Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie Review - Mascots

Mascots (2016)
Starring Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley, Jr., Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Tom Bennett, Christopher Moynihan, Susan Yeagley, Chris O'Dowd, Bob Balaban, and Jennifer Coolidge
Directed by Christopher Guest
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Writer-director Christopher Guest's mockumentary Best in Show which took the audience behind the scenes of a low-rent dog show is one of the best comedies of all time.  A ballsy statement, I'm aware, and one that may not be shared by all, but it's a movie that I find myself cracking up with whenever I put it on.  In a similar vein, his latest film Mascots takes its viewers to the annual Mascot Championships where his interviews with a wacky cast of characters unveil the mask behind some unique college and sport team mascots fighting for the top prize at the event.

Told in a fake documentary style -- the genre of all Guest's films -- Mascots has its moments and is certainly watchable, but it doesn't compare to the genius that is Best in Show (then again, the rest of Guest's films don't compare to that genius either).  Guest allows large chunks of his acting ensemble to simply improvise and while that does provide some clever moments, it also fills the film with a lot of nothing in terms of character development.  Despite only being 95 minutes long, the flick feels much longer with too much focus placed on the mascot bits at the final competition rather than creating well-rounded and interestingly quirky characters.

I'm overly critical here because I know Guest and his ensemble (many of whom were in Best in Show) can do better.  I did laugh during Mascots -- quite a bit actually -- but I wanted more from the film.  The humor came a bit too sporadically for me to truly be able to recommend this one.  Best in Show, however -- get yourself a copy today!

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, January 13, 2017

Movie Review - The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O'Connor, Simon McBurney, and Franka Potente
Directed by James Wan

Although Psycho is my favorite film, the horror genre was one that I never explored as a youth, but as I entered by third decade, I found myself exploring scary movies with much more aplomb.  Three years ago, I was quite impressed with The Conjuring and the film landed on my Top Twenty list of 2013.  Director James Wan created a 1970s vibe that gained its scares from tension-filled build-ups as opposed to cheap jump scares and the film itself was one of the best horror films of the decade thus far.  Unfortunately, The Conjuring 2 doesn't quite live up to its superior predecessor, relying on a too-similar story, setting, and atmosphere to really feel like anything other than a rehash.

The Conjuring 2 takes us another journey with the husband-and-wife paranormal investigation team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) whose talents are called upon to help the Catholic Church investigate a possible demonic presence in Enfield, England, in 1977.  A young teen girl named Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) has purportedly become possessed and her single mother Peggy (Frances O'Connor) has had to send her other children away from their home for fear of Janet and the demons in their house causing them harm.  With the family desperate for help, Ed and Lorraine start their investigation, but soon discover that the Hodgsons may in fact be making this all up for attention.

There is certainly a foreboding atmosphere present throughout The Conjuring 2 as James Wan definitely has a way with creating scares not through gore and violence, but rather through an ever-building uncomfortable tension.  He also gets great work out of his cast all of whom elevate the horror film to a higher level than most.  Unfortunately, the story here (also co-written by Wan) just feels like too much of the same thing.  Running nearly 145 minutes, there's not enough new story brought to the table and, admittedly, the scares, though effective, also feel a bit repetitive from the first film.  The Conjuring 2 is by no means a bad horror film...it just suffers in the wake of its predecessor to which it hones a bit too close to truly be original.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Movie Review - Lion

Lion (2016)
Starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Divian Ladwa, and Rooney Mara
Directed by Garth Davis

Five year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) do all that they can to help out their struggling mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) who herself works a laborious job in a small town in India.  One evening, the two brothers take a bike ride followed by a train ride to seek out a new job prospect.  Upon arriving at the train station, Guddu tells a sleepy Saroo to wait for him on a bench in the train station while he goes to find out about the job, but Guddu doesn't return.  A saddened Saroo falls asleep in an empty train car, only to wake up and find the train moving.  1600 kilometers and days later, five year-old Saroo arrives in Calcutta with no money and no real concept of where he lives.  After a series of treacherous events, young Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) who give the boy a proper home in their country.  Twenty years later, an adult Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) begins attending college where his fellow students including his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) spur him on to try and find his place of birth and his biological mother.

Lion tells the true story above in an admittedly generic way, but one that is well acted and solidly lensed by first time director Garth Davis.  Split into almost even and equal parts across the two hour film, both aspects of Saroo's life -- his childhood and young adult years -- feel surprisingly fully realized with neither one getting the short shrift.  Fortunately, both actors playing Saroo are captivating, holding our attention throughout their halves of the film.  

Young Sunny Pawar makes his debut here and his wide-eyed innocence and genuine love for his family is perfectly conveyed at the film's outset which makes it all the more heartbreaking when he is essentially orphaned and forced to realize the horrors outside the walls of his admittedly run-down home.  The chaos of India with its hordes of people would certainly frighten this blogger so I can't imagine how it must've been for Saroo, but Pawar vividly emotes the fear and also the continuing hope that he will be able to return home someday.

Dev Patel is giving his best performance by far here.  His Saroo also begins with a wide-eyed innocence and genuine love for his Australian family at his character's outset.  The genuine appreciation for his adopted parents is evident as he is well aware that he has been afforded a wonderful life for the past twenty years.  Upon entering college and meeting some other students from India, however, memories begin to flood back into his mind from decades ago and Patel does a fantastic job showcasing his character's guilt for being chosen to leave India and for leaving behind his family as well as for even contemplating the notion of beginning a search for his biological mother and the pain that could cause his adoptive mother Sue.

Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara are nice additions to the mix as well although both roles are only truly in service to both iterations of Saroo who is the sole focus of the film.  While Lion never gets preachy in its message about home and family, it is admittedly a bit overly sentimental sometimes.  That's never usually a downfall for this reviewer and that holds true here, but I could see how some may be turned off by the uplifting nature of the piece.  Overall, Lion is a bit generic -- nothing reinvents the wheel here -- but it still delivers a beautiful true story that tugs at the heartstrings every now and then.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Friday, January 06, 2017

Movie Review - Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Tate Donovan, and Matthew Broderick
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Having high expectations doesn't always hinder one's cinematic experience (see La La Land as a case in point), but Manchester by the Sea is the unfortunate victim of this odious psychological conundrum.  It's not that writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's film is bad in any way, it's just that after months of talk about fantastic performances and gripping drama and depressingly tragic moments, I found myself the slightest bit let down by what I saw onscreen.  While a nice "slice of life"-style film (albeit with some severely sad scenes), Manchester by the Sea rarely grabbed me on an emotional level in the way that I feel it should have particularly given the subject matter.

Casey Affleck is the anchor here as Lee Chandler, a young thirtysomething janitor living in Boston.  His mundane life is interrupted one snowy afternoon when he receives a phone call that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has suffered a fatal heart attack.  Lee makes the two-hour journey to Manchester - his hometown - where he finds himself forced to relive his past and the reasons he left the town to begin with, all the while becoming the new father figure to his sixteen year-old teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) whose mother (Gretchen Mol) abandoned him and his father nearly a decade prior.

There is a heartbreaking backstory that oppresses Lee in his present life and it has weighed heavily on him for years.  Lee's past is revealed to us in spurts by Lonergan in a way that feels natural -- sometimes flashbacks can take away from the current tale, but Lonergan's spacing out of Lee's past adds to the sullen man's characterization.  Casey Affleck nicely balances Lee's past and present, creating two distinct personalities that evolve into one another believably.  His Lee is wrought with pain and desires nothing more than to essentially be punished for his sins, but he also realizes, upon his brother's death, that he is needed to step up to the plate and become a reliable figure in young Patrick's life.

Newcomer Lucas Hedges is a nice counter to the depressed Lee as his Patrick deals with his father's death in a different manner, deciding to act strong as if it doesn't affect him which ultimately leads to one of the better scenes in the film as the gravity of his situation begins to manifest itself.  Michelle Williams has a small, but critical role in the piece and she's given two heartbreaking scenes that give us not only an understanding of her character's plight, but also add a great deal of depth to the character of Lee as well.

Ultimately, though, I wanted to be moved more than I was with Manchester by the Sea.  Given the subject matter -- which you must understand I'm not fully detailing here -- I wanted to be grabbed by Lee's plight and I never quite got there.  Technically, Kenneth Lonergan delivers a somber, intimate film that looks pretty, but the film lingers too long -- at 137 minutes, it's got about forty minutes of lifelessness that could've been left on the editing room floor. While I can't say I was bored per se, the length of the film did affect its dramatic effectiveness.  Sure, Manchester by the Sea has a lot of things going for it -- it's well shot, well acted -- but in the end, it didn't get that guttural emotional response from me that I can't help but think it wanted.  At times, I was moderately moved, but I wanted more.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Movie Review - Arrival

Arrival (2016)
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

While Arrival is most definitely a science fiction film, it doesn't feel like any science fiction film we've seen grace the movie screen in a long time.  Eschewing action or scares for a surprisingly humanistic approach, Arrival continues the intriguing streak of director Denis Villeneuve who has crafted films over the past three years that are varied in their subject matter and approaches, but place humanistic drama front and center.  Villeneuve has yet to helm that "amazing" film for me, but his work is never dull or boring and he has become a harbinger for quality cinema.

Aliens have arrived on Earth.  Across the globe, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships have positioned themselves at various locations, opening their hatches a few minutes a day never leaving their ships, but allowing humans to enter.  Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is summoned by US Army Colonel GT Weber (Forest Whitaker) to come to Montana -- the US location of the alien spacecraft -- to help decipher the language being utilized by the foreign beings.  Almost ink blot-esque in its design, Louise and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) try to bridge the communication gap with the alien creatures who are seemingly peaceful, but, seeing as how they are intruders, are a cause of great concern with the US government headed in Montana by David Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) as well as agencies around the world.  With time ticking on an attempt at diplomacy with the extraterrestrials, Louise struggles to put her past behind her -- she lost a child to cancer a few years prior -- and help save the world from what could be intense warfare.

The most shocking aspect of Arrival is the simplicity of the Eric Heisserer-penned and Denis Villeneuve-directed film.  With nary a jump scare or frightening alien imagery, the film still manages to be oddly captivating as we in the audience utilize Amy Adams' eyes as our own.  As she sees the aliens for the first time, so do we.  As she communicates with them for the first time, so do we.  As she fights the government for more time to determine the purpose of their arrival, we're right there by her side.  Adams carries the picture and she does a great job of conveying Louise's intelligence and perseverance, as well as her growing connection to the extraterrestrials.

This is a human-driven story as opposed to an alien-driven one as is often the case in films of this ilk and Denis Villeneuve keeps the drama high by placing the focus squarely on Adams as opposed to the creatures with which she is communicating.  Beautifully lensed, Arrival is always a visual treat.  Unfortunately, the film takes a twist in its final fifteen minutes that while legit and comprehensible feels a bit tacked on and perhaps unnecessary.  It disappointed me a bit to be honest because up until that point the film had felt "real" and "possible" and then in its final chapter, the script shifts to something a bit implausible for this viewer.  I've discussed this conclusion with others and I'm seemingly alone in my assessment, but the ending concluded things on the tiniest bit of a sour note for me.  I still think Villeneuve is one of the brightest directors working at the moment and this is one of Amy Adams' best roles in a while, but the end just made Arrival a bit of a disappointment for me.  Your mileage may certainly vary and the film is still well worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, January 02, 2017

Movie Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by Gareth Edwards

As some may recall, I had not seen a single Star Wars film until last year.  I had gone more than three decades without fully learning about the travails of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.  That all changed, however, as I watched Episodes IV through VII within the span of 48 hours with the last edition -- The Force Awakens -- landing on my Top Ten films of 2015.  With that newfound appreciation of the massively popular series, I will admit that I actually wanted to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story...but it was a huge letdown for this "newcomer" to the Star Wars pantheon.

A prequel of sorts to Episode IV, Rogue One tells us the tale of how the Rebel forces got hold of the plans for the Imperial's Death Star and were able to destroy it at the end of the 1977 film.  Here, a young girl named Jyn is sent into hiding by her research scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) right before he is captured by the Imperial forces to help with the plans for the planet-destroying Death Star.  Now grown up, Jyn (Felicity Jones) finds herself on the wrong side of the law and imprisoned, but is broken free by the Rebels when it's discovered that her father is trying to send them messages to help them defeat the Imperial armies.  Jyn leads a group of men to retrieve the blueprints to the Death Star which - surprise, surprise - is ultimately successful.

Part of the issue with Rogue One is that we already know the premise of the ending before the film even begins.  This group of ragtag folks - Jones along with Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk (as a smart-aleck robot), Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, and Riz Ahmed - succeeds or else Episode IV would've never happened.  The overarching dramatic tension simply isn't there.  Sure, there are individual moments in Rogue One that may excite, but the overall outcome is already known from the start.  Coming off of The Force Awakens which had quite a few surprises, this film felt like a huge letdown.

Ultimately, Rogue One is just a huge bore.  There are hardly any moments of lightheartedness (like in the form of Han Solo's wisecracks or Ewoks or R2D2) and attempts at laughs via Tudyk's K-2SO fall flat.  With the exception of Forest Whitaker (who is overacting to the nth degree), the cast is fine, but their characters are one-note and utterly bland, giving the audience no one to really latch onto in terms of a character to really relate.  In fact, the only bright spots in the film occur when Ben Mendelsohn takes the screen as the villainous Orson Krennic, the overseer of the Death Star project for the Imperial military.  He revels in his devious role and livens things up whenever he's onscreen which is more than I can say for anyone else.

I have been severely disappointed by director Gareth Edwards previous two efforts -- Monsters and Godzilla -- and Rogue One continues the trend of me not caring for his work.  Much like those other two films, he fails to create a momentum that's sorely needed in an action-centric story.  His key action-oriented scenes do little to enhance the story and are filmed in a bland, almost nonchalant fashion.  Edwards isn't helped by the screenplay which fails to flesh out the characters beyond a most basic set of descriptors, but he doesn't help himself either when it comes to creating a film that builds excitement and tension.  With the exception of the film's final ten minutes which admittedly (finally) holds one's interest, the preceding two hours could've been condensed into a crawl at the beginning of a Star Wars film -- oh wait...it was.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Movie Review - La La Land

La La Land (2016)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, and Tom Everett Scott 
Directed by Damien Chazelle

A few years ago, a movie musical called The Muppets topped my list of Best Films of the Year by tapping into nostalgia and creating a flick that put a smile on my face the whole darn runtime.  "Leave your worries outside that theater door and enter a world of happiness and exuberance," so said Kermit and Miss Piggy.  Five years later, a new duo of stars in Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone asked me to do the same thing with a new and completely original movie musical and I obliged, albeit a little nervously as I was hesitant that the hype surrounding their film La La Land would hinder my enjoyment.  My fears were completely unfounded because once Stone and Gosling popped up onto the screen, that oddly euphoric feeling I felt during The Muppets popped up here as well.  Exquisitely directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land is a true cinematic musical treat that will get a second viewing by me to see if it can tick up that one level from "A-" land to the mystical world of the hard-to-get "A".

La La Land is certainly not reinventing the wheel in terms of plot.  It's a simple story of boy meets girl and the relationship that ensues after a meet-cute.  The boy -- Sebastian, in this case, played by Gosling -- is an aspiring jazz pianist who adores music icons of yore like Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, but is finding the modern day crowd reticent to listen to that style of jazz.  It's a struggle to find his place in the music world of Los Angeles which is ready to leave him behind.  The girl is Mia (played by Stone), an aspiring actress who moved to LA from a small town in Nevada, but is finding herself working at a Hollywood studio coffee shop admiring the actresses who come in for a drink instead of actually being an actress herself.  Our boy and girl meet and eventually fall in love, pushing each other to pursue their dreams across a Los Angeles landscape that is pushing against them succeeding.

