Featured Post

Letterboxd Reviews

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Theatre Review - She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer
Written by Oliver Goldsmith
Directed by Sanford Robbins and Stephen J. Pelinski
When: Saturday, February 20, 2010, 2pm
Where: Thompson Theater at the Rosell Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
What: Play, Professional Theater, Comedy

Oh, mistaken identity -- such a staple of plays written in the good old days (of 1773)!

I'm going to make this relatively short as, unfortunately, this play has closed already and why get you all excited to go see it when you can't. So, let's just go through a few bullet points:

  • Once again, the University of Delaware's professional theater troupe shows that they are a true gem in this small state. No joke, this is probably my favorite play that I've seen in the past couple of years (including anything I've seen play-wise in NYC). Seriously, for $20 (or an $8 student ticket...I'm a student still in my mind, okay?), you can go and see a quality stage production of something that you probably wouldn't even think about going to see normally. I know that a comedy set in 1773 England doesn't exactly sound like a blast, but the vigor of the company of actors really made this work.
  • What's neat about UD's Resident Ensemble Players is that for every play over the course of three years, the audience gets to see the same actors and actresses in each of their productions. It's kind of fun to see these folks switch from comedy to drama and back again.
  • Sets are superb. This was the first time I've seen the REP use multiple sets and an incredibly clever use of a trap door -- Let me just say that there was a well, people fell down it, and hilarity ensued (hey, it took place in 1773 -- people falling down wells was funny then!).
  • No expenses are spared on costuming...really great job again.
Anyway, no point in going into any more detail. But, once again, I heap praises on UD for their REP program. It's really opening my eyes up to playwrights that I would've never even thought of reading or seeing productions of their plays on stage.

[I realize completely that this is an incredibly poorly written post, but it is what it is.]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Movie Review - Adam (2009)

Starring Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne, Peter Gallagher, and Amy Irving
Directed by Max Mayer

This is a simple love story that if I really want to be critical isn't all that good. Somehow, though, this tale of two unlikely friends and lovers won me over. While it's nowhere near perfect, Adam is a pleasant 90 minutes with some nice performances by the two leads.

As the film opens, the title character's father has just died and the twenty-nine year-old Adam (Dancy) is left parentless. While that would certainly be a difficult situation for anyone, Adam has Asperger's Syndrome (a moderate, more functional form of autism) and he finds anything outside of his strict daily routine to be very uncomfortable. When the charming Beth (Byrne) moves into his building, the two strike up an unusual friendship. Despite his quirks, Beth begins to fall for Adam, much to the chagrin of her father (Gallagher).

While I'm sure people with Asperger's Syndrome can fall in love and get married (in fact, that's line from Beth in the film -- "People with Asperger's can fall in love, get married, and have kids" -- oh, did my eyes roll), it's a difficult task taken on by writer-director Max Mayer to make this odd couple relationship not seem fake and forced. In most respects, he succeeds. While the film takes a slightly wrong turn towards the end focusing on Beth's parents and their shaky relationship, when Mayer stays with Adam and Beth, one can't help but feel something for these characters.

That's a testament to Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy. Dancy's Adam could've been a caricature, but he crafts an understated performance that felt fully realized. The nervous nature on display always seemed authentic and never over-the-top. He's matched by the graceful Rose Byrne (rebounding from a godawful performance in Knowing) who essentially plays the role of the audience here, trying to get the bottom of all of Adam's issues. She questions him, pushing him to the limit of who he thinks he can be. She wants Adam to succeed and we want him to be successful, too. Plus, both Dancy and Byrne's respective English and (super-strong) Irish accents never once are on display.

I would completely understand if someone watched Adam and just rolled their eyes all the way through. To me, it worked as a quaint, simple romance with an ending that doesn't necessarily follow the typical Hollywood outline.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Theatre Review - The Pride

The Pride
Written by Alexi Kaye Cambell
Directed by Joe Mantello
When: Saturday, February 13, 2010, 2pm
Where: Louise Lortel Theatre
What: Drama, Off-Broadway

"Hey. Do you wanna go see this play with really cheap tickets that stars two British guys that I'm sure you've heard of?"

"Sure, I'll go."

"Yeah, I have no idea what the play's about, but the tickets are only $20, so let's go."

That was essentially the conversation that occurred between myself and a friend prior to deciding to head up to NYC to see this Off-Broadway show. After a bit of research (of course, after the tickets were purchased), I discovered that the play was a look at gay relationships in the 1950s and the aughts. I'm not gonna lie (and if this makes me a bad person, so be it), I was a little uncomfortable going into this one. It probably didn't help that sitting down in the theater, I was definitely in the minority in terms of sexual orientation (the leather sex shop next to the theater and the gay pride flag I saw coming out of the subway were a big clue).

But, once the play started, I was completely drawn into the rather interesting premise. The Pride essentially tells two different stories in two different time periods with two different sets of characters who happen to have the same name in both stories. In the 1950s, Philip (Hugh Dancy) and Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough) are a married couple. Sylvia is a failed actress who has turned to illustrating children's books and Oliver (Ben Whishaw) is her employer. Oliver comes over to the couple's home one evening and there's immediately an odd connection between the two men -- a connection that Philip wants to ignore but is intrigued by. While it's not even stated that Oliver is gay, his dialogues hoping for an age of equality allow the audience to infer such a thing.

Suddenly, and initially rather awkwardly, the play jumps to the present time in which Oliver (a different Oliver than in the 1950s setting) and Philip have recently broken up. Oliver can't seem to control his sexual urges, promiscuously cheating on Philip with unknown men. As the aughts setting opens, Oliver and Philip's relationship is kaput and mutual friend, Sylvia, a somewhat successful actress, tries to help each of them through their difficult time.

In the end, I'm not 100% sure what message the play is trying to get across other than the fact that times have changed. Whereas homosexuality was veiled in the 1950s, it's more "out in the open" today. That's not exactly a life changing revelation there. That being said, the time bouncing and unique use of the same character names allows us to really see a compare/contrast quality that playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell is putting on display.

By far, what makes this play shine is the great acting. Of the two main male characters, Ben Whishaw comes off a little better simply because his two Olivers are really two completely different people. He gets to play both the shy, timid type and the aggressive one. I liked Whishaw quite a bit in this year's Bright Star (had him on my Best Actor list for a while) and he was enthralling in this. Hugh Dancy (perhaps the better known of the two actors) was perfectly fine and it's not as if he was upstaged by Whishaw in the acting department, it's just that his Philips are a little underdeveloped in comparison.

The star of the show, however, was the lovely Andrea Riseborough (who, at times, was a spitting image of Kate Winslet). Her 1950s Sylvia has more emotional oomph -- there is a scene in which she discovers her husband's infidelity and confronts Oliver that was heartwrenching. Her 2000s Sylvia doesn't quite have the same impact, but she's the epitome of fun and provided quite a few laughs. I don't know who this lady is, but she was great to watch.

The play actually contains one more actor -- Adam James -- who plays three different distinct characters -- The Man (who, let's just say, has a thing for S&M), Peter (a straight editor of a men's magazine), and The Doctor (whose purpose is a little bit of a spoiler so I won't mention it here). He creates three distinct personalities for each of these characters, and actually provides quite an emotional moment when, as Peter, he reminisces about his late gay uncle.

Suffice it to say, The Pride is buoyed by four great actors. And considering that this is playwright Campbell's first play, there's definitely some promise on display. While it's doesn't quite work completely and, in the end, seems a little too obvious in terms of what it's trying to say, it works nonetheless and was worth the "uncomfortableness" to see my first Off-Broadway play.

Theatre Review - A View from the Bridge

A View from the Bridge
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Gregory Mosher
When: Saturday, February 13, 2010, 8pm
Where: Cort Theater
What: Drama, Professional Theater, Broadway

I'll readily admit that the only reason I went to see this is because Scarlett Johannson was in it (that, and the fact that balcony tickets were under $40). I really didn't know much about it and in the minimal "research" I did before going to see the play, I read that it was Arthur Miller's "modern" take on a Greek tragedy.

Complete with a Greek chorus of one (in this case the narrator is Alfieri, a lawyer that a character confides in), A View from the Bridge focuses on an Italian family of three in Brooklyn in the 1950s. Eddie Carbone (Liev Schreiber) and his wife Beatrice (Jessica Hecht -- best known to me as the woman who stole Ross's wife away from him on the tv show Friends) have been raising his niece Catherine (Johannson) after her parents died. Now, Catherine is older and is itching to get out of the house. However, Eddie doesn't want her to leave this secure environment.

When two of Beatrice's Italian cousins illegally sneak into the country, Eddie agrees to allow them to stay in their house. He doesn't plan on the fact that Catherine will fall in love with one of them -- the young Rodolpho. As Catherine and Rodolpho begin to plan for a wedding, Eddie's true feelings begin to surface -- and perhaps an underlying incestuous feeling is the reason why Eddie so greatly wishes his niece not to leave the household. This being somewhat reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, I don't need to tell you that things don't exactly end happily.

Unfortunately, I felt that the play itself fell a little flat. Perhaps it could've been the balcony seating, but I never really felt engaged with the story. The use of a narrator who spoke directly to the audience struck me as a bit odd and off-putting (although it certainly keeps with the Greek characteristics). The narrator just seemed completely unnecessary -- cut out the character and the flow would've been much smoother. Maybe it's just that I watched the play at the end of a long day, but I found the whole thing to be a tad dry. I didn't really see any deep underlying message here and it didn't stimulate my mind in the slightest.

Certainly, my issues with the play don't have a thing to do with the actors. I thought Scarlett Johannson did herself plenty proud. She pulled out the New Yawk accent I've seen her tackle in various SNL clips and she nails it. Her Catherine is a difficult role (torn between her family and her new beau) and perhaps she's a tad too old to playing a naive eighteen year-old, but I genuinely forgot that I was watching a "movie star." Jessica Hecht is also quite good. Apparently, she's done quite a bit of stage work and she was incredibly comfortable up there. She throws out a guttural scream towards the end of the play that kind of shocked me to my core.

Liev Schreiber is the star, though. From the reviews I've read of this play after I returned home, he's being called one of the best theater actors of this generation and I could certainly see why. While he was maybe too young to playing the worn-down Eddie, Schreiber exudes a believable gruffness that succeeds at transporting the audience back to the 1950s with his spoken words alone.

Just a side note: on the technical side, I enjoyed the revolving set (although I'm certain this has been done before, I think this is the first time I've seen such a set) and I thought that the "street" set was beautifully simplistic, making great use of the stage, horizontally and vertically.

So, unfortunately, there's really nothing wrong with this production except the story itself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Movie Review - A Single Man (2009)

A Single Man
Starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore
Directed by Tom Ford

Style over substance is what A Single Man is. First-time writer-director Tom Ford (best known, apparently, for being a fashion designer) certainly has crafted a beautiful-looking film and it can't be denied that Ford's directorial choices are intriguing (although sometimes "pretentious" would be a better adjective), but overall, it's these artistic choices that remove the audience from emotional connection with the film's title character.

The year is 1962 and George (Firth) is a gay man whose mate of sixteen years, Jim (Matthew Goode), has died in a car crash. On a fateful day in February, a morose George has decided that his life isn't worth living without Jim and he sets out to end it all. George, a college English professor in California, goes through the day, cognizant that it will be his last, attempting to make a lasting impression on his students, providing nice words to his colleagues, and meeting up with his best friend, fellow Brit, and former lover, the sassy and often-intoxicated Charley (Moore).

Knowing that George is wanting to commit suicide, you'd think that as we follow this guy around there'd be some emotional connection with his character. Colin Firth definitely does his best at trying to convey his character's sadness, but I never once felt any type of attachment with George. I can't help but think that a huge reason for this is because Tom Ford focuses more on aesthetics than story. There are some surprisingly "talky" moments that instead of revealing layers of George, pull the viewer out of the film.

As I said, it's no fault of Firth who is a joy to watch (and being "a joy to watch" in such a depressing role is task worthy of praise). Firth is never bad in anything and he's definitely at the top of his game here. Julianne Moore is also charming as George's best friend, Charley. She's the quintessential 60s British rich floozy, the comic relief (who also harbors some despondency), and a welcome respite from the dreariness of George.

