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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Writer-director Randy Moore took a film crew and performers into multiple Disney parks and managed to film a fairly cohesive movie—without permission, and without getting caught.

In Escape From Tomorrow, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) finds out that he has lost his job during the movie’s opening scene. Rather than tell his wife (Elena Schuber), he takes his family on one last day of park-hopping that includes the It’s a Small World ride, monorail trips and Epcot Center. Jim notices people coughing as he enters the park—as well as two French teens who seem strangely interested in him. Hallucinations, blackouts and eventual health issues ensue, leading to sequences that make no sense and an ending that is just strange.

I couldn’t help but be impressed by the scenes shot in the actual parks. Some green-screen shots are obvious, but Moore and his crew managed to get other usable shots using the video functions in standard digital cameras. In this way, the movie is a marvel.

As for the plotting, it suffers a bit from this guerilla-filming format and has a lot of holes and inconsistencies.

The way the movie was made is far more interesting than the movie itself. 

Escape From Tomorrow opens Friday, Nov. 8, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

At one point during its journey to the screen, Disney halted production on The Lone Ranger because it was costing too much, and the studio was not sure a Western-themed summer tent-pole movie was a good idea. Eventually, they caved in to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, producing it for a reported $225 million.

This will now go down as a huge, massive, unthinkable, crazy, job-killing blunder. The people who had the good sense to initially halt production should’ve stuck to their guns.

What a misguided, uncomfortable movie this is. Johnny Depp appearing as Tonto, with his face painted to mask the fact that he isn’t Native American, is a travesty. His movies have been mediocre at best lately, but this bad career choice goes well beyond the likes of The Tourist: This is the kind of stuff that cuts future paydays in half.

The film is an odd parody of The Lone Ranger, or at least it comes off that way, with strange comedic undertones and clichés exaggerated to the point of intolerability. Remember how Back to the Future Part III paid homage to the West by exaggerating it in a semi-funny way? The Lone Ranger makes Back to the Future Part III seem authentic in comparison.

How bad is it? The framing device is a very old Tonto telling some kid dressed as the Lone Ranger about how he met the masked man, and their travels together. Tonto, looking like anything but a human being, is making a living posing as a Native American in a museum exhibit, right next to a grizzly bear.

Depp and Verbinski (Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean partner in crime) choose to play this depressing storytelling angle for laughs. Depp wears a dead crow on his head throughout the film, with his face covered in war paint in the flashbacks. He takes some sort of odd, Buster Keaton-like physical approach to the role that makes him look desperate, lost and straining for the laughs that don’t come. His line deliveries are stilted and unimaginative. This is a career low for a guy capable of great things. It’s reminiscent of such travesties as John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine and Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd. It’s a choice that will haunt Depp for the rest of his career.

As for the Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer doesn’t seem to know what movie he is in. He sports an inconsistent accent, and plays the virtuous John Reid as a stooge to Tonto’s voice of reason. He is, in no way, prepared to handle a role of this magnitude. As the title character, he makes no impression, and is second fiddle to the top-billed, masquerading Depp.

However, Depp and Hammer aren’t even close to being the worst things about this movie. William Fichtner, an actor I usually enjoy, is unwatchable as bad-guy Butch Cavendish, a scarred, gold-toothed monster who eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother as he lies wounded and watching. This was in direct contrast to the comedic, goofy nature of the rest of the film. It’s the sort of thing that leaves viewers too aghast to laugh the next time Depp makes one of this stupid funny faces. In my head, when Depp mugged shortly thereafter, I was thinking, “Yeah, well, I just saw a man die in a fashion that made that moment when the priest pulled a heart out of somebody in the Indiana Jones movie look like Mary Poppins. Laughter isn’t happening for a while, Johnny. Sorry.”

Everything in this movie is taken too far, from the dirt makeup, to the crazy beards and chops, to the caricature accents. Even the sound of a kid eating a peanut is turned up to an extent that becomes gut-churning and abrasive.

Regular readers know that I often complain about horror movies that exchange much-needed dread and gore for a PG-13 rating. Well, I get even more annoyed by PG-13 movies marketed to kids and families that contain the kind of violence on display in this crap. Heart-eating, horse-trampling, multiple gunshots, stabbings and the threat of sticking a duck foot up somebody’s ass should not be on the viewing agenda for the entire family.

Disney is going to take a major loss on this one. This is another major blockbuster disappointment after misfires like Man of Steel, World War Z, The Hangover Part III and After Earth. This is officially turning into a summer of bad movies.

I was truly embarrassed for Depp while watching The Lone Ranger. Remember before Jack Sparrow, when he was a boutique movie star who chose interesting and scintillating projects like Cry Baby and Ed Wood? He has more money than God now, so I’m hoping he has some indie films in his future.

The Lone Ranger is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor.

There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness.

I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half.

There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I love the zombie!) and some cute stuff between Reilly and Silverman, but overall, the film is surprisingly tedious. Like too many animated films these days, it tries to get by on frantic action rather than story. It’s not a bad movie … it’s just a movie I didn’t like very much.

Special Features: The best special feature would be “Paperman,” the animated short that preceded the film and got its own Oscar nomination. You also get a short behind-the-scenes look, and some deleted scenes. This is a surprisingly lackluster disc effort from Disney. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Peter Pan, newly out on Blu-ray, is not one of the truly great Disney animated films, but it's still a good watch—even if Peter Pan is kind of a jerk.

Walt Disney had been trying to make an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story of a boy who never grows old for years, but World War II got in the way. It finally hit screens in 1953, and while it wasn’t as visually charming as past Disney efforts, it still had some artistic heft, and was the last feature that Disney’s “Nine Old Men” animators worked on together as a whole.

I remember the story line confused me a bit when I was a kid, because Wendy and her brothers always talked of having seen Peter Pan before the events in this movie. That used to baffle me. And I always hated how they left Nana the dog floating like a balloon with a noose-like rope around its neck when Peter and the kids took off for Neverland.

Peter Pan was voiced here for the first time by a dude (Bobby Driscoll). Driscoll, a famous child actor, fell on hard times soon thereafter, dying as a pauper in Greenwich Village and getting buried in an unmarked grave at the age of 31.

Man … this is supposed to be a review of a happy children’s movie, isn’t it?

As a kid, I thought Tinkerbell was a villain. Now, well … actually, I still see her as a villain. And I feel bad for Captain Hook, whom Peter Pan toys with and maliciously taunts with an alligator. Peter Pan was indeed kind of an ass.

No matter; this is still fun to watch. And, I must add, the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland remains one of my favorites.

Special Features: A nice new documentary, where children of the “Nine Old Men” reminisce about their fathers. You also get some deleted scenes and songs, and a commentary from Roy Disney.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing