Category Archives: R


Rango (2011): United States – directed by Gore Verbinski

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains violent content, dark themes, some mild language and rude humor

Some American audiences feel that all animated films fall into one of two camps; either the disrespectful, slightly adult comedy of Dreamworks Animation (How to Train Your Dragon [review here] being an exception) or the heartfelt mastery of Pixar films.  But Rango is enjoyable precisely because it aims for something totally different, and ends up feeling like neither type of film.  Rango’s young adult flavor, mixing some violence with dark themes and quirky, offbeat humor, may not be for the younger kids but is a refreshing addition to the genre.

And what animation: Rango may be the most detailed, gorgeous animated film I have ever seen.  There are moments that are pure bliss, with such an atmosphere as few other animated films have ever managed.  The film is essentially a Western mixed with Chinatown that manages to discuss Eastern mysticism mixed with classic American movie tropes.  Add in a blend of Johnny Depp/Gore Verbinski quirkiness and comedy, and the result proves rather enjoyable.

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Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole (2010): United States – directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language, mature thematic material, some drug content

This is difficult material, stuff that often ends up in Hallmark-style packaging, dripping in cheese.  Or it’s so terribly depressing that no audience wants to even continue living.  Somehow, director John Cameron Mitchell and David Lindsay-Abaire (adapting from his own play) have made it work, in one of the year’s most honest films.

The story is laid out gently, softly.  There is no overt exposition, and only one brief, restrained, and beautifully placed flashback.  Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have experienced a terrible loss.  Gentle revelations occur as the story unfolds, but some of the details are clear from the beginning.  They had a four year old son named Danny.

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Restrepo (2010): United States – directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, intense thematic material, real-life violence

Restrepo is a challenging film, a documentary that presents some tough situations and the people who must live through them.  It is difficult when the audience’s sympathy lies with the subjects and they act in ways that would be dishonorable under normal circumstances.  But this is war, and whatever must be done to win is acceptable, no?

Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm) managed to secure an embedded post, along with Tim Hetherington, in a US military platoon in one of the deadliest posts in the world: the Korengal valley in Afghanistan.  During the time there the platoon lost some soldiers and killed many more militants.  Captain Dan Kearney is the commander of the new forces, and is eager to erase past memories of American soldiers that the local civilians still harbor.  Going in he refused to believe that the place was as bad as he was told.  He was wrong.

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Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991): Hong Kong/Japan – directed by Ngai Kai Lam

Not rated by the MPAA – contains extreme and ridiculous violence and gore, and some drug content

Note: This review contains some descriptions of violent content, and a picture that might offend those not expecting cartoonish, ridiculous violence.

Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is one of the most amazing movies ever committed to celluloid.  It is nearly inconceivable that it was ever made, and a pure joy to watch if one is blessed with the right mindset.  It must be understood that Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is not a good movie.  It is not a work of great art, or hardly any art, for that matter.  In some ways it is a wretched film, truly awful; the joy lies in that it appears its creators were taking it seriously, as is the case with Troll 2 [review here].

The story is a little bit silly, the gore effects are absurdly violent, and the acting and technical skills are lacking.  However, despite its shortcomings (all of which add to the true charm of the film) Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is, at its core, the story of a very strong Jesus-figure.

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The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy

The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy (2010): United States – directed by Reese Roper

Not rated by the MPAA – contains silliness and some mild crude humor

I’ve been aware of Five Iron Frenzy since I started dating my wife.  By then it was too late for me to see them in concert, as they had broken up in 2003.  But their legend lived on, especially for those who refused to believe that ska was dead.  Since then, frontman Reese Roper has been compiling old home videos and concert footage in an attempt to put together a tribute DVD.

Roper stays primarily behind the camera and is credited as director and editor.  He appears in much of the historical footage of the band but primarily gives other members a chance to reminisce about the good times and bad times.  His voiceover narration, which starts out as hilariously over-dramatic, eventually ranges from effectively somber to typically self-deprecating.

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Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968): United Kingdom/Italy – directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Rated G by the MPAA – contains some mild violence and brief nudity/sexual content (re-rated PG in 1973)

I am not overly familiar with the dozens of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Nor am I overly familiar with the Bard’s original play, though the 1968 film version is an appropriate place to start for the uninitiated.  Elaborately staged, with the entirety of the dialogue taken straight from the script, as it were, Romeo and Juliet has only a few problems that keep it from attaining greatness.

The story is not to be blamed, though a modern viewer might be excused for thinking that it is unoriginal.  It appears unoriginal only because the source material is so old.  There may be nothing new under the sun, but when William Shakespeare was active he laid down the basic premises and storylines for a vast amount of the narrative fiction that followed.  I doubt the themes were new even in the late 1500’s, but he may be credited with first popularizing such conventions.

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The Rescuers Down Under

The Rescuers Down Under (1990): United States – directed by Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel

Rated G by the MPAA – contains some scary moments

The Rescuers Down Under was always one of my favorite Disney films growing up.  It took me many years to realize that it was supposed to be a sequel to The Rescuers, a film that had frightened me due to a terrifying crocodile.  The Rescuers Down Under, on the other hand, featured a boy exploring the vast wilds of the Outback alongside his animal companions.  Growing up I had plenty of land to explore, though none of the animals ever spoke to me.

It is remarkable how many of the characters remained vividly in my head, even though I hadn’t seen the film too many times since childhood.  Bernard (voice of Bob Newhart) and Bianca (Eva Gabor), though the stars of the show, are the plainest of the bunch.  George C. Scott is terrifying as the evil poacher McLeach.  His quest to find the rare Golden Eagle sets the story in motion.

The Golden Eagle herself provides some of the most memorable sequences.  After our hero, the young Cody (Adam Ryen), goes exploring in the Outback one day, a kangaroo friend informs him that a great bird has been trapped.  Scaling a 5000 foot high cliff is no problem for Cody, and once he reaches the summit he finds the giant yellow eagle.  The ensuing rescue and flight through the jungle and clouds is a highlight of the film.

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The Road

The Road (2009): United States – directed by John Hillcoat

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, nudity, mature themes

It’s been some time since I listened to an audio version of Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road.  Perhaps that is a good thing going into the movie, since I forgot many of the smaller details and only retained a sense of the general story and overwhelming atmosphere.

That’s not to say that the movie version is not good, only that it manages to focus more closely on the story and the atmosphere rather than the existential questions about humanity that the book provokes.  I was excited when I heard John Hillcoat would be directing.  I had enjoyed his previous feature film, The Proposition.  Starring Guy Pearce, it is a bloody, dusty Australian western.  Knowing Hillcoat’s penchant for crafting a believably dirty mise en scène, I had a feeling he would be able to recreate the ashy, desolate world of The Road.  This he has achieved admirably.

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Rain Man

Rain Man (1988): United States – directed by Barry Levinson

Rated R by the MPAA – contains bad language and very brief nudity/sexual content

Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, an arrogant, selfish luxury car salesman.  We are introduced to him as he desperately tries everything he can to keep the buyers for his new shipment, assuring them that they have passed EPA regulations and are ready to sell.

His life is about to change, as he gets a call informing him that his father has died.  He could care less due to a falling out years ago.  Nevertheless, he goes to the funeral and then to the reading of the will, where he finds out he will not be getting the $3 million estate.  Incensed, his pursuit of the trustee of the fund leads him to Wallbrook, an institution for those unable to care for themselves.

While there, he and his girlfriend/employee Susanna (Valeria Golino) discover a previously unknown sibling of Charlie’s: Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman).  Due to his autism he was sent to Wallbrook, and his existence was never disclosed to Charlie.

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Run Lola Run

Run Lola Run (1998): Germany – directed by Tom Tykwer

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some language and a little violence

It had been a while since I had last seen Run Lola Run, and watching it this time I was struck by how peaceful moments of the film are.  When I had first seen it the film had been declared the culmination of the MTV generation, with cuts so fast that you almost have to have ADHD to be able to understand it.  Compared with today’s “action” films, however, Run Lola Run is totally comprehensible in its cinematography.

That’s not to say that it’s dull, by any means.  It is still a kinetic, exciting joyride of a film, hardly lasting 70 minutes if you discount the credits.  It’s a roller coaster ride of the best sort, taking viewers through a fast moving story while providing some existential philosophy and a few heart warming scenes.

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