Film Review: “The Highwaymen”

the highwaymen posterWritten by – Nathaniel Torres

Stories of outlaws, gunslingers, and renegades have a tendency to captivate a wild side of our souls. By 1934 Bonnie and Clyde succeeded in procuring public favor in such a way. They were wanted for multiple murders and countless robberies.  They didn’t evade police, they blew through them; escalating shootouts with their firepower. The Highwaymen begins with this emboldened duo successfully pulling off a prison break.  In doing so the lovebirds cross Governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) seemingly, blemishing her solid penitentiary record- Ma won’t have that going unanswered for.  After the moral cost of stopping Bonnie and Clyde is quickly discussed between Ma and prison director Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch), Texas sets retired Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) on their trail.  


After decades of romanticized depictions of Bonnie and Clyde, a partisan segment of the American people have felt disdain towards the law enforcement and the amount of force they used to take down the couple. The innocent lives taken by Bonnie and Clyde are too often forgotten or swept under the rug. The Highwaymen takes the Robin Hood aspect of the couple and resolves them into the deadly pair affected families know them to be. At the SXSW premiere Director John Lee Hancock personally dedicated his film to Frank Hamer Jr., feeling that previous representations of Hamer “[were] such an atrocity and injustice that we wanted to set it right”.


Costner stated that he felt privileged playing the role, putting it up in the ranks of playing Wyatt Earp. He added how important he felt it was when portraying someone’s real life saying, “the opportunity to play people that are willing to stand in front of us – police, sheriffs and whatever area you [may be] talking about is something I take really, really seriously. I hope we all do because they go out and sometimes we never know if they are ever coming back home”.


Though the film is to be released by Netflix, it is made for the big screen. Cinematographer John Schwartzman does a brilliant job of displaying the Texas landscape through wide angle lenses giving The Highwaymen a western touch. Using natural light and framing, Texas figures Hamen and his partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) are given the screen portrayal they deserve as figures of their time. By no means are these characters perfect. It’s obvious these retired Rangers are past their prime and hardly ready for action. Despite the public enduring the stagnant hardships of the Great Depression, police methods and innovations have evolved since the last time Hamer and Gault saw action. The common trope of older generations mixing with new technology is tactfully used as fodder for comic relief. The fact that it is the technology of 1934 sanitizes the humor from overuse or from taking an easy jab at millenials. In actuality, the punchy lines direct attention to the polished set detail throughout the film.


With the film’s crew dedicated to telling an honest story it is unsurprising that they went as far as to film on the very same roads upon which the hunt took place. Classic car enthusiasts will find themselves satisfied with 1934 V8 Fords featured in pristine condition on open, dusty roads.  Even more satisfying is Hancock and writer John Fusco leave room for an open throttle scene. 1934 V8 top speeds of about 65 mph hinders availability for any fast and furious moves, nevertheless the chase is part of a healthy pace in the film’s story arc.


The Highwaymen is ultimately a drama about morality. Hamer and Gault are hired to get the job done by any means necessary and they did not survive as Texas Rangers by sticking to  the rules. Costner and Harrelson deliver truehearted performances based on pieces of archetypes we have seen them play before. Together they communicate the solemn burden of carrying out the law by playing two sides of the same coin. Costner plays Hamer as reserved and determined, while Harrelson is the less than well-adjusted Gault delivering quips and serving as a moral compass. Kathy Bates, though given considerably less screen time, effectively embodies the first woman Governor of Texas, “Ma” Ferguson. With scenes of Ma before the press and behind closed doors, Bates builds a character that demands reverence. What the film lacks in action it makes up for in its characters’ convictions.


For some time media has been part of a chicken or the egg argument. Do their cover stories create a love of and normalize the actions of dangerous people? Or does the public’s thirst to live vicariously demand that they have such stories to relate to? In the same way that making an anti-war film is making a war film, Hancock’s The Highwaymen is an anti-outlaw film. This telling of the story brings the audience into a reality that does not allow room for them to cheer on its villains. Instead, it invites them to appreciate real individuals who do their own law bending to put a stop to a killing spree. For decades Hollywood played Bonnie & Clyde as a loving couple just trying to get by and beat the boredom of the times all the while making villains of their captors. The Highwaymen offers a fair account to balance the record, focusing on the valor of the men who left the safety of retirement to face the deadliest outlaws of their time. The Highwaymen is available to see in select theaters in Austin and will be available for streaming this March 29.


Show Review: The Contortionist & Intervals

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Written & Photos by Taylor Kokas

Recently The Contortionist and supporting band Intervals made a few stops on their latest tour in Texas. The Reimagined tour is unlike what most fans of this genre are used to, with only two bands on the ticket both were able to play much longer sets, and if you spent a little extra for the VIP experience you would’ve gotten access to a Meet & Greet, signed merch and exclusive first listen to The Contortionist new EP.

Instrumental band Intervals started off the night with “Touch and Go” which is the first track off their latest album The Way Forward. The rest of their nearly hour long set consisted of songs off The Way Forward as well as their previous record The Shape of Colour with songs like “I’m Awake”, “Sure Shot”, and “Leave No Stone” that warmed up the crowd.

Now it was time for progressive metal band The Contortionist, who would take the stage for the next two hours. As a signal that they were about to take the stage the lighting changed to a dim purple hue while Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” began to play and the crowd erupted into a chorus. Then the lights went dim and the outro to “The Parable” with its mesmerizing instrumentals paired with archive speeches from philosopher Alan Watts set the tone, leading into their first track of the night “Language I: Intuition”; the second track off their previous album Language. Next a couple of tracks off their latest album Clairvoyant, “Reimagined” and “Godspeed”. Followed by a throwback to their heavier roots “Primal Directive” and “Flourish” from their debut album Exoplanet. The Contortionist finished off their first half of their set with “Clairvoyant”, “Return To The Earth”, “Integration” and “Language II: Conspire” before taking a fifteen minute break.

After their break they started off the second half with acoustic performances of “The Source” and “The Parable”. Fans were also treated to a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins hit song “1979”. To close out their set they played two more off Clairvoyant, “The Center” and their emotional encore “Monochrome(Pensive)”. Having been lucky enough to catch two of their stops in Texas I have to say it was one of the more unique and intimate concerts I’ve ever experienced. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery interval=”3″ images=”4911,4910,4912,4913,4915,4914,4916,4917″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Show Review: Make Them Suffer @ Come and Take It Live

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Written & Photos by Taylor Kokas

The symphonic metal/deathcore band from Perth, Australia have made their way back to the lone star state on their latest US tour supporting Erra and two headliners who are both celebrating the 10 year anniversary of their albums; Acacia Strain’s Continent and After The Burial’s Rareform.

Last time Texas fans saw Make Them Suffer they were on their own headlining tour for their album Worlds Apart. Although its their latest album, Make Them Suffer chose a selection of some of their heaviest and more well known tracks for this tours setlist. Which I assume is due to the fact that they knew the type of crowd that would be attracted to this tour. Their set started off with one of the heaviest tracks off World Apart Vortex (Interdimensional Spiral Hindering Inexplicable Euphoria)” which would also be the only song that they would play off that album for the remainder of the set. From there “Fake” a chaotic track from Old Souls, “Widower” their hit single off Neverbloom, “Blood Moon” another Old Souls track, and to close out their set “Ether” a track from their combo album Old Souls & Lord of Woe, which represented the new direction they took going into Worlds Apart that leans more toward metalcore rather than deathcore.

My only complaint with their set is the lack of newer material, over this summer they put out a single titled “27” in my opinion it could have fit into their setlist seamlessly but I totally understand the choices they made in order to attract newer fans from a heavier crowd while showcasing their range within such a short set.[/vc_column_text][vc_gallery interval=”3″ images=”4900,4899,4901,4904,4902,4903″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Film Review: The Happy Prince

Written by Kevin Lopez

The Happy Prince stars, written and directed by Rupert Everett and this makes it his directorial debut in this film. For his directorial debut, Everett chose a biographical film based on the last days of Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett).

Everett places us inside Wilde’s mind as he creates scenes that connect the audience to party and romantic flashbacks. The Happy Prince shows highlights of Wilde’s adventure from being a famous playwright to losing his money. Everett displays these scenes through the coloring of the cinematography. The best scene in The Happy Prince shows two characters arguing, creating a color of orange underground noir.

Everett shows us Wilde’s explored sexuality in the time he spends with the, seemingly, sinister and seductive Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan). As the film progresses, we see Boise’s cold heart warm up around Wilde as the two grow and learn from each other.

The film has some really fantastic supporting actors the like Colin Firth, Edwin Thomas, Emily Watson and many more. Overall the cast is well cast and the performances from each actor are really amazing. But, Everett performance really stands out as you see him becoming Wilde, making for an intriguing performance.

The film can lack a bit because of slow pacing. The movie felt a little too long, especially in the beginning. However, I would like to have seen more character development through the supporting characters. Lastly, I think this movie should have been a bit longer just to have a bit more character development from the supporting characters. It would have been nice to see more than three focal points of Wilde’s life to satisfy the ending.

Because The Happy Prince has a great cast of actors, looks great and does a good job showing Boise’s effect on Wilde I would recommend it–even to those who unfamiliar with the famous playwright.

Show Review: Parkway Drive, August Burns Red, The Devil Wears Prada & Polaris at House of Blues Houston

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Written & photos by Taylor Kokas

It’s been nearly two years since Parkway Drive last visited Texas. Now on their latest touring cycle promoting their 6th studio album Reverence, the Australian natives have made their way back to House of Blues Houston. This time they brought along August Burns Red, The Devil Wears Prada and fellow Australian band Polaris. I sympathize with anyone who wasn’t able to make it to the show. Having been a fan myself for the past 6 years I’ve missed every opportunity to witness a Parkway Drive performance until now. This was definitely the chance of a lifetime.

Polaris kicked off the evening, playing songs off their latest record The Mortal Coil. Songs like “Relapse” and “The Remedy’’ were perfect for the crowd to warm up to and to be ready for the madness that would continue to build throughout the night.

Next up was The Devil Wears Prada whose set consisted of songs off the latest album Transit Blues and 2009’s hit record With Roots Above and Branches Below. TDWP also sprinkled in some other songs like “Escape” from 2010’s Zombie EP, “Born to Lose” 2011’s Dead Throne, and “Planet A” from their Space EP. Finally concluding their set as they always have with “Danger: Wildman”.

When August Burns Red took the stage the venue erupted. The floor literally shook to the rhythm of the crowd bouncing up and down when they started off their set with “King of Sorrow”, “Martyr”, and “Invisible Enemy”. Lead guitarist JB Brubaker flawlessly shredded away at his Ibanez guitar in sandals, as he always does. The remainder of the set consisted of songs ranging across their catalog, from “Composure” off of 2007’s Messengers all the way to 2017’s Phantom Anthem.  After their set concluded, drummer Matt Greiner hopped off the kit to greet fans at the front row.

Finally for the highly anticipated set of the night, Parkway Drive. As haze and darkness fell upon the room, the crowd cheered, and the spoken word intro of “Wishing Wells” set the tone. *BOOM* “Until I’m done!”, all hell broke loose from there, and it was only just the beginning, continuing to warm up the crowd with tracks like “Prey” and “Carrion”; an old favorite. The band went on playing a variety of new and old tracks, ranging from their latest records Reverence and Ire all the way to their, now, 11-year-old sophomore . Along with nods to Deep Blue and Atlas. It’s really tough for me to pick favorites with this band because every song is so massive and full of energy. If I had to pick I’d have to say “Dedicated, “Boneyards”, and their encore “Bottom Feeder” all three of which I think just express invincibility. I witnessed many fans that night throw down in the pit, letting the music take them, and so many came running to the back of the venue to catch a breather for the remainder of a song, then got upset when their next favorite came on because they wanted to spend whatever energy they had left on it. When the night concluded, I walked out of the venue with my hearing muted, limping down the stairs to make my way to the food trucks outside the venue. Many others from the show sat in silence eating with friends, probably reflecting on the insane night that was just experienced.

The Devil Wears Prada will be on their 10-year anniversary tour, playing With Roots Above and Branches Below in its entirety, and is set to be back in Texas in early December. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery interval=”3″ images=”4869,4868,4867,4866,4863,4862,4861,4860,4871,4872,4873,4864,4865″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Film Review: Hereditary

Written by Tracy Fuller

Hereditary, the first full feature film from director Ari Aster hit theaters on June 8th. Before screenings were open to the public, it had already gained a reputation for scaring audiences beyond belief. Horror film fans are questioning how scary is Hereditary and will they be in for a treat; critics are already likening to this generation’s The Exorcist.

Eerie children, dark family secrets, dead animals, and a creepy doll’s house is a formula that will either indulge you or close your eyes. This film doesn’t come at your wits with a gentle touch. While it does manage to be subtle in many ways, it’ll stick with you through some of the visuals. This isn’t a traditional horror movie that plays on all the cinematic elements such as the musical score, color, and cheesy backstory. This film is created with an oppositional view, that could be interpreted as an intense drama film. However, Hereditary is not a horror movie that waves its hat on cheap frights either. The scenes in the film that depict on your senses and wits are not based on the expected norm methods of scaring audiences. They do come at you in ways that you will not see coming. They will play on obscenity that may leave some uncomfortable and may even lose a little sleep over.

Director Ari Aster raises some eyebrows for his debut. The writer and director asserts himself as a commanding talent right off the bat. He may not be a man with much experience, but this seems like a movie made by someone who has the ability and savvy that can only come from years of commitment to the craft. Hereditary does not exhibit itself as a debut feature in any way. Aster’s work will be watched very carefully because of this film.

And, of course, a great casting goes a long way. Hereditary has the advantage of having something interesting to explore while also boasting a fantastic cast. Gabriel Byrne (Steve) and Milly Shapiro (Charlie) merit appreciation for what they bring to the table, but there are a few remarkable performances here. For one, Alex Wolff (Peter) places himself as someone to keep your eye on. However, this movie goes to Toni Collette (Annie). This is an actress who has been doing outstanding efforts for a long time, but she’s never had the opportunity to glow like this before. Collette gives a transformative, intricate and layered execution that is as great as anything you’re likely to see this year. This film would likely have been damn solid without her, but it’s downright remarkable because of her.

Hereditary is not just a movie to see, but preferably one that should be experienced. This is not just a horror movie. It is a movie with some great acting and perfectly implemented images and moments that play on the mind. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy and appreciate the style.


Film Review: Life of the Party

Written by Tracy Fuller

Melissa McCarthy has been on a roll over the last few years, making her impact in the movie industry. Most of the films may not be the movie of the year caliber, but they are films that envoke the human heart and a massive splash of laughter. She is one of the most consistent and successful comedians working in Hollywood today. Her efforts do not stop with her newest film, Life of the Party.

One of the elements of McCarthy’s consistency is the type of particular role that she plays in a specific vein of modern comedy. Roles, where she is less occupied in making the viewers laugh out loud than it is making them taste a kind of humorous empathy with characters. She’s used a mixture of her excellent comic timing, honesty and gonzo nature massively over the last decade.

In Life of the Party, she portrays Deanna, newly divorced and remorseful that she never completed her college degree. So, seeing a chance, she registers at the same college her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) is attending. This presents opportunities for both problems and mother-daughter bonding.

The tone of the narrative is a common one; a woman being asked to put her life goals on hold for her husband’s success. Until he abandons her due to living a “boring” life.

As Deanna embraces fulfilling her dreams to be an archeologist, there are moments and situations where things become awkward and embarrassing, not only for her but Maddie. The story leaves plenty of opportunities for jokes and scenarios based on Deanna’s age and appearance.

Now I must admit, the beginning of the film seemed abrupt and challenging to hold traction regarding the plot. It seemed a little forced. However, it quickly corrects itself and captivates the attention of the audience.

The film comes full circle, filled with heartfelt emotion and laughs that will leave a smile on your face by the end of it. This is an enjoyable movie, and I recommend it. It has some mild nudity and minimal drug usage, so it is not for little ones. It would serve great as a date night or just a night out.


SXSW Film Review: Family

Written by Tracy Fuller

SXSW is one of the premier spots to showcase a new film coming to the big screen in North America. With this year’s festival having a record number of films premiering, there was a considerable buzz generating around Laura Steinel’s Family.

Family is a comedy-drama that focuses on a young teenager, Maddie (Byrn Vale) looking for acceptance and love – a borrowed concept from the timeless John Candy classic Uncle Buck. Kate (Taylor Schilling) is asked to take care of Maddie while her parents go out of town to care for a family member. Kate is by no means fit to watch over anyone’s child, much less herself.

Because Kate is so self-absorbed and unfiltered in every minute of her day, she does not have the first idea of how to relate to Maddie. When she does begin to listen to stories of being harassed at school, Kate can connect to it from her childhood. It is at that point the walls she has built around herself slowly begin to chip away. What was supposed to be one night watching Maddie becomes a full week. This takes Kate entirely out of her comfort zone at work, causing her to start neglecting details.

At work, Kate is known to be cutthroat, but now that she is distracted trying to care for Maddie, it begins to backfire. The more she leans towards the nurturing side, the more Kate’s calloused exterior starts to soften.

In the middle of Kate’s failed efforts, Maddie ends up going missing and finds her identity within the Juggalo family. During the search for Maddie, Kate learns that she has made her way to the Gathering of the Juggalos. The Gathering is a music festival which has gained some notoriety and continues to be a topic of discussion in today’s pop culture.

The series of events proposes a moral decision of what is more important to Kate: working on her career or building a relationship with Maddie. By the end of the movie, you will find yourself in the feels. This production was brilliantly put together and structured. It made me quite happy to see Steinel portray Juggalos at their core, which compliments the storyline so well as finding love and acceptance in each other.

One of the things I adore about this film is how that very same love and acceptance from the Juggalos is captured in this comedy gold classic. This movie captures the essence of family, not only by blood but also by bonds. I left the theater thankful for my friends. Furthermore, it was an incredible experience hanging out with Laura Steinel and the rest of the cast. I look forward to seeing this one again.

SXSW Film Review: Blockers

Written by Tracy Fuller

A New Spin On An Adult-Teen Raunchy Comedy

Blockers is an adult raunchy comedy that revolves around three high school girls who make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Little do they know, their parents come together to ruin their plans.

Blockers is the directing debut for Kay Cannon. Cannon pushes the strengths of its cast while capturing the different dynamics in the 3 (sets) of parents and their conflicts.

Single mom Lisa (Leslie Mann) is having denial issues with the imminent departure of her daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton) for college. Mitchell (John Cena) is a buff dad but holds some strong feminine qualities mixed with small doses of testosterone. He tries to have a bonding relationship with daughter Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) as if she was his son but wears a dress. Divorcee dad Hunter (Gideon Adlon) who has not been around since the marriage dissolved. He now recognizes the value of his relationship with daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon) and tries to salvage it by making sure her prom night is a memorable one.

After the girls leave for prom, the parents stumble upon a confusing bit of emojis that they ultimately discover as the sex pact. All the parents set out to track them down and stop them from consummating the night.

What ensues as a crazy chase all over town cause a few disastrous events to occur. In the midst of all these events, the trio of parents finds a way to work through their dilemmas. Coincidently, as are the three girls.

Blockers is more on the rated R side of comedy. The film also balances teen humor with adult humor. I mean imagine parading through a hough naked and blindfolded chasing your partner down by their own “musk.”

The movie portrays what a typical environment is for today’s teen. They set out to have a great time. In doing so the insecurities of the parents is brought to light, something many parents today can relate. Even with the teen sex comedy, it highlights, in the end, some rethought decisions that lead to a better scenario for everyone.

This movie has the laughs, love, and appeal that make you think of American Pie or any John Hughes film.

While the talented and well-known talent casts the roles of the parents, the teens are the heart of the movie. These up and coming actresses sell their respective parts flawlessly.

The real predicament is whether the parents and the girls can make peace with the fact that everybody has to grow up. In the end, this movie has a bit of everything to keep you entertained. I was glad to see Cena’s acting get stretched. Also noting, Leslie Mann, who probably gives one of her best performances. I would see this movie again for sure.

SXSW Film Review: Ready Player One

Written by Tracy Fuller

Spielberg Captures The Heart of Life in Ready Player One

Ready Player One, the novel by Ernest Cline, on screen is a brilliant merger of the mind of Steven Spielberg and the adoption of the screenplay. Here is a film that any pop culture fanboy will cherish. With it premiering at this past year’s SXSW Film Festival, the anticipation was quite high.

“I didn’t make this movie just for gamers, I made this for everybody,” says Steven Spielberg.

The film is set in a dystopian trailer park, year 20145, in the city of Columbus. Within the trailer park stacks, characters like Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a real-life nobody, resides. In the virtual reality world, the Oasis, Watts finds himself to be more than a nobody.

The Oasis is the primary way of life in the future, providing entertainment, fantasies, ambitions, and ways to achieve a certain financial status. The Oasis is a world where gaming is life. Watts bares some remarkable friendships with some of the gaming elite in the alternative VR world. He spends most of his time living strapped into his VR headset, immersed in the Oasis.

In the Oasis, Watts is surrounded by pop culture references that have become a way of life. These references stem from game creator, the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Following his passing, it is announced that Halliday built one final game in the Oasis known as Anorak’s Quest. The mission calls for players to find three keys through a set of smaller objectives. Upon finding all three of Halliday’s keys, they will be granted the celebrated Easter Egg. This egg will give them full power and ownership of the Oasis and its assets in both worlds.

Watts becomes the first person to receive one of the coveted keys. In doing so, he draws the attention of legendary gamer, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke). He also becomes a mark for the Innovative Online Industries CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

The combination of Steven Spielberg, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and the team at Industrial Light & Magic, knock this one out of the park. Capturing the VR setting and its potential to the big screen is not an easy task. The Oasis is phenomenal; every landscape that you encounter in this film is full of pop culture references.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this film, is not the incredible visual appeal and abundant references, but also the heart that Spielberg captures in this film. The message ultimately conveys that no matter how hard you try to design an artificial life, you should not lose sight of what the real world has to offer.

Spielberg does capture Halliday’s character showing the struggle of following your heart and chasing your ambitions. Not to mention the fellowship and bonds you acquire in life. There is so much emotional overtone mixed into the story that you end up leaving the theater feeling better about life.