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The Lone Ranger (#110 of 10)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Makeup and Hairstyling

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hairstyling

With countless headlines devoted to Bruce Broughton’s nominated-yet-not-nominated Original Song, and Dylan Farrow’s steadfast assault on Blue Jasmine’s nods for Actress and Original Screenplay, this year’s Makeup and Hairstyling category is hardly Oscar’s most scandalous. If you ask me, though, it’s easily the most repellant of all 24 lineups, and one of the more shameful nominee crops in recent Academy history. I suppose Peter Jackson’s furry Middle-earthians can’t get lauded every time out, and it’s probably best that this voting branch didn’t recognize American Hustle, thus fanning the flames of the hater-coined moniker Explosion at the Wig Factory. But, hell, even The Butler’s quasi-campy, half-baked prosthetics would have been a step up from what made the shortlist here: the waxed and bewigged transformation of Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Johnny Depp’s repurposing of a white artist’s vision of a Native American in The Lone Ranger, and Johnny Knoxville’s dangly ears and Stretch Armstrong scrotum in Bad Grandpa. Since the bulk of Leto’s agonizing acceptance-speech torrent has involved vain, ignorant chatter about his physical travails, odds are his movie, the “prestigious” comer to boot, has this win in the bag. And while it’s plausible that voters may kick back and overlook The Lone Ranger’s senseless racial appropriation, the film that could and should dig a spur into Dallas Buyers Club’s lead is Jackass’s latest, which, despite its myriad flaws, boasts a mean team of faux-appendage appliers.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Visual Effects

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Although the conclusion is foregone, this year’s visual effects category reveals some hard truths about the current state of big-budget moviemaking, with a normative platoon of weightless, synthetic images pervading four of the five nominees. But the deadening effect of their digital artifice is not fully illuminated until watching the final and only real contender of the lot. With Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón channels the early days of CGI, when even flawed digital creations seemed to exist within the photographic world of a film. Gravity resonates powerfully in spite of its flaws (namely its transparent narrative mechanics) because Cuarón keeps the focus on his star and emotional anchor (an excellent Sandra Bullock), all the while orchestrating gorgeously sustained images of chaos and destruction, courtesy of cinema’s latest technologies. His seamless employment of visual effects is strictly a means of transmitting the film’s compact, immediate story of survival. Moreover, that the technical marvel is secondary to the overall experience is a testimony to the very tools that made it possible. Gravity not only sets a new high-water mark for visual effects, but also implicitly rebukes the hollow spectacle of modern mainstream cinema. Unlike the sensory blur that its fellow nominees conjure, there’s poetry in Gravity’s images.

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon

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Box Office Rap: One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon
Box Office Rap: One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon

The end of summer is officially upon us. Okay, technically that isn’t until September 21st, but as far as Hollywood is concerned, the summer box-office receipts have been tallied, with the winners and losers already determined. What have we learned? For starters, that Brian De Palma wanted to see The Lone Ranger, but it was gone from theaters before he had a chance to; that lower-budget horror films can stand their own against big-budget blockbusters, though audiences prefer their horror either slovenly supernatural (The Conjuring) or strictly high-concept (The Purge), as proved by the weak opening this past weekend of the excellent, reflexive You’re Next; and that Hollywood is still capable of producing mega-bombs, as demonstrated by the alarming disappearing acts performed by films such as White House Down, R.I.P.D., and Paranoia. Finally, we’ve learned that, all in all, not much has truly changed in the box-office landscape over the past 30 years, as summers continue to be ruled by sequels and commercially driven pap, with the occasional indie (like Fruitvale Station, The Way, Way Back, and Blue Jasmine) lucky enough to make a drop in the bucket.

Box Office Rap You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

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Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema
Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

This past week, Kyle Buchanan wrote an insightful, mostly spot-on piece for the Vulture about this summer’s box-office, and the overall takeaway is that, because of the “belly-flops” incurred by several original titles, combined with the highly profitable success of numerous sequels and franchise entries, studios will only be driven to make bigger budgeted films, almost all of them sequels, leaving little to no room for any kind of original, non-franchise venture. While Buchanan’s logic with regard to the summer tent pole is sound, there’s one glaring omission from his article: the outstanding box-office performances of The Purge and The Conjuring, two original works, both horror films. Not only did they debut at number one, each blazed past a $30 million opening. Several high-profile films failed to achieve such an opening this summer, including After Earth, The Internship, This Is the End, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, 2 Guns, and Elysium. Furthermore, The Conjuring is on pace to have a higher domestic gross than The Wolverine! Compare The Conjuring’s $20 million budget to The Wolverine’s $120 million, and suddenly sequelitis seems an equally dangerous proposition for Hollywood.

Box Office Rap Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

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Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam
Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard would undoubtedly be amused with the August traffic jam Hollywood has made for itself, as 14 wide releases will debut within the next four weeks. June 2013 saw just eight new releases, but even then, a mega-budgeted film such as Man of Steel only managed to stay in theaters for seven weeks, so the likelihood of any August films sticking around for longer than a month becomes a near impossibility. Has the summer market always been so saturated? Looking back to June 1993, seven major studio films saw wide releases, only one less than 2013. However, Jurassic Park played in theaters for 71 consecutive weeks. Even Last Action Hero, a film that brought a studio to its knees, lasted 12 weeks during that 1993 summer.

The casualties this summer have been numerous. Most notable is, perhaps, The Lone Ranger, a $215 million production that fell to just 553 theaters in its fifth weekend and is likely to be out of theaters by Friday by the time this week’s four mega-wide releases drop. What’s an onlooker to make of these developments? On the one hand, from a cultural capital perspective, these are dire days. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent, and spot-on, positive review of Gore Verbinski’s film, in which he bets that, like Steven Spielberg’s 1941, 20 years from now The Lone Ranger will be “re-evaluated” and discussed as “misunderstood.” Seitz’s thoughtful and contemplative review shuns much of the mob-mentality demonstrated by the film’s embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes score and reveals the underlying problem with such an adopted critical system: emphasis on scores and figures over ideas and commentary. Yet his perceptive insights are lost amid this contemporary climate because, in turn, the marketplace cannot hold such a product long enough to receive honest feedback and critique; the “critical consensus” passes immediate judgment on The Lone Ranger to expedite the film’s financial (and cultural) execution. On the other hand, a neo-Marxist couldn’t help but delight in Mouse House miscalculation, as the film appears unlikely to match its budget through even its worldwide haul, which currently stands at $175 million.

Summer of ‘88: Short Circuit 2

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Short Circuit 2</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Short Circuit 2</em>

Hollywood has rightfully made a big show of distancing itself from its blackface legacy, a tradition that stretched from the full-tilt racism of The Birth of a Nation all the way to Laurence Olivier’s 1965 version of Othello, not to mention the grotesque caricatures many black performers were forced to inhabit. But surprisingly little mention is made of brownface, the equally unpleasant practice of having white actors creep a few shades darker than usual, donning bronzer or maybe just getting a serious tan, in order to portray Latin, Native American, or Asian characters. Maybe it’s because it’s still going on to this day (seen recently in The Big Wedding and currently with Johnny Depp’s turn as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, although rarely in as baldly ill-advised fashion as in Short Circuit and it’s 1988 sequel, which finds Fisher Stevens going Sub-Continental as Indian robotics engineer Ben Jahveri, Quik-E-Mart accent, goofy mannerisms, and all. Putting aside the fact that most modern-day portrayals of Indians still haven’t moved very far beyond these rote stereotypical trappings, the film’s cartoon presentation of this character seems alien to an otherwise open-minded, tender movie, its kid-aimed messages on the fragility of life and the importance of acceptance backed up by surprisingly solid filmmaking.