And now: EVERYTHING PALES IN COMPARISON TO MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
So a lot of the coverage of this movie got subsumed under the whole “Is it Problematic for white actors to portray Native American characters even if they claim to have Native American ancestry and/or get a Native American person to adopt them and lend them credibility?” question1 and that’s totally reasonable. But Quentin Tarantino included it on his list of the top 10 movies of 2013 and Armie Hammer commented on its failure in an interview for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., blaming the marketing strategy:
It’s really difficult to market [The Lone Ranger] because you can’t market it as a kids movie because in the first five minutes a guy gets his heart cut out. But then you can’t market it as a movie where a guy gets his heart cut out because most of it is a little kid talking to Johnny Depp on old age Indian makeup. It’s really hard to sell it and the tone is all over the place.
And so one has to wonder, racism aside, is The Lone Ranger secretly a good or, at least, interesting movie?
The answer: nope. Sorry, Armie Hammer. It’s just so weird and so dumb. And a large part of the problem, as Hammer stated, that it’s totally unclear who this movie is for, and that’s an issue that extends way beyond just deciding how to market the movie.
- The Lone Ranger is for adults: For me, the cultural references play a much larger part in this argument than the violence. According to the AV Club’s review of the movie, there are all of these nods to other movies, ranging from The General to There Will Be Blood, and I totally didn’t catch most, if any, of them. Although I haven’t seen very many non-musicals from before 1990, I imagine I am still more film-literate than the average child, so…I think we can say with confidence that all of these references are meant for adults, and probably relatively serious cinema buffs at that. Also: are kids even familiar with the Lone Ranger as a character and his association with the William Tell overture? Because I only barely do, and I think that lack of knowledge is more of a general generational thing, not just particular to my upbringing. So only adults above a certain age are going to have any sort of nostalgia for the original…radio series? TV series? I don’t even know. And while that’s not strictly necessary (see: our feelings about The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), it may matter when a movie doesn’t have much else going for it.
- The Lone Ranger is for kids: So much juvenile humor. So much hammy nonsense. And, of course, the whole framing device of having old!Johnny Depp telling the story to a little kid, which: is that even a thing that kids enjoy? I remember hating that about The Princess Bride, which I otherwise loved, as a kid. But that’s who that sort of framing device is for, right? So that kids can somehow see themselves in a story about adults?
So I don’t know, maybe:
- The Lone Ranger is for no one: Except for Quentin Tarantino, apparently? And, one hopes, Gore Verbinski.
Also, let’s talk about Hans Zimmer:
The climactic train battle near the end of the movie is set to William Tell Overture, of course, but because the actual iconic part of the overture is only like three minutes long and the action sequence is…longer, it starts to go into variations on the theme.
When I heard this piece in the movie, I suddenly had a moment of clarity (at about 4:18 in the video) where I was like, “oh my god, this has to be Hans Zimmer.” And of course it was. Because it is exactly what you would expect Hans Zimmer’s take on the William Tell Overture to be.
My visceral reaction to Hans Zimmer’s obvious Hans Zimmeriness is “Hans Zimmer, you hack2” but that’s totally unfair of me; it makes sense that as an artist you may have some favorite thematic elements that you return to from work to work—I mean, look at Philip Roth. And are the artists that we consider to be chameleons inherently “better” than those with a strongly established identity? You hire Hans Zimmer if you want something Hans Zimmer-y and maybe that’s fine. It certainly fits for this type of movie.You hire Philip Glass if you want something Philip Glass-y. But if you just want something that will generically fit your movie but not overwhelm it, hire some no-name, right?
So I guess: you do you, Hans Zimmer.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Between this and Ocean’s Eleven, I realized that I really do need to a learn the rules of poker if I intend to keep watching this genre, because man: a lot of these movies will just show you shots of people’s poker hands and expect you to understand whether they’re good or bad hands and thus whether or not the players are bluffing. And that’s fair; it is pretty common knowledge and it would probably feel condescending to shoot it any other way. There’s a pretty significant scene in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels that hinges on the audience understanding that this character has a shit hand and is being forced into betting more than he can afford or something; you can sort of pick that up from the actor’s body language during the scene and you can mostly understand what happened from what occurs in the following scenes, but the scene itself certainly loses its impact if you just have no fucking clue how poker works because you’ve always preferred trick-taking games.
So yeah, kind of wish Guy Ritchie had used his explanatory flashbacks in this movie instead of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. There’s the poker issue, but also the fact that the casts for Ritchie’s gangster movies tend to be composed of fewer Glamorous Hollywood Actors and more kind of average-looking British dudes; it’s good casting for realism—it makes it easier to buy these dudes as not especially competent working-class criminals—but it means that it takes a while to figure out who all of the characters are, because you can’t just be like “oh, that’s the George Clooney character and that’s the Brad Pitt3 character” or even “oh, that’s the dude with dark hair and that’s the dude with light hair,” because there are just too many dudes with similar coloring and not super distinguishable features if you don’t already recognize them4.
Aside from that: uh, it was alright? To be honest, I think I was not watching super attentively. I guess I did appreciate the structure of this movie, along with Snatch and RocknRolla, with all of the separate threads of the plot eventually coming together in a sort of big, messy way—well, the use of the word “messy” may be confusing because the plotting is actually really tight and neat, but because the characters are not all hyper-competent, the climaxes of the movies usually come about from the characters muddling about and fucking up rather than careful scheming. But as I’ve mentioned before, I think I’d prefer a Guy Ritchie hangout sitcom about small-time criminals? Or, you know, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Listen Up Philip (2014)
Uh, I think I was cross-stitching throughout this movie and thus not really quite paying attention to it. Probably would be worth trying again and actually processing all of the dialogue and facial expressions. This had the potential to be a super lame Woody Allen-esque5 movie about the angst of a neurotic and self-absorbed (Jewish) writer, but it did something interesting by spending large chunks of time on the writer’s ex-girlfriend and her inner life. And also I think not perpetuating the idea that being an ~Artist~ excuses the writer’s assholery.
Would have enjoyed this movie like 20% more if all of the characters had different names; it’s distracting and disappointing to watch a movie with the expectations that heap up when you hear the names Theseus, Hyperion, Zeus, etc., because you’re constantly wondering how close to the myths they’re going to hew (the answer: NOT AT ALL) and the significance of any divergence (the answer: NONE, PROBABLY). Like, why even try to sell this as an adaptation, however loose, of the myth of Theseus and not just an original story set in fantasy ancient Greece?
What is with the Greek pantheon being made of Luke Evans and then a bunch of actors who could be high-schoolers on a CW show? Are we actually supposed to take them seriously or what? Because if so, um…no, and if not—an option supported by them being like “yo, Theseus, we can’t interfere in mortal affairs because…the importance of faith in mankind or some shit, so we’re here for you but kind of not at all in any helpful way” for most of the movie—that would be an interesting choice if it were explored further.
In fact, a lot of things about this movie would be interesting choices if explored further:
- Class issues, for example, and the prejudice Theseus faces as a bastard.
- Faith. We the audience know that the mortal characters live in a world where the gods of the Greek pantheon are totally real, but the characters don’t all believe in them, which is interesting, because normally the characters’ belief in the gods is a given in this sort of sword and sandals thing, I think.
- Achieving “immortality” through heroic deeds. This is better explored in Troy, probably, which is crazy because Troy is pretty shit as well.
- Action scenes as Renaissance paintings. Apparently, the director (Tarsem Singh) described the movie as “Caravaggio meets Fight Club” and I wish that were true, because that would be DELIGHTFUL. I guess I thought (hoped!) more of the movie would be like this6, but that was kind of just one scene at the very end.
Ultimately, though, Immortals is just bland but very pretty. And Henry Cavill as Theseus embodies that spirit—although I would blame the writing and not Cavill’s performance. We know general details of his background, but we never get a sense of what his deal is. Like okay, his mother’s death is what motivates him to seek justice/revenge, but who was he before that? What did he want in life? Why should we be rooting for him, other than the fact that he’s very pretty and the other guy is obviously evil? (Or is that enough?) Somewhat relatedly, I wonder if a lot of these sword and sandal movies fail because the writers are unable to ascribe relatable or understandable motivations to ancient people…
 To which the answer was, resoundingly, “like, yeah, duh.” ^
 Especially with regard to his work on Gladiator and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, because holy shit, dude. Can you tell without looking which of these (here and here) is from which movie? ^
 Well, okay, we could do this for Snatch.^
 I’m going to attach a pre-emptive “Cool story, bro” here but: When I first watched The Departed in freshman year of high school, well before I had this obnoxious store of celebrity trivia wasting mental space, I could not tell the difference between Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in the police academy training montage section and was just super confused until DiCaprio’s character acquired distinguishing facial hair. To someone with a normal-to-good level of celebrity knowledge, Damon and DiCaprio have such familiar and recognizable faces that you wouldn’t even consider how alike they look (or looked, anyway, in 2006) to someone who maybe doesn’t watch a lot of movies or awards shows or whatever. ^
 Right, Philip Roth is maybe the more accurate (and obvious) comparison given the title of the movie and the font on the movie poster. But fuck it, I don’t want to drag Philip Roth and I want to say that Roth doesn’t seem to “side” with his self-insert protagonists quite as much as Allen does with his, but I’m not sure that that’s actually true? ^
 And do we think that is inspired by this painting, or are they both inspired by a particular style of composition that we can’t identify because we never took art history? ^