Films

Parkland (2013)


After watching Jackie (2016) I have become more curious about films that depict or revolve around the assassination of J.F.Kennedy. Just recently catching Parkland (2013) that depicts the aftermath again, but from the viewpoint of 3 points of view. This historical event broken down to the personal level was something I had to look into. Jackie took a very focused look at how the Presidents death affected the now grieving first lady Jacqueline Kennedy who we only see briefly in Parkland, still not much of a focus for film in general at this time. The mystique around her and these events are still maintained. Only seen from the sidelines, kept away from the main focus of this films version of events. It also takes a more linear and traditional viewing into the aftermath.

I was curious to know how these events unfolded on the ground away from those surrounding J.F.K the bystanders who could only look and watch as they saw a visionary yet divisive leader’s life was ended. Parkland chose to focus on Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) who was the only one to have filmed the shooting, a precursor to our fascination of recording horrific events, the need to share, be apart of something potentially bigger than yourself. We first meet him, allowing his team at a clothing manufacturer to take the day off, wanting them to share in this special occasion. He practically encourages everyone to leave their desks for the day like a public holiday has just been announced. Another focus being Dr. Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico (Zac Efron) working at the Parkland Hospital, who later attempted to save the life of the dying President. Whilst secret service veteran of 30 years Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) is trying to piece together what happened on his watch.

I feel I’m taking the position again with Parkland as I had with Compulsion (1959) which I feel both films could have done more. Focus was rightly given to those at the scene. You felt early on for the impact of the events had on Zapruder who filmed the events on his super 8 camera, which was meant to be a record of a great day when the President was visiting the town, only record his death. Before he spent most of the day with Secret service agent Sorrels who knows all of this happened on his watch, he has to ensure they catch the killer as soon as possible, his career depends on it. The pressure is tangible between Sorrels and Zapruder whose driven around to get his film developed and copied to ensure that the investigation continues. These are rushed and intense scenes creating a sense of real urgency that is needed.

The same sense of urgency is felt in the emergency room of the Parkland hospital where we meet Dr. Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico played by Efron whose faced with the presence of a dying Kennedy, brought in with hopes of saving him. Naturally shocked and slow to react, I found myself thinking, “get on with it, save him” then you understand does he, this is the President, no ordinary patient, what you do here could change history. I felt sorry for Efron, not words I thought I’s be saying, given only a handful of scenes, sure they are important to the film as they bring to life what happened in those precious moments. However we don’t see the emotional impact this has on him, or really the whole team around him, Instead moving onto infighting between the local police and Secret Service over who has jurisdiction over the body. Yes it’s important, yet at the same time, you have a medical team in shock, they have lost the President on their shift, all they could do was not enough. Couldn’t we see them after the finished their shifts, perhaps going home to their families, drinking some scotch.

Interestingly we spend time with the Oswald family, not so much Lee Harvey, himself we only see at the time of his own death. Meeting his brother Robert (James Badge Dale) whose naturally shocked by the accusation and the possible realisation his brother has committed such an act. We meet his mother Marguerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver), the only defender of a man whose believed to have been a Russian double agent, a traitor to the end of his life. Creating her own conspiracy theory in hopes of saving him from prison. Being in the company of the Oswald’s is something I do appreciate, seeing the cost of these events on a family level. Two families ultimately have been directly affected over the course of the film. It’s a controversial decision to depict Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral as we hear coverage of the President overlapped. The Oswald’s are not generally seen as a family in terms this historical event, both deserving a decent send-off, we see ultimately everyone with, contributing to the burial, whilst over in Washington, the world watches another, everything carefully arranged in the days have passed by.

It’s a rushed film that is over in a flash, no sooner is the President dead, are we burying the assassin, an odd way to end a film that tries to bring life to those outside of the White House. A massive undertaking of an event that at the beginning shows promise and gets carried away with the few who were actually at the parade itself. Not to take away from the trauma/shock and days they experience after, however it doesn’t follow through for those at the hospital. The F.B.I. are brought in towards the close as they attempt the destroy evidence that would later come back to haunt them. Not their finest hour, that had to be shown up once more. I’m now looking out for other films at focus on this event, to see how they deal with the assassination, which point of view do they take and how they fit with the other films.

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


I think like everyone who first heard the news that a sequel was in the works to Blade Runner (1982) I was naturally very cautious. There have been a slew of sequels/reboots etc recently of modern classics made so long after the original that it becomes too much to even consider how a new film could follow on from a much-loved film. Then I saw Arrival (2016) directed by Denis Villeneuve which I found to be one of the best piece of science fiction in a long time to be seen on film. None of the standard flashy techniques or effects, everything paired down, to help inform the tone, that sees a female linguist fight to make first contact with visiting aliens. Wanting to use words not violence that is usually associated with the genre in the past, shoot first, ask questions later. On learning that the Villeneuve  would be at the helm this film, alongside Ridley Scott as producer, it was a massive reassurance that the not so long-awaited/muted sequel to the 1982 classic would be in very safe hands.

Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve seen Blade Runner, the final-cut seen as Scott’s definitive vision of the film. The lingering images from the film meant its something special, which is going to be hard surpass. Last night, a month since Blade Runner 2049 (2017) was first released, yes I know it’s a long time coming and I’m glad I’ve finally seen what in short is a worthy sequel without trying to outdo the original, which would have been wrong to even try. As I’ve mentioned before in countless reviews, the trailer can really affect a film before you go and sit down to watch it. Here the marketing team have put edited together a misleading piece that allowed me to be blown away by the full 2 and 1/2 hours film. Wanting to focus on Harrison Ford‘s role in the film.

I could never forget the opening sequence of the original, the all-encompassing eye and the burst of flame that reflect within. The never-ending model miniature city-scape and flying cars that zoom across, its a future that we fear but want to explore to see whats in the depth. Film noir had met the future with all the bleakness you can have wanted. A film that is both hard to really top or even live up to. I feel that Villeneuve has  definitely lived up to the challenge bring his own sensibility for the serious, insightful whilst maintaining the look, the legacy and the concepts.

