Tag Archives: Westerns

A Buried Cinema Quick Critique — The Deadly Companions (1961)

By Tom Kapr

the-deadly-companions

This first feature film from Sam Peckinpah shows a director focused on patient storytelling and complex, broken characters, before he fell in love with gratuitous slow-motion, sadistic ultra-violence, and despicable protagonists. Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, and Chill Wills all give excellent performances. The characters are compelling, Albert Sidney Fleischman’s dialogue is nearly perfect, the story is surprising, and the themes are challenging. Well worth 90 minutes of your time, and a must-see for Western aficionados.

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Tom was once a mere temp worker until he was kidnapped by mad scientists and imprisoned on a satellite in outer space where he was forced to watch bad movies with a couple of sarcastic sentient robots. He escaped over a decade ago, yet still he sits alone in a darkened room watching bad movies, whispering wisecracks into the dark. His favorite films include City Lights, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amélie, Stagecoach, and the Toy Story trilogy. He edits the Rant Pad and the Buried Cinema podcast.

 

Buried Cinema — Ned Kelly

By Nathanael Griffis

Ned Kelly in home made armor. Home made armor: for the man who doesn't want to rob a museum.

Ned Kelly in home made armor. Home made armor: for the man who doesn’t want to rob a museum.

I remember back when I didn’t care that much about movies and I simply liked them, back in the time when I let other people tell me how to feel about them, back before I realized there was a whole world of weird and wonderful films to explore, back in my junior year of high school. I saw a quick news bit on the ten most anticipated upcoming films. I watched through a few and one caught my eye: Ned Kelly. It starred Orlando Bloom, hot off Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Heath Ledger, whom I’d been impressed with from The Four Feathers but everyone else knew from A Knight’s Tale  and 10 Things I Hate About You. It looked like a cool take on the Western in Australia, and the trailer had the stars staring deeply into smoky space, with plenty of gunshots cut around it, so yeah, I was in.

And then we never got it. It seemed to disappear, and my precious high-school psyche was burnt. Like a child promised a gift who is thrust a hastily purchased coffee mug after their parent comes home from a trip, I was confused. What were these films that I was supposed to be anticipating? Why wasn’t I getting the fourth most anticipated movie of the year? Suddenly my faith in television movie lists began to crumble. I became an unfortunate husk of an American with no media guidance, betrayed by the glowing rectangle that I called Teacher. I was forced to start forming my own opinions. I would have to either take an interest in movies myself and do research on what was coming out on my own, or, succumb to nature and get a life and never care about movies again.

Thankfully for you, or not if perhaps you’re annoyed because you were just hoping for a thumbs up or thumbs down review, I did not succumb to the temptation to make something of myself. Instead I am diligently wasting away my life. I just do it independently now, so it feels more… I don’t know, fancy. Either way my life of movie-watching continued uninterrupted until I was accosted by the Ned Kelly poster on Netflix. There stood my daunting disappointment, the girl on the bus you never talked to, who blew back her hair in the just-so-subtle inviting way that both intimidates and disarms you at the same moment. It took me some time to get around to watching it, because the reality is that I do have a job, friends, a house, a family, other hobbies, and a parrot; but reality is ultimately lame, and I prefer the fiction of the struggling blogger typing away praying for that one reader to comment, kindly of course, with some mention of the words “beautiful” and “prose” in the comments. Upon watching Ned Kelly, I realized why it never made its way over to my movie theaters. It sucked. It sucked so bad it couldn’t make it to Binghamton.

"Blueberries or Strawberries? I just wondered what you wanted on your pancakes in the morning."

“Blueberries or strawberries? I just wondered what you wanted on your pancakes in the morning.”

This is a thoroughly disappointing movie, much like the conversation with the pretty girl on the bus who probably is vegan to a fault — not that it’s wrong to be vegan, but it is wrong to guilt trip me into gnawing on a kale and tree bark sandwich. The movie has an impressive cast: Ledger, Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, and Naomi Watts. It squanders the talent though, with a confusing script, bewildering accents (there isn’t a hint of Australian anywhere to be found), fumbling humor, and bad acting 101 delivered to us courtesy of Orlando Bloom, who spends most of the movie as if he were on a bar stool shooting pickup lines at the audience.

There is a scene where Ned Kelly, played by Heath Ledger, if I wasn’t clear on that point, mistakenly collects a horse, which he will later be accused of stealing, and then a women magically appears on it, for little to no reason. Oh, except that it’s really important, because later in the movie she’s going to be his ten-second love interest that should make us care about him. The women in this film are unfortunately very poorly drawn. The mother is a helpless matriarch who is at a loss without her sons, but can’t seem to keep them out of trouble. Naomi Watts is wasted as a beautiful wife of a rancher who has an affair with Ned. Every other women just falls over backwards for the illustrious gang.

The history of the story is interesting, but I won’t go into it, because the film butchers the history by flopping it about in voice-overs. It tries to gloss over the stale humor with intriguing images, and the idea that Ned Kelly feels bad about the people he kills. Maybe he did, and certainly the system was against Irish immigrants at the time, but a movie should make sense. Geoffrey Rush barely has lines and fumbles about in a silly hat until at the end he asks Ned if he can have his sash, which Rush delivers as if it should be profound, but it comes off as an odd hobo adding another strain of fabric to his sash cupboard.

Mutton Chops sealing the deal once again.

Mutton Chops sealing the deal once again.

The whole thing is wrapped up in a tired bow of false realism with Ledger saying in voice-over, “Such is life.” I suppose it’s hinting at life being unfair for minorities, and that we should stand up for ourselves, but even if we do the powerful majority will stomp us down, shoot our camels and monkeys (did I mention the circus?), and then hang us. Overall I learned that Orlando Bloom is certainly not a good actor. His character needs a certain humorous charm that speaks of a mysterious danger. Instead Bloom comes off as psychotic. And, despite all the interesting history and cast, everyone needs a good script and a good director if you want a good movie.

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About the author:

Nate was once a silent film star whose song-and-dance skills helped him make an effective transition to talkies. Now he won’t shut up and frequently breaks into song on our podcast. Nate is self-described as a personally professional person. He loves meditative films and is crossing his fingers for Nature Scene Screen Saver: The Movie. (One could argue that Terrence Malick already made this film, and called it The Tree of Life.) Nate’s favorite films include A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind, Wall-E, The Graduate, and 127 Hours.

Option C — Rango

By Tom Kapr

Every week on Buried Cinema’s podcast, one of us chooses a film to review and another chooses a second film to pair with it. This is Option C.

This past week we reviewed the new blockbuster from Pirates of the Caribbean director/star team Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger. It was terrible.

But the question remained: Could these two make a good Western under other circumstances? The answer is yes. Under other, very strange circumstances.

Whether or not Rango qualifies as a “buried” film is, I suppose, open for debate. But since I’m the one who coined the phrase, I’m just going to go ahead and say, hell yes, Rango qualifies. It’s an endangered film at the very least, one that could be buried by time, lack of the proper audience, and a misunderstanding of its nature. It has no doubt been viewed by lots of kids and passively enjoyed by their parents, but the audience Rango truly deserves are any and all serious lovers of the art and history of cinema, because it revels in both. It is a surreal homage to the Great American Western, and it is, simply, a beautifully animated film.

 

 

Rango is filmed as if it were a live-action production, one of the few CGI films I’ve seen that actually seems to have a sense of cinematography; not only is it bright, but it seems deliberately lit. (With Roger Deakins on the crew, this is not so surprising.) On top of the live sense of photography, the performances are the pinnacle of what can be achieved with CGI characters. Rango may be an animated lizard that looks nothing like Johnny Depp, but Depp’s performance comes through so clearly that, in his mannerisms and even his facial expressions, one can see Johnny Depp’s mannerisms and facial expressions. The rest of the cast of characters is no less impressive, with actors such as Isla Fisher, Stephen Root, and Ned Beatty giving great performances, as well as Timothy Olyphant doing an impeccable Clint Eastwood as the “Man With No Name”-inspired Spirit of the West. (Also, Johnny Depp manages a brilliant cameo as a character from one of his earlier films; it happens during the highway scene early in the film.)

