Tag Archives: Western

Vic’s Classics – Hang Em High (1968)

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“Hang ‘Em High”

Directed by Ted Post

8 out of 10

Director Ted Post ( Gunsmoke, Magnum Force) and TV writers Leonard Freeman ( Hawaii Five-O ) and Mel Goldberg (Bonanza) brought to the screen one of Actor / Director Clint Eastwood’s (Million Dollar Baby, Firefox) more memorable westerns about revenge and injustice. It isn’t by far the most seminal of Eastwood’s westerns of the 1960’s but it is an interesting character study and has enough juice to demand we stick around and find out what becomes to the men that run afoul of Eastwood’s main character named Jed Cooper. Cooper is a no nonsense type like many of Eastwood’s cowboys who happens to be herding some cattle in Oklahoma in the year 1889. As he does he is approached by a posse of nine men looking to get to the bottom of the murder of  the Herd owner. Apparently, Cooper purchased the Herd not from it’s owner but from a rustler who had killed him and posed as it’s owner during the sale of the herd to Cooper. Even as he shows the posse his receipt he is still met with hostility from the men. Only one, Jenkins (Bob Steele) shows a bit of concern and doubt as to Cooper’s culpability in the alleged robbery and murder. This though does not stop the men from taking the law into their own hands and it is this plot device that propels the story and movie forward in an entertaining fashion despite a bit of laziness from director Ted Post here and there.

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2 men named Reno and Miller (Bruce Dern) steal a saddle and wallet from Cooper. The men then grab Cooper, hang him and leave him to die painfully as they ride away. Well, as it happens, a Federal Marshal named Dave Bliss (Ben Johnson of Terror Train) sees Cooper hanging and cuts him down barely alive. Bliss helps out Jed and gets him on a horse and takes him to Fort Grant to let a frontier Judge named Adam Fenton. Fenton is loosely based on a true life Judge named Issac Parker who in real life was called “The Hanging Judge” and didn’t get that name from selling cookies. Fenton finds Cooper innocent and he then lets him free to re-coup in Fort Grant. Eventually he is offered the position of a Marshal and Cooper accepts. On one condition from Fenton: That he does not hunt down and kill the men that wronged him. Later in the film things get hairy for Cooper as finds his saddle on a horse in a small town saloon. He finds Reno who tries to shoot Cooper but not in time and he is shot dead. Jenkins on the other hand gives himself up. As more men are found Cooper is drawn into a moral battle with himself and tries to do what s right by the law. The film straddles those gray areas and Eastwood and Post, both in good form, deliver a decent western with some drama, wry levity and great performances.

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“Hang em High” can at times seem a bit like a carbon copy of previous Italian westerns and Eastwood has indeed done better but I felt that the story, while a bit dated even for 1968, was cool enough to keep me interested. This is done by the good performances here by the large cast which includes Bruce Dern, Pat Hingle, Eastwood himself, Ben Johnson, Alan Ladd Jr., the beautiful Inger Stevens (The Twilight Zone) and a young Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Waterworld) as “The Prophet” who is gunned down by Bliss in a foiled escape attemot. The cast all work well within the revenge tale and Bruce Dern stands out as an especially slimy bad guy to oppose Eastwood. Clint here is stern, gravelly voiced and dead serious. Eastwood the way Eastwood should be. Being Eastwood’s first american western and the first Malpaso Company production, the film is a good indicator from which to forsee some greatness being born for Eastwood’s future movies. The film is indeed under-appreciated and plays out true to form. I feel the film may be a bit under-estimated as well. It isn’t a magical western like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” or the seminal “Unforgiven” but it is thought provoking and features solid action and style. Some of the convictions and motivations fall by the wayside though when some characters make strange decisions but these things never distract Post, Eastwood and the writers from spinning a cool and stable revenge yarn. Eastwood finally puts a name to his fabled image of the cowboy with “no name” and here we get a truly interesting side to this mythos. It’s not magical like the Leone pictures but it just fine. Richard Kline’s (Body Heat, The Andromeda Strain) photography is nice and engaging with frames filled with great costumes, grit and dusty landscapes. I thought Dominic Frontiere’s ( Color of Money, Chisum) music was a bit underwhelming but appropriate in the right places. All in all this Eastwood western entry is not bad but it isn’t great either. It strives to work though. I appreciate it’s ability to remain an under-appreciated and oft overlooked movie in Eastwood’s body of work. It’s just that it is eclipsed, appropriately, by better fare like the Leone films and the director’s own powerhouse, “Unforgiven.”

Brian’s Review – “Django Unchained” (2012)

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“With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.”

Django Unchained

Rating –  8 out of 10

Tarantino has definitely brought credibility back to the “revenge” genre. His last three films were all based on that subject. “Kill Bill” was classic over the top samurai fun, Inglorious Basterds was the Jewish fantasy of being able to get back at the Nazis, and now “Django” again deals with the historical fictional revenge of what would happen if a slave was able to get back at his owners.

