Watchable Westerns that I have Watched

Question:  My boy and I are on a Western film kick that started with Ballad of Buster Scruggs (way underrated).  From there we hit The Searchers, Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and Hondo.  Last night we watched Butch Cassidy, which, while exceptional at times, felt dated and longer than its run time.

What else should be on the list?

Answer (D):  The key to answering this question is to know that there are lots of Best Westerns, and then there are the Best Westerns, and then there are the best Westerns, but these are some of my best Westerns, at least the ones I can remember:

Can’t Miss

  • Tombstone
  • Lonesome Dove series (!)

For pure, wholesome, family-like entertainment, it’s hard to go astray with these two.   The apex of Val Kilmer.

The Spaghetti Trinity, plus one and then plus another one

  • Fistful of Dollars
  • For a Few Dollars More
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Unforgiven

I recommend seeing at least one of the first two two before diving into Il Buono and friends.    Then wait a year and watch Unforgiven (spoiler alert: he aint like that no more).

Once Upon a Time is not the fastest-moving movie, but it is exceptional.

Top Ten in my Favorite Movies

  • There Will Be Blood

There is not a greater movie about American capitalism than There Will Be Blood.

I Really Enjoyed These Movies

  • True Grit
  • A River Runs through It (!)

I am partial to the Coen version!, though you might have to watch it with closed captions.  And, who doesn’t like movies about would-be professors and their exceptionally good-looking brothers? I also enjoyed Ballad of Buster Scruggs, especially the Liam Neeson one. 

And Franco, of course.

Modern Westerns 

  • No Country for Old Men
  • Hell or High Water 
  • Lone Star
  • Gold

No Country is exceptional, but too violent for sharing with anyone not accustomed to violent movies.  Hell or High Water was a little preachy upon rewatching, but was one of our L&D Picks for 2016.  Also violent.   Gold is definitely underrated. McConnaughey in tighty whiteys that are neither tight nor white.

 Possibly too Violent, but mostly great

  • Hateful Eight

Tarantino kept the tension high for a while, but then it devolves into Kill Bill.  Isn’t that just like him?

Way too Violent, but completely great

  • The Wild Bunch

Way Too Violent and Disturbing and Under No Circumstances Share this with Your Kid, but Great and, hey, Nick Cave!

  • The Proposition

I was so excited about this movie and I was loving watching this movie and there are so many things right about this movie and, wait, what just happened?!

I Want to Live in a World With These

  • McCabe and Mrs. Miller
  • Dead Man

Altman and Jarmusch weigh in, wow.  How this missed the Jarmusch Film Festival, I’ll never know.

More from the Classics

  • Treasure of the Sierra Madre (more western mining!)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (yikes!)
  • Shane (I want to live forever!)

More Good Stuff

  • The Long Riders
  • Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
  • The Assassination of Jesse James…

That’s Entertainment

  • Pale Rider
  • 3:10 to Yuma

Does anyone besides me remember The Magnolias version of “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”?  To paraphrase a colleague, “The Magnolias don’t even remember playing that song.”

I really liked the remake of 3:10 to Yuma right up until near the end, and then…. Russel Crowe is very good.  Gretchen Mol is even better.  

So, that’s a hundred hours of entertainment, and you might even learn something along the way.   Hit me up if you are planning to see any of these on the big screen.

Except for The Proposition.  I can’t handle that again.



Rather than review Serenity, I would prefer to reflect briefly on a few questions that we were able to discuss during the last four-and-a-half hours of the resolution (where L rocked back and forth in his stadium barcalounger mumbling “serenity now, serenity now” to himself).  First, why wasn’t this done as a straight film noir?  It seems like there was plenty going for it without the idiotic turn (see L’s review).  The second question is one L posed just last week (maybe it’s something about January movies):  what makes a film interminable?  Serenity offers one possible answer, which is that making an idiotic turn prematurely can be the difference between excusable (see A Quiet Place)  and the never-ending story — this movie just would not end.  Third, what would compel Matthew McConnaughey to take this role?  Was it the awesome location in paradise and all of the flexing and fishing and, um…. yeah, the steamy and extensive interludes with Diane Lane and Anne Hathaway?  Was it the chance to smoke indoors (with some of loudest-burning cigarettes since Nick Cage in Wild at Heart)? The fresh fish?  The chunky paycheck? Is this really the best script he’s seen since Gold?

Anyway, try not to think too hard about any of this, because the more you reflect, the less you will like this movie.  Indeed, you may downright start to hate the movie and hate yourself for sort of enjoying it and wanting to talk about it.   If you just can’t help yourself along these fronts, stay home.

