Matthew’s Monday Movie: “We Were Soldiers”

Director Randall Wallace has written, produced, and adapted many moving stories into outstanding motion pictures, such as Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask, and classics like Secretariat. In 2002, he brought to life the harrowing true story of how on November 14th, 1965, the brave men of the U.S. 7th Cavalry found themselves in the first major battle of the Vietnam War.

We Were Soldiers stars Mel Gibson as Lt. Colonel Hal Moor, who has recently been chosen to command the U.S. 7th Cavalry.  Knowing that war is likely imminent in Vietnam, Moor must train his soldiers in the use of helicopters as a way of getting them into to battle. Moor quickly bonds with his enlisted men and earns the respect of his officers. Secretly he fears the ominous legacy that the 7th Cavalry has incurred ever since it was nearly wiped out in the past at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. When tensions escalate, the 7th Calvary is called to Vietnam. Unsure of where the enemy is, Moor’s orders are simply to find the enemy and destroy them. The eventual battle would come at the Ia Drang valley.

The North Vietnamese Army had been wanting to lure U.S troops into a trap, and as fate would have it, this proved to be a perfect opportunity. After Moor and the first detachment arrive, they soon learn they are severely outnumbered and are being pinned down by large numbers of NVA troops. The men of the 7th Calvary are cut off and surrounded on all sides, and they risk being annihilated like at Little Bighorn. Over the next four days, Moor and his men fight for survival day and night against frightful odds.

The film also cuts to the home front where Moor’s wife Julia (Madeleine Stowe) decides to help look after the soldier’s wives back on the base once they start receiving news of some of their husband’s deaths. We lastly see the story through the eyes of a young combat reporter, Joe Galloway (Barry Pepper), who documents the sacrifices of the young soldiers. Joe Galloway would later go on to author the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” detailing the accounts of the battle Ia Drang Valley. Victory in the battle finally comes for the Americans but at a terrible cost, and it becomes clear that, as a result, the war in Vietnam will only escalate in its scale and ferocity.

So many movies on the Vietnam war attempt to shock and dehumanize both sides of the conflict; this film stands out because it shows the bravery and humanity of both the Vietnamese and Americans who died fighting.

We Were Soldiers is available at the Union University Library. Please note it is Rated R for intense scenes of warfare.  We are also happy to provide you with the book that this film is based on and adapted from.

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “King Kong” (2005)

In 2005, director Peter Jackson was riding high off of the success of The Lord of the Rings franchise. But he had always dreamed of remaking the classic 1933 film King Kong. Jackson was a young boy when he first saw the film and instantly fell in love with its timeless story. In fact, King Kong impressed him so much that it would eventually lead him to becoming a filmmaker himself. Jackson’s own King Kong is a re-imagining of the great classic that uses state-of-the-art visual effects that help bring the giant ape to life (as well as realistic motion capture) and show off impeccable set design, stunning visual sequences, and awe-inspiring sound.

The film’s plot revolves around an ambitious filmmaker out to make a name for himself who manages to con some down-on-their-luck actors, a captain, and his crew into venturing to the uncharted and mythical Skull Island. They hope to shoot the first on site film and use the mysterious island as its backdrop; however, the island turns out to be populated by hostile natives and, worse still, all manner of giant monstrous creatures.  The fiercest of these creatures are what the natives have dubbed “Kong,” a giant gorilla that they worship as a god. The leading actress is captured by Kong, and the cast and crew must attempt to rescue her. They then decide to capture and bring Kong back alive and to show off the beast to stunned New York crowds. This inevitably leads to disaster as Kong escapes and terrorizes the city.

This film’s cast includes Naomi Watts as the aspiring lead actress Ann Darrow. Although Ann is captured by Kong, she soon realizes he is not a mindless brute but can be quite tender and protective. Adrian Brody stars as Jack Driscoll, a pragmatic screenwriter who attempts to rescue Ann and ultimately falls in love with her. Lastly, Jack Black stars as Carl Denham, the man who is desperate to achieve greatness and is willing to risk everyone’s lives to do it.

King Kong did extremely well with critics, who praised its visual effects and imaginative retelling of the classic 30’s film. The film pulled a whopping 550 million in box office revenue. It still holds an 84% fresh rating among audiences and users on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.  King Kong went on to win Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

King Kong is a fantastic retelling of a classic piece of early cinema that modern audience will appreciate and enjoy.  It is available at the Union University Library and is rated PG-13 for some mild violence and language.

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Sully”

On January 15th 2009 an incident occurred that would later be referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” This event was an emergency plane landing into the Hudson River due to crippling bird strikes that destroyed both jet engines, resulting in complete loss of power just after takeoff. The pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles accessed the situation, and Sully quickly determined they did not have enough time to make it to the nearest airport to land. As a result, he chose to bring the plane down into the Hudson River. Miraculously, no one was seriously harmed and all passengers and crew survived to be rescued from the river.

In 2016, Director Clint Eastwood released the film Sully to tell not only this harrowing story but also its rather controversial aftermath.  Tom Hanks was cast to play the part of Sully, and he does a nominal job as usual. Hanks has always been able to portray characters from both fiction and history in a remarkable humane and relatable tone. In the direct aftermath of the landing, Sully is pronounced a hero by the whole of the country. However, privately he struggles with the trauma and stress of the incident.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board begin to question if Sully’s actions were correct after running diagnostics on the recovered plane. Furthermore, the board begins to claim that test simulations show that Sully could have landed the plane at the neighboring Teterboro airport or even have simply recalculated his approach and returned to LaGuardia.  Sully realizes that the board may intend to hold him accountable for the crash landing, thereby tarnishing his record and ruining his career. When Sully meets with the board, he arranges for the simulations to be tested on live pilots in an open hearing. The results of the test prove Sully’s point by showing the pilots are incapable of making it back to the airports and would have ended up crashing into the middle of the city killing all on board and many hundred more on the ground. In light of these new findings, the committee agrees with Sully that he acted correctly given the severity of the situation.

This film portrays the inherent risk that we take for granted in commercial flying, however rare accidents may be. If disaster does strike, what’s needed is an immensely skilled and level-headed pilot, and Captain Sullenberger proved that.

Sully was widely praised upon its release and still holds an 86% on the popular website Rotten Tomatoes.  Director Clint Eastwood is fantastic at creating thought-provoking biopics where you quickly forget you’re watching a film and feel as if you’re right there in the moment as history unfolds.

Sully is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and is available at Union University Library.

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “I, Tonya”

In the field of women’s figure skating, the name Tonya Harding will undoubtedly remain the most controversial one. Her story and notoriety continue to draw a wide range of emotional views on her legacy.  Some find her utterly contemptuous and unworthy of the annals of U.S Women’s Figure Skating history. Others view her career as a tragic fall from grace. Many have come to feel that Tonya’s skill and elegance in skating far outshined the stigma of her personal flaws, social class, rough upbringing, and poor life choices that inevitably led to her down fall.

I, Tonya premiered in 2017 set as a biopic drama and dark comedy. The film is based on a number of interviews of those involved throughout Tonya’s life and takes a narrative/mockumentary approach that constantly breaks the fourth wall. The film explicitly states at the beginning that the following dialogues and interviews are unreliable, thus leaving the audience to determine the truth of Tonya Harding’s story.

The film begins with a young four-year old Tonya being enrolled into a skating class by her mother LaVona Golden (played by Allison Janney). The portrayal of LaVona Golden would go on to earn Allison Janney an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in this role. I must take a moment to say that her acting is amazing in this film as she plays arguably the most detestable, foul-mouthed, cold, cruel, irredeemably loathsome woman to ever appear on film. Next we are introduced to Tonya’s coach, Diane Rawlinson, played by Julianne Nicholson. Diane is hesitant to take on training Tonya because she is so young but sees promise in the young girl due to her dedication and skill.

We see throughout Tonya’s childhood and teenage years that she suffers from non-stop verbal and physical abuse from her mother, who rationalizes that it will make her a better skater. The teenage and adult Tonya is played by Margot Robbie, and I feel this is her best performance to date. Despite her tragic upbringing, Tonya’s skill is unmatched and she becomes one of the top female figure skaters in the country; however, she is constantly denied a top prize, first place finish. Tonya blames this on her “white trash background” and her inability and unwillingness to act the part of a debutante on and off the ice.

One day while practicing, Tonya meets Jeff Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan). Tonya and Jeff begin dating and are soon married. Their relationship is almost instantly toxic as Jeff is very physically abusive to Tonya and their marriage grows strained and dysfunctional at best.  Tonya’s career improves and she gains notoriety as she become the first U.S female skater to land the Triple Axel in competition.  It seems if she will become an Olympic champion, but fate steps in and she fails in the 1992 Winter Olympics. Defeated and depressed, Tonya thinks her days of skating are over, but her former coach Diane returns hoping that she will get in shape and compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics.  This brings about the “incident” to which Tonya’s lasting infamy is attributed.

Leading up to the games, Tonya is tied in skill next to her rival Nancy Kerrigan. Noticing this, Jeff enlists the help of his friend Shawn Eckardt (played by Paul Walter Hauser). Shawn is a moronic individual who styles himself as “Tonya’s bodyguard” and brags about being a counter-terrorist expert. Jeff asks Shawn to send out a death threat against Nancy Kerrigan in order to keep her from preforming in the Winter Olympics. Shawn recruits a couple of small-time crooks even dumber than him to carry out “the mission” as he calls it and it goes downhill from there. I feel the film from this point portrays the events leading up to the “incident” in a faithful way showing the numerous contradictory elements of who knew what and who was responsible.  The dramatic ending, the indictments and the final perspectives are as thought provoking as they are tragic.

Margot Robbie’s performance in this film is superb, and she was nominated for Best Actress. She seamlessly transitions from an aged, bitter narrator to a young, sympathetic protagonist who can’t catch a break in life. Tonya Harding will always remain a controversial character in the history of U.S Women’s Figure skating, but I do feel that this film did its best to humanize her and help us understand the full scope of the situation and those involved.

I, Tonya is available at the Union University Library. Please note it is rated R for intense language throughout, violence and some sexual situations.

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “District 9”

In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp earned his claim to fame and established himself as an accomplished writer and director with his hit film District 9. What makes this sci-fi action film stand out from an overcrowded genre is its unique setting and thought-provoking real world themes of the dangers of xenophobia and the desperation of refugees.

District 9 begins as a quasi-found footage documentary that also shifts to standard narrative approach. The film describes the events of first contact between humans and an alien race. These aren’t the pretty and majestic Na’vi people from Avatar nor are they  like the enlightened Vulcan Captain Spock from Star Trek. The District 9 aliens are large, insectoid organisms that resemble a cross between a shrimp and a cockroach (the name “prawn” is used in the film as a slur). They arrive on earth in 1982 and end up in Johannesburg, South Africa. They are quickly rounded up and quarantined in a makeshift camp. The aliens appear to be quite dim-witted and unable to fix their broken ship. As the government struggles to find resources necessary for the housing for the ever-growing population of aliens, they turn to The MNU “Multinational United.”  The MNU is a powerful para-military defense corporation that has the ulterior motives of adapting and making use of the alien’s weapon technology (of which only the aliens themselves can use).

The film follows our main protagonist Wikus van de Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley).  Wikus works for the department of Alien Affairs and is charged with leading MNU security forces in relocating the Aliens. While serving an eviction notice on the alien known as Christopher Johnson, Wikus is unknowingly infected with an organic chemical substance that slowly begins to change him into one of the aliens. Christopher is unlike the other aliens as he possesses a high intelligence and is lperhaps the last of a higher cast order of his species. Christopher has hopes of restarting the mothership and saving his son and people. Wikus and Christopher team up with the promise of curing Wikus and fleeing Earth. The MNU begin hunting Wikus as he is the key to adapting alien technology for human use. The MNU sends a sadistic mercenary, Colonel Koobus Venter (played by David James), to capture Wikus. Then it’s a race against time with ever increasing stakes.

District 9 is an ambitious and awe-inspiring film. It is an allegory for the problems faced in the world from the plight of migrants and refugees to the dangers of unaccountable global corporations. It also hearkens back to the horrible aspects of apartheid in South Africa. District 9 would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture.

 

*This film is rated R for violence and language. It is available at the Union University Library.

 

**Written by Matthew Beyer.

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”

If I was to be asked, “What is one film that meets nearly every qualification you would need to earn the title of a perfect action adventure film?,” I could think of none better than Raiders of the Lost Ark.  When it was first written by George Lucas, the origin and character concept behind Indiana Jones was paying homage to the campy adventure serials of the 30’s and 40’s. Lucas sought out Steven Spielberg to direct the film, who would go on to direct the rest of the  franchise.

The film begins as we are introduced to our protagonist: Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford). Jones is an adventuring archeologist, professor, and explorer with a vast knowledge of history and various cultures. His iconic outfit of choice includes a leather jacket, a weathered fedora, a satchel, and a bullwhip. Jones is hunting a lost Peruvian treasure and must brave the dangers of booby traps and betrayal. Upon his apparent successes at acquiring the treasure, he is met by a rival archeologist: Rene Belloq (played by Paul Freeman). Belloq believes himself to be the superior to Jones in every way- constantly one step ahead, always ready to capitalize on Jones successes. Belloq acknowledges the nature of his character when he compares himself to Jones:

You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.

After escaping, Indiana Jones returns home to America only to be met by U.S military intelligence officers. They proceed to inform him that Nazis, at Hitler’s order, have been seeking out all manner of occultist and religious artifacts and are currently attempting to find Jones’s mentor Abner Ravenwood, who possesses an Egyptian artifact that may hold the key to finding the lost Ark of the Covenant. Jones comes to the conclusion that the Nazis want the Ark in hopes of making them invincible. He agrees to seek out his to find his old friend and keep the Nazis from obtaining the Ark.

Upon learning the location of his friend, Jones learns that Abner had died and the amulet he needs is in the possession of Abner’s daughter, Marion.  Marion Ravenwood is played by Karen Allen. Jones and Marion were once romantically involved, but he ended up abandoning her, which she resents. Marion demands that Jones leave her alone.

At this point we are introduced to a sinister Nazi officer, Arnold Toht (played by Ronald Lacey). Jones springs to help Marion escape Toht, and the two decide to travel together to search for the Ark. Upon reaching Cairo, Egypt, Jones reaches out to his friend Sallah, a well known digger who has information on where the Nazis are searching for the Ark. Sallah is played by John Rhys-Davies. The rest of the film is a back and forth struggle to locate the Ark and keep the Nazis at bay, leading to fantastic action sequences and one after another heart-pounding close calls.  The film’s dynamic conclusion will leave you satisfied and awed. Harrison Ford’s performance stands out with his ability to play a no-nonsense, “man’s man” character.  Jones’s character growth in the film is subtle but noticeable. He starts out as an overconfident skeptic but, as the story progresses, he rekindles his love for Marion and gains a new found reverence for holy relics.

This film began a beloved franchise that would include three more feature films. Raiders of the Lost Ark, in my opinion, is the gold standard of how to do an adventure film right. Adventure films should have a simple but pragmatic protagonist who is thrust into an ever increasing series of puzzles and dangers. Indiana Jones relies on his background knowledge and expertise in history and archeology to overcome many pitfalls both figuratively and quite literally at times. He is quite well-versed in old fashioned fisticuffs and is not above using a gun when needed. His use of brains, brawn, and no small amount of luck make him the iconic character that he is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture. Its innovative practical effects as well as its set design and sound are superb. The film’s score is by John Williams and is unforgettable. Along with Star Wars, this franchise was always one of my favorites growing up.  This movie is rated PG, but please be warned: the rating system was different at the time and it’s closer to PG-13 for modern audiences (mostly due to some violence with in the film).  Raiders of the Lost Ark is available at the Union University Library.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Last Samurai”

When it comes to historical dramas and period pieces, The Last Samurai bridges the gap between the two genres. This film, which was released in 2003, seeks to tell the story of Japan’s aggressive leap forward from a traditional, non-industrial society into an advanced, organized world power. The background is set in part in the Satsuma Rebellion and also involves aspects of the Boshin War. These conflicts were the result of Japan’s attempt to restore the Emperor as the supreme leader of Japan and would cause the abolition of the Samurai warrior.

The Last Samurai has an amazing roster of American, British, and Japanese cast members that all do a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. Tom Cruise stars as Captain Nathan Algren, who served in the infamous 7th Calvary. At the start of this film, we find our protagonist as a depressed alcoholic who is ridden with guilt over his actions during the American Indian Wars. He is offered a job by his ruthless former commanding officer, Colonel Bagley (played by Tony Goldwyn), to travel to Japan to help train and modernize their armies along Western models.

Algren is joined by his longtime friend, Zebulon Gant (played by Billy Connolly), a gruff Scotsman who served with Algren in the Calvary. Next we are introduced to Simon Graham (Timothy Spall). Graham acts as an English liaison for the Japanese government. Graham is fascinated by the unique and traditional way of life of the Samurai in Japan.  While engaging the rebellious Samurai in battle, Nathan Algren is defeated and taken prisoner by Lord Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Katsumoto is intrigued by this strange foreigner and hopes to learn more about his enemy. Katsumoto was once the emperor Meiji’s teacher and mentor; however, he believes the emperor is being led astray by corrupt industrialists like that of Mr. Omura (Masato Harada) who want to modernize Japan at all costs, regardless of the damage to their cultures and heritage.

The last character who helps to change Nathan Algren’s view of Japanese society is Taka, a widow of a Samurai killed in battle against Nathan and sister of Katsumoto. Taka is played by Shin Koyamada; she portrays a devastated woman who is attempting to raise her now fatherless son. Slowly, she grows to understand that Nathan is just a warrior much like her husband was.

This film received wide acclaim both in the U.S and Japan. It takes the stories of several historical figures and combines them for a dramatic take on several wars that brought about Japan as we know it. This film romanticizes the nostalgic era of when Japan was sealed off from the rest of the world; however, this time came to an end as the allure of modernization proved too strong.

The climatic end sees Algren falling in love with the traditional society that has brought him peace and meaning once again to his life. Algren joins with Katsumoto in an attempt to make the Emperor rethink his progressive reforms and maintain the soul and identity of the Japanese people.

The Last Samurai is an excellent film full of action and drama and it is available at the  Union University Library.

* Please note it is rated R for strong violence and battle scenes.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The 13th Warrior”

It’s a new year and a great time to review some odd gems of cinema history. In my ongoing review of films that catch my attention and critical acclaim, I hope to shine the spotlight on films that have taken on a cult status.  Although today’s film was not financially successful nor did it achieve fame from a wider audience, it is often taken for granted among the adventure genre of films.

First a bit of background on this film: the 13th Warrior was released in 1999 and it was adapted from a book by the famous Michael Crichton entitled Eaters of the Dead.  Michael Crichton is more widely known for his novel Jurassic Park. During the mid to late 90’s Crichton’s novels were being adapted to film as fast as possible hoping for another big hit like Jurassic Park. Thus enters director John McTeiran, who’s best known for directing action hits like Predator and Die Hard. Although this film seemed like it would be a great success, it ended up coming in way over budget and flopped with audiences at the box office with estimates at a $120-million-dollar loss.

Now I hope to make the case that this film is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be. While it does have some obvious shortcomings, I still think this film shines in its narrative and set design, and the actors really try to give it their all in spite of the problems associated with the filming and production disputes. I think modern audiences can appreciate an adventure piece set in the dark ages due to a renaissance in the popularity of Norse Viking culture and current trends in video games such as the like of Skyrim.

Plot Synopsis

This film’s story begins with our main protagonist, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, played by Antonio Banderas. Ahamd ibn Fadlan is based in part of a real historical figure who would go on to write and describe his time spent as an ambassador to the Volga Vikings. In this adaptation Ahamd ibn Fadlan is forced to travel with 12 Vikings on a sacred mission of honor back to the far north of their homeland because an ancient enemy has returned and is terrorizing a Norse Kingdom. We are introduced to the leader and King of the Viking warriors: Buliwyf, played by Vladimir Kulich.  Buliwyf encompasses all the traits one would expect to find in a Viking, boasting a tall, silent, stoic appearance that can turn in an instant into ferocious fighter steeped in knowledge of Norse religion. His character is loosely based in homage to that of the mythical Beowulf.   The last character that stands out amongst the rest is that of Herger played by the Norwegian actor Dennis Storhøi. Herger’s character has the closest relationship to Ahamd and the two develop a quick friendship. Herger helps to explain the different culture the Vikings possess while being a friendlier and comedic character in stark contrast to the rest of the Vikings.

In summary, the 13th Warrior was a swing and a miss with mainstream audiences and to many it feels like an unfinished film due to some pacing issues. I wouldn’t go as far as some do and rule it out as a bad film, and I wouldn’t suggest it’s a B film either as the tone remains serious throughout and isn’t that campy. I think what’s most important is that I grew up with the film when there weren’t many choices in the genre as the Viking craze was still years off and this film has a very good period piece feel to it. So why not give this film a try- if it’s not the best, it’s at least entertaining!

This film is available at the Union University Library the Logos.

* Please note The 13th Warrior is rated R for violence throughout and some minor language.

**written by Matthew Beyer

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Unforgiven”

Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven is one of the few Western genre films that managed to receive an Oscar for Best Picture. What makes this even more noteworthy is the fact that Eastwood both directed and starred in his film. The success of Unforgiven  helped to establish Clint Eastwood as an A-list director. Although the film premiered in 1992, Eastwood had the complete script since the early 1980’s; he apparently wanted to wait for the right time and right cast to appear. The leading actors would eventually be Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris.

The basic story of Unforgiven is as follows: in the town of Big Whisky, Wyoming, two drunken cowboys disfigure a local prostitute and are treated leniently by the town’s Sherrif. The other prostitutes of the town are outraged and decide to place a bounty on the heads of the cowboys that attacked their friend. An old, notorious outlaw is sought out by a young upstart with the promise of a share in the reward. He reluctantly agrees and garners the help of an old friend to join them as well. The three then set out to find the men responsible.

This great cast and fantastic script makes for a near perfect western. However, as I will elaborate bellow it turns common western themes around quite a bit. If you’re interested you can check it out at the Union University library. Please note this film is rated R for violence and language.

 

 

**** Minor Spoilers Ahead*****

 

 

Clint Eastwood stars as William Munny, a vicious outlaw. In his youth, Munny committed many robberies and murders, but he then reformed, married, and started a family. The film finds Munny with his wife has recently passed away and struggling with an unprosperous farm and two young children. Munny’s longtime outlaw friend, Ned Logan, played by Morgan Freeman, is enlisted to help. Ned has also reformed and settled into a quiet life free from the crimes of his past; however, the reward is too good to pass up. The young gunslinger out to make a name for himself is played by Jamiz Woolvett; he calls himself the “Schofield Kid” due to the revolver he carries. The next character we are introduced to is English Bob played by the late great Richard Harris. English Bob is a famous killer who has made a name for himself working for railroad companies to kill disgruntled Chinese workers. He is accompanied by his biographer W.W. Beauchamp played by Saul Rubinek. Mr. Beauchamp is fascinated with gunfighter tales of the past and he portrays English Bob as a chivalrous and honorable hero in his pulp accounts of the gunman’s exploits. Meanwhile, the story’s central antagonist is that of “Little Bill” Daggett, played by Gene Hackman.  Little Bill is the sheriff of Big Whisky- he sees himself as a man full of grit and power. He commands authority in the town due to his past as a lawman in the tough areas of Kansas and Texas.

The themes and characters expressed in this film are in stark contrast to the common dogma of the Western genre.  The outlaws that set about their mission of revenge on the cowboys are in fact much more emotional and live in guilt of their previous acts. Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of William Munny is very moving as he struggles with the shame of his past and the life of crime that he has returned to. Richard Harris as English Bob also breaks the myths of the Wild West. He carries himself as a noble British gentleman but is in fact a simple, back-shooting murderer as many western outlaw folk heroes tended to be. Gene Hackman’s character of Little Bill Daggett helps to steal the show as he can go from charming and charismatic in one scene to cold, cruel, and quite sadistic- not the traits you want in a lawman. This film blurs the lines of good and evil and perhaps correctly paints the Wild West as rather morally grey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie- Western Edition

h or h

I find few people have actually seen the film for today, as it had a rather limited release, but the movie still managed to get four Oscar nominations in 2016. This film tells a compelling story of crime and frontier justice all the while remaining visually stunning. This movie boasts an all-star cast of actors, each of whom adds depth to the film’s narrative. Hell or High Water is an often overlooked film that fits into the modern western genre perfectly.

Jeff Bridges stars as Marcus Hamilton, a soon to be retired Texas Ranger who follows the traditional values of an old Texas lawman. Gil Birmingham portrays that of Hamilton’s younger partner, Alberto Parker, a family man who always seems to be on the receiving end of Hamilton’s jokes and unwarranted advice. These two lawmen are following a string of bank robberies in West Texas and are determined to catch the culprits.

One of the men responsible for these stickups is Toby Howard (Chris Pine), a divorced father of two whose family’s ancestral ranch is about to be foreclosed on by a greedy bank that swindled his aging (now deceased) mother with a reverse mortgage. Toby sets to work with a master plan to rob this bank and its subsidiaries that foreclosed on his family’s property to then pay off his family’s debt with the bank’s own money.  He is aided in his criminal pursuits by his hot-headed older brother, Tanner Howard, played by Ben Foster. Tanner is an ex con whose life has been a revolving door of crime and incarceration; he decides to aid his brother due to the thrill he gets from breaking the law.

The film’s themes play off the desperation and plight of people in a desolate, unforgiving landscape riddled with poverty and a lack of hope. Chris Pine’s character of Toby sums up his motivation in a few pithy lines: “I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.” While I’m sympathetic to the brothers’ situation, they end up causing several unnecessary deaths along the way, which only serves to strengthen the law enforcement’s pursuit, leading up to an intense showdown towards the end.

Overall, I think this is a great film that has rejuvenated the modern neo-western genre. The majority of critics agreed, and Hell or High Water was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor “Jeff Bridges”, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing. It even holds to this day a 97% score on the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.

If you’d be interested in a great crime thriller with outstanding acting and memorable characters, I’d suggest you give Hell or High Water a watch. Be forewarned, however: it is rated R for some strong violence, language throughout, and brief sexuality.  It is available at the library for rent.