Trying to distill the cinematic legacy of an actor/director like Clint Eastwood into a mere 20 films is basically a fool’s errand, as there is no algorithm which can successfully produce a set that will please everyone, but Warner Brothers at least gets credit for taking a decent stab at it, even if the end result is still something that you can only imagine being given as a gift.
Starting out with 1971’s “Dirty Harry” is certainly a strong beginning, and things stay strong with the decision to follow it with the second Harry Callahan film, 1973’s “Magnum Force,” but even though they do include “Sudden Impact” later in the set, skipping “The Enforcer” and “The Dead Pool” is a sure way to ensure that Dirty Harry fans will say, “Well, if they’re not all in there, then I don’t want it.” (Then again, it’d also result in the existing “Dirty Harry Collection” selling fewer copies, so that’s probably the rationale behind the decision.)
You can’t really blame them for including “Every Which Way But Loose” but leaving out the sub-par sequel “Any Which Way You Can,” but it’s more than a little eyebrow-raising to see that “Letters from Iwo Jima” without its companion piece, “Flags of our Fathers.” It can at least be said that all of Eastwood’s best Warner Brothers westerns are included in the set, with “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Pale Rider,” and “Unforgiven” making the cut, but there are still some inclusions and omissions that seems somewhat odd.
Sure, you can accept “The Gauntlet” making the cut because it was the first film he directed for Warner Brothers, but the inclusion of the decidedly dated “Firefox” seems likely to have been inspired by someone in the WB accounting department saying, “Y’know, if we put that one in instead of ‘Honkytonk Man,’ then we won’t have to license as much music.” (On that note, “Bird” probably never had a chance in Hell of making it into the set.) Also, I’m not saying they don’t exist, but if you can find me someone who prefers “Hereafter” to “Tightrope,” I’d love to meet them.
Okay, enough bitching. It’s not a perfect collection, but “Clint Eastwood: 20-Film Collection” is certainly plenty of hours of good movies that, for the most part, look really damned good. Also, in addition to the bonus materials which carry over from the previous releases of the films, there’s also the highly worthwhile inclusion of two documentaries: 2010’s “The Eastwood Factor,” which is available elsewhere, and the new “Eastwood Directs: The Untold Story.” You might not want to buy it, but you can’t say it isn’t worth owning.
It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday.
It’s 2012, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to discover a majority of young people have not heard of Italian film director, producer, and screenwriter Sergio Leone. After all, the man died 23 years ago in 1989. However, you’d likely be hard pressed to find someone in that demographic who hasn’t seen, or at the very least heard of the man’s work.
Leone, one of the most prominent figures of the Spaghetti Western sub-genre, released his first film, “The Last Days of Pompeii,” in 1959 and his last, “Once Upon a Time in America,” in 1984. But it was during the 1960s that a number of his most popular films, those that remain relevant to this day, were released. Firstly, there’s the Dollars Trilogy, a series of three films which Leone wrote and directed which followed the exploits of the “Man with No Name,” played by Clint Eastwood. There’s a name you’ve heard, Clint Eastwood, and I bet you’ve heard of the trilogy’s final installment as well, 1966′s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
After the Dollars Trilogy was completed, Leone decided he was done with Westerns. He’d said all he wanted to within the confines of the genre. It was only after Paramount informed Leone that he’d have access to Henry Fonda—his favorite actor, one he’d wanted to work with his entire career—that he decided to return. Leone and his fellow writers spent nearly a year watching and discussing some of the best American Westerns to date before constructing a story made up almost entirely of references to those classics.
Problem was, around the same time, Henry Fonda had decided he was done with Westerns too, and turned down Leone’s first offer to star in “Once Upon a Time in the West.” It wasn’t until Leone flew to New York to meet with Fonda in person that the actor accepted. To convince him, Leone said, “Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera tilts up to the gunman’s face and…it’s Henry Fonda.” See, Fonda had spent most of his career playing good guys. But in “Once Upon a Time in the West,” he was cast against type, playing not just a bad guy, but one of the most sadistic, monstrous villains ever to grace the silver screen.
Now that all that background’s out of the way, I suppose we should talk about the film itself. Contrary to the fast-paced, upbeat nature of previous Westerns, the film includes numerous long, drawn-out shots and scenes with little dialogue and less action significant to the over-arching plot. These scenes of quiet are often interrupted by sudden outbreaks of violence. It’s the quiet, the routine, and then bam: sound and fury. The film is less a study of violence and more about the subtleties that precede it.
