Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Observations on Jonah Hex, Solomon Kane, Paranormal Activity... and some asides

Two things first:

The people behind the summer series PERSONS UNKNOWN (created by THE USUSAL SUSPECTS/THE WAY OF THE GUN writer ChristopherMcQuarrie) have a far better sense of what it takes to do an updated 'bounce' on THE PRISONER than the people who were responsible for the misguided attempt on AMC.

Watching the films in Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life" - THE DECAMERON, THE CANTERBURY TALES, and THE ARABIAN NIGHTS help add an added dimension of understanding what his intent was with SALO, the first in what was intended to be a "Trilogy of Death".

OK - onward...

Took a look at PARANORMAL ACTIVITY on DVD... I did see it during its theatrical release, but didn't really much care for it. This time around, I watched the alternate ending, and ended up liking it much better. Watching something that is obviously meant to mirror a home video, on your television screen puts it in a much better context. The alternate ending was much more unnerving than the ending in the theatrical version, which is such an obvious pander to the audience, and a setup to justify the inevitable sequel.

It's a better film than BLAIR WITCH was, in terms of concept and execution; but the problem I have with these films is "Stupid White People Syndrome"... in order for the story to work, it's necessary that the characters HAVE to do something so monumentally stupid. And in horror films, most specifically films involving hauntings and such, SWPS is pretty much part of the basic DNA of the story, otherwise there IS no story. If there were ethnic characters in this, the movie would be about 10 minutes long, because they'd have too much sense to intentionally antagonize the Inexplicable.

Which, to me, is sort of a major flaw - although, I suspect that a major reason why this was a hit with audiences, besides delivering the goods, is that the movie can be read as sort of a metaphorical look at a deteriorating relationship. The actors are extremely believable as a real couple, and the supernatural elements are just vague enough to support a poltergeist theory rather than demonic... and the alternate ending does keep that question rather open-ended.

I would have preferred if they had actually tried to get away, only to have the phenomenon follow them, as is stated several times in the film. If they had tested that out, only to find that there was no escape, that would have helped justify most of the dickishness of Micah's character.

Also got to see JONAH HEX and SOLOMON KANE recently, which provided a effective illustration of adaptation, good and bad. HEX is based on the DC Comics character, and SOLOMON KANE is a creation of Robert E. Howard, the creator of CONAN THE BARBARIAN. As I write this, HEX is in the process of disappearing from theaters, due to dismal box office and bad critical reception, while SOLOMON is still awaiting a release in the U.S. by Lionsgate... and still no word, although it is available on DVD overseas.

I'm familiar with Jonah Hex, having been introduced to him via Joe Lansdale's version of the character... originally an extremely grim and violent character when introduced in the 70's, Lansdale did add supernatural elements, in the style of his 'weird Westerns' - the series continues on, scaling back those elements, but they haven't entirely disappeared. So I was initially excited when hearing about a Jonah Hex movie.

That excitement diminished as reports of a troubled production leaked out... and now having seen the finished result, it just ends up being another disappointment.
Instead of adapting JONAH HEX, the movie is an uneven combination of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. and THE WILD WILD WEST movie monstrosity. The only extended bit of actual source material 'Jonah Hex' that's onscreen is roughly 2-3 minutes after the main title comes up, as Hex rides into town to claim his bounty... and that only lasts until the double gatling-gun on Hex's horse opens fire.

Yes, you read that correctly.


And the supernatural element involved - Jonah Hex now has a superpower of sorts - he can talk to the dead. Literally.


I suppose I wouldn't mind these things, and even more idiocy, if they just didn't have the guts to call it JONAH HEX, because it certainly AIN'T. You can't blame the actors - Thomas Jane actually does try, and does well; and the rest of the cast is good with what they've got to work with... although I have to say that I don't really understand what Megan Fox is doing in this picture. Not through fault of her own... she gives it her best shot, but the role as Hex's love interest is pretty unnecessary.

No, the fault lies with the makers of this film, who obviously didn't understand JONAH HEX - the writers (and re-writers -- not having seen the original draft by the CRANK/GAMER duo who were supposed to write and direct this, and who left the project due to 'creative differences', it's hard to tell - yet - whether this pooch was screwed from the start, or if it got screwed later), producers and director.

For all that JONAH HEX does wrong, SOLOMON KANE gets RIGHT. Word on this has been mixed, so I went in with diminished expectations - and was surprisingly rewarded with a fantasy film that took the character seriously, and was GOOD. I mean, on the level of John Milius' CONAN THE BARBARIAN, because, unlike the creative team of the Jonah Hex movie, and like Milius, director/writer Michael Bassett (DEATHWATCH, WILDERNESS) GOT IT.
He didn't attempt to 'improve' the character, or to make him 'relatable' to modern audiences -
He and his creative team looked at the Howard stories and simply tried to bring the character and his world to life, as Howard wrote it. And for my money, they succeeded. I'm certain that a die-hard Howard fan could probably pick things apart, but my interest was held and I was thoroughly entertained. That this film isn't in theaters while JONAH HEX is, is simply an artistic crime. The names aren't as known as the HEX cast - James Purefoy (ROME) is the title character, and familiar faces from British films such as Pete Postlewaite, Alice Krige and Jayson Fleming play major parts. Well worth your time to search for a copy - hopefully, SOLOMON won't become another 'Lionsgate Dump' casualty into dollar theaters located near Bumblefuck, U.S.A.


Taranaich said...

While I enjoyed Solomon Kane as a film on its own merits, and Bassett did get the atmosphere of the stories, he didn't particularly "get" the character any more than Milius got Conan. One could argue that the very action of making an origin story would be an attempt to "improve" the character, and the decision to make him an evil man searching for redemption would make him "relatable" to modern audiences.

Again, it was enjoyable and it should be applauded for taking the character seriously, but it wasn't Howard's Kane by a long shot. It is indeed a crime that SK hasn't had a release over in the US: my issues aside, it's a better than half the films I've seen this year.

L. Rob Hubb said...

Thanks for the insight and comments.

366weirdmovies said...

Re: JONAH HEX: I wasn't aware of anything about the comic book character, so my reaction to the movie wasn't outrage, but mild amusement at its campy incompetence. There were gratuitous explosions there that Michael Bay would have been too ashamed to include. And the makeup was distracting; I suppose there was supposed to be a hole in Hex's cheek, but it looked like a band of flesh had grown over the corner of his mouth instead. It's clearly a bad movie, but since I was able to entertain myself by picking out its absurdities, I didn't find it a boring one.