Monday, January 23, 2017

Hell or High Water

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016) is a robust character-driven film described by Wikipedia as an "American Western heist-crime." And to these enviable ingredients, it should be added "funny," especially the ribbing banter between Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), an ex-con, and his younger brother Toby (Chris Pine).

Tanner: "This is Mr. Pibb. I asked for a Dr. Pepper."
Toby: "So?"
Tanner: "Only assholes drink Mr. Pibb."
Toby: "Drink up."

The boys have taken to robbing banks in west Texas to pay off a debt on the family ranch which is on the brink of foreclosure by the Texas Midlands Bank. Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) along with his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are tracking the Howard's. Marcus is near retirement and is thankful for the last-minute reprieve from the rocking chair as he stakes out a bank he suspects the brothers will hit next.

The final showdown is action-packed perfection, but the real joy is the sharp dialogue written by Taylor Sheridan, accompanied with dynamic music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Hateful Eight (2016)

Ennio Morricone's (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) elegiac opening music sets the tone for this grim tale of eight eclectic characters holed up in a remote Wyoming stagecoach lodge after a winter storm strands them. Absorbing dialogue (overly talky first half but never boring) somewhat marred by Tarantino's insistence on tossing the "N" word in every chance he gets. Give it a rest, T.

The last hour is particularly well crafted when we learn the backstory behind Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) is escorting to Red Rock albeit turning the narrative into a gore splattered nightmare for our hateful travelers—a hardboiled Western not for the squeamish. Along with Russell's similar, in sobering brutality, BONE TOMAHAWK (2015), THE HATEFUL EIGHT would make for a helluva Western Horror double feature.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Communication Breakdown

I've had almost zero internet for two weeks, and after several days of junkie withdrawals I found myself reading more of the daily newspaper which was a '17 goal, but on the downside my television viewing spiked. Not quality TV, mind you, but binging on fatuous comedy shows. Biggest issue has been not connecting with all my fellow Bloggers, though hopefully by week's ends I will be able to make the rounds.

In the meantime, if you get a moment, here's my latest article on Stephen King's Wizard and Glass.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower IV

When we left Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy the billy-bumbler, they were trapped on the psychotic locomotive, Blaine the Mono, crossing through the feared waste lands. Our ka-tet had narrowly escaped the destruction of Lud that Blaine had decimated with gas—but for what? To become prisoners aboard a train bulleting into a desolate hell populated by fierce beasts, with a guide that’s clearly mad. Yeah, it looks like we are bound to have a helluva lot of fun as we continue our journey to the Dark Tower, over at Criminal Element.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

In A Valley of Violence (2016)

Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog, Abbie, on their way to Mexico stop in the desolate, dust-swept town of Denton run by Marshal Clyde Martin (John Travolta) and his son Gilly (James Ransone). In classic Western cadence, Gilly tells Paul to git, and ends up in a fight with the stranger, getting his ass kicked. The marshal knows his offspring is a dolt, recognizes Paul is an Army man—respects that fact—and directs him to move along peacefully. Gilly, still smarting from his public shaming, tracks down Paul, and with the help of three buddies, they throw him over a steep cliff. Paul survives and exacts revenge. Seems standard Western fare, right?

And it is, except in the hands of director Ti West, it's teeming with fresh, crisp direction, editing, and quite a bit of welcoming humor. The film jumps from brutal action and disturbing gore to laugh out loud slapstick. Travolta is a particular hoot as he tries to goad his scaredy-cat deputies into engaging Paul who is systematically picking them off. Ethan Hawke and Taissa Farmiga (playing a teen who wants to help Paul but is rebuffed) turn in some particularly strong performances. Hawke is tailor-made for the brooding stranger with a dark past, and after his roles in The Magnificent Seven and In a Valley of Violence, here's hoping he'll return to the saddle before too long.

Special mention for Jumpy who plays Abbie, Paul's canine sidekick. I haven't seen a dog since Asta (The Thin Man) or The Duke's mutt in Hondo with this much character, becoming such an emotional cornerstone of the movie.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


The lives of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald continue to fascinate in a new Amazon original show called Z: The Beginning of Everything. Christina Ricci is excellent as Zelda with just the right amount of wild child and creative artist combination. First episode is available now and I'm looking forward to the rest of the first season set to be released on January 27. Here's the trailer featuring some excellent music.

Looming Tower

We are closer to finding that Dark Tower! My latest article is now up at Criminal Element.