The film begins with the arrival of a quiet man known only as Harmonica, played by Charles Bronson (the Charles Bronson, the one from whom that other guy took his “fighting name”). “Instead of talking, [Harmonica] plays. And when he better play, he talks.” For reasons unknown to the viewer, Harmonica is on a mission of vengeance against the villainous Frank (Fonda), who works as something of an enforcer for railroad tycoon Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti). As mentioned, the first time we see Frank, he’s massacring an innocent family, the McBains, for reasons equally unknown. Frank tries to pin the blame for the killings on a local outlaw named Cheyenne (Jason Robards). When Cheyenne hears this, he and Harmonica become uncertain allies in a war against Frank. They’re joined by Jill (Claudia Cardinale), a young woman who’d travelled out west from New Orleans to marry the recently deceased McBain.
Part of what makes the film special is its twisting of the genre’s many tropes. For example, Cheyenne is one of the film’s more honorable and likable characters. The fact that he robs people for a living is irrelevant. But the biggest and most interesting of these aversions is that it’s never assured that Harmonica will be capable of killing Frank and getting his vengeance. He’s wounded in the film’s first scene, and as a result, he’s clearly far from invincible. This is not the smooth ride of the overly-lovable sheriff defeating the bank robber. Whether or not the “good guys” can win is never a foregone conclusion. It wouldn’t be in the real world, so it’s not in “Once Upon a Time” either. Furthermore, horrible as Frank may be, it’s hard not to respect him. The first parallel that springs to mind is Darth Vader. Sure he’s the bad guy, but he’s also a badass.
“Once Upon a Time in the West” is long, with a running time of 165 minutes, and the drawn-out style will no doubt be foreign to contemporary viewers. But there’s a reason the film gets all the accolades it receives. It sits at a 98 percent on the Tomatometer, and is generally acknowledged as one of the best Westerns ever made. In 2009, it was placed in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. Consistently quotable, with a number of intriguing conflicts and sub-conflicts, taking in “Once Upon a Time in the West,” one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century, is a more than worthwhile way to spend your Saturday evening.
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We’re fussy about Red Carpet events here at Bullz-Eye central. That’s largely because as a lone, online writer you’re pretty much at the mercy of the publicity gods in terms of who you’re going to meet up with and you never know who that’s going to be. One condition we have is that we get to see the show/movie/what-have-you in question so, if all else fails, we can write about that or at least get a bit of entertainment and free food. In this case, that was a good thing. Not because we didn’t get to talk to anybody interesting, but because Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” presentation, which premieres on the network at 9:00 Eastern/6:00 PDT Friday is not your usual award show.
Right down to the sexy female dancers who liven up the breaks and its highly distinctive award statue, “the Mantlers,” it’s easily the most laid back and honestly silly awards show I’ve seen. It’s also the only award show we know of which contains R-rated profanity in one of its award titles: the “Funniest Motherf*cker” award, this year being given to Jim Carrey. It’s safe the say the show was completely irreverent about everything, except for its commendable commitment to drawing attention to the bravery and sacrifices made by members of our armed forces.
Speaking of Jim Carrey, the famed comic provided a remarkable bit of comedy dealing with the always absolutely never hilarious topic of..oh, Lord, we’d better just leave it alone. You don’t want to know. Carrey himself made it clear that children and other sensitive people were better off not hearing the routine before proceeding with a shocking and explosively funny performance, abetted by the sensitive stylings of violinist Neil Hammond.
More traditionally edgy and hilarious at certain points, but a lot longer, was a marathon bit by faux canine Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, aka comic genius Robert Smigel. The latter merited a bad on-camera review from Sean Penn who between this show and his criticism of Ricky Gervais at Golden Globes, seems to be developing a side career as a real-time award show comedy critic.
Justin Timberlake less controversially proved himself to be, once again, no comic slouch, while promoting the charms of the co-star of his next flick, “Friends with Benefits,” the beautiful and talented Mila Kunis. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards distinguished himself by simply being alive to pick up his award and being the innately humourous individual he is.
And so it went. I’ll have a few choice quotes from the show at the end of this piece. First, though, let’s talk about the folks we met on the Red Carpet.