TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES got nothing to worry about. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES doing quite well, thank you very much. Got the big-budget, Michael Bay treatment (he’s the producer on this one; Jonathan Liebesman directed); came in #1 at the box office this past weekend; has the almost inevitable sequel already in the works. Yup, life is good for TMNT. Unless, of course, the attending audience happened to see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY last week. In which case, there might have been quite a few people coming out of the theater thinking, Nice try, but it doesn’t quite cut it.
In two weeks, we’ve had two films that want nothing more than to entertain us with some adrenaline-packed, fantastic storytelling. How each goes about the task, and how successful each is, says a lot about the filmmakers, how they regard this genre, and what they think of their audience. I explore the issue a bit in my review of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF. Click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click the title to download.
JONAH HEX may not turn out to be the worst blockbuster that Hollywood inflicts upon us this summer, but it certainly seems likely to be the most disappointing. Not disappointing because it was filled with potential, but disappointing because it fails to deliver even the cheap thrills, over-hyped action heroics, and pre-fabricated melodrama that – at a bare minimum – passes for entertainment in this kind of film. This is one, dull ride across the range that will have viewers running home in search of HIGH-PLAINS DRIFTER, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY, and even THE CROW – just as a reminder that there is a way to do this kind of genre piece right. The film starts with a clever opening cue – the Warner Brothers theme played on electric slide guitar, lending a Western feel to the familiar notes – but with a modern edge. This echo of Ennio Morricone (who scored Sergio Leone’s great Italian Westerns) is the first and last time we will feel any sense of anticipation in JONAH HEX, because anticipation requires a narrative confidence that this film utterly lacks. The pacing is weirdly schizophrenic – a fact that becomes evident in the opening prologue. The first problem is that the prologue should not even exist. Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) should be introduced as a man of mystery, but the film seems afraid of letting us figure out his back story along the way, so instead it is spelled out in an opening montage, with helpful voice over from the character.
Unfortunately, the sequence is oddly truncated, as if the filmmakers were even more afraid that we might be bummed out if Hex’s personal tragedy were actually allowed to register on an emotional level. So what we get is the telegraph version: Hex family killed stop Hex face branded stop Hex recovers from near death stop Hex now able to communicate with dead stop Hex becomes bounty hunter full stop. Consequently, the scene leaves us cold, and later flashbacks, filling in the missing details, comes a bit late to hit us with emotional impact – it’s a re-run of what we already know, and it’s too late to make us care.
If this opening miscalculation were just a matter of the film getting off to a shaky start, we could try to forget it and move on, but the sequence turns out to be symptomatic of the rest of JONAH HEX, which feels like an all-out assault on narrative coherency. It’s as if Nicolas Roeg got stuck with a boring work-for-hire assignment and decided to sabotage the production with his patented fee-association montage approach.
Or more likely, the film feels eerily reminiscent of THE INVASION (2007), the adaptation of Jack Finny’s The Body Snatchers that the Warner Brothers studio turned over to the Wachowski Brothers in post-production. JONA HEX features the same sort of editorial trickery, with different scenes intercut in a way that confuses the timeline in the hope of compressing exposition and visuals into one big – though not very finely threaded – knot.
TWO FILMS IN ONE
JONAH HEX is supposed to be two films in one: it’s a Western about a bounty hunter out for revenge, and it’s a horror- fantasy about a man who stopped just short of death’s door and now has some kind of connection with those on the other side, manifested in the ability to briefly resurrect the dead for interrogation purposes. But more than that JONAH HEX feels like a movie that was shot twice, and the editors could not decide which pieces to use, so they intercut both of them. JONAH HEX Take One was apparently about a loner cowboy whose only companions were a horse and a dog, and it ended with Hex and his enemy Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) duking it out in the desert. JONAH HEX Take Two gives Hex a sometimes girlfriend, a hooker with a heart of gold named Lilah (Megan Fox) and ends with Hex and Turbull duking it out aboard an iron-clad vessel.
The two fight-to-the-death scenes with Hex and Turnbull are intercut, the justification (provided in voice over) being that the desert sequence is a near-death hallucination, to which Jonah is flashing back. As if that two-fer were not enough, there is also a double ending: in one, Jonah and Lilah walk away together, into a beautifully rendered cloudy blue sky; in the other, Jonah rides off into the desert, with his horse and dog, but without Lilah.
It is weirdly symptomatic of JONAH HEX’s mangled macho ethos that the scene with the dog – in fact Jonah’s relationship with the animal – is far more moving than the one with Lilah. In fact, the dog’s has a few good moments that leave us wanting more. The canine is introduced as if it will feature prominently: Hex evens the odds with some idiots who are tormenting the creature, which shows its gratitude by following him of its own accord. And then…nothing. The poor pup’s apparently abbreviated role suggests one of those old time co-stars whose best scenes were cut out to salvage the vanity of the headliner afraid of being upstaged.
Whether JONAH HEX was in fact largely reshot and recut, I cannot say, but I certainly hope it was – because I would hate to think that the film was designed from the ground up to be this way. For all the talk of CLASH OF THE TITANS being radically revised at the last minute, the seams that show are relatively forgivable. In JONAH HEX, however, the film feels stitched together like a bad mad scientist’s experiment.
For one thing, Fox’s character looks shoe-horned into the film at random intervals. At one point she kills a paying customer; the next time we see her, it’s as if the incident never happened. (Sure, we know the creep deserved it, but are we really supposed to believe the local sheriff, not to mention the guys’ family, would just give her a pass?) She’s a kick-ass girl except when the script needs her to be easily abducted by Burke (Michael Fassbender) so that Turnbull can use her as bait to lure Jonah Hex into a trap.
Weirdly, Turnbull doesn’t follow up on this plan; instead, Hex shows up of his own accord, leading to an unintentionally hilarious bit. Turnbull, who has been delivering his standard-issue evil-villain-victory-speech to his men on the deck of his iron-clad ship, suddenly produces Lilah out of nowhere, like a poker player revealing an ace up his sleeve. What the… did he have her hidden in his overcoat, or what? (And by the way, how did Burke know that Jonah loved Lilah? Should we even care, when the screenwriters plainly don’t?)
In time honored tradition of movie villains, Turbull doesn’t kill Jonah when he has the chance (even though he has ordered Hex’s death in the past). No, in a hilarious piece of lip-service screenwriting, Turnbull says he wants Hex to see his moment of triumph – and then locks up Hex and Lilah below decks, from which vantage point, Turbull’s triumph will not be visible (although it will of course, give Hex and Lilah ample opportunity to escape).
This leads to a lengthy but not particularly exciting climax filled with enough idiocy to make you wonder whether JONAH HEX isn’t some kind of extremely well-disguised self-parody. The U.S. government sends a boat to intercept Turnbull, but in a plot development that sounds like something out of THE WILD, WILD WEST, Turnbull is in possession of a super secret sci-fi type weapon. Said weapon was designed for but never built by the government; the U.S. government knows he has it and has seen the destruction it has wrought, but the U.S. officers sent to intercept him basically shrug when he opens fire, and simply wait to be obliterated. This leaves it up to Jonah and Lilah to save the day. Fortunately, the “nation-killer” weapon has been deliberately designed with a feature that gives the heroes time to stop it. For reasons that would occur only to a screenwriter, the multi-barrel cannon fires off half a dozen rounds that land harmlessly, until a final “trigger” round is fired – and of course, the trigger takes a long time to roll down the conveyor belt before being loaded. This is every bit as silly as it sounds.
This indifferent approach to even the semblance of continuity and common sense perfectly encapsulate the narrative strategy of JONAH HEX. It’s as if the filmmaker thought up some random scenes they wanted to see and simply stitched them altogether for their own – certainly not our – enjoyment.
WHO CARES ABOUT STORY? WHAT ABOUT ACTION?
Presumably no one is sidling up to JONAH HEX hoping to enjoy a sophisticated story. But the film fails to deliver even the basic popcorn entertainment. Jimmy Hayward cannot direct action. The big set-pieces just lie there. He is equally unable to capture that Sergio Leone feel of the calm before the storm, the delicious anticipation of violence, when the hero will finally deliver the payback so richly deserved.
Hayward doesn’t know how to modulate his effects to suit the ups and downs of the story; sure, his cinematographer captures some great outdoor scenery, but it’s never used to set a tone or establish a mood that will underline the drama. JONAH HEX feels shot-by-numbers, but Hayward seems to have used the same numbers over and over. For instance, footage of Hex riding across the open range exhibits a generic quality, as if it were all shot on a single day and intercut at random throughout the film. Whether Jonah is heading to meet Lilah or to track down Turnbull, he always rides at the same pace, and with the same expression.
In a desperate effort to enliven this leaden lack of exciting gunplay, Marco Beltrami’s dramatic score is intermixed with metaloid music by Mastadon. More and more we’re hearing this type of aural assault used to hype trailers (e.g., THE WOLF MAN), but this is one of the first times it has crept into the actual film, which should have stuck closer to the Morricone template.
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?
Josh Brolin certainly looks the part of Jonah Hex. He gets off a good line here or there, responding to the oft-asked question, “What happened to your face?” And his awkward response to the unexpected loyalty of the dog he rescued (“I don’t know what to say to you”) is endearing. Unfortunately, the voice over robs him of the mystery that such a character should maintain; we should read his pain buried somewhere deep behind his eyes, not hear it spoken to us directly. And the makeup doesn’t work as well as it should. Not that it looks bad, but it never becomes a part of the performance the way that, for example, Heath Ledger made use of the Joker’s scarred mouth.
Malkovich is too good to phone it in, but this is as close as I ever want to see him get. The script’s one moderately interesting idea is making Turbull the 19th century equivalent of a terrorist (the word doesn’t even exist in English, forcing President Grant [a very sincere Aidan Quinn] to resort to a Spansish coinage adopted by Turnbull’s Mexican comrades). But Turnbull is under-motivated. He hates the North, but it’s not clear that he really wants to help the South (in one of those obligatory movie-villain scenes, he kills an ally for no other reason than to remind us that he is the villain). And Malkovich doesn’t bother trying to find anything underneath the man’s skin that will make him anything more than the cardboard character that the script has given him. In a development so unexpected it almost makes JONAH HEX worth seeing, Malkovich is overshadowed (even if only briefly) by Fox, who manages to show one decent glimmer of human warmth in a scene with Jonah, letting us know she really loves him (unlike her other clients). It’s almost enough to make you expect something interesting from her character, before she descends to being plot device. (Note to director Hayward: If you’re going to put Fox into that corset, you might as well try to generate a little heat with her character instead of presenting her with all the appeal of a barely noticed fashion accessory.)
The real scene-stealer is Michael Fassbender, as the crazy Irish, violence-loving henchmen to Turnbull. As much as we’re supposed to hate him for being a homicidal thrill killer, his joy de guerre is the film’s bright spot. You wonder if the filmmakers feel the same way, because they are absolutely unable to wring any satisfaction out of his death scene, which plays almost like something that was edited for television.
PROUD TO BE A REBEL – BUT WHAT IS YOUR CAUSE?
As scrambled as the narrative of JONAH HEX is, even more scrambled is the underlying attitude toward the character. Hex fought for the South, and turned against his comrades only when his commanding officer (Turnbull) ordered attacks on civilian targets, including a hospital. This led to a fatal shoot-out with Turnbull’s son, Jeb (an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has one of the best moments when Hex briefly resurrects him to get information on father Turnbull’s whereabouts). Jonah Hex’s change-of-heart regarding the righteousness of the war he was fighting could have been a powerful sequence; alas, it is not shown. It is simply referenced to allow Hex off the hook for fighting on the wrong side of the Civil War, without coming to terms with what the fight was about.
In case this sounds like over-interpretation, the closing credit crawl for JONAH HEX ends with a folk song whose chorus proclaims the singer is proud to be a rebel who fought the Union; he’s sorry only about losing. Is the singer speaking for Jonah Hex? If not, why put the song in at all, especially at the very end, when most viewers will have left the theatre? Is this a shout-out to anyone with lingering resentments over the Civil War?
