Film Review: Jonah Hex (2010)

Release Date: June 17th, 2010 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Written by: Neveldine/Taylor, William Farmer
Based on: Jonah Hex by John Albano, Tony Dezuniga
Music by: Marco Beltrami, Mastodon
Cast: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley, Aidan Quinn, Lance Reddick, Tom Wopat, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

DC Comics, Legendary Pictures, Mad Chance, Weed Road Pictures, Warner Bros., 81 Minutes

Review:

“War and me took to each other real well. It felt like it had meaning. The feeling of doing what you thought was right. But it wasn’t. Folks can believe what they like, but eventually a man’s gotta decide if he’s gonna do what’s right. That choice cost me more than I bargained for.” – Jonah Hex

This has a measly 4.7 rating on IMDb. I’m calling bullshit on that. This is not as bad as a 4.7 would imply but I’ll get into why.

This film came out, it didn’t look exciting, it didn’t generate the right kind of buzz and it just sort of fizzled out immediately. To be honest, I didn’t support its theatrical run and sort of forgot about it until a friend and I were talking about Josh Brolin and his multiple comic book roles. So I figured that I’d check it out, eight years later.

What I didn’t know, at the time, is that this thing has a pretty stacked cast. Not only do you have Brolin and Megan Fox, probably the hottest starlet circa 2010, but you also have John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley, Aidan Quinn, Lance Reddick, Tom Wopat and an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan. This is a movie full of manly men with talent.

There is a lot working for this movie but there is also a lot working against it, which is why it wasn’t successful. Well, and the trailers made it look goofier than it actually was.

The biggest problem with this picture is running time. Now I have to assume that this fell victim to producer meddling, being behind schedule or a writers’ strike. Reason being, this film should not have been just 81 minutes. It feels like there is a half hour missing from the movie and there probably is. Maybe a lot of scenes came out so bad that they got cut and this is the only way they could have salvaged the film. Whatever the reason, this picture lacks character development, story development and any real emotional weight or deeper context.

That aside, however, this is a balls to the wall action fest with some cool ideas and the kernel of something that could have been really damn good had it been managed much better.

Brolin was good as Hex. Fox was incredibly hot as the eye candy, which is all she needs to be. Malkovich was a formidable villain but just didn’t have the time to properly shine and the same goes for Fassbender, really.

Ultimately, this felt like a completely wasted opportunity. It had some very good pieces but the puzzle was left unfinished with most of the pieces hammered into the wrong place.

I still think that there is more going right for this film than wrong and I can’t give it a rating below a 5 out of 10. The film just feels unfinished and I wish they would have spent the time to work out the noticeable kinks and given us something more worthy of this film’s roster of onscreen talent.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other sci-fi/comic book/western hybrids: Cowboys & AliensWild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Also, the Jonah Hex episodes of Legends of Tomorrow.

Talking Pulp: Red Dead Redemption: A Game Rife with Politics

*Written circa 2010 when I was running a blog about politics and economics.

*There be spoilers here!

Rockstar Game’s Red Dead Redemption may be one of the greatest games I have ever played. It has taken over the last several months of my life, well at least when I have had free time anyway, and it has, in my view, successfully painted a world reflecting the last days of the Old West.

Being a fan of the western genre, I have found Red Dead Redemption to be the greatest representation of that genre ever created for a video game. Like the Grand Theft Auto series, from the same developer, Red Dead Redemption is a game that is seemingly endless, even after beating the single player story mode. There are so may other quests to do and just roaming the countryside and having the freedom to do whatever you wish provides the player with infinite possibilities and hours upon hours of just being sucked into the Red Dead world. The plot is multilayered with several wrenches thrown into its already twisting machinations. However, underneath it all, there seems to be a political philosophy. Now, I am not saying that the Rockstar staff put this philosophy there intentionally but nonetheless it is there. I really just think that the philosophy is a reflection of the times and the life of the characters within the world of the game. The fact that a multilayered philosophy even exists in this game is a testament to the skills of the game’s developers.

To start, the main character, John Marston, was an ex-scumbag who used to run with a gang that murdered and stole. At the start of the game he has already fallen in love, got married and had a son named Jack. Marston, for the sake of his family and his soul, has renounced who he once was and is trying to stay on the right path. That is, until big government BOI (today’s FBI) agent Edgar Ross takes Marston’s family away from him. The only way Marston can get his family back is by working for Ross. Essentially, Ross wants Marston to hunt down and kill all the members of his old gang. However, Ross isn’t the most ethical of agents and there are several twists, turns and surprises that await John Marston on his journey. With that said, the game is about a man’s struggle to work within a corrupt system and to persevere, all while doing it just to achieve his dream: to live on a farm, with his family in peace and quiet with no one (including the government) to bother them. Isn’t that what we all want really? Well, maybe not the farm part.

John Marston’s desire to work hard and never quit, even within the nefarious system, in an effort to achieve his goals and save his family, is heroic. His desires and his actions and his personal philosophy throughout the game are almost libertarian. Hell, one could even make a solid argument that his spirit and personal philosophy was a precursor to Objectivism. He strongly opposed the corrupt big government policies and intrusion into people’s lives, in the U.S. and also in Mexico. In fact, on both sides of the border, he worked within the evil machine only to liberate himself from it and to fight against it. In the end, his fight for freedom and his family cost him his life. Although, he did save his wife and son and he died fighting, opposing corruption, betrayal and tyranny with his last breath.

In the spirit of libertarianism, Red Dead Redemption teaches the player about owning up to your actions and how to be personally responsible for them all while attempting to redeem yourself for the negative aspects of your character. Well, as John Marston anyway.

It also shows the horrors of a government that is too large and how that large government is infringing upon the rights of its people. Many of the more patriotic characters within Red Dead Redemption are incredibly vocal about this. In a lot of ways, unintentionally or not, some of the characters in the Red Dead world could fit well within the Tea Parties of today.

Taking place in 1910, the United States itself was at a major turning point. The industrial revolution was well underway and capitalism was at its peak. The world had also already come to recognize American Exceptionalism. Capitalism in its best forms and worst forms was very much on display in Red Dead Redemption and really left a lot to be analyzed by both sides of the coin: those who are pro-capitalist and those who are anti-capitalist.

However, I’m not going to go on a rant here about the differences between true capitalism and crony capitalism and how government’s involvement in that system is severely destructive and counterproductive to the whole thing. What I will say is that you ought to play the game and witness how capitalism, industrialization and American Exceptionalism killed the Old West and brought us into the future and out of the dark ages.

Another political aspect in the game, probably also unintentional but a part of the game nonetheless due to its awesome representation of life in 1910, is women’s rights. Yes, there are prostitutes all over the place but Marston refuses their advances, out of respect for his wife, and he treats them all with respect.

The other women in the game are all just as tough as the men and they do not back down and run from fear, danger or the corrupt and evil forces that they are faced with. In fact, they stand strong, run their businesses despite a tyrannical government with their hand in it and are just as helpful to John Marston as all the lawmen and combat experienced gents in the game. Essentially, the game paints women as equals to men, even though it takes place in a time when women were viewed as simple homemakers. I feel that the game more accurately portrays the women of the time, as opposed to the entertainment of that era, which was propaganda driven and helped hold women back in their “roles”.

Nowhere else is the spirit of freedom alive in the game then in the second act when our hero, John Marston, turns his back on the corrupt Mexican government, who he was briefly working for, and uses all of what he has learned about them to help the rebels build their long overdue offensive.

Storming the giant villa in Escalera is chilling. Although the rebels are pushing for social reform and their efforts may seem similar to Castro and Che in Cuba, it still gives you a rush, knowing that you are bombarding a well-armed and well-manned fortress to overcome tyranny and establish freedom for people who want nothing other than to tear down a corrupt regime. This is one of the greatest battles in the game and once tyranny in Mexico is seemingly destroyed or at least severely compromised, Marston returns to America to fight for his individual freedom against another corrupt regime.

I can’t honestly say that the game sits on one side of the political fence or the other. It is just a great representation of life in 1910 and it really leaves a lot open for interpretation. I know where I stand with it and a lot of what is going on in this game is timeless. So much of it rings true with what is current now and it is a true testament of political struggle, which represents today just as much as it does yesterday. Red Dead Redemption is definitely one of the best-written games of all time and politically, it has enough guts and enough meat to keep the politificionados talking for a long time.

TV Review: Justified (2010-2015)

Also known as: Lawman (working title)
Original Run: March 16th, 2010 – April 14th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard
Music by: Steve Porcaro, Gangstagrass (theme)
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins, Jere Burns, M.C. Gainey, Brent Sexton, William Ragsdale, Stephen Root, Margo Martindale, Brad William Henke, Neal McDonough, Stephen Tobolowsky, Scott Grimes, Jeff Fahey, Garret Dillahunt, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Danielle Panabaker, Amy Smart, Alicia Witt, Michael Rapaport, Patton Oswalt, Gerald McRaney, Adam Arkin

Sony Pictures Television, Rooney McP Productions, Timberman-Beverly Productions, Nemo Films, Bluebush Productions, FX, 78 Episodes, 37-53 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Justified was one of those shows that everyone told me to watch. I really loved Deadwood and was pissed that it ended when it did, only after three seasons and on a cliffhanger. Timothy Olyphant was fantastic in that show. When Justified came around, it seemed like the modern spiritual successor to the near perfect Deadwood. And many people went on to confirm that to me, before I even saw it.

Then I saw it.

I don’t know what it is about majority opinion and my own opinion but when it comes to television shows, they don’t seem to match up. The thing is, I hate this show. “Awful” isn’t a strong enough word to describe it.

Maybe there is just something about FX that is horrible because every single FX show I have ever watched, except for Always Sunny, has completely underwhelmed me and left me befuddled as to how so many people are in love with FX’s product. The network is perceived by many to be on par with the greats like HBO, Showtime and AMC. Justified is just one of a string of many shows that feels just as safe and generic as the episodic crime drama bullshit found on the big networks: CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox.

I also don’t know who the music director is at FX but Justified easily has the worst theme song in television history. It is eye rolling, stomach churning and just a horrendous attempt at trying to force together hip-hop and bluegrass. But FX shows have a history of having really shitty theme songs, except for Always Sunny. The Justified theme, actually makes the terrible Sons of Anarchy theme, sound like a masterpiece.

The worst part, is that I like Olyphant and even more than him, I love Walton Goggins. This show has great talent on the screen but the final product is still crap. Sure, the acting is better than average but the plot, the characters and everything else is so drab and cookie cutter.

I only made it about halfway through the third season before giving up. I rarely give up on a show. But nothing really grabbed me by that point and the consensus from the fans of the show is that the first three seasons are the best and then it falls off after that. Well, it was never really on for me to begin with so I certainly don’t want to invest another twenty-plus hours in it “falling off”.

I wish there were more westerns and even neo-westerns on TV. I just wish more were like Deadwood, Hell On Wheels and Longmire (once it went to Netflix) and less like this basic bag of bullshit.

And ultimately, it’s just made me go back and start re-watching the far superior Deadwood once again.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Sons of AnarchyBreaking BadFear the Walking Dead and Deadwood.

TV Review: Deadwood (2004-2006)

Original Run: March 21st, 2004 – August 27th, 2006
Created by: David Milch
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Schwartz
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Jim Beaver, W. Earl Brown, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, Anna Gunn, John Hawkes, Jeffrey Jones, Paula Malcomson, Leon Rippy, William Sanderson, Robin Weigert, Sean Bridgers, Garret Dillahunt, Titus Welliver, Brent Sexton, Bree Seanna Wall, Josh Eriksson, Powers Boothe, Keith Carradine, Gerald McRaney, Keone Young, Ray McKinnon, Brian Cox, Sarah Paulson, Zach Grenier, Cleo King, Stephen Tobolowsky, Richard Gant, Alice Krige, Fiona Dourif, Kristen Bell

Roscoe Productions, Red Board Productions, Paramount Television, HBO Entertainment, 36 Episodes (so far), 48-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

HBO’s Deadwood was ahead of its time. It only lasted for three seasons but luckily it stuck around that long. It also ended on sort of a cliffhanger and left you wanting to know what would happen after its final moments at the end of its stellar third season. Well, apparently HBO has announced that, ten years later, there is a movie on the way.

As for the show itself, it is really the first gritty and brutally realistic showcase of frontier life I had ever seen on television up to that point. It pulled no punches and went all out.

Now it did take some time to fall in love with. The first season moves a bit slow but by the time you get to the final episode of that season and see how the characters are changing and how they’ve evolved in a short time, it gets pretty compelling.

Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane are perfect and their relationship is one of the most dynamic in television history. This was also both men at their absolute best. While Olyphant is the first billed star, Ian McShane seems to get more actual screen time and overall, is the more interesting character.

The rest of the cast is full of several well known and great actors. And every one of these characters has a great story surrounding them. Most shows with large ensemble casts suffer from questionable quality with certain characters, as there is always someone wedged into large shows that either doesn’t fit or has an awful plot thread going on. This doesn’t happen in Deadwood. In fact, as far as a character driven drama, it has some of the best character development I have ever seen in a show. Even the characters, who at first, feel somewhat generic, end up having a lot of layers to explore.

Now the show isn’t as beautiful and as vast feeling as the AMC’s big western show Hell On Wheels but it edges it out in regards to its large ensemble cast, all of whom are more interesting and complex than most of the characters on Hell On WheelsDeadwood lacks in not being as visually epic as Hell On Wheels but it has more to sink your teeth into overall and it also takes place in a small camp and not an endless wide-open frontier. I like these shows pretty much the same but Hell On Wheels is a wee bit ahead simply because the rivalry between Bohannon and the Swede was incredible.

At the end of the day, Deadwood is one of the two best western shows I have ever seen. It is also one of the best HBO shows ever produced. It’s short run was unfortunate but the fact that this got on television to begin with is pretty awesome.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Hell On Wheels and because it shares a lot of actors with these shows, Fear the Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy.

TV Review: Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014)

Also known as: Forever Sam Crow (working title)
Original Run: September 3rd, 2008-December 9th, 2014
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bob Thiele, Dave Kushner, Curtis Stigers
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Johnny Lewis, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Dayton Callie, Jimmy Smits, Drea De Matteo, David Labrava, Niko Nicotera, Glenn Plummer, Taryn Manning, Ally Walker, Mitch Pileggi, Kenneth Choi, Kurt Sutter, Titus Welliver, Walton Goggins, Henry Rollins, Hal Holbrook, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Marilyn Manson, Kim Dickens, Chuck Zito, Ray McKinnon

Linson The Company, Sutter Ink, Fox 21, FX, 92 Episodes, 41-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This is one of those reviews that will probably turn a lot of my friends against me. I care not. I must tell it like it is from my point-of-view.

Sons of Anarchy is a show that I have developed a like/hate relationship with. I don’t say “love” because I’m not that enthralled with the positive aspects of it. It does however, have some positives amidst a sea of negatives. And I guess that makes me go against the popular opinion, as nearly everyone that I have talked to, has loved this show.

But I guess this isn’t a show for me. Where I expected something more like The Sopranos on motorcycles, this was more like a mindless action flick full of an overabundance of violence, bad CGI, bad acting, bad writing, bad music and really stupid and unlikable characters. Sons of Anarchy is geared more towards the male millennial crowd than it is for people who want good and groundbreaking television or at the very least, some sort of coherent plot.

This show is a mess. It is a moderately enjoyable mess at times but it is a show that constantly tries too hard and falls short. Yes, there are shocking and intense moments but they lose their meaning and significance almost immediately. For one, it is hard to care about any of these horrible characters. Also, with the show trying to constantly outdo itself and escalating further and further from episode to episode, things eventually get so over the top that it becomes unintentionally ludicrous.

The premise of the show also changes as it goes on and it loses sight of itself just a few seasons in. Maybe this is intentional but it really just feels like the weight of this ratings beast forced the showrunners to make quick, big decisions, which may have increased ratings further but sacrificed whatever integrity and soul the show may have had early on.

For instance, the show’s main drive in the beginning is the main character Jax’s obsession with his dead father’s writings. The writings talked about what the motorcycle club was supposed to be, how it got away from itself and how butt hurt Jax’s dad was about it. Jax then makes it his mission to right the wrongs and make the motorcycle club respectable. Maybe he would’ve been more inspired and followed through had he actually read more than two paragraphs of his father’s writings at a time. Maybe Jax has a bad attention span. Maybe that is why he couldn’t follow through because he got distracted by doing really stupid shit every episode.

In any event, the show evolves away from the club’s redemption through Jax’s leadership and instead shows the club fall on hard times and then even harder times. It just gets worse and worse, Jax stops reading his dad’s journals and pretty much turns into the asshole his stepfather Clay is. He actually turns out worse than Clay by the end of it all.

I could write a book about how much of an idiot Jax is but I’m not going to waste my time. I could also write a book about how much of an idiot his mother Gemma is.

All the characters really suck and all of them, for the most part, are stupid morons. They are the dumbest criminals I’ve ever seen. Darkwing Duck had smarter bad guys than the members of the Sons of Anarchy.

As far as likable characters, there are really only five. There is Wayne, who is on a tragic journey that ultimately ends up sucking really bad for him. Also, he had terminal cancer “eating away” at him in season one but somehow survived seven seasons. There is Jax’s ex-heroin addict wife who goes on to redeem herself and she’s about the only character you are happy for in the end. Then we have Nero, the pimp and tragic lover of Gemma. I really liked Nero but Jimmy Smits is awesome in every role. There’s Piney, who saw the bullshit for what it was and tried to hold everyone accountable. Since he was the voice of reason in a sea of shitty people, he was killed off. This brings me to my favorite character: Juice.

Juice is most likely the most tragic character in television history. Juice was a positive on this show even though his end was horrible. You couldn’t not like Juice and feel for him every step of the way. He truly cared about the club and doing the right thing but continually got fucked (literally) and lost his life and stature because the people he invested his love and loyalty in were pieces of garbage. Juice’s journey is one of the redeeming factors of this show. I don’t like how it ended but this show is one big tragedy.

In regards to the show’s music, it is terrible. The main theme is awful but somehow was nominated for an Emmy by some tone deaf Hollywood types. The songs throughout the show are even worse. More often than not, we are treated to some poor slowed down roots rock cover song of a known pop hit. It always feels bizarre, out of place and makes the show come off as generic and cheesy. At least once per season, we get some crappy song sung by Katey Sagal, who probably shouldn’t sing but is most likely encouraged by her husband, who is the show’s creator. That’s probably also why she was cast as Gemma. Lastly, the music selections are almost racist. When the biker gang fights another biker gang there is rock music. When they fight Mexicans: Spanish language gangsta rap. When they fight blacks: generic crappy English language gangsta rap. Asians: make sure to add in some Asian stringed instruments and gongs in over the soundtrack. Irish: Celtic shit. Persians: grab the sitar – hey wait, that’s Hindi you racist bastards! It’s sad and predictable and becomes a distraction.

This show was not The Sopranos on motorcycles, it was a Shakespearean tragedy on motorcycles. Which is perfectly fine. The problem is that the execution was shit and it tried to convince the viewer that it was clever while beating you over the head with its Shakespeareanism. After the tragic, pointless and retarded ending of the show, it even gives the viewer a Shakespeare quote before rolling its final credits. I’m sure dumb ass college students for years to come will write papers about how fantastic this modern Shakespearean saga is after just skimming over the Cliff Notes of Shakespeare’s work to make them feel the connection.

I don’t hate this show, even though it probably comes across like that. I had a hard time getting through segments of it but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. Granted, the ending was one of the worst in television history but really crappy endings to long-running shows is the trend lately. And maybe that ending just enhanced whatever bitterness I’m feeling.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The SopranosBreaking BadFear the Walking Dead and Justified but these are all better shows. Well, maybe not Justified, I’ll post my review for that soon.

Film Review: Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Release Date: October 1st, 2015 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Music by: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig, Sean Young, Michael Pare

Caliber Media Company, Realmbuilders Productions, The Jokers Films, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Say goodbye to my wife. I’ll say hello to yours.” – Sheriff Franklin Hunt

*Written in 2016.

From the moment I saw the Bone Tomahawk trailer, I thought it looked really interesting and I was a bit hyped to see it. Plus, it starred Kurt Russell.

The film is a western with horror mixed in, which makes it a pretty unique package. A sheriff and a posse head off into the wilderness to find a woman who was taken by Indians. The catch is, these aren’t normal Indians, they are cannibalistic and bizarre. Think The Hills Have Eyes meets The Searchers.

Kurt Russell is fine enough in the role but it isn’t a great or special performance. He looks to be enjoying himself but he isn’t doing anything exceptional. He certainly doesn’t project the magic he had in Tombstone or the more recent The Hateful Eight. The film also stars Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox with brief appearances from Sid Haig and David Arquette.

Overall, the film was underwhelming. There wasn’t a whole lot of terror and dread, even once the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan. The action was mediocre, the acting was average and the plot wasn’t anything spectacular. In fact, it was fairly boring.

The uniqueness of the film’s plot was spoiled by the trailer and the movie itself didn’t do much to expand on it. It also played it safe. With the subject matter and the intensity of the trailer, the movie just didn’t have the balls I was expecting it to.

Now I don’t think the movie should have been a gore festival but it was pretty uneventful and the horror element wasn’t remotely scary. There was just a lot of cannibal Indians grunting and walking around making weird noises because they have whistles in their throats. And the whole whistle throat thing was probably employed to make them seem supernatural and scary but it was kind of goofy.

Bone Tomahawk is okay enough for a single viewing on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic by any means. It has its fans out there but it will most likely fade into obscurity fairly quickly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Ravenous, Four of the Apocalypse and The Burrowers.

Top 20 Roles of Lee Van Cleef

Lee Van Cleef is one of the greatest badasses of all-time. It didn’t matter if he was the villain or the hero, he just owned the screen every time he was on it.

He started out in small villainous roles in westerns before reaching unprecedented heights in his work with Sergio Leone. He went on to star in several spaghetti westerns and maintained a solid career until his death in 1989.

These are my twenty favorite roles that he has played.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. The Big Gundown
3. For A Few Dollars More
4. Death Rides A Horse
5. The Grand Duel
6. Sabata
7. Day of Anger
8. The Magnificent Seven Ride!
9. The Hard Way
10. Escape From New York
11. The Octagon
12. The Return of Sabata
13. The Squeeze
14. High Noon (small role)
15. Beyond the Law
16. God’s Gun
17. Captain Apache
18. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (small role)
19. Posse From Hell (small role)
20. The Master (TV series but he starred)