Friday, December 30, 2011

Movie Review - Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2011)
Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, and Katrina Bowden
Directed by Eli Craig
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I certainly wasn't expecting anything from this, but when it popped up on Netflix Instant today, I figured I'd give the 80-minute Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a shot...and I was pleasantly surprised.  A horror comedy based upon a series of epic miscommunications, when a group of college kids head into West Virginia for a camping trip, they come across sweet hillbillies Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) and mistake them for crazy folks.  When the gorgeous Allison (Katrina Bowden) falls into the lake and gets knocked unconscious, Tucker and Dale rescue her.  Allison's college buddies, however, are certain that the two countryfolk have kidnapped her and head out on a rescue mission.  Unfortunately for them, a series of mishaps cause bodies to start building up, painting Tucker and Dale as mass murderers instead of the lovable guys that they really are.

Although the film falters a bit in the final act, this was a more than enjoyable diversion with winning performances from the two leads. Tyler Labine, in particular, was actually rather charming as the shy Dale and absolutely helped raise the bar in terms of the quality on display in the flick.  In fact, considering that Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a send-up of slasher movies, all the acting is much better than I ever could have expected.  Laughs abound (who knew impalements could actually invoke laughter?) and the gore level is more than adequate although never grotesque.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Love Crime

Love Crime [Crime d'amour] (2011)
Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Ludivine Sagnier, and Patrick Mille
Directed by Alain Corneau
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There is almost a guilty pleasure aspect to Love Crime, a French thriller that revolves around the rather headstrong and cutthroat business executive Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her younger protégé Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier).  Almost.  As Christine's nastiness increases and Isabelle's tolerance of it decreases, it's obvious that things are eventually going to come to blows between the two ladies.  However, despite the ludicrousness of the whole ordeal (which certainly aids the aforementioned guilty pleasure the film nearly succeeds at provides), the acting here is just much too over-the-top to be believed and it hinders the film much too much.

It didn't occur to me until the final five minutes of Love Crime that the film sets up its characters in an almost "pornographic" way (complete with a weird and undeveloped lesbian undertone that I still don't understand in the slightest).  Kristin Scott Thomas's Christine is the dominatrix, wearing high heels and pants, exuding sex all the time, whereas Ludivine Sagnier's Isabelle wears glasses, frumpy jackets and dresses, and is the epitome of "boring [but sexy] librarian."  The two flirt with each other often (because that's what French women do apparently) and they are set up like polar opposites, but both are overly sexualized to the nth degree.  Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with being overly sexualized, but this film directed and co-written by Alain Corneau doesn't allow its characters to have any depth beyond their physical characteristics.  There's nothing for these two actresses to sink their teeth into beyond the soap opera-type levels of drama, duplicity, and deviousness. 

I like Kristin Scott Thomas quite a bit and her acting chops here unfortunately cause the young Ludivine Sagnier to look second-rate especially in a film that pits these two women against each other from the get-go.  Admittedly, Sagnier is saddled with a ridiculous character in the first half of the film and manages to improve a bit as the film rolls on, but I'm not sure she's ready for the big time yet.

Love Crime is unfortunately not very good, but could have very easily jumped into the realm of enjoyable sleaziness.  As it stands now, I'm sure there are late night Cinemax movies that tell this same tale with substantially more nudity, all-out cheesy acting, and a perhaps more believable plot that would probably be more enjoyable to watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movie Review - Weekend

Weekend (2011)
Starring Tom Cullen and Chris New
Directed by Andrew Haigh
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm not afraid to admit that Weekend would have never been on my cinematic radar had it not been for its appearance on a few Top Ten lists at year's end calling it this decade's Before Sunrise.  While there's some truth to that comparison in this tale about two men who meet in a bar and spend forty-eight hours having sex, getting high, and discussing their intimate and not-so-intimate thoughts, Weekend is much more intense than Sunrise in its focus on the difficulties faced by homosexuals in a decidedly heterosexual world.  Longing for societal equality, but finding that hard to come by, the two lovers -- the somewhat closeted Russell (Tom Cullen) and out-and-proud Glen (Chris New) -- find in each other a sounding board for their innermost thoughts.

It's that intensity and that lack of light-heartedness that somehow makes this flick a bit less successful than its aforementioned Richard Linkater-directed cinematic predecessor.  Weekend is heavy and while I'd like to say I'm able to remove "myself" from the mix when watching films, there's ultimately the sense in an intimate film like this that you want to connect with the characters.  While I certainly felt and understood both the pain and love that Russell and Glen expressed to one another, I couldn't help but be a tad disconnected from the whole scenario simply because of its subject matter.  (And I don't necessarily blame the filmmakers for that issue...it's probably something that falls squarely on me...and likely relates to the very issues the film raises concerning peoples' unease being around the two main characters.)

Still, the film is certainly an admirable one and probably the best love story I've seen on this subject matter.  Both Tom Cullen and Chris New (two actors very new to the world of acting) are both quite good.  Cullen, in particular, is rather winning in his role as Russell whose shy demeanor masks his true desire to simply find someone to love without having to worry about how it will appear to his straight friends and family.  Director and writer Andrew Haigh creates an almost documentary-type feel which at times proves to be a little difficult to take (couple the strong British accents with a lack of vocal amplification and you're just asking for trouble).  He lets his camera often linger in scenes longer than is sometimes comfortable providing the viewer a more intense glimpse of the two lovers.

In the end, despite its intimate discussions about homosexuality, Weekend isn't a movie about a gay relationship...it's simply a movie about a relationship and the sometimes scary notion of commitment.  It's certainly not going to be a movie for all, but it may be worth a shot if you're looking for something different to add to your Netflix Queue.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Personal Canon - Return to Me

The Personal Canon is a recurring column discussing my favorite movies of all time.  While they may not necessarily be "A" rated, they are the movies that, for some reason or another, hold a special place in my filmgoing experience.

Return to Me (2000)
Starring David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Bonnie Hunt, Jim Belushi, David Alan Grier, Carroll O'Connor, Robert Loggia, and Joely Richardson
Directed by Bonnie Hunt
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***



This was my first watch of Return to Me in several years.  It was a film I simply became enamored with when I first watched it thanks to its endearing love story, its simplicity (despite its absolutely absurd premise), and its old-fashioned humor, and I was worried it wasn't going to hold up.  Seeing as how this review is posted under the heading of "The Personal Canon," it's pretty obvious that I still adore the movie.  I'm a sucker for a good romantic comedy and Return to Me is a film I love.

The reason the film was even on my radar upon its release in 2000 was because I'm a huge fan of Bonnie Hunt.  Now, Mom, if you're reading this, please don't take this the wrong way, but I always thought if I had to choose another mother for whatever reason, Bonnie Hunt would be a good substitute.  She exudes warmth but also has a wry sense of humor that when making a dig at its intended "victim" still comes with a hefty dose of heart.  That quality is certainly on display in this film which she both directed and co-wrote.  Granted, she may not have the greatest directorial eye -- there are a few incredibly corny moments at the beginning which resort to unnecessary flashbacks -- but despite her rather by-the-book visual sense, she allows her created characters to shine.

And goshdarnit, the characters in Return to Me are people that you want to get to know and become buddies with.  You want to head down to O'Reilly's Italian Restaurant run by the Irish Marty O'Reilly (the great Carroll O'Connor) and Italian Angelo Pardipillo (the equally great Robert Loggia) and sink into a booth while Marty's lovely granddaughter Grace (Minnie Driver) sings a tune while taking your order.  It's Grace whom the story revolves around who, at the film's start, is in the hospital on death's door awaiting a heart transplant.  As fate would have it, a heart comes Grace's way.  After a simply lovely evening out with his zoologist wife (Joely Richardson), a terrible car accident kills Bob Rueland's (David Duchovny) spouse leaving him emotionally devastated and Grace with Bob's wife's heart and a new lease on life.  You know where this is going, right?  Bob and Grace end up meeting a year later and fall in love in perhaps the sweetest, most innocent romance captured on film since the 1940s...and, since this is the cinema, after all, the truth will inevitably be discovered.

Yes, the plot is silly, but it works...trust me.  It works because the actors sell the innocence and purity of a movie that could've been made decades earlier (the Dean Martin-heavy soundtrack fits right in, in that respect).  David Duchovny and Minnie Driver have never been better as they get us to truly care about them despite the fact that we are well aware that there's going to be trouble for this couple up ahead. But the supporting cast around them is what really helps Return to Me shine and lifts it to that extra level.  Carroll O'Connor is absolutely darling -- sure, that's a silly term to use nowadays, but his good-natured, strongly Irish-Catholic grandfather is a joy to watch in both his interactions with Grace and his old man buddies.  When he sits in a church pew and prays for his granddaughter's surgery to succeed, we can't help but want the same thing even though we've only just met his character mere minutes before.  Jim Belushi and Bonnie Hunt are also hilarious and certainly worthy of a mention as the uncouth husband-and-wife duo who only want what's best for their good friend Grace.

I've recommended this movie to a lot of people and I've yet to have one person come back and tell me they disliked it.  There's something so innocently charming about Return to Me, and it's the film's lack of irony and refusal to stoop to raunch that makes this a film I can keep going back to year after year.  It's a love story that can be enjoyed by my twenty-four year-old brother or my eighty-five year-old grandmother or my fifty-eight year-old dad.  And that's a testament to its quality, in my opinion, and it's a testament to what makes a great film.  [And since this flick is streaming on Netflix, there's no excuse not to watch it.]

The RyMickey Rating:  A-


Check out my other Personal Canon films like Requiem for a Dream and United 93 by clicking this link.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Movie Review - The Descendants

The Descendants (2011)
Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, and Judy Greer 
Directed by Alexander Payne

The Descendants is a pleasantly crafted character piece set in the beautiful landscape of Hawaii exploring a short snippet of time in the life of lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) and his two daughters -- teenage Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and ten-year old Scottie (Amara Miller) -- as they deal with their comatose wife and mother and the prospect that she isn't likely to regain consciousness.  While a nice film with some very good acting and enjoyable characters with whom to spend two hours getting to know, The Descendants finds itself bogged down with a rather silly subplot involving land ownership that is an attempt to add some gravitas and self-importance to the flick, but ends up being just as boring as it sounds.  Still, ultimately the film has a lot of good things going for it including some really nice acting -- some of the best I've seen this year, in fact.

This is George Clooney's best role yet as he takes on Matt, a loving, caring, yet out-of-the-loop father forced to become the "main parent" as opposed to his usual role as the "secondary one" after a terrible boating accident puts his wife into a coma.  Faced with the prospect of following his wife's wishes to remove her from life support, Matt reconnects with his teenage daughter Alexandra after bringing her home from a boarding school where she resided in an attempt to reshape her rambunctious ways.  It's not that we haven't seen these "reconnection" stories before and it's not as if The Descendants necessarily does anything new with the formula, but it succeeds in telling its simple story of "father getting to know his daughter" because of the believable rapport between Clooney and Shailene Woodley who, although initially a little off-putting in her profanity-laden dialog, ends up giving a surprisingly moving performance as her bratty character is forced to grow up quickly by the film's end.

Of course, Alexandra's character has reason to be angry at the start of the film because she's the only one in the family who is aware of the fact that her mother had been cheating on her father.  When Alexandra reveals this to Matt, it's obviously quite a blow and sends the devoted (although distant) husband on a mission to track down the man who had the affair with his wife.  While this journey which Matt undertakes with his two daughters and Alexandra's outwardly dim-witted boyfriend (or maybe just boy friend...it's never really made clear) Sid (Nick Krause) is certainly played for laughs, thanks to Clooney it's also a rather heartbreaking and eye-opening experience for Matt.  His wife cheated because he was too wrapped up in his successful work life to make his life at home the best it could be for his wife and daughters.  As he begins to realize his faults, he can't help but take some of the anger he feels towards his wife and turn it on himself.

Clooney's performance alone is reason enough to check out The Descendants.  When I think back on the movie, it's him that I think about most.  I've never been the biggest George Clooney fan, but what I find so engaging about him in this movie is his ability to easily become a believable family man which is a role we really don't get to see often from him.  Playing opposite Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller (in her first acting role) along with the hilarious Nick Krause (who genuinely plays one of the most lovable and least annoying surfer dudes I've seen depicted on screen), Clooney inhabits a fatherly sensibility with gusto and naturalness.

Yes, this film has some quirky indie sensibilities to it, but in the end, it's director Alexander Payne's most "commercial" and artistically successful movie yet.  While there's still a sense (as is the case in all of his films) that some of the characters are "characters" as opposed to real people (meaning they may not act in the fashion us normal folks would -- a trait that is sometimes a staple of indie comedies), Payne's definitely scaled back that oddness that we saw him create in About Schmidt and Election.  In a way, this almost seems like a film Jimmy Stewart would have starred in were he acting today -- albeit with a bit more profanity than a star like that would have uttered, but there's a sense of simplicity, wit, and poignancy on display here that was a bit more common back then.  (Note to self: It's time to watch Harvey again...)

While I certainly wasn't a fan of the subplot involving Matt's family's business venture in selling off their thousands of acres of waterfront land (even though I'm well aware that this was the "important" part of the movie that talked about the need to respect history and familial connections), the personal tale of Matt and his two daughters more than made up for those failings.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Movie Review - The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Featuring the voice talent of Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, and Catherine O'Hara
Directed by Henry Selick

I'm not gonna rehash some review here, nor am I going to say much except to say that I absolutely loved this movie when it came out in theaters.  I still have vivid memories of my aunt taking me to see it and simply being enthralled at age thirteen by the music, the visuals, and the story of Jack Skellington and his Halloweentown friends attempting to take over Christmas without much success.

Nowadays, this film just doesn't work for me at all and despite attempts nearly every other year to try and make it end up back on my Favorites List, it's a movie that simply has fallen out of favor.  What bothers me the most is I can't quite pinpoint why that's the case.  I still greatly admire the stop motion animation and very much appreciate the old school look it creates.  I still enjoy the songs which certainly help to move the story along and reveal many of the characters' innermost thoughts.  Despite that, I find the whole thing a drag to sit through now.  

When I watched the 3D re-release in theaters a few years back, I felt the same way -- the film lacks drive for me now and I find it much too one-note in terms of momentum with lull after lull and no highs in between.  The dreariness of the whole affair takes its toll rather early and it makes everything very heavy.  As corny as it sounds, the movie simply lacks joy and while that's certainly fine in some movies, I can't help but think that Nightmare's ultimate goal despite its oddness is to be a joyful flick.

As I said, I can't quite determine my qualms with the film as a whole, but what I had hoped was a fluke dislike in theaters two years ago has now turned into something that I genuinely can't deny -- I simply don't care for this movie anymore...and it kind of makes me sad that I feel that way.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Movie Review - Fright Night

Fright Night (2011)
Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed by Craig Gillespie

Fright Night (a remake of a 1985 vampire film I've never seen) starts off much too self-referential and "hip" for its own good.  Eventually, the film takes a very positive turn down an exciting and genuinely tense road, but even then it has a few pacing problems here and there.  Still, in the end, it's a decent horror movie that's certainly better than a lot of stuff out there.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Fright Night is that the opening forty-five minutes feels like a rehash of a variety of other vampire flicks that have come before it.  Adding to that sense of tedium is a horrible turn from Christopher Mintz-Plasse as an obnoxious vampire-obsessed geek who makes the flick almost unbearable to watch.  Fortunately, his character falls to the wayside for a bit allowing the main story -- concerning a teen named Charley (Anton Yelchin) who believes his next door neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire -- to come to the forefront.

Once the film sidelines the pop culture-y references and focuses squarely on Charley, his mom (Toni Collette), his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), and his growing obsession over Jerry's apparent vampiric tendencies, the flick kicks into high gear.  There are several pulse-pounding scenes and I found the ending to be rather clever and somewhat fresh in the overarching subgenre of vampire flicks (of course, I'm not an expert in the genre, so maybe it's just a rehashing of something else that I haven't seen yet).

With the exception of Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse whom casting agents can feel free to never hire again, Fright Night contains acting that's well above what is usually expected in a genre pic such as this.  Granted, their characters aren't given a whole lot to do, but everyone gives it their all despite the limitations of such a flick.

There are certainly problems to be had with Fright Night -- it was nearly so awful in the first twenty minutes that I was going to stop watching it -- but it definitely ends up being a flick that's worth watching if it ends up popping up on Netflix Instant or one of your pay cable stations.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Review - March of the Wooden Soldiers

March of the Wooden Soldiers [AKA Babes in Toyland] (1934)
Starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy
Directed by Gus Meins and Charley Rogers

March of Wooden Soldiers proves that not all old holiday films should carry the moniker of "classic."  Granted, the Babes in Toyland premise -- in which Little Bo Peep is forced to marry the evil landlord Barnaby in order to save her family from going homeless -- has never been that good of a story, instead relying on appealing Mother Goose nursery rhyme-style visuals which this 1934 movie certainly contains.  However, in this nearly eight decade old flick, the comedy just doesn't hold up and the songs are rather pitiful.  There's a part of me that can understand why Laurel and Hardy (who play recreations of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum here) were comically successful back in the 1930s, but they simply aren't funny here...not even in that whimsical nostalgic way.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Beginners

Beginners (2011)
Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, and Mary Page Keller
Directed by Mike Mills

After forty-four years of marriage, recently widowed seventy-five year old Hal (Christopher Plummer) reveals to his son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) that he is gay in the opening scenes of Beginners, a lovely film that has a few faults, but in the end is a charming ode to the relationship between fathers and sons.  Much like the title suggests, the film is all about new starts as Hal explores his rediscovered homosexuality which he had been repressing for decades and Oliver embarks on a new relationship with the cute as a button French aspiring actress Anna (Mélanie Laurent).

The film, directed and written by Mike Mills, jumps around in time and the two new beginnings mentioned above don't happen along the same time line.  However, because of this juxtaposition between the two storylines, a certain poignancy is achieved because the newly single Hal is also diagnosed with an inoperable form of lung cancer in the film's opening moments (I promise I'm not spoiling anything with that reveal).  Oliver falls for Anna only after his father has passed away and it causes him to react much differently to relationships than he did when his father was alive.  Thanks to his father's final years, Oliver finds himself much more a "live in the moment" type of guy than he ever was before and he finds himself reawakened much like his father was.

Unfortunately, the film falters a bit when dealing with Oliver and Anna's relationship.  I was along for the ride until about two-thirds of the way through when things change for the lovely couple and cracks begin to surface between the two.  The "problems" that the duo faced never seemed the least bit "real" and I couldn't help but feel like the screenwriter just pigeonholed conflict in the story for the sake of conflict.  It ends up being a rather large detriment to the film as it makes the serious final act of their story seem rather out-of-place with the whimsical charm of the first two-thirds.

That said, the viewer is treated to three very solid performances here.  Ewan McGregor is at his best, playing a lonely bachelor who we can't help but root to find love.  Once he does in the equally engaging and somehow plainly gorgeous Mélanie Laurent, we never want the two to part.  McGregor and Laurent have a palpable chemistry that exudes precisely the right tones one wants to experience in a newfound relationship.  With the exception of the aforementioned troubling moments in the final act of the film, their scenes together are played to near perfection.

Christopher Plummer is seemingly the man to beat for the Supporting Actor Oscar this year and while I'm not sure I'd go that far at this point, he's at the top of his game here.  Simply charming, he conveys a sense of excitement as he embarks on his late-in-life change of heart, while at the same time continuing to provide a fatherly sounding board for his forlorn son, making sure that Oliver knew that he never regretted for one instance the choices that he made to be his father.  When he gets his rather ominous medical diagnosis, it's all that more heartbreaking seeing as how he hasn't really lived his life to its fullest potential yet.

While Beginners was advertised as a piece about an old man discovering his homosexuality, the film is much more than that and is certainly worth checking out in anticipation of this busy upcoming awards season.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movie Review - J. Edgar

J. Edgar (2011)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, and Judi Dench
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Oh, Clint Eastwood.  I'm gonna call you "Old Reliable" now seeing as how I can always count on your movies to be a total and utter bore.  J. Edgar lived up to that lofty (or lowly) expectation.  While it was perhaps slightly more interesting than Hereafter and Invictus thanks to its subject matter alone, Eastwood's flick just feels dark and heavy at every single turn from the acting to the brooding set design to the uninspired stuffy direction.  Somehow, though, despite the hefty feel of everything in the flick, there's an utter emptiness in terms of dramatic tension.

The saving grace of the film is that Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black jump back and forth through time to various stages of the FBI creator J. Edgar Hoover's career and there's at least a bit of fun trying to pinpoint where in the timeline we are based off of the make-up caked onto Leonardo DiCaprio.  (It should be noted that a couple reviews I read panned the make-up in this flick, but I thought it was fine and sometimes quite good.)  However, the remainder of the flick's story much of which is composed of a ridiculously written romance between Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his secret paramour Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) plays out like a silly soap opera complete with a hotel room slapfest (that ends in a smooch on the lips) with the requisite throwing of a glass against a wall followed by shouted sayings like "How dare you! But don't leave me!  I love you!"  

Hoover was a helluva guy.  Overly ambitious it seems, but strongly believing that everything he did (whether it be wiretapping Martin Luther King, Jr.'s hotel room sexcapades or claiming to have scoop on Communist ties to Eleanor Roosevelt) was done in order to strengthen his position and the FBI's position in the government.  Sure, on one hand he was attempting to overthrow radicals in the country, but on the other hand he was becoming that dictatorial presence that he so despised.  Add the cross-dressing (which is only lightly touched upon and done so in a rather horrifying Norman Bates-ish Psycho manner) and the gay aspect of the guy and there's gotta be a good story there.  It's just not present in the movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio was fine (although oddly uncharismatic) and did a pretty darn good job at creating six decades of a character through changes in movement and speech.  Naomi Watts was adequate in what amounted to a very plain role as Hoover's longtime loyal secretary Helen Gandy.  Her character was in the film quite a bit, but wasn't given a whole lot else to do beyond saying, "Yes, sir," which just ends up wasting many minutes of the 140-minute runtime.  Still, DiCaprio and Watts were the two bright spots here.  Armie Hammer (whose role in The Social Network landed him in spot #5 on last year's Breakthrough Star RyMickey Awards) was overacting quite a bit, playing his role of Hoover's gay confidante Clyde Tolson with never a smidgeon of believability.  The screenplay does him no favors as it makes Clyde love fashion and dress impeccably (not that those are necessarily inherent characteristics of a gay man, but the way the movie plays them up it most certainly is intended to be that way).  And let's not even get started on Judi Dench who seemed to be sleepwalking through this thing as Hoover's overbearing mother -- another role in which the screenplay does no favors to the actor playing the part.

The personal life of J. Edgar Hoover admittedly isn't all that well-documented so who really knows if he was gay or a cross-dresser.  The problem is that J. Edgar skirts around these issues incredibly awkwardly and while it takes stands (to a degree) as to whether these rumors were true, it never attacks them head-on and it creates a lack of drama because of that.  

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Movie Review - Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, and Stanley Tucci 
Directed by Joe Johnston

I don't know if it's just comic book movie overkill, but after the success of this summer's X-Men: First Class and Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger just didn't work for me in the slightest.  I can certainly appreciate the 1940s "old style" cinematic serials aesthetics brought to the picture from Joe Johnston, but I found the whole thing to be lacking in way too many areas -- first and foremost a hero with any semblance of a personality upon which to base a flick.

I don't know whether it's the fault of the script, an inherent flaw of the character itself (for I'm not a comic book fan in the slightest), or the performance of Chris Evans, but Captain America is utterly bland.  While there was some promise when our hero was the gangly and weak Steve Rogers, a man desperate to serve his country via the military, as soon as he is recruited into the army and injected with some superhuman steroids, the buffed-up Captain America turns into a muddled mess.  Sent out on various missions to help take down the Nazis in WWII, our hero lacks any defining personality and, because of the fact that he's essentially just a really strong and smart human, he is devoid of any really cool superhero power...sorry, a bulletproof shield just ain't gonna cut it in terms of cool gadgets.

It certainly doesn't help matters that Captain America is surrounded by bland supporting actors as well.  Sure, Tommy Lee Jones was perfectly adequate as the gruff army supervisor and Stanley Tucci made the most of his bit part as the quirky scientist who turns Steve Rogers into the fighting machine that he becomes, but they lack the pizzazz needed for a good supporting cast member in a film like this -- if your superhero is bland, you better at least surround them with some secondary characters who at the very least provide a laugh or two.  Similarly, although Hayley Atwell is beautiful to look at, her role as the required love interest is such a throwaway, lacking any reasoning for existence in the grand scheme of the plot.  You're not required to give us a love story, folks, if it doesn't fit in the grand scheme of things.

And you can just couple all that with a villain who just didn't work for me in the slightest.  The notion of why the Red Skull - a Nazi "defector" of sorts -- does what he does beyond the vainglorious eccentricity of his outrageous schemes is all but lost.  As the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) tries to take over the world with his undeniably cool laser guns that seemingly evaporate his victims into thin air without a trace, there was never any real sense of danger and, quite honestly, much like his heroic counterpart, there wasn't any personality to either fear or love to hate.

Admittedly, the effect of placing Chris Evans's face onto the scrawny body of Steve Rogers Benjamin Button-style was cool and surprisingly successful in terms of technique.  And, as I mentioned above, I appreciate the rather nifty 1940s style director Joe Johnston brings to the film (including a nifty "cliffhanger-ish" ending like the serials of the past), but he's done this vibe before in a much better movie two decades ago -- The Rocketeer.  Considering there are better comic book films out there this year alone, Captain America simply isn't worth your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, December 12, 2011

Movie Review - Carrie

Carrie (1976)
Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, and John Travolta
Directed by Brian De Palma
***This ilm is currently streaming on Netflix***

There are moments when I watch Brian De Palma movies where I can't help but think he's a big hack.  For example, the softcore porn-esque opening of Carrie in which naked high school girls frolic around a school gym locker room evokes laughs as opposed to lust.  However, there are also moments in this flick adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name that are brilliantly staged and executed and Mr. De Palma's admitted appreciation for the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock shines through.  So, De Palma remains a conundrum for me -- a director I sometimes despise, but oftentimes admire as well.

It certainly helps De Palma that he's got an interesting script to work with here that truly develops its main characters and only slowly builds to being what could be classified as a "horror" movie.  Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is shy, reserved, and the butt of many jokes at school.  Thanks to her frighteningly religious mother (Piper Laurie) who has kept Carrie closely guarded her entire life, Carrie fails at being adept socially and instead finds herself outcast and friendless.  Carrie soon realizes, however, that she has been blessed (or cursed) with telekinetic powers that, while she is able to control, really only show themselves when her anger builds up.  

The ending of Carrie which takes place at the high school prom is fairly well known, but the path to get there was rather surprising to me.  Carrie's invitation to the prom comes from jock Tommy Ross (William Katt) who reluctantly takes on the "job" at the urging of his girlfriend Sue (Amy Irving).  Sue feels incredibly guilty about poking fun at Carrie in a pivotal scene early in the flick which shapes a huge chunk of what is to follow, so in order to try and make herself feel better, she asks Tommy to take Carrie to the prom to show her a pleasant night.  Much to Tommy's surprise, he realizes that Carrie is actually rather sweet and, once outside the rigid confines of her mother's fanaticism, she's a lovely girl.  Needless to say, prom doesn't quite go smoothly and when things go awry, they do so in a huge way.

As I mentioned, the movie works so well because both Carrie and her mother (and to a certain extent, Sue and Tommy) are such well-developed characters.  The film is much more of a character piece than a horror story as we discover what makes Carrie and her crazed mother tick.  While Piper Laurie's performance might seem a bit over the top in today's day and age, Sissy Spacek is spot-on and wholly believable as the tortured teen.  The script does falter quite a bit in its portrayal of the school's biggest bullies -- played by Nancy Allen and John Travolta -- whose characters are so maliciously one-note that their scenes prove to be laughable, but that's the only aspect of the plot that threw a kink into this otherwise solid flick.

With bullying being a hot topic in the news, Carrie is perhaps more relevant than ever before.  For those that don't like their horror movies "scary," this may be a good first look at the horror genre with the scares coming from character development rather than cheap thrills.  You won't be jumping out of your seat necessarily, but the final scenes are tense and chilling nevertheless.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Movie Review - Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, and Quentin Tarantino
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I came to the party late on Reservoir Dogs which probably caused the flick a little bit of harm in the grand scheme of things.  I'd heard that it was this fantastic piece of work filled with clever dialog and great performances.  While I'd agree with that to a certain extent, I have to be in the mood for Quentin Tarantino's writing sometimes and at the start of this heist-gone-bad film, I just didn't dig what I was hearing at all.

However, by the time the halfway point rolled around and "Quentin Tarantino, The Actor" took a backseat to folks who can actually act, I began to see what all the fuss was about.  Granted, I'm still not quite sure why it's revered as much as it is because to me now it seems just like every other Quentin Tarantino flick with its pop culture dialog, hip oldies soundtrack, and time jumping editing.  But, perhaps in 1992 this was new to the scene.  [Although now it really shows me that Tarantino is kind of a one-trick pony and while I may like his tricks, he really doesn't bring a whole lot new to the table in terms of technique in his films.]

The tale of a failed jewelry store robbery is filled with some solid performances from Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen as part of the group of men tasked to steal a load of diamonds and it's these performances that really make the movie work.  Sure, they've got a nice script from Tarantino that had a mild twist or two for the actors to sink their teeth into, but this is really a low budget actors' showcase.

In the end, I enjoyed Reservoir Dogs, but I probably would have enjoyed it more had I seen it fifteen years ago before every college student raved on and on about it thereby increasing expectations exponentially.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Personal Canon - Requiem for a Dream

The Personal Canon is a recurring column discussing my favorite movies of all time.  While they may not necessarily be "A" rated, they are the movies that, for some reason or another, hold a special place in my filmgoing experience.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Starring Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Marlon Wayans, Jennifer Connelly, and Christopher McDonald
Directed by Darren Aronofsky



I previously reviewed Requiem for a Dream a little over two years ago (that review will contain a bit more of a summary of the film than this blog post if you're interested) and I resolutely stated that Darren Aronofsky's film is a bit of a masterpiece.  I firmly stand by that notion and am still in awe of the director's choice of camera techniques in order to place the viewer squarely in the mind of a drug addict.  Not only do we see Jared Leto's Harry or Jennifer Connelly's Marion snorting or popping or injecting their drug addiction into their systems, but we then get quickly edited, close-up shots of dilating pupils and crazed blood cells reacting to this foreign substance coming into their bodies.  Although difficult to necessarily convey on paper (or on a computer screen), these moments are visceral, breathtaking, and scary.

The reason these moments take on frightening tones comes from the fact that as we get to know these characters, it's obvious that their lives are not heading to a more peaceful place.  As Harry and Marion run out of money in order to support their addiction, the lengths to which they stoop to get their necessary kicks is devastatingly painful and a happy ending never seems to be in any of their futures.  However, illegal drugs aren't the only topic of discussion here.  Harry's mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), is desperate to lose some weight and begins to start a regimen of diet pills -- an addiction which slowly but surely spirals out of her control.


And it's perhaps the segments of the film dealing with Sara and her "legal" addiction that is most difficult to witness.  Here was a lovely Jewish woman who only wanted what was best for her family slowly plummeting into emotional horrors she likely never thought existed.  As her reality begins to twist and turn and her daily life becomes proliferated with hallucinatory visions of her favorite television show, one can't help but feel empathy for this woman.  Sure, we feel bad for her coke-addicted son, too, but there's a certain feeling that he brought that upon himself.  Sara, although somewhat responsible for her newfound predilection to pills, isn't necessarily finding the happiness in drugs that her son is, but she is hooked and simply unable to stop.


Certainly making the viewer feel for Sara is a stunning performance from Ellen Burstyn.  What starts off so innocently and perhaps caricaturish in her portrayal of a loving Jewish mother shifts into a woman who has lost complete control over everything.  Confused, scared, and unable to cope with her daily routines, Burstyn's Sara begins to be cut off from reality, forced into a dream-like (or perhaps nightmarish) state that is heartbreaking to watch.

Thanks to Darren Aronofsky, as the film progresses the viewer also finds themselves increasingly unable to escape the horrors of the characters onscreen.  The final thirty minutes is constantly ratcheting up the tension and he does this by incessantly switching back and forth between our four main characters (which also includes a wonderful turn from Marlon Wayans as Harry's friend Tyrone).  Every one of the quartet is finding themselves in horrifying situations they never would have dreamed possible and, much like the characters, we the viewers are never given a moment to breathe.

Kudos must also be given to the always fantastic Clint Mansell (Aronofsky's go-to composer) whose intense score for Requiem has become quite well-known and well-utilized in the cinematic world.  And this film certainly wouldn't be what it is without the awe-inspiring editing from Jay Rabinowitz.  His quick cutting and split screens are genius and certainly bring to life the aesthetic vision of the director.


This certainly isn't an analysis of Requiem for a Dream although there would certainly be plenty to write a college paper on.  Instead it's a rather "random thought" appreciation of a film that certainly won't appeal to everyone.  It's a difficult film to sit through and an even more difficult film to say you "enjoy."  All I know is that watching a brutal film like this would turn anyone off from experimenting with drugs and there's certainly something to be said for that.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Check out previous Personal Canon flicks -- like Saving Private Ryan and Once -- by clicking on this link.

Movie Review - The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story (2009)
Directed by Gregory V. Sherman and Jeff Sherman
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

It's entirely possible I'm looking at the documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story through rose-colored glasses simply because it takes an in-depth look at the inner workings of the Walt Disney company of which I am a rather devout fan.  However, I don't think that's really the case seeing as how the flick details the incredibly interesting story behind Richard and Robert Sherman, the two brothers who together wrote the songs for some of the most well-known musicals of all time -- Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Charlotte's Web to name just a few.  Unlike their rather cheery and whimsical tunes may have caused you to surmise, the brothers didn't exactly have an adoring camaraderie with one another, and this film, directed by their sons in an attempt to make more pleasant their fathers' current relationship, explores that oftentimes contentious atmosphere.

Born two-and-a-half years apart, Bob (the eldest) and Dick Sherman were the sons of a Jewish immigrant named Al Sherman who was quite famous in his own right, crafting a lot of optimistic American pop music in the 1930s.  Al recognized right away that his sons weren't exactly two peas in a pod and would do everything he could while he was alive (which was until the early 1970s) to keep his boys working together helping them to maintain a somewhat civil relationship.  It was Al who convinced the duo to try and work as a songwriting team and, although they found a bit of success, they still were having a difficult time making ends meet for their families in the 1950s.  It wasn't until they created a song that was sung by Mickey Mouse Club member Annette Funnicello that their talent became known by Walt Disney.

Upon hearing several songs performed by Ms. Funnicello and written by the Sherman Brothers, Mr. Disney hired the duo as studio writers and, from then on, history was made as Bob and Dick went on to create such memorable tunes as "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Winnie the Pooh," and "I Wanna Be Like You," among many others.  In interviews, both Bob and Dick get incredibly emotional talking about Walt -- whose favorite song of theirs was "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins which he would ask them to play for him every Friday in his office before he would leave for home -- a man whom the two brothers respected greatly.

However, through interviews with folks like Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osborne, Ben Stiller, John Williams, Hayley Mills, Leonard Maltin, Roy E. Disney, John Lasseter, Jon Landis, Alan Menken (who finds the title song from Winnie the Pooh utterly inspiring in its musicality), and Angela Lansbury, we grow to recognize that despite the pleasant outward appearance of Bob and Dick Sherman in video released by the Disney press, the two were really quite like oil and vinegar at times.  As Roy Disney states, Bob is a little more "Feed the Birds," while Dick is a little more "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."  Much more serious (likely because of his time spent overseas fighting in WWII where he witnessed many atrocities which are touched upon very lightly in this doc), Bob found himself frustrated by the fact that he and his brother simply couldn't get along.  As someone in the documentary says, it was almost like a Greek tragedy -- their success came from working together, but they really couldn't bear the fact that they had to work together to achieve that success.

Still, it's not as if the brothers outright refuse to talk to one another -- they've still managed to come together to work on music for some flicks within the past decade -- and it's obvious that they care for one another, but their contentious relationship is certainly an odd one considering the joy that comes from listening to their music.  At times, the documentary seems a little too "surface" without enough in-depth digging that would come from someone other than the Shermans' sons at the helm -- for example, there's a nice segment on Mary Poppins and how author P. L. Travers found the Shermans' work for the film disappointing causing Bob Sherman to call her a witch which I would've loved to have seen explored more -- but, for the most part, the film is quite successful.  Much like Waking Sleeping Beauty (a highly recommended Disney documentary that landed on my Best of List last year), The Boys is a backstage look at an important part of Disney history.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+
For those interested, Meek's Cutoff -- a film which currently is holding on to the #10 spot in my Top Ten Films this year -- just started streaming on Netflix today.  Granted, it's not a film for everyone -- the pace is super slow -- but thanks to some great performances and an interesting story, this western won me over.  Check out my original review here.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Movie Review - Our Idiot Brother

Our Idiot Brother (2011)
Starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Coogan
Directed by Jesse Peretz

I'm fairly certain that Our Idiot Brother was supposed to be a comedy.  I mean, there were moments where I probably should have laughed at the sweet, yet entirely too innocent and trusting Ned (Paul Rudd) whose hippie vibe was lovable and charming, but the flick simply didn't elicit chuckles (with the exception of one very odd threesome scene and a game of charades that admittedly cracked me up).  Instead, Our Idiot Brother places a huge focus on Ned's three sisters -- workaholic Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), quirky lesbian Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), and stay-at-home mom Liz (Emily Mortimer) -- none of whom are ladies I'd like to spend any bit of time with.  

The whole affair just plays like some sitcom, jumping back and forth amongst Ned and his trio of sisters whose troubles reach soap opera levels of absurdity at times.  Unfortunately, these problems should have made me give a damn about these characters, but instead they just made me upset that these ladies were such idiots -- for, you see, the absurdity of the flick is that the supposedly sane sisters are perhaps the ones who are more foolish than Ned the Kooky Simpleton.

Despite a game Paul Rudd whose kind Jesus-y hipster Ned is amusing (and is the only thing that saves the flick from being a complete and utter failure), Our Idiot Brother just doesn't ever feel rooted in reality at any point.  Characters are too one-dimensional, predicaments are resolved way too quickly and cleanly, and the final scene was nearly disgustingly treacly.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Due to some issues I find when attempting to post comments, I've shifted to a comment "pop-up window" that seems to have solved the problems I encounter.  If, like me, you found yourself having a difficult time leaving comments, that shouldn't be the case anymore.

Movie Review - Nothing But Trouble

Nothing But Trouble (1991)
Starring Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy
Directed by Dan Aykroyd
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Right up front, I should say that I recognize Nothing But Trouble isn't very good (and my rating below will reflect that).  However, I can't help but enjoy it a tiny bit.  I haven't watched it in over a decade, but I remembered a certain fondness attached to it simply because it was like watching some weird funhouse/amusement park ride come to life when I viewed the flick on the local tv station on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  That fondness was still there, but it is now also tempered with the fact that the film itself simply isn't all that funny and, considering this is a comedy, that's a problem.

When financial advisor Chris Thorne (Chevy Chase) agrees to take his neighbor Diane (Demi Moore) to Atlantic City for her job, he does it only so he can attempt to form some type of romantic bond.  However, a slight detour forces the duo into the run-down New Jersey town of Valkenvania and when Chris runs a stop sign, he's picked up by the local sheriff (John Candy) and taken to the home of the incredibly elderly local judge, Alvin J.P. Valkenheiser (Dan Aykroyd).  Despite a simple traffic violation, the judge forces Chris and Diane to spend the night in his run-down, funhouse-type mansion.  Chris and Diane soon begin to discover the secret truth behind the judge and come to the realization that he will likely never allow them to leave the premises.

A mix of comedy and horror, the film doesn't contain too many laughs or any scary moments, but the actors themselves are what make this film more enjoyable than it should be.  Chevy Chase and Demi Moore aren't exactly striking it rich in the chemistry department, but they're pleasant enough and are actually the straight men to Dan Aykroyd who takes on the rather disgusting role of Alvin Valkenheiser with great gusto.  Despite coming from a fairly poor flick, it's a character that surprisingly came back to me immediately as soon as he came onscreen as if I'd just watched the film yesterday.

Still, anything positive is tempered by the fact that the movie isn't good.  Yes, I didn't mind watching Nothing But Trouble and being reminded of a childhood moviewatching experience, but it's not like I need to watch it once again in the near future.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Movie Review - Death Becomes Her

Death Becomes Her (1992)
Starring Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, and Isabella Rossellini
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Almost a real-life cartoon of sorts, Death Becomes Her is essentially a 90-minute catfight between two aging "frenemies" who will do whatever it takes stay as young and fresh as possible.  Director Robert Zemeckis creates an over-the-top atmosphere that never once feels "real"...but that's the point.  Absurdity is given free reign and Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn chew up the scenery with soap opera diva levels of overacting.  Unfortunately, this doesn't always work and the dark comedy finds itself with too many moments of awkward silences to be fully successful.

When the egotistical actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) steals away her good friend's fiancé, her old college pal Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn) is sent into a downward spiral leading her into a life of overeating and obsessing over murdering Madeline.  However, things aren't going so well for Madeline either fourteen years later.  Her once well-revered plastic surgeon husband Ernest (Bruce Willis) has lost his license to practice medicine thanks to his tendency to down one too many alcoholic libations, and now he finds his gawky and nebbishy self making over folks who have died so that they look beautiful in their coffins.  In addition to her hubby troubles, Madeline can't help but find herself aging much more than she would like.  When attending a party for Helen's self-help book, Madeline discovers that Helen is looking younger and more voluptuous than ever sending Madeline into her own downward spiral.  Looking for any possible assistance in helping her age gracefully, Madeline finds herself on the front porch of the Gothic-looking abode of Lisle Von Rhuman (Isabella Rossellini), an incredibly sexy and sensuous witch of sorts who sells Madeline what essentially amounts to the Fountain of Youth in a bottle...which may or may not be a good thing in the grand scheme of life.

As is the case in nearly all of her films, Meryl Streep is a treat to watch.  As I've grown, I've come to admire her simply because she is solid at nearly every performance she undertakes.  Even as a comedienne and even with a role as broad and one-note as Madeline, Streep is fun to watch.  Goldie Hawn is fine, but considering that she's more well-known for comedy, the script doesn't give her nearly as much humor to work with as Streep.  Bruce Willis is solid and Isabella Rossellini is simply stunning. I remember watching this as a 12 or 13-year old boy and finding myself agog in multiple scenes where Ms. Rossellini shows as much as is allowed in a PG-13 rated film...she's still just as lovely to look at eighteen years later.

Filled with some decent special effects (which won this film the Oscar for Best Special FX), the corny cartoon atmosphere works some times, but by the film's end, the one-upmanship between Madeline and Helen upon which the film is based grows a bit tiresome.  The catfights are funny initially, but it's not quite enough to build an entire story upon.  

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Movie Review - Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Featuring the voice talent of Jim Cummings, John Cleese, Craig Ferguson, Bud Luckey, Jack Boulter, Travis Oates, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Wyatt Dean Hall, and Tom Kenny
Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall

Oh, bother.  I wish this latest Winnie the Pooh flick had done a bit better when it was released up against the juggernaut that was the last chapter of the Harry Potter franchise because then we may have been privileged to get many more incarnations in the years to come of the willy nilly silly old bear.  Instead, we'll likely have to cherish this surprisingly enjoyable and immensely cute version for the next several years.

In a lovely return to hand-drawn animation and certainly hooking onto the nostalgia value of previous Pooh incarnations, Winnie the Pooh is a short 55-minute journey (63 minutes if you include the end credits...which you should since the cute factor invades those as well all the way to the end) into the world of the Hundred Acre Wood where Christopher Robin and his childhood "stuffed animal" pals frolic and get into all sorts of adventures.

Admittedly, I've only seen 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, so I'm unfamiliar with The Tigger Movie, Piglet's Big Movie, and Pooh's Heffalump Movie, but at least with the 1977 flick it was made up of a trio of stories.  Here, much to my surprise, we follow one storyline which, like most Pooh tales begins with a search for honey and eventually shifts into a search for both Eeyore's tail and the horrifying creature known as the Backson which has apparently captured Christopher Robin.  With a film as short as this, saying much more would be spoiling its simplicity, so I'll leave it at that.  Needless to say, the innocence of the storytelling is wonderfully engaging.

With some lovely tunes from Avenue Q and Book of Mormon writer Robert Lopez (proving he's not just creative at writing funny raunchy stuff) and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez which marry absolutely perfectly with the quirky intonation of Zooey Deschanel who croons a few of them, the whole flick (much like the recent The Muppets) just makes you smile.  Couple the songs with some absolutely charming voice acting from Jim Cummings as Pooh, John Cleese as our omniscent narrator, Craig Ferguson as Owl, and Bud Luckey as Eeyore, and the flick is just as pleasant for the ears as it is for the eyes.

Granted, the flick is certainly a bit too simple for its own good and it's not reinventing the wheel in terms of the Pooh legacy (not that it should), but it's so goshdarn lovable in every single frame filled with a lot of wit and even more heart.  I'm not really a Winnie the Pooh fan -- I'm indifferent, really -- but this film made me grow to love the stuffed bear more than I ever have before.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Movie Review - Attack the Block

Attack the Block (2011)
Starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Alex Esmail, Jumayn Hunter, and Nick Frost
Directed by Joe Cornish

Attack the Block is a fun little comedy-horror-sci fi-action flick from first time feature film director Joe Cornish (who also wrote the film).  The simple story -- aliens invade South London and a group of hoodlums attempt to save their community -- goes by at a super-fast clip with the 85-minute running time never wearing out its welcome.  

That said, that same quick pace hurts the film a little bit in that there's really never any time to get to know the characters.  As the niftily-designed aliens begin their attack and folks begin getting picked off one by one, we in the audience find ourselves not really caring all that much because we never connected with these folks in the first place.  Still, the cast of young relative unknowns (save Nick Frost of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame) is certainly game for all the genres thrown their way.

Director Joe Cornish proves to be quite adept at making his kitchen sink of a screenplay work, making sure that the notes of comedy, horror, and sci fi all get adequate screen time.  Admittedly, some of the dialog thrown out is too English to maybe fully understand everything, but that's not Cornish's fault.  All in all, Attack the Block is a nice little flick that should it come onto Netflix's Instant Watch would certainly be worth your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movie Review - The Bleeding House

The Bleeding House (2011)
Starring Alexandra Chando and Patrick Breen
Directed by Philip Gelatt
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Way back in 2009, I saw a horrible horror movie at the Newark Film Festival.  Filled with talky nonsense, gratuitous blood, and some of the worst acting I'd ever seen, I was hoping that I'd never see another film that stooped to its equivalent cinematic low.  While The Bleeding House doesn't quite reach that level, it comes awfully close.  Perhaps what's even worse is that screenwriter-director Philip Gelatt managed to get the Tribeca Film Festival and American Express to produce this simply awful piece of work which felt like some very poorly crafted student project.

There's no point in even bothering with a lengthy summary here except to say that a southern stranger who appears to be gentlemanly enters the home of a family that harbors some dark secrets and ends up wreaking havoc on them.  The stranger incessantly rambles about God and faith while torturing his victims and nothing he says makes a modicum of sense.

Ugh.  The whole thing was really painful.  The acting "talent" is simply awful.  Granted, they're given horrible dialog to spout and unbelievable actions to carry out courtesy of their director, but they still aren't of any high caliber.  Unfortunately, despite the painfulness of the flick, it doesn't ever reach levels of "so bad, it's good."  It's just all bad.

The RyMickey Rating:  F
Just a reminder that the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' production of Noises Off continues its run both this weekend and next after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday.  My review of the great, highly recommended production can be found here.  Don't miss out on the high quality theater taking place in our small state.

Photo by Paul Cerro

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movie Review - Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Starring Onni Tomilla and Jorma Tommila
Directed by Jalmari Helander

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is certainly one of the most unique Christmas movies I've ever seen and while the tale is almost too simple and is absolutely resolved too quickly, I couldn't help but be won over a little bit by its originality.  I'm not quite sure there's another Christmas movie out there where Santa's naked elves run amok trying to capture naughty children in order to have them be reprimanded by Old St. Nick.  Don't mistake this for a horror movie -- admittedly, that's what I thought it was when I first heard about this flick a year ago.  No, it's really a weird dark comedy (one where you don't exactly laugh) based upon a interesting Santa Claus myth -- one in which Santa doesn't reward good children, but instead rather brutally punishes bad kids.

On the outskirts of Finland, an archeological expedition is underway.  Soon after young Piettari (Onni Tomilla) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) stumble across the site, all of the reindeer which their fathers hunt in order to make a living end up dead...slaughtered, actually.  Piettari begins to feel guilt for entering the site and after doing a bit of research starts to believe that the dig is meant to unearth Santa Claus who was buried under a huge mountain hundreds of years prior in order to prevent him from doing harm to children.  Although his father (Jorma Tommila) finds Piettari's stories hard to believe, he soon finds that his young son may not be imagining things.

Despite the flick's short 80-minute run time, Rare Exports does have a tendency to drag a bit (I think, in part, subtitled flicks have a predisposition to do that sometimes), but for the most part it's an enjoyable little diversion that I am sure will be unlike any Christmas movie you'll have ever seen.  Although it's rated R (mainly for some blurry - and sometimes not-so-blurry - male nudity), it's certainly not filled with language or massive amounts of violence.  For its sheer absurdity, I can't help but recommend a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Movie Review - Nativity!

Nativity! (2009)
Starring Martin Freeman, Marc Wootton, Jason Watkins, Pam Ferris, and Ashley Jensen
Directed by Debbie Isitt
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

As you'll see in the upcoming weeks as Christmas-related movie reviews pop up on the site a little more frequently, there is a slight bit of leeway given to holiday flicks.  For about 75% of them, they're going to be treacly and overly sentimental and that simply comes with the territory of the general feeling of happiness that accompanies this time of year.  So, in that regard, something that may not be a well-made or overly complex film may get a little more leeway from my normal Grinch-ian ways.

That's the case with the semi-improvised British comedy Nativity! in which primary school teacher Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) is forced by his Catholic school's principal (Pam Ferris) to put on the school's annual nativity play for the holidays.  Paul despises Christmas because a few years ago his girlfriend Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) left him around the holiday to go to Hollywood in an attempt to become a big-time producer.  It also certainly doesn't help matters that his former best friend Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) heads up the rival school's popular (and much more successful) local nativity production.

One afternoon, when searching for a Christmas tree for the production with his aide Mr. Poppy (Marc Wootton), Paul runs into Gordon and, in a jealous moment, Paul fabricates a huge lie that Jennifer -- the ever-successful US producer -- is traveling to their small England town to film his school's nativity production to release as a motion picture.  Mr. Poppy (a childish oaf of a man who was forced upon Paul simply because he is the nephew of the school's principal) overhears this and quickly spreads the word, forcing Paul to be faced with a major problem on his hands as the nativity play finds itself growing more and more out of control.

Nativity! is a cute film and one that's perfectly suited to family viewing (although I do think it skews a bit more adult in that some of the humor is derived from religious issues...and not in a disrespectful way mind you...kind of like Sister Act in that regard).  The story is pleasant enough and interactions between the serious Martin Freeman and the irresponsible though lovable Marc Wootton are certainly laughter-inducing...as are the sometimes priceless reactions and line readings from the young grade-schoolers who make up Paul's classroom.  

Admittedly, the story here is weak and the attempts to make any semblance of a love story between Paul and his ex Jennifer fail.  The film works when it focuses on the kids and even then director Debbie Isitt tends to linger a bit too long on scenes, trying to milk them for all of the comedy she can get which oftentimes doesn't work.  However, Nativity! is a film that wears its good-natured heart on its sleeve and provides at least a semblance (however funnily bastardized it is) of "the reason for the season" making it worth a placement in your Netflix Instant Queue this holiday.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Movie Review - The Muppets

The Muppets (2011)
Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Animal, and all your favorite Muppets of yore
Directed by James Bobin

If they're searching for methods to help drug addicts get over their cravings, search no further than The Muppets -- a movie that put me on a euphoric high quite like (I'd imagine) any type of illegal substance.  A smile will never leave your face during its running time -- unless you find yourself tearing up at the sentimental musings of a frog made of felt like I did at times.

I was worried about this one.  I had such high expectations.  I tried to avoid everything other than those parody trailers that, while certainly humorous, admittedly made me cautious for fear of trying to "hip up" the Muppets in some way (and after some recent failed attempts since 1992's Muppet Christmas Carol, I was even more on edge).  My worries were unfounded, however, as Muppet-lover Jason Segal has co-wrote a glorious ode to some favorite characters of my youth.  The nostalgia factor is certainly working overtime here, but that's not the only thing carrying this to greatness -- it's a genuinely well-made and charming flick as well.

Echoing their "true life" story, the Muppets in The Muppets have faded from the public's favor after a very successful run from the mid-seventies through the 1980s.  This loss of popularity caused the Muppets to split up, all heading their various ways and leading to the near abandonment of the once great Muppet Studios in Los Angeles.  This doesn't sit too well with Walter, a Muppet himself, who has always found himself out of place in the small town of Small Town, forever living in a world inhabited by humans including his brother Gary (Segel) -- and, no, the movie offers no explanation as to how Walter and Gary could possibly be related despite the fact that one is made out of fabric and the other is made out of DNA -- just go with it.  When taking a trip to the deserted and dilapidated Muppet Studios in LA with Gary and Gary's gal Mary (an absolutely adorable Amy Adams), Walter unwittingly stumbles onto a plan by oil tycoon Tex Richman (the slimy Chris Cooper) to raze the studios and drill for oil underneath unless the Muppets can raise ten million dollars within two weeks.  This sets into effect the whole point of the movie -- a Muppet reunion to have a telethon that will hopefully save the Studios and reinvigorate the public's love for this adorable creatures.

The story is simple and perhaps runs a tiny bit thin during the hunt to track down Kermit's Muppet pals, but none of that really matters in the end because the film is so goshdarn amusing and pleasant that you can overlook a tiny flaw here or there (and they really are tiny because the flick overall is pretty spectacular).  Right from the beginning, Jason Segel, his co-writer Nicholas Stoller, music supervisor Bret McKenzie, and director James Bobin (the latter two worked on HBO's short-lived Flight of the Conchords of which this flick sometimes has a similar vibe) set up a charmingly corny self-aware breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of vibe where the routine task of brushing one's teeth can elicit wonderfully funny and beguilingly whimsical music numbers to take flight.  Segel and his human co-star Amy Adams are game for this happy-go-lucky vibe with their "aw shucks" demeanors playing splendidly next to the old school showmanship of the Muppets who rightfully take center stage throughout much of the film.  Similarly, Chris Cooper deliciously hams up the scenery as the nefarious oil tycoon villain providing the perfect counterpoint to the squeaky clean demeanor of everyone surrounding him.

And the Muppets themselves...they've provided so many great memories for this reviewer and their eponymous movie is just one more winner to add to the list.  Sure, their voices may have changed a little bit (Fozzie's stuck out the most to me as not quite getting the vocal tones right), but they're still the same characters we all grew to love when we were kids.  Gonzo's still goofy, the Swedish Chef is still incomprehensible, Fozzie's still producing the worst jokes imaginable, Miss Piggy's still bossy, and Kermit's still the (perhaps) reluctant, but ever lovable, ringleader of the gang.  Their storyline and the ensuing reunion of sorts was surprisingly touching and absolutely believable.  [There's a moment towards the beginning of the film where a sullen Kermit remembers his heyday that was nearly gutwrenching in its genuine sadness.]  It never feels like we're watching puppets -- even when we're following new and unknown Muppet felt creation Walter whose wide-eyed exuberance and optimism fits right in with older characters we've known and loved for decades.

One can only hope that The Muppets is a successful revival of the Muppets themselves.  Jason Segel has proven that he truly is a fan of these crazy creatures and his love is blatantly evident onscreen here with genuine care to honor Jim Henson's creations.  As soon as I saw Walter and Gary watching the original Muppet Show at the beginning of the film, I knew Segel was building upon the past rather than taking the Muppets in a completely different direction.  And when the shot of Jim Henson sitting next to Kermit popped up in a scene, this sense of tradition became even more obvious.  Kudos all around to all involved in The Muppets for crafting quite simply the most enjoyable time you will spend in a movie theater in 2011.

The RyMickey Rating:  A