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A lot has been written about this film and little of it focused on its quality. Most of what I read was about its use of the N-word, its over the top violence, and its realistic depiction of torture towards slaves. All of what you’ve heard is true. It constantly uses the N-word, its violence is the most extreme yet for a Tarantino film, and its depiction of slave torture is gruesome and cruel. But, guess what? It’s also a hell of a film! Tarantino and Westerns were bound to cross paths at some point. All of his films have nods to spaghetti westerns, particularly Sergio Leone’s masterpieces. But, while he takes elements from the past, this is definitely an original piece of work with rock solid direction and a pitch perfect cast all the way around.

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Jamie Foxx hold down the lead just fine, Christoph Waltz is utterly brilliant, Leonardo DiCaprio will no doubt get an Oscar nod, and Samuel Jackson should win one. This is the best performance of Jackson’s entire career and you will develop a hatred for him unlike anyone in a film in some time. While DiCaprio’s slave owner is expected to be a cold and heartless piece of shit, Jackson’s turn as the Uncle Tom is really what will piss you off. The script is really terrific as well and I particularly like Tarantino’s use of time. There’s flashbacks and flash forwards several times to explain back story and they’re never confusing or superfluous. In fact, the first hour of the films is pretty damn near perfect.

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So, why not a 10? The middle section bogs it down a bit. There’s a very long stretch where we’re waiting to get to DiCaprio’s plantation that could have been tightened up significantly. There’s also a double ending(I’m trying to stay vague to avoid spoilers) that was fairly unnecessary. It is literally about 25 minutes of cut footage away from being damn near perfect because you really couldn’t ask for much better of a script and certainly not better performances. Highly recommended!

Brian’s Review – “Cowboys and Aliens”

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel series leaps to the screen as amnesiac gunslinger Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the Wild West town of Absolution, where he’s confronted by potent enemy Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and a terrifying problem: invading aliens. Aided by the lovely Ella (Olivia Wilde), Jake rallies a posse of the townspeople, Dolarhyde’s minions and local Apache warriors to fight off the extraterrestrial threat.

Brian – 2 out of 10
What an expensive mess of a film. How could they have possibly green-lit this script and lure Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Jon Favreu to work on it? If you’re wondering if the movie is just as disjointed as the title, you’d be right and then some. It literally feels like two different films. Neither have any bit of a fucking story but they’re there. We open with Daniel Craig waking up after an alien abduction and has an alien “friendship bracelet” attached to him. After that, we learn he’s a wanted man, a damn good gun fighter, and a man who’s soft side has been taken away because he lost the woman he loves. Ok, were they serious with this shit? I just described almost every western that ever existed. Now, just to make sure it runs through every cliché possible, Harrison Ford shows up pissed off because his son has been arrested despite shooting a deputy. He’s the bad ass of the town and he’ll be damned if any kin of his has to answer to the law! OMG, that’s shitty writing. So, what does this crack team of top Hollywood writers do when confounded by a script that contains 0% originality? Oh, we’ll just crowbar aliens into this fucking mess! That will solve all of our problems. Uhhh, no it won’t. All that does is make this pile of shit smellier and taller. The thing that makes it even worse is that the first 45 minutes to an hour is a conventional western. So, when the aliens do finally show up, you just stare in disbelief at what a bad idea this whole disaster is. The other main problem is when you have a genre mashing popcorn movie with likeable stars, shouldn’t it be fun? This film is no fun whatsoever and has little to no humor.

I find that quite shocking considering Favreu directed both Iron Man films. But, as you watch this hunk of mule shit, you quickly realize that decision after decision by the director is to play this dead pan serious. To top that off, this films cost a whopping $160 million to make and the special effects aren’t even very good. So, where the hell did that money go? The actors got paid, say 30 mil, maybe 5 for Favreu, the script was about 5 bucks, and the CGI was lame and fake looking. I’m assuming it went towards marketing and advertising because I kept hearing about this movie for months. Well, in your face ads or not, count me as one who thought this was one of the worst Hollywood blockbusters to come out in a long time.

Vic’s Classic’s – “High Noon”

Retiring Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) insists on defending his town from a gang of hooligans who are due on the noon train — but he faces the task alone as the cowardly townspeople flee like rats from a sinking ship. Director Fred Zinnemann creates an incredibly tense Western (rightly considered one of the true genre classics) that unfurls in real time — as the clocks on the wall constantly remind us. Grace Kelly and Lloyd Bridges co-star.

Victor – 9 out of 10

High Noon, released in 1952 and directed by Fred Zinneman, is a western about a man that against all odds decides to face his destiny. Gary Cooper brilliantly plays a retiring Sheriff named Will Kane. He is newly married to his Quaker wife, Amy. His wedding is a double celebration as he is getting married and retiring at the same time. All of his deputies and friends urge him to leave for his honeymoon right away. Then news of the release of a convict named Frank Miller reaches the town and things get a bit hairy. While Will and Amy are pushed out of town 3 other bad guys (one of the Lee Van Cleef)  await the arrival of Miller at the town’s train station. The train with Miller is due high noon the next day.