Anyway enough of the build up, time to look in more detail at the film. I already knew from a few vague descriptions of the film that Ryan Gosling played a replicant working as a blade runner who we see on his latest mission touching down in a vast farming facility, ready to capture his next rogue replicant. There’s no pretense as to whether or not he’s a replicant unlike the original which had you guessing until the end the true identity of Rick Deckard until we get the unicorn at the films close. There’s less ambiguity at this point, we know who we are dealing with and following as he uncovers a new case that has the potential to change the balance of power in this dystopia. A skeleton of a former replicant is found with some surprising marks that are found during examination.

With K we see more into the Blade runner life, not just the found em and kill em aspect which we had before. Instead the life of a replicant, the regimented de-briefs/recalibrations which are scarily effective as Gosling just loses himself to this role. It’s quite intense to watch, the repetition and testing that goes on to ensure he’s inline and ready to function to the best of his programming. Very much the slave to his master, yet free to enjoy his time off. Spending most of that with his holographic Joi (Ana de Armas) who confined to the projector. It was the first reminder of another science fiction characters – the first of many reference – as I found in Arrival. The Doctor (Robert Picardo) or Emergency Medical Hologram/E.M.H. in Star Trek: Voyager whose confined to the holographic emitters in sick bay, a prisoner of his own programming and limitations. Until much like Joi they are given their freedom – a mobile Emitter or it’s Blade Runner equivalent. Carried by the program or the end-user. The E.M.H. character was exploring his sentience, whilst Joi was just discovering her new found freedom outside the apartment. We get under the skin, well the zeros and ones of how she perceives the world around her. Later touched in a a sex scene that reminded me of a very similar scene in Her (2013), technology connecting with another, via a biological host. Again this is explored more sensually from Joi’s perspective which made the scene more engaging to watch.

K’s investigation takes in some familiar places and faces (not Ford just yet) which again really gives the film stronger foundation that just being in the same universe, we meet old characters and others who reminds us of the original along with other little nods. If only briefly they contexualise what happened in the prologue which explains the 10 day blackout when most files from that time were erased. It doesn’t leave any detail out and woven nicely into the script without seeming forced. However on reflection that opening of the film, tried too hard in places to replicate the original tone that was then original, maybe this is more out of uniformity for the film. The world itself is very much the one I’ve visited before, relying on model miniatures to create as much of it as possible, allowing you to engage with the physical in this possible future which we maybe nearer too than we care to admit. Not only does it rain but it snow constantly too.

Turning to the Tyrell organisation, now under the weird control of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who sends his favorite replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to hunt down. We see so little of Wallace that I didn’t feel his presence in the film, Leto is again having a lot of fun with the role. Whilst Hoeks has a meaty role that makes her mark on the film. The henchmen of the piece, nothing stops her from getting what she wants, showing us that you don’t need to male, butch with scars to get the job done, you can be incredible feminine in appearance and still make your presence known, much like K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) whose more fierce than Deckard’s predecessor.

Looking back at this very rich piece of science fiction that gracefully nods and acknowledges the original, it doesn’t try to repeat the past plot, instead it builds and expands with ease into this world that I wasn’t expecting to find. When Ford finally makes his first appearrence, which is for about 20 minutes or so of the film it feels natural, all the build up to find him. He doesn’t try to own the film or take it away from Gosling whose in complete control. The trailer wanted us to meet him early on, without knowing why. K’s investigation is a slow burner that had me glued in silence to the screen. I had returned to a world I had once explored with awe that has been expanded, getting our fingers deeper into this world. I do however miss Vangelis ‘s inspiring soundtrack, we do have Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer who do a more than respectable job in his strange absence. My only fear is that if ever there was another sequel, which again leaves me uncertain, I would hope that Villeneuve is somewhere within its production. I would also ask that this sequel would be allowed to breathe before anything happened, to find a place and be appreciated for what it is and has achieved.


Compulsion (1959)


I  caught this film yesterday and it’s stayed with me and not for the right reasons. Originally recorded for viewing because I thought it would be interesting to see both Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell who I’ve recently discovered when I wrote a film talk on Sons and Lovers (1960) at the start of the year. During the time I couldn’t shake his pent-up performance from my mind. Also the fact I was editing clips which he was heavily involved in. Coming to Compulsion (1959) on the off-chance to see what he was like outside of   Jack Cardiff’s direction. Also it was a chance to see Orson Welles again, in what could easily have been a two-scene cameo which he was practically reduced to towards the end of his career.

Now I tend to write 1000+ in my reviews now, I’m not so sure I have enough to go that far today, but I need to express my frustration with this film that could have been so much better than it was. Based on the 1924 Leopold-Loeb case, two students in Chicago who were tried for the sadistic, motive-less murder of another student. This thinly guised film (attempted to avoid a lawsuit) fails to actually depict the murder or even suggest with great effect that these two young men – Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie A.Straus (Bradford Dillman) who were followers of the Nietzsche theories, which produced to narcissistic individuals with superiority complexes. Not your average cocky student who feels the can take on the world and disprove the established. Carrying with them a philosophy that placed them above their contemporaries who were enjoying the student life of the 1920’s. Even with these personalities, not the most likeable of characters, you wanted to understand who they were.

First meeting them on a late night drive after robbing a house, Artie dares Judd to run over a man walking home, just for the thrill of it, setting the tone of the film. These are young men who have no regarding for general morality that we all live by. When they fail to kill the man in the street – Judd can’t carry out Artie’s order, something is holding him back. No matter they find their kicks off-screen, the murder as we learn of the murder and kidnap of Paulie Kessler, the victim in their “perfect crime”. It’s only when another student discovers the body (working for the local paper) in the morg do we learn somethings not quite right. At this point its a slow burner until Judd realises that he hasn’t got his glasses, they’re on the dead body. It’s only now we start to realise what might have happened.

The investigation soon gets underway, lead by District Attorney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall) whose building up a case, but is waiting for the two boys to see who cracks first. The cockiness continues, even when they are found out and the stories they made up start to crack under scrutiny. What I don’t understand is why a District Attorney would be leading a criminal investigation, shouldn’t that be the police who build up a case before its even goes to court, landing on the D.A.’s desk?

By this point we haven’t even Welles’s character, a successful lawyer who never lost a capital case in his long career, a perfect role for the only “hero” of the film Jonathan Wilk  who is only known by his reputation, building up his first appearance on screen. From the moment he arrives the film is his, bring with him all the experience of his past roles, able to play the older man with 40 odd years of experience. I’m reminded of Inherit the Wind (1960) released the following year a purely court-room affair, set in the same era. The scenes are more fairly split between the two lawyers – Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March). However in the earlier film, there’s not half as much a war of words, sure they are a few disagreements and objections, but there’s not enough passion from both sides. I think partly due to the editing of the film. Made in favor of Wilk who practically given the rest of the film, with the two men on trial. Horn is left with little to do, not even his closing speech to the judge, which would have made for a longer and more impassioned film. To see why these two men should have hung. Aimed as s pro-life film, without any real counterargument for balance, letting down the film and the Marshall who had little to do in the court room besides shout.

Was the murder filmed of Kessler even filmedm or just suggested before we find the body? Given the tone of the film it could have been done in shadow at least for dramatic effect. However Anatomy of a Murder (1959) the murder is not seen on camera, we only learn of it on the arrest of the violent husband Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), was it censorship that got in the way of making a good film even better in the case of Compulsion? Leaving us with a film that has the potential to be so much, along with the script (cut or otherwise) this film could have been longer, darker and ultimately stronger. 


Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


I have to admit that I’ve avoided Cowboys & Aliens (2011) for years, not wanting to see it thinking that it was a silly combination of the two – Cowboys and Aliens, how can that work and be worth my time. So as I made a point to avoid this film. The more I have read and explored the genre, I have finally seen and actually really enjoyed this blend of two of my favorite genres; Western and Science Fiction, I never thought how fun it could be. I had been put off also by a trailer which suggested that Daniel Craig‘s character had been possessed by an alien, uncontrollable, causing destruction wherever he went. I guess that’s the art of marketing when it works well, to suggest something else from the same material.

So suspicions allayed and defences down I was actually looking forward to the blend, seeing what happens when genre’s collide. I knew that it worked when Westerns are combined with comedy and to an extent – Musicals. If your going to bring Science fiction into the West it has to be good. Going down the route of alien abduction we find Jake Lonergan (Craig) is dazed and confused, no memory of who he is or where he is, with the addition of a chunky bit of out of the world kit on his wrist. Soon surrounded by men who know he’s vulnerable, get a taste of what this bracelet can do, blasting them off the face of the earth. More power than any Winchester Rifle could ever pack. Setting the tone for the film, its going to loud, bombastic and not taking either genre too seriously. Craig’s playing the stranger that rides into town, a stranger even to himself, and the town he’s about to enter.

Getting into town we meet almost everyone who we are going to be spending our time with in the film. Paying particular attention to the cattleman’s trigger happy son Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) who takes his father position in the town to his head, thinking he can get away with almost anything. Not the usual role for Dano who we see arrested a few scenes later. Moving then to the cattle drive which is has stopped for the night this is the first time that we see the aliens presence really felt in the film. A series of explosions that leave all but one dead. It’s a mad scene of confusion that leaves everyone bewilders us, we haven’t seen the aliens, just understanding that they are here and not about to leave.

It’s only when they get to town the following night do we see the space-ships flying low, abducting half the town, looking as if they are pulled away on some metallic hooks that could have easily harpooned them. At this point I thought they would not be coming back. It’s another mad scene that both amazes and confuses everyone. Over in a flash before you can even comprehend what has happened. It’s just plain madness that leaves the townspeople both defencless and bewildered, having witnessed something that could have easily come out of a H.G. Wells novel. The nearest comparison I can draw is to The Valley of Gwangi (1969), an obscure Ray Harryhausen film that pits dinosaurs and other monsters against cowboys. Not his best effort but still fun to watch.

50 years later with more sophisticated special effects more has been achieved, I don’t even question them. I’m more concerned with how people from the 19th century would react with futurist technology, I’m thinking in terms of anthropology, how these people unfamiliar with technology that is far more advanced than even the steam train or the telegraph system that helped the development of the Western world. Here they are seeing technology far beyond their comprehension. But they aren’t really thinking about that, it’s the human cost, the loss of life that preoccupied them, the most they have to hand is a round or more of bullets.

We learn more about Lonergan when he teams up with Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who after a disagreement see the advantage he gives him and the posse that travels the open country, meeting up with Lonergans old gang, who have moved on since his disappearance, reminiscent of the leadership fight in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). We are starting to piece together who Lonergan really is, his past and how he lost his memory. A journey that leads him to only female in the film – Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who herself is abducted by the aliens who we have still yet to meet. When we are out in the open country, the camera remains as close to the ground as possible, we are staying in the Wild West and the cinematographic conventions, its the aliens have to share that space and world, only leaving to fly around once.

It’s only when we meet the Apache do things get really interesting, For now these two sides, the white settlers and the Apache have to come together to fight, stronger together, using White leadership and tactics, there’s some sort of meeting of the minds. When it comes to the survival of humanity it’s a different story, not the a war of colours and politics that we usually find in the genre. It makes for an interesting change, it’s messy, gory and fun. Clearly the filmmakers are having fun here, pitting alien against man; white and red. This is what science fiction does – ask question, what if, how could etc. One is playing out here, how would two opposing sides in America’s West survive and alien invasion?

The finale is female led, Ella is the real hero, with Lonergan’s help as he rescue’s the abducted townspeople. I found it refreshing for a woman to save the day in the Wild West, placed in a position of power, she can talk to both White and Apache. She is superior and otherworldly, quite literally, unlike those she could just watch on as see them being killed/harvested by the aliens. Could Lonergan and the others have really come together without the otherworldly intervention that saves the day? Now I can’t see why I put off seeing this film for so long, its a great fun film to watch if you want to see cowboys and aliens fight each other. It’s not meant to go down as a classic, just to entertain which it does, the actors take it more seriously than we do, steeped in the history of the genre we are seeing something literally out of this world happening. Just kicking myself for not watching it earlier.


Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)


Another Western that I’ve been looking out for over the years, with the wait now finally over I have mixed feelings of deflation. Comedian Rich Hall began his BBC4 documentary on the film depiction on Native Americans by starting with the assassination of Osama Bin-Laden -, soldiers uttering the word Geronimo. A word that was originally linked to the name of the Apache warrior who held out and fought until he’s forced to surrender to the U.S. army. How many other names have been so misappropriated? A name of a countries former enemy has become a term of celebration and liberation. None have the same sound to them as Geronimo as it rolls off the tongue out of all the prominent Native American figures. It’s a practice that I try to avoid, aiming to keep his name in historical context, not to use in celebration.

The 1993 film Geronimo (1993) was one of two released that year about the Apache warrior, one made a Native American produced TV movie, very different in tone, celebrating the life and times of the figure, one that I feel I should watch again to compare. And the Hollywood Western that bills the lead actor, fourth on the list below Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall. A symptom of how Hollywood make and market their films. Placing the more prominent names above others who have a larger part in the film. Also indicating the position of Native American actors in the film industry, at the bottom. The only positive you can take away from this billing is that the role went to Wes Studi, a Native American (Cherokee) and not someone in brown face, that’s some progress.

Made during the early 1990’s when there was a boom in the genre, released in between Dances With Wolves (1990), Unforgiven (1992) and Wyatt Earp (1994), the same year as the larger than life, sweeping epic – Tombstone (1993). Easily categorized as a revisionist Western, attempting to rewrite the genres pasts wrongs to tell a more honest account of history. So how did they get on? I’m reminded of Broken Arrow (1950) when James Stewart narrated Tom Jefford’s experience with the Apache, we even met Geronimo in one scene when all the tribes of the nation met for a council meeting, his own histories picked up in a Chuck Connors film – Geronimo (1962) which I might check out of curiosity. This 1990’s take on the warriors narrated by baby-faced Matt Damon as a fresh out of West point officer Lt. Britton Davis, leaving me thinking how much of Lt Dunbar has influenced him, his moments of reflection and modern thinking on a 19th century issue that’s now become part of America’s history and less talked about politics. Britton us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he waits to meet with his commanding officer Lt. Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric) heading off to join the stately and much admired Brigadier General George Crook (Gene Hackman) who was given the task of rounding up the Apache and sticking them on the reservation.

Now with all Native American revisionism its going to be more graphic – think Little Big Man and Soldier Blue (both 1970) et al, it’s brutal and attempting to take their side for again. Yet it still comes from the perspective of a white soldier – Davis who is reflecting over this period in history. There is however more screen time given to Wes Studi and rightly so really allowing us the best Hollywood can do depict the final days of freedom for the Apache. As revisionist the film tries to be, it takes a massive cue from John Ford, depicting the film entirely in Monument Valley, trying to be both a Cavalry film and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) which moved around the Navajo country, having now taken on this mythic form and space which allows filmmakers to tell the story of the West in this landscape almost exclusively at times. I found this distracting at times, thinking about Fort Apache or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon at times, not seeing for it wants to be.

With more screen-time given to Studi we’re allowed to understand his point of view, he’s not just a pain in the backside for the Army and the White House, He’s has a credible point of view. First meeting him at his initial surrender, brought the charge of the two Lieutenant’s who see this as a big moment in both their careers and history. For Geronimo it’s the end of his peoples way of life and loss of freedom, he’s not taken this decision lightly. It’s a film that wants to be taken seriously, giving time to both fact and action during the films run. Time for the peace talks that see the Apache accepting they’ve been worn down and needing to talk. Before things get messy after an Apache’s killed for a ghost dance (disturbing the peace) which triggers another war between them and the white eyes.

The action scenes are rather mixed, bloody at times, filled with dust which makes it hard at times to see what’s going on. OK we’re in the desert but its supposed to be discernible to the viewer. Suggesting that it was a bloody time for both sides, more so the Natives who are fighting for respect and honor at this pivotal time.

Turning to look at the other characters times taken to develop the two lieutenant’s and even the aging scout Al Sieber (Duvall) who has suffered 17 arrows and gunshots and still standing, he’s learned to respect his enemy whilst growing tired in his role. A nice character for Duvall to play, having been a presence in the genre ever since he got “shot to pieces” by the Duke in True Grit (1969) he gives the film extra strength by him just being there. I felt as much as those in uniform were given more time to grow, we got less time with Chato (Steve Reevis) a once feared warrior, now a loyal scout to the cavalry, outside of his obvious skill and knowledge he is only seen as a traitor to his people. At least he’s not being played by Charles Bronson in Chato’s Land (1972).

Summing up this film it’s an attempt to tell two sides to the same events, whilst naturally being slightly more biased to the Army, made by White men, it’s only able to go so far. We do have a more fleshed out depiction of the Apache which i can’t complain about and with subtitles which gives allows more depth, only speaking English when faced with White Eyes. I noticed also a bit of slopping editing, splicing in an elder to Crooks final treaty talk, it looked really out of place, shoe-horned in there. I can’t complain too much, its an early 90’s Western that attempts to rewrite events, yet still holding back in places.


Posse (1975)


Another Western that I thought I would never see, so when it came up in the listings I grabbed the opportunity. A few weeks later I’ve finally caught this late period Western with an older Kirk Douglas. It first came to my attention when I found the trailer when I was working on Dancing in the West (2013), I eventually dropped the trailer from the final cut. The images of the trailer didn’t leave me, wanting to seek out the film which not so sought after in the genre. For me it was to see an older Douglas when his profile was not as strong as his son Michael. There’s enough room for two on the big screen – just.

