Monthly Archives: April 2011

My Ten Cent’s On: Hobo with a Shotgun

With all the awesome movies coming out in recent memories, (Note: awesome movies are not necessarily good movies in my definition, they’re just supremely entertaining) I couldn’t be more excited for everything coming out this year, both  in the high-budget world of Hollywood and in the B-movie world as well. And among those movies, one stood out for the sheer raw simplicity and obscene brutality, and that was Hobo with a Shotgun.

Do I even need to give you a synopsis?! Its Rutger Hauer, as the Hobo, delivering street justice with a friggin’ shotgun. How is that not one of the most amazing pieces of imagery ever? Given how simple the draw and the concept is, and how the movie itself was marketed as a B-movie, it was hard to see how this movie could fail. I’ll tell you how though, by being ARTSY-FARTSY. Okay, so all you artistic people out there, I’m not attacking you guys, in fact, art films are responsible for a lot of mainstream successes, so though I am not that into many art films perse, I hold a lot of respect for them. Lucas, Spielberg, Coppolla, Scorsese, De Palma, these guys studied art films before they came out with their blockbuster movies, and that knowledge changed film forever.

I'm using a wide angle lens for a close up! I'm an artist! woohoo!

No, my problem is with filmmakers who try and be artistic without any background or study, who just use wide angles, or shaky cameras or odd angles, thinking they are artsy techniques, yet are actually cliche as HELL. Especially when you try to pull that in a movie about a hobo who goes around killing evil people with a shotgun! It didn’t need the cinematographer wanting showing off his skills (or lack thereof). With a movie like this, simplicity trumps all, it had an awesome simple plot, an awesome simple lead character, and a couple of simple, but not so awesome villains, and it ruined all that with extremely convoluted camera work and editing. But why am I ranting now? I’ll get into each so that at least I can explain to you in detail how this movie turned out for me.

+ The Hobo

Rutger Hauer is the latest in a group of 70’s and 80’s action stars who’re looking to catch the last tastes of their once vibrant careers. And with Stallone coming back with Rocky Balboa, John Rambo, and recently leading the LEGENDARY cast of the Expendables, that window for nostalgic action stars to come back on film just burst wide open. And he came back as a traveling homeless man who stumbles upon a city so lawless, so depraved, that people are executed for mere entertainment, sex workers roam every street, and child molesters drive around freely. All his character dreams of is buying a lawnmower, simply because he doesn’t want to be a hobo anymore and wants to start a business. But when the store he’s in gets held up, and the muggers plan to kill a baby for fun, he uses a shotgun to dispatch the muggers, paying for that instead of the lawnmower, and goes around the city as its reluctant vigilante, cleaning up the streets “one shell at a time.”

That combo is just fantastic, Rutger Hauer does a great job in this movie and despite the nature of the film, puts on one of his best performances ever. The man can act, and he does so here. I genuinely felt for the character, how he was just sucked in to the situation, and it ate him up, crapped him out, and somewhere in the process transformed the passer-by into the utter image of awesome. It was brilliant to see the Hobo‘s character unfold and evolve as the movie progressed. I would even say that the character development in this movie is better than a lot of those big-budget Hollywood flicks. And he delivers a speech to a bunch of new-born babies, seen here in the trailer, that just makes my skin crawl-he did it so well.

+ Simple Plot

I love how simple the plot is, I know movies like Inception are more of the “in”-thing in terms of mainstream appeal, but sometimes its good to do away with all the complexity of side plots and multiple viewpoints and characters and just narrow it down to a simple plot and a simple, yet deep, lead character. I hope you don’t misinterpret the simple plot as being shallow. The plot isn’t shallow at all, in fact, a stranger coming into a town and saving the day is one of the most used plots in the book. This movie parodies that plot and strips it down, and all things considered, it was a good change of pace.

+ Gore and Violence effects

Okay, this is a real hit-or-miss kind of thing with most people. Probably a good number of you don’t find this all too appealing, but I’d like to support my claim with this. The whole draw of the movie is the gore and the violence, that’s the way it was marketed. The movie’s saying, if you like extreme gore and violence, then watch me, if not, its okay. For its audience, those that want to watch blood, and explosions, and mutilations, you won’t find a lack of it here. The movie is just so full of needless gore and violence, so in that respect, the movie fulfills that promise to the fans of such movies. You have, for example, Reign of Fire, the dragon apocalypse movie starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey, that promises you intense battle sequences and a full-on war between humans and dragons, and you only get around 10 minutes of that throughout the entire film. This movie promises gore, blood and death, and it delivers from start to finish. Say what you will, at least its consistent.

How it was used, now that’s a different story… You’ll see later.

+ Interesting Color/Lighting  and (Some) Cinematography

Of all the positive parts of the movie, this was the hardest one for me to put up here. sometimes, the colors are good, sometimes they’re bad. Again, look at the trailer, when the hobo, flushed in yellow, is framed by the window to a blue nursery, it is beautiful, along with the harsh lighting. Other times the colors are harder to take. But I eventually decided to put it in the positives simply because it’s rare, and when they do it, they do it well.

Admittedly, this shot was a true diamond in the rough.

The film was shot in technicolor, if that sounds familiar to you, technicolor is the film process that did movies such as Singin’ in the Rain, Wizard of Oz, and some of our favorite cartoons from the 50’s and 60’s (over here in the Philippines, most of those still played regularly in the early and mid-90’s). Needless to say, this film process has almost gone extinct, what with digital effects and other more advanced levels of processing. So it was a good change to see this being used again, and admittedly, it was an interesting twist to see a color palate generally used for general and family entertainment ( I will never refer to classic Disney animation as “children’s entertainment”) being used for such a gory, violent film. One could really look into the irony of that.

When the film wasn’t being violent and gory, it actually had some amazing cinematography. The compositions and colors were fantastic, and at some points, the emotion hit home for me because it was shot so well. To the director, Jason Eisner, good job shooting the drama scenes. Now fire the guy who shot the actions scenes, and then set him on fire. Because he screwed you over.

– Cinematography (some)

I won’t take too long here since I’ve ranted about this already at the intro, but there are a few things I would like to add to whomever the 2nd unit director is (the 2nd unit usually shoots the action scenes while the “director” does the dramatic sequences).

Wide-Angle close-ups are uncomfortable. Its like when you meet a random stranger and he places his face like two inches away from yours. Not cool.
You don’t have to tilt the camera every time we see an evil person. We know they’re bad. They’re ripping off somebody’s skull. You don’t have to tilt the camera from side to side (in one cut, I may add) to show he’s evil. Where did you learn to hold a camera, at the NY Film School of Family Home Videos?
Its cool to have blood splatter all over like a glass window or say the lens of the camera, but NOT EVERY TIME. There are other ways you can shoot people being killed by a shotgun, and not every spurt of blood has to hit the camera, it can hit other things, there are a lot of ways to show gore! Come on bro, haven’t you ever heard of the other rule of thirds? Don’t pull the same gag more than 3 times, you did it 20 times here. Low, really low.
Lastly, have some longer cuts! You put so much effort into your prosthetic makeup, squibs, blood substitutes and such, why cut up the film so that we can’t really tell what’s happening. Let us see the action, don’t cheat us out of the experience with so much cutting. I already touched on this in the cinematography section of my review of The Mechanic. Quick cuts can be done well, but if you make them too quick, they just look confusing and as such, don’t make for very good action scenes.

There, I’m done, on to the next rant!

– The Villains

I know that these types of movies aren’t supposed to have award-winning actors, and the main characters sometimes are as one-dimensional as they can get, but there was just something wrong with the villains in this movie. The villains are composed of a sick, sadistic family that for some reason runs the evil town. They hold public executions as some sort of Coliseum-like form of entertainment, yet everyone is freaked out by it. So, they’re clearly insane, to the point where they own an arcade that has perverted carnival games that kill and mutilate people, and it just begs the question as to why the whole town submits to their “rule”.  The patriarch is pretty funny with his over-the-top southern faith-healer vibe, he really does hit the “so bad its good” type of performance because you could tell that he was just enjoying it.

If I were a cold-blooded killer, and my bosses were a jacked-up jock with glow-in-the-dark teeth and the kid from Small Soldiers... I'd seriously reevaluate my career path

No, the big problem lies with his two children. One being a new-comer to the acting world, and the other, whose major role was playing the kid from Small Soldiers, they just did not pull off the “we are the heirs to a psycho-crazy regime of random violence, gore, and crime” vibe. They just looked like two white kids trying to be cool by getting down with the fashion from a decade ago. Seriously, they did some crazy things in the movie, but there was just something in their face that wasn’t even funny, like they were trying too hard to make a career out of this role. They were conscious with the acting, they were one-dimensional, and worst of all, they were boring. I don’t know how you can make a dude who burns school buses full of children and bludgeons people’s feet for fun boring, but these guys were. They looked like wimps disguising themselves as A-holes. These guys couldn’t scare a two year old, even with all the stuff they had going for them. It was really sad, and really pathetic, and it hurt the movie so bad.

– The Use of Violence and Gore

Okay, by saying that “the use” is a negative doesn’t mean I hated that they used violence at all. Far from it. I didn’t like it because the violence served no purpose in the story. Granted there are a lot of movies that have tons of violence and gore simply to appeal to the B-movie market. I get that. But at least when some movies do it, there’s a bit of irony and fun in it.

Take the movie Machete for example. One of my favorite scenes was when the title character Machete, played by the always awesome Danny Trejo, was at a hospital. He’s there recovering from some wounds and the doctor, who likes to spew out random facts, told Machete about the human intestine and how it can stretch to about25 feet in length. In a later scene, he cuts open a guy’s stomach and uses the intestine as a safety rope as he rappel’s down the side of a building. Morbid, I know, but the irony is there and the violence, though still very much meant for people to go: “Ohh!” and “Ahh!” and “Eww!”, now serves the secondary function of being a punchline. I’ve seen too many movies that simply put violence in for its sake, and frankly, even in “A”-movies, I never really liked it.

"Yü call this mürder, blood and gore? Dreamily Drawn Dexter scoffs at the idea. No taste, no class no art."

As you can probably tell, this specific negative hits me pretty hard, and I’ll tell you why. But first, a bit of trivia. The movie Hobo with a Shotgun was based on a short trailer segment in the 80’s homage double feature, Grindhouse, directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Now, when it comes to Tarantino and Rodriguez, they do not put violence in their movies for no reason at all. I’d like to think that their violent scenes are meant to move the plot forward, maybe as exclamation points to the sentences that are the scenes of his movies, or to simply serve as a form of satire. That’s why I love their movies so much. It may be over-the-top, it may have incredibly bloody and unexpected scenes, but there’s always a good reason for it, and its really just fun to watch.

That being said, this movie feels like it was made by someone who thinks that Tarantino and Rodriguez movies are nothing but gore and violence. If you think that, please pick up Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and listen to the dialogue. For Rodriguez, he does a little more gore and violence than Tarantino does, but if you look at From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, and Machete, he does it by taking Western archetypes and turning them into Mexican folklore of its own, often in a satirical form. So yeah, there’s always a reason. Hobo with a Shotgun just craps all over that and makes it so pointless. When the Hobo was killing people with a shotgun, it was cool, and pretty awesome to watch, but the bad guys, who had the more creative kills in this movie, were just killing people so randomly, that it just lost all sense and actually got boring. I mean, its like watching a football game and not rooting for either team, it was just plain dull. You don’t sympathize with the victim and the bad guys don’t carry themselves with an aura of awesomeness, so it made all that effort look as boring as watching Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Michael Myers and The pyramid-headed dude from Silent Hill playing charades! (btw, this is a pretty funny webcomic, check it out if you have the time)

My Cent’s Worth: 4/10

I wanted to love this movie. I really did. I knew it was going to be both bad and awesome, but I didn’t expect that much bad and that little awesome. A lot of the things I loved about the movie, I also hated. If it weren’t for Rutger Hauer, this movie would be a 2 at best, but he made the movie watchable, and he had me interested enough to want to look for some of his other performances. That’s always good. But as recommendations go, you won’t lose sleep over missing this one, trust me.

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