Rango is an animated acid-western that’s fun for the whole family, a sentence I never imagined I would write.
Johnny Depp voices the titular character, a chameleon who fancies himself an actor, using the only co-star he has at his disposal: a wind up toy goldfish. After a mishap on a desert highway that results in him falling out of his owners’ car, Rango by chance lands the role of a lifetime as the sheriff of a small desert town called Dirt. Populated by leather-skinned animals and reptiles, Dirt has a problem involving a dwindling water supply, and the townsfolk look to their new lawman to save the day, as he and the townsfolk chase naked mole-rat water-bandits, uncovering a conspiracy straight out of Chinatown.
You haven’t seen an animated movie quite like Rango, despite its familiar structure, which is the classic “hero’s journey” formula. Alfred Molina voices a mystic armadillo that acts as Rango’s herald, sending him in the direction he’s meant to go after he finds himself stranded in the desert. What makes the film so much fun is director Gore Verbinski’s southwestern visual motifs and its bizarre sense of humor. The creatures are hideous, but not unintentionally so like the Disney bomb Mars Needs Moms. Instead they go well with parched desert landscape, like the facial landscapes that populate the films of Sergio Leone. Mariachi owls act as a sort of Greek chorus, setting the tone with their music and frequently breaking the forth wall to assure us that the protagonist will surely die soon, and horribly so. Pop in some cameos by classic movie characters (one that’s been portrayed by Depp in the past, you can’t miss it) and heatstroke desert hallucinations, and you have one of the more original animated offerings you’re likely to find this side of Pixar. At first I thought it might be a bit of an oddball offering for kids to digest, but Christian Toto’s son seems to love it, so it’s be a good one to bring home that film buffs can enjoy with their little ones.
This is one I can’t wait to watch on Blu-ray, the film’s surreal landscape and rough characters will be something to savor in high-definition at home. The Blu-ray comes in a package with the DVD and a digital copy, and features an alternate ending, deleted scenes, commentary, the usual stuff one can expect from a high-profile release. Of the movies I’ve seen so far in 2011, Rango easily makes the top five, and a no-brainer to add to my collection.
Buster Keaton is my favorite silent comedian, a fact I haven’t been shy about in the past. People love Chaplin’s lofty pretensions that go with his excellent brand of comedy, but Keaton’s only goal was to make you laugh. Nothing else mattered, not even his own safety. Films like The General, Our Hospitality, The Cameraman, Steamboat Bill Jr., and Seven Chances are all comedy masterpieces with a daredevil physical sensibility that would inspire people like Jackie Chan to take notes.
This week, Kino is releasing a collection of Keaton’s short films that were made from 1920-1923. Keaton cut his teeth in film working with silent comedy giant Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, cranking out comedy shorts before striking out on his own (Arbuckle’s career, however, came to an abrupt halt when scandal struck). Keaton mastered the comedy short, bite-sized chunks like Neighbors and The Balloonatic being but a few examples of relentless, tight entertainment he provided.
Kino’s release contains nineteen of Keaton’s shorts spanning across three discs, plus a wealth of extras. This includes visual essays, rare promotional pieces and clips featuring other silent clowns like Chaplin, Arbuckle, and Harold Lloyd, deleted scenes and alternate takes from some of the shorts, and a book of essays. Kino is a company that is comparable to Criterion in terms of the royal treatment they give to their releases. Their editions of Keaton films so far have been spectacular must-owns for any fan of silent film. With a few rare exceptions, physical comedy is a form that has lost its value in the funny films of today, but seeing Keaton reminds you of how daring the life of a comedian used to be.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Arthur: The decidedly sober remake of the Dudley Moore comedy classic, starring Russell Brand, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on July 15th. I’ll stick to the less-PC original.
The Lincoln Lawyer: Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer that rolls in a Lincoln town car in a Grisham-style legal thriller.
Insidious: The latest horror flick from James Wan, the guy behind solid genre movies like Saw, Dead Silence, and Death Sentence. Christian Toto endorses this one, so it looks like it’s worth seeing.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest film made a lot of top 10 lists for 2011, and given how surreal the film’s premise sounds, I can’t wait to watch it.
Naked: The Criterion edition of Mike Leigh’s film gets a big Blu-ray upgrade.
Available on Blu-ray
Brazil: The non-Criterion version of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian classic comes to Blu-ray. Me, I’ll hold on to my three disc DVD set.
Available on Blu-ray
My Dog Tulip: This small animated film about an elderly man and his dog has garnered some positive buzz.
Available on DVD
Brother’s Justice: A mockumentary starring Dax Shepard.
Battle Beyond the Stars: Roger Corman’s sci-fi Star Wars rip-off gets a re-release.