Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie Review - Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland 3D (2010)
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, and Mia Wasikowska
Directed by Tim Burton

With a complete lack of whimsy and a rather heavy-handed joyless approach, Tim Burton's re-telling of Alice in Wonderland is just a dull bore.   Thirteen years ago, young Alice "fell down the rabbit hole" and entered the zany Wonderland.  Now, as a nineteen-year-old girl on the verge of womanhood, Alice (a bland Mia Wasikowska) happens to fall down the hole again.  While in Wonderland, she is told by all that she's the land's savior -- for, you see, the evil Queen of Hearts (played with gusto by Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over everything, forcing her sister, The White Queen (Hathaway) to be exiled, and causing some to live in a state of fear.

Yes, the whole premise of any Alice in Wonderland story hinges on "the odd," but it also always has a sense of childhood playfulness.  Everything in Burton's film feels so heavy-handed.  With the exception of the humorously nasty Bonham Carter, every other character feels like they were told to be as blasé as possible.  Mia Wasikowska didn't even seem like she wanted to be there -- not an ounce of emotion.  And the less said about Anne Hathaway the better.

That being said, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum is Johnny Depp who was given free reign to do whatever he damn well pleased and his Mad Hatter is a wreck.  Yes, I get that Depp was playing him as über-crazy and drugged-out, but when your character is so utterly incoherent, it just seems like painful overacting.  And I realize it's just a minor point, but let's not even discuss the Mad Hatter's "dance" at the end of the film (which they had been teasing throughout the movie) -- what an awful scene.

Granted, I've never been a big fan of any Alice in Wonderland tale, but everything about Burton's version seemed so utterly dark and joyless.  If you wanted to go that route, go all-out depressing (or even veer into the horror genre or something).  As it stands now, Burton's version is a dud.

The RyMickey Rating: D

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Theatre Review - Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman
Theatre Review
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Ethan McSweeney
When: Thursday, March 25, 7:30pm
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
What: Play, Professional Theatre, Drama

I'm like a broken record when it comes to these productions from the Resident Ensemble Players at University of Delaware.  Professional actors doing stellar work with stellar staging and stellar directing.

Once again, as in the past when I discuss these REP productions, Death of a Salesman has already ended, so there's not a whole lot of reason for me to push people to see this.  Nevertheless, a few things to point out here:
  • As the play hit intermission, I couldn't help but feel that it wasn't resonating with me at all.  It felt very dated and completely irrelevant (similar to my feelings toward Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge which I saw in NYC this year with Scarlett Johannson and Liev Schrieber).  While it still didn't necessarily hit a nerve with me personally (not that all theater has to), when that second act rolled around...Wow...just wow...Talk about powerful stuff.  Miller managed to raise the tension to a boiling point, but it never felt forced or fake.  The final thirty minutes were powerfully devastating.
  • And part of the reason for that success is the REP's acting ensemble who, once again, shines. 
    Stephen Pelinski as Willy Loman, Kathleen Pirkl Tague as his wife Linda, and Michael Gotch as their son Biff all proved their talent yet again.  Tague, in particular, was wonderful...her final scenes were gutwrenching.
  • Once again, nifty set design as is always the case in these productions.
Like I said, no need to dwell on it since it's impossible to see it, but it was a great night at the theater and I'm eagerly looking forward to the REP's next production, Dancing at Lughnasa, in a few weeks.

Movie Review - The Eclipse

The Eclipse (2010)
Starring Ciarán Hinds, Iben Hjejle, and Aidan Quinn
Directed by Conor McPherson

(An early review -- this flick hits Philly theaters April 9)

The Eclipse is a well-made film that doesn't quite know what kind of movie it wants to be.

Does it want to be a depressing drama detailing Irishman Michael Farr's (Hinds) life after his wife has just passed away?  A peek at a man as he tries to be the best father he can to his teenage daughter and tween son?

Or is it trying to be a romance concerning a somewhat haughty horror novelist named Nicholas (Quinn) and his attempts to rekindle a relationship with fellow writer Lena as they meet up at an Irish town's famous book festival?

