Mini Reviews (September 2013)
Turbo, Bad Milo!, Rock Slyde, Coin Toss, Would You Rather, Under Our Skin, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Turbo (September 1/13)
An almost excessively innocuous animated endeavor, Turbo follows the title character (Ryan Reynolds), an ambitious garden snail, as he enters the Indy 500 after a freak accident imbues him with super speed. It's clear right from the get-go that Turbo has been designed to appeal solely to small children, as the movie, written by Darren Lemke, Robert D. Siegel, and David Soren, boasts few attributes designed to capture and sustain the interest of older viewers - with the pervasive emphasis on less-than-subtle elements, including broad instances of humor and an underlying current of moralizing, consistently preventing the film from becoming anything more than a mildly engaging time-waster. This is despite the efforts of a very strong voice cast and the ongoing presence of exciting action-oriented sequences, with, in terms of the former, Paul Giamatti offering an impressively layered turn as Turbo's pragmatic and apprehensive older brother. The erratic (and increasingly absurd) storyline prevents one from connecting to the simplistic narrative on an ongoing basis, however, and it is, as a result, virtually impossible to work up any real interest in or enthusiasm for the race-heavy final stretch - which ultimately cements Turbo's place as a distressingly lazy piece of work
Bad Milo! (September 2/13)
Bad Milo! follows a beleaguered accountant (Ken Marino's Ken) as he discovers the existence of a demon residing inside his intestinal tract, with the movie subsequently detailing Ken's ongoing efforts at cultivating a relationship with said demon (which he names Milo) - lest the vicious little creature attack and murder all of Ken's enemies. It's certainly not surprising to note that filmmaker Jacob Vaughan, along with co-screenwriter Benjamin Hayes, has infused Bad Milo! with a pervasively over-the-top sensibility, with the larger-than-life atmosphere, which is reflected in everything from the performances to the dialogue to the sets, initially holding the viewer at arm's length and ensuring that most of this stuff comes off as desperate and silly (ie there's very little here that's actually funny). The film's watchable vibe, then, is due mostly to the efforts of an impressively strong cast, with Marino's affable turn as the protagonist matched by a roster of periphery performers that includes Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, and Stephen Root. It's clear, too, that Bad Milo! improves substantially as Ken begins to form a bond with the title creature, and, as ridiculous as it sounds, the ensuing chemistry between the pair stands as an obvious highlight within the proceedings (ie it's difficult not to wish that Vaughan had included more scenes of the pair just hanging out). But in the end, it's hopelessly clear that there's just not enough story to warrant an 85 minute movie; Bad Milo! does, ultimately feel like a College Humor video that's been painfully stretched out to feature length, which finally does confirm its status as a sporadically interesting yet all-too-slight failure.
Rock Slyde (September 22/13)
Like Bad Milo!, Rock Slyde takes a premise that would barely work as a Funny or Die sketch and expands it to feature length - which ultimately ensures that the movie is, for the most part, nothing less than a painfully interminable experience. The eye-rollingly broad storyline follows Patrick Warburton's title character, a '40s-style private detective, as he agrees to help a sultry client (Rena Sofer's Sara) being pursued by a mysterious figure, with Rock's continuing efforts confounded by the members of a Scientology-like religious sect known as Bartology. There's nothing in the premise that's inherently unworkable and yet filmmaker Chris Dowling manages to alienate the viewer right from the word go, as Rock Slyde, saddled with as low-rent an atmosphere as one could possibly envision, immediately comes off as a one-note endeavor that squanders the efforts of both its star and its surprisingly stacked supporting cast (which includes, among others, Andy Dick, Jason Alexander, Eric Roberts, and Lea Thompson). Ranking high on the movie's list of hopelessly incompetent elements is its misguided sense of humor, with Dowling's over-the-top sensibilities ensuring that there's not a single laugh to be found within Rock Slyde's endless running time (ie this is a film in which the mere idea of a German accent is meant to be hilarious). It's ultimately impossible not to wonder just what Dowling originally set out to accomplish with this horribly amateurish mess, and it's finally difficult to envision even the most easy-going of viewers finding much worth embracing here.
Coin Toss (September 22/13)
Coin Toss is a well-intentioned yet hopelessly underwhelming romantic comedy detailing the exploits of a perpetually unlucky figure named Tom Bennett (Joe Mastrino), with the narrative following the character as he wins a $350 million jackpot and subsequently attempts to sort out a variety of personal relationships. It's clear right from the word go that Coin Toss has been shot on an exceedingly small budget, as the movie suffers from a low-rent feel that's reflected in virtually all of its attributes - with the less-than-proficient production values merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the film's amateurish atmosphere. The hands-off vibe is, at the outset, compounded by an emphasis on underdeveloped, uninteresting characters, and it certainly doesn't help that filmmaker Satya Kharkar, working from a script by Mary Trimble, suffuses the proceedings with narration that's entirely needless and, more often than not, just flat-out weird. Even if one were able to overlook the film's various aesthetic issues, however, Coin Toss would still be saddled with a dull and utterly bland protagonist that's almost impossible to sympathize with or root for - which, of course, makes it awfully difficult to care about any of the character's exploits throughout movie (including his tentative relationship with an old family friend). There is, as such, little doubt that Kharkar's ongoing attempts at cultivating a light and breezy atmosphere fall entirely flat, and Coin Toss is, in the end, an interminable, ill-conceived endeavor that hopefully marks the nadir of Kharkar's fledgling career.
Would You Rather (September 22/13)
Would You Rather follows Brittany Snow's Iris as she unknowingly agrees to participate in a twisted millionaire's (Jeffrey Combs' Shepard Lambrick) sadistic variation on the title game, with the movie detailing Iris' subsequent efforts at staying alive as she competes against several other contestants (including Enver Gjokaj's Lucas, John Heard's Conway, and Sasha Grey's Amy). It's a striking yet simple premise that is, for the most part, employed to watchable (if unspectacular) effect by director David Guy Levy, as the filmmaker, working from a screenplay by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen, does a nice job of immediately transforming Snow's character into a compelling and sympathetic figure - which subsequently ensures that the viewer can't help but root for Iris once the narrative takes its turn for the horrific. And although Levy's strong visual sensibilities perpetuate the movie's passable atmosphere, Would You Rather admittedly suffers from a low-energy midsection that is, as one might've guessed based on the premise, somewhat repetitive in its execution - with this feeling heightened by a lack of memorable or overtly engrossing sequences (ie the whole thing plays at a consistent level of mediocrity). The emphasis on brutal, Saw-like moments of horror ensures that gorehounds will ultimately find plenty to embrace here, and it's worth noting, too, that Would You Rather ends on an impressively (and spectacularly) cruel note that compensates for the otherwise middling vibe (ie if only the rest of the movie had been similarly willing to go for broke).
Under Our Skin (September 23/13)
Under Our Skin is a well-made yet overlong documentary exploring the hidden epidemic of Lyme disease, with the film detailing the illness' history and its impact on several key figures. It's clear immediately that Under Our Skin is at its best when focused on the exploits of its various subjects, as it becomes more and more difficult not to sympathize with the plight of these assorted folks - with, especially, the heartbreaking stories of two afflicted young women, Mandy Hughes and Dana Walsh, standing out as a highlight and providing the film with an emotional depth that's otherwise absent. Filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson generally does an effective job of detailing the ins and outs of Lyme disease, and there's little doubt that the movie, for the most part, comes off as a decent primer into the origins and current status of a surprisingly widespread epidemic. By that same token, however, Wilson ultimately delves far too deeply into this hot-button issue and, as a result, winds up suffusing the second half of the film with facts and tidbits of a progressively mundane variety. The academic-lecture like vibe is especially prominent (and problematic) in the movie's final half hour, as Wilson devotes far too much time to the legal troubles of Lyme specialists Joseph Jemsek and Ray Jones - with the viewer's inability to work up an ounce of interest in this stretch ultimately cementing Under Our Skin's failure. (It's a shame, really, given the effectiveness of the film's various human stories.)
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (September 29/13)
The directorial debut of noted screenwriter Zach Helm, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium details the chaos that ensues after a 243-year-old eccentric (Dustin Hoffman's Edward Magorium) decides to leave his magical toy store to his insecure manager (Natalie Portman's Molly Mahoney). It's clear right from the outset that Helm is looking to cultivate an unapologetically larger-than-life atmosphere, as the filmmaker has suffused the proceedings with an almost insanely broad sensibility that's reflected in everything from the sets to the visuals to the performances. In terms of the latter, Hoffman goes over-the-top early and often in his turn as the oddball Magorium - with the initial novelty of the actor's performance inevitably wearing off and perpetuating the film's transformation into a seriously grating piece of work. The only consistent respite from the movie's pervasive vibe of silliness is Jason Bateman, as the actor, cast as a stuffy accountant, manages to bring an appealingly down-to-earth feel to the movie's otherwise cranked-up-to-11 atmosphere. The pervasive absence of elements designed to appeal to adults grows more and more problematic as time progresses, and although the movie has been sprinkled with a handful of appealing sequences (eg Magorium explains to Molly why he has to go), Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium has been aggressively geared towards small children to an extent that's often nothing short of exasperating - which ultimately cements the film's place as a palpable failure that's rarely as charming or magical as Helm has obviously intended.