Thoughts On Films: Red River (1948)

red-river-movie-poster-1948-1020199975

Name:  Red River
Year:  1948
Runtime:  2h13m
Directors:  Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson
Cast:  John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan
Watched:  30 December 2018

Now this is the perfect way to while away a lazy Sunday over Christmas. Finally getting home and chilling out, watching an old Western on ITV4. In black & white! And followed up with two WW2 films made in the 1960s. Glorious.

At over 2 hours 15 minutes – plus ITV’s adverts – it is quite a long film but I didn’t mind at all. The set up takes a bit of explaining both here and in the film.

I would imagine this is a harder film to find these days, unless you catch it on TV, so this’ll be a much longer piece than normal. My usual reviews should cap out at about 800 words and will have considerably less plot explanation, I’m including it here because I’m guessing you can’t fire up Netflix and find it. But do have a look on Amazon or iTunes and watch it!

The West

It is the old West and a wagon train is heading across the plains from St Louis to California with settlers looking for a new life. In the apparent middle of nowhere, as they pass somewhere near the border with north Texas. Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) announces he’s leaving and settling in Texas.

He’s leaving the love of his life who desperately wants to come with him. But he insists life will be too hard as he’s planning to set up a cattle farm from absolutely nothing, him and Nadine Groot (Walter Brennan), an older man who always stays at his side, plus a bull and a couple of cows of course, all tied to the back of Groot’s wagon. He leaves her his mother’s bracelet and says he’ll send for her.

At the end of the day’s riding they reach the Red River, the border with Texas. They look back and see black smoke in the distance. Indians.

[American Indians of course, Native Americans. How times and terminology have changed. I’m sure I’ve seen an old Western which also looked from the other point of view, that attacks on wagon trains were their way to defend encroachment on their territory, even if the ways were not good. But this assuredly isn’t that film. But neither is it an excuse to have ‘good guys’ shoot ‘Injuns’ just for the sake of it. In fact, other than one attack much later on, this is the last we see of them.]

Too far away to help and knowing if they’re good they’ll follow their tracks and catch up, the two set up watch overnight. Sure enough, a group of braves shoot lighted fire arrows at them and kill one of the cows. Dunson and Groot are good shots though and after a battle they are the last men standing. But one was wearing that bracelet, which Dunson takes back off the body. If she’d come with him, or he stayed with the wagons, she might still be alive.

Next day, a young man is wandering toward them with a cow. He’s talking gibberish and in a trance. After being snapped out of it, not before he pulls a gun which Dunson has to get off him, he says he’s Matt (in this part played by Mickey Kuhn). He was the only one alive. I must admit I wasn’t sure if he came from the same wagon train, some write-ups say he was and he’s the only survivor, but if that were true then Dunson & Groot would’ve known him. I thought he was a survivor from another one.

The trio continue until the Rio Grande, where Dunson stops and declares all the land he can see north of the Rio Grande is his, that in 10 years he’ll have the biggest ranch in Texas with enough beef to feed the country, all branded with his Red River D. After setting up camp two Mexican men approach, saying the land is owned by their boss Don Diego who is based 400 miles away. As they argue one Mexican goes for his gun. Dunson shoots him dead, sends the other man away, and buries and reads the bible over the dead man.

And yes, all of that, which takes up a good 45 minutes or so, is the first act.

From here in this piece there are story-relevant spoilers, but I’ll go into less detail in the hope of avoiding as many as possible.

The Drive

I like the story-telling device here. Hand-written pages of a book, in close-up so you only see parts of it. It says 14 years have passed, the farm had grown just as Dunson had said it would, through hard work and just giving it time.

We fade back up to a scene of thousands of cattle all branded with the Red River brand, a big house and farm buildings and many men working for him – and more burial crosses of those who tried to take the land. Matt (now an adult played by Montgomery Clift) is back home from fighting the US Civil War. But there’s no money, the war has drained the South. The cows are worthless here. Dunson decides on a desperate move: drive 10,000 head of cattle the 1,000 miles north to Missouri where prices are good.

And that’s the second half of the film. The trials of the men as they drive North, risking attack both from Indians and in Missouri by those who don’t want cheaper Texan beef in their markets.

Cattle from other ranches had wandered across and Dunson orders them branded with the Red River brand too even if they’re already branded. He’ll take all of them. Another farmer rides up with his support, looking to take back his cattle. After exchanging threats the other man backs down and agrees to take a cut of the money Dunson makes for any cattle with the other man’s brand on it. But one of his hands Cherry has heard about Dunson and on the spot offers to join him on the drive.

Back at the ranch, Dunson offers to any man that he can stay behind, no hard feelings, but if anyone comes long he must stay with it all the way, no matter what. It’ll be 10 miles per day, maybe 12, so it’ll take about 100 days.

He works them hard. The men get tired. At a river crossing where the could camp and rest to cross in the morning he insists they cross that evening. Not easy with 10,000 cows. And after losing a wagon load of food when the herd stampedes, the men are hungry and want to get out of it, there are several attempts to quit. Especially since there’s a clear path to Kansas, where they’ve heard there’s a railway and cattle market. But nobody knows for sure if it’s there.

He even kills a deserter. Shoots him dead and buries him. After that he stays awake on watch for hours. His judgement impaired by days awake and driving for miles, he tries to whip the man who caused the stampede, he tries to hang three more men who desert!

Enough is enough for Matt. Matt takes control and heads for Kansas. Dunson is left behind, seething and injured he swears to kill Matt if he ever catches him – and promises he will catch him.

The tension between the two is palpable. I later read this was in part because Wayne and Clift really didn’t like each other on set, a real personality clash and very much disagreed politically. I have to say that adds something to the performances.

There’s a whole subplot here where Matt runs into a wagon train under attack, meets a woman, Tess (Joanne Dru), and the two immediately fall for each other. Matt has to make the same decision Dunson did 14 years ago.

That takes us to about half hour left and I’ll leave it there, just in case you find it and don’t want the end spoiled! Does Matt get the cows there? Does Dunson catch up? And what of Tess?

Stubbornness & A Modern Link

Dunson is a hard, stubborn man who knows what he wants, takes what he wants, when he wants it. Never wrong in his own mind. Exactly who you’d stereo-typically picture a John Wayne character to be from the actor’s reputation!

And this film does feature some absolutely nailed-on John Wayne cliche dialogue. And they’re all brilliant lines. They’re classics for a reason. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Matt: “You’d have shot him between the eyes!”
Dunson (Wayne, in his drawl): “Just as sure as you’re standing there.”

And with such conviction and ruthlessness, fending for yourself, having no qualms about shooting your own men dead but then reading the bible over their bodies after they are buried – this type of morality is even questioned by another character in the film – you start to understand why parts of the US are the way they are, why the current Republican belief system is so strong. It may be that the 1850s were like this. It’s just as likely, if not more so, this is the creation myth of the United States which has over time developed into a legend rather than actual history, this film shot in 1948 being among many to reinforce it. Perhaps this whole sense of self is harking back to a mythologised past.

The trail itself though, the drive across 1000 miles from Texas? That did actually happen!

Yet a recurring motif throughout the film is Dunson getting it wrong. And Groot telling him so. Whether it be about Fen, the fiancee he left behind. Or working the men too hard. Or the way he treats those who try to run.

And about Matt’s chances of getting to Kansas.

Comedy & Delivery

I love the quips in this film.

“I never like seeing strangers, guess it’s ‘cos no stranger ever good newsed me.” – Groot

“There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch? – Cherry

“I don’t like things going good or bad, I like ’em in between.” – Sims

The timing of the delivery of lines is really well placed as well. You can tell there was some level of freedom for the actors. It isn’t managed to within an inch of its’ life and it works all the better for it.

And yes, much of the style is dated, like the way they turn slightly, to better face the camera, when they want to speak. Yet much is very well done. Without CGI they made barely 1,000 cows look like 10,000. The actors all seem good riders to an untrained eye.

They included the questions about involving religion after you kill a man, about being gung-ho and making rash decisions. It isn’t a film about “killing injuns”.

Once you get used to the black and white and the style of writing, Red River really is well worth spending a couple of hours of your chilled out day.

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Thoughts On Films: Ready Player One (2018)

ready player one

Name:  Ready Player One
Year:  2018
Runtime:  2h20m
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Cast:  Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Watched:  25 December 2018

In the year 2045, the real world is a harsh place. The only time Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) truly feels alive is when he escapes to the OASIS, an immersive virtual universe where most of humanity spends their days. In the OASIS, you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. The OASIS was created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who left his immense fortune and total control of the Oasis to the winner of a three-part contest he designed to find a worthy heir. When Wade conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-aka the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS.

This was fun. All of the ’80s and ’90s pop culture references! And the virtual world was so well created, complete with everyone’s personal avatars. Might this be the best ‘video game film’ yet made? I think the only competition is Wreck-It Ralph, which is also excellent. I was sold in the opening scene with Parzival navigating different worlds to ‘Jump’ by Van Halen.

I feel like I spotted barely half the nods and references and probably a lot less than that. Some views were so fleeting and others contained so many characters, you’d need to watch fifty times. Favourites included the Parzival’s DeLorean customised with KITT’s moving red light, the A-Team van, the Serenity – and all the things in Aech’s workshop! The ‘shop alone included the TARDIS, a Viper from Battlestar Galactica, the ship from Spaceballs, the Iron Giant and countless other things. I think in those scenes I was more interested in watching the background than I was following the dialogue.

It didn’t feel at all like the 2 hour 20 minute run time. I’m not sure whether it was because it was after a big Christmas Day meal and I enjoyed the breather. Or if it was a movie with a lot going on, or that spending the time looking for references kept you busy. It really felt like it zipped along. It wasn’t all fast-paced, the breathers and slower moments were well-timed and it never felt they were there just to break up the action before all the racing and running and shooting started again. And unlike some fast-moving films I never felt the dashing around was too much or over the top – a lot of modern blockbusters have overly busy battle sequences just because they can.

Perhaps the final battle was a bit busy, but then with so many avatars in this world and so much at stake for them in the story, you’d expect a lot going on at once.

The worlds in the OASIS were well-created, just like being inside a game. As I say, probably the best representation alongside Wreck-It Ralph. The nightclub scene was particularly good.

And obviously as a racing fan I have to praise the inclusion of the big race! Tons of things to see here too, like Bigfoot, the 1960s Batmobile, and the jump was even the one from The Man With The Golden Gun! Was there a pointed comment that IOI’s identikit ‘sixers’ were racing identical NASCAR-style stock cars? Maybe that was just me.

The section from The Shining was a bit weird.

A lot of the references were from mid-00s shoot-em-up games, which was a bit weird too. I feel like someone like Halliday with all the 80s movies, would be more influenced by 90s shooters like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake. But I get they’re trying to appeal to a younger audience too here.

Similarly, many of the references I didn’t understand were because they were American, but since that was where Halliday was from and also where Parzival and Artemis were from, that seemed fair enough. We Brits got plenty of mentions elsewhere, particularly with Goldeneye N64 and with the 80s music.

Everyone’s experience of the time was different and this was Halliday’s experience, or perhaps that of the author of the book on which this was based!

Going the other way, it was as if pop culture stopped in about 2010. (Not that I’m sure what I’d include from the current decade.) But it was kind of weird they didn’t invent their own stuff for the period 2010 to 2045. Was that part of the dystopia, that nothing new had been made?

