The Lone Ranger Review

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A Lone Ranger movie today is a hard sell. Our most recognized heroes are dark and brooding (“The Dark Knight Trilogy”‘s Batman), young heroines that appeal to the young-adult book readers (“The Hunger Games”‘s Katniss) or colorful characters fighting world-shaking enemies (The Avengers). Where does the Lone Ranger fall, a character created in the 1930s and rooted in a time even earlier than that? Hollywood has recreated classic heroes for modern audiences before: Christopher Nolan did it with Batman and most recently Zack Snyder did it with Superman. Superman as a character, especially after the Christopher Reeve clone that was “Superman Returns,” was someone that needed an extreme makeover in order for audiences to embrace him. For the most part, “Man of Steel” succeeded. Despite a controversial ending, the film succeeded as a reinvention because it stripped the Superman franchise of all the familiar elements of the Richard Donner/Reeve era while also embracing who he is as a symbol. It wasn’t your grandpa’s Superman, but it was still Superman.

In the case of the Lone Ranger, the problem may be that he is, in essence, a “grandpa’s superhero.” He’s a Texas ranger in the 1860s with a strict moral code that included always using proper English and never shooting to kill. A hero worth admiring in the 1930s, even worth admiring today, but one that may not resonate as well. In an effort to bring this masked avenger to modern movie-goers, the team behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise infused the same type of thinking they used for those movies into the new “The Lone Ranger” movie: big, loud, far-fetched exploits and Johnny Depp. The problem is that they didn’t bring any of the fun and enjoyment from those movies over to this one. “The Lone Ranger” is an awful, tiring, obnoxious experience.

What makes it so awful? When you have a movie where the sidekick gets top billing because the studio isn’t confident in its main star, or title character for that matter, you already know you have problems. Armie Hammer plays the masked man and Johnny Depp plays his Native American savior/sidekick Tonto. Hammer fumbles and slouches his way through the movie, never appearing very heroic. His John Reid/Lone Ranger is a bumbling idiot, portrayed as a buffoon who gets lucky. Then you have Depp, white-faced to make him look less Johnny Depp-like but you never forget that it’s him. He pulls out every trick in his utility belt to give the movie an extra little sense of enjoyment, and sometimes he succeeds. But it’s hard to get past the fact that he’s basically playing a Native American Jack Sparrow. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are supposed to have each other’s back, but that’s thrown away in favor of a wannabe “buddy cop” relationship. The Ranger treats Tonto like crap, and vice versa. Even “kemosabe” doesn’t mean “faithful friend” in this interpretation.

So at it’s core, “The Lone Ranger” is a “Pirates” clone in the old west minus anything enjoyable. It tries way too hard to be a fun blockbuster and in the end isn’t fun. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (seriously, what is HE doing making a Lone Ranger movie) and director Gore Verbinski never seem to know when to quit and with a running time of two and a half hours (already too long in itself) it feels like four. “Go big or go home” clearly doesn’t work for a film that should have never been intended to be a “blockbuster.” But despite its insistence to cram as much unnecessary story, unneeded characters, and over-the-top action set pieces, it still manages to find time to get a little “dark” in spots. Villain Butch Cavendish eats someone’s heart right out of him and there’s cannibalistic bunnies. Why? I don’t even think the writers know.

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If the movie had been stripped down and did away with its unnecessary components, it may have been a tad more enjoyable; Helena Bonham Carter’s character is the definition of a throwaway character and the film is narrated by an aging Tonto display at a fair in the 1930s. Again, why? But for it to be a truly good movie, literally everything about it could be changed. I get that Disney wanted to try and cash in on the “Pirates” popularity and do something reminiscent of that, but it just doesn’t work. At all. Not to sound cliche, but I like to think of how better the movie had been had it taken a “Batman Begins” approach to the Lone Ranger and been more realistic.

Alas, that’s not the case, and we’re left with a rather dull effort despite how bombastic it tries to be. To its credit, when the famous “William Tell Overture” (The Lone Ranger’s classic theme) begins to play, I got a little excited. It’s followed by a train-chase sequence that’s actually kind of exciting. But by that time, it’s way too late. It was clear way beyond that point that this movie is a parody masked as a Lone Ranger film, never taking itself seriously and ripping the heart and soul right out of the title character. Who is that masked man? Who knows. Nobody asks.

1 star

World War Z Review

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So…sequel?

This was my first thought once the end credits began to roll for “World War Z,” the zombie epic from director Marc Forster based on the novel “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks. The ending is so vague, so abrupt, that it’s hard to imagine Hollywood not turning this into a franchise of sorts. And having began but not finished the novel (I got half way through), I don’t know how much the final film version borrows from it’s novel counterpart. At a certain point, I hit a wall while reading the novel and didn’t go any further. It’s basically broken up into a series of sections, with survivors from all over the world giving their personal accounts of the zombie plague. It’s like a documentary in novel form, which would have translated into a sort of “District 9” like approach if Forster and the writers had chosen to go this route for the adaptation. Instead, “World War Z” is an unexpected summer blockbuster, and instead of hitting a wall half-way through, the film never lets up.

It’s “War of the Worlds” meets “28 Days Later.” Brad Pitt is at the heart of this epic, playing United Nations employee Gerry Lane who has seen his fair share of conflict and mayhem across the globe. This is why he’s recruited to accompany a young scientist, thought to be humanity’s “best hope” for finding a cure to the plague, to South Korea. This is the first stop in a series of stops that include Israel and Wales, as Gerry traces clue after clue to find a way to stop the plague once and for all. Pitt carries the film on his shoulders. Lane’s commitment to protecting his family, who can only stay on the U.S. Naval vessel they’ve take refuge on if he agrees to help find a cure, gives the film a much needed beating heart among so many of the undead. Pitt is fearless in facing the zombie army.

It’s no secret that the film had its fair share of development problems, which included countless reshoots and rewrites, notably from “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof. Despite these problems, the end product turned out to be a solid entry into the zombie genre, anchored by the star-power of Pitt. Forster’s action sequences see an improvement from his James Bond disappointment “Quantum of Solace.” The film balances wide-spread chaos with confined terror in a way rarely seen in zombie films. Having a PG-13 rating, the gore takes a back seat to the action, but it’s no less thrilling.

The world-wide effects are felt as Lane faces this globe-spanning spectacle in four key areas. Lane and his family first face the terror in Philadelphia, and gets his family out of harm’s way. Once they hole up in an apartment complex and are extracted by a helicopter, Lane treks to South Korea where the first mention of the word “zombie” came out of. This leads him to Israel, then to Wales after a devastating plane crash. The first time the zombies show up on screen is a delight, even if it has a post-9/11 fear of terrorism feel to it. The apartment scenes are awesomely suspenseful, and the first time we realize that maybe “World War Z” has some scares to go along with its mayhem. It’s also made clear it has some silliness to go along with it, too, whether it’s someone accidentally shooting himself in the head (it’s outrageously funny, though) or a phone ringing at a terrible time. The stand out scenes, though, are in Israel, where the zombie-ladder we saw in trailers and thought looked stupid is given some context. When the zombies make it over the wall, it’s a free-for-all of epic proportions.

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Despite so many locations, the film is finely paced, even if it’s apparent that reshoots took place. Early in the film, Matthew Fox of “Lost” shows up for a full five seconds, and it would be safe to assume that his character had more screen time prior to reshoots. It’s probably for the best, though, as his character supposedly would have been part of a nasty “love triangle” to be developed more in future films. No.

Overall, “World War Z” is the surprise of the summer so far, an entertaining zombie film with an interesting solution to stopping the undead. Whatever problems took place on the set aren’t apparent in the final product. Forster proves he can direct action sequences as long as they include a surplus of flesh-eating monsters, and Pitt carries it with heart and bravery. Despite some silliness and an anticlimactic ending, the film is an unexpected thrill-ride.

4 stars

The 5 Best Quotes From the Catfish Season 2 Premiere

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Catfish returned tonight with its season 2 premiere and boy, was it full of surprises. Well, not really. Max is still insistent on holding a camera that we never see footage of, Nev is still hairy chested, and we all know that these people are typically being lied to. If the guy on the other end of the line is pretending to be a buff bald black man, he’s most likely a skinny white boy or your white best friend you treat like a sister. Unfortunately for the victim of this Catfish, it was BOTH.  To its credit, I didn’t exactly see that one coming. The writers got me on that one…oh, it’s all real? Okay, and Paula Deen isn’t racist. But despite this revelation, the real stand-out for the episode was its creator, Nev (pronounced Neev-yeah, it’s weird. Just call him Hairy Chest). Or more to the point, Nev’s hilarious one-liners. Whether intentional or not, Nev was on his a-game. Here’s a list of the best Nev quotes of the night…and one of Max’s.

1. “That’s what I call a frequent flyer!” Nev sees a bird in an airport and tries to be funny. Maybe next time, Nev.

2.”I would certainly want to make love to the person I was talking to before I married them.” Of course Nev would say “make love.” Obviously.

3. “Max, we know what we need to do…IMAGE SEARCH.” I felt like I was watching a cheesy old-school cartoon like Captain Planet where everyone would say at the same time “WITH OUR POWERS COMBINED…”

4. “One thing, I can tell you, is that I’m not going to sleep well tonight.” Really, Nev? THIS is gonna keep you up tonight?

5. “I’m really excited to just start digging into Steve.” This is Max’s. I knew he was gay.

Why The End of “Man of Steel” Is Good For Superman

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Totally disagree with this article. I think it actually made me mad. I’m not sure, but it made me something.

http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/06/15/man-of-steel-superman-zod-death/

First off, before I get into what I really have an issue with, it baffles me how many critics are complaining about the ending being just one giant, unnecessary fight scene with too much CGI–this writer even goes on complaining that nobody “seems to notice” that an entire city has just been destroyed. Then what the hell did they think The Avengers was? Shakespeare? I’m glad we have a Superman movie where he actually uses his powers to fight someone in building-toppling glory.

Okay, now my real issue with the article. It really bothers me that people would have an issue with Superman killing Zod. Yes, old school comic book readers are going to say “NO, SUPERMAN WOULD NEVER KILL!” But this is a different time and a different Superman. The writer seems to have a predetermined set of rules in his head that Superman has to abide by or it’s not “Superman-like.” Comic book characters are constantly adapting to change, whether it’s figuratively in how they adapt to the times or literally in how they handle situations within their stories. In the lead up to DC’s comic book event, “Infinite Crisis,” Wonder Woman kills a man. She snaps his neck because it was necessary. Because the times were tough. I’m not advocating that super heroes should resort to killing just because “the times are tough.” That’s why they’re super heroes, because they can rise above that. But it happens so few times that when it does it makes for interesting debate.

Superman as a character for years has been labeled as an All-American boy scout. In a word, he was boring. People can say he’s the ideal superhero fighting for truth, justice and the American way all they want, but at the end of the day, it’s when Superman gets angry that he’s the most interesting, especially on the big screen. In the classic “Superman: The Movie” Lois dies and Superman lets out a scream of agony. He’s so mad, he fucking flies around the world at top speed to reverse time. It’s ridiculous, obviously, but it’s this kind of radical action-taking that the Superman in “Man of Steel” will be associated with when he takes Zod’s life.

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I find it intriguing, maybe a little troublesome too, that people don’t have a problem with Superman selfishly using his powers to rewrite history but they do have a problem with him unselfishly using his powers to, yes, kill someone, but more importantly, to save lives.

The writer of the article is insistent in the thinking that Superman has no emotional reaction to killing Zod, and this makes him a cynical, unthoughtful super hero. He doesn’t immediately kill him. It’s clear he doesn’t want to. He pleads with Zod. It’s only right before Zod’s heat vision is about to melt a poor helpless family that Superman FUCKING SNAPS HIS NECK. It’s like a bullet heard ’round the world. I got chills. The audience gasped. And after, just like in “Superman: The Movie” he lets out a scream of agony because he knows what he did was wrong…BUT HE FUCKING HAD TO DO IT. It’s not because the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a way to get rid of Zod without killing him. As much as the writer of this article wants to make us think they’re morons, I’m sure they fought with the idea of whether Superman should kill and had alternative ways to handle the situation. But the fact they settled on this is much more appealing.

This Superman is willing to make hard choices. He gets angry and throws down hard with Zod and his followers and then he makes the ultimate choice in the heat (literally) of the moment. The writer thinks that Superman killing someone doesn’t change him at all, that it doesn’t have any consequences going further. And he has a problem with this. But what the writer doesn’t seem to understand is that we may not have seen any consequences because this is a much different Superman, one that already had the means to kill. This Superman has a choice, and that’s a big part of the film that the writer of the article seems to forget. Just as there are no predetermined set of rules that say what Superman should or shouldn’t do that can’t be broken, so too there is no predetermined course for his destiny in this film. We all know he’ll grow to be a force for good and hope, but Jonathan Kent never implies that that’s what he HAS to do. He doesn’t pretend he knows what Clark’s destiny is, he just does the best he can in raising him and leaves the rest up to fate. Jonathan is willing to let people die to hide Clark’s secret, just as Clark is willing to kill to save lives. It’s not because they are “cynical” people or dishonorable. It just means that what they do they believe will, in the end, be for the better of everyone. It’s very Machiavellian, “the ends justify the means.” And that may not be what we associate with Superman, or want to, but perhaps it’s something we should start doing.

