There are, I understand, people who can drive around a mesa in the American Southwest and come upon a vast, stunning expanse of pure Western landscape and not hear the music from The Magnificent Seven in their heads. Sad, but true. The catchiness and ubiquity of Elmer Bernstein’s thrumming music (which Marlboro licensed for their TV campaign peddling a manly, nicotine-loaded lifestyle) is so definitive it instantly summons up the Old West—or at least the cinematic version—in its first few beats. That music is the Western movie.
Bernstein’s score is amusingly hinted at during the remake of The Magnificent Seven, but you’ll have to wait until the end credits for a full nostalgic airing of the main theme. The original music is too heroic and unconflicted for a 21st-century Western, which Antoine Fuqua’s new film certainly is: Multicultural in its casting and pointedly political in its choice of bad guy, The Magnificent Seven is a 2016 movie all the way. In fits and starts, it also manages to be a pretty enjoyable Western.
Liam Neeson is back in action in the gritty crime thriller Run All Night (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), his third and most satisfying collaboration with filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop). Neeson once again has a very specific skill set—his nickname isn’t Jimmy the Gravedigger for nothing—but he’s been pickling it in booze for years to drown the guilt of his mob assassinations for Irish crime boss Ed Harris. Then Jimmy’s estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman), a former boxer turned limo driver, lands in serious trouble when his job takes him to the wrong place at the wrong time where he witnesses a gangland murder. Jimmy sobers up quickly and takes on his former boss and best friend—not to mention the bad cops in his pocket—to do protect his boy.
In the world of high-concept crime thrillers, this is surprisingly down to earth. There’s no superheroics or spectacular Die Hard-style stunts here. It’s all handguns and car chases and blood and broken glass on the urban mean streets at night, and Collet-Serra creates a very turbulent, unstable ordeal. Things move fast and the violence comes abruptly, and the atmosphere is tense and jittery. It lives up to the title. But Collet-Serra also grounds it in actual relationships—a son who has no respect for a drop-out father, a mobster who respects his alcoholic best friend more than his reckless son, who would rather play gangsta than understand the balance of power and diplomacy in the criminal underworld, and two fathers who will do anything for their sons despite the past.
It’s reminiscent of seventies crime picture, with corrupt cops and criminal codes and a new generation of thug that has no respect for the old ways. If it never becomes anything more than a great paperback crime yarn built on coincidence, bad luck, and blood ties, it does the genre proud. Vincent D’Onofrio brings a weary gravitas to an old-school police detective whose sense of justice outweighs his desire to put Jimmy down and Common is enigmatic as a hired gun with his own specific skill set.
On Blu-ray and DVD with two featurettes and deleted scenes. Also on Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow.
Love, Death, and the Imagination in Dan Ireland’s The Whole Wide World
This appreciation was written for Film Comment magazine in 1996. Reflecting fond memories of SIFF film-going, this review also expressed my delight in discovering The Whole Wide World, a terrific movie by Dan Ireland, one of the founders of SIFF and an old friend. – KAM
Dan Ireland passed away on April 14, 2016, at the age of 57. We revive the piece in honor of his memory. – Editor
The citizens of Rain City have been passionate devotees of the Seattle International Film Festival for nigh on to two decades. Founded by Dan Ireland and Darryl Macdonald, a couple of optimistic entrepreneurs from Vancouver, B.C, SIFF bowed in 1976 with an l8-day slate of movies by the likes of Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, Luis Buñuel, Lina Wertmüller, Claude Lelouch, Claude Chabrol, Paul Verhoeven, Ken Russell, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Hot stuff in the days when the small but dedicated Seattle Film Society was practically the only reliable purveyor of cutting-edge foreign film north of San Francisco. Under the quiet rain, Seattleites queued up happily.
In the two decades that followed, the Ireland-Macdonald baby kept growing, until the Seattle fest now screens 250 films over a period of nearly a month. Though three or four other theaters are often in play as venues, the true heart of this film orgy is the cavernous 800-seat Egyptian Theater, which for the faithful becomes home away from home every May-June. Those spring evenings with the likes of Krzysztof Zanussi and Michael Powell are among my happiest cinematic memories.
This past June, I returned to the city where, in spite of mildew, I thrived for nearly a quarter-century; there was an American-independent competition for best first film, and I was one of four jurors. Among the more than a dozen films in contention were Jim McKay’s GirlsTown, Sal Stabile’s Gravesend, and Alan Taylor’s Palookaville—all examples of the currently fertile genre of flavorful ‘hood movies, featuring ethnic tribes of argot-speaking boys or girls looking for a way to stay alive, make a living, and/or crash out of their mean streets. Rachel Reichman’s uncompromising Work fell into this category as well, only the neighborhood is rural New York, economic and spiritual dead end for a not especially beautiful or gifted girl left behind by her summer love, a college-bound black woman.
But TheWholeWideWorld, the film unanimously voted best of the bunch, is a very different kind of ‘hood movie, set in a couple of backwater Texas towns in the mid-Thirties, and the boy and girl who speak its special language break out mostly through their imaginations. That The Whole Wide World (to be released at Christmas by Sony Classics) should be a first film by old friend and fest co-founder Dan Ireland brought me full circle in my remembrance of things past, and made this latest of many Egyptian bacchanals the best kind of reunion.