Bone Tomahawk Review

Originally posted on Man on the Street Reviews:

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Set in the Old West, Bone Tomahawk opens with two bandits (Sid Haig and David Arquette) murdering a camp of sleeping men, who decide to take cover in the high ground upon hearing the approach of horses. In the process, they desecrate a bizarre burial ground and are beset by troglodytes. Arquette manages to escape and inadvertently leads the cave-dwelling cannibals to the small town of Bright Hope, where they abduct several townsfolk. The town sheriff (Kurt Russell), his elderly back-up deputy (Richard Jenkins), an educated gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and the crippled husband of one of the kidnap victims (Patrick Wilson), ride out on a hopeless rescue mission.

Marketed as a western/horror this plays out more as a straightforward western that happens to contain a few scenes of graphic violence, which is in no way gratuitous given the nature of the story. But you can’t really go by my insensitivity towards screen gore as I cut my teeth on horror films as a wee lad.

The casting is near perfect. Kurt Russell proved he’s still the man as he struts his stuff, which really should come as no surprise since he demonstrated his cowboy chops in Tombstone. Patrick Wilson once again held his own. A reliable actor, he took on the role of the average man who suffers injury and setbacks, yet stepped up to the plate when the situation called for it (in fact, his nickname should be Clutch, because he always comes through). Richard Jenkins? What can I say about the man besides he tossed himself into the role of the well-intentioned back-up deputy with his usual aplomb. Never a disappointing performance from this man. Even the smaller roles were well cast. Sid Haig and David Arquette as the bandits, Sean Young as the mayor’s domineering wife, Lili Simmons as Wilson’s doctor wife. Yup, not a bad performance in the lot… except for Matthew Fox.

I make no secret of my dislike for Mr. Fox, who has never really impressed me from his Party of Five days, through his six-season stint on Lost, up to his roles in Vantage Point and Alex Cross. He’s a wooden actor with limited range who took the role of the town badass (more educated that the rest of his posse-mates and the killer of more indians) and turned it into something rather dull.

If I’m honest, I approached this film with some hesitation. I read an early version of the screenplay while the project was caught in preproduction hell and my greatest movie viewing downfall is knowing the story beforehand. It’s the same with books. I can read a book or screenplay after I’ve seen the film with no problem, it’s the reverse that spoils the experience for me. I have friends that will read the screenplay for a film they’re about to see, only up to the third act so the movie still holds a surprise for them. I’ve tried this trick and it still doesn’t work.

I mentioned the above because I wanted to like this film better than I did. While I definitely do not hate it, I can’t really rave about it, either. For me, there was something missing from the screenplay I read, a touch of character development that I hoped would have been addressed in a subsequent draft. The story opens with a graphic and bold introduction to this world, which sets the bar high, but then it’s followed by a slowly drawn out series of events. And make no mistake, I have no problem with a film setting its own pace, and I’m not calling this film boring by any means (it is peppered with its fair share of violent scenes) but usually with slower paced projects the script takes advantage by establishing its characters a bit better to create empathy should some unfortunate event befall them later on. But because we’re dealing with stoic cowboys, old-fashioned manly men, that doesn’t quite happen, which may be rightly so, but I think it’s a shame. It affects the film’s rewatchability factor for me. And I know the screenwriter is more than capable of handling this because there are other dialogue interactions between townsfolk, quick, sharp exchanges that lets you know just how characters feel about each other and relate to one another. It’s a minor quibble, but one that nags at me.

So, should you spend your hard earned and see it? If westerns are your thing, sure, why not? This directorial debut of screenwriter S. Craig Zahler features solid performances, the violence is swift and brutal, the dialogue has an authentic ring to it (one interaction between Wilson and Fox: “If you make any flirtatious remarks in my wife’s presence… they’ll be a reckoning.” They just don’t make warnings like that anymore) and as mentioned before, it’s a simple story told simply. No complicated twists or story logic problems to cause you to scratch your puzzler as you leave the theater.

And hang around for the closing theme song, co-written by Zahler, “Four Doomed Men Ride Out.” It’s a hoot.

Bone Tomahawk gets 3.5 Homeless Shopping Carts for a solid, straightforward story and believable performances.

Three Half Carts

Oh, and should you see me panhandling outside your local multiplex, have a heart a drop a movie ticket in my cup.

See ya at the concession stand.

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Project Greenlight Review

Originally posted on Man on the Street Reviews:

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I’ve never been much for reality programming, even before studios got busted for reenacting events and creating fake situations for content, forcing them to minimize their liability by coining the term assisted reality, but when HBO first announced a show focusing on first-time filmmakers being given a chance to write and direct a feature film… I was hooked. Aside from being an aspiring filmmaker, I’m also the type of guy who loves all those wonderful DVD featurettes showing the behind-the-scenes goings on from tv and movie sets, and in most cases, find them to be far more interesting than the actual movie itself. The added value to Project Greenlight is it ran an online script contest, which meant I could actually be a part of the show, if my screenplay survived the brutal peer review stage.

