Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

As I have been watching through a lot of spaghetti westerns lately, I have felt the urge to revisit Red Dead Redemption.

This game may be almost six years old but I still play it for an afternoon every few months. In fact, out of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, it is the game I have played the most after Bethesda’s titles. It is also one of the top five video game experiences I have ever had, playing through it the first time.

Rockstar, most known for their Grand Theft Auto series of games, took that same formula and applied it to the Old West. Now this isn’t their first attempt, as they did it a few years earlier with Red Dead Revolver. Redemption however, exists on a completely different level and far exceeds Revolver and the Grand Theft Auto games.

The game mechanics and controls are phenomenal. Everything is perfectly fine-tuned and once you get the hang of it, you are an Old West badass ready to fight scum and villainy with an unrelenting intensity.

The map is massive, the locations are fantastic and there are a ton of missions that are unique and exciting. You pretty much get to do everything you would ever want to do as a cowboy.

The only downside, is that after the main story is over, there isn’t much to do other than ride your horse around and cause trouble. As I played through the story, I played it as a hero on the right side of the law. After the ending and after I became a new character with nothing really to do, I became a total bastard.

The game’s soundtrack is also one of the best ever produced. The music is as vast and exciting as the game itself and certain points in the plot trigger some amazing tunes as you ride off into a new act of the game.

There are few games that are absolute perfection, this is one of those games. Although, it would be nice to have a bit more to do after the end, like hunt down bounties or create a gang to wreak havoc. I also wish more buildings in the wilderness were accessible.

But then there is also the Undead Nightmare add-on, which was a fun experience, all on its own. Because who doesn’t want to take a great world like the one created for Red Dead Redemption and then fill it with zombie hordes?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Not much really, as it is truly a game that is one its own level and exists in its own space. But there are films that this borrows from such as the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and some of Clint Eastwood’s ’60s and ’70s westerns: Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales specifically come to mind.

Ranking the Films of Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch is one of those directors I think that you either love, hate or are unsure about but appreciate the uniqueness of his work.

I really first discovered him with one of his Coffee & Cigarettes shorts that I saw when I was a teen. Then I saw Dead Man and shortly after that, Ghost Dog. That’s when I discovered that these interesting things were all created by the same guy. Since that point, I’ve been a fan.

I don’t always like all of his films but they all are effective, as far as provoking thoughts and ideas and showing life in a way that it might not have been shown before. That is what makes a director successful, in my book. It isn’t about how much shit you can blow up and how many Disney films you can get on your resume, it is whether or not you left some sort of long-lasting impact on the viewer. Jarmusch more than delivers in that regard.

Also, he was a part of the New York punk scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s and got to spend time around people like Warhol, Basquiat, the New York Dolls, Richard Hell, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Fab 5 Freddy and a bunch of others.

Plus he directed Wu-Tang Clan and Bill Murray in the same scene. I mean, dude… what’s cooler than that?

1. Dead Man
2. Down by Law
3. Night On Earth
4. Stranger Than Paradise
5. Mystery Train
6. Coffee and Cigarettes
7. Broken Flowers
8. Only Lovers Left Alive
9. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
10. Permanent Vacation
11. The Limits of Control
12. Year of the Horse (documentary)

Film Review: The Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966)

The Dollars Trilogy, also known as The Man With No Name Trilogy, is one of the best film series there has ever been, capped off by the greatest film ever made.

These films also featured the best soundtracks ever created by the legendary Ennio Morricone.

But let me talk about all three of Sergio Leone’s masterpieces on their own.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964):

Also known as: Per un pugno di dollari (Italy), lit. For a Fistful of Dollars
Release Date: September, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Víctor Andrés Catena, Jamie Comas Gil, Fernando Di Leo, Sergio Leone, Duccio Tessari, Tonino Valerii (all uncredited), Mark Lowell, Clint Eastwood (English version)
Based on: Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, Ryūzō Kikushima
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Dan Savio)
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Josef Edger, Wolfgang Lukschy, Gian Maria Volontè (as John Wells)

Jolly Film, Constantin Film, Ocean Films, Unidis, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“To kill a man you shoot him in the heart. Isn’t that what you said, Ramon?” – Joe (The Man With No Name)

The first film in the series is the smallest in scope. The story is very straightforward and compared to its sequels, it is pretty basic. It is still a fantastic film on its own and is one of the best westerns ever made. Had Sergio Leone just made this film and not the other two, it may have had the same level of love and admiration that accompanies The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

It introduces us to the character referred to as “The Man With No Name”. In the film, he is casually referred to as “Joe” but it isn’t the true name of this stranger who wanders into town and changes things for the better before leaving.

This film is a template for the ones after it and that isn’t a knock, as it was executed greatly and fits well within the series that this trilogy became. You can tell that Sergio Leone is getting his feet wet with the western genre and for a first effort, this is a magnificent work of art.

