Archive for the Westerns Category

THE LONE RANGER (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on TV Show, Cinema Knife Fights, Garbage, Johnny Depp Movies, Masks, Period Pieces, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE LONE RANGER (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

loneranger(THE SCENE: The Interior of a steam locomotive. The year is 1896. In the saloon car, L.L. SOARES sits back in his seat and lights a cigar, as MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives and sits down across from him)

MA: Ahh, we finally have the chance to travel in comfort. This is pretty sweet.

LS: And I’ve already ordered our drinks.

(Waiter brings a tray over to their table and puts a glass of whiskey down before LS, and a pint of ale in front of MA)

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: I think we’re fine for now.

MA: Can we have some pretzels?

WAITER: Certainly.  (leaves)

MA: You picked a nice place for us to review THE LONE RANGER. Usually when you start things off, we end up on the roof of a tall building or in the middle of a gang war. Nice to be able to relax for a change.

LS: Drink up, my friend. I’ll even begin the review for you.

MA: Please do.

LS: As you said, this week’s movie is THE LONE RANGER, based on characters who go all the way back pre-television radio serials. Although Michael and I are more familiar with the popular TV series starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his sidekick, Tonto. We saw the show in reruns when we were kids, and while I didn’t exactly love it, I remember it being enjoyable enough.

This new movie version of the story features Armie Hammer as the titular ranger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick, Tonto. I think it’s safe to say that the new movie takes a lot of liberties with the concept.

MA: Yeah, it’s a “little” different from the old TV show.

(WAITER returns with a basket of pretzels)

MA: (looks at LS) That’s it? Pretzels?

LS: Whatever do you mean, my good man. You asked for pretzels.

MA: No surprise ambush of bad guys? No tribe of angry Indians? Usually when you start these things, I’m in for some kind of shish-kebobbing.

LS: Nothing of the kind.

WAITER: Will there be anything else?

LS: Not for the moment.

Basically, THE LONE RANGER is an origin story, as we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer, who played both of the Winklevoss twins in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) in 1869. He has just come back after going to law school in the East. He’s returned to Colby, Texas to be the town’s new District Attorney. His first case is going to be the trial of outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, who played Alex Mahone in the Fox TV series, PRISON BREAK). Reid’s brother, Dan (James Badge Dale, who also had roles in this year’s IRON MAN 3 and WORLD WAR Z) is the town’s sheriff, and is known for being pretty heroic. The make things more complicated, Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) has strong feelings for John and it seems like she married the wrong brother.

Anyway, the train bringing Cavendish to town is hijacked by Butch’s gang of outlaws, and he escapes the law. John is on the same train, and barely escapes with his life. John also meets a Native American prisoner named Tonto (Johnny Depp), whose face is painted chalky white like death, and who wears a hat made out of a dead crow. Who is this guy? And why is he also captive in the same train car as Cavendish? It’s never really clear why he’s chained up beside the outlaw in the first place.

MA:  And that’s a problem—one of many—that this movie has.  There are a bunch of things that are never clearly explained.

LS:  In a really good movie, I don’t feel the need to have everything explained to me. The problem is, this is not a really good movie.

Anyway, Tonto also gets away after Sheriff Dan and his boys stop the runaway train (which was sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang).

John insists on going along with brother Dan and his men, and Dan deputizes John for the job (even though, John, stupidly, refuses to carry a gun – this is the wild west after all).

MA:  I liked the fact that John refused to carry a gun.  But this disdain for firearms doesn’t last throughout the whole story, which is too bad.  I seem to remember that Lone Ranger fought his battles without guns, but maybe I’m wrong.  I think he didn’t shoot to kill, that’s what it was.  I think he tries to shoot to kill in this movie, but he’s such a bad shot it doesn’t matter.

Have I said yet that I thought this movie was stupid?

LS:  No, but I’ll say it as well. It’s stupid and a waste of time!  Now let me get back to my plot summary so we can finish this review and enjoy our train ride.

The good guys track down the outlaws and there’s an ambush, where just about everyone is killed. Tonto arrives on the scene after the outlaws have taken off to bury the bodies, and ends up taking part in the strange resurrection of John Reid when a wild white stallion comes and stands by John’s grave.

MA:  Which is another thing that isn’t explained properly, how does Tonto get out of his prison cell and be free to discover John and the bodies of the slain rangers?

LS: I just stopped caring early on. Must have been some sort of magic, I suppose.

Revived from death (it’s never clear if he was every really dead), John seeks revenge on the men who killed his brother, with shaman-like Tonto at his side. Meanwhile, Cavendish and his men have teamed up with a corrupt railroad baron named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who also has a U.S. Calvary captain, Jay Fuller, in his back pocket (Capt. Fuller seems to be an awful lot like historical figure, General George Custer). So it’s basically Reid and Tonto up against a whole bunch of corrupt individuals.

Oh yeah, and Tonto gets Reid to wear a mask that covers the top part of his face, because the bad guys think he’s dead. I’m not sure why this matters. If people think he’s dead, wouldn’t it be scarier if he didn’t wear the mask? Wasn’t it Batman who said something about striking fear in the hearts of criminals? I guess the Lone Ranger missed that lecture.

This one is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also collaborated with Johnny Depp on the wildly popular PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films.

I have to admit, I really didn’t find a lot about this movie to like. One of my biggest problems is its length. At 149 minutes, THE LONE RANGER is just about two and a half hours long. And with the exception of the train being sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang early on, the first two hours crawled at a snail’s pace for me. I didn’t care about these characters, and there are long stretches were nothing seems to happen but backstory, and I found myself struggling to stay awake a few times. Hell, let me be honest, I was bored out of my skull for most of the running time! This is pretty odd, considering THE LONE RANGER is a big budget action blockbuster. The key word being ACTION. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of action for most of the movie. In the last half hour or so, things suddenly get interesting again, and we get treated to some major action and happenings, but it takes us about two hours to get there! What the hell was Verbinski thinking?

You can’t make an action movie where it doesn’t really hit its stride until the last half hour!

MA:  True, but I had many more problems with this movie than just its lack of action.  I didn’t even like the action sequence at the end, even though parts of it are pretty cool.

LS:  There’s also a framing story that involves a young boy, Will (Mason Cook) who is visiting a wild west show in 1930s San Francisco and who comes across a very old Tonto, who seems to be living in one of the exhibits (called “The Noble Savage in his Native Habitat”). Tonto then tells the story of the movie as an extended flashback. I normally hate framing devices, and this one didn’t change my mind. I have no clue why so many directors love the idea of having framing scenes at the beginning and end of movies of characters who are telling us the tale in flashback. Just start things off with a bang with the actual movie, for chrissakes!

MA:  I hated this framing story.  It gets the movie off to such a slow start, which as you said, in terms of pacing, the film never really recovers from, and every time they return to this framing story, all it succeeds in doing is slowing things down even more.  They could have cut all these scenes and easily shaved 20 minutes of the running time.

LS: They could have cut a lot more than that.

Things don’t get interesting until two hours into the movie, and by then I had pretty much given up on it as a long, drawn-out, snooze. Armie Hammer has about the same charisma as a mannequin here, which is too bad, because he’s normally not a bad actor.

But, really, there aren’t many characters worth caring about in this movie.

MA:  By far, the character of The Lone Ranger was the worst part of this movie for me.  It wasn’t so much Hammer’s performance, although I agree with you he has no charisma here and isn’t interesting, but the way writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio constructed the character.  He’s pretty much a joke in this movie, and as a fan of the character, this new interpretation left me feeling very disappointed.  He’s kind of a bumbling goofball which isn’t the way I remember the character at all.  What these folks did to the Lone Ranger reminds me of what Johnny Depp did to Barnabas Collins in last year’s DARK SHADOWS remake.

LS: All I can say is, don’t hold any shows or movies from your childhood too sacred, because someone is going to come along and screw them up for a new audience eventually. It’s only a matter of time.

MA: I liked Hammer at the beginning, and I liked how John Reid was this innocent lawyer who didn’t really understand the workings of the Wild West, but after his brother is murdered, I expected him to change, to have a revelation and come back as an avenging force.  But this isn’t what happens.  He becomes sillier.  It just rubbed me the wrong way.

LS:  You would think that Depp took the role of Tonto as some meaningful attempt to tell the true story of Native Americans in the old West, but his performance isn’t that insightful. His Tonto is really little more than comic relief.

MA:  I actually didn’t have a problem with Depp’s performance here, and I liked him much better as Tonto than as Barnabas Collins.  I thought he was pretty funny throughout THE LONE RANGER.  He’s certainly the dominating character in the movie.

But you know what’s wrong with this?  The movie isn’t called TONTO.  It’s called THE LONE RANGER.  The way this entire story is presented in this movie is a real mess.  I kept thinking, why make a movie about the Lone Ranger if you really didn’t want to focus on the guy? Because that’s what’s going on here.  He’s simply not the main focus of the story, which makes no sense to me.  I mean, his friggin brother gets murdered in front of him.  He has all the reason in the world to become this really interesting dynamic character, but instead he acts like a buffoon.

LS: I agree.

MA: And even though he is a buffoon he’s not funny.  He’s actually the straight man to Depp’s Tonto.  Hey, let’s make a LONE RANGER movie and cast Jerry Lewis as Tonto and Dean Martin as The Lone Ranger.  Actually, Martin would have made a more interesting Lone Ranger than Armie Hammer, even if he sang a few songs.

LS:  I always liked Dean Martin, and he was in some westerns when he was alive. Believe me, he would have been an improvement. But Jerry Lewis as Tonto? Sadly, this isn’t too far from that.

I also found things like a running gag where people keep asking the Lone Ranger “What’s with the mask?” to be pretty useless.

William Fichtner, who is usually pretty good, starts out pretty well as Cavendish, who has a harelip that reveals a silver tooth, and who isn’t adverse to eating human flesh now and again, but it’s not long before he turns into just another one-dimensional bad guy (actually, he’s little more than a henchman for Latham Cole, which is really too bad).

MA:  I liked Fichtner well enough, but the problem with his character is, they make him really evil early on— he actually eats a guy’s heart, for crying out loud!— but this is a Disney movie, and so he can’t get progressively more evil as he normally would in a well written movie, which means he gets stuck with nothing to do because if he did anything, it would probably be too horrifying for a Disney flick.

LS: Agreed. They painted themselves in a corner with that one. Cavendish gets less scary as the movie goes on, not more.

Tom Wilkinson is okay as railroad baron Latham Cole, but the problem is we’ve seen this character—or ones just like him—in dozens of movies before, and Cole just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Another corrupt businessman in the early days of the railroad? Haven’t those been done to death by now?

MA (yawns):   I’ll say.

LS:  Helena Bonham Carter, as a brothel madam named Red, has some inspired moments, with her colorful clothes and a prosthetic leg made out of scrimshaw (and that doubles as a gun!), but she’s not in the movie enough to keep the boredom from setting in for long stretches. The scenes she’s in, though, are improved by her being there.

MA:  I agree.  Not that I really liked her character, but she was far less boring than most of the other folks in it.

I liked Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid.  I thought she was sufficiently sexy and voluptuous.  I wish her character had been more important in this movie.  It would have been nice to see her do more.

LS: Yes, she’s completely wasted. She might as well have been part of the scenery.

You know…I just really hated this movie!

MA:  I started out liking it— once it got past its silly framing story— but as it went on it gradually went downhill for me until, like you, I ended up not liking it at all.

LS:  It was overlong, boring, and had characters that did not keep me interested. What little action there is, mostly amounting to a big chase involving locomotives, comes too little too late, and I felt like I was being tortured for most of the movie’s running time.

How can you mess up a mindless action movie? By trying to give it more smarts than it really has, and by dwelling way too long on aspects of the story that just aren’t that interesting. Oh yeah, and forgetting to put enough ACTION into the damn thing.

Depp’s version of Tonto is just another in a long line of eccentric characters, like Captain Jack Sparrow. Between one-liners, mugging for the camera, and pretending to feed bird seed to the dead crow he wears on his head, this Tonto comes off more as a silly jester than an attempt to provide a realistic Native American character from this era. Tonto is humorous enough – not anywhere near as irritating as Depp’s take on Barnabas Collins—but he’s certainly not some great, iconic character here, either.

Armie Hammer plays Reid/the Lone Ranger as a one-dimensional good guy, which might have worked in the 1950s, but who just seems superficial and dull today.

MA:  I don’t even think he would have worked in the 1950s, unless he was co-starring with The Three Stooges, maybe.

LS:  I give the movie half a knife, for the half hour at the end when THE LONE RANGER finally remembers it’s supposed to be an action film. And for the times—which couldn’t have been more than once or twice—when Tonto elicited a chuckle from me. But overall, I had no use for this movie and considered it a waste of two and a half hours of my life.

cavaleiro-solitario-poster-001

What did you think, Michael?

MA: That’s it? What do I think? Where’s the falling chunk of mountain to conk me on the skull? Or maybe the train will suddenly derail and cut me in half.

LS: You’re being paranoid, my friend. There are no surprises planned for you. It’s just two guys sitting around with drinks, discussing a movie.

MA: It’s never just two guys sitting around discussing a movie with us— I don’t get it.

LS: Look, the movie this time was so awful, I figure I’d make the review as painless as possible. Why do we need gags, when the movie itself is a joke?

MA: Well I certainly agree with that.  And I can’t say that I’m disappointed.  I’d rather finish this review than be sidetracked thinking of ways to get you back.

I didn’t like THE LONE RANGER either.  I also didn’t really like the last half hour.  I’ll admit, the concluding action sequence at times is pretty impressive, and reminded me of some of the action sequences in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but you know what really ruined it for me?  The music.

The film actually has a decent score by Hans Zimmer, a guy who has an incredible list of credits.   He just did the music for MAN OF STEEL (2013), and he wrote the scores for THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, to name just a few.

And his score here for THE LONE RANGER is also very good, but in this concluding sequence, they finally introduce the William Tell Overture, the classic piece of music that used to accompany the old Lone Ranger TV show, and the radio show before that.  So, I guess they had to put it in the movie, but man, it seems way out of place.  It just makes things so silly.  I almost expected the action to switch gears and be shot in fast motion here.

Did I say this movie was silly?

That’s the biggest problem I had with THE LONE RANGER.  It’s way too silly.  I saw this film over the July 4th holiday with a bunch of family members, and they all loved it, and they told me one reason they liked it was it was so funny, but I tried to explain that there’s a difference between funny and silly.  Johnny Depp as Tonto was funny.  But the rest of the film was goofy, and to me, it ruined the character of the Lone Ranger.

(LS calls the WAITER over)

LS: We’re almost done with our review here. How about bringing over the special drinks.

