My Favorite westerns

It’s been about two years since I’ve added to my favorite List, so I think that it’s about time. Western Movies have been around since the beginning of the movie industry, beginning with The Great Train Robbery in 1903 I wasn’t around back then so it’s not on my list. However it was a ground breaking film in it’s day. I love old movies as much as I love the contemporary ones, probably more; so the list that I’ve compiled covers decades. They are the movies that I have grown up with and grown old with and continue to watch every time I see them on television. These movies are not in any numerical order, so here it goes.

HEAVEN’S GATE 1980 Directed and written by Michael Cimino. The reason this is one of my favorites is that I’m a history buff. Even though there’s a disclaimer in the credits stating it is not based on actual event, it actually is. The Johnson county range war is the basis for countless Movies,novels and tv shows. Although most accounts of the era blamed them darn squatter, or them darn rustlers, contemporary history judges the cattle barons as the bad guys. I love this movie’s atmosphere, cinematography and costumes. It’s a long movie, but I never get tired of watching it. The cast is an all star line up including Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt, Joseph Cotton, Isabelle Huppert, Sam Waterston and many others. Great action, engaging story, excellent cast.

JOHNNY GUITAR 1954: Starring Joan Crawford Mercedes McCambridge and Sterling Hayden, Directed by Nicholas Ray,also known for Rebel without a cause. Quite possibly this is the first feminist western. Don’t be fooled by the name, Johnny Guitar might as well be called Johnny McGuffin. The real story is the epic battle between two great female characters;Vienna, played by Crawford and Emma played by McCambridge. These two women are the perfect storm converging on a small town, bringing destruction with them. There will be blood.

THE LONG RIDERS 1980: Directed by Walter hill and starring just about every set of working siblings in Hollywood at the time. You can’t beat this line up: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, James Keach, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid,Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest. Only Sam and Timothy Bottoms are missing from this flick. They are supported by a cast of all time favorites. This is a cult classic far superior to the 2007 snooze fest (The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert ford). If you love westerns and shoot em ups, this is a must see film.

OPEN RANGE 2003: Directed by Kevin Costner, Starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall you Can’t miss with these two power hitters. This is a gritty, emotional, unflinching look at the old west, not your Granddad’s western. These are hard men but not hardened killers Their humanity unexpectedly shines through, relenting the death of their enemy.

THE OXBOW INCIDENT 1943: Directed by William Wellman, Starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn. This is a morality play in western dress, not a hell bent for leather, six shooter horse opera. It is disturbing and quiet and portrays the lynching of three innocent men, for the dastardly and despicable crime that it is. Henry Fonda is the voice of reason that everyone ignores. The unlucky drifters come to a a sad and sobering end and justice is denied.

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE 1946: Directed by John Ford, Starring Henry Fonda, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond,Victor Mature and linda Darnell. When John Ford calls all the big names answer. This is one of my favorite narratives of the famous Clanton Earp feud, that sparked the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. It is gritty grim and dark just like the men that it portrays. The atmosphere of anger pervades the entire movie and it’s easy to see why these men clashed. This is the western that is the benchmark for all the Wyatt Earp movies that came after it, and most other westerns as well.

PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID 1973: Directed by Sam Peckinpah Starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson. Sam Peckinpah has always been one of my favorite directors. He not only weaves a great story, he expertly integrates the action into the over all plot. Pat Garret and Billy the kid has some great character studies, that pull you into that world. Slim Pickens gives an extremely touching performance as an over the hill lawman, Who gives his last full measure of devotion to enforcing the law, even though he didn’t have to. Veteran western movie actress Katy Jurado, plays his wife who supports his decision, even though she knows that it might result in his death. The scene with Pickens and Jurado is one of the more memorable in western movies.

THE WILD BUNCH 1969: Directed by Sam Peckinpah Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oats and Robert Ryan. This is a stark character study of really really bad men, who go out in a blaze of glory, in retaliation over the death of a friend. This is one of the bloodiest onscreen gunfights ever. Peckinpah set the bar so high that no one has been able to duplicate it. If you haven’t seen this movie it’s worth a try.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN 1960:Directed by John Sturges, Starring Yul Brynner as the good guy and Eli Wallach as the bad guy. This was my first A-list western and it was a wonderful introduction to some of the best young stars of the day. just think Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn and Horst Bucholz all in one movie. When I found out some years later in high school, that the Magnificent Seven was based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic, Seven Samurai, it made me aware of the fact that Hollywood wasn’t the center of the movie universe. I also became a lifelong fan of Kurosawa. I’m so glad that its rousing Oscar nominated theme by Elmer Bernstein is remembered, it still sounds awesome. This film is a solid classic and is scheduled for a 2017 remake.

HIGH NOON 1952: Directed by Fred Zinnemann, Starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. This is the movie That Cooper is most remembered for, not the Fountain head or Sergeant York. This is the predecessor to the lone hero going against impossible odds trope, later exemplified by movies like Pale rider and high plains drifter.

TOMBSTONE 1993: Directed by George Cosmatos and Kevin Jarre (uncredited) Starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer with a strong supporting cast that includes Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton. Billy Zane, Powers Booth and Dana Delaney. This is another retelling of the famous gun fight in the empty lot next to that photo place, that is known as the gun fight at the O K Corral.

PALE RIDER 1985: Directed by Clint Eastwood, Starring Clint Eastwood, Carrie Snodgrass, Michael Moriarty and iconic television star John Russell. This is a classic lone hero yarn, where a gun toting, wandering preacher descends on a mining town and deals out death, like an avenging angel. Like most movies of this sort, the week kneed town folk turn their backs, as the local bully rides rough shod over everyone, doing whatever he pleases, because he’s rich, must be a conservative. I love this movie because revenge is a dish that’s best served cold.

MCCABE AND MRS MILLER 1971: Directed by Robert Altman, starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie and Rene Auberjonois. More of a north western than a western, filmed in British Columbia,that’s right it was filmed in Canada and you can feel the chill. It kind of makes you wonder why people would leave civilization to move to this wet, dirty, cold, desolate place. The answer is money of course. the lure of gold or silver. The town of Presbyterian church is a mining boomtown. McCabe is a gambler and wannabe pimp and Mrs. Miller is an English whore. Between the two of them they plan to make money from the miners. It is an engaging and atmospheric, dark and brooding, one of the truly great westerns.

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY:1966 Directed by Sergio Leone, Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach. A sweeping epic of a western that starts during the war between the states, and moves across the dusty western landscape like a rattle snake. It’s about greed, friendship and betrayal and a clash of wills that can only end badly. This movie is dirty, gruff and like the old west unpolished. Sergio Leone sees the old west through the eyes of a foreigner stripped of its white hats and nickel plated six shooters, he brings a taste of ugly realism to the screen. After this move American westerns were never the same.

DESTRY RIDES AGAIN 1939: Directed by George Marshall, Starring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich and Brian Donlevy. Jimmy Stewart plays a peace loving law man who doesn’t resort to gun play to solve all of his problems. The son of a famous lawman helps out an old family friend. Other than the title, the movie bears no resemblance to the Max Brand novel of the same name. It’s a light hearted romp in a frontier town with Stewart as the towns moral compass. This was always one of my childhood favorites on TV.

JEREMIAH JOHNSON 1972: Directed by Sydney Pollack, Starring Robert Redford Will Geer and Delle bolton. A greenhorn retreats to the isolation of the mountains and becomes a mountain man.Friends in the wilderness are few and far in-between, but he prefers it that way. The lessons are hard ones, as he first learns to fight Indians and then learns how to coexist with them. His relationship with nature is just as rough, but he survives and even gains a native wife. In the end he is at one with nature, reveling in it’s solitude and stark beauty.

HONERABLE MENTION GOES TO

SILVERADO 1985: Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, Starring Kevin Klein, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner.

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD 1995: Directed by Sam Raimi, Starring Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and Leo DiCaprio

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER 1990: Directed by Simon Wincer, Starring Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo and Allen Rickman

Female Oriented

I am compiling this list at the suggestion of my daughter; or rather she compiled the list for me, and dictated it to me over the phone. We are constantly having discussions about feminism and most of  the time I agree with her. Movies are one of the things that we most often agree on. Women are under represented in Hollywood both behind the camera and in front of the camera; and in spite of the success of movies such as Bridesmaids, My big fat Greek wedding, and Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and Zero Dark thirty women are still a neglected part of the Hollywood scene.

The powers that be, would rather spend hundreds of millions of dollars on crap like John Carter (250 Million) which barely broke even, Oblivion (120 million) and Pacific Rim, a 190 million dollar clinker. Luckily, Pacific Rim made most of its income from foreign box office receipts. If these Movies had been entirely dependent of domestic gross they would have lost big money. On the other hand Bridesmaids made 169 million with a production budget of 32 million. My Big Fat Greek wedding grossed over 241 million domestic Box office on a 5 million dollar budget.         Zero Dark Thirty had the largest budget with 40 million but still doubled its money with a 95 million domestic box office gross, with a very limited opening. Women can make Hollywood money but they still get the exclusive boys club treatment (no girls allowed).

Consequently what you get for the female demographic, is a lot of Rom Com stinkers written by men: examples, This means War, and the Five year engagement (see Box office Mojo for their grosses). So now that I’ve ranted like the curmudgeonly old man that I am, let’s get to the list of movies that my daughter swears by, that deal with real female relationships and are female oriented. (Note I don’t have these ranked because I’ve only seen three on the list).

JOHNNY GUITAR

LABYRINTH

PARTY GIRL

MI VIDA LOCA

GAS FOOD LODGING

ALL ABOUT EVE

THE WOMEN

CARRIE

HEATHERS

NEW WATERFORD GIRL

WITCHES OF EASTWICKE

THIRTEEN

LITTLE WOMEN

MERMAIDS

BAGDAD CAFE

9 TO 5

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM

MISS FIRECRACKER

THE CRAFT

HEAVENLY  CREATURES

WHITE OLEANDER

BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER

SHIRLEY VALENTINE

Information and stats for these movies can be found on IMDB http://www.imdb.com/?ref_=nv_home

The Awesome Ladies of Television

I am a big fan of strong women in media. and not just those cat suited kick ass vixens as portrayed in recent movies and TV.   I’m talking about strong Character driven roles, where a lady can show off her acting chops rather than her curves. Some times less skin is better. When the plot drives the action and not vice versa, what you get is more enjoyment out of the story. Case in point is the movie Barbwire, starring Pam Anderson. Sure you get lots of T&A but it was a totally unmemorable waste of time. I’m glad I didn’t waste my money to watch it on the big screen. On the other hand you have Lori Petty in Tank Girl, an equally  Cheesy story but so much more re watchable. I was going to use Helen Mirren in The Debt as an example, but that would be like comparing a Waterford crystal goblet to a Kmart plastic cup, but you get the point. So this week I’m dedicating this blog to my favorite TV strong women.

TATIANA MASLANY: ORPHAN BLACK

If you get BBC America check out Tatiana, as she convincingly plays a collection of clones, all with different lives and different personalities, and all of them potentially dangerous. The fact that the clones are all so different raises the question is it nature or nurturing that makes us who and what we are. They range from a mild mannered soccer mom, to a marginally mad psycho and a con artist.This is like an ongoing acting exercise and Tatiana Maslany does a great job managing it. She shows strength, vulnerability and adaptability all in one package.

EMILIA CLARKE: GAME OF THRONES

As Danaerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) rules. Rising from a frightened little girl, barely in her teens, to a fearsome Khaleesi of the Dothraki horsemen. The Dothraki are a warlike nomadic people in the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. She is wise beyond her age and has out smarted all of the men who sought to exploit her. Danaerys is a real survivor.

ANNA SILK: LOST GIRL

Bo (Anna Silk) is literally a soul sucking succubus and not the kind that you hear divorced guys talk about. She will actually drain you of your life force and leave nothing but an empty shell. She’s the protagonist of the series, so everybody else is so much worse, that she looks like the nice one. She is strong, loyal and doesn’t depend on a man to save her or validate her existence.

LUCY LIU: ELEMENTARY

Dr. Joan Watson is not the bumbling comic relief of the old Basil Rathbone movies. She is as brilliant as her charge, a capable and competent healer and sobriety coach. She also sees things that Holmes doesn’t, providing a fresh pair of eyes when Holmes hits a snag.

KATEY SEGAL: SONS OF ANARCHY

Gemma Teller Morrow is one mean motorcycle mama. She not only has to keep her husband and her son from killing each other; she has to tread the mine field between family life and Matriarchy of an outlaw biker gang. She has endured many trials and tribulations but still manages to be the moral center in a family that has few morals.

KRYSTEN RITTER: Don’t trust the B______ in APARTMENT 23

Chloe, is Holly Golightly without a conscience. She’s the manic pixie girl on drugs and alcohol who bulldozes her way through life, with panache and pure moxie. She is the text book definition of a brazen hussy, a sociopath who always manages to land on her feet. I have no doubt that Chloe could survive in any environment.

REBECCA FERGUSON: THE WHITE QUEEN

FAYE MARSAY

AMANDA HALE

Watching this trio of ambitious ladies, is like watching a female version of the Good the Bad and the Ugly, without the good. They cajole, prod, instigate and manipulate the menfolk like pawns in a chess game, while vying for supremacy in Jolly old England. The winners get to sit on this cool throne and wear a heavy crown. The losers get skewered, smothered, drowned in wine vats, poisoned and beheaded. The headsman’s axe gets a regular workout on this show, some of them deserve it, others just had the misfortune to get caught up in this war of the women.

LENA HEADEY: GAME OF THRONES

Cersei Lannister is just as capable as her brothers, Tyrion and Jaime and as cunning as her father and would probably make a better monarch. Her one weakness, is her devotion to her sadistic bully of a son. Prince Joffrey is a hand full, whose favorite sport is abusing and killing whores and being a bad ruler.  Poor Cersei has to handle him, while simultaneously handling the intrigues of court life and placating her Father.

ELIZABETH MOSS & CHRISTINA HENDRICKS: MAD MEN

Peggy Olsen (Moss) and Joan Harris (Hendricks) are two women in the male dominated world of Madison avenue ad agencies. These ladies are as smart as, if not smarter than most of their male counterparts. They have taken divergent paths to get to the top but neither one has had it easy. They have endured good old fashioned sexism and generally bad male attitudes, all while watching lesser males be promoted over them. Both women have prevailed in an atmosphere that has literally driven one of their male colleagues to suicide.

ANNA GUNN: BREAKING BAD

Skyler White on the outside is a typical suburban housewife and working mom. In reality she is her husband’s partner in crime. Walter White aka. Heisenberg is a rogue chemistry professor, tuned meth drug lord and the most dangerous man in Albuquerque.  Skyler gets to watch her mild mannered doormat of a spouse degenerate into a violent criminal mastermind. When she first discovers Walters wrong doing she is appalled, but eventually she succumbs to the lure of filthy lucre, for the sake of her children. In spite of everything she manages to survive, masterfully maneuvering to evade prosecution.

SPECIAL MENTION GOES TO

ANNA LISE PHILLIPS:  REVOLUTION (as Maggie Foster) I know that she was killed off in the first season, When she died, I stopped watching. Awesome Lady.

MAISIE WILLIAMS: GAME OF THRONES (as Arya Stark) Beware of the pointy end of her sword.

GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE: GAME OF THRONES (as Brienne of Tarth) Physically and morally strong she’s a lady and a knight.

As you can tell I am a game of thrones fan, and just about all of the main female characters are strong, in every way imaginable. Great crafting of female characters Mister Martin.