Wind River: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to Wyoming. Wind River, to be exact. In this Indian Reservation lies a lot of cold, snowy weather and a constant air of misery for many who live here. US Fish and Wildlife Service agent/tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is called on to look into a situation that involves local cattle being killed by another predator. Upon his investigation, Lambert stumbles upon a frozen corpse, a corpse that wasn’t prepared for the harsh outside elements. Foul play is suspected.

The corpse is identified as Natalie Hanson, an 18 year-old resident of the reservation. Now a murder mystery, FBI rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called into the Wyoming setting to investigate. Ill-prepared for Wind River, Banner must rely on her instincts and the guile of Lambert to solve this case and bring justice to Natalie and her remaining family.

It’s clear that the modern day Western genre bears little resemblance to the Westerns of yesteryear inhabited by John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and the like. Instead, today’s movies that could be classified as Westerns take inspiration from that genre but homogenize with others; think SicarioHell or High Water, and now Wind River. All three of these movies share a common tie: the writing credit of Taylor Sheridan. With Wind River, Sheridan gets the opportunity to direct what he writes. The result is a crime feature that doesn’t quite match the brilliance of his most recent writing, but shows more than enough to see Sheridan mentioned in the same future conversation as his directing contemporaries.

Wind River is a little bit of a slow burn—almost agonizingly so—at least in the early going. Sheridan’s first act introduces a few details, but overall, it seems to serve as an environment setup more than real story setup. However, Wind River does kick into gear around the time the awesome Gil Birmingham comes into the frame. Unlike his somewhat light character in Hell or High Water, Birmingham plays a somber, detached Native American father trying to cope with what happened to his daughter. From here, the straightforward story finds its groove.

While not as thematically complex as his prior work, Sheridan uses Wind River, inspired by true events, to shine light on—albeit not without legitimate white hero controversy—many Native American reservations and the hopelessness/negligence that they may carry. They may not resemble the traditional looking ghettos, but the mental and draining effect this environment has on many of the movie’s characters is entirely the same, pushing them towards bad things or paralyzing inaction.

The environment is more of a living and breathing character than almost all in the movie. Technically, Sheridan isn’t perfect yet; some aforementioned early pacing issues exist. A prolonged flashback, although filling in what exactly happened, sort of comes out of nowhere. But, an old-fashioned Mexican standoff that evolves into a big set piece, and a mid-movie suspect visit stand as some of the year’s most tension-drenched moments.

Wind River does come up short in one half of the lead character department. That’s no indictment on Elizabeth Olsen, she makes the most of what is presented to her and carries enough chemistry with Jeremy. This is Renner’s movie, however, and credit goes to Sheridan for writing a very detailed lead in Cory Lambert with gradual backstory revealed that draws the audience closer to his personal journey. It would have been easy for Renner to play this as a Liam Neeson knockoff, but Renner doesn’t, instead opting for a realistic and everyman approach. He’s a cowboy without the gusto, but a believer in frontier justice. His work here is a reminder that Renner’s is more than just a 2nd team Avenger.

The water isn’t particularly deep or 100% purified in Wind River. But ultimately, it is compelling as a simple pseudo-Western crime feature.

B

Photo credits go to collider.com, cinemavine.com, and bleedingcool.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Hell or High Water: Movie Man Jackson

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Almost anything can be done with ruthless determination. Brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) have begun to rob banks in small towns of Texas. Robbery and crime comes easy for lifelong convict Tanner, but Toby, with no criminal record to speak of, is a little taken aback by the action. But it needs to be done in his mind. He owes a ton of child support to his ex-wife, and the Howard farm is up for foreclosure.

On the trail of the brotherly due is soon-to-be-retiree ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). Though unsaid, he’s actually a little afraid of retirement and relishes this one last opportunity to sink his teeth into something substantial with his Hispanic/Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). This is old fashioned cops and robbers. Who’s in the right?

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Is the Western making a comeback? I don’t believe the traditional Western genre will ever be like it once was, but it does feel like Hollywood has been fusing the genre with more modern genres moreso than ever. Enter Hell or High Water, a movie that doesn’t carry Western in its genre listing but is pretty much so. It will be hard for any upcoming Western to top the final product here.

Director David McKenzie (Perfect Sense) manages the proceedings here. The Texas—technically, New Mexico–backdrop isn’t flashy, but there is something striking about it. But he may be outshined by the screenplay turned in by Taylor Sheridan. Debuting with last year’s Sicario, the man has quickly established himself as a talented writer in less than a year’s time.

