Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Synopsis:

See the title. Jesse James played by Brad Pitt with Casey Affleck as Bob Ford.

Review:

Not a Western in the usual sense, but a heartfelt and sombre drama.  It’s also one of the most handsomely-shot movies I have ever seen. Visual high points are numerable. The train robbery at the beginning of the movie is one – the train arriving and its lights illuminating the masked-faces of the robbers in waiting are breath-taking pieces of cinematography. The shifting skies and blowing wheat fields that accompany the accented narration are dreamy, and you sometimes feel like you are hearing this story from the foot of an elderly raconteur’s chair amongst a swirl of pipe-smoke.

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Casey Affleck shivers the soul as the besotted and disturbed Bob Ford, putting in a quite ghoulish performance both visually and psychologically. Sam Shepherd may have a mere cameo role as the elder James but his line to Affleck in the first ten minutes is impeccable in its accuracy of Affleck’s performance:  “ I don’t know what it is about you, but the more you talk, the more you give me the willies.”

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Pitt is understated as Jesse. But the kind of effortless amble and irrevocable fatalism he brings to the role are more than enough to see this one home. Once James has been assassinated – moments after uttering the final words  “ Don’t that picture look dusty?” – you think the movie is all but done. However, you’d be wrong because  Ford himself – as well as his travelling stage show about the assassination – become the focus, breathing new life into the screenplay when you think it’s bottomed out.

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Nick Cave’s perfect score is wondrous and his bit-part as a minstrel taunting the disgraced Ford is one of the best scenes in the film. The final shots of the movie are done in a kind of stop-motion technique as yet another glory – or is it infamy? – seeking nobody attempts to capture the headlines whilst assassinating Bob Ford, the man who himself shot Jesse James. This circular theme, and the inevitability of Ford’s own demise, closes the film like a perfect knot.

Whilst this isn’t a film with has a lot to say about the West , it speaks wholesomely of  the insatiable yearning for celebrity within us all.

Hotdog rating: 9/10

My Soul To Take (2010)

Synopsis:

Seven children are born the night a schizophrenic serial killer disappears. 16 years later,  the kids begin to meet grisly ends, seemingly at the hands of the same killer.

Review:

Written and directed by genre kingpin Wes Craven, expectations could understandably be high. That said, Craven has some serious misfires in his cannon including the awful Hills  Have Eyes Part 2 (1984) and the only-marginally-better Shocker (1989). Unfortunately this latest effort falls into that kind of category.

You always hope to see at least flashes of good form,  given whose sitting in the directorial chair, but  in the end are left wanting. This is all the more disappointing because there are some interesting ideas explored here; those of multiple personality, a soul harbinger and the duplicity of the human with the natural world.

To be fair to Craven’s film, it starts off reasonably well with a fast-paced – and unpredictable – multiple murder scene. But beyond this bravado opening, the film descends into a mix of teen melodrama and gutter slasher movie. The screenplay spends far too much time concentrating on teen-angst and not enough on the backstory or horror of our spectral ripper. Despite the dedication of the film to the cardboard teen characters before our eyes, the scripted dialogue is tedious and the characterisations gloriously unimaginative. I mean our lead actors are so wooden  they could have starred alongside ol’ Chief wooden-top  in “Creepshow 2”.  It’s a real shame that the almost shape-shifting character actor Harris Yulin only appears so briefly as Dr Blake because the movie suffers manifestly from a lack of a strong adult lead.

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What we do get in abundance is pale imitations of Craven’s formidable back-catalogue. The plot alone bears more than a passing resemblance to his best work in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) whilst the importance of the telephone in setting up the set-piece murders recalls the daddy of slasher satire, 1996’s “Scream”.  These are all things that Craven has shown us before and it’s as if the great director has simply snoozed his way through the picture, dropping little nods to his and others’ work here and there. The best part of the movie is the screen-time – all 5 seconds of it – afforded to Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963). There is also a kind of homage to the vintage wardrobe scene from “Halloween” (1978), although it isn’t particularly note-worthy.

By the time you get to the end, the so-called twist is patently obvious and somewhat strained, which sums up the whole 90 minutes really. Points earned here are for the first 5 minutes and a passable  performance from Max Thierot as the troubled teen posing all the questions.

Hotdog rating: 3/10