Big Kill (2018)


You can always tell the bad guys by their eccentric taste in fashion.

(2018) Western (Cinedigm/Archstone) Christoph Sanders, Scott Martin, Clint Hummel, Jason Patric, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Parė, Danny Trejo, K.C. Clyde, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Audrey Walters, Jermaine Washington, Dennis LaValle, David Manzanares, Sarah Minnich, Paul Blott, Stephanie Beran, Toby Bronson, Bob Jesser, David Hight, Itzel Montelongo, Tsailii Rogers. Directed by Scott Martin

 

Part of the reason Westerns were so popular 50 and 60 years ago is that once upon a time, they were fun. The hero was always an easy-going sort with a code of honor not unlike a knight of old, the shopkeeper was as honest as the day was long, the villains were shoot first and don’t ask questions at all, and the saloon gals had hearts of gold.

Along came the ‘70s to turn the heroes into anti-heroes, the shopkeepers to be racists, the villains even more despicable than the heroes but only just so, and saloon gals who were hookers whose bustles came off at the drop of a cowboy hat.  The audience became somewhat more sophisticated and Westerns all but disappeared from the cinematic landscape.

They’ve begun to slowly come back only recently and there have been a few really good ones in and among the mix with even the occasional big budget Hollywood western making an appearance every so often. The hallowed B Western, once the province of actors like Dean Martin, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood, have remained in the background although from time to time an indie western surfaces, generally on the ultra-violent side (Bone Tomahawk).

Big Kill opens up with a pair of ne’er do well gunfighters – Travis (Hummel) who never met a woman he couldn’t seduce, and Jake (Martin), a gambler who if it weren’t for bad luck wouldn’t have any luck at all – being run out of Mexico by a general (Trejo) whose daughter Travis defiled. While under the protection of the U.S. Cavalry in an outpost so forlorn and isolated it can barely be called a fort, they meet up with Philadelphia accountant Jim Andrews (Sanders) who is on his way to the Silver mine boom town of Big Kill, Arizona to meet up with his brother who wrote Jim glowingly about the saloon he owns and how successful the town is.

When they get there, nobody has heard of Jim’s brother, the town is nearly deserted and those who have remained are intimidated by the nefarious Preacher (Patric) who believes in handing out his brand of justice on the end of a gun and salvation, as he administers the last rites to those he guns down, as well as the Preacher’s enforcer, sociopathic gunslinger Johnny Kane (Phillips) who looks like Wayne Newton playing a gaudy 50s cowboy in a red suit.

Travis and Jake are all for leaving while the leaving is good but Jim needs to find out what happened to his brother. He meets shopkeeper’s daughter Sophie (McLaughlin) who is sweet as pie but a real pistol. She gives Jim another reason to stick around; however, you know that a confrontation between the bad guys and the good guys for the soul of the town is just around the corner.

This is a fun little movie that has some really nice touches; the final gunfight between Jim and the Preacher involves the two mostly circling around each other and firing off wild shots that don’t hit anything except, maybe, a cameraman on the movie filming over at the next butte. Despite the fact that the Preacher was earlier shown to be a proficient gunfighter, Jim being an Eastern tenderfoot and proud of it likely would be hard pressed to hit the broad side of a barn door. Sanders, best known as lovable dim bulb Kyle in Last Man Standing, is perfectly cast for the role and does a pretty credible job of holding our interest.

Patric, a veteran of some really good movies back in the 90s, does a fine turn as the charismatic villain that makes me wonder why he doesn’t get cast more often. Phillips doesn’t play a mustache twirling villain all that often but he does a good job of it here, sans the mustache twirling.

Like most westerns, there are some beautifully photographed vistas and a soundtrack that mixes soaring themes with the occasional twang twang twang of the Jew’s harp to lend color. Where the movie falls down is in the editing; some of the exposition is drawn out too much and some of the scenes could have used some tightening up. Still, there is a lot to like here. This is the kind of Western I used to watch regularly on TV and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A little nostalgia is good for the soul.

