Just Josh

Some recently watched films starring Mr. Brolin.

The Goonies (1985)

This was Brolin’s very first film. Scripted by Chris Columbus and directed by Richard Donner, it is still very much the vehicle of executive producer Steven Spielberg (who also wrote the original story), with trademark revelling in sentimentality, and tips of the hat to E. T. and Indiana Jones. The Goonies are a group of children who live in the Goon Docks area of Astoria, Oregon. When their homes are faced with demolition by a ruthless property developer the Goonies set off in search of the lost treasure of pirate One-Eyed Willy, a quest which brings them into conflict with the Fratelli crime family and a meeting with the monstrous Sloth, who really is a very nice fellow if he is treated with kindness. It is in the abstract an overly sentimental work, with the usual villains and heroes, the children in danger theme (but of course we know nothing really bad will happen to the Goonies, not on Speilberg’s watch), and tropes such as the monster who is redeemed and the perils of young love, but our heartstrings are plucked with such skill you’d have to be a real curmudgeon to not enjoy it. The characters are well drawn, each with their own personality traits and quirks, while the sets are spectacular, especially at the end with the discovery of a pirate ship, and there are plenty of humorous touches along the way. Josh as Brandon Walsh, the elder brother, is the butt of many of these jokes as he tries to get the others to act sensibly, but Brandon gets the girl in the end, so that’s okay. What’s not to like?

Jonah Hex (2010)

Skip forward twenty five years and Josh takes the title role in a film based on the DC comic. A Confederate soldier tortured and left for dead by his commanding officer when he refused to attack a hospital, Hex was returned to life by Indian shamans and has the power to briefly raise the dead. He is disfigured and a grade A misanthrope who makes his living as a bounty hunter, with prostitute Lilah (Megan Fox) as his only friend. When he learns that his old nemesis General Turnbull is still alive and has stolen a super-weapon with which he plans to disrupt the USA’s centennial celebrations, Hex gets motivated. The usual action antics and skin of the teeth firefights ensue. This is a film which it’s hard to feel strongly about either way. It’s visually interesting, with clever incorporation of comic book panels in the early and closing scenes, but the plot feels very much like something overly contrived, with twenty first century themes of terrorism bolted onto a post-Civil War drama and technology that doesn’t ring true for the times, and the story jumps around a bit too much for its own good. Megan Fox’s character adds little to the story beyond showing that Hex has a human side, while Josh as Hex does a competent job but really doesn’t have much to work with as far as emotional nuance goes. Acting honours go to John Malkovich, chewing up the scenery as the fanatical Turnbull, and Michael Fassbender as his sociopath sidekick Burke, who dominates the action every time he is on screen. Overall I liked it more than not, but I don’t think I’ll be watching it again any time soon.

Oldboy (2013)

Directed by Spike Lee, this is a remake of the wonderful 2003 Korean film and a somewhat watered down version, bringing nothing new to the table but taking away some of the more vibrant details of the original. It is nonetheless a worthy film in its own right, and I would probably have been a lot more impressed if I hadn’t seen the original. Josh plays Joe Doucett a boozy, philandering advertising man who is abducted off the street one night and imprisoned for twenty years in a hotel room. With the television his only source of stimulation and companionship, Joe dreams of revenge, and works on his body. Finally Joe is released, with no explanation, and sets about finding out what happened to him and why, but what he really should be asking is why he was set free. With help from a young woman called Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), with whom he falls in love, Joe is guided by its presiding evil genius to the story’s shocking conclusion. This is a film in which the end reveal is everything, and as far as that goes I thought it worked very well indeed. And, aside from the idea of a man alone in a hotel room for twenty years being able to turn himself into a matchless fighting machine, it doesn’t really push credibility. Josh is credible in the lead role, a driven man, while Olsen, plus Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley as the bad guys provide sterling backup. Regardless, there is nobody here who was in line for an Oscar, and the film bombed at the box office. The big problem for me, and I suspect for others, was the existence of the original, compared to which this came across as a sanitised, watered down version aimed at Middle America audiences. It felt like they were aiming for a 15 rating, and so didn’t exploit the 18 potential as fully as they could have done, not least in the final end twist which I imagine would have been much more palatable to western audiences than the original. But I see from Wiki that over half an hour was cut from Spike Lee’s preferred edit, so perhaps one day we’ll get to see a Director’s version.

Everest (2015)

I’ll admit that mountaineering films really don’t work all that well for me, partly because the activity itself is one that has absolutely no appeal, but also I suspect because I’ve seen so many films in which James Bond or Xander Cage glide effortlessly down snow covered peaks that the reality just seems dull in comparison. This film is based on true events recorded in a book written by Beck Weathers (the character Josh plays). In 1996 the slopes of Everest are crowded with sports enthusiasts intent on reaching the summit, and two expeditions join forces to avoid competition. They reach the summit despite difficulties, but as the descent begins a deadly blizzard arrives and what should have been a cake walk becomes a harrowing fight for survival against the elements. I found this film watchable, but not particularly gripping, mainly because of my indifference to the activity, something which early scenes in which the climbers bond and discuss their motives did nothing to dispel. That aside, there were too many characters for me to get much of a grip on any of them, with bulky climbing gear and the omnipresent snow making it even harder to differentiate between one mountaineer and another. While I guess their struggle did strike a chord and make me root for the characters, an empathetic response based on common humanity and respect for bravery, at the same time it was muted for me because they were in trouble largely through their own actions and the decisions they had made. The main appeal of the film for me was the striking scenery, and as far as that goes it was often quite breathtaking, a vivid contrast between blue, wide open sky and snow blanketed slopes towering upward. Such rewards aside, and churlish as it might sound, I didn’t really feel much of anything about the film and will probably not watch it again.

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