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Grim western tells the story of Liz (Dakota Fanning), a midwife married to a widower and with a child of her own. One day a mysterious, scarred preacher (Guy Pearce) comes to town, a man of the cloth that Liz knows from her past and greatly fears. This preacher knows her as well and proclaims that he has come to make the young woman suffer and bring her to retribution. Who is this man and what has Liz done to incur his wrath?
Over the next two and one half hours of writer/director Martin Koolhoven’s harrowing film, we go into Liz’s past to find out the answers to those very questions…and a harsh journey it is. The film is told in four parts with the middle two parts going back further and further into the story to tell us how this quest for revenge began and how and if “Liz” earned it. It is not a pleasant journey and we bare witness to some cruel and hard events, as well as, some shockingly graphic violence along the way. To go in depth too much would be to spoil the mystery and even if he crafts an unpleasant film, Koolhoven does make an intriguing one, whose mysteries we want answers to. It’s suspenseful and many of the images and events we witness have impact and weight that stays with us. The film takes us through a series of sometimes unpleasant events that bring us to where our story opens…and then comes to an equally harsh and unsettling finish. It’s not perfect. At 148 minutes, it is a bit long, especially as it is not a happy tale and there are a few glaring mysteries left unanswered, such as how one character escaped what seems like a certain death. Add to that, the overall unpleasantness of the story and some of it’s subject matter and you have a well crafted film that is not always easy to watch. On a technical level it is a solid production with Koolhoven showing he knows how to frame a shot. There is nice cinematography by Rogier Stoffers and an effective soundtrack by Junkie XL along with some effective sets and settings for within which the story takes place.
The cast are all quite good, which helps keep us with this grim tale. Dakota Fanning proves quite the strong actress in her portrayal of Liz. We have a woman with a past who will fight to save the family she now has, but as strong as she is, this “Preacher” fills her with dread and fear and she conveys that to the audience, so we share her feelings. It is a solid performance with many facets for the young actress to portray…and she portrays them well. Guy Pearce is imposing as the mysterious and vicious “Preacher”. Whether his quest for retribution is just or not, he is a vicious and cruel man. He commits horrible acts and even as we go back into the past to see how this story began to unfold, we are treated to a hard and sometimes brutal man, who seems to be using his religion to excuse his actions. Pearce really gives this man a black heart that makes the character truly frightening. Emilia Jones is also very good as the younger “Liz” who goes by another name. Jones has to act out some very harsh and uncomfortable scenarios and the young actress does very strong work and it makes for a seamless portrayal of the younger version of Fanning’s frontier midwife in peril. The cast also features good work from supporting actors such as Carice van Houten as “Liz’s” mother and Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington as an outlaw who crosses paths with our main characters at one point.
This was a very well made film, but not one you could say you enjoyed. It deals with some harsh subject matter and is sometimes cruel and unpleasant. One can definitely appreciate the talent of the director/writer and the craft of his cast, but it still is a tough watch at times. It is a bit long, even though it has a lot of story to tell and even at it’s length, there are some questions that remain. Recommended, but only with the understanding that this is not a pleasant film by any stretch.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011)
The original Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark may be corny and a bit cheesy by today’s standards but, it still has plenty of spooky atmosphere and chilling moments and I’ll admit it scared the heck of me as a little boy when first aired in 1973. It told the story of a young couple that move into an old house inhabited by demonic creatures who target the young wife, Sally, to claim her soul.
The remake from producer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey, keeps the old house but, makes Sally a little girl (Bailee Madison) with the diminutive demons after…her teeth? Sally moves into the cavernous old mansion with her dad Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) and once the creatures are unleashed, their nasty activities (shredding Kim’s dresses and Sally’s teddy bears) are continually blamed on Sally as a result of her emotional distress over her parents divorce… despite a character being savaged when Sally is nowhere near. Even when it is obvious something else is going on and Kim looks into the folklore behind the house, Alex still doubt’s it’s anything but Sally’s bid for attention and leaves her in situations where she can easily be victimized by the scurrying little monsters. But if they didn’t, it wouldn’t allow for the overblown Gremlins-ish attack scenes in the finale act.
So, does Nixey deliver a spooky flick and are the creatures at least scary? Sadly, no. The CGI critters show up fairly early and are smaller and more numerous then the original demons but, don’t have anywhere near the menace they should. They evoke the hairy wingless versions of the tooth fairies from Del Toro’s Hellboy 2 and to a degree they are similar as teeth play a part of their character for whatever reason. That and they are paraded out in full view far too much and the over-exposure and the obvious CGI origins kill any effectiveness they might have. As for the positives, the film does look great with sumptuous production design and gorgeous cinematography but, sadly Nixey, from Del Toro’s and Matthew Robbins’ script, never is able to make it scary. He’s a competent enough director but, just not able to establish suspense or the atmosphere of dread the film needs. It may entertain some as a dark Disney film or a humorless Gremlins 3 but, it never works as a horror film even thought the intended victim is a child and she is played sympathetically by young Bailee Madison.
And while on the subject… the cast are fine with Madison standing out as Sally. Holmes is adequate as the new girlfriend trying to overcome Sally’s dislike and win her over. Her concern once things get weird appears genuine. Pearce is a little heavy handed as the dad who thinks it’s all in Sally’s head and seems a little callous when it comes to his daughter’s well being but, that seems to be how the character is written and the character in the original TV movie wasn’t much better, a little too self-centered to realize something strange is going on till it’s too late. Too bad a good cast could help generate what the film lacks, scares.
Overall the film is not bad, just not scary. It is sumptuous to look at but, the CGI creatures look like exactly that and have no weight or threat or personality. The film is simply not frightening and afraid of the dark is something it never makes us.
2 and 1/2 CGI creatures.
IRON MAN 3 (2013)
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS
As a fan of the first two Iron Man films and all the Marvel phase 1 films so far, this second sequel to Iron Man was highly anticipated…and therefor that much more disappointing. Iron Man 3 picks up after The Avengers with Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) suffering anxiety attacks and trying to escape his sleepless nights by constantly evolving his suits. Enter a terrorist known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and the sudden re-emergence of two scientists (Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall) Tony met in 1999 and soon Tony’s troubles become far more difficult than sleepless nights.
Despite an interesting start, this is when the film’s plot gets completely convoluted as Tony provokes this vile terrorist and gets his home blown to smithereens and Tony becomes stranded in Tennessee, with nothing but a garage full of tools to try to get back in action again. Now add in some glowing and literally explosive super soldiers, product of some genetic hanky-panky by said scientists and Iron Man 3 becomes something resembling a Pierce Brosnan era James Bond flick and not one of the better ones. Seeing Tony out of the suit for most of the film is fine, but the film jumps from one scene to another with a very choppy narrative flow and some of the stuff just gets plain ludicrous and silly, with glowing assassin soldiers, mustache tweaking villains and Tony somehow buying lots of goodies to make gadgets out of, yet somehow keeping up the facade that he is dead. Does he carry that much cash in the event his home is blasted to pieces and he can’t use his credit cards? Tony becomes an anxiety filled Bond trying to take down this silly conspiracy involving war vets turned human bombs and rescue a kidnapped Pepper. Don’t get me started on the ridiculous plot twist involving The Mandarin. They took Tony’s arch enemy from the comics and simply ruin him for what basically appears to be laughs…although Kingsley was good in Mandarin’s various incarnations, but that is a testament of his acting, more than the script or direction. And while on the subject, writer/director Shane Black does give us some spectacular action and he also gives Robert Downey Jr. some really great dialog to chew on and some very funny scenes, but it’s just the story is all over the place and his attempts to turn this into some sci-fi/conspiracy thriller just didn’t work. The villains never really make their motivations clear, nor do we really get a decent idea of what exactly it is they are up to. What is the point of all this? Since we never really get a clear picture, we never really get involved. Instead we watch Tony go from one scene to another trying to get the bad guys without any real emotional investment, other then our amusement at seeing Downey take down bad guys without his suit…which he rarely ever puts on. And then there’s the spectacular yet unsatisfying climactic confrontation. Unsatisfying because we never really get to know Aldrich Killain (Pearce) well enough to truly make him effective as a villain and have no real emotional investment to want to see him taken down. At the climax, Tony is practically a bystander as his automated suits do all the work. And, that takes the soul out of the suit and then it just becomes random CGI robots battling random glowing super soldiers, who have even less personality than the suits. After all we have seen and all the characters have gone through, Black wraps it all up in a far too neat little bow. Everything fixed, all better now.
At least the cast are all good in their roles with Downey having a blast as an even more eccentric Tony, thought Cheadle and Paltrow really don’t have much to do till the last act and Rebecca Hall’s character could have been easily written out without much harm to the story. All in all, Shane Black does deliver some big action and gives Downey a lot of situations to do what he does best, but for an Iron Man film, it’s just too messy a plot and Iron Man himself has very little to do and in the end it doesn’t really feel much like an Iron Man movie. Not a complete loss, but when compared to all that’s come before it, it’s a borderline mess and a big disappointment. Stay after the credits for the most pointless Marvel flick post credits scene yet.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Iron Men, mostly for RDJ and some nice action.