REASONS TO SEE: This really isn’t half-bad. Sanders is inspired casting.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the exposition is excessive and would have benefited from tighter editing. It’s a little bit derivative.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, a good deal of violence, some sexuality and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is an English-language remake of Lelio’s 2013 film Gloria.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 22% positive reviews: Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Magnificent Seven
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Hobo With a Shotgun


Hobo With a Shotgun

Whaddaya mean they’re remaking Blade Runner?

(2011) Action (Magnet) Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Molly Dunsworth, Nick Bateman, Drew O’Hara, Jeremy Akerman, Tim Dunn, Duane Patterson, Brian Jamieson, Robb Wells, Agnes Laan , Pasha Ebrahimi, Gregory Smith, Andre Haines, Juanita Peters. Directed by Jason Eisener

 

Things are tough all over. In some places, they are much rougher. Some places are ruled by anarchy, corruption and violence. The weak are defenseless. Places like that require a hobo. With a shotgun.

Hope City is exactly a place like that. It is ruled, effectively, by Drake (Downey), a gregarious hoodlum who likes conducting his executions game-show style, executions carried out by his sadistic sons Ivan (Bateman) and Slick (Smith). Into this carnival of chaos comes the Hobo (Hauer) who rides the rails into the one town he probably should have kept going at. He witnesses the public execution of Drake’s brother Logan (Wells) but as this isn’t any of his business, he simply moves on.

When he sees a lawnmower in a pawnshop window for $50 (okay, $49.99 – puh-leeease, it’s fifty dollars okay? Friggen retailers) it rekindles dreams of owning a lawn mowing business. Of stability. A future. He aims to buy it but being a hobo he has no money. So he goes panhandling. That night he witnesses Slick and Ivan harassing a young man in a video arcade before a heart of gold prostitute named Abby (Dunsworth) tries to intercede. The psychos turn on her, intending to kill her for her temerity but the Hobo knocks out Slick and takes him to the police station to place him under citizen’s arrest.

Except that the Police Chief (Akerman) is as corrupt as they come. He and his goons carve the word “Scum” in the Hobo’s chest and throw him in a dumpster behind the police station. Abby comes upon the Hobo as he stumbles through town, delirious and dripping blood. She takes him to her apartment and nurses him back to health. Once he is healthy, he decides to finish what he started. He finds a cameraman (Ebrahimi) who films homeless people doing degrading things. After the Hobo performs several acts of humiliation (including chewing on broken glass), the cameraman pays him enough to cover the lawnmower.

The Hobo goes into the pawn shop to purchase the mower but as he does, three hoods come in and rob the place. When they threaten a new mother and her baby, the Hobo snaps. He grabs a shotgun off the rack and proceeds to ventilate all three of the thugs. When he discovers that the firearm is the same price as the lawnmower, he opts for the shotgun.

Pushed to his limit, he decides to clean up Hope Town. He takes out pimps, drug dealers, pedophiles and the cameraman who he chewed broken glass for. His actions unite the townspeople who begin questioning the order of things. This is something Drake cannot allow so he orders Slick and Ivan to bring him the head of the Hobo. In order to get him out of the open, they deliberately set fire to a crowded school bus. They also put a bounty on the Hobo’s head, hinting that further atrocities would be in the town’s future if someone didn’t find him and kill him. Looks like the Hobo’s going to need an awful lot of shells.

This movie started life in a peculiar way. When Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made Grindhouse back in 2007 (complete with faux trailers), the studio held a contest to find the best fan-made exploitation trailer. The winner was Eisener, whose trailer for Hobo With a Shotgun was famously made for $120 and was included on the Blu-Ray edition of the film as well as in some parts of Canada with the theatrical release. As interest in the fake trailers being made into movies increased, screenwriter John Davies penned a full-length version of the contest winner and Eisener was able to gain enough financing to get it made.

Even though he had limited filmmaking experience, he made a solid decision in casting Hauer in the title role. One of the most admired actors of the ’80s (who can forget his performance as Roy Batty in Blade Runner or Navarre in Ladyhawke?), he has been consigned to a lot of made for cable movies and supporting roles in medium-sized films, having a reputation not unlike Jean Claude van Damme and Steven Seagal. This is one of his better performances of the last 20 years of his career; there is a strange gravitas to the Hobo and even though he goes batcrap on us, he is still believable even at his most outrageous. The dialogue he has to deliver is pretty cheesy and full-on Times Square B-movie but that’s part of the charm.

The gore and nudity are very reminiscent of the splatter movies of the 70s and early 80s. That’s a double-edged sword; it carries all the visceral thrills of those films and all the drawbacks – the hackneyed dialogue, the improbable plot, the woeful acting. Besides Hauer, Bateman and Dunsworth rise above. Bateman (no relation to Jason) is an ex-Abercrombie and Fitch model who turns out to have some decent acting chops; he plays the amoral, psychotic Ivan with gusto and just enough restraint to keep the character from sinking into caricature. Dunsworth is a fresh and pretty face who turns from hooker with a heart of gold into a legitimate badass and if you think that’s an easy transition, guess again. She does both aspects of Abby convincingly.

There is a good deal of gratuitous gore and sex here, as you would expect from a grindhouse film. There are also some drawbacks; some incredibly cheesy dialogue (some of which is just plain painful)  and a plot that beggars description. It goes incredibly over the top which can be a very acquired taste; in all honesty I usually like this kind of thing, but I found it to be uneven in terms of performance other than those specified. I get the sense that Eisener was trying to make a grindhouse film rather than just referencing them, but in the end he succeeded too well. What we tend to forget about those films we remember with such affection is that most of them were pretty bad.

WHY RENT THIS: A great reminder of ’70s exploitation films. Hauer gives the character gravitas.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Also a great reminder of the flaws of ’70s exploitation films.

FAMILY VALUES: Extreme amounts of gore, violence and bad language; a good deal of sexuality and some partial nudity. Oh, and drug use too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the movie was shot digitally, it was digitally processed during post-production to look as if it had been shot and processed the same way B-movies were in the ’70s, resulting in a look that’s oversaturated with shifted colors.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an interview by Fangoria magazine editor Michael Gingold with Hauer and Eisener. There is also a documentary on the making of the film from its beginnings as a $120 fan trailer to its Sundance premiere.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $703, 372 on an unreported production budget; I’m pretty sure the movie lost money, although it’s possible it did not..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Machete

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: The Last Samurai

Jonah Hex


Jonah Hex

You have to wonder if Josh Brolin didn't just take a blowtorch to his career.

(Warner Brothers) Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Tom Wopat, Aidan Quinn, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Julia Jones, Luke James Fleischmann, Rio Hackford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Directed by Jimmy Hayward

We all have a reason to get up out of bed every morning. Be it love, career or cause, there is something that motivates us to keep going even when the going gets rough. For some that cause is vengeance.

Jonah Hex (Brolin) was an officer in the Confederate Army under the command of General Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) but when the General ordered the burning of a hospital with innocent women and children inside it. Jonah balks at this and betrays Turnbull to the Union Army. As a result of this, Hex is forced to kill Jeb Turnbull (Morgan), the son of the General.

As you might guess, the General doesn’t cotton to this very well. He finds Jonah and ties him to a cross, then makes him watch as he burns Jonah’s wife and son to death. That General Turnbull, he sure has a thing for burning women and children alive. Just in case Jonah forgets who is responsible for the death of his family, General puts a branding iron on the side of Jonah’s face while the General’s Irish right hand man Burke (Fassbender) holds him down.

Jonah is left on the cross to die, but was rescued by members of the Crow nation whose medicine men were able to bring back Jonah to this side. Jonah came back hideously scarred but with the ability to converse with the dead. That comes in handy since the dead can see where those they trafficked with in life are.

Jonah becomes a bounty hunter but after killing a corrupt mayor and his sheriff in the lovely mining town (if you can really call it that) of Stunk Crick, he finds himself with a bounty on his own head. Naturally, he does what any self-respecting bounty hunter would do in a situation like that – go visit a prostitute with a heart of gold, namely the fetching Lilah (Fox) who carries a torch for Jonah. She also carries a derringer and a knife. She may have a heart of gold but she’s also practical.

Their rendezvous is interrupted by about a dozen Union soldiers (Jonah’s withering bon mot – “How many men are you seein’ today?”) who get Jonah’s co-operation by telling him three words; Quentin Turnbull’s alive.

You see, everybody had assumed that Turnbull had perished in a hotel fire but it turns out that he had faked his death. You’d think someone able to communicate with the dead would have better intel about who had passed on and who hadn’t. In any case, the U.S. Army had determined that Turnbull was assembling a superweapon designed by Eli Whitney, inventor of the Cotton Gin and was planning to use it against the United States on the occasion of its Centennial celebration. President Ulysses Grant (Quinn) thinks that Jonah Hex is the best bet at stopping that wacky General, who not only likes to burn women and children but sure can’t let go of a grudge. Can someone who has cheated death so often do so once again?

I really wanted to love this movie, and I had high hopes that I would. After all, Josh Brolin has been hot as of late, with terrific performances in No Country for Old Men, W. And Milk all increasing his bankability as an actor. This looked to create his genre profile and maybe put a franchise character under his belt.

Alas, it is not to be. While the script writers Neveldine and Taylor are some of the most innovative action film writers in the business (they wrote and directed both Crank films), they missed the mark here. Early on there’s a nifty animated sequence, and the dead guy interrogation sequences are pretty cool, but this feels slopped together. The heavy metal score gives it a kind of steampunk feel but the doomsday weapon, which features a kind of rotating cannon firing device that shoots big iron balls that are detonated by an orange glowing bocce ball, is nonsensical and not really impressive.

As kind of an aside, I think there’s a trend here that any movie that depicts Ulysses Grant as president turns into a major bomb – first there was The Legend of the Lone Ranger, then the misfire that was the remake of Wild, Wild West and now the box office receipts for this one were anemic. Screenwriters, take note.

Brolin does a credible enough job as Hex, mainly having to squint, snarl and drawl his lines in a Clint Eastwood-esque rasp. You get a sense of his pain and his violent nature, and while Neveldine and Taylor do try to give Hex a bit of backstory, Brolin’s narration gives us more insight into the character than we might have had otherwise.

Malkovich is a capable villain, although this is probably not his best bad guy role (that would be In the Line of Fire) and Fox is easy enough on the eyes in her Victorian boudoir fashions that she wears throughout.

There are lots of explosions – most of the budget seems to have gone to pyro. It’s a shame we didn’t see more story here. The movie clocks in at a mere 81 minutes, so there was room for more exposition but I get the impression that story was sacrificed for pacing here.

Jonah Hex comes from the realm of DC Comics and I find it somewhat surprising that the powers-that-be at DC have elected to greenlight a film about what has to be characterized as one of their minor characters over better-known characters such as Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Teen Titans, none of which have had a chance to shine on the big screen as of yet. Given the talent both in front of and behind the camera, I would have expected a better movie than the one we got here, which does little to establish DC Comics as a player in Hollywood the way Marvel Comics is. It’s too bad; the story of Jonah Hex is a compelling one and with a little more focus, this could have been a really good movie instead of a mediocre one.

REASONS TO GO: The movie isn’t as bad as you heard it is.

REASONS TO STAY: It’s still a mess. Story seems to have been sacrificed at the altar of pacing.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of violence, a little bit of bad language and a little bit of sexual innuendo. Okay for teens but probably not for much younger than that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Along with veteran film composer Marco Beltrami, heavy metal band Mastodon composed the film’s score.

HOME OR THEATER: Chances are this will be gone from theaters by next weekend but quite frankly it’ll look a lot better on the big screen than the small.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Burma VJ