Tag Archives: Helena Bonham Carter

‘Lone Ranger’: Bloat on the range

Film review

'The Lone Ranger' and the Trouble with White Horses

In what probably is the film’s funniest scene, Johnny Depp as the Comanche Tonto confers with the “spirit horse” Silver about the equine’s taste in heroes in director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s “The Lone Ranger.”

Reviews of “The Lone Ranger” have not been kind. As I type this sentence, rottentomatoes.com gives “Ranger” a “rotten” rating, with just 24 percent of critics having liked it — but tellingly, 68 percent of the website’s users have given the film a thumbs up.

“The Lone Ranger,” to be sure, is flawed, but its moments of brilliance make it worth seeing.

“Ranger’s” biggest flaw is its bloat. It’s OK to make a tw0-and-a-half hour film if you can keep our interest the whole time, but “Ranger” sags seriously in the middle. It would be interesting to see cuts of films that are improved not by restoring footage that was cut from the original releases, but by tightening up overlong films like “Ranger.” Sometimes less is a lot more.

The carnivorous rabbits in “Ranger,” for instance, could go. Even the scorpions. Hell, the filmmakers even could have stripped the Lone Ranger’s love interest (his brother’s wife) from the movie entirely and it wouldn’t have been a huge loss. (The actress who plays her, Ruth Wilson, does a fine job, but why the “mandatory” love interest? Might we mistake the violence-hating and book-loving Lone Ranger — who at the end of the film goes off with his same-sex companion Tonto — for a gay man otherwise? [Horrors!])

And as much as I like Helena Bonham Carter, she’s not given nearly interesting enough stuff to do in “Ranger” to justify the inclusion of her character. In “Ranger” Helena Bonham Carter is wasted as a one-trick pony, and she doesn’t have to appear in every film that Johnny Depp is in.

Speaking of Depp, “The Lone Ranger” more aptly might be called “The Lone Comanche,” because, as others have noted, this is Tonto’s and Depp’s film, not the Lone Ranger’s and Armie Hammer’s.

As adorable as the promising young actor Armie Hammer is, his Lone Ranger is not a born stud, but is a bookwormish nerd who stands in the shadow of his older brother (who is a born stud) and who needs Tonto’s guidance.

Indeed, without Tonto’s guidance, in this new version of the Lone Ranger, the Lone Ranger wouldn’t be the Lone Ranger. Tonto is not the Lone Ranger’s servile sidekick in this reboot; he is the Lone Ranger’s Yoda, the young, clueless hero-to-be’s reluctant mentor (although Yoda wasn’t this reluctant).

On that note, while some have dismissed Depp’s version of Tonto as a condescending and thus racist parody of Native Americans — I’ve even seen Depp’s Tonto compared to Stepin Fetchit — Depp’s Tonto is not a buffoon, but is a mixture of the shaman and the trickster, two important Native American archetypes, as I understand the Native American culture.*

And that is a definite promotion from the Tonto of yore. In Lone Ranger 2.0, Tonto is the hero, and the white man is not portrayed as the brave pioneer, as he was for decades in Westerns, but is portrayed as “wendigo,” the term for a Native American belief in a cannibalistic, demonic entity.

True, there’s only one actual cannibal in “The Lone Ranger” — its effective villain Butch Cavendish (played well by William Fichtner) — but “Ranger” makes the point that you don’t have to be an actual cannibal to be evil nonetheless, a point that is played out with its villain behind the villain, the railroad tycoon Latham Cole (played by Tom Wilkinson), who in his own hypocritical way is a cannibal much worse than Butch Cavendish.

Indeed, that is what the white man did to the Native Americans, so to speak: ate them up, consumed them, so that they were (and are), to a large extent, no more.

Again, this portrayal is progress, it seems to me, from the cowboys-and-Indians movies of before, in which the white men were always the brave heroes, the good guys, and the Indians always were the bad guys — standing in the way of what “rightfully” was the white man’s, you know, manifest destiny and God’s will and such (in a word, wendigo).

That said, in “The Lone Ranger” we get plenty of nostalgia from the Westerns of yesteryear, even if the story apparently is to take place entirely in Texas yet the film actually apparently was shot mostly in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. Indeed, Monument Valley, which is a prominent backdrop in “Ranger,” is not in Texas (but is in Utah and Arizona), and the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Summit in northern Utah, which is quite a distance from Texas, where “The Lone Ranger” very apparently has the transcontinental railroad completed.

But while “The Lone Ranger” mixes up the entire Southwest into one generic mass that’s supposed to be Texas (where it apparently barely even was filmed), it does apparently pay attention to some historical details, perhaps especially where the history of the transcontinental railroad is concerned; “Ranger” portrays the exploitation and the abuse of the Chinese immigrants who did so much of the hard, dangerous labor for which the white men, at the railroad’s completion, congratulated themselves with pride, pomp and circumstance.

And “Ranger” gives us a sense of what was lost when the white settlers decimated the Native Americans. Non-native Americans sorely could use the wisdom of the Native Americans right about now, but with the misinterpretation of Johnny Depp’s Tonto as a buffoon rather than as a hero in his own right (as a shamanistic trickster), non-Native Americans appear to be no closer to getting it now than they never have been.

Unfortunately, the worthwhile messages in “The Lone Ranger” do get a bit buried in all of the busy and loud action sequences that we inevitably are going to get in a Jerry Bruckheimer production released in the summer.

I want to see more Westerns like this, but I want them leaner, without all of the fat that is in the current version of “The Lone Ranger.”

I, for one, am up for a low-fat sequel.

My grade: B

*On that note, as to whether or not Native Americans should be outraged that the character of Tonto is played by Depp and not by a full-blooded Native American, I’ll leave that decision entirely to actual Native Americans.

I hate it when people (usually guilty white “liberals,” it seems) are “outraged!” on behalf of another group of people with whom they have little to even no actual contact.

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Burton does Alice justice

Film review

In this film publicity image released by Disney,  Johnny Depp, ...

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Mia Wasikowska as Alice in armor and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen (above) face the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter (below), on the battlefield in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

In this film publicity image released by Disney, Helena Bonham ...

 The Alice in Wonderland books (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) never did much for me as a kid, I must admit. The surreal thing to that degree just didn’t appeal to me. (I remember that as a little fag I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, though. Roald Dahl, too, and Madeleine L’Engle, and yes, I admit it, when I was smaller, the Beatrix Potter books…) 

Tim Burton, though, has made some great films — “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns,” “Mars Attacks!”, “Corpse Bride,” “Sweeney Todd” — so I was there for his rendition of “Alice in Wonderland,” which uses materials from both of Lewis Carroll’s books about Alice in Wonderland.

Again, I haven’t read those two books, so I can’t compare the books to Burton’s film. Which is probably for the better for a film review anyway.

The Alice in Burton’s version is an older Alice who is expected to marry a man she doesn’t want to marry. Be practical, be responsible, be an adult, Alice is told.

But Alice wants to be Alice, and she soon finds herself down the rabbit hole and in Wonderland, where she visited in her childhood in her dreams. Or were they just dreams?

Dream or not, Wonderland is more interesting than is Alice’s waking world of arranged marriages and proprieties.

With all of the talking animals, an evil queen that must be taken down, and an epic battle on the battlefield between good and evil, Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” resembles the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies, but Lewis Carroll invented Wonderland long before C.S. Lewis invented Narnia. (I’m assuming that Burton didn’t make up any major plot elements, such as the climactic battle scene in which Alice must face the dreaded Jabberwocky.)

Stealing the show in Burton’s “Wonderland” is not Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, although Depp is given the top billing, but Helena Bonham Carter as the homicidal, macroencephalic Red Queen, whose favorite pastime, ironically, given her large noggin, is ordering and witnessing the decapitations of anyone who she feels crosses her majesty. You feel kind of guilty liking her character so much, since she’s pure, raw evil, but her character is probably the most fleshed-out, second only to that of Alice.

Depp is good as the Mad Hatter, but the character of the Mad Hatter never did much for me, and Depp’s Mad Hatter doesn’t seem much different from Depp’s other roles in Burton films, especially Willie Wonka but even a bit of Sweeney Todd. And, as much as I’ve always liked Depp, he is overused, even annoyingly ubiquitous, in Burton’s “Wonderland.” 

The ethereal Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is wonderfully done. (I like the new color scheme for the floating, vanishing and reappearing cat, too; the pink and purple Chesire Cat in Disney’s original version of “Alice” never really worked for me.) I would like to have seen more of the cat and less of the hatter.

I’ve always liked Anne Hathaway, but her White Queen is a bit two-dimensional. Is Carroll’s White Queen this two-dimensional? Does Carroll have his White Queen just posing so much of the time and apparently overcome with ennui? I hope not.

Alan Rickman voices Absolem the Caterpillar, a toking, Yoda-like character who periodically counsels Alice with his wisdom during her visit to Wonderland.

I saw the 3-D version of Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which so many reviewers (including Roger Ebert) have criticized as being too much. At times it was a bit too much sensory overload, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience. (Mostly, again, I just wanted more of the cat and less of the hatter…)

“Alice in Wonderland” delivers what it promises: An entertaining, visually impressive film. It isn’t Tim Burton’s best, but it certainly isn’t his worst.

My grade: B+

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