The Lords of Salem (2013)

The Lords of SalemReleased: April 19, 2013. Directed by: Rob Zombie. Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Bruce Davison. Runtime: 101 min.

“The Lords of Salem” reminds me of the pacing that “The Sixth Sense” had – slow pacing, but it intensely builds little by little. It also reminds me of it because both don’t have a lack of special effects. Otherwise, the two films are very different. The differences take place in terms of quality; “Sixth Sense” is incredible and “Salem” is far from.

The story follows Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) an everyday radio personality, who is sent a box containing a strange record – a “gift from the Lords.” The sounds heard from the record give her intense headaches, and trigger flashbacks from the town’s violent past, dating back all the way to 1694. How does she see them when she wasn’t present? We really can’t tell. But the story raises a primary question: Is Heidi going mad, or are the Lords back to take revenge on Salem, Massachusetts?

Zombie tells this story with classic, horrific storytelling that is a homage to atmospheric flicks of the 1980’s. He really does rely on the atmospheric style of it all, making it one of those style over substance flicks. It’s about one woman’s derailment into insanity; also think “The Shining,” just not nearly as effective. Director Rob Zombie puts his wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, in the lead role as the troubled Heidi, who enjoys drugs – which I wouldn’t think to be a valid idea due to her mental state. Moon tackles the role with a subtle vacant look through a lot of the film that seldom wavers, but she’s gaining some experience. In the supporting roles, Jeff Daniel Phillips portrays Whitey, a loyal friend concerned about Heidi. Ken Foree from the original “Dawn of the Dead” is on the Salem radio station team, but isn’t nearly as present as Whitey. Bruce Davison plays the most interesting character in a novelist who feels that the music by the mysterious band called the Lords is very unsettling.

That’s precisely what the film itself is: unsettling. If that is Zombie’s intention, to merely disturb, his film is a success. But there is a difference between unsettling one’s viewers, and disgusting them – as well as making them have a sort-of “What the F$!& is going on?” face throughout. That’s the type of feeling a lot of people are going to feel throughout this film. He resorts to spooks where there are witches who show up randomly in bathrooms and kitchens, and other assorted scares. Some of it’s creepy, and the tune on the record is haunting. The pacing is too slow, and the ending too weird. There are some aspects of the film some will be able to predict; but there are some surprising turns – with the directions Zombie goes in. The directions are sometimes not enjoyable at all because they’re just so twisted. But that’s Zombie for you. His new film is just too strange and too dull, empty and boring for my tastes. The history of the Salem witch trials is interesting, and the premise that Zombie creates that if the witches actually come back is a scary idea, but the execution is just awful.

Score30/100

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The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone RangerRelease Date: July 3, 2013

Director: Gore Verbinski

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner

Runtime: 149 min

Do you remember the days of your childhood when you’d invite some friends over, and play a good old game of Cops and Robbers? Or maybe you played Cowboys and Indians. Either way, it’s the same thing. Well, that’s precisely what Verbinski’s latest “The Lone Ranger” feels like. A 149-minute game of Cops and Robbers – only it’s about as entertaining as two friends bickering and saying “No! I shot you first!”

Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

This isn’t a terrible movie. I’ve seen quite a few terrible films in my day, and I would never call this a terrible movie. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s good or worth anyone’s time, either. It’s an old-school Westerner that has lots of action and humour. But the movie’s purpose is never crystal clear. It tries to be fun and serious all at once, and that muddles its themes of vengeance, justice and greed. It’s a comedy, a dull actioner, and and old-school Westerner all in one. Since it doesn’t seem that even the film-makers themselves know what type of movie they’re trying to make; it surely won’t be clear to the audience.

