Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Ensemble

Although a few of my best ensembles below are from Best Picture-nominated films, what I like about my choices below is the variety of genres represented.  You've got horror, comedy, action, drama -- they're all represented below.  Sometimes you need to look past the obvious (I'm looking at you Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble Award) to find some interesting choices for a well-rounded cast.

Best Ensembles of 2013

Honorable Mentions
#10 - Red 2
(Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, and Catherine Zeta-Jones)

(Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston)

(Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Alexandra Holden, and Nick Offerman)

(Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Schwartzmann, and Rachel Griffiths)

(Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Tracey Faraway, and Tavi Gevinson)

And the Top Five...

(Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, and Kathryn Hahn)
Comedy is never easy.  The entire cast of We're the Millers brought much (raunchy) humor to their scenes, with nary a weak actor in the bunch.

#4 - Nebraska
(Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach)
While the above five actors were the main quartet, Nebraska also showcases many other less "well-known" actors who I hope to represent with this award as well.  Scenes around the dinner table with various brothers or sisters play as real as any scenes with the more "seasoned" actors above.

(Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Cristin Milioti, and Joanna Lumley)
The cast list for The Wolf of Wall Street ensemble could probably be two more lines at least.  I had to draw the line somewhere.  Needless to say, Scorsese got great performances from everyone -- from those who were in the film for just one scene (a la McConaughey) to those who were in nearly every frame (Mr. DiCaprio).

(Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham, and Sam Shepard)
I'm very surprised I enjoyed this flick as much as I did seeing as how I hated the play.  I thought for sure that this fantastic cast would simply trample all over one another, but despite the gravity of such a strong ensemble, each member always was willing to take a back seat to let someone else have their "moment."  Scenes like the dinner table sequence above -- in which every cast member is onscreen -- are perfect examples of the cast's ability to never grandstand one another.

(Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Keith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, Alex Calloway, and Rami Malek)
A cast of relative unknowns, Short Term 12 showcases a talented cast of up-and-coming Hollywood actors.  For the entire ensemble to elicit so many emotional moments for an audience at such a young age is a testament to their talent.  I look forward to seeing all of them in the future.

Previous Best Ensemble Winners
2012
2011
2010
2009

Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie Review - Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Alice Eve, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Directd by J.J. Abrams
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

With the origin story of 2009's Star Trek reboot behind us, I was looking forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams was going to bring to the table in Star Trek Into Darkness.  I should preface things by saying that while I like Star Trek, I'm no über-fan.  I haven't really seen any of the original movies and essentially was a ST:Next Generation guy and that was it.  So, if this movie resembles another (which I heard it did upon its release last year), it's news to me.  So, with that caveat out of the way, I'll say that I found Into Darkness to be a truly fun ride that nicely paces its action sequences and never once feels like the typical non-stop in-your-face special effects spectacle that most summer action movies are -- and I mean that in a good way.

Into Darkness places an emphasis on story and that's a welcome treat.  As far as the story goes, however, I'm not going to delve greatly into it as there are a few surprises in terms of Star Trek lore that are best to be left unsaid.  Needless to say that the way director Abrams and his long-time collaborator screenwriter Damon Lindelof (along with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) are able to weave the old Star Trek with this new reboot are inventive and enjoyable.  I'll also add that even if you've never seen another Star Trek film, you can start with Star Trek Into Darkness and not be lost.  Although it's a continuation of the 2009 film in terms of character development, there's nothing presented here that will make you feel lost if you start your Star Trek journey here.

As I mentioned, I appreciated that those involved creatively didn't feel the need to place action scenes directly after one another in a whiz-bang fashion.  However -- and this is the film's one true detriment -- because of the lack of action sequences, much of the cast wasn't showcased to its fullest potential. Whereas in the first film, I felt that actors like John Cho, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and Anton Yelchin all got their moments in the sun that doesn't necessarily happen here.  In some ways, that's better -- the film's focus on Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the villainous renegade Star Fleet member John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) streamlines things a bit more and eschews the need for "action moments" simply to place characters in scenes.  However, with a cast this good, I missed seeing them at times.  That said, Chris Pine has taken the character of Captain Kirk and imbued him with just the right amount of the suavely chauvinistic vibe William Shatner brought to the character without taking things overboard that he's quite enjoyable to watch.  Actors in movies like this don't get a lot of credit, but I think what Pine is doing with Kirk -- making him a cocky guy with a lot of heart -- is great stuff.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Movie Review - The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013)
Featuring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Thomas Kretschmann, Diane Kruger, Sebastian Koch, Connie Nielsen, and Josh Radnor
Directed by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In the late 1920s, budding philosopher Friedrich Ritter was fed up with the world and escaped with his girlfriend Dore Strauch (both were married and having an affair) to the abandoned isle of Floreana in the Galapagos Islands chain.  The two resided on Floreana alone for quite some time foraging for their survival by finding what they needed from the land only being visited by a sea captain and his crew every now and then.  When word about their secluded paradise hit the newspapers, Heinz and Margret Wittmer (and their teenage son) believed it to be the perfect escape for them as well seeing as how they worried about living in what they believed to be a deteriorating society.  The Wittmers landed on Floreana in the early 1930s much to Freidrich and Dore's dismay, but the two groups eventually figured out a way to deal with one another despite the fact that Friedrich was very discomforted by the notion that he wasn't living out his dream of solitariness anymore.

Shortly thereafter, the rich Baroness Von Wagner and two of her male confidantes landed on the small island of Floreana with the goal to build a hotel for visiting Americans and Europeans.  Needless to say, while Friedrich and Dore made do with the fact that the Wittmers landed on the island, at least that family shared his desire to be secluded from the rest of the world.  With the Baroness now attempting to capitalize monetarily on Friedrich's small piece of paradise, things inevitably were going to take a turn for the worse.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden is an interesting documentary that utilizes original writings of all the involved parties to tell its tale.  Through voiceovers by the likes of Cate Blanchett and Diane Kruger taking on the roles of Dore and Margret respectively, we get intimate knowledge about each family's feelings towards one another.  This aspect of storytelling is certainly compelling despite the fact that as things veer into disturbing territory, the original journals seem to be less than descriptive and often contradictory as each family attempts to "cover their ass."

Unfortunately, when the filmmakers attempt to showcase life on the other isles of the Galapagos chain by conducting current interviews of elderly folks who were around in the 1930s and younger folks who currently live on the islands, their film sometimes comes to a screeching halt.  These conversations aren't particularly compelling and don't add much to the overarching mystery of what happened on Floreana in the late 1920s/early 1930s.  Still, The Galapagos Affair is a decent portrait of a certainly little known historical anecdote.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Breakthrough Award

Although these faces may not necessarily be fresh on the scene, the Breakthrough Award recognizes some names of folks that made a mark on the film industry in 2013.  Whether they continue this upward trajectory or not remains to be seen, but for one year at least they were quite successful.  Rankings here are based on a mix of both future potential and this past year's work.

Breakthrough Award 2013

#5 - Miles Teller 
The Spectacular Now
Miles Teller, while very good in The Spectacular Now, runs the risk of being typecast into the role of "obnoxious young prick" if he's not careful.  2013 also brought us 21 & Over in which Teller essentially played the same role as in the infinitely better The Spectacular Now except the "jerk teen" character plays much better in the drama than in the comedy.  There's potential here, but I worry about the path/roles he's taking.

# 4 - Margot Robbie
Wolf of Wall Street, About Time
Gorgeous blonde with an Aussie accent -- I'm not sure I could ask for more.  However, after I first saw her onscreen in Wolf of Wall Street, Margot Robbie proved that she was more than just a pretty face.  Sure, her role in Wolf was a teensy bit "obvious" -- a fault of the screenplay and not her own -- I think there's a possibility of future success if she can overcome the fact that she's so damn good looking which can sometimes be a detriment should she want to delve into any serious acting.

#3 - Lupita Nyong'o
12 Years a Slave
After she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, I read several articles that had people fretting over whether Lupta Nyong'o would ever really work in Hollywood again.  While that's inherently racist since most of the articles insinuated that because of her skin tone she may face difficulty, I certainly hope there's no reason to worry.  While I wasn't as blown away as others, her performance in 12 Years a Slave was very good and emotionally captivating -- reason enough to believe she'll be back.

#2 - Adele Exarchopoulos
Blue Is the Warmest Color
While I'm not sure Adele Exarchopoulos will ever cross over into American films, her acting chops are certainly top notch when it comes to her native French language.  Her brave performance in Blue Is the Warmest Color shows that she's willing to go the distance for her craft which is an admirable asset in one so young.

#1 - Brie Larson
Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, Don Jon
While certainly good in all three of the films listed above, Brie Larson really showcased her talent in Short Term 12.  There's an "everyman" sensibility to her -- a normalcy, a realness -- that instantly connects us to her in all her roles thus far.  Here's hoping the future's bright for Ms. Larson.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners

Friday, September 12, 2014

Movie Review - We're the Millers

We're the Millers (2013)
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, and Kathryn Hahn 
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

Jennifer.  Aniston.  Striptease.

I could simply leave this review at that, but I guess I'll continue by saying in addition to that sultry dance performed by one of my celebrity crushes, We're the Millers provides enough laughs that even if a nearly naked, seductively gyrating Jennifer Aniston doesn't float your boat, you'll still probably have a good time.  Thanks to a game cast who milk the comedy bits for all they're worth, We're the Millers successfully brings the raunch while also giving us characters and a story that hold our attention.

Jason Sudeikis is David Clark, a pot dealer who ends up losing his stash of weed and a significant amount of dough when an attempt to save a homeless girl being attacked by a bunch of street thugs goes awry.  This doesn't sit well with David's boss (Ed Helms) who forces David to head to Mexico and smuggle into the states a significant amount of marijuana without getting caught at the border.  With seemingly no feasible way to smuggle in the pot on his own, David concocts a plan to rent an RV and make up a fake family, acting as if they're taking a trip to Mexico for recreational purposes hoping that the border agents won't possibly think anything is out of the ordinary when they try and get back into the States.  To achieve this task, he enlists his down-on-her-luck stripper neighbor Rose (Jennifer Aniston) to play his wife, the aforementioned homeless girl Casey (Emma Roberts) to play his daughter, and his virginal downstairs neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) to be his son.  Along the way, this fake family (known as the Millers) runs into drug kingpins and crazy RV enthusiasts (the latter played by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) in their attempt to bring an humongous stash of pot over the US border.

While certainly raunchy, We're the Millers does have a bit of heart although it never goes too far over that sentimental edge which works in its favor.  As mentioned above, the entire cast works quite well together with nary a bad apple in the bunch which was a welcome surprise.  Watching a film like this in the comfort of your own home alone can oftentimes ruin its ability to succeed because you don't have the rapturous laughter of an audience around you, but We're the Millers made me laugh out loud enough to deem it a success.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Best Younger Actor/Actress

For the purposes of this category, nominees must be 21 years of age or younger at the time of the film's release.  Placing in this category does not preclude placement in other categories.

What's fantastic to note here is that EVERY SINGLE ONE of these fantastic performances is available to watch streaming on Netflix.  Put them in your queue to watch some great acting from an upcoming generation of talented younger actors and actresses!

Best Younger Actor/Actress of 2012

Honorable Mentions
Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland - Mud

And the Top Five Are...

#5 - Onata Aprile - What Maisie Knew
While Aprile is never given a "stand out" moment per se, the whole film is told from her perspective and her wide eyes and ability to convey so much with silence places her on this list.

#4 - Kaitlyn Dever - Short Term 12
Also appearing in this year's fantastic The Spectacular Now, Ms. Dever was best known prior to this for appearing in the sitcom Last Man Standing.  However, with this role she proves she's got dramatic chops showcasing that beyond the bombastic personality she outwardly projects, her character is really just a young, innocent girl trying to cope with her parents' inability to love her.

#3 - Annika Wedderkopp - The Hunt
There's a palpable sense of guilt that permeates throughout the debut performance of the very young Wedderkopp.  She plays the subtle nuances of a young child who knows what she's doing is wrong, but can't figure out how to make it right.  Fantastically in depth for such a young actress.