I don’t want to make it seem like the references are the main thing, though it could’ve been. It would’ve been easy to stuff it full of distractions, ‘remember this?’, ‘remember that?’, and not bother with a story. Yet the story itself is good, so is the direction which you’d expect from Spielberg. The challenge to find the 3 keys in this virtual existence is an interesting one. The challenges are all fiendishly difficult and you have to think outside the box, like a classic video game.

They spend hours researching Halliday’s life and influences for clues in his virtual museum (with Simon Pegg as an Ask Jeeves-styled butler / curator). It was a nice touch that it been 5 years since he died, people had been trying to find the first one for years, then once it had been found they’d been trying to beat it for months. They didn’t just find it and complete it in 5 minutes.

The lead characters of Parzival/Wade and Artemis/Samantha were good. Their avatars felt well-rounded and interesting while their real world selves were a little one-dimensional, which seems a fair representation of someone spending all their lives in the virtual world! Wade being a super-fan of Halliday meant he was first to pick up on clues in the museum – and it too helped that both were very good game players.

They joined up with the supporting characters in a gang called the ‘High Five’, though I must admit I only saw the name well after watching the film. If they mentioned it in the film it wasn’t often and I didn’t notice it.

Meanwhile, Sorrento’s army from IOI was closing in both in the virtual world and in the real one, finding Wade’s home in the real world and forcing him to flee. Perhaps the only bit that brought me out of the world was that Samantha and the others were physically close to Wade all along.

Ben Mendelsohn is carving out a fun little niche for himself as Generic Bad Guy.  In Rogue One he was Director Orson Krennic, the man in charge of delivering the Death Star. In Robin Hood (2018) he was the Sheriff of Nottingham, I’ve not seen the film but that character is nearly always your classic pantomime villain. And here he is as Sorrento, the greedy corporate head honcho who doesn’t care for the OASIS or those in it, other than to make money from them, getting them into debt so they can spend their lives in ‘loyalty centres’ earning money in games. I hesitate to say he’s hamming it up in all of these roles and thoroughly enjoying himself in the process… but I’m sure he is!

And Halliday himself seemed to be some mash-up between ’90s games creators and Garth from Wayne’s World, although it took me a few days to figure out that resemblance. He was well played by Mark Rylance as the gentle yet originally single-minded creator, regretting his mistakes and wanting to protect his legacy.

So much more I can add in. I’m writing this a couple of weeks after seeing it and I didn’t take notes, so I’ve reminded myself a of a few things after forgetting some of the detail. There was a lot to remember!

If you like a bit of 80s film and gaming nostalgia, along with Tron-style virtual world-building taken to the next level, I highly recommend watching this.

Thoughts on Films: Total Recall

Spoiler Alert – This Post May Give Things Away

Total Recall 2012

Name: Total Recall (2012)
Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h 58m
IMDB link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1386703/
Actors: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel

The Set Up

It is the far future and Earth is a post-apolocalyptic landscape, apart from two remaining zones in Europe and Australia containing the rest of humanity crammed together in massive cities all living on top of one another. So far, so Dredd.

Our protaganist is bored with life so he decides to visit one the latest fad, a company called Rekall offering to implant fake memories and experiences of any life you choose, which you will remember as if it were your own. Alas something goes wrong, he finds himself with training a factory worker really shouldn’t have, and he’s on the run from the authorities. Is he living the implanted memory.. or is this for real?

Thoughts

I am sure most of you are familiar with the 1990 Total Recall film with Arnold Schwarzeneggar which set the action on Mars.

If you’ve never seen the Arnie film you’re probably thinking, “this sounds like Bourne meets Inception”. And you’d mostly be right, I have to imagine their popularity is why this was made. It isn’t a bad idea, I mean it sounds pretty cool right?

