Saturday, August 23, 2014


Year 6, Day 235 - 8/23/14 - Movie #1,826

BEFORE: And Kristen Stewart was also in "Panic Room" with Jodie Foster (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), so that makes this film next in the sci-fi chain.

THE PLOT:  In the year 2154, the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth. A man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

AFTER:  It's hard to not regard this one as "Obamacare in Space".  So much news in the last two or three years about healthcare, and that debate has just sort of colored everything when you talk about the haves and the have-nots.  And even though this film's not set in future America (umm, I don't think it is, but I guess it could be...) it feels like the Earth is a stand-in for the inner cities, and Elysium stands for wherever the rich people live.

First off, we have to check - are we dealing with a utopia, or a dystopia?  I have to go with the latter here, with sort of a "District 9" or "Mad Max" feel to the planet.  Once again, people fucked up the Earth, only this time it wasn't with nukes but your standard over-population and over-pollution.  Our society will always have the rich and the poor, because that's a by-product of capitalism.  But somehow America became the only country that has both a childhood hunger problem AND a childhood obesity problem.  What we really have is a distribution problem.  Simple solution - just let the skinny kids take food away from the fat kids.  There's your real "hunger games" - oh, and you're welcome.  

But back to healthcare - in this future we have flying spaceships, but the rabble still drive beat-up cars.  The rich get to live on a floating satellite wonderland, the rabble are stuck in what look like ghettos and work in radiation factories.  Even these super-strength generating exoskeletons that seem to be all the rage - the rich get to have ones that you just wear over your clothes, and the poor get the ones that have to be attached quite painfully by being drilled into their backs.  Doesn't seem fair.  

The lead character here seems to be designed to suffer - working at the radiation factory leaves him on death's door, and on top of that some idiot drills an exoskeleton into his back - so he's got super-strength, but is also presumably in incredible pain.  Then they stick something into his brain so that he can mind-wipe a rich guy and get all his internet passwords and his bank PIN or something, essentially becoming a walking hacker.  You'd think all of his conversations would involve Nigerian inheritances or penis enlargements...  All he has to do at this point is fight three soldiers who can regenerate from damage and also have super-strength to get onto the space station where his brain can hack into the system and sign up for universal healthcare - which is not easy if you're using the wrong browser.

Living on Elysium is not all that it's cut out to be, either - the government official who runs the place, Secretary Delacourt, suffers from a debilitating disease that apparently causes her jaw to be constantly clenched and makes her talk in a strange French/South African accent.  Or was that just an acting choice?  I couldn't tell.

NITPICK POINT: If one of the biggest problems on the planet was over-population, the solution of bringing magical healthcare to everyone seems like a misguided solution in the end.  If too many people start living healthier and longer, that doesn't fix the overpopulation problem, it makes it worse.  Yes, that sounds really callous of me, but if resources are running out, the only proper solution is for people to stop having so many kids.  Birth control and "zero population growth" practices are the best viable long-term solution for making sure that our planet can support humans in the future.  I don't have kids, so I'm doing my part - what about you?  Those families on reality TV with 18 or 19 kids, by extension, really hate our planet.

Also starring Matt Damon (last heard in "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron"), Sharlto Copley (last seen in "The A-Team"), Alice Braga (last seen in "Predators"), Diego Luna (last seen in "Open Range"), William Fichtner (last seen in "The Lone Ranger"), Wagner Moura.

RATING: 6 out of 10 robot cops

Friday, August 22, 2014

Zathura: A Space Adventure

Year 6, Day 234 - 8/22/14 - Movie #1,825

BEFORE: I had a sit-down with the boss on Wednesday, to sort of figure out what happened last week and why we were arguing over the phone.  Lately it seems like all we do is fight, and I'm trying very hard not to compare it to other long-term relationships, like a marriage where the spark is gone and the spouses just fight all of the time.  I've worked for the guy for 21 years, and the problem is that we disagree about the way business should be conducted - sometimes on the smallest points I'll stand my ground, because I know I'm right.  But then when I disagree with him, he gets defensive and he takes it personally, then lashes back with a personal attack of his own.  I won't be bullied into doing business his way if I don't agree with it, so my only recourse seems to be to stand back and let him do things the wrong way, and then step in when things need to be fixed. 

But his main argument is always about saving money.  And there are ways to save money in the film business, for example you can call in favors and get people to make DCPs or BluRays for you, at little or no cost.  But if those people don't know what they're doing, they could make terrible versions of your film (this was my point, which he chose to ignore) and then you end up spending MORE money down the road when you have to fix the mistakes that were made.  You can actually save money in the beginning by spending a little, and making sure that things get done right the first time.  But I wasn't even allowed to make this point last week before I was verbally abused.

This one comes next in the sci-fi chain because of the linking - Morgan Freeman links to Tim Robbins through "The Shawshank Redemption", and Tom Cruise also links to him through "Top Gun".

THE PLOT: Two young brothers are drawn into an inter-galactic adventure when their house is magically hurled through space by the board game they are playing.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Jumanji" (Movie #924)

AFTER: OK, so the message of the film seems to be to not fight with people - but that seems specifically geared toward family members, so really, the message doesn't apply to me.  But where does fighting between family members come from?  It's probably because they spend so much damn time with each other, and that's my point.  Familiarity breeds contempt.  You hate your little brother just because he's annoying, or you hate your older sister because she gets to do things you can't do yet. 

Isn't it nice when brothers and sisters can just sit down together and play a nice, old-fashioned board game - one that launches their house into space and gets them attacked by Zorgons.  Wait, what? 

This sort of touches on the quandaries I've had with several films this week, brought on by those magic films that used special effects to enhance the tricks - am I supposed to believe that what I'm seeing on the screen is really happening?  Can I possibly forget that movies are enhanced by special effects companies, whose best work is admittedly mostly invisible?  The trouble is, I can't.  That's why I've never, ever watched the extras on a DVD, or those "making of" segments that run on Showtime or whatever.  I went to film school, I don't NEED to know how movies are made.  I already know too much, and that interferes with my ability to believe in what's taking place on the screen. 

And the more fantastic the effects are, the more trouble I have believing in them - so it's very easy for a movie to overstep, to present things that I just can't take seriously.  Whereas some people may be the opposite - the better the FX, the more they'll believe.  With me, it's almost as if less is more.  A drama-driven film with great dialogue and just a few FX can really stand out for me - like "The Dark Knight Rises", I know that the earthquakes and the blowing up of the bridges was FX-heavy, but the rest of the film was more action-oriented, with fights and other situations that could have been filmed (mostly, anyway) in straight live-action.

So when I see a house get launched - nay, teleported - into space, right off the bat I think we might have problems.  And as the kids play the mysterious board game, more and more fantastic, unbelievable space-related things take place.  So the film aims kind of high, but in the end lost me for being so far-fetched. 

Am I supposed to believe the events taking place on the screen are a real part of these kids' experiences, or it is easier for me to believe that they're imagining the whole thing?  Perhaps they were delusional, or the game released some kind of psychotropic drug that made them hallucinate?  Yeah, that's it - the Zathura board game was made during the hippie 1960's, and the game pieces were laced with LSD, so that when they were given a card from the deck, they were open to the suggestions of the events depicted on the card, and those fed the hallucinations.  That's the ticket.

Otherwise, I'm forced to believe that the game has magic powers, the ability to teleport a house, the ability to maintain an air bubble around the house in space, the ability to fly the house close to a star and a black hole without getting sucked in, and then the power to put the house back together again at the end.  Let's see Monopoly do THAT. 

There's a part of the film I can't talk about, for the same reason I couldn't discuss the events in the 2nd half of "Oblivion".  I just have to marvel at the fact that it's the same EXACT depiction of a particular occurrence, and leave it at that.  But I do love it when successive movies have similar plot points. 

There are a ton of NITPICK POINTS I could make: there's no air in space, so how can a couch burn?  Why did they build a fire to repel the aliens the second time, when the aliens were attracted to fire?  How come a meteor can go through the roof of the house, but gets stuck in the floor?  And so on.  I can only conclude that it's not worth it, because none of what's happening is meant to be taken seriously, either because it's not really happening to the characters, or it's not really happening because it's a movie.  Take your pick.

