'Hostiles' is more than a shoot-‘em-up Western


By Shirrel Rhoades
At the Movies

Saturday, February 3, 2018

“Hostiles” is an old-fashioned Western with modern sensibilities. Its love of landscape may remind you of John Ford. You’ll find small references to John Wayne and “The Searchers.” The nihilistic viewpoint harkens to Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.”

Director-writer Scott Cooper (“Black Mass,” “Crazy Heart”) delivers a grim and gritty view of the Old West, right down to the country’s prejudices and violence against the American Indians. At the same time, he doesn’t let us forget that it’s a different outlook from what we have today.

“Hostiles” gives us a U.S. Cavalry officer, Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), who prior to his retirement has been assigned to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief known as Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his ancestral lands in Montana. Traveling with them is Yellow Hawk’s family and a contingency of soldiers. Along the way they pick up a white woman named Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) whose family has just been killed by Comanche. En route Blocker’s party must take on marauding Comanche, a military prisoner on his way to be hanged (Ben Foster), dastardly fur traders, and intransigent landholders.

Blocker hates Indians. Yellow Hawk hates Comanche, giving them something in common. The two make for unlikely allies.

Does this offer a resolution for racial hostility? Maybe, maybe not.

Cooper keeps it real. Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”) is as stoic as an image frozen in an old-time tintype. Wes Studi (“A Million Ways to Die in the West”) is a genuine indigenous American, albeit Cherokee. Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) shows the fortitude of a frontier woman, somewhat deranged by the tragedy she has faced. And Ben Foster (“Hell or High Water”) is properly treacherous, a villain out of a dime novel.

All are believable, delivering powerful performances. Capturing the zeitgeist of 1892.

While there’s plenty of shoot-‘em-up action in “Hostiles,” you’ll find that it’s a leisurely paced film, slow and episodic in the telling. Nonetheless, it’s worth the ride-along.

Balancing beauty and ugliness, savagery and redemption, the film argues that anyone can be a hostile. Because we’re all human.

Is “Proud Mary” a new blaxploitation film?

Move over, Pam Grier. Taraji P. Henson is taking over the hood.

Henson (“Hustle & Flow,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Hidden Figures”) is familiar to TV audiences as Queenie in “Empire.”

Henson’s new film “Proud Mary” is a fast-paced thriller about a hit woman working for the Boston mob. However, she rethinks her profession when a hit goes wrong, leaving a young boy orphaned. Watch out, anybody in her way!

Hollywood Reporter noted that the film is “a rare project in Hollywood: an original action movie starring a 47-year-old woman of color.”

Henson says, “ When women get older in this business, they tend to send us out to pastures; meanwhile, you have Liam Neeson, however old he is, still kicking ass in ‘Taken’ and Denzel Washington, who, at any given drop of a dime, will do an action film. (Blank) that! If men can do it, why can’t we?”

One might go further to argue that “Proud Mary” offers a rennassaince awakening of the blaxploitation movie, that ethnic subgenre of exploitation films popular during the ‘70s. These films were the first in which black actors were the hero rather than a sidekick. Examples include “Super Fly,” “Three the Hard Way,” “Uptown Saturday Night,” “Hammer,” “Black Caesar,” “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” et al.

They have had a big influence on Quentin Tarantino (“Jackie Brown,” “Pulp Fiction”) as well as Keenen Ivory Wayans (“I’m Gonna Get You Sucka,” “A Low Down Dirty Shame”).

As it happens, blaxploitation films were invented in 1971 by my old friend Melvin Van Peebles with “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” That was followed the same year by Gordon Parks’ “Shaft,” setting the trend.

These films appealed to an urban black audience, but soon crossed ethnic lines. The genre allowed the rethinking of race relations in the 1970s.

Taraji P. Henson’s “Proud Mary” picks up where a handful of blaxploitation films starring strong female protgonists left off. You’ll recall “Coffy” and “Sheba Baby” with Pam Grier, “Cleopatra Jones” with Tamara Dobson, “Get Christy Love” with Teresa Graves, and “T.N.T. Jackson” with Jean Bell, among others. These are all kick-butt black women who take on “The Man” -- and win.

Taraji P. Henson is a winner too. Her Hollywood accolades prove it: She has been nominated for an Academy Award, SAG Award, and a Primetime Emmy Award. She has won a Critic’s Choice Television Award, NAACP Image Award, and a Golden Globe Award.

In 2016, Time Magazine named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list.

Top Ten movie creature features

With “The Shape of Water” up for 13 Academy Awards, we got to thinking about creature features, movies that focus on non-human entities that threaten us. No spoiler alert: Everybody knows Guillermo del Toro turned the cult classic, “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” into a love story.

Here are our Top Ten creature features list:

10. “Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954) --- Yes, we’ll start off with the creature that inspired Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” Here, an amphibious humanoid is captured in a remote Amazon lagoon by Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), but trouble brews when the Gil-Man becomes attracted to the doctor’s pretty assistant Kay (Julie Adams). It spawned two sequels.

9. “The Mist” (2007) -- This one is based on the Stephen King novella about deadly spider-like creatures roaming the thick mist that has settled on a small town. David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his eight-year-old son take refuge with local citizens in a supermarket. Eerie, these nearly unseen monsters.

8. “Cloverfield” (2008) -- This found-footage tale of a Godzilla-like creature stomping around New York City played on the anxieties of 9/11.

7. “Pacific Rim” (2013) -- Guillermo del Toro, the director who gave us “The Shape of Water,” also served up this homage to Godzilla, a battle between giant monsters and giant robots in the Far East.

6. “Alien” (1979) -- Ridley Scott reminded us that in space no one can hear you scream with this tale of an acid-dripping alien creature aboard a commercial space tug. Sigourney Weaver gave us Ripley, the prototype for future female heroines. Claustrophobic!

5. “The Thing” (1982) -- John Carpenter spun an scary story about a parasitic extraterrestrial life form that assimilates other organisms. Starring Kurt Russell, it’s a redo of the 1951 Howard Hawkes film. One could add “The Blob” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to the list, too.

4. “Tremors” (1990) -- No six degrees here. Kevin Bacon stars in this tongue-in-cheek yarn about giant voracious worms that live under the Nevada desert. A film franchise followed: a prequel, four sequels, five direct-to-video movies, and a television series.

3. “King Kong” (1933) -- The granddaddy of all movie creatures, this giant gorilla is a reprise of Beauty and the Beast. In the Merian C. Cooper original, Fay Wray is the object of Kong’s oversized desires. King Kong remains one of the world’s most famous movie icons, inspiring countless sequels, remakes, spin-offs, imitators, parodies, cartoons, books, comics, video games, theme park rides, and a stage play.

2. “Godzilla” (1954, 1998, 2014) -- A product of the nuclear age, this huge radioactive lizard is what the Japanese call kaiju. Lots of monster movies followed -- “Rodan,” “Gamara,” “Mothra,” “Reptilicus,” you name ‘em. Watch out, Tokyo!

1. “Jaws” (1979) -- Steven Spielberg created the summer blockbuster with this thriller about a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer hunting down a giant man-eating shark. This is only real-life creature on our list. Maybe that’s what makes it super scary.

No, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” didn’t make our list, being too cute to qualify as a frightening creature. “Them” was ignored because it wasn’t a single creature, but instead an army of giant ants. “Frankenstein,” “The Mummy,” “The Wolfman,” and “The Invisible Man” were not included because they were human (or parts thereof). Same can be said of zombies and walking dead.

So what’s your favorite creature feature? Don’t be afraid -- speak up. We don’t bite.