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



"Moveable Feast" Moves Wherever Anthony Bourdain Hasn't Yet Review

This may be the best _____ I've ever tasted.

Wait, a show about someone going to different cities to partake of their local cuisine? That's amazing! I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for such a thing and to discover it's now in its second season is like, literally, a whole omelet on my face. These shows are so thick on the ground that they're becoming difficult to distinguish. It's become a matter of hair, accent, and whether the food is supposed to look tasty or repulsive. Moveable Feast is hosted by Pete Evans, "Australia's top celebrity chef", whereby he goes to different cities and partakes of their local cuisine--if by local cuisine you mean a generalized likeness cheffed up with strange meats and cheeses and stellar presentation. This is Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking magazine.

Apr
08
2015
Read more

"Retreat!" Is Totally Tubular Review

Why does he sound different?

At the end of the second season--why don't they release these as full seasons again?--the Kraag invasion has left the team in pieces. Splinter is gone, Leo is hurt, and they're running upstate to leave the weird aliens to do their weirdness in New York City. But upstate holds its own trouble, including an endless retinue of mutant creatures the gang has to beat, slice, and dice up, Kraags, and Big Foot (who, it turns out, is a girl). They also have to deal with, shall we say, non-canon issues like April's psychic powers and the Ice Cream Kitty that Michelangelo has a hot and cold relationship with. To my surprise, however, this show is highly watchable by the 12-year-old boy inside of me with an aesthetic that the slightly older boy on the outside can also appreciate.

Apr
08
2015
Read more

There's Great Beauty Hidden In "The Queen's Garden" Review

The Queen's Garden (2014) is a bit of a surprise. Behind the walls at Buckingham Palace lies an enormous garden with great varieties of flora and fauna in the center of the largest city in Europe. This PBS documentary looks at a full year in this garden from one summer to the next, showing the garden's full splendor--and it is splendid. The documentary consists mainly of time-lapse footage of flowers blooming, clouds flying by, and even of the transformation of a butterfly. How much of this was stock footage and how much was original to this production, one could not say, but it looked mostly to be unique. The Queen's Garden was a lovely bit of light documentary fare without ever feeling frothy or pointless.

Apr
01
2015
Read more

"Wild One", Whatever Its Problems, Is Still Wild Review

Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?

There's probably some conflation of Laslo Benedek's The Wild One (1953)--coming out for the first time on Blu-ray--and Nicholas Ray's (superior) Rebel Without a Cause (1955) because of this famous exchange. A young woman, enjoying the antics of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C.), asks Johnny (Marlon Brando), the ringleader, what they're rebelling against to which Johnny replies, "Whadya got?" The comparison is an interesting one. While James Dean is the height of 50's cool off screen, in Rebel Without a Cause, he plays a whiney youth in the throws of a terrible case of full-blown angst, having to deal with alienation and social phenomena he's not ready for. Why it was Dean that became the icon, despite making only three major films before he died, isn't obvious. Brando's Johnny, however, is what icons are made of with his black leather jacket, biker cap, aviator sunglasses, and an absolutely atrocious attitude. Myth, like life, favors the jerk.

Apr
01
2015
Read more

"The Morningside Monster" Is The Least Of This Movie's Problems Review

When I put on this badge, I don't give a rat's toosh who you are.

Oh good, warmed over horror tropes. Attack of the Morningside Monster (2014)--née The Morningside Monster--from director Chris Ethridge brings semi-supernatural horror to the Garden State when the local sheriff (Robert Pralgo) has to sort out a spate of local murder/mutilations happening in his sleepy burgh. It all started with this one small-time drug dealer chained to a table. He was a bit bemused, as you'd imagine, and then some masked weirdo comes in and starts cutting into him with a multi-tool when he should be using a circular saw. It's so annoying when people aren't using the right tools. But I suppose you go to war with the weapons you have lying around, you know like this Central American ritual mask. That mask was ridiculous.

Mar
04
2015
Read more

"Laggies" Lacks Originality Review

I found myself in a place, a kinda weird in-between place.

So we're on to the woman-child genre (cf. man-child). HBO's Girls is probably the most popular exposé on the phenomenon with respect to young women who fail at the earliest hurdles of adulthood. Then there's Frances Ha (2012), Bridesmaids (2011), and countless TV-movies to which Lynn Shelton adds, if not her voice, her direction with Laggies (2014). This is Shelton's first time directing a film outside of her written improvisational process to mixed effect. While its subject matter is a very near relative of her works thus far, it lacks her grounded emotional depth and instead provides a conventional (or at least familiar) story without the surprises or resonance one would hope for from someone with Shelton's indie sensibilities. That said, without Shelton, this movie is airing on Lifetime.

Mar
03
2015
Read more

Still No Indication Of History In The "Swamp" Review

If that gator got a taste for dog, he ain't gonna stop. If he'll eat a dog, he'll eat a kid.

It needs only to be said once, but Swamp People have no reason to be on the History channel. The mild connection that such hunting has taken place in Louisiana for over three hundred years is insufficient. That is not to say that The "Learning" Channel or Bravo couldn't pick this up as one of their better pieces of entertaining "reality". Being a Swamp People virgin, I must admit that the first HD, slo-mo shotgun blast into the first victim's small brain was rather disturbing. Then, the rather mocking use of subtitles also sparked off the first feeling of this show's designed meanness. But about halfway through the first episode, something clicked in my brain and I understood the entertainment value on display. These people are interesting.

Mar
03
2015
Read more

"Bound By Flesh", And Budgetary Concerns Review

I don't know a happy freak.

Documentary filmmaking is as varied a genre as any with fanatics that consume them exclusively. To the select, this is obvious, but to those who only dally in documentaries, the assumption is that documentaries are distinguished by content rather than form. The reality, however, is that in the same way a movie about a construction foreman (Locke (2014)) can be gripping, the quality of the film is determined by the same elements, fiction or non-fiction. Music, editing, "performance", insights, are all places where Bound By Flesh (2012) displays its importance by fumbling them completely despite a ostensibly fascinating subject.

Mar
03
2015
Read more

"Malignant" Banks on Brad Dourif's Fame to Overcome its Faults Review

Don't drink, Allex.

Allex (Gary Cairns) has a drinking problem.  He goes to the bar and has a few then goes home to have a few more.  Whiskey, mostly.  Since the whiskey is probably more expensive at the bar, why not just save the money and get blackout drunk at home?  I guess that's not the point.  Anyway, Allex's problem has gone beyond forgetting how to spell his own name. He's gotten to the point where he won't even stop drinking even when a mad scientist (Brad Dourif) makes it so he's murdering strangers, friends, and co-workers during his blackouts.  That's pretty bad.  But, you know, his wife's died a couple months ago and she was very pretty and now he's got this enormous house in LA to maintain all by himself.  Of course he turned to drink.

Mar
01
2015
Read more

"Hell Hath" Some Issues Review

I just wish God would send me my man.

What do you think of when you think of Tyler Perry? By boldly placing his name at the top of his projects, he has allowed or even forced you to pigeon-hole him from the posters alone. The Madea franchise with Perry playing the dragged up old caricature would be and was enough to make him a household name even with folks who hadn't seen a minute of its screentime. Perry cut his teeth in the Atlanta in the 1990's, writing and producing his Christian-themed plays for community theater to black audiences. That target group has stayed with him and expanded so that, with their strong devotion, every film project he has will double its budget at the very least. According to Forbes magazine, Lionsgate put up half the budget for Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) with a little help from BET and it made ten times its budget. "Now we realize what we have,” said Lionsgate president, Steven Beeks. There's a tinge of exploitation to that statement as there is with Perry's ruthless prolificacy. In 2005, Perry was filling his "the 300 live shows he produces each year are attended by an average of 35,000 people a week." Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned (2014) is just such a production and, on this DVD, his audience is in full attendance.

Jan
28
2015
Read more

Would You Be Shocked If "Kelly & Cal" Put On Something More Uncomfortable? Review

Let's see how you're healing up.

Kelly & Cal (2014) is open to lazy comparisons to Harold and Maude (1971) as the back cover suggests, but they're similarity is superficial. Kelly (Juliette Lewis) is a new mother, fitting uncomfortably in this role. The unceasing yowl of her new spawn is grating her down to a single raw nerve. Her husband Josh (Josh Hopkins) doesn't seem to having any of these difficulties, but that might be because he's buried in own work. After an abrupt confrontation with a wheelchair-bound boy, Cal (Jonny Weston), she apologizes and begins an ambiguous relationship that inevitably veers into the inappropriate. But along the way, their alienation in prim suburbia gives them welcome respite and perspective to look into the future.

Jan
23
2015
Read more

You'll Be Well Prepared For "The Reckoning" By The Time It Gets Here Review

I'm on God's path.

Det. Robbie Green (Jonathan LaPaglia) drinks vodka out of a shampoo container. He's got a drinking problem. His old friend and colleague, Jason (Luke Hemsworth), is mysteriously murdered in his car with the only clue being reams of digital footage on a SD card. The footage was made by a runaway, Rachel (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), who is tracking down her sister's killer with the aid of internet pal, AJ (Alex Williams). As Green and Det. Jane Lambert (Viva Bianca)--clichéd backstory alert--follows the clues in parallel to this footage, things show themselves to be more obvious than they at first appear. Australian mystery, The Reckoning (2014), is a lot like a decently cast BBC series except without the character quirks to justify more than one episode. So, Like Thorne (2010), then.

Jan
23
2015
Read more

"Ragnarok" Comes To America Review

We'll be on David Letterman!

One thing that internet companies like Netflix and Amazon have done is bring unsolemn international films to American attention. A few years ago, one might have been excused for thinking that the French only made dire existential films about deteriorating relationships in Paris or the Swedish only made...dire existential films about deteriorating relationships in the country. No longer! The transatlantic trade in mainstream adventure and sci-fi now goes both ways and whether great, decent, or trash, we have access to it all. Ragnarok (2014) is one such decency from Norway about a pair of archaeologists who go in search of Vikings and, instead, find a massive ancient creature. The film's American influences are apparent and well replicated. All hail globalization!

Jan
21
2015
Read more

Stick With "This Is Where I Leave You" Review

You can't believe how much I hate you right now.

Is it comforting or accusatory to say that something is exactly what you expect it to be? Going into This Is Where I Leave You (2014), you might hope that all of that wonderful charm promised in the trailer would be backed up by the same spirit and originality your imagination created for it. Deep down, though, you know that there's a marathon of tropes on the way and the only real question is whether this family has the spark of reality that is going to make those tropes new. Mixed bag. Everything in the trailer is in the film and it's just as lovely as can be, but there isn't enough of a gentle ramping up into those feel-good moments so much as a thundering crash as they wallop and leave you in hit-and-run fashion. But if anybody's going to hit-and-run me, I hope I'm lucky enough to be hit-and-ran on by Jason Bateman.

Jan
20
2015
Read more

Dim Lighting Makes It Tough To Get A Look At "The Thing On The Doorstep" Review

She's a fanatical devotee of the black arts.

In The Thing on the Doorstep (2014), Daniel Upton (David Bunce) is an artist with an annoying friend, Edward Derby (Rob Dalton). Though Upton introduces himself as Derby's reluctant friend, he is rather attached to him, lending money, chauffeuring him around at times, and being generally devastated as he is driven mad by his new wife Asenath Waite (Mary Jane Hansen). Upton's wife Marion (Susan Cicarelli-Caputo), a psychologist--right?--makes firm but vague mental diagnoses of both Asenath and Edward and is, incidentally (and irrelevantly) pregnant. Something strange is going on here and I'm not just talking about the lighting. Is it Cthulhu? No really, is it?

Dec
02
2014
Read more

Math Can't Explain "The Equation of Life" Review

I refuse--refuse!--to be a part of this!

Some movies are hard to watch, but the hardest are the ones are earnestly made and badly executed. Gerry Orz made this movie (with some help) at the age of 10 or 11. He wrote, directed, and starred in it. He has been the victim of bullying and has done a great deal through official channels to bring attention to the issue. I'm sure he's great guy and he's taken his short film to festivals which is laudable. The foundation of the film is sound and interesting. It's the story of a boy bullied by a bully who is bullied by a bully which all results in terrible consequences for all. That's the nicest thing to be said for The Equation of Life (2014). From here on out, I can either patronize him or criticize every element of the film. Why pick one?

Nov
29
2014
Read more

Lifetime Serves Up 2/3rds Of A Merry Christmas Review

I think that is so special.

Is it wrong that I enjoyed two out of three of these movies? They're Lifetime movies and yet none of them were as bad as, say, Bride Wars (2009) or Valentine's Day (2010). Though, The Twelve Weeks of Christmas (2014) was worse than Someone Like You... (2001). Not only were A Country Christmas Story (2013) and Kristin's Christmas Past (2013) tolerable--I didn't even scoff out loud...well, maybe once or twice--but I'd go so far as to call them decent and entertaining. None could or even attempted to be considered works of greatness. These are all churned out products from the movie mill at Lifetime. But I hazard a compliment when I say whoever is choosing the properties over there have come a very long way since The Last Prostitute (1991). [I immediately apologize to all involved in that project for judging it based purely on the misguided vainglory of its title.]

Nov
29
2014
Read more

No Easy Answers For The "Last of the Unjust" Review

How come you're alive?

Claude Lanzmann spent over a decade to produce Shoah (1985), a ten-hour epic oral history of the Holocaust, consisting of conversations with survivors, German officers, and others. In constructing the film, Lanzmann found that some sections did not fit his overall vision for the documentary and, over the past fifteen years, released these as their own documentaries.  The latest of these is The Last of the Unjust (2013), about the Theresienstadt ghetto and Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, its last to lead its Council of Elders, and only such person to survive the Holocaust.  But survival, as it becomes clear during the interview with Mumelstein, was not a thing to be celebrated.  These Elders administrated the ghettos and camps under the orders of Eichmann and the Nazis and were, as such, collaborators.  After the war, to be a collaborator was to be both a traitor and a coward.  But such a determination is far too simple and easy to be accurate.

Nov
29
2014
Read more

"The Battery" Has Some Juice To It Review

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a zombie.

In the expectation game, zombie movies (and the horror genre generally) lie somewhere near the absolute bottom in hope and promise. Low budgets and juvenilia dominate with their irritating tropes coexisting with prosthetic pseudo-ingenuity. The worst thing is that, like country music, you can't disregard the whole genre or even its low-budget disciples. The Battery (2013), from writer-director-star Jeremy Gardner, has many of the stumbles of its lowly confrères but with a charm and simplicity that uses its lack of funds to enhance the experience rather than constantly remind you of its cheapness. Pretty funny, pretty good visuals, pretty good slutty zombie, pretty good zombie movie.

Nov
28
2014
Read more

"Houdini" Pulls Off A Not Terribly Ambitious Trick Review

Fear is how I know I'm alive.

The History Channel miniseries Houdini (2014) begins with a F for Fake (1973)-like challenge. Some of this is true, some of this is false and "I defy you" to tell the difference. While this is artistically appealing, it would be nice if a biopic about a very famous person I know very little about was entirely factual where possible. That said, for a History Channel miniseries--an institution that is slowly fading from WWII/Civil War-only self-parody to Anything-But-History-Channel self-parody--this is about as strong as you could hope. It stars Adrien Brody, an actual actor, is visually well-produced, and boasts a mostly unoffensive script while the musical choices are disappointing. The result is something like Chaplin (1992) as directed by Tony Scott.

Nov
24
2014
Read more


Popular