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The Lone Ranger flubs, Despicable Me 2 amuses and Redgrave and Stamp charm in Unfinished Song

The old west is back, visually at least, in The Lone Ranger.

 

It’s not even a race anymore. Despicable Me 2 is crushing its very expensive rival The Lone Ranger. That’s at the box office. My thoughts below, along with a poignant film for and about seniors, a silly dud from  Pedro Almodóvar, activist films from Central America and animated fun from Japan.

Here’s the list:

The Lone Ranger:  2 ½  stars

Despicable Me 2:  3

Unfinished Song: 3 ½

I’m So Excited:  2 ½

Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth:  4

Studio Ghibli:  various

 

THE LONE RANGER: We may be watching yet another flop by a mega-budget movie.  With After Earth and White House Down, that would be three in just over a month. The problem, besides the film’s own faults, is young movie goers don’t know the Lone Ranger.  As a character, he’s older than Superman but his best days were on TV in the 1950s and a 1981 attempt to revive him was a dud. But this one has super-star Johnny Depp as Tonto. Yes, but in bizarre makeup and with a dead crow on his head. That’s only one of the film’s problems.

 

At the start it seems promising. It captures the color and atmosphere of the grand westerns of old, the landscape (Utah’s Monument Valley), a real train on real tracks (both specially built) , the grizzled townspeople,  the outlaw riders and a spectacular escape sequence. Then we get the often-told origin story:  a posse is ambushed by the Butch Cavendish gang; John Reid is the lone survivor, found by Tonto and urged to don a mask to become a crime fighter. 

But, in a weird change of tone, just as native American rights develops as a theme, the two characters are played for comic effect, Tonto as a nutty eccentric; kemo sabe (played by Armie Hammer) as a hapless greenhorn.  It all owes a lot to Depp and director Gore Verbinski’s previous collaborations: Pirates of the Caribbean and Rango and a little to a great Depp film about native spirituality, Dead Man (which incidentally is coming to the VanCity theatre in three weeks). 

The tone wanders to flippant and back several times. The biggest problem, though, is excess. The bad guys are grinning psychos. A brothel-madam (Helena Bonham Carter) shoots bullets from a prosthetic leg. There are gunfights, explosions and long train chases and, most incredibly, the Lone Ranger riding his horse on top of a speeding train. It’s exhausting as well as unbelievable. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5    

DESPICABLE ME 2: This is the film that’s been trouncing The Lone Ranger this week. (They both opened Wednesday). It’s a sequel to the mammoth animated hit of three years ago and comes close but doesn’t quite match the original. That’s because in choosing what worked best in the first and therefore what to build on, the creators underappreciated what was key: the film’s heart. They chose the action sequences, which are bigger and noisier this time, and the little robots called “minions,” who delight the kids and get their own movie next year. Here they’re joking and laughing and punching each other more than ever, which, of course also delights the kids.

 

Gru, the master villain voiced by Steve Carell, is now a suburban dad doting on the three orphans he adopted after spending a whole movie trying to avoid them. He’s called on to help take down a new evil maker and partners with an agent from the AVF (Anti-Villain League) voiced by Kristen Wiig. He also falls for her, but that’s later. The search takes them to that most ordinary of locations for a suburban dad, the mall, where among other things Gru tries to keep an amorous lad away from one of his daughters. The goofy tone of the first is there but weaker. The background jokes are less clever. There is heart written in but it feels manufactured. Also, unlike the first film, there no redemption story for Gru. Thank the villain for saving the day. He transforms some of the minions into little snarling monsters and we get chaotic mayhem. The 3-D is hardly noticeable until the end credits when the minions show they know what it’s all about. (Dunbar, International Village, Park, Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 3  out of 5 

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