Welcome to the debut of our Now Playing blog! We love animation,
but there are a lot of other movies out there. Now Playing will feature
brief mostly spoiler free critiques of non-animated films currently in theatres
that you can feel safe reading before heading out to the theatre.

The Lone Ranger

lone-ranger-posterBased on the classic characters from the radio, TV, and cartoon series’, The Lone Ranger stars Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as Tonto. This movie is taking a pounding from the critics and I just can’t understand why. It’s definitely not the best movie I’ve seen all year, but it is no where near the worst, as it is being portrayed.

The biggest mistake the filmmakers made is not cutting the story down. At least a full thirty minutes could have been shaved off the first two hours of the film. As it is, for long stretches it seems like director Gore Verbinski felt like time was a luxury he could afford to waste. Unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, where the action and humor came fast and furious, here for four-fifths of the film they are few and far between. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not necessarily saying the story was bad. I’m saying they just took too long to tell it.

The movie suffers a bit from trying to be too many things at the same time — serious and silly, historical and paranormal, dark and light. For example, in a scene where a group of Indians is mercilessly being slaughtered by soldiers, one character is comically sneaking around the action to rescue another character — neither of whom seem concerned about what’s going on around them. Due to the always present worry about the portrayal of Native Americans in film, which no matter what you do will probably be offensive to some due to the sensitivity of the issues involved, it might have been better to almost leave them out all together (other than Tonto, of course, but that’s another discussion) rather than try to give them their historical due in a story like this.

The main plot itself is fairly faithful to the Lone Ranger origin story, except for a little Pirates of the Caribbean style mysticism. It’s never really confirmed if any of that is real or just Tonto’s beliefs so the viewers are able to take it or leave it. I also wasn’t too fond of the framing device. It would have worked just as well without it, if not better, and would have cut another five to ten minutes off the runtime! But in between the clutter there’s an interesting story. The last thirty minutes of the film, for me at least, made up for a lot of the earlier issues. I was quite literally on the edge of my seat for most of it — with a big goofy smile on my face! Finally, all the disparate plot lines come together, the main characters finally feel like the ones we know and love, and the elaborate set piece keeps the action coming at a frantic pace.

Despite the commercials, Armie Hammer is the film’s lead. And by the end of the movie, he is the new Lone Ranger. If possible, Johnny Depp is even better as Tonto. I know, another oddball character in make-up. Yes, but there’s a reason he keeps doing these roles — he’s very good at it! I wasn’t impressed with William Fichtner as villainous cannibal Butch Cavendish. He had the look, but I never got the scary/crazy vibe from him the role needed. Ruth Wilson was bland as Rebecca, the love interest of the two Reid brothers. Helena Bonham Carter was fine in the role of Red, but in a barely-there part despite what some of the ads made it seem like.

If you’re willing to give it the time it takes to develop, The Lone Ranger is a good film. It could have been a lot better had a figurative pair of scissors been taken to the digital film. Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp have good chemistry and Gore Verbinski can fill a screen with the most fun action sequences. It’d be a shame if we didn’t get a chance to see what they could do with a second outing — but only if they learn the lessons from this one.

July 3, 2013
149 mins / rated PG-13
directed by Gore Verbinski

White House Down

Big, dumb fun! Like most Roland Emmerich films there are scenes where you’ll be rolling your eyes, or embarrassed for the actors, or just laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. But, also like most Roland Emmerich films, it’s a thrilling ride that you can’t help but enjoy (as long as you take off your thinking cap). It’s the easy interplay between Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx that goes a long way in selling it. Long, loud, and ludicrous, but a lot of fun!

June 28, 2013 / 131 mins / PG-13 / directed by Roland Emmerich / Fun Factor: 8 / Overall Film: 3

World War Z

An interesting new take on zombies, some very impressive visuals, and Brad Pitt — darn it, you wanted to root for this film! All those elements are close, but not quite enough to save us from a boring and repetitive plot. And unlike the other films reviewed today, this one could have used another few minutes at the end to breathe, rather than the abrupt finale we get. If you’re into the genre it’s worth a look to see the cool concept of fast swarming zombies, implemented perfectly by the special effects team.

June 21, 2013 / 116 mins / PG-13 / directed by Marc Forster / Fun Factor: 6 / Overall Film: 4