Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review - Thanks for Sharing

Thanks for Sharing (2013)
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit, and Alecia ("Pink") Moore
Directed by Stuart Blumberg 
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Much like 2013's similarly themed Don Jon helmed by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Thanks for Sharing deals with sex addiction by placing the hefty subject into the context of a romantic comedy.  Granted, differences between the two films abound -- the most important being that in Thanks for Sharing the addicts have all recognized their problems and are seeking help -- but I think that Stuart Blumberg's flick fares a bit better thanks to some nice performances and a little bit more fleshing out of its characters beyond the almost stereotypical roles that were present in Don Jon.

Mark Ruffalo is Adam, a five-year clean "former" sex addict (addiction is an ongoing battle, hence the quotes) whose regular SAA meetings help him retain his sobriety.  In order to survive, Adam has removed television, the internet, and dating from his everyday life hoping to keep sexual temptations away from him.  However, his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins), a longtime recovering addict himself, tells him that it's time for Adam to put himself on the market again -- the goal of SAA is to make sex meaningful, not to keep folks cloistered.  Adam ends up meeting Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the two hit it off swimmingly although Adam has to constantly worry about whether his addiction will rear its ugly head again.

The rather charming relationship between Ruffalo and Paltrow's characters certainly buoys Thanks for Sharing and makes the flick enjoyable to watch.  The two actors' chemistry is palpable and Paltrow in particular has a light-hearted humorous demeanor here that made me wonder why she never really made it as a romantic comedy lead actress.

Unfortunately, for all the good that comes with Ruffalo and Paltrow's storyline, we're also saddled with the character of Neil (played by Josh Gad) who is new to SAA and is finding it incredibly difficult to leave behind his old ways.  Neil's way of coping with his addiction is to make jokes, but it seemed a tad off-putting in this flick.  Plus, his character's story arc was a bit too obvious to make me have any rooting interest in his success.  I knew where things were going to end up, so I admittedly checked out a bit whenever Neil was onscreen.

There's a surprisingly nice performance from Alecia Moore (better known as the singer Pink) who shows some potential as an actress as well as a tender storyline between Tim Robbins' character and his drug addicted son played very strongly by Patrick Fugit which help elevate the flick a bit.  Ultimately, Thanks for Sharing is a bit "basic" and "obvious," but it proves to be an enjoyable watch thanks in large part to the amiable cast.  Could it have delved deeper into the world of sex addiction, sure.  But not every film dealing with this disease is going to be Shame -- although I wish they would be.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Movie Review - Parkland

Parkland (2013)
Starring James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, David Harbour, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, and Paul Giamatti
Directed by Peter Landesman

Parkland looks at the immediate aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination not through the eyes of the Kennedys or the conspiracy theorists, but through the lens of "normal" folks on the ground in Dallas, Texas, that fateful day in November 1963.  While an interesting concept, the film lacks an emotional undercurrent throughout, forcing the audience to feel distanced from everything despite first-time director-screenwriter Peter Landesman's attempts to pull us in visually with his camerawork.

Landesman's film certainly is a good debut for the director, but considering the heft of the subject matter, the piece lacks that emotional connection you long to feel.  Part of the reasoning behind this is likely due to the fact that Parkland is truly an ensemble piece.  We see the doctors and nurses at the Parkland Hospital (played by Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, and Marcia Gay Harden) trying to save Kennedy at the beginning, but then we're whisked away to meet with Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) to see how he dealt with doling out his famous film to the media and the government.  We also get glimpses into the world of the various FBI and Secret Service agents (David Harbour, Ron Livingston, and Billy Bob Thornton) and their reactions to that day before we're welcomed into the world of Lee Harvey Oswald's brother Robert (James Badge Dale) and crazed mother (Jacki Weaver) and their varied reactions to the horrific events that his brother/son (Jeremy Strong) caused.

Quite honestly, all of these four story threads are quite intriguing and they're all buoyed by strong performances by the cast.  Unfortunately, with the ensemble nature of the piece, we're never with any one of them for any long period of time.  Just when we're starting to feel compassion for the medical workers and their unenviable task that November day, we shift to another storyline.  While I appreciate the different angles Landesman brings to the table, it does keep the audience at an emotional distance from the goings-on.  Nevertheless, Parkland is an intriguing piece that certainly gives a different perspective of the Kennedy assassination and if you're a history buff it's well worth watching.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Movie Review - The Family

The Family (2013)
Starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo, and Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by Luc Besson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

After a promising opening half hour, the family in The Family begins to wear a little thin.  Robert De Niro is patriarch Giovanni Manzoni, a mob boss who squealed on members of his crime syndicate.  For the past several years, Giovanni has been traveling through Europe with his family under various aliases while being protected by FBI agents (led by a gruff Tommy Lee Jones).  Unfortunately, Manzoni -- who has now taken on the pseudonym of Fred Blake -- can't quite leave his mobster ways behind which forces him to have to uproot his family often whenever he reverts back to his old ways, gets angry, and kills someone.  His family -- wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), and son Warren (John D'Leo) -- have toughened up because of this and are starting to pick up some of their family patriarch's ways of revenge.

As we get to know the Manzoni/Blake family, things are actually pretty promising in Luc Besson's film.  However, we soon realize that the folks that Manzoni ratted out a decade ago are on a manhunt for him.  This, unfortunately, is when the film starts to falter.  Rather surprisingly, when it aims for humor, the film succeeds, but the mob revenge plot is a huge failure, lacking any tension or emotional impact.

Michelle Pfeiffer is game as a mobster's moll providing quite a few laughs and young John D'Leo is a true standout as the tough, New York-accented teen who doesn't quite fit in with the kids in Normandy, France (the family's latest hometown).  Unfortunately, the performances aren't enough to breathe life into a plot that nearly put me to sleep.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Movie Review - Red 2

Red 2 (2013)
Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, David Thewlis, Brian Cox, and Neal McDonough
Directed by Dean Parisot

I got a weird joy out of the first Red film -- there was something oddly compelling about seeing Helen Mirren wield huge automatic weapons and fight evil.  Needless to say, I wasn't sure whether that gimmick of old folks doing battle could sustain itself for another flick.  During the first thirty minutes of Red 2, my worries seemed legit as I came this close to stopping the film out of unnecessariness.  I'm happy I stuck it out as Red 2 proved to be an amiable enough way to spend two hours with a nice mix of comedy and action coupled with an ensemble cast that appears to be having a great time working together.

I'm not going to really bother discussing any plot -- old guys and former government intelligence agents Bruce Willis (plus his girlfriend Mary-Louise Parker), John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren (well...their characters) band together to recover a nuclear weapon in Russia created twenty years prior by a English scientist (played by Anthony Hopkins) who believed he was hired to do something helpful for the British and US government.  Plot is almost superfluous here because you're really not getting anything you haven't seen in any other action movie before.

The reason a movie like Red 2 exists is to see the chemistry of the cast.  Bruce Willis and John Malkovich dryly (and drolly) play off each other perfectly.  Mary-Louise Parker is a true joy, providing many more laughs than I ever could've expected as Willis's excited-for-thrills girlfriend as she tags along on her first mission with him.  Anthony Hopkins is fun.  Byung Hun Lee (the rare youthful element here) is quite good, surprisingly funny, and oddly fleshed out character-wise as a hired assassin set out to take out Willis and his cronies.  And then there's Helen Mirren who I admit I have a little crush on and is for some reason oddly attractive as she nonchalantly pours bleach into a bathtub to kill people.  Is that weird?  Probably.

Red 2 probably didn't need to exist.  The first Red explored this same territory and this one doesn't really bring anything new to the table.  However, it is an excuse to get this cast back together and give them another chance to try their hand at comedy.  That alone is worth it.  Is the film perfect?  Nope.  (Remember, I wanted to turn it off during the first act.)  But it's kind of fun.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review - Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim (2013)
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, and Clifton Collins, Jr. 
Directed by Guillermo del Toro

I'm not sure anyone is more surprised than me that Pacific Rim works.  In fact, it's the movie 2014's Godzilla wishes it could've been.  Director and co-screenwriter Guillermo del Toro injects a lot of fun into his science fiction piece that make this big action pic move at a fairly rapid clip.  With some nice visual set pieces and an unique premise, Pacific Rim is a refreshing change of pace from typical summer blockbusters.

The year is 2020.  For the past seven years, the US and the world have been battling the Kaiju -- an ever-evolving fleet of gigantic monsters who rise up occasionally from a rift in a rim under the Pacific Ocean.  In order to counter the Kaiju, the world banded together and created the Jaeger -- huge robots that are used as hunters and a defense against the havoc the Kaiju wreak on the world.  While successful initially, the Kaiju have adapted to the defense mechanisms of the Jaeger and this savior of mankind is now becoming obsolete.  The Earth's governments declare the Jaeger project to be finished and start about building giant walls around the world's countries where the land meets the sea.  When these walls fail, the Jaeger are pulled out of retirement for one last attempt at defeating the ever-changing Kaiju.

The concept above is rather unique in and of itself, but del Toro adds even more interesting aspects to the mix in the way that the Jaeger are controlled.  Because of their gigantic size, two "pilots" are needed to control a Jaeger from the inside.  These two pilots must essentially "mind meld" in order to get in sync with one another so that the Jaeger's motions are seamless.  Adding to that, the ever-evolving Kaiju allow the monsters to be presented in similar, yet very different ways each time we encounter the beasts.  These unique twists provide just enough differences that make Pacific Rim stand out from something similar like a Godzilla movie.

While not without its faults -- the second to last battle sequence is a big payoff and when you realize there's still another one to come, you wonder why del Toro set up the film like he did; Charlie Day (while funny) plays a scientist in such a wacky way that you feel like you're watching a different movie every time his character is on screen -- Pacific Rim is a winner.  Guillermo del Toro has an eye for action sequences and has moments where heart prevails.  While its overarching story doesn't reinvent the wheel, the initial premise is singular enough that it makes us feel like we're watching something fresh.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Movie Review - Elysium

Elysium (2013)
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Wagner Moura, and Diego Luna
Directed by Neill Blomkamp

While Elysium takes place in the mid-22nd century, the basis of its plot shows us that the battle between the haves and the have-nots hasn't changed much 150 years from now.  Of course, rich people are bad, poor people are good, and there's no middle ground.  If you buy into this conceit you're probably a liberal, you may enjoy Neill Blomkamp's flick, but I found this dystopian future (so many dystopian futures lately in film) tiresome and obnoxious.

By the late 21st century, Earth has become diseased and polluted.  With the run-down land, Earth's wealthiest inhabitants fled to the space colony of Elysium in order to continue their way of life.  Elysium is just like Earth used to be except for the fact that this controlled environment drifts along through space.  Down on Earth, Max (Matt Damon) is a hard-working guy who's had his share of trouble with the law.  He ends up getting into a horrible accident at work in which he is exposed to a large amount of radiation which only gives him three days to live.  Rather than spend it on the hell that is Earth, he decides that he's going to try and do all he can to get to Elysium.  An associate named Spider (Wagner Moura) agrees to help him, but first he asks that Max steal some information from a powerful executive (William Fichtner) that will allow Spider to possibly take control of Elysium.  Through some convoluted nonsense, Max ends up undergoing a surgery that gives him a powerful exoskeleton that protects him when he goes to meet the exec and...yeah...I'm just gonna stop there, because can you top the notion of a powerful exoskeleton?

Seeing as how Max is trying to bring down Elysium (or at the very least make it more open to the general populous), many on Elysium aren't happy about this including Elysium's Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster).  Foster employs some weird accent (part South African-part Annoying) and couples that with some awkwardly-mannered jerky movements that make her presence off-the-charts odd (and not in a good way).  Toss in a weirdly overacting Sharlto Copley as some Elysium agent living on Earth who attempts to take out Max and Matt Damon ends up looking like one of the best actors ever to grace the screen in comparison.

Elysium looks ragged and worn-down from the outset (which I guess is the point), but it couldn't even visually intrigue me to make up for the lukewarm story and horrid acting.  It certainly doesn't help that the overarching theme of "rising up to defeat the man" felt tired and irksome.  Neil Blomkamp may have had success with the Best Picture-nominated District 9 (which I thought itself was overrated), but this just felt like more of the same in all aspects and it pales in comparison.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Review - Oldboy

Oldboy (2013)
Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, and Samuel L. Jackson
A Spike Lee Joint
***This film is currently steaming on Netflix**

Maybe it's just because I haven't seen the original, but I don't quite understand what all the uproar was about when Spike Lee's remake of the Japanese film Oldboy came out last year.  To me, Lee has produced a slick, exciting, well shot (though somewhat ludicrous plot-wise) revenge film that moves along at a rather rapid pace.  I found the piece quite effective in mood and tone with a strong leading performance by Josh Brolin.

It's 1993 and Joe Doucett (Brolin) is a sleazy alcoholic advertising executive who fails to give his wife and daughter child support on a recurring basis.  One evening, after a failed meeting with a client, Joe gets himself drunk to a point of unconsciousness while walking along the city streets.  When he awakens, he finds himself in a hotel room from which he cannot escape.  While imprisoned, he sees on tv that his wife has been murdered and that he is the prime suspect.  Despite his pleas, his captors never reveal their faces and keep him locked in the room for twenty years at which point he is inexplicably released back into the world.  His ordeal, however, is not over.  Once out, Joe receives a phone call from a mysterious man who tells him that he has three days to figure out why he was imprisoned or else his (now twenty-something) daughter will be killed.

Ultimately, Oldboy is saved by both Spike Lee's unique and refreshing swift direction and Brolin's compelling performance as a man who, despite his slimeball personality before, never deserved to be put into the horrifying predicament he was placed.  Beyond those two things, the plot of Oldboy revels in lunacy.  I won't even get into Sharlto Copley's over-the-top B-movie level villain and the absolutely insane reason behind imprisoning Joe for twenty years.  It's laughably bad -- and surprisingly uncomfortable to watch play out.  However, despite this pretty major plot point issue (and a few other rather disturbing storylines that I won't delve into for fear of ruining the film for you), I still found Oldboy to be a unique piece of American cinema that pleasantly surprised me.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Movie Review - Unfinished Song

Unfinished Song (Song for Marion) (2013)
Starring Terrence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston, and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's an overwhelming sense of sentimentality in Unfinished Song that you either buy into or don't. Fortunately, I did and I found this little seen British dramedy quite a charming surprise.  The story is quite simple -- Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying.  Cancer has taken its toll and she doesn't have very long to live.  She wants to make the most of her final months so she joins a choir of elderly folks headed by the young and chipper Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). Elizabeth doesn't want her choir to be looked at as a bunch of old fogies so she has them sing modern songs ("Let's Talk About Sex" by Salt 'n' Pepa, "Love Shack" by the B52's) in unique ways.  Marion loves the concept and it makes her incredibly happy, allowing her to forget about her illness.  Her curmudgeonly husband Arthur (Terrence Stamp), however, finds the whole thing ridiculous.

It's not difficult to see where writer-director Paul Andrew Williams' film is going to go.  Of course Arthur's going to have a change of heart, but there's something about the innocence coupled with the natural and "real" performances from Terrence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, and Christopher Eccleston (as Marion and Arthur's adult son) that make Unfinished Song much more compelling than it probably has any right to be.  Stamp, in particular, manages to make a stock character -- Grumpy Old Man -- into someone that you not only root for, but desperately want to realize the error of his crotchety ways.  His final scene -- good luck trying to keep your eyes dry.  I managed to avoid the tears, but I can totally see how it could cause the waterworks to open up.  [I must say that I rewatched the scene on YouTube and sure enough, it caused a tear to fall.]

Don't misunderstand -- Unfinished Song isn't necessarily a great film.  We've seen everything it presents here before (including the tired trope of old people saying things "young people say" for laughs), but if you're willing to buy into the concept, I can't help but think you'll be won over by the sheer niceness of it all.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)
Starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, and Alan Arkin
Directed by Don Scardino

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is one of those comedies with characters who have no basis in reality, are sometimes funny in their idiocy, but then become completely unbelievable when the script attempts to make them "more real" and "give them heart" by the film's end.  When you've created a character who bears no resemblance to an actual human being (as is the case in the title character played by Steve Carell), I have a tough time connecting...which is fine if you're going to make the character dumb and keep them dumb (which is a hard task to accomplish and still make them interesting to watch for two hours).   However, on the flip side, making a character over-the-top, unbelievably stupid, and a callous jerk and then expecting me to believe that they can become an incredibly intelligent and caring individual is a bit of a stretch that hardly ever works...as is evident here.

As a kid, Burt Wonderstone was a bit of a loner, but on one of his birthdays his mother bought him a magic kit and his life forever changed.  Burt partnered with his childhood friend Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) and the duo rose to fame as two of the most famous magicians of all time, earning a coveted headlining spot on the Las Vegas Strip playing to sold out crowds night after night.  The world of illusions is changing, however, and when the David Blaine/Chris Angel-esque Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) pops up on the Strip filming his tv show, the stuck-up Burt and the polite and slightly timid Anton are in for a rude awakening.  As Steve performs crazy acts like cutting open his skin and holding in his urine for a week all in the name of magic, Burt and Anton are pushed to the wayside in favor of this newfound form of illusion.

I laughed a few times during The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and despite my aforementioned qualms about stupid characters, Steve Carell does manage to play them quite well.  It's not his fault that during the film's second half, the screenwriters try to do a 180-degree turn for his character and attempt to make him intelligent and kind overnight.  It just doesn't work and neither does attempting to shoehorn in a romance between Carell and his "beautiful assistant" Jane (played by Olivia Wilde) who despised Burt one day and then loved him the next.

As much as I liked Carell, I disliked Jim Carrey.  While Carell can play someone over-the-top and still make them watchable, Carrey plays over-the-top in such an obnoxious way that it gets old very quickly.  That's been his MO for years, however, so it's not like it's anything new.  Rather surprisingly, with comic "greats" like Carell and Carrey in the mix, the actor who actually comes out on top in terms of comedy is Steve Buscemi.  There's a charm he carries when he's doing comedy that makes him relatable and enjoyable to watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie Review - The Company You Keep

The Company You Keep (2013)
Starring Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Brendan Gleeson, Brit Marling, Sam Elliott, Stephen Root, and Jackie Evancho 
Directed by Robert Redford

Just take a look at that talent listed above -- that's a helluva lot of names, most of whom are known for giving good performances.  Robert Redford's film The Company You Keep (culled from a script by Lem Dobbs) plays like a novel, introducing each of these actors for a chapter and then having them disappear.  This episodic nature proves very tedious about halfway through once we realize what's going on.  It fails to allow us to connect to anyone...then again, I'm not sure we really want to connect with any of these people.

The film opens with a brief flashback in newsreel/news footage form about a series of protests in the 1960/70s by a homegrown American "terrorist" group known as the Weather Underground -- a real-life "activist" group that bombed government buildings and banks as public demonstrations to gain notoriety in an attempt to overthrow the US government for what they perceived as wrongdoings during the Vietnam era.  The last blip of the flashback tells us about a 1980 bank robbery in which a civilian was killed and how the three people responsible are still at large.

Cut to present time and Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is arrested when buying gas at a convenience store in New York.  Solarz was one a Weather Underground member and one of the three people responsible for that ill-fated bank robbery that resulted in a death.  She had lived her life -- got married, had kids -- but the guilt of that day always stayed with her and Solarz, a Vermont resident, specifically crossed the New York state border to buy gas in order to get arrested and turn herself in.  This sets the FBI on a hunt for Solarz's colleagues in the crime, while also piquing the interest of Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), a young reporter at the local Albany newspaper.  Shepard ends up discovering more than the FBI (which doesn't sit too well with the FBI chief played by Terrence Howard) when he uncovers the fact that a local lawyer named Jim Grant (Robert Redford) is actually Nick Sloan, a presumed dead Weather Underground member suspected of taking part in the murder at the bank in 1980.  When Shepard confronts Grant about this, Grant immediately grows suspicious that the FBI will soon be on his tail and he sets off across the country trying to evade the FBI, while also trying to clear his name.

While the premise above is actually interesting that all takes place in the film's opening thirty minutes after which things quickly fall apart, digressing into scenes in which Redford's character meets up an old, hardened former Weather Underground member who then gets tracked down by the FBI just as Grant manages to make an escape.  This seriously happens four or five times and maybe it could've worked if any of these scenes ended up being anything other than two old people reminiscing about how shitty the government's treatment of the less fortunate is.  (Of course, the majority of these old fogies are now living in expensive houses, sailing yachts, or working at prestigious universities...so their sympathetic allegiance with the poor feels disingenuous...then again, that's the good old liberal mindset, ain't it?)

There are a couple of decent performances here -- LaBeouf is strong as the go-getting reporter, Sarandon makes the most of her small role with a particularly good scene in which she explains her actions -- but the typically strong cast isn't given much to work with and Redford doesn't really pull great performances from their small parts.  For someone who was a supposed sex symbol and movie star back in the day, Redford himself is uncharismatic and particularly bland here which is a disappointment considering he and LaBeouf are the only two actors who we see throughout the entire film.  The Company You Keep may very well have the most prestigious cast assembled for a 2013 film, but despite the high quality of actors, Robert Redford's film just meanders along for two hours failing to be anything more exciting than a game of "Which Celebrity Will Appear Next?"

The RyMickey Rating:  C-