Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Movie Review - At Any Price

At Any Price (2013)
Starring Dennis Quaid, Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham, Maika Monroe, and Clancy Brown
Directed by Ramin Bahrani

Despite decent performances from Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, At Any Price is a heartland-set drama that plays more like a soap opera than a legitimate movie.  Quaid is Henry Whipple, a Midwestern farmer who sells seed to his fellow agriculturists.  Henry's son Dean (Efron) lived in the shadow of his older brother who, after he went off to college, left Dean to feel the brunt of Henry's desire to pass his farm down to one of his sons.  Dean, however, just wants to race cars leading to tension between father and son.

Beyond this little familial tiff, there are several other "issues" that come to the forefront as the movie progresses that elevate the drama.  Some of these elements work...some are laughable.  Quaid tackles these hurdles by making his character irritatingly chipper which works at moments and doesn't at others.  Efron comes off a bit better, proving that there may be potential for something from the young actor, but once again, he's not given much to stretch his acting chops here.  (Parkland and The Paperboy also allowed him to give decent performances, but also didn't give him a chance to really shine.)

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, September 01, 2014

Movie Review - Evil Dead

Evil Dead (2013)
Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore
Directed by Fede Alvarez

I must admit right off the bat that I've never seen the original Evil Dead.  I tried to watch it several years ago, but its corny nature was a bit of a turn-off at the time.  With that in mind, I watched the 2013 remake without any preconceived notions and I found first time director and co-screenwriter Fede Alvarez's film a scary gore-fest with many an uncomfortable cringing moment which, ultimately, makes this type of film a success.

The story is incredibly simplistic -- a group of five twentysomethings head to a secluded cabin wherein one of them accidentally conjures up demons which begin to possess them one by one, turning them into evil human-killing zombies.  We're not looking at fancy storytelling here, but what we are seeing is gore galore done so in a way that genuinely had me uneasy...in a good horror film way, if that makes sense.  The sense of tense discomfort that the director brings to the table is perfectly suited for the flick and, considering this is his first venture into feature film making, that's not an easy task to accomplish.  Aided by actors who are all better than horror films like this typically have any right to have in them, Evil Dead ends up being a surprising solid entry for me as I round up my 2013 film-watching.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Movie Review - The Canyons

The Canyons (2013)
Starring Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Funk, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston, and Gus Van Sant
Directed by Paul Schrader

I will readily admit that the only reason I watched The Canyons is because I expected both the film and its troubled star Lindsay Lohan to land on my Worst of 2013 list.  Color me surprised that Lohan's performance is a intriguingly vulnerable one, tapping in to what I can only assume are her own insecurities as she attempts to get back on her feet after a rough go this past decade.  The film itself...well, I've see worse this year...

The problem with The Canyons is that all of its characters are self-involved, obnoxious a-holes.  They're certainly not enjoyable to watch.  Considering that this is from the pen of Bret Easton Ellis, I'm not particularly surprised as my limited knowledge of Ellis is that these types of characters are his bread and butter.  There's a slightly noir-ish tone to The Canyons with story centering around spoiled rich kid movie producer Christian (porn star James Deen) and his inability to trust his live-in girlfriend Tara (Lohan).  The two have an odd, open relationship welcoming men and women back to their palatial L.A. home to partake in a variety of sexual relations.  However, when Christian suspects Tara may be having a "real" relationship with someone other than his controlling self, he's not a happy camper.

While Lohan embodies the worn-down, world-weary, tough-around-the-edges Tara quite well, the same can't be said for James Deen.  While he certainly tries, he can't quite get Ellis's words to come out sounding believable.  Then again, to Deen's credit, I'm not quite sure anyone could succeed as the character of Christian does get saddled with much of film's attempt at creating "substance" and "meaning" by talking about what his character perceives as problems with society.  This is where Ellis falters in that I have no desire to hear what these vapid characters have to say about anything.  While I think it's supposed to be skewering the elite Hollywood mindset it depicts, it doesn't succeed.

The rest of the relatively unknown cast actually does a decent job, but the surprise of the film is Lohan.  She definitely looks weathered here and a little worse for the wear, but this was a vehicle aptly made for her and her recent troubles.  She channels a bit of the noir dames of the past and was honestly compelling to watch.  Good luck to her in the future and here's hoping she can turn her life around.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie Review - Blancanieves

Blancanieves (2013)
Starring Maribel Verdú (queen), Daniel Giménez Cacho (father), Sofía Oria (young), and Macarena García (old) 
Directed by Pablo Berger
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

We all know the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs so telling it in a silent black-and-white format as it is in Pablo Berger's Blancanieves won't throw anyone into fits of confusion.  The question is, though, did this tale really need to be updated in this way?  Ultimately, the answer is no and while I appreciated Berger's screenplay's different spin on the Grimm tale, I found myself fighting boredom and stopping the film multiple times as I viewed it.

Boredom never sets in when the evil Encarna (Maribel Verdú) is onscreen, however.  Unfortunately, when she's not in the picture, Blancanieves doesn't have the emotional push to get me to care about the story which is a little odd considering the fact that this flick actually goes into Snow White's background much more than any previous Snow White movie I've seen.  Here, bull fighter Antonio Villata (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is gravely gored during a bullfight.  While he survives only to be a paraplegic, his grief-stricken pregnant wife dies during childbirth.  Unable to live on his own, Villata's live-in nurse cares for and eventually marries him.  This live-in nurse -- the evil Encarna.

That child that was borne to Villata's wife?  Young Carmencita (Sofía Oria) lives with her grandmother for several years until she dies of a heart attack leaving Carmencita essentially orphaned.  Having never met her father before, Carmencita is taken to his palatial abode, but upon arriving is greeted by Encarna who forces her to sleep in the chicken coop and forbids her to see her father.  Eventually, Carmencita breaks Encarna's rule and her relationship with her father blooms in secret without Encarna's knowledge.  Needless to say, this is where the typical Snow White story kicks in.  Once Encarna discovers this familial connection several years later (Carmencita is now a teenager played by Macarena Garcia), she is banished from the house, hunted down by "the hunter," and meets some dwarfs.

While I appreciate the updating and the fleshing out of the story, the film isn't visually stimulating enough (despite a charming "old" look) or unique enough story-wise to captivate.  Blancanieves really only comes alive whenever the scenery-chewing Encarna is onscreen and that just isn't enough to make the flick work.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, August 29, 2014

Movie Review - Simon Killer

Simon Killer (2013)
Starring Brady Corbet and Mati Diop
Directed by Antonio Campos
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Simon Killer had so much potential as a film -- and then it went and did the whole indie flick thing where its ending proves to be a huge letdown after all this build-up simply for the sake of naturalism. It's a tease, really.  Fortunately, despite the disappointing final act, the first two-thirds of Simon Killer is a rather stunning character study with some compellingly fresh directorial choices (both visually and aurally) that add to the flick's appeal...and make it all the more upsetting that it can't deliver the goods in the end.

Recent college graduate Simon (Brady Corbet) has just broken up with his girlfriend of five years and is visiting Paris to try and get his mind off his longtime lady.  Unable to kick the depression, Simon is persuaded into taking his mopish self into a brothel one evening where he meets prostitute Noura (Mati Diop).  When Noura agrees to see Simon outside of work (still for money, mind you), Simon begins to become infatuated simply with the fact that he's made a connection with someone -- it could've been anyone, but it just so happened to be an incredibly attractive French hooker.  The paid dates eventually fade away and a real relationship begins and Simon comes up with a plan to blackmail Noura's rich clients out of lots of dough by videotaping their sexual escapades and threatening to show their indiscretions to their wives.  The ripple effect of this on Simon and Noura's relationship is a bit more profound than either of them could imagine.

Simon Killer is raw and doesn't mince on being overtly sexualized (it wasn't rated by the MPAA) which adds to director-screenwriter Antonio Campos' voyeuristic take on young lust.  Campos utilizes long takes and somewhat odd, off-putting camera placement to aid with this creepy, constantly lingering feel.  (One take, for instance, plants Campos' camera squarely at the level of his characters' torsos and we only get glimpses of their faces when they sit down.  Of course, this "torso focus" also sexualizes the characters a bit as well.)  A pulsing soundtrack helps to create a vivid world for his two main cast members.

Brady Corbet is frightening here.  At first, we feel for his Simon as we view him as a guy who's having a tough time getting over a break-up.  Soon, however, we see that he's become a bit warped, a bit unsteady, and a bit off his rocker.  It's not that he ever becomes possessive of Noura, it's just that she becomes his life.  I realize that sounds oxymoronic, but she never really becomes his puppet on a string...he's simply is desperate for that human connection.  In fact, their first scene together involves a sexually deviant moment that epitomizes just that -- Simon doesn't need her to physically satisfy him; he just needs to know she's there in order to be satisfied.  (Vague enough, for you?  I just don't want to spoil things.)  Corbet does an excellent job of giving Simon layers that he slowly peels back, becoming a bit more menacing as the film progresses.

Unfortunately, the film fails to present a satisfying payoff.  While it's likely the most realistic way for the film to end, Simon Killer concludes with what feels like a middle finger to the audience.  Still, everything leading up to that is so good, that I can't not recommend it.  It's certainly not for everyone due to its graphic nature, but it's an impressive directorial job from Antonio Campos that makes me want to seek out his prior flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movie Review - Blue Caprice

Blue Caprice (2013)
Starring Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Tim Blake Nelson, and Joey Lauren Adams
Directed by Alexandre Moors

I remember the Beltway Sniper case of 2002 quite vividly in part because I had relatives who lived nearby as the terror unfolded over the course of several weeks.  That connection to the crime had me interested in seeing Blue Caprice, but the debut film of Alexandre Moors just plays too much like a stereotypical "indie" pic -- lots of deep meditative talking, lots of shots of trees passing by in a car, drab settings, slow pace.  While it seemingly had the grounds for a good story, Moors and the film's screenwriter fail to make the story captivating.

While it's interesting to see how John Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) met the seventeen year-old Lee Malvo (Teguan Richmond) and "corrupted" him/guilted him into obeying his whims, my biggest problem with Blue Caprice is that I never quite grasped why Muhammad was so ticked off to go on his rampage in the first place.  Admittedly, maybe the film attempted to describe it beyond "My Ex-Wife Stole My Kids From Me and The State Always Sides With The Woman," but the snail's pace at which this film's first hour meanders by failed to allow me to watch it without stopping the Blu-Ray multiple times so I may have missed certain aspects of the plot.  Nonetheless, without the reasoning behind the killings, I lost interest.

While the film certainly kicks into gear during the last 25 minutes when Muhammad and Malvo finally make it to the Washington, D.C., area, it was a disappointment overall.  Isaiah Washington certainly gives a good performance, but it's not enough to lift the film from its rather boring laurels.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movie Review - The Summit

The Summit (2013)
Directed by Nick Ryan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

So many reviews as of late trying to finish up 2013...so little time...gonna keep this one brief...

The Summit details the story of an ill-fated expedition to K2 -- the second highest mountain peak on Earth -- during the summer of 2008.  Eighteen mountain climbers made the trek up to the apex, but only eleven came back down alive.  This is their story...and a gripping one it is especially due to the fact that the loved ones of those who died aren't entirely sure that they didn't perish because of the misdeeds of others thanks to some poorly managed planning.

Nick Ryan's documentary is a little heavy on re-enactments, but I guess that's inherently due to the fact that cameramen can't make the treacherous climb up K2.  Still, thanks to some tense interviews, The Summit is an interesting, though not necessarily original, film.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Movie Review - Byzantium

Byzantium (2013)
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays, and Caleb Landry Jones
Directed by Neil Jordan

As I draw to the end of my 2013 viewing (the RyMickey Awards will finally be forthcoming in September), I often wonder why I feel the need to see as much as I can movie-wise.  What's the point?  Surprises like Byzantium are why I hold off on my awards.  Now, I can't say for certain that Byzantium will land in the top of any of my categories, but I can at least say that this new take on a classic vampire story breathed new life into a genre that's been beaten down to kid-like, laughable levels as of late thanks to the popularity of the Twilight series.

The alluring Gemma Arterton is Clara and when we first encounter her she's stripping in a seedy bar in England in an attempt to bing in an income to look after her teenage sister Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan).  However, Clara and Eleanor have a secret and when one of Clara's customers reveals that he knows Clara is really a vampire, he meets an untimely end that forces the two sisters to flee their apartment for a new town.  As the two immortal women settle in, they become comfortable with their surroundings which is never a good thing considering the secrets that both Clara and Eleanor hide from everyone.

Neil Jordan's film not only tells the modern-day journey of Clara and Eleanor, but also the two hundred year-old story of how they became immortal vampires in the first place.  Both aspects of the effectively woven story written by Moira Buffini are surprisingly solid, each holding its own and deepening one another via their plots.  Jordan's film ratchets up the tension at key points, is nicely shot, and humorously gory at times -- the latter of which actually added some comedic moments to the otherwise heavy plot.

Saoirse Ronan presses on with her monopoly of mopey kid roles, but this works here because her Eleanor feels trapped not only in her sister's shadow, but also quite literally in her never-aging body that doesn't allow her to become close to anyone since her secret will be revealed should she form a long-term relationship.  Gemma Arterton continues to impress, exuding a dirty sexiness when Clara's pimping herself out to get money to pay the rent while also believably mothering the younger Eleanor in an attempt to save her from those who would do her harm.

Byzantium is much more fun than I expected it to be.  With solid craftsmanship on all levels, this one was a pleasant treat.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, August 25, 2014

Movie Review - Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)
Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Reed Diamond, and Julian Morgese
Directed by Joss Whedon
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

It always takes me about thirty minutes to get acclimated to Shakespearean dialog.  In those thirty minutes, I often find myself wondering why I put myself through watching interpretations of his work, but I eventually get won over and that's certainly the case here with Joss Whedon's modern-day updating of Much Ado About Nothing.  

Set in a California home, Much Ado tells the tale of Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) -- two former lovers (at least in this production) who have quite a love-hate relationship with one another.  Neither will admit that the other is their true love and instead spend their days poking fun at each other's idiosyncrasies.  Benedick has arrived at Beatrice's uncle Leonato's (Clark Gregg) home for a get-together weekend along with Leonato's good friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Don Pedro's good friend Claudio (Fran Kranz).  Upon arrival, Claudio declares his undying love for Leonato's daughter Hero (Julian Morgese) at which point Leonato offers up to him her hand in marriage.  (So we have two love stories going on at the same time, for those who are already confused by the older English names.)  Unfortunately for Claudio and Hero, things don't go smoothly as not everyone who is partying at Leonato's abode wants the two of them to get married and may do whatever is possible to nix the upcoming nuptials.

I had seen Kenneth Branagh's version of Much Ado About Nothing over a decade ago so the story here was somewhat fresh for me and not immediately resonant in my mind.  I was surprised at how witty I found the dialog (once I got acclimated, as I mentioned) and I found the humorous tete-a-tete between Beatrice and Benedick to be charmingly romantic.  It certainly helps that Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (two veterans of Joss Whedon tv series) have a fantastic rapport with one another with Acker in particular impressively capable of handling both the comedic and dramatic sides of her character -- a woman who wants to outwardly show independence, but also wants the love of a man to latch onto.

Admittedly, the modern-day updating isn't perfect, but it provides a different point of view than we're used to seeing and creates an easier transition for those who aren't used to seeing the Bard's words play out.  I know Branagh's take on this same material is well-loved, but I don't remember it nearly enough to draw a comparison to this, so instead I'll just say that this Much Ado About Nothing -- a passion project for The Avengers director Whedon -- is an amusing interpretation of a classic piece of literature.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie Review - 20 Feet from Stardom

20 Feet from Stardom (2013)
Starring Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, and Judith Hill 
Directed by Morgan Neville
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The 2013 Academy Award-winner for Best Documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom references the distance from the background singers to the lead singer on the concert stage.  Always in the background, back-up singers have always found it difficult to make the leap to center stage for a variety of reasons which this documentary by Morgan Neville details.  While certainly easy to watch and enjoyable throughout -- it's one of those movies that makes you smile while you're watching it because of how pleasing and genial its subjects are -- the film lacks some emotional oomph and gravitas.  Despite the plights of some of these ladies, I never really felt bad for them.  Then again, in retrospect, I'm not really sure I'm supposed to feel bad for them.  And that limbo is what made 20 Feet from Stardom not quite connect with me.

The film focuses on four women -- Darlene Love and Merry Clayton (from the 1950s/60s), Lisa Fischer (from the 80s/90s), and Judith Hill (from the aughts) -- and all four have personalities that you immediately find charming and welcoming.  The film paints all of them in a glowing light, having nothing but respect for the oft-unrecognized job that they tackled.  Love and Clayton in particular were often left by the wayside despite playing key roles in many of the era's greatest songs.  Fischer tries for a solo career (and wins a Grammy), but never captures a solo moment for herself.  Hill is just now trying to stretch out from the background to the forefront.  All four of their stories are compelling, but the subject matter is almost treated too trite and sugary for its own good.

However, despite the qualms, I really did enjoy 20 Feet from Stardom.  Great music, amusing personalities...just not quite the impact I was expecting.

The RyMickey Rating:  B