Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Reel Review: COMPUTER CHESS


 
Utilizing some sort of gimmick is a time-honored tradition in filmmaking. Everything from 3D, black-and-white, and found-footage shaky cam has been used in the past few decades to either enhance a movie or to draw attention to it. The trick has always been to not let the gimmick distract from the film, and to actually add something to the story. Such is the task for COMPUTER CHESS, a quirky and unique film which was shot with film equipment specific to the era its story takes place in…the year 1982.
In 1982, a convention of tech-nerds meet at a hotel for a weekend computer chess tournament. They compete their state-of-the-art computers against each other without giving away the secrets of their software. Meanwhile, a couples’ encounter group looking to get in touch with their feelings is also meeting at the hotel, and create a scheduling conflict with the tournament.

Right away, COMPUTER CHESS does an excellent job of dropping us back to 1982. Shot on period video equipment in black-and-white square format, the film is partially set in the framework of a documentary, and the execution is realistic enough to make us feel like we are really watching a doc made in the early 1980’s. This is an age when computers were the size of refrigerators and the keyboards responded with a loud and clumsy clunk, and the look of the film fits the age perfectly. Director Andrew Bujalski goes as far as to take a page out of the Grindhouse thing by adding in some video glitches here and here; everything from misplaced scanlines to jumpcuts to un-synced audio…greatly enhancing the realism. The story of COMPUTER CHESS could not have been told in any other way.
Unfortunately for our beloved nerds, the story of COMPUTER CHESS is where things being to crash. The film sets up some excellent storylines…the potential for artificial intelligence, the first female programmer, a programmer who may be throwing the tournament, and the burning question if a computer could ever defeat a human being in a chess match. All of these plotlines are intriguing enough, but not one of them is brought to any sort of conclusion or resolution. No, this is not one of those films where ambiguity is the idea…for the few characters that are given some sort of arc are left hanging by movie’s end. The couples’ group who are in touch with their spiritual sides initially offer a strong contrast to the by-the-numbers techies, but they are eventually forgotten about. Even the climatic showdown between a Chess Master and the top computer of the tournament is left without a winner, or a finished game.

COMPUTER CHESS makes excellent use out of a group of unknown actors who really look like they fell out of the early 1980’s. Everyone performs great, although there are no real standouts.
The most frustrating thing about COMPUTER CHESS is that for a movie so grounded in realism, it takes a few bizarre supernatural-twists which intrude on everything and ultimately make no sense. Overall the film is proof that a trip back in time is only worthwhile if you learn something. Excellent on nostalgia but clumsy in storytelling, this match is a stalemate.

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it
 
 
 

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Reel Review: THE WOLVERINE


 
Director James Mangold’s THE WOLVERINE, Hugh Jackman’s 6th appearance as the self-regenerating clawed mutant, is a superhero/super-being film which will never get lost amongst the large stack of like-minded films. The film’s goal was to clearly put the main character through as much trauma as possible to see what sort of character reactions and progress would emerge. That is the core of THE WOLVERINE; as for the rest…
A year or so after the events of X3, Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is haunted by the memories of his dead love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), whom he had killed. He is summoned to Japan by warrior-woman Yukio (Rila Fukushima), and her master Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), whose life Logan had saved in WWII.

THE WOLVERINE pushes forward with a quiet and gritty tone which takes its time in establishing Logan’s personal torment and current state of mind. As Yashida from the war offers Logan a cure of-sorts, one which would end his immortality and consequently his torment, things shift into a new gear as Logan must wrestle with many decisions. As the plot moves ahead and Logan becomes mixed up in a family feud amidst a corporate espionage scheme, the character goes through more physical and mental punishment then we’ve ever seen him go through before. It’s a lot to handle, but enough to invest in Logan’s story and latch on for the ride.
For such a strong character piece, THE WOLVERINE gets a little too heavy on plot. Things get convoluted in a hurry once the corporate scheming starts unfolding and it’s easy to lose track of who is on what side and why. Throw in an undefined villain for most of the movie, and things suddenly feel off-balance. But despite this, director James Mangold always brings things back to Logan. This is certainly his story and he never forgets it.

The action scenes are fun, although a little too much goddamn shaky-cam is used. Most of the fight scenes are very well coordinated and are very brutal in places. The brutality of it all is shocking here and there, as this is a hard PG-13 film; people are shot, slashed, and hacked in thousands of different ways, and Wolverine the character benefits from every bit of it.
Hugh Jackman fully embraces his character both physically and mentally. The strong material he is given to work with allows him to take the character to places he hadn’t been able to explore before. The rest of the large cast does well, although the most of the characters serve mostly as placeholders and plot points.

The finale is a big ball of comic-book mayhem and fun, finishing off with some very good surprises. All that is then topped off with a whopper of a mid-credits scene which sets up the next chapter in Logan’s life, as well what’s upcoming for the mutant world; good enough and strong enough which will have comic-book fans losing bowel movements and howling at the moon. But back to THE WOLVERINE…the film is a special one in the super-genre as it keeps focus on character in place of typical bombastic summertime fare. Not perfect, but there is a lot to sink your claws into.

BOTTOM LINE: See it
 
 
 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Reel Review: THE CONJURING


 
Good horror movies can often be a tricky beast. Not only do they have to provide scares, but they also need to tell a good story as well. Such is the task for director James Wan and his new haunted-house/demonic possession flick, THE CONJURING.
The Perrons (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters move into a new house only to be terrorized by a wrathful supernatural force. They call upon the aid of the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), a husband-and-wife demonologist team who have some demons (pun) of their own to overcome.

THE CONJURING employs just about every element ever seen in the history of haunted-house and demonic possession films. Everything from scared animals, sealed-off rooms, bumps in the night, possessed objects (including the creepiest goddamn doll in the history of film), unseen voices and creaky doors everywhere. What makes all these old elements work so well is not only the timing, but the unique story weaved around them. THE CONJURING diverts from the standard-issue tale of the Scared Family seeking help from The Rescuers by giving The Rescuers themselves a relatable storyline of their own. As the Warrens come to the aid of the Perrons, it is revealed that they have a troubled past of their own thanks to their professions, including a young daughter who may be in danger from pissed-off spooks of her own. The stories of the two families run alongside each other nicely, giving the film a double-whammy of things to care about.
James Wan makes excellent use out of the big spooky house and every piece of furniture inside it. Scares are well timed and are set up with the perfect amount of pretense; even when you suspect a scare is coming, it still manages to get you. The spooky atmosphere is well executed by way of practical effects, simple camera tricks, and very good editing…with the sound editing really standing out. Every creak, whisper, and whisp of a draft is perfectly edited into the story and distributed nicely, making THE CONJURING one of the best-sounding horror films in recent memory.

Acting is very good. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have great chemistry together, and they both are able to push their limits of fear and desperation very well. Ron Livingston is a bit bland but does OK, and is very much outshined by his on-screen wife, Lili Taylor. Taylor winds up stealing the spook-show as a caring mom, and later hits a new gear when her character takes a wicked turn. The five daughters are very good (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver), although with the five of them it’s easy to lose track of them on-screen.

The finale is a bit predictable to anyone who has ever seen a horror film, but at that point you don’t care because you are fully invested in the characters and what they all have to overcome. THE CONJURING won’t be remembered as a horror classic, nor will it blaze any new trails in the genre, but it is ultimately worth every single bump you hear behind your wall at night after viewing.
BOTTOM LINE: See it



Monday, July 22, 2013

Dennis Farina 1944-2013


 
Dennis Farina, veteran actor of television and film, has passed away at the age of 69.

Having never taken an acting class, Dennis Farina was well into his career as a Chicago policeman when he was asked to consult on director Michael Mann’s THIEF (1981), and wound up with a small part in the film…a small part which would launch a long and successful career in both film and television. His many film roles included Mann’s MANHUNTER (1991), MIDNIGHT RUN (1988), STRIKING DISTANCE (1993), LITTLE BIG LEAGUE (1994), GET SHORTY (1995),  EDDIE (1996), OUT OF SIGHT (1998), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), THE MOD SQUAD (1999), and SNATCH (2001).

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A tough-guy character actor, he was often cast as a mobster or a policeman, but had enough versatility to draw a few laughs when needed. He was one of those guys who instantly made a movie a little bit better when he showed up. Everybody liked him, and his absence will be felt.

 

 

 

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Reel Review: RED 2


 
The mild success of RED (2010) relied upon the novelty of old (ish) actors firing guns and making things go boom. The sequel, so cleverly named RED 2, relies upon the same novelty. Admirers of the first film will likely get a kick out of seeing the old shtick get replayed, but then again…they may not.
Former CIA agent Frank (Bruce Willis) is called out of his retirement and domestic life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), to help thwart an unknown enemy from detonating a leftover nuclear weapon from the Cold War. He is joined by his pal Marvin (John Malkovich), master assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren), and a bonkers nuclear physicist (Sir Anthony Hopkins), and has to avoid the assassination attempts by the master hit-man Han (Byung-hun Lee).

The basic premise of RED 2 should, have, and could have been a simple one; stay alive long enough to save the world. Such straightforwardness isn’t nearly enough for director Dean Parisot, who proceeds to make a soup sandwich out of the plot. A convoluted and confusing maze is put upon the story; bouncing the characters from country to country with no clear definition of the next puzzle piece. Add on a few sub-plots involving Frank’s past and his relationship with Sarah, and it is bloody difficult to latch onto anything to care about.
While Parisot is weaving a narrative mess, he is also making one bland and boring action film. Action sequences are uninspired and have no consequences whatsoever, and the jokes and gags fall flat. The novelty of seeing old (ish) actors fire guns wears off after five minutes, and with so much booming and banging going on, there is a dreadful lack of energy and fun. Pacing is a horrible slog; making RED 2 commit the worst sin an action film can ever think of: be boring.

Acting is for crap all around as no one seems to believe in the material and it shows. For the third movie this year, the acting of Bruce Willis is as dull as the top of his head; no charisma, no fun, and no goddamn energy. The rest of the cast seems to exist to play caricatures of themselves; John Malkovich plays weird, Helen Mirren plays classy, and Mary-Louis Parker plays sweet and cute. Sir Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Brian Cox eventually roll around to offer some sort of weight to things, but by then it is much too late.
The third act tries in vain to change things up by offering a few plot twists; twists which fail miserably because they can be seen coming from a thousand miles away, and by the time the last few minutes arrive you can’t help but to root for the bomb to actually go off and wipe out such a dull world and blah characters that RED 2 has created. There is nothing worth saving here.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuck it
 
 
 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Reel 25: DIE HARD


“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”

 
This month marks the 25th anniversary of John McTiernan’s DIE HARD.
Fresh off the success of his recent action/sci-fi flick PREDATOR, director John McTiernan, along with writers Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart, adapted DIE HARD from the novel Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) by Roderick Thorp. The novel was a sequel to Thorp’s own 1966 novel The Detective, which had been adapted into a film of the same name starring Frank Sinatra. 20th Century Fox was obligated to offer Sinatra the lead role, which he turned down. The lead was then offered to a host of 80’s action stars, who all passed on the role.

The final choice went to Bruce Willis, who at the time was a comedic, small-screen star. The selection at first was laughable, but by the time the smoke cleared, it was Willis who had the last chuckle. Willis’ charm and charisma, coupled with his ability to play an everyday-man stuck in an incredible situation, turned the action-genre upside down and set a new bar for action movies for the next two decades and counting.
Centered around an off-duty cop taking on a group of terrorists in an L.A. high-rise, McTiernan’s knack for creating tension amidst spectacle while never forgetting about the characters made DIE HARD an instant classic. The sharp dialogue produced some of the most memorable quotes in film history, and the performances…from a brilliant turn by Alan Rickman to the great supporting cast, were real and full of heart. The film made such an impact, that its Christmastime framework made it a holiday favorite…despite being full of explosions and having that big-bang summertime vibe.

DIE HARD was a box office hit in 1988 and was nominated for four Oscars. The late great Michael Kamen’s score earned him a BMI/TV Film Music Award. In 2001, DIE HARD was listed as #39 of AFI’s most heart-pounding films. Rickman’s villainous role sits at #46 on AFI’s Heroes and Villains list, and in 2006 was ranked as the 17th greatest film character by Empire magazine. Willis’ character was placed at number 12 of the same list. Entertainment Weekly magazine in 2007 named it the greatest action film of all time.
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If the bottom line of any movie is to entertain, then DIE HARD can be considered to be a perfect film. It has action, romance, fun, a lot of heart with a bit of swashbuckling thrown in…and in this adventure, the hero actually does ride off into the sunset with the girl.
“Yippie-ki-yay…”


Monday, July 15, 2013

A Reel Review: THE WAY, WAY BACK


 
In 2006, Steve Carell and Toni Colette teamed up and took front-and-center in the Oscar darling LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Here in 2013, the two reunite for a more-or-less supporting role in the charming and funny coming-of-age tale, THE WAY, WAY BACK.
14-year old Duncan (Liam James) goes on summer vacation with his divorced mom (Toni Colette), her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell) and his daughter (Zoe Levin). Duncan, a socially awkward introvert, has a rough time fitting in before finding an unexpected friend in the manager of a water park (Sam Rockwell).

The landscape of THE WAY, WAY BACK is familiar, but in a good way. Almost like sliding on a comfortable pair of shoes, the film is a joy to settle into and enjoy simply because the characters are written perfectly. Each character is developed quickly, and it takes all but five seconds to figure out who to root for, who to love, and who to hate. First-time directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash take the approach of taking the characters, throwing them into a box, shaking them all about and see what comes out. The approach works, and the story moves along briskly and joyfully.
At center of it all is Duncan, and again, it doesn’t take long to empathize with his situation. He’s a kid who doesn’t know his place in the world but knows he doesn’t like where he’s currently at. THE WAY, WAY BACK is all about the transition from boy to man, but during his transition, the adults find their way, too. In a clever way, the adults learn from the kids.

The cast really seems to believe in the material and it shows. Newcomer Liam James nails the sulking teenager perfectly, and his chemistry with Toni Colette, who is always in great form, is very touching. The big surprise of the film is Steve Carell. His character is an asshole and the true villain of the movie. Carell shows great range in the performance and it is a great peek into his abilities outside of screwball comedy. As good as Carell is, the show is stolen by an off-the-chain performance by Sam Rockwell, who goes from a wacko to a caring older-brother in the blink of an eye. The rest of the cast, which includes Maya Rudolph, Amanda Peet, Allison Janney, Rob Corddry, Zoe Levin, and Annasophia Robb are all perfect.
The finale brings about an emotional and gratifying closure to just about every character, and you feel privileged to have been along for their ride. As conventional as many of themes are in THE WAY, WAY BACK, the overall experience feels very new, fun, and incredibly human. Small in scale but close to the heart, this is one of the best charmers you can ask for.

BOTTOM LINE: See it
 
 

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Reel Review: PACIFIC RIM


 
The concept of giant monsters stomping around our cities has been capturing the imaginations of kids for decades; starting with KING KONG in 1933, peaking with the atomic-era, Japanese-produced GODZILLA films, and then later trailing off on the small-screen. Director Guillermo Del Toro, who has thus made a career out of monster flicks, capitalizes on those old elements in PACIFIC RIM, but whether or not giant monsters battling it out with equally-sized robots is enough for a good movie is the question.
A dimensional portal opens underneath the ocean, unleashing legions of giant monsters, called Kaiju, upon the world. Unable to fight them using conventional weapons, mankind invents equally-sized robots, called Jaegers, to combat them hand-to-hand. The Jaegers are controlled simultaneously by two pilots, whose minds are locked in a neural bridge, forming the left and right sides of the robot’s “brain”. With a large-scale invasion imminent, former Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is called out of his self-exile to help fend off the attack and save mankind.

PACIFIC RIM starts off in a hurry; quickly establishing its universe with the who-what-when-where-why-and the how. The details are superbly done and it doesn’t take long before you find your imagination soaring. Once the stage is set and the characters come in, PACIFIC RIM settles into very familiar territory; so familiar that it nearly becomes clich├ęd. The characters face inner demons and obstacles similar to countless war-film and sports-flicks…and the plot, like its characters, never really ventures past the first dimension.
The thin characters and story are not nearly enough to sink the RIM, however. Del Toro keeps the pacing brisk, the humor well-timed, and the spectacle on a large and exciting scale. The battles between the ‘bots and the creatures are a sight to behold on the big screen; visually and especially sonically. The fights are well-filmed; it is always easy to tell what is going on and each one has its own surprises. It’s edge-of-your-seat action; the type of stuff that makes imaginations tick. The creature and ‘bot design is exquisite, and Del Toro makes excellent use out of every element that he establishes early on.

Acting is a bit of a mixed bag. No one is horrible, but no one really stands out, either. Charlie Hunnam does fine for what he is given to work with, as does his eventual co-pilot, played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi. Idris Elba chews up the scenery as the big boss-man, and the comic relief is played brilliantly by Ron Perlman (a war profiteer specializing in dead creature body-parts), and most especially Charlie Day, as the quirky yet all-important scientist.
PACIFIC RIM borrows from several familiar stories and films of the past, almost too directly, and the characters seem to overcome their issues off-camera. It nearly doesn’t matter, because by the time the climactic battle rolls around, there is just too much fun being had as this is the type of film which makes you wish you could live in its world, driving the vehicles and joining the fight. PACIFIC RIM may be 90% spectacle and 10% story, but sometimes you have to let the inner-kid win.

BOTTOM LINE: See it
 
 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reel Facts: All You Need to Know about PACIFIC RIM


 
By now, most of you have likely seen several trailers, TV spots, and perhaps a few posters for the upcoming visual-effects heavy sci-fi film, PACIFIC RIM. For your reading pleasure and education, Reel Speak presents all you need to know about this film by way of answering (no spoilers) a few frequently asked questions.
Who is directing this? – PACIFIC RIM is helmed by Guillermo Del Toro, whose past directing credits include PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY, and HELLBOY II.

Who are the actors? – Although the tagline for PACIFIC RIM is “go big”, Del Toro has raided the small-screen for his actors. TV stars Charlie Hunnam (SONS OF ANARCHY) and Charlie Day (ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA) will be here, along with TV and film veteran Ron Perlman (HELLBOY I & II, SONS OF ANARCHY). Idris Ibra also stars (he was the gatekeeper in THOR), along with Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi.
WTF is this about? – A dimensional portal opens underneath the ocean, unleashing legions of giant monsters, called Kaiju, upon the world. Unable to fight them using conventional weapons, mankind invents equally-sized robots, called Jaegers, to combat them hand-to-hand. The Jaegers are controlled simultaneously by two pilots, whose minds are locked in a neural bridge, forming the left and right sides of the robot’s “brain”.

Is this an original idea, or a remake? – Although PACIFIC RIM is credited as an original story by Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham, it is clearly influenced by old Japanese giant-monster films such as GODZILLA, and smaller-screen properties such as SHOGUN WARRIORS and VOLTRON. Although the film is rated PG-13, the film speaks to any kid who ever kicked over a sand castle or doodled monsters and robots on the inside of their Trapper Keeper.
What are my viewing options? – PACIFIC RIM will be presented in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX.

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PACIFIC RIM makes landfall on July 12. Select theatres will be running midnight shows, along with “early bird” showings 7-10pm on July 11th.

 

 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: Disney's Disaster


 
Disney’s latest adventure, in the form of THE LONE RANGER, arrived at theatres with a manure-sized plop this past weekend, pulling in a modest, yet underperforming $48 million at the domestic box office, good enough for second place. The low tally has put the film in the dreaded “box-office bomb” category.
A box-office bomb, or flop, is a term applied to a film which is unsuccessful and unprofitable during its theatrical run. While $48 million may be good enough for a lot of films, the fact that THE LONE RANGER reportedly cost $250 million to make means it will be nearly impossible for Disney to break even, let alone make a profit. The huge loss can only be described as a disaster for Disney.

