"If we ride together, we ride for justice."
John Reid (Armie Hammer)
At a San Francisco fair in 1933, an aged Comanche named Tonto tells a young attendee about his adventures with the Lone Ranger - the last of a group of Texas Rangers that were betrayed and executed whilst in pursuit of escaped criminal Butch Cassidy and his gang. Discovered by Tonto among his fallen comrades, the young lawman and his new companion uncover a diabolical scheme that involves the Comanche and a new rail line being built between East and West. Faced with adversity at every turn, the Ranger must learn the true path of justice in the lawless Old West.
Budget setbacks, schedule changes, chickenpox outbreaks, the death of a stunt supervisor - Disney's The Lone Ranger has certainly had more than its fair share of troubles. Since the beginning of 2007, the rights to the radio series character bounced from studio to studio until producer Jerry Bruckheimer set the project up at Disney, only to see the project pushed back in favour of the last Pirates of the Caribbean film. When the shoot finally began last year under director Gore Verbinski, the difficult pre-production seemed a cakewalk compared to the troubles still to come. Naturally, the critics and media commentators have had their knives out in waiting and they have been unscrupulous in their attacks. This is a pity because the film, while by no means perfect, is a rather entertaining and exciting action comedy that manages to both stay loyal to its source material and update the legend for modern audiences.
The casting of Johnny Depp as the Lone Ranger's trusty sidekick Tonto has been one of the major avenues of attack, especially when early pictures from the set surfaced online. Depp and Costume Designer Penny Rose based the look on a painting by Kirby Sattler and, while it is certainly unusual, it works with Depp's interpretation of the character. With Depp in the role, Tonto has been put front and center of the movie and this has certainly shifted some of the focus from the title character (something that many critics were quick to jump on). It is not a complete power transfer and the weighting is considerably more balanced that early reports have suggested. Depp makes the character his own, a Comanche scout who may have fallen from the path, looking to avenge a terrible injustice to his people. The trademark pratfalls and quirky mannerisms are all present and correct, but they are relatively kept at acceptable levels. Up and coming Hollywood star Armie Hammer is the Man in the Mask and he fits the role well. Perhaps it is with Hammer that some of the slapstick elements in the script fall a little flat, but he succeeds in convincing the audience that his naïve attorney would stand up for truth and justice outside of the law. And with support from Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, William Fichtner and Helena Bonham Carter among others, the film benefits from a strong ensemble.
Narrative-wise, the film uses flashbacks to the Old West used superlatively by William Goldman in The Princess Bride - the elder telling a story to the younger. This is a textbook example of the untrustworthy narrator technique, which allows the audience a higher suspension of disbelief. It does disjoint the flow at times, but Verbinski has a firmer grip on the plot than previously shown in the Pirates… films. The action sequences, particularly the final runaway train set-piece, bristle with invention and energetic thrill as the heroes leap, bound and even horse-ride atop the out-of-control locomotive. Some may find the idea of a heart-eating villain distasteful in a family film and perhaps a few story strands leave the film feeling a little flabby (Bonham Carter's crocked brothel madam is fun but hardly essential to the storyline, for example), but when it hits it's stride, The Lone Ranger is solid action entertainment. Don't let the critics sway your decision - see it for yourself and decide.
While it may not receive All-time Classic status, The Lone Ranger is an enjoyable adventure that should bring new fans to the legend of the Man in the Mask, while satisfying fans of the classic radio and TV series of yesteryear. Hi-yo Silver, away!
"Jason Statham... Jason Bourne... Jason Ar-go-naut!"
Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan)
Local radio station North Norfolk Digital is about to be taken over by a leading broadcast chain in a major takeover and one of the veteran DJs are for the chop. After sabotaging a fellow colleague to save his own skin, Norwich broadcasting icon Alan Partridge finds himself in the middle of a siege as his canned co-worker Pat Farrell takes the new Shape Radio staff hostage at gunpoint. With their lives in his hands, Alan must act as liaison between the police and Farrell - and along the way he realizes that this deadly crisis could just be the shot in the arm his fading career desperately needs.
Unlike most other countries in the Western hemisphere, the United Kingdom has a healthy enthusiasm for turning its beloved television sitcoms into big screen outings. While a few have succeeded (recent examples include The Inbetweeners and Borat!), most have come crashing down with an almighty thud. The Seventies were the primary decade for such big screen frivolity with the likes of Porridge, Dad's Army and On The Buses among the shows bravely, if largely unsuccessfully, making a move to the big screen. So it is with trepidation that one of the most distinctive comedy creations of the last 20 years steps forward in his tan brogues and mock leather driving gloves, ready to join this illustrious list of small screen fixtures on a trip to the cinema.
Steve Coogan's hopeless, insecure and narcissistic radio DJ Alan Partridge began life on Radio 4's On The Hour, before graduating to television with Chris Morris' irreverent take on modern news broadcasting, The Day Today. Knowing Me, Knowing You, I'm Alan Partridge and Mid-Morning Matters have helped to cement Coogan's hapless misogynist broadcaster as a true British comedy legend. It is therefore a huge relief that Partridge's first foray into movies refuses to dilute the character for larger audiences and makes a film that you could truly believe could have been directed by Partridge himself.
Unlike most British TV-to-Movie adaptations, Alpha Papa refuses to re-locate our "hero" to foreign climes (the Brit abroad shtick has been flogged to death). Instead, he remains firmly in his natural habitat - a radio station in Norwich. The kidnap plot has been done before and is rather thin on development, but there is enough meat on its bones for the film makers to hang their jokes on. And thankfully, the jokes come thick and fast, with a strong hit rate to boot.
Alan's awkward subjects for radio discussion ("Which is the worst monger - fish, iron, rumour or war?"), his self-serving behaviour (crashing a meeting to defend his co-worker, only to help fire him when his own job is on the line) and classic one-liners ("I am Siege Face!") make for ripe comedy gold. It is also refreshing that the secondary characters get their chance to shine. Particular mention must go to Colm Meaney's Pat Farrell, who evokes as much audience sympathy as viable danger to his hostages. Felicity Montagu's put-upon PA Lynn, Simon Greenall's idiotic Geordie Michael and Phil Cornwell's former DJ rival Dave Clifton make welcome returns, while Sean Pertwee, Nigel Lindsay, Tim Key and Darren Boyd are fine new additions to the world of Partridge.
The script is strongest when Alan is allowed free reign to insult and ingratiate his colleagues, friends and anyone else within his radius. The jokes, while perhaps not quite to the level of pure Partridge genius, are still smarter and funnier than most comedies in the past few years - Alan's "business centre", an impromptu jingle composition and a transcript from Alan and Pat's radio broadcast during the siege are particularly hilarious. The plotting is miniscule and the middle section does sag at times. But director Declan Lowney and the writers keep the focus on Partridge, ensuring that the fans get everything could want - a film with their hero left, right and centre of the action. Welcome to Big School, Alan!
In a summer of bloated blockbusters and stale comedies, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a breath of North Norfolk fresh air. Non-fans won't be convinced and strangers to the character will be divided, but for everyone else Norwich's second greatest Briton has just smacked down Hollywood's big boys to provide a funny, engaging and enjoyable night at the cinema - A-HA!