Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
For all of its bluster and good reviews, this is really a simple film.
This film is also a western. It also feels like a western, and has the dust, tumbleweeds and tobacco smoke to prove it. Every western cliche except a Gatling gun is displayed or referenced, and that is no exaggeration.
But then again, there is a lot that is left to talk about, and that is probably what the critics are lapping up.
APPALOOSA is quite simply the story of two manly men and the natural intimacy of their relationship. There is very little back story to explain this relationship. You have no way of knowing how long Virgil (Ed Harris) or Everett (Viggo Mortenson) have known each other. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortenson are acting HARD in this film, and the closeness is conveyed subtly. There are many moments when they are weighing in with each other on directions to proceed where all that is exchanged between them is a glance, and they act as if quite a bit was said verbally.
But the film is flawed on many, many levels. The most obvious is that of the chauvinistic, and we will get into that in a bit.
The film starts with a character named Bragg (Jeremy Irons) shooting a Marshall and his two deputies to death in cold blood. Bragg does this in front of all of his yes-men, and the plot is officially in place.
Virgil and Everett then come to town as guns for hire. They take the vacant Marshall and deputy opening and proceed to put bullets into people until they jail and secure a court date for Bragg.
There is a different problem that these two men have to work through though, and that is the person of Allison French (Renee Zellweger). Allison has shown up in Appaloosa with a dollar in her pocket and a coquettish look in her eye. Virgil is soon head over heels for this woman...but there is something about her, something wrong.
It is still hard to determine if it is Zellweger's acting or the flawed character she portrays, but every time Allison is onscreen, the mood is uncomfortable. Ed Harris in his direction of the film proceeds to hammer the viewer over the head with a lingering shot of a cougar at a crucial moment to let us know what kind of a Judas Allison really is.
It must be said that Ed Harris has been trying for years to ascend to the level of badass, and he has finally arrived. The alpha male moment where he stares down the posse of men outside of his jail and tells them who he will shoot first, second and third is powerful. He pushes his will forward, and the posse doesn't free Bragg which is what they came for. This is reminiscent of the same sort of chutzpah that Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch demonstrated in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but with the teeth of a man who will take on the entire crowd, rather than stoically block the way.
Ed Harris' grizzled face, and Viggo's ridiculous facial hair become templates of the only real reason available in this film. They both speak little, but the words that they speak cut right through to the essence of the film. These are men who have seen it all, and know how to handle anything that comes their way. They know how to handle anything except a sophisticated headgame spun by a woman like Allison. While explaining to Everett how he is compromised as a gunfighter, Virgil says that "feelings get you killed," referencing a level of compromise in his own life that he is apparently unaware of. The feelings-free life that Virgil aspires to is the life that Everett appears to live. But, Everett isn't completely above his feelings either, and this brings about the death of the relationship.
The plot is basic and the camera lingers too long at points, pushing this film to a point where it is uncomfortably longwinded. Some of the scenery seems to be captured simply to be captured, rather than framed as a picture. Plotwise, it is a given that Irons' Bragg is sentenced to death, and of course he weasels out of it. On the sexist tip, the women in this film are clamoring for men to lead them, and have little power outside of their own sexuality. This film is a bleak yet weak capture of compromise, lies and whoring. The strength is in the relationship between Everett and Virgil, and this too, is tainted by the same three issues.
The relationship that Everett and Virgil have is a powerful one, and it is tested beyond normal boundaries. These two men demonstrate that in some ways, a woman cannot come between them, and in other ways she can.
Jeremy Irons plays sleaze the way he has for the bulk of his career. You want to see him take a bullet in his smug face. You want to see his manhood taken from him, and when your moment comes, it falls short. Lance Henriksen plays a co-starring role as a different gun for hire and does his part well. When the bullets fly, it is percussive and quick. This isn't a drawn out western with lots and lots of reloading. The players know how to shoot, and the bodies get dropped pronto. In some ways, this western feels different because of the conservation of ammo. There isn't a lack of tension however, the film has a undercurrent of potential brutality at all moments. Virgil is defined early on as a hothead, and the moment to see that hotheadedness put to use at a later point in the film is horribly wasted. No actor in this film is just dialing it in, but then again, they are all given too little to work with.
Another complaint is the rating of the film. This is the lightest R-Rated film I have seen in years. An extra f-bomb was awkwardly thrown into the script to secure this rating; this film is definitely a soft PG-13. Bullets don't WILD BUNCH through victims. There is a lack of the modern western splatter that we have all become accustomed to.
The simplicity of the plot is where this film stumbles. Another rewrite, and this could have been something to contend with a film like the UNFORGIVEN. Where it stands though, this is merely a film that is about a half a head taller than the rest of the films in the theatre today.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I worked in a mom and pop video store. I know trash. I have watched a great many B-movies hoping for a little bit of good within the garbage. Lots of times, this hope is rewarded. It is no secret that JOY RIDE 2: DEAD END is a straight to video B-movie with the "trash" moniker all over it. The unfortunate part of this is that the movie truly is trash. I was hoping that I would find some of the less repulsive aspects of this trash and present them to you. This film isn't just trash, it is a fast-food bowel movement.
For the record, the original JOY RIDE is a lot of fun. Paul Walker and Steve Zahn take a lot of pain from a trucker named Rusty Nail who they play a prank on. The movie is over the line and silly. A piece of the original fun was the fact that Ted Levine gave his voice to Rusty Nail in the original. For those of you who are unversed, Ted Levine has got a strange, nasally voice. Ted Levine was the Buffalo Bill killer in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. He also has a recurring stint on tv's MONK. The truth of the matter is that I watched this JOY RIDE 2 piece of trash with the hopes of hearing Levine's voice tormenting whomever it was on the other end of the CB radio.
Levine is a no-show.
The only strength of this movie is its dialogue. But the dialogue is even fouled at times by its own attempt to be hip and cutting edge. When one character yells "Rage against the machine motherf*cker!" at a passing, dust-kicking truck, this comes off about as flat as any junior high band tuning session. It grates. Rusty Nail has some good dialogue though. He should, because he is all mouth and very little physical presence. An example of this would be when he grabs a man and pulls his jaw off on the spot and quips, "Did you see his jaw hit the floor?"
The original JOY RIDE was comedic at times and very sedate in its violence. Yes, there was violence, but a lot of the tension was ratcheted up with offscreen deeds of carnage. This new version takes the viewer front and center to several acts of violence that are so over the top that they are hard to take seriously. I as a viewer was knocked into the position of wondering how the special effect took place more than a comprehension of the conveyed dirty deed.
The opening scene features Rusty Nail and his murdering of a "lot lizard" prostitute. The scene is heartless, sadistic and exploitative beyond most reason. Here is where I have to interject an interesting fact about Rusty Nail's character. There is something strangely wrong with his sexuality. This was apparent in the first JOY RIDE and it is brought home in this mediocre sequel. The first JOY RIDE featured Rusty killing a man in a hotel room that Paul Walker had sent him to. Rusty had expected a woman there, found a man and proceeded to kill the man with extreme viciousness. Then there is a scene where Rusty commands the two male protagonists to walk into a diner while naked and order hamburgers. This is all silliness and for the most part, harmless.
The characters in the original JOY RIDE were rather dim, but likable. Lelee Sobeiski was even in the mix. She was dim too, but in the end, I believe she lived. They all made it out. However, the threat of death was throughout the film, and there was a body count. This new one has two males and two females. The body count is high and one couple is eventually erased from the quotient.
The standard horror pattern is followed. The punk/outsider mouthy kid gets taken out, and so does his slutty girlfriend. It is rather touching that they met on MYSPACE and slightly before both going their separate eternal ways, they admit that neither is like who they seemed like online.
The good girl lives through it all, with minor damage taken. The worst she has to do is a strip tease in front of Rusty Nail's truck before learning that it wasn't Rusty Nail's truck, but a different sleazy trucker who complains that, "Your titties are too small anyways! I like them super-mongo jugs! Yeah you heard me! Circus boobs!" It is a disturbing, funny piece of dialogue, and it is about par for this movie's budget.
There is no logical reason to explain why these stupid kids get caught in Rusty's web. Their car breaks down on the side of the road and they find this abandoned (?) house. They set-up is completely TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but instead, the kids find 1971 Chevy Chevelle Hardtop. They leave a phone number and hit the road. Wouldn't you know that the house that they raided was Rusty Nail's? Wouldn't you know that he is all about vengeance, and that he will literally blow his sexy classic musclecar to bits to get his point across? Rusty Nail is a menace, but honestly, it would have been more interesting if he had managed to kill every one of these kids. The kids are expendable. The car is the only thing worth caring about here. The most painful scene in the film is the disrespect to the classic car, and not to these useless punk kids. This is horrible filmmaking.
Menacing ridiculousness ensues. Rusty demands Nik (Kyle Schmid) the "third-wave emo punk" to dress in drag and walk around a trucker outpost that looks like one of the camps in ROAD WARRIOR and ask for some crystal meth. Shades of some sort of strange rape haunt this scene with no payoff. Rusty grabs the kid and throws him into his truck during this passage. My only complaint is that they should have tried a little harder with the character development. When Nik reveals that all of his piercings and tattoos are fake, we need an explanation.
I suppose that the climax is when Rusty Nail has the two boys tied up, seated at a table playing a deranged game of craps. Rusty chainsmokes in the shadows and demands that they roll the dice. The pseudo goth kid rolls a five and Bobby the jock (Nick Zano) gets a tire jack to the kneecap. Then there is a roll of a four which means that the initials "RN" are branded into Bobby's chest and so on. The scene is overdone and hard to believe. Nik is crying and blubbering. His piercings are falling out and he is apolgizing for them being fake. Nik eventually takes a vertical rebar plunge to the skull and takes his fake tattoo and piercing secret to the grave.
What is the purpose of all of this mayhem? There is no real explanation. There is also no explanation as to how Rusty Nail survives a truck drop off of a cliff that is on par with the end of DUEL. It is a boring crash at the bottom too. They should have at least put some money up for the traditional demonic explosion, like say...the end of THE CAR.
I have nothing else to say. I have dealt with cinematic trash before, and this is definitely some of it. There is nothing special here, and believe me, I know how to find ingots of gold in a pile of feces. There is no gold here, this is the excreta of the uncreative. I am sorry I wasted my time.
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