Natalie Portman in 'Jane Got a Gun'
There is an undoubted sense of sameness when one watches most Western flicks these days. The village sets are practically always the same, the scenery is mostly dry, brown and often quite barren, and the clothes look like they have been recycled from the set of Unforgiven (1992) to Tombstone (1993) to The Quick and the Dead (1995), and then finally over to this film. A shabbiness of life always seems to come through in these old-time USA adventures of the Old West. Lately, there has been an onslaught of recent forays back into the western genre, but most of them have come up short. Jane Got a Gun, and yes the name was taken from the Aerosmith song, fails to change that slow stride. That is not to say it is not a well-made film—it is, but it feels rather rushed and incoherent. The film took ages to make due to problems with pre-production, filming and distribution, but now that it is on the screen, I must say that something feels lacklustre. That said, Natalie Portman could play just about anything and I’d take note, so seeing her as a gun-wielding revenge seeker came across more naturally than her Queen Amidala, to be honest. Still, when she sets out with an ex-lover to hunt down the man (or men) who left her husband bloodied and at death’s door, she encounters the true grit within. Cliched somewhat to a fault, and the slow-moving pace of the film adds to the feeling of remoteness lurking in every corner of the film, but it’s always nice to see a woman holding her own in a genre too often relegated to a man’s world. ###
The title of the new thriller Triple 9 actually refers to the US police code used when an officer is injured or killed. This plays in perfectly as a start to what two rogue cops want as the film gets underway—driving the entire Atlanta police force in the opposite direction of the Homeland security facility that they plan to rob. Sounds simple enough, eh? Like so many films of late, Triple 9 comes with a stellar ensemble cast that is somewhat interesting to see in action, as the film has a strong ‘TV movie of the week’ vibe to certain parts of it. To lay down the cast names…Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet (?!?!) and Casey Affleck. They all do a damn good job, except maybe for the languid, rather annoying performance by Affleck. Naturally, as actors who are currently at the height of their careers, it’s Winslet and Ejiofor who shine in this film. Ejiofor has a knack for taking any role and making it an emotionally raw performance that makes for a lesson in dramatic acting. And Winslet, as a calculated and vicious Russian-Israeli hitwoman surrounded by yarmulke-wearing cronies, is such a striking figure to be reckoned with. In all honesty, I was beyond surprised she was involved with this film, but she certainly helps to make it what it is. Aussie director John Hillcoat (2005’s The Proposition and 2009’s The Road) refuses to keep anything pristine and easy, and in the film there isn’t one damn symmetrical image or stable frame, so be warned! Still, he manages to hold your interest throughout the film, and we’re glad for it. ###-1/2
Ellen Page and Julianne Moore in 'Freeheld'
The film Freeheld tells the true story of New Jersey detective and policewoman Laurel Hester, who fought the NJ Board of Freeholders to ensure that her insurance benefits would go to her domestic partner after her death of late stage lung cancer. Based on the 2007 Best Doc Oscar winner of the same name, this film takes the story and brings it to the big screen for a wider audience. I have to say that this film is a tad soft and formulaic when dealing with the story of Hester and her partner Stacie Andree, but what it does document well is the fight that all women and other oppressed communities must deal with…the fight against inequality. At one point, it becomes all too clear that, despite her lung cancer fight, she is also in a fight against the conservative notions of marriage equality, but above all, full equality…and this was just a few years ago. Granted, many things have changed now that it’s 2016, but it is quite telling that a film like this suggests that the fight for civil rights in the western world still has a long way to go. Hester and Andree are played to quiet perfection by Julianne Moore and Ellen Page respectively, and with a supporting cast starring Steve Carrell as a gay rights activist and Michael Sheen as Hester’s longtime partner, again we have a stellar A-list cast. I only wish that they had focused more on the fight for her social justice, because it feels like a lot of scenes were left on the editing floor and it might have been best released as a a TV film. Note: take tissues. You’ll most likely need them. ###
Lastly, this week is the latest in the ever-spawning world of one of my favourite genres…horror. And, as always, there is an undeniable ratio that only 1:5 in this genre will be really good. Another 1:5 will be viewable and palatable as fun fodder for a freaked-out Friday night. The other 3:5 will be complete riffraff with the occasional so-bad-it’s-good thrown in for good measure. Now then, when a film tries as hard as The Other Side of the Door, I am completely willing to give it (at the very least) two or three benefits of the doubt. The film starts like most modern American horror flicks…with a happy couple relishing the good life and making a decision only a young American couple could likely make after finding out they’re pregnant…to move to India—albeit a lavish, luxurious version of the country. Director Johannes Roberts then takes us into panic mode by flash forwarding six years into a dismal present, where the once happy couple have lost a son but still have a daughter in a terrible parent’s nightmare twist! Remember though, this is India, so magic is afoot, and when the mum takes it upon herself to contact the spirit of her son via the ONLY Indian actress with an actual speaking part, we get a poor man’s strained version of The Sixth Sense (1999) in India. This one unfortunately got sent to that 3:5 pile…but with some grace. ##-1/2
Have a good week folks and see you this Friday!