Sunday, 31 May 2015

No.211 : Will Penny

Will Penny at the IMDb

According to IMDb ‘Will Penny’ is Charlton Heston’s favourite of his own movies. He must have forgotten about ‘The Omega Man’ and ‘Soylent Green’ when he said that! Still it is a great picture with lots of the components one always needs in a truly enjoyable western.

Despite only being 45 when the film was made Heston plays an ageing cowboy who is nearing the end of his usefulness in the old west. I suppose 45 was probably a good age back then but sitting here aged 44 I feel he had plenty left on the clock despite being regarded as the old timer.

Anyway, we join Charlton and the cow pokes at the end of a cattle drive. They get paid off by their boss and discuss what their options are. Chuck isn’t seen as a viable candidate for the next drive and instead heads off with The Six Million Dollar Man and Mathias whom he would later cross swords with in ‘The Omega Man’.

After a brief scene reminiscent of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ where Steve Austin and Mathias emerge from beneath a blanket in their long johns there is a stand off with a gang of brigands who try to claim an elk they shot is rightfully theirs - the bastards! A brief shoot-out sees a bad guy killed and Mathias gut shot but we haven’t seen the last of them - well they do have Donald Pleasance and Bruce Dern in their number, and they aren't getting paid for one scene!

Charlton and his pals make it to a remote outpost where the greedy owner tries to sell them a coffin while Mathias is still hanging on - still at least there is some tightly buttoned lady action on show! The lads soon go their own ways with Chuck taking on a job that involves him occupying a remote cabin up in the hills. When he arrives he finds the cabin occupied by squatters in the shape of a gun toting woman and her snot nosed boy.

Chuck gives them a few days to move out but while he’s camping out in the wilds he gets bushwhacked by Pleasance’s gang. Using bad guy logic they leave him to die in the wilderness rather than kill him on the spot, leaving him able to return injured to the cabin in his fetching long johns. He’s nursed back to health by the thawing widow, who despite saying they aren't friends, will clearly end up in the great man’s arms.

As romance blossoms the viewer is left to wonder when the bad guys will show up again and at what cost.

This was two third of a great film with the middle section letting the side down. It was fair enough to have the stoic range man find a bit of happiness but the scene with him making house ran too long, so it was a merciful release when the bad guys showed up again and chucked the Christmas tree on the fire.

Heston does well as the jaded cowpoke who finds it hard to let others into his life and he handles the brief action scenes well. Joan Hackett is fine as the love interest who is maybe a bit too keen to get Heston into the bath to support her hardbitten exterior.

The bad guys were well cast but underused - Bruce Dern hardly had a line. Their undoing was also somewhat pat with them at first fighting over the plain widow before reinforcing the stereotype that bad guys can’t shoot for toffee.

The settings were great and the costumes and characters certainly evokes a grubbier Old West than perhaps we are used to. At about 100 minutes this is a good slice of western life with maybe not enough substance to have it live long in the memory.

Best Bit : Visitors at Christmas!

'W' Score 15/23

Thursday, 28 May 2015

No.210 : Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me at the IMDb

You now what they should make more films about? Yes, you guessed it - women’s issues - and if I was being greedy I’d go specifically for women with mental health issues - how can that fail to be interesting and uplifting?

To be fair, ‘Welcome to Me’ wasn’t half bad but I was a bit ‘Give it a rest Love’ long before the end.

Kristen Wiig plays the main character, Alice, who is a bit of a misfit who spends her days watching old VHS tapes of ‘Oprah’, mouthing along to the self help message bestowed in each. The rest of her day is taken up with buying her lottery ticket (remember that!) and seeing her patronising psychiatrist Daryl played, in his douche bag mode, by Tim Robbins.

We learn that Alice hasn't been taking her medication and has become estranged from her family and society in general. As unlikely plotting would have it things quickly change when she wins over $80 million on the lottery. Using her un-medicated wisdom she moves into an Indian casino with her friend and starts to watch the infomercials on TV. After visiting the set of one Alice decides to spend her fortune on making her own TV talk show with the help of Cyclops out of the X-men and his hairy brother whom she starts banging for good measure.

Alice’s show ‘Welcome to Me’ looks exceedingly dull and self absorbed but after a predictable montage it becomes an unlikely hit with the clich├ęs of mounting Youtube hits and ‘going viral’ rolled out to suggest the show is hitting a nerve with the public - hey maybe we’re all a bit weird and are outsiders too!

