Posted on | December 7, 2013 | 1 Comment
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the satisfyingly exhilarating follow-up to The Hunger Games, is easily one of the most entertaining sequels to come out of Hollywood in a long time, thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s riveting lead performance and director Francis Lawrence’s phenomenal adaptation of Suzanne Collin’s bestselling book.
The plot is sophisticated and multi layered but the basic gist is this: The previous year, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) won the Hunger Games, the televised death match where kids fight to the death, along with love interest Peeta Mellark. Now, her and Peeta have caused a revolution against the rich and evil that live in the Capitol. Things get even worse when the dictator behind the Capitol, President Snow, announces that the 75th annual Hunger Games will have previous winners compete. Now, Peeta and Katniss are forced back into the arena for a death match with more enemies, more suspense, and more action than before.
All this sounds very heavy handed but director Francis Lawrence never loses sight of the depth and heart that makes this series special. Unlike the previous installment, Catching Fire doesn’t race to begin the Games. In fact, it’s not until halfway into the film that the Games begin. Lawrence takes his time setting the scene. We get to know Katniss better this time around, but we also get to know the supporting cast, as well.
There’s certainly a lot going on here: a love triangle, old grudges, politics, fashion, and bloody death matches and it’s a surprise everything stays together. The secret is that Suzanne Collins (author of the book series) served as one of the screenwriters. Collins obviously knows the story best and you can tell. Shockingly, there weren’t any big scenes I missed from the book and some added witty dialogue.
The cast, here, is spectacular, starting with Jennifer Lawrence. As Katniss, she’s bold, tough, and conflicted. The character is a heroic one but Lawrence also paints her as a wounded, flawed, somewhat tragic hero. It’s this nuanced heroine that makes this series unforgettable.
The only slight disappointments are Peeta and, the other love interest, Gale. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, respectively, are decent actors and do a fine job, but unlike Lawrence, they don’t exactly resemble the book’s descriptions. In fact, some of the smaller characters threaten to steal the show (not a problem). Jena Malone, as fierce and funny Games competitor Johanna Mason, is sharp and hilarious, thanks to some memorable moments that make her small role stick out. Sam Claflin and Jeffrey Wright are also fantastic, as fellow Tributes (the name for Hunger Games competitors). Rounding out the cast is Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the deceptive mastermind behind the Games.
Catching Fire has a number of heart string tugging moments but there’s also enough bravura set-pieces to rival most summer blockbusters. Once the Hunger Games begins, it’s all action-all the time. But that doesn’t matter because the fights are filmed beautifully and careful and are a thrill to watch. It also doesn’t hurt that there is real suspense here.
Another strong aspect of the film is the look. Lawrence doesn’t try to mimic previous director Gary Ross’ shaky-cam shots nature shots of hazy beauty, nor the over-the-top Capitol fashion. This time around, things are more down to Earth. The sets look lived in and the everything is snowy and dark. Before and during the Games, the dominant colors are gray, blue, and white. Unlike other franchises, The Hunger Games seems to be developing a new, singular look for each film.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is thrilling and thoughtful. It serves as the perfect antidote to this summer’s lackluster crop of ho-hum blockbusters. Ending with a massive cliff-hanger, Catching Fire is the must-seed blockbuster of the season. The odds are certainly in this franchise’s favor…
Posted on | November 10, 2013 | 1 Comment
Before Gravity opened on October 4, this year was seeming like another rather ho-hum year for movies, after the very good year for cinema of 2012. But perhaps this sudden flood of great movies should be expected; after all it is awards season. So far, I’ve seen three fall films: Gravity, Robert Redford boating drama All Is Lost, and sci-fi book adaption Ender’s Game. Sci-fi and survival seems to be the current trend in movies, because all three films focus on staying alive under the hardest circumstances and/or jaw-dropping special effects with a dash of scientific smarts. Here are my takes on these three films.
Alfonso Cuaron’s stunning science-fiction masterpiece, Gravity, is one of those films that comes along every so often and simply blows your mind. It’s incredible, beautiful, thrilling haunting, and full of heart; not to mention special effects filled set pieces that you’ll be replaying in your head for weeks. The premise here is fairly basic: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first trip to the moon. Leading her mission is seasoned space vet Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). Everything is going fine when, you guessed it, things start to go wrong. Debris hits, the shuttle is destroyed, and Stone and Kowalsky are separated. As Dr. Stone tries to find safety, a deadly survival adventure begins.
