Featured Post

Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Book a Week - the perks of being a wallflower

Book Twenty-Four of the Book-a-Week Quest

the perks of being a wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

If I remember correctly, about two years after high school (although it may have been later than that), I went out to my mailbox and found that a high school friend who I hadn't talked to in a long time had mailed this book to me. For some reason or another, I never opened the book. I uncovered this book recently on my bookshelf and it brought back a memory of the aforementioned friend who I haven't spoken to in years (no reason...just that post-high school drifting apart thing), so I decided that I'd give the book a shot.

First off, confession-time: Admittedly, this book would be found in the "young adult" section of any book store. I don't see this as a problem in the slightest (and it's not like it was short or anything...Lord knows it's more than twice the length of the last two Steinbeck books I read), but I wanted to reveal that up front.

Written in an epistolary style (in the form of letters) from a sixteen year-old ninth grader to an anonymous recipient, wallflower tells the story of Charlie who is slightly odd. Lacking friends, he latches on to some seniors during his freshman year of high school. It's not that these friends, brother and sister Patrick and Sam, are bad per se, but they open Charlie's eyes to a world of sex, drugs, alcohol, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which, really, if you look at it, is probably just a combination of the three formers brought to glory on the big screen).

This wasn't my high school life at all. Not that that's a problem, but I kept reading this going, "Where are this kid's parents?" Charlie describes his parents and they seem to be incredibly "with it." So, why do they let this kid hang out with seniors who keep him out all night? I mean, when your kid is found by the police laying in someone's snow-covered front yard stoned out of his mind, you'd think they'd have drawn the line somewhere.

It's not that I need to relate to characters, but they need to be believable...while I could connect with Charlie, I couldn't connect with anyone around him which is what made the book falter for me. Which is somewhat unfortunate because there are passages in this book that I really liked. This'll sound corny, but some of the discussions about love between these high schoolers were rather touching...simplistic, but meaningful. In the end, though, it manages to only be slightly better than average.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Random Thought...

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Drag Me to Hell and Crank 2 would be my top two movies of 2009 at any point, I'd have had you committed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Movie Review - Barton Fink (1991)

***Available on DVD***
Starring John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, John Mahoney, and Tony Shalhoub
Directed by Joel Coen (and an uncredited Ethan Coen)
Written by Joel and Ethan Coen

Barton Fink (Turturro) is a New York playwright who moves out to Hollywood when presented with an opportunity to write for "the pictures." Unfortunately, writer's block comes into play and Barton is unable to write a thing. He befriends a salesman living next door to him (Goodman), he stares at peeling wallpaper, and he meets up with a washed-out alcoholic writer (Mahoney) and his lover (Davis) in hopes of gaining some inspiration.

Full of some hilarious bit roles taken right out of cheesy 1940s B-movies (the detectives who question Fink in the 2nd half of the film, the film studio chief), it's a shame that the main character is such a nobody. I can't even really put a finger on it, but I hated the way Turturro portrayed Fink. He certainly wasn't helped by the Coen Bros. who give him nothing to do in the film's first hour except act incredibly frustrated at his inability to write.

The film certainly comes alive in the second hour, and I felt like I was watching a far superior movie (despite the zaniness that is present)...a far different movie than the first hour. In the grand scheme of things, the two disparate acts make sense (sort of), but they really didn't connect for me cohesively. But, I guess that could be the point, really.

While I didn't love the movie, I'm absolutely interested in discussing this with the friend who recommended it to me (especially considering it's one of his favorite movies of all time). It's a movie rife with symbolism that a single viewing wouldn't allow me to catch everything (or even half of everything).

Perhaps in three months, I'll give this movie another chance...knowing where it's going might help me better appreciate the initial hour.

The RyMickey Rating: C+
(for now...although upon a 2nd viewing, I could see myself finding this film more and more intriguing)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Book a Week - The Red Pony

Book Twenty-Three of the Book-a-Week Quest

The Red Pony
by John Steinbeck (1933)

I move from one horse story in Equus to another in The Red Pony. This one was decidedly simpler. No one was poking out horses' eyes here.

Essentially four short stories, The Red Pony follows a few years in the life of young Jody Tiflin. He learns about life, death, the kindness of others, and respect for his elders (who oftentimes are much less unhappy than they appear).

This one won the Nobel Prize for literature, and I gotta be honest -- I don't understand why. It read like a children's book -- very simple language and incredibly straightforward stories. Nothing complicated here in the slightest. There were (sort of) morals to each of the four chapters, but they weren't blatant enough for youth, yet they were too obvious for adults.

I'm not quite sure who the book is for.

Once again, though, Steinbeck's writing style is easy to read. I certainly enjoyed this one more than my last Steinbeck venture, but not as much as my first two trips into the author's works.

A Book a Week - Equus

Book Twenty-Two of the Book-a-Week Quest

by Peter Shaffer (1973)

The previous book I read (review here) was full of philosophical gobbledygook and when I started reading Equus (the first play in my Book-a-Week Quest), it contained psychological analysis, too, so I was slightly hesitant. The play certainly won me over, however.

Teenager Alan Strang has blinded six horses by stabbing them in their eyes. It is psychologist Martin Dysart's job to determine why. It's certainly not an easy case to crack, and throughout his analysis, Dysart begins to question his own belief system and whether he truly is happy in his chosen profession.

The play has strong religious and sexual overtones and it's tough to describe them both without seemingly writing an essay. Simply put, growing up with a strongly religious mother and an atheistic father has certainly created some "issues" for Alan in the God department. Seemingly sheltered and repressed (and depressed), Alan looks at horses as his God(s), his friends, and his one true passion (even at times in an overtly sexual sense). Interestingly enough, although he understands the oddness of the boy, the psychologist Dysart finds the boy's passion oddly invigorating in that he has never in his life been so fervid about anything. Dysart begins to question everything about himself -- his marriage, his profession, his belief system. The two characters couldn't seem more different, but in the end, I think we begin to see that they are oddly similar (or perhaps they may not be similar now, but Dysart longs to be similar to Alan in some respects).

Certainly there's too much to talk about in this play to express any in-depth analysis within the confines of three paragraphs, so I'll just stop now. That being said, I'm kind of upset I missed seeing this up on Broadway this past year. The way the stage directions were described seemed incredibly interesting and it certainly would've been unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Book a Week - The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Book Twenty-One of the Book-a-Week Quest

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Milan Kundera (1984)

There's a simple story here -- Tomas and Tereza are a couple. Tomas cheats on Tereza with woman upon woman, one of whom happens to be Sabina. Sabina is not exclusive to Tomas, as she also sleeps with Franz who is cheating on his wife with woman upon woman. They ramble on and on about their hatred for Communism, their dismissal of religions, and their love for sex, and most of them think they're happy. But in reality, none of them are living the lives they really long to live. They're all fairly unhappy, wallowing around in a world that contains no real substance...no real weight...hence the title -- they're living in a state of "unbearable lightness of being."

I didn't hate the book, and, in fact, liked most of the characters despite the fact that I could not relate to a single one of them. But, the book made me feel stupid. There's very little plot and a lot of philosophical mumbo jumbo. Despite the fact that I consider myself a learned man, I don't know nearly enough about Nietzsche or Beethoven to be able to read a book that goes into detail on their respective theories or symphonies. And it wasn't just those two guys...Two-thirds of the book felt as if the plot was thrown to wayside and Kundera was simply writing a textbook on European philosophy and art.

Had the book focused more on the characters (however repulsive and brutish they were), I would've been intrigued. But, instead, by focusing on the philosophical aspects, Kundera made this book feel like school. I took a class on analyzing philosophy...I hated it and I didn't need to rehash that experience.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Movie Review - Up (2009)

Featuring the voice talents of Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, and Bob Peterson
Written by Bob Peterson
Directed by Pete Docter (co-director: Bob Peterson)

A painful edit to the grade has been made below...also see addition in bold below...

Unabashed and unashamed Pixar nut here. What they are able to do in terms of story and humor and animation is head-over-heels better than any other animation company working today (including my beloved Disney -- although, they're now one in the same).

I went into their newest venture, Up, with no expectations, however. The trailers never really grabbed me for some reason or another. And, it's entirely a good thing that my expectations were lowered, because, unfortunately, Up falls more towards the Cars "flawed, but still decent" end of the Pixar pantheon rather than the Wall*E "near-perfection" end.

We meet Carl Frederickson as a boy of about five and he longs to meet his favorite explorer, Charles Muntz. He dreams of one day traveling to far-off lands and just plain-old having a life full of fun expeditions. On his way home one day, he meets Ellie, a young girl his age who also has a penchant for adventure. They spark a unique friendship and through what could possibly be the most touching five minutes in a Pixar film ever, we witness in a dialogue-free, music score-only manner Carl and Ellie falling in love, getting married, making their way through the ups and downs of middle and old age, and eventually succumbing to the inevitable -- the death of a spouse. The first fifteen minutes of this film had me riveted. From Michael Giacchino's lilting score, to the top-notch animation, to the amazing caliber of storytelling without even saying a word, the Pixar folks had me onboard and loving it.

Unfortunately, they weren't able to sustain their momentum. Carl meets Russell, a cute chubby kid who simply needs to earn his last badge in Assisting the Elderly in order to become a full-fledged Wilderness Explorer. Carl's a curmudgeon and sends Russell on an impossible mission, hoping to get rid of the pesky kid. Through a series of unfortunate events, Carl decides that he's literally going to pick up his house with balloons and explore South America -- something he had promised his adventurous Ellie that they would do while they were both alive. Unbeknown to Carl, Russell has stowed away underneath his porch and came along for the ride.

And this is where the flick loses its course. It turns into part buddy comedy (of which a good chunk of the "comedy" falls flat...something very surprising for a Pixar film), part 1930s adventure serial (you know, those five/ten minute films that Spielberg mined for his Indiana Jones series). It's an admirable attempt to be sure, but neither the comedy nor the adventure can compare to the serious gravitas we've witnessed in the Carl/Ellie relationship in the film's first act. It's only when the film shifts back to this relationship that I really felt any emotional connection...which is what I expect from Pixar.

And if I'm not experiencing an emotional connection, I at least want to be laughing (see A Bug's Life as a perfect example of a non-serious Pixar film succeeding). Unfortunately, the laughs in this one seem aimed squarely at the young kids in the audience. The entire character of Dug, a dog Carl and Russell meet on their journey, fell flat for me. He was supposed to be the comedic relief, but I'm not sure I laughed at him once.

With the exception of the annoying Dug (voiced by writer and co-director Bob Peterson), the voice talent was top-notch. Ed Asner was a perfect fit for the cranky Carl. Young Jordan Nagai was able to keep Russell from turning annoying (and it was entirely possible that the character could've turned that way). Christopher Plummer was certainly pitch perfect as the villain...I just wish I could've cared for his part of the story a little more.

I realize I'm not seeming up on this film (no pun intended there), but I'd rather see lukewarm Pixar than decent Dreamworks anyday. The film looks great, sounds great (the score by the aforementioned Michael Giacchino is beautiful although slightly repetitive), and contains what may be my favorite Pixar scene ever (the sequence between Carl and Ellie mentioned above). Up is still my favorite animated film of the year at this point, although Dreamworks definitely put up valiant competition in Monsters vs. Aliens. It's just that it's not great Pixar and whenever you don't get great Pixar, you're bound to be disappointed.

Another note about 3D (this seems to be a running point of contention with me), there is nothing 3D about this film. Yes, there is depth here, but there is nothing "coming out at you." That's fine...I don't need to be grabbing for things, but I also think that if you're able to see this film simply in digital format (and not digital 3D), that'd be the way to go. I don't fault Pixar for that, but this 3D bandwagon has been something I haven't been able to jump on yet.

Edit: Unfortunately, I totally realize now that I was grading this film on some bizarre Pixar curve that doesn't apply to any other animated films. Was this movie better than Monsters vs. Aliens? Nope, not really. Better than Coraline? Unfortunately not. I'm not even sure if it's better than Cars...the lowpoint in the Pixar canon. Perhaps this will get a second viewing from me and maybe I'll appreciate it more at that point, but until that day, the B- that I originally gave this film must be changed to the more appropriate grade below. I must (try to) be fair...but please know that I'm crying on the inside...

The RyMickey Rating: C

Friday, May 22, 2009

Movie Review - Dance Flick (2009)

The first joke of this Wayans Brothers "comedy" involves a guy doing a dance move in a competition who then lifts his leg and pees on his opponent.

I was done with the movie in less than 60 seconds.

No other comments except to say that this was truly one of the worst movies I had ever seen. I didn't laugh once (there may have been one mild chuckle) and instead found myself angry at the fact that other people in the theater were laughing.

I'm not putting up any poster or talking any more about this piece of crap. Awful, awful stuff.

The RyMickey Rating: F

Movie Review - Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

Starring Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, and Robin Williams
Written by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Directed by Shawn Levy

I fell asleep during the first Night at the Museum movie. For a movie that's supposed to be somewhat exciting (in a kid movie kind of way), it lacked any oomph.

The sequel proves to be the same thing.

I'm not going to go into any detail except to say that there's really nothing redeeming about it. The acting is okay, the special effects are lacklaster, and the story is extraordinarily corny. When you can make the adorable Amy Adams look bad, your script sucks.

Nothing else to say here...why waste my time...

The RyMickey Rating: D

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Movie Review - The Limits of Control (2009)

Starring Isaach De Bankolé, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael García Bernal, and Bill Murray
Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Edited 230am 5/21/09
Peer pressure forced me to head up to Philadelphia and watch some movie I had no desire to see earlier today. Despite the fact that I told my two "friends" (the quotation marks are there because I'm not sure I can forgive them for the two hours I wasted today) that I had read that the movie was horrible, I was suckered into going.

At first I thought I was maybe in some allergy-induced haze (as my allergies are hitting the peak of awfulness right about now) that was hindering my ability to fully concentrate...I would later realize that wasn't the case at all. I'd love to tell you what happens in this movie, but that would mean that I myself would have to create a story because there was no story here. I guess there's a guy who's some type of hit man who meets a bunch of different people and then kills Bill Murray for reasons unknown (spoilers be damned!).

This is a movie that if anyone tells you that they like it, they're lying to you because they want to look smart. It was ridiculously awful. I think that the film is trying to say that censorship of the arts is a bad thing (the film spends ample time discussing art, film, music, and dance)...but I could be totally wrong about that. Who the hell knows? The movie sure doesn't know what it's talking about.

Yes, the film actually looked nice cinematography-wise, and there were decent performances from Tilda Swinton and the main guy (Bankolé), but overall, it was just utter garbage.

Two people got up and walked out during the screening we saw if that tells you anything (although, admittedly, one came back in after being gone for 40 minutes...he didn't miss anything).

Part of me is happy I saw it, if only for the fact that I now feel I can force the two said "friends" to see something they have no desire to see...

I originally had this rated an 'F', but after seeing two other movies tonight (one in particular), I realized that this movie isn't nearly as bad as I thought it was. Still, it was no good, but it was not deserving of an 'F' if only for the cinematography and Tilda Swinton. Plus, the fact that I'm still thinking about it 12 hours later has to say something, right?

The RyMickey Rating: D-

Monday, May 18, 2009

What I'm Listening To - "Fine Line" by Little Big Town

A country Fleetwood Mac is the best way to describe the two guy-two girl quartet of Little Big Town.  Definitely country, they also certainly have roots in 70s rock, as evidenced by their concert that I just returned from, where they covered the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" and The Eagles' "Heartache Tonight."

What I love about the group is the great harmonies.  Sure, it's easy to sound good on a cd, but I was very impressed with the group's live vocals this evening, particularly at the end of the touching "Lost," where all four of them put down their microphones and sang a cappella without any amplification whatsoever.   While the crowd at the venue was incredibly subdued (singer Karen Fairchild criticized the seemingly elderly crowd by telling them they weren't in a Baptist church so feel free to stand up -- seriously, my brother and I were definitely on the low end age-wise), the group still put on a great show, singing nearly non-stop for an hour and forty-five minutes.  Admittedly, I felt a little bad for the group as the lower section (we were in the balcony) seemed filled with grandmas and grandpas and they wouldn't even clap for these guys.  About halfway through, the crowd finally started to liven up a little, but they didn't go crazy until their last (and most well-known) song "Boondocks."

Oh, well.  I'd definitely go see this quartet again.  Not that I go to a lot of shows, but I was entertained for 100 minutes and that's all I can really ask for.

Their single "Fine Line" from their latest album is below.  Followed by their most well-known song, "Boondocks."  (I realize no one that reads this blog likes country music, so no hurt feelings when you don't listen to them...)
  Little Big Town More CMT Music More CMT Music Videos

Movie Review - The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, and Paul Bettany
Written by Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Ron Howard

Having never read the bestselling book, I went into this knowing nothing about it. Maybe it worked as a book, but as a movie, The Da Vinci Code was an utterly unexciting "thriller" featuring a lukewarm performance by Tom Hanks and by-the-book direction by Ron Howard. It's like an adult Indiana Jones minus the action, humor, and fun.

The whole movie just seems to be Hanks' symbolologist Robert Langdon explaining things (I'm sure there's some scientific name for someone that studies symbols, but I'm not looking into it). He's either explaining them quickly to French police officer Sophie Neveu (a cute, but bland Audrey Tautou), or he's interpreting them lengthily via poorly constructed and directed "flashback" expository scenes. When he's not expounding upon religious relics, Langdon's figuring out puzzles. Puzzles are fun...watching people solve puzzles isn't. While Langdon tries to solve an anagram, director Howard has letters "light up" so we're seeing them as Langdon does. Honestly, I'm not really sure how else Howard could have accomplished this visually, but it just seemed silly.

The dialogue is silly too...clunky and basic. And for a plot that's incredibly convoluted, I expected more than Hanks explaining something by saying "That is that." That line was literally an explanation after the discovery of something. Really? "That is that?" Then again, anything longer would have caused the flick to go over its already ungodly 2 1/2 hour running time.

Admittedly, the film got a little more interesting (and exciting) once they happened upon Ian McKellan's character who explains the film's huge controversy -- that Christ had a daughter with Mary Magdalene and that members of the Catholic Church are now killing descendants of Christ to continue to cover up this secret. Like I said, not having read the book, the twists that occurred in the last hour were certainly a little surprising to me, but it still is much too "talky" to be taut and exciting. Couple that with the interminable first 75 minutes and the film just can't maintain any sense of tension.

Honestly, Angels and Demons (which I'll be watching sometime soon) doesn't have to do a whole lot to be better than this.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Book a Week - The Pearl

Book Twenty of the Book-a-Week Quest

The Pearl
by John Steinbeck (1947)

Throughout this book-a-week quest, I've discovered that I really love John Steinbeck.  This short novel fell flat for me, however.

Unlike Of Mice and Men which was a short story with very little exposition (and a ton of dialogue), and unlike East of Eden which was a very long novel with descriptions abounding, The Pearl was a short novel with very little dialogue and a ton of expository paragraphs.  I'm not pointing that out as a fault, rather I'm rather bringing it up because I'm rather intrigued at Steinbeck's varying writing styles.

The issue I had is that I just couldn't connect with Steinbeck's style in this one.  I found myself getting lost within the paragraphs and not being able to maintain my focus -- not because it was difficult to read, but because I felt like I was reading the same things over and over again...and I was.

The story (essentially a parable [I think] about greed) is incredibly simple.  A Mexican fisherman finds a giant pearl and thinks it will bring wealth and prosperity to his wife (although, now that I think about, I don't think they're married) and child.  Instead, it brings nothing but troubles as he is forced into doing things he never dreamed of in order to protect the pearl.

I know that this book is loved by a lot of people, but I just didn't love it.  It's not that it was awful, but it wasn't ever able to grab me at all.  Once he found the pearl, it felt like the whole story was the wife telling him to get rid of it and him refusing to do so.  With the novel being so short, I expected more than just repetition, and repetition is all I got.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Coming Attractions...Addendum...

I posted my previous coming attractions post a day too soon...here's one of my most anticipated movies of the year...

The Road

I can't wait...Viggo should've won an Oscar for the underwatched Eastern Promises...this was quite a book...looks like it could be quite a movie...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Coming Attractions


Daniel Day Lewis proved he's an impressive actor in There Will Be Blood, so the fact that he's trying his hand at a musical is interesting to me. I'll try to forget the fact that Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas) and Kate Hudson are in it...


Mo'nique is already getting Oscar buzz for this one. I didn't even realize that was Mariah Carey at first. Looks like it may be able to rise above the typical urban drama.

The Princess and the Frog

I don't really even want to think about this at the moment. I'm thrilled beyond belief that hand-drawn animation is back, but I don't know about this one...

The Best Show (Ever) on Television...

I'm serious with that title. I think J. J. Abrams (and company) have created a magnificent viewing experience with this show. The season five finale on Wednesday night proved that once again. That ending? What the hell is gonna happen next season? And what the hell is up with Locke? The black lettering on white background (rather than the opposite as we viewers are used to) was such a simple way to end it, but it was ingenious!

I know two people that read this blog watch Lost...feel free to go spoiler-crazy in the comments...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Movie Review - Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009)

Starring Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Vanessa Williams, Melora Hardin, and Emily Osment
Written by Daniel Berendsen
Directed by Peter Chelsom

Don't ask why I watched this. My friend is watching every single movie that is being released this year, and this one was giving him trouble, so I agreed to watch it with him.

In the end, it wasn't awful.

I've been forced to watch Hannah Montana when watching my little cousin and I cannot stand Miley Cyrus as an actress (it makes me long for the days of Shia LaBeouf on Even Stevens...now that was a good show!). I was expecting nothing from her in this flick. However, she was shockingly watchable. As was the entire movie itself.

Miley Stewart, for the most part, is a normal girl from California. But, unbeknownst to most, she is also singing superstar Hannah Montana in her other life. Miley simply wants the best of both of these worlds, but is unable to manage both sides of her life. Her father thinks she's getting a big head (along with those big teeth <-- low blow, I know), so he secretly flies her back to their hometown of Crowley Corners, Tennessee, to give her a reality check. While there, Miley crushes on some model-ish cowboy, hides from some paparazzi guy searching for Hannah, and manages to save the town from getting taken over by Barry Bostwick. This flick isn't necessarily a good movie, but considering the other junk that's out there for young kids, this film is well done. It looks nice. The acting's okay. The music's not great, but not awful. I don't know...I thought it was decent. Yeah, I know...there's something wrong with me...

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Movie Review - Next Day Air (2009)

Starring Donald Faison, Mike Epps, Mos Def, and Darius McCrary (Eddie from Family Matters!)
Written by Blair Cobbs
Directed by Benny Boom

Not much to say here. When every other word is 'F' this and 'F' that, a movie loses me.

A delivery guy accidentally delivers a package of cocaine to room 302 instead of room 303 (you see, he was high on weed at the time). The black guys in 302 are psyched, the Mexican guy in room 303 is pissed. Hilarity about drugs and guns ensues.

There's nothing remotely redeeming about this film. Some of the acting is moderately acceptable, but the script and direction are straight out of college film school.

The RyMickey Rating: D-

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy Belated Mother's Day

NSFW...Not as good as "D*ck in a Box," but still quite clever. Gotta love the two cameos in this one...the ladies in this one make the video funnier than it probably deserves to be...

A Book a Week - A Working Stiff's Manifesto

Book Nineteen of the Book-a-Week Quest

A Working Stiff's Manifesto
by Iain Levison (2002)

Aaah...the joys of getting an English degree...

Thoughts of using that degree to the fullest potential and then working in a job that doesn't utilize it in the slightest.

It sounds incredibly familiar to me...

That's the gist of Levison's memoir that details his life after college as he works his way through menial and/or arduous, laborious low-level jobs. 

The book was an incredibly easy read.  Too easy, really.  Levison's writing style is breezy, light, and humorous, but everything he writes about seems incredibly obvious.  There's no depth here, really (sounds like my blog...).  Add to that (and I can't believe I'm going to say this), I felt the book was much too short.  Clocking in at 164 pages, I wanted more in terms of story.

I may pick up another book by Levison and give him another shot as I enjoyed the writing style...I'd just hope the next book has a little more oomph to it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Movie Review - The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

***Available on DVD***
Starring Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Newman
Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, and Sam Raimi
Directed by Joel Coen (and Ethan Coen)

When the President of Hudsucker Industries kills himself, the board of directors, led by the conniving Sidney Mussburger (Newman), decides that in order to be able to purchase stock in the company at a low price, they need to hire a boob to run the company into the toilet for a little bit.  Little did they know that their boob, a fresh out of college Norville Barnes (Robbins), has some ingenious plans dealing with toy production ("you know, for kids") that could prove very profitable for the company and may just foil Mussburger's scheme.

This is only the fifth Coen Brothers film that I had seen and up until this point I had only liked one (No Country for Old Men).  I can now add The Hudsucker Proxy to the "like" column.  A very Frank Capra-esque, 30s/40s style film, the movie has a genuine feel-good message peppered with quick pitter-patter dialogue between its leads.   It certainly feels like the film could've come right out of another era.  Nothing racy, raunchy, or explicit here...just the story of a man trying to make his way the best he can.

There were winning performances by Tim Robbins (who, despite the fact that I despise his politcal leanings with a passion, I genuinely like most of his work) and Paul Newman (then again, Paul Newman is always winning).  My only problem with the film (and what keeps it out of the upper echelon of my grading rubric) is Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance as a fast-talking newspaper reporter who goes undercover at Hudsucker Industries to find out more about the newly appointed president.  She was essentially copying Katharine Hepburn's mannerisms and dialect step-for-step, enunciation-for-enunciation.  As the film is certainly a tribute to a bygone era, I'm sure the Coens wanted Leigh's role to be an homage to Hepburn (in some regard), but I just found her performance over-the-top and grating.

Overall, though, this little film is certainly worth a rental if you haven't seen it.

The RyMickey Rating: B+ 

Edited to add:  I'm a fan of music scores in films (my folks would always give me a hard time about this as I'd often mention the score when I'd talk about whether I liked or disliked a movie) and there's also a great one in this flick by Carter Burwell -- very fitting with the era they were trying to depict...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Quotes of the Day

Be inspired! Be happy!

"Happiness is..."
"...dill pickles."
-Matthew McConaughy

"...free popcorn refills and clean underwear."
-Paul Walker

"...Chick-Fil-A and soft pretzels."
-Megan Fox

"...everyday human interaction."
-Zac Efron

Those celebs...always knowing what's best for me...

(Quotes from People Magazine...not only are these incredible quotes in the latest issue, but you can also find out that 80% of People readers think that Martha Washington [yes, George's wife] was hot and that 92% think Mary tudor was not! Where else will you find investigative journalism like that?)

Movie Review - Frost/Nixon (2008)

Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and Sam Rockwell
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Ron Howard

This flick was praised at the end of 2008, nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay. Did it deserve that praise?

Sort of.

It's not there was anything bad about the film. The acting, directing, and writing were all top-notch. Langella's Nixon and Sheen's Frost were both excellent. Howard's somewhat documentary-style direction was an interesting take. The dialogue was sharp.

In the end, though, the film is just there. Nothing particularly wrong with it, but it never drew me in at all. Maybe it's because I'm so far removed from the situation in terms of my age -- meaning that since I wasn't "affected" by Nixon's resignation, the final apology by Nixon didn't really mean anything to me.

I definitely liked the film and I admired all aspects of the production, but it didn't connect with me in any way emotionally.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Movie Review -- Star Trek (2009)

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Winona Ryder, and Leonard Nimoy
Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Directed by J.J. Abrams

I'm a huge J.J. Abrams fan. I love Lost, liked Alias, thought Felicity was an incredibly underrated series, thought J.J's Mission: Impossible was the best of the bunch...so I went into this expecting a lot.

In all likelihood, this will probably be my favorite action movie of the summer. The action sequences were very subdued, not non-stop in-your-face, and edited in such a way that I could actually tell what was going on (I'm talking to you, Michael Bay). So, if I liked the way they were filmed so much, why was I underwhelmed by these action sequences? There seemed to be a lack of tension in these scenes which (being an action movie) is rather unfortunate.

I'm not really going to get into the story here, except that this flick is essentially an "origin" story (albeit an infinitely better one than this recent flick I viewed), telling the tale of how James T. Kirk happened to become captain of the Enterprise. If someone has never seen anything having to do with Star Trek before, this is a perfect introduction. You don't need to know anything going into this. Everything is explained to you. While that could be tremendously boring for those that do know Star Trek (I know a little...I watched Next Generation as a kid), the way that the two screenwriters presented the information was perfect -- not the least bit boring for the Trekkies (or, apparently Trekkers, as they prefer to be called) and not the least bit confusing for the casual viewer.

The acting is across the board top-notch which is really what raised this film above your typical summer blockbuster. Chris Pine is a perfect Kirk, mirroring some of William Shatner's mannerisms, but making the character his own. Same goes for Zachary Quinto's Spock, who actually gets to spend time onscreen with the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy. A stand-out was Simon Pegg's Scotty who made the absolute most of his minimal screen time. Zoe Saldana's Uhura was also quite good. The only problem with the skilled group of younger actors was Karl Urban's McCoy...he was the only one who seemed to be playing a copy of the original -- he was certainly directed to go for the "corny," but it felt a little out of place at times (there's a ridiculous scene between McCoy, Kirk, and a pair of swollen hands that is completely out of place with the rest of the film).

Overall, a good film. Certainly the best of the summer so far. Hopefully, the flick does good enough to warrant a sequel because I certainly wouldn't mind taking another voyage with this crew.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Movie Review - Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Michael Douglas
Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Directed by Mark Walters

I am certainly not opposed to a good romantic comedy. Love, Actually and Sleepless in Seattle are two favorite films of mine. Both those films have characters that you can latch onto and root for in their quest for love.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has no such character. McConaughey's sleazebag lothario, Connor Mead, has had his share (and many, many other men's shares) of women. He loves 'em for a night, then leaves 'em. He's only played the wooing game with Jenny (Garner), a childhood pal whom he's grown up with and always kind of "crushed on." Connor and Jenny meet again at Connor's brother's wedding and the sexual tension between the two resurfaces. Unfortunately for Jenny, it appears that Connor hasn't changed his ways.

At the wedding rehearsal dinner, Connor gets visited by his equally sleazy Uncle Wayne...the only problem is that Uncle Wayne (Douglas) is dead. Connor's uncle tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts who will show him how to be a better man (a la Dickens' A Christmas Carol).

Admittedly, I laughed out loud a few times. But there was very little reason shown at all for Jenny to have fallen for this scumbag...so her desire to get back together with Connor seemed implausible (granted, she didn't really desire to get back together with him, but she definitely still had feelings for him which boggled my mind). I can't get past the premise that any woman would fall head over heels for this guy. He's a dick. Do women really want to be treated like garbage -- tossed out after one use? (Maybe I'm missing the point of the dating game, if that's the case...)

The movie is helped by decent performances, although no one is better than average. Garner is fine as essentially the straight man of the piece (she really has very little to do comedically). Douglas is over-the-top as Connor's mentor-ish uncle, but he played the role for all it was worth. There are decent supporting turns from Breckin Meyer and Lacey Chabert as the wedding couple (although Chabert was forced to play the stereotypical Bridezilla). McConaughy was fine, but I really felt like he was playing himself. Nothing new brought to the table.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

A Book a Week - The Mezzanine

Book Eighteen of the Book-A-Week Quest

The Mezzanine
by Nicholson Baker (1986)

It's honestly a little tough to describe this novel as it's literally 135 pages of a twentysomething man's thoughts as he takes a single ride up an escalator. During this short trip, his mind wanders to his past, present, and future.

So, summary-wise, that's it. Doesn't seem like much. And it's really not much. I liken it to the Seinfeld episode where George and Jerry decide to create a sitcom about nothing. Despite the fact that there's no substance here, the book was incredibly clever, bordering on genius at times. Take this quote from the protagonist's thoughts:

"Perforation! Shout it out! The deliberate punctuated weakening of paper and cardboard so that it will tear along an intended path, leaving a row of fine-haired white pills or tuftlets on each new edge! ...Why isn't the pioneer of perforation chiseled into the façades of libraries?"

I read that and said to myself, "You know what...he's right. Perforation was a genius invention!"

Whether it be a whole chapter devoted to how to put on deodorant after you've already put on your shirt and tie (which invoked an "I do that, too, sometimes!" from me), or the paragraphs that told me that I'm not the only one who "holds a pillow with my chin" while putting on a new clean pillowcase, or the sentence that reminded me of those kindergarten days where you "placed your coat on the floor, inserting both arms in both armholes, and then proceeded to flip the coat over your head." See, the book is about nothing.

The book falters in the final third. I don't know whether I got bored of it or whether it got much too deep for me (which it did...he started talking about philosophical authors and some nonsense...I literally "browsed" through the last chapter...you know what I mean...you read the first sentence of a paragraph and then the last one and determine from them if anything important happened within said paragraph in which case you'll read the whole thing, but if not, you're moving along...).

Overall, a good book (great, at times), but not entirely consistent.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Movie Review - X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schrieber, Danny Huston, Lynn Collins, and Will.i.Am
Directed by Gavin Hood
Written by David Benioff and Skip Woods
I really know very little about the X-Men comic book series. Yes, I saw the first two films, but I never saw the third. So, I went into this a little wet behind the ears in terms of my Wolverine knowledge. In the end, I don't think it really mattered. My lack of enjoyment in the film had nothing to do with the fact that I knew nothing about it going in...it had to do with the fact that it just wasn't a very good film.

The film opens in the 1860s with two horrible child actors discovering that the younger brother has a mutant power that allows him to push bones out of his hands and create "claw-life" appendages that he can impale people with (his brother has a similar power, to a lesser degree). Once the younger kid kills his father (for reasons I won't get into here), he and his older brother run away. Through a rather interesting credit sequence, we learn that the two brothers appear to be somewhat immortal as they have helped the United States on the battlefield in every war from the Civil War through Vietnam. The two brothers, Logan (Jackman) and Victor (Schrieber) are somewhat forced to join an elite group of other "mutants" who go around the world and try and help out the U.S. government. When Logan discovers that the group may not be on the up and up, he decides to leave rather than do harm to innocent people.

Living in Canada, Logan hoped to forget his mutant past, but he is soon called into duty by William Stryker (Huston), the head of Logan's former band of mutants. Apparently, someone is killing mutants and Stryker needs Logan's help. Logan refuses, but when it appears that his brother shows up in Canada and kills Logan's girlfriend, Logan agrees to allow Stryker to inject him with adamantium (a super-powerful metal) to make him a nearly invincible killing machine. Now deemed Wolverine, Logan sets out on a mission to stop the murderous streak of his brother (apparently now called Sabretooth...but I don't ever remember even hearing that name mentioned in the movie).

Yes, that's a long set-up...and if you thought it took forever reading it, it took infinitely longer watching it. Despite (as mentioned above) a promising credit sequence, the film itself falls flat often. Action sequences are repetitive (there was more than one time that Sabretooth pounced at Wolverine at the start of a fight scene) and somewhat unexciting. I'm all for ridiculous action, but there was nothing here that you wouldn't have seen in any other PG-13 action movie. In fact, there's really nothing here at all that's new. How many times have we seen a movie where, as some character is dying, they say, "I'm so cold." Really? Haven't we heard that line in hundreds of other films?

The actors, with the exception of a surprisingly engaging Liev Schreiber, were either over-the-top (I'm calling out Danny Huston here) or incredibly low-key (Jackman, that'd be you). And Wolvie's love interest played by (unknown to me) Lynn Collins was so generic, I wanted to shake some life into her.

Honestly, the flick wasn't godawful, but it wasn't even remotely good. I wasn't bored, but that could entirely be because it's the first "summer" action pic of the year.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Movie Review - Battle for Terra (2009)

Featuring the voice talents of Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, James Garner, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, David Cross, Dennis Quaid, and Luke Wilson
Directed and Story by Aristomenis Tsirbas
Written by Evan Spiliotopolous

Well...if this is the start of the summer movie season, it can only go up from here.

Created to be seen in 3D, Battle for Terra was screened (in my case) in regular 35mm format. Most theaters across the country chose to show it in this "regular" way since there was zero buzz on this animated flick (deservedly so).

Pixar (and to a moderately lesser extent, Disney, and, to even lesser an extent, Dreamworks) realize that in order to have a successful animated film, you need to appeal to a broad spectrum of people -- kids, teenagers, their parents, their grandparents. Lesser studios (including the company MeniThings which produced this flick) can't seem to pick up on that...or, if they do, they can't quite grasp what needs to be done in order to achieve broad-spectrum appeal. Battle for Terra has no idea who it wants to appeal to -- the story is much too complicated and boring for kids and ridiculously heavy-handed for grown-ups.

Essentially, Earth has been destroyed in some type of power struggle between humans (we destroyed Venus and Mars, as well, both of which we were inhabiting). Desperate for some place to live, we come across Terra whose inhabitants are sperm-like, completely emotionless creatures (at least I felt no emotion towards them) that float around in their world with little airplanes made of leaves and stuff. These Terra things are "peaceful"...us humans love war. Because we love war so much, we utilize it to take whatever we want...at least the humans in the military do. Who will win in the end? The peaceful people of Terra or the awful, awful humans?

The film is an incredibly thinly veiled attempt at pointing out that war is bad, the military is awful, and peace needs to reign supreme. In an ideal world, the latter would happen, but we don't live that way. Instead, in this movie, it is painfully obvious that the white, Anglo-Saxon male is evil (for, you see, us white men are the military fighters). All we want to do is go kill things. Females and African Americans in this film (who partly make up what is essentially a futuristic Congress) are thoroughly opposed to this. In this Obama Age, I would expect nothing less. The movie was essentially "Down with Republicans! Up with Democrats! Go hug each other and throw away your guns!"

Anyone who knows me knows I fall on the conservative side of most issues, but I'm always willing to listen to jokes and poke fun at the party with which I align myself (I'm no Sean Hannity "Republicans Can Do No Wrong" kind of guy). But this movie was so blatantly in my face about its agenda, it was annoying.

Let alone the awful story, the animation was poorly done, and the voice acting was painfully boring. When the best thing about the movie is trying to figure out whose voice you're hearing, you know you're in trouble. On another note about the voicing...granted, there aren't "huge stars" in this, but that list of actors above is full of highly recognizable names. How the heck did this nobody podunk little animation studio sign up all these big names for this ridiculousness that I watched? Oh...I know...Liberal Hollywood must've fallen head over heels for this one...

The RyMickey Rating: F