Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lone Ranger

The point-of-view of The Lone Ranger may be confusing at the start. We start off in the early thirties at a Wild West show, obviously in San Francisco as you can see the Golden Gate Bridge being constructed in the background. A young boy dressed in western garb complete with mask is eyeing the wild west scenarios when he comes across "The Noble Indian in his Native Habitat." It's Tonto, and, as we look past the hundreds of wrinkles piled on one another, Johnny Depp.

The point of view is that of Tonto, whose presence is a bit hard to define. He's crazy Indian, he's wise man, he's perhaps even our Greek chorus. But as long as we remember he's Johnny Depp -- and, really, who could forget that fact? -- we like him, we laugh when he makes a smirking comment, and we're on his side, completely. It's the Lone Ranger we wonder about, whom we doubt.

The movie flashes backward to the 1860's, to the establishment of the old west, where Indians and White Men had a treaty that we know is soon to be broken. A young lawyer comes out west, comes home, although we never discover why. He sees his brother, who is seemingly 180 degrees from him, a brave lawman, a Ranger. And we see the brother's wife, the former girlfriend of our future Ranger.

The casting is wonderfully done here. You've got a couple of villains present in Tom Wilkinson as a railroad man and William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish, an old west criminal if ever there was one. Other parts, although well cast, have nowhere really to go (Helena Bonham Carter, you don't have to be in every movie, you know), but that is so true of the film as a whole.

The writing is an abomination. The screenwriters, the story writers, should all be tied to the tracks and left for the train to devour. It's the end of the movie before we really meet the Lone Ranger, where Silver rears up and you hear, "Hiyo, Silver, away!"  It's most of the movie before you can figure out what's going on. However, there are two good action sequences, both involving trains. And runaway trains. If you like trains, you might actually like part of this movie. The rest of it, well, sleep until you hear the woo-woo.

I really like Armie Hammer, and will probably see anything he's in. He does his earnest best here, but his earnestness can't save this movie. Neither can a somewhat, sometimes funny Johnny Depp, although he is certainly a character to behold in a long list of Depp characters.  But again, not enough. Surely, those old stories of western heroes could have provided better storylines. I guess when you're dealing with an origin story, you'll usually find yourself mired in mud.

Pass on this one. Thumb's down.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Words


There is no way of writing a review of The Words without giving spoilers. So, if you’re deathly afraid of hints, stay away and don’t read any further. However, there would be no earthly way I could get you to rent The Words if I told you that this is a tale about a young author who can’t get his book published.

So, I’ll add to that story by saying that, after three discouraging years of writing and getting no interest from publishers, he comes across a fully written novel, apparently out of the past, a forgotten remnant hidden in an old valise in a Parisian antique store. He recognizes immediately that the story, the style of writing, is just as how he had always wanted to be able to write. So much so that he convinces himself for a moment that he, himself, had written it, even though he knows deep down he did not, and has no idea who did. So he gives it to a publisher who recognizes a best seller and publishes it.

This story isn’t linear at all, but circular. In fact, it’s a story within a story within a story. I found myself mystified at each level, wondering what will come next. Such a simple story. Yet, as it turned out, not so simple at all.

Bradley Cooper stars in The Words.  Cooper is getting quite a deserved reputation for not trading in on the success of such films as The Hangover by appearing in special, smaller films like The Silver Linings Playbook and, yes, The Words.

Thumb’s up.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Hitchcock

There are two Hitchcock films out there -- this is the one with the outstanding cast but weirdly constructed story.

You immediately recognize Anthony Hopkins, even with face makeup and tummy pillow, as he addresses the audience -- much like he did in his well-known TV show. Only this time it's in color, so you eventually realize this is for real, not a TV show at all.  In this case, the killer behind the Psycho story is talking to him.

It's a contrivance that's not needed, is a total distraction, and badly adds to the macabre aspect of how Hitchcock brought Psycho to life.  It wasn't an easy transition from book to Hitchcockian suspense thriller, as this movie will tell you. It shows that much of Hitchcock's success was due to his brilliance and his wife's assistance.

Much of the film, actually, is a love story between an arrogant film director with numerous self doubts and an accomplished woman with tons of film experience in her own right. Only Alma walks several steps behind the master in any public appearances.  However, the movie heavily hints at the dark side of Hitchcock, as he's shown ogling models, even photos of them, from his studio office. And this was before The Birds, where he alledgedly stalked Tippi Hedren.

The guest stars are interesting. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh as a rather straightforward, beautiful actress who had a huge resume before Psycho. You wonder why she even took the role, but that's never explained. The role in Psycho was a total 180 from her usual screen roles of the pure damsel in distress. Perhaps that was the point.

And a young Anthony Perkins is played by James D'Arcy, a really young, bumbling actor with mother issues. I thought Perkins turned in a fine, nuanced performance, and his performance is what really made the movie click.

There are many, many funny moments in the film, not the least provided by Hitchcock. As he told one actor, "Call me Hitch, and hold the Cock." And the scenes with the industry's Censor board are hysterical. Imagine not being able to show a toilet in a film...?

Hitchcock is thoroughly enjoyable with a smart screenplay, unfortunately with dark overtones lain in the form of Hitch's demon (the Psycho killer) and his own inadequacies thrown in. Helen Mirren is a jewel in the role, as she's able to look past all of these foibles to the miracle-maker on the set. As a viewer, however, I can't forget the monster Hitch truly was, albeit a magical filmmaker. I absolutely believe the extraordinary measures he took to ensure that his leading ladies gave him their best performances. Talk about macabre.

Thumb's up.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Ted

I really like Family Guy, but I don't particularly care for Peter Griffin.  I love Stewie and Brian, but Peter goes over my line for decency. Not just over. Puke-fest over.

Ted is a cute, rather large teddy bear who has Peter Griffin's voice. Not surprisingly, that's because he's played by Ted's screenwriter and director Seth MacFarlane. Ted is just a fuzzy reimagined Peter, with the same scatological humor and mind-bending grossness. You can see why I'm not crazy about Ted the movie or Ted the character.

I like humor that's surprising, and Ted the character is certainly that. Foul-mouthed, gross, violent at times, but his humor is certainly surprising. But I do also want my humor to be witty. There's no wit within 10 yards of Ted.

Thankfully, the movie is somewhat saved by actors Mark Wahlberg, who plays innocent dumb guy really well, and Mila Kunis, who can do practically anything. There is a bit of originality in the screenplay, in that Ted as a character has never been drawn quite like this before, where the public knows all about him. But that originality is lost once the movie gets going, because we can predict pretty much where the story is going, even if we can't predict which prostitute(s) Ted will end up with. And why.

Thumbs down.

Dredd

I first met Karl Urban about 15 years ago, when he was a virtually unknown actor from New Zealand. I soon found out, though, that the guy took chances on stage. I saw him do impressions, mostly of Elvis, and strip down to his shorts.  Just to entertain us.

Fastforward and the guy is a fairly big star, starring in his own movies. The current one is Dredd, and while it's certainly Dredd-full, it's thankfuly not dreadful.

If you know the comic books at all, Judge Dredd is one of many Judges who go around MegaCity, cleaning the place up. It's not terribly clean-up-able, and so each judge is police, judge, jury and executioner.

Thankfully Dredd doesn't spend a whole lot of time setting up the futuristic situation. It just dives in, introducing us to a rookie judge who is assigned to Dredd to see if she's judge-worthy. She happens to be a mutant, which is usually unlawful, but in this case, an experiment. Thanks to this character's introduction, the story becomes quite interesting.

Dredd and the rookie become locked into an apartment complex and have to face the drug runners who want to erase them from the scene. Because of this, and maybe in spite of this scenario, the action is rather repetitive. You can only see ten or us heads being blown to bits before it becomes a yawner. Fortunately, we have a really intriguing villain, Ma-Ma, played by the always-interesting Lena Headey (300).

I found myself bored at various parts of the action film, but quite interested in other parts. I like the fact that Urban never showed his face, not once, in keeping with the spirit of the comic. You can't say that about many movie stars.

Thumb's up.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

If you read all the news about The Hobbit, Peter Jackson's take on a small children's tale, you'll know that much has been added to the book to make it a trilogy.  Yes, we're in The Lord of the Rings territory now, with the capabilities of expanded versions and 3D trolls and... oops, no spoilers, eh?

Sorry about the "troll" mention, but Bilbo talks about trolls in The Fellowship of the Ring (the movie), so we should know it's coming.

I absolutely took delight in this movie. No, I didn't think it was too long.  I thought it was much too short, about two parts too short.  And when it's over, I'll probably feel the same.  I laughed during the rather lengthy (but never  boring) beginning when we meet the dwarves, who come unannounced into Bilbo's house and devour every piece of food he has saved for a rainy day.  Little did Bilbo know he was saving it for the beginning of his great adventure.

Hobbits don't like adventure, or so we're told in the beginning of this tale.  And we, those of us in our audience seats, are much like Hobbits.  We're happier to stay there, munching on our popcorn, cheering on our heroes -- even if they happen to be a lot shorter than we're used to.  But Bilbo, though thrust into this adventure, is the one who brings us along, because he just has to see what lies beyond that next mountain. And so do we.

I loved each of the dwarves, and hopefully by the time Part 2 arrives in December 2013, I'll know each of their names and faces.  I think I have most of them, and those names don't even sound like Grumpy or Doc or Sneezy or....  

Bring it on!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

There's something quite special about discovering a small film, a movie that none of your friends have mentioned, whose ads don't blow away the newspaper pages. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those films.
I must say, however, I've read many a quick review, which has told me this is definitely a film to see. There's even some veiled Oscar talk.
Small films like this don't get their actors nominated, but this brilliant screenplay (by Stephen Chbosky, based on a novel by Chbosky) might force a second look. And, as to the acting, it's really superb. The Academy might reconsider its guidelines.
We first see Charlie when he's about to go to high school for the first time. You learn almost immediately that Charlie hasn't been to school because he's been in a hospital. Knowing no one, this introvert goes about trying to find his way through the hell of high school, and tries to make friends. With a little bit of effort on his part, he finds one in Patrick (Ezra Miller), and through Patrick's connections, Sam (the all-grown-up-Hermione from Harry Potter, Emma Watson).
One of the great parts about this film is that we follow all three characters, not just Charlie, and each has moments that reveal. Most of these moments are quite painful but quite real. You may recognize yourself in one of these lives.
A nice little perk is the appearance, albeit short, of Paul Rudd as one of Charlie's teachers.
Thumb's up.

Skyfall

I saw my first James Bond movie in 1962. Every Saturday I would go to the Village Theatre in Coronado for the matinee, never having any idea what was showing. I would just go, get my Flicks and a Coke, and sit down. I saw a lot of turkeys, as you can imagine, but I also saw some gems like Wizard of Oz ("What?! A black and white movie?!) and Dr. No.
Skyfall is as good as those early Bond films, if not better. And better than the first two Craig Bond films, if I may. Casino Royale was awfully good, showing us a young, untried Bond killing his first spy. Quantum of Solace was as much a mystery as the title. Skyfall, although its title is a mystery, is a perfect gem, and the meaning of the title is eventually revealed.
Our Bond is self-assured in this third version, although he still has his issues. He apparently has an orphan issue, as this movie reveals, and it's through his relationship with M (played stunningly by Judi Dench) that we learn about this. M has a few issues, too, and it's great fun to get a tease of her history with MI6.
Javier Bardem is our laughing hero this time, and although he's quite colorful (and rather persistent), he's kind of a retread of so many other villains in, if not Bond history, comic book history. In fact, think Joker Light and you'll be there.
I highly recommend Skyfall. It's not only entertaining, it will stay with you days if not weeks later. Thumb's up.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie is a beautifully crafted stop-motion animated film about a boy who brings his dog, his best friend, back to life after a tragic accident.
It's Tim Burton all the way, and the result is much too scary for pre-teens. Teenagers might get a kick out of it, certainly, and adults (like me) who grew up on horror and sci fi movies will surely enjoy the frequent references to these old movies.
We kept poking each other in the ribs, calling out names. "The Birds! Godzilla! Bride of Frankenstein!"
Of course, the kid is Viktor Frankenstein, the next door neighbor's girl's first name is Elsa (after Elsa Lanchester, who inhabited the Bride of Frankenstein), and the homages go on and on. However, it's a big long in the set-up, and only really gets rolling when the school kids figure out how to put together their project in the school science fair by bringing their own beloved dead pet back to life.
There's no Disney ending here, beware. There's no moral to the story. In fact, there's no end at all, really. It's a terrific little idea once more destroyed by the fact that a movie needs to be 90 minutes or more, and thus is highly repetitive. Still, if you love those horror homages, you'll love Frankenweenie. And you certainly have to appreciate the artistry that went in to making this movie.
Thumb's up.