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.

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The Cuteness Bowl Goes Into OT with "Saving Otter 501" Review

It may look painfully cute, but it’s deadly serious.

Karl Mayer and his team go around California, picking up abandoned sea otters.  Since 1984, they’ve rehabilitated (or tried to rehabilitate) 500 otters to be released back into the wild.  This little pup, the focus of this documentary, is number 501.  Rehabilitation isn’t easy.  Otters have a particular set of skills that they usually learn from their mother.  Yes, they’re naturally cuter than anything you’ve ever seen in your life, but they have to groom and use stones as rudimentary tools, stuff like that.  In 1984, they tried to teach these otters themselves, aping otter behavior as best they could.  But they didn’t survive well in the wild.  Then, by happenstance, they introduced a rescued adult female otter to a rescued pup.  This natural surrogacy worked and the survival rates were much better.

Jan
05
2014
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"Things Never Said" has a Very Erratic Tone Review

This ain’t poetry, Kalindra, this is real life.

Poetry slam is like Shakespearean style dialogue with a modern vocabulary and no need for euphemism or indirection.  It’s informal, but clearly there’s a search for something profound.  That kind of earnestness is pretty easily mocked.  If you’re confident with your words, a little slip is doubly ridiculous.  Add in the exuberant gestures and there’s very little room to maneuver.  Things Never Said (2013), written and directed by Charles Murray, takes poetry as the centerpiece of a oft-told story of female infidelity.  While the performances can sometimes turn into cold readings, the soulful characters give the trite the plot a little freshness.

Jan
05
2014
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Critics Unjustly Singled Out "The Lone Ranger" Review

Something very wrong with that horse.

The Lone Ranger (2013) suffered from the anticipation that Gore Verbinski reteaming with Johnny Depp would result in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) relocated in the Old West.  Critics (by and large) simply could not get that idea out of their heads.  Those of the sociological persuasion saw Depp playing a Native American and mined for further racial indecencies.  That’s sad because here is a film made for lovers of classic cinema and the re-imagining of the Old West from 50’s sterility to 60’s gritty realism with a bit of post-recession anti-greed messaging thrown in.  The allusions run thick and pretty, resulting in what should have been the Summer’s grand compromise between critics and the general audience.  This movie is funny, it is exciting, and it is beautiful.  Perhaps its release on Blu-ray and a hasty reduction in price will allow some to come back to this movie afresh and rehabilitate its reputation as a flop.

Jan
04
2014
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Hope Of A Decent Faulkner Adaptation Remains "Dying" Review

My father used to say that the reason for livin' was to get ready to stay dead a long time.

There aren't many authors out there with the same kind of hard, dark reputation as William Faulkner. He wrote a few screenplays but his major works have gone unadapted for feature films until James Franco decided he was the man for the job. The result is As I Lay Dying (2013), the story of the Bundren clan's journey to bury their mother. The patriarch, Anse (Tim Blake Nelson), is just barely holding onto his control of the family and his decisions as frequently lead to disaster as...well, really it's just disaster. The grown boys, Darl (James Franco), Cash (Jim Parrack), Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), and the child Vardaman (Brady Permenter), go along with it, but they've all got some loose screws and their sister Dewey Dell (Ahna O'Reilly) ain't much better. This is a moody story laced with innate southern philosophy that's so basic it lends itself to poetry. Perhaps the content and the reputation laid a bit too heavily on Franco's mind and he strayed too close to Faulkner's words and came out the weirder for it.

Nov
07
2013
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Kaufman & Co. Have "The Right Stuff" Review

"What'ya gotta do to get your picture up there anyway?" "You gotta die sweetheart."

It's hard to peg The Right Stuff (1983) as a film. It's an epic story of men driven to push the extremes of flight risking their lives and familial well-being. But it's not told in a conventional style. Writer/director Philip Kaufman adapted Tom Wolfe's book nearer to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) than the shameless piece of propaganda it might have been. I haven't read Wolfe's book, but I imagine much of the humor and candor are owing in no small part to him. And if nothing else, this film is funny and candid. But there is more. There's the cinematography (Caleb Deschanel) and special effects (Gary Gutierrez) that range from moody reflection to thrilling flight sequences with equal success. That they live in the same film is a testament to its quality and its 3 hour and 13 minute runtime suggests that at some point, producers trusted an audience to sit through something good.

