Tag Archives: Western

SIX OF THE BEST #18 – FILM ANTHOLOGIES

SIX OF THE BEST #18 – FILM ANTHOLOGIES

While we all love a good proper feature film containing one continuous narrative, the anthology or portmanteau film has thrown up some fine cinematic entertainment over the years. Generally, an anthology film can be described as a collection of works with a linked theme, genre, style and author etc.

Thus, in my occasional Six of the Best series I have decided to pick some favourite ones. To make it more interesting I have chosen them from different genres. Otherwise, I would have just chosen all horror films. So, here are six of the film anthology films worth watching.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) – WESTERN

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mischievous alchemy of stories. Here, the Coen Brothers reach into their cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of characters, songs, bloody death, jokes, pathos, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and action. Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth and this is no different. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring in many of these fine stories.

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DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) – HORROR

It seems sacrilege not to include the likes of George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) or one of Amicus’ unhinged collections such as Dr Terror’s House of Horror (1965). But, having watched this classic recently I can certainly say it has some brilliant and scary stories which stand the test of time. Full to the brim with the cream of British acting, writing and directing talent, the standout tale is Michael Redgrave’s troubled ventriloquist, although the whole film is a nightmarish treat for horror fans.

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FANTASIA (1940) – ANIMATION

With the current trend for Disney to remake their back catalogue as “live” action films in mind, I very much doubt they will doing this with Fantasia. Conceived as a short to re-invigorate the slowing career of Mickey Mouse, the film is unlike any other Disney have made. It consists of experimental, non-narrative and hallucinogenic vignettes mainly set to wondrous classical music. A masterpiece of hand-drawn animation, style, colour and design, it’s certainly not just for kids. I recall many images giving me nightmares when saw it as a child and it remains a powerful cinematic work to this day.

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NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) – COMEDY

I was going to choose Woody Allen’s erotic sketch film, Everything You Wanted to Ask About Sex but were Afraid to Ask (1972), for the comedy section. However, I decided to select a more deadpan and character oriented film. What better then, than a Jim Jarmusch curiosity. I love the concept of the film as Jarmusch sets several themes and parameters in place. There are five slice-of-life vignettes set on the same night in the cities of Helsinki, New York, Rome, Paris and Los Angeles, all starring some of Jarmusch’s favourite actors. Relationships and quirky interactions between cab driver and passenger are explored in the filmmakers’ inimitable style.


PULP FICTION (1994) – CRIME

Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film remains a fresh masterpiece of colliding gangsters, uber-cool hitmen, fixers, boxers, sexual deviants, femme fatales, drug addicts and general criminal types. With an over-lapping timeline that kind of does a figure of eight, we get stories ranging from a couple robbing a diner; a boxer double-crossing a crime boss; and an employee almost killing his boss’s wife. Tarantino breathes life into the crime genre and the stock pulp characters with one of the greatest screenplays ever written; full of incredible dialogue, startling twists and a brilliant ensemble cast.


WILD TALES (2014) – DRAMA

Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories mostly based around the themes of obsession and revenge.  It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding.  Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of. 


DEADWOOD (2019) – HBO FILM REVIEW

DEADWOOD (2019) – HBO FILM REVIEW

Created and written by: David Milch

Directed by: Daniel Minahan

Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Paula Malcolmson, and Robin Weigert, Keone Young, William Sanderson, Gerald McCraney etc.

Cinematography: David Klein

Original Network: HBO

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

David Milch’s formidable Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen. So, I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017.  I was so glad I did because Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.

After three brilliant seasons of Wild West slice-of-life the show was cancelled and the various narrative strands were left loose. But Deadwood (2019) returns one final time with a movie that further elucidates desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and a twisted and violent rendition of the American dream. With most of the original cast returning and the action set some ten years after the final season ended in 1889, here we find scores to be settled, relationships to be consolidated and revenging to be done.

The main thrust of the film shows nefarious Senator George Hearst at constant loggerheads with the townsfolk, especially the noble but angry Marshall Bullock; Trixie the prostitute who tried to kill Hearst; and Ian McShane’s gutter-mouthed bar owner, Al Swearengen. Al’s body and health are crumbling due to his heavy drinking and he becomes more a liver-failed spectator amidst the dirty narrative twists and turns.

Given it was more about the characters, performance and dialogue I actually didn’t mind the open-ending provided by the cancellation of the show. I liked that their lives just went on off-screen until they became the proverbial quintessence of dust. However, there is much to enjoy in getting a belly full of these hard-bitten, drunken characters again. As send-offs go the film is a filthy joy. I especially enjoyed seeing Timothy Olyphant as Bullock, Paula Malcolmson as Trixie, Ian McShane as Al; and the marvellous Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane. They all enrich the proceedings with incredible acting performances.

Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and revenge of the Wild West. While arguably unnecessary this final film is an ebullient and entertaining drift back to the past with enough spittle, blood, anger, justice, love, profanity and mud to please the die-hard Deadwood  fans.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #15 – JACQUES AUDIARD – WITH: THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #15 – JACQUES AUDIARD

Experienced French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, makes what I call proper films. I mean, have you watched the cinema of yesteryear, notably the 1970s, with stories about characters that are deeply flawed and even possibly unlikeable. Well, Audiard still makes those kind of films. He takes risks representing human beings on the edge of society and perhaps struggling with life; people who often make left-field decisions to improve or escape their existential plight.

For my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I will look at some key Audiard films well worth watching. I will also incorporate a mini-review of his most recent release, tragi-comedy Western, The Sisters Brothers. If you haven’t seen much of Audiard’s work and are drawn to intense human character studies with absorbing narratives, then I highly recommend it.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Starring a quartet of fantastic scene-stealing actors in: Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, this Western bends the genres between drama, comedy and tragedy. Based on Patrick DeWitt’s critically acclaimed novel, the film is set in the 1850s during the Californian Gold Rush. It centres on the titular brethren, easier-going, Eli (Reilly), and drunken Charlie (Phoenix); hired bounty hunters who kill mainly for an enigmatic individual called the Commodore.

The film unfolds in what I would call a curious romp fashion; and it is certainly guaranteed to attain future cult status. Moreover, it also echoes the tone and eccentricity of recent Westerns like: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) and Slow West (2015). While Reilly and Phoenix’ characters form a humorous double-act in terms of verbal exchanges, their actions betray the fact they are cynical, hard-bitten and murderous. A product of their amoral milieu they remain the antithesis of the stylish and charming outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Their latest quarry and target for the Commodore is Ahmed’s idealistic chemist, Herbert Warm. Assisting them is Gyllenhaal’s likeable tracker, John Morris. The brothers’ haphazard pursuit of Warm is a fun and bloody journey replete with: chaotic shootouts, barnstorming brawls, hilarious bickering and right-turn narrative twists. Overall, it’s probably too idiosyncratic to impact the box office, yet, Audiard directs with his usual love for morally ambiguous characters. Lastly, the natural lighting and colour scheme is beautifully shot throughout; while Alexandre Desplat’s score resonates impeccably. Thus, these elements plus Phoenix and Reilly’s tremenodous on-screen sparring make this a very enjoyable picaresque Western tale.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

OTHER RECOMMENDED AUDIARD FILMS

READ MY LIPS (2001)

This Audiard thriller centres on Emmanuelle Devos’ office worker, Carla, and has echoes of Hitchcock and Coppola’s paranoiac classic The Conversation (1974). Hiding her deafness from colleagues, Carla enters into a robbery plot with Vincent Cassel’s ex-con and a fascinating serpentine double-crossing narrative ensues.

A PROPHET (2009)

This is one of the best prison films I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of the emotional power of linear filmmaking. As we follow Tahar Rahim’s lowly prisoner rise through the prison ranks using: violence, luck, cunning and smarts, we feel every emotion and tension he does during an incredibly compelling journey.

RUST AND BONE (2012)

Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts fizz with passion, star quality and brute sexuality in this “opposites-attract” romance drama. Cotillard is a Marine Park employee who falls for Schoenaerts low level criminal but obviously the path of love is a jagged one. Full of beautiful imagery and brutal violence, it’s a memorable character drama full of bitterness, redemption and pain.

DHEEPAN (2015)

Dheepan starts as a humane story of survival and the immigrant experience, before crossing over into explosive thriller territory by the end. Further, Audiard casts his leads with unknown actors and wrings every ounce of feeling from the sympathetic characters. As the Sri Lankan Tamil, Dheepan, and his “wife”, struggle with life on a Paris council estate, what may seem small in scale is in fact emotionally very epic.

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Produced by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, Robert Graf

Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits and many more.

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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Soon to be appearing on the streaming behemoth Netflix, the Coen Brothers latest film is a difficult one to recommend to those not familiar with their quirky vision of humanity and existence. Set within the Western genre the film presents six stories seemingly unconnected but those which resonate resoundingly on the theme of death. The stories are called:  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Near Algodones; Meal Ticket; All Gold Canyon; The Gal Who Got Rattled; and The Mortal Remains respectively.

The closest film this anthology resembles from recent times is the riotous black comedy Wild Tales (2014). Moreover, if you ever saw the Coens’ eccentric mid-life crisis comedy A Serious Man (2009), you may recall the prologue which depicted a short stand-alone piece about a ghostly dybbuk visiting a woman at night. Indeed, that story was seemingly unconnected to the film which followed, however, the Coens’ are such skilled storytellers you sense there is a link be it symbolically or thematically.

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Overall, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a genuine mixed bag, in a good way. Their mischievous alchemy combines genres – within the Western setting – such as: musical, comedy, horror, crime, thriller and even romance. Moreover, the filmmakers have reached into their decades of film experience and cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of: characters, songs, bloody deaths, jokes, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and spitfire action.

The cast are uniformly brilliant and as well as some familiar faces there are some newer actors added to the Coens’ stable of performers. Bill Heck, especially, in the story The Gal Who Got Rattled, impressed in his role as a likable cowboy. Overall, and in a similar vein to Hail Caesar (2016), this feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of say No Country for Old Men (2007) or humanity of Fargo (1996). However, the Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring between the lines.

Mark 8.5 out of 11

WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Talulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris, Angela Sarafyan, Anthony Hopkins etc.

Created by: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy

Written by: Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, Carly Wray, Dan Dietz, Gina Atwater, Ron Fitzgerald, Robert Patino etc.

Original network: HBO

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** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS HA! HA! **

Where does one start when reviewing HBO’s latest season of Westworld?  I could start at the beginning by clearly establishing the world, concepts and themes of this review. I could also begin by building in empathy and sympathy via a structured linear approach which would be easy for the reader to follow and create audience enjoyment and emotion via the action and events. Or, I could take the alternative route  by starting at the end, drip feed events via fractured timelines; develop a maze like structure full of dead ends and unreliable narrators; only to retroactively switch focus and continuity to confuse you beyond belief. Guess what Westworld’s writers did?  They took the latter course and over ten spectacularly beautiful looking episodes — acted, designed and directed with wonderful precision — we ultimately got a legion of stories which did not, for me, make any narrative or emotional sense.

This television show could have been one of the most memorable creations of recent years; up there with Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones; but alas it is not. With HBO spending a huge amount of money on it you’d have thought that they may have attempted to reign in the writers’ unnecessarily clever-clever approach to structure. Creator Jonathan Nolan has written some wonderful screenplays, Memento (2000) for example, remains one of the best low-budget films ever made; yet, that was within the discipline of a feature length film. Over ten episodes his, and writing partner Lisa Joy’s, choices to create an ever-shifting jigsaw narrative within an Escher painting style, left me with a headache and questioning the very nature of reasoning. I enjoy intelligently structured works, but NOT to the detriment of character empathy and narrative comprehension.

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Westworld is a stellar production and has some wonderful ideas and concepts relating to: coding, Artificial Intelligence, robot and human mortality, corporate espionage; android sentience and humanization; plus it challenges values of human versus computerized existence. However, exploration of such themes are very often lost amidst the jumbled and unnecessary complex timelines, which jump back and forward in days and years from scene to scene. It’s a narrative tragedy that the stories of Maeve, Teddy and Bernard, portrayed brilliantly by Thandie Newton, Geoffrey Wright and James Marsden, respectively, are lost at sea in a wave after wave of confusing plot and character turns. Anthony Hopkins was once again excellent as the A: I overlord Robert Ford, while, Evan Rachel Wood brought a deadly coolness and strength to her role of the “death-bringer” Dolores/Wyatt. Furthermore, the violence, action and blood-letting were amazing, reminding one of Sam Peckinpah in the high definition digital age. But for every intriguing story involving the host robots many other strands fell flat, notably Ed Harris’ “Man-in-Black” storyline. While it was good to see the acting brilliance of Harris, and Peter Mullan too, I did not care enough Harris’ character and his refusal to succumb to death became rather grating.

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Two years ago I wrote a highly praiseworthy review of Westworld – Season 1, which can be read HERE. Moreover, I even spent a whole week mapping out many of the plot strands and the order with which the show was structured in my article: Westworld: Post-Mapping the Network. That piece was my attempt to gain some sense of the events and order with which they occurred; and can be read HERE.  I will not be doing the same for the second season. Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any cultural reward in applying the same endeavour and analysis. There are really too many characters and storylines and the lack of clear exposition does the show no favours.

Overall, the show continues to amaze with its successful merging of Western and Science Fiction locations, costumes, props and hardware. The introduction of Shogun World was also a delicious diversion; however, that location was really filler to the other stories. It’s such a shame though as much of the visual pageantry is lost in a vacuum of confusing storylines and worst of all, by the finale’s end, I just did not care. There are some great episodes of televisual genius in Season 2 but the original concept, by Michael Crichton, of sentient hosts rising up murdering their human slave-masters, is lost in a myriad of temporal turmoil and chronological catastrophe!

(Mark for the production: 10 out of 11)

(Mark for narrative: 5 out of 11)

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Ron Howard

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur. Simon Emanuel

Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

Based on Characters: by George Lucas

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Anyone for another round of Star Wars bingo?

In a particularly biting satirical swipe at George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the South Park episodes Free Hat (Season 6) and the latter episode The China Probrem (Season 12), criticized the filmmakers for digitally altering their beloved Indiana Jones films on re-re-re-re-release. The China Probrem took the barbs even further (too far one could argue) by showing a lascivious Lucas/Spielberg raping Indiana Jones. I mean, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls (2008) wasn’t great but to suggest its sexual assault on one’s childhood memories and a beloved character did have me spewing out my metaphorical popcorn in shock.

Moreover, South Park further lambasted the avarice of corporate culture, specifically Disney, and their purchase of Lucasfilm in the excellent episode from Season 16 Obama Wins! All this proves is that controversial and offensive satire cannot and will not change the Panzer-like “progress” of the Mickey Mouse machine. They own many of the biggest film franchises and absolutely will not stop until they have our money. What can you do? Do you rebel against the Disney Death Star or do you join the dark side?  After all, it could be fun.

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Indeed, after all the apparent production shenanigans reported on the set of Solo (2018) – notably the “sacking” of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – I can advise that this latest Star Wars prequel is a lot of fun. That darned elephant in the room still haunts the film though and that is the nature of prequels. Whatever danger you put your protagonists in you know they are going to survive; thus, tension is very often lost within the action and drama. Having said that Star Wars fans will have a lot of joy ticking off HOW Han Solo’s early life began and how he originated into one of the best characters of the whole science-fantasy series.

Characterisation is in fact one of the strengths of the film in my view. Solo comes from sewers of a guttural world and chances and gambles his way through the story but with strong motivation. His devotion to Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a powerful spine with which to hang the excellent action set-pieces on. Their romance and the chemistry between Clarke and Ehrenreich is palpable throughout and drives the story into interesting areas. Alden Ehrenreich, I think, is a bona fide movie star. He shone in Hail Caesar (2016) and does so as Han Solo. Whatever the difficulties were on-set I think his likeability and acting style brings handsome energy and humour to the role. I especially loved the gambling-fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants nature of Solo’s character which owes much to Lucas’ original scripts.

Overall, Solo is a very entertaining join-the-dots prequel that ticks off all the by-the-numbers Star Wars scenes, tropes and characters including: the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca, the Empire, Lando, the Kessel Run, plus many more to keep the fans happy. Lastly, Solo works very well as both an origins story and a fantastic fusion of heist and Western films. The supporting cast all deliver in a positive way, notably the charismatic Donald Glover and always reliable Woody Harrelson. While you can often see an element of chaos in certain scenes I think the steady directing hand of Ron Howard has delivered a franchise film which will safely keep Disney’s gravy train on track. In fact, both prequels have been, in my humble opinion, better than The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), because Solo (2018) and Rogue One (2016), actually have narratives which made some emotional sense.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Andrew Haigh

Produced by: Tristan Goligher

Screenplay by: Andrew Haigh

Based on: Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

Starring: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi

Music by: James Edward Barker

Cinematography: Magnus Joenck

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More times than not I go to the cinema to escape the nagging existential doubt I have in respect of life. I watch movies, even the movies based in some believable reality to escape MY reality, my work, my everyday life. Sometimes, though you find a film which will not allow you to escape. It is so relentlessly realistic in its representation of the human spirit that it does not allow you to get away. You are stuck; imprisoned by the misery and hopelessness one can feel with life. Lean on Pete (2017) is such a film.

Adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete is a tunnel-focussed character drama based in the dustbowl plains of Portland, Oregon. The lead protagonist is Charlie Thompson who is portrayed with an incredible maturity by Charlie Plummer. The director Haigh and Plummer deserve much praise for creating such an empathetic and troubled character. I mean he’s a good kid who works hard. He jogs everyday in order to keep his fitness up so he can return to playing football at school. Yet, his life suffers from ennui, poverty and family discord. Put simply: Charlie was born with no luck. His mother left when he was a baby and he’s brought up by a father (Travis Kimmel), who loves him, but is somewhat of a nomad; moving from a different job to a different location to a different women every few years.

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Movement defines Charlie. He’s either running down roads or walking or driving or leading the horses out. He gets a job working with irascible horse race trainer portrayed by the excellent Steve Buscemi and befriends a rundown racehorse called ‘Lean on Pete’. Charlie becomes, against the advice of everyone, attached to the horse and this affection will drive his actions in the tragic latter half of the film. This is no Disney-kid-befriends-animal-rites-of-passage-fairy-tale but rather a depressing and harsh neo-Western where the American dream is a distant memory.

Overall, it’s a strange thing to say that, while brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Magnus Joenck and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete, is a tough film to recommend due to the relentless existential misery on screen. However, there is hope there in Charlie’s character as he won’t give in and just keeps moving trying to find some light at the end of that tunnel we call life.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)