CVIndependent

Wed09302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

If being on social media weren’t an important part of my job, I’d be taking a break from Facebook right now.

Why? Frankly … I could use a break from all of the hysterics.

Let me make one thing clear: Now is a time when hysterics are understandable. Many of us are hurting. We’re broke. Or we’re tired. Or we’re watching our dreams die. Or we’re freaked the heck out. However … seeing this all play out, in contradictory fashion, within consecutive Facebook posts, is exhausting.

First post: A friend of mine owns a nail salon. He’s freaking out because his business, his dream, is dying. He thinks he should be allowed to reopen, because he took all the appropriate safety measures when his salon was allowed to reopen, and all went well. Nobody got sick. He made things safe, he says. He’s hurting. His employees are hurting. He’s in hysterics.

Next post: A local acquaintance is beside herself with anger and frustration because of all the people she sees roaming around downtown Palm Springs without masks. She calls not only for a shutdown of the hotels and vacation rentals; she also calls for a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, period. She’s tired of people she knows getting sick. She’s afraid. She’s in hysterics.

The gut-wrenching thing about these posts is that they’re completely contradictory … and they’re both entirely valid. I could give a half-dozen similar examples of this dichotomy each day from Facebook—but I probably don’t need to, because you’ve seen them yourselves.

Ugh, this goddamned pandemic.

Today’s news links:

• The Los Angeles Times looks at the myriad reasons that COVID-19 patients are now dying at a lower rate. One encouraging reason: Doctors and hospitals have learned a lot about treating the disease over the last five-plus months.

The director of the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Sonia Angell, stepped down yesterday. Interestingly, nobody is saying why she resigned—although it happened after the state’s embarrassing COVID-19 reporting-system problems were revealed last week.

• Related: Gov. Newsom said today California’s COVID-19 case numbers are indeed trending in the right direction, after the state worked over the weekend to resolve that aforementioned data mess.

• I debated whether or not I should even share this, given 1) the still-being-resolved state data mess, and 2) the fact I have yet to get a proper explanation from the county on how the weekly positivity rate is calculated … but anyway, here’s this week’s county District 4 report. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The good news: Hospitalizations are way down. The awful news: Another 14 of our neighbors have died from COVID-19. Also, that weekly positivity rate is as high as I can ever remember it being, even though Eisenhower Health says its positivity rate has been moving downward. So, I am a bit confused.

• From our partners at CalMatters: How are unemployed Californians getting by after the expiration of benefits from the federal government?Without an expired federal $600 weekly boost, unemployed Californians are living on the brink by making candy and emptying out their 401(k)s.

• How is it possible to make indoor spaces safer from the spread of SARS-CoV-2? A professor of mechanical engineering, writing for The Conversation, says the keys are ventilation with outside air, and air filtration.

• MedPage Today covered a talk given Friday by the president of the American Medical Association—and among other key takeaways, Dr. Susan Bailey bemoaned the dismissal of science in many of the policy decisions surrounding the coronavirus. Key quote: “Politics should have no place in a public health crisis, but I think we all understand that, sadly, that’s not the world we're living in today,” she said. “As physicians, we have to stand up for science and make sure it's at the center of our policy decisions.”

In opinion piece for The New York Times, a medical expert and an economic expert—the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, respectivelycalled for a six-week nationwide lockdown, to both save lives and cause as little ongoing harm as possible to the economy. Key quote: “The United States recorded its lowest seven-day average since March 31 on May 28, when it was 21,000 cases, or 6.4 new cases per 100,000 people per day. This rate was seven to 10 times higher than the rates in countries that successfully contained their new infections. While many countries are now experiencing modest flare-ups of the virus, their case loads are in the hundreds or low thousands of infections per day, not tens of thousands, and small enough that public health officials can largely control the spread.”

A columnist for the Los Angeles Times offers a warning: “Payroll tax cut” means the same thing as “cutting funding to Social Security.” Well, if he gets a second term, Trump has said he wants to “terminate” the payroll tax … which, therefore, means terminating Social Security.

This lead from the Riverside Press-Enterprise made me despair for the future of humanity: “More than a dozen Southern California parents, from the Inland Empire to the Los Angeles County coast, have joined forces in a lawsuit against several California officials—arguing that barring in-person classes this fall will hurt students, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Adding to this despair comes this headline from the Los Angeles Times: “Coronavirus surging among children, teenagers in California.”

More despair, with a side of alarm, is created by this headline, from CNBC: “TSA: July air travel down 75 percent from 2019, but gun confiscation rates triple.” Key quote: “Eighty percent of the guns were loaded, TSA said.” What?!

• The federal residential eviction moratorium expired in July and has not yet been extended. That means evictions in some parts of the country are under way. NBC News looks at the mess with evictions taking place in South Carolina. Horrifying key quote: “In South Carolina alone, 52 percent of renter households can't pay their rent and are at risk of eviction, according to an analysis of census data by the consulting firm Stout Risius Ross. About 185,000 evictions could be filed in the state over the next four months.”

• This is sort of ironic: Amazon is talking to a large, national mall company about turning some shuttered J.C. Penney and Sears locations into fulfillment centers. It’s sort of like the start of the WALL-E story coming to life, no?

If you are a student within or employee of the University of California system, and you don’t have an approved medical exemption, you’re going to need to get a flu shot by Nov. 1.

• There’s currently a moratorium on executions in the state of California. However, as the San Francisco Chronicle is pointing out, the coronavirus is serving as an executioner by killing death-row inmates at San Quentin.

• Related, and much less morally vexing: The virus is also killing people who work at prisons. And case counts are spiking at youth prisons.

• The college football season is in jeopardy. According to ESPN, the five largest college football conferences are seriously considering cancelling college sports this fall, because of a serious medical condition linked to COVID-19. Key quote: “Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, has been found in at least five Big Ten Conference athletes and among several other athletes in other conferences, according to two sources with knowledge of athletes’ medical care. Two Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have already postponed or cancelled fall sports.

• Meanwhile, Disney World is cutting back its hours because of disappointing attendance figures. Maybe there’s hope for humanity after all

• The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is getting ready to roll back yet more environmental protectionsthis time, controls on the release of methane.

• Oh, look, some happy local news! From the Independent: The Palm Springs Public Arts Commission just finished funding the painting of another 10 downtown benches by local artists—and has a call out to artists to do another 16 benches. We talked to a couple of locals involved with the project.

That’s enough for the day. Hey, you: This Daily Digest and all of our journalism, in both print and pixels, costs money to produce—yet we make it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees. If you can spare it (and ONLY if you can spare it), and you appreciate what we do, please consider throwing us a few bucks by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. OK? Thank you, and be safe.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Friday, all. We survived another week!

Today’s news links:

• Under pressure from the Trump administration, the CDC has released new school-reopening guidelines that The New York Times callsa full-throated call to reopen schools.” Yeesh. 

• The governor today announced that the state would take more steps to protect essential workers. Key quote: “The governor said his administration has fallen short in educating businesses on how to safely reopen, and he's trying to make up for that with a new public information campaign targeted at employers. The state launched a new handbook for business owners and employers to support a safe, clean environment, with guidance on everything from cleaning guidelines to what to do in an outbreak.”

• The much-needed next round of stimulus spending—including a possible extension of extra federal unemployment benefits, which will run out in mere days—is likely several weeks away, according to the Senate majority leader.

• Related: NPR and Bloomberg both offer updates on the impending nationwide eviction crisis.

Also related, here’s some good news locally, from The Desert Sun: The city of Palm Springs has extended its eviction moratorium through Sept. 30.

• So … if/when that glorious day comes when there’s a coronavirus vaccine available, who will get the first doses? How will that be decided? The New York Times looks at the matter. Spoiler alert: The word “lottery” comes into play.

• The FDA has now recalled some 77 different types of hand sanitizer that federal regulators say are toxic.

• This is a nasty virus. NBC News reports that the CDC revealed today that many people who get COVID-19, but are not hospitalized, can have lingering effects from the illness for weeks or even months.

• Orange County is quickly becoming the state’s coronavirus hotspot—and beleaguered experts there are having a hard time figuring out the cause, according to the Los Angeles Times. This quote from the county’s acting health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, speaks volumes and will make you want to bang your head against the wall: “It’s quite difficult, even the person themself would not know,” he said during a briefing Thursday. “‘Well, I was at the bar; I was at the beach; I was here; I was there, where did I get infected?’ It’s a very difficult question to decipher, and all case investigators and tracers do their best to try to ask people, ‘Where were you at so we can pinpoint?’ But, as far as I know, we can’t really pinpoint.”

• Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread in Los Angeles—largely among people of color.

• McDonald’s is the latest large businesses to say it’s going to start requiring customers to wear face coverings. What took ya so long?

• Riverside County plans on giving out 10 million masks via local nonprofits, churches and businesses. They’re calling it the Masks Are Medicine campaign.

Meanwhile, they’re getting serious about masks in Indiana: As of July 27, people not wearing masks there could be charged with a misdemeanor.

• Related: There have been a lot of recent news articles about the science behind masks. NPR cites scientists saying that if 95 percent of people wore masks, coronavirus transmission would decrease by at least 30 percent; meanwhile, CNBC says the more layers a mask has, the better.

• Many so-called experts have declared that the pandemic has essentially ended the era of the office, in favor or working at home. However, The Conversation says not so fast. Key quote: “Organizational life is founded on relationships. Sure, the current remote work experiment has demonstrated that more jobs can be done virtually than many managers previously assumed. But jobs are comprised of tasks; organizations are comprised of relationships. And relationships require ongoing—and often unintended—interactions.”

• Also from The Conversation: The U.S. coronavirus testing system is a mess—but you probably knew that already … and it isn’t going to be easy to fix.

• Speaking of testing: Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, says tests soon will be able to look for both SARS-CoV-2 and the flu. Yay?

• The lost year of 2020 continues: The Dinah, the huge party weekend for lesbians and queer women every year, will not be held this year.

• How much of 2021 will be lost, too? This just in from the county, via a news release: “The 2021 Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, set for February 12-21, has been canceled and hopes to resume in 2022 with its 75th year celebration. In addition, the Queen Scheherazade Scholarship Pageant, scheduled for November 2020, is also being canceled. Queen Scheherazade and her court act as goodwill ambassadors leading up to, and during, the Fair in February.”

Movies keep getting pushed back, too: Disney has delayed the release of Mulan, and all Star Wars and Avatar films are being delayed a year.

• And finally, now for something completely different: The New York Times yesterday published a piece on the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence—the secretive agency that looks into UFO reports. The Times botched the piece by writing it in such a droll and formal fashion—and by burying some holy-shit-level revelations about some of the office’s findings. Key quote: “Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and then a consultant for the Pentagon UFO program since 2007, said that, in some cases, examination of the materials (gathered from purported UFO crashes) had so far failed to determine their source and led him to conclude, ‘We couldn’t make it ourselves.’

That’s enough for the week! Stay safe. Wear a mask. Enjoy the weekend, as best you can—safely, of course. Oh, and if you can spare a buck or two, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we’re giving you great local journalism free of charge … but it isn’t cheap to produce! The Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

In response to yesterday’s Daily Digest, I received this email from a reader, verbatim:

You read so old lady at times, but the wearing of masks is important but some people cannot and you never say that?

Along with chiding the reader for his ageism and sexism with the “old lady” remark, I responded that the number of people who truly can’t wear masks is small, and that many of those people can wear other forms of a face coverings, like a shield.

The back and forth went another pointless round which I shan’t recap here. Nonetheless … you know what? This reader is right. There are some people who can’t wear face masks.

So, to those of you out there (aside from this cranky reader) who are unable to wear face masks, I’d like to ask: How do you handle this? Do other face coverings work? If you go out somewhere, how do you explain your situation? What steps, if any, do you take to protect yourself—and the people you’re around—from possibly spreading COVID-19?

I’d love to hear from you. Please email me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.); if you don’t want your name or identifying characteristics used, I won’t do so. I’ll recap the responses I get in an upcoming Daily Digest.

Thank you in advance for your time, and for helping us all learn.

Let’s get to the links:

• The big national news of the day: During a call with reporters today, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency believes that only a tenth of the coronavirus infections in the country are being reported. Says NBC News: “Currently, there are 2.3 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. The CDC’s new estimate pushes the actual number of coronavirus cases up to at least 23 million.

• Don’t take this as a reason to panic; take this as a call to action: The Desert AIDS Project reports that in one week, the clinic there has seen more positive results that it had in the previous 10 weeks combined.

• I was once again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast, with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, and all sorts of other amazing guests. We lead off by talking with Dr. Laura Rush about the local COVID-19 case increases. Be careful out there, folks.

• What kind of mask is best at preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2? FiveThirtyEight breaks it down.

• If you don’t mind dense scientific articles, this piece, from JAMA Psychiatry, is worth at least a quick skim. It recommends steps we can take, collectively and as individuals, to promote better health during these crazy times. Key quote—and keep in mind this is coming from a media outlet: “Limiting media exposure time is advisable. Graphic imagery and worrisome messages increase stress and anxiety, elevating the risk of long-term, lingering fear-related disorders. Although staying informed is essential, one should minimize exposure to media outlets.”

• For a less-dense scientific read, The Conversation examines how deforestation is a key driver in introducing new diseases to mankind. Sigh.

Texas has put a stop to its reopening process—and ordered hospitals to postpone elective procedures in four of the largest counties—because things there are getting pretty bad.

• Meanwhile, in Arizona, where things are almost as bad as they are in Texas, Gov. Doug Ducey held a press conference today and asked people to wear masks and stay home, but, as KTAR put it, “stopped short … of offering any additional formal action that would help slow the spread of the virus in Arizona.”

• Also in Arizona: Sick people are having problems getting tested there … and that problem is not limited to Arizona. According to The New York Times: “The United States’ coronavirus testing capacity has begun to strain as the pandemic continues to spread, with over 35,000 cases recorded Tuesday. Across the country, more than a dozen public laboratories say they are now ‘challenged’ to meet the demand.

This lede from The Sacramento Bee, via SFGate, should make your blood boil: “More than three months into the coronavirus pandemic, California officials say they still have no plans to collect and publish basic data about COVID-19 testing and outbreaks in local jails, frustrating advocates, families and even some members of the state’s own jail oversight board.”

MedPage Today recently spoke to Dr. Theodore Mazer, the former president of the California Medical Association, about the need for doctors to speak out in defense of public health officials. Key quote: “Public health officers and governments in general have always done things that restrict some activities for the public good. And I don’t mean to get down too deep into that, but we have laws against defecating in the streets. Is that infringing on somebody’s rights or is it a recognition that that brings about things like hepatitis outbreaks?”

• One of the drivers of the recent boost in local COVID-19 cases is believed to be people getting together with friends and family—and then letting down their guard. The Los Angeles Times examines what some health officials say about gatherings between friends and family, and how they can be done as safely as possible.

• Some people with all the usual COVID-19 symptoms still test negative for the disease. One possible reason: False negatives are still a problem.

I am going to present a quote from this Washington Post piece without comment (other than shaking my head, grumbling to myself privately and feeling utter despair): “In recent weeks, three studies have focused on conservative media’s role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.”

• And now your Disney news roundup: While the Downtown Disney District is still slated to reopen on July 9, the theme parks will NOT reopen on July 17, as was previously announced. Disney is blaming the delay on the fact the state has yet to issue guidelines—but the fact some of the company’s unions were pleading for a delay may (or may not) have been a factor.

• Disney’s Mulan is, as of now, scheduled on July 24 to be the first major film release since, well, you know. However, The Wall Street Journal says that may be delayed, too.

• OK, now, some good news: Riverside County on Monday will begin accepting applications from small businesses for a second round of grants of up to $10,000. This time, sole proprietors and businesses that received EIDL money (but NOT PPP money) will be eligible.

That’s today’s news. Wash your hands. Wear a mask (unless you can’t, in which case, please fill me in). Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re financially able, so we can keep producing quality local journalism—and making it available to everyone without pay walls or subscription fees. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It seemed as if we were getting a little gift when Disney announced it was sending Artemis Fowl directly to its streaming service: A big-budget, Kenneth Branagh-directed adventure was coming directly into living rooms, because most theaters are closed. What a treat, right?

No. As it turns out, the film is awful.

You’ll realize within five minutes of viewing that this thing stood zero chance of captivating folks in movie theaters. It would’ve just pissed them off and sent them home grouchy. So this was actually a blessing for Disney: It’s better to just let people be grouchy in the comfort of their own homes, saving them gas and concessions money.

The movie, about the titular child protégé (Ferdia Shaw) trying to solve a mystery surrounding his dad (Colin Farrell), makes zero sense from beginning to end. You know Branagh has a mess on his hands when he employs the narrator angle—having a character (a raspy-voiced Josh Gad, with his part filmed in black and white) staring into the camera and explaining everything as the movie plays out. It comes off as a lame attempt to fix a crap movie with re-shoots.

Not only is the storytelling poorly handled; the movie doesn’t even look good. The special effects are bad, and the costuming is strange—there are fairies in this movie that look sort of like Willem DaFoe’s Green Goblin from Spider-Man. The editing is haphazard, too.

Judi Dench plays some sort of boss of the fairies, and she also employs a raspy delivery. Dench seems to be a harbinger of bad things now: This is her cinematic follow up to Cats, meaning she has the distinction of being in one of the year’s worst movies for two years in a row.

Branagh usually puts together a good film, and his chance to do big-budget fantasy seemed like it would lead to great things. Instead, this fiasco leaves a big, nasty mark on Disney+ and Branagh. It’s easily the worst thing he’s ever done behind the camera, and there’s no chance for a franchise here—this is a one-and-done affair.

Artemis Fowl is now streaming on Disney+.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Think you’re already oversubscribed to streaming TV services? Bend over, and grab your HDMI cables, because November has just dropped two more on you: Disney+ and Apple TV+.

Also, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi are coming in 2020. But the Purge may happen first.

Back to Disney+ and Apple TV+: Disney+ costs $6.99 a month, while Apple TV+ goes for $4.99—are they worth it? Here are eight original series that may or may not sway you to subscribe to yet another new app.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (Disney+): Right below Twilight and Saw on the list of 2000s reboots no one asked for rests High School Musical, the 2006-08 series of Disney Channel movies (though I’m all in for a Twilight/Saw mashup). In mockumentary HSM:TM:TS, students meta-stage a production of the classic High School Musical. That sound in the distance is the universe imploding—catchy beat, no?

The Mandalorian (Disney+): If you’re among the nerd faction that’s completely on board with Disney owning all things Marvel, Star Wars and Fox Studios, I’m sure your benevolent corporate overlords will never screw you over. It’s fine, just fine. In the meantime, here’s The Mandalorian, about a bounty hunter somewhere in the Star Wars universe. Look, dust and droids! It’s fine, just fine.

The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+): Actor Jeff Goldblum (Run Ronnie Run!) explains everyday items like ice cream, sneakers, tattoos, coffee, denim, RVs, barbecue, jewelry, swimming pools, cosmetics and video games as only he can. Prior to exploring these topics for The World, Goldblum reportedly did zero research to prepare for the episodes. I use the same approach here; totally works.

The Imagineering Story (Disney+): This is a six-hour documentary about Walt Disney’s 65-year-old Imagineering studio that doesn’t touch upon Walt’s purported Nazi sympathies and fascist tendencies at all. Not that it should, because it’s about the studio and the creators who worked there, not the frozen head in a secret vault who thought Adolph had a few good ideas. Allegedly. (Checks security cameras.)

The Morning Show (Apple TV+): Apple spent millions of dollars to lure beloved comedy stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell to streaming TV to headline … a preachy drama about media politics? Bring on the yucks! To be fair, The Morning Show works better than 80 percent of Aaron Sorkin’s similar The Newsroom, mostly by treating women as, stay with me here, humans.

See (Apple TV+): In a post-apocalyptic future … wait, don’t click away yet! A worldwide virus long ago wiped out half the population and rendered the other half blind—until a pair of sighted twins are born to tribal leader Baba Voss (Jason Momoa, Baywatch: Hawaii). Are they the Chosen Ones who’ll lead their people to a new homeland? Didn’t “See” that one coming! Ugh, I know …

For All Mankind (Apple TV+): What if Russia had reached the moon before the United States in the ’60s? Would Joe Rogan still be taking bong hits with moon-landing conspiracy theorists on three-hour podcasts? Probably. For All Mankind presents a science-y, alternate reality of an arguably better world—considering Ronald D. Moore’s previous work (Battlestar Galactica), things could have gone worse.

Dickinson (Apple TV+): Hailee Steinfeld (Between Two Ferns: The Movie) stars as poet Emily Dickinson in a coming-of-age dramedy that pits 19th-century societal constraints against modern millennial ‘tude. In other words, why the hell isn’t this on The CW? As she does in every role, Steinfeld delivers winningly as Dickinson, and you can’t argue with a series that casts Wiz Khalifa as Death.

Published in TV

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