House With a Clock In Its Walls: Eli Roth Fantasy Lacks Magic

1.5 out of 5 stars (one of the worst of the year)

House With a Clock in its Walls poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/2018/house_with_a_clock_in_its_walls_ver2.html

Watching The House With a Clock in its Walls is like being on a massive sugar high: It’s way too fast, very confusing, and eventually causes you as a viewer to crash and fight falling asleep.  Why horror director Eli Roth and Supernatural creator Eric Kripke were chosen to helm this project is a mystery given that neither are known for family entertainment, and it really shows here.  Add a completely miscast Jack Black, underused Cate Blanchett, and a child actor with little screen presence, and you have one of the dullest fantasies of the year, for adults anyway.  The kids in my audience laughed a lot, so I’m sure this film will be a hit at 12-year-old slumber parties on dark stormy nights, if that’s any consolation.

Following his parents’ death, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro, of the tedious Daddy’s Home franchise) is sent to live with his quirky and mysterious Uncle Jonathan (a thoroughly annoying and out-of-place Jack Black) in his creepy old mansion.  Jonathan basically shirks his responsibilities as a guardian, except for one rule: Don’t open the ominous cabinet in the house’s center, or bad things will come.  Oooooo.

As always in these creepy haunted location movies, Lewis hears a ticking sound in the wall one night, only to see Jonathan sneaking around like a cat-burglar.  After discussing this with a kid at school, Lewis confronts Jonathan, and the man reveals himself and deadpan neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett trying her hardest to save the picture) are a warlock and witch, respectively.  They start training Lewis in magic as he tries to investigate the secret behind the ticking in the wall, which leads to yet another fantasy bad guy with a take-over-the-world scheme (Played with a modicum of energy by 90’s icon Kyle MacLachlan).

The House With a Clock in its Walls has absolutely no idea what it is or who it’s aimed at.  Black is in full man-child mode here, making funny faces to make kids laugh, but a blasé story, lack of momentum, and later scary images make it questionable for younger kids.  12-and-ups should be safe, but any younger may have nightmares.  Again, the kids in my screening laughed a ton, and I probably would have liked this too in my younger years, but I feel the pain of their parents who must pay for them to see it and watch good actors like Black and Blanchett act like one-dimensional cartoons.  Director Roth is expectedly more comfortable in the horror scenes than the comedic ones, but I found much of the humor flat.  At least I earned a free popcorn the next time I go to the theater and heard a comparably interesting podcast about the proper temperature of wine on the ride back home.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a boring, drawn-out fantasy with mostly uninteresting direction, a rushed script, and unlikable characters that had me in an epic battle to avoid sleeping in my comfy seat.   As with The Nun, I must ask why this isn’t an October release.  Its creepy visuals and tone are tailor-made for tweens on a stormy night, but adults will likely be bored by this.  At one point, a character says to young Lewis, “It’s a total waste of time”.  I couldn’t agree more, young sir.  Skip it.

Rated PG for Thematic Elements Including Sorcery (seriously?), Some Action, Scary Images, Rude Humor, And Language

Happytime Murders: Mismarketed Puppet Film a Decent Crime Drama, With Raunch

3 out of 5 stars (Average)

Happytime Murders poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

The Hapytime Murders is by far the most heavily mismarketed film of 2018.  Advertised as a wild and raunchy comedy, the film is actually a decent crime drama with raunchy humor that showcases that puppets can do far more in movies than sing to your kids.  However, people who want a unique (if flawed) crime drama with some ribald humor will likely be impressed at the immaculate puppetry on display here, along with a solid human cast that plays surprisingly well off of their stuffed cast members.  The Happytime Murders is a good step in legitimizing puppetry as adult entertainment, despite a few bad jokes and some questionable script decisions.  It’s not as good as it could be, but my God if it couldn’t be a lot worse.

We follow ex-cop-turned-private-eye Phil Phillips (controlled and voiced by Bill Barretta), a puppet living in a world where humans coexist with the furry creatures, albeit with intense racial prejudice against them.  Phil witnesses the murder of a puppet cast member of The Happytime Gang, a Bear-in-the-Big-Blue-House-esque TV show, and is called to work with human ex-partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy largely playing it straight) to catch the killer.  However, when more members of the show appear stuffy side up, they must figure out who wants them all dead before it’s too late.

The Happytime Murders is a flawed movie more for its marketing than the actual film.  Why the studio decided to showcase nearly all the raunchy stuff (including the film’s best comedic set piece), rather than show its true colors is beyond me.  Had I not been warned by a good friend it wasn’t a wild comedy, this would be a very different review.  Luckily, I did, and was treated to one of the more entertaining (if very niche) cop pictures I’ve seen recently.  I like seeing McCarthy play second fiddle to someone in a more restrained role, and she works decently off of the creature.  To that end, the puppeteers have outdone themselves, creating some enjoyably violent sequences and showing their creations do things you never thought you’d see a puppet do (or want to see, for some).

Therein lies the problem: The Happytime Murders is only going to satisfy a very niche audience: those who enjoy crime dramas, raunchy humor, and puppetry, but don’t mind the furry guys showing their raunchy side.  My theater consisted of myself and two older couples, and they laughed about 4 times.  I laughed at most of the humor, but some of it just didn’t land.  Melissa McCarthy fans may also feel she is underused comedically (once again, the marketing has wrongfully placed her in the spotlight), and I understand that.  The film also tries to have a commentary on racism with the mistreatment of the puppets, but we aren’t told how the world got here and so it just comes off as well-intentioned, yet ineffective.

The Happytime Murders is a solid crime drama with bursts of raunchy humor that will have trouble finding an audience due to abhorrent mismarketing and expectations of puppetry.  The human cast (also featuring Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, and a very funny Maya Rudolph) are game for the material, which treats itself just seriously enough to be taken as legitimate crime drama, but not so much that the raunchy humor feels misplaced.  Would I recommend it to everyone?  Definitely not.  There are things I will never be able to unsee here.  However, if you want a unique puppet film that doesn’t give a fluff about young kids, then I recommend The Happytime Murders.  See it.

Rated R for Strong Crude And Sexual Content And Language Throughout, And Some Drug Material

Dwayne Johnson’s Newest Will Leave Audiences in a Rampage

1.5 out 5 stars (one of the worst I’ve seen this year)

Rampage Poster
Image from IMPawards.com

Rampage is one of the most bizarrely terrible movies I’ve seen this year.  Taking its “story” from the always successful-source of a video game, this film collapses on impact due to insultingly underdeveloped characters, less-than-half-baked ideas, and a cast full of people who look either confused or bored throughout (excluding an appropriately hammy Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who understands the malarkey he’s in).  I don’t often leave for the restroom without qualms on missing vital pieces of plot info, but Rampage was an exception.  I knew where it was going, and it wasn’t anywhere good.

Dwayne Johnson is Davis Okoye, an ex-military man-turned-primatologist for a nature preserve who prefers animals to humans.  His main charge is George (a truly awful bit of CGI), an ape with a quirky sense of humor.  However, their lives change when George encounters a piece of scientific technology from space that causes him to grow in size and aggression, leading to the involvement of Government Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), scientist Kate Caldwell (a laughably unconvincing Naomie Harris) , and the worst onscreen military this side of Godzilla 98.  Oh yeah, there’s also a generic evil corporation headed by Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) whose experiments also lead to a giant flying wolf and alligator.  Now, Okoye and Co. must stop the animals from destroying Chicago and possibly save George in the process, all while dealing with their half-hearted personal dramas that have no actual bearing on this story.

I would normally discuss performances here, except for there isn’t much for me to go into.  Dwayne Johnson has never been Lawrence Olivier, but his usual charisma is painfully suppressed here, save for a few out-of-place jokes that go against the needlessly serious tone.  Harris and Akerman are completely miscast here, failing to sell a single line of their awful dialogue.  The only person to almost salvage the project is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays his over-the-top stereotype to a tee and brought much-needed (if not always unintentional) levity.  He’s playing the part like he’s in a Sharknado movie, which is what this should have been, while everyone else can’t decide to play it straight or not.  It’s awkward, perplexing, and honestly boring watching these actors try to make ice cream out these cat droppings called a script, and made me hope they all got big pay days.

The action, when it finally arrives, also fails.  This is the same kind of wanton destruction we saw in the Pacific Rim and Godzilla movies, but without any of the fun.  I tuned out shockingly early, realizing that the action was the only thing the filmmakers cared about, but was amazed when even that underwhelmed (an exception being George’s final move to defeat the giant wolf).  What’s more, the movie is executed like a lazy children’s flick, but has dialogue peppered with swear words that most parents wouldn’t want their youngsters repeating.  Swearing in films doesn’t bother me most of the time, but its inclusion here is unnecessary.  There’s a perfectly solid babysitter movie here, but the 4 screenwriters and 7 executive producers mucked it up.

