29 March 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch

0 comments


D+

Sucker Punch
2011, 109mins, 12
Director: Zack Snyder
Writer (s): Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya
Cast includes: Emily Browning, Carla Gugino, Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm
UK Release Date: 1st April 2011

Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” is an odd beast, an epic fantasy sprawled over several layers of existence. In concept at least the picture is rather promising, a massive blockbuster examining the lengths a troubled mind will go in order to attain peace. However in execution the movie largely misfires, damaged by subpar lead performances, an incredibly muddled screenplay and a lack of engaging action. Snyder’s ability to craft marvelous looking films remains unquestionable, but “Sucker Punch” once again confirms he’s no master storyteller.

“Sucker Punch” operates over three very distinct layers of its protagonist’s psyche, the character in question being a young woman known only as Baby Doll (Emily Browning). Having been wrongfully committed to an insane asylum by her lecherous stepfather, Baby Doll is threatened with a full blown lobotomy almost immediately after her arrival. In order to escape her disturbed reality, Baby Doll retreats into her head, dreaming up a world in which she is a burlesque dancer at a club run by the corrupt Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). There she forms an alliance with the other dancers: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung). The group eventually reaches the conclusion they need to escape, Baby Doll formulating a plan that requires attaining five random objects. Whilst in pursuit of these items, Baby Doll slips even further into her mind, imagining an apocalyptic environment in which the gang, armed with weapons and skimpy clothing, do battle with all manner of monster and opposition whilst searching for the designated articles. However the clock is ticking, the girls have to make their break for freedom before the mysterious High Roller (Jon Hamm) comes to town.

As he did with his excellent adaptation of “Watchmen”, Snyder opens “Sucker Punch” with a bang. Snyder delivers the necessary exposition smoothly, setting up Baby Doll’s tragic circumstances with clarity and atmosphere. However as soon as Baby Doll starts descending into the fantasy worlds the film starts to collapse, Snyder becoming preoccupied with visual bravado at the expense of the script. There are moments in the burlesque environment that work, but every sequence set in the third reality fails, and increasingly one gets the feeling that’s where Snyder applied the majority of his attention. The action sequences are aggressively violent and sufficiently large in scale, but sadly there’s’ no innovation or creative energy evident. The filmmaker just resorts to his old slow-mo tricks (seriously count the amount of times a young woman flips over a sword!), stimulating set-pieces that feel ripped directly from a particularly generic videogame. There’s little soul or purpose at all in “Sucker Punch”, but when it comes to the bombastic action the movie ceases to even care about its human population. Snyder appears to think that simply adding meticulously rendered dragons and zombie soldiers will make his movie exciting, but due to his lack of imagination that’s not the case. The old adage “it’s not what you have, but what you do with it” has rarely felt so appropriate.

Emily Browning is weak in “Sucker Punch”, the actress failing to inject Baby Doll with any sense of pathos or heart. As with several of her other co-stars she looks tremendously attractive in her jailbait outfit, but that doesn’t prevent her performance from being one note. Chung and Hudgens are both dreadful, the latter laughably miscast in Snyder’s depraved universe. Jena Malone is slightly better, whilst Abbie Cornish actually delivers something approaching a good performance. Cornish is able to find a personality amidst the wooden dialogue that everyone else appears unable to detect. Carla Gugino vamps it up spectacularly as the girl’s polish dance mentor, although Oscar Isaac is actually rather menacing as the sleazy Blue Jones. “Sucker Punch” does manage to mount some tension in the burlesque realm towards its conclusion, much of that largely down to Isaac’s genuinely threatening turn. Jon Hamm on the other hand is only in about three scenes, and feels completely wasted in all of them.

The soundtrack is uneven, the song selection never able to give the production anything more than a surface level adrenaline rush. Being a Zack Snyder film, “Sucker Punch” is of course visually flawless, both the cinematography and CGI reaching a pretty dazzling standard. However had Snyder shown more attention to the undercurrents of familial distress and mental anguish that only lightly season “Sucker Punch”, and slightly less to the picture’s aesthetic then it would almost certainly be a more satisfying endeavor. There are moments of hostile interaction between Rocket and Sweet Pea that allow a little emotion to drip into this otherwise barren offering, and Baby Doll’s heartbreaking psychological breakdown is never given the attention it deserves. Instead “Sucker Punch” becomes obsessed with lethargic excess, resulting in a hollow excuse for entertainment.

Some will attack the film as being misogynistic, although I do feel that was never Snyder’s intention. Although he absolutely misses the mark in trying to write strong female characters, at least an obvious effort to do so was made. The revealing outfits the gorgeous actresses have to wear do appear to be an obvious attempt to conjure up a nerd’s wet dream, but “Sucker Punch” has too many other fundamental problems for that to be a major concern. Indeed Snyder’s camera seems far more fixated on the director’s stale mythical creations than any physical attributes possessed by the thespians. He occasionally looks, but in fairness, the director never really stares.

It’s interesting to note that “Sucker Punch” is Zack Snyder’s first rumba with original material, his other works all being remakes or adaptations of some kind. It’s not an encouraging start to this segment of his career, the outcome a distressingly messy affair. I wasn’t impressed by “Sucker Punch”, my only hope being that through it Snyder has indulged his poorer instincts sufficiently, and that afterward he can return to making worthwhile features like “Watchmen” again. You’ll be sucker punched if you waste your time or money on this one.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

24 March 2011

Movie Review: Limitless

0 comments


B-

Limitless
2011, 105mins, 15
Director: Neil Burger
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Cast includes: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Andrew Howard
UK Release Date: 23rd March 2011


The opening half of “Limitless” is terrific fun, the film’s inspired smart pill premise being contorted into an entertaining and visually inventive mystery. Bradley Cooper appears to be on confident form, whilst director Neil Burger keeps things aggressively charged through his numerous high octane tricks and stylistic flourishes. However “Limitless” can’t maintain such barnstorming momentum for the entirety of its runtime, instead the movie becomes overstuffed with subplots and characters, editing seemingly having taken an unfortunate backseat during the post-production process. As a whole the film is still worthy of a minor recommendation, but it’s disappointing that after such a fantastic beginning the picture should see fit to descend into impenetrable narrative anarchy.

A struggling and unkempt writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) has just lost his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) and is months behind schedule on his proposed book. When a figure from Eddie’s past offers him a drug to help cure his feckless existence, he reluctantly accepts, eventually ingesting the stimulant known only as NZT. Quickly Eddie’s life starts to fall into place, he completes his book in a matter of days, he smartens his appearance, he plays the Stock Market successfully and most importantly Lindy decides to give him another chance. NZT grants Eddie with an almighty boost of brainpower, everything from culture to mathematics to sexual dynamics becoming second nature. Eventually he draws the attention of powerful businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), the legendary broker offering Eddie the chance to collaborate with him on a massive deal. However Eddie’s substance abuse eventually catches up with him, NZT being both the possessor of dangerous side effects, and more crucially the interest of several seedy personalities.

Burger puts in a mixed directorial performance here, the filmmaker constantly displaying surface level creativity, but occasionally falling foul to some fairly obvious fundamentals of the job. Visually “Limitless” is unstoppable, constantly basking in the aesthetical differences between a life with NZT and a life without. Everything from the cinematography to the sparse usages of CGI help to turn “Limitless” into a relentlessly kinetic viewing experience, Burger utilizing every flashy contortion he can think of. “Limitless” also manages to provide an agreeable cocktail of thriller and comedy, the picture evidencing a subtle sense of humor, backed ably by a game Cooper. In these departments Burger delivers the goods, “Limitless” would undoubtedly be a great film if his pacing and focus didn’t fail him so miserably during the final act.

The movie is at least 20 minutes too long, screenwriter Leslie Dixon simply having pushed too many components into the concept’s fragile structure. The combination of financial mischief, Russian hooligans and drug addled siblings becomes overbearing, and that’s without even considering the weak romantic subplot shoved hastily into the project’s DNA. Cornish is wasted in an onscreen relationship with Cooper that never reaches a satisfying conclusion, sabotaging a hefty chunk of the film’s humanity in the process. When the film concentrates on chase sequences and Eddie’s charming rise to infamy it genuinely works, but sadly these facets are ignored during the bloated and mostly unintelligible second half. Burger shows considerable technical prowess and editorial skill during the production’s excitable set-pieces, but struggles to replicate the same commendable judgement when it comes to the storytelling. It’s a crying shame.

Cooper is magnificently poised and charismatic as Eddie, convincing as an underachieving slob living out his wildest dreams. Overcoming the dead eyed indifference that has hampered him somewhat in the past, Cooper tackles “Limitless” as his first proper venture as a leading man, capitalizing on the chance frugally, refusing to let this apparent golden ticket pass him by. As a consequence he dominates the feature wonderfully, bringing everything to Eddie that the character demands. De Niro is still miles away from his own glory years, but his performance here is his most tolerable in quite some time. Together he and Cooper make for an unlikely but oddly watchable double act.

“Limitless” doesn’t have much to say on the perils of addiction, yet for at least 50% of its runtime the picture operates as a phenomenally slick thriller. It certainly detonates before its finale, but on the basis of several impressive ingredients, “Limitless” isn’t a total bust. It’s sporadically wasteful fare, but still good enough to warrant inspection when it arrives on DVD.


A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

DVD Verdict Review: Made in Dagenham (Blu-Ray)

0 comments


B-
Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/madeindagenhambluray.php

DVD Verdict Review: A Film Unfinished

0 comments


B+
Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/filmunfinished.php

15 March 2011

Movie Review: Battle: Los Angeles

0 comments


D-Battle: Los Angeles
2011, 116mins, 12
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writer: Christopher Bertolini
Cast includes: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Ne-Yo
UK Release Date: 11th March 2011
There’s a special place in cinematic hell for “Battle: Los Angeles”, a despicably dumb and overbearing effort that deafens as regularly as it bores. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the film imagines itself as a blend of “Black Hawk Down” and “Independence Day”, putting a hefty military spin on the alien invasion subgenre. The movie does a decent job of capturing the frantic essence one imagines infantry divisions face in modern warfare, but fails in virtually every other department. The screenplay is appalling, whilst due to the relentless barrage of inert destruction we’re tasked with absorbing the actors simply become irrelevant. “Battle: Los Angeles” is essentially more akin to a videogame than a theatrically released motion picture.

Aliens have invaded Earth, rolling out a tirade of violence in most of the world’s major cities. In Los Angeles a group of military grunts led by young Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) are tasked with rescuing a group of civilians before the cityscape is tactically obliterated. Nantz is a man recovering from the trauma of a troubled tour of duty in Afghanistan, this mission likely to be his last in the field. As the platoon maneuvers through the desecrated remnants of LA they are forced to do battle with the hostile extraterrestrials, finding the invaders both merciless and tricky to kill. After collecting the civilians (amongst them Michael Pena and a tired looking Bridget Moynahan), the squad is forced to try and escape Los Angeles before it’s burnt to the ground.

“Battle: Los Angeles” wastes no time in reaching top speed, quickly forgoing its formulaic and clich├ęd human components in favor of bland action. There’s no point in assessing the performances because nobody involved has any proper chance to register, Liebesman and writer Christopher Bertolini choking out the very concept of characterization through their wretched input. I’m happy enough for useless thespians like Ramon Rodriguez and Michelle Rodriguez to squander their nonexistent talents here, but Aaron Eckhart and Michael Pena really should know better. There’s no depth or humanity within the confines of “Battle: Los Angeles”, leaving me curious as to why the actors were drawn to the project in the first place.

Liebesman certainly manages to infuse a sense of scale into proceedings through his intense use of CGI, but fails to make his set-pieces exciting or stimulating. An early shootout between the marines and aliens occasionally musters some tension, but Liebesman feels the need to move away from this more intimate style of combat cinema, immediately pummeling viewers with sequences of bombastic carnage that would shame Roland Emmerich. There’s no soul or purpose evident during these moments of outright annihilation, Liebesman far more infatuated with big guns than his terrified protagonists. The characters are never engaging, meaning the action quickly becomes fully devoid of suspense or momentum. Visually it’s all top notch, but under the bonnet “Battle: Los Angeles” is a consistently cold and corny blockbuster.

The villains haunt the outskirts of the movie, often just off frame or marginally out of focus. I can’t imagine this was a budgetary concern, instead it must be a further tool deployed to try and concoct an organically distorted aura of chaos. “Battle: Los Angeles” certainly has no trouble constructing a crazed and dizzyingly kinetic atmosphere, Liebesman throwing the camera around like a javelin. Of course this also means large chunks of the movie are completely incomprehensible, it becomes wearisome trying to keep track of all the cardboard characters and unimaginative narrative objectives. Bertolini’s first draft probably did have some sort of structure, but it’s not evident in the disorganized and messy final product presented here.

Composer Brian Tyler adds another subpar score to his CV with “Battle: Los Angeles”, his intrusive musical input adding to the headache inducing noisiness that ultimately consumes this awful picture. The project doesn’t even provide an enjoyable finale, instead opting for an obvious climactic skirmish coupled with the sort of mawkish military heroics one expects from a lesser Michael Bay production. “Battle: Los Angeles” is a frighteningly inept endeavor, an unintelligible and shallow example of what can occur when a bunch of hacks get their hands on $70 million. It’s a cultural warning not to be ignored.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

12 March 2011

DVD Verdict Review: Faster

0 comments


B-







Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/faster.php

11 March 2011

Movie Review: Hall Pass

0 comments


C

Hall Pass
2011, 105mins, 15
Director (s): Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Writer (s): Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, Pete Jones, Kevin Barnett
Cast includes: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fisher, Christina Applegate, Stephen Merchant, Richard Jenkins
UK Release Date: 11th March 2011
1998 was a long time ago. This is the key fact that “Hall Pass” reinforces, the Farrelly Brothers once again failing to live up to the promise of their earlier work. “Hall Pass” is actually a more ambitious gambit from an emotional standpoint than I was anticipating, but sadly forgets to bring the laughs in any proper quantity. The movie’s examination of modern domestic values is interesting, yet the Farrellys fail to work the film’s fertile concept up into a rewarding comedic lather. It’s a mild improvement over 2007’s “The Heartbreak Kid”, but there’s no denying “Hall Pass” should in theory be a much funnier experience than it actually is.

Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are two middle aged friends caught in passionless existences, their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) having lost their sexual tenacity due to the trials and tribulations of age and motherhood. In a bid to prevent any permanent damage being done to the respective marriages, both wives decide to grant the boys a “hall pass”, gifting the horny duo with a week away from the confines of matrimony. Maggie and Grace take themselves out of town, leaving Fred and Rick to bully their way through bars and various other social establishments in search of sex. The week brings more trouble than carnal delight, causing Rick and Fred to reassess their priorities. However with their spouses being romanced elsewhere, has their epiphany occurred too late?

The Farrellys appear to have lost their creative touch for gross-out tomfoolery, “Hall Pass” blundering through some very stale territory in search of giggles. Nothing here approaches the hair gel gag in “There’s Something About Mary”, whilst the welcome energy found in efforts like “Dumb and Dumber” just isn’t present. Instead the film bombards audiences with obvious poop and knob jokes, there’s even a wacky sequence in which the protagonists ingest a bag of narcotic filled pastries. This strain of humor confirms the disappointingly formulaic approach evident in “Hall Pass”, there’s very little enthusiasm radiating from either the script or direction. Every so often the Farrellys find their footing with a titter worthy line of dialogue or sight gag, before promptly slipping back into the mire of mediocre comedy that envelops the enterprise. “Hall Pass” is only good for a handful of smirks and chortles; I can honestly say the film doesn’t provide even one certifiably hilarious belly laugh.

The cast are familiar at best and lazy at worst. Wilson at least attempts to embrace the picture’s more sensitive side, although his comic timing feels a little rusty in spots. Sudeikis is clearly game for anything, yet his actual performance feels bland, the actor failing to register much of a personality. He definitely has to endure the brunt of the film’s more humiliating set-pieces, and for that I applaud him, but that doesn’t alter the fact his portrayal of the character is dull. Together these guys are no better than adequate, marking a fairly unmemorable leading combination. Jenna Fischer sleepwalks through “Hall Pass” until the project’s admittedly cute climax, her and Wilson at least sending the movie out on a surprisingly charming note. Applegate on the other hand nails Grace, lacing the character with a believable sense of inner discomfort and a whiplash way with biting remarks. She’s both entertaining and affecting, the film benefitting notably from her participation. Talented folks like Stephen Merchant and Richard Jenkins patrol the production’s sidelines, but are hamstrung by the lackluster material they’re forced to work with.

“Hall Pass” has one major redeeming feature, the movie’s representation of classical domestic lifestyles ringing rather true. The Farrellys takes a conservative yet somewhat compelling stance on life in suburbia, making the occasional astute observation to help elevate the overall product. I was shocked to see the filmmakers treat this component of the movie with such respect and fascination, even if it does all sit a little unevenly with the project’s relentlessly vulgar mentality. In this regard “Hall Pass” does somewhat warp any preconceived expectations, freshening up an otherwise blunt final product.

It’s hard to recommend “Hall Pass” as even a DVD rental; it does after all mostly fail as a broad farce. Still, it would be unjust to label the film worthless, despite the obvious decline in its creators’ comic abilities. “Hall Pass” does showcase the Farrelly Brothers attempting to mature, which is at the very least intriguing to observe. I doubt they’ll ever produce another lowbrow smash like “There’s Something About Mary”, yet on the basis of this there’s hope they might one day offer another picture of genuine value. Unfortunately “Hall Pass” isn’t it

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

9 March 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

0 comments


B+

The Adjustment Bureau
2011, 106mins, 12
Director: George Nolfi
Writer (s): George Nolfi, Philip K. Dick (short story)
Cast includes: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp, John Slattery
UK Release Date: 4th March 2011


The literary works of Philip K. Dick have allowed for some of cinema’s grandest triumphs, efforts like “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report” now considered indisputable sci-fi classics. Dick was a genius, combining thrilling storytelling with a deeper meaning beautifully, a skill that filmmakers have cherished for decades. “The Adjustment Bureau” is another victory for the now deceased author’s cinematic cannon, albeit a far more intimate and romantic interpretation of Dick’s writing than filmgoers are used to.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is an aspiring politician with a reckless streak, a facet in his personality that has slowed his journey up the country’s bureaucratic ranks. Following a particularly painful election defeat, David meets Elise (Emily Blunt), the two enjoying a tender moment before she is seemingly escorted out of his life for good. However a later chance encounter between the two further stimulates their connection, the first signs of love starting to flourish. However Elise and David’s newfound joy isn’t to the benefit of everyone, not least a group of smartly dressed shady types who call themselves The Adjustment Bureau. Ruled by The Chairman, the bureau sketch out every individual’s life plan, and ensure it is rigorously complied with. David and Elise aren’t meant to be together, and so the bureau intervenes, capturing David to explain their reasoning. However David isn’t convinced, fighting his supposed fate at every juncture, desperate to be with the woman he adores.

“The Adjustment Bureau” marks the directorial debut of George Nolfi, the screenwriter behind 2004’s excruciating “Ocean’s 12” and 2007’s impressive “The Bourne Ultimatum”. Nolfi proves terrifically adept from the vantage point of his director’s chair, combining a tremendously attractive visual aesthetic with a buoyant central storyline. “The Adjustment Bureau” isn’t the overblown chase feature promised in its trailers (that’s just the climactic 15 minutes), but rather a well rounded and superbly touching tale of love overcoming adversary. Of course coming from the mind of Phillip K. Dick it all comes wrapped in a dark science fiction sheen, but that can’t disguise the fact “The Adjustment Bureau” is first and foremost an epic romance.

Damon and Blunt convince as kindred spirits, both actors bringing sexually charged charm as well as a committed intensity. Damon anchors the picture effectively as a man frantically searching for happiness, finding it in the form of Blunt’s hugely engaging Elise. Nolfi ensures that viewers come to fully empathize with the central pair’s conundrum, bringing up questions about the importance of free will and destiny in the process. “The Adjustment Bureau” also boasts a fine supporting cast, including a sinister Terence Stamp and conflicted Anthony Mackie, but it’s really dependant on its two leads, Damon and Blunt never disappointing during their lively turns.

Due to the well realized emotional content “The Adjustment Bureau” is fairly gripping for the majority of its runtime, which feels stretched at 106 minutes. By its finale the production starts to feel a little repetitive, even though the berserk conclusion does exude an adrenaline pumping aroma. The organic relationship between Damon and Blunt is the movie’s greatest asset, although its allusions to religion and the importance of personal choice make for a close second. “The Adjustment Bureau” definitely isn’t short on ideas, Nolfi pumping refreshing dosages of heart and intelligence into the project.

It’s unlikely “The Adjustment Bureau” will ever be considered as potent a diversion as some of the more celebrated Dick adaptations, but it’s a well told and professionally executed affair none the less. The movie operates slickly as a mysterious thriller, but leaves a much stronger mark during the affectionately depicted moments of enchantment between Blunt and Damon. It’s a consistently engrossing watch.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

5 March 2011

DVD Verdict Review: The Cable Guy (Blu-Ray)

0 comments


B+
Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/cableguybluray.php

4 March 2011

Movie Review: Rango

0 comments


A-

Rango
2011, 107mins, PG
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: John Logan
Cast includes: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone
UK Release Date: 4th March 2011


It’s no secret that Pixar have dominated the animation game over the last 10 years, but that could change with the arrival of ILM’s first addition to the genre “Rango”. A tremendously charming effort, “Rango” also sizzles with a palpable sense of adventure, delivering more thrills than most live action blockbusters. Adding to the film’s quality is a game voice cast, all of whom commit flawlessly to their roles. It’s a delicious slice of cinematic confection, benefiting from some of the sharpest animation I’ve ever enjoyed.

After a car accident leaves him freed for the first time in his life, a chameleon (Johnny Depp) with a penchant for the performing arts is left stranded in the desert. Coming across a gun slinging western community called Dirt, he is forced to reinvent himself, creating a heroic alter ego named Rango as a result. After partaking in a fluke act of fearlessness, Rango is granted the position of sheriff and is tasked with maintaining order and guarding the town’s water supply during a fierce ongoing drought. When the water goes missing, Rango is forced to round up a group of local misfits and help track it down, the chameleon discovering danger and a treacherous conspiracy in the process.

“Rango” isn’t necessarily a great film for kids, but mature audiences are bound to love it. Screenwriter John Logan clearly penned “Rango” as a love letter to the spaghetti western, stocking it with cute genre references and even surreal dream sequences. The film still offers some spectacularly funny slapstick, but ultimately one gets the impression that Logan never really had the younger demographics in mind. Instead “Rango” is aimed squarely at smart and fun loving adults, a group likely to cherish this movie for years to come.

Johnny Depp is incredibly good in the title role, providing the production with not just a sensational funny bone but also a soulful centre. The goofy character design definitely helps, but Depp’s comic timing and infinite energy shine through in “Rango”, indeed it wouldn’t be ridiculous to argue that it’s the best performance the actor has given since 2009’s “Public Enemies”. The supporting vocalists also do sterling work, namely Bill Nighy as the terrifying Rattlesnake Jake and Ned Beatty as Dirt’s suspicious tortoise Mayor. Both of the actors inject bundles of personality into proceedings, which combined with the film’s meticulous and alarmingly realistic digital structure allows for a truly immersive experience. It’s proof that commanding voice work will always trump 3D when it comes to drawing viewers in.

Director Gore Verbinski delivers a beautiful looking film with “Rango”; the cinematography is lush and the standard of animation unmatched. Verbinski also shows a welcome willingness to get a little silly, the hilarious opening scene and the numerous amusing musical interludes featured are just a few examples of the fertile comedy “Rango” provides. Of course like Pixar’s best outings “Rango” also boasts an admirable line in more ambitious filmmaking. There’s a refined yet satisfying romantic side to the project (the object of Rango’s affections portrayed warmly by Isla Fisher) and the finale is phenomenally exhilarating. Verbinski pitches the conclusion as a moment of redemption, wrapping it all up with some of the finest action yet supplied in 2011. Indeed all of the set-pieces in “Rango” are filled with a sense of purpose and visual coherence, a rarity in any Hollywood commodity these days.

The film’s middle section is perhaps too baggy, but there’s really little else to complain about in “Rango”. It’s a superlative tribute to the Wild West, primed with a true sense of originality. “Rango” once again marks Verbinski as force to be reckoned with (having somewhat put his reputation in doubt courtesy of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels), the director exercising both his skill with action and rampant visual creativity here. It’s an undeniably quirky article, but “Rango” establishes itself as a must-see enterprise from the very start.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011