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The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger film posterSynopsis

Based on the TV cowboy series of The Lone Ranger and Tonto and how they start out in 1870 Texas.  Tonto rescues John Reid from bandits and they battle with corrupt army and railroad crooks and Comanches.  Helena Bonham Carter helps out with an ivory leg.  The film is a story that the ancient Tonto tells to a child in the San Francisco of 1933.

Review

It’s appropriate that this film starts in 1933 San Francisco since The Lone Ranger started out as a radio show in that decade.  Then it became a 50s TV show starring a masked cowboy in tights, his Comanche friend Tonto called him Kimo Sabe.  The masked cowboy rides a white stallion called Silver.  This western is a fantasy for children about the Wild West, as opposed to other western films which are fantasies for adults about the west.  This film succumbs to an over elaborate foundation myth for the TV series, Johnny Depp as Tonto delivers his narrative like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man who also told quirky stories about the old days, happily mixing myth and history.  Depp tries on another comic performance, in Pirates of the Caribbean he is drunkenly flamboyant, whereas in  Lone Ranger he pokes fun at the stereotype of the stolid frowning Indian.  Depp’s got a dead crow stuck on his head and he also wears white face paint, a fashion which no other “Indian” feels inclined to follow.  How could you make even a slightly serious film about this subject.

Special effects are nicely blended with Monument Valley shots like at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  This Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) starts out as a naive lawyer who wants to ‘tame’ the west (like Jimmy Stewart liked to play), and he ends up as an improbable hero on a white horse which is made to gallop on top of railway cars whilst being immune to all bullets.  The Lone Ranger is similar to the reluctant heroes of Shane and High Noon.  The mask and the hat are silly enough so there’s no attempt to put him into tights.  The villains led by Tom Wilkinson are like those of Heaven’s Gate, corrupt capitalist barons who use outlaws to destroy native Americans and rape the land of its minerals.  We get a sort of re-enactment of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 (shown in the film Soldier Blue) so it can be a bit serious as it entertains.  We also get a fantasy encyclopaedia of oddities like a Barnum circus:  flesh eating rabbits and H Bonham Carter’s ivory leg which shoots bullets.  The classical Western backdrops make the film feel like a moving diorama of Charles Russell paintings.  Buffalo Bill’s wild west circus originated this vision of the west. The rail chases, gunfights, mining camps, and wild west towns all invite us to think of other western films we’ve seen.  The realistic ‘wild West’ was of course a radically different world, perhaps McCabe and Mrs Miller approximates to the real thing.  Lone Ranger is a child’s fantasy realized in CGI and it works as a good entertaining film.

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Les Misérables

Les Misérables

Synopsis

As nearly everyone on this planet knows, this is a globally successfull musical based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  It’s about Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) persecuted by his obsessive pursuer Javert (Russell Crowe).  Valjean becomes a thief and uses his loot to become a respectable mayor.  He takes the persecuted waif Fantine (Anne Hathaway) under his wing, she dies and he looks after her daughter Cosette who grows up to be played by Amanda Seyfried.  It’s French revolutionary time in the 1830s.  Cosette becomes romantically involved with Marius (Eddie  Redmayne) who is romantically pursued by Eponine (Samantha Banks). Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen play a pair of crooked innkeepers.  The barricades go up, Valjean and Javert meet again, and will Cosette learn the truth and find happiness?

 

Review

I’m not usually an aficionado of filmed musicals, their plots are crudely simple and characters are embarrassing as they mime their way through sentimentalized absurdities.  I was prepared for more of this in Les Misérables, however in spite of the usually forgettable music, in spite of Russell Crowe’s singing (sounding like a wounded cow ), and in spite of relentlessly sung dialogue, this film is quite enjoyable.  I actually wanted to sing as I left the cinema.  Les Misérables is energetic and passionate, a lot of the time it seemed more like sung acting than characters simply singing songs.  The actors sing as they perform, there is no miming from dubbed recordings and this is quite impressive.  Anne Hathaway held her notes and our attention through the “Dream” song.  Samantha Barks reprised her Nancy role, as she was equally impressive.  The acting always seems sincere and passionate and unselfconsciously often melodramatic.  The sets are amazingly detailed like the prints of Gustave Dore summoned in gloomy colours.  The revolutionaries strike poses as if for a David painting.  Paris in Les Misérables looks like a stage set for an opera and this is surely apt, the plaster elephant like an opera sentinel against the stacked furniture of the barricades.  The unrealistic absurdity of piled up furniture against gunpowder and infantry emphasizes the staginess, as does the impossibility of the Paris streets bursting into song!  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers are hilarious as they provide Oliver Twist comic colour (they remind me of Fagin and the Artful Dodger).  Helena Bonham Carter also reprised her Sweeny Todd role but she should be careful.  In Les Misérables she wears bad make up and a fright wig, in Alice in Wonderland she wears bad make up and a fright wig, she does the same in Sweeny Todd and Great Expectations.  She really must get away from this predictable casting, maybe it’s Tim Burton’s influence.  Anyway, Les Misérables shows that you don’t have to have a good singing voice, just join in the fun.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Synopsis

From the Dickens story about the coming into fortune of Pip a blacksmith’s apprentice, Magwitch his benefactor, and Estella the love of his life.

Criticism

The film with all others must be compared is David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations.  That film is in black and white and is threaded with exciting cliff hangers and is reputed to capture Dicken’s spirit;  after all his novels were initially serialised and illustrated in newspapers.  The Lean film is exhuberant and unconcerned with the perils of editing.  This latest film follows on from last year’s BBC adaptation of Great Expectations which starred Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham.  In this film Miss Haversham is played by Helena Bonham Carter who looks like she’s auditioning for an old rock music video.  I’m not sure that Helena Bonham Carter’s twitchiness is apt for this role.  There is great story in Haversham’s ritual of grief and revenge, here we just get a film set trying to approximate to our conventional imaginings from the book, there’s no attempt to get beyond the almost pantomimic familiarities.  She looks like she’s gurning for one of her partner’s films, let’s say Tim Burton’s “The Mad Bride”.

Pip himself is a snob, the fact that it’s easy to understand his social climbing nastiness does not mitigate the offence.  John Mills in the Lean film allows Pip a certain redemption, his gentlemanly conscience subsequently bothers him as he later treats Joe Gargery properly whereas Jeremy Irvine as Pip merely changes his attitude to Gargery because changed circumstances compel a minimal decency.

This latest Great Expectations is populated with actors who try to outdo each other in Victorian weirdness, which is more frenetic than imaginative. Estella also goes through the well worn routines we know from other adaptations, it’s as if she is merely trying to get a bit ahead of us reading the lines for her.  Robbie Coltrane plays Jaggers the lawyer, his lawyer’s office has none of the dense weirdness that Lean’s black and white film showed us.  Minor characters seem to have more freedom than in previous versions.  Sally Hawkins relishes playing the brutalized termagant trapped with the simple Gargery, she lashes out in quotidian frustration (admittedly this is not a demanding role). Jason Flemyng  as Joe Gargery is a bit more complicated than the holy fool played by Leans’ Bernard Miles, he rejects Jagger’s offer of payment for Pip with wounded pride.

The famous graveyard scene in Lean’s film is impossible to beat, the wind bleakly dramatizes the black and whites as Pip gets into a Wordsworthian terror about the surroundings marshlands.  It reminds me of that scene in The Prelude when young Wordsworth steals a boat and his guilt becomes a threatening mountain.  In this latest film this scene looks like museum workers dressing up for a picnic.

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews

 

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2Synopsis

H.P. and chums finally battle the dark forces led by R. Fiennes as Voldemort with Helena Bonham Carter and co.  They attack Hogwarts and there is a final battle in which H.P. seems to die but meets Michael Gambon  and he survives though Voldemort thinks he has killed Potter.  Snape is killed and among the secrets about H.P. is that Snape loved Potters’ mother.  H.P. and co defeat the forces of evil.  At the end the adult Harry, Hermione, and Ron send their kids to Hogwarts.

Criticism

For me this film repeats the limitations of the other films which I’m told, are not as good as the books.  This public school farrago with painted hats once again has actors pointing sticks at each other but this time they bring in some Lord of the Rings type trolls.  Voldemort looks like a latex Quasimodo.  Potter and his cronies look like lottery winners in a special effects bonanza.  I’m bemused as to why this Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Dr Who, has caught on globally.  The franchise has simply grown by a sort of populist osmosis.  Like a house pet it’s been around for years and acquired a cosy familiarity.

It’s all safe and unchallenging, too comfortable with its middle class preening.  There’s nothing disconcerting or innovative.  It’s too rooted in the early 21st century to be able to say anything universal about childhood or our fantasies.  Still, crticizing it makes you feel like the Christmas party pooper, the guy who mugged Santa Claus.

Rowling has become Britain’s Disney and she may do impressive things yet, but these films lack the magic that many of her readers find in her books.  Can’t say I’m sorry to see the end of these films.  This is the last, isn’t it?.

 

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The King’s Speech

Synopsis

About ‘Bertie’, The Duke of York, who became George VI after the abdication of his older brother who was Edward VIII.  Bertie is played by Colin Firth as the stammering, vulnerable son of the insensitive George V, played by Michael Gambon.  Mrs Bertie is Elizabeth (later known to Spitting Image fans as the Beryl Reid-voiced termagent) who subsequently became the Queen Mother, is played by Helena Bonham Carter.  She gets Bertie to visit a  speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, known as Logue who is Australian with thespian aspirations and is a likeable no nonsense professional.  He has kids who read Shakespeare.  Bertie attends Logue’s sessions until he considers that Logue gets above himself by giving advice about the possible abdication of Edward VIII, who resigns, and Bertie prepares to be King, cold shouldering the petitionary Logue.  Eventually Bertie gets back to lessons with Logue and as George VI he makes a great Logue-directed speech to boost war morale.

Criticism

This is yet another film which is quite flattering about monarchs and the charms of constitutional monarchy.  One thinks of Frear’s Elizabeth and the recent Young Victoria.  There is no doubt that Firth gives a powerful performance as a vulnerable victim of Victorian emotional crassness, his struggle to assert his decency and humanity are quite touching.  Firth in this role shows that same interesting good man frailty you get from Ian Holm, the repressed decencies through frail sensitivity.  His sessions with the equally superb Geoffrey Rush are gripping, they resemble the best of psychological sparring matches.  For a supposedly inarticulate bumbler, Bertie is given some pretty sharp ripostes, as is Logue.  The Australian seems to be his own man, insisting the sessions are on his terms.  Inevitably, he probes Bertie’s emotional frailties and his cure is a way to overcome this, symmptomized by his stammer.  Logue uses Bertie’s anger when he takes the mickey out of coronation silliness, the would-be King is angered by disrespect but the horrible bit comes earlier when Bertie thinks Logue has overstepped the limits of propriety.  He rebuffs Logue by sulkily ignoring him and accusing him of near treason when Logue wants to discuss Bertie’s options over Edward VIII’s behaviour.  Now this is the part of the film where it’s deference gets suffocating:  we are expected to applaud Bertie for slumming it with a ‘commoner’ (why do we not find this word amusing?).  He does this like Prince Hal in Henry IV but he ultimately remembers the gulf that divides them, the chumminess is meant simply to emphasise royalist mystique.  The audience dutifully laughed at H.  Bonham Carter’s cheerful informalities.  Insofar as the film uses this gulf, it seems to endorse the very alienation that later might be overcome, but whose legitimacy is not questioned.  Bertie shows his decency by apologising for his aloofness, quite commendable, but any relationship is on his terms because he is the monarch.

This film shares with other films about monarchs a fashionable contempt for politicians as such knowing that it would resonate with audiences prepared to despise politicians over expenses scandals.  The monarch is flatteringly shown to be disinterestedly superior to the self seeking politicians concerned only to dissimulate in their desire to manipulate.  Said monarch uses mystical twaddle about “my people” and the stoutness of the “common man”, such archaisms are meant in all seriousness.  This I suppose should be no surprise in this age of celebrity cultism.

Edward VIII is played by Guy Pearce and, as usual, is shown as self-centred.  I often suspect that he abdicated not because of his relationship with Simpson but because he had sympathies with the Nazi regime, so he cut and ran.  He merely emphasises George VI’s reliability.

The film is perceptive about this period:  the grey tackiness never far away from the rococo pomp and the fawning silliness over all the Puritarian liturgy.  This sort of film has been made possible by Richard Curtis and his tourist industry makeover of a deferential Britain of mum and dad, Arthur Mee, and Ovaltine commercials.  It skilfully uses nostalgia for 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s deference in the service of a monarchy in the same way that Disraeli used populist philistinism to revive the monarchy in the 1870’s.  Firth and co try the same, with all their superb acting.  The film aims to be emotionally manipulative and it works to a degree.

Michael Gambon’s George V is the given the shrewd observation that the 1930’s is the first time that monarchs are required to be actors reaching into everyone’s home; precisely.  The soap opera potential of the institution was to be exploited to the full, usually to its benefit.  This film polishes the enchanted glass (a book was once written about monarchy, called The Enchanted Glass) and is happy to leave it so.

 
 

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