See It Instead: The Lone Ranger Edition
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the Mega Shark Series (no really, it has more than one movie!) and serial killer biopics. Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
“You think I’d be running out of bad shark movies. Not even close.”
The Lone Ranger (2013)
In theaters now is The Lone Ranger, Disney Film’s re-imagining of the old radio serial starring Armie Hammer as the titular law man, and Johnny Depp as his Comanche guide, Tonto. Disney spent 100 million dollars for each hour of this 2 1/2 hour movie, so if you leave half way through, you missed 125 million dollars worth of stuff. Just saying. It remains to be seen if a new generation is interested in the old west doings of this pair of vigilantes, but if you want to traipse through the sage brush without having to buy a movie ticket, check out these gems you should see instead.
The Safe Pick: The Mask of Zorro (1998)
This update of the Zorro franchise builds off of the history of the masked avenger instead of retelling or rebooting the story. Featuring Anthony Hopkins as the legendary Zorro (slightly pot bellied and with a suspicious tan; you’d think that he would be a bad mismatch as the Spaniard De Le Vega, but has ample charm and sophistication to carry him through) who has just escaped a long imprisonment in order to get revenge upon the corrupt Spanish governor, Montero (Stuart Wilson, another Englishman…) who killed his wife, stole his daughter (Catherine Zeta Jones, whose sex appeal is nicely paired with a youthful willfulness and is given a real character to inhabit,) and threw him in prison to rot. Aiding an old Zorro is a young thief played by Antonio Banderas, with his own vendetta against the Governor’s Captain. Taking up the mask of Zorro (subtle…) Banderas is young, energetic, and raw, which nicely compliments the stately poise of Hopkins, and the two unite to gain vengeance, and return control of the land to the people. The action scenes are evenly spaced and exciting, and the antagonism between the heroes and villains comes through, with the movie going to lengths in order to humanize all the characters: showing flaws and impure motives being wrestled with by the old and young Zorro, and real tenderness from Montero towards “his” daughter. Sure, he is a sick murderer who kidnapped his victims’ daughter and raised her as his own, but you find yourself feeling for the guy anyway. All-around a well told tale that updated the series and justified a less successful sequel.
The Lighthearted Pick: Blazing Saddles (1974)
Mel Brooks rides a Blazing Saddle through every convention of the Western genre, and a few outside it as well, in a movie that should not be missed by any viewer. The action centers around the humble town of Rock Ridge, populated by a citizenry of hapless Johnsons, who are threatened by outlaws (headed by the devious Hedley Lamar and his bumbling aide Taggart, played respectively by Harvey Korman and the real life cowboy turned funny-man Slim Pickens,) set upon driving the town to ruin and running a lucrative rail road through it. The backer of the rail road is the less-than-honorable Governor William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks) who tries to ensure the destruction of the town by responding to requests for aid by sending a black sheriff, Bart (Cleavon Little, who steals scenes from the likes of Madeline Kahn and Gene Wilder, and whose comedic chops deserved greater accolades- though he did show up on an episode of Alf, so I guess it all worked out.) Aiding the beleaguered sheriff, is the infamous Waco Kid (Gene Wilder, brilliantly) who Bart finds drunk and hanging upside down in a holding cell. The two must fend off every insane and dastardly plot to destroy Rock Ridge, and since this is a Mel Brooks movie, the plots get pretty insane, pretty quick. The final confrontation between Bart and Hedley ranges across five sound stages, breaking the 4th wall and allowing Brooks to take a swing at pretty much every movie in Hollywood. Riffing on racial stereotypes, bigotry, sexuality, and movie making itself, Mel Brooks leaves no sacred cow un-slaughtered. This movie could not be made today, which is sad, but all the more reason to see it in all its glory.
The Unconventional Pick: Dead Man (1995)
If The Lone Ranger leaves you wondering if Johnny Depp can make a good Western, the answer is he already has. And not just a good one, either. Eccentric director Jim Jarmusch fashions a surreal film about a mild mannered accountant named William Blake (Depp) who heads west to fill a position in the hell hole town of Machine, but is turned away and set adrift to survive in an unforgiving wilderness. On his way out of town, Blake beds a reformed prostitute, and is shot by her former lover (Gabriel Byrne, in what would be a bit part, but this movie has no bit parts.) He fumblingly kills the lover and escapes town, incurring the wrath of the town boss played by Robert Mitchum, who hires a trio of desperadoes to find and kill him (led by a disturbingly vicious Lance Henriksen.) In the wilderness, Blake is found by an outcast Native American named Nobody (Gary Farmer) who mistakes him for the soul of poet William Blake, and guides Blake unwittingly to the Pacific Ocean in order for him to make the pilgrimage to the spirit world. On the surface this film is a taught, visceral Western, the classic story of a stranger in a strange land who has to fight his way free. But the movie rarely rests on the surface, drawing inspiration and imagery from works as varied as Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Bible, and Native American myth. The casting is immaculate, with every single role ingeniously filled, from the murderous boss and hired killers, down to a deceptive Holy Man (a then-unknown Alfred Molina) and gaggle of hillbilly bible-thumping bushwhackers (Billy Bob Thornton and Iggy Pop…you read that correctly, and they turn in fine performances.) The movie is pitch perfect, down to the haunting twang and reverb of Neil Young’s score. Dead Man put Jim Jarmusch on my radar, a gift in itself, and the movie rewards many viewings. Enjoy.