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.

‘Between’ Canadian Version of ‘The Tribe’ With Jennette McCurdy as Ellen Page

Between Tumblr page header
While at face value Between looks like a Canadian version of the New Zealand cult television series The Tribe, but with Jennette McCurdy as an Ellen Page Juno clone, it is different. Certainly the plot is very similar, an unidentified plague or virus starts killing off the adult population, age 22 up, and only youngsters are left to figure out how to survive.

On another level, just the apparent specificity of the age where the virus hits feels very like the Gone series of books by Michael Grant, but only in this area. There are no signs of mutating teens in this new show.

There is, however, a brilliant modern day touch where teenagers are tweeting one another over their smart phones as they attempt to deal with the sudden deaths of parents, grandparents, and so on. The screen flashes the various hashtags of #prettylake and #staystrong. One message claims quite succinctly that “they r lying to us.”

The series premiere episode, titled School’s Out has Pretty Lake, a small rural community suddenly hit with a string of mysterious deaths. The afflicted all begin drooling blood and then very quickly expire. All the dead are over the age of 21.

One student, Wiley, is heavily pregnant. Her water, as pointed out helpfully by her older sister, is about to break and the younger sister handles her awkward situation with wisecracks and a sort of “gallows” humor. When asked what she’ll do after the baby is born, she replies that she plans on continuing her role of disgraced preacher’s daughter.

By day five, information that is posted regularly via text on the screen shows the death rate has reached the hundreds and is escalating. The Canadian Ministry places Pretty Lake under armed quarantine. Prime Minister Miller, in a special broadcast to the denizens of the town now under lock and key, tells all those involved that it was a hard decision to make.

By the 10th day, the death count is in the thousands and M.I.T. teen Adam, who is also interested in Wiley, has hacked the official government database to learn that no one under the age of 22 has died. Events move forward and by the end of the first episode, Wiley/Juno gives birth, two lads almost get coated with driveway sealer for stealing a truck, Adam may or may not be dead and the inmate, in what seems to be Pretty Lake’s county jail, just misses being executed by another con.

Between may have a bit in common with The Tribe, but in reality, only the idea of minors surviving a plague hitting adults is the same, along with the mysterious cause – not a virus according to the two medical specialists from the Ministry. The show’s use of the Internet and smart phones makes the scenario current and should enable the series a chance at survival.

Former Sam & Cat star McCurdy will have to expand on her Juno act, Ellen Page need not worry about Jennette replacing her in other roles, to keep the audience interested in the new mum of Pretty Lake.

Thus far, the show is fairly interesting, despite the Under the Dome and The Tribe feel to the series. Hopefully this Canadian thriller will do better than the Marley Shelton science fiction series The Lottery which never quite found its audience despite being a brilliant show. Time will tell if Between proves to be interesting enough to find a following.

Chris Pine Beam Me Up Scotty I Lost My License

Chris Pine Beam Me Up Scotty I Lost My License

Chris Pine, the film star who is now Captain James Tiberius Kirk to a whole new generation, may need to ask Scotty to, “Beam me up I lost my license.” The Star Trekactor was in New Zealand where he had been filming Z for Zachariah with co-stars Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor and his girlfriend, Icelandic beauty, Iris Bjork Johannesdottir when he was stopped at a regular police patrol and failed the breath test.

Tyler the Creator Creates a Riot

Tyler the Creator Creates a Riot

Tyler the Creator may not be to everyones taste and he is certainly not a stranger to breaking the law, but his creation of a riot at SXSW has landed him in trouble with the law. Again. Tyler, real name Tyler Gregory Okonwa, is co-founder of the “alternative” hip hop collective known as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All orOFWGKTA or Odd Future and he is the acknowledged leader.

Justin Bieber and Russell Crowe Australian Odd Couple

Justin Bieber and Russell Crowe Australian Odd Couple

Justin Bieber and Russell Crowe are an Australian odd couple right now. New Zealand actor Crowe, who lives in Oz, has gone on record saying that he thinks the 19 year-old Canadian popstar’s graffiti tag on a Gold Coast hotel looks good. Crowe also said that he liked seeing Bieber’s “art.” The 49 year-old actor tweeted his approval of Justin’s artistic efforts while others were complaining about the singer’s vandalism.