FlixChatter Review – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

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Review by: Laura Schaubschlager

I just saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and once again, I have to separate my feelings as a die-hard 20-year-long Harry Potter fan from my thoughts as a movie critic. While I have a lot of gripes about how lazy J.K. Rowling‘s later additions and retcons to the Wizarding World canon have been, how parts of the timelines between the books and these movies don’t line up, and how casting an alleged domestic abuser as a lead in a movie whose source material has a main character who regularly suffers domestic abuse is messed up, I need to focus on this movie as just that–a movie. Fortunately, this second installment in the five-part series gives me plenty to work with on its own.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, directed by David Yates, picks up nearly a year after the end of the first film’s events. The sinister criminal wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes captivity and flees to Paris to rally more supporters and continue manipulating Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the sensitive orphaned teen with a mysterious and dangerous background. Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits his former student and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find and help Credence before Grindelwald can get to him.

As with the first Fantastic Beasts movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald has a serious pacing problem. I had hoped that once they decided to expand the series from three to five movies it would improve, since they now have two more films to spread out the story, but it’s just worse. They try to fit in too many subplots and character backstories without enough time to develop them, so they feel forced and lazy.

The plots and subplots include: Newt’s continued research of magical creatures (you know, what you’d expect a film series titled FANTASTIC BEASTS to mostly focus on) and his mission to save Credence per Dumbledore’s request with the help of wizard cop and maybe more-than-friend Tina (Katherine Waterston), as well as their strained relationship over a misunderstanding; Grindelwald’s plotting to take over the wizarding world; non-wizard Jacob (Dan Fogler) regaining his memory after having it wiped in the first movie (which happens entirely off screen) and having a rocky relationship with mind-reading witch Queenie (Alison Sudol); Queenie’s wavering loyalty and growing attraction to Grindelwald’s side; Credence’s relationship with the cursed serpentine shapeshifter Nagini (Claudia Kim), their background at a sketchy wizard circus, and their search for Credence’s birth mother; the love triange between Newt, his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and Theseus’s fiance/Newt’s former flame Leta Lestrange (Zöe Kravitz), and Leta’s dark family backstory, filled in by enigmatic wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam). There’s a good chance I forgot some smaller subplots. That’s a LOT to include in a two hour and thirteen minute-long movie, and because of that, it all feels underdeveloped and hastily explained.

While the writing is a major issue, there are still good parts of this movie. The acting is still mostly strong, especially the core four. Fogler is delightful as Jacob, Redmayne is charming as Newt, Waterston is excellent but underused as Tina, and Sudol does well with what she’s given as Queenie, considering her character feels dumber and more easily manipulated than she was set up to be in the first movie. Jude Law is a great new addition to the cast and is wonderful as a younger Dumbledore. Ezra Miller and Claudia Kim feel a little wooden in their performances, but that might be because of how little they’re given dialogue-wise. Zoe Kravitz gives an understated but emotional performance; while her backstory is poorly handled, she does a great job in the role. The weakest link acting-wise is absolutely Johnny Depp, whose performance feels so half-assed. Depp himself has admitted he’s had a sound engineer feed his lines to him through an earpiece for some movies (he claims it allows him to “act better with his eyes”), and it definitely feels like he did that here, and no amount of “eye acting” can save this performance. I’m still baffled at this casting decision; it feels like the filmmakers thought “Well, he was famous for playing exaggerated characters a decade or two ago, so let’s go with him.” I really wish they had kept Colin Farrell, who was much better as a disguised Grindelwald in the first movie; he’s just as menacing but much more subtle than Depp could ever be.

As with the first movie, this film’s biggest strength is the visuals. The CGI is gorgeous, and the design for the magical creatures is beautifully imaginative; I especially like the zouwu, an enormous lion-like beast Newt finds in Paris. We see some new creatures in Newt’s workspace at the beginning as well, and I really wish there had been more focus there, because there’s so much to look at. Some familiar creatures from the last film make appearances too, including the gold-sniffing niffler, and I don’t care how overused for cheap laughs he is, because he is SO CUTE and if you want to see me cry, just play the scene with an injured niffler dejectedly limping out of the wreckage of the fight toward the end of the film on a loop, and if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas, Barnes and Noble sells niffler stuffed animals-ahem, sorry. In addition to the stunning CGI, the costumes, hair, and makeup in this film is mostly lovely too, with the exception of Grindelwald’s watered-down Tim Burton-style villain look. Overall, I love the late-30’s aesthetic, and it blends well with the wizarding fashion.

I really wish this series had stuck to what the title promised: Newt’s adventures searching for fantastic beasts. If the focus had been on that, with Grindelwald’s rise to power as a B-plot (with some eventual overlap with the A-plot), it would have been so much easier to pace and develop. Unfortunately, J.K. Rowling continues to forget that writing screenplays isn’t the same as writing a series of 300 to 800-page novels. I know I’ll end up seeing the rest of Fantastic Beasts movies out of a sense of fan obligation, but as pretty as they are, my expectations are low for the future films.


Have you seen the latest ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

There are films you’d readily see just for the cast and this is one such a film. I’m familiar with Agatha Christie’s work though I can’t claim I’ve actually finished even one of her books from start to finish. I did however, see the episode from British ITV production of the Agatha Christie series starring David Suchet a couple of years ago, so the plot is still quite fresh in my mind. The latest adaptation featured Kenneth Branagh as the Belgian super detective Hercule Poirot. Branagh also served as director, based on a script by Michael Green (who’s had quite a year as he also wrote Logan and Blade Runner 2049).

The opening sequence in Jerusalem seemed too whimsical and decidedly over-the-top, and I’m not just talking about Poirot’s outlandish mustache. I read in a review somewhere that Branagh can’t decide which fake mustache given to him from the makeup department so he basically just wore them all in a row. I think that enormous mustache probably has its own trailer, too! That establishing scene introduced us to a god-like figure who’s an absolute genius in cracking criminal cases. It also revealed his quirky OCD personality, so obsessed he is with balance that when he stepped one foot on manure, he immediately had to do the same with the other foot.

For a story famous for being set on a train, the film took its time to finally get there. But once there, the train set pieces is really quite glorious, filled with lavish set pieces and even more gorgeous passengers decked in 1930s costumes. Despite the rather sluggish pacing, I enjoyed myself thanks to the amazing cast. A movie with Dame Judi Dench is an automatic must-see in my book, though sadly she didn’t get to do anything in this film. But to be fair, most of the actors here seemed to have spent more time in costumes than learning their lines. She’s still memorable here, as is Olivia Colman as Dench’s German maid.

It’s tough to be memorable in a large ensemble cast as this one, but I’d say the film’s MVPs are Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham, Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot. Oh, and hello Tom Bateman as train director Bouc (never seen this tall, dark and handsome Brit before but I sure hope I’ll see more of him!) It’s interesting casting to have Johnny Depp as Ratchett given his dire reputation of late. Branagh’s performance is often borderline over the top as well which in itself can be distracting. But I thought his monologue after the big reveal is pretty good and provides the high emotional point of the film. I love La Pfeiffer in this scene too, I’ve missed seeing her in movies. She’s one of those veteran actresses I wish would still get many intriguing roles.

I’m not going to talk about the plot here, but Branagh took some interesting creative licenses with how the story came to the big reveal. He also tried to vary the scenes of each passenger interrogation as to not bore the viewers, some work better than others. I love Branagh’s direction in Cinderella but here he seems too preoccupied with camera work (esp. the bird’s eye view angle) that the film feels rather haphazard at times. The dynamic camera angles adds energy to an otherwise stuffy whodunnit drama, but at times can be quite distracting as well.

Overall it’s a decent adaptation, but I’m not sure if it’s really all that necessary. I feel like the rich story would’ve been better served as a miniseries. There are parts that feel emotional, especially as we get to know who the passengers really are, but I think the film lacks any real suspense. That said, I still enjoyed it thanks to the committed cast, the stunning set pieces and the gorgeous score from one of my fave composers (and Branagh’s regular collaborator) Patrick Doyle. The ending seems to hint at ‘Poirot will return’ a la another titular character James Bond. Not sure I’d be so eager to return to another Poirot adaptation from Branagh though. I guess I’d recommend this if you like the cast, though if you’re a Christie fan you’d probably be more satisfied with re-reading the novel.


Have you seen the latest adaptation of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review – Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales (2017)

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Directed By: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 minutes

When I saw the first trailer for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so hard. While the first movie was enjoyable and still holds up as a fun adventure flick fourteen years later, the series has overstayed its welcome. The second and third were decent, but the fourth made it clear that these movies are pretty much just vehicles for Johnny Depp to ham it up as Jack Sparrow over and over, which I have issues with for a couple reasons. First is the domestic abuse allegations that came to light last year, which completely destroyed his likability for me-and for anyone who comments that Amber Heard is lying or it’s her fault: SAVE IT. While the allegations have changed how I feel about Depp, they’re not what this review is about, but if you insist on going there, I will fight you. Personal feelings aside, Depp’s acting hasn’t impressed me in a long time. His performances have become very one-note, not helped by playing the same character since 2003, which Disney has used as the primary marketing ploy for this movie. Because of this, I worried that they were compensating for an overall weak movie by putting most of the focus on its most popular character. With the fourth movie being so forgettable, my hopes weren’t high for this one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces us to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of original trilogy hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry has been spending most of his life searching for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which could be the key to rescuing his father from The Flying Dutchman’s curse. Hoping his father’s old friend Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) can help him, Henry teams up with the pirate, along with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist trying to navigate a mysterious map her father left her with when he abandoned her at birth. Along their journey, the three are pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew, who want to prevent Jack from using the Trident to escape their revenge.

This movie’s main problem is that it tries to fit too many individual backstories into two and a half hours, leading to fan-fiction levels of bad, clunky exposition. We have Jack’s history with Captain Salazar, Henry’s lifelong mission to rescue his father, Carina’s mysterious parentage and struggles as a female scientist in the mid-to-late 1700’s, and even previous Pirates villain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) gets a forced backstory shoved into the last half hour. The magical item the characters are searching for is poorly explained; it’s just supposed to “break all curses,” which is incredibly vague. If this had been the start of a new trilogy, the pacing could have been better, but because this is (supposedly) the last film, everything is crammed into one movie, and it’s a mess.

That said, the writing isn’t completely hopeless. There is a surprising amount of genuinely funny dialogue, especially among Jack’s crew. I also enjoy that the main female character’s defining characteristic is her scientific prowess and having to deal with men not taking her knowledge seriously. It’s refreshing having a leading lady who’s more than just the romantic interest; her intellectual expertise is instrumental in reaching their goal.

Regarding the acting, I have mixed feelings. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was…fine. He plays the character the same way he always has, so while he doesn’t bring anything new to the role, at least he’s consistent. The two young leads, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, are decent but not especially memorable, although Kaya shows a little more promise than Brenton. Geoffey Rush is always fun to watch and gives an enjoyable performance here, brief as it is. My favorite, though, is Javier Bardem, who is so good at making anything sound menacing in that deep, gravelly voice. Hearing that he was playing the villain made me a little more excited about seeing this movie, and he did not disappoint.

There are other positive aspects of this film as well. Like its predecessors, Dead Men Tell no Tales is a visually interesting movie. The action is good and the fight choreography is fun, although it gets buried in some of the larger crowd scenes. The character design and CGI for Captain Salazar and his crew is truly spooky; even his ship looks scary. The costumes, hair, and makeup are beautifully detailed. The soundtrack is as epic as ever; although Hans Zimmer isn’t the main composer for this film (his protégé Geoff Zanelli is), his famous theme is prominent throughout the movie, and I will never get tired of hearing it.

Overall, this is a decent adventure movie. The storytelling is poor and some of the acting is underwhelming, but some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s pretty to look at. Good job, Disney. You made a better Pirates movie than the last one (although that bar wasn’t set very high). Now, please, for the love of God, stop.

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Have you seen ‘Pirates 5’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: BLACK MASS (2015)

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It’s been almost 20 years since the last time Johnny Depp starred in a modern gangster film, the vastly underrated Donnie Brasco. He’s now back playing another true life gangster character, James “Whitey” Bulger, the most violent criminal in South Boston.

Told in a flashback style, the film starts with the integration of Bulger’s crew members. In the 70s, Bulger was just a small time gangster but then rose to the top by becoming an informant to the FBI. We get to see that he has a normal life with a young beautiful wife Lindsey (Dakota Johnson) and a son. His brother Billy Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the state senator, so we know he has a powerful ally.

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We’re then introduced to an FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who happens to be a childhood friend of the Bulger brothers. Connolly wants to move up the ranks in the FBI office and one day asked Whitey to help him bring down the Italian mafia. Whitey was hesitant at first; he doesn’t want to be known as a “rat”. Connolly convinced him otherwise and as the story progresses, we get to see how far both of these men will go to get what they want. For fans of gangster genre, there are not many new things that haven’t been told before cinematically.

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Depp has been getting lots of good buzz on his performance and I believe he deserves all the praise. At first I thought I was going to see Depp acting like the usual Depp’s character. But to my surprise, he really shines here as the ruthless gangster who has no hesitation to kill anyone who wronged him or come in his way. Bad makeup aside, he really brought a chilling portrayal of a psychopath and made me believe that this was the real Bulger.

The other standout performance belongs to Edgerton, he plays a weasel FBI agent that reminded me of Matt Damon’s character in The Departed. Cumberbatch didn’t really have much to do and his *Boston* accent was kind of distracting a few times. He did have a very good scene with Edgerton though; it’s a scene you’ll have to see to appreciate.

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The last film director Scott Cooper made was the uneven and quite frankly, very frustrating Out of the Furnace. Here he kept the pace moving quite nicely; I’m surprised that he was able to keep the film’s runtime in just over 2 hours. He pretty much borrowed every element from other films such as Goodfellas, The Godfather, The Departed and so on. It’s not a knock on him but I wish he came up with his own style to tell this story.

Even though I thought it’s a good film, I can’t say it’s a great one. This kind of story has been told many times before and I think with a more talented director behind the cameras, this could’ve been a great flick. I’d say see it just for Depp’s and Edgerton’s performances, those two really saves the film from being another average gangster thriller.

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So have you seen Black Mass? Well, what did you think?

Five movies everyone seem to love that leave me cold

RonSwansonBannerThis list has been on my draft folder for some time. Well, now seems as good a time as any to counter all the the applause for movies as one award after another is getting announced. This post is inspired by Abbi’s list, as well as Kristin’s who posted her own list. Now, I don’t totally abhor all of these films, but like Abbi said, I really don’t get all the praise and for me at least, it did NOT live up to the hype.

I use IMDb rating and Rotten Tomatoes score just to show how critically-acclaimed these films are. Two of the classic films listed here are even considered iconic masterpieces which is even more baffling to me. If you happen to LOVE these movies, well I wish I could say the same but I think they’re awful, sorry!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

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IMDB rating: 7.1 | RT Score: 87%

I actually enjoyed the first Hellboy and that’s the reason why I was excited to see the second one but heh, my hubby and I actually turned it off after less than a half hour. For some reason I just couldn’t figure out why we liked the first one but this sequel is so boring. All the peculiar creatures and fantastical setting we found amusing the first time around just feels derivative, it feels like a studio obligation instead of a passion project from Guillermo Del Toro perhaps because that’s really the case here. I like Ron Perlman in the role though, but I’d rather just watch the first movie again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 79%

Just like Transformers, a string of horror series and young adult adaptations, I never get the appeal of Pirates of the Caribbean from the get go. Johnny Depp‘s flamboyant, Keith-Richard-inspired Jack Sparrow is amusing for maybe a half hour tops, but for some reason people just can’t get enough of it that the fifth movie is now in the works [face palm]. Alas Depp can’t seem to shake that role either now, it’s as if Sparrow became his acting *curse.* I haven’t bothered watching the sequels, though I had to endure the second one (or was it the third??) when I was at a friend’s house and it just reminded me how awful this franchise is. I wince every time Geoffrey Rush show up, but I suppose a big paycheck from this type of drivels allow him to do something worthy of his talents. As if these movies aren’t unbearable already, we also have to endure watching Orlando Bloom doing poor imitations of Errol Flynn!

Spartacus (1960)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 96%

Spartacus_romanceMy jaw dropped when I found out just how high the score is after seeing the film. I saw this a few years ago and I could barely made it to the end. Now, I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which I have seen time and again over the years and it still held up, and as a fan of swords & sandal genre, I thought I’d enjoy this too. But heck, I find it corny, dull and boring. I don’t buy Kirk Douglas as a gladiator slave for a second. He just isn’t tough nor ruthless enough I’d imagine the character to be. Sure some might’ve called Charlton Heston a wooden actor, but he at least look the part as Ben-Hur and he made me root for his character. Not so with Douglas, and the romance with Jean Simmons have zero chemistry and the backdrop wallpaper they used for the scene is so awfully fake looking I couldn’t stop laughing!

So apparently Douglas did this movie to show William Wyler that he could do a Roman epic of his own, as he didn’t get the Judah Ben-Hur role he wanted. Per IMDb trivia, he was actually offered the role of Messala but he refused to play second banana. Heh, I thank the Lord he’s NOT part of Ben-Hur, I doubt he could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the lead role!! I also think Tony Curtis is completely miscast here as well.

Stanley Kubrick apparently disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that explained it. Seems that this movie resulted from *too many cooks spoil the broth* syndrome.

The Getaway (1972)

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IMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 85%

This was my intro to Sam Peckinpah as my pal Ted S. LOVES his work. Sorry Ted, but I really don’t like this film, like AT ALL. It’s also my intro into Steve McQueen who’s supposed to be this suave and cool hero, but meh, I find him to be blank and stiff. I saw some clips of him in Bullit and he’s pretty much acting the exact same way. Now, I like a tough, brooding hero as much as the next gal, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on internally in his character to make me care. Same with Ali MacGraw who’s gorgeous but doesn’t really have much going on otherwise, and the romance is as lifeless as a dead fish.

TheGetawaySlappingSceneThis film is labeled a thriller but I don’t find it suspenseful at all. Even the shootout from a supposedly celebrated violent action director is so lackluster and on a few occasion it made me laugh! The color of the blood here looks so obviously fake too which doesn’t help matters. Al Lettieri did look menacing as the villain but for the most part he’s more annoying than scary. Plus the whole creepy sex scene with Sally Struthers, forcing her own husband to watch her cheat with a criminal is just plain revolting. What bothers me most here is the violence against women by not just the villain but the hero, as there’s a scene where McQueen slaps MacGraw several times and I read that he actually did it spontaneously so her reaction looked real. Heh, there’s nothing cool or ‘macho’ about assault of any kind and it’s even more shocking that this film is rated PG!!

Interestingly enough, this is yet another movie disowned by the director himself, as apparently he butted heads with McQueen who wanted a different version of the story and the studio backed the actor.

To Catch A Thief (1955)

ToCatchAThiefPosterIMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 95%

The poster promises ‘shocking suspense and sizzling romance’ but we’ve got neither. Apart from the gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera – as well as Grace Kelly’s exquisite beauty – this film hasn’t got much to offer. Kelly’s soooo beautiful here that it’s actually distracting, and I was  also distracted by how tanned Cary Grant is in this movie, especially compared to his alabaster co-star. It feels more like a rom-com than a mystery romance, as it lacks any real suspense or even believable chemistry between the two leads. Perhaps the fact that Grant was 50 playing a guy in his mid 30s have something to do with that. It’s almost as tedious as Torn Curtain, another disappointing film from ‘the master of suspense’ director Alfred Hitchcock.

The premise sounds promising on paper and you’d think with this cast, this could’ve been far more entertaining. By the time the twist was revealed, I no longer cared who did what to whom. I suppose this film is worth seeing for the lush scenery and glamorous costumes (done by Edith Head, natch!), but as a film, it’s more window dressing than an intriguing piece.


Well, those are five movies that everyone seem to love but me. What do you think? Let’s hear it!

Question of the week: Actors whose famous role you can’t shake

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I just reviewed The Judge this weekend and I mentioned how RDJ is playing yet another variety of Tony Stark. He’s always the smartest guy in the room, and always have an arsenal of snarky remarks he can just throw at you at the best opportunity. I’m not just talking about the recent roles he does after Iron Man, but even when I saw Zodiac I still can’t get past his Stark persona. There’s always a hint of that self-assured swagger that’s borderline cocky but somehow still lovable, which is something an actor either has or doesn’t, it’s not something they can teach even at Juilliard or RADA. You know what though, I’m tired of his schtick. As Sati said in her astute comment, his cockiness seems to translate off-screen now that it’s getting on my nerves. No matter how lovable a character, an actor’s job is to be able to pull off a variety of roles convincingly, to make a conscious effort to *disappear* into whatever role they do. I think the bigger/more famous the character is, the more responsibility said actor has to shake that off.

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Source: Eccentric Billionaire Tumblr

Now obviously RDJ isn’t the only actor with this kind of predicament, where somehow they can’t escape their most famous role. I think Johnny Depp can’t seem to shake off his Jack Sparrow image either. I’m not saying RDJ or Depp aren’t capable actors because they are, but perhaps their schtick just sticks in the mind longer than others. On the contrary, someone like like say, Christian Bale doesn’t always remind me of Bruce Wayne when he’s playing other roles post-Batman and I don’t get hang up on Maximus in Gladiator whenever I see Russell Crowe on screen.

I guess I’m just curious if anybody else feel the same, whether it’s RDJ or another actor.


So which actor(s) whose famous role you can’t shake? Or perhaps the question should be, actors who can’t shake their most famous role 🙂

Rental Picks: Get the Gringo & The Lone Ranger

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Get The Gringo

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Remember when Mel Gibson was the king of the box office? Back in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s, seems like every film he starred in were box office hits. After he starred in the big hit Signs back in 2002, he actually agreed to return as Max in George Miller’s Fury Road (it’s been renamed to Mad Max: Fury Road); if I remember correctly the film was scheduled to come out in the summer of 2004 but when the second Iraq War happened, the film was cancelled. They wanted to shoot the film in the middle east and of course with the war, it’s not possible. Then we all know what happened to his career after he directed The Passion of the Christ, even though I don’t agree with what he said in his personal life, I still think he’s a great talent.

A car chase opens the movie, a getaway driver (Mel Gibson) and a wounded accomplice are fleeing the American police and heading towards the Mexican border. The car crashes through the border fence and Gibson’s character was taken into the custody of the Mexican police, his accomplice died after the clash. Gibson’s character name was never mentioned throughout the movie, he’s only been called by everyone in the movie as The Gringo. After a night in a jail cell, The Gringo was transferred to El Pueblito prison under false charges, there he found out that the prison actually looks like a ghetto town rather than a real prison. Males, females and even young children are all being kept in this so called prison. Being that he’s the only Caucasian in the prison, he realized he has to figured out how to stay alive and escape the place. He was able to study the ins and outs of the prison and later met a kid (Kevin Hernandez) who’s living with his incarcerated mother. The Gringo and the kid formed an unlikely friendship and he also found out that the prison is being run by a powerful crime lord Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). He then came up with a plan that will get him, the kid and his mom out of prison.

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This being a low budget production, most of the movie took place in the prison setting. First-time director Adrian Grunberg was able to keep the pace moving and staged some cool shootout sequences. Being that he was a second unit director on some of Gibson’s previous work and other well know films, he didn’t really established the look of his first gig as a director. That’s not a knock on Grunberg though, the look and feel of this movie reminded me of Michael Mann’s recent flicks such as Collateral and Miami Vice, as typical with a lot of action movies in the last few years, this one was shot in digital and there were too many scenes that looked like home video to me. Sometime it takes me out of the story when I see scenes that looked like someone used a consumer camcorder to record the scene, I wish some director would use some kind of effects in post production to give the movie a more cinematic look to it. Both Gibson and Grunberg co-wrote the script along with Stacy Perskie, they didn’t really come up with anything new for this kind of genre. It tends to get predictable but kept my interest and I was entertained, the movie kind of reminded me of Payback, a very good thriller from 1999.

Gibson is pretty much the star of the movie and I thought he’s terrific in the role. Again, I don’t agree on what he said in his personal life but I think he’s one of the few aging movie stars who’s still giving 100% in his performance, Tom Cruise being the other one. I can’t say the same for some other brand name stars, yes I’m referring to Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro, those two seems to just take whatever role the studio offered them.

Despite it being predictable and has that home video look to it, Get The Gringo was a good action thriller that will satisfy both fans of Gibson and the genre. It’s on sale for cheap on DVD/Bluray or you can stream it on Netflix. I think if you’re in the mood for a good thriller, this one will be worth your time.


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The Lone Ranger

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After reading negative reviews after another I didn’t intend to see this movie but my girlfriend and I couldn’t figure out what to do one Friday night, so we decided to check it out. We saw it at one of the most popular movie theaters in MN and there were only 5 people in the seats, including us and this was a Friday night! Apparently the negative reviews scared off a lot of people. Fortunately, the movie wasn’t as bad as most people made it out to be.

The film starts out with a prologue, took place at a San Francisco sideshow in 1933. A young boy who adores The Lone Ranger radio series ran into an old Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp), Tonto sees the boy and start calling him Kemosabe, seeing the boy with the mask on, Tonto thought the boy was his old pal The Lone Ranger. The boy was curious as to why this old man started calling him by that name and so Tonto decided to tell him the story about the masked man and his sidekick. The film then flashes back years later when we meet a lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer), he’s on a train and going to visit his brother who’s a lawman Dan Reid (James Badge Dale). However his train ended up being hijacked by a few outlaws who are trying to free their leader Butch Cavendish (William Fitchtner). Here we’re also introduced to a young Tonto, when chaos ensued, both Tonto and Reid tried to stop Cavendish from escaping but were unsuccessful.

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Shortly after, Dan deputizes his brother, allowing him to join in the hunt to bring Cavendish back to justice, but tragedy strikes as their group is ambushed and left for dead. Tonto comes to the scene and saw bodies everywhere, he decided to bury all the lawmen but then John woke up, so Tonto believed he’s been brought back to life by the higher power. John swears to take revenge on Butch for the murder of his brother and decides to team up with Tonto, who is trying to take his own revenge for another tragic event from several years ago. Their adventure will put them up against not only the violent gang of outlaws, but also against a scheming railroad man, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who is attempting to amass a great fortune with his plan. There’s also a subplot about the romance between John and his widowed sister-in-law Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) that didn’t really pan out that well.

What worked for me were the great visual effects and action scenes, especially the big climax sequence involving trains was pretty well thought out and exciting, you can tell where all those millions of dollars went to. Director Gore Verbinski and his cinematographer really wanted to capture the look of Sergio Leone’s western films of the 60s and I thought they were quite successful at it. As mentioned earlier, the action scenes were pretty great to watch, you can tell Verbinski and his crew probably spent weeks or months prepping each sequence. Wish they spent more time on the actual plot of the film though.

A few things that I thought didn’t work. First the film tonal shift just felt out of place, it didn’t know if it wants to be a comedy action or dark and edgy action/western. There would be one scene where you’ll laugh and then another where you see people getting slaughtered. By combining all these elements into a film, it just didn’t blend well for me. Also, by trying to tell origin stories of both of the leads didn’t really work either. I mean the film’s called The Lone Ranger and they should’ve just focus the story on him, Tonto’s a sidekick so why not leave his origin for later films? I understand when you have a big star like Depp in that role, you have to make him the main lead. They should’ve just called the film Tonto and The Lone Ranger. Lastly, the bloated run-time was just inexcusable, about 20 to 30 minutes of the film could’ve been edited out.

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Performances wise, I thought Johnny Depp was good as Tonto, he’s basically playing Jack Sparrow again here. I was bit disappointed with Armie Hammer though, I always liked him as an actor but I found him to be lackluster here. I wonder it’s because he’s second fiddle to Depp, he’s been told not to over shadow the bigger star? Whatever it was I just thought he didn’t really sell me as the action hero. Both Fictner and Wilkinson were great as usual since they’ve played villains in other films before. I’m still not sure why Helena Bonham Carter agreed to appear in this movie, her role was so small and didn’t really have much to do, maybe she did it as a favor to Depp since they’re good friends. Ruth Wilson was pretty decent as the damsel in distress.

Even though I thought the plot didn’t work and the film was way too long, I didn’t hate it. I actually enjoyed it for the most part but I’m a sucker for western so it’s an easy sell for me. With a better script that focuses more on The Lone Ranger and shorter run-time, the film could’ve been a fun summer ride. Since the film is officially a massive flop for Disney, we probably won’t see any more adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto.

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What do you think of Get the Gringo and The Lone Ranger?