WAITER: Of course, sir.

MA: Special drinks?

LS: Do go on.

MA: I liked how this one opened.  I liked the ambush scene.  I liked how villainous Butch Cavendish cuts out Dan Reid’s heart and eats it.  This was some potent stuff.  I expected the Lone Ranger to become this really cool character after this, to avenge the death of his brother.

Granted, I wasn’t expecting an R rated action film, but I was expecting a PG-13 rip rousing action adventure that had me cheering, not groaning.  Not cringing, or wincing, or otherwise rolling my eyes in disgust.

It’s obvious they were going for a repeat of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN formula.  Now, Johnny Depp did his part, creating a rather memorable Tonto, but unlike Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES movies, Tonto is not the main character here.  He can’t carry the movie.

And in PIRATES you had Orlando Bloom as a rather serious character who offset and gave balance to Depp’s shenanigans as Jack Sparrow.  You don’t have that balance here in THE LONE RANGER.  You have Armie Hammer doing his best Zeppo Marx impersonation.  Which Marx Brother is Zeppo?  Exactly!  He’s the one no one remembers!

I liked the ambush scene, I thought Johnny Depp was enjoyable as Tonto, but that’s it. The rest of the film I found to be a foolish goofy mess that I wish I hadn’t seen.

I give it one and a half knives.

WAITER:  Here are your drinks.

MA:  Thanks.

LS:  Drink up. A toast to making it through this one alive. Or rather, awake.

MA: (looks at glass) What is this, anyway?  There’s something moving in my drink.  Is that a scorpion?

LS:  Haven’t you ever had a scorpion bowl before?

MA:  Yeah, but they’ve never had real live scorpions in them!

LS:  This is the wild west.  Be a man! Chug it!  It’ll put hair on your chest!

MA:  I’ll pass. Waiter, another glass of ale, please.

LS: (drinks his glass, and pushes a scorpion leg back inside his mouth):  Mmmm. You don’t know what you’re missing.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE LONE RANGER ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE LONE RANGER ~ half a knife.

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS for JULY 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on Comic Book, Based on TV Show, Coming Attractions, Ghosts!, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Johnny Depp Movies, Paranormal, ROBOTS!, Samurais, Superheroes, Supernatural, Westerns with tags , , , , on July 5, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
JULY 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The wild west.  A group of masked OUTLAWS on horseback wait by a train track.  A train whistle shrieks in the distance.)

OUTLAW #1:  Here she comes.  Right on time.

OUTLAW #2:  I can’t wait to see the look on the conductor’s face when our man Willoughby guts him like a pig!  (snorts and spits tobacco).

(Train approaches.)

OUTLAW #2: Here she comes.  Look fast for Willoughby!

(The outlaws hoot and holler as they see Willoughby with a knife to the conductor’s throat. 

OUTLAW #2:  Stick him, Willoughby!  Stick him!

OUTLAW #3 (points):  Wait a minute.  Who the hell is that?

(A man in black appears behind Willoughby and pummels the outlaw over the head with a sledge hammer.  The man in black faces the camera— it is L.L. SOARES.  He continues to pummel Willoughby with the sledgehammer, stopping only to give the outlaws on horseback the finger.)

OUTLAW #1:  What the—?

OUTLAW #2 (points):  Lookee there

(MICHAEL ARRUDA, dressed in white with a white 10 gallon hat, walks on the roof of the train.  He smiles for the camera and lifts a submachine gun which he uses to blow away the outlaws on horseback in one swift sweep.)

(Dissolve to the train station)

CONDUCTOR:  That was friggin amazing!!!  Thank you, gentlemen, for stopping the Whippersnapper gang.  That was terrific!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shucks, it was nothing.  What we’re really good at is reviewing movies.

CONDUCTOR:  You don’t say?

L.L. SOARES:  He does say!

MA: In fact, right now, we’re about to do our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for July, where we preview the movies we’ll be seeing in the month ahead; in this case, July!

CONDUCTOR:  You guys are better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto!

MA:  That remains to be seen, but wouldn’t you know it, our first movie in July, opening on July 3, is THE LONE RANGER (2013), Disney’s big budget production, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.

Lone-Ranger-PosterNow, as much as I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger character, going back to my days as a kid when I used to watch reruns of the old LONE RANGER TV show from the 1950s starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto— I even had a Lone Ranger toy— I simply wasn’t all that excited about this movie.

LS: Hey, I remember that old TV show, too!

MA: I used to be a big fan of Johnny Depp, and I really enjoyed his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but lately I just haven’t been into his roles as much.  His Barnabas Collins in the recent DARK SHADOWS (2012) disaster may have been the last straw.  So, the idea of seeing Depp play Tonto does nothing for me.

Now, all this being said, I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the trailers for this one, and although I won’t go so far to say that I’m looking forward to it, I will say that I’m not dreading seeing THE LONE RANGER as much as I was a few months ago.

It’s directed by Gore Verbinski, by the way, the guy who directed the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, as well as American remake of THE RING (2002).

LS:  Yeah, I’m pretty much in the same boat. I’m a Johnny Depp fan from way back, in the days when he mostly appeared in independent movies. I understand him going for the big bucks now that the first PIRATES movie made him a bankable star, but I haven’t been excited to see a movie starring him in a long time. And yeah, DARK SHADOWS was pretty horrible.

The trailers for LONE RANGER don’t look completely awful. I’ll certainly go in hoping it’s a decent movie. But I don’t have a lot of hope.

On July 12 we’ll be reviewing PACIFIC RIM (2013).  This is one of the movies I’ve been wanting to see most this year. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH and the HELLBOY movies, among others, this one has real potential. And what a cool cast. Idris Elba, Ron Perlman, even Charlie Day from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA!

Pacific-Rim-movie-bannerPACIFIC RIM looks like a cross between TRANSFORMERS and CLOVERFIELD, as giant monsters rise up from the Pacific ocean to terrorize mankind, so the humans build giant robots to fight them. If anyone else made this movie, I’d think it was a pretty goofy idea, but with del Toro involved, I think it has a real shot at being an enjoyable flick, and smarter than it sounds. At least I hope so. Like CLOVERFIELD, it looks like it’s trying to make giant monsters scary again.

MA:  You have more faith in this one than I do, and you know what?  I hope you’re right!  Because I would be really into a cool giant monster movie!

But for me, the problem is the trailers just remind me too much of the TRANSFORMERS movies, and that’s not a good thing.  But like you said, del Toro’s involvement should lift this one to a higher level, and I certainly like that Idris Elba and Ron Perlman are in the cast, but I’m guessing in a movie like this, they probably don’t have large roles.

I just think this one’s going to be a monstrous flop.

LS:  Oh, give it a chance! It might surprise you.

MA:  I hope so.  I certainly would be happy if this one turned out to be more like CLOVERFIELD than TRANSFORMERS, but I won’t be holding my breath.

LS:  The horror movie THE CONJURING opens on July 19, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo.  This could be interesting, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as a pair of paranormal experts who investigate a haunted house where Lili Taylor lives with her kids.

The-ConjuringMA:  I’m sorry I’m going to miss this one.  The trailers look really creepy, and it’s directed by James Wan, who directed one of my favorite horror movies of the past few years, INSIDIOUS (2010), a movie that I like even more now than when I first saw it a couple of years ago.

I also like the cast, led by Patrick Wilson, who played the dad in INSIDIOUS, and Vera Farmiga, who’s currently starring as Norman Bates’s mother on the TV show BATES MOTEL.

LS: Yeah, I enjoyed the first season of BATES MOTEL, and I’m a big Farmiga fan.

MA: We finish July with THE WOLVERINE (2013), which opens on July 26.  Now, I’m a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies, and I like the character of the Wolverine a lot, and I especially enjoy Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-MEN movies, so why aren’t I all that excited about this one?

X-Men-Origins-Wolverine-2-For one thing, the title is about as blah as you can get:  THE WOLVERINE, especially considering the title of the last Wolverine movie, X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009).  Here’s a look at some future titles as the series continues:  THIS WOLVERINE, THAT WOLVERINE, WTF WOLVERINE, and THE MICHIGAN WOLVERINE

There you go.

It’s directed by James Mangold, who directed the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2009), a movie I liked a lot. 

I’m not all that excited about THE WOLVERINE, but strangely, I am looking forward to seeing it.

LS:  Yeah, I’m a Wolverine fan from way back when Chris Claremont and John Byrne were the creative team on The Uncanny X-Men comic books. So it’s cool to see the character doing so well in movies. However, while he’s been good in the X-MEN movies, I wasn’t a big fan of his last solo outing in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, which I felt was kind of a misfire.

MA:  I actually liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. 

LS:  You would!

Hopefully James Mangold can get the character back on track. This adventure takes him to Japan, where the character had a lot of storylines in the comics. There’s been a kind of “modern samurai” take on Wolverine for a long time, and I’ll be curious to see how this translates to film.

But man, you’re right, that title is incredibly lame.

MA:  And that wraps things up for July.  (turns to Train Conductor)  So, how did we do?

TRAIN CONDUCTOR:  A very entertaining column.  But I still wish you’d consider catching outlaws on a full time basis.

MA: Sorry.  No can do.   We have too many movies to review.

LS:  And I have a new novel to write.

MA:  Me, too.

LS:  A writer’s job is never done.

(MA & LS ride off into the sunset).

(SHERIFF approaches the TRAIN CONDUCTOR.)

SHERIFF:  Who were those masked men?

CONDUCTOR:  Sheriff, those men were Cinema Knife Fighters, the toughest, meanest, sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi.  And when they’re not hunting down outlaws, they review movies.

SHERIFF:  What’s a movie?

—-END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou goes to GHOST TOWN (1988)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Ghosts!, Westerns, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

GHOST TOWN (1988)

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Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Ah, Empire Pictures: A Charles Band Production – at one time those words sent anxious chills down my spine as I waited for the credits of the second feature to end and the next movie at the drive-in to begin.  Charles Band brought us unbelievably cheap, shoddy, stupid, and FUN movies during the 1970s and 1980s.  This is the man who unleashed lizard aliens in LASERBLAST (1978), a killer Chuck Connors in TOURIST TRAP (1979), Demi Moore pursued by a chest-bursting Alien-wannabe in PARASITE (1982), midget Satanist monsters in GHOULIES (1985), Tim Thomerson time traveling in TRANCERS (1985), and the list goes on and on. . . . TROLL (1986), TERRORVISION (1986), RE-ANIMATOR (1985), FROM BEYOND (1986), PRISON (1988), CELLAR DWELLAR (1988), CANNIBAL WOMEN IN THE AVACADO JUNGLE OF DEATH (1989), and who can forget 1988’s SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-A-RAMA?  With a few exceptions, these were bad B-movies, maybe even D or E movies, but there was a certain charm to the “I Can Do It” attitude everyone at Empire brought to their projects that compensated for most of the budgetary restraints.  What remained were fun little movies that many remember fondly.

One of the last Empire Pictures produced by Charles Band was GHOST TOWN (1988), a horror western hybrid that was actually head and shoulders above almost everything Band unleashed upon the poor suckers still in their cars at drive-ins at two in the morning.  This little baby fell between the cracks as Band folded Empire Pictures and brought forth Full Moon Pictures, which threatened to (and sadly, for a while, did) release a new movie on video every month.  Don’t get me started on Full Moon movies.  They made the Empire flicks look like Ernst Lubitsch in comparison, although they had their followers.

Anyway, as GHOST TOWN begins, a beautiful woman in a convertible, Kate, (Catherine Hickland from the TV shows CAPITOL, WEREWOLF, and ONE LIFE TO LIVE) races through the desert.  A fallen power line stops her, and she takes a shortcut (Uh oh!  We all know how those turn out).  She tosses a bridal veil from the moving car and she hears the hoof-beats of an invisible horse and rider following her.  Her tire blows, and a mysterious sandstorm envelopes her, all to the sound of many invisible horses, and something takes her, leaving the road completely empty.

Enter scruffy Sheriff Langley, played by Franc Luz (THE NEST, 1988 and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, 1989).  He’s called out to the missing girl’s Mercedes.  Turns out she’s the spoiled daughter of the richest man in the county, who just turned runaway bride.  Langley has always had a yen for her, so he goes searching for Kate, and instead spots men on horseback who fade into the heat-waves (a cool effect).  Suddenly, a Wild West outlaw attacks his car, shooting it up.  Then, the tires explode and the car catches fire, leaving him on foot and stranded.  He finds a sign for a town, Cruz Del Diablo, and when he reaches for it, a desiccated zombie grabs his arms and rises from the sand.  It says, “You’re the one – the one who will rid my town from this fate worse than death.  Go!  Now!”  And the talking dead man promptly folds itself back into its grave.  This is followed by a raging storm, and Langley takes refuge in a dilapidated house.

Franc Luz as Langley

Franc Luz as Langley

In the morning, Langley discovers the old house is part of a rundown, deserted Western town.  Eventually, he runs into The Dealer, a drunken gambler played by Bruce Glover (CHINATOWN, 1974 and GHOST WORLD, 2001).  He informs the sheriff that the girl is in the town, and that they have nothing but time…nothing but time.  Okey-dokey.  Langley finds a sheriff’s badge in the local bar, and when he puts it on, he starts seeing the inhabitants of the town, including bar-owner/ bartender Grace (Penelope Windust of V, 1983 and IRON WILL, 1994).  She disappears just after informing him the telegraph wire has been down for “some time.”

The town is stuck in time, reliving the wild days before the Devlin gang killed everyone in the place, letting some roam as ghosts and others becoming only voices in the night, crying between heaven and hell.  Now, the zombified Devlin (the despicable Jimmie F. Skaggs of PUPPETMASTER, 1989 and  OBLIVION, 1994) and his gang of thieves hold the remaining townspeople hostage.  Kate, who looks an awful lot like Devlin’s old girlfriend who was killed by Devlin for rebuffing his advances, is being held hostage by his gang of outlaws while Devlin tries to (yuck) romance her.

Langley learns his modern day weapons don’t work on the ghostly Devlin gang, but when he uses the old, dead sheriff’s six-shooter, it kills ‘em real good!  So, it’s showdown time with a chase through Cruz Del Diablo and a final gunfight that, while not worrying John Ford, is exciting enough for a popcorn flick like this one.

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

Welcome to GHOST TOWN

GHOST TOWN is filled with alternating action set pieces and moments of creepy imagery.  There’s also plenty of gore during the exciting shoot-outs, as well as a man dragged by horses, skulls crying blood, a crucifixion on a windmill, silver smelting, and a Phantom of the Opera-type unmasking scene.   It gallops along fairly quickly, aided immensely by Luz’s self aware performance as Langley (you actually root for him; he’s earnest as hell and he’s actually pretty smart for a hick sheriff character, though his jeans are so tight you wonder how he runs in them at all) and the over-the-top histrionics of Skaggs as Devlin.  He isn’t just chewing the scenery; he’s putting a bib around his neck and sitting down for a buffet.  Beneath his yellow fake teeth and his scarred, shot-up face, he rolls his eyes and hisses every line of dialogue, laughing wildly while killing people and spouting lines like “I’ve seen the devil.  When you get to Hell, give him my regards.”

GHOST TOWN is beautifully shot on desert vistas by Mac Ahlberg who photographed dozens of Full Moon and Empire productions (MERIDIAN, 1990, CRASH AND BURN, 1990 and FROM BEYOND, 1986) as well as many bigger productions like DEEPSTAR SIX (1989), INNOCENT BLOOD (1992), BEVERLY HILLS COP III (1994), and A VERY BRADY SEQUEL (1996).  He’s lately returned to the Band family wagon with such unimpressive credits as PUPPET MASTER: THE LEGACY (2003) and KILLER BONG (2006).  He died this year, but he thankfully left us the sepia-toned and sunset-infused photography of GHOST TOWN.  He made this low-budget movie look like it cost twenty million bucks.  It raises the whole production from decent to quite respectable.

It’s really too bad GHOST TOWN is almost completely forgotten after a token VHS release from New World.  It’s a fun little B-movie, full of action, with contemptible villains, heroes to applaud, pretty women, and several great action sequences.

I give GHOST TOWN three zombified outlaws out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

The Final CKF Review of 2012: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Plot Twists, Revenge!, Tarantino Films, Vengeance!, VIOLENCE!, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A saloon in the old west. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA sidle up to the bar. The bartender is washing glasses and suddenly looks up at them and his eyes bug out of his head)

BARTENDER: You boys are from that Cinema Knife Fight gang, aintchoo? We don’t want no trouble ‘round here.

LS: And there won’t be any trouble, as long as you bring us a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.

(BARTENDER grabs a bottle and puts it in front of them, with two glasses)

MA: Wow, what fast service! Thank you, my good man!

BARTENDER: Sshh-sure (goes to the other end of the bar)

LS (pours whiskey): And here we are, doing our last Cinema Knife Fight review for 2012, and it’s probably the movie I’ve been looking to most all year, Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

MA (lifts his glass): Why don’t you tell the fine people in the audience what the movie is about.

LS:  Sure thing, pardner!

DJANGO UNCHAINED opens two years before the Civil War, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is one of a group of slaves being transported across some rough terrain, when along comes a traveling dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who rides a wagon with a big tooth on top. But Schultz stopped being a dentist five years earlier. Now, he’s a bounty hunter, and he is after the reward for three outlaws named the Brittle Brothers, but he doesn’t know what they look like. Instead, he’s tracked down one of the slaves from the plantation they were working at, Django. Schultz offers the man his freedom if he will help him identify and capture the Brittles.

Django would like nothing better than to hunt down the men who beat him and sold his wife and himself  to separate buyers (when they tried to escape from the plantation), so he readily agrees. When the men transporting the slaves (which include Django) protest, Schultz makes short work of them. Soon, the two men are making their way to small town in Texas, to discuss their partnership, and to kill the local Sheriff (you’ll find out why when you see the movie).

Schultz finds out that Django is desperate to get his wife back, so he makes him a deal. If they get the Brittle Brothers, Django will become a free man. But if he continues to work for Schultz, collecting rewards for outlaws who are wanted dead or alive (and they just about always bring them in dead) throughout the winter months, Schultz will help him track down his wife in the spring, and help him free her.

Their hunt for the Brittle Brothers take them to the plantation of a man called Big Daddy (Don Johnson), and Django relishes the chance to get revenge. This begins the partnership between Django and Schultz, which turns out to be quite profitable, since Django is a natural shooter and the fastest gun Schultz has ever seen.

Come spring, their journey takes them to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic Southern Gentleman-type who treats his slaves viciously, especially the men he buys to participate in fights to the death for his amusement. Schultz pretends to want to buy one of his fighters in order to get close enough to confirm that Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is indeed on the plantation, and he and Django plan to get her out. Django pretends to be a “black slaver” who is there to be Schultz’s consultant, and everyone is astounded to see a black man who rides a horse and acts like an equal to the white men around him.

The odyssey Django undertakes to free his wife parallels the German legend of Sigfried and Brunhilda, where Sigfried traveled through hellfire and slew a dragon to free the woman he loved. What Django goes through is just about as dangerous, once Candie gets wind of what is really going on, thanks to the keen observation skills of his right hand man, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

DJANGO UNCHAINED is a violent, but highly stylized revenge drama set in the old South. And it continues Tarantino’s streak of making great movies, as far as I’m concerned.

MA:  I hated it.

(LS spits out his whiskey.)

MA (laughs):  Just kidding.  You just looked so happy talking about the movie, I couldn’t resist.

LS:  You scared me.

MA:  There’s a first time for everything.

LS:  A new Tarantino movie has become s0mething of a big event for me, and I was more than happy to check it out at the matinee on Christmas Day (when it was released). However, I was shocked to find the theater packed so early in the day. I thought most people would be home with their families, but the theater appeared to be sold out at the showing I saw. It was a good crowd, though, and it was nice to see that there are so many Tarantino fanatics.

MA:  I saw it this past Friday night, and the theater was packed then too, and it was a very enthusiastic lively audience.

(YOSEMITE SAM gets up from the table where he’s playing cards and approaches the bar)

YOSEMITE SAM: So you varmints think you’re tough, huh?

LS: Yup.

MA: Well, to be honest,  we never actually said that.

YOSEMITE SAM: The last hombre who spoke to me that way is now six feet under…

LS: Is that where Bugs Bunny lives these days?

YOSEMITE SAM: Why, you!

(MA pulls out his gun and fires at SAM’s feet, making him dance as LS claps his hands)

LS: Hey, this is fun!

MA: You tired yet?

YOSEMITE SAM (breathing hard): Damn you, Knife Fighters.

(MA stops shooting and YOSEMITE SAM topples over in exhaustion)

LS: Rats! I wanted to see more dancing.

Anyway, back to our review.

Nobody makes movies like Quentin Tarantino, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is just another in a long line of powerful epics. Not only is DJANGO the tale of a man yearning for freedom and the freedom of the woman he loves, and thus there is a love story at the heart of this film, but it’s also a chance for Tarantino to recreate American history in his own image. Because his movies are not so much set in certain point in time as they are events that unfurl in a world of Tarantino’s creation. In his world, things don’t happen exactly like they did in ours. For example, in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009), his last film, a rag-tag group of soldiers actually succeeded in assassinating Hitler.

Tarantino also has a sense of style that sets him apart from everyone else making movies today.

MA:  That’s certainly true.

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LS:  It’s a mixture of art (because there is an artistic eye to the way his movies are filmed) and pure grindhouse adrenaline. Even though DJANGO is over two and a half hours long, I never once felt bored, and it never dragged—in fact, I wanted even more. For once, every scene was necessary, and expanded upon what came before it, like the petals of a flower in bloom. There are several reasons why his movies are so satisfying. First off, there’s that artistic eye of his. Tarantino pays attention to detail and, in so doing, he fleshes out his world quite nicely, and makes it feel like a real place.

MA:  I would argue that it feels less like a real place and more like the world seen through an artist’s eyes, which doesn’t make it any less satisfying or believable.  Watching DJANGO with its rich imagery and fine attention to detail was like looking at an artist’s painting, only this artist is also a helluva writer.

LS:  Which brings me to my second point, his dialogue, which is second to none in modern cinema.

MA:  It’s great dialogue. I could listen to Dr. King Schultz all day.

LS:  There are also his soundtracks, which treat music as a character in the film, and he draws from everything from the music scores of other films (the opening song, “DJANGO” is from the 1966 spaghetti western of the same name, and it works just as well here), obscure pop songs, and music written just for his movies.

MA:  I agree.  The soundtrack is second to none.  My favorite part of the soundtrack is the variety he uses, the combination of pop songs—which amazingly don’t seem out of place here—with traditional film music.

LS: My favorite songs, aside from the title song, included ones by John Legend and Brother Dege. Hell, Tarantino even uses a Jim Croce song (someone I normally don’t like) to maximum effect in the middle of the film.  (And this is probably a good time to mention that the soundtrack album is pretty damn cool, too.)

And then there’s the casting. Tarantino’s movies always seem to have amazing casts, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no exception. I wasn’t a big fan of Jamie Foxx before seeing this movie, but I consider myself a fan now. Foxx turns in a terrific performance here, full of anger, heart, and frustration with the world his character finds himself in.

MA:  Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx either, but he is excellent here.  He really brings Django to life, and pretty much everything he does with this character in this movie is spot on.  He makes Django one bad-ass bounty hunter, yet he never sacrifices the sympathy we feel for him as he tries to rescue his wife.  It’s a very satisfying performance by Foxx, and I enjoyed him here much more than I did in RAY (2004) and DREAMGIRLS (2009).

LS: Alongside him is Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz. If you remember, Waltz won an Oscar for his role as a Nazi officer in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and he’s just as mem0rable here. Waltz is fascinating to watch as the self-assured and morally righteous Schultz, and he and Foxx play off of each other really well.

MA:  Waltz is great.  Not quite as mesmerizing a performance as he pulled off in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but it’s a much different role and is satisfying in a different way.  Dr. Schultz is a much more enjoyable character than the intense Nazi officer Waltz played in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

LS:  I’m not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, either, and I still don’t understand why so many directors want to use him so much (Martin Scorcese comes to mind), but he is brilliant here, playing against type as a sadistic villain.

MA:  Directors want to use him so much because he’s a terrific actor!  Admit it, he’s a great actor!

LS:  I’m not admitting anything!  But I will say that it may be the best performance I’ve ever seen DiCaprio give, and one scene where his Calvin Candie makes a point with an old skull and a hammer is especially intense.

MA:  Very intense.  That’s a testament to both DiCaprio’s acting skills and Tarantino’s direction.  I mentioned that I saw this movie with a very lively enthusiastic audience.  There was definitely a buzz in the theater before and during the movie, but during this scene, you could hear a pin drop.

(Sheriff QUICK DRAW MCGRAW and his deputy BABA-LOOEY enter the saloon and walk over to the bar)

QUICK DRAW: I hear you gents are disturbing the peace in my town.

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: So what if we are?

MA: Actually, we’re trying to mind our own business and review a movie here.

QUICK DRAW: Why, you! How dare you speak back that way to a lawman!

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: A law-horse you mean. Make him dance, Michael, I want to see the funny horse dance!

QUICK DRAW: I think you need to be taught some manners. (reaches for his gun)

(LS fires first, and a fountain of blood spurts out of QUICK DRAW, splashing all over BABA-LOOEY)

QUICK DRAW: I’m shot!

BABA-LOOEY: I’m getting out of here!

LS: Someone call the glue factory.

MA: Back to our review, after being so rudely interrupted.

While my favorite performance in the film belonged to Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz, I wouldn’t say he gave the best performance in the movie.  That honor goes to DiCaprio.

DiCaprio delivers a riveting, delicious performance as Calvin Candie.  He’s the perfect antagonist for Waltz’s and Foxx’s protagonists.  And as you mentioned, once you get to that scene with the hammer and skull, he’s one scary guy.  It’s the best DiCaprio performance I’ve seen since THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006).

LS:  Sam Jackson is just as villainous as Candie’s sidekick Stephen, a man who appears to be a fussy old “Uncle Tom” type, but who is, in reality, Candie’s confidante and pretty much his equal behind closed doors. And he’s just as vicious as his “master.”

MA:  It’s my favorite Jackson performance in years.  Stephen is one aggravating, vicious son of a bitch.

LS:  Kerry Washington is perhaps the heart of the film as Broomhilda, a slave who speaks German as well as English (which Schultz finds delightful and which they use in their plan). She’s undergone much brutality by the time Django finds her again – the first time we see her in a scene that isn’t a flashback, she’s being pulled naked out of a hotbox, where she’s being punished, and screams when a bucket of water is splashed on her—and you immediately want him to succeed in his plan to rescue her from the hell that is Calvin Candie’s plantation, called Candieland.

MA:  Yep.  Washington is great and does a terrific job evoking our sympathy throughout the film.

LS:  And those flashbacks are pretty potent. There are several times where Django’s mind wanders during their journey and he sees fleeting images of Broomhilda behind a tree, or bathing next to him in a stream, and you can feel Django’s yearning for her. His passion. And his remembrances of the abuse inflicted on him and “Hildi” (as she’s called) keeps him focused throughout to exact the vengeance he so rightly deserves.

The use of flashbacks in this movie is another plus. The cinematography in these scenes looks different from the rest of the movie—kind of dreamy—and evokes the way flashbacks were used in the best movies of the 1960 and early 70s (MIDNIGHT COWBOY comes to mind).  I loved that effect.

(DEPUTY DAWG enters the saloon)

DEPUTY DAWG: Dang it, you shot Sherriff McGraw!

LS: Yeah, what of it?

DEPUTY DAWG: Y’all think you can come into this town and shoot our sheriff in cold blood?

MA: He’s just a cartoon. So are you.

DEPUTY DAWG: Just a cartoon? Do we not cry if you hurt us? Do we not bleed if you shoot us?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG’s face, as tears stream down his cheeks)

MA: If you put it that way, I feel kind of bad.

LS: Me, too.

DEPUTY DAWG: You two are so lucky that I wanted to be Sheriff of these parts, otherwise I’d take you in. But since QUICK DRAW’s dead, now I can take his job. Barkeep, drinks for everyone! Put it on my tab!

SALOON PATRONS: HURRAY!

BABA-LOOEY (hiding behind a barrel of beer): Looks like I better make like a banana and split (runs away).

DEPUTY DAWG: Let’s get back to your review. I want to see how this ends.

LS: What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the cast. The rest of the cast in DJANGO UNCHAINED is top-notch, and there are lots of really great actors in small roles here.

MA:  Which is always a lot of fun.

LS:  Just some of them include: Walton Goggins (from THE SHIELD and more recently the FX series JUSTIFIED) as a cowboy on Candie’s crew with a mean streak; Franco Nero (the Italian star of the 1966 DJANGO, you can identify him by his piercing blue eyes) as another slave owner who pits his man against Candie’s in a brutal fight scene that is going on when Schultz and Django first meet Candie. James Remar (Dexter’s father on DEXTER) as both one of the Speck brothers who are transporting the slaves in the beginning of the movie, and later as Candie’s hired gunman, Butch; Tom Savini as a man who handles Candie’s vicious dogs;  Bruce Dern in flashback as Django’s former slave owner; Jonah Hill in one of the movie’s more humorous scenes as a complaining Klansman – with Brad Dourif as another one of that gang;  M.C. Gainey (one of the more memorable “Others” from the TV series, LOST) as one of the Brittle Brothers; and Lee Horsley as a corrupt sheriff. The only actor here who seemed a little off was Tarantino himself, in a role as an Australian mercenary. But considering how great a job he’s done here as a director, it’s easy to give him that. (besides, rumor has it another actor backed out at the last minute, and Tarantino had to fill in for the scene, because it was the easiest solution).

