Jason Ratigan

Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.

Follow on Twitter



"Paper Towns" is Flimsy but with Some Interesting Twists Review

There are nine problems...

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a modern archetype defined by Nathan Rabin in his review of Elizabethtown (2005) as "that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."  The term is a complaint or criticism rather than something beloved.  These characters are walking infatuations that belong to the observers and not to the actors themselves.  And Paper Towns (2015), an adaptation of the novel by John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars fame), adheres to that definition with ironic precision before crushing that simplicity and then resuscitating it a little so we aren't too much the better for the experience.

Jan
16
2016
Read more

"Regular Show: The Movie" Fails to Adapt the Show's Charm to Something Longer Review

Take me back to high school.  Gotta fix this!

If you're going to judge something, you balance two things: ambition and results.  A film like Interstellar (2015), for example had incredible ambition with mixed results.  Furthermore, the ambition of the film was indisputably worthy of the effort and the results were mixed only in light of its high goal.  That is to say, in a lesser space film, the results would have been laudable.  In a movie like Regular Show: The Movie (2015), the ambition is about the size of Matthew McConaughey's squinted eyelid.  The film's creative team of J.G. Quintel (director/co-writer/vocal star) and Sean Szeles (co-writer) deliver with apparent ease on that gauge, but are perhaps less commendable for that lack of aspiration.  Still, it was kind of a giggle.

Jan
16
2016
Read more

"Caesar and Otto's" Audience is Limited to People Just Like Them Review

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Horror is cheap to make and cheap to parody and, for that and other reasons, attractive to make and to parody.  Caesar and Otto's Paranormal Halloween (2015) is a parody horror film for the YouTube age.  Caesar and Otto are the creation of writer/directer/actor Dave Campfield where two underachieving brothers who find themselves in horror stories.  Here, Caesar (Campfield), Otto (Paul Chomicki), and their drunken father (Scott Aguillar) agree to housesit the evil governor's (Ken MacFarlane) second home over the winter.  Craziness ensues with potential possessions, maybe murderous gardeners, hot neighbors, and three dopes caught up in more horror references than they can handle.

Jan
16
2016
Read more

The Modern Political Stage is Set by these "Best of Enemies" Review

These are the debates we're having today.

The Americans that live in this country today would not have survived 1968.  We have lost our collective shit about the color of a dress and the NSA having data on phone calls.  That's to say nothing of what's passing for the presidential primary contest right now.  In 1968, Robert Kennedy was murdered after the California primary, Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis, and there were riots throughout the country in April and well-televised police brutality at the Democratic convention in Chicago.  That's to say nothing of the Vietnam war.  Watching Best of Enemies (2015), about the "debates" between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal during the Republican and Democratic conventions, it's hard to wrap your head around what would have seemed like a cultural tsunami to most people.  As with the political trends of the time, these debates bestowed upon posterity a storm of political bullshit that has allowed the citizenry to be snowed into momentary ignorant rage and then complacency.  Because, after all, there's someone up there being angry for me.

Jan
16
2016
Read more

Everyone Deserves A Little "Gameplay" Review

This is the story of everything that happened next.

Being a bit on the nerd side myself, it's hard for me to dispute the central theme of Gameplay (2014), which is that video games have become an integral part of human life. The argument goes well beyond Candy Crush and Farmville--though they are definitely a part of it--to the psychological ordering of global retail. The phenomenon began in a very humble state. Utah, in fact, with a group of computer nerds playing a game of their own creation called Spacewar! where they shot little square dots at larger square dots. Nolan Bushnell met these guys one day and was inspired to put together a similar toy box alongside pinball machines. His first attempt failed quite miserably, but his second entry into the field was a massive success: Pong. A game with two paddles going up and down to bounce a little ball back and forth was the first successful attempt to make humans go crazy to the sound of *pop*.

Oct
12
2015
Read more

"The Returned" Aren't Welcome Review

Something really weird happened.

In another edition of US television adequately stealing a European television mystery program in the endless pursuit to keep Americans from reading, A&E has brought Les revenants (2012) over the water and called it The Returned (2015). In ten episodes, we get a surprising amount of characters with more sub-plots than you can count. For reasons unknown, the semi-recently deceased of this small Washington town have crawled out from whence they died and avoided newspapers long enough to be shocked by the news of their own death. Perhaps surprisingly, these newly revived individuals expend most of their energies dealing with their on-hold squabbles rather than basking in the joy of life. But the real lesson of The Returned is that not everybody who comes back from the dead deserves a celebration.

Oct
12
2015
Read more

We All Might Learn A "Lesson" Review

Someone has just stolen my wallet.

When a student's wallet is stolen, English teacher Nade (Margita Gosheva) takes the matter very seriously, using all her rhetorical skills to guilt the culprit into a confession. No one confesses. It weighs on her and she vows to teach the little thief a lesson. Things at home are pretty rocky as well. Her husband Mladen (Ivan Barnev), while a caring father, has a problem with alcohol and money. When the creditors threaten to take the house, Nade has to scramble to get the money together. She tries to shake down a deadbeat boss who has yet to pay her for her translation work. She takes out loans. She tries to get some money from her estranged father. At every turn, something goes wrong and Nade is living every moment on the edge of personal disaster. The impunity of that little thief looms larger and larger in her mind.

Oct
12
2015
Read more

Production Woes Afflict the Promising "A Plague So Pleasant" Review

When we stopped shooting the zombies, they stopped eating us.

One of the great joys of being a movie junkie is when you pop in something you feel virtually certain you will despise and the movie takes a turn you didn't expect and your world opens up. That kind of happened in the absolute minimum way with A Plague So Pleasant (2013), a zombie movie with a twist. Clay (David Chandler) is a survivor of the inaptly named zombie apocalypse. It lasted about a day, but within a few hours, they realized that if you don't attack the zombies, they won't really attack you. Thus, when the carnage ends, it becomes a felony to 'kill' a zombie. His sister Mia (Eva Boehnke) seems to be adjusting well except that she still considers her undead boyfriend a boyfriend rather than an animated corpse. Pretentious roomie Todd (Maxwell Moody) wants to date Mia and, with Clay, decide that the undead boyfriend needs to be made dead-dead. That turns out to be a bad idea.

Oct
12
2015
Read more

Brian Wilson Received Neither "Love" Nor "Mercy" Review

There's a lot to lose out there.

Brian Wilson had a pretty rough go of it. Physically and emotionally abused by his father (Bill Camp), in the band he gets little support from his brothers (Brett Davern and Kenny Wormald) and considerable hostility from his cousin Mike (Jake Abel), and later in life is mentally tortured by control freak Dr. Gene Levy (Paul Giamatti). All the while, Brian (Paul Dano/John Cusack) suffers from a significant mental illness--whether schizophrenia or something else is ambiguous--and writes the music that makes the Beach Boys a household name to this day. Love & Mercy (2015) fully and even ruthlessly expresses the torturous aspects of Wilson's life while still servicing the musical genius and fan expectations. To its credit, the film is far more devoted to the former than the latter.

Oct
07
2015
Read more

They Should Have Looked Up "Salvation" In The Dictionary Review

I guess killin' all those Indians for us must have addled his mind.

The title of The Salvation (2014) is inapt. There is no salvation here. Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring has, instead, created another entry in the how-living-in-the-west-really-sucked-probably subgenre of Westerns. Things get so grim, in fact, that one questions the plausibility of the exact brand of misery Levring and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen establish here. The story begins with Jon Jensen (Mads Mikkelsen) waiting at the (implausibly busy) train station for the arrival of his wife and child from Denmark. Jon and his brother left Denmark after the Second Schleswig War and set up as hunters in the new West. Before nightfall, Jon's wife and son have been murdered and Jon has taken his revenge on the culprits. Little did he know, one of the perpetrators was the brother of the local psycho-land grabber, Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who then exacts his own interpretation of biblical justice that begins a cycle of extreme violence.

Sep
09
2015
Read more

"3 Hearts" Will Make You Rethink International Relations Review

What's your name?

It sucks to miss a train. But for tax accountant Marc (Benoît Poelvoorde), one missed train back to Paris leads him to Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the pair quickly connect. The next morning, Marc and Sylvie agree to meet in Paris and they part without ever saying their names--très romantique! Of course, events transpire such that Marc misses their appointment and Sylvie goes off to the wintry wilds of Minneapolis with a boyfriend she isn't that keen on. When Marc takes the train back to where he met Sylvie, he comes across Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) who is freaking out over a little tax problem with the antique shop she runs with her sister. Marc, no stranger to quick connections, falls in with Sophie and the two get engaged. Surprise, no surprise, Sylvie is Sophie's sister and an emotional fuse is lit until Sylvie's arrival finally blows everything to pieces.

Sep
09
2015
Read more

"Innerspace" Holds Up Review

The most important thing for you right now is no excitement.

Rewatching movies from your childhood in high definition is a trip. Watching The NeverEnding Story (1984) for the first time in over twenty years, I remembered the images from the VHS we had and the emotions it used to conjure, but interpreted them very differently as an adult. In one very brief, completely immaterial moment Bastian pulls something like The Daily News off of the book and I vividly remember that image and the awe revealing the ancient cover of The NeverEnding Story. As an adult, seeing it in HD, the book looks silly, oversized, and crisp like an obvious prop. Then you see something like Innerspace (1987), another film from my later childhood that looks and sounds basically the same. I can't tell whether it "holds up" or not because I'm engrossed in the story, the comedy, and the realization that Martin Short was awesome and could have been more than the clown if anyone ever realized how to harness his boundless energy.

Sep
06
2015
Read more

Doesn't Hit Like A "Comet", But It Lands Review

Beautiful, crazy, and funny. God, she's perfect.

One cannot overstate the difficulty this generation will have with growing up if the manic pixie dream girl remains the predominant heterosexual fantasy. Try to find a 35 year old pixie, let me tell you, it's tough. It's also rather inegalitarian in our media, morphing ideal women from compliant bodies into quirky, compliant, skinny bodies. Their interests and dreams are unrealistic, low-paying, and micro-niche while necessarily walking the edge of emotional instability. Like todays hipsters more generally, their individuality looks virtually the same as everyone else's individuality. Short-sheared sheep, if you will. Comet (2014) sticks with our manic pixie dream girl in the form of Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and the pursuing, Asberger-y Dell (Justin Long), coming in and out of their lives together (and apart) in five moments (possibly in parallel universes) with five different looks (in both cinematography and wardrobe).

Sep
06
2015
Read more

An Important Conversation Rears Its Head and is Ignored by "Bottoms Up" Review

Once we harvest the fat...

Bottoms Up: Rise of the Backside (2014), about the cultural phenomenon of large butts and booty shaking, is confused and understandably so.  Butts are funny while severe self-inflicted injury isn't funny.  Crass culture is funny while objectification isn't funny.  So there's plenty here for everyone to criticize.  The angle from which this particular review will aim its criticism is directors Chris Alvarez and Kurt Williamson failure to follow the darker tones into the truly revelatory areas that scream out for coverage.  The vast majority of Bottoms Up is a VH1 content filler with unknown comedians making ridiculously broad cultural claims intercut with music videos and what little music they could license.  But about twenty minutes into the film, you see in grotesque reality what surgical ass enhancement entails.  From that point onward, the comedians appear tone-deaf and unfunny.  They probably didn't see the footage.  They should have.  The conversation would have taken a different aspect.

Sep
01
2015
Read more

Some Things Are Better Left Between "Lovers" Review

Your path is already chosen.

After spending the 1970's in television, Roland Joffé burst onto the scene with back-to-back critical hits with The Killing Fields (1984) (winning three Oscars from seven nominations) and The Mission (1986) (winning one Oscar from seven nominations)--a sophomore slump anyone might be proud of. Both films set in exotic locals during a periods of socio-political upheaval and both are marvelous. Then things go quiet, critically speaking, with incredible speed. Last I caught up with Joffé was There Be Dragons (2011) set during the Spanish Civil War--seemingly tailor-made for triumph--but failing to provide much of an impression of that little-covered topic because of his dedication to a oft-formulated love story. His latest outing is The Lovers (2015), which IMDB incredibly claims was released theatrically, about an exotic location during a period of socio-political upheaval that is, as the title may suggest, overshadowed by a oft-formulated love story.

Aug
25
2015
Read more

"Ancient Aliens": Yup, Season 7. You Read That Right. Review

Ancient astronaut theorists believe...

What damned nonsense is this? One presumes that the lunatics or opportunist hacks who frequent Ancient Aliens (2009-) have so little regard for themselves that their fees are comfortably in budget, allowing for another season to come out on blu ray. One such "expert" was described in subtitle as an AM radio host. I don't know where my anger comes from, possibly outer space--I'm sure we could find an ancient astronaut theorist to confirm it--but it is real. I can't get Roman Holiday (1953) or Gallipoli (1981) on blu ray, but I can get the last three seasons of Ancient Aliens in any assortment of high definition collections. What might you be invited to enjoy in this luckiest of seasons? Could I entice you with a false dichotomy? How about a hasty conclusion? One ancient astronaut theorist talks about Superman with equally un-subjunctive language and demeanor.

Aug
25
2015
Read more

Resnais's Guide To "Love" And "Life" Review

I'm not interested in The Bible, I'm interested in death.

So, you think you're an art house movie buff? Good for you, buddy, because I don't know if I can handle it. My ambitions are entertainment with literacy with a wide definition for both. Alain Resnais is surely an opaque dividing line between my sort of dilettantism and the hard core, high art snob/hippie with Last Year at Marienbad (1961) being a classic example of unwatchable inner-rectal filmmaking to your mainstream audience. The Cohen Collection has put together two of his films, from the early 1980's, written by Jean Gruault, Life is a Bed of Roses (1983) and Love Unto Death (1984) one presumes because Criterion already has the rights to Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), and Night and Fog (1955). Still, given Resnais's stature in film history, he is criminally underrepresented in home video and these are odd enough to satisfy those to whom such oddity provides a sense of high culture.

Aug
03
2015
Read more

We May Never Know What "Kumiko" Found Review

I am like a Spanish Conquistador.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2015) sounds like a cineaste's dream movie. The titular Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) finds a VHS copy of Fargo (1996) hidden in a beachside cave and takes its "True Story" prologue on face value, believing that just under a million dollars is hidden along some Minnesota highway. Beyond this little plot detail, however, one need not know very much about Fargo. In fact, if you've never seen the Coen Brothers classic, you can watch Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter without hurting too much in the way of spoilers. This is, for those who entered (as I did) with the logline "A Japanese woman takes the film Fargo to be true and uses it to search for buried treasure" in their heads, slightly annoying. I say slightly because if you're the sort of person who likes quirky, indie-spirited films (is that redundant?), you're probably the sort that will take to this piece of melancholia with aplomb. This is not a piece of fanboy fiction, but that's alright.

Aug
03
2015
Read more

"Water Diviner" To End All WWI Films (At Least For A While) Review

For me, this place is one big grave.

With the continuous 100 year anniversaries that will span the next four years, one would expect some epic films on the many facets of The Great War, World War I, the War to End All Wars. Mostly, this has found itself on cable television with documentaries like The World Wars (2014) that controversially suggested there might be a through-line from World War I causing in some respect its sequel, World War II. Russell Crowe took this opportunity to make his directorial debut with The Water Diviner (2015), set from the perspective of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at and after the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. If its brethren, which are almost certainly forthcoming, stay at or above the quality of The Water Diviner, then we may well learn a few things about war and the people it leaves behind. While being sufficiently entertained, of course.

Aug
03
2015
Read more

All "Red Roads" Lead To Momoa Review

What did ya think? It was all going to work out for you?

Strange as it is to say this, but Jason Momoa is going on my watch list. Not a great watcher of television, it would seem that Momoa has been cast as a giant brute, but in The Red Road (2014-) series on the Sundance Channel shows that he's actually a person when he isn't exclusively staring out from under his massive dark brows. Momoa plays Phillip Kopus, a Native American drug dealer that has returned to his small New Jersey town after leaving prison to start dealing drugs there. It doesn't sound too promising, but it's enough that he gets to speak in his own voice, not have a ponytail, and seem capable of nuanced ethical views. Kopus is the bad guy in a show without good guys.

Jul
19
2015
Read more


Popular