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The writer also makes comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and how, unlike those movies with Batman, “Man of Steel” doesn’t seem to care all that much about Superman’s code of ethics. He makes the assumption that the filmmakers don’t think he has any. I don’t think that’s the case at all. The film does a good enough job of hammering home the idea that this Superman is still alien to us both physically and emotionally. An alien being still coming into his own and finding his place in this world may not know what his code of ethics is YET. But perhaps him killing Zod is that moment that makes him realize his code of ethics. Maybe it’s the moment where he realizes he doesn’t want to kill again. And if it’s not, then at least we know he’ll only kill in the most necessary of situations. Before the writer jumps to any assumptions, I think he should have remembered that this is an origin story right up until the very last shot of the film.

And speaking of the “Dark Knight” movies, does Batman not kill in those films? In “Batman Begins,” sure he doesn’t exactly “kill” Ra’s al Ghul, but, as he blatantly points out, he “doesn’t have to save” him either. He bails out of a high-speed train just as it’s about to crash, leaving Ra’s to die. And in that exact moment, Ra’s wasn’t threatening anyone’s life like Zod was when Superman kills him. Batman abandons him to save his own ass and make a statement. In “The Dark Knight,” sure Batman saves the Joker from falling to his death but 10 minutes later he pushes Harvey Dent out of a building to save Jim Gordon’s kid. He probably didn’t intend to kill him, but he still dies from an action Batman takes, and it was because, like Zod, Harvey was threatening a life. And after it’s all done, Batman takes the blame for Harvey’s killings. Because if Gotham’s people knew Harvey was bat-shit insane all hope would be lost. This could have never happened if Harvey had lived. And Batman’s not a dumb-ass. So maybe he did want him to die.

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Is this very heroic? By this writer’s thoughts, it’s not. But he makes no mention of these instances, or any other instance in which super heroes are responsible for their enemies dying. It always seems to happen that the hero doesn’t “intentionally” kill the villain. They just fall to their death and the hero doesn’t save them. But is that any better than Superman choosing to take a life? And nobody bats an eye lash when The Avengers leave Manhatten in ruins or Batman HACKS PEOPLE’S FUCKING CELL PHONES TO SPY ON ONE GUY…but they get in a fit if Superman kills for the greater good. I’m not saying what those other heroes do is wrong. But what Superman did wasn’t wrong either. And maybe it’s good that people hold Superman to a higher standard than the rest. He is Superman after all. But in this day and age, Superman needed a makeover, and I say what better way to do that than to give him a reason to kill.

Man of Steel Review

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There is no kryptonite. No bright red underpants. No distinctive hair curl. Lois Lane is a strawberry blonde. Perry White is black. Jimmy Olsen is a woman. The Fortress of Solitude is an alien spaceship frozen beneath the ice. There is no Lex Luthor (that we’ve seen). There’s no John Williams score (which is fine. Hans Zimmer’s is brilliant). And instead of jumping right into the Daily Planet, this Clark Kent is a nomad, picking up odd-job after odd-job under the guise of a fake name while on a spiritual journey. No, this is not your grandpa’s Superman. Despite the fact he’s lived on Earth for over two decades, this Superman is still alien to us, not only physically but emotionally. He’s detached, the only strong relationship with other people seeming to be his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. This Superman has a choice. His destiny is not set in stone, and he can either grow to be a force for good…or bad. It’s this uncertainty that is this Superman’s kryptonite. For all his strength, he’s still not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be used for. He just knows he has a purpose. This makes him vulnerable. But when he finally dons the suit with the S-shield proudly across his chest making him a symbol of hope, this is when Superman overcomes that vulnerability.

It’s this kind of thinking that makes director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s Superman much different from past interpretations. Superman has always been portrayed as the ultimate embodiment of good. There was no choice. Kal-El was always destined to be a savior and, while they always knew to keep his identity hidden from the rest of the world, the Kents raised him to use his powers for good. In this rebooted, bold incarnation of the character, he has the choice to go in the opposite direction than that of which we know. Kal-El/Clark Kent was obviously meant for great, heroic things. We all know he’ll don the blue suit and red cape and be that symbol of hope. But the fact that his path is so uncertain here makes the journey that much more interesting. Jonathan Kent, played respectably by Kevin Coster, is a stern fellow, more stern than we’ve ever really seen the character. He guides Clark, but not in the way you’d expect. He believes Clark was sent there for a reason, but he doesn’t pretend he knows the answer. He’s willing to let people die to hide Clark’s secret, not because he’s a dishonorable man, but because he has so much faith in the destiny of his adoptive son, and so much belief that the world isn’t ready for him yet.

This Superman is still trying to find his place in this world and by the end of the film I think he’s found it. Telling the origin story could have been a gamble that didn’t pay off, such as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which was pretty much the same origin tale with different actors. But it hasn’t been portrayed on the big screen since Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie.” While many aspects of the origin story are similar, a modern retelling still proved to be a gamble that paid off. This is the perfect set-up film, one that establishes Superman in a different way for a different generation. The film opens on Krypton. It’s an introduction that reminds me of Star Wars or Star Trek. This retelling is much more sci-fi than what we’re usually accustomed to seeing. Krypton is brought to life in a brave, albeit CGI-ed heavy, way. Russell Crowe leads the first twenty minutes with a Jor-El that does its best to step away from the Marlon Brando character we all associate with Superman’s biological father, diving and fighting his way through a mob of soldiers in order to save his newly born son from the decaying planet. We see Michael Shannon’s Zod in full-force, leading a military coupe as their world dies around them. It’s a chaotic opening that sets the tone for both the more somber moments and the high-flying action of the rest of the film.

Just as Superman’s destiny is not set in stone in the film, neither should his character. Many reviewers are calling this Superman, played by the square-jawed, soon-to-be-rising-star Henry Cavill, too gloomy. He’s never able to crack a smile, apparently. One shouldn’t expect Tony Stark-like charm from an alien being still searching for his purpose. There isn’t a predetermined set of rules that say Superman should be a lighthearted ray of sunshine. Yes, Superman in essence is not a “dark” character. His symbol after all does mean hope and he gets his powers from the bright rays of Earth’s sun. But for years people have been clamoring for a Superman that steps away from the boy-scout routine. Cavill’s Superman is more serious and, like Costner’s Pa Kent, more stern. He gets angry. He shows emotion. He doesn’t put up with bullshit-he throws down hard with Zod and takes down a spy drone plane. And most importantly, he’s willing to make the hard choices. That’s a Superman that needed to be seen on the big screen. But just because he’s a little more edgy, doesn’t mean he can’t crack a smile. Cavill doesn’t get to show off his pearly whites all that often, but when he does we ‘re reminded that there is something indeed human about this alien after all.

As for the rest of the cast, Amy Adams is a Lois Lane that can hold her own as she should be. I was very bothered by Kate Bosworth’s Lois in “Superman Returns.” She felt like a victim, waiting for Superman to save the day. This Lois seems much more willing to take charge. Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane don’t get much to do as Perry White and Ma Kent, respectively. Zod is a worthy villain to kick-off this resurrected franchise. Not to be compared to Terrence Stamp’s original performance, Shannon’s Zod is an angry, obsessive individual and while we’ve seen the villain on the big screen before, he’s still able to give Superman a run for his money in the power field, which Snyder uses to great advantage. While the fight scenes can often be dizzying, it’s nice to see Superman actually throw down with another on his level of strength. The property damage is undoubtedly through the roof, but one crater in the middle of a city is nothing compared to all of humankind being eradicated. Snyder impressively strips the movie of his signature slo-mo routine in favor of quick zoom ins-and-outs. The action feels heightened in a sense-maybe this is how Superman feels all the time.

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All this praise, where are the flaws? The film is not perfect by any means. Richard Schiff and Christopher Meloni play throw-away characters as your average scientist and army colonel. Because every super hero movie needs a specific scientist and army person to help save the day. The military takes to Superman’s arrival a little easier than maybe they should have. A huge part of the film is about how the world would react to Superman if he revealed himself, and yet there isn’t much focus on the reaction in the midst of all the building-toppling madness. But this is what I’d like to see in a sequel. Now that Superman has established himself, lets see some fallout from it. Like the Dark Knight trilogy in a way pokes at the economic crisis, lets see this new Man of Steel franchise take on modern social politics. Snyder and Nolan have crafted a very different take on Superman, but the character needed different. He needed “cool.” If people give it a chance, this Superman can accomplish wonders. It can be an ideal to strive towards.

4.5 stars