Category Archives: Western

Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Welcome to to the year 2019, readers! Every year brings a new crop of movies that get my blood pumping for one reason or another. This year is no different, as there are a number of high-profile (And smaller indie) releases that have been holding my attention for months on end now. As per usual, there are so many coming out within the next 12 months that it was kind of hard to narrow down into a ranked list. I could only include 10 on this list, though, so here are several honorable mentions that are also on my watchlist for the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shazam!, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, It Chapter Two, Artemis Fowl, The Kid Who Would Be King, Missing Link, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Captive State, Aladdin, The Lion King, Alita: Battle Angel, High Life, Velvet Buzzsaw

Let’s see what’s coming out, now.

#10: “The Irishman” (TBA 2019)

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If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that Netflix really wants to be taken seriously in the filmmaking industry. While there are still several directors and producers who are cynical about the streaming service’s merits, they have managed to attract numerous high-profile auteurs due to their emphasis on creative and artistic freedom. One of those auteurs is Martin Scorsese, whose long-gestating project The Irishman was finally given the green light once it got to Netflix. While it technically doesn’t have an official release date yet, most sources seem to indicate that it’s going to be released sometime in 2019. And with the recent theatrical success of Roma, I can easily see this as a window for them to open more of their films in theaters. If for nothing else, I just want to see Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (In his first role in nearly a decade) work together on-screen.

#9: “Joker” (Opens October 4th)

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I can’t quite explain why, but Todd Phillips’ Joker movie has my interest piqued more than any other comic book adaptation coming out next year. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Shazam!, but this just seems really different from those other films in so many aspects. Based on many accounts I’ve read, Warner Bros. is gunning for a more character-driven, smaller-scale film. Rumor has it that they’ll let get an R-rating, and may even put it into a fall festival next year! Joaquin Phoenix seems like a natural fit for the titular part, reportedly having been terrified by the script he read. And if the set videos prove anything, it’s definitely going to be fast-paced.

#8: “Glass” (Opens January 18th)

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19 years it’s been since Unbreakable first came onto the scene as a brand new superhero movie, but the world was sadly not ready. Now, with a surprise twist at the end of Split, M. Night Shyamalan is officially bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit in a drastically different world than the one it was when it began. Superheroes have absolutely flooded the market in the last 10 years, and it’s both great that Glass is coming out at the genre’s peak, and sad that it took this long. Regardless, it looks like a really cool and intense showdown between the three super-powered beings we’ve come to know, all while wearing its love of comic books proudly on its sleeves. And its use of color looks genius.

#7: “Midsommar” (Opens August 9th)

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It’s honestly kind of problematic for me to say that I’m “excited” for a new movie by the same guy who made Hereditary. I honestly couldn’t blame anyone who still hasn’t recovered from that feverish nightmare, but writer-director Ari Aster already has another film coming down the pipe. This time, it involves a violent pagan cult in Amsterdam. Described as an “apocalyptic breakup movie,” A24 has reportedly constructed a 15-building village to bring his twisted vision to life, so it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on for the end of the summer.

#6: “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Opens May 17th)

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The set photo above is easily enough to have me already pumped to the max about the supposed trilogy capper for Lionsgate’s surprise action franchise. I’ve absolutely loved these movies not just for their incredibly well-choreographed and shot action scenes but also for the unique world that has been built. John Wick 3: Parabellum seemingly promises to further blossom that world as we getting to see not only more assassins, but also introduces a society of NINJAS. Need I say more?

#5: “Us” (Opens March 15th)

It’s safe to say that after the phenomenal success of Get Out, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. He’s lined up quite a few projects as a producer with power that it’s somewhat easy to forget he’s stepping behind the camera once more next year for a new horror movie. The trailer for Us looks incredibly enticing, as it sees him tackling more high-concept material with a larger budget this time around, along with some impressive casting choices. I’m curious to see what sociopolitical topic Peele will be satirizing this time, but based on the imagery shown thus far, he’s cooked up yet another original triumph.

#4: “Ad Astra” (Opens May 24th)

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Having seen We Own the Night, The Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z, I’m now convinced that James Gray is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in America. He has a certain classical touch that seems to permeate across multiple genres. I’m incredibly curious to see what he has cooked up for Ad Astra, an original sci-fi epic apparently inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness. It centers on a slightly autistic Army engineer who goes on a space voyage to find his father, who was last heard heading for Neptune about 25 years earlier. Not only does boast stars like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, but also Christopher Nolan’s recent muse Hoyte Van Hoytema is handling the cinematography.

