Repost Review: Gun Fury (1953)

Gun Fury is  a 1953 Western with Rock Hudson, Phil Carey, Donna Reed, and Leo Gordon in it. If you don’t know who any of those people are, then shame on you for even reading a scifi blog. Scifi is at its heart descended from the frontier genre and pulp westerns are the granddaddy of all adventure/mil/exploration/colonization/fightin’ injuns aliens scifi stories. SO THERE.

2s39-th
Seriously? That’s a terrible tagline.

Pros: Directed by Raoul Walsh, so, good pacing, good filming (I just really love the look of Technicolor. It’s awesome.), a competent plot, and excellent performances. Phil Carey as (spoiler!) the bad guy carries (ahaha) the show: handsome, assured, dignified, and calmly malevolent. Leo Gordon (Riot in Cell Block 11, Black Patch, Night of the Grizzly), gets a fairly heroic role and does extremely well in it, which must have been a change. Rock Hudson merely has to look square-jawed and handsome, but this probably came easily to him. Ditto for Donna Reed, but she had kind of a lackluster role anyway (see below).

The one thing that I think sets good movies apart from bad is economy: economy of dialogue, of characterization, of philosophy. This movie has it. It takes one throwaway line to set up an entire character (the Indian Guy) who doesn’t show up for another twenty minutes. But when he gets there, we know who he is, why he’s there, and what he’ll do without having it explained. It takes one action (politely offering water to the captive lady and politely leaving her in peace when turned down) to set up that that outlaw is a decent guy who will do right by her–and when he helps her make a break for it, we are not surprised, and when he (spoiler!) gets trampled to death for his pains, we are saddened.

Economy of philosophy is observed, as well. First of all, there has to be a moral philosophy; second, it has to be coherent; third, it should be based in intelligent and reasoned actions by consistent characters. The moral commentary underpinning the story is set up quickly, competently, and early, when Ben and Slader discuss their business plans; it is expanded on through the actions of various characters–of Ben trying and failing to recruit help; of Slader’s lawlessness versus Jess’ soldierly honor–and, finally, it is summed up with a single line and that’s it, we get back to the shooting and galloping. Come to think of it, showing, not telling, is another thing good movies do.

On the downthumb: a Damsel in Distress being the central motivator means that the Damsel stays firmly in Distress the whole time. I prefer heroines with a little more grit and hopefully more motivation. Another problem: the climax hinges on a really, really improbable prisoner exchange that just doesn’t make sense given the circumstances.

So, plot: we open on a stagecoach with the usual complement: a young woman (Donna Reed as Jennifer) travelling to join her fiance; a nervous businessman; a confident ex-Southern Genn’leman in a suit, with a gun, (Phil Carey as Slader); and a guy who is automatically suspicious because he’s hiding under his hat trying to sleep. Our suspicions are promptly confirmed, because when he removes his hat, he is Leo Gordon as Jess, in cahoots with Slader’s Southern Gentleman, but, strangely enough, a decent fellow. We are soon also introduced to the Fiance, Ben (Rock Hudson), whose war-wearied philosophy of minding his own business and no-one else’s, clashes with Slader’s The South Shall Rise (But Mostly I’m In It For Me) ethos. Jess, meanwhile, tries to warn Jennifer and Fiance Ben from continuing on the stage….to no avail.

So there is a robbery, a wrecked stage, and Fiance Ben is left for dead, while Fiancee Jennifer is taken by the outlaws. Only Jess has an appropriately pragmatic–and gentlemanly–attitude about this, for all the good it does him: he gets tied to a post and left behind for the vultures. Meanwhile, Ben wakes up and wanders over to make himself useful. Jess is still alive, and a bargain is struck….

But Ben’s appeal for help–to bystanding sheepherders and to the nearby Sheriff — are met with blank denials by men who have no personal stakes in the game and no business but their own to mind. (Spot the irony. If you look hard enough, it’s there, and not at all outlined and underscored heavily by the movie). Nevertheless, the odds even out a little, as Ben and Jess are joined by a vengeful Indian, and then by Slader’s even more vengeful Mexican ex-girlfriend. Mind you, she’s way more of a hinderance than a help to the heroes, but she does try.

So the plot progresses to the point where Slader is down to three men and willing to deal rather than fight: he’ll take Jess in return for Jennifer, and while Ben is riding back to discuss this with Jess, I’m over here hoping Leo Gordon’s going to survive to the end of the movie….and then Slader grins and checks his pistol and we know he ain’t.

This rank treachery, after a good-faith exchange on Jess and Ben’s part, is what finally drives Ben to deliver the moral straight out: a good man who minds his own business and doesn’t start trouble is still at the mercy of a bad man who causes trouble–and will not stop. Ignoring an evil or avoiding it does not make it go away….it must be stopped, by whatever means is necessary.

Rated: Four incompetent damsels out of five. This movie does not rise to greatness, but it’s still pretty good.

Thoughts:
– There are a lot of very tall people in this movie! Leo Gordon was 6’2, Rock Hudson was 6’5, and Phil Carey was 6’4. Sure, normally the camera would smooth this all out and fake them being “heroically statured,” but they all tower over Donna Reed (5’3) so much that I was actually motivated to look up their statistics.
– Neville Brand! Lee van Cleef! They don’t do very much, but they’re there in the background going “Sure, Boss,” and in Lee’s case, grinning a lot and menacing the damsels.
– Giving orders clearly is a large part of making sure they’re obeyed. “Waitaminute, I wanna make sure I get you. You want me to shoot the horse, shoot her, or what?”
– Horses score: A! It’s made very clear that one horse can’t carry two big men very far, very fast, or for very long; and the heroes make at least one stop purely to rest the horses.
– “You’ll like this one, Mom. Even the Indian guy gets to avenge his sister. It’s very progressive.”

Movies with my Mother: A Day of Fury (1956)

pgrsaao8ibpxesyj2a5u3y1eixv(Reposted from….wow, way back in 2017.)

“Dun duuuun dun!”

“Jagade? Never heard of him.”
“He’s fictional.”

“See, a brown horse. You wouldn’t be able to tell in black and white that he was riding a brown horse. It’d just be a black horse. Or a white horse.”

“Jagadi. Jagati?”

“What’s she always looking at?”
“Him.”

