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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"Jimmy P." Never Commits To Recovery Review

Do Indians commit suicide?

There are many great doctor-patient films like Jimmy P. (2013).  They are, perhaps, the truest form of the character study. First the doctor or disturbed individual is introduced and then brought to their counterpart as, for some reason, the perfect match of speciality and weakness. The sessions begin and the story unfolds like a mystery. Piece by piece, the subject's mind is revealed to establish data points, connected later on during breakthroughs.  So long as the story continues, it remains engaging and interesting, usually supplemented with a subplot for the doctor (preferably resonating with the main arc). Since these films are so prone to formula, the best ones dig deeper and reveal something about psychoanalysis, society, or ourselves. Jimmy P., however, stays with the formula for the most part and settles on "good enough".

Jul
25
2014
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"Joe" Brings Its A Game Review

Folks lookin' for trouble tend to find more than they're after.

Director David Gordon Green saw two of his films come out in 2013 (generally and in festivals, respectively) set in rural East Texas: an emotional comedy, Prince Avalanche (2013), and a hard-life drama, Joe (2014).  The first captures the isolation and quietness of the place and the second captures the banal desperation of its citizens.  Both are character-driven films and, therefore, difficult to describe beyond useless generalities like "the images are striking" or "the performances were strong".  They provide an atmosphere to explore and observe without judgment, but move relentlessly forward ending as we always knew they would.  Both films are gray with Joe more charcoal to Prince Avalanche's ash.

Jul
23
2014
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"Lego Movie" Builds Something Special Review

What do I do?  I don’t have my instructions. 

There is something special about Legos.  They aren't Hot Wheels or Barbies with clear identities and gender implications.  Legos can be anything for anyone.  They're building blocks and that's all.  Writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, with story help from Kevin and Dan Hageman, use this to develop a theme that is resonant with any normal individual while also establishing the raison d’être of the company.  Of course, they also get to use the expansive catalog of Lego’s greatest (and not-so-greatest) stylings from pirates to astronauts in bricks and accessories.  It also comes supplied with sophisticated satire and an emotional heft that is quite simply astounding.  So, in the way that G.I. Joe (2009) was decidedly not, this is very particularly the Lego movie.  That's why they called it The Lego Movie (2014).  Awesome.

Jul
23
2014
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"Nurse 3D" Is A Bitter Pill To Swallow Review

I always give them one last chance.

Douglas Aarniokoski, the director and co-writer of Nurse 3D (2013), is standing on the shoulders of giants, seeing just a bit further into the ways and means of stabbing people on screen.  First came the swipe-grab-fall technique where the actor embraces the sword into his side and acts like it went through him. Then Orson Welles or somebody realized that perspective allowed one to stab into thin air, but if seen from the side, looks like it goes right through the victim, requiring only good timing to pull it off.  Then, some time later, props found out they could cut a piercing weapon in half, stick it on the actor, and hey-presto, it looks like that guy got himself stabbed but bad.  Some time in the 1970's, some cunning director took to perspective again to come up with that great innovation Aarniokoski and other sick-is-funny filmmakers use to this day--watching head-on as piercing things coming out of people.  These days, it's more about what and how much spurts at us.  But Nurse 3D relies on a more ancient discovery: Naked women are quite nice to look at.

Jul
23
2014
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"No Clue" Makes Its Case Review

Where's everyone getting guns?  This is Canada!

If your last name is "Butt", then there's really only two things you can be: a cigarette filter manufacturer or a comedian.  Brent Butt took the latter route.  Stand-up comedy took him into television with two Canadian series, Corner Gas (2004-09) and Hiccups (2010-11), and a feature film, No Clue (2013), that is basically a 90-minute pilot for a detective sit-com.  It's a busy field especially and the light Canadian touch is certainly popular in American television at the moment.  Shows like Better off TedPushing Daisies, and Psych take the same gentle approach to laughs out of goofy awkwardness and verbal inanity as No Clue.  However, this Butt vehicle is a step above those shows by looking sleeker and pushing the jokes without winking at the audience.

Jul
23
2014
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"Midrange" Doesn't Sink The Shot Review

Something happened to me last year, man.

Subtlety is not a strong suit of this film. Midrange (2013) from the mind and soul of Jason Fields is a religious film that wears its views on its sleeve and doesn't entertain questions. While there is much weeping and rapture, the underlying narrative is a rather mundane slice of life, making those shows of spiritual exuberance incredible. Graham Greene incorporated his hard-scrabble Catholicism into his works in a way that made the characters dynamic, broken by guilt and the certainty that their actions were judged by an unrelenting God. Here, a guy starts crying because he sleeps with someone who dumped a friend of his two weeks ago. Not exactly wrestling with damnation. A year in jail? Try an eternity in hell. Yeah, get back on the court. Maybe you could practice some defense once in a while. [The character has zero D. You probably didn't get that. If you saw the movie, you would have laughed at that observation. Possibly.]

Jun
29
2014
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"Mind Of A Chef" Will Blow Away Your Senses Review

It's the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.

Do you have a problem with food? And when I say problem, I mean addiction. You might not want to eat it, but you're dying to put your head down next to a chopping block just so you can focus entirely on that thing being sliced quickly and with determination. Maybe you like the supple resistance of a tender slab of meat being slowly sliced to hunky pieces. You also have some vague sense that you might actually try to cook something yourself--not really, but a veneer of instruction would be nice. But it's not all about the food. There's an emotional element to it. You want to connect, not some flash in the pan romance. Well, get into the mind of April Bloomfield, a chef, with PBS's The Mind of a Chef: April Bloomfield brought to you by PBS in all of its four hours of food-porny, biographical glory.

Jun
29
2014
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"Death Spa" Might Make You Throw Up If You Stick With It Long Enough Review

Who needs weight reduction by terror?

Nothing is so bad that it's good. It's a lie. It's a rationalization for all the times we've wasted our time watching, listening, or reading things that were obviously terrible from the outset. Death Spa (1989), while it is too competently made in its first hour to be considered a cult classic, makes up for its relative decency with a final, climactic twenty minutes of the most repulsive images they could muster with the budget they had. As the reanimated body of a fish gnawed at the detective's jugular, sending gushes of Big Red around the room, I thought to myself, "This is terrible, but it isn't the worst thing I've seen." That says more about the ever-shrinking standards of the "horror" films tolerated (or loved) by viewers out of what they mistakenly believe to be irony. [Warning: Don't try to eat kimchi while watching this movie.]

Jun
29
2014
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Spike Rolls A Few "Joints" Worth Lighting Up Review

This life came so close to never happening.

Spike Lee, as prolific as he is, has relatively few of his films on Blu-ray. Films older than the medium that aren't bona fide hits/classics like Malcolm X (1992) or Do the Right Thing (1989), are only now being released in two-film sets. The first and ludicrously better-received pair is 25th Hour (2002) and He Got Game (1998). Both films depict characters on the cusp of major, life-altering events struggling to find trust and safety. For those viewers who know Lee from the bombast and socio-political persona would do well to refresh their impressions of the man with these two films. They are deeply thoughtful, socially aware, and emotional stories presented in a fresh manner with a great visual style.

Jun
26
2014
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You'll Need a PhD To Follow "Trapped In Time" Review

Enough banter!  Who are you?

Time travel is perilous for logic. But if a story passes quickly enough, any paradox might be trodden under foot.  With JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014), you can enjoy such reckless abandon on home video.  Since this is a comic book-adjacent universe, they have at their disposal a character built on metaphor to mete out the bare minimum of reasonableness. I've gotten ahead of myself. Or have I? The story begins with Justice League foiling Lex Luthor's plan to ... expand the polar ice caps? Okay. Apparently, it has something to do with real estate prices. These super villain super groups may be one-dimensional, but they sure are creative in their get-rich-quick schemes. Perhaps they should have gone into direct-to-video production.

Jun
25
2014
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Do You Know What You Should About "The First World War"? Review

The first world war began almost by accident. It ended just as strangely.

The series begins where most every retelling begins, with Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who killed Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. But it begins with an image of Belgrade today, where Princip took his gun for target practice (at which he was ill adept). After a few quirks of fate, this rather pathetic anarchist sparked one of the greatest global calamities the world has ever known one hundred years ago this June. The series then steps back and sets the stage for that event. Such a full and epic approach is exactly what one would expect from this ten-part documentary The First World War: The Complete Series (2003), based on the book by Hew Strachan, released for the centenary of the war's beginning. If you went to high school in America, then you well know the look and feel this series provides: odd voice-actors reading the letters of contemporaries, themed episodes, and a vast array of footage and photographs accompanied by a British narrator (Jonathan Lewis). What you may not recall is how interesting this could be.

Jun
04
2014
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#YesAllWomen Might Not Like "Right Kind Of Wrong" Review

I'm writing a blog about you, it's called "Why You Suck".

According to fate, the #YesAllWomen social media frenzy--with its copious corollary analysis--has coincided with my viewing of The Right Kind of Wrong (2013), a movie about an antisocial stalker who haunts a beautiful newlywed because he's arbitrarily decided to "love" her. Uncharitable a reading though that may be, feminist arguments are not known for their charity. But the phenomenon does provide an opportunity to give the common trope used in this film a quarter turn and see the creepy, violating side of it.  Inspired by passion and the certainty of love-at-first-sight, a man woos a woman away from her current lover (here, husband) who is clearly (clearly!) less appropriate for her than is our hero.  She doesn't see it yet, but she will--no really, she will.  If we weren't introduced to the hero first, but instead saw the Lady getting ready for the wedding, her distant interaction with the Hero, and the rest of the wedding exclusively from her perspective, the Hero would look more like Max Cady than Hugh Grant.

Jun
03
2014
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"Poppy Cat" The Next Step Towards Subliminal Messages Review

Happy birthday, Poppy Cat!

Somewhere between being a blithering idiot distracted by the moving colors and actually appreciating that an actual story is being told on screen lies the time where one might safely place a child in front of Poppy Cat: Birthday Treasure (2011). These 11 minute programs, created for UK television have finally made their way across the Atlantic for this DVD release. Every episode, some kid reads her cat Poppy a story of her own creation about Poppy's adventures with her animal friends. The most amazing feature is how carefully it walks the line between drool-inducing simplicity and something approaching a plot and characterization.

Jun
03
2014
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"Sophia Grace & Rosie" Could Give You Diabetes Review

They have a certain ... appeal.

There may be no phenomenon as open to a deep social commentary--where none is intended--than Sophia Grace & Rosie's Royal Adventure (2014). Two hyperactive, rapping British girls with a penchant for pink and tiaras go to Switzelvania, a monarchy with a harsh prison system and a large Rastafarian minority. These two girls are pure Saccharin. Their cuteness isn't just color scheme and chubby cheeks, but their high-speed, low-sense nattering but their love of Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, being photographed and talked about on Twitter. And they scream very shrilly.  Europeans talk about the Ugly American, an ignorant tourist who expects everyone to speak English and act according to their own sense of American values. Sophia Grace and Rosie are like that, except British and pink. That means more tea parties.  All in high definition!

May
28
2014
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"Grand Piano" Doesn't Keep In Tune Review

Shoot me.

Do you know what a MacGuffin is, Maestro?  It's a person or thing around which the entire film revolves and yet turns out to have little importance to the story. It's a magnificent device whereby a good plot can be given a driving force without the indecency of explanation.  Grand Piano (2013), from director Eugenio Mira, is heavy with devices.  A hidden threat, a hostage, an assistant, an unplayable piece of music, a stage, a key, and the unknown fortune of a deceased mentor.  A great metaphor for a movie like this would go something like "Mira played these elements like a concert pianist, perfectly timed with a soaring melody."  It would be more accurate to use that final, inaptly named, unplayable piece: the speed is good, the instrument is lovely, but the tune strays into cacophony.

May
28
2014
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Things Are Just Better With "Andy Griffith" Review

I'm mighty glad how things worked out.

Things always seem to work out at the end of the day in Mayberry. Along with Andy Taylor's (Andy Griffith) uncanny ability to manage his son Opie (Ron Howard) and his officious deputy Barney (Don Knotts), the clean, moral endings are what makes The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) what it is. Can you even read the name of this show without whistling? I Love Lucy is perhaps the only theme tune that comes close to being as instantly recognizable as Earle Hagen and Herbert W. Spencer's opening whistle. The first thing about this new Blu-ray edition of season one of The Andy Griffith Show is that it seemed to spring out, fully formed with its first episode as strong as all the others. And it is a strong show, simple and warm-hearted. Of all the old 'classics' I've revisited in reviews like this, The Andy Griffith Show is the only one that seemed like it could be successful on television today (though you can save the laugh track).

May
15
2014
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"Inspector Lavardin" Is Mystery, French Style Review

The police can do anything!

This provides an excellent opportunity to test whether the French can tell a mystery as well as they are portrayed in Poirot or The Murder on the Rue Morgue. The results were mixed, but heavily inclined towards a positive comparison. Adapter/director Claude Chabrol is not quite as preoccupied as Christie or Conan Doyle's manifestations with the cleanly drawn lines between clue and result. More interested was he in building out what we'd typically call the 'secondary' figures in the mystery--the victims and the suspects. Still, the core of the mystery is the same--who did what and why? Only in the French version, you might be more concerned with how the characters will get along after the mystery is solved than with tying up loose ends. The secondary mystery--will I be able to enjoy a mystery in French--was also satisfactorily resolved.

May
12
2014
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Are You Ready For "Gila!"? Eh, Probably Review

It's coming! Run for your life!

Uh oh. Those cheap toxic waste disposal guys left barrels of their nasty goo in a local cave and it looks like a gila monster has consumed it somehow, turning it into a very large gila monster. The locals start to notice strange things are happening. People getting hurt, bizarre stories get around, and livestock go missing. Hot rod racer and all-round perfect human, Chase (Brian Gross) helps the local Sheriff (Terence Knox) to put all the clues together. But Chase has a theory about what it might be. A big lizard thing. Luckily, there's an expert (just after the half-way mark) who tells them what they're facing and a local crank who has an arsenal for when the Commies invade.

May
12
2014
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Solid Performances Make "The Best Offer" Just Good Enough Review

This one goes to the best offer.

Giuseppe Tornatore, known to most for Cinema Paradiso (1988), wrote and directed The Best Offer (2013), a darkish thriller about an auctioneer, Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush), who slowly falls in love with an enigmatic heiress (Sylvia Hoeks) who wishes to sell her vast collection, but is terrified to leave her family estate or even be seen by other people.  As he takes an inventory of her home, Oldman finds an array of gears and machinery that, with the help of a charming mechanical wizard, Robert (Jim Sturgess), slowly comes together into a valuable, historical piece.  That is Oldman's business.  That and picking out the best works from his auctions through his accomplice Billy (Donald Sutherland), a failed painter.  Oldman might have gone through the lady's collection as usual, acquiring only the best for himself and auctioning the rest.  But, of course, he falls in love with her.

May
12
2014
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The Strengths of "Samson & Delilah" Maintain Their Allure Review

No man leaves Delilah!

Cecil B. DeMille was famous--apart from giving close-ups to muderesses--to constructing grand epics like Cleopatra (1934), The Ten Commandments (1923/1956) twice, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and many others that, while mostly unknown to modern viewers, made heaps of cash.  Coming towards the end of his career, Samson and Delilah (1949) was another Biblical epic in the top ten highest grossing films up to that time.  After Gone with the Wind (1939), only Walt Disney did better than DeMille.  Audiences then and now go to the movies for spectacle, but DeMille is no Michael Bay and Hedy Lamarr isn't Megan Fox.  DeMille cared about the story and the characters and they lie at the core of Samson and Delilah with only two dramatic set pieces.  DeMille and Bay do have one thing in common, however.  Both close out their movies with then-unseen levels of destruction.

May
10
2014
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