#3: “Knives Out” (Opens November 27th)

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With nary a poster, trailer, first-look image, or even proper synopsis in sight, it says a lot that I’m putting Knives Out this high on the list. It has been described by several sources as writer-director Rian Johnson’s modern-day take on a classic Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery. It’s far too rare that we can get a movie as simple as that these days. Not to mention, it has a stacked cast including Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and even Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really intriguing to see what Johnson has in store for a smaller-scale story like this after helming a huge blockbuster like The Last Jedi. Speaking of which…

#2: “Star Wars Episode IX” (Opens December 20th)

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It feels super lazy for me to include a Star Wars movie on a list like this, but I just can’t help it. As per usual, any and all details of what might be going on in this sequel trilogy capper are being kept under lock and key. We do know that newcomers include Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell have joined the cast, Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and the plot will take place one year after The Last Jedi, perhaps one of the most divisive films of the decade. What makes it all the more enticing is that it is planned to be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, which has spanned decades now. Of course, Disney has more Star Wars material planned to come down the pipe, but to see the story finally reaching a real conclusion is kind of like taking one last trip to your old hometown before saying goodbye.

#1: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26th)

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You’re going to have to work extremely hard to make me not feel excited for a new movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. While he has gone through some pretty rough patches recently- severing ties with Harvey Weinstein, the Roman Polanski audio, Uma Thurman’s revelatory Kill Bill story -the auteur still has plans and has no intention of slowing them down. His 9th feature film- and supposedly his penultimate one, if what he says is true -legitimately sounds like a passion project he’s been working towards his whole career. It’s going to be set in Hollywood 1969 as a Western T.V. actor and his longtime stunt double struggle to make it in a changing film landscape, and also happens to involve the infamous Manson Murders. Featuring an absolutely sprawling ensemble cast packed with movie stars and said to be close in style to Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sounds like an epic in the making.

Do you agree with my picks? What are your most anticipated films coming out later this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section, and as always, if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Following my Blog for similar content. Happy New Year, everybody!

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“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” Movie Review

For those who are not in the mood for something as bleak as Godless but still more entertaining and valuable than The Ridiculous 6. This anthology-style Western dark comedy premiered in competition at the 75th Venice Film Festival. Despite a relatively cool response, it won the award for Best Screenplay and grew in favor with critics and industry insiders at further screenings at the New York Film Festival and A.F.I. Fest. In a truly unusual move for Netflix, it was released in limited theaters throughout the country a week before hitting the streaming service on November 16th, 2018. Of course, they never release their rating numbers, so it’s unlikely if we’ll ever know it’s true success at the box office. Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the project is based on a series of short stories the duo wrote over the course of 20 to 25 years. Although it was initially reported to be a six-part television series, it has been insisted by the brothers and production company Annapurna Pictures that it was always intended to be a feature film. Told in a storybook format, we’re given 6 individual stories, all set in the Wild West. The first one finds the titular misanthrope as he sings and gallops through the desert. Then, “Near Algones” follows an outlaw who constantly finds himself in danger, while “Meal Ticket” sees a tragic traveling act as they work their monologue-heavy show through the winter in various towns. “All Gold Canyon” (An actual short story by Jack London) sees a grizzled prospector mining gold out of an untouched part of land, whereas “The Gal Who Got Rattled” is about a young woman begins a lustrous relationship with someone aboard a wagon train. And finally, “The Mortal Remains” sees a handful of travelers riding in a wagon together, arguing about life, death, morality, and other fundamentals of the world. As mentioned in my review for Fargo, I’m generally a big fan of the Coen Brothers’ work. While some of their work has been more impressive than others, Fargo and No Country For Old Men are two of my favorite movies of all time, while most of their filmography is still great at blending various genres and tones. While yes, their 2010 remake of True Grit was a straight-up Western, hearing their plans for an anthology like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs sounded like a great advancement of their careers. It being released on Netflix is both a blessing, because I get easy accessibility to their newest work, and a curse, since it’s not released in theatrical form like its counterparts. But still, it’s a great segue into their filmography with all of the excellent traits to expect from each film of theirs. Like many of their works, this one is far darker and more melancholy than it may seem at first glance. Yes, there is a healthy dose of genuinely funny dark comedy, often through the ironic situations characters in each story get themselves into. (“Near Algones” features the epitome of “gallows humor”) But they also come with a certain kind of sadness, some cases more obvious than others, and even a nihilistic view of the world they live in. The Wild West may be vast, beautiful, and open, but it’s also lawless, harshly violent, and wholly indifferent to the problems of its occupants, especially women and minorities. It’s very similar territory that the Coen Brothers have explored a few times before, but now it’s in anthology format. This is the thread that connects all of the tales together, instead of some crossover character of narrative crutch; for which I’m very thankful. Tim Blake Nelson stars as the titular outlaw in the first short, and I can’t think of an actor better fit for the part. Dipped in a heavy Texas drawl, he constantly breaks the fourth wall to humorously explain his state of mind during otherwise serious scenarios. It fits in good contrast with his violent nature, although he claims not to have any animosity towards his fellow man. The only other two actors that can match him is Tom Waits as the prospector in “All Gold Canyon” and Zoe Kazan in “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” Both show a tremendous amount of wonder for the untouched land that they explore and get to witness firsthand the violence that can erupt at any time. The rest of the ensemble is stacked with amazing talent from cover to cover. Liam Neeson, Clancy Brown, Bill Heck, Stephen Root, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Tyne Daly, Ralph Ineson, and Grainger Hines all do outstanding work across their respective shorts. Each of them is able to speak the absolutely brilliant dialogue to be expected from the filmmakers in their own distinct ways, creating unique characters aplenty. As far as technical aspects go, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs shows the Coen Brothers can still retain their unique voice no matter what platform its released on. Without regular collaborator Roger Deakins, Bruno Delbonnel had to step in for cinematography, marking the directors’ first foray into digital filmmaking. It’s a seamless transition, though, as there are many stunning shots throughout the film that capture the beautiful Western landscape, in stark contrast to the violence common in this area. Colors are vibrant and pretty, especially green for the pastors, and really make it look like a painting of the Romantic Era. The editing by Roderick Jaynes, meanwhile, shows the very precise way in which the brothers like to cut their films together. It breaks between cuts very artfully, such as Scruggs moving between different cameras to talk to about his perspective on the West and those who inhabit it. Continuing their fruitful collaboration, Carter Burwell composes and conducts the musical score for the 15th time with the filmmaking duo, with yet another round of impressive. Both sweeping and immediate, the score as a whole often feels like it was made for a Western picture back during the Golden Age of Hollywood. There are a lot of tracks involving strings, including strummed guitars and jagged staccatos, that establish the mood of each short. The use of brass also makes it sound classical, especially with the trumpet solemnly carrying the melody in several parts. It also has an original song called “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” written by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Performed by Tim Blake Nelson and singer Willie Watson at the end of the eponymous first short, it’s a bittersweet duet ballad that laments about what it’d take for a gunslinger to give it up. It utilizes both singers magnificent voices, as well as harmonica and choral background; you’d swear it was written in that time period. In many ways, it’s perfect for the film as a whole for how it captures the gloomy tone. As with most anthology films, not all of the shorts are of equal quality to each other. I could have honestly spent an entire feature-length adventure with the titular character alone and been satisfied. Length is also an enemy, as I’m not entirely convinced that “The Gal Who Got Rattled” or “Meal Ticket” needed to be as long as they were. Overall though, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an expertly woven storybook that’s as hilarious as it is tragic. The fact that the Coen Brothers were able to wring a compelling film out of Netflix is a testament both to their versatility and the distributor’s draw for auteurs. Featuring great music and intriguing themes in each of its stories, like many of their films, it really marinates on you after the first viewing. You may even be compelled to watch it again.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” Movie Review

Alright, so I had originally planned on reviewing this film last year as part of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s release. However, since that video game had been delayed by virtually a whole year, I postponed it. Now that it’s officially out on the shelves and as part of my New Year’s Resolution, now’s as good a time as any to review. This epic Spaghetti Western was originally released in Italy on December 23rd, 1966. It reached cinemas in the United States about a full year later, mere months after its two predecessors hit theaters there as well. While it managed to gross over $25 million at the box office against a $1.2 million budget, surprisingly, the film was initially received negatively by American critics, primarily for its exaggerated depiction of violence. Today, it is rightfully considered one of the great films of its decade and genre. Directed and co-written by Sergio Leone, the film was originally pitched by screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, which received backing by the Hollywood studio United Artists. Its star initially was hesitant to return out of fear that a supporting player would steal the spotlight from him. Based on the timeline and events of the film, it’s actually a prequel to the previous two film, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Clint Eastwood returns for the 3rd time as The Man With No Name, nicknamed “Blondie,” a morally ambiguous gunslinger drifting through the New Mexican desert. In 1862, at the height of the American Civil War, he and two other rogues- bandit Tuco and mercenary Angel Eyes -learn of a cache containing $200,000 of Confederate gold. Each man, some having a little more knowledge than others, set off to find it, all while trying to avoid the ongoing carnage from the Union and Confederacy. If you guys read any of my reviews from spring of last year, you might have noticed that I’m a pretty big fan of Western movies. While I had only seen one other Spaghetti Western at that point, Once Upon a Time in the West also directed by Sergio Leone, watching (and reviewing) them had made me find a new appreciation for the genre in certain areas. I got the chance to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the first time a few years ago, but it was very late at night. After watching the first two in the Man With No Name Trilogy last year, I decided to revisit it and see if it was as brilliant as I thought it was. Spoiler alert: it completely succeeded my expectations. It’s a bit unfair, though, because after watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it becomes incredibly hard to watch or enjoy other Western movies. The genre used to be a hotbed for Hollywood for about 30 to 40 years, mostly ones that were starring John Wayne or Yul Brenner. While the vast majority of them played a straight story of good riders and bad, cowboys and Indians, there emerged a huge subgenre in Italy that was low-budget but highly profitable. Leone was one of those leaders, crafting a morality play that satirizes the absurdity of war and the lengths some men go to just for a cache of gold. The main star would later address this Frontier issue in his own film Unforgiven, this is simply on a more epic scale. Speaking of its star, this film launched Clint Eastwood’s huge career for a good reason. While he doesn’t speak much and is almost always scowling, his is the type of cool masculinity that illustrates why you should never cross them. He also displays some great sarcastic wit, saying “I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly” after witnessing a bloody Civil War battle. Lee Van Cleef is also excellent as Angel Eyes, the “bad” gunslinger of the trio, playing a cold-hearted mercenary willing to kill innocent people to get the job done. His stoic demeanor and sociopathic behavior towards others demonstrates a violent ruthlessness on the level of Anton Chigurh or The Terminator. Finally, there’s Eli Wallach as Tuco, the more comical and irresponsible of the bunch. His delivery of some deadpan lines provides a great and unexpected sense of humor as he virtually bumbles from point to point in the desert. In a way, it’s more of Tuco’s journey with the amount of focus the story puts on him. Meanwhile, with the technical aspects, we get to revel in a truly wonderous motion picture with some revolutionary techniques. Tonino Delli Colli’s cinematography is extremely precise in how it can really draw out a violent confrontation between characters. Along with some gorgeous wide shots of the Italian and Spanish plateaus, there are an abundance of close ups on the subjects. It uses these shots to build the anticipation of the conflict, moving between extreme close ups of faces and sweeping longs to highlight the space between the characters. Thanks to the immaculate editing of Nino Baragli and Eugenio Alabiso, the flow between these shots is perfect. Whether it’s like a bird’s eye view of a massive Civil War set piece or a more intimate shootout between outlaws, we’re always present where the violence occurs. Ennio Morricone may have finally won the Oscar for The Hateful Eight a couple years ago, but he deserve more recognition for his iconic film score in this film. Utilizing a wide arrangement of different instruments, we truly get to feel the scope and scale of this story. Some of the characters have more specific leitmotifs, such as wood flutes, whistling or yodeling. But other pieces make brilliant use of percussion, an actual coyote howl, and trumpet solos to create gun-like sound effects. Sure, the main theme is one that everyone knows, and plays over the memorable opening credit sequence. Yet it’s because of tracks like “The Ecstasy of Gold” and “The Trio” that hep truly mark its place in history. All of these elements come together for the immortal final showdown, a Mexican standoff between the three titular gunslingers. Without any dialogue spoken at all, a beautiful score, and fantastic camerawork, it keeps me on the edge of my seat each time I watch it. If ever there were a moment in cinema that defined why I loved movies, that scene would certainly be up near the top. While its deliberately slow pace and lack of verbal exposition may make it seem like a chore to some, to cinephiles, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a stunningly beautiful and captivating Western defiant to age. You literally don’t need to have seen either A Fistful of Dollars or For a Few Dollars More in order to watch this classic. It defined a genre, it defined an era, and it defined the career one of the biggest movie stars ever to appear on the silver screen.

