Thursday, August 30, 2012

Western #3 - Shane (1953)

Shane is a strange movie to me. It's not very well acted - just about everyone sounds like they're reding lines in an attempt to memorize them, rather than express human emotion. It definitely wasn't well-filmed, the camera was just pointed at the action and the technicolor did it no favors. And yet, there is apparently an actual complex story hidden under all this mediocre execution. People love this movie. People study this story - This story has Sparknotes, people. Clearly someone sees some quality in it.

Shane is about the commitment and devotion of the average American farmer, of the Homesteaders, and the violence that surrounds them and infects them. Shane represents the dark violence of the West and is cursed to drift forever because of his bloody past. He can't repent or settle down, because the guns have to leave the valley if anyone is going top live. It is very difficult to find that meaning in the film. The overall lack of quality in the execution of this movie is hard to get over. It is not well done. You may cite a difference in the style of the filming at the time, but I present to you such evidence as even Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, made in the same year. This silly Marylin Monroe vehicle provides much better cinematography and miles better acting. Actual art went into that movie. Shane has no excuse.

This is one of those movies that makes me think, "The book must be great." The stories a fine one, but the film does not do it justice for me. And why did nobody notice that the kid was cross-eyed during casting? Really.

Western #4 - Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven is another Western deconstruction, staring Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. It's about how the bloodshed caused by gunslingers, and by extension all bloodshed and violence, can't be made up for or forgotten. Will Munny is a retired hired gun, but when he goes in for one last job he proves that he is, in fact, unforgiven for his previous life. See? Makes sense. Interestingly, Shane has the same themes, but Shane is terrible and Unforgiven is not. Unforgiven is great. Morgan Freeman's in it and everything - There's not much more you can ask for.

Unforgiven really is probably the best movie I've seen so far in the Westerns. It knew what it was trying to say and it said it, all the characters were nuanced and watchable, the was some humor, which I like, and the cinematography was great and it wasn't boring. This movie is nearly three hours long but it didn't seem like it at all. It just zipped by.

I liked when the writer would introduce himself and people would say, "What, of letters and such?" That's great, I'll say that all the time.

The funny thing about this movie is that nobody's wrong - Or rather, everybody's wrong. We're not really on anybody's side is the point. You sort of root for everyone, even they're opposing each other. Part of the point of the movie that nobody's justified and that violence and justice are complicated things with two sides, and that Westerns and the culture that embraces Westerns forget that.

Also, the poster is really, really cool.

Western #7 - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

This movie was not what I was expecting. It's written William Goldman, the same guy who wrote The Princess Bride, and that's really the best thing I have to compare it to. They both sort of have a similar tone, although Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid leans more toward the serious, especially toward the end.  Paul Newman and Robert Redford are famous bandits and their just so charsmatic and humorous that everyone likes them anyway. They reach the end of the line, however, when a railroad owner hires a posse to kill them. They flee to Bolivia and continue to rob banks there.

I really liked this. I thought it was funny, it was pleasant to watch, it wasn't mind-numbingly boring. (Yay!) It was actually hilarious, really. It lost me a little bit in the second half, which contained a few too many silent montages for my taste, but overall it was one of the best movies in the genre. I know that Robert Redford likes it - He named a film festival after his character in it. I am assured that I now need to see The Sting.

Interestingly, this movie is where "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" comes from. You know, the song. If you're wondering how that song fits into a Western: It doesn't. It's a very strange scene. There's a bike. This is also the movie with the shot of two guys jumping off a cliff in it. You would recognize it, trust me.

Not very many of the Westerns on the list are just straight Westerns. Many a deconstructions, and two, including this one, are comedies. That says something about Westerns, doesn't it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Western #5 - Red River (1948)

Red River is a John Wayne movie about a cattle drive and it wasn't terrible, actually. I kind of liked it. John Wayne plays this tragic hero-type character and Montgomery Clift is his adopted son, and there's some themes about loyalty and making the same mistakes generation after generation and that sort of thing. It is a western and a half it is. Lot's of choir in the background and completely unnecessary narration. It's not actually narration, though - they've written it down, and just filmed the text. I did not care for it. It was the only thing that struck me as, you know, stupid, so I thought the film stood up well.

So far I'm liking John Wayne. He was charming in Stagecoach, and here he played a very complex, largely unsympathetic character. I'm impressed.

Most of the cast of the movie was good, actually. There were characters I could tell apart and liked and there were cowboys who flirted with each other (This is apparently a common motif). It was great.

There was also a cattle stampede, and since the movie was made in 48,m I suspect they filmed it by provoking an actual heard of cattle to actually stampede. For art.

Western #6 - The Wild Bunch (1969)

I know a lot of this genre has included complaining about 70's film making techniques, but there seems to have been a neo-western movement then, so it is inevitable. If someone tells you that they really like films from the 70's, do not be friends with them, because they are boring. The Wild Bunch is technically from the 60's, but all the hallmarks from the next decade are already showing up. It was long, and quiet, and contained a lot of untranslated Spanish (Surprisingly common in Westerns.)

I don't remember much about The Wild Bunch, and I only watched it a few days ago, so that's not good. I know it was about a gang of outlaws and how inherently corrupt the world is. The ending actually wasn't that bad - The Wild Bunch all got together to fight the evil of the world in one last daring rescue mission. Of course it's futile and they die, but it was sort of rousing.

William Holden was in it, which was funny because I only know him as the other guy from Sabrina. So there's that.

I also have never seen an exciting train robbery. Not once. Not in Firefly, not in Cat Ballou, not in The Wild Bunch. It always goes too smoothly. Very frustrating.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Western #8 - McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

I could live a thousand years and still not understand the 70's fascination with filming everything in real time. It baffles me. What do we gain by watching that man walk from is car through the street and into the building. Nothing. We gain nothing. We don't learn anything about him or his quest or his character. It doesn't help the movie at all, ever. Not even in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I will stand by that opinion. That movie is too long. 

But it's all over the seventies. All over it, I say. Who started this? Was it Andy Warhol? It was, wasn't it? Why were people okay with this? Why are they still okay with it? People all over the Internet talk about these movies and they say "Oh, he's such an unusual and exciting character," and "Oh, it subverts typical Western tropes," and here I am and I can sort of remember that happening in the movie, but I didn't connect with it emotionally at all. I don't see how people do at all.

I say that the seventies aren't exactly a golden age of cinema. If someone wants you to watch s movie made in the seventies and it isn't Star Wars, say no. You won't regret it, honestly.

The point is, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is about a crook and a madam who start a brothel and then...Die? I don't know. It sounds exciting, or at least interesting, but it's not. It's a long, slow, boring look at northern California, and this same 70's folk song plays through literally through the whole movie. It's awful.

Western #9 - Stagecoach (1939)

Stagecoach, as it turns out, is exactly the type of movie I like. It's a very character driven, ensemble cast-style film, and that's my favorite type of story. I'm not big on the plot driven stories, hence my dislike of hard science fiction and mysteries, and I usually enjoy dialogue driven stuff, like a sixties comedy or an Aaron Sorkin work, but the character stuff is my favorite, which is why I like detective stories and The Avengers.

The plot of Stagecoach really just doesn't matter - It's about a group of people, traveling by stagecoach, moving through a dangerous part of the West. They have to move through Indian territory (It seems silly to refer to them as Native Americans if they're just going to be portrayed like that) and will probably die. The cast consists of the stagecoach driver, a Marshal for protection, an alcoholic doctor, a corrupt Republican banker, a Confederate Army veteran, a pregnant officer's wife, a "Soiled Dove," a whisky salesman, and an outlaw - That's John Wayne.

It's great. The whole story is about how the other characters relate to each other and what they learn and all the characters are great and interesting. I was actually sad when I thought one of them was dead and everything. This is John Wayne's first major movie role ever, and the first time I've seen him in everything, and I was impressed. I thought he was charming.

I really liked this movie, which is no surprise because it's the sort of movie I would normally like. I would absolutely watch it again if given the chance.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Western #10 - Cat Ballou (1965)

I have never heard of Cat Ballou before, and I frankly think that's a terrible crime. It isn't actually a straight western - it's a parody. It's sort of like Blazing Saddles a little bit, except not really. It's got Jane Fonda and Lee Martin in it and it's awesome. I really can't  believe that this isn't a cult classic. I feel like people everywhere should have been telling me to watch Cat Ballou from the very beginning. I'm mystified by this movie's relative obscurity.

Jane Fonda plays an outlaw, since her father got killed because he wouldn't give up his land and Lee Martin is a drunken washed-up gunslinger. They also have a gang including a farm hand, a sex maniac, and an uncle. And the best horse actor in history. It all comes together very well for me. Largely, it's very funny.

Probably the most memorable part of this movie is the Greek Chorus, played by Nat "King" Cole and Stubby Kay. They stand around and play banjos and sing directly into the camera about what's going on. It's awesome. I admittedly first saw this referenced on an episode of Hannah Montana, and had no idea what it was supposed to be at the time, but now it's obvious. They really make the movie for me, actually. Something about their presence makes the movie rise up from its 60's-style slapstick and be remembered.