The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger is a frustrating movie. At times good, solid western flick, at others mind-numbingly silly, and at other times far too over the top, it has plenty to offer to everyone but it’s not fully coherent and Johnny Depp needs to take a role that doesn’t require hours of makeup. His Tonto is boring and vapid.

You might enjoy The Lone Ranger if you liked:
Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3
Rango
Spaceballs
Rhustler’s Rhapsody

… but no promises.

If you prefer movies that don’t have nonsensical scenes of animals being silly and over-the-top, totally fabricated and pointless explosion scenes, you might want to give The Lone Ranger a pass.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 3, 2013

Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Helene Bonham-Carter, Ruth Wilson, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson, James Badge Dale, and Stephen Root.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of The Lone Ranger is simple. A clean-cut DA (Hammer) is returning to his frontier hometown where his brother is sheriff and his former flame is his brother’s wife. A railroad tycoon (Wilkinson) will stop at nothing to bring his railroad progress along. A Union army captain (Pepper) shows up for some reason or another. Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) stars as a nutter of an Apache  who wears a bird for a hat is able to show up exactly where he needs to be throughout the film. A psycho(Fichtner) who may or may not be working for the railroad guy wants to kill everyone and might have a vendetta. After the psycho escapes from custody, the DA’s brother (Dale) takes the DA along with a posse and goes into a slot canyon where he himself points out that is perfect for an ambush.

The entire posse is killed, except a horse that is sometimes a spirit guide and sometimes a buffoonish cartoon character indicates to the Apache that the DA is alive. So the Apache revives the DA and they go after the bad guys and they find a saloon owner (Bonham-Carter) who is conveniently angry at the bad guys.

Wait. That’s not simple; that’s mostly just convoluted absurdity used to disguise Depp’s trademarked goofiness and a sad excuse for an homage to a great old Western TV show about heroism and courage and justice.

In any case, the chase is on! Will the railroad magnate manage to take control of everything, including the DA’s nephew? Will the random Union army captain be important to the plot? Will the DA and the Apache ever even break a bone while they are thrown from fast-moving train cars and fall from immense heights and get into numerous fights over the course of a day or two?

Find out all these answers– if you can sit through this far-too-long, generally irritating flick. What makes it worse is that Hammer is a wonderful Lone Ranger and the single arc for that character is great.

Critique

Pretty sure we’ve covered the critique portion fairly well.

Here are the problems with The Lone Ranger:

1. It’s far too long (but how could it not be immensely long with such a convoluted plot?).
2. It’s slapstick and buffoonish and that takes away from the Lone Ranger lore.
3. It’s too full of explosions and over-the-top sequences which would have been better if the conflicts had been more personal.
4. Gore Verbinski directed it and Johnny Depp is in it.
5. Its budget was way too big.
6. Its plot is too complex for what ought to be a Western superhero movie.

Here is what The Lone Ranger gets right:

1. It’s beautifully shot.
2. Armie Hammer.
3. Tom Wilkinson.
4. The Lone Ranger’s character arc.

See The Lone Ranger at your peril.

Very unrecommended.

Content warnings: Plenty of noisy violence, some language, lots of intense scenes.

Writing: 2          Acting: 3.5           Overall: 2.5

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21 Jump Street

There’s a very nice surprise in 21 Jump Street that encapsulates the reason this movie is effective and enjoyable. I can’t spoil that surprise, but you won’t regret seeing this film.

Here’s a preview:

The deets:

Released March 16, 2012

Written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill, based on the TV series by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Starring Brie Larson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ice Cube, Ellie Kemper, Holly Robinson Peete, and Chris Parnell

Rated R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

In 21 Jump Street, Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) start out in high school. Jenko is a dumb jock and Schmidt is smart and has made himself look like Eminem. This is why Jenko refers to Schmidt as “Not So Slim Shady”. So I’m a little confused, because that’s a clever nickname, but Jenko’s dumb. I don’t get it.

All of that aside, these two have the dynamics you would expect in high school: Schmidt’s awkward but academically gifted and Jenko’s physically confident but failing his classes. And so Jenko bullies Schmidt. This is brief, and then we fast forward to five years later when both are entering the police academy. They become friends so that they can help each other out, and the friendship blossoms. Yes, it’s a bromance.

As newly minted cops, they’re eager to kick some trash, but they are over eager and flub their first bust. Due to their young age and immaturity, they’re assigned to a reopened squad that goes into high schools undercover and takes down teen baddies. Watch for Holly Robinson Peete as Officer Hoff, the same part she played in the TV show. She has aged very well.

Now Schmidt and Jenko have to stop a dangerous new drug before it gets out of Sagan High School and infiltrates all of teendom. While doing so, they have to make sure they’re not expelled, have to get in with the high-school dealers, and otherwise have to blend in as teens. Due to a clever mix-up, however, Schmidt is mistaken for the fake ID that was made for Jenko, so Jenko’s signed up in nerdy classes and Schmidt’s supposed to be a track star. The double fish-out-of-water trick is pretty good.

Hi-jinks ensue and Schmidt falls for Molly (Larson) while zeroing in on Eric (Franco) as the main dealer in the school. During the beginning of the film’s climax, check if you see the fun twist coming.

Critique

21 Jump Street is a very clever, very self-aware film. Jonah Hill shows a real flair for dialogue and genuine comedy with this script. Every cliche of the original TV show is skewered, then exaggerated. Teenagers are depicted with some honesty, although it’s still bothersome that we have yet another Hollywood film that has decided all teenagers are 100% susceptible to peer pressure and that every teenager you know will drink like a sailor and throw caution to the wind at a party.

But this is a film of some caricature, which is shown from the start, so these depictions, including those of Ms. Griggs (Kemper) and the principal are forgivable.

Comedy is mined from every possible moment, and most of it stems from the characters and their motivations and actions– so it is natural and at times extremely funny. You will appreciate the time that directors Lord and Miller take to let scenes unfold and push the comedy to a higher, but also more fundamental, level.

That said, there’s plenty of low-brow, and in some cases uselessly crass, humor. The movie could have done without these moments. Schmidt’s parents are one example where real humor came from their doting on him as an only child and their approach to parenting, but stupid humor is forced by the idea that parents, when away from their kids, do amoral things too.

A quick note on acting: Hill pretty much plays himself. He does a fine job of having himself be the right character for the film. Tatum steps up with timing, physical humor, and overall a solid performance. He should get out of romance films a little more.

All in all, 21 Jump Street works because Hill and Tatum have great chemistry, the script explores authentic dialogue from immature post-teens, and it never takes itself seriously. It’s a buddy cop movie with just a little bit of heart, but a great deal of intelligence when it comes to adapting well-known source material. This source material, rather than being adhered to, is used a springboard for a new story with new characters, while still paying homage to the origin.

The film shows great affection for every trope it uses: action, buddy cops, teen movies, old 80s and 90s schtick, and modern culture. But then it also skewers those tropes, giving 21 Jump Street some actual meat.

Content warnings: Lots of profanity and references to genitalia, some violence, some drug use, some brief sensuality, some blood.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4          Overall: 4

I know YOU agree with me, but you should see if “reputable” reviewers do. Check it out on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Rango

Oh, Gore. Gore, Gore, Gore.

You’re trying too hard.

It looks like Captain Jack Sparrow is now a lizard. Either that or characters are now written so that they can BE Johnny Depp.

I saw Rango today during my lunch break. While it is currently ranked #5 on my list of movies released in 2011, keep in mind that the only two movies below Rango on that list are Source Code and Limitless.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a perfectly enjoyable film, filled with clever dialogue, interesting characters, a complex story line, and it is visually quite arresting. But maybe I’ve just reached saturation point of Johnny Depp-ness.

The deets:

Released March 4, 2011

Written by John Logan, Gore Verbinski, and James Ward Byrkit

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton and many others

*     *     *     *    *

Rango is the story of a lonely guy who wishes he were an actor playing a heroic role, who finds himself being a lucky liar playing a heroic role, who then ends up wanting to be a real hero and accidentally gets the job done.

The guy is a domesticated chameleon with no name, voiced by Johnny Depp. He is a smart lizard who resembles Johnny Depp in personality and manner more than he resembles a reptile. He is clever, very well informed by culture and theater, and is very quick on his feet. He also seems to have a remarkable ability to stay unhurt while getting other people into very sticky situations.

This is why I don’t like this type of film. I know we’re supposed to be charmed by the lizard’s manner and crazy-quick witticisms, but he’s a ne’er-do-well who seems totally incapable of caring about the consequences his actions have for other people. Now, he is in fact charming, and very funny, and his personality is a great contrast to the rustic, old-west town and culture he finds himself in. And it’s useful for the character to start as a rogue and then undergo changes toward hero.

But Mr. Verbinski was trying too hard, as were the writers. The lizard is just too clever, his success is too accidental and the success of his final plan depends far too much on chance. He is just a lizard, but he was the hero of the film, and yes, he is an anti-hero like Capt. Jack Sparrow, but I want my protagonist to dig deep, find something extraordinary in themselves, and overcome the worst in themselves to become something better and improve the world around them.

There are some great aspects to this film. The four-owl mariachi band is a clever way to remove the fourth wall and keep the story skipping along. But they tried too hard and their pronouncements of the lizard’s death become artificial for any intelligent viewer. The homages to old westerns are much appreciated, including the love for Eastwood’s The Man with No Name. The visuals are stupendously wonderful. They are fabulous, precise and dizzyingly lovely at times. They are unexpected and tasty.

Furthermore, the clever characters sometimes do unexpected things, which is good, because so do real people. The voice actors do a lovely job imbuing the critters with a humanity that we can’t help but enjoy.

But in amongst all the excellent work I’ve described, the lizard, who adopts the name ‘Rango’ partway through the film never does much that will endear him to viewers. He’s no Woody or Buzz Lightyear, because he doesn’t really ever seem to care, despite the stakes that are involved.

Add to all of that the unfortunate fact that the second act lags significantly, and the movie is not the exuberant ride I expected.

And when the movie comes to a close, you feel a little cheated. It’s like the feeling that you get when you listen to a Fall Out Boy song. Yes, the lyrics are clever and the music is skillfully done, and it’s even quite catchy, but it is ultimately pointless and in no way satisfying.

Pens (writing): 2

Cameras (acting (voice-acting, of course)):4.5

Screens (the entire experience): 3

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