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A Bleak But Lovely Western and a Bleak But Funny Comedy

Reviews of "Hostiles" and "A Futile and Stupid Gesture," plus local movie news and notes.




Photo by Lorey Sebastian. Copyright Yellow Hawk, Inc.
 

There’s a Tumblr and Twitter presence under the name “This Had Oscar Buzz,” dedicated to cataloging all those films that mounted campaigns for awards attention only to be roundly ignored by voters (and, often, the public at large). I’d imagine when they update their sites in the coming weeks with 2017’s cinematic non-factors — hey, anybody remember “American Made” with Tom Cruise? — they’ll include “Hostiles,” the bleak western that receives a wide release today.

Directed by Scott Cooper, who helmed the Oscar winner “Crazy Heart” as well as the locally filmed “Out of the Furnace,” “Hostiles” did indeed mount something of a campaign for awards attention, particularly around the leading performance of Christian Bale. After that push failed to gain any traction, young distributor Entertainment Studios instead began an aggressive television campaign, depicting “Hostiles” as a tense thriller.

It’s ... it’s not that. It’s good, but it’s not what you’re thinking. Rather, it’s a slow meditation on the futility of hatred in the face of death.

Captain Joseph Blocker (Bale) is tasked with escorting an ailing rival, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), to his ancestral homeland in Montana. Soon after their departure, however, they happen upon Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) and the bodies of her family, all killed by a Comanche war party.

What follows is the expected, but not unwelcome, journey of understanding and commiseration; Blocker and Yellow Hawk slowly recognize each other as enemy combatants with no personal animus, Quaid resists the temptation to let her grief morph into blind hatred. At the beginning of the movie, everyone hates everyone; by the end, the party of travelers learns something like unity.

It’s quite violent, and your opinion on the politics may vary (although it should be said that the film has been praised by Native American groups for its level of research and commitment to accuracy). The performances are strong, though, and those with an affinity for westerns (particularly the more somber variety) will be pleased.
 



 

A landmark look at comedy history — and a damn funny film in its own right — debuts this weekend, but on your own time. Netflix is hoping that 2018 is the year that its film offerings begin to match the buzz and prestige of its most popular series; “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is a very, very good start.

The slightly-revised-true-story of pioneering writer and performer Doug Kenney stars Will Forte and Martin Mull as variations on the real-life Kenney, who co-founded influential humor magazine the National Lampoon before writing the scripts for “Animal House” and “Caddyshack.” Kenney, a Harvard alum, struggled with addiction and depression as he found success; “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” walks a fine tightrope in dramatically depicting Kenney’s decline while simultaneously producing a great many laughs.

An all-star cast takes on the mantle of the generation’s comedy icons — standouts include Joel McHale as Chevy Chase and Pittsburgh’s own Jon Daly as Bill Murray — and includes strong turns from Emmy Rossum, Natasha Lyonne, Domhnall Gleeson and Thomas Lennon.

It’s inventive, biting and fearless — a fitting tribute and a very good movie.



 

A brief update on the state of the Hollywood Theater after last week’s longer report: The Theatre Historical Society’s (THS) bid to buy the beloved theater, announced earlier this month, follows a slow breakdown of communication between the nonprofit Friends of the Hollywood Theater (FOHT) and building owners Kelly-Rielly-Nell-Barna Associates.

When the existing lease on the building expired in January 2017, the two parties failed to agree on a new lease; the FOHT eventually paid four months of rent before setting the rest aside until an agreement could be struck (the group says they have a signed check for the missing rent ready to deliver whenever Kelly-Rielly-Nell-Barna is willing to meet). Further disputes over a potential purchase price for the building — the owners wanted $400,000, the FOHT cited an appraisal that valued the building at $250,000 — led communication to cease in mid-2017.

There’s a good deal of he-said, she-said on the details, and the outlook remains murky. The FOHT are ready to launch a capital campaign, which they began planning in October, to purchase the building outright; Kelly-Rielly-Nell-Barna intend on proceeding with the sale to THS, which has remained silent on the matter for more than a week.

Programming continues at the Hollywood; their “Janu-Scary” week of new and obscure horror films begins today.
 



 

The Montage: The first of two upcoming John Carpenter tributes begins today, as Row House Cinema presents “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Christine” and “The Thing” ... AMC Waterfront 22 will once again show all nine Best Picture nominees on consecutive Saturdays. A marathon of “Phantom Thread,” “Lady Bird,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” and “The Shape of Water” begins at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 24; “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “The Post” and “Get Out” follow at the same time March 3. As discussed in our Oscar viewing guide, if you see these nine, you’ll have seen the lion’s share of nominees across all categories. Tickets are on sale now.
 

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