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As of today, I will no longer be using this blog for film reviews. However, I will continue to write reviews for my own website, which I will link to this post. If there is anybody out there who actually reads this, I hope you'll continue to read my work on my new site. Thank you for your readership.

Rango (2011)

Movies I thought of while watching Rango: High Noon, The Man with No Name Trilogy, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cat Ballou, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Yojimbo, Unforgiven, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Movies I did not think of while watching Rango: Rango.

At what point does a movie stop being its own film, and start becoming a clip show of Hollywood's greatest hits? When John Logan was writing Rango, perhaps he should have put a little less effort into paying homage to so many great films. His basic story is a very interesting one: a lizard that has been kept as a pet suddenly finds himself in an old west town called Dirt, where he has reinvented himself as a gunslinger. That lizard (voiced admirable by Johnny Depp) is the titular Rango, who enjoyed putting on theatrical performances in his terrarium before he suffered an environment change. Shortly after establishing himself as an expert marksmen (accidentally), Rango is promoted to town Sheriff by the Mayor of Dirt (Ned Beatty), a character obviously derived from John Huston's character in Chinatown. But as Rango delves deeper into an investigation about the town's water supply, he finds that the old west may not be the best place for a thespian lizard.

The main problem with Rango is lack of identity. The lead lizard himself is sufferring an identity crisis throughout the film, constantly asking through gloomy voiceover "who am I?" While watching Rango, I sometimes felt as though the movie were asking me "what am I?" The only thing I can say for sure is that Rango is a western, through and through. But where Logan and director Gore Verbinski go wrong is they constantly remind us of past great films, but fail to make Rango anywhere near as good as them. It reaches a point where you ask, "well, why don't I just see those movies?" The highlight of the film comes in the very beginning when Rango is running away from a hawk with another desert creature. This scene is both funny and exciting, and one of the few times that Rango is it's own film. After the scene ends however, the clip show begins.

The animation of Rango is really the saving grace of the film. Every character, though ugly, is beautifully rendered. The most interesting character to look at is bad guy Rattlesnake Jake, voiced by Bill Nighy. His winding, scaly body leads to a tail topped with a Gatling gun instead of a rattle. Every scene with him is thrilling to watch, and in fact were the only times during Rango when my heart actually felt involved in the film. Unfortunately, his scenes don't show up until much later in the film, and they are very scarce even then.

One more important thing that must be stressed is that Rango is NOT a children's movie. Despite being produced by Nickelodeon, this film is riddled with adult humor that children will not understand. On top of that, the humor is not even that funny. You may smirk at an inappropriate comment, but there is very little to laugh at here. Even though the MPAA chose to leave the word "violence" out of it's rating, Rango is littered with it, from claims to cutting off other characters "giblets" to a supporting character who constantly walks around with an arrow through his eye.

Rango is an hour and 47 minutes, but feels a lot longer. It has terrific animation, well crafted action scenes, but an overall slow pace and a very annoying lead character in Rango. Many will find the references to other films endearing and fun, but I found them to be distracting. You are probably better off just watching any of the films I listed earlier. My rating (3/10)

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

How many hours a week do you spend playing video games? Chances are, your number doesn't even come close to the people in The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The film centers around unemployed Washingtonian Steve Wiebe, who is attempting to break a world record for highest score ever on the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The man who's record Wiebe must overcome is renowned gamer Billy Mitchell, who set the benchmark in Donkey Kong over 20 years ago. In the world of competitive gaming, Billy Mitchell is the king. Always seen with a mullet and American themed ties, Mitchell is the cockiest gamer you can ever hope to encounter, and he has the world records to back it up. Does Wiebe have what it takes to dethrone this giant of the gaming world? By the end of The King of Kong, you're certainly going to hope so.

