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The Lone Ranger (2013)
The Lone Ranger is great and I will vehemently disagree with anyone who says otherwise.
I know John Carter --Disney's other big live-action bomb-- has its share of ardent & vocal fanboys. Well, I think The Lone Ranger deserves that, too. Perhaps, even more-so than Carter. It's a big budget niche movie that deserves to find its audience; one that will embrace it and hopefully sing its praises in the near future as I'm about to do right now.
The Lone Ranger is great and I will vehemently disagree with anyone who says otherwise.
I can't think of another film that mythologizes the Old West in such a unique way. It feels like a big screen tall tale, complete with quirky world-building aspects that are stunningly transformative and exciting for this type of film. What other Westerns can you name that feature vast railway conspiracies? Or the intriguingly dark curse of "Wendigo" that throws nature so out of balance, it forces animals to cannibalize themselves? This film makes mysticism an acceptable reason for its hero's ability to survive and will to save the day. All of these aspects feel so fresh when put against the backdrop of a genre we're all so certain we're all-too-familiar with.
I'll get to Depp in a moment, but I have to say I think Armie Hammer is perfectly cast as The Lone Ranger. With that jawline, he looks like he could have stepped right out of the old serials from the 1920s and 30s. He gets every nuance of the character right, from the unexpected comedic notes to the more obvious action lead stuff. He leaps off the screen in the same way Harrison Ford did in the Indiana Jones movies. This guy simply is this character.
Depp is amusing as Tonto, but he is also the one thing that keeps this from being a "10" in my book. The framing device of Old Man Tonto narrating the story already feels like an unnecessary element; now add the unsettling elderly make-up and his bizarre acting choices and you've got a weak spot in an otherwise tour de force film.
Now, the action set-pieces -- which this movie delivers on tenfold. Nowadays, I'm noticing a trend in big budget movies (mostly comic book movies) where the end battles or story climaxes are short-changed by a short running time. Not The Lone Ranger. Once that final train sequence kicks into gear, and that Ranger theme starts blasting, it's a satisfyingly dense and no-holds-barred experience. No cheap tricks to get out early and save budget. No, no. no. The end sequence is packed with several mini-arcs --a staging and editing device best employed by Spielberg's Indy movies-- that strap you in for what seems like a complete and dense thrill ride that lasts and lasts in the best way possible.
I have to hand it to Gore Verbinski. The guy is a visionary director who doesn't get enough cred in nerd circles. I'm not the biggest PoTC fan, but I can recognize his singular talents in every frame of this movie. He's not a generic big budget guy by any stretch. He's got a quirkiness about his work that I find refreshing.
And it's all present in The Lone Ranger. So, saddle up for a one-of-a-kind adventure that's just waiting to be discovered!
Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
Hit-man: Agent 47 is the Ambien of movies, a cinematic sleep-aid if ever there was one.
Wow. Looks like Fox is keeping its interns busy with posting dummy reviews for this movie, praising it with 10's, calling it the best movie ever made, and dissing its critics. Well, I don't work for Fox. I just like movies that don't put me to sleep. And, well, Hit-man: Agent 47 is the Ambien of movies, a cinematic sleep-aid if ever there was one.
A generic story with generic characters, and worst of all, generic action. Maybe the director is to blame -or Skip Woods; who the hell keeps hiring this hack anyway?- but the action too often relies on repetitive gunfights and cheap-looking CGI bodies falling and hitting the floor. Even the big car stunt they replay in all the TV spots over and over again --with the grappling hooks trapping the car in broad daylight-- falls flat the minute Agent 47 starts firing on generic bad guy after generic bad guy. It turns into the same cheap sequence we've already seen twenty times before.
As for Rupert Friend, he's forgettable with a kind of limp calm in his performance that borders on non-existent. It doesn't help that the story doesn't know what it wants out of his character so it rips off far better movies in trying to give him any depth or make him remotely interesting. Terminator 2? Yep! Just like Cameron did with Arnie chasing John Connor, the filmmakers here try and make the audience think 47 is evil and then we're supposed to gasp in shock when he's revealed to be the good guy trying to save a mysterious woman named 'Katia.' The real shocker: the fact that this movie plays this like a big reveal when it's so obvious, Fox's marketing gave it away in the trailers.
And here is the movie's biggest problem: Katia. Her Agent gene, the thing making her capable of all these amazing supernatural physical feats, is wildly inconsistent. First, we're shown she can untie herself from a series of intricate knots before getting sucked into a jet engine. But a few scenes later, she's incapable of untying her wrists from a simple knot when she's tied up in a helicopter. Did they suddenly forget the abilities they literally just established for her?! How about when she's able to evade a thousand security cameras in the airport, but gets caught on camera the moment she steps outside? Or, after a lifetime of civilian life, she's suddenly able to fire weapons and kung-fu fight just as well as Agent 47 because the movie needs her to suddenly do this? Thankfully, Skip Woods doesn't trash the other characters as badly. Quinto's 'John Smith' is fun, and the movie's only bright spot. A mid-movie reveal of his character's invincibility --this due to a gleefully stupid-sounding 'sub-dermal body armor'-- was a welcome twist in an otherwise boring film and the type of dumb fun I expect from this type of pulpy action movie.
Too bad the rest of the movie doesn't follow suit.
Here's hoping the next time they make a Hit-man movie --if there is a next time-- they remember to have fun.
Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
As soon as the movie started, I wanted off the ride.
You've heard the stories about this movie: rogue filmmaker stealthily shoots his feature film in Disney World without being caught or somehow sued to death. The movie screens at Sundance as a buzzworthy curiosity for fans of bizarre midnight movies. The predicted legal backlash from Disney never happens and the movie is allowed to exist and sit in Netflix's Watch Instant library for anyone to see without fear of legal action. So, how does it hold up a few years later, after all the hubbub has died down? Not well is the answer! I was inspired to go back and screen this after I read about another dark Disney-inspired art piece: Banksy's "Dismaland." I don't live in the UK, so I figured the next best thing would be to experience "Escape from Tomorrow" -- a David Lynchian treatment of "The Happiest Place on Earth" that's sadly more fun to talk about than it is to actually watch.
During a family vacation to Disney World, family man Jim is informed that he's being laid off from his job. And, as you can imagine, it's all downhill from there. Soon, the only thing he's riding in the Magic Kingdom is a downward spiral filled with demonic visions, psycho-sexual temptations, and sci-fi dread.
For the next 90 or so minutes, we watch as Jim pervs out on two French tourist girls in the park, has a weird sexual encounter with a woman who may or may not be a witch, and tries to evade an outbreak of a mythical "Cat Flu" that is basically a death sentence of diarrhea. All sounds cool, right? Then why is it such a chore to sit through? The actors.
The actors playing the family --a cast of unknowns-- just scream at each other the entire time, which made me just as uncomfortable as watching real families scream at each other in the real Disney World.
I'll give the movie this: though its writing is borderline cringeworthy, the visuals on display are haunting and well-realized. The "It's a Small World" sequence --filled with a menagerie of cutesy puppet faces turning devilish-- is worth finding on youtube or at least fast-forwarding to, if you're in the mood for something that's simultaneously macabre and funny. Also noteworthy is the climactic sequence in Spaceship Earth where the movie goes into full-blown science fiction and we watch a mad scientist give Jim a brain scan with a Spaceship Earth-themed helmet.
There are a lot of interesting ideas here but the execution to make any of it meaningful never comes close. Due to its production limitations, I was constantly reminded that I was watching a troupe of guerilla filmmakers putting all their effort into secretly filming a movie at a famous landmark instead of just, you know, MAKING A GOOD MOVIE.
I didn't care if Jim made things right with his family, or survived the not-so-hidden horrors that were plaguing him. I just wanted to see what weird Disney-inspired twists the director was going to throw at me next. Sadly, beyond those two striking sequences I mentioned, director Randy Moore's bag of tricks is limited.
The film ends with a doozy of the "WTF did I just watch?" variety, and all I'm left with is a fun movie to recount to friends and a bad taste in my mouth.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Memo to Fox: please return the F4 to Marvel. You have crapped all over this franchise.
Ugh. All I wanted was a good F4 movie. One that could at least stand in conversation with the decent X-Men movies we've gotten in the past few years. These characters deserve a cinematic resurgence. And here it is, the reboot. Back to basics with a new director and a new set of actors. What could go wrong? I, like you, am aware of all the negative hubbub online that surrounds this movie: Trank's apologetic tweet, the leaked first draft of the script that included a battle with Galactus and the appearance of Mole Man, and the reports of massive reshoots and problematic edits that make the end product feel unfinished and rushed. It'd be easy to trash this movie based on those aspects alone, but let's just consider the actual movie we got for this review. Not what could've been, not what almost was. What IS. Let us judge the movie Fox chose to release to us theatrically.
I've seen it. And it's a pile of garbage.
Let's start with the awful casting. Kate Mara does not emote. Just hides behind her wig. Jamie Bell is terrible as Ben Grimm AKA 'The Thing.' They could've at least affected his voice in some way to deepen it and make it sound Thing-like, but they didn't. So we're left with a normal, puny voice coming out of a hunk of CGI crap. It doesn't read as 'real,' it regrettably reads as 'this is a temporary track while we work on the real ADR.' The actor who plays Doom also suffers from this baffling creative choice. He sounds like a stuffy Englishman imitating an American accent, not Dr. Doom! Cheap VFX -- The Human Torch's flight scenes (all TWO of them!) are awful. He looks like unrendered CGI. The Thing looks cartoony. And Mr. Fantastic's stretchability looks like something out of The Mask -- a movie that's more than twenty years old. Planet Zero looked like something out of a generic video game. And why mess with Doom's design? He looks awesome in the comics, and in the other movies, why make him look like a Power Rangers villain in this version? VFX company for this should be banned from making any more movies.
Terrible script -- not sure if this is the editor's fault, or the writer's, but the origin is all screwed up. Why not have Sue teleport with them? Her gaining her invisibility --a staple of this franchise!-- is a tacked-on afterthought. She gets it from the shockwave once they return? Then why doesn't the whole city turn invisible? They were hit by the very same shockwave she was! But, no. So idiotic.
Once the Four get their trademark powers, do we spend time with them? Do we witness their pain, their confusion, the fallout from their experiment gone wrong? Do we watch them cope with these supernatural changes to their bodies and react in horror? Nope. Not even close. We get a title card that says 'One year later' and we skip over what could have been a section of interesting scenes in favor of a lame military subplot with The Thing being used as a Special Ops weapon.
But what about the action, you ask? Surely, that must be fun to watch? NO. There's literally ONE ACTION SCENE in the whole movie and it lasts about a minute and a half. It's the worst and most anti-climactic CBM battle ever put to film. It lacks stakes. We don't have enough visual information to process what threats the F4 (finally grouped together as the super team we recognize) face on 'Planet Zero,' so we're just staring at muddled pixels of CGI as the actors clumsily float around on wires to defeat Dr. Doom using 'teamwork,' I guess? Or punching? It's honestly as dumb as it sounds. They kind of work together to get the Torch to do something and Reed to distract him, and Sue to do nothing, so The Thing can punch Doom.
That's it. That's not only their big SOLE action scene, it's also their big ticket climax. What a joke.
Just rent the older ones with Jessica Alba. At least those movies --while flawed and forgettable-- understood that you need to... A) have the team fight together and learn how to work together, B) show each team member experiencing their changes, learning how to use their powers, C) understand Doom's motives and watch the team face him, and D) end the movie with a climactic battle that lasts longer than 90 seconds.
Thanks for nothing, Fox.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
More like The BLAND from U.N.C.L.E.
Somehow, Guy Ritchie managed to make a movie about cool super spies chasing bad guys through exotic locales during the Cold War totally BORING.
Jokes fall flat. Sight gags are tired before they even start. And the action sequences end just as they begin to get interesting (the island climax suffers the worst in this regard). I will give Guy this: his soundtrack cues for this are great (as they always are in his movies), but his usual bag of tricks, his visual flourishes, are lacking here. He relies too often on goofy, multi-colored split-screens to convey action instead of just CLEARLY SHOWING US THE ACTION.
As for performances, Armie Hammer pulls off his KGB character with some interesting choices. But I'm sorry, Henry Cavill is so vanilla that he can't match Hammer's big, bombastic performance. Cavill is totally miscast; almost feels like he belongs in a parody of this kind of movie and not the actual movie. I didn't find him suave, I found him bland and borderline unwatchable. And don't get me started on his stupid voice for this -- it sounds like a kid imitating the "dubbed" voice you normally hear on old Kung Fu movies.
The TV show was before my time, but I'm a big fan of Guy's movies (usually) and of modern spy films and this one really disappoints. Style and fashion are not enough to carry a movie. Better luck next time, Guy.
L'écume des jours (2013)
Someone needs to put Gondry back on a leash
By now, you pretty much know what you're getting into when you watch a Michel Gondry film. Insanely innovative visuals and whimsical situations with really emotional moments, right?
Well, that works when it's service of a story. But here, in MOOD INDIGO, his style has gone off the rails. It's Gondry-ness for Gondry-ness sake. I had a hard time following the narrative because it was wall-to-wall eye candy with no rhyme or reason or purpose for existing. That's cute when you're an 11 year old who wants to watch something stylish on the surface because you think "it's edgy." But for us adults who actually want to get invested in a movie, in the lives of the characters, it's a pain in the ass.
Let's see-- there's a man in a mouse suit who everyone pretends is a real mouse, there's a claymation doorbell that's constantly getting squashed like a bug, there's a cooking show host that talks to people and hands them food through the TV. But is there a story? HELL NO.
It's only when the movie makes a pretty drastic changeover in style and mood that it actually tells a story and begins to resemble something more along the lines of Eternal Sunshine. But by the time it gets going, it's too late. And I had stopped caring.