Category Archives: Videos

We All Have It Coming: Top 5 Westerns

No Spoilers

Unforgiven

When you hear the term “Western” for a film or mini-series, you might think lone cowboys riding the line, cattle treks, a lawman protecting his town, or even the classic rags-to-riches story of a cattleman trying to build an empire then pass it on to his family. But there are many sub-genres of “Western” films that are more interesting and exciting than the predictable cowboy movie.

Most of the Westerns I favor fall into what are usually considered the sub-genres, with some of them not even taking place in the American West, for example, but containing the iconic character motifs and themes present in Western films. Sometimes called “Spaghetti Westerns” and sometimes classified as “Action & Adventure,” all these films still resonate with elements that make the Western iconic in Hollywood, and imitated worldwide.

My top five Western films and mini-series are sometimes set in the American West; often they are not. But their characters, storylines, and themes make them powerful films that I watch over and over. They don’t always end happily, lest you think I’m some kind of HEA-girl, but even if they don’t end happily, they end honestly, with the finale of the movie developing out of the characters’ natures, their conflicts, and the decisions they’ve made previously — either in the film itself or in their lives before the events in the story take place.

And, yes, Deadwood — the series — is one of my favorite Westerns of all times, and can read about it in detail in No One Gets Out Alive, but it’s a series, and I’ve dealt with it in detail elsewhere. This group of five westerns originally appeared in a post about my top 10 Westerns, but I shortened that post to update it, including trailers and availability, and dividing it into two posts so that people might have a chance to explore the films without feeling overwhelmed. The original films #10-6 are now in I’m Your Huckleberry: 5 More Top Westerns. Here are my top Westerns.

The Wild Bunch
(1969)

images-7

Sam Pekinpah’s epic 1969 Western The Wild Bunch deals with an aging gang of gunfighters, on the Texas-Mexico border, trying to cope with the “modern” world (of 1913), in which they have become obsolete. The Wild Bunch has a stellar cast, including William Holden, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, and Ernest Borgnine, all giving outstanding performances.

Controversial because of its graphic violence and its morally dubious characters, the film has nevertheless secured its place among top Westerns, and is considered “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the National Film Registry and the American Film Institute. It was also nominated for many awards, winning several.

Its famous portrayal of obsolete icons attempting to survive, by any means possible, reflects all aspects of any culture that gets overtaken by progress and technology. Since many settlers in this country went West to escape the culture and “laws” of the East, The Wild Bunch is a brilliantly ironic commentary on when the West itself became overrun by “civilization.”

The Wild Bunch is available to rent for $3.99 from Amazon, and YouTube.


Lonesome Dove
(1989)

Unknown-3

Based on the best-selling Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove is not a film but a mini-series, and when it came out in 1989, it was considered an incredibly ambitious project. It garnered praise, high viewership, and was credited with “reviving” the mini-series genre.

Filled with big-name stars like Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Ricky Schroeder, Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, Chris Cooper, Barry Corbin, Frederick Forrest, and Robert Urich, the story covers partners’ Gus (Duvall) and Call (Jones) cattle-drive from the virtually deserted Texas town of Lonesome Dove to an “Eden-like” Montana (where none of them has been), encountering many hardships and disasters along the way.

A coming-of-age story involving the younger characters, which contains the Archetypes of the Journey as well as the “Wise Old Man” passing on his knowledge to the worthy younger hero(es), this Western classic also has what few others have: strong female characters.

images-4

Though the roles of Clara (Huston) and Lorie (Lane) are subordinate to those of most of the minor male characters, they’re still essential to the storyline. Their characters force the males to become more than cowboys, and add depth and richness to this powerful exploration of the American West and its familiar themes in Westerns.

Lonesome Dove is available for purchase from Amazon (4 part mini-series, $2.99 each episode or $9.99  for all 4 episodes) and for streaming with Hulu. Free for Starz subscribers. (Note: This trailer is for the 20th anniversary of the award-winning series.)


Son of the Morning Star
(1991)

image

Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Evan S. Connell, this is one of the best treatments (book & two-part mini-series) of the morally ambiguous George Armstrong Custer (Gary Cole) during the Plains Indian Wars, ending with the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Unique because it tells the story from two perspectives, that of the whites and of the Native Americans, it is narrated by Custer’s wife Libbie (Rosanna Arquette) as well as by Kate Bighead (voice of Buffy Saint-Marie), the mini-series also stars Rodney Grant as Crazy Horse, and Floyd Red Crow Westerman as Sitting Bull.

images-13

Closely following the original book in one of the most balanced portrayals of the Indian Wars, the Fetterman Massacre, and the Battle of Little Big Horn, where Custer’s defeat increased the US government’s determination to eliminate all Indians who were not “imprisoned” on reservations, Son of the Morning Star — despite its title’s allusion to Lucifer and his rebellion against God — is an excellent example of Hollywood’s ability to honestly evaluate and portray its subjugation of America’s native peoples, its confiscation of their lands, and their justified outrage and retaliation.

(Apologies: There is no official trailer for Son of the Morning Star and, alas, it does not seem to be available for online viewing. The only copies for purchase at Amazon are VHS and one non-region-1, i.e., non-US, Spanish DVD.)


Duck, You Sucker
(1971)

images-11

Directed by Sergio Leone, this is one of those Westerns that doesn’t have cowboys, horses, or cattle. And it takes place in Mexico during its Revolution rather than in the American West. But there are lots of guns, explosions, and battles; a bang-up score by Ennio Morricone, and stellar performances by James Coburn, as the outlaw Irish Revolutionary Seán (John) Mallory trying to “get it right” in Mexico, and by Rod Steiger as Mexican thief and father to a large family Juan Miranda, who doesn’t want anything to do with the Revolution because he just wants to fulfill his life’s dream of robbing the biggest bank he’s ever heard of: the Mesa Verde National Bank.

Despite the film’s constantly being edited (too politically sensitive, too violent, too much profanity), despite its being marketed variously as a comedy or a satire of westerns (it’s neither), despite its rather strange title, which is apparently a bad translation of the Italian Giù la Testa, and despite the film’s subsequent release under various titles such as A Fistful of Dynamite (Irish John is an explosives expert, and the alternate title is an allusion to Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars), and Once Upon a Time… the Revolution (since it is considered the second film of Leone’s trilogy which contains Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America), this film — the last Western Leone directed — is one of his best.

Bear in mind that I’m saying that as a huge Clint Eastwood fan, one who grew up more familiar with Clint and Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns” than with some of the Hollywood classic Westerns.

images-12

What makes Duck, You Sucker one of the best  is the chemistry between Coburn and Steiger who, as “John and Juan” form a bond that forces each of their characters to change. The experienced intellectual John begins to see the human element in any revolution while the cynical and amoral Juan, who initially cannot be trusted by anyone, stops thinking of himself and his own selfish gain, learning to care about his family as individuals (he doesn’t even know how many sons he has in the beginning of the film),  his friend John, and his country.

Despite its setting, Leone claimed he never intended the film to be political, and despite its setting, Leone succeeded, due in large part to the chemistry between its stars. Coburn and Steiger make you believe in their evolving friendship and commitment to each other, not just as voluntary/involuntary revolutionaries, respectively, but as people. No longer physical or emotional loners, they become genuinely attached to each other.

The film’s original reception was lukewarm, but it has gained popularity in recent years. Justifiably so, since its excellent treatment of the themes of the individual vs. society, loyalty to personal codes of conduct and honor, private justice, wandering protagonists, and conquering the Wilderness are all prominent in the Western genre.

Duck, You Sucker is available from for $2.99  Amazon and for $3.99 (under the title A Fistful of Dynamite) from iTunes.


Unforgiven
(1992)

images-9One of the darkest Westerns ever made, dealing frankly with the uglier aspects of violence and how, when glamorized, violence makes “myths” and “legends” out of trigger-happy drunkards and bullies, Unforgiven, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, as “retired gunfighter” William Munny, takes the prize for the best Western.

In Unforgiven, the simplistic myths of the Old West are revealed for the complex combination of lies, exaggeration, and terrible truths that they are. Archetypes abound, but in stunning new ways. The “Kid” (Jamz Woolvett) who wants to attain fame by killing some “cowboys who cut up some whore,” recruits master gunfighter William Munny (Eastwood) “who’s killed women and children” and who repeatedly claims that he “ain’t like that no more” to help him track down the “bad guys.” Munny brings along his partner Ned (Morgan Freeman) who, though surprised by the request, thinks the reward money might come in handy keeping his farm solvent.

images-10

Nothing goes as expected, because this is a Western that shows the truth about the Old West. In the town of Big Whiskey, the trio meets iron-fisted Sherriff “Little Bill” Daggett (Gene Hackman, in an Oscar-winning performance), who has already beaten, humiliated, and banished one hired gunman, English Bob (Richard Harris, in a minor but memorable role) who came to claim the reward money for getting vengeance for the “cut-up whore.”

Honest about violence, humorous and satirical at times, Unforgiven displays the best that the Western can offer: it is a tribute to the genre even as it illuminates its flaws, a loving and respectful homage that never loses sight of the danger of a life without rules, as well as the moral vacuity of  a life ruled by killing others, sometimes for reward money, sometimes for dubious fame, sometimes for no reason at all. Or, as Eastwood’s Munny states, “not for any reason I could remember once I sobered up.”

Unforgivenis available from Amazon and YouTube, and for purchase only ($14.99) in iTunes. Free for subscribers of Sundance Channel.

My original Top 10 Westerns post 
If You’re Going to Shoot,
Shoot: Don’t Talk

is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:


We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns

and


I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

Related Posts

It Ain’t How You’re Buried That’s Important:
3 Western Coming-of-Age Films

I Ain’t Never Been No Hero:
More Great Westerns

No One Gets Out Alive:
Why You Need to Watch HBO’s Deadwood

Deadwood Strikes Gold!
Again! Still!

