Given the high-pressure intensity of their previous collaboration, the hijacking drama Captain Phillips, one would expect a Western starring Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass to be an equally edgy affair. But World News (12) *** eschews the Bourne Supremacy director’s shaky camera aesthetic in order to take a slow approach to the genre, one that perhaps reflects a bit more of the subdued energy of a post-Civil War Southern setting in which defeated Confederate sympathizers are exhausted, if still dangerous, force.
Hanks plays Jefferson Kidd, a former captain in said Confederate Army who now goes from town to town across Texas to update locals on the latest news from around the country. The Western equivalent of the “good German” in a WWII movie, he’s a decent guy whose combat experience and post-war travels in the anti-Reconstruction South have tired him enough to see the absurdity of fighting a lost cause in defense of the indefensible. Not that there’s much reference to slavery (Greengrass is careful to keep the details of Kidd’s beliefs buried beneath the vague but familiar backstory of a wanderer trying to escape a painful past).
That said, the plot kicks off when Kidd stumbles upon a lynching and finds a young white girl named Johanna (newcomer Helena Zengel) hiding at the scene. She is being taken back to relatives she does not know after being freed from the Kiowa tribe who massacred her family and kidnapped her as a baby. Understandably, Kidd feels compelled to deliver her to her loved ones and what follows is very blatantly a reverse spin of The Searchers, with Greengrass even paying a straight homage to her famous final image. But while it’s interesting to some extent to see a modern film with a more nuanced understanding of Native American cultures riffing on this problematic John Ford/John Wayne collaboration, the power of The Searchers – as Martin Scorsese has often underlined – remains its status as a portrait of America at its absolute worst.
On the other hand, News of the World buries this track a little too effectively. It’s still a beautifully made movie with good performances and at least one setting that reconfirms just how good Greengrass is at setting the action, but keeping any racialized violence off-screen or pushed to the fringes, its themes n don’t land with the power they maybe should.
Slalom (18) **** sees French director Charlène Favier make a promising debut with a timely and uncomfortable film about a 15-year-old skier (Noée Abita) groomed for success by a predatory coach (Jérémie Renier). Subtly detailing the insidious ways of abusing coach/prodigy power dynamics, the film comes into its own in the way Favier places us in his protagonist’s headspace with brilliant use of music and visual style. strong that allows us to understand the confusion and horror Lyz (Abita) lives without, in turn, exploiting her trauma for cheap dramatic effect.
Like the ideal conditions to watch Nicolas Cage’s latest film Willy’s Wonderland (15) ** aren’t really possible at the moment – that would be best enjoyed as part of a drunken midnight movie crowd – perhaps it’s unfair to complain too much about a movie that pits the b-movie maverick against the last days to a series of deadly animatronic cartoon characters. But like many exploitation film throwbacks, it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its gonzo premise. Stranded in the middle of nowhere after his car is sabotaged, the never-named protagonist of Cage agrees to spend the night cleaning up the doomed theme park restaurant in exchange for fixing his car. car, only to find that he was drawn there as a human. sacrifice for a demonic weasel and her band of psychotic robot companions. Sounds fun, right? And that’s for about 30 minutes, especially as it becomes apparent that Cage – who never utters a line of dialogue – was intended as some sort of vintage video game hero (a scene featuring Cage stomping a robot gorilla’s head against a urinal plays as a particularly twisted homage to Donkey Kong). Alas, the repetitive structure quickly becomes the film’s downfall, and it’s neither funny nor inventive enough to keep the gag going.
It’s still more fun than Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar (15) *, a no-laughs comedic vehicle for Kristen Wiig and her Bridesmaids co-writer/co-star Annie Mumolo. They play a pair of panty-wearing middle-aged best friends who live together, work together, and spend every waking second together. When they both lose their jobs, they take it as a sign that they need to turn their lives upside down, so decide to take a trip to a Florida resort, where they find themselves embroiled in an evil plot by a megalomaniac of style Dr Evil (also Wiig) who wants to kill all the inhabitants with a swarm of genetically modified mosquitoes. As that description might suggest, the film – which Wiig and Mumolo co-wrote – has the feel of an improv sketch going wild and the randomness extends to the characters, with Jamie Dornan coming off as the villain’s emasculated henchman and a talking crab called Morgan. Freemond nostalgically ruminates on a life that bears an uncanny resemblance to Morgan Freeman’s most famous roles. Avoid.
World News is on Netflix; Slalom is available on demand through Curzon Home Cinema; Willy’s Wonderland and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar are available upon request
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