succeeds. Forgetting the storyline for a minute the ravishing and oftentimes lonely landscape makes the film gorgeous to look at, especially on the big screen. Plenty of long shots of the mountainous regions will inevitably grasp viewers and whisk them away to a long-ago time.

The Power of the Dog was shot in New Zealand but I was completely fooled into thinking Montana was the real filming location.

I adored seeing the costumes whether it be Rose in a housedress or more distinguished characters like the governor and his wife dressed for a dinner party. All costumes appear authentic and peppered with some glamour amidst the dirtiness of the range. Even the grubby ranch hands look great.

Discussions will certainly erupt once the film ends and isn’t that the point of great films? The Power of the Dog (2021) takes the tried and true western genre and infuses it with psychological layers. Thanks to Campion and the team she masterfully uses no gimmicks to bring the viewer into the world of the characters but instead offers authenticity and edge-of-your-seat drama.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Jane Campion (won), Best Actor-Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actor-Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jesse Plemons, Best Supporting Actress-Kirsten Dunst, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Sound

First Cow-2020

First Cow-2020

Director-Kelly Reichardt

Starring-John Magaro, Orion Lee

Scott’s Review # 1,180

Reviewed September 22, 2021

Grade: A

Despite the slow-moving pace First Cow (2020) is a tremendous effort by director Kelly Reichardt in which she also co-writes along with her usual writing partner, Jonathan Raymond.

To merely say the film is slow-moving is criminal. I mean it is slow-moving, so much so that I confess to guiltily sneaking a few peeks at my phone and I try to never do that. But the time invested results in a moving and engaging experience with patience.

Brimming with geographical authenticity (most of Reichardt’s films and Raymond’s novels are set in the Pacific Northwest, USA) the outdoors and forest scenes are aplenty.

First Cow is also a feast for the foodie in all of us as rich and creamy aspects of cooking, baking, and tasting, are all featured in a delicious form. More about that later.

But the real victory is the chemistry between the two male leads, John Magaro and Orion Lee. The unlikely friends and subsequent business partners provide a rich exterior brimming with sub texture and questions about their sexuality.

Sadly, the film doesn’t go there at all and I’m not sure why, but my mind certainly did. I kept waiting for an answer to whether their union was strictly platonic or otherwise but alas my curiosity was never even remotely satisfied.

Despite this miss (in my opinion anyway), First Cow is a wonderful film rich in human emotion that provides a tale of kindness and connection that lasts until the conclusion. As is the trend in cinema these days, the beginning reveals the ending.

The year is 1820. Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (Magaro) is a lonely cook who has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in the Oregon Territory. He aspires to find his fortune in San Francisco, California. The trappers do not treat him particularly well.

One night he meets and saves the life of a Chinese immigrant named King-Lu (Lee) also seeking his fortune in California. They become fast friends and soon begin to collaborate on a successful business, although its longevity is dependent upon the participation of a wealthy British landowner’s prized milking cow unbeknownst to the landowner.

As the duo forge a successful and tasty local business their biscuits nearly have the local townspeople eating from Cookie’s and Lu’s hands. A blueberry French clafoutis takes center stage during one scene and deserves description. It is a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm, sometimes with cream.

Yum! I could almost taste it from the screen.

I hate to shatter the otherwise innocent texture of the film and the sweet image of two adult men having an inseparable connection but I simply cannot help myself! As the men lie in a tent together and glance over at each other they nearly have a Brokeback Mountain (2005) moment.

I half-expected Lu to flip Cookie over and ravage his body but this was not to be. Instead, the touching, tender, original, entrancing, and quiet relationship is never defined as anything other than two buddies with sincerity and mystique.

But, maybe that’s the point?

I adore that Reinhardt and Raymond do not pepper their characters with any false machismo or fake guy behavior to ensure the audience knows they are straight right away. Instead, both men are sensitive, thoughtful, and intellectual. How refreshing with masculine male characters.

Questions about the extent of their relationship continued to gnaw at me especially during the final scene when they lie down next to each other in the grass. And never was a mention of a woman ever muttered.

Otherwise, the gorgeous (4×3) cinematography is evident throughout the film as the men spend much of their time by the campfire or plowing their way through forest brush. Tremendous, peaceful scenes are non-stop. I was shocked that the film didn’t achieve an Oscar nomination in this category.

