Sunday, March 16, 2014
‘DEAD IN TOMBSTONE’ AND NEW ‘VIRGINIAN’ REVIEWED, PLUS ‘STARDUST COWBOYS’ WINNER!
DEAD IN TOMBSTONE – A Film Review
With Red Cavanaugh (Anthony Michael Hall) standing on the gallows, his half-brother Guerro (Danny Trejo) and his gang swoop in, and in a bloody shoot-out, rescue Red. Then the gang decides to rob the gold-filled vault of a bank in Edendale (the original name of the downtown L.A. area that housed Mack Sennett Studios), and Red, tiring of his brother’s wimpy ‘Let’s not hurt anyone,’ attitude, shoots Guerro to death.
Mickey Rourke looks like Hell as the Devil
Big surprise, Guerro ends up in Hell, where the Devil (Mickey Rourke) tortures him for a while, then agrees to a deal: Guerro can go back to life for 24 hours, to try and deliver the souls of Red and the other five gang members (i.e., kill them); if he does it, he goes free, and alive. If not, more eternal torture (the worst kind).
So Guerro returns to the town, re-Christened (the right word?) Tombstone, now run by Red, his gang, and some sassy Brits, and tries to kill the six. That’s it – end of plot, maybe fifteen minutes in. From there it’s just killing. If flashy shoot-outs are enough to satisfy you, then you may enjoy this film. I found it completely uninvolving, as I didn’t give a damn who got damned and who didn’t. Danny Trejo is a great screen villain, and I had a momentary twinge of sympathy for him when his brother whacked him. But it didn’t last long.
Ironically, (and ironically, the word ‘Irony’ uttered by Trejo is the only laugh in the film) except for the early stuff, when the film is so dark it’s hard to make out, most of it is beautifully shot, by Dutch-born director/cinematographer Roel Reine. Reine and the film’s writers, Brendan Cowles and Shane Kuhn, are specialists in direct-to-home-video sequels to popular franchises – they did SCORPION KING 3 together, as well as the upcoming SEAL TEAM EIGHT: BEHIND ENEMY LINES. Reine is crazy for weird angles, odd camera placement and multiple camera coverage. Unfortunately, he’s also crazy for moving camera, whether it reveals anything or not. Some of the prolonged Hell scenes with Rourke and Trejo in conversation can produce motion sickness, as the cameras spin endlessly around the characters, and the editor cuts randomly from clockwise to counter-clockwise.
Anthony Michael Hall
Surprisingly (to me) effective is Anthony Michael Hall, the goofy kid from the VACATION/16 CANDLES/WEIRD SCIENCE films, who has matured and developed an unexpected degree of on-screen gravitas, along with leading-man good looks. Also surprising, not in a good way, is Mickey Rourke, a talented and charismatic actor, whose career had recently revived with THE WRESTLER. Here he looks fat, his hair hangs limply across his face, and his ‘costuming’ looks like a trench-coat lifted off a homeless man. And his speeches go on so endlessly and convolutedly that one wonders if they were scripted at all.
Except for occasional whores, there are no real female characters until Dina Meyer appears far into the picture, seemingly like an afterthought (she has one scene early on, with her soon-to-be-dead lawman husband, but then disappears for over half of the film). She’s a stunning woman, and if there is nothing particularly interesting or unusual about her role, at least she and Hall play their parts as if they mean it.
Produced by Universal for a reported $5,200,000, shot in Bucharest, Romania, on sets built for COLD MOUNTAIN and seen in HATFIELDS & MCCOYS, production designer Christian Niculescu has effectively utilized the unusually long Western street to good visual effect. The sets and props and costumes and guns are very convincing. It’s too bad a good look isn’t enough to turn DEAD IN TOMBSTONE into a real movie. If you do rent this one, make sure you watch the several ‘making of’ shorts. They’re the best part.
THE VIRGINIAN - A Film Review
I remember my initial reaction when I heard that singer Trace Adkins was about to star as THE VIRGINIAN. Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, James Drury, and Bill Pullman, all fine, accomplished actors, had already played Owen Wister’s iconic hero. I wasn’t overly optimistic. But I am very pleasantly surprised. This new VIRGINIAN is small, but sincere and surprisingly effective and moving, in no small part due to Adkins’ stoic and sheepishly understated performance.
In a day when most Westerns lean towards the cynical edge of the Spaghetti Western, this is a movie that, without self-consciousness or irony, focuses on men with an inflexible code of honour. Adkins’ Virginian is the most code-controlled man since George Brent’s deadly southern gentleman in 1938’s JEZEBEL (I always thought he stole that picture from Bette Davis and Henry Fonda).
This is a re-imagined VIRGINIAN, and while much of the core story and conflicts remain, there have been some major changes, not the least of which is placing author Owen Wister, though called Owen Walton (“Goodnight, John-Boy!”), in the story, as a man who has come West to write a novel. He’s played effectively by Brendan Penny. They’ve also given the Virginian, who never had an actual name in the novel, or any of the films or TV series, sort of a name – his friends call him ‘South’, which, come to think of it, is even more vague than ‘Virginian’.
Ron Perlman & Trace Adkins
Ron Perlman, who starred in the MAGNIFICENT 7 TV series, is Judge Henry, the Lee J. Cobb role, and is effectively maddening when he won’t listen to the Virginian. Blonde beauty Victoria Pratt plays Molly West, the school-marm who catches the Virginian’s eye. She’s good, but not always well-served by the crew. Her hair sometimes looks odd, and her costumes, while properly in period, and quite attractive, are often jarringly wrong for her character: she steps off the stagecoach in Medicine Bow in a dress more suited to a saloon-girl than a teacher. Croation-born Steve Bacic plays Trampas, the Virginian’s most despised enemy (not his pal, as Doug McClure played him in the series), and the filmmakers have followed the Hitchcock rule of making the villain much more charming and attractive than the hero.
Virginia Pratt & Brendan Penny
In the Joel McCrea version, the role of the Virginian’s irresponsible best-friend Steve went to Sonny Tufts: probably the best role and best performance of his career. Caracas-born John Novak plays Steve in this one, and brings an unexpectedly powerful character and performance to it. Novak is probably the most experienced Western actor of the cast, having appeared on TV in the series HAWKEYE, LONESOME DOVE – THE OUTLAW YEARS, DEAD MAN’S GUN, INTO THE WEST, and the 1997 version of CALL OF THE WILD.
It’s a small film, made for a fraction of what DEAD IN TOMBSTONE cost. Medicine Bow’s streets are sparsely populated, the few sets and locations are seen frequently, and after some initial sighting of cattle early on, the much-discussed doggies are rarely seen. But THE VIRGINIAN has a strong story, solid script by Bob Thelke, a talented cast, and able direction by Thomas Makowski. The producers, NASSER GROUP NORTH, have made two previous Westerns, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN and THE DAWN RIDER, remakes of John Wayne movies which, like THE VIRGINIAN, are in the public domain. Seems like a smart way to do strongly-plotted films economically. I’m looking forward to reviewing THE DAWN RIDER shortly.
‘STARDUST COWBOYS’ CONTEST WINNER ANNOUNCED!
Larry Hanna of Sherman Oaks is the lucky winner of two tickets to see The Stardust Cowboys perform in their first Los Angeles area concert, on Thursday night, March 20th . It’s part of the OutWest Concert Series at the Repertory East Playhouse, at 24266 Main Street, Newhall, CA 91321. The Stardust Cowboys draw their inspiration from the fabled Bob Wills who, with his Texas Playboys, invented Western Swing, that delightful mash-up of cowboy and big band music. They play a mix of traditional western songs as well as their own originals, and their live shows are full of humor and high energy.
The challenge was to name the band leader other than Bob Wills, who was also called The King of Western Swing, and who used to be a movie stand-in for Roy Rogers! The answer, as Larry Hanna and many others knew, was Spade Cooley, who was one of the most successful stars in the early days of L.A. television.
If you’re not lucky enough to be Larry Hanna, you can buy tickets for $20 by calling OutWest at 661-255-7087. This concert is part of the OutWest series -- in case you haven’t noticed, we have a new sponsor here at the Round-up, the OutWest Western Boutique and Cultural Center in Newhall – just go to the top left corner of the Round-up, click their logo, and you’ll be magically transported to their wonderful store. The doors open at 7 p.m., and the concert begins at 8, and Bobbi Jean Bell, purveyor of OutWest, tells me that Newhall is having their 3rd Thursday of the month block party, SENSES (as in delighting the same), so you might want to arrive early for dinner from the food trucks, live music – and to find parking. Bobbi also tells me that if you’re coming to the concert, you might want to dress up! SCTV will be filming the show, and you just may be on TV!
WEDNESDAY’S ‘COWBOY LUNCH @ AUTRY’ CELEBRATES GREAT WOMEN OF THE WEST!
Li'l Rob Word met Duke Wayne on the set of THE SEARCHERS
These 3rd Wednesday of the month events at the Autry have become hugely popular since Western filmmaker and authority Rob Word began them half a year ago. This month’s topic is a celebration of the Great Women of the West in film. As always, the event, which starts at 12:30, is free – although you’ve got to buy your own lunch – and is followed by ‘A Word on Film’, with Rob Word leading a discussion among his guests, actors and other industry people associated with the topic. Rob never announces his guests in advance, but he always comes through with an interesting and talented group – previous luncheons have been attended by Hugh O’Brien, Johnny Crawford, Bruce Boxleitner and many others. Don’t get there at the last minute – as these events have grown in popularity over the last few months, latecomers have had to be turned away. January’s salute to the 24th anniversary of LONESOME DOVE, and February’s celebration of the HOW THE WEST WAS WON TV series both packed the house to the rafters. Below is a clip from the LONESOME DOVE program, with actor Barry Corbin discussing being directed by Tommy Lee Jones in the soon to be released Western THE HOMESMAN.
MORRICONE INJURS BACK – CONCERTS POSTPONED ‘TIL JUNE
What was to be Maestro Ennio Morricone’s first concert Los Angeles, planned for March 20th at the NOKIA THEATRE has been postponed until June 15th. Surgery to repair a slipped disc necessitated the delay. Morricone, the 85 year old composer of over 500 scores, who gained fame for his soundtracks to Sergio Leone westerns, issued the following statement: “It deeply saddens me to have to postpone this concert. I am very much looking forward to my first Los Angeles performance. Hollywood has been instrumental in bringing my work to American audiences, and my 2007 performance in New York was one of the high points of my career to date. I’m grateful and sorry to my fans for having to delay this show. I look forward to seeing you in June.” Ticketholders will have the same seats in June as they were to have on March 20th. Morricone’s New York City concert has also been postponed.
TODAY’S PAPERBACK BOOK SHOW
William F. Nolan & George Clayton Jackson
Had a good time today at the annual Paperback Book Show at the Glendale Pacific. My favorite find was a pair of 1960s reprints of Dime Novels (actually nickel novels) from the turn of the century, one featuring Buffalo Bill, the other with Young Wild West, as well stories about Pawnee Bill, and the James Brothers – fake history at its most exciting! Among the authors signing their books were Twilight Zone contributors William F. Nolan and George Clayton Jackson, and The Waltons creator Earl Hamner.
GREAT BOSSY WOMEN OF THE AMERICAN WEST!
In case you haven’t heard, the ‘word police’ have recently decided that we can no longer describe any girl as ‘bossy’, since it will hurt her self-esteem, and inhibit her attempts to be as pushy as a boy, I thought, before the word disappears forever from our lexicon, we should revisit the great bossy ladies of the American West, particularly the Western Movie. After all, in the words of the immortal Zane Grey, “Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet.” Here are the first four entries of a continuing series. Please send me your suggestions for bossy gals who deserve inclusion.
#1 BARBARA STANWYCK – Whether as Victoria Barkley in THE BIG VALLEY, THE MAVERICK QUEEN, CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA, all the way back to ANNIE OAKLEY, you never had to ask twice where you stood with her. Actually, you didn’t have to ask at all.
#2 – JOAN CRAWFORDJ – JOHNNY GUITAR! While Mercedes McCambridge sits on the sidelines gnashing her teeth, Joan grabs Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady by the short-hairs and smacks them together for 110 minutes!
#3 – GRACE KELLY – in HIGH NOON! Bossiness at its most gorgeous and infuriating. As onetime lawman Gary Cooper says, “Don’t ever marry a Quaker – she’ll have you running a store!”
#4 – DALE EVANS – she was Queen of the West, and she ruled the coffee shop in Mineral City with an iron hand. But with suave, debonair Pat Brady to deal with, would anything but uber- bossiness get the job done?
THAT'S A WRAP!
That's all, folks, until next week, when I'll have a first look at DOC HOLLIDAY'S REVENGE, and an interview with Western writer C. Courtney Joyner for you.
All Original Contents Copyright March 2014 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved