Archive for the ‘Western’ Category

a-million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-posters-generalIn the Old West, anything and everything can kill you. For Albert, his biggest concern is his relationship with Louise and making sure she is completely happy. Instead, he is surprised to find that she no longer wants to stay together, even after he senses her disappointment with his failure to compete in a gun battle. Depressed and frustrated with her moving on with Foy, the mustache purveyor, he struggles to find himself and considers moving to San Francisco. While at the saloon one evening, a beautiful woman walks in and Albert saves her from a gruesome fate during the middle of a bar brawl. Grateful for his assistance, she befriends Albert and agrees to accompany him to the fair to make Louise jealous. Little does Albert know but Anna is actually the wife of the gunslinger, Clinch Leatherwood, and he will be in town in only 12 days.

Starring: Seth MacFarlane (Albert Stark), Charlize Theron (Anna), Amanda Seyfried (Louise), Neil Patrick Harris (Foy), Giovanni Ribisi (Edward), Sarah Silverman (Ruth), Liam Neeson (Clinch Leatherwood), Christopher Hagen (George Stark), Wes Studi (Cochise), Rex Linn (Sheriff/Narrator), Alex Bornstein (Millie), Ralph Garman (Dan), John Aylward (Pastor Wilson), Amick Byram (Marcus Thornton)

While the film had some interesting potential to be on par with Blazing Saddles, the actors were so underdeveloped that there is little connection with practically all of them. MacFarlane felt like he was a live-action version of Brian Griffin and just stayed on the more annoying aspects of the character, without nearly any sense of confidence or creativity. Theron, Seyfriend, Harris, Ribisi, and Silverman all seem like they got the surface level treatment and kept recycling the same jokes throughout the movie. The best character ended up being Liam Neeson as a villain, though he was barely more developed than the rest.

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Feeling like a western, live-action version of Family Guy, MacFarlane barely strayed away from the elements that originally made his television efforts successful. The story followed Albert the sheep herder, who failed to recognize the elements that made him a good, worthwhile man. It took losing his girlfriend and meeting someone who could see past his naivety to start to believe in himself. While the conflict was focused around Albert and Foy in Albert’s attempt to win back Louise, the real battle ended up becoming Albert versus Clinch. Though this did not develop until late the film, Clinch’s entanglement in Albert’s development served as a greater plot point than the repetitive and limited nature of his conflict with Foy.

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A film like this is not expected to have a fantastic story, although it should be at least worthwhile. The jokes were supposed to be the more engaging elements of the experience. The whole sheep herding element was really weak, especially when the best use of the sheep was in puns in a short exchange between Albert and Foy. The larger comedic element was meant to be centered around death in a variety of ways, but most of the deaths were actually already shown in the preview. In addition, the ones that are meant to be the funniest were centered around fart jokes. If it was not the sheep or the deaths, it was meant to center around the flaws of each character. The back and forth between Edward and Ruth was overplayed in its first scene but never got past confusion of Christian values. Foy was all about the mustache and yet another fart-like joke scheme. Even the cameos were underdeveloped (or spoiled in the preview). Doc Brown was a quick chuckle moment. Gilbert Gottfried as Lincoln just felt ill-conceived. Ewan McGregor was easily missable. Bill Maher simply imitated himself. The best of the cameos ended up being Jamie Foxx as Django (though he had only two lines) and Ryan Reynolds (who did not say a word and just looked at the camera).

This film used the Family Guy formula but just failed to make it interesting. It felt like there were supposed to be cutaways but it instead turned out to be a lot of kvetching and riffing on living in the Old West.

Dan’s Rating: 1.5/5

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Once a slave divided from the love of his life, a chance meeting while being transported in the cold of night with a quirky Dr. Schultz changed his life for good. Dr. Schultz tricks the slave traders into releasing Django from his shackles. Once Django learns of Dr. Schultz’s real plans, he agrees to accompany Schultz in his bounty hunting business. While learning the trade, Django tells Schultz about Broomhilda and his desire to be reunited some day. Schultz agrees to help him if Django helps him through the winter. When they finally learn where to find her, Schultz sets up a meeting with Calvin Candie and sparks his intrigue to entertain them on his plantation. While there, they release that Broomhilda is there, but the challenge will be to find a way to set her free. Meanwhile, Calvin’s assistant, Stephen, is growing suspicious of Django’s and Schultz’s intentions, raising similar suspicions in Calvin.

Starring: Jamie Foxx (Django), Christoph Waltz (Dr. King Schultz), Leonardo DiCaprio (Calvin Candie), Kerry Washington (Broomhilda), Samuel L. Jackson (Stephen), Walton Goggins (Billy Crash), Dennis Christopher (Leonide Moguy), James Remar (Butch Pooch/Ace Speck), Dana Michelle Gourrier (Cora), Laura Cayouette (Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly), David Steen (Mr. Stonesipher), Tom Wopat (US Marshall Gill Tatum), James Russo (Dicky Speck)

With the strong combinations of actors in this film, Christoph Waltz still stands out as the clear star of the film. His extended monologues are always captivating and there is just a element about him that makes his performances irresistible. It would also also impossible to ignore Foxx’s transformation during the film from tormented slave to retribution-driven hero. Foxx has his moments of both humor and impressive action. DiCaprio almost takes on a similar role to Waltz’s Inglorious Basterds performance with a bit less of the intensity. Jackson is probably the most entertaining individual with his sass and backtalk, whereas Washington is a bit more subdued to fall in line with her role.

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While also making a cameo in his film, Quentin Tarantino delivered another hit action masterpiece that displays the tension and ugliness of slavery during the 1800s in a much more fantastical presentation. Django’s story actually began with the enslavement of him and his wife, Broomhilda. When their owner chose to throw them both into agony, he sold each of them separately and attempted to sever their bond of love. Schultz’s arrival during Django’s march to his next plantation was coincidental, in that it led to Schultz altering his plans of simply using Django for collecting bounties to helping him save Broomhilda. Ending up on Calvin Candie’s plantation ended up being the easy part. Leaving was another story. With suspicions raised on their intentions and a need to assert authority, it was clear that Django was going to have to give something significant up to make it out with Broomhilda alive.

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One of the interesting aspects of this film is the atmosphere created between the presentation of slavery and colorful language. Tarantino has no problem with showing violence and gruesome conditions, which translated to images of a man getting eaten by dogs and scenes of torture by whipping and humiliation. Throughout the film, a question is presenting regarding why slaves remain docile with their owners rather than rising up, which is then countered by the massacre Foxx unleashes at Candie’s plantation. But it is not just about the imagery. The language and dialogue can be difficult to take at times with the significant use of the n-word, including Django’s and Stephen’s aggressive use toward the other slaves in the film. This did create an interesting issue with the extensive use of the word outside of theater by the move-goers after the film.

Tarantino achieves success again with a gruesome yet creative film that includes a courageous story with memorable characters in a bloodbath of entertainment.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

Waking up in a daze, Jake Lonergan seemed to be at a loss regarding who he was and the situation he was in. A strange metallic device was strapped to his wrist. After surviving an ambush by some outlaws, he makes his way to the closest town and gets help from the preacher to treat a strange wound on his abdomen. After a commotion from the local thug, the sheriff realizes who Jake is and takes him to jail. That evening as both Jake and the thug are getting loaded into a carriage for transport to Santa Fe, Woodrow Dolarhyde and his posse ride into town to take back his son. Only minutes behind the group are a set of strange lights coming over the horizon. Suddenly, the town finds itself in a fire fight with an unknown force and Jake discovers the wrist device is more than just a piece of metal. With several of the townspeople captured by the flying fiends, a group comes together to track the visitors and try to rescue their people.

