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 .


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

Johnny Depp in the Master of Black Mass

by Noel T. Manning II

Johnny Depp shines in a role a bit different from what we’ve seen in the past. No wacky Mad Hatter, insane pirate, demon barber, out of place vampire, or Frankensteinian hedge-clipper here. This time, Depp stars as true-life Boston mobster, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger.377203-black-mass

I’ve seen so many mob films over the years, that it is difficult not to compare on-screen characters in films of the past (biopics or originals). But in Black Mass, Depp brings a character to life who is familiar, yet original at the same time. In many US mob films, you will find a typical rise and fall of a character and a twisted search for their interpretation of the American dream. Most of the time tragedy befalls anyone standing in the way, with the kingpin mobster finally meeting the grim reaper as a result of the battle with self. These are the very stories that would make Shakespeare proud.

In this film, Depp’s character is truly focused on power for the sake of power much like Heath Ledger’s Joker was serving up violence and mayhem just because he could. This mob picture is filled with FBI double-crosses, unholy alliances, mob wars, & family dysfunction. I did find the story to be less compelling than it should’ve been (or than I’d hoped for), and it felt like it was trying to copy the Scorsese formula, and that was my biggest imagesproblem, it was an average copy at best. The absolute best part of this true-crime story was the casting. Depp continues to show he’s able to be versatile and do what Depp wants to do within any role. Johnny Depp is not just a movie star, he’s a top rate actor as well. And because of him, Black Mass gets a B- instead of a C+. I’ve seen plenty of mob movies over the years, and as a whole, this one will be forgettable, even if Depp’s performance won’t.

If you’re interested in some better gangster flicks, I’d suggest checking out Goodfellas,” “The Godfather,” “The Departed,” “Scarface,orReservoir Dogs.” 62951

A Captivating Story too Crazy to Be True


By Noel T. Manning II

Gods-not-deadIn the past few years, filmmakers have discovered the power of the Christian audience at the boxoffice. Films like “Courageous” (2011), Heaven is for Real” (2014), “God’s Not Dead” (2014), and this summer’s hit “War Room,” prove that this once forgotten market, has potential for growth and success for filmmakers willing to invest into this expanding genre. Coming next year we will see God’s Not Dead 2,” “Risen, and the remake of Ben Hur.” But, if you can’t wait until 2016, or if you choose not to check out “War Room” a second time, you can view another faith-based flick hitting about 800 theatres this weekend in Captive.”

captfeatr1“Captive” is based on the true story of the 2005 incident of a woman taken hostage by a convicted murderer and rapist. As she’s confronted with the possibility of a worst case scenario for her future, she has to find a way to connect with her captor or face death. Somewhere in the midst of a dialogue between the two, she begins to read aloud from Rick Warren’s best selling book “Purpose Driven Life.” What happens next is truly unbelievable, as the captive’s every moment hangs in the balance.facebook

David Oyelowo (from last year’s “Selma”) and Kate Mara (from this year’s horrible “Fantastic Four” reboot) star in this flick, that is dark, and gritty at times. The film offers an examination of characters searching for purpose, self, and better life. “Captive” has the potential to reach beyond viewers from the faith-based background, and I believe it can appeal to anyone searching for a true-life story ripped from the headlines.

Captive_T_1_cmsOverall it is a tale about regret, second chances, and hope. It is a well-acted and well-executed crime-drama, with a few hiccups in pacing along the way, yet it is worth viewing. Captive earns a solid “B” on the Cinemascene report card.


Do You Believe in the Power of Prayer?

by Noel T. Manning II

“War Room” is  a story about the power of prayer and the challenges of life (with and without God in one’s life). The struggles, and challenges may still be there … but there’s something compelling about the resource of God’s presence.22613_1617888921776020_8398078566296844273_n

Alex and Stephen Kendrick have brought together a film shot in Charlotte for a distinct audience – the Church (and for church outreach). NC filmmaker Gary Wheeler gets a production credit, and helps the Kendricks capture the Charlotte region on film. Out of Georgia, these brothers have produced several films including successful Christian films “Fireproof” and “Courageous.” This is by far the most polished, well written, and best acted of the team’s films.

At a $3 million budget, this film should find a lucrative payday for the studio, and provide great content for the Christian crowd. If the audiences show, this could be a number one contender at the box office for several WarRoom_2weeks. In recent years we’ve seen the impact of faith-based films at the box-office, and I feel as long as the audiences exist (and scripts, production quality, and acting holds strong) –more of these films may be hitting the mainstream with success.

Comparing this to other films of the like, this film gets a solid A-.

Check out this interview with Gary Wheeler from WGWG. Gary talks about War Room

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