The New Hope of Westerns: East Meets Westerns

I love them, as I’ve already discussed in a few entries on my blog. There’s nothing like a Man With No Name cleaning up a town through a judicious usage of fists and bullets–especially when the bad guys are rapists or murderers. It’s awesome.

Westerns!

I love them, as I’ve already discussed in a few entries on my blog. There’s nothing like a Man With No Name cleaning up a town through a judicious usage of fists and bullets–especially when the bad guys are rapists or murderers. It’s awesome.

I’ve also already discussed my disappointment with the current spate of mopey, angsty Westerns that the US has produced: Movies like 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and  No Country for Old Men are all great movies, but the genre seems to be dominated by miserable people. Even the Australians got in on the mope-fest with The Proposition, which was another great movie but which was a little too rapey for me to really enjoy. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Cowboys vs. Aliens movie, but it’s also possible that won’t be intended as a Western at all and won’t explore Western tropes much. Also, Daniel Craig has monkey ears.

Also, I think he's afraid that if he smiles, his career will be over. Which doesn't bode well for Cowboys Vs. Aliens being a fun movie.

Apparently, in the middle of the 20th century, Eastern Europe began making Westerns called Osterns, which usually depicted Native Americans in a more compassionate light as freedom fighters, compared to their role in American Westerns as villains. I haven’t seen any of these, but I’m really curious to.

 

And now, breathing new life into the genre come a group I am going to call East Meets Westerns. Made by or starring Asians, the genre only has a few entries at the moment: The Good, the Bad, and The Weird; Sukiyaki Western Django; and The Warrior’s Way, which only came out this weekend in theaters.

 

I think of them as East Meets Westerns because I like how that sounds; the filmes of Sergio Leone were known as Spaghetti Westerns because they were made with cheap Italian labor in Italy, and that name has always bothered me a little. Of course the Italians call them something else, but it doesn’t seem like these new Westerns yet have a name. It could be because they aren’t intended to be their own genre–after all, it’s not like every movie that gets made in Asia has to be branded as part of a genre. But for the sake of searchability for enthusiasts, say on Netflix or through Amazon, they really should have their own name. God forbid someone searching for a good, fun Western gets suggestions for Westerns where everyone is miserable and dies at the end, when there are fun movies like this getting overlooked because of a semantics issue.

When Hollywood remakes this movie, they will meticulously remove every possibility of joy and no one will be smiling on the poster.

Anyhow, I’ll be reviewing Good, Bad and Weird and Warrior’s Way today, so that’s what we’re working on.

Even MORE Mustache Rides: Quigley Down Under

There are a handful of things that make Quigley Down Under stand out as a worthy watch: one is Tom Selleck’s somewhat rakish perfomance. Although a total good guy through and through, there are little hints that he wasn’t maybe the guy in the white hat his whole life. He has a moment where he almost leaves Cora behind, and threatens a dying man with torture.

Pretty much Magnum PI in the 1880s, but still fun.

Ignore the tag to my immediate left–Quigley Down Under is so much better than that terrible copy.

One of the more interesting premises for Westerns in the last thirty years has got to be the premise behind Quigley Down Under:

A Wyoming sharpshooter responds to an ad in the newspaper and winds up in Australia–which was undergoing its own frontier experience very similiar to the US’s Old West, complete with mass murder of the natives.

This last point is very important later on.

Basically, Quigley can shoot with pinpoint accuracy from a distance of just over 1200 yards–which is pretty goddamn impressive NOW. Back in the 19th century that was the equivalent of being pyrokinetic.

Along the way, Quigley picks up the deranged Cora, played with an effusive energy by Laura San Giacomo in an early role. She insists on calling him Roy and seems to think they have some kind of relationship.

Quigley has been on a boat from America for three months, and catches  a wagon for several days’ ride into the interior to the ranch of Elliot Marsdon, played by consummate bad guy Alan Rickman–it’s kind of amazing how Rickman’s career in the 80’s was comprised of getting beaten up by American action stars, but it worked for him and he’s still cruising along now, so more power to him. I freaking LOVED him as the snide Sheriff of Nottingham in the Costner version of Robin Hood. Pure camp.

The acting may be camp, but the mustache is all business.

Here lies the gruesomeness behind what seemed to be an otherwise light-hearted film: Marsdon’s plan is to have use Quigley’s sharpshooter skills to  kill the Aborigines that have been attacking his ranch–you know, the indigenous people who have been put off their native land and were slaughtered just for being there in the first place.

Let it sink it. I’ll wait.

Quigley is understandably horrified by the plan.

Marsdon’s fawning fascination in Quigley’s personal experience with the American West grosses him out further. He puts Marsdon through a window, and Marsdon has his thugs beat Quigley and drive him to the middle of nowhere and leave him for dead. Some fool has brought along Quigley’s super badass experimental rifle, an 1874 Sharp’s Buffalo Rifle, which Quigley quickly retrieves and uses to make the guy very dead.

There are a handful of things that make Quigley Down Under stand out as a worthy watch: one is Tom Selleck’s somewhat rakish perfomance. Although a total good guy through and through, there are little hints that he wasn’t maybe the guy in the white hat his whole life. He has a moment where he almost leaves Cora behind, and threatens a dying man with torture. Despite being sold as a leading man,  I never really found Selleck attractive, but he has a definite charm and a disarming smile that made the character really come to life. He was just a cool guy, and made for a well-conceived, realistic hero.

The other thing that makes QDU stand out is the movie’s main conflict, and the dark subject matter explored as European expansion meant relocation or death for native peoples.

There’s a particularly gruesome moment when a small group of Aborigines, including women and children, are straight up driven over a cliff to die on the rocks below.

This isn’t fiction, or some filmmaker’s conceit.

That kind of monstrous shit really happened–the history of every nation is written in red ink, any student of history knows that, but seeing it in action, even dramatized, is enough to make one sit back and reflect on the human condition as a whole. You don’t need to stand on a street corner and scream about it, but instead let that consideration inform your decisions going forward in life. The world would be a better place, I like to think.

But we were discussing a movie.

The other gem of the film is Lara SanGiacomo’s performance as Crazy Cora, who was shipped to Australia by her husband as a punishment for a simple accident. The event left her mad, prone to erratic behavior, and insistent on calling Quigley ‘Roy.’ Her depiction of someone mentally unbalanced is refreshingly real; someone with real mental problems doesn’t hold up a little sign or provide some other shorthand to let you know when they’re crazy, so you don’t know to dismiss what they’re saying until the sign goes back down. You just have to put up with them and hope for the best.

The movie suffers, to be sure. A slightly corny ending,  old school one-dimensional villains,  and it isn’t sure if it wants to wander into comedy territory at times, despite dealing with some pretty heavy shit.The costumes and acting hold up well, and don’t seem dated despite the movie being 20 years old.

It’s still one worth catching though, if you find yourself on a Saturday night with a bowlful of popcorn and two hours to kill.

Quigley Down Under is available on Instant Watch.

The Big ‘Preacher’ Post

Originally, it was a film, with James Marsden set to star. Then, it was an HBO series, which would have honeslty been the BEST way to adapt such a broad story without cutting out details or screwing around with the characters too much. Then it was a film again, with Sam Mendes, of American Beauty fame, set to direct. Now he’s off the project and the last thing heard was Joe Carnahan, of Smokin’ Aces, saying he would like a crack at it while doing press for The A-Team.

If you aren’t already familiar with Garth Ennis’s brilliant graphic novel, then read further. If you are and don’t need an intro, skip on down to the meaty bits of the post.

Preacher is a series written by Irish writer Garth Ennis, who before Preacher was most famous for his work on Hellblazer, a book that starred John Constantine. Constantine is one of my FAVORITE series ever, and on another day I’ll do a post about that. But today is for Preacher.

In Preacher, young man of God Jesse Custer has lost his faith and sets out on a quest to find and question God concerning the state of the world. That’s really the absolute bare bones of the story, and it’s so hard to write that without going into all the juicy story bits that make this series so awesome and ruining it for first-time readers. There is nothing about this series–well, there’s violence, and ADULT SITUATIONS– that isn’t well-told, fascinating, and though-provoking. A freak occurrence with a divine presence means that Custer is imbued with the Word of God, meaning no one, providing they speak his language, can refuse his direct orders. Such a power in the wrong hands would be a huge disaster, but as Custer is a humanist with his own strict moral code (‘Don’t take no shit off fools, and be one of the good guys, because there’s way too many of the bad) he does not take advantage of this power and only uses it in times of real need.

In high school, someone recommended the book to me for all the wrong reasons, and I didn’t read it. Their stance was ‘it’s awesome because it’s violent and he goes around kicking ass.’ That’s definitely true, violence surrounds Custer the way that small birds and animals surround a Disney heroine–not because he seeks it out, but because its drawn to him. I wish I’d read this brilliant dissection of masculinity and American values years ago, but at least I’ve read it now.

Custer is joined on his quest by his girlfriend Tulip, a gun-toting chick  who is a walking case of Awesome,  and drunken reprobate Cassidy, an Irish vampire almost a hundred years old with dark shadows in his past but a rakish, devil-may-care attitude that you can’t help but be drawn to.  Cassidy’s optimism about the US and how many opportunities the country affords is one of the most interesting things about the book, and makes you remember all the stuff you want America to be, rather than all the stuff that it is.

Since the story is a quest, a goodly amount of meandering is done, but there is never a part of the book that’s boring or worth skipping. Their journey takes the group from Texas, to France, to New York City, to New Orleans, to Monument Valley in Utah, and everywhere in between. It’s a sweeping epic at the same time as an incisive character piece.

Which is why adapting it has hit so many roadblocks.

Originally, it was a film, with James Marsden set to star. Then, it was an HBO series, which would have honeslty been the BEST way to adapt such a broad story without cutting out details or screwing around with the characters too much. Then it was a film again, with Sam Mendes, of American Beauty fame, set to direct. Now he’s off the project and the last thing heard was Joe Carnahan, of Smokin’ Aces, saying he would like a crack at it while doing press for The A-Team.

This, but Christina Hendricks. Curse you, lack of Photoshop skillz!

Which is nice, but totally wrong.

What I think is necessary for the film to work on the same level as the book is to get a great dramatic director who can bring the right level of emotional weight to the story, and have to work hard to do the action. Don’t get an action director and expect them to be able to deal with the depth of the material. Edgar Wright would be great, especially since the entire series is an outsider’s view of the US. Michael Apted, who has a long history of drama and action, would also be ideal, if he were interested in the project.And there are oodles of other young directors with a firm grasp of both emotional resonance and drama that could do a decent job.

And just because I’ve been wanting to do this for years, here is my dream cast for a Preacher movie, if there ever is one.

Cassidy – Ideally I’d like Robert Carlyle for this, even though he’s Scottish. If he’s not available find an unknown, not some 19-year old, someone with some mileage under their belt. Cassidy’s some some messed up things, and although he’s nigh-indestructable he really needs to project that he’s been around for as long as the century.

Tulip – Christina Hendricks. I like her because she can turn from innocent, All-American sweetness to icy badass on a dime. That kind of range is important, but there’s a lot of area in-between that someone playing Tulip needs to inhabit. Tulip is strong, but she’s been scared, she’s been angry, she’s been petulant. This is a job for a real actress, not a model who’s just getting into acting. I’m sure there are other blondes out there who’d want this role, but I’m definitely biased as i’ve seen her as a badass and would like to see more in that way. No, I have not seen Mad Men yet.

Jody – This is a tough one. Ideally I’d like Woody Harrelson since he played a psychopath with such chilling presence in Natural Born Killers. And Jody is an older man, he’s not some 30-something. He’s got miles on him too, and whoever plays him has to bring that to the role. Every moment he’s on screen the viewer should be imagining Jody as a child perfecting the art of putting nails through the eyes of a puppy or something. And he HAS to be on screen. Other possibles would be Bruce Willis (come on, it’d be great!) or Ray Stevenson from the recent Punisher movie and Rome, but only if they can do decent Texan accents. Whoever is chosen, it has to be someone who can do both serial killer and twisted father figure, since Jody raised Jesse, though they were never close.

Jesse Custer – this is a difficult one. In the books, Jesse is only in his early twenties, but I’ve always read him as someone approaching thirty just because he’s so level-headed and sure of himself. I thought Timothy Olyphant might be right after loving him in Deadwood so much, but his accent left a little to be desired. There’s probably an undiscovered twenty-something out there who can play this– just please steer clear of stunt-casting. No Jake Gyllenhaal, no Toby Maguire, no Anton Yelchin. EDIT: Oh man, Justin Theroux would be GREAT for this, IF he can do a Texan accent.

Herr Starr – Oo, man, this is a tough one. Except not, because ever since Christophe Waltz wandered onto the scene, he is MEANT to play Herr Starr. It’s important for whoever plays Starr to remember that the character really wants to make the world a better place, no matter who he has to kill to do it.

I’m a little surprised that the Preacher movie has been dragged to screen by now, if only because

A. Studios will greenlight anything printed in panels these days, no matter the content, ie Kick-Ass.

B. Manly men are all the rage now–Clive Owen, Gerard Butler, Colin Ferrell– and yet there aren’t any real American manly men. I mean there are a few, but none come immediately to mind. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are many, but both have daddy issues. Perhaps that’s the exact reason–macho AMerican men come off as dickhead bullies, as characters out of Team America: World Police.

If Preacher gets made, and done right, maybe that’d change? I am totally a feminist in many ways, but I do like to watch  Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee movies. . . Perhaps Johan Hex will give a good indication as to whether or not Preacher will be made, or how well it’ll be done. I won’t see Jonah Hex, not until the release the DVD version where they’ve cut and pasted Megan Fox out of it, but I’ll still keep an eye on the buzz.