Sunday, September 23, 2007

3:10 To Yuma (Mangold)

Ebert's been getting a little too generous with the four-star reviews lately. Why just last week alone, he bestowed the four star treatment upon Eastern Promises, In the Valley of Elah, Across the Universe, and Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Now, granted, I have not seen any of these films. But my hunch is that none of these films are really four star films, in the sense that Pulp Fiction is a four star film. That is why I am not in a particular rush to see any of them. If they generate enough buzz, or Oscar nominations, then yes, I suppose I would check them out. But based on what I know, I will save my money for the time being. Eastern Promises is the new film by David Cronenberg, whose last film, A History of Violence, I thought was an odd, confused, and mostly ridiculous crime drama. Critics everywhere thought it was a masterpiece. So what do I know? In the Valley of Elah is the new film by Paul Haggis, director of Crash and screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby. Ebert gave both four stars. I thought Million Dollar Baby was maybe a three star movie and Crash maybe a two-and-a-half star movie. Across the Universe is a musical drama told entirely through the lyrics of Beatles songs and featuring characters with names such as Jude and Lucy. Now, I am the biggest Beatles fan in the entire Western Hemisphere, but as Beatle-related projects go, this was not the one I was clamoring for. And finally, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song is a documentary film about the life of legendary folksinger Pete Seeger; something tells me I'm not going to be getting a Pulp Fiction-esque experience with that one. Hey, if all of these films are four star masterpieces, then fine, strike me down with lightning. But I doubt it.

I doubt it because Ebert also gave four stars to 3:10 To Yuma, which I saw last weekend, and wich I did not think deserved four stars - although it was enjoyable and not completely without its merits. I did not see 3:10 To Yuma because Ebert gave it four stars. I saw it because my roommates and I had all agreed to go out and see a movie together last Saturday night, and the female in our party objected to our first choice, Superbad. The reason why I was skeptical that 3:10 To Yuma deserved four stars was because I've not been impressed by its director, James Mangold. The two films by Mangold that I had seen previously were Girl, Interrupted, a mildly interesting if slightly generic coming-of-age film with an over-the-top Angelina Jolie performance (which somehow won her an Oscar - that's right, you can officially refer to her as "Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie"), and Walk The Line, a competently entertaining Johnny Cash biopic that I disliked with such a personal fervor that it will be necessary to avoid great detail here. Needless to say, as far as I was concerned, James Mangold had proven himself to be a master of middlebrow Hollywood fare and nothing more.

Coming in with that bias, I have to say that 3:10 To Yuma is better than those other movies, and is possibly James Mangold's best film yet. Not the highest praise in the world, I suppose, but he better take it. He better take it because, in a world where my idea of a great western is The Wild Bunch or McCabe & Mrs. Miller, 3:10 To Yuma probably didn't have much chance of cutting it. Here is a director, after all, who was of the opinion that Joaquin Phoenix (an actor whom Yoggoth feels he could not help but punch in the face if he ever happened to see him in person) was the most fitting choice to portray Johnny Cash in a biopic. I didn't think this man was going to be too capable of making a Wild Bunch/McCabe type of western. He clearly was trying to make a more "interesting" western than the usual, however, but I think his idea of "interesting" was "more interesting than Gunsmoke." The film tried to thread deeper moral issues into its plot, in a way that I think other generic Hollywood movies might have shied away from, and for that it should be admired. By the end, however, it seemed to me that most of the attempts at moral epiphanies were eventually muffled under a haze of one too many plot twists and one too many bullets missing the very easily woundable main characters. I could only suspend my disbelief for so long. But at least it had some ambition.

Formally, the film was about as generic as was to be expected. The music and cinematography was suitable but not particuarly notable. Christian Bale was solid but perhaps ill-matched in such a simple role; I kept getting the feeling that he was trying to "get into it" really hard. Hell, this guy played Batman like he was playing Hamlet. In fact, I spent half of the movie slightly thinking that Christian Bale was actually Joaquin Phoenix. Not a good sign. Russell Crowe was charming and wily, but since he was playing a violent criminal, how much of a stretch was it, really?

All in all 3:10 To Yuma was a consummate three star movie. Unless you've been desperate for a western, save your money. But if it happens to be playing as an in-flight movie, then check it out.


ninquelote said...

We seem to have vaguely similar tastes in film in general, LE, especially since I also felt History of Violence was about as interesting as finding blood in your stool, so I am going to take your word on this one. 3:10 looked like a rental to me, or my new favorite pass time, watching movies online with Netflix.

There are however a couple of issues that deserve more attention than your fervor-ed hatred of Phoenix driven biopics.

1. How on Earth could you let someone talk you out of seeing Superbad!?! It's only the funniest movie of the year. Those guys are so good they could even pull a chuckle out of Everybody Loves Raymond.

2. When did you get a female in your party? Does she have a name (other than female)? What's her sign? What's her problem with laughing - doesn't she like to laugh!?!

Anyway - Christian Bale Rules!

Little Earl said...

Don't let Yoggoth get to ranting about History of Violence either; he thought the same thing. Did we all miss something? I mean, was it just me or was the whole mob plotline totally preposterous? I haven't seen any of Cronenberg's other movies, but they've got to be better than HoV. So when Eastern Promises is earning all these rave reviews, somehow I'm a little bit skeptical.

1. I'm sure I'll see Superbad at some point.

2. Right now I have one female roommate and two male roommates. Before that I actually had one male roommate and two female roommates. She just didn't want to see a gross-out teen comedy, however funny it might have been. She has laughed at a couple of blue-humored South Park episodes, though.

I think you like Christian Bale because of American Psycho. I just get the feeling that he wouldn't be much fun to hang out with. My kind of actor is more like...maybe Mark Wahlberg. Now there's a guy I could see myself hanging with!

yoggoth said...

I'd actually guess that Christan Bale would be more fun to hang out with than Mark Wahlberg. Bale may take some of his roles a bit too seriously but he comes across as a decent guy in interviews. I think we'd have more to talk about.

History of Violence had no point. Even granting that the acting was good(it wasn't), it was done in the service of nothing at all. Violence definitely has a history, but it's not that.

Little Earl said...

"Violence definitely has a history, but it's not that."

Zing! Mercy! I think you've got the first line of your review right there, buddy.

herr zrbo said...

But "3:10" was the highest grossing Western of the week, doesn't that say anything?!?

yoggoth said...

I demand 10 westerns a week, every week!