Slow West (2015): Michael Fassbender’s Whimsical Western

Michael Fassbender as Silas Selleck
Written and directed by John Maclean (his first feature length film) this 2015 movie stars Michael Fassbender and Jodi Smit-McPhee and the film can be best described as a whimsical western. Slow West has been somewhat oddly listed as an action thriller and western on IMDb. This over two hour long blackly comic romance story definitely does not fall into action thriller territory, despite its sizable body count.

Smit-McPhee is Jay the 16 year-old son of Lady Cavendish who follows the love of his young life from Scotland to America. Fassbender is Irishman Silas Selleck, bounty hunter and brute (according to Jay), who shows up and helps Jay travel across the country, for a fee of $100. Young Cavendish is following the trail of Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius) and her father John (played by Rory McCann who was Michael “Yarp” Armstrong in Hot Fuzz) who inadvertently killed Jay’s uncle back in Scotland.

There is a $2000 bounty on their heads dead or alive. This is why Silas has hooked up with Jay, he is a bounty hunter and Selleck plans to follow Cavendish to his lady love and collect the reward. Along the way, Jay sees a Native American village that is burnt to the ground, and a lot of death.

While Slow West can be best described as whimsy on horseback, this film is not at all an average “oater.” It is odd, quirky, insightful, tongue-in-cheek and, in places, laugh out loud funny. Maclean has given us a look, in some ways, at how the west really was. Unlike most standard cowboy movies where everyone either has Californian accents, or midwest (think John Wayne or Hank Fonda) the director gives us an Irishman, a Scot, an Englishman posing as a minister, a moralizing thieving German, two would-be Swedish robbers and a group of what look to be inbred hillbillies, a’la Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch railroad posse.

Perhaps the oddest nationality to show up in the middle of the American West are a trio of Congolese singers. Each man appears to have some sort of issue with mobility. One is on an old-fashioned wheelchair, another has a crutch and the last is seated on the ground. This surreal scene takes place in the middle of the prairie and the three men are singing as Silas and Jay ride past.

Cavendish stops to listen. “Did you like our music,” the man with the crutch asks. “Yes,” replies Jay. “It was a song of love,” replies crutch-man. “Aw, love is universal, like death,” says Jay before riding off. This odd little exchange (which feels a little Terry Gilliam-ish) also seems to foreshadow future events.

There is quite a lot of that in this film. A bullet-hole in a suit, a playful poking in the chest with an index-finger gun barrel in a game…Speaking of games, in a flashback to Scotland, Jay and Rose are playing a game called “A 1000 Ways to Die.” “Pick yours,” calls Rose and Jay chooses Bow and Arrow, another foreshadowing of a future event in the American West.

While the film has all the trappings of the old west, it also features things that feel more like a satirical pastiche of the genre. The music that accompanies the film feels like something one would hear in a French film. The style of the clothes looks almost “Sergio Leone” in origin and all the handguns, with the exception of the Swedish woman’s derringer are long barreled and huge.

These same “hand cannons” are also very, very loud when they go off.

There are some “messages” in the film. The thieving German “author” that Cavendish meets, after running away from the “brute” asks Jay of his journey. The young man tells of the burnt Native American village and the German reacts eloquently:

“A race extinct, their culture banished, their places renamed. Only then will they be viewed with selective nostalgia. Mythologized and romanticized in the safe guise of art…and literature.”

– Werner (Andrew Robertt)

After this grand expression, the two men break bread and when Jays wakes in the morning his host has stolen everything and left. On the ground is an egg on a piece of paper with an arrow drawn on it and the word “West.”

The film is slow but musically so. It has a pace of a slow waltz and at no time is the tale boring. Eclectic and wandering the film includes a funny tale, from the hillbilly bounty hunters, of a hand written wanted poster and a dead bear.

This UK/New Zealand film looks brilliant and entertains almost effortlessly. There may be a big body count (17) but the violence is not overly gory and in at least one instance, is very amusing. Newcomer Caren Pistorius is brilliant as the object of Jodi Smit-McPhee’s character’s affection.

Michael Fassbender looks like a young Burt Lancaster in this film, all square-jawed stubble, and one keeps expecting to hear Lancaster’s voice when the actor speaks. If ever there is a biopic on Lancaster Fassbender should play the man.

The only complaint about the film concerns the accents or lack of them. Cavendish may not sound overly Scottish, but being of the “gentry” he would have been well educated and elocution lessons would have been a matter of course. Fassbender only sounds Irish when he is drunk. Only the Swedish couple and the German have accents that “fit.”

This film is funny, tragic and odd. It is also fun. There are a number of things that are amusing, Rose’s inability to get the butter to set is one. The tiny square of wheat, or rye, outside the cabin during the climatic fight scene another.

*Sidenote* It would be interesting to see if Selleck’s name was chosen because of Tom Selleck’s many Louis L’Amour western roles.

Fans of whimsical and clever films will enjoy and appreciate this splendid looking and entertaining movie. Digitally shot, Slow West looks spectacularly crisp and clear. This is a 5 out of 5 stars film for clever originality and a cracking musical score. The odd “buddy” film should not be missed.

Hot Fuzz: Shaun of the Dead Remix?

Danny, Nicholas and two cornets

Now that the Cornetto trilogy has come to an end, it is a little saddening to watch the trio of  films. Starting with Shaun of the Dead, moving to Hot Fuzz and ending with The World’s End the latter two can be seen as  remixes of the first yet, despite that lump in the throat, because *sob* it’s all over, all three are funny and clever as hell.

The trio of Nick Frost, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have done their last gig together, and some people do not like Hot Fuzz, or for that matter The World’s End, as much as “Shaun” and will point out the many reasons why the first in the trilogy is the best. But really, it does not matter in the end because all three films bring something to the party.  Shaun of the Dead,  fans say, was not only the first, but it was more than brilliant.

I agree…to an extent. Shaun of the Dead was insanely clever. If one takes the time to watch the commentaries at the end it becomes blazingly obvious that Wright and Pegg were firing on all cylinders for that one.

Pub shot from Hot Fuzz
You got red on you…

But in my humble opinion, Hot Fuzz is much more than a Shaun of the Dead remix. In this second film, Simon is Nicholas Angel “There’s that Sgt. Angel, check out his arse!” a super cop who cannot “shut off” and lives his job 24/7. He is doing such a good job that, as his big boss the MET Chief Inspector says, “you’re making us all look bad…letting the side down.” The answer is an instant promotion to a small sleepy village in the country.

It is here that he meets Nick Frost‘s character PC Danny Butterman, son of local Inspector Frank Butterman. Danny is following in his father’s footsteps after the death of his mother because he doesn’t know what else to do. A fan of cop movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II “You ain’t seen Bad Boys Two??” Danny grows attached to Angle (Don’t rush to correct the spelling, watch the film, you’ll understand.)

Without going into the plot in any further detail, no spoilers here, the film does for cop films what Shaun of the Dead did for zombie flicks. Again, like the first in the trilogy, to really get the genius of Wright and Pegg, “ya gotta watch the special features.” Especially the commentary, that will point out all those references that any film geek, ahem…like me get overly excited about.

Bill Nighy Hot Fuzz Screen Shot
“Of course I can, I’m the Chief Inspector.”

Bill Nighy appears in a brilliant cameo as the Met Chief Inspector and shows just why this man is a British cinematic treasure. *Tip, watch his face at the beginning of the film while he’s talking to Nick Angel, priceless.*

Other familiar faces in this comedic homage to all things “cop” includes the creme de la creme of the English acting world. Edward Woodward, Kenneth Cranham (who I’ve actually worked with once), Billie Whitelaw, Paul Freeman, Timothy Dalton, Rafe Spall, Paddy Considine, Bill Bailey and a great many more of the best that Britain has to offer.

The humour is top notch, “He is not Judge Judy and executioner!” The plot is excellent and the gags non stop. This bromance continues the Shaun and Ed theme from the first film, only this time it’s Danny and Nicholas, “By the power of Greyskull!” The Frost character is not a repeat of Ed, “Can I get any of you c*nt’s a drink?” Danny is more a hapless chap, “Another pint, Mary?”  who doesn’t have a clue until the new sergeant in town shows him the way.

This 2007 film is an excellent fit in the trilogy, “Anything from the shop? Cornetto.” It is also the last time that Edward Woodward appeared in a feature film, although he did television and a TV movie after Hot Fuzz came out.  The exploits of Sergeant Angel are much more than a remix of Shaun of the Dead, although the film does follow the cleverness of the first film with all its action movie references and the real cop nods and winks. “You can’t be the Sheriff of London.”

It is highly recommended that this film be watched on DVD, one that has special features – remember that commentary – and not just streamed on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. Sure the film will be still be as funny, but you’ll miss out on all that good “colour.” As loathe as I am to use a star rating system, in this instance I will. Hot Fuzz is a 5 out of 5 stars film, and to answer the question in the title, no it is not a remix of Shaun of the Dead.

18 February 2015

The World’s End Cornetto Trilogy Finale

The World’s End Cornetto Trilogy Finale

Handling Your Heart Attack? Well…You Don’t.

As you have all no doubt noticed, I haven’t been on old WordPress for a while. I have been AWOL for a specific reason though and not through some nefarious whim that took me toshores foreign and far. I have been on a journey of discovery though. Very personal, extremely painful and life changing. You are probably fed up now with my ‘gassing-on’ so, I’ll get to the point.

On 30 August 2012 I had a major heart attack. A real beaut, it was one that required not one but two stents, little balloons on sticks that go into your artery  and some bypassing went on as well.

I had gotten up early to answer some email and to be available for the Siemens Company. Theywere booked in the marvellously wide time of 08:00 – 18:00 aka all day. Working on the principle that if I did not drag myself out of bed early enough (yes, I have had workmen show up first thing in the morning) I’d miss them and I would: a. Probably be charged, or  b. Have to re-book.

*It might interest you to know that they did not show up that morning or even that day (as far as I know). I still have to track them down.*

So around 0900 I had my first “episode.” This consisted of both of my hands getting really hot. I mean, flaming hot, so hot that everything should be combusting or melting at my touch. They then felt like they were going to blow up from the inside out. I’ve never had a sensation like that  before and as soon as it had ended I went outside for a cigarette. I ran several ideas through my head and none of them  seemed likely.

“It cannot be heart related.” I told myself this with complete confidence. Two years before, I’d gotten the radioactive injections, rode the bicycle, and had pictures take inside and out. They also checked my lungs.  ** Note to self, still no super powers. I must find out who to complain to.**

At 10:00 I had my second episode. This took a little longer to ease and as soon as I could, I crawled up the stairs to ask my daughter to ring for the ambulance.  While she was talking to 999 (the UK version of 911) I had my third and most intense sensation of the already long morning. “What’s wrong with you?” She asked this out of the side of her mouth while holding the phone up to her ear.

“I think…I am…having…a heart attack.” As she gave them our address I slumped and ‘ass-crawled’ back down the stairs. It took quite a while for the ambulance men to arrive. They got there just as I went into my fourth episode, each episode had increased in intensity, severity and duration.

The two ambulance men did not fill us with confidence. They were nice and friendly enough, but between the two of them they could not find a vein if it jumped right up in front of them. Finally, after enough failed attempts had left a blood trail that would have given Freddy Kruger an orgasm, they located one and it was off into the ambulance.

On the way to the Ipswich A&E the symptoms kept repeating and growing so that by the time we reached A&E they took me into the emergency treatment area and  started pumping me full of pain killers and ‘prepping me for surgery at Basildon. This ‘prep’  consisted of them calling Basildon Cardiological Hospital while trying to remove every hair on my body.

I was given some gas by the ambulance guys and I immediately fell in love with it (for two full days after-ward I kept asking for this magical stuff.  But as great as that gas was?  The really  magical  event was just about to happen.

These two ordinary ambulance guys suddenly turned into race driver Lewis Hamilton and made the entire almost two hour journey in 41 minutes.

We all arrived at Basildon A & E in a flurry of activity, people and pain. I had a team of five surgeons and doctors who were going to working on me. They finally hit the medication point necessary for me to be able to talk to anyone. They revealed that my aorta was completely blocked. It would require clearing and it would have two ‘stents’ put in to keep it open.

A stent, for the uninitiated, is basically a balloon on a stick. This stick is pushed into the ‘blocked’ artery and then the balloon is blown up to allow room for a brace to hold your artery open. It was while they were doing this part of the operation that they discovered another problem or two and a bypass was also performed.

I was supposed to be blissfully sleeping while all this was happening, but, I was not. I remember opening my eyes and seeing a round magnifying glass type thing. I was focusing on this while I could feel things happening in my neck. I then heard, “What is this, I mean, seriously what is this?

I then heard mumbling going on between a couple of the people bent over my chest. I couldn’t make that out. But one had a questioning tone and the other slightly pissed off one. I then said, “Is there anything I can help with?” Everything got quiet and just a quickly I was off with the fairies again.

Later when I was in the Intensive care unit, the doctors told my daughter about me waking up in the middle of open heart surgery. They were amazed since they had to, at one point, stop my heart completely. It could have been nasty, although I’m not sure for who. But they were stunned that I’d attempted conversation  so calmly.

I was healing rapidly. I  had gotten so many glowing words about my complexion and my rate of recovery that I was starting to feel like a celebrity. I was getting up and walking around and ‘hawking’ lots of yucky stuff from my lungs. This last bit was a bit painful but necessary as I had to increase my lung capacity.

I found out a lot of things during my five my visit to that tremendous place.

Firstly, I discovered the magical gas the would make any pain go away just by inhaling it.

Secondly, I discovered that no one working in the entire hospital had heard anyone from the ‘real’ American south talk in person before. I had folks come from all over the hospital just to hear me talk.

Thirdly, with all the praise going around about my ‘incredibly fast’ healing rate, I was starting to feel a bit like Wolverine.

Fourth, I was definitely in love with almost all the nursing staff and not a few of the doctors. They were all beautiful, caring, and helpful.

Fifth and last, with all the drugs I had imbibed during my brief stay, I was convinced that all the staff, nursing and Doctoral, were in love with me.

I was released from the hospital after five days and they would be perfectly happy for me to stay longer if I wanted.

So, you want to know how to handle your heart attack? You don’t. You just grab onto whatever is handy and hold on. The heart attack is in charge and it will constantly remind you of that fact.

I can say that this has been the single most painful thing to ever happen to me. (in my head I hear Nick Frost from Hot Fuzzasking, “And what was the second?”)

Cover of "Hot Fuzz (Ultimate Edition) [Bl...
Cover of Hot Fuzz (Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray]