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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,...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Theater Review - The Homecoming

The Homecoming
Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Leslie Reidel 
When: Wednesday, September 29, 7:30pm
Where: Hartshorn Theater
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
What: Play, Professional/Conservatory

The University of Delaware's Professional Theater Training Program/Resident Ensemble Players opens up their 2010-11 theater season with Harold Pinter's 1964 play The Homecoming.  Rather than start out with a bang, the college opens with an unfortunate whimper.   Admittedly, I'm a day removed from the play and I'm still thinking about what exactly I saw yesterday evening, but I still wonder if this isn't one of those "artsy" things that's loved simply because people don't understand it, don't want to look stupid, and say they adore it to appear high-brow.

The year is 1965 and we're taken into the living room of a house in North London.  Living in the home is the patriarch, Max, a curmudgeonly old man.  Alongside Max is his brother, Sam, and his two sons, Lenny and Joey.  Max doesn't make it easy to live with him, always harping on the past (both fondly and not-so-fondly), recalling life when his wife was still around to help him raise his boys.

One evening, Max's other son, Teddy, returns home in the middle of the night with his wife of nine years, Ruth.  Rather than be pleased at the return of his son (whom he hasn't seen or heard from in nearly a decade), Max is extremely irritated that Teddy would allow a "bitch" in the house since no woman has stepped in his domain since the death of his wife.  Little does Max know that when he bandies about the words "whore" and "slut" when referring to Ruth that those may be apt descriptors.  Ruth, a mother of three sons, turns out to be quite sexually charged and may be more than willing to do things that could cause a rift in her marriage.

The major problem with the play is the character of Ruth.  I believe that Pinter looks at Ruth as "WOMAN" -- as the only female amongst a group of men, she is a symbol of womankind.  If that's the case, what is "woman?"  Is she the head of the household?  When Max's wife died, it seems that even if he didn't respect her, he missed the fact that she kept the house together.  Is "woman" simply a sex object?  Yes, one could say Ruth takes control of her sexuality by the play's end and is able to control men like puppets.  But one could also say that Ruth is simply debasing herself to the lowest possible level to which a woman could stoop.  Ultimately, the play is open-ended, but I would have liked a little more conclusive evidence as to what Pinter was attempting to say.

Then again, Pinter has a difficult time trying to get anything across it seems.  While watching, I couldn't help but be distracted by the incredibly odd pause-filled dialog and the rather off-putting abrupt changes in conversation.  At first, I was blaming the actors and the director for creating this type of atmosphere.  Little did I know that this is what Pinter is relatively famous for.  On another website, I came across the idea that Pinter uses these pauses to describe the "noncommunication" between the characters.  "Noncommunication" is certainly correct -- there's a lack of information presented in the words which causes the audience to attempt to fill in the gaps, but there's just too much left unsaid.  To me, the cadence of the words (and sometimes the words themselves) just don't work in the slightest.

As far as the production goes, The Homecoming is by far the least interesting I've seen by the college group.  The set is incredibly minimal and there's nothing overly special done with the lighting, sound design, costumes, or even the acting.  I understand that in every subscription series, there's going to be those one or two plays that are minimalist in order to help a troupe save the dough for another show.  I just found it quite odd that the REP/PTTP decided to open their season with this play.  Had this been my first experience with the group, I must say that I would not have been impressed (moreso with the choice of the play than anything else).  Still, this is the first production by the group that I haven't liked in one way or another.  I certainly have faith that the remainder of the season will be filled with better plays.

Movie Review - Freakonomics

Freakonomics (2010)
Directed by Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Jarecki, and Morgan Spurlock
**An early review...in theaters Friday**

Based off the best-selling book of the same name, Freakonomics takes economics on a pop culture spin by allowing a variety of documentary filmmakers an opportunity to explore chapters from the book in the cinematic medium.  Broken up into four main segments, Freakonomics is an enjoyable watch, but it never goes deep enough to seem completely engrossing, showcasing topics in the broadest strokes possible rather than getting to the core of the issues.

In the first segment, Morgan Spurlock poses the question "What's in a name?" and does it play any role in a person's life?  Is an Emily much more likely to get a job than a Lakisha?  Will a Jashawn or a John do better in school?  While an interesting question, the consensus is that it doesn't really make much of a difference at all.  What matters is a child's economic situation and parental guidance.  Is that supposed to be a surprise?  There's no in depth analysis here and this middle school level lab result analysis carries over into two other segments -- one concerning cheating in the world of sumo wrestling (a segment which goes on for much too long) and one detailing the bribing of high schoolers with cash to get better grades.

The only segment presents any type of shocking conclusion (or at least one that can be cause for discussion or debate) concerns the decrease in crime across the United States during the 1990s.  While trying to discover the root causes, Freakonomics writer Stephen Levitt linked the decline to the passing of Roe vs. Wade in 1973.  In the simplest form, with mothers being able to choose whether or not they could effectively raise a child, when they opted to abort, it put less underpriviliged youth into the crime scene.  It's certainly an interesting observation and one which is open for debate.  Shockingly, however, the film presents this segment -- the most powerful in terms of subject matter -- in the form of a cartoon.  I just don't get it.  It certainly fits with the otherwise lighthearted tone of the rest of the film, but it does nothing but lessen the gravitas of the concept being debated.

Despite the "pop culture economics for dummies" feel that is on display here, I wasn't the least bit bored watching Freakonomics.  That being said, the underlying concepts don't seem suited for film...at least not in the manner presented here  Perhaps an hour-long weekly tv series on PBS would better suit the format.  It would certainly be something I would watch.  But doling out these ideas in 20-30 minute blips doesn't allow for the kind of thorough examination I'd like to see.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, September 27, 2010

Movie Review - The Joneses

The Joneses (2010)
Starring David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, and Lauren Hutton 
Directed by Derrick Borte

The expensive cars.  The latest electronics.  The hippest clothing.  It takes a lot of cash to keep up with the trendsetting Joneses.  And in first time writer-director Derrick Borte's satire on the popular catchphrase, he attempts to showcase the ridiculousness of our consumer-driven society.  Unfortunately, he doesn't quite succeed, but it's an admirable attempt that might have worked a little better if only it had gotten a little dirtier and grittier rather than playing things so light-heartedly. 

When the Joneses move into a ritzy suburban neighborhood, they're immediately fawned over by the neighbors.  Steve and Kate Jones (David Duchovny and Demi Moore) and their son and daughter (Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard) seem to be the perfect family.  They have it all and they're not afraid to flaunt it.  Little do the neighbors know that this foursome isn't a family at all -- they've been hired by a consumer products company to sell items to the unwitting neighbors.  As is to be expected, the best laid plans don't go so well for the Joneses and their scheme soon runs a risk of being uncovered.

The premise in The Joneses is quite promising.  It's an intriguing idea and one that actually (and surprisingly) doesn't seem too inconceivable when it appears onscreen.  The problem lies in everything else going on outside of the premise.  Side stories involving the sex lives of the two kids seem superfluous and completely unnecessary and certainly take away from the driving force of the satire.  A focus on the Joneses next-door neighbors, the Symonds (Gary Cole and Glenne Headley), seems too jokey and farcical, lacking any sense of realism.  These tangents that writer Borte takes certainly impede his true focus -- his taking on of our materialistic society -- and it really causes the film to seriously falter.

The film looks good which is certainly commendable seeing as how this is Borte's debut.  And he absolutely culls some decent performances from Duchovny and Moore.  However, the flaws mentioned above greatly outweigh the strengths.  I was, for the most part, very bored watching The Joneses and with as interesting a premise as it could have been, it is an unfortunate disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Movie Review - The Witches

The Witches (1990)
Starring Angelica Huston
Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Roald Dahl was probably my favorite author when I was a kid.  There was a sense of whimsy in his books, but he wasn't afraid to depict the scarier side of life.  Things weren't always sunshine and lollipops in his novels and, as the title of this flick suggests, The Witches certainly isn't a fairytale fantasy.

The film starts out with young Luke (Jasen Fisher) being told a tale by his grandmother about witches.  While Luke initially thinks his grandmother is talking rubbish, he soon begins to spot witch-like characteristics in some women around his town.  When he and his grandmother take a holiday (and it is a "holiday" and not a vacation since this takes place in England) to a nice hotel by the sea, Luke inadvertently sneaks into a witch convention headed by the Grand High Witch (played wonderfully by Angelica Huston) and finds himself in a little bit of trouble when the coven of witches turns the young boy into a mouse.

First things first, this is Angelica Huston's movie and no one else's.  She chews up the scenery and does so to such great effect that it's a real joy to watch her.  Deliciously over-the-top in her evilness, Huston knew that this role required a tongue-in-cheek mindset and she truly shines.  She's certainly helped by some amazing make-up effects from the folks at the Jim Henson Creature Shop, but she really made this character one that stayed with me ever since I first saw this movie some two decades ago.  As a kid, I remember being truly scared of her.  As an adult, I appreciated everything she brings to the screen as an actress.

There's an acting innocence to young Jasen Fisher (who starred in three fairly big movies -- this, Parenthood, and Hook -- and then disappeared from the entertainment scene) that isn't often seen in films.  It's as if you're watching a "real" kid onscreen and not an actor and it's quite refreshing.  It had been a long time since I'd seen The Witches and in my cynical older years, I'm surprised that Fisher's acting held up as well as it did.

What didn't work quite so well for me this time around was the film's final act.  Once Luke turns into a mouse, the charm of the flick vanishes.  Don't get me wrong, the creature effects are strong, but when the film focuses on these robotic mice, I couldn't help but wish it went back to focusing on the witches.

Nicolas Roeg who directed the absolutely awful Don't Look Now which I reviewed just a few weeks ago certainly redeems himself with this flick.  And it's nice to see that it holds up so well so many years later.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Dead Calm

Dead Calm (1989)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, and Billy Zane
Directed by Philip Noyce
 **Currently streaming on Netflix**

This is one of those flicks that I've wanted to see forever and thanks to Netflix streaming, I've now got my chance.  Unfortunately, once again (as is often the case), the flick just isn't all that good.

Dead Calm is actually fairly promising for its first half.  A couple, John and Rae (Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman), who just went through the tragedy of losing their toddler son decide to take a sailboat trip in the Pacific.  While out at sea, they come across another sailboat with a single passenger named Hughie (Billy Zane).  With Hughie's boat sinking, they decide to take him aboard.  Unbeknown to them, however, Hughie is a psychopathic killer who murdered his fellow crew members and may likely to the same to them.

This initial set-up is well-paced and well-shot.  However, the problem with the film comes in the second half when Hughie's true colors begin to show.  This is one of those movies where the screenwriters got together and said, "Our bad guy's crazy, so whatever he does really doesn't have to make any sense."  Unfortunately, using the guy's insanity as an "out," they also negate any sense of realism that was here in the first place.  Any moments of tension are simply laughed off by the viewer because the bad guy simply isn't making any sense. 

Philip Noyce certainly does an admirable job directing -- the film takes place, for the most part, on the confined quarters of a sailboat and Noyce creates a feeling of entrapment for his characters.  Nicole Kidman is also quite good in what was one of first starring roles.  

But in the end, the film really fails in its second half and it just can't garner a recommendation from me.  

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Movie Review - The Square

The Square (2010)
Starring David Roberts and Claire van der Boom
Directed by Nash Edgerton

A film noir in the best possible sense of the word, The Square is taut, suspenseful, and completely engaging -- a flick you should add to your rental list right away.

Raymond (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) are having an affair.  Both are married, but neither are happy.  In typical noir fashion, the dame convinces her honey to commit a nefarious deed.  In this case, Carla discovers that her husband is involved in some shady dealings and is hiding a large stash of money in their home.  She and Raymond concoct a plan to steal the money, hire an arsonist to set her house on fire to make it appear that the cash has gone up in smoke, and run away together.  As is the case in most movies like this, the best laid plans always tend to go a little (or a lot) awry.

As the events around him begin snowballing out of control at an increasingly rapid rate, Raymond soon begins to realize that he's gotten himself into something way over his head.  As played by the somber David Roberts, Raymond is a character who starts with perhaps a mild guilt for cheating on his wife.  This guilt then balloons into a fear of being caught for the crimes he's committed and a genuine shock at the levels to which he will stoop in order to keep things hidden.  Some may say that Roberts is playing Raymond as a one-note lummox or a push-over, but I see him as a man who is more frightened of himself than anything else -- a man angry that he could descend to the depths to which he has.

Director Nash Edgerton, working from a script co-written by his brother Joel Edgerton, keeps things moving at a great clip.  The brothers have a real sense of what makes classic noirs like Double Indemnity work.  While somewhat abandoning the dark shadows and witty and suggestive banter that are so characteristic of noirs of yore, the Edgartons focus on a man being pushed to do things outside of his moral code simply to earn the affections of a woman.  It's a simple idea, but one that works over and over again.

If you happen to rent the Blu-Ray, be sure to check out the short film Spider.  It'll only take up nine minutes of your time, but it, along with The Square, give us an idea of the kind of filmmakers the Edgarton brothers will be -- and I can't wait to see more from them. 

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Monday, September 20, 2010

Movie Review - Date Night

Date Night (2010)
Starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Common, and Ray Liotta
Directed by Shawn Levy

Oh, Tina Fey.  I truly enjoy 30 Rock where you play the quick-witted Liz Lemon.  Your writing on that show is spot-on and makes me laugh out loud.

And Steve Carell.  While I haven't watched The Office on a regular basis, whenever I catch it in syndication, I find the whole thing incredibly amusing.  Your character Michael Scott creates a hilariously uncomfortable atmosphere that has put the series on my Netflix Instant Queue.

And yet, when the two of you comedians combine in the film Date Night, it's amazing how absolutely unfunny you both are.  When given an opportunity, you certainly can elicit laughs.  Just look at the scene where you both pretend to be strippers in a seedy club.  Who knew sexy robot dancing would make me crack up as much as I did?  But beyond the sexy robot, I hardly cracked a smile while watching this flick in which the two of you play a homely married couple from New Jersey who are mistaken for another couple on the run from some corrupt cops, local politicians, and mobsters.  While watching, I couldn't help but think of childhood film favorite with a similar plot -- Adventures in Babysitting -- and wishing I was watching that instead.

Granted, it's not really all your fault, Tina and Steve.  Director Shawn Levy (whose previous claim to fame are the godawful Night at the Museum films) doesn't exactly have a great eye for comedy.  Sometimes (as in the aforementioned strip club scene) he lets the two of you run wild to great effect.  However, at other times, he doesn't reel you in enough.  There seemed to be many moments where he let you run free which caused some scenes to go on for what felt like an eternity -- an eternity devoid of any laughter.

The plot is ridiculously convoluted, too, which I realize might have restrained you both from your full potential.  That being said, Tina and Steve, take my advice and stick to your day jobs.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman, and Catherine Keener
Directed by Chris Columbus

Low-rent Harry Potter is what this one is.  Director Chris Columbus (who also directed the first two Potter pics) manages to actually craft a decent looking film filled with moderately nifty special effects sequences, but the story itself here is pretty dismal.

High schooler Percy Jackson (a one-note Logan Lerman) discovers on a school field trip one day that he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon.  It turns out that Zeus believes that Percy (for some ridiculous reason or another) stole his lightning bolt and unless he returns it in two weeks, humans will have hell to pay.  Why?  I don't know.  Maybe because Percy's a half human-half god or maybe because Zeus is just one angry dude with a superiority complex.  It doesn't really matter because the story itself is ridiculous and it makes this film fail miserably.

The books that this flick is based on are apparently quite popular, but the fantasy realm presented here can't compare to the whimsy of Hogwarts, for example (and I'm not even a huge fan of the Potter films).  Like I said, Columbus actually does a fairly admirable job in the direction, but this was painful to sit through.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, September 17, 2010

Movie Review - Devil

Devil (2010)
Starring Chris Messina and Five People Trapped in an Elevator
Directed by John Erick Dowdle

I'm not someone that finds M. Night Shyamalan laughable.  Reports spread that the trailer for Devil was receiving more than its share of chuckles when "From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" popped up on the screen.  Yes, he's had his share of failures, but The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs are a mighty successful one-two-three punch.  So, I actually kind of wanted to see Devil simply because of Shyamalan's name.  Maybe what the famous director needs is to do exactly what he does in this film -- simply think up a story and have someone else flesh it out and direct it.

Unfortunately, Devil falls a flat, but not because of the premise, so in that regard, Mr. Shyamalan has redeemed himself.  It's the screenplay, actors, and direction that cause this piece to disappoint.

This is a story that would have been incredibly successful as a Twilight Zone episode -- five people are trapped on an elevator.  One by one, the passengers are killed.  Who is the murderer?  Is it possible that some supernatural forces are involved?  Yes, it all sounds a bit insubstantial, but as a 30-minute tv show, I have no doubt it would have worked.  Stretching it out to a still fairly short 80 minutes, some silly backstories are thrown into the mix (including one very reminiscent of what Mel Gibson's character was going through in Signs) and none of them really stick.

Director John Erick Dowdle isnt' able to really build any suspense.  Granted, I will say that there is a good sense of claustrophobia as Dowdle is quite successful at bringing the audience right into the elevator with the five passengers.  However, there was never a moment where I felt tense or worried for any of these characters...and in a thriller that's a bit of a problem.

Dowdle also wasn't able to draw good performances from his actors.  I've seen Chris Messina in quite a bit over the past year (he took spot #4 in my Best Supporting Actor list and spot #5 on my Breakthrough  list in the 2009 RyMickey Awards), but he was just passable here as a cop trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the elevator.  It's more the fault of the silly lines he's forced to spout than anything else.  While Messina may be adequate, some of the passengers on the elevator didn't fare so well.  I understand the desire to not use any "stars" here, but you need believable actors that can spike up the tension in a film like this and none of the people stuck in the elevator were successful in that regard.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Theater Review - Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter
Directed and Adapted by Emma Rice
Based on the play Still Life and the screenplay of the Brief Encounter by Noël Coward
When: Saturday, September 12, 2010, 2pm
Where: Studio 54, NYC (Roundabout Theatre Company)
What: Play, Professional Theater, Broadway

I must say that while I wasn't a huge fan of the film Brief Encounter when I watched it nearly two months ago, I did appreciate the simplicity of the tragic love story between a man and woman in 1938 Britain.  Alec and Laura meet at a train station's small café rather innocently.  They go their separate ways, but happen to meet again at a restaurant the following week.  Both are married, but there's a connection that neither can deny.  Soon, the couple are meeting every Thursday, leaving their significant others (along with their children) by the wayside to continue their affair.

Like the movie, the play is extremely simplistic, and, if there's really any problem with the production, it's that the relationship between Laura and Alec isn't fleshed out to anything beyond broad characterizations.  Yes, there's no denying that we feel and understand completely Laura's reluctance (but eventual acceptance) of this relationship, just as we recognize that Alec has essentially fallen in love at first sight with Laura, but the actors (Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock) are so stiff that we as an audience are never completely drawn in.  However, it's not the fault of Yelland or Sturrock or even the play's rather ingenious director Emma Rice.  Those are simply the restrained characters that Noël Coward created.  We're in 1930s-40s Britain and this "personality rigidity" is almost to be expected (it was played in the same manner in the movie).  Laura and Alec know they're doing something taboo, and they place up walls around them to block out their other responsibilities.  While I understand the reasoning behind their characterizations, it doesn't mean I have to be head over heels about it.

What I was head over heels over was nearly everything else on display in this charming production.  It's rather difficult to describe, but Brief Encounter was a multi-sensory experience.  Paying homage to the film on which it is based, director Emma Rice has characters walk in and out of movie screens (done to neat effect multiple times and, as a fan of film, I found the mixing of the two mediums -- film and live theater -- ingenious).

Mixing mediums even further, the play sets many of Noël Coward's poems to music and has the secondary characters sing Laura and Alec's inner thoughts in song.  In the film, Laura is constantly having an inner monologue with herself which we hear in voiceover; the songs as an inner monologue in the play were spot-on and added a theatrical touch that worked very well onstage.  I could go on and on -- puppetry, vaudevillian-style dance numbers (complete with an onstage instrumental trio), clever usage of props -- Rice has staged a marvelous production that surprisingly doesn't push the audience away from the main story, but rather loosens the rigid atmosphere that Laura and Alec have created around themselves.

As I mentioned above, Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock are certainly adequate as the main characters, but the supporting cast brings some much needed happiness to this otherwise anguished tale.  Whether it be Annette McLaughlin's Myrtle, the snooty manager of the train station café, or her love-obsessed younger waitress, Beryl (played by Dorothy Atkinson), or their respective beaus (Joseph Alessi and Gabriel Ebert), these clever comedians lifted my spirits when things got a tad too heavy.

Despite the bells and whistles added to this production, the essence of the play is deeply rooted in 1930s sensibilities.  Things may seem overly dramatic, but I never got a sense that the play was poking fun of the era or attempting to make things ironic.  Instead, it's a love letter to both a bygone era and the films made during that time.

NOTE: I saw this play during previews, so I guess it's possible things could change in the production.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Movie Review - Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now (1973)
Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
***Currently streaming on Netflix*** 

Even though you may not have heard of it, Don't Look Now is a rather "revered" film.  Ebert calls it a "horror masterpiece" and he is not alone in his fawning.

My response to those praising this 1973 flick:  Don't listen to them.

This is one of the most boring films I've seen in years.  There's 108 minutes of set-up leading to, quite possibly, two of the worst final minutes of any film I've watched.

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland are Laura and John Baxter, a married couple who lose their daughter in a tragic drowning.  Shortly after her death, the couple travels to Venice, Italy, for John to begin renovations on an old cathedral.  While there, Laura meets two old ladies, one of whom sees both visions of the couple's dead daughter and prophesies of the future, which, unfortunately for Laura and John appears to be filled with some more tragic events.

A promising set-up is completely wasted here by pretentious direction from Nicolas Roeg (who has since gone on to direct classics like Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession and Erotic Tales II).  There's a self-importance on display that comes off as laughable.  Roeg never achieves any modicum of suspense or eeriness except for during the film's final minutes.  Unfortunately, those final minutes lead up to a ridiculous "reveal" that makes one wonder why the hell one spent nearly two hours with this flick.

As a positive, Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland are actually fine here, but their acting (which is filled with a surprising amount of chemistry) isn't nearly enough to save this so-called suspense "classic."

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Movie Review - The Running Man

The Running Man (1987)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Richard Dawson
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
***Now streaming on Netflix***

I was utterly fascinated with game shows as a kid.  Growing up, I remember spending summer vacations watching nothing but Pyramid, Card Sharks, Tic Tac Dough, Scrabble, and too many others to count.  I would "play" the game show host, creating my own versions of Jeopardy.  It was kind of a far-fetched dream to become the next Wink Martindale or Pat Sajak.  Well, that certainly didn't happen, but because of that childhood fascination, The Running Man has been on my list of movies to see for probably fifteen years.  I had never gotten around to it until now, but thanks to instant viewing on Netflix, I managed to watch it.

And, after all these years, it should come as no surprise that The Running Man it's really just a typical Ah-nuld movie that reeks of the cheesy actioners of the 80s.  But it was fun and an enjoyable diversion -- a film with a great story that's hampered by some poor execution.

The year is the super-futuristic 2017 and the government has taken over all aspects of American life.  Arnold is Ben Richards, a government officer who is framed in the murder of 1500 innocent civilians.  He's sent to jail, but escapes, only to be caught again and put on the most popular television show -- The Running Man -- where criminals attempt to earn their freedom by evading burly guys named Seekers who set out to kill them.  

The best part of this film isn't Arnold or the various deaths (which are shockingly tame and unexciting) or the "pro wrestling" and football players who act as the Seekers (oh, Jesse Ventura...).  Instead it's Family Feud emcee Richard Dawson as Damon Killian, the host of the game show.  He's witty, devious, and, as most game show hosts are, winningly charming.  It certainly helps that his part in the flick as the "reality show producer" is the most resonant in today's society of The Bachelorette, Jersey Shore, and [insert VH1 trash here].  It's the role of Killian and the game show itself that prop The Running Man up. The action (unfortunately) and the acting (which is to be expected in a silly 80s flick like this) fall to the wayside and simply aren't that good.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, September 06, 2010

Movie Review - Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind (1939)
Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland 
Directed by Victor Fleming

The only problem with Gone with the Wind is that it's too long.  Clocking in at 238 minutes (that's two minutes shy of four hours) if you include the "entrance," "intermission," "entr'acte," and "ending" music as it would have been presented in 1939, the film slowly meanders along its soap operatic path.

Here we're presented with the Civil War -- North against the South -- but it really doesn't matter.  That's just the backdrop to the epic love story between the headstrong southern belle Scarlett O'Hara and the philandering Rhett Butler.  Rhett falls for Scarlett, but she's in love with the bland Ashley (that's a guy), but Ashley's marrying his cousin (as they were wont to do back then), the heartwarming Melanie.  Such drama!

Yes, it's silly, but the story is surprisingly effective.  I dare anyone to deny that Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara is a bitch, but that's what makes her so interesting.  Yes, she's the biggest flirt in all of Georgia which angers all the women in town, and, after she steals the men away from their ladies, she simply breaks their hearts, but she's really just a woman trying to make it in a male-dominated world.  While it may seem like she hasn't changed a bit from the opening reel to the closing one, the fact of the matter is, she really has grown to be self-sufficient (despite her endless reliance on men).  She did what was necessary to survive -- more than she ever thought she would be able to do.

And that's what makes her so attractive to the womanizing Rhett.  Clark Gable plays this Southern Casanova with wit and charm, always well aware of Scarlett's manipulations and never allowing her to walk all over him.  Plus, he gets to spout some great lines -- the most famous being "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," but my favorite being "You need kissing badly.  That's what's wrong with you.  You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how."  Coming out of anyone else, it may sound silly and trite, but coming from Gable, it's kind of fantastic.  Without a doubt, both Gable and Leigh (the later of whom won an Oscar) are stellar here, rising above the melodrama and making the film much better than it has any right to be.

Aided by a rather touching performance from Olivia de Havilland as Melanie, the woman who unknowingly shatters Scarlett's dream of being with her perceived true love Ashley, and Oscar-winning Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, the house servant with the voice of reason, director Victor Fleming manages to pull out some amazing performances from his actors.  Fleming also crafts a beautiful looking film as well.  There are some wonderful shots here -- ones that resonate even hours later -- Scarlett walking through a field of wounded soldiers, a beautiful red-hued sunset at the O'Hara plantation named Tara to name just two.  The use of Technicolor (in its early stages) and a sweeping Max Steiner score are both stunning, adding some oomph to the already powerful images.

If only the film were an hour shorter.  A three-hour running time would've been perfect.  At four hours, this film's pushing its luck.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Movie Review - Greenberg

Greenberg (2010)
Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, and Rhys Ifans
Directed by Noah Baumbach

I'm not really a fan of movies where some narcissistic person tries to find themselves, hurting all their friends in the process, but becoming a better person by the end, and, thusly, is forgiven by said friends who turned him away.  

That's the story in a nutshell of Greenberg.  

Ben Stiller is the title character, Roger Greenberg.  Just released from a mental hospital, Roger is staying at his vacationing brother's house in California.  While there, Roger falls for his brother's assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), and they begin a tumultuous relationship in which Roger continually berates her but she keeps coming back to him because "he's got issues...he was in a mental hospital...it's not his fault."  Had the character of Florence been some floozy or down-on-her-luck gal, I could understand why she'd go back to him.  However, as played by the plain jane but very attractive Greta Gerwig, Florence is a woman who seems fairly sure of herself.  Granted, she recognizes that she has faults, but there's no reason why this girl would keep going back to the jerk that is Roger Greenberg.

Since this is a hip, indie movie, drugs come into play (because all those hipsters like to snort their coke and smoke their weed while downing a variety of pills) and instead of causing Roger to lose it even more, they help him realize what he's been missing in Florence.  Ugh.  The third act of this film tries to set up a magical awakening for Roger, but one never gets an idea that he has changed one bit.

The one positive thing to take away from Greenberg is that Greta Gerwig is actually quite good.  There was a genuineness about her that didn't seem forced or fake.  I wish the same could be said for Stiller who, in certain scenes, you could tell he was trying his hardest not to portray the spastic angry characters he's played before.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Movie Review - The Runaways

The Runaways (2010)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, and Michael Shannon
Directed by Floria Sigismondi

The Runaways...also known as "the movie that actually showed this blogger that Kristen Stewart can act." Coming off of all wooden performances in the Twilight movies that made her famous, Stewart proves that there may be some significant acting chops in her after all as she portrays teenage rocker Joan Jett, lead guitarist for the 70s short-lived chick rock band The Runaways.  With Dakota Fanning (as always) performing admirably by her side, Stewart and Fanning make this rock biopic better than it really deserves to be given its by-the-book method of storytelling.

Just like any other rock band that's had a movie made about them, The Runaways dealt with the same exact stuff -- sex, drugs, an overbearing and shady manager, egos, in-fighting.  The list could go on and on, but it's nothing new or surprising.  The only difference here is that it's a bunch of girls dealing with it rather than guys.  Even though director-screenwriter Floria Sigismondi isn't able to produce anything special with the screenplay, the film looks pretty darn good.  Apparently best known for her music videos, Sigismondi certainly brings a frenetic energy to the screen, but absolutely knows when to scale back the pizzazz for the more intimate moments.

As I mentioned above, the film is carried by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.  Stewart brings a raw, macho edge to Joan Jett that I haven't seen in anything else from the actress.  She was surprisingly winning even in some fairly dramatic scenes.  Fanning, once again, proves why she's one of the best younger actresses ever to appear on screen.  This girl is only sixteen (possibly younger when she made this) and her role as the drug-addicted lead singer Cherie Currie is 100% believable.  With the looks of an angel and the attitude of a punk, Fanning undeniably disappears completely into this role, providing me with some very uncomfortable, but tremendously effective, moments (re: the lesbian kissing, snorting cocaine, etc...this is Dakota Fanning...not Lindsay Lohan!).  Michael Shannon also is quite good as The Runaways' manager, Kim Fowley, who knew that in order to be successful, he needed to turn the band into the bad girls that every guy wanted to screw.  (Yes, that sounds harsh, but just wait until you hear some of the lines he spouts...most of them were ridiculous, but oh so true from a music biz standpoint.)

The RyMickey Rating: B