The King of Kong is a documentary that unfolds as a terrific underdog story. Steve Wiebe is an easily sympathetic character who we enjoy watching succeed and hate watching fail. On the other end is Billy Mitchell, the quintessential villain who gets by on reputation alone, and is damned proud of it. He has minions (other gamers) who are hopelessly devoted to him and will do whatever they need to in order to keep him on top of the leaderboard. Mitchell doesn't even grant Wiebe the chance of facing off with him one on one, for reasons known only to himself. It's almost as though Wiebe is Mario, the world record is the Princess, and Mitchell is Donkey Kong. No matter how many barrels Wiebe jumps, whenever he gets within grasp of the record, Mitchell just picks it up and moves to the next level. The rivalry born from these two competitors throughout the film becomes so intriguing that you cannot help but invest all of your attention towards it.

Director Seth Gordon needs to be heavily credited with making The King of Kong such an entertaining film. His clever editing paints Mitchell as a truly awful human being, someone you would never want to be friends with or look up to in your entire life. It also doesn't hurt that Mitchell is a gold mine for unashamed, self-centered remarks. Meanwhile, we see Wiebe in a much more respectable light. He is a soft-spoken family man that never says a negative thing about anyone. Some would say this shows an obvious bias that is driving the film, but I don't think that is such a big deal. After all, we are just talking about video games here. The King of Kong was obviously developed to be an entertaining film, and any decisions by Gordon to skew information was for the audiences benefit. In reality, Wiebe and Mitchell are actually on very friendly terms, but you wouldn't want to watch a film about two buddies having a friendly competition, would you? However, if you are very picky about your documentaries being 100% truthful, perhaps you can void yourself of this delightful film.

The King of Kong is filmed mostly in the style of cinema verite, meaning the camera is completely objective and follows events as they happened. Occasionally though, interviews with the cast are placed in order to get a direct reaction to some of the events. This was definitely the best option Gordon could have taken, as it allows every ounce of emotion, whether it be humor or sadness, out of every scene.

For any readers who are scared of the idea of watching a documentary, I implore you to give The King of Kong a chance. It is not a political statement dealing with blood diamonds or animal cruelty. It's simply a fun film that you can have a blast watching. It follows a plot just like any other movie, so it won't bring you out of your comfort zone all that much. Or perhaps you'd rather just play video games. My rating (9/10)

Boy A (2007)

Everyone got into trouble when they were children. Most of the offenses were trivial: breaking a vase, running with scissors, pouring milk on the dog's head. But what of the children who do truly reprehensible things? Things that adults go to prison for. When Jack Burridge (Andrew Garfield) was a little boy, he and his friend Philip killed a fellow student. Sent to trial being known to the public as "Boy A", Jack was convicted and spent the rest of his youth and all of his teenage years in jail. But at age 24, Jack is being released (at the chagrin of all of London), and ready to start life anew. With the help of fatherly social worker Terry (Peter Mullan), Jack finds a place to live and a job delivering packages. He even stirs up a romance with curvy co-worker Michelle (Katie Lyons) which leads to his first sexual experience. All seems to be going well for Jack until an act of kindness brings him under the spotlight, and threatens to reveal his identity.
There is an obvious moral question posed in Boy A. Are children who do evil things inherently evil? Do they remain in the same state throughout their lives, or can their indiscretion be chalked up to naivety? As we watch Jack on a personal level, we see that he is a being fully capable of kindness and sensitivity. We see him stand up for a friend and fall into love like a newborn pup with Michelle, and we cannot help but like him. We also get a look into his past as a neglected child who is frequently bullied at school. He is clearly determined to prove that he is a changed person. He changed his name from Eric to Jack upon leaving jail so that he can literally become a new man. But not all of London can see Jack on the level that we are. They just know about what he did in the past, and for them, that's all they need to know. Unfortunately, we can't see how Jack's friend Philip fairs outside of jail, because he committed suicide.
The titular Boy A is played brilliantly by Andrew Garfield. You may recognize him from the 2010 masterpiece The Social Network and photos as the new Spider-man in the upcoming franchise reboot. Boy A was Garfield's first ever leading film role, and it is nothing short of astonishing. As a man forced to leap from child to adult without that learning stage in between, Garfield plays the role with just enough boyish charm to really seem like somebody who never grew up properly. He is helped by a strong supporting cast, specifically Peter Mullan as Jack's social worker. Every scene between the two characters is exceptionally engaging, as you really feel a strong connection between these two actors.
Boy A is not always an easy film to watch, but it is definitely a rewarding experience. Because of the intriguing dilemma brought up in Mark O'Rowe's screenplay, this film is sure to stir up some debate amongst intellectual circles. At 106 minutes, Boy A leaves at a good moment where we don't even begin to lose interest in Jack's struggles. You will be invested in this film all the way up to the emotional finale. My rating (8/10)

The Fighter (2010)

Family is the most important thing in the world. Families support us, make us feel accepted, and always look out for our best interests. But for Mickey Ward, family is exactly what's holding him back. A struggling boxer in Lowell, Massachusetts, Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) paves streets while in between losing fights. He is coached by his brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), the former "pride of Lowell" who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a match, but is now just a disappointing crack addict. Dicky claims to know exactly what is best for Mickey, helping him pick fights and devise strategy, but more often than not, Mickey just ends up with a bruised face and hurt pride. When Mickey starts dating a strong-minded bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams), his family dynamic is disturbed as she encourages him to stop working with his brother and manager mother and start training more seriously. Mickey has to reluctantly decide what is truly the most important to him: his family or his career.
The Fighter has been a passion project of Mark Wahlberg for many years. Since 2005, he has tried to get the true story of Mickey Ward on the big screen. Now that he finally has, he can be proud of his final work. Mickey is not a particularly interesting character. He could be, if only he was allowed to speak more often in his motor-mouthed family. He is consistently drowned out by brother Dicky, mother Alice, and his seven sisters who are as talkative as their hair is tall. Even after he meets Charlene, she is the one that does most of the arguing with his family. But Wahlberg still delivers a terrific, nuanced performance, using body language as a major means of communicating. He frequently gets the look of a small child who knows he is being overshadowed by his older siblings. This seems rather fitting, because Wahlberg's terrific performance is greatly overshadowed by the actor who plays his older brother, Christian Bale.

Bale is simply astounding in his portrayal of down-for-the-count Dicky. Dropping all the muscle and weight he had put on for The Dark Knight (which he will need to put back on for the sequel filming this year), Bale perfectly achieves the look of a boxer turned crack addict. The way he handles his body through movement is as precise as a well timed left hook. Bale should be a favorite to win Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. Another strong competitor for an Oscar should be Melissa Leo, who is brilliant as Mickey and Dicky's mother, Alice. It is a guarantee that at some point you will want to tear her hair out, because she is just so believable as the cocksure head of the family. Leo's performance cuts deep into the audience, as her character cuts deep into Mickey. When she spars with Amy Adams' Charlene, the two create a scathing atmosphere that permeates the whole room.

The Fighter is very much a performance driven film. In fact, without all the exceptional performances, The Fighter would be a rather mediocre, run of the mill sports drama. Director David O. Russell does a good enough job behind the camera, but never really quite takes the film to it's heights. The boxing scenes are done from spectator point of view through a granier lens, and they are not as exciting as they could have been. The film also ends without showing a single one of Mickey's fights with Arturo Gatti, which are arguably the best boxing matches in history. There is a significant emotional conclusion to the film, but physically, there was a severe lacking.
Come Oscar season, The Fighter will get serious consideration for all the top awards, and it makes sense that it would. It is certainly one of the best films of 2010. The acting through and through is superb and deserves recognition. One should hesitate before granting it any writing or directing nominations though, as both were pretty pedestrian. If you can truly appreciate great performances, you will really enjoy this film. My rating (7.5/10)

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange