Tuesday, September 04, 2007

September 2-4, 2007
Had a wild media weekend. Did that interview with the New York Post on Thursday, then an interview with the Washington Post on Friday. And taped a video for Oprah on Saturday.

Then Kathy and I did a movie marathon on Sunday and Monday, watching Turner Classic Movies all afternoon Sunday, and seeing two flicks at Camelview 5 on Monday.

Meanwhile, here's the New York Post piece:


September 2, 2007 -- YIPPEE-KI-YAY, motherf---er! Seriously. Everywhere you look this fall, gunslinging cowboys and lawless border towns are rising up out of the dust. And just like that, the Old West is the new black. The trend begins Friday, with "3:10 to Yuma," from "Walk the Line" director James Mangold. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale saddle up as an outlaw and a rancher, respectively, facing off in the barely settled southwest. Squint and you'll think you're watching Alan Ladd and Jack Palance in "Shane."

But to really understand the appeal of old-is-new-again Westerns such as "3:10," you only have to count backwards a short way - to "300."

That live-action/animation hybrid, out earlier this year, signaled a new high for CGI technology. Its over-the-top war scenes hit a new level of gory detail, its rich hues taking characters to a "hyperreality."

Audiences rushed out to see that film in droves, but there was a palpable fatigue in the aftermath. People were a little CGI'ed out, perhaps. Could we actually be getting nostalgic for non-enhanced human drama?

Mangold, for one, is banking on it. Three years earlier, he started developing "Yuma," a remake of a 1957 film starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, based on an Elmore Leonard story.

"I really wanted to make an 'analog' movie, if you will," the director says. "A film that didn't look like a video game."

Nobody could accuse "Yuma" of looking like something you'd find on Xbox. Shot in and around Santa Fe, the movie has the dusty, expansive feel of the '60s and '70s films of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. With the added benefit of today's high-def technology, you can just about count the leaves on the scrubby sagebrush that dots the landscape.

The story is classic Western fare: financially struggling ranch owner Dan Evans (Bale) joins a posse escorting criminal Ben Wade (Crowe) to the train that'll take him to be hanged. Peter Fonda plays a grizzled bounty hunter, Ben Foster is Crowe's psycho protégé and newcomer Logan Lerman portrays Bale's hotheaded son.

But Mangold's hardly the only one with the West on his mind. Following on the heels of "3:10" is "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," out Sept. 21, starring Brad Pitt as the celebrated bandit and Casey Affleck as the former pal who did him in.

Then on Nov. 9 there's the new Coen brothers movie, "No Country For Old Men," based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. It's a modern-day Western about a series of murders near the Rio Grande, starring Javier Bardem as a menacing drifter with a penchant for coin tossing and guns. And in December comes Paul Thomas Anderson's turn-of-the-century Texas epic, "There Will Be Blood," about an oil rancher (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his family, inspired by Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil!"

So why the deluge of pics about saloons, outlaws and ranchers? According to one expert, it's a reflection of tough times in the nation - the sense that something is amiss, and the desire to take refuge in nostalgia for a simpler, more independent period in U.S. history.

"When times get tough, we look backwards," says Bob Boze Bell, executive editor of the history magazine True West. "When things get particularly nasty, that's when Westerns come back. In the '20s, when Al Capone was shooting people with machine guns, that was when 'The Saga of Billy the Kid' rose to the top of the bestseller list."

Mangold agrees. "I feel like westerns are about our anxiety as a nation, about corporate culture taking over - back then, with the gold rush and the railroads - and the brutality that we've inflicted on people," says the director. "And [about] the quest for freedom - religious freedom, economic opportunity, personal freedom, to be the eccentric person whom you want to be. All these things are worked out in the beautiful minimalist setting of the west."

Part of the genre cycle, too, is the notion that Westerns are over. "If you look at the '20s and '30s, you were always seeing the headline 'The Western is dead,' " says Bell. "And then somebody would come out with 'Billy the Kid Meets Dracula.' They've done everything under the sun to the western. You have to reinvent it."

In Mangold's case, this meant fleshing out the plot of the original "Yuma," which took place in a fairly limited space and time.

"I really love the original film," he says, "but it's a bit dated. I felt like at the end, they kind of cued the Frankie Laine song and the rain, and it all felt a little underwhelming. I felt like the film was very light on the physical confrontation, and very heavy on the psychological."

Naturally, he enlisted two seriously manly leading men: Russell "Gladiator" Crowe, and Christian "Batman" Bale, the latter fresh from his adventures eating maggots in the Laotian jungle in Werner Herzog's "Rescue Dawn."

"There's not many guys you could have cast in this film," says Mangold. "Most of our leading men couldn't handle these roles. These two actors are particularly masculine and real. They're both really physical, they're capable of riding hard, doing their stunts and fights. You couldn't do it without that, because the whole movie's shot up close."

The mayhem in Mangold's movie - which, compared to most modern action films, is still fairly light - marks a departure from the old style, despite the genre's reputation for gunplay.

"Most great Westerns are more psychological than action-oriented," Mangold says. "When you're talking about 'Unforgiven,' or 'Shane,' or 'High Noon,' I never feel like it's about the gunfights between those guys."

But while Mangold's version of "Yuma" infuses the genre with a higher level of violence, says Bale, it's never gratuitous. "Violence is often a real problem in movies," he says, "but to me it's when it is done in an unrealistic fashion. But you get violence that's well played, and it's the ultimate in the human story of testing yourself. Will you do the right thing? Will you step up to the plate with no support from anybody else?"

Plus, he adds, "there's just the basic, great enjoyment of seeing a lot of tough guys shooting at each other."

Interestingly, for a movie about a bunch of guys riding around on horses with
guns, "Yuma" has been getting love from a rather unexpected demographic: the ladies.

"One of the responses we get over and over," says Mangold, "is women who say, 'I don't like westerns, but I like this movie.'"

This amuses him, because he used to hear the same thing about "Walk the Line": "I don't like country [music], but I like this movie." Which has led him to formulate a theory: audiences don't actually hate these genres - they just don't like bad films.

"People have attitudes that are based on some s---ty movies, and some TV shows set in the West that were really dreary and low-conflict, and I think the Western's been run into the ground," he says. With one notable exception: Clint.

"Clint Eastwood, for the last 25 years, is the Western," Mangold says. "In many ways, he was my directorial North Star, in terms of how to handle material. He really focuses on the people, and the pain behind the eyes."

And then, of course, came "Deadwood," HBO's foul-mouthed series, which turned into a surprise hit. By extending its reach to people who weren't fans of the traditional genre, it's been instrumental in paving the way for a new generation.

True West's Bell says he initially disregarded the show: "People who like Westerns are notoriously conservative," he says. "They don't like the bad language and sex, and all that stuff. So I just wrote it off. But then I was at a festival in Minnesota, and there was this kid looking at our magazine who was the antithesis of our reader - he was this kind of goth kid. And I said, 'Why are you interested in this?' And he said, 'Deadwood.' That's a fabulous thing."

Classic Onion Headline de Jour
Son Attempts To Cultivate Parent's Interest In Better Movies

"Put a man and a woman up in a tree, shake a stick at 'em, get 'em down."
—cynics view of the Hollywood story formula

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post your comments