Monday, February 23, 2015

Michael J. Tresca gave 3 stars to: Night at the Museum

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb [Blu-ray] Blu-ray ~ Robin Williams

3.0 out of 5 stars A bittersweet farewell, February 23, 2015

When I first saw "Night at the Museum" I thought it was stupid fun. That was eight years ago, if you can believe it, and the trilogy finally comes to a close with this final installment. As the passing of two key cast members demonstrates, the show really is over -- a decidedly adult conclusion to a kid-friendly franchise.

Who hasn't thought about museums coming to life? It was only in the past decade, when the special effects could keep up with our imaginations, that the concept was brought to the screen in glorious (and often cheesy) CGI. And who better to shepherd a franchise than Ben Stiller as Larry Daley, channeling his bitter snark into a family-friendly loser who is just trying to raise his kid right.

If you watch the first movie again...well, don't, because then you'll start to notice things -- the most egregious being the relentless characterization of Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) as spouting gibberish. But never you mind, because "Secret of the Tomb" is now refined family fare. The third part of the trilogy has filed off the sharp edges so that there's less monkey slapping and more hugging and kissing.

To wit, the tablet of Ahkmenrah, responsible for animating all of the exhibits in the Museum of Natural History, is beginning to corrode. During a special exhibition in which the exhibits are "brought to life" (unbeknownst to the wealthy guests in attendance, who think they are merely special effects) the animating magic of the tablet goes haywire and the animated creatures go nuts, ruining the museum and leading to Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) getting canned. The whole party -- literally, the museum's exhibits seem to party every night -- comes to an abrupt end.

But fear not! One flashback and some exposition later, we learn that former villain from the first film Cecil Fredericks (Dick Van Dyke, along with Bill Cobbs and recently passed Mickey Rooney ) is the link to the tablet's past. Fredericks directs Larry to the British Museum, where Ahkmenrah's parents (Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) hold the secret to restoring the tablet to its former glory. This is of course an opportunity to animate and explore a whole new museum filled with its own quirks and wonders.

As with all of the "Night at the Museum" movies, there are always jokes that just go on too long. Rebel Wilson as Tilly, the British security guard equivalent of Larry, spends far too much screen time desperately trying to be funny with nothing to do. There's an awkward thread about fathers and sons -- Larry's son Nicky wants to be a DJ instead of go to college -- that's supposed to parallel later events in the film but doesn't quite succeed. And Stiller's brand of humor isn't for everybody.

But there's some brilliant moments too, filled with action, intrigue, and a lot of coming-of-age hokum. The Neanderthal Laa that was modeled to look like Larry is an inspired joke and Sir Lancelot's (Dan Stevens) epic quest is heart wrenching when his hubris finally comes to grips with reality. Indeed, "Secret of the Tomb" embraces death, even if it's only because some gold prop started to corrode.

In what can only be described as a bittersweet finale, Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt says goodbye to...well, to everything. Adults wept in the theater while kids wondered what the heck was going on. And suddenly what was a trifle of a kids film filled with stories about the wonders of history has become a sharp lesson about letting go of the past.

Does this make the film better? Will people watching it years later still feel the same? Probably not. But for now, in the present, everything is thrown in sharp relief by the last line ever spoken by Robin Williams as a wax figure in the form of Teddy Roosevelt:

"Smile, my boy. It's sunrise."

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: You're Next

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

You're Next DVD ~ Sharni Vinson

4.0 out of 5 stars The cure for what ails jaded horror fans, February 23, 2015

This review is from: You're Next (DVD)

It's easy to get jaded if you're a fan of horror films. We've seen it all before: Slasher kills girl's family, girl meets slasher, slasher dies only to be resurrected in a sequel. "You're Next" is a refreshing twist on the tired slasher tropes.

The first sign that "You're Next" is different is in how director Adam Wingard treats his characters. Five minutes in, we are invited to judge a relationship without understanding what's going on: an older man and a much younger woman having sex. That early scene communicates volumes. Our camera perspective peering into the bedroom makes their lovemaking look more like violence. The girl is clearly unsatisfied. Padding out of the room while her lover takes a shower, she sets up a five-disc CD player of music on repeat that will be integral to the rest of the film. Then she dies.

As our protagonists enter the next scene, driving up to a house nearby ad offhandedly explaining that the double homicide we just witnessed was a professor who left his wife for a college student. Do we feel better about their deaths as a result of their moral transgressions? While that question bounces around, we discover that our protagonists Crispian (A.J. Bowen) and Erin (Sharni Vinson) are in a similar relationship. Do they deserve to die too?

The rest of the film is a running battle between three men in masks wielding crossbows and a WASPy family reunion gone sour. Erin and Crispian don't know each other that well, and the film cleverly juxtaposes the horrors of navigating a boyfriend's family with a slasher film. There's the frail mother, the overbearing father, the little sister who battles for attention, and the bullying older brother who is jealous of everyone else's happiness. All of these family members come with their respective spouses, who are equally clueless and disengaged. All the non-family members (Erin included) also look curiously fake -- Erin and Zee (Wendy Glenn) look like they're wearing wigs. In "You're Next" the killers aren't the only ones wearing masks.

As the assault progresses, we get an explanation for why the bad guys do what they do, and "You're Next" gleefully wallows in the utter depravity of its villains. It throws the sins of the family in stark relief -- they're bad, but they're not murderers. Or are they?

Erin certainly is. In a refreshing twist, we discover that Erin is no shrinking violet. She uses survival tactics worthy of any prepper compound. There's something viscerally satisfying about her increasingly ferocious counterattack as each character's morals (or lack thereof) are brutally unmasked.

"You're Next" is filled with plot holes in service to the genre. Nobody seems to have any guns. The killers can barely see thanks to their ridiculous masks and they refuse to take them off when anonymity is no longer an issue. And the murder plot is flimsy at best. But "You're Next" isn't about realism. It's about really, really hating your family. If you can't find the humor in that, this movie may not be right for you.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Girl (Album Version)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Girl (Album Version) Beck MP3 Music

5.0 out of 5 stars The meaning behind the song, February 21, 2015

This review is from: Girl (Album Version) (MP3 Music)

Just discovered Beck's fabulous "Girl" (I know, it takes me years to discover songs). I've seen a lot of controversy over whether this is a love song, or a serial killer's internal monologue, and a lot of theories in between. Here's what I think:

I saw her, yeah I saw her with her black tongue tied

Round the roses

Fist pounding on a vending machine

Toy diamond ring stuck on her finger

With a noose she can hang from the sun

And put it out with her dark sunglasses

The narrator sees a girl (noticably not a woman) pounding on a vending machine. She has a diamond ring on her finger, which he mocks, calling it a toy. Her marriage, it's clear, is something she's not mature enough to understand. He also feels she's either self-destructive of hopelessly naieve, and that although she wears dark sunglasses (cause she's that cool), she actually has a huge ego. Her ego's big enough that if she were to hang herself, she'd block the sun out. She's obviously into goth-type attitude/attire, as evidenced by her "black tongue tied" and "dark sunglasses." Judging from the tongue-tied, I'd guess she's a theater major or English major fond of spouting epithets that don't make her sound any smarter.

Walking crooked down the beach

She spits on the sand where their bones are bleaching

And I know I'm gonna steal her eye

As she walks down the beach in a crooked line, a line that most people walk straight (and thus representative of her winding, indecisive life), she spits. Again, not a nice image for an object of affection, but more importantly she doesn't even know what's she spits on. Alternately, she's too oblivious to notice the bones of the creatures on the beach, as she's so wrapped up in herself.

She doesn't even know what's wrong

And I know I'm gonna make her die

Take her where her soul belongs

And I know I'm gonna steal her eye

Nothing that I wouldn't try

So "gonna make her die" -- does that mean Beck wants to kill this poor girl?

I doubt it. It's more likely he's going to break her heart. He feels he's a real man, better to bring this girl into a real relationship than the stupid marriage she's locked into. He's been watching her all this time and plans to grab her attention ("steal her eye") and is quite determined to do it.

Hey, My...girl

Hey, My...girl

The refrain is the real crux of the song, and Beck knows it. On his own site he blurred the lyrics. Sure it sounds like sun-eyed girl. Or cyanide girl. Of course, both are right. Despite her goth attire, the girl is hopelessly naieve (sun-eyed). But she's also hopelessly self-destructive as a result of that toy diamond ring. So if someone's going to kill her foolish spirit, Beck's the one to do it...or at least imagining he could do it.

I saw her, yeah I saw her with her hands tied back

And her rags were burning

Crawling out from a landfilled life

Scrawling her name upon the ceiling

We move forward in time. Now see the girl again. Her hands are tied (literally, she doesn't know what to do now), her clothes are a mess. She's now desperate to prove she has value after the wreck of her marriage ("land-filled life"), as so many of us wish to "scrawl our names" -- but she's scrawling it on the ceiling, not the floor. If she's outside, this is a hopelessly futile gesture. If she's inside, it still denotes her naieve outlook of looking up instead of down at the landfill she just crawled out of. Always up and onwards!

Throw a coin in a fountain of dust

White noise, her ears are ringing

She's still taking stupid chances, maybe playing the lottery -- she throws bad money after good by tossing a coin in a fountain, but it's a dusty fountain (traditionally tossing a coin in a fountain is lucky). She's also not listening. She hears white noise instead of any actual advice. So who's next great hope for this hopeless girl? Beck, of course.

Got a ticket for a midnight hanging

Throw a bullet from a freight train leaving

And I know I'm gonna steal her eye

She doesn't even know what's wrong

And I know I'm gonna make her die

Take her where her soul belongs

And I know I'm gonna steal her eye

Nothing that I would not try

The ultimately irony here is that Beck probably caused the dissolution of her marriage. And now he's going to tell her he's breaking up with her too. He's got a ticket to tell her, and then get the hell out of there fast -- throwing a bullet from a train, which is both fast and lethal (to her hopes and dreams).

This is, in my opinion, a rather morose perspective on a relationship; an extremely jaded view on a relatoinship with an immature girl who's trying to be a grown-up but doesn't have the emotional maturity to handle it. And Beck is comforting himself, perhaps, by teaching her an important, painful life lesson that her marriage was never of any value in the first place.