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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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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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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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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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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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Our movie opens on a simple song of the Old West warbled by the ever cheerful Buster Scruggs. Scruggs is an outlaw in a very peculiar vein, notorious and feared while exuding a Will Rogers type persona. This is one of six short stories told over the course of the movie, using the framing device of a book being acted out for the audience. Other stories focus on a bank robber experiencing a series of bad luck deals, traveling entertainers coming to the end of the line, a lone prospector’s discovery of the motherlode, a young woman in a wagon train headed westward for marriage, and a spooky stagecoach ride to Fort Morgan.
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The Sisters Brothers (2018)
Written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Eli and Charlie Sisters are hitmen that work for the wealthy Commodore. Their most recent assignment is to catch up with Hermann Warm, a prospector headed west in search of gold. Eli isn’t sure why they are going after this seemingly innocuous man, but Charlie assures him that this is in their best interest. Detective John Morris has been hired as an advance man to tail Warm and leave word of his progress at stops along the way for the Brothers to pick up. As the Sisters brothers make their way across the rugged landscape, they encounter natural obstacles and growing interpersonal strife. Eli believes they can leave this life one day while Charlie seems resigned to be a killer forever.
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The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)
Written & Directed by Jared Moshe
Lefty Brown is a simple-minded ranchhand whose glory days are far behind him. He’s about to bid farewell to his longtime friend, Ed Johnson who has been elected senator of Montana. However, tragedy strikes and Ed will never make it to D.C. Old friends Tom Harrah and Governor Jame Bierce arrive to comfort Ed’s widow while his affairs are put in order. Lefty takes off to hunt down the killers and is joined by Tom who is trying to bring the old man back home. Instead, they pick up a young kid enamored with the mythology of the West, and whom quickly learns the stories he has heard are not as fantastic and pretty as he thinks. A conspiracy is uncovered behind Ed’s murder that connects to his election as a senator and leaves Lefty as a suspect fighting to redeem his name and avenge his friend.
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Slow West (2015)
Written & Directed by John Maclean
Young Jay Cavendish has traveled from Scotland to America in pursuit of his one true love Rose Ross. Rose and her father fled their home after a crime was committed. Jay crosses paths with Silas Selleck, a bounty hunter who appears to take a fondness to the naive and earnest younger man. They begin a trek across the West to find Rose and encounter other travelers along the way. Following them are a band of fellow bounty hunters who want to catch Jay for their purposes. The journey is a quiet one with short bursts of violence, like a strange dream.
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Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Written & Directed by S. Craig Zahler
A strange drifter finds his way into the small town of Bright Hope. He arrival is followed by the murder of a stable boy and the abduction of two citizens. All that is left behind is an arrow with a head made from bone. A local native explains this belongs to a tribe of men who are not “Indians” but from some other breed of man. Sheriff Hunt takes off with a trio of men, each with their own reason to follow the trail, to rescue their fellow townspeople. They encounter the hazards of the wilderness along the way not knowing that an ancient horror awaits them in the Valley of the Starving Man.
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