#2 - Keith Stanfield - Short Term 12 
I will admit I'm cheating a little bit here with Mr. Stanfield.  This film screened for many months at festivals and at that time, Stanfield was 21, but upon the film's limited release he eked over to 22.  Still, I'm placing him here because of his fantastic performance.  His character of Marcus is quiet and subdued mainly because his sense of worth has been deflated exponentially.  Stanfield so easily could've taken this character to two extremes -- angry or sympathetic -- but he finds a happy medium. His rap scene is one of the best (and most heart-wrenching) moments of cinema this year.

#1 - Adele Exarchopoulos - Blue Is the Warmest Color
In every scene, Ms. Exarchopolous brings an uncomfortable naivety to her character's newfound attraction to another female that is fascinating to watch, beautifully capturing her gradual thirst for this new life experience.  There's a vulnerability here that we don't often see and her performance is incredibly brave.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Movie Review - Rush

Rush (2013)
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Alexandra Maria Lara, and Olivia Wilde
Directed by Ron Howard

Ron Howard's directed a lot of good films over the years, but with the exception of Apollo 13, I'm not quite sure I've ever looked at his movies and thought he was a brilliant director.  While he creates good stories often with very nice family dynamics, he's not exactly known for his edge-of-your-seat, exciting direction.  Rush changes that.  To me, the stand out factor in Rush -- what elevates it beyond your typical sports flick -- is what Ron Howard brings to the table.

There's a palpable excitement that runs almost throughout the true story of the rivalry between 1970s Formula One race car drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), the ladies man, and the focused and serious Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).  The two started out competing against one another on the Formula Three level, finding each others' very different attitudes towards racing almost repulsive.  Then, in 1976, they found themselves duking it out for the Formula One cup with Lauda needing to prove his 1975 Formula One cup victory not a fluke and Hunt attempting to showcase that he wasn't just the chauvinistic party boy that many in the racing world thought him to be.  The rivalry between the two was intense and made for a very interesting and exciting competition.

As I mentioned, I always felt like Ron Howard was very good at focusing on a story's intimate moments -- the connections between characters -- and that's certainly proven once again here.  Both Hemsworth and Brühl imbue Hunt and Lauda with a vicious rivalry, but also with an aire of respect for one another.  Recognizing that they mutually push each other to better results, I found their relationship uniquely depicted and compelling, and thanks to two fine performances by Hemsworth and Brühl, the rather simple story is elevated beyond what I expected especially considering the subject matter that I initially assumed would be completely unappealing to me.

In addition to the quieter moments, Howard steps up his game with Rush as he and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle craft a retro-looking depiction with modern sensibilities.  Auto racing isn't my cup of tea in the slightest, yet Howard makes the multiple races all feel unique, placing us into the cars for some, following from behind on others, and mixing the vantage points up often enough to keep the viewers on their toes, yet completely unconfused about what is being shown.  Considering how similar all the racing cars look, it's a feat in and of itself that Howard makes these races comprehensible to a racing novice like me, but making them tension-filled edge-of-your-seat moments is another coup altogether.  The fact that we can't even tell where the "real" and the "special effects" begin and end is a credit to all involved.  Rush gives us a new Ron Howard who proves that he may have more up his sleeve than I ever thought he did before.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Most Overrated Films

It's not that the films below were necessarily bad (although some were), but the passion for them from either the critics or public was a bit flabbergasting in some instances.

Most Overrated Films of 2013

#10 - The Heat - D
Although this one made $160 million, I'm not sure I laughed once.

#9 - Inside Llewyn Davis - C
Although it failed to garner any awards attention at the end of last year, the 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes lands it on this list.

#8 - Spring Breakers - D-
65% of the critics surveyed on Rotten Tomatoes liked this dreck.  The only reason it's not ranked higher is because the public absolutely despised it.

#7 - Lee Daniels' The Butler - D 
It's unfathomable to me that this got the positive reviews it did.  Did the critics see the same generic, boring, overacted movie I saw?

#5 - Blackfish - C+
Two documentaries that garnered a lot of attention at year's end.  20 Feet won an Oscar and while it was the best documentary I saw last year (and that's not saying much seeing as how I didn't see too many), I didn't quite get the fawning.  Blackfish was probably was the most buzzed about documentary in years...but it was incredibly one-sided.

