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The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger film posterSynopsis

Based on the TV cowboy series of The Lone Ranger and Tonto and how they start out in 1870 Texas.  Tonto rescues John Reid from bandits and they battle with corrupt army and railroad crooks and Comanches.  Helena Bonham Carter helps out with an ivory leg.  The film is a story that the ancient Tonto tells to a child in the San Francisco of 1933.

Review

It’s appropriate that this film starts in 1933 San Francisco since The Lone Ranger started out as a radio show in that decade.  Then it became a 50s TV show starring a masked cowboy in tights, his Comanche friend Tonto called him Kimo Sabe.  The masked cowboy rides a white stallion called Silver.  This western is a fantasy for children about the Wild West, as opposed to other western films which are fantasies for adults about the west.  This film succumbs to an over elaborate foundation myth for the TV series, Johnny Depp as Tonto delivers his narrative like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man who also told quirky stories about the old days, happily mixing myth and history.  Depp tries on another comic performance, in Pirates of the Caribbean he is drunkenly flamboyant, whereas in  Lone Ranger he pokes fun at the stereotype of the stolid frowning Indian.  Depp’s got a dead crow stuck on his head and he also wears white face paint, a fashion which no other “Indian” feels inclined to follow.  How could you make even a slightly serious film about this subject.

Special effects are nicely blended with Monument Valley shots like at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  This Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) starts out as a naive lawyer who wants to ‘tame’ the west (like Jimmy Stewart liked to play), and he ends up as an improbable hero on a white horse which is made to gallop on top of railway cars whilst being immune to all bullets.  The Lone Ranger is similar to the reluctant heroes of Shane and High Noon.  The mask and the hat are silly enough so there’s no attempt to put him into tights.  The villains led by Tom Wilkinson are like those of Heaven’s Gate, corrupt capitalist barons who use outlaws to destroy native Americans and rape the land of its minerals.  We get a sort of re-enactment of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 (shown in the film Soldier Blue) so it can be a bit serious as it entertains.  We also get a fantasy encyclopaedia of oddities like a Barnum circus:  flesh eating rabbits and H Bonham Carter’s ivory leg which shoots bullets.  The classical Western backdrops make the film feel like a moving diorama of Charles Russell paintings.  Buffalo Bill’s wild west circus originated this vision of the west. The rail chases, gunfights, mining camps, and wild west towns all invite us to think of other western films we’ve seen.  The realistic ‘wild West’ was of course a radically different world, perhaps McCabe and Mrs Miller approximates to the real thing.  Lone Ranger is a child’s fantasy realized in CGI and it works as a good entertaining film.

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Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides

Pirate of the Carribbean: On stranger Tides posterSynopsis

Jack Sparrow  is in London and he is captured and meets George II to do a deal with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) who wants to reach the “Fountain of Youth”.  The Spaniards are already searching for it.  Sparrow wants a ship but is abducted by Blackbeard’s daughter, Penelope Cruz.  They need the two cups of a sixteenth century explorer (Ponce de Leon) and the tears of a mermaid.  They capture a mermaid and eventually get to the fountain.  The Spanish want to destroy it because its promise of eternal youth is contrary to their religion.

Criticism

This summation makes the film seem more coherent than it really is.  It is actually the usual Johnny Depp stand up comedy routine surrounded by sidekicks.  We keep being told that Depp copies Keith Richard’s voice (he makes a brief appearance) but it seems as if Depp has been studying a lot of camp British comedy.  Depp is quite funny and it’s quite something to make such a toe rag of British camp into a global franchise which has outdone Harry Potter.  As long as it keeps on raking in dosh, why stop it?  As entertainment it fills the void left by Indiana Jones.  It’s a board game fantasy in panto drag.  Depp and Rush do a creditable Robert Newton, who used to ham his way through Long John Silver.  It’s quite an achievement when you consider that Geena Davis’ pirate film of the ’90s bombed at the box office.  The pirate films of the ’40s and ’50s were unrealistic adventures, Pirates is a once inspired fantasy, which now just about justifies itself.   I would like to see a film about the reality of pirate life, but it wouldn’t be a money maker would it?  Still, it would have been a great improvement to see a breakaway from the formulaic familiarities.  The love interest is between a preacher and a mermaid, both bland and forgettable.  Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom have fallen off the treasure map.  There’s the usual list of Brit actors having a ride while they pick up a pay cheque.

Each scene is self contained which makes the film disjointed, so it’s like looking at discarded scenes from the latest Orange mobile phone adverts. The self parodies get tangled up in each other as well.  Depp minces his picaresque way through his slapstick routines and it would be nice to see him attempt some of the stunts that Burt Lancaster could do in The Crimson Pirate.  Depp looks like he’s stolen his clothes off a panto washing line and he does well with his stage props.  With all the money it’s made, Pirates could have been more inventive with surrealism instead of giving us unprepossessing mermaids.  This made it look like a stop gap for Harry Potter and Narnia.

For all Depp’s comic prowess, which makes the other actors look like sidekicks, I feel that Pirates cannot continue this way.  A fifth film would have to be a real change in the routine but I fear that as long as the money comes in it will outstay its welcome.  After the credits, the final scene of Pirates IV would appear to confirm one’s worst fears..

 

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