Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Hi everyone,

At the end of October, I took the train up to New York for a three-day Broadway Extravaganza. I saw four fantastic shows!

Theatre (December 7, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: November 14, 2014)

  • The River, at Circle in the Square, is a drama about a guy with relationship issues and his love for fishing. In the scene here, our man (Hugh Jackman/B.J.) is surprised by his girlfriend's (Laura Donnelly/Mini) beginner's luck. 
  • Cabaret, at Studio 54, is an iconic musical set in 1930s Berlin about a cabaret singer and her relationship with an American as the Nazis begin to gain power. In this scene, the cabaret's emcee, played by Alan Cumming/Simon introduces some of the cabaret's dancers (Ashes and Lily), including its main attraction Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams/Mini). 
  • Set to some amazing music by Sting, The Last Ship at the Neil Simon Theatre is a new musical about a man (Michael Esper) who, after 15 years, returns to his hometown  – a working-class shipbuilding community in Northern England, where he faces his first love Meg (Rachel Tucker) and unresolved issues with his father. As Father O'Brien (Fred Applegate), the town's beloved minister, brings the community together to give the dying industry a proper send off by building one last ship, memories arise and old wounds begin to heal. Here, the foreman Jackie White (Jimmy Nail/B.J.) directs his workers (Comet, Gordon, and Simon) as they build the massive ship with Father O'Brien (Norman), Meg (Lily), and her son Tom (Colin Kelly Sordelet/Tyrone) watching the feat.     
  • On the Town, at Lyric Theatre, is the classic musical about three Navy sailors (Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and Clyde Alves) on 24-hour leave in New York City. In this scene, the boys (Comet, Gordon, and B.J.) get off the boat at 6 a.m. to start their day, just as a construction worker (Philip Boykin/Norman) arrives for work.

I've been slow drawing and blogging these days, but I hope to post reviews of these shows here sometime soon. In the meantime, get your tickets now because these shows are all worth seeing! Cabaret now stars Emma Stone in the role of Sally Bowles! The Last Ship, my favorite of the four, now has Sting himself in the role of Jackie White for a limited time through January 10th! What are you waiting for? Treat yourself and go!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir

Hi everyone,

Photo credit: © Kat Villacorta
A few weeks ago, I caught Cyndi Lauper on "Front and Center" on PBS. This hour-long concert (which you can watch here) celebrates the 30th anniversary of her debut album, She's So Unusual, which she performs from start to finish. And there I was, in the middle of the night, remembering all the lyrics, singing and dancing along like no time had passed.

The last time I saw her in concert was with my dad and sister in Boston Common when she was touring in support of this album. It was my first concert ever. The two things that I remember from it are 1) Cyndi belting out "Money Changes Everything" while fearlessly climbing high above the stage on sound equipment and running along back-wall scaffolding, and 2) the photos I took of her from atop my dad's shoulders, above a sea of bouncing fans. The only thing visible in those photos was the shock of Cyndi's orange hair, a fiery dot from our distance. 

I've lost track of her music over the years, but the same Cyndi-infused delight resurfaces in me whenever she shows up. Were you as excited as I was about her recurring role on "Mad About You" in the '90s? Did you catch her surprise appearance on "The Voice" a few years ago? Didn't the Tonys telecast become instantly cooler with Cyndi there in support of Kinky Boots? I guess I shouldn't have been surprised this year when my mom described an outfit I had just received for my birthday as "very Cyndi Lauper" and that the next gift I opened was her recent memoir. (Thanks, Dad!) 

Cyndi Lauper's memoir is a quick read, maybe because I read it every day since opening the cover. During the first half of the book, I was shocked to learn about this young girl in Queens, who grew up poor in an unstable family situation, struggled in school and with various jobs, and had to run away from home for her own safety. She suffered from illnesses and depression while fighting off hunger and barely paying rent. I stopped reading every once in a while to inspect the front cover: This is Cyndi Lauper – amazing singer, songwriter, and performer, Grammy and Tony winner, and all-around cool, confident artist – right? 

What kept Cyndi going were her singular vision of the artist she wanted to become and her deep connection to music and singing. Just as I felt while watching her climb far above the concert stage all those years ago, reading her story, I was taken aback by her fearless drive to move forward in life to reach her creative goals and her matter-of-fact acceptance of whatever hurdles are thrown in her path.

The second half of the book caught me up on the music I've missed since Cyndi's second album, True Colors. The number and variety – from rock and dance to jazz and blues – are surprising. Cyndi's still doing whatever she can to grow as an artist and offer something new. She lets you into her unique, all-encompassing creative process; the look, sound, and feel of everything she does has artful meaning behind it. She talks honestly about her shortcomings and struggles to grow and be heard in a male-dominated, sales-driven industry. She offers empowering advice about how to lead your life as you want it and inspires with every triumph, including her work, her sense of humor in the face of darkness, and her dedicated efforts toward equal rights for women and the gay community. Throw some wrestlers and drag queens in there, and you've got an entertaining story about the unpredictable, rewarding life of a special lady.

My favorite thing about this book is Cyndi's one-of-a-kind voice and approach. It's as if she is sitting next to you, personally telling her story. As if we were catching up like old girlfriends, she ends some anecdotes with "(Can you believe it?)" or "C'est la vie... (That's French for 'whatever!')" Taking her time when working on an album is for the best, she explains, "I mean, I could have done it really quick, but what was I going to put out – some piece of poop? (You feeling the alliteration?)" And, though she puts herself down for having no filter when speaking her mind and doing things her own way, she takes it in stride, always with her eye on improving: "I'm learning more and more how to do this without ruffling feathers, but I must confess that I don't know how to do it as well as I'd like to. I've plucked a few chickens in my time. I have never been a delicate flower. Hopefully I am getting better. Or, as Yoda would say, 'Better I'm getting.'"

Can you hear her? While reading this book, your internal voice will absorb Cyndi's infectious enthusiasm and boldness and develop a heavy Queens accent. What else can a fan ask for? This memoir is "very Cyndi Lauper." Awesome she is. 


Monday, October 27, 2014


Norman really loves his Halloween costume this year. No one is sure when he's planning to take it off.

Octopus (October 26, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: October 10, 2014)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Hi everyone,

Set in Florida in the early 1900s, Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God  shares Janie Crawford's story so far – from her starry-eyed teenage years to wiser womanhood. Through years of ups and downs, she marries a few times, finds love, survives a hurricane, and is tried for murder. She needs a therapist, in my opinion, but just telling her story to her close friend Phoebe is more her style.

Janie is an amazing character who is always growing and striving for what she wants in life, an admirable heroine in whatever circumstance that is thrown at her. I found myself sad and angry whenever bad things happened to her, but with these experiences behind her, she gains earned confidence in her own independence.

I liked this book (and love the cover image), but I admired the writing more than the story. What sets this book apart from others is its authenticity. What I thought would be a quick, easy read felt more like Shakespeare at times. The narration is poetic, sparking imagery that perfectly captures Janie's state of mind. The dialogue is written phonetically to match the African-American characters' dialect, reminding the reader of the reality of Janie's place and time. Like Shakespeare, you get used to the vernacular and appreciate the writer's impressive accomplishment.

This story isn't a particularly happy one, but it's real and timeless. You experience Janie's emotional growth – fearlessness and fear, desire and courage, love and loss, acceptance and wisdom – and you feel richer having gone through it all with her.


Thursday, October 02, 2014


During those long nights in the sewer, Tyrone wished for a better home for himself and his family. I can tell you now because it came true.

Wish (October 1, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: September 26, 2014)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall, Take 2

Hi everyone,

As I did for summer, I've updated the Melissa's Kitties banner this season to include our newest kitty Tyrone. (He's already getting excited about winter.)

Fall Blog Banner 2014

What do you think?


Monday, September 15, 2014

Lauren Bacall

Hi everyone,

The cover that got
her noticed, 1943
Last month, we lost one of the world's great ladies, Lauren Bacall, who is probably best known for the love story she shared with Humphrey Bogart. But that's only one highlight in a full life of many shining moments. She got her start in the movies by chance: The wife of director Howard Hawks saw her on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in 1943 and urged him to bring her to Hollywood for screen test for one of his upcoming films.

This request led her into a fairytale romance and varied career on screen and stage. At 19, the studio molded her persona, changing her name from Betty Perske to Lauren Bacall and developing The Look, that lowered stare and voice that became her trademark. Her first film To Have and Have Not costarred Humphrey Bogart, who was 25 years older and struggling in a tumultuous marriage. Her sparkling screen debut was unforgettable:

YouTube Video: http://youtu.be/vyerVtcER5U© Warner Brothers 

Despite their age difference, she and Humphrey Bogart fell in love. (Can't you tell?) They married in 1945, had two kids, and made three other great movies together – The Big SleepDark Passage, and Key Largo – before Humphrey Bogart died in 1957.

Yes, I still have my playbill.
Aside from these timeless films, she showed impressive range in How to Marry a Millionaire (with Marilyn Monroe), Designing Woman (with Gregory Peck), Sex and the Single Girl (with Natalie Wood), Harper (with Paul Newman), and The Shootist (with John Wayne), among others. In 1996, she was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Barbra Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. In later years, she worked with more experimental directors, like Lars von Trier for Dogville and Jonathan Glazer for Birth. She was always working and trying something new.

