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‘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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Thoughts on Dead Jesus Day

Updated on Monday, April 13, 2009 (see below)

This controverial-of-course 1999 U.K. church poster mixed the iconography of the revolutionary Jesus Christ and the revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

So while the rest of my fellow Americans concern themselves over what Pope “Condoms Are for Sissies” Palpatine is doing and what church President Barack Obama and his family decided to attend on this Easter Day, I’m going to go see the long-ass commie-themed film “Che.”

Pope Palpatine (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI), in case you were wondering, according to The Associated Press

…sought to give a message of hope on Easter Sunday to victims of wars, poverty and financial turmoil, saying it was urgently needed to overcome the miseries that are plaguing Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the globe.

Benedict delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” message — Latin for “to the city and the world” — after celebrating Easter Mass before tens of thousands of people who packed St. Peter’s Square and the boulevard leading up to it.

The piazza, decorated with yellow tulips, azaleas, apple blossoms and other spring flowers, overflowed with the faithful celebrating the most joyous and important day in the Christian church calendar, Christ’s resurrection.

In his speech, Benedict said hope was urgently needed around the globe, despite mounting reasons for despair….

This is the very same person who opposes the use of condoms, the use of which results in a lower population (and thus less poverty and hunger and suffering) and which results in lower incidence of HIV and other STD transmission (and thus less pain and suffering and misery).

I guess that Pope Palpatine wants to ensure that there is still plenty of suffering so that he can give the same Easter address about poverty and pain and suffering and misery every fucking year.

Palpatine also still asserts that women don’t have a right to control their own bodies and he still opposes equal human and civil rights for me because I am not heterosexual.

And since so much of today’s warfare is over religion, we can thank the pope in (large) part for keeping religious differences — and thus warfare — alive by his support of the Catholic church.  

I’m just waiting for Pope Palpatine to finally kick off. The best thing that we can say about the pope is that he will die someday — and that, given his age, he should die sooner rather than later.

And then there is the obsession over which church the Obamas picked for Easter. Reports The Associated Press today:

President Barack Obama and his family took communion [today] as they celebrated Easter at St. John’s Church in their first public worship service since the inauguration.

As congregants went to the altar for communion, several stopped at the president’s pew and wished Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters a happy Easter.

Located across from the White House, St. John’s is popular with presidents. President George W. Bush often attended services, and church history contends that every president since James Madison, the nation’s fourth chief executive, has visited. …

There was no indication from White House officialsthat Obama was seeking membership at St. John’s. The president and his family attended a private service there on Inauguration Day, a tradition for those about to become president.

Where a president worships — and whether he goes to church at all — tends to draw political as well as social significance. For Obama, his place of worship has been of keen interest because of the role his religion played in the 2008 presidential campaign….

“Christians” don’t give a flying fuck about following the teachings of Jesus Christ. The interest in which church the Obama family attends is only so that the judgment can be made as to whether the Obama family attends the “right” church.

And, of course, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t: If you don’t go to church at all, you are then a heathen or a devil worshipper or the like, but if you do go to church, then you are going to the wrong one.

Fuck these miserable “Christians.”

These “Christians,” as the news story hints, also have been critical that the Obama family doesn’t attend church often enough — because look how much more warm and loving and more intelligent regular churchgoing has made these critical “Christians”!

If I could go anywhere on this Easter Day, it would be to go see the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco (a.k.a. Sodom By the Sea). The Sisters, with such things as their Hunky Jesus Contest on this Easter Day, are reviled by those “loving” “Christians” who are familiar with them.

Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, the Sisters, fulfilling the important but usually hated archetypal role of the trickster, expose the hypocrisy and ignorance and fearfulness and hatred and bigotry and intolerance of the “Christian” muggles; the Sisters remind the “Christians” that the “Christians” are light years away from actually following the actual teachings of Jesus Christ.

The Sisters, rather than being the blasphmemers that they would be called by the vast majority of “Christians,” get Jesus Christ’s teachings much more than do the “Christians.” The Sisters’ spots in heaven (so to speak) are assured.

Anyway, I once saw the Sisters perform during a Christmas choral production at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. I wish that I could have been at Sodom by the Sea today for the Sisters and their Hunky Jesus Contest. 

Instead, I will go see director Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” which stars Benicio Del Toro as Che Guevara. The film is getting mixed reviews, but my guess is that most of the reviewers who are dissing it are capitalist sympathizers who don’t even know what little-“c” communism even is. The capitalists control the dialogue in this nation, and so of course they don’t want the bleating masses to get the idea that a viable alternative economic system is even a remote possibility.

But interestingly, the principles of communism and socialism are much more in line with what Jesus Christ actually taught than is the self-interest at the expense of others that capitalism espouses.

Jesus Christ was not a Repugnican, a stupid white man who (in no certain order) hated gays, believed in the oppression of women, thought that greed was good and that the poor deserved their lot, and loved guns and wars.

Nor was Jesus the gentle sissy that so many conceive him to have been. J.C. is quoted in the New Testament as having said:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it.”

That is the speech of a radical, and by “my” and “me” I do not believe that Jesus literally means himself, but means what it is that he stands for: truth and love, the rejection of the ignorance and the fear and the hatred that are the very stuff of today’s “Christianity.”

The “cross” that Jesus refers to is not his literal cross, but is the burden of standing up against the masses who embrace fear and ignorance and hatred, which are the exact opposite of what Jesus actually taught. The “cross” is the burden of being different, the burden of being a “witch” burned at the stake by the “good” “Christians” (literally or figuratively).

Those who, in their ignorance and fear, support the toxic status quo in order to save their lives — who go along to get along — paradoxically will lose their lives, and those who, out of courage and wisdom and love, fight against the toxic status quo, even at the risk of losing their lives, will save their lives. That’s how it works, and that’s what Jesus was saying.   

Ah, I don’t know. You get it or you don’t, and if you don’t get it by now, you most likely never will.

Happy fucking Easter.

P.S. Signs of “Christianity’s” rather imminent collapse abound.

The news story from above about the Obama family’s Easter service notes:

In his sermon, the Rev. Luis Leon welcomed believers and nonbelievers alike and called Easter an event based on faith, not logic.

“I can’t explain Easter to anyone. It just can’t be done. It’s like a professor trying to explain one of e.e. cummings’ poems,” he said. He added: “It takes time to be a believer. … Faith cannot be forced and faith cannot be coerced.” …

Mmm hmmmmm. A system that cannot hold up to the test of logic is doomed, is going to go the way of the dinosaurs. There are some things that are unknowable, to be sure, but about those things you just admit, “I don’t know.” But what it is that you claim to know should be rational and logical. “Faith,” as the good reverend defines it, is insanity.

And the news story from above about Pope Palpatine notes:

And in the earthquake-ravaged central Italian city of L’Aquila, survivors gathered in makeshift chapels set up in tent cities that are housing some of the 55,000 people driven from their homes by Monday’s 6.3-magnitude temblor.

“We are all a little bit angry with God because we never expected a tragedy this big,” L’Aquila Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari told the faithful gathered in a tent. “But even anger toward God is a sign of faith.”

God, as the “Christians” portray God — just like the Greeks’ Zeus, a gigantic, omnipotent, unpredictably alternately loving and violent male entity in the sky that causes such things as earthquakes — just can’t lose, can he?

Watching people like the Rev. Luis Leon and Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari still defending a dying, indefensible “Christianity” in this modern age is like watching soon-to-be-extinct dinosaurs writhing in tar pits.

You feel at least a bit sorry for them, but at the same time you know that they are dying out because they never adapted, and that something more evolved will follow them.

Update (Monday, April 13, 2009):

OK, so you’re dying to know what I think of “Che.”

“Che,” not entirely unlike “Kill Bill,” is broken into parts one and two, only with “Che” you get the opportunity to see both at one visit to the theater.

It was great to get the old-school 20-minute intermission between parts one and two of “Che,” and I’ll gladly watch a four-hour-plus film if it’s worth it. I’m not so sure, however, that “Che” is entirely worth it.

Part one of “Che,” which chronicles Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s part in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, is worth watching, while part two — well, not so much. Part two of “Che” chronicles Guevara’s ill-fated attempt to bring a similar revolution to Bolivia.

It’s not that Guevara not only fails to bring a revolution to Bolivia but then dies a rather anti-climactic death that makes part two of “Che” not so great. Part one of “Che” isn’t better than part two only because Guevara wins in his quest in part one but loses (and dies) in part two.

Part two suffers because director Soderbergh does a good job in chronicling the biographical and historical elements of Guevara’s life, but what is missing from “Che,” especially in part two, is the spirit that must have inspired Che Guevara in the first place.

I mean, you don’t spend months and months in the jungle engaged in guerilla warfare unless you are driven by something much larger than yourself, and Soderbergh doesn’t capture what it was that must have driven Guevara — not enough for four-plus hours’ worth of film on Guevara’s life, anyway.

Sure, in “Che” we see here and there peasants being treated of their medical maladies, but we still don’t get nearly as strong a sense of Guevara’s driving passions that we should. Instead, we get details. Lots and lots of details.

The 2004 film “The Motorcycle Diaries,” which chronicles Guevara’s life before he was involved in the Cuban Revolution, gave us a good sense of Guevara’s driving passions. Why couldn’t “Che”?

So if you want to get a good sense of Che Guevara’s life, watch “Motorcyle Diaries” first and then watch part one of “Che.” You can skip part two.

I give “Che” a B-. (I give part one an A- and part two a C, which is why the B- overall.) 

“Che” sure is timely, though. The Associated Press reports today:

President Barack Obama directed his administration [today] to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, and to take other steps to ease U.S. restrictions on the island, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The formal announcement was being made at the White House [this] afternoon, during presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs’ daily briefing with reporters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president’s announcement.

With the changes, Obama aims to create new space for the Cuban people in their quest for political freedom and a democratic government, in part by making them less dependent on the Castro regime, the official said.

Other steps taken [today] include allowing gift parcels to be sent to Cuba, and issuing licenses to increase communications among and to the Cuban people. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives in Cuba.

Obama had promised to take these steps as a presidential candidate. It has been known for over a week that he would announce them in advance of his attended this weekend of a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

“There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the U.S. Cuban-American community. “It’s time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It’s time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.”

Sending money to senior government officials and Communist Party members remains prohibited. Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members….

Some [U.S.] lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Fidel Castro took power in Havana in 1959.

But Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in place, arguing that that policy provides leverage to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S.

While there is much to disagree with Fidel Castro over, it is my deepest hope that Cuba does not become what it was before the Cuban Revolution, which was a capitalist playground for rich Americans exploiting and further impoverishing the Cuban people.

I don’t see that the Cuban people will be “free” as wage slaves to American corporations. At least under Castro their basic human needs, such as education and medical care, are met. (These basic human needs are not even met in the United States of America.)

The Cuban people will fare worse under unbridled American capitalist/corporate exploitation than they have under Fidel Castro.

Yes, Cuba should be free.

But I think that Iraq is a wonderful recent demonstration of the American idea of “freedom” for another nation’s people.

All of those American corporations that are just can’t wait to get their greedy grubbies back on Cuba should be kept waiting indefinitely.

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