Lastly, the portrayal of the military in this film is absolutely juvenile, with a general giving the go ahead to bomb Chicago to stop the monsters, despite both his own troops and civilians still being in the area.  I know that casualties are often a risk with operations like this, but the general starts shooting at the animals directly after Johnson tells him that doing so will accomplish nothing, which it does.  I don’t normally notice the misrepresentation of the military in film, but this particular case left me irritated as I watched our national defense be made into idiots.  This makes the Transformers franchise look realistic in comparison.

Rampage is an overlong, boring, and horribly acted mess that fails as a dark action film, a fun summer blockbuster, or a babysitter kids film (the latter of which would have saved it from my disgust).  I was bored from beginning to end, mentally counting the minutes until I could leave.  It only gets the 1.5 star rating because of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and one cool kill.  Besides that, this Rampage is pointless.

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Violence, Action, and Destruction, Brief Language (surprising, given the amount they swear here), and, pathetically, Some Crude Gestures (one of which, despite getting an honest laugh out of me, was totally inappropriate for children to see).  Skip it.

This article also appeared on https://theboldopinion.com/ on April 18, 2018.

The Black Business Mixer from the View of a Millennial

This article originally appeared on https://theboldopinion.com/ on April 15, 2018

The business world is a hard place to break into for millennials.  I always questioned how new or smaller businesses were supposed to get their foot in the door with so many big companies in place.  Imagine my surprise upon attending the Black Business Mixer Atlanta, a bi-monthly get-together of new and burgeoning businesses meet and network with one another so they may learn how to better their own business ventures and help new ones thrive.  A more hopeful sight could not be seen.

Walking around the event, I saw people who were excited about their professions, from upcoming musical talent Naja the Artist to the delicious Sweet Cravings Shoppe.  The event also hosted business owner Phyllis Iller, who spoke on how to grow and expand your business.  This was the moment where I realized the importance of events like this: They are a communal, non-combative way for people to meet both others in their field (I met Rose Royse, a writer for Shustring Magazine) and build a foundation for strong professional and personal relationships.  My personal takeaway from the night: Learn how to operate an Instagram page, as most businesses are utilizing the image-sharing service to promote their events and content.

I only wish the event was bigger.  There is a wealth of growing businesses both in and outside Atlanta that would benefit immensely from this event.  As the owner and operator of a small blog myself, I can say without a doubt that the Black Business Mixer Atlanta would be educational for any business in making professional connections, learning how to expand their own venture, and giving the knowledge that they are not the only ones looking to make a dent in the corporate landscape.

My internship with The Bold Opinion has been extremely informative.  I feel more confident in my abilities to research and discuss topical issues, and have developed a greater respect for news media.  In a landscape where many of my peers will either side with the poplar consensus on an issue or completely ignore them, I will choose to examine all the facts of an issue or event before commenting on it.  I know looking at the entire picture of a news story before making your mind up seems revolutionary, but that’s just my Bold Opinion.

The Black Business Mixer Atlanta meets bi-monthly.  Tickets are $10 through EventBrite.

 

Gun Control: Mental Health is Real

This article was originally published on www.theboldopinion.com on March 10, 2018.

School shootings are becoming more and more common.  Lives are lost, tears are shed, and the media is left repeating the same phrases: that the event is a tragedy; it should have been avoided, thoughts and prayers, etc.  Many media outlets blame the NRA, with some even suggesting the second amendment be abolished (which would cause more harm than good).  It seems to me that a more obvious element is being ignored: mental health.

According to Atlanta-based neuropsychologist Lynda Boucagnani-Whitehead, PH.D, one solution would be to place “school-based teams where people could voice their concerns so they could start to offer services to help the student”.  She believes increasing the number of on-campus psychologists and other professionals would make it easier to identify and defuse potential threats.  As well, those professionals should be allowed to alert the proper authorities if they believe their patients present a potential danger to themselves or others.

I spoke with Rusty Morris, owner of One Target Gun Club in Peachtree City GA.  An ex police officer, Morris stated that background checks completed through the NICS only denies the purchase of a firearm if the individual has been arrested or has a restraining order, not because of mental health concerns.   When asked how he would resolve school shootings, Morris said, “Politicians don’t have the will to put the money toward stronger security.  The reason you don’t see someone shooting up a senate building is because they have strong security”.

I believe that both Morris and Boucagnani-Whitehead are correct: School security should be increased, but those schools also need to start taking their students’ mental health as seriously as their test scores.  Academic engagement is vital to the growth of children and young adults, but they won’t be able to focus on schoolwork if they’re afraid that their school, their community, and their lives could end at any minute.  In my opinion, the way to stop school shootings is twofold: Increase security to deter potential shooters and place as much emphasis on their mental wellbeing as their academic.

The Portrayal of Suicide in Media Needs to Change

This article was originally published on www.theboldopinion.com on April 2, 2018.

Warning: This article contains discussion of suicide spoilers for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and 13 Reasons Why.  If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal ideations, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

The 2010s should be a decade to remember.  Now more than ever, media outlets are tackling hot-button issues with unprecedented insight and sensitivity.  We are seeing shows, films, books, and even video games successfully explore issues such as political unrest, racism, and drug/alcohol abuse respectfully, often with little sermonizing.  It is a wonderful feeling to see these and other issues not be ignored, as they affect thousands of people every day and should get their time in the sun.

However, there is one issue that is continuously mishandled by the media: The portrayal of suicide and its aftermath.  Suicide is a heavy topic that no one ever wants to think about, but that is precisely the reason why we need to discuss it respectfully and without simplification.  In 2017, we saw two television shows take suicide by the horns in an attempt to make it a part of the global conversation: 13 Reasons Why, a teen drama centering on a teen suicide and its aftereffects, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical dramedy about relationships.  Ironically, I feel that the latter explores suicidal ideations and their ripples far better than the show that uses that exact idea as its selling point.

13 Reasons Why follows a boy named Clay whose world is rocked when his friend Hannah commits suicide, leaving behind 13 tapes that reveal the people and events that led to her act.  The series fails to portray a realistic world or bring Hannah’s mental health into the conversation.  What’s worse, the suicide scene is needlessly graphic and is accompanied by narration describing exactly what and how Hannah did it, including a shot of the bloody wound.  Lastly, the school guidance counselor does not attempt to contact Hannah’s parents after noticing warning signs in a conversation with her before the act (something he is legally allowed to do if he believes she may be a danger to herself or others).  This show could have made waves of positive change had it played the events realistically, but falls flat on its face by succumbing to teen melodrama and overusing fancy camerawork in an attempt to hide it.

On the other side, there’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical comedy about a girl who leaves her high-paying job in New York to stalk her ex in California.  While the idea seems poised to fail, the show exploits it for both comedic and dramatic effect, commenting on modern relationships and, in the 3rd season, diagnosing its lead character with Borderline Personality Disorder after a failed suicide attempt and spending the remainder of said season watching her slow recovery.  While the music and humor might not work for everyone, its exploration of mental illness is one that has thankfully garnered positive attention from multiple outlets.  The suicide attempt is also shown here, but the show takes great pains to show her sessions with a psychologist and a few group therapy meetings.   After she gets out of the hospital, one of her friends begs her never to try it again, to which she responds, “I would like to promise you that… but I can’t…. I don’t know what the future holds, so I can’t promise anything to anybody but myself”.  That type of honesty is poignant and heartbreaking, which is exactly what it should be when discussing something like this.  While there are a few isolated jokes later in the season that slightly lessen the impact, they don’t derail the momentum at all.  It is quite interesting that a show with wacky musical numbers and surreal humor produced by a network mainly known for teen and superhero dramas (the CW) is more adept at handling this topic than the Netflix series with a popular book as its basis.

Television is a powerful medium that can leave lasting impacts on the world.  While some shows push boundaries in terms of their violence, profanity, or sexual material, others use it as a means to discuss harsh realities while still providing an entertaining watch.  I’m not saying that 13 Reasons Why is the worst show to happen to humanity or that Crazy Ex is a flawless gem; both have high and low points that make it better and worse than others in its ilk.  Ultimately, if TV producers want to discuss suicide, then they need to do it in a way that informs the general population that there is help out there for people who need it, and never, under any circumstances, overdramatize the situation for the sake of controversy.  For some, it could very well be the difference between life and death.