Traumatic Disorder (Hostiles review)

The life of a soldier is oft met with tragedy, both on the battlefront, and at home. But what happens when his battlefield is in his hometown? Prejudice, trauma, and an unhealthy mixture of isolation abound.

 

Hostiles (2017)

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Jonathan Majors, Stephen Lang, Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster
Director: Scott Cooper
released on blu-ray Apr 24, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 72%
The Guardian: ***

Scott Cooper is an American Director, screenwriter, producer, and sometimes actor. His list of director credits include Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace, Black Mass, and now Hostiles. Having been active in the industry since 1998, Cooper spent the first decade of his career in the television industry, taking small acting roles before fully realizing that writing and directing was far more rewarding.

His directorial debut, Crazy Heart is nothing short of captivating, and shows a side of country music most of us miss. Plus, Jeff Bridges is amazing in it, so obviously Cooper recognizes casting quality over quantity. Hostiles also features a smaller cast and as it takes place in the late 19th century, has an authentic western flavour, but it’s not a misguided cowboys and indians kind of flick.

Special thanks to Nick Riganas for the IMDB summary of the film –

In 1892, after nearly two decades of fighting the Cheyenne, the Apache, and the Comanche natives, the United States Cavalry Captain and war hero, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered to escort the ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)–his most despised enemy–to his ancestral home in Montana’s Valley of the Bears. Nauseated with a baleful anger, Joseph’s unwelcome final assignment in the feral American landscape is further complicated, when the widowed settler, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), is taken in by the band of soldiers, as aggressive packs of marauding Comanches who are still on the warpath, are thirsty for blood. In a territory crawling with hostiles, can the seasoned Captain do his duty one last time?

What I loved about this movie is also what I ultimately hated about it. If I might be so contrarian. I’ve always been a fan of westerns as a young boy, and I attribute a lot of that love to the relationship I have with my father and grandfather, who were both small-town farmers. It wasn’t until my dad moved to the “big city” in his late twenties, met my mom, and had me that the lifestyle cycle started to shift. Either way, they both love westerns, and I have a kinship with anything associated with it.

Hostiles is not your classic John Wayne, Yul Brenner or Lee Van Cleef story – where the heroes and villains are depicted by how long their shadows cast. There is serious consideration of the effect of colonization on indigenous peoples and no ethnic group is cast in a particularly strong light of altruism and rightness, instead each character is morally ambiguous, having both good and bad qualities, just like life should be. But lines are drawn to show both groups and the impact each has on the other. And Cooper does an excellent job of depicting the effects of war and colonization.

Now, what I hinted at about loving, is that in it’s longer run, it tells a great western story, but for that same reason, it doesn’t give characters like Yellow Hawk room to breathe. Which is incredibly frustrating to watch, because Wes Studi is such a legendary actor. Sure Christian Bale and Rosamond Pike are great, and it’s awesome to see how their characters evolve, but if a third protagonist had been given due exposure, this movie would have been phenomenal.

Pros: It challenges our conventions of history and the stories constructed to retell that history. It’s by no means flattering to any party, but as a result it simultaneously feels more raw and empathetic. While not an innovation of the form, Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale deliver great performances.

Cons: The pacing is incredibly slow, and the inclusion of additional characters in the third act feels forced, drawing away from an examination of characters, and into a broader back story for Blocker, which is unnecessary at that point. But again I ask, where is the development of Chief Yellow Hawk and his family?

Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The film was shot in chronological order, and because it takes place mostly outdoors, the cast was exposed to the elements a lot. Production was shut down on a few occasions to account for weather. This is the second western Christian Bale has starred in – the first being 3:10 to Yuma remake.

It’s amazing to see how the life of Blocker has been shaped by living on a battlefield, and that because the American frontier is filled with tribes and peoples all trying to find their space, he never really gets to rest. Even more interesting that his final mission means escorting one of his early enemies home, and that they come to a better understanding of each other in the process, is very meaningful. I just wish I had seen more perspective from the Chief.

theories Summarized

A couple of final thoughts from me. Whether or not you enjoy westerns, this film is a great candidate to exposure of what western films have meant for American citizens for over a century now. They are effectively a propaganda told through the eyes of the victors. What hostiles does, is try to tell the story in a more nuanced way.

Yes, it does ultimately fall short of it’s goal, both due to pacing and character development, but the parts it succeeds at are well worth the struggle.

Speaking of struggles. I wanted to share this Watch Culture video I did on one of my all-time favourite animated classics – The Last Unicorn. Heavily influenced by classical literature, this is another movie which features Jeff Bridges in a voicing acting role, is directed by the team of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. AND the band America did the soundtrack.

It’s highly underrated, in my humble opinion, but I hope this review gives you a chance to check it out or dust it off, as it were!

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Lots more theories to come!

Tim!

Murder and Father (Mom and Dad review)

I promised myself I would stop watching bad Nicolas Cage movies. I’ve had my heart broken too many times now, and at this point it’s masochistic to continue.

But then I found out he made a bad movie on purpose, and my interest was piqued.

 

Mom and Dad (2017)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur
Director: Brian Taylor
released on blu-ray Feb 20, 2018
******* 7/10

IMDB: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 40%
The Guardian: ***

Brian Taylor is an American director, writer, cinematographer, and producer. He is best known for collaborating with Mark Neveldine on the Crank films, Pathology, Gamer, Jonah Hex and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. This is his first film without the support of Neveldine, but it is still well within his wheelhouse of gritty action and dark comedy – Thankfully for me, Mom and Dad is his best film to date, and I hope he continues to explore homage films for the exploitation genre.

Special thanks to Nick Riganas for the IMDB summary of the film –

There’s definitely something terrible going on in the peaceful suburban community, as, one after the other, otherwise loving and caring parents mysteriously turn into ravenous carriers of an unfathomable pandemic that targets their offspring. Suddenly, every son and daughter–not only in the neighbourhood but also in the entire region–have to run for their lives, as the rage-filled murderous intent is simply as unstoppable as it is inexplicable. Of course, Brent (Nicolas Cage) and Kendall’s (Selma Blair) teenage children (Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur) are no exception, and before long, the simmering but usual familial tensions will take a completely different meaning. Kids, stop hiding. Mum and Dad love you so much.

I was half-expecting this film to end on an upbeat note while I was watching it; there were so many clues that indicated both Brent and Kendall were capable of overcoming the instinct that the so-called global savaging would produce. We didn’t know if parents were killing their offspring because of flora and fauna, biological weapons or alien rays. And yet, this movie is far more in-line with grindhouse horror then it is a dark comedy.

The message is the violence itself and the catharsis associated with release from obligation. Being a parent is a great responsibility for sure, but the challenges come in the day-to-day. We all age and lose our youth, so jealousy of the kids looks, opportunities and freedom can become a real grind. Brent fantasizes about his misspent teenage years, and Kendall wants to have a better relationship with her daughter, as it was before the onset of puberty. But that does matter, because in the end their desire to murder outweighs society expectations and social practices. And it’s an awesome thing to behold.

It’s the perfect setting for Nicolas Cage to go over-the-top.

Pros: It packages anarchy and the mundane together in completely believable way. It works perfectly when you can accept the premise without much thought for what sparked the epidemic. Nicolas Cage works perfectly as a disillusioned dad gone crazy.

Cons: While it does an amazing job of executing the concept over-all, it’s in the details that the film loses focus and comes off under-cooked. The pool table flashback and the inevitable visit from the grandparents come to mind in particular.

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Points of Interest: Nicolas Cage has said this is his favourite film he’s worked on in the past ten years. The film also features cameos from Grant Morrison and Bokeem Woodbine; Morrison is the writer of Happy! which was adapted by Taylor for television.

The film has generally favourable reviews amongst critics, but is far less popular amongst general audiences, my theory for this is that this is not popcorn fare. You have to be in the right mood for something dark, and watch it with people who are open this kind of humour and level of violence. Under the right setting, I could easily put this into a horror marathon, Nicolas Cage marathon or on a gloomy day.

theories Summarized

Film like this don’t get made with A-list actors very often. And this is because most people don’t want to see a movie that challenges convention… unless they are prepared for it going into the film. I can tell that Nicolas Cage had fun making this movie, and for that reason alone, it is worth a watch. When Cage is cast correctly, he is very entertaining. Go watch Mom and Dad, and maybe you’ll learn to appreciate your parents and/or children a little more.

Speaking of B movie genius, have you ever seen Starship Troopers? It’s a cool little movie about what the world would look like if fascism ran rampant, and it is also set in a universe where we’re locked into interstellar combat with giant space bugs.

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Next week I’ll have a review on folk album and a horror-comedy film, and an interview preview with a pretty cool musician.

Tim!

Compatriot Music (Mary Gauthier, Rifles & Rosary Beads review)

An album that addresses the lives of active military members, veterans and their spouses? Sign me up. But don’t be surprised if I’m choking back the tears…

 

Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads

released January 26, 2018
********* 9/10

Mary Veronica Gauthier, better known by her stage name Mary Gauthier, is an American folk and country singer-songwriter.

She was adopted from the very young age of one, but struggled with the idea of being adopted as she grew up. She ran way from home at fifteen, lived on friends couches and in halfway houses, and used drugs for many years. She almost completed a philosophy degree at Louisiana State University, but dropped out her senior year. She then opened and ran a Cajun restaurant for eleven years, which coincided with the birth of her interest in music and success at sobriety after an arrest for drunk driving on her restaurant opening night in 1990.

Fast forward 28 years, 11 albums (8 studio albums) later and a lifetime of experience singing a combination of folk, Americana and country music and we land at Rifles & Rosary Beads. This is a collaborative album which was cowritten by Gauthier and members of the nonprofit, Songwriting with Soldiers, an organization that pairs veterans and active duty service members with professional musicians to tell their stories.

Sometimes healing and sweet, other times sour and full of pain, this album is super powerful and deserves top marks for telling meaningful stories in a poetic way. I’ll admit I had not heard much of Gauthier’s catalogue prior to sitting down with this concept album, but gosh this just incredible to listen to, and I’m a sucker for this kind of music to begin with. Add in a favorable mix of genres, and you have timotheories gold.

Starting off rather sober with the opening track, Soldiering On, this lyric I lifted from the song describes the tone well – what saves you in the battle, can kill you at home. Or better yet, how about this one from The War After the Warwho’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war.  Gauthier is already a strong writer, but these are real stories we are hearing, featuring the voices of both the military types and their spouses, and all get credit in the liner notes.

Brothers describes a viewpoint of military women looking for equality, whereas Bullet Holes in Sky offers mixed emotions about Veterans Day from a navy veteran. And we get the obvious question of circumstantial death in Still On The Ride because the loss of a friend in war is unshakeable and reverberates for a lifetime.

This is not easy listening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful to behold and when layered with a great number of profound and heartfelt stories, Gauthier provides a chilling account of military service and how it impacts everyone in those peoples lives.

This is an important album and filled with love.

The two tracks which exemplify this notion of love best are It’s Her Love and closing track Stronger Together. Both are titled appropriately, with the first demonstrating the healing power of a support system, and the second about the significance of unity, leaving us with the notion that while military life can and sometimes does break us down, it’s through compassion and love that rebuilding happens.

Pros: The authenticity behind the lyrics, and the compassion in the delivery are what drive this album forward and take it from a 7 to a 9.

Cons: The fact that an album like this exists is an amazing thing, but where are the songs specifically calling out against sending people off to war with so much regularity?

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of InterestMary Gauthier is also an accomplished author, having had short stories published in the book Amplified, and a couple of magazines. Her songs are taught in universities and she is currently writing a book titled The Art of Songwriting.

I’ve said this before, but I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to albums in full, and an album like Rifles & Rosary Beads demands attention, because these stories are what not only snapshots into individual lives, but excellent case studies for understanding the world around us better.

theories Summarized

Prioritizing the needs of those without a voice is such a folk music thing to do, as folk music typically stems from an oral tradition, without a producers voice or even better in a public domain. Now, this music wasn’t constructed in the back woods, but it absolutely is not commercial in nature or classic, and it’s brilliant.

And on the subject of brilliance, Brendon and I have a review of the eponymous debut of alt rock group Weezer from 1994. This is a classic album, and one that also deserves some time and attention if you haven’t listened to it recently, or ever.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

Throwing Glass In Brick Houses (Phantom Thread review)

Romantic love can last but a moment, but companion love often lasts for a lifetime. And this is important because it’s a much more real feeling then something so fleeting as lust – the desire to be needed, to be important to someone, to be truly understood, it’s just so much more powerful.

Thankfully, dear readers, this film does expresses just that.

 

Phantom Thread (2017)

Cast: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
released on blu-ray April 10, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Audience Score 70%
The Guardian: *****

Paul Thomas Anderson is an American filmmaker. He has been nominated for over eight Academy Awards, and his films have generated over 25 nominations for cast and crew. His list of films is fairly short, having made 9 films over a 20+ year career – Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread, and 2018’s Waterlily Jaguar.

Now, I would be willing to argue that There Will Be Blood is one of the best, if not THE best film of the 2000s, so when I learned that Mr. Anderson directed it, I took notice and seriously looked at his portfolio. This is important because Phantom Thread is the second film that Daniel Day-Lewis has starred in with this director, and it’s also the last one before he retires.

Special thanks to Focus Features for the IMDB summary of the film –

Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love

Now, I’m going to posit another theory, and you can choose to agree with it or not.

Romance is about a fantasy, whereas companionship is about taking a very real journey together. I originally watched this movie because it was nominated for a Best Picture award, and it registered with me, but didn’t affect me at the time. Then I decided to watch this film for a second time because I was reminded of something a friend of mine had said. He told me that this film was especially compelling because the two leads challenged each other. While I agree that Reynolds and Alma challenge each other, and I’m about to spoil an important part of the movie, so be forewarned, I think that poisoning someone to shift the balance of power in the relationship is pretty dramatic. So it still works as a movie, because movies typically take the highs and lows of life and leave out the majority of in-between moments.

But it’s in the in-between moments that human connection exists, and that’s why the story of the house of Woodcock, and the waitress that threw a brick into the front window, is the real focal point of a real love story. Not Daniel Day-Lewis, and we are all the better for it.

Pros: Vicky Krieps steals the show, and while Daniel Day-Lewis is enigmatic and bold, as he is in all of his roles, Alma is far more powerful in her strong-willed directness. The attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and interactions amongst the cast will hold you in, make you gasp for air for a moment, and finally accept the beauteous new outlook on life.

Cons: It is a very insular world, and because it doesn’t invite the casual viewer in, you might miss the fact that this is a far better telling of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Points of Interest: The name Alma means “soul” in Spanish and Portuguese. Daniel Day-Lewis has not seen the finished film, and found the role incredibly emotionally demanding.

It might seem obvious now, but the title Phantom Thread eludes to several things. The role of dressmaking in Reynolds identity, the familial ties between Reynolds, his sister, their mother and their business, Reynolds relationship with his mother, and more importantly, the unseen connection between Alma and Reynolds. And this last thread is what drives the story. It might not seem obvious that there is an unbreakable bond between the two lovers, but try as fate might, their love cannot be broken, only strengthened.

That’s what real love does over time, it continues to define the identities of its partners.

theories Summarized

I love this movie. It grabbed hold of my attention, because it demanded a second viewing. I can see myself watching it multiple times over the years. Paul Thomas Anderson has done something wonderful in creating a period film that is timeless, but is very rich in it’s depictions. It’s a little sad that the only award it won was for Best Costume Design, but ironically enough, that might be the highest compliment it could receive given how intimate a role clothes play in our lives.

The exterior beauty of the dress could only exist with the loving labour of dressmaking.

And so that leads us into the Watch Culture video review I have lined up on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut – Don Jon. It’s a story about sex addiction, and how one man’s addiction to pornography has defined how he views most of his intimate relationships. It’s totally worth a watch, and like Phantom Thread, it has some great insights romantic love VS companion love.

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Next week I’ll have a review on folk album and a horror-comedy film, and an interview preview with a pretty cool musician.

Tim!

The Most Critical Hour (Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour review)

Did you know that the golden hour is the first hour after a traumatic injury, and the reason why it’s called this, is that it’s often the most critical for successful treatment in emergency situations.

Now, I don’t think that’s what Kacey Musgraves intended with her album title, but it still holds significance given that this album is worth a critical listen, whether you are a music critic or not. It’s almost like a first look at the world after a life-changing event.

 

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

released Mar 30, 2018
******** 8/10

Kacey Lee Musgraves, better known by her stage name, Kacey Musgraves, is an American country music singer and songwriter. Like many popular country artists today, Kacey is a seasoned professional who has been performing for the better part of twelve years – Golden Hour is her third studio album, following three years after Pageant Material, and her first with MCA Nashville.

She has been met with generally positive reviews on all three of her albums, but Golden Hour is the first album that has ranked at over 90% on review aggregator Metacritic. The consensus seems to be that it’s a great record because her vocal range is quite high and very appealing, and not to mention the fact that while many of the songs are very saccharine, but most importantly there is a sincerity in the dream world she is constructing, and it deviates from typical country fare..

I think it’s great that the Butterflies and Space Cowboy are the first singles. They represent all of the high notes this album wants to hit, and then the rest of the album goes on to prove it over and over again. If you listen to Mother and/or Rainbow you might just be moved to tears. Both of them are positive songs, one about the heritage of motherhood and the other speaking out to minority groups (read: LGBTQ youth).

This is not the type of content you see in mainstream country, it’s atmospheric, and generally just lovely to listen to, but because it’s not ham-fisted with it’s content, it feels better to sing along to a song about a woman giving her lover the space to be independant, for the right or the wrong.

Pros: Space Cowboy, High Horse, Slow Burn and Wonder Woman all almost instantly appealed to me purely as melodies, and upon subsequent listens their lyrics have grown on me to the point that I’m reciting them back to myself. Her vocalist work is just so good.

Cons: While the content is interesting for a pop country album, it does soften the country sound purely to appeal to non-country fans. And it was even mentioned in all of the marketing of the album. And in the process… well, it doesn’t blend in other genres so much as it dials back on the country tones. And the expected sassiness isn’t really there, which might be difficult to accept for existing Kacey Musgrave fans.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of InterestAs I already mentioned, this album has widespread universal acclaim from most critics, having debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200. It’s primarily about the “golden hour” of Musgraves life as she comes out of the glow of just recently getting married, with many things in her life coming together.

This is a nice album. I know that sounds like a safe statement to make, but not every major event in life needs to leave us scarred and broken. Introspection can be a positive experience too. Which is why the uplifting music with an appreciation for the real world, is what we are given, and why I gladly accept it. It’s true that we might not have expected this from Musgraves, but I think the reason why I enjoyed it so much is that she clearly doesn’t care.

theories Summarized

Whether you believe the hype or not, this is a really entertaining and heartwarming album. If it can stand the test of time and enter the ranks of the timeless is yet to be seen, but I’m happy to say for today that Golden Hour has lots of power.

On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, Brendon and I decided to do a video review on the chiptune original, Crystal Castles, by none other than Crystal Castles. Using a circuit bent Atari 5200, this music can be jostling, calming, exciting and generate a host of other feelings, but it manages to do this without much help from lyrics.

In fact, Alice Glass often feels like part of the instrumentation, and not a leading vocalist.

There you have it creative cuties. Two great albums, with two very different emotional cores, but I think you’ll find that each have valuable tracks and are worth a spot on the shelf. And please give them repeated listens, because I have a theory that you’ll feel the same as I did initially. That said, hit us up in the comments, like and share the video if you found it valuable, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!