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Category Archives: Movies

Fin De Semana 4-10-15

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An examination of the racial politics in the most iconic of Texas movies, Giant.

A quick Spanish primer for anyone headed to Texas.

Opening day down at the local ballpark.

What I’m Listening To

I’ve Got Standards-Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen

A surprisingly traditional and bouncy rejoinder to Nashville from two of the slickest (I mean that in a good way) guys in Texas Music. Good to know that no matter what, these two can fill a dance floor with two steppers and get a few licks in while they’re at it.

What I’m Drinking

In my own, personal version of opening day, the first Tecate of the spring has been cracked. It felt so good on my lips.

 

My Rifle, My Pony, And Me

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Rio Bravo takes it’s sweet time telling what is really a pretty taut story. The characters are so interesting and the world so thoroughly realized that you don’t mind dawdling towards the ending. What other movie knows its so good it stops in the middle for not one but TWO songs that don’t advance the story at all? That’s confidence. Enjoy Dino, Rick, and co. and take your time doing it.

Two Upcoming Westerns

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There’s a couple of Westerns around the corner I’m really looking forward to.

The first is The Salvation, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the villain and Eva Green. From what I can tell it’s a revenge plot in a town that looks A TON like Armadillo in Red Dead Redemption. Mikkelsen is supposed to be great in Hannibal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan was born to play a bad hat and Eva Green is a good enough actress that even though her character is mute, she’ll probably be riveting. It’s been released internationally, but I’m trying to save myself from spoilers.

Michael Fassbender is getting good reviews for his role as Silas, the sardonic bounty hunter in Slow West. While I have trouble picturing him in a Western, he’s supposed to be a very Clint Eastwood anti-hero in this. Side note: Slow West was filmed in New Zealand, like all one billion Lord of the Rings movies.

Honeysuckle Rose; or Willie is as Willie Does

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As a songwriter, he is without parallel. As a guitarist and vocalist his warmth and eccentricity are instantly recognized. As a public figure, he’s always used his fame to stand up for underdogs and regular folks of all stripes. If there’s one thing Willie Nelson isn’t known for, it’s his acting.

To be fair, expecting Willie Nelson to deliver credible acting performances is like expecting John Wayne to play a good Othello. Their strength as a performer is so rooted in their persona, they can really only add variations and shades of the same character over and over again.

Part of it also that, geez, it’s WILLIE NELSON. You don’t get to write a million timeless songs, record a million albums, tour a million miles and be the closest thing to an actual Uncle Sam AND get to be a good actor too. That’s just gilding the lily.

Willie excels in roles where he basically plays Willie. And he does it best in “Honeysuckle Rose.”

At it’s heart the movie is a Saturday Matinee western, the sort Willie’s heroes Gene Autry or Roy Rogers would star in. Willie is the singing cowboy with a very large and chemically active bunch of sidekicks, roaming the west song by song. The stakes are never particularly high, because we know Willie is the hero and he’s going to win. But it’s fun to watch the hero go through the motions. The villain isn’t particularly evil, because, well, Willie is basically the villain of this movie too.

Willie plays Buck Bonham, country singer, nomad, family man. His old buddy/guitar player Slim Pickens retires and Willie hires Slim’s daughter (Amy Irving) to take her place. Willie and Amy are musically sympatico, and that leads to other more intimate dalliances that shatter his marriage and friendship. Eventually though, Willie is able to make amends, save his marriage, get back on Slim’s good side and put on the big musical jamboree at the end. In Willie’s world, everything begins and ends with songs. Music sends him out on the road, complicates his life, mends it, brings everyone back together.

If you’re looking for something bigger and more complex from Willie, you’ll have to listen to one of his albums. If you wanted to show someone just why Willie is important, why he’s the beloved performer and icon he is today, you show them “Honeysuckle Rose.”

The movie isn’t without it’s faults. It’s soapy and melodramatic. It leans a little too heavily on performances. Willie, for such a laid back guy, is a wooden actor. It’s the joy of performing though, the love of playing music with and for people that sells the movie. Music, and the way Willie engages the world most directly through it, is the real focus of this movie. We get an idea of who Willie, or in this case Buck Bonham, is, but we don’t KNOW who he is until we’ve seen him sing his life to a crowd of strangers.

That’s the central paradox in many performers lives, though. Singers might be strangers to us, and they may guard their private lives or even mislead us with stories, when they’re singing their songs, they’re baring all their vulnerabilities for us. Few people have been doing this longer, or better than Willie Nelson.

(Trivia: “On The Road Again” was written as a throwaway song to accompany travel montages in this movie. Jerry Weintraub, the producer, didn’t think anything of the song. It’s one of the songs most closely identified with Willie Nelson now, and more well known than the movie that birthed it.)

The Ballad Of Ramblin’ Jack

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Just a friendly reminder that “The Ballad Of Ramblin’ Jack” is on Netflix if you have a subscription. It’s a good and pretty unflinching look at a fascinating man, the bridge between Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. It’s directed by his daughter Aiyana and worth a viewing if you like folk, country, cowboys, the Village folk scene, or fast talking cowboys from Brooklyn.

Fandango

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Although it probably gets written off as a minor entry in Kevin Costner’s career, I’ve always liked “Fandango”, a movie that should’ve made him a star much earlier. It’s a rowdy, beery right of passage movie about college guys on one last jaunt across Texas before Vietnam, marriage and adulthood set the hooks in them. Costner plays Gardner Barnes, a fine son of Texas who seems to have known and squandered privilege his whole life. He ringleads the last Fandango into the wilds of West Texas with his buddies both as an escape from encroaching adulthood, but as a last gift to friends he has every reason to believe he’ll never see again.

The movie itself is full of great period touches that, while never explicitly showing Austin in 1971, give you a sense of the blossoming freewheeling culture that nurtured these characters. Filmed for the most part in sunbaked, beautiful West Texas desert, it functions as the sort of eulogy we’re used to seeing in Westerns. Instead of say, Gus and Woodrow, we have Gardner, Kenneth, Phil and Co., who have run out of time and country to be wild in. Something about this sort of story speaks to our notions of Texas manhood and the ways we find to negotiate the space between the legends and the lives we can expect to live. These were boys raised to be wild-good natured- but wild. Trying to land the next step in life with some dignity isn’t a lesson that comes as freely.

The quest eventually ends up in San Elizario, Texas (outside El Paso) where loose ends are tied up and Costner, as Gardner, makes his final getaway. It’s not hard to imagine this movie as a spiritual prequel to another Costner movie, Tin Cup.

Tin Cup finds Costner playing Roy McAvoy, essentially the same character as he played in Fandango, but older, disillusioned and gone a little to seed. The same rakish charm is there, and the same careless attitude toward his talents. McAvoy is a washed up former college golf hotshot whiling away his life at a West Texas driving range, not far from where we last saw Gardener in Fandango.  These movies are only connected by a few threads, namely Kevin Costner and West Texas, but they touch on strikingly similar subjects with the same deft touch. Beyond all that they’re both funny, insightful looks at Texas manhood and the sometimes unseemly routes it takes.

 

Rancho Deluxe, a different kind of Western

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As fate would have it, I first heard about this movie staying in a rancher friend’s guest house one fall when my Dad and I went to help him brand. It was in an old copy of Newsweek, I think that I saw a review for what seemed like a slacker western, a movie called “Rancho Deluxe.”

It was the 90’s then and slackers were the big cultural icon. I was a kid from rural West Texas who liked alternative rock and the idea of a slacker western was incredibly appealing to me. It would be quite a bit later before I ever got a chance to see “Rancho Deluxe,” but I’m happy to say that years of thinking about watching it didn’t erode it’s charm.

Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston play a couple of dope-smoking rustlers, running scams and one-at-a-timing prized steers to make the rent. Nothing in the movie is quite what it seems. Bridges’ character is a refugee from an upper class lifestyle, real-life blueblood Waterston plays a Native American, the big cattle baron they terrorize is beauty shop tycoon from Schenectady, NY, and well…I don’t want to spoil the movie, but pretty much every character has a secret or a scam. Everyone, from Slim Pickens’ range detective, to Harry Dean Stanton’s cowboy Burt, is trying to fill the role the environment (Big Sky Montana ranch country) demands of them. The West is always changing and trying to hang on to traditions simultaneously. The characters in “Rancho Deluxe” are all very real, modern people trying to live up to the legends and traditions of the Wild West in the age of Jimmy Carter and Watergate. This contrast provides a lot of the humor of the movie, but also, some poignancy.

The script, by novelist extraordinaire Thomas McGuane, is peculiar and funny and the sort of thing the Coens would specialize in a decade down the line. Too weird for the urban cowboy scene, too rural for the freaks; it’s a pity this movie, with all it’s odd characters and zingy dialogue, never found an audience in it’s own time.

Jeff Bridges and Harry Dean Stanton engage in showdown of sorts….over a game of Pong.

Like I said, it’s an odd movie, and I suspect it’s revival on DVD is due to Parrotheads who wanted it for footage of pre-beach bum Jimmy Buffett, who’s songs make up the soundtrack. If you like the Coen Brothers, especially when they’re doing crime/humor like Fargo and the Big Lebowski, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. If not, well, it’s a fine reminder of a time when Jimmy Buffett wasn’t so obnoxious.