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

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