The summer blockbuster season is officially in full swing, and here are two more of the movies that are making moviegoing a blast this summer.
Yeah, I know, I jumped from early June to early July. What in the world happened to late June? Well, let’s see … I was out of town for a few days, then dog-sitting for neighbors, and it just kind of whizzed by in a blur, with no theatergoing at all! But I plan to make up for that now.
Sophomoric comedies are usually the territory of the boys. But once in a while, a terrific female-cast funny movie shows that anything the boys can do, the girls can do too. And I have to admit that I love many female comedies, like the classic 9 to 5 (1980), the goofy Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997), the silly The House Bunny (2008), and the hysterical Bridesmaids (2011). Female comedies still are few and far between, unlike the constant barrage of male-centric absurd comedies. That’s probably as it should be—let boys be boys. Only sometimes, when talented female comic actors team up, the result can be inspired fun.
The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock as an FBI agent disliked for her condescending efficiency and Melissa McCarthy as an abrasive but effective Boston cop, is hilarious. There’s the obvious clash of the two “types” the main stars portray, the odd-couple effect, which is so often the basis of such comedies. Sure, it’s formulaic, and that’s OK for a movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Sometimes laughter is just good medicine. The plot is not bad in setting up why these contrasting characters must work together, and then Bullock and McCarthy are unleashed to make us giggle. There are some hysterical scenes in this film, but it also has a subtlety and pacing that I find lacking in many over-the-top male comedies.
Perhaps what I appreciate most about female silly comedies is that women do bring a certain softness and empathy to even the stupidest situations and densest characters. And then there is the emotional payoff; there’s a big difference between “I love you, man” moments and the kind of “Now we are sisters” sentiments snuck in between the slapstick in this movie. One of those actually made me tear up for a moment. That doesn’t typically happen when I watch, say, a Will Ferrell movie.
There are some issues, of course. The one that most sticks with me is the absolute waste of talent in putting Jane Curtain in an all-but-silent role with not much comic involvement. Other than that, for what it is—a light, humorous summer flick—The Heat mostly hits the mark.
The Lone Ranger
This movie kind of relates the Lone Ranger story we all remember, but on acid. Think Hell on Wheels meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The Lone Ranger is a comedy, an FX-ridden adventure, a supernatural tale, and a peek at the carnage that helped build this country, all rolled into one and filled with anachronisms and wildly implausible moments. Thanks to the talent involved, it all works together as pure entertainment.
I can’t believe how many nasty reviews I’ve read about this film, most seeming to dwell on the fact that The Lone Ranger seems to be modeled on Pirates of the Caribbean, spewing vitriol at Disney for banking on a winning formula, and criticizing the lack of faith to the original materiel (Really? Like that was high art?). Lighten up, people! It’s summer entertainment. I truly enjoyed this fun film, and so did the rest of the audience laughing itself silly all around me in the theater. My only points of dissatisfaction (and hence the minus after the A grade) were at the sometimes uneven pace and the lack of solid female characters.
Yes, it’s true that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise team is back, including director Gore Verbinski (The Mexican, Rango) and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek franchise, Zorro films), with the addition of writer Justin Haythe (The Clearing, Revolutionary Road). And of course, the film stars Captain Jack Sparrow himself, the inimitable Johnny Depp. As I mentioned, some of the reviews jump on this reunion as a negative, but I judged the movie on its own merits. If you didn’t care for the Pirates movies or are weary of Depp’s characters in general, don’t go see The Lone Ranger. Some of us aren’t yet tired of this team’s creative contributions.
Johnny Depp is mesmerizing as a demented, tragicomic Tonto who spends most of the film feeding the stuffed crow that rides atop his head and deriding our hero, John Reid, who is portrayed by Armie Hammer as an uptight attorney slowly tuning in to the realities of the lawless West. Though the film focuses on telling the tale from Tonto’s point of view, Hammer does a great job of rendering the changes that take place in Reid because of all he witnesses, to the point of knowing he must give up his dreams to pursue justice.
The rest of the cast is equally memorable. William Fichtner is frightening in an uncharacteristic villain role as Butch Cavendish. Tom Wilkinson handily plays an unscrupulous railroad tycoon. Other striking characters include Helena Bonham Carter as a deadly-legged madam, Barry Pepper as a avaricious cavalry commander, Leon Rippy as a pivotal posse member, and Mason Elston Cook as the boy listening to Tonto tell the whole story through a frame narrative.
Best of all, this movie is hysterically funny, in spite of (or thanks to) how dark its underlying story is—I won’t give away details, but it includes slaughter, kidnapping, and even a little cannibalism. Hmm, funny stuff. Maybe precisely because these topics make us feel uneasy, and some scenes are pretty harsh, we laugh all the harder at the juxtaposed clowning and marvel all the more at the fabulous stunts, explosions, and chases. Some of the one-liners and jokes are priceless, and of course Depp’s facial expressions add a level of hilarity all by themselves.
The story is light years from what aficionados of the radio and TV series ever appreciated about the masked man who pursued justice in the Wild West. It’s a reinterpretation, a wild and crazy one at that, but it is faithful in a few ways: it preserves the innocence of the righteous approaching malevolent circumstances, the futile fumbling of disparate cultures trying to interact, and of course the satisfaction of a legendary story entertainingly related.