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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,...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The (Personal) Year in Review

Quite a year 2009 has been for me. I'll be posting some other year-end wrap-ups soon, but first, just a little personal note on my year in general.

If you've been following along, I'm sure you've seen my Year of Firsts posts. If not, here's a link to all of them. Not that there's anything too exciting on there, but I expanded my horizons a little (even if some things [like those MRIs and arterial ultrasounds] I'd prefer I hadn't experienced).

And that's what I take away from this year...probably the first year in a really long time where I feel like I did things. Sitting at home wasn't really on my agenda this year and I had a great time not being there.

True, it hasn't always been sunshine and lollipops, and it may be ending on a note that I'd prefer it didn't (not that things can't change...time heals all [maybe?], so I've heard), but I had a great time this year.

For those that made this such a memorable year for me (I'm sure you know who you are), I can say nothing but a truly genuine and heartfelt "thank you." I had a fun year and I couldn't ask for anything more than that.

Thanks for taking this sheltered 29 year-old guy and showing him that there are things outside of the four walls of his house and his job.

Thanks for allowing me into your life as well. Lord knows I'm not without faults and I wholeheartedly appreciate your willingness to (sometimes) look past them.

I'm a better person because of 2009 and I can't really ask for anything more than that.

Here's to 2010 being just as promising.


...And it begins.

Movie Review - Nine (2009)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren
Directed by Rob Marshall

As of this writing, Nine (not 9, the other 2009 release with the same title) is a conundrum to me. The more that I think of it (it's been settling in for about four hours now), the more I like it. In fact, I'm beginning to truly appreciate Rob Marshall's take on the Broadway musical which itself is a take on Frederico Fellini's 1963 film 8 1/2 (which, like most Italian cinema, I haven't seen...I'm not remotely familiar with the Broadway musical either). There's something really good here -- I think a huge chunk of the "good" lies in Marshall's direction. Unfortunately, there's some bad here, too, and that lies in the music behind the musical. When the music in your musical is lukewarm, it casts an unfortunate pallor over the whole affair and that seems to be the case here.

Guido Contini (Day-Lewis) is a famous Italian film director in the 1960s. He's in the midst of directing his latest film, the ambitious Italia, when he begins to have a mid-life crisis-type occurrence. The film he's making is somewhat autobiographical -- his take on how great women can affect a great man -- and Guido begins to think back on seven important women in his life (why not nine women? I have not clue). For some reason or another (this is a musical after all), all of these flashbacks occur with the ladies singing a song about their relationship with Guido.

Similar to Marshall's previous big screen musical, Chicago, in which the musical numbers were figments of characters' imaginations, all of the songs in Nine take place in Guido's mind. While this theatrical device works, I must admit that it took me a bit to warm up to the technique, but three songs in or so, I was on the bandwagon with Marshall. It helps that Marshall utilizes a variety of techniques during these flashbacks. While he overuses the quick cut, I appreciated how a few flashbacks were in beautiful black-and-white, really creating that old Italian film look (or that old Italian film look I've seen in clip retrospectives since, as I mentioned above, I'm quite unfamiliar with Italian cinema).

The burden of the film seems to be that the music just isn't all that good. Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie actually has the most memorable and catchy song by far -- "Be Italian" -- and she performs it with zest. Kate Hudson sings "Cinema Italiano" which was apparently specifically written for the film and this number is also upbeat, whimsical, and enjoyable. I must admit that I never really got the love affair with Penélope Cruz's looks prior to this film, however she was completely sexy and alluring in her song (it's unfortunate that she's burdened with a silly subplot throughout the film). Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, and Nicole Kidman unfortunately come off the worst here, with Loren and Kidman being stuck with the worst songs by far in the flick (both of which come towards the end of the film, bringing the film to a halt after it had been on somewhat of an uptick).

By far, the shining star of the women here is Marion Cotillard. As Guido's wife, she gets to sing two songs, both of which, to me, contain the heart, soul, and emotional center of the film. As she longs for her husband to be faithful, she realizes that she's probably fighting a losing battle. Her "My Husband Makes Movies" was just heartbreaking and she sells it.

Daniel Day-Lewis is perfectly adequate and believable as the man-slut of the film. While I don't really think he learns his lesson in the end, I bought Day-Lewis as this sleazy director. But even though the film's center is his Guido, the film really belongs to the women in his life and Marshall rightly puts the focus on them.

I really think that this is a film that I will grow to appreciate more on repeated viewings. For now, though, I'm going to say Nine's a flawed picture. Rob Marshall certainly moves the episodic film along, but, in the end, it's really just that -- an episodic film that goes from woman to woman in Guido's life, giving each of them a song to sing with several of those songs being lukewarm at the very best.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Movie Review - Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, and Jean Hagen
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

I remember watching the "classic" Singin' in the Rain in a film class and not particularly enjoying it. The other night, though, it was on Turner Classic Movies at 2am and I decided I'd give it another shot.

My thoughts stayed the same -- this isn't a great film...or even a good film, for that matter.

Yes, it's got some really great scenes -- Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain is just one of the classics. You've got Donald O'Connor acting like a fool while crooning "Make 'Em Laugh." There's a perfectly charming Debbie Reynolds frolicking about while singing "All I Do Is Dream of You."

And Kelly, O'Connor, and Reynolds are all pretty splendid in terms of acting in this flick. Then they go and add a perfectly hilarious (and Oscar-nominated) squeaky-voiced Jean Hagen to the mix as a famous silent film actress who is finding it quite difficult to continue her stardom in "talking pictures."

So what makes this film a mess? It's the lack of story. Quite simply, Gene Kelly's Don Lockwood and Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont are a famous silent picture onscreen couple who don't exactly get together off-screen. With the advent of sound, Lina just can't cut it in films, so Don thinks up the clever idea of having Debbie Reynolds' Kathy Seldon dub over Lina's vocals. Suffice it to say, this doesn't sit well with Lina. And it doesn't really sit well with me either.

The film's just a bore. And I haven't even discussed the godawful fifteen-minute dance scene at the end which is only in the film to showcase Kelly's dance prowess. While Kelly is certainly a talent and a charmer (as is the entire cast, really), I don't need to see him mug to the camera. The final 25 minutes really just seem like an ego-trip for Kelly. And it ends the movie on an awfully bum note.

Singin' in the Rain is unfortunately full of good scenes and impressive performances, but those things can't overtake some poor story ideas.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Book a Week - The Film Club

Book Fifty-Two of the Book-a-Week Quest
The Film Club

by David Gilmour (2008)

"The second time you see something is really the first time. You need to know how it ends before you can appreciate how beautifully it's put together from the beginning."

To finish up this Book-a-Week Quest, I figured I might as well pick a book about film. In this year where (by the time the Oscars roll around in March) I will have seen nearly two hundred 2009 releases, why not read a book about a film club?

A memoir, David Gilmour's The Film Club tells the true story of a how he dealt with his troubled high school dropout son, Jesse. Jesse is failing school and his father makes a rash decision -- Jesse can drop out of school as long as he watches three movies a week with him. David was a former film critic and he hopes that films can open up Jesse's mind to things he's never thought of before.

While the experiment is somewhat of a success, the film club takes a back seat to "real life" which, in this book's case, means Jesse's trials and tribulations with two girls -- Rebecca and Chloë. Sure, it was fun to read about the films, but Jesse was really just a screwed-up guy when it came to girls. Break-ups lead to drugs and hospital visits...and, to be honest, I just got really tired of reading about the kid.

It doesn't help that I had a really difficult time figuring out a time line in this book. It takes place over three years (I think), but Gilmour never makes it easy to determine how much time has passed between chapters. It's not that he jumps around, but I had no clue that three years had gone by at the book's end.

Now, Gilmour is quite a good writer in the way he crafts his sentences. It's quite an easy read and when he talks about film, he really shines. It's just a little unfortunate that the family aspect of the book becomes repetitive and falls a little flat.

The Blog...2009

A big thanks to those of you reading and posting here on the blog during its first year. Let me tell you, there's an odd sensation you get as a "blogger" when you see that someone's commented on something you've written. It's a sense of validation (even if it's a disagreement). Sure, it's entirely self-aggrandizing and egotistical, but it is what it is.

I've thoroughly enjoyed blogging in '09 and will continue to do so into the new decade. I'm debating on what to focus on in the new year and I've narrowed it down to either delving into a particular director's repertoire each month or doing a retrospective of Best Picture Oscar winners (focusing on a particular year every two weeks or so, watching all five Best Picture nominees, and then determining which one I would choose as the winner). I'm probably leaning towards the latter at the moment (although I know for a fact I wouldn't be able to complete the task in one year).

That being said, I've got a few things planned for 2010-- a Hitchcock-fest next October, the Christmas-Movie-a-Day bit in December, a look-back at every Disney full-length animated movie throughout the year.

So, once again, thanks for reading my inane ramblings.

Theatre Review - South Pacific

South Pacific
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Music by Richard Rodgers // Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
directed by Bartlett Sher
When: Saturday, December 26, 2009
Where: Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont
What: Musical, Professional Theatre, Broadway

There were so many things right with this production of the "classic" musical South Pacific that it's easy to overlook it's major flaw -- the lack of any story that matters. Similar to the recent film release of Avatar, South Pacific at the Vivian Beaumont in NYC is a beautifully crafted piece...but it has no strong story and it manages to drag that nothingness out for three hours.

The general gist of the story is this -- stationed on an island in the South Pacific in WWII, young nurse Nellie Forbush has fallen in love with an older Frenchman, Emile de Becque, who has moved to the island after he ran away from France because he killed a man. Now, killing a man wasn't enough to push Nellie away from him, but once she finds out he has two interracial children from an affair with a Polynesian woman, she's through with him. That's pretty much it. It's obvious that the two of them will get back together, so why stretch this thing out to three hours?

Fortunately, despite the lack of any important story (although, to be fair, I guess it had some impact when it was first presented in 1949), everything else shines, particularly the two leads. Paulo Szot (who plays Emile) is apparently best known for singing opera and his voice was just amazing. The winner of the 2008 Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Szot brings an astounding amount of emotion to his deep baritone (I had to look that up...I couldn't tell you a tenor from a soprano) and his acting skills were top notch, too.

The cute Kelli O'Hara, while perhaps a little too old to be playing a naïve twentysomething, steals the show in my opinion. Also nominated for a Tony for this role (she didn't win), O'Hara runs the gamut of emotions from perky to dejected to uptight to lovelorn. She's a fine dancer, a funny comedienne, and a beautiful singer. I was just drawn to her every second she was onstage. Whereas Szot is given some of the musical's most emotional ballads, O'Hara is privileged to sing some truly fun songs with clever lyrics and director Bartlett Sher really sets up the whole production around her Nellie, giving her some of the best set pieces to work with (literally taking a shower onstage while she sings "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" was just one of his clever stagings).

Szot and O'Hara are surrounded by a great cast of singers and dancers who all get a chance to shine. I'm not a huge fan of big dance numbers and, fortunately, this musical didn't really have any. What it does have, however, is a thirty piece orchestra...and that won me over in a big way. The music was simply, for lack of a better word, gorgeous (I think that "gorgeous" should probably only be used to discuss something visually, but who cares). The orchestrations just sounded amazing. From the 5-minute-plus Overture to the final notes of the curtain call, everything sounded sumptuous and full. Most musicals these days get by with a much smaller orchestra than this and having a group thirty people big adds that intangible something that makes South Pacific rise above the rest.

Now, did this thing move me emotionally as much as The Lion King? Nope. Were the songs as good as those in Mary Poppins? Nah. And while this may not be the best musical I've ever seen thanks to its lackluster story, South Pacific was absolutely a very enjoyable experience and well worth its ticket price.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Movie Review - The Hitcher (2007)

Starring Sophia Bush and Sean Bean
Directed by Dave Meyers

This just happened to be the only movie starting on either Cinemax or HBO at 9:30 the other day...so I watched. I'm not gonna even bother with a poster...not that it was bad, but it was just so unmemorable.

Guy and gal (Bush) pick up a hitchhiker (Bean) who just so happens to be a crazed killer. Murderous rampages ensue as the hitcher attempts to hunt down the two college students.

The acting is fine and the story's okay, but, in the end, like most horror movies, it's just really silly with people doing the least sensible thing all the time.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movie Review - Avatar 3D (2009)

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by James Cameron

James Cameron's Avatar takes us to the planet Pandora where ten foot-tall blue human-like creatures roam, gaining strength (via some anemone-like phalanges at the ends of their ponytailed hair) from elements of their environment like trees and animals. The Marines, however, have been commissioned to assist some corporate bigwigs in mining for some special expensive, coal-like element on Pandora. In order to both better learn about and infiltrate the Na'vi people of Pandora, scientists have crafted avatars -- they take a human and create a Na'vi-like creature that the human can control from hundreds of miles away via some sophisticated machinery.

Jake Sully (Worthington) is a paraplegic marine whose twin brother was heavily involved in the avatar program. However, at the beginning of the film, the brother has died and since Jake's DNA is similar to his brother's, Jake is pulled into the program to take his brother's place. At odds with the program's scientific director, Grace (Weaver), Jake takes control of his avatar much too quickly and almost immediately infiltrates the Na'vi people, taking a liking to their leader's daughter, Neytiri (Saldana). Jake soon finds himself conflicted between his strong Marine training and the passive nature of the Na'vi.

The story is ridiculously drawn out over an unnecessary 165 minutes. Somehow, though, even with an incredibly boring middle 40 minutes, I didn't find myself wondering when this thing was going to be over. And the reason for that is the visuals and the visuals alone.

