Guest Post: Sundance review of SLOW WEST

Special thanks to Iba from I Luv Cinema for her Sundance review!

Ah, the western – on its surface, it would seem it is not to my favorite cinematic genre. But upon further examination, I must admit it has produced some of my all time favorite films (High Noon, Unforgiven, The Searchers, The Ox Bow Incident). At their best, westerns have the potential to provide an insightful glimpse into the human condition. Or, they could just simply be well executed, rock-em, shock-em, shoot-em-ups.

I am still not sure that Slow West will enter the pantheon of the films in this genre that I hold in the highest of regards, but I will concede that I enjoyed the film.

SlowWest2

Set in the sweeping expanse of the western frontier of 19th century America (but shot in New Zealand), Slow West is the journey of young Scot nobleman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he leaves his homeland in search for his love Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Along the way, he runs into a variety of characters – most importantly Silas (Executive Producer Michael Fassbender), who is to be his guide. It is clear that Silas is an opportunist of sorts, but how far down the rabbit hole is the question we will ask ourselves, and later discover over the course of the film.

Slow West combines the wild serenity of the environs, with moments of explosive (and sometimes surprising) violence – even by Western standards. And, in the midst of all this, the film finds instances of irony that will make you laugh out loud – seriously, I laughed for at least two prolonged periods.

SlowWest3

While this film may not lay out the big moral questions of those previously mentioned films that I love so much, there is a sequence at the end, which, based on how you view it, may serve as a reminder of what has been gained and lost on this journey propelled by young love.

In addition to the love story, the “stranger in a strange land” theme pervades throughout – so it is apropos that the film is lensed by a “stranger” of sorts – Scottish-born, BAFTA-award winning writer-director John Maclean (Pitch Black Heist). Slow West marks his full-length feature (and Sundance) debut.

It would be remiss of me not to credit the work of all the actors involved for a job well done. Mind you, Smit-McPhee and Fassbender are the central protagonists, but the film felt like a truly collaborative experience.

SlowWest1

In the end, I feel that Slow West is a film that is accessible even if you are not a particular fan of the genre. Or, if like me, you have yet to truly discover how much the genre has to offer you cinematically.

* Slow West was the 2015 Sundance winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize: Drama.

4Reels

Review by Iba @
ILuvCinema


What do you think of Slow West? Are you keen on seeing it when it’s released near you?

Guest Post: Sundance review of Z for Zachariah

Special thanks to Iba from I Luv Cinema for her Sundance review!

ZforZachariah1Boy the things you learn when you decide to just hop in and catch a film. For instance, I did not know that there was a source material to this three-hander, post-apocalyptic drama. Z for Zachariah, directed by Sundance veteran Craig Zobel, is based on the same-named sci-fi novel written (and published posthumously) by young adult author Robert C. O’Brien. With a big screen adaptation penned by Nissar Modi, the film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. Yup, that is it. No one else. So you better like them, because for the duration of the film’s 95 minute running time, they (and a dog) are all we have to entertain us.

ZforZachariah3From jump, we know something is horribly wrong, as the world (or at least this part) appears to have gone to waste. However, among these ruins, we also land in an ‘Eden” – a spot that seems untouched by the chaos. Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) is our guide through these landscapes. She is alone, that is until she comes across Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a scientist, who until fairly recently, has lived underground. Circumstances will necessitate that they work together to build a life; I mean, really it makes sense that when you find someone, they should become an ally. Or will they? Because just as we get comfortable with these two and the bond they are forming, in walks Caleb (Chris Pine) an enigmatic crasher to their party of two. Immediately tension enters our idyllic hideaway as the two men contend for Ann.

In a slight deviation from the source material, I find it interesting that the filmmakers decided to essentially split the Loomis character from the novel into two people. In doing so, it ratcheted up the tension, thus creating a post-apocalyptic love triangle. This definitely presents an interesting dilemma for her as she sees these two men essentially duking it out for her as the prize. They could not be any different in their approaches – there is the soft, slow burn of her relationship with Loomis starkly contrasting the raw urgency of her interactions with Caleb.

ZforZachariah2Aside from romantic complications, we also have before us a story with heavy biblical references; set in a paradise (lost) of sorts, there is a Cain versus Abel-like battle waging between the two men. Oh well, maybe it’s just me …

Overall, I would say Z for Zachariah was an interesting cinematic exercise. If you are a lover of a well-crafted love story set in the blight of an apocalyptic fallout, I suggest you take a look-see. It is indeed beautifully shot and well acted. In fact, the film did hold my attention until that very (ambiguous) end – which when you think about it, maybe was not so ambiguous after all …

It is ultimately up to us to decide.

3halfReels

Review by Iba
ILuvCinema


What do you think of this film? Are you keen on seeing it when it’s released near you?

7 Films Screened at Sundance 2015 I’m most curious about

Sundance2015How’s your weekend everybody? I spent some of my weekend reading [and dreaming] about the Sundance Film Festival. I wish I could go there one day, the venue itself in Park City, Utah is gorgeous and of course, it’s a haven for movie fans, especially indie lovers. Who knows when we’ll actually see these films in a theater near us, but hopefully we will eventually.

So here are just a tiny sampling of movies that piqued my interest [in random order]:

Z For Zachariah

Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Pall Grimsson, Nissar Modi
Cast: Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor

In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

ZForZachariah

I’ve been seeing this photo all over the place and the cast alone intrigues me. I had no idea this was about a love triangle set in a post-apocalyptic world. Apparently this is based on a YA novel and according to this review from Variety,  the book has “…allusions to the Genesis narrative, [and] the novel was seen by some critics as a metaphorical clash between science and faith.” I was impressed w/ Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it’d be interesting to see her in a more prominent role against these two equally gorgeous and talented actors.

Here’s a clip from the film

Brooklyn

Director: John Crowley
Writer: Nick Hornby
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Jim Broadbent, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson

In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

Brooklyn_SaoirseRonan

I LOVE Ronan and the 20-year-old’s definitely coming into her own as a grown-up actress now after churning in great performances in her teen years, esp. Atonement and Hanna. I like the sound of this period drama and John Crowley’s the same director who did the excellent Boy A with Andrew Garfield.

99 Homes

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
Cast: Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern

After his family is evicted, proud and desperate construction worker Dennis Nash (GARFIELD) tries to win his home back by striking a deal with the devil and working for Rick Carver (SHANNON), the corrupt real estate broker who evicted him.

99Homes

This sounds really intriguing, and it’s already got really good reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes. Here’s an excerpt from We Got This Covered, “It is a film that could easily have condescended with characters that fall too concretely on the sides of black and white, the 99% vs. the 1%. (it is easy to believe that the 99 from the title refers to the plight of the common individual against the monopoly of the elite). However, Bahrani and co-scribe Amir Naderi are too perceptive and intelligent to depict these two men in simplistic ways.” 

No trailer yet, but here’s a clip featuring both actors:

Last Days in the Desert

Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Writer: Rodrigo Garcia
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds

An imagined chapter from Jesus’ forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis.

LastDaysIntheDesert

Ok so yes I was initially intrigued to see this mainly to see how McGregor pull off playing both Jesus and the Devil. But reading this interview with the filmmaker and lead actor on Christianity Today made me all the more curious. Described in the article as “…a character-driven meditation on family and mortality, haunting and spare” it seems as far away from something like EXODUS in terms of its *epic* and CGI-laden extravaganza, but hopefully it offers a reflective and thought-provoking look of Jesus’s life in perhaps his pivotal moment in his short but momentous life.

Lila & Eve

Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Pat Gilfillan
Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

Two distraught mothers, whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action.

LilaAndEve

Viola Davis and J-Lo?? Now THAT’s quite an unlikely duo. It’s reminiscent of Thelma & Louise but decidedly more serious in tone. Considering the cultural climate of the recent police shootings in this country, the film would likely spark controversies. It’s certainly nice to see two strong women of color, who have a huge following in their own right, starring in a film together. The main draw for me here is Davis who’s charismatic and massively talented. Despite her questionable choice of movies, Lopez is actually not a bad actress and perhaps she gets to show her dramatic chops in this one.

Results

Director: Andrew Bujalsk
Writer: Andrew Bujalsk
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce

Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.

Results

Guy Pearce in a comedy, as a personal trainer no less? Yes please! Interesting to see the pairing of him and Smulders, but both have been in Marvel movies. Variety reported that the film’s been sold to Magnolia and perhaps will open later this Summer. Here’s more info about the plot: The film is set in the fitness world of Austin, Texas, with Corrigan as a recently divorced, miserable slob who makes a stab at self-improvement by signing up for a personal trainer at a local gym, where he meets the self-styled guru/owner (Pearce) and acerbic trainer Kat (Smulders). Sounds good to me!

Slow West

Director: John MacLean
Writer: John MacLean
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendehlson, Kodi Smit-McPhee

‘Slow West’ follows a 16-year-old boy on a journey across 19th Century frontier America in search of the woman he loves, while accompanied by mysterious traveler Silas.

SlowWest

It’s interesting to note that first time director was a musician whose music been featured in films like High Fidelity and Remember Me. He worked on a short called Man on a Motorcycle starring Fassbender and perhaps that’s who the two met. Fassbender is also producing this film, described in MacLean’s own words in this Indiewire interview as “A European perspective of the West and young love…” Westerns isn’t my go-to genre, but the premise and cast definitely grabs my attention.

Hopefully these movies will all get distribution and that I get to see them later this year!


Well, have you been following Sundance this year? Which movies are you most excited to see?