Some folks in the comments have suggested that once in a while, I could perhaps watch better movies. And I do see good movies, I promise. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Stand By Me, City of God, Boogie Nights, and many others. I have no interest in writing about these films, which are fairly well-known and well-liked, and I don’t believe I have anything else to say about them that better writers haven’t already said. I could devote my energy to promoting works of underappreciated pop culture that I love, and it’s not that I don’t want to. I just can’t.
My ability to appreciate my life is near-completely eclipsed by my ability to hate almost every aspect of it. The Movie Misery Corner is the One Thing I Can Do, the thing I occasionally produce that gives me the ability to momentarily feel okay about myself, because Jurassic World is a horrible movie and I need to know that people out there feel the same way.
The comments on these posts are my fuel, because every time that someone says something positive about my writing, or even just indicates in any way that they read what I write, it gives me a reason to keep writing. I’m fueled by spite, boredom, and the desire for people to tell me I’m good more than a genuine love of film and its many virtues. Sorry about that. But these reviews are special to me, because they make me feel like I’m capable of more than basic survival. Like maybe there’s a place for me and what I do: being mean about movies online.
Maybe it’s unfair to call this a bad movie. Visually, it’s more than competent, it could even be pleasing to a certain kind of person. The film’s dreamy woodland visuals and DIY charm call to mind Swiss Army Man, except that Swiss Army Man was subverting traditionally indie artistic conventions and this movie plays them blandly straight.
I’ll admit that Captain Fantastic makes an effort to counterbalance the views of the movie’s hero, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortenson), who is homeschooling his six children in relative isolation, albeit also in a beautiful forest. They hunt deer and climb mountains and read philosophy. They even have subscriptions to science magazines, delivered to a P.O. box and collected by Ben. The children lead a fairly happy, peaceful life, until they realize that their mother is not coming home from the hospital.
She has been away, being treated for bipolar disorder, and she has committed suicide. Her parents blame Ben for her death, which I kind of get, given that he decided it was a great idea for a mentally ill woman to live in the woods with no treatment whatsoever, until it came to a point where she had to be hospitalized. Anyway, he’s barred from her funeral, but he still decides to pile all six of his kids into a bus for a road trip. There are many examples during this road trip of how quirky the family is, as we see them engaging in group sing-alongs and celebrating Noam Chomsky Day instead of Christmas.
Full disclosure, I’m homeschooled (just one more year before I become a legal adult, thank god) and my relationship with my parents is not great. I wasn’t raised in the woods, but I don’t know if I would be reacting to this movie the way that I am without my own experiences coloring my perception.
Maybe that’s why I can’t root for Ben. I just can’t. Sure, he’s not trying to impress a rigid set of beliefs on his offspring per se, he tries to teach them critical thinking, and Viggo Mortenson invests him with a certain steely-eyed charm. But personally, I think that going to that level of effort to instill an ideology and way of life in one’s children is creepy and overreaching, no matter what that ideology is.
They don’t get to make friends outside their family, they don’t get to read anything not pre-approved by their father as sufficiently intellectual, and I don’t care what kind of child geniuses these are, there’s no way the younger kids are understanding and analyzing what they read rather than just regurgitating it to make their dad happy. It’s one thing to teach your kids to tie their shoes and say please and thank you, it’s quite another to raise them in the woods and never give them the option to leave.
When Ben pauses his road trip to visit his sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn, who gets nothing to work with), her kids are of course monstrous little bastards, uneducated and obsessed with video games. They’re lightweight cardboard cutouts for the movie to knock down, an obvious tool so the film can argue its point that even if Ben’s way of raising his kids is flawed, it’s better than the conventional upbringing of his nephews.
You can replace Jesus and Santa with Noam Chomsky (maybe he should replace Santa with Karl Marx, because of the beard similarity), but you’re still engaging in an act of uncritical deification. You can love your kids all you want, but if you set yourself up as the ultimate moral authority and shut out the world that exists outside of your family, then you’re not teaching them. You’re controlling them. Ben’s children do begin to criticize him, and almost leave to live with their grandparents, who see Ben as abusive. I mean, his kids are scaling mountainsides and don’t really seem to have proper safety gear, so.
Regardless, of course the children come back to him before the movie ends. Ben’s oldest son secretly aspired to college, but he decides to forgo it to instead travel the world, which seems suspiciously like something his father would’ve wanted him to do. In the end, Ben moves to a farm, where he allows his offspring to attend conventional school for the first time. We only see this briefly, at the end, and it takes his wife dying and one of his daughters almost dying to get him to change. And I guarantee you, every time one of those kids watches SpongeBob or reads Goosebumps, they’ll feel like terrible people.
(To clarify, I am reviewing Jurassic World the film, not the digital Jurassic World pinball machine. I just wanted you all to know that there is a digital Jurassic World pinball machine.)
I saw this movie in theaters, even though Mad Max: Fury Road was also playing, because my brother and mom just had to see the sequel to the classic film Jurassic Park. Why, I don’t know. It must be because all of those other Jurassic Park sequels were so good. I legitimately don’t understand why people make a point of going to see these decades-later sequels to (and reboots of) classic films, especially ones like this that are not especially connected to the original.
Maybe it’s just that trailers play constantly, the merchandise is pushed in stores across the country, and the film devolves from a story being told into an Event. I feel like there has to be a saturation point where people will stop paying attention to these movies, because they’ll be putting out a new Jurassic Park every year. We’re not there yet, though I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse.
Moving on, a common refrain among critics seems to be that Jurassic Park is a fun, stupid movie, and a perfectly good piece of entertainment as long as you don’t compare it to its iconic predecessor. First off, the movie wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Jurassic Park, so it’s disingenuous to ignore Jurassic Park when discussing this movie, not creating a level playing field. Secondly, I did not have fun seeing Jurassic World.
One important factor in this distinct lack of fun (which I’ve decided is called “funemia”) is that Chris Pratt became famous as a comedic actor. There’s plenty of room in this movie for him to be goofy, snarky, or to have fun with his role in absolutely any way. This is a movie about a dinosaur theme park, right? And yet, his character utterly lacks a sense of humor. He’s a stoic, motorcycle-riding coolguy, and Pratt simply cannot pull off that character as written in this film. His scenes are simply boring, which is the last thing Jurassic World should be.
Additionally, the kids in the movie are fucking obnoxious. They have no discernable interests or personalities, although one of them has a girlfriend, I think. Does that count as a hobby? Making one of them a jaded teenager is also a pretty major miscalculation. I get that it’s supposed to indicate that dinosaurs are no longer a major novelty in this world, but elephants have been a thing for a while, and most people I know would still be excited to visit an elephant sanctuary and see all the elephants.
I just can’t buy the movie’s premise that everyone is now sick of regular old dinosaurs, especially if Jurassic World is the only place on the goddamned planet that has any and nothing in the movie indicates that isn’t the case. The teen, and to a lesser extent his younger sibling, are definitely the kinds of characters you secretly want to see killed off just so they’ll shut their traps.
The original Jurassic Park inspired fear and awe. Its slick exposition, speedy and effective character development, and taut plotting are all commendable features of the film, and if you’re just there for the dinosaurs, it satisfies on that point too. If you’re just watching Jurassic World for the dinosaurs, look up some clips on YouTube. You will miss nothing, and in fact you’ll actually have spent more time than is sensible watching the movie’s uninspired action sequences.
Lastly, the gender dynamics in this film are weirdly, aggressively retrograde. Bryce Dallas Howard’s uptight businesswoman simply needs to lighten up and be less career-focused, let Chris Pratt play the hero, and learn to love children. It seems flat-out unfair that a film released in 2015 treats its female characters worse than Jurassic Park did in 1993. The female lead of this sequel/reboot/I forget which of course also has to go on a date with Chris Pratt at the end, despite the fact that they have nothing in common. I’d say she deserves better, but both of the characters are so dull it’s like saying a bent paperclip deserves better than a box of rocks.
But none of this matters, of course. Jurassic World had a built-in audience of Jurassic Park fans ready and eager to be scammed, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, 71% of critics at least thought the movie was acceptable. Acceptable on what grounds? I don’t want to live in a world where an empty, humorless, misogynistic slog like Jurassic World is a three-star movie.
During a subplot concerning the theme park’s “control room”, the employees of Jurassic World discuss the cynically cash-grabbing nature of their workplace, making reference to the movie they exist in. These wisecracks don’t come across as subversive so much as insulting to the audience, an acknowledgement that Jurassic World is such a spectacularly fucking mercenary film, it can only defend itself by throwing up its hands and admitting that it is exactly what it appears to be: a facile, forgettable byproduct of corporate greed.
I know that admitting this will make me look bad, but I didn’t think Bright was the flagrantly awful movie that most viewers described. Yes, I’m aware that Max Landis (the screenwriter) is an entitled, sexist sack of shit and that David Ayer (the director) is at least partly responsible for the dull, seething morass that is Suicide Squad.
A lot has been made of the movie’s approach to racial politics, but it’s so lamebrained I could barely muster offense. Apart from the brazenly disrespectful “fairy lives don’t matter” joke, nothing else stood out to me. Racial stereotypes are present in the story, but I don’t think it was possible to write it any other way. This is because Bright doesn’t have an original thought in its head, it’s just shoddily glued-together pieces of other films.
Someone came up with the idea to mash up cop movies and fantasy movies, and then after that they didn’t have any more ideas. Max Landis, who was responsible for the conception of Bright, is of course the son of John Landis, the director of such beloved films as The Blues Brothers and Animal House. Given that he broke into the movie business by being the son of a famous director, I imagine that he’s led a pretty sheltered life leeching off of his dad’s reputation and money.
His perception of hardship probably has a lot more to do with what he sees onscreen than it does with anything based in reality, and it shows. The movie has nothing to say beyond “gangs are bad” and “racism is bad too, I guess”. It equates racism to anti-orc discrimination because its creator has seen the struggles of aliens and monsters on TV, but has never had to consider how oppression functions or how it affects actual human beings. Bright isn’t the only movie relying on hoary, dated old tropes about race and discrimination, it’s just shoddy enough in other areas to make that obvious.
Bright is about a human policeman (Will Smith), Daryl, who is teamed up with an orc policeman, Jakoby (Joel Edgerton, who is likable in this role when the movie doesn’t require him to do and say incredibly stupid things). Daryl resents having to work with the orc, but of course he learns to appreciate and accept him over the course of the movie, because Jakoby is One Of The Good Ones, being a cop and all.
Which just goes to show, if a member of a marginalized group works harder than everybody else and never complains about their maltreatment by a never-ending parade of bigots, then one day they can hope to be grudgingly accepted by a select cohort of normal people.
There are pretty strict class divisions between different types of magical folk. It goes elves, humans, orcs. Fairies appear to not be sapient at all, and according to Wikipedia, centaurs are in there somewhere. I forget. Again, this is a “poorly-constructed D&D campaign” level of political commentary. Anyway, there’s a fight at a safe house for an elf magic cult called the Shield of Light, and the two cops head over to investigate.
There, they find an elf who only speaks Elvish, so that she can’t be a three-dimensional female character or give away any important plot details. She has a powerful magic wand, which is described as “a nuclear weapon that grants wishes”. Anyone who is not a “bright” (roll credits), meaning a magic user, will explode if they touch it. I’m pretty sure you don’t explode if you touch a nuclear weapon that hasn’t been activated, but I don’t know enough about nuclear weapons to confirm that.
There’s some business about other cops trying to steal the wand, even though they will probably explode if they touch it, and about Jakoby letting a potential orc criminal go free. It turns out that it wasn’t the real perpetrator. Which is probably for the best, because if this movie ever properly acknowledged that who the police decide to arrest is often arbitrary, and racial minorities are disproportionately persecuted for minor crimes, then everyone involved might have burst into flames or something.
The leader of the elf cult starts chasing after the wand, and then an orc gang gets involved. We learn basically nothing about the elf cult besides its name, and the orc gang is just every fictional gang ever, blended expertly into a tasteless slurry. Jakoby and Daryl save the day, Jakoby earns the respect of his fellow orcs as well as the police force, and Daryl learns that he is a magic user because he touches the wand and doesn’t explode.
Everyone almost dies, but nobody does except the villain, and I’m tired of summarizing this plot because so many things happen that I don’t give a flying fuck about. The dialogue is bad, the pacing is bad, the idea behind the movie is bad, and that’s not even getting into the set design and the costume design and the… listen. Bright’s real secret is that it isn’t entertainingly bad.
It’s not weird or over the top or interesting in any way. It’s a dull slog that leads nowhere, and it plays like the pilot for a TV procedural on the low end of mediocre that never went to series. There’s no reason to watch it, unless you’d like to boost its (record high, natch) Netflix view count by a little bit more.
(Hang on a second, Jason Schwartzman’s character is supposed to be a whole eight years older than Anna Kendrick’s character? What the fuck?)
I’m pretty sure that for me, hell would look like this: A small room that smells like fog machine fog, with the faint but detectable sound of someone scratching a holographic DVD cover in the distance. The only food available is a large, unseasoned baked squash cut in half, and on the walls, ceiling, and floor, the Marc Pease Experience is playing on screens that cannot be ripped away or covered up.
I don’t know if The Marc Pease Experience is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, because that doesn’t sound right to me. Parts of the movie aren’t bad, exactly, on account of the fact that they’re just highlights from a fictional high school play, or aspiring singer Meg Brickman (Anna Kendrick) having blandly faux-teenage conversations with an unnamed friend.
Despite that, I gleaned no enjoyment from this film whatsoever, and I don’t think anyone ever has. Overall, The Marc Pease Experience is a bland assemblage of things that the movie thinks are inherently funny but aren’t, like acapella groups, Jason Schwartzman singing in the shower, and statutory rape.
The movie begins with a flashback to Marc Pease (Jason Schwartzman) preparing to go onstage at a high school performance of the Wiz. His drama teacher Mr. Gribble (Ben Stiller) gives him a pep talk, and says that Marc is a talented singer and he would love to one day produce an album for his high school acapella group. Marc freezes up onstage anyway, and then runs out of the school screaming in a way that no human being has ever screamed.
Everyone remembers this for years, which is weird because the moral of this story is that Marc needs to grow up and move on from his high school career. He hangs around the high school and dates a high schooler, and is still angling for Mr. Gribble to produce his acapella group’s album, despite the fact that most of his acapella group has moved on to better things. Jason Schwartzman releases music through his project Coconut Records, and that music is okay. Despite that, his singing in this movie is almost implausibly terrible. How did he even make it into the school’s acapella group?
Anyway, the movie asks me to believe that Marc is unhappy because he is a failure, because he is trapped in a state of arrested development. That if he just takes some time to figure out who he is, he’ll get back on his feet and everything will be okay. I think he’s unhappy because he’s not a good person and because he feels entitled– to Gribble’s time, to the teenage girlfriend he ignores, to the condo belonging to his dead grandma that he’s selling to finance his career in acapella. Marc has a truly dismal personality and no realistic ambitions or genuine talents, and yet he still maintains that the world owes him something.
This is weirdly common to the protagonists of comedies, including multiple other characters that Jason Schwartzman also plays. Obviously there are many wonderful unsympathetic comedy protagonists, but they have to be bitingly clever, or the victim of great misfortune, and there should probably a humorous contrast between how the audience sees the character and how the character sees themselves. You can’t hear me, but I’m sighing audibly as I write this.
In The Marc Pease Experience, there is a scene where Marc listens to a tape of his girlfriend Meg singing. At the end of the song, there is a recording of Mr. Gribble having sex with his girlfriend. Shit-tier high school comedies are often obsessed with the concept of inappropriate student-teacher relationships, and this one is no exception.
A middle-aged man having sex with a character who is seventeen is not funny. It’s sad and gross. Marc doesn’t seem to be worried about Meg, he just feels bad for himself. It is the nadir of the movie in the sense that it is Marc’s lowest moment, but it is also the nadir of the movie in terms of quality. It doesn’t even make sense on a logistical level. You’re telling me that Marc just happened to switch off the tape before the sex noises started every time that he listened to it?
Anyway, after this scene (because of it? no one has definite motivations here), Marc resolves to grow up. He cuts off his ponytail, breaks up with his high school girlfriend, lets the acapella group finally dissolve, and redeems himself by… appearing in a high school performance of The Wiz as an understudy.
Not only does he know all of the lyrics years later for the titular Wiz’s big song, despite the fact that he originally played the Tin Man, he also knows the choreography. He becomes an adult by correcting the mistake he made in high school, rather than, y’know, moving past it and deciding that other things in his life are more important. When we see him next, he is performing as a small-time musician, referring to his act as The Marc Pease Experience. This movie is an experience I wish I hadn’t had.
Okay, that’s it for this installment of Ynce Iche’s Movie Misery Corner! Jesus, these things are getting long. This time, I actually had to cut a review of Aquamarine, so I just want to say that it’s unfair to promise a movie about a mermaid and have her walk around with the legs of a human woman for 90% of the film. I get that it’s a budget thing, but it’s still not right.