Hell or High Water Review: High Plains Drifters


Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Best part: Pine and Foster’s chemistry.

Worst part: The two-dimensional female characters.

The western has experienced several overwhelming highs and lows. In Hollywood, the genre thrived on manliness and simplicity. Later on, it turned to existentialism and revisionism to illustrate its points. More than any other genre, western fiction reflects fact. Hell or High Water is only one shade away from reality.

Hell or High Water is a rare gem: a 21st-century western. 2016 has delivered a couple to mixed success. The Magnificent Seven was a fun but flawed action extravaganza. However, Jane Got A Gun threw its prominent director and cast under a stagecoach. This movie’s promotional material seemed entirely samey. The independent-drama feel marked it as ‘yet another’ straight-to-Netflix project. Indeed, Chris Pine’s Star Trek Beyond paycheque is probably worth double the budget. It follows brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner(Ben Foster)’s pitiful existences in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Toby, a divorced dad, lived with their mother throughout her fatal illness. Tanner, fresh off a ten-year prison sentence, always finds trouble. With the house in reverse mortgage, the two must find cash before Texas Midlands Bank carries out foreclosure.

Hell or High Water immediately launches into the action. Rather than building to it over the first act, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) hurls us into their first bank robbery. His script is an ode to good ol’ Hollywood’s western/crime filmmaking style. Here, unlike with most heist set-pieces, everyone acts and reacts like real people. Hilariously, their first robbery is almost bungled by poor timing and preparation. Like classic western/gangster flicks, the movie evenly develops the cops and robbers. In reality, Toby and Tanner’s actions are despicable. Here, however, they are rebels with a cause. Toby, discovering the family’s land has struck oil, pushes to support his ex-wife and kids. Tanner, with nothing better to do, simply wants to help. Of course, Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Brimingham) view the brothers’ antics as detrimental. Dutifully, Sheridan never makes us side with either party. His approach unveils both parties’ wants and needs throughout a tight cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s fusion of western, crime-drama and heist-thriller elements flows. It handles several conventions (the ranger close to retirement, the partner with a target on their head, the criminals fighting against the system etc.) with slight twists. Playing with Sheridan’s sparkling dialogue, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) could be Hollywood’s next talent goldmine. His style balances dark-and-gritty and enjoyably comedic. Thanks to the talented ensemble (in front of and behind the camera), each scene delivers intensifying moments. Whenever the brothers’ quarrels reach critical mass, Bridges comes along with a witty retort. However, its few female characters resemble nagging ex-wifes, one night stands, and sassy waitresses. Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens capture an unenviable plethora of one-horse towns and indian casinos. Furthermore, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is nightmarish yet addictive.

Hell or High Water delivers more substance, thrills and laughs than most of 2016’s major releases combined. The marriage of cast and crew works wonders. Pine, Foster and Bridges showcase leading-man charisma and character-actor class simultaneously. This throwback proves some still make films the way Hollywood used to.

Verdict: A tight western-thriller.

The Magnificent Seven Review: Good Ol’ Gunslingers


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio

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Release date: September 29th, 2016

Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The starry cast.

Worst part: Sarsgaard’s wacky villain.

The buddy/team-up flick typically goes one of two ways – disgustingly enjoyable for embarrassingly terrible. The better ones give audiences a grand ol’ time. 2016 has delivered several inconsequential team-up flicks (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Suicide Squad, Now You See Me 2). The latest Magnificent Seven remake breaks that string of flops and never looks back.

The Magnificent Seven is as cool, calm and collected as everyone in front of and behind the camera. The John Sturges-directed/Yul Brynner-starring 1960 original is, of course, a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune classic Seven Samurai. The story centres on law-enforcement helper/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Vengeance-seeker Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tasks Chisolm with destroying her husband(Matt Bomer)’s killer, mining giant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Chisolm recruits six badasses – gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican Outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to save Rose Creek from Bogue’s evil regime.

This badasses-banding-together premise is as tried and true as Hollywood itself. Seven Samurai‘s legacy influenced westerns, actioners and A Bug’s Life. Also, 1950s westerns pitted good-goodies (whitehats) and bad-baddies (blackhats) against one another. Similarly, this remake is smart in its simplicity. The aforementioned premise takes over the first half. Given 133 minutes, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective seasons 1 and 2) and Richard Wenk linger on Chisolm’s audition process. The introductions, on their own, aren’t particularly interesting. Horne’s opening scene is a highlight, showcasing a rare glimpse of old-era violence. The script provides vague glimpses at their backstories (Chisolm and Robicheaux’s, in particular). However, it explores the ensemble more than any particular member. The drama and comedy rely on blissful character interactions. Steadily, our titular crew assists the town and take on the snivelling bad guys. If it aint broke, I guess.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) takes the Washington-actioner reigns from the late Tony Scott. Fuqua’s slick style and pulsating action hit with brute force. Of course, our leads dodge bullets and hit their targets every time. However, its pacing, practical effects, and score amp up the thrills. The climax delivers an extended miasma of bullet holes and explosions. Like his other popcorn-chomping distractions (Olympus Has Fallen, The Shooter), it delivers slight twists on convention. Most importantly, it’s an advertisement for multiculturalism and gender equality. Overcoming limited dialogue, the Asian, American-indian, and Mexican characters give their African-American and caucasian counterparts a run for their money. Bennett delivers a scintillating, eye-opening introduction to wider audiences.

This newer, fresher Magnificent Seven is cinematic macaroni and cheese – clichéd but insatiably enjoyable. Despite the flaws (broad characters, twists etc. galore!), the cast and crew are worth the admission cost. Thankfully, I had as much fun watching it as they had making it. Sadly, the epilogue does not work!

Verdict: A cool western-throwback.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

The Hateful Eight Review: The Bounty Hunter…in the Kitchen…With a Gun


Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins

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Release date: January 21st, 2016

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

Country: USA

Running time: 167 minutes


 

4/5

Review: The Hateful Eight

The Revenant Audio Review: Dear Academy…


Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Writers: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (screenplay), Michael Punke (book)

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

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Release date: January 7th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 156 minutes


3½/5

Review:

Reviews: Quick Picks – Revelation Perth International Film Festival Feature Films


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Article: QUICK PICKS – REVELATION PERTH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE FILMs

Slow West Audio Review: Cowboys & Immigrants


Director: John Maclean

Writer: John Maclean

Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius

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Release date: June 26th, 2015

Distributors: A24, Lionsgate UK 

Countries: UK, NZ

Running time: 84 minutes


 

4/5

Review: