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Letterboxd Reviews

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

Friday, January 29, 2010

Movie Review - Don't Bother to Knock (1952)

Don't Bother to Knock
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, and Anne Bancroft
Directed by Roy Ward Baker

This one was "recommended" to me by Netflix after I recently watched another Marilyn Monroe film, Niagara. With it being a very short 75 minutes, I figured why not give it a shot. As of now, I still stand by the fact that Monroe isn't necessarily a great actress, but she's got a certain je ne sais quoi that completely captures my attention when she's on camera.

The movie begins with a young Anne Bancroft sitting at a hotel bar, preparing to perform her nightclub act. While singing, her ex-boyfriend, Jed (Widmark) walks in hoping to rekindle their relationship. Jed is denied and goes up to his room at the hotel.

Now we jump to a completely unrelated storyline with a young woman named Nell (Monroe) meeting the Jones's -- a family for whom she's babysitting for this evening. As the mom and dad go downstairs to the hotel ballroom, Nell puts the young Bunny Jones to bed and begins to dance around the suite. Jed happens to see Nell from across an alleyway in between the "U-shaped" hotel and he calls her up after she flirts with him in the window. Nell invites Jed over to the room, but soon Jed (and we the audience) discover that Nell may not be sane and may, in fact, be dangerous to herself and others.

Monroe is quite good here. Sure, she still uses her squeaky voice, but she brings depth and substance to her Nell. While some of her lines are simply silly, she manages to elevate herself above the melodrama that's present in 1950s films like this.

The real problem with the film (similar to that of Niagara) is the story that's unrelated to Monroe bogs down the movie. Anne Bancroft (in her first movie) is fine as is Richard Widmark as Jed, but their story is pretty much worthless. It simply pads the already short running time which could have been even shorter.

Still, if anyone's got the "on demand" Netflix option and you're looking for a quick black-and-white psychological drama (I know...everyone's looking for one of those), this one's worth putting in the queue.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Movie Review - Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Directed by Stephen Chiodo

When I was young, I watched this movie on television and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Watching this again for the first time in probably a decade-and-a-half, I vividly remembered particular scenes and while they didn't freak me out, I could totally see why they did when I was nine or ten.

By no means is this a good movie, but it doesn't strive to be in the slightest. A group of alien clowns lands in a small town in America and starts killing everyone by wrapping them up in cotton candy. With that summary, we're not talking about something serious.

The problem with the flick is that the first half is much better than the film's climax. As the clowns go about the town, their wacky ways of murdering humans (killer puppet shows, killer shadow puppets) are still quite clever and very well executed considering the film's low budget. Similarly, our first glimpses of the clowns show just how impressive their eerie costumes and make-up are. Regrettably, the film's climax can't sustain the goofiness and the director just can't keep up the tension.

Still, it was a treat to watch this again and I'll maybe give it another go in another ten years.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Movie Review - Alien Trespass (2009)

Alien Trespass
Starring Eric McCormack and Robert Patrick
Directed by R.W. Goodwin

Homage: Something done in acknowledgment or consideration of the worth of another.

Sure, an "homage" sounds awfully nice, but are cheesy sci fi movies from the 1950s really worthy of accolades?

After a clever and amusing three-minute newsreel that opens the show (there's no film company logo at the beginning...simply the newsreel), the film just goes downhill with a simple plot about an alien spacecraft landing in New Mexico (or Arizona...I'm sure it was said, but I zoned out multiple times). I'm fairly certain Alien Trespass was supposed to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh a single time.

There's really not a whole lot to say about this one. After seeing the film, I'm shocked that I actually saw commercials for it earlier this year and that it was actually released in theaters. I'm not sure who this is supposed to appeal to, but it certainly didn't do a thing for me.

The RyMickey Rating: D-

Movie Review - The Other Man (2008)

The Other Man
Starring Liam Neeson, Antonio Banderas, Laura Linney, and Romola Garai
Directed by Richard Eyre

I watched this little movie solely because of Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. Going into it, the only thing I knew about The Other Man was that Neeson and Linney played a married couple and, one night, Linney disappears. Neeson's character Peter soon discovers that his wife was having an affair with a sexy Spanish guy (Banderas, who I guess is the "go to" guy when the script calls for "sexy" and "Spanish" despite the fact that he's nearly fifty and he mumbles his English dialog in a nearly incomprehensible fashion). Much like his "kick-assery" in Taken, Neeson gets hellbent on undertaking a mission to kill his wife's lover.