This is, without a doubt, the best looking 3D film I've seen in theaters. Cameron has crafted a rich, sumptuous land in Pandora, one that is unlike any I've seen on film. We're completely taken into this new land filled with dinosaur-like creatures and phototropic plants. While on Pandora, we venture into a land completely created by CGI and witness characters brought to life via motion-capture technology. Just recently, I reviewed Disney's A Christmas Carol and I said I wasn't completely sold on the motion-capture technique. Well, I'll eat my words because Avatar has taken this new technology and stepped up the game by leaps and bounds. Sure, it still feels like I'm watching a cartoon, but it's the most realistic-looking cartoon I've ever seen.

Often with 3D, there's a slight blur to any type of quick motion, but Avatar looked amazingly crystal clear. Whether on Pandora or on the human's spaceships, everything looked stunningly "perfect." It really was a beauty to behold.

While the story lacked, it certainly wasn't the fault of the actors, all of whom really brought their A-game. Sam Worthington who starred in this summer's Terminator: Salvation proves an strong leading man who, whether in his human or avatar form, is quite an onscreen presence. Sigourney Weaver is unfortunately saddled with the worst lines of the script, forced to often spout the "science" behind the goings-on, but she still manages to rise above the silly dialogue (and she's really quite attractive for being sixty). I loved Giovanni Ribisi's bit role as the corporate shill for the company going after the lucrative mineral deposits on Pandora. Taking on what is esentially the nasty Paul Reiser part in James Cameron's Aliens, Ribisi is a joy to watch...I just wish he had a bigger role.

Surprisingly, my favorite role belongs to Zoë Saldana who was completely computer-animated the entire time. As Jake Sully's love interest, the geniuses at the special effects departments captured every little nuance of Saldana's body language (they captured this in everyone...it really was a treat to watch the little facial and body tics like a tensing of the neck or a slight raise of an eyebrow...it certainly didn't go unnoticed by me). Saldana's really is an exquisite, unique, and gripping portrayal -- both animal and human in one.

So, is this the best movie of the year? Nah. But James Cameron really has created something special, one-of-a-kind, and innovative. Going into this, I had big doubts, but having seen it, I'm able to look past the simply average, mundane script and see the bigger picture. Avatar is quite possibly a revolution in animation and digital cinema and something that really shouldn't be missed on the big screen.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Just as Good the Second Time...

Movie Review - The Road (2009)

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, and Guy Pearce
Directed by John Hillcoat

I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road last year and it really got me started on this "I should read more" kick. I truly enjoyed the book -- McCarthy created a tale about an apocalypse with heart. Unfortunately, it's the heart and compassion that really feels like it's missing from the film adaptation. It's not that the film in and of itself is bad -- in fact, it's quite a well-crafted movie all around -- it's just that the book's hopeful soul is nonexistent.

Somehow, Earth has fallen to shambles. The sun no longer shines. All life -- trees, animals -- has died. Ash constantly falls. Earthquakes are a common occurrence. The few human survivors hunt for whatever nutrition can sustain them...even if that means resorting to cannibalism. However, a nameless father (Mortensen) and his nameless son (Smit-McPhee) will not resort to eating their fellow man and instead are on a constant search for food, shelter, and safety.

That's it. That's the story. It's surely a simple premise as we watch the man and boy travel across barren wastelands having awful things happen to them in the process. They're traveling south seemingly because that's what the man's wife (Theron) told them to do before she died. It seems that the father's dreams of his wife are pushing him on this journey...that and his strong desire to not have anything bad happen to his son.

Yes, the film certainly depicts a father's love for his son and vice versa. But the heart and soul that were in the novel seemed to be missing. And it's not that it was Viggo Mortensen's fault. He, once again, proves that he's one of the great actors of our generation (seriously, everyone should watch his badassery in the flick Eastern Promises). The love and devotion for his son certainly come through. And as his son, the young Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the role with a child-like innocence that worked to a tee. To some, the son may seem too innocent for his own good -- but to me, even though he's seen some horrific things, his father's love has somehow shielded him from the world around him. Born after the apocalypse occurred, the son's never seen anything outside of what his father has shown him -- no tv, no movies, no radio. I can see how some would be annoyed with the soft-spoken son, but it seemed spot on to me.

And as far as that missing "heart" goes, it's definitely there in a scene where the father and son come across stockpile of food in an underground shelter. That scene -- the one happy moment in the movie -- had everything that I was looking for in this movie. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie didn't have that sense of hope for me.

I realize I'm probably not making a lot of sense with this one, but I'm gonna post it this way anyway (it's 3am...). Once again, it's not that this movie was bad...in fact, the story itself was a decent adaptation. Something was missing, though. Maybe in a day or two I'll realize what that "thing" was.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Review - Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" By Sapphire (2009)

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey
Directed by Lee Daniels

Let me just get this out of the way right now. Hand Mo'Nique the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress right now. I find it hard to believe that someone will come along in the next two months or so worth of 2009 movie-watching that will deliver such a tour de force performance. First, I was amazed that it was comedienne Mo'Nique bringing this hideous character she portrays to life. But, even looking past the fact that she "stepped out of her comfort zone" (because I wholeheartedly do not believe that's a reason to give someone an Oscar), she was an incredibly powerful presence and really truly moved me in her final scenes.

All right. Now that that's been discussed, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (one of the most unnecessarily long and ungainly titles of all time) tells the tale of sixteen year old Precious (played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight black girl in Harlem in 1987. When bad things happen to her (and, boy, do they ever) she escapes into her imagination where she's a movie star, an R & B singer, or a model -- realms that are as far away from her reality as possible. As the movie opens, Precious is pregnant with her second child, both of whom are fathered by her own father. At home, her mother Mary (the aforementioned Mo'Nique) abuses her with tirades of both the verbal and physical kind. Mary harbors terrible jealousy that her boyfriend "left her" to sexually abuse her daughter, and she refuses to let Precious forget that fact.

Although she's sixteen, Precious is still in middle school, but the school principal sends her to an alternative school to try to assist in her education. While there, Precious is befriended by her teacher, Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who sees promise in the battered Precious. Also trying to help the teen is social worker, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), who desperately tries to get Precious to open up about her abusive home life.

Across the board, the acting ensemble is top notch. In addition to the amazing Mo'Nique, Paula Patton is quite moving as Ms. Rain, injecting sincerity into the role. Mariah Carey also steps up to the plate and delivers an honest performance that, while not showy, is quite touching. Gabourey Sidibe is forced to play the complete opposite of the loud, boisterous Mo'Nique, and Sidibe brings a quiet, understated demeanor to this rather depressed teenager. This young gal did not seem like she was acting in the slightest. In fact, no one in this film did...everyone embodied their roles to a tee.

