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, July 29, 2010

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
by J. K. Rowling

I remember this being my favorite movie of the bunch (what with Alfonso Cuarón's dark take on the source material), but I think I enjoyed book two a little more than this one.  At 435 pages, Rowling is certainly becoming a more fluent, easier-to-read writer as I go through the series, but she's still filling the books with superfluous nonsense.  Do I really need a whole chapter devoted to a Quidditch game?  [The less I have to read about Bludgers and Keepers in the next four books the better.]  Do I really need a character like the "psychic" Professor Trewlawny who has a whole chapter devoted to her, but serves little to no purpose in the grand scheme of the novel?

Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying reading these books, but I'm not really enthused about them. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie Review - Salt

Salt (2010)
Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schrieber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Philip Noyce

It's not a shocking statement to say that Angelina Jolie is considered one of the hottest women on the planet.  And while I don't think she should top the Maxim 100 list or anything, she's certainly attractive.  So if you have an incredibly attractive woman starring in a full-blown action pic, why wouldn't you play that up a bit?  Sure, it's probably sexist for me to say it, but one would think that we'd get to see some modicum of hotness emanating from Ms. Jolie in a fun summer movie. 

That's never the case in Salt.  Instead, we see Angelina in an awful blond wig and later dressed up like a man...neither get-up falls into the "hot" category.  I'm not faulting the flick for this, but I just found it odd.

Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who is accused by a Russian spy she is interrogating that she herself is a Russian spy infiltrating the American agency to discover government secrets.  Her fellow agents immediately want to question her, but Salt escapes and finds herself on the run.

Overall, I'm just really lukewarm on the flick.  The action sequences were actually well-shot by director Philip Noyce.  There were a few surprises that I didn't see coming.  But, in the end, the film didn't excite me in the slightest.  

And I think that the problem lies with Jolie herself...not in her lack of hotness, but in her lack of emoting.  There was never a moment in Salt where I felt the least bit concerned for the title character.  As a spy, one would assume that Salt was trained to hide her emotions, but in a movie, an emotional disconnect just doesn't allow for an audience to give a damn.  Jolie just appears to be moving right through the movie, accepting her big paycheck, but not really doing much beyond running really fast.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Movie Review - Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, and Patricia Clarkson
Directed by Martin Scorsese

It's the mid 1950s and patient Rachel Solando has disappeared from a psychiatric hospital located on Shutter Island. Two U.S. Marshals are called in to investigate the case. Little do the two marshals know that the island is home to some interesting and perhaps unethical treatments and they may be the hospital's next "experiments."

That summary is pulled directly from my book review of Shutter Island that I posted last year.  The novel was an enjoyable read, but didn't really work as a whole for me.  There were dream sequences that seemed oddly written and characters seemed to simply appear in order to give a clue to the main character, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (here played by Mr. DiCaprio).

Fortunately, my qualms with the book worked extremely well onscreen thanks, in large part, to some beautiful direction by Martin Scorsese.  Feeling quite old school, Scorsese has crafted big budget "pulp" film.  While those cheaply made film noirs of the 40s and 50s certainly appeared to be made on a miniscule budget (see this as an example), no expense was spared here.  Thanks to some fantastic scenic design by Dante Ferretti, Scorsese proves to be a master behind the camera, crafting some beautiful and ingenious shots that lifted this film way above the average cinematic experience.

While Act Two of the film drags a bit, Act Three proves to be quite engaging...much moreso than the book.  I remember the book feeling like it ended much too quickly, but in the film, I was actually astounded by how Scorsese and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis allowed the film to play out at a relatively slow pace.  They weren't afraid to explain things, unlike the book which seemed to have a need to bring the tale to an end as quickly as possible.

However, the film isn't perfect.  Leo has an accent that fades in and out which irked me a little bit.  It also seems that Scorsese wanted his actors to "overact" similar to those film noirs of yore, but it seemed a little jarring at times.  My biggest issue -- which would certainly nary be a quibble to most -- is that there were some very poorly edited scenes.  Thelma Schoonmaker is Scorsese's go-to editor, but here there were multiple scenes with inconsistencies.  A raised hand in this shot turns into a lowered hand in the next would be an example.  True, none of these errors affected the story, but they were glaring to me...enough that I'm posting about it here.

