Sweet Hats, Plenty of Cattle

The Harder They Fall

by George Wolf

Who doesn’t love a good Western?

If you’re the one, I’ve got two reasons not to saddle up with The Harder They Fall.

  1. It’s a Western
  2. It’s good

Ruthless Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is getting out of jail, and that’s mighty interesting news to Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), who has no love for Rufus.

Nat has a serious score to settle, so he re-assembles his old gang, led by sharpshooter Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), and sets out on horseback. Along the way, Nat rekindles a flame with saloon owner Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz) and earns the trust of Mary’s silent-but-deadly bodyguard Cuffie (Danielle Deadwyler).

And even though Nat is a wanted man, Marshall Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo) decides he’d rather be on the team that finally takes Buck down.

But Rufus has some pretty solid support in his corner, too. Treacherous Trudy Smith (Regina King) speaks softly but shows no mercy, while quick draw legend Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) leads a posse of men helping Rufus kick Sherrif Wiley Escoe (Deon Cole) out of Redwood and take over the town.

And that town ain’t big enough for both Buck and Love.

Director and co-writer Jeymes Samuel (aka The Bullitts) plants his flag early, with onscreen text telling us that he may not be telling a true story, but these people did exist. So while you may be reminded of Tarantino (or his many shared influences), this film’s history isn’t alternative. Samuel and his committed ensemble are here to remind us that it’s the whitewashed Hollywood version of the Old West that’s fiction.

Yes, these dusty roads are well traveled and the dialog can be a bit musty (“love is the only thing worth dying for…”), but there’s so much stylish bloodshed, gallows humor and terrific acting in every frame that the film wins you over on pure entertainment value alone.

Plus, it looks fantastic. Samuel frames the landscape with gorgeous panoramas, while wrapping some nimble camera movements and pulsing rhythms around those steely stare downs, frantic shoot ’em ups, freshly-pressed hats and dusters and plenty of other delicious period details.

The Harder They Fall is big, bold, visionary fun. It takes characters, races and lifestyles that have been hijacked by history and reclaims them all with the brashness of an early morning bank job.

This crew ain’t shootin’ blanks, and they rarely miss.

Home A Clone

LX 2048

by George Wolf

Well, you’ll save money on sunscreen.

Because in the near future world of LX 2048, the only way you can venture out in the daylight is by going full hazmat. In fact, the sun has become so lethal that clone technology is needed to meet the demand for augmented dayworkers.

Once the clones arrive, the unintended consequences are sure to follow. And Adam Bird is getting an up close look at some of them.

Things are not going well for Adam (James D’Arcy). His tech company is on shaky ground, and he hasn’t been taking his LX “mood stabilizers” which could help with the really bad news: his heart is failing and he doesn’t have long to live. Though his relationship with wife Reena (Anna Brewster) and the kids was already on the rocks, Adam is worried about securing their future.

Then, through frequent flashbacks, writer/director/producer/editor Guy Moshe fills in the backstory. Though virtual reality has taken over by 2048, “the chip” is the next big thing. There’s been a massive decline in population. And the Premium 3 insurance plan allows you to “tailor” your spousal replacement clone in the event of death.

What luck for Reena! The Birds are Premium 3 plan holders.

Moshe’s overly cheesy opening credits lower the expectations of what’s to come, but there are engaging visuals and some solid sci-fi ideas here, albeit ones fighting to overcome stilted dialog and tonal swings.

Adam’s conversations with unseen VR avatars are overly explanatory only for our benefit, sometimes bringing a wince-worthy phoniness to D’Arcy’s performance. And yet, when Moshe suddenly introduces moments of absurdist humor, you wonder if either tract was intended.

Delroy Lindo’s cameo as cloning tech legend Donald Stein instantly raises the stakes. Lindo’s natural gravitas make Stein’s musings about what it means to be human and the wages of playing God land a tick higher on the scale of standard sci-fi existential crises.

This is a film that often feels adrift and in need of an anchor. It’s neither as smart as it wants to be, nor as dumb as you fear early on. Much like its main character, LX 2048 has heart, but you’re never sure how long it can hold out.