The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)

There are a couple kinds of Westerns, once you break it down enough. Ones where people go places, ones where people don’t. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a going places Western. It’s about a man on a trip and what the trip does to the man on the trip. I’ve seen Josey Wales before, probably twelve or fifteen years ago, maybe more–long before I could appreciate it. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a different kind of Eastwood directorial film. Stylistically–visually–it’s more in line with his early 1970s work. There’s also a lot of visible Don Siegel influence. Story-wise, The Outlaw Josey Wales is different from just about any other Eastwood film I’ve seen and can recollect, which leaves out maybe three contenders (but I’m doubtful of The Gauntlet’s artistic import).

Eastwood, the star, gives more in this film than he does for the entire 1980s, more than since he had to back in the 1960s. The film’s about Josey Wales and people–his effect on them and their effect on him, try as he might not to let it get to him–and Eastwood’s rarely alone. The relationships are all peculiar, with none of them having any earth-shattering importance to the character, though the romance with Sondra Locke comes the closest, but there’s more revealing character moments between Eastwood and Chief Dan George’s tag-a-long Indian friend. The Outlaw Josey Wales is so good I need a long sentence like the previous one, to show off my excitement at thinking about it. Other good performances (it’s Eastwood’s best acting job in the 1970s) include Sam Bottoms and John Vernon. I recently said Vernon’s only good in small doses and, while Josey Wales is a smallish dose, it’s more than I’d usually prefer. But I couldn’t care, since he’s fantastic. The rest of the cast is all excellent and many actors seem hand-picked from previous Eastwood films.

Since I’ve already had to acknowledge my misdiagnoses of Vernon, I have to now get on to Bruce Surtees, the cinematographer. In my response to Tightrope, I said Surtees didn’t know how to compensate for 1980s film stock. The Outlaw Josey Wales is from 1976, so I have no idea whether or not Surtees’s absolute brilliance in regards to this film proves my statement true or false. After just watching two color-drained Surtees-shot films, seeing Josey Wales was a revelation. The colors are sumptuous. It’s a stunning film to see–also to hear. Jerry Fielding’s score is fantastic. Production-wise, it’s uniformly great.

I’ll come across films I should have known were great–and Josey Wales is one of those physically-affecting good films–I had a physical reaction to experiencing it (kind of a soaring thing in the chest)–but this one kind of pisses me off. I mean, I should have thought to give it a look a long time ago….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Philip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, based on a book by Forrest Carter; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Fielding; production designer, Tambi Larsen; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Josey Wales), Chief Dan George (Lone Watie), Sondra Locke (Laura Lee), Bill McKinney (Terrill), John Vernon (Fletcher), Paula Trueman (Grandma Sarah) and Sam Bottoms (Jamie).


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Borat (2006, Larry Charles)

Back when Scream was a big deal–when Scream 3 was a big deal, actually–the ads for Bats started coming out. Bats spelled backwards is Stab, the Scream movie-in-movie… and it was from some unknown company with a suspiciously comic cast. I thought Miramax was going the extra mile and creating a sensation around their franchise. They weren’t. Borat is kind of the same thing and kind of not the same thing. If it were just performance art–just Sacha Baron Cohen going around pretending have made a movie about this guy and keeping in character the whole time–it would have been successful. As a film however, an eighty-four minute film, Borat is a disappointment. It’s not an inevitable disappointment, something unable to live up to the hype–it’s just not a good film. It’s long and there’s maybe twenty minutes without any real laughs, once you catch on. The problem with the humor is it’s stupid. Anyone (with a production deal) could do Borat.

The joke, after the staged scenes set in Kazakhstan is Cohen harassing people in character. But then, slowly, you stop buying the unscripted story (which director Larry Charles says is all real–but I read Defamer, so I know it’s not–no spoilers). People don’t react right. There’s a slickness to the production. Some of it certainly is unscripted, but definitely not all of it. I guess the scenes are staged, but the dialogue is unscripted (similar to “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). The film’s spontaneous is very reserved, uninteresting (for the most part) ways.

Charles has a lot of experience with pseudo-reality from that show, but he doesn’t utilize it here. Borat shows itself most in terms of the cameraman–Borat, the character, is supposedly being filmed all the time by a cameraman, but the cameraman is a) never referenced as a living person and b) some of the shots are impossible. The movie’s funny enough for a while it doesn’t matter, as Borat travels across the country, but then Cohen seems to have lost interest because after spending about an hour getting from New York to Georgia, he gets to California in ten minutes.

The film is funny, but it’s absurd and I can’t imagine ever watching it again. The clips available online–for free–are just as funny, maybe even more so.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Charles; written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer, based on a story by Baron Cohen, Baynham, Hines and Todd Phillips, and a character created by Baron Cohen; directors of photography, Anthony Hardwick and Luke Geissbühler; edited by Peter Teschner and James Thomas; music by Erran Baron Cohen; produced by Baron Cohen and Jay Roach; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Ken Davitian (Azamat), Luenell (Luenell), Alex Daniels (Naked Fight Coordinator), James P. Vickers (Kidnapping Consultant), Peewee Piemonte (Safety) and Michael Li, Harry Wowchuk and Nicole Randall (Action Team).


