The Blemish » Reviews Better than a slap to the face Sat, 23 May 2015 00:52:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service:’ Firth Thing’s Firth Tue, 17 Feb 2015 15:00:49 +0000 Kingsman: The Secret Service is exactly the movie you need right now. Trade in those reluctantly bought Fifty Shades tickets and take your book club to see Kingsman instead. Yes, it’s a British spy movie. Yes, it’s a comic book movie. But it’s also a slapstick comedy. And it’s full of actual, fleshed-out characters that you care about enough that two hours and nine minutes doesn’t seem that long at all.

Colin Firth is a Kingsman, part of a secret, underground, super classy spy organization, run (obviously) by Michael Caine. When a mission goes wrong and they’re down a spy, each Kingsman is tasked with recruiting one young hopeful he believes has what it takes to be a suave, suited member of the elite organization. The recruits are put through harrowing training levels that include off-the-wall dangerous situations that are ridiculously unrealistic and breathtakingly suspenseful all at the same time. The trainees are systematically eliminated, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style, for not following directions properly (or you know, getting “killed”).


Firth’s recruit is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a former Kingsman who sacrificed himself in the line of duty when Eggsy was just a little boy. Eggsy isn’t quite as posh as the other recruits. He’s got a mum and a baby sister who have perpetually tear-streaked faces due to a nasty, physically abusive step-father, and he lives in a small apartment with them. But, his time getting into trouble on the streets has made him a talented pickpocket and parkour artist. In short, he shows great potential for the badassery a Kingsman must produce on the reg.

While the recruits are being trained, we learn that famous billionaire, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, with a sideways cap and a lisp like no other) has a nasty plot up his sleeve that will wipe out a great deal of the world’s population under the tenuous justification of extremist environmentalism.


Jackson is great fun — his villainy is riotous and full of dirty money. Colin Firth is his usual, polite self, though here, he tends a bit more toward gory violence than say, his role in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Taron Egerton is a real standout — his charm isn’t manufactured. His immediate ease onscreen with the likes of Michael Caine, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mark Strong is extremely refreshing.

The action is comic bookish, occasionally overwhelmed by camerawork but ultimately paced well. The gore is so incredibly fun, as is the gadgetry and weaponry. Kingsman outwardly sends up the James Bond spy movie genre as well as the Trading Places/My Fair Lady switcheroo premise, but it’s less of a parody than an homage. It fits equally well in each of these genres while simultaneously calling out and celebrating their conventions (kind of like how The Princess Bride is both a successful romantic fantasy story and a successful parody of one). Maybe there were one or two lines that were a little eye-rollingly obvious as far as sticking it to the genre, but overall, it is a masterful balance —hilarious, gripping, and entertaining to the end.

Grade: A-

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‘Mortdecai:’ A New Deppth Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:00:49 +0000 By now, you’ve no doubt heard of the spectacular failure that is Mortdecai. It’s one of Johnny Depp’s biggest flops of all time, earning only $4.1 of the expected $10 million in its opening weekend. So it was with shameful, giddy schadenfreude that I purchased my ticket for this monstrosity, expecting the very worst. But I was disappointed. Mortdecai is not so horrendous I wanted to gauge my eyes out. Don’t misunderstand me — it is not good by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s not the appalling, flaming turd I was promised. It is an utterly ordinary failure.

Charlie Mortdecai is an art dealer of the snivelly, fishy, underground type, and he’s clumsy and inept in every way possible. He’s alive only because his manservant, the unusually sexually successful Jock (a way-too-committed Paul Bettany — who has cornered the mediocre art-mystery genre of the movie industry *ahem* The DaVinci Code) saves his ass over and over again. Along with his wife, Johanna (the absolutely insufferable Gwyneth Paltrow), and Detective Martland (Ewan McGregor), Mortdecai finds himself embroiled in a murder-art theft-conspiracy of epically overdone proportions.


The cartoonish character of Charlie Mortdecai is clearly a point of passion for Johnny Depp. He’s the anti hero of the book series, Don’t Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfigioli. As a series of light novels, it’s probably passable for its tiny, dedicated audience (an audience that happens to include the likes of Stephen Fry). As a movie meant to start a franchise for the masses, it simply fails. This movie has been described as Depp’s attempt at his very own Austin Powers. First of all, the reason he would want one of those is lost on me. That sort of character was absolutely fantastic…in 1997. Secondly, the plot-heavy farce centering on the art world doesn’t quite have that “Marvel superhero saves the world” ring to it. It was never going to win over the general movie-going population. I could have told you that.

There are three jokes in the film, repeated incessantly and without creative evolution throughout. The first centers around the mustache Charlie Mortdecai decides to grow, which disgusts those around him, especially his wife. This is particularly perturbing because facial hair is one of, if not the most glorious aspect of human life. The second joke beaten to death concerns Jock the manservant’s ability to score some vag wherever they may be, whatever predicament in which they may be. The third is about Martland’s obsessive fancying of Mortdecai’s wife, which brings me to the Paltrow.


I am so over Gwyneth Paltrow it’s not even funny. The peculiarly perfect blank slate she provided for Margot Tenenbaum is no more! No more, I tell you. For one, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that Gwenyth Paltrow can do a British accent. Now, I may no longer be able to separate her performances in movies from the genuinely awful things she’s said about being a “working mother” and comparing receiving mean internet comments to living through war, but her presence on screen has become totally cringeworthy. I hope she gets stuck in her own GOOP. I’ll be over here, “consciously uncoupling” from all her movie roles.

In conclusion, it’s hard for me to jump on the internet bandwagon that’s so sensationalizing the failures of Mortdecai. It’s not special enough for that. It’s mediocre, just kind of boring and not very funny. But it’s no horrible thing we haven’t seen before. However, I do believe this is the time for everyone to realize exactly what Gwenyth Paltrow is. She, as a person, is exponentially more out of touch than Mortdecai.

Grade: C-

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‘John Wick:’ I’m Thinking Keanu’s Back Tue, 04 Nov 2014 20:19:01 +0000 Keanu Reeves is John Wick, a retired super-killer whose name evokes dread and the resignation to certain death if one gets on his bad side. He’s out of the business, having found love in a beautiful wife. And he enjoys life “on the other side” except for that his darling wife gets sick and dies, as wives of tortured, violent ex-hitman are wont to do. What she does, after her death, is send him a puppy to cope, a baby beagle named Daisy who grants him immediate relief and purpose and awwwww.

But a mob of stupid, Russian gangsters show up at his house, beat John to a pulp and KILL THE DOG in order to steal his car. Killing a dog in a movie is a forbidden act, just the worst thing you can do…unless it’s followed by a swift 90 minutes of unrelenting, violent revenge. And that’s the beauty of John Wick. At the risk of perpetuating gender stereotypes, this is an action movie premise I can get behind one hundred percent. If someone killed the puppy my dead wife gave me, you better believe I’d chase them throughout New York City massacring anyone who stood in my path.


It’s a self-aware action flick — it’s funny, its heightened clichés mock itself (there’s an inspired scene with a cop, the versatile Tom Sadoski of The Newsroom), and the action is fucking awesome. John Wick is the best in the business, so he takes out guys like it’s his job (because it was once). There’s a method to his madness. He whacks dudes with a sense of rhythm; he is true killing machine. When approached by two men, he shoots and disables the first, turns and disables the second, turns back with a kill shot to the first, then finishes the job. He’s a consummate professional, but the action, while systematic, never gets boring. It’s relentless and brutal and totally great.

The filmmakers throw you into the underground, organized crime world, with minimal explanation, which is just the right amount. We’re not confused, but we’re not bombarded with exposition. The filmmakers know we are not there for the convoluted the logic. We’re there for the face-smashing.


On top of Keanu, who kills it with his signature stoicism and gravelly, moan-y delivery, there’s Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, and Ian McShane. The top dog Russian villain, the father of the punk who stole Wick’s car (Allen), is Michael Nyqvist. Most of his lines engulf him. I came out of the movie wishing his part was played by Christoph Waltz. He had his moments, but most of his moments had him. Other than that, I would venture to say John Wick is a nearly flawless action movie.

And like, Keanu’s back now, so let’s hear it for Bill and Ted the third.

Grade: A-

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‘The Best of Me:’ The 2nd Annual Nicholas Sparks Drinking Game Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:31:38 +0000 Those who’ve been with me on this movie review-writing venture from the beginning may remember a little review of a larger-than-life movie, Safe Haven, which was given to us about a year and a half ago. It’s really a bastion of Nicholas Sparksmanship, so much so that it inspired a great friend of mine to come up with the definitive rules for the Official Nicholas Sparks Drinking Game, and by golly, do they work. We reconvened for round two this year with the newest, hastily thrown together romantic drama to bear the Sparks name, The Best of Me.

We’ll take it rule by rule.

  • Drink when the two pretty white people meet.

The two pretty white people, in the case of The Best of Me, are the combined 1 ½ respectable actor, Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden (each of them are ¾ of a respectable actor, entirely due to their participation in this movie). Not only are they pretty and white, but they are also pretty white. I imagine that the only reason both of them agreed to do this is because they wanted an excuse to hug and kiss each other in the Louisiana bayou, shirtless, wet, and in otherwise super sexy circumstances. They’re good looking. I’d do it. Memorize a few lines, kiss James Marsden, get paid for it? Makes sense to me!

The Best Of Me

Also, you’re in luck, drinky drinkers, because they meet each other approximately A MILLION times in this movie, between flashbacks and not talking to each other, then finally talking to each other, etc., etc., etc. The premise is that Amanda (Monaghan) and Dawson (Marsden, also UGH on the name) were young and in love, but some serious shit went down and they haven’t seen each other for over twenty years. They reunite thanks to the death of their older, wiser mentor/father figure guy, Tuck (Gerald McRaney, better known to me as Raymond Tusk from House of Cards), whose final wish is that they come together, spread his ashes, go through his estate, and get to banging again.

  • Drink when obstacles come between their love

Well, what are they gonna do, NOT listen to a dead man? They fuck their way down memory lane, and we learn the truly awful, totally ridiculous conflicts they’ve had to bear. The obstacles that come between their love are aplenty, from children and a husband on Amanda’s side to a horrendous family history on Dawson’s side, including drug dealing, abusive relatives (though they never once say the word “drugs” in the movie) who hate Dawson so much for rejecting the family business that they cause a whole mess of violence.

  • Drink every time clothes are removed

There’s a garden at Tuck’s place. How is Dawson supposed to weed the garden, with his shirt ON? What is he, an animal?


  • Drink when a character announces he/she has some kind of disease

There’s leukemia! There’s a heart transplant! The Best of Me is a veritable petri dish of very serious ailments. By this point, you are mostly drunk.

  • Drink when someone dies

Well judging by the fact that they entire premise of the movie is based around reuniting after Tuck dies, you can bet your ass there’s a bunch of death. There’s even a funeral.

  • Drink when there’s a montage

The Best of Me holds no candle to Safe Haven’s FIVE montages. With a measly two, be glad there’s way more ridiculous shit to drink to.

  • Drink when someone says “We can’t be together” or some variation of that

The whole impetus for their break-up is that Dawson doesn’t think he’s good enough for Amanda and wants to protect her from his crazy, redneck family. He spends a whole lot of the movie reluctantly pushing her away. If she’d just listened to him the first time, the movie would be five minutes long, and you’d be way more sober.

  • Drink when the plot seems to be written specifically to cause obstacles even though in any normal world they wouldn’t be problems

If you actually adhere to this rule, you would have to drink from the very beginning to the very end, with no stopping to breathe. Realistically, there are reveals of death and disease, conveniently timed car accidents and shootings, and unnecessarily drunk and disorderly encounters to drink to.


  • Drink whenever you’re just like, “What? Why?”

This is a rule that you don’t take seriously if you don’t want to die. Every single thing is a “What? Why?” From Dawson’s Southern Gothic/Johnny Cash/Amish/Preacher father who looks to be maybe five years older than him to Amanda’s crying and looking at the stars, to crock-o-shit stories about fate and hearing songs and seeing visions that aren’t really there, you could drink yourself into oblivion with just this one rule. Take it easy.

  • Drink whenever someone cries

This includes your own tears of confusion.

  • Drink whenever there’s a kiss or embrace in any type of precipitation and/or while one or all parties are wet

In a pond, on a rooftop in a storm…you name something wet, Amanda and Dawson boogeyed down in it.


The Best of Me is a wildly successful drinking game subject, but not such a successful movie. The drama is particularly contrived, somehow it seems like the Nicholas Sparks crew is getting a little tired of themselves, and the prevailing consensus is that there aren’t nearly enough ghosts.