First Cow (2020) was met with tremendous support and accolades which will hopefully encourage those who are fans of thinking man’s films to see it. It sure made me see it.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Kelly Reinhardt, Best Supporting Male-Orion Lee

Dances with Wolves-1990

Dances with Wolves-1990

Director Kevin Costner

Starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell

Scott’s Review #1,091

Reviewed December 14, 2020

Grade: A

A western epic of grand proportions, Dances with Wolves (1990) is a quiet, yet bombastic story of one man’s yearning to understand and appreciate a different culture.

The liberal-leaning story is of dire importance in American history, which is my main love of it. This project matters and it has sincerity and truth. The content and the gorgeous, sweeping cinematography make this a must-see on the big screen for full appreciation.

Sort of like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), western style.

The lovely musical score is well-paced and simply gorgeous, only enhancing the experience and appreciation of the film.

The directorial debut of a then inexperienced and up-and-coming star, Kevin Costner, success catapulted him into the big leagues, garnering tremendous respect among the Hollywood community.

He also produced the film and used his own money when the budget ran over. The accolades were justified, leading him to become an A-list star.

He never achieved anything comparable to Dances with Wolves again.

The time is 1863 when the United States was embroiled in the Civil War. Union soldier John Dunbar (Kevin Costner), depressed and suicidal, is injured in battle and receives a hero’s praise. He requests to be transferred to the western frontier, where he lives in solitude.

He slowly befriends the local Sioux tribe and eventually becomes an honorary member, falling in love with a white woman, Stands with a Fist, (Mary McDonnell), who was raised by the tribe.

They name him Dances with Wolves. Chaos erupts when the Union Army arrives to snatch the land at any cost.

Never the greatest actor in the world, but certainly competent, this is the role of a lifetime for Costner. That Dances with Wolves is Costner’s project is crucial. He had a vision and saw that vision to fulfillment.

To my knowledge, the studio didn’t interfere and strive for control but gave Costner the freedom to do whatever he wanted. It shows in the final product.

The romance between Dances with Wolves and Stands with a Fist is tender, alive, and without standard obstacles. No silly misunderstandings or drama. Theirs doesn’t need any trimmings. The chemistry between Costner and McDonnell is strong.

At over three hours in length, the film has time to carefully pace these brilliant moments.

The film is a political vehicle to teach the audience the ravages and unfairness that Native Americans suffered at the hands of the White Man, and that is huge. Too often the issue is skimmed over or diminished in school textbooks so it’s nice to see the truth given its due.

Dances with Wolves serves as an educational tool and no happy ending is provided. How great would it be if the film were shown in high schools and colleges around the United States?

I love how the film, a western, avoids the stereotypes always included in that genre. No good guys are wearing white or bad guys wearing black, no shoot ’em ups at local saloons, and no cowboys to save the day.

Dances with Wolves provides a character study with pivotal thoughts and motivations from the three central characters.

Graham Greene must be mentioned as an integral part of the supporting cast. His authenticity is illuminating.

Over the years Dances with Wolves (1990) doesn’t hold up as well as other films- Silence of the Lambs (1990) and Goodfellas (1991) are legendary contemporaries that everyone remembers better.

Dances may suffer from an “of its time” label, justifiably so, but the film is a masterpiece. Recommended is to dust this one off and give it a whirl, if even for old-time’s sake.

Oscar Nominations: 7 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Kevin Costner (won), Best Actor-Kevin Costner, Best Supporting Actor-Graham Greene, Best Supporting Actress-Mary McDonnell, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography (won), Best Film Editing (won)

My Darling Clementine-1946

My Darling Clementine-1946

Director John Ford

Starring Henry Fonda, Victor Mature

Scott’s Review #1,017

Reviewed April 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Esteemed director John Ford, mostly known for crafting the very best in the Western genre for four decades creates a timeless story that is character-driven and unpredictable.

My Darling Clementine (1946) provides a superb atmosphere amid a depressing ambiance led by Henry Fonda, the appealing leading man of the day. The iconic American Western folk ballad, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” appears during the opening and closing credits to bookend the classic.

In 1882, events get underway when a group of men herds cattle through the Old West en route to California. The Earp brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and James) encounter the sinister Clanton family, who salivates over the profit the animals could supply them.

After being rebuffed for a sale, the Clantons kill young James and steal the cattle. Wyatt (Fonda) vows revenge and settles in at Tombstone, Arizona where he befriends the dangerous Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), the ravishing Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), and Mac, the local bartender.

The film is based on real-life Western figures and events. Wyatt Earp was a lawman and gambler while Doc Holliday was a gambler, gunslinger, and dentist. Both men participate in the famous and bloody gunfight at the OK Corral, the thirty-second shootout between lawmen and outlaws, regarded as the most well-known battle in the American Wild West.

This makes the film both historical and fun for viewers anticipating some truth. The rest is a created story.

One can delve into other avenues of enjoyment during My Darling Clementine other than the action from the screen. The rich surrounding elements are as glorious, and plentiful.

Much of the events take place outdoors, a treat and the spacious and wide-open exteriors are a marvel to lay an eye on. The exquisite clouds and sprawling lands are evident as is the black-and-white cinematography. This adds a measure that color film would have ruined.

Unlike other Westerns, there is surprisingly little racism to be found. Commonly, American Indians are classified as the enemy and subsequently mistreated. Other than one quick scene where an unnamed Indian is booted out of town, a racist moment can be found.

Quite a few Mexican characters appear, most prominently Chihuahua, the apple of every man’s eye. To see Mexican culture represented and celebrated with dancing and country colors is a nice addition.

The pacing is superior too, with little lag or drag time. The relatively short running time of one hour and thirty-six minutes is a benefit as events get down and dirty quickly. The combustible energy of the saloon scenes, simply a must in this genre, is great.

So much transpires within each scene as the patrons eat, drink, dance, sing, and fight. Interesting characters like the bartender and Granville Thorndyke, a stage actor who performs Shakespeare, make the film very fleshed out from a character perspective.

A minor demerit that must be aimed at the film is the awkward decision to write a perplexing ending that sours the wrap-up. When the big shootout concludes Wyatt decides to depart Tombstone, bidding adieu to a confused Clementine at the schoolhouse, wistfully promising that if he returns, he will look her up.

This is weak and unsatisfying considering she moved to the West from the East to be with Doc, who dies. Why would she decide to stay and why would he leave considering the pair was drawn to each other as the film escalates? I was expecting a “happily ever after” moment.

My Darling Clementine (1946) is an elite treasure in a genre that is commonly one-note and riddled with stereotypes and bad treatment of those who are not white, masculine men. Sure, the whiskey flows heavily as the guns are cocked and loaded at a moment’s notice.

But, with arguably two main heroes (Wyatt and Doc), well-crafted supporting characters, and a stoic final fight, this film has it all, providing depth and freshness to an often-stale cinematic genre.

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 1960s 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 terrorizes the villagers regularly.

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 the 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 1960s 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. However, the film’s target demographic is 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).

Oscar Nominations: Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture



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 and a slew of powerful supporting actors offering rich performances and good characterizations.

The thunderous melodrama plays out over decades with the dry and dusty locale and the superb cinematography one of the finest aspects of the 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 fawn over the good looks of each (or all!) over the long three hours 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 in a car accident, his death occurring before it 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. Decades-long rivals, 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-1900s, especially in southwestern Texas. Sadly, the character never finds happiness, which is the main part of his depth.

The screenplay is peppered with important and relevant social issues that provide sophistication and a humanistic approach. The film inches towards a liberal slant as the plot progresses, the most famous example occurring in the final act as Benedict’s stop at a roadside diner with a racist sign, implying the restaurant will not serve Mexicans.

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 and the 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 like real life. 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 stalwarts 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.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Motion Picture, Best Director-George Stevens (won), Best Actor-James Dean, Rock Hudson, Best Supporting Actress-Mercedes McCambridge, Best Screenplay-Adapted, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Art Direction-Color, Best Costume Design-Color, Best Film Editing

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 the 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 murders 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 outlaws 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 affection 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 1960s 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 everyman 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 production with little expectations is quite a feat and Fonda seems to revel in role-playing him dangerously 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. The director undoubtedly watched and studied this film repeatedly as numerous qualities mirror his 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 storytelling is 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 a 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 filmmaker, 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 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 fact to note is that whoever 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 the abolition of slavery has not yet occurred 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 becomes 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 result is a modernized version of those films, with lots more blood and violence.

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 make 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 director’s 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.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor-Christoph Waltz (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Cinematography

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 (1954) 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 is a strong character.

