film

Old School Review: The Wild Bunch (1969)

Written by Walon Green and Sam Peckinpah, and directed by Peckinpah, “The Wild Bunch” is a Western following a gang of gunslingers and outlaws emerging into the twentieth century as they come to terms with the end of their era. If you’ve spent the last two months roaming the digital countrysides of “Red Dead Redemption 2” like I have, and you’re seeking more of that same grizzled cowboy violence, then “The Wild Bunch” will definitely satiate some of your old west woes. This movie shares many of the same themes and visual cues that the groundbreaking video-game western implements over it’s hours, upon hours, of storytelling.

After a botched heist devolves into a shootout in an excellent opening scene, the ragged outlaws finally reach a place to gather themselves and account for their losses. It’s here that Pike (William Holden), the gang leader, poises the terms of their next score and the core of their existential crisis, “We’ve got to start thinkin’ beyond our guns. Those days are closin’ fast.” Set during the global eve of World War One in 1913 with the modern world quickly encroaching on those tied to the ways of old, “The Wild Bunch” delivers us a nuanced and layered film that pairs its chaotic violence with real humanistic quality. It’d be an arduous task in finding a Western more concerned with tragedy and loss, or one so bathed in melancholy and savageness. The noble outlaws in this picture are exposed to some of the most uncensored violence of the day when it was initially released. While Sam Peckinpah thought the violence would shock people into the horrors of such a time, he would have no idea how much people might enjoy such cathartic carnage.

The driving force of the film lies in the pursuit of Pike’s gang by a posse led by a former outlaw and friend, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan). Previously captured and coerced into hunting his fellow outlaws by an anonymous railroad tycoon, Deke detests the system he now works for and frequently talks down to his less than skillful hired help. Thus Pike’s gang flees to south of the border where they are plunged into another brand of chaos in the Mexican civil war as gun runners. While Deke may be coerced into tracking his former brothers, Pike’s gang has their own fair share of being forced into servitude by the Mexican army. Adherence to pressure by necessity, being forcibly made to adhere to the ways of others, is a major theme of the film as these outlaws get swept up by the progression of time.

Peckinpah handles the individual gang members with such mythic, admirable, and poetic romanticism that you often forget about earlier sequences focusing on the deglamorization of warfare. It’s within this contradictory sensation of heroic admiration and frightening nihilism that Peckinpah allows his characters to shine. Angel (Jaime Sánchez), and Dutch (Ernest Borgnine [The Arthur Morgan of this film ironically]) in particular, are standouts among the gang. Dutch is one of the older outlaws and Pike’s second in command. With his wisdom from the school of hard knocks and a heart of gold to match, he pairs well with Angel’s youthful exuberance and itchy trigger finger. It’s all about balance, right?

The film is bookended by two large shootout sequences which weave chaotic violence with a romanticized nostalgia for times (and films) gone by. The film doesn’t necessarily glorify violence so much as it attempts to show the uglier and dirtier world of cinematic gunslingers. I honestly couldn’t say it better than the 1995 Chicago Tribune review of the restored director’s cut, “It’s a tale of demonic intensity, nightmare nihilism, cockeyed courage, outrageous compassion and savage grandeur.” 

Final Score: A few bags of washers and a train full of guns!

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film

Movie Pitch: Tarantino’s revival of Pauly Shore

Who better than Quentin Tarantino to bring actors back from the dead? None. Which is why my pitch this time is a challenging one. How do you bring back “The Weasel” Pauly Shore to the silver screen without inducing the longest and loudest groan from moviegoers since Phantom Menace? Not an easy task. Pauly Shore himself has said he would like to return to acting, maybe even a redemption tale. Not a bad place to start.

Since Tarantino seems to be in a western phase right now, and as someone who loves westerns I’m loving it, so why not continue that trend? When’s the last time you saw a train robbery on the big screen, and done well? Lets all collectively forget about ‘The Lone Ranger’ and that it ever existed though. My point being, Tarantino loves doing homages to classic cinema, so I’m sure there’s part of him that desperately wants to shoot an old west train robbery/chase sequence. Lets have the story center on a wanderer, Shore, and a group of notorious theives in say, 1880. This gets us past the civil war and gives us more latitude for widespread use of trains by this time. Shore can play up aspects of his well know character, trying way too hard to be comedic, a klutz, someone that wanders into danger with no clue how to overcome it, and maybe he accidentally causes massive havoc in the same town where a train with a huge score is moving through and thereby makes it all that much easier for our gang of thieves and bandits to get away with their caper.

From then on out Shore’s character is determined to right his wrongs and track down the gang. He searches for a tracker, say Christophe Waltz or some other equal caliber actor to weigh out Shore’s persona, and together they hunt them down following a string of robberies. Obviously Tarantino could carve out a more clever throughline than that, but in his films you never need to sacrifice character moments, or good acting, for spectacle. You could have several larger sequences in the film, but they would only be the frosting on this old west heist.. cake. I’d love to see the tables turned and have Shore infiltrate the gang and turn them against one another, or sabotage them into authority’s captivity. There are many ways this story could twist and turn. Shore’s character work would also need heavy work, but this wouldn’t be the first time Tarantino changed an actor’s life or reception, and Pauly Shore is a grown man now, its time to purge him in a trial by fire, in the end he might come out on top. It could be worth the effort.

film

Movie-Pitch Mondays! Remake of “The Magnificent Seven”

Starting this week my goal is to keep pace with more weekly postings, Movie Pitch Mondays is that first step. This is where I imagine how I would approach the casting, the direction of plot, and crew that inhabit the production of this theoretical film. Description and vision of each film can vary from piece to piece.

For my first pitch I would love to see a remake of the old western classic “The Magnificent Seven”. Which itself was an Old-West style remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language film “Seven Samurai”. I know there’s a current remake of this property under way right now, set to be directed by Antoine Fuqua with Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, & Vincent D’Onofrio among others signed to star. This is simply how I would arrange the property.

The Cast, with character descriptions:

Tom Hanks as the Sheriff with a heart of gold and wit of steel.

Aaron Paul as the Deputy, loyal and proud yet a shadowy past.

James McAvoy as the angry Scottish indentured Railroad worker.

Simon Pegg as the Neurotic Englishman that translates for McAvoy’s character, inventive.

Michael Pena as a wanted bank robber from south of the border seeking asylum.

Vin Diesel as the tough Miner that’s had enough and demands a call to action.

Robert Downey Jr. as the devilishly charming Southern Gentleman, in from the East.

Patrick Stewart as The face of bureaucratic, crushing, power. Joyless.

Tim Roth as Business partner to Stewart’s character, The Good Cop to Stewart’s bad.

The Crew:

Director: JJ Abrams

Writer: Christopher McQuarrie

I chose JJ for this piece not only because I personally want to see what he could do in this most classic of sandboxes, but also because I believe he would handle that territory of filmmaking well. I would trust his handling of the genre. After “Star Trek”, and now “Wars” a western will almost be akin to retiring if we’re scaling for box office numbers anyways. JJ has a unique visual style, and I’m assuming his cinematographers would come along with him on subsequent projects. He can handle a piece such as this, a big ensemble cast that has many moving parts while maintaining just the right slow burn pace that is representative of the genre as a whole, but respectful of its varied and long history. What I think JJ brings to this potential film that is most needed is his sense of “Magic” that he has somehow acquired, that almost unfathomable subtle touch of magic that makes the film feel impervious to negativity. If that makes any sense. He’s very Spielbergian in that way, which is why I also chose to add in Tom Hanks as the emotional anchor of the piece.

Christopher McQuarrie has a history of delivering knock out screenplays, and just wrote and directed the latest “Mission Impossible” installment, “Rogue Nation”. With “The Usual Suspects” in particular, and “Edge of Tomorrow” in a lesser way, McQuarrie has proven himself capable of multifaceted and complex screenplays. Though this film won’t be a mind blowing reveal like the ending of “The Usual Suspects” it will have multiple things going on all at once and I believe his style would only compliment it.

I see the plot essentially maintaining the general idea that a group of gunslingers ban together to save a small Mexican town overrun by bandits. However in my revision we would place the setting in America and the Sheriff is the initial push in banding together forces both local and afar to save the town from a crushing pair of British businessman that bought their way into the Oil business and need a railway to run their product through the town for high speed purposes. From there the film almost writes itself to be honest. First the threat is established by the foreign businessmen, then when they are turned down a terrible act of violence is carried out. Perhaps the child of Vin Diesel’s character? Dark, but a high character motivator. You’d have your traditional recruitment scenes wherein Hanks rounds up anyone who isn’t too scared of the threat aka Vin Diesel. Next up, the people that have great needs for which they will join up if reimbursed/helped, a la Pena, Pegg, and McAvoy. Lastly, the wild card, or Robert Downey Jr’s character, the charismatic big talker blown in from the east who is really a washed up legend and feels obliged to take up the cause.Lest the townspeople neglect him or worse, find out his true tale and exile him.

This could be a really fun throwback to Western and Samurai tales. I may have wandered too far from the original concept, but every remake has to have its own skin, it’s own purpose, otherwise why do it at all? Obviously the third Act has to have large numbers of muscle/militia bought by the businessmen that end up carrying out an onslaught on the town and its people. Maybe even have Aaron Paul’s young and nimble deputy fall in battle as in the initial Western remake? Like I said there’s a lot you could do with this, I love the idea of it and while this will look almost nothing like the actual remake that is being made right now, I can dream, and you should too! That’s my Movie Pitch for this week!