Rango and My Own Lenten Observance – #40movies40days

blue-eyes-1I dodged a couple of potentially catastrophic bullets very recently.  I’ve had a droopy eye lid for a while now.  It’s gotten to the point that when I am tired, it’s hard to read– My eye lid sags, causes eye strain and makes me feel very sleepy.  Reading at night is the worst.

After returning from my most recent trip to Europe, I went to the eye doctor.  I thought I had a bit of a muscle tone problem and it would be mendable with a small nip and tuck– and while I was under the knife– maybe I would just do a few other small tweaks as well.  Win win.

Instead, I was diagnosed with Horner’s Syndrome.  I was informed there are four possible causes of Horner’s– shingles (which I did have but in the wrong place to be a factor) brain tumor, brain aneurism or lung cancer.  Each option was more horrific than the next.  It took a month (over 30 days) of waiting to get the MIR appointments and neurology appointments that I needed to hear the answer.

The good news was I was given the all clear on all fronts.  The doctors said that sometimes the reason for Horner’s is not discoverable.  But it is a neurological weakening of the eye lid muscles. I can get the nip and tuck when my insurance company approves, so perhaps this is a tweakable situation yet.

ash-wednesday11Cut to– Yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, the Lenten season started.  Ash Wednesday is a day to remember “you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (a quote from the book of Genesis).   The fleeting nature of life is something that hits uncomfortably close to home given my recent reprieve.

Lent is a period of time (40 days) of reflection, discernment and renewal.  It ends on the glorious miracle of Easter Sunday–  If you believe in the Resurrection.  Or it ends with the more secular egg hunt and Easter basket goodies, if you are a general holiday celebrator.  The egg is a long-time pagan symbol of new life so we still are tapping into the renewal thing with Easter eggs.

Every religion or cultural tradition has a period of annual inward looking, contemplation and sense of starting over or symbolic rebrith.  It’s important at times to stop, whatever our belief system, and ask– what are we doing? Are we just living by rote or routine?  And “is this what I want out of my life or am I who I want to be”?

One of the reasons people “give things up” during Lent is to take themselves out of their comfort zones.  People often choose giving up chocolate, smoking, sweets, drinking, mindless television-watching, etc. to break those habits (for a time) that are self-indulgent, self-destructive or that keep us in an anesthetized state.  Lent is supposed to move us out of the rote and routine of our lives and challenge us to look at ourselves anew.

rangoSo what does all this have to do with Rango (the first full-length ILM animated movie)?  Give me a moment to set things up before I move in for the personal payoff.

Rango is the story of a chameleon who, during a car accident, falls out of a family vehicle and escapes when his glass habitat shatters on the asphalt.   He is stranded in the desert somewhere between Nowhere and Las Vegas.

Although the film has much to recommend it– wonderfully detailed animation, unusual and odd character choices (moth-eaten, flea-bitten, broken-down and patched up every one), a fully realized visual world and inventive set pieces that are fast, furious and funny– these great elements just don’t add up to much. On first viewing there is so much visual cleverness, so many movie send-ups and western spoofs going on it’s easy not to notice the story is a mess and the characters are very poorly defined.

Here’s how Lisa Schwarzbaum put it in Entertainment Weekly

Rango takes a long time finding a story line to stick with. First the lizard, liberated from domestication by humans, gets a crash course in outdoor life skills. (In the desert, blend in!) He staggers into a dusty town called Dirt and decides to reinvent himself as a gunslinging hero. (In town, stand out!) After being rewarded for inadvertent acts of bravery as town sheriff, he decides that being a hero is too hard. Then he changes his mind and sticks to his, er, gun. (Actually, a single bullet)

This isn’t a movie that will hold up well after repeated viewing.  Rango, the character, can’t seem to make up his mind whether he is a Power of Ambition character (boasting, bragging and pretending to be something he’s not because he feels like a fraud or a fake inside) or a Power of Idealism character (a unique and extraordinary creature who is trying to figure out how he can maintain his individuality AND be part of or fit into a community AND be true to his special destiny.)

Everything and the kitchen sink is thrown into the movie– parts of Chinatown are graphed onto High Noon with side excursions into The Man with No Name.  But nothing adds up, makes sense or has a deeper emotional meaning, relevance or resonance.

Beans, the female lead iguana, tells us she is worried about losing her daddy’s farm but we never see the land or her personal connection to it.  Someone is dumping water but we never find out why or for what specific purpose, unlike in Chinatown.  The actual answer to the problem in the film is not water dumping but a shut off water valve that someone closed.  There is no narrative coherence anywhere.  There is lots of action and very little heart.

Here is how Ty Burr puts it, writing The Boston Globe:

Just as often, though, everyone mills around waiting for the story to go somewhere. “Rango’’ wants to send up every sagebrush cliche it can, but the screenplay just piles those cliches on top of each other and waits for alchemy to happen. The director is Gore Verbinski, the mastermind of the “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ franchise, and like those movies, “Rango’’ is a highly watchable but somewhat frustrating mix of sloppy plotting, rascally attitude, and Big Action.
It’s a fun movie and a noisy one, but not the great work of family-friendly gonzo this particular crew could have created with just a little more focus. Back to your workstations, boys, and let’s see what else you’ve got.

(E)veryone mills around waiting for the story to go somewhere. “Rango’’ wants to send up every sagebrush cliche it can, but the screenplay just piles those cliches on top of each other and waits for alchemy to happen.

The director is Gore Verbinski, the mastermind of the “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ franchise, and like those movies, “Rango’’ is a highly watchable but somewhat frustrating mix of sloppy plotting, rascally attitude, and Big Action. (IMO those movies go nowhere either)

It’s a fun movie and a noisy one, but not the great work of family-friendly gonzo (filmmaking that) this particular crew could have created with just a little more focus. Back to your workstations, boys, and let’s see what else you’ve got.

Okay so here’s the personal Lenten observation part.

Like this film, my life is filled with a steady stream of creative and inventive action sequences.  I have a bunch of projects and lots of other things going at full blast.

What are they adding up to?  Do they have a strong narrative through-line that is clearly defining who I want to be and how I want to live my life?  Is my focus clear enough or am I just addicted to the frantic activity?   Do I just mill around between action sequences waiting for the story to go somewhere?  What is all this activity in service of.  Food for thought for 40 days.

So what am I going to do about it?  I’ve decided to watch 40 films in 40 days and write about them from a personal standpoint as I puzzle through how I want to be reborn on Easter morning.  It will be a journey of looking at my life through the lens of movies– some contemporary and some old school– I hope you will join me.

Rather than just write about Character Types and story construction I want to look at my own life and how I am constructing my own story.  Do you ever want to take a step back and ask yourself– just what is most important and how do my choices define me?  Do you ever wonder what your frantic activity adds up to in the end?

Okay, I know this just sounds like piling on more activity but I am also committed to quitting work at 5PM for 40 days and giving myself time to think about the larger narrative arc of the time (hopefully lots and lots) that I have left.  I am going to do a better job of prioritizing and putting the larger purpose of my life first.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this and about the questions you struggle with in your own life as you move from project to project.  Comment here or on my ETB FaceBook Page.   #40movies40days

14 Comments

  1. Reply Caroline Lawrence 11th March 2011

    What a great idea, Laurie! We all need to step back and look at our own stories from time to time. I can’t wait to see which movies you watch and hear what you discover from each of them! P.S. So glad you got the all-clear for scary causes of Horner’s Syndrome. C x

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 11th March 2011

      Thank Caroline– It will be a random journey and right now there are more questions than answers but I know I will find what I am looking for!

  2. Reply Sr Rose 11th March 2011

    Excellent, Laurie. But the Clint Eastwood section is priceless. Of course, it is a stand alone.

    You can never walk out of your own story.

    That was the one line that held the ragtag story together. Of course, you can walk out of it, but one’s story IS one’s story, a life.

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 11th March 2011

      So true. A gem buried in sound and fury.

  3. Reply Gretchen Gersh Whitman 11th March 2011

    Laurie- So glad to hear good news about your health!Take care of yourself and those bright shining eyes.
    One of the things that you recommend always hit home- to ask yourself questions and then apply these truths to your character.
    Seems like a gutsy worthwhile period of self-reflection. Riveted to see the results.

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 12th March 2011

      Thanks Gretchen– more questions than answers now but that how you get to the truth of it all.

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 9th April 2011

      Thanks Gretchen!

  4. Reply Kharissa Jacobson 13th March 2011

    Thank you so much for this article. I really needed to hear that about stepping back and looking at the grand scheme of things. I have been doing a lot of doing for no purpose lately. I found this article to be just the reminder I needed that Lent is a time to take a breather and focus on life as a whole.

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 9th April 2011

      Thanks Kharissa– It’s a wonderful time to stop and gain perspective.

  5. Reply Vicki Peterson 17th March 2011

    Hi Laurie,

    I’m glad to hear there isn’t something more serious with your eye- how scary!

    Do you have any insight into the development process of Rango- was it a “too many cooks” scenario where the story got lost in the notes, or was it rushed through without a lot of attention to characters? Or both?

    I tend to be a Power of Idealism character myself, and find myself asking these Lenten questions quite often. I try to be purposeful and not just busy, but it seems a never-ending process of discovering how to do that. I do know the process is purifying, though!

    • Reply Laurie Hutzler 9th April 2011

      Thanks Vicki! This is a very interesting journey. I think the director thinks of movies like video games– fast and funny action sequences that don’t need to add up to much as long as they entertain in the moment. Pirates of the Caribbean is much the same. A video game style ride rather than a coherent narrative IMO.

  6. Reply Nancy Raven Smith 24th April 2011

    Dear Laurie,

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through a rough time. I’m delighted to hear you received an “all clear.”

    Take care.

    Nancy

  7. Reply Kristian Ramon 24th January 2012

    I really like and appreciate your article post.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

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