Kane, against the wishes of this wife, doubles back with his horse and carriage into town. He feels that he is still responsible for the safety of the town and it’s people. Lloyd Bridges plays the young, eager and hot headed Marshall that was left behind and he has a bone to pick with Kane. Bridges and Cooper are amazing to watch. There is tension in spades between them and they have a great chemistry. But suffice it to say Bridges doesn’t back up Kane. The scenes of Kane  trying to get the townspeople to help him and back him up are heart wrenching to watch. Cooper becomes afraid and desperate but never loses his cool head and bravery. No one comes to his aid and they flee or turn away.

This is the quintessential western. It is about good and bad guys. Pretty black and white. No gray areas.  It is about a man alone facing insurmountable odds. This script is tight and the gorgeous black and whit photography is iconic as the town is framed with nice open wide shots but then gets more menacing as the film goes along. Shadows, angles and editing are all great to behold in this outstanding western. Characters are well fleshed out and Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado have a great scene together. Lon Chaney Jr is fantastic as Kane’s mentor. His character being tragic and benevolent. Others supporting actors are Harry Morgan, Otto Kruger and Thomas Mitchell. The eventual showdown is classic and the template that all other showdowns are made from. There is also a fantastic fight scene between Cooper and Bridges.

Enjoy this lean, tight, fast and direct western, you won’t be disappointed. A classic on many levels.

Under The Radar – “Red Hill”

After being shot on duty, cop Shane Cooper moves to the quiet Outback town ofRed Hill, where he finds himself up against an escaped convict. Shane’s first day on the job turns into the worst day of his life as he tries to track down the killer.

Victor – 8 out of 10

Red Hill, directed by Patrick Hughes and starring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, is about a monster that comes back to town. A monster that is cold, calculating and relentless. A monster that has an agenda and will not let anything get in it’s way or stop it. This monster is called Jimmy Conway and he just escaped from an Australian Prison and has made a beeline for Red Hill. Why, you ask? Well you must watch this well directed, beautifully shot modern day western to find out why.

Kwanten plays Shane Cooper, who starts his first day on the job as the new deputy by misplacing his gun. Cooper is a new transfer to Red Hill from a nearby big city and has a wife who is expecting their first child. He walks to town and meets up with his co-workers at the Police house. Things go a bit frosty at first when Cooper tries to adapt and feel useful. He eventually pairs up with his superior “Old Bill”, played exceptionally by Australian actor Steve Bisley. Bisley’s Old Bill and Tough, smart and surly and he doesn’t take too kindly to young upstarts like Cooper. After the news of a prison break out gets out Old Bill rallies his available men and assigns each to a specific area. Not before telling them all that it is Jimmy Conway, a treacherous inmate that is free and extremely dangerous.

After the breakout, Jimmy slowly but steadily makes it back to Red Hill leaving in his wake a trail of death and barbarity. This is when the already well done film turns into a very well made film. It’s the photography, pacing and performances that solidify into a fun, tight modern western. Tommy Lewis is the draw here though as Conway. He is a quiet beast that stalks and prowls around the town exacting his revenge on those who have wronged him. Kwanten is very capable and even vulnerable in the role of Cooper. Kwanten also speaks with his natural Aussie accent which was refreshing to see hear. Bisley steals every scene he’s in as Old Bill and makes Cooper’s first day on the job one to remember.

Red Hill is fast, dreadful and packs a punch. A great modern western that is refreshingly shot and has an appropriate score. The three leads are incredible to watch especially after Conway escapes and tears through Red Hill like a force of nature. Enjoy!

The Quick and the Dead

Ellen (Sharon Stone) arrives in the Old West town of Redemption seeking revenge for the murder of her sheriff father (Gary Sinise) years ago by the town’s tyrant, John Herod (Gene Hackman), a ruthless gunfighter intent on rattling the people by staging a dueling contest. Meanwhile, Herod’s former chum, Cort (Russell Crowe), and son, “the Kid” (Leonardo DiCaprio), are forced to join the competition. Sam Raimi directs.

Rating: 5 out of 10

“The Quick and the Dead” is a piece of crap script with a fantastic director. It goes to show you how far a great visual style can take you.

It’s certainly not a typical Western. In fact, it almost reminded me of what would happen if you toned down “Army of Darkness,” took out the demons, and set it in the old west. The signature Sam Raimi over-the-top action is here and it’s the best part of the film. The gunfights are suspenseful and well edited. Also, the cast is great. Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Russull Crowe are all here. They each have a unique personality and bring something to the film. But, the script I mentioned earlier doesn’t do them any favors. The DiCaprio-Hackman father-son angle is stupid. It adds nothing to the story because it’s never developed and they have almost no interactions. Also, Russell Crowe’s past is mentioned but never explored. We’re told he was a horrible man who found God. Why couldn’t there have been some flashback? Speaking of interesting, Sharon Stone’s character is well acted but it’s supposed to be the lead and it’s the least interesting angle. It’s typical “You killed my Dad so I’m going to get revenge” stuff. It leads to an ending that was predictable fluff.

At the end of the day, an A-list cast and an A-list director can’t save you from an F-script.