Slow West (2015). Magneto and Nightcrawler go west. What a poor title for a really good western. Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an idealistic, romantic and totally unprepared young man who’s come to Colorado from Scotland looking for the young woman he loves. He’s rescued from his first of many nasty encounters by Silas (Michael Fassbender,) a bounty hunter who hopes Jay will lead him right to the wanted girl and her father. This tastes a bit like spaghetti, in the long silences, leisurely journey, the music and the outsider’s view (Scottish director, filmed in New Zealand) of the cost and difficulty of life on the American frontier. But the style never gets in the way of a good story, it’s beautifully photographed, has memorable characters, an exciting shootout finale and the violence has real consequences, like orphaned children picked up by roving gangs. The ending brings Jay harsh truth about his unrequited love but there’s hope in the way life goes on. Truly a buddy western with Fassbender, a good gritty cowboy of few words, playing tough mentor and father figure caring enough to teach Jay survival skills.
The Next Three Days (2010). Good thriller with Russell Crowe as a college English professor whose wife (Elizabeth Banks, clever casting) is sentenced to life in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. When all options and appeals run out, he plans to bust her out. Nice bit by Liam Neeson as a security expert who starts Crowe off by explaining the law enforcement reaction and time limits he’ll deal with. Fun to watch this desperate and square father self-teach a crash course in illegal activity–buying a gun, following drug dealers to find a passport forger, watching youtube videos to learn lock picking, etc.– and you root for him to beat the clock before his wife’s transfer and sudden suicidal urges. Weak spot for me was the unexplained genius of the detectives who grow suspicious of Crowe’s behaviour. One magically predicts his every move once the family is on the run, and you wonder where was a detective this clever when Banks needed one? Doesn’t detract from the exciting chase and close calls.
Graduation Day (1981). Cult slasher movie about a woman returning from Navy service to her hometown to find out why her younger sister dropped dead during a HS track meet. The coach (Christopher George, who steals the movie) is creepy and mean enough to be a suspect, but then isn’t everybody? It might be any of the girl’s classmates or her devoted boyfriend, and during all the graduation ceremony prep, a deranged killer in a fencing mask murders more students. Mediocre revenge plot (with the most annoying prom band ever) but cheesy fun, especially when you spot Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White and soap star Billy Hufsey playing students.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003). Beautiful classic-style seafaring epic based on the novels of Patrick O’Brien. British Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is sent to the coast of Brazil to catch up with a French warship and after it eludes him twice he chases it all the way around South America and past the Galapagos Islands. There, he allows some time for his friend and Dr. Maturin (Paul Bettany) to indulge his love of exploration and document the biology. The two of them debate duties and responsibilities of the military/conqueror versus the scientist/explorer, and play classical music; it’s a rich friendship that balances the swashbuckling action. The ship is full of interesting men you instantly care for, from the young boy already showing an aptitude for leadership, to the reluctant officer who can’t handle the pressures of his position. The two major battles are epic but show personal, individual involvement and sacrifice, and just as important are the routines like dinners where tall tales, dumb jokes and wisdom are shared with the new sailors. Improvisation and daring are key, as when Maturin does surgery on himself with a mirror. This is the third Russell Crowe movie seen in the last few weeks and I just finished watching another that’ll be in the next of these posts.
Moneyball (2011). Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, general manager who gets the Oakland A’s from financial and athletic poverty to an unprecedented run of wins by ignoring the advice of his experienced scouts and their sometimes oddball, irrelevant criteria for choosing future stars (don’t pick a player with an ugly girlfriend, really?). Instead Beane applies the theories of nebbishy Yale-educated economist (Jonah Hill) who’s calculated the way to a World Series slot: get men on base. Picking players strictly by that statistical potential, they assemble a team of apparent misfits and losers. Pitt does a fantastic job with all the stages of this nutty season: frustrated when the crazy new idea seems to go nowhere, defending his choices and keeping his mouth shut when his doubting manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gets all the credit for the wins, and then somehow staying humble after his system is hailed as genius. For a story about trades, dollars, earning runs and depending on numbers, it’s surprisingly human and meaningful about heroism, defending a harebrained idea you know will work, not believing the hype and just doing what you love.