3.5 Stars out of 4
I haven’t really liked a film like Meek’s Cutoff in awhile. Cinema is so exposed today to too much dialogue, cutting, fast cars, scantily clad women, and predictable stories. Meek’s Cutoff one should like because it carries all those opposite things. There is barren dialogue, detaching long shots, slowly moving covered wagons, and women clothed to the bone. You could call this film predictable but in a fascinating, existential way. (continue reading…)
2 Stars out of 4
You’d be a fool not to be reminded of Kurosawa in Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins. A little dose of Seven Samurai there, and a head sliced off of Yojimbo there. Yet this film, a remake of a 1964 version, lacks any depth or discovery.
Where Yojimbo rediscovered the raw realism of the Japanese jidaigeki genre, 13 Assassins just spins the genre’s wheels. You have 13 assassins. None of them are very bright, bold or interesting. They work together like a barrage of stereotypical Sanjuro’s - the character from Yojimbo meaning Mulberry Field. I admired Kurosawa’s existentialism, wry humour, and precision in his films like these, but 13 Assassins lacks those beneficial qualities. Miike shoots the film very calmly, like an Ozu work, in the first half. Then he explodes into a Tarantino pyrotechnic in the second half.
I grant 13 Assassins has a terrific final showdown that brings back the rough and awkward fighting power of samurai warriors, whose presence in feudal Japan was disintegrating in the late 1800s. 13 Assassins goes for the tragic irony of Yojimbo and falls short. I revered Kurosawa for reminding us that this is not a world for the traditional samurai, but it may not be one for corruption and modernity either. So what fits? 13 Assassins doesn’t answer this question probably because it is best unanswered.
I found the film, though, exhaustingly generic and predictable. The final blood bath is incredibly shot and stylized but runs on for so long you feel the sweat. Miike is a talent and if you have seen Audition, one must agree he has spirited ambitions. Those seem repressed here in a film that cuts its own hand off and forgets to fix the wounds.
3.5 Stars out of 4
What amazes me about John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is how it places John Wayne in a role you’d think he would have played in 1959. The glorious year of Rio Bravo. He is Captain Nathan Brittles of the US Cavalry. He is tired, old, his moustache mean and thick, and he wants out. But the Cavalry is in his blood so it draws him back in. The film is a story of a man’s last-memorable trip through the desolate but gorgeous valleys of Arizona. It’s a collage of nostalgia for Brittles.
She Wore A Yellow Ribbon was Ford’s second film of his US Cavalry trilogy, preceded by Fort Apache and followed by Rio Grande a year later. The cinematography is accomplished masterfully by Winton Hoch (of which he won the Academy Award). Hoch worked with indefatigable pleasure, but he grew angry at Ford when he forced him to shoot a scene in a lightning storm. It put the crew in danger, but great cinema cannot be conceived without some absurd risks. (continue reading…)
3 Stars out of 4
True Grit will remind you of the classic Western, that old expired, dearly missed genre. It does not, however, perceive to be a “Coen” movie. I put Coen in quotations because Joel and Ethan Coens’ films have a particular, acquired attitude: one of irony, a moral spin, unconventional wisdom, and a diegesis resembling odyssey. When True Grit came to their attention, the Coens took on this story to be more faithful to Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name than the 1969 film starring John Wayne (of which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, more so I think as a retrospect to his previous performances). (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
A stage coach is robbed and its owner is killed at the beginning of Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar. The plunderers, wearing masks, run off into the oblivion of the Western desert. What a terrible occurrence. We are to assume this is a revenge story, about bringing justice to those who were unjust to one. Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause), the master of irony, tells us no; this is about the ones being avenged, but wrongly so. They did not do anything. We think. Clearly, Johnny Guitar is a film about questioning our sympathies.
Westerns commit to stereotypes - you have the feral Apaches, the drunken cowboys, and promiscuous dames. You find none of that here. No Indians, some of the cowboys do not touch the stuff (Vienna: “you don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you’re mean to horses - what do you like, Mr. Lonergan?), and the women are filled with aggression, ambition, and strong yet less conspicuous notions for desire. (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
There’s a great scene in Sergio Leone’s 1966 film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when Blondie, played by the venerable Clint Eastwood, sneers to his nemesis, Angel Eyes, played with a wavy moustache by Lee Van Cleef, that six is a perfect number. Angel Eyes banters back – “I thought three was the perfect number.” Blondie pauses, then remarks: “I got six bullets in my gun.” Now it is 1992, that is 26 years later. In Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Eastwood’s William Munny (“a known thief and murderer” according to legend) lines up a paint can and fires a whole six rounds at it. He misses as badly as James Stewart did in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As time has passed, this iconic figure has clearly lost his edge. That is the point. (continue reading…)