Showing posts with label Western. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Western. Show all posts

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Review: "SURROUNDED" Takes a Different Path to the Wild West

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 9 of 2024 (No. 1953) by Leroy Douresseaux

Surrounded (2023)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
MPA – R for violence and language
DIRECTOR: Anthony Mandler
WRITERS:  Anthony Pagana and Justin Thomas & Andrew Pagana
PRODUCERS:  Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert, Derek Iger, Anthony Mandler, Ade O'Adesina, and Letitia Wright
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Max Goldman (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Ron Patane
COMPOSER:  Robin Hannibal


Starring:  Letitia Wright, Jamie Bell, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael K. Williams, Kevin Wiggins, Brett Gelman, Luce Rains, Andrew Pagana, Augusta-Allen Jones, Herman Johansen, Keith Jardine, C.M Petrey, Austin Rising, and Tony Sedillo



--Letitia Wright can make audiences put aside her most famous role – that of Shuri in Marvel's “Black Panther” films – and accept her as a 19th soldier who can defend herself with a gun and take on any man trying to get the best of her.

--Although it lacks the epic scope of the great American Western films, Surrounded is riveting and intense.


Surrounded is a 2023 Western drama film directed by Anthony Mandler and starring Letitia Wright, who is also one of the film's producers.  After debuting at the Sun Valley Film Festival in April 2023, MGM released the film digitally (VOD) on June 20, 2023.  Surrounded focuses on a former former Buffalo Soldier who travels west to lay claim on a gold mine, only to end up playing guard to a dangerous, captured outlaw.

Surrounded opens in the year 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War.  Mo Washington (Letitia Wright) is a former Buffalo Soldier.  [This was the nickname given to U. S. Army regiments that were primarily comprised of African-Americans and were formed during the 19th century to serve on the American frontier.]  Mo arrives in Brushwood Gulch, New Mexico, the last stop on the edge of the Wild West.

Mo has a secret.  He is actually a she.  Mo is a former slave, who after becoming a freedwoman, disguised herself and became a soldier.  After leaving the army, she travels west to take possession of a gold claim in the Territory of Colorado.  Mo books passage on a stagecoach, but some time after departure, the coach is attacked by a group of “road agents” (marauders) led by the infamous Thomas “Tommy” Walsh (Jamie Bell).

After a chaotic fight, Mo is left to guard the captured Tommy Walsh, who tries to convince her to set him free.  He has buried somewhere in the area the $120,000 that he and his gang stole during a recent bank robbery.  So many sinister figures want him – from members of his gang to bounty hunters and assorted bandits.  Now, Mo finds herself surrounded, and she must survive everyone who is coming for Walsh.  Most of all, she must survive Tommy's wily ways.

Surrounded is a surprisingly intense Western drama made all the more intense that the lead character is a Black woman pretending to be a Black man in a world that hates both.  Add racism and also racial elements and Surrounded is... surrounded by intensity.  This is an unusual scenario for an American Western film, but Cathay Williams was a real-life African-American woman who disguised herself as a man and served out west in the U.S. Army from 1866-68 during the Indian Wars.

Like the film's tone, Letitia Wright is intense – quietly so – as the no-nonsense and devout Mo Washington.  Wright makes everything in her performance seem genuine and convincing, from the way Mo dresses to her ability to wield large pistols.  Wright is best known for playing the role of Shuri, the Wakandan princess in Marvel Studios' Black Panther (2018) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022).  In Surrounded, however, Wright made me forget Shuri and accept her as 19th century Black woman who survives slavery, the tragic deaths of her parents, and her time as a Buffalo Soldier.

Surrounded is filled with good performances.  Fellow British actor, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), has excellent screen chemistry with Wright, and Bell is quiet good as a Western character, bringing complexity and eccentricity to the standard murderous Western outlaw and bank robber.  Surrounded is also the final film appearance of the Emmy Award-nominated actor, Michael K. Williams, who died in 2021.  Here, he makes the most of his small role as Will Clay, so much so that I wish that he had a bigger role in the film.

Surrounded is a surprisingly riveting film.  Early on, it seems as if it doesn't really have the energy to rise above being a mere historical drama and become a true Western film.  It does and eventually hits its stride, although I wish the film had focused on some of the interesting characters outside the Mo Washington-Tommy Walsh dynamic.  Surrounded is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



Saturday, December 10, 2022

Review: Netflix's "THE POWER OF THE DOG" is Certainly a Movie

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 74 of 2022 (No. 1886) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Power of the Dog (2021)
Running time:  128 minutes (2 hours, 8 minutes)
MPA – R for strong sexuality and language
DIRECTOR:  Jane Campion
WRITER:  Jane Campion (based on a novel by Thomas Savage)
PRODUCERS:  Jane Chapman, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Tanya Seghatchian, and Emile Sherman
EDITOR:  Peter Sciberras
COMPOSER:  Jonny Greenwood
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Genevieve Lemon, Peter Carroll, Frances Conroy, Alison Bruce, Keith Carradine, Thomasin McKenzie, Ramontay McConnell, Adam Beach, and Maeson Stone Skuggedal

The Power of the Dog is a 2021 Western drama film from writer-director Jane Campion.  It is based on the1967 novel, The Power of the Dog, from author Thomas Savage.  The Power of the Dog the movie focuses on a charismatic rancher who torments his brother, his brother's new wife, and her son.

The Power of the Dog opens in rural Montana, 1925 and focuses on Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Phil is, along with brother, George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), wealthy ranch-owners.  George meets Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), a widow and inn owner, during a cattle drive.  The kindhearted George is quickly smitten with Rose, but Phil, always coarse and volatile, dislikes her and considers her nothing more than a gold-digger who wants George's money.

Phil also belittles Rose's teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whom he derides as weak and effeminate – a sissy.  George and Rose soon marry, and Rose comes to live at the Burbank brothers' isolated ranch estate and manor home. However, Rose withers under Phil's torment.  Sometimes later, Peter comes to stay and things begin to change...

The Power of the Dog is a ridiculous title for a film, but I like it for a novel.  The film is a psychological drama dressed in the rags of a Western.  Its narrative focuses on two despicable characters (Phil and Pete) and two meek, but lovable and sympathetic characters (George and Rose).

I would not describe any of the characters as vague so much as they reflect a narrative that is oblique, which in turn reflects on characters with pinched personalities.  Benedict Cumberbatch's Phil Burbank is mean and spiteful, but just like that, one day, he turns all … gay over a weirdo kid he only hated just a few seconds ago.  Kodi Smit-McPhee's Peter may be the film's most well-developed character; it is obvious that there is a lot going on with him.  He is more than the audience can imagine and apparently quite the litle psycho-sociopath.

As I said, Kirsten's Dunst's Rose and Jessie Plemons' George are lovable, but are slight characters.  They both received Oscar nominations in supporting acting categories; whether they deserved them or not is a matter of opinion.  I will say that Dunst spends most of the film crying and sniveling and yelling and stumbling around.  Jesse Plemons is barely a whisper in the wind as George, and sometimes it seems as if George's entire screen time amounts to only a few minutes.  Of course, he is onscreen more than that; it's just that he seems to be on it much less...

I can see why actor Sam Elliot questioned The Power of the Dog's credibility as a Western.  The film lacks a central, focused voice, and girl, Westerns have voice.  It is not a bad film.  The Power of the Dog does indeed have some power and some powerful moments, but director Jane Campion sublimates the passion and the urges she says define this film.  The film lacks heart and is unhurried to the point of being meandering.

My original plan was to write a review of The Power of the Dog that was comprised of a single question mark.  However, the film's shock ending gave me a reason to say more.  I guess I'm one critic who is not buying into The Power of the Dog.

5 of 10
★★½ out of 4 stars

Saturday, December 10, 2022

2022 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Achievement in Directing” (Jane Campion); 11 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Roger Frappier), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), “Best Adapted Screenplay” (Jane Campion), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Jesse Plemons), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Benedict Cumberbatch), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Kirsten Dunst), “Best Achievement in Production Design” (Grant Major-production design and Amber Richards-set decoration), “Best Sound” (Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, and Tara Webb), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Ari Wegner), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Peter Sciberras), and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Score” (Jonny Greenwood)

2022 BAFTA Awards:  2 wins: “Best Film” (Jane Campion, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Tanya Seghatchian, and Emile Sherman) and “Best Director” (Jane Campion); 6 nominations: “Best Screenplay-Adapted” (Jane Campion), “Best Leading Actor” (Benedict Cumberbatch), “Best Supporting Actor” (Jesse Plemons), “Best Supporting Actor” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), “Best Cinematography” (Ari Wegner), and “Original Score” (Jonny Greenwood)

2022 Golden Globes, USA:  3 wins:  “Best Motion Picture-Drama,” “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and “Best Director-Motion Picture” (Jane Campion); 4 nominations: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Benedict Cumberbatch), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Kirsten Dunst), “Best Screenplay-Motion Picture” (Jane Campion), and “Best Original Score-Motion Picture” (Jonny Greenwood)

The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



Amazon wants me to inform you that the affiliate link below is a PAID AD, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on the affiliate link below AND buy something(s).

Friday, February 26, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: "LITTLE WOODS" Introduces an Up and Coming Director

[The independent film, the crime drama and quasi-modern Western, “Little Woods,” made noise at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2018.  It was released theatrically in the United States in April 2019.  The film marked writer-director Nia DaCosta as an emerging director and earned her the job of writing and directing Universal's update-sequel to the classic 1990s horror film, “Candyman.”  Later, Marvel Studios chose DaCosta to direct the sequel to its billion-dollar hit, Captain Marvel (2019).  Candyman's release was delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so while audiences await its release, they can watch DaCosta's directorial debut, Little Woods.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 of 2021 (No. 1760) by Leroy Douresseaux

Little Woods (2018)
Running time: 103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
MPAA – R for language and some drug material
PRODUCERS:  Rachael Fung, Tim Headington, and Gabrielle Nadig
EDITOR:  Catrin Hedström
COMPOSER:  Brian McOmber

DRAMA/CRIME with elements of thriller and western

Starring:  Tessa Thompson, Lily James, Luke Kirby, James Badge Dale, Lance Reddick, Jeremy St. James, and Charlie Ray Reid

Little Woods is a 2018 drama and crime film from writer-director Nia DaCosta.  The film focuses on two sisters who work outside the law to fix bad situations in their lives via the Canadian–U.S. cross-border drug trade.

Little Woods introduces a young woman named Oleander “Ollie” King (Tessa Thompson), who lives in Little Woods, North Dakota.  Ollie is on probation because she had been bringing prescription medicine illegally across the border between Canada and North Dakota.  With eight days left on her probation, Ollie is determined to reinvent her life.  With the help and encouragement of her probation officer, Carter (Lance Reddick), Ollie has applied to find work in Spokane.

However, Ollie is getting numerous requests to return to her old life, which included illegally selling prescription medicine, as she scrapes by on odd jobs.  And Ollie might have a reason to return to a life of crime.  Her estranged sister, Deborah “Deb” Hale (Lily James), is barely surviving, living in an illegally parked trailer with her young son, Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid).  Deb is barely getting any help from her bum baby-daddy, Ian (James Badge Dale).

Worse still, Ollie, who has been living in the home of her and Deb's recently deceased mother, Bridget Sorenson, has discovered that a local bank has begun foreclosure proceedings on the house.  There is a payment of 5,682 dollars due to the bank in one week.  Desperate to make a place for Deb and Johnny, Ollie may jeopardize her future by selling and running drugs again.

Little Woods is the directorial debut of writer-director Nia DaCosta.  The subject matter and setting may seem like strange choices for an African-American director, but the story is a familiar one of familial obligations; the up-and-down relationship between bickering, but loving sisters; and the desperate day-to-day lives of the poor and struggling people of small town America.  DaCosta offers a riveting family drama that is part crime thriller and modern Western – that also has an excellent soundtrack full of plaintive songs that set the appropriate mood.  This is an engaging and sometimes haunting film that holds one attention.

However, the character writing is not as strong as it needs to be.  The screenplay relies on familiar conflicts between loved ones, friends, and acquaintances.  Bill (Luke Kirby), the local pill kingpin, barely registers as a character, and Ian's relationships with both Deb and Ollie, which are obviously, rich with potential, rely on familiar indie drama tropes.  Still, Tessa Thompson and Lily James deliver urgent and edgy performances of their respective characters.

My reservations aside, Little Woods is a necessary film because Nia DaCosta presents a side of the American experience, a side that need that needs to exist more in American popular culture.  DaCosta expertly details the lack of affordable housing, inadequate heath care, and shitty jobs that make ordinary people make choices that often hurt them or land them in jails and prisons or on parole and probation.  Little Woods is not a pretty film, but it exemplifies the power of film drama, and it makes me expect big things of Nia DaCosta.

7 of 10

Friday, February 26, 2021

2020 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Emerging Director” (Nia DaCosta)

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


Amazon wants me to inform you that the link below is a PAID AD, but I technically only get paid (eventually) if you click on the ad below AND buy something(s).

Friday, July 17, 2020

Review: "The Hateful Eight" is Certainly Great

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 (of 2020) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

The Hateful Eight (2015)
Running time:  188 minutes (3 hours, 8 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Quentin Tarantino
PRODUCERS:  Richard N. Gladstein, Shannon McIntosh, and Stacey Sher
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Robert Richardson
EDITOR:  Fred Raskin
COMPOSER:  Ennio Morricone
Academy Award winner


Starring:  Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell, Lee Horsley, Gene Jones, Keith Jefferson, Craig Strark, Belinda Owino, and Channing Tatum

The Hateful Eight is the 8th film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino.  A Western and mystery-thriller, The Hateful Eight focuses on two bounty hunters, a prisoner, and a new local sheriff who find themselves stranded in a cabin with a collection of nefarious strangers.  At least one of those strangers may be connected to the prisoner.

The Hateful Eight opens in the dead of a Wyoming winter some years after the Civil War.  O.B. Jackson (James Parks) drives a stagecoach through the snow-covered landscape.  Aboard his stagecoach is bounty hunter, John Ruth the Hangman (Kurt Russell), and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).  Ruth is taking Domergue to Red Rock, Wyoming where she is to be tried and hanged for her crimes.

The stagecoach comes across a second bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who was transporting three dead bounties to Red Rock when his horse died.  It takes some convincing, but Ruth allows Warren to board the stagecoach.  Shortly afterwards, former Confederate, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be heading to Red Rock to assume the job of sheriff, hails the stagecoach.  It takes some talking, but Ruth also lets him aboard.

A sudden blizzard forces this quintet to seek shelter at the stagecoach stopover, Minnie's Haberdashery, but Minnie (Dana Gourrier) is nowhere to be found.  Instead, they are met by Bob (Demián Bichir), a Mexican who says that Minnie is visiting her mother and has left him in charge; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) who claims to be Red Rock's hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a quiet cowboy; and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former Confederate officer.  John Ruth and Marquis Warren believe that at least one of the men they have found at Minnie's is in league with Daisy Domergue, but which one and when will he strike?

Although The Hateful Eight displays Quentin Tarantino's signature blend of wisecracking social commentary, action, humor, and over-the-top violence, this film is not like Tarantino's more popular films:  Pulp Fiction (1994), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012).  These three films received best picture Oscar nominations, while The Hateful Eight did not.  The Hateful Eight is a parlor-room drama, but the parlor room is set up like a stage for live theater.

The other three films were wide-ranging epics full of hyper-kinetic violence.  They are flashy examples of Tarantino's bravura film making, while The Hateful Eight is quiet and edgy and brimming with malice, menace, and venom.  More than half the characters in The Hateful Eight really are fucking hateful, and that is a ratio that can be off-putting for the audience.

But not for me.  I would put The Hateful Eight in the top half of Tarantino's filmography.  This isn't Tarantino's best dialogue or screenplay for that matter, but his execution is impeccable, as usual.  The Hateful Eight is a riveting piece of work, three hours of glorious film narrative, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I wanted more.

Besides Tarantino's stellar work, there are a number of good performances in this film.  Samuel L. Jackson, a Tarantino regular, gives his best performance in a lead role in years.  He gives the sly Marquis Warren layers, from vengeful former slave to death-dealing former P.O.W., but Jackson suggests that there is so much more to this man that it would take at least two movies to discover what is inside him.

Jennifer Jason Leigh also turns Daisy Domergue into so much more than what she seems.  Her performances is built on subtle changes in note; it is a bouquet of scents meant to keep the viewers on their heels when it comes to what her motivations are.  Joined at the hip with Kurt Russell, who also gives a spry, spicy turn, they make a good pair.  Walton Goggins also surprises, especially since his career, thus far, has been filled with oddballs who are odd for the sake of being an oddity in a film.

Ennio Morricone's score and the film's soundtrack offer a nice backdrop, heightening the sinister mood of the story.  The Hateful Eight might not be a Tarantino audience favorite; it is too slow for the kick-ass crowd.  However, I think that it is a masterpiece, a great modern Western that stands with the very few great Westerns of the previous four decades.

9 of 10

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Revised:  Thursday, July 16, 2020

2016 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Ennio Morricone); 2 nominations:  “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Robert Richardson)

2016 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Ennio Morricone); 2 nomination:  “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Quentin Tarantino)

2016 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Original Music” (Ennio Morricone); 2 nominations: “Best Supporting Actress” (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and “Best Original Screenplay” (Quentin Tarantino)

The text is copyright © 2020 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint or syndication rights and fees.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Review: Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 (of 2019) by Leroy Douresseaux

Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown (2017) – Video
Running time:  79 minutes (1 hour 19 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Matt Peters
WRITERS: Candie Kelty Langdale and Doug Landale
EDITORS:  Steve Donmyer and Craig Paulsen
COMPOSERS:  Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, and Lolita Ritmanis
SONGS: Joshua Funk
ANIMATION STUDIO: Digital eMation, Inc.


Starring:  (voices) Frank Welker, Matthew Lillard, Grey DeLisle, Kate Micucci, Carlos Alazraqui, Max Charles, Gary Cole, Jessica DiCicco, Tania Gunadi, Eric Ladin, Nolan North, Stephen Tobolowsky, Lauren Tom, Melissa Villaseñor, Kari Wahlgren, and Gary Anthony Williams with John Schwab (no screen credit)

Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown is a 2017 straight-to-video, animated, comic mystery film.  It is also the 28th animated movie in the Scooby-Doo straight-to-video series from Warner Bros. Animation, which began in 1998 with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.  In Shaggy's Showdown, Mystery Inc. attempts to solve the mystery of a ghost that is rampaging through a small wild west town and a dude ranch.

Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown finds Mystery Inc.Fred Jones (Frank Welker), Daphne Blake (Grey DeLisle), Velma Dinkley (Kate Micucci), Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (Matthew Lillard), and the Great Dane, Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker), visiting the wild west town of Sorghum City.  They are surprised to find that the people there scream and run away when they encounter Shaggy.  The gang's next stop is “Crazy Q Ranch,” a dude ranch owned and operated by Shaggy's “third cousin, twice removed,” Tawny Rogers (Melissa Villaseñor).

A long-lost cousin, Tawny invited Shaggy to her ranch so they the cousins could reconnect, but the reunion is being ruined by the ghost of a notorious outlaw, Dapper Jack Rogers (John Schwab).  The ghost bears a striking resemblance to Shaggy, who, like Tawny, is a descendant of Dapper Jack.  The ghost has been terrorizing Sorghum City and also the Crazy Q Ranch, and if the ghost continues its haunting, Tawny will be forced to sell the ranch.  Now, Shaggy, Scooby, Fred, Daphne, and Velma have a new ghostly mystery to solve.

Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown is the third consecutive Scooby-Doo animated film I have seen that I really like.  I think that one thing that makes this one appealing to me is the dude ranch element.  I have been a fan of films set on dude ranches, and I have enjoyed TV series in which the characters visit a dude ranch for a particular episode.  Combine a dude ranch with my love of the Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc., and that is entertainment I cannot resist.

So take my recommendation with a grain of salt off the table at a dude ranch when I tell you that Shaggy's Showdown is one of the best recent Scooby-Doo movies.  I like the animation, especially the color, and there are some good subplots:  Shaggy riding a horse, Scooby's ability to “talk” to farm animals, and a child overcoming his fear of horses all make this particular straight-to-video Scooby-Doo film exceptional.

Seriously, Scooby-Doo! Shaggy's Showdown is a nice change of pace for the series.  A quasi-Western comedy, it means that the Scoody-Doo DVD animated movies can show a bit of freshness now and then.

8 of 10

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The text is copyright © 2019 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: "The Lone Ranger" is a Little Bit Stranger

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 9 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Lone Ranger (2013)
Running time:  149 minutes (2 hours, 29 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material
DIRECTOR:  Gore Verbinski
WRITERS:  Justine Haythe and Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio; from Justine Haythe and Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
PRODUCERS:  Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski
EDITORS:  James Haygood and Craig Wood
COMPOSER:  Hans Zimmer
Academy Award nominee

WESTERN/ACTION with elements of fantasy

Starring:  Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Leon Rippy, Stephen Root, Terry Treadaway, Saginaw Grant, Joaquin Cosio, James Frain, Leonard Earl Howze, Grover Coulson, and Mason Cook.

For those who don’t know:  The Lone Ranger is a fictional character that first debuted in a radio show in late January 1933.  The Lone Ranger is a Texas Ranger who fights injustice in the American Old West with the assistance of Tonto, his Native American friend.

The radio show ran from 1933 to the mid-1950s for almost 3,000 episodes.  The character is probably best-remembered for the television series, The Lone Ranger, which aired for eight seasons (1949 to 1957) for over 200 episodes on the ABC television network.  Clayton Moore starred as the Lone Ranger, and Jay Silverheels played Tonto.  The character also made several appearance in film, the last being an infamous and unsuccessful 1981 movie.  Early in the Summer of 2013, the Lone Ranger and Tonto returned to the big screen.

The Lone Ranger is a 2013 action and Western film from producer-director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.  Starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, The Lone Ranger 2013 focuses on the earliest efforts of The Lone Ranger and Tonto to end corruption in and to bring justice to the American Old West.

[A NOTE:  Since the following review is a longish one, I’ll summarize it here.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Lone Ranger 2013, and had a blast watching it.  However, it is not a traditional Western movie, just as the Pirate of the Caribbean movies are not typical pirate movies.  The Lone Ranger is funny, but quirky.  If you look past its oddness and focus on the action, you might find it to be quite entertaining.]

The Lone Ranger opens in 1933 at a fair in San Francisco.  In a sideshow, a boy named Will (Mason Cook) just happens to meet an elderly Native American who claims to be Tonto (Johnny Depp).  Learning that Will idolizes the Lone Ranger, Tonto tells the boy the story of how he first met the legendary hero.

The story moves back to 1869.  Lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his hometown of Colby, Texas.  He finds the Transcontinental Railroad to be the focus of attention, but railroad tycoon, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), is focused on the capture of outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner).  John joins his brother, Texas Ranger Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), who leads the search for Cavendish and his gang.

John discovers that Native American Comanche warrior, Tonto (Johnny Depp), is also searching for Cavendish, whom the Indian believes is a creature he calls “windigo.”  Events leave John a “lone Ranger,” and he is forced join Tonto in an often-contentious but effective partnership.  But can the two new partners stop a conspiracy that is bigger and older than they may realize?

I think that the movie reviews which accompanied The Lone Ranger upon its initial theatrical release back in late June 2013 can be described as mostly negative to mixed.  I unequivocally like this movie, although I will admit that it has some flaws.  For instance, I have a question that has already been asked by other critics.  What is the target audience for The Lone Ranger?

The Lone Ranger 2013 is a Western.  It has several elements that can be found throughout the history of American Western films:  brothels, construction of a railroad, cowboys and Indians, lone lawman, outlaws, quests for redemption, revenge, and the shoot ‘em up.  However, this new Lone Ranger is nothing like The Lone Ranger television series, which was a traditional Hollywood Western aimed at a general audience and relied on stock elements that were familiar to viewers of all ages.

This movie is also a comedy and action flick as much as it is a Western, but it is not reverent about the things found in many Western movies and television programs from the 1930s to the 1950s.  The film has those big, reality-bending action scenes we have come to expect of Jerry Bruckheimer movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (which also stars Johnny Depp).  As a comedy, the film sometimes mocks elements and aspects associated with The Lone Ranger franchise.  Some of the dialogue and scenes in this movie have a single purpose – be funny.

The Lone Ranger 2013 is also surprisingly quirky.  It is kind of a “weird Western,” like the films, Jonah Hex and Wild Wild West (1999).  The movie has a strange mixture of imitation Native American mysticism and quasi-occultism, with a funky supernatural twist.  Much of that is tied to violence, cannibalism in particular.

I think that in order to enjoy this film, the viewer has to focus more on the basic plot, the characters, and the big action scenes and sequences and less on the setting (the post-Civil War “Old West”) and genre (the Western).  I didn’t mind that The Lone Ranger is an unusual Western film, and I certainly like the plot, characters, and action set pieces.

Also, Armie Hammer turned out to fit in this movie better than I thought he would.  Still, to me, it seems as if he can never make his character, John Reid/The Lone Ranger, escape the tremendous shadow cast by Johnny Depp’s Tonto.  Depp owns this movie, and that is a bigger problem for this movie than anything else.  It is more about Tonto than it is about The Lone Ranger.  In fact, whenever the story switched to other characters, I could feel myself chomping-at-the-bits for the movie to go back to Depp/Tonto.

I have to admit that I wish that we get a sequel to The Lone Ranger.  That is unlikely, as this movie is considered a box office disappointment and, to some, a flop.

7 of 10

2014 Academy Awards, USA:  2 nominations:  ‘Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling” (Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua Casny) and “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, and John Frazier)

2014 Razzie Awards:  1 win: “Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel;” 4 nominations: “Worst Picture,” “Worst Actor” (Johnny Depp), “Worst Director” (Gore Verbinski), and “Worst Screenplay” (Ted Elliott-screen story and screenplay, Justin Haythe-screen story and screenplay, and Terry Rossio-screen story and screenplay)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: "Colorado Sunset" is Old-Timey Fun (Remembering Gene Autry)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 104 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Colorado Sunset (1939) – B&W
Running time:  65 minutes (1 hour, 5 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  George Sherman
WRITERS:  Betty Burbridge and Stanley Roberts; from a story by Luci Ward and Jack Natteford
PRODUCER:  William Berke (associate)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  William Nobles (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Leslie Orlebeck


Starring:  Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, June Storey, Barbara Pepper, Larry “Buster” Crabbe, Robert Barrat, Patsy Montana, the CBS-KMBC Texas Rangers, Purnell Pratt, William Farnum, Kermit Maynard, Jack Ingram, Elmo Lincoln, and Frankie Marvin

The subject of this movie review is Colorado Sunset, a 1939 Western film starring Gene Autry.  Autry sings five of the eight songs performed in the film, and is credited with co-writing one of them (“Poor Little Dogie”).  Colorado Sunset finds Gene and his buddies buying a ranch that turns out to be a dairy farm and then having to fight a protection racket that prevents dairy products from safely reaching the market.

After his well-meaning sidekick, Frog Millhouse (Smiley Burnette), buys a cow farm instead of a cattle ranch, singing cowboy Gene Autry and his ranch hands gradually embrace the dairy business in the film, Colorado Sunset.  That is when the musical cowpoke runs into a corrupt dairy association, led by the powerful local veterinarian, Dr. Rodney Blair (Robert Barrat), who is bent on dominating the local dairy industry.

However, it seems the Hall Trucking Company is taking the blame for bandit attacks on dairy farmers trying to move their milk to market.  Determined to put an end to this intimidation, Gene runs for Sheriff of Barton County against corrupt Deputy Dave Haines (Buster Crabbe).  Country music icon Patsy Montana sings “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” and radio crooners, the CBS-KMBC Texas Rangers perform with Autry.

Even viewers only a little familiar with B-movie westerns will recognize that Colorado Sunset seems to have a bit more flash than the average B-movie western.  As Autry’s film were profitable, film studio Republic Pictures was willing to spend extra money on Colorado Sunset’s production which explains the action-filled sequences and the elaborate final wagon chase and shootout – an upgrade from what was usually found in B-movie westerns.  Some might find the anachronistic mixture of automobiles and radio stations with characters who seemed to be living in a 19th century western town ludicrous, but it’s actually charming.  With Autry and his cast mates singing, Smiley Burnette providing comic relief, and the good guys fighting the bad guys, Colorado Sunset is old-timey fun.

6 of 10

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Updated:  Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: "3:10 to Yuma" an American Classic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 45 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Running time:  92 minutes (1 hour, 32 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Delmer Daves
WRITERS:  Halsted Welles (based upon the short story by Elmore Leonard)
PRODUCER:  David Heilweil
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Charles Lawton, Jr. (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Al Clark
COMPOSER:  George Duning
BAFTA Award nominee


Starring:  Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dana, Henry Jones, Richard Jaeckel, and Robert Emhardt

The subject of this movie review is 3:10 to Yuma, a 1957 Western film and thriller from director Delmer Daves.  The film is based on the short story, “Three-Ten to Yuma,” written by Elmore Leonard and first published in the March 1953 issue of Dime Western Magazine.  3:10 to Yuma stars Glenn Ford and Van Helfin in a story of a rancher who escorts a notorious outlaw to the train that will take him to prison.

A crippling drought has hit Dan Evans (Van Heflin), a poor rancher, hard.  Fate steps in when Evans and his two young sons run into outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang robbing a stage coach of a fortune in gold.  When Wade is later caught, the town marshal of Brisbee offers a bounty to any men willing to escort Wade to the small dusty town of Contention.  There, they’ll board a train and take Wade to the prison town of Yuma.

Desperately in need of money for his cattle, Evans accepts the $200 bounty, in spite of his wife, Alice’s (Leora Dana) protests.  Evans joins the town drunk, Alex Potter (Henry Jones), and, Mr. Butterfield (Robert Emhardt), the owner of the gold, in escorting Wade.  Soon, the trio is held up in a small hotel in Contention with Wade.  They’re waiting for the 3:10 to Yuma while Wade’s gang closes in on the town, fiercely determined to free their leader.

Sometimes a film is so full of stereotypes in terms of characters, setting, and plot that the film is indeed a stereotype.  There are, however, rare occasions when such a film hits all the notes with perfect pitch, and what could have been nothing more than typical (entertaining, but typical) becomes an exceptional movie.  That’s what 3:10 to Yuma is – an outstanding horse opera.  Not only is it a great western, 3:10 to Yuma is also a thriller and a crime drama.

While managing to be a western, this is also a broader story about a man doing something because he should, not that he necessarily wants to put his neck on the line.  This could also easily be a tale set in the city, especially the way director of photography Charles Lawton, Jr. and director Delmer Davis stage 3:10 to Yuma in an interplay of liquid shadows and brilliant light as if this movie were Film-Noir.

As for the elements that are familiar to western movies:  there’s a really, good and humble man, and a cool, overly confident villain (who is also apparently an accomplished lover).  The citizens of two little towns want the bad guy to get his just punishment for his crimes, but most of the men are too afraid to stand up with the hero, whose only stouthearted partners are the portly owner of the stolen gold and the town drunk.  There’s even a lonesome setting – the barren Southwestern dry lands.  The hero also has a worried wife, and two sons who really want their dad to take on the bad guy, and the bad guy’s partners are a gang of nasty bad guys.

Still, all these familiar elements come together in harmony under the gaze of Charles Lawton, Jr.’s perfectly focused cinematography.  The cast work their engaging little drama, with its aspirations of being an epic, all while the strains of George Duning’s thrilling score dances overhead.  How director Delmer Daves transformed the ordinary flick into a memorable western, I’m not sure, but perhaps it is that he captured every moment at the right moment.  Maybe, it’s Glenn Ford’s superb performance as Ben Wade – especially during those intimate moments with Felicia Farr’s Emmy.  Perhaps, it is how Van Heflin and Leora Davis are so convincing as a couple with a long history and an even deeper love.  Or it could be every single thing in 3:10 to Yuma.

8 of 10

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

1958 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

2012 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Updated:  Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: "3:10 to Yuma" Remake a Superb Modern Western

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 (of 2008) by Leroy Douresseaux

3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Running time:  122 minutes (2 hours, 2 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence and some language
DIRECTOR:  James Mangold
WRITERS:  Halsted Welles and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (based on the short story by Elmore Leonard)
PRODUCERS:  Cathy Konrad
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Phedon Papamichael (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Michael McCusker
COMPOSER:  Marco Beltrami
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Vinessa Shaw, Alan Tudyk, Luce Rains, Gretchen Mol, and Ben Petry

Director James Mangold’s rousing, edgy Western, 3:10 to Yuma, is a remake of a 1957 film of the same name that starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin.  Mangold (Walk the Line) isn’t robbing the grave of Hollywood classics; instead, he has fashioned the Western as a modern, suspense-thriller that is as close to an old-fashioned horse opera as a modern film can be.  Both the first film and Mangold’s remake are based on the short story, “Three-Ten to Yuma,” written by Elmore Leonard and first published in the March 1953 issue of Dime Western Magazine.

Rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) struggles to support his ranch and family during a long drought.  Desperate for money, Evans agrees to transport the captured outlaw, Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), from nearby Bisbee to Contention, the closest town with a rail station.  There, they’ll wait for the 3:10 train to Yuma, where Wade will be imprisoned while awaiting trial for his numerous crimes, mostly murder and robbery.  Holed up in a Contention hotel, Wade attempts psychological havoc on Evans, offering Evans much more money in exchange for his freedom than he would get for holding Wade captive.  Meanwhile, Wade’s henchmen, led by the vicious Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), storm into town offering money to any man who will shoot Wade’s captors.  Complicating matters, Dan’s son, William (Logan Lerman), has stubbornly joined his father on this deadly mission.

Mangold’s sturdy remake isn’t an exercise in pointless violence, although the film is indeed violent, and while it is more graphically violent than Westerns from the 30’s to the 60’s, this modern version of 3:10 to Yuma heals the wounded heart of the Western genre which has, with a few exceptions, been in steep decline on the big screen.  This is a grand character study, and acting its chief strength, relying on the considerable talents of Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

The good guy/bad guy relationship between Crowe’s Ben Wade and Bale’s Dan Evans has to be played just right in order to work, or the relationship will seem like a tired old storytelling cliché.  The characters that Bale usually play seem like the everyman as quiet man.  Evans isn’t a hero or even a brave man, as we usually think of bravery, and his son William reminds him every chance he gets, by words, with a stare, or in his sullen expression.  Evans, however, is determined this one time – in dealing with Ben Wade – to be heroic.

On the other hand, Russell Crowe’s Ben Wade is the devil – pure and simple.  Supernaturally wily, he seems faster, stronger, smarter, and more vicious than any other human he encounters.  He has given in to his pure instincts and wants – like an animal, but much more dangerous because he is ultimately a human without the checks and balances of ethics and morals.

The viewer wouldn’t be overdoing it by seeing Evans as the Christ-like sacrifice and Wade his devilish tempter.  The good/bad dynamic, however, is a staple of the Western, and 3:10 to Yuma is rife with the genre standards.  That is how this extremely well-acted and superbly-directed film honors the American Western, and 3:10 to Yuma honors this venerable genre with gusto.

8 of 10

2008 Academy Awards:  2 nominations:  “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score (Marco Beltrami) and “Best Achievement in Sound” (Paul Massey, David Gaimmarco, and Jim Stuebe)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: "Django Unchained" is Off the Hook

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 1 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Django Unchained (2012)
Running time: 165 minutes (2 hours, 45 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
PRODUCERS: Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson
EDITOR: Fred Raskin


Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, James Remar, Walton Goggins, Laura Cayouette, and Samuel L. Jackson

Django Unchained is a 2012 American Western film and revenge movie from Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction). Like his previous film, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is an alternate-history movie.

Django Unchained focuses on a slave-turned-bounty hunter who, with the help of his mentor, sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. The name “Django” comes from the 1966 Italian “Spaghetti Western,” Django, which inspired Tarantino’s film. Franco Nero, the actor who portrayed Django in the 1966 movie, also has a cameo in Django Unchained.

The film opens in 1858. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter, buys a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx). Shultz wants Django because the slave can identify the Brittle Brothers, a gang of ruthless killers. Recognizing that the slave’s talents that could make him a good bounty hunter, Schultz offers Django two things: (1) he will free Django and (2) he will help Django find his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington), who is still a slave. In return, Shultz wants Django’s help collecting bounties.

However, Broomhilda is now owned by a charming but brutal slave owner named Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candie owns the plantation, Candyland, in Greenville, Mississippi. There, male slaves are trained to fight for sport (“Mandingo fighting”) and female slaves are sold into prostitution. Infiltrating Candyland and collecting Broomhilda will be Django and Shultz’s most difficult bounty.

Now that I look back on Inglourious Basterds, I like it now more than I did when I first saw it back in 2009. I gave it a grade of “B” (6 of 10). Tarantino’s screwball take on World War II history in that movie prepared me for the freedom with history that Tarantino takes with Django Unchained. Of the movies released in 2012, Django Unchained is the best one I’ve seen so far.

As in all his works, Tarantino’s imagination, inventiveness, and, of course, his encyclopedic knowledge of films results in a screenplay full of outrageous notions, scandalous scenarios, shocking sequences, and mind-blowing scenes. So we get great cinema. Tarantino makes spellbinding films filled with hypnotic characters, plots twists, and settings. And Django Unchained is no exception; it is simply great

Django Unchained is essentially three movies: a quasi-slave narrative, a gun-slinging Western, and a revenge movie that come together as a Spaghetti Western, more so than as an American Western film, especially the ones made before the 1960s. This film looks and acts like a Western, only, the cowboy hero is a slave-turned-bounty hunter and the Old West town in need of taming is a Mississippi plantation.

The result of Tarantino’s genius screenwriting is that the actors cast in his films have the material to fashion great characters, regardless of the individual actor’s level of talent. When the talent is Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, magic happens. Foxx reveals the evolution of Django from slave to free man in a way that allows the viewer to share the change; Foxx makes Django passionate, vulnerable, and a true cowboy movie hero.

I initially was not crazy about Christoph Waltz as the Nazi colonel and “Jew hunter,” Hans Landa, in Inglourious Basterds, but I’ve grown to love that performance. Landa was not a fluke; here, Waltz fashions a man of many of colors in Dr. King Shultz, a performance which deserves at least an Oscar nomination. Leonardo DiCaprio is a blazing star as Calvin J. Candie, simply because DiCaprio creates a monster in Candie by not being what people probably expect – over the top and inflammatory. There is some subtlety, grace, and depth in DiCaprio’s performance here.

Sam Jackson won’t get the Oscar he deserves for creating Stephen, the ultimate / major domo “house nigger” and Candie’s right-hand man. As great as Foxx, Waltz, and DiCaprio are, Jackson creates a supporting character that is as good as the best in American cinematic history. Stephen is so reprehensible and is odious to the point of being intolerable, and the character is embarrassingly real in the context of the history of American slavery. Jackson will likely be left out because the Academy that hands out Oscar nominations will likely pay more attention to Waltz and perhaps, DiCaprio than Jackson. Besides, Stephen may be a bit too much for conservative Oscar voters to take.

But that is the magic of what Quentin Tarantino can create. He is the best director of his generation – better than the likes of such stalwarts as Chris Nolan and David Fincher. Django Unchained proves it.

10 of 10

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Friday, February 3, 2012

Review: Craig, Ford are Cool Cowboys in "Cowboys & Aliens"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 10 (of 2012) by Leroy Douresseaux

Cowboy & Aliens (2011)
Running time: 118 minutes; MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
WRITERS: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby; from a screen story by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, and Steve Oedekerk (based upon the Platinum Studios graphic novel written by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg)
PRODUCERS: Johnny Dodge, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique
EDITORS: Dan Lebental and Jim May
COMPOSER: Harry Gregson-Williams


Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, Abigail Spencer, Noah Ringer, Buck Taylor, Ana de la Reguera, and Raoul Trujillo

Cowboys & Aliens is a 2011 Western and science fiction movie. This alien invasion film is based upon a concept created by former comic book publisher, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who also turned it into a graphic novel. Cowboys & Aliens is set in the Old West and pits a group of cowboys and Apaches against invading aliens. Steven Spielberg is also one of this film’s executive producers.

The story is set in the Arizona Territory, 1873. A man wakes up and discovers that he is injured and also cannot remember who he is. He stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution, where he learns that he is Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), a wanted outlaw. He meets Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), a mysterious woman who acts as if she knows Lonergan. Also coming to town is Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Apparently, Lonergan stole a large cachet of gold from Dolarhyde.

Lonergan’s punishment will have to wait, however; alien aircraft attack Absolution and abduct several citizens. Dolarhyde leads a posse into the desert to track the ships, and Lonergan only reluctantly goes along. He is somehow connected to the aliens; so says the strange metal band around Lonergan’s left wrist.

Movies that blend the Western genre with science fiction, fantasy, or horror are box office and/or critical disappointments. The two best examples are the science fiction/Western, adaptation of an old TV show, Wild Wild West (1999) and the horror/Western, comic book adaptation Jonah Hex (2010). Cowboys & Aliens is not so much a sci-fi Western as it is an alien invasion movie set in the Old West. The film never pretends to be a Western. Cowboys & Aliens is about a group of people who live in a time different from our own fighting invaders the way Attack the Block is about people in a place different from what many of us know who are fighting invaders.

Like many action movies, I found the first hour of Cowboys & Aliens to be mostly a misfire. By the second half, when the movie focuses on what it is about, the technologically disadvantaged humans versus the technologically very advanced aliens, the story slips into the comfort zone of fights, pursuits, and escapes. And the movie is very entertaining when you just sit back and let the sci-fi stuff thrill you. Yeah, this movie doesn’t require you to do a whole lot of thinking.

The performances are pretty good. Cowboys & Aliens affirms once again that Daniel Craig is a leading man; his interpretation of Jake Lonergan as the man-of-few-words and stoic cowboy makes the character more interesting than the screenplay does. Still, the biggest surprise may be Harrison Ford. Col. Dolarhyde is practically a villain, but there are moments in which Ford subtly uses emotion and Dolarhyde’s prejudices to create a complicated character that engages the imagination.

Cowboys & Aliens is not a classic Western or even a classic science fiction movie. It is an amusing film – at least half of it is.

5 of 10

Wednesday, February 01, 2012



Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review: Mario Van Peeples' "Panther" Burns Hot (Happy B'day, Mario Van Peeples)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 116 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Panther (1995)
Running time: 123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong violence and language
DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles
WRITER: Melvin Van Peebles (based upon his novel)
PRODUCERS: Preston L. Holmes, Mario Van Peebles, and Melvin Van Peebles
EDITORS: Kevin Lindstrom and Earl Watson
COMPOSER: Stanley Clarke


Starring: Kadeem Harrdison, Bokeem Woodbine, Joe Don Baker, Courtney B. Vance, Tyrin Turner, Marcus Chong, Anthony Griffith, Bobby Brown, Angela Bassett, Nefertiti, James Russo, Jenifer Lewis, Richard A. Dysart, M. Emmet Walsh, Anthony Johnson, Wesley Jonathan, and Chris Rock

Panther, the film project of father/son filmmakers Melvin (dad) and Mario (son) Van Peebles, is not biopic about the Black Panthers (or The Black Panthers for Self Defense), so much as it, like Oliver Stone’s JFK, myth making, and myths are often based upon real people and actual events. As a side note, Robert De Niro is one of this film’s producers, but he did not receive screen credit.

