Monday, December 15, 2008

Me Mini Movie Reviews: South of Heaven West of Hell

Sometimes you have to revisit a movie to really appreciate it. Back in ‘01 or so, I read about Dwight Yoakam writing, directing, and starring in a western called South of Heaven West of Hell. I picked it up on DVD along with the soundtrack CD and remember thinking it was alright for what it was, but a little weird and slow paced and didn’t really get it. I did however enjoy the soundtrack. Then the DVD sat on on my shelf in my collection for years and didn’t really watch it much until recently, being on a bit of a Yoakam music kick, I pulled it off the shelf and ripped it to my PSP and watched it over a week at work on my breaks. This time around, I totally got it and thoroughly enjoyed it and think it a great little overlooked movie.

It’s pretty much laid out in the title what it’s going for, and uses the harsh reality and desolation of the western genre to get there. Dwight Yoakam stars as US Marshal Valentine Casey who winds up in a confrontation with the ruthless Henry Gang when they rob a bank. Time passes, but their trails will intersect yet again at the most inopportune moment for Val, but he knows he must bring them to justice. Along the way, a colorful cast of characters cross paths including Adalyne (Bridget Fonda) whom Val falls for, her traveling companion Brig. Smalls (played by Billy Bob Thornton in an odd stately cameo), Shoshonne Bill (Peter Fonda) who introduces Val and Adalyne to a hot air balloon ride, the vile Henry Gang led by Leland (Luke Askew) who was like a father to Val, the evil Taylor (Vince Vaughn) who has it in for Val, other members of the gang played by Paul Reubens (no kidding) and Michael Jeter, and the Dunfries clan who run the mercantile / hotel where most of the paths cross. If you watch movies / TV with any kind of regularity, there are a lot of faces you’ll recognize here as plenty of well known character actors are involved. Where else will you find two Sling Blade characters, a Wedding Crasher, Pee Wee Herman, an Easy Rider, the Point of No Return assassin, Rockford’s buddy Coop, Walker’s friend CD Parker, Boss Jack from Traveller, and Tim “You wanna buy a rope” from Pure Country all in one movie? It was a whole movie of “where do I know him from?”

Now granted, my first impression of it being slow paced and bizarre was on the mark, but it works for the movie. ***Possible Spoilers*** This isn’t a John Wayne western. It’s a bleak, dirty, crude, desolate, and violent place these characters find themselves in and are trying to move on from. One’s salvation is a recurring theme, which makes sense since the title refers to the movie being an allegory for purgatory. These characters aren’t dead, but they certainly aren’t living. They’re stuck in between with unfinished business and souls that can’t rest. Only Adalyne is there by choice to rescue the deaf child being raised by Doc Dunfries. Everyone else is stuck in their own personal desolation, some worse than others. The past has to be confronted and peace made with what got them there before any hope of moving on to a future can happen. Val begins to realize this even as he senses a new hope in Adalyne. Even though he wants to go with her, he has to put the past to rest. ***End Spoilers***

This movie probably isn’t for everyone (Amazon’s reviews seem to be either one or five stars, nothing in between), but in a sea of remakes, blatant Oscar grabs, and tired retreads, it is somethings thats original. It is a crude and violent movie with some slow points and bizarre moments, but it’s also genuinely funny in spots, brings some good action in the final shootout, and has some excellent lines. There was one scene that had me laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes - at work, no less. And if you’re paying attention, it’s got more to it story wise than your standard shoot ‘em up western. Think Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter and you know what level you’re on here.

Verdict: I’d definitely recommend it for those looking for something way off the beaten trail and the patience for a slow moving character story. And if not, the soundtrack is worth a listen anyway.

Comments on "Me Mini Movie Reviews: South of Heaven West of Hell"


Blogger The Texican said ... (December 15, 2008 7:09 AM) : 

Sounds interesting. I like bottom shelf movies. Hey, just a note to you on the way your blog is coming out on my screen. Your title and sidebars appear where they should as does the title to your post. Then I have to scroll down into blackness for a ways to pick up the body of your work. The text runs into the sidebar on the right side and is lost to me. You might want to make some adjustments. Pappy


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (December 15, 2008 12:45 PM) : 

Thanks for the movie review! Hopefully I can catch this movie someday. :-)

The Texican: Has the site always looked this way to you? Or is this something recent that changed?

The site looks fine here, for what it's worth.

- originallru


Blogger KEANAN BRAND said ... (December 15, 2008 1:10 PM) : 

I saw this movie not too long after its DVD release. Bits of it have stayed with me, and wander into my mind every once in a while. I didn't know what to think about it the first time I watched it; so, before it had to be returned, I watched it again. Definitely sideways, but that's not a bad thing.


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (December 16, 2008 7:23 AM) : 

Texican: I tried out my blog on several different browsers - I use Safari and Firefox and it looks fine, but on Internet Explorer it does look like crap. Thanks for the heads up, I'll have to look into it.


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (December 16, 2008 7:24 AM) : 

originallru: No problem if you want to borrow it. Just make sure you're not in the mood for something akin to Con Air or the like. It doesn't move fast :)


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (December 16, 2008 7:24 AM) : 

Keanan: Definitely sideways really does sum it up. And it's not a bad thing.


Anonymous valerie White said ... (June 16, 2012 11:45 AM) : 

Loved this film once I realised they were all dead it made so much sense took me two watches and listening properly to the realise it though...Soundtrack I loved and went and bought the cd and was pleased to find 10 DY songs Id never heard before So Great 10/10 from me


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