Ever wish there was a movie where Val Kilmer plays a dead corpse? Like…the whole movie? Well you’re in luck, because in Summer Love he does just that. It’s funny because there aren’t even any flashbacks, any death scene or any instances where he’s alive. He’s just a dead body for the whole. friggin. movie. Now you might think what an lazy, pay cheque collecting half ass move, but let me assure you that shit isn’t easy. I’ve played a corpse in films for maybe minutes at a time after I’ve bee killed, and that was bad enough. Thinking about having to lie still and do that for an entire film gives me hives. So kudos to Val who sticks through it like a champ, spending every frame all rigor mortis-ed up and dead as disco. The film was released in North America unde the dvd title ‘Dead Man’s Bounty’ a decidedly more genre title than Summer Love, which is all part of an effort to label it as a violent action western. It’s It’s a western, alright and it’s plenty violent. But action? No sir. It’s slower than the service I get at McDonald’s and very, very European. Most of the actors besides Kilmer are Polish, kind of like Eastwood waltzing around with a bunch of Italians in a spaghetti western. I guess the term for this one would be perogy western. The lead actor is actually Czech, the ever awesome Karel Roden, playing a perpetually wounded and apparantly mute gunslinger who arrives in a dinghole of a town with Kilmer’s body, looking to collect his bounty. The town is a sour, miserable, derelict place, populated by bad tempered, booze gulping men, and one much abused whore (Katarzyna Figura). The sheriff (Boguslaw Linda) is a stumbling, incapable drunkard whose first thought is to rob anyone who passes through his town. Roden silently navigates this cesspool outpost, keeping Kilmer near and his guns at the ready. Not much actually happens in the film, mostly everyone just sits around drinking and mumbling incoherently to themselves in tones that no doubt sound poetic to their heavily inebriated minds. The whore gets slapped around a whole lot which will no doubt put some viewers off, if they aren’t already asleep. The ‘Summer Love’ title comes from the chorus of a song which is played in an opening sequence that proves to be one of the few sparks of life in this fairly dead affair. Kilmer’s trademark peppiness is nowhere to be found because… well… he’s a dead guy, and the rest of the cast are basically drunk western zombies who have all lost their scripts. Morbidly fascinating, never enjoyable, startlingly bad.
It’s refreshing that in an age populated by revisionist westerns and snazzy new takes on the ancient genre, some filmmakers just want to play it straight and deliver a good old oater without any newfangled bells and whistles. Jon Cassar’s Forsaken does just that, arriving a few years late (turbulent post production issues) but in modest, simple form, here to tell the age old tale of one man who stands up to some evil frontier bankers with stoic heroism. Kiefer Sutherland is John Henry Clayton, a man who has been away from his quiet hometown for nearly a decade. Following a traumatic stint in the war, circumstance led him into the life of the gunfighter. His unannounced return home stirs up old wounds in his preacher father (Donald Sutherland) who cringes in the very presence of his violent aura. John has thrown down the guns and sworn never to pick them up again, but we all know that just ain’t true, and when he meets a certain group of unsavory dudes in town, he becomes a time bomb of righteous anger that’s liable to go off any time. He spends some time mourning his mother and reconnecting with a lost love (Demi Moore), until the inevitable conflict brews. Corrupt banker James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is buying up farms and forcing families who don’t want to sell off their land, using despicable methods carried out by his two goons, vicious Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole) and mercurial ‘Gentleman’ Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Tensions arise and everyone finds themselves headed for an unavoidable and blistering conclusion. Kiefer always has a jagged rage simmering just below the surface, which is what made him so perfect as Jack Bauer, another time bomb. He’s downright implosive here, delivering the best work I’ve ever seen him give. He’s got a touching scene with his father in which he goes to places I didn’t know he was capable of in his work. Donald is quiet, resentful and compassionate, wrestling internally to keep his serenity in the face of injustice. Cox always puts on a good show as the villain, and he’s exactly what he needs to be here: beaurocratic menace with just a dash of swagger. It’s Wincott who steals the show though, with the best work in the film. He inhabits Dave (and his incredibly dapper costume) with a relaxed, lupine calm, punctuated by sudden bursts of danger and always presided over by the midnight black, raspy croon of a voice that makes him so special. He jaunts along the line between villain and sympathetic antihero so well, the only character in the film to shirk the archetypes, and I was please try reminded of Jason Robard’s Cheyenne from Once Upon A Time In The West. His best work in a while as well, but then he’s always perfect. The film is refreshingly violent in its gunplay, with an earned brutality that never feels gratuituous, and always satisfying. The production took place in wildest alberta, a trip worth the taking for the breathtaking scenery we get to feast on, especially in an opening credit sequence that is very reminiscent of Eastwood films of yesteryear. It’s a landmark in the sense that although both Kiefer and Donald have been in the same film before (Joel Schumacher’s underrated A Time To Kill) they never have shared the same frame until now. Trust me, it was worth the wait. They are both excellent, along with their peers in a simple, honest to goodness Western film that should please fervent fans of the genre and moviegoers alike.