Lest we conclude that JONAH HEX is endorsing racist sentiments, the filmmakers includes an official Hollywood disclaimer in the form of the token black man from whom Hex purchases weapons. In case the mere presence of this character were not enough to absolve Hex, our token character delivers dialogue insisting that Hex wasn’t for slavery and wasn’t for sessesion; he just didn’t like the government telling him what to do. This makes no sense (after all, the South had a government that told Hex to put on a uniform and fight the North). It’s just an embarrassing form of pandering to the tea-baggers in the audience: Sure I’m sorry the South lost the war that abolished slavery, and now that a black man is in the oval office, I’d like to secede, but that doesn’t mean I’m racist.
Once again, liberal Hollywood turns out not to be so liberal. JONAH HEX (June 18, 2010). Directed by Jimmy Hayward, Screenplay by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor; story by William Farmer and Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, based on the DC Comics character by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga. Cast: Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnet, John Gallagher Jr., Tom Wopat, Michael Shannon, Wes Bentley, Julia Jones, Luke James Fleischmann, Rio Hackford, Aidan Quinn.
Actress Megan Fox discusses working with Josh Brolin on JONAH HEX. And she enjoys fight scenes because she “wants to brawl.”
Find more video trailers, clips, and interviews at CFQ’s new YouTube channel.
Fans around the world are chomping at the bit for JONAH HEX, which lands in theaters tomorrow. Some are fans of the comic book, others the genre…but the fact that Megan Fox is in it doesn’t hurt either. Check out some of these pictures of the JONAH HEX beauty both behind the scenes and on screen!
Warner Brothers releases this feature film adaptation of an obscure comic book character. The plot has the U.S. government hiring the titular bounty hunter (Josh Brolin) to confront a terrorist (John Malkovich) who is threatening to a Hellish apocalypse. Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Aidan Quinn, and David Patrick Kelly co-star for director Jimmy Hayward, working from a script by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, based on a story developed with William Farmer, inspired by the DC comic book character created by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga. Release date: June 18.
The Blu-ray disc offers a great transfer and some good extras, but even in unrated form, this allegedy horror-comedy is not particularly scary, sexy, or funny.
Overexposure is a tragic affliction for a young actor – tragic because the films that pay the price are often not the ones responsible for causing the disease. Megan Fox rode two TRANSFORMERS pictures to every magazine cover and television show that could be possibly frequented by men between the age of 14 and 30. Securing her for the lead role in JENNIFER’S BODY must have seemed like a coup, offering the budding sex symbol the first film that she would carry on her own, supported by a script from Diablo Cody, still reasonably hot (well, lukewarm at least) from the massive indy-cred-of JUNO. However, something happened on the way to the forum, and JENNIFER’S BODYdramatically upended upon release, barely limping it’s way to recoup its meager $16 million production budget (here’s hoping DVD sales can pay for all those TV ads). Now, our own lascivious nature should have placed us right in the marketing crosshairs for the film, but we were oddly unmoved by the pre-release hype – finding our Spidey-sense tingling at terms like “feminist” and “empowerment” when what we wanted to hear were words like “scary” and “sexy”. But in the end, it seems that the American movie going public may have been just plain tired of having Ms. Fox shoved down their collected throats, like medicine for an ailment they never had.
High school students and childhood friends Jennifer (Fox) and Anita (Amanda Seyfried) alleviate the boredom of life in Devil’s Kettle with a trip to a local road house to see a hot band, Low Shoulder. A mysterious fire guts the bar just after the band begins their set, killing dozens and sending a near hypnotized Jennifer into the arms – and van – of lead singer Nikolai (a very funny Adam Brody, who should have been in this film a lot more). Anita (who goes more commonly by ‘Needy’) reluctantly returns home alone, only to find Jennifer in her kitchen later that night, covered in blood and vomiting a black, viscous fluid. The next day, Jennifer seems to be her usual bright and perky self in class, until she lures the captain of the football team into the woods, transforms into a demon and eats him. As Anita’s relationship with Jennifer grows more…complicated, she’s drawn closer to her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) – whom Jennifer seems to be eyeing for her next course. Anita attempts to track down the band – now a major success after the post-fire publicity – and find out what happened to Jennifer that night in the woods.
As the recent (and superb) Daybreakers has reminded us, it’s entirely possible for a horror film to work on numerous levels as long as you don’t lose sight of the genre pool that you’re swimming in. The problem is that Diablo Cody’s script has no teeth for horror, and director Karyn Kusama seems to have little interest in exploring anything aside from Cody’s half-baked female empowerment agenda. The filmmakers are proud to point out the material’s girl power slant (as they do many times in the commentary and supplemental features), but in reality, the end product is no more enlightened than 1982’s Slumber Party Massacre, another weak tea horror tale that tried to sneak by on the basis of having been directed and written by avowed feminists. We enjoyed Kusama’s Girlfight, which had the courage of its convictions; Jennifer’s Body, however, had the gall to sell itself as a sensual horror-comedy without being particularly sexy, scary, or funny.
Looking back on Cody’s Juno, it’s easy to see how the fine ensemble cast and careful direction managed to flesh out the author’s too-clever-by-half dialog. Her scripts seem almost a throwback to those carefree days of the mid-’90s, when every screenwriter was trying to emulate Tarantino’s self-reflexive, hipster style; in Jennifer’s Body, there is almost no organic dialog between characters and every exchange, whether it’s between parents and children, boyfriends and girlfriends, or even ‘best friends forever’ Jennifer and Anita, feels overwritten and rehearsed (there’s a scene at the funeral of one of Jennifer’s victims in which the mother delivers a graveside haranguing at his assembled goth friends that is absolutely unwatchable).
The good news, however, comes from Amanda Seyfried, who comes closer than anyone else to making the script feel genuine. Her performance is open, honest, and completely winning. Frankly, we found her more attractive than her top-billed co-star; it’s another of the film’s logical leaps that we’re supposed to buy Seyfried as frump, clinging to Jennifer for popularity and acceptance (so much for empowerment!). There are other good actors here, but most are used in underwritten parts that make them little more than cameos: Amy Sedaris is wasted as Anita’s mom, as is the great J K Simmons as a teacher (sporting a prosthetic arm for no good reason, save a cheap laugh on the reveal).
And what of Megan Fox? She’s certainly not bad – and with a role so carefully tailored to her, failure in that regard wasn’t an option – but neither is she all that memorable. Though the title and publicity material say different, Jennifer’s Body really belongs to Seyfried’s Anita, as the film’s only dramatic content consists of her reaction to her friend’s demonic transformation. Little is required of Ms. Fox other than the sort of vamping that two films with Michael Bay should have her performing in her sleep, so perhaps this isn’t a true test of her abilities – but neither does it leave us panting for Untitled Megan Fox Project 2010.
There’s good news for the AV connoisseur, however, as the image on Fox’s Blu-Ray disc is nearly flawless. Jennifer’s Body is a well shot film, with a vivid, colorful palette that is faithfully reproduced on the disc without noticeable DNR or filtering. The lossless DTS track is unusually strong, and the BD also comes equipped with French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital tracks.
The major extra is the inclusion of an unrated cut of the film that runs almost a full 5 minutes longer than the theatrical version, clocking in at just over 107 minutes. Though the unspoken tease of these “unrated” cuts is the chance to see nudity or gore that was considered too strong for an R-rating, the changes often turn out to be more subtle: the unrated Jennifer’s Body actually features quite a few editorial changes, sometimes consisting of extensions lasting just a few seconds.
Also present are 14 minutes of deleted scenes; a featurette on the filming of the finale, “The Dead Pool” (both presented in HD); a gag reel; and video diaries by the cast (in SD). The best extra is a “Life After Film School” piece prepared for the Fox Movie Channel (and therefore in SD) that features a better than usual chat with Cody, while the most insipid is a 1-minute long clip mash-up of Ms. Fox vamping it up, called “Megan Fox” is Hot (in HD). There is also a digital copy.