AWFJ Women On Film – “Rango” – Susan Granger reviews

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A rootin’-tootin’ reptile has taken over the Southwest, a bug-eyed, charismatic, CGI-chameleon named Rango, manically personified by Johnny Depp. When the downtrodden citizens of a drought-plagued town, aptly named Dirt, are desperate for law ‘n’ order, he appears as a lonely ‘outsider,’ searching for his identity after being accidentally liberated from the confines of his glass terrarium in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

Among the first of those he encounters on his strange, often-surreal quest is Roadkill (Alfred Molina), a partially crushed armadillo who advises Rango to find “the spirit of the west” because “we all have journeys to make.” So, after concocting a story about killing seven brothers with a single bullet, Rango becomes Sheriff. But the Mayor (Ned Beatty), a wheelchair-bound turtle, has engineered the water shortage to acquire property. Rango’s feisty love interest is Beans (Isla Fisher). There’s a mariachi band of morose owls serving as a Greek chorus and a hallucinatory vision of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name (Timothy Olyphant), intoning: “It’s the deed that makes the man.”

After working together on “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and its sequels, “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End,” Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski focused on this quirky chameleon who thinks he’s a Western hero, the first full-length animated film created by Industrial Light & Magic. Unlike most animated features, the vocal tracks were not recorded individually in a sound studio. Instead, Verbinski had his actors ‘act out’ the dialogue for their scenes together, using sets, costumes and props. Despite uneven humor and slow pacing, there are cleverly cinematic allusions to the aerial assault in “Apocalypse Now,” the water/power motif in “Chinatown,” the rattlesnake tail with a machine-gun barrel in “The Wild Bunch,” and Hunter S. Thompson’s drugged tirade in the desert in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Rango” is an existential, inventive, irreverent 8 – mercifully, not in 3-D, requiring no special glasses as the denizens of Dirt ride off into the sunset.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.