Gore Verbinski is an interesting director. From MOUSEHUNT, THE MEXICAN and the Amercan remake of Japanese horror film THE RING, he landed PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, which was by no means a guaranteed hit, being a movie version of a Disneyland theme-park ride. It was a hit, however – and absolute monster of a hit, a box-office shattering phenomenon – and the subsequent two sequels were too, making Verbinski and his pirate star Johnny Depp unassailable stars at the very highest echelons of Hollywood. Verbinski passed on directing the fourth PIRATES movie to make this, RANGO, a CGI-animated comedy that seems intended for adults. It certainly feels most like an idea that ws bandied about between Verbinski and Depp during the PIRATES shoots; it is very much all about them. Rango (the voice, and physically-inspired performance, of Depp), an ugly chameleon who is hurled from a car in some part of the American Western desert, finds a town called dirt, becomes its’ sheriff and solves its problems. The plot is a direct quotation of Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s brilliant film CHINATOWN (with Ned Beatty standing in for John Huston, in the guise of a wheelchair-bound turtle) and makes endless reference to endless westerns. As enormously fun as the concept is, it suffers from what I find all CGI films suffer from, which is a boring and overdrawn second act, where we have to focus on a story that, let’s face it, is being played out in front of us by computer graphics, however sophisticated. The first twelve or so minutes are inspired; there are some brilliant action sequences, tremendous visuals, and luckily more than a couple of laugh-out-loud jokes; but it goes on for what feels like half an hour too long. Maybe they should make these CGI movies forty minutes, and package them as double features?
This very modest picture from Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is a terrific experiment in docu-drama. Allen Ginsburg’s seminal poem “Howl” is the subject; the telling is unique. Basically, Epstein and Friedman interweave three forms to create a tight glimpse into an important moment in American legal history. The boldest is a telling of the poem, read by James Franco, and accompanied by an animated exploration of the poem’s themes. The next most important is the dramatised re-creation of seminal moments from the obscenity trial that was brought against the publisher of the poem, which is derived entirely from actual court transcripts, and performed extremely well by Jon Hamm, David Straithairn, Bob Balaban (as the Judge!), Treat Williams, Mary Louise Parker, Alssandro Nivola and Jeff Daniels. The least fascinating part – but integral nonetheless – is Franco, as Ginsburg, re-creating parts of an interview that Ginsburg recorded in his apartment as the trial was going on – as Ginsburg, not charged himself for obscenity (the charge was only against his publisher) chose not to attend the courtroom. What Ginsburg has to say about the creation of art – and of being homosexual in the early 1960s in the United States – is potent and fascinating, but the poem and the trial are truly captivating, and if, like me, you’ve never read the poem, you’re in for a treat – and an educational one. An inspiring treatment of an inspiring theme.