Let us congratulate Wayne Dundee!
His story for Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, “Adeline,” a gripping tale of frontier history and justice, has won the Peacemaker Award for best western short story of 2013 from the Western Fictioneers.
I first heard Apollo 440’s remix of Ennio Morricone’s classic “Man with a Harmonica” over the end credits of a great Sopranos episode, “Whoever Did This,” when we begin to see Tony’s veneer of humanity begin to crack.
The original song is the theme to one of the best westerns ever made, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. I was thinking about it after reading Wayne Dundee’s excellent review of the film. It is Leone at the top of his form, and Harmonica is one of the great characters of cinema, and perhaps Charles Bronson’s greatest role. Frank, the evil sonofabitch played by Peter Fonda, may be one of Fonda’s best as well. It’s certainly the one that plays against type.
The film is over two hours long, but worth every second. Each time you hear this theme play, Leone teases us with a blurry memory of a young boy faced with pure evil. Seeing who this young man becomes, and how he finally puts an end to a lifetime of pain, is one of the great catharses in western storytelling.
And this song is stuck in my head this week. The mournful tone evokes an inner sadness at the red-claw brutality of life on this Earth, and our endless struggle to rise above it. It speaks of the sadness of a young boy who feels responsible for his older brother’s agonizing death, and his long road to vengeance.
All with a harmonica and a lungful of air.
Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED is disappointing, enjoyable, tedious, wonderful, and naive all at the same time.
No movie is judged on its own merit. Like any artistic work, it is compared to everything that has come before it, and depending on when you encounter it, you pit it against what has come after it as well. Tarantino loves pastiche, homage, reference and remix, so his work seeks these judgments. And his latest falls short from what we’ve come to expect. It is overlong and indulgent, it is too alike his last film in some ways, and it lacks tension in its big mushy middle, but some scenes are magical, especially to fans of garish exploitation films and spaghetti westerns like myself. It will remind his detractors of the interminable bar scene in Death Proof at its worst, and the clipped action will tease us until the very end.
Django, played by Jamie Foxx, is the prisoner of slave traders when Dr. King Schultz–a German dentist turned bounty hunter, played by Christoph Waltz–frees him because he can identify three fugitives Schultz wants to collect. Yes, he is named Dr. King. He plays the Samaritan, most often played by an older black man or person of color in other films, the “magical Caucasian,” if you will, to Foxx’s hero. If you’re unfamiliar with the “magical negro” character, think Scatman Crothers in The Shining. He helps our hero for no good reason, against his own self-interest, and is usually killed for his trouble, often sacrificing himself for the protagonist’s cause. Waltz plays that character, drawing deep from the well he used to create the memorable “Jew Hunter” Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds.
And while it is great fun watching Foxx become a bad-ass bounty hunter under Schultz’s tutelage, Waltz and his long-winded, fifty-cent word monologues lack the tension of Landa’s, because despite his crack marksmanship and disregard for the lives of vicious slavers, he is too good. We know exactly how he will react in a given situation, after we are introduced to how he collects his bounties. Which is to shoot first, then pull out his badge and papers, and say hey I’m working for the Federal government and if you shoot me, you’ll be in trouble. It was funny the first time, but seemed very unlikely, two years before the country was torn apart by secession and civil war, that anyone would give a tinker’s damn. And it gets less believable when Django plays his valet in full Lord Fauntleroy regalia, and later fakes being an Uncle Tom slaver assisting Schultz in purchasing a “Mandingo fighter,” or black bare-knuckle pit fighter, in their overly complicated and most likely unnecessary ruse to free Django’s wife.
I love Blazing Saddles, and I’ve seen and enjoyed Fred Williamson‘s film about a bad-ass black sheriff leading a frontier town, Boss Nigger. Fred Williamson always had such screen presence that you never questioned how he became a sheriff in the west, or a commando in World War 2, as in the original The Inglorious Bastards. Foxx manages the same, but the plot keeps making excuses for him to be there. And the thing is, there was at least one black Federal marshal in the 1800’s, Bass Reeves (thanks to David Cranmer and his Cash Laramie tales for introducing me to this oft-forgot hero). It is not until the very end that Jamie Foxx gets to be a bad-ass, and by then, in a two hour and 45 minute movie, we’ve endured the longest dinner scene I’ve ever encountered, all so Leonardo DiCaprio can chew the scenery as supposedly, the most evil plantation owner ever. And he doesn’t even scratch the surface of the reality of chattel slavery, which is what bothered me. He makes men fight to the death, he has one torn apart by dogs. Brutal scenes, but “slavery” remains a word in this movie, not the horror that it was. This letter evokes more than Django Unchained managed.
