Archive for the ‘Westerns’ Category

The Hateful Eight

January 9, 2016

The_Hateful_Eight

em>The Hateful Eight is billed as the “8th film by Quentin Tarantino”. This does nothing to reassure the uneasy feeling one gets that Tarantino thinks his films are more profound than they actually are.

While traveling to Red Rock, Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter, hitches a ride on a stage coach. On board are another bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell), and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a convicted murderer. The are soon joined by Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Seeking shelter from a blizzard, they stop at a place called Millie’s Haberdashery. To Warren’s concern, the proprietors are not there. Instead, they are greeted by a mysterious stranger (Demián Bichir). Also seeking shelter at this place are an Englishman (Tim Roth), a cowboy (Michael Madsen), and a former Confederate general (Bruce Dern). Ruth confides to Warren that he believes there may be a plot afoot to help Daisy escape.

The Hateful Eight really only deals with two topics: racism and revenge. This is not enough to justify a two hour and forty-seven minute. One of the things I liked about Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs was they way it would leave certain things to the imagination. Tarantino’s recent films leave nothing to the imagination. They tell us things we don’t really need to know, and they show us things we don’t really need to see.

This is not to say that The Hateful Eight is a bad film. Quite the contrary, I found most of it entertaining, though it became wearing towards the end. (And it has a score by Ennio Morricone!) For all his flaws, Tarantino is one of the most interesting directors working. I just wish he would get some sense of perspective.

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Django Unchained

April 30, 2013

When Django Unchained came out, I heard many negative things about it, so I decided to wait until it came out on DVD. I now regret waiting so long to see it, for I found it thoroughly entertaining. What one has to understand about this movie is that it is not about slavery, it is about Spaghetti Westerns. Tarantino makes movies about movies. This may be incestuous, but nonetheless Tarantino is very good at it.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is rescued from slavers by a bounty hunter named King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz needs Django to help him identify some wanted men. Schultz eventually takes Django on as his partner. Django persuades Schultz to help him rescue his wife, Hildy (Kerry Washington) from a slave owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DaCaprio), whose plantation is called Candieland.

The first half of the film is mostly a typical Western, but when Django and Schultz approach Candie, the film begins to take on a surreal quality. It is as though Django Unchained wants us to see slavery as something unnatural. The film goes too far however, when we learn that Candie’s shuffling slave housekeeper, Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) is the real brains behind Candieland. A common plot device in genre films is to have the character the audience least suspects turn out to be the real villain, but this struck me as a bit much.

The reviews I read gave me the impression that every other line in this film contains the n-word. I was surprised to find that this is not the case. Yes, the n-word is used, but considering the time and place in which the story takes place, no more so than one would expect. What actually did bother me was the use of the n-word in Pulp Fiction, which struck me as gratuitous.

Some dim-witted liberals have criticized this film because of its violence, making the unproven argument that violent movies and TV programs cause people to be violent. Tarantino has rightly rejected these arguments. Japanese pop culture is filled with images of violence, yet Japan has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world. How do these liberals explain this? Violence is the result of material conditions in society.

Django Unchained clearly is not a realistic depiction of slavery, but has Hollywood ever tried to portray it realistically? (Gone with the Wind obviously doesn’t qualify.) There have been a number of films that tried to portray the Nazi concentration camps in a realistic manner. (Pontecorvo’s Kapò is one title that comes immediately to mind.) Yet slavery is apparently considered too painful a topic, perhaps because we are still in many ways living with the consequences of that awful institution.

Shane

February 3, 2013

Shaneposter

I have to admit that I’ve never been terribly keen on Westerns. I find most of them impossible to believe; they’re simply not accurate depictions of the “Old West”. They get all sorts of details wrong, beginning with women wearing twentieth-century hairstyles. And they show cavalrymen shooting guns while riding their horses. In real-life, they had to dismount before firing, otherwise the horses would panic. And of course, there’s that whole business of the good guy and the bad guy facing each other in the middle of the street in a shoot-out. (Of course, the good guy always happens to have faster reflexes than the bad guy does.) In reality, gun battles were usually fought the same way they’re fought today: people hiding behind things and shooting at each other.

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The Cartwright family, moments before they were gunned down in the middle of the street.

George Stevens’s Shane is one of the better Westerns that I’ve seen. A retired gunslinger, Shane (Alan Ladd), who is fleeing his past, passes through the land of a homesteader, Starrett (Van Heflin). There he learns that a wealthy landowner named Ryker (Emile Meyer) is trying to force Starrett and other homesteaders off their land. Shane spends the night with Starrett and his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur), and his son, Joey (Brandon deWilde). He decides to work as a farmhand for Starrett. Meanwhile, Ryker hires a gunslinger named Walker (the wonderfully creepy Jack Palance) to help him intimidate the homesteaders. The rest of the film basically builds towards the inevitable confrontation between Shane and Walker.

Shane is entertaining to watch. The characters are complex, and the cinematography is beautiful. Still, while I was watching this movie, I couldn’t help feeling that it could have been better. It hints at a love triangle between Shane, Marian, and Starrett; but this idea is never developed. At the same time the film puts far too much emphasis on the business of Shane forging an emotional bond with Joey. At times this is almost embarrassing to watch. And I thought they could have done more with Palance’s character. (Palance’s mere presence in a film automatically makes it better.) Still, I can see why this film is considered a classic. If you want to see a good Western, you can’t do much better than Shane.