“Lawrence of Arabia” Movie Review

The day that the casual viewer is able to make it all the way through Lawrence of Arabia with little to no guidance is the day that they truly fall in love with this medium. That’s happened to me, and I sincerely hope that that is what happens with other future cinephiles like you. This epic historical drama was first released around the world on December 10th, 1962 by Columbia Pictures. Grossing over $70 million at the box office against a budget of $15 million, it also won massive critical praise and scored multiple award nominations. It ultimately went to win 7 out 10 total nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, has been included in several “Best of all time” lists, and- easily most important of all -has been proclaimed by Steven Spielberg as his favorite film of all time. It’s also been rereleased in theaters multiple times in different formats, both digital and celluloid. Directed by David Lean, the long in-development production on the true story marks the second collaboration between him and producer Sam Spiegel, who had worked together on  the war film Bridge on the River Kwai. It took many years to convince the titular figure’s surviving father to sell the rights of several writings collected. Mainly taking inspiration from his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson traded several drafts, which tried to juggle the study of the main character as well as the more political aspects of the events., but were forced to start filming without a complete screenplay. Based mostly on the true story, Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a highly educated British Army lieutenant who has the personality of a misfit. During World War I, he is sent to the Arab Peninsula, where Prince Faisal and the gathered Arab tribes are in need of support for their uprising against the Ottoman Empire. To the surprise of pretty much everyone around him, he becomes an important figure for the War to End All Wars in this sector of the world. His accomplishments and exploits turn him into a messianic hero for the cause, but also must contend with the emotional and psychological toll the journey brings on him. It feels cliché to say this, but I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet that every cinephile out there has at least one film that ignited their passionate love for movies. Some might be seen in the theater, others are probably found on home media. Either way, it must have awoken something deep inside the viewer, an unquenchable thirst for answers on how a motion picture like this could be so amazing. For me, Lawrence of Arabia is that type of movie. For it not only opened my eyes to things once thought impossible on the film canvas, but proves to be a true gem in a seemingly forgotten time of ambitious filmmaking. I can still vividly remember the first time I watched it. It was the first weekend after 7th grade started, my mother suggested we go see it together. It was showing at the Paramount, an old movie theater in the downtown Austin area,  screened in 70 mm with an intermission. It is one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and the moment that I wanted to fall in love with cinema. What strikes me most is how well-balanced everything is, whether it’s intimate moments with the big or broad themes with character-centric ones. David Lean never gets enough credit, in my opinion. In his first major acting role, Peter O’Toole gives a stunning performance as Lawrence himself. Whilst it exaggerates certain aspects of his character and legacy, the subtlety in his gradual spiral. This is best illustrated in two moments when Lawrence looks at himself in the reflection of a dagger, and the circumstances of both. He also employs a wry sense of humor, as the first thing he tells a soldier after trekking through the desert is, “We want two, large glasses of lemonade.” Opposite him is Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, the protagonist’s primary Arab guide in the adventure. Far more pragmatic and stern than Lawrence, it’s clear how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the Arab cause. Like O’Toole, he deserved to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, despite not winning. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Lawrence of Arabia are almost entirely what caused me to seriously examine filmmaking. Freddie Young’s astonishing cinematography brings the Arabian desert to glorious, beautiful life. Gorgeous wides of the vast landscape paint the scope of the story on 70 mm Super Panavision film. With static push-ins and steady shots, this film as some of the most breathtaking frames my eyes have ever laid eyes on. In fact, in many ways, it eclipses the craftwork of other crew members. Which is not at all to bash Phyllis Dalton’s fantastic costumes or the amazing production design of Johns Stoll and Box. Equally impressive is the editing by Anne V. Coates, which is extremely precise and engaging. The now-famous transition from a match flame to sunrise in the desert is so unexpectedly perfect in its simplicity and effectiveness. In many ways, that one transition captures the whole scale and scope of the film, and it’s so simple. Maurice Jarre composes and conducts the musical score, which has become so iconic over the years that it defines multiple film scores’ templates. The main theme, which is used as the backbone for most of the tracks is just like the film itself: huge, bolstering, jaw-dropping, and beautiful. It primarily utilizes a series of elaborate strings to eschew the main melody several times, while also using a number of other great instruments. These include bouncing percussion such as xylophone, timpani, and auxiliary equipment to more harsh brass trumpets. There are even brief bits of marching military snare drums and trills on high-pitched flutes. The theme builds and then drops again constantly, almost like a Shephard’s Tone built specifically for the desert. It’s grand and flamboyant, much like the titular protagonist. And what an accomplishment it should be to all those who can withstand the mammoth task of finishing it all in one sitting. Clocking in at 3 hours and 42 minutes, it may sound like an intimidating commitment of time. But trust me when I say that that running time actually flies by, for it not only engrosses you in the adventure but makes keeps you enthralled by way of all of the stated qualities above. Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible and sweeping epic destined to inspire for eternity. This is the kind of movie that, as you’re watching, feels like the only movie that there was, is, or ever should be. Films like Lawrence of Arabia remind me why I love cinema in the first place, and makes me fall head over heels for the medium every time I see it. And someday, if I ever get to fulfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker, this David Lean masterpiece is the one I’ll watch right before production.