Also starring Josh Hutcherson (last seen in "The Kids Are All Right"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Jumper"), Dax Shepard (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Jonah Bobo, and the voice of Frank Oz (last heard in "Muppets From Space").

RATING: 5 out of 10 four-eyed goats

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Year 6, Day 233 - 8/21/14 - Movie #1,824

BEFORE: I'm finishing off August with a chain of sci-fi movies - mostly recent, plus whatever space-related films are left in the bin.  This one's first, so that Morgan Freeman can carry over from "Now You See Me".

THE PLOT:  A veteran assigned to extract Earth's remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

AFTER: I remember seeing the trailer for this in the theater, probably when we saw "Star Trek Into Darkness", and something at the time told me that there'd be some kind of twist in the plot, otherwise the film would just really be "Wall-E" with Tom Cruise starring as the lonely robot.  But was I able to guess the twist just from the scenes in the trailer?  You bet.

Part of it is just common sense - the set-up tells us that Earth has been made uninhabitable by a war with invading aliens, yet here's our hero, inhabiting an uninhabitable place.  Why him?  Why did all the humans relocate to one of Jupiter's moons, but not him and his lady-friend?  Then we've got the mystery of his dreams of the past, which aren't even supposed to exist after a memory-wipe - how is that possible?

I'm still defiantly anti-spoiler, so that's as far as I go.  I've only re-stated what info is given out in the first 2 minutes of the film, so I've given away nothing, or maybe I've given away everything.  For a true sci-fi fan, it's not hard to put two and two together and come up with four.  Five might have been a nice surprise, but nope, it's four.

...or so I thought, expecting a rehashed mash-up of "Moon", perhaps filtered through "The Island".  Which it wasn't, umm, until it was.  Throw in a call-back to "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace", and we're most of the way there.  While I have to admit there's some stuff at the end that seems sort of both Kubrick-like and totally original at the same time, it also gets more flashback-y too, to the point where I had a hard time discerning what was happening and what was a memory. 

NITPICK POINT: It's a nice shout-out to "Planet of the Apes" to show the torch from the Statue of Liberty, but with mountains rising up over it?  Ditto for the NYC bridges and buildings, with just the top parts visible and the rest seemingly buried underground.  I could understand if the cities of today would be covered by water in the future, but where did all the extra dirt come from?

Also starring Tom Cruise (last seen in "Rock of Ages"), Andrea Risebrough, Olga Kurylenko (last seen in "Quantum of Solace"), Melissa Leo (last seen in "The Fighter"), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Zoe Bell (last seen in "Django Unchained").

RATING: 6 out of 10 sleep-pods

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Now You See Me

Year 6, Day 232 - 8/20/14 - Movie #1,823

BEFORE: No direct linking tonight - it's the theme of magic and magicians that carries over. Just like with "The Prestige" and "The Illusionist", there were two major releases last year about magic, at about the same time.  The most obvious indirect link - Jim Carrey was also in "Bruce Almighty" with Morgan Freeman (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises").

THE PLOT: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

AFTER: I've got something of a similar quandary tonight, because I'm faced with the same problem - a film that uses movie FX to duplicate or enhance stage magic.  I guess because you can see stage magic anywhere on TV or, um, on stage (duh) when it gets translated into a film, the filmmakers feel that they have to go above and beyond what is possible, and make the impossible appear possible.

In the end, I just have to shrug and remind myself that filmmakers and magicians are a lot alike - they're both trying to WOW an audience, and they're both professional liars.  If a filmmaker says, "This film is about an astronaut who goes into space," well then I know that the production company probably didn't spend $100 million to buy 5 seats on a space shuttle mission for an actor and a crew, so there will probably be some FX trickery involved.  By the same token, if a magician says "I'm about to saw this lady in half," then the one thing I can tell you is that a lady is NOT about to be sawed in half.

And just as a magician wants you to only "see" a woman in two pieces, and not notice the width of the table or the delay that it took to get her feet to stick out the far end of the box, a filmmaker only wants you to "see" what's on the screen, not all of the other things that went in to making the film, or the CGI involved in making the image look real.  So trickery is inherent to this crazy business we call show, whether the trickster is a film director or a magician, or a screenwriter or whatever.  The question then becomes, can you predict the end of the trick, and can you tell how it was done?

This film focuses on four magicians who are brought together due to their skills, in order to perform large-scale tricks that appear to be bank robberies.  But again, nothing is as it appears, so if it looks like they're robbing a bank, the one thing I can tell you is that they're NOT robbing a bank.  Not in that way, at least.  Their stage shows feature a lot of little tricks that combine to form one larger trick, and then their three stage shows combine to form an even larger scam.  I'm going to call this "well-written" because it's so intricate, and it at least seems like it took a lot of doing.

Look, the film had me at "bank robbery" - the magic tricks were a nice add-on.  But then there were some clever reversals (I love a good double-cross/triple-cross plot) and on top of that there's the mystery of who the mastermind is, who put the team together and planned the whole thing - could it be the mysterious Interpol agent?  The professional debunker, a former magician himself?  Could it be one of the Four Horsemen acting like a pawn, but who's really a king?  This kept me guessing right up until the end, which itself is no easy feat.

However, I can see how someone could feel a bit cheated by the big reveal.  One could probably easily go back and watch the film again, armed with the knowledge gained at the end, and point out any number of inconsistencies.  You could chalk these up to misdirection, I suppose, but that means fooling the audience of the film, not just the audiences seen in the film - and you might imagine that the audience would enjoy a trick better provided they're IN on it, and not the butt of it.

Also starring Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "To Rome With Love"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Doc Hollywood"), Isla Fisher (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Dave Franco (last seen in "Fright Night"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Michael Caine (last seen in "California Suite"), Melanie Laurent, Michael Kelly, Common (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), with a cameo from Conan O'Brien.

RATING: 7 out of 10 trap doors

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Year 6, Day 231 - 8/19/14 - Movie #1,822

BEFORE:  Linking from "The Lone Ranger", a young actor named Mason Cook (he played the kid Tonto told the story to) carries over and plays the young Burt Wonderstone.

THE PLOT:  A veteran Vegas magician tries to revive his career after his longtime partner quits, he gets fired from his casino act, and an edgy new "street magician" steals his thunder.

AFTER: I'm willing to bet that this screenplay was written with Will Ferrell in mind, because it seems right in line with the formula seen in many of his films: a clueless successful windbag suffers a setback, and has to rebuild his life, get back in touch with what made him successful, and gain a clue while he gets (or re-gets) the girl (see: "Anchorman", "Semi-Pro", "The Campaign", "Blades of Glory").  Probably this is most like "Talldega Nights", since that film featured a team of racecar drivers who battle a third rival, and this has a team of magicians who battle a third rival magician.  So this is just "Talladega Nights", minus racecars, plus magic tricks.  Once you realize there is a formula, that makes screenwriting a little less impressive.

Magic seems to be undergoing a renaissance of sorts, thanks to "America's Got Talent" and a best-of show called "Masters of Illusion", and even Penn & Teller are back on TV doing actual tricks, instead of de-bunking religion or competing on celebrity cooking shows.  And there's probably a lot of things in the world of magic that need satirizing, I'm guessing there's no shortage of misplaced egos and pompousness.  The main team here is not really a spoof of any particular set of magicians, not even Siegfried & Roy, but the rival is definitely a take on Criss Angel and/or David Blaine.

The problem here seems to be similar to what was seen in "The Lone Ranger", that of inconsistent characterization - of course, a character has to change over the course of a movie, but that works best when there is ONE major change.  Here Burt Wonderstone used magic as a kid to fight bullies and make friends, but once he became successful and lazy, he started using his fame just to get laid.  So magic made him strong, but then magic made him weak - which is it, and what forced that change, which is not shown?  The passage of time caused them to omit the reason for Burt becoming egotistical and clueless, which therefore counts as weak storytelling - it's not enough to equate success with being jaded, clueless and apathetic. 

It's true that sometimes you have to lose it all to realize what you've lost, in terms of a job or a relationship, I don't have an issue with that.  But then to lump together finding oneself, reinventing one's career and having a real adult relationship for the first time feels like too much going on at the same time.  If someone went through a complete re-invention like that, you'd expect them to essentially be a completely different person afterward. 

I almost mentioned this last week, but I held back - I was quite close to quitting one of my jobs, for reasons perhaps similar to what's seen in this film, for why the two magicians stop working together.  Lately my boss and I have been arguing frequently, especially when we spent five days in a booth together at Comic-Con.  I feel like I'm unable to disagree with him over even the smallest point without him taking that as a personal attack, then getting defensive and insulting me.  I realize that I'm often a contrary person, but when I disagree with someone or point out a small mistake, I try not to do that with malice, it's usually in the interest of making a film or a press release better, or just getting everyone on the same page so we can move forward.  I won't be belittled or meant to feel lessened just because I have a dissenting opinion on the way business should be conducted.  It's a case where I may need to walk away to prove how much the company needs me. 

Anyway, about the film.  Another problem is that this film couldn't completely convey the sense of wonder that well-performed magic creates without relying on special FX trickery.  Sure, we all know how a magician really pulls off the "sawing a lady in half" trick, so they had to break new ground somewhere.  But they could have come up with some new, inventive tricks that would be possible in a real magic show and still maintain the illusion, just by not telling the film audience how it's done.  To show a magician do something that is genuinely impossible, and rely on movie magic to portray that, it almost feels like a cheat.  Yes, FX are generally allowed in a film, so I'm of two minds on this point.

But then we come to the ending of this film, which seems like a huge mis-step.  To spend so much time demonstrating that a callous person has changed his ways, become more interested in his lover's feelings, treating his friend better, etc. and then have him devise a trick that doesn't just fool the stage audience, it puts them in harm's way and literally treats them like props - mindless props at that. Well, then it seems like the main character hasn't really changed after all.  Is it OK to harm the audience in order to entertain them?  That was the whole reason why they hated the rival street magician in the first place! 

Still, it's all done here in the name of comedy, which is why this scores one point higher than "The Lone Ranger", which was also ridiculous and non-sensical, but wanted to be taken seriously.

Also starring Steve Carell (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), Jim Carrey (last seen in "Anchorman 2", Steve Buscemi (last seen in "The Island"), Olivia Wilde (last seen in "In Time"), Alan Arkin (last seen in "Argo"), James Gandolfini (last seen in "Killing Them Softly"), with cameos from Jay Mohr (last seen in "Picture Perfect"), Brad Garrett (last heard in "Hoodwinked 2: Hood vs. Evil"), Gillian Jacobs (last seen in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"), Vance Degeneres, John Francis Daley and David Copperfield.

RATING: 5 out of 10 white rabbits

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Lone Ranger

Year 6, Day 230 - 8/18/14 - Movie #1,821

BEFORE: I got a late start this morning, because I was out late last night at a rock concert (remember them?) featuring the bands REO Speedwagon and Chicago.  I'm a big REO fan from way back, and this was only the second time I've been able to see them live - and my wife's more of a Chicago fan, so this was a great compromise night out.  The staging was really smart, because each band played a shortened set, and then both bands came back to do six songs together, three big hits from each band.  This meant that people who were there to see just one of the bands couldn't duck out early, or they'd miss the combined supergroup encore.  Also, from a musical standpoint, this was a new way to present songs that fans had heard umpteen times before - but they'd never heard REO perform with a horn section before, or Chicago with extra guitars added.  It ended up being a clever way to re-package old material in a new fashion.

Linking from "Don Juan De Marco", Johnny Depp carries over.

THE PLOT:  Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.
FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" (Movie 890)

AFTER: Speaking of re-packaging old material, this is a story told several times before, the origin story of the Lone Ranger.  This "bombed" in theaters last year, but I guess when Disney spends $215 million making an epic Western, that's a huge roll of the dice, so when a film "only" makes $89 million in box office, that's a flop.  But to a film with a budget of $20 or $30 million, that would be a huge success.  So it's all relative.  The director has stated that he thinks this film will be considered a classic someday, after years on cable I guess, and the critics will eventually be proven wrong.  That's a great strategy, if your film fails, blame the critics.  Because there's no way they'll hold a grudge against you when your next film rolls out.  

I'm going to put the blame for this film's failure back on the director, Gore Verbinski, because he also directed those "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, and this film seems to be plagued with many of the same problems as the latest "Pirates" films - namely, that there's just too much going on.  Your average "PoTC" film has about three sailing ships, 4 or 5 items that everyone is looking for (Davy Jones' heart, the compass, the Fountain of Youth, various maps and chests) and about 17 interested parties, with alliances changing back and forth quite liberally.

This film suffers from the same story problems - too many characters, too many secret alliances between those characters, and too many macguffins - items that people are trying to gain control of.  There's the traditional railroad "land grab", a silver mine, Tonto's quest to destroy the "wendigo", plus the Lone Ranger's quest to bring Butch Cavendish to justice.  Alliances are constantly shifting as different parties work to bring about various results, and if some of the elements could have been stripped down, or a few of the reversals dispensed with, this story could have been much simpler, and the running time could have been trimmed down closer to two hours.  If anything killed this film, it's the running time - 2 hours and 27 minutes?  Ridiculous.  

Now, about the framing device.  The story is told by an aged Tonto to a young boy in a San Francisco fair exhibit in 1933. (Assuming the character was 20 in 1869, this would make him 84 - OK, I'll allow that.)  But the question then becomes, why is the story being told in 1933, especially when our audience is in 2014?  Why have a framing device at all, set in a particular random year, unless it's to cover up the fact that the story, by itself, wasn't strong enough, or was confusing in some way.  The fact that Tonto skips around in time with an occasional flash-forward or memory lapse could be covering up a lot - and just because the young boy he's talking to points out the continuity errors, that doesn't make up for the fact that there ARE continuity errors.  For example:

NITPICK POINT: The driving of the Golden Spike, uniting the Transcontinental Railroad, took place at a specific place, which is Promontory Summit, Utah.  That's a fixed historical event - this film got the year right, but moved it to Texas, where the Texas Rangers were (Lone Ranger, get it?).  IMDB does not regard this as a goof, but instead as an "artistic liberty".  To me, this is a mistake, you can't rewrite history for the convenience of your screenplay.  To make matters more confusing, much of this film was shot in Utah, Monument Valley to be specific, just because it has a better Western look than modern-day Texas does.  So, is this story set in Texas, Utah, or both?  They say Texas, but if you were looking to connect Kansas City and San Francisco by rail, it doesn't make much sense to lay track through Texas.  By extension, if you don't count this as a "goof", then you also have to accept "Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" as historical fact.

NITPICK POINT #2: There's something weird about the way the desert animals are acting, from the aggressive bunny rabbits to the swarming scorpions, to the intelligent horses.  This seems to be tied to the "evilness" that Tonto has attributed to the Butch Cavendish character - we're told that "nature is out of balance".  But later, we're told that Tonto suffers from delusions, and that the person he's tracking may not be a demon after all.  OK, that may be, but then how do you explain the savage bunnies?  Several people saw them, so they can't be tied to one man's delusion.  Either something demonic is going down, or it's not.  You can't have it both ways - "oh, this thing MIGHT be happening" - at some point you've got to pick a horse, and ride it.

This is sort of endemic of the whole film, with the ends justifying the means.  We need the railroads to unite in Texas, so let's just move that event there.  We need THIS person to be able to get from THIS moving train to THAT moving train, so let's make one conveniently pass over the other, so he can jump between them.  There's a part in one of the "Pirates" films where two characters end up having a sword fight on a giant water wheel (or something) as it rolls down a hill at a furious speed, and they manage to run at just exactly the right speed to maintain a position on top of it, or barring that if one of them falls, he lands INSIDE the wheel, so that the fight can continue.  It's far-fetched at best, and just because you CAN make it happen with today's VFX, that doesn't mean that you SHOULD, because the more unlikely you defy the physics of the situation, the more you lose the audience's suspension of disbelief.

In "Lone Ranger", a character manages to balance a ladder on top of a moving train, which just HAPPENS to snag a bucket of tools as it spins, and this bucket just HAPPENS to be the perfect weight to counter-balance his own, so it sends him, perched on the other end, across a ravine to land perfectly on another moving train (both trains are out of control, but somehow they manage to match speeds magically for the duration of the stunt.)  Oh, I forgot, first it snags ANOTHER character, making the other end of the ladder too high, but then as he gradually falls off, our hero is gradually lowered to exactly where he needs to be, seconds before the ladder is smashed to bits by a tree.  Shenanigans, across the board.  

The character who pulls this off is Tonto, who seems to be an expert acrobat, expert tracker, escape artist, shaman, philosopher, crazy person, train engineer, friend, enemy, storyteller - whatever the script calls for him to be at any given moment, he's that.  But this is a problem, because if he's everything at once, he ends up being a complete enigma, essentially a blank.  The critics at first seem to applaud that Tonto would have the stronger role here, to be the brains of the operation, like the way Kato was in "Green Hornet" - perhaps the critics were disappointed that he turned out to not be the mastermind that he could have been.  Instead, who planned the best escapes, came to the most rescues, and seemed to have the most control of every situation?  That would be Silver, the Lone Ranger's horse.  Let me repeat that: the HORSE turns out be the brains of the team, more often than not.  What does that say about the other characters?  

Getting back to the trains for a second, there's a part in the first major action sequence where a train memorably runs off its track and crashes in the desert.  This is a stunt repeated in at least four incarnations during the film - OK, one time it's a toy train, but when you're worried about what the critics are going to say about your film, maybe repeating the "train running off the rails" visual metaphor is a little ill-advised.  This screenplay itself runs off the rails and crashes at least four times itself.

Also starring Armie Hammer (last seen in "The Social Network"), William Fichtner (last seen in "Drive Angry"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "Cassandra's Dream"), Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter (last seen in "Howards End"), Barry Pepper (last seen in Seven Pounds"), James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Mason Cook, with cameo from Stephen Root (last heard in "Rango"), Rance Howard,

RATING:  4 out of 10 pocket watches

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don Juan DeMarco

Year 6, Day 229 - 8/17/14 - Movie #1,820

BEFORE: I've crossed some sort of threshold, because now for the first time (I think) more than 50% of the watchlist consists of films released in 2000 or later, and over 33% of the list is films made in this decade (2011 or later).  So it seems my organizing skills need to just find ways to link together recent films, using older films as the connections.  Tonight's film is one of those connections that gets me back to a 2013 chain - linking from "Some Kind of Hero", Margot Kidder was also in the first "Superman" film with Marlon Brando (last seen in "The Missouri Breaks"). 

THE PLOT:  A psychiatrist must cure a young patient that presents himself as Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world.

AFTER: Now I'm glad I didn't save this one for the annual romance chain in February - there's not really enough romance in it to qualify.  For that matter, there's not really enough comedy in it to count as a comedy, or enough drama to count as a drama.  It's hard to know WHERE this film fits in, or what it's agenda is.  By default, it sort of felt like all of the characters were just killing time until they could get to the end of the movie.  There's just no THERE there.

I don't know why Hollywood filmmakers think that audiences are going to find films about delusional people entertaining.  I'm sort of reminded of "The Fisher King" or perhaps "K-Pax".  In the latter film Kevin Spacey played a man who was convinced he was an alien, acted like an alien might, but appeared more like a human mental patient.  In both films the proposed therapy involves feeding the patients' delusions until enough trust can be gained to dispel them - but in the end, it seems like the delusions are bolstered, to the point where belief in them makes them real, or close enough.  Do filmmakers think the audience will be lost if the entertaining part of the story is proven to be a delusion?  Perhaps...

The one positive that arises here is that "Don Juan's" psychiatrist is enamored by his romantic story, and this allows him to re-connect with his wife.  A similar effect is seen on other members of the hospital staff, but mostly this is about Brando's character re-connecting, and Depp's character doing a terrible Spanish accent. In the end, I just didn't care about either story, or which reality was real. 

Also starring Johnny Depp (last heard in "Rango"), Faye Dunaway (last seen in "The Towering Inferno"), Rachel Ticotin (last seen in "Total Recall"), Talisa Soto, Bob Dishy, Stephen Singer (who I mistook for Mark-Linn Baker), Carmen Argenziano, Tiny Lister

RATING: 3 out of 10 days without medication