Rango Review

Rango has been talked a lot about for its film homages but what many people fail to realize is that this film is great on its own merits.  This film is beuatiful to look at (it's a must see in theaters), has loads of quirkiness, and (most importantly) everyone in the cast and crew bring their A game.

Rango follows a chameleon (Johnny Depp), who eventually goes by the name of Rango, as he becomes stranded in the desert.  Rango walks in on a town called Dirt where the citizens appear to be in poor condition.  What follows could easily be described as a kids version of Chinatown set in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.  Yes, it is a very weird combination of genres and story lines, but it works completely.

The film is directed by Gore Verbinski who directed a very underrated trilogy in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Sure the third film was absolutely ridiculous, but the second film was a lot better than most make it out to be.  Verbinski continues his rise to the upper echelon of Hollywood directors with this film.  He makes this animated film seem like a live-action one (most of that probably has to do with the decision of his to have the actors actually act out all of the scenes instead of just adding their voices).  Verbinski also perfectly handles the homages (which could have easily caused the film to fall into cheesiness) and his visual style is front and center, perfectly befitting the film.  The film is written by Gladiator scribe John Logan and James Byrkit.  Gore Verbisnki even goes beyond the director's chair and helps a bit with the script as well.  The script is very good, but not quite perfect, as it effectively balances the quirkiness, action, romance, comedy and film homages into a coherent story line.  My only complaint is that the film is well aware of its quirkiness and takes it too far on a few occasions.

The film features a dynamite cast of voice actors led by the always wonderful Johnny Depp.  Johnny Depp, who has on numerous occasions been described as a chameleon actor, is perfectly cast as the voice of Rango a chameleon and the film's hero.  Depp makes Rango seem like a character out of place with numerous layers to him.  Some of the other highlights are Ned Beatty as a tortoise that pays homage to Chinatown, Alfred Molina as a sage like armadillo and Isla Fisher in a surprisingly subdued role as an iguana.  Most impressive, however, is Timothy Olyphant in a very surprising cameo.  Let's just say he nails a very complicated performance.

The behind the camera aspects of the film are astounding.  The sound components in the film are phenomenal.  The sound designers and mixers would be very deserving of any awards they may receive in the following year.  The film is crisply edited as it fits a lot of storyline into a short running time (and it definitely feels short).  Hans Zimmer score is a great combination of his own bombastic style and Morricone-like elements.  However, most impressive is the cinematography.  Some reports are saying that Roger Deakins offered his talents to the film (which must be true because only a master of his craft could pull off what he did here).  Rango features a range of breath taking images, innovative shots (especially one of a fish tank breaking), and recreations of iconic scenes and pulls them all off with perfection.

Rango is a film for all ages.  Children, teenagers, adults and seniors will all love the colorful imagery, great characters, well placed homages and quirky storytelling that is on display with this film.


Any Human Heart Review

Any Human Heart is an enjoyable tale of literature during the 20th Century.  It doesn't strive to be anything more than a made for television biopic (even though it really is not a biopic as the main character is fictional) and yet, because it is perfect in this aspect, this miniseries does belong in a category above a made for television biopic (which are sometimes unfortunately frowned upon).  This miniseries is most definitely not a work of art to be frowned upon.

Any Human Heart follows the life of Logan Mountstuart an aspiring writer with great talent (and also not a real person despite many of the other characters of the miniseries being real).  Logan turns out to be a promiscuous, adventurous and easily distracted young man.  All of these characteristics make it interesting to see what happens after each and every hardship that is thrown at them.  The plot follows Logan through early 19th Century England, the Spanish Civil War, World War II and eventually to America.  The whole miniseries takes place from the older Logan looking back on his life and also to a reoccurring image of him as a young boy out on the ocean.

The series is directed by newcomer Michael Daniels but is luckily written by the author of the source material, William Boyd.  Boyd brings an important presence to the table as the series takes no time at all jumping into its quirky style.  If the miniseries were written by someone other than the author himself, I think they would have taken more time to adapt to the style (and, therefore, would have made the first act a lot harder to sit through).  There is a lot of confidence there too that wouldn't be there with another writer.  Boyd (and of course with a lot of help from the effective Daniels at the helm) is able to make you seriously believe in the main character even though he does not belong (and it probably would have felt cheesy without these two).

The acting in this miniseries is top notch.  It contains one of the best ensembles you will see in a television program all year.  Sam Claflin (Pillars of the Earth), Matthew Macfadyen (Pillars of the Earth...aren't you starting to see a theme here?), and Jim Broadbent (Another Year) are all very effective as the leads of the series.  Macfayden gets the most screen time as he gets to play the adult version of Logan (Claflin plays the teenage version and Broadbent plays the old version) and also gives the best performance.  His Logan is at time despicable and at others lovable.  Macfayden finds the perfect balance.  The supporting cast is large but there are two standouts that are worthy of everyone's attention.  First is Hayley Atwell (once again Pillars of the Earth).  Atwell is surely on the verge of becoming a star (after putting in the best performance in Pillars of the Earth over amazing veteran actors like Ian McShane and Donald Sutherland and about to be featured in the upcoming Captain America film) and she once again proves why.  In her first scene, she makes it easy to see why anyone would fall for her instantly (like Logan does) and has amazing chemistry with Macfayden.  If there were to be one shameful thing about this miniseries it would be that she has little screen time in the third act.  The second is Tom Hollander who gives a different interpretation of Edward, Duke of Windsor.  Guy Pearce was one of the best parts of The King's Speech playing the same character, and yet, Hollander gives just as good of a performance (if not better).  It is a much different interpretation as he is portrayed as much more of a villain here and Hollander really plays up the slime factor.

In terms of behind the camera aspects, you have your average qualities of a period miniseries with one major exception.  The cinematography is phenomenal.  There is some gorgeous scenery that is completely captured, some lingering shots that effectively make you question the symbolism, and sexiness brewing from every corner of the screen.

Any Human Heart easily could have been a disposable miniseries, but because of some great casting, phenomenal cinematography and a wise decision to have the author of the source material write the script, the miniseries rises above its potential.


Year in Advance Oscar Predictions

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards were held just this past weekend and yet things are already gearing up for the 84th addition of the ceremony.  We have are first real threat for a nomination coming this week with Rango (which could pull of an animated feature nomination).  Anyway here are my shot in the dark predictions for next year's ceremony:

1. The Tree of Life
2. The Ides of March
3. War Horse
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene
5. Moneyball
6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
7. Young Adult
8. Hugo Cabret
9. A Dangerous Method
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II

1. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
2. David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
3. George Clooney, The Ides of March
4. Steven Spielberg, War Horse
5. David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method

1. Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
2. George Clooney, The Descendants
3. Michael Fassbender, A Dangerous Method
4. Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
5. Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life

1. Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
2. Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
3. Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
4. Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5. Charlize Theron, Young Adult

1. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March
2. John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
3. Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
4. Sean Penn, The Tree of Life
5. Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn

1. Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
2. Scarlett Johansson, We Bought a Zoo
3. Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
4. Viola Davis, The Help
5. Marion Cotillard, Midnight in Paris

1. The Ides of March
2. Moneyball
3. The Descendants
4. A Dangerous Method
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene
2. Tree of Life
3. Young Adult
4. Like Crazy
5. Midnight in Paris

1. Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom
2. Cars 2
3. Winnie the Pooh






1. The Tree of Life
2. War Horse
3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
5. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
2. War Horse
3. The Tree of Life
4. The Ides of March
5. Moneyball

1. The Tree of Life
2. War Horse
3. Hugo Cabret
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
2. Hugo Cabret
3. War Horse
4. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

1. Hugo Cabret
2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
3. War Horse
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
5. My Week With Marilyn

1. Albert Nobbs
2. Immortals
3. The Iron Lady

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
3. The Tree of Life
4. Cowboys vs. Aliens
5. Captain America

1. The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
2. The Tree of Life
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
4. War Horse
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

1. The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
3. The Tree of Life
4. Cars 2
5. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

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