Film Review: Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Release Date: October 1st, 2015 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Music by: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig, Sean Young, Michael Pare

Caliber Media Company, Realmbuilders Productions, The Jokers Films, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Say goodbye to my wife. I’ll say hello to yours.” – Sheriff Franklin Hunt

*Written in 2016.

From the moment I saw the Bone Tomahawk trailer, I thought it looked really interesting and I was a bit hyped to see it. Plus, it starred Kurt Russell.

The film is a western with horror mixed in, which makes it a pretty unique package. A sheriff and a posse head off into the wilderness to find a woman who was taken by Indians. The catch is, these aren’t normal Indians, they are cannibalistic and bizarre. Think The Hills Have Eyes meets The Searchers.

Kurt Russell is fine enough in the role but it isn’t a great or special performance. He looks to be enjoying himself but he isn’t doing anything exceptional. He certainly doesn’t project the magic he had in Tombstone or the more recent The Hateful Eight. The film also stars Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox with brief appearances from Sid Haig and David Arquette.

Overall, the film was underwhelming. There wasn’t a whole lot of terror and dread, even once the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan. The action was mediocre, the acting was average and the plot wasn’t anything spectacular. In fact, it was fairly boring.

The uniqueness of the film’s plot was spoiled by the trailer and the movie itself didn’t do much to expand on it. It also played it safe. With the subject matter and the intensity of the trailer, the movie just didn’t have the balls I was expecting it to.

Now I don’t think the movie should have been a gore festival but it was pretty uneventful and the horror element wasn’t remotely scary. There was just a lot of cannibal Indians grunting and walking around making weird noises because they have whistles in their throats. And the whole whistle throat thing was probably employed to make them seem supernatural and scary but it was kind of goofy.

Bone Tomahawk is okay enough for a single viewing on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic by any means. It has its fans out there but it will most likely fade into obscurity fairly quickly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Ravenous, Four of the Apocalypse and The Burrowers.

Top 20 Roles of Lee Van Cleef

Lee Van Cleef is one of the greatest badasses of all-time. It didn’t matter if he was the villain or the hero, he just owned the screen every time he was on it.

He started out in small villainous roles in westerns before reaching unprecedented heights in his work with Sergio Leone. He went on to star in several spaghetti westerns and maintained a solid career until his death in 1989.

These are my twenty favorite roles that he has played.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. The Big Gundown
3. For A Few Dollars More
4. Death Rides A Horse
5. The Grand Duel
6. Sabata
7. Day of Anger
8. The Magnificent Seven Ride!
9. The Hard Way
10. Escape From New York
11. The Octagon
12. The Return of Sabata
13. The Squeeze
14. High Noon (small role)
15. Beyond the Law
16. God’s Gun
17. Captain Apache
18. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (small role)
19. Posse From Hell (small role)
20. The Master (TV series but he starred)

Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

As I have been watching through a lot of spaghetti westerns lately, I have felt the urge to revisit Red Dead Redemption.

This game may be almost six years old but I still play it for an afternoon every few months. In fact, out of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, it is the game I have played the most after Bethesda’s titles. It is also one of the top five video game experiences I have ever had, playing through it the first time.

Rockstar, most known for their Grand Theft Auto series of games, took that same formula and applied it to the Old West. Now this isn’t their first attempt, as they did it a few years earlier with Red Dead Revolver. Redemption however, exists on a completely different level and far exceeds Revolver and the Grand Theft Auto games.

The game mechanics and controls are phenomenal. Everything is perfectly fine-tuned and once you get the hang of it, you are an Old West badass ready to fight scum and villainy with an unrelenting intensity.

The map is massive, the locations are fantastic and there are a ton of missions that are unique and exciting. You pretty much get to do everything you would ever want to do as a cowboy.

The only downside, is that after the main story is over, there isn’t much to do other than ride your horse around and cause trouble. As I played through the story, I played it as a hero on the right side of the law. After the ending and after I became a new character with nothing really to do, I became a total bastard.

The game’s soundtrack is also one of the best ever produced. The music is as vast and exciting as the game itself and certain points in the plot trigger some amazing tunes as you ride off into a new act of the game.

There are few games that are absolute perfection, this is one of those games. Although, it would be nice to have a bit more to do after the end, like hunt down bounties or create a gang to wreak havoc. I also wish more buildings in the wilderness were accessible.

But then there is also the Undead Nightmare add-on, which was a fun experience, all on its own. Because who doesn’t want to take a great world like the one created for Red Dead Redemption and then fill it with zombie hordes?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Not much really, as it is truly a game that is one its own level and exists in its own space. But there are films that this borrows from such as the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and some of Clint Eastwood’s ’60s and ’70s westerns: Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales specifically come to mind.

Ranking the Films of Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch is one of those directors I think that you either love, hate or are unsure about but appreciate the uniqueness of his work.

I really first discovered him with one of his Coffee & Cigarettes shorts that I saw when I was a teen. Then I saw Dead Man and shortly after that, Ghost Dog. That’s when I discovered that these interesting things were all created by the same guy. Since that point, I’ve been a fan.

I don’t always like all of his films but they all are effective, as far as provoking thoughts and ideas and showing life in a way that it might not have been shown before. That is what makes a director successful, in my book. It isn’t about how much shit you can blow up and how many Disney films you can get on your resume, it is whether or not you left some sort of long-lasting impact on the viewer. Jarmusch more than delivers in that regard.

Also, he was a part of the New York punk scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s and got to spend time around people like Warhol, Basquiat, the New York Dolls, Richard Hell, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Fab 5 Freddy and a bunch of others.

Plus he directed Wu-Tang Clan and Bill Murray in the same scene. I mean, dude… what’s cooler than that?

1. Dead Man
2. Down by Law
3. Night On Earth
4. Stranger Than Paradise
5. Mystery Train
6. Coffee and Cigarettes
7. Broken Flowers
8. Only Lovers Left Alive
9. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
10. Permanent Vacation
11. The Limits of Control
12. Year of the Horse (documentary)

Film Review: The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)

The Dollars Trilogy, also known as The Man With No Name Trilogy, is one of the best film series there has ever been, capped off by the greatest film ever made.

These films also featured the best soundtracks ever created by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

But let me talk about all three of Sergio Leone’s masterpieces on their own.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964):

Also known as: Per un pugno di dollari (Italy), lit. For a Fistful of Dollars
Release Date: September, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Víctor Andrés Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari, Tonino Valerii (all uncredited), Mark Lowell, Clint Eastwood (English version)
Based on: Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Dan Savio)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Josef Edger, Wolfgang Lukschy, Gian Maria Volontè (as John Wells)

Jolly Film, Constantin Film, Ocean Films, Unidis, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“To kill a man you shoot him in the heart. Isn’t that what you said, Ramon?” – Joe (The Man With No Name)

The first film in the series is the smallest in scope. The story is very straightforward and compared to its sequels, it is pretty basic. It is still a fantastic film on its own and is one of the best westerns ever made. Had Sergio Leone just made this film and not the other two, it may have had the same level of love and admiration that accompanies The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

It introduces us to the character referred to as “The Man With No Name”. In the film, he is casually referred to as “Joe” but it isn’t the true name of this stranger who wanders into town and changes things for the better before leaving.

This film is a template for the ones after it and that isn’t a knock, as it was executed greatly and fits well within the series that this trilogy became. You can tell that Sergio Leone is getting his feet wet with the western genre and for a first effort, this is a magnificent work of art.

It is also a lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It turns the samurai wandering into a Japanese village and switches it to a gunslinger wandering into an Old West town.

Clint Eastwood truly owns the character and the villainous Ramón (played by Gian Maria Volontè) is a perfect foil for the hero.

The movie ends with one of the greatest and imaginative gun duels in film history. In fact, it would go on to be seen in Back to the Future, Part II and would inspire Marty McFly when he had to face his evil foil in a gun battle in Back to the Future, Part III.

Plus, the opening sequence of this film is absolute perfection and maybe my second favorite sequence in any spaghetti western, only surpassed by the finale of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But those two scenes were incredible bookends to this film series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

For A Few Dollars More (1965):

Also known as: Per qualche dollaro in più (Italy)
Release Date: December 30th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Enzo Dell’Aquila (uncredited), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Alive or dead? It’s your choice.” – Monco (The Man With No Name)

The first sequel expands on the world of the first film. It feels bigger, the plot has more meat to it and our hero gets to team up with a bounty hunter named Col. Douglas Mortimer (played by the always spectacular Lee Van Cleef). The villain, El Indio is played by the previous installment’s villain actor, Gian Maria Volontè.

The two heroes work together and sometimes against one another in trying to take down El Indio and his gang. There are a lot of twists to the story and there is a lot more depth and layers than the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Leone really found his stride in this film but it still wasn’t absolute perfection – that was yet to come.

This installment is also a bit more humorous than the previous film, in that the relationship between “The Man With No Name” (referred to as “Monco”) and Col. Douglas Mortimer is pretty chummy and entertaining. But this was Eastwood and Van Cleef in their prime, if you ask me. Both are magnetic, charismatic and each brings so much gravitas to any role that the cup was overflowing with masculine intensity.

As the story unfolds and the relationships build, you are left with a pretty lovable tale. Albeit a pretty badass lovable tale.

And as incredible as Ennio Morricone is as a composer, each chapter in this trilogy sees him evolve into something even greater.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966):

Also known as: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Italy)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 177 Minutes

Review:

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – Blondie (The Man With No Name)

In my opinion, this is the greatest film ever made. It is perfect and truly has no flaws. Sure, westerns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but some people eat laundry detergent because the Internet tells them to.

Clint Eastwood (The Good) is back, as is Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) who plays the evil Angel Eyes. Eli Wallach (The Ugly) joins them and becomes one of the best characters in cinematic history.

This is a three hour epic and not a single moment of film is wasted. Each segment serves the story well and fleshes out these dynamic characters. Everyone is given a chance to play off of each other and each exchange between characters drives the story forward and strengthens the relationship between all three men.

Even though Clint Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name” is the hero of this series, it is Eli Wallach’s Tuco Ramirez that is the actual star of this picture. He goes from annoying but funny bandit to a lovable and tragic character that you find yourself cheering for by the time this thing is over.

This film is a perfect example of how to develop characters well but with a minimalist approach. Their backstory doesn’t need to be spelled out in every detail. You can hint at their past, drop clues and come to conclusions based off of the emotion the actor wears on their face at certain points. Eli Wallach really gave an Oscar caliber performance here but these sort of films are ignored by elitist Academy snobbery.

The cinematography, the geography, the interiors – all are perfect. This film takes place in a massive and dirty world and it really feels like the American West, even though it was filmed in Europe in 1960s spaghetti western fashion.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly plays like an old opera in its level of scope, story and violence. While the violence isn’t over the top, it serves a real narrative purpose and has a gritty authenticity about it that no other director has been able to capture since.

There isn’t a single thing about this movie that I would tweak, edit out or even try to expand on. I keep saying “perfect” and “flawless” because those are the only words I can even use to describe this untouchable film.

This is Sergio Leone’s magnum opus and the man was one of the greatest directors to ever live.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

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.”

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter

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.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Any spaghetti western starring Gianni Garko.