Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Featuring the voice talents of Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Alex Garfin, Mariel Sheets, Noah Johnston, Venus Omega Schultheis, Rebecca Bloom, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, and Kristin Chenoweth
Directed by Steve Martino

There's a nostalgic charm that runs through The Peanuts Movie.  Despite utilizing computer animation as opposed to the hand-drawn lines of our childhood, that's the only update for our Charles Schulz-created beloved characters.  No cell phones or computers make appearances in this Bryan Schulz-written screenplay that (sometimes slavishly) harkens back to the Peanuts stories of yore.  Brightly colored and visually appealing, if Charlie Brown holiday specials are always on your tv-viewing agenda (or if you happened to play Charlie Brown in a high school musical like your revered blogger here), you'll find yourself quite satisfied by this new incarnation of beloved cultural icons.

The story is incredibly simple and reminiscent of cherished Peanuts tales -- Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) falls for the new cute little red-haired girl (Francesca Capaldi) who has moved into his neighborhood, but our downtrodden and sullen guy can't seem to ever have things go his way.  Although we've seen this story many times before, it's always pleasant to see Charlie have repartee with Lucy, Linus, his sister Sally, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, and a variety of others.  The odd friendship Charlie has with his fellow classmates has always fueled my fascination with Schulz's writings and this film is no exception.

The film falters a little bit when it flips to Snoopy's storyline wherein our beloved dog takes on his Red Baron flying ace persona as he tries to rescue his paramour Fifi who was captured by some evil men.  This aspect of The Peanuts Movie drags on much too long and keeps popping up nearly every ten minutes when all I really wanted to see was Charlie Brown's story.  While not necessarily bad, the Red Baron aspect simply isn't as interesting and does bog down the tale a bit.

Still, the animation is very good, the voice acting is top notch, and there's a nostalgia here -- and admittedly I think that nostalgia plays a role in the grade The Peanuts Movie receives from me below.  While not without an aforementioned problem, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much the film eschews modern culture and really plants itself firmly in a "G-rated" past.  That alone is something we don't often see nowadays and it's a bit of a treat to see something as innocent as this.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Movie Review - Little Accidents

Little Accidents (2015)
Starring Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas, and Chloë Sevigny
Directed by Sara Colangelo
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Inherently, there's nothing particularly wrong with Little Accidents, a film from first-time writer-director Sara Colangelo.  It's fairly well made and well acted, but Colangelo's film is so heavy that it lacks a drive to push its story forward.  An overwhelming sense of depression looms over everything which, in and of itself, would normally be fine except for the fact that here there isn't quite enough story to merit its existence as a feature film.

As the film opens, we are told of a horrible mining accident that killed all men in the mine with the exception of Amos Jenkins (Boyd Holbrook) who is now trying to return to work unsuccessfully thanks to the injuries he sustained.  On the other side of town, we find Diana Doyle (Elizabeth Banks), wife to mine executive Bill (Josh Lucas) who is being investigated by the company for possibly causing the horrible accident.  At the same time, however, Diana and Bill are faced with the heartbreaking fact that their teenage son JT has gone missing.  Only one person knows where JT has gone and that's young teen Owen Briggs (Jacob Lofland) who is harboring a secret that eats at him every day.

Amos, Diana, and Owen's stories end up intertwining, but rather than seem overly natural, their relationships feel as if they were put together strictly to make a better movie.  It's not that it ever feels overly forced, it's simply that it always seems overly happenstance that these three individuals have relationships with one another.  I never felt particularly comfortable with any aspect of this triangular interaction.

Colangelo gets some nice subdued performances from everyone, but she's not able to drive the narrative forward in a satisfying way.  The film overstays its welcome by about half its running time and the ending, while yielding an appropriate conclusion for each character, somehow feels oddly unsatisfying.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Movie Review - Get Hard

Get Hard (2015)
Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip "T.I." Harris, Alison Brie, and Craig T. Nelson
Directed by Etan Cohen

When millionaire hedge fund manager James King (Will Ferrell) is accused of fraud, arrested, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in a "non-cushy" prison, he finds himself completely at a loss as to how he's going to survive in the slammer.  Hoping to gain some street cred, he turns to Darnell (Kevin Hart), his car washer whom he assumes has been in prison because he's black (this is a comedy, remember...).  Desperate for money to move out of the inner city in order to send his daughter to a better school, Darnell reluctantly agrees to help, although Darnell may not be qualified to show James how to Get Hard.

There are a few laughs in Etan Cohen's Get Hard and when they land, they succeed quite well.  However, there are just too many long stretches of time where either the comedy falls flat or the screenplay keeps hitting the same notes over and over again.  This certainly isn't a politically correct movie and for that I appreciate its insistence on trying to push the line, but the "white guy pretending to "be black"" joke can only be utilized so many times before one's eyes start to roll.  Ferrell and Hart are both fine and their interactions together make up the funniest aspects of the film, but Get Hard is too repetitive to really be successful.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Movie Review - Unexpected

Unexpected (2015)
Starring Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, and Elizabeth McGovern
Directed by Kris Swanberg
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Anchored by nice interaction between Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean as, respectively, high school teacher Samantha Abbott and her student Jasmine, Unexpected is a relationship dramedy that details what happens the two aforementioned women find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and how this both bonds them and changes their lives.  Both Samantha and Jasmine were destined for better things -- Jasmine had plans to attend college and Samantha intended to leave her shuttering inner city school to work at a museum -- but impending motherhood ended up beckoning them instead.

Smulders and Bean complement each other quite well and they certainly add depth to their characters.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite know what to do with them after about forty-five minutes.  Writer-director Kris Swanberg kept hitting the same dramatic and comedic notes over and over again and while these notes aren't particularly irritating or grating, the repetition prevents the movie from really progressing.  Unexpected is pleasant, but not overly ambitious and while not every movie needs high aspirations, this one needed to have a bit more story in order to really make it worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  C 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Movie Review - San Andreas

San Andreas (2015)
Starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Archie Panjabi, and Paul Giamatti
Direted by Brad Peyton

There's not much to San Andreas except for what we'd expect -- a giant earthquake wreaking mighty havoc over the southern portions of California.  Sure, there are attempts at a little more substantive story -- divorced father and mother (Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino) band together to find their stranded daughter (Alexandra Daddario), earthquake expert (Paul Giamatti) creates a device to predict quakes but no one will listen -- but at the heart of it all, this is simply a flick filled with special effects earthquake mayhem.

The pure special effects-driven nature works for the film's first hour quite well wasting very little time getting into the action and driving the story along from set piece to set piece.  However, as the second hour begins, the idiocy of what we're watching begins to rear its ugly head.  With Giamatti given absolutely nothing to do except hide under desks after spouting warnings similar to "This aftershock will be the biggest one yet!", the film tries to create some form of realistic story behind Johnson and Gugino attempting to find their teenage daughter in the shambles of San Francisco as the two parents are forced to face increasingly ridiculous scenarios.  How will they outrun a collapsing building?  How will their boat make it over the wave of this rising tsunami?  How will they land a helicopter with engine failure?  Seeing the chaos caused by the earthquake in the first hour seemed naturally plausible...seeing two apparent super humans try and rescue their equally superheroic daughter who McGuyvers her way out of quite a few tight spots herself makes the second hour laughable.

For the most part, the actors are game and actually do a nice job of keeping us interested in the action despite the building implausibility.  Johnson and Gugino are a nice match and Daddario more than carries her storyline with the help of British mates she meets along the way played charmingly by Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson.  In the end, San Andreas is about what can be expected, however, the film hurts itself by presenting a surprisingly solid first half only to dive deep into the realm of impossibility in its second half.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Movie Review - Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (2015)
Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss
Directed by Danny Boyle

Told in three acts in "real time" with each detailing the forty minutes leading up to a product launch, Steve Jobs is a unique experience of a film told in a provocative way by director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin who have created something I've yet to see before that quite frankly shouldn't have worked, but proves exceedingly successful.  Providing excitement through dialog -- a rarity in art nowadays -- Sorkin and Boyle have crafted not so much a biopic, but a look at how a man's psyche and emotional state can both change over time and remain disappointingly the same.

There's certainly no way that prior to the 1984 launch of Macintosh, the 1988 launch of the Next computer system, and the 1998 launch of the iMac that Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) received visits from Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), colleague Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), ex-wife Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), and daughter Lisa (played at the three stages by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine). There's also certainly no way that this group of people conveniently visited Jobs so that their respective story lines with the Apple founder/genius could progress in their respective manners.  There's also certainly no way that in the moments leading up to some incredibly important product launches, a man like Jobs would allow himself to be pulled away from such pivotal career moments to deal with crumbling personal and workplace relationships.  Yet, for some reason, thanks to the rather ingenious storytelling by Aaron Sorkin, this film and its rather obvious regimented set-up works.

Rarely do I write a review where I find myself giving tons of credit to the screenwriter, but in the case of Steve Jobs, I think what Aaron Sorkin does to create an atmosphere where the obviously manufactured set-ups work is something of a revelatory experience.  Part of the reason I think the three act structure is so hugely successful is Sorkin and director Danny Boyle's insistence to have the scenes play out in real time.  As Jobs's right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) tries to wrangle her boss into prepping for his big event(s), we in the audience find ourselves gradually inching towards the edge of our seats desperate to see whether everything will be resolved by the time Jobs needs to take the stage.  As the film progresses and the second and third acts begin, we in the audience are now aware of the gimmick and the insistence of Sorkin to have Jobs meet up with all the aforementioned people, and the anticipation we felt in Act One grows even more as we now find ourselves desperate to discover how Jobs's relationships will either become positively or negatively affected by his actions.  This concept is a writer's conceit and come to that realization as Act Two begins to unfold, Sorkin's fast-talking, highfalutin dialog works.  (Seriously, how often do we hear the words "halcyon" and "somnambulant" in movies?)

Three paragraphs in and I've yet to discuss what may very well be the best cast assembled for a 2015 release when the RyMickey Awards roll around next year (there's a ways to go still, though).  There's not a bad egg in the bunch and everyone bites into the Sorkin mile-a-minute pitter-patter style with gusto and rolls with it.  Michael Fassbender is great as Jobs, although the film admittedly doesn't quite give the character the emotional arc it actually thinks it does -- his comeuppance at the hands of his teenage daughter while bitingly written and believably acted is the only aspect of the film that feels a tad contrived (and that's saying something in a film whose structure is entirely contrived).  Still, Fassbender is in every moment of the film and his interactions with each and every actor feel natural, real, and never forced.  Great work is also had by Katherine Waterston and Kate Winslet -- two women playing very different roles, neither of which are easy by any means, but both of which are absolutely necessary for the title character to be a fully realized one.  Quite surprising is Seth Rogen's take on Steve Wozniak.  Usually the star, Rogen is relegated to second banana, but his Wozniak is a character desperate for attention from his father figure in Steve.  Much like Jobs has all but abandoned his daughter (a pivotal Act One moment that resurfaces in subsequent acts), he has also left Wozniak behind and Rogen's depiction of Woz's woeful despondency and his deteriorating relationship with Jobs is the emotional crux of the piece for me.  (Their showdown in Act Three is fascinating stuff.)

Although I've heaped much praise on Aaron Sorkin, credit is also due to Danny Boyle who has created a rhythm in Steve Jobs that causes this talky, play-like film to move at a breakneck pace.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a film so chockfull of dialog that felt this fast-paced to me and the real time aspect of the three acts ingeniously keeps the tension palpable.  Kudos also to the concept of utilizing three different types of film -- 16mm, 35mm, and digital -- creating unique visual imprints in order to capture the various acts.

Whether or not Steve Jobs depicts the exact psychological journey of Steve Jobs "The Man" I don't know; but I do know that the film showcases talented folks in front of and behind the lens who have crafted a cinematic experience that still has me thinking about it nearly a week after watching it.  There aren't too many films that I experience in a theater that have me wanting to rush out and see it again -- and there certainly aren't many biopics that make me feel that way -- but Steve Jobs did just that.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Movie Review - Truth

Truth (2015)
Starring Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, and Dermot Mulroney
Directed by James Vanderbilt

Despite a solid performance from Cate Blanchett (who, lets be honest, rarely disappoints), Truth feels as if it's not quite doing what its title implies.  Based on a true story, Blanchett is Mary Mapes, a producer for the venerable CBS news series 60 Minutes.  With the 2004 presidential election on the horizon, Mapes and segment host Dan Rather (Robert Redford) present a story that claims that then-current President George W. Bush received preferential treatment from Air National Guard officials in the 1970s.  Nearly immediately after the airing of the segment, a variety of sources begin to question the thirty-plus year-old documents that were the building blocks and particularly damning evidence of Mapes and Rather's report.  As Mapes attempts to quell the criticism, she finds herself at odds with her CBS bosses who keep questioning her journalistic ethics.

Taking politics out of the equation, the ultimate problem with Truth stems from the fact that it is based on Mapes's memoir and it makes out her CBS bosses and the litigation team investigating her journalistic ethics to be manically devilish in their attempts to take her down.  You can almost see Dermot Mulroney's lawyer character twirling his comedically villainous mustache as he tries to silence Mapes, and a lengthy and vindictive diatribe against the CBS honchos spoken by Topher Grace's ambitious reporter (and Mapes colleage) proves laughably farcical rather than substantive.  While there may be some truth behind the preferential treatment Bush received (and there may very well not be), the lack of well-roundedness in the side players of Truth and the need to make Mapes seem "right" hinders the film greatly.

As mentioned, Blanchett is good as the strong-willed Mapes who faces a possible career-ending crisis with the actress allowing us to see the pain Mapes internally confronts, but the film steers her wrong at the end and the self-aggrandizing, boastful attitude of the film does Blanchett no favors.  The film is blatantly telling us how to feel about her character rather then letting the audience naturally come to that conclusion.  The rest of the typically solid cast isn't given much to do at all with Redford in particular inhabiting a role that feels underwritten and shockingly sidelined for much of the film.  Then again, this is Mary Mapes's story and despite its attempts at trying to balance both sides, the film, although adequately produced and lensed, just doesn't land in the way it hopes.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Movie Review - Circle

Circle (2015)
Starring a Group of Fifty Actors
Directed by Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Fifty strangers awaken from a drug-induced "sleep" to find themselves standing on lighted red circles, facing one another around a central black orb-like device.  Step off of the red circle, you die.  Touch another person, you die.  As if that weren't bad enough, the strangers soon discover that every one to two minutes they are forced to vote for someone they think doesn't deserve to live and the person who receives the highest votes will die.

While Circle is innately a horror film, it's unlike any horror film you'll likely have ever seen.  Saw comes to mind with its characters needing to turn against one another in order to live, but there's nary a drop of blood here.  Instead, this is one of the talkiest movies I've seen in a while because the entire film revolves around human nature -- how do we see others and do they see us in the same way?  As the fifty people are whittled down to less and less, first-time writer-directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione ask the viewers to question what we would do in this situation -- how desperate would we be to survive?

Granted, as prejudices and the worst of human's psyches come to the surface, Hann and Miscione are sometimes a little too blunt and obvious with their reveals of the basest of human reaction/interaction. There are moments where subtlety would've been just as effective for some of the characters as the ungracious tactlessness they exhibit, but overall, Circle proves to be a very unique concept.  With close to fifty speaking roles, Hann and Miscione not only compiled a solid cast of relative unknowns, but the writers impressively and effectively keep the audience completely guessing as to who is going to bite the dust next.  Characters whom you think may make it to the end don't last more than ten minutes and just because they're speaking the most doesn't mean they're going to be staying around the longest.  This is truly the epitome of an ensemble film and the cast for the most part steps up to the plate.

Most impressively to this viewer, for a film that is based essentially around people talking to each other for ninety minutes with no real action so to speak, Circle moves at a relatively breakneck pace.  It was almost an hour in before I looked at how much time was left and I was blown away that I had been riveted as much as I had for so long.  Admittedly, the film falters a bit at the end -- a little open-endedness would've maybe been more effective than the actual ending -- and I still stand by the fact that certain political and societal topics that are brought up are sometimes done too heavy handedly to really be effective, but Circle is a unique cinematic experience that I highly recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Movie Review - Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, and Katey Sagal
Directed by Elizabeth Banks

I wasn't a huge fan of the original Pitch Perfect and expectations were not high for its sequel...and that's a good thing because Pitch Perfect 2 simply rehashes all the same jokes, character traits, and plot points as its predecessor.  The biggest problem with Pitch Perfect 2 is that not a single one of the a cappella numbers in the film seems as if it has any basis in reality.  Where exactly did the Barden Bellas headed by Beca, Chloe, and (Fat) Amy (Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Rebel Wilson) get the money for fire effects for a show set up in a hotel ballroom?  And let's not even delve into the opening scene that places the Bellas at a concert celebrating President Obama's birthday.

It's that concert for the president that sets the ball rolling as Fat Amy inadvertently exposes her nether regions to the public when her pants rip while hanging from a Cirque du Soleil-ish device.  Amy's commando ways bring shame to the Bellas and the a cappella community and higher-ups John and Gail (the rather hilarious John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) ban the girl group from participating in any events or competing anywhere except for the World Finals in Copenhagen.  With the Bellas in chaos, they must regroup and regain their illustrious status once again.

Unfortunately, the film feels like a complete retread of the original with the same jokes, set-ups, and types of songs being made a cappella.  Like the original, there are a few laugh-out-loud moments here and there, but the directorial debut of Elizabeth Banks just doesn't ring true in any single moment of its screen time.  Perhaps on the plus side, the best aspect of the film is a rather subdued performance by Hailee Steinfeld as a freshman at Barden College who joins the Bellas -- Steinfeld will presumably carry the torch for subsequent sequels seeing as how this film concludes with the majority of the Bellas facing graduation.  Steinfeld is pleasant enough and perhaps the most grounded character, but my hopes aren't high that future films will maintain this realistic approach for character's wide-eyed innocence.

Pitch Perfect 2 is watchable, but not much works.  Anna Kendrick looks like she doesn't want to be there, Brittany Snow's Chloe is too ditzy to be believable, and Rebel Wilson doesn't improve her acting skills at all from her first attempt at Fat Amy.  Wilson, in particular, is just an embarrassment and while I imagine some tweens may find her shtick funny, I find it nearly unwatchable.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Friday, November 06, 2015

Movie Review - Tom at the Farm

Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme) (2015)
Starring Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, and Evelyne Brochu
Directed by Xavier Dolan
***This film currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

When Tom (Xavier Dolan) arrives at the Canadian farmhouse of his deceased lover Guillaume, he is greeted by a mother (Lise Roy) who has no idea that her dead son was gay.  Confused, Tom then meets his lover's brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who through aggression and force manipulates Tom into crafting a story about his brother's heterosexual tendencies.  Tom agrees to keep his true relationship with Guillaume a secret, but soon finds himself in a twisted battle with Francis whose savage demeanor may be hiding his own secrets.

Tom at the Farm is an odd duck of a film that plays at times like a thriller, at times like a drama, and at times like a twisted romance.  Just when you think director-cowriter-leading actor Xavier Dolan is taking it down one side of that triangle, he veers to another angle or reins things in just enough that it feels a bit like a tease...in a good way.  The film feels soap operatic and overly dramatic at times, but the tone works for the most part.

The problem with the film lies in the character of Tom himself.  Attempts are made to showcase that Francis is forcibly keeping Tom on the farm, but there was never any moment during the movie where I felt that Tom couldn't have just walked down the road and left.  While I understand that Dolan was trying to show that Francis wielded some masculine control over Tom which, having just lost his lover, he may have found intriguing, but attempting to build tension from a story aspect that to me is easily solvable by a character simply walking out of a door doesn't quite work.  I won't even discuss the heavily anti-American tone to the film which becomes horribly blatant in the film's climactic moments and then is hammered home by a rather horrid song by Rufus Wainwright that runs over the end credits.

These qualms aside, though, Tom at the Farm is interesting.  I'm not sure I'll be rushing to see another Xavier Dolan film, but this one proved unique enough to maintain my interest throughout.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+