The Harder They Fall: Who Is The Quickest Draw?

4/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Wild west outlaw Nat Love, played by Johnathan Majors, rides again to take down the man who killed his parents when he was a child.

I thought this was the most interesting western, both visually and plot wise, that I have seen in a long time. The cinematography is beautiful here, the shot composition is both reflective of classic western tropes whilst also trying to reinvent and do something new with how the western looks. I thought it did a number of very interesting things that worked well in the context of the film and really made me take notice of the cinematography.

Moreover, the film was expertly paced which is a big help for me considering it is on for more than two hours. The film never slowed down to have a dull moment, instead moving along at a healthy pace making the most out of every second it had; honestly I can’t think of a wasted scene.

The performances across the board were great, I would say Idris Elba really stuck out in the latter portion of the film and did a lot of strong facial acting, as well as delivering an incredibly strong emotional twist at the end of the film. However, everyone was strong. The one thing I would draw attention to is that this film did cast Lakeith Stanfield, which I find in bad taste after the whole anti-Semitism thing, though I tried to ignore that whilst watching.

Overall, I thought this was one of the best Netflix original films I have seen in a long time.

Pros.

Strong performances

Well-paced

Engaging and fun

The emotion

Cons.

The ending wrap up feels a bit rushed

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Prisoners Of The Ghostland: Nicolas Cage Strangeness Taken Too Far

2/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

A drifter, Nicolas Cage, is tasked with venturing out into the haunted Ghostland in order to bring back a local officials daughter.

As many of you know I am a big fan of Nicolas Cage, I am a big fan of the aesthetic of this film, but as a whole it just doesn’t work- at least for me. There is far too much genre mashup going on here, so much so that none of it works. The western elements are offset by the Samurai elements and the more cerebral parts made lesser by the gory realities. This strikes me as a film that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.

Moreover, Cage is used minimally here. There are a few experiences that get close to what some refer to as ‘full Cage’ but that is never nurtured into anything of substance, he achieves far more in Willy’s Wonderland in which he barely says a word.

Also I found this film to be oddly and needlessly vulgar. There is a moment when one of Cage’s testicles gets blown off, why? Other than a gross out thrill what does that achieve? Weirdness within a film can work but weirdness for weirdness sake is never good.

Overall, an interesting concept executed poorly

Pros.

The concept

The visual aesthetic

Cons.

It underused Cage

It doesn’t make a lick of sense

The mismatch of ideas hurts the film in the long run

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Hostiles: A New Draw For Westerns

Written by Luke Barnes

Hostiles is a revisionist western film directed by Scott Cooper based on a story by Donald E. Stewart. The plot sees Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), and his squad of soldiers escorting a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their home in Montana during the final months of the Indian Wars.

This film really does feel different within the western sphere. It has familiar genre constructions that will be easily recognisable, but it also has a lot more nuance and depth going on under the surface.

The thoughtfulness of this film is best shown in it’s characters, we see Blocker start the film as a racist who hates Native Americans based on his own experiences from the war, right from the off he is not portrayed as a good or a bad character rather as a grey reflection of reality. As the film goes along Blocker forms a begrudging respect with the war chief he is protecting and the relationship furthers, and we see it from another dimension. Though this storyline has been done before, here it is used in a way to contextualise the western as a genre and show the evolution.

Moreover Rosamund Pike plays Roselee Quaid, a frontiers woman who loses it all. Through Quaid we are presented with the lived reality of frontiers life rather than the romanticised version we often see in westerns. Bad things happen to Quaid fairly regularly, and they are treated with a normality that becomes more and more troubling progressively, this causes you to think about other western films and characters therein and view them in a new light.

The film itself is very, very bleak, but the ending does bring with it a degree of hope that I think nicely compliments the film.

Overall, a pallet cleanser and recontextualised form for the western genre that feels incredibly honest and fresh.

Pros.

Bale

Pike

The character work and ambiguity

The ending

Cons.

It is incredibly bleak

4/5

Interview With Michael Caradonna (Producer) And Geoff Ryan (Writer/ Director): Blood From Stone

Written by Luke Barnes

Hey Everyone! I recently had the chance to chat to Michael Caradonna (the producer) and Geoff Ryan (the writer/director) about their neo-noir, western, vampire flick Blood From Stone. We talk about

Q: How would you sum up Blood From Stone in a word?

MC:  Honest. I have been a fan of the Vampire genre for as long as I’ve been a fan of film. Blood From Stone shows the realistic problems today’s vampires would deal with should they really exist.

GR: Unique. I wanted to make something different from anything else out there – for better or for worse – and judging from both critic and audience reviews it seems like we succeeded. 

Q: Who is your filmmaking inspiration?

MC – I enjoy films of all genres which has opened the door to appreciating the likes of Soderbergh, Kubrick, Scorsese, Lucas and Spielberg, but looking at a whole catalogue, I’d have to say Quentin Tarantino. From writing True Romance to his latest Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he inspires me as a Producer.

GR – So many to choose from! With this one I’d have to say the most overt influence would be Tarantino. From the genre-blending to the character banter punctuated by extreme violence, to the non-traditional story structure… it’s got a lot of his early works influencing it.

Other big influences would be Peter Greenaway, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Altman, The Coen Bros, and on and on…

Q: Other than your film, what is your favourite vampire film?

MC – Many films come to mind, but I would say Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. There was always something gritty and honest with that film and one of the first films I thought of when I read Blood From Stone.

GR – Let the Right One In. I love that it’s a great movie that perfectly balances being a beautiful character story and a haunting vampire tale.

Q: How did you gauge the emotional tone of this film, between having the character seem sympathetic whilst also being a blood thirty monster? 

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – As anyone who has been in a toxic relationship knows, the emotions can go from deep love to vicious hate in a matter of seconds. Or, at the big picture level, how a society with so many enlightened and progressive advancements is still capable of primal brutality, selfishness, and tribalism. To me, vampire lore was a perfect way to explore these ideas: It was a way to explore the way our own worst impulses, no matter how much we try to deny them to ourselves or bury them in the past, still make up so much of who we truly are. None of the characters want to be monsters and go to great lengths to convince themselves they are good people (and in many ways they are), but their actions matter. I wanted to really show how actions have consequences no matter our good intentions.  It is something all of us do. I personally might not be a vampire or a killer, but I am a citizen of a nation that wages wars, I buy products from exploitive companies, I eat once living animals, I’m sometimes a crappy friend, and so on. These are things I don’t want to define me but to those who are impacted by these actions it is who I am. And, so, in the story it’s about the search for balance and how we live with the monster inside of us. 

Q: Do you have any funny on-set stories?

MC – Oh my, where do I start?  The crew that worked together on this film was full of its own great characters. From the encounters with the Las Vegas Police Department when I get pulled over while getting the crew food at 3am and they discovered “blood” all over the back seat, to casino security, with hand on gun, following up on a video feed showing dead bodies being dragged down a hall where there were supposed to be no people. We had such a great time on set. While getting every shot that Geoff required, there were infinite moments of fun, laughter and comradery.

GR – So many funny stories! This was really a once-in-a-lifetime type of film for me because the team that came together to work on this was a phenomenal group of fun people. Add to that the ridiculousness of what we were filming, and it made for some funny moments. Like when casino security had to do a safety check because they saw us dragging dead bodies through the hallways or having to explain to a policeman who pulled us over why there were blood stains all over our car (my car’s backseat is still a blood stained mess). On the Blu-Ray there’s a bloopers segment that captures some of the fun but nowhere near the almost constant state of joking, hijinks, and lunacy we went through. 

Q: How would you describe the current state of the Vampire horror sub-genre?

MC – Just as in the myths and legends, vampires will never die. While I am biased, I think that Blood From Stone is up there with many other great vampire films throughout filmmaking history. There are many bad vampire films that are good and many good ones that do not get the attention they should. Every once in a while there is a film that truly stands out like The Hunger, The Lost Boys and even What We Do In the Shadows. These films draw us in and, as fans, we suck it all up. The current state of the Vampire films is alive and well.

GR – Just like all movie genres, there’s a ton of mediocre-to-bad with some exceptionally unique and amazing work shining through. Plus, there’s some really exciting new Dracula/Nosferatu films in the pipeline that I’m eagerly anticipating. Much like vampires themselves, the genre won’t ever die, and great artists will continue making great vampire films while some will suck the corpse dry for whatever cash-grab potential it has. 

Q: Was there a message you were trying to communicate with the film? And if so what was it?

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – I kind of touched on it in the early question about tone but the primary theme I wanted to explore was about our interconnectedness. It’s why the two main characters only share two scenes together: I wanted to tell a story of how their lives are connected even when their actions aren’t directly to each other. And, I intentionally told the story in a way that offers a lot of ideas in a way that will allow the audience to create their own opinions on it. It’s been fascinating to hear from audiences about how they see the characters and the story. Some see it as a tragedy, some as a love story, some as a dark comedy. Some people think Jure is a monster and others think Darya is the real monster. 

But the most important line of the film to me is when Viktoria tells Jure, “There are no endings, only cycles. It’s your choice: Creation or destruction, vengeance or forgiveness.” This to me is the message of the film. We all have those choices in our lives. Are we creators or destroyers? Do we seek forgiveness for our own sins, or do we seek vengeance for wrongs against us? The choices we each make will shape the future for humanity. Do we circle back to another dark ages or do we progress forward into a brighter future? 

Q: How important were western and neo-noir elements to you as you were filming? 

