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Entries in westerns (19)

Thursday
Jan292015

Sundance: Fassbender Wanders The Frontier In The Unsatisfying "Slow West"

Michael C here reporting from an unseasonably warm Park City

John Maclean's Slow West is an ambitious western that falls short of its lofty aspirations because of its thin execution and its dud of a protagonist. The protagonist is 16-year-old Jay Cavendish played by Kodi Smit-McPhee as a naif spectacularly ill-equipped to deal with the dangers of frontier travel in 1870. The voice over from Michael Fassbender's tough guy bounty hunter opens the film with the observation that it's a miracle Cavendish made it as far he did without getting murdered. We in the audience size him up with his innocent doe eyes and his still-waiting-for-puberty physique and we quite agree. He would surely have been doomed had Fassbender's Silas not taken him under his wing as a travel companion. 

This all would be a fine dynamic for a film, the weathered cowboy dropping a cold dose of reality on the young fool with his romantic ideas about true love and the West. Unfortunately, Slow West tries to push the idea that Jay is some kind of pure soul with poetry in his heart who can impart a lesson to the brutes like Fassbender about aspiring to something higher. Actually I thought the kid came off like a dope...

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Tuesday
Dec022014

Team FYC: The Homesman for Cinematography

Editor's Note: For the next ten days or so as awards season heats up, we'll be featuring individual Team Experience FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or a category so we hope you enjoy the variety of picks. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, SAG, Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Manuel to kick things off. 


Rodrigo Prieto is one of the best cinematographers around. From the gritty urban landscapes of Amores Perros and the color-coded visual triptych that is Babel to the painterly tableaus of Frida and the kinetic Iranian vistas of Argo, Prieto has been slowly amassing quite the filmography, working with the likes of Alejandro González Iñarritú, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar, Oliver Stone, and Ang Lee. It was the first collaboration with that two-time Academy Award winning director that netted Prieto his first Oscar nomination for capturing the breathtaking mountains that shepherded the tragic Western romance of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain.

He’s back in contention this year for another twist on the Western with Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman. The film focuses on Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and George Briggs (Jones) as they make their way from Nebraska to Iowa in hopes of delivering three unstable women to the care of Altha Carter (Meryl Streep) whose husband runs a church that cares for the mentally ill.

A patient and meditative film, The Homesman showcases Prieto’s great gift for making (in this case mid-) Western landscapes look sublime in the Kantian sense of the word. The barren lands Cuddy and Briggs traverse are grand, vast and majestic; “nature considered in an aesthetic judgment as might that has no dominion over us" as Kant would say. Much of The Homesman depends on the awe-inspiring and terrifying notion of that ever-receding horizon, at once limitless and infinite; promising evermore possibility while denying ever attaining it. In The Homesman, nature is both desolate and beautiful, something Prieto’s endless painterly frames evoke throughout Jones’s film. But while it’d be easy to attribute Prieto’s accomplishments to capturing the natural beauty of the Nebraskan wilderness, what struck me about Prieto’s lensing is the way his static frames both boxed these characters with a relentless indifference that indexed the harsh wilderness around them while also lighting them with a warmth that honed in on where the film’s empathy for the five travellers lies.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the way Prieto recycles seemingly clichéd images of a silhouetted lonely horse-riding figure lit by a brazen, fiery light: man framed against a godforsaken world. They’re two small moments that show Briggs and Cuddy succeeding over man and nature alike; both beautifully-lit and framed by Prieto, making use of an ever-receding natural light in one and of a blazing fire in the other. They’re striking, yes, but they also beautifully illuminate these characters’ resilience even as they’re being swallowed whole by the wilderness around them.

Can Nebraska make it two in a row in the cinematography category, after Phedon Papamichael’s nomination last year? The big push for Jones’s film seems to be in the Best Actress category, but I’m hoping that as voters queue this up for Swank’s wonderfully realized performance, they’ll also give props to Prieto, who’s overdue for a return trip to the Dolby.

Friday
Oct242014

Scandinavians in London: New Films From Those 'Royal Affair' Lovers

A couple more reports from London and Chicago festivals heading your way. Here's David on three new films starring either Alicia Vikander or Mads Mikkelsen, who formerly sizzled together in Denmark's recent Oscar nominee "A Royal Affair" - Editor

Alicia Vikander

That Testament of Youth was made the Centrepiece Gala at the festival seems, sight unseen, predictable: supported by the Mayor of London, the Gala slot is one of the few that really demonstrates the festival's support of homegrown cinema, and the story told here is as British as you can get. 2014 marks the centenary of World War I, and with it comes this adaptation of Vera Brittain's iconic memoir. James Kent's film keeps his focus to the period of the war itself, beginning at its end; Vera (Alicia Vikander) looks oddly distraught amidst the celebrating crowds packing London's streets. Testament of Youth is a compassionate reminder of the emotional and physical toll of war on a whole nation - which is what Brittain's memoir proved too, in 1933, not long before the second, more devastating war hit.

Kit Harington and VikanderWhile the film is impeccably upholstered, with Consolata Boyle's costumes and Robert Hardy's photography particularly impeccable, it's the character work that makes Testament of Youth such an involving experience, especially through the veil of a 'period' film. Vikander is quite simply luminous, but the camera is drawn as much to the stubborn, robust manner she gives Brittain as much as it is the softer romanticism of the character's winsome independence. The film is decorated with familiar faces giving sturdy turns along the way: Miranda Richardson, Dominic West, Emily Watson and Hayley Atwell all have their striking moments.

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Wednesday
Jul302014

Shouldn't You Actually Start Filming Before You Have a Movie Poster?

They're now officially counting Kill Bill as ONE feature so that The Hateful Eight can be Quentin Tarantino's official "8th" film. Convenient, eh? But that's okay because they should've been one film all along. And oh what gross film-splittings have occurred in their wake.

QUESTION: Shouldn't you start filming before releasing a poster?

The movie is not scheduled to start filming until 2015... and the poster assumes everything will happen on schedule and it will be out by the end of that year. Good luck, movie! This reminds me of Amir's rants about all those opening day announcements for secret movies. Hollywood has a preemie problem.

 And may Quentin get this out of his system since this'll be his second consecutive nearly all male western. May he some day return to writing great female roles again because he's slipping into terrain that other writer/directors have covered sufficiently throughout time. Which is a bummer since he writes well for awesome actresses. (So cross your fingers that he's given Amber Tamblyn and Zoë Bell something interesting to do because he sure didn't offer Kerry Washington anything worthwhile in Django.)

FWIW my preference order of Tarantino's filmography

 

  1. Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003)
  2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
        ⇡ the ones i couldn't imagine life without 
  3. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
  4. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
  5. Jackie Brown (1997)
  6. Kill Bill Vol 2 (2004)
          ⇣ and the only ones I dislike... 
  7. Django Unchained (2012)
  8. Death Proof (2007)

 

Wednesday
Jun042014

A Year with Kate: The Sea of Grass (1947)

Episode 23 of 52: In which Tracy and Hepburn make a Western because why not?

A lone figure looks out over a vast, unending prairie. A wagon traverses rocky desert trails. Virgin land, a justice-seeking posse, a citified lawyer who brings civilization riding on his pinstriped coat tails. The Western dominated American film for over half a century with images like these. It stands to reason that two American stars and a director on his way to becoming a (controversial) American legend himself would take aim at the genre. The Sea of Grass, the resulting collaboration between Elia Kazan and the Tracy/Hepburn team, is an epic story covering multiple generations in the New Mexico Territory. It’s a Western, but not struck from the same heroic mould that John Ford was making them in Monument Valley. The Sea of Grass is meaner, more melodramatic, and ultimately a maverick mess of a movie.

The Sea of Grass comes so close to being a great film.  Spencer Tracy plays Col. Jim Brewton, a rancher who’s spent his life herding cattle on the millions of acres of untouched prairie that spread across New Mexico. He marries a St. Louis girl named Lutie (Kate Hepburn), who loves him but can’t love his untamed wildlands (not a euphemism). She tries to bring the people to the prairie, or her husband home to bed, but she can’t tame nature or the Colonel. These are familiar archetypes to anyone who’s watched more than two Westerns: the Lone Hero and the Prairie Wife. He is the champion of the settlers, she is his pure-hearted moral compass. Right? Well sure, up until the part where Jim causes the death of a few farmers, and Lutie runs away to sleep with the Judge (Melvyn Douglas) and bear his illegitimate son. And that’s just in the first hour. Suffice it to say, John Ford would not approve.

Cowboys and cynics after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
May202014

Cannes Diary Day ???: "The Homesman," Or How Tommy Lee Jones Failed at Feminist Storytelling

Diana Drumm is reporting from Cannes for the The Film Experience. 

 

Based on the award-winning novel (that Paul Newman was attached to for years) by Glendon Swarthout (“The Shootist”), The Homesman is a bizarre, unwieldy Western about 31 year-old spinster Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and questionable character Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) who are driving three insane women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) back East for treatment, or at least respite from their literally-maddening frontier lives.  

Or for a convoluted, reference-laden way to generalize it all, think of The Homesman as an inverse of the Robert Taylor-starring not-quite-classic Westward The Women (1951) meets the Glenn Close-starring made-for-TV movie Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991) with the madness and mismatches of Quills (2000, Briggs being the less couth, toned down subversive Marquis) divided by the stunning Western cinematography of Brokeback Mountain (2005, via Oscar nominee Rodrigo Prieto). Apologies, my brain is flooded with movies. 

Scale of Tommy Lee Jones orneriness, gender politics, and star cameos after the jump...

Click to read more ...