Phantom – This Means War! week

Phantom is currently available on instant Netflix.

Phantom

 

Phantom (2013) – Rated R

A Cold War Soviet submarine captain struggles with a rogue KGB group trying to seize control of the ship’s nuclear missile. Meanwhile, he secretly suffers from seizures that affect his grip on reality.

One Line Review: Exciting though dated premise makes for a surprisingly lifeless movie.

Todd Robinson is writer, director, and producer on this film so this is clearly a labor of love for him. I like submarine movies and I love submarine movies that are filmed on an actual submarine. Phantom is filmed aboard an actual decommissioned sub and the setting is great, showing off the cramped quarters.

Ed Harris is always a welcome presence and he does a good job here as Demi, in spite of the ludicrous pro-U.S. speech he has to give in the movie. Wonderful character actor William Fichtner is his second-in-command Alex. Lance Henriksen has a vital, if minor, role as Markov. All three of them do the best they can with the material. David Duchovny is less successful as a Spetsnaz commando with an agenda. None of the rest of the cast are particularly memorable.

We have three good actors in a submarine film based on a real life or death incident that could bring about the end of the world and it’s all filmed in a real submarine. So what went wrong? Apparently everything else.

The real life incident took place in 1968 but the film gives us no feel at all for the time that it is set in (except obviously prior to the fall of the Soviet Union). The Hunt for Red October handled a different situation aboard a Soviet submarine with quite a bit of flair. More recently (2002), K-19 Widowmaker was released dealing with a potential calamity aboard a Soviet submarine.

The real problem is that Phantom commits a cardinal sin: it is actually boring. There is no sense of tension in the movie, in spite of several incidents that were ripe for suspense. Nothing is handled artfully and everything is as predictable as possible. All the life is sucked out of the film. The only exception is the end sequence which will have you scratching your head in befuddlement.

The Long Ranger – Oh, the Humanity!

Thanks to purchasing Oz the Great and Powerful (Blu-Ray combo pack) for my daughter and granddaughter, I had a FREE ticket for The Lone Ranger.

One-line Review: Depp has lots of fun in The Tonto Show, movie just meh.

The Lone RangerThe Lone Ranger (2013) – Rated PG-13

Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.”

The Lone Ranger is such a shame.

My wife’s major complaint with the film is that Johnny Depp essentially plays the entire film in ‘redface’. There would certainly have been outrage if Johnny Depp had played a quirky African-American in blackface but apparently it is still okay for Caucasians to take leading roles as Native Americans away from actual Native Americans. My wife chose not to attend.

Admittedly this is a century old problem for Hollywood. Jeff Chandler (born Ira Gossell) practically made a career out of playing Cochise, assaying the role three times in four years (1950-4). 1962’s Geronimo cast Chuck Connors (aka The Rifleman) in the titular role. A decade later, Charles Bronson went native in Chato’s Land. Sitting Bull has been portrayed by actors as varied as African-American Noble Johnson (1926), J. Carrol Naish (1950, 1954), and Michael Pate (1965). Later films ‘solved’ the racism issue by casting a leading Caucasian as a white man among the Indians (“Little Big Man”, “Dances with Wolves”).

Leaving that aside, there are still more opportunities for outrage. The new movie is clearly an affront to anyone who values the old Clayton Moore series (1949-1957). I doubt anyone even remembers the Klinton Spilsbury outing (1981). In our latest outing, Armie Hammer plays John Reid aka The Lone Ranger as a cross between a gibbering idiot and a total git. Honestly, the film would only have been a half hour long except that every time someone else was going to be a hero, Reid stepped in and bungled everything. This skewering of a pop culture hero can be done as farce (a la The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu) but here it is just a given that Reid is absolutely hopeless (albeit with phenomenal luck).

If you aren’t outraged yet, how about releasing a big budget Disney film during the summer (with all the cachet and family members that brings) and finding out that the villain is not only sadistic but a cannibal as well. Butch Cavendish pulls out and eats the heart of a still living (okay, not for long) heroic sheriff. Some of this is offscreen to preserve the PG-13 rating but they show as much as they can and then you can hear more. If you still missed it, don’t worry they will explain it in detail later.

Still not outraged? The wholesale slaughter of Comanches is perpetrated but it is so insignificant as to be relegated to an almost missed sideplot save for a key dialogue exchange during a standoff. Not being a subtle movie, our dashing cavalryman Fuller is made up to look like George Armstrong Custer. Christianity takes a beating throughout the movie as well.

Okay, I give up. If I can’t outrage you, let me tell you that The Lone Ranger clocks in at an excruciating two hours and twenty-nine minutes. I love epics and some movies need over two hours to develop their plot and/or characters. The Lone Ranger could easily have chopped half an hour, probably an hour without losing much.

Having typed all of that, there is much to like about The Lone Ranger. Johnny Depp’s performance is as wonderfully quirky as ever, though it will remind you of Jack Sparrow from time to time. It is to the film’s credit that it realizes that Depp is the star and the film should be titled Tonto. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual eccentric self but the role is rather a one-trick pony.

Sadly none of the other actors are given much to do. Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, and Barry Pepper are all very capable character actors but strangely don’t make much of an impression here. James Badge Dale is suitably scruffy and heroic but isn’t in much of the movie. Armie Hammer comes across as rather bland, when he isn’t being a prig.

There are elements of the unreliable narrator here that are very amusing. The outrageous stunts and setpieces are entertaining. The Lone Ranger borrows a lot from other better films, particularly Little Big Man, so if you haven’t seen the films Lone Ranger references, then you might think it quite imaginative. There is a particularly wonderful dialogue exchange during a standoff.

Mild spoiler ahead:

The climactic setpiece is cleverly set to the tune of the William Tell overture. Of course, because this is an overblown blockbuster, director Verbinski has to have Hans Zimmer add to the classic tune as well as recycle it. The climax just goes on forever.

Oh, and Verbinski, we get it – Indians trade.

Black Hawk Down – Special Forces Week

Black Hawk Down is currently available on instant Netflix

Black Hawk DownBlack Hawk Down (2001) – Rated R

“Based on a true story, U.S. Rangers and an elite Delta Force team attempt to kidnap two underlings of a Somali warlord, their Black Hawk helicopters are shot down, and the Americans face intense combat with the militia on the ground.”

No one gets left behind, you know that.”

My bone of the day to pick is this. The Hurt Locker was a very good film but not only were Up in the Air, Up, Inglourious Basterds and District 9 (all nominees) better films but, as a modern portrait of war (post World War II), you simply cannot beat Black Hawk Down.

I agree that it was long overdue for a female director to win and Kathryn Bigelow is certainly a good one but it really cheapens the prize when you start to think that the award was not actually given for Best Film but to redress a wrong or perhaps for being topical.

I guess my real gripe is that the best post-World War II war film, Black Hawk Down, was not even nominated for Best Picture and lost Best Director to Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind.

Black Hawk Down did win Best Oscars for Editing (amazing and well-deserved) and Sound (if you have good speakers, you can almost feel the bullets hitting). It was also nominated for Best Cinematography (again well-deserved – Best Cinematography does not always have to be pretty) and the aforementioned Best Director for Ridley Scott.

Poor Ridley Scott. In 1979, he made one of my all-time favorite horror movies, Alien. In 1982, he made one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies, Blade Runner.

He finally got his first Oscar nomination for Thelma & Louise, THE female buddy flick but lost to The Silence of the Lambs. He got his next one for Gladiator but lost to Traffic (seriously? he lost to a remake of a BBC miniseries where the miniseries was better than the movie.). He lost the Best Director nod on Black Hawk to A Beautiful Mind.

So to sum up my favorites: Ridley Scott made Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down. The best director films for those years were Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, Traffic, and A Beautiful Mind. Which set of films are still watched today? I have to give you that Silence of the Lambs was better directed than Thelma & Louise.

Well I guess I have used up all my room to rant. I better quickly run down why you should see this film.

Part of the reason Black Hawk Down is so good is the incredible attention to detail. The black hawks and little birds are real black hawks and little birds. Real Rangers do the rope scenes. The satellite maps behind Garrison are some of the real scenes from that battle.

Ken Nolan did an incredible job of trimming down the unbelievably detailed book by Mark Bowden. Most of what is trimmed out are pre- and post-raid events, an examination of the drug khat, and some Somali points of view (from what I remember).

While I deride Tony Scott for his unnecessary jump-cutting, bleached out cinematography, and sped-up and slowed down scenes, here Ridley Scott uses all of these to great effect. If I had to use one word to describe Black Hawk Down, it would be intense.

I am going to be brief about the acting. There are a number of name actors in this film but also many unknowns. I found all the performances to be spot-on. Josh Hartnett is the lead but this is really an ensemble film. Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, Ewen Bremner, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard and more all put in fine performances.

