Michael Fassbender

Jane Got a Gun, Slow West, The Salvation and more Westerns

With so few good Westerns coming our way these days, I make a point of watching those that do. And, in the last few months I’ve had quite a choice. In fact, I’m in Western heaven right now…to a degree. In a nutshell, here’s what’s come my way recently: Diablo, Forsaken, Slow West, Jane Got a Gun, The Salvation, The Keeping Room, The Homesman (to watch) and Das finstere Tal (also to watch).

I’ll start with the worst of the lot first so we can move along. In fact, it is barely worth mentioning. It was that bad. I’m talking about Diablo (2015). I had really hoped that Scott Eastwood would bring across some of his father’s magic but…sigh. There is just a certain oomph missing – in fact, from all the actors (Granted, the story itself was poor so I can’t really put all the blame on them). Diablo has Jackson (Eastwood) tracking down his kidnapped wife (Camilla Belle) while the viewer discovers who he really is. The potential for a gripping film was there but alas, it was totally wasted and quickly ran out of direction and depth. Quite frankly, I was close on abandoning the whole shebang especially once Walton Goggins‘ character became clearer….the hope that maybe things would turn out better kept me going…only to see it get worse.

Having got that out the way, I can move on…

Forsaken (2015), starring Donald and Kiefer Sutherland as father and son wasn’t too bad. Kiefer plays former gunslinger John Henry Clayton, who, after many years of absence returns home to make amends with his father Reverend William Clayton (Donald). All this while the town is being tormented by railroad land grabbers. This isn’t an action-filled western but rather a broody/sombre one yet still moving along at a reasonable pace and doing a good job of leaving me wondering when enough was finally enough for John Henry. I always enjoy watching Michael Wincott and was surprised by his character’s actions. Demi Moore and Brian Cox also star. So, altogether, not a bad one but I must admit,  I watched roughly ten minutes, abandoned it and only continued to the end a few days later.

The Salvation (2014) starring ever brilliant Mads Mikkelsen was brutal and heavy. Enjoyable? Not sure. Don’ think  so as ‘enjoy’ is something that makes you feel better. But good it was. I was definitely holding my breath while Jon Jensen (Mikkelsen) sought personal revenge for the murder of his family. The attention to detail, perfectly cast characters and great sets make for superb viewing. The beautiful (South African) scenery, albeit with a few superimposed bits, is the only light relief you’ll get from this one. Well worth the watch.

Now for my favourites. They are the ones that I can’t get out of my mind after watching. The ones I absolutely need in my collection:

Jane Got a Gun (2015) was great despite the poor ratings it has received (personally, I never go by these, I make up my own mind). Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) and Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) made for great partners against Ewan McGregor‘s villain Colin McCann. Jane, married to outlaw Bill, approaches Dan for help in saving her and her family from McCann. But, it isn’t a straightforward case of Jane-asks-Dan-for-help-they-win-everyone-happy. There is more to the story than meets the eye and it unfurls itself at just the right pace, not giving it all away, letting you wait, letting you process, letting you think. At the beginning I was wondering why Jane had done the things she did but by the end, I understood, with the film hitting home. While we often expect the villain to be loud and boisterous, those like McCann who appear calm and collected can be just as bad. He was spot-on and for a moment even showed he had a heart. (Keep a look-out for Rodrigo Santoro – you’ll never recognise him)

And finally….Slow West (2015). Ahhh, what a movie. Refreshing. Brilliant. I was glued from beginning to end. Acting, cinematography, music…everything just right. Once again, a moderate-paced western (seems to be the current trend) but not for a moment did Slow West ever feel slow. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) comes to America from Scotland to find his true love. Having managed on his own so far yet still “wet behind the ears” he comes across Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) (or, maybe it is Silas who comes across Jay), an outlaw, who so kindly offers to guide him across the dangerous country (naturally there are ulterior motives). Well, they encounter some interesting characters and things are, obviously, not what the seem. I did not see the ending of this one coming. Definitely one for the collection.

Oh, just quickly…The Keeping Room (2014), technically not a Western, was not at all what I expected. Despite the grim topic of three women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru) left to defend their home during the American Civil war, it was really, really good. If like me, you’ve never seen Sam Worthington in an antagonist role, watch it. He’s uncomfortably convincing as the “bad guy”.

The Homesman (2014) starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank is on my list to watch soon. Hope it is a good one. Das Finstere Tal (The Dark Valley) (2014) starring Sam Riley is also patiently gathering dust until I get to it – I’m intrigued as to what this Alpine Western will bring. I’ll keep you posted. (Update: Sombre and Cold: Das Finstere Tal )

The Romantic in me…

For starters, don’t read this if you don’t want me spoiling things for you. So:

I’m a romantic. Let me rephrase. I’m a hopeless romantic. The one who thrives on that tumbling, twisting feeling in my stomach when two characters finally fall in love. But not just any two characters. No, they have to be strong and independent with lots and lots of oomph! Their journey to each other mustn’t be obvious and definitely not soppy but also not the overused “we hate each other but actually love each other” type. In fact, the romantic kick I need is the kind that is not typically “romantic drama” or “romantic comedy” formula driven material. Don’t get me wrong, in order for my escapism to be satisfactory, I do want a happy ending (otherwise, what’s the point?) but, not the cheesy guy-and-girl-get-together-as-you-predicted-from-the-first-few-minutes-and-live-happily-ever-after, but a rich, rewarding, more realistic ending where there is genuine hope that they will stay together. Here are the ones that are my absolute best:

One of the most romantic movie moments for me is in Centurion, where Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) and his two roman colleagues come across the dwelling of Arianne (Imogen Poots). Quintus Dias has been a tough, yet intelligent, ruthless Roman until this point. She has been living on her own (I admire her), using the guise of being a witch to keep men from the nearby garrison away. Without a moment of doubt, she holds her own but for some reason (fate?) she lets Dias and his men into her home, risking her life. These two form such a natural bond that Dias sees her home as the place he ultimately belongs. He doesn’t give up his quest for her, she doesn’t beg him to stay, yet, their actions are so much more romantic, more real because of this. Nothing like a good cat-and-mouse action movie with such tenderness thrown in to give a bit of a pace reduction for just a few minutes yet having such an impact.

Then, moving on to one of my favourite films in general, but, also one of the most romantic. The Last of the Mohicans. Wow, now there is romance. In the wild frontier of America, you get this absolute heart-wrenching love.  What is more romantic that Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Uncas (Eric Schweig) running through the carnage of an attack to save the women they have come to love. Or the waterfall scene where Hawkeye says to Cora (Madeleine Stowe) “No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you” and Uncas just holding Alice (Jodhi May) not requiring any words. In fact, the Uncas/Alice love story is so understated that it leaves me wishing it had been more prominent. But then, had that been the case, I doubt it would have been as heart-felt, as real, and as rewarding, even though, she does get a bit needy and helpless at times. But, thinking about it, how much more could have been said about their love than Alice throwing herself off the cliff to be with Uncas?

Yellow Sky, now that’s an amazing film. This 1948 black and white film is absolutely fantastic with James ‘Stretch’ Dawson (Gregory Peck) taking his bank robbing gang across the desert to hide out in a ghost town. Here he comes across Constance Mae (Anne Baxter), disguised as Mike, and her grandfather. As the story unfolds, Stretch discovers that Mike is Mae but, we also see the contradiction of Mike/Mae where she is tough and holds her own, yet, at other times wants to be a lady. This is so much more rewarding that the usual man saves damsel in distress scenario. He simply lets her be who she really is and vice versa.

Ah – Robin Hood, the Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett version. I just love the amazing love story that develops between Robin Longstride and Marion Loxley. There is utmost respect for each other from the moment they meet. Both are strong and independent without ever changing who they are for each other. The most romantic part is, not when they finally dance together or when they bid each other farewell stating their love, but, when Marion arrives on the beach of the Cliffs of Dover to help fight. They stand by each other, working together yet always staying true to themselves.

And man, oh, man. I spent the entire first season of the brilliant Peaky Blinders wanting, needing, silently begging Thomas (Cillian Murphy) and Grace (Annabelle Wallis) to get together. I was tortured to the last episode for that to finally happen and therefore it had so much more impact. Grace makes all the right (or wrong, depending on your stance) decisions fully knowing the potential consequences yet staying true to herself while rationally knowing she shouldn’t be falling in love with a tough, uncompromising gangster.

Then, the Swiss Family Robinson (1960) deserves a mention. Yes, Roberta (Janet Munro) comes across as the stereotype helpless damsel to be rescued, but, cut me some slack here – watching Fritz (James MacArthur) and her fall in love is just beautiful. She may not be the strong independent woman at first, but, she rises to the challenge and puts her whole heart into the situation that has come her way. This story leaves me wanting more but, realistically, all that needs saying is said and anything more or less would not have worked. I guess what it comes down to is that by leaving the viewer craving that feel-good effect, the goal has been achieved.

Then there are those films that leave you wishing, wanting the hinted or implied romance being developed more. The likes of The Quick and the Dead (Sharon Stone’s Ellen and Russell Crowe’s Cort), Broken Arrow (Christian Slater’s Hale and Samantha Mathis’ Terry), and oh my gosh…Ironclad where the brilliant James Purefoy’s Thomas Marshal and Kate Mara’s Lady Isabel develop an understated relationship. Ultimately, for me, the romance is in the strong women and the men who love them. Or, maybe, it’s the fact that these films have romances second to the main story and therefore have so much more impact. But, that “addictively” strange lurching feeling, that’s when I know a scene has worked with me, regardless of the actors (being good or bad) but the fact that they have successfully portrayed an emotion that has reached the audience.