The writing is not brilliant and other Western stereotypes abound, but Johnny Guitar is a decent watch for Crawford.

In the middle of an Arizona cattle town, circa the Wild West days, Vienna (Crawford) is a gorgeous 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, 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 1950s Hollywood, after all. No, Crawford still dazzles with heavy makeup and bright red lips and is feminine despite the masculine outfit.

Clever, especially for 1954 westerns, is 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, 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?

The chase scene and the climax of the film are 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 (a coincidence?), which is a strange aspect of the film. Does one wonder if this was Crawford’s demand? (but I digress).

The romance between the duo is lackluster, though admittedly, I did feel a rooting factor for them as the final chapter commenced and the pair was in danger.

The storytelling is 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 for 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 watching, 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 than a film as traditional, basic Western, High Noon accomplished what no other Western did in 1952- adding complexities from different 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 results are astounding and the film should be studied in film school to understand and appreciate all the elements.

High Noon heartily breaks the mold, being released at a time when the mainstream Western was quite popular in the film adding enormous risk 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, whom Kane once sent away, 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 political themes and 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 people become frightened and blame the attack on one another because of this fear. Our main protagonist (Kane) faces the dire feat of facing four angry gunmen, with revenge on their minds, alone, as a town full of people chooses 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 nitpicky, but the couple works 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 businesswoman in the small town, owning a saloon. She is empowered, and confident, a character to admire regardless of gender.

A strong female character of Mexican heritage in the film in 1952 was quite uncommon, also keeping in mind the film is set in the Wild West.

Equally impressive and completely backward 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 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 Forsake Me, My Darling”, which became a hit forTex, Ritter.

Worth mentioning is that the success of this added “theme song” encouraged subsequent Westerners to add similar songs to their films.

Challenging the standard in many ways, High Noon sets the bar very high in its thoughtfulness, message, and conflict.

The film is an example of people taking the world and turning it upside down, the results being fantastic and inspiring.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Fred Zinnemann, Best Actor-Gary Cooper (won), Best Screenplay, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Song-“The Ballad of High Noon (“Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin”)” (won), Best Film Editing (won)



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 moral fiber. Director Sergio Leone influenced Eastwood.

Eastwood also stars in the film as William Munny, a former cold-blooded murderer, who 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- centering mostly on Eastwood’s character. Why does Munny come out of retirement? Is he lusting after blood or enjoying 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 is much deeper than most Western, shooting them up the style of films.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture (won), Best Director-Clint Eastwood (won), Best Actor-Clint Eastwood, Best Supporting Actor-Gene Hackman (won), Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won)

True Grit-2010

True Grit-2010

Director Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #525


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 in 2010  is excellent.

I do not profess to be 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, humor, and quirkiness.

True Grit is 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 (Hailee Steinfeld), also the narrator of the film, who hires an aging U.S. Marshal to avenge her father’s death.

The story is well told, and the cinematography and attention to detail are great, giving off a crisp feel of really being in the Wild West.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Best Actor-Jeff Bridges, Best Supporting Actress-Hailee Steinfeld, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design

Bone Tomahawk-2015

Bone Tomahawk-2015

Director-S. Craig Zahler

Starring-Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson

Scott’s Review #403


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 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, for Best Supporting Male (Richard Jenkins), and Best Screenplay- it won neither.

The film 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 assistant’s 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 group’s 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 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.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Male-Richard Jenkins, Best Screenplay

River of No Return-1954

River of No Return-1954

Director Otto Preminger

Starring Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe

Scott’s Review #385


Reviewed March 15, 2016

Grade: B-

A departure in genre and character from 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 the 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 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 mishmash of the storyline involving Matt, Mark, and Kay being chased by Indians, a love triangle 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 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 streamlined direction and does not 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. 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?

The film almost seems spliced together from a story perspective and is not 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 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 containing a marginal appeal to me, mainly due to the talents of Monroe, who carries the weight of an otherwise lackluster and forgettable film.

The Revenant-2015

The Revenant-2015

Director-Alejandro Inarritu

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #371


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 period), and is a revenge tale, only adding to the excitement and beauty of the film.

The film is set in the 1820s, 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 to 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 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- the 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 is 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 result is a realism I have seldom witnessed in film. The scene is so prolonged and violent that one will wish it concludes 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 an 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu (won), Best Actor-Leonardo DiCaprio (won), Best Supporting Actor-Tom Hardy, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography (won), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Brokeback Mountain-2005

Director Ang Lee

Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

Top 100 Films #46

Scott’s Review #338


Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Brokeback Mountain (2005) is a revolutionary film and one of the most important films to be released during the 2000s. Never before had an LGBT film been given as much exposure and widespread viewership as this film did.

Robbed of the 2005 Best Picture Academy Award (the great, but not as great, Crash won), Brokeback Mountain received other tremendous accolades and word-of-mouth buzz that helped it achieve great success.

A treasure that must always be remembered and appreciated.

Perfectly cast, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play two cowboys who fall madly in love with each other. The period of the film runs from 1963 until the early 1980s. Through the years we see their unbreakable bond tested by outside factors- namely being gay is forbidden at this time and location- Wyoming and Texas.

Jack Swift (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) meet one summer in 1963 when they are both hired by grizzled Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to herd sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain in remote Wyoming.

They immediately form a friendship that turns physical one drunken night. From this point, the men are inseparable and share a passion insurmountable.

Due to the times, there is no possible way they can openly share life, so they arrange for periodic “fishing trips”, away from their wives and children so that they can spend time together in secret.

The chemistry is evident between Ledger and Gyllenhaal, which is extremely important to the success of the film.

The audience needs to truly buy their bond and director Ang Lee is successful at eliciting wonderful performances from each actor. This is especially crucial during the first forty-five minutes of the film as all the scenes are only the two actors together.

The famous “tent” scene, in which Jack’s and Ennis’s passion first erupts is perfectly choreographed- it is as much animalistic as it is passionate and this sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Eventually, other characters are introduced and Ennis and Jack live lives largely separate from each other. Michelle Williams plays Alma, a kind-hearted country girl, married to Ennis. She accidentally stumbles on Jack and Ennis’s secret and keeps this hidden throughout the years.

Williams is fantastic in the role- sweet, yet saddled with the pain of knowing her husband is in love with another man causes her to mistrust and eventually destroys their marriage.

Jack forges a life in Texas and marries well-to-do Lureen (Anne Hathaway), but the marriage is a sham, Lureen’s father hates Jack, and Jack cannot forget Ennis. Jack is the aggressor, the one more confident with his sexuality, and one would surmise, would be the one more likely to be “out” if circumstances were different.

He looks for other men, even going to Mexico to find some companionship.

The ending of the film is tragic and heartbreaking and we witness Ennis being a good father to his now grown-up kids. A wonderful scene is written between Ledger and Kate Mara, who plays his daughter. She asks the lonely Ennis to attend her wedding and the scene is sweet and tender.

Another scene involving Ennis meeting Jack’s parents is monumental- as important as what is said in this wonderful scene is what is left unsaid.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) is an honest, graceful, and brave film, that thanks to the talents and direction of Ang Lee, was able to be made.

The exceptional cast led by Ledger and Gyllenhaal is dynamic and enables the film to come together as one masterpiece, that will surely never be forgotten.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Actor-Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Actor-Jake Gyllenhaal, Best Supporting Actress-Michelle Williams, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Cinematography

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Ang Lee (won), Best Male Lead-Heath Ledger, Best Supporting Female-Michelle Williams

The Hateful Eight-2015

The Hateful Eight-2015

Director-Quentin Tarantino

Starring-Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #319


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 widescreen, 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 interested 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 motivations of the characters 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. 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 the severing of the arm of a character.  There is also the scene of Marquis dragging a victimized, naked soldier through the snow that is intense and shocking, involving 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.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Jennifer Jason Leigh, Best Original Score (won), Best Cinematography

The Searchers-1956

The Searchers-1956

Director John Ford

Starring John Wayne, Natalie Wood

Scott’s Review #148


Reviewed August 5, 2014

Grade: B+

The Searchers (1956) is an example of a classic film, considered 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 understand why it is on many Best Films of All Time lists.

I do not think it’s quite that great but I understand its outstanding qualities. 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 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 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 the sweeping cinematography of the old West, and the, now-understood, complexity of the character of Ethan.

He is confident, masculine, and even mean, but wounded and, in some way, sympathetic to viewers.

The Searchers (1956) also captures what the real West was probably once like.

An epic western that I have grown to admire.