MA:  It was fun seeing Bruce Dern, even for just the one scene.

And don’t forget Don Johnson in a memorable bit as Big Daddy, a southern plantation owner who serves as a sort of precursor to Calvin Candie.

LS: You’re right. Don Johnson is terrific in this movie as well. I loved him in every scene he’s in.

MA: I also enjoyed seeing Dennis Christopher as Candie’s lawyer, Leonide Moguy.

I’m not quite sure what Jonah Hill was doing in this movie.  He seemed a bit out of place, even if he did appear in the film’s funniest scene.

LS:  DJANGO UNCHAINED is gory. When bullets enter flesh, there is a fair amount of blood.

MA:  And it’s not of the CGI variety, which is a good thing.

LS:  During a big shootout towards the end, things get messy. But there’s a kind of visceral authenticity to it.

MA:  Yeah, but I thought things got a bit carried away at the end.  It seemed unnecessary, and didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the movie.  I could have done without the big concluding bloodbath.  I don’t have a problem with the fates of any of the principal characters, but to have an army of nameless gunmen riddled with bullets nonstop while spewing blood showers all over creation did nothing for me.

LS:  Between the top shelf acting, terrific script and dead-on direction, DJANGO UNCHAINED is easily one of the best movies I have seen in 2012. I just wish I didn’t have to wait all year long to see it. I give it four and a half knives.

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MA:  I liked it too, but not as much as you.  I agree that it has phenomenal acting, directing, and a top-notch script.  All three of these things are equally terrific.

One of my favorite parts of the script is that it runs the full gamut of emotions.  It’s  a love story, an actioner, a revenge tale, a statement on the evils of slavery, and the moods range from that incredibly tense scene near the end where Candie delivers his spiel with the skull and hammer to the funniest Ku Klux Klan scene in a movie this side of Mel Brooks.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and not of the nervous laughter variety.  It’s simply hilarious.

LS: It’s also a western—Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s, to be exact—as well as a homage to the black empowerment films of the 1970s. Two genres with their feet firmly planted in grindhouse cinema. Tarantino takes these elements and uses them to transcend his inspirations with something new and epic in scope. But the grindhouse elements here mean this movie is also entertaining as hell.

MA: There are lots of well-crafted scenes.  I thought the initial meeting scene between Dr. Schultz and Django, which comes right at the beginning of the movie, is one of the film’s best sequences.   It sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The “Mandingo” fight sequence is a particularly brutal scene, as is the scene where a slave is torn apart by dogs.  These scenes aren’t overly gory, but they’re tough to get through.  Tarantino does a nice job with reaction shots of his characters.  You don’t need to see what’s going on.  You can tell by looking into the pained eyes of Dr. Schultz, for example.

But the film’s not perfect.  While I would agree with you that the pacing is very good throughout, I did think it lost momentum towards the end.  The movie reaches an obvious climax when the plot to rescue Hildi comes to a head, but from there, as the story continues, I thought it lost a few steps.

It’s not that I didn’t like the ending to this movie.  I did.  It’s just that I thought the last twenty minutes or so didn’t have the same edge as the rest of the movie, and I didn’t find the final few events of the film as believable as all that had come before it.   And once it became obvious where the tale was headed, it didn’t have the same sense of unpredictability towards the end as it had during the beginning and middle.

LS: The only moment in the film that seemed to strain believability for me was the outcome of the deal between Candie and Schultz for the freedom of Hildi. It seems that Schultz could have resolved it much easier, and that his motives were almost forced to take the movie where Tarantino wanted it to go. I can’t fully complain, because what happens afterwards is so spectacular, but it just seems that Schultz was a little unnecessarily stubborn in that scene for the sake of the plot.

MA:  See, I didn’t find what happens afterwards all that spectacular.  To me, the film hit its peak during that scene where Candie and Schulz make their deal, and what followed, while good, was less intense.

It’s tough to keep up the kind of intensity found in DJANGO UNCHAINED for an entire movie, and I think, as this one made its way to the finish line, it slowed down somewhat.  I don’t mean the pacing slowed down, but the story did, if that makes any sense.

Still, I liked DJANGO UNCHAINED a lot, and it’s also one of my favorite movies of this year.  I give it three and a half knives.

LS: That’s all you’re giving it? What are you, insane?

MA:  I’ve only given a handful of movies more than a three knife rating this year, which puts DJANGO UNCHAINED in the upper echelon of movies I’ve seen this year, where it belongs.

Hey, bartender!  How about another round of whiskeys?

BARTENDER:  S-sure.  Then you folks’ll be leaving?

LS:  We’ll be leaving when we’re good and ready.

BARTENDER (pouring whiskey, nervously spilling some):  No hurry.  Take your time.  You’ll get no trouble from me.

LS (downs his drink):  I’m good.

MA:  And I’m ready.

LS:  Let’s blow this watering hole.

BARTENDER:  Please!  Don’t blow up my bar!

MA:  It’s just an expression.  Keep your shirt on.

BARTENDER:  Why would I take off my shirt?

MA:  You don’t get out much, do you?  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  So long folks!  We’ll see y’all next year with lots more movie reviews! So stay with your pals here at cinemaknifefight.com for 2013!

MA:  Adios, muchachos y muchachas!

BARTENDER (scratches his head):  You’re Mexican?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG who’s asleep at the bar, snoring loudly)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives DJANGO UNCHAINED ~ THREE AND A HALF knives (out of five)!

LL Soares gives DJANGO UNCHAINED  ~ FOUR AND A HALF knives!

Transmissions to Earth: DJANGO (1966)

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Action Movies, Classic Films, Exploitation Films, Italian Cinema, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Spaghetti Westerns, Trasmissions to Earth, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by knifefighter

 

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Transmissions to Earth Presents:

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DJANGO (1966)
Review by L.L. Soares

In honor of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, DJANGO UNCHAINED, which opened on Christmas Day, I thought I would see the movie that inspired him – at least in part – the original 1966 spaghetti western called, simply, DJANGO, starring Franco Nero.

When we first see the titular anti-hero, Django is on a hill, dragging a coffin behind him with ropes. He looks down upon a group of Mexican bandits tying up a prostiute named Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and flogging her. Suddenly, a group of soldiers arrive, shooting the bandits and setting the woman free – or so we think. Instead, they form a cross from pieces of wood, intent on burning her for her sins. Django comes to her rescue and she is saved a second time.

Django drags around a coffin wherever he goes.

Django drags around a coffin wherever he goes.

Going into town, they find it pretty much deserted, except for a whorehouse/saloon run by Nathaniel (Angel Alvarez). Their clientele includes the soldiers, led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), and the Mexican bandits, led by General Hugo (Jose Bodalo), the exact two groups who had taken turns persecuting Maria earlier.

Django makes the whorehouse his office, dragging that coffin of his into the middle of the room, to the consternation of Nathaniel and his girls, who are terrified about how Major Jackson will respond. When we are introduced to the Major, he is using bandits as target practice (they’re forced to run up a hill and he shoots them in the back as they flee). Jackson takes some of his men into town to look at the stranger who shot some of his soldiers, which leads to  Django revealing just what’s in that coffin of his. Let’s just say Major Jackson enters the saloon with an entourage and leaves all by himself.

Django has a special treat for his enemies in the coffin he drags around everywhere.

Django has a special treat for his enemies in the coffin he drags around everywhere.

While Django and Nathaniel are digging graves for all the men Django has killed, the bandits show up again. It turns out that General Hugo knows Django from past skirmishes and they are old friends. Django reveals to the General why he came to town – to steal some gold from a military fort just inside the Mexican border. Hugo is game, and they follow Major Jackson back to the fort, where they attack (after hiding in the covered wagon Nathaniel normally uses to bring prostitutes to the soldiers) and abscond with a big bag of gold dust.

Afterwards, Hugo double-crosses Django, cheating him out of his cut of the gold in the name of “La Revolucion” Hugo is planning, to take over the Mexican government. He expects Django to make a sacrifice for the cause, but the mysterious stranger has no intention of leaving empty-handed, especially when it was his plan that got them the gold.

After tricking the bandits out of their gold, Django tries to get away, but accidentally loses the gold (now stuffed in his coffin) to a patch of quicksand. The bandits catch up and crush Django’s hands, leaving him for dead, before riding off into an ambush of Major Jackson’s men, who shoot the bandits dead.

The film ends with a lethal showdown in a cemetery with Django, with a gun but crushed hands, against Major Jackson and a group of his men, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.

DJANGO was a big hit upon its initial release and spawned lots of imitators, and some sequels. It’s clear that Franco Nero’s character is patterened after the “Man with No Name” that Clint Eastwood played in the spaghetti westerns he did for director Sergio Leone.  Django is a man of few works, with a face full of stubble, like Eastwood’s mercenary, but Nero also has piercing blue eyes beneath his beat-up cowboy hat. Directed by Sergio Corbucci, DJANGO isn’t as epic as Leone’s best work, and he clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the budget of Leone’s films, but Corbucci makes up for it in in interesting locations and a strong atmosphere of foreboding.

DJANGO doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the tons of other Italian westerns of the time, but Nero is terrific as the lead character. And that coffin he drags around is an interesting gimmick. Also, Major Jackson’s men go around wearing red bags over their heads, looking an awful lot like a variation on the Klu Klux Klan (the fact that Jackson is clearly a racist just emphasizes this).

It’s not 100% clear what Major Jackson is up to. He leads a group of soldiers, but they seem to be outside of the law and murder the locals with impunity. At one point, Jackson mentions that he fought for the South in the recent Civil War (which isn’t referred to by name), while Django fought for the North. All the more reason for them to be enemies. But since the film was made in Italy, it seems to be a little vague about the details of the war and the specifics of geography.

While it’s not a great movie, DJANGO has some great moments, including a scene where bandits cut off the ear of one of Major Jackson’s cronies, a preacher named Brother Jonathan (Gino Pernice), and that final showdown in the graveyard. And Franco Nero dominates every scene he’s in, and it’s not hard to see how he became an international star.

Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.

Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.

DJANGO may have “inspired” Tarantino’s new one, but aside from the titles (and names of the title characters) and the fact that they’re both westerns, there’s not a lot in common between DJANGO and DJANGO UNCHAINED. Tarantino has stated that he really likes this movie, however, and he uses some of Luis Bacalov’s score for DJANGO in DJANGO UNCHAINED, including the memorable title song which appears in both films. The original film is worth checking out, however, especially if you’re a big fan of Italian westerns of the 1970s.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

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Monstrous Question: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WESTERN (4 of 4)

Posted in 2011, Classic Films, John Wayne Movies, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monstrous Question, Westerns with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION:  Favorite WESTERNS
(Monstrous Question created by Michael Arruda)

Tonight’s question from L.L. SOARES:
What are our favorite westerns?

Our panel responds:

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MICHAEL ARRUDA: 

I have a lot of favorite westerns, but here are a few of them:

I discovered John Wayne later in life, but I have to say, I REALLY enjoy his movies.  He truly dominates the movies he’s in.  To do that on a consistent basis takes talent, and Wayne, though he won only one Oscar for TRUE GRIT (1969), had a lot of it.  The westerns Wayne starred in belong in a category all their own.

I think the best John Wayne western I’ve seen, and the one that includes Wayne’s best performance, would be THE SEARCHERS (1956), directed by John Ford.  This is a dark, meaty role for the Duke, one in which he gets to show a grim, dangerous side.

You also can’t beat the plot, as Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a man who along with his nephew (Jeffrey Hunter) spends years searching for his niece, who had been abducted by Indians when she was a child.  Her parents, Ethan’s brother and wife, were murdered by these same Indians, and it’s hinted at early on in the film that Ethan and his brother’s wife share more than just a casual connection.  Also, Wayne’s dark side in this movie comes into play because he hates Indians, and the longer his niece is with them, the more it becomes apparent that rather than rescue her, he’d like to kill her.

It’s a great movie.

But my favorite John Wayne western, in terms of how much fun it is to watch, would be RIO BRAVO (1959), with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.  I love the story and I also like Dino’s drunk deputy character, Dude, and Angie Dickinson makes a very sexy leading leady.  I also like EL DORADO (1966) which pairs Wayne with Robert Mitchum and James Caan.  Sure, it tells almost the same story as RIO BRAVO, but it’s still great fun.  These two were both directed by the great Howard Hawks.

Moving on from John Wayne, any western that Clint Eastwood has starred in is more than worth your time.  I love the trilogy by Sergio Leone, FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), my favorite of the three, and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY  (1966).  I also like Eastwood in UNFORGIVEN (1992) a lot, and a host of others.  Like I said, you can’t go wrong with Eastwood.

And just to have a western without Wayne or Eastwood, I enjoyed the recent 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and would list that as a modern favorite.

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

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Monstrous Question: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE WESTERN? (3 of 4)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Classic Films, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Monstrous Question, Westerns with tags , , , , on September 17, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION:  Favorite WESTERNS
(Monstrous Question created by Michael Arruda)

Tonight’s question from L.L. SOARES:
What are our favorite westerns?

Our panel responds:

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MARK ONSPAUGH: 

My favorite Western of all time is HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), the surreal, supernatural Western shot at Mono Lake that was Clint Eastwood’s second feature as a director, and it’s got everything – a town with a secret, outlaws coming to settle a score, a vengeful spirit, a dwarf, lots of Eastwood-style gunplay… Hell, even the Man with No Name has a name here… if you pay attention…

Eastwood wrote to John Wayne after this debuted, wanting to work with him – the Duke sent back a nasty reply, unhappy with the violence and revisionist leanings of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. Needless to say, they never did work together.

I’d take any Eastwood Western after that, but especially THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966 – the score alone earns it a spot) and HANG ‘EM HIGH (1966) – [showing his hanging scar] “When you hang a man, you better look at him!”

Man, I love Westerns – I’d also throw in BLAZING SADDLES (1974) and the granddaddy of ’em all, HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962), a look at the pioneers and push westward that has every (it seems) major star of Hollywood and everything from a wagon train, a raft on the rapids, riverboats, buffalo stampedes, Indian attacks and the Civil War – all in Cinerama!

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© Answer copyright 2011 by Mark Onspaugh

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Tune in next time for another response!