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The Wicker Man (2006)
A Drone of A Remake
drone: 1. A male bee, especially a honeybee, that is characteristically stingless, performs no work, and produces no honey. Its only function is to mate with the queen bee 2.To make a continuous low dull humming sound 3.To pass or act in a monotonous way Any or all of the above definitions are apt for this utter farce of a remake of the 1973 cult classic. As a comedy it does the job very well especially in the penultimate scenes where Nicolas Cage kicks a couple of women who get in his way and dons a bear suit to join a parade of paganistic and predominantly female islanders in an attempt to rescue his daughter from being a human sacrifice to the nature gods. Unfortunately for him, things are not what they seem and he realizes too late that he was the intended victim all along.
The misogynistic outlook of director LaButte is clearly evident in portraying the women of Summersisle island as a domineering self-contained self-righteous heartless lot who have absolute control over the few men that do inhabit the island, enslaving them and rendering them speechless by removing their tongues. Far cry from the 1973 original where both genders are treated as equals and respected in whatever occupations they practice.
The spiritual overtones of the original film are non-existent in this remake. Sergeant Howie in the 1973 version could come across as having died a martyr to his (Christian) faith and even Lord Summerisle commends him for this before having the former consigned to be a living sacrifice to propitiate the nature gods. But in the remake, Cage as Edward Malus is simply another sacrificial lamb along with the other creatures confined within the wicker man. There's no chanting of ancient hymns, dancing around maypoles nor feasible explanations for performing certain rituals as in the previous version. Which might pose a problem for those who haven't watched nor are aware of the 1973 original.
And there's the opening scene with Edward Malus witnessing the car accident involving a mother-daughter pair and subsequent flashbacks that he experiences afterwards which affect him so much he's had to take medication. The significance of this to the main storyline is poorly if ever explained and eventually forgotten as the plot thickens.Why the police force would allow one of its members who is clearly psychologically and emotionally disturbed to go on a missing person case is beyond me.
And the statement he utters when he's in the wicker man and his daughter rushes up with a burning torch "Put it down HONEY" is just so appropriate. Or poor choice of words depending on one's viewpoint.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
The Groan Ranger or the Lone Deranger
Either of the aforementioned titles would have been more appropriate than just The Lone Ranger. Armie Hammer as the titular character does little more than whinge and complain and question about every sticky situation he gets himself into, in conjunction with Tonto (the "Deranger"), who true to his name, is more loco than an ancient Nordic berserker in his quest to avenge the massacre of his tribe by hunting down the men responsible. In truth, Tonto is the real protagonist, as he does most of the fighting and killing and talking, leaving the real LR little more than a bumbling sidekick. And what's with the dead crow on his head - shouldn't he be affiliated with the Crow tribe in that case instead of Comanche? - at any rate, as far as I can recall from reading countless Western novels, the native tribes usually adorned themselves with the feathers and not the entire bird. I'd like to know what today's Comanche think of about Johnny Depp's portrayal. Wouldn't be surprised if they decided to unite and go on the warpath.
Clearly the target audience are the gen-Yers and Z-ers, many of whom will have never heard of nor seen the original TV serial starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. But even the, why distort the original storyline and throw in incongruous special effects that will be disproven by Mythbusters - like a horse leaping from a rooftop to a train over a ten foot distance, and then dropping perfectly straight into a train carriage just before it goes through a tunnel. Not to mention numerous anachronisms in time and history - Sears Roebuck wasn't formed till the early 20th century? And what's with the scorpion-munching rabid rabbits? That said I did have a good laugh throughout the film only because I found 250 million ways to turn a classic Western icon into a comedic travesty.
Who was that masked man? Who cares?!
Lo chiamavano Trinità... (1970)
Spaghetti Western With Beans and Bread, Please
There will always be detractors for the spaghetti Western genre, and those who deem this film as worthless and wishy-washy bargain bin value viewing, but the fact that it has spawned innumerable spoofs, sequels and imitations, and even a brief acknowledgement by Quentin Tarantino in his 2012 smash movie Django Unchained, goes to show that My Name Is Trinity is a classic in itself, and therefore has something going for it. Starring no less than the incomparable duo of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, who are the Western version of Abbott and Costello, albeit more adept and efficient. The plot is simplistic - typical good guys versus bad guys with the usual gunplay and barroom fistfights that are expected elements in a Western, yet atypical in that the protagonists are not the clean-cut nor grim sitting high-in-the-saddle sort of riders or gunfighters. Terence Hill is the titular character, a dusty raggedy saddle tramp, who lazes on a travois dragged by his faithful steed, drifting about with no set goal or purpose, belying the fact that he's the fastest gun in the West. Bud Spencer is his brooding bulk of a brother, the incongrously appellated Bambino (little boy), a trying-hard horse rustler, masquerading as the sheriff of a small town. Though they can't stand the sight of each other, force of circumstances compel them to unite to defend a community of settlers from a local baron who covets the valley the settlers have moved to for its rich grasslands, as well as from bullying Mexican bandidos, climaxing into an epic elaborately staged brawl beloved of Hill-Spencer diehards. The chemistry between Hill and Spencer is just contagious, even if they play characters with opposing personalities and conflicting interests, their movements fluid and coordinated even if their fighting methods differ. Small wonder that they went on to generate more movies, not just Westerns, and garnering a huge following especially in Europe, as well as spawning a sequel Trinity Is Still My Name, another one not to miss.
Django Unchained (2012)
Blood,Guts & Glory - Just The Way Tarantino Does It
Ostensibly a tribute to spaghetti Western genre of films, DU delivers the goods as far as gunplay and bloodbaths go - in the first ten minutes a man and a horse get their heads blown off. Then the body count gradually increases every 20 minutes till this almost 3 hour serious version of Blazing Saddles comes to an end. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy watching it - viewed it a second time as a matter of fact - but felt that Tarantino could have done better with a more viable screenplay and organised direction. There seems to be a lot of disjointed moments that need further elucidation - more than coincidental that the very first plantation visited happened to harbour the fugitives from justice that the main characters were seeking for. Christoph Waltz turns in a memorable performance as Dr King Schultz, German expatriate ex-dentist who speaks impeccable Oxford Dictionary style English, who has turned to bounty hunting as a calling, evidently seeing more profit in removing whole (bad) bodies than just bad teeth. He is supposed to be the good guy, but at times comes through as a self-righteous stuck-up pompous a-- who justifies his actions with pieces of legal documents (warrants) authorizing him to take down outlaws, dead or alive (preferably the former). Jamie Foxx as the eponymous character seems rather stiff and hesitant in the beginning, as if thinking what to do or say next, and only gradually comes out of his shell, as it were, much later in the film, when he's dressed ostentatiously in blue boy costume and astride a noble steed and gets to do a lot of shooting and talking. Leonardo DiCaprio is the delightfully despicable plantation owner Calvin Candie, who enjoys slave fights and black wenches, with a dialogue of high vocabulary to match Schultz's. Other characters do little more than just stand aside as living set decorations. Samuel L Jackson as Stephen is in my opinion the most unforgettable and noteworthy character in the film; he seems to revel in his role as the subservient yet outspoken black mayordomo to Mr Candie ("who dat niggah on dat nag?!"), although coming across as comical and stereotypical Uncle Tom or Stepin Fetchit, he proves to be very perceptive and astute than given credit for - as in the scenes where he correctly deduces that Broomhilda and Django already know each other previously. A lot of the movie is taken up by needless and irrelevant scenes, like the Regulators aka Bag Men (precursors to the KKK), and Django's trip to the Dickey Quint mines in the hands of 3 inept and inefficient mine minions, in which Tarantino has a bit role speaking in a rather atrocious and laughable attempt at Aussie Strine. And to the more historically savvy, there's the numerous anachronisms and factual errors to nitpick at - dynamite, drinking straws, sunglasses and the Henry Repeater rifle, to name a few. But don't let this review put you off from seeing DU. It does have its glorious moments, blood and gore and all. But as with Tarantino films, don't expect a history lesson to base your book report on.
Les Misérables (2012)
Miserable Movie Musical
Having watched the Broadway version of Les Miserables, I had high hopes that this would be at least an adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic transposed from stage to film, done for the benefit of the hoi polloi who, for various reasons, are unable to witness the stage musical in all its glory. What we get instead is a truncated plot with more holes in it than Swiss cheese and a mishmash of actors and actresses, all professionals and veterans, singing in disharmony and disunity. Oh, well, perhaps I may have overstated. Hugh Jackman does have a pleasant singing voice, and his performance is at best, passable, as there are moments when one can feel the embodiment of Valjean in him, but at other times he is just, well, Jackman. Russell Crowe, while turning out an physically apt menacing presence as Javert, struggles to maintain the high C's (or should that be D's?), and it shows in his facial expressions. Anne Hathaway has a brief but memorable performance as Fantine, her rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream", while not particularly outstanding imho, does tend to rend at one's heart-strings, especially coupled with her gaunt and pathetic countenance of the factory worker turned prostitute.
Most disappointing of all, are the portrayals and performances of the characters the Thenardiers, who are supposed to provide the comic relief to an otherwise dark period of French revolutionary history. They are simply not in any way detestable nor funny, and I question their physical appearances particularly Mme Thenardier (in the novel and stage) is supposed to be a large, dumpy, homely harridan, here in the movie version, she's a buxom (if still dumpy) hussy shamelessly flaunting her wares at the inn's male customers. Mr Thenardier is simply too well-groomed and natty to the point of almost effeminate, and his half-hearted monotonal singing doesn't help either. "Master of the House" performance, supposedly the highlight of this particular scene, seems a bit rushed and makes little or no impact at all to the point of being forgettable, and neither Sascha Baron-Cohen nor Helena Bonham- Carter seem neither comfortable singing nor enjoying their roles.
There are a lot more I could say about this film rendition of a Broadway classic - but that has already been mentioned in other (negative) reviews in IMDb, so I'll not waste words nor space reiterating. the critic review at everythingmusicals.com pretty much sums up my feelings about this film - DON'T BOTHER watching at cinema.
"Taken" For A Ride
I give this flick a thumbs up for the non-stop action and thrills it provides, on the other hand thumbs down for an implausible plot with gunshot plot holes. Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA agent who calls upon his skills and experiences in the good guys vs bad guys field when his beloved teenage daughter is kidnapped in Paris while on holiday by an Albanian mafia to be sold into prostitution. While his resolute courage and resourcefulness and abilities are not what is called into question, the situations he gets himself into are. Are we to believe that he could easily track down the head of the kidnapping ring based on a brief phone conversation and very vague tips from fellow ex-CIA members? And then there's the fact that he on his lonesome manages to score a round into 35 antagonists, yet he himself escapes with barely a scratch. Albanians, Frenchmen and Arabs must be such lousy shots. The there's the scene when he does get caught by the mob and hung by the wrists from the ceiling, and at the opportune moment, the bolts connecting the pipes he's shackled to give way and he instantly is free of his bonds to tackle the baddies. Perhaps Lady Luck was with him all the way through. Not to mention the incongruous ending where he brings his daughter to singing idol Sheera for voice lessons. After all that she went through, surely she would've suffered a great deal of post-traumatic stress, yet she acts as if the whole thing never happened - or maybe she went to an exceptional skillful head-shrinker. For all that, ignoring what I've just mentioned, just sit back and enjoy the action.
