Archive for the ‘Box Score Cinema’ Category

Lincoln: Now He Belongs To Our Age   Leave a comment

“This is Kent Brockman with a special bulletin.  The Lincoln squirrel has been assassinated.  We’ll stay with the story all night if we have to!” – Kent Brockman

Top Line: Lincoln is an overly serious ball of cheesy Americana that is mostly but not entirely redeemed by the excellent craftsmanship that went into it.  Trading on the enduring fascination and interest with old Honest Abe, Lincoln paints a hagiographic portrait that is perfectly suited to modern times and modern concerns but still goes down well with popcorn. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: School kids who want an easy day in class for the next twenty years. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Neo Confederates? 

Box Score:

Runtime: 2h:29m – Feels about right.  Could’ve been shorter, but there wasn’t a ton of unnecessary filler.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 18 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: 30-40 people.  Big crowd. 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language

The intense scene of war violence isn’t all that intense, the carnage is very limited, and the language is positively pedestrian. 

Should Be Rated: PG-8

Three Stars:

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis – The Titular Stove Pipe Hat Wearing, Machiavellian, Good Ole Boy President of These United States: 
    Does a fine job of creating a Lincoln who is consistent as a person across a huge number of emotions and situations.  No idea if the man was actually like that or not, but he is very believable as a man here, which is good because he’s central axis of the movie.  All other parts are very minor compared to his.
  2. Tommy Lee Jones – Affectionately Grumpy Abolitionist Congressman:
    Remember when Hollywood discovered that people love to see Tommy Lee Jones talk quickly and loudly?  He gets to do a lot of that here.  By far the most fun of any of the non-Lincoln cast members.
  3. David Strathairn – Lincoln’s Right Hand Man:
    The cool, competent sidekick every super President needs.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +3 (This movie has all the makings of a commercial, critical and Oscar nominated success.  You will be hearing about it.)
  • -1 (There really isn’t anything terribly grand or spectacular such that a big screen is really necessary.)

Final Score: 4

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Going to be the definitive Lincoln portrayal for a while.)
  • -1 (Not forever, though.)
  • +1 (Entertaining enough that it doesn’t too often feel like a history lesson.)

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Gloria Reuben gets a couple of decent scenes.)
  • +1 (Sally Field gets the same.)
  • -2 (That’s all but it for female roles, though.)
  • -2 (And it’s a long movie.)

Final Score: 3

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Steven Spielberg:
    You know, he’s the one time king of Hollywood who has morphed into a rather run of the mill hack in the last fifteen years or so.

Writer:

  • Tony Kushner:
    Widely beloved playwright whose only previous screenplay was for Munich, which is also probably Spielberg’s best movie of the last decade.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin:
    Wrote the Lincoln book Team of Rivals upon which this is at least kinda based.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 90% Top Critics: 95% Audience: 83%

Notes:

  • The audience has definitely got the better sense of things here.  The movie is much to fictionalized and preachy to be genuinely excellent.
  • Like so many tales of Lincoln before, the black cast members show up mostly to remind him of what good he can do and how good he is for doing it.
  • There’s plenty of political catnip for modern Republicans and Democrats, but overall the movie stays safely apolitical.
  • For a movie with a lot of fictionalized scenes and dialogue, it’s kind of annoying that they keep flashing subtitles at us to let us know who each character is, where we are, and what the date is. 
  • Lincoln was a storyteller, and the movie doesn’t miss a single opportunity to have him spin some homely, funny, and wise yarn about whatever happens to be going on.  For the most part, these are the best things in the film. 
  • The movie only really begins to drag near the end, when it ascends the pulpit to do things like have a reluctant Congressman shamefacedly admit that he’s prejudiced, have the newly passed amendment read out loud by a black woman who we’ve learned (completely off screen, of course) has had some hand in its passage, and for a true clunker of a scene where Sally Field basically looks right at the camera to advocate for the historical misunderstanding of Mary Todd Lincoln.  It’s difficult to tell whether the educational piety or the moralistic piety is hammier. 
  • Spielberg at least hasn’t lost his touch for inserting comedy here and there to keep things at least somewhat light.

Bottom Line: Lincoln is a mostly well written and consistently well acted period piece that is everything you’d expect from the Spielberg school of American history.  Along those lines, it is also more than a little preachy (sometimes very clumsily so), which is why the Rotten Tomatoes audience score seems much more appropriate than the rather more fawning critic scores. 

That said, Daniel Day-Lewis is as excellent as you’d expect.  The part is a bit too saintly to be as much fun as some of his other notable recent triumphs, but he has created a character who never seems out of place even as the movie follows him to such disparate locales as quiet moments with his wife and kids, an army hospital, General Grant’s headquarters, and many others.  That rather remarkable feat carries the movie in a lot of places even has those around him are acting out sometimes very cliched minor roles. 

You can see this most often in the way so many people, from all walks of life, sit rapturously and listen to his insightful parables.  Day-Lewis makes them a pleasure to take in, even as they begin to seem as repetitive as a public service announcement. 

None of which is to say that Lincoln is a bad movie.  It’s quite good, and the audience I was with laughed along with the jokes and paid strict attention during the serious parts.  But holy shit does it take itself seriously, and there’s no escaping the sense of patronizing infotainment that comes along with serious historical movies like this one. 

What Lincoln succeeds in unequivocally, however, is to bring the man into modern times by telling a story that has him brush up against enough contemporary formulations and political traps to make us pine for a leader so perfectly suited.  He is pure of heart, but crafty and cunning.  He is farsighted and noble, but bawdy and approachable.  He is, above all else, “Presidential” in the way that so many political pundits yearn for.  The Lincoln of Lincoln would’ve easily swept aside any presidential candidate of the last fifty years so exactly does he fit the mold of idealistic yet compromising, magical and effective.  It’s an engaging portrait, and one that’s entertaining to watch.  It’s just a bit spoiled by the way the movie thinks of itself as being as flawless as its titular hero.  

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Lincoln:

Gangster Squad – Meh.  Looks a bit too dumb to be that self-serious.  We’ll see.

Les Miserables – Someday middle-brow culture will stop obsessing over the ever booming echoes of the French Revolution.  That day has not yet come.

Not Fade Away – A story about Baby Boomers rebelling against their parents.  I feel like I’ve seen this several dozen times before.

Parental Guidance – Another story about Baby Boomers rebelling, but this time against their kids. 

Promised Land – Get ready for a shit ton of terrible newspaper, blog and magazine articles about this.  At least the cast is solid.

Oz the Great and Powerful Trailer – A few more of these and I’ll have sat through the entire runtime of the movie before we get anywhere near March 2013. 

The Lone Ranger – Did they have to actually paint Johnny Depp’s face white?  This movie should be called Jack Sparrow’s Revenge

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted November 16, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Simpsons

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Bond 24: Action! Nostalgia! Sequels!   Leave a comment

“Our last film tonight is the new, politically correct version of James Bond, ‘On His or Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.” – Jay Sherman
“Well, darling, thanks to my efforts, Blofeld’s army will now admit homosexuals, the blind, and midgets.” – James Bond

Top Line: Skyfall is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a Daniel Craig James Bond movie.  It’s executed much better than Quantum of Solace, and has a better bad guy than Casino Royale, but it isn’t much different than those two in terms of what happens or whether or not you’re likely to be entertained by it. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: James Bond fans (obviously), and anyone looking for something other than kids fare and overly serious Oscar bait here at the end of the year. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who don’t like Bond movies, and/or anyone who wasn’t all that thrilled with Casino Royale (2006).

Box Score:

Runtime: 2h:23m – It certainly could’ve been a bit shorter in places, but it never drags.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 20(!) Minutes

Friday Evening Demographics: Packed house. 

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking

Seems about right, though it is funny that we now actually point out when someone lights up a cigarette in a movie.  (Don’t worry, it’s not Bond.)

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Javier Bardem – Mincing, Blonde Psycho-Spy: 
    No surprises here.  Bond villains always get to have the most fun, and Bardem is great every time he’s on the screen.
  2. Daniel Craig – James Bond:
    His ultra-tough, ultra-muscled Bond is back for a third go.
  3. Judi Dench – M:
    Her ultra-controlled, no nonsense M is also just what you’d expect.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (Definitely some action sequences that look very good on a big screen.)
  • +1 (James Bond is usually more fun with an audience, and that’s true of this one as well.)
  • -1 (It’s a Bond movie, it’s going to be on television and in home video releases from now until the Sun explodes, so it’s not like you’ll never get another chance.) 

Final Score: 4

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (James Bond!)
  • -1 (James Bond.)

Final Score: 5

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (for Judi Dench being in much more of the movie than she is in most of her Bond appearances.)
  • -1 (for Naomie Harris not doing much of anything after the opening scene.)
  • -1 (for Bérénice Marlohe not having much to do, period.)

Final Score: 4

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Sam Mendes:
    Well respected director of middlebrow critic pleasers like American Beauty (1999), Jarhead (2005), and Revolutionary Road (2008).

Writers:

  • Neal Purvis:
    Wrote the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies.
  • Robert Wade:
    Pretty much the same as Purvis.
  • John Logan:
    Has been involved with plenty of big budget Hollywood screenplays over the years, ranging from very good (Rango (2011), The Aviator (2004)) to the not so good (Gladiator (2000), Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)).

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 93% Top Critics: 91% Audience: 91%

Notes:

  • Skyfall is a good James Bond movie, but I’m surprised at the rapturous Rotten Tomatoes numbers.  It suffers from way too many typical Bond problems (incompetent henchmen, a bad guy who prattles on instead of getting shit done, goofily dumb computer jargon/hacking) to be a truly excellent move on its own. 
  • The opening chase scene in Turkey is just wonderful.  It’s exactly what you want from a Bond movie: a cool location, lots of neat stunts, and over the top action. 
  • As Bond and the bad guy are riding motorcycles on the roof in Istanbul, there are two close shots of Craig that are hilariously, obviously shot in front of a fake background.  I’m honestly not sure if they left it looking that fake deliberately as a nod to the countless times that Sean Connery, Roger Moore, et al did the same thing. 
  • Okay, Sony, we get it.  You make cool electronics. 
  • Speaking of the many instances of product placement, they do feel more out of place in these grittier Craig movies.  Near the beginning of the film Bond is holed up in some tropical paradise drinking himself into a pleasant stupor after being accidentally shot by one of his own.  Despite his state as a physical and emotional wreck, he remembers to keep the label of his beer bottle facing the camera. 
  • Oddly enough, and somewhat disappointingly, the final showdown is probably the weakest part of the movie.  For a film that likes its twists and machinations, there’s something inherently unsatisfying about a bunch of nameless henchmen getting blow’d up and shot in a pretty anodyne action sequence.  There’s nothing terrible about it, but the rest of the movie’s big moments show a bit more creativity. 
  • The numerous nods and winks to Bond traditions and predecessors is a constant and amusing undercurrent.  So, for example, we get Bond wearing a tuxedo in a casino, but when he goes for the drink with the beautiful woman we don’t see him order his martini shaken not stirred, we see the bartender shake it and then simply have him thank her. 
  • Many of the above are subtle, the Aston Martin DB5 is not.  It’s just pure fan service, so much so that it actually got a smattering of applause. 
  • For all its talk about Bond getting old and broken down, Skyfall makes very sure to leave the table set for the further adventures of Daniel Craig as James Bond. 

Bottom Line: The James Bond franchise has survived, as Skyfall happily reminds you at its ending credits, for half a century now.  It has managed to stay relevant and popular through all that time by changing with the culture.  The days when Sean Connery can smoke like a chimney and more or less force himself on any woman on screen are long gone.  So too are the campy 1970s versions, the 1980s late Cold War ones, and the bombastic Pierce Brosnan movies that felt the generic Hollywood need to make each sequel bigger and louder until the audience went numb with the sheer absurdity of it all.

Since 2006’s Casino Royale we’ve had Daniel Craig’s tougher and harsher version, where Bond still comes out on top, but not without getting bloodied, bruised and emotionally tormented first.  Skyfall is a very good addition to this current version of Britain’s super spy.  Bond performs heroic stunts and impossible feats, all in the name of patriotism and beating the bad guy, but he isn’t a hopeless smartass who seems above it all. 

The particulars (the chases, the locations, the comic relief with Q) are all up to snuff, and Javier Bardem steals every scene he’s in.  As Bond villains go his ambitions are considerably smaller than world domination, but he brings a novel enthusiasm to the requisite callousness that lets him do terrible things.  He straddles the line between glee and insanity so well that you almost don’t notice him making classic Bond villain mistakes like not killing Bond and then simply asking his goons to make sure he’s dead. 

All in all, Skyfall is an entertaining and worthy addition to the franchise.  Since Bond movies are destined for a long shelf life, it’ll take a couple of decades before we can properly situate it among its peers, but I’ll be surprised if it’s considered a poor entry. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Skyfall:

Promised Land – Matt Damon sells fracking to economically distressed farming communities, becomes conflicted.  He’d like to thank the Academy. 

Side Effects – Taught, sexy thriller from the makers of . . . Contagion?  Ugh. 

Jack Reacher – Oh good, another massively cliched Tom Cruise action vehicle.  That’s what the movie going public has been clamoring for.  (Is he a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules, but, damn it, he gets results?  Yes.  Yes, he is.) 

The Hobbit – Well, at least it was a new trailer, even if it does it’s best to make sure that the general movie going public won’t realize that Gandalf and the rest of the characters they recognize are barely going to be in these movies.

Red Dawn – Surgeon General’s Warning: The massive stupid of this movie may be harmful to pregnant women, people with heart conditions, and anyone with a BAC below 0.08. 

Die Hard 5 – As if Die Hard 4 wasn’t awful enough.

Django Unchained – I know what I’m going to see on Christmas.  Woo-hoo! 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted November 10, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Critic

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Wreck-It Ralph: Giving the Youth a Taste of Video Game History   3 comments

“I’m good at video games and bad at everything else.  That’s why I wish life were more like a video game.” – Fry
“Can you put that in the form of a question?” – Professor Farnsworth
“Uh . . . what if that thing I said?” – Fry

Top Line: Wreck-It Ralph is a clever, Toy Story infused kids movie.  It doesn’t make sense in places, and is much skimpier on real video game jokes and characters than the trailer would make you think, but its pace never flags and it’s got some amazingly clever and pretty animation to show off. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Animation fans, video game connoisseurs, and kids.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Anyone looking for an old fashioned two-track movie that has almost as much for the adults as for the little ones. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:48m – Feels about right. 

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 15 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: ~15 people, a few young kids

MPAA: PG for some rude humor and mild action/violence

Not much to report.

Should Be Rated: PG-4

Three Stars:

  1. Alan Tudyk – Candyland Dictator: 
    Should get some kind of award for the awesomeness of his Ed Wynn-esque performance.  It’s like having the original Mad Hatter back on screen.  Bravo. 
  2. Sarah Silverman – Plucky Racer Girl:
    Does a good job of both sounding like an actual kid and not making it annoying.
  3. Jane Lynch – Badass Commando Leader:
    Gets to spew a ton of excellently cornpone sayings and phrases as she marches around kicking ass. 
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (The big, bright and shiny graphics are worthy of being put up on a big screen.)
  • -1 (But there’s nothing truly spectacular here, and c’mon, it’s a video game.  Those have always been naturally at home on smaller screens.) 

Final Score: 2

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Lots of video game references will be catnip for pop culture junkies.)
  • -1 (While it’s a lot of fun, it isn’t the kind of movie that anyone’s going to be shocked and/or horrified if you haven’t seen it.) 

Final Score: 5

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +5 Passes Bechdel test, albeit with a Mean Girls type scene.

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Rich Moore:
    Practiced television animation director, including stints on Futurama, The Critic, and The Simpsons before the Fall.  This is his first time in the big chair for a movie, though.

Writer:

  • Jennifer Lee:
    Bupkis.  This is her only credit on IMDb.
  • Phil Johnston:
    Previously wrote Cedar Rapids (2011), but that’s pretty much it.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 84% Top Critics: 83% Audience: 90%

Notes:

  • There’s a very pretty but not terribly clever short called “Paperman” before the movie.  The animation deserves praise, and if Disney is thinking about turning this particular blend of computers and ink into a movie, I say do it. 
  • I mentioned this above, but Alan Tudyk channels all the goofy charm of Ed Wynn’s frantic comedy.  In case the name isn’t familiar, he was the voice of the Mad Hatter in 1951 Alice in Wonderland and was the crazy, tea-party-on-the-ceiling uncle in Mary Poppins.  Wikipedia tells me that Tudyk was born a few years after Wynn died, so we may finally have evidence for reincarnation here. 
  • Since it is a movie for kids above all else, it leaves some of the stranger, darker and more interesting possibilities of its video game inner space unexplored.  Far from being sunny and fun, the world it posits is just this side of a dystopia.  It’s chalk full of distressed homeless old characters, and lucky ones who are working don’t have anything to look forward to except an endlessly monotonous existence.  It isn’t hard to picture today’s eight-year-olds loving the movie now, but then sitting around talking movies as adults and saying something like, “You know, when you think about it, the world of Wreck-It Ralph is a pretty terrible place to live.” 
  • The Rihanna song feels more than a little out of place in the middle of the movie.
  • There aren’t any over the top “stuff flies at you for no reason” 3D moments.
  • I don’t know if it was a late addition or not on account of this week’s big “Mickey Bought Yoda” story, but at one point the movie does use the Darth Vader breathing noise. 
  • Jack McBrayer plays “Fix It Felix Jr.” pretty much in character as Kenneth from 30 Rock.  This is not a bad thing, but it is beginning to look like that’s the only thing he can do really well.
  • I’d say about 75% of the screen time that the real video game characters have in the movie is in the trailer. 
  • It’s nice to see some awareness of how programming and video games actually work.  In particular, the idea that games often ship with lots of leftover and half finished things than most users will never see.

Bottom Line: The trailer at the top of this page is a little misleading in that it makes the movie look like more of a two-track, for-adults-and-kids flick than it really is.  Wreck-It Ralph is much more of a straight ahead kids movie than films like Toy Story or ParaNorman, which have a lot of adult humor in them designed to sail right over the heads of the wee ones. 

After playing around with other video game characters and jumping into to a first person shooter, Ralph and the movie settle into a Candyland-meets-Mario-Kart racing game called “Sugar Rush” where most of the action takes place.  (Incidentally, if Disney wanted to spend some money and make a real Sugar Rush racing game, it looks like it’d be a lot of fun.)  Inside “Sugar Rush” the story checks off the usual kids movie moments and emotions: here’s where the unlikely friends bond, and here’s where they’re chased by the bad guy, etcetera.  Make no mistake, it is an exceptionally well done kids movie, with an exciting but simple story and lots of genuine silliness, but the balance of the comedy and ideas are to be found on the children’s side of the ledger. 

None of which is to say that Wreck-It Ralph will only be interesting to the pre-puberty set.  For one thing, the movie is animated and filmed wonderfully.  Each of the different video game worlds (and the power strip that connects them) get their own distinct look and feel, but when the movie peers back from the glass at the real world of the arcade (which it does so frequently), you know that things are still connected. 

On top of that, there are the superb supporting performances of Alan Tudyk, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.  Tudyk gets by far the most interesting role in the movie and runs with it in every way he can, while both Silverman and Lynch nail their charmingly idiosyncratic characters.

All in all, Wreck-It Ralph is a fun and well done kids movie built around video games.  (Put like that, it’s a wonder no one had made it before now.)  It’s great for kids and adults who like animation, but it isn’t a mainstream crossover movie like the better offerings of Pixar and Dreamworks. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Wreck-It Ralph:

The Hobbit – Semi-serious question, which is going to finish first, HBO’s ten or eleven seasons of Game of Thrones or Peter Jackson’s ever expanding Hobbit movies? 

Smurfs 2 – Don’t worry, this piece of shit will pass through theaters faster than fiber. 

Rise of the Guardians – You know, if the story is about a boy with special powers realizing how important he is, should he already have the magic powers at the beginning of the movie? 

The Croods – An animated movie about cavemen who leave the cave and go on an adventure.  These computer animated movies are all starting to look alike. 

Oz The Great And Powerful – Please, Disney, please stop showing me this trailer.  I’ll see the movie, I promise. 

Monsters, Inc. 3D – I like this movie, but there is no reason it needs to be converted into 3D and re-released in theaters. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Cloud Atlas: Kindness and Cruelty Through the Ages   Leave a comment

“It’s a taught, sexy thriller!  Or it will be if I could just get all the taught, sexy bits in the right order.” – Malory Archer
“Yikes, yeah, you can’t have a flashback with a flashforward in it. That’s-” – Cyril Figgis
“Where you come in.” – Malory Archer
“Bad writing.” – Cyril Figgis

Top Line: Cloud Atlas is about two-thirds of the way to being a brilliant movie.  It’s got many top notch performances, and a couple of riotously bad ones.  It’s got a lot of interesting scenes and settings, and a few terribly dull and unimaginative ones.  For the most part it looks amazing, except when it doesn’t, in which case it resembles a bad episode of a Star Trek series.  So while there are a lot of things that could’ve easily been excised from the bloated, nearly three hour runtime, the good outweighs the bad and makes for an engrossing, entertaining movie.

Who (probably) should see this movie: People looking for an engaging movie who don’t mind a long sit in the chair.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Those for whom recurring moral themes are an unmitigated movie turnoff and anyone with a small bladder. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 2h:44m – And oh man, does it feel like it.  I was ready for the ending long before it arrived.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + (only) 11 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: Caught the midnight show, which had about sixty people.

MPAA: Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use

There’s nothing terribly scandalous here, and for a movie with a lot of slaves there isn’t too much in the way of cringe inducing cruelty or gore. 

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Hugo Weaving – A Bunch of People: 
    Weaving gets the nod here solely because he seems to get more fun/villainous parts to play than most.
  2. Doona Bae – Also a Bunch of People:
    Has one of the most recognizable parts in the movie as the escaped future slave and does a good job of going through the fear, courage and revelation that such a thing involves.
  3. Jim Broadbent/Tom Hanks/Halle Berry/Others – More Bunches of People:
    This is explained more fully in Notes, but pretty much everyone gets at least a couple of good parts to go with some less than exciting ones, so singling out performances is nigh impossible.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (There are a few visually stunning set pieces that look gorgeous on the big screen)
  • +1 (Is the kind of movie that’s fun to talk about, and will never be more so than right now)
  • +1 (Certainly qualifies as “epic”, and those tend to lose something even on a nice flatscreen)
  • -1 (There are a few scenes and settings that look decidedly out of place on a big screen, however)

Final Score: 4

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Has more going on that most movies, and seems likely to pop up in movie conversations for a long time to come)
  • +1 (If you see it at home, you can pause it a couple of times instead of going iron butt through the whole thing)
  • -1 (Not nearly as brilliant as it thinks it is, so you aren’t missing out on any of life’s grand ideas by passing)

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +5 Easily passes

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:

Directors:

  • Tom Tykwer:
    Best known to American audiences for Run Lola Run (1998) and the rather disappointing The International (2009).
  • Andy Wachowski:
    You remember them, they made The Matrix, and then proceeded to make a bunch of things, including the sequels, that ranged from mediocre to outright terrible.
  • Lana Wachowski:
    See above.

Writers:

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 60% Top Critics: 41% Audience: 79%

Notes:

  • The Rotten Tomatoes audience number is a lot more fair here.  This is by no means a masterpiece of a movie, but it is far above most of the crap that gets turned out. 
  • The movie’s structure isn’t nearly as complicated as it first appears.  Once you’re just a little familiar with the six main stories it becomes easy to distinguish them and see the connections between eras. 
  • Among the movie’s many less than subtle themes are cannibalism, racism generally and slavery in particular, as well as an ongoing insistence on shallow religious symbolism.  These do get a little annoying after a while. 
  • That said, the movie does have some fun playing around with the idea that human beings naturally sort themselves into unequal classes that then justify their own perpetuation with self serving horseshit, so we get a far future society where the primitive islanders are all white people while the technologically advanced super-people are all black, and a more near future society where replicated people are enslaved and treated like dogshit even though they’re still people too.
  • This may be inescapable in a film where every actor is playing multiple parts of differing age, ethnicity and gender, but some of the makeup effects work better than others.  In particular, Hugo Weaving doesn’t fit well into his lady makeup or his future Korean makeup, and there are a couple of character designs which fit Tom Hanks so poorly that I almost laughed when he came on screen. 
  • The same unevenness applies to many of the minor roles each actor plays.  Some work very well, but others feel distinctly undercooked.
  • The future dialogue in the story where Tom Hanks is the primitive islander and Halle Berry is the advanced technology seafarer is outstandingly well written and delivered.  It’s just unfamiliar enough to sound baffling at first, but it’s still English and quickly hooks you into its distinctive rhythm and word usage.  Each of the other stories contain at least some real clunky passages, but that part was a joy to hear from start to finish.