‘Windah.’

“He’s pushing his luck. He is!”
“He’s doing it on purpose.”
“Yes, but he is pushing it! Look at him!”

” ‘Excuse us. Give us a minute please.’ ‘Beat it?’ ”
“The kid deserved it.”
“Could still be polite.”

“See, look, he actually knows how how to ride.”

“What’s she doing?…checking him out?”image-w1280

“Bet you someone saw her.”
“Yep, see, the other girl. Ungrateful!”

“Uh oh, ambush. Ambush!”
“No, it’s the girl waiting for him….oh, it’s the other girl. Huh.”

“Noooo, you can get down without his help.”
“They always do.”

“Tell me what happens when I get back. […] What did he do to the schoolteacher girl?”

p41247_i_h10_ab“They’ll turn against him. Look, she turned against him already.”
“Yeah, but he knows it.”
“That lady didn’t want that girl to come back, look.”
“He does it on purpose. He pushes people. He likes it.”
“And they turn against him.”
“Yeah, but when people try to fight back he kills them.”

“What. Did that. Prove.”

“He just told you everything you needed to know, now go back.”

“Uh oh, uh oh did he really send that young man?”
“He didn’t but he’s been egging him on the whole time.”

“Uhhhh ohhhhh.”

“He a big man, he got a gun, huh.”

“Too bad.”
“He might survive!”

[very nearly simultaneously:]
“Turn around…he’s going to turn around…”
“Uh oh I can’t look, when you can’t see people’s backs, they’re gonna see something–”
[he sees something and it’s genuinely shocking]
“Uhhhohhhhhhhh!”
“Oh my gosh!”

dia2bfuria2bfoto2b2[“One of us will explain later.”]
“Teehee!”
“Good one.”

“All that is sass. The marshal said get, now.”

“What! Why did the bell get him!”
“The preacher beat him–mostly by being shot–”
“Wait. How?”
“The preacher stopped them, they were about to lynch the marshal. And the marshal was their only hope. So the preacher beat him, and there was enough of them to ring the bell. Or something.”

“I didn’t know he was faster!”
“Of course he’s faster, he’s the good guy.”

“That was a good movie.”
“It was intresting.”

ReReview: Face of a Fugitive (1959)

face-of-a-fugitive-movie-posterSo this is a 1959 Western starring Fred MacMurray and Not-Rhonda Fleming (She has red hair.) Also it has a young but extremely toothy James Coburn as “that young punk who sneers a lot.”

This one was really great, mostly because the plot is very simple. A happens, and therefore B. However, C. And therefore, D. And so on, very logically leading on to (depending on the genre): the farmboy becoming king, the Death Star blowing up, or finding the sword of Martin the Warrior.

In this case: MacMurray is a genial bank robber en route to trial and jail, but actually just about to escape. However, overenthusiastic help from his kid brother ends with two people dead–the brother, and the escorting deputy. Therefore, with murder on the rap sheet, MacMurray has no choice other than to run. However, getting out of town is delayed: all strangers are being detained at the pass until the wanted posters with the fugitive’s picture arrive. And therefore, MacMurray….well, watch the movie. Most of the subsequent “and therefores” are a direct result of MacMurray’s character just being that much of a swell, decent guy. He’s the kind of hero that small children and horses trust on sight. He’s the kind of man who can tuck a little girl into bed, or go toe-to-toe with the toughest guy in town; can talk some sense into a proud young feller’s head, or save the day in a gunfight.

In fact, MacMurray’s hero is so competent, the final fight has to put him at a significant handicap to maintain any sort of tension. This was something that felt like a total gimick at first, but on thought was really quite brilliant. Without the injury, the audience–trusting the guy they’ve seen outthink, outmaneuver, and outfight all parties so far–is going to simply impatiently wait for him to clear up this stupid little fight, and then get back to something that does provide a problem. With it, MacMurray is pinned and the gunfight becomes the center of attention. Kudos to the writer.

The one downside of the movie is that its ending (post-gunfight) is almost cruelly abrupt. Give itfacefugcutting another minute and give the man a line or two to explain himself, at least! Well, nobody’s perfect.

There’s also a really amusing (well, to me, at least) scene where MacMurray’s character is doing the decent thing and cutting James Coburn out of the barbed wire he’s tangled in. At least, until Coburn’s crazy boss and the rest of the riders come storming up, at which point MacMurray books it.

10 wirecutters out of 10.

QuikReview: The Light of The Western Stars (1940)

Primarily a romance. Also note the prominent, witnessing presence of the dumb sidekick, because those always make romances better.

 

So I also watched The Light of the Western Stars from 1940, a Zane Grey adaptation that stars absolutely no one you’ve heard of except possibly Victor Jory, who was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and yes okay fine, also The Shadow serial from 1937 and no I haven’t watched that yet, I’m saving it. This movie couldn’t have done his career any favors, though, because it’s pretty terrible. (It also has a pre-stardom Alan Ladd in a bit part, but you won’t notice him unless you’re looking pretty darned close.)

Now, I’ve also started the book. The book is basically a romance, and it’s correspondingly scanty on plot, but what there is so far (I’m at about the 1/3 mark) goeth thusly: Madeline Hammond, an independently and inheritedly-wealthy celebrated socialite, goes west to visit her wastrel brother, who has been disinherited for his weird and unfashionable ideas such as “earning money,” “doing hard work,” and “associating with commoners like cowboys, how droll.” 

Madeline promptly smacks into one such cowboy, the basically good-natured but also completely drunk and notably hell-raising Gene Stewart, who has made a bet to marry the first girl who comes into town. Madeline and the local padre both get strong-armed as far as the “Si,” before Stewart gets to the business of asking her name–and stops dead in his tracks at the reply. Alfred Hammond, you see, is highly regarded by his men, and report of Alfred’s beautiful, accomplished, and athletic sister “Majesty” Hammond has particularly reached to Gene Stewart. The duo agree to say nothing of what happened, ever, and it seems to be resolved when Stewart promptly gets into a fight with the corrupt local sheriff and heads over the border to join the Mexican rebels. 

Madeline, who in the book at least is a heroine that excels in brains as well as in beauty and virtue, not only finds that Western life agrees with her, but decides to invest her money into expanding, modernizing, and improving her brother’s failing ranch operation. Things go splendidly for a while, especially with such improvements as less wanton cruelty to animals. Gene Stewart eventually reappears, having won fame in the fighting but also having started to drink himself seriously to death. Madeline persuades him to straighten himself out and work as her foreman. The sexual tension thus remains high but the plot remains low, mostly provided by the suspicious Mexican rancher Don Carlos and his revealed aims to smuggle arms to whatever side  is currently buying…and so on and so forth, plus or minus random outlaw raids on the ranch because by golly if you have a heroine she needs to get rescued. Simple facts of life.

The book is pretty purple, but remains easy reading for two simple facts: one, I skim-read any paragraphs of dialogue that could be summarized to the first or last sentence; and two, the characters are compelling. Madeline (in the book) is as close to the ideal heroine as a writer could sit down and plan out point by point: incredibly beautiful and a great rider (trusted with Gene Simmons’ own beloved horse), intelligent enough to own and run her own business, tactful enough to manage “twenty-seven incomprehensible cowboys,” twenty-six of which are in love with her and the last of which proceeds to elope with her maid; and, also, needing to be rescued but suitably calm during the process and grateful to her rescuer afterwards. The slice-of-life sections of the book–Madeline adjusting to the Western life and dealing with the cowboys, sometimes with the sly guidance of old-timer Stillwell–are actually the highlights thus far. 

Now, the movie: the movie is quite short (just over an hour, it seems), and even this effort was beyond the capabilities of the writers. With the exception of a few bits taken directly from the book and thus built on a much better framework than the scriptwriters were capable of producing, the movie lurches from scene to scene in a manner that can’t really be dignified with the term “plot,” because there’s no coherence or continuity between each aside from the names of the characters or the actors playing them. More distractingly yet, the script lurches from line to line within each scene, and some of the lines are rather good, and the rest of them aren’t.

Back to Victor Jory. He plays Gene Stewart, who in the books is a rather distant and mysterious figure as befits the male love interest. Since the movie shifts protagonists from Madeline to Gene, he’s on screen most of the time, and he’s electric. He’s really great. He’s the reason any of the scenes work by themselves. Now, credit where credit is due: Madeline is played by someone named Jo Ann Sayers, and when she has even the slightest semblance of material to work with, she goes for it, too, and she’s watchable. Everyone else is just…there.

Oh, and there’s a fistfight that to my eye was actually pretty exciting and realistic, as it as it’s mostly two really angry guys grappling and trying to get the distance to swing a punch. Alas, it is also just about the only action scene in the movie, with the exception of a horse chase filmed at a very, very long distance. (Was that Trigger? It might have been Trigger. It was definitely a palomino.)

Anyhow. I definitely am going to finish the book, even if I have to skim-read it.

Rated: Well, it was an hour of my life that I would have also spent unproductively if I had done otherwise, so….

 

QuikReview: The Kid (2019)

the-kid-2019An honest attempt at an old-school, old-fashioned, worthwhile Western movie, with bad bad guys, good bad guy, good good guy, a kid who has to choose which role model he’s going to follow, and a girl to rescue. And if it had followed through the good guy thing, it would have stuck the landing, too. 

Is it a 10/10 movie? No. (It’s an 8.5/10, it’s honestly worth the watch, despite what I’m about to say about it.) There are far too many anachronisms and cringe-inducing dialogue options. But those are honestly the least of this movie’s failings, and the greatest is: failing to understand that there can be more than one hero for whom the audience sympathizes and roots for, and that there is allowed to be more than one triumphant success per a story arc. Ultimately, this movie is about the kid and while he does mature from a frightened boy into a young man over the course of the story, his story beats come at the expense of the actual good guy, Pat Garrett (or the fictional facsimile thereof) 

The kids are the protagonists: teenage Rio and his slightly older sister Sara, on the run from their monstrous uncle after Rio kills their father, who has just finished beating their mother to death. Yes, it’s an unpromising beginning, but it gets better. They bump into Billy the Kid and his bunch (good bad guys), who are nice enough to them–Billy in particular easily sussing out that they have some guilt on their consciences and blood on their hands, not to mention clothes–but very shortly after this, Pat Garrett and the posse arrive. After some exchange of gunfire, Billy et al surrender and the kids tag along with the posse to Santa Fe.

This is really the strongest part of the movie, as Garrett and Billy, subtly, vie for Rio’s attention and trust. Billy talks about how people blame other people for things that those people just happened to have done, or had to do, or were blamed for doing just because. Garrett talks about how sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…such as fess up and face the consequences. Rio seems swayed by Garrett, but his sister convinces him to keep still and not confess. 

Unfortunate for them, probably, because when Garrett and Billy high-tail it out of Santa Fe ahead of a lynch mob (I think this was supposed to be an exciting or suspenseful scene, but it was only exceedingly underwhelming), their uncle gets them instead. Rio manages to escape, but Sara…doesn’t. Rio heads to Lincoln County, meets up with Billy in the county jail, and then via a series of vaguely-historically accurate plot happenings, ends up escaping with him, hiding out on the ranch for a while, and learning to shoot. But he also learns soon enough that charming as Billy is, he’s not going to be a help. Billy is not out for anyone except Billy. 

And later that night, Pat Garrett arrives and shoots Billy from a distance without giving him the chance to surrender. See, Hollywood is saying: heroes don’t need to be heroic, principled, more skilled, faster, or better shots. Mind you, there is also an element of suicide by cop here, so…this one I give a pass to. 

The movie gets distinctly weaker after this, but it is also almost over. Basically, Rio confesses all to Pat Garrett and begs his help getting his sister back from the evil uncle. There’s a showdown in a saloon, (in which Pat Garrett gets tackled by a bad guy and beaten with a chairleg until sister Sara shoots the guy off him) and then a quasi-showdown at high noon (in which Pat Garrett gets outdrawn but then Rio shoots his uncle in the head.) 

The kids ride off into the sunset with Garrett’s blessing, and now Rio is the one taking charge, reassuring his sister, and being the man of the family.

It’s much better than I thought it would be–enough so that I am much more disappointed in the places where it failed, than I would be if it was just another brainless Hollywood piece. 

As demonstrated by his very strategic sidelining at the climax of the movie, Ethan Hawke is not really provided with the opportunity to ride off with the entire show. This is OK, on paper. This movie is about the kid(s), and so it should be them who take vengeance into their own hands, which they do. However good all these things are–and believe me, I’m 100% in favor of an old-fashioned bildungsroman, a boy and his horse and his gun plus or minus a dog–they should not have come at the expense of the guy who provides a) the moral center of the story, b) the action hero of the story.

It’s easy to have have a character say that “There is still good in him,” or, “You’ve got a lot of good left in you.” But what does that entail, exactly, in context? When the plot is about an impressionable kid sizing up the options and deciding which way he’s going to go, there needs to be a model for him–not for his benefit, but for the audience’s. What are the paths, exactly? What are the options? What are the rewards?

The last third of the movie is weak: here’s how it could have been improved. Rio walks up to Sherriff Garrett plus a handy judge and confesses to the self-defense killing of his father. He is taken into custody and a trial commences. Rio has one other witness but is unable to produce said witness: his trafficked sister Sara. Garrett and the deputies, keeping Rio in “special custody,” ride off to go rescue the girl. You can have the exact same action beats–Sara shoots Chairleg Thug, Rio gets to shoot Pimp Uncle–but then there’s a denouement as the trial recommences (see, you can even go for additional irony by having it start and end in a bar with the judge pouring drinks, or something.) Rio is pronounced not guilty and awarded all the money in Pimp Uncle’s pockets. Now, when the kids ride off into the sunset, they can do it with the knowledge that it’s a ride to the future, and not a run from the past. The line has been clearly demarcated–for the characters, and for the audience–as to what is legitimate violence, and what is not; and it proves that the Law isn’t evil, or unreasonable, and that lawmen aren’t monsters by nature. 

But then, Hollywood doesn’t want you to think about things like that, do they?

That being said: the casting is greatchris-pratt-as-grant-cutler-in-the-kid-2019. Christ Pratt is completely unrecognizable as the bad bad guy. Like, even without the giant beard, he just isn’t recognizable, he’s that nasty. Likewise, Dane DeHaan has the look of tintype-photo Billy Bonney down pat, despite being 10 years older than the character historically. (Welp, that never stopped Audie Murphy, so, you gotta give it a pass regardless.) Ethan Hawke, well, good as he is with what he has to do, still kinda, well, um, looks like Discount Kurt Russell-from-Tombstone. And I LIKE Ethan Hawke, HE JUST DOES!

The young hero is also, for the most part, watchable, even when he’s blurting out quasi-period dialogue and crying a lot. His sister cries even more, so. 

That being said, the directing is underwhelming, bordering on terrible. It’s not easy to make a gunfight siege in a wooden cabin, a daring escape from an attempted lynch mob, or even a frigging multiplayer gunfight in a saloon be boring….but somehow, Vincent D’Onofrio managed. That, my friends, takes skill all of its own kind. It also needs to be noted that there is no good horse photography, and just about zero landscapes. That’s OK, but what really kills this movie is the fact that it’s a Western and it doesn’t have any good gun or fistfights, or horse chases or cattle. Or Injuns.

That being said, there are some scenes which all on their own are really, really good. “How far do you think you’re gonna get with a dead Charlie chained to your ankle?” “….not very far at all.” Garrett telling Rio the story of the first man he ever killed; Billy having enormous fun being interviewed while Garrett is trying to get him away from a lynch mob; Garrett’s deputy being wracked with guilt over his–completely and legally justifiable–shooting of Rio, and their discussion; Billy’s address to the crowd after escaping from the Lincoln County Jail; and Billy’s death scene. All these are very good. 

Overall, I stand by my 8….although maybe I’ll knock the .5 off of it. It’s a decent enough movie, if you don’t notice Hollywood’s contempt for heroism, hatred of women, hatred of the audience, and weird loathing for the legitimate use of violence to defend one’s self or others. Sheesh, and this is me trying to say something nice about this movie.

Rated: ¿Quién es? ¿Quién es?

Movie Review: Fort Defiance (1951) (repost)

fort_defiance-606622612-largeFort Defiance – 1951, Ben Johnson as Ben, Dane Clark as Johnny, and Peter Graves as Ned.

This is a movie with a simple plot. Lots of things happen because of that plot, but when you break it all down, it’s all because of this:

There’s this guy (Ben Johnson as Ben Shelby) whose brother was killed. He goes to the ranch home of the guy responsible for the death(s) (Johnny) but finds only that guy’s blind brother. Johnny is presumed dead and in the absence of a worthwhile target for it, Ben buries the hatchet. At this point, Injuns. Meanwhile, there’s a guy in town whose brothers were also killed by Johnny, and who wants to kill Johnny’s brother in revenge. And then Johnny shows up…

Meanwhile, I am left with my family issues making me wonder why everyone’s so almighty fired up about their brothers. So it’s possible a good chunk of this went straight over my head. This is a straight-up B-movie, but it tries hard, and it mostly even succeeds.

Rated: The best brother is a dead brother who leaves you a lot of money.

Thoughts:
– This has a very good-looking Young Ben Johnson in it. (Not obsessed).
fortdefiancejohnson– The other, other good news is that Dane Clark and Peter Graves, when they show up, are good enough in their roles to make me go look up their names and include them in this list.

– So Ben, as Ben Shelby, is a gunslinging ex-Army man who shows up at a family ranch, saves the lives of blind Ned (from a rampaging horse) and Uncle Charlie (from rustlers), and claims that he’s a friend of missing big brother Johnny.

– Ben is actually, obviously, after Johnny for revenge of some sort. Johnny is revered by Ned, but Uncle Charlie himself knows or at least suspects the truth. Uncle Charlie is also strangely OK with the thought of a stranger coming to kill his nephew.

– Huh, Ben’s actually married and his wife has sent him a letter begging him to foreswear the vengeance and come home. If my studies of the genre are correct, what this means is that by the time he does go home, his wife will have either married someone else or moved to California.

– Ned doesn’t have the slightest clue that big brother Johnny is an outlaw loose and running. Until just now, that is, when Uncle Charlie told him Johnny got killed robbing a bank.

– Johnny was supposed to bring news to the Company that they were being outflanked; he (allegedly) surrendered instead. The Company was wiped out almost to a man and Ben lost his younger brother.

– So, with no quarrel with Ned or Uncle Charlie, Ben departs in peace for Fort Defiance.

– Ben comes back: he has decided to settle in Arizona, but there might be some complications turning up down the line…

– AHAHA THE IRONY. This new guy also lost two of his brothers in the battle, and now also blames Johnny. Ben has buried the hatchet and adopted Ned, but this guy wants to kill all Tallon brothers. I think Uncle Charlie is going to die covering the retreat…

– Yup.

– Oh screw you, mister. You killed Uncle Charlie, burying him “Christian” ain’t going to do nothing.

– …so who’s this….OH IT’S JOHNNY I BET! He met up with the burial detail! OH BOY. Yep, it’s Johnny. Well, good-bye for the burial detail…since there’s only one man needed for taking a message, he’s just offered them the chance to draw lots…and then he turned his back….

– Mind you, having his buddy keep them covered was just a smart move.

– And now they meet.

– FISTFIGHT! Johnny is cheating, because his buddy still has a gun. Get ‘im, Ben!

– Injuns!

– Johnny admits he did surrender, but won’t explain why. Ned, meanwhile, is panicking on Ben’s behalf. And running out into the open screaming during a gun battle. You know, normally this behavior would be reserved for the Damsel.

– Johnny did it because he knew the war was over and didn’t feel like risking his neck for anybody else.

– Ned: “Don’t do it, Ben, he’s fast, he’s too fast.”
Ben: “Yeah, I know, like a snake.”
Johnny: “And twice as nasty!”

– Johnny is heading for San Francisco and intends to take Ned with him.

– Good grief. Competitive coat-giving. And another fistfight. And they managed to wake Ned up, so what did that gain you?

– Ya know, if it’s cold, you could always just cuddle up together….(this is probably why Ben has an offscreen but very definitely real and human wife coming in on the stage).

– OH NO ITS THE STAGE AND THE INJUNS ARE CHASING IT AHAHAHA

– YYYYyyyyep ITS A GIRL (Ben hasn’t noticed yet)

– Oh, wait, it’s NOT his wife, she’s some girl who got run outa town. (Oh, she’s gonna be Ned’s girlfriend probably).

– She’s hoping to start a business in San Francisco….seamstressing, probably.

– “I found out she ain’t married.” “I reckon not.”

– Dude, you are probably about to DIE (well, as far as you know, you are. I know there’s still about twenty-five minutes to go). Asking a girl if you’re someone able to be loved should not be really high on your priority list.

– OH SERIOUSLY THEY’RE RIDING IN CIRCLES AROUND THE WAGON. Well, that’s a time-honored Injun tactic, at least, and we’ve got to stick with tradition.

– THE CAVALRY HAS ARRIVED!

– Johnny is taking the stage, Ned, and Miss Julie, leaving a knocked-out Ben and the stage driver one horse between them. Julie has managed to smuggle a gun on board, which Ned promptly appropriates. But Ben is soon on his way after them.

– Ned, like the idiot he is, attempts to pull said gun on Johnny. Ned, as we mentioned, is also blind. But it’s the only thing that can get through to Johnny, apparently.

– Aww, Johnny is going to raise some money….honestly.

– (Semi-honestly.)

– (Well, not all that honestly at all, but he will have provided both bills of sale and receipts.)

– Johnny really took over the last part of this movie, didn’t he? I would say he stole it from Ben, but Ben is more handsome so there’s really nothing to worry about.

– “Well, I guess Parker won’t bother us anymore.” Well, that was stone-cold murder, Ben.

– Awwww, and now Ben’s wife got there. The End. That was a little abrupt. And also didn’t Johnny just sell the ranch out from under you? And also you’re only able to be on that ranch because the government forcibly rounded up the Indians with whom you used to live peaceably, and your cattle still got rustled, but hey who’s overthinking it?

– Rated: Damn, Ben Johnson was fine when he was young. (Still not obsessed).

Movies with My Mother and Aunt and Uncles) – Maverick (1994)

poster-780REPOST REVIEW

“You’re taking notes? On what?”

“Something’s gonna crawl out of that bag…I guess.”
“Oh, it’s a snake.”
“OH. MY. GOSH.”
“Awww, lookit the li’l snake.”

“OK, I’m liking the scenery.”

“Mel Gibson? Thirty years ago? Ten years ago?”
“Thirty.”
“The man is old now!”
“He is not old…”

“Teehee, he’s on the donkey?”
“I’m surprised it’s going where he wants it to go.”
“Oh, it went.”

“He gave THEM the dollar?”
“And the mule.”

“Jody?”
“Yep.”

“They’re watching all the money he’s bringing.”
“A whole bunch of crooks.”
“I wonder when the hour is up, what then?…Ooo, she’s giving signs. Look, she’s giving signs.”

“Uh oh…uh oh….UH OH!” (my aunt).

“Is that the guy?”
“John Wesley Hardin?”
“What did he say his name was/”
“Maverick.”
“No, the gun guy.’
“Johnny.”
“Oh, it was him.”

“Uh oh!” (my mother)

“Should we–you should tell them what happens!”
“No.”
“No.”
“No!”

“Why did he tell the boys they could shoot him?”
“Cause he didn’t like getting beat up.”
“But the whole thing was staged!”
“NNnnghph!”
“SORRY. Was that part of it?”
“…Yes.”

“Jody’s in love!”
“….but…”
“I thought she was married?”

“Ok, that was something. She got him already?”
” ‘May I’…what?”

“She’s so good.”
“Jody Foster is so good!”

“She took his wallet again!”

“Uh oh!”
“A real bank robbery! Heh!”

“He had a thousand!”

“He took the dollar!”

“Crook!”
“They gave him more?”
“Probably. Here’s your 17, 30, 8…”
“He ripped them off!”

“Uh oh!” (my uncle).

“The thief and the old guy! Did you hear that? This is funny!”

“Oh boy.” (my mother).

“Uh oh.” (my aunt.)
“He’s dead!”

“For real-for real?”

“She in his wallet again!”

“…that saved a wretch like me?”
“Are you singing?”
“No.”
“No.”

“Rrr! Heheheh.”

“Bet you a dollar she’s stealing.”

