Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Oscar Round-up, 2012

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

The last third or so, when shit gets real and they have to get out, is proof enough what a joke it is that he wasn’t nominated for Best Director.  Suspenseful to no end despite knowing how it’ll end up if you know the true story (clichéd to point that out, I know, but it still applies).  I usually can’t stand when people in a movie theater applaud when the heroes prevail at the end, but I found myself waiting and wondering what everyone was waiting for when the plane got into the air, and was relieved when it happened.  Pretty good sign of quality filmmaking from my point of view.  There was just the right amount of screentime devoted to the Americans holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s home – not too much so that they’d develop, and be defined by, genre stereotypes, not too little so that they’d be nothing but macguffins.  I just wish the movie as a whole didn’t rely quite as much on humor as it did…this is an amazingly improbable, ridiculous true story; that improbability and ridiculousness should speak for itself (plus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a running gag get as old and irritating as quickly as “Argo fuck yourself” did).

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Its perceived glorification of independence and the will to survive sometimes strays distastefully towards, instead, pigheaded obstinacy and an irresponsible shunning of outside assistance, especially when you’re dying, you know you’re dying, and your little kid’s gonna be alone in a fucking swamp when you’re gone.  Despite that, though, you have a feeling that little Hushpuppy will be alright.  Her father Wink can be a prick, can be hard and stern, but when living in said fucking swamp, that’s the father he needs to be.  Putting aside qualms about the reasons Wink and the other Bathtub inhabitants so virulently shun the outside world, their methods of survival are fascinating and exciting to watch.  Those titular beasts were stupid, though.  Let this captivating setting, and the ability of this little girl to both tune out and adapt to/survive the outlandish challenges of that setting, speak for themselves, without the empty symbolism of imaginary, prehistoric animals.

Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 2012)

Moderately disappointing by Pixar standards, which still makes it better than almost everything, ever.  My disappointment probably comes from the fact that the end didn’t make me outright cry like the last three fucking Pixar movies did, but the bear vs. bear fight was great, an exciting and fitting climax to the evolution of the relationship between Merida and her mother.  Pixar’s technical and visual prowess just keeps getting more astounding (look no further than Merida’s hair), and putting a strong, self-reliant woman in the forefront was refreshing, and yet, things like the narrative being interrupted by a song and the 11th hour spell reversal happy ending (I regarded the end of this similarly to Marlene Dietrich’s famous “where is my beautiful beast?!” reaction to the end of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) made it seem like this was relying on Disney tropes of old.  One step forward, one step back for the genre.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

There’s Tarantino’s signature genre-mimicking, embellished here by the last third or so essentially being nothing but blood and gunfire, and then you throw in perhaps the most intriguing and motivationally complex character of Tarantino’s career in the form of Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, and you have a downright brutal satire of slavery (not so current) and racism (much more current).  I didn’t even mind that the scene with the Klan’s misadventures in hood-wearing might’ve gone on too long and stretched the joke out too much, was still a well-timed instance of straight-up humor in a film of brutal imagery (i.e. the Mandingo fight…I’m still not sure what made me wince more, the fight itself, or Calvin’s hooting and hollering as he watched his property fight to the death.  Was a challenge to not look away, and an absorbing challenge at that) and even more brutal subject matter…a laugh-so-you-don’t-have-to-cry kind of subject.  To have comedy and atrocity mesh so easily and feel so natural together, you have to be one hell of a filmmaker, which Quentin Tarantino has again proven to be.

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)

Second-best film of 2012 featuring a character named Mr. Bilbo.

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)

The raid was fantastic – perfectly filmed and edited, a textbook on how to hold the audience’s attention; the 80 hours preceding it were somewhat of a bore.  Usually don’t consider it a very good sign when it’s so easy to spot an actor’s Oscar clip (when Chastain about chews Kyle Chandler’s head off, her neck vein about to explode).

