Sunday, July 28, 2013

CHICAGO DAZZLES by Pamela Powell

The Acting Out Theatre Company produced CHICAGO, its third outdoor musical in as many years, this weekend, July 26, 27, and 28.  Each year, the productions have become more elaborate, increasing the complexity and enjoyment for all the patrons.  CHICAGO, set in the streets of Momence, Illinois which probably haven't changed much since the roaring 20's, razzled and dazzled the audience even before the show began.  Walking down the blocked off street was like walking back in time.  The store front windows were transformed to the magical era of the 20's complete with period furniture, haberdashery, and fine clothing.  Ahhh, the romance of the bygone era.  Lining the sidewalks were food and drinks reminiscent of that same time period.  One could enjoy a Side Car or an Old Fashioned before taking your seat in the sold out show.  Patrons brought folding chairs which filled the entire block from curb to curb.  Children, moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas took their seats while others stood in the back just to be a part of this production.

The music rang out along the street as the sun began to set.  As dark lined clouds rolled in to set the ominous mood it was as if they knew "murder and mayhem" were about to take place in this otherwise quiet, sleepy little town of Momence.  Everyone was bundled in fleece jackets and cuddled together under blankets trying to stay warm on this unusually cold July evening.  The cold quickly left you as you were mesmerized by the clear, crisp, lyrical song opening the show.  As the sun sank further into the night sky, the corruption equalled the darkness falling as Mama belted out her number.  Strong,
melodic voices filled the night air while complex dance numbers with girls being lifted and twirled punctuated the night sky's background.  Utilizing every portion of this elaborate and beautiful set design, while the orchestra played on the second level, the actors could be seen with the orchestra, on the main floor stage as well as sliding down the poles located on each end.  The striking costumes complete with sequence and dazzling glitter caught the spot light and multiple colored lights to captivate and transport us all to the Chicago of days gone by.  Visually, there was never a dull moment.

CHICAGO's music about murder and acquittal is exceptionally upbeat and fun; contrary to what one would think given the topic!  Acting Out Theatre's lead roles of Velma Kelly played by the stunningly gorgeous Angela Chinn and Roxie Hart played by  the striking and talented Kendra DeMarah exhibited a calibre of performance equivalent to a musical performance in our nearby city of Chicago.  Both Kendra and Angela hit each and every note with the perfection of a seasoned veteran.  Not missing a beat, acting and dancing along with their powerful singing, the two portrayed perfectly their characters' sweet, egotistical, and murderous souls.  Amos Hart, played by none other than the infamous Pat Skelly, couldn't have been cast any better.  His sweet, trusting personality and kind heart was pleasantly painted upon his character.  Amos' sadness poured out onto the stage for all as it elicited sympathy.  Then we had Billy Flynn played by Kyle Cassady who seized you auditorily and pulled you along his character's self-absorbed, womanizing journey.  The entire cast embodied such deft abilities as the audience was captured by song, dance, music, and story.

This level of success isn't accomplished alone.  It takes a skilled director to have a vision of completion and to communicate with the cast.  Director
Sharon Richardson's innate knowledge and love of theater enabled her to do just what needed to be done.  But there's also the need for organization, time, talent, and generosity which all play a part in the success of a musical.  From stage hands, choreographers, musical directors, musicians, set designers, seamstresses, and make up artists, and many more,  all must be coordinated to be successful.  CHICAGO was nothing short of successful.    This small community with a big heart and heaps of talent,  entertained hundreds of people to this uniquely set musical.  I'm proud to be a part of such an inspirational and supportive community that dares to reach beyond the norm and bring quality productions to all of us.

Next year, the theater group will entertain us with LES MISERABLES.  For more information, go to  Also, don't forget that A NIGHT IN SLEEPY HOLLOW will be October 11,12, 18, and 19 at the Perry Farm and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE a radio play will be live at the Majestic Theater on December 13, 14, and 15th this year.