It is also a lose remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. It turns the samurai wandering into a Japanese village and switches it to a gunslinger wandering into an Old West town.

Clint Eastwood truly owns the character and the villainous Ramón (played by Gian Maria Volontè) is a perfect foil for the hero.

The movie ends with one of the greatest and imaginative gun duels in film history. In fact, it would go on to be seen in Back to the Future, Part II and would inspire Marty McFly when he had to face his evil foil in a gun battle in Back to the Future, Part III.

Plus, the opening sequence of this film is absolute perfection and maybe my second favorite sequence in any spaghetti western, only surpassed by the finale of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. But those two scenes were incredible bookends to this film series.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

For A Few Dollars More (1965):

Also known as: Per qualche dollaro in più (Italy)
Release Date: December 30th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Sergio Leone, Fulvio Morsella, Enzo Dell’Aquila (uncredited), Fernando Di Leo (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Klaus Kinski, Mario Brega

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Alive or dead? It’s your choice.” – Monco (The Man With No Name)

The first sequel expands on the world of the first film. It feels bigger, the plot has more meat to it and our hero gets to team up with a bounty hunter named Col. Douglas Mortimer (played by the always spectacular Lee Van Cleef). The villain, El Indio is played by the previous installment’s villain actor, Gian Maria Volontè.

The two heroes work together and sometimes against one another in trying to take down El Indio and his gang. There are a lot of twists to the story and there is a lot more depth and layers than the plot of A Fistful of Dollars. Leone really found his stride in this film but it still wasn’t absolute perfection – that was yet to come.

This installment is also a bit more humorous than the previous film, in that the relationship between “The Man With No Name” (referred to as “Monco”) and Col. Douglas Mortimer is pretty chummy and entertaining. But this was Eastwood and Van Cleef in their prime, if you ask me. Both are magnetic, charismatic and each brings so much gravitas to any role that the cup was overflowing with masculine intensity.

As the story unfolds and the relationships build, you are left with a pretty lovable tale. Albeit a pretty badass lovable tale.

And as incredible as Ennio Morricone is as a composer, each chapter in this trilogy sees him evolve into something even greater.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966):

Also known as: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (Italy)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffrè, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, Constantin Film, United Artists, 177 Minutes

Review:

“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.” – Blondie (The Man With No Name)

In my opinion, this is the greatest film ever made. It is perfect and truly has no flaws. Sure, westerns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but some people eat laundry detergent because the Internet tells them to.

Clint Eastwood (The Good) is back, as is Lee Van Cleef (The Bad) who plays the evil Angel Eyes. Eli Wallach (The Ugly) joins them and becomes one of the best characters in cinematic history.

This is a three hour epic and not a single moment of film is wasted. Each segment serves the story well and fleshes out these dynamic characters. Everyone is given a chance to play off of each other and each exchange between characters drives the story forward and strengthens the relationship between all three men.

Even though Clint Eastwood’s “The Man With No Name” is the hero of this series, it is Eli Wallach’s Tuco Ramirez that is the actual star of this picture. He goes from annoying but funny bandit to a lovable and tragic character that you find yourself cheering for by the time this thing is over.

This film is a perfect example of how to develop characters well but with a minimalist approach. Their backstory doesn’t need to be spelled out in every detail. You can hint at their past, drop clues and come to conclusions based off of the emotion the actor wears on their face at certain points. Eli Wallach really gave an Oscar caliber performance here but these sort of films are ignored by elitist Academy snobbery.

The cinematography, the geography, the interiors – all are perfect. This film takes place in a massive and dirty world and it really feels like the American West, even though it was filmed in Europe in 1960s spaghetti western fashion.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly plays like an old opera in its level of scope, story and violence. While the violence isn’t over the top, it serves a real narrative purpose and has a gritty authenticity about it that no other director has been able to capture since.

There isn’t a single thing about this movie that I would tweak, edit out or even try to expand on. I keep saying “perfect” and “flawless” because those are the only words I can even use to describe this untouchable film.

This is Sergio Leone’s magnum opus and the man was one of the greatest directors to ever live.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Any Leone spaghetti western.

Film Review: Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula (1966)

Release Date: April 14th, 1966
Directed by: William Beaudine
Written by: Carl K. Hittleman
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: John Carradine, Chuck Courtney

Embassy Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Your bullets can’t hurt me.” – Dracula

This is a dreadful picture but the premise is bizarre enough to keep things somewhat amusing.

While Billy the Kid looks like he’s 37, at least they got an actual Dracula actor to play the Count in this film: John Carradine. I feel bad for Carradine for even being in this, however. The script is not worth his time and it serves to make him look like a dime store vampire impersonator.

Billy the Kid doesn’t feel like Billy the Kid, either. He’s too old and just doesn’t have the energy one would expect. He’s like a cookie cutter background character from an episode of Bonanza instead of being one of the deadliest and most charismatic guns in the West.

The special effects are terrible. The creepy red lighting that appears on Carradine’s face when he’s using vampire powers is laughably bad. The sets are just someone’s backyard with a double-wide outhouse serving as the entrance to a mine.

It’s symbolic though, because as obsessed as Carradine’s Dracula was with the mine entrance, it’s like he had to keep returning to it to confirm he was a part of a truly shitty experience.

At least Melinda Plowman, the girl Billy and Dracula were fighting over, was pretty cute. That’s about the only positive, however.

Of course, this must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter

Film Review: They Call Him Holy Ghost (1972)

Also known as: Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo (original Italian title), …Y le llamaban El Halcón (Spain), El halcón de Sierra Madre, Blazing Guns, Forewarned… Half-Killed… the Word of the Holy Ghost, His Name Was Holy Ghost
Release Date: March 30th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by: Tito Capri, Federico De Urrutia
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Gianni Garko, Pilar Velazquez

Astro C.C., Lea Film, 94 Minutes

Review:

They Call Him Holy Ghost is a film that sounded much cooler from its synopsis than what the final product actually was. IMDb describes the film as “Gianni Garko returns as the Holy Ghost, a supernatural gunfighter dressed in white and with a dove sitting on his shoulder.” Man, that sounds friggin’ badass.

Gianni Garko is a legendary spaghetti cowboy, a supernatural gunfighter sounds intriguing and a sidekick played by a white dove… well, why the hell not? Plus, one of the pictures I saw online had Garko’s Holy Ghost blasting off one of those giant machine guns that were synonymous with Django and other roles Franco Nero played.

Then the film started and the opening sequence was just purely f’n awesome! Evil men, people treated like garbage to the evil men’s amusement, then the just and righteous Holy Ghost shows up with his dove and a machine gun, drops some quirky dialogue and turns the bad guys into Swiss f’n cheese! Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, though.

For 94 minutes, the film is slower than it should be. I had hoped that this would be as energetic and nuts as the original 1966 Django but it was pretty talkie and actually quite goofy. Sure, it had some action but this picture evolved into more of a comedy as it progressed. In fact, the longer the film ran, the sillier it got to where the big finale was sort of like a spaghetti western reinterpreted by slapstick performers. This would have been a cool film to have seen in a realistic and gritty spaghetti style.

This movie was mostly enjoyable even if it went off the rails after it’s great opening. Gianni Garko is always fun to watch and he committed to this role very well but the schizophrenic tone pulled me out of the movie and turned potential into disappointment.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Any spaghetti western starring Gianni Garko.

Film Review: The ‘Young Guns’ Film Series (1988-1990)

Young Guns was kind of a big deal when it came out in 1988. It had hip young stars and it was a western in a decade where they weren’t too popular. It was like a gritty, Brat Packy action flick that saw our heroes face off against one of the greatest western villains of all-time, Jack Palance.

And then there was a sequel, which brought in some other young stars on the rise.

Since it has been awhile since I’ve seen these two movies, I felt like it was time to revisit them.

Young Guns (1988):

Release Date: August 12th, 1988
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, Brian Banks
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terry O’Quinn, Jack Palance, Terence Stamp

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Peppin. I see you got Charley Crawford down there with you.” – Billy the Kid, “Yeah, that’s right, Bonney. We got a whole…” – Peppin, [Bonney goes to the window and shoots Charley Crawford] “Hey, Peppin. Charley Crawford’s not with you anymore.” – Billy the Kid

While I still enjoyed this movie, so many years after I had seen it last, it isn’t a film that has aged well. Still, it has a lot of high adrenaline moments and a great young cast of up and coming talented actors. It just feels very ’80s and kind of hokey, at points.

Emilio Estevez is the star of the picture but he is surrounded by Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, who would also join him in the sequel, as well as his brother Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko. There is also Jack Palance as the villain, Terence Stamp as the mentor and John Locke himself, Terry O’Quinn, as an ally of sorts.

It is cool seeing these guys come together for a real balls to the wall adventure but the writing was pretty weak. This chapter in Billy the Kid’s life was interesting to see on screen but the movie does take some liberties, albeit not as many as its sequel.

Estevez is really enjoyable as William H. Bonney and he made the historical figure cool, even if he was a killer and not a very good person. He embraced the role, ran with it and gave it a lot of energy that someone else probably wouldn’t have been able to muster. At least not quite the same way Estevez did. Plus, I always like seeing him act with his brother. Sadly, Sheen doesn’t last too long and obviously didn’t return for the sequel after meeting his demise in this one.

Problems aside, Young Guns is still entertaining and a really fun movie. This one is considered the superior of the two but I actually like Young Guns II a hair bit more.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns II.

Young Guns II (1990):

Release Date: August 1st, 1990
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Alan Silvestri, Jon Bon Jovie
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, William Peterson, Alan Ruck, Balthazar Getty, James Coburn, Jenny Wright, Robert Knepper, Viggo Mortensen, Tracey Walter, Bradley Whitford,

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Yoohoo. I’ll make you famous!” – Billy the Kid

Young Guns II was a good sequel to the first. It’s far from a perfect film and has its share of issues but it feels consistent with its predecessor and I liked the additions to the cast in this one. And then there is the sexy bare ass scene with Jenny Wright that really got me excited when I was an 11 year-old in the movie theater seeing her majestic bum on a thirty foot screen. It was one of those special moments in life where you truly believe that God is real and he’s your best friend.

The soundtrack by Jon Bon Jovi makes the film feel dated but the instrumental versions of his pop rock song are still enjoyable and give the film an extra level of hipness that the previous picture didn’t have.

I really like the addition of Christian Slater here and he is my favorite character in this film series. I also liked seeing Alan Ruck and Balthazar Getty join the gang. Another plus for me was seeing Bradley Whitford get a small but important role, as I always liked him, even if I only knew him as being a dirtbag in several ’80s teen comedies. Whitford would go on to have a pretty nice career where he could show off his acting prowess much more effectively than his earlier roles.

While the big finale in the first film was bigger than anything that happens in this one, this film has a grittier feel to it, which I liked. I also liked that it told the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett story, even if it took some big liberties.

The film also entertains the Brushy Bill Roberts story, where an old man back in the ’40s claimed that he was Billy the Kid and that he actually wasn’t killed by Garrett in 1881. Emilio Estevez also plays the older Bill, where Whitford plays the guy interviewing him.

Both films have some scatterbrained writing but that doesn’t make them hard to follow and not enjoyable. This chapter is more disjointed than the first but its positives give it an edge, in my opinion. The returning cast seemed more in tune with their roles and Slater was fun to watch.
Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns.

TV Review: Hell On Wheels (2011-2016)

Original Run: November 6th, 2011 – July 23rd, 2016
Created by: Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Dominique McElligott, Tom Noonan, Eddie Spears, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, Robin McLeavy, Kasha Kropinski, Dohn Norwood, Jennifer Ferrin, MacKenzie Porter, Jake Weber, Tim Guinee, Byron Mann, Reg Rogers, Angela Zhou, Chelah Horsdal

Nomadic Pictures, (Gayton)2, H.O.W. Productions, Endemol, Wirthwhile TV, Entertainment One, AMC, 57 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

I didn’t start watching Hell On Wheels until recently. I watched the pilot when it originally aired but it didn’t immediately capture me and I didn’t have a lot of time, back then, to keep up with the show on a weekly basis. Shows play much better for me when binge watched.

Having a strong desire for a good western television series and after years of friends touting this show, I figured that it was time to give it a real shot.

Well, AMC has kept their track record of stellar television alive with Hell On Wheels. It is the best western TV series since HBO’s Deadwood and it has actually surpassed it a bit, at least for me.

The cast of Hell On Wheels is marvelous. Anson Mount as lead character Cullen Bohannan is the perfect western protagonist. He is ex-military, has a vendetta against some evil men, is good with a gun, is no nonsense and just a good old badass. Colm Meaney, most famous for playing the lovable and nice Chief O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is better than fantastic as Thomas Durant – a mean and sometimes sinister railroad baron. Common has his best acting role to date, as Bohannan’s friend and badass partner, Elam Ferguson. The cast is rounded out with other great talents and every regular on this show is perfect. But the absolute cream of the crop has to be Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gunderson a.k.a. The Swede, who is quite possibly the best villain in television history. The guy is magnificent, his execution is absolute perfection and he seriously gives you the chills.

This show is a work of art. It feels meticulously crafted and the writing is superb. I have read where some people don’t like the direction of the show after the second season but I am fine with it. The show evolves, it changes from year-to-year after the first two seasons were very similar. There just isn’t a low point for me. Granted, there is still a half of a season left where it could go off the rails but I’m pretty confident that when the show returns in a few months, we won’t get an ending on par with the crappy final episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Dexter. And we hopefully won’t get a big unanswered cliffhanger like the similar Deadwood.

I love Hell On Wheels. I would have liked to see it go on for more than five seasons but many great shows don’t make it past a single year. Luckily for us, this solid show got half a decade to shine and develop. One thing is for certain, I will be paying close attention to the careers of Mount and Heyerdahl after this show ends.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Deadwood and Longmire, both shows with a western feel and a modern edge.