Friday, November 15, 2013

Jason goes to Midnites for Maniacs for a triple-bill of Acid Westerns

I'm a week behind on my blogging, and in some ways that's a good thing. It gave me some time to think about what to write (so it will be all the more disappointing in the moments where I got nothing.)

THE LONE RANGER (2013): Midnites for Maniacs mission statement is to honor and appreciated unseen, under-appreciated films. I read Jesse Hawthorne Ficks review of THE LONE RANGER too late to catch it when it was still in it's regular theatrical run (full disclosure for those who don't know, Jesse also runs Midnites for Maniacs and has been pushing this movie for months.) Re-reading it today...I'm tempted to just say "me too" and be done with it. He certainly points out a lot of things that bewildered, angered, or bored many critics, and interprets them in a way that makes it clear that the filmmakers are a lot smarter than their critics. In full disclosure, the one thing I couldn't quite reconcile on my first viewing was the slapstick self-parody moments in what I thought was a surprisingly deep movie. I felt it undercut the fact that's smarter and deeper than most people will acknowledge, sort of saying "hey, don't take me seriously" even though it makes some pretty good points. But Jesse makes some good points about that, and convinces me (not that I wasn't already convinced) that I should watch this again.

This movie is in large part an origins story, but not really about the origins of the character of the Lone Ranger. It's about the origins of the myth. It's about how--and why--we tell stories (specifically stories about America, and stories on film). It's weird that the first (that I caught) of dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of movie references is to THE RED BALLOON. This is chock full of movie references, from the origin of cinema with THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY to...well, at least to Verbinski and Depp's first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. And that's more than just a game for cinephiles, this movie is obsessed with the art of telling stories--and making you think about storytelling.

Now the elephant in the room, is that this is Tonto's story far more than the Lone Ranger's. It's actually told by an aged Tonto in 1920's San Francisco to a young boy in a Lone Ranger mask. And for about half the movie I was thinking 'If only they had called the movie TONTO instead, people would have loved it.' It would be like WICKED retelling THE WIZARD OF OZ from the witch's point of view (not that Tonto is ever the villain, but retelling stories from a non-traditional point of view has been pretty popular in modern literature for quite a while.) But then something pretty cool happens. John Reid (Armie Hammer) finally understands why Tonto kept telling him to wear the mask, and he puts the mask on. And when see him shortly afterwards, and the William Tell Overture plays...well, my heart started racing. I finally got to root for him, and it was all the better for knowing I was doing it for the right reasons. For nearly two hours this movie had told me to forget everything I know about the Lone Ranger, to even hate the myth or at least feel guilty about the white male-centric nature of it. And then it gave me a Lone Ranger to believe in, and earned it's title.

Jesse ends his review with some thoughts about Tonto's meditative walk during the end credits, and speculated about its meaning. Here's my thought. Just before the credits rolled, Tonto finishes telling his story to the little boy in San Francisco. He (the little boy) thinks about it, puts his Lone Ranger mask on, and says, "Never take off the mask." I think Tonto's walking off to finally rest and pass away in peace knowing that at long last he finally told his story to someone who got it.

And now it's way too tempting to think about that in terms of the success (or lack thereof) of the movie. Verbinski et al. actually knew they were making a movie that's difficult to get. A movie that takes multiple viewings (and on screens bigger than your damn phone.) And maybe they can let this movie rest peacefully if at least one kid gets it. I'm pretty sure I'm not (yet) that 'kid who gets it.' I'm not sure that Jesse Ficks, as big a fan as he is, is the 'kid who gets it.' I'm not sure if Quentin Tarantino, who has an intimidating knowledge of film and put this on his top ten of the year list, is the 'kid who gets it.' I'm not sure that there is any 'kid who gets it' yet, really. But if all it takes is one...I'm convinced it can happen. But it will be quite an undertaking, because this movie is big and deep.

DEAD MAN (1995): Well, after THE LONE RANGER left my head kind of spinning, almost anything would be a bit of a let down. So I was grateful to follow this with a movie I had seen before. But only on home video, and not since it was first out. It's slow, it's black and white, it's poetic, it's weird. Johnny Depp as William Blake (not the old English poet, but you'll be forgiven for that mistake) arrives in a frontier town with a letter offering him a job as an accountant. But he's too late, the job has already been filled. And he's out of money, and he meets a girl, and he sort of kills the guy who is attacking her. Which is bad, because he's the son of the guy who runs the town (same guy who through him out on his ear.) So wounded and hunted, he goes on the run and meets an Indian named Nobody (Gary Farmer) who becomes his guide to...well, to fulfilling his death. I think there's something wrong with me that when I saw it back in college I didn't run out and learn all about William Blake's poetry (or his drawings.) When I was in college, I thought I was deep and smart for liking it. Now I feel shallow and dumb for realizing how little I get this. Also, I'll confess that I kind of dozed off for some parts of it.

WALKER (1987): And finally, after a theater crawl to the Roxie, we got this piece of the extreme weirdness. Alex Cox (REPO MAN, REVENGERS TRAGEDIE) directed Ed Harris in this story based on the real life William Walker. In the beginning, he's the leader of a band of American mercenaries in Mexico, facing certain annihilation. But a freak sandstorm gives them cover to escape and he returns to America where he's promptly put on trial. He gets off pretty easily (there's a strange air about him that no matter how many bad things happen he's supremely confident, calm, and sure of success). Cornelius Vanderbilt calls for a meeting with him, and tasks him with leading a coup in Nicaragua to secure transportation lines between the Atlantic and Pacific (this was in the 1850's, well before the Panama canal.) So he goes...and he slaughters them. And he makes deals with the local officials. And the locals fight back. And he promises him men no harm will come to them even as they're being slaughtered. And he becomes President...for a year, before everyone rises up, overthrows him, and executes him. Basically his story is the least successful version of 'White American sticks his nose where it doesn't belong and screws everything up' ever. And the contrast between the action on screen and his hilariously upbeat letters home is priceless...and resonates with other recent "They'll greet us as liberators!" moments.

And that was M4M's salute to Acid Westerns. Next month for Christmas on December 20th they'll be doing HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995), LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) and...we don't know yet.

Total Running Time: 364 minutes
My Total Minutes: 341,710

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