‘The Lone Ranger’ – Hi-yo Silver, What the Heck?

Like so many, I grew up watching “The Lone Ranger” on television and listening to the old-time radio show as well. John Reid, whether he was wearing a mask or not, was a paragon of justice, and seeing him and his faithful sidekick Tonto defeat the bad guys was always deeply satisfying. I was reminded of how much I liked this character while watching Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger” because I kept asking myself, who is this buffoon that has no business being around a horse during this movie?

Hollywood has had little luck in getting a respectful version of “The Lone Ranger” up on the silver screen, and this supposed 2013 summer blockbuster is the latest example. At two and a half hours, this film is a bloated mess which could have easily been shortened. It sticks its talented cast with a bland story, an uninteresting villain, and it can never seem to figure out if it wants to be a lighthearted adventure or a deadly serious film. Sadly, it is not until the last half hour when this “Lone Ranger” finally comes to life.

This “Lone Ranger” is yet another origin story about how this iconic character and Tonto first met and joined forces to bring justice to the American Old West. John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer and former Texas Ranger who joins up with his brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), to recapture the ruthless outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) who has just escaped. In the process of tracking Butch down, John and Dan are ambushed by him and his law-breaking friends, and he mercilessly takes Dan’s life as well as another part of his body from him. John is assumed to be dead, but Tonto (Johnny Depp) finds his body and nurses him back to health so they can avenge Dan’s life and defeat Butch before he does more harm.

Look, I try to enjoy movies for what they are as opposed to what I want them to be, but I found myself wanting to see a much different version of “The Lone Ranger” because the iconic character is not given the respect he deserves here. I came out of this film feeling sorry for Hammer who is a very good actor and was terrific as the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network,” but he is forced to portray John Reid as a buffoon and wimp who has no business trying to bring any bad guys to justice. Hammer has some funny moments, but the screenplay by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio robs his character of many of the heroic qualities we love the Lone Ranger for having.

Come on, this is a movie about the Lone Ranger, so why not make it about the character we know him to be? Just like “The Green Hornet” which Seth Rogen and company really messed up, this is a film that blatantly forgets what makes its well-known characters so special. Regardless of the current controversies Hammer is currently enduring, his acting career has fared much better than Klinton Spilsbury’s did after he starred in ill-fated “The Legend of the Lone Ranger.”

As expected, Johnny Depp gets top billing even though he is playing the sidekick in this film because, well, he’s Johnny Depp. While he may be the best thing about “The Lone Ranger,” his performance is a bit problematic. Depp said he chose to play Tonto so he could right the wrongs of the past in terms of how Native Americans are portrayed in the media. While I really want to say he succeeded, I’m not sure he did. He is clearly having a lot of fun playing Tonto, but the character threatens to come off as a comical caricature than a believable Indian. I have no doubt that Depp has Native American blood in him, but it would have made much more sense to get a full-blooded Native American to play Tonto instead.

But in the midst of such comical mischief between the Lone Ranger and Tonto, we get to learn about Tonto’s backstory which involves tragedy and Native American genocide. It is at this point when the movie’s tone becomes completely erratic as it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be funny or serious. While I would never dare to gloss over the damage we did to Native Americans, this grim history belongs in another movie and not this.

“The Lone Ranger” also starts off with another side story which has a young boy named Will (Mason Cook) visiting a San Francisco county fair where he runs into an elderly Tonto who proceeds to tell him about his adventures. The movie keeps coming back to these two time and time again, and this ends up slowing its already sluggish pace down to a grinding halt. These scenes could easily been cut out of the film because they really serve no good purpose and only make us wish this was much shorter.

William Fichtner remains one of the most dependable character actors working today, but he is unfortunately saddled with portraying a bore of a villain in Butch Cavendish. The character’s makeup basically spells out how this is one very bad dude who never visits the dentist, and it’s almost like Fichtner is letting the makeup do all the work. There’s really not much to this character other than he’s just another evil outlaw, and this gives Fichtner no real opportunities to make him the least bit interesting.

As for the other actors, Ruth Wilson gets to play Dan Reid’s obligatory love interest, Rebecca, and she is given little to do other than be in constant danger. Tom Wilkinson is a welcome presence as railroad tycoon Latham Cole, but it’s no surprise to see what his character ends up becoming. And while it is cool to see Barry Pepper as U.S. Calvary Officer Jay Fuller, his character is just another one of those clichéd corrupt military characters who is just asking to get beaten up. As for Helena Bonham Carter, she is wasted in a bit part as brothel madam Red Harrington. While I love seeing Carter pop up in one role after another, this movie does not deserve her.

Verbinski runs into many of the same problems which undid “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” as it goes on for far too long, contains characters we never fully care about, and it doesn’t take long for us to give up on trying to understand the plot. While he is indeed a talented filmmaker, and the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie really was fantastic entertainment, I thought after “At World’s End” he would rein things in more than he tried previously. That he did not accomplish this makes this cinematic experience all the more frustrating.  

Regardless, I have to admit that I loved the movie’s last half hour where Verbinski executes a number of brilliantly staged action sequences. Once the “William Tell Overture” music started blasting through the speakers, I found myself being immensely entertained. This was “The Lone Ranger” movie I wanted to see, the one where I was genuinely thrilled by this masked man’s crime fighting ways. This proved to be so much fun, but while this spectacle went on, I could not help but ask myself why the rest of this motion picture could not be this entertaining.

“The Lone Ranger” was not the worst movie of 2013, but it was still pretty close to being the biggest stinker of all. While it was not as boring as “The Great Gatsby” nor as abysmally bad as “The Hangover Part III,” this should have delivered far more bang for the buck. Westerns have taken a big hit over the years with poorly received duds like “Wild Wild West” and “Jonah Hex,” and this film is not going to help matters any. This was the first Lone Ranger movie in over 30 years, and now it looks like we’ll have to wait twice than long for the next one to be made.

Hi-Yo, Silver! Away from Hollywood!

* * out of * * * *

Tom Cruise Flys High Again in First Trailer for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

The thought of a “Top Gun” sequel was laughable years ago as Tom Cruise had little reason to do a sequel to any of his films. Seriously, it seemed as likely as him doing a sequel to “Cocktail” which, while a big hit at the box office, was not exactly a critical darling. But in recent years, any movie he stars in which doesn’t have “Mission: Impossible” in its title has failed to make much of a dent at the box office, and perhaps this is why he has chosen to finally revisit his superstar-making role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell 34 years after the original was released. Whatever the case, its first trailer honestly has me very excited for it.

From this trailer, we learn Maverick is still a Captain instead of a military general, meaning he is still unsafe and quite dangerous in the cockpit of an airplane. Whereas James Tolkan chewed him out in the original, another bald military general played by Ed Harris (give this man an Oscar already!) berates him for not allowing himself to get promoted. When we finally get our first look at Cruise here, it looks as though he hasn’t aged much since 1986, and he still has that shit-eating grin which drives everyone crazy in ways both good and bad.

What struck me most about this “Top Gun: Maverick” trailer was its flight scenes as director Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed Cruise in “Oblivion,” makes us feel like we are in the cockpit with Maverick as he takes off from an aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean. This reminded me of how exhilarating the flight sequences from the first “Top Gun” were, and this sequel looks to have even more of them.

From there, we get glimpses of characters such as Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), and he looks to be as buff and as musical as Cruise, Edwards, Val Kilmer and Rick Rossovich were in the original. Yes, there looks to be another volleyball game in store for us in which we discover how the men look without their t-shirts on.

We also see glimpses of Jennifer Connelly as Maverick’s love interest who is said to be a single mother and the owner of a bar. My guess is Kelly McGillis does not appear in this sequel as she seems determined to remain retired from acting.

Val Kilmer is also set to return as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, but we do not see him in this trailer. I read somewhere that his Iceman is now a Vice Admiral, and I’m guessing he will still be teasing Maverick about who is going to be whose wingman.

I am also gratified to know Harold Faltermeyer is back to score this sequel, and he will be doing so along with the great Hans Zimmer. You can hear Faltermeyer’s score throughout this trailer, and it is an immediate reminder of how much it drove the action and emotion of “Top Gun” back in 1986. I can already see myself buying the soundtrack to this sequel when it arrives in theaters in the summer of 2020. Heck, I might buy the soundtrack before this sequel is released.

That’s the other thing; “Top Gun: Maverick” is being released in 2020, exactly one year from now. I know Hollywood is always serious about securing release dates for movies way ahead of time, but showing us trailers for movies which will not be released for another 12 months seems unnecessarily torturous. Remember when we got the first trailer for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions?” It got audiences excited as hell and yelling out with joy as soon as those green digits started descending from the top of the silver screen. This was back in 2002 when the trailer was shown before “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” and it ended with “2003” on the screen. As thrilled as we were with the continuation of “The Matrix” franchise, seeing the date of when the first sequel was to be released had us groaning in frustration all too loudly.

At least here, Paramount Pictures tells us “Top Gun: Maverick” will be coming out in 2020 in the middle of the trailer instead of at the end of it. After all these years, Hollywood has remembered they can tease audiences only so much before foolishly risking our wrath.

“Top Gun” may have received mixed reviews upon its release as the aerial footage proved to be more exciting than when the characters were on the ground, but damn it was an entertaining flick. A nice wave of nostalgia passed over me as I watched this first trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick,” and I patiently await its release next summer. And who knows, maybe Quentin Tarantino will come up with another memorable examination of how this sequel depicts a man’s continuing struggle with his homosexuality just as he did previously in “Sleep with Me.”

Please check out the trailer above.

Top Gun Maverick teaser poster

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides poster

I am happy to say “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is a big improvement over the previous entry, “At World’s End.” Whereas the latter had an incomprehensible story I gave up on following, “On Stranger Tides” has a plot which is a little more straightforward and easier to follow. Stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and director Gore Verbinski have done left the building, and in their place are “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, Ian McShane and the alluring Penelope Cruz. With some of the dead weight removed and new elements thrown in, this showed promise. And of course, we have Johnny Depp back as Captain Jack Sparrow, whom without there would be no “Pirates” franchise.

This one has Jack sailing to the Fountain of Youth, and we’re not talking Beverly Hills. Along with him on the voyage is his former lover Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who proves to be every bit as trustworthy as Jack, which is to say not at all. Also onboard is legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) whose giant sword wields a vicious power even with a simple wave of it. And just when you thought he was out of the way, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is back as well, leaving Sparrow with the usual number of antagonists working against him, and there’s always plenty to go around considering Sparrow’s checkered history.

You would think by now this franchise would have bought the farm as it seems the only reason for it to continue is money. But even in this sequel, Depp still looks to be having a blast as this rock star of a pirate. Never easily upstaged, except by Keith Richards who has one of the movie’s best lines, he finds much to play around with and hasn’t lost a beat since the beginning. It could have been a movie where he could have just taken the money and run, but if he’s still having fun then so am I.

Personally, I’m glad Bloom and Knightley are gone as their romance ran its course, and to have them bitching and moaning at each other yet again would have been tiresome from the start. Instead we have Penelope Cruz who remains an actress as fantastic as she is beautiful. She more than holds her own opposite Depp as Angelica as her character threatens to be even more devious than Jack. Seeing these two play off each other kept me guessing as to who was the more honest of the two, and if they ever reached a point where they start believing their own lies.

I’m also glad to see Geoffrey Rush back as well and fresh off the Best Picture winner “The King’s Speech.” His character of Barbossa has had an interesting journey throughout these films as he’s been an antagonist and then a protagonist. By the time you reach him in “On Stranger Tides,” you’re not quite sure what to make of him which is part of the fun. Like Depp, Rush still has a joyous time playing this enigmatic character, and his gleeful delivery of dialogue is highly entertaining.

Ian McShane was an inspired choice to play Blackbeard, but in some ways his performance is a bit of a letdown. He’s very good, but after watching him portray one of the most cold-blooded bad guys ever in “Sexy Beast,” I expected a lot more menace from him which would have made “On Stranger Tides”’ all the more enthralling to watch. Still, he’s a great actor and could have done much worse.

The one character, however, I could have done without is the stubborn missionary Philip Swift. He’s a bland character who serves no real purpose in a movie which already has more then enough characters to juggle. This is no fault of the actor playing him as Sam Claflin does his best with an underwritten role, but it felt like the screenwriters were making up for the loss of Bloom and Knightley, and they really didn’t need to.

I do have to admit I really dug the mermaids and their natural beauty as much as I did the filmmakers’ take on them. Whereas they are as lovely as we remember them from stories and fairy tales, these mermaids here pack a vicious set of jaws and would sooner devour you than kiss you. There is some nudity here but no breasts (it’s a Disney movie folks), and you will find them unusual than the mermaids you grew up reading about. I guess you could say this is Disney’s subtle take on “Fatal Attraction.”

With Rob Marshall taking over directing duties on this one, I really admire how he streamlined this venture. Even though the movie stumbles a bit in the mid-section, Marshall keeps things moving at a swift pace and none of it gets overwhelming. “At World’s End” was so over bloated to where I wouldn’t be able to describe the plot or remember the name of the character Chow Yun Fat played to you. But here you have a good idea of who everyone is, and even if there are things which don’t make complete sense, it doesn’t matter too much.

In the end, all I really wanted out of “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”’ was a good time. It’s not a movie I ask too much from, and I liked how Disney learned from the franchise’s previous mistakes. While the wonderfully entertaining “Curse of The Black Pearl” set the bar high, this one reaches up far enough towards it. Along with another thunderous Hans Zimmer score, I was pleased with this fourth “’Pirates” film, and I am open to seeing a part five, and you know there will be one at some point in the future.

* * * out of * * * *