Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Fistful of Westerns! (Matt’s Picks)

    I’m a latecomer to this whole Western thing.  I grew up seeing those old White Hat/Black Hat movies on TV and I hated them.  I’ve always had a particular hatred for Country music, never liked cowboy hats, loath John Wayne, and dislike Texan accents.  For a long time, the only Western I liked was the Gene Autry serial The Phantom Empire, and I don’t think that counts.  Especially since I only really liked it once they got to the underground super-science kingdom.  But then I saw Unforgiven sometime after it came out on video.  That’s when things began to change, though it took a long time.  In fact, it was the meeting of co-Dork Brad that led me to more diligently explore the genre, and thus to find many more examples to enjoy.

    A couple years ago, I even enjoyed a Western month, which included a great many movies, some TV, and a surprising amount of time playing the video game Red Dead Redemption (I’m not really much of a video game guy).  And I enjoyed the heck out of the whole thing.  Sure, I saw some dogs.  But I also saw some very cool movies that have fed my hunger to find more good ones.  And, luckily I live in a time where Westerns may be a rare thing at the multiplex, but those few that do come along are typically quite good.

Video games have changed, man.

    So, with the release of this week’s The Lone Ranger, a new interpretation of a character that always represented exactly what I didn’t like about the genre, we’re looking at some of our favorite Westerns.  The shocking thing about The Lone Ranger is that I actually enjoyed the heck out of it.  It’s weird and action packed, without the annoying close-up shaky-cam crap that has become the new industry norm.  Anyway, here are five of my favorites.

5.  Appaloosa:  There have been a bunch of very cool Westerns made in the last few years.  Django Unchained, True Grit, even Open Range.  But Appaloosa captures a lot of what I love.  Yeah, it’s got the heavy, some shootouts, a shrill monster woman, and all that.  But at its heart is a great friendship.

4.  Jeremiah Johnson:  This is a Mountain Man movie, more than a Western, but whatever.  It also features one of my all time least favorite actors, Robert Redford.  Yet, this story of isolation and escape, of a lone guy on the very outer reaches of what could loosely be called civilization, is surprisingly captivating.  The only problem is the awful and out of place folk music soundtrack, which is extremely distracting.

3.  100 Rifles:  Jim Brown, Burt Reynolds, and Raquel Welch are all in top form as they battle their way through Mexico (Spain) in this very cool movie.  It’s late in the days of the ‘Wild West’ and we see hints of the future in Dan O’Herlihy’s car.  But there are still bloody bandits, outlaws, and all the things you expect.

2.  Once Upon a Time in the West:  One of the great Western epics, it combines grand storytelling with the bent sleaze of Spaghetti Westerns.  Awesome cast, great music, nasty behavior, everything you want and need in this kind of thing.

1.  The Outlaw Josey Wales:  Along with Unforgiven, this was one of the first Westerns I really responded to, helping me to realize the genre wasn’t all John Wayne and Custer films.  Eastwood obviously has a rugged, tough-guy appeal, but the story and the side characters were good, too.  And the setting was captivating.


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