Hell or High Water — Review

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Ben Foster (l) and Chris Pine (r) in a scene from David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water.

3Star

“A loud declaration that the western, at its core, is a viable and flexible genre, which does not have to be relegated to the formulaic storylines of the Technicolor TCM staples.”

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — Review

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Here comes the boom.

25Star

by Ken B.

Early on in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a title card informs us that what we’re about to see is “mostly true” – probably because no one really knows what happened to the actual Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The most reliable account (and the one shown in the movie) would assume that the story ends in 1908. It may provide for the most justification of its characters when you think about it.

This is the story of two outlaws, Robert “Butch Cassidy” Parker (PAUL NEWMAN) and Harry “Sundance Kid” Longabaugh (ROBERT REDFORD), who, when abandoned by their gang, flee to Bolivia. They’re not exactly sure where it is, but they figure that the local law won’t be able to find them there. Now on the run, they face obstacles and roadblocks in their trek, sometimes with Sundance’s girlfriend, teacher Etta Place (KATHARINE ROSS).

The plot is without frills, driving the story ahead for 110 minutes with some well shot action sequences, especially in regards to the shootout finale. William Goldman’s script provides decent amounts of entertainment – a combination of thrills and wit. The main characters have good chemistry, as much of Goldman’s accomplishment as it is to Newman and Redford in their respective roles. Ross, who had just come off an iconic role in The Graduate (Nichols, 1967) does a decent but mostly unmemorable job here, another supporting part.

Actually, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid isn’t that memorable a movie in general – there are moments, like an exploding train car, but it never really does leave an impression. It is disposable in a very high degree. Looking over the setup of the film, this almost comes off as more or less intentional, with its easily crackable plot and slightly shallow characters. I’m disappointed there wasn’t something more substantive, but it’s definitely possible that this wasn’t the point of the film…

(Still feel a little bit duped.)

No word pressed against Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid will ever be able to dethrone its seat as a classic of Americana. Whatever I write will have little effect on the devoted, who will look upon this review with puzzlement and ridicule. But I just don’t see the love. It’s entertaining, yes, but it’s mostly forgettable and passive except for a few notable moments (like the final 15 minutes) – good for temporary time killing but hardly the makings of an endearing masterpiece. If nothing else, it’s a film to study on what is popular in America in both 1969 and 2013.

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The Lone Ranger – Review

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3Star

 

by Ken B.

You’re not likely to be at all disappointed by The Lone Ranger if you knowingly buy a ticket to a movie called The Lone Ranger. If that is your boat, stop reading now and see it if you haven’t. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that’s many of you. While things that people with even the most minimal knowledge of the franchise are aware of, like the William Tell Overture, the basic characters, and the line “Hi-ho Silver, away!” are all present here (well, the third one in part), there really hasn’t been a very high demand for a $200 million movie based on The Lone Ranger. But honestly, it could have been worse. While I still do withhold some complaints about the film as a film, I don’t regret having seen it. There are impressive effects, good acting for a summer blockbuster, and a lovely score as always by Hans Zimmer, who composes a fantastic rendition of the William Tell Overture that blasts on in the film’s ending.

The film switches between 1933 and 1869. In the former, an elderly Tonto (JOHNNY DEPP) relays the events of the latter to a boy (MASON COOK) in a museum that’s part of a fair. The “events” detail the origin of the team of John Reid/The Lone Ranger and Tonto. John, an attorney played by Armie Hammer, is the only survivor of an ambush conducted by a group led by Butch Cavendish (WILLIAM FITCHNER). He, of course, shapes up to be the main antagonist.

As a majority of the movie is set during a time of expansion in American history, the film’s two largest set pieces (they occupy the first and last 20 minutes) are set on newly minted railroads and pristine trains. Because this is an action movie, they are not pristine for long, gleefully destroyed in entertainingly excessive scenes. Truly, The Lone Ranger’s biggest asset is big, fast moving, well choreographed action sequences. Of course, this is what one would expect upon the re-teaming of Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. And, if that’s what you’re looking for, this movie is a mostly solid choice. I say “mostly”, because there are problems. At 149 minutes, the middle portion of the film has a tendency to feel overlong, and there is an annoying tendency of this movie to have an odd switch between comedy laced action and just plain action. Of course, this isn’t the first movie to have problems staying in  a specified genre, but these concerns are usually reserved for dramedies, where there is a jarring split between lighthearted comedy and emotional melodrama.

The Lone Ranger is not likely to be remembered that much in the next couple of years, but I can’t see it fading into obscurity. It has that feeling of coming back into the public mind in two or three decades – it might be re-reviewed, re-considered even. It’s already a divisive film between other critics and the general public, and that could be a future point of interest. I dunno. I just hope people see it, because despite a handful of noticeable errors and shortcomings, it’s still, well, worth seeing.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

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