Unfortunately, bringing the film down a notch is director Lee Daniels who relies much too heavily on camera trickery and an overuse of fade ins and outs. While at times I thought Daniels' techniques were ingenious, at other moments I was rolling my eyes. I completely understand the need to get inside the mind of young Precious and be able to visualize her inner thoughts, but sometimes it seemed like he went a few shots too far. Then again, Daniels certainly knows when to hold back the gimmicks and let his actresses become the focus, including a scene towards the end in which Mary begins to realize her faults -- it is simply one of the most emotionally draining and stunning moments I've seen in theaters this year. Just a "wow" moment.

Precious is often an uncomfortable experience, but it's a truly a riveting film -- one that really shouldn't be missed.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Movie Review - Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)

Starring Julia Roberts and Two Guys You've Never Heard Of
Directed by Joseph Ruben

For some reason or another, this Julia Roberts movie along with Flatliners have been in my Netflix queue for years but I never got around to watching them. Well, I checked this out on demand tonight and it was just an empty flick. I was viewing this one and couldn't help but think that this was like some cheesy tv movie that my mom would watch on Sunday nights on ABC, CBS, or NBC when I was growing up starring some awful soap opera star enacting revenge on a hurtful husband. The only difference between those tv movies and this is that Sleeping with the Enemy stars Julia Roberts instead of Susan Lucci.

Julia Roberts plays a woman abused by her husband. One day, she decides enough is enough and she stages her own death as a means to escape the relationship. She skedaddles to Iowa where she hopes to live her life carefree, but she's always on edge that her husband may be coming after her...and she may have a reason to be nervous.

The problem here is that it feels exactly like a tv movie. The acting's just okay, the music's cheesy, and the story feels like it tailor-made for commercial breaks.

Somehow I must have known this wasn't really worth the watch hence the lingering of this one in the queue for years...doesn't bode well for Flatliners...

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Movie Review - The Blind Side (2009)

Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, and Quinton Aaron
Directed by John Lee Hancock

There's nothing wrong with a feel-good movie and I guess that's what The Blind Side is. It doesn't try to be anything more than what the sum of its parts will allow it be. Sure, it's treacly and too sugary sentimental most of the time, but thanks to a winning performance from Sandra Bullock, this flick is able to rise a little bit above its "tv-movie-of-the-week" feel.

Based on a true story, Sandra Bullock is Leigh Anne Tuohy, a rich upper-class suburban interior designer from a small town in Texas. Driving home one night from their son's Thanksgiving play at his Christian school, she and her husband (played surprisingly well by country singer Tim McGraw) spot the school's new student, Big Mike, walking along the road by himself. It turns out that Mike is homeless and struggling to survive, abandoned by his druggie mother. The Tuohys take Mike into their home and, as is the case in all feel-good films, eventually make Mike a part of their family.

Like I said, the tale is overly maudlin and mushy, and the movie really goes on for about 30 minutes too long (I thought it was going to end two reels before it did). Somehow, though, thanks in large part to good ole Sandra Bullock, this flick comes out a slight winner. Bullock (whose accent completely annoyed me in the trailer for this film, but didn't bother me at all during the movie) comes across as a completely believable woman, which given the script's by-the-book storytelling technique, is an accomplishment. She takes on the role of Leigh Anne with gusto and it's probably the best role I've seen her tackle (football pun not intended).

Certainly aiding Bullock is Tim McGraw (I can't believe I just typed that). McGraw is the second name listed in the opening credits and 80 minutes into the movie I was wondering when he was going to show up. Then I realized that he was playing Bullock's husband...it completely threw me for a loop. He looks quite different than I recall him looking, and, he's a shockingly good actor. Sure, he isn't required to do a ton here, but he played off of Bullock incredibly well. Their relationship was entirely believable and rather charming.

So despite this movie's flaws (I didn't even touch on the Tuohy's annoying son, who, although very funny, was the only character in this thing that felt like a "character"), The Blind Side is certainly a charming enough piece of fluff to warrant the box office grosses it has been receiving for the past four weekends.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Book a Week - Strangers on a Train

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

Strangers on a Train
by Patricia Highsmith (1950)

This one had been on my shelf for a really long time for some reason, despite the fact that it's got that noir feel that I really enjoy.

Guy Haines is a promising young architect who is on his way to signing divorce papers in Texas. While on the train, he meets Charles Bruno, a psychopath who hatches a murderous plan with Guy -- Bruno could kill Guy's wife while Guy could kill Bruno's overbearing father. Guy wholeheartedly disagrees, but, a few days later, Guy's wife ends up murdered...and Bruno will stop at nothing for Guy to complete his part of the deal.

Patricia Highsmith crafts a tense tale here, jumping back and forth between the inner thoughts of Guy and Bruno, with both men being fully realized complex characters. The only thing I wish is that the tale was maybe 75 pages shorter. Clocking in at nearly 300 pages, there's not quite enough story to stretch out over the whole book. And, unfortunately, the end is slightly anticlimactic.

So, while it's not quite a perfect thriller, I'm certainly not opposed to picking up another Patricia Highsmith novel in the future.

Movie Review - Grace (2009)

Starring Jordan Ladd, Gabrielle Rose, and Samantha Ferris
Directed by Paul Solet

Um...just like the wagging, twirling, and dancing penis in Brüno, Grace contains images that I never need to see again.

Old lady boobs...got 'em. (Note: I'm not against old lady boobs, per se...read on...)

Old lady utilizing a breast pump to get milk from said old lady boobs...check.

Old lady getting her husband to stimulate said old lady boobs orally in order to start the lactating process...yep, that's here, too.

I haven't even begun to discuss the younger mother who allows her baby to bite her breasts so that the baby can sustain itself on blood rather than milk.

Yeah...Grace was one weird movie that is dull as can be even with that weird-ass stuff above.

The general premise is this: Madeline Matheson is in a horrific car crash with her husband. The husband dies and she soon discovers that her unborn child has died as well. Well, Madeline's a little kooky and she wants to carry the baby to full term and have it stillborn. Her midwife agrees to the proposition (mainly because the midwife and Madeline once had an intimate relationship), and, once it's time to deliver, the baby girl miraculously is born alive. Unfortunately, the baby soon moves past milk and needs to sustain herself on blood...and Madeline will need to do what is necessary in order to get that blood.

And the irony of it all is that Madeline's a vegan! You may think that's not a big deal, but we are hit over the head with it so many times in this movie. The only thing Madeline watches on tv is animal slaughters to show how heinous and horrible and cruel we are as a species. It's a good thing she watched them, though, or else she wouldn't have known where to slice humans open in order to drain blood for her baby.

Apparently, this was a short film and it probably should've stayed that way. There's maybe a good plot here (maybe...), but even at only 80 minutes, this flick felt so drawn out. There's a whole subplot about Madeline's sixty year-old mother-in-law and her breast-feeding obsession takes up nearly a quarter of the movie and it's just plain uncomfortable and unnecessary.

This got some kind of limited theatrical release in August after playing the film festival circuit, but I really don't understand how there can be any type of love for this one. Pretty darn awful.

