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Non-Review Review: Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a modern western, a tale of the land and the people shaped by it.

Hell or High Water revels in the old cowboy tropes. Repeatedly over the course of the film’s runtime, eye witnesses liken the outlaw pair at the centre of the story to “cowboys” or “cowpokes.” Set in West Texas, the film unfolds in a world of cowboy hats and rattlesnakes. This is a story about lonely men in the desert, land and self-determination. At one point, a half-Native American half-Mexican character pauses to reflect upon the idea that this is essentially the foundational myth of the frontier playing out again. The actors might change, but the roles remain the same.

No Country for Young Men.

No Country for Young Men.

Hell or High Water is bitter and cynical reflection on the concept of land and ownership, and the importance that it plays to the American identity. Towards the end of the film, bank robber Toby Howard justifies his actions by reference to generations of struggle; the generations that came before and the generations that will follow, and the land that has either condemned or sustained them. Toby is quite literally building his own future out there on the frontier, his bank robberies motivated by the urge to wrest back his family’s land so he might wrest a profit from it.

Like its lead characters, and like the land that drives them to this desperate course of action, Taylor Sheridan’s script is reserved and restrained. There is an economy to it, a sparseness and a leanness that suits this tale and the people inhabiting it. However, Sheridan’s script implicitly trusts director David Mackenzie, who manages to find a striking beauty and a stunning brutality in this rugged landscape inhabited by these rugged men.

At home on the Ranger...

At home on the Ranger…

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Non-Review Review: Thunderbolt & Lightfoot

I think that Thunderbolt & Lightfoot might be my favourite Michael Cimino film. Don’t get me wrong, of course. I acknowledge and appreciate the director’s work on The Deer Hunter, but it’s not a film I return to on a regular basis. It’s a thoughtful and powerful commentary on the Vietnam War, but it isn’t among my favourite explorations of that particular conflict. On the other hand, while it still has its own serious flaws, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot has a much lighter touch. It’s a film that offers a great deal of depth beneath a relatively accessible surface layer, serving as an exploration of seventies America, but one with significant hidden depths. However, despite his sophisticated work here, Cimino’s directorial début is not inaccessible and works quite well as a hybrid of the “road” and the “heist”movie genres, albeit with a great deal happening beneath the surface.

The road to nowhere?

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My Best of 2011: True Grit & The Art of Modesty…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

True Grit is number eight. Check out my original review here.

Collective consensus is a funny thing. It pops up quite quickly and quietly, in the strangest sorts of places and the strangest sort of way. The Coen Brothers are respected filmmakers, to say the least. Even when a project of their doesn’t quite come off as smoothly as one might expect, it’s still compelling viewing. However, as with any other directors, there are greater films and there are lesser films. And there are those that sit in the middle. True Grit, for most critics, seems to sit firmly in the middle.

But not for me.

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Non-Review Review: True Grit

True Grit is a strange proposition. It’s very clearly a very typical Western movie, about a bunch of (effectively) hired guns hunting down a fugitive on the run from the law, in pursuit of a large bounty. However, it’s also very distinctively a Coen Brothers movie, in attitude and tone. It isn’t that the two are mutually exclusive (No Country For Old Men, for example, was a modern Western with a very Coen aesthetic), but it’s just strange to see both elements so strongly pronounced. Although not quite perfect, True Grit is a movie well worth your time.

Snow man's land...

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Eleven for Eleven: My Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2011

What with listing my top ten films of the past year and all that, I thought that I’d take the opportunity to look forward rather than backwards. So here are my eleven most anticipated movies coming out in the next year or so. I picked eleven, because I’m not 100% certain about the release date of one. As ever, these are for Irish and British cinemas, so four of these will be arriving in our theatres within the next three weeks. Which, I suppose is something to look forward to. Anyway, without any further adieu, here are my eleven most anticipated films of the year ahead.

Coming soon...

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Non-Review Review: Tron Legacy

I admired the original Tron perhaps because of what it attempted rather than because of what it accomplished. It was brave and bold, and it demonstrated more than any other film of its time what was possible with computer-generated imagery – it was a statement of intent and a proof of concept. However, it was also somewhat awkward and clunky – to the point that several sequences in the movie had to hand-animated rather than digitally modelled, because time and technology worked against the crew. It was very much a movie of its time, held back by the status of the industry at the time – and yet inspiring a whole new generation of film-goers and film-makers as to the possibilities. It seems only fitting, perhaps, that Tron: Legacy took so long to make it to the screen – those impressionable young future movie-makers have come of age in the thirty years since the original. In many ways, the sequel feels like a debt is being repaid – here’s a chance to see the original and daring vision as it was imagined all those years ago.

I haven't got a Clu...

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Where Have All the Good Movies Come From?

I know I wasn’t alone when I claimed that this summer had been (with a few big exceptions) a massive disappointment for movie fans. In fairness, with a few bright spots, 2009 wasn’t exactly an above-average year either. However, myself and the better half have been going to the cinema fairly consistently over the past number of weeks and I have to admit that I’ve been more consistently impressed by films like The Social Network, The Kids Are Alright, Easy A and The Town than I have by any run of films in at least the last year. Is it just me, or are things finally looking up?

A veritable feast of good cinema...

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