Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Missouri Breaks

Year 5, Day 282 - 10/9/13 - Movie #1,561

BEFORE:  I've reached the end of my Western chain, just in time if you ask me.  Linking from "Heaven's Gate", Mickey Rourke was also in "The Pledge" with Jack Nicholson (last seen in "Anger Management", I think - it's been a long while since ol' Jack's been in the countdown, but that's because I watched most of his films in a chain devoted to him.)

THE PLOT:  Tom Logan is a horse thief. Rancher David Braxton has horses, and a daughter, worth stealing. But Braxton has just hired Lee Clayton, an infamous "regulator", to hunt down the horse thieves; one at a time.

AFTER: Another mysterious title - the film is set in Montana, not Missouri, but the Missouri River starts up in Montana, and it apparently leaves these deep cuts in the landscape, and those are the Breaks.  See, I learn something every night.

I had a tough time with this film at first, fell asleep after the first half-hour and then made a couple of attempts to rewind and pick up where I left off, but this just made things to hard to follow.  I regrouped the following morning and watched the last 90 minutes at work, and this was the right choice - it was a lot easier for me to tell what was going on.  I'm apparently tired and stressed out, and my comfy couch is not a good location for making it through a whole film.

This process was not helped by Marlon Brando's character, who dons a number of disguises and accents in order to track down and take out a gang of horse thieves.  He sounds Irish, he sounds Western, and if you wake up and see Brando in a dress, you might not know what's going on.  For a while I just thought Brando was being weird (and maybe he was...) but there was a point to it all.

Who knew there were so many films about stealing cattle and horses?  I managed to find one from the 1990's, the 1980's, and this one's from the 1970's.  This was another one of those happy little accidents of planning. (There were a lot of other commonalities - land barons, frontier prostitutes, a love triangle - but I think these are common to many Westerns) I can't really draw any conclusions about filmmaking in general, except to point out that the tech of filmmaking has gotten better over the decades, but we already knew that.

This became a tight little film about the conflict between two men trying to outsmart each other.  One's got detective/tracking skills and a long-range rifle, the other's got his wits and a criminal mind, so go ahead and take bets on who's going to come out on top.  I think this is perhaps an underrated little film, but an awkward ending and bleak circumstances prevent it from scoring higher on my scale.

Speaking of "Breaks", I'm giving myself one after this - the New York Comic Con starts tomorrow, so I've got to load in merchandise later today (always a chore) and then I'll be basically living in the convention center for the next 4 days.  I can eat there and I'll have enough time to go home and sleep, but no time for movies.  So I'll come back to the project next week for a reduced workload. 

Also starring Marlon Brando (last seen in "Mutiny on the Bounty"), Randy Quaid (last seen in "Quick Change"), Kathleen Lloyd, John McLiam, Harry Dean Stanton (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Frederic Forrest (last seen in "All the King's Men").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Mounties

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Heaven's Gate

Year 5, Day 280 + 281 - 10/7 + 10/8/13 - Movie #1,560

BEFORE:  Another long film tonight, another film that I've managed to avoid until now, not only because of the length, but because this film is generally regarded as one of the biggest flops in cinema history.  I'll try not to let that influence my rating, because the whole point of the exercise is to judge these things for myself.  Linking from "Open Range", Robert Duvall was also in "Crazy Heart" with Jeff Bridges (last seen in "The Contender").

THE PLOT:  A dramatization of the real-life Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, in which a sheriff born into wealth attempts to protect immigrant farmers from rich cattle interests.

AFTER:  First off, the length of film - I'm watching the restored director's cut, I think, which TCM ran as part of their Oscar programming this March.  The running time was about 3 hours 20 min - reportedly Michael Cimino's first screening for United Artists was a 5 1/2 hour work print, which he vowed to trim by 15 minutes.  However, the studio executives refused to release such a long film, and he then trimmed it down to 3 hours, 40 min.  After a one-week screening run, the film was brutally chopped down to 2 hours, 30 min, and by that time the story was probably unrecognizable.

So there were major problems with editing, and it's worth noting that the critics' bad reviews were of the shorter cut.  So, the question then becomes, does the longer cut vindicate the story choices?  Umm, not exactly.  The film still takes too long to get anywhere - and not much happens in Part 1, with everything happening fast in Part 2.  Now I want to see what got removed to make the shorter cut - I'm guessing it was a lot of the ambling set-up from the first half. 

For example, there's a long sequence taking place at the roller rink - which is called "Heaven's Gate" - ah, so that's what it means.  But this sequence got cut out in the 2nd edit.   It's really bad when the namesake of the title gets cut - can you imagine "Jaws" without the shark, or "Driving Miss Daisy" without that action taking place?  People would justifiably be scratching their heads over what the title means. 

ASIDE: Who even knew there were roller rinks in 1890 Wyoming?  I sure didn't.  I associate roller skating with decades like the 1950's and the 1970's, not the Old West. 

Finally in Part 2, stuff really starts to happen.  It's full-on war between the settlers (1st generation immigrants) and the established cattlemen (probably 2nd generation Americans).  A sheriff is caught in the middle, fighting against some men he went to Harvard with, and there's a love triangle between the sheriff, a frontier prostitute (hmm, I've seen a lot of those this past week) and one of the cattlemen's hired guns.

This is also the film that is notorious for using real horses, and real munitions, in the battle scene.  You know how when you watch any recent film there's that graphic at the end from the Humane Society, proving no animals were harmed during production?  Yeah, this is why.  There's supposedly one scene where you can totally see a horse explode. 

Also, did you ever wonder why kids used to play "cowboys vs. Indians"?  That's because it's a really simple concept - good guys vs. bad guys, us vs. them.  But this is a more complex issue, it's Americans vs. Americans, some may have been here a little longer, but since the country was the "Land of Opportunity" at the time, and people came from all over to head out West and seek their fortunes, here's proof that in practice, it wasn't always so easy. 

I took the chance last week to learn about The Alamo, so here is my chance to read up on the Johnson County War - why couldn't the immigrants just move on?  The whole Western frontier was opened up to them, what was so special about freakin' Wyoming?  Jeez, Colorado's right next door, and it's the same damn shape, and it's probably just as nice.  And an extra bonus, nobody there is trying to kill you!  Or if that's not a good fit, what about one of our other available states or provinces?  I hear British Columbia is quite nice, or what about Washington? 

In the end, this is a real downer of a film.  Maybe people didn't take to it because of all the violence, death, rape, etc.?  I'm just speculating.

Also starring Kris Kristofferson (last seen in "Semi-Tough"), Christopher Walken (last seen in "Pennies From Heaven"), Sam Waterston (last seen in "Fitzwilly"), John Hurt (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Brad Dourif (last seen in "Mississippi Burning"), Isabelle Huppert, Joseph Cotten (last seen in "Touch of Evil"), Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur (last seen in "Six Degrees of Separation"), Terry O'Quinn (last seen in "Tombstone"), Mickey Rourke (last seen in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"), and my Sundance buddy Tom Noonan (last seen in "The Man With One Red Shoe").

RATING: 3 out of 10 "thieves and anarchists"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Open Range

Year 5, Day 279 - 10/6/13 - Movie #1,559

BEFORE: I've finally got my list under last year's closing total - down to 212 films.  And I've still got a shot at getting it to under 200 before the end of the year.   But I'm going to break for NY Comic-Con, and then I'm thinking of taking it a little easy in October to make the films line up better with Halloween, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So the total may creep up again while I'm taking all these breaks.  Linking from "Wyatt Earp", Kevin Costner carries over.

THE PLOT:  A former gunslinger is forced to take up arms again when he and his cattle crew are threatened by a corrupt lawman.

AFTER: There's going to be a lot of rustling this week, we had Wyatt Earp's past as a horse rustler, now tonight starts a chain where cattle rustling's involved.  I can't say that the film made a great distinction between "free grazing" and, um, whatever the alternative would be - but that seems to be the source of the conflict between the cattle herders and the townsfolk, some of whom apparently don't like grazers who come so close to their town.  Maybe this is a genuine sort of conflict, but I didn't understand how cattle eating grass miles from town could possibly hurt the town itself.

Whatever. What counts is that the conflict exists, and what comes after.  The town ranchers beat up one of the free grazers, so the free grazers beat up a number of the ranchers, and so on.  Things escalate until there's a giant shoot-out in the town, which most of the residents running to safety in the hills.  And it's by no means a fair fight - the two free grazers against a bunch of ranchers, a corrupt sheriff, and also a few hired guns.

It's no "shootout at the O.K. corral", but it is a compelling fight.  But it's 15 minutes of action in a 138-minute movie, so there's quite a bit of downtime leading up to the gun battle.  And the main problem with the characters is that there's no Wyatt Earp or Davy Crockett among them, though maybe that's just my problem, since I got used to such famous Western personages over the last week.

Along the way, romance blossoms among one of the grazers and the town's nurse - and they've got ample opportunity to connect since she's always patching up one of them.  This does enable the film to end on a charming note, which also feels slightly out of place in such a rugged, violent film.  But there it is.

Also starring Robert Duvall (last seen in "Jack Reacher"), Annette Bening (last seen in "Running With Scissors"), Michael Gambon (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Diego Luna (last seen in "The Terminal"), Michael Jeter (last seen in "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit"), Dean McDermott, James Russo, Julian Richings (last seen in "The Claim" - damn, how did I miss that connection?), Kim Coates (last seen in "Goon").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Swiss chocolates