The film was heavily marketed as a vehicle for the usually-bankable Johnny Depp, and also as a product from the team (producer and director) who had created the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise (four films which have earned over $3 billion worldwide). With such familiar names, how did the masked-man’s return to the big screen go so wrong and keep people from entering the gate? This blogger can only venture a few opinions:
Old Property – THE LONE RANGER is one of America’s oldest hero-properties, having made its debut on radio in 1933. The character likely reached its peak in 1957, when its eight-year run on TV ended, and a big-screen adaptation in 1981 was another commercial failure. The property is too old and has been out of the public’s mindset for too long, and this past weekend it went up against a familiar, family-friendly franchise…DESPICABLE ME 2. One could argue that Old West films are a hard sell, but recent efforts like TRUE GRIT (2010), and 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) were warmly received.

Lame Leading Man – The film takes a fresh approach to telling the masked-man’s story. THE LONE RANGER is set in the framework of Tonto recounting the tale. While the technique worked for the most part, it put the film into the odd situation of its title character feeling pushed off to the side. But the real problem was the casting of Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger. While he looked great in the hat and mask, he displayed less charisma than his horse, and his name was not nearly enough to muster an interest from the general public.
Johnny Depp’s Schtick is Getting Old – With a relative unknown in the role of the main character, Disney went with a big name as a sidekick. A fair approach, but the corny appearance of Depp’s Tonto was likely met with a big yawn from the world. Maybe we can blame Tim Burton for this, but moviegoers are seemingly growing weary of seeing Depp dressed up like a weirdo and acting accordingly.

Of course, all of this would have meant nothing if Disney had just made a better movie. Although this Blogger did not think the movie was that bad, film-aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes reports that only 24% of critics gave the film a positive review. Of course, bad movies can make good money too; the 20%-rated TRANSFORMERS sequel (2009) earned over $400 million in the U.S.; good enough to be the fifteenth-highest grossing film in the U.S. all-time. But good movie or not, Disney would hopefully have learned something from THE LONE RANGER and will select and produce their films more wisely in the future, and not just bank on what was done in the past to earn them dough. Good movies, after all, are what brings people through the gate.
What say you?

 

 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Reel Review: THE LONE RANGER


 
Disney’s $250 million production of THE LONE RANGER, likely the oldest hero-property in America, is a wacky-fun, somewhat-overstuffed attempt at an epic Old West film. It is heavy on plot, light on character, full of good intentions, and can be enjoyed for as long as patience and tolerance can hold out.
Native American spirit-walker Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the tale of John Reid (Armie Hammer), who as the last of a gunned-down group of Texas Rangers, dons a mask and seeks justice for his slain brother. As the Lone Ranger, Reid and Tonto together hunt down the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who is dealing with railroad-baron Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson).

THE LONE RANGER sets itself up as a simple vengeance tale, as Reid and Tonto both look for justice against the same men for their own reasons. Such simplicity is not nearly enough for director Gore Verbinski, who beefs up the film with many subplots…ranging from various Old West themes such as the silver-rush, the expansion of the American railroad, the annihilation of the Native Indian, and the spiritual side of the vast frontier. The film is saturated is Old West lore, and Verbinski never thinks twice about stuffing in as much as he possibly can.
Much like a lost Ranger without a horse in the desert, the film begins to wander around aimlessly with the vast amount of plot. Bloated is the first word that comes to mind, as the film often feels like it could have benefitted from some liberal cutting. All that is going on takes attention away from the title character, and he is often lost amidst everything that comes down the mountain of script.

The amount of plot nearly derails the film, but only nearly because there is still a lot to enjoy in THE LONE RANGER. Verbinski keeps the humor light, the action fun, the cinematography stunningly gorgeous, and an classic Old West vibe at all times. Not only is the film saturated in Old West legend, but also in the lore of the genre itself. Dozens of classic Old West films can be seen in one form or another here; not borrowed as much as inspired and there is never a moment where the screen is devoid of something beautiful. Hans Zimmer’s score is just right and serves the film well.
Verbinski also makes a unique choice of the film being told through an extended flashback through Tonto’s eyes. It makes for a fresh approach to the material, and for the most part it works. Since THE LONE RANGER is ultimately an origin tale, Tonto and Reid have to go through a lot of lumps before they eventually get to the friendship that audiences are so familiar with. It takes them a long time to get there, but the wait is eventually worth it.

