Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Movie Review - Life, Animated

Life, Animated (2016)
Directed by Roger Ross Williams
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

At the age of three, Owen Suskind turned from an outgoing, talkative boy into a silent kid who withdrew from his family.  Diagnosed with autism, Owen's mother, father, and older brother were devastated.  Their one moment of ever seeing sparks of life from Owen was whenever they would watch an animated Disney movie together.  As time progressed, Owen became more talkative -- often repeating lines from Disney films in order to express his feelings -- and he eventually as able to go to a specialty school where he graduated at the age of twenty-three.  Upon his graduation, Owen is able to move out of his parents' home into his own apartment which brings with it a whole new set of difficulties that prove difficult to overcome.

Life, Animated is a documentary that tugs at the heartstrings and, as a self-proclaimed Disney lover, hits close to home for this reviewer.  As viewers, we long for Adam to succeed and the film inherently has us rooting for the young kid.  Unfortunately, the flick feels a bit manipulative and staged at times.  There are several scenes in particular that feel set up simply as a means to advance the story the film wants to push instead of feeling real.  Once again, all documentaries manipulate to push their agenda and Life, Animated is no exception.  Even with that, the film explores autism in a way I haven't experienced before and that, along with the Disney connection, makes it a worthwhile watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Review - Denial

Denial (2016)
Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, and Andrew Scott
Directed by Mick Jackson 
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

Based on a true story, Denial details the story of Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an American professor of Holocaust studies who is sued in Britain by renowned Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) because of something she wrote about him in her recently released book.  British law differs from American law in that the burden of proof when it comes to libel falls to the defendant so Deborah and her legal team headed by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) must prove that Irving's denials of the Holocaust are false.  One would think that determining the legitimacy of the Holocaust would be an easy task, but in the court of law, one mustn't take anything for granted and Rampton  and his team find it a surprisingly more difficult job than they initially believed.

Denial is one of those interesting pieces of history that deserves to be told and is seemingly too crazy to actually be believed.  Would a Holocaust denier really sue a professor simply because she disparaged his crazed beliefs in a book?  Yep...and to think that the British legal system almost let him get away with his nutty lawsuit.  The film itself is rather straightforward, but it's well-paced and well-acted with a strong leading performance by Rachel Weisz who carries the film ably on her shoulders.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Movie Review - Paterson

Paterson (2016)
Starring Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, and Barry Shabaka Henley
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

Paterson is very much a "day in the life" movie.  For a week, we follow the titular character (Adam Driver) as he wakes up at 6:15am, kisses his creative, yet overly ambitious wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks to the Paterson, New Jersey, bus depot where he drives a city bus until 5pm when he walks home, eats dinner, and then walks his wife's dog to the local bar where he chats up the elderly owner Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) as he drinks his singular beer and then goes home.  This same pattern unfolds across the movie's two hours with minor changes that create just enough change to make Paterson's life feel different despite falling into the same old routine day in-day out.  It's a wonder that the film can sustain the audience's attention, but somehow writer-director Jim Jarmusch succeeds as I never found myself bored despite the very obvious fact that I so easily could have been.

Initially, Adam Driver's Paterson did seem like a bit of an emotionless blank slate, tired of his day-to-day routine or perhaps a bit defeated that this is the life that he has been destined to live.  While that admittedly doesn't change a whole lot as the film progresses, we do see sparks of life in part thanks to Paterson's love of poetry which allows him (and the audience) to see his mundane world in a different, more nuanced light.  Driver has some subtle moments here that give his dry character spark and verve and it's in those moments that we appreciate Driver's decision to highlight the typically humdrum nature of Paterson even more -- when we see those pivotal emotional moments, they end up resonating even more.

Paterson will not be for everyone.  It is a rather mellow film that doesn't have big story or character arcs, but for some reason, at 1am in the morning, this one worked for me which, I must admit, was quite a surprise.  I was fully expecting to turn it off about thirty minutes in, but somehow, I found myself drawn in to the mundanity of it all which is quite a surprise for me.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Movie Review - Miss Sloane

Miss Sloane (2016)
Starring Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, David Wilson Barnes, Dylan Baker, Christine Baranski, Sam Waterston, and John Lithgow
Directed by John Madden
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

There's certainly an undeniable anti-gun tone that squirms its way through Miss Sloane, a seedy look at the art of lobbying in Washington, D.C., but even this conservative is okay with that as I tend to agree that we need some greater from of oversight when it comes to our firearms in this country.  So while I was personally able to look beyond the slant, others may be less inclined.  With that in mind, Miss Sloane does take us inside the cutthroat world of lobbying, but it's a tad too emotionally detaching to really succeed at sucking me in.

That lack of emotional connection comes from the sheer brittleness of its headstrong, ballsy, and determined titular character Elizabeth Sloane played by Jessica Chastain.  Sloane is emotionally attached only to her job -- every relationship is sidelined, every waking minute is spent trying to advance what she's lobbying for at the moment.  Chastain is an actress who has the strength to take on a role like this -- a role where emotions are waylaid for gritty steadfastness.  Yet, as is the case with many of Chastain's roles, the lack of warmth in the character of Miss Sloane makes it almost difficult to really become invested.  Chastain is always an admirable performer, but the brittleness she brings to Miss Sloane is a bit disarming and admittedly harmed the film a bit for me.

(Sidetrack:  Would I say this about a male in this role?  Is it unfair that I make this comment about a female performance?  Maybe it's time to be a bit introspective, because I'm honestly not sure.  Do I need a female lead to have a more emotionally resonant character because I'm used to females being a little more emotional onscreen?)

That isn't to say that Chastain isn't successful in creating an interesting character -- she, along with Jonathan Perera's screenplay do just that.  The problem is that Perera's screenplay has one too many manipulations and oneupmanships by Sloane and her adversaries to really feel truly believable despite a game cast doing their best.  Sure, I'm certain underhandedness runs rampant throughout our nation's capitol, but that doesn't mean it always translates into a believable cinematic experience.  There's a convoluted nature to the film that director John Madden isn't able to wrangle and the flick suffers from a lack of brevity.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Movie Review - 20th Century Women

20th Century Women (2016)
Starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, and Billy Crudup 
Directed by Mike Mills
***This films currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

Santa Barbara.  1979.  Fifteen year-old Jamie Fields (Lucas Jade Zumann) is in that awkward stage of a teenage boy's life where he's becoming more sexually cognizant of his surroundings, but he lacks a male role model to go to with any questions he may have.  He lives with his well-meaning mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) who rents out two rooms in her house to a twentysomething cancer survivor/budding photographer named Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and a fortysomething hippie carpenter/mechanic William (Billy Crudup) whose spare time is spent practicing yoga and other Zen-like things.  While Dorothea is a liberal, open-minded woman, she finds William a bit of a kook, so she asks Jamie's best friend, the sexually free Julie (Elle Fanning), and her boarder Abbie to help her help Jamie through these difficult stages of his pubescent years.

On the surface, 20th Century Women doesn't seem like much, but thanks to a rather brilliant ensemble of actors and a quick-witted and sharp script that creates characters and situations that feel legitimate and fully realized, the film by writer-director Mike Mills is one of the best of 2016.  At its heart is Annette Bening whose Dorothea could so easily have been turned into the "flower power"-type stereotypical California liberal, but instead is a wonderful balance between that laid-back West Coast demeanor mixed with a headstrong mother who wants the best for her son.  Bening deftly balances the humor and pathos necessary for her character and shines.  The rest of the ensemble also makes the most of Mills' screenplay by crafting likable, though flawed, characters who never once feel like caricatures.

While this review may be on the shorter side, don't mistake its brevity for a lack of appreciation for this fine film.  Seek out 20th Century Women as I don't think you'll regret the decision.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Movie Review - Mr. Church

Mr. Church (2016)
Starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Xavier Samuel, Lucy Fry, Christian Madsen, Natalie Coughlin, McKenna Grace, and Natascha McElhone
Directed by Bruce Beresford
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

There's nothing wrong with sentimentality done right and Mr. Church has mushy sentiment in spades...now, whether it's done right is the question.  Based on a "true friendship" (as the title card at the beginning of the film relays to us), the film focuses on Marie Brooks (Natascha McElhone) and her daughter Charlie (played as a young girl by Natalie Coughlin and as a teen by Britt Robertson) and the secret that Marie is keeping from her daughter -- cancer is riddling Marie's body and doctors tell her she only six months to live.  Marie had been dating a rich entrepreneur, only to break up with him once she discovered he was married, but that didn't stop her former beau from hiring a chef -- Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy) -- to help Marie until she passes.  Marie, however, is a fighter and those six months come and go, allowing Mr. Church to become a permanent fixture in the Brooks household with Mr. Church becoming a father figure to the young Marie.

I'm going to be honest -- writing this summary, I had the most difficult time trying to make this film sound anything but boring.  I don't think I succeeded in the slightest, but it should be noted that Mr. Church is an okay flick that's unfortunately weighed down by treacly mushiness.  Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone elevate the simplistic and typical material.  In the end, Mr. Church is like a really good Hallmark movie, but even really good Hallmark movies aren't that good.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, January 08, 2018

Movie Review - King Jack

King Jack (2016)
Starring Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen, Daniel Flaherty, and Erin Davie
Directed by Felix Thompson
***This film is currently streaming via Netflix***

Jack (Charlie Plummer) is a fifteen year-old kid who is a bit of a loner.  His tough exterior can't help prevent him from getting bullied by Shane (Daniel Flaherty) or being hurt when he's rejected by his crush.  When Jack's younger cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) visits for the weekend, Jack's attempts at being more responsible don't exactly go as planned and he and Ben experience a weekend that's full of a few euphoric ups and several scary downs.

King Jack is a low budget indie that tells a simple story, but thanks to a riveting lead performance by the young Charlie Plummer, it's elevated to something that's a bit more than the sum of its parts.  First time writer-director Felix Thompson has crafted a film that feels strongly grounded in reality.  The young cast is engaging, but Plummer in particular is strikingly impressive.  Jack's hardened exterior masks a melancholic nature that is palpably felt by the audience thanks to Plummer's facial expressions and dialog.  The film itself isn't reinventing the wheel, but sometimes that's okay when it's trying to tell a realistic day-in-the-life type story and it's especially okay when your film is anchored by such an impressive younger actor who I hope has an opportunity to showcase his talent in the future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Movie Review - Goat

Goat (2016)
Starring Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Gus Halper, Daniel Flaherty, Virginia Gardner, Jake Picking, Brock Yurich, Will Pullen, and James Franco
Directed by Andrew Neal

I've never understood the concept of fraternities and sororities.  I mean, I guess there's this brotherhood/sisterhood thing going on, but this concept of having to be judged by complete strangers who act as if they're more important than their pledges simply to become part of some group so then those pledges can do the same thing to the next group of people seems almost like bullying to me and always has.  And then you add in the concept of Hell Week in which the frightened and excited rushes to the Greek society are forced to commit secretive acts in order to "belong" and I'm truly disturbed by the whole thing.  While I'm certain that not all fraternities and sororities enlist torturous acts for its pledges, Goat -- based on a true story -- details Phi Sigma Mu's horrid Hell Week which is filled with demeaning and abhorrent events that prove to be physically and psychologically damaging to its incoming young men.

A surprisingly decent Nick Jonas is Brett, a member of the Phi Sigma Mu fraternity, who is hoping that his younger brother Brad (Ben Schnetzer) will be chosen to be part of the group.  Brad has been through hell recently, viciously attacked by two unknown assailants after returning home from a college party during his senior year of high school.  Brett thinks the fraternity will do his brother good with the sense of camaraderie helping Brad to overcome his reclusiveness since the attack.  However, Brett soon realizes that Phi Sigma Mu's hazing initiations may be too similar to Brad's recent assault and may trigger some horrible memories.

Goat had the potential to be something really special.  There's a gritty realism on display that makes much of the film very difficult to watch.  Yet, by the time its conclusion rolls around, there's something a bit too convenient about the way things are wrapped up.  Good performances all around help the film feel lived in and real, but the screenplay's denouement feels a bit too convenient and ultimately too telegraphed from the film's onset.  Still, it's a horrifying look at an outdated concept that should be eradicated from college life.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Movie Review - Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)
Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, and Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
**This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

A film about an embedded American news reporter in Afghanistan from 2003-2006, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot works for its first half when its goal is a fish out of water comedy.  However, as it progresses and becomes a bit more serious, it falls apart.  It's no fault of Tina Fey who plays Kim, the central character of the piece who leaves behind a serious boyfriend to try and find her career calling as an on air cable news reporter in the war-torn Middle East.  Fey holds our attention and does a nice job of balancing her character's comedic moments with the weight of her character's situation of being a woman in a society that treats women in a much different light than America.

Still, while Fey balances things well, the film itself doesn't succeed in that regard.  When it shifts to be something way too serious in its final half, it stands in too stark contrast to what came before it.  Like Fey, the cast is engaging, but the likes of Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, and Billy Bob Thornton aren't enough to lift this one above being a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, January 05, 2018

Movie Review - Nerve

Nerve (2016)
Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Colson Baker, Emily Meade, Miles Heizer, and Juliette Lewis
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

A mindless teen thriller, Nerve conjures up its titular online game in which players must perform increasingly more intense dares in order to earn money.  This community of players and watchers grow to frighteningly crazed proportions one evening in New York City and things get out of control very quickly.  At the center of the game is high school senior Vee (Emma Roberts) who is anything but a risk taker.  However, with the school year winding down and her good friend Sydney (Emily Meade) taking part in the game, Vee takes a chance and joins the game one night.  Her first dare is to kiss a random stranger in a local diner.  The recipient of her smooch is Ian (Dave Franco) who also happens to be taking part in the game and the two team up to try and get as far in the game as they can.

Taking place over the course of one evening, Nerve is quickly paced and doesn't overstay its welcome with its quick ninety minute runtime.  It tries much too hard at the end to create a social commentary about our technology-addicted society and the group-think snap judgment bully mentality that media websites like Twitter bring to the table and that's where it falters a bit when it nears its conclusion.  Still, for strictly entertainment purposes, Nerve is moderately successful.  Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are decent together and if you're in the mood for a throwaway teen flick, Nerve works in that regard.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Movie Review - Zoolander No. 2

Zoolander No. 2 (2016)
Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney, Milla Jovovich, Christine Taylor, Justin Theroux, Nathan Lee Graham, Cyrus Arnold, Billy Zane, Jon Daly, Sting, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by Ben Stiller
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

There are just as many jokes that fall flat as make you laugh out loud in Zoolander No. 2, but in the end the balance works out slightly in the film's favor with the sequel to the cultish 2001 comedy proving to not be nearly as bad as the abysmal reviews would have you believe.  No one's coming to this one hoping for a great cinematic masterpiece -- all one would want is a worthy sequel to the original which I'll admit to not having seen in years, but remember having fond memories about the ludicrousness that it brought to the screen over fifteen years ago.  Fortunately, this delivers on being an amusing piece of mindless entertainment.

And boy is it mindless.  After a prologue which details in ridiculous fashion how our title character's life fell apart following the events of the first film, ex-model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) has become a hermit after losing custody of his son (Cyrus Arnold).  In the midst of the frozen tundra that is "Extreme Northern New Jersey," Derek receives an invite to model for a prestigious new designer in Italy.  With some coaxing, he reluctantly agrees, hoping that it would look good to the child welfare agency.  However, little does Derek know that he's going to find himself in the midst of another fashion-related conspiracy hatched by the evil designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell).

There's no mistaking Zoolander No. 2 as a "good" film, but it's so ridiculously bad that it really does almost land in that "so bad, it's good" category.  It never quite gets to that territory completely, but I laughed enough that Zoolander No. 2 was a worthwhile experience for me.  Sure, it relies much too heavily on an overabundance of dumb cameos from every aspect of pop culture -- Justin Bieber, Kiefer Sutherland, Willie Nelson, Katie Perry, and Anna Wintour pop up just to name a mere few of the boatload that spout a line or two -- but for some unknown reason, I was never upset by any of them.  Instead, I embraced this film's utter corniness and accepted the absurdity.  Apparently this isn't a popular opinion, but maybe I just watched this one at the right time in order for it to work for me.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Movie Review - Dheepan

Dheepan (2016)
Starring Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, and Claudine Vinasithamby
Directed by Jacques Audiard
***This film is currently streaming via Netflix***

Winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival doesn't always mean that you're in for a good movie as I often feel it carries with it the weight of pretentiousness.  That's the case with Dheepan, a flick that means well in its depiction of the immigrant plight across Europe, but ends up feeling unfocused.  After his side loses the Sri Lankan civil war, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) manages to receive asylum in France by receiving a dead man's passport, but he must pretend to be married to a woman he's never met in order to escape his country.  Dheepan, his "wife" Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and his "daughter" Illayaal (ClaudineVinasithamby) -- a girl whom Yalini plucked from a poor Sri Lankan family in order to secure her visa -- arrive in France unscathed and live in an apartment complex where Deephan gets a job as a superintendent.

If the film had just dealt with the isolation they felt in a foreign country or the difficulty of living together despite not knowing one another, Dheepan may have been successful.  Instead, it shifts in its second half to focusing on a Parisian mob group that lives in the complex where Dheepan lives and works.  In the final minutes, the flick turns into some odd Taken-esque revenge saga that fails to make much sense in the midst of everything that comes before it.  Granted, considering the military man Dheepan was back in Sri Lanka, it's not necessarily out of his character, but the final minutes of the film stand in such contrast to much of what comes before that it simply didn't work for me.  It doesn't help that the story that precedes this tonal shift fails to be very interesting.  There are some nice performances here from the three central characters, but Dheepan squanders them in a dry, unexciting film.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Movie Review - The Inflitrator

The Infiltrator (2016)
Starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Yul Vazquez, Juliet Aubry, Elena Anaya, Olympia Dukakis, and Amy Ryan
Directed by Brad Furman
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

During the 1980s, the Medellin Cartel smuggled 15 tons of cocaine a week into the United States.  Special agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went undercover in 1985 Tampa in order to become a trusted confidante of drug lord Pablo Escobar's men as they attempted to launder money in America.  The Infiltrator details this true story with a solid -- albeit rote -- exploration of Mazur and his intense dealings with some very bad people.

The Infiltrator doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's not exactly a film that has to do that anyway in order to succeed. What it does need is performances that capture the audience to carry them through the type of story that we've seen before and fortunately, The Infiltrator has that in spades.  Anchored by a compelling Bryan Cranston, the central cast of Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo, and Benjamin Bratt create an atmosphere that more than makes up for the somewhat convoluted screenplay which in its opening third takes a little too long to get the ball rolling.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-