The genius of Gravity is how Cuaron takes this standard disaster movie plot and turns it into a riveting contemplation on life, death, and letting others go. Clooney is funny and likable but he’s basically playing, well, George Clooney The Astronaut. The real surprise here is Bullock, who, as our inexperienced protagonist, gains our sympathy and hope from a brilliant performance. Oscar is sure to come calling.
Gravity is a must-see movie. A must see movie on the big screen. If you didn’t catch it in IMAX 3-D, try just the 3-D, which is probably the most gorgeous, terrifying, and brilliant use of the medium to date. In fact, all of the visual effects are beautiful from the opening pan over Earth to the more showy spacecraft explosions. With awe-inspiring spectacle, terrific performances, and a dazzlingly flawless script, this is truly the best movie of the year so far. From conception to cinema, it took 6 years for Cuaron to make this masterpiece. But trust me, it was worth it. Gravity reminds us of the power of life. And the power of the movies. 5 Stars
Another tense adventure, All Is Lost stars Robert Redford as a nameless guy in his mid-70s on a simple boating adventure. When his 39-foot yacht hits an abandoned shipping container and his boating electronics lose power, he must use his tools, his books, and his will to survive against all odds.
Redford is quite good as the only character in the film and his near-wordless performance is harrowing, beautiful, and achingly amazing. But apart from some truly spectacular moments, I can’t say this is the “performance of a lifetime” acting showcase that most critics have been raving about. In fact, I’d prefer the witty daredevil character type that Redford perfected in classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting over the brooding, elderly everyman we get here.
But the film’s big problem is director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call), who does just an okay job with the script. We know nothing about the only character in the film and most of the running time consists of Redford being tossed around his boat. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of greatness. The cinematography is ravishing, the scenery is terrific, and Redford’s breakdown moment is truly affecting. But these stronger elements can’t save the film from feeling a little bit empty… and occasionally lost. 3 Stars
Ender’s Game, the young adult sci-fi adventure based on the classic 1977 novel by Orson Scott Card, is a surprisingly good film. The first reason is the high caliber cast of Oscar all-stars including Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfield, and Abigail Breslin. These performances vary from slightly laughable to totally enjoyable, bit parts to major characters, but everyone is a blast to watch. Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield plays Ender, a boy who’s a cunning genius at military tactics and battle commands. He must train to lead an army of kid soldiers against an imminent attack by the evil aliens called Formics who almost destroyed the human race long ago.
Director Gavin Hood keeps the story interesting thanks to a smart script and eye-popping special effects. The sequences inside the zero-gravity training environment, The Battle Room, are worth the ticket price alone. When Ender first steps into the room, I got a sense of “I haven’t seen that one before” magic. The film isn’t flawless, however. Thirty-six years after the book was published, the story isn’t really anything new and the movie occasionally drags. But Ender’s Game is still a worthwhile thrill-ride with a smart script and gorgeous visuals that make it worth seeing. 4 Stars
Well, that’s it for now! Expect an early Oscar race analysis soon…
Posted on | September 2, 2013 | 1 Comment
Flick and Flack discuss the highs and lows of Summer Movies 2013. It’s been a (mostly) great summer for film but now it’s time to say so long to the backup singers, comic book superheroes, and other characters that had us riveted at the movies. Goodbye summer, hello fall movie season….
Posted on | August 30, 2013 | 1 Comment
Here’s a quick wrap-up post on five films I’ve seen this summer but haven’t yet reviewed. They’ve been out for a little while but some are definitely worth seeking out.
20 Feet From Stardom: 4 1/4 Stars (Limited release, on DVD soon): You know their voices but not their faces. That’s basically the concept of this fascinating documentary about back up singers (many African-American women) for artists like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Sting, the Talking Heads, Lou Reed, and many more. The women spill the secrets of being a back-up singer and even discuss more wide ranging topics about the music industry. The movie’s funny, insightful, fun, and a good time. Just like listening to your favorite song, you’ll never get tired of this one.
