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McCottoney Lives!

mountain-man-mccottoneySo my boyfriend has invented a nickname for Matthew McConaughey because he couldn’t remember his name, (or maybe because he’s jealous of my celebrity crush). He calls him McCottoney (I think that’s the right spelling).

McCottoney has taken on a life of his own as a ragged old gold prospector or mountain man, a sort of character whose hobbies include chewing tobacco and hollering incomprehensible curses like “doggonit.” Apparently his first name has been replaced by the nickname Scraps.

When I saw the trailer for Free State of Jones, it seemed McCottoney had truly sprung to life in all his ragged glory. Talk about self-actualization. Of course, I had to go see that movie. I was there with McConaughey from the beginning with obscure films like Reign of Fire, unlike some people who only like him now that he’s won an Oscar.

free-state-of-jones

I always watched his movies because he has always been ridiculously good looking. I didn’t really care that much about his acting ability, but now seeing him in Free State of Jones, I thought his acting was amazing. McCottoney–I mean McConaughey portrays an unwilling soldier in the US Civil War, Newton Knight. He’s actually “just a nurse” as one guy refers to him because it’s his job to transport the wounded from the battle field.

free_state_of_jones_From the opening of the film, we see Newton as the kind of person who cares about others’ wellbeing and isn’t swept away in dreams of honour and glory. When his nephew is killed, he quits the army and makes a run for it. But even in his home town, the war effort means that his neighbours are robbed of their livelihood to support the troops, so McConaughey’s character stands up against that injustice.

He falls in with a band of runaway slaves, and this leads him to form his own little group of both white and black outlaws who champion freedom from slavery and oppression, fighting against the Confederacy.

The film portrays all the grim realities of the civil war and its aftermath, even though McConaughey’s good looks make it seem like being a hardscrabble farmer in Middle of Nowhere, Mississippi is quite glamorous. It shows through an interesting flash-forward how little had changed in terms of race relations in Mississippi.

As Richard Grant writes when investigating the real history of Jones County,

On the county line, I was half-expecting a sign reading “Welcome to the Free State of Jones” or “Home of Newton Knight,” but the Confederacy is now revered by some whites in the area, and the chamber of commerce had opted for a less controversial slogan: “Now This Is Living!”

McConaughey embodies his character in a way that is historically accurate and not too showy. He excels at showing Knight’s ability to behave like a true leader, never exploding in righteous indignation but making extraordinary efforts to suppress his burning outrage and anger (either that, or constipation). Seriously though, I think this is one of McConaughey’s best acting moments.

Also, he bears an almost uncanny resemblance to the real Knight:

the-real-newton-knight

In the film, Knight often reminded me of some Old Testament prophet with his long beard and his religious fervour. He proudly declares that “a man’s a man,” meaning that all men are equal, whether black or white. He later married a former slave, Rachel, who had been instrumental in helping the outlaw band. However, he doesn’t seem to do much to recognize women’s achievements.

There’s something patriarchal about him, which is not surprising considering the time and place he lived in. But, despite all that, as Matthew McConaughey says of his character, “He was a beacon of a man, ahead of his time.”

It’s definitely a story that needed to be told. The film has been criticized unfairly in my opinion for being a “white savior” myth, but it is after all, a true story. I think better to make movies about a white savior who was fighting for a good cause than, say, The Wolf of Wall Street, glorifying a “white scammer” who was just trying to make himself rich and acting like a jerk.

outrageous

Of course, there are not enough movie being made featuring non-white main characters, or female ones. I think the story of Harriet Tubman definitely deserves its own movie with a female lead. However, Newton Knight was a really amazing character who also deserves a film of his own.

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Classic Westerns Part Two: My Name is Nobody

For about the first few minutes of “My Name is Nobody”, the viewer doesn’t really understand what is going on.

villain-my-name-is-nobody

Geoffrey Lewis as bad guy.

A bunch of scary-looking riders ambush a barber and his son in a small town. Then they set up business with one of them pretending to be the barber. A middle-aged man walks into the barber shop and sits down for a shave (he is famous gunfighter Jack Beauregard, but we don’t know this yet). The villain is about to slit his throat…

But then we see that the middle-aged man already has a pistol pointed at the fake barber’s crotch. A lightning-quick gunfight ensues. Jack Beauregard triumphs over the three bad guys, looking satisfied with his shave, and the barber and his son are liberated.

mynameisnobody-04

Henry Fonda as Jack Beauregard

 

“How’d he do it, Pa? I only heard one shot!” the child asks in amazement.

“It’s a question of speed, son,” the barber replies.

This is only the beginning of the mockery this movie doles out to the western convention of gunslingers who are miraculously fast on the draw. There are slapstick duels, shooting-the-hat-off-opponent’s-head scenes, and incredibly fast draws made possible by fast-motion editing. Paradoxically, despite the ridiculousness of some of the scenes, the idea of gunfighting heroes is embraced in this film as something essential to a person’s spiritual survival.

“A man who’s a man needs something to believe in,” says the main character, a scruffy young man who calls himself Nobody. (Hopefully, if this movie had been made twenty years later it would have made some mention of women too!)

The man known as “Nobody” looks up to aging gunfighter Jack Beauregard, though Jack himself doesn’t seem to understand or want this adulation and the danger that comes with it.

Directed by the master of spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone, this epic film moves at a slow pace, but keeps you riveted to the screen, trying to figure out what the nameless, scruffy young man is looking for.

nobody

Terence Hill as “Nobody”

The 70s were a time for experimenting with the Western genre, and this movie is perhaps the most interesting experiment of them all. It is funny, self-reflective, but at the same time very much a real, plot-driven western.

You could say it is a western within a western. The character “Nobody” acts as the audience to Jack Beauregard’s “heroic” story, but at the same time he constructs the plot of the adventure that he wants his hero to live. “Nobody” manipulates the other characters to achieve his cherished fantasy: he wants to see Jack Beauregard to face off against The Wild Bunch, 150 well-armed desperados.

Unlike The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which questions the whole “good guy” concept, My Name is Nobody seems to reaffirm the need for a hero, even if the hero is not the person you’d expect. It’s a remarkable film that always keeps you guessing until the very end whether Nobody is trying to help Jack or get him killed.

Have you seen “My Name is Nobody?” Would you like to see it?

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Classic Westerns Part One: Rio Bravo

Rio-Bravo

We take cleanliness very seriously in this office.

Have you ever wanted to watch a movie that is purely comforting like a warm, soft blanket? You might not expect it, but this western showdown is just the thing. I’ve been revisiting some old classic westerns, and I found that Rio Bravo is still as good, nay, better than I remember.

If you’ve seen a John Wayne movie before, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you might be wondering how that gruff old man who is always confronting people in your grandpa’s movies could ever be thought of as comforting. But it seems we are in the middle of an era of anti-heroes, so it’s nice to go back to an older time when you could trust the lead character to be uncompromising in his values and all but fearless in the face of danger.

In this wild west saga, John Wayne plays a sheriff who has arrested the brother of a very influential cattle baron. Although pressured by the  brother and his hired guns, the sheriff will not give up the murderer until a US Marshall comes to the town to take the prisoner into custody. Meanwhile, his deputy (played by Dean Martin) struggles with alcoholism.

This beer has blood on it... meh, I'll drink it anyway.

This beer has blood on it… meh, I’ll drink it anyway.

Things get complicated when a mysterious lady and a young but prudent gunslinger arrive in town. The lady’s motives are unclear, but she is either trying to seriously annoy John Wayne or to marry him, while the gunslinger just tries to be super cool and stay out of trouble, but soon he too is drawn into the main conflict.

Aside from the shooting and chases and gun duels, much of this movie involves people just hanging out. This is where the tensions and friendships between the characters keep the viewer fascinated even when guns are not blazing. They even enjoy a musical interlude, and with talent like Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson (the Justin Bieber of the ’50s, only better at singing), who could blame them?

As Jeffrey M. Anderson says in his Combustible Celluloid review,

“The movie has a sort of glee that goes with it. It’s more than exciting, and more than just interesting or funny. It’s a pure joy to watch.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Jack the Giant Killer: the Classic Film

jack-the-giant-slayerWith Jack the Giant Slayer opening in theaters, I was reminded of this 60s film I used to be completely obsessed with as a youngster.

No, I wasn’t born in the 1950s, but I’ve always enjoyed classic films, and there was something about this movie… I’ve been trying to figure out what it was, aside from the obvious swashbuckling factor. Even at my young age, I could tell the special effects were primitive compared to today’s, but there was something that made me re-watch that movie time and time again as a special treat.

It had a very rousing musical score and gorgeous costumes. But it was more than that. It was also the personalities that the actors did such an excellent job portraying. Even the fake-looking giants, monsters, and dragons had personality!

It’s one of the things that separates classic movies from much of today’s bland stuff.

I haven’t seen the Jack and the Giant Slayer remake, but I hope they balance out the special effects with solid characters.

Here is the trailer to the 1962 version… “Such indeed is the glamorous legend of the ancient kingdom of Cornwall…”