The Sutherlands’ Forsaken Is No Unforgiven,
Though It Tries to Be

My Favorite Film & TV Villains

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Actors, Classic Films, Classics, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Historical Drama, Movies/Films, Movies/Television, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Videos, Westerns

Winter is Coming: HBO’s Game of Thrones, seasons 1-6

No Spoilers
in these overviews

No Spoilers
in extended season reviews
(links below each brief overview)

images-6

HBO’s award-winning show Game of Thrones, created and (mostly) written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, is based on the best-selling series of fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin. Though the show diverges from the books’ content and order in some places, as do all dramatic adaptations, Game of Thrones follows the major Houses presented in the book series — Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, Tyrell, Baratheon, etc — as its members war and scheme for power. At the center of their struggle is the ancient Iron Throne, to which virtually every player claims to have the right. Other themes explore family loyalty and obligations, love, spirituality, religious beliefs and intolerance, hubris, sexuality, morality, and the purpose of violence to achieve one’s goals.

Season 1

Unknown

Based on the fantasy novel  A Game of Thrones, Book 1 of the best-selling series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, season 1 of HBO’s Game of Thrones is set in the fictional land of Westeros, composed mainly of The 7 Kingdoms, where royal claimants and usurpers fight for the right to sit on the Iron Throne. Season One concentrates on three major families: the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens. Their stories become interwoven with their claims to the throne, and their loyalty to their ruler.

Love and Betrayal amidst Swordplay,
Dragons, and White Walkers:
Game of Thrones,
Season 1

Game of Thrones Season 1 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes (go into iTunes to purchase). (Pricing differences seem to be for SD versus HD videos.) The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 2

Based roughly on A Clash of Kings, Book 2 in George R. R. Martin’s best-selling series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO’s critically acclaimed and award-winning Game of Thrones continues its exploration of power, politics, family obligations, love, and betrayal, in the second season. As the battle for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of the civilized world erupts once more, everyone now knows that “Winter is coming. The surviving members of the three major families — Lannister, Stark, and Targaryen — continue the quest for survival and power, this time amidst rebellions, uprisings, and war. They are joined and betrayed by members of various other Houses.

The Summer of Our Discontent:
Game of Thrones, Season 2

Game of Thrones Season 2 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 3

Based in part on the first half of A Storm of Swords, Book 3 of George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, created and written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the stories of the inhabitants of Westeros and the Lands beyond continue. Love, power, and betrayal are its major themes as the War of the Five Kings intensifies. The third season of Game of Thrones gets viewers more intimately involved with the peripheral characters, bringing them to the forefront. Though there are multiple, ultimately converging storylines, the excellent writing and powerful acting keep the viewers engaged without confusing them. Even the scene transitions flawlessly guide viewers from one character — or group of characters — to another, and back again. The acting is riveting, with some previously minor characters taking center stage, and some previously “evil” characters gaining the sympathy of the audience.

What Crawls Out of Nightmares:
Game of Thrones, Season 3

Game of Thrones Season 3 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 4

Unknown

Season 4 of HBO’s award-winning series Game of Thrones is based principally on the second half of A Storm of Swords, Book 3 in George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Season 4 also includes material from Book 4, A Feast for Crows, and Book 5, A Dance with DragonsIn Season 4, the writers of Game of Thrones continues to explore its themes of love, betrayal, and power, on the familial and national level. The storyline is expanded to explore themes of loyalty, hubris,  spirituality, religious beliefs, religious intolerance, as well as the morality of violence. The principal families — Lannister, Stark, Targaryen, and Tyrell — remain, and their stories are deftly interwoven with those of new characters.

The Dead Can’t Hear Us:
Game of Thrones, Season 4

Game of Thrones Season 4 is available for purchase for $19.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes.  The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers.

Season 5 

Game_of_Thrones_Season_5

Season 5 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, is adapted primarily Books 4 and 5 in George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Along with Books 4 and 5 — A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons — the writers returned to Book 3, A Storm of Swords, for additional content. They also had access to material from Martin’s as-yet unpublished Book 6, The Winds of Winter. Season 5 of the dramatic adaptation won a record number of Emmy Awards for a series in a single year: 12 awards out of 24 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series. Created and (mostly) written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the show’s writing, acting, and design are all brilliant, and Game of Thrones deserves every award it’s won.

Game of Thrones Season 5 unites many of the storylines that have been converging during the previous 4 seasons. The major families who started the drama — the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens — are joined with the Tyrells, the Martells, and the Boltons. The only remaining Baratheon, Stannis, is still waging war against the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Season 5 also takes one of Season 4’s major themes — religious intolerance — and puts it in the forefront of the drama. Although family loyalty still determines most of the characters’ actions, the quest for power is intimately intertwined with any family obligations.

The Last Thing You See Before You Die:
Game of Thrones, Season 5

Game of Thrones Season 5 is available for purchase for $38.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers. Many of the retailers have special bargains for purchasing seasons 1-5, including Amazon, GooglePlay, and iTunes.

Season Six

Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones is based on the as yet uncompleted Book 6 in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, and includes a “significant amount of material” from the Books 4 and 5 — A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. The author provided a detailed outline to show creators Benioff and Weiss. The sixth season proved to have more weaknesses than the previous ones, and it may have been due to the fact that the show-runners were working from an outline, no matter how detailed, rather than culling the story from completed books. Still, this season had some of the most powerful moments of the entire series, some of which Martin will be hard-pressed to reproduce on the printed page.

