This is neither a Sea Adventure story nor an Action Girl movie, but I know some of you like Westerns and this was an awesome enough surprise that I want to share.
I went into it with some fear and trembling. I’ve long ago stopped thinking of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and have started to associate him with David Cronenberg. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve got to be in the mood for Cronenberg, and really, I’m just not there very often.
So, while this isn’t Cronenberg, I’d sort of gotten this idea in my head that it was going to be all dark, psychological, and ultra-violent. Totally unfair, but there I was. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything else showing that my brother-in-law and I wanted to watch tonight. Otherwise, I never would’ve known what I was missing.
Roger Ebert compared it to Lonesome Dove and I suppose that’s fair to a certain extent. He also objected to its being called a “buddy movie” (on the grounds that its main characters are far deeper friends than mere “buddies”) and that’s even more fair. In fact, the depth of that friendship is exactly what Appaloosa is all about.
The story is fairly conventional Western fare. Virgil Cole (Ed Harris, who also co-wrote the screenplay from Robert B. Parker’s novel and directed the film) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen) are gunslingers. They go from town to lawless town, selling their skills to otherwise helpless citizens who are being put upon by villainous men. The villainous man in the town of Appaloosa is Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons as the bad guy I’ve always known he should be, but have never seen him pay off).
Bragg is an evil cattle baron whose men terrorize the town. Cole and Hitch have to take him down to protect the little guys. It’s a classic Western plot, but I was fearful enough that this was going to be some kind of dark, psychotic, neo-Western that I was comforted by the traditional aspects of it. It’s a classic Western in other ways too. From the soundtrack to the themes about coping in lawless times, everything about Appaloosa feels right and good.
That’s not to say that it’s dull or overly familiar though. Renée Zellweger shows up in town with nothing but her luggage and a dollar to her name. She’s not your typical Western gal. In fact, wherever she’s from, she comes across like an Eastern transplant. Claiming to be widowed, she plays the piano and Cole – who takes an instant liking to her – arranges for her to play at the local hotel in exchange for room and board.
I should talk about Cole and Hitch here for a minute, because their initial interaction with Zellweger’s Allie French perfectly summarizes their characters and their relationship with each other. Hitch sees Allie first as she gets off the train. He’s obviously attracted to her and he follows her through town until she goes into a restaurant where Cole is eating breakfast. Hitch goes inside, but Allie and Cole are already flirting with each other.
I kept waiting for a conflict to arise between Hitch and Cole over Allie or something else. Cole obviously loves and respects Hitch, but he’s also clearly the “lead stallion” to borrow a metaphor from the movie. Hitch is the smarter of the two – in fact, Cole constantly has to ask Hitch to help him pick his words – but he quietly allows Cole to take the lead, not only in their professional lives, but also with Allie and really everything else as well. He never complains. He never begrudges. He’s Cole’s friend and that’s that. And Cole reciprocates; just in a different way. It’s a beautiful, refreshing relationship.
I have to sidebar here for a second to talk about how perfect Renée Zellweger is as Allie. She’s pretty – the prettiest girl in Appaloosa – but she’s believably pretty. Nicole Kidman or Angelina Jolie would’ve been out of place in this movie.
Hitch spends some time with a whore and the first time we see her, it’s across the room as he’s exchanging glances with her. She’s dark and lovely and after seeing Allie ignore Hitch for Cole, my first thought here was, “Good. He’s going to get the better-looking girl after all.” But later on, when we get to see the girl closer, she’s still good-looking, but she’s also a bit world-weary and her teeth are funny. I don’t mean that as an objectifying judgment, I’m just saying that she’s a normal, good-looking woman. Allie is prettier; still the best catch in town.
And it’s right that she be so. Even though I rooted for Hitch and part of me wanted to see him with the best-looking gal (okay, that is shallow and objectifying), I ultimately would have been disappointed in where the story went with Allie and Cole. That’s all I’ll say about that, but their’s is an interesting relationship, though not as interesting as the affect it has on Cole and Hitch’s. In the end, it’s all about Cole and Hitch and friendship (and trying to take down Jeremy Irons at the top of his game).
Two other random bits of Awesomeness:
Lance Henriksen absolutely disguises himself in the role of another gunfighter. There was one point where I thought, “Is that Lance Henriksen?” But I quickly followed that thought with, “Nawww,” and didn’t think anything else about it until I saw his name in the credits.
Ed Harris sings the second song in the closing credits and sounds remarkably like Nick Cave. If the Borders next to the theater wasn’t notorious for never having the soundtracks I impulsively want to buy after seeing movies like Walk Hard and Speed Racer, I would’ve gone over and picked up the Appaloosa soundtrack right then.
If I knew who was responsible for the title, I’d seriously be tempted to sue him for false advertising. There’s absolutely no huntress in this movie, white or otherwise. A woman picks up a gun at one point, but she’s told by a man not to use it and she obediently puts it right back down again. Nice.
According to IMDB, White Huntressis just the US title. It’s actually a British film called Golden Ivory, which is bit more accurate. At least it describes something that’s actually in the plot. The story is about a couple of brothers who are obsessed with finding a hidden valley with a ton of elephants that they can shoot for the tusks. Not having any money to finance their own expedition, they hire themselves out as guides to a British family hoping to homestead near the valley in the far wilds of British East Africa. When one of the brothers starts falling for one of the girls in the caravan, the other brother questions his commitment to the scheme.
It’s actually not a bad movie for what it is; I just didn’t appreciate the bait-and-switch. What it is though is a British version of a Western wagon train movie. I’m curious if more of these were made, because it’s really an ingenious concept. You could take just about any Western plot, move it to the British colonization of Africa, and substitute African tribal people for American Indians. Instead of the calvary running around trying to keep the peace, you’ve got British officers. There’s no gold rush, but there are plenty of diamond mines. And it’s even better than a Western because you get to add monkeys, big cats, and giant snakes.
The acting isn’t great in The White Huntress, but it’s serviceable and there are actually some nice moments. Robert Urquhart as the love-struck brother is especially good. He’s perfectly convincing as a guy torn between loyalty to his brother and the desire to settle down and start a new life with nice people and a beautiful woman.
Even though it wasn’t what I expected, I’m giving it…
Three out of five leopard attacks.
The movie is part of a double-feature DVD with 1942’s Jungle Siren. Hopefully that one’s got a leopard skin-wearing gal fighting wild animals in it.
Let’s get this out of the way first. I like Jon Voight a lot, but he’s not Tommy Lee Jones. Of all the non-Tommy Lee Jones actors to play Woodrow Call, Voight seems like he’s trying hardest to imitate Jones and it’s distracting. Watching him is kind of like watching George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He does a pretty good job, but you can’t enjoy him properly because you keep wishing he was Sean Connery.
Fortunately though, Return to Lonesome Dove is six hours long, which was enough time for me to get used to Voight and start accepting him in the role. I’d still get twinges of regret along the way, but by the end I wasn’t constantly being sidetracked by it any more.
This is probably heresy to Lonesome Dove fans, but in many ways, Return to Lonesome Dove is my favorite mini-series in the saga. It’s certainly the most focused. Even Lonesome Dove, as excellent as it is, is pretty episodic in its portrayal of the cattle drive. Return has some of that as Call returns to Montana with a herd of wild horses and some new recruits (led by Lou Gossett Jr. and CSI’s William Petersen). They’re harried along the way by the coolest, nastiest villain yet in the saga: Cherokee Jack Jackson (Dennis Haysbert from 24 and The Unit). And they’re accompanied by a beautiful, Mexican woman named Agostina Vega (Nia Peeples). But more on her later.
What grounds Return is the story of Call’s illegitimate son Newt as he tries to run the Montana ranch in Call’s absence. I didn’t mention Newt much when I discussed Lonesome Dove, but he really is the heart of that story. Gus and Call dominate the saga up until that point, but Newt – a boy without any real peers and whose father doesn’t claim him – is the “lonesome dove.” And he’s the heart of Return to Lonesome Dove too. In fact, without Newt, the title doesn’t make any sense since no one actually returns to the town of Lonesome Dove in the mini-series. What happens is that Newt, who temporarily finds a home – first on his father’s ranch and then in the company of a neighboring cattleman named Dunnigan and his wife Ferris (Oliver Reed and Reese Witherspoon) – learns that he really is still all alone in the world. But that maybe that’s where he needs to be for a while.
It’s Newt’s adventures with Dunnigan and Ferris – and how that affects Call when he returns – that drive the story. It’s a much more traditional, straightforward Western that way, and maybe that’s why fans of the series don’t care for it, but I was ready for it after so much winding in the storytelling of the previous three mini-series. And it’s still powerfully told. Newt has always been a loyal character, so it’s captivating to watch his loyalty so convincingly divided between Call and Dunnigan.
Agostina’s story is a subplot to Newt and Call’s, but she’s still way cool, so I want to talk about her. She approaches Call in Texas and wants to join his drive back to Montana. Part of her motivation is that Call can provide work to Agostina’s poor village, but mostly she wants to stick close to Call and learn more about him and his former partner Gus McCrae. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Agostina’s so interested in Gus. The clue is right there in her name. The mystery behind her is what she’s going to do once she learns what she wants to know. Is she going to kill Call? Hug him?
Nia Peeples does an awesome job at giving layers to Agostina. At first Agostina comes across as extremely tough. It wouldn’t be a Lonesome Dove mini-series without at least an attempted rape, but when it started to look like Agostina might be the victim, I wasn’t worried. “She can take care of herself,” I thought. And I was glad to be able to think it. That’s the first time I was able to do that since starting the saga.
And, it turns out, she could take care of herself. But I was surprised to see how the experience shook her. She’s an Action Girl, but she’s a vulnerable one. Not only in her reaction to being attacked, but also in her confusion about what to do once she learned more about Gus. She’s a complicated woman. I don’t expect her to show up in either the Lonesome Dove TV series or the Streets of Laredo mini-series, and that makes watching both of those less appealing. Especially since she starts a relationship with one of my other favorite characters from the saga, Chris Cooper’s July Johnson.
Since I spent so much time talking about Clara in the last couple of posts, I should probably follow up on her here. Barbara Hershey does as good a job with her as Anjelica Huston did, though the character has changed yet again with this mini-series. And not necessarily for the better.
Clara was a dark character in Lonesome Dove, but she’s even more tragic here. If she was starting to reach the end of her rope at the end of Lonesome Dove, she’s hanging from it by one hand in Return. In spite of that, there’s not much development for her though. She’s already proven herself a strong woman, so piling more and more heartache on her just to show that she can take it seems kind of pointless and cruel.
Still, it’s good to see her relationship with Call change from where it was in Lonesome Dove. Even if she’s not as vital a character as she once was, she’s still an interesting, valuable part of the story.
Lonesome Dove is a classic for a reason. Even though the titles of these posts say that I’m concentrating on the women of the saga, you can’t really talk about any of the mini-series without looking closely at Gus and Call. And I’m not convinced that that’s just because they’re the main characters. I think it has as least as much to do with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of them.
Robert Duvall gives Gus such charm and humor that both David Arquette and Steve Zahn thought it best to just imitate him when they took their turns at the character. Gus is a lazy, womanizing old coot, but you can’t help but love him for his gentleness and respect of other people. He can be damn tough when he needs to be, but most of the time you just want to hang out and listen to him talk. Unfortunately, a lot of that charm was lost in Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon, but I blame the writing for that more than I do the actors. Gus was more annoying than charismatic as a youth, but maybe that’s the way it needed to be. A person’s most irritating traits can become endearing once they’ve mellowed out a little with age and had a chance to work on you.
Call is even harder to get right. Tommy Lee Jones makes it look easy to balance Call’s gloomy orneriness with his obvious affection for Gus and the rest of his friends. Even while he’s cursing Gus out for not helping around the ranch, you never doubt that he loves him. Jonny Lee Miller never did manage to get that right. His Call always seemed to be barely tolerating Gus. Karl Urban did a better job, but there’s still some uneasiness between his Call and Zahn’s Gus that isn’t there with Jones and Duvall. Again, that might be because the characters themselves have grown more comfortable with and fond of each other over the years.
But even if that’s true – even if the parts I don’t like from the two prequels are necessary to show character development – I think it illustrates a point about the relationship of those two mini-series to the original. Lonesome Dove is so good and so winning that Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon only have value as they relate to it. They don’t stand on their own. We don’t like the characters enough and as I’ve said before, certain parts of them just don’t make sense unless you also know the Lonesome Dove story.
The one exception to that is the character of Clara. I didn’t care much for her in Dead Man’s Walk, but I grew to admire her in Comanche Moon. In Lonesome Dove, she’s moved away from Texas with her husband and kids to live in Nebraska, so she doesn’t appear onscreen until about halfway through the mini-series. Her presence is felt the entire mini-series though. She’s still the great love of Gus’ life and he can’t wait to see her again on the way to Montana. And we can’t either.
Anjelica Huston’s Clara doesn’t disappoint. Her husband has been kicked in the head by a horse and is in a coma, but Clara and her girls stand faithfully by him and take care of his needs. But having lost two boys to illness and now this with her husband, Clara’s weakening by the time Gus shows up. The effect his visit has on her – especially since he’s traveling with a prostitute who’s obviously in love with him – is spectacular.
In contrast, the prostitute Lorie (Diane Lane) is so very weak. She has a record of trusting untrustworthy men while ignoring people who genuinely care about her. When that leads her to hook up with Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), he deserts her on the way to California and she’s abducted by Blue Duck, Buffalo Hump’s son who was starting to cause trouble in Comanche Moon. Fortunately, Gus learns about the kidnapping quickly and immediately sets out to rescue her. Unfortunately, by the time he gets there she’s already been raped – possibly numerous times.
That brings up something I’ve forgotten to talk about before now. There’s a lot of rape in the Lonesome Dove saga and it’s not always handled very well. Lorie’s rape is a powerful event in Lonesome Dove, so I wonder if that’s why we get other rapes in the prequels. Are they trying to recapture that impact? If so, it doesn’t work.
In Dead Man’s Walk, it’s used just to show us how evil Buffalo Hump and his men are. In Comanche Moon, the rape of a Ranger’s wife is all about its effect on him. She hates that it happened to her, but her main fear is that he won’t love her anymore when he finds out. And when he does eventually find out about it, the story’s focus once again goes right on him and how he responds.
At least in Lonesome Dove, Lorie’s rape is all about her. We learn something about Gus by watching him help her through it, but it’s always Lorie’s story. Unfortunately, the event reveals her to be as weak as she’s always appeared to be. She’s always liked Gus, but has never shown an interest in him until he rescues her and nurses her back to both physical and emotional health. After that though, she’s suddenly truly madly deeply in love with him. I’m not qualified to comment on the appropriateness of a woman’s reaction to being raped, but I certainly wish that Lorie had been made stronger by the experience.
Eventually Lorie does become stronger, but it’s all due to Clara and it mostly happens off-camera in between Lonesome Dove and Return to Lonesome Dove, where – like Matty in Comanche Moon – we don’t see her, but get an update in dialogue that she’s doing okay for herself further West. We’ll look more at Return to Lonesome Dove at tomorrow.
And like Jonny Lee Miller, Karl Urban doesn’t try to imitate Tommy Lee Jones, but just plays the character. It feels like Urban’s got a lot more to work with than Miller did though. I don’t know how much time is supposed to have lapsed between the two mini-series, but Urban’s Woodrow Call is a lot more grim than Miller’s was. Some of that is undoubtedly Urban’s natural broodiness versus Miller’s gentler appearance. Miller did a fine job, but let’s face it: Urban is perfect for the role.
The story is more interesting than Dead Man’s Walk, but it still tends to ramble. The first two acts are mostly about the capture and rescue of Captain Scull (Val Kilmer), who leads the Rangers. Before his capture though, we see a lot of the Rangers coming and going in and out of Austin, much like they did in Dead Man’s Walk. Gus and Clara (played this time by Linda Cardellini, aka Velma from the live-action Scooby Doo movies) are still in love, but are also still struggling to commit to each other. Gus’ job takes him away from Clara far too often for her liking and she’s not going to marry him until he can quit Rangering and settle down. Which he won’t do.
Buffalo Hump, the villain from Dead Man’s Walk, is played by Wes Studi this time and is a lot more settled down. Apart from one notable exception, he pretty much stays in camp and criticizes his son Blue Duck, who’s the real troublemaker of the mini-series. So, we mostly get a lot of slice-of-life episodes of Ranger life, punctuated by important events like Scull’s capture at the hands of an old enemy and the Rangers’ attempts to first ransom him, and when that fails, rescue him.
During the ransoming attempt, the Rangers go down to a little town on the Rio Grande called Lonesome Dove where a wealthy rancher has set up shop. They try to persuade the rancher to donate cattle for the ransom, but he refuses. It’s a fruitless side-trip meant only to get Gus and Call to Lonesome Dove so they can talk about maybe retiring there one day. The mini-series is full of that kind of stuff: meandering side-trips that don’t progress the story, but are only there to hit particular beats and move the characters closer to where they’re supposed to be in Lonesome Dove.
That’s not to say it’s boring though. The production values of Comanche Moon are a lot more engaging than Dead Man’s Walk was. I don’t know if it’s the use of music or the camera angles or a lot of stuff mixed together, but I stayed entertained throughout Comanche Moon and that’s something that I can’t say about its predecessor.
Val Kilmer, for example, absolutely immerses himself in the role of Captain Scull. Scull is a charismatic leader who uses a combination of humor and spunk to prevail in the harsh, Texas wilderness. He’s as much fun to watch as Gus and Call.
Also fun is Scull’s vain, horny wife Inez who loves having so many of her husband’s handsome, young Rangers living nearby. She’s fun because we hate her, but she’s still fun.
Much less fun is her conquest at the beginning of the story, a young Ranger named Jake Spoon. Jake’s easily manipulated and has terrible judgment. This will, of course, make him much more interesting when he’s given some power (and charisma) and played by Robert Urich in Lonesome Dove, but here – at least starting out – he’s just a pawn in Inez’s game. He does one, attention-grabbing thing the entire mini-series and that’s to hit a prostitute. But as soon as he’s done it he pretty much quits being a player in the story. He’s still around, but he fades into the background. I’ll explain.
The prostitute he hits is the girl Call exchanges looks with at the end of Dead Man’s Walk. Her name is Maggie Tilton, which is really unfortunate because it sounds so similar to Matty, the prostitute in Call’s life during most of the first mini-series. In fact, with so much recasting being done between the two mini-series, it took me a while to figure out that Maggie and Matty were two separate characters. And even then it was because someone finally mentioned that Matty had moved further West and was doing pretty good for herself.
It’s too bad because I like Matty a lot more than Maggie. We don’t learn much about Maggie other than that she’s a prostitute and that she seems to have a crush on Call. He seems to like her too, but he’s careful about it and obviously doesn’t see a future for the two of them. You never get a real clear understanding of why. She’s sweet as can be, she’s beautiful, and she obviously dotes on Call. There’s a lot to like about her.
By the time Jake hits Maggie, it’s obvious that things are going nowhere for her with Call, so she ends up letting Jake stick around. I sort of hated her for that, but she makes a convincing argument at one point that she needs a man around and she’d rather have Jake than no one. She’s no Action Girl, that Maggie. She’s a good woman, and supportive of her friends, but dang I hate that she let Jake stay.
Jake’s presence in Maggie’s life keeps him in the story after that, but just barely. It’s more the idea of him that makes him important than it is anything he does. When Maggie becomes pregnant, she claims that Call is the father, but Call doesn’t believe her. The baby could very well be Jake’s. Maggie insists that it’s Call’s, but really, we don’t have any more reason to believe her than Call does. We’re supposed to accept that “a woman knows these things.” In Lonesome Dove, everyone believes the baby is Call’s except for Call. I don’t know how that happened from the flimsy evidence presented in Comanche Moon.
There’s other stuff that doesn’t match up between Comanche Moon and Lonesome Dove too. Lonesome Dove describes Maggie as spending her days watching a saloon door waiting for Call. In Comanche Moon, Maggie works out of her house, not a saloon. In fact, she doesn’t set foot in a saloon at all during the entire mini-series. Lonesome Dove also says that Maggie dies in the town of Lonesome Dove, not Austin as she does in Comanche Moon. Sloppy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The last third of Comanche Moon takes place seven years after the first two thirds. That’s to give Maggie’s son Newt time to grow up enough that he can become a sort of mascot to the Rangers. There’s not much more reason for it than that. Like I said before, they’re obviously just hitting the beats and showing the important pieces of the backstory.
We hear that Jake’s real good to Newt and Maggie, but we never see it. Jake’s pretty much been written out of the story by now. He’s just another excuse for Call to stay distant from Maggie. Call does try to get close a couple of times, but his refusal to accept Newt as his son gets in the way and Maggie eventually breaks things off with him. Another major difference from the way Lonesome Dove suggests things happened.
And then there’s Clara. In Lonesome Dove we’re told that Clara and Gus never got their act together because they couldn’t commit to each other, and that’s mostly how it was portrayed in Dead Man’s Walk. But in Comanche Moon, it’s obvious for a while that they love each other so much that eventually they will commit and get married. It takes the meddling of Inez Scull – who wants Gus for herself, at least for a while – to break them up for good. While Clara’s out of town, Inez tells Gus that Clara’s married another suitor, a young rancher named Bob Allen. That emotionally frees Gus to start sleeping with Inez and when Clara finds out about it, that ends things.
It’s lame because Gus never questions Inez’s story. He knows her to be manipulative, but he just sort of takes her word for it and jumps into bed (although grieving over Clara while he’s at it).
Clara comes out looking pretty good though. Her parents die during Comanche Moon and she bravely takes over their business. Unlike Maggie with Jake, Clara hooks up with Bob Allen (and eventually does marry him) because he genuinely loves her and she sees that she could be happy with him in ways that she can’t with Gus. Especially since Gus is so stupid and gullible (something that he definitely was not in Lonesome Dove). We never feel like Clara needs a man, but she’d definitely be happier with one and Bob’s a good guy.
I liked Clara a lot in Comanche Moon. You can see elements of both the capricious girl from Dead Man’s Walk and the unwavering frontier woman of Lonesome Dove. That’s hard to pull off, but they sure did it. Comanche Moon has a lot of problems, but it succeeds in two things: being entertaining and moving Clara’s story forward. I finished Comanche Moon eager to see more of her.
Many years ago, I worked third shift with an older guy named Les who loved movies as much as I did. Because we had a lot of downtime, we were able to bring in movies to watch, so we started broadening each other’s cinematic horizons. I’d keep Les up to date on the best of the new releases and he’d turn me on to quality older films like The Manchurian Candidate and Five Easy Pieces.
One of the ones he brought in was the Lonesome Dove mini-series starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. As with all of his picks, it was as good as he’d said it would be and I’ve been curious ever since to check out the other stories in the saga. I couldn’t imagine any of them rivaling the original, but I love me a saga, so it’s always been back there in my head to try them out. Last winter, Comanche Moon was on TV and completed the televised adaptations of the series. When the Comanche Moon DVD was released, I figured it was as good a time as any to finally marathon the whole thing.
I wasn’t going to blog about it, because I really couldn’t think of a way to tie it in to my subject matter. But then I watched Return to Lonesome Dove and met Agostina Vega. She’s a perfect example of an Action Girl, and she made me realize that there were also other – though less-obvious – examples all throughout the saga. As I’m exploring them though, keep in mind that I haven’t read any of LarryMcMurtry’soriginalnovels. I’m basing all of this on the TV interpretations of them.
I chose to watch the series in the chronological order of when the stories take place. That means I started with Dead Man’s Walk starring David Arquette as Gus McCrae and Jonny Lee Miller as Woodrow Call. Even though it had been a long time since I’d seen Lonesome Dove (long enough that all I remembered was the basic, cattle-drive plot and the fate of Robert Urich’s character), I could tell that Arquette was trying to imitate Duvall more than he was trying to play the character. He did a good job of it though.
Jonny Lee Miller, in contrast, left the Tommy Lee Jones impressions alone and did a nice job just portraying the serious Call. He doesn’t start out all that serious in Dead Man’s Walk, but there are hints at the perfectionism that later defines the character. And the incidents in the mini-series contribute to making him more serious and explain why Gus never succeeded in lightening him up any.
Dead Man’s Walk is about a group of Texas Rangers who eventually end up riding under the command of a former pirate (played by F. Murray Abraham) to take control of Mexican-held Santa Fe. I say “eventually” because it takes forever to get them to that point and a large part of the story is spent just covering the random wanderings of the Rangers as they fight a nasty Comanche warrior named Buffalo Hump. The meandering story and uninspired direction make it a difficult story to get through. In fact, if I hadn’t kept the re-watching of Lonesome Dove as a carrot in front of me, I’m not sure I would’ve bothered to stick with Dead Man’s Walk.
Even Edward James Olmos as a Mexican captain wasn’t as cool as he usually is. He plays a character who should’ve generated a lot of pathos, but doesn’t. I just never cared about him, or any of the other characters really. I thought some of them were pretty cool, but there was almost never any real emotional investment. The one exception was Patricia Childress as Matty Roberts, a prostitute who travels with the Rangers.
Matty’s the first person we see. She’s in a river, in her skivvies, and she’s carrying a large snapping turtle that she then uses to teach a lesson to a couple of customers who haven’t paid her in a while. Right there, you know Matty’s pretty cool. Her nickname “The Big Western” makes her even cooler, and we eventually learn that she’s got a great backstory too.
When bad things happen to Call, it’s Matty who takes care of him. She’s got an enormous heart and as tough as Call is, there wouldn’t be any more to his and Gus’ story without Matty. She’s unbelievably heroic in the face of everything she’s been through and has to go through in Dead Man’s Walk. She doesn’t think she is, but she is.
The other main female character in Dead Man’s Walk is Clara Forsythe (Jennifer Garner). Her father owns the general store in Austin where the Rangers are based. Gus immediately falls for her, but it’s not all that easy to see why. She’s pretty, but she teases him relentlessly and endlessly tries to flirt with an uninterested Call. It’s all to make Gus jealous and keep him on his toes, we figure, but it doesn’t make her an attractive character. Still, I suppose it’s believable that this young, wild woman will eventually become the more restrained, but equally strong version we meet later in the saga. And her tactics, cruel as they seem, do appear to work on Gus. We learn early on that he’s a philanderer, but Clara’s able to calm him down some and give him focus.
There’s one more woman in Dead Man’s Walk who deserves a mention, even though she’s on screen for all of about five seconds. At the very end of the mini-series, Call’s heading into the general store just as a gorgeous young woman (Gretchen Mol from 3:10 to Yuma) is coming out. They exchange looks, but don’t talk, and it’s obvious that we’re supposed to know who she is from having already read or seen the sequels. I couldn’t remember her from Lonesome Dove, but I figured I’d learn more about her in Comanche Moon. I was right (though even then it was confusing, as I’ll explain next time), but having Call exchange glances with an unknown character without any follow-up was a strange way to end the mini-series.
Dead Man’s Walk gets two out of five turtle-wielding whores.
Boom! Studios sent me a press release about their upcoming pirate/cowboy mini-series. It’s based on actual events from Jean Lafitte’s days in Galveston, Texas where he knew and worked with future Alamo-hero Jim Bowie. Boom! calls it “an over the top thriller of blood, guts, and revenge.” I wonder if they’re going to mention that Lafitte and Bowie knew each other because the frontiersman helped the pirate smuggle in slaves and launder the profits.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
I gotta start reading more Young Adult books. That’s where all the action is. Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, for example, is the story of a prim and proper nineteenth-century schoolgirl who crosses the Atlantic to rejoin her family after studying in England. But on the trip she gets involved in mutiny and murder and is transformed into a swashbuckling heroine.
I thoroughly enjoyed Avi’s medieval tale Crispin, so I’m going to have to read this too. But maybe I’ll wait until after the movie (starring Morgan Freeman and Pierce Brosnan).
Bowen Designs has a new mini-bust featuring one of my favorite Alpha Flight characters. I hate what happened to her in the comics, but the tragic aspect of her story is probably what I like most about her. That and just that she’s really, really well-designed.
I saw Lonesome Dovea long time ago and liked it enough to want to see more. With Comanche Moonjust coming out, I figured it was a good time to catch up on the whole saga, so I started with Dead Man’s Walk, chronologically the first story in the series.
I’ve only watched the first episode, but so far I’m impressed with the cast and disappointed with the acting and the pretty much everything else.
Concerning the cast: I’ve always liked David Arquette and I’ve really been enjoying Eli Stonethis Spring so seeing Jonny Lee Miller in some early work here is a treat. Then there’s F. Murray Abraham as a wannabe pirate, Keith Carradine, Brian Dennehy, Harry Dean Stanton, Jennifer Garner, and — though he hasn’t appeared yet — Edward James Olmos.
Unfortunately, none of these folks (maybe Olmos will be the exception) is doing a great acting job. Arquette does a pretty good Robert Duvall impression, but it’s obvious that he’s doing it and it’s distracting. Miller and Garner are early in their careers here and don’t look comfortable reciting their lines. In fact, no one really does. The dialogue’s not awful, but no one’s convincing me that these are real people in real danger.
Some – if not most – of that is the director’s fault. I think this was a Hallmark mini-series, so I’m not expecting it to be graphic, but it’s frustratingly mediocre in the way it portrays violence. When there’s this many guns shooting and arrows flying, there ought to be some excitement, but the action is super toned down. With that kind of laziness in the action, you have to wonder how much direction the cast really got. I mean, when even F. Murray Abraham and Harry Dean Stanton are boring, it makes you wonder who’s really at fault.
I’m not going to give it a rating until I’m done with it, but so far it’s a blah Western and really suffers in comparison to Lonesome Dove.