The Long Riders (my Genre Grandeur entry)

The tale of the Jesse James gang members, their numerous exploits and their individual fates.
The Long Riders is a sympathetic portrayal of the story of the James-Younger gang that undertook a number of legendary bank robberies as way of revenge. The group, headed up by none other than Jesse James (James Keach), had their share of excitement during their time together, and went down in a blaze of glory when some plucky townspeople call time on their raids.

I’ve always been a fan of westerns – I kind of have to be given that my dad is too. I think it’s fair to say that for an 18-year-old girl, I’ve seen quite a few new and old, traditional and contemporary westerns and have enjoyed most of them. When this month’s Genre Grandeur came up, I thought it was right up my street. I had initially thought about watching something with John Wayne or Robert Mitchum in, but decided to venture a little further out in the end. The Long Riders was a decent western, but not one of my favourites, and here’s why.

The cast of this film is quite an ensemble. You have the two Keach brothers, both Quaids and three of the Carradine clan – more than fitting for a film about a gang that is made up of brothers wouldn’t you say? This benefitted the performances so much as there was a lot of real family ties that already existed. The bonds portrayed on screen just felt so genuine, and I think this made the telling of the story so much more enjoyable to watch.

There was plenty of action in this film, especially in the last half an hour or so. While I am a fan of both slow burners and fast paced movies, I perhaps edge slightly further towards the more high-octane westerns. It was really fun to watch when all the shots were being fired, and it let you see the Jesse James gang in all their glory. One of my favourite scenes in the film was when the men were trapped in a cabin by the Pinkertons chasing them, and they had to break their way through the panelling in the back and take a back route to escape. For me, it’s scenes like that that encapsulate the old west – big shoot-outs and the heroes escaping by the skin of their teeth.

I do have one big issue with the film, however, and while it may seem like a minor detail, it was a big issue for me. Some of the transitions from scene to scene were a bit rushed. the biggest example I can give you of this is at the end of the film when Jesse meets his maker. The big moment happens, and then straightaway the shot cut to the scene of Frank James, played by Stacy Keach, handing himself over to the authorities. This took away so much of the impact of what was one of the biggest blows the film dealt in my opinion, and I really wish that more time had been spent of making the change more meaningful.

All in all, as much as I enjoyed The Long Riders, it didn’t make enough of an impression on me to be amongst my favourite westerns. There were some rip-roaring shoot-outs and I loved the family dynamic that was made so wonderful by the fact that the cast consisted of so many brothers. What damaged the film so much in my eyes was some of the dodgy transitions between scenes. It really impacted some of the biggest moments in the film for me, which is why I cannot place it amongst the ranks of El Dorado or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Nonetheless, it was worth seeing, and was an hour and a half of my time well spent.


Just watch Hell Or High Water, you don’t even need to read this review 

A divorced father and his loose cannon older brother resort to desperate measures in a bid to save the family ranch in West Texas.

Following the death of their mother, unemployed oil and gas worker Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con older brother Tanner (Ben Foster) begin to rob banks so as not to lose her ranch to the Texas Midland Bank. Meanwhile, ageing Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is nearing retirement, but is intent on seeing out the case with his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Together, they try to figure out the well-intentioned bank robbers’ next moves, resulting in an intense showdown.

One of my most anticipated films from what is now last year was Hell Or High Water. The trailer had taken my fancy a while before it had been released in cinemas, but as it was I never made the trip. Well, I finally got to see the film the other day, and I have to say it was well worth the wait. It didn’t quite turn out to be what I had expected, although what that was I’m not quite sure even now after watching the film. What I do know, however, is that I was very impressed by what I saw.

As good as I thought Chris Pine was here, I’m going to refrain from talking about him for the simple reason that people will only read so many words before jumping ship, so I would rather focus on the two ‘supporting’ actors in this review. Ben Foster was excellent as Tanner Howard. He gave an enthralling performance as the ex-con who you kind of felt was going robbing the banks with his brother to make up for all the time he spent in prison, unable to help care for their mother. So many people are talking about awards for this film, and who will get those awards. I am not overly familiar with Foster’s work, but would personally love to see him gain all the recognition he deserves for the stellar work he put in here.

Jeff Bridges was that other ‘supporting’ actor who is the other contender for those prestigious awards I would think. It was another very strong performance in a film that really did consist of some masterful acting. He portrayed Texas Ranger who had seen it all and was now facing the prospect of retirement and not looking forward to it – a character not too dissimilar to that of Tommy Lee Jone’s Ed Tom Bell in No Country For Old Men, another contemporary western that I would highly recommend. Again, it was a display of terrific acting that fully deserves every award it is nominated for should the powers that be decide Bridges was the supporting actor here.

This film is one that you savour as you watch it. It is a wonderful, brooding slow-burner of a film, and this allows you fully take in every part of what is put in front of you. The dialogue and the way it was delivered by the people it was given to was a wondrous thing. The landscapes captured by the cinematographers were breath-taking. There isn’t really a part of this film I could fault, if I’m completely honest with you, and I think that really says all anyone needs to know, because if there’s something for me to complain about, I don’t tend to be backwards in coming forwards about it, do I?

Overall, Hell or High Water is a beautifully made contemporary western that sits proudly amongst many of the westerns that have been made of late. It is easily one of the better ones that are leading the resurgence in the genre, and if this is how filmmakers mean to go on, they have my full support. This would be a great film particularly for people around my age, who perhaps have avoided westerns for being a dated style of film. The contemporary sub-genre is one that hold a lot of promise in my opinion, and is an excellent gateway to the other, more classically formulated films, as this film proves very well.

What exactly could I say about Appaloosa?

Two lawmen hired to police a small town and protect it from a dictatorial rancher find their jobs complicated by the arrival of a young woman.

The local politicians of Appaloosa hire friends and partners Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) to protect the town. During their first assignment, the two come face to face with the posse of powerful rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who was the man to make the call to have the previous marshal and his deputies killed. The arrival of piano player Allison French (Renee Zellweger) complicates matters further as she grows close to Virgil and the two make the decision to move in together. When one employee of Bragg’s offers to testify against his boss, Virgil and Everett get ready to bring down the tyrant. However, an ambitious escape plan sees Bragg escape and Allison abducted. This leaves the two partners to figure things out together – can they overcome their recent differences to do so?

The 2005 western, Appaloosa, is not a film I was overly impressed by. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t awful, in fact, it was quite watchable, but there was nothing about it that had that ‘wow’ factor for me. Put it this way, it’s taken me two weeks to get round to writing this review.

Despite my general findings with the film, I have to say that one particular performance was very befitting of the piece. Ed Harris completely embodied everyone’s idea of the town’s grizzled marshal. I do believe that there were points in this film when Harris could easily have been placed amongst the likes of John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. He just nailed the mannerisms and characteristics of any man who could have been found during the period in which Appaloosa is set.

As much as I usually like him, Viggo Mortensen didn’t blow me away with his performance. I just didn’t really feel like he was on the same level as his character, Everett. A big feature of Mortensen’s performance was trying to hide his jealousy, and I personally think that the man could have done quite a bit more with the character. The actual performance just felt a bit muted.

The storyline was a rather conventional one where westerns are concerned, and I think that’s partly why I felt so indifferent to it. However, Appaloosa was also gifted with the finest quality raw materials – a somewhat all-star cast, and a director who clearly understands the genre. Unfortunately, these aspects didn’t seem to gel well enough together with that conventional storyline to elevate it to greater heights. It’s slightly frustrating to watch, but it’s also quite difficult to review! 

On the whole, I don’t really know what it is I want to say about Appaloosa. In all honesty, I think this has been one of the hardest films I’ve reviewed since I started blogging, not because it was awful, but just because I found it to be quite plain in the sense that it didn’t give me an awful lot to work with when it came to writing about it. It was adequate, how about that?

Slow West is a worthwhile slow burner

A young Scottish man travels across America in the hope of finding the woman he loves, whilst also attracting the attention of an outlaw along the way.

16 year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is intent on journeying across America at the end of the 19th century as he searches for the woman he loves but lost a time ago. Along the way, Jay gains the company of Silas (Michael Fassbender), mysterious traveller with an agenda of his own, and the unlikely pair are soon pursued by an outlaw and former associate of Silas’, Payne (Ben Mendelsohn).

Last year saw the release of Slow West – a film that I believe could prove very important in the apparent rebirth of the western genre. It is also a film that I massively enjoyed for a multitude of reasons, and thought it only fair that I shared those with you.

Firstly, there are the performances. It’s funny because the roles played by both lead actors are quite minimalist; there’s not an awful lot to them but quite a lot is gotten across throughout the course of the film. Smit-

McPhee’s role is quite sweet in essence as he not only travels across America, but along the pathway to manhood as well. The relative newcomer’s acting was never to win any awards, but did what it had to do in showing the boy toughening up as he embarked on his manly mission. What I found to be the biggest thing to hinder his performance was the ‘Scottish’ accent he put on, but in the grand scheme of things in a film where very little is actually said, the dodgy accent doesn’t really cause to big of an issue.

