Ursa Guy's Film Reviews

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I have to return some videotapes.
That was a nice read. Obviously it looks terrible but I don't understand how 14% of "critics" can actually say they liked this movie enough to give it a fresh rating. It doesn't even look like it has "so corny and bad that it's enjoyable" potential, just awful-ness.

Critics can think whatever they want. I read through a few of the positive reviews (most of them are in Spanish, which says something about demographics I'm sure), and pretty much all of them are lukewarm at best. Throwing around words like original and harmless and creative and slapping a 3/5 on it. Of all the decisions to question, I'm most curious how they picked a poster. What you're seeing is Cassidy Gifford, the 4th billed cast member, being scared because she just found her dead boyfriend's camera. It's a direct lift of a shot from the movie, not something designed by an artist. She's a minor character, it's not an especially notable scene, and the shot doesn't really fit as a poster except for her being exactly in the middle of it. If they were going to be this lazy, I would have at least picked a shot of the main character. It's kind of like having the Jurassic World poster feature one of the sons with no other characters, human or dinosaur.


Oh, Judd Apatow. I can talk all day about how there are lots of actors, directors, and films that I wish I liked more than I did. Judd is among the leaders of that list. My favorite Judd movies are always the ones that he produces but doesn't direct, like Pineapple Express or Superbad. Every single Judd movie has the same flaws. He makes dramadies, not comedies, and to him that means adding unneeded dramatic layers onto comedies. He puts in subplots and makes his movies 2 hours long, and this makes his pacing crawl across the run time. Pacing in comedies is a really important thing to nail. If you go too long or too slow, your jokes get drawn out and have too much space between them where nothing funny happens.

The main plot is about Amy Schumer falling in love with Bill Hader, a sports doctor. For all of the drama and desired depth, neither of these two actors makes an effort to act like a character instead of themselves. Schumer is playing Schumer, and Hader is playing Hader. She's the hopeless drunk and he's the awkward everyman who is rubbing elbows with celebrities. That's not such a bad thing when they're rattling off jokes, but it makes the emotional scenes really fall flat. Bill Hader is a great comedian, but he was never a good actor. There's a reason why his most famous SNL character is the one where he covers his face between the punchlines. Amy gets a heartfelt eulogy halfway through the movie, and she really botches it. It's unnatural and something that nobody would ever do at a funeral. Obviously it's written as comedy. She's saying something inappropriate, that's the joke. The music cues and crying sounds are supposed to be dramatic. If you try for both, you will never be emotionally moving. If the jokes work, you can be comedic, but you can't have both at the same time. This is a minor scene, but it represents a lot of other scenes. Apatow tries to make you laugh and cry at the same time, and the acting and awkward blending cause him to only go 1 for 2.

Honestly, the best character acting was probably John Cena as Amy's boyfriend early in the movie. He plays a soft lover. That's something different. A lot of celebrity "cameos" pop up, with quote marks typed because a few of them are in too much of the movie to be called a cameo. LeBron James is in a few scenes as Bill Hader's best friend, and he delivers a funny performance. There's a fake movie with Daniel Radcliffe and Marissa Tomei about walking dogs that had a lot of laughs. The film acts as an ensemble vehicle for Saturday Night Live cast members from the last 10 years. Vanessa Bayer was my favorite of those, even though she's given virtually nothing to do. Tilda Swinton steals scenes as Amy's demanding boss. Most of the best lines are her insistence on writing stories for schmucks that TMZ would call too trashy.

Those subplots are all over the place. Amy has a lot of fights throughout with her sister, played by Brie Larson, because Amy is trashy and her sister is the respectable one. (As a side note, Brie Larson's presence is ironic because definitely the best comparison for Trainwreck is Don Jon from a female perspective, where Brie played Joesph Gordon-Levitt's sister.) The conflict doesn't add much to Amy's character, and Brie doesn't have a character outside of what she does to Amy. Their dad is getting old, and says inappropriate things. This is funny, until things take a twist for the tragic, and then it's dead space. Amy gets fired from her news job, which is a plot device that only exists to have a romcom third act where a misunderstanding causes the couple to split up so they can get back together in 30 minutes. These 30 minutes are boring because the script stops telling jokes so that it can have the characters feel things, which doesn't work because everybody with more than 15 minutes of screen time isn't a character. The finale is a dumb cheerleading scene that goes on way too long, has no jokes, and didn't pack an emotional payoff to me.

My proverbial review well is going to dry up for a while, as I will be out traveling and not have anything to watch movies on. Hopefully when I return I can stop being so negative. I have a ton of reviews between 1-2 out of 5, and that's kind of unfortunate, but I'm not a tough man to please. There have only been 7 movies this year that I've genuinely enjoyed. I can fill a Razzie pool much easier than an Oscar one right now. I watch movies by their Redbox and/or online release dates, so all I can gather is that the first 5 months of this year have been awful. There are a few June releases that I'm really looking forward to watching, like Dope or Love and Mercy, so things should pick up.

Great review this one, ursaguy! I really enjoyed it.

I agree about Judd Apatow. He hasn't been a favorite of mine either for many of the same reasons as you mention in the intro. I didn't really have an interest in this film and after this review I still haven't. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Dope.

We Are Still Here:

Horror, moreso than most others, is a very unique genre. A good drama and a good movie are mutually inclusive. However, there are many movies that I would call good horror, even though they aren't actually good movies. We Are Still Here is almost one of those, on the low spectrum of being a bad movie and an okay horror. People, but interestingly not the universally positive critics, are split on this movie. I am saying that the scares sort of compensate for the poor film making, but others disagree. I can and will praise the cinematography. It does that It Follows thing where they had one phenomenal shot that the director was told was phenomenal so they reuse it in contexts where it fits less, but it's still very good. That's a cinematic pro. Outside of that, I can't say many good things.

The acting is bad. Lisa Marie is a horrible actress, and she's horrible here, but nobody comes out of this impressively. The characters are awful. They're every cliched haunted house horror character ever, like the mother who believes that every question can be answered with paranormal, the father that's a skeptic until the third act when a deadly experience convinces him, the good friend of the pair who can communicate with the dead, and the person who appears nice at first but later becomes the villain via a dumb twist because the movie felt that having a haunted house be the villain wasn't enough. There's no originality to any of them, and the twist is clumsily crafted. It handles character deaths quite poorly, because aside from one, every character that dies only exists so they can die. Main characters live to the end, side characters get killed off one scene after their introduction. The writing is bad. Every 30 years the house's demons come to life, and an original owner was killed, which I guess is the only information that you need because that's all you get. There never is an explanation of how exactly the house works (Apparently until the credits, where I've read that the background is newspaper clippings with exposition on them. I am not counting that). I usually don't like filling in the run time with expository dialogue, but some more of it could have been used here. Why are the demons there to begin with?

The lack of originality also plagues the story, at least in the first two thirds. These stock characters move into a haunted house, call their friend who talks to dead people, and have an exorcism in which a side character is taken over by the spirit. The last third is the other thing that really divides people between the camps of liking it and not. The townspeople come over to the house and hunt down the homeowners while getting picked off by the demons. Defenders say that it added to the tension, but detractors say that it was silly and far removed from the rest of the movie. I'm somewhere in the middle. I admire the ambition of it in theory, because one of my frequent problems with haunted house movies are that the steaks feel too small. Often, everybody outside of the family, medium friend, and local police are unaware and unaffected by the events, and making the whole town rush into the climax makes it a big deal. The problem was the execution, because I can't tell you a single reason why any of those things happen. If the goal of the town is to have the demons kill the homeowners, why would they interfere if the demons were clearly on their way to doing a good job? And if the demons could kill anybody at any time, why don't they? Why wait for new homeowners to come in if they can go out?

This is the part where I defend it as good horror, because I do think the scares are good. The visuals are set up like jump scares, but without the accompanying obnoxious music, which is nice to see. The practical effects look very good, and the CGI looks fine I guess. It is well shot, and that allows it to build some good tension. The deaths might not be very creative, but they are unexpected. It's the type of movie that tells you that a scare is coming and then lets you sit uncomfortably for a minute while you wonder what the scare is, to be disturbed when it happens. It is also gory. It is very gory. If you can't stomach buckets of blood getting slashed, this movie is not for you. It's not ridiculously bloody in the Scream way, where you're kind of supposed to be laughing at how much blood comes out. The blood is realistic and played straight, and it's hard to understate how much there is.

I would recommend a watch to serious horror fans, because there are a couple of subjective points where you might lean positive. If you're a fan of the growing subgenre of 80s throwback horror, you might enjoy this far more than I did, and if haunted house movies are your thing then I suppose it might be a fun kind of subversion (I personally don't watch enough haunted house or supernatural movies to get that out of it). I compare it to the 2007 Transformers in the nicest possible way. It has a specific genre goal, which to its credit it does accomplish, but leaving your brain at home is helpful because they can't craft an actual film around it.

Love & Mercy:

Love and Mercy was one of my most anticipated movies of the summer. Critics gave it great reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, which carried over to a great 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating, one of only two musical biopics featuring Paul Giamatti as a handler to accomplish that feat this year. I'm a mild Beach Boys fan, having grown up on it from my huge Beach Boys fan father. Originally this movie was supposed to be about Brian Wilson's life from 3 eras: His music making peak in the late 60s, his bed-ridden period in the 70s, and his hellish life under therapist Eugene Landry in the late 80s. The director dropped the 70s part a bit before filming, thinking that it would clutter up a movie that was 2 hours anyways. I have to say that I disagree with this call. The viewer never gets to find out how Landry managed to become a legal guardian of Wilson, and his first wife, who first introduced the two, is never even mentioned. I did a lot of Wikipedia reading to contextualize the eras, and honestly it was more interesting than the movie. Love and Mercy is well made, but it's not especially interesting to watch.

By far the best thing going for it is Paul Dano's award worthy portrayal of 60s Brian Wilson. John Cusack is almost equally as good, but Dano gets the meatier role to play. Wilson is a fantastic artist who is slowly going insane from his drug use, and Dano's orchestration of the band is a delight to watch. He gets a version of Brian Wilson which I interpreted as flawed, although apparently most others disagree. Yes, Wilson could be seen as a hero for refusing to sell out to make an artistic statement, but at the same time he's alienating his family by essentially making a solo album. His controlling and demanding position in the band makes for a good parallel between hero and villain, which I would give a lot of credit for if it were intentional. Paul Giamatti is a very good actor, but the script thrusts a one dimensional bad guy in Landry at him. He is controlling and demanding over Brian Wilson's personal life, regulating who he has contact with and stalking him while administering an excessive amount of drugs. At no point does he have a single humane moment, so the audience isn't allowed to feel the slightest bit of sympathy towards him.

This could have been an amazing, 5 star movie, but it goes and commits the deadly sin of biopics. Wilson is treated like a misunderstood messiah, and all who oppose him are painted as evil to the Saturday morning cartoon degree. You can tell that it was not intentional to have Wilson appear similar to Landry because band member Mike Love is obviously supposed to be the villain of the 60s segments. He gets into spats with Wilson constantly, is seen as a sellout with no value of quality music, and wants the band to break away from Wilson. Love is both a poorly written villain (as the 5th billing, he gets very little to do) and poor at being a villain (am I not supposed to like the man that stands up for an egotistical and powerful figure micromanaging others in the name of work?).

The script is made up of a series of moments more than it makes up a story, and that's what makes this movie not a lot of fun, whether or not it was any good. The 60s and 80s have very little to do with each other, because other than Wilson no character appears in both. The 80s portions have their own self contained plot, with Wilson's future wife played by Elizabeth Banks trying to liberate Wilson from the control of Landry. The 60s follow the rise and fall of the Beach Boys as a band, which is barely covered because only 50 minutes of film take place there. There isn't much of an arc, the band likes him, Brian records Pet Sounds, and the band hates him. The actual dialogue is pretty good, in the sense that it gives the actors something good to work with.

The score here is fantastic, both the original composed score and the Beach Boys songs that cut throughout. Their early hits are montaged in the beginning, and the rest get played when it fits the narrative. And then, of course, the scenes that steal the whole show: the recording sessions. The actors do a lot of great singing themselves, the harmonies are beautiful, and the instrumentals are even better. Dano is frantically running around shouting corrections at his studio band, and the instrument and assorted animal noises come together brilliantly. It's probably the most realistic recording ever put on film. There's no way that I could do it justice with words, but the sessions of Good Vibrations justify the existence of the entire movie. As much as I liked the movie, I was just hoping that I would like it a little bit more, and my rating reflects that, not the filmmaking quality, which would be a strong 4/5. It falls into traps and cliches, but dances around them decently, and the good stuff is good enough to sit through the bad.

It's no secret that I have been less than impressed with the movie offerings this year. There have been a quantifiable number of good movies to come out in 2015, but that number is really small, and gets worse when you compare it to how good 2014 was. I was beginning to lose some faith in myself. Am I just too cynical to enjoy films now? I was worried that my passion for movies was gone. I thought it had left. I thought it was stompin. But when it came back, boy, it came

Straight Outta Compton:

I will quickly talk about the negatives in this opener, so that I can spend the next thousand words in love. This movie is 150 minutes long, and it really didn't have to be 150 minutes long. It felt like the rap Avengers in some ways, full of 90s rapper cameos in scenes that served no real purpose other than to say "Tupac is in our movie!", complete with a sort of post credits scene of Eminem (who allegedly was played by Ansel Elgort in a scene that got cut from the movie) and 50 Cent talking about their relationship with Dr. Dre. I would not be surprised in the least if some kind of Tupac or Snoop Dogg biopics were rushed out by Universal as spinoffs. They also do sugercoat the main characters as most biopics of living people do, although to be fair they don't do the opposite to the bad guys. Suge Knight is probably toned down from his cartoonishly evil real self (He got arrested for a hit and run when he injured 2 people with his truck violating his restraining order to meet the crew. Seriously.), and the record manager played by Paul Giamatti isn't as much a villain as he is selfish. His character basically boils down to "I warned you guys that you shouldn't have irresponsibly blown all of your money. The music industry is evil, and I need to lookout for myself as much as you guys", which I think is a pretty agreeable statement. It might sound hypocritical in light of my recent review of the similar Love and Mercy, where I took points off for those things, but at a certain point you have to say that you had so much fun that the things you wish were different don't matter as much as what is actually there.

And what is actually there is absolutely glorious. This movie is so much fun, so much so that I'll say it twice. This movie is so much fun. The actors all have such fantastic chemistry. You feel like you're in a recording studio, waving your arms and singing along with this group of likable and charismatic people around you. There is just so much energy with this movie that I wish I got one of those screenings from the opening day where the audience was singing along. You feel like part of the crowd during their eventful Detroit concert, where everybody is so into **** The Police that the government has to take action. You feel sad enough to cry tears along with the members as they go through a tragic loss. 4 of the members of NWA are played by mostly unknown young actors, while Ice Cube is played by his son. The best of the bunch is Jason Mitchell as E, who probably won't get any kind of Oscar buzz but should take full advantage of the musical/comedy Golden Globe separation. Giamatti is fantastic in his role, too, but E is kind of the main character of the movie in the sense that the plot starts and ends with him. Dre is the emotional core, and he is portrayed excellently by Corey Hawkins. Ice Cube's son gets a role that seems written around him, with fewer dramatic moments than the 3 actors noted above and more scenes rapping, playing to his strengths of looking and sounding like the man he's playing. MC Ren and DJ Yella get demoted to the background, which might bother you if you're a fan of either of them, but as I said the movie is long enough as is and there are 3 members that are pretty clearly more popular than the other 2.

The story is fascinating and fun to follow. Living in the Los Angeles suburb on Compton, where the only career options are dead end office jobs, selling drugs, and running gangs, five talented individuals get together and help Easy-E (the only man with a decent amount of money) make a hit record. This gives them the attention of Giamatti, who forwards them to a label, and they create their debut album. This only covers the first act, essentially the origin story of NWA. They go on tour and proceed to Forrest Gump their way through history, giving a voice to a group of young and poor black people who had none. They wind in the history very well, as events like the Rodney King trial effect their outlook on the world and their music. The band breaks up, going their separate ways, and the three leads all try to do their own thing. I was surprised at the emotional weight carried by this movie. Most true story movies build to one climatic event, but Straight Outta Compton has two: one in the middle, the climax of the NWA period, and one at the end, the climax of the breakup period. They both work fantastically. They both make you sad while giving hope for the future, the first making you want to see more and the second giving nice closure to the film.

The music is amazing. I'm not an especially big NWA fan, but the music feels so lively and tight, and everybody in the cast is great at rapping, even the cameos. Snoop Dogg and Tupac both steal the show by delivering a nearly perfect recreation of one of their most notable songs, with a bouncier and livelier feel. As already mentioned, the concert scenes are great. They work so well because they're immersive. Like the whole movie, the rapping is enjoyable and energized. It shows the hard studio work, with Dre trying different production styles and E needing multiple takes to get into his best form, but it never forgets just how enjoyable it can be when they're spitting over a funk beat.

The script is also wonderful. I was surprised at just how funny it was. Most of the jokes are just simple banter between the band members, but they're obviously all witty lyricists so things are kept light and fun. Fans of Ice Cube's hit movie Friday will be thrilled to know that the origin of the "Bye, Felicia" line is revealed to the public in hilarious fashion. The themes addressed are important and immortal. Like Do The Right Thing, my second favorite movie ever, the direction and music give the movie an obvious late 1980s style, but the concepts it touches on are just as relevant today as they were back then. The idea that a bunch of street thugs can be seen as artists with some new-age rap that shouldn't even count as art provokes police to harass NWA at every moment possible, only being stopped by the presence of a white manager, and in one of the film's most powerful moments, not being stopped in spite of their manager. I was expecting those scenes to be preachy and blunt, because viewed out of context on Jimmy Fallon they were, but they handle it really well. I also appreciate the mixed races of the cops. It would be so easy to just paint it as the black heroes rebelling against the evil white society, but like Do The Right Thing people of both races are on both sides, which is pretty much necessary to turn a good racial message into a great one.

People commonly talk about summer movies being fun and awards movies being good as if they're mutually exclusive, and while sometimes they are, they don't have to be. Straight Outta Compton proves that stellar cinema can also be the most fun time had with friends at a movie theater. I know the complaints against it are that it's sanitized and the second half gets sappy, and I also know that a large portion of this forum is made up of middle aged white people who may hate hip hop. I'd like to think that those things will cancel each other out, and that the flaws are there to make it appeal to people who hate rap music. This is one of the biggest breakout hits of the year for good reason, and it's easily worth your 10 dollars and 2.5 hours.

Excellent review of Straight Outta Compton, I can feel your enthusiasm coming off the page. It's great to read review of films with such a personal feel. Good work

Excellent review of Straight Outta Compton, I can feel your enthusiasm coming off the page. It's great to read review of films with such a personal feel. Good work
And thank you for the rep bomb. I figure that I should take advantage of the medium (a forum, not to be read by the public) and be personal about film. It's more fun than to not be.

Lady in the Water. After Earth. The Happening. The Last Airbender. Long ago, I enjoyed these four bad movies in harmony. Then, everything changed when I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender this summer. Only I, master of a small group who sticks up for Shyamalan, could enjoy them. But when I watched the television series his most notable failure is based on, that enjoyment vanished. Over time, my sister and I have become huge fans of the Avatar franchise. Even though I have been training here to become a proper movie critic, I have a lot to learn before I can be seen as reputable. But I believe I can review this movie properly.

The Last Airbender:

I normally don’t talk about older films, but I wanted to talk about some Shyamalan movies a week before The Visit came out. He’s such an anomaly. His good stuff is great and his bad stuff is just as entertaining as his good stuff. But not this one. I hate jumping into a sea of opinions and not having anything unique to bring to the discussion about a movie. It’s why I prefer writing about indie horror to something like Avengers or Jurassic World. I read both reviews of The Last Airbender here, and both are great, but neither one of them was written by a person who had seen the show. While my score will be agreeing with the consensus, I have the angle of being a guy that used to like this movie in a so-bad-it’s-good way, but at this point in time can’t find anything to enjoy in it because the show it massacred is so great. The series is about a society divided into 4 nations, each of which can bend a certain element to their will. The main character, Aang, is the Avatar, meaning that he can bend all 4 elements. Aang disappears, and the Fire Nation takes advantage to invade the other Nations of Water, Earth, and Air. Two Water siblings named Katara and Sokka find Aang, and an epic war ensues. The movie is not only a mockery of good film but an awful adaptation of a wonderful TV series. Here’s a list of major and minor differences between the two that bothered me.

Every name but Katara is pronounced differently. All characters are omniscient about the politics and mythology of the universe, even though in the show no non-Firebenders knew of anything beyond their village. All characters that are introduced in season 1 but don’t really do anything until later seasons, like Jet and King Bumi, are written out of the script entirely. Zuko’s face looks clean, as the makeup team totally botched his scars. The Earthbender prisoners are trapped on land. Standing on earth. In the show, the prison was a metal ship in the middle of the ocean so that there would be no earth to bend. Obviously the Earthbenders quickly rise up and overtake the prison guards. The series was at least in part a comedy, especially the characters of Sokka and Iroh, but not a single joke was told in this film. The penis hair that is so often made fun of isn’t in the show. The Fire Lord’s face is shown as if he is a normal character, even though the face was in shadows in the show until season 3 to build up the tension.

But by far the worst failure to adapt a brilliant source correctly was the utter failure to make Prince Zuko resonate on the big screen. Avatar had two huge things going for it, which propped it up over nearly every television show ever, whether it was made for kids or adults. First, it had an innovative battle structure, with 3 sides of the main conflict. There are the good guys, made up of Aang, Sokka, and Katara. There are the bad guys, made up of Fire Lord Ozai and his admiral Zhao. And there’s the third side, featuring Iroh and one of the five greatest characters to ever be portrayed in popular media, Prince Zuko. Zuko is the son of Ozai, a former proud member of the Fire Nation that got outcast for doing something most characters in kids shows are praised for. He interrupts a war meeting in order to stand up for his friends and stop them from being sacrificed. His father burns the right side of his face off for disrespecting him, and wants to kill him right there. Disowned traitor Iroh convinces Ozai to let Zuko become a disowned traitor, and the pair are given the pretense that they must find the Avatar in order to be accepted back into society. The twist is that Ozai has no intention of actually letting Zuko return, and he’s actively rooting for Zhao (and later on, even crueler, Zuko’s more talented and loved sister Azula). This gives Zuko a tragic past, and the bond between him and Iroh makes you root for the both of them in a way. Aang is the main character and promotes peace, but Zuko is the most interesting character and you don’t want to see him fail on his quest for honor. It makes Ozai a truly detestable villain because he betrayed his well-meaning son. And it firmly distinguishes the two sides, as Zuko must directly kill Zhao to get the Avatar and Zhao is inconvenienced by the insignificant prince nipping at his heels. In the movie, Zuko is a bad guy. The backstory is barely mentioned, Ozai is rooting for Zuko to come back and trying to make Zhao’s life more difficult, Zuko has no redeemable qualities like his fondness of children or his relationship with Iroh, and Ozai comes off as sympathetic. In what I guess was supposed to be an attempt to redeem him and make him sort of admirable, Zuko refuses to fight Zhao in the climax, thus making it not a climax. In the show, Zuko fairly won his fight, and Zhao was stopped by Iroh when he attempted to strike again after already losing. In the movie, there is no fight to begin with, and Zuko leans towards the villain side because he never battles a villain. This is a gross oversimplification of the character. The other big thing going for the series was the constant parallel between Aang and Zuko. Aang has a similar backstory of monks thinking his desire to stand up for others goes against his role as Avatar, and is outcast by them. The only difference between the two is that Aang was shown with love by his mentor while Zuko was shown with hate by his father. In the movie, the episode where this connection was most prominent (The Storm, which is a great watch as a 25 minute short film whether or not you have any context about the characters) is completely glossed over, and Aang’s mentor is only mentioned in dialogue. He is never shown on screen. This robs Zuko of any character development over the course of the film and kills all complexity that his cartoon self had. Iroh is also heavily hurt by this. Like Zuko, a once complex character becomes a basic bad guy. He gets redeemed at the end with his refusal to harm spirits, but before that he barely gets a line, speaking more to Zhao than to Zuko. Aang leaves Zuko alone mostly frozen in a hut after their fight instead of bringing him back to the battlefield, once again giving away a chance to relate the two, and also making it confusing how Zuko was able to get to the bridge to not fight Zhao.

The acting in this movie is atrocious. Not a single good performance can be salvaged. The closest thing is Dev Patel as Zuko. The performance is decent in itself, but he’s way too old to be playing the 16 year old Zuko, and the age does matter as his maturity compared to Azula and Iroh makes a big difference on the events. Zhao’s actor reads literally every line in the EDDIE REDMAYNE SCREAMING IN JUPITER ASCENDING VOICE! I will single out Jackson Rathbone for being a worse actor that the majority of people I saw in my sister’s high school play last year. It’s almost fascinating to watch how somebody with so little talent performs on a big stage. He should be embarrassed to have put his name on this project. At least he could escape with dignity under a fake one. He will regularly stop talking in the middle of sentences to only pick it up a few second later. “Are you, the Avatar, Aang?” is a favorite of mine, with those commas reflecting his refusals to complete a sentence. The kid playing Aang isn’t much better. Throughout the entire movie, even in fight scenes, he has a doe eyed shtick going on to make him look cute. Katara’s actress is given nothing to do and sounds disinterested because of that.

And the script is even worse. Every single line is exposition. I must have at least 10 drinking game triggers relating to the inane dialogue in this movie. My favorite has always been taking a shot every time a character literally used the phrase “As you know” to feed the audience exposition. You might think that this would only happen once or twice, but Zhao does it at least 4 times, and the line is spoken once each by Zuko, Ozai, and Katara and Sokka’s grandmother. Another good one to combine with others involves pouring up every time Aang explains a small piece of his backstory, which will give you four full cups to mow down. A favorite of my friend but never used by me for fear of alcohol poisoning was to drink every time something is explained through dialogue but not shown that was shown in the show, which happens with the library, Ba Sing Sae, any and all references to previous Avatars like Kiyoshi and Roku, the sun and moon spirits, and Fire Nation invasions of the southern Earth Kingdom. I understand that not everything, and not even most of the events could be shown, but a director with more creativity would have combined events (maybe only let Aang go to the Spirit World once and meet the dragon, facestealer, Kiyoshi, and Roku at the same time), montaged (it would have taken another minute to show cities falling to the Fire Nation, and they could have easily teased Jet in one of the shots), or just not mention them at all or save them for the sequel. By doing nothing but talking about them, you sound like gibberish to anybody who isn’t familiar with the source material and slow down the tempo of the movie by giving worthlessly short sparknotes versions of episodes to anybody who is. Of course, the bottle gets chugged in full when the North Princess says “We believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.” Because that is an actual line of dialogue. Somebody gave 150 million dollars to a man who used one word 3 times in the same sentence. Katara is given nothing to do but exposit and describe what were currently looking at on the screen. Aang will struggle waterbending, and Katara will helpfully tell us via a voiceover that “Aang was trying to waterbend, but he was having a difficult time with it.” Other gems of dialogue include “My brother and the princess became friends right away”, “Aang had to find a new master”, and “We must protect the city”, all of which are done through voiceover instead of spoken word on screen. All of these things could be shown and not add more than 5 minutes to the movie’s run time. There is not a single interesting character to be found. How can there be? Nobody has any time to talk about what the feel or what they want because they have to spend time explaining to the audience what happened before the story took place. Of course, when every line is about this, no story can currently take place. Shyamalan ignored the basic principle of showing and not telling. Even the few things that are shown are concurrently told to us. It gets so bad that I have to question why this was a movie at all. If you’re going to ignore the visual component of film and make sure that every plot point can be explained by listening with your eyes closed, why not make an audiobook of the series? The writers behind this are clearly more interested in having us hear about the history of this world instead of watch an adventure happen in it.

If I had no background knowledge whatsoever, this movie would make no sense. It’s more of a collection of scenes then a plot, and it collapses in on itself near the end because of this. They get to 100 minutes by summarizing each of the 20 episodes in the season in 5 minutes. That cuts out every single time the lead trio interacts with Zuko other than the finale, so it makes no sense when Katara says that Zuko is in the city near the end. That line of dialogue lifted from episode 19 made sense there, but that was in a world where Katara had seen Zuko before and was aware that he was to be feared. Zuko fighting Zhao made sense in episode 20 because he was in the town of the tribe and they had an indecisive fight earlier. Without that fight and with Zuko being frozen in a hut miles away, there is no logic to how he is able to fight Zhao. Katara uses Aang’s name in her voiceovers so the audience doesn’t get confused, but she doesn’t even learn what his name is until the movie is 25 minutes in. She asks him what his name is when they first meet, he doesn’t answer because he’s in a state of shock after leaving the iceberg, and then she decides that there’s no need to ask again until another few days of travel.

The cinematography is pathetic. I looked up IMDB credits just to bully Andrew Neslie right now. His work is terrible in this. This is an Oscar winning cinematographer for his work on the Lord of the Rings franchise, which is wonderful. I am mystified how he could let something as bad as this get out. Every dialogue shot is a Les Mis style extreme close up. Sometimes the camera goes so close that parts of the actors’ faces get cut out of the frame. There are 2 kinds of fight scenes in this movie. There’s the Blue Spirit fight, which had potential but was ruined by the unnecessary slow motion after every move, and every other fight, where the thing looked awful to begin with but the slow motion doesn’t help anything. The bending looks ridiculous on film, because everybody has to perform a full dance recital before doing anything. In the show, the elements would bend simply through the thrust of an arm or a kick, but in the movie everything needs an intricate routine before anything happens. The CGI effects look no better. At no point does the water look like real water. The creature work on Appa and Momo is so bad I can’t begin to care about the weak ‘effort’ that some will insist went into it. It’s not a matter of looking dated, this looked awful in 2010. It came out 6 months after another movie called Avatar proved that you could do amazing things with computer graphics. Nobody had that level of inspiration, or maybe just that level of care, here. And of course, the worst looking thing in the movie is the skin color of the actors. In the show, Aang was Asian, the Waterbenders were Inuit, and the Fire Nation was far eastern. In the movie, the good guys are white and the bad guys are Indian. I don’t care that an Indian man made this, he had a chance to really show off the up and coming talent of some diversely colored actors, and he pisses it away so white kids with the acting talent of my Groot bobblehead can pick up a check.

But none of those things gave this movie that rating that I posted above. I always say that to get the lowest of low ratings, you can’t just be an awful, irredeemable mess, you have to be offensive. The saving grace of something like The Gallows is that at least I wasn’t actively offended by what I was watching. And when MoFo member Iro reviewed this movie, he explicitly stated that he didn’t think it was quite worthy of its reputation as one of the worst movies ever made because there was nothing offensive in it. This paragraph is an open letter to M Night Shyamalan that will hopefully explain my views on why I found the existence of this offended me.

F*** you M Night Shyamalan. F*** your bull**** “it’s for kids” excuse. You adapted Avatar. Avatar is living proof that being for kids and being for adults should never, under any circumstances, be mutually exclusive. You said in interviews that you had to trim the story down to 100 minutes and make sure every line was exposition so that kids could enjoy it. F*** you. The real greatest strength of Avatar, more so that any element of the show, was the spirit of the creators. There was a commitment that even in the bad episodes, even when the jokes weren’t landing, even when the clichés infected the script hard, it never, ever, talked down to its audience the way you did for 100 straight minutes. Kids can think. Kids want to be challenged. You are allowed to give kids something intellectual. Kids want to feel mature. They want to have to interpret things they saw. Harry Potter proved that kids will sit still for 150 minutes if the story is engaging. Pixar proves on a yearly basis that kids can handle complex character motivations if you make a good movie with them. Avatar understood that the best thing you can do in a kids show is make something of a high quality. When the kids of 2010 grow up, they will see right through this awful, commercialized bull****. But when the kids of 2005 grow up, like the one currently writing this sentence, we will still admire Avatar as the pinnacle of achievement in animated television. We will still remember the fun characters, deep stories, and beautiful subtle visuals. And when the kids of 2010 grow up, they will watch this for the first time with their kids and forget about any lesser versions of it. Avatar the television show will last forever. And that’s a good thing. Making something for kids isn’t an excuse to slack off, it’s a newfound purpose to try harder. Because everybody in the film business, including Shyamalan, was at one point influenced by a good film for kids. If you make a great, inspired thing for kids, the future of show business, they will be inspired to create something great when you’re at too old of an age to work anymore. Kids are the most important demographic to put effort in for. Obviously M Night Shyamalan doesn’t respect that, but the people who created Avatar did, and I hope in the future another director does and remakes this story, because it’s one worth telling for generations to come in the same way we retell our fairy tales. If you disregard Avatar: The Last Airbender because it’s rated TVY7 or has a Nickelodeon sticker on the box, you’re part of the problem too. Respect the work that went into making something intended for kids that can and frequently is also enjoyed by adults. At the very least, have more respect for the property than Shyamalan did.


If there's one thing you can say about Southpaw, it's better than its trailer. When people think of how much modern movie trailers suck because they give away the entire plot, they are thinking about Southpaw. Basically every plot point in the first two acts is revealed. Billy Hope is an ex boxing champion who is down on his luck after an unfortunate ring incident and an unfortunate home life incident. He loses custody of his daughter and all of his possessions. He meets an old trainer, who he initially rejects for being out of touch but learns a special move from. He gets deus-ex-machina'd into the ring and is losing early but the move gets him back to a virtual tie. Of course, all of this information was already spoiled by virtue of being a boxing movie. I don't hate boxing movies, but I think we have to acknowledge as a society that they're the most formulaic type of sports movies, possibly second to the "true story" movies about a coach of one race uniting a town of another race through a high school team. Over time we traded out the young amateur underdog for the former champ underdog, but that doesn't actually change the character much. This is a well executed boxing movie, but it's hard to ignore just how little originality is present.

The first thing that everybody wants to talk about is Jake Gyllenhaal. Honestly, I was more impressed by his daughter, played by Oona Laurence. I expect Gyllenhaal to give us a fantastic performance, and this wasn't a Nightcrawler level performance, so I was happily satisfied by him. But Laurence blew me away. She's never been in anything I've heard of, and to see a child actress like that come into a Weinstein movie and go toe to toe with Gyllenhaal is exceptional. She has a full range of emotions, and the movie doesn't work without her. If she doesn't deliver, Gyllenhaal has nobody to connect to. Not to knock Forrest Whitaker, because I respect him as an actor, but he sleepwalked through his role in this. Gyllenhaal might be sympathetic because bad things happen to him, but his daughter is the only likable character in the movie. Of course that doesn't mean Gyllenhaal wasn't fantastic as a ripped boxer that was somehow dumber than his daughter. It's unfair how easily he can physically transform himself. He dropped 20 pounds to play Lou Bloom and added that back plus 20 more to play Billy Hope. He nails the thick mumble voice and the exhausted feelings of a man who just spent 11 rounds getting beat up. I think an Oscar campaign is a waste of money, because this will be a tough year for best actor and the movie around the performance isn't awards worthy, but the Weinsteins will try any campaign once. I was also pleasantly surprised by 50 Cent. For the uninformed, Southpaw was originally an Aftermath posse movie, with Eminem tagged as the lead boxer. Em decided to back off and wisely give the part to a real actor, but I was worried that 50 was going to either heavily overact or play himself. He does neither and gives a decent performance, which still would have been better if it was given to a real actor, but I never felt that he was distracting. Rachel McAdams was good enough to make me wish she was in it more, so that should count for something.

These good to great actors are given a weak script, and not just in its overuse of common tropes. I think they went too far in making Gyllenhaal's character suffer. Usually it's one or two things that cause the champ's life to spiral out of control, but he gets caught up in multiple murders, an arrest, losing his boxing license, and losing his daughter to child services. The second death especially felt unneeded. There's a character that gets introduced and his only personality is being the kind and innocent one, and the audience only hears secondhand that he died offscreen. There wasn't much of a point to it, that character didn't do much and it doesn't cause a change in the plot, but it's there because killing people makes you sad. It also felt like there were a few scenes missing between Hope and his daughter. Her feelings about him rotate between love and hate without any explanation as to why she feels this way. When she leaves her father, she's sad and wants to see him. When he goes to visit her for the first time a couple of days later, he wants nothing to do with her. A few scenes later, she wants to visit him again, and turns to hating him in the middle. I couldn't figure out the motivations for any of this beyond because the plot says so, which is a terrible reason for a character to do anything. I was also confused how Hope lost his fortune so fast. I'm not a boxing expert, but a 43-0 champion fighter with a 10 million dollar per fight contract awaiting him must have made at least a couple million per fight prior to that. A man with a net worth of at least 80 million dollars with 2 cars should not be paying a mortgage, and a 1 million dollar fine and a few months of property taxes should not break him. He has to serve a suspension from boxing for a little less than a year, which they say is a big problem because it's a year without income, even though a boxer will only fight twice a year under normal circumstances. Once again, the only justification that I can come up with is that we don't have a plot unless these unrealistic events happen. This is the first script from Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, and I don't think it justifies getting a second chance. He's good at television and should probably stick to it.

If not Gyllenhaal, the movie was hyped as the boxing movies with realistic boxing scenes. This is absolutely accurate and is what pushed this okay movie into positive territory for me. The makeup department had a field day with the puddles of fake blood flowing everywhere. There are multiple rounds shot in real time, which allegedly were shot with one continuous take, but there are still cuts so I'm not sure how much truth there is to that claim. Between rounds we get an extreme closeup of Gyllenhaal's battered face and usually swollen and bloodied left eye, with his trainer and medical team frantically trying to help him out. Every single punch looked like it hit its mark and hurt badly. They're shot so well, it's like a combination of being there and watching an HBO stream of a fight. The camera angles switch frequently, and it never bothered me the way it sometimes does during a real fight and especially in movies. The last 20 minutes of this movie feel like a more exciting version of Pacquio-Mayweather. I also loved the final shot of the movie, set up to be from the point of view of a media cameraman. You see Gyllenhaal after the fight, and then his security team pushes you back into a hallway to let him have his moment alone.

Unfortunately, Southpaw may be the final film score ever designed by legendary composer James Horner, who died in a plane crash. There are a couple of movies that might end up using a Horner score, but right now this is the most recent film to use an unaltered work by Horner. Fans of him will probably be disappointed. The score isn't bad, even if it's not especially good. The problem is that Eminem refused to back off of the soundtrack like he did the acting role. This is just an opinion, but I thought every single song that he did was obnoxious. Horner doesn't get a chance to do very much because all of the big scenes are either in a boxing ring, where no score is used in order to keep the sound effects realistic, or at a gym, where Eminem smears his shouty choruses over training montages.

I honestly don't know how much this will be liked by boxing fans. Some might appreciate how accurate it is to the sport, others might decide that there's no point in watching an hour and a half of melodrama to get to a fight of similar quality to ones they watch often. Southpaw is a summer popcorn movie dressed up as something more important. It's fun and sweet and a fine way to spend some time and 10 dollars, but the story is ridiculous and the character's don't get developed beyond standard sports drama arcs. How much you can tolerate that will determine how much you like it, so I can't recommend it to people uninterested, but it's good at being what it is.

Not seen The Last Airbender, not really my thing, but you sure did hate it!
I loved Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. The Village was silly but watchable, as was The Happening. I'll probably watch The Visit but after his first three films I feel like I'm watching his films just for a laugh

Not seen Southpaw yet, so will have to catch up with you on that one

The thing about The Happening is that it's silly because it's watchable, not in spite of it. I'm skipping The Visit entirely unless it's pulling a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and everybody says it's Shyamalan's return to 1999 form.


First, some context. I don't care about the original Poltergeist. I don't dislike it, I just don't care about it. I think I saw it once multiple years ago. I thought it was okay and it left no impression on me. This might be controversial for a self-proclaimed horror aficionado to say, but if you showed me a random scene from the original I would probably just call it The Exorcist Junior and walk away. In casual conversation I will usually refer to it as "the not Spielberg movie". I think in this case that is a good thing. I can and will judge this movie on its own merits. All I will say about the original is that if this remake was very similar to it, that might be the most overrated horror classic ever. I don't know how many of the same plot points, scenes, or scares are borrowed, but this is bad. Some of it comes down to the execution, but a lot of the ideas present here are flawed too, or at least quite dated.

In this movie, a white "middle class" (the father recently got laid off from his job and the mother is stay at home, but they can afford a 4 bedroom house in a nice neighborhood because the plot says so) family moves into a new suburban neighborhood, but soon find out that the house was actually built on top of an ancient burial ground. This is such a weird cliche for paranormal horror to keep going after. I don't think I've ever heard of a real life house on top of a burial ground, but apparently they're a dime a dozen under houses as long as they're being moved into by a happy white family. The Bowen family, made up of two parents who have love for their kids and 3 stereotypes in place of actual kids (a teenager addicted to technology, a little boy who others treat as a sissy, and a little girl who exists), have to confront a type of violent ghost called a poltergeist when their house starts acting weird. Because it's a horror movie about a family, the kids are spooked but their skeptic parents think they're just gosh darned kids until the second act. Sam Rockwell was decent in this, in the Sam Rockwell way that makes you wish he picked slightly better projects. Saxon Sharbino was also okay as the teenage daughter. Her career credits include indie horror and exploitation horrorporn, both of which she has effectively grown out of with this. Every other actor is bad. I don't want to be mean to the kids, because they're both under 10, but I will hold no punches for Rosemarie DeWitt's no-effort performance. The dialogue provided isn't A material, but DeWitt is so wooden that she deserves the bulk of the blame for it. You would think that having a child abducted by some unseen entity would make you feel an emotion, but DeWitt refuses to be bound by your expectations.

Sam Raimi is a name that was featured in marketing, but he only produces the film and likely had very little real involvement. That shouldn't be such a bad thing. If you asked me who I would want to direct an Exorcist Junior, I would have requested Gil Kenan, and that's who got the job. Kenan is the director of Monster House, the only horror movie to ever be Oscar nominated for Best Animated Feature and probably the best junior horror movie ever. It was clever, it was original, it was fun, and it genuinely scared me when I saw it in theaters as an 8 or 9 year old. Kenan hasn't done anything in 7 years, and it shows, although maybe he did have a decent vision mucked up by studio meddling. I can give the storyline a get out of cliche free past because it's based on a story that existed before it was cliche, but I can't say the same for filmmaking techniques. As the worst ones usually do, not only are there plenty of jump scares, but every scare has an obvious setup to allow the viewer to tell themselves that a jump scare is about to come. The sound drains, the screen pans slowly, you say "And then the jump", the jump happens, and you tense your shoulders a little bit. There was one scary moment, and it came without any kind of surprise or visual or sonic jump. The paranormal investigator friend of a friend has his arm stuck in a door and nails pop out towards him from behind it. There's no obnoxious musical accompaniment, we just get some good, old-fashioned tension building. It's the best scene in the movie because it understands how to scare us on a deeper level so well.

Also of note for being poorly executed is an excess of CGI in the third act. Usually this mainstream jump scare horror style is indicative of microbudget horror, but that's an unfair designation. Poltergeist cost $35M to make, and you see that money on the screen. For the effects they wanted, they probably needed a budget increase. There are a lot of zombies that come up from cracks in floors and trans dimensional portals, and every shot looks poorly greenscreened like it was from 2007.

This is the kind of mediocre movie that doesn't give you a great impression, so here are some assorted thoughts that aren't really fleshed out but are worth mentioning. The scare approach to this one is rapid fire. I counted at least 7 obvious attempts to scare in the first 20 minutes. It's a nice effort to making true horror, but so few of them hit their mark that it makes it groan worthy when you see something like a hand on the back of the husband with jump music only to find his wife behind him. There's no real tension created in anything but the nail scene. It's a few seconds of buildup at most, and then onto the next one. The ratio of effective scares to unintentionally hilarious scares is not strong with this. I think the little boy's acting might have been part of the problem, but basically every scene where he gets attacked by something is way more funny than it should have been. Am I weird for laughing out loud when the clown toy was gnawing on his leg? It was such an absurd scene, and the clown's face gets kicked off and still moves its eyes. The whole situation is goofy. He gets attacked by a tree, which the movie makes obvious by having multiple scenes with no purpose other than establishing that the tree is evil in what should probably be considered foreshadowing abuse. It gave me good time to come up with Whomping Willow jokes, but it was ineffective at its function. I'm surprised that this got away with a PG-13. The tone is definitely not adult in the traditional sense, but the gore level is moderate and they use the S word 7 times, which I thought was a lot. There's also an awkward dry humping scene that a kid walks in on where nothing explicit is shown but it's not subtle about being sexual. Good for the MPAA for judging a movie based off of its context and intended audience instead of using arbitrary swear limits. The UK rating was a 15, which seems fair to me. This is why an intermediate rating in America is necessary. Staying true to a 13 year old limit should be fine, but if you're a parent I wouldn't take kids under 10 the way the original Poltergesit apparently appealed to 7 year olds. There is a strange rushed subplot near the end of the movie about the paranormal researcher's desire to finish his biggest case even though his significant other thinks it's hurting his health. Neither one of these characters does or says much of any importance. Somebody tell me if that was in the original too, because to me it seemed that it was Straight Outta Conjuring in a desperate attempt to rip off the best supernatural horror movie of the past decade. Like most bad remakes, there is absolutely no reason to watch it. If you like the original, you'll complain about the minor changes and lesser quality here. If you don't like the original, there's nothing here to convert you. If you've never seen the original, watch that instead of this and pick an above camp.

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I've seen a lot of weird movies. This is one of the weirdest. An infected chicken nugget factory gives all of the kids in an elementary school a virus that turns them into cannibalistic zombies, and the teachers need to survive and fight their way out. There is a lot of gory murdering of children. If your moralistic standards prevent you from enjoying watching a 9 year old get decapitated, stop reading here. It's genre is a horror-comedy B movie. I admire that it's an honest horror-comedy. Those are pretty much dead in 2015. The modern definition of blending horror and comedy is a horror parody, where the characters or writers or both are very sarcastic and self referential, making fun of horror movie tropes through self-aware situations or a winking embrace. Those movies are often great if they're well executed. Scream is in that genre, which I would call one of the best horror movies ever, and Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 (my pick for B movie of the year, although Cooties might challenge for it) fits in too. Regardless of quality, it's nice to see a horror movie play itself straight and have the jokes come through the dialogue of the characters, with jokes that wouldn't seem out of place in a pure, albeit dark, comedy. This seems like an absurd premise that could easily be going for laughs, but a deadly pack of 5th graders is taken dead seriously. That makes the scary stuff work. The comedy is written around a love triangle trying to endure the situation, and the character's feelings towards each other. That makes the funny stuff kind of work. All together it's one hell of a fun ride, if not one I plan on taking again.

This movie is genuinely frightening in the ways The Gallows could have been but decided to not be. A school can be a scary setting. If you make me afraid of your villains, which you do because as mentioned they're cannibal murderers and they get brutal killing scenes, there is a lot of tension to be had running in hallways to lock doors and trying to move down rooms. The kids pop up all over the place, forcing our heroes to hide or fight for their lives. There's no obnoxious music, so everything feels very genuine. More importantly, as most mainstream horror directors and writers miss these days, the monster is even more terrifying when it's hunting down characters that I care about. Freddy Kruger is scary, but he becomes that much scarier when he kills someone that I really wanted to see live. It's probably the only horror movie I've seen this year where my first reaction was "Wow! That was horrifying!"

The acting was a big part of why this movie worked. Elijah Wood is good as the star. He balances emotions well, and proves that there shouldn't be any issues with actors nailing comedic timing and doomed crying in the same scene. Rainn Wilson from The Office is fantastic as the gym teacher. They go for a lot of low hanging fruit jokes, like how he's constantly bragging about achievements or is actually terrible at sports, and with a less talented actor that could have killed the movie. Rainn plays his character a lot like Ben Stiller from The Royal Tenenbaums, letting the contrast of an intimidating and mean exterior with a dorky personality do the lifting for him. Alison Pill's teacher caught in the middle of those two is a lot of fun. She gets a surprising amount of depth, and not just with her backstory but her active decisions to think for herself and frequently switch sides between the two men fighting over her.

The script was not as good. It felt overstuffed for sure. I think that the ensemble cast of teachers was too big. Other than those 3 mentioned, there is a group of 5 teachers trying to survive the kids. They're all one dimensional stereotypes (in order from harmless to possibly offensive, there is a stoner, socially awkward guy, overprotective woman, gay guy, and Asian guy). None of them have any personality beyond the description in parenthesis, and that includes the Asian guy having no role other than being Asian. The Asian and awkward guys both serve a purpose within the story. It's a purpose that you could have another character fulfill, or a purpose that you could have a cameo fulfill and then die, but the other 3 have none at all, and it ties the movie up with too much comedy relief. The third act is weakest because the double genre balance leans too far to the comedy side. The script is also oddly political. It is pro teachers, emphasizing their importance in the development of children and says that they aren't paid or respected enough, which is an okay message, but it is also very anti processed meat, which is poorly handled and not nearly as agreeable of a moral. It also can't resist a Hobbit joke, which just got an eye roll from me. It's wild and weird, and for the most part that's just the way I like it.


I remember talking to other users here about the ideas of watching movies you've already decided to not like. I said that I want to like everything I watch, or at least enjoy it in an interestingly bad way. I think I finally understand where the other side is coming from, because honestly I wanted to give this a lower score. I really hate Minions as an idea, and hate them even more as an advertising juggernaut. I talk all the time about mindless garbage created only to make a quick buck off of kids.This is the easiest example to point to. The Minions were popular side characters in the Despicable Me franchise, two movies that I think are okay. The obvious problem with this movie on the surface level is that when you make a full film about the comic relief sidekick there's nothing to use comedy to relieve from. That problem never goes away. There is nothing investing, emotional, or special about this film. If you want a well made movie with things like stakes or interest, this is not for you. I'm giving it a modest score based mostly on enjoyment, not perceived quality or any attempt to be objective. If I did, I think a 1 star rating would be in order. This is a bad movie. It is lazy and it talks down to kids because kids are stupid and will buy anything, like one billion dollars worth of tickets to watch Minions. Something like Penguins of Madagascar was bad because its emotional and development scenes were poorly written and thinly plotted, but Minions doesn't even try. That makes it a worse film, but honestly I enjoyed this better.

Small yellow things speaking in gibberish for 90 minutes is not funny, and it never gets funny, but the human characters are entertaining enough. The first 15 minutes are shot like a nature documentary about minions narrated by Geoffrey Rush. He is funny, and that initial segment is the only part where the slapstick worked enough to get a laugh out of me. I feel insulted by people complaining that they didn't know who Michael Keaton played. YES! That's fantastic! He's a voice actor. He understands that he needs to act. All celebrity voice actors should change their voices to fit the character, not go the Dreamworks way out of having characters be written around their celebrities that just play themselves. Sandra Bullock was funny as the main villain. Some bit parts like the prison guards and her executioner husband are funny. A lot of the humor comes from unexpected situations. You think a scene will play out one way, something darker happens, and I laughed. I appreciate that.

The animation is not so good. For one thing, Illumination (makers of this and The Lorax) reused the character design for Scarlett Overkill from the Onceler's mother. They have the same facial structure and dimensions and share a cartoony pointy nose. Even the great Mouse House is guilty of this with Rapunzel and Anna from Frozen, but it still bothers me. The character design all over the place is very simplistic and very cartoony. They appeal to little kids by using a large color palette and don't bother with adults who would like to see pretty backgrounds or detailed bodies. I guess Illumination is getting a bit better, because character designs have always been their Achilles' Heel. I'm surprised that this thing cost $75M to make. I have to assume that Sandra Bullock took a big dent out of that, because the money is not on the screen.

I could talk about the Minion characters, but quite honestly calling them characters is too generous. I understand that the point of the background ones is that they're all the exact same, but the poster tried to tell us that Kevin, Stuart, and Bob are individuals and one of them is the straight man and one of them is the little kid, and they're just not. They're all enthusiastic and excited and sing in gibberish and hit each other. There are a couple of scenes where I give them props for visual storytelling, like their first docking in New York, where the lack of comprehensible language might actually benefit the movie. They wander through the city stumbling across hotels and famous people and the hippie movement, and for a few minutes they do actually feel like individual characters. Of course, that all dies when the plot starts, but there is a positive there. I admire the 60s soundtrack, but I will admire any retro movie soundtrack.

If you really like the first two Despicable Me movies and want to watch 90 minutes of Minions, you'll probably love it. The Minions give you everything you want. If you're a little kid, you should not be listening to me but you'll like it. Anybody else will be left out. There is a difference between a family movie, which are usually marketed towards kids but can be enjoyed by anybody in a family, and kids movies, which are marketed towards kids and will annoy or bore anybody over the age of 10 to tears. This is definitely a kids movie, and not an especially strong one.

When Marnie Was There is realistically the last film that Studio Ghibli will ever put out. Studio Ghibli is by far the most famous foreign film studio in any era or region, led by the only foreign director that a decent amount of Americans could call by (last) name, Hayao Miyazaki, so well known that Microsoft accepts it as a word and doesn’t ask me to correct the spelling of it. Miyazaki and his good friend and fellow anime legend Isao Takahata came together to create their own animation studio in 1985. The name, translating into English as “New Wind”, was supposed to “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. Takahata and especially Miyazaki hated the state of the anime industry. It was, and to be harsh but honest still is, a perverse, violent, sexist fad based entirely on cash cow franchises appealing to the lowest common denominator. The anime world revolved around TV series, most of those being adapted from already popular manga, with feature length pictures being tie-ins to the series. Miyazaki’s own first film, Castle of Cagliostro, is the second movie of a series based on Lupin The Third, adapted from a 155 episode television series, adapted from a 27 episode television series, adapted from a 14 volume manga. Originality in anime was dead, and Ghibli was there to fix it, with never before seen themes like pacifism, environmentalism, and escapism, innovative takes on European novels never before heard of in Japan, and a much needed respect for female characters, who were often the protagonists of their stories. This was all fine and dandy, but Miyazaki wasn’t stupid. He knew that he needed to build a stable of world class anime directors to take the place of him and Takahata once they retired from filmmaking, in some far off date that must be 20 years into the future. That stable started with Yoshifumi Kondo, who directed one of Ghibli’s best films in the 1995 gem Whisper of the Heart. Kondo died in 1998 of a stress-induced heart attack, a tragedy that drastically changed the course of the company forever. If Kondo’s health issues weren’t issues, Studio Ghibli would be even more revered than they already are and they would be continuing for another decade at least. What followed Kondo’s death was the ruining of Studio Ghibli, and although they’ve held on for the last 17 years, that crippling event still haunts them and is the direct reason for their shuttering. Miyazaki spent the time after Kondo’s death creating a masterpiece about growing up and remembering roots, a couple of western sellouts to keep the profits alive, and a self-insert swan song. Takahata finished by far his weakest film out of obligation, took a decade off, and then made a swan song of his own. Those 17 years also saw the half-hearted efforts to jumpstart the careers of a few new directors, notably Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the director of this.

Yonebayashi really got screwed by circumstances, because as decades of television have proved, the best finales are the known ones. A finale is satisfying when the people working on it go in knowing that they want this to be the final impression of them and make it feel like a goodbye. The least satisfying ones are the ones that are just another episode that get called a finale because the network cancelled them midseason. No matter how good or bad this or any other Ghibli movie is, The Wind Rises and to a lesser extent Princess Kaguya were finales, and When Marnie Was There is just another episode. Wind saw Miyazaki give his career a definitive ending. He made a movie essentially about himself, touching on all of his most used topics over the years and reflecting on how his art has influenced others. On a literal and basic level, the story showed how much Miyazaki has matured over the decades, ending on a somber note and going into history, the one place his childlike mind and love of fantasy elements would never let him touch before. Kaguya kind of did the same for Takahata. It’s not as personal and the impact is blunted because Takahata was always the one that dealt with more serious issues, but it still saw the director give us his most somber film and especially ending yet, and the story about growing up and animation style showed a level of maturity not yet seen in him. Yonebayashi adapted a British book into a movie about a teenage girl who goes through some struggles but end up happily, intertwined with fantastical elements and conventional visuals. It doesn’t have a deeper sense of finality or maturity like the two most recent Ghibli works, and instead should be compared to Kiki’s Delivery Service or Whisper of the Heart. The second comparison gives off a sense of depressing irony, that what once was a beautiful and wonderful beginning has become a mediocre ending, not because the film itself got any worse but because the world around it changed so much that it can’t be seen in the same way. I don’t think I will ever see a movie in a worse situation, where the context makes me enjoy a great film less.

When Marnie Was There:

Is this film really great? Aspects are very good. In very un-Ghibli-like fashion the animation was not one of them. There were a few times where the animators just seemed to clock out. After a party, the two main characters have a dance. This should have been a really impactful moment, but Marnie’s face stays static. Her expression never changes, her body just sways. It’s almost creepy, and I have come to expect more from this production company. For every really beautiful or picturesque frame of midnight rowing, there is a lazy frame where the faces or backgrounds lack depth. The attention to detail is below par, but maybe I would be more accepting if the Ghibli name wasn’t attached.

The story is a weird one. Our main character, in typical Ghibli style, is a teenage girl moving to a new place. There isn’t much of a plot, but rather a character who just kind of lives their life. In a unique for anything style, Anna is depressed. A socially anxious and self-loathing level of depression. She’s actually kind of insufferable in that way. I knew that kid and at times was that kid. Everybody hates that kid. They drag everybody down by causing everybody around them to be depressed. Her depression is healed after meeting Marnie, a blonde girl who exists in some entity. To what extent is part of the supernatural mystery, in a 6th Sense kind of way.

Anna becomes happy through nothing but meeting Marnie. To what extent Marnie has an effect on her is worth dissecting further, and I don’t have a factual answer, but my interpretation was that Anna is a lesbian and finally feels like she belongs because she found a lover. It makes enough sense. Anna participates in a struggle that a lot of gay adolescents go through, namely having romantic feelings for a person that couldn’t possibly reciprocate them. Anna is jealous when Marnie dances with a boy and writes about one in her diary. She becomes dependent on Marnie to keep her going every day, and the depression seeps back when they are separated, even though Marnie seems just fine to talk to Anna like a casual friend. It also makes sense that there is no bigger relationship, because this film is more about finding the identity of an individual than relationships with others. Anna spend the first act doing nothing but alienate others, in spite of their good intentions, which further makes her kind of unlikable. She becomes more accepting of the people and world around her after learning from Marnie, even after she becomes less accepting of Marnie herself. I think this is a very powerful story in that way. Something that teenagers of any sexuality need to keep in mind is that their romantic relationships do not and will not ever define them. They can be helpful to find your place in the world, but they are always replaceable. They’re just a vehicle to help you. It’s definitely encouraging for gay and lesbian people. It doesn’t actually matter that Marnie never sends those feelings back to Anna, because she still gave her the confidence that someone else in the future could.

The mystery aspect is not as thoroughly explained as it should be. There are two questions about Marnie. We want to know who/what she is and where she comes from. The first question is answered in a Shyamalan-like twist, which can be predicted pretty easily at the 80 minute mark in this 100 minute movie, and the second question is never answered, even though the answer to the first makes having an answer for the second even more necessary. It’s a weird plot development to be sure. I think that it takes away from the film as a whole. It is simultaneously too complex and too simple. The lack of a cohesive answer makes the growth of Anna’s character feels cheapened. At the same time, this is a girl with serious mental health problems, and every single one of them gets a tidy ending where she overcomes them. She starts the movie broken, gets a friend, and end it perfectly. If the whole point of the film is about discovering the identity and development of this tortured character over one summer, we should watch her go through these things. In literally any kind of media this bothers me, from film to books to Drake music. “I started like this, and now I’m like this, but I’m not going to say how that happened” is the laziest form of writing a character change, and boy did the writing here sure feel lazy. The individual scenes and conversations worked, but didn’t add up to anything bigger. The quality of Ghibli movies not directed by one of the top two is apparently dependent on how much of the script Hayao Miyazaki pens. He wrote all of Whispers of the Heart, is one of two credited writers for the fine Arriety and Up on Poppy Hill, and had no involvement on the two worst movies Ghibli has churned out, The Cat Returns and Tales From Earthsea. He is a genius that understands how to balance character, story, and raw emotion in a way that very few people can. It has unfortunately become apparent that nobody left in Ghibli is in that crew of very few.

The one thing that the script really did get right was the cyclical structure of life. Marnie and Anna both have major issues with their parents, and there’s another woman with an estranged parental relationship that pops up later on. I can see why this story is such a huge hit with women, because it’s really made for them. Family means more as a concept to women, who are often the nurturers of children. Being a mother and being a daughter are both important parts of their identity, which ties in nicely to Anna’s quest to find an identity without being a daughter. The twist fires off an emotional gut punch here, and I was really moved by it. It’s depressing to think of these people growing up without a motherly figure, and then having to pass that bitterness onto their daughter until an even worse tragedy prevents anything else from happening. Making me feel a wide range of emotions is what the best Ghibli movies do, and in spite of how annoying Anna can be sometimes, I was happy when she found herself and sad when she was forced to do it alone. That's a success.

I watched this film in Japanese, and the voice acting was really good all around. From everything I've read the English dub script is both the exact same as the subtitled script and a very literal translation. Between that and nothing in here being especially Japanese (It's a European book about a girl that could be from anywhere and an obviously European girl), this should make the sub vs dub battle a non-issue. I would assume that both are fine.

Composing legend Joe Hisaishi sits out scoring this movie, and to give props to the music team that might actually be for the better. Hisaishi’s scores usually carry whimsy, even in situations where it might not be appropriate, and every scene of this movie is too sad to have a score like that. This score is quiet and subtle. It mostly lays off in order to let the sound effects work, and the sound effects definitely work. The mixing is great and it makes for a lovely sounding nature CD. This is also the first Ghibli movie to ever have a theme song. This could have gone wrong so easily, but the result is Fine On The Outside, a song that indie artist Priscilla Ahn has been holding onto for a decade and sent in for this film. I don’t think I could hope to describe how beautiful this song is, except for saying that it gave me more of an emotional reaction than anything in the movie. It’s every bit as magical as Spirited Away, and it puts tears in my eyes to type those words because it’s really about the nostalgia of doing something that I did often as a kid, not interact with others so I could watch Spirited Away. My childhood might not have been the greatest, but Studio Ghibli made it good. It showed me, and I would like to think the world, the power of wonder and imagination in an adult way, all while teaching kids deeper and more valuable life lessons than standard fare, like how being on the opposing side in a conflict doesn’t make someone else's cause worth less, or how even though the environment should be treated as sacred, destruction of it is an extremely necessary evil.

The song stands for more than just an exact parallel of Anna’s story. It stands for the Studio as a whole. It’s about growing up, which Ghibli has done. It’s about watching beauty, which Ghibli has let us do. It’s about going through rough times and acting like nothing is wrong, which is what this movie is for Ghibli. In some ways, it is good that this is the end. Obviously it’s terrible because we will never get the joy of watching a new Ghibli movie, and because to be brutally honest their goal of sending a new wind to shake anime to its core and change the way it was made forever didn’t really get accomplished. But When Marnie Was There is a moderate rough patch for Ghibli, and it’s going out on top before it can get to a really rough patch. This is a sad review, because it’s about a sad movie from a sad place, but it’s still a million times better than Minions or Home or Hotel Transylvania 35. Ghibli can say they’ve never released a movie as bad as some of the worst from Disney’s dark eras. They accepted that 2D animation was past their prime, they accepted that most of their top talent was long gone, and they released a good movie like nothing was wrong. The song, like the studio and especially like Miyazaki, talks frequently about witnessing beauty. It would be a crime to do anything to it, but it would be even worse to take it for granted instead of falling in love with the whimsy of fantasy worlds and the nature of the real one while we escape from the misery of feeling alone in the human created world. I will cry if you die, and I will remember the face of Studio Ghibli. Otsukaresama deshitte, genki de.

Massive write-up there, but I have yet to see the film and I would rather want to watch it first before I read too much about it.

Your rating and the buzz around it got me excited. I also have it laying around somewhere so I'll definitely get to it soon.