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Watch These Westerns Before Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’

A string of John Wayne pictures, Roy Rogers oaters and spaghetti westerns gave the genre all the good, bad and ugly it needed. That’s why the genre will never make the comeback some crave.

The western signature, however, remains strong. Stories of reluctant heroes, good versus evil and the power of the individual still exist. They just wear a different mask to survive. Think John McClane in “Die Hard.”

Played out or not, a western is still a western. When done right, there’s nothing better. Westerns can be timeless looks at machismo, honor and the violence men are able to unleash. The genre returns to its roots thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming “The Hateful Eight.”

The new film, starring Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh, hits select theaters Dec. 25

Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers still able to crack the western code, witness 2012’s “Django Unchained.” While Hollywood tries to spin the genre with flops like “The Lone Ranger,” Tarantino understands what westerns need. A great western today can’t be a calculated retread. Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and others made audiences too familiar with their rough edges.

They need a unique voice to push the narrative. This is why when a western scores today, it’s steered by artists like Tarantino or the Coen Brothers (“True Grit”).

“The Hateful Eight” could be one of those great new westerns.

Before seeing “Eight,” consider these westerns which put their own, indelible stamp on the genre.

bone_tomahawk-kurt-russell-moustache

  • Bone Tomahawk is the other 2015 western starring Kurt Russell and his awe-inspiring moustache. It’s one of the best modern westerns and sadly received a mostly VOD release. Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, the film is a slow burn toward a brutal, original and can’t look away third act. The movie has everything a great western needs: a group of misfit heroes (the actors create a memorable ensemble), a worthy mission (to rescue a man’s wife from kidnappers) and a finish that is one for the history books. “Bone Tomahawk” is currently available to rent through VOD services.
  • “Slow West” is another 2015 western that received but a fraction of the press “The Hateful Eight” now enjoys. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender star in a beautiful film with a surprising amount of heart and humor. Once more we watch a young man on a mission with a cynical guide to blaze his trail. The twist here is the kid isn’t from America. That means the west’s landscapes are all new to him. Writer/director John MacLean uses this to his advantage. He shoots everything as if we are seeing the blend of guns, open lands and horses for the first time. That brings out details other directors would gloss over. It’s a peculiar and memorable western. Oh, and did we mention Fassbender is in it? That should be enough to sell anyone on this. “Slow West” is currently available on Amazon Prime.
  • “Hatfields & McCoys” never reached the big screen, but that’s no reason to miss it. The three-part miniseries aired three years ago on The History Channel. It’s the unbelievably true story of history’s famous feud. The story itself is enough to warrant a view, but luckily western pro Kevin Costner (“Open Range,” “Silverado,” “Wyatt Earp”) stars and produces here. Both Costner and co-star Bill Paxton deliver strong performances, and the miniseries format fleshes out the finer, and stranger, details of this feud. We get to see the real human toll and motivations that created the hard-to-believe tale. “Hatfields & McCoys” is available on Netflix.

DID YOU KNOW: The Hatfields and the McCoys weren’t always feuding. At times, the two families intermarried and found their loyalties evolving as love and other factors dictated.

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9 Comments

  1. I hear that the “Hateful 8” is Quentin’s homage to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” which I hope is true. “The Road” was the most innovative westerns in years… grocery cart = horse, cannibals = bad guys, and the gun with a few remaining bullet meant for self/child more than the bad guys. Brilliant.

  2. Matt Morava … wow, nice touch connecting The Road and westerns. I read the book, had not made the connection, but when you put it like that, nice touch. Yeah, I’d throw the entire Road Warrior saga in there with westerns, even Fury Road, the madman equals the evil cattle baron out to steal the water supply or push the sheep herders out … and of course the entire Star Wars saga is one giant western.

  3. I would add THE SHOOTING and RIDE THE WHIRLWIND by Monte Hellman, who executive-produced RESERVOIR DOGS, Howard Hawks’ RIO BRAVO, which Tarantino cites as his all- time favorite film, and if you have a strong enough stomach, CUTTHROATS NINE, the most violent of all European Westerns (it was made in Spain). On another note, I am sick and tired of references to John Carpenter’s The Thing (the modern-day equivalent to the endless references to the shower scene in Psycho made throughout the Seventies and Eighties), especially when they are totally irrelevant or utterly contrived.

    1. Heck, I’d recommend Rio Bravo PERIOD, “in preparation” or not! It’s one of the all-time greatest Westerns, the all-time greatest Conservative films (Howard Hawks and John Wane SPECIFICALLY made Rio Bravo to be the Conservative Alternative to the Far Left anti-small-town-America screed High Noon)…and the all-time greatest films, PERIOD.

      1. I’m actually more of a RED RIVER fan but yes, RIO BRAVO is essential, especially since along with THE SEARCHERS, it’s been quoted so many many times, in so many genres other than Westerns, that you need to see it several times to understand why it has been so important in shaping an entire generation of filmmakers.. And I’m glad more attention is now being given to its writer, Leigh Brackett, who on the strength of both her scripts for Hawks and her classic science fiction stories was hired by George Lucas to write the original story for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

        1. Yeah, “Red River” is awesome, too. Dmitri Tiompkin’s score is one of my favorites for a Western. (Even though I’ve never been able to find the lyrics for the songs the “chorus” is singing.) I have yet to see a Howard Hawks film I haven’t liked.

          Out of curiosity, have you seen both versions of “Red River”? One has the book pages, the other has Walter Brennan narrating and a quicker ending.

          1. No, just the “book pages” version. I’m also a major Hawks fan. Like Kubrick, he was able to touch every genre, and turn it into gold.

          2. The other version–supposedly the one Hawks preferred–in on the “Criterion Collection” DVD. I normally don’t like the Criterion Collection, because the English-language films so often neglect to provide subtitles…but sometimes, that’s the only way you can get certain movies. *sigh*

            Yeah. One of the things I love about Hawks is how his films have the men as *Men*, while at the same time, his films’ women are strong, empowered and cool…and sexy and feminine and vulnerable.

            This was back when Conservatives consistently made GREAT movies. The American Left tried to effectively cover him up as “just” an entertainer…but, ironically, the boys of the French New Wave pointed to him as Great–and Hawks had the last laugh.

            The FRENCH!!!

  4. I hope you’re wrong about the Western never making the comeback. I personally think the reason it hasn’t is because people keep presuming to make “radical reimaginings” of it. “The Lone Ranger” bombed, I really feel, because word got out (promoted by Far Left websites who wanted to “claim” it) that it was another White Guilt film.

    Play a Western STRAIGHT…good guys and bad guys. Give it a FULL score, not the bare-bones minimalist stuff of all these “modern takes” that are clearly trying to ape “Unforgiven”. Make it STIRRING and UPLIFTING, not gloomy and grey. I like “Deadwood” as much as the next, and I LOVE Quentin bringing back Spaghetti Westerns, but…since when is dark/gritty the ONLY way to do the genre? Give us the stirring Bernstein-esque “big sky” scores…classic morality plays…confident HEROES. None of this “revisionist” stuff.

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