I was so lucky to see Lauren Bacall in person once. In 1999, she was on stage in Boston's Colonial Theatre costarring with Rosemary Harris in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings before it went to Broadway. At the time, I felt elated to be in the same room with her. She won two Tonys in her career, for Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981.

Her storybook romance and acting talent aside, Lauren Bacall really won me over through her fantastic memoirs, By Myself (which won a National Book Award) and Now. They introduced me to Betty Perske, a shy, funny girl with lots of guts. I was hooked from the early pages of By Myself, where she relived the thrill of being in an elevator with her idol Bette Davis. These books are fantastic – refreshingly candid, honest, and well written. (We were practically friends by the time I finished reading.) By Myself follows Betty as she's swept into Hollywood and goes along for the ride, with wonder, determination, perseverance, and grace. Now continues her journey, spotlighting earned confidence, experience, and wisdom. Put these on your reading lists.

Lauren Bacall was more than The Look and the wife of Humphrey Bogart. In her profession and in life, she always strove for more – learning, growing, and speaking her mind. I will miss hearing that voice.

You can see some of Lauren Bacall's films on TCM this week! Starting Monday, September 15, at 8 p.m., eastern, my favorite cable channel will be celebrating this classy lady with a 24-hour tribute that will wrap up on what would have been her 90th birthday (September 16). Enjoy it! (And, if you don't get that channel, stock up your Netflix queue.)


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #46–Transcendence (2014)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

What fascinated me more than anything is the correlation between technology and power–the idea that a guy who is able to download his sentient being into a machine can become god, or a version of god. Religion is a fascinating black hole to me. 
Johnny Depp on researching his role for Transcendence

When I read the first few blurbs trying to quickly sum up the plot of Transcendence, I rarely made it much farther than the first sentence. Passing by terms like "artificial intelligence," "super computer," and "uploaded consciousness." I gave up and decided to wait for it. 

In this movie, Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, a computer scientist studying the point at which artificial intelligence and human intelligence will achieve singularity or, as he calls it, transcendence. About 15 minutes into it, he is shot by an anti-technology activist using poisoned bullets. When Will finds out that he has about a month left to live, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) convinces him to try to upload his mind into the quantum computer he'd invented. About 10 minutes after he settles into the computer, his ghostly voice asks for more power, and his soul ends up online. 

He instructs Evelyn to buy land in the middle of nowhere, and she contracts the development of an underground facility there so that Will can continue his work. With his heightened capabilities, he is able to heal the sick and disabled, which at first seems like  amazing good fortune. Soon, however, it is discovered that everyone Will heals becomes a part of him, inheriting his strengths, and the townspeople become a kind of superhuman army. Morgan Freeman describes Transcendence pretty well: "The whole movie is about the development of artificial intelligence and a situation that gets out of hand." 

It's a leap of faith.
As far-fetched as this movie sounds, everyone involved who researched it thinks that we are well on our way. Some scientists believe we could reach this kind of immortality in the next 30 years. "The combination of technology and biology–I think it's inevitable," producer Aaron Ryder says. "We did a fair bit of research and talked to a lot of different people in this field. What was astounding to us was how advanced technology was and how close we were at things that I always thought were just science fiction as being reality."

Transcendence got mixed reviews, some of which were as complicated as the movie sounds. Overall, I think this movie has too many big, stretchy ideas for a 2-hour story. But I didn't really mind that. Here are my own issues with this movie:
  • As I warned earlier, Johnny starts dying about 15 minutes into the movie, which is depressing enough. Then, he's basically on a TV screen for rest of it. I suppose I'm used to Johnny Movies in which he has more to do. 
  • When I first heard about this project, I was most excited by the prospect of Johnny working with Morgan Freeman. It turns out that they only have a few short scenes together, and one of them is when Johnny is already uploaded. Does that one really count?
  • There are lots of computers, coding, and typing in this movie, and no matter what you do with it, that's just not interesting–unless you're an artificial intelligence scientist, I suppose. 

But just go with it.
There are things I like about this movie too. Yes, the premise is outlandish, and the creepy half-human/half-machine population Will creates is over the top. Yet, whenever I watch Transcendence, I get into it. Its big, stretchy ideas are fantastic and make me think for a long time afterward, which was apparently one of the goals. "This film will force people to ask questions," Johnny says. "How far should any of it go? That kind of intelligence in the wrong hands could be quite devastating." Adding to that warning, Wally Pfister notes, "It's my hope that people will think carefully whether technology can be used for the betterment of mankind or to its detriment." 

Wally Pfister was Christopher Nolan's cinematographer for many years, so the special effects in this movie are impressive. I love the visuals and the starkness and clean lines of the sets in the laboratory. 

While I'm disappointed that Johnny and Morgan Freeman didn't have much to do together in this movie, Transcendence also offers a great ensemble cast. I particularly like Paul Bettany as Max, Will and Evelyn's old friend, who serves as the voice of reason and gets most of the action in this story. Paul Bettany worked with Johnny previously in The Tourist and has already finished working with him on another upcoming film. Whenever interviewed about these projects, he's often asked how it feels to be in a Johnny Depp movie and responds jokingly that the question should really be asking how Johnny feels about being in a Paul Bettany movie. To me, Transcendence really is more of a Paul Bettany movie (and that's not a bad thing). 

What's really going on here?
For this Johnny Kitties tribute, I wanted a scene that included Johnny with Morgan Freeman, which meant I had few choices. I decided against depicting Johnny in dying mode and instead opted for a healthier-looking computer-generated version. Here, Evelyn (Lily) leads Will's colleague Joseph (Morgan Freeman/B.J.) and FBI agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy/Tyrone) into Brightwood Data Center's underground laboratory, where Will makes a surprise appearance.

46. Transcendence (2014) [September 9, 2014]

Don't forget to see For No Good Reason too!
Shortly after the release of Transcendence, Johnny showed up at my local theater in a 2012  documentary called For No Good Reason, which explores the life and work of artist Ralph Steadman. Ralph Steadman is most famous for his collaborations with Hunter Thompson, for whom he provided illustrations to pair with the writer's Rolling Stone articles, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and other publications. In this fascinating documentary, Johnny pays his quiet friend a visit  and serves as interviewer from a fan's perspective. 

I loved this documentary for shining light on Ralph Steadman's amazing talent and artistry, which I always felt was considered secondary to the work of his more outspoken, eccentric friend. In the documentary, someone commented that while Hunter was considered the crazy one, Ralph was actually more fearless in his artwork. Check it out, and you will see what he means. One of my favorite parts of this documentary is witnessing the artist create an illustration from start to finish. He just doesn't see things like the rest of us. As Johnny puts it, "Wow." 

What's next?
Johnny Kitties is going on hiatus again until more of Johnny's movies are released on DVD sometime next year. The movies that are next in line, Tusk and Into The Woods, have to hit theaters first. 

Tusk, a horror flick written and directed by Kevin Smith, is due out September 19! While Johnny's role has been kept pretty well under wraps, here's the trailer to get you excited about the creepy weirdness of this story:

(© Demarest Films–YouTube video: http://youtu.be/60EUG-CDC_k) 

For those who are interested, Johnny's daughter, Lily-Rose, appears in this film alongside her friend Harley, Kevin Smith's daughter. You can see them in this trailer as the store clerks. (Lily Rose is the one who doesn't speak.) It was announced recently that these characters will have much bigger roles in another upcoming Kevin Smith movie with Johnny, a comedy called Yoga Hosers! So, if Tusk doesn't freak you out too much, we have another Kevin Smith treat in store for next year!   

But I digress. Into the Woods, a Stephen Sondheim musical directed by Rob Marshall, will be released on Christmas Day! In this fairy tale, Johnny plays The Wolf. I think it's safe to say that all Johnny fans are pacing the floors for this one, and the studio apparently knows it. Here's the teaser trailer that barely gives us a glimpse of what's to come:    

 © Walt Disney Pictures–YouTube video: http://youtu.be/sNVGDZHRJXM)

It's pretty much all I want for Christmas. 

Photo credits: All Transcendence images © Alcon Entertainment. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


This happens every time we watch The Wizard of Oz at my sister's house.

Courage (August 19, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: August 8, 2014)

For all of you who want to sing along and practice the speech in front of your own mirror (it works for Comet), here's the real thing.... Enjoy! 

(YouTube video: http://youtu.be/Ak3J5DayiCk © MGM)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Hi everyone,

I just finished this one recently... Tyrone made his way to the top, of course. He's a climber.

Golden (August 9, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: July 25, 2014)

This illustration was partly inspired by another piece of golden artwork that I have on my living room wall, which is made completely of fabric by local artist Jamie Langhoff. 

Check out her website, Seeing in Fabric, to see more of her amazing work. 


Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams

When I read the news about Robin Williams on Monday, I had two reactions: First, this must be wrong. Second, this must be about a different Robin Williams. By morning, reality had sunken in, and it seemed fitting that I woke to a gray, stormy day of unrelenting, steady rain. The world was upset. 

I've been trying to come up with an explanation and figure out what could have been done to prevent what happened. But I'm giving up this pointless pursuit. Everyone can speculate, but no one will ever know what led him to the darkest of moments. Really, it doesn't matter now. As his wife said, the focus should instead be on "the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions." If anything good can come of this, it will be constructive conversations about the seriousness of depression and ways to address it.

Somehow, it's more shocking when something like this happens to a comedian–someone whose job it is to make you laugh–because you have nothing but happy memories with that person. I clicked on a 2-minute Robin Williams tribute that a fan had created and posted on YouTube Monday night. It was a montage of film and TV show scenes, stand-up bits, talk show moments, and other special appearances that made me realized the constant presence this crazy genius had in my life. 

Like most people around my age, I first knew Robin Williams as Mork, the alien from Ork, who showed up on "Happy Days" and graduated to "Mork and Mindy." (I was hooked by age 4!) In the '80s and '90s, I always looked forward to watching the Comic Relief fundraising events for the homeless that he co-hosted with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal. When Christopher Reeve (my first love) died in 2004, Robin Williams helped me feel better by sharing fond memories of his close friend. Having Robin Williams around was comforting and whenever he showed up anywhere, I smiled, anticipating the laughter soon to come.  

I admit, sometimes, my brain freezes in the middle of watching Robin Williams in his element–on a roll of over-the-top quips combined with invented and dead-on impersonations and boundless improvisation, in no particular order. His comedy is simultaneously exhilarating, exhausting, hilarious, and unlike anyone else's (past, present, and future). The other day, someone likened his comedic talents to turning on a fire hose. It's true, Robin Williams could spew jokes at you at that strength and speed, all the while, making it seem effortless. 

Seeing how insane he could be on his own only made me appreciate him more as an actor. His movies showcase impressive versatility. I love watching him in dramatic roles, like Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, and Good Will Hunting (his Oscar-winning performance); it's as though we are specially invited to see a quieter side of him that's not usually caught on camera. I love his cameo appearances in The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen and the Night at the Museum series, the adventure he takes us on in Jumanji, and the animated genie he brings to life in Aladdin. His acting is solid and special. No matter the character, Robin Williams is present, and you never know when that energy of his will burst out and shine. His heart was too big to play it any other way.

Although I didn't studiously follow his career, Robin Williams has always reliably been there, like an old buddy or extended family member. My memories of him are of fleeting moments, jumbled into one big, chaotic ball of affection. Among them, one scene from The Birdcage (another great movie) keeps popping in my head. For those who haven't seen it yet, Robin Williams plays a gay cabaret owner, and Nathan Lane is his drag queen partner in life. Robin Williams is actually the quiet one in this relationship, and the main thing I remember about this movie is how much I love his restrained performance. This scene captures a glimpse of what made Robin Williams amazing. 

(YouTube video: http://youtu.be/55Pnw-tEVek © United Artists Pictures) 

How lucky we are that this great man shared so much of his talent, brilliance, and generosity with us. Wouldn't the world be a happier place if we all carried in our pockets just a tiny bit of his joyful spirit? Let's try.

So long, old friend. I miss you and thank you for visiting our planet. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


An enthusiastic helper, Tyrone adds some flair to Simon's latest contraption. While their project in the garage remains a mystery, this collaboration is bound for glory.

Contraption (August 5, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: June 6, 2014)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Hi everyone,

Lately, most of the news is bad out there, so this week's Illustration Friday topic, peace, instantly made me  think of John Lennon's iconic song, "Give Peace a Chance." But I'm more familiar with Sean Lennon's 1991 version, which was produced by Lenny Kravitz and performed by a slew of musicians from varied genres. The video, below, was on MTV a lot at the time, and I was excited that the song was back and updated for a new generation.


Sadly, this song–now nearly 25 years old–is still pretty accurate, but it's a good one! All together now...

Peace (August 5, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: August 1, 2014)


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer, Take 2

Hi everyone,

The steamy summer days have me drawing at a snail's pace, but the Kitties have been enjoying the sunshine!

Summer (July 09, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: June 20, 2014)

This drawing is an update from last year's summer snapshot:

Summer (June 21, 2013)

Since then, Tyrone has joined our family, though I'm not sure he likes the heat as much as the rest of us. He's a winter guy.

Happy summer, everyone!


Friday, June 20, 2014


It's impossible to get 10 cats to agree on one mask and who will wear it, so they all brought their own ideas. 

Mask (June 13, 2014)
(Illustration Friday: June 13, 2014)

  • B.J. is still attached to his Lone Ranger costume. (Wouldn't you be?) 
  • Always a class act, The Mother Kitty is ready for her next costume ball. 
  • Lily showed up in full Scream costume and scared everyone. I complained, so she picked a medical mask instead and gave us a lecture on germs. 
  • I tried to explain to Norman and Mini that what they were wearing were not masks but helmets, but they can't hear me (and I'm letting it slide because they look awesome). 
  • Comet and Ashes are all about the theatre after watching the Tonys with me. 
  • As always, Tyrone is ready to play ball. 
  • And, well, Simon, Gordon, and I are in the middle of a Breaking Bad marathon right now, so these are the masks they wanted to wear. Don't ask me where or how they got the prop they're sitting on. (Disclaimer: We do not endorse this behavior, though it does make great television.)

Monday, June 09, 2014

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #45–The Lone Ranger (2013)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

First things first....

Happy birthday, Johnny!!!

Participating in a tribute to friend Don Rickles
at New York's Apollo Theatre May 6, 2014

Okay, on to this month's Johnny Kitties....

We're just gonna give you a big, expansive experience, which is what I wanted when I was a kid–to go to a summer movie that really enthralled me, excited me, and moved me–and that's what The Lone Ranger does. 
– Johnny Depp

Who is the Lone Ranger?
Reduced to a tourist attraction in 1933, outcast Comanche Indian Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the tale of the Lone Ranger in an adventure that began more than 30 years earlier. When lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns home in 1869 to Colby, Texas, he accompanies the Texas Rangers on a hunt for bandit Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Headed by John's big brother Dan (James Badge Dale), the Rangers are ambushed by the outlaw and his gang, and John Reid is left for dead.

When Tonto discovers the massacre, his task of burying the rangers is interrupted by the arrival of a white horse. White horses are considered by the Comanche to be "spirit animals," ones that are able to cross the realms of the living and the dead. Reluctantly, Tonto gives in to the horse's choice of John Reid as sole survivor.

Despite Tonto's bad first impression of John on their train ride into town, he teams up with him to bring Dan's murderer to justice. (However, Tonto also has a history with Butch Cavendish and is fixed on his own revenge.) On their quest, he advises John Reid to mask his identity and, together, they build the legend of the Lone Ranger. Their mission, however, leads them to a bigger problem–a power play to steal Native American territories in the name of progress through the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Even though I was never a big fan of The Lone Ranger, which reached the height of its popularity on radio and TV before my time, I was very excited when I heard that Johnny signed on for this movie. Of course, he would play Tonto, I thought. Of course, he would make Tonto the cool one, erasing the sidekick reputation he's been stuck with all this time. This Lone Ranger would be different.

The day The Lone Ranger came out was a day I scheduled a massage after work. I hadn't intended to see the movie on its opening day, but I was feeling amazing after my massage! So, I decided to head to the theater on my way home.

I was so relaxed and eager to see The Lone Ranger, yet about one-forth of the way through, I realized I had been studying it for flaws. Weeks before the movie was released, I'd seen (without looking for them) nothing but negative headlines noting how this summer blockbuster is a sprawling hot mess with Johnny Depp in the middle of it as an insulting Native American caricature. I only skimmed a few of these reviews, and it is clear to me that some of them were written by people who hadn't bothered to see the movie. (How is that allowed?) Thanks to them, I watched the movie with questions swirling in my head: Is it too long? Does this story make sense? Does Johnny look too goofy? Is Johnny acting too goofy? So for the next 90 minutes, I was angry about the whole experience, and all the benefits of my massage disappeared. Thanks, critics.

Kirby Sattler's painting (above left) inspired Tonto's look.
Shortly before the movie came out, photos of Johnny in full costume began circulating, and all I heard about his Tonto was that he had a bird on his head. Yes, that is odd–especially at first glance when looking at it out of context. Johnny received mixed reviews from Native American groups, some saying that his portrayal of Tonto is disrespectful and unrealistic and others saying that it is perfectly respectful and very realistic. To me, that seems like the normal reaction Johnny usually gets about everything he does. I was not concerned.

As usual, Johnny has his reasons behind his take on the character he's playing. Tonto's look was inspired by a painting by Kirby Sattler called "I Am Crow." When Johnny first saw it, he thought the bird in the painting was actually on the man's head rather than flying behind him. In the movie, the bird on Tonto's head has significance that is explained. To Tonto, the bird isn't dead at all, and after a while, you forget that he has a bird on his head because he's Tonto, a lost Comanche warrior on a mission to avenge the death of his family and regain the respect of his tribe. So what if he's got a bird on his head? He probably has post-traumatic stress disorder too!

The idea of bringing The Lone Ranger back to the big screen had been swirling around for years with various scripts and, this time around, producers were disappointed to hear that Johnny intended to portray Tonto instead of the Lone Ranger. (I cannot imagine that!) It was only when Johnny shared a photo of himself in full Tonto regalia, bird and all, that everyone was convinced it would work.

There are moments in this movie where Tonto is being silly, but 1)  this is a Disney movie for the summer crowd, and 2) as I've said before, Johnny always goes for the laugh, even in his most serious movies. I can safely say Johnny took the role of Tonto very seriously. His integrity and work ethic aside, he has his own Native American ancestry to honor. Even since he was a kid, he had rooted for Tonto and felt that he could pay him due respect through this movie. "Since cinema has been around, Native Americans have been treated very poorly by Hollywood," he says. "What I wanted to do was play Tonto not as the sidekick–like 'go fetch a soda for me, boy!'–but as a warrior with integrity and dignity. It's my small sliver of a contribution to try to right the wrongs of the past."

With LaDonna Harris during the formal adoption ceremony
While filming, Johnny did his usual exhaustive research and spent a good amount of time with members of the Comanche Nation. In a traditional ceremony, Comanche activist LaDonna Harris even adopted him as a son into the Nation, giving him the name Shape Shifter. "Johnny is reprising the historic role of Tonto, and it seemed like a natural fit to officially welcome him into our Comanche family," she says. "Welcoming Johnny into the family in the traditional way was so fitting. He's a very thoughtful human being, and throughout his life and career, he has exhibited traits that are aligned with the values and worldview that indigenous peoples share." If Johnny's got the Comanche Nation's approval, I think Tonto must be all right.

If at first you're in a bad mood, try, try again.
Three weeks later, having taken the day off from work for my birthday, I walked down the street to see The Lone Ranger again, this time without any negative feedback in my head. It's a good thing I took the day off because at the theater near me, the movie was only showing at 10:30 a.m., daily. This time, instead of a crowded theater, I only shared the place with one guy and his son. That's fine with me!

Since seeing this movie the first time, I had heard a few positive reviews. One came from a legitimate film critic who said other critics just aren't getting what The Lone Ranger is supposed to be. The others came from moviegoers, including my 10-year-old nephew, who loved it–no questions asked.

The Lone Ranger is a great movie! I've determined that all those naysayers had ridiculous expectations because it was coming from "The Team that Brought You Pirates of the Caribbean" and because the budget expanded a bit during production. They didn't have to see the movie because they had already envisioned it to be Pirates of the Caribbean, western style. "The Lone Ranger deals with more gravitas," director Gore Verbinski explains. "You're talking about the plight of the Native American. It's called The Lone Ranger because six of the seven rangers are killed, including his own brother. The characters are borne out of tragic events, and you don't want to be cavalier about that."

While The Lone Ranger may be considered a little long by some, aren't all Gore Verbinski movies around the same length since he packs so much story and action into his films? I don't see anything wrong with that, as long as the story makes sense. Looking at it with my 10-year-old nephew in mind, I thought some of the scenes were pretty violent. However, the movie accurately depicts what happened to Native Americans at the time, just in case that's not covered in school.

From the devastating mass murder of tribes protesting the takeover of their land to a little romance and precisely choreographed comic action sequences, this movie offers a little of everything.  Also, on the big screen, the scenery is gorgeous. "We made a big Western the old-fashioned way. You have to go there," Gore Verbinski says. They filmed in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California. I really enjoyed the action sequences here too, especially when paired with the Lone Ranger's classic theme music, Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture. How can that not be a crowd-pleaser? I loved The Lone Ranger the second time around.

All we needed is a fresh perspective.
One of the best things about this movie is that Tonto spins the tale. "No one had heard The Lone Ranger story from Tonto's perspective." Gore Verbinski says. "We kept all the archetypes–the white hat, the silver bullet, the white horse, but we created them through the thread of Tonto. This is the origin story, and it was Tonto that created the Lone Ranger. That's what made this project interesting to me." In this version, the Lone Ranger, wonderfully played by Armie Hammer, starts out as square, innocent, and naive and Tonto loosens him up. It's a buddy movie with an extremely odd couple. "A lot of the humor is situational and based off the difference in world view or difference in opinion and how a situation should be handled," Armie Hammer says. "There's a lot of rub in the relationship: How do they live together? How do they stay buddies and work together? What's their process? This is all about two guys who are on the same path but who have come from two very different worlds."

To prepare for their roles, Johnny and Armie Hammer enrolled in Old West boot camp. Armie Hammer learned to dismount at full gallop, and Johnny perfected bareback riding. While Johnny was promoting the movie, he told everyone about a scary accident he had while filming. While shooting a scene, riding full gallop, his makeshift saddle slid sideways and he slid along with it. He figured he had two options: 1) hang on and ride it out while trying to avoid getting hit by any hooves, or 2) drop. He opted for the latter. The horse jumped over him, barely avoiding landing on him! (Thank you, horse!) Johnny got up and walked away with minor bruises (and all the angels surrounding him flew off for a drink).

My favorite character in The Lone Ranger is a horse, but not Johnny's (though Johnny and his fans everywhere are eternally grateful to his horse). In this movie, Silver made me laugh the most! From arguing with Tonto to rescuing the Lone Ranger from the oddest of situations, Silver may be the brains in this group. What an actor!

This cast offers plenty of other colorful characters. Aside from the eccentricities of Tonto and lovable dopey innocence of the Lone Ranger, super villain Butch Cavendish is a great contrast to proper business magnate Lantham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Despite serving as the story's necessary love interest, Ruth Wilson brings strength and conviction to her character Rebecca, John Reid's widowed sister-in-law, and her son Will, played by Mason Cook, shares her fiery spirit. I was most excited to see Helena Bonham Carter in this movie, the first with Johnny that isn't directed by Tim Burton. In those days, probably no one ran a saloon quite like her character Red Harrington with her ivory fire-armed leg.

This may be an unusual summer movie, but I think that's a good thing. With a little bit of everything for people of all ages, The Lone Ranger is quite a ride. I'd just advise not taking the train.

The Kitties are in on it.
This movie is full of long how'd-they-do-that action sequences, and one of my favorites is the big finish when everything is revealed and all the pieces of the tale Tonto weaves come together. While big explosions in movies don't typically excite me, the build up to this one was pretty well done.

45. The Lone Ranger (2013) [April 26, 2014]

Here, you'll find Tonto and the Lone Ranger (B.J.) standing on the edge as they, having pulled off their plan, watch as transcontinental railway hit a snag. The bridge is out, and cars full of silver plunge to the depths below along with the ultimate bad guy (Norman), who shall remain nameless in case you haven't seen the movie yet. What are you waiting for?

What's happens now?
Can you believe it? We've nearly caught up with Johnny, having celebrated all the movies listed in his filmography so far, except for his latest, Transcendence! What are the odds of completing the bulk of the Johnny Kitties series on Johnny's birthday, just as we started it on his birthday four years ago? Gordon doesn't care; he's gone off to take a well-deserved nap. (I can't blame him: had I considered the enormity of this task, I might have talked myself out of it.) But what fun it's been! I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. Johnny Kitties will resume once Transcendence is released on DVD in late July. Look for its tribute soon on a 9th thereafter.

Although Johnny Kitties is changing its monthly schedule to one that offers a more sporadic treat from here on out, don't worry: Johnny has quite a few upcoming movies lined up for us. Here's a glimpse of current projects that Johnny Kitties will be celebrating:
  • Transcendence (2014). In this sci-fi thriller, out now, research scientist Will Caster (Johnny) uploads his consciousness online and tests the boundaries of artificial intelligence. Look forward to a new Johnny Kitties tribute to Transcendence later this summer! 
  • For No Good Reason (2014). For this inspiring documentary, Johnny pays a visit to and spotlights his friend Ralph Steadman, the British artist best known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson. 
  • Lucky Them (2013). Toni Collette stars as a music journalist on the hunt for Matthew Smith (Johnny), her long-lost ex-boyfriend. Although this movie was completed last year and set to be released at the end of May this year, I'm still not sure where or when to see this one. 
  • Tusk (2014). A rumor is floating around that Johnny has an uncredited role in this Kevin Smith film about another hunt for a missing person. Maybe Johnny's character is missing in this movie too. 
  • London Fields (2014). Amber Heard stars as a clairvoyant living with premonitions about her impending murder. Johnny plays some sort of cameo role here, but I haven't looked into it because I want to be surprised.   
  • Into The Woods (2014). Based on Stephen Sondheim's Broadway show of the same name and directed by Rob Marshall (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), this story is set in a fairy tale world and involves the Baker and his Wife, who discover they are childless because of a curse cast on them by a vengeful witch. As they set out to find her and lift the curse, their journey intertwines several story lines from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and Johnny plays the Wolf. Look for this one on Christmas Day!
  • Mordecai (2015). Directed by David Koepp (Secret Window), this film follows art dealer Charles Mordecai (Johnny) as he hunts for a missing painting that's linked to a lost bank account full of Nazi gold. 
  • Black Mass (2015). Filming now in Boston, this movie tells the true story of crime boss Whitey Bulger (Johnny) and the ties between the Irish Mob and FBI as they try to take down the city's Italian Mafia.  
  • Through the Looking Glass (2016). Based on Lewis Carroll's novel but not directed by Tim Burton, Johnny will reprise his role as the Mad Hatter in this sequel to Alice in Wonderland
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2016). Jack will return! Do you really need to know the plot? 
Johnny has also been working for years on a still-untitled documentary about his friend and guitar hero Kieth Richards. Someday, he'll finish and hopefully share it with us.

For now, thanks to everyone for following this series! 
Johnny Kitties will return later this summer to celebrate Transcendence

Copyright credits: All images from The Lone Ranger © Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer Films; "I Am Crow" painting © Kirby Sattler; photo of Johnny with LaDonna Harris © AP; illustrations © Melissa Connolly