Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Leapin’ Lizards! And other cinematic critters…

[Insert Introduction Here: blah-blah-blah, movies we’ve seen…./sorry we’ve been out of touch blah-blah-blah/something sarcastic, yet touchingly personal blah-blah-blah…]

RANGO (2011)—
SYNOPSIS: Lizard sheriff saves town of vermin

How can you not like an animated flick that has “cameos” by both Clint Eastwood and Hunter S. Thompson?
Jeez, there’s hope for Gore Verbinski yet!

While the movie is full (overflowing as it were, nyuck-nyuck) of references, the only trope an audience member really needs is a working familiarity with the Western genre of film: You’ll still “get” RANGO even if you’re not familiar with Chinatown, Sergio Leone, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas or Don Knotts.

And if Johnny Depp is anything like John Waters, the Don Knotts reference is on purpose. The “pre-heroic” Rango is a lizard clone of Mr. Knotts, down to the googly chameleon eyes.
But RANGO is certainly a lot better than The Shakiest Gun in the West or The Apple Dumpling Gang.

Beautiful design, with less vertigo-inspiring camerawork than, say, Rise of the Planet of the Apes: RANGO gives you the opportunity to savor the designers’ handiwork.

(Slight gripe: If Rango is a chameleon, why doesn’t he change color more? Which reminds me of the old Elaine May/Second City skit about a little girl who unfortunately kills her pet chameleon when she puts it on a checkerboard tablecloth and the critter can’t determine which color to be.)

And while I agree with voice artist Billy West about stunt celebrity voice casting, with RANGO it mostly works.
Although Ray Winstone as the Gila monster was pointless—and you can’t tell me that June Foray couldn’t have done all the female and children voices for a fraction of whatever they wound up paying the flavors of the week they got—
On the other hand, Depp, Bill Nighy and Ned Beatty really bring character to their performances, and voice-casting Harry Dean Stanton as a cantankerous blind mole was genius.

And the flick has lines I love repeating, like:
“I once found an entire human spinal cord in my fecal matter.”
Girl: “Go to hell!”
Snake: “WHERE do you think I came from!?!?”

There Will Be Blood (2007)—
SYNOPSIS: Hard-working man wants to be alone so he can make some money, but assholes keep interfering

Speaking of the desert…
I just watched There Will Be Blood again, and yes, I still love it.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the Western Stanley Kubrick would have made if he’d had enough time: a merciless, yet unique, gaze at a “big theme”—the type of men who wrestled fortunes from forbidding and inhospitable land, focused by one man’s journey from a hole in the desert to the mansion by the sea; with stops to criticize stupid, blind religion and the charlatans who foist it on the stupefied clods too beat down to think for themselves.

And I “get” Daniel Plainview. I understand his dislike of “these…people.”

Plainview is Alex and Mr. Alexander; General Ripper and Major Kong—madman deluded by his own obsessions, and driven protagonist we need to see succeed. (C’mon, admit it: you root for Major Kong to succeed, to get through despite all odds!)

The Ward (2010)—
SYNOPSIS: Annoying, nasty girl is rightfully put into a mental institution, where she continues to vex responsible adults

John Carpenter’s back in the saddle after far too long, and that’s all that counts.
The Ward is a mediocre flick, but at least JC’s gotten those “getting back in the driver seat” jitters over and done with.

Now somebody give him another project toot sweet so he can work that John Carpenter magic that we all know and love on a new flick, and we can set about forgetting about The Ward.
Because compared to something like, say, Ghosts of Mars or Vampires (to cite some of JC’s weaker outputs), The Ward is generic and ultimately disappointing.

Unknown (2011)—
SYNOPSIS: Who am I? Who cares? Nice to see Berlin, though

Dopey, dopey, very loud movie which really doesn’t need to be seen.
I’m glad Liam Neeson is keeping busy after the death of Natasha Richardson, and redefining himself as an action star will certainly give him heaps of fans he’s never had before, but lemme tell ya: I’m glad I saw this for free.

And the only reason I watched Unknown until the end was to catch all the Berlin scenery. The flick’s set in Berlintown and, like most H’wood blockbusters, does the touristy thing and demolishes many notable locations. But I love Berlin, and can’t wait to visit again someday, and seeing the town (hey, is that Prenzlauerstrasse?) was good for me: Es wärmte meine kalte, kalte Herz.

Trollhunter (2010)—
SYNOPSIS: Trolls are real, and like feral pigs, are hunted down if they leave the game preserve

I like this movie a lot. We just have to accept that the hand-held fake documentary is now an accepted subgenre, and stop complaining about Blair Witch rip-offs.
And y’know what? I like this subgenre.
That said, if you like monster movies—and I mean big, kaiju-style monsters, not just a guy wearing a mask—Trollhunter is for you.
(And I especially like monster movies that postulate that monsters are part of our natural world—not caused by radiation or from outer space, just unseen, like the critters from The Burrowers or The Descent.)

BTW, I only like the term “mockumentary” when the flick in question is a comedy, therefore the “mock.” When it’s a serious film, even though a “fake” documentary, I would prefer a different term—but nothing I can think of now (“fictitious documentary”? “docu-fiction”?) sounds snappy enough…

Red (2010)—
SYNOPSIS: Old-timers show young pukes how it’s done

Very amusing twist on the spy genre, and I’ll admit I’m a fan of Bruce Willis, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich—throw in the Great Borgnine, and you’ve won half the battle. And I like watching expensive shit blow up—as long as it’s done well, with wit, humor and verve (unlike the dour snooze Unknown).

Run Silent Run Deep (1958)—
SYNOPSIS: Das Boot meets Moby Dick during The Pacific War

Probably one of the greatest war movies ever made—incredibly tense, with energetic muscular performances by the entire cast (even the wimpiest character in RSRD has more cojones than the gaggle of brats strutting in today’s action flicks), and a great “twist” in the script: it turns out the sub’s having two captains was a good thing, since they’re really fighting two enemy ships.

And if any of you complain about Run Silent Run Deep’s old school miniature special effects, you are a piece of shit.


  1. I agree with all of these. Rango was great, and I'm increasingly appreciative of Johnny Depp's voice-acting ability. I think if he wasn't an actor, he could have a great career as a voice-actor. Nowhere near the versatility of Billy West, of course, but still good. Also, I loved Red! It was a fun romp that didn't take itself to seriously. Just fun. I also think Liam Neeson is doing well to re-invent himself, but I think he needs to make some better choices.

  2. Hoaks, Thanks for dropping by!
    I honestly think it will be a looooonnnnng time before Neeson does anything "serious" (besides occassional cameos or the like); I think he's following Bruce Willis' path, and as such will act indiscriminately in well-paying action flicks. And like Willis, once in a while he'll be in something really good (like "Red"), and often he'll be in [insert name of least fave Willis actioner].

    Meanwhile, and maybe I should have said this in the main post, I really get the idea that Rango was a labor of love for all involved.