“That is SO DUMB.”

“She took it? She stole the money?!”

“Did he call the horse Ollie?”

“Is that the same guy?”

“James Coburn! That’s James Coburn!”
“Oh! That’s him, I couldn’t remember his name!”

“That’s Denver Pyle.”
“Whoever that is.”
“…he was Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazzard?”
“He’s gonna jump!”

“He’s all outa money.”
” ‘But I was so close!’ ”

“This thing is a setup.”
“Which thing?”
“What?”
“Which thing?”
“This thing. This whole thing.”
“….why would you say that.”
“It’s a setup.”

“What’s she want from him now?…oh.”
….
“He’s as bad as she is, he’s hiding his stuff.”
“She’s just gonna reach over and take it. With her skinny hands.”

“Uh oh.”

“That was Waylon Jennings!”
“Who?”
“The singer!”
“But who?”
“The guy they just threw overboard, who is a singer who was just singing the song just now!”

“Who did that?”
“Either her or James Coburn. James Coburn looks like a crook.”

“Four more bongs…one…”

“Uh oh!”
“HEY!”
“Is that the dealer cheating?”
“The dealer is dealing for the Indian-looking guy.”
“He’s dealing off the bottom.”

“A full house?”
“Looks like.”

“UH OH!”
“CHEATER!”

“With your Pappy nonsense again? Pappy says it’s an ace!”

“Look at those big blues…”

“He tricked him!”

“All these people supposed to have no guns, where’d that gun come from? Everybody’s got guns!”

“Uh oh!” (my aunt.)
“Uh oh!” (my mother.)

“It’s a little put-put boat!”

“Uh oh!”

“Something’s behind all this, I know it.”
“It’s her and James Coburn!”

“It’s a shame those dresses don’t come back in our time period.”
“They too much.”
“They’re beautiful!”

“He’s counting the money?”

“TOLD YOU!”

“OH. MY. GOSH.”

“The man won the money fair and square! Why you gonna take it from him?”

“Uh oh.”
“Gonna drown him?”

“What! What! Oh my gosh!”
“That’s his FATHER?”
“Did you see that?”

“Uh oh!”

“OH MY GOSH IT”S THE GIRL!”

Readlist

the-tale-of-genji-4– The Tale of Genji (the public domain translation via Project Gutenberg) is unexpectedly engrossing and readable. 

– Alternating between Judith Herrin’s Byzantium and (sigh) Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass

– Watching: the 1957 Noir-Western Man in the Shadow with Orson Welles and Jeff Chandler. (Also starring Leo Gordon as, what else, burly bad guy who beats people up.)

Ride Lonesome (1959) – Movies With My Mother (repost review)

“He’s a bounty hunter?–I got no use for bounty hunters. He’s like a mercenary!”

“What are all these other saddles?”

“What! What is he doing!?”
“He’s dead.”

“But Indians don’t come out at night.”
“What?”
“They should leave now!”
“No, if they leave now, the Indians will get them when they’re out in the open at night.”
“But Indians don’t come out at night! Or is it in the day that Indians don’t come out…”
“They can’t leave now.”
“Why not?”
“Indians!”
“…”
“…”

“Who’s he? This guy.”
“That’s James Coburn.”
“What! He! He is very young! What is he in the movie?”
“He’s the dumb sidekick.”
“….he was very young.”

“Why is this fool going out at night! There could be Indians! Yes! It could be them making that noise and you can’t tell! They do, you know!”

“Still, she could have held it together.”
“Hmmmm.”

“Who are they? Mescaleros again? They don’t want to talk this time?…they might not even give a horse this time.”

“Ooof, that guy looked like the horse came down on him.”

“They went away? Too many of them dead?”

“To get a what?”
“A woman.”
“No, he said something else. To–”
“Get a woman.”
“No, he said something else before that.”
“To get his hands on a woman.”
“There no Indian women?”
“She’s blonde.”
“If there was dye, back then, people could dye their hair!”

“Why don’t they build a fire?”
“Indians.”
“They could build a smokeless fire.” [The Mother of Skaith has also read her Louis L’Amour.]

“Amnesty? They had amnesty for killers?…haha, maybe he got the wrong word it’s some other word.”

“What’s with the feather in his hat? What kind of foolishness is this? Is this to tell us something about his character? I’ve never seen anybody like that. Psssht!”

“What! If the leg is broken, I thought you can’t do nothing for the horse!”
“It’s not broken, it’s just hurt. He doesn’t want to stand up, because it’s hurt, so he just wants to lie there and he thinks he’s dying.”
“Oh.”

“Maybe they just need to rub the leg. And put comfrey on it.”
“They don’t have comfrey, Mom.”
“They can find comfrey!”
“…”

“What’s he doing? He’s fixing to do something. What’s he doing?”
“He’s moving to go get that gun over there.”
“Oh. Why?”

“He should not have done that! Even if he lied, he should not have proven that he lied! Now no one will believe him, even when he’s not talking about guns! What did he prove!?”
“Billy is a coward, though. That’s why it worked.”
“It doesn’t matter that the boy is a coward! You should not lie to him!”

“That’s Lee van Cleef!”

“What’s she doing?”
“She’s doing her hair.”

“What’s that?”
“A tree.”
“Yes, but what–oh, it’s a hanging tree? What is the point of a hanging tree? I didn’t hear what he just said, what did he say?”
“He said, Brigade used to hang people from it.”

Shoot ‘im!”

“There are very few platinum blondes like her, you know.”
“Probably not natural.”
“That’s what I said, they’re rare.”

“So he gon’ tell her, fool, and she’s gon’ tell him! Not very bright!”

“…Oh, you mean she’s not a natural blonde. Probably.”

“Why would he hang her!”
“He was young and getting revenge.”
“But why would he hang the man’s wife! That’s not revenge, she’s not the man!”
“He wanted to hurt him, that’s why he went after her.”
“But he didn’t need to do that!”
“But he did it because he was bad.”
“Oh, he is a bad man.”
“Yes, Mom.”

“Is he joshing him?”
“No.”
“He’s gon’ make him a partner and he’s a half-wit?”
“He’s a good guy!”
“–and a half-wit!”

“Does Coburn get killed?”
“No.”
“Oh. I’d be sorry to have that.”

“Is that a threat? Not a threat…a…what’d you call that?”

“What are they looking at?”
“Smoke.”
“What is the smoke for?”

“Oh, he’s burning the tree? Why?”

“See, I told you it was a good movie!”
“Mm.”
“And you didn’t even want to watch it!”
“It was five out of ten.”
“You are mistaken, it was nine out of ten.”
“…”
“…”

Movie Review: Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

isc wordpress (FUck y
poster-780TLDR: four chainsaws out of five…but I feel I’m being generous. Also, WORDPRESS DELENDA EST.

So this is a movie starring my childhood hero, Angelina Jolie (oddly enough, my mother likes Angelina, but only as Evelyn Salt and Maleficent), and made by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan is the guy who wrote Sicario (which is supposedly the best movie about Mexican cartel violence and American intelligence agency incompetence, ever), wrote and directed Wind River (which was very good overall), and is involved with the modern-cowboy show Yellowstone (which a cowgirl of my acquaintance says is good but highly inaccurate despite the fact that it stars some very famous horses…yes, she does watch it for the horses), and apparently is a genuine, rodeo-participating, cowboy who owns some of said horses.

Also, I’ve always thought smokejumpers were really cool.

Review up front: So, overall….this is about three quarters of a perfect movie. The perfect movie would have had the fire as the primary plot and the kid plus the hitmen as the secondary plot. More information about how fires behave, and what the usual procedure is for fighting them, not to mention more information about the geography of the story, would have helped immensely in raising the stakes of the story. As it is, the primary threat of the movie is the relentless hitmen, and the fire is kind of an afterthought, when (IMHO) it should be something hanging over everybody’s heads the whole time and come roaring in at the end.

Also, and this is fairly important, there would need to be scenes of badass firefighters actually fighting fire. ’cause, and I’ll put this right up here in front, there aren’t any.

That being said, as it’s own movie, this one is almost pretty good. I liked all the characters–including the villains, as villains–and the dialogue was, overall, almost bearable and sometimes even pretty good, because it sounds like something people would say who are those kind of people in that kind of situation. (“Sheriff, your wife is on the phone. Do you want to talk to her?” “Absolutely not.”) Most of this is due to the actors being really good. Jon Bernthal is really charismatic and intense; Edward Norton is….oh, um. So, apparently the person I have in the rest of the review referred to as Edward Norton is in fact DISCOUNT Edward Norton, AKA Aiden Gillen. Whoops. He’s a really good villain: calm, intelligent, competent, motivated, and maintains his demeanor and yet is increasingly deranged (and increasingly injured to a level that could almost inspire sympathy.) There’s also the black actress who plays the badass pregnant wife (Medina Senghore,) and she looks like a normal, actual, genuine person in this movie–which, let me tell you, must have taken some doing. I mean, she’s the spitting image of my college roommate. I’m impressed that she managed to act like a normal person when she’s opposite Jon Bernthal doing his charismatic movie-star thing…and still holds her own. Kudos.

There are only a few things that chipped away at my suspension of disbelief–that a person alone in the middle of a forest wouldn’t have at least one gun…what, exactly, is your very sharp axe going to do if you run into a bear?–and the hitmens’ motivation for doing what they do is imperfectly justified to the point where I paused the movie to write about it (see below.)

Overall, yeah, I would have liked more of a smokejumper movie and less of a hitman movie. But it’s pretty good overall.

So our story opens with two storylines: a middle-aged father who gets extremely nervous when he sees that some District Attorney’s house has mysteriously blown up with the family inside, and Angelina (Hannah), a woodland firefighter/smokejumper suffering from PTSD of the gasp-and-ricochet-out-of-bed variation. Also, Jon Bernthal is hanging around. He’s with the local Sheriff’s office. (Heh, he says “Make good choices!” That’s a line I have previously only heard from an Agronomy major from Iowa.) Hannah, though….isn’t. She’s seeking thrills and taking risks and may or may not be actually suicidal. So, spending the fire season in a tower, alone, might or might not be the best thing for her, overall.

It turns out that Dad (a forensic accountant who works for the now-deceased DA) and Son were right to run, because a pair of hitmen is after them. Also, Jon Bernthal appears to be the Kid’s uncle, and his wife’s pregnant. Oh dear. Dad writes out his secrets and gives them to the Kid, with instructions to not read them and to give them to someone trustworthy.

(When given a free choice of vehicles, what do the very best assassins choose? A Ford F150! Woo! GO RHINO! What kind of cars do boring forensic accountants choose? Volkswagons. What kind of cups do firefighters drink out of? RED SOLO CUPS THAT IS RIGHT! I don’t even think Walmart sells them any more. I think you have to go to Target for those things.) Deputy Bernthal consults with his chief, who is interested but offers limited help. We also get a little more on Hannah, who is racked with guilt over being leaving civilians to burn to death. Frankly….not surprising.

Stuff starts to hit the fan, with our very efficient hitmen setting up an ambush on a deserted back road (well…I mean…it’s still a two-lane highway. But I guess that seems kind of deserted to city folk.) Dad stays in the car and orders Kid to head out and call the news. Somehow, I’m unconvinced that this is possible for either of them after the car has literally flown down a giant ravine and been riddled with bullets.

Meanwhile, however, the hitmen also have to kill another innocent bystander who rolls up before hightailing it out (I TOLD YOU GUYS IT WASN’T ACTUALLY DESERTED, DUMBASSES)….at about which point Deputy Bernthal rolls up. The Kid rolls up to the tower/river and bumps into Hannah. Also, the hitmens’ boss has rolled up to a truck stop, and this is pretty bad news.

OK, SO. Pause.

This is the scene that the movie uses to justify the “relentless hitmen who pursue the heroes through hell and high water AND ACTUAL FOREST FIRES)” trope. Which is smart. Because that’s a dumb as hell trope and needs to be justified if it’s going to be used in a serious movie. Problem is….it just tripped over its own feet. The scary black hitman-boss wants them to follow up with Kid because a) they promised, b) it’s possible that Dad had duplicates of everything they already retrieved from the DA’s office, and c) it’ll probably be with the Kid if so. Duplicates. Of case-critical information. That the DA’s office was already in possession of but which their team retrieved. Now, I know that it’s not really likely that everything included in a casefile is going to have backups and/or be on the cloud–but if it’s entered the public record, enough of it’s going to be in enough places, like warrants and affidavits, that breaking and entering isn’t going to solve your problem.

(Although, on further research, someone on reddit points out that the black hitman-boss’s car has government plates. Which…whatever. I stand by what I said.)

Not to mention something else already established by this movie that messes with this premise on a fundamental level: the “information” Dad gave Kid isn’t on a flash drive, or in a briefcase. It’s LITERALLY WRITTEN ON THE BACKS OF A COUPLE OF NAPKINS. Also, these guys have no way of knowing that said “information” is with the kid and not, say, in the car or on Dad’s body.

Now, change this to, “they want the kid alive as leverage,” or, “he saw our faces,” and it makes marginally more sense. But as is, this is stupid. Also, beause it’s SOP for hitmen to wear suits, they change into them at this point. However, they also have badges. However, because this movie INSISTS on adhering to stupid action movie tropes, (DISCOUNT) Edward Norton-hitman announces that they’re going to kill everyone who sees their faces henceforth. Also, he starts a forest fire and gazes at it for a while. (See, going with less movieness and more realism at this point would work better. Fire is cool, but fire is also scary. Just let the guys have a natural reaction to a fire [wow, cool, wish I could stay and watch. Hey, it’s…kind of spreading fast. Um. I’m, um, yeah…] and then show them skedaddling out of there.)

Hannah’s radio, it turns out, has been blown out by the lightning. They have a twelve-mile hike into town. A theoretically heartwarming moment is had when Kid explains what happened to Hannah and hands over the NAPKIN OF INFORMATION to her, which she looks at for about two seconds before deciding they are starting their hike right now.

Aaaaannnd uh oh, the hitmen duo have just arrived at Pregnant Wife. Heh, she immediately retreats through the door and reaches for the bear spray, not that it helps. Hitman #2 spots the nursery (but not her giant six-months-pregnant belly?) and they decide to torture her a bit just to make sure. Which is when she promptly starts lying to them to throw them off. And then there’s a pretty awesome little bit where she gives her husband the distress code (“FUCKING SURVIVALISTS!”) and then turns the bear spray into a flamethrower and sets  Edward Norton on fire then grabs a shotgun and escapes. WOO BABY.

So meanwhile, Hannah and Kid have to leapfrog a field in another lightning storm, and Hannah gets struck. This is kind of a pointless sequence, used as it is to lead into a bonding moment between them…if you want an action sequence, put one in and make it plot-relevant. If you want a bonding moment, put that in and make it worthwhile. He confesses that his father died right in front of him. This scene doesn’t work on EITHER level: it’s not plot-relevant and it’s not touching or meaningful.

Deputy Bernthal (plus the Sheriff) show up at his house immediately, but the Sheriff immediately gets shot and our very efficient hitmen take Bernthal prisoner to help them search. Which is smart on their side, because he actually does immediately find tracks.

So, it’s apparent that Hannah doesn’t know about the big fire (which is at zero percent containment), because she and Kid pause for a break and a campfire. Hannah gets her moment to confess what has been bothering her. She was in charge of a crew and screwed up: three boys died and she could only watch. But we do get this exchange:

Kid: “I watched my mother die of cancer.”
Hannah: “It is impossible to feel sorry for myself around you.”

Hah.

Bernthal decides he’s had enough at this point, and flips out into taunting/attacking the hitmen, attempting to get them to kill him. It’s two to one, though, and Edward Norton decides to up the ante by telling him that he’s going to be the one who kills Kid….because that’s how badly he, Norton, does not want to shoot a pregnant woman. I’m pretty sure he’s lying. Hitman #2 thinks he’s just losing it, man.

At this point, Hannah and Kid spot the fire; this means they will have to turn around, get back to the tower, and hopefully hook up with a chopper that’s going to be coming out to check on her.

(Pregnant Wife, meanwhile, has saddled up and is heading out into the woods. Personally, I’d have gone with the ATV myself, as late-stage pregnancy + jolting movements apparently don’t tend to go very well together?)

…and Bernthal plus hitmen have arrived at the tower. They send him up….and….#2 Guy climbs a tree. That’s cheating. Edward Norton isn’t doing so well, which is not news to his partner….Hannah and Kid run for it, Bernthal is stuck in the tower, AND OH GLORY THE PREGNANT LADY ARRIVES TO PROVIDE SUPPORT BY FIRE. (oops)

AND BOOM SHE SHOT THE BAD GUY. SHOOT HIM AGAIN ALREADY. SEE THIS IS WHY WE NEED HIGH CAPACITY DEER RIFLES. COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL. SHOOT HIM AGAIN LADY. Oh, she did. Nice. Now, that was satisfying. That is how you write a good villain and give him his good comeuppance.

(Meanwhile, did we mention it’s actually pretty unrealistic that Hannah doesn’t actually have a gun….in the middle of the forest, in Montana?)

Hannah and Kid are getting closer to the fire….she starts giving him instructions to going on alone.
Meanwhile, Pregnant Lady goes up the tower to check on her husband, who is hurt pretty badly (he’ll make it, right? Right?? It’s only that his wife is pregnant, not like he was going to retire in three days.) Also the fire is almost on them.

Hannah approaches the fire alone. Oh, wait, no. Hitman #2 is still running around like a dumbass. Hannah attacks him with her axe (did we mention she doesn’t have a gun?) but all this nets her is getting repeatedly punched in the face by a semi-insane hitman. The Kid comes back….and wow, Hitman #2 asks him “Could you turn around for me?” Ow.

But it’s ok, because Hannah beats him to mostly death with her pulaski and leaves him to burn to death. She and Kid take refuge in a creek and survive! Nice. The firetower has also survived, and so has Pregnant Lady, who signals to some hotshots in the plane that goes by. Oh, these are the guys who were Hannah’s friends and past crew from the beginning.

The crew calls in a medevac but…uh oh. No rush. Damn it. One of these days, Jon Bernthal will star in a good movie and survive until the end.

Kid is having some existential angst prior to his interview, but Hannah promises him that she’ll stay there and help him figure it out….

…the end.

Again, I give it 4/5. It has almost all the right ingredients. It just didn’t mix them very well together.