Dune (2021) – Movie Review

dune-poster-06oct20Overall: incompetent.

The movie is able to evoke emotions, but not set up plot points. The movie attempts spectacle, but can’t handle larger than life characters or epic situations. It can’t handle even moderately-lifelike characters, either, but that’s equally the fault of the actors–but then why didn’t you cast better actors? The movie attempts to adapt the book faithfully, in parts, but every single scene that is lifted directly from the book was honestly, legitimately done better in the gonzo 1984 version. No, I mean for real, without exaggeration and/or nostalgia filters: the 1984 version did every single specific scene better, from the gom jabbar to Duke Leto’s death to Jessica and Paul reacting to the death! It’s…it’s so poorly done, wow.

That being said, I can count on one hand the scenes which this movie does well: an original scene where Duke Leto accepts the Emperor’s decree; Paul saying good-bye to Caladan; Paul and Jessica escaping from the Harkonnen thugs in the ornithopter; and Paul’s knife-fight with Jamis. Those are good. I will also give it props for the ornitopters, which are extremely neat; and there is also no random pug dog (for the good guys) or cat-milking (for the bad guys.) If you don’t know what either of those things are, count your blessings and stay away from the 1984 version. Just read the book.

chani-dune-2020Well, this movie sets its own distinctive stamp on the procedings immediately: it’s narrated by Chani, instead of by Irulan. Very original. Chani plus the background action gives a brief (although with all the slow-mo it seems longer) overview of the situation on Arrakis. All I’m thinking is that this is 3 minutes in including credits and I am not impressed.

We cut immediately to Paul waking up and this immediately reinforces how the slow-mo of the past three minutes could have been replaced with “Tell me of the waters of your homeworld, Usul,” setting the groundwork for Paul and Chani’s relationship, subtly worldbuilding Arrakis, and a) being less annoying, b) being more accurate to the book. Incidentally, if Liet-Kynes is Chani’s (now) mother, and she’s very black, why is Chani merely pale brown? Dude, I just continue and continue to not be impressed by this girl as Chani. Put her as Irulan if you must cast for brown skin somewhere in your movie. You need someone who is actually lean and tough-looking (like the actress cast as her mother!) as a Fremen girl. They also try wayyyyy too hard to make her a STRONK FEMALE CHARACTER. Hint: she was cool, clever, well-rounded, interesting, badass, and compelling in the books, without forced antagonism towards Paul.

But movies are different than books! Why should movies TRY to be accurate to the books? Because filmmakers are morons, making entertainment for morons, directed, written, staffed, acted, and produced by morons. Prose writers might not be much better, but lacking the crutches that visual media offer, are forced to put a little bit of thought into their works. Movies should hew closely to the books whenever possible in order to borrow the thoughtfulness, internal logic, and worldbuilding that the original authors provided.

dune-delay-rebecca-ferguson-2714968Goddamnit, at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into this movie I AM DETERMINED TO APPROACH IT WITH A NONHOSTILE ATTITUDE. I woke up this morning with a hankering to watch it, I am going to watch it. This looks like Jessica. Jessica is my favorite character in all of science fiction. Let’s see what happens. (Ok, promising, promising, they have the painting of the Old Duke hanging up in the dining room.)

Movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak. For instance: rescuing the spice miner crew –in the book, the rescue ship simply doesn’t show up, having been sabotaged or bought off already. Here, it fails on “one point of contact,” oh noes!….and then buggers off. Not even a direct sabotage or hostile attack, something which would give the Judge of the Change legitimate pause for thought and give Leto’s already-heroic rescue of the crew additional polish. It just…buggers off, and the fact that it’s SINGLE point of failure precipated the whole scene makes Leto attempting to call Liet-Kynes on this makes him come across as blustery and weak.

I have said before and will say again: modern movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak and their actions ineffectual, not to mention letting anybody have badass deaths. Yueh, having been a complete nonentity for the length of the movie, doesn’t even get the courtesy of his defiant last lines to the Baron, showing that he understands completely what he did buy for his Wanna. Duncan Idaho has to effectively come back from the dead in order to make his legendary last stand be effective, because Paul and Jessica JUST STAND THERE while he’s fighting TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE, MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT OF HIS FIGHTING TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE. Liet-Kynes almost manages to have a cool death, though it’s too rushed to have impact.

The director is largely to blame for most of the flatness of this movie. Yes, he’s good at slow-mo and there’s excellent set dressing and here and there he actually manages to inject sneak some color into the costumes (Jessica’s orange dress is so lonely and alone out there, it promptly goes away again and it looked bloody impractical anyway, but IT WAS THERE, wow!) What he’s not good at is, apparently, casting good actors; or drawing competent performances out of mediocre (looking at you, Timothee with two E’s) ones, or poor (looking at you, Zendaya) ones.

I’m not sold on this Jessica, or on her methods, but….Yeah, overall I’m not sold. She has an uncomfortable amount of chemistry with her on-screen son and it a) comes at the expense of her scenes with her actual husband, b) continues throughout the movie, c) IS CREEPY. She’s also far, far too emotional, for a noblewoman, a Duke’s consort, or a Bene Gesserit adept. However, I will say that (albeit with the copious help of ADR special effects on The Voice) she handles the escape scene excellently. This is how you adapt a scene from a novel: make it dynamic.

oscar-isaac-wollte-in-dune-ursprunglich-keinen-bart-haben-980x400-1 I am COMPLETELY unsold on Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto. A subplot of Paul wanting to accompany Duncan on the advance scouting mission has been added, which segues from characterizing Paul for the audience (and this makes him different from in the book, yes, and yes I know why, and yes I’ve already put my thoughts out about that) to providing more exposition for and characterization of Leto. And if you thought that a focus on Leto would showcase his arrogance, determination, family pride, or charisma, guess again.

Josh Brolin, whom I originally thought was Discount Kurt Russell, is….GURNEY HALLECK? The ugly, scarred minstrel guy with the big grin and bigger knives? Really? I always imagined him as blond. Jason Momoa, of course, playing SpaceArmor-Momoa, well, is playing SpaceArmor-Momoa. WITH A MAN BUN. The dude who plays Thufir Hawat drawls like some dude from Brooklyn and is utterly underwhelming. HEY THAT’S JIU CHENG THE GOD OF WAR AS DOCTOR YUEH! I guess it works to have Yueh be comparatively a younger, good-looking guy. Oh gods…was the spider-thing….? Thankfully, this movie glosses right along over that plot point.

Javier Bardem, someone has already noted, is riffing off Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin chieftain, and as such is miles ahead of everyone else in this movie.

Overall, the set dressing is great. It’s clean-looking, with just the kind of retrofuturism that works perfectly for this genre. But then you get little disruptive touches like…shiny beetle faceplates that just…don’t…work. Like: the ceremony of accepting the Emperor’s decree, spaceship landing, robed party walking down the ramp blah blah, all excellent scifi-y stuff. It’s immediately ruined by the shot of the robed people having giant curved opaque faceplates. It’s just off enough to throw you out of immersion.

The soundtrack is trash. I mean, like wow it’s trash. It’s legit just a collection of drones, tones and the occasional thump/bwaaaaa; it adds nothing to the scenes that it overlays. I am not exaggerating, these are scenes that are teetering on the edge of decent and could be elevated by better music.

