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)

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