Wagons East (1994, Directed by Peter Markle) English 4

Starring John Candy, Richard Lewis, John C. McGinley, Ellen Greene, Robert Picardo, Russell Means, Don Lake

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(4-Bad Film)

Lame. Lazy. Muddled.

Finding the old west to be not all as advertised, a group of 19th-century settlers hire a drunken wagon master, James Harlow (Candy), to lead them back east. Perhaps unfairly derided as an epic travesty and Blazing Saddles wannabe, Wagons East is bad but not as bad as its 0% on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest. This is a watchable film, with a solid, if undemanding performance from Candy in his last film. If you want to pretend that his last film was Cool Runnings instead, I understand. That being said, I did laugh one or two times, and the premise could have yielded better results with a better filmmaker. The main problem is too many lame, lazy jokes involving gay stereotypes and lowest common denominator humor.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Hateful Eight (2015, Directed by Quentin Tarantino) English 9

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum

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(9-Great Film)

Gripping. Gruesome. Wild.

Shacked up in a remote lodge, snowed in by the blistering Wyoming conditions, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell) reluctantly requests the help of a fellow bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson). Ruth is carrying precious cargo, Daisy Domergue (Leigh), with a massive bounty on her head, and while the reward states dead or alive, Ruth insists on seeing her hanged (meaning taking her in alive). Ruth senses something’s afoot at the lodge as he looks at the fellow guests: there’s the weaselly Sheriff Mannix (Goggins), fork-tongued Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), the quiet Joe Gage (Madsen), notorious Confederate General Smithers (Dern), and shifty Mexican Bob (Bichir). Ruth believes that one of them, maybe more than one, maybe all of them, are working to free Daisy, and so he recruits Warren, the only one he basically trusts. What follows is a trademark Tarantino extravaganza: killer dialogue, wild tonal shifts, extreme violence, and a gallery of unforgettable characters. Race is a major issue, and many critics complained about how it is used in this film for provocation rather than enlightenment or insight. I see it as a continuation of Tarantino’s recent films that were grounded in wish fulfillment. Here, the black guy, Warren, is the smartest guy in the room. As the murder mystery unfolds, we watch him unravel the deception and conspiracy through intelligence and deception of his own. There’s a shocking (to some) scene in the middle of the picture exemplifying this where Warren uses a story I believe to be fictional simply to elicit a dumb response from an enemy so that he can dispose of him. Some characters work better than others. Mobray and Bob aren’t given much to do, and Gage, while being a textbook western character, seems boring next to the outlandish surrounding cast. There’s also an odd cameo that I’m unsure of. However, Jackson, Russell, Jason Leigh and Goggins are outstanding, and the setting, as filmed by Robert Richardson, is glorious.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Garden of Evil (1954, Directed by Henry Hathaway) English 6

Starring Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Susan Hayward, Cameron Mitchell, Hugh Marlowe, Victor Manuel Mendoza

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(6-Good Film)

Overcooked. Grand. Engrossing.

Not Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Not a classic. Not timeless. Garden of Evil is, nonetheless, an involving saga about a group of men-stoic Hooker (Cooper), cynical Fiske (Widmark), emotional Luke (Mitchell), and meek Vicente (Mendoza)- who agree to accompany beautiful Leah Fuller (Hayward) through Apache territory to rescue her husband, with similar themes of greed and men ruined by their quest for gold. Taking the premise of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and adding a woman is a promising wrinkle, but Garden of Evil is too content to be a pot boiler. The actors give flashy speeches, their lines end on suspenseful cue, and the characters aren’t given enough depth beyond what the great cast of stars bring by sheer presence. What can be said in the film’s favor is that the score (by the great Bernard Herrmann) is suitably brash, and the story unfolds, hitting all of the basic marks of entertainment, though leaving a more special, thoughtful western on the table.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Slow West (2015, Directed by John Maclean) English 7

Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann

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(7-Very Good Film)

Distinctive. Melancholy. Spare.

A Scottish boy, Jay Cavendish (Smit-McPhee) travels west to find the girl, Rose, he loves and plans to marry. Accompanying him is Silas (Fassbender), a jaded drifter who’s actually a bounty hunter using Jay to lead him straight to Rose, who has a $2,000 bounty on her head, with another $2,000 on her father’s head as well. Lean, fierce western, with an original visual approach to the genre, and some revisionist elements. With only a handful of characters and locations, Slow West delivers a compelling narrative that finishes poignantly and sadly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Ridiculous 6 (2015, Directed by Frank Coraci) English 5

Starring Adam Sandler, Terry Crews, Nick Nolte, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Luke Wilson, Jorge Garcia, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Vanilla Ice, Chris Parnell, Blake Shelton, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Danny Trejo, Julia Jones

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(5-Okay Film)

Scattershot. Lame. Silly.

Western send-up starring Adam Sandler as Tommy Stockburn, a warrior separated from his parents and raised by a native american tribe. After meeting his father, Frank Stockburn (Nolte), for the first time, and seeing the old man being carried off by a gang of bandits demanding $50,000 or else, Tommy turns to a life of crime in order to gather the money. Along the way, he discovers five other brothers or half-brothers: Mexican Ramon (Schneider), doltish Lil’ Pete (Lautner), black Chico (Crews), guilt-stricken Danny (Wilson), and the mumbling Herm (Garcia). Critically panned, and juvenile enough to deserve it, The Ridiculous 6 is nonetheless a pretty creative film. Some of the gags are inspired, some are stupid, others don’t work, and the film is too long. There are dozens of cameos, some better than others. I happened to enjoy the random, completely unnecessary scene of Abner Doubleday (Turturro) inventing baseball.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991, Directed by Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink) English 6

Voices of Dom Deluise, Amy Irving, John Cleese, James Stewart

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(6-Good Film)

Slight. Appealing. Likable.

Fievel and his family return, this time moving west thanks to the lies of a scheming gang of cats. Fievel, overhearing their plot, attempts to find help and thwart the evil cats. Don Bluth’s productions have always suffered from uneven storytelling. His animation and artistry, however, are incredible. The story is just engaging enough, and the voice work is top notch. This was James Stewart’s last role.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Naked Spur (1953, Directed Anthony Mann) English 8

Starring James Stewart, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Strong. Efficient. Suspenseful.

Wanting to begin again in life, Howard Kemp (Stewart) tracks down a wanted fugitive (Ryan) and plans to collect on his bounty. The venture is complicated by two strangers-one a caddish soldier (Meeker) and the other a deceptively meek prospector (Mitchell)-who want a piece of the pie. The three men transport the criminal and his girl (Leigh), while always keeping an eye on each other. The best of what are termed the Anthony Mann psychological westerns, with shades of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the chief pleasure of the film is its clash of distinct characters. As a Hollywood western of the classic tradition, it’s a little too glossy at times. Still a superb picture. Simple story, complex western.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-