January 29, 2013

Citadel (2012)

HERE’S A QUESTION for all the dads out there: Could you protect your child from evil if you were afraid of everything?

That’s the dilemma posed by the Irish horror import Citadel, where we meet Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), a young father afflicted with chronic agoraphobia after his pregnant wife is brutally attacked by a gang of hooded youths (children, to be exact). When the same gang starts terrorizing Tommy again, intent on kidnapping his baby daughter, he seeks help from a doubting yet sympathetic nurse (Wunmi Mosaku) and a vigilante priest (James Cosmo) to overcome his fear and destroy the gang for good.

Drawing from his own experience with agoraphobia following a violent mugging, Citadel’s first-time feature writer/director Ciaran Foy paints Tommy’s world as a bleak, grimy landscape of blues and greys (much like how Tommy views his life and his future). Foy does an effective job at balancing scares with cares, putting Tommy in the hands of Mosaku’s nurse just long enough to provide the viewer with a false sense of relief before throwing Tommy back into danger at the hands of the gang. (Also great: Foy’s use of Tommy’s old apartment number (111) and the recurring theme of threes.)

Looking and acting like Elijah Wood’s strung-out big brother, Barnard does a great job capturing the struggle of a new parent stricken with a crippling fear and topped with a coating of paranoia. Cosmo’s embattled priest, while quite the screen presence, is a somewhat uneven mishmash of profane wisdom, jarring frankness, and tough love. Also, his exposition explaining the origin of the feral children is muddled and dodges the obvious question: If this gang of children has been around for decades, wouldn’t there now be a few adults in the group?

Winner of the Midnighters Audience Award at the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, Citadel is nearly everything a horror film should be – “nearly” because of the third act, a showdown in the abandoned apartment tower where Tommy and his wife lived when she was attacked. This finale plays like a haunted-house action sequence and betrays the creepy, atmospheric tone Foy set in the first hour. The film also ends somewhat abruptly: one side wins, and almost immediately the credits roll.

As good as Citadel is, a word of warning to anyone who’s an expectant father, a single dad, or a parent of an infant: Before you know it, you’ll soon be wondering if you would have what it takes if faced with the same terrors as Tommy.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Absolutely not. In the opening scene, Tommy’s wife is viciously attacked by the gang; Tommy’s emotional breakdowns are harrowing to watch (though he’s oddly emotionless when taking his wife off life support); the hooded children are truly scary: they attack and kill several people, complete with graphic noises and bloodshed, either in shadows or off screen; Tommy’s baby daughter is put in peril in several scenes; one of the hooded children’s throats is slit, complete with spraying blood; there are many profanities.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
With a pregnant mother beaten to death in the opening scene, a gang of mutated killer children, and the ongoing threat of a baby girl being stolen by the gang, I can’t see too many mothers who would be willing to sit through Citadel.


* Director: Ciaran Foy
* Screenwriter: Ciaran Foy
* Stars: Aneurin Barnard, Wunmi Mosaku, James Cosmo, Jake Wilson, Amy Shiels
* MPAA Rating: R

Rent Citadel from Netflix >>

January 23, 2013

Ratatoing (2007)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY RECENTLY RAN an article about the phenomenon of “mockbusters” – cheaply made knockoffs of blockbuster movies, released at the same time as the original film, to cash in on the buzz. Adding to the insult (and confusion) are their sound-alike titles, such as Age of the Hobbits, Braver, Paranormal Entity, Transmorphers, and American Battleship.

Last fall, FilmBoy discovered the mockbuster Chop Kick Panda, so I shared the EW article with him – and unknowingly created a monster. Fascinated by their alleged awfulness, he set out to watch as many animated mockbusters as possible. He then insisted I review mockbusters here, and I told him no way. But after much discussion and debate, I agreed to review one, and only one: the totally-not-Ratatouille flick Ratatoing.

Set in Rio de Janeiro (in place of Ratatouille’s Paris), Ratatoing tells the story of Marcell Toing, a mouse (not a rat) who’s chef and owner of his own restaurant – so in some twisted way, Marcell has already fulfilled the dream that Ratatouille’s Remy spends his entire film trying to accomplish. Anyhoo, Marcell and fellow mice Carol and Greg conduct weekly raids on human kitchens to get fresh ingredients for their entrees, while rival restaurant owners will stop at nothing to discover Marcell's secrets.

To say Ratatoing is an abomination would be an insult to all things disgusting or abhorrent. The most obvious offense is the atrocious animation. The entire film looks like unfinished footage from a Pixar behind-the-scenes featurette: flat, simple shapes with primary colors and stiff body movements that make everybody look like they’re doing the Robot.

Characters yell their dialogue at each other. Random scenes inexplicably fade to black. Attempts at humor are virtually non-existent. There’s zero character development. One animation sequence is used three times. It’s tempting to call this 45-minute “film” a train wreck, but with a real train wreck there’s at least a certain level of exhilaration. With Ratatoing, it’s just exasperation.

Ratatoing was originally voiced in Portuguese, which would explain the horrible sync-up of mouths with dialogue in this English version. The voiceover talent, including veterans Veronica Taylor (Pokemon: The First Movie), Lisa Ortiz, and Wayne Grayson, should be ashamed of their involvement. At least experienced voice actor Mike Pollock had the good sense to use an alias to hide his embarrassment.

Ratatoing is produced by Video Brinquedo, a Brazil-based company who specializes in super-cheap, poorly made imitations of popular movies, including titles such as Little Bee, Tiny Robots, Gladiformers, Little & Big Monsters, and my personal favorite, What’s UP: Balloon to the Rescue! They’re the movie equivalent of the rack toys you see at drugstores sporting borderline-lawsuit titles like Star Warriors and World Wrestling Rasslers.

Ratatoing plays like the worst kids show from 1991. Its sole reason for existence is the hope that some uninformed, astigmatic Grandma won’t tell it apart from Ratatouille and pick it up for her grandchild. It’s a perfect example of scraping the bottom of the barrel, then discovering something under the barrel.


What did FilmBoy and Jack-Jack think?
FilmBoy enjoyed Ratatoing as a bad movie, much like he did with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. He laughed frequently at how unbelievably awful it is. And Jack-Jack? Halfway through the film, he declared, “Okay, this movie is giving me a headache.”

Is it suitable for your kids?
In terms of artistic merit, Ratatoing isn’t suitable for ANY kids. That being said, there’s some mild name-calling near the end by a bad-guy mouse, who spews off “chubby,” “stupid,” and “idiot” in one insult. Also, Carol sports a disturbingly curvy body for a mouse, complete with a bubbled booty and perky breasts.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Dear God, I hope not.

Make sure you wipe your feet on that glue trap on the way out.

* Director: Kip Kaplan
* Screenwriter: Kip Kaplan
* Stars: Wayne Grayson, Lisa Ortiz, Veronica Taylor, Dan Green, Mike Pollock (as Herb Lawrence), Marc Diraison, Scottie Ray
* MPAA Rating: G

Rent Ratatoing from Netflix >>

January 15, 2013

The Iron Giant (1999)

RARELY DOES A FILM COME ALONG like The Iron Giant that ignites a passion in people.

Part of that passion comes from the fact that it’s a terrific film on all levels – a fantastic story featuring rollicking action, touching relationships, and the last gasp of top-notch 2D animation (only the Iron Giant himself is computer-animated).

Another part of that passion is even more fascinating: Watch the reaction of someone who’s seen The Iron Giant when another person tells them, “I’ve never seen it.” The first person will start to stammer, eyes widened, falling over themselves to tell the other person how great it is, and that they must see it immediately. That reaction is justified by the person, and earned by the film.

Set in Maine at the height of paranoia surrounding the Cold War, The Iron Giant follows nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), an avid reader of comic books and watcher of the many B-movie sci-fi flicks of the era. When a giant metal alien (voiced by Vin Diesel) lands in Hogarth’s town, he hides him as best he can from prying eyes, primarily those of sneaky government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald). While it feels like a childhood dream come true for Hogarth (“My very own robot!”) and the two start forming a bond, he seeks help from a local beatnik (the perfectly cast Harry Connick, Jr.) whose scrapyard provides a safe haven from the paranoid townfolk and the US Army…but for how long?

Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) does a masterful job of developing the relationship of Hogarth and the Giant (via Tim McCanlies’ terrific script) as Hogarth explains the ways of Earth as he sees them – from the awesomeness of Superman, to the joys of doing a cannonball into a lake, to the violence and sadness of guns.

Cynics may dismiss The Iron Giant as nothing more than E.T. with a robot, but they’d be wrong on several levels, the biggest one being that the source material for The Iron Giant – the 1968 novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes – predates E.T. by nearly 15 years. However, there is one similarity: If you cried at the ending of E.T., you’ll probably blink back tears during The Iron Giant’s finale.

Warner Brothers’ mishandling of The Iron Giant’s theatrical release in 1999 is one of the more colossal blunders in the history of the business. The studio barely promoted or advertised the film, so it vanished from theatres in weeks. Luckily, it found a second life through home video and word of mouth, and is now considered a classic.

The Iron Giant is a tremendous, powerful story featuring lessons on life, death, friendship, love, and sacrifice. Simply writing this review makes me want to watch it again. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.


What did FilmBoy think?
He and I share the rating. He couldn’t put his finger on any favorite part, but he thoroughly enjoyed The Iron Giant – laughing at several scenes of Hogarth and the Giant bonding and playing, and getting caught up in the finale when the Giant must evade and ultimately face off against the US Army, who are determined to destroy him.

Is it suitable for your kids?
The Iron Giant is rated PG for “fantasy action and mild language.”
Violence/Scariness: Hogarth gets a nosebleed after running into a tree branch; a deer is shot and killed (we hear the gunshot then see the lifeless body); Mansley knocks Hogarth unconscious with a chloroform rag; two boys are in peril of falling off the top of a building; the army shoots a mass amounts of weapons at the Giant, including guns, tanks, and missiles; the Giant responds with his own catalog of weapons that destroys several tanks and army trucks (no soldiers are killed). The finale, involving Hogarth’s town, the Giant, and a nuclear missile, may be emotionally intense for very young children.
Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: There are passing mentions of alcohol that will probably go over young kids’ heads. Mansley smokes a pipe on occasion. Hogarth gets comically wired after drinking an espresso.
Language: There are mild profanities: “hell” (2x), “damn it” (2x), and in the finale, Mansley declares, “Screw our country!”

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Yes. And if she’s not sure, make her. It’s a great film she shouldn’t miss.

That's either the Giant, or the squirrels are
throwing an all-nighter in their penthouse suite.

The Iron Giant
* Director: Brad Bird
* Screenwriter: Tim McCanlies
* Stars: Eli Marienthal, Vin Diesel, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent The Iron Giant from Netflix >>

January 8, 2013

ParaNorman (2012)

POOR LITTLE NORMAN BABCOCK. An 11-year-old horror buff, Norman is an outcast at school, his family thinks he’s weird, and he’s harassed daily by school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Oh, one other thing: Norman can speak with the dead. And no one believes him.

Norman’s hometown of Blithe Hollow has a bit of a dark history: Several centuries ago, the townsfolk conjured up a good old-fashioned witch hunt – and hung an accused witch in the process. This lurid chapter in the town’s history is now embedded in its culture, from the names of its stores and restaurants to the tourist trap tchotchkes for sale on every corner.

But things are about to get much more serious: Norman’s seemingly crazy uncle, the homeless Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), swears he’s been holding back the witch’s curse for years by reading from an ancient book. But after he dies of a heart attack, it’s up to Norman to hold back the curse. What is the curse, you ask? Well, the witch will raise her accusers from the dead on the 300th anniversary of her trial. Which, wouldn’t ya know, is tomorrow.

Of course, Alvin gets in the way of Norman’s attempt to hold back the witch, the curse is unleashed, and seven zombies (the judge of the witch trial and six accusers) rise from their graves and descend on Blithe Hollow – leaving Norman, his only friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Alvin, Norman’s snotty teen sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and Neil’s dumb jock brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) to try and save the day.

Meanwhile, the zombies do reach the center of town – and in an ironic twist, these undead persecutors become persecuted themselves by Blithe Hollow’s modern townsfolk, who are more vicious, violent, and bloodthirsty than the zombies themselves.

Norman eventually uncovers the true reason for the witch’s curse – one that is really dark and kind of spoilery. It’s here that ParaNorman’s horror-comedy vibe detours to one that’s more emotionally deep, a tonal shift that may turn off some viewers but one that produces a poignant ending that’s equal parts philosophical and phantasmagoric.

Featuring outstanding stop-motion animation and great doses of morbid humor (Norman tussling with Mr. Prenderghast’s corpse had me in hysterics), ParaNorman is ultimately a story about life, death, forgiveness, and letting go. It may not be a modern-day classic, but it’s worth seeking out.


 What did FilmBoy think?
He also thought ParaNorman was good, and he didn’t get scared by any of the action taking place (as a point of reference, he’ll be 10 in April). What caught me happily off-guard was that he laughed at a lot of the same morbid jokes that I did.

Is it suitable for your kids?
ParaNorman is rated PG for “scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language.”
Violence/Scariness: There are many scary images and sequences, especially the presence of the witch in her different forms. The zombies are ghoulish, but are more morbid than menacing. Alvin bullies Norman on several occasions. There’s mild gun violence when the zombies hit town, including a woman blowing a shotgun blast through the judge zombie’s torso. As mentioned earlier, the reason behind the witch’s curse is pretty dark and almost horrifying in its own right.
Language: There are several instances of PG-level language, including “damnation,” “you suck,” “he sucks,” “friggin’,” “the F word,” “boobs,” “jackass,” and “hell, yeah.”
Adult situations: Alvin pinches Courtney’s butt out of frame. A male supporting character mentions his “boyfriend” in passing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Our FilmMother enjoyed ParaNorman, feeling much sympathy for put-upon, misunderstood Norman but also a bit repulsed at some of the morbid humor.

I can’t get enough of this song played over the end credits of ParaNorman,
“Little Ghost” by The White Stripes:

* Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
* Screenwriter: Chris Butler
* Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, John Goodman
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent ParaNorman from Netflix >>


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