The Green Mile

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) was the head prison officer at Cold Mountain Penitentiary’s Death Row, known as the Green Mile, in 1935. Along with having a crippling urinary infection, Paul and his team of good men must also deal with their snivelling bastard of a colleague Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), the governor’s wife’s only nephew, and the various inmates that come through their doors on the way to the execution chair. The most recent of whom, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), is a towering, muscle-bound mountain of a man, but with a simple, child-like mind, and something a little special about him that makes Paul doubt whether Coffey has any cause to be on the Mile at all.
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Seven Psychopaths

Marty (Colin Farrell) is an alcoholic writer (otherwise known as just a writer) who has the title of his latest screenplay – Seven Psychopaths – but is struggling for anything after that. His best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell) is desperate to help, and posts an advert in a newspaper, calling for any psychopathic characters to get in touch as inspiration. Meanwhile, Billy and Hans (Christopher Walken) run a dog-napping business, in which Billy ‘borrows’ the dogs from unsuspecting owners, only for Hans to return them a few days later and collect the reward. This all goes a little awry when Billy’s latest victim, Bonny the ShihTzu, is owned by ruthless mob boss Charlie (Woody Harrelson), and he really loves that dog.
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Cowboys and Aliens

Apologies again for the lack of recent posts. I’ve been in hospital again for the past few days (where I managed to watch this film but do little else). All being well my extended medical excursions are now complete, and I can get back to watching films and writing posts. Hopefully there’ll be a steady slew of posts over the next week or so, as there’s about twenty from the List that I’ve watched recently and haven’t reviewed yet. Right, back to today’s feature:

With a title like Cowboys & Aliens, a certain level of expectation is accrued before watching. Along with approximately equal parts ranch hands and space travellers; their respective genres of horse opera and sci-fi melded neatly together, there surely must be a hefty dollop of fun, because the premise is more than a little ridiculous. Yes, it’s just as plausible as any other alien invasion flick, for why necessarily would beings from another planet arrive in present day, but the very notion of cowboys on horseback, with lassos and pistols, taking on intergalactic creatures capable of space travel and ray guns is just insane. So whilst I’d heard mediocre reviews elsewhere of this film, I at least expected to be entertained and amused throughout.

Chances are, this would have had a better chance of happening with a different cast. Though the film’s marketing and other reviewers have revelled in the idea of Bond and Indy together again (The Last Crusade famously saw Sean Connery, the one true Bond, playing Indiana Jones’ father) what director Jon Favreau doesn’t seem to realise is that an older, eye-twinkle-free Harrison Ford and a stoic, seldom talking Daniel Craig just aren’t funny, and have next to no chemistry together.

Craig’s Jake Lonergan awakes in the desert with nought but a photograph of a lady, a strange wound on his side and an even stranger chunky bracelet clamped to his arm. He can’t remember his name or anything else, so after seeing to a trio of miscreants, he heads into the nearby town of Absolution, terrorised by Ford’s bitter cattle baron Dolarhyde. The first half hour or so is easily the best in the film, setting up what looks like an interesting traditional western – albeit significantly more polished and brighter than others made recently, and even once the aliens attack, in a gripping sky-lasso sequence, it stays on the rails. Afterwards however, once every named character has either been snatched by the creatures or sets out after them, it loses it’s way.

Lonergan and Dolarhyde’s posse – for it is they that lead the hunt – is made up of some nameless alien-fodder, and is joined by a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk, including Sam Rockwell’s meek doctor-come-bartender and Olivia Wilde’s mysterious stranger. Wilde and Craig look entirely out of place in the Old West, their piercing eyes, clear skin and complete lack of cragginess juxtaposing with the entirety of the rest of the cast, including the likes of Ford, Keith Carradine and Clancy Brown, who appear to have been born to wear a stetson and chaps.

The best characters are easily Rockwell’s doc and Paul Dano’s Percy, Dolarhyde’s obnoxious son, so it’s puzzling just why they were sidelined quite so much. Had they been the central pairing, this could have been a far greater, more entertaining and interesting picture. The aliens, too, were disappointing. Their design isn’t anything overly creative – other than a chest cavity that opens up to reveal two small arms for delicate work – and they had a confusing blend of advanced weaponry and primitive pounce-and-flail combat techniques. They also had absolutely no characterisation, and quite frankly the notion that they invaded to steal gold is beyond ridiculous, and was the point at which I gave up on the film.

It’s my own fault for going in with high hopes after reading middling reviews, but I feel this is a great concept that was floundered on the wrong cast. Favreau as a director seemed a perfect choice, but he forgot to bring the funny. Yes, Craig’s impassiveness did cause humour at times, mainly when he caused people pain, but all-in-all this was a missed opportunity for a great film.

Choose life 5/10

Unlisted: Iron Man 2

Yesterday I discussed the near flawlessness that is Iron Man, and whilst all these praises remain for the sequel, it suffered from having far greater levels of hype, anticipation and expectation. It seemed that all who had loved the first couldn’t wait for the second, everyone wanted more, and more was most certainly what they got, especially when it comes to an overabundance of supporting characters, superfluous plot strands and men in metal suits hitting each other. Where the original finale, with Stark and his business partner, Jeff Bridges Obediah Stane, knocking seven bells out of each other in their rocket-propelled armour, seemed fresh, new and exciting, in the sequel we get something similar not once, but three times, as well as two metal men fighting an army of remote-controlled drones and an early confrontation between Stark and new villain Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) at the Monaco Grand Prix. Some of the action set pieces, like the aforementioned meeting, seem a little shoehorned in to put an action beat in place, but are still impressive, and the suiting-up sequences have also been greatly improved upon, especially the Suit-case.
All the supporting characters are back, but Don Cheadle has replaced Terrence Howard (Howard apparently wanted more money than Marvel thought he deserved, and seeing how little he brought to the table in the first film I’m inclined to agree with them) as Rhodes, and all the characters get an expanded upon arc, even director Jon Favreau’s background cameo as driver Hogan gets himself something to do. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is the new Stark Industries CEO, Rhodes wants a suit to take back to the military, Scarlett Johansson is Tony’s new assistant/undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (a welcome addition to the cast, if only for aesthetic reasons), Tony is in talks with Samuel L. Jackson’s one-eyed Nick Fury about his role in the Avengers, weapons rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is desperate to better Stark and bird-obsessed Vanko aims to settle the score regarding his father working with Stark’s dear old Dad (Mad Men’s John Slattery). See, that’s a really long sentence. Far too much to take in. The first film was streamlined, with not much chaff around the wheat, but here there’s just too many strands. I didn’t even mention that the arc reactor keeping Stark alive is also killing him, a completely unnecessary plot point that adds nothing and is resolved by the end, so doesn’t affect the series, but takes up about 20 minutes of screen time. Even with so much going on, the film is 5 minutes shorter than the first, but feels half an hour longer, as boredom sets in from watching metal men punch each other repeatedly.
Even more so than in Iron Man, this feels like a prequel to the Avengers, especially with Johansson’s Black Widow, bigger roles for Nick Fury and Agent Coulson and references to Captain America and Thor. That, and the film’s finale feeling disappointing after a protracted build up leaves this film with all the entertaining pats of the first, but an unfulfilling sequel that doesn’t take them anywhere. Favreau has since dropped out of part three, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black has stepped up instead. He’s worked with Downey Jr. on one of his best roles to date, so here’s hoping.
Choose life 6/10