Tag Archive for 'Western'

A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West (3/28/15) HBO (2014 ***) Directed and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris. Set in the old West, an sheepherder gets lessons in marksmanship from the wife of the baddest of bad men. What I liked best about this movie was what I like about Family Guy and Seth MacFarlane’s other creative output over the years: The dude can write very funny dialogue. However, I have to give credit where credit is due: The screenplay’s story was perfectly sound structurally. I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the film didn’t do particularly well at the box office, as it had two strikes against it: (1) The audience limitations inherent in the western genre and (2) that MacFarlane chose to cast himself in the lead. While A Million Ways… wasn’t a great film, it was enjoyable enough, and it did have its moments, including a cameo appearance that really made me smile, one so sweet I won’t even hint at it. Also, it featured an extended sequence of Neil Patrick Harris pooping into a hat. So there’s that.

Serenity

Serenity (9/14/14) Netflix (2005 ***1/4) Written and directed by Joss Whedon, starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Ron Glass. An alliance operative (played by 12 Years a Slave‘s Chiwetel Ejiofor) is determined to return Serenity‘s resident fugitives back to the home world. I watched and reviewed this film a few years back without having had the benefit of watching the TV series on which it was based. If you check out that review, you can see my enjoyment remained roughly the same. Serenity is still an odd duck of a film, seeing as it’s essentially a medium budget feature-length wrap-up of a TV show that never managed to find enough of an audience to justify its existence. I wonder to what degree the movie was created as a love letter to the show’s fan base versus a vehicle for Joss Whedon to find a sense of closure on his beloved, idiosyncratic creation? Checking on the internet, the film earned a worldwide box office just shy of its budget, meaning it was a flop.

Firefly, Season 1

Firefly, Season 1 (9/14/14) Netflix (2002-03 ***1/2) Series created by Joss Whedon, starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk and Morena Baccarin. 14 episodes, originally aired 9/27/02 – 7/28/03. Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his intrepid crew fly a Firefly-class spaceship named Serenity from planet to planet, taking on odd jobs, only some which are legal. More than ten years after this short-lived series originally aired, I finally got around to watching the fourteen episodes on Netflix streaming. Firefly is very definitely an outer space western, with many comparisons to the original Star Trek. This is somewhat ironic, as Star Trek had often been referred to as Wagon Train (1957-1965), set in space. Watching the show, it’s not hard to see why it struggled so hard to find an audience: It definitely is an odd duck. I can also understand why Firefly‘s fans have been so vocal over the years about bringing the show back. Highlights of the first (and only) season included Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks in two different episodes as the sexy and manipulative Saffron. I also loved a later Whedon written/directed episode called “Objects in Space,” featuring Richard Brooks as a ruthless but philosophical bounty hunter named Jubal Early. Though we enjoyed Firefly, with its well-drawn and colorful characters, my wife made an interesting observation after we watched the final episode: None of the character relationships advanced much, if at all. Backstory elements were set up along the way (like Ron Glass’ Shepherd Book’s mysterious past) but the show didn’t last long enough for them to pay off. Then again, that made the post-series feature-length film Serenity (2005), which we watched directly after episode 14, so important.

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger (5/29/14) STARZ (2013 ***) Directed by Gore Verbinski, starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson and Helena Bonham Carter. When a group of Texas Rangers are slaughtered in an ambush, one of them returns from the grave and puts on a mask to begin a legendary fight against injustice. I’m not sure why this was such a flop at the box office, taking in a mere $89 million against a budget of $215 million. Though not a great film, it was far more enjoyable than I expected. I thought the characters and their relationships were interesting and the action set pieces (and there were many of them) were well-executed. I think it may be another instance of a film’s release not lining up with the zeitgeist. 2013 audiences just were not ready to embrace a film set in the old West, even if it features the cowboy equivalent of the superhero and is given the Pirates of the Caribbean treatment, complete with Johnny Depp.

The Sixth Gun, Book 4: A Town Called Penance

The Sixth Gun, Book 4: A Town Called Penance (4/24/14) Comics (2012 ***) Written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt and Tyler Crook. Originally published in The Sixth Gun, issues #18-23. Becky Montcrief tried to rescue Drake Sinclair from The Knights of Solomon, and in the process learns more about the origin of six enchanted six-shooters. I’m sad to report that for a series that started out so strong, I’ve increasingly lost interest in its storyline. Not even occasional imaginative touches like the mildly original silent issue (#21 by my count) did much to change that. Consequently, unless something changes and I start reading more comics than I have recently, this will probably be the last volume I’ll read and review.

The Outlaw

The Outlaw (5/11/13) TCM (1943 *1/2) Directed by Howard Hughes, screenplay by Jules Furthman, starring Jack Buetel, Jane Russell, Thomas Mitchell and Walter Huston. Sheriff Pat Garrett tracks down Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday. Also, Jane Russell’s boobs! This movie offers a master class in how not to make a film. This may well have been the movie that inspired Ed Wood to go in to film production. In fact, if I ever find myself teaching a class on learning filmmaking by a series of negative examples, The Outlaw is a must-see, because it contains so many individual missteps. Let’s face it: as directors go, Howard Hughes was an amazing eccentric billionaire recluse. As Bill Hader’s Stefon would say, this film has it all: Obtrusive “Mickey Mouse” music, terrible editing, character motivations that defy credulity and a range of incompatible acting styles, with excruciatingly bad performances by Walter Huston and the terribly miscast lead, Jack Buetel. I had never given much thought to character actor Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life), but compared to the other actors, he was freakin’ Laurence Olivier! Watching the film, I wondered seriously if it couldn’t be improved substantially with a new edit. It might even make an interesting project to see if Buetel’s performance might be improved marginally by digitally enhancing his generally monotonic voice. Finally, I remember reading that there was a great deal of publicity surrounding Jane Russell’s impressive superstructure, and that Hughes’ had his aerospace engineers design some kind of special brassiere. Now, having watched the actual film, while Russell’s chest was impressive, I suspect the ballyhoo was all part of a publicity effort to pull attention away from Hughes’ less-than-stellar directing skills.

High Noon

High Noon (7/31/12) Netflix (1952 ****) Directed by Fred Zinnemann, based (kind of) on the story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham, starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges and Katy Jurado. As a wedding present, a departing sheriff’s town deserts him, leaving him to face four vindictive gunmen on his own. This film was made during Hollywood’s “Red Scare,” and its screenplay was written by Carl Foreman, an “uncooperative witness” before the House Committee on Un-American Activies, who was subsequently blacklisted. His story — in which a man tries to do the right thing but everybody he counted on turns his or her back on him for reasons of self-preservation — was clearly an allegory for McCarthyism. “Do not forsake me, oh my darling,” indeed. There are many reasons why this film (shot in stark, cloudless black and white at a time when most Westerns were made in color) is ranked in the top third of AFI’s “100 Years 100 Movies” list. Everything about it works, from Gary Cooper and newcomer Grace Kelly’s classic performances to the carefully-composed shots of ever-present clocks, representing the arrival of the noon train and a vengeful villain with a reputation for roughing up the ladies. On a completely unrelated note, how cool was it that High Noon‘s “boss villain” — who went unseen until the third act — was named Frank Miller, same as the comic book writer/illustrator behind the now-classic 1986 Batman graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns?

The Sixth Gun, Book 3: Bound

The Sixth Gun, Book 3: Bound (6/22/12) Comics (2012 ***1/2) Written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt, Tyler Crook and Bill Crabtree. Originally published in Oni Press’ The Sixth Gun #12-17. Drake Sinclair, Becky Monterief and the members of The Sword of Abraham take on a giant mummy named Asher. This third book in the series was stronger than the second, but it only occasionally reached the heights of the first. Bound began with its highest point, an action-packed set piece taking place aboard a moving train. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there, story-wise. Rather than moving the “story train” forward (pun intended), Bunn devoted entire issues to character backstory, included the origin story of the aforementioned giant mummy, which was only mildly interesting, followed by a deeper dive into what made ex-slave Gord (my least favorite character) tick.

The Sixth Gun, Book 2: Crossroads

The Sixth Gun, Book 2: Crossroads (6/22/12) Comics (2011 ***) Written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree. Originally published in ONI Press’ The Sixth Gun #7-11. Following their defeat of General Hume, Drake, Becky and Gord spend some time in New Orleans regrouping. The thing I really loved about the first book in this series was how self-contained its story was. Unfortunately, this second book went in the complete opposite direction. While there was some action sprinkled throughout, most of the pages seemed to be spent setting up storylines and characterizations that would clearly be paid off much, much later. This included Becky Monterief’s “too good to be true”… er, what’s the scientific term… fuck-buddy, Kirby Hale. It also didn’t help that I’d deduced one of the plot’s biggest “surprises” (involving the Golem-esque Billjohn) within the first few pages. On the art side, while I continue to admire Brian Hurtt’s artful storytelling, I absolutely despised the awkwardly-proportioned main “level boss” creature and have to wonder what the decision process was behind its design.

The Sixth Gun, Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers

The Sixth Gun, Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers (6/11/12) Graphic Novel (2011 ****) Written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt. Originally published in ONI’s The Sixth Gun, issues $1-6. When her father’s gunned down, Becky Montcrief “inherits” his cursed gun, then joins forces with the mysterious Drake Sinclair to battle the gun’s original owner, General Oleander Hume. Loaned to me by a friend, this book really surprised me. Its supernatural western genre-mixture was delicious, creating an richly-textured world worthy of exploration. Cullen Bunn’s characters were, without exception, interesting and well defined, and for a book collected from a comic, I particularly appreciated that this volume’s story really felt like a satisfying whole. In addition, Brian Hurtt’s clear character designs and strong visual storytelling seemed to be coming from a direct descendant of Will Eisner (or at least a serious student). As a matter of fact, Hurtt may just be my new illustration hero!