Monthly Archives: May 2016

‘Cooties’ is child’s play

My kids had a ball with Cooties.

Cooties is the story of Clint (Elijah Wood), an aspiring novelist doing a summer school substitute teaching gig at the school he went to as a kid. Unfortunately for Clint, some toxic chicken nuggets from the local processing plant have been consumed by one of his students, who is about to go full-on 28 Days Later on her classmates, who, after they turn, start to look at school’s faculty and staff as a potential food source.

A solid cast – including Rainn Wilson (The Office), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Jorge Garcia (Lost), Nasim Pedrad (Scream Queens), etc. – makes up for what the script lacks. Ian Brennan and Lee Whannell co-script (and appear in) Cooties, and their writing experience – Brennan with Glee and Scream Queens, Whannell with the Saw and Insidious flicks – would seem to be a good mash-up for this sort of film. And at points, they are. Whannell’s Doug, a science teacher who lacks basic social graces and may be hearing voices, is a hoot. When Clint and Wade (Wilson) argue over the best way to proceed, Wade yells, “Oh, you’ll sneak around, huh? Sneak around like a little Hobbit. No way! I’m taking the fight to them like a fuckin’ orc!” The overall horror arc is also well done, as the outside world reacts to the pandemic while our heroes deal with it face to face. There are some good reasons my junior high-age offspring liked Cooties.

Unfortunately, for me, the grownup in the room, it fell a little flat. The dialogue has its moments, but generally feels forced, saved some by the talent of the actors saying the lines. And certain things don’t make sense. For example, during a number of escapes, Clint braves potential gnawing by running back to grab the first chapter of his novel as the hordes of junior high zombies close in on he and his new pals. But nothing comes from that, no grand resolution, not much in the way of tension, nothing. It’s noted prominently a few times, then evaporates. The ending also seems anti-climactic and a bit abrupt, leaving an opening for a sequel that I can’t imagine will actually happen.

The talent was available, and there was no lack of financial support holding Cooties back. A sharper script would have likely resulted in a movie beloved by many – think Gremlins – instead of a film forgotten by few.

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Rogers vs. Stark better than ‘Batman V Superman’

Why is Captain America: Civil War better than Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice? Here’s three reasons:

  1. Civil War looks real. The big fight scene in Batman V Superman, where Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman go mano a mano with the Zod monster, looks like a video game. Not a good video game, either. I even laughed at one point, where Wonder Woman almost looked like she was glued onto the top of a scene, like a pre-schooler’s arts-and-crafts project. The beauty of the big fight scene in Civil War, where Team Cap and Team Stark go at it, is just how good it looks. Even when Ant-Man goes gigantic, the CGI is so well-rendered that it never takes you out of the moment. It’s not as if some of the Marvel movies haven’t had a similar problem to BvS – yes, Thor, I’m looking at you – but Civil War doesn’t fall prey to that lack of suspension of disbelief.
  2. It’s all about the story. What was Superman’s storyline in Batman V Superman? The exact same damn story line from the first Superman movie: Should Superman use his power or not? Zod’s crew threatens Ma Kent in first movie to get at Superman; Lex Luthor threatens Ma Kent to get at Superman in the second movie. Pa Kent gives Clark advice in the first movie; his dead ass gets dragged out of the grave to give Clark the same advice in the second movie. You would think in a movie two-and-half hours plus long you could cut the redundant stuff. Batfleck wasn’t a Daredevil-size mess, but I wasn’t all that impressed what they did with the character beyond the big showdown battle with Superman. What was the point of Holly Hunter’s/Senator Finch’s story? I’m not sure, other than it made the movie longer. Plus, Gal Godot was not well used. Wonder Woman is played primarily as a flirt/foil for Batman, then wastes our time showing us the other DC heroes that aren’t in the movie in a scene that could have been cut to half the time it ran and tacked on as a prologue in the credits … ya know, kind of like Marvel? Civil War advances not only the stories of both Captain America and Iron Man as well as introducing Black Panther, it also gets at the main themes of the Marvel universe: Should the unending power of our heroes be checked by some sort of civilian/military/non-hero leadership? What is the cost of our heroes using those powers? What is the responsibility of heroes to those without powers? No redundancy here, just good writing and development.
  3. The new characters. You know what I figured out from watching the brief introduction of Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg? That I have no interest in seeing individual movies for any of them, probably not even when they join up and become the Justice League. It does look like Wonder Woman is going to be done right, so I’ll probably check that out. But there are valid reasons Aquaman is universally mocked – he won’t be all that interesting if the villain chooses to show up in, say, Arizona or the Sahara – and getting Khal Drogo to play him isn’t going to change my mind. If I cared about The Flash, I’d be watching the CW series, which I’m not. And my only knowledge of Cyborg comes from Teen Titans Go! with my son. Between that show and this brief introduction, my world is not being rocked. But look at Spider-Man and Black Panther in Civil War. I’ve never read anything involving Black Panther prior to seeing Civil War, but I’m stoked for that stand-alone. I thought Chadwick Boseman was good, and the little bit of back story provided makes me think I need to see the Panther as a main character. After four atrocious films and one average flick, it’s nice to see Spider-Man actually look like the goofy kid with super powers that we know from the comics. I thought the hype on Spidey was a bit over done leading up to the latest Captain America flick, but it turns out the hype was for real. Maybe it will actually be enough to wash the taste of Toby McGuire’s Peter Parker from my palate. A miracle, indeed.
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RiverRoots 2016 lineup delivers

RiverRoots 2016 is the fourth straight year I’ve attended the festival, and I expect to be back next year. The music lineup is always solid, and there’s nothing like listening to bluegrass, country, soul, folk and more while drinking Indiana craft beer on the beautiful banks of the Ohio River.

Saturday’s lineup was solid. Asleep at the Wheel and Donna the Buffalo rocked like the vets that they are, and acts such as Parker Millsap, Jake Book, Blair Crimmins and the Hookers and Bridge 19 all put on good shows. Billy Strings stole the show, bringing heavy metal-like intensity and speed to their rootsy set.

But for me, it was a quartet of acts on Friday that brought down the house. Battling wet weather and playing to smaller crowds, these four elevated their games and made a fan out of me.

Darlingside – This quartet out of Boston was moved from the main stage to the second stage because of the rain. It turned out fortune was smiling upon them, because the River Stage gave the set an intimacy that wouldn’t have happened on the main stage. The above performance doesn’t quite do them justice, but it’s a pretty good example of what they have to offer. Think if Simon and Garfunkel fronted the Punch Brothers covering Avett Brothers songs.

Sarah Jarosz – In four years, I’ve never seen the River Stage so crowded. It wasn’t just standing room only; there really wasn’t even room left to stand. Her voice is as amazing live as it is on wax.

Lindi Ortega – Ortega’s old-school country sound, her band’s tight groove and her effortless stage presence are a unique combination. I’d like to see her at a smaller, indoor venue, because I think a crowded room might provide more energy for the band to feed off of, elevating the intensity a bit.

Brothers Comatose – I didn’t know they made bluegrass music in San Francisco, at least not after Jerry Garcia died. These fellas blazed out of the gate and never looked back, effortlessly mixing traditional music with moments like their Cake cover. I will see these West Coasters again, hopefully soon.

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‘Catastrophe’: It’s all about the laughs

My wife and I had a ball watching the first two seasons of the Amazon comedy, Catastrophe. I don’t think I could have put my finger on just what makes it so much more satisfying than your average network sitcom, although I enjoyed it much more than, say, Big Bang Theory or Modern Family. But after a few episodes, I think my wife figured it out.

They laugh at each other.

American boy Rob (Rob Delaney) and Irish girl Sharon (Sharon Horgan) have a torrid affair while Rob is in London on business. The affair results in pregnancy, and Rob and Sharon decide not only to have the child, but to get married. Blend in a number of wacky characters with ties to our newlyweds – Rob’s druggie pal Dave, Sharon’s helicopter mom frenemy Fran, Carrie Fisher (yes, Princess Leia) as Rob’s eBay-addicted mother – and hilarity ensues.

Really, this isn’t any different than any meet-cute scenario for any rom-com. What makes it work is the chemistry of Delaney and Horgan, who are also the show’s creators and writers. They will frequently hurl insults and curse words at each other, and as the scene develops, you’re never sure if they’re going to end up enraged or humored by the whole situation.

And Rob and Sharon do laugh. At each other. It’s not the typical deliver-the-funny-line, keep-a-straight-face sort of banter. It’s the laugh of two people who are intimate, sometimes laughing at things only they think are funny. It’s genuine, sometimes painfully so.

I can’t imagine this is for everyone (there’s a ton of cussing, some nudity). But Catastrophe is greater than the genre it represents if you’re willing to go along for the ride.

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‘Zombeavers’ is what it is, but could have been more

zombeavers_still

When the zombeavers arrive, everyone is damned.

When you sit down to watch a movie about zombie beavers, you’re not exactly expecting Citizen Kane or The Imitation Game.

However, is it too much to ask for decent dialogue and something resembling pacing? Zombeavers clocks in at only 77 minutes, yet the first half hour drags mercilessly, a combination of stock horror characters delivering flat, uninspired dialogue and the occasional beaver pun. The potential for a nice mix of humor and menace – think the Chucky films or Gremlins – is there, but is never captured.

Thankfully, once the zombeaver attack starts, the movie is twice as fun. The beavers are the best part of the film. The stuffed puppets are one-part creepy, one-part hysterical. Occasionally, co-writer/director Jordan Rubin manages to capture the menace of these little beasts, and he also finds the humor when the furry pests come to the forefront.

If only it weren’t for the damn humans. No wonder those zombeavers were so pissed off. They knew the bi-peds were killing their moment to shine.

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