Now, the plot for the first half is fairly straightforward, but it's boosted by an impressive turn from an angry and heartbroken Neeson. Unfortunately, about halfway through, there's a twist that comes out of nowhere and throws a kink into the whole shindig. Twists built on camera trickery and editing rather than story-driven surprises are always disappointing and it's no different here.

It's a shame, really, because it's nice to see a drama with adults acting as adults. This one just doesn't make the grade, however.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movie Review - The Lovely Bones (2009)

The Lovely Bones
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, and Saoirse Ronan
Directed by Peter Jackson

What Dreams May Come, Part II. In that movie, Robin Williams gets stuck in a purgatory-esque land between heaven and earth, and The Lovely Bones contains the same premise, more or less.

Right from the beginning we learn that young 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Ronan) has been murdered and that one of her neighbors (Tucci) is her killer. The rest of the movie swaps back and forth between Susie's dream-like visions of "the in-between" and her father's (Wahlberg) search for his daughter's killer.

Unfortunately, this movie just plain doesn't work. Granted, I've only seen the first Lord of the Rings movie, but I couldn't help but wonder why the heck this guy was so acclaimed. This movie was full of odd cuts and edits, a mishmash of nonsensical heavenly visions, and some of the oddest score and background music I've heard in a 2009 movie (I realize most don't even "hear" that, but the score is an important part to my movie-going experience).

Jackson (who also co-wrote the script) poorly directs his actors and doesn't really allow us to connect with Susie's family at all. The relationship between Susie's mother (Weisz) and father is nonexistent. Sorry, Peter, but showing them making love at the beginning isn't enough to make me believe they're actually in love...I never once felt any type of connection between Weisz and Wahlberg and their feelings for each other play a fairly important role in the film. It doesn't help that Walhberg's mopey "blahness" is utterly boring to view.

Saoirse Ronan's Susie is just too darn bright, wide-eyed, and cheery for a girl who has just been murdered. I found the character and her overbearing voiceover to simply be annoying. And speaking of annoying, the stock comedic character of Susie's grandmother (played over-the-top by Susan Sarandon) was horrendous. While she brought some much needed entertainment to this overly heavy production, she seemed like she belonged in a sitcom. For this, I don't blame Sarandon, but instead fault Mr. Jackson.

Stanley Tucci's murderous George Harvey is fine, as is Rose McIver as Susie's younger sister, Lindsey, but they're not enough to tip the scales to the positive in the acting department.

Admittedly, there are moments in this film that work. The scenes of Susie's murder and Lindsey's discovery of some pivotal evidence are racked with tension. And it was moments like those that make it a shame that Jackson and his co-writers bogged this thing down with ridiculous meta-physical mumbo jumbo.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Friday, January 15, 2010

Movie Review - Invictus (2009)

Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Wow. I haven't been this bored in a movie in a while. In fact, very few movies in 2009 have bored me as much Invictus.

Morgan Freeman is utterly dry as Nelson Mandela who after being released from a South African prison in 1990 becomes President of the country in 1994. Amidst much racial tension, Mandela places what appears to be all his faith in bringing the country together behind South Africa's losing rugby team, the Springboks, and their quest to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Apparently, nothing else will unify whites and blacks except a rugby team. We are literally shown nothing else that Mandela does except put all his strength behind this team. Mandela is certainly an admirable figure, but he's portrayed here in the driest fashion possible. Granted, Mandela may not be the most jaunty guy...but maybe you shouldn't make a movie about him.

It's no secret that biopics are my least favorite genre (I've said it multiple times and will continue to do so) and Invictus does nothing to change that. Written by Anthony Peckham, we learn just enough about rugby to "kinda sorta" follow the matches on the field, but not nearly enough to understand what's really going on (Why are they in that massive huddle? Why was that a foul and why did it lead to the game-winning point?). And it's not just the rugby. This is 135 minutes of nothingness. Nothing happens here.

And part of that problem lies in Clint Eastwood's direction. Sure, I haven't seen a lot of Eastwood-directed flicks, but I've seen six or seven of them, and that's enough to prove to me that I dislike him immensely as a director. I've yet to see a film by him that's felt anything other than ploddingly paced. It's like watching a snail...no excitement whatsoever. There were shots here that felt so incredibly film school in their basicness and simplicity and with his sloth-like pacing issues, Eastwood needs to at least give me something visually stimulating. Plus, Clint hits us over the head here with the racial issues, going so far as to include some horrific song midway through telling me to be "Color Blind." I literally laughed out loud when that lyric invaded my eardrums.

I don't know of any rugby terms, so I'll stick with some a sports term that I know -- Invictus is yet another strike-out for Eastwood.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movie Review - The Answer Man (2009)

The Answer Man
Starring Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Kat Dennings, and Olivia Thirlby
Directed by John Hindman

Continuing on with my thoughts on movies nobody's heard of...

Set in Philadelphia (which is likely why it played the Ritz and nowhere else), The Answer Man tells the tale of Arlen Faber (Daniels), a writer whose only book - Me and God - became an international bestseller, catapulting him to the top of the chart for years. While Arlen is a self-help guru for many, he secludes himself in his home, avoiding calls from his editor (the surprisingly charming Nora Dunn) who is asking him to help her out promoting the 20th anniversary of his book. Arlen wants nothing to do with it and his curmudgeonly attitude isn't helped by severe back pain.

One day he decides he's had enough with his injury and he heads to a chiropractor (Graham). While there, he begins to fall for the charming young practitioner, Elizabeth, and they begin to date each other. Additionally, there's another side story with a young twentysomething guy (Pucci) who just got out of rehab and is finding it difficult to stay alcohol-free.

So, the summary above seems like a lot of nothing. Two very disparate stories that don't really make a lot of sense together. And you'd be right. The first 30 minutes of this flick play like a slapsticky comedy and they just plain don't work. Somehow, though, a third of the way through this movie, it won me over. I don't know why (although I'm sure the cute and winning Lauren Graham had something to do with it), but I ended up really liking this rather simple movie.

Jeff Daniels is the kind of actor that you don't really remember in anything, but you just tend to find him a likable guy on the screen. Lauren Graham is easy on the eyes and perfectly cast here. Lou Taylor Pucci (an actor I'd never heard of before this year who's now been in three 2009 movies that I've seen) was fine, but his role could've been excised without causing much damage to the plot. And that's the real problem with the movie -- a bunch could've been removed without causing harm to the crux of the story.

Still, it's worth a free stream on Netflix if you've got 90 minutes to spare and want a "nice" movie to watch. With the exception of a few F-bombs here and there, it's something you could easily watch with your grandmother and not be embarrassed.

Also, side note: Tony Hale of Arrested Development fame has a role in this (I know that statement just got one person that reads this to watch it).

The RyMickey Rating: C

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie Review - Humpday (2009)

Starring Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard, and Alycia Delmore
Directed by Lynn Shelton

In the words of one of the characters from this witty indie comedy, Humpday is the tale of "two straight dudes bonin'." Okay, it's not about that at all (even though it sort of is), but that line made me laugh. It's obvious that director/writer Lynn Shelton crafted a general outline of a plot and set her three main actors free to create their own lines. There's a sense of genuine spontaneity here that isn't easily captured on film, but there really wasn't a false note of dialog in the flick.

When thirtysomething Andrew (Zack Galifianakis look-alike Joshua Leonard) shows up on his old college buddy Ben's (Duplass) doorstep at 2am one night, the two rekindle their old friendship from years ago. While Andrew still travels around the world with no real job, Ben's life has completely changed -- he's got a "real" job and a lovely wife (Delmore). One night, Andrew invites Ben to meet some "artsy" liberal friends who discuss a Seattle film festival known as Humpfest where amateur filmmakers create porn films that then get destroyed following the fest. In a drunken stupor, Ben proposes that he and Andrew have sex and videotape it for the event. The following day, the two best friends find themselves in a conundrum -- they don't want to back down from this difficult challenge for fear of being labeled as "pussies," but they're not exactly thrilled with the prospect of sleeping with one another.

It may sound risqué, but it's actually incredibly tame, and I strongly suggest that anyone thinking of not seeing this based on an uncomfortable notion they may have toward the premise (I'll admit that's why I didn't go see it at the Ritz this summer) give this clever flick a chance. The final fifteen minutes is really the denouement I was hoping for and it's presented in such a way that felt spot-on, thanks in part to the great work of Duplass and Leonard. Kudos also to Delmore who plays Ben's wife with just the right amount of confusion and love in regards to her husband and his crazy new scheme.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Theater Review - Ragtime

Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty // Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
When: Saturday, January 9, 2010; 2pm
Where: Neil Simon Theater
What: Musical, Professional Theater, Broadway

My piano teacher introduced me to the music from this production in 1998 and I thought it had a really rich sound. Right from the get-go, I enjoyed playing the tunes and wanted to see it on Broadway. Well, it didn't happen back then. However, now that I've realized that NYC is only a short two-hour trip away, it was time to head up and see the revival of this musical. Unfortunately, this was the show's second to last day (it's closing already after a little under two months on Broadway) so it's not as if anyone can read this and go and see it. Nevertheless, should another revival of this hit the Great White Way (I don't get that nickname for Broadway), don't miss it. This is one heckuva moving production with some brilliant music.

Based off of the book by E.L. Doctorow that was on many "best of the century" lists back in 2000 (if I remember correctly), Ragtime weaves the tale of three very different families in 1904 New York -- we meet a prim and proper white family living in New Rochelle, NY, headed by Father and Mother; an immigrant father, Tateh, and his daughter traveling to NYC from Latvia; and a black couple from Harlem, ragtime piano player Coalhouse Walker, Jr., and his girlfriend Sarah. These three very distinct groups will intertwine in ways both good and bad, leading to a heartbreaking, yet inspiring conclusion that shows how far America has come as a country and how far we've yet to go.

The music here is what makes this thing shine. We get everything from ragtime to ballads to gospel, and while not every song is memorable, they all fit perfectly. I made a playlist on my iPod and noted that the songs for the production totaled 125 minutes. Considering that the play was only 2 hours, 25 minutes long, you can see that the music plays an integral part in the production.

Apparently, the original production of this musical was quite lavish and essentially bankrupted the producers. In this revival, the set is as bare as could be. We're treated to a three story iron structure that becomes an imaginary house in New Rochelle, a bar in Harlem, a boat sailing to the North Pole -- and through it all, the barrenness works, allowing us to focus on the story and the music, sparing us the spectacle. Fortunately, with such a great tale to tell and terrific music, we don't miss any of the frills.

Despite the lack of a set, the production didn't scrimp on the period costumes. Nor did they cut the cast (which was forty performers strong, all of whom were top notch...really too good to pick out my favorites) or the orchestra (which was 28 pieces big). When the whole cast was onstage singing (as in the one-minute clip from the spectacular opening number posted below which also shows off the set), I got chills.

As I mentioned above, this was the final weekend of the show and I think the audience had quite a few of the cast's family members in it. There was quite a bit of crying at the show's conclusion and the audience was rapturous in its applause. In fact, this was the first show I've seen where the audience applauded for nearly thirty seconds before the cast even started to perform. As soon as the curtain lifted, the audience wouldn't stop clapping. You could see the cast trying to hide their smiles (and hold back their tears) and they all really put on a great show.

So, after a decade of wanting to see this be performed, I was quite happy to travel to the Neil Simon theater and check it out. I certainly wasn't the least bit disappointed. It's a shame this is closing because I can't recommend it highly enough.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Academy Awards 2010 Wishlist

Marion Cotillard from Nine gets added to the Supporting Actress category.

Bright Star was deemed "Adapted Screenplay" so I've got to change its category which allows a previously dumped flick to re-enter the "Original Screenplay."

I've still got to see a couple awards contenders and will hopefully view A Single Man, Up in the Air, Invictus, and Crazy Heart within the next few weeks.

Best Picture
  • Avatar - A lackluster story is overshadowed by the sumptuously detailed visuals
  • Bright Star - Certainly the most romantic movie of the year thus far.
  • The Brothers Bloom - Quirky, but not emotionally detaching...a tough thing to do...
  • Drag Me to Hell - Best horror movie of the year...was amazingly adept at keeping me on the edge of my seat
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox - It's like a "regular" Wes Anderson film only animated and with talking animals...dry humor mixed with a simple storybook-like tale...
  • The Hurt Locker - The "smart man's" action flick
  • The Messenger - A look at an aspect of war that we don't get to see. This film certainly hit me the most emotionally of any film this year.
  • Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire - Some incredibly strong actresses make this depressing movie a treat to watch.
  • A Serious Man - Witty, yet serious -- a winning flick that I didn't want to end.
  • Surveillance - A rather straightforward police investigation that turns quite twisted.

Best Director
  • Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker - The movie is as good as it is because of her amazing direction of the action scenes. She doesn't shy away from the emotion, though, either.
  • James Cameron - Avatar - The mastermind behind one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen in a theater.
  • Joel and Ethan Coen - A Serious Man - They keep everything moving at such a brisk pace. The two hours just flew by effortlessly.
  • Oren Moverman - The Messenger - The camera is just there, in the midst of it all, never shying away from the pain.
  • Sam Raimi - Drag Me to Hell - The horror genre is one of the toughest to direct, I think...Raimi excelled here, mixing a perfect blend of comedy and horror with kick-ass opening and closing scenes. The last shot...love it!
Removed: 12/18/09 - Rian Johnson - The Brothers Bloom
Removed: 12/9/09 - Duncan Jones - Moon
Removed: 11/13/09 - Chan-wook Park - Thirst

Best Actor
  • Ben Foster - The Messenger - An angry guy, Foster's emotionally scarred Iraq War veteran puts up a wall to hide behind only to have it be broken down by the film's end.
  • Joaquin Phoenix - Two Lovers - His portrayal of a troubled suicidal guy was emotionally affecting and a strong anchor for this romance.
  • Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker - The emotional center of the movie. Underneath his gung-ho machismo lies a caring guy, but which one will win out?
  • Sam Rockwell - Moon - He is in nearly every scene and (SPOILER ALERT) he plays multiple roles each having their own personality.
  • Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man - His performance didn't feel like a performance at all. I was simply plopped down in a Midwest town right into this guy's life.
Removed: 12/9/09 - Ben Whishaw - Bright Star
Removed: 11/13/09 - Robin Williams - World's Greatest Dad
Missed the Cut: Viggo Mortensen (The Road)

Best Actress
  • Abbie Cornish - Bright Star - A lovely role full of vulnerability, with a great scene at the end.
  • Carey Mulligan - An Education - An effortless performance here...from facial reactions to the way she read her lines, this newcomer really shines.
  • Gabourey Sidibe - Precious - As the soft-spoken title character, she is a great counterbalance to the abrasive character Mo'Nique portrays.
  • Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia - The movie wasn't that great, and I'm usually not a fan of biopic mimicry, but Meryl is really good in this.
  • Tilda Swinton - Julia - She's in every single scene and fully embodies the character. Some amazing work here.
Removed: 12/18/09 - Elle Fanning - Phoebe in Wonderland

Best Supporting Actor
  • Brian Geraghty - The Hurt Locker - Although the story revolves around Jeremy Renner's character, Geraghty's fearful soldier is what drew me into the story (probably because I'm always on edge about unknown things myself). Loved this performance.
  • Woody Harrelson - The Messenger - His army guy's steadfast and strong attitude masks some survivor's guilt that comes to the forefront in the end.
  • Chris Messina - Away We Go - His role is really just a glorified cameo, but his ten minutes onscreen were what got to me the most in this movie. As a man whose wife is unable to have children, he made the most of his limited screen time and his small role is what I remember most about this simply average flick.
  • Brad Pitt - Inglourious Basterds - Pitt excels at comedy and he is amazingly good here.
  • Paul Schneider - Bright Star - A brilliantly mean role as John Keats' mentor/friend.
Removed: 12/9/09 - Alfred Molina - An Education
Removed: 11/13/09 - Dallas Roberts - Shrink
Removed: 11/4/09 - Daryl Sabara - World's Greatest Dad

Best Supporting Actress
  • NEW ADDITION - Marion Cotillard - Nine - She's definitely given the emotional numbers in this musical and proved that she's quite a good singer.
  • Mo'Nique - Precious - Just amazing. She deserves all the accolades she's receiving.
  • Zoë Saldana - Avatar - Even though it's just her "motion capture" onscreen, she crafted a character with both animal and human tendencies...a treat to watch.
  • Sofia Vassilieva - My Sister's Keeper - This unknown (to me) actress was damn good. The romance between her character and a fellow teen cancer patient felt so right on and real. Those scenes are some of my favorites this year.
  • Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom - Cute as a button, but she's essentially the driving force behind the movie and her quirkiness is winning.
Removed: 1/9/10 - Rinko Kikuchi - The Brothers Bloom
Removed: 12/18/09 (2) - Kate Del Castillo - Julia
Removed: 12/18/09 (1) - Vinessa Shaw - Two Lovers
Removed: 12/9/09 - Paulina Gaitan - Sin Nombre

Best Original Screenplay
  • RE-ENTERING - Rian Johnson - The Brothers Bloom - Quirky with a heart...not an easy task to tackle.
  • Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker - Gripping stuff...I do have an issue with a revenge subplot that's thrown in there, but overall this was impressive stuff.
  • Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman - The Messenger - The six or seven scenes featuring the varied reactions of family members who have lost loved ones would've been enough to put it on this list, but the rest of the tale is emotionally gripping as well.
  • Joel Coen, Ethan Coen - A Serious Man - Funny, serious, totally engrossing.
  • Jennifer Lynch, Kent Harper - Surveillance - They make what could've been a boring crime interrogation flick feel exciting. I wasn't bored for a minute in this flick.
Removed: 11/13/09 - Sam and Ivan Raimi - Drag Me to Hell
Removed: 11/4/09 -
Woody Allen - Whatever Works

Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Jane Campion - Bright Star - A little slow-moving, but a beautiful romance with well-developed characters.
  • Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach - Fantastic Mr. Fox - It's rather surprising that such a simple story can have so much humor and heart.
  • Christian Petzold - Jerichow - Based on The Postman Always Rings Twice (which I read this year), this is essentially a three character movie and Petzold lets us fully understand the motivations behind the trio...the last scene of the flick and the final word uttered were kind of devastating to me (that's a good thing in this case).
  • Erick Zonca and Aude Pi - Julia - I'll be honest...I'm unsure if this is an adapted screenplay or not. IMDB lists some writers with "(adaptation)" next to their name and I've read that it's loosely based on another film, so it's going in this category. These folks created an amazingly well-written title character.
  • NEW ADDITION - Geoffrey Fletcher - Precious - Unrelentingly difficult to watch, but there are some incredibly well written female roles here.
Removed: 1/9/10 - Nick Hornby - An Education

Best Cinematography
Removed: 11/29/09 -- Bruno Delbonnel - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Best Animated Feature

Best Documentary
  • The Cove - This documentary played out like an exciting action movie with a message.
  • Every Little Step - An edge-of-your seat tale about auditions for the revival of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line.
  • It Might Get Loud - Who knew learning about the intricacies of the electric guitar could be so fun?
  • Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation - A funny look at those wacky Australians and their (not-so-good) films in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
  • Outrage - An intriguing (although not necessarily unbiased) look at the outing of closeted gay politicians
Best Visual EffectsRemoved: 12/18/09 - The Hurt Locker

Friday, January 08, 2010

Movie Review - The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Starring Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Heath Ledger, Lily Cole, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Without a doubt, this is one of the weirdest flicks of the year. Sometimes weird works (see here). Sometimes weird doesn't (see here). Parnassus falls into the latter category and I can't get back the two hours I spent with it.

The huge problem with the movie is that absolutely nothing that matters happens during the first hour. We are welcomed into the world of Dr. Parnassus (Plummer), an old "shaman-esque" guy who travels around in a gypsy wagon with his fifteen year-old daughter Valentina (Cole), her friend Anton, and midget Percy (Troyer). Together, they put on shows and pull people off the streets to venture into the mystic mirror where, on the other side, everyone's imaginations can become a reality. When traveling one night, the group finds a man hanging from the underside of a London bridge. The man (Ledger) seems to have lost his memory, but they enlist him to help them in their little magical street shows.

Of course, none of that is the crux of the story...despite the fact that it takes up over sixty minutes. The real story comes in hour two where we discover that Dr. Parnassus has made a deal with the devil (a genuinely creepy Tom Waits), and unless Parnassus can capture five souls before the devil does, the devil will get to steal Parnassus' daughter for his own.

The devil scheme is the real story...everything else is superfluous and unnecessary. The whole storyline with Ledger is extraneous. And it starts off quite uncomfortably. I'm actually quite shocked that our first glimpse of Ledger is of him hanging himself. Unfortunately, once you get past the initial shock, you realize that it's a shame this will be known as Ledger's last role...because he's really not very good here. He must've known he was in a flop.

When Ledger steps into the mirror, his visage changes into that of fellow actors Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, all of whom do a much more entertaining job than Ledger. When that trio is onscreen, the film actually becomes a little more enjoyable. They're simply not there enough to make a dent in the boredom.

When Verne Troyer (of Austin Powers fame) is the most entertaining person onscreen for the majority of your film, your flick is in trouble (and, really, the only reason Troyer is a hoot is because they dress him in black-face and a wind-up monkey costume). This film is supposed to be fantastical and wondrous, but it's really just dreary and bleak.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Movie Review - Wonderful World (2010)

Wonderful World
Starring Matthew Broderick, Sanaa Lathan, and Michael K. Williams
Directed by Joshua Goldin

The first 2010 movie...and unfortunately, it's a bust. With the recently acquired HD tv, new channels are in abundance and this 2010 flick played on television tonight, two days before its limited release in theaters. Unfortunately, that's neither here nor there, because this flick was a disappointment.

Matthew Broderick is Ben Singer, a has-been kiddie folk singer who for the past eight years has been working as a proofreader, keeping his successful past a secret. Divorced, Ben lives in a run-down apartment with a Senegalese man named Ibu (Williams), who, like all people from foreign countries in low-budget dramas, dispenses infinite wisdom to his roommate. When Ibu goes into a diabetic coma, his sister visits the US and settles into Ben's apartment, sparking a romance between the lost soul Ben and the very soulful Khadi (Lathan). Who knows? Maybe Ben will realize that his current life of slouching and smoking pot isn't the Oprah "live-your-best-life" way.

In the end, this movie is just a bore. Broderick is his usual apathetically one-note self. He just drains life out of every scene, although his scenes with his young daughter showed some promise. Unfortunately, Michael K. Williams and Sanaa Lathan's characters just come off as too laughably New-Agey.

Here's hoping 2010 contains some better movies than this one.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Movie Review - Niagara (1953)

Starring Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten
Directed by Henry Hathaway

This is only the second Marilyn Monroe movie I've seen (Some Like It Hot being the first), and I must say she's one sexy lady...and she knew it (as did her director who told her to sashay every single time she walked). She exudes such an alluring quality that the viewer can't help but be fixated on her. Fortunately, that fixation doesn't detract from this film noir.

Monroe plays Rose Loomis who is married to the older George (Joseph Cotten) and they both realize that they are in a completely loveless relationship. A trip to a motel overlooking Niagara Falls doesn't do a thing except cause Rose to fall in love with another man whom she meets on the side. Instead of rekindling things, Rose plots to kill George with the assistance of her lover. As is the case in many noirs, things don't go according to plan.

There's really two storylines going on here -- one involving Monroe and Cotton and another involving another married couple that befriend Rose. Unfortunately, this other couple take up the bulk of the story, becoming the "detectives" in the tale and, truth be told, they're just not very exciting. The flick is fairly short (under 90 minutes), but it feels much longer because of this "other couple" -- it felt like it could've ended much before it actually did.

Whenever Monroe's on the screen, however, it's absolutely entrancing. I've heard criticism that Monroe wasn't a great actress, just a great sex symbol. Maybe that's true (as I've said, I haven't seen nearly enough of her films to make a judgment), but she was really pretty darn good in this. And as far as the story goes, it's a decent noir...just not a great one.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Movie Review - Brothers (2009)

Starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Carey Mulligan, Clifton Collins, Jr., and Bailee Madison
Directed by Jim Sheridan

There's something so emotionally gut-wrenching about watching the family members of a soldier being told that their courageous war hero has died in battle. As evidenced by the stellar film The Messenger earlier in 2009, the reactions of the family when they're told of the horrific news really seem to get to me. This holds true in Brothers, and although my fellow moviegoer (the poster known as "Anonymous" around these parts) will disagree entirely, I was quite moved by this surprising little movie. The emotional triangle that's crafted in this tale is entirely believable and certain scenes here packed quite a wallop.

Captain Sam Cahill (Maguire) has a loving family and as he heads off to Afghanistan for a second tour of duty, he knows that his wife, Grace (Portman), will hold down the fort with his two daughters (played by Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare in two of the most effective "young actor" roles this year). With his father (Sam Shepard) and mother-in-law (Winningham) helping out, Sam heads off to war feeling like things will be okay. The only wild card in the situation is his brother, Tommy (Gyllenhaal), who was released from prison a mere two days before he ships out. After serving his time for robbing a bank, Tommy's a loose cannon who appears to be resorting back to his old alcoholic ways.

After a few months in Afghanistan, Sam's helicopter is shot down and he is presumed dead. The devastating news hits each family member in a different way, but it causes Tommy to begin to realize his hurtful ways and he begins to help out Grace and the two young girls. Seeing a new side of Tommy and being an emotional wreck herself, Grace is quite befuddled, and, one night, Grace and Tommy kiss. Although they both realize they can't begin to consummate this relationship, they both know they have feelings towards one another. And those feelings only become more confusing when Sam, as it turns out, is discovered alive and returns home, emotionally ravaged by the heinous things he was forced to do as a prisoner of war.

I bought into this movie from the very beginning. I didn't feel a false note onscreen at all. True, Tobey Maguire isn't my favorite actor and there were moments where I felt he went a little overboard (he's "wide-eyed" way too much), but he also has an amazing scene at the end that simply riveted me. Gyllenhaal is fine and Portman continues to be a joy for me to watch. Supporting turns from Sam Shepard and Mare Winningham as the parents of Sam and Tommy were excellent, and the two young daughters of Sam and Grace were incredible. In many flicks, kids can either be too cloying or too smart for their age, but every scene the two girls were in here rang true. [Although, as I said in my last review of a Clifton Collins, Jr., movie, Mr. Collins is not a good actor despite his ubiquitousness this year.]

Brothers certainly takes its time, but it manages to explore every family members' emotions in a way that isn't often seen in movies. From the little girls to their older grandfather and everyone in between, all their feelings are unearthed. There's definitely something special going on here.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2010 Film-Related New Year's Resolutions

So, I didn't really make any film-related New Year's resolutions last year, but that damn Book-a-Week one really was a doozy. Now that that one's done [Reading? Who needs reading?], I can move on to some movie-centric resolutions that will not do a single thing in terms of bettering my mind.

  • Watch all of the films that have won Best Picture - I'll be honest. I haven't done the research here yet, so I'm unsure if all the 1920s-1930s films are available on dvd (or Blu-Ray...which, let me just say is amazing...more on that in the days ahead). Still, the goal is to watch every film that has taken home the "big prize" at the Oscars. I was looking over the list the other day and was genuinely surprised at how few I had seen. [Admittedly, I'm gonna cheat a tad...I watched Unforgiven last year and hated it, so I'll just repost that review...I also watched The Apartment last year and loved it, but, since I just recently watched it, I may not tackle that one again so soon.]
  • Watch every Disney animated film (Pixar included) - Time to look back on something that I truly love and find out whether it's worthy of the praise that I constantly attribute to it.
  • Continue to watch "classic films" on actual 35mm film - I had a fun time watching an old favorite of mine (Double Indemnity) and I found a new favorite in Chaplin's City Lights this past year as I watched them on film. Of course, this resolution is totally dependent on certain theater's schedules. So, I can't really be certain this one will be possible.
All right...time to start tackling these. Here's hoping I can stay awake during Gladiator (I've fallen asleep during it once already this evening...).

The Year in Review - Film

This post is really just a placeholder for the time being. Not being in NYC or LA, I certainly haven't seen all the buzz-worthy, end-of-the-year awards contenders yet. Fortunately, they're gradually making their way to Philly. So, by the time the Academy Awards roll around in March, I'll update this with a 2009 Year in Review, including my picks for the Oscar categories (which you can follow along with here), along with some other categories not recognized by Oscar (Best Ensemble, Best Body of Work, etc.).

Obviously, you can see my current Top Ten to the right-hand side of the blog -- an impressive crop of films, all of which I still can say I'm genuinely happy to have in a Top Ten list.

So, for now, the Year in Film recap will just have to wait a few more weeks.

The Year in Review - Live Events

I managed to go to quite a few concerts and theater performances in 2009 (and with a New Year's resolution with a friend to try and see all the live theater University of Delaware has to offer, this aspect of entertainment will likely continue into the new decade).


I enjoyed all of the above for various reasons, but the two that stand out the most are Paul McCartney (seriously, he's a frickin' legend) and The Swell Season (lead vocalist Glen Hansard was spectacular).

The Lion King (Broadway - musical)
Of Mice and Men (Professional @ UD - play)
Hay Fever (Professional @ UD - play)
The Little Mermaid (Broadway - musical)
I Am My Own Wife (Professional @ UD - play/one-man show)
Oleanna (Broadway - play/two-person show)
South Pacific (Broadway - musical)

Unlike the concerts, there were certainly some busts here. The Little Mermaid was the worst thing I've seen on Broadway, and although Oleanna boasted some good performances from Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, the play itself was incredibly weak. However, The Lion King is an amazing experience, South Pacific was filled with stellar vocalists, and I Am My Own Wife was surprisingly engaging (with a nifty set).

The Year in Review - Books

So, I achieved last year's New Year's resolution -- to read 52 books in 2009, one for each week. I'm definitely on a reading kick now and hopefully it will continue into 2010.

All the books that I read can be found via this link: Book a Week

Here's just a quick run-down of a few things "book-related" in 2009.

  • Favorite Author: John Steinbeck -- I hadn't read a book by him prior to this year, but I'm now thrilled to say that I have an actual "favorite author." Time to tackle Grapes of Wrath this year.
  • Favorite Nonfiction - The Great Deluge - Riveting stuff about Hurricane Katrina. I should really read more nonfiction...
  • Oldest Book - Pride and Prejudice - (Jane Austen) - First published in 1813
  • Most Recent Book - Handle with Care - (Jodi Piccoult) - Published in 2009
Top Ten Books of 2009
  1. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
  2. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
  3. Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton
  4. East of Eden - John Steinbeck
  5. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
  6. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
  7. The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain
  8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
  9. Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut
  10. The Alchemist - Paolo Coelho