By Scott Martin
Rango, USA, 2011
Directed by Gore Verbinski
I wasn’t prepared for Rango to be as dark as it was. Gore Verbinski has always been a director to dabble into life’s bigger questions with a lot of subtle ease, without losing the ostensibly fun side to his films, but, with this being an animatedÂ Nickelodeon production and all, I was blind-sided by the depth ofÂ John Logan’s screenplay and the heartfelt genuineness of Johnny Depp’s performance as a chameleon with an identity crisis. To be fair, the screenplay’s base elements are very standard – there is a formula, and you know where the film is headed as soon as it starts – but, to the film’s credit, everything that happens in between is remarkably intelligent.
And the whole thing feels like a painting. Gotta love that.
Consider thatÂ this one of the rare CGI films that pays respects to traditionally animated films; remember that Tangled (2010)Â was specifically designed to look like oil paintings and 2D animation. Rango achieves this without the oil painting angle, and does so seamlessly. I couldn’t point to one shot that didn’t look carefully rendered. I also had a hard time not picking out references to other films. I like movies that respect their elders. Nods to Star Wars, Raising Arizona (tell me that score doesn’t have echoes here), and obviously older westerns are everywhere. There’s even a certain cameo that ties the entire story togetherÂ and referencesÂ that by whichÂ the entire Western genre has come to be recognized. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Blank City, USA, 2010
Directed by Celine Danhier
Celine Danhier’s documentary Blank City is an invigorating love letter to a bygone era, a time when guerrilla filmmakers ran wild in the streets, freely shooting their cinematic visions without the hindrance of Hollywood extravagances like permits, budgets and stars. It is the kind of film that inspires not only nostalgia, but also a forward-thinking desire to follow in the footsteps of its many sometimes deranged but always passionate and interesting subjects. It is a lively documentary, one that celebrates life and manages to revel in nostalgia without ever getting sappy about it.
Blank City follows the rise and eventual fall (or, at least, evolution) of the so-called “No Wave” independent filmmaking scene of New York City in the late 1970s and beyond. A few of the renegades seen in the film went on to become famous and successful – perhaps the biggest names interviewed for the film are John Waters, Jim Jarmusch and Steve Buscemi (Vincent Gallo is also seen in archival footage) – while others remain noteworthy cult figures, highly respected in some circles, but far on the fringes of mainstream renown – Lydia Lunch, Richard Kern, John Lurie. Many of the rest faded completely into obscurity, but the legacy of their approach to filmmaking can be seen in some of today’s indie cult success stories made on extraordinarily low-budgets; the DIY approach advocated by this film’s subjects can easily be seen in the making of films like Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992), Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994), and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project (1999), to name just a few. Read More