The Blemish » Reviews Better than a slap to the face Thu, 18 Sep 2014 01:09:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Something Wicked:’ Romeo and Julie-Death Mon, 15 Sep 2014 17:33:50 +0000 Shot and written alternately like a Lifetime movie, an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and a Brawny commercial (lots of lumber, saws, and wooded cabins), Darin Scott’s Something Wicked is something, all right. It was shot in 2009 and shelved for a while, one of the reasons being that it’s Brittany Murphy’s last film. In it, she plays a pediatric psychiatrist named Susan, who is married to Bill (James Patrick Stuart), a cop and the older brother of grief-stricken teen, Christine (not the car). Christine’s (Shantel VanSanten) parents were killed in a not-so-accident, in which she was pretty badly injured, along with the love of her life, James (John Robinson, who I immediately nicknamed “Soft Voice.” It’s so soft.).

In trying to get past her parents’ death, which at first she seems to do with suspicious ease, she begins to be haunted and chased by something wicked (ohhhhh there’s the title). It’s not clear if it’s a stalker or a ghost or a stalker-ghost, but it’s complete with hooded figures, a girl in a creepy mask whispering her name, and visions of her dead parents. Susan is convinced that Christine is having a psychotic break (until Susan out-of-the-blue has one of her own kind of sort of?). Others are intent on catching and killing whomever’s tormenting the poor girl. In the midst of all this, Christine and James move forward with their ill-advised plan to get married, and they spend their honeymoon weekend at a cabin that belongs to James’ boss at the mill (yes, he works at a “mill,” a workplace that only exists in the world of the shitty thriller). Meanwhile, the side characters for no reason deal with issues of infidelity and infertility, neither of which have anything to do with the story at hand.


The sheer amount of justification the writer, Joe Colleran, felt he had to include is massive, which leads to so many half-D stories, that is tangents and strains of dialogue, Shakespeare quotes, and exposition that seem to point in a certain direction but then are quickly abandoned and left to shrivel in the heat of their ultimate irrelevance. It’s really incredible. Possibly, Colleran wanted to throw the viewer off the pretty obvious trail of the plot, in which case, he didn’t really achieve his goal. Or rather, perhaps he did but screwed up the reveal of the twist. That could have been it; there is a twist, but it’s not very twisted. 

It’s a poorly constructed movie in almost every way, but still there remains something endearing about it. Mostly student-film-grade acting, hilariously different tones to some of the shots (I’m no camera expert, but some of them are OFF), and a somehow too simple yet overly complicated script make Something Wicked feel like a TV movie, but only one from the 90’s, before TV movies recognized themselves for what they are. The earnestness with which this film is executed is admirable, at least. It’s reminiscent of R.L. Stine Fear Street books — sort of sultry, teen horror for the melodrama lovers, and in that way, it sparks some nostalgia. It would have been easy to give in and camp it up, but, and this may seem like a backhanded compliment (it might be one), you don’t see many bad horror movies that take themselves entirely seriously, as a character drama as well as a spooky scarefest — at least it doesn’t view like every other movie out there. 

That’s saying something, right? Something wicked, maybe, but then again, I’m a critic.

Grade: C-

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‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For:’ Titles With Colons Mess Everything Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 16:48:41 +0000 Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, as a movie, hardly does its job. As a moving-picture episode weaving together a few comic book stories, it mostly suffices. Miller doesn’t so much “adapt” his comics for the screen as much as just transfer them there, to what is becoming a somewhat tiresome effect. The movie starts with a long, character-defining intro, in which Marv (Mickey Rourke), the Neanderthal-headed tough guy, drinks and grunts his way into a blind rage, killing and beating hoodlums, all the while explaining that he doesn’t know why or how he got there, and that in Sin City, this is how it goes.