Rango has a great sense of fun, of adventure, of humor, and even of drama. A thrilling stage chase through a canyon is one of the highlights. This is actually quite a mature film in its sensibilities, with plenty of gunplay, violence, and irreverent humor full of double entendres that only the adults will get. Though the plotting gets just a little sloppy during the finale (par for the course in spectacle films like this), it is a brilliant, textured, loving homage to the Western genre. It may be Verbinksi’s most accomplished, classic-status-worthy film.

As Nate said on the podcast, Verbinski should have accepted his Oscar (yep, this film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film) and walked away from the Western genre. We may not have a good Lone Ranger movie, but as long as it’s not forgotten, we’ll always have Rango.

Tom was once a mere temp worker for a disreputable science lab, until he was kidnapped by a mad scientist and imprisoned on a satellite in outer space where he was forced to watch bad movies with a couple of sarcastic sentient robots. He escaped over a decade ago, yet still he sits alone in a darkened room watching bad movies, whispering wisecracks into the dark. His favorite films include City Lights, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amélie, Stagecoach, and the Toy Story trilogy. He edits the Rant Pad and the Buried Cinema podcast.

Buried Cinema — Rango

By Nathanael Griffis

Bats, dynamite, and Johnny Depp: this movie has it all.

Okay, admittedly, last year’s Oscar-winning animated film Rango is not buried, but I need a reason to write about it, so let’s pretend. It is the kind of film that can easily become buried though, so consider this a preemptive unburying, an attempt to keep the sands of our film apathy away from this little gem of a film.

I was really surprised by this film. After last year was so dry of any truly good animation, I avoided Rango, because everything else I’d seen was so weak. In retrospect it wasn’t so bad: we got a new Winnie the Pooh, and Chico & Rita was a great look at jazz and love. What is really so bothersome is the stumbling of Pixar with Cars 2 and another DreamWorks sequel in Kung Fu Panda 2. We’ve been spoiled and it hurts when reality hits and you realize the gods of animation are fallible.

If you’ve read anything about Rango, you’ve read the increasingly annoying mantra that it’s not for kids. Well, not really — it’s certainly violent, there’s a fair amount of swearing, and the humor is unabashedly adult. Still, it’s full of cartoonish slapstick comedy, so it’s a strange balance. It’s this strange balance that is so refreshing. This is a mature, smart cartoon Western. It still operates within the boundaries of a cartoon, so we’re expected to believe that a chameleon is perfectly capable of surviving being bounced across several car windshields. Yet it’s smart. The humor is directly adult. There is some child-aimed slapstick with burps and explosions, but for the most part you have to be older to catch the jokes.

If you're counting that's one bullet.

I’ve heard some critics pointing this out as a flaw, but I found it refreshing. Often in films the adult humor is hidden away, tucked inside innuendo so that parents watching a Disney film can still chuckle every half-hour. In some ways this is just catering to a smaller sect of the audience that watches cartoons. It’s smart marketing to engage parents, but it doesn’t directly benefit the story. Rango runs without and benefits from an uncensored script. They don’t have to follow the Disney rules: they can swear, make Fear & Loathing references, characters can die, and it’s all great. It’s genuinely funny and a startlingly original film.

The film is doing some amazing things with mythos and how a story plays out. It’s not meta exactly, but it continually reminds you that the Western is a created story with expectations, and plays with those. It goes as far as to have a pseudo-Clint Eastwood appear and offer advice to our young hero, who is himself unsure of who he is. It takes this concept of the hero that every young boy dreams of and delivers an extremely relatable protagonist, who is pretending to be just that as he’s thrust into a Western unexpectedly. The whole progression is predictable, but presented in a refreshing way. Not to mention that at times they blatantly tell what is going to happen next.  It’s an astonishing script from John Logan that reminds why he’s so good and makes me wonder why he’s not talked about more. Hans Zimmer delivers another awesome score that borrows and plays off of Morricone,  Apocalypse Now, and others when it needs to, but still has an unique style all its own.

Clint Eastwood shows up as well, so why haven't you seen this film yet?

