The latest in the trend of computer-animated talking animal movies was the first for the studio (Paramount) and the director (Gore Verbinski), and still manages to rank as perhaps the best of the genre. What on paper sounds like just another cliché-ridden cartoon for big kids turns out to be incredibly original, quirky, and thoughtful, with a wonderful voice cast (led by Johnny Depp as the titular pet chameleon lost in the “Wild West” of the Mojave desert), and what is conceivably the most stunning, eye-wateringly beautiful animated vistas and landscapes ever. Paying homage to everything from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Chinatown, and featuring hands down the coolest freaking cameo you’re likely to see in a long, long time, Rango is a must-own. My highest recommendation! DVD and Blu-ray special features include an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a featurette on the film’s creatures, and commentary from the filmmakers. Blu-ray extras include the ability to watch the storyboards alongside the movie picture-in-picture, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interactive trip to the town of Dirt, and more. – Paul Smith
(Originally reviewed by both Paul and myself in “Secret Origins.”)
Insidious seems better-liked than many movies just as schlocky, and I think I know why. For one, it stars respectable actors Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, whom we’re used to seeing in respectable things. For another, it has some weird “artsy” choices, never mind the fact that they’ve been culled from other, better horror films. And perhaps most importantly, Insidious is so vastly better than director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell’s Saw that if I was grading it on a curve, I’d give it five wattles. As it is, though, there are some spooky-scary thrills early on as ghosts invade Byrne and Wilson’s house, but it quickly becomes ridiculous with a gas mask-wearing medium and two nerdy ghostbusters who provide increasingly lame comic relief. It’s encouraging that Wan and Whannell want to pay respect to haunted house movies of old instead of continuing to stink up the place with torture porn, but in grafting Poltergeist to Paranormal Activity by way of del Toro, they’ve sort of missed the point. The extras consist of three featurettes.
I am highly unqualified to review a movie about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In true ignorant American fashion, I know extremely little about the details and politics of the matter. However, as a film buff, I can tell you that Miral is sort of a mixed bag. It’s the latest from director Julian Schnabel, who brought us the gorgeous films Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, so you can rest assured that Miral is a looker. The film itself starts strong as it follows the life of real-life teacher Hind al-Husseini, movingly played by Hiam Abbass. However, once perspective shifts to the young Miral (Freida Pinto), the narrative loses most of its momentum. Miral is a rebellious girl who gets misled into terrorism; it’s a story that feels fit for a middling TV movie, and if it weren’t for Schnabel’s visuals, that’s exactly what it would be. Pinto is an actress who seems to have almost no emotional range, and she adds just as much dead weight to Miral as she did to Slumdog Millionaire. The film is far from bad, but you expect more from a visionary like Schnabel. Extras include deleted scenes, audio commentary, two featurettes, and a Q&A session.