Film Review “Lone Survivor”

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and Eric Bana
Directed By: Peter Berg
Rated: R
Running Time: 121 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

You’re deep in the mountains of Afghanistan and you’re there to eliminate a dangerous Taliban leader. The only problem is, during recon, you’ve been discovered. Three goat herders have stumbled across you. One of them is a weathered old man, another is a young boy and completing the trio is a bitter young adult whose body language screams hatred. You can kill them and continue with the mission. Or you could leave them tied up to starve to death or get eaten by wolves. Or you can let them go and risk the entire mission and your safety. It’s not easy to kill and it’s not easy to condemn a man to death. It’s even harder to give yourself that fate. “Lone Survivor” is about four soldiers making that decision and witnessing hell.

The title makes it easy to assume things will not turn out well. This is reinforced by an establishing sequence of events showing you Marcus (Wahlberg) being brought in by helicopter, covered in blood stained bandages. Nonetheless the movie’s first 40 minutes attempts to establish our four main men. Besides Marcus, there’s Michael (Kitsch), Danny (Emile Hirsch) and Matt (Ben Foster). Before we have time to digest their personalities or soak in their background, we’re being thrust into Operation Red Wing. The goal is to kill or capture Ahmad Shah. The operation is being headed by Lieutenant Commander Erik (Bana). Just like our four main characters, we’re not acquainted long enough with Erik before he’s commanding our boys into the Kunar province. That’s where a routine part of the mission, surveillance, goes haywire.

The conversation between the soldiers is very honest. It’s not a decision any of us could ever make. It’s a moral dilemma that reveals a very human side to war. It’s easy to sympathize with both sides of the argument, but it’s clear what the decision will be: Letting the goat herders live. As far as movies about modern war go, this one deserves to be one of the models on how it’s done. The direction plops us right into the middle of the action as they realize their decision has doomed them. Some shots are so viciously intimate you feel twitches of pain watching these men’s bodies crack and break. The cinematography adds such a brutal touch to the shootout and the camera is not afraid of getting a bit bloody.

The best thing this movie does is avoid any kind of political stance. In a time where we continue to bicker about the “what ifs” of our contemporary wars, it’s a bit refreshing to watch a movie that’s nonpolitical. Instead of beating the war drums or waving the banner of peace, I feel that this movie’s purpose is to be a harsh slap of reality. We don’t need director Peter Berg to build up the human side of our characters before showcasing their fears and realizations of mortality because we’ve spent over a decade realizing some harsh truths about our world. Inherently, we already know the terror that happens overseas. We’ve also read and have seen the mental, emotional and physical toll of America’s soldiers. Berg simply let’s the story unfold naturally and gives us a very brisk and unsettling true-to-life battle.

Blu-ray Review “The Lone Ranger”

Actors: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Helena Bonham Carter
Directors: Gore Verbinski
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 17, 2013
Run Time: 149 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Right from day one, I had a feeling that “The Lone Ranger” would be a mistake to make, especially for north of $200 million dollars and even with starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. I am not sure how the executives at Disney didn’t see that. I (like most of America) had no interest in seeing this in theaters but I was still curious on Blu-ray. I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Depp is Depp…and that is not a bad thing obviously! Not a huge Armie Hammer, he reminds me too much of a car salesmen playing The Lone Ranger. The film itself is definitely epic, no question. Action packed and quite visual. But WAY too long. They could have easily trimmed 30 minutes off. Still this is a relatively fun popcorn flick and worth checking out. I am definitely a sucker for over-the-top Depp roles to hate it.

Official Premise: The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer; “The Social Network”), the last of his kind, teams with Tonto (Johnny Depp; “Pirates of the Caribbean” series), a dark and mysterious vigilante, to seek vengeance after justice has failed them. It’s a runaway train of epic surprises, as these two unlikely heroes must learn to work together before the ultimate showdown between good and evil explodes. Screenplay by Justin Haythe (“Revolutionary Road”), Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean” series) and Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean” series).

Disney is releasing this film as a combo pack with Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Digital Copy. With the film’s $200+ million dollar budget, you have to expect a very visual film and that does translate very well to its 1080p transfer. I liked the colors in the film, it set a certain mood that I dug quite a bit. Since the film is action packed, also the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track really soared. From the chugging train to the gunshots, this is one hell of an active and very impressive track. In terms of special features though, they are quite the letdown. “Riding The Rails of The Lone Ranger” is barely over 10 minutes and focus on the train and cars in the film. “Armies’s Western Road Trip: Armie Hammer” is a tour of the film’s scenic locations with the actor. “Becoming A Cowboy” is another short featurette about how they actors got into character. Lastly there is a Deleted Scene & Blooper Reel included.


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Book Review “The Lone Ranger: Behind the Mask”

Author: Michael Singer
Hardcover: 168 pages
Publisher: Insight Editions
Release Date: July 3, 2013

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

If you look at a film like “The Lone Ranger” you can tell that it was one hell of a production and cost around $250 million dollars to make.  So when it comes to the behind-the-scenes making of book, I was hoping for a huge elaborate look in the making-of the film.  I have to admit, I was a little bit let down. I feel that this book would have benefited more from a “Art of” book then a behind-the-scenes look.  “The Lone Ranger: Behind the Mask” tells a story of the long and hard road that it took in order to get this movie made. I would maybe recommend this to die-hard Depp fans. But be warned though of spoilers included towards the end of the book.

Since this was such an enormous production, we get an inside look at the huge sets in Albuquerque, the epic vistas of Monument Valley, and the sound stages of Los Angeles.  Accompanying that with some great shots of the cast and crew as well as some candid behind-the-scenes look.  There is some concept art and planning work for the characters and sets. Like I said, I would have loved to seen more focus on the art behind the film but at least we get a little taste of that in this book. The photos included though are high quality and do show a great deal of scale from the production.

One thing I should point out after this book is that is filled with celebrity cameos.  There are afterwords from Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer.  There is an introduction by director Gore Verbinski.  There is a special photo foreword from Jerry Bruckheimer. At first when I show the cover of this book, I thought to myself if there was actually anything in between all these various afterwords and forewords.  The author of the book, Michael Singer, definitely brings a great knowledge of books based on behind-the-scenes of films.  He worked on “Bring Me That Horizon: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean”, again also with Bruckheimer, Depp and Verbinski.  So I guess you can call this project a family reunion. 


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Film Review “The Lone Ranger”

Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer and William Fichtner
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Walt Disney Studios

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My father grew up watching “The Lone Ranger”. Whether it was Clayton Moore or John Hart donning the bandit style mask, my dad sat in front of the TV watching the 221 televised adventures of “The Lone Ranger”. I even remember my dad trying to bestow upon me the same excitement he had watching it. He didn’t want to just relive the adventures, he wanted me to feel that same spark of joy he once had. It never caught. I grew up on animated shows like “Mighty Max” and was drawn by the bleak world of crime portrayed in “Batman: The Animated Series”. The black and white TV show just didn’t resonate with me. Now that I’m older and understand what my dad was trying to do all those years ago, I was hoping Disney could rejuvenate those feelings once felt by thousands upon thousands of children during the 50’s. Sadly they’ve let me down.

A lone train chugs across the barren desert. Aboard is John Reid (Armie Hammer), a clean shaven man who puts his faith in the law. Farther down in another train cart, chained to the floor is the gritty looking and notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Next to him is the odd Native American, Tonto (Johnny Depp). These are our three main players. After Butch escapes, John travels into the harsh and unforgiving wild with a group of Texas Rangers to track him down. Butch and his gang of thugs ambush and savagely murder the group. Tonto then comes across the grisly scene of seven bodies lifeless in the dry heat. He digs seven holes to bury the dead, but a white horse stands at John’s resting place. To Tonto, it represents a spirit, telling him that John may have died, but he is alive again and will help Tonto in his journey to rid the land of evil.

I’m not sure how the Lone Ranger is suppose to act or appear, but Armie Hammer has a commanding presence on screen. He’s very likeable as the rugged hero. Fichtner would have been a fantastic villain if there was more exposition, but he still gives off some pretty wicked vibes with his implied taste for human flesh. Seriously. Tonto in the original series was meant to be a spiritual guide, but in this movie the character comes off as the Native American version of Jack Sparrow. It’s easy to compare this movie to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series because of director Gore Verbinski. If that isn’t enough the writers of “Pirates” (Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot) are tagging along as well. They’re joined by Justin Haythe(“Snitch” and “Revolutionary Road”) who most likely added to the difficulty of updating a classic character.

There are a multitude of times during this movie you can tell these three were struggling to jam their ideas in. This leads to a long and unfocused flick. Concepts are barely fleshed out and some scenes serve no purpose. Instead of completing or simply removing them, every scene is glued to the next by an action set. The action sequences are fun to watch, but they’re not dripping with peril. We’re given plenty of “will he live?” scenarios where we know the outcome is yes. Yes they will live. When we’re finally able to take a breather, we’re treated to a gorgeous landscape and sets that have a fantasy twist on the old west. Vibrant colors cover the rustic feel of towns and businesses. One of my favorite scenes involves our heroes visiting a brothel. Some of the establishing shots are quite breathtaking. Towering rocks chiseled from years of weather and patches of vegetation bravely fighting the coarse sand surrounding it.

Even with it’s meandering, I will admit, the last half hour feels magical. William Tell’s Overture kicks into gear as explosions rock the ground and we’re finally watching the “Lone Ranger” deliver justice. The classical piece by Rossini, made famous during the Lone Ranger’s radio time, stills packs a youthful sense of excitement as gun smoke fills the air. In that moment I realized that somewhere in the early stages of this movie, when all three writers gathered and collaborated, there was a wonderful and enchanting story with memorable characters waiting to capture the wild west imagination. As well as delight the hearts and minds of both young and old viewers. Instead we’re left with a movie that has an identity crisis and expects puns on the classic TV show to cover it’s weaknesses.


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Blu-ray Review “Lone Wolf and Cub: Complete 6-Film Collection”

Director(s): Kenji Misumi, Buichi Saito, Yoshiyuki Kuroda
Actors: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa
Distributed by: AnimEigo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Running Time: 507 minutes

Films: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1 out of 5 stars

Animeigo delivers once again in 2012. They are releasing “Lone Wolf and Cub: Complete 6-Film Collection” in its original unedited, uncut presentation, which have also been remastered on HD from new prints. To top things off they are in their original Japanese language with English subtitles. Included in the set will be 1972′s “Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance”, 1972′s “Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx”, 1972′s “Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades”, 1972′s “Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril”, 1973′s “Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons” and 1974′s “Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell”.

Earlier this year, Animeigo released “Shogun Assassin – 5 Film Collector’s Edition” which included the “Shogun Assassin”, “Shogun Assassin 2: Lightning Swords of Death”, “Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage”, “Shogun Assassin 4: Five Fistfuls Of Gold” and “Shogun Assassin 5: Cold Road to Hell”. They were cut together from The “Lone Wolf and Cub” series and presented only in English dub. The “Lone Wolf and Cub” release is a much better way to view these film, no question.

These films show their age a little bit in their high-def transfers but I feel that any noise on these films just add texture to the films themselves. Since they have been completely reconstructed from new prints, overall the 1080p 2.35:1 transfer looks sharp. The audio included is the original Japanese LPCM mono tracks, which is actually a great thing and work very well with these. The special features are…well…there really isn’t any. There are some production notes and trailers but that is all. Lastly, the case presentation is also not as nice as the release for “Shogun Assassin – 5 Film Collector’s Edition”. But nonetheless, hardcore fans of the “Baby Cart” series are going to need to get this release.

Here are the official premises for each of the six-films:
“Sword of Vengeance”: Betrayed by the fiendish Yagyu, Ogami Itto and his son begin their bloody journey towards revenge. Their first commission: to save the life of a Daimyo and kill the traitors and ronin that plot his death.

“Baby Cart at the River Styx”: The Evil Yagyu Retsudo sets a band of deadly female Ninja on Ogami’s trail. Meanwhile, Ogami must kill a traitor who seeks to sell a Clan’s secrets to the Shogun — a traitor guarded by three men known as “The Gods of Death!”

“Baby Cart to Hades”: After undergoing torture to demonstrate his honor and buy the freedom of a girl about to be forced into a life of prostitution, Ogami is hired by his very-impressed torturers to kill a corrupt governor. The governor figures out he’s the target when Ogami turns down the governor’s own commission, and the body-count soon starts rising to monumental proportions!

“Baby Cart in Peril”: Ogami is hired to kill a tattooed female assassin, but the job is not as straightforward as it seems. Meanwhile, Gunbei Yagyu, disgraced by Ogami in a duel before the Shogun, happens upon Ogami’s son Daigoro, and sees his chance for revenge. In the end, Ogami will have to defeat a horde of Yagyu warriors before he can face his arch enemy, Retsudo Yagyu!

“Baby Cart in the Land of Demons”: 5 warriors challenge Ogami to duels. Each has 1/5th of his usual fee, and 1/5 of the information he needs to complete his new assignment. Ogami has to be skillful enough to not only kill them, but kill them in such a way as to allow them to tell him what he needs to know, or he’s not the man for the job. His mission is to kill a mad Daimyo before he destroys his clan — a Daimyo guarded by a legion sworn to give their lives in his defense, even though they’ve just hired Ogami to kill their master!

“White Heaven in Hell”: The final film, and the final confrontation between Ogami and Retsudo. With most of his family already dead at Ogami’s hands, Retsudo launches one last plot to destroy him, and when that fails, unleashes the fury of every remaining member of the Yagyu Clan. Outnumbered 5000 to 1, Ogami might be in a little over his head (and thus, lose it!) this time!

Blu-ray Reviews “Code of Silence & Lone Wolf McQuade”

Directed by: Andrew Davis / Steve Carver
Starring: Chuck Norris, Ralph Davis, Henry Silva, Bert Remsen, and Mike Genovese / David Carradine, Leon Isaac Kennedy, Robert Beltran
MPAA Rating: R / PG
Distributed by: MGM Entertainment
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Running Time: 101 / 108 minutes

Blu-ray Scores: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to Chuck Norris, I can honestly never have enough. MGM dug into their archives and have delivered two classics from the films of Chuck Norris, “Code of Silence” and “Lone Wolf McQuade”, which is easily one of his best films. These films really represent true 80’s action and show the rise of the badassness of Chuck Norris. Plus in “Lone Wolf McQuade”, if Chuck isn’t enough we had the also fellow Kung-fu master David Carradine. Even though these releases feel like a cash in to time with “The Expendables 2”, if you are looking for a fix of Chuck Norris in high definition, I would recommend these very reasonably priced Blu-ray.  They aren’t the best releases but it’s enough to give your Blu-ray player a nice roundhouse kick.

In “Code of Silence”, Chuck stars as Eddie Cusack, a Chicago police officer whoaims to take down a drug gang.  When two rival gangs go at each out, it is up to Cusack to take let since no one at the police force is willing to help him since he who broke the code of silence by testifying against a fellow cop. His only help is a  police robot called “Prowler” that assist Cusack in taking down the gangs.

In “Lone Wolf McQuade”, Chucks plays legendary renegade Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade.  That name alone is bad-ass enough for me. He is quick with his gun but more lethal with his black belt! McQuade comes face to face with big-time kingpin and also martial arts expert, Rawley Wilkes.  McQuade must face his biggest challenge in order to save his daughter.

The video quality on both “Code of Silence & Lone Wolf McQuade” are very impressive.  I would even go as far to say that they look awesome on Blu-ray. The 1080p transfers are quite good and are presented in a sharp 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The sound on the other hand is good but nothing amazing with its DTS-HD MA Mono audio track.  If you are looking for extras, look elsewhere.  These releases are totally very lacking extras. The Blu-ray’s only come with each film’s original theatrical trailer, presented in standard definition.  Fans of Norris should not miss out on these releases, nonetheless.