So, it looks like many of the pure-spectacle scenes, and the majority of original-content scenes, are done well for a given value of “well done.” No one really knows how to do pure spectacle these days. Where this movie suffers is where it tries to take things from the book….because these are very poorly handled. Like, WOW the scene with Shadout Mapes and the crysknife was shot, acted, framed, choreographed, adapted terribly. Why not just make an epic scifi movie and say “inspired” by Dune? And then, also steal from a bunch of other scifi classics, like Foundation, The Star Kings, etc, mash them together and lay claim to the result? Instant success, I promise.

Misc:
– OK, I legit cracked up: Gurney Halleck starts quoting poetry when they first land on Arrakis, but the preceding shot makes it look like he’s cheating and looking up the words beforehand. AND THEN SOME GUY, NOT GURNEY, WALKS PAST WITH BAGPIPES.
– Oh boy, ok. We get another original scene, of Salusa Secondus and the Saudaukar rituals, which apparently involve Tuvan Throat Singing and human sacrifice.
– So anyway, about one hour and 15 minutes in, the Harkonnen/Saudaukar attack, and just to emphasize how much the Atreides were caught with their pants down, there’s the obligatory “men running across an open space with fire in the background and getting blown up occasionally” shot. WITH BAGPIPES.
– Ye gods.
This is SO DUMB. No wonder people make fun of space movies with swords and magic powers.
Ye gods.
– (Jason Momoa JasonMomoas around with his man-bun a bit.)
– OH MY GOD GO GO POWER RANGER PAUL WHAT THE HELL. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY???? SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?
– Ew. SERIOUSLY, EW. MOVIE GO BACK TO INCOMPETENTLY ADAPTING SCENES DIRECTLY FROM THE BOOK.
– Just read the book. Really, even though it’s long it’s worth it. It’s engrossing, exciting, and it has all these really cool ideas and characters that are so much more interesting in the book and your own head than in this movie.

Rated: Just read the book.

Movies With My Mother – The Phantom (1996)

d2b1d18794538e17fa764db17506afef“What kind of movie is this? What are they looking for?”
“I dunno.”
“Can you just give me an outline? What are they looking for?”
“Treasure.”
“….I could have figured that out myself.”

“This is like that movie with Harrison. Who stole from who? They steal from Indiana?”
“Yes.”
“Blatantly?!”

“Who is that?”

“Oh look! right behind there! Did he get away? Did he get away with that little head thing?”

“This is so like that Harrison movie. Or was it Lara?”

“And what’s with the purple outfit?”

“Uh oh. Uh oh! Oh this is too much.”

“….This is like Batman!”

“Oh that’s a shame. The whole bridge is gone.”
“But the kid’s OK.”
“Hmm.”

“So what happened to that skull?”
“The other guys got it.”

“I know him. I don’t care for him. He was a bad man in another movie…”

“What’s with the hair, look, check the hair out!”

“Is there a book to this?”
“Probably?”

“Look at him, it’s Anthony…is it?”
“…Oh yeah,  it is….”
“Anthony…”
“Anthony Quinn! Wow, look at him!”
“Yes! I was thinking Anthony Quayle. It is him! Quinn.”

“Look, look! He already got the mayor and the police chief!”

“Ooooh what’s he goin’ do with him? Is he goin’ mess with his eyes?…Ohmigosh!”

“Who is this?”
“A bad guy.”
“A bad girl! Bad girls!”
“Hey, it’s Catherine Zeta-Jones!”
“What.”

“Stop the thing! I just got it. Stop it! I just got it! I just got it! I just got it! Diana Palmer! That rings a bell! It’s The Phantom! The Phantom from the comic strip! Oh, I just remembered it when I heard her name! He was purple? I remember it being black and white! Oh my gosh!”

7786624f8d81cfadf_0

“Who is this guy, by the way?”

“I don’t remember The Phantom being…I barely remember it. This is from when I was ten years old!”

“Why he taking the child with him? He’s putting the child in danger. He is! He’s going to go rescue someone, he’ll be in danger!”

“OK, he’ll hold the horse. Hopefully.”
“No, he’s sending him home.”
“Good. Hopefully he is smart enough to go home!”

“Did The Phantom have a dog? The dog is his scout?”the2bphantom2b0122b2528196525292b2528gold2bkey25292b2528c2c25292b2528rescan25292b2528comicnut25292b2528abpc2529_phantom2b12-01

“How did the horse know where to go?”
“The dog told it.”
“Of course.”

“How come they…oh. Because they shot at the thing.”

“Oh no. That plane gonna go into a mountain?”
“Yep.”
“Why?”
“They always do.”
“And blow up?”
“They always do.”

“Why is that stupid horse going so fast?”

“What did they just see? Who are these people?”
“Bad guyssss.”
“Did he just throw that man out?”
“Yes.”

“What, did she get shot or something? All of a sudden she tired?”
“It’s the adrenaline dump.”

the_20phantom_2001-08_20july_201966_20gold_20key_20comics_large“I just don’t remember anything about The Phantom. Just that I used to watch it. And I used to read it for a little while. It was a comic book. Way back.”

“What’s all this?”
“Treasure.”
“Where did he get it?”
“It’s a secret hidden temple. They always have treasure in secret hidden temples.”
“And they are in the secret hidden temple? And he just gives her a string of pearls? To remember him by? Just like that?”

“That is such a stupid costume.”
“Yeah.”

“Oh he’s signing his own obituary. His death thing.”

“See him? He back there is a traitor! He’s working for them! See!”

“This fool gon’ break the glass?! Oh! How did he get there so fast? Ooooh, someone told him!! That guy told him! Look!”

“Ooooh, look look, what’s happening, Riders?”

“Oh, he brought the skull together, you’re not supposed to bring them together! They do something when they’re together. They’re pointing to the third skull, look!”

l3uu“I don’t know that girl’s face. She have a face like she could be a thousand girls.”

“He has to put more oomph into when he hits them so they stay down!”

“What is his power actually?”
“He’s got some guns.”
“What is The Phantom’s power?”
“Apparently to have guns and wear purple.”

“I don’t wanna see this. This is violence! How did he get out?”
“He jumped out.”
“So everybody can see him? Oh and the police will be after him!”

“Oh that’s pretty cool.”
“It’s what he used to in the jungle!”

“The Phantom. Gosh, if I could remember anything except ‘The Phantom.’”

“You mean this fool couldn’t get away without them seeing?”

“So what did that girl say?”
“She knows who he is.”
“Who who is?”
“The Phantom.”
“Oh. But Diana didn’t know.”
“Diana does know.”
“How did she know?”
“HIS MASK DOESN’T EVEN COVER HIS FACE AND HIS VOICE IS THE SAME. SHE’S NOT AS DUMB AS LOIS LANE MOM.”

“How did he get up on the plane?”

“Ohhhh, look, it’s creepy! They don’t know where they going, but they’re going? Oh look at him, look at his mouth, heh heh heh. He’s scared. Look, they really are going in somewhere.”

“Amazing. They knew exactly where to go.”

“Who are these people? How did they get there?”
“They been guarding it all along.”
“Why?”
“It’s a sacred hidden temple, you always have people guarding sacred hidden temples.”

“What was that? You weren’t looking. What was that?”
“What did it look like?”
“Looked like something going under the bridge. It looked like a critter.”
“Then it was a critter going under the bridge.”

“Your dad says I would be scared of Dune because there are worms. Worrrrrrrms.”

“Say that again!”
“Things going under the bridge?”
“No, before that. You said something and it was funny.”
“…”

“How he don’t know the man won’t just beat him up and take both skulls?…Uh oh.”

“Oh, he gon’ die.”

“Uh oh! Look! Look!….Awwww, again?”

[due to a stuck FF button, we missed about five minutes of the climax]

“…Star Wars.”

“Seriously?!”
“So all that destroyed him? And the fire is from that….?”
“The skulls…I dunno, they reacted with the other skull?”
“What other skull?”
“The skull on his ring was the fourth skull.”
“Oh.”

“Wasn’t bad at all!”

Show me what you love

(Alucard is watching Adventure Time in his room)
(TV suddenly explodes as Luke enters.)

Alucard: That was a 70-inch… plasma screen TV. (smacks his lips and inhales deeply) So… how can I help you?
Luke: You must be the great Alucard…
Alucard: ‘Suup.
Luke: I’ve heard quite a lot about you.
Alucard: Oh, really?
Luke: The nightwalker…who glides through oceans of blood… beyond human, a monster whose power radiates with a darkness that casts a shadow on darkness itself—
Alucard: Oh, you dirty bitch! Work the shaft!
Luke: …Excuse you?
Alucard: Oh, I’m sorry, I like the dirty talk when someone’s sucking my dick.
Luke: Perhaps I should just skip to my point. My name is Luke Valentine.
Alucard: And I’m Carmen Sandiego. Guess where I am.
Luke: I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you here.
Alucard: Oh, so am I, and I’m failing, and I’m sorry for that. It’s just that I’m so agitated, because this blond little shit just strolled into my room, destroyed my 70-inch plasma TV, and is trying to impress me like I’m his alcoholic father.
(Both draw and point their guns at each other’s heads from point-blank range)
Alucard: Be a sport and grab Daddy another beer, would you?

I’m also highly partial to:
Alucard: Get that bitch a cannon! Bitches love cannons!
And,
Alucard: BITCH I EAT PEOPLE!
And, 
TV Announcer: The terrorist duo inside is comprised of a young British woman and some Ozzy Osbourne-looking motherfucker
seras_with_dead_bernadotteBut the thing that, at the end of the day, makes this show actually kind of worth it (I mean…arguably….) is the fact that, aside from being completely consistent with the characters’….somewhat exaggerated….personalities for shits and giggles throughout, it still knows when to sober up and take matters seriously. So when our big-tittied police girl has lost her arm, her eyes, her love interest, her duty post, and almost her sanity–not to mention that Nazi vampires have overrun London, and the Catholic Church, Mexican Inquisition, and the Salvation Army decided to “kill them all and let God sort them out”–we get a scene that is very genuine, emotional, and meaningful. 
Alucard: Listen to me, Draculina! You are so much stronger than you let yourself be!
Seras: (sobbing) ‘Ow do you know?!
Alucard: Because behind those eyes, I saw something I lost long ago: the will to live. Now, stop running from who you are. Confront it! Embrace it! And go for its fucking throat. Like a REAL FUCKING VAMPIRE!
Honestly, I hate secret government organizations that hunt supernatural threats, I hate vampires, and I hate sexy vampires….but thing is, so does everyone in this show, including the secret government organization and the sexy vampires. Put that together with oodles of stylized violence, fancy costumes, drama, melodrama, angst, blacked-out silhouettes with glowing/reflective eyes, guns, violence, more violence, no seriously the amount of anime gorn is what kept me from watching either the original or the abridged series for the longest time–you can’t get better than this. And I mean either the original, which plays things absolutely seriously, or…y’know, this version, which doesn’t.
 
Rated:
Anderson: Time the fuck out! If we’re doing this — and WE ARE DOING THIS — I’m not gonna come swinging at DRACULA! I’M KILLING ALUCARD!
Dracula: You do know that it’s just my name spelled–
alexander_anderson2c_monster_of_god

QuikReview: The Kid (2019)

the-kid-2019An honest attempt at an old-school, old-fashioned, worthwhile Western movie, with bad bad guys, good bad guy, good good guy, a kid who has to choose which role model he’s going to follow, and a girl to rescue. And if it had followed through the good guy thing, it would have stuck the landing, too. 

Is it a 10/10 movie? No. (It’s an 8.5/10, it’s honestly worth the watch, despite what I’m about to say about it.) There are far too many anachronisms and cringe-inducing dialogue options. But those are honestly the least of this movie’s failings, and the greatest is: failing to understand that there can be more than one hero for whom the audience sympathizes and roots for, and that there is allowed to be more than one triumphant success per a story arc. Ultimately, this movie is about the kid and while he does mature from a frightened boy into a young man over the course of the story, his story beats come at the expense of the actual good guy, Pat Garrett (or the fictional facsimile thereof) 

The kids are the protagonists: teenage Rio and his slightly older sister Sara, on the run from their monstrous uncle after Rio kills their father, who has just finished beating their mother to death. Yes, it’s an unpromising beginning, but it gets better. They bump into Billy the Kid and his bunch (good bad guys), who are nice enough to them–Billy in particular easily sussing out that they have some guilt on their consciences and blood on their hands, not to mention clothes–but very shortly after this, Pat Garrett and the posse arrive. After some exchange of gunfire, Billy et al surrender and the kids tag along with the posse to Santa Fe.

This is really the strongest part of the movie, as Garrett and Billy, subtly, vie for Rio’s attention and trust. Billy talks about how people blame other people for things that those people just happened to have done, or had to do, or were blamed for doing just because. Garrett talks about how sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…such as fess up and face the consequences. Rio seems swayed by Garrett, but his sister convinces him to keep still and not confess. 

Unfortunate for them, probably, because when Garrett and Billy high-tail it out of Santa Fe ahead of a lynch mob (I think this was supposed to be an exciting or suspenseful scene, but it was only exceedingly underwhelming), their uncle gets them instead. Rio manages to escape, but Sara…doesn’t. Rio heads to Lincoln County, meets up with Billy in the county jail, and then via a series of vaguely-historically accurate plot happenings, ends up escaping with him, hiding out on the ranch for a while, and learning to shoot. But he also learns soon enough that charming as Billy is, he’s not going to be a help. Billy is not out for anyone except Billy. 

And later that night, Pat Garrett arrives and shoots Billy from a distance without giving him the chance to surrender. See, Hollywood is saying: heroes don’t need to be heroic, principled, more skilled, faster, or better shots. Mind you, there is also an element of suicide by cop here, so…this one I give a pass to. 

The movie gets distinctly weaker after this, but it is also almost over. Basically, Rio confesses all to Pat Garrett and begs his help getting his sister back from the evil uncle. There’s a showdown in a saloon, (in which Pat Garrett gets tackled by a bad guy and beaten with a chairleg until sister Sara shoots the guy off him) and then a quasi-showdown at high noon (in which Pat Garrett gets outdrawn but then Rio shoots his uncle in the head.) 

The kids ride off into the sunset with Garrett’s blessing, and now Rio is the one taking charge, reassuring his sister, and being the man of the family.

It’s much better than I thought it would be–enough so that I am much more disappointed in the places where it failed, than I would be if it was just another brainless Hollywood piece. 

As demonstrated by his very strategic sidelining at the climax of the movie, Ethan Hawke is not really provided with the opportunity to ride off with the entire show. This is OK, on paper. This movie is about the kid(s), and so it should be them who take vengeance into their own hands, which they do. However good all these things are–and believe me, I’m 100% in favor of an old-fashioned bildungsroman, a boy and his horse and his gun plus or minus a dog–they should not have come at the expense of the guy who provides a) the moral center of the story, b) the action hero of the story.

It’s easy to have have a character say that “There is still good in him,” or, “You’ve got a lot of good left in you.” But what does that entail, exactly, in context? When the plot is about an impressionable kid sizing up the options and deciding which way he’s going to go, there needs to be a model for him–not for his benefit, but for the audience’s. What are the paths, exactly? What are the options? What are the rewards?

The last third of the movie is weak: here’s how it could have been improved. Rio walks up to Sherriff Garrett plus a handy judge and confesses to the self-defense killing of his father. He is taken into custody and a trial commences. Rio has one other witness but is unable to produce said witness: his trafficked sister Sara. Garrett and the deputies, keeping Rio in “special custody,” ride off to go rescue the girl. You can have the exact same action beats–Sara shoots Chairleg Thug, Rio gets to shoot Pimp Uncle–but then there’s a denouement as the trial recommences (see, you can even go for additional irony by having it start and end in a bar with the judge pouring drinks, or something.) Rio is pronounced not guilty and awarded all the money in Pimp Uncle’s pockets. Now, when the kids ride off into the sunset, they can do it with the knowledge that it’s a ride to the future, and not a run from the past. The line has been clearly demarcated–for the characters, and for the audience–as to what is legitimate violence, and what is not; and it proves that the Law isn’t evil, or unreasonable, and that lawmen aren’t monsters by nature. 

But then, Hollywood doesn’t want you to think about things like that, do they?

That being said: the casting is greatchris-pratt-as-grant-cutler-in-the-kid-2019. Christ Pratt is completely unrecognizable as the bad bad guy. Like, even without the giant beard, he just isn’t recognizable, he’s that nasty. Likewise, Dane DeHaan has the look of tintype-photo Billy Bonney down pat, despite being 10 years older than the character historically. (Welp, that never stopped Audie Murphy, so, you gotta give it a pass regardless.) Ethan Hawke, well, good as he is with what he has to do, still kinda, well, um, looks like Discount Kurt Russell-from-Tombstone. And I LIKE Ethan Hawke, HE JUST DOES!

The young hero is also, for the most part, watchable, even when he’s blurting out quasi-period dialogue and crying a lot. His sister cries even more, so. 

That being said, the directing is underwhelming, bordering on terrible. It’s not easy to make a gunfight siege in a wooden cabin, a daring escape from an attempted lynch mob, or even a frigging multiplayer gunfight in a saloon be boring….but somehow, Vincent D’Onofrio managed. That, my friends, takes skill all of its own kind. It also needs to be noted that there is no good horse photography, and just about zero landscapes. That’s OK, but what really kills this movie is the fact that it’s a Western and it doesn’t have any good gun or fistfights, or horse chases or cattle. Or Injuns.

That being said, there are some scenes which all on their own are really, really good. “How far do you think you’re gonna get with a dead Charlie chained to your ankle?” “….not very far at all.” Garrett telling Rio the story of the first man he ever killed; Billy having enormous fun being interviewed while Garrett is trying to get him away from a lynch mob; Garrett’s deputy being wracked with guilt over his–completely and legally justifiable–shooting of Rio, and their discussion; Billy’s address to the crowd after escaping from the Lincoln County Jail; and Billy’s death scene. All these are very good. 

Overall, I stand by my 8….although maybe I’ll knock the .5 off of it. It’s a decent enough movie, if you don’t notice Hollywood’s contempt for heroism, hatred of women, hatred of the audience, and weird loathing for the legitimate use of violence to defend one’s self or others. Sheesh, and this is me trying to say something nice about this movie.

Rated: ¿Quién es? ¿Quién es?

Movie Review: Fort Defiance (1951) (repost)

fort_defiance-606622612-largeFort Defiance – 1951, Ben Johnson as Ben, Dane Clark as Johnny, and Peter Graves as Ned.

This is a movie with a simple plot. Lots of things happen because of that plot, but when you break it all down, it’s all because of this:

There’s this guy (Ben Johnson as Ben Shelby) whose brother was killed. He goes to the ranch home of the guy responsible for the death(s) (Johnny) but finds only that guy’s blind brother. Johnny is presumed dead and in the absence of a worthwhile target for it, Ben buries the hatchet. At this point, Injuns. Meanwhile, there’s a guy in town whose brothers were also killed by Johnny, and who wants to kill Johnny’s brother in revenge. And then Johnny shows up…

Meanwhile, I am left with my family issues making me wonder why everyone’s so almighty fired up about their brothers. So it’s possible a good chunk of this went straight over my head. This is a straight-up B-movie, but it tries hard, and it mostly even succeeds.

Rated: The best brother is a dead brother who leaves you a lot of money.

Thoughts:
– This has a very good-looking Young Ben Johnson in it. (Not obsessed).
fortdefiancejohnson– The other, other good news is that Dane Clark and Peter Graves, when they show up, are good enough in their roles to make me go look up their names and include them in this list.

– So Ben, as Ben Shelby, is a gunslinging ex-Army man who shows up at a family ranch, saves the lives of blind Ned (from a rampaging horse) and Uncle Charlie (from rustlers), and claims that he’s a friend of missing big brother Johnny.

– Ben is actually, obviously, after Johnny for revenge of some sort. Johnny is revered by Ned, but Uncle Charlie himself knows or at least suspects the truth. Uncle Charlie is also strangely OK with the thought of a stranger coming to kill his nephew.

– Huh, Ben’s actually married and his wife has sent him a letter begging him to foreswear the vengeance and come home. If my studies of the genre are correct, what this means is that by the time he does go home, his wife will have either married someone else or moved to California.

– Ned doesn’t have the slightest clue that big brother Johnny is an outlaw loose and running. Until just now, that is, when Uncle Charlie told him Johnny got killed robbing a bank.

– Johnny was supposed to bring news to the Company that they were being outflanked; he (allegedly) surrendered instead. The Company was wiped out almost to a man and Ben lost his younger brother.

– So, with no quarrel with Ned or Uncle Charlie, Ben departs in peace for Fort Defiance.

– Ben comes back: he has decided to settle in Arizona, but there might be some complications turning up down the line…

– AHAHA THE IRONY. This new guy also lost two of his brothers in the battle, and now also blames Johnny. Ben has buried the hatchet and adopted Ned, but this guy wants to kill all Tallon brothers. I think Uncle Charlie is going to die covering the retreat…

– Yup.

– Oh screw you, mister. You killed Uncle Charlie, burying him “Christian” ain’t going to do nothing.

– …so who’s this….OH IT’S JOHNNY I BET! He met up with the burial detail! OH BOY. Yep, it’s Johnny. Well, good-bye for the burial detail…since there’s only one man needed for taking a message, he’s just offered them the chance to draw lots…and then he turned his back….

– Mind you, having his buddy keep them covered was just a smart move.

– And now they meet.

– FISTFIGHT! Johnny is cheating, because his buddy still has a gun. Get ‘im, Ben!

– Injuns!

– Johnny admits he did surrender, but won’t explain why. Ned, meanwhile, is panicking on Ben’s behalf. And running out into the open screaming during a gun battle. You know, normally this behavior would be reserved for the Damsel.

– Johnny did it because he knew the war was over and didn’t feel like risking his neck for anybody else.

– Ned: “Don’t do it, Ben, he’s fast, he’s too fast.”
Ben: “Yeah, I know, like a snake.”
Johnny: “And twice as nasty!”

– Johnny is heading for San Francisco and intends to take Ned with him.

– Good grief. Competitive coat-giving. And another fistfight. And they managed to wake Ned up, so what did that gain you?

– Ya know, if it’s cold, you could always just cuddle up together….(this is probably why Ben has an offscreen but very definitely real and human wife coming in on the stage).

– OH NO ITS THE STAGE AND THE INJUNS ARE CHASING IT AHAHAHA

– YYYYyyyyep ITS A GIRL (Ben hasn’t noticed yet)

– Oh, wait, it’s NOT his wife, she’s some girl who got run outa town. (Oh, she’s gonna be Ned’s girlfriend probably).

– She’s hoping to start a business in San Francisco….seamstressing, probably.

– “I found out she ain’t married.” “I reckon not.”

– Dude, you are probably about to DIE (well, as far as you know, you are. I know there’s still about twenty-five minutes to go). Asking a girl if you’re someone able to be loved should not be really high on your priority list.

– OH SERIOUSLY THEY’RE RIDING IN CIRCLES AROUND THE WAGON. Well, that’s a time-honored Injun tactic, at least, and we’ve got to stick with tradition.

– THE CAVALRY HAS ARRIVED!

– Johnny is taking the stage, Ned, and Miss Julie, leaving a knocked-out Ben and the stage driver one horse between them. Julie has managed to smuggle a gun on board, which Ned promptly appropriates. But Ben is soon on his way after them.

– Ned, like the idiot he is, attempts to pull said gun on Johnny. Ned, as we mentioned, is also blind. But it’s the only thing that can get through to Johnny, apparently.

– Aww, Johnny is going to raise some money….honestly.

– (Semi-honestly.)

– (Well, not all that honestly at all, but he will have provided both bills of sale and receipts.)

– Johnny really took over the last part of this movie, didn’t he? I would say he stole it from Ben, but Ben is more handsome so there’s really nothing to worry about.

– “Well, I guess Parker won’t bother us anymore.” Well, that was stone-cold murder, Ben.

– Awwww, and now Ben’s wife got there. The End. That was a little abrupt. And also didn’t Johnny just sell the ranch out from under you? And also you’re only able to be on that ranch because the government forcibly rounded up the Indians with whom you used to live peaceably, and your cattle still got rustled, but hey who’s overthinking it?

– Rated: Damn, Ben Johnson was fine when he was young. (Still not obsessed).

Movies with My Mother and Aunt and Uncles) – Maverick (1994)

poster-780REPOST REVIEW

“You’re taking notes? On what?”

“Something’s gonna crawl out of that bag…I guess.”
“Oh, it’s a snake.”
“OH. MY. GOSH.”
“Awww, lookit the li’l snake.”

“OK, I’m liking the scenery.”

“Mel Gibson? Thirty years ago? Ten years ago?”
“Thirty.”
“The man is old now!”
“He is not old…”

“Teehee, he’s on the donkey?”
“I’m surprised it’s going where he wants it to go.”
“Oh, it went.”

“He gave THEM the dollar?”
“And the mule.”

“Jody?”
“Yep.”

“They’re watching all the money he’s bringing.”
“A whole bunch of crooks.”
“I wonder when the hour is up, what then?…Ooo, she’s giving signs. Look, she’s giving signs.”

“Uh oh…uh oh….UH OH!” (my aunt).

“Is that the guy?”
“John Wesley Hardin?”
“What did he say his name was/”
“Maverick.”
“No, the gun guy.’
“Johnny.”
“Oh, it was him.”

“Uh oh!” (my mother)

“Should we–you should tell them what happens!”
“No.”
“No.”
“No!”

“Why did he tell the boys they could shoot him?”
“Cause he didn’t like getting beat up.”
“But the whole thing was staged!”
“NNnnghph!”
“SORRY. Was that part of it?”
“…Yes.”

“Jody’s in love!”
“….but…”
“I thought she was married?”

“Ok, that was something. She got him already?”
” ‘May I’…what?”

“She’s so good.”
“Jody Foster is so good!”

“She took his wallet again!”

“Uh oh!”
“A real bank robbery! Heh!”

“He had a thousand!”

“He took the dollar!”

“Crook!”
“They gave him more?”
“Probably. Here’s your 17, 30, 8…”
“He ripped them off!”

“Uh oh!” (my uncle).

“The thief and the old guy! Did you hear that? This is funny!”

“Oh boy.” (my mother).

“Uh oh.” (my aunt.)
“He’s dead!”

“For real-for real?”

“She in his wallet again!”

“…that saved a wretch like me?”
“Are you singing?”
“No.”
“No.”

“Rrr! Heheheh.”

“Bet you a dollar she’s stealing.”

“That is SO DUMB.”

“She took it? She stole the money?!”

“Did he call the horse Ollie?”

“Is that the same guy?”

“James Coburn! That’s James Coburn!”
“Oh! That’s him, I couldn’t remember his name!”

“That’s Denver Pyle.”
“Whoever that is.”
“…he was Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazzard?”
“He’s gonna jump!”

“He’s all outa money.”
” ‘But I was so close!’ ”

“This thing is a setup.”
“Which thing?”
“What?”
“Which thing?”
“This thing. This whole thing.”
“….why would you say that.”
“It’s a setup.”

“What’s she want from him now?…oh.”
….
“He’s as bad as she is, he’s hiding his stuff.”
“She’s just gonna reach over and take it. With her skinny hands.”

“Uh oh.”

“That was Waylon Jennings!”
“Who?”
“The singer!”
“But who?”
“The guy they just threw overboard, who is a singer who was just singing the song just now!”

“Who did that?”
“Either her or James Coburn. James Coburn looks like a crook.”

“Four more bongs…one…”

“Uh oh!”
“HEY!”
“Is that the dealer cheating?”
“The dealer is dealing for the Indian-looking guy.”
“He’s dealing off the bottom.”

“A full house?”
“Looks like.”

“UH OH!”
“CHEATER!”

“With your Pappy nonsense again? Pappy says it’s an ace!”

“Look at those big blues…”

“He tricked him!”

“All these people supposed to have no guns, where’d that gun come from? Everybody’s got guns!”

“Uh oh!” (my aunt.)
“Uh oh!” (my mother.)

“It’s a little put-put boat!”

“Uh oh!”

“Something’s behind all this, I know it.”
“It’s her and James Coburn!”

“It’s a shame those dresses don’t come back in our time period.”
“They too much.”
“They’re beautiful!”

“He’s counting the money?”

“TOLD YOU!”

“OH. MY. GOSH.”

“The man won the money fair and square! Why you gonna take it from him?”

“Uh oh.”
“Gonna drown him?”

“What! What! Oh my gosh!”
“That’s his FATHER?”
“Did you see that?”

“Uh oh!”

“OH MY GOSH IT”S THE GIRL!”

The Tattered Dress (1957) ((repost review))

film-poster-the-tattered-dress-1957-bpabrgThe Tattered Dress is a 1957 noir-slash-courtroom drama. And it’s an excellent little movie.

The opening scenes show a smiling woman in a torn-up dress waltzing home, not particularly concerned about this, but, in a nicely framed sequence (the camera remains outside the house, looking in through the opulent glass doors, without sound), the wind gets taken abruptly out of her sails when her husband grabs a gun. They ride back into town, and her husband coldly shoots down the man who ripped her dress.

Enter Jim Blane, a hotshot trial lawyer from New York (the setting is small-town Nevada). He’s damn good and he knows it. When the Restons (the couple from the opening scenes) wanted the best damn sleazeball criminal lawyer they could get, they went out and got him. But Jim, for better or worse, is isn’t merely a total heel, only mostly one. The next twenty-odd minutes are Blane setting up for the trial, making the acquaintance of the avuncular-but-way-smarter-than-he-looks Sheriff, Nick Hoak, making the much closer acquaintance of Mrs. Reston, and dodging the verbal jabs of his old friend/nemesis, a reporter who Has A Conscience and doesn’t mind tweaking Jim’s a little. (pwahaha, sometimes these old movies are adorable.)

Jim, an attack dog on the stand, interrogates Sheriff Hoak mercilessly, and manages to create enough of a doubt about Hoak’s credibility and the deceased’s character.  He gets the Restons off, and wow, he’s worth every penny they paid him, because that was textbook first degree murder.

Nevertheless, this is when the trouble really starts. See, Nick Hoak wasn’t pleased to be made a fool of on the witness stand. He’s especially not happy to have it done by an out-of-towner whom he made friendly overtures to earlier in the picture. He’s probably also not happy that the murderer of his friend got off scot-free, but mostly, it’s just the dent to his own prestige and power that smarts. A grand jury has subpoenaed Jim for bribing a juror–and with Hoak on the team doing the investigating, it seems incredibly unlikely to turn up any exculpatory evidence. Jim, to put it bluntly, is screwed unless he can (spot the irony) find a really good lawyer to defend him.

Spoiler: You know that old saying about a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client?  Yep. Jim’s closing statement (after his aggressive tactics blow up in his face…twice) boils down to a naked plea to the jury: “Yes, I am a slimy criminal defense lawyer. I know it. I’m not proud of it. (Anymore). Also, I’m not guilty of the crime I am accused of, and you guys know it; please don’t put me in jail just because I deserve it on account of my other actions.” Another reviewer pointed out that he probably got off only because everyone in town knew how crooked the Sheriff was already. Nevertheless.

This is a movie driven by its performances: Jim, a mostly-heel who gets the wind knocked out of him and is forced to confront who and what he is, is well-portrayed by the chiseled Jeff Chandler (also see: Sign of the Pagan, Flame of Araby, Female on the Beach, although come to think of it, he’s a heel in all of those. I believe Chandler was somewhat more heroic in his Westerner roles). He’s someone who has enormous gifts, who has worked for them, and takes their rewards for granted–until they get him into trouble and there is no sign of them getting him out.

jeanne-crain-george-tobias-jeff-chandler-the-tattered-dress-1957-bp9pyc

Nick Hoak (Jack Carson), the genial and corrupt ex-football player Sheriff is really good.–he’s exactly the mix of good-ol’-boy playing dumb, geniality, and concealed nastiness to make it clear from the outset that he’s way smarter, way tougher, and way more dangerous than he seems.

The third outstanding performance in this movie is by Jeanne Crain, as Diane Blane, Jim’s estranged, long-suffering wife. She won’t stand for her husband sleeping around on her, but she will stand with him to protect his future and their children’s. She’s really an excellent example of what Caroline Furlong designated a Type 3 heroine (click through for discussion on types 1-2 also): one whose power is in her emotional strength, and whose influence on the plot comes indirectly through her influence, rather than directly, through her actions (or action scenes.) Diane keeps Jim’s ego in check, encourages him, and gives him hope and strength when he needs it.–and does it all without sacrificing a shred of her self-respect, or once raising her voice or her hand. (At one point, Jim, hoping he’s going to get lucky, reminds her that they are still legally married. Diane matches his bedroom eyes and murmurs calmly back: “Did that stop you with Charleen Reston?” Burn unit, stat.) And, if that still sounds like faint praise, let me add that the proof might be in the viewing. I ended the movie with a resounding admiration for Diane Blane, because she is one strong, classy lady in a way you don’t often see.

Also playing her part quite well (but with only a few scenes to do it in) is Gail Russell (also see: Wake of the Red Witch), who mostly has to look frightened, and then also to look (spoiler!) murderous. Also of interest: the trampy Mrs. Reston was played by Elaine Stewart, who played Audie Murphy’s good-girl love interest in Night Passage. Okay, maybe not that interesting, but interesting that’s a good little movie, too. It also has Dan Duryea and Jimmy Stewart. Man, we used to have actors, didn’t we…

Rated: Five rigged poker games out of five.

Wolves (2014) – Movie Review

So a while ago I watched Wolves, which TVTROPES helpfully describes as a 2014 throwback to old-fashioned monster movies. It’s a throwback of some kind, but, and y’know what, it’s wins Best In Show to my eye. It’s got monstrous–but charismatic–villains, quirky side characters who are allowed to be characters, a heroic hero who matures and changes; a damsel who might need rescuing, but only once and only from the big bad, not the mooks, which I feel is a totally fair scenario. Also, I really needed something decent and non-brain-challenging to watch today.

Anyhow, in my book, a good movie, regardless of genre or ultimate letter grade does several things:

– Leans into it’s concept and lets the story build on the ideas inherent into it. Werewolf = super strength = I can throw these haybales into the barn loft single-handed. Compare and contrast this to Outlander (2008), which does do not a single stinking thing with it’s concept. You’ve got space marine plus vikings vs alien monster! And it did nothing with it! The space marine loses his space armor and space guns immediately; the vikings never go sailing, pillaging, or really get to do any effective fighting, let alone with bearded axes; and the entire movie could have been transplanted somewhere else, such as the modern day, with only changes to the dialogue–not the plot, not the characters, not the setup. Hell, it could just as easily have been Cowboys ‘n Injuns vs Alien Monsters. Admittedly, I’d watch that movie, but only if it starred Ben Johnson.

– Allows characters other than the main leads to have personalities. A lot of stories fall into the trap of having secondary characters exist only for the sake of helping and bolstering the hero’s story. Hero falls off a cliff? The mentor is hanging around at the bottom to pick up the pieces, for no other reason than the plot needed them to be there. Hero has lost clothes and guns in a freak boating accident? A kindly old couple by the lakeside have nothing else better to do with their deceased son’s clothes and guns than provide them to some naked rando who just swam ashore. Hero breaks into the vet’s office to steal medicines? The veterinarian stitches him up free of charge, and let me tell you that is the most unrealistic version yet. At best, you’re getting half off on the tranquilizers, and we had to wake up the tech for X-rays, so you’re paying full price for those. In this movie? When the heroine meekly asks if his wife might, perhaps, have a spare blouse, John promptly gives a squint-eyed grin and hollers for his wife to take off her shirt. Or the heroine’s drunk sister loudly declaring that she knew it, she recognized Cayden’s scent the first time she smelled it…okay, fine, we all did, but I DID IT FIRST! Or the town wolves’ subdued resentment against Cayden for…existing?

Lets things happen promptly. The very most basic thing that separates good of any grade, any genre, any kind or type, from bad is: the plot keeps moving along the correct path, without either random digressions or extraneous padding.

Then there are the more minor–but still important–things this movie does right. And all of these are worth expounding on, but I’m getting hungry, so suffice it to say that I really appreciate:

– This movie allows for the fact that your audience is human, and wants to see law-abiding / morally-sound humans win and dangerous animals (or criminals who look and act like them) lose.

– The mere and simple fact that rifles and ANFO bombs beat werewolves, and it’s without the kind of ridiculous escalation you’d see in a higher-budget movie or a Monster Hunter Nation story (GUN! OTHER GUN! BIGGER GUN! ANOTHER BIGGER GUN WITH BIGGER BULLETS! ANOTHER WEREWOLF WITH BIGGER JAWS! FLAMETHROWER! SMALLER GUN WITH SILVER BULLETS! MORE GUNS! And then by that time you have to beat the poor thing over the head a couple of times to put it out of your misery. Unnecessary and excessive.) I like this take a lot better. A healing factor is a healing factor, not a restore-life-from-last-save-point factor when you’ve just gotten a major artery punctured by high velocity lead injection, or your brain has been scrambled by a hollowpoint to the eyesocket. Or your arms and legs have been torn off and the stumps cauterized by explosives. (Note: this movie is rated, at most, PG-13. There is no excessive gore, nudity, or costly violence.)

– A heroic hero. Cayden starts out conflicted. He makes mistakes and hurts people–but regrets it and struggles against his darker nature. He also makes mistakes when he tries to fight without going all the way–and learns that sometimes, you have no choice but to fight to kill. And even then, being a hero, Cayden offers his enemies one last chance out. Caden is allowed to use violence, and he becomes, through the course of the movie, someone who can use it responsibly.

The miscellaneous: there’s smoking in this movie. Tollerman and Connor both smoke Cool Guy pipes and Wild Joe puffs on a wild-boy cigar. Somehow you don’t see that very much, these days.

The bad: honestly, the worst I have to say about it is that the transformed werewolves (humans in slightly-ripped but generally bicep- or midriff-baring clothing + furry wolf masks) look silly, and the fight scenes are correspondingly underwhelming.

The cast: Lucas Till and Stephen McHattie are both excellent. Till plays a square-jawed yet fresh-faced and cowlicked hero with enough conviction to make me mostly overlook the fact that he’s…not an actor with a great range. On the other hand, he’s well-written, and he’s got enough nuance in his voiceover / narration performance to pull it off. McHattie, though, steals the show in every scene he’s in. On paper, he’s the standard mentor/paterfamilias figure…in practice, he’s sly, cool, dignified, clever, and completely in command of both his pipe, the camera, and his southern drawl. Jason Momoa is his standard gruff-voiced alpha (huh) male. The guy might have good abs but you will not convince me he’s a good actor. Also, the guy who plays Wild Joe, whose name I did not remember to look up on IMDB before writing this, is very good, although honestly all he has to do is ham it up and go RRRAAA once or twice. He hams very well.

Merritt Patterson, as the female lead…doesn’t get as much from the script as Till does, as is therefore a lot blander. Still, she does her best at a moderately thankless damsel / love-interest, and as such isnt’t bad. Her semi-alcoholic sister was a lot more entertaining to watch and arguably cuter, but never mind. It’s bad show to have alcoholic love interests, and love interests don’t necessarily need personalities, anyway. And…honestly, that’s about it.

The plot: So things are good for Cayden Slaughter (subtle, movie, subtle.) He’s a football QB, aka local demigod, in a small town; has loving parents and a hot girlfriend–and yet things are somehow wrong. His parents are worried about his recurring nightmares; his flashes of inexplicable strength and dramatic rage cause outright injury to a football rival…not to mention that no girl likes being bitten full-on, in the face, or viciously clawed during a makeout session. The idea he’s losing his mind seems to be promptly proven right when he wakes up one morning to find blood on his hands and his parents….slaughtered. Oh, and a patrol car rolling up since his now-ex girlfriend reported him for assault.

It takes all of five minutes for this to happen. See what I said about things moving promptly?

Cayden is horrified, terrified, and grieving. But pragmatic. He goes on the run for an unspecified amount of time, trying to stay ahead of his terrible killer instinct–or abilities. This lasts for all of one scene, at which point we the audience are reassured that, yes, Cayden is the hero here. He wolfs out again–semi-voluntarily, to rescue a truck stop lot lizard from a couple of abusive bikers–leaving them dead, her alive and running away screaming, and himself with a new ride and leather jacket. (Also incidentally, we and Cayden learn from a TV broadcast that he was adopted.)

But we’re dealing with a young, clean-cut hero here. Cayden isn’t the kind of grizzled, weary anti-hero who can or intends to live this kind of life for his entire, well, life. We, the audience, get to hear his narrated thoughts. He has been looking for a solution….it’s just that there seems to be one way out: suicide.

Fortunately (or so it seems) for Cayden, at this point he meets Wild Joe, a loner werewolf who points him in the direction of Lupine Ridge (SUBTLE, MOVIE), where most of the werewolves live and the most vicious secretive pack on God’s green Earth are, before vanishing to the roof to watch him go. (I just noticed that Cayden apparently motorcycles through St. Louis on his way to Lupine Ridge. Okay, random way of showing he’s traveling through the midwest, especially since he’s supposed to be keeping a low profile on the run, but sure.)

So anyhow, Cayden finally arrives in Lupine Ridge and instantly finds himself the center of attention at the only bar in town. Which might be a good thing when the attention is coming from the hot bartender, but is less so when it’s also coming from the rough-looking type at a table in the back (Jason Momoa: Connor [wait for it] Slaughter), or from the calm old guy at a corner booth who smokes a pipe and watches what goes on without speaking (John McHattie: John Tollerman). Or the shifty guy who tries to pick a fight (some actor.) Or the other shifty kind of guy who just stares a lot (some actor: some shifty guy who will meet no good end. I think his arm gets bitten off.)

Tollerman offers Cayden (aka Danny) a job on his farm and things seem to be going well for a while (read: for the space of one scene.) A home is offered, no prying is done, and no questions are asked, even with Cayden hauling gigantic rocks out of the ground by hand and hurling 50-pound haybales into the hayloft without tools and scaring the animals just by walking past. Oh, and chopping wood shirtless. That’s always a good sign.

Cue Connor-Momoa showing up to ask said questions instead. Tollerman covers: Danny is his nephew, whom he originally didn’t recognize at first; and incidentally, Danny, stay out of Connor’s way.

The next morning, there’s a slaughtered (GEDDIT), gutted sheep in one of the pens. Tollerman, however, seems to blame hungry wolves from up in the hills…what else could it be, Danny boy? OH HAH, THEY’RE HAVING LAMB FOR SUPPER BUT CAYDEN CHOOSES TO START WITH SALAD LOL HOW DID I MISS THAT BEFORE. Good one, movie.

Anyhow, Cayden also pursues a closer acquaintance with the hot bartender (Merritt Patterson: Angelina), in defiance of the advice given him by the shifty-eyed guy–who warns him to get out of down before he gets them all killed. He doesn’t know who Cayden is, but he’ll figure it out and when he does, man….(cue both of them noticing that Connor is on the other side of the parking lot, smoking a pipe and watching, uh oh.)

Hot Bartender Angel and Cayden bond over both being orphans, as people tend to.

Meanwhile, shifty-eyed guy is executed by wolf after a brief interrogation. Honestly, I realize that running is really the natural reaction, but surely there’s a point at which someone is going to try and climb a tree…or put their back to it and try to fight. Oh well. Angel and Cayden stumble over the evil wolf camp in the woods, where the pack is, well, they’re eating him.

Angel reveals that, yes, she knows about it; she knows Cayden is a wolf; and the Tollermans also reveal that they (HAH) TiVo’d the news report about him. Mr. Tollerman is a wolf, too. In fact, most of the townspeople are, and Cayden really is his nephew. His mother, Lucinda, was his sister’s daughter–a pureblooded werewolf of the old lines. Connor raped Lucinda; the Tollermans took her in, faked her death, and then adopted Cayden out…only for Lucinda to commit suicide and Connor to run completely off the rails.