Nothing about Hell or High Water is truly original, but in a way, that makes what Sheridan accomplishes all the more surprising and impressive. At the core, this is a movie about inequality, the 1% versus the 99%. It is a theme that is as old as the beginning of time, and one that is ever-popular in recent years from The Dark Knight Rises to Money Monster. But it is subtle, such as the billboards that the brothers find on the road that bring up debt and quick cash. The script gives reasons to care about the main characters; they’re actually people with believable motivations. And on a basic sense, the characters are just entertaining to hear talk. This isn’t an action-heavy piece, as even the robbery scenes are muted. Dialogue definitely is at the forefront. With a title like Hell or High Water, one might expect nonstop heaviness and grit. What is surprising is how much humor is injected in the movie and how it actually is effective, and its characters are made more endearing for it.

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Each of the three main actors, Texas drawls and all, turn in impressive performances. He may not be a lead character in this, but Gil Birmingham flashes great chemistry with Jeff Bridges and their ride-along relationship is entertaining. Bridges himself is a better version of what Tommy Lee Jones’ character was in No Country for Old Men. He understands the situation at hand instead of being taken aback by it, and his zeal for wanting to get the job done is a treat to watch.

The dynamic that Ben Foster and Chris Pine show is electric. Character-wise, Tanner should be a guy that is impossible to root for, and yet he isn’t. Ben Foster does stellar work with the role, and gives heart to a semi-unstable character. It is Chris Pine, however, who comes out of this one as the talking point of the film. I’ve always felt he’s had it in him to do this quality of work, and his Toby is likely the high point of his career to this point, and the end scene that is reminiscent to Heat‘s iconic De Niro/Pacino moment seals the deal, his character’s plight, and why.

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Hell or High Water is high tide for the Western genre. Coming near the end of the summer, it feels like the perfect catalyst to lead into a (hopefully) good fall movie season.

A-

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, thefilmstage.com, and ew.com

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The Revenant: Movie Man Jackson

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Who needs winter weather when you have The Revenant? In 1823, the wilderness is very much an uncharted place, harsh and unforgiving. Explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and fellow hunting party members John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) are on an expedition for fur. After being attacked by some vengeful Native Americans, the expedition turns to one of pure survival.

If that weren’t enough, Glass is absolutely mauled by a wilderbeast known as a grizzly bear, and left to perish out in the cold by his group. Down, but not out, he sets out to brave the relentless elements and find vengeance on those responsible for their selfishness.

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Directed by Birdman auteur Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant is the magnificent result of a director, in addition to the entire cast, pushing his limits as to what can be shown—and how it can be shown—on film. When people talk about filmmaking being dead, this would be a film to counter that argument. What Iñárritu, along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, have done here is capture some of the best cinematography in cinema history. This is an amazing production.

There are few better than Iñárritu at this point in time. He, not DiCaprio, is the star of the movie. The way he sets up a shot, holds it, and keeps it moving is the stuff of legend, aided by the decision to shoot with natural lighting. Surely this had to be difficult for everyone involved, but it pays off with everything competing together in an extremely visceral way. Many times, yours truly wondered just how he was able to get a specific shot, or who he had to sell his soul to in order to pull off such amazing wizardry. He even has nice little visual touches such as staining the lens with blood for specific encounters that break the barrier between camera and subject. It all equates to an brutally unflinching view.

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I understand Tom over at Digital Shortbread is unwilling to jinx Mr. DiCaprio, but I’ll take the blame if his name isn’t called after “And the Oscar goes to…” in the Best Actor award. In a semi-weak field (compared to the Best Supporting Actor category), Leo is by far and away the favorite in the clubhouse. Those who maintain that his recent roles like Gatsby, Belfort, and Cobb aren’t all that stretching can’t use that argument this go-round. His commitment to the Glass character is something that has to be seen, because it feels so real. He’s just as convincing in another language as he is in English. The audience feels every fall, attack, and step taken by Hugh on his arduous journey.

It’s fair to say that Hardy wasn’t the star in Mad Max: Fury Road compared to Charlize Theron, despite playing the titular character. It’s wrong to say that he is the acting star here, because he isn’t. However, he does come close to stealing DiCaprio’s thunder at certain times. Hardy’s role is clear, and his character does everything in his power to make life miserable for Hugh in one fell swoop. Talk about a guy getting under your skin and that character is Hardy’s Fitzgerald. It’s hard to definitively see a nomination only because that field is so tightly packed, but he’d be deserving of one. Work turned in by Domhall Gleeson (a part of many great films in 2015!) and Will Poulter is not to be forgotten, either.

Earlier in this piece, it was written that The Revenant is an amazing production. Those words were chosen carefully. This is a great movie inspired by real events, but on the story front, I did expect to be blown away. Unfortunately, the script is a little bit of a letdown. Seeing Glass’ refusal to give up is riveting, but seeing predicament after predicament that has to be overcome can get a little old, akin to Southpaw. The survival aspect works tremendously. It’s just that at times, thematically, it appears to be going for more profoundness which hampers the storytelling. Minor flaw, as eventually, one realizes that The Revenant isn’t telling a story. The film itself is the story.

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What is the title of a film that has a reported $135 million budget, and still feels like a independent passion project? That would be The Revenant, a revelation for anyone who appreciates push-it-to-the-absolute-limit filmmaking and acting.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, and giphy.com.

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No Country for Old Men: Movie Man Jackson

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“Well, I got here the same way the coin did.” 

The good ol’ days used to be so much simpler and safer. In 1980 West Texas, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) serves as the sheriff of his town. It is a role that his father and grandfather held, with much less problems however. Bell struggles to understand the ever changing world and increasing violence within it, and as a result, he frequently laments the simpler times. Times in which his predecessors never felt the need to carry a gun.

On a normal afternoon day, countryman Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry. In his thorough search, he comes upon a case filled with two million dollars. Unfortunately for him, whoever holds the case is a marked man. A hitman by the name of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), has been hired to retrieve it, and this man will stop at nothing to get it back. He is a man of principle who plays by his own rules, and Bell and Moss have little chance of stopping what is coming.

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Some things cannot be explained, some people cannot be explained. This thought, along with many other thoughts and themes, are what encompasses No County for Old Men. Based on a novel by the same name that I have never read, it is a movie that definitely needs to be watched by cinema fans, but may “click” more for some compared to others. Not every Best Picture winner is 100% beloved.

Immediately, the first thing noticed when watching is the tone and atmospheric setting the Coen brothers establish and maintain throughout the film. This “Old West” isn’t rife with unclaimed riches or a promise of a better life. Nope, the Coen brothers’ vision of Old West is barren, desolate, and bleak, where just about everyone is resigned to their fates whether they have a hand in it or not. A big assist in crafting this setting and tone is the decision to eschew a traditional score. Aside from one, maybe two scenes with very minimal produced sounds, the Coens rely on the Santa Fe nature to build feeling.

Speaking of building, there is a lot of it in “NCFOM.” It is a little slow, and at times completely devoid of dialogue, almost as if the movie falls in love with itself too much with its setting and cinematography, done by the great Roger Deakins (Prisoners, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption). For all of the themes and ideas presented in the mostly well-done build, the payoff is a little lacking. Even with the themes of declining youth and society, violence, and more, it is a hunter and hunted type of affair for a nice chunk of the runtime. It is enough to keep watching for sure, but it isn’t something I’d call compelling and personally wouldn’t come back to frequently (2nd view and probably last).

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One cannot speak about this movie without talking briefly about the ending. Without spoilers, it has inspired love on one side of the spectrum, and hate from another. For yours truly, the feeling lies somewhere in the middle. It makes sense, but it is somewhat unfulfilling and a bit of a “meh” note to go out on. Perhaps that is the point, with the movie possessing a nihilistic, “maybe-there-is-no-meaning in anything” point of view. But going back to the build, the climaxes and ending were a little flatter than anticipated. But, there is a possibility of something going over my head.

Another aspect that people cannot leave out when talking about No County for Old Men is the performance of Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh. In an Oscar-winning performance, Bardem’s character truly carries unease and unpredictability in every scene he appears in. Chigurh is a man who is irredeemably evil, but who acts upon his own set of morals and principles. He is a man driven by duty, not by money or materialistic needs.

He is also a man of few words, not that Bardem needs to say many, as he is more than capable of delivering what  is needed through expression alone. When he does speak, every word carries implications. In many ways, Chigurh is what Alfred Pennyworth was referring to when delivering the famous line of stating that “some men just want to watch the world burn.” While he may not be as charismatic or as unhinged as The Joker, Chigurh is just as dangerous and memorable. Bardem gives cinema one of the greatest villains ever in this role.

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Not to be forgotten here is the work turned in by Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. In no way do they come close to bring what Bardem does to the movie, but that is to be expected as they are playing more conventional characters. Jones feels wonderfully cast as the old hand who can’t seem to make sense of this new world, and Brolin serves up the right combination of common everyman and grit. In smaller roles, Woody Harrelson and Kelly Macdonald make the most of their screentime to turn in great performances and flesh out the storyline.

If for whatever reason this still hasn’t been seen, No Country for Old Men is worth the time. Maybe falling short as a complete masterpiece, but I can’t call it for you. You need to call it by giving a view.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to impawards.com, horrorphile.net, coenbrothers.net, and livingcinema.com.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West: Movie Man Jackson

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“Look around you. Everything out here that is not you wants to kill you.”

In real life, Seth MacFarlane is seemingly a man of a million talents, but in A Million Ways to Die in the West, he is just a man…a man devoid of a backbone by 1882 American Old West standards. MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, an aforementioned individual making a below average living in the frontier, which is an absolute drag of a place to live in. The only thing that makes his situation bearable is the company of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).

As these things go, Louise tires of Albert and decides to end things with the poor sap after he shows cowardice before a quick draw. Luckily, Albert’s long depressive stupor is ended when a beautiful mystery woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) comes into town. Out of character during a ruckus, Albert saves Anna’s life, and the two strike a liking to each other. Unbeknownst to him, Anna is actually married, and not just to some nobody. No, this guy is Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the best and most dangerous shot in the whole Wild West.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West should really be prefaced by Seth MacFarlane Presents. . . If you don’t know by now, the man credited with Family Guy’s success and bringing Ted to life not only stars here, but also produces, writes, and directs. What does this all result in? A movie with no true cohesion, and one in which too much responsibility was bestowed upon one man.

A comedy’s first and sometimes only goal is to be consistently funny. This is not easy, seeing that what tickles one man’s funny bone may fail to leave a mark on another’s. With A Million Ways though, I cannot remember the last time I was hoping, waiting, and wishing for jokes and gags to genuinely make me laugh. Speaking for most of those in my theater, it appeared my sentiment was shared. As it stands, only one scene in my opinion occurring in the middle was a legit funny moment, which is a shame. Because on paper, this is a solid cast, which is something I’ll come back to later.

The problem essentially comes down to lazy writing and a dependence on overused gross out gags, fart, and Indian jokes. There isn’t much of a story really, just comedy sketches draped in Old West garb barely tied together. Early on, it becomes apparent that the people with the most creative power in this (read: Seth MacFarlane) maybe believed that the setting of the Old West would “sell” itself from a humor standpoint, and all that was needed as a supplement to this backdrop is a few random scenes interspersed with strong language and revolting moments.

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Yes, this is an R rated comedy film, so a high level of raunch is expected, including the common fare just described. These jokes are fine in doses, but when it becomes what the well consists of, well, the film gets old very quickly, which in turn makes the film feel a lot longer than it should be.

Not necessarily featuring big stalwarts in comedy aside from Seth, still A Million Ways is comprised of well known actors who do their best to make it better than what is presented to them. Charlize Theron shines brightest as Anna, who generally looks she she is having fun and is easily the most likable and appealing character throughout.

Sadly, this is a major issue being that Seth’s Albert is the character we are supposed to pull for and like. At length, I am unsure of whether his grating role is a result of the lazy writing, or if it is just he himself who cannot carry the weight. It is probably the latter with a bit of the former mixed in. The film is undoubtedly a comedy, but there are instances of Western drama sprinkled across, and when Seth actually has to act, it isn’t believable. He appears to be in over his head when these times come up. Additionally, the whining act becomes played out, to the point where (Spoiler) I actually wanted Liam’s character to shoot and kill him in the end climax. Not exactly what I should be rooting for.

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Played by Neeson, Clinch is a good antagonist, but one that is also forgotten for a large chunk of the movie, so his presence is sort of nonexistent. Giovanni Ribisi plays off of Sarah Silverman in a side story that wears out its welcome immediately. Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris fill the secondary villain roles, and aren’t particularly memorable in doing so, but NPH may be the funniest character as a whole. Similar to Family Guy, there are random occurrences and bit players unrelated to the main tale that are supposed to inject laughs. Just know it works better in animation than in a live feature.

The biggest positive ends up being the setting, from a visual sense. It appears that tons of research and hard work was done to make this look like the old frontier, from rinky-dink saloons to clothing worn, so kudos to that.

However, a successful setting does not solely make a successful film, especially a comedy. There may be a million ways to die in the West, but side splitting laughter isn’t one of them.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to collider.com, whysoblu.com, & http://www.evoke.ie.

Reader’s/Followers note: Hey all, I will be on vacation starting late Thursday-June 15th, and I will most likely be without Internet, so new postings are not likely. If I somehow do post a review, expect something older. When I do return, I will be a bit behind, but I do plan on checking out and reviewing Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, 22 Jump Street, The Signal, and maybe The Fault in Our Stars. Thanks all for reading and supporting my blog!

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