In Their Prime (Tombstone, 1993)

Tombstone_Movie_PosterWyatt Earp arrives with his wife Mattie in the town of Tombstone during the silver boom.  He meets with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their wives.  Shortly after taking over work in the local saloon running the poker table, his friend Doc Holliday shows up.

The town has an uneasy relationship with the gang known as the Cowboys.  Things escalate when Cowboy leader Curly Bill shoots the Sheriff Fred White.  As much as Wyatt pushes against going back into the law business, he gives in when Virgil and Morgan feel they just cannot turn their backs on the town.  In fact, Virgil feels that making money off a fearful and oppressed citizenry is pretty awful.

Things mount between the Earps and the Cowboys, culminating in a bloody ride.

Tombstone has a stellar cast.  I mean, if you tell me you have a movie with Kurt Russell, Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton, I am ready to hand you my money.  But this film has Val Kilmer, Powers Booth and Terry O’Quinn.  It features early performances from Billy Bob Thorton, Stephen Lang and Michael Rooker.

Although credited to George P. Cosmatos (Leviathan, Cobra) as director, the majority of the film was directed by Russell after writer and original director Kevin Jarre was fired. This is, of course, according to Russell. If this is the end result, one wonders why Russell has not tried his hand at directing since.

Now, Tombstone is not a historical document.  The film ignores Earp’s legal troubles, and glosses over the fact that his wife Josephine and he were not star crossed lovers (she having a gambling problem and he having affairs).  The film also ignore aspects of Mattie’s history, only noting that she eventually died of a drug overdose.

But Tombstone is, admittedly, much more a love letter to the traditional western than Unforgiven only a year before.  While violence begets violence here, it is made to feel far more justified.  In real life, Curly Bill was not merely freed on a technicality. He claimed it was accidental and Earp even testified to this. So, in the film, it seems to lean more towards flat out murder by Curly Bill. The good guys are good, through and through. The bad guys are largely unredeemable.  But if you are able to look past the loose play with history, Tombstone is full of rewards.

Batman Will Go On (Batman Forever, 1995)

Batman_Forever_PosterBatman Forever had some big shakeups.  Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were out.  Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer were in.  But the real shakeup was…Warner Brothers wanted to sell more toys.  Schumacher had read Batman: Year One.  He really wanted to tell that story.  The studio was not interested.  Schumacher thought that if he gave them the movie they wanted, he might be able to persuade them on the next film to do the film he really wanted to do.

For the Riddler, the film hired Jim Carrey (fresh off Ace Ventura:Pet Detective, the Mask and Dumb & Dumber) and for Two Face?  Tommy Lee Jones (their established actor choice-no doubt selected for his uncanny resemblance to Billy Dee Williams) was their choice.

The casting of Kilmer was treated like this was a James Bond casting choice. We can replace anybody.  Anyways, The story also introduced Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell).  Batman’s love interest is sexy psychiatrist Chase Meridian.  Really.  Adding more characters means more action figures…and vehicles…Super-heroes gotta have a lot of rides…as do their arch enemies.  Well, unless you are Chase Meridian…you do not get to be an action figure.

Much of the film is given to Jim Carrey to do his typical over the top goofiness that he was known for.  This was three years before he started playing roles that required him to tone it down.  It can become obnoxious, and Tommy Lee Jones tries to keep up, going over the top himself.  Kilmer just fills his tuxedo and walks through the film.  Multiple villains make for a bloated plot.  Add to that the introduction of Robin?  This is not O’Donnell’s finest moment.  He is just not convincing as a skilled martial artist or acrobat.  Chase Meridian is a very boring character.  She seems to be a character existing solely because they felt there should be a love interest.  You know…for the girls.

Again, there is little meat for characters like Commissioner Gordon…and the films make him feel like an old man who is ever so ineffective…and knows it, so he waits on Batman to save the day.

Visually, Schumacher goes more Art Deco with his Gotham City.  He plays with vibrant colors and visual queues.  This is certainly an interesting change…except it also becomes highly implausible that such a city would be built this way.

This was the Bat Franchise teetering on collapse.  But there were no lessons learned.

Science Gone Mad Part 3 (Real Genius, 1985)

real_genius_posterThere was a time when Val Kilmer was primarily doing goofball comedies like Top Secret or playing supporting roles like Iceman in Top Gun.  Not like when he was a serious actor in Batman Forever.

Anyways, Real Genius was a little more grounded in reality than the other two entries in Science Gone Mad.  There is no alien technology or magic genies.  Instead, it follow the story of young science prodigy Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret).  He has graduated from high school early and been accepted to a University renowned for it’s science genius students.  Mitch goes in with high hopes.  There he meets his roommate, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer).  Chris is popular with the student body and seems to be more interested in applying his brilliant mind to having fun, an annoying trait to his professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) who needs Knight’s intellect to complete a project for him.

Mitch also meets a hyper-kinetic you woman named Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) whom he is quickly smitten with.  She is a genius whose mind is in constant think mode, ideas flowing at a rapid pace.  There is also the mysterious guy who seems to live in Mitch’s closet.

It is not all fun and games, as Mitch finds that there are bullies among geniuses as well.    At one point, he makes a pained call home to his parents, feeling defeated.  This very call is used to humiliate him publicly.  Jarret is especially sympathetic as the scene plays out.

The film mostly goes for light humor, but does know when to be more serious, without it totally messing up the flow of the film.  It is funny and the characters are very likable.  Martha Coolidge draws strong performances from the cast (this is Val Kilmer’s second theatrical release) and along with the writers, keeps the film focused.  It never goes off the beaten track.  We only get the information we need, experiencing the important story points.  Even the jokes function towards telling the story.  There is a running joke in which Mitch enters a class room, and there are fewer students each time, as students are leaving tape players to record the lecture…eventually, he is the only person as the room, as the teacher leaves a tape player in the room playing his lecture.  Really, the joke shows how lonely it is for Mitch and how he is having a hard time assimilating into the culture of the university.

Chris Knight is not an original character, he is the goofball genius we have seem many times.  But Kilmer imbues him with a real charm.  Knight looks after Mitch like a little brother, trying to help him break free of his uptight fears of failure.  He wants to get Mitch to open up to life’s possibilities.  And Mitch is both sympathetic and pretty endearing.  Atherton is terrific in his trademark role as “Authoritarian Asshole”.  And you cannot help but like Meyrink’s Jordan.  She is a sweet, super smart chatterbox and it is weirdly endearing.

Real Genius is a highly fun comedy that has the right amount of thoughtfulness running through it.  It is a smart comedy with the hint of dumb (but only enough to make you laugh).

It All Falls Apart (Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, 2014)

lost_soul_coverFollowing the efforts of filmmaker Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) to make his adaption of H.G. Wells the Island of Doctor Moreau, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

The documentary is a fascinating exploration of egos and dreams colliding with commerce.  It provides a very honest look, with everyone being brutally truthful about what they were feeling.  It is full of downright bizarre stories.

For example, Stanley was shocked to find out that New Line announced the Island of Dr. Moreau with Roman Polansky.  They were unhappy with his desire to hire Marlon Brando, as New Line had just dealt with him on the Johnny Depp vehicle Don Juan De Marco.  It had not gone well, apparently.  Realizing he might lose the movie, he resort to witchcraft.  This is not a joke.  He actually sought a warlock friend to cast a spell.

lost_soul_stanleyStanley notes when he came to Hollywood, they put him up in an apartment complex.  He talks about how he became more and more paranoid that this was an attempt to shut him out.

lostsoul2Some of the surprises are to find some of the names they had associated with the film.  James Woods and Val Kilmer were hired, and then Kilmer decided he really did not like his role.  They convinced him to stay by switching him over to Woods’ role and sending James Woods packing.  They asked Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure) to try out, and he was intrigued, but shortly after filming, he begged to get off the picture.

Production closed down, and Stanley was fired from the production, which led to a breakdown for Stanley who was totally absorbed by the project.  And according to actress Fairuza Balk, this is actually when the nightmare began.

The introduction of John Frankenheimer to save the film resulted in a miserable crew and a whole different kind of craziness that they were meant to be escaping when firing Stanley.  Director David Gregory has managed to assemble a large number of people involved and to paint a vivid picture of the failure of Stanley’s dream, and ultimately the film the Island of Dr. Moreau.  It is a terrifically engaging film.

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