JayDee's Movie Musings

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Great review, per usual.

I just watched Total Recall a few days ago. I agree with everything you wrote. It's a very entertaining movie, but it's also deceptively clever. The practical special effects have held up incredibly well. I also love how the whole dream vs. reality question is handled. From the very beginning I was expecting it to be unveiled as the big twist at the end despite being blatantly choreographed, so I was pleased that the script addresses that very question fairly early in the movie. We never get the answer because it isn't that important. The dream vs. reality question just adds an extra layer to the film and gives the audience something to ponder after experiencing Arnold's "Secret Agent on Mars" package.

We've gone on holiday by mistake
Love Total Recall. Great review.

I think in the end he is likely still sat in the chair at Recall safe and sound, certainly getting what he paid for. But then who knows, I think I have Total Recall lying around somewhere, might watch it tonight.

Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave

Year of release

Directed by
Gore Verbinski

Written by
Justin Haythe
Ted Elliott / Terry Rossio

Johnny Depp
Armie Hammer
William Fichtner
Tom Wilkinson
Ruth Wilson
Helena Bonham Carter

The Lone Ranger


Plot - Native American Tonto (Depp) tells the story of how lawman John Reid (Hammer) became the legendary, masked figure known as The Lone Ranger. Tonto first encounters Reid when captured outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) escapes custody, aided by his gang. Joining a group of Texas Rangers that include his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), Reid chases the wanted men but becomes the sole survivor of an ambush attack. Disguising himself from his enemies, who believe him to be dead, The Lone Ranger forms an unlikely partnership with Tonto and together they fight for justice against Cavendish and power-hungry railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson).

Back in 2012 Walt Disney Pictures released the big budget blockbuster, John Carter. Budgeted at a reported $250 million it was met with at best a lukewarm reception from critics and proved to be a massive and costly flop for the company. Fast forward a year and you'd be forgiven for suffering from a severe case of deja vu. Also released by Disney, The Lone Ranger rode into cinemas on a $250 million budget, received a critical hiding and rode back out of cinemas having grossed just $260 million, losing an estimated $160-190 million in the process. So as I said, deja vu. The thing is though, and this is why I wasn't completely writing this film off, that as it turned out I actually really enjoyed John Carter. Sure it certainly wasn't short of flaws but I found it to be a really fun and entertaining bit of pulpy sci-fi that wasn't deserving of anywhere close to the kind of pummelling it received. I was hoping this film was going to repeat the trick. Sadly that was not to be the case. The Lone Ranger pretty much does unfortunately live up to (or down to depending on how you look at it) the reputation that the critics bestowed upon it.

And the most disappointing factor about that is that I don't actually think this film is complete write-off. There are traces and hints throughout the film that this could have been a really fun piece of popcorn entertainment; sadly those traces and hints are largely enveloped by the film's exceptionally bloated running time. It kind of reminds me of what sculptors say (ok I know that sounds pretty weird but stick with me ). On a number of occasions I've heard and seen sculptors talk about how the sculpture is already fully formed within the block of marble (or whatever material they are using); their job is just to remove the unnecessary pieces to reveal it. I think there is a good summer blockbuster in here somewhere; they just had to chisel away a few more rough edges. Amongst the film's pluses are the fact that it does actually have a couple of very entertaining set-pieces in its arsenal; large-scale sequences which feature the occasional spark of creativity and evoke the madcap logic of a Tex Avery cartoon. And thanks to the efforts of Depp as Tonto, and Silver (aka the comedy horse), there are a few laughs to be found. The film does also look rather fantastic on occasion, the cinematography of Bojan Bazelli evoking classic westerns of old with its endless expanses of desert and sweeping sky of a canvas.

As I noted above, arguably the film's biggest flaw is its terminally long running time that closes in on two and half hours in length. Now I know that these days that's actually a fairly standard running time amongst films of this nature; the first Pirates of the Caribbean film which this was clearly modelled on for instance clocked in at just six minutes shorter. But in this instance it doesn't feel like there is anywhere close to enough going on to justify it. While it's story is actually quite simple the film does its best to make it as convoluted and bloated as possible. As a result it creates several very lengthy stretches where the film falls into a deep lull; a cardinal sin for a film hoping to kick off a new blockbuster franchise. No matter how poor a would-be blockbuster is it should never be boring, and if it is then you're in trouble. To tell the story the film employs a framing device that just falls completely flat; it sees Depp as an elderly Tonto relaying the story to a young boy at a Wild West sideshow at a fair. On paper it might sound like a sweet idea but in reality it serves pretty much no purpose whatsoever to the story. The film returns to this every so often and all it does is slow things down, further bloat the running time and take you out of the film.

Film Trivia Snippets - In an interview, Johnny Depp thanked his stunt horse, Scout, for saving his life after a violent fall during filming. After Scout dragged Depp 25 feet, Scout jumped over him to avoid stepping on him. A clip of the fall shows the horse clearly jumping over Depp, and detaching him from the saddle. Depp suffered only minor bruises and scrapes, but says it could have been a lot worse if the horse had stepped on him. /// As an homage o John Ford, the scene that introduces John Reid features passengers singing "Shall We Gather At The River". It was Ford's favorite hymn, included in at least five of his movies. /// Tonto means "fool" in Spanish. In Spanish versions of this film, Tonto is renamed Toro, which means "bull". /// This is now the sixth film in which both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter have worked together. However it is the first not directed by Tim Burton. /// Johnny Depp's makeup and costume were inspired by artist Kirby Sattler's painting "I am Crow". /// This is the first version of "The Lone Ranger" in any medium in which the actor playing Tonto receives top billing. /// The "frame story" where young Will meets the old Tonto, takes place in 1933, year of the first Lone Ranger radio broadcast. /// Jessica Chastain and Abbie Cornish were considered for the role of Rebecca Reid, but lost out to Ruth Wilson. /// This actually is not the first time Johnny Depp has played the part of a Native America. He played Rafael, a Native American, in his directorial debut, The Brave, which due to bad reviews at Cannes was never released in the USA.

The other major flaw here is the film's tone. In fact it's such a problem that more often than not it almost feels like the cast and crew were under the impression they were making two different movies. Johnny Depp, and to a lesser extent Armie Hammer seem to think they are indeed making a fun summer blockbuster, really trying to push the fun side of things. The larger majority of individuals however seem to think they're making a serious, and at times quite dark, straight-up western. Even the aesthetic of the film seems to differ from what you'd expect; eschewing the bright, primary coloured world you would normally find in a blockbuster in favour of a much more drab, drained colour palette to reproduce the dusty, murky world of the Wild West. And for a Disney film being pushed as the 'new Pirates of the Caribbean' I really was surprised by just how dark and sordid a territory it had a tendency to wander into; the dark and violent origin of Tonto, numerous killings and murders, the brothel, the slaughter of a Native American tribe....oh and then there's the cannibalistic villain! That's right, the film's villain is a cannibal who eats the body parts of his victims. At one point he actually cuts the a man's heart from his chest as he lies dying and eats it. With this dark, sinister edge going hand-in-hand with its more farcical, slapstick approach it makes for an awkward, unwieldy marriage.

Johnny Depp delivers what has kind of become his standard, go-to performance over the last decade or so. In many respects it's the same quirky, kooky turn we've seen in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland and the Pirates of the Caribbean series just with a slight variation. In fact you really wouldn't be all that surprised that if during the film Tonto washed off his face paint and removed the dead bird that adorns the top of his head to reveal that it has actually been Jack Sparrow in disguise all along. His performance is a bit hit-and-miss in truth. He plays the character with a great oddness which at times comes off as irritating, but at others entertains and does provide just about every laugh to be found. Depp is such a big star and such a cinematic mainstay that the failure of the film will not to anything to dent his reputation and standing. His co-star, Armie Hammer, however may not be quite so lucky. A bit of a rising star in Hollywood this film really could derail that ascension. And his fairly lifeless performance certainly won't help. Though to be fair to him much of that is likely down to the poor writing that lumbers him with a dull character. The Lone Ranger is a pop culture icon and yet the writers manage to make the character and his story completely flat and unengaging. Helena Bonham Carter adds some colour as Red Harrington, a one-legged brothel madam whose other leg is made of ivory. She is about the only person other than Depp to come close to generating some laughs

In the film's closing image Armie Hammer is finally given the opportunity to utter his character's iconic line of “Hi ho silver, away!” Tonto responds by telling him “don't ever do that again.” No need to worry Tonto, neither you or cinema audiences are going to be hearing him say that again anytime soon.

Conclusion - While this may never have had a chance at matching the delightful exploits of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, I do feel there was some potential here for it to be an entertaining film in its own right. And the film certainly does have its moments but it's never able to completely overcome its flaws, especially that hideously overlong running time. I would say though that I think there's a small chance it could grow on me a little bit over time.

I loved The Lone Ranger. It may or may not be making my 2013 list.

I agree with many of your points, though. It's definitely bloated and way too long. The stuff with old Tonto serves no purpose but to pad the length. However, I still had a ton of fun watching the movie, but I love westerns and Johnny Depp, so I guess it makes sense that I would enjoy the movie more than most.

I actually own it, so I was planning on re-visiting it in the next few weeks and writing a review to serve as a counterargument against all the exaggerated criticism.

You can't make a rainbow without a little rain.
Great review of a terrible movie.

I noticed that I seem to like Johnny Depp less and less with each new movie he makes. I haven't seen Transcendence yet, but I haven't heard much good about that movie either.

Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
I loved The Lone Ranger. It may or may not be making my 2013 list.

I agree with many of your points, though. It's definitely bloated and way too long. The stuff with old Tonto serves no purpose but to pad the length. However, I still had a ton of fun watching the movie, but I love westerns and Johnny Depp, so I guess it makes sense that I would enjoy the movie more than most.

I actually own it, so I was planning on re-visiting it in the next few weeks and writing a review to serve as a counterargument against all the exaggerated criticism.
Well there you go. And you know what, I've no problem with that. Usually I'm one of the rare voices defending derided films like these. As I pointed out in my review for example I really like John Carter despite the critical drubbing it got. The fact that you got so much out of it is great.

Well westerns are perhaps my least favourite of all genres, certainly right down there, so I didn't have that to help me out. But as I said there is just about enough good stuff there that I wouldn't rule out watching it again and hopefully it will grow on me. I just think it could have been a lot better. Had they dumped the old Tonto sections and trimmed about 20-30 minutes from its running time, particularly from the flabby second act which really drags, I can imagine I'd have really liked it.

And I look forward to seeing your review of it.

Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
Yet again we've got a queue jumper. All those poor reviews that I've had sitting about for months have to take a back seat for this review I've written just in the last day or two. The reason I'm throwing it out there immediately is because I already mentioned I was working on this review so thought I'd just go ahead with it. As a result however it may be a little rougher round the edges than normal. My large backlog of reviews usually allows them to percolate for a time, during which I can tidy them up a touch


Year of release

Directed by
Dan Gilroy

Written by
Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal
Rene Russo
Riz Ahmed
Bill Paxton
Kevin Rahm



Plot - Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a driven but isolated individual who stalks the streets of Los Angeles in search of employment and a purpose in life. On one such night he stumbles across a traffic accident which introduces him to the world of 'nightcrawlers'; freelance individuals who track down and film incidents deemed newsworthy and then attempt to sell them on to local news outlets. Acquiring a basic model video camera and a police scanner his life soon becomes dominated by the accidents, fires, assaults and murders that plague the city. As he becomes more embroiled in this world he develops a working relationship with Nina Romina (Russo), the news director for a local TV station. With each new story that he gets on the air the more successful he becomes, allowing him to purchase superior equipment and to even hire an assistant in the form of the young and unemployed Rick (Ahmed). Under the guidance of Nina he learns that the more visceral and gruesome his footage, the higher the price he can command for it. And as it turns out, Louis seems willing to do absolutely anything to get such footage, no matter how questionable or illegal that activity may be.

There's a lot to admire and recommend about Nightcrawler (and if you know me well you'll know I'll do so in great detail! ) but I feel I'd be doing him a disservice if I didn't immediately talk about Jake Gyllenhaal. He gives what is undoubtedly one of the finest showings of his career to date. His performance is unflinching and darkly compelling as he really does lose himself in the character of Lou Bloom, one of the most unlikeable characters to be a movie's protagonist in quite some time. His proclivity for theft aside, Bloom initially presents as a slightly bumbling character of limited intelligence who is more likely to illicit pity more than anything else. He seems to be rather feckless and pretty aimless when it comes to his goals in life. In short he appears to be harmless. As the film progresses however we learn this is most certainly not the case as we discover him to be a truly deranged sociopath with ruthless ambition and no compassion for his fellow man. This is revealed in an excellent scene where he is having dinner with Rene Russo's news director, Nina. Both Nina and the audience believe this is to be a clumsy attempt at romance on his part. Out of nowhere however he does a complete 180° twist and reveals his true nature and intentions. We can now see him for the cunning and manipulative individual he truly is. And when he unveils his true character we realise how much of his previous behaviour was a mere facade and that's when he becomes quite a chilling creation.

In addition to capturing the personality of this Machiavellian oddball, Gyllenhaal also looks the part. His dark slicked-back hair, gaunt features and sunken, hollowed-out eyes give him quite the ghoulish appearance. In fact there were numerous times throughout the film where the lighting caught him just right that I thought to myself, 'you look like you're right out of a Tim Burton film.' The character of Lou Bloom is an extremely fascinating one. You're never sure from one moment to the next whether he's about to elicit an incredulous laugh or make your skin crawl. He is like the human equivalent of a car crash. We don't want want to look but we can't stop ourselves, and once we have looked it becomes seemingly impossible to avert your gaze. What is also very interesting is the world that Nightcrawler inhabits. This community of freelance news gatherers is a world I don't think has really been exposed on screen before, and it's one I was not really aware of whatsoever. Watching Bloom and his fellow 'nightcrawlers' stalking death and tragedy, massing around the victims of these predicaments like a pack of vultures is quite an unsettling and disheartening experience.

The film also features two welcome turns from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton, two actors whose appearances on the big screen have sadly been quite scant of late. I think that Russo does a really nice job with her role though I feel that on occasion her character had a tendency to be just a touch broad. I think we could have gotten the idea of the stance that her character represents without the character going so big at times. And while he is good during his screentime, Paxton's role is sadly very minimal. Those two are very experienced performers who have been plying their trade for several decades. The same can't be said for Riz Ahmed who is still very much at the dawn of his career. Probably best known for his leading role in Chris Morris' incendiary Four Lions, Ahmed proves likeable in the role of Rick, just about the only character in the whole film capable of eliciting any kind of empathy. He gives him a faintly endearing nervous naivety.

This is a film that brutally slays what passes for news coverage in our current society. A few days previous to this I had caught up with and finished the Aaron Sorkin TV series “The Newsroom” which proved to be quite a fascinating companion piece to Nightcrawler. The Newsroom presents journalism at its most idealised and optimistic, showing it as the tool of integrity and information that we all know it should be. Sadly that is now a somewhat outdated notion. In contrast Nightcrawler presents what is all too disappointingly closer to the actual truth of things. The term 'if it bleeds, it leads' is one that has now been around for quite some time. This film takes that sentiment and pushes it right to its absolute extremes, showing us where it is we are heading or perhaps arguing that it's too late and we're already there. The film highlights just how fear-driven the media has become. In one particularly unseemly sequence Russo's news director is seen coaching the on-air talent to really push the horror of a tragic news story and to induce fear in the audience.

What the film has to say about the media and journalism doesn't come as much of a revelation. If you'll excuse the pun, it's not exactly breaking news. After all, Sidney Lumet's Network highlighted the trade-off that news corporations are willing to make between journalistic integrity and ratings, and that was nearly 40 years ago! And to be honest I think it's something that most of us will have seen and recognised all on our own. That doesn't stop Nightcrawler from taking this well-travelled territory and doing it very, very well. One thing I would say however is that I found it rather strange that in this day and age the film never really addresses or even gives passing mention to the rise of the internet in terms of how people receive their news.

Film Trivia Snippets - To prepare to inhabit the role of Lou Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal dropped 20 pounds. This was not a suggestion of Dan Gilroy but Gyllenhaal's own idea as he visualised Lou as a hungry coyote. In addition to the weight loss, to create the character's lean, gaunt appearance he worked out for up to 8 hours and either ran or biked to the set every single day. /// While to prepare for his role Riz Ahmed actually rode along with real nightcrawlers on the streets of Los Angeles. /// Dan Gilroy, the film's writer and director, is actually married to Rene Russo. /// During the scene where Lou Bloom is seen talking to himself in the mirror Gyllenhaal got so lost in the scene that he punched the mirror. The mirror broke and badly cut his hand. He had to got to hospital and received stitches before returning to the set immediately after being discharged.
As I've detailed above, the film is most obviously a scathing critique on how the news is presented to us by today's media. Beyond that however Nightcrawler feels like a dissection of morality at large. Now I'll preface the next sentence by saying that I know full well how bizarre it sounds but go with me. At times during the film I actually found myself reminded of the series finale of Seinfeld. In that final episode Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine found themselves put on trial for failing to adhere to the 'Good Samaritan law', a decree which states we are obliged to offer help and do the right thing where possible. Nightcrawler seems like it is putting society as a whole on trial, seemingly showing us that everyone has their price at which they are prepared to sacrifice their ethics and assigning at least some of the blame for this situation on to us. It feels like the film is asking us where exactly does the buck stop in terms of blame. How far down the line do you have to go before someone is absolved of any wrongdoing? It's not just Lou Bloom who is at fault. How about Riz Ahmed's Rick who is assisting him in his pursuits? Or does he get a pass because he has been forced into doing he's not proud of just so he can survive; something I'm sure many of us can relate to. What about Russo's Nina who feeds on Bloom's macabre offerings like a drug addict? Or do we just chalk that up to her doing what she has to if she is to hold on to her job? Or how about us, the viewing public. For if we didn't watch such exploitative, morbid trash then it wouldn't exist. Are we were the true blame lies?

The film also presents us with what may be the darkest ever example of the American dream, seemingly denouncing it in the process and revealing the 'facts' behind that rosy, inspirational notion. After all what is Lou Bloom but a prime proponent of capitalism, entrepreneurial spirit and self-motivation? So many of the words and platitudes he spouts come across as either glib aphorisms or soulless cliches he's picked up from some online corporate management course. The film is like an expose of how sociopaths operate and how easily they can worm their way into our lives, and into positions of power. In fact so intriguing a character is the sociopathic Louis Bloom that I felt myself left wanting more. I wanted to see just where he went from here. While I'd put the odds of us ever seeing one very low, I can easily picture a sequel ten years down the line which reveals that his ambition, unflinching lack of ethics and emotionless drive has allowed him to make it all the way to the top of the news business, creating a media empire capable of rivalling the likes of Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner.

After the end credits had rolled I came online and was extremely surprised to find this to be Dan Gilroy's directorial debut. For his first outing this is an extremely assured and proficient showing; one that I imagine will vault him onto many people's lists of directors to keep an eye on in the future. Up until this point he had worked exclusively as a writer with quite the varied CV that includes such disparate projects as early 90s sci-fi Freejack, Tarsem Singh's The Fall, robot punch-em-up Real Steal and the black sheep of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy. In general it's not exactly a resume that hints that he had something like this in his locker, but as both writer and director he impresses greatly. His dialogue is sharp and punchy, and together with Paul Thomas Anderson's regular cinematographer, Robert Elswit, he creates an extremely atmospheric world for events to unfold in. He presents a Los Angeles at its most seedy and dangerous. There are definite echoes of the cityscapes evident in the work of Michael Mann or in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, but with just an extra layer or two of grime thrown on for good measure. Gilroy also proves to have numerous other arrows in his directorial quiver. His pacing throughout is solid and as the film enters its second hour he changes gear on us and moves the film into the territory of great tension, really wringing out every drop of suspense that he can and making it an enthralling experience. He even proves adept at delivering a strong and thrilling action sequence at the film's close, a car chase that has a novel twist in that we're actually chasing a chase.

The film is not without its flaws however. Much like Bloom's search for a purpose in his life I felt that in the first half it took a while to really find its direction. Losing a little five or ten minutes may not have been the worst thing in the world. In the second half however Gilroy really turns the screw, ramping up the tension. However the film then pulls the trigger on quite an audacious moment that places the character of Lou Bloom in an entirely new light. Leading up to this point we have seen Bloom do some shocking and quite reprehensible things but this is in a completely different realm. I imagine it's a moment that may well divide audiences. Some will no doubt see it as an excellent, gutsy move that really caps off in the film in style. For me however I felt that Gilroy just went for a shock and perhaps pushed the boat out a little too far. For it to fully work I think the film needs to reside in the territory of pitch black comedy, whereas up until this point I had seen it as a predominantly straight-up thriller/drama

Those issues did not stop me from greatly enjoying and appreciating the film however. Just as with the equine equivalent, when the Oscar race gets under way a number of those in contention are split into several classifications. You've got the odds-on favourites, the long shots and then you have perhaps everyone's favourite, the dark horse. This film would probably fall into the latter category, and I'm not sure those horses have ever been darker than they are with Nightcrawler.

Conclusion - Nightcrawler certainly isn't what you'd call comfortable viewing. It's a film that resides very much in the seamy underbelly of society, but which also shows how that underbelly has seeped more and more into our everyday lives. Its ideas and arguments may not be overly original but they are presented in such slick fashion and in such a ballsy, feral manner that you may well not give a damn. In fact even if you take the themes and issues out of it, you can still be enthralled by Nightcrawler as a purely exhilarating thriller. As both writer and director Dan Gilroy has crafted a sharp, vibrant thriller that burns with caustic satire. But make no mistake, this is Jake Gyllenhaal's film. He is on screen for pretty much every frame and it's his restless, twisted, mesmerising performance that carries this amoral tale.

I enjoyed Nightcrawler quite a lot and thought it worked great as a dark comedy, loved the ending. Agree it's Gyllenhaal's film, he's brilliant.

I hate the fact that everyone thinks Nightcrawler is now THE best Jake Gyllenhaal movie/performance.

Two things:

1. Great performance, but he's such a rotten human being in it. Why do you have to love him when he's basically Satan?

2. He's not that attractive in it. I mean, he is, but you know what I mean -- he's very thin and bug eyed and it's just not really cute.

So I'm tired of hearing how it's his best movie, how there should be a sequel, etc.

Also, JayDee -- you couldn't tell that Jake's character was a sociopath until he sat down to dinner with Rene Russo? You guys really need to work on spotting psychos before they take advantage of you.

Also, yes, it's interesting how the internet doesn't really play into the movie. Nightcrawler could have been set in 1993 or 1986 and you wouldn't be able to really tell the difference.

I actually think he's better in Nightcrawler than he is in Brokeback.