Posse (1975) is not the longest of film by any stretch of the imagination, its straight into the action and it doesn’t really slow down, with a political edge that grabbed by attention. Texas State Marshall Howard Nightingale (Douglas) is leading a posse, we only know they are law by the badges they wear. Their actions are questionable, a nighttime raid on Jack Strawhorn’s (Bruce Dern) gang, having seen a great number of Westerns, there’s no honor in this raid, the men are caught off guard, with no chance to defend themselves. Even killed when they are clearly unarmed, which goes against the unspoken code which the audience has been educated in. All of Strawhorn’s men are killed within a few minutes, its systematic and cold, leaving the leader of the gang to ride off to fight another day.

The same systematic attacks carried out in daylight when the posse catch up with Strawhorn’s new less experience incompetent gang who are surrounded and killed one by one without really getting close. Strawhorn had briefed these men to shoot when they reach a certain point, no sooner. This doesn’t really sink in for them, firing when fired at, natural instincts come through, which the silent posse use to their advantage. Again these men are taken out one by one, some unarmed whilst others really don’t help themselves by getting in the line of fire. These are two sides where the leaders don’t directly get involved until the very end – could this be a proxy war in the West? Both men do deliver orders but don’t directly get involved until they are forced to. Nightingale finally arrests his man, bringing him one step closer to the office of Senator.

I’m reminded of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) which saw Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) who legend has it killed the outlaw Valance. This act raises his profile and helps him eventually reach the office of Senator. Except he knows he wasn’t the killer. His whole rise to power is based on a myth which he doesn’t argue with until the end of the film. Nightingale is purposefully building his own legend on the outlaws that he brings in or has killed. He is aware of his reputation and the power that it has to further his career.

We see that Nightingale has power or money at least, his own personal train that allows him to travel before breaking away with the horses that go with them. Pulling into Tesoto, a Texan town is later used for a political rally. A town where Strawhorn had previously shot a sheriff, leaving the town vulnerable to further attack, the arrival of Nightingale can only be a good thing. Bringing with him the man they wanted, Nightingale celebrated by most, but not all, the most influential man – the press – Harold Hellman (James Stacy) who won’t print favorable reports on the would be Senator.

With Strawthorn in jail, it’s time to ride the glory of the arrest, Nightingale holds an outdoor rally, which works pretty well for him, if only they went to the polls the next morning. Everything starts to go downhill from here on in. The train ride to the gallows comes to an abrupt end not too far out of town. Turning the tables on Nightingale who becomes powerless to do anything, his men are trailing behind unable to help. This is something I’ve never really seen, the hero so helpless to do anything up to the close of the film. Then again this is Douglas who has played some ambiguous conflicted men who we are somehow drawn to, neither good nor bad, this one is leaning towards the bad, riding on his political and legal powers to hopefully win the day.

None of that goes to plan, now a hostage, his men are forced to find the money to set him free, it’s the last job they’ll do for him before they cross over to other side and ride off Strawthorn. This is after they hear of their possible futures, less than desirable they hoped for.  Less money for all, and for one less status, with that threat ahead they have to fight for themselves, and who can really blame them, with the opportunity they grab it with both hands. Leaving us with a very unusual ending in film, the hero is left alone, thwarted by the bad guy who rides off into the sunset. Yet our hero doesn’t really have the classic traits, sure he caught the bad guy, but he rode off with the men who first caught him. It shows the ambiguity of real life, also that politicians will always be politicians, using their position for their own gain.

Posse is a rarity for sure that uses the genre to look at politicians in more detail in the Western guise, the image of the squeaky clean politician who fights for his people is blown clear away. One of the more overt political Westerns, a politician displaying his power which ultimtely fails in public view. The image of Stoddard cannot exist here, he like the others is corrupt, using power to fight wars and gains that they can only do with position. Lastly the casting of Dern opposite Douglas is very clever, Dern plays a darker Douglas, going that step further from questionable to being the all out bad guy or “son of a b****” that made him go for the bleaker roles in the 1970’s.


Young Guns (1988)


Another western that I thought I’d never really watch or review. I do remember hearing some enthusiasm for the film at art-school, but thought little of it, wanting to explore the classics of the genre more at the time, which to a large extent I have since achieved, now I’ve got a few to revisit. I have since considered catching Young Guns (1988) not really knowing much about the film beyond it looking like a chance to refresh the genre, which was beginning to happen during this period such as Silverado (1985) and Pale Rider (1985) at least Clint Eastwood could be relied upon to deliver. I also saw this as a spin on The Magnificent Seven (1960) formula, bring together a group of gunfighters and send them out to save the day, which isn’t far off what happened, just without the pathos or myth-making magic which it achieved.

What’s achieved is my curiosity being pricked up, which is all you need sometimes to engage with a film. First I was drawn to the late 1980’s music video aesthetic, it was clearly aimed at a young audience who had no real interest in the genre, something for older generations who grew up during its hey-day. During this period there are glimmers of something special coming through. Another point was having the other Martin Sheen son as the lead, as Emilio Estevez was already established in film, compared to the more prominent Charlie Sheen whose actually written out of the film at around the half-way point, which also shows as how much hated being on a horse, staying long enough to get a starring credit and a paycheck.

Looking further a stronger historical connection that I found, helping when I realised that it depicted both Billy the Kid – William H. Boney and L.G.Murphy, who both appeared in Chisum (1970), skewed more for John Wayne‘s lead character during the Lincoln County War (1877-8) one of the many cattle wars of the period. The same events basically unfold but from a more relatable point of view – the young men who knew John Tunstall whose killing, that originally started the war. Instead of Chisum who was rightly worried about Murphy’s increasing ownership in Lincoln County. He’s nowhere to be seen or heard in Young Guns which is either a poor choice historically, or consciously written out to focus on those directly effected by the shooting. Having too many characters to focus on would make it a broader less engaging film. 

With such a young cast who had yet to really make a mark in film it allows these six actors (ignoring Estevez) into careers of some longevity, which did happen for Keifer Sutherland, son of Donald Sutherland, which probably helped during casting. The rest of the cast I can’t say I have really seen before this film. A 50% success rate is still good going though. Placing them in this MTV-esque Western which works in some places and not in others. The music video feel of the film really has dated, the soundtrack really doesn’t work today, it attempt to set the tone but feels out-of-place, it’s neither nostalgic or dramatic, with time it’s just been lost. The casting of Terrance Stamp as John Tunstall just doesn’t work for me. Playing the “Englishman” which is over emphasised at times is really unnecessary for the audience. It’s trying to pit Englishman against Irishmen which really is just circumstance to me, just drop the point and move on. Also Stamp looks very out of place, just delivering his lines without looking awkward on-screen. I think he’s glad he was killed off after 20 minutes. He obviously leave a mark on the men – The Regulators, who start off to war.

Turning to The Regulators as characters themselves who are fully fleshed people who you can engage with. With the emphasis on Billy the Kid the assumed leader post Tunstall’s death, the historical figure that most in the audience would have heard of compared to the cattlemen who are known to those interested in history. For me it comes from reading beyond the films. As a character himself he owns the film and Estevez owns the role, really having fun, making his mark on the role whose being done justice. Looking to Charlie Sheen’s Richard ‘Dick’ Brewer who probably seen as the winger of the group who pushes everyone further before he’s killed off. Two of the Gun’s Josiah Gordon ‘Doc’ Scurlock and Charles ‘Charley’ Bowdre (Kiefer Sutherland and Casey Siemaszko) are given the love interests which don’t take over from the main plot, if anything they make them richer characters, they have more to lose as they reach the finale. I must also touch on the Navajo character ‘Jose’ Chavez y Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) whose half Mexican, whose allowed screen-time to discuss the American Holocaust, specifically the massacre at Sand Creek Reservation (1864), despite the fact that he would never have been there, as he wasn’t Cheyenne or Arapaho. Showing how Native American past can be recycled and jumbled to suit a script.

Young Guns reminded me of other super groups in the genre which brought together the best of the best in their fields, or even misfits such as The Professionals (1966), The Wild Bunch (1969) up to Silverado. Guns joins that long line of super groups toting guns. Long before the Avengers and DC universe films that bring together superheroes. Except everyone gets on and they have already met, cutting out a lot of exposition allowing for us to get on with the plot and see this group of young men just get on with it.

Historically I was vaguely aware of Billy the Kid’s involvement in the Johnson County War, afterwards I feel a little more informed and refreshed, there’s more to it then the side we see. It’s small event of a much bigger, dirty, violent history, also adding the myth of the West that has been reshaped by cinema. There are a few nods to the fabric of the genre, Patrick Wayneson of The Duke takes on the role of Pat Garrett, to Jack Palance as Murphy which you can see he’s enjoying far more than Stamp was. It’s not the strongest of films for a number of reasons which I’ve discussed, however it is fun, engaging with filled with action, you’re supporting the young men as they fight for what is right which makes up what is lacking at times. A product of its time which you can forgive its many flaws leaving me wanting to catch the sequel now.


Jet Pilot (1957)


My first review in over a month and I have chosen to look at Jet Pilot (1957) one of cinema’s real oddities. I’ve had the film sitting on my shelf for a few years but it never really stood out enough in the box-set to be taken too seriously. Then after reading John Wayne‘s biography by Scott Eyman that touched on the film I had to take a look at this unusual film that has to be seen to be believed. Languishing with Howard Hughes the plane-loving, misunderstood, reclusive billionaire finally released the film 8 years after filming was complete. Working with legendary director Josef von Sternberg  who was a control freak on set, not trusting anyone on set and causing Wayne to avoid him unless necessary. All this before it was locked away with Hughes until after his studio RKO went out of business, Jet Pilot was finally released by Universal.

That’s just the background on Pilot without going into the plot which left me scratching my head. On the surface it’s a typical anti-communist film, as US fighter pilots are on a routine training mission, hoping to take down a Russian plane, nothing out of the ordinary there. However it starts to smell pretty soon after when they do finally bring down a Russian plane, not with bullets to a spectacular demise that precipitates a nuclear fallout that would allow Col Jim Shannon and his team to save the day. Instead they escort the enemy plane back to base to find the pilot is female, which to a contemporary audience wouldn’t look out-of-place. I could plainly see how Janet Leigh‘s character Lt. Anna Marladovna / Olga Orlief is written as a defector/spy, yet used more for the romance and comedy than action and espionage that the role clearly is asking for. By default, the leading actress in the film she is also and sadly there for the male gaze – as best you can in that role. Leigh is not one of my favorite actress which is part of my problem with her, not even her 30 minutes in Psycho (1960) is enough to really redeem her personally. Miscast also opposite the Duke whose at least 10-20 years older than her she’s very much out-of-place in this film, unless the male lead was Tony Curtis and then we would have a very different film.

On a political level I found Wayne’s character at odds with his the actors politics. As much as he denied the role his the communist witch-hunt, being leader of the HUAC for a period that saw countless people lose their livelihoods in Hollywood. How could such a staunch Republican with such strong views on Communism in a country he was patriotic about take on a role that saw him by the mid way point have married and knowingly want to stay with a Soviet spy. Looking back at Big Jim McLain (1952) where he played a HUAC investigator hunting down communists turn around and play this role. Although McLain was made after and released before Pilot was released it doesn’t depict his politics as clearly as the darker film and basically an advert for the HUAC.

Could the politics of the character be put to one side as Jet Pilot’s seen more as quasi romantic comedy-cold war thriller, sounds like a mouthful right? Jim Shannon is at first a strong leader who has a good relationship with his men, especially Maj. Rexford (Paul Fix) who follows him around at times, showing their closeness and for comical effect, which in itself works well. When however Marladovna’s put into the care of Shannon do things start to go odd. That’s ignoring the awkward shower scene in his office, the intention maybe sexual, the delivery is more comical. Being the enemy mixed with “sex appeal” it should make her more dangerous and filled with temptations which are given into too easy by Shannon who is too quick to give into his feelings.

