Rango, Red Riding Hood & Adjustment Bureau: 3 March Reviews
Three movie reviews for March 2011 films
RANGO (5 Stars out of 5)
Rango is the best film of the year so far, and probably the best animated film since WALL-E and Up. This wildly unique, wonderfully clever and visually brilliant film is one of those rare treats that vindicates the generic 'same-old, same-old' that Hollywood churns out so often. Give credit to director Gore Verbinski for making something so out-of-the-box and entertaining. There has been nothing in recent years comparable to Rango. It's like a Tex Avery cartoon directed by Tim Burton. If you're looking for something different from the standard studio material, you won't want to miss this!
Rango, like most animated films, has an appeal for kids. There are hilarious visuals, puns , action-sequences and sight-gags that will amuse the small fry. The inspired character designs will keep even a child focused on the crazy critters up on the screen. But Rango is not just a kids movie. Like the best animated fare, it has an appeal that crosses generations. There are lots of film references that will go over kid's heads, much the way the Shrek films added content designed to appeal to the moms and dads in the audience.
Rango is, on the surface, a parody of western films, such as the classic Sergio Leoni spaghetti westerns. Many of the western clichés and the stock western characters that we've seen in many old films make an appearance here. But beyond that, this film is a potpourri of satirical jibes at many famous movies. The plot borrows heavily from Roman Polanski's Chinatown, as does the main villain, who is based on John Huston's evil Noah Cross. You'll also notice parodies of Apocalypse Now, 2001: a Space Odyssey, Blazing Saddles and many others. One of the highlights of the film is a fantastic chase scene which harkens back to John Ford's Stagecoach and the iconic truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Our hero is an unnamed lizard, (Wonderfully voiced by Johnny Depp) who lives an active fantasy life in his terrarium, until an accident causes him to be ejected from a car, and he suddenly finds himself stranded in the Mojave desert. He is guided by a wise armadillo (Alfred Molina) to the tiny desert town of Dirt, which is suffering from a severe drought. Our lizard hero strolls unsuspectingly into the local saloon, and meets the bizarre critters within, (the scene is a take-off on the famous Cantina scene from Star Wars) and finds that hospitality is in as short supply as water. He begins spinning tall tales of his exploits as a famous gunman to scare off the local bully Bad Bill (Ray Winstone), and adopts the alias "Rango". After a set of wild and wacky circumstances allow Rango to kill the large, predatory hawk that has terrorized the desert for years, Rango is appointed sheriff of Dirt by it's charming but untrustworthy Mayor (Ned Beatty), who has a secret agenda.
Rango makes some allies in Dirt, most notably the lady-lizard Beans (Ilsa Fisher) who has a habit of freezing up like a statue periodically, usually at the worst times. He also has some enemies. Aside from the Mayor and Bad Bill, there is also the water-stealing mole Balthazar (Harry Dean Stanton) and the fierce gun-slinging serpent Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) who is brought to town by the mayor to deal with Rango.
Beneath all the surface antics, there is a message in Rango about finding yourself and knowing who you are. Our hero doesn't have a name (a tip of the hat to Clint Eastwood's 'man-with-no-name') so he creates the false identity of a blustering western hero to impress the town. But as the story goes on, Rango must find out who he really is and what he wants, otherwise he'll remain a creature with no real identity.
Another refreshing thing about Rango is that is doesn't rely on the trendy and needless 3-d effects that so many animated films have utilized in recent years. The kinetic antics and brilliant designs are quite good enough without the need for things to be tossed at the screen in 3-D.
This is a wonderful cinematic treat on every level. The voice acting is superb; the computer animation is top-notch and the humor is smart. The only possible criticism I can make is that there are some scenes that may be a little dark for very young children. It's probably best for kids seven and over. That includes grown-ups, too. This is a gem for any age group. Highly recommended.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU; (Three & a half stars, out of 5)
Stories by Phillip K. Dick often translate into intelligent and entertaining films. Bladerunner comes to mind. (Which was based on P.K. Dick's story "Do Android's Dream of Electronic Sheep?") The Adjustment Bureau is the latest adaptation of a P.K. Dick story (in this case "the Adjustment Team") and like most, it poses interesting questions. This movie is about the conflict between fate and free-will. Do we really decide our own destiny or are we puppets of fate? Written and directed by George Nolfi, the story ponders whether fate can be fought?
House Representative and Senate Candidate David Morris (Matt Damon) is preparing his concession speech in the privacy of the men's room, when he realizes the room isn't as private as he thought. Pretty Elise (Emily Blunt) is, rather bizarrely, hiding in the men's bathroom when she overhears David's speech and reveals herself to him. They talk, hit-it-off immediately and are suddenly making-out. Elise then runs off, chased by building security while David goes off to give his speech. However, he can't get the free-spirited Elise out of his mind, especially after they have a coincidental second meeting on the bus.
However, it seems that David and Elise weren't meant to meet a second time. The mysterious, magical men in fedoras who work for the Adjustment Bureau (who may be angels or may be something else entirely) guide the lives of every man, women and child in the world, making sure we all follow the pre-arranged plan put together by the unseen Chairman (Who may be god but may not be) by making small adjustments to our daily lives that herd us toward our pre-destined fate. David was only supposed to meet Elise once so she could inspire him at his lowest moment. However, a slip-up by Adjustment agent Harry (Anthony Mackie) allows the pair to meet again, which was not in the plan.
David and Elise fall in love at second sight and from there on, David switches his priorities from his political career to his dreams of a life with Elise. But the Adjustment Bureau has big plans for David's career and they can't let love destroy the overall big picture. They do their best to break the pair up, throwing every obstacle possible to keep them apart. One of the Adjustment men named Richardson (John Slattery) reveals the grand truth to David and orders him to give up Elise or face dire consequences. But David is not easily dissuaded. When David's tenacity proves a problem, a cosmic fixer named Thompson (Terrance Stamp)--known as "the Hammer"-- is sent to crush the relationship once and for all. Can David fight fate and win the girl or is it impossible to escape destiny?
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have a great on-screen chemistry together and their playful banter flows easily and doesn't seemed forced, like the bad banter in the Tourist. David and Elise seem to be destined to be together, despite what Thompson and Richardson tell him, and we can't help rooting for free will to win out over the cold calculations of fate. This is one of those all-too-rare films that is actually about something. Phillip K. Dick liked to pose questions that would stay with you long after you finish with the story. The Adjustment Bureau will have you thinking, and that's a good thing.
RED RIDING HOOD: (Two stars out of Five)
This isn't the first attempt to turn the timeless "Little Red Riding Hood" by the Brother's Grimm, into a horror film about a werewolf (The Company of Wolves is another example) but it's probably the worst. This is less of an attempt to adapt the classic tale than it is an effort to cash in on the Twilight craze.
The film is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who was behind the first Twilight film. You can practically see the checklist of Twilight-plot points that Hardwicke made sure to include. Werewolf? Check! Love triangle between two young hunks and a virginal teenage girl? Check! Romantic scenes in the woods? Check! Small town? Check! All Red Riding Hood needs is a vampire to be Twilight-lite, transposed to an unspecified time, in an unnamed town in an unnamed country. However, this movie is much worse than any of the Twilight films.
The plot surrounds the plight of the villagers who have been stalked for generations by a savage werewolf. They lock themselves in their little wooden homes every full moon and little a poor little pig is tied up outside to placate the hungry beast. The wolf has been satisfied with piggies until one night when it ups the ante by killing a teenage girl. The town panics, wondering what to do now that their predatory neighbor has gotten a taste for humans.
The victim's sister is beautiful, young Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who is caught in the middle of a romantic triangle between manly but poor woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and the rich but meek Henry (Max Irons). Valerie is clearly partial to team Peter, but her parents (Virginia Madsen and Billie Burke) have promised her to team Henry, because they want her to marry into a well-off family. (Peter may not have wealth but he has apparently discovered a medieval hair salon somewhere nearby because he has a gelled, modern haircut.) As the film goes on, Valerie begins to suspect that one of her beaus may be the werewolf.
The villagers call for help, and the famous Father Solomon, (Played by Gary Oldman, who brings out the sinister side of the holy man) arrives. He is hailed far-and-wide as a great werewolf hunter. He does so to avenge his wife, who was killed by a werewolf. (He brings his kids along for the ride but their presence is pointless since they are only in one brief scene and then vanish from the film.) Father Solomon arrives dragging a giant metal elephant behind his carriage. Why does he travel with a giant metal elephant , you may ask; Good question. Sadly, there is no answer to that. We're just supposed to accept that he pulls this giant metal monstrosity behind him everywhere he goes. That has to make traveling tough.
Most of the dialogue is laughably stilted and corny. The most ridiculous scene is a dream sequence where little red Valerie and grandma (Julie Christie, who is far too talented for a film like this) talk in quotes from the Brothers Grimm tale. ("Grandma, what big eyes you have." "All the better to see you with, my dear!")
We get the usual red-herrings and decoys, regarding who the werewolf really is. By the time the mystery is resolved, you probably won't even care who it is. Amanda Seyfried, who gave such an excellent performance in Chloe, is not called on here to do much except look scared and look pretty. She does both well. Virginia Madsen has enough of a resemblance to Seyfried that she is believable as Valerie's mother. Gary Oldman always plays sinister very well, and he makes Father Solomon just as menacing as the wolf itself, but he and Julie Christie as Grandmother are wasted here. The rest of the cast are unremarkable here, including the two studs who are fighting for Valerie's dainty hand.
As far as frights go, this movie is about as scary as the cartoon where Bugs Bunny met Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. This actually might have made a good comedy, if they'd chosen to go in that direction. Sadly, they didn't.