THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
Director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp’s deconstruction of the “legend” of “The Lone Ranger” came in for some heavy bashing by a majority of film critics who all seemed to jump on the bandwagon after initial reports circulated about problems with the film. Well, the film isn’t all as bad as the critics — many of whom seem to have it in for Verbinski and Depp — would have you believe. In this two-and-a-half-hour opus, the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes, that of Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Depp), who recounts the untold tale that transformed idealistic lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) into a legend of justice. The story line: Shortly after the Civil War, Reid rides with his Texas Ranger brother to apprehend notorious bandit Bruce Cavendish (a very, very nasty William Fichtner) and his gang. The Rangers are ambushed and the only survivor, Reid, is rescued by the renegade Comanche, Tonto (Depp), and brought back to life as the masked man. The pair pursue Cavendish and get involved in other adventures, including a Comanche uprising, fights with the U.S. cavalry, a blown-up silver mine, and an attempted takeover of the transcontinental railroad. The film abounds with equal amounts of odd-couple comedy, explosive special effects action and Western shoot-em ups. All the irreverence, cockiness and cheekiness that made “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” such a pleasant surprise are here, though with more wild shifts in tone. As many other critics have pointed out, the film is too long, with extraneous, almost silly comedic bits (overdoing the conceit of Reid as a bumbler and Tonto as a wild-eyed, crazy mystic) that could easily have been cut. Nevertheless, the film is exciting, darkly funny and full of ideas as it surveys mid-19th century Manifest Destiny, genocide, greed, and the myth of the Wild West. And when the William Tell Overture kicks in during the final sequence, it’ll bring tears of joy to your face. It’s well-worth watching — just stock up on the popcorn. Co-stars Helena Bonham Carter (as a madam with a shooting ivory leg), Tom Wilkinson (as a corrupt business tycoon) and Ruth Wilson (as the Lone Ranger’s love interest). Extras include a blooper reel, a deleted scene and several insightful behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Warner.
“Elysium” is director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to his innovative sci-fi morality tale “District 9” and, not surprisingly, he here covers some of the same ground — the exploitation of “outsiders” by the privileged elite. But instead of the outsiders being aliens, here they’re the entire population of the Earth, who toil on an overpopulated, ruined planet in the year 2154 for the benefit of the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium. Crime, poverty and disease are the order of the day on Earth; above, on Elysium, it’s all sweetness and light and state-of-the-art medical care that can cure any disease or bodily injury. When factory worker Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to a fatal dose of radiation, his only chance for survival is to illegally travel to Elysium for medical treatments, and to do so he has to reluctantly take on a dangerous mission — one that pits him against Elysium’s nasty, dictator-in-the-making Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her hard-line forces. “Elysium” outstrips “District 9” with its onslaught of spectacular special effects and brutal, bloody violence, but falls short in its story line — a pretty traditional “us vs. them” scenario — and its weak characterizations. Still, it’s a pure fun outing that gets it’s intelligent message about “illegal immigration” across with zest. Co-stars Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, Michael Shanks, Alice Braga, Talisa Soto, Diego Luna and Carly Pope. Extras include several informative behind-the-scenes featurettes on casting, production and special effects. From Sony.
Though “Kick-Ass 2” falls short as a worthy sequel to the 2010 original film that pitted costumed high-school heroes against criminals and all-around bad guys, it still stands up as a fun thrill ride laced with outrageously gory violence and ironic humor. Self-made superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and sweet-faced, foul-mouthed Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) try to return to life as “normal” teenagers, but soon find themselves back on the street fighting crime — this time joined by a new wave of masked crusaders, led by the badass Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), and a new crime boss, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has re-invented himself as The Mother F%&*^r and who has assembled an evil league of super-villains (including a gigantic Amazon called Mother Russia). The nice thing about the Kick Ass series — it just doesn’t take itself as seriously as the other movies derived from comic book characters. Rated R for much-too-filthy language and bloody body parts. Extras include an alternate opening (that, thankfully, ended up on the cutting-room floor) and a couple of inconsequential behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Universal. Co-stars Clark Duke, Lyndsy Fonseca, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Donald Faison, Lindy Booth and Yancy Butler.
“Prisoners” is a revenge thriller that has pretensions to be more than it is — a pulp police procedural that borrows from “Silence of the Lambs” and “Taken” but without those films’ attention to solid plotting and characterization. Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) plays a survivalist-type working man in rural Pennsylvania whose daughter is kidnapped; when the local police, headed up by out-of-his-league Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) dismisses the only suspect, a weird young man (Paul Dano) driving a dilapidated RV near the scene of the abduction, for lack of evidence, Keller takes the law into his own hands — with dire consequences (and a double twist of an ending). Co-stars Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard and Melissa Leo, Extras include two meager behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Warner.
Also due this week: “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” “One Direction” and “The Family.”
“Omnibus: Gene Kelly — Dancing: A Man’s Game”: This episode of the Golden Age of Television’s “Omnibus” cultural series was written, directed, presented, and performed by Gene Kelly. The concept of the hour-long show was to demonstrate that the rhythms, movements and coordination that great athletes used in their sports could be directly correlated to movement in dance. Using the movements of such sports greats as quarterback Johnny Unitas, baseball’s Mickey mantle, boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson, figure skater Richard Button, basketball star Bob Cousy and fencing’s Allan Kwartler, among others, Kelly shows the connections between sports and dance, even choreographing a dance routine based on the sports heroes’ movements. He also traces the history of modern American dance and sets out to prove that grace and beauty in dance is not just the property of women (remember, this was the 1950s) and that it also is “a man’s game.” Highlights include a stunning performance by famed dancer Edward Villella and a great tap-dance routine by Kelly and Robinson. This historic production aired just once on December 21, 1958, over the NBC Television Network. It remained publicly unavailable until now. “Omnibus” was a multiple Emmy and Peabody Award-winning series delivering sophistication, refinement, and sparkling intelligence to a national audience. Its eight groundbreaking seasons — broadcast live and nationwide from 1952 to 1961 over 164 episodes — of live, commercial-network broadcasts featured host Alastair Cooke and the most accomplished luminaries of the day. Extras include a stunning 24-page booklet. A must-have. $29.98 from Entertainment One.
Also due this week — on Blu-ray — are the first three films in the Indiana Jones saga (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”), available individually for the first time (they were part of the “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” Blu-ray set, which was released in September, 2012). $26.98 each from Paramount.
BUZZIN’ THE ‘B’S:
“Night Train to Lisbon” (2013), directed by Bille August and with a stellar cast heading up by Jeremy Irons and including Jack Huston, Melanie Laurent, Martina Gedeck, Tom Courtenay, August Diehl, Bruno Ganz, Christopher Lee and Charlotte Rampling, is a mystery romantic thriller about a middle-aged teacher (Irons) in Bern, Switzerland, whose staid and mundane world comes to a halt when he stops a young woman from jumping off a bridge and taking her life. The woman disappears, leaving behind a coat with a book and a train ticket to Lisbon, Portugal. As the teacher reads the book — a philosophical ode to life, love and romance written by a young doctor just after the 1974-75 anti-Fascist revolution in that country — he’s drawn into the author’s words. Intrigued by it all, he leaves his life behind to find out more about the man and his life, setting off on a journey that uncovers a tragic love triangle during a dark chapter in the country’s history and eventually changes his life forever. It’s melancholy, pensive, sad and a tad old-fashioned, but offers the viewer a thoughtful dissertation on romance, revolution, regrets and revelation. It’s a love story about love and about the love of life. Enter this world only if you want to be slowly but surely entertained and enlightened. Based on the worldwide best-selling novel by Pascal Mercier. From Lionsgate …