He does however successfully convert her to joys of shopping or capitalism and all the nice clothes that money can buy. We do also have moments where her way of lifes discussed such as sharing their hotel room with three other couples, which should be seen as both dangerous and generous to a fault. To share a private capitalist space intended for private recreations opened up to the wider community, making “better use” of the space. It’s seen as comical again, Marladovna has won this round making Shannon look weak from a capitalist point of view. He can’t have the rewards and privileges that rank gives him as he protects his countries way of life. He’s being attacked, not with bullets but ideology wrapped in a female package that’s lowering his defence’s. Not something Wayne the HUAC member would approve of. As much as he could look past others political positions I believe this is a step to far for a man of his position. It just makes no sense that he would make such a film. If we take the Duke out of the equation allowing an American officer of the armed forces of any rank fall for the enemy on-screen makes no sense. They are the enemy, any love interest must be lost or corrected by the end of the film, the American must pay for his feelings when the country during the Cold War.

Moving away from all things communist which I feel I have explored enough for one review, stylistically this film is all over the place. There are lots and lots of planes of all different shapes and sizes. You could probably make a short film from just those scenes alone. It’s pure indulgence on the part of Hughes a plane fanatic who was probably playing those portions on loop. Early on the planes are used more suggestively before it could get under the radar of the censors who would’ve had a field day with the audio innuendo. This really is an odd film that takes a dark possibility is plays too lightly with it, having so much fun that it’s not even funny for the right reasons. Down to the casting, to Wayne’s politics and the planes that could still be whooshing in the skies to this day.


I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)


I have mixed feelings about I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Again I came to this having read a short interview with Christopher Lloyd and the trailer for the film which really was selling me a very different film. Like anything you’re sold, you want to believe the advert or promotion portrays a positive and accurate spin on what you have bought into. Which was a disturbed teenager who sees a few murders and becomes fascinated by them, and becomes inspired to follow in the serial killers footsteps, were we seeing his victims as the trailer progressed. I was miss-sold this film. Even the small role that Lloyd was supposed to be playing.

Moving on from my initial complaint I need to lay down a few points as to what I received in the full film. I came to this film bringing my thoughts from having recently revisited Shadow of a Doubt (1943) which I can only draw minor comparisons too. Looking at the dark conversations between our disturbed teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) and Max (Raymond Brandstrom). (I’m wondering if the lead characters names inspired by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy) There was a relationship based on the dark murderous content of their conversations. Reminiscent of father Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) which begins as playful, a way to unwind and let the imagination run wild, Which disturbs Josephs daughter Charlie (Teresa Wright) whose very concerned about her Uncle Charlie’s  (Joseph Cotten) motives for staying with them. That dynamic is not really developed further than a few scenes at the start of the film. Probably to tell us that John has serial killer tendencies trying to lead a normal teenage life, that’s against the backdrop of all the murders.

The Hitchcock connections don’t stop there, from the trailer we could be looking at a Norman Bates type, the quiet boy next door who doesn’t get out much. Yet this one does, spending his free time helping his mother April (Laura Fraser) at the funeral home. An early joke about the home not going out of business anytime soon, two bodies in a week. We are however allowed to see the start of the embalming process, with a focus on the blood-letting process, it’s not properly explained but filmed with a fascination that stays with you – there’s a small positive to take away from the film. It’s the first time we are given no real explanation of  whats going on – that’s the main fault of this film.

Moving away from the master of suspense to look at the John himself, we’re told he has all the makings of a serial killer, so already we are looking to him to potentially kill someone, he likes to hang around with his mum at the family business. His social skills are limited to alienating bullies who find him to be an outsider who they spend very little time on. I see a young man who is deeply troubled yet fascinated with death and human anatomy. Spending so much time with the dead has a turned him into an anti-social loner who is trying to function among his peers. Being presented with a possible future that he’s trying to prevent. Yet the events of the present could easily mold him into a different more dangerous person complete with murderous tendencies which are simmering on the surface.

The murders at first are mysterious, the victims arrive at the funeral home, usually already open and a few organs missing, soon its arms too. John’s fascinated by the freshly delivered corpses, wanting to explore them in more detail. The closest he gets a first to the killer, to understand his methods, exploring them like a child would their food, in short he’s a disturbed guy. However we learn far too early on who the serial killer is – it’s the old guy living across the street – Mr Crowley, but that still doesn’t explain the black oily gloop that can be found at the scenes of the killings. If only we could wait a little longer to discover the killer. It’s the curiosity of John the drives him to keep looking, spotting odd behaviour and following him from a distance to what is grisly end in the snow. Taking us out of straight forward crime thriller into I don;t know what – supernatural bizarre maybe. The killing is over in a flash, like a poorly shot YouTube video, I couldn’t believe my eyes

We go into a the second half of the film to a game of innocent chasing the guilty, trying to catch him out and get him arrested, it’s not as easy as he hopes it would be. A could be killer following a killer in action. The danger of finding and understanding him is too much to pass-up, just as he wants to control and prevent that future happening to himself. It’s like a Luke Skywalker constantly being tempted by Palpatine to join the dark side, yet his humanity and the lighter side of the force sees him resist the temptation.

Admittedly there are moments of real dread, from the imagined death that’s described to John lashing out at his mum. However it’s when he almost crosses the line from his potential to certain future, trying to understand the psychology of a serial killer he tests a theory out that forces emotions that could see him enter a darker part of his life. For a few moments such as this we are given some real thrills, its too far and between to really make it worthwhile. The deaths and danger gets closer to home, then we reach the really weird ending which at first is shocking, we see John taking control, clear headed as we’ve ever seen him. He’s saved his mum but at the cost of revealing the killer and what is actually going on. I’m left scratching my head, wondering what the hell just happened. The final images stay with you, but given no real explanation for them, which is frustrating beyond the fact that the beast inside Crowley has been harvesting organs because he is dying. Nothing more is given, the loose ends aren’t tied up, we’re left with more questions and leaving us with The Spirit in the Sky to play out the film.

There’s some potential in the film, as much as there is for John to go either side of being a serial killer, exploring a future that’s being played out before him. It’s pure temptation, it’s just a shame we see little of that after the reveal, going into hunting him down, trying to understand him, which we don’t get to. It’s frustrating really and little time is given to explore other characters and how they are affected by the murders. I wish more time was given to his friendship with Max which is just 4 short scenes, his only link to the real world – or normality. It’s dark at times, and very flawed trying to be more than it is with so much there to work with. I have to admit that the cast of Lloyd in the villianous role is something I have forgotten he does so well. He’ll be forever associated with Doc Emmett Brown, however he has before and since played the weird and wonderful and the bad-guy so well so long. His height and face have allowed him to to produce some memorable roles, I can safely say this role can be added to the list, its the film that lets him down.


Network (1976) Revisited


I’ve been meaning to revisit Network (1976) partly because it celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, another being that it’s an important film that sometimes becomes overlooked with all the 24 hour sensational news we have today, I wanted to see how this prophesying film has come to reality. As I sat down to watch it I realised much I had forgotten on this dialogue heavy film. I had lost practically all of the first hour, waiting for the “Mad as Hell” speech, which I admittedly did again, but was taken aback by the other scenes and build up to what is ultimately a scene that changes the course of the film and the direction all of the characters are going on.

It’s a very human film, going back you could say to Citizen Kane (1941) the need to be loved, the need for attention is at the heart of the film. It’s not human love or attention that most people strive for here. To be embraced, understood, cared for, listened, ultimately to be wanted and loved by another in the world. This is the cut-throat world of ratings, point share and audience percentages. A very cold world where what your station transmits makes the difference of the image you project to the world. The content that for the fictional station of UBS is becoming too much when it comes to news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) who I forgot how incredible a performance he gives. Where he character begins and ends in the film which is central to the stations rise and fall. Beale is a dead man walking when the film begins, he’s just been fired by his old friend and boss Max Schumacher (William Holden), the two men drown their sorrows before he faces his final weeks at the station. Filling him with a sense of uneasy freedom that we all get when we know that what we do will have none or little consequence that a period in our lives is coming to an end. “I just don’t care, I’m going anyway”. First saying on air that he will commit suicide, a surefire boost to the ratings. That’s before the powers that be begin to pay attention. Sadly this comes after the events that are depicted in Christine (2016) of a TV reporter who actually committed suicide on the air. Dark subject matter that Sidney Lumet can’t help but use to satirize the TV news industry. Satire isn’t a word  that really sits well with this film though, it’s too dark, shocking and I didn’t laugh once. Instead I was fascinated and drawn into the insidious world of the media. It’s a precursor to a future that has all but happened today.

When the outbursts start to attract attention, numbers start to go in the right direction which means that Beale stays, just for the sake of more promising ratings. Of course it makes sense to keep on the air what grabs an audience’s attention. However it’s the content of the outbursts which is really concerning. He knows there are troubles in the world. Network was made in an era when Watergate shook the country, and the Vietnam war coming to a bloody and very climatic withdrawal. The country is filled with suspicion and disillusionment, ripe for someone to vent on a platform that can reach a massive audience. The news is the perfect position for such an individual, who is fighting for their professional survival. 

It’s at out the halfway mark that really marks a striking change in tone. “Mad as Hell” as I learned came more from an spiritual possession of Beale who is no longer himself, more a vessel to express the insecurities of a nation still coming to terms with the greatest country in the world being turned upside down at home and abroad. History is about to repeat itself in some form or another. Trumps Administration is cracking at the seams and the situation in North Korea could easily end very badly for the planet. Lets hope things don’t get that bad though. Back to the fictional 1976 we see behind the scenes at the offices of UBS in fighting for control of the news. An internal war for control both creatively and financially. Mainly between content director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) and News director Max Schumacher Beale becomes a pawn in a giant game from ratings, as UBS improves financially and in terms of its position – I still get confused with all the media talk. Maybe that’s the point. Its a different world where people don;t really matter, they are disposable if they are not in the best interest of the company.

UBS becomes a network for the lowest common denominator, airing content for shock value alone, which was years ahead of what we have now. Not as extreme but this is a filmic world where anything is possible. Making deals with political extremists for content that is brave and pushing the boundaries, but showing how far they will go, not caring how they influence society politically.

With the introduction of the board of directors and a foreign takeover bid – Arab money. Money that provides Beale with his best material or intervention, preaching to his audience to rally behind him and stop the takeover. Writing to the White House to stop the bid being approved. It’s a prime example of getting carried away with a good thing, it will always bit back. There’s a scene very late on when the chairmen of the board Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) explains how the world works. To him its not based on a community of countries that try to cooperate and live alongside each other. Which we know is a hard task at the best of times. I was first shown the scene outside of the film in a lecture, it didn’t really make sense outside the context of the film. 3rd time around I now understand the speech and it makes more sense, money is how the world functions, countries are just places to deposit it within.

Looking back I can see how much Network correctly predicted, the war of the ratings will never end, pandering to the lowest common denominator will not go away until tastes change. I see a man whose used for the sake of grabbing attention, By the end of the film, he’s no more than a disaster, toxic to them and had to literally be killed off. The scene where the murder is arranged is always shocking, cold and organised so that they all get away with it. The room is filled with people who are soulless, no life outside of the industry, I’m relieved that Schumacher was fired allowing these amoral characters to carry on. I didn’t forget the weird affair between Schumacher and Christensen which was built on drive and passion that turned into a one-sided empty relationship where nothing can survive. Taking the affair on it’s own it shows how two very different people working in the same world are so far apart. One driven by quality, heart and warmth, the other driven by stats, ratings and positions. A montage sums up how little passion there is between them. Network holds up pretty much if you ignore the political extremism, there will always be infighting, pandering to the masses not to the intelligent audience that is craving to learn, not just be herded. The power of media manipulation is rife, we have to choose carefully what is not “Fake News” today. Instead of quality news coverage which I think we’ll never really have from one source. The film has allowed for a whole sub-genre of New room drama’s which mock the media so successfully today.