Friday, 9 August 2013

The Lone Ranger

2013, 12, Directed by Gore Verbinski
Starring: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson 

Let's address the elephant in the review; since its US release, The Lone Ranger has proved to be one of Disney's biggest flops since John Carter, and the biggest flop of the year. The big-screen incarnation of the gun-slinging masked lawman - here played by The Social Network's Armie Hammer - is a Disney/Bruckheimer (Jerry to his friends) team-up, a previous marriage that has since elevated the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise into one of the world's biggest. Lightning, it appears, doesn't strike twice. 

Peer beneath the misty surface though, and you just might find something to enjoy. In actual fact, don't feel guilty if you find numerous things to list off as positives afterwards. The not-so secret weapon Disney, Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski have deployed here is Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp. Proving perceptible to poor box office doesnt detract from the performance - Depp is Tonto, a red Indian of few words whose alarming appearance is a combination of face make up and dead crow on head. Chilling with our lead for most of the running time, our Ranger isn't so lonesome, more exasperated at the hi-jinks being performed around him. 
 A reboot of the famous 50s TV Serial, Tonto narrates as Hammer's John Reid undergoes transformation from lawman to gunslinger as he attempts to track down notorious bandit Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), keep brother's wife Rebecca (Luther's Ruth Wilson - oh so wasted) from harm, and do numerous other things that were probably a lot more fun to act out than watch.
 Many gleaming errors to address, but room for only a few: Hammer - dry and droll as both Winklewoss twins in David Fincher's modern classic Facebook drama - truly struggles to make the transaction to lead hero status, even more so when it's considered the role requires comedic wit, timing and slapstick abilities when there's not much there (shoving the funniest of us beside Johnny Depp without a crow on his head would be left gasping for air); the film, as per several 'blockbusters', outstays it's welcome by around 45 minutes. Far too long when the material doesn't warrant it. But let's throw this back to Depp. Less vocal than Sparrow, Tonto's mere facial expressions could trigger belly laughs. Could. His deadpan exterior and death-cheating nuance is a lazy effort underneath it all, but still remains The Lone Ranger's double-edged sword; he manages to light up the screen with several jokey moments, but obliterates Hammer's charisma into yesteryear.
Regardless, haven't you heard? This is the summer of the breathless chase sequence atop speeding vehicles! (Star Trek Into Darkness, The Wolverine, and countless train-chase moments here). Credit where credit's due, these scenes are insanely well-choreographed and played by the supporting players with relish, and if there's even a smidgen of childish innocence remaining inside of you, they should leave you marvelling in wonder and giggling with delight on more than one occasion. Should.
 This review couldn't end without a mention going towards Silver, the lone ranger's stallion equipped with his very own specific set of skills. Utterly charming.
Moments of promise amounts to merely watchable fodder that outstays its welcome. Judging by its vindictive response, a Lone Ranger sequel looks unlikely; the harsh irony being that the only way to prevent a mindlessly churned-out sequel is for the film to underperform at the box office. That thought in itself is worse than any thoughts this film induced. See for yourself.


Monday, 5 August 2013

The Conjuring

2013, 15, Directed by James Wan
Starring: Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson 

James Wan has most certainly made his mark through deliverance of well-honed, if a little preposterous, yet damn effective horrors. Look past the six sequels, and Saw (2004) remains a top-rate twist-ridden gem; the opening 45 minutes of 2010’s Insidious, many would argue, is a masterwork of the tensest proportions. What better way to introduce his latest attempt to terrify than The Conjuring - an out-and-out spook fest, that isn’t without its gimmicks, but refreshingly toes the ghost story line and remains en route right up until its closing shot: the innocent family; the old-fashioned new house; the creepy basement; the music box. All present and correct, and completely outdone by the daddy of ‘em all; the creepy doll - it’s the Perron’s (headed by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston, trailed by their five dainty daughters and dog) who are being terrorised by unseen haunts pretty much from the get-go. Enter left Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), supernatural investigators who agree to check out the place when approached by a haggard Mrs. Perron after attending one of their lectures. Perhaps racking up the tension somewhat is the shared knowledge that The Warren’s are real-life investigators – famously embroiled in the notorious horror of Amityville - who have only very recently agreed to share their experiences (so we're told.)

 In a chiller featuring all the expected hi-jinks, it’s somewhat refreshing to be led through the narrative by characters that feel genuinely real, with Taylor’s Carolyn Perron a real beacon of fear (it doesn’t take a lot for her to suspect something’s not quite right – finally, a horror victim with brains), not to mention a particularly bad investigation experienced in the past by The Warrens that threatens to endanger the present.
 A fantastically effective opening and final moment - unnervingly isolated from the remainder of the film - bookend something largely run-of-the-mill, but not without its standout moments to elevate it above standard fare; just dare someone to clap in your vicinity afterwards. It's disappointing then that when The Conjuring reaches its final third, chills dissipate in place of jumps, dampening the patchwork crafted before it. With September's release of Insidious: Part 2 to come before James Wan parts ways with the horror genre for the time being in favour of Fast & Furious escapades, this is a fine way to leave his salivating audience wanting more.

Especially now there's a good chance he'll be remembered as the guy who caused grown men to dispose of any dolls lying around the house.