Archive for February, 2014

Haikuesday

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A secret nausea

It builds in hesitation

Moving is the cure

 

Western Watchins #64

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One day you will learn, if you don’t already realize, that everything changes. Everything is coming and going and growing while falling apart. If you’re not able to bend like a reed in the wind then you’ll never beat Feyd and rule over DUNE (or any other David Lynch production for that matter). Since their heyday in Hollywood, Westerns have become the red-headed step child of a retarded rape victim. No one wants to acknowledge them or talk about where they came from so when a great one comes along like Tombstone or Rango the fans have to rejoice that someone, somewhere figured out a way to make a modern movie that could talk to an audience today while still listening intently to what the past had to say. 

The Train Robbers hit theaters during a critical decade for America and for the Western itself. Vietnam was raging in our hearts and minds as the sexual revolution was headed full steam towards a point when it would self destruct under its own weight. People were still going to the movies of course, but a most interesting mix of “the way things were” versus “fuck the way things were” outlooks led to cinematic schizophrenia. Those ten years gave us Superman and Grease right next to Apocalypse Now and A Clockwork Orange. 1973 should be of particular note for Western fans as the spring of that year saw the Duke and friends headed for gold and high wholesome adventure when just a few short months later High Plains Drifter would ride into town and skull fuck you.

There are ways to cling to the past and not look desperate. And tired. And laughable. The Train Robbers manages all three negatives while grasping in a painfully pathetic way at its own ill conceived image of better days gone by. Here’s Ben Johnson.

 

 

He was in a bunch of Westerns. He was one of the guys I liked in The Shadow Riders and the only guy I liked in The Wild Bunch and yet you can see on his face here he’s thinking “sheeeeeeeeit, this movie is shit!” Most of the budget for this film was spent on miles and miles of cabling so all the actors could just phone it in on a daily basis. Yes, even John Wayne. It’s not long once he shows up on screen before you recognize that the huge plant sticking out of his ass is a laurel. Ann-Margret sticks out too if only because she’s a girl and this production is trying to milk her innocent widow role for all the subdued sexiness they can. She’s all “don’t look at my butt” and then “look at my butt!”

 

 

One scene has everyone standing around just staring at her box! See!

 

 

You can almost here the guy in the middle saying “people are supposed to give a shit by this point right?” Except I’ll bet everyone was pretty hard pressed to. I know I was. Simple storylines work when you care about everyone involved and no one went out of their way to make me care except for Ann-Margret’s butt and Ricardo Montalban. His was a mysterious role and the one facet of the film I was mildy entertained by if only to find out what his sporadic appearances meant in the end. The bitter end might I add. Not since another Duke mysteriously came back to life as an afterthought at the end of G.I.Joe: The Movie has an ending felt so tacked on and limp. Roughly sixty seconds before the credits roll and you’ve waited and wondered why you even watched this damn movie but now comes the payoff and you are more than ready for something big. That’s when you hear a voice screaming in the distance only to realize that fully nine years before Star Trek II you just got Khaaaaaaaaaaan-ed!

 

 

That’s John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror by the by, a movie that in addition to giving everyone who worked on it cancer gave us all an Asian John Wayne. Sure it was terribly miscast but you can’t say it wasn’t ballsy. And balls it seems were in short supply by the time The Trains Robbers got to filmin’. In an attempt to honor yesteryear the movie made it all look so listless. And not in a good Sergio Leone way. There’s another poster for The Train Robbers and Wayne doesn’t even look like he knows which direction this picture is headed.

There are a few (and fucking far between) moments of rock solid and surprising character development. Some genuinely impressive moments but they pass too quickly and we’re soon again forced into yet another enigmatically ridiculous travelling montage or slew of saddle worn jokes. The director’s erratic use of odd filters, double exposures and an incongruous color palette made one “epic” scene look like something that was mercifully left on Tommy‘s cutting room floor.

And the music. God almighty the score in this film was more out of place than Wayne in The Conqueror. Though suitable for some film I’m sure, alomost every piece of music in the Train Robbers was misplaced. On the whole it was too grandiose for what was a rather bare bones production. Close your eyes and you’ll imagine entire herds of buffalo roaming a vast plain as the sun sets casting its majestic glow and think “I just died and went to heaven.” Open them and think “I may have just sharted!”

 

 

Yep, it’s the second one. And an appropriate analogy. The Train Robbers starts off, at least visually and atmospherically, with a lot of promise. Maybe this one, this one that’s building inside will just pass through without any trouble and move on out into the world. But then something goes horribly wrong and you’re left sitting hip deep in a mucked out mess.

2 rounds in the cylinder this week and one of those is actually a peanut I found in the couch cushions. And I don’t usually eat peanuts so I’m not sure what the hell that thing was. Same could be said for The Train Robbers. It’s not old timey it’s just old and without the strength necessary to wave the banner it’s so obviously trying to wave in the face of changing times. The producers and stars weren’t willing to pass the torch at that critical moment in Western movie history so Eastwood just burnt the entire house down on top of them torch and all. Twenty years earlier and The Train Robbers might have worked. It moves beyond traditional Lone Ranger fare with a few prototypical elements that look to a future when things would be a lot more grey than simply black and white but it comes off on the whole as a film flirting with those sensibilities instead of truly understanding them. One of the last “hurrahs” of an era but sadly without any “hurray!”

But we ride on, taking the good with the bad and of course the ugly. All of it makes us who we are and I for one can look in the mirror and not be too damn displeased. Riding true tends to have that effect. So get to riding amigos. 

 

Haikuesday

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Bright childhood robots

Look so dull and lifeless now

But I won’t forget

 

 

 

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