Archives for September 2016

Hell or High Water, a B movie western to savour.

Hell or High Water.

Hell or High Water.

One of the rea­sons that film mak­ers enjoy mak­ing genre films is that it allows them to use the pre-exist­ing struc­ture as a means of com­ment­ing sur­rep­ti­tious­ly on the present. Instead of ask­ing the audi­ence to sit through a social issues film with all that that implies, they get to see a west­ern or a sci-fi film. And the themes that the film mak­ers are real­ly inter­est­ed in are slipped in via the back door.

Hell and High Water is the ninth film direct­ed by Scot­tish film mak­er David Macken­zie and is effec­tive­ly a B movie west­ern set in mod­ern day Texas. A cou­ple of broth­ers embark on a spate of low-end bank rob­beries and are pur­sued by the griz­zled sher­iff and his weary sidekick.

Chris Pine and Ben

Chris Pine and Ben Foster.

The broth­ers are played by Chris Pine and Ben Fos­ter, with the for­mer as the sen­si­ble, strong but silent one who calls in des­per­a­tion on the help of his loose can­non of a broth­er, who’s just got out of gaol, to help him with the plan that he’s hatched.

Whilst Jeff Bridges, as the sher­iff, gives us a glee­ful­ly prick­ly cur­mud­geon, who par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoys the racial points he scores at the expense of his long-suf­fer­ing side­kick, the sto­ic Gil Birm­ing­ham.

Two decidedly bad seeds.

Two decid­ed­ly bad seeds.

What ele­vates the film, at least for the first hour or so, is the script. Writ­ten by Tay­lor Sheri­dan, it’s based on an orig­i­nal sto­ry by Nick Cave and War­ren Ellis, and their haunt­ing score is the first thing that gives the film an added sheen.

Then there’s the fact that the back­drop against which the rob­beries take place gives the film a decid­ed­ly murky moral hue. Because the broth­ers are only rob­bing the branch­es of the bank that has used the finan­cial crash of 2008 to force them out of their fam­i­ly home – a crash of course that was caused by the banks in the first place

And most of all, the script pro­duces a series of deft one lin­ers that are deliv­ered with the kind of insou­ciance per­fect­ly in keep­ing with the very Tex­an feel of the film.

Still the dude.

Still the dude.

Inevitably, once things turn vio­lent the film has to take sides, and that moral ambiva­lence is sac­ri­ficed. But for the first hour or so, it’s all impres­sive­ly dark and sur­pris­ing­ly nuanced. And even after that, the per­for­mances are so strong that you find your­self hap­pi­ly going along for the ride. It’s the sort of film that Sam Fuller or Fritz Lang used to pro­duce when the stu­dio that had hired them weren’t real­ly pay­ing atten­tion. A clas­sic B movie then, but a clas­sic all the same. You can see the trail­er for Hell or High Water here. And there’s a moody video for the Cave Ellis track Comancheria here.

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Julieta” a return to form for Almodovar.

Almodovar's Julieta.

Almod­ovar’s Julieta.

After the dizzy heights of All About My Moth­er in 1999, the films of Pedro Almod­ó­var hit some­thing of a plateau. The next four were all just a lit­tle too con­vo­lut­ed, while the two most recent, The Skin I Live In (reviewed ear­li­er here) and I’m So Excit­ed were, for all their sur­face glitz and glam­our, just plain poor. So his lat­est offer­ing, Juli­eta, comes as a huge relief.

We first meet Juli­eta as a mid­dle aged moth­er who has been cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly estranged from her only daugh­ter. And for the first two thirds of the film, we dis­cov­er in an extend­ed flash­back what it was that caused the breech between them as we delve into Juli­eta’s past. And then in the film’s final third, we return to Juli­eta as she is today, alone and aban­doned and drown­ing in guilt.

The film is based on three short sto­ries by Alice Mon­roe, who is far from an obvi­ous fit for the exu­ber­ant Spaniard. Like the oth­er great short sto­ry writer of our age, William Trevor, Monroe’s char­ac­ters lead appar­ent­ly drab and so say ordi­nary lives, in which small ges­tures speak vol­umes, and many of the con­flicts that haunt their lives remain unresolved.

Almodovar stalwart Rossy De Palma channelling Mrs. Danvers.

Almod­ovar stal­wart Rossy De Pal­ma chan­nelling Mrs. Danvers.

Almod­ó­var on the oth­er hand is the mod­ern day mas­ter of the 50s melo­dra­ma, and it’s hard to ref­er­ence any of his best films with­out sight­ing Dou­glas Sirk or Alfred Hitch­cock. So like them, he too likes to pro­pel his nar­ra­tives with broad, brush­strokes that pro­duce an out­pour­ing of emo­tion, which he brings to fruition thanks to his exu­ber­ant, cin­e­mat­ic expressionism.

So there is a slight sense of incon­gruity about the way he tells this sto­ry, and the kind of sto­ries he has used to source the film.

That Obscure Object of Desire.

That Obscure Object of Desire.

Fur­ther­more, in yet anoth­er nod to Ver­ti­go and, more obvi­ous­ly, Buñuel’s That Obscure Object Of Desire, he has cast two dif­fer­ent actress­es in the title role, with Emma Suárez play­ing the old­er Juli­eta, and Adri­ana Ugarte play­ing her as the younger woman. Which fur­ther adds to our sense of dis­tan­ci­a­tion, as you occa­sion­al­ly find your­self think­ing of the old­er and younger actress­es as rep­re­sent­ing the moth­er and daugh­ter rela­tion­ship. And you have to remind your­self that the actu­al moth­er and daugh­ter in ques­tion are the char­ac­ter of Juli­eta and her daughter.

All of which was very much a con­scious deci­sion on the part of Almod­ó­var. He was try­ing, if you like, to make a stripped down Almod­ó­var film. One in which the emo­tion­al highs and lows you nor­mal­ly asso­ciate with his films have been reigned in.

Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Hitch­cock­’s Ver­ti­go.

What you think of the result­ing film will large­ly depend on what you think of that deci­sion. It’s still, for all its rel­a­tive restraint, a won­der­ful­ly engag­ing film on an emo­tion­al lev­el. It’s just not quite as emo­tion­al­ly explo­sive as you might have hoped for, espe­cial­ly giv­en the sto­ry it tells.

But I quib­ble. To all extents and pur­pos­es, this is a wel­come return to form for one of Europe’s most tal­ent­ed film mak­ers. And you can see the trail­er for Juli­eta here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!