Saturday, January 25, 2014

3 Stinkers – Hi Yo Silver, Away With Thee

Mainstream movie critics had an abundance of harsh words to say about Disney’s 2013 reboot of the Lone Ranger franchise, but their three main contentions essentially boiled down to these: “The Lone Ranger is racist and intolerant of differing cultures”, “The Lone Ranger is overlong”, and “The Lone Ranger features way too much shooting, killing, stabbing, and cannibalizing for its PG-13 rating and family-friendly source material”.  In a rare convergence of opinion, I would like to second these shrewd observations and offer the sincerest of compliments to those normally tasteless commentators who so often lead gullible moviegoers astray.  The Lone Ranger is a deeply racist and vile propaganda piece brimming with resentment and cynicism, directed not so much against Native-American tribes as against “the white man” and Christianity.  At two and a half hours in length, The Lone Ranger is a disgrace to all epic westerns that preceded it, not because it has a daunting run time but because the writers can’t think of anything meaningful, exciting, or even humorous to put in it.  More so than Man of Steel, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and just about every other supposedly kid-friendly movie that turned out not to be, The Lone Ranger is needlessly gruesome, takes itself so seriously as to be painful, and has an exorbitantly high body count, which isn’t inherently bad when the director knows what kind of movie he’s making but really rubs viewers the wrong way when he clumsily tries to alternate between moments of cartoony comedy, FX-driven adventure, and revenge drama.  All these complaints are legitimate and damning in themselves, but I feel compelled to add a fourth, namely that The Lone Ranger is gravely and unforgivably insulting to my intelligence, a stupid movie produced by a cast, crew, and studio who arrogantly assume that I’m stupid enough to accept even the lowest trash as entertainment.

The Lone Ranger employs a story-within-a-story device that should be all too familiar to anyone who has seen The Princess Bride or Life of Pi; in this case the audience is a little boy dressed as a ranger of ye old westerns and the narrator is an elderly Indian museum dummy who just magically springs to life upon the boy’s examination and claims to be “the Tonto”.  Yeah right, the young actor scoffs in an expression that I think is disbelief, and so the makeup-smothered Johnny Depp proceeds to recount an origin story of good men, bad men, sword fights, monsters, true (adulterous) love, and the rest, but we’ll get to that last bit later.  Of at least three problems with this framework, the first is that the kid who plays the boy can’t act, rendering his intrusive scenes opposite an even-weirder-than-usual Depp all the more intolerable.  Secondly, for those few wary movie connoisseurs who do look into this garbage, the storytelling old-timer refrain does little but stir distracting memories of those aforementioned masterpieces, thereby inviting mental juxtapositions of a truly contrived and shallow relationship with truly endearing and memorable ones (at least in Princess Bride; I myself didn’t care much for the trick in Life of Pi).  By setting itself up for comparison to such giants of romance and adventure, The Lone Ranger only makes its shortfalls all the more blatant.  Finally, giving Tonto – or Depp, as I shall henceforth call him out of respect for the character – free rein to direct the movie’s events however his unstable mind imagines they happened essentially gives the screenwriters a license to disregard all rules of plausibility, realism, and credibility in their narrative, a license which they exploit to the fullest.

Subpoint a) Chained together by one of many really bad guys in the movie, Depp and the future lone ranger race across one of many runaway trains in the movie to be violently ejected from the top when it derails.  Somehow they survive the initial explosion and potentially bone-fracturing collision with the ground, coming unscathed to a stop against a wall, but they’re still bound and one of the carriages is hurtling towards them at high speed.  Fortunately, a spinning metal beam falls right out of the sky and penetrates the dirt directly between the two, conveniently smashing the chain restraining them and forcing the train car to halt a couple feet from the invincible heroes.  Phew!  For a second there I thought the poster characters were going to die in the first 20 minutes of the feature.
Subpoint b) The lone ranger gets shot and comes back to life, because he’s that good.
Subpoint c) The lone ranger runs into the plain sight of three hostile gunmen and tries to talk them out of a fight, at which point they fire in unison at the open door that frames him not ten yards away.  Naturally, being bad guys, they all miss.
Subpoint d) A pack of mutated CG rabbits gather around a campfire at night to devour one of their own with razor-sharp teeth.
Subpoint e) A woman climbs around the outer side of a train moving at high velocity, then later gets thrown halfway out of another train by a bad guy, but her dress catches on something and saves her life, much to the ranger’s relief.
Subpoint f) For the sake of time and pixels, let’s just say that all the train sequences in this movie depict physically impossible stunts and ask the viewer to suspend disbelief to a level that’s not even funny.  Take the most ridiculous fight in POTC, the duel on the revolving wheel in the jungle for instance, double the absurdity, remove the witty and likeable characters, and you have The Lone Ranger from start to finish.
Subpoint g) Silver the stallion opens and imbibes a bottle of beer, gallops across a flaming roof, literally flying over obstacles, and stands upright on a tree branch some 15 feet above the ground.  “Something very wrong with that horse,” intones Depp.  More like, “something very wrong with this movie.”  The grave error of setting such an unreliable, mentally off-kilter, and, um, dead a narrator loose to exaggerate the truth however he wilt – to “season the truth with little lies”, as Mr. Eugene Krabs would have it – is that the reality of the story’s events must become so twisted and indistinct in the eyes of viewers that none can invest the slightest care in the characters’ outcomes.

Perhaps I should summarize the plot.  Armie Hammer from Aaron Sorkin’s Facebook Movie and Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Was Gay plays John Reid, a pathetically unmanly and physically hapless lawyer who eschews the Bible in favor of John Locke’s Treatises on Government (two completely unrelated and mostly irreligious documents by a philosopher who was anything but an Atheist) and is ever trying to catch up to his older brother, a hardened ranger with a hottie of a wife.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Twins, then you can think of the elder Reid as Arnold Schwarzennager and the younger as Danny DeVito.  The former got all the good blood while the latter got stuck with whatever undesirable stuff was left over, or so it initially appears.  As it turns out, John – or Hammer, as I shall also continue to call him out of respect for the character – is a “spirit walker”, meaning he’s a great warrior who literally cannot die in battle, which is overall a nice asset to possess in a big-budget summer flop where one’s life is perpetually endangered by gunfire and various exploding or crashing things.  The Reid brothers’ competition is brought to a premature conclusion when a brutal villain named Butch Cavendish ambushes the two in a canyon, putting an end to the one who can actually brandish a gun and giving the one who can’t a motive to learn how.

In fact, Butch has shot and butchered countless people throughout his life, all for the sake of securing enough money to get a replacement set of teeth, or so I infer, as he’s not exactly the handsomest hunk to roam the wild west.  That he has a hankering for eating the hearts of his victims doesn’t do much to compliment his already sordid reputation.  Verily, we can only recoil in disgust with Hammer as he beholds the animal utilizing his still living brother as an opportunity to practice his carving skills, which would be a emotionally poignant moment if the rest of the movie weren’t so pervasively comic and weightless in tone and if the writers had taken any pains for basic character development.  After an obligatory pep talk with Johnny Depp, Hammer becomes obsessed with bringing Cavendish to justice, and he’ll never tire of verbally reminding us so, just as all the other characters never grow weary of calling him “the wrong brother”, noting that the hot widow’s scarf matches her eyes, or pontificating about the significance of a singular silver bullet within western mythology.  Even when it isn’t alluding to or just copying scenes from A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Batman Begins, or the director/writer team’s previous collaborations in POTC (especially At World’s End), Lone Ranger so frequently beats its audience over the head with symbols and motifs as to be egregiously condescending.

Possibly the greatest point of difference between the original radio/TV drama and this revisionist drivel is that the lone ranger and Tonto were actually good guys back in the day.  Having seen only a handful of the old episodes, I can nonetheless aver that the two always stood up for the weak and defenseless, respected women, fought valiantly for peace and justice, scorned personal temptations such as taking vengeance against their enemies, and in brief did all things that befitted a man of chivalry and honor.  Rugged virility and the clash between good and evil men have ever been common themes of the western genre, and The Lone Ranger show largely reflected that tradition, whether or not it did so very professionally.  Elliot/Rossio/Verbinski, on the other hand, thought it would be more interesting to weave a story of good guys who are only marginally less loathsome than the bad guys, wherein Depp’s Tonto is a recognized client of a seedy whorehouse who plots to avenge his Comanche tribe over the blood of the wendigo white man and Hammer’s ranger lusts after his brother’s wife, eventually winning a kiss from her after he majestically rides in on a green screen to save the day.  Even the brothel-attending Indian can tell that’s perverted.

