Sunday, January 17, 2016


I was flipping through the on demand movies yesterday and I came across a “western” called “Diablo”. That title sounds like a western movie in itself, but besides that, the other thing that caught my attention? The actor billed as the star of this film is named Eastwood… Scott Eastwood.

I also noticed that the splash screen for the movie looked very similar to the imagery associated with the old spaghetti westerns in which another Eastwood starred back in the 1960s. I knew that it wouldn’t be anything like the old stuff, but that name, that title, along with the imagery associated with the movie was just too much for me to pass up!

“Diablo” is set in 1872 after the Civil War. Scott Eastwood portrays a Veteran of the Union Army named Jackson. The film opens as his wife is kidnapped by a gang of Mexicans. Jackson has no choice but to ride after them and try to get her back. This may sound like a fairly common theme for a western. Scott Eastwood looks so much like his dad it almost seems like you are staring at the elder Eastwood as he looked back in his younger days. But that is where the similarities end.

As Jackson embarks on what seems to be a rescue mission, it slowly becomes apparent that there is something “not quite right” going on… In fact, there is something “not quite right” about Jackson… Is he a man on a righteous mission or is there something darker happening here? Why do all of the people he interacts with seem to see something we don’t? And why do they seem to all end up dead? Something about Jackson is making everyone nervous and they seem to just want him to go away.

This may not be a traditional western movie, but it is worth watching as it is a unique tale of a man who has spiraled into the depths of his own unraveled mind and he doesn’t even know it.

The movie has a cast of well-known faces such as Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Sliverado), Walton Goggins (Justified) and Adam Beach (Windtalkers).

Cap’n Ron

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger was a disappointment for those looking to re-live the good old days of the black and white TV version with Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore. Luckily, my expectations were low from the get go as I went into it knowing it was a modernized version. What I mean by that is: Big explosions, CG action and Johnny Depp. That being said, I was not as disappointed as I thought I would be… Do I think it was a good western movie? Nope. Do I think it was a great tribute to a classic and beloved television series? Nope. Did I think it was fun… yep!

I didn't get a good western, but I did get a movie that would allow me to forget about the real world and step into an adventure for a couple of hours. The main bad guys were made up of a gang led by Butch Cavendish (Played by William Fichtner). Cavendish is in turn in cahoots with the evil railroad boss, Tom Wilkinson, played perfectly by Latham Cole. That was always a classic element in many old westerns… the bad railroad boss who gets the land no matter what it takes. I would say that my favorite characters are usually bad guys and that is the case with the Lone Ranger. Butch Cavendish’s reputation precedes him as a brutal type who not only kills for pleasure, but he also practices cannibalism sometimes eating an organ from one of his victims. This is where I think the film makers really missed an opportunity to make this into a gritty yet authentic western film… but then we meet John Reid… a bumbling softy played by Armie Hammer… the first thing I thought when I learned who was playing the Lone Ranger was: WHO THE HELL IS ARMIE HAMMER!?

 My least favorite element in this movie was the “not so faithful” sidekick. Played by Johnny Depp, this Tonto drifts along in an almost stoned out fashion with a dead bird on his head and we are supposed to see him as some sort of spiritual shaman. It is my understanding that this Tonto is supposed to be a Comanche Indian. The descriptions and stories I have read about the Comanche would suggest that they were a proud, brave and strong people. They were feared across the land and in fact were one of the primary reasons the Texas Rangers were originally formed. When a whole state fears you enough to form a militia force just to fight against you… that is tough!! That is not what I see in Depp’s portrayal of Tonto. 

What I liked the most from this movie was the action sequences. They were big, flashy and loud. There was that climactic moment when we hear the William Tell Overture as the Lone Ranger rides Silver over the top of the train and uses some fancy shootin’ to cause all kinds of chaos and thwart the bad guys. To Depp’s credit, I truly enjoyed the incorporation of vaudevillian comedy during the swashbuckling climax atop a moving train. If you squint your eyes just enough, you can actually see Charlie Chaplin. I don’t think anyone other than Johnny Depp could pull that off these days.

This movie was nothing special, but it had some fun moments that I enjoyed quite a bit.

This movie is available on DVD.

Cap’n Ron

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jesse James

Occasionally, I find myself walking around the "used movie" stores perusing through the older movies as you never know what you may find. I especially like to find a good Western movie that I hadn't seen in a long time or, even better, a Western I have never seen. Luckily, I came across one that I had never seen simply titled: "Jesse James". Have you ever stumbled across a movie and you could just tell by the cover art that you were probably going to enjoy it? That is what happened to me when I saw the cover for "Jesse James".

There are several movies made about this famous outlaw (or infamous, depending upon your point of view).  Some claim to be the REAL story of Jesse James and boast blockbuster actors. They try to weave in psychobabble stuff to convince you of what they believe will make him fit nicely into some profile... like : Oh, he wore his hat crooked and crossed his eyes, so that fits the typical behavior pattern associated with  a maniac such and such, etc...

Well... while some of the profile stuff may be more truthful, this version of the Jesse James story, which was made in 1939,  and stars Tyrone Powers and Henry Fonda as Jesse and Frank James doesn't do any of that! This movie is lightly sprinkled with some factual elements, such as names and certain events, but this is to be watched just for the pleasure of watching a good old movie. There are no hidden agendas and you don't have to sit around after the movie with high falootin, black beret, wearing friends asking each other questions like, "What do you think the director was REALLY trying to say...?"

Some of the factual elements you will see include the fact that they did have allies in the press as the Newspaper printed favorable articles which perpetuated the Robin Hoodish element surrounding the brothers. They did have loyalty among the people as they were southern veterans of the confederacy which made it much easier to elude justice. The bombing of their house really happened even though it was the Pinkerton Agency and not the railroad.

Here is what you get in this movie: Jesse and Frank are wrongly accused heroes as they refuse to sell the family farm to the evil rail road. The rail road agents are traveling from farm to farm offering next to nothing for the land which each family sees as its life's blood. Any family who refuses, gets beaten into submission by the agents henchmen or worse. The James clan refuses the offer after they defend their mother, they soon find themselves accused of attacking and wounding the agent and his thugs.

My personal favorite scene occurs when the agent approaches Zee, Jesse and Frank's mamma, and tries to pressure her into signing over the land. Jesse is busy working in the fields, but Frank is in the window eating an apple listening to the conversation. Once it becomes clear that "No" is not an option, Frank mozies into the scene and says, " I believe she said no"... and when the Agent tries to sucker punch Frank, he smacks the agent with a quick jab and then with a big grin he says, "Aint you the tricky one"... Then just as the agent and his thugs are going to shoot Frank, Jesse appears, guns drawn and holds them at bay while Frank continues the fist fight and beats the tar out of the agent. It is a great scene and Henry Fonda really steals the show. In this film, they become outlaws out of necessity and to avenge the death of their mother at the hands of the Evil Railroad Agent.

This was an early role for Fonda and he really has some shining moments and in fact reprises his role in a sequel called, "The Return of Frank James".I  also have to mention that you see another great Western Movie icon in Randolph Scott as well as John Carradine. Take a look and I think you will enjoy "Jesse James" as well.

Cap'n Ron

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Spikes Gang

My dad came to visit a while back and we ended up tuning in to the Western Channel. There was a great movie playing which I remember watching with my Dad when I was just a kid of about age 12 or 13. "The Spikes Gang" stars the great Lee Marvin as outlaw Harry Spikes. Spikes is discovered half dead by three young men played by Gary Grimes, Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith. These three actors were very familiar faces at the time this film was released. It was especially different for Ron Howard who was the face of wholesome American TV.

The youths take Mr. Spikes in and let him hide out in the barn while he is on the mend. They become enamored with his tales of living life as a desperado and begin to yearn for a taste of the outlaw life. Once he is healed up he promises the boys that he owes them for their help and, if they meet again, he will help them out.

It doesnt take long for the boys to decide they cant abide by the rules of their parents and one night they decide to sneak off and hit the outlaw trail. Unfortunately for them, they soon find that its a lot tougher than the stories they heard from Mr. Spikes. They find them selves starving and working all sorts of odd jobs just to eat. Right about that time, along comes Mr. Spikes to take them under his wing. He decides, as a favor to the boys who had once helped him in his hour of need, to form a gang and teach them the outlaw way.

It is important to stress that Lee Marvin gives a great performance. On the surface he appears to be down right charming and can use his silver tongue to convince his victims of his sincerity... but underneath his exterior it is always evident that he is a snake waiting to strike. The boys make perfect foils for his purposes as they are painfully unaware that Mr. Spikes is only out for himself. Meanwhile, the actors playing the three boys are great at portraying naive farm boys who have their innocents seduced away by the charming Mr. Spikes.