Grade: A+ for drinking, F for montages, D- for movie

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‘Gone Girl:’ Bye Bye Bennie Mon, 06 Oct 2014 22:48:48 +0000 Here is a spoiler warning: I will talk about the plot of Gone Girl in the review below. If it’s important to you to not know specifics of the plot of this movie, including a big twist that isn’t evident from the trailer and whatnot, stop reading this. Though, I will roll my eyes at you. Because I can see you. I can see everything. And I have a lot of thoughts on this movie that I want us to talk about.

Anywho, Gone Girl had an effect on me. Not a positive one. The film is so problematic for me on so many levels, and it’s only complicated by the fact that I was riveted and caught up in it pretty consistently throughout, which is a remarkable thing to say A – for what I think is my actual opinion of the movie, and B – for the way I usually view Fincher films (immediately able to point out the at least half-hour chunk of the movie that could have been lifted). But Gone Girl fascinated me with its flaws at every turn, and when I left the theater, I began ruminating.

I haven’t finished ruminating, which makes this a difficult review to write, as I don’t want to make convictions I’m not positive I have. That seems unfair and unwise to do on something as permanent as the internet (how permanent is the internet, really? do we have a verdict on that?). Also, I have a decades-old habit of staying silent until I know how I truly feel about something, but with movie reviews, I don’t have that luxury of time. So just know, that for every opinion I’m about to express, I have also negated it in my mind, I feel really unsure about it, and I would like to talk about it with you.


Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a pretty bad husband to his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Their marriage is falling apart following some financial troubles as well as a relocation to Missouri in order to care for Nick’s dying mother. Then, one day, Amy goes missing. It looks like an abduction, but as more evidence surfaces, it becomes evident that Nick had something to do with her disappearance. He wasn’t crazy about his wife, and his ambivalence, or hate, is too hard for him to mask for the cameras. Members of the media jump all over him like rabid dogs, tearing apart his character, over-analyzing his every look, his every creepy side-smile. And in all fairness, it looks like he did it.

But through diary entries of Amy’s, flashbacks and voiceovers, we learn that she framed him. Nick was having an affair, so she studied up on how to forge the perfect crime and spent months planning and placing things just so, so it would look like he killed her. And she almost got away with it, too. But Nick knew his wife, and he figured it out. And he played her little game, garnering sympathy on national TV, putting up a good fight.

So, when Amy returns, miraculously, she plays her fabricated story furiously, cornering Nick into sitting pretty for the cameras and blabbing about their healing relationship and moving forward when the reality is, he’s trapped for good.


My gut feeling when exiting the theater was that Gone Girl is so not the story we need right now, as a society struggling with the definition of the word “victim,” especially when it comes to cases of sexual assault. Then my quick, second thought was “Ugh, Robin, it’s just a story. Isn’t it kind of cool that there’s this badass female villain? Plus, it’s written by a woman!” and then my next thought was, “No, it’s not badass. It’s not a story of justified female revenge. It’s a psychopathic woman going to extremes and falsely accusing several men of violating her physically for no reason other than to punish them for their man-ness. Maybe the book is more nuanced, but this movie is not.” We learn that Amy falsely accused an ex of rape years before she met Nick, apparently because the guy didn’t want to date her anymore. Then, she frames Nick for murder because he cheats on her. But murder is a separate category from infidelity. The latter does not justify the former. Then, she uses her obsessive ex, Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris) for food and shelter, and when she decides she doesn’t need him anymore, she slits his throat (but not without staging a violent assault). This leaves us with a downright “crazy” female villain. Just not what we need right now.

Then, there’s the case of the media. Missi Pyle plays Nancy Grace, basically, a sensationalist TV personality who rips Nick apart from the very beginning. It’s a film commentary on the problems with television commentary, which seems accurate until the reactions that we see from those who’ve been swayed are only ones of women. Supposedly, the whole town, the whole country, is convinced that Nick is a slimy, awful killer, but the only visible evidence in the film is Missi Pyle’s character, Amy’s mother, a housewife who wants a picture with Nick, a makeup artist that rolls her eyes, and a female producer who gives Nick the death stare before his TV appearance. All women who have been convinced with little or no evidence to hate this man, because he’s a man, so he must have done a bad thing. It’s an interesting choice to highlight these female reactions and practically no others, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then again, Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) is a consummate professional, and her sidekick, Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) detests Nick from the beginning. But that’s mostly played for comedic effect, and they are both separate from the media frenzy.


Maybe David Fincher wanted to make this an over-the-top revenge tale, in which case he should have made Death Proof. Perhaps it’s a failure of tone that contributes to my feelings about the movie. Some reviews have labeled Gone Girl a thriller, some a dark comedy. Fincher himself tried to infuse a lot of Hitchcock, a master of horror. But in a theater full of people, there was a lot of laughter, and I don’t think that was ever Hitchcock’s goal. Plus, the film is shot like every Fincher film. Beautiful, stark, stunning, and expansive – even his close-ups feel massive in size and importance. But maybe Gone Girl would have benefitted from being more intimate, or a fully realized noir, rather than Fincher’s overtly fabricated realism – his superbly stylized version of our world. His style asks us to trust that this is reality, and this story is too fantastical for that.

In addition, Fincher’s supporting actor choices, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry, somehow poke a hole in the credibility he tries to create with his cinematography (not that Neil Patrick Harris isn’t fantastic, but he is out of place, and as for Tyler Perry, I have one word: Madea). It “Lifetime Movie’s” it up a bit, and confuses things further as far as Fincher’s storytelling goals go.

The other part of it is there’s no one to root for. Nick is being played, but he’s not such a sympathetic guy. His twin sister, Margot (Carrie Coon, who seems to have appeared out of nowhere and taken masterful control of The Leftovers and this movie), is the only fully realized character we feel bad for, but she doesn’t have a goal other than to help her brother. There’s no solid ground to settle upon, no moral center to grasp, no one to really make you care, which creates a distance. Maybe the story really is just a pulp-y, noir-ish tale of a crazy, murderous wife, but in that case, Fincher missed the mark by trying to make it something more grounded. If it is supposed to be something more grounded, I guess I wish it wasn’t.

Grade: I don’t fucking know, B-?

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‘The Boxtrolls:’ I Laika’d It Tue, 30 Sep 2014 05:02:47 +0000 When it comes to stop motion animation, the folks at Laika are at the top of the heap. And The Boxtrolls is a triumph. There is simply no one doing it better, or with more personality, vision, and general success.

The Boxtrolls is set in the fictional, vaguely European, cobblestoned, and hilly town of Cheesebridge, where the very richest wear extremely tall white hats, eat copious amounts of cheese, and do practically nothing else (like build a children’s hospital…they spend the money on a gigantic wheel of cheese instead. Look, sick kids are important, but I’m not going to say I don’t get it. Cheese is my religion.). The town is plagued by boxtrolls, which are exactly what they sound like: little, adorable troll monsters who live inside cardboard boxes and sneak around the streets at night foraging for neat metal objects they can use to build their crazy cool underground home.

But the people of Cheesebridge do not find the boxtrolls adorable. In fact, ever since the Trapshaw baby was stolen by them years ago (or so they’re told), the people of Cheesebridge are terrified of the creatures, convinced that they snatch children and eat their faces off. An extremely disgusting man named Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley), along with his simple henchmen (played with utter perfection by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, and Tracy Morgan), perpetuate this nasty story and go around “exterminating” boxtrolls. Snatcher’s power hungry and ruthless, with one goal: to gain a white hat and therefore, access to the “tasting room” – where fancy cheese is consumed with abandon by the wealthiest, snobbiest men of Cheesebridge.


Meanwhile, we become privy to the obvious fact that the Trapshaw baby was not, indeed, dismembered and gobbled up by the boxtrolls, but instead, lovingly cared for and raised to be one of them. Sure, they eat bugs aned it’s a bit dirty underground, but the boxtrolls are warm and fuzzy little guys. The boy goes by Eggs (that’s what kind of box he inhabits), and we learn the true story of how he became a boxtroll about halfway into the movie. It’s a horrible tale that, of course, incriminates the evil dude, and the race to save the boxtrolls and the town of Cheesebridge from the grip of Archibald Snatcher, the real monster, begins.

I give the filmmakers a whole lot of credit for making an animated kids’ movie in the great, old-fashioned tradition of terrifying the pants of small children. There’s little to no sap, nothing “cute” occurs, and the vision of Cheesebridge is dirty, rank, and stinky, just like the cheese with which the town is obsessed. The characters are angular and off-color, with blue-cheese-moldy faces, contoured with green and blue lines that show their true, nasty colors. The film is rife with pure evil, parental neglect, cross-dressing, homoeroticism, leeches, abduction, clinical insanity, disgusting allergic reactions, sewers, grime, and stinky cheese. It’s fantastic.


It’s not nearly as funny as ParaNorman so the script left a little to be desired, but Richard Ayoade’s conflicted henchman is the highlight, hands down. The story seems secondary to the creation of this world — the characters, like the little girl, Winnie, who befriends Eggs, seem to exist because they’re expected to (how do you have a story about a lost little boy without the tough girl to help him through it). Her father, the wealthy, white-hatted Mr. Portley-Rind (Jared Harris), makes promises Snatcher he has no intention of keeping, which seem just a little too convenient and lazy for the story that unfolds. But then again, Winnie is a little obsessed with blood and gore and Mr. Portley-Rind ends up questioning his sexual identity, so I loved it.

The world of the boxtrolls is most definitely the focus, and it’s intricate and lovely and a true work of art, one to be appreciated. If you want to realize just how impressive it is, stay to the end of the credits, where Richard Ayoade, the King of Everything (a title I just made up that suits his role in the world pretty solidly, if I do say so myself), makes it all clear.

Grade: A-

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‘Tusk:’ I Am The Walrus Mon, 22 Sep 2014 17:03:18 +0000 This movie is based on a podcast episode, which was a discussion of a Twitter post of an online apartment listing, and it feels just like that. You know how when you’re in film school, and you hear a weird story and you’re like, “Woah that’d make a cool movie,” and you sound like Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted because that’s what dumb people sound like? And it ends up being a disaster because yeah, it was a weird story, but no, that doesn’t mean you should slap it on screen without like, thinking a little bit about how to actually make it a good movie first? Well, that’s what Tusk reminds me of.

Not entirely a disaster, yet not nearly comprehensive enough, Tusk’s failures can be attributed entirely to the sentence and sentiment, “Dude, that’s a good idea.” Kevin Smith, on his podcast last year, brought up an apartment listing he’d come across on Twitter, offering free lodging to a person as long as that person was willing to don a walrus costume for up to two hours a day and act like a walrus while suited up. Fucked up? Yes. Horror movie fodder? You bet. In the right hands with Kevin Smith? You would have thought so based on Red State, which I found a terrifying and tight, impeccably wound movie. 


But it seems with Tusk that he rushed to give us a crazy, walrus-obsessed villain, and then in the middle, had a bunch of “Dude, that’s a good idea” moments that he tossed in there for fun (some of which are incredibly fun but don’t fit together) and to take up the empty, non-walrus-filled space. The apparent haste with which Tusk was sewn together doesn’t help its case. 


Dude, it’s a good idea to make a genuinely spine-twistingly creepy horror movie about a crazy man who mutilates people in order to make them into walruses because of some sick obsession.

Dude, it’s a good idea to make the victim a mustachioed and douchified Justin Long and have the premise be that he’s an asshole host of a podcast (called the Not See Party…say it fast, and then shake your head) who is looking for a weirdo to interview, AKA he’s asking for it. 

Dude, it’s a good idea to make a ridiculous, B-movie, Basket Case slash Bad Milo level walrus suit out of human skin.

Dude, it’s a good idea to put Haley Joel Osment in your project. Period.


Dude, it’s a good idea to have a sweet extended cameo by Johnny Depp, Frenchified (I realized how much that sounds like “french fry” and it made me smile) with a Nicole-Kidman-in-The-Hours level nose prosthetic, as an eccentric, off-the-wall, kind of slapstick homicide detective.

Dude, it’s a good idea to set your movie in Canada and make a bunch of jokes aboot Canadians.

Dude, it’s a good idea to set your movie in a stately, creepy mansion in the middle of the Canadian woods. 

Dude, it’s a good idea to make a complex, character-driven movie in which the people who are searching for their lost friend, the victim, have deep, dark secrets of their own.


But all of these pieces together…they don’t intertwine well, and they’re not meaty enough on their own. They are all enjoyable, but the movie takes a hard left turn into straight comedy about halfway in, with the appearance of Captain Jack Sparrow, and doesn’t look back. Perhaps I was just duped by the trailer, which used clips basically only from that first, truly unsettling half of the movie, but I don’t necessarily think that’s what Kevin Smith had in mind. 

So I guess my conclusion would be #WalrusMeh?

Grade: B-

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‘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?!).

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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.

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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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