The Blemish » Reviews Better than a slap to the face Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:40:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘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.

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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