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Mark K

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Rating History

The Lone Ranger
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

This film is a blatant attempt at formula popcorn entertainment, but they chose the wrong characters to do it with. The muddled mess that is The Lone Ranger was awkward to watch, awkward in dialogue, and clichéd in almost every way that isn't fun. The trouble is the whole thing is veering from camp to violent so abruptly that you barely have time to see if the characters are reacting the same way you are. They aren't, which is one of the real weaknesses here. They didn't dare go all the way to comedy, but they also don't serve treat any of the messages of injustice, greed, and inhumanity to Native Americans in any purposeful way. In fact, it's almost like the film-makers are reveling in the horrible stereotypes the film represents, (or they themselves were the characters!) and the film completely fails to deconstruct them. The cast is also divided on whether they belong to the campy side, the historical realism region, or the classic western feel, and that's a huge problem. Almost the only character I liked was Silver the horse. He had the clearest objectives of anyone. In fact, he was a whole lot smarter than any of the human characters, and the most heroic. The large and talented supporting cast is largely wasted. What humor can be found in Johnny Depp's crazy Tonto is also largely wasted, because the film is trying to recoup the audience from another stomach-churning uncomfortable moment seconds before. I now realize that Johnny Depp is clever in another way: By always wearing face makeup in his comedic efforts, he doesn't have to really reveal his facial disdain for being in this film. It's amazing how close I called this by my own numbers: 1 point for the trains 1 point for the sum total of talented cast, and a half-point for the action. People that complain that Disney sugar-coats everything have not seen this film. It's the ugly side of Disney's production house, and that's not a good thing for them at all.

The Shawshank Redemption
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I don't even remember why we went to see this film in the theaters the first time, except perhaps we liked the stars in it, and it looked like it might be an intelligent film. It wasn't what we expected, but it's an incredible film: intelligent and somewhat old-fashioned. It's a film that we have watched over again several times, and are still amazed at how well done it is. It's well-directed, well-written, well cast, artfully shot (who thought a prison could be interesting as a backdrop!!!); and it has all kinds of metaphors and subtext to engage you beyond the wonderful character studies in the story. (A Steven King short story!)

It's a diverse array of situations that are skillfully blended: From the brutal life behind bars, to the changes that each character goes through during the time line of many years. You are carried along through all of it, and it all makes perfect sense, and seems genuine, even if its a period film. Taken purely as a film about prisoners, it can be difficult to sit through if you're after action. There's lots grittier films and shows about prison life old and new that will do that. It's when you put aside that viewpoint and the need for violence without explanation, and start looking at the larger issues, that's when the movie starts to really shine. You might even feel a kinship, in some ways, with these people's own 'personal prisons'. How do we escape ourselves? What is our humanity when we have none except a system to follow?

It's one of the few films I can think of where a narration (now almost a cliche to hear Morgan Freeman narrate anything) really worked. The narration deepens and enlarges the viewers understanding, and that's a tribute to the thoughtful script that goes along with it.

The performances speak for themselves. Everyone, from lead actors and key characters, to the prison guards and other prisoners, plays their role to perfection. Frank Darabont gives us just enough exposition, and supplements theater with great use of the camera, and vignettes that tell the story. There's not a wasted frame in this film.

Great musical score, too, and a great ending.

It's an experience as much as a movie. It takes you to your own private Zihuantanejo, and if you don't know what that means, you will by the end.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

It's nice to go back to Middle Earth. The first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit is another film put together with the same care and thought as the Lord of the Rings, but it's a different story, and any comparisons to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a bit unfair. This is Bilbo's story, and although there are some deviations from Tolkien canon, it remains faithful to the scope and tone of the adventure, while layering on some slightly darker details that neither Bilbo nor his dwarven companions realize. It remains to be seen how successful the tie-ins to the later Fellowship story will be, but as an adventure yarn, very few films can surpass what was done on the screen.

The story remains largely on the scale of Fellowship, with an episodic journey from place to place and peril to peril, just as the book takes us. For movie purposes, this means that action takes the place of exposition in some places, and its all balanced with some very nice right off the page story telling, and even some of the songs made it this time. The Unexpected Party scene is well handled, as is the first meeting with Gandalf, and the whole 'good morning' sequence. The journey itself displays wonderful vistas as always, and little things like the ponies, an the varied and interesting dwarves really balance the picture nicely. Peter Jackson has added some strategic overtones to figuring out the Necromancer's identity, and that the dragon is more of a threat long term. This is from the supplemental material and leftover writings of Tolkien about the Quest for Erebor. Meanwhile on the pure adventure side, there's plenty of action in the mountains, and the CG seems fantastical, but still organic enough to make you wonder. Even those of us that know the story well have to be impressed with the detail. I also liked the Top Chef trolls. Very amusing.

Performances are all wonderful. We don't get a lot of each dwarf, but certainly Thorin (Richard Armitage); Balin (Ken Stott); and Bofur (James Nesbitt) give excellent support to Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman). It's an ensemble piece, and everyone has good moments, even the nice cameos by Galadriel and pre-evil Saruman are showcased. Andy Serkis makes Gollum fascinating to watch once more, and the whole Riddles In The Dark sequence is a standout in a film filled with great moments. Martin Freeman is spot-on as Bilbo. As an actor, Freeman is more comic than hero, but when he says a sincere line, as he does perfectly in some key palces, it comes off beautifully. McKellen is flawless as usual.

Yes, it has some weak points, but they're not all that important. The early inclusion of a nemesis for Thorin is a little much, but it helps the pacing on this film, which is long, and it gives us a needed break from the foot slog that the book details. The tone of the film is necessarily much more whimsical, since this is before Sauron actually announces his return, and before the Ring really makes its presence known. As Tolkien wrote, Bilbo's arrival in the caverns started a small avalanche of happenings that culminate in the later Lord of the Rings story, but Jackson has skillfully kept this in the background. The momentous nature of the Ring has yet to be revealed, and even Bilbo isn't very sure of how it can be used. The humorous tone makes the more dangerous sequences more dire, and the heartfelt moments even better, as when Bilbo pledges to continue with the dwarves to get their homeland back. It's just the tip of the hobbit iceberg that we'll see in the next two films. This is all difficult material to adapt, and Jackson and his team have once again lost nothing of their skill ove the last decade. It shows in every frame.

Lincoln (2012)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

If you want to know something about a person's life, you need to look at their actions, and what those actions created. This is the way Steven Spielberg has chosen to educate and inform us about probably one of the most iconic figures in US History, or world history for that matter. The study of his final months in office, and the political battle to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is a brilliant take that give real perspective to history, and here, Spielberg lets the words and actions tell the story. Tony Kushner's play-like script toes the fine line between education and realism in almost perfect ways. Spielberg's restrained direction keep the overall themes in play throughout the long scenes in rooms and Congress. It's a long film, but it draws you in, because it's successful at playing on these themes of fairness, equality, and justice under the law.

The 13th Amendment continued the change that the Constitution started, and a hundred years later, the Equal Rights Act picks up where the the 13th fell short out of the necessity of compromise. The workings of our government are also showed in miniature here, although today, it's much more impersonal. Spielberg hits all these things through his story telling, and the characters are vivid, even if there are a lot of them.

The cast is superb. It feels less like a movie or a documentary, and more as if you are in the room with these men, trying to reason through what to do. It felt like a magic spell had grabbed me and trasported me to those times, yet I could completely relate their story to our government and politics today. A lot of credit will be given, rightly, to Irish-born Daniel Day-Lewis, whose portrayal is pretty flawless, and feels right. His dynamic with his wife, Sally Field, son Robert, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and members of his cabinet (The Team of Rivals) are are well-played, and feel organic to the story. However, it's an ensemble effort to tell an important story well. Here was a cast that understood and valued the story they were telling, and whether they portrayed someone major, or a sideshow to the main event, it's all entertaining and builds upon the last scene with architectural perfection, yet you don't feel much manipulation. There are even moments of folksy humor and irony that are inserted with Spielbergian magic into the story they are relating. It's all necessary, and every frame of film is used to move the story forward.

If you know a lot about the period portrayed, you will appreciate the film on many levels, but even if you don't, it's moral themes come through strongly. I said earlier in this review that this Amendment set the stage for much follow-on legislation, and not just in the United States, but legislation for the moral center that Lincoln talks about across the whole world. History is about perspective, and 'Lincoln' gives us a window into that time, and a chance to look at the moral battles that are taking place today. Recommended.

Yellow Submarine
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Yellow Submarine is a strange film, no doubt about it. It had a checkered history from the very start, with the Beatles internal problems, lack of money, lack of script, and yet they managed to make a film that's, well, unique. It's almost like opening a time capsule to the era when almost anything that was experimental or different could make it to the screen, and I was glad when I heard that they had shelved plans for a remake in this decade, because it simply would have failed.

As a film, it's a mixture of cultural images from the 1960's, drug culture hangover art, and music from one of the most influential bands of all time. What you get is a strange voyage from grungy 1960's London to the world of Pepperland, which is under siege from the Blue Meanies. You can read the symbolism of who these guys represent many ways. They can be seen as 'the establishment' of pinstriped soulless bankers and accountants, or hawkish, war supporters, or just weird creatures that hate music and art.

Watching the film again now, it still seems relevant. We're still at war with hawkish politics and banks and prejudice and our basic liberties being threatened. It's colorful and the use of the music is kinda cool. Ultimately the forces of good and truth, aided by the Beatles, triumph over the Blue Meanies. You're never really sure what its all about, but its fun to watch.