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“Solo: A Star Wars Story” Movie Review

After 3 movies in a row released during the Christmas season, the Star Wars Saga finally sees its return to the more traditional summer movie season. Whether or not that’s an especially great thing is entirely up for debate, my friends. This space-western, marking the 10th live-action feature in the iconic franchise, premiered out of competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival before releasing in theaters worldwide on May 25th. While it has made over $345 million at the box office, the film was still produced on a budget of $275 million. With a historic drop in attendance during the second weekend, it’s estimated to become the first Star Wars movie to lose money. Co-written by franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who announced that this would likely be his last gig with the long-running series, the film was first put under the directorial hands of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. However, two weeks before filming could finish, the two were fired due to Lucasfilms’ disapproval of their more comedic, improv-heavy style. Ron Howard, who had previously been offered the chair for The Phantom Menace, was brought in to finish it and pull off extensive reshoots in a stupidly quick time. It has been reported that 70% of the finished film is of his own doing. Set many years before the events of the original trilogy, the story- as the title suggests -follows Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, a cocky smuggler with no real allegiance. Following a series of unwanted circumstances, Han, his new Wookie partner Chewbacca, and newly found mentor Tobias Beckett find themselves in the debt of renowned Outer Rim crime lord Dryden Vos. The team soon become involved in an intergalactic heist where, along the way, they meet Lando Calrissian and the Corellian spacecraft the Millenium Falcon. Since this project was first announced a few years ago, I’ve had… mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was excited to see more new Star Wars stories from different angles to get away from the somewhat tiring Skywalker Saga. There are simply so many fascinating worlds and species and characters worth exploring outside of the main storyline that can add more intrigue to the still-burgeoning Disney canon. On the opposite side of that coin, though, there was the burning feeling that we didn’t need or want to know the origins of arguably the most beloved character in the whole franchise. That it would become the beginning of the House of Mouse turning something dearly, intensely loved into a corporate brand. (Those who tell you The Last Jedi started it are wrong) So how does Solo: A Star Wars Story turn out to be? Well, it’s… fine, I guess. To be fair, the production process was far more hellish and dreary than it should have been in the first place. Considering the fact that Ron Howard only had a few weeks to finish the job AND have it ready in time for a late May release is honestly astounding. One has to give Disney some stones for not simply pushing it back to the holidays like the previous 3 movies under their banner. With all of that taken into consideration, the movie actually turned out far better and more entertaining than had been anticipated. Yet at the same time, it just doesn’t feel like it’s trying hard enough to distinguish itself from other entries in the series. Howard is great with some of the more heartfelt, character-centric moments, but the action sequences feel almost void of personality or unique style. Alden Ehrenreich is certainly on his way to becoming a household name thanks to his performance in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and this film, and rightfully so. He has just the right amount of charisma and rugged charm to fit into the character’s shoes and shares great chemistry with Chewie on nearly every occasion. The standouts for me were Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s motion-capture turn as the droid companion L3-37 and, of course, Donald Glover as Lando. While she is a radical, free-thinking robot who wants to challenge her people’s place in the galaxy, he is a wildly charismatic smuggler who steals every scene of the movie. Other actors in the ensemble like Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, and Game of Thrones alum Emilia Clarke, aren’t given much to say or do to leave a lasting impression. As always with the series, if for nothing else, you can count on Solo to deliver a technically riveting experience. Cinematographer Bradford Young, fresh off his nomination for his amazing work for Arrival, does a fairly good job at shooting the seedy underbelly of the galaxy. However, it seems like it took him a little while to get comfortable with the style and texture of the inimitable world. Much of the first act is very dimly lit and, with the constant shift from steady to handheld shots, it can be hard to discern what’s going on. The sound design and CGI is impeccable (For the most part) as both come together for some gritty action sequences. One particular battle early on involving the Empire makes for some riveting stuff; it’s also the point in the movie when I really started getting interested in the movie. As was the case with Rogue One, veteran composer John Williams sat out on scoring the soundtrack for this spinoff. However, he did contribute to writing and composing the main theme, which combines two unused tracks from previous films into one song that does a fair job at capturing the adventurous tone. For the rest of it, John Powell takes over duties and actually produces some memorable pieces, all of which have that classic Star Wars tinge. From the beginning, the classic opening crawl and blasting theme music is instead replaced with fading text describing the galaxy’s state. This is accompanied by menacing strings that are soon joined by dynamic percussion and skipping horn beats. It just feels so weird reviewing this movie. Normally, I’m excited to get my opinion on the newest installment from one of my favorite franchises out into the world. But I saw this movie nearly a month ago, and have been struggling with how to properly approach it. I didn’t hate it, but there’s also just not enough about it that’s remarkable enough to count among the “great” entries of the Saga. Then again, I had never really expected it to and it didn’t seem like it wanted to be. While your viewing experiences may differ, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable, uninspired space adventure starring amazing heroes. If you go into this movie just wanting to watch a fun, loose Western in a fantastical version of space, then it’ll be a blast. Expect anything earth-shattering or nostalgia-inducing and you’re bound to be disappointed. Either way, this movie has witty quips and obscure fan service for days- for better or for worse.

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“The Dark Tower” Movie Review

Well, isn’t this just the year of Stephen King adaptations? Unfortunately, not all of them can be a hit. This science fantasy western from director Nikolaj Arcel was released worldwide on August 4th, 2017, earning back less than half of its $60 million budget. The film was in development hell for many years, with directors like J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard attached as director at one point in time. Howard stayed on as a producer, while Arcel was hired to take his spot. Then the cast was officially announced in March of 2016, and the product was finally moving forward. Based on the titular series of novels, the 95-minute story follows a young kid from New York named Jake Chambers, played by Tom Taylor. He dreams of another world other than this one where an order of peacekeepers called the Gunslingers are trying to protect a mythical Dark Tower and is accidentally brought into it. Becoming the apprentice of the last Gunslinger Roland Deschain, played by Idris Elba, the boy and Roland must trek across Mid-World to protect the center of the multiverse, the Dark Tower, from the evil Man in Black. Look, I fully know about the depths of crap this movie has been dragged through over the course of the last year. Before the marketing campaign even started, it already went through a laundry list of production problems and setbacks. The trailers were pretty bad, there wasn’t a huge leadup to the release, and King himself oscillated between supporting the film and maligning it. But, as a big fan of the books, essentially the series that got me into the author in the first place, I remained ever the optimist. Now to start out, The Dark Tower is not as awful as some critics would lead you to believe. There are some moments that are genuinely entertaining. And I was actually okay with the announcement that this would be a sequel to the first novel rather than a full-on adaptation. The book is so massive and complex that adapting it is virtually impossible. But it also took elements from the third and fourth novels and threw them in an hour-and-a-half blender. And the resulting product we’ve been given is barely coherent at all and hardly does justice to King’s source material. Former Luther star Idris Elba plays Roland Deschain and does pretty well on his part. He’s not in the film as much as you might think, but he turns out to be a badass shooter. A training scene where he recites his order’s Creed is rather inspiring. The real star is newcomer Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, who honestly carries the film on his back. You can actually care for his problems and pulls off some real emotion during some scenes. He comes off as annoying sometimes, but he’s not the problem. The problem lies with Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the Man in Black. A recurring villain in most of the author’s work, he is supposed to be this frightening yet charismatic trickster who’s wholly unpredictable. In this movie, he’s been reduced to an omnipotent wizard acting like Grand Moff Tarkin. I honestly can’t tell if McConaughey didn’t care about his character or if he got bad direction from Arcel. And while Arcel is clearly a great director of dramas given his filmography, he needs to learn how to film action scenes better. The editing job from Dan Zimmerman and Alan Edward Bell is very choppy, even during some of the tamest scenes. Sometimes, it seemed like it was trying to hide the bad CGI. Other times, it looked like they were under pressure from the studio to keep it at a PG-13 rating. It also doesn’t help that the cinematography by Rasmus Videbæk is too washed-out and murky to appreciate the fascinating world on display here. There are endless landscapes in this place, but they look so dull that you’d never want to see it again. The musical score by Tom Holkenborg A.K.A. Junkie XL, is a decent but ultimately forgettable one. And similar to a few other movies released in 2017, The Dark Tower is desperate to launch a shared-universe franchise. For those unfamiliar with Stephen King, virtually all of his stories take place in the same universe with little Easter Eggs hidden in them. This movie tries to take advantage of that but forcefully shoves in references to The Shining and IT. That is, of course, when things are actually happeningA story like this deserves a serious treatment with a runtime of at least 2 hours and 15 minutes. Instead, Columbia Pictures took what’s essentially The Lord of the Rings set in the brutal Wild West and turned it into a half-baked action movie served cold for the slump of August. While there are some nice moments, The Dark Tower wastes a powerful story in favor of incomprehensible action and bloated franchise-building. It’s too incoherent for newcomers and it’s too simplistically far-off for established fans. Here’s hoping that someone can actually take this failure away and do the books justice in the future. Now that’s a reboot I’d pay to see. But until then, any man (or woman) who defiles this series has forgotten the face of their father.

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“Bone Tomahawk” Movie Review

Who knew that a Western starring Kurt Russell could be so damn brutal? Produced on a modest budget of $1.8 million, this western-horror hybrid premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse Fantastic Fest in September of 2015, before receiving a simultaneous release in theaters and video on demand on October 23rd. This likely led to it only grossing about $232,800 worldwide, despite it’s relatively stacked cast. The film marks the directorial debut of western and crime novelist S. Craig Zahler. He apparently had experience in screenwriting beforehand, but this was the first one under his singular vision. Set somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, the story follows a small town called Bright Hope which is being terrorized by a mysterious tribe of cannibals. After a few townsfolk go missing, Sheriff Franklin Hunt assembles a hunting party to track down the savages and bring their people home. In my search of horror films to review in the time of Halloween, I decided to shake things up a bit and add a little interesting flavor to the mix. We don’t get to see many Westerns anymore, let alone ones that are hybrids of other genres. The latter examples that do exist are mostly just mixed in with sci-fi, but they’re usually terrible like Jonah Hex and Cowboys and Aliens. But I had heard some positive buzz about this little gem as well as the director’s newest film Brawl in Cell Block 99, so I was very curious to see what he could cook up with this particular recipe. And I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it by myself in the middle of the night on Amazon Prime. It is truly disturbing but my God is it entertaining and fun to watch. By far my favorite aspect of Bone Tomahawk was how well-written and believable the dialogue was. Being written by a novelist, Zahler has a clear understanding of how people in this time period talked. The civilized folk uses fancy words while low scumbags speak like they have only a few words in their lexicon. There a few lines that I still remember and think about quoting in casual conversations. It’s that great. A veteran of Westerns like Tombstones and The Hateful Eight, Kurt Russell is a perfect fit for the lead role of Sheriff Hunt. With the usually gruff and rugged nature of a Western protagonist, he is a decent man forced into a terrible situation. Richard Jenkins plays his backup deputy perfectly, proving yet again why’s such a great character actor. Being the eldest member of the party, his wisdom is very welcome in the darkest of moments. One particular monologue he gives about his past at a flea circus is one bit of levity audiences will need. Patrick Wilson plays an understated foreman with a broken leg, desperate to save his wife, Lili Simmons, from these monsters. Lastly, former Lost star Matthew Fox is surprisingly excellent as John Brooder, a gentleman with an ego looking for an opportunity to boost. Although some of the things he says and does make him seem unlikable, we grow a certain admiration for him, thanks in no small part to his charisma and looks. The technical aspects of it all are fairly impressive as well, given its modest budget. The cinematography by Benji Bakishi chooses to mute certain colors to make the film look more desolate. It captures all of the action in wide shots, especially because of the Roger Deakins-esque use of lighting. And while it’s edited very well and precise by Greg D’Auria and Fred Raskin, it sure does takes its sweet time with some long takes. But the costumes and sets are all authentic, truly capturing a lived-in environment of a time long gone. Each of the actors seems comfortable in their outfits and seeing them riding through the desert landscape on horseback is pretty enticing. Alongside Jeff Herriot, Zahler himself composes the musical score, which is very sparse. In fact, to my knowledge, there are only 3 or 4 separate tracks in the entire movie, only used when needed. It’s mostly just a background compilation of moody violins and off-kilter percussion that really sell the vibe of the story. Most surprisingly, the two of them are pretty unsentimental in the music department, but still, keep the viewer engaged in a thoroughly oppressive atmosphere. Did I mention that this movie is brutal? That would be an inappropriate word to accurately describe the whole experience. Synonyms such as dirty, harsh, unforgiving, cold, gross, horrifying, and vile could also potentially work. It is by far the most violent Western I have ever seen and that’s because you really grow to hate the villains. They are cannibals without any compassion who do utterly repulsive things to our heroes. There is one scene near the end of the movie which is truly, unimaginably evil. I’m glad I didn’t eat anything beforehand, and I’m curious to show it to friends and family who haven’t seen it yet. I won’t spoil it just in case, but if you had seen my face when it happened…*shudders* Although its slower pace and unusual genre blend won’t be for everyone, Bone Tomahawk is a bold fusion of stark genres that’s utterly remorseless yet captivating. Despite its graphic content and harsh tone, you can’t help but hope for these characters no matter what. Featuring one of the most climactic endings to any Western I’ve seen, don’t let it slip by on Halloween season. It’s not for those seeking something completely tame in content, but maybe give it a shot.

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