The Van Peebles tell the story from the point of view of a fictional character named Judge (Kadeem Harrdison). A Vietnam vet attending college in Oakland in 1967, he catches the attention of a slowly growing organization of black men in his neighborhood, The Black Panthers for Self-Defense, who are tired of marching and praying to get the white power structure’s attention to the needs of the black community. They want action, and they want guns to defend themselves. With coaxing from Panther co-leader, Huey Newton (Marcus Chong), Judge joins the group in time to watch it rise and earn the ire of the police and the FBI and fall as cheap drugs pour into Judge’s neighborhood.

Panther is a hodge-podge epic that is part historical drama, part propaganda, part myth, and a little bit documentary. At the time of the film’s release, a lot of critics and “people who were there” were critical of the film’s inaccuracies. But Panther isn’t history so much as it really is myth making. It’s all a matter of perspective, and the filmmakers take a time and a group of people whom they admire and making a rousing historical mini-epic out of that. It’s almost like a comic book in which the Panthers are super heroes fighting super evil cops and corrupt government officials, all of whom are manipulated by malevolent, shadowy figures in Washington D.C.

Many of the filmmaking aspects of the film are quite good or at least respectable, but none of that matters. The enjoyment of Panther comes from the total package, and how you feel about it. The Panthers were and are so controversial; how you feel about them and how you feel about their portrayal in the film will decide how you feel about and what you think of the film. I like it. I like the action movie/comic book heroes aspect of the film. It’s great to watch young black men fight the deliciously evil pigs of this film.

7 of 10


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Seven Men from Now" Rises Above B-Movie Pedigree

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 178 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Seven Men From Now (1956)
Running time: 78 minutes (1 hour, 18 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Budd Boetticher
WRITER: Burt Kennedy, from a story by Burt Kennedy
PRODUCERS: Andrew V. McLaglen and Robert E. Morrison
CINEMATOGRAPHER: William H. Clothier
EDITOR: Everett Sutherland


Starring: Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, Walter Reed, Donald Barry, and John Larch

Sometimes a “B” Western (a Western that wasn’t the main feature when it was released) makes such a lasting impression on some of its audience that they never see it as just another movie, and the film takes on a life of its own and never really dies. As time passes, this kind of movie comes to be seen a classic or, in retrospect, a great film. Director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy’s Seven Men from Now is that kind of B-movie Western. The film was produced by John Wayne’s production company (Batjac Productions), and The Duke was one of the movie’s producers, although he did not receive a screen credit as a producer.

Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) was a man of the law when he was sheriff of Silver Springs for 12 years until he lost an election. Now, he’s just a man on a mission of revenge – looking for the seven men who robbed the Silver Springs express office. They stole a Well’s Fargo box holding $20,000 in gold and unknowingly killed Stride’s wife. Along his journey to retribution, he encounters and befriends a young Kansas City couple John and Annie Greer (Walter Reed and Gail Russell) who are also heading to Flora Vista, the place where Stride plans to settle scores. The trio eventually crosses paths with a criminal who has a past with Stride, the scoundrel Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and his partner, Clete (Donald Barry), both of whom may know something about the men who killed Stride’s wife. Things, however, aren’t quite what they seem, and then, there’s the thing about Stride with his eyes on John Greer’s fetching wife, Annie.

The two things that make Seven Men from Now stand out are Budd Boetticher’s direction and Burt Kennedy’s script – in particular their quirky choices that make their film seem different from the standard Western while still looking like a standard Western. Here, Boetticher would focus on the loser in a gunfight instead of the shooter, which makes a duel sudden and jarring. Instead of only being some epic moment in a film, it heightens the sense of danger and gives the audience the idea that in this movie anything goes, which in turn makes the film’s central plotline (the quest for vengeance) an epic contest. This lets the audience know that these proceedings are serious business, and that Seven Men from Now is not just another by-the-numbers gun-slinging cowboy opera.

Boetticher also makes excellent use of the nicely written characters and vivid inter-character dynamics, motivations, and conflicts that Burt Kennedy wrote. Kenney uses a love triangle (John Greer, Annie Greer, and Ben Stride), an old rivalry (Stride and Bill Masters), and personal failure (Stride believing that his pride directly led to the death of his wife) to give Seven Men from Now a sense of drama and purpose that went beyond mere entertainment and into epic storytelling for what is basically a short, feature-length film. Boetticher was also keen on transforming Kennedy’s well-developed characters into players that made each other strong. A strong woman instead of a shrinking violent (Annie Greer) and a wily, eccentric villain who shows no fear of, but has respect for the hero instead of a standard bad guy (Bill Masters) actually makes Ben Stride appear more daring and gallant.

Boetticher also wrangled excellent performances from his cast. Southern gentleman Randolph Scott brings the stoic Ben Stride to life as the quintessential, more-action-than-talk hero. Gail Russell came back from a career beset by alcoholism to transform Annie Greer into a strong pioneer woman, while Walter Reed makes John Greer a genial determined man who is misunderstood by the kind of men who roamed the western outback. Lee Marvin is puckish as the crafty gunslinger manipulating his way to a super fortune in gold.

In Seven Men from Now, the viewer has the privilege of watching how Budd Boetticher employs his cast and transforms a superbly crafted script into an exceptional Western. Seven Men from Now looks like a Western, but it is also a fine drama cast in the Western mold. Too bad it isn’t a little longer.

8 of 10

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Wild Wild West" Another Weird Western Disappointment

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

Wild Wild West (1999)
Running time: 106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for action violence, sex references and innuendo
DIRECTOR: Barry Sonnenfeld
WRITERS: S. S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price, and Peter S. Seaman; based on the screen story by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
PRODUCERS: Jon Peters and Barry Sonnenfeld
EDITOR: Jim Miller
COMPOSER: Elmer Bernstein


Starring: Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Selma Hayek, M. Emmett Walsh, Ted Levine, Garcelle Beauvais, and Ling Bai

Wild Wild West is a 1999 science fiction film starring Will Smith. The film is based upon the 1960s CBS television series, The Wild Wild West. While the TV series features lots of gadgets, the film focuses on bizarre machines and steampunk technology.

Jim West (Will Smith) is a brash gunslinger with a quick mouth. Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) is a U.S. Marshal with a mind for inventions and disguises. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), an embittered former Confederate, threatens the United States and President Ulysses S. Grant (also played by Kline). President Grant forces West and Gordon to join and to fight Loveless and his diabolical machines. The mismatched pair bickers its way to Loveless as the villain and his most devastating creation awaits the two heroes in Spider Canyon, Utah.

Sonnenfeld first came to acclaim as Joel and Ethan Coen’s cinematographer in films like Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing. He went onto shoot When Harry Met Sally and Misery for Rob Reiner. His career as a director has been hit (Get Shorty and Men in Black) and miss (Addams Family Values and For Love or Money). Wild Wild West falls somewhere in between, kind of leaning toward being a miss.

This film allegedly went through many reshoots to up the humor content, and the changes only served to make an already awkward film more awkward. Wild Wild West is a hybrid, and like the television series upon which it is based, “The Wild, Wild West” (1965-70), that was part western, part science fiction, part adventure, the film is also a mish mash of several genres. It is dressed up like a high priced costumed drama circa late 19th Century, set in the Deep South, Washington D. C., and the barren wild West. It has elements of sci-fi, specifically in the assorted gadgets, machines, and inventions. Its characters are clearly modern in their outlook and with their know-it-all sensibilities.