The battle for the Iron Throne gets vicious as the major families  — the Lannisters, the Starks, and the Targaryens — are joined by other families — the Tyrells, the Martells, and the Boltons — the latter of whom either want to rule the Seven Kingdoms themselves or who want revenge for wrongs inflicted by the three primary families.

(The Good, The Bad, and The Dead:
Game of Thrones, season 6
detailed overview coming next week)

Game of Thrones Season 6 is available for purchase for $24.99 from Amazon (or free with a 30-day HBO trial), for $28.99 from GooglePlay, and for $38.99 from iTunes. The season is always available free of charge for HBO subscribers. Seasons 1-3 and 4-6 can be purchased from iTunes for a slightly reduced price. The entire 6 seasons are available on Amazon for $170.99.

Rated Very Mature for Graphic Violence, Explicit Sexual Situations, Nudity, Adult Content, and Adult Language.

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Actors, Books, Fantasy, Game of Thrones, Movies/Television, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Television, Videos, Violence

I Ain’t Never Been No Hero: More Great Westerns

No Spoilers

I love Westerns, though most of the Westerns I favor fall into what are considered the sub-genres, with some of them not even taking place in the American West, for example, but containing iconic character motifs and themes present in Western films. My Top Ten Western films have characters, storylines, and themes make them powerful films that I watch over and over. They don’t always end happily, but they end honestly, with the finale of the movie developing out of the characters’ natures, their conflicts, and the decisions they’ve made previously — either in the film itself or in their lives before the events in the story take place. Here are more of my favorite Westerns, films I can always watch one more time.

 The Long Riders
(1980)

Starring sets of real-life brother actors as historical brother outlaws, The Long Riders explores America’s violent post-Civil War past in a unique way. The most factual of any film about the James-Younger Gang, it covers the activity of Frank and Jesse James (Stacey and James Keach); Ed and Clell Miller (Dennis and Randy Quaid); Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger (David, Keith, and Robert Carradine); and Bob and Charley Ford (Nicholas and Christopher Guest).

Jesse is the titular head of the Gang, but after he disapproves of Ed’s behavior during one of that raids/robberies, rifts begin to form among the Gang members. Pursued by posses and the Pinkertons, the Gang is nevertheless protected by family and neighbors, who consider them local heroes rather than criminals. When hiding out, the brothers court women, and are courted by them in turn, which causes added stress in the Gang. As the Gang’s crimes escalate, so does the Pinkertons’ determination to capture them. After innocent people begin to get hurt and killed, the Gang loses its local support and goes further afield to rob stages, trains, and banks, increasing the Gang’s notoriety and fame, but also increasing its risk.

Even if you know the story of the James-Younger Gang, this film is engaging and worth watching. The cinematography is very effective and powerful, especially as the Gang escalates its violence. The Long Riders is available for rent $3.99 from Amazon (free with a 7-day Starz trial) or free from Starz with a subscription.

The Professionals
(1966)

Four American “specialists,” i.e., mercenaries (Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode), are hired for an extremely dangerous but potentially lucrative, once-in-a-lifetime mission: deliver a $100K-in-gold ransom and rescue the beautiful young wife (Claudia Cardinale) of an older, wealthy rancher (Ralph Bellamy). Because two of the professional soldiers fought in Pancho Villa’s Army during the Mexican Revolution, they’re willing yet wary, if only because they know the ostensible kidnapper Razza (Jack Palance) intimately, and “kidnapping doesn’t seem like his thing.”

Fighting the desert, weather, rogue bandits, self-doubt, and each other, the Professionals use their individual skills — with dynamite, knives, bow-and-arrow, guns — as they head for Razza’s presumed hide-out. When they come upon Razza derailing a train and executing soldiers, they realize their mission may be more dangerous than they’d originally than anticipated because “something’s dicey about this set-up.”

Lancaster as the woman-loving wit is especially entertaining. With surprising (and satisfying) plot-twists, The Professionals is an often-neglected gem of a Western. Available from Amazon available for rent $3.99 (free with a 7-day Starz trial) or free from Starz with a subscription.

The Shootist
(1976)

Opening with a montage of John Wayne’s film roles as the “history” of gunslinger J. B. Books (Wayne), narrated in Voice-Over by The Boy (Ron Howard) who idolizes him, The Shootist is my favorite role by both of these actors. Diagnosed with advanced cancer, with only about 6 weeks to live, Books settles in for a last stay in the lodging house of Widow Rogers (Lauren Bacall), mother of The Boy. Though Books wants anonymity and privacy, The Boy discovers his identity almost immediately and proudly trumpets that a famous Shootist is staying at his house. Books wants to keep him terminal illness secret, too, but he’s forced to tell people in order to stay quietly in the town till he dies.

When the stories of Books’ impending death begin to spread, other gunslingers who want to improve their own reputations by killing the famed Shootist arrive. Books’ instinct for survival and self-preservation combat with any desire he has to die quietly. Worse, he decides he doesn’t want to be alone, and the Widow Rogers and her son have caught his eye.

The chemistry between Wayne and the impressive line-up of guest stars —  James Stewart, Henry Morgan, Richard Boone, Scatman Crothers, John Carradine, Hugh O’Brien, Sheree North — is surpassed only by the chemistry between Wayne and Bacall, and by that between Wayne and Howard. This is the role that should have won Wayne the Oscar: he’s better by far as the fighting-fading Books than as True Grit‘s cantankerous Cogburn. The Shootist is available from Amazon ($3.99 to rent).

3:10 to Yuma
(2007)

Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, and a remake of the 1951 film of the same name, 3:10 to Yuma packs powerful Western icons with clever dialogue and strong performances. Civil War hero Dan (Christian Bale, in one of his best roles) is about to lose his ranch because he didn’t have enough money to pay the mortgage and to buy feed for his cattle, purchase water during the drought, and to obtain the drugs for his consumptive youngest son.

When attempting to retrieve some of his cattle scattered by ne’er-do-wells, Dan and his sons run into escaped Bad Guy Ben Wade (Russell Crowe, below R) and his Gang, who have just ambushed the Pinkertons to rescue one of their Gang members. After rescuing the wounded Pinkerton McElroy (Peter Fonda), Dan, who is determined to save his ranch, offers to help escort the proverb-quoting escaped convict Wade to Detention so he can be put on the 3:10 to Yuma Prison.

The treacherous journey turns into a contest of wills between idealistic Dan, whose oldest son idolizes the criminal, and the notorious Bed Wade. As Ben’s Gang attempts to rescue its leader, Dan tries to earn his own son’s respect by completing the job he was hired to do. 3:10 to Yuma is filled with excellent writing, rousing action, and memorable characters. The scenes between Bale and Crowe are exquisite. Available from Amazon ($9.99SD-$12.99HD to purchase, or free with a 7-day Showtime trial), or free with a subscription from Showtime or DirecTV.

Salvation
(sometimes translated as The Salvation)
(2014)

Salvation, sometimes translated as The Salvation, is the Danish tribute to Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Westerns, exploring some of the genre’s classic icons: The Man with No Name, The Town Besieged, The Cowardly Townspeople, The Man Seeking Vengeance. Jon (Mads Mikkelsen, below R) has come the the American West, from Denmark, with his brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt, below L) after the disastrous War of 1864.

Seven years later, Jon has enough money to bring over his wife and 10-year-old son. Though these two characters are not developed — existing only as a reason for Jon to seek revenge for the heinous crimes against them, the film doesn’t suffer from that weakness. Instead, it plunges into Jon’s story as he and his brother seek revenge against the Bad Guys, led by DeLaRue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Terrorizing a town where no one is willing to stand up to the villains but where everyone wants a Saviour, DeLaRue and his Gang rule the populace with the aid of a corrupt Mayor (Jonathan Pryce) and a milque-toast Preacher-Sheriff (Douglas Henshaw). Eventually joined by “The Princess” (Eva Green), who appears to have been the captive “wife” of one of the rapists/murderers and who had her tongue cut out by Indians when she was kidnapped as a young girl, Jon fights for justice.

The addition of the mystery-suspense sub-plot makes this Revenge Tale one of the more interesting Westerns. Everyone in the film is more realistic than iconic, as they are in some of the classic Spaghetti Westerns: it usually takes Jon several shots to put down an assailant. Moody and atmospheric, with artistic cinematography, Salvation is available from Amazon ($4.99 to rent, or free with a 7-day trial from Showtime), is available for purchase for $14.99 from iTunes, or for $12.99 from GooglePlay, and YouTube, and is available free with a subscription from Showtime, IFC, or DirecTV.

If you know of any other classic Westerns that I might enjoy, please feel free to tell me about them in comments.

My original Top 10 Westerns post 
If You’re Going to Shoot,
Shoot: Don’t Talk

is now divided into two posts,
updated with official trailers and film availability:


We All Have It Coming:
Top 5 Westerns

and


I’m Your Huckleberry:
5 More Top Westerns

(originally films #6-10)

Related Posts

It Ain’t How You’re Buried That’s Important:
3 Western Coming-of-Age Films

I Ain’t Never Been No Hero:
More Great Westerns

No One Gets Out Alive:
Why You Need to Watch HBO’s Deadwood

Deadwood Strikes Gold!
Again! Still!

The Sutherlands’ Forsaken Is No Unforgiven,
Though It Tries to Be

My Favorite Film & TV Villains

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Actors, Classics, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Movies/Films, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Videos, Violence, Westerns

Suspense via Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven, the 2012 Film

No Spoilers

unknown

I’m not sure why the 2012 film The Raven doesn’t have at least 9 out of 10 stars on popular reviewing sites because it is one of the best takes on Edgar Allan Poe and his stories that I’ve ever seen. If you know anything about Poe, you know he is credited with inventing the detective story, and he is famous for some of his scary tales, like “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” many of which were made into somewhat cheesy 1960s horror films starring Vincent Price. As a fan of Poe’s since I was 11, when I first read all of his works, I was surprised that I’d never heard of the film, starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, in an interpretation where the drug-addicted and alcoholic writer is redeemed by his love and self-sacrifice for his fiancée.

unknown-4

The film begins and ends with this enigmatic scene: Poe sitting on a bench in the middle of a public park, motionless, gazing upward. The scene then switches to officers responding to the screams of a woman. When they break into the locked boarding-house room, they discover bodies but no assailant; they find a window nailed shut. Viewers familiar with Poe’s work will immediately recognize the scenario from Poe’s  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Even if you’re not familiar with Poe’s tales, however, you can certainly enjoy the film, in which a literate serial killer seems to be trying to implicate Poe in murders that come from his published stories.