Kon Tiki 4 Stars (Limited Release, on DVD soon): A good ol’ fashioned adventure in an age where everything exciting must be out of this world. The film tells the true story of Thor Heyerdahl, as he leads a small crew of fellow men on a balsa wood raft to cross the 4,300 miles of the Pacific and prove South Americans settled in Polynesia during pre-Columbian times. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have a particularly strong eye for action and have a real sense of location. They’re slightly less talented in the story department; some scenes are too long, others too repetitive. In the lead role, Pål Sverre Hagen is a bit wooden. But for the most part this is a wildly entertaining survival story with depth, seamlessly realistic special effects, and a thrilling shark sequence that makes the film worth seeing alone.
Much Ado About Nothing 2 1/2 Stars (Limited Release, On DVD soon): Joss Whedon’s black and white remix of Shakespeare’s comedy classic tries to be modern and old fashioned, hilarious and solemn. It ends up as an incoherent mess saved by some talented actors. The main problem is that Whedon misunderstands Shakespeare; he directs the early scenes with zero- interest in the source material. Whedon also doesn’t have a clear vision of his interpretation: it’s neither a home movie nor a professional film, and some scenes have a comic fizz while others reek of pretentious melodrama. Luckily, the third act has more comedic energy and dramatic importance than the rest of the film. For the most part you can give the thanks to Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, as Benedick and Beatrice. Unlike their weaker co-stars, the two have the gusto of stage veterans and the timing of stand-up comedians. They deserve to be stars. There are other strokes of brilliance (some unforgettable slapstick, some fabulous dialogue, beautiful cinematography). But for the most part, the rest of the film lacks the two leads’ energy.
Mud (Limited Release, Now on DVD) 4 1/4 Star: This Southern drama is part romance, part thriller, and part coming of age story. Thanks to the capable hand of director Jeff Nichols, all the parts turn out incredible. The cast is phenomenal: Matthew McConaughey gives a hauntingly commanding standout performance as the title character, but it’s Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, as two teens vowing to help Mud escape the law and reunite with his girlfreind, who steal the show. The rest of the cast is dominated by terrific character actors including Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon (playing against type), and Michael Shannon. This is exactly what a movie should be: moving, exciting, and funny. The film had a small release, but you won’t want to miss it on DVD and iTunes.
Pacific Rim 3 Stars (Wide Release, On DVD Later This Fall): I don’t mid a rock-em sock-em action movie that tries to be just that. But Guillermo Del-Toro’s robots v.s. monsters epic (Jaegars vs. Kaju, if we’re getting technical) is overly pretentious. It tries to have soul and character, and sometimes does, but you can feel Del-Toro is fighting between his film-making smarts and the 8 year old mindset that’s required for this type of film. If only he had given in to the 8 year old. Instead, we’re left with some strong material: admittedly cool action, a bit more character development than you’d expect. But there’s also some weak stuff; for example, while the cool action scenes are fun to watch once or twice, the battles have are derivative of each other. Alas, the film feels like a B-movie with some extra heart.
Well that’s it! If these films have left theaters near you, seek them out on iTunes and other streaming/renting devices. Enjoy your the end of another summer at the movies!
Posted on | August 30, 2013 | Add Comments
Lee Daniel’s The Butler, the recently opened historical drama, is formulaic but sometimes fascinating. The film tells the true story of Cecil Gaines (forest Whitaker), the butler of the White House for seven presidents. We start off with Cecil as an 8 year old boy working on a cotton farm. After his parents meet grisly fates, Cecil finds work as a hotel butler. But after being laid off, he gets a job as a butler at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where he witnesses landmarks in history. He talks about not going to school with Eisenhower (Robin Williams). He realizes that Kennedy (James Marsden) has been shot in 1963. He takes orders from a toilet bound Johnson (Liev Schrieber), overhears Nixon’s (John Cusack) conversations, and gets invited to a dinner by Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda). In the midst of these historic times, Cecil also copes with family issues with his alcoholic wife (Oprah Winfrey) and two sons: radical Freedom Fighter Louis (David Oleyowo) and Vietnam soldier Charlie (Elijah Kelley).
I was really looking forward to this film. It seemed to have a strong cast, an Oscar nominated director, and a fascinating true story! But walking out of the theater, I was disappointed. The major problem is that Cecil’s son Louis is a more sympathetic character than Cecil himself. Oleyowo is an incredible actor and this role is a fine showcase for his talents, after a bit parts in recent big films like Lincoln, The Help, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Meanwhile, Whitaker has some astonishing moments but for the most part is subtle in a way that’s plain uninteresting, unlike the commanding presence of Oleyowo. On top of that, Cecil is mad at Louis for most of the movie which makes him rather unlikable. In fact, for much of the film I was wishing I was watching Louis’ story.
Another problem is the script, which rushes through too much, too fast. Two of the presidents Cecil served (Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter) are reduced to second-long newsreel flashes on a TV screen. And each president we do see gets a few quick scenes and one memorable conversation with Cecil, at best. The movie’s dialogue is also plain lackluster, especially in the early scenes. And of course, since this is a Hollywood drama, the film is narrated by an older Cecil.
The actors who play the presidents are a mixed bunch. For one thing, none of the actors look anything like their real life counterparts. With that in mind, some of the performances aren’t bad but almost all have at least one moment that verges on laughable. The strongest of the bunch is Alan Rickman as Reagan, who most matches his historical figure, but even he is far from a lookalike. The rest of the cast is fine but has little to do: Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, and, most prominently, Oprah Winfrey.
As you can tell, I didn’t love the film. But I didn’t hate it either. For example, the 130 minute length isn’t a problem and, with some worthy material, I wouldn’t have minded a few extra scenes. This one of the few films I’ve seen that might be a bit too short. Also, the film features about 15 “Cry Here!” scenes and most of them feature bland dialogue and heavy handed acting, but some are truly affecting. There’s also some laughs that are genuinely funny, plus a fun, retro soundtrack that works incredibly well.
Overall, The Butler works as a fun, shallow, sure fire crowd pleaser. But it doesn’t work as a thoughtful drama. Yes, it’s ahead of some “Based on a True Story” sap-fests but, despite some affecting scenes, this isn’t what you’d expect from a film with such high-caliber talent. Nonetheless, audiences have been flocking to see it and, who knows, you might love it. But I wouldn’t elect it anything more than 3 stars.
Posted on | August 27, 2013 | Add Comments
Steve Jobs is one of, say, the five most important inventors of all time. On top of that, his story seems ripe for a silver screen biopic. It has despicable adversaries, tons of characters, romance, comedy, heartbreak, success, and failure. Most of all, it has a captivating central character who has anger issues, genius ideas, a bad temper, and the mind of a madman product maker. Sounds like a an Oscar bait role, right? And sounds like a good movie?
It’s surprising, then, that Jobs is the first major big screen adaptation of the man’s life. Therefore there’s little to compare it too, apart from the man’s life. Which is probably good thing. That’s because the film isn’t perfect. It starts with the introduction of the iPod and then skips backwards 40 years to show us twenty pivotal years in Steve’s life; we get a look at everything from the creation of the Apple 1 to his friendship with fellow techie Woz to the Macintosh to Job’s departure from Apple, then his return, and more. Despite negative reviews, the film is surprisingly good.
Ashton Kutcher’s fiery lead performance is the big reason the movie works. He’s intense and complex and sometimes funny and always riveting, even when we start to think “Okay, this is Ashton Kutcher paying Steve Jobs and maybe isn’t an ideal choice.”Kutcher has just enough dramatic chops (at least in this role) to seem believable, but his sense of humor and respect for the man he’s playing also help. Josh Gad is also wonderful as Steve “Woz” Wozniak, Job’s longtime best friend who helped co-found Apple; Gad has the perfect amount of restraint but also shows he could be a real star, if given the chance. The rest of the cast is a little stoic (though many of them are playing businessmen) but even the weaker ones get some great lines.
The one time I felt “Wow, this is a truly great movie” was when, midway through, Jobs and Wozniak have a talk I won’t give away here. both actors are phenomenal. Kutcher perfectly reacts by doing pretty much nothing, but Gad is the real knockout. I won’t say more, because of spoilers, but I will say this: this is one of the most heartfelt moments I’ve seen in a film this year.
Director Joshua Michael Stern makes some subtle, smart choices in terms of cinematography and dialogue, but occasionally (which is too often) it feels like he’d be better off at TV movies. On top of that, some scenes could’ve been edited and other landmark moments are skipped over entirely. The movie also doesn’t really tell us anything new abut the man at it’s core, nor does it ever really get to what made Jobs himself. It doesn’t have everything you might hope for but it’s got laughs, drama, and excitement to spare. And even in the moments where it does starts to drag, the movie is saved by the fact that the movie is telling the story of Steve Jobs. And it’s pretty hard to not make that story at least partly interesting.
For all it’s faults, and there are faults, Jobs is a perfectly compatible biopic that does what it should without being anything more. It’s a great summer version of all those awards-baits fare that is typically released in the Fall. It takes movies such as, say, a biopic like Lincoln and saps it of it’s historical precision and dramatic pretentiousness. Jobs is exactly what an action-movie sick person wants an August day; it’s light yet serious, fun but important. It may not think different but…well, I enjoyed myself.
Posted on | August 17, 2013 | Add Comments
Before I start my review: Jaws is back at the Orpheum by popular demand. See it!!!
Cape Cod’s Chatham Orpheum movie theater has had a long history. But 21 years since the theater closed doors, it’s now re-opening thanks to $2.2 million, 3,000 donors, and hard working staff led by President Naomi Turner. Recently, Flick and I got a chance to see Jaws at the theater. Here’s my thoughts on the theater and review of the film.
When I first walked into the Chatham Orpehum theater on August 4, 2013 I was stunned. Paintings and shark sculptures line the walls and there’s even a mini restaurant/cafe with a bar and a few tables. The cafe features the menu from Vers, the larger restaurant downstairs. The concession stand has popcorn and lots of candy. All of the staff is extremely nice. You can really tell everyone working there loves movies. The attention to detail is astonishing; even the bathrooms have pictures of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe on the doors.
After talking to staff, my family and I walked into the 162-seat movie theater with two bags of popcorn and a sky high excitement level. I was not disappointed. Delicious popcorn, no trailers, super comfy seats! And it just got better…
The lights went down. The movie started. Jaws’ underwater opening credits hauntingly lit up the screen, complete with John Williams chilling theme.
I’d never seen Jaws before, which made the experience all the more enjoyable. The plot isn’t exactly original: an everyman police chief (Roy Schieder), a rich kid oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss), and a weathered seaman (Robert Shaw) team up to hunt a great white shark terrorizing Amity Island. But director Steven Spielberg’s real achievement here is taking that basic concept and turning it into something more: a monster movie with heart.
The story is perfectly realized; every scene is the exact length it needs to be, no more, no less. There’s some very funny dialogue that makes for some classic arguments between the characters. The performances are also extraordinary. Schieder is quietly effective as Chief Brody, while Dreyfuss is brashly charming as Hooper. The standout, however, is Shaw. At first glance he’s just a colorful sea captain but, with his legendary tour de force monologue, Shaw gives the character a hidden depth.
The film is a miraculous production: sublime editing, memorable cinematography, precise direction, and one of the greatest musical scores of all time. In fact the suspense of it all is so terrifying that you won’t care about the fact the that the shark effects are slightly outdated.
There are many iconic moments: the girl who swims just a bit too far, Quint’s first appearance, the floating head, and the famous “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line. But the sensational climax is the true high-point. William’s rousing score is the perfect fit for our heroes final showdown with the shark. The culmination is utter genius. Each of the main protagonists gets their own confrontation with the shark: Quint’s blood spitting clash, Hooper’s nail biting shark cage adventure, and Brody’s wildly explosive battle. This is action cinema at it’s peak.
Jaws is a masterpiece of film-making, even better appreciated considering the rough circumstances under which it was shot. Thrillingly gut wrenching, soulfully humane, and one of Spielberg’s best; Jaws may not be the single greatest movie of all time but, after one fantastic viewing, it’s one of my all time favorites. And seeing it on the big screen, with first-class surround sound and gorgeous digital projection, was a bonus.
My afternoon at the Orpheum seeing Jaws at the movies was a true treat. The Orpheum gives you hope for modern movie theaters in a multiplex filled world. Movies couldn’t have been brought back to Chatham better.
Posted on | July 22, 2013 | 1 Comment
The Chatham Orpheum Theater originally opened in 1916. Every night, thrilled audiences filled the seats to see terrific silent films. In the late Twenties, the theater was fully renovated because of the new invention of talkie films. Still successful as ever, the public returned each week for wonderful cinema. Anyone who wanted escapism from the everyday life would come to the Orpheum.
Then came along the ever successful home video industry and in 1985, the theater was bought and became a music/live theater venue that hosted the likes of Ray Charles. In 1990 the building became a retail space and transformed into a CVS pharmacy store. Then, 21 years later in November 2011, CVS closed. And on that exact day a local Harwich multiplex closed.
A group of passionate individuals led by Naomi gathered to bring movies back to Chatham. (No other movie theater existed within 28 mile round trip of town.) Shortly after, work started on a renovation of the Orpheum…this time to make it into a movie theater, once again! Since then, 2.2 million dollars have been raised thanks to 3,000 donors.
The theater will feature an eclectic range of programming. There will be a 162 seat theater featuring independent and 3-D children’s films, lectures, showings of opera and dance, sporting events, and speakers and current events. There will also be foreign films, documentaries, and educational programming in a 50 seat theater. Naomi Turner even told us that A Red Carpet Night for the Oscars is in store!
But movies won’t be all…Besides a concession stand (popcorn!), underneath the the theater there will be a restaurant Vers, which may even serve food based on the films screening.
And what will opening night be? A soft opening is planned for Friday, July 26, 2013. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer thriller Jaws is looking to be the soft opener. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the new coming of age indie The Way, Way Back will hopefully be opening in the first week. After that, a Grand Opening is planned for August.
It seems as though it may only be a few days until a much loved movie theater returns to Chatham.
Posted on | July 11, 2013 | Add Comments
I had a lot of fun writing my triple movie summer report (read it here, if you haven’t already!). Now, the sequel to that article has arrived: a double film review. You can expect at least one more of these before summertime’s up but until then enjoy my thoughts on Pixar’s new family comedy Monster’s University and Disney’s epic new fantasy western The Lone Ranger.
First up, lets head to college! Following the dismal Cars 2 and the mediocre Brave, I was hoping for a grand Pixar comeback in the old tradition with their new prequel, Monsters University. And, the comeback is an entertaining one, despite not being as sublimely perfect as previous classics like Walle, Up, and the Toy Story trilogy.
The plot is nothing new: two guys (I mean monsters) who hate each other become best friends amidst exciting adventures and pop culture references. We’ve seen variations of this in Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, and the original Toy Story just to name a few. Even Ratatouille (which starred a rat!) featured the storyline. The spin, on Pixar’s sub genre of mismatched animated buddy comedies, is that Mike and Sulley are off to Monsters University college. The film is a prequel and replaces John Goodman’s Sulley with Billy Crystal’s Mike for main character spot. The pair learn to be friends while participating in a Scare Games Contest with loser fraternity team Oozma Kappa. Will they be able to help out Oozma, win the Games, and become friends? We know all the answers but the ride is fun.
The script doesn’t have the multi-layered depth that Pixar normally brings to the table but there are still hilarious sequences (a swearing in ceremony gone wrong and the first Scare Game). Debut director Dan Scanlon doesn’t have the “Pixar touch” that John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird do, but he still knows how to impress audiences with crackling humor, detailed animation, and rousing action.
As usual, the animation is top notch. The most visually striking element is the diversity of the new characters, whether major or minor. And of course, there’s a few delicately subtle in jokes that fans of the original Monsters Inc. will love.
I’m sounding a little harsh on the film but I actually loved it; it’s got everything you want in a family film! The story is a bit simplistic and a few characters are a bit underdeveloped but it’s plenty enjoyable nonetheless. Will it live on to be a classic? Not as much as something like Up will. But if you enjoyed Monsters Inc., you’ll enjoy this. It may be lacking a bit of magic, but it’s still a delightful blast.
Next…To the west!!! Hi-Ho Silver! The Lone Ranger is back…Albeit more bloated, bloody, and blockbusterized than you might have remembered it. But, nonetheless, it’s back! And, oh kemosabe, what a deliriously ridiculous mess it is.
The story is fairly simple: John Reid goes from mundane lawman to masked avenger as he tries to find and kill the men who killed his brother. Along the way he gets help from the mysteriously strange Tonto.
The director, producer, screenwriters, composer, and star (Johnny Depp) of the vastly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise have reunited for a total reboot of the old Lone Ranger radio series and TV show. They’ve scrapped most of what made the Lone Ranger the Lone Ranger. They’ve traded in family friendly Saturday morning entertainment for bloody battles, physical comedy, new villains, and a slightly altered plot. But the most substantial change here concerns the character Tonto. The always in danger throwaway sidekick has been promoted to main character status with the help of Johnny Depp.
A big shock here is the performances, which are rather good. The always great Depp is hilarious and suitably kooky (or should I say all out crazy?). But Tonto isn’t nearly as interesting as Jack Sparrow and when you compare the jokes of Pirates to Lone Ranger, this seems like a serious drama. The title character is played by Arnie Hammer who surprises with a fine turn. I was expecting him to be bland and boring but he actually isn’t bad. The rest of the cast suffers from an over abundance of characters but the supporting ensemble is okay, though not particularly memorable.
Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if two different versions of the script got mixed up and put in the same pile. That would definitely explain two things: tone mix-ups and the length.
The main people at fault here are the screenwriters of which there were four. They should have definitely cut out half the script. Things to snip? Some excessively gorey moments, way too long action scenes, the flashback framing device, and Helena Bonham Carter and her leg. At 2 1/2 hours, watching the movie actually felt like work: your mission objective for today is to try to sit through this movie!
The other major mistake is the wild shifts of tone. The movie is trying to be a family action comedy but slips into areas of bloodshed filled thriller, romantic old town drama, black comedy, and even bizarro experimental western. If the film makers could’ve stuck to ONE goal the film would have been breezy entertainment instead of drawn out boring.
Is there anything good about this movie? Yes! It doesn’t fail because of the all action-no story trap that most blockbusters fall into. No, there’s something much more intriguing going on here. It’s not a particularly good movie but I’m definitely glad I saw it. As previously mentioned, the leads are appealing. On top of that, the effects are sometimes dazzling, the action scenes occasionally thrilling, and the musical score consistently heart thumping!
As for director Gore Verinski…well he proves he just needs to rein in his vision a bit more. Th screenwriters, editors, and Disney executives are the real issue, though. I also feel that Verbinski might’ve been a bit stressed by the ballooning budget, Johnny Depp’s could have been fatal horse accident, the tragic death of a crew member, and a release date that was moved three times (a record?). It also seems the film might not have stuck to his original vision. The man seems like a savvy director. Next time, he should make an action movie by himself and then sell it to a studio.
The most fascinating movie debacle of the year, The Lone Ranger is a frequently too violent, often overlong, sometimes fun, occasionally genius, and always interesting summer movie. If only Helena Bonham Carter could’ve used her leg to blow up half the running time…
So far it’s an iffy summer for the movies, with only two out of five films I’ve seen being ones I could honestly recommend. More on the summer later but first: the Chatham Orpheum Theater and Jaws.
Posted on | June 21, 2013 | Add Comments
Summer Movie Season 2013 has seen spectacular highs and shattering lows, even though it’s only half way over! I’ve seen three summer blockbusters already, but haven’t written a review of any of them. So here’s a triple review comparing the disappointing but original Iron Man 3, the thrillingly wonderful Star Trek Into Darkness, and the letdown epic Man of Steel.
Iron Man 3
Rating: 3 Reels
Let’s start off with Iron Man 3, Marvel’s latest attempt at a mega-hit superhero flick (don’t worry they succeeded). Shane Black replaces Jon Favereau as director which was NOT a good idea. The movie has less laughs than we’ve come accustomed to and it’s by far the darkest of the Iron Man trilogy with onscreen deaths, disturbing fight scenes, and massive explosions. Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark with the usual mix of hilarity, sarcasm, and witty one liners. He’s fantastic, as is the rest of the cast. But it’s basically a one man show with Tony traveling from point A to point B and killing bad guy one and bad guy two, etc. The movie is uneven, over violent, and poorly executed. The plot is mediocre and though we do get the bang for our buck (or something like 14 bucks if you see it in IMAX 3-D) we don’t get much story. But three quarters into the film something crazy happens. A twist. Out of the blue, the film turns a corner and shocks us with it’s best moment. It defies the advertisements that have had us thinking one way and…Well I won’t spoil it but I’ll just say this; it’s SHOCKING. And in this world of trailers that give everything away, that means awesome.
