written by David Steffen

Rango is a 2011 computer-animated western comedy film distributed by Paramount Pictures. The protagonist (Johnny Depp) is a chameleon living a solitary life in a family’s terrarium acting out fantasy scenarios he invents in his ample spare time, and the family is driving with the terrarium in the back, when an accident throws the terrarium from the car, stranding the poor animal in the middle of a desert highway.

Given this opportunity to reinvent himself, he dubs himself “Rango” and takes on the role of a tough-as-nails drifter, enacting an elaborate persona that is completely unlike any personality he has ever actually had to take control and intervene in any problems he thinks the town has. Often as not, since he is concocting complex structures of lies, these lies tend to have unintended consequences and frequently make things worse more often than they make things better, and seem to be more motivated by trying to impress others than about trying to make anything actually better.

I found the movie more frustrating than funny or entertaining largely because Rango is often acting destructively in this elaborate guise of pretending to be a hero and he does not even seem to recognize that he might be the biggest villain of the piece. The more visibly villainous villains may be more dastardly but they are also more comprehensible in that one can understand the source of their actions, but Rango is just acting like what he pictures as the hero because that’s what he’s decided to do, no matter how many die in the process. This is… not admirable, and it’s only a matter of chance that these actions don’t end up killing every person he claims to help.

The movie has some interesting effects and kids will probably like it, but for me the plot was too “let’s congratulate this person who is destroying the lives of everyone around him on the premise of a journey of self-discovery”.

MOVIE REVIEW: Zoolander 2

written by David Steffen

Zoolander 2 is a comedy action movie released in February 2016 by Paramount Pictures.  It is the sequel to the 2001 film Zoolander.

In the last movie, male supermodels Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and  Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson) saved the world from fashion supervillain Mugatu’s (Will Ferrell) nefarious plans, and then founding The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to do Other Stuff Good Too.  Derek also had a beautiful baby boy with his wife Matilda (Christine Taylor), who they named Derek Zoolander Jr.

The unveiling of the center was a tragic disaster, as the cheaply built building collapses, killing Matilda, and leaving Hans with horrible scars that leave him exiled from the modeling community, and Derek leaves the public eye to become a hermit (or a “hermit crab”, as he would say).

In the present day, someone has been murdering beautiful young people, the most recent being Justin Bieber as himself).  Some of these victims have managed to get one last selfie out the world with one of Zoolander’s trademark modeling looks in them.  What do these selfies mean?  Meanwhile, Billy Zane (as himself) arrives at Zoolander’s place of seclusion to draw him back into society to find his son he had left behind all those years ago.  Billy Zane also arrives at Hansel’s place to draw him to the same place.  They meet Valentina Valencia (Penelope Cruz), of INTERPOL fashion police, who has been investigating the celebrity murders.

I hadn’t expected to like the original Zoolander movie when it came out, but it was so silly and weird and unique that I was drawn in despite my expectations, and I would recommend that movie for anyone who is looking for a silly comedy.  This one… unfortunately just felt like a lazy rehash by the creators to cash in on the success of the previous movie.  It lacked the subversion of expectations of the original, rarely doing anything new or interesting with the idea, even though there should be plenty of new things to do, given that it’s sort of a fashion-based spy movie.  Some of the time it just seemed like a frame to hang celebrity cameos on (of which there were many).  I would recommend skipping the movie and find something else to watch.