It didn’t.

But I was still very much interested in the show. I can’t describe my disappointment as I watched winner Pete Jones stumble his way through shooting Stolen Summer, a humdrum period piece snorefest about a Catholic boy who tries to help his Jewish friend get into heaven. Had I not watched the tv series, I wouldn’t have bothered seeing this film even if it played on the insides of my eyelids.

Season Two rolled around and this time the contest was split into two categories: writing and directing. I didn’t bother submitting for either category, but because I was still fascinated by the behind-the-scenes aspect, I watched Erica Beeney’s script, The Battle of Shaker Heights (a 17-year old WWII reenactor decides to put his battlefield knowledge to work in real life against his high school enemy), win with Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle landing the coveted directing prize. I figured the showrunners learned from the previous season’s debacle and made the effort to put together a superior show this time around.

Sadly, this was not the case.

The show was such a stinkpot, it got booted from HBO and found a new home on Bravo for Season Three. This time the genre was horror, and a script titled Feast by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, won with winner John Gulager as the director. Even though I thought this season was particularly horrible, Feast (folks trapped in a bar, fending off creatures trying to eat them) turned out to be the most lucrative product the show produced both in box office and DVD sales (hell, it even spawned two sequels).

But the writing was on the wall and the show disappeared into obscurity… or so it seemed.

Nearly ten years after the last season, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck resurrected the series, this time focusing on comedy with a ready-to-shoot Farrelly brothers script on hand. All the mix needed was a first-time director. Once again, my thinking was, come on, it’s been ten damned years since the last run surely the producers have gotten their act together and they wouldn’t bother exhuming a turd and try to pass it off as art, would they? So, out of curiosity (and a bit of hopefulness) I tuned in.

And was pleasantly surprised. The pilot opened with Matt and Ben confessing that the Project Greenlight series had nearly wrecked their careers and their friendship. Great! Now, maybe we would get to go behind the behind-the-scenes to get the scuttlebutt on what really transpired on the show. Maybe this time the Good Will boys would open up and speak candidly about what went wrong with the past seasons and address how the current season would travel more in the true direction of the show’s original vision.

But that never came.

I watched with anticipation as the semi-finalist directors were whittled down and the finalists faced the interview process with a judges panel that included Matt and Ben and a line producer the press would soon come to know, Effie Brown. Each one of the contestants were pleased as punch to be there, expressed an eagerness to work on a Farrelly brothers script, discussed what they could bring to the project… all except one, Jason Mann. From the moment he walked into the interview room, Jason acted like he’d rather be anywhere else in world. He showed no real interest in shooting a comedy, stating in no uncertain terms he’d much rather shoot his own screenplay (a feature length version of the short that landed him a finalist position in the contest). Way to talk yourself out of job there, buddy, I thought.

I will never learn.

By swimming against the supposed stream of the show, Jason made himself a controversial figure, and since this was a reality TV show and we all know these assisted reality shows thrive on conflict, guess who won the contest?

What followed next was a series of staged Hollywood fights (indirect confrontations) where new kid on the block Jason did end runs around all the seasoned professionals. The squabbling and inability to resolve any of the preproduction hurdles led to the quitting of the Farrellys and the fake deliberation over whether Jason got to shoot is own screenplay. Yeah, I called it. It was a setup. The intention was to shoot Jason’s screenplay from the get-go. It was also the worst job of creating drama I’ve ever witnessed. I mean, these guys shoot fantasy-as-reality everyday and are able to elicit rage, instill happiness, or bring audiences to tears, so why the blazes couldn’t they make this scripted nonsense look and feel more authentic? If you’re going to go carny, go full out. I’ll gladly be a rube as long as I can’t see the puppet master manipulating the strings.

And Jason Mann was such and uninteresting and one-dimensional character they had to beef up Effie Brown’s role, putting her at odds with everyone (especially Matt Damon) as she fought for gender and racial diversity. Noble causes, both. Too bad it was wasted on this nothing project. This will be the first time I won’t bother viewing the finished product, The Leisure Class. I’m done. I’m out. Project Greenlight and I are parting ways for good.

I give Project Greenlight, the entire series, Zero Homeless Shopping Carts, but trust me when I say it’s me, Greenlight, not you. I’m the one who hung all the extra tinsel on you, expecting you to live up to my expectations instead of accepting you as you truly are. You’re a second rate reality show that hasn’t been fully thought out and you deserve a viewer with indiscriminate tastes. Truly my bad.

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Oh, and should you see me panhandling outside your local multiplex, have a heart a drop a movie ticket in my cup.

See ya at the concession stand.

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