Movie Project #41 and #42: Once Upon a Time in the West [1968] and The Thin Red Line [1998]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Once Upon a Time in the West [1968]
Once Upon a Time in the West [1968, Sergio Leone]
Starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale.

My experience with Sergio Leone is limited. Out of his filmography, I have only seen The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, which I should probably watch again at some point. Once Upon a Time in the West bares a number of striking similarities to that epic — particularly its extended running time, masterful soundtrack and extraordinary cinematography. The opening scene alone, which has very little dialogue, captivated me from the start. Not much happened during this sequence, yet I was absolutely intrigued. The stunning shots of the wild west combined with extreme closeups of the characters’ faces were truly a thing of beauty.

It was also a lot of fun to see Henry Fonda play the villain, which is something I hadn’t seen him do before. Charles Bronson was excellent as his harmonica-playing adversary, and it was a real treat watching Claudia Cardinale as the dame caught up in the whole mess. While there was certainly a lot that I loved about the film, I was still a little turned off by the sheer longevity of it all. Leone sure loved to milk every scene as long as possible, and his attention to detail is extraordinary. I felt a little burned out by the end of the movie, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me. 8.5/10

The Thin Red Line [1998]
The Thin Red Line [1998, Terrence Malick]
Starring Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte.

Terrence Malick, seemingly a favorite director amongst movie bloggers, is someone I know I should become more familiar with. The Thin Red Line is the first film I have seen from him, and I figured this would be a great place to start, given my interest in World War II. The movie tells the story of a group of U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Mount Austen. We are introduced to a large ensemble cast of soldiers, including the likes of Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte and more. This is a really impressive group of guys, but the fact that so many were introduced made it considerably more difficult to get to know them. Outside of a few major characters, including a fantastic turn by Nolte, we learn little about most of these soldiers. In a way, however, this is just the way war is. Men are sent to perform their duties, and new faces are brought in to replace those who have fallen.

The Thin Red Line moves along at a very methodical pace, and I can see how this would deter some viewers. I didn’t mind this at all, as it gave us a chance to see Malick’s stunning shots of Guadalcanal, a beautiful island now interrupted with violent warfare. One thing that did bother me, at least somewhat, was an over-reliance on philosphophical voiceovers. I don’t have a problem with these in general, but they happened too often for my liking. Still, there’s no question that TTRL is a visually astonishing film that offers a completely different (and refreshing) take on WWII compared to 1998’s other big film, Saving Private Ryan. 8/10

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Movie Project #11: The Magnificent Seven [1960]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Magnificent Seven [1960]

The Magnificent Seven [1960]
Directors: John Sturges
Genre: Western/Adventure/Drama
Language: English/Spanish
Country: USA

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai represented many “firsts” for me. It was my first Japanese classic film. My first Kurosawa film. My first three hour epic. The first movie I watched that had an extended intermission halfway through. Seven Samurai turned me onto a whole new world of film, and for that I am very appreciative.

The Magnificent Seven is Hollywood’s westernization of Kurosawa’s masterpiece, and it is one of a seemingly rare breed in that is also highly regarded, though not quite up to the level of its inspiration. Opting to go the Western route, the movie is about seven American gunmen who are hired to protect a small Mexican village from evil bandits. There is plenty of action with several entertaining gunfights, but there is also a good amount of emphasis on character relationships that give the men some depth.

The seven gunmen are played by a veritable who’s who of badasses from the time period — Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn and Horst Buchholz. Brynner is the leader of the group as Chris Adams, the hired mercenary who rounds up the rest of the fellas to fight off the bandits. This was the first movie I had seen Brynner in, and I was very impressed. As Adams, he played a tough, commanding leader who didn’t take shit from anyone. His stage presence is undeniable. Of the rest, McQueen, Bronson and Coburn are most noteworthy. McQueen’s laidback persona oozes with confidence. Bronson shows a gentle side after becoming “adopted” by two Mexican children. Coburn is a quiet, expert knife-thrower who just so happens to be handy with a gun. The leader of the bandits, Calvera, is played by Eli Wallach in an excellent performance. His character felt like a precursor of sorts to what he would eventually take on in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

The Magnificent Seven [1960]

This is a stellar cast, no doubt, and everyone gets their share of screen time. The characters are likable, the action is solid, and the score is unforgettable; the opening theme was later used in Marlboro TV commercials.

I am still fairly new when it comes to Westerns, but there’s no denying the value of The Magnificent Seven. Despite some slow goings at times, I found the movie to be very entertaining overall, mostly due to the cast’s star power. A cut below Seven Samurai, but a worthwhile remake all the same.

8/10