Sunday, March 29, 2015

Movie Review - Lucy

Lucy (2014)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-Sik Choi, Analeigh Tipton, and Amr Waked
Directed by Luc Besson

My biggest problem with director-screenwriter Luc Besson's Lucy is that I found it difficult to suspend belief and imagine a reality in which there was some feasibility with the title character's superheroic abilities she gains after being given a drug that strengthens her mental capabilities to fully utilize all 100% of her brain's power.  I realize there's a slight whiff of hypocrisy when I can watch something like Jurassic Park and believe that dinosaurs roam the Earth again or a film like Skyfall and buy into the notion that James Bond can run atop a speeding train.  However, something about Lucy didn't ring true and because of that, I found myself removed from the proceedings.

Scarlett Johansson is the title character -- a gal who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and finds her life completely turned upside down.  In Taiwan, she finds that her boyfriend (or perhaps one-night-stand partner) forces her to deliver a package to an evil drug kingpin (Min-Sik Choi) who in turn implants a package of a newfangled drug in Lucy's stomach forcing her to become a drug mule and carry the supply back to America with her.  However, on her way back home, Lucy is abducted, beaten up quite badly, and, after a powerful kick to her abdomen, finds that the package of drugs is leaking into her body.

As Lucy's story unfolds, we have interspersed scenes of Morgan Freeman as Professor Samuel Norman giving a lecture on how human beings only use 7% of their brain capacity.  Were we to utilize even 20%, we'd see marked differences in how we interact with others.  Thanks to this experimental drug, Lucy is finding out just what a 20% utilization will do and as the drugs seep further into her system, she finds that she is able to do things no human could imagine.

I could deal with Lucy reading lips and becoming quite adept at punching people, but when she starts being able to manipulate matter (both inhuman and human), I admit that I threw in the towel.  Johansson is fine here -- I think she's actually a decent "action" star -- but as Lucy's brain capacity increases, her emotions become nonexistent.  Her character's sassy (and, quite frankly, humorously enjoyable) demeanor at the film's outset becomes a blank slate by the film's end and it just makes for a bland ride.

Lucy is by no means a bad film -- its quick running time of under ninety minutes certainly speeds things along -- but I just couldn't accept the concept perhaps because it was a little too much in human "reality."

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Movie Review - Just a Sigh

Just a Sigh (Le temps de l'aventure) (2014)
Starring Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne
Directed by Jérôme Bonnell
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Two people meet on a train to Paris and spend an afternoon talking and making love in Just a Sigh -- a film whose premise is anything but original, yet contains some seductively romantic moments as we find ourselves oddly invested in the film's outcome.

The film works best when Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne share scenes together (or at least look longingly at one another) as, respectively, struggling fortysomething French actress Alix and British fiftysomething literature professor Doug.  Their quick, then more lingering glances across a crowded train ride to Paris set the stage for their romance and immediately create a palpable sense of sex appeal.  Unfortunately, the film attempts to flesh out Alix's life in particular -- the opening fifteen minutes feature her preparing for, then going to an audition; there's an odd ten minute diversion around the hour mark where Alix visits her estranged sister -- to no avail.  I'm assuming writer-director Jérôme Bonnell wanted to create a more natural approach to his two subjects by crafting a "day-in-the-life" style film, but when the film shifts away from the romance, it falls undeniably flat.

Obviously, for a film like Just a Sigh to work at all, there is a need for a connection to be felt between its two leads and that's certainly the case.  The build-up to the sexual consummation here is exciting and undeniably tangible with the love scenes between the two actors resonant and somewhat erotic despite the fact that nudity is doled out very tastefully and not at all gratuitously.  Devos and Byrne shine when they have scenes together.  It's just a shame the movie decides to branch out from their relationship because whenever it does that, it becomes a rather tedious bore.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie Review - The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014)
Starring Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage, Melissa Leo, and Hamish Linklater
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I think The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is supposed to be a comedy and despite the fact that I didn't laugh once (or really even smirk in the slightest), I found one of Robin Williams' final films to be oddly endearing.  Admittedly, however, the reason for the emotion stems from the fact that Williams finds himself playing lawyer Henry Altmann, a man who discovers that a brain aneurysm has allotted him only ninety minutes left to live and he must determine whether he wants to continue on his current path of anger and resentment or reconcile his differences with his estranged wife and son (Melissa Leo and Hamish Linklater).  Had Williams not recently passed away, I doubt very much that the film would've had much impact.  However, true life seeps into the cinematic world a bit here, creating something a little more rousing than the film itself merits.

Williams is adequate as Henry, although I feel like we've seen him play this angry, somewhat crazed role before.  Yes, he dials things back a bit here, but not quite far enough if I'm being honest.  Mila Kunis plays his temporary doctor who has troubles of her own -- it should come as no surprise that her foibles will change for the better by crossing paths with Henry.  Together, Williams and Kunis play off each other surprisingly well, however many of their scenes together are so poorly written or so abysmally staged -- this film has one of the worst uses of green screen I've seen in a while -- that they end up falling flat.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is not a great film, but it is unfortunately made better simply because of the passing of Mr. Robin Williams whose real life struggles somewhat mirror the difficulties his character faces in this film.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Movie Review - Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm (2014)
Starring Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, and Alan Arkin 
Directed by Craig Gillespie

Million Dollar Arm is an amiable sports drama that follows many cinematic paths trodden before and does so well enough, although it lacks a bit of drive and momentum, meandering as it tells its true story of two youths from India (Suraj Sharma and MadhurMittal) who are discovered by down-on-his-luck sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) in a last ditch effort to save his floundering career.  With cricket being India's go-to sport, J.B. concocts an idea to head to India, create a reality show to find those who can fast pitch a baseball (therein building excitement in the country), and help buoy his career by "selling" one of these athletes to a US baseball team.  With this being a Disney film, a happy ending is likely not out of the question so some of the flick's dramatic elements lack some gravitas, but the struggles of young Rinku and Dinesh as they attempt to make their country proud are surprisingly touching.

I've never watched Mad Men -- I've tried a few times and failed -- so my connection with Jon Hamm mainly stems from his guest appearances on 30 Rock.  As a leading man here, there is a charisma present that is much needed, but there's also a smarmy cockiness that exudes which is certainly fitting for a sports agent whose struggle to venture on his own has proven unsuccessful thus far.  We find ourselves rooting for J.B. from the get-go not only in his struggle to succeed in business, but also in his rocky relationship with his renting tenant Brenda played by Lake Bell, who is quite charming and continues to impress this reviewer.

Million Dollar Arm is by no means a home run, but it certainly doesn't strike out either.  With equal opportunity spent on both the young Indian ballplayers and J.B.'s personal troubles, director Craig Gillespie does a nice job balancing both story lines in a way that's respectful to all parties involved.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Movie Review - Annabelle

Annabelle (2014)
Starring Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, and Alfre Woodard
Directed by John R. Leonetti

The Conjuring made my list of Best Films of 2013 at last year's RyMickey Awards so I admittedly had some hopes that this "prequel" of sorts would measure up to the chills of its predecessor.  Annabelle will also likely show up on a RyMickey Award list -- for the Worst Films of 2014.  With nary a tense moment, this poorly directed and poorly acted flick proves to be a huge letdown and has officially diminished any excitement this series of films had for me.

In The Conjuring, we were brought into the lives of Ed and Lorraine Wilson who had a large array of "paranormally inhabited" objects in their home -- one of which was a large porcelain doll whose creepy appearance alluded to some nefarious shenanigans.  Annabelle is the story of this doll who is brought into the lives of doll collector Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and her husband John (Ward Horton) after John finds the toy after much searching.  One evening, a pregnant Mia is attacked in her home by two members of a cult who are shot and killed with the blood of one member dripping onto the doll and creating some supernatural possession...and, in turn, causing much chaos for Mia, John, and their infant daughter.

It should be noted that it took me about twenty minutes to write the above horribly formulated summary paragraph and I'm sure that's because of the idiocy of the whole film.  Director John R. Leonetti does a horrible job at extracting any chills from the admittedly silly story, crafting a mind-numbingly paint-by-numbers experience that could've been helmed by anyone who's ever seen a horror film before.  We're also treated to a master class in Horribly Bad Horror School Acting from Annabelle Wallis who was obviously told to do a whole lot of nervous shaking, gasping for breath, and the go-to motion of placing your hand over your mouth and screaming loudly.  Ugh...poor Ms. Wallis.  I actually thought she was decent throughout the film's first half, but once the horror aspects kicked into gear, she just became laughably awful -- a fault of her own and her director's to be sure.

What a disappointment especially considering how fantastic The Conjuring is.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movie Review - 22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street (2014)
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Peter Stormare, and Ice Cube
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

From the film's opening moments, the screenwriters of 22 Jump Street has the characters inform us that their film is going to be, for all intents and purposes, a rehash of the successful 21 Jump Street released two years prior.  By blatantly spelling out the repetition we'll be seeing, certain expectations are created (or perhaps certain expectations are lessened) which bode well in director Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's favor with the film providing quite a few solid laughs, but unfortunately overstaying its welcome by having an action-packed third act never seems to want to end.

The chemistry of leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as undercover cops Schmidt and Jenko who head off to college to unearth an illegal drug ring is certainly what brings the humor to 22 Jump Street.  Without these two amiable fellows, this near carbon copy of the original film would've fallen flat.  However, fortunately, Hill and Tatum continue to impress with the charming, humorous bromance that they bring to the screen.  I'm still surprised by Tatum's ability to make me laugh and how much Hill's character in this series is oddly endearing which is something I don't find to be the case in some of his other comedic works.

Still, despite many laugh out loud moments in the film's opening two acts, 22 Jump Street takes a turn towards the action comedy realm in the final 45 minutes and it falls flatter than it should considering the impressively enjoyable story that precedes it.  Rather than wrap things up quickly, we're forced into watching what is essentially two denouements strung out as lengthy as possible with some poorly conceived comedic routines peppered into some poorly developed action sequences.  The combination doesn't work here and it's a shame given the goodwill the audience feels during the flick's first two thirds.  I'd still love to see a 23 Jump Street particularly because of the nice repartee between Hill and Tatum, but this sequel was a bit of a letdown.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Movie Review - And So It Goes

And So It Goes (2014)
Starring Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Sterling Jerins, Annie Parisse, and Austin Lysy
Directed by Rob Reiner

I fully went into And So It Goes expecting the two elderly leads to find some decades-old pot and smoke it for comedic effect.  That didn't happen so Rob Reiner's film doesn't immediately lose points for that old people hippie-druggie comedy bit that is one of my biggest movie pet peeves.  However, if there was such a scene at least it would've elicited a reaction from me of some kind -- something that And So It Goes failed at doing.  While the two leads are amiable -- I always find Diane Keaton immensely charming (even though she plays the same characters over and over again) and Michael Douglas is underrated when it comes to light-hearted fare -- the story feels old, tired, and worn-out.

Douglas is Oren Little, a pompous realtor who is selling his longtime home in preparation for doing the typical "old person" thing of moving to warmer weather.  During a showing, his estranged son (Austin Lysy) shows up with his ten year-old daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerins), asking Oren to watch over his heretofore unknown granddaughter while he has to spend a year in prison.  Oren reluctantly agrees, but has no idea how to deal with this, so he turns to Leah (Keaton) who lives in and runs a rental property of Oren's.  With Oren's curmudgeonly attitude, Leah's optimism, and Sarah's innocence, the trio make an unlikely triangle -- one that follows the same paths we've seen many times before.

And So It Goes isn't offensive in any way, but it's mind-numbingly dull and that's often a bigger kiss of death than simply being bad.  But, least the leads don't smoke pot!

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Movie Review - Lilting

Lilting (2014)
Starring Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Andrew Leung, Naomi Christie, and Peter Bowles
Directed by Hong Khaou
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Whenever I see an actor or actress in a live setting, I feel like I have this weird sense of parental fascination with them.  Scarlett Johannson in A View from the Bridge (and not so much from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).  Kristin Chenoweth in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.  Gone Girl's Carrie Coon in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  I end up rooting for these people simply because I paid substantial money to see them on a stage.  Way back in 2010, I was somewhat dragged to an Off-Broadway play called The Pride (that was actually pretty good) that starred Hugh Dancy, Birdman's Andrea Riseborough, and Ben Whishaw -- three actors who all have proven themselves on the cinema landscape in subsequent years.  Because of this weird urge to watch things with these people with whom I've had some "live connection," the little indie flick Lilting was added to my Netflix queue upon its arrival to streaming.  Perhaps it was just the early morning hours in which I watched director and screenwriter Hong Khaou's first feature film, but my focus could not be kept once the film hit its halfway point and it kept rehashing the same emotional beats over and over and over again.

Whishaw is Richard, a young man struggling with the fact that his boyfriend of five years Kai (Andrew Leung) has passed away.  Kai was very close with his mother Junn (Cheng Pei Pei), a Chinese immigrant to Britain who struggled to provide a good life for her son.  However, Kai kept his homosexuality a secret from Junn which sets up an awkward situation for Richard who wants to make sure that Junn is cared for in her later years as she lives at a retirement home.  As Richard and Junn get to know each other -- while still keeping some big secrets from one another -- their relationship travels a rocky road.

The problem with Lilting is that until the film's final ten minutes, the film keeps repeating the same emotional moments.  How many times can we see Richard uncomfortably meet with Junn, pondering whether to tell her about his true relationship with Kai?  How many times can we see Junn not give Richard the time of day?  How many times can we see in flashbacks Richard trying to convince Kai to come out to his mother?  Nearly all of the film's scenes play these same notes again and again.   While both Whishaw and Cheng are solid, their characters go through minimal arcs and even at the film's conclusion, I never felt the emotional connection I probably should have.  By the time the film's final half hour began, I had checked out because I didn't care about anyone.  It's a shame because I think there was some semblance of an interesting story here, but it just doesn't come together in a satisfying way.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, March 13, 2015

Movie Review - The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins (2014)
Starring Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, and Ty Burrell
Directed by Craig Johnson

In the opening moments of The Skeleton Twins, we witness two Saturday Night Live alums Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play characters who both try and kill themselves...and right off the bat, we know that we're in for a film that we may not have expected given our preconceived notions of the comic actors.  Neither suicide attempt was successful -- Milo (Hader) didn't slit his wrists deep enough and his twin sister Maggie (Wiig) was thwarted when she received a phone call that Milo was in the hospital.  Needless to say, both of the Dean twins have some emotional issues that they need to work out.

Milo moves in with Maggie, but the duo were estranged for several years following an incident that occurred in their home town, shattering their relationship.  They warm up to each other quickly, but things have definitely changed for both of them.  Maggie is married to Lance (Luke Wilson), a really nice construction worker who wants nothing more than to be a loving father and a doting husband.  Maggie repays that kindness by cheating on Lance with pretty much anyone who will look at her longingly.  Milo, meanwhile, meets up with Rich (Ty Burrell), one of his old flings from when he lived in the small town, but soon realizes that Rich may have buried his homosexual leanings in favor of heading a "typical" American household.

A dark comedy, the film works best in its opening half as the troubled Milo and Maggie get to know each other again and try to help each other out of their difficult times.  Unfortunately, as the flick progresses and the siblings are forced to face their suppressed psychiatric issues, the film's sense of darkly whimsical humor vanishes and director Craig Johnson's film becomes a bit too weighty for its own good.  That isn't to say that The Skeleton Twins doesn't work -- it just becomes a bit less enjoyable to watch.  Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader do some excellent work here, balancing these tricky characters' roller coasters of emotion, with Hader in particular showcasing that he's got some dramatic chops that I didn't expect in the slightest.  Luke Wilson also proves to be entertaining as a guy that the audience can't help but root to succeed.  Overall, The Skeleton Twins is a solid piece, but one that doesn't quite balance its humor and pathos in quite they way it should.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Movie Review - Breathe In

Breathe In (2014)
Starring Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, and Mackenzie Davis
Directed by Drake Doremus
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A bit too subdued for its own good, Breathe In treads a familiar path -- older married man (Guy Pearce) falls for a much younger teenage high school student (Felicity Jones) -- but finds itself buoyed by some nicely mannered performances.  Pearce and Jones certainly make Drake Doremus' film watchable, but its slow pace and slight payoff leave a little to be desired.

When British exchange student Sophie (Jones) boards with a suburban New York family for a semester, husband and wife Keith and Megan Reynolds (Pearce and Amy Ryan) and their teenage daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) look forward to being able to show the young woman what the United States has to offer.  A rather advanced pianist, Sophie finds herself placed in Keith's high school music class where her talent and focus is a turn on to the struggling cellist Keith who wants to leave his teaching career behind and earn a coveted spot in a world-renowned orchestra.  Heretofore, Keith certainly never seemed unhappy in his marriage to Megan, but Sophie's interest in his interests invigorates him with the two eventually finding themselves bonding a bit more than they should.

Rather interestingly, Doremus and his co-writer Ben York Jones keep things as innocent as possible for as long as possible and even when Keith and Sophie turn towards romance, their feelings are depicted as more like lustful puppy love as opposed to lustful abandon.  While this is certainly an intriguing idea to keep things more "clean," it also doesn't quite provide the spark that a movie like this really needs.  Once again, Pearce and Jones have a palpable chemistry that makes their burgeoning relationship work and I guess there's kudos to be given to the duo for making the whole situation not feel "icky," but Breathe In doesn't quite overcome its overarching sense of dullness.

The RyMickey Rating:  C