images

Inspector Fields (Luke Evans, L) recognizes the stories from which the crimes are mirrored, and when he calls in Poe for questioning, it becomes apparent that the author is not the killer. Fields then enlists Poe to help him and his men solve the crimes.

images-2

Poe’s involvement in solving the crimes is complicated by the presence of his fiancée Emily (Alice Eve), whose father, wealthy Captain Charles Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t know about their relationship or their secret engagement. Furthermore, Hamilton wouldn’t approve if he did know of their love. When the mysterious killer kidnaps Emily and gives Poe clues to her whereabouts, Hamilton is forced to work with Poe, whom he dislikes, and with the Inspector, to save Emily.

images-3

The film is genuinely gripping suspense, even if you are familiar with the Poe stories on which the killer is basing his crimes. Additionally, though Cusack sometimes seems to be a bit unemotional in his delivery of some lines, his Poe is fascinating. Cusack’s Poe has a temper, he’s jealous of “hacks” like fellow-poet Longfellow, he’s experiencing writer’s block that prevents him from earning sufficient money to formally request Emily’s hand in marriage, but in The Raven, this Poe is transformed from a drug-addled failure to a clever, romantic hero of admirable proportions. In the 2012 film The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe is worthy of respect and admiration, no matter his personal failings.

unknown-1

The Raven is airing Friday and Saturday 2-3 December on Starz, and is available any time on Starz on Demand. The film is also available for $2.99-3.99 on these providers: YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, and GooglePlay.

Watch it with the lights out for best creepity effects, my Lovelies, and enjoy the official trailer.

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under #31DaysOfHalloween, Actors, Authors, Crime Drama, Films, Films/Movies, Horror, Horror Films, Movies/Films, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Serial Killers, Suspense, Videos

Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon: Chandra Shines on HBO’s The Night Of, 107, Review

Spoilers

49061080.cached

HBO’s limited mini-series, The Night Of, is an intense and merciless crime drama. Created and written by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, and based on BBC’s Criminal Justice, it examines the contemporary criminal justice system in America through the case of Nasir “Naz” Kahn (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani-American college student, in the post-9/11 world of New York City. Accused of raping and murdering a rich, white girl, Andrea Cornish (Sofia Black-D’Elia), who got into Naz’s father’s cab after Naz “borrowed” it, without permission, in order to attend a college athletes’ party, Naz has been subjected to the impersonal maws of the justice system, which simply does not care whether or not he is innocent. The police, the detectives, the DA, the Judge, the Medical Examiner don’t care about the evidence unless it fits their preconceived storyline about Naz’s guilt. Meanwhile, interred inside Rikers since his arrest, Naz has steadily been rising in the criminal ranks, under the tutelage of inmate-murderer Freddy Knight (Michael Kenneth Williams). Now entering the Defense phase of the trial, Naz revealed more ugliness to his character in “Ordinary Death,” while his attorney, Chandra (Amara Karan), began to shine.

images

Chandra at Trial

We already had a glimpse of Chandra’s talent last week, when she gave a concise opening statement, after agonizing over it for hours, as well as when she dismissed DA Weiss (Jeannie Berlin, below) with the statement to the jury, “She likes to be called Mrs. Weiss.” You wouldn’t think a small statement like that would make a difference in your perception of someone, but it did. Instantly, you realized that DA Weiss is misrepresenting herself, for some unknown reason, in a professional world where she already has an impressive title: District Attorney. Chandra’s swipe was powerful and unexpected.

Unknown

In “Ordinary Death,” Chandra continued to shine as she took the role of lead Defense Attorney in Naz’s trial. Though it was settled earlier in the season that she would handle the trial because Naz’s original attorney John Stone (John Turturro) had no trial experience, she surprised me with her confidence and her handling of the witnesses. Without even knowing that Box (Bill Camp, below) and his fellow detectives discovered another victim that is, according to him, clearly identical to the murder of Andrea Cornish, Chandra shredded Box on the witness stand. She made him seem like an arrogant punk in his mis-handling of the evidence (when he took the asthma inhaler from the crime scene and gave it back to Naz). She made Box seem incompetent because he hadn’t interviewed — or even found — any other suspects. Just before his retirement, in fact, she trounced him so soundly that he couldn’t even enjoy his own party.

retire_ep7

Chandra was as effective dismantling Box as DA Weiss was at shedding doubt on one of the Defense’s key witnesses, Dr. Katz revealed evidence about the Five-Finger-Filet (FFF) Knife Game, which Chandra (or the show writers) mistakenly called Mumblety Peg.  Katz revealed that The Victim’s skin cells had been found in a gash in the coffee table, indicating that her wound had come from playing FFF with the suspect, Naz.  Katz also revealed things about the crime scene that the detectives seem to have missed, such as the defective lock on the security door. Katz gave good testimony for the Defense, but Weiss attacked his character in her cross-examination. Chandra did the same thing to Box on her Cross. That’s a Defense Attorney at her professional best.