The simplicity of the story is enhanced twofold.  First, the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is incredibly palpable with the two radiating joy in nearly every scene.  The repartee between the two is utterly charming and often comedic, reminiscent of 1940s Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant flicks (Bringing Up Baby is even mentioned in the film).  Stone and Gosling have shown us their comedic chops and their chemistry before in the wonderful Crazy Stupid Love and the duo doesn't disappoint here.  They nail every emotional iteration their characters are supposed to experience and honestly as soon as they meet in the film, I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear whenever they were together onscreen.  This is essentially a two-charater piece (hence the lack of a Screen Actor's Guild ensemble nomination) and the duo succeed at every turn.  Their singing isn't too shabby either -- granted, neither would win American Idol, but that's part of the charm of the film.  We get more emotion from the lack of perfection in their voices than we ever would from a spot-on singer crooning these tunes.

Secondly, the simple tale is elevated by the glorious direction of Damien Chazelle -- he of the fantastic Whiplash two years ago.  Nothing in the intense and cinematographically dark Whiplash would've keyed me in that Chazelle had this old school-Hollywood romanticism in him, but with the exception of one four-letter word (and the use of cell phones and Priuses and other modern technology), La La Land feels like it could've been made in the golden era of Hollywood musicals.  Odes to Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (the latter not a Hollywood musical, but you get my drift) are everywhere as a rhapsody of Technicolor hues and stunningly gorgeous lighting are present in nearly every scene which are themselves filled with beautiful costumes and production design.  That aforementioned smile plastered on my face -- part of that was simply from the imagery and colors flashing across the screen.

Admittedly, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, where the film falls the tiniest bit short is in the "musical" aspect in part because there are really only six songs in its 130 minutes.  While the characters are certainly breaking into song, I couldn't help but want more.  I initially thought the film got a little slow in the middle, but upon reflection that was really only because of a lack of songs not because the film itself was actually slow per se.  The songs by Broadway songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are lovely, some soaringly exuberant and some achingly painful, but all (with the exception of an odd opening number that feels the tiniest bit out of place) are intrinsically helpful in advancing the plot.

Then again, the songs are just one key musical element of La La Land as Chazelle not only utilizes lyrics, but also some lovely dance sequences to enhance the musicality of the piece.  Incredibly reminiscent of the extended dances in the aforementioned Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, Chazelle allows dance to advance his simplistic plot, elevating our character's emotions and feelings through this form of media which is obviously something the modern moviegoing audience doesn't see everyday.  Admittedly, these moments in the 1950s Hollywood films always fell flat for me (the titular ballet scene in An American in Paris puts me to sleep), but thanks to the dazzling original score by Justin Hurwitz which melds old Hollywood and jazz along with extended takes with few cuts and edits by Chazelle, I was onboard.

I was hoping that Damien Chazelle was a director to watch after the intensely exciting Whiplash, but with La La Land he shows us a completely different side of his aesthetic.  The romance, humor, and happiness that jumps off the screen allows us to leave any troubles outside the confines of the four walls of the theater and embrace an old school cinematic mentality that is far too uncommon in modern film.  The simplicity of the story elevates Chazelle's visuals, Gosling and Stone's chemistry, and the music itself in La La Land with all aspects melding into a gorgeous cinematic treat that I'll certainly be exploring again in the near future.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Movie Review - Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (2016)
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Andy Garcia, Neil Casey, and Chris Hemsworth
Directed by Paul Feig

There was much brouhaha over the fact that 2016's iteration of the classic Ghostbusters was being fronted by a quartet of women instead of a quartet of men.  Internet taunts and nasty comments were bandied about by anonymous individuals behind computer screens about how women aren't funny and couldn't possibly headline of film of this ilk.  While that's all certainly uncalled for, what's really unfortunate is that this version of Ghostbusters isn't good -- those initial trailers which were ridiculed across the World Wide Web were justly criticized because director and co-writer Paul Feig has crafted a numbingly painful supernatural action comedy that starts off incredibly promising and then begins to fail set piece by set piece until it makes its way to its disappointingly dull finale.  And the worst part of it is that it's not the fault of the quartet of actresses onscreen, yet the foursome shouldered much of the criticism lodged at the film.

Quite frankly, a plot summary isn't really necessary here -- four gals get together and eventually try and hunt down some ghosts before the supernatural beings take over the city of New York.  Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy take center stage during the film's initial scenes as a dueling duo who once worked together before drifting apart and I must admit that I found myself laughing out loud more than once as they tossed one-liners back and forth at each other.  Thirty minutes in and I was wondering why in the world this flick was so lambasted upon its release.  Gradually, Kate McKinnon works her way into the mix as a kooky mechanic of sorts (her role was praised the most, yet I found it a bit one-note and reminiscent of many an SNL character of hers) and Leslie Jones gets added as an NYC subway operator who calls upon the ghostbusting gang to investigate an occult occurrence on a subway track.  McKinnon and Jones are both fine, but they begin to take away from the more successful camaraderie of Wiig and McCarthy.

And then writers Paul Feig and Katie Dippold just throw everything down the drain with attempts at creating a variety of set pieces in which our female quartet fights ghosts and the whole movie falls apart.  The action aspects are a jumbled mess.  The comedy bits become tired.  Worst of all, the whole film becomes dreadfully boring.  Feig (as a director) has had his share of hits and misses in my book, and this falls on the miss side.  While I would've loved to have seen a resurrection of the Ghostbusters franchise, this female-fronted flick just doesn't fit the bill as the ladies here aren't helped by the behind-the-scenes team.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Movie Review - Loving

Loving (2016)
Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, and Michael Shannon
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Just because a movie tells an important true story doesn't necessarily mean it's good.  Unfortunately, that's the case with Loving which details the circumstances that led to the Supreme Court hearing Loving v. Virginia which ruled that interracial marriages were constitutional.  Director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols gets really nice subdued, lived-in performances from his leads, but the film is tediously numbing, embracing the "everything's slower in the South" mentality and failing to really create any momentum as it progresses.

"I'm pregnant" are the first words we hear as the film opens as Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a young black woman, sits on a porch nervously waiting for a response from her boyfriend Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man.  As a smile forms on Richard's face, the two decide to get married, but due to laws in Virginia where they currently reside, they must travel to Washington, D.C., to get a marriage license.  Even after they return to Virginia as husband and wife, Mildred and Richard have to walk on eggshells because the concept of an interracial romance was not looked upon kindly by those in their neighborhood.  Shortly following their wedding day, the couple is awoken in the middle of the night by a police raid on their house which sends both Richard and the pregnant Mildred to jail for sleeping in the same bed together.  Upon their release, they are tried in court and through a plea bargain set up by their lawyer, the couple are forced to leave Virginia in exchange for not facing any jail time.

Over the course of the rest of the film, we see how Mildred and Richard deal with their extradition from Virginia, being forced to leave their families behind and start anew on their own.  Eventually, after nearly a decade, the couple's case is tried before the Supreme Court, but the film doesn't focus on this aspect of their story as much as I'd expect.  The end result, as a matter of fact, feels oddly rushed and almost tacked on which seems a bit odd considering it's the impetus behind their story being told cinematically in the first place.  

The quiet nature of the film grows boring quickly, but Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton both give understated, yet powerful performances where more is told through their eyes and facial expressions than any actual words.  Both Negga and Edgerton have crafted characters that feel lived-in and natural to the 1950s/60s world they're inhabiting in the film.  The connection between the two of them feels credible and Negga in particular is captivating in the strong, yet subdued way she carries herself as Mildred.

The film itself, though, simply wallows in blandness.  Repetitive shots of bricklaying or car races or a laughably silly closing image of a rope hanging over a tree (that is used as a children's plaything but is obviously harkening to its similarity as a noose) feel unnecessary and unimportant to the plot.  There's an appreciation to the notion that Jeff Nichols focuses mainly on the couple rather than the important civil rights battle of their triumphant story, but the quiet nature of the piece almost creates a lack of compassion for these two because the film feels a need to be stoic and calm rather than a little passionate.  Loving is well-acted and it's certainly an interesting story, but in the end it's more likely to put you to sleep than elicit any other emotion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, December 09, 2016

Theater Review - Something Rotten!

Something Rotten!
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Where: St. James Theater, New York, NY
When:  Thursday, December 1, 7pm

While no one will ever mistake Something Rotten! as high art, it's one heckuva fun musical that will undoubtedly have you smiling from its opening minutes to its curtain call.  The Kirkpatrick siblings Wayne and Karey (who have written music for my favorite current musical group Little Big Town which surprised me) have crafted a cadre of songs that are cleverly staged by director Casey Nicholaw in the grandest of Broadway fashion that make Something Rotten! one of the more enjoyable and whimsical nights that you'll have at the theater...but you've got to see it quickly if you want to see it on Broadway as it's ending its run on January 1.

It's 1595 in London and William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) is the talk of the town, adored by his fans and lauded by his peers -- all of his peers but one.  Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) can't stand the prolific Bard.  A fellow playwright, Nick is admittedly jealous of Will and the praise heaped upon him, so he decides to visit soothsayer Nostradamus (played by understudy David Hibbard at my performance) to ask him what audiences will be clamoring for in the future.  After a fantastical production number in which Nostradamus predicts that the future of theater lies in this thing called "A Musical," Nick sets out to write one of these odd, contrived "musicals" where people just break into song to convey their feelings.  What's the focus of Nick's musical, you may ask?  Nostradamus predicts that Shakespeare's greatest play will be the epic, deeply moving "Omelette" -- say it out loud...notice any similarity to Shakespeare's "Hamlet?"  Yep.

Monty Python-esque in some of its humor (although much better than Spamalot which was a disappointment), Something Rotten succeeds because of its humorous music and lyrics and Casey Nicholaw's direction of said songs.  There are several epic production numbers.  When "A Musical" is performed towards the beginning of the play during which Nostradamus riffs on a variety of popular theatrical moments from Annie to The Music Man to Rent to Avenue Q (to upwards of fifteen more), I didn't think the production could continue conjuring up the epic enthusiasm present in that showstopper.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Towards the end of the second act, we're given another roof-blowing moment in which Nick's "Omelette - The Musical" is staged and it's possibly even more fun than everything that came before it.  The play nicely mixes some other musical styles into the mix - a little gospel, some rock, quite a bit of tapping - and Nicholaw keeps the whole thing running at a nice pace (although there were a few lulls here and there, particularly towards the end of the first act).

Unfortunately, the musical's book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell doesn't quite match the fun of the show's songs.  Tired jokes about Jews and Puritans and women and homosexuals felt like they were written by folks from the 1960s and come across as sophomoric..  I mean, the uptight Puritans have a repressed homosexuality -- haven't we seen that numerous times before?  I'm all for a bawdy joke and I hate the politically correct society in which we currently live, but these jokes were just weak.  The play's core relationships work, but many of the side characters -- placed in the play specifically for a humorous effect -- wind up falling flat.

The acting, for the most part, was as solid as they come on Broadway.  Rob McClure as Nick Bottom more than held my attention with a nice voice and great comedic timing.  John Grisetti as his brother Nigel played nicely off of McClure and Grisetti's secret romance with Puritan Portia (Jenny Hill) led to one of the night's most surprisingly entertaining production numbers.  Adam Pascal was also amusingly entertaining as the egotistical ladies' man Shakespeare.

Is Something Rotten! the best thing I've ever seen on Broadway?  No.  But it's one of the most enjoyable 150 minutes I've spent in a theater.  As someone with a degree in English (whose final thesis focused on Shakespeare) and a fan of all types of theater, this musical felt tailor-made for me and it more than exceeded my expectations.  Fun all-around and absolutely worth seeing, Something Rotten! is indeed anything but something rotten.