For photos of the production, go to:
Photos of CHICAGO

For photos of pre-production, go to:
Behind the Scenes of CHICAGO

Friday, July 26, 2013


Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, and Rila Fukushima
Directed by: James Marigold
Rated: PG-13 
Running Time 126 minutes

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Wolverine, he is a part of a group called the X-Men.  The Wolverine, aka Logan, is a mutant. He is impervious to injury which makes him immortal.  He is also a  “soldier” who is here to fight for justice.  The first movie, “X-Men,” came along in 2000 based on the Marvel Comic Book series.   This was followed by  X-Men: The Last Stand” and  “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”  Then in 2011, it was “X-Men: First Class.”  We are now in the current time, 2013, with “The Wolverine.”  Whew!  But don’t get comfortable folks, because just when you think you are in the here and now with this entire series, in 2014 the movie “X-Men: Days of Future Past” will come along. You might ask yourself, “Will this be a prequel to the upcoming sequel?”  A crystal ball combined with a history book of the X-Men is necessary along with a Tylenol!

 In “The Wolverine,” Logan is summoned to Japan to say his farewell to an old friend he saved during the bombings of Nagasaki, Japan during WWII.  However, there is more than meets the eye as Logan sees why he is truly asked to see his old friend.  The beginning takes us back to Logan’s meeting with Yashida.  We see the two young men helping each other as the impending bombing is upon them.  After Logan saves Yashida from imminent death, the scene quickly fast forwards to the current time.  Logan is a troubled, dark, and somber individual hiding in the cold, dark, and troubled northern-most territories.  Every aspect of Logan is dark and troubled as he wrestles with his past and struggles with his future.  Yukio who is sent by Yashida to find Logan, locates him in his oh-so-troubled world.  She then brings him back to Tokyo under the pretense that Yashida is dying and wants to say “thank you” and “goodbye.”  Logan soon realizes that Yashida wants more than to impart his kind words as a dying man.  Logan finds himself fighting for his life and for the young, beautiful damsel in distress.  To do this he battles a myriad number of groups of bad guys including a “femme fatale”  and her band of thugs.

“The Wolverine” has an intense beginning with a promising story-line, if you are into the Marvel Comic Book genre.  Unfortunately, after that first scene, the story falls apart very quickly.  It’s slow pace and constant close-ups of longing looks devoid of emotion rapidly becomes monotonous.   As soon as Logan and his “body guard” Yukio step off the plane onto Japanese ground, the remainder of the movie focuses on long, drawn out Japanese translations, the previously mentioned blank looks, and more Kung Fu fight scenes than Bruce Lee could have ever imagined.

Predictable and monotonous are the two words that describe this film.  As it is a comic book movie with a hero, predictable is fine and to be expected.  It’s the monotony that is unacceptable.  Of course there will be fight scenes, but to have more than 75% of the film as slicing and dicing truly becomes boring.    If that isn’t bad enough, the dialogue is so contrived and ridiculous that it is almost funny. Almost.  More humor would have helped this film tremendously. Caring about the main character is also a necessity and with Logan’s monotone voice and flat affect, you can’t connect with or care about him.  The one saving grace of this film is the classic fight scene atop the Bullet Train, reminiscent of Bond. The special visual effects here are captivating.

“The Wolverine” is a tedious production which continues the saga of Logan.  The story drags and the continuous fight scenes are repetitive and monotonous.  With the characters devoid of emotion, the audience is left not caring.  This is an equation for disaster for a movie.  Skip this one.

Thursday, July 25, 2013



Lumieres!  Cam`era!  Action!  The 3rd annual Chicago French Film Festival is taking place  this Friday, July 26 through Thursday, August 1 at the historic Music Box Theatre.  This ever-growing film festival, celebrating French influences in the Chicago area, continues to give viewers a chance to see films they might not otherwise ever see.  Films ranging from love (of course, it’s French) to bank heists and kidnappings with a smattering of comedy are all shown at this contemporary film festival.  In addition to today’s French hits, the festival is also highlighting the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty or the Treaty of Friendship between Germany and France.  To honor this historic moment, the 1987 film “Wings of Desire” will be shown.  This timeless classic features the German director Wim Wenders and the French actress Solveig Dommartin; a perfect pairing to represent the Elysee Treaty.

During this week-long film festival, twelve films will be shown on various days and times for all to enjoy.  Films are chosen to interest a wide variety of viewers.  Do you love romantic comedies?  Then you are in luck as “Fly Me to the Moon” starring Diane Kruger is the Friday night opening movie.  “Populaire” and “The Stroller Strategy” have a quirky, fun romantic side to them as well.  If love isn’t your topic of desire, there are plenty of other movies such as “11.6”  which targets the real life story of Toni Musulin, a criminal who pulled off robberies without any firearms.  “The Prey” is another intense crime film which promises to keep you on the edge of your seat.  If  you still haven’t found the genre that interests you, there are also movies about food, wine, and relationships.  Who can refuse a movie that centers around wine and food?  “The Chef” and “You Will be My Son” does just that while telling a story of family, loyalty, responsibility, and connections.  The Chicago French Film Festival even covers the Family Drama genre with “The Dandelions” which looks reminiscent of the classic Madeline books.  Everyone can find a film in this festival to love.

What if you don’t speak French and subtitles intimidate you?  No worries here as these carefully chosen films will enable you to forget you’re even reading subtitles.  Cinema is an art form and France is most definitely known for its art.  Cinema crosses all nations’ boundaries by utilizing lighting, sound, special effects, and great acting.  When all of these attributes properly align, language is never a barrier.  As Karin Hansen, Associate Director of Programming/Guest Relations stated, “When the story and performances are fun, compelling, touching, [and] endearing, you connect with the characters on screen on an emotional level and you completely forget about the fact that you are quickly glancing at the translations; it all effortlessly comes together for the viewer.”   If you’re looking to delve more deeply into film, a question and answer period following the showing of “Wings of Desire” will take place.  Sara Hall, Associate Professor of Germanic Studies at UIC and Lorraine Grolaeau Darrow, Director and Screenwriting Faculty at DePaul University will enlighten you regarding the making of this classic film.  See this film in a way you had never thought possible and enrich your viewing experience by taking part in this special interaction after the show.

Film festivals are a wonderful way to explore new cinematic adventures. Go on an adventure this next week and head north to attend the Chicago French Film Festival. Not only can you see unreleased French films, but you can entertain yourself and your family for the entire day.  The location of the Music Box Theatre is in the Wrigleyville area which lends itself to a myriad number of activities.  Enjoy a day of shopping, sunbathing on the beach, and dining as well as seeing artistic, entertaining, and unique French films.  Below you will find some film pairings to make your trip to the city that much more enjoyable.  For more information about the Chicago French Film Festival including a detailed schedule and description of the films, go to  Tickets are $10 per film, but you can also purchase money saving All Access Passes for $75 or a 9 Film Pass for $50.

“Populaire,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” “The Stroller Strategy” and “Fly Me to the Moon” can be paired with Deleece restaurant next door to the Music Box Theatre.
“The Chef” pairs perfectly with Southport and Irving restaurant, just a few blocks north of The Music Box.
“You Will be My Son” can be enjoyed with Que Syrah Wine Bar at 3726 N. Southport.
Other nearby, delicious restaurants include Blue Bayou and Cullen’s Bar & Grill.  Some restaurants offer discounts if you show them your ticket stub. 

Viva la France a` Chicago!

Friday, July 19, 2013

R.I.P.D. FULL OF LIFE by Pamela Powell

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Rated PG-13

“R.I.P.D.” opened today in direct competition with “Red 2.”  Interestingly, both the original “Red” and “R.I.P.D” were directed by Robert Schwentke.  With his previous success and experience, can Schwentke bring “R.I.P.D.” to life with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds?  Can he compete with the sequel to his film?  Read on to decide the outcome for yourself.

Officer Nick Walker, madly in love with his beautiful wife, left for his day’s work as a Boston police officer.  Sadly, Officer Walker was murdered in the line of duty later that day.  As he ascended to meet his Maker and stand in judgement, he abruptly took a detour and was given a choice:  Be judged as a dirty cop or help out the R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department) to capture Dead-O’s who walked among the living having somehow escaped their own judgement day.  Dead-O’s wreaked havoc on everything they touched and impacted important things like wide spread disease and cell phone reception. The choice was simple for Nick as he accepted his 100 year tour as an officer of the R.I.P.D. Officer Walker partnered with Roycephus Pulsifer, aka “Roy” to find these evil undead and put them to rest once and for all.   

This action-comedy truly had a unique storyline that was set up for creative special effects, interesting banter, and humorous situations from the beginning.  Roy and Nick, at odds with one another from the moment they met, had a chemistry not unlike nitroglycerin paired with a match.  The two worked together toward the same goal, but not without a few wisecracks and gags which definitely elicited several chuckles.  As the intensity of the film increased and an impending apocalypse (Yes, here is another movie that has an apocalyptic theme!), more explosions, car chases, and demolitions occurred.  Dead-O’s were everywhere and their metamorphosis from normal human appearance to their true look was mesmerizing. With the two worlds of the dead and the living intersecting, an almost cartoon-like world began to develop.  Could the world handle that in addition to the Wild West and modern day police tactics colliding? 

Jeff Bridges nailed the old western cowboy character which came as no surprise.  I think he had some practice with “True Grit.”  Ryan Reynolds’ role as the handsome, charming, doe-eyed hero wasn’t much of a stretch either.   It was the interaction of these two opposites that was most entertaining.  Mary-Louise Parker as the “Proctor,” was the epitome of unreal cartoon perfection.  Her role gave the film the edge that it needed to lift it off the ground.  There always has to be a bad guy in all of this, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Suffice it to say, the role was well-cast.

Given the unique storyline of this film, “R.I.P.D.” still followed a typical format which gave way to predictability. Even with this predictability, it was still entertaining. It allowed you to escape into this unrealistic adventure, hold you willingly captive, knowing the entire time how it was going to end, but you still enjoyed watching the story unfold.  Thankfully, as the film wrapped up its loose ends, it still had a few amusing surprises.  

“R.I.P.D.” was a lighthearted, predictable, yet entertaining movie of total escapism.  The characters and special effects kept you interested even if the story became foreseeable.  If you’re in your teens or older, you’ll enjoy this high-spirited film about love, loyalty, crime-solving, and justice with some captivating special effects and high action. If you’re looking for an intellectually stimulating film, skip this one as you’ll be disappointed.  If you just want escapism and entertainment, you’re in luck.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

BELLEVILLE reviewed by Pamela Powell

Starring:  Kate Arrington, Cliff Chamberlain, Chris Boykin, and Alana Arenas
Written by:  Amy Herzog
Directed by Anne Kauffman

I bet your marriage is perfect.  I bet you and your spouse communicate effectively about the day to day activities as well as your hopes and dreams for you and your children.  I bet I’m living in a fantasy world if I believe all that.  I’m married.  I know.  Let’s face it, men and women communicate differently.  In the new Steppenwolf production of ‘Belleville,’ they throw in a few psychological disorders just to play with the whole concept of effective communication in a marriage.  Abby and Zack, professionals living in a chic part of Paris, learn more about themselves than either of them had planned.  Coming to grips with this knowledge brings both of them to a point of no return.  Their friendship with their landlords is the impetus for this self-realization coming to the forefront of their rather delicate and tenuous lives.

Zack, a medical doctor, was proudly completing research in pediatric AIDS at a research center in Paris and Abby, a bubbly, nervous yoga instructor, struggled with the everyday activities like grocery shopping.    Communication problems were evidenced from the moment they interacted on stage.  Abby unexpectedly came home early from a yoga class because no one showed up.  Thinking she was alone, she waltzed into the bedroom and found her husband watching some adult entertainment on his computer in a rather uncompromising position.  As Zack hurriedly zipped his trousers and ran out of the bedroom after her to "explain,” it was as if the two barely knew one another.  Between fidgeting and stuttering, the couple moved on to discuss safer issues like Christmas shopping.  This instance was just a pebble in the path for this couple to ride over.  As the play continued, the pebbles became rocks and then impassable boulders  Explosives would be required to make this road passable.   

Zack and Abby’s story was truly a love story based in untruths and miscommunications.  Sounds like a lot of other relationships I know.  However, this couple really knew each other in many other respects.  They finished each others sentences, they knew the stories their spouse was going to tell with just the utterance of a single word.  But with each of these stories, and a little bit of alcohol or other stimulant (or depressant), the words became daggers aimed straight for the heart.  Again, this sounded reminiscent of several couples I knew.   But with Zack and Abby there were inherent differences.  For example, how deep and dark were their secrets?   How far down the abyss of life would their untruths take them before they could surface?  Zack and Abby soon found out if it truly was a bottomless pit.

All of this dagger thrusting wasn't without humor and sweetness, though.  Abby and Zack had known each other for years.  With Abby’s history came sadness.  Zack was understanding and patient and offered apparent unconditional love.  Abby was proud of her husband for all of his accomplishments.  Her family was proud of him as well.  However, some inherent mistakes took their toll on the couple and more was revealed about each of their insecurities, immaturity, and poor decisions.  A psychological evaluation of both characters could divulge much more than just a young couple who were still immature in their relationship.  

Abby, played by Kate Arrington, captured the viewer’s heart with her sweet, child-like insecurities about being in this strange country where she didn't speak the language. Her husband, however, was a different nut to crack.  He was a little more complicated and I was continually trying to figure out exactly where he stood.  The landlords, Alouine and Amina (Chris Boykin and Alana Arenas) appeared to be the younger, yet more stable and secure couple.  When the two couples mixed, with their own set of communication issues, the impending explosion occurred.  

Kate Arrington’s measured and deliberate speech kept you anchored to her character.  The deliberateness of her prosodic delivery added to some of her awkwardly humorous lines.  The intentional word use of “buddy” and “homey” indicated subtle relationship issues between the two.  With the majority of the play having just Zack and Abby on stage, it was a strong set.  The script was tight for the most part.  Interspersed humor kept the play moving in the right direction.  Where the play lost me was the end as it made me angry.  The final scene of several minutes took place solely in French.  I was a speech-language pathologist in my former professional life and I think that I can read body language and tone of voice quite well.  I thought I got the gist of what  the couple on the stage was communicating, but what if I was wrong???  What if there was a huge reveal at the end and because I chose to take Spanish in high school instead of French, I completely missed the ending???  Adding to my confusion was the higher decibel background noise of the busy French street during the conversation in French.  I strained to try and hear the two on stage.  I also couldn’t really see any expression on their faces.  Was that intentional or am I getting old (not!) where both my hearing and vision are failing me in this rather intimate theater?  With my utter disbelief that I didn’t understand the final scene, I took it upon myself to chat with my neighbor about it.  Her response was, “It was necessary.”  Hmmmm.  Several other people in the audience during the post-discussion (I love this about the Steppenwolf), stated that it was “brilliant,” and “poignant” and now I’m paraphrasing, “...a wake up call to Americans that we are not the only ones in the world and other languages are spoken.”  Again, hmmm.  I wonder how the French audience would react to an English ending?

BELLEVILLE is a wonderfully touching play delving deeply into the psyche of two married couples and their inherent communication or lack thereof.  Intermingling humor and balancing it with reality gave this play clear and decisive form that was truly entertaining.  With no intermission and its 100 minute running time, it was captivating and time flew by.  Completely entertaining adequately describes this play with the exception of my perception of the ending.   Grab your spouse, have dinner at Vinci or Black Duck and spark some novel conversation based on seeing this play.  

BELLEVILLE is playing at the Steppenwolf Theatre through August 25 in the downstairs theatre.  Tickets range in price from $20-$78 and $15 for students.  Go to for more information and to purchase tickets.  If you go, be sure to catch the post-production discussion as they are always enlightening.  Please be sure to comment on my site about the ending after you see this play!  I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts!


Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, and Clark Gregg
Screenplay written by: Joss Whedon
Directed by: Joss Whedon

I will confess that although I love many Shakespearean plays, I have never read nor have I seen "Much Ado About Nothing."  I missed out on some fundamental pieces of literature in my youth and have tried to play catch up in adulthoold; a rather impossible task, but I will continue to try.  With my first attempt to see this film in Chicago, I should have arrived 35 seconds earlier as the woman ahead of me in line bought the last ticket.  I attempted it again a full week later and thankfully succeeded.  Another confession:  I almost left in the first 15 minutes.  I was kicking myself for not brushing up on this play prior to going.  It would have taken just a few minutes to read the Cliff Notes, or SparkNotes as they are now called, to get the characters straight in my head and the basic premise.  Thankfully, I stayed and true to every other Shakespearean play I have seen, even given the language, I was still able to understand the content completely.

For those of you in the same boat as me, let me give you the short-hand version of the premise of "Much Ado About Nothing."  Leonato, a nobleman living in a luxurious house in Messina, Italy with his daughter and niece, welcomed returning friends from war.  Immediately, one of these men, Claudio, fell in love with Leonato's daughter, Hero.  With a little matchmaking, the two were to be married within the week.  That is, until the evil Don John tampered with these plans using deception and lies. Meanwhile, Beatrice and Benedick with their sharp, sarcastic tongues, lash out at each other, but everyone can see beneath these strikes a fortitude of love abounded.  Again, with a little help from their friends, they would find true love, but not before many a silly, fun, and heartfelt  (classic Shakespearean) scenes unfolded!

Joss Whedon not only adapted this play to the screen, but also
directed it.  In my mind, this was a bold and brave move.  Tackling Shakespeare, utilizing his vernacular, and trying to make it appeal to today's audiences wasn't an easy task.  However, he truly succeeded.  Set in today's date, filmed in black and white, and speaking in Shakespearean language was a true amalgam of theater.  The black and white technique gave "Much Ado" the feeling of a 1950's movie.  The clothing accentuated this era as well.  But the iPod programming for music and the DSLR camera brought it in to the current day.  Only the language felt vintage; the themes of love and miscommunication were consistent from Shakespearean times through to today.  Given Whedon's varied background, it's no surprise he was able to pull off this huge undertaking.  The creativity and timelessness of this film will enable it, as all of Shakespeare does,  to live on for a long time.  The film, according to the SparkNotes that I brushed up on after seeing it, follows the plot line exactly.  There is no question of the feeling and thoughts of each character even when you don't understand all of the words spoken.  The acting from recognizable actors and those unknown was spellbinding.  The humor, through action and word, had the audience laughing aloud.  Shakespeare typically had some slapstick silliness and physical humor involved with a bit of elegant buffoonery.  Again, admittedly, there were a few things that more well-read audience understood better than I, but I didn't feel that I missed out.  I've been lucky to see many wonderful Shakespearean plays in Chicago and this film portrayed every nuance typically seen in a William Shakespeare play:  confusion, love, honor, death, remorse, and humor.  Shakespeare is funny.  Period.  Whedon's direction enabled his actors to convey all these aspects of Shakespeare.

Amy Acker (Beatrice) was the embodiment of a woman in love, but previously hurt.  Clark Gregg typified the elegant, wealthy, yet caring nobleman.  The standouts in this film were many with Fran Kranz as Claudio and Alexis Denisof as Benedick.  You could imagine Claudio in his war outfit from the 1500's just as clearly as you could see him in his slim black vintage suit.  He crossed all eras and personified the distressed lover, placing honor above all.  Denisof's character suited him wonderfully as he brilliantly went from womanizer, to confirmed bachelor, to love-struck puppy.  Rounding out the humorous aspect of the cast was Nathan Fillion as the bumbling, but sweet constable.  Poor guy was dumbfounded when he was called an ass.

Whether you know and love Shakespeare or not, "Much Ado About Nothing" is a wonderful way to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with his eloquence.  Teachers, if you're having your students read this play, it is a perfect way to augment your teaching.  Shakespeare may have died almost 400 years ago, but his themes, rhetoric, and ability to tell a story will go on for 400 more.  Thank you, Joss Whedon, for successfully making an intimidating film one that all can enjoy.


Trailer MUCH ADO
For more interesting information about the making of this film go to:
Joss Whedon films MUCH ADO in secret

Friday, July 5, 2013


Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, and William Fichtner
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Rated PG-13

THE LONE RANGER opened Wednesday to a meager $9.7 million...pocket change for Disney and Depp.  Is this disappointing number a prediction of the film’s success and a red flag for future viewers?  Read on to decide for yourself.  

“The Lone Ranger” was originally a 1930’s radio serial which then galloped into TV in the 1950’s. Many remember watching the original or reruns growing up.  By today’s standards, it was a bit cheesy and predictable, but back in the day, it was every kids’ entertainment.  Many a boy dressed up as The Lone Ranger for Halloween and everyone knew the phrase, “Hi Ho, Silver, AWAY!”  Now Disney has taken a crack at making this memorable series into a full length feature film.  How did they sell it?  They cast Johnny Depp as Tonto and Army Hammer as The Lone Ranger.  Depp alone could have sold the film.

Disney harnessed its creativity in story telling skills for “The Lone Ranger.” They have taken this classic series and spun the tale a bit differently.  As the Wild West took place back in the late 1800’s, Disney chose to tell the tale looking back in time from the 1930’s.  As a young boy happened upon a tent at a carnival which showcased “history,” he gazed upon “The Noble Savage.”  The old, wrinkled “noble savage” came to was Tonto.  Tonto recounted his life with The Lone Ranger to this young boy.  This unique story-telling angle was Disney’s creative way to hook you. Disney also inventively recounted the back story of Tonto and The Lone Ranger, aka John Reid. We learned about their first encounter and how they became an unexpected team. Even with this unique hook and background information, the story was still expectedly formulaic. The film had the typical damsel in distress and the many bad guys that had to be shot while Tonto and The Lone Ranger figured out how to save the day.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t just detailed information about John Reid and Tonto that was portrayed.  Disney felt it was necessary to detail each bad guy’s history so that an unabridged personality study could have been completed.  This lack of editing along with too many detours in “saving the day,” was the film’s demise.   

Depp’s version of Tonto was about the same as his interpretation of being a pirate.  He was always the comic relief with his reactions and use of today’s vernacular to get the chuckles.  Hammer played the handsome hero handily and William Fichtner and the make up team were outstanding with constructing a classic evil character.  The horse stunts and traditional chase and fight scenes on top of trains were impressive if not over done. Of course, as expected, there were a lot of shootings, but there was also a lot of blood and a bit of cannibalism...not your typical Disney film!  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the end of the movie that Disney captured the essence of the original Lone Ranger.  

“The Lone Ranger’s” silly, slap-stick humor will entertain the kids and even make the adults laugh aloud at times.  However, with a running time of 149 minutes, its meandering and over-detailed exploration of each character, and long panoramic scenic shots of the desert, was at least 30 minutes too long.  The target audience for this film is going to be young boys and families.  The kids will enjoy it as Depp is the epitome of childish humor and entertainment.  However, I must warn you that there is a bit of violence atypical of Disney films. 

My recommendation is to wait for the DVD unless you need to cool down in a well air conditioned theater.  

5/10 REELS

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Way, Way Back reviewed by Pamela Powell

Starring: Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Liam James, Maya Rudolph, and Allison Janney
Written and Directed by:  Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

"The Way, Way Back" is a summer movie you have to see.  I'm putting this right in with "The Kings of Summer." Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year.  Rarely do you get two coming-of-age movies that everyone will enjoy, but this year we have them!  In "The Way, Way Back," a 14 year old boy, Duncan, and his mom, Pam, go on vacation with Pam's boyfriend and his daughter.  Duncan just doesn't fit in and attempts to figure out life with the help of Owen, an owner of a local water park.

Do you remember vying for "the way, way back" of a station wagon?  I do!  Riding backwards, making faces at people as you travel along the highway you felt as if you were in your own separate world.  Duncan, relegated to "the way, way back" while traveling to the summer home of his mom's new boyfriend, experiences this position in a little different way.  Trent (Carell), Pam's boyfriend, took advantage of the other sleeping passengers to let Duncan know how incompetent and unworthy this boy was.  Carell's character immediately repulsed me and his subtle as well as overt digs continued to do so.  Pam's inability to have a spine was frustrating as she watched her son pull further and further away.  As Duncan disappeared each day, he found a new life influenced by Owen, the owner of Water Wizz water park.  Owen, an unlikely role model, and his misfit water park employees, took Duncan in, helping to guide him in his unusual summer vacation.

"The Way, Way Back" explored young love, divorce, new beginnings, and relationships in general in realistic yet humorous ways.  From the perspective of a 14 year old boy, all of these topics were creatively stitched together to give us a beautiful tapestry of his life.  The viewer had complete empathy for Duncan, bringing back childhood memories; some positive, some negative.  The film's ability to tell a story fluidly, taking on many characters, but remaining focused on Duncan was unusually masterful.  Liam James' outstanding performance equalled  Carell's brilliance.  Carell showed us once again, what a versatile and accomplished actor he truly is.  With Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney,  and Toni Collette to round out this cast, "The Way, Way Back" is a winner.

"The Way, Way Back" is a film that will appeal to all ages and genders.  With outstanding performances and a tight, seamless script, the director gives us all the ingredients for not just an entertaining film, but a perfect summer heart-felt movie.  You won't be disappointed!