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Pale Rider (1985, Clint Eastwood)

Pale Rider is an interesting Eastwood–while it is a milestone in Eastwood coming together as a filmmaker–it’s also one of the few films where he really offered up so much for another actor to do. The film’s some kind of homage to Shane–as well as a colder, more mountainous version of High Plains Drifter–but Michael Moriarty has a lot more to do in Pale Rider than Van Heflin had to do in Shane even. With a handful of mediocre ones, Pale Rider has some of the best performances in any Eastwood film to this point. Besides Moriarty, who really has to carry the film, since Eastwood’s absent as a character, there’s Chris Penn, who’s fantastic as the bad guy. Doug McGrath is good, so is Richard Kiel (though he doesn’t have much to do). Richard Dysart shows up as the big bad and he’s hamming it up but it’s in a funny way. The script’s absolute shit (more on it in a second), but Dysart has a great time with it. Carrie Snodgress doesn’t do well with the script, which saddles her with an unsympathetic and petty character. Worst (though still passable) is Sydney Penny, who plays the teenage girl in love with Eastwood. She can’t deliver the bad lines properly and there’s no way she’s Snodgress’s daughter, so she sticks out.

The script–from the half-wits who wrote The Car of all things–probably doesn’t have a single good moment. Watching the film, appreciating the stuff between Eastwood and Moriarty, I figured Eastwood came up with that relationship on set. While Pale Rider is a definite influence on Unforgiven–much of it makes Unforgiven, Eastwood’s next Western, seem like a response to Pale Rider. Rider is the same old formula Western (full of references to earlier Eastwood Westerns), only with it, Eastwood really gets the filmmaking end of it together. He’s got Lennie Niehaus on music and there’s some good stuff, but it’s mostly not. Joel Cox edits the film and does a wonderful job. Bruce Surtees shot it in his standard flat palate, but the technical end really comes through. Some of the work in Pale Rider is from a different Clint Eastwood. Not better, not worse, but different. He was going to either go, stylistically, one way or the other and in Pale Rider, you can see both of them side-by-side.

Unfortunately, the script’s so bad, it’s impossible to recommend as anything but an example of a competent, interesting production. By the time the end shoot-out comes around, it’s all so telegraphed (and short) and entirely familiar, there’s really nothing to it. There’s no excitement and it becomes obvious what a chore Pale Rider was for Eastwood to make–and how lazy he was in regards to many, many aspects of it, particularly the undeveloped town. Eastwood was making a ton of movies during this period and Pale Rider suffers from a stretched attention-span.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Joel Cox; music by Lennie Niehaus; production designer, Edward C. Carfagno; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Preacher), Michael Moriarty (Hull Barret), Carrie Snodgress (Sarah Wheeler), Christopher Penn (Josh LaHood), Richard Dysart (Coy LaHood), Sydney Penny (Megan Wheeler), Richard Kiel (Club), Doug McGrath (Spider Conway), John Russell (Stockburn), Charles Hallahan (McGill), Marvin J. McIntyre (Jagou), Fran Ryan (Ma Blankenship), Richard Hamilton (Jed Blankenship), Graham Paul (Ev Gossage), Chuck LaFont (Eddie Conway) and Jeffrey Weissman (Teddy Conway).


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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

I’ve only seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir once before, but I remembered the resolution, so I’m thinking it probably made the entire experience unenjoyable this time through. There are only a handful of similar films and usually it’s a gimmick ending, but with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the storytelling falls apart. The film forcibly rips Gene Tierney’s character from the audience’s regard and then only band-aids that wound for the rest of the picture–it’s only twenty minutes or so, but that band-aid covers forty years of story time.

This band-aid doesn’t involve Rex Harrison’s grizzled ghost of a sea captain, which is probably its greatest fault. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is about just that relationship and–first with the introduction of George Sanders as a living suitor for Tierney, then Harrison’s absence from both the screen and the story itself–the film fails without it. The fault is all the script’s, though Joseph L. Mankiewicz–as director and an excellent writer–should have done something to fix this film. The scenes between Harrison and Tierney are uniformly wonderful, but watching it with the conclusion in mind, I couldn’t even enjoy them to the fullest. Harrison has so much fun with the role, at many times he appears to be struggling to keep a straight face. George Sanders plays a standard George Sanders cad and he’s hardly in the film, showing up when it accelerates, no longer happy with a reasonable situation. It’s a lame way out of the exceptional situation (the ghost and the widow), which the film sells immediately, making a “way out” unnecessary. Many of this period’s “fantasy romance” films are similarly flawed. Actually, I can’t think of any member providing a reasonable conclusion. I just didn’t remember The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’s ending to be so bad. I knew it was bad, I just didn’t know it was so bad. The film’s already intentionally negated its emotional effect for the characters (and the audience), so I guess it’s actually a real trick to go ahead and make it more trifling and useless, which is a singular compliment and probably the only one I have in regards to the film’s production.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; written by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by R.A. Dick; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Fred Kohlmar; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gene Tierney (Lucy Muir), Rex Harrison (Ghost of Capt. Daniel Gregg), George Sanders (Miles Fairley), Edna Best (Martha Huggins), Isobel Elsom (Angelica), Helen Freeman (Author), Natalie Wood (Anna, as a child), Vanessa Brown (Anna, as an adult) and Robert Coote (Coombe).


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