We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges!

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre may be the finest depiction of greed ever put to film. This kind of story has been retold and parodied so many times, but nothing can top the original. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is based on the 1927 B. Traven novel of the same name. Director John Huston hit the ground running with The Maltese Falcon, but it’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre that became his magnum opus. It’s another technically perfect movie with a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

With the expectation of Best Picture (which went to Hamlet), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre swept the Academy Awards. Huston won twice for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and his own father won Best Supporting Actor. It’s truly baffling that Humphrey Bogart wasn’t nominated, since this is easily one of his all time best performances. Bogart plays one of three prospectors searching for gold in Mexico. The down on his luck Dobbs grows increasingly paranoid and wants all the gold for himself. Even if he has to betray and/or kill his comrades to keep it.

Tim Holt plays the much more neutral Curtin who tries to keep his friend on the straight and narrow. Walter Huston won for playing Howard. Howard is a classic cheerful prospector with the most knowledge about gold mining. He popularized the term “fool’s gold.” Dobbs is a definite villain by the end, but there’s an even bigger threat in Mexico. Gold Hat and his bandits are constantly on their tail. You may know them for the often misquoted line “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” The movie ends with a harsh, but justified lesson that greed will make a man go insane. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is pure gold.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

A boy tries to sell to Dobbs

Terrific as All Creation

Cimarron is the first western to win Best Picture. Surprisingly, it was the only western to win until Dances with Wolves won nearly 6 decades later. Westerns are such a big part of early Hollywood that I guess I figured there were more. Like All Quiet on the Western Front, Cimarron is based on a 1929 novel and is epic in scope. RKO risked the success of a big budget western in the midst of the Great Depression and it mostly paid off. Cimarron was nominated for every eligible Oscar including Best Director, Actor, Actress, and Cinematography.

I understand why it won Best Picture, Writing, and Art Direction, but it’s another product of its time. One of the young black servants is a definite stereotype and the Indians aren’t treated much better. The opening Oklahoma land rush is the most ambitious and impressive scene in the movie. Cimarron is all about the settlers who came to the unoccupied territory to purchase land. Don’t let the poster fool you, Yancey Cravat may be quick on the draw, but he’s no rugged cowboy action hero. He wears many white hats that include being a lawyer, newspaper editor, and even preacher.

Yancey drags his wife Sabra to Osage, but she’s the one who ends up carrying the movie in the end. Richard Dix was nominated too, but it’s Irene Dunne who goes from timid housewife to powerful business woman when her husband abandons her twice. Cimarron spans 40 years in Osage, Oklahoma. A lot of the movie reminded me of Giant, since the attention shifts to oil and an interracial marriage with an Indian woman. Just as much attention is given to the Carvat’s children and an unliked town prostitute. Objectively speaking, Cimarron captures early western creation rather well.

Cimarron

Yancey and Sabra in Osage

You Can’t Take the Sky from Me

Serenity is the closure Firefly fans deserved. When it comes to shows that were cancelled too soon, Firefly is often #1. Despite strong critical reception, Fox stupidly ended the show 11 episodes into a 14 episode season. Firefly gained a devoted fanbase of “Browncoats” who managed to do the impossible. Giving a short lived TV series a second chance as a high production movie. Since I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon, watching Firefly was easy. The space western aesthetic was wholly unique, the action was high stakes, and the banter was laugh out loud hilarious. Everything you want in a Joss Whedon production. Since most of his work was on TV, Serenity was surprisingly Whedon’s feature directorial debut. Serenity has the “shiny” cinematic scale, but it’s just low budget enough to honor the show. The Firefly-class ship is fully explored in an impressive single take. Like the series, the losing Independants resist the unifying Alliance. A central government that united America with China.

The Serenity crew continue to smuggle, firefight, battle Reavers, and aim to misbehave. I’ve always liked that the verse isn’t made up of aliens, robots, or anything else super science fiction. Most of it is fairly realistic. The entire cast returns just as charming as they were 3 years ago. Nathan Fillion as rough-and-tumble Captain Mal Reynolds, Gina Torres as second-in-command warrior woman Zoe, Alan Tudyk as her lighthearted pilot husband Wash, Morena Baccarin as nurturing Companion Inara, Adam Baldwin as untrusting mercenary Jayne, Jewel Staite as adorkable mechanic Kaylee, Sean Maher as unwitting doctor Simon Tam, Summer Glau as his mentally disturbed sister River, and Ron Glass as Christian voice of reason Shepard Book. Inara and Shepard are the only characters not initially on the ship for understandable reasons.

The best thing about the movie is that it answers almost every question we would’ve had, had the show continued. What did the Alliance really do to River?, How did the Reavers come to be?, Will Simon & Kaylee ever hook up? The movie adds David Krumholtz as a hacker ally named Mr. Universe and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the ruthless Operative who seeks to rid the world of sin. Whedon’s usual religious commentary is always a little uncomfortable, but at least the movie retains his trademark quips. Along with his annoying tendency to kill off beloved characters. The first death is expected, but the second death is such a “gorram” slap in the face that it nearly ruined the movie for me (Qiáo sī·wéi dēng zhēnshi gè húndàn!). Fortunately the film won me over with River fighting like a total badass. Though it never should’ve been cancelled, Serenity does a more than serviceable job of keeping the show alive.

Serenity

The crew of Serenity

Deliver Us

The Book of Eli has a deeper purpose than I could’ve possibly imagined. I initially wrote it off as just another late 2000’s-early 2010’s post-apocalyptic movie. True, The Book of Eli is very similar on the surface. A war has ravaged the world and plunged it into a bleak dystopian future where crime runs rampant. Remaining humans wear sunglasses to protect them from the light. Denzel Washington walks through the wasteland as Eli. His mission is to carry a single very important book to a safe location. Important because most books were destroyed after the war.

The Book of Eli is seriously underappreciated. My mom stressed the importance of my brother and I seeing the movie. The action is the first major highlight as Eli quickly dispatches of several highwayman using only a machete. Subsequent brutal violence is just as fast-paced with satisfying take downs. Denzel is at his usual best and the rest of the cast is up to the task. Mila Kunis really convinced me that she can do action as her character Solara joins Eli on his mission.

Jennifer Beals is her blind mother and Gary Oldman is the despicable villain who runs a destitute town. Carnegie will cross any line in order to rule mankind with Eli’s book. SPOILER ALERT! After awhile you realize the sacred book is in fact The Bible. As a Christian, it’s so refreshing to see the importance of faith reinforced in an action movie no less. The Book of Eli feels so much like a modern passage with Eli representing a man given a difficult task by God. The second twist is far too shocking to give away. The Book of Eli needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The Book of Eli

Eli remains on his path

Hang Me in the Morning

3:10 to Yuma (2007) is a remake done right. Especially for a classic 50’s western. The difference was a grittier R rated tone with more realistic depth added to characters. James Mangold has so much western influence in his movies, that I’d be surprised if he never directed one. His direction helps it stand out in an era with far less gun toting cowboy adventures. My initial interest came from my mom. Since she was a big fan of Russell Crowe and wanted to see how a remake would work out.

Although I had the chance to see it on its own, I’m glad I saw the original first. Brilliant non-American Hollywood hotheads Christian Bale and Russell Crowe play Dan Evans and Ben Wade respectively. They’re both perfect choices that play off each other well. Dan’s struggling drought stricken family life is shown in a bit more depth. With the addition of a leg he lost in the war and more of a role for his eldest son played by Logan Lerman. Wade may be a bad man, but he’s still a romantic who loves his momma.

Really it’s his much more ruthless posse lead by a rougher Charlie Prince played by Ben Foster who incites the most violence. 3:10 to Yuma is the destination for Wade and far more men see that he gets there. Most of whom die on the unforgiving trail. When they make it to the hotel, Dan’s son stands in for his wife and helps out a bit on the nail biting path to the train. It’s a much less happy ending, but one with an honorable character turn. 3:10 to Yuma uses its time just as effectively.

3:10 to yuma

Dan Evans (left) escorts Ben Wade (right)

Remake of: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

The Rancher and the Outlaw

3:10 to Yuma brings us only the best from the old west. Appropriately beginning and ending with a folksy tune to set the mood. 3:10 to Yuma is a classic tale of a rancher and an outlaw. The rancher is Dan Evans played by Van Heflin. A struggling family man with a wife and two boys dealing with a devastating drought. The outlaw is Ben Wade played by Glen Ford. A charismatic criminal with a romantic streak who rides with his posse of outlaws.

Their paths cross when Wade shoots two stagecoach men and swipe Dan’s horses. When found out and arrested, Dan reluctantly agrees to transport Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma for a ranch saving price along with a small band of men. Dan and Wade are complete opposites at constant odds with one another, but they do form a bit of a mutual respect while hiding out in a hotel. Especially since Wade isn’t such a bad guy. Dan knows how to handle a gun, so he’s perfect to make the dangerous trip while avoiding Wade’s men.

Everything leads to the titular train and it’s worth the nail biting climax. I don’t watch westerns often, but I always appreciate a simple story like this. Understandable considering it was based on a short story from a pulp magazine. Although color was slowly taking over in the late 50’s, 3:10 to Yuma is more effective in black & white. With plenty of great dramatic shots of a smokey Arizona. 3:10 to Yuma uses its time wisely.

3:10 to Yuma

Dan Evans (left) moves Ben Wade (right) along

Bovine Bounty Hunters

Home on the Range is a big reason for the near death of traditional animation. Walt Disney animation’s forty-fifth production became their last 2D film for over 5 years. Maybe a cartoony western about talking farm animals wasn’t the best way to compete with refined computer animated movies tackling complex themes. Brother Bear certainly scaled things back, but I still find it hard to believe Disney made something as low-rent as Home on the Range. What happened? Well the director of Pocahontas also wanted to make a western. So Disney approved the idea while it was still being developed multiple times. Eventually being named after the signature old west anthem. I call everything in the Post-Renaissance experimental, but why go with such flat unremarkable animation? CGI is present, if a little mismatched.

I don’t think it would surprise anyone to know I didn’t see Home on the Range in theaters. I was 8, but even I knew it was too childish for me. I distinctly remember renting it at a video store soon after, and my brother and I liked it alright. There’s no personal attachment, but it is a guilty pleasure. Home on the Range centers on a quaint farm called Little Patch of Heaven. A large show cow is taken there after her herd was taken by a dastardly outlaw called Alameda Slim. The farm has all the usual barn animals with mostly lame jokes. The three main cows are made up of adventurous new cow Maggie, sophisticated hat wearing cow Mrs. Caloway, and ditzy cow Grace.

You get what you’d expect from the mostly obnoxious humor of Roseanne Barr. It’s odd that Judi Dench agreed to something like this, but she does alright. Really it’s Jennifer Tilly who’s the natural voice actress. The farm has the cliché problem of foreclosure and the cows set out to claim a reward for Slim’s $750 capture by becoming Bovine Bounty Hunters. Competing with them is an extra exuberant Cuba Gooding Jr. as battle ready horse Buck. Who idolizes a bounty hunter named Rico. The cows are later joined by a jack rabbit and a herd of bulls. Randy Quaid appropriately voices the goofy villain Slim. Between mostly juvenile jokes, Slim herds cows by yodeling with his dimwitted band of nephews the Willie brothers. Songs have a folksy charm, but it’s a real downgrade. Home on the Range has its moments, but none are up to Disney’s more high quality standard.

