Sunday, September 30, 2007
Ah, the SATs. How can a group of teens with different dreams for the future band together to steal the answers and beat the system? Humorlessly.
I caught this movie Friday night on TBS. I should have gone to bed. Somehow I excuse myself from putting the movies I watch on late nights on the weekend through the same standard set I employ during the week. I'll sit through much worse films at 2 am on a Saturday morning than I would at 7:15 pm on Friday night. And I don't know why. It's almost always a mistake.
One such mistake was watching The Perfect Score. It had a lot going for it. Scarlett Johanson (who has been good in movies such as Lost in Translation, Ghost World, and Match Point), Erika Christensen (who was good in Traffic), and Chris Evans (who surprised me with solid work in Sunshine) all have major roles. Well, okay. That's pretty much all it had going for it.
The scheme is lame and would never work, not even in my wildest dreams. The cast of misfits and popular kids never gel as a acting team. In fact, three of the performers should be ashamed of their performances in the film. Bryan Greenburg, Darius Miles (who, granted, is not a professional actor), and Leonardo Nam are awful. Everyone else is bad, but Greenburg, Miles, and Nam are truly awful. Nam in particular is all bravado and hi-yucks as the stoner of the crew. He sets the tone for the movie. Any easy joke available will be made. The movie is as smart as a stoner in the middle of a long day of bong-induced pleasure.
Even though the movie hints at the desire to look at the complexity of those high school-types that we know all too well, it fails. Everyone ends up being the sum of what we already know about them. Even as the characters change near the end (which they do all at the same time oddly enough), they still remain the products of the writers' memories of high school and certainly movies set in high school (they reference The Breakfast Club). But rather than exploring teenagers through in-depth conversation as in TBC (except maybe a few on rooftops or in the woods), we learn of these students' "complexities" through this hair-brained scheme.
Ah, the scheme. Even though the writers' put forth a lot of effort into making the heist of the answers exciting with close calls, alarms, and setbacks, I was bored. When they decide to steal the questions and complete the test as a team after a setback, I cringed. They'll beat the system by taking the test? Yahoo!
And you know some of these teens have to hook up! It wouldn't be a teen movie if nobody kissed or tightly embraced each other. Even The Breakfast Club fall into that mold.
Do they take their team answers and "cheat" on the test? Do they realize their dreams? Does anyone care? Not me.
P.S. - this movie is the perfect example of the misuse of voice over...
And now...Chad Betz:
"I think David Cronenberg has always had trouble with depicting fully two-sided relationships. The Fly, Spider, Videodrome, Naked Lunch, etc. have prominent relationships that mostly just function as something for the protagonists to react to as they continue their disintegration. This is put into a hilarious light by Rabid with whiny boy chasing porn star girlfriend across the country. The dynamic between Law and Leigh in eXistenZ is semi-interesting, but mostly besides the point anyways since that film's excellence has everything to do with its conceptual and formal rigor.
And it didn't matter because that was all that those films needed. They were focused on their singular central characters. Dead Ringers is so awesome because it's a sort of non-exception, it's Cronenberg and Irons exploring one character from two sides and using that split for the conflict and reactive purposes served by Geena Davis in The Fly or Miranda Richardson in Spider. But instead of cheapening the internal conflict by externalizing it in some BS abstractive move, Cronenberg and Irons still treat both brothers as whole entities and people, and so the internal conflict just gets doubled and plays contrapuntally. And it's freaking great.
With Eastern Promises, you have Viggo Mortensen's Russian mafia driver/undertaker/rank-climber who's pretty interesting, and then you have Naomi Watts' investigative midwife, who isn't. She's just underwritten, the background information of a miscarriage isn't used enough in her character throughout the middle of the film, the time spent with her mother and uncle is mostly a waste -- the Viggo-Vincent Cassell comrades/lovers (Cassell plays the homosexual son of the mob boss played by Armin Muehler-Stahl) dynamic's about a hundred times more involving. This would be okay if Naomi's connection to Viggo interacted with him in compelling ways; it would even be okay besides that if the film's conclusion didn't depend on there being a balanced give-and-take between the two. But.
I mean, I get it, at the end Naomi's complete because she gets the baby. Viggo's incomplete, he's still in "the Zone," the deadness he says he's felt since he was young. He got a glimpse of completion and life with Naomi, he kisses it goodbye at the end. Or did he? Oh my, the ambiguity. I just find it disappointing because the conclusion has little emotional resonance when it could have had so much, when it could have been a regular Dead Ringers if Naomi's character had just been better developed and better integrated with Viggo's storyline, and if we could have really seen how Naomi might have represented Viggo's last hope. And the twist with the police muddies the issue even further. It feels like a botched storyline because it's a half-assed one that can't hold up to the otherwise striking implications of its finish.
But I'll still take it over A History of Violence, which, for my money, had zero interesting characters and a completely listless closing scene. Plus no crazy bath-house fight."
Saturday, September 29, 2007
If movies have taught me anything, it is that keeping a big bag of money will only make things worse (unless you're the English boy in Millions). That is the lesson learned from A Simple Plan, a movie where problems arise and only get worse at every turn.
1) Don't trust anyone. 2) Don't think you're smarter than everybody else. 3) Don't get anyone else involved. 4) Don't pretend no one will get hurt. And 5) never ever make a plan. Or, if you want to make a nail-biter of a movie, do the opposite. It worked in A Simple Plan.
Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton in his only good performance...ever) and his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thorton in a time when he wasn't typecast as the disgruntled, mean a-hole in buffoonish comedies) and Jacob's drinking buddy find a crashed plane with a bag containing millions of dollars in cash. They conspire to keep it, though Hank has to do the thinking for the others who are greedy and dream big immediately. Soon, Hank can't think fast enough to avoid the schemes, mischief, and mistakes his co-conspirators make on the path to financial heaven.
Money changes people. Or, sometimes it just plain ruins them. The path to ruin is where the film is particularly engaging. I found a strange fascination with watching the plan spin hopelessly out of control. It was like slowing down to look at a car wreck as you pass by. Only in this case, I got to see every misstep along the way. These are not bad people, per say. They are just people who keep digging their own graves by making stupid decisions and not following my list at the beginning of the review.
I actually loved the writing of the film. Even as the characters did horrible things, I rooted for them to pull out of the film with some hope even though it went against my conscience and logic. That's part of the dilemma the characters face: to try to be logical about an act/plan that will never submit itself to logic. Or maybe the lesson is that logic doesn't bend to the whims of men. Or maybe the lesson is don't take what isn't yours. Billy Bob Thorton creates a dim-witted, kind-hearted, drunk, social disappointment who I couldn't help but let my heart break for. There're layers to the character. His loyalties, intelligence, will, and love are tested. And all along it is clear that he isn't up to the task.
And Bill Paxton...Bill Paxton...Bill. Well, he's ruined many a fine film. He's even ruined many a bad film. But he doesn't do anything in A Simple Plan that ruins the quality of the film. Actually, my heart pounded every time I saw his look of distress. And that look abounded. I can't say that a different actor couldn't have done just as well or better, but he did well. Let it be known that Bill Paxton is capable of something better than the crap he usually turns in.
And scrappy little Bridget Fonda...what a good time. Her sudden turn into the scheming, conniving, Lady Macbeth was stunning. The very model of sweetness with a belly big with child switches into a would-be mastermind funneling ideas and dreams into her husband every time he loses faith.
The film struggles in its climax to keep the same quality of acting that it carried throughout, but it's a true diamond in the rough. It's also nice to see Sam Raimi do something other than his horror/comedies and superhero flicks. He can do all sorts of good.
The Kingdom is a politically-minded action film set in the heat of Saudi Arabia. Its mission is to address the situation in the Middle East while pleasing those who watched the trailer and came to see guns fired and cars blown up. It succeeds at both, though when the smoke clears I left the theater unsatisfied and disappointed.
The Kingdom follows a team of F.B.I. agents (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman) who finagle their way onto Saudi Arabian soil to investigate a terrorist attack on Americans living within an oil industry community.
Upon arriving, the agents are told by their Saudi military liaison played by Ashraf Barhom that they will be playing by his rules. The agents do not like that. They want to go to work immediately. It is apparent that they do not understand the danger their lives are in just for being there. That, or they do not care. Their need for revenge is clear.
We learn that the police investigating the attack are incompetent navel-gazers who do not know how to find and process evidence. It is up to the Americans to set them straight and bring the culprits to justice.
This sets the tone for the film. The Americans are here to "help". That means leading, planning, and shooting a helluva lot of Saudi extremists in a bloodbath in the film's burst of energy approaching the end of the film. The Saudis are seen as
a people who need direction. The F.B.I. team are just the ones to provide it.
The presentation of the Saudi people could be accused of being too one-sided if not for the presence of the liaison. It is hard to praise the characters in this film because there isn't a lot offered in way of development or background. However, deliberate strides were made to make the liaison a more complicated man than any of the other Saudis we meet in the film. While I appreciated this attempt, it made me wonder why this wasn't the case with more of the Saudis we meet. We have the liaison and one more policeman who is brutally interrogated about the attack that present the other side of the conflict in Saudi Arabia. Everyone else is an extremist or a narrow-minded, incompetent, brutal, or oblivious officer, prince, or policeman.
The film also attempts to present a strongly political message about America's foreign involvement, but still stays loyal to the confines of the expectations of its audience. The film has been marketed primarily as an action film of sorts. The filmmakers don't really stray from some of the genre's conventions.
The agents and their liaison are in a terrible crash, the kind that flips a car over numerous times, slams it against the ground and slides it for what seems like forever. It is a mere matter of seconds between the time the car stops sliding and the team and the liaison are out firing at their enemy and hopping into a car to pursue them as they flee. There're cuts, scrapes, and blood, but no one seems to have any broken limbs, concussions, or be in need of medical attention.
The team becomes involved in a firefight in a corner of a village. They are only four of them surrounded by dozens of extremists with rocket launchers, machetes, assault rifles, and grenades. Still the team blasts their way through.
There is an air of authenticity that the film tries to create, but moments and flaws like the ones I mention detract from any maintenance of that air. It cannot survive under the weight of its own illogical entertainment. Some of these complaints are nitpicking, but much of this will be apparent to any discerning audience member who sits down in a theater seat and watches.
There is a scene where someone asks what was whispered to someone to stop them from crying. I was expecting something profound like "this too shall pass," but I heard a more honest answer. He whispered that they were gonna kill them all. There is some quality to the film because there is a look of disgust as the one who said that earlier in the film recounts his prior mindset to his team. The film presents the idea that that state of mind will not end the conflict in the Middle East.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
LINDA PARTRIDGE by A. Gates
"Have you seen death in your bed?
In your house?"
I regret my transgressions,
Dirty secrets I only now begin to tell.
I fear I was a giver of my body to other men,
Those who were not dying in bed.
And when he coughed and his brain turned,
I was doing things wrong.
I don't want to see the son come home.
I don't want him to know
I am broken, too.
So the pills are good -
All I deserve
Because I love him -
Him whom I hurt.
So tears come naturally.
A start for rain.
As the song fades,
So do I.
A hazy mess.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
This film was a pleasant surprise. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I picked up the film because it stars Eric Stoltz and Jeff Daniels. I'm sure there was more to the thought process when I was walking the aisles at The Exchange and saw the VHS for a buck, but the meat and potatoes of the winning argument was: 1 dollar, Daniels, Stoltz.
And it was worth it. Normally, that isn't a compliment, but it is this time. What I got for the buck was a zany, dark comedy/thriller (?). I laughed a lot during this movie. Not hearty guffaws, but well-earned chuckles. I found the film to be clever, but not in a showy way some dark comedies are.
The film connects strangers in a way that some people might find overly-coinicdental, but in a movie this free and light (though dark, know what I mean?) I didn't mind it at all. I kept hoping everybody would meet up and hijinks would ensue. And they did. Boy, oh boy, did they ever.
And Stoltz and Daniels? Great. My only real complaint is that the movie has these great directions it could have taken their two characters. Instead, it pushes them into minor roles. In a movie like this, all the roles might be seen as minor, but Stoltz and Daniels kind of get forgotten. Stoltz's character is a cop who might have to bust a prostitution business running out of a massage parlor. His partner, played by Daniels, is gunning for the place. Problem is Stoltz's character kind of likes one of the prostitutes. Sure, it's not Bible humor, but I thought that would have made for a really interesting movie all on its own. Even though I really enjoyed the whole movie, I kind of wish it had followed those two guys more. Perhaps the greatest flaw a movie can have (besides a title like Dude, Where's my Car?) is to present something amazing and go in another direction. I'm sure there's something worse, but I'm kind of enjoying the ranting.
Eastern Promises is a grisly account of violence in London involving an orphaned infant, a doctor, and the russian mafia.
Director David Cronenberg doesn't seem one to shy away from violence. In fact, his last film was titled A History of Violence. I thought that film started out well, but lost its way in its third act. I think Eastern Promises is solid throughout. Still, I had an overall lukewarm reaction to it.
After an eye-opener of a beginning, the film finds a young, pregnant girl dying in a hospital where Naomi Watt's (King Kong, 21 Grams) character, a doctor named Anna, saves the baby and loses the mother. She finds the girl's diary from which she hopes she can find a relative to take care of the baby. Trouble is, the diary is in Russian. Her search for a translator leads her to shady men at a shady restaurant. Whether she likes it or not, she soon becomes a part of the Russian mafia's dealings.
She meets a driver for the mob named Nikolai, played by Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings franchise). Though he seems dangerous, he stands out among the men he works for. When Anna gets closer to the truth, she gets closer to danger. And Nikolai may be the only one who gives a damn and can do something about it.
First off, this film is violent. Often, there is merely a threat of danger. However, there are parts drenched in violence. Cronenberg does not shy away from it. It is presented smack dab in the middle of the screen where it stares back at you. It is jarring. I admit, I was grossed out a little. But it is fake. It is a movie. I remembered.
Also, the violence fits with the story. There are bad men who do bad things. Sometimes good guys have to do bad things to stop bad men. Either way, blood is spilled.
Particularly memorable (for better or for worse) is a naked knife fight scene. Nikolai is cornered in a Russian bath house. During the struggle, his towel is lost and soon he is naked and wrestling, stabbing, and being stabbed. It is brutal.
I do not think I have to make excuses for the filmmakers, but one reason I thought this was justified (albeit disturbing for the audience) is that a person is never really as vulnerable as when he or she is naked. Nikolai is attacked when he does not have a weapon. That raises the stakes of what could have been a panic-inducing action scene in the movie. What raises the stakes even higher is that he is naked. There is nothing between Nikolai and the threats before him. He is utterly defenseless.
While it is difficult to empathise with a naked, forty-year old, Russian mobster in a bath house, I think back to some scary dreams when I waltzed into school naked. Scary, right? What if all the other students at my school were Russian mobsters out to get me? Scarier. So, instead of merely being panic-inducing, the scene is nail-biting, heart-exploding, and one-hand-over-your-eyes-looking-between-your-fingers intense. Necessary? I do not know. I do think that the scene accomplished exactly what the filmmakers wanted it to do.
Needless to say, Eastern Promises is not for those movie-goers trying to avoid blood or nudity when going out for a Friday night flick.
Like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises takes a major turn in its third act. Unlike A History of Violence, it does go down for the count because of a horrible performance from Oscar nominee William Hurt. It does, however, rely on some story elements that made what had been an unpredictable film predictable. While these story elements make the film more satisfying to the audience who expects such turns, their inclusion bothered me.
I was impressed both by Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen in particular has a difficult task of playing tough while pulling off a thick, Russian accent. I do not know any Russians, but I think I would be bothered if I did not believe his accent when I heard it. What helped is that his accent is as thick and as indecipherable at times as everyone else's in the film. It also helps that he fully commits to the role. Nikolai is a mystery man. His motives and loyalties are questionable thoughout the film, though it is primarily so because I could not tell why he was with the low-lifes he surrounded himself with when he seemed to have have a better head on his shoulders.
Naomi Watts, despite what turns into a supporting role midway through the film, delivers the best performance in the film. She is utterly believable even when constantly sticking her neck out into danger. She also plays her emotions well. Her character can be alternately vulnerable, courageous, angry, sad - basically a complicated woman.
If you can cringe repeatedly and still stick with a movie, Eastern Promises is worth a watch. I cannot, however, promise you will walk out of the movie theater thanking me I suggested you do so.
For those reading this on my blog: ask me what else I didn't like after you see the movie.
Friday, September 21, 2007
There is no subtle Ernest movie. You can look, but there are none. But there is a funny one. Ernest Goes to Jail is funny. Laugh-out-loud-funny even. It's not a well-scripted movie.
There is no explanation why bad actors acting badly can be hilarious sometimes.
Say what you want (and you will) - but Jim Varney can be funny. His Ernest shtick got old (or maybe always was to some of you), but somehow he's really funny in Ernest Goes to Jail.
A lot of the laughs recieved are easy laughs. There's no complexity to the humor. What you see is what you get. And I liked what I got.
The pleasure of watching a Whit Stillman film is not reliving my past or seeing my future. The youth he portrays in his films is very different from mine. I am not bourgeoisie. I am not in love with disco. I am not from a rich family. I have not read many facinating books. I am not like the characters depicted in these films (Barcelona, Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco), well, not really. But I recognize these types. I know people, you know? And the realities of the people in Stillman films are not all that different from the realities of people I know, and, well, me too. I admit. I'm like these Disco lovers. There is wonderful pleasure in watching Whit Stillman's work.
Like the group of revolving friends and lovers in The Last Days of Disco, I too have experienced the need to fit in, or in the case of these characters, getting in. They're too self-absorbed to realize that the place they want to get and stay in - the place where they have fun, dance, drink, fall in and out of love, be good friends, and be bad friends - is dying. Disco and this club that they frequent symbolizes the folly and seriousness of youth. And not adolescence. Not being in college. Like few filmmakers, Stillman has a keen sense of the way post-college feels (or what I imagine it feels like). Along with other film's depictions of youth, The Last Days of Disco portrays the urge to fill others expectations of you, or maybe to change how others see you, or maybe even to change the way you see yourself. All of the above. None of the above.
The truth is, these characters only flirt with change. They approach it, but like one character says about the Tramp of Lady and the Tramp, no one really changes. Their context can change, but people never really do. It's a cynical view of society, but the film backs it up.
A Stillman staple is a witty, sophisticated banter/dialogue between characters. What's intriguing is that I've never really heard people in real life talk this way. Even the most mundane, accidental conversation seems planned. But it's never forced. And somehow I believe it. Somehow the reality and truth always shines during even the most artifical scenes.
Sample witty dialogue: Des McGrath: "Yuppie stands for 'young upwardly mobile professional'. Nightclub flunkie is not a professional category. I wish we were yuppies. Young, upwardly mobile, professional. Those are good things, not bad things."
The Last Days of Disco is Whit Stillman's best film. Not only does he guide his best cast to date, but his organization and handling of the distinctive personalities of the film's multiple characters is amazing. Each is complex. Each is real (you know, in that sort of artifical way I semi-explained earlier). And though his other films showed a insight into the life of the privileged, he has never before so accurately displayed an atmosphere. Apparently, Disco was contagious. I never got it before. "Disco?" I asked. "Ugh! Yuck!" I shouted. But it looks like fun. There, I said it. "Disco looks like fun."
Friday, September 14, 2007
SUNSHINE (PINBACKER AND I) by A. Gates
I see the red and the black
Loose skin and bulging eyes
Menace and intent forcing fear
I am sad.
I am breathing hard and fast.
I am scared I can't do this right.
If he comes, but Capa goes,
Will I die alone?
I see his face,
And I fear
Not for my own sake
But for my loves'.
Let the sum of life accept my sacrifice.
SUNSHINE (THE ABSENCE OF NOTHING) by A. Gates
I think I owe this sun my life.
I want to give all I have.
I will stare into the light
And let the blindness burn me clean.
Enveloped like a wildfire.
Sheer force of nature,
But greater than all I have ever known.
To feel the warmth,
To see the light,
To engage everything in the pit of space,
I will take it in, and I swear
I will give up.
SUNSHINE (TREY IN THE CORNER) by A. Gates
I did this.
I am the one to blame.
I can see it in their eyes
When I shake and spit,
Tremors and tension rubbing my bones.
The drugs are swift,
They swallow me whole.
I feel nothing but shame,
And it burns.
It turns my stomach over.
Guilt is sobering.
And this blade will free me.
This blood will end this sensation.
My own action a motion I owe.
SUNSHINE (IN ITS SHADOW) by A. Gates
I am bitter.
It is cold.
I am beginning to regret -
I regret my time away from home.
I can feel myself stopping,
Struggling but slowing down,
Panic a cold wash,
Crisp sounds as I squirm to go in.
My mouth is open and sticking to it.
My skin is blue, but I can't see it.
The color it goes when you go.
I feel it as I go numb.
Odd how that can be.
The irony does not escape me.
The last thing I see is the frost on my eyes.
SUNSHINE (GREEN AS GIVEN AND TAKEN AWAY) by A. Gates
This one small life in all this black, burned soot and soil.
Too much to take in,
But I tried.
I knelt down and reached out a hand.
Felt my back split and blood peak.
I heard his voice preach to me.
I gasped again.
This death admist all this black, burned soot and soil.
I wanted to cry,
My mouth stretched to curse his name,
But a hollow sound was the only thing that escaped me.
A shallow breath.
I died with my eyes wide open,
Calm over my face,
Grasping that life as I so longed to alive.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
SUNSHINE (COOLS MY BLOOD) by A. Gates
My shirt sticks to my stomach.
I don't feel the pain.
My eyes light up
As the sparks begn to flame.
One into two,
Two into four,
Many, many more.
Flashing and surounding me.
Too great to begin.
The heat is close,
A force growing in front of me.
I'd say it's the sun,
But no one would believe me.
I reach to touch.
Can you touch the sun?
I see my maker.
Does it see me?
And then it glows.
It bleaches out my vision
Until I see all I can see is light.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
The Cell often gets criticized by reviewers for utilizing the style over substance method. There is certainly style. The film is visually stunning. It never fixes to a look that it can't change whenever it feels like it. It is also terrifying, chiefly because I have never before seen things like I saw in this movie.
But there is substance too. Do I like that substance? That is the question reviewers should be asking themselves. I'm not sure I do, but I think I don't. There are good things about the movie. It explores the mind of a serial killer and offers ideas of what makes men do terrible things.
I didn't like what I saw. It was well constructed visually and well acted by the crazy D'Onofrio and sweet Lopez. But it's horrible stuff that passes before the eyes during the trip inside D'Onofrio's killer's mind.
The film's action climazes when the killer's mind is placed inside Lopez's mind. To comfort him, she chooses to be dressed and presented as the Virgin Mary. Now, I'm all for religious imagery in film, but it must work in the context of the film. Presenting herself as Mary to the killer is a terrible idea. Sure, it's interesting visually, but it doesn't fit with what we've learned about the killer prior to the reveal. He had suffered a very traumatic baptism at a young age, and it seems that he hasn't carried positive feelings about Christianity into adulthood. So, why oh why is it a good idea to comfort him as the Virgin Mary?
Then there's the crucifixion that takes place. No cross, just bolt arrows shot from a crossbow through the killers feet and hands leaving laying out in a Jesus pose. I'm not sure what the filmmakers are trying to say here, and I'm left only to guess. My guess is that the killer must be sacrificed to save the young version he sometimes presents in his mind. But this is a stretch and the film certainly didn't have to include that kind of imagery to convey this to the audience. And I don't think I've ever been more uncomfortable with religious imagery before. Likening the killer to Jesus, even abstractly, is too much for me.
While this is the second-best performance I have seen from Lopez (Out of Sight soaring above and beyond anything else), I am confused why she was paired up (albeit non-romantically) with co-star Vince Vaughn. He is utterly out of place in this movie. Vaughn is talented. I believe he could work in a drama, but not this thriller. Every line he utters (that may be a bit harsh - maybe it's every other line) rings false when it falls from his mouth. That may be because of some awkwardness in the script, but Vaughn certainly doesn't help matters.
I remember really being impressed by this movie when I saw it as a Senior in high school, but it doesn't hold up well to time. It's a decent one-watcher, but revisitng the film will only reveal new flaws to viewers. It is consistently shocking however. That much has not changed.
SUNSHINE (COLDER THAN HELL) by A. Gates
Colder than winter on the moon.
Liquid cracking my bones.
I tense muscles long forgotten.
Vomit on the cusp of emergence.
I lean on the cool metal above and beside.
A joke next to the frigid pool around my middle and end.
It hurts to breathe this pale cloud.
Heaving chest, chattering teeth, aching head.
Still I speak in harsh tones to myself,
"I have to make things right."
"Capa, you better damn well save us all."
SUNSHINE (KANEDA IS LEAVING US) by A. Gates
So bright, so beautiful.
Complete absence of nothing
Sweeps over me like a warmth as vast as anything.
And I cry out that fear I hold
Perhaps as great as the light on my face.
It burns. It tears.
Moisture evaporates on my skin.
Dry sweat can't bead against the grain.
So hot, so cold.
The vague sensation is the last thing I feel.
3:10 to Yuma is a new western, but it wears the marks of its tried and true forefathers of the genre proudly. You don't have to like westerns to like 3:10 to Yuma, but it will help. There are bad guys in black, stagecoach robberies, ruthless outlaw gangs, downtrodden ranchers, and sons aging much too fast on the hard, dry earth around them.
That is just some of the good news for you western fans (I'm sure at least a few exist on this campus). Certainly it is not bad news for those of you who could not care less about men in cowboy hats trotting about on horses and talking about the men they have killed. If you do not care, it rolls right off your back. What might stick is the psychological game of wits and will between the two main characters played by two of the best actors working today.
Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, the aforementioned bad guy in black. Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, the aforementioned downtrodden rancher.
Wade is captured dallying about with a saloon gal in town after a stagecoach robbery. One of the men charged with the task of taking him to justice (via the 3:10 train to the prison in Yuma referred to in the title) turns out to be Evans. He is promised a sum of cash in return that could keep his struggling family above the financial waters it is drowning in.
Evans has two boys. The youngest looks at his father with worshipping eyes. The older boy, played by Logan Lerman, has not looked at him in that way for a long time. He does not respect his father, a civil war veteran with a bum leg who has not shown strength and fortitude in the eyes of his wife and oldest child during their recent struggles.
This is the basis of Evan's situation: he has something to prove to himself and his family. Therefore, when he is granted the opportunity to make things right, he takes it.
That means having to listen to the manipulative, suave, and dangerous Wade along the way to the train several days journey away. This allows the writers, director, and actors the opportunity to create the real entertainment. Sure, 3:10 to Yuma is a western, so there are gunfights and explosions. However, it is the interactions of these two men that kept me interested.
Wade keeps pushing Evan's buttons. Unlike the pushover Evans appears to be at the beginning, he begins to push back, meet gazes, make threats, and stand firm although it seems that inside all he wants to do is wobble freely.
Like many interesting villains, Wade is alluring. He draws you in with his charm, mean streak, and wit. What the film does well is establish a comfort with the character only to take away that comfort at will. Just when you start to think he is not all that bad, he strikes. He is kind of like a tiger in a magic show.
The film moves slowly at times, but this is because the film only carries the illusion of a "bang bang" western. Its true heart lies in these two characters on their journey not only to the train but also revelation.
Yuma ends in a shootout, but it is the actors rather than the action that do the heavy lifting. There is so much revealed about the characters within the last half hour that it might be too much.
I was not sure I liked the ending. I rolled it over in my head for a good hour after the credits rolled and I slowly began to see that the film had earned what had first seem forced. The filmmakers offer precedents along the way to the train that explain why the film can end in the way it does with its characters making the choices they do. I am not completely on board with the final result, but I can clearly see what the filmmakers intended me to.
I would be foolish not to mention the work of Ben Foster as Wade's right-hand man in the gang. It is a role ripe with bravado, and Foster takes full advantage of the opportunities given to him to shine. It is a performance I will remember that surely will get looked over by audiences because the two leads do such fine jobs.
These are neither Bale's nor Crowe's best performances, but each delivers solid, commendable work in what could have been a western too old fashioned to allow these wonderful modern actors to shine.
Not everyone shines, however. I have not really been a fan of Peter Fonda in the past, and his work in Yuma does not make me change my mind. I did not believe a word he said. His performance is too weak to hide the fact that it is Peter Fonda the actor pretending to be a tough SOB.
Another weakness is a completely unnecessary cameo from a famous face. He tries to hide behind a beard, but it is useless. His appearance took me out of the reality of the movie. It comes about halfway through. I committed to the reality of the movie. "These are cowboys. They are heading to a train. Good. I've got it." Then what's-his-face shows up and I said, "Wait...is that who I think it is? It might be. It is!" Then I am out. I am back in the world of celebrity rather than the world of pistols, spurs, and horses I am supposed to be in.