Bitter Victory (Nicholas Ray, 1957)

Really awesome, and the dynamic between Richard Burton and Curd Jürgens (even if Jürgens totally fails as an actor…) is like a non-shitty version of the Berenger/Dafoe dynamic in Platoon, only this time the murderous tendencies arise because one doesn’t want to be labeled a coward, and such a seemingly trivial label makes the dynamic that much more disturbing. Even though the film’s last image made me roll my eyes a little, and overall the film can’t compare to far-superior Men-trapped-in-the-desert movies like Yellow Sky and The Lost Patrol, it’s still a solid, exciting effort from Ray, more of a straight genre film than I’ve been used to from him, but still instilled with those themes of the importance placed on being manly/dominant in the eyes of others, and all that good stuff.


Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981)

It’s one of the most preposterous plots – or rather, amalgamation of many plots – like, ever…almost as preposterous as what Beneix believed French gangsters and Taiwanese bootleggers would consider to be fashionable looks and outfits back in 1981 .  A chief of police running a sex-slave ring, his goons after a prostitute and her tape that incriminates him, the bootleggers after another tape of a famed, and stubborn, opera diva whose voice has never been recorded before, the cops after the goons, the rich non-conformist after both tapes and wads of money and god knows what else…oh, and the geeky little mail courier, obsessed with the diva, whose illegally recording her concert and then stealing her luminous gown and having that prostitute’s tape unknowingly dropped into his mail bag sets off a chain reaction of all that nonsense I just spewed.  More than once I got completely lost and had to pause the movie and skim the plot description on wikipedia to get my bearings before pressing play again, and some of the twists and turns that this labyrinthine story takes are so unlikely, so ridiculous, that I learned fairly quickly to avoid falling into my usual trap of judging a movie on how “real” it is, how much verisimilitude it has, and just take this for what it is: a hyper-stylized thriller, not pretending to be anything other than overly-stylish with the outlandish sets (that young courier lives in an immense ‘loft’ filled with wrecked cars.  It looks cool, so I’ll go with it…) and costumes (Dominique Pinon as the skinheaded, headphone-wearing, huge sunglasses-sporting thug known only as “Le curé” takes the cake…), twists and coincidences that make suspension of disbelief an outright requirement to getting anything out of this movie, and characters and relationships that are…incredibly satisfying.  Yes, as ridiculous as “Diva” can get, its twisting, meandering story is presented in such an intelligent and unpredictable way that its world feels completely alive, so fully realized, even if it is, however based on circa-1981 Paris, different from the real-real world in an aesthetic sense.

Even though I had no idea who these Taiwanese music bootleggers were for the duration of the film – all I saw were ridiculously-dressed Asians regarding our courier hero from afar in their cars until wikipedia made me see the light – and I was trying to make heads and tails with who wanted which tape and who wanted who dead, when it was all over, I spent the rest of that night and practically all of next day putting the pieces together in my head.  The story’s ridiculous and convoluted, but rich in detail, both visually and otherwise (notice how the camera glides majestically in the first concert scene, regarding the opera diva with the same obsessive devotion as the courier), to the point that it’s just as much fun to think about the film post-viewing than during the viewing itself.  It’s just a fun thriller, convoluted and complex yet all fitting together by the time the closing credits roll in subtle and rather ingenious ways, and highlighted by one of the best and most exciting chases I’ve seen in any movie (“Diva” perfected the motorcyclist (moped-ist to be exact…) being chased through the metro and indoor shopping areas years before “The Dark Knight.”  Think the iconic subway chase from “Le Samourai,” but with a moped thrown in).  And when things got too convoluted, I always had the startlingly simple story of the courier Jules and his muse, the angelically-voiced Cynthia Hawkins, to fall back on.  Their relationship is a fascinating one that starts out predictably in a star-basically-patting-the-adoring-fan-on-the-head kind of way, and then grows into something deeper in unexpected yet natural-feeling and even sweet ways, namely thanks to, ironically, the inexperience of the two actors, Frédéric Andréi and the professional opera singer Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez.  It’s romantic, sure, but somehow not in that hokey movie kind of way – the montage of the two of them walking through a rainy Paris, culminating in the boy daring to put his hand on the star singer’s shoulder, is wonderful.  Even as bootleggers and gangsters are, unbeknownst to Jules, after his tapes and his blood, the simple relationship between the two is endearing and real (by comparison to the outlandishness of everything around it, at least…).  There’s no way that a mere mailman with a love for opera can be able to get a woman as beautiful and melodiously-voiced as Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez to fall for him, but for some reason, it just works, and you want it to work.  You care for these characters, and there’s actually something more at stake than some silly tapes or some big bad secret, so that this is much more than just ‘”Enemy of the State” but good.’  Between goons throwing knives into the backs of prostitutes and degenerates, car chases, good guys and bad guys falling down elevator shafts and good ol’ police procedural material, a moped-riding boy and his tape recorder wins the affections of a superstar – perhaps the unlikeliest in two hours’ worth of unlikely developments, but surely the one that’s the most satisfying.

