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I only thought of this film because of Deadspin’s ode to Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, and on reflection, Kilmer’s performance is not only the best thing about this western, it’s the only good thing about it. Thus, to have one performance account for 2.5 stars – that’s really something. But Kilmer’s languid, dissipated Holliday is a treat to behold.  He is having a blast with the role, and while everyone else is somber or uncomfortable (or both), he chews and chews and chews.

Unfortunately, no one else (except perhaps Powers Boothe, who actually twirls his mustache as the evil leader of the redlegs, Curly Bill) is having any fun. The Earps (Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton) are dull as dishwater, particularly Russell as Wyatt, who decides that fury and blue eyes will see him through.  The villains, and there are scads of them from any number of sitcoms, look like they’re at cowboy camp. In fact, this whole movie has a certain slipshod, Eagles photo-shoot for Desperado quality to it.

The women are weak as well. As Kilmer’s moll, Joanna Pacula is just a hair shy of the cartoon Natasha, and Dana Delaney as Wyatt’s love interest lacks the lustful lure necessary to break down a rigid lawman. Delaney is a school marm, not a vamp; she doesn’t sizzle so much as reach room temperature.

Director George Cosmatos’ best efforts besides this leaden dog are Stallone vehicles, Cobra and Rambo: First Blood Part II. After Tombstone, he got one more feature (a Charlie Sheen vehicle) and that was that (he died in 2005). After Tombstone, which is a pedestrian, forgettable, script, writer Kevin Jarre penned The Devil’s Own and The Mummy and, again, that was that.

But oh what Kilmer does with what he’s given:

The charms of the character are legion.  As explained by Kilmer in a recent interview:

So Bob Dylan loves “Tombstone”, It turns out. I found out he was in New York so I called my friend and I said you know, I’d love to meet him, is there any chance and he says, “I don’t know, I’ll find out.” And the next call I got I thought was going to be my friend, but it wasn’t, it was Bob.

I was real excited, like a crazy fan, like a child; it was so great. Basically it was like nothing. It was like we were old friends, it was like “you want to come over?” and he was like, “yeah.” So, hangs up the phone, I was newly married and we had a baby and I went in and said “I think Bob Dylan’s coming over…I’m not sure, it could be a hoax…” 

He shows up and sits down and he wants to talk about “Tombstone”, but I just can’t, you know, nor can I talk about any of his stuff. Eventually he says, ‘ain’t you going to say anything about that movie?’ and I said, “do some ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and I’ll…” 

That’s what I said to him, basically I said no. I get like that sometimes. So I turned him down and, I thought, no one turns this guy down. Anyway, I felt like an idiot afterwards, well, yeah I could have said a few lines. They’re fun lines too, like people still ask me to say lines and now I’ll tell any schmo in the airport, I’ll say “I’m your huckleberry”, but I wouldn’t say it Bob Dylan! 

I felt so bad about it. I was like how could I make it up to him? So what I did was, I recorded “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” but as Doc Holiday and I put in all of the big lines from the movie into the song and made him a little tape

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When the two major characters of a film attempt suicide in the first scene, by the end of the picture, you’re not supposed to regret their lack of success. The Skeleton Twins is a ragged, cloying, mannered dramedy starring entirely-out-of-their-depth SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as estranged siblings brought together by near tragedy. Wiig is utterly lost here, and all her tics and quivers cannot make up for substance. Hader is a little better, if a facsimile of a gayer Sean Hayes from Will & Grace is the aim.

The siblings are the children of tragedy, their father a suicide and their mother a hackneyed New Age narcissist introduced only to make her children seem noble. They are presented to us as seeming losers who have lost their way and their special bond on the rocky road of life. They come alive in a weirdly incestuous routine of replaying bits and hijinks from their childhood, and the watching (particularly, a drawn out stoned scene featuring Wiig’s HI-larious flatulence and a lip-synch duet brazenly stolen from Bridesmaids, sans humor) is cringeworthy. These two are as likely to be siblings as Olivier and Midler, but as foreign as they seem, the real problem is that they are fundamentally disinteresting to anyone but each other. It’s like spending an evening with two dull people who constantly crack each other up with reference to inside jokes and childhood excesses (burps, farts, hopes and dreams). Um. Check please.

As for the story, it is a lurching mess, serving primarily to highlight ridiculous and arty visuals, such as a slow dance in Halloween costumes that is finger-down-your-throat precious. When nothing happens (the film feels interminable), a character says or does something clunky and overt, and we slog forward. One example: Wiig is unhappy in her marriage to Luke Wilson and surreptitiously takes birth control pills while they are “trying” to get pregnant. Hader tips Wilson off after a HI-larious scene where hetero Wilson takes homo Hader rock climbing, which is funny because . . . gay. The clue? Sometimes my sister hid things when we were kids. And off Wilson goes to find the pills in a basket of decorative soaps.

An awful hipster picture with nary an authentic moment in it. Makes Zach Braff seem like Cassavettes.

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In the vein of Carl Franklin’s One False Move, writer director Jeremy Saulnier has produced a moody, taut and earthy thriller that bleeds authenticity. Dwight (Macon Blair) is a seemingly harmless, homeless drifter who haunts a beach town in Delaware. He eats out of the trash cans of the boardwalk and his crime is limited to breaking and entering to take hot baths while the homeowners are away. Dwight is well known to the authorities, one of whom takes him aside and lets him know the killer of his parents has been released from prison in Virginia. This revelation sets in motion a chain of events that brings Dwight back to Virginia to confront the killer, and his family.

Saulnier, who has greater experience as a cinematographer, shoots the eerie back roads of Virginia in a manner that accentuates Dwight’s foggy mental state. He seems almost enveloped by the return to his childhood home. Despite the haunting, dreamlike feel of the picture, Saulnier does not glamorize the violence, which is up close and personal. People panic, they miss their mark, they make unbelievably stupid mistakes, and they say things under duress that people under duress say.

Similarly, the actors are true. Blair near carries the entire film (in a fair and just world, he’d be an Academy Award nominee). His Dwight is pitiable but seemingly insulated by the fog of his drifter life. When he is jerked back to grim reality, he presents a dawning, not only as to the depth of his anger but as to the import of his actions. As his sister, Amy Hargreaves, in a single scene, communicates her hatred of those who killed her parents but also the ambivalence she feels at the resurfacing of her troubled brother. It’s as if she worked for years to form a scab which is ripped off the moment her brother arrives.

Saulnier’s storytelling is such that you credibly piece together the events that led to Dwight’s fresh hell, and there is no predictable satisfaction from extraction of his revenge. Instead, both he and the audience realize this is a clusterfuck from the word go.

Eve Plumb (of The Brady Bunch) also makes an unexpected, terrifying appearance.

One of the better pictures of the year, a deserved 96% on rottentomatoes, available streaming on Netflix and all the more impressive when you know it was done for $425,000.

I avoided this film because of an aversion to dramas about viruses and plagues and because I was still shellshocked at the total crappiness of the 1995 Dustin Hoffman vehicle Outbreak (guess what?  The military did it!).  Unless the eventual outcome of a filmic plague is zombies, 21 Days Later-esque “rage” victims or altered humans ala’ The Omega Man, count me out.

But you’ll watch most anything in a hotel, and Contagion had three extra things going for it – it was the $4.99 special, a few friends recommended the picture and it was directed by Stephen Soderbergh.  Despite my reticence, I was treated to an engrossing, intelligent and moving drama about what a 1918-like worldwide plague (where the entire world lost 1% of its population) would look like today.  The answer through Soderbergh’s eyes is — not pretty, but not hopeless.

The films starts with poor Gwyneth Paltrow, who is the second carrier of an infection transmitted by touch.  Once she is identified as Patient 1 (a Chinese cook is actually Patient 0 – he touched the pig who ate the bat got that started this whole mess, and then he shook Paltrow’s hand), we follow her from China through Chicago and to Minneapolis, where she has touched at least a dozen people  And an epidemic starts.

Soon, the government (Laurence Fishburne at the CDC, Bryan Cranston at Homeland Security) swings into action, regular CDC folk (Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle) act heroically, an internet crackpot become a messiah (Jude Law), and Paltrow’s husband and many other regular folk have to deal with a paralyzed world.  Lawlessness increases because law enforcement is sparse; fear runs rampant; trash piles up in the street; and people hole up waiting for aid and/or a vaccine.

This is a gripping, sober thriller, thankfully bereft of the normal tropes of the genre.   The government did not create the virus for military purposes; almost every character is doing the best they can under difficult circumstances; and while society does break down, it also holds up.

All the actors are very good and very believeable.  Special kudos to Matt Damon, who continues to be the least-appreciated American actor of his generation.  He had the misfortune of being outshined by Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley and Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg in The Departed.  They got the nominations and Damon, who carries both films with decidedly more difficult roles, got squat.  Here, he serves as the father who has lost a wife and son and seeks to ensure his surviving daughter is not affected while at the same time giving her some life of normalcy. The scene where he is told his wife is dead is particularly moving.

Final note:  Gwyneth Paltrow gets the Lifetime Achievement Award for Actress Who Allows Herself to Be De-Glamorized to Best Serve the Role (you’ll know what I mean when you see it).

  

Never let your child select his own book to read at bedtime, for he might select “Mr. Babadook.” This is a terrifically scary psychological thriller/haunted house yarn from Australia about a single mother (Essie Davis) pushed to the breaking point. She was widowed seven years prior when a car accident took her husband’s life en route to the hospital to deliver her son. The boy (Noah Wiseman) is uncontrollable during the day and plagued by monsters underneath his bed at night. He is, in short, a spoiled handful and a weird one at that. His peculiarity is driving his mother to the brink, and in the midst of this turmoil comes Mr. Babadook, a terrifying bogeyman.

Davis is compelling as she tries to resist the evil force that has taken advantage of her torment, and as has been proven time and again in scary films from The Shining to The Sixth Sense to The Devil’s Backbone, the contribution of a gifted child actor greatly enhances the terror, as you see what unfolds through the child’s eyes. Wiseman is a brilliant mix of charming and brutally annoying, and he evokes both compassion and some of the same frustration instrumental in unleashing Mr. Babadook.

This is writer/director Jennifer Kent’s first feature and it is assured and often iconic. There are images that stick hard with you, they are not solely the scary ones, and she doesn’t resort to gore (late night Australian television, which is playing a good portion of the film, is quite horrifying enough). While Kent owes a little to James Wan’s Insidious, she avoids his slickness and has a way of capturing what frightens even in the most mundane of settings. She merits a Hollywood project.

The Babadook was lauded at Sundance and is currently charting at 96% on Rottentomatoes. If it is released for Halloween in your neck of the woods, go see it.