Still, overall, this is quite a good film.  A nice homage to cinema of the past.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Movie Review - Chloe

Chloe (2010)
Starring Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, and Liam Neeson
Directed by Atom Egoyan

Considering that Amanda Seyfried is being pushed as a new young film star, one would think that this flick in which the young lady bares close to everything would have gotten at least some moderate buzz when it was released earlier this year.  But, oh yeah, I guess the fact that the story pretty much blows negated any positives her nudity may have granted the film.

Julianne Moore is Dr. Catherine Stewart, an ob-gyn who worries that her music professor husband, David (Liam Neeson), may be cheating on her.  Catherine hires Chloe (Seyfried), an escort, in order to seduce David to see if her suspicions are true.  Catherine gets a little more than she bargains for, however, and the whole Stewart family (including the teenage son) are drawn under Chloe's sexy spell.

There's no denying that the film is going for "steamy," but it never goes beyond the Skinemax realm.  There's the soft lighting and the corny music and the cable channel nudity rule that only allows for lingering shots of breasts and ass and nothing else.  Chloe attempts to be salacious, but it oftentimes just comes off as laughable.  There's a slight Fatal Attraction vibe to it (albeit in a Sapphic manner), but you're better off just watching that 80s flick which, while also laughable, is at least a whole lot of fun.

It's a shame, too, because there's a really good performance here from Seyfried (and it's not just because she's naked).  Sure, her character is given a not-surprising-in-the-slightest "twist" at the end, but there's no denying Seyfried's seductiveness is effective.  It's a shame that her counterpart in Julianne Moore doesn't quite reach the same level.  Moore's role is nothing more than the cookie cutter "cheated-upon wife" that we've seen in movies tens of times before.

I've seen a couple movies by Atom Egoyan (one review is here) and I'm always intrigued by the premises, but I never quite feel like he's able to make his films come together in the end.  Chloe is no exception.

But Amanda Seyfried is stunning to look at...

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999)
by J.K. Rowling

While I criticized the first book for Rowling's lackluster writing style, Book Two of the Harry Potter series fares a little better.  There's still a surprising lack of whimsy and charm (considering this is a series about magic and wizards you'd think the charm would be in abundance), but Rowling at least crafts a better story here than in Book One.  At 341 pages, there's shockingly little of importance that happens (so I'm very wary as these books start getting bigger), but at least I found the whole endeavor enjoyable for the most part.

As a side note, the cover to the right is much cooler than the American version...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Movie Review - A Town Called Panic

A Town Called Panic (2009)
Directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Every now and then I'll put on Robot Chicken on the Cartoon Network.  The animated show which utilizes crass stop motion animation and action figures is only fifteen minutes long, but I rarely find myself watching all of it.  After about seven or eight minutes, I'm done.  I've laughed once or twice, but the humor isn't consistent enough.  That's the way I felt when watching the French animated flick A Town Called Panic.  

While it uses the same style of animation as Robot Chicken, fortunately Panic is much more colorfully vibrant.  And surprisingly, the story (which revolves around Cowboy and Indian accidentally buying a bunch of bricks and causing havoc in their small town) manages to sustain itself over the short 60-minute run time.

The problem is in the humor.  There were just too many times where the flick just veered to the absurd and neglected the laughs.  Obviously, the film thought that the "absurd" was "funny," but it often just created long lulls of boredom for me.

While I'm certainly being critical above, I didn't hate A Town Called Panic, but it's not something I ever feel the need to revisit in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Movie Review - Edge of Darkness

Edge of Darkness (2010)
Starring Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone
Directed by Martin Campbell

It's certainly gauche in this day and age to say that one likes Mel Gibson.  Say what you will about me, but I must admit that I truly enjoy watching the guy onscreen.  Putting aside his anger issues and his bigotry, Gibson has a presence that pulls you in.  

In Edge of Darkness, Gibson takes on a role he's played a few times before -- the vengeful father.  Similar to Ransom and The Patriot, Gibson must avenge the wrongs that have been committed against his family -- and he's not a guy you want to mess with.  Here he's Thomas Craven, a Boston police officer whose twenty-something daughter is murdered right on his doorstep.  While he initially believes that the murderer intended to kill him, he soon discovers that his daughter was involved in a huge corporate and governmental cover-up with gigantic ramifications for the United States.

The problem with movies like this is that oftentimes the secrets are revealed much too easily and that's certainly the case here.  Everything seems to fall right into Craven's lap -- one thing after another.  It's actually a little surprising considering that the film was cowritten by William Monahan who penned a similar-type flick in The Departed.  Considering the expertise on display in that Academy Award-winner, Monahan was kind of lazy here.

Somehow, though, despite the faults in the script and the sometimes cheesy directorial choices, this film works.  I was caught off guard multiple times by some crazily crafted deaths that, while certainly there for "shock value" alone, had my mouth agape in disbelief.  It's not a perfect movie by any means, but it was an enjoyable one.

And it certainly helps that Gibson plays the raging furious guy so well.  I mean, he's had some practice apparently...

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Review - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
Starring Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Anna Kendrick
Directed by David Slade

To say that Eclipse is the best of the Twilight movies thus far isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.  The original fell into that "so bad it's good" category.  The film itself was awful, but with dialog like "hold on tight, spider monkey," you had to appreciate its sheer corniness.  Movie #2, New Moon, was just horrendous.  It had no story at all spread out over 130 minutes.

Eclipse at least moves beyond #2's "epic" struggle of young Bella (Stewart) choosing whether to be with pale but shiny vampire Edward (Pattinson) or hunky six-packed werewolf Jacob (Lautner).  Yes, Bella still needs to make a decision (what gal would want to hurt either of these two Adonis's feelings?), but the film at least moves on a little bit from the relationship drama.  Back in movie one, Edward was responsible for the death of some vampire and that vampire's girlfriend is now out for revenge.  She sets up a posse of sorts to avenge his death, but Edward's creepy family and Jacob's werewolf tribe join forces to save the angst-ridden Bella.

Since there actually is a story in this one, that's certainly a positive.  Director David Slade is the best director of the bunch so far.  There's some moderately enjoyable action sequences and he manages to pull out at least watchable performances from Stewart and Pattinson, although this duo is still an incredible bore to watch onscreen.  Lautner, once again, is the only one of the main trio who shows any amount of charisma.

The problem with this whole series is that screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg brings no life to any of these characters.  Granted, I'm sure that she's probably not working with much from the original source, but I'm utterly shocked that they decided to allow Rosenberg to write all of the flicks for this franchise.  Her dialog is ridiculously silly and she has no sense of dramatic tension.  All of her scenes involving Bella and Edward feel interminably long.  Considering that these are your film's two main characters, I should at least give a damn about them -- and I don't in the slightest.

In the end, this film will get the same rating as the first flick in the "saga."  That being said, this one's a better crafted film thanks to the director.  The first one's good for some laughs.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Movie Review - Brief Encounter (1945)

Brief Encounter (1945)
Starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard
Directed by David Lean
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Dr. Alec Harvey and Laura Jesson love each other.  The only problem is that they're both married with children.  They met each other by chance at a railroad station on one of Laura's weekly shopping visits to Milford.  There's an instant attraction, but there's a trepidation by both of them because of their home life.  They meet again the following week, have lunch together, and attend a movie, neither saying what is truly in their minds.  Eventually, their love affair blossoms and Laura begins to feel the guilt.  Will she succumb to this desire or return to her humdrum home life?

Although the film is certainly rooted in 1945 sensibilities -- the affair is so chaste it's almost silly -- there's something rather lovely about the simplicity.  The screenplay by Noel Coward (who I'm more familiar with from the comedy realm) is able to rise above the rather silly lack of sordidness because of some fantastic dialog, rooted in real emotions.  Laura, in particular, whose inner thoughts the audience is often able to overhear via voiceover, is a character whose pain, confusion, and longing are palpable.  Celia Johnson (an actress who wasn't in a whole lot else but this) is certainly another reason for the success of Laura as a character.  She's not a starlet in the least -- she's utterly normal, perhaps even slightly unattractive, but she is able to convey quite a bit in the sharp lines of her gaunt face.  It's rather a shame that Trevor Howard as Alec is utterly bland and almost caricaturish -- he almost reminded me of a British character I'd seen on Family Guy.

Still, director David Lean and screenwriter Coward have crafted a nice little film based off of Coward's one-act play of the same name.  The final moments were beautifully realized by Lean and provided a rather riveting end to this tragic love story.  While I'd certainly be intrigued to see how this plays out on a stage (since it did drag a tiny bit thanks in large part to the poorly written and executed role of Alec), it's certainly a film that I'd recommend to anyone interested in "classic" cinema.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Book Review - Ordinary Thunderstorms

Ordinary Thunderstorms (2010)
by William Boyd

This one was recommended to me by Stephen King via Entertainment Weekly and I've got to say that Ordinary Thunderstorms was one of the better books I've read in a long time.

Adam Kindred is a climatologist who has moved back home to London from the US for a new job.  Following an interview, he stops off for a bite to eat in an Italian restaurant where he strikes up a casual conversation with another single diner, Philip Wang.  When Wang leaves and forgets his briefcase, Adam gives him a call and agrees to drop it off at Wang's apartment.  Upon his arrival, however, Adam finds Wang dead and his apartment ransacked.  Adam soon finds himself the sole suspect in Wang's murder, and, in order to save himself, he joins the thousands of London homeless while trying to discover why Wang's employer -- a fancy pharmaceutical corporation -- is trying to frame him.

It's always tough for me to describe why I like books, but what sold me on this one was Boyd's writing style.  On one hand, it's immensely easy-to-read, but on the other hand, he likes to use words like "balustrade" and "refulgent" and "importunate" as if these were things we said in casual conversation (then again, Brits always sound more intelligent than us Yanks).  There's a great balance in his writing style (with hints of dry humor to boot) that had me riveted throughout the entirety of the book.

Thoroughly impressed with this one and will surely pick up another William Boyd book in the near future.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Theater Review - Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock // Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Bruce Lumpkin
When:  Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 8pm
Where: Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
What: Musical, Professional Theater

Not gonna say much here...

Honestly, I really only saw this one because I wanted to see the quality of a show at the Walnut Street Theater.  Was it worth shelling out $35 for a show there?

In the end, the answer is yes.  The quality was pretty darn good.  Didn't quite reach the levels of Broadway productions (or the acting talent of the Resident Ensemble Players at UD), but it certainly was above average.

I knew nothing about the show and it didn't really resonate with me in the slightest.  I knew one or two songs going into this and those were the only songs that really stood out -- the score was rather weak.  The story itself was kind of silly as well -- a Jewish father longs to have his daughters wedded to rich men via traditional arranged marriages only to find this plan falling to ruins when the daughters fall in love with men that aren't ideal.  It just felt dated.

Anyway, I'm open to seeing something else at this theater in the future...hopefully the play will be a little more engaging than this.

Theater Review - Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Music by Bob Gaudio // Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Directed by Des McAnuff
When: Saturday, July 10, 2010
Where: August Wilson Theater, NYC
What: Musical, Professional Theater, Broadway

Posts like this are really only done for my own personal "history" -- a "what I was doing then" kind of thing to look back on in a few years.  I realize that no one who reads this (well, there may be a few) will have any desire to see this whatsoever (and, honestly, I'm one of those people, too...had no desire to see this thing).

Anyway, I'm a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Season.  I was raised on their music by my folks and it's catchy 60s pop.  This is the story of how the group came to be.

I can see you liking this Broadway show if you fall into one of the following groups:
  1. You are from New Jersey -- Every time "Jersey" was mentioned, the crowd went crazy...and I rolled my eyes.
  2. You are Italian -- Valli and his bandmates were "good" Italian kids -- getting into trouble, spending time in jail -- like all Italians, right?  While that could certainly have been their life, I couldn't help but feel like I was simply watching the "stereotypical" representation of an Italian kid from Jersey.
  3. You are over 50 -- Despite popular belief, I'm not there yet.  Since I've actually only just begun my third decade, I don't quite fall into this category, but, if you do, I can understand that there would be some kind of nostalgia there for you.
To me, the show was poorly written (seriously, I honestly feel like I could have written better dialog) and only adequately staged.  Admittedly, the singers were quite good.  The young guy playing Frankie Valli had Valli's high-pitched squeals down to a tee.  His fellow bandmates were good as well.  It was fine to watch, but that's the only adjective I can use to describe it -- fine.  I can't really get excited about this in either a bad or good way because it was just...fine.  I don't understand how this show still sells out nearly every showing after five-plus years in New York City.  It's really nothing special.

Anyway, here's a few YouTube clips of the original Frankie Valli:

Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (seriously, one of my favorite songs ever):

Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me) (My second favorite Frankie Valli song):

December 1963 (Oh What a Night) (Wow...this clips sounds kinda awful...):

Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Lauryn Hill cover -- pretty awesome, too -- plus it comes from the Mel Gibson movie "Conspiracy Theory" and who doesn't love Mel Gibson nowadays?):

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Movie Review - The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)
Starring Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, and Monica Bellucci
Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Putting "From the director and producer of National Treasure" on your movie poster is not a selling point for me.  Yes, that movie raked in quite a bit of dough and produced a sequel, but it seemed like a low-rent Indiana Jones for this reviewer.  Add to that, "starring Nicolas Cage" often makes me run in the other direction.

Let's just say I was very pleasantly surprised with Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice which has much of what I want in a summer movie -- action, cool special effects, and some light humor.  Throw in a tiny bit of a romance and a shockingly amusing turn from Nic Cage himself and this is a sleeper hit for me (unfortunately, I don't see it doing boffo box office, though).

In 740 AD, sorcerer Merlin and his three assistants are desperately trying to battle Morgana Lafey as she attempts to use her powers to bring ruin to mankind.  While they were successful in trapping Morgana in what is essentially a Russian nesting doll (it's given a much niftier name in the film that has slipped my mind), it is not without casualty.  One of Merlin's assistants, the beautiful Veronica (Belucci) is trapped inside the doll with Morgana while another of his associates, Horvath (Molina), betrays and kills his mentor.  This leaves Balthazar (Cage) as the one good sorcerer left and he spends hundreds of years trapping the evil magicians in successively larger dolls surrounding Morgana.  Merlin's dying wish to Balthazar was that he find a true descendant of Merlin who can carry on the Merlinian bloodline and fight to contain the evil Morgana.

All that is told in a rather silly five minute narrative opening that had me questioning the tone of the film. It seemed to be taking itself unnecessarily seriously and it didn't bode well for things to come.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Cut to nearly 1300 years later and a young school kid named David finds himself through a twist of fate entering a shop owned by Balthazar.  The sorcerer doesn't quite believe in coincidence and soon discovers that David could very well be Merlin's descendent and, eventually, takes him on as his apprentice.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice isn't a work of art.  There are certainly a few flaws here and there, but it was one heckuva enjoyable two hours.  Nic Cage is really great as the quirky oddball Balthazar and he and young Jay Baruchel make quite a duo.  They play off each other amazingly well and are really what make this film rise above typical summer fare.  Alfred Molina is a pretty sinister villain for a PG-rated fantasy flick.  On a completely different end of the spectrum, the gorgeous Teresa Palmer as David's love interest Becky is actually used to good effect here (there's a scene in particular where physics geek David takes her to his lab that is near perfect in terms of capturing the excitement of that "moment" of falling in love).

The film reminds me of the way I felt when I watched The Neverending Story, Jumanji, Little Monsters (oh, Fred Savage),  or even those "classic" Disney live actioners like Escape to Witch Mountain as a kid. These may not be perfect films, but they carry a sense of nostalgia.  There's nothing (except for maybe some special effects) that make it seem like The Sorcerer's Apprentice couldn't have been made in my 1980s youth.  There's no language, no sex, no overt violence...and while that may not appeal to everyone reading this, the innocence of it all conjured up the nostaligia factor and sometimes that's a fun thing to feel when watching a movie.

I, for one, am actually looking forward to seeing this one again.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Predators (2010)

Predators (2010)
Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by Nimrod Antel

Honestly, I don't remember a whole lot about the original Predator.  However, I do remember liking it.  With this newly released sequel of sorts, there isn't a whole lot to like.

A group of rough and tumble guerilla-ish "warriors" find themselves essentially marooned in an unknown jungle.  No one in the group knows each other, but we soon discover that each of them specialize in killing people (with the exception -- one would hope -- of a young doctor).  Unaware of their surroundings and finding it difficult to trust in one another, they begin to trek across the terrain, hoping to find some clues to fill them in on why they are there.  They soon discover that they aren't alone in this jungle and that they have been brought here as pawns in some type of game with the same alien-predators that were the main attraction in the earlier Ahnuld film.

This flick just didn't work for me in the slightest and it's really because of the plot.   It was just "that guy dies" then "that guy dies" ad infinitum.  And it's not as if there's even a hint of character development for me to even give the slightest damn that these people are biting the dust.  As for suspense -- who needs it, apparently.  I'm not saying I was looking for a "jump out of my seat" moment, but there wasn't even a bit of excitement here. True, the original Predator isn't exactly a masterpiece, but at least it had a little bit more of a plot about rescuing someone in the jungle.

Honestly, the only saving grace in this movie is Adrien Brody who at least hams it up (in a good way).  He realizes that he's in a piece of dreck and at least is playing his role with moderate gusto.  I was also moderately impressed with Alice Braga as the lone female in the bunch, but she's not given a thing to work with either.  The less said about Topher Grace's character's "surprise" plot twist the better -- good lord that had me rolling my eyes at the inanity of it.

Give me Alien any day...

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Book Review - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1997)
by J.K. Rowling

I've read this book once before, but I saw a bunch of internet chatter about the release of the trailer for the final Harry Potter film, and I figured why not pick up this series again.  I actually only made it through three of the books so I figured it'll be nice to finish off this best-selling series.

However, as I was reading, I got a sense of why I stopped in the first place.  Rowling is simply not a great writer (I know, pot-kettle-black here).  Everything's so simplistic -- too much so, if you ask me.  And when she chooses to describe certain things in greater detail it just seems frivolous.

Add to that the fact that I really never get any emotional arc for any character.  Not to mention that there is zero tension in the book's climax -- the denouement isn't even "shown" to us in "real time," but instead relayed to us by the headmaster Dumbledore telling Potter what the title character did to save the day.  Just a narratively boring finale.

Oh, well.  Here's hoping the remaining books pick it up a bit.  I'll get around to them at some point.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Movie Review - Shock (1946)

Shock (1946)
Starring Vincent Price
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
***Currently streaming on Netflix***

Shock is a corny B-movie film noir from the 1940s made on an obviously low budget complete with ridiculously over-the-top acting.  In the end, it's moderately successful, but there are moments when its scant 70-minute running time feels a little bloated.

Horror staple Vincent Price is the creepy psychiatrist Dr. Cross.  One evening while at a hotel, he kills his wife in order to spend more time with his lover Elaine, but is completely unaware that a young woman named Janet saw him commit the deed from her hotel room window.  Janet goes into a comatose state of shock and when she awakens, she finds that she is in Dr. Cross's hospital where Elaine (in typical film noir femme fatale fashion) is trying to convince Dr. Cross to kill Janet in order to get away with the perfect crime.

All in all, Shock isn't a bad movie.  It's an okay diversion if the summary above sparks any interest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, July 02, 2010

Movie Review - The Wolfman (2010)

The Wolfman (2010)
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving
Directed by Joe Johnston

When the scariest thing about a monster movie is the eerie sense of foreboding created by a promotional item -- that poster to the right -- you've got a problem.  The 2010 remake of an old-school monster flick The Wolfman just exudes "boring" from every single frame.

The story is simple -- a guy turns into a wolf when there's a full moon and wreaks havoc on a British town.  This version of the film sets up this awkward father-son relationship between Benicio Del Toro's Lawrence and his father John played by Anthony Hopkins.  From the onset, it's absolutely obvious where the film is going with these two characters, and when they reveal the "surprise" secret about midway through, it comes as an enormous letdown. 

The film is certainly not helped by the brooding Del Toro who is so ungodly boring to watch.  It's like watching a heart monitor on flatline -- no emotional ups and downs to his character at all.  Gloominess is all that crossed his face. [That in and of itself really shouldn't be a surprise because I'm not entirely sure Del Toro as an actor can play a role anything other than glumly.]  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hopkins hams it up in a laughably awful manner.

I understand that an inherent characteristic of gothic horror is to be moody and morose, but there wasn't an ounce of life in this flick which makes it quite a chore to sit through.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies (2010)
Starring Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell
Directed by Breck Eisner

I'm not really going to dwell on this review except to say that the best way to describe this horror film about a virus that causes a town to go crazy was "conventional."  It's not that The Crazies is a bad film -- it's just that there's not a single thing new brought to the screen.  It's well made, well shot, moderately well acted (Timothy Olyphant seems to ham it up a bit every now and then), and contains a few moments of genuine edge-of-your-seat tension, but in the end, it walks a much-too-familiar line.

You could fare much worse in terms of a horror flick, but don't go into this one expecting to see anything other than the ordinary.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Movie Review - Passing Strange (2009)

Passing Strange (2009)
Starring Stew, Daniel Breaker, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Eisa Davis
A Spike Lee Joint
***Currently streaming on Netflix*** 

So I was reading an article about concert films awhile ago and it mentioned this Spike Lee joint about this artist known as Stew.  I'd never heard of the guy before, but the premise of the film sounded moderately interesting, so I added it to my Netflix instant queue and figured if it ever became available, I may watch it.  The other day it popped up there so I figured why not give it a shot.  It was well worth watching and a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

Passing Strange was a musical/concert on Broadway in 2008 that tells the life story of a musician named Stew through acting and song.  What makes this different that your typical Broadway song and dance, however, is that Stew himself is actually onstage along with his four-piece band, acting as the singing narrator while a troupe of six actors and actresses depict the story of his life that shaped him into the artist he is today.  Although it's never specifically mentioned that we're watching Stew's life story, it's plain to see that the youth onstage who leaves Los Angeles as a teenager and travels to Amsterdam and East Berlin to hone his craft is Stew.  It's an emotional journey that causes the youth to question what is important to him in life, what it means to be a rebellious black kid from a middle-class family (which it does in a very comedic fashion), and ponder what exactly is "art."

Yes, that sounds self-important and reeks of a been-there-done-that tone, but songwriters Stew and Heidi Rodewald (formerly of the band The Negro Problem) have crafted some incredibly catchy pop-rock tunes that I'm still humming three hours later. These tunes, along with a brilliant performance from Stew himself, make this something really worth watching.

Spike Lee filmed the last three performances of this stage show in July of 2009 and there's an electricity present that can only be found watching something unfold live.  Obviously, with this being filmed on a stage in a Broadway theater, there are certain restraints to which Lee had to adhere.  With some clever camera placements, Lee allows us to get closer to the actors than we ever would in the audience of the show.  Yes, there are some gimmicky things that Lee does that had me rolling my eyes, but there were also some shots that were beautifully staged.

I don't know who Stew is, but his pop-rock sensibilities were absolutely aurally appealing.  Sometimes the lyrics may be a tad corny or the musings on art may be a bit pretentious (which is ultimately one of the points Stew is attempting to make), but I was absolutely into this thing for two-and-a-half hours despite the fact that I was simply watching people walk around on a stage.

Seriously, give this one a chance...

The RyMickey Rating:  B+