The CineGuerrillas Episode 5: Wild Wild West
Welcome to the 5th issue of Furious Cinema’s movie commentary with Sebastian and Peter – your resident CineGuerillas. This is an ongoing series of conversations we have about movies we love. They are virtual “beer and nachos” sit-downs, so you will have to imagine the smell of alcohol, the crunching of teeth biting on chips and the closing credits of the movie still rolling. Also check out Episodes 1, 2 , 3 and 4.
Sebastian: So here we are again, dude. It took me a while, but I finally got to see The Hateful Eight at the end of January. And to make up for the long wait until this episode, I watched it three times in one week. One was the premiere, once a dubbed version, and the third a regular screening. All three were the 70mm roadshow. I will see the multiplex version at some point to compare. I used some of the spare time between Christmas and Tarantinomas and also the last few weeks to catch up on a bunch of (old and new) Westerns, too, which was overdue for me, and makes it easier to talk about them since we agreed Westerns would be our focal point for this fireside chat.
Pete: It’s great to be back at CineGuerrillas central to talk Westerns with you since we’re both big fans of the genre. Just want to give a quick shout out to your awesome site the SWDb (www.spaghetti-western.net). A place everyone who digs Westerns should visit regularly.
So let’s jump into things with this question: Which films have stood out to you among those you watched the last few weeks?
Seb: I made it a point to catch some recent ones, so I finally got to see Slow West (hugely underwhelming I thought) and The Homesman (gloomy pic, but really well made), both on Netflix, and I caught a screening of Meek’s Cutoff (amazingly minimalistic, and annoyingly full-screen instead of cinemascope, but somehow intriguing). The Revenant was of course amazing. On home video I saw a few older ones like Fort Massacre, Monte Walsh (the one with Lee Marvin), Gunman’s Walk, The Shadow Riders. For some reason Jane Got a Gun got fucked by distributors here and hardly screened, so I missed it. The Keeping Room is only arrive on BluRay in a few days. I saw a press copy and was amazed by the movie.
Pete: Ok, I have to admit, I actually watched The Ridiculous Six, I know, I know, I just wanted to see how terrible it was. Now In terms of comedy, I actually laughed a few times. Taylor Lautner playing this Mongo from Blazing Saddles meets Simple Jack part cracked me up. Just crazy, goofy Adam Sandler gags for two hours. I couldn’t help it. There were some nice cameos in this. The one with Harvey Keitel is especially funny.
Now for some real Westerns my last screenings were:
Jubal (1956) Directed by Delmer Daves. This was a Western version of Othello and stars Glenn Ford as a loner cowboy that rides into town and gets a job working for an affable rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) whose flirty wife starts making eyes at him. Jubal is the classic strong, silent type who just wants to work and not get into trouble. But it never goes that way in these kinds of movies. One of Horgan’s workers (Rod Steiger) is a bully who takes a disliking to ol Jubal. Luckily, he has one person who becomes his faithful friend: Charles Bronson. If you’re gonna need backup he would be the best choice right? One thing that really struck me about this movie was the cinematography, it’s one of the most vibrant looking Westerns I’ve seen. That 3 Strip Technicolor was working on this! Daves followed it up with the black n white classic, 3:10 To Yuma (1957) also starring Ford who plays one of the most likable outlaws in cinema history.
The Homesman (2014) Tommy Lee Jones directs and co-stars in this story about a farm woman (Hillary Swank) who must transport three crazy women to Iowa in her wagon. She soon needs assistance and when she comes upon a man in the process of being hung (Jones) she makes a deal with him, that she’ll save his life if he goes with her. They travel across the frontier and meet various characters on the way. I really liked this movie. I thought Tommy Lee Jones was excellent in his performance as “George Briggs”, a ne’er do well outlaw that finds some sense of purpose by taking responsibility for completing the mission. Nice supporting cast including Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader and Meryl Streep. No shootouts, no heavy violence, but plenty of great acting in this adventure tale.
Appaloosa (2008) Directed by Ed Harris. This is one I hadn’t seen before. Harris plays Virgil Cole, the steely eyed sheriff of this small Southwest town and Viggo Mortensen is his deputy. Renee Zellweger is the new gal who arrives one day and starts a relationship with Cole. Jeremy Irons is the nefarious cattle rancher who starts stirring up trouble so they toss him in jail. It later turns out he’s not the real villain of the film. Ed Harris and Viggo make a great team. It’s sort of a flipside of what they did in History of Violence. Like if Viggo’s and Ed’s character were pals. It was cool.
Seb: I always have a hard time compiling genre top lists, but here are a few westerns that have a special place in my heart
- Once Upon a Time in the West will always be my favorite Spaghetti Western.
- Open Range is one of the most amazing modern westerns, kudos to Kevin Costner.
- Hannie Caulder has its flaws, but how many European Westerns with such a hot heroine are there?
- A Professional Gun always moves me to tears, such an epic adventure full of politics and joy, with more than two showdowns and the most charismatic cast.
- High Noon will remain a thriller, hasn’t lost a bit of it’s impact
- The Great Silence is the grimmest spaghetti western you can watch.
- The Big Gundown for the opening credits alone, that girl should’ve done a Bond theme.
- At The End of the Rainbow is a niche tip. The first half almost put me to sleep, the second half had me kneeling in front of the screen out of drama.
- High Plains Drifter was Clint Eastwood’s return to the US, in a most eerie and sinister brutal western.
- Cemetery Without Crosses is one of those gritty ones that I love.
I dug Appaloosa as well, it was overlooked but deserves more attention. So now I am curious, I know of course some of your favorite flix, but on top of your head, if you had to name some of your favorite westerns, which ones would those be?
Pete: There’s so many good Westerns in there. OK, here’s 10 of my long time favorites I’d recommend:
Rio Bravo (1959) – The Duke, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson and Walter Brennan. What a cast of cool people. The characters bicker and mess with each other from start to finish but man it’s a blast to watch. It’s like constant family quarrels mixed with Old West action. One of the most enjoyable and rewatchable westerns ever made. Every time you revisit it, it’s like seeing old friends again.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – Nevermind The Searchers, this is my favorite John Ford Western. Another movie starring The Duke with an amazing supporting cast including Woody Strode, Vera Miles, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin and Edmond O’Brien. Jimmy Stewart is Ransom Stoddard a lawyer who arrives in a small town where Lee Marvin’s Liberty Valance terrorizes everyone. Everything about this movie is big and bold. From the emotions to the characters to the portions of hearty food served at the local eatery. This one is right next to Rio Bravo for me in terms of ensemble classics.
Nevada Smith (1966) – Steve McQueen is out for revenge on the men who murdered his parents. This really shows you what revenge is like. Its messy and painful. Karl Malden gives a standout performance as one of the meanest bastard villains in the genre. “YER YELLA!”
The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966) – Cinema at its most exhilarating and epic. We’ve written about it, obsessed over it, celebrated it for decades now. I don’t know what I could say about it besides it’s a masterpiece.
Hannie Caulder (1970): I know we are both are big fans of this one. Raquel Welch on the trail of the trio of bandits that raped her and murdered her husband. She is tutored on how to be a gunfighter by Robert Culp. Just an awesome Revenge Western and I love the main score!
The Wild Bunch (1969) – Sam Peckinpah‘s tale about a band of aging outlaws who are on their way out at the beginning of the 20th century. Brilliantly directed and acted. A highly visceral and violent Vietnam era Western masterpiece.
Bad Company (1972) – A 70s hippie western starring Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges as two teenage Civil War draft dodgers that travel together across the Mid-west. This one shows what it’s like to live on the run. It’s more dangerous and miserable than fun, that’s for sure. A gem of a movie.
Jeremiah Johnson (1972) – Robert Redford is a mountain man in 19th century Colorado who becomes a living legend as he battles Indians, wild animals and goes through the many trials/tribulations of such a gnarly lifestyle. One of my all time favorite films.
Westworld (1973) – In the future, two businessmen pals (Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) go on vacation in a Wild Western theme park that is inhabited by androids. You can live the life of an Old West gunfighter on every level. From shooting bad guys to loving the local prostitutes. Yul Brynner plays the creepy Gunslinger with silvery robot eyes. He’s like a western version of The Terminator.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – Clint Eastwood plays one of the last Confederate hold outs after the North wins the Civil War. He goes on the trail, dodging Union soldiers, bounty hunters and befriends an old Indian man (Chief Dan George) as well as a ragtag group of misfit settlers. One of Clint’s very best films. I liked how the Union soldiers are the villains in this one. A nice inversion of the usual Civil War era story.
Tombstone (1993) – When it comes to Westerns made in the last 25 years, this film which was directed by star Kurt Russell (uncredited) is one of the classics. I love the screenplay by Kevin Jarre (dialogue is so memorable and fun to quote), the acting (eccentric Val Kilmer at the top of his game), the music and the entire mythological story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the legendary OK Corral gunfight.
Kurt Russell is a veteran of the genre, going back to his childhood on the TV Westerns. I think that’s partly why he knew how to make such an entertaining film. Recently he returned to the genre with Bone Tomahawk which you saw and really enjoyed (I still need to see it). He followed that with a role in another one, the long awaited 8th film by Quentin Tarantino: The Hateful Eight.
Seb: Oh man you mention two things I find really interesting. For one I think Kurt Russell has made a great sort of come back. And on top of that, both Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight are two outstanding westerns that got released within a year and both star him. Now, what’s even more interesting in terms of trivia is, that when I met Kurt in 2007 before the release of Grindhouse, he said that wasn’t just a movie, it was “a night”. Now years later he re-teams with Tarantino again, and again, it’s not just a movie, it’s a whole theatrical experience, a roadshow. Bone Tomahawk was a blast, I dug it a lot, I loved it (see review)! The Hateful Eight (see my full review here) was an amazing theatrical experience, and despite some minor flaws which made some people really not like it at all (that’s fine), I think it’s the most outstanding work in Tarantino’s filmography. I think it is a clear cut representation of the red thread in his body of work.
Pete: I really want to see Bone Tomahawk. I’ve heard it’s really good from you and other people.
It must’ve been great seeing H8ful in 70mm. That format definitely enhances the film experience as we know it. How did it affect you as a filmgoer who usually just sees the DCP versions?
Sebastian: Aside from bringing 70mm back and (together with The Revenant) being a big budget Western in theaters (that alone is cause to celebrate), I think it will encourage others to dare set more character pieces in the west. The western certainly ain’t dead, but what modern day Hollywood hasn’t figured out yet (again), is how to make them economical. Especially release policy treats them shitty (Jane Got a Gun has a horrible history, some others are also suffering, Bone Tomahawk went to VOD), and the target audience leaves the studio heads scratching those very heads. The Hateful Eight might be a good stimulus for filmmakers to stop thinking of Westerns as something “old and different” and rather just be a period in time and a geographical place where you can set amazing stories just as anywhere and anywhen else.
The other thing though, is it might rekindle some interest in classics. But that’s a different story.
Pete: For QT’s Movie Universe references, I spotted some Red Apple cigarettes and I liked the Inglourious Basterds connection with Tim Roth’s “English Pete” Hicox. I guess he’s supposed to be Archie Hicox’s great grandfather.
Seb: I think it wasn’t so heavy on homage, but I dug some of the Tarantinoverse references especially. There are moments where both background and foreground are in focus, and you can see that in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. That’s stuff you notice watching that three times on a huge screen, aahaha.
Pete: You saw Ennio Morricone live in concert a few years back, what did you make of his score for Hateful? I thought it was less Western in sound and more like something you’d hear in a giallo or crime thriller. I really liked the foreboding mood it created. I also liked QTs selected music tracks from White Stripes, Roy Orbison and David Hess.
Seb: I found the mood fascinating and loved the soundtrack before I saw the movie. Of course it’s more The Thing than The Good, The Bad and The Ugly but a) everyone knew that and b) it fits perfectly. The Oscar is well deserved, and obviously way overdue.
Pete: Well, on The Hateful Eight, being a huge QT fan I was expecting to love it, but I had a tough time doing that when all was said and done. It started out great and I was enjoying it up until the section where they find out what they thought about someone being in cahoots with Daisy was correct. It’s like any suspense that was built up to that point got depleted so fast. The other thing was, the characters didn’t have much development. We know that they’re a bunch of rotten basterds on various levels and that’s the point, but we also don’t get much if any emotional attachment to them because they’re trying to stay in character and/or are just plain mean people. So you have a bunch of pretty unlikable, mysterious varmints stuck in a cabin who hate each other for two hours but you’re supposed to be really into their plight. For comparison, it was different from Reservoir Dogs where those guys were criminals but still cool and pretty likable. We get to know them a bit and they’re not just mannequins which is really needed in a film like that. In The Hateful Eight, Chris Mannix and Marquis Warren end up being the exception and I liked those two a little since they’re the closest thing you get to “good guys”. Yet it didn’t seem to increase my overall enjoyment of the film.
As far as the performances, I thought most of the cast were all good to great in their roles. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sam Jackson and Walton Goggins stood out the most for me. What I would’ve liked to see more of is the characters making us believe they were who they said they were. I think by making them kinda quiet (see Michael Madsen) and evasive, it just lost a lot of the intrigue we could have felt if they were very talkative. Bruce Dern, one of the greatest actors ever has about 10 lines in the movie, then gets blown away. I thought his talent was just wasted.
One actor I felt was really miscast was Channing Tatum whose arrival in the last part of the movie ruined things for me. I think he’s a pretty weak actor (I’m not a fan of hipster junk like Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street) and I don’t get the sudden fascination with the guy at all. I really had a negative reaction to the last half of the film. I just didn’t like the chapter explaining what occurred before John Ruth & Co arrived. That part and the finale’s gory violence was also off-putting, not because I’m against it, I love that stuff usually, but it just came across as dull and heavy handed. You really can’t feel emotional for characters you never liked that much to begin with.
Seb: To me it definitely grew with each viewing, which puzzled me at first since it is a mystery movie. But quite the contrary, it was more and more fascinating the more I already knew about the plot. The initial awe gave way to room for me to explore things on screen and on the audio track. Kind of like when you watch an old movie in HD for the first time, the things you notice that you had never noticed before.
I dug most of the performances, especially those by Demian Bichir, whom I was already a huge fan of, and I have to say even Channing Tatum was really convincing. I was never a fan of overacting, and I still hate Tim Roth’s whining in Reservoir Dogs, or his weird performance in Four Rooms. In The Hateful Eight, I have some issues with Walton Goggins in that regard, and to some degree with Kurt Russell, but I know both are like that on purpose. Bruce Dern was a hoot of course.
Overall I think The Hateful Eight (as I wrote in my review) ranks very high on Quentin’s filmography in terms of craftsmanship and cinema, but I am afraid it will not have the lasting impact some of his other works have, and that is mostly due to accessibility. The Hateful Eight is another step up from his previous works in terms of length and complexity, and the more he dabbles in cinematic nerddom as a filmmaker, the further away he maneuvers himself from the broader audience. Now it could be that this has an educating effect on the broader audience but if you look at the numbers, that is not the case.
The 70mm Roadshow aspect is a case in point. It’s something non-cineasts will have a hard time understanding in the first place, not to mention actually getting the difference. The fact that a mind bogglingly small share of the global audience even got to see the movie this way adds to an element of exclusivity in Tarantino’s works that kind of started with him so far not releasing The Whole Bloody Affair to the public. I feel torn with these things. On the one hand as a cineast I think he is doing a lot of good for the magic of the art form, but as a progressive cosmopolitan person who understands the possibilities of modern technology, I have a hard time stomaching the restrictiveness.
Peter: Points taken. We clearly had a pretty different experience with this QT film and that’s cool. I’ll just say that I liked but didn’t love Hateful. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my opinion when I see it a few more times. I’m sure I’ll pick up new things I had missed before. I’m glad you really enjoyed it since you’re a big Western aficionado. As far as the whole 70mm film/roadshow side, I really don’t know if that’s specifically going to make a comeback, but I’d love to see theaters have bigger screens in the future so going to the movies is a unique experience every time. We definitely need a reason to leave the house more and more these days.
Do you think The Hateful Eight will have a lasting effect on Westerns on the big screen then? Where do you think he will move next genre wise and where would you like to seem him go next?
Seb: I think The Hateful Eight demonstrated two things. One is that a high profile filmmaker with the backing of a studio can resurrect an old format and still bring a great cinematic experience to theaters despite all commercial considerations. The Hateful Eight was a high risk project and it probably won’t set a precedent in that regard, but there are already a number of projects out there that are looking into 70mm at least. The second is that again, the Western ain’t dead. It came out together with The Revenant at a time where with The Keeping Room and Jane Got a Gun, there were a whole bunch of westerns actually grabbing for attention. It is still hard for them to be commercially viable, but to some extent that has more to do with release policy than with the movies themselves. The Hateful Eight had to compete with Star Wars 7 and The Revenant, the others got very late or limited runs and hardly any marketing. The western, in pure form or as style elements in other genres, is alive and well and has set a high standard for neo-westerns for sure. I don’t think this means an immediate and visible lasting effect but in the long run I think Tarantino once again nudged a whole industry along a certain path.
I think he will leave the big epics aside for a while. He might actually notice that these take a lot of energy for one, and two, he probably now had to say about Westerns what he had to say. That doesn’t mean he won’t return to them (I still hope for 40 Lashes Less One) but my guess is that he will actually look into some new territory next, possibly comedy, possibly road movie or crime story, maybe even Sci Fi. The latter would be my wish actually. If he were to make a Mario Bava 70s style SciFi movie I would be sold. Material could be from Philip K. Dick, Perry Rhodan or Robert Heinlein, and it could be something quirky like Barbarella or something eerie like Planet of the Vampires. Horror might also be a viable option, that’s something he hasn’t explicitly dabbled in so far, so maybe a movie along the lines of Amityville or The Psychic.
Peter: I would really like to see him tackle another genre he hasn’t done yet like Science Fiction or a Horror film. I’m sure he will find some crazy subgenres to mix together too which is always fun. I think he mentioned one idea being a Bonnie & Clyde type crime film but set in Australia. That has possibilities. If he does only plan on doing 10 films (does anyone want to see him stop after that? NO) I’d love to see his final movie be a big, colorful epic in the tradition of KILL BILL that features all the actors from his career. But I’ll go see QTs films as long as he he makes em. He’s the man.
Alright I think that should suffice for this episode, amigo. Let’s return shortly with another chat on something completely different. Stay tuned folks.