I’m not a huge fan of westerns. I could count my favorites on one hand but at the top of the list is Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), an epic story about three men’s pursuit of a chest of gold during the American Civil War. In fact, this film is one of my favorites of all-time. Instead of doing my usual in-depth examination of the film’s production, which has been covered in definitive detail in Christopher Frayling’s excellent Leone biography Something to Do with Death, I’ve decided to take a look at some of my favorite scenes.
The way Sergio Leone introduces the film’s three main characters says so much about them. Tuco a.k.a. The Ugly (Eli Wallach) is the film’s wild, uncontrollable id and the humanistic character of the three in the sense that he has all of the foibles and weaknesses that we all do. He is one of the most lethal, yet ungraceful characters in the western genre. His introduction sets up what a formidable opponent he is as he quickly dispatches three men come to kill him. Tuco crashes through a storefront window with a gun in one hand and a huge chunk of meat and bottle of wine clenched in the other, which perfectly captures the wild, untamable essence of his character. Not even a freeze frame that Leone employs at one point during this sequence slows Tuco down. He is a character of extremes.
Angel Eyes a.k.a. The Bad (Lee Van Cleef) is a cold-blooded killer and Leone captures the menace in the man’s eyes in his first close-up. With this shot Leone establishes that Angel Eyes is pure evil. He visits a man that knows the identity of someone who helped steal a box of gold. He spends a few minutes staring the poor man down, never taking his eyes off him, even while eating, which has to be pretty damn unnerving. The film’s first bit of dialogue is finally spoken in this scene, ten-and-a-half minutes in (including opening credits), which demonstrates Leone’s mastery of visual storytelling. For me, the key bit of dialogue in this scene is when Angel Eyes tells the man, “But when I’m paid, I always see the job through.” He then proceeds to kill the man and his youngest son without hesitation. If that wasn’t bad enough, Angel Eyes goes back to the man who hired him and kills him too because the other man paid him to and, of course, he always sees the job through. There’s a fantastic last shot of Angel Eyes blowing out the room’s lamp and in doing so, disappears into the darkness with a bit of ominous scoring by Ennio Morricone.
Blondie a.k.a. The Good’s (Clint Eastwood) introduction has to be one of the coolest in cinematic history. Three men capture Tuco, who is a wanted fugitive, and one of them says, “You know you got a face beautiful enough to be worth $2,000?” And then a voice off-camera says, “Yeah. But you don’t look like the one who’ll collect it.” Blondie then steps in view, coolly lights a cigar and guns down the men with brutal efficiency. Leone prolongs a shot of Blondie’s face as long as possible until we find out that he and Tuco have a deal. Blondie captures Tuco and brings him in for the reward money. He then rescues Tuco before he’s hanged to death and they repeat the process as the reward money increases. When Blondie brings Tuco in to the authorities, the fugitive lets loose a hilarious string of insults and curses directed at his captors. No one can quite say the word, “bastard” with the same kind of passion and venom as Eli Wallach does in this scene.
Later, as Blondie and Tuco split up the reward, the two men talk about the risks each takes in their endeavors. Tuco gives Blondie a warning that says a lot about his character: “Whoever double-crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco.” He laughs and in a nice bit, chews on one of Blondie’s cigar. I always wondered if that last bit was improvised by Wallach as it has a spontaneous feel to it. However, when Blondie decides to end his partnership with Tuco, he foolishly does not heed the outlaw’s warning and leaves him alive, even if it is the middle of nowhere. Blondie is a fool if he thinks that will kill Tuco, or maybe he just doesn’t care and figures that they will never meet again.
Angel Eyes witnesses Blondie and Tuco’s routine and responds to a woman who expresses relief that Tuco is being hanged by telling her, “People with ropes around their necks don’t always hang.” She asks him to explain and he replies, “Even a filthy beggar like that has got a protective angel.” Blondie is only heroic in an ironic sense. Leone underlines this notion at one point when he uses a faux angelical musical cue by Morricone to play over a shot of Blondie about to “rescue” Tuco from a hangman’s noose. Angel Eyes tells the woman, “A golden-haired angel watches over him.” Blondie is a mercenary but he does have his moments of compassion. He may be an efficient killer but unlike Angel Eyes he only kills when it is absolutely necessary or for profit.