The Apartment (1960)
Definitely Not A "Lemon" Lemmon Movie
A timeless classic in director Billy Wilder's typical anti-establishment satirical style, this is one of Jack Lemmon's best imho. He plays the protagonist CC Baxter, working in a large insurance firm in New York City, just one of many faces in a sea of desks and office machines on a floor of the building. Though he is surrounded by a multitude of people in and out of the office, he is alone socially, having no visible family nor close friends. The main diversion (if it can be called that) he has is lending out his bachelor style apartment to the middle-ranking executives of the insurance firm for their extra-marital trysts, in return they promise him that they will put in a good word with the higher management for him to get promoted to a better position. This he complies with, even if it puts him at such as a disadvantage as having to stand outdoors in freezing weather while waiting for the current occupant to vacate the apartment. In reply to one reviewer who questioned why the philandering men don't just take their lovers to a hotel, there are two possibilities: First, they were too tight-fisted to pay the expense of a room in a hotel - why spend money when they could just use a low-ranking junior employee's joint for free, and the second and more likely reason, is that there's the risk that they would be seen by known associates and acquaintances if they were to conduct trysts in such a public place such as a hotel, and their personal affairs revealed to their detriment. But then I digress. A lot of viewers find no humour nor romance in this movie, even if it is classified as a romantic comedy, and to an extent they are right. The supposedly funny scenes are not the sort that you would want to guffaw at, maybe just a snicker or two, but on the whole it does have its light moments, mostly based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation of situations, like Baxter's doctor neighbor assuming that he (Baxter) is a womanizing playboy causing a lot of ruckus most nights in his apartment when actually it's the doing of others. The fact that he leaves a wastebasket full of empty alcohol bottles (courtesy of the executive's liaisons) outside his door doesn't help improve his standing in the doc's eyes either. If by definition of romance, one would expect hot steamy kissing and bed scenes, then prepare for disappointment, as this movie contains none of that. Baxter does eventually fall for pretty elevator operator Fran Kubelik (played so expertly by Shirley McLaine), but does so in a modulated, hesitant way, and only because circumstances begin to arise such that she ends up in his apartment (after being left behind by her lover Sheldrake), and he's left to pick up the pieces of her failed romance literally, just like he's left to collect the litter left behind in his apartment by his higher up bosses after their dalliances. Fred McMurray is memorable as the sleazy despicable Personnel Director Jeff Sheldrake, a role as far from what we expect from McMurray, who usually plays nice guy in previous movies. He is deliciously detestable in playing on the emotions of Kubelik, making her think that he truly loves her and will divorce his present wife to marry her. The other characters - the middle ranking managers, the office workers, etc serve merely as cogs to fill in the completeness of the wheel to get the story going. All in all this is a very watchable film, and one deserving to rank as one of the classics in film history.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
Based on the excellent novel by renowned science fiction author H.G. Wells, this watchable and updated remake of the 1933 film starring Charles Laughton plays on the Frankenstein theme where man attempts to play God and improve upon Mother Nature. Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is a castaway of a shipwreck who serendipitously lands on an isolated island in the Pacific, and becomes the guest of the main inhabitant, Dr Moreau who appears seemingly hospitable enough at first. His other companions are ex-mercenary Montgomery (Nigel Davenport), and a beautiful yet emotionally distant woman Maria (Barbara Carrera),whom the doctor claims to have rescued from poverty from another country and brought up as his ward. Braddock's stay is normal albeit boring at first (not really much to do on an isolated island, is there?), then he begins to notice that things are not what they seem - the strange animal sounds that emanate from the forest at night, and the weird facial features of the servants who wait upon the doctor. His worst fears are confirmed when he encounters the results of the doctor's experiments - upright hairy creatures (who look like variations of the Wolfman of the old horror movies) that appear human and yet are not exactly men, though they wear clothing and can speak. He realizes that Dr Moreau is a madman doing modern Frankenstein-type experiments by messing up with the DNA of humans and animals, with Montgomery as a contemporary Igor - how the doctor obtains and maintains sterility of his concoctions and instruments without the benefit of refrigeration or sterilization in such primitive conditions is a moot point.
When Braddock protests at the cruel treatment of the creatures, Dr Moreau attempts to justify his experiments by explaining that by doing so, humanity would be benefited by elimination of birth defects and such, but Braddock is unconvinced.
Though they are repulsive-looking in appearance, the viewer can't help but sympathize with the plight of the "manimals", who live together in squalor in a dark cave, kept in line by The Laws established by Moreau - do not kill, do not shed blood, do not walk on all fours, etc. - repeated on an almost daily basis by their apparent leader the Sayer of the Law (Richard Baseheart), who looks the most "human" and "civilized" of the lot. Infractions of the Law results in being brought to the so-called House of Pain, where Moreau attempts to "correct" the miscreant and remind him that he is human and not animal.
The turning point in the film is when the Bullman (obviously originally a bison by the presence of a hairy hump on his back), having broken the law of shedding blood, attempts to flee rather than face punishment and is gunned down by Braddock. Yet despite having broken the law against killing, Braddock goes apparently unpunished, establishing in the minds of the other man-beasts of the unfairness of the Law - they seem to ask silently, why can this man kill and go scot-free and we can't?, and the eventual murder of Montgomery at the hands of Dr Moreau himself reinforces the double-standards of The Law in their eyes, and they eventually rise and revolt against the doctor, killing him, destroying the compound in which he lives in and setting it on fire. Ironically, it is this very act of staging a collective uprising which brings out the "humanity" of the creatures, as it shows that they can after all, think and plan and not merely act on their basic instincts, as the scenes where they suspend the doctor on a rope and systematically destroy the House of Pain and release the captive animals show. So in a way, Dr Moreau's experiments were not a total failure as he thought, they just didn't turn out the way he anticipated.
Fat Jokes Starting To Wear Thin
Starts out hilarious at first with the wedding sequence at the beginning which turns out to be a dream sequence in Sherman's mind, but one can only take so much of the toilet humor and ribbing about fatness and obesity after a while. Apart from the main characters Sherman and Buddy, Eddie Murphy reprises his multiple roles as each of the family members of the Klump family with the exception of the youngest son, and proves his versatility in playing different characters. A pity that there's more emphasis on the fart gags and sexual innuendo than in the actual plot of retrieving the scientific formula and banishing the obnoxious Buddy Love from Sherman's genetic existence. Eddie Murphy is a talented comedic actor, but I hope there is not going to be another sequel to this movie. Time to move on, Eddie.
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Method Acting and Directing by Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando's first - and only - directorial debut, which was originally slated to be over 5 hours long! I'm glad it was cut down to just a little over 2 hours, and even then that was overly long for a Western movie in my opinion. Kudos to Brando for efforts to create a different backdrop of scenery like ocean waves crashing against the coastline with a beach house in the background instead of the usual dusty and grassy plains or desert that one usually associates in the Western genre. The score by Hugo Friedhofer is fitting, though not of the unforgettable category like, say John Williams' in Jaws or Indiana Jones or Ennio Morricone's soundtracks in The Good The Bad and The Ugly. On the other hand, the plot appears to be somewhat disjointed - it appears that in whittling down the original 5-hour to the present, some vital elements were inadvertedly removed, such as the main character Kid Rio escaping the Sonora prison chained to his Mexican cellmate, fleeing on foot through arid country with the nearest town hundreds of miles away - and the next scene shows they are resting in the shade of rocks liberated from each other. How did they manage to break the leg chain without any visible tools or aid from other people? Brando's method acting is plainly seen, his mumbling sweet-nothings in the ears of pretty women and his animal magnetism that is almost primitive permeates throughout the film, faintly reminiscent of the character Kowalski that he played in A Streetcar named Desire, one can't help feeling some disgust at the way he lies and wheedles his way into women's hearts yet be mesmerized. His amateurish attempts to direct, however, can be clearly seen as in too much time,was wasted on the coastal beach scenes where Rio and his gang relax and recuperate at the Chinaman's beach hut. Also, it is not explained why a sheriff would choose to live in an isolated, albeit beautiful home near the coast away from the main town that he is policing, wouldn't it make /more sense for him to live closer to town for easy availability should emergencies arise? Also how Rio manages to trick the odious yet dimwitted deputy Lon into releasing him from his cell with an empty gun makes for a questionable if comical highlight of the film.