Though Chandra didn’t see the threatening looks Naz was giving a former classmate who was on the witness stand — testifying that Naz dealt drugs, selling individual Adderall pills from his prescription — Chandra managed to stay cool despite the Reveal of more negative aspects of Naz’s character. After we learned that Naz dealt drugs, though on a small scale, and was attempting to intimidate one of his “customers” on the witness stand, we learned that the violence Naz displayed while in high school was not an isolated incident. Chandra was in the midst of cross-examining Naz’s high school basketball coach — who earlier in the season revealed to Stone that Naz had thrown a classmate down the stairs, breaking his arm, without provocation — when the coach revealed that two students had been assaulted by Naz.

Though Chandra’s voice went quieter, and her body went slightly more rigid, she managed to continue to ask about the Two. It seems that our boy Naz threw a full can of Coke at another student, just as soon as Naz returned from the suspension he earned after assaulting the first boy. Despite Chandra’s attempt to relate these violent assaults to post-9/11 persecution of American Muslims, the only thing viewers — and jurors, presumably — took away from the coach’s testimony was that Naz, once again, has lied about his past. Chandra acted like it was a mere blip on her radar, though it surely rattled her. At the Defense table, Stone was giving Naz wary, almost terrified glances while Chandra managed, somehow, to continue the trial and retain her professional demeanor.

Unknown

Chandra and Naz’s Mother

Chandra is handling all aspects of the murder trial professionally, including the behavior of Naz’s mother. Safar (Poorna Jagannathan, above) conspicuously walked out of the courtroom while slides of the victim were being shown. Chandra later went to the bathroom and told Mrs. Khan that the jury had to look at the slides, so Mrs. Kahn had to do it, too: for Naz’s sake, Safar couldn’t walk out like that. Safar Khan was having none of that, however. She wouldn’t let Chandra comfort her, she didn’t return to the courtroom, she stopped coming to the trial, and, furthermore, she continued to refuse to talk to Naz when he called her, despite Chandra’s telling Safar that Naz wanted to talk to her.

Though Safar’s leaving the courtroom and no longer attending the trial are going to look bad to the jury, I can’t say I blame her. Naz’s behavior on “the night of,” even if he didn’t kill the girl, has ruined his family’s life. Both parents are working crappy jobs, desperately trying to support the family; they had to pawn their silver, jewelry, and other precious objects to get cash; and both parents were victims of attacks. Naz’s father Salim (Peyman Moaadi) has been continuously confronted with racism, and his cab partners forced him to sell out his third of the cab so that they could buy a new one — without him. When he objected and called them “thieves,” one of them said, “And you are the father of a murderer.”

While looking at pictures of Naz as a baby and a young child, Naz’s mother was threatened with a rock thrown through Naz’s bedroom window. His parents’ lives have been permanently altered for the worse by Naz’s selfish and careless behavior. Safar has reached a point where she may no longer believe that her son is innocent; more important to her, however, is the question, “Did I raise an animal?” She doesn’t want to be responsible herself for Naz’s behavior. Chandra was unable to answer Safar’s question or to convince Naz’s mother to come back to the courtroom, but Chandra showed herself a compassionate professional when she attempted to get Safar back into court, and to answer Naz’s phone calls.

chandra_ep7

Chandra and The Kiss

The only failure of Chandra Kapoor’s professional character in the episode was the weird moment when she kissed the imprisoned Naz (and let’s just hope the kiss, which was clearly captured on surveillance video, won’t get Chandra debarred). I realize that Chandra doesn’t know that Naz snitched on fellow inmate Victor, who was sexually abusing Petey (Aaron Motey). Chandra doesn’t know that Naz conspired with Freddy to kill Victor, acting as a decoy by asking the guard for a new asthma inhaler while Freddy went to the prison TV area and sliced Victor’s throat. Chandra doesn’t know, as Vikram Murthi of Vulture.com writes, that Naz “may not have murdered Andrea, but he has now murdered someone [i.e., Victor], albeit indirectly.” Nor does Chandra realize, as Vikram continues, that Naz’s “mother may not have raised an animal, but[Naz] has become one.”

Despite Chandra’s professional lapse — which she seemed to regret immediately — and despite the fact that the scene was extremely short, it’s generated lots of discussion, far more discussion than the length of the scene would seem to justify. This may be due to the fact that virtually everyone was stunned by that kiss. Though at least one person on a forum wrote that it was about time the two kissed because “Chandra’s super hot,” that comment had no replies, and other viewers thought the kiss made no sense at all. Most critics and reviewers seemed to agree with Scott Tobias of the New York Times:  (emphasis in quote below is mine.)

“Ordinary Death” makes the show’s first significant misstep by following through on the romantic tension that’s been building between Chandra and Naz. It makes a certain dramatic sense. Naz would have taken the plea deal had Chandra not persuaded him to follow his conscience. Unlike Stone, who doesn’t trust a jury to reach the right decision regardless, Chandra believes an innocent person should assert his innocence. It becomes a contract between them: She trusts in his innocence; he trusts her to rescue him from a life sentence. It could be argued that there’s an intimacy between them that goes beyond a lawyer-client relationship, because there’s so much at stake for both of them. But having them actually kiss, however much Chandra seems to regret it afterward, undermines her as a professional. “The Night Of” goes to great lengths to emphasize the grind-it-out dignity of veterans like Box, Stone, and Helen, but it does a disservice to Chandra by giving her a jailhouse crush.

Jason Concepcion  thought the kiss was “in a subplot that feels like it was teleported in from a different show.” A fantasy or a science fiction show, perhaps, which is certainly not the genre The Night Of  has been aiming for with its scrupulous contemporary realism. Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast just found the kissing scene to be bad writing (emphasis below is mine).

The extent to which Chandra is out of her element becomes evident not in the courtroom, in which she does a brilliant job casting doubts that Naz could be the killer during testimony from the pathologist she and John hired, and then credibility-ruining questioning with Detective Box (Bill Camp). Instead it becomes evident during a meeting with Naz in which the two end up kissing, she so entranced by his new, confident demeanor, assured manner of speaking, and bulked up sexual appeal. In a show that’s been praised for the realism with which it portrays this kind of crime story, it’s a twist that threatens to, as they say, “jump the shark.”

That kiss was more than jumping the shark, more than “a moment of television in which there is a gimmick or unlikely occurrence that is seen as a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.” Beyond the fact that most viewers are already sufficiently interested in The Night Of without any sexual activity beyond the premiere episode’s (mostly implied) interaction between Naz and The Victim, that kiss between Chandra and Naz was completely unnecessary to the storyline. If anything, the kiss alienated many, if not most, viewers. Further, it didn’t evolve from anything in the previous episodes. Though Naz called Chandra late at night at least once, letting us know that he was either extremely lonely or that he might be attracted to Chandra, she has never given any indication of reciprocal feelings. It’s true that she broke up with her boyfriend and was distressed about it, telling fellow attorney Stone about the break-up in a previous episode, but there has never been even the slightest hint that Chandra found Naz even least bit interesting as a person rather than as a client, let alone that she found him sexually attractive.

Unprepared for by earlier episodes, completely out-of-character, and unnecessary to the storyline, the kissing scene was more than “jumping the shark” because it was more than just bad writing. The Chandra-initiated kiss was an insult to professional women. Many reviewers and critics were appalled by Chandra’s blatantly unprofessional act. As a professional woman myself, I was most sincerely offended. Virtually all professional women I have ever worked with or known personally have gone out of their way to be even more professional than their male colleagues, simply because women must be more professional and more successful than males in the same field in order to succeed. Having Chandra kiss Naz, who is not only a prison inmate but her client, who is not only her client but a college boy several years younger than she is, was insulting and offensive to professional women everywhere. It was also ludicrous: are we to believe that a grown woman, already established in a law firm, albeit as a young lawyer, and already experienced in trials, would risk her entire professional career by kissing a boy client?

I wasn’t the only reviewer who found it insulting. Peter Allen Clark of Mashable.com complained that

Everything we have been shown presents [Chandra] as a professional, intelligent, competent woman who would never start making out with Naz in a jail cell. That, one of the very few things that actually happened this week, was insulting to her and to us. I get that Naz reached out more and more, but she never seemed interested in reciprocating. That scene made The Night Of seem like boring, pedestrian TV. (emphasis mine)

Very boring. Very pedestrian. Very jumping the shark, I’d say. It would have made more sense, given Naz’s ability to dissemble, had Naz initiated the kiss: in fact, even though he did not, at least one reviewer postulated that Naz may to use that kiss to betray Chandra and frame his appeal. But it was Chandra who initiated the kiss. Chandra kissed Naz first, though he responded. So we are left with this question: did Chandra kiss Naz because she’s unprofessional, or did the writers simply throw it in because there hasn’t been any sexual activity in The Night Of since episode one?

If the former, we have no idea why Chandra would suddenly become so severely and flagrantly unprofessional.

If the latter, then Shame on you, Writers.

In any event, Chandra, this is for you:

Girl, you’ll be a woman soon.
Soon, you’ll need a man. 

A man, Girlfriend, not a boy.

And certainly not a boy who’s a criminal besides.

Next week is the finale of The Night Of, which is rumored to be about an hour and 45 minutes long. Though we don’t know if we’ll get any resolution to the question of Naz’s guilt or innocence, and I seriously doubt that the show is suddenly going to disintegrate into any Perry Mason moments and have the real murderer confess, the finale is bound to be an intense episode. The finale airs Sunday 28 August at 9p.m. ET on HBO.

Related Posts

Gripping Crime Drama:
HBO’s The Night Of Mini-Series,
episode 1, “The Beach,” Review and Recap

HBO’s Dark & Powerful Mini-Series:
The Night Of, e2-3, Recap & Review

Legal & Medical Pariahs:
Naz & Stone are the Victims in HBO’s Limited Mini-Series
The Night Of, Episode 4, “The Art of War,” Recap & Review

The Stone Also Rises: HBO’s The Night Of,
episode 5, “The Season of the Witch,” Recap & Review

Did Samson Kill Delilah in HBO’s The Night Of ?
Episode 106, “Ordinary Death,” Recap & Review

Share

4 Comments

Filed under Actors, Crime Drama, MiniSeries/Limited MiniSeries, Movies/Television, Recap, Review, The Night Of, The Night Of miniseries, True Detective, Videos