Leone plays with our notions of good and evil with these three characters. Blondie isn’t truly good in the traditional sense but he is within the context of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Angel Eyes is truly bad, a pure killing machine in it only for the gold and not above repeatedly and viciously slapping a woman around in order to get information out of her. There is a glint in Van Cleef’s eye that suggests Angel Eyes enjoys making others afraid through physical intimidation. He is also very cunning and smart. He knows it would be pointless to torture Blondie when he is held captive at the Union Army Prisoner of War camp because he would never talk, as opposed to Tuco who will do or say anything to save his own skin.
Tuco is actually the film’s only sympathetic character. Sure, he is a liar and he’s crude but he also straddles the line between good and evil — at times he is one or the other — much like most people in real life. He is also quite smart as evident in the scene where he expertly assembles his own custom revolver. The others underestimate him and think that he’s stupid, but he’s quite cunning. If anything, he’s a survivor that repeatedly escapes death during the course of the film. While Angel Eyes is pure evil, Tuco is just out for himself and therein lies the crucial difference between the two characters.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a marvel of editing. For example, the scene where Tuco and his three henchmen ambush Blondie is edited in such a way that there is an incredible amount of tension created from cutting back and forth from Blondie cleaning his gun, Tuco’s men quietly approaching his room, and the army marching outside. We are left wondering if the sounds of the army will make it impossible for Blondie to hear the approaching ambush in time and if he will be able to re-assemble his gun in time. Almost no music is used during this scene, just ambient sounds and this helps ratchet up the tension even more.
A lot of people forget that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is also a devastating critique of the American Civil War. For example, there’s a scene where Angel Eyes walks through bombed out ruins and finds all kinds of wounded Confederate soldiers. He talks to their Commanding Officer who accepts a bottle of alcohol in exchange for information. We see this again when Tuco takes Blondie to a mission to nurse him back to health after nearly killing him in the desert. They go through a room full of wounded Confederate soldiers – more casualties of this costly war. There’s also Blondie and Tuco’s time spent at a Union Army P.O.W. camp where Angel Eyes poses as an officer who tortures prisoners for information. Finally, the harshest commentary on the Civil War comes when Blondie and Tuco are captured by the Union Army and meet the Captain who is a jaded drunk. He tells them about the “stupid, useless bridge” that his men fight over with the Confederate Army two times a day because it is a strategic spot, but he dreams of seeing it destroyed. And that’s just what Blondie and Tuco do in a brilliantly choreographed sequence. At this point, the Captain has been mortally wounded but before he dies, he hears the bridge detonating and gives a smile before dying. It was Blondie’s idea to blow up the bridge for the Captain and this act is not only a nice thing to do for the man but also allows him and Tuco to cross the river as the two armies leave, no longer having anything to fight over.
Even though The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is operatic on an epic scale it is the relationships between the three main characters that makes the film so good. In particular, the relationship between Tuco and Blondie is one of the film’s strengths. They often double cross each other and have a real love-hate relationship but at the film’s end, Blondie shows mercy for Tuco’s fate. It goes without saying that it is the talent of the three lead actors that makes these characters so interesting to watch. Clint Eastwood comes from the less is more school of acting and suggests a lot from doing or saying very little. In sharp contrast is Eli Wallach’s flamboyant, over-the-top performance as Tuco. If Eastwood is all about minimalism, then Wallach lets it all hang out. Finally, Lee Van Cleef is a confident, malevolent force of nature — the pure essence of evil.
One of Eli Wallach’s finest moments in the film is when he tries to get Eastwood’s character, who is near-death, to tell him the name on the grave that contains the chest of gold. Wallach goes through a whole range of emotions as Tuco tries every trick that he knows to get the name (including using a friendly approach, begging and even crying) but no dice. It’s a wonderful scene and one that shows Wallach’s range and skill as an actor. Even more revealing is the next scene between Tuco and his brother, which provides all kinds of insight into his character. Tuco’s brother condemns his sibling’s wicked ways and past, but Tuco replies passionately, “Where we came from, if one did not want to die of poverty, one became a priest or a bandit. You chose your way, I chose mine. Mine was harder!” For all of his bravado, this is a moment where Tuco shows a vulnerable side and it adds another layer to this fascinating character.
What I’ve always found interesting is that we never find out if Tuco could beat Blondie in a gunfight. At the film’s climactic showdown, Blondie beats Angel Eyes but he tricks Tuco by not having any bullets in the outlaw’s gun. Is it because he knows that Tuco is faster on the draw? Or is he simply hedging his bets knowing that he could outdraw Angel Eyes but that would leave him little time to shoot Tuco before he shoots him. Alas, we will never know. Living up to his moniker, Blondie doesn’t kill him even though he could. He messes with him a little bit by putting him in a hangman’s noose just like Tuco did to him earlier in the film. However, he gives Tuco enough slack so that he doesn’t die and leaves him some of the gold. Blondie can’t kill Tuco because, despite everything he does in the film, he is easy to like. Again, Blondie only kills when necessary. Of course this doesn’t stop Tuco from shouting out one more curse as a parting shot and a great way to end the film.
The three men system that Leone applies to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of the best plot devices ever. While it’s true that Blondie is no saint he is as close to the traditional definition of “good” as you’re going to get out of a bounty hunter. Angel Eyes is pure evil and Tuco has worked with both of them so what does that make him aside from the “ugly” moniker? He has aspects of both Angel Eyes and Blondie. It’s true that Tuco robs a store for his gun but it is done from a perspective that makes is somewhat sympathetic. Tuco is like most of us, forever unable to decide if he’s all good or all evil. He allies himself to both so that he can call on either depending on the situation. Hence, his shifting alliances with Blondie and Angel Eyes. He knows that Blondie and Angel Eyes will never become a team because Angel Eyes is only using Blondie for the name on the tombstone and Blondie is just looking for a way out.
I think that one of the things I love most about this film is how Leone takes his time and lets scenes play out, using editing only when necessary, when it fits the tone and mood of a given scene, like the aforementioned climactic duel where we get all of these insane close-ups of each man’s hands, eyes, guns and so on. The tension builds and builds for what seems like forever until you’re ready to go insane and yell at the screen, “shoot already!” And then, of course, it all plays out in a few seconds. How brilliant is that? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of those rare films that works on several levels, some that only reveal themselves upon subsequent viewings. While many champion Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) as Leone’s greatest achievement, I have always felt that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was the best thing he ever made – a perfect marriage of epic scale and an intimate, character-driven story.
S. Craig Zahler’s gruesome and gnarly BONE TOMAHAWK is the epitome of a slow burn, and it hits all the marks in this concoction of a horror-western, b-movie, grind house-ish ode to everything that’s transgressivley amazing about cinema.
Set in the late 1800’s, a search party made up of the town’s Sheriff (Kurt Russell), the affable “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), the missing woman’s husband (Patrick Wilson) and a mysterious gunslinger gentleman (Matthew Fox) set out on a suicide journey into the heart of darkness to rescue a kidnapped woman (Wilson’s wife played by Lili Simmons) who was taken by a nasty and ghoulish group of indigenous people.
This is a film that I can’t really peg down. For a genre film, it’s production value is incredibly high, costume design is fantastic and the score by Zahler and Jeff Herriot achieve in a tranquil way, the characters journey to impending doom. For having a deserving, gruesome and bloody climax, it was made without CGI and makes it that much more rewarding. The way Zahler captures the locations, the actors and builds an unprecedented amount of suspense is truly awe-some and admirable.
Kurt Russell is absolutely who we want him to be, the archetypal, honorable, ultimate bad ass alpha who will stop at nothing to rescue this woman. Richard Jenkins is charming as he is affable providing unexpected and quirky comic relief that is an audacious line to walk in a film like this, but is completely welcomed and works perfectly. Patrick Wilson gives one his best performances as the rage filled husband, forcing himself to go on this journey with a broken ankle, pushing himself to the brink. And then there is Matthew Fox, who absolutely steals every single scene he’s in as the very cool and calculated gunslinger with his own dark past.
Rounding out the fantastic cast is David Arquette, the always wonderful Fred Melamed, and surprising and welcome additions by Sean Young, Michael Pare, James Tolkan and the legendary Sid Haig.
The only way I can articulate my admiration and description of the film, is that this film is as if John Carpenter directed THE DESCENT meets THE THING with a dash of THE PREDATOR, set in the late 1800’s. I’ve watched the film twice back to back, and I can’t wait to revisit it again. This film certainly isn’t for everyone, but if the trailer and premise excite you, seek it out immediately. You will not be disappointed.