70. Home on the Range

Mrs. Caloway, Maggie, and Grace ready for action

The Kessel Run

Solo: A Star Wars Story was doomed from the start. Were people seriously asking for a Han Solo origin movie? Well the idea was originally conceived by George Lucas as part of Star Wars: Underworld. Then it became a movie, but with Lucas selling the rights to Disney, it was them that developed it. For a studio that wants to downplay the prequels as much as possible, Disney really leaned into the idea of multiple anthology films for a while. As I said before, Star Wars is not Marvel. You can’t release a new Star Wars movie every year and expect people to maintain interest in the same old galaxy and type of characters over and over again. There are so many reasons why Solo ended up becoming the first Star Wars box-office failure.

Popular directing duo Phil Lord & Chris Miller were notably let go for creative differences. Leaving former George Lucas collaborator Ron Howard as their replacement. Fans still had a bad taste in their mouths left by The Last Jedi, so giving Solo a traditional May release was way too close. It didn’t help that a trailer hadn’t arrived until a mere 3 months before it hit theaters. Solo was the first Star Wars movie that I had no anticipation for before going to see it. Crowd reactions were scarce and no one seemed to care. Solo is far from bad, but it’s far from groundbreaking. Which is a major problem for something in the Star Wars universe. SPOILER ALERT! (I’ve run out of clever things to say)…

28. Solo

Han Solo and Chewbacca look around

Solo begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…,” but it makes the half-assed decision to have an opening text instead of an opening crawl. Which feels just as wrong as Rogue One omitting it entirely. Only it made me a lot more angry to see the title casually flying above a planet instead of in space. The fact that “A Star Wars Story” remains in tact is just as inconsistent. Solo can only be described as a space western. Making it the most tonally different of the live-action Star Wars movies. With Harrison Ford all but retired from the role, a young Han Solo needed to be cast. Ironically the same thing happened before with Young Indiana Jones. Alden Ehrenreich wasn’t a huge star, but he fits the dashing rogue well enough. His only problem is being too nice. This Han can say he’s a bad guy as much as he wants, but you can’t make him too unlikable. Since Corellian ships have been mentioned in the past, it only made sense for Han to have grown up on Corellia. A shipping planet ruled by a criminal underworld. A strange centipede creature named Lady Proxima offers shelter in return for loyalty. Except Han and his never before seen lady love Qi’ra plan to escape with never before mentioned Coaxium fuel.

Emilia Clarke is the third beautiful British brunette heroine in a row. Okay Disney, this is getting ridiculous. Now every live-action Star Wars movie is lead by a brunette. Han and Qi’ra grew up together and they plan to make it off the planet together. A landspeeder car chase ensues and they manage to evade capture. Until Imperial forces separate them. We then see the Imperial recruitment process for the first time. They actually use the “Imperial March” in their propaganda campaign. As Han signs up as a flight cadet, a random Imperial officer takes his lack of a family name a little too literally. That’s seriously why his name is Han Solo. But the unnecessary callbacks don’t stop there. Dice that were barely visible in A New Hope now have their own backstory. I had no clue what they meant when they were shown in The Last Jedi. Now they’re an important token of Han’s affection towards Qi’ra. 3 years later, Han washed out of the flight academy and ended up in the infantry on foggy planet Mimban. It’s there he meets a ragtag band of rogues. Haven’t seen that before. I wonder who’s gonna die first?

Since he’s in everything now, Woody Harrelson plays morally ambiguous smuggler turned mentor figure Tobias Beckett. Thandie Newton is his wife Val and Jon Favreau voices blue four armed monkey pilot who won’t shut up Rio Durant. They deny him access into their crew at first and Han is left in an underground prison for deserters. The beast who’s also stuck there turns out to be Chewbacca. Although there were several first meetings envisioned for Han & Chewie, meeting in a prison with Han speaking Wookiee is now canon. They work together to return to Beckett’s crew and Han decides Chewie needs a nickname. While discussing their first mission, Chewie mentions a family on Kashyyyk, and Han gets his signature blaster. On Vandor-1 (yet another snow planet), the crew attempt to steal Coaxium in a nail biting train heist. The mission fails when mysterious masked Cloud Riders, lead by Enfys Nest, hijack the shipment. The rest of the crew obviously dies and Beckett is left to answer to a crime syndicate called Crimson Dawn. This particular syndicate is lead by Dryden Vos. Basically Paul Bettany with face scars and a light dagger. Either have a lightsaber or don’t, no more of this in between nonsense.

It’s there on Vos’ yacht that we see more mock cantina singers. Han happens to run into Qi’ra, who somehow became a top member of Crimson Dawn. In order to pay off their debt, Han, Chewie, Beckett, and Qi’ra are sent to steal unrefined Coaxium on the well known spice planet Kessel. But not before Qi’ra leads them to the perfect ship. Of course it had to be Lando Calrissian’s. Donald Glover perfectly recaptures Billy Dee Williams’ cool suave personality. He even mispronounces Han’s name just to retcon past mistakes. That doesn’t mean I’d rather be seeing his spin-off. Just as The Empire Strikes Back mentions, Han won the Millennium Falcon in a card game. Sabacc has existed in Star Wars for years. Their high stakes game is rigged in Lando’s favor. Then we’re introduced to another new character ruined by political correctness. Phoebe Waller-Bridge motion captures the third comic Disney droid sidekick. L3-37’s only traits are shouting about droid inequality and trying to make robosexuality a thing. C-3PO & R2-D2 she is not. I’m annoyed that they don’t even make an appearance. The Millennium Falcon is seen in a cleaner white & blue Republic state. They agree to work together in order to get the Coaxium.

Kessel is seen for the first time as L3 starts a droid revolt and Chewie frees Wookiee prisoners. It’s the only time Anthony Daniels makes an appearance, except as a Wookiee. L3 is obviously destroyed, but not before tarnishing the Falcon with her navigation system. It’s then we’re finally shown the legendary “Kessel run” in less than 12 parsecs. Showing it to be an overblown CGI space tunnel with a giant tentacle monster inside. The Falcon is damaged until it more closely resembles the older version. It’s there on Savareen that Han, Chewie, Beckett, and Qi’ra encounter Enfys. Who’s just a female leader of a band of Rebels. Beckett obviously double-crosses Han and everyone turns against each other. Qi’ra manages to kill Vos, but she stays behind so that Han can pursue Beckett. Since Han explicitly stated that he’s never seen an all-powerful Force, none of that is shown in his presence. Instead Qi’ra makes an unexpected call to former Sith Lord Maul. Again played by Ray Park, but voiced by Sam Witwer. Unless you’ve seen The Clone Wars or Rebels, his appearance will leave you with a bunch of questions. His sole purpose is to use the Force and present his lightsaber. Since Disney sucks at representing Force users.

Han then confirms that he does indeed shoot first, by killing Beckett. Han doesn’t join the Rebellion, but he does win a rematch game against Lando. With the Millenium Falcon in Han & Chewie’s possession, their next move is to meet a very important gangster on Tatooine. Too bad we’ll never see it. Since Solo can only be described as uninspired. The train heist and “Kessel run” are fun sequences we haven’t seen before, but they’re nothing special. Despite fans clearly wanting an Obi-Wan spin-off, Disney keeps on doing the same old blaster duels and space battles. It doesn’t help that everything is set in the original trilogy’s time frame. Ron Howard is a suitable replacement director, but his choice of dark barely visible lighting is awful. I’m also annoyed by the excessive amount of swearing. Star Wars is no stranger to occasional language, but it just never felt right to me. John Powell’s western themed soundtrack fits at least. With so many production problems and a total lack of interest, Solo proves some character backstories should be left to the imagination. “May the Force be with you.”

