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Aidan Quinn

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Cowboy Junk-y.

I highly doubt any compadres and comadres out there need me to tell them at this late date that Jimmy Hayward’s loud, dumb, Hoobastank-ish adaptation of DC’s Jonah Hex is, all things considered, a lousy film. So, to be clear right up front: In no way am I recommending that anyone actually sit through the durned thing, especially if your own money is involved. But, I am forced to admit: While I may have just been in a summer-afternoon, World Cup-enhanced good mood at the time, I actually found Jonah Hex to be a pretty entertaining lousy film, if you set your brain to numb and roll with it.

For, however defiantly stupid Hex is for most of its run, and yes, Hex is extremely, flagrantly stupid — we know that from the horse-mounted howitzers in the first reel — at least the movie is aware enough of its drive-in badness just to let its Weird Western Tales freak flag fly. (Speaking of Hex’s comic book origins, the obligatory source material disclosures: I’ve been aware of the character since he popped up in the Crisis way back when, but never really followed him, even when he got sent into the far-flung future for some reason, and I couldn’t tell you much about Hex beforehand except the scar.)

So basically, I found Jonah Hex to be on the bizarrely-enjoyable, “TNT New Classic at two in the morning” side of terrible, as opposed to the just-plain-irritating-terrible of, say, 1999’s The Wild, Wild West. (Or, to take two recent examples, Alice in Wonderland or Clash of the Titans.) True, gun-for-hire John Malkovich seems really bored as this twisted tale’s Big Bad, Confederate general Quentin Turnbull. (Like Hugo Weaving in The Wolfman, another genre turn I thought would have to be fun no matter what, Malkovich is a letdown. Even in other easy paychecks like Con Air, I’ve never seen him so listless.) But the Malkatraz choosing to phone-it-in notwithstanding, there’s still a lot of goofy fun at the fringes of Jonah Hex.

I mean, we’ve got rising star Michael Fassbender (of Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank and, soon X-Men: First Class — He’s the Magneto to James McAvoy’s Professor X) as a jolly, lilting Irish-immigrant henchman in a bowler hat. There’s Will “Gob Bluth” Arnett playing it straight as a McClellan-esque Union general, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of Watchmen and The Losers) as a wordy and depressed zombie, Lance Reddick (nee Major Cedric Daniels) slumming it as Hex’s Q, American Beauty‘s since-AWOL Wes Bentley randomly popping up very briefly as Southern Gentleman #2…and that’s not even getting into the random Civil war-era gladiatorial bat-beasts and whatnot.

And then there’s Hex himself: Josh Brolin, who, not unlike Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in Splice, carries the stoic deadpan — with a glint of laughter in the eyes — of a man who seems to be in on the joke. If nothing else, Brolin — after spending two decades not-really-making-it between 1985’s The Goonies and 2007’s No Country for Old Men — seems to be getting a real kick out of being an A-Lister carrying his own B-level comic book film. For her part, Megan Fox is not much to write home about here, but she’s easy on the eyes and acquits herself well enough. I know she’s often a target of many people’s weirdly vociferous wrath. But I’ll give Fox this: If Hex and Jennifer’s Body are any indication, she seems to have a pretty solid sense of her own limited range.

Now, you’ll notice I’ve gone several paragraphs in now without mentioning anything involving the actual story, and that should give you a sense of its quality. But, basically, Hex wants revenge on the aforementioned Gen. Turnbull, since he’s the man who disfigured him (good work, make-up people), murdered his family before his eyes, and inadvertently gave Hex the power to commune with the dead (although, apparently not with his family, which is where you’d think he’d then spend most of his time.) Turnbull, meanwhile, wants to level the Union on its 100th anniversary, as payback for that whole Civil War thing — you may have read about it. (The engine of his centennial-obliterating master plan are highly dangerous WMD, apparently once engineered by Eli Whitney — In practice, they’re glowing golden orbs not unlike the pinkish bombs Jar Jar et al were flinging around Naboo in The Phantom Menace. And, yes, the fact I just mentioned Episode 1 should again give you a sense of what you’re in for here.

So, yeah, the film is bad, no doubt. But I still definitely enjoyed myself through its schlocky-grisly awfulness. If you’ll allow me to explain by digression: Speaking of John Lee Hancock’s amiable but slightly dull adaptation of The Alamo in 2004, I finished up by saying of Billy Bob Thornton’s Davy Crockett that “Billy Bob is so good here that I spent most of the film contemplating who else I’d cast alongside Thornton for the definitive American History miniseries. Christopher Walken as 1850 Henry Clay? Fred Thompson as James Buchanan? Adrien Brody as Mexican War-era Lincoln? The possibilities are endless.

And, with that in mind, I think the point where Hex sorta sold me as Z-grade entertainment, despite its pretty unmitigated badness otherwise, is when Aidan Quinn (most recently playing a drunk-of-a-different-color in The Eclipse) shows up as President Ulysses S. Grant, a man who needs that outlaw and ex-Confederate rapscallion Jonah Hex on the side of God and country, his dirty deeds be damned, or else. If you’ve been coming ’round these parts and reading the movie reviews for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed I have a weakness for both historical recreations and genre outings. Well, however much of a bomb in the end, Jonah Hex at least has the good sense to frolic happily at that crossroads for awhile.

Ghosts, Writers.

Much as the lousiness of Alice in Wonderland drove me right into Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest last month, I quickly tried to wash out the bad taste of Clash of the Titans this past Sunday with a showing of Conor MacPherson’s moody Irish ghost story The Eclipse. And I’ll give it this — It’s a right strange little movie.

I haven’t seen any of McPherson’s previous films, although my sis and I did catch his play The Seafarer on Broadway a few years ago, about an Irishman (David Morse), his blind older brother (Joe Norton), and their friends (Conleth Hill, Sean Mahon) visited by the Devil (Ciaran Hinds) one gloomy Christmas eve in Dublin. This film — broader and better executed than that rather larky evening of theater, although also somewhat aggravatingly open-ended — carries over some of the same cast (Hinds, Norton), as well as the supernatural goings-on in the Old Country.

And like Seafarer (and, from what I’ve heard of McPherson’s other works, like The Weir), it’s a bit of a strange genre mishmash — part horror flick, part adult romance, part relationship thriller. I can’t say the movie successfully coalesces into anything more than the sum of its parts, but it has the benefit of some likable actors — not only Hinds and Norton but also Iben Hjejle of High Fidelity and Aidan Quinn — and it makes for a decently compelling character piece and Gaelic travelogue for a few hours. Its pleasures may be mostly ephemeral, sure, but I’ve sat through worse ghost stories in my day.

As the film begins, the year is 2008, and in the scenic Irish seaport of Cobh, the locals are preparing for their yearly writing festival, where authors come by to hobnob, do readings, and discuss their latest works. Among the volunteers hosting this event is one Michael Farr (Hinds) a recent widower, shop teacher, and father of two who, late one night, seems to encounter a ghostly intruder in his house. The trick is, the person he thinks he saw — his father-in-law Malachy (Norton) — is still among the living, although he’s definitely withering on the vine in a nearby rest home. Can you see the ghost of someone who isn’t even dead yet?

Before Michael can wrap his mind around this quandary, events at the festival start to consume his attention. Namely, the visit by two authors who happen to share a brief, awkward history: The popular but exceedingly abrasive American writer Nicholas Holden (Quinn), and a lovely but distracted writer of ghost stories, Lena Morelle (Hjejle). Despite his continued grieving for his lost wife — or perhaps because of it, given their mutual interest in apparitions — Michael finds himself drawn to Lena, causing much consternation for Holden, who’s nursing the volatile combination of a giant-sized ego, a drinking problem, and a broken heart. But, quite frankly, angry writers are the least of Michael’s worries — Did I mention this widower has a ghost problem? And they are not going gently into the good night.

To its credit, The Eclipse gets a lot of little things right. The burgeoning romance between Lena and Michael seems natural and unaffected. McPherson subtly underlines the themes of ghosts, memory, and loss by emphasizing empty rooms, empty chairs, and the timelessness of life in Cobh. (The staff at the hotel hosting the festival dress in nineteenth century garb, helping to convey the sense that the spirits of centuries past still inhabit these climes.) And Hinds in particular is compelling throughout, even when the story he’s a part of is not altogether believable.

All that being said, The Eclipse has some problems with tone. It’s not just the sudden lurches from haunted house malevolence to 2nd-chance-at-love-type-stuff back over to unabashed Raimi-esque horror that throw everything off, although they don’t really help that much. (They do keep you on your toes, tho’.) The other issue is Nicholas, who’s written far too broadly compared to everyone else on hand. Michael and Lena seems like real, multi-faceted , and plausible adults, while Nicholas — the best efforts of Aidan Quinn notwithstanding — is basically just an one-dimensional ambassador from the planet Douche, and the movie loses a step whenever it tries to get us to take him seriously.

I also have some quibbles with the ending of the movie, in that the initial haunting aspect is sorta just dropped without explanation. (But, then again, how can you explain ghosts anyway? Maybe this was the best way to go about it.) Still, for all its bizarre shifts in tone, The Eclipse at least has the virtue of originality in its quiver. The Sixth Sense meets Terms of Endearment meets Something Wild in coastal Ireland? I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.

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