Film Review: Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula (1966)

Release Date: April 14th, 1966
Directed by: William Beaudine
Written by: Carl K. Hittleman
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: John Carradine, Chuck Courtney

Embassy Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Your bullets can’t hurt me.” – Dracula

This is a dreadful picture but the premise is bizarre enough to keep things somewhat amusing.

While Billy the Kid looks like he’s 37, at least they got an actual Dracula actor to play the Count in this film: John Carradine. I feel bad for Carradine for even being in this, however. The script is not worth his time and it serves to make him look like a dime store vampire impersonator.

Billy the Kid doesn’t feel like Billy the Kid, either. He’s too old and just doesn’t have the energy one would expect. He’s like a cookie cutter background character from an episode of Bonanza instead of being one of the deadliest and most charismatic guns in the West.

The special effects are terrible. The creepy red lighting that appears on Carradine’s face when he’s using vampire powers is laughably bad. The sets are just someone’s backyard with a double-wide outhouse serving as the entrance to a mine.

It’s symbolic though, because as obsessed as Carradine’s Dracula was with the mine entrance, it’s like he had to keep returning to it to confirm he was a part of a truly shitty experience.

At least Melinda Plowman, the girl Billy and Dracula were fighting over, was pretty cute. That’s about the only positive, however.

Of course, this must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Film Review: They Call Him Holy Ghost (1972)

Also known as: Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo (original Italian title), …Y le llamaban El Halcón (Spain), El halcón de Sierra Madre, Blazing Guns, Forewarned… Half-Killed… the Word of the Holy Ghost, His Name Was Holy Ghost
Release Date: March 30th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by: Tito Capri, Federico De Urrutia
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Gianni Garko, Pilar Velazquez

Astro C.C., Lea Film, 94 Minutes

Review:

They Call Him Holy Ghost is a film that sounded much cooler from its synopsis than what the final product actually was. IMDb describes the film as “Gianni Garko returns as the Holy Ghost, a supernatural gunfighter dressed in white and with a dove sitting on his shoulder.” Man, that sounds friggin’ badass.

Gianni Garko is a legendary spaghetti cowboy, a supernatural gunfighter sounds intriguing and a sidekick played by a white dove… well, why the hell not? Plus, one of the pictures I saw online had Garko’s Holy Ghost blasting off one of those giant machine guns that were synonymous with Django and other roles Franco Nero played.

Then the film started and the opening sequence was just purely f’n awesome! Evil men, people treated like garbage to the evil men’s amusement, then the just and righteous Holy Ghost shows up with his dove and a machine gun, drops some quirky dialogue and turns the bad guys into Swiss f’n cheese! Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, though.

For 94 minutes, the film is slower than it should be. I had hoped that this would be as energetic and nuts as the original 1966 Django but it was pretty talkie and actually quite goofy. Sure, it had some action but this picture evolved into more of a comedy as it progressed. In fact, the longer the film ran, the sillier it got to where the big finale was sort of like a spaghetti western reinterpreted by slapstick performers. This would have been a cool film to have seen in a realistic and gritty spaghetti style.

This movie was mostly enjoyable even if it went off the rails after it’s great opening. Gianni Garko is always fun to watch and he committed to this role very well but the schizophrenic tone pulled me out of the movie and turned potential into disappointment.

Film Review: The ‘Young Guns’ Film Series (1988-1990)

Young Guns was kind of a big deal when it came out in 1988. It had hip young stars and it was a western in a decade where they weren’t too popular. It was like a gritty, Brat Packy action flick that saw our heroes face off against one of the greatest western villains of all-time, Jack Palance.

And then there was a sequel, which brought in some other young stars on the rise.

Since it has been awhile since I’ve seen these two movies, I felt like it was time to revisit them.

Young Guns (1988):

Release Date: August 12th, 1988
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, Brian Banks
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terry O’Quinn, Jack Palance, Terence Stamp

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Peppin. I see you got Charley Crawford down there with you.” – Billy the Kid, “Yeah, that’s right, Bonney. We got a whole…” – Peppin, [Bonney goes to the window and shoots Charley Crawford] “Hey, Peppin. Charley Crawford’s not with you anymore.” – Billy the Kid

While I still enjoyed this movie, so many years after I had seen it last, it isn’t a film that has aged well. Still, it has a lot of high adrenaline moments and a great young cast of up and coming talented actors. It just feels very ’80s and kind of hokey, at points.

Emilio Estevez is the star of the picture but he is surrounded by Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, who would also join him in the sequel, as well as his brother Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko. There is also Jack Palance as the villain, Terence Stamp as the mentor and John Locke himself, Terry O’Quinn, as an ally of sorts.

It is cool seeing these guys come together for a real balls to the wall adventure but the writing was pretty weak. This chapter in Billy the Kid’s life was interesting to see on screen but the movie does take some liberties, albeit not as many as its sequel.

Estevez is really enjoyable as William H. Bonney and he made the historical figure cool, even if he was a killer and not a very good person. He embraced the role, ran with it and gave it a lot of energy that someone else probably wouldn’t have been able to muster. At least not quite the same way Estevez did. Plus, I always like seeing him act with his brother. Sadly, Sheen doesn’t last too long and obviously didn’t return for the sequel after meeting his demise in this one.

Problems aside, Young Guns is still entertaining and a really fun movie. This one is considered the superior of the two but I actually like Young Guns II a hair bit more.

Young Guns II (1990):

Release Date: August 1st, 1990
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Alan Silvestri, Jon Bon Jovie
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, William Peterson, Alan Ruck, Balthazar Getty, James Coburn, Jenny Wright, Robert Knepper, Viggo Mortensen, Tracey Walter, Bradley Whitford,

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Yoohoo. I’ll make you famous!” – Billy the Kid

Young Guns II was a good sequel to the first. It’s far from a perfect film and has its share of issues but it feels consistent with its predecessor and I liked the additions to the cast in this one. And then there is the sexy bare ass scene with Jenny Wright that really got me excited when I was an 11 year-old in the movie theater seeing her majestic bum on a thirty foot screen. It was one of those special moments in life where you truly believe that God is real and he’s your best friend.

The soundtrack by Jon Bon Jovi makes the film feel dated but the instrumental versions of his pop rock song are still enjoyable and give the film an extra level of hipness that the previous picture didn’t have.

I really like the addition of Christian Slater here and he is my favorite character in this film series. I also liked seeing Alan Ruck and Balthazar Getty join the gang. Another plus for me was seeing Bradley Whitford get a small but important role, as I always liked him, even if I only knew him as being a dirtbag in several ’80s teen comedies. Whitford would go on to have a pretty nice career where he could show off his acting prowess much more effectively than his earlier roles.

While the big finale in the first film was bigger than anything that happens in this one, this film has a grittier feel to it, which I liked. I also liked that it told the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett story, even if it took some big liberties.

The film also entertains the Brushy Bill Roberts story, where an old man back in the ’40s claimed that he was Billy the Kid and that he actually wasn’t killed by Garrett in 1881. Emilio Estevez also plays the older Bill, where Whitford plays the guy interviewing him.

Both films have some scatterbrained writing but that doesn’t make them hard to follow and not enjoyable. This chapter is more disjointed than the first but its positives give it an edge, in my opinion. The returning cast seemed more in tune with their roles and Slater was fun to watch.

TV Review: Hell On Wheels (2011-2016)

Original Run: November 6th, 2011 – July 23rd, 2016
Created by: Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Dominique McElligott, Tom Noonan, Eddie Spears, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, Robin McLeavy, Kasha Kropinski, Dohn Norwood, Jennifer Ferrin, MacKenzie Porter, Jake Weber, Tim Guinee, Byron Mann, Reg Rogers, Angela Zhou, Chelah Horsdal

Nomadic Pictures, (Gayton)2, H.O.W. Productions, Endemol, Wirthwhile TV, Entertainment One, AMC, 57 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

I didn’t start watching Hell On Wheels until recently. I watched the pilot when it originally aired but it didn’t immediately capture me and I didn’t have a lot of time, back then, to keep up with the show on a weekly basis. Shows play much better for me when binge watched.

Having a strong desire for a good western television series and after years of friends touting this show, I figured that it was time to give it a real shot.

Well, AMC has kept their track record of stellar television alive with Hell On Wheels. It is the best western TV series since HBO’s Deadwood and it has actually surpassed it a bit, at least for me.

The cast of Hell On Wheels is marvelous. Anson Mount as lead character Cullen Bohannan is the perfect western protagonist. He is ex-military, has a vendetta against some evil men, is good with a gun, is no nonsense and just a good old badass. Colm Meaney, most famous for playing the lovable and nice Chief O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is better than fantastic as Thomas Durant – a mean and sometimes sinister railroad baron. Common has his best acting role to date, as Bohannan’s friend and badass partner, Elam Ferguson. The cast is rounded out with other great talents and every regular on this show is perfect. But the absolute cream of the crop has to be Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gunderson a.k.a. The Swede, who is quite possibly the best villain in television history. The guy is magnificent, his execution is absolute perfection and he seriously gives you the chills.

This show is a work of art. It feels meticulously crafted and the writing is superb. I have read where some people don’t like the direction of the show after the second season but I am fine with it. The show evolves, it changes from year-to-year after the first two seasons were very similar. There just isn’t a low point for me. Granted, there is still a half of a season left where it could go off the rails but I’m pretty confident that when the show returns in a few months, we won’t get an ending on par with the crappy final episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Dexter. And we hopefully won’t get a big unanswered cliffhanger like the similar Deadwood.

I love Hell On Wheels. I would have liked to see it go on for more than five seasons but many great shows don’t make it past a single year. Luckily for us, this solid show got half a decade to shine and develop. One thing is for certain, I will be paying close attention to the careers of Mount and Heyerdahl after this show ends.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Film Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Release Date: May 16th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Music by: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland, Katy Mixon, Dale Dickey

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, OddLot Entertainment, Film 44, LBI Entertainment, Lionsgate, CBS Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

“I know their faces was covered, but could you tell their race? Black, white?” – Marcus Hamilton, “Their skin or their souls?” – Elsie

Hell or High Water was a Picture of the Year nominee. It doesn’t seem to be all that well known, however. It was incredibly overshadowed by the other nominees that year: La La LandMoonlightManchester by the SeaFencesArrivalHacksaw RidgeHidden Figures and Lion. In fact, out of all the fanfare for the others, I forgot this was in the discussion.

It also saw nominations go to Jeff Bridges for Best Supporting Actor, as well as nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It also had three Golden Globe nominations. Still, when I’ve brought it up to people, it’s virtually unknown.

That being said, I’m not sure why it got overshadowed. It’s a damn fine film. It is a neo-western with a subtle neo-noir touch to it. It’s got some stylistic similarities to No Country for Old Men, granted it isn’t that good. Still, it’s a solid contemporary western tale with a great cast.

While Jeff Bridges rarely, if ever, fails to be great in a role, it was refreshing to see Chris Pine actually get to do something at this level. He doesn’t work as much as I’d like and I do enjoy him as the modern incarnation of Captain James T. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek film series but it’s rare that I get to see him do something exceptional and at the level where I feel his talent lies. He also got to play opposite of Ben Foster in nearly every scene he had. Foster is another guy that just nails every role he is in and man, does he nail his role here.

To summarize the story, Pine and Foster play two brothers robbing banks in western Texas. The reason behind their motivation isn’t clear in the beginning but the way they hit the bangs is unusual and draws the attention of Jeff Bridges, an old Texas Ranger that makes it his personal mission to catch these culprits.

The story almost has the makings of something you’d read in a Cormac McCarthy novel but without an overabundance of violence. This film does have violent moments but nothing on the scale of No Country for Old Men or Blood Meridian.

The picture is accented and strengthened with incredible cinematography by Giles Nuttgens, who has a few dozen films under his belt already. The landscapes are just vast and beautiful, especially with the wide shots capturing the vehicles moving about in the countryside.

The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has a good emotional impact and just added to the film’s visual allure.

The high octane moments in this picture are exciting and energetic. There is a moment where Foster’s character finally goes over the edge, unloads a machine gun at good Samaritans tracking their escape from a robbery and gets himself caught up in a standoff with the law in an effort to allow his brother to escape. It’s an emotional and action packed high point in the film that was well worth the wait, as you knew the character would eventually become fully unhinged.

I really enjoy that this film is not predictable. It has some twists and surprises that just sort of happen. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative for this type of story and ultimately, that makes the plot feel much more authentic and realistic.

I wouldn’t quite call this the film of the year for 2016 but it is pretty high up on my list for motion pictures that year. A good solid cast, great direction, wide open landscapes and a good amount of action all come together to make this maybe the manliest and ballsiest film of that year.

Film Review: The Revenant (2015)

Release Date: December 16th, 2015 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Based on: The Revenant by Michael Punke
Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, Bryce Dessner
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Lukas Haas

Regency Enterprises, RatPac Entertainment, Anonymous Content, M Productions, Appian Way Productions, 20th Century Fox, 156 Minutes

Review:

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe… keep breathing.” – Hugh Glass

*Written in 2016.

This is the best movie I’ve seen in 2016. Okay, it is the first movie I’ve seen in 2016. Regardless, it is fantastic.

I guess this fits within the western genre, although it takes place 30-50 years before most westerns. It is mostly a revenge film that takes place on the American Frontier in the era between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It features vast wilderness, dangerous Native Americans and a big barrel full of badass.

The film reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, who worked together in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Both actors deliver but when don’t they?

Tom Hardy’s portrayal of John Fitzgerald is chilling. He’s not a cool villain or one you can even sympathize with. He is a cold blooded piece of shit and damned good at that. Hardy created a memorable character that will be despised for generations. For as simple and straightforward as the character of Fitzgerald is, Hardy turns something somewhat generic into something exceptional. Fitzgerald is a beast and is certainly the devil of the film. No one feels entirely safe when he is in the scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio was stellar. Playing the legendary character of Hugh Glass is no easy task, especially considering the elements he would have to deal with as an actor. Glass’ journey is heart-wrenching to witness. DiCaprio adds intensity to Glass’ struggle to avenge his son’s death. He is incredibly believable in his display of unrelenting drive. He is eaten and ravaged by a grizzly bear, broken to pieces and essentially buried alive and yet he crawls and fights his way 200 miles through severely harsh territory to track down Fitzgerald. And every step of the way, DiCaprio sold it.

Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu has a track record of great films. This may be his greatest. He delivered an exceptional story that was beautiful to look at. The landscapes were massive and made everything feel so desolate. The environment was an extension of everything in Glass’ heart. The action sequences were beautifully shot and orchestrated. The final showdown between Glass and Fitzgerald is one for the ages.

The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who collaborated with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto, was an amazing piece of work. It was very original but captured the emotion and depth of the film. It was an endless and epic string of music that perfectly accented every scene.

The film has a running time of just over two and a half hours. That may seem lengthy but it is one of those movies that is so good, you don’t care. It is kind of a let down when it does end. Not because the resolution was bad but because it was a hell of an emotional adventure and you aren’t entirely ready to walk away when the credits role.

This film truly captures the feelings one has in the aftermath of revenge better than any other film I have ever seen. What happens when the fox finally catches the rabbit? This film makes you feel it.

This is close to a perfect film in that I can’t find any real flaws with it. I guess the only complaint is that the CGI was noticeable in two scenes but it is so minor it really isn’t a total distraction. Especially, when atrocious CGI has become the norm in Hollywood.

The Revenant is a classic film. It should be beloved for generations by those who enjoy badass wilderness films. As I said, it isn’t a traditional western and doesn’t really exist in that time period but it has the heart and the spirit of the best films in that genre.