Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Scott Cooper
Stars: Adam Beach, Ben Foster, Christian Bale, Jesse Plemons, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Rory Cochrane, Rosamund Pike, Stafford Douglas, Tanaya Beatty, Timothée Chalamet, Wes Studi, Xavier Horsechief
Released: January 5th, 2018
There are opening scenes and then there is the opening scene to Hostiles. Why do people treat one another the way we have for all of history? This is the question the opening sequence within director Scott Cooper’s (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) latest brutally forces us to ponder. The United States, since its inception in 1776, has only not been in conflict with itself or another country for a total of eighteen years. Why are we like this? What is it in our human nature that allows us to always be at odds with others and their inclinations? It’s a fascinating and broad mentality to deconstruct, but dammit if Cooper doesn’t try his darndest in what is itself a seeming deconstruction of the classic American Western. Maybe it’s the fact I haven’t seen as many classic Westerns as I should in order to be able to understand where Hostiles goes wrong in its breaking down of the mythos of the old west, but for what it’s worth, Cooper’s film feels pure in its intent to accurately portray this time period and the dynamics that existed in as honest a fashion as possible-no matter how gruesome and no matter who comes out looking worse. This opening sequence then, which I won’t go into detail about here, is an immediate and gut-wrenching reminder of the fact hate is often one in the same no matter where it comes from, but is often not seen as hate from the perspective from which it comes. In Hostiles, Cooper examines all the complexities of war and the purpose of the meanings behind words like honor and courage while stripping them down to not so much the definitions we’ve come to immediately relate to such words, but more the intent behind them. It’s a rather simple suggestion, a simple consensus to come to even, but as history has shown us there is typically a lot of bloodshed and a lot of lives lost in the process of trying to come to such a consensus. And so, Cooper communicates these simple, but resounding themes through a straightforward story that is executed with the scope of that grand American Western. Channeling this idea that somewhere along the lines of history we found war to be the most effective tool of persuasion into a narrative that is able to say much more with the implications of the events it documents rather than serving as an excuse for an adrenaline rush via the shootouts or misplaced pride in whatever side you might genetically fall, but more in being an understanding of the value of life and how much of it has been lost over what comes down to little more than inconsequential details.
Beginning with a D.H. Lawrence quote that states, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” One might guess what direction this is heading, but one also has to wonder with what perspective this statement is coming from as well as Lawrence only lived in the United States from 1922 to 1925 or so and went on many extended vacations during that time. Lawrence was in fact only a young boy, seven-years-old to be exact, when the events in Hostiles are said to be taking place and so, while Lawrence wasn’t specifically talking about the men that we see in this film it is evident he saw something in the nature and in the spirit of those he came in contact with during his time establishing the Kiowa Ranch in Taos, New Mexico that inspired him to write such words about the nation. That said, Lawrence also seemed to despise the lower classes and felt the need to rid society of them, so take all of this with a grain of salt if you’d like. The point being, Lawrence’s quote is meant to enlist a state of mind about the embodiment of these characters we’re about to go on a journey with. It is meant to create an aura around other characters so that, upon being introduced to them, we already have a good sense of what occupies their head space. Set in New Mexico in 1892, thirty years post-Civil War, Cooper picks up with Army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), regarded for “taking more scalps than Sitting Bull himself,” who is enlisted as a kind of “last act to ensure retirement” to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family who have been prisoners of the U.S. for over seven years back to their tribal lands. Telling is the fact that immediately following the aforementioned opening sequence Cooper cuts to Blocker and his men torturing an Apache as his wife and young child stand idle by, unable to do anything but scream in terror. It’s not nearly as devastating as what unfolds in the first five minutes of the film, but as this Native American is pulled along the ground by a horse over rough terrain for no reason other than to treat this fellow man with disregard, it is clear the position the film is taking and the lack of juxtaposition between what are meant to be soldiers who uphold the law and basic civility and that of Comanche renegades is intentionally striking. The fact Bale’s Blocker is at the head of this wrangling also tells us the initial disposition of his character which, when paired with the image conjured by the Lawrence quote, doesn’t exactly paint a picture of an individual who would find no qualms in protecting what he has clearly come to despise. Of course, if Blocker wasn’t initially prejudice against the Native Americans there would be no arc for his character and no satisfaction in the narrative and thus we are on this journey not only to ensure that Blocker completes his task successfully, but that he naturally learns something in the process as well.
Blocker puts together his detail in Rory Cochrane’s Master Sgt. Thomas Metz, a soldier who is at the end of his line; exhausted and conflicted. Having seen so much and no doubt done much worse, the violence has taken an untold toll on the Master Sgt. as he can’t help but to be unable to reconcile all he’s been commanded to do in his life. Jonathan Majors is Corp. Henry Woodsen, the only African-American in Blocker’s detail though this fact isn’t highlighted or exploited for any cheap shots. Rather, Woodsen maintains the respect he deserves by exemplifying his skill throughout. It is one of the best scenes in the film when Bale and Woodsen, in a moment of vulnerability, allow each of their facades to fall and their sincere gratitude to come through. Jesse Plemons is West Point graduate Lt. Rudy Kidder who is in charge of provisions and, given they don’t get too many “West Point types” out this far, is also out to prove his worth. Finally, there is Timothée Chalamet’s Pvt. Philippe DeJardin who is a new arrival with less than ideal experience that wasn’t chosen by Blocker specifically, but rather Stephen Lang’s Col. Abraham Biggs who has tasked Blocked with this undesirable duty. This was obviously shot in the midst of Chalamet working on his two other breakout films this year as Hostiles takes very little advantage of the young actor’s charisma, though the remainder of the supporting cast being so steeped in talent lend this dark yet sturdy picture a resonance it can’t help but to generate. Bale is particularly affecting despite it being made clear early that his character is something of an asshole. Shortly after leaving the site in New Mexico to escort Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), his son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), Black Hawk’s wife Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher who played Pocahontas alongside Bale’s John Rolfe in 2005’s The New World), and their son Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief), as well as the Chief’s daughter, Moon Deer (Tanaya Beatty), to sacred Cheyenne territory in Montana known as “The Valley of the Bears” the company comes across a residence that has been burned to the ground with only Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) remaining. It is in the moments shortly after the first encounter between Blocker and Quaid that Bale demonstrates his character’s unexpected sympathy and ability to deftly handle the delicate situation in which he has encountered. Bale conveying much of what was on the page in mannerisms and glances that speak volumes to this hardened Captain’s softer interiors. Pike is equal in her performance throughout as she commands we stay with her in every moment no matter how hard we might want to look away. No matter the context or surrounding circumstances, what we witness Pike’s character and no doubt countless Native American wives and mothers, who had to deal with the same type of heartbreak, go through is unacceptable only reinforcing the larger theme imbued by Cooper and purposefully begging the question, over and over, of why must we treat others the way we do and have for so long?
In framing these events the way Cooper does we are understanding to the way in which Bale and his company of men react to even the sight of Native Americans, no matter the tribe. With the key understanding that not all tribes were “rattlesnake people” such as the Comanche’s are portrayed to be, we also understand how large a role provocation played in the way in which many of these Native American tribes were forced to react to the white settlers. Hostiles is a constant back and forth of differing views that seeks to find the smallest patch of common ground even if it doesn’t realize that’s what it’s longing for. Hostiles is a violent movie, one draped in the blood of all that dare venture onto its wide plane, but as Cooper attempts to slyly suggest a plea for change among an onslaught of actions that only seem detrimental to the human race a more well-rounded picture of why this plea feels so authentic comes into view. Cooper loves the soul of this time period, these never ending frontier’s, the grit in each man’s teeth, each particle of dust on each man’s hat and he is sure to capture this scale and soulfulness in the open locations as rendered by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey). The serenity of such wide landscapes and stark color differences directly conflicting with the rage inside so many of the characters. Further, Cooper then uses these familiar images and the well-worn traditions of the genre to steep the audience in what we believe we’re getting ourselves into while dealing with the truth of these times in a way the pictures of the fifties and sixties weren’t willing to admit. It is Cochrane’s character and that of a smaller supporting turn by Ben Foster (always the reliable scumbag) that emphasizes the line each man walks between being the best version of himself and his own worst enemy. “We’re all guilty of something,” Foster’s character says at one point, “I’m just asking for mercy.” This comes just prior to Foster’s prisoner asking Bale’s Blocker who he’s become. It’s a moment that makes one sit up, makes one contemplate all sides of the argument, and forces one to evaluate the ideas of change, of absolutes, and of what can be done in an effort to correct moving forward rather than stay stagnate in this hell-like cycle that pushes men to the point they are unable to feel anything, much less the capability to come to terms with they’ve done and, in the end, moreover why they’ve done it. Blocker coming to the understanding his job has essentially become that of taking the life of another man. All of this would seem to indeed embody those words written by Lawrence so long ago, yet just as he is doing with the Western genre, Cooper deconstructs the myth of the American soul-not necessarily disagreeing with what has been said, but adding layers to it. This unabashed truth might make Hostiles hard to swallow for some, and it drags intermittently as it seems it was always destined to do, but with as strong an ensemble as on display and Cooper’s sensibilities applying themselves intrinsically to this world Hostilesis ultimately as strong and gut-wrenching a film as that opening scene would indicate it to be.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Ol Parker
Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.
Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.
Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).
Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).
Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.
Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.
Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.
It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.
Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Released: 12th July 2018
Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.
Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.
Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.
Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.
In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.
It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.
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