The Mustang

Mustang poster

Horses are magnificent creatures. Like humans, they can be out of control. Wild.

In The Mustang, men who are behind bars in a Nevada state prison are given the opportunity to help tame wild mustangs. Like the men, the mustangs have been herded into pens.

Roman Coleman (Mattias Schoenaerts) is an angry, violent inmate. He’s had time in solitary. He tells the prison therapist (Connie Britton), “I’m not good with people.”

When given the chance to work in the prison’s horse program, his first days are spent shoveling manure. Later, with guidance from the program’s crusty leader Myles (Bruce Dern), he learns techniques to calm the horses.

And, of course, Roman’s process parallels that of the magnificent creatures.

But The Mustang layers more elements atop this simple story of reform and redemption. Along with interactions with the horses and his fellow inmates, Roman has several visits from his daughter Martha (Gideon Aldon). He even makes a sort of friend when fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell) helps him handle the horses.

He expresses regret to Martha for his violence that damaged her mother. He listens as Martha talks of caring for her mother after the incident. He sits in a group therapy session with the therapist and hears that other prisoners had similar violent outbursts that led them to prison. He begins to communicate and show a bit of humanity.

The Mustang is the first feature length film by French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. She opens the movie with beauty shots of mustangs running wild on the open range in Nevada.

The Mustang offers more than just another tale of a bad guy revealing his good side and being capable of empathy. It shows the grisly existence of prison. It also shows how a person may relate better to an animal than to another human being.

 

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The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight is not among his best. It has QT trademarks including over-the-top violence, a quirky mix of characters and the great Samuel L. Jackson. The Hateful Eight has an excellent original soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The film even has an overture and an intermission! But the pacing is off.

Have you ever had someone tell you a joke that has a long set up before you finally get to the punchline? And then the joketeller repeats the punchline for emphasis? That’s what The Hateful Eight reminds me of.

Let’s meet the eight who end up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a roadhouse in a desolate area of Wyoming, during a blizzard. The time is a few years after the Civil War. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is bringing in murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for a reward. (Ruth, with his overgrown moustache and boisterous manner reminds one of a taller Yosemite Sam.)

The stagecoach he’s chartered picks up bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a Civil War veteran (Union side) who hears the N-word many times during TH8. Another passenger who begs a ride is Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims he’s to be the new sheriff of nearby Red Rock.

Already at the roadhouse are four more individuals: British dandy Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsden), “The Mexican” Bob (Demian Bichir) and former Confederate General Smithers (Bruce Dern).

The Hateful Eight meanders a full hour and 45-minutes before intermission. The long-awaited plot resolution after the break is violent but often funny in that QT way.

Tarantino has said that TH8’s story was modeled after certain plots on old TV westerns with episodes that took their time in revealing whether a stranger was a good or bad guy. Maybe QT just wanted his audience to become more familiar with the eight, but the first chapters of TH8 slog along at turtle speed. Don’t nod off.

The Hateful Eight is being shown screened in selects theaters (including Ronnie’s in St. Louis) in a 70mm wide-screen format using film instead of a digital system. (The digital version I saw showcased the film in a wider-than-usual aspect ratio.)

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have a Tarantino film back on movie house screens. But after his successes with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, TH8 falls short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nebraska

Nebraska is one of the year’s best movies and Bruce Dern gives one of the year’s best performances. Huge credit goes to screenwriter Bob Nelson and director Alex Payne for their story, their characters and their settings.

If you’ve ever heard or read about Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, or if you have spent time in a rural plains community, you’ll recognize many of the people and places in Nebraska.

Hawthorne, the town in Nebraska where much of the movie takes place, has both Lutheran and Catholic churches, plenty of bars and large plots of farmland surrounding the town. It’s the hometown of Woody Grant (Dern) and his wife Kate (June Squibb). They live in Billings, Montana now.

The journey to Nebraska begins when Woody gets a letter in the mail naming him the winner of a million dollars. He wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to cash it in. Woody’s son David (Will Forte) finally agrees to drive his dad from Billings to Lincoln. After an accident slows them down, they decide to stop in Hawthorne and spend the weekend with Woody’s brother and his family.

Kate and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) also head over to Hawthorne and a family reunion of sorts gets underway. Old memories are recalled. Will runs into his former business partner and town blowhard Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) who stirs up old turmoil. David learns things about his family that he never knew.

A favorite scene is a cemetery visit where tombstones elicit memories of past family members, friends, lovers and enemies. (I lived a version of that scene in my own life in 2009 with a visit to Gully, Minnesota, where my father-in-law and many more of my wife’s relatives are buried.) A visit to the old abandoned homestead brings back memories, some unhappy, for Woody.

Nebraska has several side characters that add spark to the film, especially David’s two cousins who are hilarious. Woody’s brother Ray, incidentally, is played by Rance Howard, father of Ron “Opie” Howard.

Director Alexander Payne shot Nebraska in black and white, which is perfect for showcasing a town that probably looks about the same as it did 50 years ago. He punctuates the film with lingering shots of plains landscapes, which communicate the sense of being in the middle of nowhere.

Dern won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and is a likely candidate for an Oscar nomination. His character appears to be simple, but is revealed to be complex, with demons and resentments that have haunted him for a lifetime. Dern should be ever grateful to Payne and Nelson for handing him such a wonderful role, especially at this point in his life. He’s 77.

84-year-old June Squibb brings spunk to her role as the wife who has endured much during her marriage to Woody. She should also be mentioned in awards conversations.

Nebraska is engaging on many levels, but mainly for capturing true human emotion. I highly recommend you see this film and, if they’re still around, take your parents and grandparents.