Movie Review – Duck, You Sucker!

Duck, You Sucker! or a Fistful of Dynamite (1971)
Written by Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone, Roberto de Leonardis, and Carlo Tritto
Directed by Sergio Leone

Leone’s time with the western came to an end with this picture. He couldn’t know, but it would be his penultimate film, causing his career to be framed through the lens of the genre forever. That’s not bad because Leone completely transformed western cinema beyond the borders of Italy. American filmmakers could no longer make westerns that sanitized the past in the ways they once did; that had to reflect the harsh survival that went on as America spread itself out across the continent. Duck, You Sucker! is not his greatest western, but it’s still not completely terrible. When watching the work of a director like Leone, it’s hard to critique the quality of any of his career. It’s at a level few people ever reach. What informed this movie was not Leone’s love of westerns but the rising up of left-wing revolutionary activism in Italy and a desire to highlight that the country as it stood was not going to survive unless things changed.

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Movie Review – Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Written by Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, and Bernardo Bertolucci
Directed by Sergio Leone

Sergio Leone was done with westerns. He’d said what he had to with the Dollars Trilogy and wanted to get onto his next film, an adaptation of the novel The Hoods, a film that would eventually be renamed Once Upon a Time in America. However, Paramount approached the director with an offer to direct a western for them as long as veteran actor Henry Fonda was attached. Fonda was Leone’s favorite actor, so he couldn’t pass up the chance to work with the performer. While the interiors were shot in Leone’s familiar Italian studios, and almost all of the exteriors were in Spain. But one fantastic sequence was a beautiful surprise. When one character arrives in the small town, they take a wagon ride through Monument Valley in Arizona, an iconic locale for western fans and such a wonderful sight in a Leone picture.

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Movie Review – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
Written by Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, and Sergio Leone
Directed by Sergio Leone

So first things first, I didn’t know anything about this movie besides it being a western and the iconic central theme from Ennio Morricone. For years, my entire life, in fact, what I thought was The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (GBU) was actually For a Few Dollars More. That showdown in the final moments of More is what I thought happened in GBU. So this was a treat for me because it meant I honestly was going in blind to this movie, and whatever happened was going to be a completely fresh experience. I walked away solid in knowing that More is my favorite Leone picture, but this is a masterpiece as well, a perfect thematic culmination of everything the Dollars Trilogy set out to do.

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Movie Review – For a Few Dollars More

For A Few Dollars More (1964)
Written by Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Luciano Vincenzoni, and Sergio Donati
Directed by Sergio Leone

Setting the table is essential. You need to know who is important, what they want, and what drives them. Director Sergio Leone delivers a straightforward example in the three opening prologues of his Western masterpiece For A Few Dollars More. With each introduction, we meet one of the notable characters of the piece, and more importantly, we see them reveal their fundamental selves through action. By seeing what they do, particularly their view of justice, the audience can immediately understand who we are dealing with. Our anticipation to see them cross paths is primed. I wondered how one person would react when in direct conflict with another and how fascinating it would be to watch play out. 

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Movie Review – A Fistful of Dollars

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Written by Sergio Leone, Adriano Bolzoni, Víctor Andrés Catena, Mark Lowell, Víctor Andrés Catena, Jaime Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Duccio Tessari, and Tonino Valerii
Directed by Sergio Leone

The Western is an American storytelling genre predicated on the myths of Western Expansion and Manifest Destiny. Starting with dime story paperbacks and evolving into radio plays, comic books, films, and television, Westerns were even more prominent than Marvel movies at their peak. Their influence was so considerable that Westerns and gangster pictures became the exclusive representation of American cinema abroad. Italian director Sergio Leone grew up as the child of a film director and silent movie actress, so he was constantly exposed to moviemaking. Historical epics, nicknamed “swords and sandals,” were the popular genre films of the 1950s in Italy, but they fell out of favor as the decade closed out. So Leone decided to combine his love of samurai movies (particularly Akira Kurosawa’s work) and Westerns and make his own in the wilds of Spain. Nicknamed “Spaghetti Westerns” due to their Italian origins, this subgenre managed to reignite new interest. They challenged American directors’ rose-colored depictions of the West and presented the audience with a much darker, violent, and sexually threatening frontier.

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Patron Pick – Bad Day at Black Rock

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Written by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman
Directed by John Sturges

The frenzy of war often brings the greatest evil out of people. Humans have a penchant for looking for an Other to blame for their ills and the sins of the world. We don’t have to go too far back in our history to find an endless parade of atrocities and hate crimes perpetrated on these Others. The murders and savagery never quell the sense of discontent in the perpetrators, instead planting a ball of guilt in their stomach that festers & boils. How foolishly we target individuals rather than the systems in the place that create war and strife. Easier to kill an innocent person who doesn’t look like you or speaks a different language than work for solidarity to overcome the wrong we all feel. Bad Day at Black Rock is a modern folktale about justice being visited on people guilty of such crimes.

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Movie Review – The Power of The Dog

The Power of The Dog (2021)
Written & Directed by Jane Campion

Jane Campion is a shameful blindspot in my personal film viewing. I’ve only previously seen her brilliant television mini-series Top of the Lake. My expectations for this one were on the positive to neutral side of things. I strongly dislike Benedict Cumberbatch in most things, and so his prominent presence in the marketing made me a tad wary. But I saw it popping up on so many best-of-the-year lists that I knew I should sit down and watch it. I had absolutely zero idea what the plot was and even who the other actors in the film were. That absence of knowledge benefited me greatly because this is one of the most deceptively chilling movies I’ve seen in a long time, a Western noir that completely floored me in its third act.

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Movie Review – Outland

Outland (1981)
Written & Directed by Peter Hyams

In 1981, you might think the juggernaut of Star Wars had crushed any desire by Hollywood to make intelligent, more adult science fiction. Yet here comes Outland, a film set on a mining colony with a complete absence of aliens or space battles. Instead, writer-director Peter Hyams translates a plot commonly found in Westerns and places in outer space. The result is seamless, showing how timeless and transcendent certain narratives are. Hyams admitted he wanted to make a Western only, but the success and boom of the science fiction genre caused him to rethink the setting of his idea. He reasoned that the types of stories being told in the 1970s and early 80s were the same you found in Western just repurposed. Thus we get Outland which is High Noon on the moon of Io.

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Movie Review – The Quick and The Dead

The Quick and The Dead (1995)
Written by Simon Moore
Directed by Sam Raimi

Without planning it, I’ve managed to watch a Sam Raimi film in all three of my Flashback series this year. For 1990 I re-watched Darkman, and for 1985 I saw the disappointing Raimi-Coen Brothers collaboration Crimewave. The Quick and The Dead represents a more reigned in presentation from Sam Raimi, with signature flourishes but presented in a less manic style than his two previous works, Darkman and Army of Darkness. There’s a lot to like about this Western in the way it embraces and challenges the genre, it’s definitely a mixed bag, but something I think is overall a delightful and well-made picture.

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Movie Review – Silverado

Silverado (1985)
Written by Mark and Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

The Western is a uniquely American genre of film, one of the few historical periods to have hundreds of films chronicling the history and myths. In the same way, fantasy films so often distort and reimagine medieval Europe, so too has the Western become a genre of film the audience agrees isn’t telling us the gritty details but rather evoking a sensibility and aesthetic. The 1940s and 50s were the heydays of the Western, the 1960s and 70s saw Italian influence as the spaghetti Western came to prominence, the impact of Japanese samurai films in pictures like the Magnificent Seven, and harsh unflinching violence in the movies like The Wild Bunch. Since the 1990s, we’ve seen waves of revisionist Westerns from Unforgiven to The Proposition. The 1980s was a strange time for these pictures, though, especially as the blockbuster took over the film industry.

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