There’s been an arrangement for years: the wild pack runs in the hills (and has been steadily devolving, spending less time in human form and more time as animals); the town wolves tend to live totally as humans, intermarrying with them (“I just like men with chest hair”) and both sides are supposed to keep a low profile and maintain the secret. Problem is: Connor’s getting older, and he wants a pure-bred son. With Angel–the last remaining pureblood. And Angel, lest her remaining family be murdered, perforce has to go along with it.

Our hero and heroine bond some more over being orphans…Caden self-made, and Angel’s via murder-suicide. She and her sister have never managed to decide whether it was the wolf, the man, or the alcohol that did it. Angel tries to reassure him that he doesn’t have the soul of a killer, and also that being a wolf can be kind of a sweet deal, actually. Especially if your girlfriend is also a wolf as well. (Tollerman is very careful to announce his presence before he enters the barn, one discrete timelaps later.)

Next on the agenda is a council of war….but the town wolves aren’t very sanguine about their chances against the wild ones–especially if Connor finds out that his destined babymama has been fooling around with the stranger from out of town. Some of them are basically fully human and haven’t changed shape in years. (“Yeah, I can barely grow my sideburns anymore. Just a little fuzz. Hic!”) They’re totally willing to overlook livestock going missing, children going missing, and Angel being given to Connor…

…Cayden isn’t. “Stay in your homes tonight. And lock your doors.” See what I said above, about heroes. I like this one. [Oh boy, I’m visualizing my next attempted watch party…]

Unfortunately, since we’re only about halfway through the movie, what happens is a) Connor finds out that Cayden is Lucinda’s son, b) doesn’t care, c) Cayden gets his ass kicked and d) barely manages to throw himself off a cliff to presumed-certain death but actual safety. In his defense, he’s fighting an entire pack of people in biker vests and fuzzy masks sorry, wolves. Also, e) Caydenwolf has a poofy cowlick just like the human form does, lol.

Anyhow, who should turn up at this point but Wild Joe, a barely less undesirable alternative to the actual pack of veral wolves. But he does provide Cayden enough impetus to get up and limp back home to Angel and Tollerman, and, once Cayden regroups (seems that wolfing out + vigorous wolfy exercise is the secret to instant healing), the council of war reconvenes. It’s a council of two, and they’re the only people who can or will fight. They have no choice but to, at this point! But at this point, they’re going to fight smart.

Cue ANFO and shotguns, and needless to say, I officially love this movie. Mind you, this movie doesn’t appear to actually know what ANFO is, because the bombs appear to be made of cow manure and gunpowder from shotgun shells stuffed into burlap sacks, but at least they tried.

But Connor moves faster than expected, snatches the home folk, and leaves a cordial wedding invitation written in what’s either blood or very smeary red ink. Huh. Which is it? I consider this a decent question because all parties, when we see them that night at the, uh, party, appear to be in one piece–including Clara and John. So…where did the red ink come from? Were those invites printed off ahead of time or written ahead of time? I mean…that would kind of make more sense than carrying around a bottle of liquid ink, right? Or did one of the pack wolves cut themselves and write it?

Anyhow. Party. Connor, it might be added, is wearing a gigantic pimp coat + hat. One wonders if that’s what Momoa showed up in and they just had to roll with it, because it looks even stupider than his usual outfits. ConnorMomoa is playing this off a bit weirdly, too, actually–he’s been fairly intense and straightforward so far, but at this point he’s going for a bit of broad comedy and it’s weird. Funny, but weird. I guess he’s supposed to be drunk and playing to the crowd. Nevertheless.

(Angel is dressed up in a strategically-shredded white dress and she’s also tied to a tree and drugged.)

So, by the way, remember that shifty guy from the beginning who I thought got his arm ripped off? My bad, he actually gets his throat cut when Cayden takes out the sentries. Nice.

Anyhow, Cayden arrives in time to object to the wedding, fling Connor’s delusions of wolfhood in his face, and then….not get his ass kicked, because this time he’s fighting the way a hero should fight when the time comes to fight: all-out. No, that’s not the point of this scene. The point is, BIG FIGHT, MUCH RARRR, and this time even Angel gets in on the action. She breaks Tollerman out of the cage–to go enact part B of the plan AKA things go explodey down at the farm–but stays with the human Clara and her almost-human sister Gail to guard them. (That’s actually very smart play on the filmmakers’ part, since it allows for the heroes to run around and do hero menfolk things with the focus on the action, without crowding the battlefield and storyline with excess characters.)

Cayden, like a hero does, gives his enemies one last warning. Then some things go boom and a bunch of wolves get killed, including one who gets shot in the head while he’s standing in the middle of the front yard arguing with Connor, oh that was delicious. NICE. Then they get lured into the barn and the barn blows up all explodeylike, except that Connor leaps out of the flames and tears off his vest which would be a lot more interesting if he wasn’t all FurryMomoa at the moment, MOVIE.

Anyhow, FurryMomoa fights Cowlickwolf. Much GRR. Shwoosh arrrr vrrrr. Etc. And if you’re wondering why John Tollerman, with his rifle, isn’t just shooting the villain, it’s because a) Cayden tells him not to, b) he was reloading. Connor, with his dying breath (I presume it’s dying, anyway, because he turns back into a shirtless Jason Momoa, and OF COURSE THE CAMERA STAYS STEADFASTLAY ABOVE HIS CLAVICLE) protests that he actually loved Lucinda and had to take the fall for her getting pregnant so her father wouldn’t kill her.

At this point, Wild Joe turns up to taunt Connor a bit. Turns out, Wild Joe was exiled from town by Connor’s father (for being too wild…the mind boggles)…and now, poetic irony, the son destroys the father whose father destroyed the son and also who ate the brother, how the table turns, best served cold, etc, except that in Wild Joe’s case he probably just bashes it against a rock so it quits wiggling and blows on it a couple of times. Joe is, in fact, so busy gloating that he lets slip that he actually killed Cayden’s adoptive parents.

(“You did what?”
“What?”)

So Cayden attacks Wild Joe and gets punched in the face, at which point Connor attacks Wild Joe and Wild Joe rips his throat out. Joe then turns his attentions back to Cayden, but then Tollerman shoots him nonfatally a couple of times or at least until he runs out of ammo and Joe falls over. (“You were never too wild for this town, Joe–just too crazy.”)

Wild Joe then has the nerve to say that wolves–real wolves–only kill for food, or defense. Woooh boy, where to start with that one. a) not true, b) even if so, it doesn’t help your case, c) you’re a moron who just admitted you killed the hero’s adoptive parents in order to manipulate him, killed his biological father, attacked and brutalized him, twice, and then begged for help. And we get the most satisfying line in the movie: “I’m not a wolf, Joe. I’m a human being.”

It’s at this point Joe realizes he’s standing on a bomb, and Cayden is holding a lit match.

So now it’s all over but for burying the bodies in the soybean field and getting breakfast and loading up the motorcycle for a long ride, destination: Dunno, Uncle John, Angel wants to go ANYWHERE THAT IS OUTSIDE OF LUPINE RIDGE. Uncle John bids them goodbye and warns them to be careful of sequel hooks, uh, I mean, werewolves.

So, yeah. That’s this movie. It’s actually pretty good.

Rated: AWOOOOOOOOO