Forsaken (2016): Kiefer Sutherland’s ‘Unforgiven’ (Review)

Kiefer Sutherland in Forsaken

Forsaken, the 2016 western starring both the Sutherland’s could be seen as Kiefer’s version of the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven.  Not in texture, however, as Sutherland’s film is much less downtrodden. While there are control issues in the story, the town and scenery are nowhere near as bleak as Eastwood’s oater.

The film, written by Brad Mirman and directed by Jon Cassar, tells the story of John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland).  A Civil War veteran turned gunslinger who hangs up this guns and tries to turn away from violence.  He returns to his family home and attempts to reconcile the  past  and make amends with his father Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland).

He meets an old flame, Mary-Alice Watson (Demi Moore) who has married and moved on.  John Henry also meets another veteran Gentleman Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Turner works for local businessman James McCurdy (Brian Cox).

McCurdy is taking over small land-holdings by threat and bullets from his gang of surly, bullying gunfighters.  The deadly group are lead by Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole). A nasty bit of work, Tillman zeroes in on John Henry the moment he arrives in town. 

Forsaken is a slow build. Like other westerns on offer of late, for example the 2014  Danish western “The Salvation,” or even the older Eastwood homage to Shane; Pale Rider, the “townsfolk” all seem a little too beaten down. It is, however, understandable as McCurdy does have a good sized violence-prone gang ready to do his bidding.

As westerns go, this one is a good fit.   It follows a certain credo and feels like something that Louis L’Amour would have written. (The scene between Turner and Clayton just emits the L’Amour mythos of professional courtesy.)

The two Sutherland’s work beautifully together and Demi Moore provides an excellent portrait of the  childhood love left behind.   Cox’s villainous land grabber is a little too foul mouthed for the period, it is really doubtful that “f*ck” was that widely used, if at all, in the time of Queen Victoria and the primness that entailed.

(That could be down to the script however and not Mr. Cox who plays any role with a deep authenticity.)

Overall Forsaken took a long time to reach its, almost, forgone conclusion. Despite this nearly languid approach to the climax, it is well worth the wait.

Throughout the film there are moments that look to be full blown homages to other movies.  The scene in the street in front of the town store takes a completely different turn. (One expects Clayton to employ his newly purchased axe handle…)

Kiefer Sutherland certainly “earned his spurs” once again,  the actor is familiar with the genre,  he was in Young Guns and that film’s sequel Young Guns II.  He gave his character a certain credibility and not once did he “fan” his guns.

Set in the period after the Civil War (the 1870s) everything looked “right.” Although the church having so many glass windows spoke of a property that the town really did not reflect overall.

Overall, Forsaken is a 5 star film.  It is a solid western that does not delve too deeply into the psychological meanderings that helped to kill the genre in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It does feel a  little like Sutherland’s own “Unforgiven,” but the message is different.

Eastwood’s film focussed on violence being horrific and wasteful.  This western’s message is that violence is sometimes necessary; the bullies of the world will not stop until the good guys stop them…physically.

Available on Showtime, mosey on over and check this one out. Before saddling up and heading out, check out the trailer below:

Michael Cimino: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot – A Look Back

Geoffrey Lewis, Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jeff Bridges

The announcement of Michael Cimino’s death today at age 77 was a shock and it allowed for amount of reflection at the career that began so well and ended so badly. So it seems fitting to look back at the film that started it all for Michael Cimino; Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974).

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot could be called a “Drive In” film. It was at a drive in that I saw it, aged 17, nearly two years after the film’s release.  Despite UA and their poor marketing of the film, and the fact that Bridges effectively stole the film from Eastwood, I fell in love with the story and the ending was the first one to ever make me cry.

Not so much a crime/comedy film, TaL was a buddy movie. A May-December bromance between Eastwood’s laconic former thief and the young conman played by Bridges. Thunderbolt was a man who turned his back on crime and Lightfoot was a young man in love with it.

The two meet up when  former colleagues of Thunderbolt turn up to extract their pound of flesh from their partner who they believe cheated them out of money from a big heist.

George Kennedy was the asthmatic bad man with anger management issues and poor self image; Red Leary.Geoffrey Lewis was Eddie Goody and as his name implies Eddie was the nicer of the two men.

The film was one of Eastwood’s least favorites according to author Marc Elliot in his 2010 biographical tome on the entertainer.  It is maintained that Clint felt, quite rightly, that UA let the side down in terms of marketing and that Bridges stole the film.  It does not mention that both Lewis and specifically Kennedy overshadowed the underplaying Eastwood.

As mentioned by other critics the film looked at the male dynamic, as a group, and focussed on the camaraderie of men in general.  But Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is also a combination coming of age film and a romance (bromance). It is also a blackly comic tragedy where the optimistic partnership goes pear shaped at the end.

Ironically it was Eastwood who insisted that Cimino direct his script. Clint initially wanted to helm the picture but decided to let Michael take the lead. While not overly successful, the film did finish number 18 on the list of top grossing films of 1974.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot garnered one Oscar nomination for Bridges and went on to become a cult favorite. Cimino then went on to write and direct the 1978  Oscar winning film The Deer Hunter.  The Vietnam themed feature  took in five of the little golden men.

(Christopher Walken took home the Best Supporting Actor gong for his portrayal of the doomed Nick.)

Then came Heaven’s Gate. The film that killed UA (United Artists) and stopped Cimino’s rise as the new wunderkind in town.  The “auteur” overspent on the production by millions and according to Steven Bach in Final Cut it was a fiasco of epic proportions. I have read the book and Bach clearly  believes that  in terms of disastrous filmmaking Heaven’s Gate was the perfect storm.

The film flopped and Cimino was essentially finished. He directed four more feature length films and one short film segment in 2007. The writer and director’s career died way before he did.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot feels like drive in fare. It  was a “B” movie out of the gate. Regardless of the requisite nudity and boob shots however the film managed to impress. It is evocative of all those ’70s crime movies yet different because it was all about the Bridges and Eastwood characters bonding and falling in love and becoming a team. The two were spiritual brothers by the end of the film and it was brilliant.

Watching the film at the 62 Drive In outside Fayetteville, Arkansas, I fell in love with Bridges as a performer and was enthralled by his “brain damaged” performance. Kennedy proved that he could still be a nasty bit of work as a bad man and Lewis was brilliant. The film also featured Gary Busey, a childhood favorite from when he was Gailard Sartain’s right hand man on the Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi creature feature show from Tulsa, Oklahoma. It also had a young Catherine Bach who would later become Daisy Duke on television.

More than anything else, the film showed that Cimino had that touch. The ability to tell a story that sang, even if it was about a bunch of thieves who had no honor amongst themselves.  It was a great start that peaked with The Deer Hunter and expired with Heaven’s Gate.

Ironically Heaven’s Gate is now considered almost a classic.

Rest In Peace Michael Cimino. An auteur whose career never reached the meteoric heights it could have all because of a western that killed a studio.

Michael Cimino

Appaloosa (2008) Ed Harris Changing the Western Gunfight

Screen shot from Appaloosa
Ed Harris is one of the best in terms of acting. His directorial skills, while not so visible, Appaloosa is only his second time in the chair, are also top notch as he proved in this 2008 slow but interesting western. Starring in, co-writing the script (based on the Robert B. Parker novel of the same name) and producing as well as directing shows just how much the star wanted this film made. Choosing Dean Semler (Dances With Wolves, Maleficent) as his DP shows how much he wanted his vision to look spot on.

In fact, the only real shame, or problem, with Harris’ film was the necessity of having to recast Allie. Diane Lane was the original choice and Zellweger was a last minute replacement. Certainly the Bridget Jones star was acceptable in the role, but, with Lane in the part, one imagines sheer perfection. (I will admit a certain prejudice here, I do like Renee Zellweger but, I adore Diane Lane.)

Taking almost a literal view of westerns, the two main protagonists resemble Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and not having read the Parker book which the film is based on, it is not known where this idea comes from. Regardless of where it originates, the allusion works. It should be pointed out that appearances are where these resemblances end. Both Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are very different from the real-life western icons they favor.

Virgil is a taciturn man who can only really focus on one task at a time. While trying to better himself, reading the works of Emerson and checking with West Point graduate Everett (played wonderfully by Viggo Mortensen) when the vocabulary proves too taxing, he kills when his potential prisoners resist arrest. Hitch, his educated former Army officer partner of 12 years, is also quick to shoot and backs Cole’s plays whatever they entail.

This tale deals with, on its surface, the story of a long partnership of “mobile lawmen.” The pair come to the town of Appaloosa to help the founding fathers take care of a local rancher who has been riding roughshod over the citizens and businesses of the growing city. Randall Bragg (played with snooty superiority by Brit actor Jeremy Irons) finally stumbles when he personally murders the city marshal and two deputies in cold blood in front of a bevy of witnesses.