For those who have seen the Arnie film, be warned, much like the Dredd reboot this film is not like like the first go around in the 1990s except in this case there are barely any similarities! For starters it isn’t played for laughs at all. Arnie had all these one-liners and corny jokes and the whole thing was a bit of a silly, tongue-in-cheek romp around Mars.
This film is nothing like that, it very much plays it seriously. I can see what they were doing  – distance yourself from the other film and get closer to the original short story both were based upon. Laudable aim but they don’t quite pull it off. Like every action film it does need a bit of humour here and there and this doesn’t really have any. The original had video clips of news and commercials with biting satirical comment.. this one had video clips but they were just video clips of general news reports.

And one other thing – it isn’t on Mars.

This is fairly important because in the original film Mars was a crucial part of the story, here they’re on opposite sides of the Earth but with a transportation system which rendered the fact virtually irrelevant. To them, crossing the planet every day was just as mundane as taking the London Underground from Waterloo to Bank, even if it was a ludicrous tunnel through the centre of the Earth. Did they miss the film ‘The Core’ and how it was mocked mercilessly for being completely ridiculous? You can’t just tunnel through the core! Being on Mars was far more believable.

I suppose that was a laugh in itself but once it had established it was playing it straight it had to maintain that and not invent a crazy tunnel. Mind you, the crazy gravity inversion was done fairly well in the effects department. It just felt as if that whole tunnel thing was invented purely for the later scene where they have a fight on the tube. Anyone who’s seen any Bond film could tell you how that ends so it wasn’t really worth it.

Yes, it takes itself seriously but you can’t take the film seriously. Maybe that’s what was intended!

If you remove the link to the old film and concentrate on the actual film itself it is quite enjoyable. There wasn’t much that we haven’t seen before in Bourne films or Bond films or others in the action genre, and the memory twists we’ve also seen before. What we hadn’t seen was this combination and this excecution and it was done fairly well, with the modern filming style adding a lot to it.

It’s also half an hour longer than it needed to be, funnily enough it is about half an hour longer than Dredd. It seems to be a trend among films today to be longer than needed, maybe to justify increased ticket fees.

Cast

Much of the cast were like robots. I’m unsure if this was the fault of the actors as the film lacked character development for practically everybody but the main character. Of course with nobody worth talking to it meant Colin Farrell had nothing to work with either, which leads to the impression he wasn’t on song for this one. Now maybe that really is down to him as people have said that about his other films, but based on the other characters here I’ve got to blame the writing.

You cared about Kate Beckinsale’s character at the beginning, until the twist when she turned into a caricature of Victoria Beckham stalking around in a music video. We were supposed to root for Jessica Biel’s character as Farrell’s old friend, but there was no development at all apart from flashbacks we see right from the early scenes, which are repeated later, so we weren’t really given a reason to care.

It was just a waste of a cast really.

Effects etc

The hover-car chase was pretty cool even if was a bit ‘Fifth Element’. That and the gravity efffect in the weird tunnel thing. The cityscape was interesting especially in the Colony which was much more believable than supposed future-London.

London.. It felt half-assed, as if a late decision to decide it was London. (For starters almost everyone in both London and Australia had an American accent.) The old-fashioned abandoned subway train was a classic New York City subway train with a London Underground sticker on it, not a classic London train. Maybe that’s how things will be in a few hundred years, I don’t know.

The really annoying thing, knowing London geography, is Parliament and Big Ben being shown surrounded by new buildings reaching up to the sky for miles around. Later they cut to the gas-ridden part of the city, abandoned for miles around.. yet I am sure is set near the Bank of England barely 3-4 miles away. Maybe they built a replica Parliament somewhere else.

Recommendation?

I don’t do ratings as I prefer summing-up.

As a future-sci-fi action movie with some cool effects with future tech and memory tricks and a crazy tunnel, it should’ve been better than a run-of-the-mill action movie, but it isn’t. To be fair the 1990 film was a run-of-the-mill action movie of its day, it is Arnie’s corny lines and the weird humour which makes it a classic for people of my generation. This new film lacks anything like that.

Sometimes all you want is a generic future action movie and like the ’90 film it does work well on that level, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. However if you’re looking for a fun reboot of the original film, this isn’t it.

Tough one. Let me know what you think.

Thoughts on Films: Dredd (3D)

Spoiler Alert – This Post May Give Things Away

Dredd 2012

Name: Dredd (2012)
Year: 2012
Runtime: 1h35m
IMDB link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1343727/
Actors: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey.

The Set Up

Judge Dredd is one of the more famous comic books under the 2000 A.D. banner, I’m not a reader but I grew up knowing it was fairly dark. I never felt the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film hit the right tone so I was intrigued about this one.

Some time in the next 100 years civilisation is forced to gather together into Mega Cities. Mega City One sprawls across much of North Eastern USA. Huge tower blocks 100 stories tall containing entire communities dot the landscape. Crime is rife, law and order having broken down in the chaos. Justice is now exclusively dispensed by ‘Judges’, super-cops acting as on-the-spot judge, jury and if necessary, executioner.

Among the most fearsome is Judge Dredd. He’s been tasked with assessing a rookie candidate to see if she is worth training up. They respond to a murder report at one of these blocks tmo discover a gang has completely taken over the block and they’re dealing a new narcotic.

All of this you learn in the opening 15-20 minutes.

Thoughts

Okay, this is different to the 1995 Stallone film!

There’s a realism to the main city which is similar to District 9. It’s like a modern city but bigger, more run-down and crime-ridden and with these huge structures dotted all over it. Obviously the action then switches entirely to the block, which is one way to cut down the massive special effects demands of a future city!

(This is where the spoilers begin).

Yes I was a little cynical of the move to keep it within the block but it does actually work. Dredd and Andersen have to fight their way up the building which lends it an almost claustrophobic feel despite the size of the place.

Cast

I thought Karl Urban played a much better Dredd than did Stallone, I’ve not read the comics but I’ve seen enough excerpts over the years to be able to figure out that Urban’s Dredd is much closer to the original than Stallone’s. For one thing he never removed his helmet, just as Dredd has never done in the comics. You just get this gruff, stubble-chinned grimace. He’s not supposed to reveal a lot of personality, that’s the whole idea, the masked man of justice by whatever means necessary.

Olivia Thirlby was good as Anderson on the journey from raw rookie. I’ve no idea if this was a character from the books. Having her as a psychic was an interesting touch, made it a little bit X-Men perhaps, but at least most had rarely encountered the like before. Her interaction with the prisoner in the interrogation was classic! Good to see Wood Harris again too, he was Avon Barksdale in The Wire which I watched a lot of last year.

One of the minus-marks was when they did the little routine of the kid wandering into the corridor, Judges wave him back, the Bad Guys shoot the place to pieces, kid wanders out unharmed. I mean really? It would’ve worked as a joke or in a kid-friendly film, but it just didn’t fit here.

Effects

I thought the 3D effects were really well done, it was more immersive and ‘normal’ than other films I’ve seen recently where they play 3D tricks and fly things at the screen, even including whole scenes of it purely because they were able to. In this it was more that they blended into the action and it was the action your focus was on, which is exactly how it should be.

The real effects were in the Slo-Mo sections, the drug makes you experience time 10x more slowly than real time and they showed us what that would be like – fantastic in 3D! Also a great way to torture or murder somebody, say by dosing them up on this stuff and throwing them off a 100-storey building, which is what prompted the Judges to arrive in the first place. Nasty.

I don’t know if it was the film or the cinema (Cineworld Yeovil) but the sound and music were very loud, too loud at times. It got uncomfortable in places.

Recommendation

If you like gangster vs cop movies, darker (non-Superman) comic-book movies, or anything with an underdog vs bad guys theme, this film is for you. And at 90 minutes it isn’t super-long.