Much has been said about the permissive use of the n-word in this film, and Tarantino has said before that “shouting words like this from the rooftops” rob them of their power, so I won’t go into it. It was repeated to a tiresome degree for me. I find it lazy when a villain uses racial slurs to make us hate him. DiCaprio’s Mr. Candie is revolting enough without it. For me, seeing this at a dinner theater staffed by African-American ushers and waiters, it was particularly uncomfortable, especially when it was not once used with any power. Blazing Saddles did more damage to the power of the word “nigger” than Tarantino has. Should he have censored himself? No, but he should have used his n-words more wisely. He uses “fuck” like a poet, but this word he stumbled with.
Now that I’ve torn the movie a new hole, let me say that the references to the original Django and the westerns and “blaxploitation” films of the ’70s are enjoyable, Jamie Foxx should make a black western and play it completely straight, like Fred Williamson did, and I’d go see it in a heartbeat. I’ll watch Django Unchained again on cable and let it simmer. I didn’t like Inglourious Basterds that much on my first viewing, but love it now. I don’t think any number of viewings will make the dinner between Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson playing an evil, Uncle Tom majordomo will ever be enjoyable. It’s the little things, like taking your guns to the dinner table, that don’t make sense, especially when you have a Taxi Driver-style derringer up your sleeve. And that Kerry Washington as Broomhilda gets very little to do. Django calls his love “troublemaker,” but we never see her raise any hell. In a 3 hour movie, there was plenty of time.
Other movies I’ve seen recently that are more fun than Django are:
The Grey, with Liam Neeson. A grisly meditation on icy death, this may be Joe Carnahan’s best.
Headhunters, based on Jo Nesbo’s thriller. Lots of fun, even if no one gets beheaded.
Savages, by Oliver Stone, adapted from Don Winslow’s excellent novel. Stop watching after the first ending. The second one is a not-so-subtle middle finger from Stone to the studio and focus groups, and changes the book’s finale.
And two to avoid: Sushi Girl, a horrible, boring, torture movie with a great cast, and Les Miserables, which might be fun for fans of the musical, but was awful for someone who’s read the unabridged book and had to listen to Russel Crowe destroy Javert while mimicking a statue. It had moments, but was so static and lifeless in so many places that I didn’t feel a thing. That, and whatever lives in Tim Burton’s hair seems to have bitten Helena Bonham Carter.
Wayne D. Dundee is the author of the Joe Hannibal P.I. novels, a number of westerns, and founded Hardboiled Magazine. He wrote the original western “Adeline” for the Protectors anthology, a horror novel called Night Spoor, a Cash Laramie novella for Beat to a Pulp, a novella in the Fight Card series, and most recently released a collection of Joe Hannibal short stories for Kindle. That was my introduction to Wayne; we both appeared in David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled collection, and his story blew me away. He imbued a tired hit man with real humanity. Not a character you’d want to meet, but a human being nonetheless, not the stock heartless killer we often get. I’ve read a lot of Wayne’s stories since, and that’s what stands out- once you settle into his comfortable storytelling manner, he introduces you to characters heart and soul, whether they be the good guys or the bad guys. A villain might be a no-good SOB, but you’ll understand him as you cheer for his demise.
WD: My serious beer-drinking days are behind me. Back in the day, I paid for A LOT of the hay that went into the feed bunks of those Budweiser Clydesdales … These days, most mornings start with a couple mega-cups of Folger’s Black Silk coffee blend; then, through the balance of the day, it’s copious amounts of an ice tea/lemonade mixture, sometimes a Diet Coke in the afternoon if I need a caffeine boost … For a special occasion such as this visit to the Belly Up to the Bar, however, I’ll have an ice cold bottle of Miller Chill or maybe a vodka gimlet.
TP: You have the voice of a natural storyteller. I was writing flash fiction when we first met, and reading your stories showed me it was okay to relax and let the voice do the talking. You also have a knack for choosing stunning locales, as in Reckoning at Rainrock. The land is its own character. Does that come from living in your part of the west?
WD: Yes, very much so. Out here—in west central Nebraska and bordering states to the west—people are very aware of the land. They recognize they are OF the land, whereas to the east and in most urban areas it’s more a case of people thinking of themselves as simply being ON the land … In my writing, I’ve always used “the elements”, if you will, to help anchor my story, set my moods. For my Joe Hannibal stories when he was still operating out of Rockford, Illinois, I used weather, etc. But even then, for rural settings, I took extra time to paint the scene. I was raised on a series of farms (changing jobs and moving was my old man’s hobby) so deep down I’m just a big ol’ plodding farmboy who’s always felt more comfortable in rural/small town settings. Hence, when I write about them I do so from a more comfortable and self-assured standpoint … And for my Westerns, like RECKONING AT RAINROCK, an appreciation for the land is essential … If you respect the land and write about it from the heart, it DOES become a character.
TP: I already mentioned how strong your characters are, but you’re pretty strong yourself. I seem to recall you telling how you wrestled a bear, back in the day. I won’t ask you to tell the whole story, but what made you get in the ring with a five hundred pound killing machine?
WD: Classic case of open mouth, insert foot … I wasn’t yet 30, had just made 2nd Shift foreman at the factory where I worked. I was 6’1″, about 265, in pretty good “big guy” shape and had a reputation of sorts around the shop for the strength I displayed during the course of doing my production work before going into management. At a large nearby shopping mall they were featuring, as an advertising gimmick for some event, Tuffy Truesdale and Victor “the wrestling bear”, who had been featured as part of AWA pro wrestling shows around the Midwest. Tuffy and Victor were at the mall over a three-day weekend putting on three shows a day, part of which included challenging guys to come out of the audience and wrestle Victor. One night at work, I made the comment that it might be fun to go accept that challenge for the sake of having something to tell the grandkids — BOOM! just like that I was locked into following through …
So on a Sunday afternoon a week or so later, there I was in front of about 500 people mixing it up with Victor in the center court of the Cherryvale Mall. I had a plan going in, having gone and watched him the day before. But considering that Victor (who was advertised as standing 7 feet tall and weighing more like 700 pounds, by the way) had wrestled about a gazillion other guys in his career, he’d seen about everything anybody could think of and my plan didn’t amount to spit. We danced around a little, tugged and pushed on each other a little, he knocked me on my ass two or three times, and finally I was too out of gas to get back up. I lasted a little under two minutes, it felt more like two hours. He ended up laying on top of me, licking the sweat off my face. I think he liked me — Luckily not in a romantic way, because I don’t know if I could have found a second wind to fight him off.
TP: Tell us about Joe Hannibal. You have a new novel coming out, and you just released a collection of his short stories. What were his beginnings, where is he now, and what makes you return to him as a character?
WD: Joe Hannibal made his debut in the Fall 1982 issue of Spiderweb Magazine, making this his 30th year in print and marking the Hannibal stories and books as one of the longest-running, still-active PI series on the scene. We’ve always enjoyed good reviews (when we got any at all) but sales have never been strong. We’ve been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and six Shamus Awards; never won diddly but, like they say, it’s an honor to be in the running … I wrote the first Hannibal story (“The Fancy Case”, reprinted for the first time in the just-released short story collection BODY COUNT: The Joe Hannibal Case Files, Volume I) while I was recovering from kidney stone surgery. That was back in the pre-lithotrypsy days when they cut you damn near in half to get at the pesky damn pebbles. It was the first story I was ever satisfied enough with to submit and I had the unique experience of having it accepted first time out of the chute … I always knew I wanted to write a hardboiled “tough guy” series in the fashion of my personal Holy Trinity of fiction: Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer), John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee), and Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm). During the years I tinkered with creating my own character, Joe had many different names and many different backgrounds. I finally settled on Joe (good old basic American name) Hannibal (powerful like the Carthagean general who invaded Rome, and at the same time American folksy like Mark Twain’s hometown on the Mississippi River). And he’d be a private eye, albeit with the distinction of operating out of my own small city of Rockford, Illinois … In the beginning, other than the setting, Joe was pretty much just another sock-and-shoot Mike Hammer wanna-be. It didn’t take long, though, before I started putting my own stamp on him.
I mellowed him somewhat, grounded him with a blue collar farm kid background, and made use of the smaller city setting as far as plot lines and characters (very few stereotypical thugs and gangsters, for instance). This especially evolved when I started doing novel-length work … I also began (subconsciously at first) to invest a lot of myself into Hannibal. His tastes in food, personal biases, his actions based on the way I think *I* would act if caught in some of his situations, etc. Of course Joe gets shot at a lot and conked over the head now and then (neither of which I have experience in, and don’t necessarily want any) but he also runs across lots of hot dames (which I would be willing to endure, although at my creaky old age they’d probably kill me). In more recent years, the similarities between Joe and me have been more purposeful on my part. My draft number never came up, so I never served in the Army (Vietnam era). Therefore I never made that part of Joe’s background either, even though this was practically a prerequisite for protagonists of his ilk. Since I write Hannibal in the first person, I couldn’t bring myself to try and convey any associated feelings since I had never experienced anything close. Another example, since I suffer from bum knees as a result of age and abuse in my younger days, is inflicting Joe with a bum hip as a result of getting caught on the periphery of an explosion — much more dramatic circumstances on his part, but nevertheless in keeping with my desire to keep his capabilities somewhat close to mine … Perhaps the biggest move to keep us linked, was to bring Hannibal out here to Nebraska with me. And that brings us up to date. Joe ostensibly runs a private secure patrol serving homes and businesses around popular Lake McConaughy. He carries a Nebraska PI license mostly out of habit and to add credibility to his business, yet he doesn’t actively solicit investigative work any longer. Still, being who he is, trouble seems to seek him out and can’t resist getting involved … As far as why I keep returning to Hannibal as a character? Hell, that’s simple: I like the guy. A partnership like ours wouldn’t have lasted 30 if otherwise. From a more practical standpoint, you might say I’ve got too much invested in Joe to back out now. We’ve got more work to do, and I’m the guy who always says “persevere”, remember? … A writer pal who has his own series character once asked me if I ever had trouble coming up with stories in which to use Hannibal. My answer? “No, I have trouble coming up with stories that *don’t* have Hannibal in them.”
TP: What inspired you to found Hardboiled Magazine? I was just a teen back then, but I remember noir and hardboiled being kind of forgotten in the culture, and spoofed at the time. Now it’s back with a vengeance, and you had no small part in its resurgence.
WD: After selling that first story on the first try, I proceeded to run into a wall and started getting stories rejected so fast the envelopes came back with skid marks on them. Spiderweb, where “The Fancy Case” appeared, had ceased publication. The rest of the market was pretty limited and what was out there didn’t seem to be interested in my stuff. Generally speaking, they weren’t interested in harder-edged stories—the kind I liked to write—at all. In talking with some other, more established writers I had gotten to know, I learned that even they were having trouble placing harder, tougher stories. I’d had some exposure to small press publications on various subject matter. Many of these were little more than typed, photocopied, stapled pages (all of this was before the internet or blogs or e-zines, remember) yet some of them drew quite a respectable following. It occurred to me: Why not a small press publication offering a showcase to the kind of fiction (also some reviews and other features) that there was limited outlet for? After contacting some of those same peers who shared my lament for lack of same and getting their verbal agreement that they would support such an undertaking with both subscriptions and stories, I decided I would start my own publication.
Hardboiled was born in the summer of 1985. We paid a penny a word on publication. Todd Moore, a local high school teacher I had gotten to know who was an “outlaw poet” and also a writer of Jim Thompson-style prose, agreed to assist me. He did story editing, wrote features and reviews, helped with collating; I shared in editing chores, did the layout and typing (yes *typing*, not PC or word processor, and even a MANUAL TYPEWRITER at first – I didn’t upgrade to an electric typewriter until the third or fourth issue). I even did most of the illustrations for the early issues … I was totally up front right from the get-go: Hardboiled was a paying market for all writers and it was also a showcase for my own material and a way to get my name out in front of people … We did twelve issues before handing HB over to Gary Lovisi, who continues to put out the magazine yet today. We featured well-known and also new writers, many of whom went on to bigger things, and whose names you would easily recognize. I’m proud of every issue we put out. Hardboiled did everything it was meant to do — except make money. And, really, that was never a big part of the goal anyway.
WD: I started writing somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade and never stopped. I liked to draw, too, so at first I blocked out squares on sheets of paper and did comic-book style stories. It didn’t take long, however, before I decided that the story was where my strongest interest lay so I dropped the comic panels and concentrated on just the writing. I never really finished anything because my focus would go off in another direction, but I wrote all the time so I was constantly honing my skill even if there was no “finished product” to show for it. My mom and dad bought me a huge old used black Royal typewriter at an auction when I was in eighth grade, that was their contribution to encouraging my writing goals.
They never really discouraged me, either, but in my blue collar family the concept of actually growing up to do something outside of manual labor just didn’t fit. In high school I couldn’t wait to take a typing class because I knew I would be putting it to use one day. After we were married, my beloved wife Pam was my first really big supporter. We eloped right out of high school and at a point when we were lacking all kinds of furnishings and eating with plastic forks and spoons, the first big item we bought on time payments was a new typewriter for me. That’s how strongly she backed me (actually in pretty much everything, not just my writing). She lived to see me have some modest success, but she died in 2008 and it was only after I retired the following year that my writing output and publications (thanks largely to eBooks and breaking into Westerns) really ramped up. I regret and feel a curious kind of guilt that she’s not here to share that with me … Yet, although I’m not a very religious person, I know that somewhere she is aware and happy for me. So I’ll keep writing, mostly because that’s what I was born to do—but also because I owe it to Pam’s faith in me.
WD: Not to be redundant, but I’m proud to have had a 41-plus year marriage to the greatest gal I could’ve ever hoped for. And proud of the daughter and grandchildren that came along as a result. Since Pam’s passing, my oldest grandson and I live in the basement half of the house Pam and I bought here in Ogallala, my daughter and the rest of her family live upstairs. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass having everybody so close but, with Pam gone, I think I’d feel a greater emptiness without them “around” — and they all know to respect the privacy I need plenty of … Additionally, I am proud of having climbed through the ranks of the company I worked with for nearly forty years. With no education beyond high school, I started as a 3rd Shift furnace operator for Arnold Engineering in Illinois in 1969 and retired in 2009 as the General Manager of the Ogallala facility. I didn’t do it by kissing ass, either. I did it by applying myself to whatever job I was assigned. I had some mentors who gave me chances along the way, and to them I’ll always be grateful. Sadly, there are very few (if any) chances for people to be promoted in that manner any more these days. Management positions are filled from the “outside”, and guys at the production level — along with valuable floor-level input and ideas they could bring with them — stay right there. A manager, once so designated, can be overseeing the production of baby powder one day and move to taking over a napalm plant the next. Knowing the core business is considered incidental, as long as they know how to count the beans and make the margins and the EBITDA … Excuse me, that’s a rant for another time.
WD: If I made a list of my 20 all-time favorite movies, about 15 would be John Wayne flicks. So whenever I talk favorite movies I basically have to make two lists … We’ll get the top John Wayne-ers out of the way first: Red River; The Searchers; Rio Bravo; The Quiet Man … Others: King Kong (the original); Once Upon a Time in the West; True Lies; Gran Torino; The Best Years of Our Lives; Born Losers; Longest Yard (the original); Escape From New York; Lonesome Dove (I know it’s made-for-TV, but it’s too damn good not to include); Rocky; Rocky Balboa; Ride Lonesome; Dr. No; The Thing (the original) … I could go on and on. You get the idea. I love movies.
TP: I’m guessing the original Thing for you is the John Carpenter, because you like Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. We have similar taste in films, King Kong and Mighty Joe Young are favorites of mine as well. I think I feel too much in common with a big ape sometimes!
WD: By the way, my favorite THING movie is the 1951 black and white version. It’s referred to as “The Thing From Another World” these days, I guess, since all the modern remakes. It was produced by Howard Hawks and *allegedly* directed by Christian Nyby (who was Hawks’ production assistant for many years). But Hawks is one of my all-time favorite and it is widely agreed that his persona stamp is all over the movie, meaning he actually had a pretty heavy hand in the direction of it … So there’s more than you probably ever wanted to know about the history of THE THING.
WD: My new Joe Hannibal novel, BLADE OF THE TIGER, is due out in December; eBook first, print version to follow in a few weeks … Currently about two-thirds through a new Western titled “Trail Justice”, which is the first entry in a projected series called THE WESTWARD TIDE, about emigrants in the late 1840s/early 1850s on the Oregon Trail. I’m doing it with Mel Odom, who is a writing machine. We’ll write alternating books and put it out under the “house name” byline of Jack Tyree. It’s planned as an episodic series of 25-30,000-word novellas, the journey of a particular wagon train being completed after four or five of these and then issued as a whole in a print version. Hope to have this initial segment done late this month/early December and out before Christmas … After that I plan on doing book #3 in my Bodie Kendrick-Bounty Hunter series. It’s tentatively called DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH and is plotted around a little known episode of the U.S Cavalary when they imported camels and attempted to use them in place of horses in the Arizona desert … In March, I owe a segment to the Western Fictioneers’ WOLF CREEK series … After that I’ll do book #3 in my Lone McGantry series, tentatively called THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN … Next, David Cranmer is interested in letting his popular character come out and play on my keyboard again in another Cash Laramie novella … And somewhere by late summer/early Fall I’m sure I’ll be itching to start the next Joe Hannibal book, tentatively called BAGGAGE.
WD: Got to go with two — Chicago style hot dogs; New York style thin-crust pizza.
Let me expand on that a bit.
A proper Chicago style dog is as follows: You start with a steamed all-beef Vienna red hot; place it gently, lovingly in a poppy-seed bun, also steamed; slather on yellow mustard; add green relish, diced onions, fresh tomato slices; top off with a quarter-slice of crunchy pickle and a couple sport peppers. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil, drop alongside a handful of french fries, and wrap together; let the dog and the fries get to know each other for a couple minutes; unwrap, salt the fries, and start eating. IMPORTANT: It is a felony of the highest order to put ketchup on such a masterpiece and a serious misdemeanor to even have ketchup in the same room while preparing.
Thin-crust pizza: (I’ve never actually had pizza on any of my visits to New York so I can’t say from experience, but am allowing them the thin crust title based on what I’ve heard and read elsewhere.) Start with a thin, faintly crispy crust; tangy sauce; cheese (mozzarella/cheddar blend — and lots of it); add toppings to one’s taste (I like ’em all, depending on the mood I’m in, but easy on the pepperoni); when it comes out of the oven, the cheese should be thick and have little puddles of grease standing in some of the dimples; and when you take that first bite (knowing damn well you’re going to burn your gums or the roof of your mouth or both) the cheese should stretch at least three-quarters the length of your arm as you pull the remainder of that first piece away; now that you’ve sufficiently burned you mouth and formed a layer of numb scar tissue, you can dive into the rest of the pie with abandon … These are the kind of pizzas you could find in mom-and-pop pizzerias all over southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois where I grew up; unfortunately, most of these seem to be fading out as the dreaded franchise chains are overwhelming the market; but it’s worth the search if you can find the right hole-in-wall joint that still makes their pies this way.
For the full story of Wayne vs. the Bear, drop by his blog.
Wayne Dundee brings a fresh dose of humanity to Western pulp. This hardboiled tale of justice gone wrong takes what could easily be a black and white revenge story and puts you smack in the middle of a living frontier town where the characters are as big and detailed as the Toadstool badlands where much of the action is set. We meet Lone McGantry when he picks up bounty hunter work for a lawyer, and what begins as a straightforward story of justice denied unfurls into the human failings of greed, jealousy and lust. Lone is a laconic and admirable hero, with as much character as his worn Colt. Even the baddest of characters we run into has their reasons, and when their desires cross, tempers flare and guns are drawn. Don’t let the opener fool you- this is no courtdroom drama, and Dundee leads us on a rousing chase for the truth as Lone gets tangled in a web of small town deceit.
Great reading for Western fans and pulp lovers alike.
Had a great time with this summer excitainment. Like Jon Favreau’s Iron Man movies, it’s light and enjoyable, just enough tongue in cheek. He makes a traditional western first, and a science fiction blockbuster second, and that is why it works.
He also gives us characters. Jake Lonergan and the Colonel aren’t always likable. Taking a hint from his pal Vince Vaughn in Swingers, he has always given us characters we’re not sure we like in the beginning. Now, they’re not on par with Downey’s over the top Stark, but they fit the Western archetypes and flesh them out. I’d watch this movie if no aliens were involved. He peoples his cast with colorful character actors, like Clancy Brown’s preacher and Sam Rockwell’s Doc. Who’s a bartender. The women get a little short shrift, except for Olivia Wilde’s character, and she’s too mysterious to have much substance. But it works, and once the aliens show up we care what happens to these people.
It’s funny how Westerns come and go. We haven’t had a real resurgence, just a few here and there. I’d like to see more. Japan still mines their samurai era past, but we’ve left ours behind our myths. We are uncomfortable destroying them.
3/4 – Worthy
© 2011 Thomas Pluck
There now exists a subgenre known as the Samurai Western; they were made for each other, as Kurosawa directly inspired spaghetti westerns, and now it’s come back at us like a kid’s boomerang in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We’ve had SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, SIX STRING SAMURAI, SHANGHAI NOON and NIGHTS, and now we get cowboys, carnies and carnage with THE WARRIOR’S WAY. Written and directed by Sngmoo Lee, who’s IMDb resume includes only this film. So I’m calling him Schmoo for the entirety of his review, in case he does not actually exist.
Dong-gun Jang from the excellent Korean war flick TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR stars as the Yang, Greatest Swordsman of All Time Ever, as we are told in glittering Comic Sans. We see him pose dramatically after slicing apart a dozen warriors in a few seconds, and he finds the treasure they are guarding is a baby girl, the last of the enemy clan. He cannot kill her, so his assassin’s guild- the Sad Flutes- vow he will die. He flees to the mythical American West, and comes upon a ghost town that a group of Carnies have chosen to build a Ferris Wheel in, hoping to lure pioneering tourists to the middle of the desert. It’s like Vegas, built by extras from “Deadwood” and “Carnivale.”
The movie keeps us interested by having an absurdly comic tone, from Yang carrying the baby girl like a shopping bag to how he kills innocuous-seeming bystanders, only to have assassin’s weapons fall out of their hands after they collapse. There are references galore, from Lone Wolf & Cub, to John Woo, and more, but they never feel like cribbing. Yang strolls into town, Walkin’ the Earth like Kane in “Kung Fu,” as lone killers are wont to do. We meet Geoffrey Rush as the Town Drunk, Tony Cox as the midget ringmaster who’s quick to crush someone’s nuts in his hands, and Kate Bosworth as Jesse the Cowgirl from TOY STORY 2, at least at first. She manages to mellow out into less of a caricature, but still has plenty of fun with their role. Rush is very memorable as the drunk, staggering around in his pajamas and getting the best lines.
|The closest you get to boobs in this R rated bloodless film.|
The wild west equivalent of a post-apocalyptic wastelands motorcycle gang rides into town on horses, like they have once before; Kate has a score to settle with their leader, and Yang can’t draw his blade without alerting his Sad Flutes to his whereabouts. But you know he’ll have to, and thank goodness he does. That’s when we get to see six guns versus samurai swords, and it’s a lot of fun to watch how they make it less one-sided than it seems. The town drunk is of course a great gunslinger; they nod toward BLAZING SADDLES
some more with how they use dynamite. It’s not long before blood, explosions and gunplay light up the town, and we get to settle that childhood bet, who kicks more ass? Toshiro Mifune or Clint Eastwood?
The director makes great use of his bizarre set, with merry-go-rounds and circus freaks and clowns fighting against masked marauders with a Gatling gun and ninja swordsmen. It’s a lot of fun to look at when the overuse of CG doesn’t get in the way. I have made peace with CG blood after @AxelleCarolyn on Twitter- better known as the smokin’ hot killer Pict babe from CENTURION– told me how much money it saves independent productions. But I noticed CG cowboys climbing the Ferris Wheel, and CG swordsmen in black leather all over the place. It really stood out and made it look like anime at times, which I know the story owes a lot to, but it was very distracting from a very fun film.
3 out of 5 midgets with specially designed spiked gloves for crushing your nutsack
© 2010 Tommy Salami