Tag Archives: Superman

Enough Already: a Rant Pad rant

By Hawco

 

marc webb

 

I understand that many moviegoers can and do, in general, just relax and enjoy themselves no matter what film they are seeing. I often envy them. I guess I can’t shut off my critical brain sometimes.

I say all this because I have been struck by the horrible quality of Hollywood’s remakes over the last few years. This post isn’t expansive enough to lament the lack of originality in Hollywood overall; I won’t even begin to cover how most big-budget movies are sequels, remakes, or adaptations (and bad ones at that).

But I will briefly cover two recent offenders: Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. I caught up with The Amazing Spider-Man a year after its release, so I saw these two comic book adaptations for the first time within a month of each other.

There is no hope of Hollywood letting up on its deluge of comic movies; they simply make too much money. I have accepted this, yet my appetite for all these superheroes on screen was satiated by, like, 2008. The standard of quality for these blockbusters, particularly in the screenwriting, is just too low, and that is a double shame because all of these comics provide years and years of rich story material to adapt.

Amazing was widely recognized as a cash-grab. Sony pictures had to make another Spider-Man movie or lose the rights to the character. But this movie didn’t need to be made. It was an origin story. We just saw the same basic origin story ten years ago, with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002. Everything from the spider bite to the discovering of powers to young romance and Uncle Ben’s death was all seen, only with different performers in front of the lens and an (arguably) different tone. Spider-Man launched a trilogy that ended just five years before the remake. I was amazed (pun intended) at how similar The Amazing Spider-Man was overall to its predecessor.

Superman: The Movie (1978) is one of my favorite films of all time.  Directed by Richard Donner, it tells the story of Superman’s origin, including the destruction of his home world, his acquiring a job at the Daily Planet newspaper, his meeting love interest Lois Lane, and his discovering of his heritage and destiny. Snyder’s over-long and over-loud remake covers the same thing, only without any humor or subtlety. Why did audiences need to see this?

(And in defense of Superman Returns, that film was a love letter and a sequel, but it did not try to retell Superman’s origin.)

Am I off base, here?  Did anyone else feel that they were watching the exact same movie over again, only weaker?

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

Tom’s Tuesday Rant — The sole voice of dissent (and/or reason)

By Tom Kapr

 

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!

It can be difficult when you are the one person out of five people on a podcast about movies who thinks a movie isn’t good. Worse still when you’re also the one out of the five who wasn’t present for the conversation. Even worse, when you then have to listen to that conversation and edit it into the podcast we present to our listeners, without bias. (Believe me, the temptation to just chop out opinions that you think are totally wrong is like being cajoled by inner James Earl Jones-ian voices to go over to the Dark Side.)

I was dreading the editing on the Man of Steel segment last week, but strangely, even though those fools gave it a grade of two A’s and two B’s, I spent most of the time thinking, “that’s a fair point.”

The truth is, I found Man of Steel nigh unbearable to watch, but that’s not because it’s a complete failure of a film. Oh, it’s a failure of writing and directing and in some cases acting, but it has its merits. I actually love the direction they took the character. I love that for most of the story, he’s just Clark Kent from Smallville trying to figure out who he is, where he came from, why he’s different, and what he’s meant to do. I love that they show him as a human with frailty, weaknesses, uncertainties. I love that he doesn’t really know how to wield his power. I loved Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent; they were two phenomenal father figures and fully-rounded characters. Amy Adams was fine as Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill was fine as Kal-El.

If only all that had been put into a script that had some sense of pacing and wasn’t full of cringe-inducing dialogue. If only all that had been directed by somebody who knew how to balance the carnage with some sense of respect toward its subject matter. If only all that had been directed by somebody who knows what to do with a camera.

The guys on the podcast think I’m blanketly (is that a word? well, now it is) a Zack Snyder hater. I’m not. Well, I am, but I wasn’t always. I remember when I went to see his re-imagining of Dawn of the Dead. That is one of the best zombie movies ever made. I came out of the theater thinking, where did this Zack Snyder guy come from? This was his first movie, and it was freaking amazing. Then of course his most popular film came along, 300, which I dislike for moral reasons, but not, like the rest of its detractors, for its aesthetic. I even enjoyed Watchmen for the most part, despite having finished the book an hour before going to the theater. But then came along Sucker Punch, a melange of imagery that should have been interesting but was somehow intensely boring, not to mention, again, morally reprehensible.

Still, I was willing to give Snyder another chance with Man of Steel. Especially after I saw the trailer (which is still one of the coolest trailers I’ve ever seen), I was excited to see this movie. Now I see that Snyder is a director who knows how to capture fascinating images (a lot of the shots in this film are surprisingly artistic and beautiful), but not how to bring them together cohesively. Especially the opening 20 minutes and the seemingly never-ending destruction of the finale are little more than tons of CGI being thrown at the audience with no sense of cinematic artistry. The camera zooms in and out seemingly at random. I thought the cinéma vérité style of the trailer was a fascinating stylistic decision for this movie. Now I feel I can only credit that to, maybe, Snyder getting lucky with a few shots, or perhaps cinematographer Amir Mokri, and probably more than a little to whoever edited the trailer. Maybe that person should have edited the movie.

I have a laundry list of complaints: the character of Zod is interesting but I felt didn’t quite have the sense of consistency he should have, even with the great Michael Shannon in the role; Diane Lane seemed to almost be playing Martha Kent for camp, and I usually love Diane Lane (though I hated Must Love Dogs); the movie felt interminably long, especially when it became a constant stream of CGI with no sense of environment; it was way more violent than it needed to be; the Christ-imagery, while inherent to the character, was ham-handed in its delivery; a few scenes were eye-rollingly cliché; the color palette was one of the bleakest I’ve seen outside of a Dogme 95 film; even some of the dialogue scenes were way too CGI-heavy (I’m thinking of Jor-El’s Fortress of Solitude Exposition Extravaganza); and the scene in which Clark watches his second, earthly father die is hopelessly contrived. You mean, Jonathan had to be the one to go back and save the dog from the twister? Sure. It’s in the script. At least Costner delivered.

I feel that they tried to cram too much story into one movie. This is basically the story of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman and its immediate 1980 sequel mashed into one movie–with, admittedly, a far more interesting Superman at the center. I know Christopher Nolan shepherded this movie through its scripting phase, and I find it interesting that I had this thought completely separate from that knowledge: I wish they had broken this story up into two movies, just like the originals were, and followed more of Dark Knight trilogy arc: the first film, an origin story about a hero who had to go on a journey of self-discovery before he could take his place as protector. There was absolutely no sense of Superman as protector in this film, and that is its gravest trespass. I know he needs to find that in himself first, but the movie never got there, or didn’t care to (I suspect the latter), which is the only real reason I felt a sense of disrespect for the character on the part of the filmmakers. Not because he inadvertently causes almost as much destruction as his enemies or because he makes the decision, the necessary decision, to break Zod’s neck and kill him, but because the storytellers made no effort to give Kal-El a sense of duty to help people who are in danger.

I mean, sure, he saves the planet, but listen, this is the moment when I decided to really hate — not just dislike, but hate — what the filmmakers were doing: Superman saves Lois Lane (yada, yada) and they land in what used to be Metropolis (now a barren wasteland), and they start making out. While thousands are still dying in the rubble around him. Thousands of people that Superman should be able to hear crying for help. Superman stopped the Earth Destroying Device just in time to keep Perry White and two of his reporters from being killed, and the woman (a character who was not established prior to this sequence) says: “He saved us.”

At that point, I whispered loudly enough for the person next to me to hear, “Well, he saved four of you.” And then the film went on to knock down more buildings and kill thousands more people. Look, I know you have to up the ante these days, but you can tell your story without a Transformers-level disregard for humanity.

That scene also contains an exchange between Superman and Lois Lane that is one of the worst pieces of dialogue ever in a movie. Ever.

As I was saying, this level of darkness and destruction might have fit better in a Dark Knight-esque sequel. Like Batman was faced with the formidable Joker, a sequel in which Superman had to face Zod would have paced this character’s and this story’s arc better. He would have already been established as a protector character in the first film, and the second film would have pushed that protector role past Superman’s limit, fighting a force of foes that have him out-manned, out-gunned, and out-classed in every way — every way but being on the side of goodness and compassion.

Forgive me for the rambling nature of this article. This is just my Tuesday rant, after all. I just have so much to say against this movie where others have done little but heap praise on it. Praise that, to a great extent, I understand. There is a lot of good stuff in this film, at least conceptually, and there are even a lot of great scenes. It just wasn’t all put together that well, and Zack Snyder became so focused on showing as much wanton destruction as possible that he lost sight of what was important.

I believe there are good places to go from here with this franchise. I just sincerely hope the next film isn’t directed by Snyder.

Having said all that, be sure to listen to our podcast and also to read this well-written article defending the movie I just trashed.

Oh, by the way: Superman Returns might have a less rich concept of Superman as a character, but it’s still much better filmmaking. Yeah, I said, it’s the better film.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Why I’m worried about “The Dark Knight Rises”

By Tom Kapr

 

Like any good movie nerd, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of The Dark Knight Rises since Batman escaped into hiding during the final scene of The Dark Knight in 2008. That’s four years ago. In this day and age, that’s almost an eternity to wait for the next chapter in whatever epic saga one is currently into. And Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (as it is now known) is the epitome of the modern epic saga. In fact, this is a first for the comic book superhero genre. Bryan Singer is the only other filmmaker to approach this success, in artistic terms, with the first two X-Men movies. Unfortunately, he decided to forgo directing the third one in favor of helming Superman Returns, leaving X-Men 3 in the hands of Brett Ratner. (Wow. I think I actually felt you shudder.)

This actually brings me to my first point in why I’m worried about The Dark Knight Rises. Traditionally, if the first two films in a series are great, the third will tend toward a huge drop-off in quality. This is especially true in the superhero genre. I’ve already mentioned X-Men: The Last Stand, which was frustratingly close to good, but only because it had a handful of great scenes surrounded by some truly dreadful ones. Spider-Man 3 was nowhere near the quality of Sam Raimi’s first two, which is a pity since everyone was really looking forward to Spider-Man fighting his great arch-nemesis Venom. Superman III doesn’t belong in the same category as Superman and Superman II. And when it comes back around to Batman, while I am no fan of the excessively unpleasant Batman Returns, it almost looks like a masterpiece compared to the cartoonish Batman Forever. I’m even going to throw Return of the Jedi into this, because while it will forever be a childhood favorite, if I look at it objectively, it’s not nearly as good as its predecessors.

 

This is actually the LEAST of my problems with JEDI.

 

Hey, Batman Forever is a stupid name for a movie, isn’t it? Superhero movies, and blockbuster sequels in general, tend to generate some stupid movie titles, usually because, rather than just slapping a sequential number on the title, they’re trying to go for something that stands out a little more. I could launch into a long tirade about stupid movie titles, but let’s stick with Batman. While it may not be as dumb as Batman Forever, The Dark Knight Rises is a stupid title. The Dark Knight Returns might have been a more fitting one, but then it would be the same title as Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel, which, while clearly having inspired Nolan’s vision of his trilogy, tells a much different story (involving Two-Face, Green Arrow, Selina Kyle as the madame of an escort service, a metaphorically castrated Superman, a female 13-year-old Robin, and the Joker going so far as to — SPOILER ALERT — chemically annihilate a Boy Scout troop). But hey, Batman Begins is an even worse title, and that was a great movie, so I’m just splitting hairs here.

I think the thing that worries me the most is that this follows The Dark Knight, which is possibly the greatest superhero movie ever made. (I personally think The Avengers beats it, but I have to at least put Dark Knight in a Top 3 of all time with that and X-Men 2.) And while it has some flaws, The Dark Knight isn’t just a phenomenally superior superhero movie — it’s one of the best thrillers ever made, period. It will rival any great crime thriller or psychological thriller you can put up against it. And this is largely due to the presence of the Joker. The Joker, as written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer, and as performed by the late Heath Ledger, is the best depiction of this iconic villain ever put on the screen. Not only is this one of the greatest and most memorable characters in the history of film, I would argue that Heath Ledger gave one of the all-time greatest performances of any genre, ever. That’s a lot of superlatives, I know. But while The Dark Knight is a good movie, it’s really the Joker, more than any other ingredient, that makes it great.

 

 

How can Nolan follow that? This isn’t necessarily a matter of topping oneself, but he has to at least be up to the standard that he himself created. While I can envision Rises being of the same general quality as The Dark Knight, what I can not envision is anything coming anywhere near the performance and the overall presence of Heath Ledger’s Joker. No disrespect to Tom Hardy, an actor I admire, nor to Bane, the formidable villain he portrays in Rises, nor even to the writing and directing talents of Nolan, who’s probably the greatest director of complex epic thrillers of the past decade. But just, how could he possibly live up to his own quality?

 

Then there's this. Whatever this exactly means for Batman, it indicates some degree of tragedy, and it is extremely difficult to make tragedy dramatically satisfying.

 

I guess I just have to hope for the best. And as I said, that is what Nolan is — the best. He has a better track record over his career than any other director I can think of. Memento, The Prestige, and Inception, the underrated Insomnia, and including of course Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – the man has never made anything less than a good movie. And with the exception of his much quieter and more difficult-to-love first film Following, he has never made a film that has been anything less than awe-inspiring.

I have to put my faith in Nolan’s abilities. I know that if I go in expecting another Joker, I’m going to be disappointed, so I have to limit myself to expecting, at least, another engaging villain and another engaging plot. I do have enough faith to know that Nolan will not re-tread what he has already done in the first two films. Every film he makes is its own film, and engages me in unique ways, so that is what I will be expecting from Rises. Take into account the established pillars that are Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine, as well as the considerable talents of Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and what you have is a cast at least as formidable as that of either of the first two films. (If you subtract Heath Ledger, of course.)

 

I also have this to look forward to.

 

At the very least I expect nothing less, but nothing more, from Christian Bale, who I sometimes forget is even in these movies.

Iron Man: A look back

By Nathanael Griffis

It was the summer of 2008, an eerily similar summer to this one. The behemoths of film were being released. Indiana Jones returned. It was last time Will Smith was in a blockbuster. We had two of the greatest animated films ever (WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda). There were comic book sequels: Hellboy II, The Incredible Hulk,  and of course, The Dark Knight. Even the Wachowskis were offering us a movie. Prince Caspian brought high hopes. Tropic Thunder looked like a match made in heaven. While some films left the bitter lingering taste of disappointment and have since become despised, several became some of my favorite films of all time. I’ve still never had a better time in the theater than the midnight showing for WALL-E. It’s strange to think this year again starts us off with a Marvel comic movie, that Will Smith is back for essentially the first time since Hancock. Twilight, which was also released that year, is ending (may God be praised). The Wachowskis are releasing their first film since 2008.  And, of course, we have The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, as well as The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s shaping up to be an even better comic book movie year than 2008. Well, perhaps, the jury’s still out and, strangely enough, the tipping point may be Iron Man.

 

Now what did that mountain ever do to him?

 

I didn’t see Iron Man opening weekend, which is unusual for me. I could have even seen it for free, but I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t excited. I barely follow comics. I like Batman, Superman, X-Men, and Spider Man, and that’s it. Iron Man as a character was off my radar. I didn’t care for a man in an iron suit. Wasn’t that just a rip-off of Batman, minus the menace and terrifying villains? It took a friend dragging me on a Tuesday 12:20 p.m. showing, which I only agreed to because it was free and I had nothing better to do, to get me to go. I saw the film three more times that week, more than any other film that summer. For comparison, I never saw The Dark Knight or WALL-E, two of my Top 20 films of all time, more than once in the theater.

 

Yeah, it's gross in there.

 

It’s a nearly impossible thing to take a subject as fantastic as the superhero and turn it into a socially relevant topic. Iron Man, though, accomplishes this. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we were presented with a charming, brash arms dealer. As a viewer, I was surprised how appealing this war profiteer was. Robert Downey Jr.’s acting and the script by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway deserve a lot of the credit here. Downey brings a tragic narcissism to the role that deftly reflects some of his own personal demons. The script plays off this and balances humor in such a way as to make you laugh and consider the implications of the joke at the same time. It takes a threat to Stark’s own life to awaken him to the horrors his company allows and profits from. He questions his own complacency and compliance in the deaths of thousands. This is brilliant writing, because it’s consistent with a  narcissistic character and yet allows Tony Stark to change in a believable, sympathetic way. It also not-so-vaguely challenges the exceptionalist spirit of Americans to consider our own responsibility for military action.

 

Have I mentioned explosions, yet? Because... cough cough... explosions.

 

What’s equally challenging, but nessecary to a comic book movie, is Stark’s solution. He builds a weapon. Stark builds a nuclear deterrent, a suit of armor so powerful it’s nearly indestructible.  Violence as a solution now becomes a primary argument, but we don’t go to comic book movies for philosphical musings (sorry, Ang Lee). I want to see things explode. Iron Man satisfies this amazingly well. I get enormous flamethrowers, tanks being destroyed by a single projectile, aerial combat, and a duel between two iron suits. Through all this blood and destruction, director  Jon Favreau asserts that it’s not the weapon but the wielder that is the issue. It’s an age old debate: is war spurred on by the gun makers or the gun slingers? Do we make laws about weapons to protect the people, or to allow for more freedom of firearms to provide the freedom to protect oneself? There is, wisely, never a judgment made about the current overseas conflicts. Instead the film asks us to weigh our choices as to how to wield our power. The film supports our military, skirts a political subject without being polarizing, and entertains through depth and humor.

Iron Man turns the superhero into a weapon himself. It starts to beg the question, are superheroes weapons to be controlled? This theme, which albeit is a fanciful one that depends on the existence of superheroes, is further explored in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Iron Man is human, and we see this as his greatest flaw. His narcissism is his arch enemy. He’s blinded by pride and can’t see that his own company, let alone his mentor, played by Jeff Bridges, doesn’t want peace. In those several viewings of Iron Man, the character became, for me, as fascinating as the haunting morality of Batman, the humanized strength of Spider-Man, and the heroic symbolism of Superman.

 

Dude just wanted his rug, man.

 

I love the depth of the film, and with each watching it holds up and grows all the more engrossing. There’s the now-trademark Marvel balance of humor, action, story, and theme. Coming out of The Avengers I was riding a high, but as I started to think, which is always dangerous, I began to pull back. Iron Man takes a tricky issue, a modern issue, and uses the superhero story to discuss a relevant topic. It’s the modern day myth. I didn’t see that in The Avengers. There’s something to be said for the genius of the film’s sheer fun and balance of complex story lines and character arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Avengers and reserve the right to change my mind on everything I say, but it lacks the socially relevant depth of films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man.

If you haven’t seen Iron Man in a while, watch it again and challenge yourself to consider the issues it’s addressing. While the world has changed in four years, it’s stunning to think how much these issues still matter.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Let’s Start Again: “Night of the Comet” makes a buck

By Steven Moore

This week I watched two post-apocalyptic films, both of which include the cataclysmic event instead of being set long after. This week I’ll discuss Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet as an example of how an apocalyptic film can go horribly wrong, and next week we’ll explore Don McKellar’s Last Night and the psychological impact of an apocalypse. Where one is clear exploitation and financially motivated, the other is an exploration of the human condition. These two films provide the two ends of the spectrum, and I wanted to discuss them one after another for that reason. The post-apocalyptic film can lay humanity bare or exploit the fears of the weak. Night of the Comet prefers the latter.

In Night of the Comet, an approaching comet that seems to have induced a worldwide keg party has passed too close to earth, bathing it in some sort of radiation that turns most people to a pile of reddish dust and a lucky few into zombies. Why zombies? Because there has to be some sort of monster, right? The kids these days like monsters.

Julius Caesar would be proud.

The handful of survivors have been protected by being inside any kind of steel shelter. One young girl runs away from home and spends the night in a steel shed, and emerges unscathed to find everyone gone, though she’s more interested in her music than the death of humanity, because that’s how kids are. The protagonist of the film is Regina, a video game wizard who works in a movie theater and sleeps with various male employees to make a few extra bucks (this is before the apocalypse, mind you). Regina, played by a doe-eyed Catherine Mary Stewart, just happens to spend the night in a steel-reinforced movie theater film room with one of the aforementioned employees, and thus survives.

The problems with this film are so numerous and so deep that it would be impossible to enumerate them in a single blog post. Early on in the film, Regina and her boyfriend are discussing Superman’s inability to see through lead. Regina explains that lead halts radiation, which is how Superman sees through objects. This is a bright moment of the movie that made me think, okay, this could be kind of smart. Two scenes later, the metal that saves people is not the lead that they were clearly discussing previously to set up the miraculous survival of a few, but plain steel. Why? What happened? My best guess is that they were able to get a sponsor from the steel industry, and this movie was just about the money anyway. A shopping spree scene where the two young girls are dancing around through a department store, trying on clothes to bad 80’s music, and giggling as the dust of human beings lies all around them illustrates the priority of product placement over any kind of actual craft.

To be honest, I almost didn’t even bother writing about this movie; however, it illustrates a pitfall of the post-apocalyptic genre. Night of the Comet came out just as the fever regarding Halley’s Comet was starting to ramp up. Even though there was absolutely no evidence of danger, people were scared. I recall anti-comet pills being sold on store shelves and a smattering of bomb shelters being built. While it was nowhere near the nuclear scare of the 1950’s and most people realized it was silly, this film saw an opportunity to capitalize on fear and jumped on it. How many post-apocalyptic films describe an end to the world that seems to spring right from our own irrational fears? There have been countless nuclear-, fossil fuel-, and technology-based apocalypses. Every new story about the end of the world seems to confirm exactly how we think it’s going to end based on current events: bird flu, terrorists, fast food, etc.

The post-apocalyptic genre is about revealing humanity’s dark side, including those fears we try to push aside, to hold back while we go about our daily lives. The end of humanity is inevitable, and we all know it. When or how that will happen is unknown, but the planet Earth has a shelf life. We, as a species, have known this ever since we started watching the stars. It’s embedded in our psyche, even though we don’t want to think about it. Whether it be the eventual death of the sun or some other event, our home is temporary. While some filmmakers decide to tap into the subconscious fear and use it to make a quick couple of dollars, others use it to explore the human condition beyond social constraint. Usually, it’s pretty ugly. In Night of the Comet, the revelation is that there are always people out there that will try to make a buck off other people’s irrational behavior, something shown in every other post-apocalyptic film. When the Apocalypse comes, these are the people you want to look out for.

30 Days of Madness, Day 16: The Burrowers

The Burrowers (2008) Written & directed by J.T. Petty. Starring Clancy Brown, Jocelin Donahue, Karl Geary, Doug Hutchison, William Mapother, Tatanka Means, Sean Patrick Thomas.

If Ethan Edwards was chasing graboids, it might’ve looked a little something like this. That’s a loose analogy, but it’ll give you an idea of the premise without going to much into the unfolding plot, which is better left unexpounded upon. A ranch is attacked in what appears to be a Sioux raid, most folks are killed, a few are taken, and a posse of gunhands go after them–except that the “them” they’re chasing may not be Sioux after all. Something is leaving strange holes in the ground.

2007 New Mexico fills in for 1867 Dakota Territory, and it’s passable enough not to be distracting. Old West horror is rare, and well-made Old West horror even moreso, but The Burrowers actually comes across as a decent Western and a decent horror-thriller instead of a cheap set-up for cheap scares, as one would expect from such a premise.

The cast is an interesting one, and a capable bunch of actors at that, including three of my favorite “hey, it’s that guy!” guys. And they are:

1. Clancy Brown. Chances are, you’ve seen Brown in something, and chances are even greater that you’ve heard him. He’s Sgt. Zim from Starship Troopers (the officer nobody likes who goes a little nuts and ends up getting smeared across the ground by a giant crash-landing bug); he’s Victor Kruger, a.k.a. “The Kurgen,” from the original 1986 Highlander film; he’s Kelvin Inman from Lost (the guy pushing the button before Desmond Hume comes along); he’s “Brother” Justin Crowe from Carnivale; he’s John Danziger from Earth 2 (anybody remember that show?); and perhaps most classically speaking, he’s Captain Hadley from The Shawshank Redemption (who WILL toss you off a roof unless you happen to be a tax wizard who can save him some money). He’s also the voice behind Lex Luthor on the Justice League and Superman animated series; Mr. Freeze on the more recent series The Batman; Long Feng on Avatar: The Last Airbender; Mr. Krabs on SpongeBob Squarepants; and, of course, who could forget his work on Street Sharks, Biker Mice from Mars and Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!

2. Doug Hutchison. He usually plays creeps. He played Davros, one of the creeps from Day 8 of the real-time thriller series 24. He played Percy Wetmore, the prison guard creep in The Green Mile. He played Eugene Victor Tooms, one of the most memorable creeps from the early seasons of The X Files (he was the guy from the classic episode “Squeeze” who could squeeze into really small places–usually to steal someone’s liver so he could ingest the bile so he could build a nest and hibernate for another 30 years). But he also played Horace Goodspeed on Lost–and Horace Goodspeed wasn’t a creep. Or was he?

3. William Mapother. William Mapother is a cousin of one of the biggest movie stars of all time, Thomas Mapother, and has appeared in several of Thomas’s major blockbuster films, like Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia, Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, and Mission: Impossible II. (You know who Thomas Mapother is.) However, he has also had a few decent roles in movies that aren’t suspect of nepotism, including World Trade Center and In the Bedroom. William Mapother also played Ethan Rom on Lost–and Ethan Rom wasn’t a creep. Or was he? Yeah, he was a bit of a creep… or was he… that Lost can be so darn inscrutable.

(For those keeping track, that makes three “that guy” guys who appeared on Lost.)

The Burrowers is a really interesting, very different kind of Western that wraps up with an unfortunately confusing climax followed by one of the biggest downers of a denouement ever. If it weren’t for the last 15 minutes or so, this would have been a great movie. As it is, I would recommend it only for hardcore Western or horror followers.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr