Monday, November 30, 2009

Movie Review - The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Christmas Movie a Day #6
The Shop Around the Corner
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
I know I've seen this movie before (maybe in my Romantic Comedy Analysis film class in college) and I seem to remember disliking it. I don't know what I was thinking, because this movie is a gem, filled with great performances and a cute story.

Jimmy Stewart is Alfred Kralik, a young man working in Mr. Matuscheck's (The Wizard of Oz's Frank Morgan) gift shop. Unfortunately for Kralik, he doesn't get along with new hire Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) -- they're constantly bickering back and forth. Little do Alfred and Klara know that they are, in fact, each other's anonymous pen pals. As they fall in love with each other via letters, they're despising each other in person.

The thing that makes the simple, obvious story work much better than it has any right to is the great performances. Is there anyone more regular-guy charming than Jimmy Stewart? He's the gosh-darn nice everyman and is a pleasure to watch in nearly anything and this is no exception. His wordplay off of Margaret Sullavan is wonderful, and she's a huge part in making it work. Looking at her imdb page, Ms. Sullavan did not become a star and certainly didn't appear in too many films after this one. I wonder why. Surely she's not the most attractive woman to grace the silver screen, but she's not bad on the eyes, and she's quite funny. And add Frank Morgan's lovable mug into the mix and it's quite a trio.

Simple, sweet, and really charming, this flick (while not having much to do with Christmas at all) is definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of Jimmy Stewart (which I know some who are reading this are).

The RyMickey Rating: A-
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 2/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Movie Review - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Christmas Movie a Day #5
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Doris Roberts, and Randy Quaid
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
While it certainly has its flaws and it's not the best in the Vacation franchise (that honor goes to the original Vacation with its trip to Wally World), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is still a Christmas classic. I hadn't seen it in several years and it still holds up.

Clark Griswold (Chase) just wants to have a nice Christmas holiday with the family. Unfortunately, when both sets of in-laws arrive, havoc ensues. A simple premise with lots of nice gags. Let's be honest -- the scene where Clark goes to the lingerie counter and gets incredibly flustered by the buxom employee ("It's nipply out there...could it be any hooter in here?") is a classic comedy bit. I laugh every time I watch that scene...nothing wrong with some cleverly placed sexual innuendo.

The real problem with the movie is that it can't quite sustain itself over the 100 minute running time in terms of humor. It's not that it really lulls at any point, but there are just some bits that don't quite work as well as others...in particular the whole Julia Louis-Dreyfuss yuppie next-door neighbor scenes (they nearly all fall flat).

Still, there's something really "nice" about this movie...the focus on spending time with the family (however chaotic or dysfunctional it may be) is what resonates the most and it's not a bad thing to bring to the forefront during the hectic season.

The RyMickey Rating: B
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 9/10
The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Year of Firsts

  • Went out Black Friday shopping at 3am...didn't buy a darn thing, but I went...

A Year in Movies

Nearly 175 movies at this point...and, finally, one that gets the 5/5 top honor. It's about time. Additionally, another really great movie gets the #2 slot on the year...so, my top two movies are completely different with this latest list.

5/5 *** 1/170 = 0.59%
Fantastic Mr. Fox

4.5/5 *** 3/170 = 1.76%

4/5 *** 14/170 = 8.24%
3.5/5 *** 15/170 = 8.82%

2.5/5 *** 22/170 = 12.94%

2/5 *** 14/170 = 8.24%

1.5/5 *** 24/170 = 14.12%

1/5 *** 29/170 = 17.06%


0/5 *** 12/170 = 7.06%

I would say that anything 3/5 or above would be something that I would recommend people to see. Therefore, based on the above ratings, I would say that of the movies I've seen, I would say that 46 movies -- or 27.06% -- would be worth your watching. Once again, if I'm being really honest, most of those movies in the '2.5/5' section are worth your watching, too, but since I consider them only average, I figured I should only "recommend" things that are above average. If you include the 2.5's that percentage jumps to exactly 40%.

Movie Review - Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas Movie a Day #4
Christmas in Connecticut
Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan
Directed by Peter Godfrey
This flick was certainly innocuous enough, but I couldn't help but think I've seen better versions of a similar premise. Playing somewhat off of a case of mistaken identity, Christmas in Connecticut is pleasant, but, in the end, could have been much funnier than it was.

Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a writer for the woman's magazine, Smart Housekeeping. She has crafted a life for her in the pages of the magazine that is very different from her own -- while she actually lives alone in an apartment in the city, her readers (and her publisher, Alexander Yardley) think that she's quite the housewife, living in a beautiful farmhouse in Connecticut, cooking up the most beautiful meals, married to a lovely man named John, and the mother to a beautiful baby. The readership eats it up, including a young nurse who is caring for a recently returned war veteran, Jefferson (Dennis Morgan). Thinking that Jeff is falling for her, but aware that he is not the domesticated type, the young nurse writes a letter to family friend Alexander Yardley asking him to allow Jeff to spend time with Ms. Lane in order to realize that he can become acclimated to "normal" life. Little does the nurse know that Jeff will fall for Ms. Lane and Ms. Lane will fall for Jeff, and much confusion will ensue due to Elizabeth's attempts to fool everyone into thinking she's the ultimate domestic goddess.

It's not that the film is bad by any means, and it's certainly one I'd watch again in the future, but it's just not as good as it could be. The humor could've been amplified and this would've been a much better flick. Barbara Stanwyck, who I'm really only familiar with from the fantastic Double Indemnity, is quite good as the romantic comedic lead. Her co-star, Dennis Morgan, however, is fairly bland, which is maybe why I've never heard of him before. Their chemistry was fine, but I never really bought into their falling in love.

Additionally (and this isn't a factor that affects the overall rating), there's very little "Christmas" about this despite the fact that the holiday gets prominent placement in the title. Yes, it snows and there's a Christmas tree, but there's really nothing holiday-oriented here.

The RyMickey Rating: C
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 3/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Movie Review - Die Hard (1988)

Christmas Movie a Day #3
Die Hard
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and Carl Winslow (AKA Reginald VelJohnson)
Directed by John McTeirnan
Die Hard's a damn good action flick with only a very tenuous thread to Christmas, so its justification to be on this list can certainly be debated. I mean, it takes place on Christmas Eve and there's a Christmas tune or two that plays, but there's not really much else. But, that's perfectly fine, because winning performances from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman along with some fun action sequences more than make up for the lack of yuletide joy.

Willis is John McClane, a cop who's visiting his estranged wife for Christmas. He goes to her job at some company located in a high rise building in L.A. Little does anyone know that a group of terrorists headed by Rickman's Hans Gruber is going to take over the building in order to steal millions of dollars of bonds from McClane's wife's boss. Fortunately for McClane, he manages to hide upon the terrorists' arrival and is able to escape onto other levels of the high rise where he can, in turn, wreak havoc on the criminals.

The biggest problem with the flick is that there's not a whole lot of story for its over 120-minute running time. Whittle this flick down to a more manageable 110 minutes and you've got yourself an incredibly taut action thriller. As it stands now, it's not quite perfect. But it's certainly not for a lack of trying. Willis is great -- possibly the best role I've seen him in. He's funny, yet he's got a strong "action guy" charismatic personality. And Rickman eats up the scenery (in a good way) as Hans Gruber.

This one is almost a great action movie, but as it stands now, it's just a really good one.

The RyMickey Rating: B
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 1/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Movie Review - We're No Angels (1955)

A Christmas Movie a Day #2
We're No Angels
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov
Directed by Michael Curtiz
The premise is simple and drawn out over a very long 105 minutes. Three convicts escape from a prison on Devil Island in France on Christmas Eve and come upon a small French town where they attempt to rob a shopkeeper and his wife and daughter. Little do they know that the family itself is struggling to survive thanks to an overbearing cousin of theirs who owns the store and is making it very difficult for them to make ends meet. The crooks, who were intent on robbing the family blind, instead take it upon themselves to help the family out.

Ugh. Christmas movies are innately sugary sweet, but these crooks, two of whom are convicted murderers, are just too darn nice for their own good. Humphrey Bogart actually comes off the worst of the three. He's the roughest around the edges of the trio and his change to a pleasant demeanor just didn't fly with me. Aldo Ray who plays the charming murderer and Peter Ustinov who plays the charming British murderer fare a little better. The story does none of these crooks favors, however.

There's plenty of better holiday films out there...don't waste your time with this one.

The RyMickey Rating: D
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 2/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Movie Review - Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Featuring the voice talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, and Willem Dafoe
Directed by Wes Anderson
I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled I am that this movie lived up to all my expectations. I've been desperately trying to not get excited about this film, but from the first preview, I was in love with the look of this thing and I couldn't wait for its release. Unlike some flicks that have had kick-ass trailers this year and failed to live up to expectations (*cough*Where the Wild Things Are*cough*), Fantastic Mr. Fox lived up to and exceeded my hopes for this film.

Mr. Fox (Clooney) has become "domesticated" in his later years. Once a criminal known for breaking into chicken, turkey, and squab farms, his wife (Streep) convinced him to give up that life upon the birth of their child, Ash (Schwartzman). A few fox-years have passed and Mr. Fox, having somewhat of a mid-life crisis, decides to move his family out of the foxhole they reside in and into a tree that happens to face the factories of Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, who specialize in raising poultry and making alcoholic apple cider. Mr. Fox's old "wild animal" tendencies arise again and he decides to tackle one last caper. Little does he know that the three factory owners decide to join forces to fight back against the fox and his animal friends.

Quite simply, this film is a joy to watch. The stop-motion animation here is exquisite. I'm a big animation buff and this has got to be the best-looking stop motion animation I've seen on the big screen. The thing that's really neat about it is that it looks totally old-school, bringing to mind the Rankin-Bass Christmas classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The stop-and-go style isn't seamless, but that's what makes it so darn cool to watch. The colors, character movements, costumes, and backdrops simply add to the stellar production.

The voice acting -- wow. Sure, you knew you were listening to George Clooney and Meryl Streep, but their subdued voices just fit with the tone of the movie so well. Particularly winning was Jason Schwartzman as Mr. and Mrs. Fox's son, Ash. That character and his relationship with his fox cousin, Kristofferson (which is seriously the coolest name ever), was absolutely my favorite part of this movie.

No doubt the script has a quirky nature that may not appeal to all. It's certainly felt like a live-action Wes Anderson film that just happened to be animated. Granted, I've only seen two of Anderson's other works -- The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic -- but the flick certainly reminded me of those previous works, filled with odd characters and dry humor. As I mentioned above, the production design -- colors, set design, costumes -- was reminiscent of those two Anderson movies I've seen as well. I remember reading a ton of Roald Dahl when I was a kid and I loved all of his books. (Perhaps as one of my final books in my Book-a-Week Quest, I'll wind up reading one of his books again.) His style and tone certainly seems to fit Wes Anderson very well.

I find it much more difficult to write about movies that I love...I simply don't want to write about them, but instead just want to get back to the theater and watch them again. So, this may seem like a lack of enthusiasm, but whatever I say won't begin to convey my love for this movie.

The RyMickey Rating: A
(Finally! My first A of 2009!)

Movie Review - The Merry Gentleman (2009)

Christmas Movie a Day #1
The Merry Gentleman
Starring Michael Keaton and Kelly Macdonald
Directed by Michael Keaton
It's always pleasant to watch a movie that you know next to nothing about and are able to come away from thoroughly engaged and surprised by how much you enjoyed it. That's the case with The Merry Gentleman. Heck, I didn't have a clue that Christmas was even involved in the plot until I watched it (hence the late addition to the CMAD list).

Kate Frazier (the charming Scottish Kelly Macdonald whom I fell in love with after I watched the BBC movie The Girl in the Café a few years ago and furthered my love with No Country for Old Men) is in an abusive marriage and, having had enough, decides to run away to a new city. One evening, she spots a man on a rooftop who appears to be ready to jump and commit suicide. She screams and he slips backwards onto the roof. Little does Kate know that the man, Frank Logan, is actually a hit man who just finished off one of his jobs. Frank seems to become entranced with the lonely Kate and he begins to watch her and eventually runs into her at her apartment where he helps her carry a Christmas tree up a few flights of stairs. A friendship begins to blossom between the two, with Kate unaware of Frank's secret line of work, and Frank unaware that Kate is being pursued romantically by the very police officer assigned to investigate his most recent hit.

The pace is slow in the flick, but it's not the least bit boring. The story is actually quite lovely and almost seems as if it could've been made in the 1940s (minus the sniper rifles and blood splattering on windows). Both Macdonald and Keaton play loners, but their sadness is palpable and resonates throughout the movie. Keaton, in his directorial debut, crafts a pretty nifty movie. There are several shots that are beautiful to view. I was also impressed that the film doesn't shy away from religion. Macdonald's Kate is quite religious and the film takes on faith and spirituality seriously...not in an overbearing way, by any means, but I'm always kind of surprised in this day and age when any movie weaves in religion. (Saying these last few lines may make folks shun the flick...it's seriously not religious or preachy...it's just that the flick has a religious character...that's it...don't make that be a reason not to see the movie).

Still, a pleasant flick (despite the subject matter), and a darn good directorial debut for Keaton.

The RyMickey Rating: B+
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 5/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Movie Review - The Box (2009)

Starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella
Directed by Richard Kelly
The Box is a movie that I definitely appreciate for its story, visuals, and simple uniqueness when compared to other modern-day films. However, it pushes the story way into Crazyland and it isn't helped by a poor leading performance by Cameron Diaz.

What would you do if you were presented with the following: If you press a button on a box, you'll receive a million dollars, but someone that you don't know will die. That's the premise of the flick. Diaz's Norma Lewis is presented with the box by the creepy Arlington Steward (Frank Langella). After she discusses the idea with her husband, Arthur (James Marsden), they decide to press the button. You see, rather conveniently, they are in the midst of some financial issues and the million dollars will certainly help. Now, this idea is pretty darn cool and if writer-director Richard Kelly had simply explored the human emotions behind this heavy decision, it could have been one of my favorite movies of the year. Instead, the movie drifts into science fiction mumbo-jumbo -- it gets simply ridiculous for the final hour.

It's a shame, really, because Richard Kelly crafts an interesting looking film that he ruins with a ludicrous script. The film takes place in the 1970s and the era certainly lends to some pretty nifty visuals -- the costumes and set design really made this stand out. As a director, Kelly throws in some camera tricks (like a silly unnecessary long shot), but overall, it's a cool looking retro flick.

Also unfortunate is Diaz trying to tackle a country accent. Painful. But at least she sticks with it for the whole movie -- James Marsden's accent goes in and out for scenes at a time. Still, Marsden is decent, but Diaz continues to be mindboggling in her appeal to me. Yes, I didn't mind her in My Sister's Keeper, but I don't get her star power...she's a lukewarm actress at best.

It's a shame, really, because they don't make movies like this anymore. This morality play has a really strong base to build off, but writer Kelly just failed himself by drifting towards the supernatural. All this being said, and despite the rating below (which, admittedly, may be a tad high), I'd recommend this to certain folks because even though it somewhat fails, it showed promise and I appreciate its aesthetics.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

A Book a Week - Frankenstein

Book Forty-Seven of the Book-a-Week Quest

Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley (1818)

Well, as I was told, this book certainly isn't what you'd expect insomuch as film and television have played up the "monster" aspect to the nth degree and the book, while certainly still containing a monster, focuses on the human who created the creature.

And it's probably because of the focus on the creator that the book is a snoozefest. This was a rough one to get through. And while I made it through the last 100 pages in a day, it was a struggle. This is one of those books where you read the first two sentences of a paragraph, then slip into an unconscious mind-wandering state until you hit the last sentence, when you realize you weren't paying the least bit of attention to anything that came before it...and you're forced to re-read it all again. That happened every single chapter for seemingly every third paragraph.

And it just seemed kinda ludicrous in this day and age, having seen various presentations of Frankenstein's Monster, to have this "monster" manage to speak perfect eloquent English. I realize that shouldn't be a criticism of the book, per se, for it was that "modern media" that bastardized the original novel, but it just made the premise seem a little odd.

Oh, well...I can say I read it now...and I'll never pick it up again.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie Review - Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009)

Starring Michael Jackson (or a corpse/zombie pretending to be him)
Directed by Kenny Ortega

I'm certainly not a big Michael Jackson fan. Sure, I appreciate "Thriller" and "Black or White" and "Scream," but I'm not praising the guy as the be-all-end-all in the annals of musical history.

And this film, culled from rehearsal footage from Mr. Jackson's final concert that was prepping before his death, doesn't do a thing to change that. In fact, if anything, it makes me appreciate him less, simply because he should have had the brains enough to realize that he wasn't even close to being up to the task of putting on this concert.

He looks awful here...frighteningly so. He sounds awful, he dances awful, everything is awful.

What's the point of this film exactly? We're not seeing Jackson at his best -- he fully admits that he's "not singing out" in order to save his voice (although I wonder if it's simply that he had no voice to begin with at this stage in his life). His famous dance moves are reduced to geriatric foot dragging. So, why do the fans really want to see this? He looks like he's falling apart. Is this how you want to remember him?

Admittedly, it's kind of tough to rate this, but in the end, the film never needed to be made/released and, in its current form, it's a complete snoozefest to sit through. Sure, the King of Pop may have written a few good tunes in his time, but they certainly weren't showcased in any way you'd want to remember them here.

The RyMickey Rating: F

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Christmas Movie a Day Line-Up - REVISED

EDITED on 11/22/09 to add The Merry Gentleman and remove How the Grinch Stole Christmas (because I already know I despise the latter, so why subject myself to watch Jim Carrey ham it up again?)

So, my Christmas Movie a Day task starts next Wednesday and for 31 days, I'll be posting a Christmas movie review a day. Now, there will be certain liberties (two days will be set aside for classic Christmas tv specials rather than movies), but the general idea is there.

Here's the line-up of flicks I'm undertaking (subject to change, of course, mainly based on Netflix availability). I tried to do a wide variety of flicks from all eras, so there's a good mix of old and new. Watch along with me if you'd like...the movies are linked to their imdb page. Those that are starred are movies that I have never seen before, so, as you'll notice, half of them will be new to me.

Movie Review - Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Starring Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, and the voices of James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano, and Forrest Whitaker
Directed by Spike Jonze

I can't even begin to tell you how much I want to like this movie. It has so many positive things going for it...unfortunately, a story is not one of them. And the lack of any type of strong narrative really manages to bring this movie down. I tried my hardest not to be bored, but the screenwriters need to give me a little something to keep me engaged.

Young Max isn't happy. His older sister is abandoning him for friends of a similar age. His mom is either working or spending time dating. One night, he flips out, bites his mother, and then runs away "into his imagination" to a land inhabited by larger than life monsters and animals. Max befriends these monsters, becomes their king, and realizes that their problems are similar to humankind.

I guess the problem with adapting a small children's picture book to the big screen is that you're inevitably going to have to add stuff in order to pad the running time into a feature film. There were little vignettes here and there in the film that worked, but it didn't really feel like a cohesive story.

And it's incredibly unfortunate because everything else on display here is top notch. I was quite impressed with young Max Records as Max. I don't think his role as a rambunctious youth was an easy one to play (mainly because the story doesn't really give him a whole lot of motivation or reasoning behind the things he does), but he's onscreen for nearly every scene and I was quite impressed with his work. Catherine Keener's role as his mom is very minimal, but she surprisingly made an impression on me (in a good way) despite her limited screen time.

Let's discuss the monsters now...there's some great puppetry/costumes going on here. Stunning stuff. Each monster manages to have their own distinct personality thanks to some great voice work and some amazing movements. I can't get over how "real" the facial reactions and arm movements and stances of the puppeteers felt to me...like watching a person onscreen instead of a furry creature. Like I said, the voices matched the monsters perfectly. James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Lauren Ambrose, and Forrest Whitaker all deserve kudos for creating believable monsters via their voicework.

And despite the fact that his screenplay was weak, as a director, Spike Jonze is something special. The film looked exquisite. Even in the opening scenes at Max's house, I was surprised by how much I liked the visuals. I like that Jonze doesn't rush things and he lets scenes sit there for a while (I know...kind of opposite to the fact that I said the movie was boring, but that's the fault of the script). I can see how some would watch the final scene of this movie - a perfect example of what I mention above -- and go, "What the heck was that?," but I looked at it and was pleased with it.

With so many things to love about this movie (I didn't even mention the odd soundtrack which absolutely added to the film, even if I wasn't head-over-heels in love with it), it pains me to give this the rating I'm going to give it. If only there was something story-wise here, this could've been one of my favorite movies of the year without a doubt.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Movie Review - Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

Starring Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
Directed by Chris Weitz

My lord. I don't get this phenomenon at all.

I could maybe get it if there was actually a story to spread across this film's 130 minutes. At the end of the first Twilight (which I liked in a so bad it's good kind of way), dreary loner Bella (Kristin Stewart) has fallen in love with vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson). Everything seems fine. But, at the start of New Moon, Bella's celebrating a birthday which means she's aging and Edward isn't. She begs Edward to make her a vampire, but he won't. Additionally, since vampires don't age, Edward and his family must move away from their home, thus leaving Bella. Bella is devastated and turns to her best friend, Jacob, who, it turns out, is turning into a werewolf. And, of course, werewolves and vampires don't get along! As Bella and Jacob's relationship blossoms into something more than just a friendship, Edward comes back into her life...the decisions she must make! There's no story here...at least not a story that can sustain itself over the run of this movie. Whittle this down to 100 minutes and you may be okay.

I also don't understand that fascination with the actors. Robert Pattinson, paler than ever, is so one-note it's laughable. Fortunately, he's only in this movie for 20 minutes. Instead, we get to spend all our time with Kristin Stewart who, opposite from Pattinson who looks like he's hopped on meds, must have been denied her daily drug dosage because she seemed to be twitching nonstop in this movie. Stewart somehow manages to have no chemistry with either of her male costars...so congrats on that failure, Kristin! Unfortunately for Stewart, Taylor Lautner (while not a great actor by any means) shines next to the dullness of Stewart and Pattinson. Any scene that Lautner's in with these other two actors just makes them seem even worse by comparison. The real bright spots in this movie are the five minutes we get to spend with Bella's high school friends. The actors portraying them actually show some life and vigor and provide this dreary movie's few laughs. Make a movie about them and I'm there.

And I don't get why they got rid of the director of the first one because this new director, Chris Weitz, certainly didn't help move the story along. There are some really awful shots here, coupled with some really ridiculous looking CGI. He manages to never allow for any sort of tension across the film's lengthy running time. Even the final climactic scene where Edward fights some other vampires was just silly (my response while watching it -- "It's nice to see Lurch from the Addams Family still getting jobs...and who knew he could fight like that?").

So, I'd be happy to receive an explanation of why this series is loved by so many...because the movies certainly don't do these bestselling books any justice...or maybe they do and the books are just plain awful, too.

The RyMickey Rating: D-

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Movie Review - The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

Starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, and Goat
Directed by Grant Heslov

I haven't been this bored in a movie in a long time. Good Lord, I couldn't wait for this thing to end. Thanks goodness it was only 90 minutes...and that was about 50 minutes too long.

The story, told in flashbacks, is that the US Military had some special ops division of the Army that dealt with "new age" forms of combat, focusing on the mind rather than hand-to-hand combat...the notion of a real-life Jedi apparently. Ewan McGregor is a reporter who uncovers this secret division, George Clooney is a man who was a successful "graduate" of the program, and Jeff Bridges is the freak who created the thing.

Ugh...I really don't even want to waste time on this one. It tried to be funny...it wasn't. The quirk was lost. And any attempts at action seemed silly. All the actors were weak, with Goat being the only one who really shined.

The RyMickey Rating: D-

Movie Review - Pirate Radio (2009)

Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, and Tom Sturridge
Directed by Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis definitely has a distinctive directing and writing style and although he's not incredibly prolific, his three previous "big time" releases -- Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love, Actually -- are all darn impressive. I can say that he's a director whose films I would seek out and look forward to seeing.

Unfortunately, Curtis falters with his most recent effort, Pirate Radio (also known as The Boat That Rocked), the tale of a boat on the North Sea illegally broadcasting rock and roll over the airwaves despite the British government's stern warnings. As I was watching, I couldn't help but think that I would've loved to have seen this movie as a weekly tv series rather than as a movie. The film is about the quirky and funny characters and not about plot at all, and, unfortunately, that's its downfall. As a tv show, we could gradually learn about each of these humorous disc jockeys, but trying to squeeze all of these larger-than-life personalities into a movie didn't really work.

And the thing is, it's not like this is a bad movie. It's directed quite well (although there were one too many cutaway shots of people on the mainland dancing around their radios). The acting is really all top notch. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great as the seemingly grounded main DJ. Bill Nighy is hilarious as the founder of the pirate radio station. And everyone else is enjoyable to watch as well (with the exception of Kenneth Branagh as a government official whose role was much too one-dimensional and whose storyline brought down the rest of the movie).

Add to that, the great soundtrack featuring everything from the Beach Boys to the Moody Blues to Procol Harum to The Who, and you've got yourself an enjoyable two hours.

It's unfortunate that the movie's about nothing...just a series of little inanities that don't really mean anything in the grand scheme of the overall plot. This guy gets married, this guy finds out who his real father is, these two DJs are fighting about who's better...nothing matters because nothing's important.

And it's a shame because there's something here that would work so incredibly well. I enjoyed myself during this movie...I just wish I could have enjoyed it more.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Movie Review - Amelia (2009)

Starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, and Ewan McGregor
Directed by Mira Nair

Every time I watch a biopic, I state this: the biopic is my least favorite genre of film. I don't give a darn about them at all because there's never any tension because you inevitably know the ending. I know Amelia Earhart's plane is going to crash.

Still, I wanted to like this movie more than it allows me to like it. It looks rather sumptuous...costumes, sets, and the like look good. But the direction is just silly and several of the flying shots look computer-generated. Plus the script which includes some of the worst voiceover lines I've ever heard was much too philosophical and "new agey" for its own good. Plus, how many times have we seen the tired old biopic set-up of the subject of the pic looking back on their life through a series of flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks!)?

Swank is okay as Earhart, but she was rather stiff (then again, I guess Earhart was a tad on the manly side in terms of her demeanor). Gere was fine, but nothing special. And McGregor's role was simply a throwaway and really amounts to only a slightly lengthy cameo.

I wasn't expecting much and I certainly didn't get much from this.

The RyMickey Rating: D

What I'm Listening To - Maroon 5

I'll be honest...I went from looking forward to seeing Maroon 5 to dreading it about 8 hours before their show on Monday, November 16, at the Bob Carpenter Center at UD. Having seen The Swell Season a week before and absolutely loving the venue and the vocals, I wasn't really in the mood for the pure pop (however catchy it may be) and high-pitched vocals of lead singer Adam Levine.

Let me just say I was pleasantly surprised. The band sounded pretty darn good and I was impressed that the vocals were (a) actually much less nasally than I thought they'd be, and (b) actually able to be heard (I thought the echoes of an "arena" would cause the lyrics to be unrecognizable). Singing in a seemingly lower key than on their albums, Levine kept the energy up during the first five and last five songs.

However, I was a little bummed that the band went acoustic for four songs in the middle. Listen, I'm a fan of an acoustic "break down" of a song, but why put them all in one segment of your act? I mean, your act's only 80 minutes anyway, why not plug the acoustic numbers in here and there. Having them as a big chunk in the middle really brought down the energy of the crowd and by song #4 of the "acoustic set," I was bored. (And I'm still not sure I'm a fan of the country-fied, acoustic version of "Wake Up Call" of which you can find some awful quality videos on youtube...the normal video for the song is below.)


Other than the disappointing set of acoustic stuff, I resented the fact that college kids think it's cool when someone says "fuck." Why applaud every single time the lead singer drops the F-bomb? It's not cool...and it felt really pandering that he kept repeating it simply because the "kids" loved it so much. And I know every single singer does it, but I can't help but feel that they're always disingenuous when they say "You're the best effin' stop we've had on this tour...if you don't believe me, check out the vids on effin' youtube...I don't say that everywhere I go." Everyone ate that shit up when it was said, but it just caused my eyes to roll.

Still, despite the issues, for $20 I had a damn good time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Movie Review - Definitely, Maybe (2008)

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Rachel Weisz, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Banks, and Abigail Breslin
Directed by Adam Brooks

I can't lie...I'm a fan of a good romantic comedy. They're few and far between, but the poster to the left mentions two really good ones -- Notting Hill and Love, Actually. The fact that this movie comes from the same producers was positive...and although it doesn't match the quality of those two, Definitely, Maybe is quite winning.

Very similar to tv's How I Met Your Mother, the flick revolves around a father (Reynolds) telling his daughter (Breslin) the story of how he met her mother, focusing on three ladies that were in his life, one of whom is the young gal's mom.

The three ladies -- Banks, Fisher, and Weisz -- come in and out of the dad's life and all three actresses are great, particularly Isla Fisher. Even in a crappy movie like Confessions of a Shopaholic, Fisher exudes cuteness and quirkiness, a combination on display here as well. And she is perfectly balanced by Ryan Reynolds who once again (along with The Proposal) proves that he's a charming leading man. I was actually moderately surprised that I believed him in the role of a father...not sure why...I guess I think he's young, but he's five years older than me (and we all know I'm a dinosaur).

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Movie Review - Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird (1985)

Starring Big Bird, Oscar, Bert, Ernie, Mr. Snuffleupagus, The Count, Cookie Monster, and a bunch of other furry creatures
Directed by Ken Kwapis

Laugh all you want, but when I saw that this was available On Demand, memories of my childhood came flying back into my mind. I grew up on Sesame Street (none of this Spongebob crap) and looking back on this quality movie (I'm totally serious), it's easy to understand why this institution has been around for forty years (I'm talking about Sesame Street, not me).

The story revolves around the idea that Big Bird should be living with other birds and not with people. So, adoption director Miss Finch takes Big Bird from Sesame Street and places him with the Dodo family. Unfortunately, the fit just isn't right and Big Bird runs away from the Dodos and begins his trek back home. Meanwhile, all his friends from Sesame Street venture out onto the road to find him.

For me, this is simply nostalgia, but this is honestly a decent flick. Yes, it's incredibly simple, but there's a good story here, told lovingly by the Jim Henson folks. I see Jim Henson's name pop up on the screen during the credits as a performer and I realize that he provided me with much enjoyment as I grew up (and I can only hope his Muppets live on in this techno-crazy age).

Is this superb cinema? No. But it's definitely a quality kids pick that kept me entertained for 85 minutes.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Movie Review - Trucker (2009)

Starring Michelle Monaghan, Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt, and Jimmy Bennett
Directed by James Mottern

When I am going to learn that Roger Ebert's word stands for nothing anymore? Granted, I didn't read his review of this flick, but on the website of the theater I saw this at today, there was a quote from him that said something along the lines of "Michelle Monaghan deserves to be nominated for an Oscar for this role. Four stars."

Let me tell you something, Roger. She doesn't at all. Not even remotely. And this isn't even close to a four star movie. What the hell were you smoking?

And it's not that Monaghan was godawful as Diane, a trucker whose son she gave away appears on her doorstep one afternoon. It's just that she was given some ridiculous things to spout and, as a character, you never really get any sense of evolution. It's darn obvious that her tough-as-nails trucker character is going to end up having a "heart of gold" in the end, but there are really no reasons for her to have gotten to that point. The character's really a failure and while it's mostly because of the way it was written, I think Monaghan also had something to do with it. I never believed that she was tough for a second...and that's a problem.

Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt, and the kid Jimmy Bennett were all pretty awful as well.

There's nothing here...don't bother at all.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Movie Review - Easy Virtue (2009)

Starring Jessica Biel, Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Ben Barnes
Directed by Stephan Elliot

Noel Coward is supposed to be witty, apparently. That being said, this is the second Noel Coward "production" I've seen this year (the first being the play Hay Fever) and I'm not seeing that biting humor. Maybe the 1920s laughs don't translate well to this millenium.

Young John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) has recently married American Larita (Jessica Biel) and he is bringing her home to meet his British family, including his uppity, stick-up-her-ass mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his "stuck in a loveless marriage" father (Colin Firth). A simple story that could've been fleshed out, but unfortunately falls flat.

Unfortunately, Jessica Biel is not good here. She's stilted and way too mannered for the role which seemed to require some edginess. And not to be upstaged in the disappointment department, Kristin Scott Thomas makes her character much too one-note and obvious in her pompousness. On the positive side, the men here -- Firth and Barnes -- make the movie watchable.

The director throws in some really odd touches -- if you ever wanted to hear a 1920s version of the 70s disco classics "Car Wash" and "SexBomb" this is the movie for you. He also really likes to look at reflections of people -- in mirrors, in windows, in pool balls -- it got really ridiculous.

It's not that the movie was awful, but it's just not worth the time.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Movie Review - Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

Starring John C. Reilly, Jenna Fischer, and Kristen Wiig
Directed by Jake Kasdan

This one tanked in theaters when it was released around Christmas two years ago, but I found myself laughing much more than I thought I would.

Shockingly, co-writer Judd Apatow manages to bring this movie in at a brisk (for him) 100 minutes, unlike his unnecessary opus Funny People.

The tale of Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan/Buddy Holly/Beatles sound-alike Dewey Cox, the flick details his crazy life as he finds success and deals with failures. There are some clever songs included as well.

I laughed...that's the point of movies like this. Enough said...

The RyMickey Rating: C+

A Book a Week - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich


Book Forty-Six of the Book-a-Week Quest

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1962)

I'm going to spoil the ending of the book for you by typing up the the last paragraphs:

Shukov felt pleased with life as he went to sleep. A lot of good things had happened that day. He hadn't been thrown in the hole. The gang hadn't been dragged off to Sotsgorodok. He'd swiped the extra gruel at dinnertime. The foreman had got a good rate for the job. He'd enjoyed working on the wall. He hadn't been caught with the blade at the search point. He'd earned a bit from Tsezar that evening. And he'd bought his tobacco.

The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one.

Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell.

The extra three were for leap years.

Those paragraphs sum up the book. It's simply a day in the life of a guy named Ivan Denisovich Shukov who is a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s. You'd think that might lead to boredom...and, in part, you'd be right. Nothing of any significance happens in this book. Yet the author manages to make Shukov's utterly mundane life seem interesting. There's no chapters or page breaks throughout the book, so you're simply reading straight through about a day in the life of a Soviet prisoner.

There's really not a whole lot to say here except to say that as I was looking through a bookshelf and spotted this, I couldn't believe that I was actually going to read it. I mean, this was Russian, had no chapters, and, if I'm being honest, the summary on the back of the book didn't sound too appealing. For some reason, though, I started it and found it surprisingly interesting.

I'll consider this as prep for my 2010 goal of reading War and Peace.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Movie Review - A Serious Man (2009)

Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Alan Arkin, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, and Aaron Wolff
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

It's as if we're plopped right down in the middle of the life of the Gopnik family as A Serious Man begins. Dad Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor, has just discovered that his wife wants a divorce. His brother, Uncle Arthur (Richard Kind), is working on some great math problem called the Mentaculus that will allow him to predict things in the future (sort of, I think...). And Larry's son, Danny, is getting ready for his bar mitzvah, but isn't exactly an angelic candidate as he enjoys the regular smoking of pot. All three men seem to find themselves in situations where they don't quite make the perfect decisions and their choices may cause some serious problems for them.

I've seen quite a few Coen Brothers flicks this year and this one tops the list. I was completely engrossed in the characters and the story and I didn't want it to end. When it did end (absolutely leaving me with a "what the hell?" moment), I wanted it to keep going, not because I wanted more explanations (although I did), but because I truly was enjoying the world the Coens created for these characters. It was a truly effortless script that never dragged and was filled with sly, wry, and dry humor. Yes, the film centers around religion, but it never does so in an overbearing, preachy way...a difficult task.

All the acting here was excellent (another candidate for a Best Ensemble award), but Michael Stuhlbarg, in particular, was pretty amazing. I guess it helps that I have no clue who the guy is, but there wasn't a second that I felt like I was watching an actor. I simply felt as if I were invited to watch a few days in the life of a Midwestern Jewish guy as he deals with a whole bunch of awful things being thrown at him.

Although on the surface it may not appear to be so, I think the Coen Brothers were really trying for something deep here and amplify things to the nth degree in order to make it humorous...the notion that one's actions are constantly being judged and that one may have to "pay" for said actions in the end -- whether that payment be from other people or from God. The film is certainly still sitting with me two days after watching it...thoughts are still rumbling around in my head concerning the flick (in a good way).

This movie certainly isn't for all tastes, but I found it quite refreshing and incredibly enjoyable.

The RyMickey Rating: A-

Movie Review - Antichrist (2009)

Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Directed by Lars von Trier

This film has been quite the hot topic, getting booed at Cannes this past summer, and is becoming quite well known for its graphic nature. Having seen it now, I am either too dumb to understand this movie or too intelligent to take its bullshit. I'm gonna go with the latter because I'm pretty certain I understand what was being said and simply think that it's ridiculous.

The film starts with an absolutely beautifully shot black and white "Prologue". As classical operatic music plays, we see a man (Defoe) and a woman (Gainsbourg) having sex (complete with what appears to be actual sex onscreen) while their toddler-aged son makes his way out of his crib, only to climb onto a windowsill and fall several stories to his death out an open window. During this opening five minutes, I was struck by how truly exquisite this flick looked -- just stunning in the way it was filmed. While the film continued to look nice, the story just fell apart after this Prologue.

As the film progresses, the Wife (we don't learn names of the characters) experiences terrible grief over her son's death, feeling responsible for failing to keep him safe. The Husband is a therapist and He tries to help his Wife through her troubles by having her face her fears. Through some convoluted and ridiculous psychological mumbo-jumbo dialog, He learns the She is most afraid of Nature and their "vacation home" in the forests which they call Eden. He decides that the best therapy is to take her to Eden, but upon their arrival, She begins to spiral out of control.

Maybe as a story this would be fine (maybe...), but director Lars von Trier throws in so many moments of symbolism -- a talking fox, a baby bird being eaten by ants, the Wife literally becoming one with Nature -- that it just becomes too difficult to keep up with what he's trying to say. Part of me does think that as some have said that this is von Trier's complete dismissal of the female gender, depicting that they are nothing but a weight to hold men back from life (this "weight" metaphor takes on quite a literal meaning at the end of the film). As She studies the abuse of women over time, She slowly turns into this devilish über-bitch who only wants to abuse men.

The other part of me thinks that's all a crock.

This is the thing, though...I may have disliked many things about this movie, but I wasn't the least bit bored by it. And I'm certainly still thinking about it many hours later. The cinematography by Timothy Dod Mantle is gorgeous. The black-and-white scenes that bookend the film are stunning and the rest of the film looks great, too. And Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg both make the best of the difficult roles they were given (unfortunately Defoe is given some stupid lines to spout in the first 45 minutes that no one would be able to make sound "normal").

So, despite the fact that I bashed the movie at the beginning, I'm certainly happy that I watched it and I would recommend it to those who are interested in film because it's certainly unlike anything you will have ever seen.

Pretentious? Certainly.
Good? I'm not sure...

The RyMickey Rating: C

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Movie Review - An Education (2009)

Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, and Cara Seymour
Directed by Lone Scherfig

This is the second Peter Sarsgaard movie this year (the great Orphan being the other) in which he's played a character that has been involved in a "relationship" with an underage female. I'm not sure what that says about Mr. Sarsgaard...I'll let the psychologists determine whether that means something or not.

Set in 1961 (I've said it before, I'm a sucker for movies set in the '60s, for some reason), An Education tells the tale of a year in the life of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a 16 year old teenager who seems content with achieving her father's dream for her of attending Oxford to earn an English degree. One day, she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard) who seems to immediately become infatuated with the girl. Their romance blossoms and Jenny begins to realize that an education may not be what she wants in life.

In order to even begin to like this, you have to look past the fact that there's a statutory rape feeling going on here...and if there's a failure in this movie it's that I felt kind of icky watching it (and I don't quite think that I was supposed to feel uncomfortable...as this idea was never even touched upon). I never quite understood how Jenny's parents (played brilliantly by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) were able to look past the fact that David appeared to be so much older.

That being said, if you look beyond that, this is a nice little film with a fantastic performance from relative newcomer Carey Mulligan. She was effortless, making me believe her feelings every moment she was onscreen. Fortunately, she's helped by some witty lines from screenwriter Nick Hornby. Nearly every scene between Jenny and her parents was so well-written that I couldn't help but smile at the humor and tenderness on display.

In addition to the great work from Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard is also quite good as the charming (though slimy) David. Not only does he win over Jenny's parents, but he wins over us moviegoers, too. We know that there's something about him that just doesn't seem right, but he enchants us against our better judgment.

The film veers a little preachy at the end, but overall, I was won over by the character of Jenny and particularly Carey Mulligan's performance.

The RyMickey Rating: B