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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Try Not To Fall Asleep On Your Way Through "Cedar Cove" Review

I changed my mind, I think we should put it up for adoption.

Such is the sort of dilemma that good ol' Olivia Lockhart (Andie MacDowell) is here to fix in the second season of Cedar Cove (2013-), based on the series by Debbie Macomber. Macomber writes more books in a year than I get haircuts. The Cedar Cove series got a new member about once a year from 2001 to 2011. She even wrote some of the scripts for this show. How she ever found time to knit and then write a book on the subject boggles the mind. Then again, if her books are as full of banal common sense and low drama as the Hallmark "original" series, then I'm pretty sure all you need is a life supply of adderall to put together one of these manuscripts at typing speed. Reading them must be like eating paste. Some people like paste.

Jul
19
2015
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"Tony Duran" Doesn't Need An Encore Review

Nobody gives a shit about act one.

That's not entirely true but the point is well taken. A life and a movie might well overcome poor beginnings. Ironically, lives that start with a rough act one make better movies than movies with a rough act one. That's the difference between emotions and craftsmanship. Emotions make for nuanced beauty, but there isn't much you can do with a polished turd. The Encore of Tony Duran (2011) isn't a turd, but it is a rough hewn chunk of unglamorous stone. It's an independent film that suffers from so many of that genre's faults and hardly takes advantage of its possibilities. Because The Encore of Tony Duran doesn't come from an independent spirit or story, it's a conventional TV-movie story without the budget or craft to make it slick or real.

Jul
19
2015
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Have You Heard From "Timbuktu"? Review

Where is God in all of this?

I paraphrase the director of Timbuktu (2014), Abderrahmane Sissako: you can read "music is prohibited" but that is an abstraction, but when you see how music is prohibited, you understand what it means. If you are a westerner--and one suspects that is underinclusive--to see and understand is also to be outraged. However, there's a great deal more to it than that. The people of Timbuktu, a small city in Mali and former trading hub, were used to playing their music and sharing it, living their lives as best they could. Then, from 2012 to early 2013, an Islamist group, with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), took control of Timbuktu and instituted sharia law. People left, people stayed. Tyranny never lasts forever, but people don't live forever. Even then, life under tyranny is only a half life.

Jul
19
2015
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"Killing Jesus", Along With Subtlety Review

Now he acts out the prophesy?

How did you think this was going to go? When you typed in the words, looked for the review, what did you hope to find? Answers? Reasons? Praise? Persecution? I'm not sure any review can give you what you seek. For all of the culture wars on Christianity, the previews for National Geographic's Killing Jesus (2015) show a considerable catalogue of Christian cinema distributed by Fox alone. To this list, another is added, as promised in the prophesy set down by the great producer in the sky, "If they come, we will build it...again and again and again." And so it was written and so it was, that the greatest story ever told was retold, but this time from the exact same perspective as it has always been conveyed with the same questionable over-acting and plot jumps. "Once more into the breach, dear friends," cried Bill O'Reilly. And lo, it sure was.

Jul
07
2015
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There's Stuff To Like "Deep In The Dark" Review

Everyone off the street by eight.

When the local shows you the sacrificial altar, don't laugh, just leave. But Dr. Michael Cayle (Sean Patrick Thomas) just laughs when Phil (Dean Stockwell) explains the pre-Columbian bloody table in the middle of the woods. Cayle has bought a medical practice out in rural New Hampshire to expand his family. But, wouldn't you know it, the town is obliged to sacrifice animals to the savage Isolates who dwell in the muddy tunnels underneath or else be consumed by them--except for the eyes, which they creepily leave behind. Silly Dr. Cayle refuses to make a sacrifice, thinking it all a bunch of hooey, and tempts their wrath. Luckily, he has medical skills these creatures require.

Jul
07
2015
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No "Beauty", But Not Much "Beast" Either Review

It's all part of the new Vincent.

Did you see the first season of Beauty & the Beast (2012)? Then let me catch you up. Are you familiar with the fairy tale by Beaumont? Well, it's got absolutely nothing to do with that. In fact, the show would probably be better named Beauty & the Beautiful Thing We Call a Beast Because He Has Scar. Maybe that's longer than what they wanted. Anyway, Catherine (Kristin Kreuk) is an ass-kicking NYPD detective who befriends (and, by season 2, falls in love with) a ass-kicking shadow-dweller called Vincent (Jay Ryan). Vincent is an ex-soldier who was genetically interfered with, giving him superpowers when he makes an ugly face--quite like the vampires from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Sadly, after many romantic and thrilling adventures, Vincent is kidnapped and reemerges (for season 2) having forgotten everything but with super spidey senses and a mission to kill all similarly mutated creatures.

Jul
07
2015
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"Camp X-Ray" Only Looks So Deep Review

It's not as black and white as they said it would be.

By now, there isn't a human on the planet that hasn't heard of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Some detainees--not prisoners, mind you--have been there for a decade or more, spanning all levels of culpability in terrorist activity from none to heinous. And yet, despite its infamy, all efforts to resolve the issue have failed. One of President Obama first acts in office was to promise closing the facility and thereby force a solution, which came to nothing. So either Camp X-Ray (2014) is a narrative film that is guilty of being made too late, delaying a forceful, humanist argument, or a shameful reminder that we've allowed a dark (if abstract) American phenomenon to continue. Of course, it is both. It is the kind of narrative film that will go further to make people seriously consider the implications and possible solutions than the legions of documentaries and news reports could have been.

Jul
07
2015
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"The Drownsman" Sinks Below The Water Line Review

I can't stress how bad of an idea I think this is.

Some horror is allegorical first and scary second, some horror scary first and allegorical maybe, some horror isn't even scary. In the low-budget arena, horror is more likely an excuse for young filmmaking dudes to get women to take their clothes off for them and any meaning they can muster is in aide of convincing these ladies during the casting session. The Drownsman (2014) is surprisingly not in this latter category. With an all-female cast of victims and a risqué cover that invokes both A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and bathtub horseplay, one might wrongly expect some exploitation. This is probably the last all-positive thing I have to say about The Drownsman as most everything else suffers from its makers willing surrender to tropes and the superficial sophistication modern technology allows for.

Jun
26
2015
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Hey Girl, "Lost River"'s Pretty Out There Review

I got a job for you.

Lost River (2014) is a tough movie in many ways, and doubly so if you don't want to reduce it to the word "weird" or its synonyms. Because the movie is both strange and ordinary. One could call it magical realism, but the magic is not clearly in evidence. The cinematography is exactly the same, using different looks that range from realism to surrealism. While this is usually a sign of people working at cross-purposes or a failure of vision, writer-director Ryan Gosling probably made exactly what he set out to make. And yet, it's almost exactly the kind of movie that Gosling-as-actor fans would avoid. With a few exceptions, Gosling's acting choices have been towards the interesting, but still accessible through his dreamy eyes. Although it is a pretty film, it certainly isn't in as conventional a sense as Mr. Gosling could be so-described.

Jun
26
2015
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Who'll Get To Sit In "The Chair"? Review

I think it's a cool idea.

Chris Moore, the producer of Good Will Hunting (1997) and many other major films, had an idea to make a television show following two directors who create a film from the same original script. In a world of many disgusting "reality" premises, this one promises to be genuinely interesting and informative of the creative process. And so, for the most part, The Chair (2014) delivers on that promise. They choose Shane Dawson, a YouTube grinder who makes daily, whacky videos for his 10 million subscribers, and Anna Martemucci, a screenwriter with whom the show's producers have made films in the past. So, the show brings a level of meta-realism in the two paths to the director's chair: popular band-wagoning and semi-justified favoritism. Incidentally, at the end of the series they "America" vote for their favorite and the winner gets $250,000.

Jun
12
2015
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An "Outcast" Among Historians Review

Nobody goes East.