The script, by four veteran Hollywood writers with resumes full of scripts for action movies and cinema of the fantastic, bounces along the wall and stumbles about like a drunk. The plot is simple: stop Lawless before he defeats the U.S. The execution is senseless, very likely because too many hands were involved. No one person with a single vision was really in charge. West has many moments of genuine comedy and a few decent action sequences, but at its heart, it is a badly constructed, weak movie.

Will Smith does his best to carry the load, and his character is both brash and funny. His humor never comes across as strained, and Smith is seemingly comfortable acting captain of this sinking ship. His personality is lively, and his face, whether happy with his own jokes or stern with action readiness, is open and engaging. It’s a joy to watch him.

Kline is okay, but certainly miscast. Being older than Smith, he could have been the wise, older hand. He has his moments, but sometimes he just seems like a fifth wheel on a bike. He buries himself so far in make up for his duel role as President Grant that he gets lost in the part of this expendable character. He does a decent job in the part, but, like the movie, it’s not really worth noting.

Branagh is nutty and hilarious in his over the top performance as the psychotic, and vengeful Southern. Missing his lower extremities and riding a mechanical chair thing, Arliss Loveless is ridiculous, but he throws himself into a role so extreme and wacky, it belongs in a cheap novel or a superhero comic book. He’s simply a hoot. The rivalry between Smith’s West and Branagh’s Loveless is hilarious, and they make a very good screen pair.

Wild Wild West is a somewhat entertaining movie, but it is difficult to see where it had any potential to be better. The studio, Time-Warner, might have figured that it would be easy to sell a movie based on an idea with which people were already familiar, namely the television program The Wild, Wild West. They may have thought that audiences would readily accept a big budget update of this idea made with big named stars. It’s worked box office magic in the past, but, as in this case, it usually means average at best product. Even in its best moments, West is a light, fluffy distraction, forgotten soon after consumption.

5 of 10

2000 Razzie Awards: 4 wins: “Worst Director” (Barry Sonnenfeld), “Worst Original Song” (Stevie Wonder, Kool Moe Dee, and Will Smith for the song "Wild Wild West"), “Worst Picture” (Warner Bros.), “Worst Screen Couple” (Kevin Kline and Will Smith), and “Worst Screenplay” (Jim Thomas, John Thomas, S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price, and Peter S. Seaman); 4 nominations: “Worst Actor” (Kevin Kline), “Worst Supporting Actor” (Kenneth Branagh), “Worst Supporting Actress” (Salma Hayek), and “Worst Supporting Actress” (Kevin Kline as a prostitute)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: "Red River" is a Classic Western (Happy B'day, Duke)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 36 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Red River (1948)
Running time: 133 minutes (2 hours, 13 minutes)
DIRECTORS: Howard Hawks with Arthur Rosson
WRITERS: Charles Schnee and Borden Chase (from a story by Borden Chase)
PRODUCER: Howard Hawks
EDITOR: Christian Nyby
Academy Award nominee

WESTERN with elements of action, adventure, romance

Starring: John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan, Coleen Gray, Harry Carey, Sr., John Ireland, Noah Beery, Jr., and Harry Carey, Jr.

Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) is a powerful cattle baron who is on the precipice of bankruptcy, when he decided to take his nearly 10,000 head of cattle to Missouri for sale. However, Dunson chooses a trail to Missouri that is fraught with peril, and along the journey he begins to take out his frustrations on his men. Midway through the trip, Dunson’s foster son Matthew “Matt” Garth (Montgomery Clift) overthrows Dunson and takes the cattle along the Chisholm Trail to Kansas. As Garth and the men approach their destination, Dunson is hot on their trail and hungry for revenge.

Many film historians, critics, and fans consider Red River to be one of the greatest western films of all time, and it is indeed a rousing adventure filled with wonderful characters and engaging drama. I found a lot of the interplay between the characters quite exciting, and some of their disputes were stimulating. I felt like I was in the film, right in the middle of one of many fights.

In addition to the strong story and script, viewers will love the characters. The story is intense and certainly holds the attention, but the characters really sell it. The John Wayne of Red River is the classic American icon – a stoic, no-nonsense, Alpha male who gives commands and demands no questions. However, he is not without a sentimental side; his pride may be overwhelming, but his decency does show through his stubbornness.

Montgomery Clift was only supposed to be the film’s looker and matinee idol that gets the girl, but he also gives a performance that gives more depth to the character than even the story allowed. Perennial movie sidekick Walter Brennan is not only the film’s comic relief, but his Nadine Groot is essentially a moral compass. A frustrating fault of the film is John Ireland who plays the intriguing character Cherry Valance; Valance is a very good character that Ford chose to under-utilized. All said, fans of westerns should not miss this film, a great western and one of the best John Wayne movies.

8 of 10

1949 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Film Editing” (Christian Nyby) and “Best Writing, Motion Picture Story” (Borden Chase)

1990 National Film Preservation Board, USA – National Film Registry


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gritty "True Grit" Offers Great Characters and Superb Performances

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 6 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

True Grit (2010)
Running time: 110 minutes (1 hour, 50 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
DIRECTORS: The Coen Brothers
WRITERS: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (based upon the novel by Charles Portis)
PRODUCERS: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Scott Rudin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Roderick Jaynes (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)
COMPOSER: Carter Burwell


Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Candyce Hinkle, Roy Lee Jones, Orlando Smart, and Ed Corbin

The latest film from the Coen Bros. (Joel and Ethan) is the Western, True Grit. It is the second film adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel, True Grit; the first was a 1969 film starring John Wayne. True Grit is the story of a stubborn young woman who convinces a tough U.S. Marshal to help her find her father’s murderer.

After her father is murdered by one of his hired hands, a man named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) arrives in a small town to collect her father’s body and get his killer. She attempts to hire U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track Chaney into Indian country where he is hiding with a gang of criminals. Mattie tells Cogburn that she chose him because he has “true grit,” but that isn’t enough to convince Cogburn to take the job. When he does accept the offer, Cogburn decides to take a vain Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), with him instead of Mattie. But the young woman is about to show them both that she also has “true grit.”

As they do in all their movies, Joel and Ethan Coen get great performances from their actors. Jeff Bridges gives so many layers to Rooster Cogburn (the role John Wayne played in the 1969 film). The viewer will spend the entire movie peeling those layers back and still not have the whole story on this character that Bridges makes so real. Although LaBoeuf isn’t quite as interesting as Rooster, Matt Damon shows his true grit by making a vain chatterbox and (at best) semi-competent lawman/nincompoop a character that I wish was onscreen more.

Yes, the praise that newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, as Mattie, has received for her performance in this film is not mere hype. She’s a natural, and she makes this movie as much as anyone else does – including the Coen Bros.

The one glaring weakness that keeps True Grit from being a truly great film is how the filmmakers treat the villains. There is potential in Josh Brolin’s Tom Chaney and especially in Barry Pepper’s “Lucky” Ned Pepper, but both are hardly ever on screen. The film spends so much time showing us the tremendous work of Bridges, Steinfeld, and Damon and their characters that everyone else gets shorted.

There isn’t anything really profound about True Grit, except this tidbit at the end: time catches up with everyone. This film is really not about ideas. True Grit, even with the performances at its heart, is a Coen Brothers film. This is about how they do it – their style, their rhythms, their quirks, their directorial trademarks and flourishes. That’s not a bad thing simply because Joel and Ethan Coen do their thang so well.

8 of 10

Wednesday, January 19, 2011