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Entries in Western (3)


MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS (Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak)

Stars: Marsha Timothy, Dea Panendra, Egi Fedly, Yoga Pratama, Rita Matu Mona, Vayu Unru, Anggun Priambodo and Safira Ahmad.
Writers: Mouly Surya and Rama Adi, based on a story by Garin Nugroho.
Director: Mouly Surya.

Screened at Pathé 4 Cinema, Thursday January 25 as part of the 2018 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).  

Rating: 4.5/5

DOP Yunus Pasolang’s extraordinarily beautiful lensing is just one of the many unexpected virtues of Indonesian auteur Mouly Surya’s fiercely feminist rape-revenge ‘Eastern western’, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. A stylised arthouse horror/thriller that doubles as an elegantly intellectual think-piece concerning the region’s gender politics, Surya’s third feature confirms her status as one of Asian cinema’s most important and relevant voices.

Rife with cues as to the film’s origins in the classically male-dominated American genre (despite funding from non-Hollywood backers in Indonesia, France, Malaysia and Thailand), Surya introduces us to her protagonist as she mourns the loss of her husband. As per tradition, he sits wrapped in funeral cloth in the couple’s remote homestead on the atypically brown and dusty island of Sumba. Marlina (Marsha Timothy) has seen much death in this home; a gravestone reads ‘Topan’, who it is revealed was her stillborn 8-month child. Things do not bode well when a band of loutish brutes arrive to eat her cooking, steal her livestock and rape the stricken widow (the unfolding drama comprising Act I, ‘Robbery’).

With nothing left to loose but her sad life and staunch dignity, Marlina disposes of the five brutes, none with more efficient clarity than the leader Markus (Egi Fedly), whose head is freed of its bodily constraints in a particularly sublime moment of coitus interruptus. With her rapist’s head dangling by her side, Marlina sets off over the stunning countryside (Act II, ‘The Journey’) for the nearest police station (Act III, ‘The Confession’) with her similarly abused and heavily pregnant (Act IV, ‘Birth’) friend Novi (Dea Panendra) whose compelling subplot builds to a meshing of life/death magnitude in the final frames.

Timothy is superb as Marlina, her steely focus and unshakable adherence to her noble quest as perfect a reincarnation of the great frontierswoman of western lore as seen in some time. The evocative score by Zeke Khaseli and Ydhi Arfani harkens back to Ennio Morricone’s masterworks for Sergio Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ films, though it is unlikely any one will forget the name ‘Marlina’ after sharing her odyssey.

Given the current global social climate is on the brink of a seismic shift against ingrained toxic masculinity and patriarchal dominance, the remote setting, cultural specifics and tight character interactions of Marlina the Murderer will be no hindrance to the film securing worldwide festival berths. This should in no way suggest that its politics alone ought to earn it passage abroad; on the contrary, Surya’s profoundly thoughtful and majestically wrought drama (which would make a great double-bill with Coralie Fargeat’s recent brutal sexual assault payback shocker, Revenge) will, like the title character herself, forge its own path through its inherent dignity, grace and determination.



Stars: Erik Fellows, Daniela Bobadilla, Kam Dabrowski, Lin Shaye, Johnny Dowers, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Clark and John Savage.
Writers: Nick Field and Daniel Blake Smith.
Director: Mark David.

Rating: 3.5/5

A genuinely warm affinity for red state Americana and a flair for strong characterisation generally counter the occasional detour into bumpy narrative terrain in Texas Heart, director Mark David’s solidly staged and well-acted neo-Western. One can easily envision the likes of Montgomery Clift, Robert Mitchum and Walter Brennan filling key roles in a dusty 1950s horse-opera version of this low-key but engaging small-town story.

As Peter, an LA lawyer who has no qualms about servicing the legal needs of disreputable types, Erik Fellows (pictured, above) balances square-jawed movie-star appeal with an empathetic quality that affords him viewer’s goodwill. When a witness stand meltdown derails his defence of the son of an underworld matriarch Mrs Smith (Lin Shaye, having fun playing to the back of the theatre), Peter is marked for murder and must flee his West Coast lifestyle, relocating incognito to the backwater burg of Juniper, Texas (played by Charleston, Mississippi).

Pitching himself as New York novelist ‘Frank Stevens’, Peter fends off the ‘city slicker’ jibes and soon acquaints himself with the lives of the locals. Key amongst them is Tiger (a fine Kam Dabrowski), a young man of challenged mental capacity, and Alison (the captivating Daniela Bobadilla; pictured, below), the homecoming queen burdened with a troubled home life. When Alison goes missing and a case is made by Sheriff Dobbs (Johnny Dowers) against Tiger, Peter drops his façade and takes on the case for the defence.

Nick Field and Daniel Blake Smith’s script teeters on the brink of stereotype at times, but they imbue their characters with an integrity that overcomes the familiarity. The accomplished cast, including Jared Abrahamson (as ill-tempered jock boyfriend Roy) and John Savage (as Alison’s damaged, drunken father Carl) are given enough quality dialogue and conflict to spark the narrative at opportune moments.

Although the title conjures a sprawling landscape, Texas Heart is a film that works best in tight, two-character scenes, such as when Peter connects with Tiger at a football game, or Alison and Peter share their dreams on a late night drive. One particularly impactful sequence, in which Dobbs bullys and coerces Tiger into a confession, inevitably recalls the plight of Brendan Dassey, the 16 year-old youth convicted and sentenced to life for the murder of Teresa Halbech in 2005, whose manipulation by law enforcement officers was uncovered in the landmark documentary series, Making a Murderer.

The genre machinations of the plot are less involving and, at times, not entirely convincing. There is little tension generated by the presence of Mrs Smith’s two burly hitman, who only manage to track Peter down after the lawyer blows his cover in an ill-advised television interview. The director wraps up the criminal element story strands rather perfunctorily, suggesting his heart was far more invested in his characters than the structure that binds them.

Which, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. A finer, more compelling and ultimately satisfying drama than it’s initial premise might suggest, Texas Heart is destined to find acceptance and appreciation from those seeking quality alternatives via their home-viewing platforms.




Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Christopher Hagen and Wes Studi.
Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.
Director: Seth MacFarlane.

Rating: 1/5

If there is a contender to wrestle the 2014 Worst Picture Razzie from Adam Sandler and his much maligned non-com Blended, it may well be Seth MacFarlane for his starring debut, A Million Ways to Die in the West. One of the most misguided and flagrantly self-indulgent vanity projects in recent memory, ‘The Man Who Killed The Oscars’ puts his talent front and centre with this crude, witless western spoof that reaches its comedic peak when Doogie Howser kicks over a hat full of diarrhoea. Hooray for Hollywood.

MacFarlane refuses to take a backward step from critics who label his brand of shock-schtick frat-boy level puerile; the very first joke is a misogynistic slur, followed by a steady stream of body fluid gags, some homophobic stereotyping and lots of very modern cussing. His on-camera appearance is itself a non-concession to the conventions of the dustbowl melodrama, with his pearly white teeth, gelled hair and man-scaped features entirely at odds with…well, everything. Which, as was evident from his hosting of the Academy Awards, is the essence of his comic persona; MacFarlane looks the dapper traditionalist, but only to the extent that it allows him to infiltrate the establishment  and amuse himself by setting light to a bag of poo on their doorstep. A Million Ways to Die in the West represents his latest bag of poo.  

The widescreen lensing of DOP Michael Barrett captures the landscape imagery associated the genre, yet MacFarlane does very little to engage on a comedic level with the setting. In one seemingly endless rant that feels pilfered from an outdated stand-up routine, the shrieking actor rattles off all the negatives of the frontier life in 1880’s Arizona; surely some of these could have been explored in greater depth had the script been less reliant upon the auteur’s bottomless well of faecal references.

MacFarlane plays sheep grazier Albert, a whining nobody who loses his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) when she tires of his general unmanliness. Albert finds a (very) patient ear in his virginal best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his lovable Christian-whore Ruth (Sarah Silverman), but Albert is near the end of his tether. Things begin to brighten up when Albert saves the beautiful Anna (Charlize Theron)during a bar brawl and an entirely unfathomable romance blossoms, until it is revealed she is scouting the town for her gunslinging bad-guy hubby, Clinch (Liam Neeson, looking nonplussed). On the periphery is moustachioed creep, Foy (the film’s biggest asset, Neil Patrick Harris), who is wooing Louise and remains at odds with our anti-hero.

The solid cast is shunted aside for long passages, allowing MacFarlane underserved centre stage for most of the film’s inexcusable 116 minute running time. Deft comedians like Ribisi and Silverman are left floundering with weak, obvious gags before disappearing entirely; Seyfried’s career takes a backward step in a role that feels brutally truncated, as if the majority of it will bulk up the DVD extras package. The most awkward player is clearly Oscar-winner Theron, who good-sports herself for the benefit of her co-star’s project but is clearly uncomfortable. Broad comedy is not prevalent on the actress’ resume and her casting seems less to do with her comedic skill (despite her natural likability onscreen) and more to do with MacFarlane’s over-seer role; if given the power of veto as writer/director/producer on your first studio pic starring role, why not cast the world’s most beautiful actress, regardless of her suitability, as your love interest?

MacFarlane falls back on his well-worn trick of abstract pop-culture references, the likes of which sometimes worked in his overvalued TV series, Family Guy; the IMDb credit list spoils the surprise factor for fans of Christopher Lloyd, Gilbert Gottfried and Ewan McGregor, but there are some other A-list cameos, all affording the overall production no particularly advantage. Some druggy humour and shock-effect gore is employed, the likes of which may raise a goofy smirk amongst stoners, but the scenes are so devoid of inventiveness or context as to have no impact.

The failure of A Million Ways to Die in the West falls entirely at the feet of Seth MacFarlane and one hopes he wears the blame with the same enthusiasm with which he accepted the accolades for his surprise 2012 hit, Ted. In hindsight, the strength of that film was not the foul-mouthed CGI bear but the warm point-of-entry that its star Mark Wahlberg provided. MacFarlane’s follow-up lacks any connective tissue to human realness, preferring cartoonish coarseness and random excess; it is as if that twisted, needy sociopathic soft-toy was given a one-picture deal as reward for his success, and this is the end result.