Friday, December 02, 2016

Movie Review - Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Teresa Palmer
Directed by Mel Gibson

Hacksaw Ridge is an engaging film of two disparate tones that surprisingly and seamlessly meld together under the direction of Mel Gibson.  Certainly a difficult sit for its last hour which gives the audience one of the most realistically violent portrayals of war I've ever seen captured on film, I never found myself bored or uninterested in the true story of conscientious WWII objector and soldier Desmond Doss even during the film's first ninety minutes which plays like a 1940s style Hollywood wartime romance.  However, while Gibson succeeds at blending two distinct genres (and infusing some amusing humor), his film sometimes plays a bit too hokey due to some of his directorial flourishes and some of his cast's one-note "podunk country" characterizations.

Andrew Garfield portrays Doss who grew up in Lynchburg, Virigina, during the Great Depression.  A near tragic childhood incident in which Desmond could've killed his brother instills a deeply religious belief system into his young mind, with Desmond carrying the missives of the Ten Commandments with him throughout this life.  When WWII begins, Desmond feels that he must enlist to serve his country despite the urgings of his parents (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths) and his girlfriend Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) to remain in Virginia and do his part on his home soil.  Filled with patriotic pride, Desmond heads off to basic training to be a combat medic where he immediately finds resentment amongst his fellow soldiers for his refusal to carry a weapon, taking on the role of a passive conscientious objector as he abides by the commandment that he "shalt not kill."  Many attempts are made to relieve him of his duties, but Desmond perseveres and is allowed to head over to Japan with his regiment (after a quick wedding to Dorothy, that is).  It's there where the American troops engage in an epic battle to take over Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese -- a brutal melee during which Desmond proves his worth and his unimaginable bravery without ever picking up a weapon.

Desmond Doss's story on the battlefield is an amazing one -- one that deserved to be brought to the screen.  His tale is treated with reverence by Gibson (and the screenwriters) and it's certainly an odd thing to see religion and faith be treated with respect in a mainstream big budget movie.  For that, I commend Gibson, but I also feel that there were moments when visually the director decides to paint a too blatantly Jesus-esque depiction of Doss.  Slow motion edits and obvious cinematographic overtones hammer home the comparison a bit too bluntly (and actually caused me to laugh at one point in time -- something that was certainly not the intention).  In a similar fashion, during the film's first half, much of cast is forced to portray one-note characters, particularly that of Desmond's father Tom played by Hugo Weaving.  Weaving is the quintessential country bumpkin -- an alcoholic, abusive, slow-talker who is eventually won over by his son's backbone -- and he's playing a joke of a role that feels as if it could've been culled from a Duck Dynasty episode or a human version of The Country Bear Jamboree.  Quite frankly, it's a bit embarrassing, as is the typical array of characters Desmond meets in his army regiment from the tough-as-nails Smitty (Luke Bracey) who refuses to accept Desmond until a pivotal moment changes his worldview to a comedic Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) who puts Desmond through a tough struggle to stay in the army.  Granted, Desmond's army buddies fare better than his father, but the script does these side characters no favors.

Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer come across much better and their love story is peppered with several meet-cutes and blinky-eyed 1940s flirting, but it works in the environment set up by Gibson.  Admittedly, this romance stands in huge contrast to the incredibly violent though brutally realistic war scenes in the film's second half, but Gibson manages to stage both disparate segments with confidence, allowing Desmond's religious faith to remain a strong focus amidst the chaotic freneticism of the violent Hacksaw Ridge battle.

In the end, Hacksaw Ridge is a successful film and portrays a story that will instill a great deal of pride in Americans who give the film a watch (even those inherently anti-war and anti-violence).  Gibson really does do an excellent job in showcasing and merging the brutality of war with the gentle strength of faith and character in Desmond Doss.  I just wish the screenplay could've allowed for a more well-rounded portrayal of the cast outside of the film's central romantic relationship.  It's good to see Mel Gibson back behind the lens again and even if he adds in a few too many flourishes, he proves he's an adept auteur.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, December 01, 2016

TV Review - The Jinx

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
***This series is currently streaming via HBO***

Having heard great things about the six-part documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, I figured I'd give this HBO series a go despite the fact that I knew about the big bombshell it manages to drop (which I will discuss below, so be warned).  In the end, the documentary feels too long-winded to prove totally successful and ends on a disappointingly unfinished note (particularly if you're already aware of the aforementioned bombshell going in), but I still found myself intrigued by the story of the rich New York socialite Robert Durst and the crimes he has been accused of committing.

In 2010, director Andrew Jarecki released his fictional film All Good Things which was based on the life of Robert Durst, the son of a real estate mogul in NYC, who was passed over as head of his father's company in favor of his younger brother.  Robert was intrigued by the film that focused on his life and he contacted Jarecki and offered to be interviewed about the crime depicted in the director's film.  Much like the movie, Durst's wife Kathie had gone missing in 1982 and while Durst was thought by friends to be connected to his wife's disappearance, the police and district attorneys could never get enough evidence to garner a warrant.  Cut to decades later in 2001 and Durst finds himself living in a seedy house in Texas where he gets accused and placed on trial for killing and dismembering his elderly next door neighbor.  Durst is rather shockingly acquitted of the crime, but still finds himself dealing with the looming notion that he killed his wife.

That looming notion ends up being at the heart of director Jarecki's six-part miniseries The Jinx.  Jarecki started out his documentary as perhaps just a glimpse at an eccentric character who may or may not have been responsible for his wife's death.  At the very least, Jarecki saw the opportunity to craft a series around a man who had obviously been accused of doing a great many horrible things.  However, as his investigation into Robert Durst grows deeper, his interviews with people at the heart of Kathie's disappearance (as well as the Texas death) cause Jarecki to "go detective" and attempt to determine whether Durst really did kill his wife as so many of their close friends believed.

Unfortunately, The Jinx suffers from being about two episodes too long with the whole proceeding feeling rather drawn out.  That's not to say that the in-depth look at Robert Durst isn't captivating...it's just it could've been more effective had it been a little more taut.  In addition, I found Jarecki's ending to be disappointing.  Jarecki held onto the ending - which SPOILER ALERT has Durst seemingly admitting to the crime - until it aired on HBO last year, keeping the big reveal a secret from even the cops.  Because of this, there's no resolution to the six hours we've seen prior.  We don't know whether Durst gets his comeuppance or whether he walks away scott free.  (Durst has also been accused of another murder of his close friend for which he was recently charged in California.)  It proved to be a let down after I had given so much time to the story.  Had I watched it live, I may have been blown away, but watching it so many months after and knowing "the big reveal" left me wanting more to come after that "big reveal."  In the end, I think I have to reluctantly not recommend The Jinx despite the fact that I rather enjoyed it while watching.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Movie Review - The Boss

The Boss (2016)
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, and Kathy Bates
Directed by Ben Falcone

Oh, Melissa McCarthy...such promise after Bridesmaids has just been squashed by subsequently poor comedic film choices and The Boss is no exception.  McCarthy co-wrote the film with her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed the piece) and while her no-nonsense, brashness fits the character of self-made business tycoon Michelle Darnell, the character and the movie itself feel like a stretched-out sketch comedy routine as opposed to a fully realized piece.

Loved by millions for her eccentric approach to making money, Michelle is a self-help guru who seemingly has it all.  However, an insider trading deal gone awry sends Michelle to jail, causing her to lose her iconic status and the respect of her fans.  Upon release from prison, Michelle finds her previous earnings confiscated by the government, so with nowhere to go she lands on the doorstep of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell).  Claire is reluctant to help her former boss, but she eventually obliges after Michelle agrees to help watch Claire's tween daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) which leads Michelle to her new business venture -- a cookie-selling industry set up as competition to a Girl Scout-esque group.

Writing the above summary took me over a month to type out not because of any confusion regarding what The Boss is about, but because it's so unexciting.  This is a short skit waiting to happen and stretching this out to a 100-minute length grows aggravatingly dull.  McCarthy herself is actually okay here.  Although her character is grating, the actress is able to tap in to the absurdity in a way that at least makes the film watchable.  Unfortunately, when the film attempts to highlight its other characters - a bland Kristen Bell, a laughably and ludicrously villainous Peter Dinklage - it fails miserably.  While there are worse comedies out there, The Boss simply isn't worth your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Movie Review - Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris (2016)
Starring Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elzabeth Reaser, Kumail Nanjiami, Natasha Lyonne, and Tyne Daly
Directed by Michael Showalter

Anchored with a strong comedic performance from Sally Field, Hello, My Name Is Doris is a pleasant enough diversion that hints at strong dramatics, but never really bites the bullet on them which is both helpful and harmful in creating a well-rounded film.  Here, Field is the titular Doris, the only senior citizen working at an up-and-coming ad agency in New York City.  Whenever she's not at work, she's her mother's caretaker, but as the film opens, her mother has passed away and Doris finds herself a little bit lost in the wilderness until the young and charming John (Max Greenfield) comes into the picture.  A new recruit at her workplace, Doris is immediately smitten with the man, daydreaming about him being smitten with her as well, igniting a passionate love affair that plays out in her mind.  Following the advice of the teenage granddaughter of her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly), Doris pushes herself to be a bit more outgoing in order to get John's attention and she succeeds with John and Doris becoming fast friends both in and out of work.  Of course, this only increases Doris's infatuation with the young man -- a romantic feeling that he may not be willing to reciprocate.

While the film is undeniably played for laughs, there are some rather dark undertones present and Field does a nice job of landing both disparate aspects of her character's plight.  Ultimately, though, director and co-screenwriter Michael Showalter pushes some of these more serious aspects aside until late in the film despite the fact that we in the audience are well aware that Doris has some intense and frankly dangerous psychological problems from the film's outset.  While these dramatic character traits are detailed in the film's last third, the film may have benefited from a bit more serious tone spread throughout the piece.

I say that, however, and appreciate the humor that both Field and Showalter bring to the table (along with a charming turn from Max Greenfield).  Field captivates in the comedic moments and Showalter really allows the dramatic moments to resonantly punctuate the character and the film itself.  Somehow, it feels just the slightest bit off balance.  The film is also just a bit too meandering and despite its brief ninety minute length, it could've stood to have about ten minutes or so shaved off the opening and middle acts.  I still found Hello, My Name Is Doris to be enjoyable and mostly engaging, however, thanks in large part to Sally Field's amusing performance.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Theater Review - Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Lee E. Ernst
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, November 13, 2pm
Photo by Paul Cerro / The REP

Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play (and subsequent movie -- the latter of which I have recently seen) A Raisin in the Sun was a thought-provoking examination of African American culture in the late 1950s inhabited by a cast of black actors.  In the play/film, matriarch Lena Younger has inherited a $10,000 life insurance policy following the death of her husband and she decides to use this money to move her college-aged daughter, adult son, daughter-in-law, and grandson into a home in the more affluent white neighborhood of Clybourne Park in Chicago.  Upon discovering this news, Clybourne Park resident Karl Lindner attempts to buy out Mrs. Younger in an effort to keep racial tensions in his neighborhood to a minimum.

Writer Bruce Norris spins off Hansberry's play in his Clybourne Park taking along with him only the role of Karl Lindner and deciding to look at how the residents of the titular neighborhood react to the possibility of a black family moving onto their street.  Taking place in two acts across fifty years, Norris and (in this iteration) the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players explore how race relations have changed for the better or for the worse from Act I's 1959 (taking place concurrently as the events in A Raisin in the Sun) to Act II's 2009.  

And things certainly do change in the span of those fifty years in Clybourne Park.  In 1959, we meet Bev and Russ (REP members Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Stephen Pelinski), grieving parents whose son died after he returned home from the Korean War.  Desperate for a change, Bev and Russ have decided to move out of their home which has recently been sold by their agent.  Mere days before their move, however, neighbor Karl Lindner (REP's Michael Gotch) discovers that an African American family has bought Russ and Bev's house which sets off a sea of tension between Karl and everyone else including Russ and Bev's black housekeeper Francine (guest Jasmine Bracey) and her husband Albert (newest REP member Hassan El-Amin).  

Cut to 2009 and the landscape of Clybourne Park has changed drastically.  We discover that the decidedly white neighborhood of the late 50s/early 60s has drastically changed its racial demographics.  The same home once owned by Bev and Russ is now in shambles -- broken down, graffiti'd up, and quite an eyesore.  Young white married couple Steve and Lindsey (Gotch and guest Erin Partin) have bought the property and intend to demolish the house and build an upscale, modern home which doesn't sit well with the home's current neighbors Lena and Kevin (the aforementioned Bracey and El-Amin).  

Racial tensions, economic issues, and political correctness (or the lack thereof) create an atmosphere of debate -- one that I honestly wish was explored a little further by playwright Norris who thankfully tempers the heaviness of the subject matter by creating a play that is full of laughs from the beginning to the end.  These laughs break the nervous tension felt palpably by the audience, but in the end, I felt that some of the racial aspects of the plot were a little too basic to really be biting, particularly in the political landscape in which we live today where simply going on Facebook can be a disturbing experience.

Nearly the entire REP ensemble (as well as the guest actors) take on two roles here and they all create duos of distinct characters despite trying to peripherally connect their Act II roles with their Act I counterparts.   The company is well known for its ensemble-driven plays, but Clybourne Park stands out in particular as one in which no one member in the group outshines another -- a true ensemble piece if I've ever seen one.  If forced to choose a stand out, Michael Gotch's racially driven characters give him a bit more to sink his teeth into than everyone else, but as mentioned this is really a fantastic group effort.

REP member Lee Ernst directs this piece and he does a nice job in keeping the play moving along at a quick clip, making the most of both Norris's punchlines and dramatic moments -- the latter of which, however, end up feeling just a tiny bit lacking, but that's no fault of the REP.  In the end, Clybourne Park feels a little too kitchen-sinky in terms of its myriad of political concepts to really land its emotional core in perfect ten fashion. The final scene, in fact, feels slightly tacked on -- it works, but doesn't resonate quite as I had hoped in part because it deals with an intensely dramatic moment that doesn't really feel explored in great detail throughout the play.  Nevertheless, this production is a winner and it continues to prove that the REP's take on modern works is an area in which they truly excel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Movie Review - The Forest

The Forest (2016)
Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa
Directed by Jason Zada
***This film is currently streaming via HBO***

When American Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) receives a phone call from Japanese police saying that her twin sister Jess - who is currently in Japan teaching English to high schoolers - has gone missing, Sara jumps on a plane to try and find out where her sister has gone.  Upon arrival, Sara discovers that Jess entered the Aokigahara Forest known as a place where people go to contemplate and commit suicide.  Certain that her sister is not dead, Sara employs magazine reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and his friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead her into the forest, but not before Michi warns her that the forest has been prone to supernatural stories about many people that have entered to explore the area never to have found their way out.

Obviously, the summary above implies that The Forest is a bit of a horror story.  Unfortunately, it's not the least bit scary and first-time director Jason Zada doesn't succeed in creating that ever-growing sense of tension, dread, and fear necessary in a flick like this.  Natalie Dormer is fine in the duel role of twins Sara and Jess, but the film doesn't give her much to do.  In fact, there's not much to do for anyone in the movie.  Its short ninety-minute runtime feels bloated as it as.  I think there's possibly an intriguing  story to be made about the real-life Aokigahara Forest (and, in fact, there are a few other films this year that use this place as a background), but The Forest is not it.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+ 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie Review - Zootopia

Zootopia (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Maurice LaMarche, and Octavia Spencer
Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Amusing and creative, Zootopia is an engaging animated film with clever gags, solid animation, and quality voice acting.  While some critics deemed this Disney's best animated film in decades, I'm not willing to go there.  However, once you get past the rather lengthy exposition at the film's outset, its story becomes quite engaging and easily is able to win over its audience of both kids and adults alike.

Zootopia takes us a world that is completely made up of anthropomorphic animals where the concept of predators and prey don't exist; rather everyone coexists peacefully.  As the flick begins, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has just moved to the big titular city from the small rural town of Bunnyburrow with the aspirations to become the first rabbit police officer in the Zootopia Police Department.  While she eventually succeeds at achieving her dream, she's given very little respect by her superiors -- including water buffalo police chief Bogo (Idris Elba) -- and is tasked with being a lowly traffic cop.  In the course of her mundane duties, Judy runs across sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who she feels in conducting some type of shady business, but she can't quite put her finger on it.  Back at the police station one afternoon, a concerned Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer) pleads with Chief Bogo to search for her missing husband, but when Bogo seemingly pushes Mrs. Otterton aside, Judy jumps at the opportunity to work on a real case.  Bogo, seeing this as an opportunity to get rid of the overly ambitious Judy, tells the rabbit she has 48 hours to find Mrs. Otterton's husband Emmitt or else she must give up her position as a cop.  Desperate to keep her job and prove her worth, Judy tracks down Nick and bribes him into helping her.  The duo travels through the many landscapes of Zootopia and discover a nefarious plot that is turning the now peaceful predators into vicious animals again.

If that seems like a bit of a lengthy summarization, that's because I feel like it is...and that's the biggest problem I had with Zootopia.  The film just takes too long to get rolling -- too much exposition at the start and not enough verve to keep my interest.  Fortunately, once Judy and Nick head out on their mission to track down Emmitt Otterton, things begin to pick up and the film becomes filled with clever jokes and clever humanization of animals.  While the film's script doesn't really lend itself to those heart-wrenching or emotionally uplifting moments we've found in Pixar's films, it still ends up successfully balancing its comedic and dramatic moments in the film's final two acts.

Jason Bateman is perfect casting as Nick with the slick fox emanating Bateman's smart-alecky persona.  Ginnifer Goodwin is spot-on sweet as Judy, a character that could grow irksome in her perfectionism, but doesn't thanks to the vocals provided by the actress.  Nice turns also come from Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt (one of my favorite comediennes) as Judy's parents, the aforementioned Elba as the tough-as-nails police chief, and Jenny Slate as a tiny sheep playing assistant to the mayor of Zootopia.

The animators and screenwriters prove to be clever in their homages to other films and to human existence itself.  Puns abound, but never feel too in-your-face or over-the-top which is a good thing because these plays on words/plays on human culture could've gotten old quickly.  Instead, they add atmosphere to the animal environment.  In the end, Zootopia is a worthy entrant to the Disney animated canon, but it doesn't quite match the levels of the company's best.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Friday, October 21, 2016

Theater Review - Matilda

Matilda
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Where: Sam S. Shubert Theatre, New York, NY
When: Saturday, September 10, 8pm

Expectations were very high when I walked into the Shubert Theatre in New York City to see Matilda, a musical based on a book by Roald Dahl, one of my favorite authors as a kid.  Reviews for the production (which is closing at the end of the year) were very strong upon its opening in April 2013 and I've been itching to see it for quite some time.  Admittedly, it wasn't quite as fantastic as I had hoped -- the problem with going in with such high expectations, I suppose -- but it was still an enjoyable evening at the theater highlighted by what I think are some of the cleverest lyrics I've heard in a Broadway show in some time.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Matilda is its story in that there isn't much of one throughout the musical's 160-minute runtime.  Our title character (played in rotation by a cast of three young girls -- Ava Briglia at the performance I saw) is a bit of a genius.  With her head always in a book, she's certainly the brightest bulb in the Wormwood family...but that isn't saying much.  Dad (Rick Holmes) is a slimy used car salesman currently caught up in a scheme to sell wrecked cars to the Russian mob and Mom (Lesli Margherita) is an aspiring Latin ballroom dancer -- and neither of them have any time for Matilda.  In fact, as the opening song tells us, Matilda isn't wanted by her parents.  A burden, rather than a blessing, Matilda turned to education for solace from the chaos in the Wormwood household.  Hoping to curb a bit of Matilda's sassiness, the Wormwoods decide to send their daughter to a new school run by a grinch of a woman -- Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness playing in drag) -- whose claim to fame prior to running the school was being a champion Olympic hammer thrower for England.  Rather than embrace education, the Trunchbull instills fear in her students creating an atmosphere of terror which stands in stark contrast to Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), a fellow teacher at the school whose warm heart and tender nurturing provide the parental support to Matilda that she so desperately needs and deserves.

Sure, that sounds like a decent story, but to me, it's all exposition.  There's very little plot to go around in Dennis Kelly's book for Matilda and as the musical came to its end, I had this feeling of "That's all?"  Granted, in a lesser musical, this may be a bigger problem, but fortunately, Matilda contains some of the most cleverly written songs I've come across thanks to Tim Minchin whose bitingly funny lyrics come at the audience so quickly that I found myself often reacting to his ingenious wordplay in oddly delayed fashion.  Admittedly, the British accents impede some of the cleverness as does the fact that a vast majority of Minchin's work is being sung by kids under the age of 12 whose high-pitched falsetto-esque voices sometimes make some of their singing a bit tough to hear from the stage.  Still, the witty, Roald Dahl-esque lyrics are a true tribute to the musical's source material.

In a show that places young kids front and center for what is likely two-thirds of its runtime, the children in the production must carry a lot of the show's weight and the cast certainly succeeds in that department.  Ava Briglia undeniably holds our attention even when her quiet, subdued Matilda is being bombarded by the quirkier, larger-than-life figures that inhabit her life.  Kudos also to young Evan Gray who nailed my favorite song in the musical - "Revolting Children" - in a showstopping end to the evening.  Rick Holmes and Lesli Margherita as Matilda's parents reveled in their nastiness, making the most of their clever numbers and somehow making their over-the-top characters seem believable.  Bryce Ryness also deserves much credit for exuding an ogreish nastiness in Miss Trunchbull whose favorite saying -- "Children are maggots" -- keys us in to a character who begs for over-exaggeration which Ryness fully takes on.

Matilda is certainly an enjoyable evening at the theater, no doubt about it.  I simply had a case of higher expectations than I probably should have had going into it.  It isn't a perfect musical and, in fact, has a fairly big flaw in the storytelling department in my opinion, but it's cleverly humorous and very much in tone with what I imagine would be Roald Dahl's original intentions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review - Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Nina Arianda
Directed by Stephen Frears

Based on a true story from the 1940s, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the tale of its titular New York socialite (played by Meryl Streep) who has a great appreciation and fondness for classical music and opera.  On a whim and with the support of her husband and manager St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) Florence decides that she is going to showcase her operatic singing at a small recital for friends and other New York elite.  St. Clair hires an up-and-coming pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) to be Florence's accompanist and they begin preparing for the recital.  The problem, however, is that Florence can't sing...at all.  Her riches have allowed her to be trained by conductors of the Metropolitan Opera, but even these great musical minds can't mold Florence into a good singer.

The relationship between Florence and St. Clair is an unusual one.  Florence had been previously married and through that marriage contracted syphilis, so the couple have never consummated their marriage.  Because of this, despite being married, Florence and St. Clair don't live together with the two having an unspoken rule that St. Clair can see others.  Psychologically, this seemingly has an effect on St. Clair to be incredibly kind and generous to his wife, allowing her to act out her whims regardless of whether she really should, hence St. Clair's insistence that Florence be allowed to sing despite the fact that she simply is atrocious.

It's the admittedly odd connection between Meryl Streep's Florence and Hugh Grant's St. Clair that powers the film along.  There is obvious love conveyed for one another, but their unique living arrangements lead both parties to acquiesce to each other's whims.  This blind acceptance leads to quite a few humorous moments, particularly involving Simon Helberg as Florence's accompanist.  Helberg's Cosmé is seemingly only in the film to give reaction shots to Florence's truly horrible voice, but he does so with such aplomb that it's easy to overlook his underwritten character.  Hugh Grant is also charming -- as he is wont to be in films -- but this is really Meryl Streep's film.  Florence is certainly not as complicated a character as Streep as played in the past, but the actress imbues the character with heart, compassion, and a survivor-esque quality.  She's certainly captivating as always.

The film itself isn't quite as successful.  It's by no means bad, but in the end it's very much a throwaway.  There simply isn't a lot here.  Once we hear how awful Florence is, the comedic schtick runs a bit cold.  You can only hear a woman sing off-key so many times before you find yourself looking at your watch secretly urging the film to come to its conclusion.  Florence Foster Jenkins is amusing and lighthearted, but in the end, it's a bit empty.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie Review - Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

I am not the most erudite guy, but I generally like to think of myself as somewhat intelligent.  When it comes to movies, while I'm sometimes up for a mindless comedic jaunt, I also appreciate more nuanced approaches to humor.  With that in mind, I tried to understand what the Coen Brothers were trying to do with Hail, Caesar!, but I must admit that I found myself lost in the scattered, disjointed, and utterly dull satire that lingered on the screen.  Considering the overwhelmingly positive reviews (85% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), I'm obviously in the minority here, however, this flick never once seems to come together as a cohesive whole.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of film production at Capitol Pictures in the early 1950s, but he spends most of his time working as a fixer, trying to keep his top-of-the-line stars from ending up in the gossip pages of well-known columnists like twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).  It isn't easy and it gets progressively harder when one of the studio's biggest names -- Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) -- gets kidnapped from the set of the studio's big extravaganza Hail, Caeasar by a group of Communist screenwriters.

Were this the only plot of the Coens' Hail, Caesar, it may have been successful, but the duo pepper in a variety of other characters who serve little to no purpose in the film's overarching storyline.  Sure these characters help to create an atmosphere which is admittedly successfully portrayed, but their side stories are so superfluous and unengaged with the main plot line that I felt as if the movie would've worked better as a ten episode-long tv series rather than a self-contained 100-minute movie.  Scarlett Johansson is humorous as a brash, pregnant, unmarried Esther Williams-type synchronized swimming star.  Channing Tatum is fine as a Gene Kelly-esque singer/dancer.  Alden Ehrenreich steals the show as an "aw shucks" Roy Rogers-esque western star/singer.  Still, while these three actors have crafted believable characters, they're not all that integral to the overarching plot.  Unfortunately, that overarching plot is bland and boring and we find ourselves wanting to spend more time with Ehrenreich and Johansson despite the fact that they do little to forward the film.

The flick admittedly looks lush in its period setting and the acting is solid across the board (Ehrenreich is definitely the star of the bunch).  However, production and costume design can only get you so far.  In this so-called comedy, I can count on one hand the amount of times I laughed...and that's a bit of a problem.  The Coen Brothers are admittedly a directorial and writing team who don't always succeed for me, particularly in the comedy world.  Hail, Caesar! is one of those failures.

The RyMickey Rating:  D