Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Movie Review - A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year (2014)
Starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel, and Albert Brooks 
Directed by J.C. Chandor

I must say off the bat that A Most Violent Year is a different movie than I was expecting.  For some reason, I had this notion that it was going to be about this corrupt guy and his attempts to get to the top of his game by any means necessary.  While it's certainly about a business owner striving to succeed, he's a man of character (though not without some major flaws) and his struggles are met with perseverance.

That isn't to say that A Most Violent Year is a film that's all sunshine and lollipops.  Far from it.  It's New York City.  1981.  Abel Morris (Oscar Isaac) is an immigrant who came to the US and found success in the home heating oil industry.  He married the boss's daughter Anna (Jessica Chastain) and eventually inherited the business where he's had moderate success.  Abel desires to expand and while in the midst of placing a down payment on a huge tract of land next to the ocean that will allow him easy access to oil rigs as well as tons of storage capacity, he finds himself under investigation by the authorities (led by David Oyelowo) for fraud.  On top of that, someone is terrorizing his oil truck drivers by hijacking the vehicles and stealing the oil inside of them.  Things are looking shaky for Abel who always felt he did the "right" thing and attempted to take the high ground.  Will he stoop lower in order to save his family business?  His lawyer (Albert Brooks) and his wife think he may have to, but Abel questions if that's the way he wants to earn a living.

I continue to make Abel sound a bit too perfect in that summary and it should be known that he's not an angel.  There's a grit and determination in his demeanor brought to realization by Oscar Isaac that is absolutely palpable.  He's matched onscreen by Jessica Chastain whose performance is surprisingly layered.  Seemingly the Lady Macbeth to Abel's moldable and impressionable "king," Anna definitely will do what is necessary in order for her family to survive, however, she also has limits to how far she's willing to stoop.  The question is can her biting demeanor cause enough tension amongst her enemies to make a difference.

J.C. Chandor's three directorial efforts have all shown much capability in directing actors and this film continues that trend.  While many praised 2013's All is Lost, I found it lacking a bit in terms of character development.  Granted, that film focused squarely on one person, but it still was a bit of a let down.  In A Most Violent Year, Chandor takes on the grander scale of a family and makes it feel soap operatic and intimate at the same time, while also placing the film squarely in the time period of the early 1980s -- a tricky tone to land, but one that is necessary for a film of this ilk which feels almost gangster-y and an ode to the Coppola and Friedkin films of the 1970s.  This is Chandor's best work yet on the page and on the screen and I look forward to his next venture in the years to come.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Jurassic Park Marathon Starts Tomorrow!!!

Mr. DNA is more than excited to inform you that starting on Wednesday, RyMickey's Ramblings will begin its Jurassic Park Quadrilogy Marathon.  Join in as we discuss all four movies in this iconic film franchise.  What exactly does your oh-so-revered blogger think of the reptile-starring series?  Is Jurassic World worthy of being one of the highest-grossing films of all time?  Find out starting tomorrow.

The Jurassic Park Quadrilogy Marathon
Wednesday: Jurassic Park
Thursday: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Friday: Jurassic Park III
Saturday: Jurassic World

Monday, June 29, 2015

Movie Review - Still Alice

Still Alice (2014)
Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

While I wouldn't necessarily call Julianne Moore's performance in Still Alice a tour de force, I must admit that due to her acting choices and the way she reads certain lines, she nearly made me tear up in certain scenes in this film about a fifty-something year-old woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.  While the film itself is "just fine," Moore does elevate things which is likely a reason she walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress this past year.  (It also certainly helped that the roles for women in films in 2014 were decidedly weak.)

While I could list a summary for you, quite frankly I've already written all you need to know about Still Alice in the opening paragraph.  Thanks to a relatively quick running time, the directing and screenwriting team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland place the focus squarely on Alice (Moore), a linguistics professor who can't help but find irony in the fact that her education in language and communication is failing her personally now thanks to the incurable disease that is slowly deteriorating her mind.  With her three adult children and husband (Alec Baldwin) by her side, Alice must come to terms with the fact that her life will unfortunately never be the same.

While Moore is in every scene in the film, the moments that ring the most true for me were the ones in which she is discussing her disease with her family.  Baldwin as her husband and Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth as her daughters help to humanize things even more by reacting in a variety of believable ways to their wife/mother's diagnosis.  Without them to play off of, Moore wouldn't have shined nearly as bright as she does.

Still Alice certainly works as a movie and it doesn't particularly do anything wrong in any aspect, but don't go into this one expecting to be blown away because that won't happen.  This is a good film that I admittedly don't think can be any better than it is -- but it's simply good, not great.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Movie Review - The Captive

The Captive (2014)
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast, and Bruce Greenwood
Directed by Atom Egoyan
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

The Captive is an odd movie.  From the opening scene, we know who the bad guy is since we see him keeping a teenage girl locked away in a room.  So the suspense of that aspect of Atom Egoyan's film is moot right from the get-go.  The question we find ourselves asking then is "Why has he kept this girl alive for eight years since kidnapping her?"

As Egoyan's film jumps around through time (to presumably keep things [unsuccessfully] suspenseful), we drift back to the day when young Cass was kidnapped out of her father's truck while he went in to buy a pie at a local Canadian diner.  Upon his return, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) finds his daughter missing and his life turned upside down as his wife Tina (Mireille Enos) blames him for their daughter's disappearance and two cops (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) think Matthew is hiding something from them.

Of course, we know that Matthew isn't the culprit.  Instead it's Mika (Kevin Durand), a put-together soft-spoken weirdo of a guy who keeps the now teenage Cass (Alexia Fast) locked up in a room, providing for her whatever she needs in terms of food, clothing, and other leisure items.  As part of this weirdly sick game Mika is playing (which doesn't seem to involve any sexual favors with the teen), he places cameras at her mother's place of work so Cass can still connect with her and promises Cass that he will allow her to see her father again for a few brief minutes.  Even when Mika's motive for keeping Cass alive is revealed, it seems odd -- just as odd as the twisted and completely far-fetched and unbelievable game he's playing with Cass and her family.

I can't say I hated The Captive.  I did find that it kept my interest mostly throughout, but that was partly because it was so strange.  It helps that Egoyan's eye behind the camera keeps the drab Canadian landscape seem like an ominous character in and of itself.  Also, Ryan Reynolds is quite good here as the beleaguered dad, proving he really can stretch his dramatic muscles successfully if he so desires.  Rosario Dawson also gives one of her better performances, but her character is unfortunately drafted into one of the more ludicrous aspects of the plot -- and the one that the film tries to "hide" from us as long as possible thanks to the time twisting.  Atom Egoyan unfortunately makes films that I find myself always thinking have potential, but never deliver and The Captive really isn't an exception.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Movie Review - I Origins

I Origins (2014)
Starring Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and Brit Marling
Directed by Mike Cahill

I admired director-screenwriter Mike Cahill's debut film Another Earth for being "different," taking a tale of grief and suffering and adding a sci-fi twist to it, but in the end, I found the feature lacking a bit in execution with its low budget unfortunately rearing its ugly head.  I Origins follows a very similar road of telling a story about grief and suffering with a sci-fi twist, but fares a little bit better thanks to a bit bigger budget and characters that feel more well-rounded.

Lately, I feel as if I've written about many movies that feel like two different films squished into one and I Origins is no exception.  When the film opens, molecular biologist Ian (Michael Pitt) and his grad student lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) are attempting to essentially create an eye for an animal that has no vision.  Through a series of (fortuitous?  fated?  random?) events one afternoon, Ian, who has always been fascinated with eyes since he was a young child, comes across a billboard of simply the eyes of a French woman named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) with whom he spent an interesting night at a party.  Ian eventually finds Sofi again and falls madly in love with her and the two decide to get married.  On their elopement day, Karen gives Ian the fantastic news that she has found an earthworm that holds all the DNA necessary to "make" an eye, but doesn't currently have vision as one of its senses.  This discovery is the major stepping stone for all of Ian's work and he finds it necessary to cut his wedding day short to head to the lab.  This decision changes his life forever.

And unfortunately, it's incredibly difficult to talk about the rest of the film -- the better part of the film -- without spoiling things too much.  Needless to say, Ian's life takes a strange turn after that day with his success in the lab leading him down a path of both scientific and self-discovery that I found moderately fascinating.

The one thing that Mike Cahill's two films so far have going for them is this sense of intelligence brooding out of them.  You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand what's going on in the slightest, but he doesn't necessarily dumb things down to a point where a general audience would find his flicks palatable...and I like that about Cahill.  Here, science is absolutely in the forefront and what's even more intriguing is how Cahill integrates the battle between science and religion into the picture.  This is always a dichotomy that is a tricky one to embrace without upsetting either side and I think the director/screenwriter succeeds quite well.

Michael Pitt carries the film, but definitely comes alive in the second half -- along with everyone else, for that matter.  As we're watching, we know that the first half is leading up to something major, but it just takes a little too long to get there.  Fortunately, once we're there, it's worth the wait as I was quite captivated by the unique nature of the piece.  Much like Another Earth, I Origins will not be for everyone's tastes, but it may be worth a try if you're in the mood for something a bit thought-provoking and not so run-of-the-mill.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review - Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway (2014)
Starring Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, and Emilia Clarke
Directed by Richard Shepard

Filled with cleverly snappy dialog, an oddly retro aesthetic, and a titular protagonist who's a bitterly nasty guy whom we can't help but think a bit fondly of despite his many deviant issues, director and screenwriter Richard Shepard's Dom Hemingway is a film that works about half the time, but unfortunately falters a bit when it attempts to give its otherwise crude lead character a bit of a heart of gold as the film progresses.

From the opening scene, we glimpse what kind of film we're getting into and while I don't want to spoil the hilarity of the sheer audacity of the moment, we really do immediately key in to the movie's pulpy usage of dialog and visuals to evoke humor.  In that scene (and the ones immediately following it), we discover that Dom Hemingway has been in jail for twelve years after having committed a crime and refusing to name the crime boss who tasked him with the job.  Upon his release, he meets up with his best friend (Richard E. Grant) to head to France to meet up with Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), the man employing Dom when he was captured.  The ballsy, hold-no-punches guy that he is, the recently freed Dom demands that Ivan -- an incredibly wealthy, smooth-talking mafioso type -- give him a substantial payday.

Rather than spoil things, I'll leave the summary at that except to say that at about halfway through the film, Dom Hemingway begins to disappoint a bit.  Rather than continue on the comedically vulgar track, the second half of the flick attempts to reform Dom as he tries to reconcile with his adult daughter (Emilia Clarke) and her grandson.  I can understand how some films feel the need to make their nasty protagonist seem at least a bit rehabilitated as they progress and "grow," but Shepard did such a good job of creating a sleazy guy the audience can root for in Dom that this amelioration of his character is unnecessary and actually harms the film more than it does it good.  Granted, Dom never completely glistens with an angelic glow, but the whole last half struck me as a bit disingenuous for the character we had seen come before.

2014 was a surprisingly fantastic year for actors (as my RyMickey Awards will show) and in a lesser year, Jude Law would undoubtedly rank in my Top Five Actors for his brash, ballsy, and positively delightful portrayal as the title character.  While I'm not quite sure he'll make it there this year, his performance alone makes Dom Hemingway worth watching even if the film itself is hampered by a misguided attempt at creating a tiny bit of morality in the end.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Movie Review - Chef

Chef (2014)
Starring Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johannson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Bobby Canavale, and Robert Downey, Jr. 
Directed by Jon Favreau
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Chef certainly isn't aiming to be anything deep, but director and screenwriter Jon Favreau creates a lovely glimpse at a father/son relationship, the simplicity of which we don't often see on screens in this day and age.  Chef details the story of chef Carl Casper (Favreau) who has worked in a moderately ritzy restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman) for years, but has really been unable to create unique dishes as Riva wants to maintain the status quo because customers are still pouring in.  When a food blogger/critic (Oliver Platt) comes to the establishment one evening, he writes online that Carl's food is tired, old school, and lacking any modern flair.  Upon receiving the bad review, Carl goes a bit berserk online thanks to a visit from his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) who introduces his father to Twitter.  After Carl inadvertently tweets numerous public jabs at the critic that he thinks were sent privately, Carl becomes a bit of a laughing stock across the country at which point he realizes that he's not happy doing what he does anymore and decides to take a little respite to Miami with Percy and his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) where he rediscovers his passion for food and his desire to show that to the public.

Chef is a movie broken up into two halves -- the first with Carl at the restaurant and the second with Carl reinventing his food passions by opening up a popular food truck.  While the halves certainly carry a similar tone to them, the film feels almost like two different movies at times.  Fortunately, Carl's relationship with his son is the through line between the two and it's this paternal connection that feels incredibly comforting and realistic.  In fact, what really makes Chef shine is that all of the relationships here -- Carl with his ex-wife, boss, co-workers -- carry a sense of believability and genuineness.  Favreau as a writer seems to have a real grasp of dialog -- his characters' moments with his son are particularly authentic despite the fact that his son seems a bit too tech-savvy for his own good at age ten.

Nonetheless, there's a charm that exudes in Chef thanks to the writing and the cast, all of whom really take Favreau's words and make them come to life.  Sofia Vergara is at her least annoying here, playing a loving mom and ex-wife to Carl -- once again, the ex-wife/husband relationship exudes a credible believability despite being a shockingly pleasant association we don't typically see displayed in films.  John Leguizamo as Carl's friend and co-worker adds some character to the mix and Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman keep the first half of the film buzzing with some interesting camaraderie with Carl.

In the end, Chef is maybe a bit too simple for its own good -- I compliment the film quite highly above, but I found it a little bland at the start and it took me three sittings to make it past the first hour.  While that sounds a bit damning, I simply don't think I was giving Chef a big enough chance.  Had it dropped an F-bomb or two or a sexual innuendo out of the equation, Chef would've been fit for all ages, exuding a sweetness that I frankly wasn't expecting, but truly enjoyed.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Good Lie

The Good Lie (2014)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jay, Kuoth Wiel, and Corey Stall
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

In 1983, a civil war broke out in Sudan over religion and various natural resources, leaving many southern villages ravaged by northern armies.  Orphaned children fled on foot as many as one thousand miles to Ethiopia and Kenya in hopes of finding a safe refuge.  More than a decade later, 3600 Sudanese refugees relocated to the United States.  The Good Lie is the story of four of them and their incredible journey is uplifting and inspirational.  

While Reese Witherspoon gets top billing here, this "based on true events" amalgamation isn't her tale at all which I actually found oddly refreshing.  Eschewing the typical Blind Side savior aspect, The Good Lie places its focus squarely on the Sudanese refugees themselves -- Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jay), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel).  The quartet of siblings (though not all necessarily through blood, but rather through spirit) win a lottery to travel to the US and find support from Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), a job placement specialist in Kansas City, Missouri.  Although they slowly but surely begin to grow accustomed to American social cues, the three brothers long to be reunited with their sister Abital who was sent to Boston to live with a family there.

As mentioned, The Good Lie is the refugees' tale -- Witherspoon doesn't even come into the picture until close to 35 minutes in.  Rather, we get a detailed story of the quartet of refugees as youths as they make their incredibly long and dangerous trek through Sudan to safe harbor in Kenya.  By connecting with them as kids, we grow to understand the familial bonds they form despite the fact that only Mamere and Abital are actually related.  The film unfortunately falters a bit when it initially makes it to the US as it falls into the stereotypical fish out of water moments that we've seen before -- "What's this 'McDonald's'?", mistaking a telephone for an alarm clock, how do you use a straw -- but this lighthearted overused element shifts rather quickly back to the bigger story at hand.

While Witherspoon is certainly solid in her portrayal, The Good Lie belongs to the Sudanese quartet. Thankfully, the actors portraying them -- three of whom are actual Sudanese refugees themselves -- are more powerful than I could've expected.  The feelings depicted by the quartet all feel genuine and we never get the sense that this is one of the first acting gigs for most of them.  This is by far the most impressive aspect of the film and director Philippe Falardeau deserves kudos as much as the fresh-faced actors for being able to believably deliver and elicit the wide range of emotions needed for these refugees' stories to spring to life.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Movie Review - Let's Be Cops

Let's Be Cops (2014)
Starring Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D'Arcy, and Andy Garcia
Directed by Luke Greenfield

I think I laughed a sum total of three times in the nearly two hour-long Let's Be Cops -- a flick in which two thirty year-old nobodies (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr) attend a costume party as cops and find that everything becomes infinitely better for them when they wear an officer's uniform.  Little do they expect that their masquerade will soon take a scary turn when they inadvertently mess with a criminal kingpin (James D'Arcy).

Johnson and Wayans Jr. certainly have a chemistry with one another and admittedly they make the flick at least remotely watchable, but the humor here is virtually nonexistent.  When the flick was theatrically released, there was some disgust over the entire concept of the film -- guys pretending to be cops for shits and giggles -- but the only thing offensive here is that they couldn't mine more humor out of this whole ordeal.  If the Jump Street series has taught us anything, idiot cops should be a hoot.  Here, that's unfortunately not the case.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie Review - This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stall, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, and Jane Fonda
Directed by Shawn Levy

When their father dies, the Altman family -- siblings Judd, Wendy, Paul, and Philip and their mother Hillary (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stall, Adam Driver, and Jane Fonda -- gather together at their childhood home to sit shiva (a seven day Jewish period of mourning) in honor of their dad.  Old sibling rivalries and current spousal struggles rear their ugly heads as the Altmans learn to cope with their patriarch's death.

A completely believable familial banter isn't as easy to come by in films as one would think and the repartee that Bateman, Fey, Stall, and Driver have with one another in This Is Where I Leave You feels genuine.  While Fonda's role is a little over the top, I appreciated that her eccentricities appeared to have at least influenced her grown children's emotional states, helping to further craft authentic characters.  Solid performances by Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, and Abigail Spencer add to the great cast.

While I would've liked to have had a bit more heart imbued into the flick, I still found myself engaged and interested in each sibling's highs and lows.  This Is Where I Leave You admittedly treads similar paths of typical familial dramedies, but with a stellar cast, director Shawn Levy's flick proves to be a nicely paced, pleasant sleeper that surprisingly balances its myriad of story lines with ease -- some prove a little more successful than others (and a particularly out-of-left-field "surprise" at the film's conclusion seems simply added for shock effect), but the overall result is quite successful.  

The RyMickey Rating:  B