Star Trek Into Darkness
Rating: 4 1/4 Reels
J. J. Abram’s latest installment in his reboot of the Star Trek series, titled Star Trek Into Darkness, is a whirlwind moviegoing roller coaster. After a chase scene on another planet, we’re thrust into the latest Trek adventure: a one man war against the entire U.S.S. Enterprise crew (Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, and more) led by James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). The “one man” in question is John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mysterious evildoer with suspicious morale. The cast is phenomenal because they’re more comfortable with their roles; sure some supporting characters are a bit too, er, supporting but everyone gets their moment. And the leads are incredible: Saldana and Pine are well cast but it’s Zachary Quinto as Spock who really steals the show. He’s essentially as central a character as Kirk, plus he gets all of the best wisecracks and fight scenes. Cumberbatch is also amazing thanks to an intensity that’s plain undescribable. The story is simple but effective and occasionally touching. The best thing about it is that it’s entertaining: exhilarating, yes but also hilarious and fun. But the film’s not perfect. The previously mentioned opening chase scene comes to mind: instead of starting where Kirk and fellow crew member Bones are about to steal the map they’re looking for, Abrams begins when they’re already running from baddies. However movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark take their time to set the stage before the action. Abrams, meanwhile, is all payoff. He directs with a sharp intensity and a knack for elaborate spectacle. Sure all the action sequences are pulse poundingly sweat inducing (especially in IMAX 3-D where I saw it) and this is all well and good but sometimes he could have paused for a conversation scene that’s not right in the middle of a battle. Sure it’s flawed, but this is nearly everything you could want in a summer popcorn action flick.
Man of Steel
Rating: 2 Reels
Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie, has a lot going for it. The film has a likable star in Henry Cavill, some thrilling trailers, an excellent supporting cast, and the producer of what many call the greatest superhero film of all time. However I’m sorry to report that they’ve failed. Badly. It opens with with an incredibly realized Krypton sequence which is way too long. Do we really need two intense fight scenes before Superman/Clark Kent is even out of the crib? No, but we get them, all right. And despite a few expertly crafted moments, the only scenes that have much impact are the flashbacks to Clark’s early life. And then, BACK TO THINGS BLOWING UP ALOT, ALOT, ALOT!!! The film is dragged on for almost an hour too long, thanks to overblown battle sequences that are cut between different shots so fast you can’t even tell what’s going on. Director Zack Snyder would probably be a master at making video games but that skill set really doesn’t work here. In fact, the whole movie feels like a video game that you don’t control: dead characters guide living ones around, there’s objects that must be found, there are flashbacks to explain what’s going on, and, most of all, there are pretentious combat scenes that go on like the film makers just needed to fill up the running time. The performances are decent and likable but Henry Cavill (who’s okay but a bit bland) and Amy Adams have neither much chemistry nor time to develop their characters. Kevin Costner was the perfect choice for Pa Kent but again all he gets are flashback sequences that suggest of a much greater film. Less than halfway through the movie, I started not care what happened to these characters: it just got uninteresting. Man of Steel sadly goes where every violent video game has gone before.
Last but not least I have a few concluding statements:
1. Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel are racking up billions of dollars despite being much lesser films than the underperforming Star Trek Into Darkness. What does this tell us about the film industry?
2. If there are three films that represent the state of modern blockbusters it’s these three. However I’d like to say this: sure, all action movies have to include explosions but please Hollywood: dial it down. J.J. Abrams was on the right track with Into Darkness and I’m confident about his new Star Wars.
3. With so many big budget blockbusters being released each year where is this all headed. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have some ideas. In fact, Spielberg may be right: if five of these summer epics flop something is going to change. Take 2015. What films are going to be released? The Fantastic Four, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Avengers 2, Justice League, The Smurfs 3, Hotel Transylvania 2, Ant-Man, The Peanuts, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, Finding Dory, Alvin and the Chipmunks 4, and Kung Fu Panda 3. Woops, forgot to mention a little indie film titled Star Wars: Episode 7. Okay, is your headache over? Many of the films mentioned will flop, so could that signal the death of the blockbuster? No. Star Wars and Avengers 2 are as close to a sure thing as you can get and even if critics and audiences despise them, people will keep coming back to the multiplex. But someday (probably in an estimated 100 years) people will get back to making small, personal films. Until then, there will be terrific action films and wonderful art house pictures. So perhaps, they could both survive together.keep looking »