Sunday, November 8, 2015

Double-Barrel Movie Review: Bone Tomahawk and The Peanuts Movie

 Show this double-feature to your kids and see how they react.
 OK, let's start with one of my most anticipated films of the Fall, BONE TOMAHAWK. Of course, since I'm looking forward to seeing it, it doesn't get much of a theatrical release. I mean, I totally get that....There's no room for a small film like this at the 18-theater multiplex. They need at least 6 of those theaters to show Vin Diesel fighting witches. (That worked out well for them.) Luckily, it was on-demand, AND Time-Warner miraculously chose this weekend as the one time in human history that they sent me a half-off coupon code for an on-demand movie. Truly, the good Lord wanted me to see Kurt Russell fight cannibalistic Troglodytes in the old west!

 (There may be veeeeeery minor spoilers ahead....I'll try to keep mum about as much as I can.)

 I'll start by saying. all snark about what fills the screens these days aside, I can see why this isn't gracing too many theaters. BONE TOMAHAWK is a very low-budget film, and there were shots that looked like shit on my TV, so I can imagine how flat they'd look on a big screen. The film is written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, and while his shot compositions leave a lot to be desired, his engrossing dialogue and character interactions more than make up for any visual shortcomings. His stellar cast does a lot to distract from the flat, lifeless look of the film.

 The movie starts with a couple of highwaymen robbing and murdering some hapless travelers. (They're played, wonderfully, by David Arquette and Sid Haig.) While fleeing the scene of their crime, they stumble into a hidden valley and disturb a bizarre burial ground. Haig's character is immediately killed by an arrow, and Arquette flees, showing up in the small town of Bright Hope 11 days later, pursued by...something. He's shot and imprisoned by the town's Sheriff, Franklin Hunt. Hunt and his "Backup Deputy", an old man named Chicory (Wonderfully portrayed by Richard Jenkins) summon the wife of a local rancher to tend to Arquette's leg wound, and that's when the shit hits the fan. Whatever followed Arquette from the burial ground raids the town, stealing horses and killing a stable-boy, and attacking the jail, taking Arquette, a deputy, and the rancher's wife with them back to their lost valley. Hunt gets a posse together to go save the hostages, and it's quite an unlikely bunch: The elderly Chicory, the rancher O'Dwyer, hobbled by a badly broken leg, and a psychotic dandy named Brooder, who used to court O'Dwyer's wife. Before leaving, they consult the local info-dump, alias a Native American professor named Tall Trees, who helpfully informs him that the guys they're chasing are NOT Native Americans, but an inbred offshoot of "Troglodytes", who you don't want to fuck around with. (When asked to accompany the posse, Tall Trees does the best old west version of "WHATCHOO TALKIN' ABOUT, WILLIS???" ever.)

 The bulk of the film is simply these four men riding off in pursuit of their quarry, and this is where I lost my wife, who cheerfully went to sleep, later to proclaim "I couldn't take it anymore. Too boring, and it was taking them too long to get where they were going." They probably spend an hour of the film just traveling and talking, and while some may be bored, I found the dialogue and the characters mesmerizing. Richard Jenkins shines as Chicory, Matthew Fox is a revelation as the ice-cold Brooder, and Patrick Wilson delivers a quiet, stoic performance that anchors the excellent cast. Kurt Russell, of course, is great. This man has a perfect face for a western, and his mustache alone should receive an Oscar. 

 The group, of course, eventually encounters the aforementioned Troglodytes, and that's where the inexperience of Zahler as a Director really hurts the film. Stuff happens fast and furious, and I had to rewind a few times in order to kinda-sorta figure out what was going on. (I actually had to read a round-table review on CHUD.com to get a rough consensus on what happens to one of the characters, then I went back and rewatched the scene, and I still couldn't determine if that was what really happened.) No real spoilers, but be warned: Once they find these so-called Troglodytes, the movie becomes jaw-droppingly fucked-up. I'm pretty jaded, and my jaw was left hanging. 

 BONE TOMAHAWK is a tough sell....It's too much of a Western for most Horror fans, and it's probably too gross for the average Western fan. (Seriously...some really extreme stuff that happens at the end.) The performances are top-notch, as is the script, but the low-budget does hamper the film occasionally, especially when the film shifts to the Troglodyte cave, which looks like the set of a high school drama club version of QUEST FOR FIRE. But they probably spent a lot of the budget on the truly gross kills, so I can't complain too much. This film is not for everyone, so your mileage may vary. I thought it was a strong 6 or 7 out of 10. I probably would have been slightly disappointed if I had paid more money to see it in a theater...This film seems more like a play than a movie, and it works wonderfully in your dark living room. Watch the trailer and see what you think...If the trailer seems appealing, you'll probably dig the film.

 (By the way, the film ends with, honestly, the weirdest song I've heard playing over the credits of any film, ever. It's called "Four Doomed Men", and....wow. Give a listen....skip to about the 4:30 mark in the video below, and prepare to want to buy the soundtrack just so you can marvel over the whole song.)

Next up, THE PEANUTS MOVIE. If you've lived on Earth over the past 65 years, you already know Charlie Brown and the peanuts gang, so this film should hold no surprises for you. The animation is attractive and not too computery-looking for oldies that grew up watching  A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, but modern enough to not offend kids who would croak if they ever saw a hand-animated film in a theater. The plot is virtually non-existent....It's more like a 90-minute string of vignettes loosely centered around Charlie Brown's quest to win the love of his new neighbor, "The little red-haired girl". The film basically plays as a sort of "Greatest Hits" reel of classic scenes, quotes, and gags taken from the comic strip and the animated specials, and, while it didn't particularly hold my attention (Or, to judge by the amazing number of rude fucks playing with their accursed phones, the attention of many other adults in attendance...), the kids in the audience loved it. Even if you don't think the film was anything to write home about, you can't help but smile through the whole thing....The peanuts gang are like old friends that you grew up with, and it makes you happy to see them. I had a decent time, and my kids, hell, all of the kids in the theater, has a blast. (The theater we saw it in holds 558 people, and it was more then 3/4ths full. I think we'll be seeing more Peanuts films in the future, based on today's attendance.) It's a sweet, attractive, inoffensive film that almost exudes nostalgia and good childhood memories, and it has some nice messages about friendship and loyalty.....what's not to like? (Stick around after the credits for a final gag. SPOILER: Nick Fury shows up to inform Charlie Brown about "The Peanuts Initiative".)

 Final numbers:
BONE TOMAHAWK: 7 out of 10.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE: 6 out of 10.