The entire film feels like a thank-you to all of us film lovers who’ve been tirelessly watching Westerns and caring about the script more than the CGI explosions. Let me put it to you this way: This movie is good enough for me to forgive Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski for the Pirates of the Caribbean Sequels. Definitely take the time to check this one out. Don’t watch it with your young kids, but middle school-aged kids should like it. Something I didn’t even mention is that it’s absolutely gorgeous. This is the first animated film from Industrial Light and Magic, although I’m sure they had a hand in Dinosaur, and it’s a good sign.

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Buried Cinema – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

By Nathanael Griffis

Not your typical samurai garb.

I was first introduced to Jim Jarmusch films while taking a class on Westerns during my undergraduate. The last film we watched was Dead Man, which was introduced as post-modern Western. It was a strange experience, and certainly post-modern. It had a clear sense of being within the Western genre, but was willing to break out of it at times and ends without resolution. A friend in the class was a big Jarmusch fan, and we watched Coffee and Cigarettes later, which was honestly one of the first vignette films I’d seen. I loved it, especially the “Strange to Meet You” segment with Stephen Wright and Roberto Benigni. So, for some time now I’ve been interested in watching Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. I’ve heard so many conflicting opinions on the film that it sounded great to me. This is because Jarmusch, from my experience, either leaves you scratching you head or reveling in his brilliance.

Thankfully, Ghost Dog is amazing. It follows the trials of Ghost Dog, played by Forest Whitaker, as he tries to maintain the life of a samurai in an urban crime environment. Think of it as what would happen if Spike Lee had directed Rashomon from a Martin Scorsese script. Ghost Dog is a solitary warrior whose master, Louie (John Tormey) doesn’t fully understand the life Ghost Dog is committed to. When the crime bosses over Louie decide Ghost Dog has to be eliminated, Ghost Dog struggles with keeping the way of the samurai while still honoring his master, who is trying to kill him.

I knew going into the film that it would be slow moving, because most of the viewer complaints are that there’s not enough action. (There are actually several action scenes, so all you Netflix reviewers are liars.) I imagine people are just disappointed that Forest Whitaker never chops down a hundred ninjas with a katana. (Hey, I was too, but what I got instead was still good). I am a critic though, so naturally I do still have a complaint about the action. Jarmusch does some strange slow-motion with cross dissolves of the same image slightly offset that I couldn’t quite understand. This was the main thing that bothered me about the film. I couldn’t decided if Jarmusch was trying to be cool, or comment on slow motion as cool, or display some meditative meaning in Ghost Dog’s violence.

Ghost Dog using the samurai technique of gun to temple.

The film is wonderfully reflective upon its place in samurai films. Ghost Dog sees himself as part of a dying philosophy, but stays true to his code. Throughout the film, selections of the Hagakure, the samurai code book, help transition throughout the story and build Ghost Dog’s character. This direct approach is used well, because the selections inform the whole film and not just the next scene. They aren’t prophetic. They don’t give anything away, and they don’t seem repetitive or unnecessary. Plus Forest Whitaker’s calm steady voice lends a gravitas to them that’s wonderful. They also provide the audience with a perfect sense of just what the samurai code is. It might feel like a gimmick to some viewers, but if that’s the case, it’s a well used gimmick.

Whitaker’s performance overall is wonderful, as is the whole cast. Each gangster has a personality all their own. Jarmusch did a great job of rounding up aging Italian-American actors and getting them to stretch their acting ability. It’s something to watch Richard Portnow, Henry Silva, and Gene Ruffini playing roles they’ve been typecast into completely differently than they’ve ever played them. This movie pushes against both the crime and samurai genres just enough to claim a unique spot in both, which is something Jarmusch is great it. He modernizes within a genre without forgetting the roots of the genre. He seems to be concluding that the samurai code of honor may be ancient and extinct, but so are the codes of organized crime, and there is room for some code or philosophy to be revived or something new to be created.

Ghost Dog ordering some books at the local Haitian ice cream stand. No joke, that's what's going on.