…But wait, I haven’t even mentioned Gorodish and Alba!  In a film chock-full of fascinating, if not downright cartoonish, characters, the uber-Bohemian Gorodish and his Vietnamese lackey Alba are by far the most fascinating.  Hell, they might be two of the most enigmatic and downright interesting film characters I’ve ever seen, not because of depth, of which they have little, but because of the downright mysteriousness of how they’re presented.  I mean for god’s sake, just look at where they live!  An immense, dark loft seemingly furnished only with a couch, a bizarre lava lamp, and a stereo, where Gorodish lounges around all day in Calvin Klein poses while Alba does her nymphette thing…who lives like that?!?!  What the hell does this Gorodish guy do, at least when he isn’t manipulating both gangsters and bootleggers against each other for his own monetary benefit Yojimbo-style (and for that matter, how does he suddenly have the amazing cunning and smarts to pull all that off, when we’re introduced to him as a hyper-stylish couch potato?)  Do he and Alba sleep together?  What’s with that portfolio of naked pictures that Alba carries around?  Does Gorodish ever leave that dungeon of his in his everyday life?  Does she (does he let her?)?  “Diva” is based on one of a series of books in which Gorodish and Alba are the main characters, so it’d make sense that despite how captivating the story of Jules and Cynthia, the film’s so-called ‘main characters’, may be, it’s this enigmatic recluse and his exotic girl-pet who are the film’s ambiguous, and alluring, center.  They’re the posterchildren of this film’s almost exclusive reliance on striking, edgy imagery rather than deep, or even logical, characters or dialogue or plot.  On any other day in any other movie Gorodish and Alba should be laughable caricatures, cartoon characters in that cartoonish loft.  But just as a chase scene with cheesy music and a thug wearing an unfathomably cheesy outfit just feels cool for some reason, Gorodish and Alba aren’t laughable caricatures, they’re mysterious enigmas, right at home in “Diva”‘s world, a world not too different from our own, and not exactly the same…just subtly odd enough where an independently wealthy hermit and his beautiful Salacious Crumb, and a shy courier and the opera star whose budding relationship feels unexpectedly natural, and all the cops and robbers in-between, can co-exist.  This movie, while quite clearly an orgy of visual awesomeness, was a mess, but one I was all too happy to try to piece together.


The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)

It might be the most repetitive story structure I’ve ever seen. Bomb squad does its thing, then tries to pass the time and wax mournful about the war, then goes out and does its thing again.  And again, and again. And yet, if nearly any other movie tried to have as many attention-grabbing setpieces as this film had, it’d fall apart in a sea of starts and stops. But the setpieces in this film are so masterful, so suspenseful, filmed and depicted so perfectly, and are each so much more riveting than the one before that the most repetitive story structure I’ve ever seen becomes one of the most gripping I’ve ever seen. That, and the performances of both Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie are so fantastic (if the two of them are not among what should be The Hurt Locker’s slew of Oscar nominations, something’s really, really rotten in the state of AAMPAS), especially in the heat of the job when they’re dead-set on doing what’s gotta get done despite Renner’s sometimes-tiring bravado, that even their obligatory war movie who-do-you-got-waiting-for-you-back-home talky moments are great and feel real for once (Mackie talking about how he wants a son, in particular, really, really got to me). Moments like that show you that the film is critical of the dehumanizing effects of war, but it never hits you over the head with neither anti-war nor pro-military sentiments (after risking life and limb to diffuse bombs in the most dangerous situations conceivable, Renner’s Sergeant James is finally defeated by…**spoiler** the cereal aisle. Whether you want to look at that as an argument for the importance of the military life, or a sad and poignant commentary on the tragedy that is veterans’ inability to readjust to civilian life, is entirely up to you, and a testament to the film’s ability to be appropriately vague in that regard **end spoiler**). It’s just is what it is: Bravo Company putting themselves smack-dab in the middle of hostile territory while one of ’em wears a bear suit and is one wire-snip away from blowing up an entire town square. Same shit, different day.


Six Films by Buster Keaton from 1920

The Garage (Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, 1920)

Funny, but too much of just slipping and falling on oil and water and other wet stuff.


One Week (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

That house is probably the most developed and fully-realized character I’ve seen in any silent film. Hell, in any film.


The Saphead (Herbert Blaché, Winchell Smith, 1920)

Buster was essentially the greatest stuntman who ever lived, not only because of his remarkable physical prowess but because he could actually hold his own as an actor. But when he’s charged with pretty much just acting and leaving behind his biggest talent, it’s like making a color commentator do play-by-play: he’s still in the sportscaster’s booth where he’s always been in his element, but simply by sliding into the next seat he’s doing something he just normally hasn’t been paid to do, and it shows. And it shows here. Buster could certainly hold his own as an actor, but eh, not that well, especially when it’s all he does in a given film. There’s a good stunt or two here, but otherwise this was just a bore, with stuffy old men worrying about their stocks, an odd villain who turns from sympathetic loser into Snidely Whiplash at the snap of a finger, and Buster acting like a clueless retard in love who saves the day by accident. Too much backroom stock dealings and maneuverings (to the point that it’s almost more of a drama than a comedy for a moment or two…), not enough Buster, so he’s just a buffoonish clown who’s pushed to the side much of the time instead of a protagonist you can root for. This isn’t a disaster, but his first feature-length film leaves plenty to be desired.


Convict 13 (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

Who does he think he is, a Jedi?


The Scarecrow (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

Charlie Chaplin found his ideal athletic/agile counterpart in The Kid with young Jackie Coogan. Buster Keaton found his in The Scarecrow with that dog. And I’m patenting all that mechanical string-powered shit in his house


Neighbors (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

Beats U-Haul.


RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)


On this, the 71st birthday of Paul Verhoeven, I shall review RoboCop the same spoilerific, single-word way I reviewed my last Verhoeven film, Starship Troopers, using the exact same single word I used for Starship Troopers:



















Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi, 1967)

…but hold on folks, before we get to THAT point, an image you’d expect to see in just about any samurai film, we’ve gotta sit through long stretches of family members and shoguns and their lackeys sitting around and talking or plotting of conniving or confiding.  Yeah, before Toshiro Mifune can take off his waterwings and commence rape time on fools who don’t deserve to hold a sword, “Samurai Rebellion” is a very dialogue-driven, very formal little film.  For much of the first half or so, I was quite bored, but some aspects were very touching, like how Mifune, the bored, aging swordsman (peacetime ain’t good for the job prospects of samurai), suddenly finds himself identifying with his son’s wife, previously unwanted by the family after their lord thrust her upon them when he was finished with her, but now wanted again by that same lord, a greedy and disgusting man who abuses his power at any and every opportunity.  Could be because of his ruined relationship with his emasculating terror of a wife, or could simply be because he’s touched to see his son unexpectedly fall for his arranged bride who’s now in danger, but Mifune’s transformation and breakthrough from tradition and emotional purgatory is a welcome sight.  That tradition, by the way, is expressed in some absolutely stunning visuals where individuals are arranged within the shot with Ozu-like care, very much like perfectly-planned paintings:

Perfectly-planned, but soulless, which of course is the point.  It’s poignant, then, to see Mifune’s Isaburo become bold and stray from those traditions in which his lord and his wife keep him down – shots of his son’s wife’s sad, sad face and then his face analyzing hers and taking on a look of both pained realization and deep empathy are wonderful.  THAT’s how I want to be made aware of these characters defying tradition, not through flowery dialogue that a) I couldn’t follow, and b) damn near put me to sleep.  Unfortunately, though, much of “Samurai Rebellion” relies on that dull dialogue, even though its images speak loudly in their own right.  Also, there’s WAY too much exposition and expository dialogue, where things are literally brought to a grinding halt so that characters can bring us up to speed about who’s related to who, how this person got here and why, and so on and so forth.  Sure, some of this is accompanied by a cool flashback structure that’s directly edited into the present-day scenes so that past and present become indistinguishable and seamlessly mixed together (which could get confusing to some viewers, but I liked it.  Something new.), but even then, so many scenes are devoted to telling us – not showing, telling – about the past through exposition, and that’s what bored me to tears.

So disregarding the dialogue portion of the screenplay, when this movie relies on its visuals, it’s damn near excellent.  From start to finish, the one word I’d use to describe it is ‘elegant’, both in scenes of conversation where characters are staged in a very specific way as well as in lead-ins to swordfights and in duels themselves, rarely more obvious than in that opening scene, in which Isaburo concentrates cutting down a scarecrow in a field, the camera’s blur effects creating an impressively subjective point of view, so that you’re in the deeply intent mind of the noble swordsman.  Everything’s elegant, as if everything in this world moves just a little bit slower than in our world.  I only wish that that reduced speed would let wayward glances, and body language, and one swordsman eyeing another as to who’s gonna make the first move, do most of the talking instead of, you know, the actual TALKING.

Yeah, this movie’s very elegant, but it’s right around this moment…

“Bring me the heads of the villains who took my son’s wife!”

that Mifune actually becomes Mifune instead of Mr. Mom and the movie gets injected with a heavy dose of awesome-juice.  But even then, the violence is elegant, because the focus isn’t on the violence itself, which is quick and non-glorified, but on the lead-in, as in images like that first one and…

that almost make you think that this is a Sergio Leone film with swords instead of guns, samurai robes instead of ponchos, Toshiro Mifunes instead of Clint Eastwoods (as if Kobayashi borrowed from Leone for this, after Leone borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” for the inferior “A Fistful of Dollars.”  Cyclical…).  “Samurai Rebellion” starts off too slowly, albeit while trying to give us a crash course on the backstory and current situation far too quickly instead of letting us settle into it, while at the same time muddling itself with lame dialogue.  But, it redeems itself in short order once father and son develop a gallant sense of camaraderie in the face of danger and injustice despite putting their family’s reputation and safety at risk, and once shit starts happening, which is the exact case with Isaburo and his son and daughter-in-law: like this film in general, once they break away from monotony and tradition, they feel alive for the first time.  Isaburo even says as much.


Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

Laaaaammmmeeee ending, but everything else was awesome.  Sexual tension (girl taking the arrow to her shoulder and shrugging it off, then Monty Cliff nonchalantly sucking the poison out = badass, from both parties), homoerotic tension (rivalry between young gunslingers Monty Clift and John Ireland in an ‘i’ll show you my gun, you show me yours’ scene where phallic implications abound, but sadly that rivalry never really comes to fruition) and that turns out to have reflected real life, John Wayne’s best performance that out-nuances his job in The Searchers any day…starts off as typical John Wayne brave western do-gooder, subtly changes over the journey until he’s a bitter, gray haired, crazed monster…very nice and unexpected turnaround from ambitious hero to obsessed villain (hell, after he’s banished by his fellow herders, they dare not even speak his name lest he sneak up on them and blow them away).  And even old Walter Brennan does a nice job in comic relief as the old codger and longtime confidant of Wayne’s who’s constantly bickering with his Indian lackey.  He’s a silly character, but his difficulty in having to decide whether or not to continue standing by his old friend who’s descended into madness and putting his men in peril was still touching.  Overall, other westerns will say they’re epic, but this one actually felt epic, and not just because the journey that all the herders go on is vast in distance and impossibly difficult in terms of keeping 9,000 heads of cattle under control (as seen in the showstopping stampede scene, that’s begun with a scene of great and agonizingly quiet suspense and descends into all-out chaos).  It’s epic because of the Shakespearean – hell, the Biblical – relationship between John Wayne as the stubborn man who built his cattle empire from the ground up and Montgomery Clift as the kid he raises as his heir, and son, and how that deep relationship is tested when father goes mad and the son must betray him to protect the legacy that the mad father thinks is being stolen from him.  They love each other, even as Wayne vows to kill the kid, but the best thing about what transpires is that that doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t kill the kid, so you still worry that something terrible’s gonna happen, and the relationship is all the more dynamic.  Great tale of obsession and pride and tension, climaxing with one of the best lead-ups to an inevitable Western showdown I’ve seen, that’s unfortunately marred by a horrendous resolution.  Otherwise, that’s all I gotta say…umm, great cinematography?  It’s no Ford in terms of looks, but still some great wide shots and intimate, gritty closeups…you really feel like those bulls’ll trample ya.  This is going straight to my list of 100 favorite films, which was the last thing I expected to do going in.  Epic, and unexpectedly great  


Star Trek (J.J. Abrams, 2009)

My budding film snobbery and disdain for action movie clichés be damned: “Star Trek” was awesome.  Do you need to have at least some knowledge of the show to ‘get’ it?  Probably…otherwise the subtle references to the show’s campier elements, from Scotty’s “I’m giving her all she’s got, Cap’n!” to Bones’s “I’m a doctor, not a physicist”, to Chekhov’s accent, to Spock’s “fascinating” (at a most inopportune moment, I might add), to Kirk’s tryst with Ms. Green skin, to Leonard Nimoy, would go right over the newbie’s head.  Even so, this is a damned exciting and fun and wacky spectacle.  The opening battle, where a captain makes a sacrifice to save his crew, sets the tone for what’s to follow by being a special effects orgy, but is surprisingly moving and dignified as well.  I really, really liked this movie because it has everything you could want out of a fun blockbuster where you can leave your brain and critical eye at the door: slapstick humor (that should be infuriating, but works because of some great chemistry between Kirk and Bones), the big showdown where the hero faces off against the villain as the other good guys do what they need to do via parallel editing, a scenario where things work out perfectly even though everyone has to be here, here, and here now, now, and now, a nefarious uber-villain bent on black hole-related Armageddon, and a completely unnecessary chase between Kirk and some huge beast that’s the telltale sign of an event film that knows it’s being silly, and doesn’t give a shit.  As a matter of fact, that’s why “Star Trek” works so well – it is silly as hell and makes no sense whatsoever (Red Matter, black holes, time travel, transporting onto a ship moving faster than light, skydiving onto a giant drill and fighting off Romulans with kung fu and samurai swords, and on and on…), and knows it and doesn’t care.  And other than Karl Urban as Bones, the cast really wasn’t really trying to impersonate their 60s counterparts, instead making Kirk and Spock and Scotty and Uhura and Sulu and Chekhov new identities for the obviously youthful, post-2000 target audience. 

I was never really a fan of any of the shows, only watching them occasionally, so I don’t think I’m too biased here or was too blinded by nods to the original show that started a cultural phenomenon, but somehow this movie managed not to defy convention or cliché, but actually embrace them, all while just assuming you’ll accept warp drive and planetary drills and black hole devices and Romulans and Vulcans and huge starships as things that’re just plain commonplace in this world (the fact that the asinine technology and the function of Starfleet and the Federation is just there and never commented on or explained to us for the sake of the Star Trek virgin is probably thanks to Abrams and his screenwriters assuming that most of their viewers will be fans of the show, but still, I liked how they didn’t feel the need to justify this stuff to you, which made this world seem more legitimate and fully-realized, and helps you feel more at home in it).  But who cares about that, ‘cuz in the end, alotta shit gets blowed up outer space, and monsters eat other monsters, and the acting captain and medical officer and chief engineer of the finest sharship in Starfleet doing their Moe, Larry and Curly routine, and you’ve got fistfights and hot chicks in their underwear and bad guys with facial tatoos and ray guns ‘n shit…isn’t that all that matters?  In this age of sequels and exorbitantly-profitable blockbusters, at least one sequel, if not more, is inevitable, and I just gotta say kudos to J.J. Abrams for adding another chapter to a long-running franchise, all while setting the stage for a new one as well.


Tombstone (George P. Cosmatos, 1993)

“My Darling Clementine” is already my all-time favorite movie, and in my eyes flawless – but just imagine what it would be like if Val Kilmer’s attention-grabbing (to say the least) performance as Doc Holliday in “Tombstone” were transposed into “Clementine” to replace the more nondescript Victor Mature!  It would be an utter disaster, as Kilmer’s semi-manic performance and John Ford’s meditative masterpiece would go together like a slug and a salt shaker, but boy would it be a sight to see regardless, like one of those horrific car wrecks you can’t help but stare at 😛 .  “Clementine” and “Tombstone” both concern the shootout between the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday and the Clanton gang, but are vastly different, both in quality and in tone.  “Clementine” is slow and mournful, and while Victor Mature doesn’t exactly give a great performance, it’s brooding and fits the mood of the film perfectly, and that’s why I identified with the self-loathing, Consumption-ridden gambler/gunslinger so strongly.  “Tombstone” is much more of a straight-up genre picture, with the more predictable plot paths and archetypal performances, highlighted by the conflict between the prototypically virtuous lawman Wyatt Earp, with just a hint of revenge-mindedness and the vicious wild animals that are the cowboys.  But Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday really is something else.  He’s dying of Consumption, looks like shit from the moment we meet him, has that slightly effeminate accent, the remarkable skill with a handgun, and a foolish knack for inciting the ire of cowboys and nearly getting himself killed again and again that can almost be mistaken for bravery.  Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday might be more cartoonish and attention-grabbing than Victor Mature’s, but boy does he nail the persona of charismatic Western antihero.  His performance is far and away the best thing about “Tombstone”…it’s just too bad he’s woefully underused in favor of Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp.  Russell does a good enough job as the morally upright lawman, but without more of Kilmer’s enigmatic Doc Holliday and the two men’s unlikely friendship, it’s just one more lackluster element of a solid if not lackluster Western.  The gunfights themselves are spectacular and some of the best I’ve seen in any Western: quick, brutal, chaotic, and in extremely close quarters – probably how the real gunfight at the O.K. Corral went down – but otherwise the story is a collection of predictability and clichés, right down to Wyatt’s muse-like love interest, overwrought death speeches, full emotional breakdowns in the middle of the pouring rain, cowboy-hunting montages, and basic character archetypes.  It’s your basic genre picture, with some excitement but light on depth, with one great yet underutilized performance to save it from clichéd Western oblivion – which is fine, and I enjoyed it enough, but tossed it aside afterwards.  “Tombstone” summarizes the events surrounding the shootout at the O.K. Corral, but a film like “Clementine” turns that 30 second free-for-all into the stuff of good-versus-evil, chaos-versus-order, lawlessness-versus-civilization myth and legend.