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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Because the Gorehound likes to torture Nick and Jen, we conclude Kevin Smith Month with the one-time promising director’s latest cinematic outing, Yoga Hosers, starring Johnny Depp, Johnny Depp’s daughter, and Kevin Smith’s daughter. Check out the episode to see what they think of this so-called “movie”.
To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below.
I know it’s been a little while, but this summer has surprisingly not really been filled without outright flops. Outside of The Hangover Part III, which was the last movie I covered for this feature, and Will Smith’s disastrous After Earth, there haven’t been too many box office disappointments this summer. Even World War Z has over-performed (especially worldwide), and it looked like an absolute train wreck based solely off of pre-release bad buzz. So last weekend when The Lone Ranger absolutely bombed, of course I had to write about it (along with apparently everyone else). Anyway, here goes…
The Lone Ranger is the story of John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawyer and ex-Texas Ranger who, after a spiritual encounter with a magical horse, begins moonlighting as the titular masked vigilante. Reid is helped along by Native American sidekick Tonto (Johnny Depp, playing yet another eccentric weirdo), who wants justice for his tribe mates, who had been slain when Tonto was a child. Together the two must face off against the villainous Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and expose the double-dealing railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). The movie is, of course, loosely based on The Lone Ranger properties from the 1930s.
The film’s pedigree was incredibly high, with producer Jerry Bruckheimer at the helm of the project, established studio director Gore Verbinski behind the lens, and marquee name Johnny Depp signed on for a lead role. These three men were responsible for the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (Verbinksi did not direct the fourth installment), a film franchise which grossed an absolutely obscene amount of money. When The Lone Ranger opened over the Fourth of July weekend, however, it underperformed to the tune of just 29 million dollars (48 million over the five-day holiday weekend). So, what exactly went wrong?
The Lone Ranger had been in development hell for years (it was announced way back in September 2008 that Johnny Depp was in consideration for the role of Tonto, for example). Verbinski and Disney fought over the budget for quite some time, and the budget eventually ballooned due to the extraordinary sets built for the film (particularly the train segments). In August of 2011, Disney announced that production on the film had been delayed due to budgetary issues, and Verbinksi and Bruckheimer, along with stars Hammer and Depp, agreed to defer 20% of their salaries for the film in order to help cover the budgetary issues. The film finally started shooting in March 2012 with an intended release date of May 31st, 2013, which was then pushed back to July 4th, 2013, presumably to avoid competition with studio stablemate Iron Man 3 as well as Star Trek: Into Darkness and Fast 6, each of which has grossed a healthy amount at the box office.
Due to the age of the property it is based on, The Lone Ranger was primarily targeted toward adults. Under usual circumstances, adults pay attention to reviews. Unfortunately for The Lone Ranger, the film opened up to incredibly harsh reviews, receiving an aggregate score of 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also opened up against Despicable Me 2, which was definitely intended for a younger audience but which also had pretty high crossover appeal. Despicable Me 2 won the weekend, ultimately grossing 143 million dollars over the long holiday weekend. Other films, such as The Heat, World War Z, and Man of Steel also continued to pull in big box office numbers, and audience fatigue over action films may have played a factor in The Lone Ranger’s failure as well.
In a way, I’m kind of sad that The Lone Ranger didn’t do better at the box office. Its failure (along with the huge losses from 2012’s John Carter) probably means that Disney won’t take chances on less known or older properties, and we’ll see fewer non-franchise/non-Marvel films in the future. I’m certainly not the biggest fan of Gore Verbinksi’s work either, but there is something admirable in how he wanted to film this movie, with the use of the big, physical sets and all that. I’m not sure that The Lone Ranger was doomed to flop, as other media outlets have noted. I certainly expected it to do better than it has done thus far. At this point, only a lengthy international run will help save The Lone Ranger, but being that it is a Western-themed film based off an old American character, I don’t think that’s really in the cards.
21 Jump Street, the comedic adaptation of the 1980s police drama, is a very funny movie. For me, I find that comedies are very hit-or-miss. Many mainstream ones tend to focus their humor on gross-out gags or potty humor. Not that anything is wrong with that sort of thing; I just miss it when a tent-pole comedy can rise above that and truly deliver. 21 Jump Street does just that.
Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as two misfit police officers recruited to go undercover as high school students (due to their somewhat young looks) in order to discover who is behind a drug racket. It is a fairly simple plot (and it has to be), but it allows the filmmakers to really develop Hill and Tatum’s characters and their relationship. Honestly, I really felt that these guys were very well-rounded and their ups and downs of their friendship were played very believably. This is also something I find missing from many comedies.