Starring: Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Abigail Spencer (Alice), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Harrison Ford (Woodrow Dolarhyde), Paul Dano (Percy Dolarhyde), Sam Rockwell (The Doc), Clancy Brown (Meacham), Chris Browning (Jed Parker), Noah Ringer (Emmett Taggart), David O’Hara (Pat Dolan) and Raoul Trujillo (Black Knife)

In this strange mixture of a western and a sci-fi flick, the cast does their best to take maintain the mystery of a people barely exposed to anything outside of their simple lives. Daniel Craig has a few moments where his character breaks a little from his gritty western ways, but he somewhat makes it work. He is a man of few words, but his action actually does speak volumes. Olivia Wilde is a bit awkward when she is first introduced to the story, but she has a similar grittiness with a hint of compassion. Harrison Ford has a consistent level of anger and seems to be hardened to an extreme degree. The Doc, played by Sam Rockwell, is a rather hopeless character, generally humiliated and set up to eventually have a redeeming moment. Paul Dano serves as the thug, harassing the people with his wild gunplay.

  

A number of talents came together to create this film. Jon Favreau directed and produced alongside Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg. The final result was an odd pairing of the Old West and an alien force, fighting over access to gold. Jake’s amnesia causes the start of the film to run a little slow, but it actually is in some ways the best part of the film. There is more character development through the subtle elements of their interactions than in the flashback to understand Jake’s trials or the interactions between Jake and Woodrow. There is a feeling that Jake is an outlaw from the start and that his fuzzy memory is not the full story, but his diminished recollection allows for him to act a bit more brash and reactionary. When the aliens finally attack, he seems to understand the device on his wrist a bit quicker than one would think.

  

As the movie progresses into the hunt for the aliens and the ultimate reason for their existence on Earth, the story begins to fall apart. Gold is the central theme, but the explanation for the alien interest is just that gold is rare. There is nothing more explained about the purpose of their mining. The aliens seem virtually indestructible at times and then extremely vulnerable to the same weapons at others. A bullet simply bounces off the exoskeleton but a spear with less force pierces straight through immediately after. Ella also has a mysterious death and rebirth, with no real explanation about what she is and what happened. There is also a hummingbird that appears as a symbol of something meaningful to Jake but again fails to be explained. In the end, the film’s two major themes seem very compartmentalized and fail to ever get the amount of development they both deserve.

While the film is visually stunning and the concept is a little more original than many of the films recently released, there are a number of holes that take away from the film’s success. The movie actually could have been more successful if it had omitted the aliens and refocused the story to focus on the Old West.

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5

Jeff Bridges returns to the big screen in a remake of a classic John Wayne western story. True Grit follows the attempt at retribution of Mattie Ross as she pursues her father’s murderer. With no one else willing to give her the justice she seeks, Ross partners up with a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, who seems to have some demons of his own. Assisted by a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, they set out across the countryside in pursuit of Tom Chaney and the gang of outlaws with which he now associates.

Starring: Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Haliee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Ed Corbin (Bear Man), Elizabeth Marvel (40-year old Mattie), Dakin Matthews (Col. Stonehill)

The original with John Wayne, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby is considered a classic, but this newer version matches the essence of the original and adds a cast that exhibits all of the harshness and justice of the wild west. The star of the movie is Hailee Steinfeld, whose portrayal of Ross captures the viewer into her inner torment of the loss of her father but entertains viewers with her quick wit and strong will. She delivers line after line of pure gems. Bridges on the other hand has provided us with this quality performance before, most notably in Crazy Heart. He plays the down and out former star/hero who needs another chance to show his stuff. Matt Damon comes off a little odd at first but helps to provide a change of pace to the fatherly relationship that develops between Ross and Cogburn. Josh Brolin’s portrayal as the villian seems pulled straight out of the vigilante character he played in Jonah Hex, but with a bit more polish.

The Cohen brothers have produced one of the stronger remakes I have seen in quite a while. The story combines the harshness of traversing the frontier with the pain and agony of struggling with trying to recover from a significant loss. The script writing for this story was a strong combination of clever witty remarks and a true understanding of the simpler way of life of the frontier cowboy. Even someone who does not generally like westerns should be able to feel the connection to the characters and enjoy the dialogue.

I am one of those people who generally do not like westerns, but this one truly pulled me in. The great acting, storyline and dialogue makes this a definite Oscar-worthy film.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5