Category Archives: western

Rabid Rewind: True Grit (2010)

True Grit
starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper
written & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
based on the novel by Charles Portis
Paramount Pictures (2010)
It has been so long since I saw the classic John Wayne film, watching this iteration of True Grit was like seeing the story unfold for the first time all over again. And I think the experience was the better for it.
Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is an unflappable fourteen-year-old girl in search of a marshal to track down the man who shot and killed her father. Unable to compel the law at Fort Smith to take up her cause, she manages to enlist a gruff drunkard of a marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). While Cogburn has the ruthlessness to apprehend Tom Chaney (Brolin), the killer is on the run in hostile territory in Arkansas, so enter a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) who has been on Chaney’s trail for months. Together, the trio set off in the wilderness to find, capture, and in Mattie’s case, kill Chaney.
Now, I’m not one who usually gravitates towards directors when it comes to my movie preferences, but I’ve noticed over the years that I have yet to be really disappointed by a Joel and Ethan Coen’s films. These two guys seem to really know how to tap into good storytelling with outstanding characters. The intro feels a tip of the hat to the westerns of old, and I kind of wondered at first if they were doing something like that, but the rest of the movie really strikes its own chord and doesn’t feel like anything from those old westerns. It felt more like the modernized westerns, a la Unforgiven and that 3:10 to Yuma remake from a couple years ago. Gritty, hard-bitten stuff.
Hailee Steinfeld does a remarkable job as Mattie, considering this was her first movie, and seeing her in the DVD extras looking like one of those gals fresh off the Disney factor line, I was a wee bit surprised at the caliber of actor she’s bound to be. Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, seemed to be playing a campy characterization of his character. I’d have to go back and read the book, since this movie is taken from the book rather than a remake of the John Wayne film, but Bridges was just eating up the scenery with his over-the-top performance. Oh, I loved the performance, don’t get me wrong, but given the accolades heaped on him for this movie, I was expecting something much different. Oddly enough, it was Matt Damon who stole the show for me as the swellheaded Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef by Bridges).
The story and the characters develop so well through the first two-thirds of the film, that by the time Chaney finally shows up and the plot really kicks into gear, you almost don’t want to see it come. At least I found I didn’t, since I was so wrapped up in the interactions between Mattie, Cogburn, and LaBeef. That said, seeing Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper–an unrecognizable Pepper thanks to make-up and prosthetic teeth–play such scoundrels was a treat and made for great antagonists for the ragtag trio.
The movie is easy to recommend to anyone, whether they’re a fan of westerns or not. It’s just a really fun, kind of poignant film, and should appeal to all ages.

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Filed under Barry Pepper, Charles Portis, Coen Brothers, Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, movie review, Rabid Rewind, Steven Spielberg, True Grit, western

Wish List Wednesday #98: Gemma Files’ "A Rope of Thorns"

I’m not sure how popular the weird western genre is, but I have a feeling it’s one that I could really get into. Back in March, I won an e-book copy of Gemma Files‘ debut novel, A Book of Tongues, courtesy of The Ranting Dragon and Chizine Publications. So, I figured I had better put the sequel, A Rope of Thorns, on my wish list.
The Hexslinger series tells the story of Ed Morrow, a former Pinkerton agent turned gun-for-hire. Set in a western landscape, he is tasked with learning all he can about a magician–or hexslinger in this world–named Asher Rook who is hellbent on breaking the curse preventing hexslingers from consolidating their powers and unleashing an Aztec god’s unholy army in the process.
The story goes a whole lot deeper than that, and this second book promises to bring even more goodness than the first.
Have you heard tell of this series? Sound like something you’d be interested in, too?

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Filed under A Rope of Thorns, fantasy, Gemma Files, Hexslinger, western, Wish List Wednesday

Rabid Reads: "A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger #1)" by Gemma Files

A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger #1)
by Gemma Files
Chizine Publications (2010)
Do you love a good western? Sure you do, but do you love evil westerns? Well, I think that’s exactly what you’re going to get when you read Gemma Files’ debut novel, A Book of Tongues, whether you use that adjective in a complimentary manner or not.
The novel is set in a world set a couple of years after the American Civil War, but with one key difference from ours: it’s populated by wielders of magic known as hexslingers. In this world, a Pinkerton agent named Morrow is tasked with infiltrating a criminal gang led by a hexslinger known as Reverend Rook. Rook, aided by his right-hand man and lover, Chess, isn’t on some mere mission of petty theft and murder. The former preacher is haunted and under the influence of an Aztex goddess bent on reentering the world and bringing a few of her friends back as well.
That right there sounds like a simple enough setup for some good ol’ pulpy western fun, but there’s more to this story than just that. Heroes are pretty hard to come by in this novel, for one thing. Just about every major character we experience this story through has either some serious emotional baggage or just a mean-spirited streak running through them. There’s also a strong “in over my head” vibe from both Morrow and Rook, as Morrow finds undercover work with the gang especially daunting when Chess’ violent nature regularly rears up when out in public, and Rook’s gradual discovery of what his magical powers are capable of doing and where they could lead offer a bleak future ahead of him.
The story comes off a bit disjointed in parts, not only with the switches between points of view that really affect the pace of the novel, but there are also these little preludes at the beginning of each of the three acts that feel quite disparate from the rest of the book. It’s an engrossing read though, unhindered by the fade-to-black moments. Some of the language, particularly relating to the mythology was a stumbling block for me–but I’m a dullard with that sort of thing anyway. A real anglophone, I am. But on the other side of that coin is Files’ way to weaving the dialogue and the narrative into a rich tapestry of this magical wild west. It feels utterly authentic, and by the time I reached the end of the book I was ready for more, which is just as well because the book clearly points the reader towards the next book, A Rope of Thorns.
I’ve read other reviews that express a certain discomfort, or simply surprise, as it relates to the unfiltered homosexuality that exists between Rook and Chess. I didn’t really have any qualms with that at all. Frankly, I thought it was a nice change of pace from the cut-and-dry westerns I’m so used to watching or reading that make zero reference to gay characters, particularly genuine gay characters. In fact, the relationships between the magical elements of hexslingers and the sexuality demonstrated between them was a fascinating aspect of the novel.
For a debut novel, it’s an ambitious yarn Gemma Files has spun, and is yet another example of Chizine’s eye for stories off the beaten path. I’m looking forward to reading A Rope of Thorns, but all the previously published short story collections of Gemma Files, because this author is one to watch in the years ahead.


Filed under A Book of Tongues, book review, Chizine Publications, Gemma Files, Hexslinger, horror, Rabid Reads, western

Getting Graphic: "American Vampire" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Stephen King

American Vampire
by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Vertigo Comics (2010)
ISBN 9781401228309
“Suck on this.” The title of Stephen King’s foreword seems to be a volley at Stephenie Meyer and all authors who seek to domesticate the revered bloodsuckers of literature. He, along with the story’s creator Scott Snyder, want vampires with sharp teeth, bad attitudes, and evil intentions. Well, they’ve offered a comic book that delivers on all fronts.
Stephen King tackles the origin story, while Scott Snyder offers a parallel storyline that occurs some decades later about vampires in America during the 19th century and early 20th century. The story starts in Los Angeles circa 1925, as Pearl Jones tries to climb her way to fame as an extra on a Hollywood movie lot. After catching the eye of a dashing leading man, she’s invited to a party where she is to meet with the big wigs–and a chance at the bright lights. There’s no happy ending for Pearl, however, when she winds up the main course for the vampire masters of the leading man and dumped in the California desert to die. But, she doesn’t die–thanks to Skinner Sweet.
Skinner Sweet is no hero, we quickly learn, though. Imagine a vicious and remorseless Billy the Kid during 1880, hunted down by lawmen and supposedly killed by the same vampire overlords out to exploit the American West. Instead, Sweet is turned and eventually hunts down the bloodsuckers who created him. And he is a bit different, evolved in a sense, and uses his adaptations to leave a brand new trail of blood on the ground. All the while, a no-nonsense lawman who initially brought Sweet to justice is tormented by his fiance’s murder at the hands of Sweet and vows to end him once and for all.
Rafael Albuquerque’s artistry on each page seems perfectly suited to capture the nostalgic glamor of the 1920s and the gritty western feel from the 1880s. And the ugliness of the vampires and their animalistic rage comes through in every scene they appear. All in all, it’s not an especially gory book, but when blood is spilled, it is in no small amount. The only way I can think to make the book look more authentic is if it was entirely sepia-toned.
I really got a kick out of this book. Yes, vampires are done to death. The same can be said for westerns. Heck, I probably wouldn’t have to look that hard to find a sub-genre of vampire westerns. American Vampire really strikes a chord though, and it feels like a new benchmark going forward. A kind of can-you-top-this dare to the rest of the comic book and literary world. With the onslaught of vampire fiction that refuses to die down, maybe someone will come along and offer something that will top this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If there’s a negative thing to say about this book, I think it would be the villains. Well, the villains other than Skinner Sweet. They felt a bit familiar and less fleshed out compared to other characters. Cliches? Maybe. With a character as iconic as Skinner Sweet, it’s a forgivable smudge on an otherwise spectacular story.


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Filed under American Vampire, comic book review, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, horror, Scott Snyder, stephen king, vampires, western

Getting Graphic: "Serenity: Those Left Behind" by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews

Serenity: Those Left Behind
by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
illustrated by Will Conrad
Dark Horse Books (2006)
ISBN 1-59307-449-2

Did you watch Firefly when it was on Fox for its single season about ten years ago? Neither did I. It kind of slipped under my radar at the time. I caught the last couple of episodes, and fell in love with show just in time to learn it had been cancelled. Way to go, Fox.

I did, however, manage to catch the film Serenity, which acted as a psuedo-sequel to the TV show and a bookend on the story as a whole. So, to think there are graphic novels to help keep this universe going, it’s a nice consolation.

The events of this book take place between the end of the show and the movie, which is kind of a necessity in my view since some irrevocable events occur in the movie.

The gang are on a job when things go awry–what else is new for them–and have to make a quick escape. Meanwhile, the proverbial boys in blue recruit a person from Mal’s past to hunt the Firefly crew down. Those guys always seem to find Mal’s enemies when they don’t want to do the dirty work themselves.

The story is fairly average when you stand back and look at it, but the characters are depicted so accurately to their flesh-and-blood counterparts that it’s easy to just sit back and read the back-and-forth between them. And given the fact that the story takes place before the movie, there’s some sacrifice in the suspense department.

Still, if you enjoyed the show and lamented its premature demise, this book gives one more chance to escape into that strange future Whedon cooked up. Something between Star Wars and Deadwood, which is not a bad way to go I suppose.


Filed under Brett Matthews, comic book review, Firefly, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, sci-fi, Serenity, western, Will Conrad

Rabid Reads: "Journal of the Gun Years" by Richard Matheson

Title: Journal of the Gun Years
Author: Richard Matheson
Published: Forge, an imprint of Tor Books (2009); originally published by M. Evans & Company (1991)
Pages: 216
Genre: Western
ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-6226-1
ISBN-10: 0-7653-6226-0

There is no stopping Richard Matheson, of that I am quite sure. I’m already a fan of his horror and sci-fi stories, and if that’s not enough the man writes westerns too. I had no idea. I stumbled across this novel late last year in a bookstore while looking for a bargain. In the back corner of the store, where the fantasy and sci-fi novels were relegated, a small shelf displayed a number of western titles. A neophyte to the genre, the only names I recognized were Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry. Then I saw “Richard Matheson” emblazoned on the cover of a book. That’s all the incentive I needed.

Journal of the Gun Years is a story presented as a gunman’s private journal entries over the course of a little more than a decade. But the first thing readers find is a foreword by Frank Leslie, a writer and acquaintance of Clay Halser–the Hero of the Plains. Leslie recounts his final reunion with Halser, as well as his untimely yet inevitable death in a gunfight. Internationally renowned, much in the same manner was Wild Bill Hicock, Halser’s reputation precedes him and has been inflated to such mythic proportions that Leslie feels it imperative to share a more honest and accurate portrayal of the gunman’s formidable years. And the best way to do that is publish Halser’s private journals. Through these selected entries we see an unfortunate man’s rise from obscurity and crime to a reluctant beacon of law and order in towns that want little of either.

Matheson crafted a tragic figure in Clay Halser that was tempered with not just humor but anger too. The characters written about in the diaries have pieces of the familiar–allusions to Hicock’s own fabled life are apparent–and are also given such an intimate approach it’s easy to suspend disbelief. The language is so sincere that Halser becomes more and more real with each entry. And I’m not a guy who usually goes for these journal style novels, so I applaud Matheson for hooking me from the get-go.

Despite knowing Halser is headed for an anticlimactic showdown with a young roughneck out to make a name for himself, the story gripped me as his life ran the gamut. Each happenstance in his life set him on that path to a sad demise. Hoping for some measure of redemption is not unreasonable when reading this book. Whether any is achieved is something you’ll have to find out for yourself if you choose to read this story.

I loved it. I should have expected to from the start. It’s Richard Matheson after all.

You can find other blog reviews of this title at: Retro Brett

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Filed under book review, Journal of the Gun Years, Rabid Reads, richard matheson, western

Wish List Wednesday #45: Shadow on the Sun

Richard Matheson is capable of telling a story well no matter which genre it falls under. A re-release this year that has me interested comes from Tor, a western-horror tale called Shadow on the Sun.

This was originally published in 1994, but it apparently didn’t catch on beyond western aficionados. But the supernatural and horror elements should lend themselves well to people who are a little averse, for whatever reasons, to reading a story set in the Old West. And after reading Matheson’s Journal of the Gun Years, I’m more than willing to read another of his westerns.

Set in Arizona, a truce between Apaches and the whites is shattered when two white men are murdered and mutilated. And an Indian agent has to solve the mystery before the dusty desert town is thrown into more bloodshed, possibly at the hands of a stranger in town wearing a dead man’s clothes. Hmmm, I think there’s a hint of the undead here.

So have you heard of this Matheson title? Does it sound like the kind of book you’d be into reading too?

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Filed under horror, richard matheson, Shadow on the Sun, western, Wish List Wednesday