A Long Ride for the Gentlemen Outlaw Ben Hall

script by Noel T. Manning II

stagecoachMy grandfather Earl Reagan was a huge fan of the original American genre, the Western. He turned me on to some of the great classic feature films (and stars) including the works of John Ford and John Wayne.

These films in many ways explored the challenges of chasing one’s dream during the 1830s – early 1900s in the USA. It was about the thirst for adventure and the examination of the American spirit, and the American people. With uncertainties, lawlessness, and life-threatening challenges associated with the United States westward expansion, these films captured the essence of what it means to explore opportunities for a better future … even when one’s own life is at stake.  But, even though this genre is United States born and The_Legend_of_Ben_Hall_Poster,_Ross_Morgan,_Oct_2016raised, it doesn’t mean filmmakers didn’t borrow ideas and stories from other cultures (check the origin of the Magnificent Seven for example), or that other countries don’t have their own versions of a wild west life style. That is definitely the case with writer, director, producer Matthew Homes’ Australian film “The Legend of Ben Hall.”

This revisionist western-style biopic is based on the final nine months of the real-life Australian bushranger and well-known gentlemen criminal Ben Hall. During Hall’s lawless life and wild reign of robberies during the 1860s, he was said to have committed over 600 crimes, all without killing a single person. In this film, we meet a man at struggle with himself, his circumstances, the friends in which he’s associated, and the family life he’ll never really have because of bad choices.

5bd7d3fcc2f27cf5beeba57ac807cc66_originalFilled with gunfights, stagecoach robberies, barroom dances, horse chases, and wide open spaces, this film is filled with spectacular scenic vistas, a rich set production design, excellent detail to period costumes and props, and absolutely stunning cinematography. Actor Jack Martin takes on the lead role of Ben Hall, and he is wonderful in portraying the emotional and physical complexities of this infamous Australian outlaw.

The Legend of Ben Hall was originally released as a 40-minute film after a successful post1Kickstarter campaign, before eventually being picked up and partially funded for a feature-film production from Fox Australia.  This extended theatrical version takes audiences deeper into the characters, the story, and the vast landscapes of the Australian wilderness.

maxresdefaultWriter and director Matthew Homes paid extremely close attention to detail in dialogue and story, focusing on historical accuracies, and pulling many quotes and scenes directly from newspaper accounts. This can be a great thing if you’re hoping to explore and document history in a film narrative format. But at some point, hard decisions need to be made to cut the fat and the extra weight from a story to have a digestible piece of cinema that can inform while also entertaining audiences. For this film, with a running time of two hours and 22 minutes, I found that the lack of a strong story question and compellingly delivered crisis didn’t match the length of the film. Many scenes felt unnecessary, or too drawn out, and that, combined with some weak acting (and even overacting almost bordering parody) from some supporting cast, really took away from what could have been a great movie. Adding too many extra minutes, scenes and layers to a story isn’t always a good thing, and that is the case here.1496796765207

It is difficult at times when filmmakers are so closely connected to a film, especially a biopic, or based on a true story film, to be completely objective and scale back the essentials of telling the story. I’ve been there as a filmmaker myself, and made that mistake, so I understand the temptation to put in more than you really need into a final cut. As a viewer, I definitely got that vibe with “The Legend of Ben Hall.” It had amazing potential, yet tried to over deliver, and in doing so, it fell short in providing a memorable piece of cinema.legend-of-ben-hall-movie-australia-1024x578

I’m giving this film a “C-“ Cinemascene grade.

“The Legend of Ben Hall” is scheduled to be the first of four historical films capturing the lives of infamous Australian Bushrangers. Filmmakers are currently seeking funding for this first anthology of its kind using many of the same actors to reprise their roles. More information on the Legend of Ben Hall is available online at https://www.thelegendofbenhall.com/

You can follow me on Twitter @CinemasceneUSA .

 

The Coens are Back with Goofball Antics

by Noel T. Manning II

Hail, Caesar! offers fun and quirky characters, humorous dialogue & creative set pieces in a mystery/comedy set around a classic Hollywood movie studio.

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The story itself is a simple hostage return for ransom theme, but it is the multiple intricate set pieces and cameos that provide the entertainment value. Channing Tatum as a singing sailor & Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid offer some memorable moments, as well as my favorite character a singing cowboy played by Alden Ehrenreich.

The Coen brothers films are not for everyone and can be an acquired taste – this one is no different. There are certain threads throughout the film that seem thrown in for the pure sake of the fun, with very little connection to the actual storyline. But, for me I still found myself laughing throughout.

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This is not going to be classic Coen in the vein of Oh Brother Where Art Thou, but no one can mug overacting goofball comic faces with the Coens better than George Clooney … and that makes this worth a view, if for nothing else. This will not be one I’ll revisit over and over agin, but I’m happy to have caught it once. This film earns a C+on the Cinemascene scorecard.

The Inner Child is Awakened

It is rare when a movie beckons me to the theatre for multiple viewings, but director J.J. Abrams found a way. He brought to the screen something familiar, yet new in the absolutely fantastic “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”  image_60d589c5

With storylines, scenes, and concepts borrowed from the original trilogy, I found myself feeling as if I was in a comfortable pair of jeans that somehow felt fresh and clean at the same time. It is unique when I am so taken by a film-going experience, that I immediately want to view it again … and again … and again. But that is exactly what happened with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

In this seventh installment of this Star Wars series, a young orphaned  woman Rey (Daisy Ridley) stumbles into a storyline of espionage, war, evil sprouting from the seeds of the finn_450f054bhistory, and a mystery concerning her very own back story. When the monstrous military Nazi-like   First Order seeks to destroy the New Republic and all that is good in the universe, only a hero of the past, a droid with a secret map, and a new hope for the future stands in their way. Rey finds herself teaming up with Finn, a former First Order stormtrooper (John Boyega) who leaves the military power because he realizes “it’s the right thing to do.” Together they ultimately embark on an adventure to save the New Republic from total destruction. Somewhere along the way they come across a Wookie and a smuggler (guess who); a band of misfits at a cantina; space battles galore; a small Force-Sensative enigmatic creature with a wealth of wisdom and secrets; and one big bad masked dude dressed in black, and wielding a nasty light saber as a weapon.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens provides a full balance in a film by providing wonderfully written dialogue, a flawless blend of action, adventure and humor, perfect locations, engaging characters (old and new), and award-caliber special effects and musical score –  this film was my favorite movie-going experience of the year.

While so many of these scenes and themes were familiar to me, somehow if felt right… perfect. It was as if I was viewing something that reminded me of why I’ve always loved going to the movies in the first place. At the very core of reviewing films, I seek to be entertained above all. After all, that’s why my parents first took me to films when I was a kid. So when a film like this comes along that can transport someone back to that first joy, it is truly something remarkable and worthy of
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens has earned a Cinemascene score card rating of “A+” and it has  the potential of being one of the largest box-office draws of all time.

You can guarantee that I will go back to the theatre and pay mucho bucks to see this film on multiple viewings 🙂

The film is rated PG-13 and introduces new actors to the Star Wars universe with Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver it brings back Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Mark Hamill to the screen. 

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Jan. 2, 2016 update: I’ve now seen this film four times and it keeps getting better for me. #loveit

Humanity is the Beast

 

Netflix Delivers Film Targeting Year-end Awards 

by Noel T. Manning II

When the world around you falls apart, and the life you know and love is ripped from underneath your feet, how do you survive? You either find a way to adapt, surrender, fight, or die. That is the story we find unfolding in Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation.”

“Nothing is ever for sure and everything is always changing.”

 

beasts-of-no-nation-1140x641Caught between warring factions in an African Civil War, a young orphan teen, Agu, reluctantly joins forces with a rebellion leader and discovers a different type of family. Agu finds a world where violence, suffering, anger, and the thirst for power provide the main courses for each day. He finds that leadership and authority is never guaranteed, even for those who assume the power.

This film is a painful journey into the darkness of the soul, and one in which making one wrong choice can send you to a point of no return. It is a film filled with life questions, and challenges the viewer to examine consequences of actions and inactions.

“I am like old man, not baby, because of my experiences.”

web-beastsCapturing elements of man v man, man v society, and man v self, “Beasts” is a fascinating story exploring lost innocence and the collateral damage associated with trauma through violence. Watching Agu fall deeper and deeper into a life thrust upon him, one wonders, what happens when you become the very evil you hate?

“When you become the Devils pawn, and find yourself doing his bidding, can you ever find redemption… and do you even deserve it?”

e649f612a135cf3f08bbfe300dfea38aAgu also abandons his empathy and compassion along this journey, and yet viewers catch a fading glimpse of it when Agu loses a friend to the violent path he is on. Agu is faced with this: once you’ve travelled so far down a dark and evil road, can you ever find humanity again? Although going back to what you once had is not an option, is there another way forward? Is it even worth the chance?

With an amazing companion score by Dan Romer, the film was well-shot, it offered wonderfully gritty set designs and locations, and provided great performances by newcomer Abraham Attah (Agu) & Idris Elda as the rebel leader. “Beasts” was a powerful story written & directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and based on the 2005 novel by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala.

UnknownYet with all that went right with the film, it still had its flaws. It lacked overall balance for me. It had an extremely slow start, intense 2nd act, and an incredibly sluggish 3rd act, and that imbalance combined with the too-long 2 hour and 17 minute runtime detracted from a film that could have been great.  There was also voice over narration that I found disruptive to the story, and it interrupted the flow of the film as a whole. Better editing choices, and 30 minutes shorter, and this could’ve been on my top ten of the year.

commandant-idris-elba-beasts-of-no-nation-assetThe story is still one worth telling, and the film is worth watching. If “Beasts” is any indication, the potential of the Netflix movie studio machine looks promising. While I have no plans to nominate this film this year, I do look forward for what else the studio has in mind for the future.

Cinemascene Score Card = C+

Matt Damon Shines 249 Million Miles From Home

In “The Martian” Ridley Scott directs this great Matt Damon vehicle that combines Apollo 13,” Cast Away,” and “MacGyver.” When astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) 75is left for dead on Mars, he must discover how to survive on his own in a hostile environment where the smallest of mistakes can cost him his life.

It is the story of perseverance, human will, and ingenuity. As rich as the story is here, the set design, sound mix, casting, and visual design make this a complete film. This film transcends science fiction, and is much more drama than science fiction, yet should appeal to audiences of both genres. Damon’s character provides elements of comic relief in the midst of utter chaos. Audiences witness a character at war with nature, the unknown and himself in a film that earns a solid “A” on the Cinemascene scorecard.

The Martian is rated PG-13 for language & disturbing scenes, and brief nudity. It is distributed by 20th Century Fox. 6-ways-mars-could-kill-matt-damon-in-the-martian-475703