There aren’t many surprises in this plot. At all. It’s one of those stories that, if you nod off for ten minutes, you won’t miss a damned thing. All of the action scenes are Cowboys and Indians/Road Runner & Wile. E. Coyote styled. By the time the Lone Ranger shouts “Hi-yo, Silver!” I expected him to say “Meep-meep!” instead. This is an exhausting movie that never feels as if it’ll end. The finale could be a romping good time if it would have happened an hour earlier. But by the time the 90-minute mark comes by, it shouldn’t be called the “The Lone Ranger” any longer. “The Long and Boring Ranger” is a more appropriate title. (And that folks, is why I don’t have a future in coming up with movie titles.)

Johnny Depp delivers that same sort-of eccentric shtick he’s been handing out since his Jack Sparrow years. That isn’t saying it won’t be amusing. It’s quite hilarious and he gets some big laughs – and as much as they are wedged in, the laughs become welcome in this overly dull screenplay. The five big laughs that he produces isn’t worth two and a half hours of your valuable time, however. Depp’s performance is becoming less effective since he’s played Jack Sparrow four times, and Tonto once (but it feels like he’s just felt Sparrow five times). He breaks the fourth wall once or twice by recounting his tale to a small boy at a carnival he’s at. He’s in an Old-Western themed attraction, standing in a Native American cubby. Some carnivals like to use wax figures, but apparently others like to use real, ancient-looking Native Americans named Tonto to scare the shit out of kids.

The kid portrayed by Mason Cook (“Spy Kids 4”, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”)  is annoying. I don’t know how this kid keeps getting work. I may be biased because I’m not a fan of anyone under the age of ten (except if they’re related to me, or really cute, or animated), but when a child delivers a stellar performance, I’ll praise the hell out of it. (Like Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” or the little Pierce Gagnon in last year’s “Looper”.) But if the kid just stands there with a “Oh no mister, say it ain’t so” kinda look on his face, I’ll trash the hell outta it. He didn’t really have to be in the movie at all – and Disney could have saved a lot of money by taking a different route with the story, and not have to use the CGI-aging technology for Depp. (They could have used lots of make-up, though.)

Armie Hammer is nothing to praise. He doesn’t have enough oomph to either make an iconic character feel iconic again, nor does he have enough star power to co-carry a $215-million blockbuster. Depp helps a lot, but even he cannot make this dull screenplay come to life very well; no matter how hard he tries. James Badge Dale feels as if he’s the real star here – but he’s not in enough to make this worthwhile. William Fichtner portrays the shockingly forgettable Butch Cavendish. Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Root and Barry Pepper are ay-okay in supporting turns; and Ruth Wilson is mostly just eye candy.

Gore Verbinski needs to learn the definition of an editing room. I hate mediocre movies that dare run past the 120-minute mark. Quentin Tarantino is easily forgiven for not having stepped into an editing room since 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs”, because his movies are so, so entertaining. Speaking of filmmakers somewhat similar to Tarantino, I could have sworn Helena Bonham Carter stepped onto the wrong set. As soon as she shoots her one-shot pistol attached at the end of her ivory leg, that woman with the machine gun leg from Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror” immediately comes to mind.

One last thing before this review comes to an end, here are just a few theories of where I think the hefty $215 million buckaroos went. All of the big names have to be paid; two trains get destroyed; and there’s an unnecessary usage of CGI-aging technology that could be avoided with rewrites. But I think this where most of the money went: The bird seed needed for the dead bird on Tonto’s head. Seriously, he feeds it and feeds it, and its appetite is never going to be satisfied because the bird’s pretty freaking dead. And do you know how else Disney could have saved a bunch of money? By just not making this mess of a film.

If this is good for anything it’s an eccentric and particularly hilarious turn from Mr. Depp, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen in the “Pirates” universe. There’s also a great score by Hans Zimmer. I’m struggling to think of anything better; and whenver I liked a character, they just got killed off. When this feature gallops on generic blockbuster territory, there’s no saving Reid and his fashionably-challenged pal, Tonto. This could be good fun for the casual movie-goer, but to me, it’s somewhat boring and torturous.

44/100

American Beauty – A film review by Daniel Prinn

American Beauty

Release Date: October 1, 1999

Director: Sam Mendes

Stars: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Runtime: 122 min

Tagline: … look closer.

 American Beauty is a depressing, but beautiful, insightful and profound look at the life of a dysfunctional suburban family; making it one of the greatest films of the 90s and 1999 (It’s hard to pick my favourite for 1999, I mean it was such a great year for films – this, The Sixth SenseFight Club, The Green Mile, etc.).

Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Carolyn Burnham (Annette Bening) have it all: they’re a perfect husband and wife, have perfect jobs, have a perfect family, a perfect home, all in a perfect little suburban neighbourhood; that is, on the outside. On the inside, Lester is a depressed man who reaches a breaking point in that middle-age crisis when he becomes attracted to his daughter’s friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and vows to change his life – in a way to woo the heart of this young woman. All the while, the daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is trying to find out who she really is, and she is going through those usual adolescent phases. She also strikes up a kind friendship with a shy boy who documents his everyday life, Ricky (Wes Bentley) next door who lives with his headstrong homophobic military father, Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper).

American Beauty is a sophisticated, entertaining and profound analysis of the so-called American dream gone sour.

I really like this one because it has a great sense of realism, because many families try to present themselves as perfect and beautiful, but they are really rotting and extremely dysfunctional in some ways on the inside.

Each of these characters has problems, and most are played quite beautifully. Lester Burnham is very depressed, unmotivated, but often comedic, middle-aged man who learns to change his life around and start to stand up for himself more, and try to be happier with himself despite his utter lack of care for the world. He is also wonderfully and flawlessly played by Kevin Spacey who brings his great dramatic acting and sarcastic comedic delivery to his character. Carolyn Burnham is really the dictator in the Burnham family, when she’s actually home, because she is so dedicated to her career. She’s a needed character but she’s very, very irritating. She’s the most irritating when she just randomly screams to the heavens. It’s cringe-worthy. She is one of my least favourite female characters, ever. She just offers a ridiculous amount of conflict to every single situation. Annette Bening plays a really good bitch. Jane Burnham is a pretty good character. She is trying to find herself in this mixed up world and just doesn’t understand how sometimes the world of high school works. She is played fairly well by Thora Birch. Angela is an okay character. She’s extremely inappropriate and immature, and she struts her little stuff all around town and brags about all of the guys she gets together with. Mena Suvari portrays the character fairly well, not great but not too bad. Ricky Fitts is (played well by Wes Bentley) is a good character. He’s just trying to understand the world, too. He is an interesting character that has a unique view of the world. Colonel Frank Fitts is played very well by Chris Cooper, and he is a very dictatorial and homophobic character that is ultimately very interesting.

While you’re watching it, even if you’re not thoroughly enjoying it, you can tell that it’s a well- made film with a beautiful message and a great story. It is just flawlessly and originally penned by Alan Ball (creator of TV’s True Blood).

There’s one great thing about this film, even if you didn’t like it – you can say, “Hey, my life isn’t all that bad compared to these guys; my life’s gravy if I stood next to these dysfunctional people.” It’s a depressing experience, but in the end it is thought-provoking and it is a pick-me-up because you’ll probably see that your life isn’t all that horrible. Though, don’t run to this film if you’re the happiest you’ve ever been – because a lot of it is really quite poignant, not really feel-good, and often darkly humorous.

American Beauty has it all, a great cast, extremely memorable scenes; it’s sometimes funny and it has a great and sophisticated story. It is well-structured and it takes great turns and has a great narrative by Kevin Spacey when he often adds his insight in voice-over. Looking back, I can hardly think of any flaws. It’s inappropriate and very sexually suggestive, but I can’t take points off for that. While the film may not be for everyone, it is great for those of you who can appreciate it. I think it’s a film everyone should see. You may not like it by the end of it all, but it’s quite worth the check.

100/100