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Entries in Armie Hammer (3)

Wednesday
Jul032013

The Lone Ranger

It seems like a strange time to reboot “The Lone Ranger,” the Western themed radio/television show that debuted back in the 30s when the idea of the Western hadn’t faded from society’s interest, much like it has today. Today, audiences seem to want robots and explosions and carnage and new technologies, not a shootout in pre-industrialized America with tumbleweeds rolling around in the background. Perhaps that’s why this 2013 version of “The Lone Ranger” decided to sell its soul. This movie is a Western for the ADD-addled generation, those who need every sense needlessly bombarded with pounding music, sound effects and visual flash. While I hesitate to label it a disaster as some have, “The Lone Ranger” is missing the essence of the genre and it doesn’t do enough to make up for it.

John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer. Despite ridicule from his brother and the general populace, he believes America is heading in a direction of prosperity, a bright and evolved future that will do away with the need for violence to bring criminals to justice. However, while traveling on horseback with the local rangers, including his brother, he is attacked by a wily band of savages, led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a recently escaped madman who was to be executed. In the ambush, everyone is killed except for John, who is restored back to health by a Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp). A treaty has been drawn up between the Comanches and the man who plans on building the transcontinental railroad in or around their reservations, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), but the newly formed team of Tonto and John, eventually dubbed the Lone Ranger, discover not is all as it seems, so they set out to uncover the conspiracy.

I suppose I should clarify one thing. When I speak of “visual flash,” I’m not saying it isn’t welcome. On the contrary, the film is so bland, predictable and unfunny that it’s one of the only things keeping this thing from sinking closer to the bottom of the barrel. Regardless of what one might think of director Gore Verbinski from a narrative viewpoint, his eye for beauty is virtually unparalleled. He’s one of the most visually interesting directors currently making movies (and one of the reasons why “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” remains underrated today) and his talent shines through here. There are some terrific shots with some striking imagery that you can’t help but gape in awe at. The problem is that much of that pizzazz is misplaced.

This movie is set in 1933, when the country was becoming more prosperous and looking to leave its life of wild west outlawing in the past. It was a time to look forward, but a ton of work still needed to be done. It was still a rough and gritty transitional period, yet the visuals here are squeaky clean, never conveying the tone or time the movie is set in. “The Lone Ranger” is, more or less, “Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the old west, but whereas those fantasy adventures benefited from these touches, “The Lone Ranger” suffers. With all of the excessive action, it is unfortunately bogged down by an overuse of obvious CGI, a misjudgment in a movie that needed to be toned down to begin with, not bloated with extravagance.

And speaking of bloating, “The Lone Ranger” is overlong. Running at only a tick under two and half hours, the film drags along with nowhere to go. The eventual revelation of who could be behind the madness is transparent from the start and no other reason is given to care. Sure, there’s a kind-of romance between John and the newly widowed Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), but it’s underdeveloped and ignored for the most part. It’s almost as if the three writers of the film picked one piece of an outlined story, wrote about them without consulting one another and then tried to place them together, resulting in a movie with no flow or cohesion.

“The Lone Ranger” is one of those strange movies that doesn’t do much of anything particularly well, but it’s hard to outright hate it. Its humor lands with a thud more often than not and even its somewhat insulting portrayal of Native Americans—more so in the way it uses their cultures, values and beliefs for laughs than the casting of Depp as one—never truly kills it. The only real reason to see the movie, if you can get past its modernized computer animated façade, is the action, particularly the final moments aboard a speeding train, but even that proves to be futile. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to look no further than Buster Keaton’s 1926 masterpiece, “The General.” Nearly 90 years later and that silent film trumps this one in nearly every way and, without the help of computers, still stands as one of the most thrilling movies ever put to screen. “The Lone Ranger” on the other hand is a two and a half hour time suck. Here’s hoping Verbinski puts his skills to better use with his next project.

The Lone Ranger receives 2/5

Wednesday
Nov092011

J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood is a man everybody respects. As an actor, director, producer and composer to dozens of movies, his filmography is an impressive one indeed. With that said, his last few cinematic endeavors have been considerably less than. Not since 2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima has he made a truly great movie and last year’s Hereafter proved to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments. His latest, J. Edgar, is not a return to form, but it’s certainly a step up. While not a great movie by any means (and sloppy in more areas than one), it nevertheless has a goal and reaches it.

That goal, at its simplest, is to depict J. Edgar Hoover’s life as he builds and legitimizes the power of the FBI while also exploring his alleged homosexuality. The film, in a well done balancing act, creates a juxtaposition between his two halves, as a man who was forced to hide his true self while also serving as one of the faces of a growing America. It’s that contrast that gives the film its weight. It portrays him as an intensive man that was so caught up in his job he didn’t have time for friends, perhaps as a way to cope with the falsity of his normal life. His time spent working was the only time he was truly himself. He didn’t have to fake his passion for his work, he simply had it.

Of course, the controversy of Hoover’s life is on display as well and you get to see that his passion is sometimes misplaced. Never mind the fact that he was so adamant about his men dressing nicely and sporting a clean face (perhaps as a way to bring at least a portion of his true self to his work). He harasses people suspected of subversion and abuses his authority to get what he wants. If the reach of his authority becomes limited, he blackmails his superiors into giving him more.

But if he was imperfect, he was also quite smart. While the film doesn’t shy away from criticizing him, it nevertheless treats him like a man of high intelligence and unwavering principles, however wrongheaded they may be. One can’t help but simultaneously loathe and revere Mr. Hoover in a way that is uncommon among many one-dimensional, poorly developed characters that exist as either black or white, good or evil, wrong or right. Hoover hits all extremes and numerous places in between. He is a strong, but flawed individual with hidden demons and a clear mind, though certainly troubled and distant from his own reality.

All of that can be seen clearly for those who are interested in dissecting the character. While some of that can certainly be attributed to writer Dustin Lance Black, who was responsible for 2008’s truly wonderful Milk, most of it is due to Leonardo DiCaprio’s masterful performance as Hoover, once again proving that he’s one of the best actors working today. In a movie that is very talkative, dry and sometimes dreary, he delivers his lines with vigor and makes them something more. Even with dark eyes, pale skin, slicked back hair and strange lighting that makes him look like he would fit comfortably in a 1920’s version of Twilight, he manages to impress. He overcomes any shortcomings, visual, verbal or otherwise, and makes the character his own.

J. Edgar is, at times, like many of Clint Eastwood’s films: heavy handed. Movies like Hereafter, Invictus and Gran Torino, for instance, were too thematically intense, taking its central idea and shoving it down your throat. This, on the other hand, is emotionally too much. It doesn’t toy with yours, but it overdoes the emotion in its characters. Despite its intentions, the film is hard to take seriously when certain scenes are so over-the-top, but just when it seems to be going too far, it calms itself down. These redemptions are what make the movie good, but the fact that they exist to begin with is what keeps it from being great.

J. Edgar receives 3.5/5

Friday
Oct012010

The Social Network

It’s a bold move to compare a movie to The Godfather or Citizen Kane, two of the most revered films in cinematic history. But that’s precisely what some critics have been doing with The Social Network and, surprisingly enough, they aren’t wrong in doing so. Simply put, The Social Network is a work of pure genius, impeccably crafted to tell a tale that defines a generation. It’s one of the most important works of art to emerge out of Hollywood in many years and, like The Godfather and Citizen Kane, I have no problem stating that The Social Network is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

Known as “The Facebook movie,” The Social Network chronicles the rise of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), creator and co-founder of Facebook, as he creates and adapts his website into becoming one of society’s most used online tools. However, as the terrific tagline from the poster states, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” and Mark soon finds himself wrapped in two simultaneous lawsuits, one accusing him of stealing the idea and the other, brought on by his best friend and partner, only asking to be treated fairly and receive his share of the wealth.

Although other social networking websites like MySpace and Friendster existed on the Internet prior to Zuckerberg's creation, there's no arguing that Facebook popularized it. Beginning as a site specifically for college students, it gradually branched out and is now available to everybody. Parents and grandparents now share the same virtual space as their children and grandchildren, much to the younger set’s dismay, I’m sure. Our society has become so overwhelmed with the site that when we meet new people and ask for their contact information, the reply is usually, “I’ll Facebook you.” We have even gotten to the point where a romantic relationship isn’t official until it’s “Facebook official.” Facebook rules our lives and the sad part is those of us who use it, know it.

The other recent Facebook movie, Catfish, effectively showed how people can falsify information online and become who they want to be, but The Social Network does much more. Future generations of film students will look back at this movie as a cinematic landmark, serving as the definitive example of how the Internet won, when our lives became consumed by status updates and our thoughts limited to 140 characters.

The Social Network is extremely relevant today and is guaranteed to be just as, if not more, relevant in the future. But it’s grandeur means nothing without solid production values and it’s as finely tuned a film as you’re likely to ever see. Director David Fincher, the man behind Se7en, Zodiac and Fight Club, has created a beautiful and cerebral, though almost certainly highly fictionalized, tale that takes every aspect of what makes a good film and slams them together effortlessly. The cinematography is dark and eerie, making monsters of all the characters. The score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is pounding and foreboding, perfectly setting the tone for the tale of betrayal and greed that followed. The script, which should and most likely will be nominated for an Oscar, is brilliant, with sharp, believable dialogue and a dry, sarcastic sense of humor.

And the acting is pitch perfect. Armie Hammer’s performance is award worthy, especially considering the fact that for the majority of the movie, he’s acting opposite himself, playing a dual role as twin brothers. Even Jesse Eisenberg, who has up to this point been typecast as the socially awkward, bumbling loser, breaks out here as the smart, fast talking, no nonsense protagonist. His fascinating portrayal of Zuckerberg as an emotionally empty man is riveting.

I suspect the actual Zuckerberg may disagree, however. The Social Network paints him in an unfavorable light and he’s not happy about it. Don’t think his recent decision to donate $100 million to the public school system in New Jersey is simply out of the kindness of his heart. He knows what this movie will do to his (some would argue already tarnished) reputation, but my concern isn’t with that. Fictionalized or not, The Social Network is an astounding feat that demands multiple viewings. If you pass up this film, you’ll be missing out on one of the best movies to be released in the last 40 years. It’s simply that good.

The Social Network receives 5/5