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Entries in pirates of the caribbean (2)

Wednesday
Jul032013

The Lone Ranger

It seems like a strange time to reboot “The Lone Ranger,” the Western themed radio/television show that debuted back in the 30s when the idea of the Western hadn’t faded from society’s interest, much like it has today. Today, audiences seem to want robots and explosions and carnage and new technologies, not a shootout in pre-industrialized America with tumbleweeds rolling around in the background. Perhaps that’s why this 2013 version of “The Lone Ranger” decided to sell its soul. This movie is a Western for the ADD-addled generation, those who need every sense needlessly bombarded with pounding music, sound effects and visual flash. While I hesitate to label it a disaster as some have, “The Lone Ranger” is missing the essence of the genre and it doesn’t do enough to make up for it.

John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer. Despite ridicule from his brother and the general populace, he believes America is heading in a direction of prosperity, a bright and evolved future that will do away with the need for violence to bring criminals to justice. However, while traveling on horseback with the local rangers, including his brother, he is attacked by a wily band of savages, led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a recently escaped madman who was to be executed. In the ambush, everyone is killed except for John, who is restored back to health by a Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp). A treaty has been drawn up between the Comanches and the man who plans on building the transcontinental railroad in or around their reservations, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), but the newly formed team of Tonto and John, eventually dubbed the Lone Ranger, discover not is all as it seems, so they set out to uncover the conspiracy.

I suppose I should clarify one thing. When I speak of “visual flash,” I’m not saying it isn’t welcome. On the contrary, the film is so bland, predictable and unfunny that it’s one of the only things keeping this thing from sinking closer to the bottom of the barrel. Regardless of what one might think of director Gore Verbinski from a narrative viewpoint, his eye for beauty is virtually unparalleled. He’s one of the most visually interesting directors currently making movies (and one of the reasons why “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” remains underrated today) and his talent shines through here. There are some terrific shots with some striking imagery that you can’t help but gape in awe at. The problem is that much of that pizzazz is misplaced.

This movie is set in 1933, when the country was becoming more prosperous and looking to leave its life of wild west outlawing in the past. It was a time to look forward, but a ton of work still needed to be done. It was still a rough and gritty transitional period, yet the visuals here are squeaky clean, never conveying the tone or time the movie is set in. “The Lone Ranger” is, more or less, “Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the old west, but whereas those fantasy adventures benefited from these touches, “The Lone Ranger” suffers. With all of the excessive action, it is unfortunately bogged down by an overuse of obvious CGI, a misjudgment in a movie that needed to be toned down to begin with, not bloated with extravagance.

And speaking of bloating, “The Lone Ranger” is overlong. Running at only a tick under two and half hours, the film drags along with nowhere to go. The eventual revelation of who could be behind the madness is transparent from the start and no other reason is given to care. Sure, there’s a kind-of romance between John and the newly widowed Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), but it’s underdeveloped and ignored for the most part. It’s almost as if the three writers of the film picked one piece of an outlined story, wrote about them without consulting one another and then tried to place them together, resulting in a movie with no flow or cohesion.

“The Lone Ranger” is one of those strange movies that doesn’t do much of anything particularly well, but it’s hard to outright hate it. Its humor lands with a thud more often than not and even its somewhat insulting portrayal of Native Americans—more so in the way it uses their cultures, values and beliefs for laughs than the casting of Depp as one—never truly kills it. The only real reason to see the movie, if you can get past its modernized computer animated façade, is the action, particularly the final moments aboard a speeding train, but even that proves to be futile. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to look no further than Buster Keaton’s 1926 masterpiece, “The General.” Nearly 90 years later and that silent film trumps this one in nearly every way and, without the help of computers, still stands as one of the most thrilling movies ever put to screen. “The Lone Ranger” on the other hand is a two and a half hour time suck. Here’s hoping Verbinski puts his skills to better use with his next project.

The Lone Ranger receives 2/5

Friday
May202011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I’m a Pirates of the Caribbean apologist. Viewers and critics alike have berated the second and third entries in the franchise, but I defend them on the grounds that they shouldn’t be taken seriously and are simply good, stupid fun. I won’t be doing that for On Stranger Tides. This fourth installment is nothing more than an obvious cash grab, a slapdash resurgence of a franchise that doesn’t know what to do with itself. Those who hated At World’s End are suddenly going to have fond memories of it after watching this.

The movie begins with a familiar face. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is on trial, though for what I haven’t the slightest clue. He is about to receive his sentencing when suddenly, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) randomly appears in full judge garb, sentencing him to life in prison. Before he knows it, Jack has ditched the outfit and joined him in the carriage that is transporting him off to jail. Jack informs him he has a plan and to just sit tight for a while. Of course, that plan never comes into fruition and next thing they know, they are confronted by the British armed forces. Before much of anything happens, Jack escapes and runs into Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who has been impersonating Jack in another plot point that is never really explained. It turns out she is, but not really (but maybe), the daughter of the famed Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Next thing he knows, Jack is on Blackbeard’s ship and they’re on their way to find the Fountain of Youth.

Like its predecessors, On Stranger Tides doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There are zombified slave people, mermaids that evidently don’t like man-made light, but flock to it nonetheless, and a scene where Jack runs into an old friend who is able to fire a gun and save his life despite being, as far as I could tell, an apparition. Also like the previous movies (particularly the third one), it’s not always clear who is good and who is bad. It never establishes anyone to root for, so you end up rooting for no one.

Although those problems have been a consistency since the second film, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End made up for it with over-the-top action. You were bombarded with so much excitement that you wound up forgetting that you really had no idea what was going on. The ridiculousness was part of its charm. I think back to the end of the third film where multiple ships were circling around a whirlpool in the middle of the ocean, firing cannons at each other while characters swung to and fro and battled each other on top of the ships’ masts. For some reason, On Stranger Tides decides to scale back its action to a large degree. Nowhere will you find the outrageousness of the previous films. Rather, you’ll see little more than your generic on-land swordfights that usually end up going nowhere due to the film’s apparent desire to ensure that very few people, especially the main characters, are actually harmed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is convoluted, confusing and overstuffed. The funny thing is that at two hours and eight minutes, it’s the shortest Pirates movie yet, but it feels like the longest. It meanders about, introducing new characters that are poorly developed and throwing them in subplots that are uninteresting and, like the human/mermaid romance, very silly. It forces its humor, the actors don’t seem to be into it and it more or less ends up where it began. Even the reliable Depp as the ever amusing Jack Sparrow seems like he’s floating through this, though that could be due to the witless script that gives him nothing funny to say.

The final nail in the coffin comes from the obligatory 3D, which is more useless here than ever before thanks to the overwhelming darkness that pervades the film. This is the darkest movie to utilize the format since Sanctum and, thanks to the tinted glasses, it’s difficult to see much of anything. When you can see, the effect isn’t noticeable. When it is noticeable, it’s nauseating and off-putting. Given all its blunders, there’s really no reason to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It’s hard to imagine even die-hard fans of the franchise will be able to find enjoyment in this.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides receives 1.5/5