As I’ve mentioned already, a frequent criticism of this film is that it’s boring and you’re basically waiting for the action sequences. I couldn’t disagree more. In between each action scene are wonderfully quirky scenes of comedy. Ghost Dog’s best friend is a Haitian ice cream salesman, Raymond, who only speaks French. Their interactions speak to the bond of friendship being more than speech and communication. They’re also hilarious together as Raymond, the highly underrated Isaach De Bankolé, worries about health reports on ice cream on the radio and only manages to confuse Ghost Dog with his rants. The three Mafia bosses are either strangely aware of rap culture, stoic to the point of comedic, or apparently suffering from Tourrette’s. Watching them stare down a nervous John Tormey as they order Ghost Dog’s death is both frightening, because you realize this group is run by psychopaths, and hilarious, because you realize they’re psychopaths. It’s a fascinating duality that fits into samurai philosophy brilliantly.

The soundtrack is also wonderful. RZA has shown a strange attachment to samurai films and a wonderful ability to compose excellent scores (he also composed the original music for Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Unleashed). RZA uses traditional Asian string instruments, but combines them with drums and puts them into loops, so they sound like modern hip-hop derivations. What’s amazing is it flows perfectly and sounds natural, which is a credit to his composing. The music expresses emotions and drives scenes perfectly without overpowering anything. He clearly has a love for samurai films, and a talent to mesh conflicting genres together, which makes me excited for his directorial debut The Man with the Iron Fists, a samurai film with Russell Crowe. Sure, why not, sign me up.

I wish I could recommend this film to everyone, but my film lover’s heart has been broken too many times. If you have a healthy knowledge of samurai films, this should be an interesting watch for you. If you like crime dramas, perhaps you’ll like it. If you’re the kind of person who sits at home watching Lynch, Cronenberg, Aronofsky, or Gilliam, but also likes Scorsese and Kurosawa, then you’ll love it. If all those names just went over your head, stay away. It’ll just make me cry if you watch this film and hate it.

Korean Cinema #4: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

By Nathanael Griffis

I love Westerns, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is legendary among them, so I was fascinated when I heard about a 2008 Korean remake by director Ji-woon Kim. The Good, the Bad, the Weird takes the simple story outline of Sergio Leone’s classic Western and places it in 1930′s Japanese-controlled Manchuria. There is little left of Leone’s story, which is a good thing because it allows Ji-woon Kim to provide his own vision.  The story follows the “weird” Tae-goo, played by the awesome Kang-ho Song, who steals a treasure map from the Japanese army that the “bad” Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) wanted to steal and the “good” Do-won (Woo-sung Jung) was protecting. Did you follow all that, or is it easier to say the weird guy has a treasure map and everyone else wants it.

You're welcome, ladies.

This film is awesome–rife with plot holes and physical impossibilities, but just a blast despite any so called “flaws,” like revolvers that never need to be reloaded, shotguns that miss from close up, artillery that can’t hit anything except the ground, and minor characters whose problems are never resolved. These “flaws” don’t hinder the film but make it all the more endearing. It never takes itself too seriously, and if you take it seriously you’ll be severely disappointed. I was watching it with a friend, who was for the first few minutes pointed out problem after problem and didn’t enjoy the film until he just let it go and lived in the ridiculous nature of what was occurring.

Ji-woon Kim is able to get away with this because he understands the concept of the “plausible impossibility.” We know that a man who just shot five bad guys should have no problem getting the leader of the gang if he has a clear shot, but as long as you show us the dust blast off a wall next the bad guy’s head, we’ll accept that he missed. The action sequences are built upon the impossible and consistently rely on this style to create an enjoyable experience. It feels reminiscent of Indiana Jones in that aspect. The fun is in waiting for the next creatively orchestrated impossible scene to appear. The action is creative and fun, and some of the best I’ve seen in a while. The opening train scene is a great example of how to introduce characters. Tae-goo is introduced by kicking down a door and shooting a bunch of soldiers in the back. He’s a coward and self serving, but endearingly goofy. Do-won the bounty hunter with a bottom-line attitude only aims for the bad guys. Chang-yi takes a malicious pleasure in the chaos and violence he creates. From the framing of the shots, the score, and the costuming Ji-woon Kim utilizes every aspect of film making to build character and conflict in the first fifteen minutes.

No snarky comment. Kang-ho Song is awesome. That is all.

The humor is amazing, and Kang-ho Song shows he’s a master at both sides of the actor coin. The man can make you laugh or he can make you cry. He inhabits a character who is a perennial loser, a foolishly brash petty thief, who can indiscriminately kill and remain likable. His ability to charm an audience reminds me of Tom Hanks. Eli Wallach’s Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly definitely had a comic tinge to it, and his chemistry with Clint Eastwood was great, but here the humor and the redemptive quality of a man who’s been driven from his home is the focus. It was a smart move to shift the focus from the less interesting Do-won to the engaging Tae-goo, and it gives the film its own personality. The story is not nearly as engaging as Leone’s original, and Chang-yi is no Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef). That’s the biggest flaw of the film. Ji-woon Kim missed the intrigue that Lee Van Cleef brought to his scenes. Chang-yi is sadistic but little more. There is an attempt to make him out to be a philosopher type, but little is fleshed out. Also, keeping the numerous gangs and their motivations in order gets quite confusing by the end, but luckily it gets lost in the action and humor.

The end scene still holds true to the classic three-way Mexican standoff. It’s well shot, but can’t measure up to the original and is hurt a little bit by having to maintain a consistent stylized action. The final scene would have been better if it had been less stylized and more realistic, but then it would have been inconsistent, a hard decision for the director, so I don’t want to fault Kim for it. The a lack of the Morricone score hurts too, but that’s forgivable. The music composed by Dalparan and Yeong-gyu Jang is great and keeps the movie flowing, but it doesn’t have the presence and grace of a Morricone score.

Overall, I was ecstatic after watching this. It’s definitely a great group movie, and I suspect it is the type of film that even subtitle haters will stop rolling their eyes at and enjoy. It was a lot of fun, and I really needed something after Chan-wook Park’s heavy and disturbing Vengeance Trilogy.

Next up: Ki-duk Kim’s 3-Iron.

May not be in a graveyard, but it's still pretty cool.

Buried Cinema, Artifact #005: The Missing

By Nathanael Griffis

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

(MINOR SPOILER ALERT)

What if I told you Ron Howard was making a movie. “Okay, sure, what kind of movie?” A Western. “Awesome. Who’s in it?” Only Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, and Val Kilmer. “What’s it about?” Jones and Blanchett chase down an Apache Brujo, who’s like a witch doctor on steroids, after he kidnaps Blanchett’s daughter. “Okay, that sounds pretty good. I’m in.”

Yeah, Tommy Lee Jones would kick my ass in a fight.

Apparently not. For some reason, no one saw this movie. The Missing came out in 2003, but if you ask around about it now, you’ll probably get a confused look and the question, “Ron Howard made a Western?” Yes he did, and it was quite good. Adapted from the novel The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson, The Missing was Howard’s first film after A Beautiful Mind, so it should have had the popularity of that movie going for it. Instead, it came and went.

The Missing handles spiritualism and supernatural elements better than any Western I’ve seen. Tommy Lee Jones plays Samuel Jones, who left his daughter Magdalena (Cate Blanchett) when she was a child to go native. The movie opens with Jones returning to a grown Magdalena, now a mother of two. When Magdalena’s oldest daughter Lilly (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by the Brujo (played with a balance of brooding and a frightening apathy for the horrific by Eric Schweig), Maggie has to turn to her father track down the Apache. What ensues is a disturbing look at racism, spiritualism, religion, family, and human trafficking in 19th-century New Mexico.

Do NOT take a bad picture of this man. Don't ask why. Just don't do it.

If Dances with Wolves had been a horror film, Costner might have made something akin to The Missing. It has some of the most horrific scenes I’ve seen in a Western. Let me put it to you this way: the description below the R-rating that says “violence” is a huge understatement. (On a side note, this makes me really excited for what Ron Howard will do with The Dark Tower.) I’m still not sure what happened to Aaron Eckhart’s character, but I am sure I don’t want to know. Howard perfectly mixes showing the gore and pulling the camera away, so that the violence has just the right effect. The combined effects of the Brujo’s unpredictable and creative penchant for violence is beyond terrifying (especially in a scene in which he melts a photographer’s eyes out), and the starkly shot remains of his victims will leave you squeamish after the film. Perhaps this is why people have a hard time swallowing the movie.

It’s worth watching though. I’ve seen a few films that try to mix Native American spiritualism with the classic Western and fail. (See Renegade starring Vincent Cassel–or don’t.) The Missing, though, manages to balance the supernatural elements with a startling grace and effectiveness. I give credit to the performances and to Ken Kaufman’s script in this case. Tommy Lee Jones gives Sam, an unlikeable father figure, a level of depth that has to be hinted at in the tone of his voice and in his physical presence, because the character is too prideful to allow the audience to see how deep his empathy runs. Likewise, Magdalena has her father’s stubbornness and never fully overcomes her racism against Indians, but Cate Blanchett’s performance is such an engaging blend of vulnerability and strength that we can sympathize. There is simply no choice: the viewer must watch as the two characters grow but never fully reunite.

If they'd bought a box of Thin Mints, none of this would have happened.

The Missing is almost a movie of redemption, and the fact that it never reaches that level is a great strength of the film. There are some things in life (like, as the movie points out, abandoning you child), that would take more than a weekend to fix and forgive. The film understands this, and Sam, even as he longs to be close to his daughter, does as well. There is beauty in his struggle with resigning himself to the inability to be redeemed or the slim chance he can make things right.

Every character in The Missing has depth, even in the minor roles. Val Kilmer and Aaron Eckhart provide strong support. The same is true of Evan Rachel Wood; and watch out for Jenna Boyd, who plays Maggie’s younger daughter, Dot– she should be old enough to start getting recognition, and she deserves it for this role.

The Missing is not your typical Western. The end is haunting and leaves you thinking. It’s hard to classify, and hard to watch at times, but if you love Westerns, this is a must-see that shouldn’t be forgotten.

(The Missing at the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338188)

–Nathanael Griffis

Buried Cinema, Artifacts #002-004: Another side of Milla Jovovich

By Tom Kapr

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

Milla Jovovich is generally known as a go-to heroine for B-grade sci-fi action flicks, and most notably for her roles as Alice in all four Resident Evil movies and as the adorable, mysterious Leeloo in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. As such, she is often not given credit for her acting skills (despite often being the only thing making certain scenes in these movies watchable).

"Lee-loo dal-las mul-ti-pass"

What most people don’t seem to realize is that Milla has a healthy indie career when she’s not fighting zombies, vampires, and mutants. I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend a few of her best films.

A Perfect Getaway (2009) is the first non-sci-fi film directed by David Twohy (pronounced tooey), who also directed the underrated Pitch Black a decade ago. Getaway is Twohy’s pop culture-savvy twist on the serial killer genre that deals more in psychological suspense than violence and gore. The plot involves three young couples on holiday in Hawaii who hear news that the perpetrators of a recent double-murder may be in the vicinity of the isolated forest trail they’re hiking, but the less you know about the plot before viewing, the better. Milla stars alongside a talented cast that includes Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton, and Chris Hemsworth.

Dummy (2002) stars Adrien Brody as Steven, a 30-something man-child who decides to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a ventriloquist. Milla plays Fangora, Steven’s free-spirited, foul-mouthed best friend. When Steven develops a crush on his unemployment counselor Lorena (the wonderful Vera Farmiga), Fangora’s sociopathic relationship advice is, shall we say, counter-productive. Written and directed by Greg Pritikin, and co-starring Illeana Douglas, Jessica Walters, Ron Leibman, and Jared Harris (who also co-starred with Milla in Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Dummy is a funny, off-kilter romantic comedy that should be seen by more people, especially those looking for something better than the usual Hollywood rom-com fare.

The Claim (2000) is about a man named Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), who owns a town named Kingdom Come–a town he built after trading his wife and daughter for a gold claim. Now, his town is in danger of obsolescence by a railroad survey crew led by Wes Bentley, and his own past comes back to haunt him when Nastassja Kinski and Sarah Polley appear in town. Milla plays Dillon’s girlfriend, the madame of a brothel, who becomes disillusioned with her privileged life when she begins to learn about Dillon’s past and is faced with his style of handling present circumstances. The Claim is a bleak, but affecting, revisionist Western from director Michael Winterbottom.

(While we’re on the subject, also check out hippie-Milla in Richard Linklater’s 1993 cult classic Dazed and Confused.)

Learn more about the featured films at the IMDb:

A Perfect Getaway: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0971209

Dummy: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0246592

The Claimhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0218378

–Tom Kapr