Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. The old lonesome house, and our weary protagonist, reminded me of Unforgiven. So much western goodness: Leone-esque desert wah wah guitar, church bells, lonesome trumpets; lone figures in a heat-rippled landscape; swords at the ready at the hip or hand like pistols, or resting across a saddle. Interesting gender themes: entitlement, absentee parents, naming children, pregnancy rumors and shaming. Birth scene seems an echo of early trauma. See also: Revenge, MFA, A Vigilante, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, etc..


Stagecoach. It is every bit as good as you’ve heard. Really wish I hadn’t ignored the praise for so long. I like these movies where a loosely-tied cast of characters get thrown together. Made me think of Mad Max: Fury Road, if taken down to a crisp 90 minutes. The pacing sweeps you up. I wasn’t expecting a love story, too!

Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk. It’s a western and a horror film. I shouldn’t have to sell it more than that, but I’ll add that it has a script that just blew my mind. So funny, so sharp. There’s some thematic richness, too, in how these characters (all pretty well-drawn) manage what they face together (some, uh, seriously horrific stuff – fair warning). So pleasantly surprised with this movie. I need a rewatch!

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

3:10 to Yuma (2007). Well, Russell Crowe is no Glenn Ford, but who is. Loved the original movie, which fleshes out the very short story really well. This movie adds in a bit too much extra material for me, which dissipates the tension. Good, though. Themes of pride, circumstance, honor. Love this line on insurance/forced retirement, basically: “They weren’t paying me to walk away; they were paying me so they could walk away.” Filed under: westerns.

The Salvation

The Salvation. I feel like Mads Mikkelsen’s face was just begging to be put in a Western. This one sometimes feels like it was assembled from a western-movie kit, but has some really good moments – I particularly like the conversation with the priest in the jail, the parallel funerals, and a silent escape on a train.

Meek’s Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff. The opening scene has the cast fording a waist-deep river – rushing water taking over the soundtrack – and you sense that’s about as good as it’s gonna get for a while. I love the contrast between the hot bright sunny bleached-out days, and the nights where you can see absolutely nothing but what fire’s light touches. And the square frame makes things feel a bit more fraught somehow. Over and over we see women hanging back while men deliberate their course. (Often with men in long shot, conversations barely audible, while the women get the close-ups and mediums.) And look where it gets them. By the end, it’s time to try something new. Fingers crossed.

Kelly Reichardt’s movies Night Moves and Old Joy are also really good. Wendy & Lucy is still on my list.

Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West. Welp. It’s perfect. This was my second time seeing it all the way through (my first), and I was very lucky to catch it on the big screen. Two things that stood out for me more this time around….

One, the operatic heightening. Straight out of opera, each major character gets a leitmotif in the soundtrack, they’re all introduced in a different way to draw attention to their role, and they’re all pretty unambiguous archetypes: villain, hero, buffoon, hooker with heart of gold. And dang, that score.

Two, the recurring hints about time. The movie opens with a shot of a rail schedule, then shifts to a comically, absurdly extended introduction marked by dripping water and creaking windmills. The anxious father who wants to be ready for his beloved’s arrival. Watches checked, appointments made. A capitalist who wants to reach the Pacific coast before his death. A railroad station that must be built on a deadline. Fancy clocks in the financier’s railcar. The clockface in town during a shoot-out. And battles that the hero faces are a sort of countdown: three assassins, then two, then one.

High Plains Drifter

High Plains Drifter. This is one of those movies where you have to remember that the protagonist doesn’t always reflect the values of the real, actual live human being director. Here, the Stranger kills three guys and rapes a woman within, oh, 10-15 minutes. It’s not the most subtle movie you’ll ever see. Honestly, I finished this one out of a sense of obligation and curiosity because I love westerns and I love Clint Eastwood. This was the second movie he directed, after Play Misty for Me. Aside from a few excellent parts here and there, this one is more enjoyable when reading and thinking about it after you’ve watched it than while actually watching. It doesn’t all hold together so well. Comparing this to his directing work in the 1990s and 2000s is like night and day. That said, objectively awesome bits include a great opening mirage entrance scene, a spooky, eerie score that would fit right in with a horror or 1950s scifi movie, and the tough guy one-liners. Speaking of tough guys, I really need to make some time for the Dirty Harry flicks…