Reel Critics: First-rate visuals in animated 'Rango'

Gore Verbinski directed the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. The special effects expertise of Industrial Light and Magic were a key to his success. Their pedigree goes all the way back to the "Star Wars" series. Their skills were sharpened on the "Indian Jones," "Jurassic Park" and "Harry Potter" films, just to name a few.

These two major forces team up for a full-length animated feature in the rollicking and boisterous "Rango." You already know the visuals will be first-rate in every respect. Johnny Depp eagerly voices the title character, a pet green lizard with a big ego and delusions of acting glory.

Rango escapes from his humans and lands in a thirsty desert town called Dirt. He becomes the unlikely sheriff of the local armadillos, moles, rats, and assorted reptiles. They are all desperate to get more water.

The plot offers many clever references to past Hollywood hits. Elements from "Chinatown," "Apocalypse Now" and Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns are all on display.

The complex and surreal screenplay will amuse and delight older kids and adults. But much of the humor will sail right over the heads of young children. It's very well done for the grown-ups, but may baffle the younger half of its target audience.


Whose life is it, anyway?

Are we truly masters of our own fate? Do we have free will, or is it merely part of a predestined plan yet (or perhaps never) to be revealed?

These questions are the themes behind "The Adjustment Bureau," an above-average fantasy based upon a short story by Philip K. Dick. While it has all the hallmarks of a surreal thriller (think "Inception" lite), there's a great romance at its core.

"GQ Congressman" David Morris (Matt Damon) and ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) form an instant, irresistible connection upon their first encounter.

But who are the strange men in fedoras lurking in the background? Why are they so determined for these two never to meet again?

The easy charms of Damon and Blunt warm our hearts against a coolly stunning New York City. John Slattery, Terrence Stamp, and especially Anthony Mackie are suitably mysterious as the "adjusters" who can't let folks stray from the life path laid out for them.

Can a love that can't be denied conquer all? Check it out and see.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa.

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