Sunday, January 23, 2011

recent viewing

Jonah Hex (Jimmy Hayward 2010) - When I first heard a Jonah Hex film was being made I thought it's about time. There's potential, a huge backlog of stories and Hex could appeal to a post-Deadwood audience. There wouldn't need to be any updating or revision - in fact Hex would make a great TV series and could fit onto either network or cable. Still, my expectations weren't too high and the result is far below that. The entire thing is basically an episode of The Wild Wild West (even down to Lance Reddick in a too-brief Artemus Gordon role and an appearance by President Grant) with a hint of Django-ish spaghetti Western thrown in. (The machine guns and coffin seem almost like Django references but I wouldn't be surprised if nobody connected with Jonah Hex had seen that film.) Hex is given a supernatural ability that's not in the comics (as far as I know anyway - there are a lot of comics) and since this ability really just fills in a couple of plot points that could easily have been done more realistically I suspect this is a holdover from an earlier script. In fact with that, a running time of 81 minutes, Megan Fox in an almost non-existant role, mishmashed generic Indians and some oddities about setting (the film is mostly in Virginia and South Carolina but one bad guy heads out the door and is in the Southwest) I further suspect that the whole thing was cobbled together from several scripts and then had possibly some severe post-filming trims. The filmmakers go out of their way to explain that Hex was a "good" Confederate who didn't support slavery, anachronistically refer to terrorists and in a film about the US Centennial omit any mention of the other big news event of the day - Custer's defeat. Then again at least the whole thing is short. Oh and did I mention the scene where a wounded Hex is rescued by his dog running to get help Lassie-style?

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (Shawn Levy 2009) - So since I claimed the original was horrible why would I watch the sequel? Mainly the result of being at my parents' during the holidays and nothing else was on. As it turns out the sequel is actually fairly amusing. And by "fairly amusing" I mean in a nothing-else-was-on-cable way. Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon are still onboard as writers and this time even get small cameos but the film mostly works due to fast pacing, a lot of stuff happening, Amy Adams spouting faux 30s slang and Hank Azaria delivering what is nearly a one-man comedy show proving he should be in nearly every film that comes out.

Cop Out (Kevin Smith 2010) - Why was this not on my Hollywood-can't-make-comedies-anymore post? Merciful amnesia is the most likely explanation. I believe this is Smith's first film as director where he didn't also write (though a couple of out-of-place raunch-humor scenes suggest he tried to add his mark). Apparently the idea was to make a tribute/parody/recreation/something of 80s cop films along Beverly Hills Cop lines, even to the point of recruiting Harold Faltermeyer for the music (at least when 20+ year-old-songs aren't being blasted at us). And no, I have no idea why anybody would want to do that. The story is confusing, the jokes thud, Tracy Morgan is almost unwatchable, the pacing limps. Only the indestructible Bruce Willis and goofy Seann William Scott have any kind of dignity or grace.

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (Peter Winther 2004) - Another why-did-he-watch-this film? Well, io9 had a piece about heroic librarians that made this sound like it might be interesting. Nope. The writers seem to have been going on automatic and be competely unfamiliar with any similar work (maybe because it's fantasy and only geeks do those?). So there's no explanation of what the library really is or who is intended to use it (actually it's far closer to an archive), a peculiar one-librarian-at-a-time backstory that doesn't really make much sense, mostly very obvious mythological references, etc. And you have to wonder if this is all so secret then what about the security guards or if the library houses such powerful artifacts then why don't they prevent the robbery and why an inexperienced librarian for an obviously powerful organization only gets one assistant and so forth. The script is executed in a fairly stodgy TV-movie style and appears to have been shot mostly in front of greenscreens. Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin should have been more prominent.

Unstoppable (Tony Scott 2010) - A b-movie pumped up with a-level money and talent which seems mostly a waste from the finished work. I saw 1985's Runaway Train (partly based on a Kurosawa script apparently) so long ago that I don't remember much about it but I'd be surprised if Unstoppable is any improvement. There's a little bit of human interest backstory thrown in like the writer learned from a how-to book but I doubt anybody would miss that if it was gone. It's nice to see an action film that doesn't have guns since usually the kind of situations that would fit that tend to be absorbed into disaster films or adventures. The oddest thing in fact about Unstoppable is that the government agency man is presented as quite competant and smart - this time it's the slimy business people that do the bad things.

Tangled (Nathan Greno & Byron Howard 2010) - Another in the default mode of high-profile kids movies - injokes for the grownups, plenty of parodies, smart ass attitude, celeb voices. (There's an entire other world of low-budget kids films that hardly anybody without children sees - I probably haven't since my niece and nephew got old enough that these didn't interest them any more.) Tangled is completely in that trend but even so it still seems a bit slight, almost feels like there's not enough story. As it is the filmmakers have enough trouble balancing the fairy tale aspect (where it makes sense that Rapunzel would never have stepped out of the tower or a land full of smugglers, soldiers and hunters wouldn't know about the tower anyway) with more current narrative expectations. Trying to update it makes you question the fairy tale part, at least in the way it's done here. Alan Menken supplies the music and why couldn't they have found somebody else? It's not like the country isn't crawling with fine songwriters. Imagine what Stephin Merritt could have done.