Archive for the ‘Western’ Category

There is more to life than survival, Jay Cavendish taught me that.

Year Released : 2015slow_wester_poster_1
Director : John McLean
Cast : Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Caren Pistorious and Rory McCann

Westerns appear to be making a comeback. I have previously commented in the reviews for The Proposition and The Salvation that westerns have been slowly dying out for some time, but not it appears that they are re-emerging and this is very much a good thing.

When I saw the trailer for Slow West, I grew exceptionally excited as it featured two of my favourite actors of the modern day, Ben Mendelsohn and Michael Fassbender. I have previously been impressed with Mendlesohn after his performance in a film I have reviewed in the past, Black Sea.

The cast excited me, but then, before watching it on Sunday morning on an onDemand online service, I saw the words “critically acclaimed” and my heart sank. I’ve mentioned in a few reviews in recent weeks that critically acclaimed tends to mean that they are long, drawn out and boring, which very little substance, so with writing this part before I actually watch the film, my optimism for this being good as gone seriously downhill.

Plot

Jay (Smit-McPhee) travels to America during the 1800s to find his girlfriend, Rose (Pistorious), but it obvious pretty quickly that he is out of his depth and it only takes a last minute intervention from Silas (Fassbender) to save him from being shot by bandits. Silas convinces Jay to have him as his chaperon as he recognises that Jay doesn’t stand a chance otherwise.

What Silas doesn’t tell Jay is that his girlfriend is actually wanted for murder and has a $2,000 bounty on her head, and Silas is using Jay to track her down. The two soon encounter trouble in a store though a foreign couple come in and try and steal everyone. The man is shot by the storekeeper, who in turn is still by the woman. The woman threatens Silas but he talks to her long enough for Jay to save him, but Jay soon runs away when Silas refuses to help the children of the couple, who were waiting outside. Silas soon catches up after a few days.

As they continue their journey to find Rose and her father, the duo are found my Payne (Mendelsohn), a former bounty hunting partner of Silas and they all soon realise that is effectively a race against time and each other to get to the family and the bounty. Who can win the race and how will Silas cope when he realises that there is a bounty on his girlfriend?

Slow-West

So, is it worthy of being critically acclaimed?

No, not it is not.

I’m going to start with my only two positives, that’s right, I can only think of two things that are worth mentioning in a good sense.

The first is the film does look fantastic. It’s use of locations of works really well and you truly get the sense that this is an old timely film. It’s simple things such as that that make the film believable and you genuinely feel like you’re in the wild west. It looks right and that is one of the biggest praises that I can give any film.

I also love that Jay has become completely ill-equipped to travel across America and despite his confidence, he would never be able to survive on his own. When Silas opens up his suitcase, he finds things such as a teapot, which serves practically no functionality in the wild west. This shows how wonderfully naive the character is and this trend continues throughout most of the movie.

Fassbender and Smit-McPhee has good chemistry on the screen together and they have a great teacher/student style relationship. With both being announced for the upcoming X-Men Apocalypse movie (Fassbender reprises his role as the young Magneto, and Smit-McPhee will play Nightcrawler), it will be interesting to see if their characters are on screen at the same time so we can compare the relationship between them then and now.

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I’m not going to lie, Smit-McPhee wasn’t particularly engaging in his portrayal as a main character and you don’t feel any real connection to him at all. He plays the character with the same sort of enthusiasm and emotion as most young actors do these days, in other words, none. You never once believe that he truly loves Rose and this is down to Smit-McPhee’s emotionally lifeless performance as Jay.

If you’re going to have a main character, you really should have someone playing him who can bring you into the role and the only time you feel like he’s worth feeling sorry for/routing for, is when he gets shot in the hand with an arrow and you see the pain on his face. That’s the only time Smit-McPhee doesn’t approach the portrayal with a sense of being bored by the role.

This could easily be because the character isn’t particularly well written, and it isn’t only restricted to him. Mendelsohn is wasted as Payne. Payne is the film’s main antagonist and yet you never really feel like he is as fearsome as everyone keeps suggesting. Mendelsohn is a great antagonistic actor, such as his role in Black Sea, and had his role been written well then this could have been one of the best western antagonist roles of all time, but alas, Mendelsohn can only work with what he was given, and he was given crap.

I would go as far as saying that not a single actor puts in a credible performance and the lack of emotion and engagement with any of them does the film no favours whatsoever. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I was bored, but the film doesn’t really move at all and it feels like it’s at least 15/20 minutes long, and that’s definitely not a good thing given that the run-time is only 80 or so minutes. No film that lasts less than 90 minutes should have you reflecting that it should be considerably short that it was.

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Summary

A film that had huge potential and wasted it with lifeless performances and poorly written characters. You’re never routing for the protagonist and never feel that the antagonist is a genuine threat. The character of Silas is arguably the most intriguing as he switches from antagonist to protagonist, but is otherwise largely on the same level of emotional engagement as the other two.

I wouldn’t quite call it completely bland, but it is certainly not exciting, tense or engaging at all. I find it laughable that this received critical acclaim and I can’t believe that it has a rating of 7.5/10 on IMDB at the time of writing.

If you’re going to watch one of the westerns that I have reviewed on this site so far, make it The Salvation and avoid this.

I will give you two hours to find the man who did this or you bring me two people to kill!

Year Released : 2014i9veequ
Director : Kristian Levring
Cast : Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mikael Persbrandt, Jonathan Pryce, Eva Green and Eric Cantona

In a recent review I mentioned that one type of film that you don’t see often enough these days is a western, so I decided to try and find one to review, and when I saw that there was one with Mads Mikkelsen in it I was sold. Those of you who read my reviews for The Hunt or Valhalla Rising know that I am a big fan of Mikkelsen and I near enough literally, well, nowhere near literally, jumped at the chance to watch this.

My only reservation with watching this was the supporting cast. I don’t enjoy watching any of the rest of the cast and I can only think of one role between them that I have enjoyed (Morgan as The Comedian in “Watchmen”) but other than that, I was largely unmoved, but it wasn’t only that. Westerns that are made these days tend to be terrible, and whilst the remake of “True Grit” was enjoyable, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and The Proposition were bad for all sorts of reasons.

Even then, I decided to give it a chance.

Plot

Jon (Mikkelson) is living in America following Denmark’s war with Germany in the mid 1800s, and he greets his wife and son off of the train. As they board their horse drawn carriage to go home, two men force their way on and as the journey progresses, they become more and more aggressive towards the family, eventually kicking Jon out (literally). When he eventually catches up, Jon discovers his family have been slain and he subsequently kills the two men.

As he buries his family, Delarue (Morgan) receives the news that his brother (one of the two men) has been killed and he continually threatens the townsfolk with death unless the man responsible is found. Jon is soon captured by the local sheriff after selling his house and is then released to Delarue and his men.

Whilst being tortured, Jon is suddenly rescued by his brother (Persbrandt) and the two set out to end the tyranny of the group once and for all, all whilst uncovering a conspiracy to sell off the town for considerably cheaper rates so that the oil pits nearby can be used without opposition.

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So, is it better than The Proposition?

Yes, it is, but I’m going to start this by talking about the negatives and first of all, about something I hate in cinema and that is completely pointless characters. Eva Green plays Madelaine, a mute woman that is seemingly incapable of feeling or displaying any emotion whatsoever (then again, that could be Green’s exceptionally poor acting skills), but the character adds precisely nothing to the film. I didn’t start noticing this until a few years ago when there was a scene in The Big Bang Theory where one of the characters points out that in the film “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” that you can take Indiana Jones out of the film and the plot is still largely the same, if not completely unaffected.

Below is the scene from The Big Bang Theory that explains it….

The reason I bring this up is because Green’s character has precisely zero outcome in the plot, she is a completely irrelevant character and for the life of me I can’t think of a single reason why she is in this film. Being mute she doesn’t contribute to the script and you could take her out of the film altogether and nothing would change. The exact same events would happen in the exact same order, she doesn’t have any influence on the plot at all.

It’s not even as if Green’s performance is any good. She is her usually terrible self. Her character gets raped and yet her face is completely devoid of emotion. It’s impossible to feel sorry for her because of this because if she doesn’t appear to be upset about being raped, how can we feel sorry for her?

Secondly, I hate when someone is given star billing when again, they barely contribute to the film. This film has Eric Cantona in it, the former Manchester United striker, and he is in it for a fair old chunk, not just the odd scene here and there, and yet he only says four lines in the entire film. It’s not even as if his character is actually a decent character, he’s just there as part of the gang and that’s pretty much as far as the character development goes. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with Cantona’s portrayal of the character, but it was a very unimportant role and yet he still gets billed as one of the main stars. Look at the poster, his name comes third, even before the main antagonist.

Jon doesn’t say a lot throughout the movie but even giving him a few lines more would have made things a lot less tedious in some places. For example, when the eventual rapists are asking his wife questions, Jon doesn’t let them know at any point that she doesn’t speak or understand English. He just lets them constantly ask questions that he knows she won’t be able to answer, and this is long before they turn antagonistic towards the family.

I really don’t care for how careless the filmmakers were with such basic errors. When Jon is mourning his family and his brother walks in, the dead wife is still clearly breathing in and out, and even though on isn’t saying anything at the time, the camera stays on him and the apparently dead wife. The scar on Madelaine’s upper lip also keeps disappearing in many scenes and there are many more examples of this. It’s just careless in it’s approach to making sure that there aren’t such obvious errors on screen.

The Salvation

But anyway, enough of the things I didn’t like and onto the positives.

Firstly, this film is actually very nicely put together. I’ll start with the setting and the gorgeousness of the environment. The location manager did a stunning job to find such a wonderful and seemingly untouched bit of scenery to film in. The location feels almost like another character in the film and you are constantly drawn in by the open world feel to the movie. Almost every scene set outdoors has a vast expanse in the background and it’s hard to not admire the scenery, almost in a Lord of the Rings fashion.

During the film I was thinking to myself that this is very similar in many ways to the computer game “Red Dead Redemption” and it uses the sweeping and seemingly never ending landscapes to a similar degree, almost making the film seem a lot bigger in terms of scope than it actually is, and I will never knock a film for using sweeping views of the surrounding area.

It isn’t just the setting that makes the film feel a lot more open though. The soundtrack works exceptionally well and rather than having it blasting out furiously through the speakers, the music is used in a very subtle and thought out manner. It doesn’t try to trick you into feeling tense when there is nothing on the screen that warrants it. You don’t get that often enough in films and the best example I can think of is when he finds the carriage that was holding his family and sees the men that killed them, the music eases you into the situation and makes it feel like something is about to happen, whilst also still allowing to you to hear the minor sound details.

Mikkelsen is again fantastic, he commands the screen with an amazing presence and although his facial expression might change as often as Eva Green’s does, the difference is that you can read his emotions and what he’s feeling so easily. Mads will never be accused of over-acting and will more often than not be portrayed as the dark and moody guy, but it works well with him as he is one of the few actors that can make you feel the sense of their emotions, even when they’re not portraying them themselves.

Finally, the film borrows quite well from several other films in terms of scenes, often copying it completely, and whilst this would normally annoy me, it’s done very well in a scene when Peter appears to accept that he is going to be stuck in a prison cell before he starts taunting the only police officer nearby. The police officer takes the bait and moves to hit Peter, only for it to backfire and having his keys stolen. Imagine a mid 1800s version of the scene from “The Dark Knight” when the Joker asks the cop if he would like to know which of his friends were cowards in order to get him close enough to secure him as a hostage.009

Summary

A decent enough modern day western. It has a reasonable plot and a brilliant performance from it’s lead actor, even if the rest of the approvedcast don’t really contribute in a positive way.

Whilst it has some fundamental flaws, it is still worth a watch.

There’s not really a lot else to say really.

Love. Love is the key. Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you? What could be more hollow than to die alone, unloved?

Year Released : 2005The_Proposition_5
Director : Nick Cave
Cast : Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston, Richard Wilson, David Wenham and John Hurt

I have simple tastes when it comes to films. All I want is an interesting story with good characters that have been well acted out and judging by that cast listed above and the trailer that you will find at the bottom of this review, I was very optimistic that this film would be excellent. 104 minutes later and it was neither interesting or particularly well acted.

There is no excuse for the poor acting as six of those seven are well known in Hollywood. Pearce has been in numerous big hits, as has Winstone, Huston is part of a famous acting family and has recently been involved in the Clash of the Titans reboot, Wenham played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and John Hurt has been in more big films than I would care to list. There was no excuse for this film to be so horribly acted. No excuse whatsoever.

Infact, I’m going to go a long way to calling this film pretentious. It has a sweeping epic feel and a beautiful soundtrack accompanying it to it but ultimately leaves you disappointed after 104 minutes and having not heard of this film before the 24 hours prior, I wish I hadn’t heard of it. It’s a western style film that isn’t set in the west, infact it is literally as geographically far away from the wild west as you can get as it’s set in the Australian outback. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it often felt like the film was confused as to what it was trying to achieve.

Initially I had wanted to leave this review until at least a day after watching the film I had to start writing this straight away because quite frankly, it has annoyed me.

Plot

Following a shoot-out between the police and the Burns gang, Charlie Burns (Pearce) and his younger brother Mikey (Wilson) are caught and taken to a local police station. Captain Stanley (Winstone) decides to make a proposition to Charlie in that if he can bring his older brother, Arthur (Huston), to justice then he is prepared to let him and Mikey go, otherwise he will kill the latter.

As Stanley struggles to keep the vicious nature of the crimes that the Burns gang committed (such as murdering and raping a pregnant woman) quiet, Charlie races to find Arthur,  but even when he does there is the understandable internal conflict. Could you kill one brother to save another, or would you do nothing and your inaction would cause the other brother to die anyway?

Stanley is also facing a wife who’s concerns grow with every day, a boss who wants him to make an example out of Mikey and various aboriginal tribes causing him issues.

800px-Richard_Wilson_as_Mike_Burns,_Guy_Pearce_as_Charlie_Burns_in_John_HillcoatÔÇÖs_ÔÇÿThe_Proposition

So what are the main problems and are there any saving graces?

For what was an interesting concept for the film, and what is admittedly very beautifully made in terms of locations, costumes, etc, the film just seems like one big mess after another with only one bright spot.

Well first of all I find it very hard to route for rapists and murderers, even when they are put in a difficult situation. They’re not really protagonists, afterall, they are vile people and the only reason you half want Charlie to succeed is because Mikey is seemingly mentally handicapped and therefore more than likely had nothing to do with the raping and murdering. I would go as far as saying that the Mikey character is one of the few positives of an otherwise largely forgettable film.

Mikey was played excellently by Richard Wilson, especially in the scene where Mikey is forced to receive 100 lashes for his alledged involvement in the crimes, only making it into the 30s before passing out but not before unleashing a flurry of pain and emotion as he struggles to understand what is happening. Despite being the least experienced from the main cast, Wilson actually does a far better job than his more experienced counterparts.

Then we get onto the acting, if you can indeed call it that, provided by Emily Watson. There are few actresses with a less varied emotional range than Watson and in any film that I have seen her in, she has yet to produce a performance that convinces me that she should be in the movie industry. Her character plays a seemingly happily married woman that then finds out that her husband has been covering up that her pregnant friend was raped and murdered, all before having her life threatened on several occasions, and despite a character description like that, Watson doesn’t once move from the vacuous expression that she conveys in every performance.

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This is Watson’s expression during the entire movie

Infact, it’s been quite some time since a performance has actually near enough single handedly taken this film from average to something I have no desire to watch again. Whilst the other performances, bar Wilson’s, are questionable, at best, Watson does what Dakota Fanning did to War of the Worlds and near enough completely ruins the film on her own.

I was also particularly surprised at Pearce’s performance. This is the same man who played the very animated Adam in “Priscilla : Queen of the Desert,” also set in the outback, and yet he gave a largely lifeless performance, rarely moving away from barren wasteland of emotions that accompanied his co-star. Now, I appreciate that the character isn’t going to be jumping for joy at the prospect of him being forced to choose between two brothers,

There is also precisely no bond seemingly between Arthur and Mikey, I don’t think the characters are on screen at the same time at any point, and they certainly don’t talk to each other on the screen, it’s just bizarre to that Arthur makes several long references to how family is important, yet doesn’t actually have a single interaction with one of his brothers on the screen.

Other that Watson’s “acting”, the only other thing that truly annoys me about this film is the characters talking at a volume where you can’t hear them. You can tell that a film has problems when even when at normal volume, you can’t understand what a character is saying to the point where you have to turn on subtitles. One scene in particular comes straight to mind when Watson’s character is in the middle of a bath and Stanley comes up behind her, they begin having a conversation without facing each other face to face, and yet Watson’s volume doesn’t change. If anything her volume gets lower.

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Summary

I don’t like pretentious films. I didn’t like “There Will Be Blood” or “Valhalla Rising” (which will no doubt appear as a review on this website at some point in the near future) for pretty much the same reason. Yes, TWBB was slightly better acted, but it still had that delusion grandeur that realistically it didn’t deserve. That was nearly 3 hours of nothing except for a man going very slowly insane, and I found generally unenjoyable….and yet I would happily watch it again over this tedious film.

There aren’t many films that I dislike to the point where I would never watch them again, but as this film is never likely to be on British TV because it’s not very well known at all, I would literally have to go out of my way to watch it again and quite frankly there is more chance of Emily Watson having a second facial expression than me watching this film for a second time.

For me the ONLY positive in the film is Wilson’s performance and if he chooses to return to acting after going into education soon after filming “The Loved Ones” then he could be the next big thing to come out of Australia.

Avoid at all costs.