There's much to like in A Single Man -- Firth, Moore, Ford's interesting palette of colors and intriguing directorial choices. But, in the end, if you don't have a story, you don't have a movie. Visuals are important with film being (obviously) a visual medium, but this film has this overarching sense of "importance" that its lukewarm story cannot support.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Monday, February 15, 2010

Movie Review - The Burning Plain (2009)

The Burning Plain
Starring Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, and Jennifer Lawrence
Directed by Guillermo Arriaga

I must say that I wasn't expecting much when I popped in the Netflix streaming disc in preparation for watching The Burning Plain. It got trashed by the critics when it came out in the early fall and all its Oscar hopes (and there was a tiny bit of buzz around it) were dashed rather quickly. I'm not quite sure what the problem was with this flick. Director and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga crafts a tale that contains multiple storylines that seemingly have nothing in common, but intersect in quite an interesting way.

Much like Arriaga's previous screenwriting ventures 21 Grams and Babel, this film contains three different tales. Charlize Theron is the lead in the first storyline. When the film opens, Theron's Sylvia is depressed for some reason, moving from one man to the next, sleeping with them in an unsuccessful attempt to find happiness. The second tale focuses on Gina (Basinger) who is a married mother of four, but finds herself in a torrid affair with a married man. Story #3 focuses on Gina's daughter, Mariana (Lawrence). This segment obviously takes place during a different time as Gina and her lover have died when the mobile home they were in exploded while they were in the midst of having sex (that certainly sounds silly, but it's not presented in a laughable way at all). Somehow these three storylines will intersect and when they do, I found it quite satisfying.

While Arriaga certainly jumps around in time, the story he's trying to tell is strong enough to make it not feel as if it's a gimmick. I was a fan of Arriaga's Babel and 21 Grams (both of which I should give another look) and in this -- his directorial debut -- I think he has quite an eye for visuals. I guess I can say that I'm a fan of this screenwriter/filmmaker and I'd probably go see something simply because he's involved.

Theron is possibly the best I've seen her here. While I liked her Oscar-winning role in Monster, her subdued performance in this is nice to watch. Young Jennifer Lawrence is new to the acting game and I was won over by her. She possibly has the most difficult role acting-wise of the three "lead" ladies and she certainly succeeds in it. Unfortunately, Basinger is the weak link. I feel like I've seen her play this role before -- a soft-spoken, quiet woman whose voice shakes whenever she gets nervous. It's that "voice shaking" that feels like a staple of Basinger's repertoire...I'm not a fan.

Still, I was quite impressed with this overlooked and under-appreciated 2009 film. Had I seen this when it came out in October, it certainly would've been on the Top Ten List for a bit. As it stands now, it certainly makes it into the Top 20. Those of you with streaming Netflix should check this one out.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Movie Review - Right at Your Door (2006)

Right at Your Door
Starring Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack
Directed by Chris Gorak

Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006, Right at Your Door is a shockingly gripping thriller about the aftermath of a dirty bomb going off in Los Angeles and how it affects a newly married couple. Obviously made with a low budget, the director (who is also the writer) weaves a tale that could certainly be called a "horror" movie, but gains much of its tension from the loving relationship at the center of the film.

Brad and Lexi (Cochrane and McCormack) have just moved into a new house on the outskirts of LA. One day, while Lexi is on her way to work, multiple bombs explode across the city. When Brad hears the news on the radio, he jumps in his car to find her (in a wonderfully edited scene that, while lengthy, had me on the edge of my seat), but soon returns home without success. Told to seal the house from the outside, Brad reluctantly decides to follow the instructions of the media. When Lexi pops up on the doorstep, their relationship is tested as Brad refuses to let the "exposed" Lexi into the "clean, safe" house.

The script forces the film to rely on its two leads and Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack are stellar. I knew McCormack (who currently stars in In Plain Sight on USA) from my favorite tv show in the mid-90s Murder One (I will admit to a tv crush on her) and she plays the "infected" one with gusto. However, Cochrane is the one who really shines. His Brad is the audience -- he questions what he should do, just as we are questioning what we would do if placed in the same situation. He runs the gamut of emotions, all convincingly. Kudos to both.

The film isn't perfect -- even though it's only a little over an hour-and-a-half, it could have been more effective had it been trimmed down by twenty minutes as there are points that drag on a tad too long. Still, for what this film is -- a low-budget indie -- I found it incredibly convincing and well worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Movie Review - Girl 27 (2007)

Girl 27
Directed by David Stenn

This was obviously a low-budget documentary...and, in the end, that lack of funds hurts it, oftentimes overshadowing the interesting story.

In 1937, there was a big party thrown in California by MGM Studios for many of its salesmen. Nearly 100 girls were invited to the party, told that it was an acting job. Acting, however, wasn't really in the cards. Nineteen year-old MGM extra Patricia Douglas was one of those girls and towards the end of the party, she was dragged to a parked car and raped by one of the partygoers. Unwilling to be a victim, Douglas pressed charges against MGM and her rapist, but little did Douglas know that MGM executives had huge control over both the town and the politicians running it, and Louis B. Mayer (an 'M' in MGM) would do whatever he could to squash Douglas and make her appear as slutty and immoral as possible.

As much as Girl 27 is about Patricia Douglas's story, it's also a story of filmmaker David Stenn's quest to get the reclusive Douglas to talk to him and tell her side of the story. And that's really where this film falters. Stenn tells us the whole tale, then talks about his quest to find Douglas. Once he finds her and convinces her to talk, Douglas simply repeats everything that Stenn's already told us. Her telling of the story is a let-down because we already know every single thing that happened. Add to that, Stenn intersperses very odd old-school Hollywood clips that don't really have anything to do with the film (Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges are examples). It seemed like he said, "Hey, I can get the rights to this...let me throw it in here."

So, while there's an incredibly interesting old-Hollywood tale here, it's unfortunately not presented in a manner that's very compelling.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Friday, February 12, 2010

Movie Review - Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a Train
Starring Farley Granger, Ruth Roman, Robert Walker, Leo G. Carroll, and Patricia Hitchcock
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
I'd rather watch lesser Hitchcock than no Hitchcock any day. There's something about his choice of stories that always win me over. The story in Strangers on a Train is excellent, but it's a shame that good ole Hitch can't seem to ratchet up the tension over the film's run.

Guy Haines (Granger) is a tennis pro who is traveling by train to his hometown to complete a divorce with his soon-to-be ex-wife. On the train, he meets Bruno Anthony (Walker) who conjures up a scheme for the perfect murder -- he could kill Guy's wife, while Guy could kill Bruno's overbearing father. Guy thinks Bruno's simply an odd duck, but when Guy's wife turns up dead and the psychotic Bruno begins stalking the tennis pro, Guy realizes he may be in trouble.

While Robert Walker is riveting as the nasty Bruno, Granger's Guy is a limp noodle, and that's part of the reason the film falls a tad flat. Additionally, with the exception of two key scenes, I never really felt any sense of tension. Hitchcock (and the screenwriters) just can't maintain a palpable sense of excitement. As someone pointed out to me, there's a scene that's played as quite a pivotal moment -- a character attempting to quickly retrieve something he's lost -- that, while dramatically tense during the moment, holds absolutely no purpose to the story. It's there simply to "create excitement" without being the least bit necessary to the plot.

Still, it's worth watching the film simply for Robert Walker's performance. While I didn't love the book either (which I read as part of my Book-a-Week quest last year), I enjoyed it a little more than this flick.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Saturday, February 06, 2010

(TV) Movie Review - Wakko's Wish (1999)

Wakko's Wish
Starring The Animaniacs and "Their Friends"

I watched Animaniacs all the time when I'd come home from school in the early-to-mid '90s. It was a cartoon that was clever, smart, and felt perfectly acceptable for a 13-year-old kid to watch (granted, my age has never stopped me from enjoying animation). For those unfamiliar, the cartoon followed three siblings -- Yakko, Wakko, and Dot -- who were created by Warner Brothers animators in the 1930s. The creatures were a little too crazy for their own good, so Warner Bros. management locked them in a water tower on the studio lot...until one day they escaped. The show followed these three through little cartoons along with a whole cavalcade of other side characters (including mice Pinky and the Brain who would later get their own spin-off).

The show was known for being very pop-culture oriented which I usually despise in cartoons, but the references were not necessarily to "current events" culture. Rather, they'd throw out Citizen Kane and Vertigo jokes...not necessarily stuff young kids would understand. The problem with the movie Wakko's Wish is that a lot of those references aren't there (although they kind of become a little more prevalent towards the end) and what worked in short ten to thirty minute segments just doesn't translate to an 80-minute film. The film relies much too heavily on music -- I'd say nearly half of the film is told in song which is cute for a bit, but then it gets a tad old.

Still, all in all, the film is cute and it was fun to revisit this cartoon again. Now it's time to see if the actual show is available on dvd.

The RyMickey Rating: 2/5

NOTE: I realize I didn't write a summary of the movie...Wakko wishes on a wishing star which falls to the earth. In order to get his wish, he must find the star and be the first to touch it. A Wacky Races-type competition ensues to get to the star first with all the characters from the tv show taking part.

Movie Review - The Neverending Story (1984)

The Neverending Story
Directed by Wolfgang Peterson

The director of Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, and The Perfect Storm got his start in English-language films with this incredibly odd and somewhat trippy children's film from the '80s.

I certainly remember watching this movie in 2nd or 3rd grade -- I don't know what those teachers were thinking showing this flick to us -- in this day and age, they'd never show this...that's what's wrong with kids these days -- they're forced to watch shit like Alvin and the Chipmunks instead of this. This movie has giant sphinx nipples, for Pete's sake! Giant sphinx nipples!

A young boy named Bastian is regularly getting beat up on his way to school. One day, he slips into a book store to evade his pursuers, and he steals a book titled "The Neverending Story." He takes the book to school and hides in the attic (because all schools have scary run-down attics in them) for the day and reads through the "epic" adventure story. In the tale, the land of Fantasia is being overrun by an evil known as "The Nothing" that is destroying the land. That's pretty much all I know because the rest of the story is a convoluted mess. I guess the gist of it is that the princess of the land is sick and dying. The king calls for a warrior to come and fight The Nothing which will end the princess's illness. The warrior that shows up is a young boy named Atreyu who is laughed at upon his arrival, but is the kingdom's only hope. Atreyu travels across Fantasia meeting funny creatures along the way.

Seriously, there's some really weird-ass stuff in this flick. Oddly enough, it's all really intriguing in a way. In fact, there are a few really interesting scenes -- one of which where Atreyu and his horse travel through the Swamps of Sorrow is surprisingly emotionally powerful. And, for some reason, the ending still is quite eerie to me.

There's no denying that there's some nostalgia creeping into my rating for this movie. I recognize that a kid watching this today wouldn't give a damn about this flick in the slightest -- the special effects (which, at the time, made this movie one of the most expensive ever made outside of the US) are laughable as is the silly synthesizer soundtrack...and let's not get started on the child actors. Still, I can't deny that I truly enjoyed watching this film again for the first time in probably 20 years...even if the enjoyment stemmed from the Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque "talking back to the screen" that occurred while I was watching it with my brother.

And it's not every day that you get to see giant sphinx nipples...

The RyMickey Rating: C+

BONUS: Here's the kick-ass music video of the awesome theme song!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Movie Review - Scream (1996)

Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, and Drew Barrymore
Directed by Wes Craven

It had been a long time since I had seen Scream and it was one of those movies that I really enjoyed as a teenager but felt that there was absolutely no way it would hold up today. Fortunately, I was wrong. It's just as funny, clever, and tense as I remember it, and it moves along at such a brisk pace that its nearly two hour running time feels much less than that.

Sidney Prescott's (Campbell) mother was brutally raped and murdered a year ago and testimony from Sidney put the supposed killer in jail. However, a brutal slaying of two teens makes some believe that Sidney may have convicted the wrong man and the killer is back again.

This has been said many times before, but the thing that makes this movie work is the simple fact that it knows it's a horror movie. It doesn't try to push the clichés aside, but instead it milks them for all they're worth. It pokes fun at the genre, while at the same time, treating it with utmost respect. The twelve-minute opening sequence with Drew Barrymore is a perfect example. That's a genius bit of filmmaking there. It's so tense and so taut that even though I knew what was going to happen this time around, I was still on the edge of my seat. It's really a brilliant horror movie scene.

Similarly, the film's climactic set piece of the aftermath of a house party (which I would say goes on for a surprisingly long time) doesn't wear out its welcome. The twists keep coming and they're supported by both clever writing and some surprisingly good acting. I never would've thought I could write that Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy were any good in anything, but they really show that given the right lines, they can really deliver. Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich are fine, but a little too mopey for my tastes. Fortunately, they're balanced out by the quirky David Arquette as a small-town sheriff's deputy and Courtney Cox (not yet an Arquette) as hard-ass reporter Gale Weathers.

If memory serves me right, Screams 2 and 3 don't work nearly as well, but perhaps I'll give them another shot in the near future. If you haven't seen this one in a while, it's worth a glance again.

Side Note: Finally...a movie streaming on Netflix that was actually recommendable!

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Movie Review - Severance (2007)

Starring British People and the Blond Chick from "The Faculty"
Directed by Christopher Smith

I'm loving the Netflix instant queue via the Playstation 3, but so far I'm not sure I've actually watched a decent movie on it. Things that have been wallowing in my normal queue for years are now being watched "on demand" (essentially) and I'm realizing that subconsciously there was a really good reason they never made it to the top of the snail mail queue.

Severance is a slasher pic that follows a lot of the typical horror movie clichés. Seven members of a British company that specializes in outsourcing weapons to countries embark on a "team building" weekend in the hills of Hungary to become better acquainted with each other. On their way to the fancy lodge, their bus is stopped by a fallen tree in the roadway. While they decide to walk to the lodge, instead of following the main road and simply climbing over the fallen tree, they walk down a side road because it might be quicker. And right from the get-go, the movie is flawed. Granted, I'm not expecting high-brow stuff in horror movies, but I'd like some semblance of intelligence. Why travel down the side road? There's no point. And when you get to the end of the road and see a shitty-looking cabin, why would you think it's the correct one when the road you're on hasn't merged with any main road yet?

In addition to the flaws, none of the characters were the least bit interesting. I'll give all the actors credit as they do make the most of their one-note parts, but not a single person is fleshed out. And, unfortunately, the kills just aren't all that exciting. Let's not even get started on the ridiculousness of the villain here. Just a bummer all around.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Movie Review - Food, Inc. (2009)

Food, Inc.
Directed by Robert Kenner

It's not that the topics raised in Food, Inc., aren't interesting. There's certainly something to be said concerning our political landscape when corporations that have the big dough can lobby the government to get whatever they want. The unfortunate problem with this movie is that it tries to tackle too many topics at once, giving us quick 10-minute snippets about various American food concerns, rather than an in-depth look at perhaps two or three hot button issues.

Similar to the somewhat slight film, I'm not going to go into a substantial review here, but instead simply say that while the film looks good, it's a shame that it doesn't actually throw a few more punches or dig a little deeper. Throwaway bits with a poor Latino family being unable to buy "healthy" food because of the expense just come off as silly and make the other significant topics (like a mother's struggle to enact tougher laws after her son died of supposed E. coli food poisoning) seem undeservedly lighter-weight than they should.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Movie Review - Downloading Nancy (2009)

Downloading Nancy
Starring Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewall, and Amy Brenneman
Directed by Johan Renck

Based on an apparently true story, I was actually looking forward to seeing this flick (I'm fairly certain I posted the trailer on the blog a while back). It's not that I even had high expectations, but this movie is just miserable, lacking any real sense of emotion and failing to draw me in to the odd, quirky story.

Nancy (Bello) hates her life. Her obsessive-compulsive husband (Sewell) won't sleep with her so she turned to the internet for sexual gratification...that is when she's not slitting her wrists in an attempt to find love for herself from her self-inflicted pain. When the film opens, Nancy is running away from her husband, fleeing to meet Louis (Patric), her internet lover. As it is soon discovered, Louis isn't only her lover -- he is also going to be her killer. Nancy wants to end her pain and suffering and Louis is going to be the one to do that. However, neither Louis nor Nancy planned on falling in love with one another.

The premise here is interesting, but the execution is awful. In an attempt, I suppose, to look "realistic," everything here appears to be lit in some horrid florescent manner, leading to a washed-out and grainy look that gets tiresome after about ten minutes. Additionally, the director feels that odd cuts and unnecessary quick repetitions are "cool," but really they're just covering up how morbid the story is.

The actors don't really come off as winners here. Rufus Sewell as Nancy's husband is so gratingly boring and one-note that I longed for his scenes to end about twenty seconds into them. Maria Bello and Jason Patric play fine enough off of each other, but their odd sadomasochistic sexual deviancy just comes off as incredibly uncomfortable (and uneasiness is not a reason to inherently dislike a movie -- see Antichrist as an example). It's not Bello and Patric's fault that the script fails them by not giving them any type of emotional connection -- the reason why they fall in love (beyond their mutual sexual quirks) is not explained at all, and, seeing as how this is a huge aspect of the plot, the movie cannot succeed.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Monday, February 01, 2010

Quick Academy Awards Predictions

UPDATED - 2/2/10 @ 9am
Quick run-down of the way I think the Academy's gonna go tomorrow morning in the top categories...Not my picks (that'll come later in the month)...simply prognostications...

Best Picture
(500) Days of Summer
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
Up in the Air

Alternates: A Serious Man, Star Trek, Fantastic Mr. Fox
My Thoughts: It was a toss-up for me as to whether District 9, (500) Days, or A Serious Man would grab what I'd consider to be the last two spots, but unfortunately there hasn't been any buzz for the wonderful Coen brothers film.
RESULTS: 8/10 - Blind Side and A Serious Man in, (500) Days and Invictus (yeah!) out. A big (undeserved) surprise as The Blind Side is a good film, but not anything more than a really great tv movie. This definitely shows that the Academy likes the flick, though, and is a boost for Bullock in the Bullock-Streep smackdown that's going to occur over the next month.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Alternate: Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon)
My Thoughts: These have been the top five contenders at nearly every awards show this year. If there's any type of shake-up, I think Lee Daniels is out, but I'm not quite sure if anyone's seen The White Ribbon (I know I haven't).

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Alternates: Viggo Mortensen (The Road), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)
My Thoughts: It's a shame that one of the best performances of the year -- that of Mr. Stuhlbarg -- has not garnered any respect this awards season.

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Alternate: Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
My Thoughts: I would be thrilled if Tilda Swinton swooped in for the little seen Julia, but the film has not been on the radar all season despite Swinton being nominated for a few meaningless online rewards.

Best Supporting Actor
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Alternates: Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles), Alfred Molina (An Education)
My Thoughts: The most up in the air category. Harrelson and Waltz are the only two set in stone to me. The awards circuit has been all over the place here. Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker is even a possibility here.
RESULTS: 5/5 - I almost took Tucci off and replaced him with Molina, thinking Tucci's vote would be split between Julia & Julia and The Lovely Bones...

Best Supporting Actress
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Alternates: Samantha Morton (The Messenger), Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds)
My Thoughts: Cotillard's the wild card here since Nine has been perceived (unfairly) as a dud. Laurent hasn't really been nominated for a thing this year (Diane Kruger of the same film has been), but her role is certainly showy.
RESULTS: 3/5 - Penelope Cruz in over Marion Cotillard (they were pushing Cotillard for lead, but I thought maybe better minds would've prevailed), and I honestly completly forgot about Maggie Gylenhaal for Crazy Heart.

Best Original Screenplay
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Alternate: A Serious Man
My Thoughts: I'd love for Avatar to be out of the running here...but I don't think there's a ton of love behind A Serious Man (I hope I'm wrong).
RESULTS: 3/5 - A Serious Man makes the cut as does The Messenger (yeah!). Even though I didn't choose them, those additions make me very happy.

Best Adapted Screenplay
District 9
An Education
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Up in the Air
Alternate: Crazy Heart, Bright Star
My Thoughts: I feel like this category is pretty darn weak. District 9 and Mr. Fox are definite longshots.
RESULTS: 4/5 - A surprising nomination for the underrated and underseen In the Loop which I thought was fantastic (not as Fantastic as the Fox, but still very good.)

Overall, these are some decent results. A few surprises (Blind Side being the biggie) made it worth waking up early. It's honestly a decent 10-pic line-up -- with the exception of Up and Inglourious Basterds (the former stills falls into my "recommended for some" category and the latter does as well, but will be getting a 2nd look in the near future), I'm pleased with the list.