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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,...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Movie Review - The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
Starring Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, and John Colicos
Directed by Bob Rafelson
**Currently streaming on Netflix** 

I've already reviewed this story twice -- once in book form here and once in a foreign re-telling of the tale here (which made my Top Movies of 2009 list).  The story itself is winning, but the execution in this 1981 version of the tale is a little long in the tooth, wearing out its welcome about two-thirds of the way through.

Frank Chambers (Nicholson) is a 1930s drifter, hitchhiking his way across the country.  One day, he stops at a California diner for a quick bite and becomes enthralled by the young woman running the kitchen.  Cora (Lange) is married to Nick Papdakis, a Greek immigrant who loves his wife, but also is incredibly overbearing.  It's obvious to Frank that Cora doesn't love Nick and they begin a torrid love affair, full of masochistic tendencies.  As their love blossoms, Cora and Frank plot to murder Nick so they can spend their life together.

When the film is focused on Frank, Cora, and Nick, it succeeds.  However, as the film trudges on, screenwriter David Mamet adds some superfluous characters that just drag the film down.  It's also a bit unfortunate that the plot to kill Nick seems to arise much too quickly.  A little more time in developing the love affair between Frank and Cora would have been welcome.

All that being said, I never thought I would say that Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange were sexy, but they really were in this flick.  Raw, sensual, and passionate, the love scenes between Frank and Cora were surprisingly hot...and performed with shockingly little nudity for the intensity on display.  It's a credit to Nicholson and Lange for making their roles entirely believable.  I never really felt that there was a false note on display (particularly from Jack).

Still, the better version of this film is in my previously reviewed Jerichow, but it's certainly not a waste of time.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movie Review - Uncertainty (2009)

Uncertainty (2009)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins
Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel
**Currently streaming on Netflix**

Gimmicky movies don't usually win me over.  Memento?  One of the most overrated films of the last decade.  Just because you twist time around doesn't automatically make your film a success.  (Same could be said for tv...Lost...bring it all together, I beg of you in these final four episodes.)

Uncertainty has a gimmick, too, and while the tactic itself works, there's not nearly enough story to warrant the film's nearly two hour length.

 As the film opens, young couple Kate and Bobby (Lynn Collins and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stand on the Brooklyn Bridge talking about making a decision.  We don't know what the decision concerns, but we know that they can't seem to come to a conclusion.  Bobby pulls out a coin, flips it, and the audience is taken to two different realities.

On the heads side, Kate and Bobby attend a July 4th barbecue at Kate's parents' house.  It's a simple drama about a Latino family and Kate's struggle to please her mother.

On the tails side, Kate and Bobby find a cell phone in a taxi cab.  Little do they know that the cell belongs to some type of mobster who will stop at nothing to get it back.

The film is fairly evenly split between both tales and the co-directors and co-writers do a very good job of switching back and forth between the two stories.  We're never away from one or the other for more than five minutes, but it never feels too short or too long.  Unfortunately, neither of these stories can maintain any sense of interest over the span of their respective 50 minutes.  The family side is pleasant, but there's not any conflict there to make it really be interesting.   The mobster side is certainly the more exciting of the two, but it left me wanting more -- there was a whole lot of running, but not much else.

Still, Gordon-Levitt was quite good, and he's certainly proving himself to be a respectable actor of my generation.  Lynn Collins doesn't fare as well, but I'm not sure if that's her fault or the silly lines she has to spout at times (although I just read that the cast improvised a lot, so maybe it lies more with her).  I will say that I honestly did believe that the two of these actors were a couple, so that's definitely in their favor.

For an indie flick with (one would assume) a low-budget, the film looks really good.  Kudos to the cinematographer Rain Li for making the flick look incredibly rich.  I was impressed across the board when it came to things like the score, costuming, and that little-recognized under-the-radar stuff.

