Friday, June 3, 2011

Capsule reviews: Once Upon in the West, A Bear Named Winnie

Once Upon a Time in the West (1969, Sergio Leone)
The Shootout at High Noon marathon is not going to include any Sergio Leone pictures, but that doesn’t mean Between the Seats can’t handle some little side projects. Considered by many as Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West in four stories. Jill Mcbain’s (Claudia Cardinale) struggles to manage the water rich land left by her recently murdered husband, Cheyenne’s (Jason Robards) efforts to prove his innocence regarding said murder, Frank’s (Henry Fonda) mission to kill or buy out anybody who stands between his employer (Gagriele Ferzetti) and the land in question, and finally Harmonica (Charles Bronson), a mysterious man dead set on killing Frank.
 Like so many other people who sing the film’s praises, I agree that there is tons of stuff to like about the movie. The casting alone is really weird (in the good sense of course). Charles Bronson is not the most charismatic kind of actor, but he works wonders here, as does Henry Fonda in the role of one of movie’s greatest villains ever...and he was not an actor known for playing bad people. Fonda makes for such a fascinating villain because his voice is so soft. When words of poison emerges from those lips, it always feels like such a shock. Oh, and Claudia Cardinale. God, I love that bitterness about her. There is a titanic struggle between wanting to complete her late husband’s project, but as a woman she is frequently treated as a slave and as an object. That anger raging inside her, coupled with her looks, make her really sexy. Oh, Claudia...What is most interesting about the picture is the historical context given to the story. I love this idea of the character arcs hinging on what happens to the planned trained station Jill’s husband wished to construct. While all the action takes place the railroad is developing at a lighting quick pace, and this latter element functions as the plot’s ‘ticking clock.’ This being a Leone film, there are some gorgeous scenes to look at, but West arguably has many more than in all of his previous films combined. However, in order to let the viewer fully appreciate the camera angles, framing and scenery, Leone edits the film at a careful, deliberate pace, reminiscent the kind of editing frequently found in art house films. It makes for an unexpected yet mesmerising visual experience.  While it isn’t my favourite western, or even my favourite Leone (which some people find odd), it is his best made film, and it’s not even that close.

A Bear Named Winnie (2004, John Kent Harrison)

Let me get one thing straight. I didn’t search this movie out. This is one of those movies that plays on really late night television because, honestly, what else are the stations going to play? In this case it was the CBC (go go Canadian public television!). it has Michael Fassbender (was the station hoping more people would watch because the X-Men movie was coming out the next day? It can’t be) as a Canadian soldier from Winnipeg who somehow adopts a baby female cub in the weeks leading up to his deployment overseas for WWI. He names the bear Winnie because he from Winnipeg. Hilarious mischief is supposed to ensue.
 Eh...this is really, really tame. Obviously, it is meant as wholesome family entertainment, which is perfectly fine. I was just curious to see a film I had never heard about and discover an earlier Fassbender performance. I have to admit that it was interesting to see a bear cub interact in such a friendly manner with humans (no computer generated imagery, that bear is really acting cute). In fact, it’s even more impressive at the end of the movie when Winnie has grown up, all massive and impressive and stuff. That bear acts all lovey-lovey with Fassbender too. I don’t know how the animal was raised, but seeing it play out was nice. As for the story, there isn’t much to talk about it. It really just a bunch of sloppy episodes in which Winnie does some mischievous or something adorable and the viewer is called upon to go ‘aww, so cute!’ as Fassbender hugs her. Oddly enough, once the soldiers get to England for the final phase of their preparations, the movie tries hard to create a sort of rivalry between the Canadian soldiers and a pompous British admiral (David Suchet). I have no idea why the film insisted on doing this. A wacky adventure involving a young soldier and his crazy cub pet was sufficient (and even then, it isn’t that good). The scenes of bitterness between the Canucks (go Vancouver!) and Brits are completely useless. For what it’s worth, Stephen Fry makes an appearance late in the film. Great fun for the entire family!

1 comment:

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