Hill and Tatum have a wonderful chemistry between them. Like Zack had mentioned months ago, I too have become burnt out on Jonah Hill. To be honest, I never really liked him to begin with. This movie, though, has me changing my opinion. He broke away from the schlubby dick-and-fart joke type character he typically portrays. This proves to me that with the right material, he can be a solid comic actor. Tatum, who I do not share the hate the internet has for him, is fantastic in this. Honestly, he has fantastic comic timing, and I want to see him do more comedies in the future. If people are still hating on him as being a bad actor, then they clearly have not seen 21 Jump Street. I will stand by that comment. The movie plays on the already-established images Hill and Tatum somewhat have in pop-culture and completely run with it.
Beyond that, the movie works very well as a whole. The comedy in it is refreshing and very manic at times. Jokes just whip by at a frantic pace with a subversive tone, and it is the performances that really sell it. I also appreciated the little details the movie had such as the extended 1990s sequence early in the movie. It was pitch-perfect of what high school was like in the 90s down to the clothing and hair styles. Most movies would not go to the extra that effort 21 Jump Street did, but because this movie did, it made it more enduring to me.
Also, watch for Johnny Depp’s terrific surprise cameo.
Not everything works however. Some of the subplots come off a bit superfluous, such as Ellie Kemper’s teacher character who has an uncontrollable attraction to Tatum and the female rival pair of cops who keep showing up our heroes. The only real major thing I had a problem with was the romance between Hill’s character and a female student. On one hand, it was developed well, but on the other, we are supposed to be rooting for them while forgetting that they are about 7 to 10 years apart in age. It is a bit creepy. However, those flaws do not really detract from the overall movie and are something one can easily turn a blind eye too.
Go check out 21 Jump Street. It is hilarious and one of the best recent comedies I have seen in a while. Hill and Tatum are great together, it keeps the dirty humor in check with some very clever bits, and it is just an overall fun ride of a film. You will not be disappointed.
Why does this movie exist? I realize it is based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson (which the filmmakers were clearly hoping to capitalize on), but I do not understand what the point of this film is. Nothing happens. Well, of course stuff happens, but I feel that the aimless journey the characters go on have no consequence. Maybe that is the point, but while that might work for a novel, it does not for a film.
The Rum Diary finds Johnny Depp as would-be writer Paul Kemp who takes a job at a quickly dying newspaper in 1960s Puerto Rico. Once there, he becomes friends with his quirky co-workers and falls in with a shady business man (played by Aaron Eckhart) which results in several wacky misadventures. In many ways, this film unsurprisingly serves as a spiritual prequel to 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, The Rum Diary has neither charm nor over-the-top insanity which made that prior film the cult classic it is.
I suppose the main problem is that the film is completely unfocused. There are several dangling plot lines that are never explored enough to make the viewer care. It could be argued that the events do not matter; it is the character’s journey. However, even then, Kemp does not have any sort of personal revelation or character arc; he is the same person at the beginning and end of the movie. The film tries to set him up as an irresponsible drunk, but nothing in the film follows through with this. If anything, he is shown to be very apt at doing his job even when he heavily drinks.
The biggest sin of The Rum Diary is that the moment the movie shows a sign of narrative direction, it ends. Even worse is that it ends with the dreaded “and-then-what-happened” title cards. It left me, as a viewer, a case of “who cares?”.
The Rum Diary is not very good. Due to its unfocused nature, the film drags. To the film’s credit, the acting is really good (with Depp and Eckhart, how could it not be?) and the cinematography is well done. And, to be honest, some of the misadventures Kemp and his friends get into are amusing. However, those few things do not make up for the severe failings of The Rum Diary. In fact, you can find all the positives in the trailer. You would be better off checking that out instead; it will save you time.
After exploring Adam Sandler’s Funny People in our last edition, and King Kong before it, I’d like to look at a few more films that had mixed receptions. Now that I’m back from vacation, I’ll be profiling two at a time again instead of just one. So let’s get to it!
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Let’s not make any bones about it, Pirates 4 was a tremendous box office office success, grossing over a billion dollars worldwide. But it was an absolute bomb with critics, and was also the lowest-grossing film domestically in the Pirates series. If I am remembering correctly (and I’m pretty sure I am), Pirates 4 was pretty heavily anticipated, even by people who should have known better (the AV Club talked it up in a summer preview feature). It also seemed to be a departure from the previous film trilogy, the third film having left a pretty bad taste in people’s mouths. Gone, to many people’s pleasure, were director Gore Verbinski as well as stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. In were Penelope Cruz (hot off an Oscar win) and Ian McShane (perfectly cast as Blackbeard). Pirates 4 was also based, ostensibly, on a well-received 1987 fantasy novel by Tim Powers (also named On Stranger Tides). So what exactly went wrong?
Main character Captain Jack Sparrow, still ably played by Johnny Depp, was expected to anchor the film essentially. But Depp burnout seemed to have taken hold domestically, especially so after The Tourist flopped in theaters. Though Depp was hardly the problem with the film, it seemed many were disappointed with the direction of On Stranger Tides as a whole. The script also turned out to be just as bad as the previous two films, with characters again forming alliances and double crossing each other at the drop of a hat (seriously, this got old in the second movie), as well as yet another tale of star crossed lovers shoe-horned in (this time with a mermaid!). Additionally, new director Rob Marshall (known for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha) seemed in over his head, as battle scenes were lifelessly choreographed and looked incredibly dumb and fake on film (especially the final battle between at least three different groups of people). Set design also lacked compared to the earlier films, with sets looking especially like they had been cheaply built on a sound stage. This is hardly empirical evidence, but I have found no one who will vehemently defend this film. The original film trilogy, garbage as the third film is, is pretty universally beloved by comparison.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Hard to believe it’s been over two years since Iron Man 2 disappointed in theaters in May 2010. The first Iron Man was the surprise of the summer, grossing over 300 million dollars domestically and revitalizing Marvel-based comic book films after the disappointing third chapters in both the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. Like Pirates 4 and King Kong, Iron Man 2 did well at the box office, though it failed to out-gross its predecessor domestically as it was expected to do. Reviews for the first film were glowing, whereas Iron Man 2 received a more lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers. Before its release, I and many others were eagerly anticipating this film. But I walked out of it shaking my head, wondering where it went wrong. So, what exactly did go wrong with Iron Man 2?
I feel like the Iron Man sequel just had a few too many cooks in the kitchen for its own good. There are three, possibly four, antagonists throughout the film. Downey, Jr. (great again as Stark/Iron Man, but definitely getting a bit too comfortable in the role for my liking) faces off against Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko (great but totally underused), Sam Rockwell’s rival weapons maker Justin Hammer (great but totally unnecessary in this movie), Stark himself (Iron Man destroying his house was just so totally stupid), and lastly Gary Shandling’s politician/the government (again, Stark didn’t need to battle the US gov’t as well as Vanko as well as Hammer as well as himself…. it’s just too much conflict). In short, there’s just way too much story stuffed into this film, leaving it feeling bloated and much too long for its own good. Additionally, the film featured far too much Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and Phil Coulson as agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., possibly leaving more casual viewers completely confused and giving the film an overall feeling of being just set up for the inevitable Avengers movie. Ultimately, Iron Man 2 was the end of Jon Favreau’s relationship with the franchise as director. He moved on from the series, leaving Iron Man 3 to be directed by Hollywood outlaw Shane Black (Favreau is staying on as a producer however).
Dark Shadows is a movie I wanted to like. It boasts a strong cast led by Johnny Depp, the previews suggested a tone which would be darkly quirky (which I’ve previously and fondly compared to The Addams Family), and it gets the always-fantastic visual style of director Tim Burton. Yet, this film just ultimately doesn’t work. There are a number of reasons why this is the case, but for me, the biggest issue was that the film had way too make characters to service.
Beyond Depp’s vampire Barnabas and Eva Green’s Angelique, none of the characters are really explored enough for the audience to care what happens to them. This is made worse by the fact that the movie feels the need to give each of them some sort of storyline.
For example, Chloe Grace Moretz is completely wasted in a role which added completely nothing to the movie. Towards the climax of the film, we get a “twist” (for lack of a better term) with Moretz’s character, but it proves worthless, and it is never really commented on. It reeks of being thrown in there for the sake of being thrown in there.
We learn nothing about Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elizabeth. Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) are completely superfluous. Bella Heathcote does well in her duel role, but for a character who is the crux of the story, she really needed to be developed more.
I commented above that Depp’s Barnabas is explored fairly well. This is true, but his characterization had a fundamental flaw: it was inconsistent. He goes around bemoaning the fact that he is cursed. However, he has no problem killing innocents to feed. Granted, his a blood-thirsty, creature of the night, but it becomes very hard to sympathize with a character who does this and doesn’t show any regret. In one instance, it is suggested that he premeditates killing a group of people after befriending them. It was difficult for me to root for the guy.
It does seem as if the actors were having fun in the movie. However, I ended up not having much fun watching them. Dark Shadows isn’t an outright bad movie. It is just incredibly average. Burton needed to either cut down the amount of characters or expanded their stories. Perhaps time will make me kinder to it. But, as it stands now, I left the theater disappointed and underwhelmed.