The most offensive thing about Tonto’s portrayal in the picture has nothing to do with ‘whitewashed’ casting or the dead bird crowning his head, which is partially the result of a rather traumatic childhood and partially a reminder of the debt he owes his people, but that the writers draw him as a stupid and unprincipled savage.  Likewise, the worst thing about this incarnation of the lone ranger isn’t Hammer’s inability to act or to maintain a fake cowboyish accent consistently but that he typifies the metrosexual archetype that liberal Hollywood is gradually coming to embrace as a worthy substitute for the man of muscle and action.  At the apparent ‘climax’, Tonto makes a rare display of inner wisdom, confronting Reid’s cowardice with this forceful condemnation: “You are not a man.”  Never was a word uttered more true in this sorry picture of broken masculinity, and what a miserable truth it is that Helena Bonham Carter outmans the lone ranger tenfold.  She plays a prostitute for about five minutes on-screen and was apparently hired for the sole purpose of shooting at an overly pushy guy with her boot gun and yelling, “No free ‘rides’, gentleman!”  Ha ha.  I get it.  That was almost as funny as Sofia Vergara’s boob gun in Machete 2, which critics loved if only because it appealed more directly to their sophomoric mentalities and because she’s a HispanicLatinoSomething star in their favorite gay propaganda show.

I could ramble on about all the cheap potshots Lone Ranger takes at Christianity, Caucasians, and American exceptionalism, but others have already documented these things at length and I won’t do the movie any favors by restating old findings about the bitter contempt it exudes for this country.  One can only wonder if the screenwriters saw or heard a single episode of the source before taking up their pens.   Just in the nick of time before the credits roll, Hammer delivers a much needed nod to the classic series in the way of a hearty Hi Yo, Silver, to which Depp retorts in deadpan horror, “Never do that again,” before limping off into the horizon as a drunken old man – an image that could easily be interpreted as a symbolic stand-in for the movie.

I agree with Tonto.  Never do this again, Disney/Bruckheimer.  You have produced probably the most abhorrent, insensitive, ill-mannered, pointless, and thematically confused Utah/Arizona/California/New Mexico/Texas travel brochure in the history of film.  All those states deserve and have received far better treatments from the Coen Brothers, John Ford, George Ray Hill, and a bunch of Youtubers who have nowhere near $250M to burn.  Would that I had some new Lindsey Stirling and Piano Guys music videos to cleanse my mind of this train wreck, but alas, I have completely run out of both*.  Oh well.  Unlike Tonto, his Kemosabe, Butch Cavendish, and pretty much every other character in this visual bloodbath, watching listening to the following performances for the 6th time never killed anybody.

Depp: “Good shot.” [referring to a fatal ricocheting bullet chain reaction pulled by the ranger, the like of which is only possible in stupid action movies that defy the laws of physics]
Hammer: “That was meant to be a warning shot.”
Depp: “In that case, not so good.”

Grade rating: C-.  About as funny and charming as Butch’s cross-dressing right-hand bandit.  “I just like them pretty things.”

22,450,000 views and 263,000 likes.  That means this sold about twice as many plane tickets to the great southwest as The Lone Ranger.

No, there arent any sweeping Utah mountainscapes in Assassin's Creed III, nor did the redcoats ever come close to setting foot in Utah, but who cares about accuracy when the video has Lindsey Stirling in it?  Only 12,000,000 views for this one but probably thrice as many plane tickets.

*OK, I haven’t completely run out of Piano Guys videos.

Unrelated side-comment: I’m rooting for the team that isn’t from the People’s Republic of Seattle.

Another unrelated side-comment: And the Grammy should go to… good grief, this is the very best you elites you could scavenge out of last year’s musical treasure chest?  Daft Punk?  Who’s running this charade?  Whatever… give it to Sara Bareilles, then.  Mumblegrumblesostupid.

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