I really love that there is no one hero – these are all heroes. I defy you not to tear up the first time you hear the snipers volunteer to go to the downed chopper.

As if you could not tell, I whole-heartedly recommend this incredibly intense film. The only reason not to see it is if you are extremely averse to realistic warfare.

Interestingly while this is a right-wing favorite (it is actually a personal favorite of George W. Bush), it is also a favorite of the Somalis (although for quite different reasons). Regardless of ideology this is one humdinger of a true story. By the way “skinnies” is not a malnutrition reference, it comes from “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein.

People Watch: Yes that is Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tumbling from the helicopter that starts the disaster rolling.

Black Hawk Down – Help! We are Surrounded week

This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Black Hawk Down is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Black Hawk Down – Rated R for intense, realistic, graphic war violence and for language.

When U.S. Rangers and an elite Delta Force team attempt to kidnap two underlings of a Somali warlord, their Black Hawk helicopters are shot down, and the Americans suffer heavy casualties, facing intense fighting from the militia on the ground. Director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) captures the brutal, incessant battle scenes with powerful and intimidating framework and pace in this military drama based on a true story”

“No one gets left behind, you know that.”

My bone of the day to pick is this. The Hurt Locker was a very good film but not only were Up in the Air, Up, Inglourious Basterds and District 9 (all nominees) better films but, as a modern portrait of war (post World War II), you simply cannot beat Black Hawk Down.

I agree that it was long overdue for a female director to win and Kathryn Bigelow is certainly a good one but it really cheapens the prize when you start to think that the award was not actually given for Best Film but to redress a wrong or perhaps for being topical.

I guess my real gripe is that the best post-World War II war film, Black Hawk Down, was not even nominated for Best Picture and lost Best Director to Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind.

Black Hawk Down did win Best Oscars for Editing (amazing and well-deserved) and Sound (if you have good speakers, you can almost feel the bullets hitting). It was also nominated for Best Cinematography (again well-deserved – Best Cinematography does not always have to be pretty) and the aforementioned Best Director for Ridley Scott.

Poor Ridley Scott. In 1979, he made one of my all-time favorite horror movies, Alien. In 1982, he made one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies, Blade Runner.

He finally got his first Oscar nomination for Thelma & Louise, THE female buddy flick but lost to The Silence of the Lambs. He got his next one for Gladiator but lost to Traffic (seriously? he lost to a remake of a BBC miniseries where the miniseries was better than the movie.). He lost the Best Director nod on Black Hawk to A Beautiful Mind.

So to sum up my favorites: Ridley Scott made Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down. The best director films for those years were Kramer vs. Kramer, Gandhi, Traffic, and A Beautiful Mind. Which set of films are still watched today? I have to give you that Silence of the Lambs was better directed than Thelma & Louise.

Well I guess I have used up all my room to rant. I better quickly run down why you should see this film.

As with Zulu yesterday, part of the reason Black Hawk Down is so good is the incredible attention to detail. The black hawks and little birds are real black hawks and little birds. Real Rangers do the rope scenes. The satellite maps behind Garrison are some of the real scenes from that battle.

Ken Nolan did an incredible job of trimming down the unbelievably detailed book by Mark Bowden. Most of what is trimmed out are pre- and post-raid events, an examination of the drug khat, and some Somali points of view (from what I remember).

While I deride Tony Scott for his unnecessary jump-cutting, bleached out cinematography, and sped-up and slowed down scenes, here Ridley Scott uses all of these to great effect. If I had to use one word to describe Black Hawk Down, it would be intense.

I am going to be brief about the acting. There are a number of name actors in this film but also many unknowns. I found all the performances to be spot-on. Josh Hartnett is the lead but this is really an ensemble film. Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, Ewen Bremner, William Fichtner, Sam Shepard and more all put in fine performances.

I really love that there is no one hero – these are all heroes. I defy you not to tear up the first time you hear the snipers volunteer to go to the downed chopper.

As if you could not tell I whole-heartedly recommend this incredibly intense film. The only reason not to see it is if you are extremely averse to realistic warfare.

Interestingly while this is a right-wing favorite (it is actually a personal favorite of George W. Bush), it is also a favorite of the Somalis (although for quite different reasons). Regardless of ideology this is one humdinger of a true story. By the way “skinnies” is not malnutrition reference, it comes from “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein.

People Watch: Yes that is Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tumbling from the helicopter that starts the disaster rolling.