From there, we shift to the story of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a sort of outsider who’s decided he’s going to conquer Sin City by way of gambling. He doesn’t quite know what he’s in for, though, when he sits himself at a poker table with Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) and challenges the corruption and violence of the most powerful man in the metropolis. Johnny doesn’t last long however, and we’re transported next to the titular story, in which Ava Lord (Eva Green), a perpetually naked, sexed up siren entraps her former beau, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) and embroils him in a murderous scheme involving her rich ass of a husband and an inhumanly strong bodyguard, Manute (Dennis Haysbert, who loses an eye — is he in good hands now, Allstate?!).

Sin City 2

We circle back to Kadie’s Saloon, the center of trouble and tears throughout the movie to focus on Nancy (Jessica Alba), a stripper full of sadness and more recently full of booze who won’t rest until she avenges the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis, who’s in full on Sixth Sense ghost mode in this one).

The voice overs of Marv, Johnny, Dwight, and Nancy are insufferably “cool,” in that pulp fiction sort of way. They’re tortured and self-destructive. Their gravelly and sinister tones imply that their lives are bad in a serious way, but not so serious that they’ll get the hell out of there. The cadence of their gripes is entertaining, to a point, but the lack of actual humanity makes it grow all weary after a while. Marv’s rage-infused blackouts aren’t okay, aren’t comprehensible, and we don’t sympathize.

Sin City 2

The male characters played by Chris Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, and Josh Brolin are soaked to the bone in old-school misogyny; in Sin City, all men are testosterone headcases who could use a good therapist. Women are either cold-blooded and ruthless, as Ava and the killer street chicks are, or resigned to their “piece of meat”-ness, as Nancy is. This dichotomy is annoyingly simple and boring, at the least, and gross, reductionist, and celebratory of attitudes that don’t need perpetuating right now, at the most. Sure, it’s fun and funny for a little while, but only if the filmmakers make clear how actually backwards these characterizations are, and there isn’t much of that. Sin City is a straight homage to a time when the thinking was worse. Do we really need that?

No one, not one character, breaks the mold. That fact doesn’t do it any favors. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For ends with an abrupt moment, not so much a “third act resolution” as movies are supposed to have, but more of a, “we’ll see you next time,” close of the chapter. Though, I don’t know if I will see it next time. I suppose it’ll be more of the same.

Grade: C

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‘Magic in the Moonlight:’ Slight of Movie Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:38:52 +0000 Magic and myth-busting are the stuff of Woody Allen’s latest film, Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth plays Stanley Crawford, aka Wei Ling Soo, a famous 1920’s magician whose greatest trick is pretending to be Chinese without offending everybody in the room. He’s as crotchety as they get, not only a cynic and a “non-believer,” but also an aggressive Nietzschean atheist and a total pain the ass to anyone who must suffer his presence. This doesn’t stop people from finding him amusing and trustworthy though, for some reason, and he is summoned to the home of the Catledge family to expose the medium they’ve just hired, a big-eyed American girl named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), for the fraud that she must be. She’s already fooled Crawford’s magician friend, Howard Berken (Simon McBurney), into thinking she’s for real.

The Catledges live on a beautiful estate in the south of France. One thing the movie doesn’t skimp on is picturesque settings and costumes to die for, a level of romanticism that teeters on the line of insistent realism that Crawford spews throughout the entire film. Sophie has managed to convince some of the Catledges that her “mental impressions” and “vibrations” put her in touch with the spirit world, which now includes the family’s recently deceased patriarch. Her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) handles the money while Sophie sways and séances her way into people’s lives. 

Magic in the Moonlight

Brice Catledge (the goofy Hamish Linklater), the gangly, ukulele-playing rich boy of the family has fallen under Sophie’s spell and courts her heavily, with silly songs and promises of yacht trips around Europe. But Crawford is far from smitten. He’s intent on finding her out, and in the process gets swept up into several cliché romantic comedy moments and totally convinced that Sophie is truly a psychic. His sudden transformation is so over the top that it’s laughable. 

For most of the movie, Crawford is staunch in his bitterness. He revels in his own rationalism. He’s cocky and clueless, to say the least, hardly a happy or appealing man in any way. He rattles on an on about how ludicrous it is to believe in real magic in such a way that it’s clear he never actually listens to what anyone else has to say or stops talking for enough time to let anyone say anything in the first place. When, all of a sudden,  he’s convinced that Sophie is the real thing and that magic is the truth, he literally stops to smell the roses and comment about finally stopping to smell the roses. It’s a manipulative movie maneuver that, in this case, is not so smooth, as far as they go.  

Magic in the Moonlight

The man is mad with unease, in both his cynicism and then subsequent belief in it all. Colin Firth is unnerving to watch, which I suppose is the point, and his performance, as always, is the best thing about the movie. Every main character of Woody Allen’s is a reflection of himself, to some degree. The neurotic and highly repetitive nature of Crawford’s rants against the magic of magic certainly characterizes him as a Woody Allen creation, but does much less to make him any sort of attractive leading man for the fairly common romantic comedy that the film allows itself to become.

Emma Stone struggles a bit with the stage-like quality of the writing, however, that very well could be the writing’s fault. She plays the role she is given pretty well, but Sophie could and should be better, more complicated than she ultimately is. Though Magic in the Moonlight isn’t really for Sophie. The whole movie is for Crawford, and therefore Woody Allen, to air his grievances, once again. And I’m just not sure how many more times we want to hear it.

Grade: B-

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‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:’ You’ve Got to be Kids-ing Tue, 12 Aug 2014 17:30:06 +0000 The thing I always liked about Nickelodeon television, as opposed to its snooty, self-righteous cousin, Disney, was that it didn’t talk down to its audience, which is largely comprised of kids, the preteen sect. While Disney Channel television seemed lathered in schmaltz, bright colors, and patronizing “lesson learning,” Nickelodeon shows were smothered in slime, gross-out jokes, trippy opening sequences, characters with football-shaped heads, others with crippling neuroses…you know, real, good stuff.

Nickelodeon gave kids the credit they deserve. Their shows didn’t sanitize life; adults were mean or eccentric or at least just as needy as the kids themselves. Episodes didn’t shy away from dealing with death or mental illness or family drama in real ways, where it’s funny and sad and unnerving all at the same time, where you’re not sat down and given a full explanation before sharing a teary hug. You just have to go about your days accepting that grandma is senile and would sometimes wear costumes and get the day wrong (Yeah, I watched a lot of Hey Arnold!). I know this is coming from someone who grew up in the Golden Age of Nickelodeon, but it still holds true, if to a somewhat lesser degree, today.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of Nickelodeon’s classic, unsanitary properties. Giant mutant turtles who live in the sewers of New York City, train in martial arts under the tutelage of a big ol’ rat, and eat gooey pizza aren’t exactly Dog with a Blog (the Disney Channel’s most horrendous show premise at the moment). These vigilante super amphibians are still a successful Nickelodeon cartoon, but they’ve been around since 1984 and have reached millions of kids since then on the screen and on the comic book page. This makes a good portion of the TMNT audience people in their early to mid twenties, who probably now know that the names Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo belonged first to a different category of super talented mutants.

It would stand to reason then, that this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie would take its varied audience for a ride, rather than sit them on the ground and read them a children’s book, replete with unnecessary repetition and so much extraneous explanation you’d have thought they thought we had short term memory loss. Almost everything about this version of TMNT insults the intelligence of the kids who went to see it and most definitely of the adults who had to take them. The highly repetitive script and even the casting choices (William Fichtner is ALWAYS, without fail, one hundred percent of the time the guy who seems good in the beginning but you find out later he’s working for the villain. His pointy nose and pursed smirk and past movie roles make it a certainty. It’s like they didn’t even try.) make it clear that Michael Bay and the filmmakers have no respect for, or maybe even awareness of, the cool, non-condescending attitude of Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon Studios just let themselves off the hook by concentrating their efforts on making this a big, CGI blockbuster hit.


Most of that effort probably went toward making Megan Fox seem like she could act at all. The one saving grace of the movie is Will Arnett, who, while not completely unleashed, was able to riff a bit, and more importantly, got to slip in one hell of an Arrested Development easter egg. Everyone complained about the look of the turtles, but for me that’s part of the great TMNT experiment — every movie gives them a slightly different look. They’re like their very own batman suit. And in this one, while they were pretty frightening in the trailer, you kind of got used to them by the middle of the movie.

Maybe I’m just a nostalgic old lady who wants the retro Nickelodeon vibe to thrive in their recent material, but I don’t know. If that vibe is to respect kids and play to the top of their intelligence while keeping things mega fun, I’d say that’s a pretty good goal. Cowabunga.

Grade: C-

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy:’ Hooked on a Franchise Tue, 05 Aug 2014 00:00:44 +0000 Guardians is super fun, the soundtrack’s killer, the killer’s menacing, the hero’s heroic, the tree is the best part. But, and this is a controversial opinion, I know, the internet should calm down about it. It’s just a movie. It’s very clearly a Marvel movie. A really enjoyable one, for sure. There’s no doubt that Chris Pratt is charming, Bradley Cooper proves himself as a voice actor, and David Bautista knocks it out of the park with his literal-minded “walking thesaurus” of a character. But the movie is also too thick with plot, seemingly for the sake of making the franchise last forever, the villain, while “scary,” is void of motive and personality, and while the jokes are good, Iron Man and The Avengers were better scripts.

There is no doubt that director/co-writer James Gunn (whose masterpiece I will claim to this day is still Slither) had a mammoth task on his hands bringing five Marvel characters of relatively little notoriety to the consciousness of the general public, explaining each of their stories and the world they live in, and then making us care about what happens to them. Not easy. And generally, we’re right there with them the entire time. It seems like part of explaining the heroes’ journey was neglecting to fill out a villain. Sure, that Ronan guy has black teeth and an anger problem, but we don’t know why he’s so power-hungry or what he wants. We know Ronan is working in conjunction with Thanos, the real, overarching villain of the Marvel movie universe. However, Thanos is still just a vague face on a screen, a looming, ominous storm cloud that has yet to really throw down a lightning bolt. Evil? Definitely. Interesting? Not yet.


Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) find themselves on the hunt for this “orb,” the catchall tangible motive of seemingly every space adventure movie ever. Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a snarky Raccoon/experiment, his tree-man Groot (Vin Diesel), and Grax (David Bautista) are after Peter and Gamora for their own reasons, but then the group of misfits must band together to save themselves and the galaxy (of course). It’s pretty skillfully maneuvered; most of the movie is exposition, but you don’t really realize it. Everyone has their own motives for being who they are and participating in the mission, everyone except the bad guy.

It may be that the franchise mentality is holding these movies back from making villains really juicy. In Marvel movies, it’s all about the heroes. If they were to allow for a Heath-Ledger-Joker caliber villain, the movie would either have to end with total obliteration of the guy (the heroes win again, and we’re out of sequels), or they’d have to sacrifice some of the indestructibility of their heroes to drag the story on for three more installments. And they seem to be doing just fine with keeping the focus on the good guys and making the bad just bad and only bad and nothing else. Why rock the boat?


Peter, who was abducted from Earth in the glory days of the late 1980’s, finds comfort in his walkman, which he uses to play a tape labeled “Awesome Mix #1,” pretty much every super 80’s song there is. That becomes the soundtrack for the movie, and it’s a fun conceit to throw this futuristic, hyper-gadgeted world at the mercy of the likes of Blue Swede. But the big plot points are still scored to swelling super-hero-movie type compositions, and I just wish they’d committed one hundred percent.

Michael Rooker is an inspired choice for the role of Yondu, the blue dude who sort of raised Peter but is also pretty much a filthy criminal. He’s the anti-super-hero-movie actor, and he nails it. An absolute treasure. I love the guy. Rooker is simply a badass outlaw of acting – he embodies the out-of-placeness of his characters to a completeness that seems, and might be, just totally real. It’s awesome. I’d be so into a Merle/Yondu sequel – let’s Freaky Friday/Parent Trap it UP. We’ll call it Guardians of the Walking Dead. You’re welcome.

So it’s like, really solid, super fun and not perfect, but overall, I’d say Guardians of the Galaxy is I am Groot.

Grade: B+

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‘Begin Again:’ Music To My Eyes Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:43:02 +0000 The word that came to mind repeatedly while viewing Begin Again is “quaint.” As in, “Aw, how quaint that Adam Levine is acting in movies now,” and, “The idea of Keira Knightly being a brooding singer-songwriter is so quaint!” It may seem like an insult, but it isn’t, necessarily. While eye-rollingly predictable and in many ways totally and completely unrealistic and idealist, Begin Again is terminally cute, and quite quaint, like a kitsch-y farmhouse insisting upon maintaining its charm while cold, concrete apartment buildings go up on either side of it. You can’t blame it for being what it is. It’s not hurting anyone, and you sort of understand why some people would insist on its existence. It’s quaint!

Mark Ruffalo (the corduroy of actors…warm, earthy, New York-y) plays the stumbling, alcoholic Dan, a head of a music label he owns with Mos Def. He’s getting squeezed out of his own company because of the aforementioned alcoholism, along with the fact that he hasn’t signed a successful band in a long time, and he refuses to give in to the label’s shift to cultivated pop stars, television, the Twitter, and other modern-day death traps for happiness. He has an almost-ex-wife in Catherine Keener, and an understandably angst daughter in Hailee Steinfeld. 


On a particularly rough night, Dan trips his way into a bar where there’s an open mic, and he hears “the next big thing” in singer-songwriter Greta (Keira Knightly), a Brit who’s found herself alone in New York after her long term relationship with pop star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) swiftly went the way of the rock-and-roll-relationship gods. Greta is a writer for the sake of it, with plans to leave and go home the next morning, but Dan convinces her to stay and record with him. They end up producing a whole album, performing throughout New York, in parks, in subway stations, on rooftops, basically in all the places no one would actually be allowed to perform without a permit of some kind. 

It’s fun but totally out there in terms of the plot; unrealistic in the same way that Disney Channel Original Movies are (based in humanity, then simplified, stripped of real conflict, and cartoon-ified). Knightly isn’t a singer, or a songwriter, and she doesn’t really pretend to be one successfully. If another actress, one who actually felt anything for the music, were in her place, perhaps Begin Again would have felt different, heavier, more real. She replaced Scarlett Johansson, who was originally supposed to star. That would have made the movie darker, more sexually-charged than it needed to be, but at least the girl can sort of perform into a microphone. 

Begin Again

Guest stars like Adam Levine (who was just about adequate) and Cee Lo Green, the most hilarious potato of a human being, plant the film firmly in the realm of “cuteness.” It sort of seems like an extended GAP commercial; everyone looks like they’re having fun, frolicking through the streets of New York playing upbeat, sunshine-infused pop songs. So like, what’s wrong with that? I’ll buy those jeans.

Grade: B

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:’ And of Every Story Ever Mon, 14 Jul 2014 22:39:10 +0000 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is every story. It’s every movie ever made, every book ever written about family, betrayal, politics, zombies, race, gun control…and apes. Not only is it Planet of the Apes, it’s The Lion King (complete with a villainous traitor with a scar over one eye), it’s Julius Caesar (complete with one hell of a stab in the back), it’s a little bit Felicity (complete with a brooding Keri Russell), and yes, it’s even a touch of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, paralleling itself, with similar characters and interpersonal struggles on both the ape and human sides of the story. I guess we aren’t really that different after all, huh….. It’s entirely predictable, preachy, and platitudinous (definitely looked that one up), yet harmlessly so. Because of its retro earnestness, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains entertaining and fun, even if it “apes” itself as well as many of our most classic stories (nailed it).

In this iteration, Planet Earth has fallen due to an epidemic of simian flu, which has wiped out nearly the entire human population (but not everyone!!!). A group of humans that are genetically immune to the disease live in the ruins of San Francisco, but they are slowly running out of power. A small group, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), heads into the woods to repair a dam that, when fixed, will make electricity work, because, science. Malcolm and his group of dam repairers don’t realize, however, that they are headed straight into ape territory, a veritable metropolis of monkeys (I know they’re apes, not monkeys…the things we do for alliteration) led by Caesar, an intelligent, compassionate ape with a soft spot for keeping the peace, even if it means working with those pesky, intruding people.


Caesar’s right hand man is a more embittered ape, Koba, who was captured, tortured, and scarred by humans for a lot of his life. He’s got a justifiable chip on his shoulder, which makes his villainous turn a teensy bit sympathetic, a little less black and white, even though it’s obviously not these innocent, wide-eyed, good humans that deserve to be attacked. Much to the chagrin of Koba and his followers, Caesar agrees to let the humans come do their work on the dam. They tread lightly around each other for much of this time, the key word “trust” being a thing that’s difficult for both sides to earn.

Then, the tense but amicable developing relationship between human and ape is swiftly destroyed by one heck of a misunderstanding, and what proceeds is all out war. It becomes clear early on that the real evil, the thing that causes the most problems in this world, is the existence of guns. There’s a lot of character development and miscommunication that results in bad situations in this movie, but the one thing that remains 100% clear is that bullets are no good. Ever. Guns are unequivocally bad. Hear that, middle American NRA Republicans? Bad. As in, not good.


Andy Serkis, the king of virtual acting, plays Caesar with great dignity. Jason Clarke is solid, Keri Russell is Felicity, and Gary Oldman, who plays the other founder of the human camp, the Shawn Hunter to Jason Clarke’s Cory Matthews, if you will, plays, as we’ve recently discovered, his crazy old self. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a heavy-handed sci-fi epic in a most traditional sense. The morals of the story are more than clear. Characters learn their lessons, then tell the audience exactly what they’ve learned. It’s all-encompassing in kind of a magnificent way. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes marks a return of that vintage attitude of telling big, unambiguous tales in a larger-than-life way. It’s old-school and impressive. You know what’s bad though? Guns. Guns are bad.

Grade: B+

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‘They Came Together:’ Almost Stella-r Thu, 26 Jun 2014 19:59:13 +0000 David Wain brings his brand of off-kilter, super silly meta mockery to a more genre-specific place than usual with his spoofy romantic comedy, They Came Together. The comedy dream team of Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler play Joel and Molly, who narrate the larger-than-life story of the development of their relationship through a framework of dinner with friends (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper). It’s a much more obvious genre play than his other films, Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, The Ten, and Wanderlust, and while still laden with absurdist hilarity, it’s unnecessarily overt.

The lovebirds, Joel and Molly, were on again and off again, almost married to other people, business rivals, happy in love, not so happy, happy again, really unhappy, and back to happy. Molly is the owner of a boutique candy shop, while Joel is a corporate drone for the large and impersonal Candy Systems and Research. They meet and hit it off over a mutual love of “fiction books” at the Strand Bookstore, in one of the film’s best sequences. It’s a made-for-movie romance, as they remind us repeatedly throughout.

They Came Together

The movie is full of genre conventions (New York City as a character all its own, a klutzy, cutesy leading lady), direct references to the genre it makes fun of (You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally), and David Wain’s signature stuff. He has several types of go-to joke structures that compose and define his oeuvre. There are conventional situations in which he switches out an object for comedic effect (Joel, as a magic trick, pulls a hamburger from behind a kid’s ear). A second Wain-y custom includes repetition to such an exaggerated point it becomes not funny and then funny again, as evidenced in a “You can say that again,” sequence that’s longer than you ever thought you would sit through. A third is an overarching Stella-like smarminess to his characters, where syllables and shoulder shrugs are drawn out and hit hard to highlight and make funny the specifics of the stereotypes.

It’s Wain’s jokes that shine the brightest here. The over-stated plays on the romantic comedy genre sometimes fall a little flat, unless they’re Wain-ified. Most of the time, they are, but I didn’t find them necessary. Rudd and Poehler are funny as always, as are Cobie Smulders and Ed Helms and staples of Wainland, Michael Ian Black and Chris Meloni. But you never really forget that it’s Rudd and Poehler up there. There’s too much of a story that the characters are used as pawns rather than as living, breathing beings that are easy to identify with. They’re merely caricatures of their movie types, which works for the completion of the satire of the genre, but not as well for making it a movie to connect with on an emotional level. The heart of Wet Hot and even Role Models just isn’t there. It doesn’t make it less funny; it just makes it less of a classic.

Grade: B+

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’22 Jump Street:’ Good Cop, Better Movie Mon, 16 Jun 2014 18:14:08 +0000 It manages its sequelity (sequelness? sequelation?) like Muppets: Most Wanted did, banging you over the head with clever jokes about how movies are never as good the second time around. But in 22 Jump Street, the meta references to the insane budget wasted on this installment and references to the challenge they face of making the same movie without recycling the plot are so pervasive, so intertwined into nearly every line of dialogue, and so integral to every point of the plot, that it is actually really impressive. And really funny.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back, and Tatum stronger than ever. There is something so sincere and wide-eyed about Tatum’s performances in comedies that is so funny without being the least bit unnatural. Ice Cube is back with his signature scowl that they use and massage to perfection. And Peter Stormare takes a turn as the villain, an actor who is for me so incredibly hilarious in everything he’s in in the most understated way. The real stand out though, is Jillian Bell, whose deadpan badassery is on point.

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in Columbia Pictures' "22 Jump Street."

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) end up at the 22 Jump Street address in a more than convenient fashion. An entire car chase sequence is steered (literally) into the path that destroys the most expensive things. Jenko’s bro-y love for “Lambo’s” culminates in a scene with a Lamborghini that is so not fair. The money is spent obviously and lavishly in a way that could have been showy and douchey, but instead point to a humbleness and humility that’s rare in blockbuster comedies.

The guys land themselves at a college to find a dealer of a new drug, WHYPHY (Which stands for, “Work Hard? Yes. Party Hard? Yes,” a silly acronym that slyly makes fun of acronyms). It’s, on purpose, and very outwardly, the same deal as last time. The same exact assignment, which works to the filmmakers’ advantage on so many different levels. They know the audience is going to come to see the same magic as the first time around. They know the same sort of plot is the safest way to go in terms of keeping the studio happy. They also know it’s the lamest thing to do. But they also know that the plot doesn’t really matter here, so why not keep it the same, acknowledge that, and turn it on its head. It makes everyone happy (audience members who are coming to see funny cops do funny things, the studio, which spent way too much money on a movie about funny cops, and audience members who are always skeptical about sequels and appreciate filmmakers acknowledging that they’ve been given way too much money to make a movie about funny cops).


Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of recent The Lego Movie fame) directed this puppy, and they are A – killing it and B – in one of the greatest positions to be in as Hollywood directors. This point was brought up by my good friend Josh. Lord and Miller keep making movies that have zero expectation attached to them, so when they turn out great, as in this case, or even more than great, as in the case of The Lego Movie, everyone is practically in awe. There’s no doubt this is a temporary position, because now, more and more people will run to buy tickets for movies just because the names “Lord” and “Miller” are attached to them, and that, I suppose, is nearly the definitive example of the existence of expectations. But I think these guys will be OK, and that’s because with 22 Jump Street, they’ve proven to be hyper-aware of the circumstances in which the movies they make will exist, all the contextual arenas they have to consider in order to make everyone really happy. And that’s an amazing skill to have.

Grade: A-

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‘Snowpiercer:’ Frosted Trips Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:00:00 +0000 In Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer, by the year 2031, the earth has frozen over, and the world’s only survivors are packed into this technological wonder of a train that barrels around the globe in a constant effort to not freeze up and expire. The proprietor of the train is the mysterious and inaccessible Wilford. Curtis Everett (Chris Evans, wonder if the role was written, or at least named, with him in mind) is an able-bodied, attractive white man, so he is naturally the selected leader of the “back of the train,” of a group of people who seem to have been arbitrarily selected to spend their days in squalor, barely surviving in dirty, damp, unlivable spaces. They are perpetually treated like, and covered in, shit, fed nothing but nasty-looking gelatinous “protein bars,” and beaten and trampled upon by the armed guards that dictate their lives.

We are given a slight taste of life at the “front of the train” in select incidences, and they hint at an eccentric class of extreme wealth. A woman in a pristine, mustard yellow pea coat and harsh lipstick comes to steal a child from the back of the train for unknown purposes. Tilda Swinton dons some giant granny glasses, even bigger horse teeth, and an ambiguous European accent with which she eloquently demeans and diminishes the worth of the people unfortunate enough to live in the muck. She touts a belief that this is how things must be, that everyone has their place, that there must be balance in order for the success of the train (which is a not-so-subtle symbol for any class-based society).

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

This speech, of course, comes moments before Curtis and the rest of the back of the train rebel and start to take control, car by car. Here is where the comparisons to Cabin in the Woods begin (it’s a good thing). As Snowpiercer progresses, we are slowly lowered into the depths of the mind of Wilford, the strange and god-like control he exhibits over this train, and the obsession with the notion that order can only be maintained by making people suffer. Snowpiercer is no longer just the bloody, underdog revolt actioner it started out as. It becomes downright dark and funny, and so weird, for so much the better.

As Curtis’ group moves up the train, the injustices pile up. The manufactured pseudo-society of the train is slowly revealed to be incredibly indulgent and idyllic in a way that’s so incredibly offensive to Curtis and his people (and the audience) when compared to what they have endured at the back of the train. The good ol’ 1% enjoy greenhouses and aquariums and dance clubs and spas and fresh fruit. It becomes increasingly evident that there was definitely an opportunity to spread the wealth a little bit.

The setup is intentionally coy in such a masterful way. The systematic reveal of the cars on the train gradually sinks Curtis and his people into a totally exhausting bewilderment. It’s heart-wrenching to watch these people discover everything that’s been hidden from them for no good reason for seventeen years.

In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

Unfortunately, the final scenes, once Curtis reaches the back of the train, are dragged down by a lot of talking. Apparently Harvey Weinstein thought it wise to chop off twenty minutes, which sparked an argument with the director. The end does drag, but cutting time doesn’t seem like the correct choice (and ultimately, the movie was not shortened). So much exposition is shoved into the last twenty minutes, backstory that could have been infinitely more effective if it was dispersed throughout the film. Maybe it’s because we get the explanation of Curtis’ past after everything has gone down. Maybe it’s the fact that Chris Evans (Curtis Everett) isn’t a good enough actor to make those scenes really work. Most likely, it’s a mixture of both that make the last sequence of the movie its own lagging caboose.

But Snowpiercer is an original. That train is an odd and forceful propellant into the genre of dystopian science fiction. The cast is insane (John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Alison Pill, Jamie Bell, and Steve Park, who is in a lot of things but I will always know him as Mike from Fargo because it is one of the most memorably creepy performances ever in a movie as far as I’m concerned). The dark humor is effortless. The injustices are real. The future is terrifying.

Grade: B+

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