NOTE: Lionel Mandrake does not pretend to be an expert on film-making. It's very likely that he applies way too much or too little power/responsibility in the role of the director, and that a large portion of this rant is inaccurate, outlandish, and Satanic. Lionel Mandrake also does not care. He simply does. not. care. Guaranteed. 2016.
P.S. I’m not proof-reading this shit. Again-- don’t care.
Apparently some time ago on one foggy night, a large portion of GAF donned their secret cloaks and met within the woods to convene and declare that from this point on John Carter would be considered a good movie. Its dull visuals and formulaic story mixed with uninteresting action made for a movie that is to be celebrated, I guess. They covered in sacramental oil, as they sacrificed the stupid Garfield alien from John Carter and ceremoniously raised the poster for the film next to their previous entry of Speed Racer right by Emile Hirsch’s sex face.
Yeah, that’s the one.
To be clear, there's nothing wrong about liking John Carter. I fucking hate it and think it's the most boring thing on earth (Slight exaggeration, I have been to Jonesboro, Arkansas). I'm told the books are interesting and have lots of nudity, but you can't read nudity-- not yet; the science just isn’t available, so it's therefore a waste of my time. But regardless, the movie flopped fairly hard in the box office and received mixed critical reception. It was a pretty big bomb for a Disney blockbuster and it was coupled closely with Mars Needs Moms, but it would be a mistake that they would not make again…. Until the next year.
The Lone Ranger. My feelings about The Lone Ranger are considerably more complicated than my seething, unrepentant hate-lust for John Carter. So, I'm going to ramble on for awhile. A lot of it won’t even be about the movie itself, and there will be A LOT of bullshit. If you want to skip to the actual Lone Ranger discussion just go to the red line, although I make no promises regarding the content below that line being any more worthy of your time than the bullshit above it, so if you’re in this deep, you might as well get a drink and read the whole stupid thread. Besides, I’m delightful and you’re lucky to be able to enjoy any sort of association with me.
When I was about seven or eight years old, my family went to the Movie Gallery to rent a couple of movies for the weekend. I was allowed to pick one for my own enjoyment. The newest Ernest movie was sold out, as expected. So, I decided that I would go find that funny-looking movie with the two goofballs trying to catch a mouse in their old mansion.
Yes, it was called MouseHunt, and it was sure to be a wonderfully whacky romp for children of all ages. My family all sits around the living room and we press play.
An excerpt from the opening scene of MouseHunt...
... Well... This was my introduction to director Gore Verbinski.
Now as an adult, this scene isn't that bad. The entire movie is directed in a big over-the-top cartoonish way. But as a kid, I found it completely nightmarish. The vomit. The frantic music. The fact that this seemingly decent family man just up and dies in front of his screaming wife as his children stab at the decapitated, vomit-covered cockroach squirming around the table. And I know I wasn't alone in my repulsion, as I recall going to a camp the following summer where this movie was played on a projector for all of the kids. Everyone was screaming and squirming throughout the whole sequence. One kid had to leave the room so the chaperon could calm him down.
It's a hell of a way to kick off your kid's flick with a scene that’s absolutely traumatizing to children. I know many of our childhood favorites have scenes like Judge Doom’s voice going all high and freaky, or Large Marge turning into claymation. But typically those scenes don’t come until after a good chunk of movie, where the kids can get a decent feel for things and find comfort in the movie they’re watching. To have this happen in the first few minutes really seems like it could be catastrophic. Either the child will become detached by the shock and not find the will continue or they’ll go through the rest of the movie in terror for what they may see next. But then again, I don’t make movies, so what do I know?
Overall, I still ended up enjoying MouseHunt as a kid, and watching clips from YouTube, I think I'd probably still enjoy it today, if not a bit more than I did when I was young. In-fact, as far as live action slapstick goes, MouseHunt appears to be pretty fantastic, and I think it clearly shows a filmmaker with a lot of talent and promise.
[I had initially written several paragraphs summarizing the filmography of Verbinski between these films, but they weren't that interesting. Here’s an interesting unrelated picture instead.]
But of course, those movies aren't what you think of when you think "Gore Verbinski," because somehow he got attached to the $140 million Disney gamble that was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
We all know how it goes. Executives hated Johnny Depp's casting, nobody had made a successful pirate movie in decades, it's based on a theme park ride. But then BAM! You can't walk five feet without people saying "Savvy," and "Why is the rum gone," or just being generally weird and annoying. After the deadly riots, it becomes a Disney tentpole and Gore is then attached to turn it into a trilogy with the sequels being filmed back-to-back.
And say what you will about the franchise now, but people fucking loved this movie. Everyone did, including you. Unless you have a verified video of you from 2003 specifically stating that you didn't care for the movie, you loved it. And you should have. It was big and fun. It had a great mix of action, laughs, romance, and Geoffrey Rush hamming it up. The supernatural elements mixed well with the over-produced maritime romanticism aesthetics. It was fun, dammit. It reminded us of lighthearted adventures of our youth like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Regardless of annoying fans, over-saturation, and studio milking, the movie was just a good time.
With Dead Man's Chest, the budget was increased to $225 million. And for At World's End no less than $300 million would do. These movies showed that if there's one word to define Gore Verbinski's style it would be "Excess." The way it ramps up in each movie is remarkable.
CotBP: There are pirates. There is treasure. There is a supernatural element.
DMC: There are pirates. There is treasure. There is a supernatural element. There are debts to be paid. There is a love triangle, sort of, I guess? The East India Company is involved. Madea has a yard sale.
Nobody knows what the plot of At World's End is. They gave it to Stephen Hawking to see if he could decipher it. He spent a month trying.
Results were inconclusive.
The plot gets so fucking convoluted that until I started typing this, I completely forgot that this movie had both Chow Yun Fat and a giant goddess who turns into a tidal wave of crabs.
This is when it became clear that Gore Verbinski has a problem. He has absolutely no self-control. When he goes big, he goes too fucking big. Of course Disney didn't care because he made them a bank, and AWE was no different. Regardless of the fact that people left the theater naked, lost, and unable to remember their names, they still went to the theater and the cash amounted in huge piles, which, as we recall, tragically collapsed in a massive avalanche. And that’s how Roy Disney died…. It’s true as long as you don’t look it up.
Importantly, it became clear that at some point during the production of AWE, Gore Verbinski was tired of making extravagant pirate movies and wanted desperately to make extravagant cowboy movies.
He practically put a signed confession of such right in the middle of the film.
Reaction to DMC and AWE was fairly negative. With the complicated-ass plot and long-ass running times being a big-ass portion of the ass… I mean, “complaints.”. And from this point it needed to be assessed just how much talent Gore Verbinski actually had as a filmmaker. I mean...
Dude’s not exactly batting a thousand.
And yet, there was still something about his movies that stuck with me, and I remained interested in whatever he would wind up doing next. Even with all of the misses, there’s something that differentiates his work with that of guys like Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, or Roland Emmerich. I still get the impression that there is a creative core to Gore’s blockbusters that those other guys just don’t have.
Rango was awesome. Apparently if you channel a director with a penchant for visual excess into animation, you get gold. And of course this movie, as AWE suggested, wound up being a big homage to westerns. So, his western homage turned out to be amazing, and I hoped that he would someday do a straight-up western movie.
Edit: I actually forgot to include that red line I mentioned. Whoops.
Then Disney gave Gore Verbinski The Lone Ranger, and I was pretty happy with that decision. It made sense. They had a big-budget property that they wanted to make a lot of money, and Gore Verbinski managed to steer the metaphorical pirate ship into the... sun... of money?... I can't do metaphors. But it was only logical to reteam him with Johnny Depp and start raking in the cash like a really energetic gardener at a… bank… Fuck it. I can’t do similes either.
Except that at some point between Pirates 3 and TLR, we as a society decided "Johnny Depp can fuck off."
And he can take Hot Topic with him.
We still associated Verbinski more with Pirates than with Rango, so the fact that he made a stunning, Oscar-winning love letter to westerns didn't really matter to people. Plus, a lot of people were mad they didn't cast Tonto with an actual Native American actor, of which Wikipedia claims there are 13.
"But, hey, maybe it'll be alright if Depp just tones it down." But as soon as these words were spoken, Johnny Depp triumphantly burst into the room looking like this.
Long story short, the film goes immensely over-budget, has tons of production problems, gets massacred by the critics and audiences alike, performing terribly at the box office and getting called things like "the next Wild Wild West" and “John Carter Needs Moms Part III: The Quickening.”
It was because of this that I avoided the movie for weeks. Despite my initial interest, I hadn't really heard a single good thing about it. But on a boring summer day, my friend and I decided, "What the hell?" and caught a cheap showing in a largely empty theater.
The movie begins with a framing narrative of Depp's Tonto looking freakishly old as he appears in a 1930s carnival sideshow under the title "The Noble Savage", presumably sharing his story with anyone who would care to listen, which is apparently one kid dressed like the Lone Ranger. The old-man make-up is caked on thick, making him look waxy and odd. I actually thought it was CG until I saw a behind-the-scenes clip. He seems lifeless until he recognizes the kid’s costume and he briefly lights up, mistaking him for an old friend before coming to his senses. The whole thing is grim and depressing and a really weird way to start a Lone Ranger movie. It reminds me of the opening of MouseHunt. I had a similar thought of, “That’s how you’re starting this movie?”
But the movie slips into a more logical route pretty soon, and the adventure begins.
We see 60 years earlier and meet the actual Lone Ranger (Reid) and younger Tonto, and the movie goes along as you would expect. Reid is some bookworm type who cares about the law, the romantic interest is introduced and so on. Then we meet one of the main villains. William Fichtner as Butch. Your typical western outlaw. He guns down the Ranger's brother and all of his posse, starts giving his villain speech to the dying man as Reid can only watch. Again, typical stuff.
I didn’t think Gore Verbinski was crazy when he started his kid-friendly funny animal movie with vomit-covered decapitated roach death and horror.
I didn’t think he was crazy when he violently killed the most likable character halfway through The Mexican.
I didn’t think he was crazy when he stopped the film a quarter of the way through AWE and started playing raw audio from the DisneyWorld ride.
I didn’t think he was crazy when he…. did pretty much everything in Rango.
I didn’t think Gore Verbinski was crazy. But when Reid watches as Butch cuts out and eats his brother’s heart…
I started thinking… Gore might be a little crazy.
I mean, yeah. You only see it in the distant reflection of Reid’s eye, but… He cut out and ate his heart. The villain ATE HIS HEART. How did that happen? Was that in the original script? Did the writers just think, “Hey, what if Butch literally ate the Ranger’s brother’s heart.”
And this sort of thing occurs fairly frequently in The Lone Ranger. There are cannibalistic rabbits. Magic pieces of silver. A supernatural horse. Undead birds. Just these little things that make you go, “Huh?” At one point, future Tonto gets a bag of peanuts from the boy he’s telling the story to, and then later we see past Tonto trade that bag. It’s not addressed or focused on at all. It just happens, because why not?
Did I mention that Tom Wilkinson’s villain character has no genitals? That’s actually addressed. That’s part of the plot.
Pretty much every character in this movie is a walking cartoon with very few getting some kind of characterization. Most of the nameless outlaws fit right at home in Blazing Saddles or Back to the Future Part 3. And pretty much every action scene is outlandish and over-the-top, filled with crazy coincidences and happenings that should have killed everyone involved, yet somehow end with our heroes brushing dust off their clothes and pressing on.
And you know what?
It's fucking awesome.
When I first saw the movie, I thought I must have been wrong. "I must just be feeling generous today." Everyone was acting like this movie was the worst thing Hollywood had come up with in years. And it was like 2 and a half hours long, and it was filled with goofy bullshit and scenes that didn't really go anywhere. But I was still entertained. I tried to tell myself that I probably would hate it if I ever rewatched it.
But then this past week, I found myself owning the DVD. I watched it with some friends. One who had seen it with me in the theater and another who wasn't that interested and said he had heard it was awful. But again, we all found ourselves loving it. It's great. Not in a "so-bad-it's-good" way, or even a guilty pleasure way. It's a good fucking movie.
It’s cowboys and Indians and it’s all, “Blam! BANG! Prospectors! Mines! Bank robbery! The saloon!” It’s like a western made by a five-year-old. It’s so blatant and on-the-nose, and fun!
During the climactic shootout from train-to-train (Which is one of the best action scenes in years), Barry Pepper’s character fires his two six-shooters no less than 48 times without reloading. (Yes, I counted)
And I’m pretty sure people on set, Verbinski included, realized this was an impossibility. And I’m pretty sure all of those people, Verbinski included, said, “Who gives a fuck? Cowboys!” And broke out into an impromptu mock gun battle, using their index fingers as guns and ducking behind film equipment while making “Pew” noises with their mouth. Then a Disney executive showed up, asked what the hell they were doing and they filmed the wonderful, glass shattering, bullets whizzing sequence with no regards to logic or reality.
There’s one part where Cole separates the train engine from the cars, to make his escape, and he actually starts brandishing his fist as his train gets away! Like Snidely fucking Whiplash!
I’m reminded of stories from the set of Batman and Robin, where before each scene was filmed Joel Schumacher would get on a bullhorn and yell out, “Remember: It's a catoon, people!” And that approach didn’t really work with the franchise. But here, it’s the best way to approach the material. Now, there are definitely moments that don’t seem to fit with this mission statement, but at no point did I feel like the movie got too far away from it.
It’s a goddamn blast! And yet…
This thing got ripped apart. It’s name is now synonymous with the summer blockbuster flop. I mean, sure, it tanked at the box office, and there’s no disagreeing with that. But, pretty much everyone I’ve mentioned the movie to says, “Oh man, that thing sucks!” But when I ask why, they suddenly turn into Woody Allen and stutter incoherently before finally spitting out, “Uh, uh, Johnny Depp. Uh, uh, horses.” And then they make a new movie every year and win a bunch of awards and sleep with their step-daughters. Which is very rude. I’m standing right there. But regardless. Everybody claims this movie is the worst.
The largest actual complaint I get is that it’s boring and too long. Which are complaints I typically make early on when I dislike a movie. So, I found it weird that I never thought the movie was going on too long or found myself sighing through an unneeded dialogue sequence like I did frequently with AWE, and the recently celebrated John Carter, which is thirty minutes shorter than The Lone Ranger.
Maybe I just like westerns too much, or maybe there’s something I admire about Gore’s penchant for excess. I don’t know. It was just clear that I wasn’t on the same page as everybody else regarding this thing.
Except for, apparently, Quentin Tarantino, who included it in his 10 best movies of the first half of 2013 (Right between This Is the End and Kick-Ass 2, for what that’s worth).
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino called the film one of the ten best of 2013 through October: "The first forty-five minutes are excellent…the next forty-five minutes are a little soporific. It was a bad idea to split the bad guys in two groups; it takes hours to explain and nobody cares. Then comes the train scene—incredible! When I saw it, I kept thinking, ‘What, that’s the film that everybody says is crap? Seriously?’"
Also, according to Wikipedia, the film was better received outside of America. I don’t know if there’s anything notable to pull from that, other than America hates Johnny Depp, but there you go.
Outside the U.S., the film received mixed to positive reviews. Angie Errigo of the British film magazine Empire gave it four of five stars, finding "[r]eal storytelling, well thought-out and beautifully, at times insanely, executed, with excitement, laughs and fun to make you feel seven years old again." Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph gave the film three stars out of five, writing, "Verbinski shows more ambition here than he did in Pirates of the Caribbean." He added, "n a sane world this would never have been made, although I’m really rather glad someone did." A second critic for The Independent, Geoffrey Macnab, said the film was "not as bad as American critics suggest." He also gave the film three stars and added, "Helena Bonham Carter is good value as a brothel madam." However, he added that it is filled with "too many stunts and leaden moments of slapstick", but it "occasionally takes wing." Frank Lovece, writing for Film Journal International, addressed critics' concerns over the film's tone by pointing out, "[T]he movie is told in flashback from the perspective of a wizened, quite eccentric character — the working definition of the film-school trope 'the unreliable narrator.' ... Whatever really happened out on the frontier, this is the story as Tonto remembers it, animist mysticism and all."
And finally, the filmmakers involved with the movie have defended it… as… well, I guess it would be weird if they said, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s shit.” But still, I think there’s some merit to the claim that people had it out for this movie before they saw it.
Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer, Armie Hammer, and Johnny Depp openly criticized American film critics' Lone Ranger reviews. with Depp saying "the reviews were written 7-8 months before we released the film." Bruckheimer felt the film was overlooked and that critics "were reviewing the budget, not reviewing the movie." Hammer stated, "They've been gunning for our movie since it was shut down the first time; that's when most of the critics wrote their initial reviews." He added, "If you go back and read the negative reviews, most of them aren't about the content of the movie, but more what's behind it. They tried to do the same thing to World War Z; it didn't work, the movie was successful. Instead they decided to slit the jugular of our movie."
I thought WWZ was boring as fuck, too. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this topic. I just want it on the record that I said so.
Okay, I went on way too long about this goofy-ass movie, but I really wanted to say it. The funny thing is, I started off typing this to talk about what a weird mess this movie is. Then as I kept going I found myself smiling and watching scenes over again to enjoy them. I like this movie.
I’m sure a ton of people are going to disagree with me, but whatever. You can keep your John Carter and your Speed Racer. This one’s mine. I’m keeping it.
I love you, Lone Ranger.