Blackthorn


Butch Cassidy wants to make a withdrawal.

Butch Cassidy wants to make a withdrawal.

(2011) Western (Magnolia) Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott, Luis Bredow, Christian Mercado, Daniel Aguirre, Martin Proctor, Maria Luque, Raul Beltran, Luis Aduviri, Claudia Coronel, Erika Andia, Shirley Torres, Jorge Hidalgo, Daniel Acre, Fernando Gamarra, Delia Fabian. Directed by Mateo Gil

Westerns have been an important part of the movies ever since Thomas Edison invented the damn things. They have been iconic representations of America and the rugged individualism of Americans in general. They have fallen out of favor lately as we have changed as a nation and for better or for worse, our values are different now.

James Blackthorn (Shepard) is an American expatriate living in Bolivia, raising championship race horses. It is 1922 and he is an old man now although the name James Blackthorn is an invention and most people know him by a different name: Butch Cassidy. Yes, James Blackthorn is the famous outlaw who didn’t die in that notorious shoot-out but survived, although he is content to let the world think that Butch Cassidy is a corpse.

However when he receives word that his former lover Etta Place (McElligott) has passed away, he yearns to return home and visit her son Ryan who may or may not be his. He sells his horses and is returning back to his village, he is ambushed by Eduardo (Noriega), a Spanish mining engineer who insists he is shooting at men who are pursuing him, thinking that James was one. Unfortunately in the fracas, James’ horse Cinco bolts off with the money. Eduardo offers to share part of the $50,000 he stole from the mine owner Simon Patino, a Bolivian industrialist and mine operator (who actually existed, by the way) if Blackthorn can get him to the abandoned mine where the money is hidden. Needing the cash to get home, Blackthorn agrees.

The journey will take the two men across the high plains of Bolivia where they will be pursued by Patino’s relentless posse. Blackthorn will come face to face with old enemies and new lovers and more to the point, will be faced with a choice that will cut to the heart of who he always has been – and may change who he has become.

This is the English language debut of Spanish director Gil and it is somewhat fitting that he has chosen a Western to do it in. Westerns, many of which were shot in Spain during the 60s and 70s, have remained a favorite there more than here. Using one that has roots in the real American West is a note of gracia that those with Spanish souls will appreciate.

Shepard is perfectly cast as the grizzled, battle-hardened outlaw who wants nothing more than to live out the rest of his life in peace. He has the kind of face that hints at hard days and harder nights and Shepard uses his own persona as a kind of a springboard here. The ghost of Paul Newman and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hangs heavily over the production but while this is in a sense a sequel, it also is a completely different movie. This is kind of a what-if and I suppose that the original George Roy Hill movie was a little bit like that but while that movie was a product of a different time, so too is this movie a product of this time. It has kind of a somber disposition which some may find leaning too much in that direction. Caveat emptor.

Rea, who plays a former Pinkerton detective who always believed Butch was still alive, also is fine in support. Noriega is a decent enough actor but his chemistry with Shepard is a bit constrained; in many ways his character was a bit superfluous and while his robbery of the mine money is the catalyst of the events here, I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers had concentrated on Butch/Blackthorn that this wouldn’t have been a better movie. It definitely would have been better if they’d eliminated the flashbacks to a younger Butch and Sundance which do nothing for the film other than interrupt what momentum it does achieve.

Mostly filmed in Bolivia, the scenery is absolutely gorgeous and for anyone thinking of traveling to Bolivia or who have fond memories of it, this is going to be a must-see. In fact, for those who just like Westerns or movies with magnificent scenery, this is one to keep an eye out for in general.

WHY RENT THIS: Shepard is terrific and perfectly cast. Rea is fine in support. Lovely Bolivian scenery.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Flashbacks bring the film to a grinding halt. Chemistry between Shepard and Noriega not up to snuff. A little too somber in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some rootin’, some tootin’ and some shootin’. There’s also a fair amount of cussin’.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The survival of Cassidy in the Bolivian shoot-out is based on actual rumors. The details on the supposed shoot-out are very vague and much of the evidence conflicts so it is entirely possible that the notorious outlaw survived.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of short films from Gil as well as an HD-Net special on the film.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $623,528 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE:
Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental/Streaming), Amazon (stream only), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Target Ticket (rent/buy)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shootist
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Inherent Vice

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New Releases for the Week of January 18, 2013


The Last Stand

THE LAST STAND

(Lionsgate) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Genesis Rodriguez. Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

The Governator’s first starring role in a decade puts him as a disgraced L.A. cop who now lives a much more peaceful life as sheriff in a small, quiet border town. When a vicious drug cartel kingpin escapes from a convoy taking him to jail, a small army of mercenaries and thugs are insuring that he gets back to Mexico. Unfortunately, their route will take him right through Arnold’s town. Big mistake.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, and language)

Broken City

(20th Century Fox) Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper. A former NYPD cop, stripped of his badge because of a shooting scandal, is hired as a private eye by the popular mayor of Noo Yawk to investigate his wife. However, much more is going on than meets the eye and he finds himself in a fight to bring the truth to light and to keep himself from going to jail.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence)

Mama

(Universal) Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nellise. Two young girls who’d disappeared five years earlier when their mother died are discovered living in the woods, having survived on their own against all odds. They are brought to live with their only surviving relative – their uncle – and his girlfriend. Soon it becomes apparent that they might not have been quite so alone as everybody thought – and that they brought their companion/protector into their uncle’s home. Not so good for Uncle.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements)

A Royal Affair

(Magnolia) Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Trine Dyrholm.  In the 18th century, King Christian VII was absolute ruler of Denmark and rumor has it, was quite deranged. His Queen embarked on a passionate affair with a German physician, putting the both of them in extreme danger.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content and some violent images)

Rust and Bone

(Sony Classics) Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenarts, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette. A homeless, friendless and penniless man takes refuge in his sister’s home in the South of France with his five-year-old son who barely knows him. After he gets a job as a nightclub bouncer, he encounters a beautiful whale trainer at the local marine park. When a tragic accident leaves her disabled, the unlikely couple learn to heal each other. Cotillard has received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her work here.

See the trailer and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language)

Transsiberian


Emily Mortimer's just hanging around.

Emily Mortimer's just hanging around.

(First Look) Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Eduardo Noriega, Kate Mara, Ben Kingsley, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Stinton. Directed by Brad Anderson.

There is a romance about train travel. As we ride the rails, we are in a world of our own, looking out onto the world beyond. In this world, we meet our fellow travelers, not all of whom who are what they would seem to be at first glance.

Roy (Harrelson) and Jessie (Mortimer) are an American couple returning home after doing missionary work in China. They decide to take the long way home by taking the Transsiberian railway from China to Moscow.

At first, the trip seems to be a pleasant adventure as Jessie, a photographer, gets plenty of opportunity for fascinating snapshots while Roy gets to play tourist. Most of the train’s staff speaks no English and are as surly as only Russians can be, but that doesn’t diminish Roy’s enthusiasm as they travel through exotic-sounding places that they’d only read about in Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky novels.

They meet another couple from the West; Carlos (Noriega), a carefree Spaniard, and Abby (Mara), his much-younger girlfriend. Where Carlos is worldly, Abby is naïve. They seem an odd couple, but then again so are Roy and Jessie. Roy is a straight-arrow churchgoer who is dedicated to charitable works and steam engines. He is child-like in many ways. Jessie has far more skeletons in her closet than most women her age. Wild in her younger years, she has a hard-fought sobriety that she clings to like a four-year-old girl clings to a favorite doll. She notices that Carlos is immediately attracted to her.

After a stop in Irkutsk, Jessie is alarmed to find that Roy has missed the train. Nobody has seen him and she can’t get in contact with him. She gets off at the next stop to wait for him and Carlos and Abby volunteer to wait with her. Carlos offers to show Jessie a great place to take some pictures. They hop on a bus and walk into the countryside after getting off in a small village. What happens next is…well, I won’t tell you to ruin the surprise.

As thrillers go, Hitchcock pretty much has the market cornered but director Anderson (The Machinist) shows a flair for the genre. He takes Hitchcockian elements from movies like The Lady Vanishes and North by Northwest and gives them a nice twist. Add to this the bleak Russian landscapes and the grim, suspicious people who inhabit it and you have the makings of a nice thriller.

Harrelson has become a really solid character actor, and he imbues Roy with the kind of naïveté that would have made his “Cheers” character Woody Boyd seem sophisticated and urbane by comparison. Mortimer, a veteran British actress, also does a solid job as Jessie, who is trying to overcome a sordid past. Kingsley is alternately charming and menacing as a Russian narcotics detective who, like nearly everybody on the train, isn’t all that he seems to be. He’s one of the best actors in the world, and he shows why he gets that kind of consideration here.

The movie is spine-tingling and leaves you on the edge of your seat until the very last frame. Rather than attract big stars to the leading roles, Anderson wisely cast solid character actors, every one of whom are outstanding actors in their own right. He allows his cast and the stark landscape to capture the imagination and attention of the viewers. The result is one of the better independent thrillers to come down the pipeline in a very long time.

WHY RENT THIS: The bleak Siberian landscapes and a solid cast make this one of the most intense thrillers to come out of the independent circuit for quite some time. Sir Ben Kingsley brings charm and menace to his role. Writer/director Anderson takes Hitchcock’s plot elements and twists them into something special.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lots of sexual tension but no sex as such.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fairly graphic torture scene and a murder that may be a little too intense for some.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Brad Anderson’s first film was a horror short called Frankenstein’s Planet of Monsters.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: (500) Days of Summer