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.

Milk is the cream of the crop

The story of Harvey Milk – a gay activist who fought for gay rights, and who became became California’s first openly gay elected official.

Shortly after moving to San Francisco from New York City, forty-year-old Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) finds his purpose as a gay activist in the city’s Castro district. Rights activism soon becomes political activism as Milk decides his work could be more effective as a politician, whether he is elected or not. Through several elections and losses of both city and state seats, Milk becomes the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected into political power when he wins a supervisor seat in 1977. Throughout his journey, Milk’s many political battle fronts include one with the national anti-gay Save The Children crusades led by singer Anita Bryant, whilst also fighting many demons in his personal life as well. Milk’s entire political career is covered here, from the moment he first decided to take charge of changing his life, and many others, right until the man’s tragic death.

Milk is the wonderful account of Harvey Milk’s political career and the many ups and downs it had over the years. It is a film full of brilliant characters and is a very insightful retelling of the events that took place during what I suppose you could call the man’s rise to fame.

The performance we should all be talking about here is that of the amazing Mr Sean Penn. He was extraordinary as the title character in this film, and I greatly admire him for taking the role. If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought the actor was gay. I really liked the fact that Penn is someone who has played quite a variety of different characters throughout his career, and in recent years, roles such as those he has played in Gangster Squad and The Gunman have earned him a fairly respectable Hollywood hard man title. To see him in this was very refreshing, and I would imagine that it was a big boost for gay rights campaigners when he got on-board with this project. And it would’ve been an even bigger boost when he won an Oscar for his portrayal of the politician. He really was magnificent, and the passion with which he delivered his lines and the whole speeches was spine-tingling. Penn sincerely meant his performance, and as a result, you fully believed in him. 

Josh Brolin starred alongside Penn as Harvey’s opposition, Dan White. I’ve always said that I think Brolin is an incredibly underrated actor, and he proved here again why I think more people should know his name. Dan was the man who assassinated Harvey, and so I think that the idea that he was actually playing a bad guy meant that Brolin was harder to swallow, but it did prove his versatility, and why I am quite a fan of his performances. It was also because of him that I decided to watch Milk, as I saw Brolin on Inside The Actor’s Studio and he spoke very highly of Penn and his other fellow actors performances.

I really liked the way the story was done. The story was told as Harvey sat at his kitchen table recording a message to be released in the event of his murder which, sadly, did happen. It’s not something I’ve seen before in a biopic and it just impressed me because of its creativity.

On the whole, I would say that Milk is a film that you need to see. The struggles these people faced and overcame are enough to impress anyone, and they perhaps prove to us all that if you believe in something strongly enough, you can achieve it.

Watch Goodfellas for one hell of a good time

The story of Henry Hill as he works his way up through the mob.

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is a young Irish-Italian American boy who gets a job at a taxi-cab exchange just over the road from his house. The owner comes in the shape of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) who is actually the head of the local Mafia. Pretty soon, Henry is a young petty criminal who is introduced to James Conway (Robert DeNiro). Years later, Henry is a big-time thief alongside James and their friend, Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci) and later becomes a middle-aged crack cocaine addict and dealer.

Goodfellas is the realistic true story of Henry Hill’s rise and fall. What a wonderful film! Martin Scorsese does a fabulous job of directing modern day Godfather tale with a brilliant cast. The day-to-day account of the goings on in these people’s lives was very realistically told, and made for a very enthralling watch.

All the lead performances were tremendous. Liotta as Henry was terrific. Obviously a lot of weight was put on him as he was the one who was telling the story, therefore for you to buy into it, you had to believe in him. Well, I fully believed in him. Liotta showed the friendship Henry had with James and Tommy very well, and the admiration and respect Henry had for Paul was also very clear. However, my favourite relationships portrayed by Liotta were those shared with all the women in his life. Henry hadn’t a single simple, easy association with any woman he got to know. He stood up a date, who went after him at his beloved taxi-cab exchange – they later got married and she tried to kill him many years later. He didn’t get on with his mother-in-law, and his many mistresses gave him all a lot more grief than they were worth. Even his babysitter gave him a hard time. Bless him…

De Niro as James was also very good. He played the guy who got stuff done and was friends with everyone, including judges and police officers, but also scared everyone at the same time. In all the operations the three men conducted, he and Henry were the brains and they both made sure that things went to plan. However, if a job went pear-shaped, James was the one who went about sorting someone to clean up after them all. Whilst Henry might have just wanted to be a businessman dressed as a gangster, James was the whole hog, and De Niro pulled it off extremely well.

Then there was a little tornado in the form of Joe Pesci. How good was he as Tommy De Vito? He could turn on a six pence and was a real loose cannon. Tommy was a proper gangster who just so happened to be Henry’s best friend. This guy was so unpredictable you wouldn’t believe it. One minute, he could be laughing and joking with you, the next he could be waving a gun in you face. He was mad, there is truly no other way of putting it. Pesci played him beautifully, and won himself an Oscar which was very well deserved.

Again, Goodfellas is a very realistic rebelling of Henry Hill’s rise and fall which was very well written by Scorsese and a man called Nicholas Pileggi, who actually wrote the book from which the film was adapted.

All in all, I’d go as far as to say that Goodfellas is a must-see. Ranked number seventeen in IMDB’s all-time 250, clearly I am not the only one to think this. Go ahead; do something positive with your life and watch this.