Archive for the ‘Val Kilmer’ Category

BOOK: Doc by Mary Doria Russell (2012)

May 14, 2013

docI first fell in love with Westerns in Japan, of all places.  When I was 12, we lived for a year in a little town in Southern Honshu named Iwakuni, and because buying electronics is one of the things one does when one lives in Asia, my dad bought a $700 Betamax player (oops) and rapidly began scooping up pirated movies galore (oops, again) .  Since he was in charge of developing the Wood Family Betamax Library of Copyright Infringement, he tended to focus on the movies he loved himself — which is why I grew up watching a LOT of Clint Eastwood films.

As I got older, I branched out of the Eastwood spaghetti Western genre (though those still hold a very special place in my heart — see my previous review about Tarantino’s Django Unchained and references therein!) and started getting into the other classics.  But despite seeing more than one variation on the infamous O.K. Corral yarn, I never really got sucked into that story or its players (the Earps, etc.) until 1991’s Tombstone tumbleweeded into local theaters.

Thanks largely to Val Kilmer’s exhilarating performance, I was instantly intrigued by dentist-turned-gunslinger John “Doc” Holliday (when I first met my husband, in fact, I told him I wanted to be Doc Holliday when I grew up.  His response?  “Be careful who you emulate, cough cough.”).  In the years since, I’ve rewatched many of the Holliday players of the past (My Darling Clementine, The Outlaw, Cheyenne Autumn, etc.) and also most of the players since (Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp and Randy Quaid in Purgatory, to name two Quaids), and I’ve never found a performance of that role that has struck me nearly as much as Kilmer’s did.

I’ve since read a number of books (fiction and non-fiction) about Holliday, the Earps, and even a novel about Doc’s prostitute girlfriend “Big Nose” Kate Harony (though for the life of me, I cannot find the title of that book anywhere now, which is too bad because I remember really enjoying it).   And one of the things that’s always struck me most about the Western genre, as I got more and more into both fact and fiction, is how completely idealized it is; how utterly beautified the real stories become in the hands of storytellers, beginning with the dime novels springing up back in the day and carrying all the way through to the big screen.  I mean, this is how it usually goes when you take a true story and you turn it into a movie or a novel, I suppose, but it’s a characteristic of Westerns in a way I don’t always see it in other genres.

In other words, if you’ve ever read a non-fiction book about Doc Holliday, you know what you see in Kilmer’s performance, as delightful as it is, is not exactly the truth.

In this regard, Russell’s novel Doc is a real stand-out; it was clear from early in the story that this was not going to be the usual White Hat vs. Black Hat oater.  Russell did her research, and the Doc in this book comes to life in a completely new and mesmerizingly authentic way.  It begins with the line, “He began to die when he was 21,” and from that sentence forth, we feel the pall of that death sentence hanging over everything Doc does in a way I’ve never really been cued into it before.  Imagine getting that diagnosis back then at that age — I can’t do it.  I can’t imagine it.  Not just a death sentence, but a PAINFUL death sentence.  Thanks to this novel, however, the agony, despair, and fear that drove so many of Holliday’s choices becomes tangible.  And moving in the extreme, to boot (pun intended) (about the boots).

Doc takes us from John’s early years, born into a wealthy family with a mother fiercely determined to make sure all her sons grew into educated gentlemen, through his fleeing West, seeking relief for the constant coughing and throat pain from his tuberculosis.

There, he initially strives to establish a career as a dentist, something most mass media portrayals of him barely touch on.  As one of the first dentists to practice in the West, though, Doc finds it’s not nearly as easy to convince the locals to take care of their teeth as he’d hoped (most were afraid of dentists, having never ever been to one before).  A lot of times in a lot of films and novels, Doc is depicted as a man out to make a buck — a gambler first, and a gunslinger. . . er, tied for first. But in reality, he was an extremely compassionate man.  He went into dentistry because he wanted to relieve suffering, and he worked for many years in the West pro bono or on a sliding scale to try to help as many people as he could.

As his TB worsened, though, and whiskey became the one “treatment” that eased his raw throat, he began to struggle with his financial situation, especially once he realized he could make more money in a single night of gambling than in a year of dentistry.  And that’s kind of where his life started to fall apart.

Though the novel introduces us to the Earps, obviously, Wyatt isn’t the Earp boy with the biggest role — another new look at an old story.  Instead, and apparently this is true, Doc met Morgan first and was very close friends with him (you know, the brother with barely any lines in Tombstone?).  Though he deeply respected Wyatt, their relationship was never as close as his friendship with Morg.

Those looking for another telling of the infamous OK Corral tale, by the way, will need to look elsewhere — this novel ends before we get that far (and how refreshing that it does, really).  Doc’s gun-fighting days are not the relevant ones in this story — it’s more about how he got to those days, than what he did with them once they arrived.  Russell has always been a wonderful descriptive writer (her sci-fi novel The Sparrow is an old favorite of mine and though it’s been over a decade since I last read it, there are still images from that book I can picture vividly in my mind — that tells you a lot about her power as a writer, I would say), and under her fingers, the Wild West comes alive in such a sympathetic way it seems like a brand new creation.  An alien planet of a far more commonplace type of compassion and struggle — and survival — than we usually get to see in this genre.

Ron Charles, in a review of the novel for the Washington Post, described it like this:

“‘Doc’ is no colorized daguerrotype; it’s a bold act of historical reclamation that scrapes off the bull and allows those American legends to walk and talk and love and grieve in the dynamic 19th-century world that existed before Hollywood shellacked it into cliches . . .”

I love that — and I loved this book!  Absolutely a must for any fan of the genre, or of really original and evocative writing.  Another new favorite book by Mary Doria Russell, who has hit up just about every genre at this point and nailed them all.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.  A true delight, her work.


(Incidentally, how annoying is that book cover?  Primo example of the issue outlined by Meg Wolitzer in the New York Times last year about the differences in jacket art for books written by men vs. women:  I have to wonder how many men have walked right by this novel after taking one look at the cover, thinking it’s “chick lit” instead of a powerfully good Western. Very frustrating.  Don’t be fooled, fellas — this is a book for both genders!)

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MOVIE: Coraline (2009)

November 4, 2009

coralineI’m not generally a big fan of animated films — I’m not sure just why, since I almost always end up loving them when I do sit down and watch them.  But I’m rarely drawn to them intentionally.  Usually when I see an animated film, it’s because somebody else wanted to see it and I went along.  And so was the case with Coraline last weekend.  (The Case with Coraline — sounds like a Nancy Drew mystery. . .  I digress.)

While looking for a movie at the video store Friday night with my husband — one we might both want to see (no easy feat since we have dramatically different tastes in film; by which I mean, he actually likes GOOD movies) — he picked this one up, read over the back of the box, and gave it a little wave in my direction.  I looked up from the box I was looking at, The Thaw starring Val Kilmer and a whole bunch of disgusting insects (more on this in a future post), squinted, and then said, “Go for it,” in part because the only other movie he’d picked up was some kind of rock music documentary, also not typically my go-to genre, and I didn’t want to be there all night trying to find something mutually agreeable.  Besides, at least Coraline looked kinda spooky.  Good pre-Halloween mood setter?  Even if it IS a dorky cartoon?

As it turned out, not five minutes into this totally-not-at-all-dorky movie, I was COMPLETELY  IN LOVE.  The visuals in this film are fantastic — the colors, the shapes, the backgrounds, the characters.  And the story is absolutely great.  And John Hodgman!  JOHN HODGMAN, my friends!  Sigh.  Sigh of dreaminess.  Dreamy sigh.

It tells the story of a little girl, Coraline (not “Caroline”!), who has just moved into a big old house with her parents (Teri Hatcher and The Hodge), gardening writers who apparently hate gardening.  Go figure.  Coraline’s parents are hard at work on their latest book and so have little time for their daughter, who is a smart, creative girl with a lot of energy and interests.  Frustrated by her parents’ seeming neglect and missing her old friends tremendously, Coraline is the perfect target for an evil villain (not sure just what kind of entity she was — not really a ghost; more like  a cross between Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands) who desperately wants a daughter of her own.

The villain takes the form of Coraline’s mother — looking and sounding just like her except for the fact she has black buttons for eyes (like a doll).  She woos Coraline into her alternate reality, complete with “Other” versions of her father and her new friend Wybie, by lavishing her with attention and home-cooked meals, making her beautiful new clothing, and in general feeding right into every need or desire Coraline has ever had.

It’s not long before Coraline begins to realize the true nature of what’s going on, though — not just that the “Other Mother” is a bad entity who wants to steal Coraline (and replace her eyes with buttons too, eep!), but that she’s tried this before on other children and killed them when they did not conform to her wishes.  Eep, again!

Desperate to escape, Coraline finally finds her way back through the little door into her real life, only to find the “Other Mother” has taken her parents and locked them away.  Now, with the help of Wybie’s cat, who is able to travel easily between the two worlds himself, Coraline must craft a plan to rescue her parents, free the spirits of the dead children, and get her life back to the way it was.

Of course, a lot of elements of this story are familiar — it’s not really that different, if you think about it, from It’s a Wonderful Life:   Be careful what you wish for, e.g.  But here, the story is told with such great visuals and characters that it felt completely fresh and exciting to watch.  The animation is stop-motion and super-cool, and though we had the option of watching it in 3-D on the DVD, we went with 2-D instead, in part because my first (and last) 3-D cartoon experience was with last summer’s Up, and I felt that the 3-D had really muted the sharpness of the lines and colors of that film — two of the things I love the most about the look of an animated film.  I think it was the right choice here as well.    Not to keep repeating myself, but the way this film LOOKS is just wonderful.  It uses strange shapes — the bodies of the characters are strange, the shape of the cat, the tilt on the buildings, etc. — and bold, simple colors, and the combination was extremely effective.  The look of the movie gives it a creepy weight that I think the story alone might not have been able to attain.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with this one!  If you have been putting off seeing it because you’re not that into animated films yourself, I definitely think you should give it a shot.  Recommended, in other words!  Also:  JOHN HODGMAN!!  I’m pretty sure for many of you, I need say no mo’.

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Genre:  Animation
Cast:  Dakota Fanning, John Hodgman, Teri Hatcher, Keith David

MOVIE: Spartan (2004)

September 18, 2008

It’s been years since I last saw a David Mamet film, and I have to say, I just love the way he puts movies together.  That signature dialogue — not just the words he has his characters say, but the cadence in which they say them — I think it’s absolutely brilliant.  Even if I don’t know I’m about to watch a Mamet film, I know it’s Mamet as soon as the first character opens his or her mouth.  I love that.  And now that I’ve gotten a taste of his work again, I’m eager to go back and rewatch all my old favorites, like The Spanish Prisoner, and House of Games.  Oy, Davey-boy, you are da bomb.

What’s remarkable about this movie is the way Mamet takes a storyline that starts out very Law & Order: SVU and then turns it into a completely different animal.  It opens with Secret Service agent Scott (Val Kilmer) helping with the selection of a few new agents (who knew that process was so cutthroat?).  He gets called away, though, when the President’s daughter disappears from her college campus.  The team has about 48 hours to find her before the media realizes she’s gone — once the story breaks, whoever took her is sure to kill her.  Scott begins to investigate, but just as he finally gets a tip on her location, her body is found floating off the shores of Martha’s Vineyard — killed in a boating accident.

Or so they say.

From there, the story takes a sharp turn, as Smith uncovers the truth about what really happened to the girl.  It involves a wide variety of elements — a prostitution ring in Dubai, an upcoming presidential election, an extremely bad haircut, the shooting of many an innocent, etc. etc. etc.  But while the story is complex, it never gets convoluted.  And even though it’s definitely not going down as my favorite Mamet movie of all time (I think that one’s probably House of Games — the first Mamet movie I ever saw and one that just blew my mind), I REALLY enjoyed this film.  Great action, great suspense, great dialogue, and no clutter whatsoever.  If I had to pick one negative thing to say about Spartan, I’d say it was just a little bit on the predictable side — but it’s so much fun watching Kilmer in this role that it just didn’t bother me at all.

Definitely recommend this one, especially if you like Val or William H. Macy (who at first I thought was just getting a cameo part — Mamet often casts him in his movies — but then, as usual, he practically ends up stealing the movie).  And, oh yeah, Kristen Bell — she plays the President’s daughter, and does so extremely well.  All in all, a very entertaining way to spend an evening.  Well worth a rental next time you’re in the mood for something energetic and fun.

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Genre:  Action, Drama
Cast:  Val Kilmer, William H. Macy, Kristen Bell, Tia Texada, Derek Luke

MOVIE: Deja Vu (2006)

November 2, 2007

I’ve been trying to write this movie review for about five days now and I just can’t seem to come up with a description of this film that doesn’t totally ruin the whole thing. I think the reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did had a lot to do with the fact I didn’t know anything about the plot going in (aside from what I’d quickly read on the back of the box at the video store, anyway). So, I can’t help but think now that anything I say about the story has the potential to detract from the fun for you guys. Which means I should just tell you I loved it and then shut the heck up.

The problem is, I suck at shutting the heck up (as well you long-time readers know!). So, instead, I’m going to assume that based on the film’s title, and the fact you probably saw ads for it on TV when it was in theaters, you are aware that this movie has something to do with the manipulation of time. To explain why I loved this movie without actually telling you anything about the story itself, I’m going to tell you a little known fact about me: I have an extremely strict rule regarding time-manipulation in movies. And any time a movie I’m watching violates that rule, I automatically hate it. It happens often, because my rule is extremely complicated.

The complicated thing about my rule is that it goes a little something like this: the time manipulation in your movie must both make sense and NOT make sense, concurrently. That is, you must make what I deem to be a serious, well-thought-out attempt to explain to me how you are manipulating time and what the ramifications of doing so will be. But the moment your explanation begins to make complete sense, you lose me for good. Because in my somewhat learned opinion, there is absolutely nothing — NOTHING — about quantum physics that can be described by the phrase “makes complete sense,” and so, if your explanation DOES, you’ve gotten something very, very unforgivably wrong.

See? Told you it was complicated. But, now that you know this about me, all I need to say to you about this film is that it did not violate my rule. In fact, it did such a good job at both making sense and NOT making sense, that my Mom and I had to pause the movie about 8 times so we could weave together a few theories and concepts in an attempt to make it all come together while it continued to blow our minds. Quantum physics is sorta like that, you know?

This one is really fun, folks. And it’s got something for everyone — science, mystery, geeks and geek humor, romance, and, of course, Mr. Denzel Washington looking MIGHTY fine, as per usual. Highly recommended! Let me know what you think if you see it.

NOTE: DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want any plot points spoiled.  We couldn’t help ourselves.

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Genre: Sci-fi thriller/mystery

Cast: Denzel Washington, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel, Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Weston, Adam Goldberg, Matt Craven