The RyMickey Rating: D-

Visual Effects Oscar Contenders

The Academy released the list of contenders for the Visual Effects Oscar for this year.

“Angels & Demons”
“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”
“District 9”
“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
“Sherlock Holmes”
“Star Trek”
“Terminator Salvation”
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
“Where the Wild Things Are”

The visual effects Oscar only has three nominees (I think). Two of the above -- Star Trek and Terminator -- are currently on my list, with The Hurt Locker (also on my list) absent and out of contention for the Oscar. At this point, I haven't seen Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, or 2012.

Looking at the list, though, I find it very odd that Coraline and A Christmas Carol are here. If they're on this list, I feel like it should negate them from being Animated Feature contenders. And Where the Wild Things Are? The costumes kicked ass but special effects? Maybe they were so subtle, I didn't notice...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Movie Review - The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Featuring the voice talent of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, and Oprah Winfrey
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

Just a mini-review here for the moment...there were a few issues with the presentation that caused me to leave the theater for a bit, so I wasn't able to "completely" see it (although I may have missed all of two minutes combined).

Nevertheless, here's my quick random thoughts with a more thorough review to come later on this month upon a second viewing.

Definitely old school Disney. Beautiful hand-drawn animation. Decent songs actually sung by the characters. An overall enjoyable experience.

The rating will likely fall into the 3.5/5 or 4/5 range.

Certainly worth checking out...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Movie Review - Knowing (2009)

Starring Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne
Directed by Alex Proyos

There's quite a bit wrong with this movie. Two pretty awful performances from a comatose Nicolas Cage and an awkwardly angry and anxious Rose Byrne. Some poor special effects. But, for some unknown reason, this movie works much better than it has any right to.

The premise is fairly simple. Fifty years ago, a young elementary school girl wrote down a series of numbers on a piece of paper that were placed in a time capsule. Jump to now and the capsule is being opened. Nicolas Cage is a professor and his son happens to bring home this page of numbers. Cage soon discovers that the numbers foretold of hundreds of disasters that have occurred in the past fifty years. And, unfortunately, there are three disasters left on that piece of paper...and the worst was of course saved for last.

Like I said above, Nic Cage is awful here, although he's actually overshadowed in absurdity by Rose Byrne as the daughter of the crazy number lady from fifty years ago. Byrne, who I think is so good in the tv show Damages, is laughably bad...she's required to scream and yell and it was simply torturous to hear. And the two child actors that play a major role here were nothing great either.

Yet, the story and the way everything unfolds in this movie won me over. The religious overtones that come into play aren't shied away from and, in the last scene, one can't help but think of a famous story from the Bible (I don't want to give anything away).

I've got to say that I was quite surprised about this one. I've had it sitting at home for nearly four months now from Netflix and I've been dreading watching it (sure, I could've sent it back, but I find it difficult to do that without watching it, I guess). Yes, it reminds me of a silly 1950s/60s sci fi movie, but it works despite its many, many issues.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Movie Review - The Cove (2009)

Directed by Louie Psihoyos

I am by no means an animal lover -- haven't had a pet since I was six or seven (and that was a fish) and I don't miss it. Call me callous, but it's just not something I care about in the slightest. Because of this, I was not expecting to really care a bit about The Cove, which, although I didn't know much about it, I knew focused on the killing of dolphins. Well, director Louie Psihoyos manages to craft a shockingly exciting and tense film that, while certainly being a "message" documentary, doesn't hit the viewer over the head with its mission.

Ric O'Barry was the dolphin trainer for the 1960s television show Flipper. He captured the four dolphins used for the show, trained them, grew to care for them, and, after the show concluded, kept one, Karen, at his ocean-front home. Karen eventually dies in Ric's arms and immediately after that, he realized that what he was doing -- keeping dolphins in captivity -- was wrong and changed his life's mission statement to save dolphins.

This mission led Ric to discover the horrific Japanese slaughter that occurs every September in the town of Taiji. Japanese fishermen herd over 2000 dolphins a year into a small cove hidden from their people and any visitors. No one really knew what went on in the cove, but it was Ric's mission to reveal this to the world. Like a fictional movie, Ric brings together twelve crew members who all excel in different areas -- photography, mechanics, deep sea diving, etc. Together, they attempt to set up a variety of cameras in order to expose the horrific slayings. Suffice it to say, the crew does succeed and their footage is simply stunning (and not in a good way).

The irony of the whole thing, as the film depicts, is that the Japanese government states that they are doing this in order to provide food/sustenance for its people, but dolphin meat contains incredibly high amounts of mercury which leads to blindness, deafness, and loss of memory. So, as the Japanese attempt to keep their economy going via this slaughter, they're killing their people in the process.

I was quite riveted throughout the entirety of The Cove. It manages to get its point across while presenting Japan's point of view as well. While not even-handed, per se, I was impressed that it didn't simply laugh off Japan's opinions of the issue. And while it certainly has that air of "propaganda" especially at the end when it throws out the blatant "help the dolphins" plea, I certainly feel that it gets its point across without being the least bit preachy.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Movie Review - Scrooged (1988)

Starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, and Bobcat Goldthwait
Directed by Richard Donner

Maybe it's because this is the third version of A Christmas Carol that I've watched in four weeks or so, but Scrooged just didn't hit the mark with me. I had certainly seen this before, but I'm honestly not sure whether I sat and watched it all the way through in one sitting -- perhaps I just caught bits and pieces from tv airings. Anyway, despite a winning turn from Bill Murray, this version really falls flat.

Murray plays tv executive Francis Cross and he's quite the curmudgeon. Just like the other versions of this tale, he's visited by four ghosts who, in the end, convince him to change his ways and become a caring guy.

Murray is great here. He's off-the-wall and very funny. Unfortunately, everything else around him falls flat. The "Tiny Tim" storyline here featuring Cross's secretary (played by Alfre Woodard) and her child who won't talk just doesn't hold nearly as much resonance as the typical "dying Tiny Tim" version. With no emotional connection in that part of the story, Scrooged relies on the viewers to be involved in the plotline involving Cross's ex-lover (Karen Allen), but Allen's character is so bland that it's tough to give a darn there either.

So, overall, despite some cool effects and a great role from Murray, this Christmas tale really didn't register for me at all.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Movie Review - The Brothers Bloom (2009)

New Thoughts: 12/9/09 -

I took another look at The Brothers Bloom this evening and I'm quite happy to say that it held up incredibly well. In fact, although I wouldn't say it increased its grade, I do think it's going to move up the ranks a spot or two. My same criticism still stands in that the final act seems a little drawn out...however, I appreciated the last 30 minutes a bit more than I did the first time around. That final act is really where the emotional oomph comes into play. Also, of note, while I still adore Rinko Kikuchi's Bang Bang character, I also came away much more appreciative of Rachel Weisz's Penelope. Expect to see her in the next Academy Awards Wishlist in the incredibly weak Supporting Actress category.

Originally Posted 6/5/09
Starring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rinko Kikuchi
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson

After the debacle of The Limits of Control, heading up north to Pennsylvania to see a movie was not something I thought I'd rush to do again. But, for some reason or another, I really wanted to see this flick despite the fact that its release was delayed for quite a long time -- and that's usually never a good sign. Fortunately, this movie proved to be quite winning.

Ever since they were little, brothers Stephen and Bloom were con men. From what I can tell, they never really harmed anyone, but they definitely were smart guys who were able to pull off (more than once) a great con, resulting in big paydays. Younger brother Bloom (Brody), however, wants to call it quits. He's tired of the life and wants to settle down. Stephen (Ruffalo) along with the brothers' assistant, Bang Bang (Kikucki), convince Bloom to help them in one last con -- stealing money from the incredibly wealthy New Jersey heiress Penelope Stamp (Weisz). Little do they know that Weisz is cuckoo and will be a much harder con than they ever suspected.

It rarely happens in movies that are so strongly character-driven, but every single one of the actors mentioned above is stellar. This is Mark Ruffalo's best role that I've ever seen him in [there I go, ending in prepositions again...]. For once, he actually brings some vitality to the screen, rather than simply moping around. Adrien Brody (who hasn't impressed me at all since his amazing Oscar-winning turn in The Pianist) was subtle, but, as the emotional center of the film, absolutely able to pull the audience in and have us root for him to get out of this double crossing life. Rachel Weisz is cute as a button (what does that even mean?) and was incredibly funny -- something I've never seen her attempt before. The final lead, Rinko Kikuchi, played Bang Bang with gusto, creating the funniest character in the film despite the fact that she only spoke three words.

Absurdity abounds in this flick -- whether it be a camel walking by in the background of a scene or Bang Bang shooting down a palm tree -- but it works wonderfully. While the comedy is certainly "out there," it's never too zany that it becomes unbelievable. That's a credit to writer-director Rian Johnson who, at least during the flick's first hour, is incredibly adept at directing comedy. His timing and his direction of his stars is spot-on during the first sixty minutes. However, during the film's last hour, the flick goes through one too many "emotional ups and downs"...the movie's over -- fooled ya...no it isn't -- that kind of thing (I must credit the "up and down" comment to one of my fellow moviegoers). It's not that the way the film ended wasn't "the right way" -- in fact, I thought the ending was exactly what it needed to be -- it's just that Johnson had already taken us to that emotional denouement (or at least what we, the audience, thinks is the emotional plateau) thirty minutes prior to the actual ending. Still, Johnson is quite an adept and talented guy and I absolutely need to check out his other directorial venture, Brick.

Another note here about Johnson: I love the fact that this movie was rated PG-13. He easily could've thrown in multiple "fucks" throughout and gotten this movie the 'R' rating that most directors would've. However, he keeps the film almost storybook-like. I didn't even think about this until I saw the PG-13 on the poster above, but this makes me love the movie even more.

I'll be honest here -- I'm jumping back and forth between a B and B+ on this one. The acting was top-notch. Absolutely the best cast in any film I've watched this year (and I honestly think it'll be tough for any cast to match the talent here in the upcoming months). But as I mentioned above, the film is not without a flaw. I need to give the flick a little more time to settle down, but for now, I'm gonna go with the rating below. In all likelihood, the rating below is gonna stick.

Definitely go check this out if it comes to your area. It boggles my mind that they didn't give this one a semi-wide release (why not 500 screens?). It's not too "indie" to appeal to the masses. People are unfairly (in my opinion) comparing this to Wes Anderson's work in terms of its quirkiness and comedic style (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore). While I liked those two aforementioned films, I never laughed out loud in them as I did in Brothers Bloom. By far, the funniest movie released this year.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Monday, December 07, 2009

Movie Review - Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Starring Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, Fozzie Bear, and Michael Caine
Directed by Brian Henson

Everyone's seen this story before (and we've seen this story retold this year), but at least with the Muppets we get some comedy thrown into the mix as well.

It's been a few years since I've watched this one and I completely forgot that three of the songs on the film's soundtrack don't make it into the actual film at all -- two of them it was right to remove, but the haunting melody of "When Love Is Gone" certainly would've added emotional oomph to the flick and should have been left in (it's included in the "director's cut" on the dvd).

Anyway, my favorite part of the movie has to be Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat as Rizzo the Rat, both playing our narrators for journey. Humor abounds from these two and it's a nice addition to a story we all know well.

My slight qualm with this version is that Michael Caine isn't quite as mean as I'd like my Scrooge to be. He's certainly fine in the role, but he's not as harsh as I'd hope.

Still, an incredibly amusing version of the tale. And who doesn't love the frickin' Muppets?

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Movie Review - Management (2009)

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, and Woody Harrelson
Directed by Stephen Belber

I'm mighty fond of Jennifer Aniston. Even in dreck like Love Happens, I'm a fan. In Management, the first shot we see of Aniston is of her posterior, and it's a mighty fine posterior. In one of the first scenes after this, her ass is the focus...and as you can see on the poster, Steve Zahn just can't keep his hands off of it. Lucky man.

Unfortunately, despite some admirable work from Aniston, this film just doesn't work after the first act.

I'll be honest, I wrote a longer review of this one, but for some reason it didn't save after the first two paragraphs and I don't feel like re-typing it simply because it really isn't worth my time.

The general idea of it was that the movie works for the first 30 minutes, but there's really no reason why Aniston would fall for the childlike Zahn who works as the night manager at his parent's motel. The final hour when Zahn's Mike follows Aniston's Sue to Washington state after she moves there to be with her ex-boyfriend (played by an over-the-top Woody Harrelson) just doesn't work at all. Mike meets a pothead Asian kid (Asian simply so that Mike can live in the kid's basement filled with soy sauce and rice because it's supposed to be "funny" and so we can hear the Asian kid's mother say "risitor" instead of "visitor") and the movie really just falls apart.

Anyway, the movie was a dud. Somebody give Aniston a good movie! (Then again, she produced this one, so I guess she's to blame).

The RyMickey Rating: D

Movie Review - The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Starring Sasha Grey and Chris Santos
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Aaah...the struggles of an escort in a committed relationship. Goshdarnit...having sex with a bunch of men for money while trying to maintain some happiness with an actual boyfriend is apparently really tough work. That's the jist of The Girlfriend Experience, a film that's really only known for being a movie released in actual theaters that starred a porn star.

I guess the driving plot point in this movie is when Chelsea meets a client who appears to be the perfect relationship match for her based off of her "personology" books (apparently some type of astrological bs). In an irrational state, she decides to leave her boyfriend for the guy. If that's the driving point of the plot, I'm unsure why it doesn't occur until 50 minutes into this 75-minute long movie.

And therein lies the problem with this flick...it's got an interesting premise, but it goes nowhere. The first third of this movie felt interminable. Sure, it picked up a tad, but not enough to actually interest me in the characters.

I'm sure that Sasha Grey's performance didn't help. She's so incredibly bland onscreen...there's no life behind her eyes (although, I guess in her business, the eyes aren't really where the life is required to be). There's scenes where she does voiceover work where her diction is so ridiculously laughable.

It's certainly not all Grey's fault, though. It seems like much of this flick was improv'ed or ad-libbed. There are times when ad-libbing sounds "real," but here it didn't ring true at all...it just led to a lot of repetition, stuttering, and "uhm's." And even in a film with this short length, there were scenes that totally could've been cut (can anyone who sees this explain the last scene to me? What the heck was that?) Soderbergh should have known where to draw the line on some of these scenes...and he doesn't really help with the direction either. For several scenes, he just plops the camera down in one spot and lets it sit there. In a boring movie, boring camera work doesn't help matters. And let's not even get into the fact that he has the movie jump around in time (I'm guessing to cover up the inanity of it all). It's really not clever, especially in a movie where there's no plot to speak of...it's just annoying.

Oddly enough, in the end, I didn't hate the movie (although, as you'll see in the rating, it isn't any good). It was an interesting film idea that, unfortunately, in the end, amounts to nothing. I will say this, though...I enjoy the clever tagline on the poster: See it with someone you ****

The RyMickey Rating: D

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Book a Week - Your Movie Sucks

Book Fifty of the Book-a-Week Quest

Your Movie Sucks
by Roger Ebert (2007)

I'll say this about Roger Ebert - while I may not agree with his views as of late (you really gave perfect 4-star ratings to Trucker and Ponyo, and 3 1/2-star reviews to The Men Who Stare at Goats, Big Fan, The Invention of Lying, My One and Only, Funny People, and Public Enemies?), he can certainly write a well-crafted review. That Pulitzer Prize-winning style is evident in Your Movie Sucks, a compilation of some of Ebert's zero to one-and-a-half star reviews from 2000-2005.

I must have some decent taste in film because I had only seen 24 of the nearly 175 movies reviewed in the book, and of those 24, I could really only disagree with his ratings on two of them (he really despised the ingenious Team America: World Police, and Dana Carvey's The Master of Disguise is the one of the best "awful movies" I've ever seen). While there's no review that particularly stands out, I must say that I enjoyed reading nearly every criticism (even if the book is heavy on the godawful "Teen Comedy" film genre).

It goes to prove that there's definitely some fun in writing awful reviews.

And for anyone that wants to criticize this as a "Book-a-Week" choice, feel free. But it was over 325 pages and Ebert doesn't shy away from using big words like "lugubrious" either.

A Book a Week - The Moon Is Down

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

The Moon Is Down
by John Steinbeck (1942)

If anything good has come out of this book-a-week quest, it's that I finally have someone I can call "my favorite author." John Steinbeck definitely takes that prize. This is my fifth Steinbeck book of the year and while I wasn't falling head over heels for The Red Pony or The Pearl, I can't say that I've genuinely disliked any of them.

The Moon Is Down is a simple story that deals with a small European town being overtaken by invading soldiers. Neither the conquered nor the conquering parties are given countries to which they belong, but, considering that this was written in the midst of WWII, it's easy to infer Steinbeck's veiled intentions. Steinbeck allows the reader to see both sides of the war with chapters focusing on both the soldiers and their captives.

What's most interesting about the book is that, according the book's cover, Steinbeck had in his mind that this would be turned into a play rather than a novel. The book relies heavily on dialogue, both serious and witty, but always engaging. Also, each chapter feels like its own "act" in a play. While not "cliffhanger-ish," each chapter ends in such a way that it "finishes and cleans up" the loose ends in the chapter, while drawing the reader into desiring to know what happens next. I realize that's the case in most books, so I guess I'm not really accurately describing how this book felt "play-ish," but it did.

Anyway, this was definitely an enjoyable read. With three books left to go, it's entirely possible one more Steinbeck will be coming...

Movie Review - Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

NOTE: With this review, I'm bringing this Christmas Movie a Day thing to a close for this year (Instead of 31 movies, it'll be the 12 Movies of Christmas, I guess). I'd really like to keep my New Year's resolution to have read a book a week this year and, with four more to go at this point, that won't happen if I continue this little Christmas thing. So, while I'm sure I'll be watching some Christmas movies in the upcoming weeks, it won't be a Movie a Day.

Christmas Movie a Day #12
Miracle on 34th Street (1994 edition)
Starring Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, and Mara Wilson
Directed by Les Mayfield
It's a sign of the times that we'd see a drunken Santa's butt crack in a remake of Miracle on 34th Street. Aaah...nearly 50 years after the original and we've grown so much as a society that we know deem butt cheeks funny. But maybe I'm just cynical...

Nevertheless, this remake moves the story to modern day and replaces Macy's with the make-believe Cole's (one would imagine that Macy's wouldn't shell out the product placement moolah...aahh...cynicism again). Everything else is pretty much the same, except there's a ridiculously unnecessary subplot about a rival store's attempts at a corporate takeover of Cole's (once again...nothing like placing modern-day worries into a sweet, sentimental tale) which manages to add twenty minutes to the plot.

Certainly helping this film revival is Mara Wilson as young Susan. She manages to convey a little more emotion into the character than Natalie Wood (although Wilson does fall into the "too smart for her own good" trap that screenwriters are want to do). On a side note, whatever happened to Mara Wilson? I guess people got tired of her lisp, but I thought she was kinda cute in Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda, and this...but she hasn't done a thing this decade. Dylan McDermott is also a tad better as the lawyer who helps Kris Kringle get out of his jam. While others like Elizabeth Perkins as Susan's mom and Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle are fine, they don't quite match up to Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn (particularly Attenborough...although he had a very tough act to follow with the magical Gwenn).

This remake certainly isn't bad, and while I'd choose the original over this one, it still would be worth the watch should it come on tv.

The RyMickey Rating: C+
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 6/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Movie Review - Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Christmas Movie a Day #11
Miracle on 34th Street
Starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood
Directed by George Seaton
I think most people are familiar with the premise behind this one, but just in case you're not, Miracle on 34th Street tells the tale of a young girl named Susan (Natalie Wood) who has been raised by her mother Doris (Maureen O'Hara) to believe in only the "reality" of the world -- imagination is a foolish waste of time. Around Christmastime, Susan is the only girl her age that doesn't believe in Santa Claus, and, although many people disagree with her parenting techniques, Doris refuses to budge. During the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the man who is set to play Santa Claus gets drunk and Doris, who works for Mr. Macy himself, is pressed to find a new Santa. Fortunately, a man named Kris Kringle happens to walk by and jumps at the chance to play Santa. You see, Kris believes that he really is Santa Claus...and he just may be...he simply needs to convince Doris and young Susan.

It's really a great story and all the acting here is top notch, particularly Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. He won an Academy Award for this role and, while I don't know who else he was up against, I will certainly say that he is darn good here. Maureen O'Hara is also quite winning, as is little Natalie Wood. And it's not just the three main actors here that are great -- every bit character does a great job here.

The nice thing about this movie is that it doesn't focus on young Susan, but instead focuses on the adults' reactions to Kris Kringle -- the notion that adults must let go of childish whimsy and be serious all the time. I'll hold off a bit on speaking more until I watch the remake for tomorrow's Christmas Movie a Day so I can do a little compare and contrast. Suffice it to say, I do enjoy this flick.

The RyMickey Rating: B+
The Christmas Spirit Scale: 8/10
(The Christmas Spirit Scale is a totally pointless rating that is simply my feeling about how "Christmas-y" the movie felt to me)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Movie Review - Gremlins (1984)

Christmas Movie a Day #10
Starring Phoebe Cates and Zack Galligan
Directed by Joe Dante
I was a deprived child (apparently) when it came to entertainment in the 80s. I don't know if I've seen a single movie starring a Brat Pack member. People are always shocked when I say I've never seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And I was once again told I was crazy when I said I'd never seen Gremlins. Having watched the monster movie for the first time now for this Christmas Movie a Day thing, I must say that I do feel slightly let down that I wasn't able to watch this flick earlier in my life...I may have enjoyed it more then.

Not that it's a bad movie by any means. Found at a Chinese store in some big city's Chinatown, a dad brings home a tiny rodent-like pet to his twenty-something son for Christmas. There were only three rules that needed to be followed, and, unfortunately, his son inadvertently breaks them all, causing this cute little pet to reproduce, creating nastier and more evil versions of itself that wreak havoc across a small town.

I guess my issue with the movie is that I feel like it's unsure of what it wants to be. It seems a little too scary for kids (if I recall, this was one of the movies that helped to usher in the era of the PG-13 rating after parents complained of the PG rating for this flick), but not nearly creepy enough for adults. Still, it certainly kept me interested all the way throughout, I just wish it veered either more kiddie or more adult, because at the moment, it feels like a movie in search of an audience.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Gremlins quite a bit. There's several well-done scenes (I particularly enjoyed when the mother attacks the gremlins with kitchen equipment) and the gremlin animatronics were quite impressive. And, as a sure sign that I enjoyed it, I may be renting Gremlins 2 in the future (speaking of renting, thanks to Justin for allowing me to keep the movie on the list as I definitely wasn't going to be able to get it via Netflix).

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)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Movie Review - Santa's Slay (2005)

Christmas Movie a Day #9
Santa's Slay
Starring Bill Goldberg and Emilie de Ravin
Directed by David Steiman
After last year's complete and utter enjoyment of the Christmas horror classic You Better Watch Out (AKA Christmas Evil), I figured why not watch some more silly Christmas nonsense. Recommended by poster Cookie Puss (and, based on my limited knowledge of Cookie Puss's favorite movies, I had an general idea what I was getting myself into), Santa's Slay has a pretty neat premise, but unfortunately is actually too polished of a movie to succeed fully. It's a really awful movie wrapped up in too nice of a package...then again, there is something to be said for a movie that places the Olympic sport of curling front and center as a major plot point.

In case you were unaware, Santa happens to be the son of Satan. In the year 1005, Santa was approached by an angel and the two entered into a bet (this is where the curling thing comes into play). Santa loses and is forced to be kind and good for 1000 years. Cut to 2005 and Santa's through with being nice, enacting revenge on all the kids who have sent him letters over the years.

Sure, it's stupid, but I actually kind of enjoyed the idea behind this flick. Silly, yes, but they actually spent a decent amount of time explaining the backstory (partly done via some nifty claymation-like animation) and, shockingly, it actually made sense. However, when the film shifts to the modern day, it doesn't quite work. The kills aren't as graphic as I'd hope they'd be. The two kids that Santa is chasing are completely underdeveloped (but not underdeveloped enough to fall into the "so bad, it's good" mentality). And the last fifteen minutes of the film were a complete anti-climax. It ended without any type of showdown between the good and bad...quite a disappointment.

Still, it's a silly diversion, with an amusing turn by some pro-wrestler as Santa.

The RyMickey Rating: C-
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)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Movie Review - The Messenger (2009)

Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, and Steve Buscemi
Directed by Oren Moverman

Little did I know walking into this movie that I would be watching some of the most gut-wrenching scenes put on film this year, getting a small glimpse at some of the most intimate moments of a soldier's family's life.

The Messenger revolves around two casualty notification officers -- men who are tasked with informing the family members of U.S. soldiers that their loved ones have died. Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) is the veteran officer and he is in the process of training newcomer Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster), an Iraq war veteran who has returned home from war with both physical and psychological ailments. As they go from home to home, Will becomes enamored with one particular army widow, Olivia. Both Olivia and Will have their share of problems and their relationship is anything but easygoing.

What touched me the most were the scenes in which Will and Tony reveal the sad news to the family members. The varying reactions of the families and the acting on display of both the family members and of Foster and Harrelson was just stunning here. The muted strength and emotionally vacant faces of the two soldiers (obviously masking their palpable sadness) countering the utter devastation of the family members set up such a dichotomy that one can't help but be moved. There was an uncomfortable feeling in nearly every one of these scenes and they really were quite emotionally gripping.

Certainly helping these scenes earn their gravitas is the fantastic work of Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. Harrelson, in particular, is pretty darn spectacular here. Always the steadfast and strong one of the pair, Harrelson's Tony is obviously suppressing some horrible "survivor's"-type guilt as evidenced by his past alcoholism and womanizing ways. And Foster, while feeling that same guilt, reacts to things in a much angrier way. It's this balance of the two personalities that make the film work so well -- at first, Will and Tony think they are quite different from one another, but, in the end, they realize they share more than they think. There's also some great (although subtle) work from Samantha Morton, and Jena Malone definitely stands out in what is essentially a glorified extended cameo.

Director Oren Moverman allows things to linger, but manages to never make things seem slow-moving. There's a several minute-long shot of Foster's Will and Morton's Olivia during which Olivia breaks down for the first time that was just stunning, exemplifying the director's idea of not shying away from things. He stays with this emotional scene for an extended period of time, just as he pulls us into every single one of the scenes in which the two officers must deliver the awful news to the next of kin of the fallen soldiers.

Ultimately, the film isn't perfect (although it's close) -- the film doesn't allow the audience to really connect with Will in the way that is necessary to be pulling/rooting for his character. By the film's end and in the final scenes, that emotional connection is finally achieved (boy, is it ever...), but for 90 minutes, I felt a wall up between myself and the main character.

Still, when you look at everything else that's so right with the movie, that feels like a minor quibble. Similar to The Hurt Locker, The Messenger is about war, but doesn't take an (obvious) pro or con stance. They both allow the viewer to make up their own minds and bring their own personal views into the film experience. And The Messenger was quite an experience.

The RyMickey Rating: A-