Screening Room: ‘Hostiles’

The latest movie from Scott Cooper (Black Mass) is a pitch-black, viciously violent Western starring Christian Bale as a cavalry officer nearing the end of his string and Wes Studi as the Indian chief who Bale has to partner with for survival.

Hostiles opens in limited release tomorrow and expands widely in January. My review is at Film Journal International:

Hostiles is a western that wants to encompass the entire moral history of the Indian Wars into one fell, vengeance-rattled saga. Of course, it doesn’t succeed—that is the fate of westerns that overextend themselves. It doesn’t completely fail, either. There are images here that will bang around in your head with a chilly echo for days afterward, not to mention a nagging sense that one has just witnessed a great and unsolvable crime…

Screening Room: ‘The Hateful Eight’

hateful8posterIt’s the holiday season, which must mean one thing: Time for another Quentin Tarantino throwback genre bloodbath. This year, it’s a snowy Western—one that Tarantino almost decided not to make after the script got leaked.

The Hateful Eight opens on Christmas Day. Some theaters are showing it in glorious 70mm UltraPanavision. My review is at PopMatters:

A locked-room mystery masquerading as a Western, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight at first looks a lot like his precious Christmas release, 2012’s Django Unchained. Fans of that exploitation abattoir might be forgiven for wondering, as they hit the intermission in the close to three-hour new movie, just when the fireworks are going to start…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Keeping Room’

'The Keeping Room' (Drafthouse Films)
General Sherman is coming, with fire and musket: ‘The Keeping Room’ (Drafthouse Films)

In the neo-feminist Western The Keeping Room, three women must defend themselves against marauding soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

The Keeping Room is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Somewhere in the American South in the last year of the Civil War, a black woman, presumably a slave, hauling wood down an empty country road meets a fierce-looking dog. When it begins to growl and bark, she barks right back. Then she notices the carriage stopped in the middle of the road. A half-dressed woman runs from the carriage, only to be shot in the back by the Union soldier in the carriage who appears to have just raped her. Then the first woman is herself shot in the head by another soldier who appears behind her. It’s a vicious and primal scene, a warning for what awaits the trio of women who are next in the soldiers’ path…

Here’s the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘Slow West’

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee in 'Slow West' (A24)
Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee get acquainted in ‘Slow West’ (A24)

Slow West Final PosterA teenaged boy embarks on an epic journey to track down the woman he loves … and bad guys intervene.

Slow West is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Indie westerns have blazed and snuck across screens for the past few years in a variety of flavors, from the lo-fi musings of Meek’s Cutoff to the bloody-minded vengeance of The Salvation. But none has been quite as surreptitiously odd and original as John Maclean’s Slow West. There are times when it plays as such a straightforward oater you wouldn’t be surprised to see a craggy Robert Duvall come riding up, Winchester rifle perched casually but authoritatively on his hip. At other moments the story slants sideways to resemble a loonier frontier-mad dream piece like Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja. It never quite stays in reach…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Homesman’

Tommy Lee Jones in 'The Homesman' (Roadside Attractions)
Tommy Lee Jones in ‘The Homesman’ (Roadside Attractions)

In the quasi-Western The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones plays a claims-jumper in 1850s Nebraska who gets roped into helping a tough-minded spinster (Hilary Swank) cart three insane women to safety in Iowa. Jones, who looks less and less comfortable in modern garb these days, also directed and co-wrote the screenplay.

The Homesman opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

“I live uncommonly alone,” says Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) in Tommy Lee Jones’ adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel about a raw frontier where solitude and madness are constant companions. The Homesman tries to cut a mordant, witty Coen Brothers line between tragedy and comedy and can’t quite manage either. More particularly, it never knows quite what to make of Cuddy, who is at once valorized as a heroically staunch figure and at the same time mocked for her stiff manner and panicky ways…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Django Unchained’

Django Unchained
Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) get ready to dispense justice and bon mots aplenty

djangounchained-dvdQuentin Tarantino’s Christmas 2012 genre mashup bloodbath Django Unchained gets released on DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s no classic by any measure (that writing Oscar wasn’t exactly earned), but at least half of it is better than just about anything else out there right now.

My original review ran at Film Journal International:

Tarantino works fast in these early sections, delivering several loose riffs on typical western showdowns and balancing them out with a couple of comic scenes that land in a pleasing middle somewhere between Blazing Saddles and (particularly in a “Who’s on first?”-type routine with a masked lynch mob hunting Django and Schultz) O Brother, Where Art Thou? A high point of bafflingly hilarious absurdity comes when Don Johnson appears as a plantation owner given to Colonel Sanders suits and prolix verbosity. The humor plays well throughout (Django even gets a catch-phrase: “The ‘D’ is silent”) but at the disadvantage of dulling the edge of the script’s visceral portrayal of the savagery of slavery—a problem that gets more pronounced by the film’s gory climax…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Heaven’s Gate’

heavensgate-dvdIn the history of legendary cinematic disasters, there are flops and then there is Heaven’s Gate:

In his interview on the Criterion Collection release of the 1980 Michael Cimino film Heaven’s Gate, a craggy-looking Kris Kristofferson makes a strong appeal for the roundly maligned Western as being a potent work of political cinema. Kristofferson sticks up for Cimino’s indictment of Manifest Destiny and robber baron greed at the end of the 19th century. Of course, he did star in the thing. But still, this is the iconoclast’s take, and an unpopular coming after more than two decades of popular film history telling us that not only was Heaven’s Gate one of the greatest disasters in film history (it took in less than ten percent of the $40 million budget at the box office) but that it single-handedly ended the free-wheeling era of American filmmaking…

The Criterion Collection now offers Heaven’s Gate on DVD and Blu-ray, with plenty of the usual extras. My full review of the DVD edition is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer for the original film release here: