Saturday, August 01, 2015

Movie Review - Sex Tape

Sex Tape (2014)
Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, and Rob Lowe
Directed by Jake Kasdan

From the co-writers of the Best Film of 2011 -- Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller -- comes one of the worst films of 2014.  Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel attempt to salvage what they can from what they're given (and from what Segel himself wrote), but this story of bored married couple Annie and Jay who decide to spice up their love life by making a sex tape only to have it disseminated amongst their friends thanks to the Apple iCloud is just abysmal.  With maybe one laugh, this is a chore to sit through for ninety minutes.

Not only is Sex Tape one of the worst written movies of 2014, but it's also one of the worst directed films of the year, filled with one of my biggest directorial pet peeves -- shots where someone is  talking and from a side view their lips obviously aren't moving.  It doesn't take much to get this right in a big budget Hollywood film, but Sex Tape manages to do this within the film's first five minutes and it doesn't let up.  I realize there's a pettiness attached to this complaint, but it goes to show the lack of care put into a film like this.

Poor Cameron Diaz -- she's had a lousy 2014 (as the upcoming RyMickey Awards will show).  Shockingly, Sex Tape isn't the worst thing she's been in.  So, if you're looking for her best effort, this one wins at least that ignominious battle.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Friday, July 31, 2015

Movie Review - Cold in July

Cold in July (2014)
Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Wyatt Russell, and Don Johnson
Directed by Jim Mickle

East Texas 1989.  Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) kills a home invader only to have the criminal's father Russel (Sam Shepard) begin to stalk Dane and his family.  Although Cold in July begins with this premise, the flick shifts about a third of the way through and despite some plot holes which probably should've bothered me, I found the gritty film noir a rather enjoyable mystery.

This is again one of those flicks that I almost gave up on.  The opening act does tend to plod along -- how many scenes of Russel skulking around the Dane house can we witness before we start to go a little crazy?  However, things definitely kick into a little higher gear -- or at the very least a different direction -- and the unexpected change of events gives the film a bit of a refreshing angle.  Jim Mickle brings a grittiness to the flick that is certainly befitting of the plot and Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and a humorous (though not overly so) Don Johnson all feel natural in their surroundings without feeling hokey which sometimes happens in film noirs.

I'd like to talk more about Cold in July, but to do so would be a moderate spoiler, so I'll leave this review as simplistic as it is.  While not mind-blowing and certainly containing a few flaws, Cold in July proved to be better than I expected given its rather lukewarm beginning.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Movie Review - Le Week-End

Le Week-End (2014)
Starring Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum
Directed by Roger Michell
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm not quite sure why I stuck this one out to the end.  Admittedly and to my chagrin, what I thought was going to be a light romantic comedy about a longtime married couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) turned out to be a rather glum look at a longtime married couple incessantly bickering with one another causing me to wonder how they'd stayed together for three decades and why in the world I was supposed to want to watch their marital spats play out onscreen.

Overly talky, every time I thought Nick and Meg were finally headed towards a reconciliation, someone would say something stupid and tick the other one off.  Perhaps this is the way things begin to look after you've been with someone for such a long time, but I found the whole thing incredibly uncomfortable and unenjoyable to watch.  I still think this is supposed to be a comedy, but I certainly never found myself laughing once.  Despite decent performances from Broadbent and Duncan who really do try and sell the material, Le Week-End is more triste than drôle.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie Review - The Longest Week

The Longest Week (2014)
Starring Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup, Jenny Slate, and Tony Roberts
Directed by Peter Glanz
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix**

Throughout a large chunk of debut director-screenwriter Peter Glanz's comedy The Longest Week, I found myself with the embryonic beginnings of a smirky smile, but it never really came to fruition even once.  The pieces were sort of there for success -- Glanz borrows heavily in stylization from 2000s era Wes Anderson and in writing from 1970s era Woody Allen -- but nothing ever quite fits into place enough to elicit laughs or other emotions.

A love triangle, The Longest Week tells the tale of ladies' man Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) who after years of living on his rich parents' dime is kicked out of his ritzy New York City apartment when they suddenly plan on getting divorced.  Conrad heads over to the abode of his friend Dylan (Billy Crudup), but on the subway ride meets Beatrice (Olivia Wilde) and instantly falls for her.  Later that evening at an art show, Conrad discovers that Beatrice is Dylan's new girlfriend which creates a conundrum for Conrad as to whether to pursue his newfound infatuation.

Despite adequate attempts to breathe life into the script by the trio of aforementioned actors, The Longest Week simply doesn't quite land in the way that the writer-director wants.  While I do think there's a clever absurdity there in the eye and the pen of Peter Glanz, he doesn't achieve it in his debut.  While I'd certainly take a look at his next feature, The Longest Week disappoints.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Movie Review - The Overnighters

The Overnighters (2014)
Directed by Jesse Moss
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I've been fairly lax on my documentary intake of 2014 films, but they'll be a couple popping up here before the RyMickey Awards begin in September.  The Overnighters tells the tale of Jay Reinke, pastor at the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota.  In recent years, North Dakota has become the state with the highest rise in its economy thanks to hydraulic fracturing technology -- fracking -- unlocking enormous oil fields.  Tens of thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans head to the state, but many of these new arrivals have nowhere to sleep and that's where Pastor Jay comes in, offering men the opportunity to sleep in his church hall and the church parking lot.  While his good deed would seem to be innocent enough, Jay's parishioners and the townsfolk of Williston aren't all happy with these out-of-towners invading especially seeing as how some of "the overnighters" (as they're termed) have seedy pasts.

The Overnighters is an interesting look at small town Americana and whether the religious doctrine "love thy neighbor" can be truly realized in a small community.  Pastor Jay himself is a bit of a flawed character, finding it difficult to fully balance his family life, religious life, and "overnighter" life, but his commitment to what he feels his right with his overnighter program trumps everything.  And it may end up being his ultimate downfall if the townsfolk have their way.

Rather oddly, the film takes a sharp 180-degree turn in its final ten minutes.  Granted, with this being a documentary, director Jesse Moss didn't quite know where his real-life subject would take him, but the inclusion of this feels a bit odd and an unfitting coda to all we've seen before.  What was once a film that had Pastor Jay at the center but was really about the people the pastor was helping and the community that was against him shifts squarely onto Pastor Jay himself and it's a bit of a disconcerting notion.

This unfortunate end perhaps unfairly tarnishes The Overnighters as it ends what was otherwise a solid story on a disappointing note.  This one ends up being lukewarm as opposed to worth-watching.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, July 27, 2015

Movie Review - Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
Starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Jennifer Coolidge, Donald Glover, and Megan Mullally  
Directed by Miguel Arteta

I'll just come right out and say it despite the prospect of being ridiculed -- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a truly enjoyable kid flick that does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere that is amusing to both adults and children alike reminiscent of Disney pics of yore like Freaky Friday and The Parent Trap.  It may not be a popular opinion, but I found myself thoroughly entertained for seventy-five minutes as young Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) and his family go through one of the worst days possible as havoc wreaks quite a spell on everyone.

Alexander is just about to turn twelve and he's discovered that a more popular kid at school has decided to throw his birthday party on the same night as his.  With the prospect of no one coming and having just had a school day filled with some huge blunders, Alexander wants to cancel his party, but his parents Ben and Kelly (Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) won't allow it.  With his brother Anthony (Dylan Minette) prepping for his prom and his sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) landing the lead in the school musical, at 12:01am on the night of his birthday, Alexander blows out the candle on a bowl of ice cream wishing that his family could experience how un-fun is life is for just one day.  In the grand tradition of wishes coming true in movies, when the Cooper family wakes up the next morning, chaos breaks out -- and the humor surprisingly flies all around.

Admittedly, there's a need for a bit of a suspension of disbelief here -- too many things are scheduled on this particular day for even the most reliable family to accomplish -- but if you're willing to make this acceptance, you're in for a treat.  Rather surprisingly -- and perhaps the reason for the film's success -- Alexander focuses not only on its title character, but gives equal opportunity to each member of the Cooper family to be fleshed out in terms of their bad days and all story lines work quite well.  Perhaps because of the notion that the parents are almost the focus here, adults are welcomed into the film in a way that isn't usually expected in movies aimed at a younger demographic.

Carell and Garner do a really nice job with both their slapstick and verbal comedy moments and all of the Cooper siblings also pleasantly create humor in their scenes.  The kudos really belong to screenwriter Rob Lieber in his debut for crafting a film that not only appeals to the kiddos, but also to the kid in all of us by never talking down to the younger audience.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Movie Review - Kill the Messenger

Kill the Messenger (2014)
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Paz Vega, and Andy Garcia
Directed by Michael Cuesta

For full disclosure's sake, I nearly stopped Kill the Messenger at the forty minute mark, thinking that this true story about journalist Gary Webb's uncovering of CIA involvement in drug trafficking from Nicaragua to the US was a tad too slow moving and a bit too by the book in terms of the way it was handling Webb's investigation into the government conspiracy.  However, I'm actually quite happy I stuck it out because as the film progresses, it becomes much more than an investigative journey and instead begins to live up to its title as Webb (played by Jeremy Renner) becomes the target of news reports aided by CIA leaks (or lies?) that strive to bring him down by revealing secrets from his past.

The problem with Kill the Messenger is that the film's first half isn't all that interesting.  As Gary moves from location to location meeting a variety of characters uncovering minor details concerning the CIA's cover-up, the whole affair feels very rote and bland.  Fortunately, the change in tone in the second half works to the film's advantage creating a much more well-rounded character in Gary Webb who is essentially hung out to dry by his employers after the CIA and other media outlets go on a mission to discredit the reporter and the tiny newspaper for whom he works.

The performances here are all fine, but there aren't any real standouts which also doesn't help elevate the otherwise boring start to the piece.  In the end, Kill the Messenger tells an interesting story that I was certainly unaware of, but it doesn't quite elevate to a point of consistent interest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie Review - Joe

Joe (2014)
Starring Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and Gary Poulter
Directed by David Gordon Green
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Nicolas Cage has become such a joke lately that anytime he's in a movie that carries any semblance of merit, it's somewhat shocking.  As the title character, Cage's Joe is a marble-mouthed mumbling ex-con who is trying to get his life together by running a tree-removal company in very rural Texas.  Well-liked by most, Joe still struggles to keep his violent tendencies in check.  When young Gary (Tye Sheridan) meets Joe one afternoon and asks him for a job, Joe obliges and a friendship begins to form between the two.  Gary has struggled with his horrible father Wade (Gary Poulter) beating him, his sister, and his mother and the young boy finds a calmness in the cool attitude of Joe.  When the alcoholic and destitute Wade discovers his son's new friendship, it doesn't sit well and Joe finds himself in the crosshairs of a father who wants to keep his son underneath his thumb.

While Cage is certainly the "star" here, despite being the title character, Joe doesn't particularly belong to him as a film.  Instead the relationship between Gary and his father Wade is the most striking aspect of the melancholic and somewhat heavy film.  Tye Sheridan was introduced to the cinematic scene with The Tree of Life and Mud -- two films that showed potential in the young actor that really comes to light here.  There's a naturalness to Sheridan that shows promise for his future.

Outshining both Cage and Sheridan, however, is Gary Poulter as the rather terrifying Wade.  This was Poulter's one and only role as the first-time actor died before the film's release.  I'm not sure I've seen a role inhabited in 2014 that felt as lived-in as Poulter's Wade.  Perhaps the reason Wade strikes a chord is that Poulter himself was found by director David Gordon Green living homeless on the streets of Austin, Texas.  When you talk about something feeling natural onscreen, I'm not sure it can get much more "real" than Poulter who struggled throughout his life with alcoholism and eventually died on the streets because of it.  It's really a bravura performance that is frighteningly captured onscreen.

While the film itself is a little drawn out, slowly paced, and focuses too much on Cage's Joe who simply isn't all that compelling, Joe is certainly worth a watch if only for the terrifying relationship between Gary and his father Wade and the performances of Sheridan and the deceased Poulter.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, July 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Congress

The Congress (2014)
Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jon Hamm, and Paul Giamatti
Directed by Ari Folman
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Robin Wright plays a version of herself in The Congress set in an immediate future in which movie studios have perfected a method of digitizing images of stars and sending the real-life actors packing, creating new movies and media personas out of these fully lifelike computerized images.  Known for being a bit of a difficult actress (in the film, that is), Robin is also an aging woman -- something Hollywood is not overly fond of it seems.  Eager to spend a little more time at home with her two kids particularly since her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is suffering from the early onset of Usher Syndrome in which he is gradually and irrevocably losing his eyesight and hearing, Robin agrees to a contract that allows Miramount Studios to digitize her and use her image however they see fit.

I must admit that despite the somewhat slow pace, I was mildly intrigued with what The Congress was giving me during its first half with Robin Wright giving a surprisingly nuanced and understated performance as an actress struggling to have to let go of her family's source of livelihood and income.

And then the film jumps twenty years ahead and we see Robin driving down a desolate desert road only to be stopped at a checkpoint where she is given an ampule of liquid which she sniffs...and then turns into a cartoon.  Yep.  Although the animation in the film's second half is vivid, colorful, and steeped a visually impressive 1930s/40s style, the storyline of this segment of the film was much too difficult (and/or uninteresting) for me to follow.  With a whole bunch of metaphysical gobbledygook being spewed about one's real self and true being, I found myself zoning out way too many times for the film's own good.

With about thirty minutes left, I said aloud, "Why are you doing this to yourself?  Just stop watching."  And I almost gave in to that temptation, but I continued.  In the end, I'm glad I did as The Congress did become a little more comprehensible to me by the time it concluded, but it's still much too weird and dull for it to be even remotely recommendable which is a shame because the promise of the first half and the intriguing questions it raises about ageism and sexism in Hollywood are actually quite relevant.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Movie Review - Words and Pictures

Words and Pictures (2014)
Starring Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison, Navid Negahban, Amy Brenneman, Valerie Tian, Adam DiMarco, Josh Ssettuba
Directed by Fred Schepisi
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Although I hadn't seen the preview for Words and Pictures in over a year (the film was released in Spring 2014), I could tell by the pictures on Netflix that I was in for a romantic comedy.  Had Words and Pictures instead decided to eschew that angle, I think it would have been a better flick, but as it stands now, this tale of two warring English and Art high school teachers is good, though it's hampered by the romance angle thrown at it in the final half.

When English teacher Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) first meets famous artist-turned-art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) upon her arrival at an expensive private school in Maine, they don't hit it off.  Dina's deadpan seriousness won't stand for his bombastic and cocky personality.  After multiple romantic refusals, Jack decides to take Dina to war and use his students as pawns setting up a battle of words versus pictures.  Is the written word more important in the grand scheme of things than art or is a picture really worth a thousand words?

As someone with an English degree (I know...sometimes it's not easy to believe that with this blog), I found the faux war surprisingly intriguing.  There's a lot of somewhat intellectual talk on the gravity of words and the emotions of art that played nicely against each other thanks to what Owen and Binoche bring to their characters.  However, as I mentioned, during the film's final hour, it shifts to a typical "opposites attract" romance that admittedly the film had been telegraphing from the get-go, but I had hoped it might bypass.  The depth of the battle between Jack, Dina, and their students is infinitely more thought-provoking than the very basic and obvious puppy love between the two teachers.  While this aspect certainly isn't a reason to completely dismiss Words and Pictures, the courtship is a bit of a detriment.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-