Thursday 22 August 2013

Review: The Lone Ranger

Year: 2013
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter

Synopsis is here:

I often dislike when film-makers and actors “defend” their movie, by attacking critical responses. I’ve often said that critics can do little to affect blockbusters like these. Any proud causal film-goer will say: “I’ll make up my own mind” or “I don’t need to be told what to watch” and it’s a somewhat true point.  That said, The Lone Ranger is a bit of an anomaly in this age of comic book branded blockbusters. Originally a radio play, the franchise’s most popular period was in the forties. Since then; a few cinematic and television adaptations have been tried, none have been successful.

The fact is, modern day westerns are not known for their financial potential, while the character of The Lone Ranger is not well known to those who fall into that golden age bracket that all studios are aiming for. The film-makers must have known what a risk they were taking. A $200+ million film in a genre which has had its fair share of problems in the modern age (find me five truly profitable westerns in the last 20 years); in a packed holiday season with better “known” franchises and characters. Of’s easy to blame the writers.

However, I must say that the amount of venom over The Lone Ranger is; in my eyes, quite bemusing. Gore Verbinski has never been a director I’d line up around the block for and The Lone Ranger was never on my list of must sees, especially after the muddlesome Pirate sequels. Yet The Lone Ranger, for all its production and budgetary issues, is far more entertaining than it should be. Much like the much maligned John Carter, we have a film with its heart in the right place. It’s just a pity that said heart is hidden by the silver spoon that’s placed in its mouth.

Much of this is due to the film’s director, Gore Verbinski. Despite my misgivings about quite a few of his movies, Verbinski is craftsman who not only feels comfortable with large scale projects, but someone who enjoys that old fashioned flair of the films of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger continues Verbinski’s affinity for the traditional with a film that lovingly touches on the Westerns of the past. The films of John Ford and Sergio Leone are tactfully acknowledged while the story themes noted should remind fans of some of the time honoured classics that have come before.

Ironically, the oft mentioned budget is better handled than you may think. Not only is The Lone Ranger is at times beautifully crafted in its design, but it holds a type physicality that can only stem from a long list of stunt men as opposed to a large team of CGI designers. The film nearly turns itself into Meta commentary as many of the films elements become a metaphor of mainstream film making itself. The rise and fall build of the films thrilling action sequences and their practicality, its wholehearted lead and the genre itself are slowly becoming as mystical as the old west.  Much like John Carter (and Captain America for that matter), this is the kind of Sunday afternoon film that is slowly being replaced with the angst-ridden, constantly destructive, semi-anti heroes that are now more popular.

That said, those heroes often have better scripts and The Lone Ranger’s fussy plot and uneven pacing cause it to constantly trip over itself. Things like Tonto’s backstory and framing device (involving an aged Tonto telling the Rangers story to a child) are more thoughtful than you’d expect, touching upon the sad plight of the Native American against white America’s own desires. One of the film’s opening moments has an aged Tonto spooking the child. Watch the kid’s first reaction.  However; such moments are often too few and far between, and the films first hour is slow and extraneous. The needless double crosses of the pirate films are happily nowhere to be seen, but the films running time in contrast with the narrative content is at odds. Sorry to sound like a Total Film web list but I don’t believe the film needs to be as long as it is.

Such aspects take away from the fact that Armie Hammer is a more engaging straight man than Orlando Bloom and that Jonny Depp’s shtick isn’t too bad here.  Arguments about the films graphic content are understandable but seem minor in comparison to more successful material that have played with the edge far worse. There’s brevity about The Lone Ranger that makes it far more interesting than the external arguments about its cost. As annoying is it is seeing its stars blast critics for not “getting it”, I must say I can see why they’re mad. No one seemed to want to note the ambition. But then again, DVD’s haven’t left us yet. So there’s still time for the home audience.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Review: This is the End

Year: 2013
Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson

Synopsis is here

With This is the End I’m really at a loss. I’m not sure if it’s the cast's slow crawl to irrelevance, a weak grip on the material or my successful humour transplant. But it’s safe to say that I found this directorial d├ębut from Superbad’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to be something of wasted opportunity, in more ways than one.

While not completely without charm and with a better, kinder head on its shoulders than one or two of its American comedy counterparts (See The Hangover Sequels). This apocalyptic comedy suffers from weakly scripted gags and the now typical pop culture references which date the movie quicker than one would want. The film reeks of the semi-improv chicanery that is affecting so much mainstream American comedy.  I know it sounds wrong but sometimes structure, even in comedy, is nice.

It's mildly fun to see these guys poke fun at themselves (Franco as an ignorant celebrity ass is a decent idea), and one or two cameos are chucklesome. Yet so much of the film, too much, dies on its backside. Mostly because the main conflict (that Jay Baruchel dislikes how L.A has changed his best friend Seth Rogen) is poorly utilised, despite being an interesting concept. I found myself waiting for any moment Danny McBride takes the film by the scuff of the neck. He affects the film the same way Stevie Gerrard (Google it non football fans) would take hold of a Cup Final in his prime.

Weed smoking plays a large part of the humour, but it’s often like watching someone else play a video game. Unless you're involved, it doesn't feel as fun. Too often I felt like the designated driver having to maintain while the popular kids have a kick ass time at the back of my borrowed car. They're having a blast and sometimes I'm involved. In the end however they leave the vehicle in a mess. For male bonding laughs during the end of the world, you may want to seek out The World’s End.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Review: Only God Forgives

Year: 2013
Director: Nicolas Windin Refn
Screenplay: Nicolas Windin Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm

Synopsis is here

A quick glimpse of the trailer for Only God Forgives, Cannes’ most recent infant terrible, reminded me of something that veteran web film reviewer and general twitterholic Scott Weinberg mentioned briefly on one of his many rants on the current state of cinema. As I didn't save the tweet, I’ll do my best to paraphrase: “If there are no reviews, you’ll only have the marketing telling you what to watch.” I'm sure there was more to it than that. Possibly more swear words, but I digress. His point is important for the simple fact that as much as critics/reviewers/bloggers get a bad rap (particularly as we often appear to be out of touch with the general audience), their job is to merely inform a viewer.

This does not just mean tell someone if the film is good or not. While that is of course a large majority of what they do, they should also try and provide a certain amount of context around the film at hand. Internet commentators and keyboard warriors may feel differently, but a world without them would have even more people happily parting their well earned cash with whatever flick Hollywood would like them to consume.  Yes, I'm trying to prove my own existence here, but seriously, now that trailers and posters have stopped trying to tell you that the films released actually differentiate from each other, it’s nice to maybe have a heads up, even if you don’t agree with the writer.

Getting back to the reason why you’re on this page, Only God Forgives is the latest movie from Nicolas Windin Refn, whose 2011 feature; Drive, gained a fair amount of praise and profit from all quarters, including. If you take anything away from my review it’s this, if you see a trailer/poster for this film and see the words “from the director of Drive” anywhere on it...I'm warning you now. That’s the marketing and not the film talking. While there’s some slight thematic connections between the films (although this seems to lean more towards Refn’s Valhalla Rising), Refn leaves the muscle cars and typical convention behind. This isn’t in the same ballpark as Drive. It’s not really even on the same planet.

Sparse, violent and deliberately paced; Only God Forgives, like A Field in England and Spring Breakers, is more interested in exercising mood than narrative. If walls could talk; the cheerless and shadowy corridors that inhabit Refn’s film, would say little about the decidedly typical revenge plot situated within the films Bangkok setting. They would however, be screaming hellishly of the bleak and corrosive souls that walk amongst the blood red walls. I feel they'd have more to say than the two aforementioned films.

American ex-pat Julian (Gosling) finds himself forced to confront the killer of his morally devoid brother by his incestuous mother (Kristin Scott Thomas channelling the sorority sister of Norma Bates and Janine 'Smurf'Cody). The murderer; Chang, is a self proclaimed angel of vengeance, who takes it upon himself to deliver swift and brutal justice to those he believes deserves it.

The film is less bothered with telling the story; instead it tries to entrap the viewer inside nightmarish, neon drenched purgatory. These characters are soaked in the guilt that they've created. Visceral imagery of bound or amputated hands becomes metaphors for pleasure or protection being denied or taken.  Vithaya Pansringarm plays Chang with an all knowing mysticism that’s hard to shake off. After delivering his violent sentences, he performs sickly sweet karaoke to his fellow officers who watch in straight faced silence. In doing this; is he trying and claim repentance? The film leaves such questions for the viewer.

Will the viewer respond to Only God Forgives? Hard to say. For me, it starts off a little forced before becoming a little too full of itself once or twice. A neon-lit Thailand? A film set in Asia that deals with honour and vengeance?  Even the gloomy, never flinching face of Ryan Gosling makes a few of its elements feel a tad too commonplace.  

Yet throughout I found myself enthralled by its imagery and absorbed by the sheer absurdity. I found myself caught up within the rhythms of its dark, blistered heart. I caught glimpses of pity, drip through the lavish production design, perfectly framed shots and stained souls that wander these damp, darkened Bangkok halls. For those who are willing to let it in, they maybe something in the films dankness that they may be willing to embrace.  If the walls could talk, they’d tell you that their screams get muffled by marketing posters.  

Thursday 1 August 2013

Podcast: Cinematic Dramatic 5x04 - The World's Pacific Wolverine

The Dramatics are back with a triple bill of blockbusters! Giant robots punch giant aliens with Pacific Rim, beer drinking goes sci-fi with The World's End and The Wolverine attempts to make up for X-Men Origins.