The Lone Ranger (and Tonto)

I feel like I’ve been waiting for The Lone Ranger for years.  And considering both the filming and the release date were delayed at least once each, that may not be an unreasonable estimate!  I finally saw the movie on the Fourth of July and happily, it was worth the wait.


Johnny Depp as Tonto is the most obvious reason I was excited by this movie, but there’s more to it than that.  I’m a rather passionate fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, and this was made by pretty much all the same people.  It’s a Disney movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, with a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and, of course, Johnny Depp in a wild and weird role.  Plus Lone Ranger has Helena Bonham Carter and the quite attractive Armie Hammer thrown in for good measure.

Lone Ranger is not Pirates of the Caribbean (what is?) but it’s a similarly fun ride, and some of those parallels most definitely show.  They stole some fight choreography out of Pirates, there are similar character arcs, and there are over-the-top, improbable (well, probably impossible) action sequences.

The movie is an origin story for the Lone Ranger, Texas vigilante in the Old West.  John Reed is the sole survivor of a massacre of Rangers.  Rescued by renegade Comanche Tonto, who has his own reasons for hunting the outlaws at fault, the two join forces to seek justice.  There follows a tangle of searches for information, hunts, missteps and near misses, and reveals of backstory and conspiracies.  It’s all really a vehicle for funny moments and insane action sequences (like galloping a horse along the top of a moving train…to the William Tell Overture, of course).

the-lone-ranger-2013-depp-as-tontoTonto seems to have received a lot more attention in the lead-up to the movie than the Lone Ranger–partially because it’s Johnny Depp, and partially because of the controversy around portraying a Native American character.  To me, Tonto felt much less like any attempt to make a racial comment and much more like another in a long line of wacky and weird Depp characters.  Depp’s Tonto is plainly unbalanced.  He’s also the comedic center of the story, and easily the show-stealer of the whole movie.  Trading with dead men, talking to horses or scattering cracked corn everywhere he goes, he’s endlessly entertaining.  The bird on his head is not just a fashion statement but something he frequently interacts with (and it turns out to have a surprisingly dramatic backstory).

Tonto is effectively played for laughs, although in some ways I feel like they never quite nailed down his character.  To paraphrase Captain Jack, it’s funny how often madness and genius coincide.  While Jack usually comes across as genius (if twitchy and eccentric genius), with Tonto it’s more often madness.  It’s much harder to tell which side of the line he falls on, and the movie fell off a few times trying to walk on it.  I was hoping for something to ultimately reveal whether his, um, unusual way of looking at the world really is valid, or really is madness…and it never quite came.

Even though the Lone Ranger was the title character and arguably the impetus to the plot, he fulfilled a Will Turner-type role in the movie, as the handsome friend to the eccentric show-stealer.  He undergoes a similar arc too, from the uptight, straight-laced fish out of water, to finding confidence and competence under the rather shaky mentorship of Depp’s character.  I’m not sure why he’s quite so incapable of coping with the Wild West, considering he’s a native son of the frontier town, but he comes back from years away as the intellectual cityite with no real understanding.  And it is quite hilariously funny when he accuses the Madame of the brothel of breaking numerous health codes, including having a suspicious jar of pickles on the bar…

This was mostly a man’s movie, but Helena Bonham Carter does do a very entertaining turn as said-Madame, typically eccentric as well.  There’s also a love interest, who has her moments although she’s no Elizabeth Swann, and is definitely secondary to the quest for vengeance.

THE LONE RANGERRepresenting the animal contingent, Silver is a truly weird horse.  Tonto takes him to be a spirit animal, and he’s certainly an, erm, independent spirit.  The horse gets a lot of laughs, and it’s fun just to have the faithful steed as an actual character with his own quirks.

I enjoyed this hugely, but my biggest criticism of the movie is the level of violence.  It’s not graphic, but it is obvious and frequently brutal.  One of the opening sequences features a group of outlaws taking a train, and the casual shooting of anyone in their way is shocking in its callousness.  The death of walk-on characters (or redshirts) is a usual convention in this kind of story, but there was something about this that felt a notch higher in violence.  The massacre of the Rangers is also pretty horrific, and while the facts of the scene are plot-necessary, the details could easily have been toned down.  John’s brother doesn’t just die; he dies in a horrible way, and while it’s below the edge of the screen, there’s still no question about what happens.  There are also shots lingering on each of the dead bodies of the Rangers.

The second half of the movie is in some ways better on that front.  The action sequences become less brutal, bigger and more absurd, transcending to the level of cartoon.  Without any element of reality, they become less disturbing–although that’s problematic in its own way, on the level of desensitization.  On a similar note, as is also typical in this type of movie, the Lone Ranger and Tonto both take enough falls and general pummeling to be dead several times over.  I’ll accept the absurd falls, and the crazy stunts–but it does bother me that there are quite a few moments where the violence level felt gratuitous.  This has been marketed as (and for the most part is) a family-friendly, comedy-adventure, and it’s disappointing that they couldn’t rein back the violence to a more appropriate level.

I’ve seen the objection to the violence made elsewhere too, and hopefully Disney will listen (I’m not that hopeful, but it’s possible).  If this movie does well at the Box Office, I’ve no doubt they’ll have the opportunity to try again.  The movie is complete in itself, but it has every marking of the first of a series…and if Johnny Depp signs up again, you can bet I’ll go see it.

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Blog Hop: Casting Your Favorite Books

Remember last fall I participated in the Book Blogger Hop a few times?  I had fun with it, but then I got distracted or something, and haven’t looked at it in quite a while.  I finally checked back in, and found some very interesting discussion topics in upcoming weeks!

book blogger hop

This week’s question is: If you could turn one of your favorite books into a film, who would you cast?

I am so immensely intrigued by this question!  And after spending quite a few minutes staring at my bookshelves and thinking…I found out I’m immensely bad at answering it.  I have a theory, though.  See, my favorite books are often my favorites because the characters are so vivid and alive–to the point that I can’t imagine any actor filling that role.

I’d love to see a movie version of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet…but how could anyone possibly live up to the role of Alanna?  I don’t think it can be done.

But I did hit on one book I could cast–Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean.  It’s a Peter Pan sequel, and practically the only sequel-to-a-classic-by-a-different-author that I actually like.  In fact, it’s excellent and I highly recommend it!  There are only three major roles–Wendy, who I think could be played very well by Chloe Grace Moretz, recently in Hugo.  She could handle a nice mix of child and seriousness.  Then there’s Ravello, the sinister but charming villain, for whom I would cast Johnny Depp (probably surprising no one!)  I struggled on who could play Peter, but finally hit on someone–Daniel Huttlestone, who played Gavroche in Les Miserables.  He could definitely play another cheeky, cocky boy.

So what book would you like to see as a film?  And who would you cast?

Favorites Friday: Dramatic Musicals

I was thinking about doing a post on favorite musicals, and realized I have too many.  And also that there seems to be two types of musicals.  The division is clear to me but hard to define.  The best I can say is that there are the dramatic ones, and the light-hearted ones.

Or maybe I’d do well here to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber, who I heard say something in an interview (I think talking about Phantom) to the effect that musicals must be about the big emotions, the passions and the desires and the tragedies.  The emotions are so intense that the characters have to sing, because words simply aren’t enough.

That may be the case in Webber’s musicals, but there are others that just don’t seem quite that, well, intense.  So today, I’m talking about the intense ones, the big emotion ones–the dramatic ones, which may nevertheless be very funny at times.  Some other week I’ll talk about the light-hearted ones, which may still touch on deep emotions and have dramatic moments.  It’s a complicated division…  But anyway–on to the musicals.

Phantom of the Opera has to be mentioned first here, which will surprise absolutely no one.  I’ve waxed on here and here, so I won’t do it again today…

Les Miserables is my favorite musical that I’ve never seen; I’ve just listened to the soundtrack.  I love loud emotional songs, and Valjean gets some really good ones.  There’s all the despair and the tragedy and the yearning…and then there’s the revolutionaries and all their songs, and Eponine’s tragic unrequited love, and Gavroche comes in with his funny songs and…big emotions.  Beautiful music.

Sweeney Todd…well, it’s almost strange how much I like this one.  I mean, it’s about a barber who kills people, and his partner who bakes them into pies.  Really not my kind of story.  And yes, I saw the movie to begin with because it was starring Johnny Depp, but I ended up genuinely loving the music…and sort of the story, horrible though parts of it are.  But there’s the tragedy and the romance and the really funny song about cannibalism and lots of loud emotional songs and…it’s a cathartic experience.  Honestly.  It makes me feel the entire range of emotions.

Wicked is giving me the most trouble with my divisions, because in some ways it feels more like a light-hearted one.  Certainly large portions of it are light and funny.  But…I love it mostly for “The Wizard and I” and “Defying Gravity” and the complicated relationship between Elphaba and Glinda, and all of those parts seem like they belong in the dramatic musical list.  I actively dislike the book, but I love the musical.  I love Elphaba’s yearning to prove herself, and Glinda’s somewhat haphazard growth as a person, and I just love that it’s a musical with two strong female characters.  And now I have real trouble listening to “Ding-Dong, the Witch Is Dead” because it seems so heartless.

Jesus Christ Superstar is my go-to musical every Lent.  It’s definitely a big emotion one, and I love the portrayal of the characters.  It’s not always quite Biblical, but you can tell Webber knew what he was doing and that he’d read the Gospels (he practically quotes John in places).  The semi-modern context makes it all so much more accessible, and is a good reminder–these people weren’t ancient figures at the time.  I love how human everyone is.  And the music sticks in my head like you wouldn’t believe.

What are your favorite musicals? 🙂

Saturday Snapshot: Johnny Depp

I wish I could give you an actual snapshot of Johnny Depp…but I’ve never met him.  Still, seeing as it’s his birthday today, I thought I’d make him the theme of my Saturday Snapshot.  So I’m giving you a glimpse into my fandom.  🙂

This is my Pirates bookshelf, with all four movies, some books on historical pirates, and a couple biographies.  They’re all presided over by a Captain Jack Sparrow action figure, and a doll McDonald’s put out for the second movie–and I managed to buy the doll without actually buying any food from them.  It turns out they will sell the toys separately.

This is my most expensive item.  Somewhere I have a paper certifying that it’s an authentic signature.  I blame my friend for this purchase–we were in the store, she decided to buy an autograph first, and then of course I succumbed to temptation!

I’m not exclusively a Captain Jack fan.  Here’s my Johnny Depp movie collection.  Other favorite characters include Roux in Chocolat, J. M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, and while I don’t exactly love Sweeney Todd, I find his movie to be a remarkably cathartic experience.

I must say, this all looks fairly reasonable.  But then…I didn’t show you the two boxes of magazine clippings and movie reviews!  🙂

I know the rest of you must have favorite actors too.  Tell me about your fandoms!  And check out At Home with Books for more Saturday Snapshots.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s Dark and Shadowy Movie

The movie world seemed to be all abuzz recently over The Avengers.  I was more interested in another release—Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.  This is their eighth collaboration, and if you’re looking for something new, well…better find another movie.  But if you want another ridiculous, campy, shadowy Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie, you’re in luck.

The story is about Barnabas Collins, and the Hell-fury of a woman scorned.  Barnabas makes the mistake of scorning a witch, who kills his parents, kills his true love, turns Barnabas into a vampire, has him buried alive, and spends the next two hundred years trying to destroy the Collins family fishing business.  When Barnabas is finally dug up in 1972, he finds that the family has dwindled to just a few destitute members, though they have hung on to Collinswood, the enormous manor house.  Uncle Barnabas resolves to restore the family fortune, while casting an interested eye on the new governess and sparring with the evil witch.

There is blood.  There is ridiculous make-up.   There’s Helena Bonham Carter, as usual upstaged by her hair (bright orange this time), and Christopher Lee in a small role.  There are bizarre plot turns, a shadowy gothic atmosphere, and a lot of laughs.  In other words, it’s the usual fare for Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.

I have no familiarity with the original Dark Shadows, so I really can’t comment at all on how this compares.  I could feel the soap opera origins at times.  I can easily imagine how certain plot twists and character revelations, which happen in five minutes here, would have furnished three weeks of plotline, soap opera style.  The movie doesn’t feel rushed, though—just wild and unpredictable.

The best part of the movie for me was watching Barnabas try to adjust to the world of 1972.  He’s blown away by a lava lamp, doesn’t know what to make of a paved road, and attacks a television trying to figure out how the tiny songstress is inside.  In one of my favorite moments, he mistakes the arches of a McDonalds for the sign of Mephistopheles over the gates of Hell (kind of apt, actually).  He has a wonderful conversation with a group of hippies about wooing women (the hippies impart great wisdom, such as that modern girls don’t care about sheep).  Johnny delivers endless completely absurd lines, and manages a straight face through the whole movie.  I really hope this DVD has a blooper reel!

This is not a deep movie.  If there’s a moral, I don’t know what it is (other than, possibly, don’t make a witch angry).  If it’s about any important issues, I don’t know which ones.  But it is full of dark, shadowy, slightly creepy fun.

You know, just like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s other seven films.