29. Solo

The Millennium Falcon

Starting to See Pictures, Ain’t Ya?

The Hateful Eight is the longest Quentin Tarantino movie ever made. I know he has trouble cutting a film, but there’s just no way he can top an extended runtime of 3 hours & 30 minutes. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t high on my list of Tarantino flicks I most wanted to watch. Every movie Tarantino directed has had a highly positive reception, but The Hateful Eight has the lowest with a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. Although intended as a sequel to Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is vastly different. Both are spaghetti westerns focusing on bounty hunters, but the primary difference is era.

The Hateful Eight takes place in post-Civil War America after slavery was abolished. Major Marquis Warren is a black bounty hunter played by (you guessed it) Samuel L. Jackson. People continue saying the n-word, but Warren earns respect with a letter from Abraham Lincoln. With a blizzard on the way, Warren seeks shelter in a stagecoach accompanied by fellow bounty hunter John Ruth played by Kurt Russell. Ruth keeps his bounties alive long enough to be hanged. Jennifer Jason Leigh steals the screen (and an Oscar nomination) as Ruth’s rough prisoner Daisy Domergue. She gets beat up a lot, but again it’s historically accurate. They also pick up Walton Goggins as a racist claiming to be a new sheriff.

The Hateful Eight really plays out more like a stage play. That’s why most of its excessively long runtime is dedicated to one location. A stagecoach lodge already occupied by four other strange characters played by Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen. They become increasingly hateful when discussing war, race, and uncovering a web of deceit that keeps you guessing till the end. The film was almost cancelled after script leaks, but The Hateful Eight was practically made for the screen. Since it probably tries the hardest to recapture its era of filmmaking. It even earned composer Ennio Morricone his first Oscar. While not entirely noteworthy, The Hateful Eight still gave Tarantino a chance to do what he does best.

8. The Hateful Eight

John Ruth (left) confronts Major Marquis Warren (right)

The D is Silent

Django Unchained gave Quentin Tarantino a good excuse to kill slave owners. I’m starting to sense a pattern here. Much like Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino once again deals in historical fiction. Only Django Unchained was a lot more controversial. You simply couldn’t avoid hearing about the movie. Making it the third Tarantino flick I wanted to see the most. The director finally got the chance to make a genuine spaghetti western. With the added twist of taking place in the deep south before the Civil War. I knew this would be an especially tough watch considering Tarantino never holds back on anything. That’s why Django Unchained has a record 116 uses of the n-word. Controversial yes, but that’s exactly what the deep south would have been like. Jamie Foxx goes from quiet slave to confident free man as Django Freeman.

Although they appear different on the outside, Django is freed by a German dentist by the name of Dr. King Schultz. Christoph Waltz proves lightning strikes twice with another charming Tarantino performance that earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Only Schultz is a far more likeable bounty hunter who takes Django under his wing. He first needs his help in finding the evil band of Brittle Brothers. In exchange, Schultz promises to help him find his oddly named wife Broomhilda von Shaft played by Kerry Washington. Their travels take them across plantations until they discover the brothers whereabouts. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying to see a former slave give slavers a taste of their own medicine.

That’s followed by a darkly hilarious group of incompetent Klansman unable to see through their hoods. Hildi is finally discovered at the Candyland Plantation. Where Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the disgustingly evil slave owner “Monsieur” Calvin J. Candie. Leo’s acting is so good that he doesn’t even stop when he cuts his hand. What’s unexpected, is Samuel L. Jackson as an old slave who loves his “master.” After a few shocking deaths, Django paints almost all of Candyland with their blood. It’s only after a distracting Tarantino cameo that he finally rescues his wife and finishes the hate filled plantation off for good. Despite its edgy material (and anachronistic music), the film rightfully earned a Best Picture nomination. Django Unchained gave one of the ugliest times in American history a hero worth rooting for.

7. Django Unchained

Django and Dr. King Schultz practise shooting