Monday, August 29, 2016

Movie Review - The Bourne Identity

***Movie #1 of BOURNE Week***
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Julia Stiles
Directed by Doug Liman

It had been a long time since my last viewing of any movie in the Bourne series, so much so that I couldn't quite remember how many of the films I had actually seen.  With the latest film hitting theaters in 2016, I figured I'd revisit the series to determine if my lackluster feeling towards the films (so far as I could remember) was warranted.  After rewatching the first flick, The Bourne Identity, "lackluster" may be too strong of a negative word, but I will say that the flick was a surprisingly low-key affair, lacking the pivotal action sequences we've come to except from films in this "spy-ish" genre.

Granted, I'm all for reinventing the wheel, but The Bourne Identity doesn't really do that either.  What is unique about it is that is gives us a main character who doesn't know anything about himself -- who he is, what he does, what he's done -- when he is found lifelessly floating in a European sea and picked up by a boat.  Shot multiple times, one of the crew members nurses him back to health, discovering an embedded laser chip that seems to reveal the location of a safety deposit box.  Giving the chip to the nameless man upon arrival at a port, upon locating the box in Zurich, the man discovers that this name is Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), but he still doesn't know anything about himself.  However, he continues to have horrific violent memories popping into his mind of him seemingly committing crimes and he is surprisingly adept at fighting, using weapons, and thinking quickly on his feet.  Add to that, upon removing his items from the safety deposit box, he finds himself on the run from operatives who seem to be chasing him down for some reason.  Hoping to elude them, Bourne convinces a German woman named Marie (Franka Potente) to drive him to Paris where he believes he will uncover the truth about who he really is.

The Bourne Identity is certainly a solid piece of cinema and a decent film in the spy genre.  However, in director Doug Liman's hands, the film feels a little bland.  It doesn't take any chances visually and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn't ever feel special because of it.  The minimalist action sequences all work, but I surprisingly walked away from the film wanting a little more oomph and drive from those particular cinematic moments.  The character of Jason Bourne himself is an interesting one, though, whose story could easily be followed for subsequent films particularly due to his pre-amnesiac involvement in the CIA (which is revealed very early in the film, so no spoilers there).  While I didn't particularly love The Bourne Identity, things were looking up as I headed into the second film in the series...but would the Paul Greengrass-directed sequel continue my "This isn't as bad as I remember" mindset?

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bourne Week Starts Monday + RyMickey Awards Coming Soon

Check back Monday for a look back at the Jason Bourne series, culminating with a review of the latest film.

Following that, we'll have back-to-back-to-back-to-back (you catch my drift) 2015 movie reviews leading up to the 2015 RyMickey Awards debut.  I'm always the very last awards body to hand out my accolades -- but at least this way you'll know that you'll be able to catch all my favorites either on dvd or streaming in some capacity.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie Review - Our Brand Is Crisis

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan
Directed by David Gordon Green
***This movie is currently available on HBO Now***

Savaged by critics and completely ignored by moviegoers, Our Brand Is Crisis was one of the biggest bombs of Sandra Bullock's career when it was released last October.  Quite frankly, I'm a bit surprised because I found the film to be an amusingly lighthearted political comedy with an engaging cast who create an atmosphere that's a lot more fun than I expected.  Bullock is Jane Bodine, an American campaign manager who is hired by an American consulting who in turn was hired by Bolivian politician Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) to run his floundering campaign for the presidency.  The film rather simply covers a several-months period in which Jane and her crew (Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan) try to create reasons to sway the public vote to Castillo.

The performances really make Our Brand Is Crisis click with Bullock in particular offering up a strong-willed, sarcastically biting role that lifts the piece higher than I'd imagine.  Unfortunately, the film falls apart a bit towards the end with its political election proving to be highly anticlimactic and its subsequent repercussions off-putting and too dramatically out-of-place with the rest of the feature.  Still this film (a fictionalized account of a documentary of the same name) isn't nearly as bad as its lukewarm reception would have you believe.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 26, 2016

Movie Review - Anomalisa

Anomalisa (2015)
Featuring the vocal talents of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan
Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman

Pretentiousness usually doesn't bode well for me when it comes to movies.  Flicks that wear their importance or deeply philosophical spoutings on their sleeve typically are a bit of a turn off...which is why it's all the more surprising that I enjoyed the Charlie Kaufman-penned and co-directed stop-motion animated film Anomalisa because it's ALL about pretentiously philosophical notions.  Somehow, though, the animation both lessens the heftiness yet strengthens the concepts in an admittedly oddly oxymoronic way.

On a business trip to Cincinnati, married customer service specialist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) finds himself in a bit of a rut.  He's bored with the cacophonous drone of life where everyday feels the same, everyone looks the same, and everyone talks the same.  After a meeting with an ex at the hotel bar goes sour, Michael slumps back to his room only to hear the unique voice of a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that sounds different than everyone else he's encountered thus far on the trip.  (You see, everyone other than Michael and Lisa is voiced by Tom Noonan in order to convey the drone of life.)  Lisa invigorates Michael as they spend an evening together getting to know one another with Michael beginning to see life in a completely different light.

Story-wise, I must admit that I was taken aback at first.  I was befuddled as the movie began as to why every character other than Michael looked and sounded the same.  However, as the film progressed, I began to understand and appreciate Charlie Kaufman's purpose and I found that it was conveyed shockingly well.  There's no way possible that Kaufman could've made this film in a live action format, but animation allows his intriguing premise about monotony and lack of individualization to really shine.

And as for the animation, it's gorgeous.  The figures of Michael and Lisa are so vividly and realistically designed that I found myself watching the dvd extras to see how they were created -- something I don't often do.  Their movement is fluid and their heavy emotions are beautifully depicted.  Thewlis and Leigh also do a nice job of conveying their characters' dour and ebullient emotions, respectively.  Technically, you couldn't really ask for a more thoughtfully animated stop-motion film.

Anomalisa falters just a bit in that its slow pace sometimes grows a bit tedious.  By the film's end, I was wanting its short ninety-minute runtime to be about fifteen minutes shorter.  The oppressive monotony that Michael feels is mirrored in the way the film is presented which may be purposeful, but unfortunately ends things on a bit of a down note.  That said, I was captivated for most of the film, and while I will readily admit that this one will not suit everyone's tastes (which is de rigueur for Charlie Kaufman anyway) animation fans should check this one out solely for the wonderful work done by the talented artists.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Movie Review - Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, and David Arquette
Directed by S. Craig Zahler
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

There aren't many western/horror/comedy mash-ups floating around, but Bone Tomahawk would probably fall into that amalgamated category.  When his wife (Lili Simmons), a young deputy sheriff, and a prisoner are kidnapped by a mysterious Native American tribe, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), the town sheriff (Kurt Russell), another deputy (Richard Jenkins), and a rich cowboy (Matthew Fox) set out to find them and bring them back to their small Western town safely.  Little does the quartet realize that they're about to meet face to face with a group of gruesome cannibals with no respect for Americanized society.

Although the film runs a bit too long and falls into the typical trap of the western genre with a whole lot of nothing happening for long periods of time, debut director S. Craig Zahler (who also wrote the flick) has crafted a quirky flick full of humorous dialog spouted by surprisingly detailed characters.  The cast gamely acts out the witty repartee with Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, and Patrick Wilson all playing nicely off one another as they trek across arid, barren landscapes.   Oftentimes, films that attempt to blend genres fail to adequately balance all aspects, but Zahler rather surprisingly is able to marry horror and western and comedy.  Quite frankly, it's a bit shocking that as the film veers into the horror category towards its finale, it feels like a natural fit and that's certainly a credit to Zahler.

Bone Tomahawk isn't a perfect film, but considering it's in the western genre which I typically detest, it's much more enjoyable than I could've ever anticipated.  Sure, it's a bit of a cult-type piece that isn't going to be for everyone's tastes, but it worked enough for me to recommend it.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Movie Review - The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van (2015)
Starring Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent, Frances De La Tour, Roger Allam, Deborah Findlay, and Gwen Taylor
Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Marketed as a lighthearted comedy, The Lady in the Van is the victim of ill-conceived expectations because while it contains some humorous moments, director Nicholas Hytner's film is much heavier than I expected.  Elder stateswoman Maggie Smith is engagingly crotchety as the title character, but the film is a slog to get through, disappointingly boring as it tells the (mostly true) story of Mary Shepherd who lives in a run-down van on the streets of London.  Moving from street to street, Ms. Shepherd has parked her vehicle on a lovely city road in Camden, but when the government institutes a no street parking edict, young playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) reluctantly agrees to allow Shepherd to move her van into his driveway.  Little did he realize that his temporary good deed would turn into a fifteen-year squatting by the elderly woman.

Based off Alan Bennett's play, The Lady in the Van vacillates between whimsy (accentuated by a lyrical score) and slight dreariness (highlighted by classical music), but never finds an appropriate balance between the two.  The story also feels repetitive, spanning fifteen years but failing to give the characters a whole lot of growth in that time.  It's a shame, really, because Maggie Smith is enjoyable to watch (albeit in a very similar role to much that she's played over the past decade), but the character of writer Alan Bennett is irritatingly bland (to no fault, really, of the actor portraying him).  The film tries to give Bennett a bit of a creative punch by having two Bennetts onscreen at once -- one being Bennett as a writer and one being Bennett talking to his writer-self -- but this interaction comes off as too much of a creative crutch rather than inherently necessary to the story.  In the end, The Lady in the Van proves to be a disappointment and, even worse, a bore.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Movie Review - Joy

Joy (2015)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rosselini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohn, and Bradley Cooper
Directed by David O. Russell

While I enjoyed The Fighter, David O. Russell's two subsequent well-received films --  Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle -- didn't register as successful to me as they did to others.  Considering the less-than-enthusiastic reviews for the writer-director's latest, Joy, my expectations were quite low.  However, I found myself pleasantly surprised with the tale which isn't without a few faults in its story, but manages to be Russell's most entertaining film to date.

Joy is the semi-biographical story of Joy Mangano (played here by Jennifer Lawrence), a divorced mother of two who invents an ingenious new mop in an effort to better her life.  Obstacles are certainly placed in Joy's way -- her live-in divorced mother (Virginia Madsen) refuses to leave her bedroom where she watches soap operas all day, her father (Robert De Niro) has just moved back in causing trouble, her ex-husband (Edgar Ramírez) lives in her basement -- but she's motivated by her grandmother (Diane Ladd) who has always believed that the high school valedictorian isn't living up to her potential.  With the monetary assistance of her father's new widowed girlfriend (Isabella Rosselini), Joy creates her mop and finds herself shilling the device on the shopping network QVC after convincing an executive (Bradley Cooper) of her wares.  

While I mentioned earlier that Joy is Russell's most entertaining film, that doesn't necessarily make it his best.  There are moments in Russell's story and in his direction of his actors where he loses some focus, opting for quirkiness rather than fluidity.  While this proves to be amusing at first, it does grow a little wearisome when we in the audience want the film to focus on Joy's passion, perseverance, and fortitude as opposed to her odd family.  De Niro, Madsen, and Rossellini are all good, but I sometimes felt they were in a different film as their characters felt more like "Characters" than actual people.  Also, although Jennifer Lawrence is totally engaging as the strong-willed title character, she has an accent problem here in that whatever she was trying to attempt vocally fades in and out throughout the film enough that it proves noticeable.

Russell's an intriguing director to me in that I appreciate his stylization -- his use of music is always unique, even if sometimes a bit pretentious -- but when he lenses his own screenplays, he lacks the focus needed to reel in some of his odd excesses.  His best film -- The Fighter -- wasn't penned by him and I can't help but think that the guy should open up to filming other peoples' stuff again.  Joy gets him headed in the right direction, though, and I hope he'll continue the upward trajectory.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 12, 2016

What I'm Listening To - "Adventure of a Lifetime" by Coldplay

I am not whatsoever what I'd consider a Coldplay fan.  While I somewhat appreciate their singles, I've found their albums as wholes to be disappointingly one-note when played out in their entirety.  So I will readily admit that I didn't have the greatest of expectations heading into seeing them in concert as part of their A Head Full of Dreams tour at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday, August 6.  I was sure they'd put on a good show, but I had this tinge of worry that I'd be a little bored.

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.  This was, undoubtedly, the best concert experience I've had.  Now, can it compare with the first time I saw Paul McCartney back in 2009?  Well, I mean, McCartney's a legend and I was totally swept up in seeing the former Beatle take on hit after hit from his gigantic repertoire.  That said, this Coldplay show was a visual spectacle and the group -- particularly lead singer Chris Martin -- sounded fantastic live crafting an experience with over 45,000 people that I likely won't forget for quite a while.

One would think that lasers, fireworks, plumes of fire, giant video screens, confetti, and a stadium full of tens of thousands of RFID-chipped light-up wristbands (given out for free upon entrance) would take away from the music...and you may be a little right.  I found myself admittedly zoning out of the words that were coming out of Martin's mouth and instead taking in the spectacle of the whole thing -- but I kinda zone out of the words in most Coldplay songs anyway, focusing instead on the pulsing drive of the music itself so the concert setting actually fit my Coldplay listening tendencies to a tee.  Surely, the night's most impactful moments were on songs like "Viva La Vida," new single "Adventure of a Lifetime," "Paradise," and "A Sky Full of Stars" where the quicker-paced beats lended themselves to a bit more visual show.  However, the night's quieter moments -- "Yellow," "Clocks," a lovely cover of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," and even the night's final number, a surprisingly low key though rather stirring "Up and Up" -- allowed Martin's vocals to shine which provided a nice counterpoint to the obviously incredible showmanship of the other numbers.

As Martin ran across the stage, I tried to will myself to want to leave the concert and become the biggest fan of Coldplay ever.  That isn't going to happen.  However, perhaps weirdly (or maybe not), I'd go see these guys in concert again in a heartbeat.  It's not as if I think their music is bad in the slightest, but I'm still not the biggest fan.  However, they can put on one helluva show undoubtedly worth the $75 I shelled out.  I can't recommend them as showmen highly enough.

Below, you'll find "Adventure of a Lifetime" from Coldplay's latest album.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

What I'm Listening To - "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town

I'm not what I'd consider a country "fan" per se.  I don't listen to country radio all that much, but I do have a few artists I enjoy.  The quartet Little Big Town is one such group.  In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Little Big Town is my favorite artist currently recording music.  Sure, I may have more of an affinity for Billy Joel when looking at an entire artist's repertoire, but he stopped making new music decades ago.  Little Big Town, however, is still churning out albums and had their biggest success last year with the fantastic old school-styled "Girl Crush," a lovelorn single about a scorned woman pining to be her boyfriend's one and only once again.

The quartet has been touring this summer with Luke Bryan which disappointed me as I'm not a fan whatsoever and wasn't going to cough up the dough just to see them be a ten song opening act.  Fortunately, they took a little break from their summer gig to attend the Delaware State Fair on July 24 as a headliner and I was able to see a fantastic 20+ song setlist from the group who continues to fantastically harmonize onstage as the modern-day version of Fleetwood Mac (albeit with an obviously country tone).

Eschewing songs from their latest experimental album with Pharrell (with the exception of "Willpower" which was greeted less than enthusiastically by the fans), Little Big Town created a setlist that contained many of their hits, but also skewed heavily towards their most recent albums.  For the open air venue at the State Fair, the group went uptempo-heavy which I appreciated immensely, however, I missed some of the more intimate numbers that I've seen them perform at smaller venues in the past.  That being said, that's a minor quibble because the group sounds fantastic singing whatever they decide to do -- which included covers of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Prince's "When Doves Cry," Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," and Fleetwood Mac's pulsing "The Chain."

There is no doubt in my mind that I'll be back to see them again.  Their live performances have never disappointed in the slightest and this concert that put them front and center was their best show I've seen yet (this was my fourth time seeing the group live).  Even if you think you're not a country fan, give this group a try.  They may just surprise you.

Little Big Town's biggest hit, "Girl Crush," can be found below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I'm Listening To - "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney, Part II


On Tuesday, July 12, I headed to Citizens Bank Park to check out my second concert headlined Paul McCartney -- this time his One on One tour.  My first experience with Sir Paul was back in 2009 and it was one of the best concert experiences I've ever had.  Could lightning strike twice?

Not quite.  From my seat in the stadium, it took awhile to get acclimated to the sound system with McCartney's voice being nearly drowned out for the first five or six songs.  When things finally began to click sound-wise, Paul's setlist (found here) left a little to be desired.  Starting off with some of his newer pieces and a few lesser known songs, the rhythm of the concert lacked a driving momentum at first really failing at times to get the crowd excited and in the mood for the show.

However, as Paul progressed through the set, things really started to come alive with the entire second half of the show composed of hit after hit after hit.  As "Live and Let Die" played towards the very end, how could I not get excited with the song's pulsing drive and the pyrotechnic show that accompanied it?  Seeing McCartney and his band perform that single song is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Paul is still amazingly capable of putting on a lengthy show even at 74 years old with nary a break for water or a pause in the proceedings.  Of course, I'd recommend seeing him, but I just wish I may have left my McCartney concert viewings after one go.  While I'd not be opposed to seeing him again, I'd take a look at the setlist before I'd shell out the money.  Still, Paul is absolutely a star and deservedly so.