Monday, April 24, 2017

Theater Review - The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man
Directed by Sanford Robbins
Written by Bernard Pomerance
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, March 19, 2pm

Super-quick thoughts on this production to save for posterity since it closed so long ago:

  • The Elephant Man was my most anticipated play of the season -- a piece that I'd wanted to see for years.  My expectations were perhaps a bit too high as the the playwright's short, truncated scenes led to a little less emotional connection than I had hoped given the play's subject matter which deals with John Merrick, a man coping with severe physical deformities in mid-1800s London.
  • Director Sanford Robbins utilizes giant supertitles spanning across a large arch to introduce each scene.  I've done a little bit of research to see that this has been done in many productions before, but I haven't discovered whether it's something specified in the play itself or not.  While I initially found the technique oddly engaging, it grew a bit tiresome and ended up working against the one-act 100-minute play as I found myself searching for the meaning of the supertitle within the scene itself -- "Oh, that's why this scene is called x or y."
  • Beyond the supertitles, Robbins successfully stages the play keeping things briskly moving and getting some very good performances from Michael Gotch as Merrick and Elizabeth Heflin who, in her largest role in this production, is Ms. Kendall, an actress brought in to give Merrick a "taste" of feminine interaction.  In the play's most touching moment, Kendall begins to realize that she's not "acting" when she kisses the unfortunate man's hand not out of any sort of duty, but out of an emotional connection...but it's an emotional connection that both parties know can never actually exist.
  • The scenic/lighting design was gorgeous in its simplicity -- see the picture above -- with a circle of lights being mirrored in the floor.  Stark, but beautiful.
  • In the end, The Elephant Man is a solid production, but like many of the REP's plays this season, it doesn't rouse excitement.  Decent, but the season just didn't quite click.  One more to go...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Movie Review - Central Intelligence

Central Intelligence (2016)
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, and Aaron Paul
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
***This film is currently available via HBO Now/Go***

Central Intelligence is more enjoyable than it has any right to be thanks to the natural charm and comedic buddy repartee of its two stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.  It's a shame that a better, less generic story couldn't have surrounded the two elevating their chemistry.  Still, they try to make the most of things with a script that has formerly popular high school student Calvin Joyner (Hart) meeting up with formerly unpopular Bob Stone (Johnson) the weekend before their twentieth high school reunion after not having seen each other in those two decades.  Although they weren't close friends, Calvin had helped Bob through a difficult and embarrassing moment and Bob always looked fondly on Calvin because of that.  Through social media, Bob reconnects with Calvin but Calvin soon discovers that the seemingly timid and meek Bob is actually an undercover CIA agent who needs a bit of Calvin's help in solving his latest crime.

Ultimately, the "comedy" aspect of Central Intelligence falls a bit short...and the action side doesn't really do much to buoy it either.  The film works best during its first act as it sets up the relationship between Calvin and Bob with Hart and Johnson playing well off one another in these opening scenes.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't really succeed in creating tension as it progresses so the "superspy" intrigue it tries to muster never really comes to fruition.  However, despite all this, the two stars make this surprisingly watchable and actually end up doing enough to boost this one to slightly above average in the RyMickey rankings.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Movie Review - Sausage Party

Sausage Party (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, James Franco, Danny McBride, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, and Edward Norton
Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm guessing that in order to really and truly appreciate a movie like Sausage Party, certain psychotropic enhancements may be needed.  Undeniably raunchy, this animated tale takes us into Shopwell's supermarket where we find anthropomorphic food dreaming about being chosen by humans (whom the food believes are gods) to take a trip to the outside world (the "Great Beyond") where they will be treated to the most glorious existence they could ever know.  Being chosen is the ultimate goal of Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog in a pack of eight who, along with his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a hot dog bun in a pack of ten, desperately want to leave the supermarket so they can fulfill their destiny of consummating their relationship instead of being stuck in their respective plastic wraps.  Life is pretty grand for these food items until a can of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to Shopwell's and he details the sheer horror the human gods enact on food - boiling, cutting, and chewing in a murderous, heathen-like way.  This sends the food into a bit of a tizzy and, through a series of chaotic events, Frank and Brenda find themselves outside of their packages and trekking across the store to find out if there is any truth to Honey Mustard's claim.

There is some cleverness to Sausage Party that is undeniable.  Decidedly adult, the film doesn't mince any punches when it comes to the risqué aspects of the story.  While this works for a while, Frank and Brenda's sexual innuendos wear thin after a bit as does the film's notion that simply dropping an F-bomb or some other variation of curse word automatically yields a laugh.  Perhaps I'm just becoming a much-too-stuffy adult, but a little restraint in the coarse language would've worked wonders here because about twenty minutes in, I almost gave up seeing as how all the supposed humor was coming from seeing a piece of corn say "Eff This or That."  Nonetheless, I hung on and while I don't think Sausage Party ends up being a successful film simply because the writers cheapened the whole thing by their verbiage, there are some stellar set pieces that are incredibly humorous.  While I won't spoil these moments, they all revolve around the food realizing just how "evil" their human gods really are and they work incredibly well at providing humor that isn't necessarily coarse-language-based.

I realize I may be coming off as a bit of a prude and that's not my intention with this review.  I drop F-bombs often...but there's such a thing as moderation.  Impact is lost when that's your only way of trying to be humorous.  In the end, this hurt Sausage Party overall for me.  Despite some clever moments and some rather ingenious set pieces, there were too many lulls where the writers thought they were being funny, but really weren't.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review - The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours (2016)
Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Kyle Gallner, and Josh Magaro
Directed by Craig Gillespie
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Based on a true story, The Finest Hours details a 1952 Coast Guard rescue of the crew of the SS Pendleton during a horrible winter storm off the New England coast.  Buoyed by some nice special effects, the film is well-acted, yet never quite does enough to escape the generic nature presented by director Craig Gillespie.  Nothing about The Finest Hours stands out in any way which isn't to say that the film doesn't work.  The flick is perfectly watchable, yet it never once feels special, unique, or important in any way.  (Sort of like this generic review which is just one of many of a backlog of reviews that have been sitting in my drafts section for weeks now.)  The Finest Hours is a perfectly streamable film, but you won't walk away feeling the need to rave about it to anyone.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Movie Review - Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Hattie Morahan, Nathan Mack, Ian McKellan, and Emma Thompson
Directed by Bill Condon

Although I stopped my Disney Discussion before I got to their fantastic 1991 animated classic, it should be noted that the original Disney Beauty and the Beast is my second favorite film of all time.  (Only Psycho tops it.)  Needless to say, I was not avidly looking forward to Disney's live-action remake.  Much like the 1998 nearly shot-for-shot remake of Psycho which proved to be a waste of time when the infinitely superior original exists, I was extraordinarily hesitant heading into a theater to watch the remake of Beauty and the Beast.  While I'd love to say that this 2017 version is a glorious take on the classic animated film, I can't in the slightest.  Instead, I found myself asking the the following question throughout:

Why does this film exist if its creative team is not going to make a single thing better than the original?

Here's the thing about this 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast -- the story still holds up incredibly well.  I was never bored as I watched the tale of Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens) unfold with the layers of their distrust in one another changing to love blooming in its place.  The nuances of Alan Menken's music and the late Howard Ashman's lyrics still paint a lovely picture in song and add pivotal characterizations to the film's core ensemble.  Yet despite a few new songs and some odd and misguided changes to the story, director Bill Condon has assembled a film that hews much too close to the original to have a feeling that it's its own unique piece.  If the only purpose of this film is create the same exact tone and feel of its animated predecessor but to do so in live action, what was the point other than to simply be a major cash grab for the Walt Disney corporation?

Frankly, it's obvious that there was no other point.  This is a cash grab through and through, moreso than any of the previous Disney live action remakes of the past few years.  Despite its epic failure, Alice in Wonderland at least was manically what it was.  Maleficent took on the Sleeping Beauty story from a different perspective.  Cinderella gave us more well-rounded and deeply developed characters.  The Jungle Book provided a sensory special-effects experience that was visually enticing.  This Beauty and the Beast does none of that, instead insisting on staying so close in tone to its predecessor that its reason for existence proves moot.  Sure, the film attempts to give us a little more backstory to Belle and the Beast (hence its 30-minute-plus longer runtime than the richly developed, yet concise original), but that exposition proves to be silly most of the time rather than insightful.  (As an example, one of the few unique moments of the piece -- a journey back in time to when Belle was a child -- seems aggravatingly unnecessary despite its attempt at character development.)

I realize my last parenthetical comment seems contradictory to my biggest qualm with the film.  Here I am complaining about this iteration's lack of originality and yet I'm berating its attempts to be different at the same time.  I was all for "difference" here, but there has to be a reason for it and I found most of the film's changes disappointingly uncreative.  Frankly, the best change is one that's been widely criticized in a large chunk of the reviews I've read.  Following their dance to the titular song (which is a huge let-down in and of itself in both visual and aural execution), Belle runs home to her father who she discovers is being harmed by the maleficent Gaston (Luke Evans -- the one shining aspect of the piece).  The Beast is in emotional shambles, destitute that his one true love (and his one chance of overcoming the horrible spell that's been placed upon him) has run away.  He sings a desperately emotional plea in the new song "Evermore" which, while not quite as emotionally heartbreaking as Broadway's equivalent version of this number "If I Can't Love Her, still succeeds in cluing the viewers in to the Beast's psyche at the time.  This unique moment is what I wanted more of from this film and instead director Condon, writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and the Disney corporation have just regurgitated nearly everything that made the animated film so fantastic.  The second time isn't always the charm, however, and that's the case here.

Emma Watson is lackluster (though serviceable) as Belle.  She lacks the charisma present in the animated character and while Watson's Belle is perhaps a bit more assertive and "feminist" (in a good way), there's an emotional blankness behind her eyes in many of the scenes.  I'll also never understand why one's singing voice isn't always a top priority when casting actors in a musical.  Sure, some musical films -- La La Land, as an example -- can skate by on the charm of the characters whose less-than-perfect singing actually adds a layer to their cinematic personas.  I simply don't think that works in a movie like this which sets itself up as an old-school stylized musical.  Being able to sing is important here and with the exception of a few adequate moments in the song "Something There," Watson lacks the emotional phrasing needed to succeed when starring in a movie musical.  Dan Stevens as the Beast fares a little better with the aforementioned "Evermore" number granting him an opportunity to give his character some hefty gravitas.  Granted, his performance is essentially crafted by motion capture special effects experts, but I found the Beast to be a well-animated effect at least.

Unfortunately, that's more than I can say for many of the other special effects-created animated supporting cast who take on the forms of candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), feather duster Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), armoire Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and piano Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci).  None of these performers (with perhaps the exception of Mbatha-Raw) do a thing to exceed their marvelous vocal predecessors who came before them and their gothic, dark design is almost always visually unappealing.  Essentially all doing voice-overs, the heart and charm of the animated film is lost in this version's characters.  Pivotal moments like "Be Our Guest" and "Beauty and the Beast" are disappointingly staged, poorly re-enacted, and oddly paced and sung by the likes of McGregor and Thompson, creating emotional vacuums where there should've been charm and heart.

The funny thing after writing all of the above which should seemingly yield a scathing rating below is that inherently the story behind Beauty and the Beast is still a successful one and since this version hardly deviates from the original, it's not an all-out failure.  While nothing in this go-around is better than the original -- although Luke Evans interpretation of Gaston comes awfully close as he fully embraces the hammy machismo that shaped that character in the animated version -- it's tough to say this film is unwatchable.  What I can't understand, though, is why anyone would want to watch this version when a perfect version of this same story is available.  Inherently, I do have problem with Disney reaching back into its animated vault to create live action versions simply to pad its coffers (albeit with boatloads of money if this film's success is any indication).  However, it they're going to have to do it, they need to at least be willing to deviate somehow from the original especially if it's one as perfect as Beauty and the Beast.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Movie Review - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O'Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, and Judi Dench
Directed by Tim Burton

Things started out so positively in the titularly long-winded Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children that I thought Tim Burton may had finally found himself back on the positive side of things after giving us such directorial dreck as Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and Big Eyes over the past decade.  Unfortunately, the eerie quirkiness that is the staple of the director's work hinders things here rather than helping which causes the film to falter after an incredibly promising opening thirty minutes.  That said, perhaps my disappointment with the film isn't fully Burton's fault -- I had actually read this young adult novel upon which this was based and found it oddly un-compelling considering its unique subject matter so maybe enjoyment of this work as a cinematic experience was never in the cards for me in the first place.

Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) has for years regaled his grandson Jake (Asa Butterfield) with WWII stories in which he says he spent a great deal of time at Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in Wales.  The tales of the odd kids that inhabited the house stuck with Jake and following his grandfather's unfortunate and odd death, Jake and his father (Chris O'Dowd) travel to Wales to try and give them both some closure.  The exposition-filled opening act was impressively tailored by Burton to give the film a quirky vibe which, while successful initially, begins to teeter upon Jake's arrival in Wales.  Upon arriving, Jake discovers that the home of his grandfather's stories was destroyed in an air raid during the 1940s, but when he visits the house, he is greeted by a group of children who end up taking him through a time portal and back in time to September 3, 1943, where he meets the caretaker of both the home and the children residing in it -- Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).  Jake is told that Miss Peregrine has the unique ability to manipulate time and, because of this, she has created a world in which the children under her care relive the same day -- September 3, 1943 -- over and over again.  Their peaceful existence seems quaint enough, but Jake soon discovers that not everyone is happy with Miss Peregrine's abilities and there may be some other "Peculiars" who would like to see her home cease to exist.

Ultimately, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children becomes too bogged down in convoluted plot to really land successfully.  If that summary above proved a bit twisted, it's frankly much more complicated than that.  Sure, there are some nice performances which help the whole affair.  Eva Green in particular, who I've not like in the past, is charmingly odd and it works incredibly well. Asa Butterfield is somewhat of a blank slate, but I think that works for his character here (much like his role in Hugo) as he is faced with the absurdity of what he encounters.

And Burton himself really tries as a director to make the picture a success.  Despite not liking the movie all that much, this is Burton's best turn behind a camera in years.  He successfully created the world in which these characters exist -- unfortunately, the world is just a bit too confusing to succeed itself.  While not an out-and-out failure, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ultimately is a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Movie Review - How to Be Single

How to Be Single (2016)
Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, Anders Holm, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, and Jason Mantzoukos
Directed by Christian Ditter
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/Go***

I came so very close to stopping How to Be Single at about the halfway point.  In retrospect, I should have followed through with that because it really was a tremendous waste of time, but for some odd reason, Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann had me oddly engaged in what ended up being a bit of a trainwreck of a movie.  Considering that Leslie Mann landed in the top spot of the Worst Performances of 2014 for The Other Woman, color me surprised that she's one of the reasons I kept this one going, but in this ensemble piece, she shined brighter than many others -- including Rebel Wilson who landed in the top spot of the Worst Performances of 2015.  Unlike Mann, she doesn't redeem herself here.

Enough about year-old awards, though.  How to Be Single takes a look at a quartet of women and their struggles with living life without men.  Dakota Johnson is Alice, a recent college grad who decides to break up with her longterm boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) to explore her options, not because she doesn't love him but because he is the only person she's ever seriously dated.  A new job as a paralegal at a fancy New York law firm has Alice meeting Robin (Rebel Wilson), a rambunctious, carefree, balls-to-the-wall, rowdy single lady who takes the newly unchained, mousy, and subdued Alice out on the town to try and teach her the rules of how to be a single woman.  At night, Alice goes home to her sister Meg (Leslie Mann), an obstetrician who has reached a point in her life when having children seems important with her single status proving to initially be an obstacle.  And then there's Lucy (Alison Brie), a completely superfluous character who spends her days hanging out in a bar looking at dating websites trying to find her true love while womanizer bartender Tom (Anders Holm) begins to pine over her.

While there are moments that work comedically -- however sporadic those moments may be -- How to Be Single also attempts to be serious, particularly in its second half and this doesn't work at all in its favor.  Attempts at mining drama out of unimportant or under-explored issues in the film's second half prove laughable and weigh down the lackluster flick which already suffers from repetitive and uninspired comedic scenes in its first half.  Sure, Dakota Johnson is oddly engaging as the timid Alice who is trying to find herself in the hectic dating landscape of New York City.  Her moments with Leslie Mann as her sister are charming and Mann herself makes the most out of a somewhat underdeveloped/stereotypical character.  However, the two are not enough to save the film from coming close to being a disaster.

I've already mentioned that Alison Brie's character could've been excised from the film with no harm done.  That's no fault of Brie, but her Lucy is completely unnecessary.  And then there's Rebel Wilson who continues to play the same character here that she plays in every other movie.  There's no branching out for her and her shtick has already worn threadbare.  While she's certainly not the sole reason How to Be Single doesn't work, she plays a part in its failure.  Sure, it's not as bad as some recent chick comedy flicks -- the aforementioned The Other Woman or Bad Moms -- but it's not a whole lot better.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Movie Review - Little Men

Little Men (2016)
Starring Greg Kinnear, Paulina García, Jennifer Ehle, Theo Taplitz, and Michael Barbieri
Directed by Ira Sachs
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'd heard some really good things about the simplicity of Little Men and its portrayal of a charmingly realistic relationship between two childhood friends torn asunder by circumstances outside of their control.  While the friendship between the two teen boys is nicely portrayed by writer-director Ira Sachs, the film never kicks into gear, languishing in that aforementioned simplicity instead of being enhanced by it.

Following the death of his grandfather, thirteen year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz), his father Brian (Greg Kinnear), and mother Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) move into the Brooklyn apartment they inherited.  Their abode is located above storefront which Jake's grandfather rented out to Leonor (Paulina García) whose son Tony (Michael Barbieri) becomes fast friends with Jake despite their very different personalities.  When Brian discovers that his father was charging a very low rent to Leonor, he decides that he has no choice but to increase her monthly fee which unfortunately she is not able to pay, creating inevitable tension between the two sets of parents and leading them to forbid their children from seeing one another.

Young Taplitz and Barbieri have a nice chemistry with one another as best friends with Barbieri's brazen, no-nonsense New York attitude the highlight of the film.  However, even at 85 minutes, Little Men just drags with much too little dramatic gravitas to land successfully.  Sure, there's "story" here, but its slice-of-life nature didn't land with this reviewer in a way that caused me to really be invested in the characters.  While Sachs' film admittedly feels realistic, it never feels well-rounded and its conclusion left me with a "That's all?"-type feeling, irritating me that I gave the flick even the short amount of time that I did.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review - Eddie the Eagle

Eddie the Eagle (2016)
Starring Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, and Keith Allen
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/Go***

Straightforward as can be, Eddie the Eagle is an inspirational sports movie that hits all the notes expected as it explores the true story of Eddie Edwards (played here by Taron Egerton), a young British man who has dreamed of being an Olympian despite being awkward (to say the least) when it comes to sports.  With the Summer Olympics necessitating strength and speed which is out of the question for the lanky twentysomething, Eddie shifts his attention to the Winter Olympics and ski jumping -- a sport in which Great Britain hadn't competed for over six decades as of the 1980s.  Eddie decides to self-train at a ski jumping facility in Germany where he meets American Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former Olympic ski jumper who now tends to the snow at the training center.  Bronson eventually (and reluctantly) takes Eddie under his wing, helping him prepare for the Olympic games and also convince the British Olympic Committee to allow him to compete.

Steeped in low budget 1980s-style movie quirkiness including some fantastically retro music, Eddie the Eagle is just offbeat enough to make the clichéd aspects of the stereotypical "sports movie" work here.  Director Dexter Fletcher embraces the kitschy nature of stylized aesthetic -- which includes a somewhat over-the-top, but oddly totally believable and utterly engaging performance from Taron Egerton -- and makes this film better than I expected.  It's a family friendly piece in the best way possible -- it doesn't cater to the kids despite being totally acceptable for all ages with the exception of maybe a curse word or two, but it causes us adults to embrace the wild abandon we've pushed aside for years.  This true story is one with which I wasn't the least bit familiar, but I was thoroughly engaged its entire runtime.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie Review - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
Starring Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, and a slew of celebrity cameos
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

Told in a mock-documentary style, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping details the life of Conner Friel (Andy Samberg), the lead singer of the rap group The Style Boyz who shot to popularity over a decade ago.  However, following some internal fighting, The Style Boyz break up and Conner embarks on a solo career wherein he becomes an incredibly successful solo rap artist.  This mockumentary focuses on Conner getting set to release his second solo album and, needless to say, things don't go quite as planned.

The Lonely Island crew of Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer shot to popularity with their viral skits on Saturday Night Live nearly a decade ago and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping certainly hews close to that style of raunchy, pop culture-based humor for which they became well-known.  Much like an episode of SNL, the film works in spurts.  When it's funny, it's oftentimes hilarious; but when it's not funny, it's oftentimes painful.  Even at a short 86 minutes, it's about 15 minutes too long, growing a bit repetitive as it meanders through its very basic plot.  Andy Samberg holds one's attention onscreen and some of the bit cameos are engaging, but it does overstay its welcome.  That said, I laughed out loud quite a bit -- more than I ever thought I would to be quite honest and in that regard Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a success.  However, with a keener group of editors, it could've been even better.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+