Cleansing the Doors of Cinematic Perception, for a better worse

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hex and Taxes

Emancipation Day and The Income Tax Due Date bracketed this past weekend, making it the right time to rent a ghost story/steampunk Dirty South Risin' hybrid comic book adaptation, on Blu-ray, and play it loud... American proud. My newest hero Josh Brolin stars, in scarry face and surly voice, as JONAH HEX (2010), a Confederate officer left to die by an evil rebel general (John Malkovich). Medicine men show up and bring him back to life but he stays half in the other world, and that's what gives the film its edge. Hex can talk to the dead, and the dead are pissed... and in this graveyard of a world, always handy.

Co-starring as the love interest is the aptly named Megan Fox, a raven beauty whose flawless face is here for some reason shot through the kind of Vaseline haze usually reserved for older women. A derringer-toting and knife under the mattress-ready prostitute loyal to Hex for reasons vaguely like Charlene Holt loyal to Wayne in EL DORADO, she fights everyone else like a wildcat, and thank god we're spared their first date. In fact the whole mess of mysterious origin stuff is summed up the way it would be in a comic book, if you were starting with, say, issue #34, as a page of flashback before the credits. As this film runs a lean 78 minutes, there's a nice random issue feeling, all swinging axes, lone figure on horseback riding across the surreal plains and psychedelic graveyards and splash page eyebrow raises and abundant stones still unturned (would have loved to see them thar hell hounds Hex speak of). But I dig the scenes of Hex rapping with the dead and I dig Hex's followed by a murder of CGI crows wherever he may ride --he's the Raoul Duke of the Old West.

Brolin's manly gravitas and deadpan humor bumps any film up a star so I'm cool with the fact I couldn't see what was going on in any of the night action scenes. I was pleased by the overall lack of rape or inordinate torturing (aside from the macho kind which is okay), which makes it all relatively suitable for children and sensitive feminists, of which I'm both. Rather than kill Hex and Fox whenever he gets the chance, evil supervillain Malkovich just chains them up like those self-defeating Jokers and Penguins allowing the dynamic duo to keep their utility belts and providing oodles of opps for easy escape and vows to return same Hex time, same Hex channel. 

Though based on the low rate of returns, ah reckon Hex won't be back. Except, probably, to see me.

But I read the DC Jonah Hex comics as a kid and they were always entertaining if not great. They endeavored to combine old west stuff (like the original horseback Ghost Rider on Marvel) with DC's safe but diverting horror ala House of Mystery / House of Secrets.  That was all well and good but his horrid scar, which has left a pointless strand of flesh connecting his lips, made me think of too many unsavory school cafeteria hot pizza incidents which is unpleasant.

THE WILD WILD WEST is a clearer ancestor of HEX, which doesn't seem to make sense since that movie didn't do well either, but then again steampunk is as steampunk does and idiot producers love to enforce bad copycat decisions then second guess them and triple guess and then blame the director for the resulting incoherent jumbled mess.

In the end, what counts is that Fox and Brolin play it as deadpan straight as Adam West and Burt Ward before them, only better. Has Brolin ever phoned it in? Even under a whole Monty Clift-style half face paralysis he's got moody, touching gravitas. Bonding with the friend he killed his final "see you soon," is awesome in a way that recalls the "Bye Bye Life" end of ALL THAT JAZZ, and villain Malkovich hams it up old-school, which is how it should be (and the awesome Michael Fassbender is his bowler hatted right hand man). Best part, the soundtrack isn't annoying or cliche'd John Williams recyclables. It was probably longer at one point, and got edited down like it was a Cantonese Kung Fu film after a trip through the Miramax miracle dub-and-cut threshing machine. Maybe there will be a director's cut? Eight ball says: Outlook not so good.

In the end, though, what makes HEX almost worthwhile are the exposed layers of red state confusion in having a hero be a ghostly avenger from the Confederate army. In order to prove he's not racist he buys all his steampunk ordinance from an African American 'Q'-type, who makes sure we know--via expository dialogue-- Hex was never big on the whole slavery thing even though he wore the grays. He just fought the North because they were trying to tell him what to do... and Hex doesn't like being told what to do... unlike the rubes who follow the feudal doctrines of the quick buck.  Emancipation redaction operation alpha, engage! The Fox and Friends hate socialism until they need a subsidy or a national highway, then just watch them go gimme gimme. That's America, buddy! Now you pay! You pay now! April 15 come. Gimme!

Seeing the beholden mess our country's in, it may be hard not to root for the evil Malkovich rather than Brolin's semi-heroic Hex and the movie doesn't care if your red or blue or gray. Character-wise, Hex is maybe a bit too much like the Robert Ryan character in THE WILD BUNCH or Coburn in SAM GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, hunting down the anti-corruption 'Tea Party'-style rebels on behalf of evil congressmen (Will Arnett), rather than the wandering soldier of adventure in the comics. And like those Peckinpah classics, the villains are always cooler than the good, even if the good are damn cool, too. After all, Col. Malkovich doesn't rape people, and he's into cool explosions and fighting the powa. Maybe he's right, and people who vote against their own best interests like hypnotized lemmings are the fatal poison of democracy.

In fact, no maybe about it.

Then again, maybe we're all a little bit Jonah Hex too; we still like to keep one foot in Hell just so the other seems, heaven-soled. Sometimes talking to the dead and watching TV are really one and the same and though JONAH HEX bombed with critics and audiences, flaws and all it's aces with me, or at least jacks over nines. I hope Hex returns in either an unrated extended cut or in a sequel some day and maybe in that hope, as in so many other things, I ride alone... but at least I'm not a slave... except to whiskey... and Megan... and mortality... and taxes.. and the pain of being powerless to help when executive groupthink and artistic second-guessing ruins possibly good movies... Helpless, I can only rage against the ceaselessly gushing flood tide of base pasteurized moronic idiocracy that stifles our land's true grit. So go git 'em, Hex. They done you wrong, but there's no such thing as a final cut, or permanent death.


  1. Saw it a day or so before you. Didn't like it. Already saw it twice over. First time was called Legend of the Lone Ranger. That's where you get the megalomaniac conquering America shit. Second time was called Wild Wild West. That's where you get the rest of the shit. Nothing new to see here. Keep Brolin and throw away everything and everyone else for a sequel.

  2. I paid full price ticket cost for this movie, and have defended said purchase to film geek friends who have yet to see it at all. I enjoyed it! It wasn't great, but it failed more entertainingly than the Time magazine hailing or box office receipts of The Dark Knight Rises' supposed success. The fact that it was made at all, with comic roots accuracy in Jonah Hex's scarred face intact, felt like a victory. And yes, please, more Megan Fox - one of the few beautiful starlets who always seems to be in on the joke.


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