But, in the end, if the story can't maintain itself, the film doesn't work.  Uncertainty is an interesting experiment, but disappointing in execution.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Movie Review - Breakdown (1997)

Breakdown (1997)
Starring Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, and Jack Noseworthy
Directed by Jonathan Mostow

This is one of those movies that's been on my list of things to watch for years upon years, but I had never gotten around to it until now (thanks to instant streaming on Netflix).  It's an effective little thriller that, while not bringing anything new to the table, certainly is successful at creating tension.

Kurt Russell plays Jeff Taylor who, along with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan), are traveling out to California in their new SUV.  Having just secured new jobs, they're leaving their old life in Massachusetts behind and heading out to the new unknown future (albeit with a little trepidation).  When their SUV breaks down on the side of the road in the middle of the Arizona desert, Amy hitches a ride with a friendly trucker (J.T. Walsh) who says he'll drop Amy off at a diner five miles down the road and let her call for a tow truck. 

Hours pass with no sign of a tow or Amy, and Jeff manages to get the SUV up and running again.  When he arrives at the diner, he's met with blank stares when he inquires about his wife.  Starting to get a bit scared, Jeff takes to the road to head to the nearest town.  Along the way, he spots the truck and driver who picked up Amy.  The only problem is that the trucker seems oblivious to the whole thing, saying to Jeff that he has no recollection of ever meeting him or his wife.  Jeff's frantic search for his wife ensues and leads him into some surprising circumstances.

All in all, the film does what it intends to do -- provide genuine excitement.  In its brisk 95-minute running time, director and co-writer Jonathan Mostow is able to keep the tension ever-rising, while keeping the somewhat silly story feeling believable. The film's last third is ludicrous, but Mostow does such a great job directing that the last twenty minutes had me on the edge-of-my-seat, including a fantastic final set piece.  Mostow is quite adept at filming action sequences, while at the same time creating some beautiful shots of with the lovely Arizona deserts in the background.

The only real issue with the film is the star.  Kurt Russell is kind of just an emotional vacuum on the screen.  I never really got any sense of any emotion from him at all in this thing.  Towards the end, he ratchets up the "GIVE ME BACK MY WIFE!" anger, but for the most part, he's much too bland.  Considering that he's onscreen in every single scene, it's a bit of a let-down.  Russell certainly isn't bad enough not to watch this, but if he could have brought more to the table, this flick would have been really stellar.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Friday, April 09, 2010

Movie Review - Triangle

Triangle (2009)
Starring Melissa George and Liam Hemsworth 
Directed by Christopher Smith

This is one of those movies that no one's heard of and while I really want to describe and discuss it doing so would completely ruin the plot and tone of the film.

In short, Jess (Melissa George) goes a boating trip with five other people that ends badly.  A terrible storm capsizes their yacht, but fortunately, a large cruise ship happens to come their way.  When they board the ship, the group finds the ship deserted, but also full of a few surprises.

This isn't a horror movie at all (no Ghost Ship here)...more of a psychological thriller.  In fact, for Lost fans, it is certainly a tad reminiscent of that whacked-out show (and that's already too much of a plot reveal).  Similar to the J.J. Abrams show, in the end, things may not make complete sense or be altogether "answered," but the ride is pretty fun thanks to both an inventive script by writer-director Christopher Smith and decent performances all around, including a difficult role undertaken by Melissa George (plus Miley Cyrus's current boyfriend Liam Hemsworth...cue screaming prepubescent girls across the country).

While not a perfect film, I enjoyed all 90 minutes and say that it's certainly worth a stream on Netflix.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Movie Review - C Me Dance (2009)

C Me Dance (2009)
Directed by Greg Robbins

I know this sounds weird, but it's as if God has chosen you.  And if that's the truth, this is gonna tick off the Devil.

Aaah...the joys of Christian filmmaking.  They preach to the choir utilizing the most unrealistic characters around spouting the worst dialog imaginable ("I just wanted to dance and hang out, Dad, and now...all this!").

 Listen, I go to church.  I consider myself a religious person, but I am absolutely not someone that espouses those beliefs to others.  I could never go out there and "convert" those to my beliefs, nor would I ever want to.  That's the complete opposite of a movie like C Me Dance, whose sole purpose is to spout the notion that if "You don't believe, your only purpose in life is to be saved."  On a personal level, I despise that notion.  Maybe it makes me a bad Catholic, but so be it.
On a cinematic level, everything about C Me Dance is heinous.  The acting is some of the worst I've seen in ages.  The dialog is, without a doubt, the worst of any film released in theaters in 2009.  The direction?  Please, I could do a better job than the auteur Greg Robbins.

Still, despite how awful it all is, the ridiculousness of the story made it insanely watchable.  Sheri is a high school ballet dancer who learns she has leukemia and is mere months away from dying.  Despite her initial anger, she soon realizes that, being the religious person that she is, she must determine what God has put her on Earth to do.  Come to find out, Sheri soon discovers that if she simply touches a non-believer, they'll get a vision of Jesus getting nailed to a cross and they'll immediately BELIEVE.  Simply priceless!  And she's not just going to stop at converting her friends.  She's going to go to tv execs and touch them, too, forcing them to give her tv time to spread her word about "being born again and filled with the spirit of God."  All that and I haven't even begun to discuss the fact that the Devil comes and tries to sabotage her whole plan!  But no worries, the Devil is "such a loser" that he can't stop her.

The question with these Christian themed movies is who are they preaching to?  This movie won't convert anyone.  Those that aren't "saved" won't watch this movie and do anything but laugh.  So, what's the point?  I'm all for Christian-themed tales, but being so overbearing and preachy hurts your cause in the end.

This movie is awful --there's not a good thing about it -- and the rating below is certainly warranted.  That being said, I enjoyed myself while watching it, and say that if you're in the mood for a good laugh, you should stream it on Netflix.

The RyMickey Rating: F

Monday, April 05, 2010

Movie Review - How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon 3D (2010)
Featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Kristen Wiig
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders

It was not my intention to see this film.  I came to theater thinking that I was going to see something else and when that fell through, this was the reluctant second option.  Perhaps the lowered expectations helped matters, but I truly enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon which I think is Dreamworks' best film to date.

It's not a surprise that the co-directors of this also directed the heartfelt Lilo and Stitch as Dragon is certainly the most emotionally impactful flick from the closest competitor of Disney/Pixar.  Teenage Viking Hicuup is ridiculed amongst his people because of his lack of dragon-fighting prowess.  One evening, when his village is being attacked by dragons, Hiccup takes his homemade weapon and manages to take down the elusive dragon, Night Fury.  No one believes young Hiccup, so the following day, he leaves the village to search for proof of his success and comes across the wounded dragon who has injured his tail, rendering him unable to fly.  Initially intent on killing the beast, Hiccup soon becomes friends with the dragon, eventually forming a friendship.

While the story may be rather simple, the animation is quite the opposite.  While the dragons themselves were fine (although nothing special), I was overly impressed that the filmmakers hired Roger Deakins, a cinematographer who has an incredible filmography (Revolutionary Road, Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking, and ten Coen brothers movies), to help with lighting and framing shots.  The wide shots and landscapes here were beautiful and lush and really added to the overall animated effect.  The depth that 3D provides was certainly used to great effect.

Voice acting was very good with Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler as, respectively, Hiccup's teacher and father faring the best.  Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, usually so annoying in "real life," proved to be quite humorous in animated form as Hiccup's classmates.  Unfortunately, Hiccup himself is where my biggest fault with the film lies.  Jay Baruchel has the "geeky" voice down to a tee, but I'm not sure it fit in with the Viking atmosphere.  Yes, Hiccup is the class clown/nerd, but it didn't quite work for me.  The character was not supposed to be annoying in the slightest, but at times I felt a tinge of aural irritation when he spoke.

Still, the film is Dreamworks' most touching to date.  A solid effort that makes me cringe that their next effort is Shrek 4.

The RyMickey Rating: B+