Or is trying to be a straight-up horror movie?  In the midst of the two melancholy tales above, there are genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments...I did it twice and I'm not so easy to be startled in films.

The reason for that jumpiness, though, is because the film doesn't know what it wants to be.  There's nothing in the film that sets it up as a horror flick.  Yes, Lena is an author that specializes in "the beyond" and she meets up with Michael and they begin to discuss his dead wife whom he believes he has seen walking around his home.  That's the extent of the "supernatural" nature of the film.  Then, out of the blue, come these genuine scares.

Part of me wants to give writer-director Conor McPherson credit for that.  He takes this simple, rather elegant, film and throws in the gothic plot elements.  I mean, it succeeded, right, since it made me jump?  The other part of me says that he could have just made this really beautiful film about some aspect of "the afterlife" and left it at that.  I'm not sure which I would have preferred if I'm being honest, but something about the juxtapositions of tone just didn't sit right with me.

All that being said, The Eclipse is not a bad film by any means.  It's beautifully shot and Ciarán Hinds is pretty darn good as the grieving husband.  It's just a tad unfortunate that I couldn't get completely onboard with the director's odd vision in terms of the film's varying moods.

The RyMickey Rating: B-
The Ghost Writer (2010)
starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, and Olivia Williams
Directed by Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski may not be the most well-regarded man...and rightly so.  But in terms of his films, I think he is quite the talented director.  Rosemary's Baby is one of my favorite films of all time.

Unfortunately, The Ghost Writer just can't compare with that near masterpiece, and Polanski as the co-screenwriter is partly to blame.  This film had some of the most ridiculous dialog I've heard in quite a while.  When you have, for all intents and purposes, a mature thriller that is aimed at intelligent adults, you need to have dialog that will not cause me to laugh out loud.  Unfortunately, The Ghost Writer is sometimes hilariously inept at showcasing believable conversations.
Ewan McGregor is The Ghost (his character is never named), a writer called in to help pen the memoirs of British politician Adam Lang (Brosnan) after Lang's first ghost writer mysteriously turns up dead, washed up along the shores in a small New England town.  As is the case in most political thrillers, things are not as they seem and twists and turns are inevitable.

McGregor and Brosnan are quite good in the flick, but their female counterparts, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Williams don't step up to the plate, with Cattrall sporting one of the silliest off-and-on British accents I've heard in my many years of movie-watching and Williams being an emotional blank slate.  Plus, while the plot itself was interesting enough and Polanski did a more than adequate job of filming it (there were a couple of really neat shots), in the end the film just didn't excite me one bit.  It was all just kinda blah.  And when blah's the best you can do, it doesn't incite much emotion from me one way or the other.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Films of 2009

I saw 200 movies in 2009.  Here's the Top 20...and the longest post ever on the blog...(Although this'll be my first time using that annoying blog staple "the click here for more" button)

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

And the Best Movies of 2009 Are...

If the screengrab above doesn't tell you what you're in for with Crank: High Voltage, I don't know what will.   I mean, sure, it's not as odd as the line "I'm gonna go floss my teeth with some pubes" which is uttered during the film's quick running time, but a guy with first-degree burns essentially throwing out a "F@$% You" to the paying movie-going audience is something you don't see every day in cinema.

Certainly, Crank: High Voltage is no Citizen Kane, but it's one hell of an enjoyable ride.  It's an equal opportunity offender and it doesn't hold back a thing.  At moments, that "balls-to-the-wall" attitude is a detriment (the film does go over the top a few too many times), but, for the most part, you're in for a crazy funhouse of a film.

The rest of the Top 20 is after the jump...(seriously...I spent some time on this, so click on that darn tiny "read more" link below [can't figure out a way to make it bolder] and read on...and feel free to leave a comment!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Director

Best Director 2009

#8 - Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds 
#7 - Rian Johnson - The Brothers Bloom 
#6 - Duncan Jones - Moon

And the Final Five...

#5 - Jane Campion - Bright Star
The film looks beautiful and Campion gets some great performances from her cast.

#4 - Oren Moverman - The Messenger
The camera is just the midst of it all...never shying away or hiding from the emotional devastation on display.

#3 - James Cameron - Avatar
Gotta give credit where credit is due.  He's kind of a genius when it comes to mass-market appeal.

#2 - Joel and Ethan Coen - A Serious Man
The opposite of Cameron, these guys aren't around for mass-market appeal.  This film's on the risky side, but the payoff is stellar.

#1 - Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Tense.  'Nuff said.

The RyMickey Awards - Best Actor

There really were a plethora of great performances by leading actors this year.  This category actually has the most contenders, as you'll see.  The runner-up section is overflowing and choosing the top five was very difficult.

Best Actor 2009


#12 - Robin Williams - World's Greatest Dad
His character takes an emotional journey in this movie and I believed every second of it.

#11 - Viggo Mortensen - The Road
 The love and devotion for his son certainly come through.

 #10 - Ben Foster - The Messenger
 Certainly helping scenes earn their gravitas is the fantastic work of Ben Foster.

#9 - Ben Whishaw - Bright Star

Ben Whishaw as Keats is...intelligent, but doubtful of his talent. Romantic, but uncertain why anyone could love him. Wistful and dreamy, but grounded. He's a man full of contradictory emotions and Whishaw is, for lack of a better word, elegant here. 

#8 - Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Renner is fantastic. His James appears to be the strong one in the unit, but he's addicted to the adrenaline rush of diffusing bombs.

#7 - George Clooney - Up in the Air
...He crafts an effortless heartfelt performance... 

#6 - Colin Firth - A Single Man
Firth 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.

 And the Top Five...

#5 - Tom Hardy - Bronson
Funny, frightening, and, at times, difficult to watch.  Still, I couldn't turn away from Tom Hardy's portrayal of this evil prisoner.  The fact that this is based on a true story makes it even more staggering.

#4 - Sam Rockwell - Moon
SPOILER ALERT HERE:  This is Rockwell's film.  He's in every scene.  He carries the whole thing.  He gets the opportunity to play multiple parts, each with a unique personality.  

#3 - Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
The film is rather by-the-book, but Bridges elevates the whole thing to another level.  It's not that you haven't seen the "drunken, washed-up singer" role before, but Bridges ups the ante.

#2 - Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
Totally deserving of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but this film is really about Hans Landa.  Sure, the title wants you to think it's about the Basterds, but the movie begins and ends with a focus on Landa, so "supporting" placement is tough to swallow.  Waltz is the lead actor in this and he's a damn fine one, too.

#1 - Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man
Comedic.  Dramatic.  Michael Stuhlbarg does it all. It's as if the Coen Brothers just pulled this Jewish guy off the street (from the 1960s, of course) and put him in the movie.  There's a "natural" quality to Stuhlbarg -- never once does it feel like you're watching anything other than a "real" person on the screen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Actress

Honestly, this was a really weak year for the Best Actress category.  While the top three below were excellent, here's hoping 2010 is a little stronger here.

Best Actress 2010

Runners up:
#7 - Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
 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).
#6 - Elle Fanning - Phoebe in Wonderland
 The film belongs to the young Elle Fanning and there is something so beautiful and simplistic about how she plays the difficult role of Phoebe. The role could easily have veered towards over-the-top and showy, but Fanning is something special. From the opening scenes, she conveys so much with a simple raise of a lip or eyebrow.

And the Top Five...

#5 - Carey Mulligan - An Education
 A simple, effortless performance from this newcomer.  The movie hasn't aged as well in my mind, but Mulligan still stands out.

#4 - Abbie Cornish - Bright Star
Ms. Cornish's young Fanny is vulnerable, yet unafraid to love.  While she knows the heartbreak that may come from a meaningful relationship, she is willing to be hurt in order to experience love.  This film is a beautiful romance and Ms. Cornish is partly responsible for that.

#3 - Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia
I'm not overly fond of actors taking upon roles for mere impersonation purposes.  While Meryl is certainly embodying Julia Child onscreen, there's a certain amount of "Streep-ness" there, too.  Say what you will about the actress, but there's little doubt in my mind that she's the best working actress today.  Nice to see her excelling at comedy in her later years.

 When I first saw the movie, I could really focus on was Mo'Nique's showy performance (a RyMickey Award winner).  As time has passed, I have grown to greatly appreciate the debut performance of Ms. Sidibe.  She is the complete opposite of Mo'nique -- sullen, depressed, and understated.  Not once did it feel like I was watching an "actor."

#1 - Tilda Swinton - Julia
 How this role failed to get any traction this awards season is beyond me.  Tilda Swinton is a tour de force here.  She's onscreen for every scene in the movie's 150 minutes and she runs the gamut of emotions as the title character.  From a nutty alcoholic to a caring mother to a conniving blackmailer, she's able to run the gamut in this little seen flick.  This one needs to be in everyone's Netflix queue today.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actor

This year's Academy Award winner for Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz, may not be seen here, but that doesn't mean he won't show up in another category (hint, hint).

Best Supporting Actor 2009


#8 - Daryl Sabara - World's Greatest Dad
...I remember liking this kid in Spy Kids, but he took what could've been (and was) an outrageous character and made him watchable (and this character could've so easily veered into the "too overboard" category).

#7 - Dallas Roberts - Shrink
...The star of the show was Dallas Roberts. His neurotic Patrick was a hoot and this (to me anyway) unknown actor stole the show from the talented Spacey.

#6 - Alfred Molina - An Education
...Jenny's father played brilliantly by Alfred Molina...

And the Top Five are...

#5 - Brian Geraghty - The Hurt Locker
In a film with many impressive supporting roles, Brian Geraghty's emotionally unstable Eldridge is my favorite.  Quite a range -- from courageous to utterly frightened -- on display. 

#4 - Chris Messina - Away We Go
The role amounts to nothing more than a cameo, but Chris Messina's bit role is the thing that resonated the most in this unfortunately "too-hip-for-its-own-good" flick.  On screen for all of ten minutes, his character goes through an emotional arc that hit me.  One of the best characters I saw all last year.

#3 - Paul Schneider - Bright Star
Brilliantly mean roles are difficult to play, but as the mentor to poet John Keats, Schneider exudes an air of superiority (however unjustly so) that was a treat to watch. 

#2 - Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
No one's more surprised by me that I came away from this flick loving Woody Harrelson in it.  His character's steadfast, gruff attitude masks some survivor's guilt that surfaces at the film's end. 

#1 - Brad Pitt - Inglourious Basterds
It's sometimes nice to see a bonafide genuine Hollywood "STAR" turn in a role that is a complete departure from the norm for them.  Pitt does that here as the hellbent-on-Nazi-revenge Aldo Raine.  Pitt has a knack for comedy and it's something he should pursue more often.  It's not often that you can say you enjoyed every single minute an actor was onscreen in a movie, but I can say that with Pitt and Inglourious -- his character was given a great "voice" by Quentin Tarantino and Pitt executed it to its full potential.  Truly a joy to watch.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actress

The supporting actress category was much more well-rounded and substantial than the upcoming Best Actress category which was rather weak in 2009.


#10 - Vinessa Shaw - Two Lovers
...Vinessa Shaw is compelling here. She's not given anything out of the ordinary to do -- she's kind of stuck playing "the good girl" -- but she felt so real to me...

 #9 - Kate Del Castillo - Julia
...A great performance from Kate del Castillo as the seriously deranged Elena -- a desperate mother clinging onto unlikely hopes and dreams.

 #8 - Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom
...Rachel Weisz is cute as a button and was incredibly funny -- something I've never seen her attempt before.

#7 - Rinko Kikuchi - The Brothers Bloom
...Rinko Kikuchi plays Bang Bang with gusto, creating the funniest character in the film despite the fact that she only spoke three words. 

#6 - Marion Cotillard - Nine
...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.

 And the Top Five...

#5 - Zoë Saldana - Avatar
Unlike the Academy, I'm willing to honor motion-capture performances.  Ms. Saldana may not have physically been on the screen, but her characteristics certainly embodied Neytiri, creating a much richer character than I expected to see.

#4 - Jennifer Lawrence - The Burning Plain
Young and new to the acting game, Lawrence gives a riveting performance here as a teen forced to play the mother to her younger siblings.  I look forward to seeing this lady in the near future.

#3 - Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga could be my favorite actress working today.  Her facial reactions, the simple ways she chooses to move/hold her arms, her delivery of lines -- I'm fascinated by it all.  She exudes intelligence (which works for this character) and that is incredibly sexy to me. 

#2 - Sofia Vassilieva - My Sister's Keeper
 Any other year and this actress whom I had never heard of would have walked away with the coveted RyMickey Award.  Vassilieva, as a young terminal cancer patient, is emotionally devastating here...and that's a good thing.  She is helped by the script which gives her the most powerful moments in the movie (including a touching romance with a fellow cancer patient), but, in the end, it is Vassilieva who deserves the credit.

#1 - Mo'Nique - Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire
 So much has already been said about Mo'Nique's transformation in this movie, and as much as I'd like to disagree with all her award recognition, she gave the most riveting performance I've seen in a very long time.  It's not that she's simply a comedian in a dramatic role; it's that she completely embodies the role of the hideously abusive Mary.  By the end, when Mary begins to realize her, it's powerhouse acting at its finest.

The RyMickey Awards - Best Original Screenplay

The originals fared a little better than the adapted screenplays this year. The top two below really stood out to me as special.

Best Original Screenplay 2009

#8 - Drag Me to Hell - Sam and Ivan Raimi
#7 - Whatever Works - Woody Allen
#6 - The Brothers Bloom - Rian Johnson

#5 - The Hurt Locker - Mark Boal
Gripping stuff. Yes, I have an issue with the revenge subplot thrown in there, but overall, it's an impressive screenplay.

#4 - Surveillance - Jennifer Lynch and Kent Harper
I recognize that it's complete fluff and perhaps I was just a fool for not seeing what was coming, but this was anything but a boring interrogation flick with some clever turns along the way.

#3 - The Burning Plain - Guillermo Arriaga
Three strong stories that intertwine in some surprisingly emotional ways.

#2 - The Messenger - Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman
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 wrenching as well.

#1 - A Serious Man - Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Funny and serious. While some may call it oddly paced, I find it completely engrossing. It takes courage to end a film the way the Brothers Coen did here...and to end it in such a way in successful fashion is a rare feat.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Adapted Screenplay

This was a really weak year in the adapted screenplay department. I was lucky to find five plus a runner-up. By no means are the screenplays below bad by any means, but the original screenplays won out this year.

Best Adapted Screenplay 2009

#6 - Julia

#5 - Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire - Geoffrey Fletcher
Unrelenting in the hardships it keeps piling on the title character, but the script allows for some stellar female performances to shine.

#4 - Bright Star - Jane Campion
While it's a tad slow-moving, it's by far the best romance of 2009.

#3 - Up in the Air - Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner
Clever, witty, and touching. If only Anna Kendrick's character had a little more emotional oomph, this would be even better.

#2 - Jerichow - Christian Petzold
Essentially a three-character piece, this suspenseful foreign pic has three fully realized characters, allowing the viewer to completely understand each of their motivations. Plus the last scene is stunning.

#1 - Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
An incredibly simple tale that's perfect for kids and adults alike. Funny and amusing. Roald Dahl would be incredibly proud.

Movie Review - Up in the Air (2009)

Just watched this flick again and it held up surprisingly well. After I wrote this original review, I began to think Anna Kendrick was overrated by most -- there's simply not a lot there character-wise in order to garner such praise. Well, I still think that's the case, but it's not really a detriment to the flick as the movie still works as a whole thanks in large part to Clooney and Farmiga's performances.

Original Post: 1/20/10
Up in the Air
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick
Directed by Jason Reitman

This late in the Oscar season with the Golden Globes already given out and the Screen Actors Guild Awards in three days it's impossible to avoid "the buzz." The raves for certain films just keep coming and Up in the Air is one of those flicks. I'll be honest -- in this film's first ten minutes or so, I was firmly in the camp that this was going to be the overrated critics' darling of the year. However, after the slow start, I was won over by three spectacular performances, a witty script, and one of the most poignantly contemplative films of the decade. [I don't even know if "poignantly contemplative" makes sense...but it sounds important.]

Movie star George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a man who is hired by major companies across the country in order to fire their employees. He loves his job and takes great pride in his work, but it leaves him without any emotional attachments to anyone. That is until he meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) who, like him, is a bigwig corporate type who also happens to travel cross country. They meet in a hotel bar one evening and, after a night of fooling around, decide to meet each other at their various layovers in cities.

At the same time, Ryan is dealing with being saddled with showing a newbie the ins and outs of his job. Twenty-three year-old Natalie (Twilight's Anna Kendrick) has crafted a new system of firing employees via a computer screen which would save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on travel expenses. Ryan, however, thinks Natalie's idea is too impersonal -- they're performing a task that causes severe life changes in people and digitalizing the job seems wrong to him. Much to his surprise, Ryan begins to bond with the young woman who provides quite a bit of insight into what Ryan is truly missing and longing for in his life.

I wasn't expecting nearly as much humor as there was in this movie. There were many "laugh out loud" moments which were balanced by some truly touching and insightful thoughts on life. While it could've screamed "SELF HELP" (which I imagine it may to some), there were some shockingly astute revelations doled out by screenwriters Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner.

George Clooney is a good actor and I rarely dislike him in things. However, he tends to always just be "George Clooney" to me...I never really get a sense of character from a lot of his roles. Well, the same thing could be said here. Still, he crafts an effortless heartfelt performance that is a joy to watch onscreen. True, I may not ever be able to not see "George Clooney" on the big screen, but, in the end, is it really his fault he's such a big star?

Vera Farmiga is probably my favorite actress working today. After her stellar turns in this year's Orphan, last year's Nothing But the Truth ( this one!), and 2006's The Departed, she exudes an intelligence and authenticity that isn't typically present in actresses. Her Alex is sexy and funny, and it's obvious why Clooney's Ryan would fall for her. Young Anna Kendrick actually has the most polarizing role in that she essentially starts the movie as an icy bitch, but manages to win Ryan and the audience over by the film's conclusion. Kendrick was, by far, the best part of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and hopefully this role opens some doors for her beyond the tween market.

So, as much as I'd not like to jump on the bandwagon, Up in the Air is an impressive film, that, while not the absolute best of season, deserves a chunk of the recognition that's been bestowed upon it.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Movie Review - Bronson (2009)

Starring Tom Hardy
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Interesting. Weird. Unique.

Three words I'd use to describe the British film Bronson. Based on the true story of Britain's most notorious prisoner, Michael Gordon Peterson, director Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted one oddball flick that contains a powerful performance from actor Tom Hardy.

At twentysomething, Michael Peterson robs a post office and is sent to prison for seven years. While there, Peterson displays many violent tendencies (which cause his sentence to be extended) and he spends much of his time in solitary confinement. He moves in and out of various prisons (and mental institutions) and soon crafts an alter ego for himself -- that of famous American tough guy Charles Bronson. It's not that Peterson is Bronson, it's just that he wants to embody the persona that the movie star carries.

In and of itself, Bronson (the film) is essentially a prison tale about a really rough guy. What sets the film apart is director Refn's choices. Bronson (the character) often talks directly to the camera. Refn utilizes some incredibly odd musical cues. But, most uniquely, Refn often has Bronson appearing on an empty stage, clothed in ever-changing attire, covered in a variety of make-up (from a clown to a mime to a woman), standing in front of an audience of elite British folk telling his tale. Explaining the set-up doesn't really do the mise-en-scene justice, but it's evident that Refn is setting Peterson/Bronson up as a "star." At the start of the film, Peterson states that all he ever wanted in life was "to be known for be famous." Putting him front and center on a stage, while an obvious ploy, works immeasurably.

While Refn's directorial choices are certainly admirable, the real star of the show is Tom Hardy. His Bronson is funny and frightening, often within seconds of each other. The character is difficult to look at sometimes because there truly is a sense of "evil" up on the screen, which is all the more scary because this loose cannon is a real person. It's no wonder the real Bronson has spent over 30 of his 34 years in prison in solitary confinement. This is one nasty guy and Tom Hardy is pretty amazing at portraying him.

All that being said, the film falters a bit in the middle when Bronson is released from prison for the first (and only) time. The 69 days he spends outside of his cell felt a tad drawn out, but that's a minor quibble.

The way this flick is shot, it certainly won't appeal to all. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some couldn't make it past the first ten minutes. However, it worked quite well for me, and, if you're up for it, it's streaming on Netflix as of this posting.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Documentary

Any other year and I would say that I have no right to have an opinion on documentaries. However, I saw a whopping eighteen documentaries last year which is probably more than I've seen in my entire life. Five of them I'd consider good and they're listed below (links will take you to my original reviews).

Best Documentary 2009

#5 - Outrage
Although it tries to be even-handed, the skew in this doc is obviously towards the liberal side (contrary to the far superior conservative mindset). But I will say that the topic it raises -- whether sexually closeted government officials should be "outed" if they vote against gay policies -- was certainly intriguing.

#4 - It Might Get Loud
I would've never guessed I would've enjoyed this look at groundbreaking guitarists Jimmy Page (Led Zepplin), The Edge (u2), and Jack White (The White Stripes), but looking at their love for their six-stringed instruments was kind of inspiring in a way.

#3 - Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!
With the exception of Crank: High Voltage, this may have been the most fun film I saw in 2009. Even if you don't know a thing about Australian cinema (I sure as hell didn't), this flick is a blast and I can't recommend it highly enough.

#2 - Every Little Step
Yes, this doc is essentially a reality show, but this look at the revival of Broadway's A Chorus Line was surprisingly insightful by providing a brief history of the musical itself and shockingly nail-biting by keeping me on the edge of my seat wondering which young aspiring actors and actresses were going to get the parts.

#1 - The Cove
I hate to just go with the flow since this won the Academy Award, but The Cove is gripping cinema. Told like a scene right out of a flick like Ocean's 11, this movie is a real-life caper. Plus, it's telling what it believes to be a really important tale, and while it didn't cause me to pick up a phone to save the dolphins (I know, I'm a callous individual), I can totally see how it would inspire people to do such a thing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The RyMickey Awards - Best Cinematography

Cinematography deals with lighting and frame composition and there were several beautiful films this year. Here's the list of winners (admittedly, I didn't see The White Ribbon which was highly touted for its cinematography).

Best Cinematography 2009


#7 - Avatar - Mauro Fiore
#6 - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Bruno Delbonnel

#5 - Where the Wild Things Are - Lance Acord
Who would've thunk every known shade of brown would be so pretty?

#4 - Thirst - Chung-hoon Chung
About halfway through the film, the story shifts to take place mostly indoors in a creepy apartment where the lighting takes center stage.

#3 - The Hurt Locker - Barry Ackroyd
Stark and washed-out isn't an easy thing to make appealing to the eye, but Ackroyd succeeds.

#2 - Antichrist - Timothy Dod Mantle
An absolutely stunning black-and-white film filled with disturbing images.

#1 - Bright Star - Grieg Fraser
Simply lovely. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing this on Blu-Ray.