Nov
06
2013
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"As Cool As I Am", And As Ready For Primetime Review

I don’t remember when I started to notice the argument my parents weren’t having.

As Cool as I Am (2013) is the story of a young girl coming through her mid-teens the way most of us felt at the time. Lucy Diamond (Sarah Bolger) is the young child of young parents, Chuck (James Marsden) and Lainee (Claire Danes). Born when they were in high school, Chuck is now a lumberjack who spends very little time at home while Lainee finds her way in the world. That leaves Lucy virtually alone to navigate her first boyfriend (Thomas Mann), school, dangerous parties, and her own dreams of being a successful chef. It’s a rough old world out there, but luckily Lucy’s got enough sarcasm and personal strength to get through it. Spoiler alert.

Nov
04
2013
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"Nights" Don't Look So Good In The Harsh Light Of Blu-ray Review

There’s a strange atmosphere here.

What was the point in putting this movie on Blu-ray? It’s got all the scratches and wear that it’s had since they played But Who Raped Linda? (1975) in whatever hole philistines confused with an art house. The back cover says it’s been “restored” from the 35mm print. Well, if this is a restoration, then the Criterion Collection is regularly performing absolute miracles. This isn’t going to find itself in the Criterion Collection despite its being a “cult” favorite by sexy-horror writer/director Jesús “Jess” Franco under the more palatable title--though completely irrelevant to the film--The Hot Nights of Linda. I guess it looks better than video.

Nov
03
2013
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Reality Bends When You're "In The House" Review

What’s a perfect family’s house like?

In order to prepare for François Ozon’s, In the House (2012), I bought and watched his 2003 film, Swimming Pool. The critical testimonial on the case of Swimming Pool read “Wickedly Delicious!” while In the House bespoke a film “sinfully delicious” and “deliciously witty.” What these reviewers find delicious is the sin. Sin approached with wide eyes and indecent anticipation. Ozon finds the danger in the indecency and ratchets it so high as to turn tension into a thriller. The young people at the center of these two films are so outside of the middle-class moral bubble that sex may turn to murder. But if I were forced to praise the flavor of one over the other--and does not the weight of duty force my eager fingers--it would be in toast of In the House which brings expression into the foreground to tease our sense of reality without becoming too ambiguous to choose which we think is the more real.

Oct
30
2013
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"Slugterra" Harnesses All The Creative Energy Inherent To Slugs Review

I’m going to be needing more ghouls...a lot more ghouls.

Slugterra is another Pokémon-inspired throw-things-that-turn-into-other-things animated series for Disney.  The difference is that instead of small vertebrates, these morphing warriors are...slugs.  Slugterra then compounds its cliché merch-mongering premise with the traditional hero/girl/tank/fool cast.  None of this make sense to you?  Slugterra might not be for you.  That said, Slugterra does have a unique animation style with something like cel-shading with quick-panning ‘camera’ work. For that reason alone, it might be of interest to animation aficionados.

Oct
22
2013
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"Kill Your Darlings" A Stirring Work Of Creative Nonfiction Review

You're not anything yet.

How do you express the writing process? There are a few ways. There's typing furiously (Misery (1990)), there's ironic representation with a cut to a frustrated writer (How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog (2000)), or there's integration of the final product into the narrative (Shakespeare in Love (1998)). Kill Your Darlings (2013), about the Beatniks Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and the one that got away, Lucien Carr, uses furious typing as its weapon of choice while occasionally resorting to mere reading. But let's face it, this is a story about well-known (if not widely read) personalities, so the reason for their fame is secondary to that easily accessible fountain of drama: human tragedy.

Oct
17
2013
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"From Here To Eternity" And Back To The Good Old Days Review

I didn’t hear any sounds of combat, so I thought you might need a drink.

The 1950’s may be my favorite decade for films. It’s the heyday of Hitchcock and Wilder and a whole host of directors that have been wholly or virtually forgotten. It’s also the time of the reflective war film. Compared with most World War II films that came before (and after) From Here to Eternity glorifies individuality and personal integrity in opposition to institutions. The 50’s are understood to be strait-laced and uncontroversial. Johnny Unitas comes to mind.  And yet, it’s also the time of the Beatniks, Catcher in the Rye, and the beginnings of rock and roll.  From Here to Eternity fits well into the 50’s of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and, like that film, belongs in the “the good old days weren’t always good” category.  Korea had shown that not all wars were glorious and they had the death toll and vague mission to prove it.

Oct
11
2013
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Can a Transfer to Blu-ray Possibly Increase the Perfection of "A Letter to Three Wives"? Review

I don’t understand this conversation at all, how drunk am I?

Whenever I start to watch an old movie, one that’s got all the credentials (winning Best Director and Best Screenplay with a nomination for Best Picture) but I hadn’t heard of from the mouth of another person, well I always get a little nervous in the beginning.  Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the writer/director of some of the very best films of the 40’s and 50’s (including personal favorite All About Eve (1950), made a little movie called A Letter to Three Wives (1949) wherein three wives, about to go off on an island day trip with a troop of kids, get a single, hand-delivered letter from a mutual friend, Addie Ross, who says that she’s run away with one of their husbands.  It’s a premise heavy with potential and, coincidentally, the danger of high expectations.  After all, what appealed to the tastes of post-war America don’t always translate to today.  I need never have feared.  Mankiewicz has now solidified himself as one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s that good.

Oct
01
2013
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Anglophiles Should Start in on "Parade's End" Review

Do you see what he’s doing?  He’s making corrections to the Encyclopedia Britannica. If I’d killed him, no jury would convict!

Parade’s End (2012), is another of the BBC-HBO collaborations aiming for the more discerning viewer.  If there are two television programers better suited to such a venture, then they are conspicuous by their obscurity.  Parade’s End is an adaptation by Tom Stoppard of Ford Madox Ford’s well-regarded novels.  Consider it a highly literate version of Downton Abbey if you like.  But if you expect to sit down to the entertainment of one character’s liaison with another or the incorrigible cuteness of upperclass snobbery, then you will be half pleased at best.  Upperclass snobbery, you will find, but it will be engaged with deeply by the main character’s inward struggle.  Liaisons, there will be, but they will not but once be of joyful satisfaction.  But for those who love understatement, class, and painful emotional constipation--the Britishest of Britishness--you will be so wholly satisfied by Parade’s End that you will search evermore for its sour depths.  [I will, at the end of the review, supply you with that choice Albion drug I call period melancholy.]

Sep
16
2013
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This is One "Vampire" That Doesn't Completely Suck Review

Did you have too much to drink tonight?

Vampire (2011) is the story of Simon (Kevin Zegers), the vampire from Seattle who uses a suicide website to find willing individuals to give their blood.  They don’t always know that Simon’s a vampire, but they’re ready to die and don’t find blood-draining to be that strange a proposition.  Oddly enough, Simon’s vampirism is the most controlled part of his life.  A young woman (Rachael Leigh Cook) decides that they’re together and starts cooking dinner for he and his house-bound mother (Amanda Plummer).  Even the mother finds her odd.  Then one would-be victim brings three other suicidal youths to their meet-up.  This leads to a relationship with Ladybird (Adelaide Clemens)--everyone uses their online handles, I think--which may just change his views on his lifestyle.

Sep
02
2013
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This Isn't a Perfect "Seattle Superstorm" Review

It's me, Tom Foster, we worked together at NASA.

Everybody has their skills.  This family has more than their share.  Or should I say, almost-family.  Tom (Esai Morales) is an ex-NASA scientist with a specialty in chemistry and he’s engaged to Lt. Cmdr. Emma Peterson (Ona Grauer), the Navy liaison to the Disaster Management Agency.  Tom has moved to Seattle with his son Wyatt (Jared Abrahamson) to be with her, but Wyatt is constantly fighting with Emma’s daughter Chloe (MacKenzie Porter) and might scupper the whole thing.  Then an unidentified object, falling from the sky begins to hurtle towards Seattle. Shot down by a interceptor missile, two pieces of debris still hit Seattle causing some odd phenomena.  That brings in the DMA, led by Jacob Stinson (Martin Cummins), who has some serious power issues with Bob Jefroe (Matty Finochio) as second-in-command.  Smoke coming from the landing sites sparks off an enormous storm the likes of which may cover the globe in a matter of days.

Aug
31
2013
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This "Close Up" of the Star Trek Captains Isn't Entirely Flattering Review

It’s always been my philosophy that you can do anything if you set your mind to it...  That’s what I’m about.

It’s hard to take William Shatner seriously.  If it wasn’t his heavily cadenced work in Star Trek (1966-69), Denny Crane in Boston Legal (2004-08), or the endlessly silly Priceline negotiator, Shatner would probably still have that light comedy personality.  So when Kate Mulgrew asks about Shatner’s loves lost, you’re waiting for the punchline.  But there is no punchline, the man’s wife died.  He’s 82 years old.  He’s got a 55 year old child.  But he’s still William Shatner with his fair portion of immodesty.  And he’s gotten five former captains and plenty more officers from his space days to say nice things about him.  Then he returns the favor and says very nice things about them as well.

Aug
28
2013
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Sit and Let Michael Haneke's "Amour" Wash Over You Review

Promise me something. Please never take me back to the hospital.

Michael Haneke is known for the cruelty of his films.  Having seen Funny Games (2007), the reputation is well-deserved.  And Haneke is a master.  Funny Games is like a loud, booming voice and it callis out “Despair!  Despair!”  I complied.  Amour (2012) is very different.  Amour speaks in a quiet, soothing voice whispering “Accept.  Accept.”  Both films concern approaching death, and are filmed in roughly the same way, but the manner of the approach makes all the difference.  The word on Amour is that it’s a tear-jerker, a painful depiction of a slow, natural death that makes for rough viewing.  Like no other movie, this response depends greatly on your relationship with the subject.  To some who rarely consider it, Amour may be shocking and alien, but the poise and endurance of the main characters suggested something more neutral.  It makes one ache if it does not make one cry.

Aug
19
2013
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"Storm Surfers" is a Gorgeous Look at a Death-Defying Sport Review

“I’m still looking for that wave that’s gunna say that’s enough, I’m done … but I just haven’t found that wave yet.”

The DVD cover reads “Storm Surfers[:] The Movie”, a title that suggests all the depth and energy that very easily could have been had the filmmakers been less interested in surfing than they were in these surfers.  But this is a film of technical and visual ambitions, not personal or psychological investigation.  The film was released as Storm Surfers 3D (2013) to give some perspective.  [The film is also available on Blu-ray 3D.]  Storm Surfers follows three men during the winter season (May to August) in and around Australia.  They’re mission—and they keep calling it a mission—is to surf new waves—waves being ambiguous as to a particular wave and the geological models that create them—for the first time either for themselves or mankind.  The surfers are Tom Carroll, a two time world champion, and Ross Clarke-Jones, a “tow surfing pioneer”, and Ben Matson is the surf forecaster.

Aug
15
2013
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The Highest Praise "Deadly Swarm" Deserves is 'Competent' Review

An entomologist, how fortuitous.

It’s the season to come to town and the mayor wants to kick out the expert because it might hurt their business.  But it isn’t summer on Amity Island, it’s the Dia de los Muertos in a small Mexican village and it isn’t sharks, it’s a swarm of vicious insects.  One thing is the same—we’ve got a man-eater out there. In Deadly Swarm, Dr. Daniel Lang (Shane Brolly) is an entomologist brought to this small village to take care of the malaria-carrying mosquitos. The mayor (Roger Nevares) isn’t too pleased that Lang’s sanitized mosquitos are now annoying the populace ahead of the Dia de los Muertos celebration.  Meanwhile, the semi-crazed Dr. Fortsen (J. Patrick McCormack) has captured a swarm of deadly wasps and given them to a drug-smuggler to take back to the United States. This smuggler is being investigated by a reporter, Sandra Kern (Kaarina Aufranc). But the smuggler never makes it to the US, because he gets into an accident and tips the truck over. Uh oh. The swarm is released and now Lang, Kern, and the Comandante Alvarez (Pepe Serna) to figure out what’s happening and protect the village.

Aug
14
2013
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"From This Day Forward" Sets TV-Movies Back by a Few Years Review

“When it’s all good, it’s give and take.  But when it’s your fault, you take what you can get.”

Oh no, a laugh track.  Was there ever a worse idea than canned laughter for a sitcom?  Apparently so, because From This Day Forward (2012) is a TV movie with a laugh track.  This wouldn’t really be a bad movie if it weren’t produced like a super low-budget, multi-camera sitcom.   However, every facet of the film is corrupted by the production values.  The ‘score’ is a single riff, the performances are uneven, the story is truncated, and the cheap appearance of the set, lighting, and film quality—this is why people don’t trust digital, man, do some post-production, please!—undermines most of the entertainment value.  And then there’s that short music video about Jesus and subsequent nods towards trusting in God that came as though from nowhere.  “As seen on Up: Uplifting Entertainment.”  But you know what it did have?  Charm.

Aug
14
2013
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