Acting is a mixed bag. Armie Hammer looks like a good Lone Ranger with his square-jaw and blocked-off stature, and feels right at home with the white hat and black mask. Hammer unfortunately still shows the acting chops of someone snagged off the street with a butterfly net; he never goes very deep and is always one-dimensional. Johnny Depp’s role is more physical than anything else, as his dialogue is always very simple broken English. He is fun in the role, and every time he is on-screen something witty, fun, or bizarre can be expected to happen. William Fichtner turns in a great role as the Big Bad, and rest of the cast including Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, and Barry Pepper are all in great form.
The last twenty minutes consist of a thrilling, rip-roaring, swashbuckling, side-splitting chase scene involving two trains and a soaring rendition of the classic William Tell Overture. It is such a blast to watch and experience that the vast amount of plot taken to get there is nearly forgotten, and audiences with enough patience will certainly be rewarded. THE LONE RANGER is far from perfect, but worth the ride.

BOTTOM LINE: See it
 
 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Year in Film 2013: Episode VI


With the arrival of July, the summer movie season of 2013 hits the half-way point. Similar to June, this month is packed tight with action blockbusters and quiet arthouse flicks.
Rightfully so, the month gets into a gallop with a Disney flick…

THE LONE RANGER – Director Gore Verbinski (PIRATES 1-3, RANGO), re-teams with Johnny Depp in this resurrection of the Old West legend. Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, J. EDGAR) stars as the masked man and is joined by Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, and Helena Bonham Carter.
DESPICABLE ME 2 – The sequel to the successful DESPICABLE ME brings back Steve Carell in the lead role with lots and lots of minions.

THE WAY, WAY BACK – Steve Carell’s second film this month re-unites him with Toni Collette in this coming-of-age story involving a 14 year old, played by Liam James. Sam Rockwell co-stars.
GROWN UPS 2 – Adam Sandler brings back his pals (Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade) for a sequel to a shit movie.

PACIFIC RIM – Director Guillermo Del Toro (HELLBOY, PANS LABRYINTH) unleashes giant monsters on the world, which are combated by equally-giant robots. Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, and Ron Perlman star.
V/H/S/2 – A sequel to the found-footage horror flick.

TURBO – In this animated film, a snail has dreams of becoming the fastest snail in the world. Includes the voice talent of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman, and Michael Pena.
COMPUTER CHESS – This little indie flick takes place in the early 1980’s at a computer-chess tournament. It was shot using equipment specific to the era it takes place in; making it one of the most unique-looking films of the year.

RED 2 – Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren reprise their roles as aging hit-men in this sequel to RED (2010). Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, and Brian Cox co-star.
R.I.P.D. – In this bizarre looking, MEN IN BLACK-inspired flick, Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges star as supernatural cops dispatched to protect the living from evil. Robert Schwentke (RED, FLIGHTPLAN) directs.

THE CONJURING – This highly-touted horror film tells the true story of two paranormal investigators called in to help a family terrorized by a pissed off ghost. Stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga and is directed by James Wan (SAW, INSIDIOUS).
ONLY GOD FORGIVES – Director Nicolas Winding Refn (DRIVE) re-unites with Ryan Gosling in this stylistic crime drama. Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars.

THE WOLVERINE – Flying under the radar of all the superhero films this year is Hugh Jackman’s fifth appearance as the clawed mutant. This adventure takes place after the events of X3 and is directed by James Mangold (WALK THE LINE).
THE SMURFS 2 – As if once wasn’t enough. Stars Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Sofia Vergara, Hank  Azaria, and Katy Perry.

PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES – Three twisted tales of horror all connected by items from a small-town pawn shop. Stars Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Vincent D’Onofrio, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus, Thomas Jane, and Paul Walker.
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Next month, Reel Speak looks at the final month of the Summer Movie Season of 2013.