With success within her grasp can Alice continue with her venture as the money starts to run out and will resuming her medication be a good idea?

I quite enjoyed this film but given the cast available I felt it fell short of my expectations. Wiig is convincing as the oddball Alice but I was never endeared to her character or her innocent outpourings of wisdom. I think we were meant to see a universal truth in what she rattled on about but I just found it all a bit tiresome.

There were some good touches like having actors act out scenes from her life on her show but others,  like a week of having animals castrated, seemed weak and unlikely to endear her to the public as was being suggested.

The cast who included the underused Joan Cusack and Jennifer Jason Leigh had little to do as Wiig took centre stage and let no one else have a look in. Still it was a brave performance and by that I mean she takes all her clothes off.

For me there weren't enough laughs to class this as a comedy and as a commentary on mental health and social inclusion it didn't convince. It’s not a complete waste of time, but like Alice’s own show it was too unfocused and half baked to be truly satisfying.

14/23 Best Bit : Where is this casino?

Sunday, 24 May 2015

No.209 : Wild Tales

Sometimes in life one’s pointless endeavours collide, as has happened here when my desire, nay need, to keep up to date with all the films on the IMDb Top 250 list produced an unseen ‘W’ film. To be honest it’s actually a ‘R’ film  as the title is ‘Relatos Salvages’ but given my meagre readership can barely understand English, never mind Spanish, I’ll go with the translation ‘Wild Tales’ as that’s what’s on the poster.

The film is from Argentina, a country you may feel is better suited to steaks and invading, but to be fair this is pretty good and was that country’s Foreign Film entry to the 2015 Oscars - didn’t win though!

Six standalone vignettes, or stories to you, make up the film and each focuses on an element of extreme behaviour, with things normally starting out in a sedate manner, before flying wildly off the tracks. You sometimes see films like ‘Happiness’ use the multiple strand format and then intertwine the stories so that the man in story one is a patient of the doctor in story three and the plumber in story two cleans the septic tank of the woman in story four, but not here. Each story stands alone with a separate cast and is about twenty minutes long, which is helpful if you need to frequently visit the toilet or fridge.

The first story concerns two passengers on a flight who, after a brief conversation, discover they have a person in common. Another passenger pitches in that she knows him too before it is quickly established that everyone on the flight has crossed paths with this one mysterious figure. Is it a cosmic coincidence or are more sinister forces in play? It’s the second one! This story only lasts a few minutes and is played out before the titles, ably setting the tone for what is to follow.

Next up a waitress encounters a rude customer whom she recognises as the man who drove her father to suicide. The female chef encourages her to lace his dinner with rat poison arguing that his death will be attributed to the food rather than poison - clearly  not a restaurant to seek out! Things are complicated when the man’s son appears and starts helping himself to the chips - is the food poisoned? and can this end well?

A familiar opening next as a driver is held up on the road by a slow moving banger. Given it's the middle of nowhere the driver giving the finger on passing can’t be a good idea and so it proves when he gets a flat and his tormentor pulls up behind. An escalating game then plays out with a nice line in being dumped upon taking centre stage. Once again things start to spiral towards an inevitable but satisfying conclusion.

By now you have an idea where the film’s mindset is and when the next character is introduced carrying out his day job as a demolition expert you know the parking attendants who blight his life would do well to leave him alone. Of course they don’t and although the pay off is the most predictable of the stories, it was well handled as was the fall out of his actions.

The penultimate story opens with a spoiled rich boy arriving home in Daddy’s bashed up car. We learn that he has hit and killed a pregnant woman and rather than leave him to take his medicine his father and his lawyer try to buy his way out of the crime by bribing the local prosecutor and by paying his handyman to take the rap. The seedy plan starts to unravel when everyone gets greedy and the wages of sin hold their usual pitfalls.

The last story is the longest and perhaps the weakest. At her wedding reception a bride discovers her husband’s infidelity and sets about evening the score by copping off with a chef and smashing up her rival. As the cake hits the deck can the marriage be pulled back from the brink?

As with any anthology some stories are stronger than others but this film does well to maintain a consistently high standard. The acting was excellent and I was willing on the often reprehensible characters. There were plenty of surprises and a few laugh out loud moments as well as plenty to ponder.

If foreign language films aren't usually your thing, give this a go. The stories are brief and demonstrate that the human foibles we possess are universal and if you don’t take to a set up or the characters there’s another story and cast just a few minutes away.

Best Bit - Incoming! 20/23