Bottom Line: Cloud Atlas is a big, ambitious movie that, while not nearly as insightful or profound as it thinks it is, nevertheless manages to be engaging and fascinating for most of its runtime.  It’s set in six different eras, and the filmmakers do an excellent job of tying all six together, not just with the same cast, but with many of the stories moving through similar emotional territory at the same time.  It would’ve been easy for the six of them to trip over each other or be less than the sum of their parts, but they compliment and flow well together, and all by itself that is a remarkable movie achievement.  Many films can’t even handle one.

Just as importantly as the narrative similarities (escape, redemption, trust, betrayal, etcetera), each of the six tales is given the full bore big budget Hollywood production extravaganza that makes the movie a visual feast most of the time.  Even the relatively pedestrian stories that take place at or near our own era are filmed and shot with a care for arresting images and outright prettiness.  Oddly, there are a few sequences, particularly in the future settings, that seem half assed, like the movie decided that a few geometrically nice walls are enough to make things look future-y.  This carries over into several of the movie’s fight sequences where the action is more than a little reminiscent of middle and low-brow television where stuntmen are defeated with laughable ease. 

The movie’s other big problem is that it is much longer than it needs to be.  This may be out of deference to the source novel, serious fans want to see all of their favorite scenes and such, but strictly for movie purposes the six stories could’ve easily gone through one or two fewer twists and kept the same amount of narrative and emotional heft. 

Overall, the good in Cloud Atlas far outweighs the bad, and the movie is easily the best Wachowski film since The Matrix.  Yes, it could’ve been shorter, and yes it could’ve taken itself a bit less seriously, and yes, the equality=good theme is overdone (particularly toward the end).  But the worlds the movie inhabits are convincing, and the stories told within are thoroughly engrossing for what they are. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Cloud Atlas:

Skyfall – I have high hopes for Bond 24.  We’ll see.

Rise of the Guardians – Continues to look like a slightly above average pre-holiday popcorn flick.

Oz The Great And Powerful – I’ve seen this trailer way too many times.  I may already be incapable of being wowed by Oz.

The Hobbit – I’m not saying I’m rooting for this to happen, but it would be kinda funny if the three of these turn out to be Jar Jar level bad. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted October 26, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Archer, Box Score Cinema

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Alex Cross: Dumb, Dull and Sequel Ready   Leave a comment

“Token, stop giving Tyler Perry money or he won’t go away.” – Eric Cartman
“I can’t help it.” – Token Black

Top Line: Alex Cross is a poorly constructed, paint-by-number, PG-13 action flick.  The script is awful, the performances range from supremely disinterested to flat out terrible, and, worst of all, the action sequences are dull and rote. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Tyler Perry fans and bored action movie fans. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Everyone else. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:41m – For all it’s manic pacing, it still manages to drag in places.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 17 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: 30-40 people (which is a lot)

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references, and nudity

All those things are true, and everything is done right up to the limit that the MPAA will allow, except for the language, which is as clean as the Thanksgiving Day parade broadcast. 

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Cicely Tyson – Perry’s Mom: 
    Gets in a few decent lines that try to add a little emotional reality to this movie.
  2. Yara Shahidi – Perry’s Daughter:
    Manages to emote in the few scenes she’s given.
  3. Kevin Hall – Perry’s Stand-in:
    Really this could be anybody, there isn’t a whole lot of actual acting in this movie, and since this guy was in a ton of it, why not?
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (Probably slightly more fun this way than when it’s on basic cable until the end of time)
  • -1 (Not by much, though)

Final Score: 2

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • -2 (As forgettable as Hollywood formula movies come)
  • -1 (See above)
  • +1 (Mildly interesting as a case study in Tyler Perry’s megabucks career)

Final Score: 3

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • -2 (Doesn’t even try to pass)
  • -1 (Not one of the female characters even makes it to one dimensional)
  • -2 (And most of them meet gruesome deaths the horror of which is crassly papered over to maintain the precious PG-13 rating)

Final Score: 0

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Rob Cohen:
    Has a long track record directing these kind of mid-budget, low-concept action movies: Daylight (1996), xXx (2002), Stealth (2005), etcetera.  Probably the most fun movie on the list is Fast and Furious 1, which isn’t a good thing.

Writers:

  • Marc Moss:
    Has a two entry IMDb page, for writing this and for writing Along Came a Spider, the last Morgan Freeman Alex Cross movie.
  • Kerry Williamson:
    This is his only screenplay credit. 
  • James Patterson:
    The guy who wrote the Alex Cross novels. 

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 10% Top Critics: 0% Audience: 59%

Notes:

  • As you can see from the disparate Rotten Tomatoes scores, this kind of cookie cutter cop movie is almost designed to aggravate critics, but regular people who just want to shut off their brains for a couple of hours won’t care about all the specific problems.  
  • The script is godawful.  It’d be just plain bad given the number of ludicrously stupid ideas and cliched characters bumping into each other, but it makes that extra effort to be truly terrible by trying to cram serious emotional moments in cheek by jowl with bad comic relief and worse macho posturing. 
  • Oh, and it’s drowning in cliched, unexplored subplots.  Will the little girl play piano again?  Will Perry take that new job?  How’s the chief’s run for mayor going?  The movie contains all of these things and more, and treats each one to exactly three scenes so we can have face meltingly predictable setup-conflict-resolution on each. 
  • Tyler Perry is a very talented guy whose abilities do not extend to dramatic acting.  Despite his character going through an almost cartoonish amount of drama, his demeanor and facial expressions range somewhere between “annoyed in dentist’s waiting room”, “grimacing means I’m angry”, and “sleepy”. 
  • Matthew Fox is worse, though.  He never gets past petulant. 
  • There is quite a bit of heavy acting talent in the movie, but without exception it’s shuffled off to wretched little minor characters.  Edward Burns (Perry’s comedy sidekick) spends most of his time on screen going through the motions with a look on his face like “I am getting paid for this, right?  You guys know you can’t write me out of the sequel, it’s in my contract.” 
  • Jean Reno (creepy rich guy), Giancarlo Esposito (local mob boss who’s not all bad), and John McGinley (stereotypical top cop who yells a lot) all spend their brief time on screen looking just as disinterested as Burns. 
  • The movie ticks off character and action cliches like they’re on a checklist.  Perry and Burns even get the “you’re off the case, McBain!” speech from McGinley in one of the most perfunctory scenes in a very perfunctory movie.
  • Reno has to get through so many pieces of trite dialogue in his first meeting with Perry that they actually had two scenes with them back to back. 
  • And yes, the end fight scene involves someone getting kicked in the balls, why do you ask?
  • Seven Psychopaths joked about how movies like this don’t have anything for their female characters to do but get shot.  Well, Alex Cross goes them one better and has two of them tortured to death, albeit in a titillating, chicken shit, off screen PG-13 kind of way.
  • The movie starts with one of those really sloppy, network-TV level chase scenes where some nameless bad guy is fleeing from cops, shooting wildly, and eventually gets tackled by the hero.  That sets the tone for the movie’s many rote, nonsensical and bloodless fight sequences. 
  • That RPG explosion in the trailer?  It looks even faker on the big screen.

Bottom Line:

Alex Cross is as bland a Hollywood movie as you are likely to find.  Underneath it all there was probably a pretty cool murder/detective story, but that movie would need to be rated R, star someone else (Morgan Freeman comes to mind), and drop the noxious slapstick buddy comedy crap that resurfaces every fifteen minutes or so.  Instead, this is a beach novel with some dark ideas crammed into the bright, gooey and nonthreatening container of a formulaic Hollywood action movie.  Terrible things happen, but none of the characters really react to any of it.  There are lots of explosions and gun play, but none of it is memorable or exciting for the simple fact that it’s all so childishly unreal. 

The movie has three basic moods: action, sweetness/comedy, and deadly serious.  Unfortunately for the audience, it fails badly at the first and third, while still feeling the need (this is Tyler Perry, after all) to cram in the second.  Worse, it switches between the three so clumsily that it’s hard to enjoy any of them even in their limited capacity.  One moment they’re lamenting a gruesome death, and the next they’re back to being wise crackin’ good guys hot on the tail of their villain.  

There’s a reason Hollywood cranks out bland movies like this one, however.  They don’t cost much to make or market, and there’s enough audience interest in a bankable star (which Perry is) and a proven franchise (which Patterson’s Alex Cross novels are) to all but ensure that it won’t completely bomb, which is pretty much the only way it can lose money.  That’s also why the movie ends (and trust me, this is not a spoiler) with Perry and Burns heading off to bust more diabolical bad guys in the sequel. 

Assuming they keep it up, Alex Cross will eventually find its natural home as the Friday night kickoff to a Perry-as-Cross marathon weekend on TNT or FX sometime around 2019 or so. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Looper:

The Man With the Iron Fists – Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! 

Flight – It’s bad enough when the trailer shows you the whole movie.  It’s worse when you see that trailer so many times that you begin to hate the damn thing before you’ve even seen it.

Parker – Transporter 4 still looks like plenty of dumb fun.  I’m not sure about Michael Chiklis as the bad guy, though. 

Lincoln – Get bent, Spielberg. 

Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2 – Thank fuck, it’s over. 

The Last Stand – California may have taken one for the team with that whole Schwarzenegger as governor for seven years thing.  He appears to have picked up in the unwatchable twilight of his career right where he left off.  The Golden State probably spared us several terrible movies.  (Note: I’m not saying it was worth it.)

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted October 19, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, South Park

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Seven Psychopaths: A Love Note To Movie Geeks   2 comments

“Gacy, you numbskull, what’d you kill him for?” – Ted Bundy
“I didn’t mean to!” – John Wayne Gacy

Top Line: Seven Psychopaths is a wonderfully violent screwball comedy of the first order.  It also one of those conspicuously clever movies that’s about itself being a movie, but for the most part isn’t annoying about it. 

Who (probably) should see this movie: People who liked In Bruges, Christopher Walken aficionados, and film geeks.  Definitely film geeks.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who didn’t like In Bruges, and anyone looking for a regular shoot ’em up gangster movie. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:49m – Feels about right.  Drags a little toward the end, but it’s deliberate, so it’s not bad or anything.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 20(!) Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: ~10 people, almost all dudes.

MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use

There’s some entertaining violence, and brief almost playfully obligatory boobs, but this movie is very good natured about everything.  There’s nothing terribly disturbing.   

Should Be Rated: PG-16

Three Stars:

  1. Sam Rockwell – Lead Psychopath: 
    Plays the delightfully batty dog borrowing lunatic who sets everything in motion with a nice balance between being in-movie crazy and winking at the camera.  Also gets in several well done venereal disease jokes, which is always a plus.
  2. Christopher Walken – Secondary Psychopath:
    Actually gets to play someone other than himself for once.  He’s still Walken, of course, but he gives a good, solid edge to a pacifist Quaker.
  3. Colin Farrell – Idealized Screenwriter:
    Once again, Martin McDonagh has managed to coax a good performance out of Farrell.  His part isn’t as deep or interesting as it was in In Bruges, but it’s pretty good and he doesn’t get overly twitchy or cutesy. 
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +2 (Solidly entertaining from start to finish)
  • +1 (XKCD made fun of it this morning, so people are paying attention)

Final Score: 4

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Contains way too many self referential movie jokes for a respectable movie geek to not see it)

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • -5 (Doesn’t even try to pass)
  • +1 (Does have quite a few excellent, if minor, female characters)
  • +1 (Does so deliberately and mocks itself for it (See: Notes))

Final Score: 2

IMDb Sez:

Director:

Writer:

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 84% Top Critics: 72% Audience: 87%

Notes:

  • I’m not sure what’s with the lower score from “Top” critics.  Maybe they thought the movie didn’t parody itself enough, or did it too cutesy?  I dunno.  The other two ratings make much more sense. 
  • Fans of Boardwalk Empire will enjoy the opening scene with Arnold Rothstein and Jimmy Darmody. 
  • The movie maintains a healthy balance between sending itself up and delivering the foul mouthed gunplay that is the real reason everyone’s here. 
  • Colin Farrell plays your typically idealized screenwriter fantasy: handsome, charming (when he wants to be), hot girlfriend, cool alcohol problem, the whole schmear.  It’s one of the movie’s subtler self referential jokes.
  • Tom Waits does his usual acting thing where he sits there looking odd and creepy and then acts odder and creepier.  That you know it’s coming doesn’t make it any less fun to watch.
  • Bechdel Note: Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko may have been required to spend more time at the photo shoot for the poster than on set, so miniscule are their roles.  However, the movie makes a point near the end about how movies like this never give their female characters anything to do but get shot.  Does it still count as sexist if you’re being deliberately and self consciously sexist as a way to expose the sexism of others?  Again, I dunno. 
  • Related to the above, we know from the get go that the dog is going to be okay, because, as the movie itself points out, in this kind of film you can’t kill the animals, just the women.  Otherwise people would be upset.
  • Woody Harrelson somehow manages to keep maybe the weakest part in the movie from becoming too much of a cliche for even all this meta-snark to cover. 
  • I poked my head into the early showing of Atlas Shrugged II: The Middle Part on my way into Seven Psychopaths.  Word on the street was that they upgraded from Manos-level production to Puma Man since the first one.  If so, their money might (ironically) have been well spent, there were a few people in the theater.  

Bottom Line:

Seven Psychopaths lives up to its name; there are indeed seven of them, and they are all rather reckless with their lives and the lives of others.  That the whole thing is wrapped up in a Colin Farrell character who is also writing a movie called “Seven Psychopaths” could’ve easily led the movie down an overly serious path of infinite reflections and naval gazing (ahem, Adaptation), but McDonagh keeps things light and entertaining throughout. 

The movie may best be understood as a commentary on not only McDonagh’s first movie, In Bruges, but other films that play around in the “gunplay and black comedy” area.  The whole story is so ridiculous that he may have simply concluded that the only way to salvage any dignity out of it was by poking fun at himself for making it and us for watching it.  To that end, Seven Psychopaths strives above all for laughs, overt and subtle, and is that much better for doing so. 

With Walken and Farrell coming along for the ride, Sam Rockwell is the beating hart of the movie.  He gets plenty of opportunities to switch gears mid-scene (look I’m psycho!, now I’m charming!), and he pulls them off without it becoming cartoonish or expected.  Walken gets to play a more disciplined and determined man, and goes through the movie with a sense of detached bemusement that also doesn’t feel like pandering.  Farrell isn’t given much to do besides alternate between incredulous and scared, but he pulls of both and doesn’t become annoying despite being a walking cliche: the hip, cool, kickass writer of his generation.  That the whole thing is a gag certainly helps.

Ultimately, Seven Psychopaths is a movie by a film geek for other film geeks.  Conventions will be mocked and played with, but also executed well.  Jokes will be made at the expense of both the audience and the man behind the camera.  And above all, you’ll find yourself laughing at strange and terrible things, which is exactly what this kind of film is supposed to deliver. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Looper:

Identity Thief – Cute, topical comedy with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.

Movie 43 – Could be entertaining.  Certainly the cast is promising, but there’s a reason they never actually made a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie

Flight – This looks pretty bad, though if it turns out to be a civil rights movie for alcoholics I could get behind it.  Also, it might be a mistake to show us the entire damned movie in the trailer.

Alex Cross – Madea will kill you.  Like Flight, suffers from “Let’s show everything in the trailer” syndrome. 

Lincoln – Still looks wretched, bordering on unwatchable.

Parker – You might as well call this movie Transporter 4, but it looks like a decent way to kill a couple of hours in the middle of January.  At least they got Statham an age appropriate female lead in Jennifer Lopez. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Box Score Cinema: Frankenweenie   Leave a comment

“It’s alive!  Oh, that fellow at Radio Shack said I was mad!  Well, who’s mad now?” – C.M. Burns

Top Line: Frankenweenie is a very typical Tim Burton movie, for good and ill.  On the good side, it’s got cool looking stop motion, lots of quirky and spooky design, and plenty of morbid playfulness.  On the ill side, most of the characters are little more than window dressing and the story, while inventive in places, is pretty weak.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Tim Burton fans.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who aren’t Tim Burton fans.

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:27m – Drags in the middle, so it feels a little longer than this, but the beginning and the end are both great fun.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 15 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: Approximately 20 people, about 60:40 male:female.  Only saw one kid, but it is a school day. 

MPAA: Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action

Feels about right.  There’s nothing the least bit adult going on here, though there are some creatures and situations that could scare really young kids. 

Should Be Rated: PG-8

Three Stars:

  1. Martin Landau – Eccentric Science Teacher: 
    Gets many of the best lines, including his rant against the townspeople, which is easily the funniest scene in the movie.
  2. Frank Welker – Sparky the Frankenweenie:
    Welker is Hollywood’s go to animal voice, and he shows why here, doing a lot of great work for a dog who goes through quite a bit.
  3. Charlie Tahan – Victor the Boy Genius:
    Is pretty decent in the standard lonesome/misunderstood boy role, but doesn’t get many opportunities to really stand out.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 It’s an October movie modeled after Frankenstein, it’s just that time of year, isn’t it?
  • +1 Really good animation looks better big, and this is no exception.  It’s nice to have all that screen real estate for your eyes to drink in.
  • +5 If you’re a Tim Burton fan.
  • -1 There are a lot of neat visual elements (though I saw it in 2D not 3D), but there isn’t anything here that’s overly spectacular. 

Final Score: 3 (Non-Burton Fans), 8 (Burton Fans)

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +2 Is entertaining pretty much from start to finish.  You won’t be bored.
  • +4 If you’re a Tim Burton fan.
  • -2 There isn’t anything here so different from other Burton films that you’re really missing out if you don’t see it.

Final Score: 5 (If you’re not into the whole Burton thing), 9 (if you are)

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 for Catherine O’Hara in several fun roles, including “Weird Girl” and “Gym Teacher”
  • -1 Every word of Winona Ryder’s dialogue could’ve been lifted from stuff cut out of her part in Beetlejuice, she’s barely in the movie.
  • -3 The closest thing to a passing scene is two nameless mothers sitting on a park bench while minding their babies.  Seriously.

Final Score: 2

IMDb Sez:

Director:

Writers:

  • Tim Burton:
    Gets a credit for characters and story.
  • Leonard Ripps:
    Is mostly a TV writer of not particularly good shows, but he did write the screenplay for the 1984 short of which this film is an expansion.
  • John August:
    Has the actual screenplay credit here.  Previous screenwriting duties include Go (1999), Charlie’s Angles (2000) (which I think is fake, no one wrote that movie), Big Fish (2003), Corpse Bride (2005) and that awful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) remake. 

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 84% Top Critics: 85% Audience: 83%

Notes:

  • Danny Elfman does a bang up job with the score and doesn’t overuse any of his signature tricks and flourishes. 
  • There’s no villain, which is usually a bad thing, and this is no exception. 
  • Really could’ve done without the Asian kid having an atrociously stereotypical accent.  He’s literally the only non-white character in the movie, and while I may have misheard this, at one point I think they even had him say “rice” as a joke. 
  • The end, when all the reanimated monsters come to life and start wrecking the town, is a lot of fun. 
  • Burton is the old master at stop motion, and Frankenweenie looks great, but for pure stop motion eye candy, ParaNorman has Frankenweenie beat.
  • Speaking of ParaNorman, while it only slightly exceeds Frankenweenie in terms of animation, the script, characters and themes are a whole different ballgame.  ParaNorman told a spooky, morbid tale that had a great villain and tied together at the end.  Frankenweenie has many of the same elements, but they feel stuck together rather then blended into a coherent whole.  Both start with the standard “kid with no friends” plot, but ParaNorman makes the story more than it seems at first glance, Frankenweenie just uses it for what it is.
  • Martin Landau’s science teacher really, really needed to be in this movie more.  He’s in just a few short scenes, and he steals all of them.  His speech to the PTA is hilarious, and his explanation of lightning should be shown in science classes for how awesome it makes everything sound.

Bottom Line:

Frankenweenie is a good modern take on the enduring classic of Boris Karloff’s iconic Frankenstein.  There’s spooky imagery, lots of electricity, and townspeople with torches.  All your favorite characters are here, a bit twisted for American suburbia.  The mad scientist is now a kid.  The Monster is now his dog that got hit by a car.  Igor is a pesky dweeb from school.  Bride of Frankenstein, and her famously elevated hair, even get a nice nod. 

However, it’s fundamentally a movie about creatures and imagery, not about story, characters or anything else.  The same charge could be leveled at previous Burton stop motion movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, but it’s much more apparent here.  Like ParaNorman earlier this year, Frankenweenie features an angry mob chasing an innocent abomination near its conclusion; unlike ParaNorman, the way those elements come together is a bit slapdash and very superficial.  The movie ticks off Frankenstein scenes, ideas and imagery like it’s going down a list. 

None of the characters, even the boy scientist who brings his dog back from the dead, are given much to do beyond exactly what you expect them to do.  The other kids are all appropriately weird, but none of them is given enough screen time to be anything more than an animated prop.  The same is true of the adults, even Victor’s parents. 

For example, at one point Victor is trapped inside a burning building and his father makes to rush in after him.  He’s restrained, gives the standard “But my son’s in there!” line, and then just quits.  There’s so little to his character, though, that you almost don’t notice that he just resigned himself to his son’s death, no muss, no fuss.  Now, that burning building looks spectacular, but you can’t help get the feeling that the script was tailored around the cool visuals and weird creatures in a way that leaves a lot of things feeling flashy but unsatisfying.

That said, those weird creatures and cool visuals are all very well done.  Burton’s movies have always excelled at giving you plenty to look.  There’s eye candy galore, including a great “it’s alive!” scene, a giant turtle doing a fun Godzilla impression, and creepy little sea monkey things that run about and scare everyone.  

All in all, Frankenweenie is a good Tim Burton movie.  It’s got plenty of off-kilter characters and ideas, fantastic beasts, weird sights (Victor’s lab equipment is especially fun), and all the other quirky trimmings that Burton is so good at putting on screen.  It’s nothing phenomenal, but it’s mostly fun. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Frankenweenie:

[Note: Was a little late, so I missed a trailer or two.]

Rise of the Guardians – A spunky kid who looks like he should be in a Final Fantasy game works with Santa and the Easter Bunny to defeat fear, or something.  Standard early holiday fare.

Oz The Great And Powerful – I’ve seen this trailer so many times now that I’m starting to hope that the movie bombs.  A trailer predicated on wonder (ooh, look at Oz!) only works so many times, y’know?  And it still doesn’t come out for five months! 

Wreck-It Ralph – This movie could be awesome, my only worry is that it thinks rapid fire video game references are all it needs.  We’ll see, though “A Restart On Life” in the trailer isn’t a good sign. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Box Score Cinema: Hotel Transylvania   Leave a comment

A Guest Review By Mike Amato

"Welcome, come in! Ah, fresh victims for my ever-growing army of the undead." – Mr. Burns
"Sir, you have to let go of the button." – Smithers
"Oh, son of a bi-" – Mr. Burns

Top Line: Hotel Transylvania‘s script is dodgy at times and the basic story has been told a million times over, but the unbelievably cartoony animation alone is worth the price of admission. It’s helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky, one of the major figureheads of the great animation revival in the 90s, and his efforts to give the film a distinct look and feel pay off in spades. To be succinct, it’s one of the greatest looking animated movies I’ve ever seen.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Animation fans, fans of the classic movie monsters, those who love goofy, fun movies, and Adam Sandler fans, I guess. Are there any of those left?

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Those who don’t see animated movies because they’re "for kids." And a fuck you to you too.

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:31m – Standard procedure for an animated film.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 18 Minutes

MPAA: Rated PG for rude humor, action and scary images.

No surprises here; all animated movies try desperately to avoid the dreaded "G" rating. There’s really nothing objectionable at all here, and I don’t think any of the monsters would be considered scary for kids, unlike the surprisingly adult material in ParaNorman. Which was amazing, by the way.

Should Be Rated: PG-6

Three Stars:

  1. Adam Sandler – Count Dracula, Overprotective Daddy: 
    I was worried from the trailers Sandler’s Transylvanian accent would grow annoying over ninety minutes, but he actually does a pretty good job here.
  2. Andy Samberg – Johnny/Johnnystein/Frankenhomie:
    Samberg basically doing Samberg. His character ran a risk of being an irritant, but he plays this carefree nomadic dope with the utmost of sympathy.
  3. Selena Gomez – Mavis, 118-year-old Teenage Vampire:
    Also not annoying. Shocking.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +3: Never have I seen a movie this unabashedly kinetic. An absolute joy to look at.
  • +1: The 3D really adds a lot to some of the action.
  • -1: Would probably be just as spectacular on a 2D screen at home though.

Final Score: 5

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +3: As I said, a veritable treat for your eyeballs.
  • -1: Some of the gaffs in the screenplay hurt it a bit.
  • -1: Could be easily overlooked amidst the Pixar and DreamWorks giants

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1: Selena Gomez gives a surprisingly empathetic performance, lifting the rote storyline a bit.
  • -3: Doesn’t even come close to passing. The only other female characters are Frankie and the Wolfman’s spouses, who barely get any lines at all.

Final Score: 3

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Genndy Tartakovsky:
    Dexter’s Laboratory. Samurai Jack. Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Need I go on?.

Writer:

  • Peter Baynham:
    Co-wrote Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat and Bruno, as well as last year’s criminally under-seen Sony/Aardman film Arthur Christmas.
  • Robert Smigel:
    The man behind the brilliant Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and co-wrote one of the only Sandler comedies I find bearable, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 45% Top Critics: 38% Audience: 80%

Notes:

  • The RT score is criminally low, but I guess it’s not surprising. Most critics I’m sure were quick to dump on the imperfect script, and unable to open their minds to animation that doesn’t strive for photo-realism.
  • Tartakovsky manages to bring his 2D sensibilities into 3D flawlessly; principles of composition, striking and simple design, squash and stretch and proper timing apply in animation no matter how many dimensions you’re working in. It’s very rare in this day and age to laugh at an animated film based on its visuals alone, and I found myself doing quite a lot of that here. One of the best bits is Dracula walking as if he’s hovering, just that black mass of cape moving along a straight line.
  • The typical Sandler gang is all here: Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade . . . they’re all fine. Not spectacular, but work with the material they have. Jon Lovitz also appears as the impish Quasimodo, who is immediately suspicious of a human in their midst. I thought that was odd considering Quasimodo is not technically a monster, and perhaps he was targeting humans to avoid arousing suspicion of his actual species.
  • The movie’s only major flaw is not knowing how to handle its emotional heft. The film stops dead in its tracks to explain Dracula’s sad past, and his rush to reunite his daughter with Mavis feels so tired and cliched. The entire movie is so off-the-wall and insane, but it all kind of crumbles down into formula for the last fifteen minutes or so.
  • We get the typical DreamWorks dance party ending, but give it a slight pass since it’s basically like a Lonely Island video.  Seeing Adam Sandler as Dracula free-styling with all the other monsters is more surreal than groan-inducing.

Bottom Line:

Hotel Transylvania is a fun film, something that if you ingratiate yourself into, will be an absolute blast. Is the story treacly and ham-fisted at points? Yeah. Does everything kind of fall apart into tired cliche in the end? Yep, that happens too. But in the end, I find I didn’t really care so much, since between the saccharine beginning and end was a wonderfully manic animation extravaganza, a 3D reincarnation of the crazy-go-nuts Bob Clampett and Tex Avery cartoons.

Since the advent of CG films, there’s been this belief that something looks better if it’s more realistic, like critics raving about grass believably blowing or trees moving in the wind in a DreamWorks picture. That’s all well and good, and certainly is worth merit in its own right. But why on earth are we praising cartoons for being realistic? It’s a medium where you can do anything, not only in concept and in story, but in terms of how the characters look, move and interact. You can create a world completely unlike our own in a way that you just can’t in live action.

Tartakovsky knows this better than anyone. The life and vibrance he breaths into these characters is absolutely stunning. The animation truly is the star of this movie; it’s so well thought out and communicated, you could watch the film on mute, still know what’s going on, and still be entertained. Watching these characters bounce off each other, acting and reacting is just enthralling to see unfold. Considering my praise largely hinges on visuals, it’s a movie whose brilliance really can’t be explained in words. To be frank, it needs to be seen to be believed.

Suggest Alternate Viewing:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) – A similarly madcap animated film, also by Sony Pictures Animation. It manages to handle its story and emotional elements better than Transylvania; where this movie fumbled on its sentimental climax, Meatballs works it in and treats it with the same amount of silliness as the rest of the movie. If you like animation, you need to see this movie.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Hotel Transylvania:

Wreck-It Ralph – I haven’t been this excited for a Disney film in a long time; it’s like Who Framed Roger Rabbit with video games. Directed by Simpsons and Futurama alumnus Rich Moore, this is definitely a film to look out for.

Despicable Me 2 – If I hear "Barbara-Ann" one more goddamn time…

The Smurfs 2 – Film aside, a particularly lazy trailer; they even have a character hold up two fingers to signify it’s a sequel, like every single poster for an animated sequel ever.

Life of Pi – Quite a jarring gear shift following Smurfs. I still have no idea what the hell this is about, but it looks breathtaking visually.

Here Comes the Boom – Kevin James tries MMA and Salma Hayek fits right in as a teacher at a schlubby high school, and seemingly potential love interest. I guess if Adam Sandler could make her his wife in Grown Ups, James wanted his shot too. What a fucking travesty.

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Looper: Time Traveling Hitmen and Psychic Powers (Together at Last!)   1 comment

“Aaron, I’m standing at the time portal, which scientists say follows Terminator rules.  That is, it’s one way only and you can’t go back.  This is in contrast to, say, Back to the Future rules where back and forth is possible, and, of course, Timerider rules, which are just plain silly.” – Harrison the TV Reporter

Top Line: Looper is a fantastic movie.  It’s got an inventive and unique science fiction universe that it uses well, and while it suffers from a few problems here and there, overall it is excellent, consistently entertaining, and generally a great deal of fun.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Science fiction and gangster movie fans, anyone who liked Brick or The Brothers Bloom, and noir detective fans generally. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Those who aren’t big fans of any of the above genres and/or movies.  What you see is what you get with Looper

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:58m – Feels about right.

Actual Start Time: Showtime +17 Minutes

MPAA: Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content

The language was actually pretty tame, but it did have the rest of those things (bless its heart), plus dead kids, so yeah, for once the R is pretty well deserved.  But that shouldn’t stop eager beaver 15 year olds from seeing it.  I would’ve loved this movie when I was 15. 

Should Be Rated: PG-16

Three Stars:

  1. Bruce Willis – Old Joe the Hitman:
    John McClane didn’t need to be there with the rest of the retirement home gang in those Expendables movies.  He is still perfectly capable of pulling off an action role without it being ironic.
  2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Young Joe the Hitman:
    Premium Rush is great as the younger, more inexperienced version of Willis’ elder badass.  He’s steely and cool when he needs to be but still young and impulsive when necessary.
  3. Emily Blunt – Shotgun Wielding Farmer Mommy:
    Plays the rural, futuristic femme fatale for this particular detective story with verve and heart.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 They actually had midnight showings of this.
  • +1 The kind of movie that’s much more fun with an audience.

Final Score: 4

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +2 Flat out good movie.
  • -1 Good or not, it’s still a niche film, so there’s no burning need to see it.

Final Score: 5

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 Emily Blunt is fantastic and gets a role with just as much complicated backdrop as the Old and Young Joe the Hitmans. 
  • +1 In a movie with a small cast, she gets major screen time.
  • -3 That said, never comes close to passing.
  • -1 Piper Perabo and Tracie Thoms can act, I’ve seen them do it, shame they don’t get to do anything but sashay around and serve coffee, respectively.

Final Score: 3

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Rian Johnson:
    Wrote and directed Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2008), both of which are lots of fun.

Writer:

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 92% Top Critics: 95% Audience: 91%

Notes:

  • As you can see from the Rotten Tomatoes numbers, there is wide agreement that this is an excellent film, I will not offer much dissent.
  • The movie has two futures, one thirty years from now and the other thirty years from that.  The nearer future is where we spend almost the entire film, and it is a very well done future.  It’s believably depressing, suffers from plenty of problems you could see growing out of the ones we have now, and has some very nice touches of desperation (small and large). 
  • It is, however, a mainly white future where women don’t seem to do much other than wait tables, mind the kids, and entertain. 
  • That said, it’s a very rich world.  You could easily set a series of comic books there. 
  • Like any good film noir buff, Johnson is acutely aware of all the little plot elements in his story and how they foreshadow one another and work together.  You could pick at things here or there, but for the most part the plot works well, which is especially impressive in a science fiction world where lesser movies tend to change their rules halfway through to suit the plot.
  • People from the past can send messages to their future selves by carving messages into their own flesh.  (+20 cool points, Achievement: Flesh Message Unlocked)
  • The minor character henchmen are very good, but the anonymous cannon fodder henchmen suffer from a very pronounced case of Incompetent Henchman Syndrome.  At one point, an armed guy runs into a room where gunfire has just been exchanged and doesn’t draw his gun until Gordon-Levitt is already kicking his ass. 
  • Special commendation goes to Pierce Gagnon, the little boy who plays Blunt’s son.  Kid can act, and has some great lines. 
  • Yes, Deadwood fans, that’s the guy who played Jack McCall in Season 1 and Francis Wolcott in Season 2.  (Johnson also used Eddie Sawyer as the narrator in The Brothers Bloom.)
  • Demographic marketing exists for a reason.  I was one of about a dozen guys, mostly pathetic single men, at the early Friday show.  The showing of Pitch Perfect that let out at the same time appeared to have contained about the same number of people, but was entirely female. 

Bottom Line: Looper is an exceedingly well done genre picture.  In this case, it’s a standard film noir plot with wiseguys, hired goons, hot dames, and lots of illegal activity, but with the added twist of time travel and people with telekinetic powers.  That’s a potent mixture that could’ve easily been mishandled, but Rian Johnson is, for the third time in a row, completely on top of his game.

The movie has a very involved story to tell and a very unusual world in which to tell it, but keeps things moving at an entertaining clip.  There’s plenty of action, suspense, cool reveals, slick dialogue and all the other trimmings that make movies like this fun to watch.  There are enough elements moving along to keep the final twist pretty well obscured, and it never gets bogged down with backstory or distractions.  As with most noir movies, there are a couple of “wait, what?” moments where something doesn’t quite fly, but for the most part they’re minor. 

Willis and Gordon-Levitt are both fantastic, and do a very good job of giving Joe the Hitman recognizable traits even when one of him is thirty years older than the other.  The rest of the supporting cast, from Blunt’s psychic mommy to Jeff Daniels’ cynical, seen it all mob boss is just as at home.  Even though many of them hardly get more than a couple of scenes, the script gives even the minor characters at least some depth. 

All in all, Looper is the kind of movie that critics tend to wish Hollywood made more of: original, inventive, well written and acted, and entertaining in ways that don’t leave you feeling like you’ve seen it all before.  The cast is solid, the effects are well done, and the script is cool.  That’s a hell of a lot more than can be said for most movies, and Looper deserves every bit of praise it’s getting.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Looper:

Cloud AtlasIt would be so cool if this movie doesn’t suck, too bad it looks like a higher budget remake of The Fountain

Mama – Speaking of visually cool movies that look like they kinda suck, Guillermo del Toro takes a crack at the “creepy little girl” horror genre. 

Sinister – The house is still haunted and the family is still unsuspecting.

Lincoln – Tony Kushner’s involvement is intriguing, but this looks just godawful.  This is a discussion for another time, but if you were evaluating Spielberg exclusively on his post-2000 movies, he’d be a middlebrow hack.

Red Dawn – Much like the original, this could be fun provided you have enough booze handy.  Also like the original, it looks so unbelievably stupid that actually drinking “enough booze” might lead to permanent incapacitation. 

Zero Dark Thirty – The ethically wretched but probably entertaining movie that will someday have a book written about how wildly inaccurate it is.

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted September 28, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, South Park

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The Master: Cults, False Cures, and Representing (But Being Legally Distinct From) Scientology   Leave a comment

[Note: Posted slightly late on account of a minor transportation failure.]

“Homer Simpson, your family will be housed here for the first one-hundred-thousand years.  Then something might open up in a double.” – Movementarian

Top Line: The Master is a pretty good movie.  It is well acted and written, features several excellent scenes, has gorgeous cinematography, and all of that jazz.  However, like most big time Oscar bait, it’s good in mostly forgettable ways, and it certainly didn’t need to be well north of two hours long.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Fans of middle-brow, Oscar bait type films, fans of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and people who want to snicker at Scientology.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who don’t like ponderous Oscar bait type films, the easily distracted, and anyone who is hoping to see a lot of Laura Dern.

Box Score:

Runtime:2h:17m – And it could’ve been much less than that without losing anything the least bit important.

Actual Start Time: Showtime+14 Minutes

MPAA:Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language

There is some sex (with a dash of incest), and there are three short scenes with bare breasts a plenty, but the language is pretty tame unless you count Philip Seymour Hoffman using a fifty cent word every time a ten cent one would do.

Should Be Rated: PG-16

Three Stars:

  1. Joaquin Phoenix – Neurotic, Slightly Insane WWII Veteran:
    The well acted Torgo to Hoffman’s “Master”.  Manages to really pull off some scenes that could’ve easily become very goofy otherwise.
  2. Amy Adams – Hoffman’s Cult Leader Daughter:
    Is entertainingly single minded in her devotion to the cult/religion her father heads.
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman – Not Lafayette Ronald Hubbard:
    Is clearly having a great time as the charming, possibly self deluded con-man.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • + 1 Is glowingly reviewed Oscar bait, and therefore will be popping up in other media and discussions long before it gets to home video.
  • -1 Feels longer than it is, so there are definitely a couple of places where a pause button would’ve been handy.

Final Score: 2

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 The great performance from Joaquin Phoenix is worth seeing.
  • +1 Philip Seymour Hoffman is a lot of fun as well.
  • -1 Is a bit of a slog in places, especially toward the end.
  • -1 See Bechdel, below.

Final Score: 5

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 Amy Adams has some great scenes in a sleek but layered part.
  • -1 Laura Dern is barely in the movie.
  • -2 Doesn’t even sniff a passing score as there are basically no scenes without Hoffman or Phoenix.

Final Score: 3

IMDb Sez:

Director:

  • Paul Thomas Anderson:
    Famous director of good to excellent mid-budget movies, most famously including Boogie Nights (1997) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

Writers:

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 87% Top Critics: 85% Audience: 78%

Notes:

  • Phoenix works as a portrait photographer, and the makeup, dress, and overall living color look of people we’re more familiar with in static black and white is done extremely well.
  • It is a little tough to buy Hoffman as having fathered Adams.  The two are only seven years apart in age in real life, and don’t look much more than that here.
  • The first scene where Hoffman subjects Phoenix to his “process”, akin to one of those Scientology “Audits”, is maybe the best one in the move in terms of just having two very good actors go back and forth in a tight scene.
  • The only other scene in contention is the handjob scene, which I will let speak for itself.
  • Like in There Will Be Blood, Anderson is fond of long, languid establishing shots and scenes that give all the little historical details time to sink in.
  • Similar to the above, the costume, set and graphics departments did a bang up job creating all those things.  For example, there’s an early scene in one of those old fashioned, incredibly spacious department stores, and the camera just wanders around for a while to really drive home the point that this is a very different time.
  • The movie has roughly as much to do with Scientology as The Social Network has to do with Facebook in that it’s better at painting a backdrop than really getting into the details of how these fascinating and popular things took off.

Bottom Line:

The Master is the exact kind of award hounding drama its trailer makes it look like.  It wears its seriousness as a badge of honor and its dignity on its sleeve so that everyone can see both.  In that capacity, it succeeds wildly.  Unfortunately, it’s also much too long, much too dry, and way too serious to be memorably entertaining.  Five years from now it will likely have faded into that haze of “Oh, I vaguely remember seeing that once.  It was good, wasn’t it?”.

For example, Hoffman gives a fine performance as Not Ron Hubbard, but is never given the opportunity to show us in the audience much more than his followers see of him.  Is he a true believer or is he in on his own con?  If the former, what convinced him?  If the latter, how does he feel about it?  The movie is largely silent on questions like those.

It prefers to show what happens when Phoenix, who been has utterly failed by the medical science of the time, falls into the orbit of Hoffman, a messianic cult leader who refuses to give up on Phoenix when his many feats of bullshit fail to just as surely as Rorschach tests and dream analysis.  There’s nothing wrong with that as a story, but it does leave the movie feeling oddly repetitive and incomplete despite its length and seriousness.  By the end of There Will Be Blood, we knew Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview in all his monstrous effectiveness.  By the end of The Master, neither Phoenix nor Hoffman seem to have changed much, and we in the audience don’t really know anything more about them than we did at the opening.

It’s a well done movie, and if you’re in the right mood it’s very much worth seeing.  But it isn’t something so epic and/or spectacular that it demands attention.

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before The Master:

Les Miserables – It’s a big budget Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation.  You’re either going to love it, or not care about it in the least.

Zero Dark Thirty – One presumes this movie would do better business if Obama gets re-elected than if he doesn’t, but who knows?

The Impossible – The 2004 tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people, most of them poor and brown, told through a heartwarming story of a family of prosperous white people.  The trailer actually contains title screens that read, “Nothing is more powerful than the human spirit”.  Water and wave shoaling are, presumably, excepted.

Anna Karenina – It’s a big budget Victorian era costume piece filled to capacity with British actors.  Like Les Miserables, you’re likely either going to love it or not care at all.

Killing Them Softly – Still looks above average for a low rent gangster movie.

Silver Linings Playbook – I, for one, am sick and tired of the mentally ill being stereotyped as Philadelphia Eagles fans.

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted September 21, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema, The Simpsons

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