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – To me they were very important! For Jure, the movie is a western. For Darya, it’s a noir. Even the score represents this with Jure’s music being composed of guitar, banjo, and lap steel to evoke that country/western vibe. And Darya’s music is reminiscent of Bladerunner with pulsing Moog and sparkling synth Arpeggios. He’s rooted in the old world and she aspires for the future. 

Westerns especially are iconic American stories. The lone hero is a trope that has its virtues but also has been used to justify some of the worst elements of our society from our wars (“You’re either with us or against us”) to our gun culture (“Only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”). Jure sees himself as this lone hero. At the beginning, he’s riding into town to save the girl, and at the end: He’s riding off into the sunset (or sunrise). He sees himself as the good guy, even a god amongst men, but modern society has forced him into the shadows. He resents this new era where he can no longer act with impunity. It was often joked that Jure should wear a hat that says, “Make Vampires Great Again”. 

Similarly in noir it was often a “damsel in distress” that turned to the guy to save her, but she was usually hiding a dark secret. And Darya at first is portrayed to be that “damsel in distress” but over the course of the film she evolves into a force of nature. She is from an old world and holds an old idea of who she should be. She hides her true self just wanting “to be normal”.  But over the course of the story there are glimmers of light showing her breaking through that and discovering her power to shape her own destiny. 

Q: Sequel ideas and future plans?

MC – I defer this question to my writer/director Geoff Ryan.

GR – I would love to! It kind of sets itself up for one and I have notes for where the story will go. Much like this one had a yin & yang between Jure and Darya, the sequel would have that between past and present. It would juxtapose life for the vampire women of the story after Jure (spoiler!) and life for him before modern society – and how those timelines impact each other. Sort of like a hybrid of Unforgiven and Thelma & Louise told through Aronofsky’s The Fountain! But, unless Blood From Stone develops a much bigger fan base than it currently has, the prospects for a sequel are unlikely. 

Q: If Blood From Stone ever won an Oscar or other award who would you thank in your acceptance speech?

MC – First and foremost, Geoff Ryan for trusting me to produce this project for him followed by the rest of the amazing Blood From Stone family. Geoff Black, Nika, Adeshola, Sarah, Alethea, Carl, Steven and, of course, our solid cast, including our stars, Vanya and Gabriella. Thanks to all of you!

GR – My BFS Family: Our small and wonderful team who put so much of their trust, time and talent into helping make my crazy fever dream a reality on a budget that did not merit the scale of what we made. Linda & Michael of Indie Rights who believed in this film back when it was just a concept in my brain. The people of Las Vegas who opened their doors and contributed so much to this movie. And, my cat Pafoofa who passed before the film came out, but her voice is immortalized in the music score. 

If you would like to check out Blood From Stone you can find it on all good digital media marketplaces, Vudu, Amazon and of course you can buy the Blu-ray and DVD director’s cut as well. As always I have a review up of the film on my site now, so check that out as well!

Hell Or Highwater: When Sitting On Your Porch Always Keep A Gun To Hand

Written by Luke Barnes

Hell Or High Water is a neo-noir western film directed by David Mackenzie.  The plot sees two Texan brother (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster), rob a series of banks to achieve a better life for themselves and their families. However, in there efforts to do this they come to the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and a game of cat and mouse begins.

I find the neo-noir aspects of this film fascinating; they merge so well with what you would consider a western to be and further the genre into something new- that honestly feels refreshing. I thought setting this in modern day, and having the film play on key contemporary society issues helped it to further its resonance and create more feelings from us towards the characters.

The performances from all three leads, (Bridges, Foster and Pine), are strong and help to anchor this film into believability. The writing also helps to layer the characters and have them transcend a simplistic good and bad character narrative, allowing for a greyer complexity where the ‘villain’ and the ‘hero’ can switch around mid-scene.

My one issue with the film however, and sadly it is a fairly major one, is that it suffers from bloat. The film is certainly overly long, as such certain scenes feel like they have been stretched out to pad for time, and often these scenes add nothing to the narrative as a whole.

Overall, a compelling cat and a mouse story, brought low by an overly indulgence

Pros.

The performances

The tension

The moral ambiguity

The combining of the western and the noir

Cons.

Bloated pacing at times

3.5/5

News Of The World: Read All About It, And Get Mad

News Of The World is a western drama film directed by Paul Greengrass. The plot follows newsman Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), as he travels town to town reading the news. Along his way he meets a young girl (Helena Zengel), who has been living with a Native American tribe for some time but has now become lost.

Right off the bat I will say this is not a western film in the way you might be thinking of. There are only one or two shootouts over the course of the film’s runtime, really this film is far more of a drama with a western setting. The relationship between the two characters is the central focus, with the film acting more as a character study than anything else.

Moreover, this film will not be for everyone and wears its politics clear for all to see. It has a lot to say about certain parts of the American South and parts of the internet who are still hung up on a war that happened over 100 years ago will find it offensive. I will say the political message of the film does become a bit much at times, but I never found it put me off the film.

Personally, I thought the relationship between Hank’s character and Zengel’s was beautiful, and the final reunion scene almost brought me to tears. The heart of this film is well developed and masterfully constructed over the course of the two-hour runtime.

Overall, if you approach this film as a drama about two lost souls finding a reason to carry on together and saving each other then this is a beautiful film that packs an emotional punch.

Pros.

The father daughter relationship

The emotion

The drama and the stakes

The beauty and the setting

Cons.

It has a few pacing issues

4/5

Reviewed by Luke

Slow West: She Is Just Not That Into You

Slow West is a western, drama, romance film directed by John Maclean. The plot sees a young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee), travel across the American frontier to try and find and reconnect with his lost love. Whilst, traveling he meets up with an outlaw (Michael Fassbender), and the two form a bond and journey together.

This film will not be for everyone, that is really the most important piece of information that you will get out of this review. It is very niche and artsy and is almost certainly an acquired taste.

The ending of the film did a number on me, emotionally. Seeing the conclusion of his naïve young boys’ journey is nothing short of heart-breaking, and the ending is bleak and will leave you depressed: at least that’s how I felt after watching it.

Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn (who only has a small role), both give very memorable performances and sink into their respective characters perfectly. Mendelsohn became this looming spector of death, whereas Fassbender became more of the loveable rouge as the film went on and he became ever more fatherly to the protagonist.

Despite the shorter than average runtime this film does have some pacing issues and a few scenes do feel needlessly drawn out; this put me off.

Overall, a very strange art house western that won’t be to all tastes, but there might be some niche appeal there.

Pros.

Fassbender

The emotion

Mendelsohn

Cons.

The ending

Pacing issues galore

The main star was quite weak and easily out-shined

2/5

Reviewed by Luke    

Blood From Stone: Even Vampires Go On Benders, Blood-lust Quenched

Blood From Stone is a vampire western film directed by Geoff Ryan. The plot follows decades old vampire Jure (Vanja Kapetanovic), as he goes on a rampage killing human victims left and right. Revealing himself in the process.

When I first thought vampire western, I imagined it literally, and while this is not that, it is so much more. This feels more like a character study to me, a study in what happens to a person, or in this case a vampire, when they have been denied something they desire for a long time. We see that relapse in all its gory splendour here.

This is a tale of two vampire primarily and though Darya (Gabriella Toth), is a strong character in her own right this is really Jure’s film. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to say that both Toth and Kapetanovic both give terrific performances. There is something broken in Kapetanovic’s performance which just feels so right for this role.

The horror of this film is not really the sort that makes you jump; it is more akin to dread. Think about how you feel when you watch a biopic knowing it’s a sad ending, or when you watch a film about banker robbers knowing they can’t keep getting away. You get that feeling right from the off and you know it is all going to end poorly, but you can’t help but watch and hope that it doesn’t.

Overall, a very tragic but also fascinating film that enthrals you from the get-go.

Pros

Kapetanovic

Toth

The horror

The sense of dread

The ending

Cons

None

5/5

Reviewed by Luke      

The Sisters Brother: Joaquin Rides Again

The Sisters Brother is a quirky crime drama western directed by Jacques Audiard. The plot follows the infamous duo assassins The Sister Brothers (played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly), as they are sent on a mission to hunt down Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has made a breakthrough in gold prospecting.

The thing that stands out to me about this film is the performances. We get layered nuanced character all round. Heavy hitter like Phoenix and Gyllenhaal knock it out of the park, making what could otherwise be very standard ‘cowboy’ characters feel rounded and three dimensional.

Adding to this the relationship between the Brothers is also very well done by both men and very convincing. I keep saying John C. Reilly is a very talented dramatic actor and this film proves it again. We understand the brothers as people, we can see what makes them tick and understand the ins and out of their relationship the ups and the downs.

Another thing I liked was the fact that this film bucked the trend and didn’t show all the big action spectacle gun battles, sometimes even going out of its way to deliberately keep them off camera. I liked how this film focused more on the brothers and their relationship instead, the drama and the characters were the heart of the film; personally I preferred that to a big noon showdown, but that is just me.

For the most part I thought this film did a good job of pacing itself, but there were scenes that did drag on for a bit too long, I understand that some of these scenes were supposed to be setting the atmosphere, but they felt redundant in that capacity and as such should have been cut.

Overall, a fresh and interesting western film boosted by some strong performances, but it could have been a tight hour and forty-five minutes; a tighter edit needed.

Pros.

Phoenix

Riley.

Gyllenhaal

Not showing the action.

Cons.

It should have been shorter; it felt a bit bloated.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke