#62 - You Believe In The Moon?

Dedicated to
Eddie Burke
1913 - 2007

Added 9/10/07

Hello, gun nuts. Welcome to a very bullet-ridden installment of the Electric Theatre. Just two flicks this time out, each of which I have very mixed feelings about, so no A-Pictures and no trips to the Hell Plaza Octoplex this week. Just me, trying to sort out what I think about these two odd little movies. Oh, and before you ask…I haven’t seen Rob Zombie’s Halloween yet. I plan to catch up with it and review it by the time the holiday itself rolls around.


3:10 To Yuma

Genre pictures are a peculiar thing. To a certain extent, their popularity depends on their familiarity. If you weren’t reasonably sure that Meg Ryan/Sandra Bullock/Drew Barrymore was going to end up with Tom Hanks/Hugh Grant/Adam Sandler, you probably wouldn’t have been as interested in You’ve Got Two First Dates (feel free to make up your own generic romantic comedy title here…go ahead! It’s fun!). But if the genre becomes too familiar, its popularity wanes and it goes dormant for awhile. Note I didn’t say it dies. I don’t think any genres ever die. They just go through cycles of popularity and rebirth. Few genres are as time-tested and road-weary as the dusty old western. Nevertheless, every few years somebody will try to breathe some life back into it, either by trying to introduce some flashy camera acrobatics (as in Sam Raimi’s The Quick And The Dead) or grit and authenticity (as in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven or the late, lamented HBO series Deadwood). Director James Mangold has gone the opposite direction in 3:10 To Yuma, a remake of a 1957 Glenn Ford movie I’ve thankfully never seen. I’m not thankful because I don’t want to see it. In fact, I hear it’s quite good. No, I’m glad because I almost never get a chance to see remakes of movies I haven’t already seen. So for once, I can judge this solely on its own merits.

Russell Crowe stars as outlaw Ben Wade, a ruthless but seemingly sophisticated killer and thief, who stupidly gets caught in the dirtwater town of Bisbee, Arizona, while chatting up a hard-luck rancher named Dan Evans (Christian Bale). The railroad men need to get him on the train for Yuma prison, so a half-assed posse is formed to escort him. Dan joins up for the promise of two hundred bucks, despite the fact that Wade’s gang is out there, aiming to get him back.

This is all pretty standard stuff and in the hands of Mangold and company, it holds few surprises. 3:10 To Yuma feels like a movie from some far-distant future society where they’ve heard about westerns and maybe seen some still photos of them, but have never actually had the chance to watch one. So while it hits all the right notes, the playing seems stiff and unnatural. And yet, there’s something oddly compelling about it and it gets better as it goes along. By the finale, I was wrapped up in it and honestly didn’t know if Dan would get Wade on that train or not. I wasn’t always (or even ever) convinced that the decisions people were making made any logical sense. But I was persuaded that they made sense to the characters at the time they were making them. This is thanks entirely to the performances of Crowe and Bale and no thanks at all to the often hackneyed script they’re forced to recite. I’m not convinced that 3:10 To Yuma is a good movie. The only way you’ll really love it is if you’re so head over heels over westerns that any horse opera is a good one or if you’ve actually never seen one before, so this all seems new to you. But I did enjoy it slightly more than the other movie I saw this week, so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt. (* * *)

Shoot 'Em Up

I’m not quite sure what to make of the new breed of cartoonish, over-the-top action movie that’s become vaguely stylish over the past few years. I say vaguely stylish because I don’t think any of them have really been all that popular but I may be wrong on that point. Michael Davis’s Shoot ‘Em Up is the latest entry in this new subgenre and while I enjoyed it a bit more than, say, Running Scared, it still didn’t really do all that much for me. Clive Owen (none better at playing effortlessly cool and hang-doggish at the same time) stars as Mr. Smith, some guy who gets entangled in a vast conspiracy when he comes to the rescue of a pregnant woman pursued by gun-toting thugs led by Paul Giamatti, of all people. The girl dies but not before delivering her kid, who Smith decides to protect out of his own peculiar sense of honor and duty.

Davis goes out of his way to emphasize the cartoony-ness of all this, with Clive Owen cast as Bugs Bunny, munching on carrots throughout, and Giamatti a natural stand-in for Elmer Fudd. But just because lame action movie one-liners are being delivered with an ironic wink and nod doesn’t make them any funnier. Sure, some of the guns-blazing action sequences are a lot of fun and even work as satire from time to time. The sex scene is a good example of that. But when exactly does a satire stop being a commentary and actually become the thing it’s supposed to be satirizing? That line is extremely blurry in Shoot ‘Em Up. I understood what was supposed to be funny here but I don’t think I actually laughed once during the entire movie. Maybe I’m taking it all too seriously but it’s hard for me to really enjoy something that’s so gleefully stupid and tries so hard to be offensive. I don’t think Shoot ‘Em Up is necessarily a bad movie and maybe if I’d seen it when I was 18 or 19, I probably would have hailed it as a work of genius. I’m past that now, however. The Jahnke of 2007 found Shoot ‘Em Up to be intermittently entertaining but mostly exhausting and occasionally grating. It could well be that, in the sage words of Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon saga, I’m simply getting too old for this shit. (* * ½)

Your pal,