Over the Holidays I finally caught up with several Netflix films that I’d heard about, a new Western in “The Harder They Fall”, an adventure blockbuster with “Red Notice” and the star studded topical comedy “Don’t Look Up”. Each one has their merits, though I was only truly enamored with “The Harder They Fall”, and not solely due to love of the genre. The Western not only acknowledged cinema’s past, but it was unique enough to stand on it’s own as well. “Red Notice” was easily the weakest of the bunch, it wasn’t outright bad, it was just entertaining enough as a paint-by-numbers heist movie. Though if you’re looking for the anxiety high that comes from doom-scrolling the news, “Don’t Look Up” is for you. It’s a fun rebuke of modern society, but it does instill a queasy uneasiness amongst the farce of it all.
The Harder They Fall
Written by Boaz Yakin and Jeymes Samuel, and directed by Samuel, “The Harder They Fall” is a traditional Western when it comes to character beats and overall structure, but with the distinction of an all African-American cast when concerning the major players of the story. Broadly, the film is about the Nat Love Gang reforming once they hear that Nat Love’s (Jonathan Majors) rival, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba), has been bust out of prison. The best part of this film is, no doubt, the excellent cast. Jonathan Majors absolutely knocked the role of Nat Love out of the park- he does the gunslinger role right! Idris Elba has sheer, powerful, presence in every scene he’s in. His role as the villainous Rufus Buck is established early on and the potentiality of his revenge feels like it’s always roiling just beneath those unblinking eyes. LaKeith Stanfield has a smaller role in Cherokee Bill, fastest gun in the west, but it’s what he does with that time that sets him up as a power player and a real asset to Rufus once he returns to Redwood City. Zazie Beetz stars as Mary Fields, a Saloon owner and the no-nonsense love interest of Nat Love. The rest of the cast is integral in the larger machinations of the story but are all smaller roles that pepper the film with character, charm, and ruthless violence. Delroy Lindo as the US Marshal Bass Reeves was a fun aside, he was the grim reaper with a gun, willing to uphold the law no matter the cost. Edi Gathegi, Danielle Deadwyler, and R.J. Cyler all made great contributions to their roles as Bill Pickett, Cuffee, and Jim Beckwourth respectively. Those three handled layering the story out with great character work, but also some good humor as well. I was surprised how natural the film was in doling out solid comedic bits amid all of the revenge and bloodshed. This film feels like a combination of Tarantino and Clint Eastwood at times. The over the top violence and score choices gave me flashbacks to “Django Unchained” while the steely nerve of anti-heroes and villains reminded me of those classic Sergio Leone characters in the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960’s. With maybe a dash of the Sam Peckinpah worldview as depicted in “The Wild Bunch”. The point is, this Western sits firmly in the territory of the greats, and while it may never transcend it’s influences, it does homage to Cinema’s gunslinging past right, while maintaining it’s own uniqueness. One of my favorite scenes is the bank bobbery that takes place in “a White Town”. The whole scene is absolutely covered in literal whiteness. The buildings are all painted white, inside and out. There’s snow on the ground and rooftops, it’s brilliant really. When compared to the rest of the film that lives and breathes in earthy and vibrant colors, the set design alone makes the characters’ trek to the other side of society seem otherworldly, and a bit sad and boring in truth. If you’re looking for a quality Western this winter, I do highly recommend this one. It’s a bit brutal and violent at times, but it’s also a narrative delight!
Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber “Red Notice” is your run of the mill action heist-oriented adventure flick. This is the sort of movie that you’d go to on a hot summer day for the air conditioned coolness of a darkened theater screening room. It reminded me of cinema’s past, not the highs of the last century per se, but the action movie antics of the 1980’s and 1990’s like “Independence Day”, “Mission Impossible 2”, or more aptly, “Romancing The Stone”. Movies that aren’t necessarily outright bad, but rather, just something to watch and be amused by. Wanna spice up that rainy (or snowy) afternoon? “Red Notice” can handle that for you. The film stars the ever profitable Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, the man-with-the-mile-a-minute-mouth Ryan Reynolds, and the Amazonian Princess herself, Gal Gadot. They all play off of their respective on-screen personas from their most well known roles, and each one hits highs and lows in this one. I’ve seen each actor in better roles and films, but this one isn’t necessarily bad. It’s entertaining for sure, but if you’ve seen the episode of “Rick and Morty” that comically eviscerates Heists and Heist movies alike, you might feel like Morty does by the end of that episode and at the end of “Red Notice”. I don’t even really need to go into plot details with this one if I’m being honest. There are so many twists, reversals, betrayals, and double crosses that it doesn’t even matter what the details are, you know the formula. The trio globe trots around the world stealing precious items from others and themselves and all while looking good doing it. That’s half the game right there. Watching pretty people do illegal and illicit things as they joke and sneer and quip their way to some (probably) big paychecks. Is this one art? It doesn’t feel like it, but then again, it’s just a big dumb movie that I admittedly had some fun with, but I probably won’t return to it. Somewhat recommended.
Don’t Look Up
Written by David Sirota and Adam McKay, and directed by McKay, “Don’t Look Up” is a political comedy about the inherent madness of today’s societal woes. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as Dr. Randall Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, two astronomers at Michigan State University who discover a comet the size of Mount Everest that’s headed straight for the earth. They immediately take their findings to the White House to brief the president about the situation, though their evidence falls on mostly deaf ears. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is more preoccupied with her standings in the upcoming midterm elections, and her public image, than a potentially apocalyptic event roughly six months out. Frustrated with the snub from the administration, Dr. Mindy and Kate go rogue and take their warning to the most popular talk news show in Washington DC hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). The low level astronomers get increasingly disappointed by how little anyone seems to care about the end of all life on the planet as we know it. Several plans to try to stop the comet from coming are enacted and then thrown aside at the chance for rare minerals and, well, greed and arrogance essentially. There’s some really fun stuff in this film. The allegory for climate change and the nonchalant response from government officials and the media at large is clear as day, though the response to Covid-19 can be viewed similarly in this way. The all star cast delivers memorably insane responses to the unreal nonsense that’s happening all around them. Mark Rylance has a coy, Steve Jobs-adjacent, tech founder named Peter Isherwell that slyly pokes fun at the very real world problem of corporate influence and unfettered money fueling base line corruption in today’s politics. I also cracked a few laughs at Ron Perlman’s smaller role as the “Military Hero” chosen to pilot one of the missions to combat the comet. Though admittedly, while I enjoyed the mockery of Elite society and the oh-so-truthful representation of their disconnect with everyday people that lead normal lives- I have to say that this film did give me a creeping sense of anxiety. Perhaps because it all feels so plausible? Obviously, there are leaps and bounds here in the film that simply don’t reflect reality 100% back at the screen, but if you ever wanted to endure a condensed sensation of the last five years’ new cycles- this film does that. At least, it did for me. Entertaining, and a bit horrifying at times, “Don’t Look Up” is a clever satire of uniquely American insanity, it’s certainly worth a watch!