But if you a movie junkie and you do break down and go, L&D recommend that you channel your best Frank Costanza and just let it pass over you, like a warm tropical breeze tainted with a hint of cigarette smoke.

Mmmmm, I feel better already.




Conclusions and Relevance  If you like watching Matthew McConaughey do anything or nothing at all with his shirt off, this movie was made for you. Further, if the idea of a topless Matthew McConaughey trying to reel in a giant tuna makes you involuntarily gnaw at whatever it is you happen to be holding in your hand then this is must see cinema. For the rest of us, not seeing Serenity will add 1 hour and 59 minutes to what poet Mary Oliver calls our “wild and precious life”.

With a TBI (Taco Bell Index) of 1, i.e., one car in the Taco Bell drive thru near the movie theater, Serenity was doomed from the start. Consequently it happened to be an extremely low turnout for opening night. Word must have gotten out. Do people read reviews? Or at least the headlines of reviews? In any case, I came in open minded and found there are actually a few things that Serenity has going for it. In terms of production design, it’s fantastic. The creation of Plymouth Island is impeccable down to the Maersk logo on the shipping container that professional fisherman Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) calls home. And it’s enough to throw you off in an interesting way. Examples: Speaking French but driving on the British side of the road. Caribbean style street vending carts and the typical pastel colors of that region but in a Polynesian landscape. Shrines to Hindu deities yet a constant spin of zydeco on the radio thrown into the mix. All to seal the idea of a place that is everywhere and nowhere. There is also some genre bending, with a noir drama meeting a psychological sci-fi thriller. Serenity is an elaborate Twilight Zone episode peppering you with some well-thought-out clues along the way. Solid performances by Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou and Jeremy Strong shore up this tangled web of McConaughey letting lose and going Full McConaughey — in the best way. 

So where does Serenity go sideways? I was going to say where does Serenity sink but my better half (not D, but rather my wife) informs me that I am too young to be making those types of jokes. However, I’m not too young to make dudity jokes, of which many were made at the theater as there is a fair amount McConaughey dudity (aka male nudity) as referenced in the abstract to this review. Back to the point being that the reveal, the twist, is exposed too soon. The denouement spreads into a facepalm inducing news reporter VO, then into a vomit-in-my-mouth-a-little inducing slo-mo hug of father son saccharine sap and mercifully crashes in an epilogue of a drone shot into the sunset. As the lights come up in the theater I commence with the head shaking. Why did the filmmakers let ACT III unravel like that? Was it a spell that McConaughey cast over them? I believe it was something to that effect. Not unlike the protagonist of this film, the filmmakers had a hard time viewing the story objectively. Some of this films’ strongest points come when issues of PTSD and existential epistemology are explored. But these lines of inquiry are quickly abandoned in favor of the noir yarn and so neither philosophy or McConaughey’s bare ass can cary the amount of credulity needed for this exploding can of worms narrative. In Serenity, the big one does get away. (Sorry, can’t help it.) Ultimately, as the TBI indicates, if you pass on Serenity you won’t be missing much. 



Gold is the third straight movie we’ve seen that focuses exclusively on a single character obsessed with conquering his world (see also *Live by Night* and *The Founder*). In this case the character is our main man, Matthew McConaughey, as a mineral prospector whose Nevada ‘plays’ have come to an end by the late 1980s, so he sets his sights to his dreams about the vast untapped wealth of rural Indonesia. From that point, the movie splits its time between the lushness of the jungle in one part of the world, to the arid semi-mountainous climes of Nevada in another, to the concrete jungle that is Wall Street that bankrolls the whole affair.

Actually, that is not quite right.  There are two candidates for main character, which the viewer has to sort out on their own.  The first candidate, of course, is McConnaughey as Kenny — a rambling guy with a protruding gut, a spectacularly receding hairline, and a tooth issue that I can’t quite put my finger on, who is often seen sporting tighty whities that are neither tight nor white. There are very few if any scenes where Kenny isn’t the focal point, and he is mostly fun to watch.  Big props to him for looking pretty much like a fat guy on a bender  from wire to wire in this one. The other main character is Edgar Ramirez as the gold whisperer, Michael Acosta, who gets to play the sharp-dressed man here, and is beautiful doing so.  I still can’t decide if he nailed it with his performance or if he kind of sucked. I’m leaning toward nailed it, with the suckiness coming more from some unevenness of the plot and pacing and incidentals.

Continue reading “Gold”