America: Imagine A World Without Her

After some initial pleasantries, Dinesh D’Souza’s latest documentary, America: Imagine A World Without Her, shows General George Washington leading a charge into battle (as he often did), then being struck dead by a sniper’s bullet.

And me, your movie-going cynic, your urbane sophisticate, your student of rhetoric and propaganda, well, I got a little choked up by that.

I guess I’m a patriot after all. Who knew?

I sort of thought that America would be a sort of alt-history kind of movie, a little more fantasy than documentary, but it’s actually a stone cold work of non-fiction, less speculative than its wildly successful predecessor 2016. (And, actually, this movie starts with a kind of “I told you so” as D’Souza outlines his predictions from 2016 that came true—which shows you what I know, given how dubious I was over said predictions.)

Largely, however, this movie just engages five of the biggest criticisms against the United States. It addresses the ones that are just false, and contextualizes the ones that have some basis in truth. It doesn’t do a lot of “tu quoque”, which is sort of my favorite defense: The USA is bad compared to what?

There wasn’t a lot I didn’t know here, but I learned a few things that gave me a different, and I think interesting, perspective on some historical events.

The five topics covered are Native Americans, Slavery, stealing territory from Mexico, being imperialist, and being exploitative generally (via capitalism). Turns out D’Souza is for all those things!

No, of course not, that’d be silly.  But that is about the depth of the complaints against this film.

You know, if the world were a cool place, you could get a rebuttal from…well, anyone who disagreed. But we won’t see that. Mostly it’ll just be ignored. After all, they ignored the last one, and it was one of the highest grossing documentaries ever. This one may not be the #1 documentary this year, what with Disney’s Bears.

It’s a shame: You sometimes think with all this talk about “wanting to have conversations”, there’d be more attempts to actually have conversations.

But some people can only enjoy modern affluence by running it down, and particularly running down those who continue to promote the values that make it possible. So I doubt the persuasive value of movies like this.

Good doc, though: Quickly, on the three-point BMR (blake’s movie reviews) scale: It’s a worthy topic, well-presented, that wears its bias on its sleeve. D’Souza is on his way to becoming a political prisoner, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does next.

How To Train Your Dragon 2

Well, I’m confused. When this sequel to (what else) How To Train Your Dragon first emerged, I was pretty sure it hadn’t gotten good reviews from audiences or critics. Not bad ones, but just marginally acceptable ones. I checked again right before taking the Barbarienne to see it and the RT score was 92/92!

But having seen it? Meh.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, exactly. Or there is, but…well, it’s weird. It’s not as funny as the first one, now that I think about it. But let me start from the beginning:

HTTYD2 starts about five years after the first installation, which is cool. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is grown-up (still going by “Hiccup”, though, of course), and looking at a marriage with Astrid (America Ferrara) and, less enthusiastically, toward being the chief in place of his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler).

Hiccup is more into exploring, however, and this creates a tension between him and his father, who’s come around to having a lot of respect for the boy. This part is also good.

This reveals the new menace and antagonists for this film. This part feels a little familiar, but, okay.

Then—and this is in the trailer—Hiccup finds…his mother. That’s when things get weird.

I’m not going to go into detail because, like I said, this has rather high ratings, with some people considering it better than the first, but for me this had two problems that got increasingly problematic and kept me from engaging very seriously with this.

First, the story ends up being very, very similar to the previous film. In fact, it’s close enough to the first one to where you have to wonder—hell, you have to conclude that the Vikings in the first film had it right: All dragons should be destroyed.

I mean, obviously, you’re not supposed to come to that conclusion, but, as we frequently note here at the Bitmaelstrom, a lot of these kidflix are based on premises that don’t bear close scrutiny and can’t really withstand much in the way of deep development.

It doesn’t mean a movie’s gonna be bad, and if we’re being fair, kidflix have a better track record for sequels than just about anything. But this movie really dares you to overlook the problems suggested by rubbing your nose in them.

Especially with the second major problem: The introduction of Hiccup’s mother (Cate Blanchett) into the storyline. Now, I know that there’s a series of books on which this based, sorta, but I’m guessing this is just some serious retconning: Unplanned changes to history in order to come up with interesting material for a sequel.

The weird thing is that it’s not done badly in and of itself: The scenes with Valka (his mother) and Stoick and Hiccup are emotionally affecting in a deeper way than (e.g.) the first movie dared to go. Or most kid movies. Maybe because it’s not entirely appropriate?

Appropriate or not, here, it’s really…weird. It raises a whole bunch of questions it can’t possibly answer satisfactorily. And it ties into the first problem about the nature of the dragons.

It just didn’t add up, not at all. So, even though effectively done, it didn’t feel earned. What’s the word for that? Kitsch?

This is compounded by a major character death toward the end of the movie that feels really cheap, like the the death had to happen for narrative reasons, when it would’ve been much more interesting (if more challenging) to deal with the story without the death.

I don’t know. People like it. A lot, even. Heck, The Barb liked it, and that’s all that matters. Intriguingly, she liked Rio 2 better, and she didn’t like Rio 2 very much. (Apparently, birds trump dragons. Who knew?)

Kit Harrington, of the “Game of Thrones” series, has a kind of interesting role as a caddish rogue, but it never really gets developed.

So, I don’t get it. Unless people are still impressed by extensive “whoosh” scenes where people ride around on dragons in “thrilling” fashion, I can’t figure out why people dig this and I don’t.

Life of Crime

Frank Dawson is skimming the money from his housing projects and Ordell and Louis know it, but can’t prove it. So to extract money from the corrupt developer, they decide to get a little bit of extra leverage by kidnapping his wife, Mickey.

Frank is too busy ignoring his son, Bo, and diddling his mistress, Melanie, to notice. When Louis and Ordell make him aware of his plight, it takes very little persuasion from Melanie to convince Frank not to negotiate with the kidnappers: win-win, either way, right? Louis and Ordell, meanwhile, are struggling to keep Mickey reasonably safe while they shelter her in the house of neo-Nazi Richard.

The first thing you’ve gotta be grateful for when someone adapts a crime story, particularly one by Elmore Leonard (3:10 to Yuma) is that you can follow it, and this one you mostly can. I couldn’t quite figure out how Ordell sussed out Melanie’s plans, nor did I exactly buy the relationship between Mickey and Louis.

But the bigger mystery is how a movie with Jennifer Aniston (Mickey), Tim Robbins (Frank), Mos Def (Ordell) and Isla Fisher (Melanie) ends up with under 50 theaters for its opening. Maybe it’s ‘cause of John Hawkes, who plays Louis, who is restricted to independent films (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Winter’s Bone) by law, apparently.

I mean, it’s not great, sure. But it’s good. It’s fun. It’s dark, but not overly so. Writer/director Daniel Schecter moves things along at a pace that allows you to appreciate the cleverness and gloss over the silliness.

So I guess it’s the Leonard thing. People who go see films based on Leonard’s work have expectations. I guess those expectations were met by ’90s films like Jackie Brown and Get Shorty, both of which are probably over-rated.

Guessing. I’ve only ever seen the 3:10 to Yuma flicks, and John Frankenheimer’s ugly and unpleasant 52 Pickup. (The latter film along with the even worse film The Men’s Club, released the same year, left me with a life-long aversion to Roy Scheider films.)

I don’t know who makes these decisions. After a summer when Lucy is still in the top 10 in its 9th week, this movie (in its second week) is sandwiched between Land Ho! and Snowpiercer which are both in their third months! In fact, those two films are picking up theaters while this one languishes after a not-even half-hearted attempt to market it.

Did you hear of it beforehand? I didn’t. It was just playing and not awful (though the popular RT score has dropped from the 60s into the 40s since it first came out).

Anyway, it’s fun, short, dark, and maybe too cute for some. Good acting, especially from Aniston (not in Rachel mode) and Hawkes (who’s always good). Mos Def and Tim Robbins are doing their things: It’s not a reach for either of them, with Def seeming only slightly more sleazy than he did in Begin Again and Robbins having perfected the Evil Republican caricature years ago. (Of course, the character’s party is never mentioned out loud but you know what template Robbins is drawing from.) Mark Boone Junior is amusingly loathsome as the Nazi.

I was struck by how long-in-the-tooth Isla looked in this. She’s 38, but the lighting really revealed a heavily applied makeup. Perhaps that was a deliberate choice; I know I’ve never thought in the past, upon seeing Fisher, “She’s getting long in the tooth.” Aniston, 45, looks great. Like a woman in her 40s, but not one mutilating herself in an attempt to look like a woman in her 20s.

So, maybe it’s deliberate, to keep the audience from identifying too much with Melanie. On the other hand, Melanie is far-and-away the most evil character in the story, so I’m not sure that was ever an issue. (Actually, given that the movie takes place in 1978, they’re all too old for their roles.)

I spotted two things in Life of Crime that struck me as anachronistic: At one point the smarmy country-club confrère play amusingly by Will Forte (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, Nebraska) is about to dial 9-1-1. And at another point Aniston talks to Robbins about “quality time”. Those things were ’80s in my world, but 9-1-1 has a long history and the first recorded use of “quality time” is in the ’70s, so maybe both things were in the original book, written in ’78.

Anyway, details aside, The Boy and I liked it.

Rifftrax Presents: Godzilla

I did not go see the 1998 Emmerich/Devlin Godzilla in the theaters. And when I put it on the cable many years later, I got immediately distracted, and only looked at it glancingly to think, “Well, now, this isn’t very good at all.”

I never put my finger on why. The idea didn’t seem too bad. Make Godzilla nimbler and more reptilian in movement, and don’t scale it up so that it’s crushing model buildings under foot, rather have it dodging in between New York’s skyscrapers. Have Godzilla be (SPOILER!!!!) pregnant, for example. None of these are bad ideas, per se.

Having now sat through the entire feature in a theater, I can sum it up in three words:

Oh. My. God.

This movie is so bad, it was hard to watch even with the Rifftrax guys (Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy’s always lovable baritone) letting the jokes fly fast and furious.

It’s not that the ideas, as I mentioned, were bad: It’s that they’re mishandled at every turn. For example, making Matthew Broderick your “action hero” could work, because it’s not like anyone’s going to be punching out Godzilla, or pulling out a minigun to take him one-on-one.

But making Matthew Broderick your hero when he’s doing the exact same mugging he does in Ferris Beuller? That’s catastrophic.

Unleashing the possibility of dozens of Godzillas? Kinda cool. Using that to rehash scenes out of Jurassic Park? Oh, so lame. Especially after the 6th or 7th time someone tries to stop these little velocizillas by bolting a door, having witnessed all previous attempts not even slow them down.

Feisty love-interest for Broderick? Good. Sociopathic love-interest with virtually no redeeming qualities? Not so good. Even if he did end up marrying Sarah Jessica Parker in real life.

Hank Azaria and Mary Pitillo presage “Jersey Shore” with their, ahem, broadly drawn characters. Harry Shearer practically reprising his Simpsons character, Kent Brockman.

The parade of French clichés that is Jean Reno.

The CGI was state of the art for 1998, and it’s unbearably bad now. I mean, the old ‘50s movies with the rubber suits holds up better. (I think one of the reasons Jurassic Park still largely works is the practical effects.) So even the effects don’t help save this thing, even with the kind of cool ideas about how Godzilla should move and act. (Also, he’s ridiculously nimble: Dodging missiles right and left.)

Honestly, you have to go back to Coleman Francis or Manos: The Hands of Fate (or maybe The Doomsday Machine) to find a film as unwatchable as this. Sometimes I think watching these things is like having a baby: Incredibly painful but when it’s all over, you had a lot of laughs (and a sore abdomen), so you forget until the next time.

I should talk more about the riffing, but it’s always hard to encapsulate these things. This is really, really funny. Really, really, really funny. The main problem with MST3K is that there would be lulls: There would be long stretches of rapid fire humor, and then things would slow down a bit, and sometimes too much.

There are a few breathing points here. But not a lot. Not all the jokes land but maybe 90% or more do, which is damn good. Well, the Boy may have missed a few more, since he knows nothing of the ’90s, doesn’t know who Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane or Sarah Jessica Parker is, and so on.

It’s fun to watch in a theater, too, because the audience roars.

The next Rifftrax “live” show is Anaconda, which is a truly terrible film, but I think I actually managed to watch that on TV after it came out. It’s kind of a compelling bad as I recall, with a good part of the time you going, “What the hell is Jon Voight doing with his voice?”

Anyway, the 1998 Godzilla needs Rifftrax to survive. NEEDS IT! Otherwise, it only has the distinction of not being the worst film Devlin/Emmerich ever made.

The One I Love

I am willing to speculate, somewhat tentatively, that I prefer the Duplass brothers as actors and producers to directors. The Boy and I have seen three of the boys’ movies (Baghead, Cyrus, and Jeff, Who Lives At Home), only missing their most recent (The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, I think it was called) probably because, well, something more promising was playing.

In fact, I think it might have been the delightful Safety Not Guaranteed, which they produced and in which Mark (the acting brother) had a role. Actually, Jay also acts, but I think Mark acts more and Jay directs more. I don’t know. They do a lot of everything.

The key thing about them, though, is that their projects have a distinct style. Their stuff always screams “independent film”. Also “low-budget” but “independent”, because they don’t really do exploitation stuff—even Baghead, ostensibly a slasher flick—was more a character study than kin to Friday the 13th.

So, what makes a Duplass brothers film? Well, it’s going to be low-key. It’s going to have a starkly realistic feel, and if there’s a non-realistic aspect to it, that’s going to create a certain mystery that causes you to doubt whether or not the non-realistic aspect is really real…or not. Heh.

There’s gonna be a lot of acting. Not hammy stuff. Not showy stuff at all, in fact. But a whole lot of subtle exchanges and character dynamics never fully expressed in words.

It’s gonna be short. It may not feel short, however, because of the low-key thing.

And so we come to The One I Love, directed by newcomer Charlie McDowell and written by newcomer Justin Lader, the mysterious story of a couple (Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss) sent to a get-away-from-it-all-and-repair-your-marriage spot by their therapist (Ted Danson).

Things start out pretty well. Then they get weird. Then they get really weird.

The movie is powered entirely by Duplass and Moss, and typifies (to the extreme) what I mean by “a lot of acting”. Duplass performs well, and Elizabeth Moss (who I guess is a TV person, a regular on “Mad Men” and “West Wing”) holds her own next to him. The range of emotions and intentions and character developments that they must communicate is very impressive indeed, and also necessarily constrained by the situation.

Which you’ll notice I’m not describing in any way.

Because that would spoil it.

It’s a fun film. It’s not, as I was somewhat worried, an icky psychodrama, as movies around marital difficulties can be. The movie doesn’t really try to solve their problems so much as raise the ultimate question of what it actually means to be in a relationship with someone. There’s a light touch to this, a bit of a thriller-ish aspect, even.

The Boy and The Flower both enjoyed, and agreed that one of the reasons it worked was that it didn’t try to explain too much. It simply set up the rules, dropped a few clues, and let the drama play out, as the correct focus of the film.

As I say, I think I liked it (and Safety Not Guaranteed) better than the Duplass written and directed films, perhaps because the touch of fantasy/mystery/suspense in this and Safety make a more compelling hook to engage with.

Directed by newcomer Charlie McDowell and written by Justin Lader, whom we hope to see more of in the future.


A boy grows from age six to age 18 in Richard Linklater’s slice-of-life film Boyhood. The hook? The film was actually filmed over twelve years, with the same actor (Ellar Coltrane) in the lead role.

Two main observations:

  1. Two-and-a-half hours is a long time for a “slice-of-life” picture.
  2. The gimmick is surprisingly effective, and actually transcends mere gimmickry by the end of the film.

That said, you have to be able to get past point one to enjoy point two. Mason (Coltrane) is a young man whose parents have split up, and when the movie starts, his dad has been away long enough to prompt his mom to wonder if Mason really remembers that much about him.

Dad’s obsessed with his non-existent music career and struggling against settling down, which is maybe something he should have thought of before having two kids. Mason’s sister Samantha (the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater) is truly awful, manipulating her mother and being mean to her brother.

The story arc, such as it is, is powered mostly by Mom’s drive to make herself a better life, getting an education, a degree, and ultimately teaching in college. This ability to make that life is almost completely scuttled by her complete inability to pick a decent man to be her husband.

Mason is pretty much on the periphery of the action, with these things affecting his life. As such, the movie’s emotional impact comes from a kind of emotional pointillism: Little things that build up over the course of the 2:40 minutes, like getting a note from a girl who says she likes you, or learning how to do something well.

It’s kind of a sad thing to see this cheery little kid grow into a sullen, muted teenager, but I guess that’s what happens (if not always, then a lot). Remember those old ‘50s teen movies, where the kids were all spirited and, well, maybe a little wild, with their surfboards and sock hops, but basically good-humored, whether hanging 10 in Hawaii or fighting The Blob in Pennsylvania?

I miss those days, even though they were well over before I was born. But I think I would’ve preferred the average teen to be more like Tommy Kirk than James Dean. (After all, when everyone’s James Dean, then nobody is. Or something.)

We liked it, The Boy and I, length and all. I think, however, this is one that would have a much harder time holding one’s attention outside the theater. It’s too low key. There are some scary moments. There are a few funny moments, as well, though not nearly enough. (At least, I’d like to think of a distillation of life having a lot more humor in it.)

Mostly, though, it powers through on little dramas, and a kind of accumulation of sentiment. You see the kid grow up, and that’s an entirely different experience from seeing one actor play a character at one age, and another playing a character at another age.

We have not seen Linklater’s Before… series of films, though they must have a similar effect, being filmed with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy at three different and widely separated points in time. We did enjoy Bernie, however.

This is probably a bit more demanding than Linklater’s other films, overall, and definitely not for everyone, but it can be rewarding if you invest in it.

The Trip To Italy

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are back! Or maybe I should say Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back! Steve would doubtless prefer the former. In this sequel to 2011’s The Trip, which is both a movie and a TV series, Brydon (whose name I consistently spelled wrong in my earlier review) and Coogan are travelling all over Italy, eating fine food and doing impressions.

The funny thing about the last movie is that while we weren’t bowled over, we were constantly referencing that film later on, especially the Michael Caine impressions. “She was only fif-teen years old!” and stuff like that.

It kind of stuck with us, me and even The Boy.

This one is actually even less accessible in a lot of ways. I enjoyed it, not as much as the previous film, but way more than The Boy and The Flower, for whom a lot of the references were completely lost. Brydon does a great Gore Vidal, for example, but my kids have never even heard of Vidal. (So sue me; I don’t think he’s going be much of a significant historical/literary figure.)

Needless to say, it didn’t go over big with them, but I rather liked it. Like Coogan’s previous efforts, there is a kind of “in-joke” feeling to it, with Coogan and Brydon playing characters roughly based on themselves, but also very clearly not playing themselves.

Brydon makes a wry reference to being “affable”, in one of the funnier bits, where he’s kind of obnoxiously insisting on his affability, which (immense as it is) is not as great as people think it is.

The switch in this film is that Coogan comes off as the likable guy trying to make things right with his family while Brydon becomes increasingly boorish and caddish. Obviously, he’s not really playing himself, but perhaps venting a bit about being typecast.

Another thing which I thought was odd was that, in the first movie, Brydon’s impressions seemed far better than Coogan’s, really running circles around him. This time, Coogan seems more on the ball, with Brydon attempting to constantly be the center of attension, but Coogan’s stuff seeming to get more of the character of the person being imitated.

This is, like, serious theater nerd-ery here. Just like the last one, I could only recommend it guardedly, to people who like the inside-y, is-it-real-or-not actor shenanigans. And even then, I would recommend it somewhat less vigorously than the previous one.

The Giver

In a world where…the Dude is the wisest man in all the land…One Man must…

Or something like that. Jeff Bridges has been trying to get his movie made for 20 years, apparently having filmed a home-movie version with his father and his brother Beau’s kids a few decades back. So, I suppose we have The Hunger Games to thank for this teen-dystopic-future-drama.

In this future world, the population lives on an isolated plateau, protected from all harm, protected from competition, feelings, discomfort, with everything decided for them by a central planning committee. In other words, it’s the end game of “soft” socialism.

Not that this is ever overtly expressed, of course. (Can you imagine?) But, really, the idea is that there’s a completely safe, pre-planned world, free of chaos, with job security and 24/7 monitoring combined with rules for everything, and that seems to be the way our world is going.

Except for the “free of chaos” part, but eventually pharmaceuticals will get up to snuff.

The monkey in the wrench here is that the society (for some unexplained reason) feels a need to preserve history, and this is done through a quasi-mystical telepathic process. Our hero is this generation’s designated receiver, and Jeff Bridges himself is the eponymous Giver.

The problem is, the rules don’t apply to The Giver: He is simultaneously subjected to the history of Man while being weaned off his Ritalin (or whatever), and thus exposed to all sorts of emotions and alien enthusiasm toward life. He also exposes his friends and “family” to it.

I put “family” in quotes because it’s an interesting construct here: It looks like a family, with a mother and father and a little sister, but the mother and father aren’t married, and the children aren’t produced by their union. This means that their first loyalties are to the community. (Remember, if you see something, say something!)

It’s not exactly spelled out but I don’t think anyone has sex in this world. Babies are made through artificial insemination or possibly in vitro, then implanted into women who are designated breeders, and on birth, immediately removed from the breeders and given to other families to raise-ish.

School is coordinated by the central authority and everyone is designated the job they’re best for by their 18th year.

There’s a kind of naive sincerity to the proceedings that make this all work. I’ve gone on rants before about sci-fi dystopias that kind of fail their initial premise, i.e., they haven’t really created much of a dystopia. Or more accurately, while the trade-offs are there, every society has trade-offs and you have to make the case for why this particular trade-off is bad enough to be called “dystopic”. (Especially against the backdrop of our current world.)

In this case, I kept feeling like “Well, yeah, a lot of people would trade a lot of things for a world where they had complete security.” If not feeling emotion freed you from the bad ones, a lot of people would make that trade. If being designated for a particular role meant you had a job for life, a lot of people would make that trade.

So, the world looks so perfect and well-ordered, that you can see the appeal, but when The Receiver is experiencing real emotions for the first time, you (and he) begin to realize what was lost. And then, when he gets a taste of the chaos and pain caused by real emotions, you can at least understand the logic that went behind creating this world in the first place.

Good acting from Jeff Bridges, who does his usual “just enough to not evoke all those other roles” things he does, where you know it’s him but you’re not confusing it with Rooster Cogburn or The Dude or whoever. Meryl Streep is…well, she’s Streeping it up here. Brenton Thwaites (whose name I spelled wrong in the review of Oculus) does a fine job as Jonas. Odeya Rush, who was in last year’s Jim Mickle/Nick Damici cannibal horror collaboration We Are What We Are, evokes a young Amy Irving.

The supporting players also do a fine job: Alexander Skarsgard is the father, Cameron Monaghan plays the friend (whose emotions seem a little less well-checked to me than others’), little Emma Tremblay, already a veteran of dystopias with last year’s Elysium, plays the little sister. The now middle-aged Katie Holmes plays the mother. (I mention that she’s middle-aged because I’m sure that’ll blow somebody’s mind. I never watched that show she was on so it means nothing to me.)

It’s not all beer-and-soma, though: The fact that everyone’s walking around with muted emotions means that the acting is very often subtle, and the drama has to come from the situation rather than the acting at least for most characters through most of the movie.

It’s also short, barely over an hour-and-a-half, so it doesn’t hit the kind of epic feel of a Hunger Games, and a lot of stuff had to be condensed, I’m quite sure. We all really liked it, though: The Boy and The Flower as well as I.

It’s not a challenge to figure out why critics hate this film while audiences are much more favorable to it (32/67 rating on RT). First, it is, essentially a trashing of central command-and-control type societies. They can (sorta) work, the movie argues, if you give up your memory, your feelings, your humanity. Indeed, the people of this society can be seen as the sort of perfect people who make up socialist’s dream societies, all focused on the goals the community has decided for them. They have literally immanentized the eschaton.

But probably more powerful and direct offense comes in the community’s selective retention process for babies. This involves technicians measuring infants along various metrics, and deciding which ones live and which ones die. The society’s lies allow people to believe that such babies (and old people, for that matter) are “released”, where “release” is like Logan’s Run’s Sanctuary, or The Island’s, uh, Island.

This is pretty powerful stuff watching babies being killed. Maybe you can avoid the connection between that and abortion, particularly selective abortion where Down’s kids and the like are “released”, but I couldn’t.

I’m guessing the critics couldn’t either, and thus the very low score.

Nonetheless, it is a good film, about on a par with the even more overlooked How I Live Now, which I realized I can’t link to because I still haven’t written the review.

It didn’t do gangbusters at the box office, either, so we may not be seeing a sequel. The book had two or three. If you’re in the mood for some teen dystopia, though, it’s worth a watch.

Rio 2

The Barbarienne liked this sequel to, I dunno, some other movie we saw a while back. You could read that review and it would serve for this film, too.

Utterly forgettable. The Barb had seen this a month or two ago on Netflix (“Why pay for it when you can watch it for free at home!”) and she kept saying things like “Oh, remember that guy from the original? And that one?”

No. Nope. Nuh-uh. Don’t remember it much at all.

I vaguely remember there being music in the previous film. I think there was also music in this one.

Jesse Eisenberg! He’s in this, and back. He’s actually kinda doing a voice here; he doesn’t sound like the same dick he plays in all his films. He’s vested Blu with a little more quiet strength, as opposed to strained neurotic.

Miguel Ferrer and Andy Garcia add their voices to the menagerie of instantly forgettable characters. I think the rest of the crew is back, like…uh….Anne Hathaway as the female macaw and…Leslie Mann as the bird wrangler.

The plot? Um. Men are incompetent boobs that are only saved by their hyper-competent girlfriend/wives.

No, wait, Jermaine Clement is back as the evil…I have literally forgotten. Was he a bird? Or an evil human? I think he was a bird. He must’ve been because he was doing bird Shakespeare. He’s still good but he’s sharing screen villain time with a human antagonist who wants to destroy the Amazon Rain Forest.

For the past 30 years, I’ve been hearing about how we’re destroying the Amazon rain forest. Over 2 million acres are still standing.

I remember when men used to be able to do things.

I digress. I digressed a lot in the movie. Even the animation didn’t hold my attention. There are some bright spots there but the movie is just so relentlessly politically correct, in never comes within 2 million square miles of anything remotely interesting.

Bruno Mars has a kind of cute role as a feathered Lothario, though he’s just as incompetent as the rest of the men, when you get down to it. The original score almost grabbed me a couple of times, but it’s almost like this movie is basically an excuse to sell soundtracks on iTunes, and there really wasn’t time for traditional scoring that might add some depth.

Rita Moreno has a little role as “Aunt Mimi”.

Yeah, I’m reaching for things to say about it. I can’t really remember it. The eight-year-olds I know liked it, but not a whole bunch.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I hereby make this (highly dubious) announcement: We have hit peak superhero movie. It’s all downhill from here on out, and the death knell is Guardians of the Galaxy. Not because this isn’t a good movie, it is: One of the best superhero movies to-date, though overrated. And not even overrated necessarily on its own merits, but in the sense of the “Marvel can do whatever it wants!” message being promulgated. More on that in a moment.

But first, our movie: Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of a boy kidnapped from Earth by aliens who goes on to become a petty outlaw that goes by the name of Star Lord, a pretentious moniker nobody seems to know but himself.

One of his jobs results in him getting stuck with a particularly powerful artifact (along the lines of the Tesseract that was in a lot of the other movies and the Aether from the second Thor film), which in turn leads him to cross paths with a bunch of people who initially want to kill or capture him: The barbarian dude, the hot green daughter of the evil emperor, the wiseguy raccoon and his companion giant tree pal.

And, really, if reading any of the above slows you down, you haven’t been going to the movies lately.

Despite the fate of the universe being in the balance, the proceedings are light and lively, and mostly not bogged down in their own CGI, which is interesting because it’s pretty much all CGI. This is a space opera, essentially, like Star Wars or any of its many clones, but with more of that cool-nerd vibe that all the kids are into today.

And it’s funny.

The Flower liked it. The Boy also liked it, even though he finds the fights in these things dopey; he thought they kept them within the bounds of good taste.

I could go see it again. I’d take the Barbarienne, but there is some stuff that might scare her. (She couldn’t make it through Thor 2.)

Solid cast: Chris Pratt, whom the Flower recognized from “Parks and Recreation” and whom we know best as Emmett Brikowski from the Lego movie, plays Star Lord affably enough. Zoe Saldana seems to need a minimum amount of makeup to look like a hot alien chick. I assume her skin’s not really green, but she does look in serious need of a sandwich. Wrestler Dave Bautista makes a good barbarian. Bradley Cooper is stunt cast as the raccoon, though he’s doing a voice sorta. (I kept thinking it should be Bruce Willis.) Vin Diesel reprises his role as the Iron Giant, er, Giant Tree.

Other notable smaller roles include Glenn Close as some sort of leader/functionary, Benecio Del Toro as some sorta creepy guy, Michael Rooker (famous for playing a creepy guy on the “Walking Dead”) playing a creepy pirate guy, Karen Gillan (we just saw her in Oculus, and she has a series coming up this fall called “Selfie”), and John C. Reilly as Everyman.

It’s probably good idea to point out that if you set your movie in space, and people go to this super-advanced universe completely alien to Earth, and they find John C. Reilly, there? Well, you might as well have set it at the corner 7-11.

I’m kidding. Sort of. But sort of not: Nothing says “NOT REALLY SPACE” like John C. Reilly.

Oh, and Gregg Henry. Fine character actor. Been playing a dick since at least Body Double. Plays a dick here.

It’s all slick and fun and breezes by to a ‘70s/80s soundtrack, including even a few songs I’ve heard, like “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”. Writer/Director James Gunn, who did a fairly decent body-horror film back in 2006 called Slither, is to be commended.

All in all, though, I think it’s all downhill from here. I probably shouldn’t be trusted, since I was pretty sure this was going to be the next Howard The Duck (who has a cameo at the end of the movie), but this feels like a sea change. Even as the #1 film of the year, it’s just barely going to crack the all-time Top 200.

And the tonal balance it strikes is precarious, indeed. If all superhero movies (as the Ace of Spades suggests) ultimately become Batman movies, it’s because the danger of falling into camp is very high indeed. And nobody gets that better than The Batman, at once the grimmest of heroes (though not nearly as grim as he’s been made out in the movies) but also the one with the campiest history. (As has been noted, the problem with the ’60s TV series wasn’t that it wasn’t faithful to the comic book, just that it was faithful to elements and time periods of the comics fans wanted to forget.)

Gunn manages the comedy/drama/silliness well. Others will not be so successful. Widening gyre, center not holding, and what not.

None of which means you shouldn’t enjoy this. But I’m thinking you probably won’t remember it for long either, except, years from now, when “Daredevil vs. Batman” comes out, and Robin starts helping Batman on with his pink cowl. You’ll think “I remember when superhero movies didn’t suck” and then “Blake said this would happen.”

The cool thing, is that if it ever happens at all, I can take credit for being right. And if it doesn’t, I’ll just pretend I didn’t write this.