Oomph. Outcast (2014) follows Jacob (Hayden Christensen), a knight--possibly Templar--on crusade. That's what I assume anyway because it's the "12th century" in "the Middle East". Since there were numerous crusades during the 12th century, I can't be any more specific than that. What is important, it seems, is that they wore tunics and killed people in the name of God. With him on crusade is Gallian (Nicolas Cage), a rather jaded crusader who finds all this hypocritical and seems only to be following Jacob as a protector. During the introductory battle, some rather dreadful things happen that cause Jacob to head eastward and become an opium addict. Three years later, in "the Far East", Jacob becomes protector to a young Chinese King (Bill Su Jiahang) and his sister (Yifei Liu) who are on the run from their bloodthirsty brother (Andy On).

Jun
12
2015
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Poor Translation Keeps "Ships" From Sailing Review

No need for trust. Believing is enough.

Ali (Ugur Uzunel) is experiencing a debilitating dose of ennui. His father wants him to settle down and help him run his business, but Ali has no interest in that whatsoever. Instead, Ali is consumed by his dreams of a cargo ship named Vamos that he thinks will take him off to his true purpose in life. Eda (M. Sitare Akbas) is a young graffiti artist that seems to be painting the same ship that Ali sees in his dreams. The two meet and agree to find the ship and leave together. Eda is having trouble at home as her father has returned, apparently after years of unexplained absence, and her mother embraces the chance to have the family back together again. I'm not sure what the fish meant, though.

Jun
07
2015
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When I Was 17, It Was "A Most Violent Year"... Review

You'll never do anything harder than staring someone in the eye and telling the truth.

J.C. Chandor has had one hell of a start as a writer-director. First came his film about the financial collapse, Margin Call (2011). Then All is Lost (2013), his film with Robert Redford struggling to survive a yachting misadventure. Then, late last year, came his third film, A Most Violent Year (2014), an American tale of a semi-crooked businessman making a land deal during the most violent year in the history of New York City. Next year, he's slated to release a film about the Deepwater Horizon disaster. When people bemoan the lack of original voices and serious subject matter in films, point them to J.C. Chandor and the unbroken string of subtle, interesting, and brilliantly acted movies.

Jun
03
2015
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"To Write Love On Her Arms" Is To Take Her At Face Value Review

All this is for me?

Renee (Kat Dennings) is an imaginative and special person with a couple of very close friends Dylan (Mark Saul) and Jessie (Juliana Harkavy). She's been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and is barely managing her demons when a terrible incident leads her into a two year vicious death spiral of addiction, abuse, and self harm. When things hit rock bottom in Daytona, Renee gets back in touch with Dylan and Jessie. This leads her to Dylan's boss, David McKenna (Rupert Friend), who is a recovering addict and alcoholic. Together, they try to get Renee into rehab, but they won't take her until she detoxes. So, for the next five days, Dylan, Jessie, David, and his friend Jamie help her stay clean.

Jun
02
2015
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There Are Many Kinds Of "Life Partners" Review

Nothing changed for you.

It would be slightly unfair to prattle on about Life Partners (2014) in the context of gay/lesbian films. First and foremost, it's a comedy and the lesbianism of one of the characters is, in some ways, incidental and mostly uncontroversial. That is to say, there's no struggle with sexual identity or coming of age or dark psycho-sexual elements to the film that dominate most of its consœurs. That said, it does have a scene where they play a game called "How many lesbians can you fit in a Subaru?" so I think we can say this is a lesbian film. If director Susanna Fogel and her writing partner Joni Lefkowitz can ironically bring up stereotypes, then I can point out that they do a grand job of undermining the stultifying stereotype that lesbians (and films about them) can only be solemn or tokens. Life Partners is well-rounded, carving out its own collection of issues of interest while also being pretty damn funny.

Jun
02
2015
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"The Missing" Never Finds What It's Looking For Review

I found something.

Miniseries of the mysterious variety are about as thick on the ground as period English adaptations were a decade ago. Like those adaptations, quality is pretty consistent while breaking through is rather more difficult without a dampened Colin Firth. The Missing (2014) goes back to the well to come up with this story of a missing child and jumbles up the litany of suspects enough to come out with eight episodes. Kind of like a fat free version of The Killing (2007-2012). Like that Danish series, The Missing concerns a single case, the victim's family, the police, the politicians, and a simple episode formula where a clue is planted, a suspect is cleared, and a surprise at the end makes you hungry for more. These formulae continue because they're so damn effective and if you've got a uniformly solid cast behind you--unlike, say, The Bridge (US) (2013-)--you've got something above average.

May
28
2015
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The French Aren't Just Mimes Anymore Review

What an adventure!

The vast majority of foreign language films that make any noise in the United States are solemn or nuts. And yet there are foreign action films, foreign comedies, and the like that go mostly unseen and unknown here. The home video market, in league with Amazon and other internet stores, has made it possible to make up lost time with high quality, restored transfers that give you the same--or even improved--experience that you missed by living outside of Europe or New York City. With the Cohen Film Collection's recent release of That Man from Rio (1964) and Up to His Ears (1965), you can enjoy two rather entertaining French adventure comedies from a director you've never heard of with an actor you might vaguely recognize.

May
27
2015
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"The Aviators" Crash and Burn in a Musical Misfire Review

It's time to show these vermin who they're up against.

This is movie is a hell of a thing.  I imagine three lines of coke might evoke similar feelings of mania, disconnection, and exhaustion.  The Aviators (2008) is only just getting its release on blu ray.  The film [I gather, because there were no special features to back this up] is based on the true story of Cher Ami ("Dear Friend") a homing pigeon that saved a great deal of American soldiers in World War I who, pinned down by German forces, began to take friendly fire from their own artillery.  Cher Ami was a hen, and yet is voiced by giant man, Brad Garrett, but that's just a detail.  This is very well animated, with any number of truly artful and slightly disturbing battle scenes.  The severity of those scenes is then completely undermined by the Looney Toons take on the consequences of violence.  Then, of course, is the manic pace and amalgamation of Disney clichés that constitutes The Aviators' manner of storytelling.

May
26
2015
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"Syncopation" Makes Interesting Noise But Says Very Little Review

Seems to me I've heard that tune before.

Start with drums.  That's how Syncopation (1942) begins, with an African drum thumping while a slaver counts his money over a box of chains.  That's a hell of an opening for a film about the origins of Jazz and has to be the bravest moment in film up to that point.  Nobody saw it, nobody's heard of it, and if I'm honest it's a better idea than a movie, but what an idea.  As I sit in my apartment, listening to Massive Attack's Heligoland, I wonder if a film could ever capture an evolution in music in the manner William Dieterle attempted in Syncopation.  What Dieterle had to work with in 1942 pales in comparison to where Jazz was going in the 50's and 60's with Miles Davis, Coltrane, drugs, pain, and its speedy decline in popularity.  For that story, we're left with nonfiction and Ken Burns' Jazz (2000), though its critical reception may suggest there's room for another voice.

May
26
2015
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If Only The Irony Of "Innocence" Extended Beyond The Title Review

What is it about Hamilton makes kids want to kill themselves?

If a movie is crisp and well-lit, I'll forgive it almost anything. Innocence (2014) is a perfect example. Beckett (Sophie Curtis) is dealing with the sudden death of her mother. She's moved into New York City and starting up at a new school, Hamilton, which is inexplicably run by a group of handsome, young women. Handsome, young, creepy women. Chief creep among them is the nurse, Pamela (Kelly Reilly), who doles out the meds and slowly takes the role of Beckett's mother figure, including dating her widowed father. But a series of suicides and persistent hallucination makes Beckett suspicious of just what's going on at Hamilton exactly. I'm not sure if Beckett isn't too oblivious or lethargic to go Nancy Drewing around New York City.

Apr
08
2015
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