“No warning. No escape.” No kidding. Pompeii

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Today is Oscar Sunday, when Hollywood self-congratulates to the point of apoplexy, celebrating the best and brightest (or most cannily marketed) that the film industry has to offer.

So how do I honor this momentous day? I go to see hack auteur Paul W.S. Anderson’s “historical” epic Pompeii.

You might recall Anderson’s last outing in which he thought it would be nifty to turn The Three Musketeers into some steam-punk orgy of tomfoolery that included fire-breathing, clockworks dirigibles. And he’s also made a whole bunch of junk movies based on video games.

So this track record certainly qualifies him to direct a film depicting one of the most compelling and haunting natural disasters to befall mankind. Right.

The script is basically a sugary smoothie of no nutritional value, blending the corny bad boy/good girl/class warfare-doomed romance of Titanic, the episodic “do we really care if these people get crushed by flaming objects?” disaster of The Towering Inferno, and a smattering of the weirdly homoerotic oeuvre of Anderson’s fellow b-movie ham-hander Zack Snyder (see: 300 …. or the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue).

As for the obvious Titanic swipe (another movie I can’t stand, I might add) Anderson even has lead Emily Browning intoning “I’ll never let you go!” at the film’s abrupt conclusion. In a sign of some cinematic advancement, though, she doesn’t then instantaneously contradict herself by dropping her beau Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) into the briny depths – as Kate Winslet did to a blue-lipped, bug-eyed Leonardo DiCaprio.

You’d be better off watching a History Channel documentary on the volcano that ate a Roman seaside village than this over-baked tripe. And so would the rest of the cast. Why is brilliant Jared Harris continuing his downward slide appearing in crud like this? He and Carrie-Anne Moss soldier through their stilted, portentous dialogue about investing in Pompeii’s new vomitoria or some such nonsense. I think he’s the mayor of Pompeii? I have no idea.

Then Kiefer Sutherland shows up seeming very … Kiefer Sutherland … as ominous Roman Senator (by way of Malibu) who wants to steal Harris’ daughter away. ‘Cause of course when a volcano (which I will admit is truly impressive, by the way) starts blowing chunks all over town, what would you do? I’d stop for a little palace intrigue, myself. Who cares if the grocery store just got flash-fried! Let’s twirl our proverbial mustache and destroy a family for kicks!

(And didn’t Mount Vesuvius erupt like instantly so that people were trapped in time baking bread and stuff? That’s what I remember from grade school, though that could be totally wrong. That would have made for a much shorter movie, and we could have avoided the laughable moments of crockery shaking and dust falling from ceilings as people furrowed their brows confused about the imminent mountain-go-boom headed their way.)

I was entertained, but I half expected Fred Astaire, Tony Curtis, Ricardo Montalban, Shelley Winters, and Jean Simmons to show up wearing togas and hanging out with bell boys or maybe breaking into a musical number. That would have helped immeasurably.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound and Memory Lane both also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.

Nature is out of balance: Disney’s The Lone Ranger

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Perhaps I am just contrary. Often, when all of humanity looooooves a movie (see: Titanic, Dances with Wolves, The English Patient, Top Gun), I can’t stand it. And when a film is vilified to box office extinction (e.g. John Carter, Daredevil, Speed Racer, and The Golden Compass), I actually think it’s pretty good.

Maybe my expectations are just suitably lowered by the anti-hype. Maybe the public has an unfair axe to grind with these particular “flop” films. Maybe I always root for the over-marketed, over-budgeted underdog kicked around the Hollywood playground. Maybe all of the above.

(In defense of my admittedly dodgy tastes, I am united – in at least one instance – with all moviegoers, all film critics, and anyone with a pulse in loathing Ryan Reynolds’ godawful Green Lantern.)

This brings me to The Lone Ranger, akin to John Carter, Disney’s latest attempt to create a blockbuster tent pole franchise from a radio serial property. Hollywood execs, just an observation, but this particular strategy never works – and, while I adored The Shadow, The Phantom and the marginally financially successful Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, the cash and Oscars weren’t exactly flying at those pictures either.

But let me say this: I liked The Lone Ranger. I mean, I liked The Lone Ranger A LOT! I thought the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, made by the same troika of Gore Verbinski/Jerry Bruckheimer/Johnny Depp, were over-baked, shrill, and much-too-self-indulgent (especially everything after the first entry). I did not have the same issues with The Lone Ranger.

Yes, they could have trimmed about 20 minutes (what summer movie couldn’t this year?), but I thought that pairing Armie Hammer (this poor guy, like his cinematic “older brother” Jon Hamm, can’t seem to catch any real starring success on the silver screen) and a beautifully understated yet madcap Johnny Depp, as the Lone Ranger and Tonto respectively, was perfection.

The film slyly turns the dutiful Native American sidekick trope on its square, fuddy-duddy head, positioning Depp’s Tonto (who has been working this deadpan schtick since the insipid Benny & Joon) as a wry, world-weary, rubber-jointed Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin anti-hero.

The animal-lover in me winced at a few odd choices, like cannibal rabbits that make a very brief appearance salivating at the campsite fire of Tonto and the Ranger. Or the requisite horses falling over and over. (I really hate that about Westerns.) However, I do know that these choices all were to support some theme that the filmmakers were exploring about nature being out of balance. (Nearly every character appears to give voice to some derivation of this idea at least once.)

In fact, the film sets as its backdrop the industrialization of America (as represented by the marvelously understated villainy of Tom Wilkinson and the not-so-understated but equally fun hijinks of William Fichtner and Barry Pepper), literally driving train tracks through the untouched beauty of Native America homelands in the West.

The twists and turns in the plot are as predictable as those in a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner short, but the journey is a big, dumb summer delight. For once, in my view anyway, Depp’s zany-hat-wearing, fey eccentricities are actually in service to the narrative (unlike another hit film I hated, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland). Some critics have unfairly labeled his performance boring and dull; I would counter that, for the first time in a long time, he is stealthy and nuanced, deriving humor organically from situation (and only a pratfall or two).

I liked that the film layered in messages about respecting our history, our environment, our culture, and our world. In a movie called The Lone Ranger, released over a Fourth of July weekend with tie-in toys available at Subway, those themes ain’t gonna be too deeply explored … so just give these blockbuster kids a break, willya?