Now, it seems to be something I’m starting to say quite often, but Michael Fassbender is yet another actor who is quickly becoming a favourite of mine, yet who perhaps isn’t very widely acknowledged for his capabilities. As Silas, he again proves why more people should know his name. In another minimalist performance, perhaps more so than Smit-McPhee’s, Fassbender’s character mystifies with what he tells us, but does so even more with what he doesn’t say. The art of his characterisation of Silas lies amongst subtleties, which when added altogether, make for an absolutely tremendous character.

The locations for Slow West are stunning. Shot in New Zealand, the film is moved along nicely with breathtaking shots of the landscape, which seem to tell a story all by themselves. The beauty within the cinematography also makes the outcome of the film all the more cruel, which just further accentuates the twisted undertones of dark humour that are laced throughout the entirety of the film.

Overall, if there is a film that should be responsible for the regeneration of the western genre, nobody should be too disappointed if Slow West was to take that title. It has the ingredients of a classic, but blend themes together with aspects of modern cinema and the results are wonderful. It may start off slow-moving, but by the time it reaches the end-sequence massacre, that is, poetic to say the least, you’ll be wondering where the past hour and a half went. 

Every town has a story; Tombstone’s is quite a good one

A famous lawman’s plans to retire anonymously to Tombstone, Arizona, are disrupted by the kinds of outlaws he was renowned for putting away.

When Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), his brothers and their wives move to Tombstone, they intend on putting his life as a gunslinger behind them. There he meets long-time friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), who has managed to upset a few of the locals by cheating in some cards games. However, a group of men known as The Cowboys also reside there, and they believe themselves to be above the law. In order to control the volatile situation in the town, Wyatt is asked to step up as Marshall, but after coming to the town wanting to escape that life he refuses the offer, causing brother Virgil (Sam Elliott) to take the job despite this going against Wyatt’s wishes. This essentially all culminates in a mass confrontation between them and The Cowboys, with some very bloody consequences.

Following my feature on the resurgence of the western genre, I watched Tombstone – not one of the classics, but not a brand new film either. I quite enjoyed it, but thought it could have possibly done with being ten minutes or so shorter.

Kurt Russell’s turn as the famous lawman was very good. Something about the man’s appearance makes him perfect for the type of character he took on as Wyatt Earp. I have no idea what the man himself looked like, but I just get the feeling that Russell embodied him before even opening his mouth. When he did start talking, however, every ounce of his heroism radiated across the screen he really communicated very well an element of humility – the man had had his glory years and now just wanted to retire peacefully. Like every hero, he never went looking for trouble in Tombstone, more likely it found him.

Then we had Val Kilmer as loveable rogue and Wyatt’s long-time pal Doc Holliday. When the film first introduced him to us, I half expected him to be the reason Wyatt would have to do what he had to, but as it was, he was one of the good guys, sort of. His character for me was like the fourth Earp brother. He had Wyatt’s back more than his actual brothers at times and the bond the two men, Kilmer and Russell, shared on screen was something quite special, I thought.

The story of Tombstone is supposedly based on real events. Now, I know nothing about this period of time, so I’m going to fail miserably at being a historical facts checker for the film. What I do know, however, is that I did like the story, but felt that it would have been better had about ten or fifteen minutes been trimmed off of it, as it was with about that long left of the film when I began clock watching a bit.

On the whole, I found Tombstone to be quite an enjoyable film and would recommend it to anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of westerns. It certainly doesn’t break any new ground, but makes for a couple of hours fairly well spent.

You couldn’t chain Tarantino down with this one

A freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner in Mississippi with the help of a German bounty hunter.

When former German dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) meets slave Django (Jamie Foxx) whilst he is being transported by slave traders, he asks if he knows the Brittle brothers. With Django’s knowledge of these men confirmed, Schultz purchases him, then reveals to Django that he is a bounty hunter chasing John, Ellis and Roger Brittle. He proposes a deal that if Django gives him the help he so desperately needs, Schultz will give him his freedom, a horse and $75 in return. Django reveals that he will use that money to buy the freedom of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and so Schultz modifies the proposal so that Django stays with him throughout the winter as his deputy, and in the spring, Django would receive a third of all the bounties they collect as well as Schultz’s assistance in rescuing Broomhilda. Django accepts the new deal, and him and Schultz become good friends. When spring arrives, the pair learn that Broomhilda was sold to the ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Mississippi. Schultz plots a scheme with Django to lure Calvin and rescue Broomhilda, but the head of the house help at the Candyland estate Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) is not quite so easily fooled.

In 2012, Tarantino returned with Django Unchained. With this film, he dipped his toe into the Western genre and gave it a new lease of life. The film was also a big hit with critics and was successful in securing two Oscars, two Golden Globes and two BAFTAs. Not too shabby, I suppose…

I think it was with Django that Jamie Foxx confirmed that his acting career was back underway. Well, I’ll tell you now that it’s not hard to see why. He was ferociously entertaining as the freed slave on the trail of his beloved wife’s captors. Like Samuel L. Jackson, Foxx knew exactly how to deliver some of the killer lines that Tarantino wrote for him, I’m positive he was absolutely terrific.

QT clearly knew he was on to a good thing with Christoph Waltz after he hand-picked the man for Inglorious Basterds as he cast the man as Dr. King Schultz – another role in which Waltz gave us a masterclass on how to act. It was yet another elegant performance from Waltz which earned him the Best Supporting Actor gong at the 2012 Academy Awards – his second time winning the award after it was previously given to him for his stellar performance in Tarantino’s prior film, Inglorious Basterds. The man is a jewel, and as Schultz he was a real asset to Django Unchained.

Django Unchained has a special place in my heart as it was the first Tarantino film I ever saw, and there was one scene in particular that pretty much guaranteed that I would return to his films in future. The ‘Bag-Heads’ scene, where Big Daddy gets his men together to lynch Schultz and Django. When I first saw this scene I was unable to carry on with the film for ten minutes afterwards as I couldn’t for the life of me stop laughing. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the most comical scenes in cinema history, and even if you don’t go on to watch the whole film after reading this, I strongly suggest you at least YouTube that particular scene. It is gold, and quite possibly the primary reason why I’m such a fan of films directed by this man today.

So, as this is my second favourite Tarantino film, you know what I’m going to say. Django Unchained is a raucous bit of fun and it’s close-to three hour run-time glides by seamlessly. I love it, and enjoy it more and more each time I watch it, and I think that it’s only fair that I share it with you.  

No country for the faint-hearted more like…

Why can’t a guy just find $2million and live happily ever after in his trailer with his wife? I’ll tell you why. Because if he did, you would never have been gifted with this absolute gem by the Coen brothers.
War veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) thinks all of his birthdays have come at once when he stumbles across a bungled drug deal and finds the money used to pay for the drugs there for the taking. He goes home with the money, but it would seem that he is not the only one who wants it as Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) makes it his personal business to see that he also gets his hands on the cash. However, Chigurh is a murderous psychopath, therefore anybody who gets in the way of this, or just generally crosses his path, is going to wind up dead some way or another. In essence, No Country For Old Men is a cat and mouse chase where the mouse stands to win everything.

Obviously, the fact that this is a film by Joel and Ethan Coen sets the bar for expectations pretty high, and when you have high expectations of a film, they very often have the habit of not delivering quite what you were hoping for. Now, I am very happy to be able to tell you this is not the case with No Country For Old Men. It has a thought-provoking storyline, and the screenplay is beautifully adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. Needless to say it was a deserved winner of its four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

However, it’s fine having a beautifully written script and screenplay provided you have the performances to back it all up. Tommy Lee Jones plays ageing sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who is having to oversee the horrific crimes being carried out by Chigurh. Throughout the film, it is clear that Bell is thinking about quitting the force as chasing serial killers around the country is a young man’s game, hence where the title originates from. Jones puts on a brooding performance as the veteran cop, and Brolin has us all rooting for Moss to get away with the money so he and his wife Norma-Jean (Kelly MacDonald) can live the rest of their days quite contently in rural Texas. For me though, the person who makes this film the masterpiece it is, is Javier Bardem. Back in 2007 when No Country For Old Men was made, Bardem was unknown outside of Spain. But since then, he’s been hard to forget. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, and for good reason too. As the formidable Anton Chigurh, Bardem sends shivers down spines whenever he is on-screen. He has the ability to change the atmosphere and tempo of the film in an instant with his memorable appearance and silent ways. It is in the opening scene where we get a sense of Chigurh’s brutality and the impact he is going to have on the film, but it is at many points later on where it is revealed how intense his presence actually is. I can guarantee you will be holding your breath and teetering on the edge of your seat as this man gets closer to getting what he wants.

Chigurh takes movie bad guys to a new level
If I had to pick a fault with No Country For Old Men, it would be the ending. After the high-octane chase and unforgettable performances, I felt that the finish was a bit of an anti-climax which also left a few questions unanswered. Or was that the whole point of it? Maybe it was the writer’s intention to leave the audience to use their imagination when it came to deciding the fates of some of the characters…

Overall, No Country For Old Men is an essential watch for anybody who wants to call themselves a film fan. It will have you hooked from start to finish, and be warned, if you’re anything like me, DO NOT watch this with a drink in your hand – Chigurh will make you throw it over yourself and anybody sat near you.
No Country For Old Men is available online and in-store now.