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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Cartoon Network Brings You A Pretty Weird, Off-Kilter Christmas Review

Dude, what are we watching?

Cartoon Network has strung together another Ignorant Grandma offering, relying on this poor minority for any semblance of profitability. Who else would spend $9--when this review was written, at least--for 45 minutes of three Christmas (or Christmas-adjacent) episodes from three different oddball cartoons? Perhaps the promise of two utterly random additions in the form of "Bonus Episodes" will bring the value. The best that can be said for the Cartoon Network Holiday Collection--should I call it "Vol. I"?--is that it provides a taster for some of the more popular CN programs.

Nov
24
2014
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Is There "Life After Beth"? Review

Did you miss me?

Ending a relationship can be very difficult. One way is to say "let's just be friends", never contact them again, and avoid places you know or fear they'll be. A better way is for one party to die in a strange hiking accident when you are elsewhere in the presence of trustworthy characters. The only downside to this plan is that they might come back to life and those problems you used to have keep reappearing while new ones bubble up to the surface like her new-found penchant for eating human flesh. Sure she's cute and you have all that history, but you need to know what's best for you and the rest of humanity. Sometimes things aren't better left undead.

Nov
23
2014
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"Happy Christmas" Would Be A Lot Happier With A Decent Budget Review

Can you say trouble?

Happy Christmas (2014), from Joe Swanberg, reminds me that reality television is ill-named. The contestants, freaks, or whatever we choose to name the poorly paid subjects of public ridicule that grace our formerly-decent cable channels fail utterly in delivering their "reality". They know they are being watched and so put up their guard, or what they think is their guard, and portray only a part of their (often broken) personality. One cannot relate to this character because the very nature of the defensive lunatic is to deny affinity with the persecution complex on display. One can only empathize for an actor who feels safe enough--probably using their own denial mechanism to think the play is fictional--to let loose the damaged crazy inside who is hideous and unlikable possibly with an eye towards awards. In Happy Christmas, Anna Kendrick plays a character that we all know in whole or in part. Selfish, aimless, detached, awkward, insecure and yet demanding (and receiving) our forgiveness, affection, and attention. That's reality.

Nov
23
2014
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"Whitewash" Leaves Logic In The Cold Review

Come on, what's with all these f***ing branches!

Canada looks cold. Like really cold. Since it's already pretty cold in the apartment, watching Whitewash (2014) made it feel even colder. Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) drives a snowplow in the Great White North and it's a blizzard. For some reason, a man (Vincent Hoss-Desmarais) is in this blizzard without his coat on, walking down the ill-lit streets. The plow comes down the street, but the man doesn't get out of the way and is killed instantly. Bruce picks up the body, puts him on the plow, and buries him under the snow miles from the scene. In fear, Bruce drives the little plow through the woods, drinking himself senseless and wakes up with a disabled plow and a serious hangover. Why didn't he call the police? Who was that guy? Why is Bruce so stupid with his resources? We get answers to some of those questions.

Nov
23
2014
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"The Rover" Will Satisfy Those Who Find "Walking Dead" Too Cheery Review

You must really love that car, darling.

Well, if he doesn't, then he must be very bored. That said, there doesn't seem to be much to do in Australia ten years after "the collapse". Everyone in The Rover (2014), from writer-director David Michôd, just seems to survive (until they don't). There's money--America's monetary supremacy survives the collapse, fear not--but nothing to spend it on out there in the boonies where the film takes place. So, when a man (Guy Pearce) gets his car stolen by some bank robbers, he goes after them. He wants his car back. Then, when he loses track of these robbers, fate brings Rey (Robert Pattinson), brother of one of the thieves, into our hero's hands. I say hero. When he shoots the fellow selling him a gun, even the word "protagonist" loses its aptitude. Lesson #1: Don't sell someone a gun with ammunition inside it.

Oct
15
2014
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The Same Stuff Is Still "Happenning!!" Review

Where did he get a name like Rerun anyway?

I used to think the "situation" in situation comedy was the show's setting or premise--the taxi pen, the witch, the crotchety old racist--but now I think that the situation is actually the varied conundra the main characters blunder through. The sitcom form has so dominated television comedy since the late 70's and the death of variety shows that premise has become the only differentiating element. Only lately has sketch comedy gotten out from the shadow of Saturday Night Live. A classic like What's Happening!!, its first two seasons now available on DVD together, is particularly situational with simple characters getting themselves into a pickle that is resolved with awe-shucks charm. Mayberry in L.A. The gears clank along with the same rough formula in every episode, distinguishable from Saved By the Bell only by skin color and wit. What's Happening!! being darker in both respects.

Oct
15
2014
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An Awful Lot Of Lint In "God's Pocket" Review

You're the only one who knows what it's like down here in the Pocket.

People don't know their neighbors anymore. Isn't that a shame? The breakdown of society one block at a time. Crime is down but kids don't play outside. They don't know how to have fun anymore or, at least, don't know how to get out from under their paranoid parents. One or the other. Terrible. In New York, you look around and nobody knows nobody. If they do, it's probably shady. If, God forbid, you drop down dead in your apartment, it's probably a couple days before your roommates even notice. Then again, you're more likely to be killed by someone you know, so maybe this is a good thing. You see a movie like God's Pocket (2014), and the good ol' neighborhood down in Philly and you begin to understand that statistical anomaly. Because people are assholes and it's better that you don't know too many.

Oct
08
2014
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"Anonymous" Might Want To Keep It That Way Review

I really feel bored.

In Hans Christian Anderson's tale The Emperor's New Clothes, two con men promise to create the finest suit of clothes for the ruler that are invisible to those unfit for their station or the very stupid. Almost all feign adoration for the clothes--that, of course, do not exist--so that they might appear intelligent or deserving except for a single boy. What we must ask of ourselves is whether we are the con men, the adoring crowd, or the boy. This story came to mind as I tolerated and loathed My Name is A by Anonymous (2012) alternately. Was the vague and mixed-up narrative interesting or vacuous editing ignorantly stabbing at profundity? Were the numerous montages lovely or cheap blank spots for me to project into the film's gaps. I'm going to go with "Boy". But don't we always think we're the boy?

Oct
08
2014
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There Could Have Been A Worse "Last Passenger" Review

Thank you very much Mr. Traincrash.

You don't see a lot of decent movies anymore.  You see mediocrities all the time, movies that never get too good, but often stray into the below-average, but these decent movies that stay just above average but thoroughly entertain are a rare breed.  Last Passenger (2014) does this quite convincingly on a budget of around £1.5 million.  Tony Scott's The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009), another train-based film, cost about $100 million and provided roughly the same amount of gripe-free viewing.  Economic though it may be, Last Passenger isn't breaking new ground in any other arena.  The framework is incredibly familiar in both plot and character dynamic.  This is a disaster genre movie through and through.  But it's reliable.  About as unaccountably reliable as those brake pads.  How could they possibly have still worked?

Oct
08
2014
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There's A Lot To Clean Up In The "Aftermath" Review

There is no government anymore, Brad!

In the right-wing mania, there lies a deep and abiding fear of the end of days. It may be religious, semi-religious, or xenophobic, but somebody somewhere will cause something horrible to happen and nobody is going to be ready for it. Except me! Aftermath (2012) a fictional enabler of this vague and violent fear, plays out the World War II scenario of nuclear warfare in north Texas. The leader, a med student (C.J. Thomason), seems preternaturally aware of their needs and the details of nuclear fallout. Also, the luckiest person in the world, he picks up a diesel truck, two pretty girls, and tons of supplies in very short order. The real danger, as all paranoiacs know, is humanity itself. People loot, rape, and kill when society's formal structures disintegrate. While the doctor explicitly tells one character that this isn't a zombie movie, I'm afraid that diagnosis was premature. Roving bands of physically scarred barbarians laying siege to a gender-balanced group of strangers? It's a zombie movie.

Sep
11
2014
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"Bee People" Tickle Rather Than Sting Review

You become an instant badass when you're a beekeeper.

Honey bees are disappearing. In North America, the losses in commercial hives may be as high as 60%. While the loss of a sometimes-pest may not cause immediate concern, it is in fact a issue of some import. Bees pollinate more than pretty flowers. "The honey bee is responsible for 33% of everything you eat," says the narrator of Bee People (2014). The film begins with this dire warning. It then proceeds to show you the solution, of which you can be a part, with three of the sweetest midwestern bee nuts you could ever hope to meet. While the idea of a low budget advocacy film seems like a vast waste of time, Bee People is actually a far more entertaining and productive watch than 80% of what passes for infotainment on cable.

Sep
11
2014
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"Locke" Locks It Down Review

I have a list of things I have to do tonight.

Steven Knight's Locke (2014) centers on a single paradox: doing the right thing about a wrong thing. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), half-Russian philosopher and construction foreman, has decided to leave his loving family and beloved job to be with his pregnant "mistress" (Olivia Colman) who is going into labor. He ain't happy about it, but has made the decision to do the right thing and handle the fallout during his hour and a half drive to London. He juggles phone calls along the way, organizing a massive but delicate concrete pour (through his near-feckless assistant (Andrew Scott)), calming his neurotic mistress, and trying to limit the damage at home. The symbols and metaphors run as deep as a sky rise's foundation leaving even the worst English student in no doubt, but a powerful performance from Tom Hardy and a surprisingly gripping script from Steven Knight makes for a great film.

Sep
09
2014
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"Ironclad" Spurts Its Way Into Ignominy Review

Mercy's for Picts!

Ironclad: Battle for Blood picks up where the original, bizarrely well-cast Ironclad (2011) left off and goes in another, astonishingly similar direction. Guy (Tom Austen), the battle-scarred Aeneas of the Rochester siege, has given up on the idea of honor and now beats people to death for money. Even when his cousin, Hubert (Tom Rhys Harries), needs him to help defend his family's castle against marauding Scots, he still demands to get paid. Guy also brings along his buddy Berenger (David Caves), a sadistic executioner (Andy Beckwith), and a lunatic murderess (Twinnie Lee Moore). This film bears such a striking likeness to the plot developments in Ironclad but without the vague political implications that it's almost as if they went to Jonathan English and asked if he could do roughly the same thing but with less money. His answer was "Yes, yes I can. But only if I can have the same amount of blood-spurting wounds." A compromise was made.

Sep
03
2014
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Tread Lightly Into "The Den" Review

Well, that looked real.

First came the internet, then came chat rooms, then came Facebook, then FaceTime, then lifecasting, and then murder! As spooky faces come from behind unsuspecting victims in IFC Midnight's release, The Den (2014), the scares and vicarious running makes way only for the desire to understand why it's happening. Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia) is an academic of some variety studying the weird wide world of video chat rooms, specifically The Den, all of which will be recorded as from her computer screen. A vast plurality just want to have the pretty miss Lizzy take her top off, but some are benign while others are a mean set of pranksters. When one interaction looks as though a young girl is murdered on screen, Elizabeth is convinced it's real and is dragged down into a living nightmare.

Sep
03
2014
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Bechir Makes This A "Bridge" Worth Crossing Review

I'm sorry if I didn't exercise empathy.

A body is left on the bridge that crosses the border between Mexico and the United States, half in one country and half in the other. Here's the twist: one body, two people. It sounds like the beginning of a brain-teaser, but it's just the start of The Bridge (2013-), an FX adaptation of the Danish/Swedish mystery by the same name (you know, except in Danish/Swedish). After a gentle jurisdiction tussle, American detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger)--hey, Bridge, Cross, I just got that--and Mexican cop Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) have to partner up to find the killer or killers. In thirteen episodes, an elaborate, almost novelistic world is developed with cartels, cops, corruption, drugs, human trafficking, and good ol' fashioned murder like they wanted to do The Wire (2002-08) in one season. Well, it ain't The Wire, but it's perfectly engaging.

Aug
22
2014
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"The Lunchbox" Is Worth Opening Review

Sometimes the wrong train will take you to the right station.

Sometimes you go into a film expecting a small diversion, a light entertainment. Despite a charming trailer, there was something keeping me away from watching The Lunchbox (2014). The plot sounds like relies heavily on schtick, a device that might bemuse foreigners. The poster suggests initial gruffness with a sweet ending. Then, of course, the perennial dissuader: subtitles. But it is so easy to watch a movie. You get it and pop in or you click onto Netflix and, even if you think you know what is coming, you can still be surprised. It's in watching the film, absorbing yourself in its story and characters, that makes the whole experience worth while. Who doesn't think they know the kinds of movies they like? We all expect this genre or that director or that era to be in some way always for other people. Then you watch a movie that slips past your expectations and touches you. That was The Lunchbox for me. It's why we should always keep trying new experiences and reexamining old ones.

Aug
14
2014
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"Jodorowsky's Dune" Might Have Been (But Maybe Shouldn't Have) Review

I did not want LSD to be taken, I wanted to fabricate the drug's effects.

Imagine, if you will, that an odd fellow with a history of experimental (or just weird) filmmaking took up an adaptation of the classic science fiction novel, Dune by Frank Herbert. Well, ten years before that actually happened (to critical calamity) in the 1984 film from David Lynch, it kind of almost happened with Alejandro Jodorowsky in the mid-70's. Jodorowsky's work is weirder even than the weirdest in Lynch. For example, in one Jodorowsky classic, The Holy Mountain (1973), a character relieves himself of a golden turd. So, the pairing of such a, shall we say, liberal imagination with an epic, philosophical science fiction story could have revolutionized the genre for film years before Star Wars (1977). Jodorowsky's Dune (2014) relates the elaborate pre-production process undertaken by Jodorowsky with the talking heads of crew, critics, Nicolas Winding Refn, and the man himself to take us through.

Aug
13
2014
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Take A Dip In "Lake Placid" Review

Stop throwing heads at me!

Finally, after fifteen years of waiting, the Hollywood elites have come to their senses and released a collector's edition of Lake Placid (1999). Written by television's leading light in middle-brown comedy-dramas of the legal variety, David E. Kelley, and directed by that guy who directed other things you might vaguely remember, Steve Miner, this is the crocodile movie we know (possibly) and chuckle through. They scoured the world to bring you the features you'd expect from a collector's edition and more...or at least what was available. So come, come to Maine--not New York--and enjoy the untrembled waters of Black Lake, its charming vistas and campgrounds. But watch your head.

Aug
13
2014
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"Make Me Wanna" Evaluate His Previously Released Material Review

Corey was like "What the hell was that?"

Early on in Sinbad's newest comedy special, Make Me Wanna Holla (2014), Sinbad does some crowd work and calls out a young guy in the audience. His name is Corey and he's fifteen years old. Sinbad's crowd work is usually antagonistic, but benign, so Corey was representing the disaffected youth who know nothing and have no appreciable problems. Later, after one of his many out-of-date references, he points out that Corey probably doesn't have a clue what Sinbad was going on about. That could be a bad thing, but as Sinbad travels through time towards his full-member AARP card, it has become his wheelhouse and the funniest parts of his act. Of course, his act covers ground so well-trodden we can take a ten minute nap and catch up without trouble. Race then youth then relationships then health then religion. It's comfortable at least.

Aug
10
2014
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"Lucy" Mostly Fulfills Her Potential Review

Life was given to us a billion years ago.  What have we done with it?

Luc Besson is unique.  He is a French action film writer-director-producer.  His films are slick, tough, and thoroughly European.  He is also almost certainly the most prolific human in film.  In 1997, he wrote and directed The Fifth Element (1997).  Since then, he has written 36 scripts or stories, directed nine, and produced about 100 (though IMDb does include a lot of uncredited producer titles).  Not unlike Woody Allen, the break-neck speed of his production suggests there isn't a lot of time for second drafts and it can show.  Then a movie like Lucy (2014) comes along and, while rough-hewn and requiring some limberness of credulity, shows the man at his apex.  And it's wild.

Jul
28
2014
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