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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.

(L)East Meets West.

In this week’s trailer bin, M. Night Shyamalan tries to get his groove back with some help from Nicktoons in the new trailer for his live-action version of The Last Airbender, with Noah Ringer, Nicole Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel and Aasif Mandvi. Sorry, M. Night, but after Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, and that Mark Wahlberg Triffids movie (Google reminds me: The Happening), I’m skipping this unless reviews say otherwise.

And, elsewhere on Yahoo…what’s wrong with your FACE? Josh Brolin mounts up for his own third-tier comic book film in the first trailer for Jimmy Hayward’s Jonah Hex, also with Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, and Lance Reddick. Oof…seems pretty clear I’ll have to get my drink on before this bad boy.

Sex and the Single Succubus.

Back in junior high in the late ’80s — at the height of Mall Culture, before cellphones and the Internet, and when we were all too young to drive or really get into trouble — the It thing to do on a Friday night in Florence, SC was to hang around the Magnolia Mall. Basically, a goodly portion of the seventh/eighth-grade class would be dropped off there by our folks, and after falling into our predetermined social units — jocks, goths, freaks, geeks, etc. — we’d loiter around and continue our conversations from the school day. We’d chat up members of the opposite sex (who’d recently become much more intriguing), tool around B. Dalton and/or the Record Bar, and eventually get kicked out of the Spencer’s Gifts for being unruly wiseasses. And, when the mall closed at nine, most of us would file into the movie theater there, hopefully (but, for me at least, not usually) with a “date” of some kind, and catch whatever the big movie that week was: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future II, Ghostbusters II, etc.

All of which is to say that, were I still 14 years old, nurturing a painful crush on somebody or another, and catching a Friday night movie with a significant minority of my eighth-grade class, Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body would probably have been a total hoot. But, without those ideal circumstances on hand, Body isn’t much to write home about. It’s not particularly scary, or sexy, or funny — It just is. And, even despite the movie’s sexual frankness, I suspect I, and most people, would be too old for it even by high school. I won’t try to outdo screenwriter Diablo Cody in the hyperliterate tweener hipsterisms that characterize both the overly precious Juno and this flick. Suffice to say: Jennifer’s Body basically ends up being just a Big Ball of Meh.

After a few flash-forwards — one in a teenager’s bedroom, another in an Arkham Asylum of sorts — that give quite a bit of the game away, Body introduces us to Devil’s Kettle, a sleepy little all-American town that happens to reside next to a possible inter-dimensional portal (Think Buffy and the Hellmouth.) Naturally, Devil’s Kettle is also home to an archetypal High School USA straight out of any movie from John Hughesoeuvre to Mean Girls. One distinguishing difference, tho’: Here, the head cheerleader/queen bee, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox, more plausible as a demonic succubus than a high school student), is best friends of long standing — “sandbox love never dies” — with the town’s bookish, nerdy Hermione, Anita “Needy” Lesnicky. (Only in Hollywood does the “homely girl” look like Amanda Seyfried.)

Jennifer and Needy aren’t what you call birds of a feather, but they’re basically inseparable…even when Needy’s kindly boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons, looking like a baby Brolin) tries to separate them. But, one night at the local watering hole, these two best friends run afoul of Low Shoulder, some eyeliner-sporting wannabe indie-rockers from the city (fronted by Adam Brody, so you know they’re shady.) Strange things are soon afoot, a Carrieby-way-of-Great-White tragedy ensues — it’s never explained very well — and Jennifer, making the eternal mistake of getting into a van with strangers, is forever transformed.

After this horrible night, the town of Devil’s Kettle is pretty well shook up…all except Jennifer, who seems remarkably sanguine about recent events. She’s blase not only about the devastating club fire she barely lived through, but also about her behavior later that night, when she showed up at Needy’s house covered in blood and vomited forth spiky black bile. (Needless to say, this infernal effusion makes more of an impression on Needy.) And, as Needy starts to wonder what dark, demonic spirit has taken hold of her cheerleader friend, the all-new Jennifer exults in her newfound powers, particularly those she holds over boys…(Unfortunately for the wayward males of Devil’s Kettle, Jen’s gotta have it.)

From Alien to Cronenberg to Stephen King, almost all memorable horror — underneath its fantastical agenda — plays on very real fears. And in the hormonal body-horror and the reveling in (and fear of) newfound sexuality that Cody and Kusama offer here, you can see hints of an interesting “Girl, you’ll be a Woman Soon” subtext to Jennifer’s Body. (See also: Carrie.) But it’s not really fleshed out, and soon gets buried in quirk and cliche anyway. All the arch Codyisms aside — “You need to move on.org!“, “You’re so lime-green jello right now!” [a.k.a. jealous] — the script never really builds to anything, and much of the story just feels haphazard and not-very-well-thought-out. (Did the BFF necklace harbor supernatural powers? What was the point of the Jen-Needy make-out scene, other than to increase box office? Are guys really going to croon “867-5309” in that situation? And, as my friend pointed out, wouldn’t Jen want to feed before prom?)

Nevertheless, even if you find Diablo Cody’s dialogue somewhat headache-inducing after awhile (it’s less cloying here than in Juno, at least, since Kusama’s visuals don’t follow Cody down the indy-kitsch road like Jason Reitman did), Jennifer’s Body is mostly harmless. There’s even some fun to be had occasionally: Boyfriend Chip has a few choice lines, and special props to wily veterans J.K. Simmons and Amy Sedaris, who steal every small scene they’re in. Still, in the end Jennifer’s Body could have used a lot more personality. If you’re looking for a satisfyingly scary recent flick about women wrangling with demonic possession, I’d say skip this one and track down Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell.

Next Stop Wonderland(s).

In the trailer bin of late:

  • She’s given up, stop: Mia Wasikowska, a.k.a. Alice, takes a tumble down the rabbit hole anew in our first look at Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, also with Johnny Depp (frontlined a bit much here), Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Christopher Lee, Alan Rickman, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Noah Taylor, and Timothy Spall. (Looks like a good start, although clearly there is still much CGI-rendering to do.)

  • In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where naturally Gary Oldman is up to no good, a Mad Maxish Denzel Washington may be carrying the secret to something-or-other in the trailer for the Hughes Brothers’ The Book of Eli, also with Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Frances de la Tour, and Michael Gambon. (It’s good to see the Hughes, of From Hell and the underrated Menace II Society, back behind the camera. But I’m betting this’ll seem a bit been-there-done-that, coming so soon after John Hillcoat’s The Road.)

  • Kate Beckinsale uncovers something deadly, dark, and dangerous in the furthest reaches of Antarctica in the straight-to-video-ish trailer for Dominic Sena’s Whiteout, also with Gabriel Macht and Tom Skerritt. (It looks like The Thing, with shower scenes. Beckinsale is probably one of my bigger movie star crushes, but lordy, the woman needs a new agent.)

    And, as Comic-Con 2009 is just kicking off:

  • Pushing Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, Peter Jackson talks The Hobbit and Tintin. (Apparently, the script for The Hobbit is three weeks away, and four or five of the 13 dwarves have been front-lined. Spielberg has finished a first cut of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and The Lovely Bones comes out Dec. 11, with a trailer Aug. 6.)

  • Jonah Hex gets a poster that is sadly devoid of Malkovich. (For what is here, the scar looks decent enough, Megan Fox in anything gives me pause (but I guess she’s a hot ticket after the Transformers sequel made so much bank), and the lettering looks a bit futuristic for the property…unless they’re going post-Crisis Hex.

  • TRON 2.0, a.k.a. TR2N, is now called the much-more-boring TRON LEGACY. But, hey, at least they’re not abusing the colon…yet. (More TRON news, of sorts, in the post below, and, since the weekend is young, undoubtedly more Comic-Con news to come.) Update: The TR2N footage that premiered last Comic-Con is now — finally — up in glorious Quicktime.

  • Toys in the Attic.

    In the wake of Wolverine comes a handful of explosion-heavy trailers for your pre-summery consumption: First up, Shia LeBoeuf and Megan Fox, as well as Tyrese, Turturro, et al, run with the robots again in the full trailer for Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Given how boring I found the first one, I’m pretty sure I’ll take a pass. But, hey, if “Bayformers” is your particular cup of awesome, have at it.

    If your attic harbors a different set of deteriorating toys, however, Dennis Quaid is assembling a top-notch team — Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park — to avenge the Eiffel Tower in the new trailer for Stephen Sommers’ GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (That’s Sommers of the woeful Van Helsing, by the way. Also, is it just me, or aren’t bad summer movies completely abusing the after-the-colon-subtitle this year? It reminds me of my teaching days.)

    Anyway, imo this looks really terrible, and I barely know who any of these characters are — the ninja-fellow was called Snake Eyes, right? So the only point of interest I’m finding here, with the possible exception of the Ninth Doctor paying the bills, is Sienna Miller as the Baroness. Thing is, I already fell for that British-vixen-in-a-leather-catsuit trick once with Underworld, which was also terribad. So in the parlance of the ex-decider, “Fool me once, shame on you. Ya fool me, you can’t get fooled again.

    Finally — and this one might actually be decent — South Africans complain about the new refugee camp in their midst in the teaser for Neil Blomkamp’s District 9. This has been done before with James Caan and Mandy Patinkin in Alien Nation, but I like the verite style, and it’ll be interesting to see where Blogkamp (and producer Peter Jackson) go with it. Count me in.

    GOBah Hex, etc.

    In recent casting news, Will Arnett and Michael Shannon saddle up for Jonah Hex, already with Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, and Megan Fox. “It’s the story of Hex (Brolin), a scarred bounty hunter tracking a voodoo practitioner (Malkovich) who wants to raise an army of the undead to liberate the South. Arnett will play a Union soldier who enlists Hex and is blindsided by the dirty fighting style of his enemies. The role is not inherently comic. Shannon plays Doc Cross Williams, the bizarre ringleader of a brutal gladiator circus event. The character might appear in sequels.

    Also on the comic-to-film front, Idris Elba and Zoe Saldana join The Losers, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and based on the Vertigo comic. (Or, put another way, Stringer Bell and Uhura are teaming up with the Comedian.) The comic “follows a Special Forces team betrayed by its handler and left for dead. The ‘losers’ regroup in the interest of revenge, the opportunity to remove their names from a secret CIA death list and to conduct covert operations against the CIA and its interests.” Well, ok then. The only comic Losers I’m cognizant of are the WWII tank crew who bought it in Crisis, so I have no idea if this’ll make a good movie or not.

    And finally, the cast for Christopher Nolan’s Inception fills out, with Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, and Ellen Page all in talks to join Leonardo di Caprio in Nolan’s “contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind.” (Murphy is the sole Nolan veteran of the three, having played the Scarecrow in both Batman films.)

    Facing the Android’s Conundrum.

    (I know, I know, they’re not androids. Sorry, that song‘s been in my head all week.) Well, I kept my expectations low and didn’t really look for anything other than two hours of air conditioning and some big dumb summer fun. But, even by that low standard, Michael Bay’s Transformers is less than meets the eye. Mind you, I didn’t go in with a litany of fanboy complaints on hand…just as car culture somehow bypassed me as a kid, I never much grokked into Transformers back in the day. I did see the cartoon (and the cartoon movie with Orson Welles) a few times, and tried to reassemble the occasional Decepticon over at one friend or another’s place. And, before seeing this 2007 incarnation, I would’ve thought it was a pretty perfect match of director and material: True, Michael Bay movies generally tend to be terrible (although I didn’t mind The Island so much), but he’s definitely in love with the strict machines, and, if nothing else, has a knack for filming sleek, impressive car chases (cf. Island, Bad Boys 2.) But, this…well, this is about as dull and unengaging a movie about gigantic fighting alien-robots as you can imagine. Sure, the special effects team earn their keep with a few brief, shining moments, but the movie as a whole is a badly paced, surprisingly boring affair…It’s an hour and a half of interminable set-up, long, needless digressions, and military-industrial gobbledygook that eventually descends into stuporous, standard-issue Bayhem. If you were going to see this movie, you likely already have. But, if you’ve been on the fence…abort, retry, ignore.

    As Transformers begins, the voice of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) booms forth the backstory: An ancient cataclysmic war between an alien race of good robots (Autobots) and bad robots (Decepticons) over the whereabouts of an all-powerful MacGuffin (The Cube) has finally spilled over to our planet, Earth. Uh, did I say our planet? I’m sorry, this is in fact Michael Bay’s Earth, where cameras endlessly flit around people like wayward moths, the NSA hires hot Australian coeds to be their top computer experts, and extended scenes involving nothing but pseudomilitary babble is considered compelling. Anyway, while the bad guys play hell with US army units stationed in Qatar, the good guys (for reasons left unexplained) already know to track down one Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf), a quirky, Cusack-ish eleventh-grader who, when he’s not trying vainly to woo the quarterback’s girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), hawks his Arctic explorer great-grandfather’s personal effects on Ebay. Sam initially encounters these well-meaning alien life forms in the form of his first ride, a bitchin’ Camaro known as Bumblebee (Arguably the movie’s best non-robot-scenes come from the car’s early, Christine-like behavior.) But, soon, he’s met the bad guys too, in the form of a killer cop car known as Starscream. And, before you can say “My, that felt lifted from Terminator 2,” Sam and his new potential ladyfriend (who’s, conveniently, an amateur mechanic) have been irrevocably caught up in the intergalactic-robot melee, a fracas which, it turns out, the MIB-like government suits known as Sector 7 have known about since the days of Herbert Hoover. (Hmm, interesting. Is this dissertation-worthy?)

    You may think I’m being too hard on this film — this is a movie based on twenty-year-old toys, after all. (One shudders to wonder if Voltron, My Little Pony, Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids and Teddy Ruxpin are all getting the live-action treatment in due course.) But, like I said, I’m willing to sit through a lot of deadly-dull exposition in a July 4th movie such as this to witness big robots beating on each other…but not this much exposition. After its Qatar debut, Transformers takes entirely too long to move out of first gear, and even then, it downshifts for bizarre, barely diverting digressions. (See, for example, Sam trying to hide his giant new friends from his parents.) Conversely, by the time the final battle happens in a city somewhere near the Hoover Dam, it includes so much vehicular carnage packed into fifteen-to-twenty minutes that it barely registers. Throw in the occasional blatant message moments like Sam discussing the car not taken, or the revelation of Mikaela’s checkered (flag?) past, and the movie starts to feel like a straight-up stinker. (I haven’t even mentioned John Turturro, who’s more over the top here than he was in Lebowski, and about one-twentieth as entertaining.)

    The only thing that redeems Transformers in the end, is the impressive work of ILM — when two robots tumble, skate, and slide across an interstate highway, a scorpion-shaped Decepticon leaps out of the sand behind terrified troops, or Starscream lunges from car to robot back to car in one sweeping arc, Transformers offers a few tantalizing moments of real visual grandeur. In the end (and no disrespect to La Boeuf, who’s actually a pretty appealing presence throughout), it’s the number-crunching machines at Industrial, Light, and Magic that are the real stars here, however brief and flickering. But I guess that makes a certain amount of sense.

    Bots and Bugs.

    Elsewhere, Michael Bay’s big-budget version of The Transformers gets a teaser (hopefully the robots work better than the website), and Spiderman 3 gets spoiled rotten over at Dark Horizons — Seriously, don’t go if you don’t want to know.

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