Western

REVIEW: Jane Got a Gun (2015)

When her husband Hammond (Noah Emmerich) ends up on the wrong side of John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his men, Jane (Natalie Portman) turns to her former fiancée Dan (Joel Edgerton) to help her defend her family and her home.

I always enjoy watching newer Westerns. It’s a genre that had its heyday between the 1930’s-1960’s and its archetypal characters and stories have in many ways, become the blueprint for a lot of modern western films. Jane Got a Gun puts a woman front and centre, showing both Jane’s trauma and strength as she fights for her loved ones.

Through a series of flashbacks throughout the film you learn more about Jane and her relationships with both Hammond and Dan and see how the three of them have ended up in the situation they’re in. these flashbacks add a lot to the characters but often it feels like it’s just filling time as Jane and Dan prepare for battle. When there is the battle, it’s like a home-invasion thriller. It’s tense and exciting, though it doesn’t show off all the groundwork Jane and Dan put in to its full potential.

Portman gives a dedicated performance, fully embodying the grief, fear and determination Jane has in the face of a much larger and stronger enemy than herself. It’s a pity then that Bishop feels more akin to a pantomime villain, twirling his moustache, than a fleshed-out antagonist.

Jane Got a Gun is a decent addition to the Western genre. It doesn’t really do anything new or ground-breaking, but Portman’s performance and the relationship between Jane and Jan offers a compelling heart to this otherwise typical genre film. 3/5.

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REVIEW: The Rider (2017)

After suffering from a near fatal head injury from the rodeo, young cowboy Brady (Brady Jandreau) tries to find a new identity for himself when he is not able to do what he’s always known and loved.

The Rider is interesting as it blurs the line between documentary and drama. Jandreau plays a version of himself, it’s his real-life head injury you see at the start of the film, staples in his head and all. This realisation that this story is so close to home for all the cast involved makes it even more touching and brilliant.

The Rider is about the American heartland and what it means to be a modern cowboy. The dangers these young men face and the difficulty of finding another purpose in life when the rodeo is all they’ve known. Brady is an amazing rider and horse trainer, seeing him with the animals, their connection is clear, so watching him struggle when he can’t do that anymore is tough to watch. Jandreau gives a subtle yet brilliant performance, he’s often quiet and controlled so when the tears or frustration appear it’s even more powerful.

The Rider is just a beautiful film in every way. A beautiful story, stunning cinematography of a gorgeous landscape and haunting music. You don’t need to love horses to fall in love with this film – I certainly don’t. The performances and characters and the subtleties of this film stick with you. It’s a brilliant film about a group of people and a career that seems to be dying out, a very different kind of Western. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Roland, the last Gunslinger, is on the trail of The Man in Black. Travelling across the endless desert he meets a tempting woman names Alice and Jake, a kid from New York. As he gets closer to the mysterious Dark Tower and finally catching up the Man in Black, Roland faces the difficult choice between damnation and salvation.

The Gunslinger is the first book in King’s epic Dark Tower series so I lot of the things I didn’t really like can probably be put down to that – like the fact there’s a lot of set up and not a lot of pay off. Also the book is quite slow due to all the world-building and learning more of Roland’s backstory, it’s stuff that’s often a mixture of interesting and kind of boring.

When you think about it, not a lot really happens in The Gunslinger. It has a bit of a slow start as you get used to the setting and pace but it’s Roland and his quest that really pulled me into the story. The story itself jumps back and forth in time between Roland chasing down The Man in Black and Roland’s childhood and training to become a Gunslinger.

When something does happen, it’s often explosive. When Roland needs to start shooting people or strange mutant creatures, it’s gripping stuff. You can easily visualise Roland taking down his enemies and they are moments where you can actually see how talented he is, after hearing whispers of the greatness of the Gunslingers.

The Gunslinger is quite an atmospheric book. The desert, and this whole world Roland and The Man in Black live in becomes its own character as you learn more about it. It’s an interesting setting that’s like a distorted reflection of our own which makes it eerie and strangely captivating.

While not a lot happened in The Gunslinger, and some stuff did confuse me, I liked it enough that I will be continuing with the series. 4/5.

REIVEW: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

magnificent-seven-2016-posterWhen the tycoon Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over a town and terrorises its people, seven men lead by bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) come together to take on his army and save the townspeople.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun and a lot of that is thanks to the cast. The seven men have a lot of chemistry and each bring something different to the group. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is the joker and gambler of the group who enjoys annoying Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) a Mexican outlaw a lot. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and ex-soldier and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) a knife fighter come as a pair, while Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a tracker and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior. They are all very different people and it’s the moments where they are all sitting around a campfire or are in a saloon talking that are real highlights of the film. And while she is the only prominent female character in the film, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) is a force to be reckoned with as it’s she who goes out to find men to fight for her town and she has the respect of the men she employs.

The cinematography in The Magnificent Seven is gorgeous, there are often extreme wide shots of the town and the battles and they all look wonderful. The fights themselves are also well-shot and the action is very clear to follow and you have a good idea of where everyone is in relation to each other. There’s only a few shootouts in the movie but when they happen there is a good pay off and the one at the start of the second act has a good standoff between the good guys and the bad.

There are some clichés and tropes in The Magnificent Seven, but the characters and action are so well put together that it doesn’t really matter that much. Some characters do things that you can see coming a mile off but that’s mostly because the formula for The Magnificent Seven is a classic and even if you haven’t seen the 1960 original, you’ll know what will probably happen as the basics of the story has been seen in many different genres of films over the years.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun. It has everything you want from a Western and the final battle even offers some surprises. 5/5.

REVIEW: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

rebel of the sandsAmani Al’Hiza is poor, orphaned and female, three things that make her a lesser citizen of the dead-end town of Dustwalk. Amani dreams of escaping the town and seeing the world she’s only heard about in campfire stories. When a foreigner with no name arrives in town, she realises that with him she might have a chance to leave Dustwalk behind. But the desert is full of dangers and magic. The Sultan’s army is growing and Amani soon finds herself caught up in a deadly adventure she never dreamt she could have.

The world of Rebel of the Sands is fascinating. It seems like a Arabic-American Wild West fusion with the small mining towns and the guns but then a lot of the characters names and supernatural creature are more Arabic inspired. It is great seeing how these cultures blend together to form its own unique world. Then there’s the magic that’s a part of this world, there’s the Djinn which are supernatural creatures and people who can change their appearance and have strange powers. This magic is a part of the land and how it all works is really one of the best things about the book. (more…)

REVIEW: The Hateful Eight (2015)

the hateful eight posterIn post-Civil War Wyoming in the dead of winter, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) take shelter in a cabin already occupied by a collection of nefarious characters. No one is who they seem and John Ruth must protect his bounty till the blizzard passes.

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film and if you know anything about Tarantino and his type of films, you’ll kind of know what to expect from The Hateful Eight. There’s a lot of swearing, a lot of fast-talking, and a lot of violence and blood. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but what it does, it does well.

Joining John Ruth and Domergue in the cabin are Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) another bounty hunter, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) a man who claims to be the sheriff but no one really believes him, Bob the Mexican (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) the hangman, General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) a quiet old man with a grudge and Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a shifty-looking cowboy. All these characters together in a small space lead to an explosive showdown. However, the problem is that it takes a long time for them all to come together in the cabin. The first third or so of The Hateful Eight dragged as it was incredibly dialogue heavy and you only followed a couple of characters. Once everyone was together in the cabin, you got to see how all these different characters interacted and bounced off each other and that was the true delight in The Hateful Eight. (more…)

REVIEW: The Salvation

salvation_xlgThe Salvation can be summed up in four words: Mads Mikkelsen revenge Western. It’s all you need to know really and if that sounds like your sort of thing then don’t bother reading on, go and buy your ticket now!

It’s 1871 in America and Danish soldier Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) has been eagerly waiting for his wife and son’s arrival from Denmark but no sooner that they arrive they encounter a drunk outlaw and events escalate. Jon’s actions draw the attention of the local tyrant Delarue (Jefferey Dean Morgan) who demands that amends must be paid with lives.

Mads Mikkelsen is a fantastic lead as the reluctant hero, bringing to mind Clint Eastwood in Spaghetti Westerns as he is a man of few words but you can tell what he is feeling by he’s eyes. The Salvation also stars Mikael Persbrandt as Jon’s brother who is loyal to his brother and just as much the strong and silent type. Eva Green plays a woman who is in Delarue’s “protection”, she had her tongue cut out as a child so doesn’t say a word but you can tell how intelligent and conniving she is by her actions and emotions in her eyes which is a sight to behold.

The Salvation is a beautifully shot movie and the colours burst from the screen. There’s moments of suspense as well as humour and it’s not afraid to let moments play out longer than you’d perhaps expect.

The Salvation doesn’t bring anything new to the Western genre and doesn’t have any real morally grey characters like some classic Westerns do but that doesn’t mean that it is bad for being more of a simple good guys vs bad guys film.

The Salvation is a Danish film, shot in South Africa and edited in the UK – it’s a great film in terms of international team work and because it has Danish roots it feels different to previous Westerns. That being said it still pays homage to the previous films that defined the genre.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Western and The Salvation is a nice addition to the genre. 4/5.

There’s still time to catch The Salvation at the London Film Festival – tickets can be bought here.