After leaning into the Western side of sci-fi/Western in his first two “Firefly” novels, James Lovegrove uses sci-fi to good effect in “The Ghost Machine” (March). His first effort, “Big Damn Hero,” includes cargo that could blow up if handled improperly, but “Ghost Machine” features a more thematically interesting crate: the titular Blue Sun sonic weapon that makes people passive. The way it does so is by sending them into dreamland; first, their dreams are pleasant, but then they turn dark.
Bone Tomahawk” (2016) is a rare horror-Western and also a standout example of the genre. Writer-director S. Craig Zahler mashes up John Wayne and Eli Roth, and it shouldn’t work, but it comes together beautifully because of his smart structure. It also doesn’t hurt that he employs four elite actors who are intensely watchable even when they’re simply crunching across the bleak rocky landscape.
James Lovegrove’s first “Firefly” novel – 2018’s “Big Damn Hero,” co-plotted with Nancy Holder – spans several genres. But his second is a straight-up Western, all set on one dusty planet. “The Magnificent Nine” (March 2019), as the title suggests, has the same plot as the 1960 Western film classic “The Magnificent Seven.” But we get to see how our big gorramn heroes deal with the situation: The already bedraggled townsfolk of Coogan’s Bluff on Thetis are being harassed by murderous, rapist bandits who aim to control the water supply.
Iappreciate that “Jonah Hex” (2010) is only 82 minutes long – the length of some episodes of “Westworld” nowadays – because it makes for a fairly painless viewing experience. Unfortunately, it’s also brainless. This adaptation of DC Comics’ Western superhero invented in 1972 is short for a reason: Writers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor tell the thinnest possible story. And it’s directed by Jimmy Hayward, who primarily does animated films. As such, “Jonah Hex” has the simplicity of an animated kids’ movie; it’s for adults only because of the violent revenge narrative.
After “Back to the Future” (1985), a pitch-perfect comedy, and “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), a thrillingly inventive time-hopper, “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) is tame by comparison. It’s almost entirely set in the Old West of 1885 as Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) devise a method to get the empty-tanked DeLorean up to 88 mph in a world without gasoline.
I’m not naturally inclined to see a Quentin Tarantino film, but a couple of friends’ excitement about “Django Unchained,” combined with the generally positive reviews, got me to say “What the heck — I’ll give it a fair shot.” As I expected, it’s really violent — it’s not that I’m in danger of barfing in my popcorn bucket or suffering months of nightmares, it’s just that I don’t find extreme violence entertaining (unless it’s so over the top that it can only be interpreted as comedy). And also — the issue I was more worried about — it’s deliberately paced and clocks in at nearly three hours long.
You’re welcome to post comments on why these movies are great, but please don’t bother to call me names. You can’t make me feel worse than I already do. I know I am supposed to like these movies; I know you love them, I know my ignorance insults you, and I apologize for not being able to love them, too.