The movie starts out in a sort of light hearted manner with bits of humor sprinkled in, but it doesn't take long to see that the lives of these three young men is steadily careening out of control as they slowly begin to follow in the paths they chose. In the end it is tragic to see them each reach a point of no return. By the time they figure this out it is much too late for redemption... only vengeance can make things right.

I highly recommend that you give this a shot as I believe it is an underrated movie that deserves to be called a classic. It is available on DVD.

Cap'n Ron

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

True Grit 2010

As “True Grit” begins, we meet Mattie Ross, a young girl of 12 or 13 who has been sent to town in order to collect her late father’s belongings. The father has been gunned down by Tom Chaney, one of his ranch hands (Josh Brolin). Unbeknownst to her family , she has another task in mind: Find the no good scoundrel who killed her daddy in cold blood and see him killed or hanged. She decides to recruit an aging gunfighter/lawman named Rooster Cogburn whom people say has True Grit.

This incarnation of Rooster Cogburn could not have been played by any other actor than Jeff Bridges. He captures the feisty spirit of this character: An old grizzled Marshall who hides away in booze while wondering where the next job will come from. He doesn’t really seem to care about anything or anyone, but as the film progresses we begin to learn who He truly is. Rooster begins to bond with the young lady as he is conversing with her and it seems as though he has, for many years, wanted to have someone to tell his life story too. The girl listens to him as he speaks and I believe it helps Rooster to get some sense of relief from the pain and regret he has been carrying for many years.

I think one of the main factors that make this version of “True Grit” great is the fact that Jeff Bridges does not try to be John Wayne! Although much of the same dialog is used from the original, Bridges takes the Cogburn character and reinvents the role, making it is own unique portrayal. I love it when he stops at the trading post to have relations with the woman there and kicks the Indian kid off of the porch on the way in for no reason at all. The first time he did it on the way in I remember thinking that he was joking around with the kid, but once he kicks the kid on the way out I realized he was just being a mean bastard to those kids!!

I really think the Coen Brothers did a great job with this film. When I watched this movie, I felt as though I was being transported backwards in time. The authentic feel of the town where the film begins is excellent. You can see the dirt and dried mud on the white painted buildings. You can hear the sound of boots click clack on the wood planks as people walked through the scenery. I could almost smell the horse poop which would have certainly been wafting through the air in those days. In other words, the Coen Brothers paid great attention to the details.

One thing I don't like about the story is the fact that the Texas Ranger is portrayed as a buffoon. I have yet to find a Texas Ranger in the history books that couldn't handle himself in any situation. They were known to be rugged individuals and would track a desperado to the ends of the earth. They would not return until they had either captured or killed their quarry. I find it hard to believe that any Ranger would open fire on a gang of men thereby ruining any element of surprise and needlessly putting himself in imminent danger. I know that it was meant to be light hearted, but I just had to say that based upon my research, there was no such Texas Ranger as depicted in the movie... or maybe there was and that is why we have never heard of him as he would have surely died on the fist day of his duty.

I have heard many different opinions concerning this particular western throughout my lifetime. There are those who felt that Wayne's portrayal of Rooster Cogburn was his best work. I do enjoy the movie and love the character of Rooster Cogburn. Each time I watch the film I find myself thinking, “Maybe this time Cogburn and LeBoeuf will actually get to the other side of the river and keep riding instead of waiting for her to cross!!”… but I guess that would be an entirely different film.

I do recommend you see this version of True Grit. While it does not improve on the original, it certainly does the original justice as it truly is a worthy remake of a classic.

Cap'n Ron

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jonah Hex

Last night I went to the theater and watched a movie called Jonah Hex. There were only 11 people in the audience on this opening night. I found out why.

Josh Brolin stars as the title character and he actually does a good job, but unfortunately, even his talent could not save this film. It had a lot of potential but the main problem was the fact that the powers that be seemed to ignore the true value of sticking with the source material found within pages of the comic book. They seemed to focus more on making this as hokey as possible and leaving all believability and authenticity out.

The story of Jonah Hex is one that combines elements of the traditional Western and several doses of the Supernatural. It is a very strange idea that was brought to life by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga back in the early 70s. The character first appeared in “Weird Western Tales” # 10. There was enough interest to launch Jonah Hex into his own comic book where he embarked on various strange adventures which had a lot to do with revenge and his own brand of justice. He is a kind of bounty hunter who is very reminiscent of Clint Eastwood‘s “Man With No Name”. The characters Jonah Hex meets in his adventures are not limited to the traditional bad guys found in western stories, but also include evil zombies, witch doctors, scorned women and just plain odd balls. None of them wants to go peacefully so there is always a cause for a shoot out, hanging or some other bizarre demise... And did I forget to mention... Jonah Hex is one ugly dude himself.

The current comic book incarnation of Jonah Hex is masterfully written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti who put their own stamp on the character while being respectful to the original comic book. The film makers would have been better off simply choosing one of the comics (preferably the origin story) and using it as a story board instead of straying so far off course it doesn’t even seem to have anything to do with the Jonah Hex I enjoy reading in the books.

Though it is not your standard western fare, I recommend the comic book. See the movie if you wish, but please try not to let it steer you away from all things Hex as you will be missing out on some great stories and artwork.

The movie stars Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox.

Cap'n Ron

*UPDATE: May 27th, 2011-

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Jimmy Palmiotti this past weekend. He and Justin Gray are responsible for writing the great stories found within Jonah Hex comics. I am not a member of the press so this was not an interview. I was just speaking with him as a fan. I did not discuss the movie with him, but we did talk very briefly about the Jonah Hex comic. He told me that people often wonder how a guy from Brooklyn can write western stories. I replied that I was sure he did his research as there are many books about the time period. He said he has done a lot of traveling which has been inspirational to his work. He also mentioned that Justin Gray, his collaborator on the Jonah Hex stories, had worked on a ranch as well. Perhaps his experiences in that environment serve as an inspiration. I noticed right off that Mr. Palmiotti was very humble and very appreciative of his fans. He signed a couple of Jonah Hex Comics as we conversed and thanked me for my compliments. In my opinion he had already done plenty for me as I was happy just talking to the guy, but then he said "I'm going to draw a little sketch for you". I was thrilled to see that he was doing a quick sketch of Jonah Hex for me right on the cover of my issue #1. I know this update isn't directly related to western movies but if you read the review I posted about the Jonah Hex movie, you will recall that I expressed great admiration for the Jonah Hex comics. So for me this experience was worth sharing and I hope you enjoy it.

Cap'n Ron

The Cowboys

John Wayne has starred in many of the greatest films ever produced for his time. His name is synonymous with the Hollywood Western. I am not qualified to say which one of his films is the best one, nor could I say without a doubt what my all time favorite is. Therefore I will use today’s update to tell you about “one” of my personal favorite John Wayne movies:

“The Cowboys” is a classic John Wayne film although it was made in the later part of his career. John Wayne plays cattle man Will Anderson. He needs to get his beef across the 400 plus miles to market but there are no available men to work the cattle. He decides, out of necessity, to recruit 11 young boys from the local school.

This movie appeals to the young boy in all of us because I am sure a great many of us had dreams of being a Cowboy when we were kids. I know I used to dream about it as I sat in the back seat looking out at the grazing cattle on our drives to visit my Grandmother. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a real live cowboy riding out from the wooded places at the edge of those great, green, Texas pastures. I even loved the smell of cow patties as we pulled up to the gate at my Great Aunt Billie’s ranch in Peoria, TX. You see your young fantasy come to life when you watch this movie.

These 11 boys show up at Mr. Anderson’s ranch raring to go on this great adventure despite the fact that they have no experience nor do they have any idea of what they are in for. It is an amusing visual to see the younger of the boys wearing pistols (which they can barely lift) dangling from holsters which seem to droop down to their knees.

Once the journey begins the kids start to realize just how tough being a Cowboy can be. They experience the perils of crossing a swollen river, long sleepless nights on the lonesome dusty trail and following the orders of the tough as nails trail boss. They also learn about death as during a stampede they lose one of the young boys who is unable to climb to safety.

Then one night things take an awful twist as the youngster on night watch is accosted and threatened by cattle rustlers. The leader of the rustlers is played by Bruce Dern who always seemed to have a knack for playing a menacing outlaw. He smiles and acts friendly until he has gained the trust of his intended victim. He sees the fact that these are all children and knows he can scare them into keeping his intentions a secret from Mr. Anderson under penalty of death.

John Wayne’s latter films took on a more tragic tone and his character would end up being killed or dying. That is the case in “The Cowboys” as eventually a confrontation between Mr. Anderson and the rustlers ensues resulting in the death of Mr. Anderson. The boys had come to feel a sense of great respect for Mr. Anderson and they vow to take the cattle back from the rustlers and complete the drive.

I highly recommend seeing this film if you get the chance as it will bring back those old dreams of being a cowboy.

This movie is available on DVD in Widescreen format.

Cap’n Ron