While only one young man steps forward to testify, it is enough to guarantee a noose for Bragg’s neck and he is to be transported to a local prison where they will help him meet his maker. Things do not go as planned and the remainder of the film is about personal issues between the three men and the woman who tries to play with all of them.

Allie French is a woman who confesses to Virgil that, “I’m afraid of everything.” At his urging she reveals a list of things that terrify her. Near the top of the list is her fear that she attached to the wrong man. This leads to her tendency to sleep with any Alpha Male she comes across. As she is in a relationship with Cole, this is troublesome, although it seems that the marshal is pretty accepting of her tendency to sleep with “anything that isn’t gelded.”

The film is a great treat for western fans as it does look fantastic. The sets, the lighting, the props, the guns are authentic and used properly, and the costumes all appear pretty much spot on. What is interesting is the way that Cole has opted to film the gunfights.

Appaloosa choses Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales method of gunplay. There are no Spaghetti Western quick-draws where the protagonist whips out his six gun and fans the hammer back to quickly shoot down multiple adversaries before they clear leather. At the beginning of the film, just after being officially hired by the town leaders, Cole and Hitch take on four of Bragg’s men in a saloon.

When two of the toughs, who are urinating in the bar’s spittoons, brace the new marshal and reach for their guns, Virgil almost leisurely pulls his pistol, cocks and shoots each one with deadly results. Hitch takes care of one cowboy behind Cole with his 8-gauge shotgun and the fourth declines to become involved in this mini bloodbath.

Later in the film, two more gunfights erupt and in each, the participants enter the fray with guns already drawn. Revolvers held down at their sides, the men face one another and “make their move” when they believe that the advantage is theirs. The gunfights are fast, “That happened quick,” says a prone Hitch. “Everybody could shoot,” replies Cole who is laying flat on his back with a “busted knee.”

As the traveling marshal points out early in the film, and later Hitch does the same, gunmen who become lawmen do so because “they can.” In other words they have the ability to shoot straight and fast with no thought of their own safety. As illustrated in the film’s penultimate shootout, not all gunmen are created equal, even those considered excellent can be killed.

In the film’s romance Zellweger’s piano playing Mrs. French and Harris’ single-minded marshal make an odd couple. Their relationship is interesting as it is awkward. Just as awkward is Allie’s tinkling of the ivories. At all times more perfunctory than musical and full of mishit keys and notes, the playing matches the woman’s personality. Something about Allie just does not fit and pointing out her mangled playing of the piano highlights this perfectly.

Appaloosa proves yet again that Ed Harris sits well in the director’s chair, his previous film was Pollock (2000). The film is a good 3.5 out of 5 stars; mainly because of Zellweger and the slow pace of the film itself as well as the offbeat soundtrack. Harking back to Howard Hawks’ El Dorado and its ultra modern music, Appaloosa uses a similar musical theme and it does not fit. This could be a personal bugbear of this viewer but it needs to be put out there. Available on Amazon and iTunes to stream and on disc, fans of the genre need to check this one out if they have not already done so.

American Sniper: Sergeant York for a New Generation

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

While reading the reviews of the Clint Eastwood/Bradley Cooper feature about America’s deadliest sniper, aka American Sniper, it is easy to be reminded of another film about a decorated war hero. One Sergeant Alvin York (played brilliantly by the iconic Gary Cooper [the Clint Eastwood of his day] who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the reluctant World War I hero) who was one of the most decorated soldiers in his day. It now seems that Chris Kyle is the Sergeant York for a new and more cynical generation.

Read the rest of the article on Viral Global News…

Burt Reynolds Las Vegas Auction: Buying a Bit of Pop Culture

Burt Reynolds Las Vegas Auction: Buying a Bit of Pop Culture

Burt Reynolds fans are of a certain age, looking at the people browsing the pre auction opening of Reynolds memorabilia at the Brenden Palms Hotel and Casino proved that the demographic who are interested in buying a bit of a pop culture icon, and pretty prolific actor, are not part of the 18 – 49 preferred target group of the Hollywood machine. This 78 year old star, who had to wait until the 1998 film Boogie Nights to get an Oscar nomination, has been a presence in Hollywood and on the screens of the world, big and small, since 1958. It has been said of the Smokey and the Bandit star that he has had more failed television series than any other actor in Tinseltown and while that may, or may not be true, it is unarguable that few in that town have as many credits under their belt as Reynolds. The “Bandit” has 178 for acting alone.