#4 - Captain Philips - C+
Nominated for Best Picture, this one had some great moments, but a second half that dragged on for much too long.

#3 - Her - B
I must be honest -- I think I personally overrated this Best Picture-nominated flick.  It really hasn't resonated with me in the slightest.

#2 - Dallas Buyers Club - C+
Yet another Best Picture nominee that I didn't quite get.  An adequately acted Lifetime movie.

#1 (tie) - American Hustle - D+
#1 (tie) - Frozen - B-
These two were just so close, I couldn't choose a winner.

The best thing about Oscar Night this past year was American Hustle walking away with nothing.  I really didn't like this one at all and felt that David O. Russell was simply attempting to make a 1970s/80s Martin Scorsese pic...and it didn't work for me.

As far as Frozen goes, I love that it put Disney back on the animation map and I also love that it brought the animated musical back to the forefront.  That said, the music (which sold three million albums, would've been the #1 album released in 2013 had it made an appearance prior to last November, and spawned umpteen YouTube interpretations of the power ballad "Let It Go") was overrated, childish in its lyrics, and, quite frankly, the worst part of the very good film.

Previous Most Overrated Film "Winners"
2012

Monday, September 08, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Worst Performance

The dubious honor is bestowed on these actors and actresses who should probably spend their money on a trip to the Actors Studio this year.

The Worst Performances of 2013

#5 - Cameron Diaz -- The Counselor
Diaz is completely unable to wrap her lips around the dialog she's forced to spout.  Rather than exude sexiness -- which her character is supposed to do -- she ends up being laughable.

#4 - Jodie Foster - Elysium
What the heck accent was Foster employing in this film?  Add to that, her performance is extremely jerky and mannered making it uncomfortable to watch.

#3 - Ashton Kutcher - Jobs
He tries.  I'll leave it at that.

#2 - Noomi Rapace - Passion
Overacting by not acting at all, Noomi Rapace has an emptiness in her eyes throughout the entire film that fails to allow any connection to her character whatsoever.

#1 - Lorenza Izzo - Aftershock
I'll just let this quote from my review sum up my feelings here:  
Eli Roth is just abysmal, but even he looks like a Shakespearean actor when placed next to Lorenza Izzo who plays an American party girl.  Don't get me wrong -- she's gorgeous, but she's utterly laughable as an actress.  Apparently widening your eyes to their fullest extent and darting your eyeballs around in frantic motions for sixty minutes while shaking uncontrollably and yelling at the top of your lungs is all that it takes to prove you've got talent to someone like Eli Roth who produced this heinous flick.
And for the second year in a row, the worst film also contains the worst performance. 

Previous Worst Performance "Winners"
2012

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The 2013 RyMickey Awards - Worst Film

In a new category I started last year, take a look at the films from 2013 that you should avoid at all costs.

Worst Films of 2013

(Dis)Honorable Mentions
(all films ranked 'D' or below)
(underlined titles link to original reviews)

#10 - The Purge -- D
An interesting premise ruined by an incredibly crappy story that sacrifices believable plot for convenient jump scares.

I'll just come out and say it -- I didn't get this one.  Didn't understand it at all.

Do you like movies that don't have any modicum of a payoff?  This one's for you!

In all fairness, I stopped watching Free Birds twenty minutes in because of how horrible it was...I should've done the same with this.

This coming of age comedy failed to make me laugh and instead succeeded only in annoying me with its lack of believability.

Part I:  We have Twilight to blame for movies like this.

#4 - The Host -- D-
Part II: We have Twilight to blame for movies like this.

#3 - Spring Breakers -- D-
Critics fawned over the hedonistic kaleidoscopic barrage of sex and violence on display as if director Harmony Kormine was poking fun at our modern day culture that idolizes such trash.  I didn't get the joke and thought it was a pretentious piece of crap.

#2 - Passion -- F
Second (or third) tier attempt at a Hitchcockian tone by director Brian DePalma coupled with a horribly over-acted performance by Noomi Rapace makes this one a clunker.

#1 - Aftershock -- F
Sharknado-level direction with even worse acting, I couldn't wait for the insipid sextet of actors to bite the dust after the horribly enacted titular earthquake spins their world into chaos.

Previous Worst Film "Winners"