By Robin E. Simmons


Scottish writer-director John M. Maclean’s feature film debut is a disturbing but compelling western that embraces the brutality of the genre with post-modern tweaks.

The film begins with a voice over from Irish immigrant bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender). Using arcane prose, he tells of the quest of naïve, smitten, 16-year-old Scottish aristocrat Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for Rose Ross (South African actress Caren Pristorius), a young woman he considers his lost love. For $2,000, Silas negotiates a deal to be Jay’s guide and protector. But what he really wants is to collect the “dead or alive” reward (another $2,000) for Rose and her dad – who stand accused of accidentally (?) murdering Lord Cavendish – Jay’s father – in the Scottish Highlands. Meanwhile, the unlikely duo is hunted by a band of outlaws seeking the same reward. In the midst of great natural beauty, sudden death and danger lurk — especially in the waving fields of golden grass.

That’s really all you need to know to enjoy this film, shot in New Zealand and Scotland, that’s rich with distinctive landscapes and structures that do not conjure up memories of American westerns and familiar locations.  New Zealand production designer Kim Sinclair deserves special mention. Especially effective is the striking evocative score — sweet guitar refrains and sad violin riffs — from Jed Hurzel.

Fair warning: There’s bloodshed and surprises in a world we almost recognize. It’s a beautiful canvas more contemporary than historical where human desires play out across a horizon of pain, greed, love and hope. This austerely beautiful film will likely disappear quickly. Catch it now on the big screen at Cinema Palme d’Or in Palm Desert. (Soon on iTunes or Vudu.)



Home video pick of the week. Don’t miss this fresco of rage, fury, deception and revenge. Made up of six stories, this jaw dropping film about people crossing the line into madness when faced with perceived injustice will linger long in the mind after final fade out. A lover’s betrayal, a return to the repressed past, and the violence woven into ordinary, everyday encounters drive the characters to lose control and cross the line that divides civilization and barbarism. Superbly written and directed by Damian Szifron, this was big hit at our last PSIFF.  In Spanish with English subtitles.  Sony.  Blu-ray.


Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE) and starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie (WOLF OF WALL STREET), this film might better be called a “rom-con” for lack of a better definition. The contrived plot has Nicky (Smith), a seasoned master of misdirection getting romantically involved with beautiful novice con artist Jess (Robbie).  Nicky teaches jess the tricks of the trade, but she gets a little too close for comfort and he breaks it off. Three years later, Jess – now a professional femme fatale and seasoned grifter – shows up in Buenos Aires during the high stakes racecar circuit and smack dab in the midst of Nicky’s latest scheme where she throws his con for a loop. Robbie is a stunner. The movie, however, is a snore. Who to root for? Who cares? And so what?  Warner Bros. Blu-ray.


Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse her true fate. It turns out that her genetic signature marks her as the next in line for an extraordinary inheritance – that of the earth itself! But it could also alter the balance of the cosmos for good or ill. This great looking film cannot hide the muddled mess of a story as written and directed by the Wachowski siblings. My solution: Turn down the sound, play Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” Op 32 and watch it in 3D and make up your own story.  Warner Bros.  Blu-ray 3D.