Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Review - Klute (1971)

Klute (1971)
Starring Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There is a genuine 60s-70s vibe in Klute (which is to be expected, I guess, considering it was made in 1971) that never once feels dated and that's not an easy task in films made in this time period.  Credit is certainly due to director Alan J. Pakula who has crafted a beautiful-looking film with some visually engaging images and some incredibly powerful simplistic long takes that allow his leading actress to really come off well.

And it's that Academy Award-winning turn of Jane Fonda has call girl Bree that really carries this piece.  Her Bree is troubled, longing to get out of prostitution, but unable to make it as an actress or model.  Going back to the world's oldest profession is the easy thing to do, but it leaves her utterly confused and expressing her thoughts weekly to a psychologist.

Also upsetting to Bree is the fact that she's seemingly being stalked by an unknown man.  Perhaps this stalker is connected to the missing person case that private detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is trying to solve.  One of his best friends, Tom, apparently wrote an erotic note to Bree after a torrid night with her, but Bree can't recall the man.  Using Bree's connections, Klute tries to find out the clues to his best friend's disappearance, all the while finding himself drawn to the seductive Bree.

The film drags on a tiny bit and ultimately isn't as thrilling as I thought it was going to be, but in the end, Klute is much more of a character study than a mystery.  Fonda and Sutherland are pretty great here, with Fonda particularly impressive.  The scenes in her psychologist's office could have been throwaway scenes, but Fonda makes them surprisingly gripping.  Add that to the fact that director Pakula keeps the camera in one spot for many of Fonda's scenes, allowing long takes to show her emotional ups and downs and it's easy to see why she won the Oscar.  There's a crying scene that Fonda has at the end that was one of the most raw I've ever seen.

Take a look at this one if anything I wrote above catches your's a nice piece of '70s era filmmaking.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Movie Review - Damage (1992)

Damage (1992)
Starring Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche, Miranda Richardson, Rupert Graves, and Leslie Caron
Directed by Louis Malle
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

This is another one of those flicks that's been on my list to see for quite a while.  One of those movies that looked much too risqué to even think about asking the parents to rent from Blockbuster as a teenager, but still looking like it had a sense of class and maturity that drew me in even as a young(er) film aficionado.  In the end, Damage is a fine film, but one that takes an interminable amount of time to get where it wants to go.

Although Damage wants you to think it's much deeper than this, it's basically the story of a British politician who has a torrid affair with a younger woman behind his wife's back.  The kicker is that the mistress is also his son's fiancé.  That's all you need to know because that's all that there is here.  Stretched out to two hours, the film fills its time with a bunch of talking between the guilt-stricken though sexually awakened Stephen (played quite well by Jeremy Irons) and the serious and emotionally damaged Anna (played unappealingly like a stone wall by Juliette Binoche).  A little talking would've gone a long way here.

Still, there is a considerable amount to like here and it revolves around Irons in particular.  His character's relationship with both his son Martyn (Rupert Graves) and his wife (Miranda Richardson) is an intriguing aspect of the film and, in the final act, makes the moments of boredom for the preceding 90 minutes almost worthwhile.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Movie Review - Knight and Day (2010)

Knight and Day (2010)
Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, and Paul Dano
Directed by James Mangold

There's no denying that Knight and Day is a ridiculous espionage comedy-thriller.  It's one of those movies where the bad guys can't make a shot, but the good guys always get their man.  And I doubt I'm ruining anything for anyone by saying that our two big name movie stars share some on-screen flirtation.  There's really nothing that you haven't seen before...and seen done better.

Yet, for some reason, Knight and Day kind of works.  And, honestly, it's because of Tom Cruise.  There's a smoothness and ease that he brings to his secret agent Roy Miller that pushes the movie to just a little above average.  June thinks Roy is winning from the get-go when they meet on flight to Boston, but June soon discovers that Roy's not your run-of-the-mill guy and is (rightly so) frightened by his career.   After the plane that they're on crashes in a wheat field, Roy (with the requisite Tom Cruisian charm) warns June that she unfortunately is now a part of this spy life whether she likes it or not.  June refuses to believe that Roy's correct, but she soon discovers that she may need him to survive.

Despite the fact that I can list many things that aren't great in the film (a lack of sexual chemistry between Diaz and Cruise, some awful special effects, a very disappointing and mildly "cop-outtish" ending), I still enjoyed the sheer fun of the film.  Cruise is funny and his star wattage is in full force here.  Diaz is perfectly fine, and while there's nothing exciting or special that she brings to the table, she certainly holds her own in this flick.  Co-stars Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis bring their considerable acting chops to the film as well.

Listen, if you come out of this saying that the film is awful, I couldn't really fight you on it.   There are infinitely better adventure-romance films -- seriously, everyone should check out Romancing the Stone which is the epitome of the genre, to me.  Nonetheless, if you're looking for some mildly diverting fun, you could do much worse than Knight and Day.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Movie Review - The Stepfather (2009)

The Stepfather (2009)
Starring Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, and Amber Heard
Directed by Nelson McCormick 

I have to wonder if this movie were simply made-for-tv and then distributed in multiplexes nationwide to satisfy some pre-existing contract.  It stars Dylan Walsh who's best known for Nip/Tuck; Sela Ward whom I've had a crush on since she was on tv's Once and Again (yes, I know she's much too old for me [although nowadays that may not be so true], but I really think she's hot); Penn Badgley who is apparently on Gossip Girl which I've never even seen a second of; and Amber Heard who I only know because she showed her boobs a lot in a movie no one saw (and no one should see) called The Informers.  All of these no-names come together for a remake of a film from the 1980s which starred Lost's John Locke himself Terry O'Quinn as the titular character.

All those tv stars, plus the fact that there's no absolutely cursing, no nudity, and very little blood makes me feel like this would fit right in on television.  And really, it would've made an ok lowered-expectation tv flick, but as an actual film, it's pretty darn awful.

The actors all actually are fairly decent and it's kind of nice to see at least half of this film revolve around the adults instead of the teenagers, but the plot about a seemingly perfect man (Walsh) who comes into a divorced woman's (Ward) life only to find out he may not be who he seems has been done tens of times before and done better.  There's no suspense because we the viewers know that this guy is awful (we're shown him walking away from his previous murder victims in the opening scene) and because we can pinpoint immediately which side characters are gonna bite the dust by the time the movie ends.  The murder scenes are just horribly plotted -- in one scene, the two sons are playing a video game loudly in their bedroom with the door open, but fail to hear breaking glass and a murder taking place a floor below them -- it was all just laughable.

My seemingly "go-to" flicks now are horror films after the great one-two punch of Drag Me to Hell and Orphan last year.  So, I find myself gravitating toward these silly things on Netflix's Instant Watch.  Unfortunately, most of them just aren't any good.  And this is no exception.

The RyMickey Rating: D 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Movie Review - Valentine's Day (2010)

Valentine's Day (2010)
Starring Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Hector Elizondo, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Shirley Maclaine, Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift
Directed by Garry Marshall 

It's not as if ensemble movies about love can't work.  One of my favorite movies of all time is Love, Actually, and that flick is all about an ensemble's quest for love.  However, with last year's He's Just Not That Into You and this year's Valentine's Day, the ensemble romantic comedy appears to be dead in the water.  While this 2010 flick fares a little better than its 2009 counterpart, one would think that with all the star power on display here, someone could craft a decent script.

I'm not even going to go into a summary here because (as is evidenced by the incredibly long "starring" list up above) there's just too many tangential stories to discuss.  And therein lies the problem.  Too many people with too many unnecessary tales.  Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner's high school romance -- I'd nix 'em since we've already got one youthful tale starring the charming Emma Roberts, but they're appealing to the youth.  Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper's meeting on a plane -- totally pointless, but Roberts is a huge star and Cooper's star wattage is on the rise.  Shirley Maclaine and Hector Elizondo's out-of-left-field reveal of a "bombshell secret" -- who gives a damn -- oh, that's right, we need to appeal to the grandparents.

That's the problem.  The movie just wants to hit every demographic and it fails because of that.   Any positive vibes that come from actors like Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Julia Roberts and her niece Emma, and (shockingly) Ashton Kutcher and George Lopez just get washed away by a horrible script.  Not that I'm necessarily one to criticize on this front, but screenwriters need to learn to edit.

And the awful script is shot so incredibly poorly by director Garry Marshall that I laughed out loud because of some of his choices.  Hey, let's put some nuns in that scene.  Throw a sign-language interpreter in there.  Let's have a girl with cerebral palsy point and yell at Ashton Kutcher because he doesn't have shoes on.  Yes, I realize that last sentence might seem callous, but these "attempts at realism" just come across as preposterous.  It honestly seemed like he had family members that he wanted to put into the movie somehow and he was going to do whatever it took to make it happen.

If you want a great romantic ensemble movie, just do yourself a favor and go with Love, Actually.  Skip this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, June 18, 2010

Movie Review - It's Complicated (2009)

It's Complicated (2009)
Starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, and John Krasinski
Directed by Nancy Meyers

I'm going to quote my Adventureland review here for a moment (and let me tell you, that's something that I never thought I'd ever do):

Any movie where all the characters pretty much sit around and smoke pot all day never really does a thing for me. Life's so bad, let's smoke pot. Life's so boring, let's smoke pot. Let's smoke pot and giggle a lot.
Now, It's Complicated certainly isn't all about smoking pot, but there's an extended twenty-minute scene where Streep, Martin, and Baldwin's characters smoke some weed and act all kooky.  Let me just say that the "smoking pot to humorous effect" is a tired movie staple that isn't funny and always comes off incredibly forced to me.  If I never see this "scene" in any film again it'll be too soon.

That being said, the pot isn't really what It's Complicated focuses on in the slightest.  Instead, we get Jane (Streep) and Jake (Baldwin) as a divorced couple with three grown kids.  Jake has remarried a much younger woman, while Jane hasn't slept with anyone since their divorce (which leads to talks with her girlfriends about her vagina closing up which was as incredibly unappealing as it sounds).  At their son's college graduation in NYC, Jane and Jake sleep together.  And that's when things get complicated (aah...there's the title connection).  For, you see, Jane is actually enjoying being with Jake despite the fact that she has now turned into the mistress.  Jake's changed a bit...and they've both grown and matured.  But Jane remembers the past and perhaps sees a nice future with Adam (Martin), the nice divorced architect guy who's working on renovating her house.  What's Jane to do?

Honestly, the only problem with this movie lies in the story.  It doesn't feel like there's anything new being presented here and, in the end, it's really just not all that funny.  There were a couple times when I laughed out loud, but it felt like Jane's internal struggle went on for far too long.  Writer-director Nancy Meyers just can't seem to wrap things up quick enough and feels the need to drag things out.  I will say, though, that with the exception of the pot smoking scene, Jane, Jake, and Adam all felt like very real people.  They weren't caricatures or presented in over-the-top manners, so I will give credit to Meyers there.

But credit also must go to Meryl Streep, Steve Martin (who makes the most of his character who is essentially a boring old lump with zero personality), and Alec Baldwin.  Baldwin is really the one who comes off the best.  His Jake begins as a older ladies' man, but soon morphs into a guy who you genuinely are rooting for to win back his former wife.  He plays Jake with just a little bit of his trademark "30 Rock" Jack Donaghy mannerisms, but knows when to back off of them and play the nice guy.

And I've said it before, but Meryl Streep is...well, she's MERYL STREEP for a reason.  She's so goshdarn good in everything.  I try and try to dislike the woman, but when she's onscreen, she's really great.  Even in these throwaway roles (and this is certainly a throwaway "I need to make money" kind of role), she puts such soul into her characters that you can't help but admire what she does.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Movie Review - Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Ned Beatty, and Michael Keaton
Directed by Lee Unkrich

I've taken some heat for not liking Pixar's last effort, Up, but even though I didn't love it, I recognize that the animation powerhouse can always be counted on to display heart.  Unlike any other studio, Pixar tugs on the heartstrings and does so in a way that never feels cloying or manipulative.  With Toy Story 2, the Pixar folks brought out the emotion in spades, creating a better story than the original.  Because of my fawning love for the second chapter, I admittedly had little hopes for the final (?) part of the series.

Well, there was nothing to worry about.  While it doesn't quite reach the powerful impact of 2, this third chapter takes us on quite an emotional journey -- one that we humans have been on with these toys for the past fifteen years.

Putting the toys in much more palpable danger than we've seen in the first two parts of these characters' tales, the third effort finds Woody and Buzz's human owner Andy heading off to college.  Having to leave his home behind, he also finds himself leading his childhood in the past as well.  This doesn't sit too well with the toys, who, through a stroke of (perhaps) luck wind up at a day care center where they find themselves incredibly excited to loved by children again.  Still, despite the "love" (and that's a term used very loosely when you're dealing with hyped-up, sugar-highed two year-old crazed toddlers), Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Hamm, the Potato Heads, Slinky Dog, and Bullseye soon realize that this may not be the place for them to be.

Woody realized this long ago and tried to convince his fellow toys to trek back to Andy's house to no avail.  Unfortunately for Woody, on his journey home, he gets picked up by the insanely adorable Bonnie who takes Woody home to her house where he meets up with another cast of cute toys (who I wish we could have spent more time with).  While Bonnie and her vivid imagination makes Woody feel needed again, Woody soon discovers that things at the day care center may not be going too well for his friends.  There's some nastiness afoot there and some toys that seemed welcoming at first may in fact be quite deceitful.

If there's something wrong with Toy Story 3, it's that the plot seems a little too stretched out for what actually happens.  It's essentially a "journey home" tale that could've been trimmed a bit early in its second act before that trek home happens -- there's a little too much introduction and internal/external "is this where we belong" debate at the day care center (in a surprisingly unfunny manner) and it makes the tale drag a bit in the middle.  That said, the film's opening and closing thirds are near perfect.  In fact, there are multiple scenes of sheer perfection (which I'd be more than happy to discuss in the comments) in the second half that really had me blown away, hitting a shockingly emotional level considering these things are simply plastic creations.

Throughout the film, I kept telling myself that this movie really didn't need to happen.  Yes, I was certainly enjoying it, but things were pleasantly wrapped up in the second movie and there was no need (other than for a profit) to visit these characters again.  That thought was silenced in the film's final set piece.  It's a beautiful ending and a perfect way to conclude Buzz and Woody's tale.  The finale is the epitome of what Pixar displays better than any other film studio -- heart.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Monday, June 14, 2010

Movie Review - Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)
Starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbit
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Everyone knows of the Protestant-Catholic tensions in Ireland during the latter half of the twentieth century.  While Five Minutes of Heaven is not even remotely close to a history lesson on that turbulent issue, it provides a human perspective that was both refreshing and heartbreaking.

As a young boy, (Catholic) Joe witnesses the teenage (Protestant) "gang" member Alistair brutally murder his older brother. 

Cut to twenty-five years later and a local news show wants to do a piece bringing the adult Joe (James Nesbit) and Alistair (Liam Neeson) together to do a one-on-one interview where they could express their thoughts to one another (in front of millions).  While both agree to the meeting, it's soon evident that the two men are each dealing with demons of their own.  Alistair, who went to prison for his crimes, has turned into somewhat of a motivational speaker, trying to spread the word of peace to all.  While he has moved on, Alistair can't help but regret his wrongdoings.  Joe, meanwhile, is stuck in the past.  Haunted by memories of a mother who blamed him for his older brother's death and a family that fell into shambles shortly after the murder, Joe perhaps has crueler intentions for this meeting -- a little retribution may be in store.

Overall, this little film was very impressive.  Both Neeson and Nesbitt are wonderful.  It's essentially a two-man show over its brisk eighty-five minute running time and they both held my attention the whole way through (kudos to the director).  There really wasn't a false note to me in either of their characters -- the revenge, the grief, and the pain all resonated genuinely.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review - The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower

The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower (2010)
by Robert Graysmith

This is quite possibly one of the worst books I have ever read.  There is absolutely zero point to this nonfiction book ever being written...and here's why.

Marli Renfro was a body double for actress Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho.  That infamous shower scene -- if you didn't see Leigh's face in the shot, it was Renfro.  We learn that the beautiful Renfro had to keep her role a secret, but she managed to have a moderately successful career in the early 1960s posing nude for men's magazines and appearing in so-called "nudie cutie" films from director Russ Meyer.  

Cut to another true life storyline about Sonny Busch, a Norman Bates-ish killer who rapes and murders elderly women because of his obsession with his mother.  

Both the Renfro and Busch tales are told in a back-and-forth fashion -- Chapter One being about Renfro, then Two about Busch -- that the reader inevitably thinks that these two stories will combine at some awful moment with Busch killing Renfro.

Well, that never happens.  Renfro and Busch never meet.  Nothing in their lives ever comes into contact with one another.  The only connection is that Busch sees the movie Psycho.  That's it.  Nothing converges.

The true reason this book was written is revealed about halfway through when the author, Robert Graysmith, awkwardly switches to first person and reveals that he became obsessed with the beautiful Renfro at the age of eighteen after seeing her in Playboy magazine.  He vowed that some day he would write this woman's story -- simply because she was so goshdarn gorgeous.  

I guess that day has come.  Graysmith sets out to write her story, but realizes that there's not really a whole lot there.  She was a nudist?  Great.  She had the most exquisite breasts?  Well, that's cool, but this is a book, not a movie, and you can only describe her "erect, reddish pencil eraser" nipples so many times. 

So, in order to flesh the story out, he throws in this story about murderer Busch who Graysmith originally sets up to be the infamous "Bouncing Ball Strangler" who was tormenting women in Los Angeles in the 1960s.  But, the most ridiculous thing is that by the end of the book, Busch likely wasn't the Bouncing Ball Strangler and that whole aspect of the tale was just a tease.  Busch was just your regular, run-of-the-mill crazy murderer...totally not cool enough to get a nifty moniker from the media.

Yes, there were some interesting Hitchcock anecdotes to be had here, but they come in the book's first three chapters and after that, I couldn't have cared less.

Just painful stuff.  Really awful.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Movie Review - The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil (2009)
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, and Greta Gerwig
Directed by Ti West 
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix*** 

Sam (Jocelin Donahue) is a sophomore at college, longing to move out of her dorm and leave her sexually promiscuous roommate behind.  Having found a nice apartment, Sam is need of money and finds a babysitting job posted on the campus bulletin board.  When she arrives at the employer's house in some secluded eerie woods, the rather jittery Mr. Ulman (a delightfully creepy Tom Noonan) tells her that there isn't a child in the household.  In fact, Sam will be watching over Mr. Ulman's mother-in-law while he and his wife go out for the evening.  Sam reluctantly agrees to this bait-and-switch.  Little does she know that she's in for one helluva night.

There is an unnerving feel to this film.  There's something that happens about twenty minutes in that tells the viewer that Sam's in trouble, but Sam is oblivious to this until the end of the film.  Instead, we watch Sam as she explores the Ulman's ornate house, finding ourselves completely on edge because we know something that Sam doesn't.  I mean, sure, this "we know something you don't know" is a simple concept that is used in horror films all the time, but director Ti West is quite the genius at building up the suspense.  Honestly, I was kind of jittery while watching.

Unfortunately, once the film reaches it's climax, it can't quite deliver.  Yes, the end was interestingly shot, but it all happened much too quickly and seemed to be both edited and written rather poorly.  There's a lot of build-up (so much that I can see how some would be completely and utterly turned off by the film), but the end falls a little short.

That being said, there's much to admire about the film.  As I said, the director Ti West (who was also the writer and editor) shows much promise.  Interestingly enough, he chooses to set the film in the 1980s and, right from the opening credits, you can tell it's an homage to the classic horror flicks of that decade...and not in one of those tongue-in-cheek "Scream"-like tones.  This film genuinely looks and feels like it could've been made in 1983.  There's a grainy quality to the images and the score, costumes, and sets are blasts from the past. 

The film belongs to the talented Jocelin Donahue, though.  As Sam, she is in every single scene and for the middle 40 minutes of the film, it's simply her alone onscreen.  She managed to keep me rapt throughout the entire film, and in less talented hands, this film would have fallen apart.  I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Movie Review - Ondine (2010)

Ondine (2010)
Starring Colin Farrell, Alicja Bachleda, Alison Barry, and Stephen Rea
Directed by Neil Jordan

***Early Review -- Released in local theaters Friday, June 11***

A lovely modern-day fairy tale, Ondine reminds me of an infinitely better version of M. Night Shaymalan's Lady in the Water (good Lord, that movie was an abomination).  In fact, it kind of pains me to mention the two films in the same sentence.

Syracuse (Farrell) is an Irish fisherman who, when pulling up his lines one afternoon, discovers a woman in his net.  The woman remembers nothing, so Syracuse invites her to his house, allowing her to live there and eventually begins to fall in love with the woman now called Ondine.  Syracuse's precocious daughter Annie begins to suspect that Ondine may in fact be a selky -- a creature from Irish folklore that is a seal that can turn itself into a human form.  While Annie's thoughts are laughed at, the town soon begins to believe that some strange occurrences may in fact be because Ondine is a sea creature.

The film looks beautiful, capturing the rustic look of a lovely seaside town in Ireland.  Director Neil Jordan keeps the movie moving along at a brisk pace -- and this is a film that could easily have felt infinitely longer than it actually was.  Jordan's also able to pull out a wonderfully subdued performance from Colin Farrell who plays a caring father -- a role that I wouldn't expect from him based on other roles I've seen him take on.  Additionally, the lovely Alicja Bachleda plays her very difficult role -- is she or isn't she a fantasy sea creature? -- with an incredibly natural quality.

The film's fault unfortunately falls on the shoulders of the role of Annie.  It's not the fault of the young actress, Alison Barry, who takes on her first acting role here.  It instead is the fault of the character.  In a movie where the other characters felt fresh and original, Annie is saddled with a failing kidney awaiting a transplant and is much too wise for her years -- she's the "smart sick kid" and we've seen that too many times before.  The fact that Annie plays a major role is a fairly big detriment to the film.

Nonetheless, for the most part I was impressed with Ondine and found myself won over by the simple, charming tale.

The RyMickey Rating: B