Tag: josh stewart

The Mustang


The Mustang (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s elegant and affecting “The Mustang” tells the story of an inmate on his twelfth year in prison who joins a rehabilitation program wherein participants must train wild horses for twelve weeks. The mustangs will then be auctioned off to various government agencies and the proceeds go to the preservation of the horses that roam free. Viewers looking for a poignant and intimate character study should look no further. The picture is quiet, but the emotions it stirs create a memorable experience.

Equine lovers will appreciate the photography. Scenes shot outdoors often drenched in natural light, it is clear that the director has great respect for these creatures as he underlines their effortless beauty, whether they are at peace in their natural habitat or as they grow nervous and angry inside cramped cages. We are given time to observe these creatures simply taking up space, eating, galloping about. There is no hurry to further the plot. Words between horse and trainer need not always be expressed. Sometimes a hand gesture or a raising of arms is enough to show the relationship between the two.

We learn a few things about the work required to train a horse. I wondered how I would fare given I am not always patient. Neither is the main character, Roman, wonderfully played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who has a habit of turning angry and violent when things do not go his way. There is a horrifying scene early on when his horse refuses to listen to his directions. He gets so enraged that he begins to attack the innocent animal as if it were punching bag. This is not a straight story about a horse and its trainer. Nor is it a story that leads to Roman being released before the credits. This picture is about the journey toward rehabilitation, not freedom.

Schoenaerts delivers further proof that he is one of the most effective but underrated performers working today. He tends to embody his roles so completely that at times he becomes unrecognizable. This role is no exception. His approach to the character is domination. His fearsome sense of being makes you want to look away at times. Myles (Bruce Dern), a rancher who leads the Wild Horse Inmate Program, advises Roman not to make eye contact with the wild mustang during his first time training it. The same can be applied to Roman. To look him in the eye is, at the very least, an act of inviting a kind of mental disruption—ironic because this is a man who wishes to be seen as more than a violent thug who turned his wife into a vegetable.

Particularly moving are the exchanges between Roman and his pregnant daughter. Martha (Gideon Adlon) wishes to be emancipated from her father so she could sell the house and provide for her child. There is deep anger—and regret—between these two. Co-writers Brock Norman Brock and Mona Fastvold are smart in limiting their dialogue. So much more is communicated in the unsaid. But not once do we feel that genuine reconnection is hopeless—highly unlikely but not impossible. I imagined being in Martha’s shoes, having to care for her mother for years after her father was sent to prison. I don’t think it would be easy for me to forgive either, if at all.

“The Mustang” offers an ineffective subplot surrounding the smuggling of horse tranquilizers. Roman shares a cell with Dan (Josh Stewart); the latter threatens the former that if he failed to provide ketamine, his daughter would be harmed. The work would have been leaner had this awkward appendage been removed altogether. Still, however, the rest of the work is so strong, an enthusiastic recommendation is well-deserved.

The Collection


The Collection (2012)
★ / ★★★★

When Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) catches her boyfriend, who had called less than an hour earlier with an excuse to cancel their plans for the evening, making out with another girl in a club, she punches him in the face, leaves him with a bloody nose, and storms off the dance floor. She ends up in one of the rooms at the back which happens to have a red trunk inside. To her horror, it begins to shake. Curious as to what it contains, she opens it and out comes a man covered in blood. Concurrently, the young people in the club are killed by rotating blades while those who manage to escape are flattened like pancakes. Amidst the panic, Elena is abducted by The Collector (Randall Archer) while the man covered in blood, Arkin (Josh Stewart), jumps out of the building to escape.

While “The Collection,” written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, is generous when it comes to maiming and killing, it is more disgusting than a suspenseful experience. It does not answer very many questions brought up in the first film, “The Collector,” which makes me question the necessity of the story having to be told in three parts. Although it is not a very good movie, I admit that the last scene made me excited for its conclusion.

When not showing a person getting stabbed or limbs being chopped off, the film results to usual tricks in the horror genre. For instance, when a desperate character peers through a hole, we expect the eye of someone from the other side to appear within five seconds. This is supposed to be scary but it just comes off lazy. Another example that is equally cliché but more tolerable is when a character faces two possible courses of action but is pressured into taking one before thinking things through because the killer’s footsteps can be heard from a few feet away. It holds no excitement or thrill.

The well-placed traps have more personality than the team hired to break into the Collector’s hotel of horrors and rescue the girl. With the exception of Arkin, who has kindly decided to help them to a point, and the leader of the pack, Lucello (Lee Tergesen), everyone feels like he or she is there only to be killed in the most gruesome ways. As their number dwindles down, it feels like a death march to the inevitable final confrontation.

There is one scene that stands above the rest but only to an extent. There is nothing original about the protagonist being in a room with flickering lights as the antagonist moves closer from behind. And yet it works here because I was reminded by its predecessor’s ability to make me squirm in my seat. As he was in the first film, Stewart has such a wonderful presence about him. He is able to exude a balance of toughness and vulnerability which makes us want to root for him. We care what happens to his character not just because he is a potential victim or we do not want to see another person scream in pain.

Directed by Marcus Dunstan, “The Collection” tries to expand its universe by showing more visually. This feels like a most shallow approach, not at all dissimilar to action picture sequels that do everything bigger and badder but are ultimately more hollow. If the writers had focused more on the characters, like giving us more information about Elena other than she is from a rich family and hinting at why the Collector is driven to do the things he does, it might have had a semblance of creativity aside from the by the numbers splatter.

The Collector


The Collector (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

A couple (William Prael, Diane Ayala Goldner) just got home from a night out. When the husband flipped the light switch downstairs, none of the lights turned on. His wife screamed from upstairs. The dutiful husband ran in a hurry for his wife’s aid but she seemed to be okay. The two of them found themselves in front of a menacing red box in the middle of their bedroom. On top of it was a note which stated that it was for The Collector. Based on the screenplay by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, “The Collector” unfolded curiously while maintaining a nail-biting cat-and-mouse game between Arkin (Josh Stewart), a contract handyman who needed money so that loan sharks wouldn’t hurt his wife and daughter, and the mysterious masked figure (Juan Fernández) who was kinder to bugs than people, but the answers that we so very much deserved were denied with impunity. In order for us to understand the whole picture of whatever was going on, it begged for a sequel which just won’t do. It was a shame because the film did contain moments of creativity. When Arkin realized that the mansion that he was going to steal from was filled with booby traps, the camera was almost cheeky in the way it revealed the various devices and triggers. My jaw dropped: there were at least ten different ones–overkill–and yet I wanted to laugh but couldn’t do so. I was too worried that at any second Arkin was bound to take the wrong step or touch the wrong thing and the masked man, torturing the patriarch and matriarch (Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth) in the basement, would discover that someone was upstairs. Running was simply not an option especially if invisible wires could cause the knives to be ejected from hidden corners. I knew I was very involved with it because when the protagonist did get hurt, I found myself covering my mouth. Somehow, I thought that if I didn’t scream from horror, he wouldn’t scream from the pain of being maimed. The first half was a lot of fun because the secret prowling around the house combined with very little possibility for an escape created increasing levels of tension. The picture began to fall apart, however, in the second half. While the chase scenes were exciting initially, they lost their appeal quite quickly not only because it became redundant, the plot failed to move forward. As corpses began to pile up, so did our questions. And while the lifeless bodies could be left by themselves, our questions could not. With its degree of violence, I wondered what the masked man was doing in the house and what exactly he wanted from the family. While a sentence or two offered an explanation, it wasn’t enough and it didn’t make sense. I found it amusing that the opening credits of the film, directed by Marcus Dunstan, was obviously inspired by David Fincher’s “Se7en,” from the grotesque images, quick cuts, and very unsettling music. While “Se7en” was violent, the screenplay showed that there was a point to the blood and mayhem with respect to its universe. In here, there seemed to be no point other than for us to watch a well-meaning thief struggle for his life as we winced uncomfortably in our seats. I did pull my limbs closer to my body for safety but there proved to be no comfort against the nagging questions in my brain.