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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If You Can’t Blind Them With Brilliance…

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Fair warning: Thar be mild spoilers ahead, so if you plan on seeing Star Trek Into Darkness and wish to go in fresh, turn back now.

Let me begin by saying I didn’t have high expectations for this film, so I wasn’t disappointed at how much I really didn’t like it. Wasn’t a fan of the the first film either. Truth to tell, I’m not big on reboots or reimaginings in general.And that’s all this is. A poor reboot of the far superior film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Don’t mistake my meaning, this isn’t a bash on J.J. Abrams. The man does what he’s paid to do. He puts asses in seats, like a professional carnival huckster. He’s under no obligation to provide a solid, well thought out plot or three dimensional characters. It’s all about bang for the buck, which this movie has in spades. It meets its quota of fisticuffs, phaser fights, explosions, space battles, and winks and nods to the original series to appease actual fans of the franchise. Abrams certainly knows his way around a popcorn movie, living by the old adage, “If you can’t blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

But instead of dissecting Into Darkness (enough fan sites are doing that already), I’d rather talk about what made Wrath of Khan work. It’s one of two films that I can think of off the top of my head that has a near perfect set up. The other is the first Back To The Future film.

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Wrath of Khan begins with the Star Fleet Academy final exam, The Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario simulation designed to test the character of cadets before unleashing them into the harsh realities of interplanetary relations. Kirk is now an admiral relegated to training cadets after giving up his starship command. It’s his birthday, so he’s feeling old. His life lacks adventure, so he feels put out to pasture. He has no family, so he feels alone in the universe. The man is miserable, making him the perfect character in desperate need of an arc.

Come to find out Kirk is the only cadet to beat The Kobayashi Maru, but he did it by rigging the test. He cheated because he doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. And that’s what the entire film is, Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru. An adversary emerges from his past, hellbent on revenge for being stranded on planet that turns hostile. He’s reunited with an old flame and discovers he has a son. And he’s pitted in a battle of wits against a far superior opponent. Even in his most desperate hour, Kirk is enjoying this. It’s what he was born to do. The only thing he’s ever been good at.

And finally, he’s forced to face The Kobayashi Maru consequences. He’s encountered his no-win scenario. He’s at the end of his tether, with no more cards left to play. He’s not only put himself in the line of fire, but his crew and new found family as well. They’re dead. Or they would have been, had Spock not sacrificed himself, quoting the Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities (a present he gives to Kirk on his birthday), “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few“.

Kirk finally faces devastating loss, the death of his closest friend, but as he mourns, he witnesses the creation of a world, has reconnected with a family he never knew he had, and is once again in command of a starship. At the beginning of the film, he was feeling old, but as the film wraps, he stares at the Genesis Planet and tells Carol Marcus that he “Feels young.”

That’s a proper character arc.

And you won’t find any of that in Into Darkness. It’s a poor photocopy that lacks the richness of history, the depth of character, or a plot that can bear the weight of scrutiny.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys