The fortunes of the Western rise with the tide of American cinema. During the 70’s indie renaissance we got rugged classics like The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid and The Long Riders, then in the 80’s and 90’s Clint Eastwood re-examined his own mythic West in Pale Rider and Unforgiven . (The less said about Young Guns 1 and 2 the better.)
The past 12 months have offered us two Westerns that are as good as any of the last 30 years: The Assassination of Jesse James and James Mangold’s homage to the classic 3:10 to Yuma which opened in Wellington last week.
Yuma is a story (by Elmore Leonard) with great bones: poor, honest, rancher Christian Bale is suffering because of the drought and for $200 takes on the desperate task of escorting captured outlaw Russell Crowe to Contention City, where he will catch the eponymous train to the gallows.
But Crowe’s gang are on the way to liberate him and Bale’s support is dwindling to nothing. The tension rises as the clock ticks towards three o’clock.
Slightly marred by muddy motivation for Crowe’s character at the end (and by Bale being Bale), 3:10 to Yuma is still fine entertainment with many of the best lines lifted straight from the 1957 original.
People always say write what you know so for her first feature she has enlisted her parents to play her parents, her ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg to play her boyfriend and Paris to play her home town in a cunning, affectionate, honest and disarming romantic comedy about two people learning to love each other despite their better judgement.
Goldberg is particularly funny as the grumpy American struggling to appreciate French culture, French cuisine and (particularly) perplexing French attitudes to l’amour.
Strangely light on sexual frankness (at least for a film featuring a man who beds over 600 women while pining for his one true love), Love in the Time of Cholera is a glossy, multinational, adaptation of the famous book by Gabriel García Márquez.
It’s far from the crummiest cinematic version of a beloved novel (that trophy was presented permanently to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), but it fails to reach the heights we might have hoped for considering the author is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In 19th century Colombia a young clerk (Javier Bardem) meets a beautiful girl (the beguiling Giovanna Mezzogiorno) for an instant and is smitten. He writes her long, passionate, love letters thus winning her juvenile heart.
But her father (John Leguizamo) forbids any marriage as he has plans involving upward social mobility and she resigns herself to a loveless marriage with suave doctor Benjamin Bratt.
Despite many pleasures, the film is sadly uninvolving for three reasons: the plot keeps the protagonists apart for nearly two hours thus generating very little heat; the mix of accents on offer (Spanish, Italian, Colombian, Brazilian) means it can be hard work following the dialogue and at least one of Señor Bardem’s moustaches makes him look like Groucho Marx.
Back in 1966 Czech director Jirí Menzel made one of the archetypes of arthouse cinema, Closely Observed Trains. A surprisingly un-subtle comedy about the sexual coming-of-age of a bumbling young man and an unexpected act of courage, it shares a great deal with Menzel’s latest, I Served the King of England.
Jan Díte (played by Ivan Barnev when young and Oldrich Kaiser when old) is a naïve young man in the 1930s with a talent for service, working his way up the career ladder at the finest Czech hotels. The more he tries to stay apolitical and focus on a life of romance, the more he finds himself embroiled in the turmoil of the age. Menzel’s direction is as assured and as witty as you might expect and the lessons among the laughs are happily subtle.
Meanwhile, at week two of the World Cinema Showcase: I am eagerly looking forward to Jodorowsky’s loony midnight movie, El Topo (follow-up The Holy Mountain slips in to week 3); Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s epic Southland Tales (which will not get a cinema release here) features Dwayne “The Rock”Johnson, Justin Timberlake and Mandy Moore; gripping French thriller Tell No One, and Noah (The Squid and the Whale) Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding featuring Nicole Kidman and Jack Black (which also has no NZ release date).
Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 26 March, 2008.
Because of the Easter break and Readings obstructive policy on media passes Drillbit Taylor and Shutter were screened after deadline.
UPDATE: As an added musical bonus this is Warren Zevon’s “My Ride’s Here” from his last-but-one album. Why? He name checks 3:10 to Yuma.[audio:http://www.miracle-pictures.com/downloads/My_Ride%27s_Here.m4a”]