Thursday, September 03, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Most Overrated Film

With this category, it should be noted that I don't necessarily dislike the films listed below, it's simply that they were either huge critical or commercial successes that didn't exactly live up to their hype for me.

Most Overrated Films of 2014

Other Contenders (in alphabetical order)
Big Hero 6 (C+)    ----    The Boxtrolls (B-) (SoN)
Get On Up (D)   ----    Grand Budapest Hotel (B-)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (B-) (SoN)    ----    Inherent Vice (D)
Love Is Strange (C+)    ----    Obvious Child (C-) (SoA)
Pride (C+)    ----    Wild (C+)

#5 - Boyhood -- B
After a slow start, Boyhood really kicked into gear.  While I would've much preferred this to win Best Picture over the eventual winner, there were still many other films I would've rather awarded the prize.

#4 - The Lego Movie -- C+
2014 was an incredibly poor year for animation.  Not a single animated film garnered a higher grade than a 'B-' from me.  The Lego Movie, however, was the biggest hit of them all and I found it rather empty and monotonous at times.  (SoN)

A fun romp, for sure, but I didn't quite understand all the hoopla surrounding it.  Sure, they injected a bit more humor into it than your typical Marvel movie, but the same formula was essentially followed.  The wheel wasn't exactly reinvented here.

#2 - American Sniper -- C+
How this became the #1 film of 2014 I'll never know.  While "acceptable," Clint Eastwood as a director fails to resonate with me, failing to create palpable excitement in his films and American Sniper is unfortunately no exception.

#1 - Birdman -- C+
In retrospect, I think my 'C+' rating is a bit high on this one, tainted by the fact that as I watched it, I felt as if I had to like it because all the other critics did.  Quite frankly, I just didn't get Birdman.  Perhaps a second watch may help me understand things more, but I don't want to give it a second go. Michael Keaton was solid and the unique direction helped things (and therein is the reason I went with the 'C+'), but beyond that, I found myself wondering why in the world this Best Picture winner was so amazing.

Previous Most Overrated Film "Winners"
2013
2012

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Worst Performance

While sometimes we find bad performances in good films, this year, the bottom rungs in the acting world inhabited the worst films of the year as well.

Worst Performances of 2014
SoN = Streaming on Netflix // SoA = Streaming on Amazon Prime

(Dis)Honorable Mentions
Adewale Akinnouye-Adbaje - Pompeii
Annabelle Wallis - Annabelle

#5 - Arnold Schwarzenegger - Sabotage
Go back to politics...please...  (SoN)

#4 - Eva Green - White Bird in a Blizzard
Ms. Green has never been someone I've felt was super-talented as an actress, but she's laughably bad here.  Admittedly, her character is written as so un-human that Green may not be totally at fault, but since the film revolves most of the story around her, it's a big failure.  (SoN)

#3 - Kiefer Sutherland - Pompeii
Overacting to the nth degree.  'Nuff said.

#2 - Cameron Diaz - Annie
The character of Hannigan in all iterations of Annie is a bit of a sleaze, but Diaz decides to "sex it up" here and I can't believe that the director felt it would be watchable.  Grating and obnoxious, Diaz ruins two of the film's best songs and makes them unlistenable.  Also, congrats to Diaz for snagging a spot on this list two years in a row after last year's dismal performance in The Counselor!

#1 - Leslie Mann - The Other Woman
Grating, obnoxious, and painful to watch, Mann is just atrocious in The Other Woman.  At first, I was giving Mann the benefit of the doubt that the script was the problem, but Mann must also take the heat too as she fails to produce anything funny and her portrayal of her character is so immature that I could completely understand why her husband would cheat on her.

Previous Worst Acting "Winners"
2013    ----    2012
2011    ----    2010

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Worst Film

Although I've watched more than 175 movies in 2014, I still managed to avoid inevitable classics like Transformers: Age of Extinction (I despise this series), The Expendables 3 (I despise this series), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (I despise this series...notice a trend?), or Adam Sandler's Blended.  I also stopped watching some incredibly boring period pieces -- Miss Julie, Mr. Turner -- about a third of the way through while also stopping some Oscar-nominated flicks like Leviathan and Two Days, One Night because, quite frankly, I just didn't feel as if they were worth my time.

That said, despite those possible missed entries onto this list, there are still quite a few doozies below that epitomize everything that's wrong with the movie industry...and also everything that's wrong with movies featuring Cameron Diaz who earns the dubious honor of starring in three of my ten worst movies of the year.  (Pierce Brosnan wasn't far behind with two flicks in the bottom twenty.)

Worst Films of 2014
SoN = Streaming on Netflix // SoA = Streaming on Amazon Prime

(Dis)Honorable Mentions
(all films ranked 'D' or below)
(underlined titles link to original reviews)
Frankie & Alice (SoN/SoA)   ----    Let's Be Cops
Let's Kill Ward's Wife (SoA)    ----    Three Days to Kill (SoN)
Get on Up    ----    Deliver Us From Evil

#20 - Third Person -- D
#19 - God's Pocket -- D
#18 - Le Week-end (SoN / SoA) -- D
#17 - A Million Ways to Die in the West -- D
#16 - Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (SoN) -- D
#15 - A Long Way Down (SoN) -- D
#14 - Inherent Vice -- D
#13 - Tammy -- D-
#12 - The Love Punch -- D-
#11 - Sabotage (SoN) -- D-

And the Bottom Ten Are...

#10 - Stage Fright (SoN) -- D-
Was the world asking for a horror-musical mash-up?  This one isn't scary in the slightest, the musical numbers are so poorly acted and staged, and the acting is lukewarm at best.

#9 - White Bird in a Blizzard (SoN) -- D-
A film in which every character inhabiting it feels fake.

#8 - Annabelle -- D-
This "prequel" to 2013's Top Twenty flick The Conjuring, this proved to be a huge disappointment when compared to its predecessor.

#7 - Ouija -- D-
The worst horror movie of the year -- though not by much -- contains nary a scary moment.

#6 - Sex Tape -- D-
The first of three Cameron Diaz entries, I'm ashamed that the writers behind The Muppets crafted such a waste of celluloid.

#5 - Bird People (SoN) -- F
Admittedly, this one only got an 'F' because the film's final forty minutes ticked me off so much and completely erased any good will the first eighty minutes had banked.

Three typically solid actors add up to a horribly produced Lifetime-esque movie of the week.

#3 - Pompeii -- F
Paul W.S. Anderson isn't known for helming good flicks and this is no exception with its hammy acting and video game-level special effects.

#2 - The Other Woman -- F
It's amazing what the American public will tolerate when it comes to romantic comedies.  An absolute train wreck with one of the most grating performances of the year from Leslie Mann.

#1 - Annie -- F
So over-produced and so over-digitized, there's never a moment in this "musical" where we feel like the characters are ever actually singing which completely sucks any emotion out of the film's set pieces.  A horrible, "hip" updating that doesn't allow the actors to rise up above the absolute shlock they're forced to convey.

Previous Worst Film "Winners"

Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review - Wild Tales

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) (2014)
Starring Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Lednardo Sbaragalia, Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, and Darío Grandinetti
Directed by Damián Szifron

The concept of a group of cinematic short stories that share no connections with one another making up a feature film is something that doesn't happen very often.  That's the case, however, with Wild Tales, a flick written and directed by Damián Szifron which tells six short stories -- all varying in length -- about people in stressful situations and how they deal with the conflicts they are encountering.

Quite frankly, the less said about Wild Tales, the better.  Going into this anthology piece without knowing too much allows the comedy and drama of the stories to unfold naturally.  I found myself laughing out loud at some points and shrinking uncomfortably in my seat at others.  Szifron has an apparent gift for dark humor, yet surprisingly has a keen sense for ringing out the drama as well -- not only via his script, but also in his direction.  This is as well a directed piece as I've seen all year which is all the more shocking seeing as how Szifron hasn't helmed a film in more than a decade.  Considering the anthology nature here, the viewer is bound to be more intrigued by some pieces than others, yet Szifron keeps everything moving at a great clip so that we never tire of a segment before its time is up.

While certainly some pieces work a but better than others, I found Wild Tales as a whole to be wildly inventive and absurdly humorous.  Bookended by two of the funniest scenes I've watched all year, this flick is one of those reasons I hold off doing my RyMickey Awards until September each year.  A great piece of work that I highly recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Movie Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Ian McKellan, and Patrick Stewart
Directed by Bryan Singer

While perhaps an unpopular opinion, I think that X-Men: First Class is one of the best superhero movies of all time.  Upon a second watch right before viewing its sequel, I once again was captivated by the flick's stories, direction, 1960s setting, and acting.  So, X-Men: Days of Future Past admittedly had a tough act to follow and while it doesn't quite live up to the high water mark of its predecessor, the film's attempt to bridge both the current generation of 2010's X-Men franchise with the 2000s X-Men franchise is solid.

Sometime in the future, robots known as Sentinels are killing all of the mutants and Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) have devised a plan using Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) powers to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time in order to try and change their present.  It's determined that post-Vietnam War, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) was captured by the US government and her DNA was studied by military scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in order to create the shape-shifting beings known as the Sentinals.  By sending Wolverine back to right before Mystique is caught, Professor X and Magneto are hoping that they can change the course of history and prevent the Sentinels from even existing.

Fortunately, the dank, dark, overly computerized world of the future takes a backseat to Wolverine's trip down the 1970s memory lane and the large majority of Days of Future Past takes place in the past with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender reprising their roles as the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr (Professor X and Magneto, respectively).  Once again, director Bryan Singer does a really great job creating a believable 1970s world for the X-Men to inhabit and it creates a landscape we don't often see in superhero movies that are so often told in the present day.  This retro feel continues to work to this X-Men iteration's advantage.

For the most part, the acting ensemble works well together, although I found the focus on Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique to leave a little to be desired.  Behind all that make-up and computer-generated blueness for her character, Lawrence's emoting stays a bit hidden which is a bit of a shame.  Additionally, the actors that make up the "future" segment of the film aren't given a whole lot to do and what they are tasked with gets repetitive pretty darn quickly.

While X-Men: Days of Future Past isn't as interesting or compelling as First Class, I give the film credit for refusing to back down from its conceit of pitting the X-Men against one another as they struggle to figure out whether the US government wants to help or hurt them.  This creates a constant feeling of uncertainty amongst the characters that gives them all much more depth than we have come to expect in superhero movies and it's one of the biggest reasons I think this X-Men series has been so successful.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Dear White People

Dear White People (2014)
Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Brandon P Bell, Teyonah Parris, Kyle Gallner, and Dennis Haysbert
Directed by Justin Simien

While not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as I had thought it would be, Dear White People is a film that doesn't shy away from some uncomfortable racial humor in order to detail race relations on college campuses.  Set at the fictional Ivy League Winchester University, screenwriter-director Justin Simien's debut film shows that the sometimes "on edge" feeling between whites and blacks isn't the fault of either culture, but rather due to the fact that post-racial America has created a society where political correctness actually makes it much more difficult to unite as both sides feel they are being talked down to or coined racist for expressing an opinion that simply may not toe the "correct" line.

The film opens with a news report stating that a group of white students held a "black face" party on Halloween setting the campus community into an uproar and starting a small riot.  We then flashback a few weeks to see the lead-up to this event, focusing mainly on the black student population as headstrong radio DJ Sam (Tessa Thompson) whose radio show skewers the white student body of Winchester goes up against seemingly by-the-books Troy (Brandon Bell) whose father (Dennis Haysbert) is the Dean of Students to be the head of the traditionally black Armstrong/Parker House.

This battle is the basis of all conflicts in Dear White People as Simien explores not only white-black race relations, but also rifts within the African American culture itself.  (Note:  In a rather funny line, the film states that utilizing the term "African American" is inherently racist itself in that white culture uses the words because they're "afraid" to simply use the term black thanks to current societal norms.)  Unfortunately, Simien's film seems a little disjointed and it feels a bit obvious while watching that we're witnessing a debut film.

While the direction may have felt a little sitcom-ish at times, the cast more than makes up for the flick's faults.  The aforementioned Tessa Thompson is a compelling lead and Tyler James Williams as a newspaper reporter covering the racial issues on campus is also humorously enjoyable.  Teyonah Parris also succeeds in a rather difficult role as Coco, a stuck-up black student who feels more motivated by white culture than her own.

Rather interestingly, Coco's story is really at the heart of what Dear White People is trying to espouse.  While there's importance in understanding one's own culture, is there really anything wrong with finding an appeal in another way of life?  Perhaps there is, or maybe there isn't.  Your interpretation of what the film has to say may vary, but Simien does a good job at skewering all sides of the argument.  In the hands of a slightly more capable director, Dear White People would've really shined, but as it stands now, it's still an interesting film that's worth a watch and a nice start for a new voice on the film landscape.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Movie Review - Cake

Cake (2014)
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, and Chris Messina
Directed by Daniel Barnz
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A little more darkly comic than I was expecting, Cake gives Jennifer Aniston a nice vehicle to showcase her dramatic chops (with tinges of humor), but surprisingly doesn't give her that "Oscar" moment for her to really make a huge impact.  Granted, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- the simplicity of the movie doesn't really call for that "Oscar Scene" to happen.  Still, the flick really fails on creating an emotional arc, with things feeling decidedly and disappointingly one-note.

Aniston is Claire Bennett, a woman in chronic pain struggling to cope with an horrific event from her past that fails to let her create a livable present.  With her life in shambles -- her husband (Chris Messina) has left her, a friend (Anna Kendrick) from her chronic pain support group has committed suicide, her anger causing issues with her group's leader (Felicity Huffman) and physical therapist (Mamie Gummer) -- the only person giving Claire any modicum of support is her housemaid Silvana (Adriana Barraza) who wishes nothing but the best for her employer, but is increasingly frustrated by Claire's reliance on pain medication to make it through day-to-day routines.

The best part of Cake is this relationship between Claire and Silvana, with both Aniston and Barraza playing off each other quite well creating moments of both humor and heartache.  The film falters when it branches out to some of the other aforementioned characters mainly because none of them are really given adequate time to create an emotional impact.  Ultimately, that's the underlying problem with Cake -- too many superfluous side stories when the best part of the screenplay focuses Claire's grief and how she and her only friend -- her maid -- deal with her issues.

You could certainly do worse than watch Cake and Aniston and Barraza are absolutely the reasons to give it a go.  Unfortunately, the screenplay doesn't quite give these two characters the adequate justice they deserve.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, August 28, 2015

Movie Review - Last Days in Vietnam

Last Days in Vietnam (2014)
Directed by Rory Kennedy

The Paris Peace Accord signed in January 1973 officially brought an end to the Vietnam War.  South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam agreed to peace, but two years later in March 1975, the North launched a massive attack into the South, with the imminent arrival of the Communists to the capitol city of Saigon by mid-April.  Rory Kennedy's documentary flick Last Days in Vietnam tells the tale of what occurred at the end of April in 1975, detailing how the US planned on truly making an exit from the war-torn Vietnam through first-hand accounts from government officials, US soldiers, and Vietnamese refugees.

Decidedly un-political, Last Days in Vietnam is an interesting look at the US's final involvement in the Vietnam War, placing most of its focus on Ambassador Graham Martin who did not want to evacuate the country for fear of sending the message to both the American and Vietnamese people that the war was lost.  While some may deem Martin's actions disappointing and ultimately harmful, the documentary never makes him the easy "villain," instead showing that Martin had his reasons for not wanting to admit defeat.

Admittedly, I'm not incredibly familiar with all of the intricacies of Vietnam, so it's possible this story has been told before, but it was new to me.  The tales become a tad repetitive, but overall, Last Days in Vietnam plays like a feature film with a lead-up to a tense conclusion that ends things on an exciting and emotional note.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards Are Coming!

The RyMickey Awards make their triumphant return a week from today -- September 1.

Yes, I realize that is nine months after 2014 came to an end, but slow and steady wins the race and my handful of readers will be all the more intrigued by having waited this long to find out their humble blogger's take on the over 175 movies he watched released in 2014.  For some strange reason, I feel the need to be as thorough as possible and my arbitrary deadline of August 31 for my 2014 movie watching is rapidly approaching.

Overall, 2014 had many good films, but very few great ones (as a matter of fact, I gave out the least number of 'A' grades in 2014 since 2010).  Still, there were some nice performances, including what was probably the most packed race I've ever seen in the Best Actor department.  However, as you'll soon discover, the Actress line-up vying for their awards were decidedly slim.

Does Oscar-winner Birdman make the cut?  Or will it find itself left on the sidelines?  Make sure you check back daily (for a few more 2014 reviews) and then next Tuesday for the beginning of the 2014 RyMickey Awards.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Movie Review - Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi, and John Hurt
Directed by Jim Jarmusch

My only other experience with director-writer Jim Jarmusch was an absolutely awful flick called The Limits of Control, so when I checked out Only Lovers Left Alive from the library and saw that it was penned and helmed by him, the dvd sat atop my tv for nearly two-and-a-half weeks before I decided to give it a shot.  I must admit that I found myself pleasantly surprised.  The slow pace apparent in The Limits of Control was certainly still present, but Only Lovers Left Alive at least contains a story to latch onto that is surprisingly compelling.

In the simplest of terms, Only Lovers Left Alive revolves around Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), two centuries-old married vampires who have evolved into creatures of the night who don't seek out living, breathing humans for their blood sustenance, but instead get their "fix" by other less brutal means.  When Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to town, things get shaken up a bit and Adam and Eve's mellow life becomes a bit more chaotic than they hoped.

Certainly uncomplicated, that's just about the entire summary of Jarmusch's film.  What keeps you interested are Swinton and Hiddleston, both of whom are surprisingly captivating considering that the first hour of the film is about as slow-paced a film you'll have seen from 2014.  Somehow, though, the two actors are compelling with Hiddleston's mopey and depressed Adam being countered by Swinton's more hopeful and pleasant Eve.  Swinton really is one of the best actresses working today and I continue to be impressed with nearly everything she chooses to take part in, and Hiddleston proves here that there's more to him than the egomaniacal Loki from the Marvel Universe.  In addition, Wasikowska really shines in a small role, popping in at about the one hour mark as the childish Ava to give the flick some much needed verve and pizzazz.

This is one of those flicks that you absolutely have to be in the "mood" to watch and it undoubtedly will not suit everyone's tastes.  However, I found Only Lovers Left Alive to be an intriguing piece of cinema -- one that I assume is much deeper upon subsequent viewings (the Adam/Eve symbolism alone would probably give you enough material to write a research paper), but works quite well on its initial watch as well.

The RyMickey Rating:  B