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Tag Archive: A Perfect World


Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of the 1985 movie Fletch, you probably think of Chevy Chase’ s humorous, over-the-top take on undercover reporter I.M. Fletcher.  But Fletch the movie was only loosely based on the award-winning mystery novels by author Gregory Mcdonald.  Mcdonald wrote dozens of novels before his death in 2008.  One of those is Snatched, a kidnapping story reprinted this year for the first time in 30 years by Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint.

Originally published in 1978 as Who Took Toby Rinaldi? in the U.S. and Snatched in the UK, Mcdonald crafted a thriller about the botched kidnapping of the eight-year-old son of a Persian Gulf region ambassador to the United Nations as he readies a proposal with global impact before the U.N.  The proposal itself is a bit of a Pelican Brief MacGuffin, but the real action follows a thug named Spike as he hides the abducted boy, Toby Rinaldi.  Toby was on his way to meet his mother Christina for a visit to a Disneyland-esque theme park in California called Fantazyland.  Key to the action and tension are the efforts and setbacks faced by Christina as she attempts to catch the kidnapper, despite her husband’s foreign security squad in the U.S. trying to keep the kidnapping secret.

   

Snatched is a great read.  Its slow, simmering pace reflects nailbiters of the 1960s-1970s like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Charley Varrick, Magnum Force, or Bullitt.  Many of the characters are intentionally frustrating.  The characters are frustrated, and that is channeled to the reader page after page.  Toby’s father is caught between the direct demands of his king and responsibility to family.  The political factions behind the kidnapping plot–a small group of tried and tested, denizen mercenaries whose failure to communicate and coordinate because of their own personal distractions cause them to trip over each other as they attempt what might otherwise be the simplest of crimes.  Despite Mcdonald’s Fletch character translated to the big screen, make no mistake:  Snatched is not a comedy.  It’s also low on violence, other than a little boy in jeopardy as the main plot point, which is handled deftly by Mcdonald.

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hell-or-high-water

Review by C.J. Bunce

For fans of the traditional Western, Hell or High Water is a Western in name only.  Sure, it has the hallmarks:  Frank and Jesse James-inspired bank robbers, it takes place in a Western enough locale, and there’s plenty of cowboy hats and even horses and cattle.  But it’s something very different, and reviewers calling it a Western are setting the wrong expectations.  Yes, it’s closer to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven than your typical fare, but not that close.  A nontraditional Western?  Barely, maybe.  Better described it’s a drama in Western dress.  It’s also a look at a place and time: West Texas, today.  Which makes it in other ways a West Texas version of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo.  You’ll see plenty of life reflected with a Texas cultural twist.  Good and bad.  Strangely enough, if life is indeed reflected in the cinema each year, Hell or High Water is the best reflection of America to hit theaters in 2016.

In addition to the perfect Western title, Hell or High Water has the perfect imperfect hangman sheriff in its Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played by Jeff Bridges in what is yet another brilliant supporting character role.  If he hadn’t landed the Oscar for True Grit, he’d have it for this.  Bridges plays another crotchety old man, he’s days from retirement, and all soaked in his own blissful ignorance of his racism, much like Clint Eastwood’s old man in Gran Torino and Eastwood’s own take on the Texas Ranger in pursuit in the 1993 “modern Western” A Perfect World.  Bridges’ partner is the put-upon Comanche Ranger Alberto Parker, played by Gil Birmingham, an actor of actual Comanche lineage who has guest starred on numerous genre classic series including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Veronica Mars, Castle, and even Riptide.  At times Birmingham gets his Oscar-worthy moments, too, especially when he fires back at Hamilton with equally biting quips.

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The Rangers are hunting down two brothers, played by Star Trek and Wonder Woman’s Chris Pine and 3:10 to Yuma and X: Men: The Last Stand’s Ben Foster, who have a strange plan to rob a Midland Texas chain of banks because they learned the banks’ network of video recording hardware is being updated, with the added bonus of being able to launder the money through an Oklahoma casino.  The movie trailers laid out every aspect of the plot–why they need the money–more concisely than its laid out in the film, but the film is really part character study of the brothers, part indictment of the banking system, and the destruction of the family unit, and everything else wrong in the world.  To that end this is a typical drama, but it has its moments, including a quality bank robber story.

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midnight-special-cast

Review by C.J. Bunce

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.  The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain.  Watcher in the Woods.  Maggie.  Super 8.  The Omen.  D.A.R.Y.L.  A Perfect World.  Starman.  Michael.  Tomorrowland.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Blues Brothers.  The Twilight Zone Movie.  What could these all possibly have in common?  Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.

Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first.  It had an inexplicable limited release this past March.  And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses.  If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it.  And what a loss!  Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.

You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it.  You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either.  And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film.  But it’s very, very different.

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A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities.  Is some messianic end looming ahead?  Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason?  Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread.  Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end.  What happened to this kid?  Why does he have these powers?  What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them? 

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