The Chain Reaction Film Club: Wyatt Earp

Film 39: Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last week was Apollo 13. It was never going to be less than fine with that cast and director, and indeed it was not less than fine. It wasn’t much more either… This time around it’s Tim’s choice.

The Shortlist

The Big Picture (1989)

Cast Away (2000)

Terminal (2004)

Absolute Power (1997)

Frailty (2001)

A League of Their Own (1992)

Tombstone (1993)

Wyatt Earp (1994)

The Choice

The Big Picture is a Christopher Guest film which stars Kevin Bacon and neither of us had heard of. I’m still puzzled as to why Tim didn’t pick it. Having confessed my youthful disdain for Tom Hanks last week it may not be that much of a surprise that I haven’t seen Cast Away or Terminal, the former of which has been on shortlists a couple of times before. Absolute Power is probably the film that we’ve shortlisted most without yet picking… we’ll get there! Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood facing off against each other has a certain appeal.

I read about Frailty in Bill Paxton’s obituary and it’s been on my radar ever since. Tim felt it would be a bit dark for such a warm sunny evening. And then there’s A League Of Their Own. Tim keeps shortlisting it and I’m scared he might actually choose it one day.

Tombstone we’d both seen before but fancy a rewatch. Wyatt Earp seems like it covers the same territory, but takes three hours over it. And so, our film-watching time being limited, Tim chose the three hour version.

Wyatt Earp 2

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Kurt Russell and…  Oops, wrong film. This is actually Dennis Quaid, Linden Ashby, Kevin Costner and Michael Madsen

Wyatt Earp and Me

I don’t recall being particularly aware of this at the time. As far as three hour westerns starring Kevin Costner go, I saw Dances With Wolves once and have never felt the lack of more. So I haven’t specifically avoided this film, but, as you can probably tell, it’s not one I would have picked.

IMDb Says

Wyatt Earp is a movie about a man and his family. The movie shows us the good times and the bad times of one of the West’s most famous individuals. 6.6 stars.

I Says

Two weeks ago we watched Sunset, which starred James Garner as a twinkly-eyed older Wyatt Earp in 20s Hollywood. My verdict was that it didn’t overstay its welcome. The same can’t be said of Kevin Costner’s three hour plus biopic.

I don’t know much about Earp – I’ve seen Tombstone but only really remember Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday purring ‘I’m your huckleberry’. Given a bit of time I reckon all I’ll remember of this film is Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. Even if he sounds like Hoggle from the Labyrinth in one scene. Doc Holliday is the Mercutio in this story, the one everyone really wants to be rather than the staid hero.

Doc Holliday

He’s your huckleberry… probably

And about that hero. I’ve not revisited a 90s Costner film since… I guess the 90s. How did he rise to such prominence? He’s so wooden – there must have been some kind of mass delusion. Something in the water.

The first hour and a half of the film features all the traditional story beats – starting with young Earp wanting to run off to the Civil War we get the inciting incident, the mid point shift, the dark moment, the resolution… and then… we do it all over again. There’s a scene 30 minutes in of a house burning down. 40 minutes in we get a flashback of the house burning down. How could they have trimmed that running time down, I wonder?

The supporting cast is pretty good and features the standard variety of face furniture you’d expect in this sort of thing. It’s all very nicely shot too. There’s more of an attempt at grittiness than I was expecting, but post Deadwood it has to be more than an attempt to really register. Suffice to say that all is not OK after the O.K. Corral shootout.

Also, Adam ‘Jayne Cobb’ Baldwin turns up. And him dressed in cowboy clothes just makes me want to watch Firefly gorram it…

The Verdict

Exactly as good as one would expect a three hour plus film about Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner to be.

Having now done a little research I was gratified to see Costner won a Razzie for his performance. Not only that, but he left Tombstone to work on this and tried to block distribution of Tombstone. Guess which fared better at the box office? I’ll give you a clue, it was the one without Kevin Costner in.

Coming attractions

Ok. Full disclosure.

For the first time we’re actively trying to get to a specific film. That’s not our usual modus operandi and it feels slightly shameful in a way. But screw it, we’re going to watch The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. We’re both fans and neither of us saw it on the big screen (oh, I should point out that we watch CRFC films on a rather lovely HD projector, so we get a quasi- cinematic experience).

On that basis the next film, my choice, needs to link to The Fifth Element. Will narrowing down the options like this mean we’re stuck with a turkey? We shall see!

@BornToPootle

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Creative Distractions

Or, the play’s the thing. Unless the novel’s the thing.

My latest mash-up attempt. High culture and Firefly (or, as I would have it, HIGHEST culture)

My latest mash-up attempt. High culture and Firefly (or, as I would have it, HIGHEST culture)

I mentioned in my last post that I had, for a little while at least, stalled while redrafting the novel I’m working on. The good news is that I’m back up to speed, but this post is about something a little different. While I was stalled my brain threw up all kinds of things to distract me from the task at hand. And fortunately I’ve been in such a routine of writing that some of those distractions were creative. So over the period of a couple of days when I was supposed to redrafting I wrote a play. Don’t worry, I was as surprised as you.

Despite training and working as an actor for a few years, I’ve never really had the inclination to write a play, so I was quite surprised when an idea popped into my head almost fully formed that had a nice bow tied around it reading ‘for the stage’. Odd how ideas instinctively seem to know what medium they’re going to be in.

Well I wrote it, a nice half hour two-hander set in the cockpit of a spaceship, and then gave it a quick redraft. And then… I didn’t really know what to do with it. It feels so different to writing a novel – I’ve spent the last few years teaching myself about that process, and suddenly felt adrift.

The thing with a play is that, unless you’re going to direct and star in it as well, other people are going to get their grubby little paws all over it. Reading it after the redraft it became very apparent that I needed to hear it out loud, in other peoples’ voices, or I wouldn’t have a clue how it actually came across. Fortunately I know some awesome, super-talented actors, so I assembled my crack squad of two, both rather handily with experience in writing and workshopping material they’d created, and on Saturday I held my first workshop for something I’d written.

Definitely best to theme clothing to the task at hand.

Definitely best to theme clothing to the task at hand.

The first order of business, after admiring the Jayne Cobb T-shirt and hat one of the actors arrived in (see above for my attire for the day – you may have spotted I’m a Firefly fan), was a first read of the play, sat in chairs, sipping tea. Even just that was really useful – both actors approached the roles in interesting ways, picking up on a dynamic I hadn’t thought of. And rather pleasingly I thought the writing held up pretty well when vocalised – with a few clunkers thrown in for good measure, of course. It was clear to me though that the drama was very one-sided and the denouement slightly rushed.

After a brief chat about the play and the characters in general, I got the actors to improvise around a couple of the key moments. The play opens with one of the characters wanting solitude and the other wanting interaction, so I gave the actors different levels of how much they needed that solitude/interaction and then made them raise and lower that need throughout the improvisation – it helped unlock a couple of interesting dynamics that will feed back into the script. I might leave out the dance routine though.

After three different improvisations, each looking at a different part of the drama, we went back to the script, and had a second readthrough, but this one following the few stage directions I’d written and moving around the space as and when the instinct kicked in. It all came together remarkably easily, helped by the fact that I hadn’t written much physical action, and once again really highlighted the two big weak spots in the play which, thanks to the improvisations, I’ve got some great ideas for how to fix.

So what now? Well I’ll have another re-write and then I don’t know. I’ll look up some short play festivals and see if I fit the criteria, or check out some new writing nights. Which is all-new, all-scary but also all-cool!

@BornToPootle