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Under fire: how cinema’s new breed of cowboys are taking aim at the old west



They can be set anywhere from Australia to Pakistan and increasingly its women who are shooting from the hip. With new westerns such as My Pure Land and Brimstone, the gunslinger genre continues to reinvent itselfin

Always changing, the western never changes. Whatever era it is, the essence remains. If I told you about a pivotal scene in which a gunslinger turns to the camera and stares, hard-eyed, at the audience, I might be describing The Great Train Robbery, made in 1903, a silent cinema milestone whose star, Justus D Barnes, was a middle-aged stage actor. Or I could mean My Pure Land, a new film about three women in rural Pakistan defending their home from bandits. Its star is Suhaee Abro, a classically trained dancer in her first major role. Thousands of miles and more than a century apart, she and Barnes share a western moment.

Westerns in 2017 are politically open-minded, geographically flexible cinematic Lego to be assembled as you like. The director of My Pure Land is Sarmad Masud, a British-Pakistani film-maker from the east Midlands, for whom the genre usefully shaped his ideas. Old and new meet again. My Pure Land is based on a contemporary true story: a young woman called Nazo Dharejo defended her family home from 200 armed assailants. And while we mostly know the western as a period piece, for the nickleodeon thrill-seekers of 1903 it was not. The Great Train Robbery, too, portrayed real events ones that had taken place three years earlier on the Union Pacific Railroad; the culprits were led by Robert LeRoy Parker, also known as Butch Cassidy, then still at large in south America.

Silent cinema milestone Justus D Barnes in The Great Train Robbery (1903). Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

A last gasp of the old west duly became the first movie western. But from there, the task quickly became mythmaking. The western turned inexorably towards the past or a version of it. Soon came the movies that defined the genre, tales of heroes in stetsons and dastardly injuns somewhere between propaganda and mass hypnosis. The west had to be won, most westerns said, to save innocence from savagery. There were exceptions, and some of those were fantastic films but the racism stuck.

Eventually, there was a reckoning an apology even. Doubt seeped into the genre with The Searchers, director John Fords anguished 1956 story of race and revenge. By his rueful final western eight years later, Cheyenne Autumn, it was rife. And now, the western lives a noble second life a reformed ex-con devoted to good work, clean shaven and polite, embracing social progress.

My Pure Land is just the latest in a string of feminist new westerns repurposing a form in which women were once silent chattels. Female strength and male hubris feature in films from the Coen brothers remake of True Grit to the austere Meeks Cutoff, directed by Kelly Reichardt. Others flip the script on men who spent the original westerns killing to protect the honour of their wives and daughters now they are the predators against whom women must defend themselves. That was the engine of The Keeping Room and Jane Got a Gun, and now heres another movie Brimstone, a lurid tale of a preacher and his reign of terror over a series of young women.

A whole other line of modern westerns address the Native Americans once presented as whooping menaces grotesques to be wiped. Again, the keynote is contrition. Again, the production line keeps rolling. Freshly unveiled on the festival circuit is Hostiles, a starry reappraisal of Native Americans in the old west. Already on release is Wind River, a sorrowful western whodunnit about tribal life at the margins of America. For decades, the genre was the definitive example of history as written by the winners a fond origin story white America told itself in darkened movie houses, from sea to shining sea.

Like all elaborate lies, when it cracked it shattered. By the 1970s, the old western was seen as a product of a filthy America the western was the Kent State shooting, the western was My Lai. So the comeback had to be careful the genre often paired off with others as if it needed supervision. The comedy western soon became a fixture. Lately, exotic hybrids have arrived in tune with the times: the horror western (the eye-popping Bone Tomahawk) or the post-apocalyptic western (The Rover, set in outback Australia). Important too was the sense of remorse captured nowhere better than in Unforgiven, the 1992 masterwork directed by Clint Eastwood, filled with regret about old crimes and the futility of revenge. The significance was vast. The western was sorry.

Guy Pearce in The Rover (2014), set in the post-apocalyptic Australian outback. Photograph: Allstar/Porchlight Films

But it was a strange kind of sorry. For a start, the apology rarely came in an American accent. Brokeback Mountain, the film that finally made explicit the gay subtext of countless old westerns, was directed by the Taiwanese Ang Lee. Brimstone is the work of the Dutch Martin Koolhoven, with Denmarks Kristian Levring responsible for another new old west yarn, The Salvation. Oddly, the British have been particularly active: The Keeping Room (Daniel Barber), Slow West (John Maclean) and the imminent Lean On Pete (Andrew Haigh) were made by directors familiar with drizzly seasides and suburban ring roads. Many of the new westerns, by non-Americans, have struggled for an audience in America.

It was a graduate of the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee, who made the modern western that bucked the trend. David Mackenzies Hell or High Water was a story of two brothers on a crime spree in west Texas, pursued by a laconic sheriff. The frame of the film lawman and gunmen was classical. The twist was the burned-out backdrop of foreclosed farms and post-2008 economic calamity. Handsomely made, the film bloomed into a surprise box-office hit, thriving in the poisoned air of last years presidential campaign. To the left, it was a tale of working-class lives destroyed by capitalism; to the right, it was a movie about a country waiting to be Made Great Again.

Despite the presence of Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, the real star of Hell or High Water was the red Texan landscape. In making the film, Mackenzie admitted, it had been difficult to tear his camera from the vista. The desert and dust is as potent a symbol of the genre as the gunfight. It was what, visually and spiritually, inspired Masud to make My Pure Land a western. Its like my dad says, he told the Guardian. To him Pakistan isnt just the people and the noise and the language its the soil itself.

It was American soil on which the movies of John Ford played out, the buttes and mesas of Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border standing in for every endless wildness since transformed into front lawn. Watching old Hollywood westerns, you can sense the obsession with taming savage ground that fills Cormac McCarthys Blood Meridian, the manic indexing of flora in the Texan borderlands carried out by the infernal Judge Holden.

Dakota Fanning (at the bar) in Martin Koolhovens Brimstone. Photograph: Allstar/N279 Entertainment

The greatest of western novels, Blood Meridian remains unfilmed. The closest the movies have come has been the knockabout Darwinism of Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Revenant, in which the primal quest for survival looked like a Tough Mudder assault course. Still, directed by another film-maker from outside the US, Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu, it was a stark account of the national soul to put before the multiplex.

But of course, the western now exists in a different America than it did even last year. If Hell or High Water had two audiences, those who cheered it wearing Trump hats now own the moment. For them, the idea of the apologetic western would be met with fury and perhaps in that they wouldnt be alone.

After Unforgiven, Eastwood essentially the genre in human form only heightened its impact by suggesting it would be his final western, a last word on the subject. But it wasnt. While he never spoke of it as such, another film he directed a year later was a western too in all but name, the story of a gunslinger with a righteous cause: American Sniper, the biopic of the US Navy Seal Chris Kyle. The film was loaded with jingoism and a disputed approach to the facts. The effect was dramatic. It was as popular in the US as it was divisive, a film wrapped in the flag that made enemies of its detractors.

In the long run-up to the current political moment, American Sniper played a crucial role. By the time of the election, Eastwood had confirmed he himself would be voting for the candidate whose idea of American heritage is, it turns out, much like the one you see in old westerns.

Clearly, the man who made Unforgiven was not so sorry after all. And neither is the old west.

Brimstone and My Pure Land are on general release.

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Madonna to direct movie based on life of ballerina Michaela DePrince



MGM announces the singer will direct Taking Flight, the story of DePrinces journey from war orphan in Sierra Leone to world-class ballerina

Madonna is to return to the movies after a seven-year absence to direct Taking Flight, a feature film based on the life of Michaela DePrince, a war orphan from Sierra Leone who became a leading ballerina.

According to Deadline, Hollywood studio MGM has been developing the project since 2015 when it acquired the rights to DePrinces memoir, co-written with her adoptive mother, Elaine.

Michaelas journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity, Madonna said. We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone, and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside. I am honoured to bring her story to life.

Ballet dancer Michaela DePrince in Johannesburg, in 2012. Photograph: Gallo Images/Rex/Shutterstock

DePrince, 23, lost both of her parents in Sierra Leones civil war when she was three years old. The following year, she was adopted by a New Jersey couple and brought to the US, where she developed a passion for ballet. She was one of the stars of 2011 documentary First Position, about young ballet hopefuls, and is a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet and Opera. She also appeared in Beyoncs music video album, Lemonade.

We were immediately awestruck by Michaelas journey and know Madonnas vision and passion for the material will deliver a film that inspires audiences everywhere, said producer Leslie Morgenstein.

No cast or released date has yet been finalised. Camilla Blackett, writer of the comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, will write the screenplay.

Madonna is the bestselling female recording artist of all time but her movie career has been more chequered, especially behind the camera. Her 2008 feature debut, Filth and Wisdom, was described by the Guardians Peter Bradshaw as a dumb and tacky comedy-drama about three people sharing a flat in a quaintly conceived London. Its follow-up, 2011s WE, in which Andrea Riseborough played Wallis Simpson, was also critically panned, with Bradshaw describing it as one long humourless and necrophiliac swoon at the Windsors supposed tragi-romantic glamour.

Madonna wrote, produced and narrated 2008 documentary I Am Because We Are, about children in Malawi orphaned by the Aids epidemic. She has adopted four children from Malawi, including twin girls in 2017.

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‘Black Panther’ Hits $1 Billion Mark In Worldwide Box Office Numbers



“Black Panther” has surpassed $1 billion at the worldwide box office, challenging industry norms about films with black casts. 

The Marvel blockbuster passed the major benchmark on Friday, Forbes reports.

The film is now the United States’ ninth highest-grossing film of all time, and had the second-largest four-day domestic opening weekend. “Black Panther” brought in $242 million in the U.S. over Presidents Day weekend, behind the $288 million “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made when it opened in 2015. 

The international success of “Black Panther” has challenged the myth that films with predominately black casts don’t sell  and it helps unravel “unwritten Hollywood rules,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told The New York Times.

“I think about it like a wall crumbling,” Bock said. “In terms of ‘Black Panther,’ no studio can say again, ’Oh, black movies don’t travel, overseas interest will be minimal.’”

Stars of the film, including Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, have spoken out about the importance of representation in the movie. “Black Panther,” which is set in the fictional country of Wakanda, shows the possibilities of an African society untouched by colonialism and gender inequity. 

“I think there’s a thirst for these images,” Boseman told NBC. “There’s a real thirst for black superheroes.” 

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige confirmed this week that a “Black Panther” sequel is in the works. Feige told Entertainment Weekly that there was “nothing specific to reveal” about the next movie but added that “we absolutely will do that.”


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Keegan-Michael Key’s reaction to Jordan Peele’s Oscar win will make you emotional



Find yourself a friend who loves you this much.

Jordan Peele had a historic moment last night when he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his debut solo film, Get Out. 

He became the first African-American screenwriter to win this category—and no one was prouder of him than his old Key and Peele partner, Keegan-Michael Key.

Key and Peele were the creators of the aptly titled sketch comedy series that ran on Comedy Central for five seasons, from 2012 to 2015.

Key was absolutely thrilled to see his “partner in laughs” snag his first Oscar.

Just look at that ecstatic jump!