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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,...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Review - Red

Red (2010)
Starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, and Richard Dreyfuss
Directed by Robert Schwentke

This is the movie that crapfest The Expendables wishes it could have been.  Fun, entertaining, full of explosions, and good acting (although even ho-hum acting would've been a step up from the empty visages of Sly Stallone and Dolph Lundgren), the "geriatric actioner" Red was a pleasant surprise that had me smiling from beginning to end.

Recently retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is in trouble.  For some reason or another, he has been targeted to be killed.  Narrowly escaping some home invaders, Frank flees and manages to reunite with some former (older) friends and fellow agents as they try and uncover who exactly is the mastermind behind the hit.

Now that the quick summary is out of the way, can I just mention how much fun it was to see Helen Mirren shooting machine guns?  There's an odd joy in the concept and director Robert Schwentke does a great job keeping a fun comic book-ish style going throughout the film (I'm not a comic guy at all, but now I kind of wanna read the book upon which this flick was based).  Perhaps because it's based on a graphic novel (or maybe in spite of it), Red has a hint of intelligence about it.  It's not just an idiotic shoot 'em up -- there's actually a purpose behind the kills.

Ultimately, though, what makes this movie work is the acting.  Across the board, you're looking at top-notch talent.  Bruce Willis is oddly charming and his relationship with Mary-Louise Parker provided surprising laughs.  Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich show comedic chops that I didn't think either actor had.  And Helen Mirren -- is it really wrong to think a 65-year old woman is sexy?  It's gotta be a British accent, I guess...I'll take Helen Mirren over Stallone any day.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Movie Review - Stone

Stone (2010)
Starring Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, and Frances Conroy
Directed by John Curran

When I saw the trailer for Stone last year, I laughed at a corn-rowed Edward Norton as he spoke in some country-urban dialect.  Fortunately, the accent didn't seem nearly as ludicrous in the midst of the actual film itself.  Unfortunately, there's no reason for this film to exist.  It's often worse to watch a film that just meanders aimlessly and never gets anywhere than a film that gets somewhere but does it horribly.  At least in the latter film, you can find reasons to actively despise it.  In a film like Stone, the story just sits there onscreen never eliciting any type of positive or negative emotion and that's a disappointment.

Part of the problem is that Robert DeNiro doesn't even seem like he's trying here.  As parole officer Jack Mabry, he's just coasting along, showing no emotion.  The storyline asks him to question his faith when convicted arsonist Gerald "Stone" Creeson (Norton) suddenly appears to find God via some unusual religion while in jail.  Not only is Jack contemplating his religious faith, but his faithfulness to his wife (Frances Conroy) also comes into play when Stone's wife, the alluring Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), attempts to do whatever necessary in order to get her husband out of jail.

Despite decent performances from Norton and Jovovich, the religious aspects of the tale bog down the whole film.  I'm guessing that there was an attempt made at offering some deep philosophical notions about the emptiness that faith can bring about in times of struggle and need, but the film just fails on that front.  For a film that appears to be denouncing the preachiness of organized religion, it ends up feeling like a Sunday sermon.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Theater Review - The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by John Langs
Where:  Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Friday, January 28, 2011

While watching the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players/Professional Theater Training Program's production of The Glass Menagerie this evening, I came to the following realization.  The success of this wonderful theater program arises from the fact that they recognize that there is a need for a director's vision and an actor's emotions to breathe life into a playwright's words.  In and of itself that seems like a pretty obvious statement.  However, it's something that doesn't always happen.  I've seen theater on Broadway that have lacked both vision and emotion despite the fact that I paid $70 to see them.  While there has been one misstep thus far in the REP's 2010-11 season in which I could say the passion and directorial wonder weren't present, this theater troupe is consistently at the top of their game bringing new ideas to the stage and John Langs's The Glass Menagerie is no exception.

It certainly helps that my three favorite REP members share the stage in the production, making up three-quarters of the four-person cast.  Michael Gotch and Carine Montbertrand were last seen together in December's witty and charming Private Lives, but here their roles are certainly different.  Honestly, I was a little surprised when I saw that Ms. Montbertrand was going to be playing Laura Wingfield, the outwardly fragile (yet perhaps stronger than she lets on) young daughter.  Considering both that her most memorable role in the REP was the vicious and vile title character in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and that her comedic turns in various productions have stolen their respective shows, it was a complete and unexpected pleasure to see her tackle the withdrawn and subdued Laura with an almost childlike innocence.

Michael Gotch takes on his role with gusto and makes the difficult character of Tom instantly relatable to the audience.  Acting as both the narrator and a character within the "memory" that is being "remembered" in front of us, Gotch has the tricky role of being the conduit that brings the audience into his world, while at the same time portraying a rather cruel guy within that setting.  With just the right amount of tenderness around the periphery of his performance, when Gotch's Tom gets frustrated and fired up, the audience recognizes his anger as justified even if it's incredibly hurtful to his family.

And then there's Kathleen Pirkl Tague who has been conspicuously absent in this year's productions with the exception of the wonderful Our Town.  Tague is probably my favorite member of the REP thanks to wonderful performances in the hilarious She Stoops to Conquer and the emotionally draining Death of a Salesman.  Once again, she doesn't disappoint.  As Amanda, the matriarch of the Wingfield clan, she provides both humor (which I didn't get at all when I read this play as part of my 2009 Book a Week Quest) and anguish with her role.  To me, what Tague brings to Amanda is the motherly sense that she only wants what is best for her children.  Her Amanda is overbearing, but unable to open up the cage and let her young ones escape for fear that they'll never return like her MIA husband who walked out on her sixteen years prior. 

[It should be noted that PTTP actor Erik Mathew was also quite good as the gentleman caller who comes to visit the Wingfield clan, but this "review" is getting to be too long already for a detailed description.]

Ultimately, my biggest problem with the play is one that I felt when I read it two years ago -- some of the metaphors are way too obvious for my tastes (and I usually like my metaphors obvious and in the open). The notion of Laura being just as breakable as her prized glass horses or of the children being the trapped animals of the menagerie or the irony of the last name "Wingfield" considering Tom's desire to fly away from the family all seem too easy.  Nonetheless, my perceived problems with Tennessee Williams's words weren't an issue within the production.

And what a production it is.  Director John Langs has thrown out the seemingly odd "projections" that appeared so prevalent in Williams's original script, opting instead for the always impressive REP design team to aid Williams's words.  When the curtain lifts on the "picturesque" set by scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee, I was sold on the production immediately (I'll say no more except that the opening image was kind of breathtaking thanks to Langs's ingenious staging amidst Lee's set).  I also don't know if the lighting has been any better in a REP production.  William Browning is the company's go-to guy for lighting and he somehow manages to get the illumination to add to the emotional impact of the tale moreso than I've seen in most plays.  Director Lang admits in a video interview on the REP's blog that set design, lighting design, and sound design are characters, too, and there's a moment at the end of the play in which those three elements combined with the acting gave me chills.  

As the goosebumps formed on my arms from the provocative final moments, I was reminded as I stated above that beyond the great acting, one of the main reasons to love the REP is that the troupe recognizes the importance of having a creative director lead their productions.  From the fantastical A Midsummer Night's Dream to the ingenious She Stoops to Conquer to the one-man show I Am My Own Wife, the REP knows that in order to provide a good "stage show," a show must be properly staged.  Keep up the good work, REP.  [Now if only you'd provide some "press" photos of the play (as you did in previous seasons) so I could promote it to my tens of Delaware readers...]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Movie Review - The Expendables

The Expendables (2010)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Charisma Carpenter, and Mickey Rourke
Directed by Sylvester Stallone 

As a guy, it's probably sacrilege for me to say this, but The Expendables is awful.  Starring, directed, and co-written by Sylvester Stallone, there is not a decently shot, written, or acted scene in this dreadful muck.  Action movies should be fun.  This one, about a group of men ranging from middle age to old geezer who are sent forth on a mission to bring down some evil Latin American government, is a bore filled with excessive gore which, in and of itself, would be perfectly acceptable if the violence actually looked good as opposed to looking like it came from the designers of the latest SyFy movie.  There's nothing wrong with a good decapitation here or there, but make it look realistic.  Is that too much to ask?

Of course it's also too much to ask for these "big name action stars" to have any semblance of acting chops.  Stallone is awful.  Jet Li is one-note.  Dolph Lundgren is painful to listen to.  Mickey Rourke proves that his stellar turn in The Wrestler was just a fluke...I could go on and on.  Jason Statham is the only one who comes off as bringing anything to his character beyond the simple task of reading the horrible dialog.  And even he is saddled with a completely unnecessary subplot involving some chick who won't reciprocate his love.  When a cameo two-minute walk-on role from Bruce Willis is the best part of your movie, you know you're in trouble.

Honestly, there's nothing remotely recommendable in this movie.  It was really awful and well-deserved of its Razzie nominations.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Movie Review - Crimes and Misdemeanors

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Starring Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Joanna Gleason, Angelica Huston, and Alan Alda
Directed by Woody Allen
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I try to enjoy Woody Allen.  However, more times than not, I find the guy's flicks filling me with ennui.  Maybe it's because I don't have the Jewish angst that seems to permeate through his films (at least the films in which he stars).  Maybe its because I can't ever see him as the character he portrays onscreen -- instead, it's simply Woody Allen up there, playing a role with no discerning characteristics from any other role he's played.  Flicks without the director in the starring role -- Whatever Works, Match Point -- are more successful, but Crimes and Misdemeanors stars Allen and is a disappointing bore.

Two distinct storylines are presented here that never come together and, to this viewer, didn't belong in the same movie.  The first deals with Martin Landau as an aging opthamologist who is cheating on his wife with Angelica Huston.  When Huston threatens to spill the beans, Landau gets his brother to kill her.  That would be the "crime" part of the title, I guess.  Story number two headlines Woody Allen who is living an unhappy marriage.  He meets Mia Farrow, he begins to fall for her, and he ponders leaving his wife.  I guess that's the misdemeanor.  [While it's true all of the actors listed above have characters with names, I never really felt any of them embodied those characters which is why I simply listed their real names.  Like Allen, it seems they were all just playing themselves...although I'm sure Landau never put out a hit on anyone.]

I guess this film falls more into the drama category for Allen rather than his comedy selections, but considering the stress Landau's character faces, there was never any worry from this viewer about his plight.  And the Woody Allen storyline...what a waste of time.  Based on some things I've read, this is considered one of the better Woody Allen flicks.  I have no idea why.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Dogtooth

Dogtooth (Kynodontas) (2010)
Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

First off, let me say that I am utterly shocked that the Motion Picture Academy nominated this Greek flick for Best Foreign Language Film.  For people that complain that the Academy is a bunch of old fuddy-duddies, Dogtooth is an out-there, twisted choice that seemingly shouldn't appeal to the conservative voters.  Against the odds, this dark comedy has a nomination and for the life of me, I can't figure out why.

Essentially a satire focused (in a roundabout way) on the home schooling movement, Dogtooth focuses on a family of five, all who remain nameless throughout the film.  There's Father and Mother who have apparently decided to raise Teenage Daughter #1, Teenage Daughter #2, and Teenage Son in their home surrounded by high fences, never allowing their three children to leave their property.  Having cut off all communication with the outside world -- no telephones, computers, or television -- the three teens live an incredibly awkward sheltered existence unaware of societal norms and customs.  When Father brings home a woman for Teenage Son to have sex with in order sow his wild oats, the woman begins to cause problems within the household that escalate beyond the control of the parents.

Ultimately, the oddness of the story just didn't register with me.  There's an attempt to be oddly funny, but I never let out even an uncomfortable chuckle.  There's an attempt to be controversial with an incest storyline, but it just seemed there for shock value.  There's an attempt to be deeply psychological when the film compares the teens to caged animals, but it was a much too obvious and blatant metaphor.  (Oddly enough, Enter the Void which I reviewed earlier today attempts many of the same things listed above, but they worked infinitely better in that film.)

Dogtooth is an interesting film that's well acted, but I can't say that this one should be recommended.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie Review - Enter the Void

Enter the Void (2010)
Starring Paz de la Huerta and Nathaniel Brown
Directed by Gaspar Noé
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I can only assume that Enter the Void portrays accurate images of drug-induced euphoria.  In fact, the entire film itself is probably as close to an hallucinogenic journey I'll ever take.  By far, one of the oddest films I've ever seen, there are things that I could dislike intensely about Enter the Void, but, in the end, this is one interesting piece of filmmaking that shockingly had me intrigued for what could have been (and honestly what should have been) an incredibly long two-and-a-half hours.

The story of this one is not what is going to win you over.  When Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is killed in a drug bust, he finds himself becoming a guardian angel of sorts to his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta).  And that's kind of it.  And remember this film is 150 minutes.  Shockingly, however, it is the way director Gasper Noé portrays this on film that grabbed me and pulled me in.

Noé's previous effort, Irreversible, was a unflinching and uncomfortable film that also won me over because of directorial technique -- he reversed the order of scenes, putting the conclusion at the beginning of the film and the opening scene at the end of the film.  While Irreversible is perhaps most well known for an excruciatingly lengthy rape scene, it's the stylistic approach of Noé that is what I choose to remember about the 2002 French flick (which, ultimately, despite the neat concept faltered in the story department).

Similarly in Enter the Void (which, unlike Irreversible, is in English), Noé employs a unique vision.  After the epileptic seizure inducing opening credits (seriously, there was a warning posted at theaters that showed this film), for the opening 20 minutes, we are Oscar, seeing everything from his point of view.  When he blinks, the screen literally blinks.  Initially, I thought this was going to be a horrendous and obnoxious way to watch a movie.  And it probably would have been, but thankfully Oscar dies at the end of the first reel.  And at that point, Oscar rises up out of his body and essentially becomes a ghost with the ability to travel across the seedy underworld of Tokyo, peeking into rooms and watching over his sister (with whom he has an incredibly odd and discomforting relationship).  

There's really no proper way to describe Noé's techniques here because they exist solely in a medium that is visual (and that's obviously the best way to "take them in").  I readily admit that most people will hate this movie.  Not just hate, but perhaps despise it with a passion.  You'll say that the acting (particularly that of Paz de la Heurta) is awful.  You'll comment that the improvised dialog is tedious.  And you'd be one hundred percent right on both accounts.  But Noé is a risk-taker (which is evident in the two films of his I've seen) and that makes up for what the film lacks.  

Let's be honest (and this will be the dealbreaker for most of you) -- is there another "mainstream" film in which the following is depicted (and I'm going to copy this from wikipedia because I can think of no other way to describe it):  Oscar's "aura" travels inside Linda's abdomen to witness an ejaculation from within.  If that sounds odd/gross, it's even more odd/gross to see it onscreen (I let out an audible, "Really?  Jesus..." when I saw it).  There's no reason this film shouldn't be screaming "I'M PRETENTIOUS!"  Somehow, Enter the Void worked for me, though.  I found myself captivated by the filmmaking aspect of the whole thing and honestly look forward to whatever uneasy feelings Noé causes me to have in his next film.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Movie Review - Mad Max

Mad Max (1979)
Starring Mel Gibson
Directed by George Miller
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Mad Max is an awful film.  Based on the film's 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I'm thinking my opinion will not be universally agreed upon, but I'm right.  You are more than welcome to think it's so awful that it becomes good.  I'd disagree with you on that assessment, but I could see that argument.  For you to say the film is just flat out good, though, is not possible.

The nonsensical story takes place "a few years from now" in Australia where motorcycle gangs run rampant, looting stores, raping women, and wreaking havoc.  There appear to be police chasing after them, but they don't often succeed.  Mel Gibson's Max is one such policeman who, after the gangs affect his work and home life on a personal level, gets mad and goes on a quick ten-minute vindictive rampage (which are the only ten minutes worth watching and the only thing that saves the film from being a complete and utter failure).

Really, the less said the better here, but just let it be known that any good things you may have heard about this one came from someone in a drug-induced haze.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick Academy Award Predictions

Updated 1/25/11 9:00AM
Nominations are announced for the Academy Awards tomorrow morning.  Here's my thoughts as to which way they'll go.  (My preferences will come late in February after I've seen more of these flicks.)  I have little faith in these predictions because, with a few exceptions, I'm not incredibly passionate about a lot of 2010 flicks.  Yes, I actually have quite a lot of decently reviewed movies, but they didn't arouse emotions one way or another in me.  Oh, well.

Best Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
The Town
Alternates: Blue Valentine, Winter's Bone
My Thoughts:  The best surprise tomorrow morning would be a nomination for Blue Valentine, but I don't think it's going to happen.  Blue Valentine is not on a single prediction list I've seen, but I can't believe that if an Academy member has seen the film that it wouldn't appear on their ballot -- It's that good.  Nonetheless, it's a toss-up for two slots between four films -- Valentine, 127 Hours, The Town, and Winter's Bone.  The other flicks are locks.
Post-Nomination Analysis:  9/10 -- I thought the Academy might go populist with The Town, but went indie with the extremely overrated Winter's Bone instead.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Alternates:  Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit 
My Thoughts:  These are pretty much set, I think, as they've been the same at most awards shows throughout the season.  If anything, I feel like Nolan is vulnerable simply because the flick may seem too summer popcorny (even though it certainly isn't).
Post-Nomination Analysis:  4/5 -- Damn...should've gone with my gut and pulled Nolan out and the Coens in...

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Alternates:  Javier Bardem, Biutiful; Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
My Thoughts:  Duvall is obviously the wild card, but if anyone replaces him, I think it's Bardem.
Post-Nomination Analysis:  4/5 -- I thought they'd go for the old guy in Duvall, but the surge for Bardem seemed possible...

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Alternates: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
My Thoughts:  Steinfeld was being campaigned for Best Supporting Actress, but her character is apparently in every scene.  If she takes away Michelle Williams' slot, I'm gonna be disappointed.
Post-Nomination Analysis:  5/5 -- At least my favorite flick of the year gets some love here...

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Sam Rockwell, Conviction
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Alternates:  Andrew Garfield, The Social Network; John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
My Thoughts:  A surprisingly tough category to predict after Bale and Rush.  Beyond that, the three slots are up for grabs amongst five possibilities.
Post-Nomination Analysis:  4/5 -- I was correct in ditching Andrew Garfield (who deserved a nom) which most sites were predicting, but I plugged in Rockwell instead of my alternate John Hawkes (mainly because my bias towards Winter's Bone was veering me away from that one).

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Alternate: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
My Thoughts:  If Steinfeld gets bumped up, Weaver should be in.
Post-Nomination Analysis:  4/5 -- Even though I haven't seen Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, it makes me happy that Mila Kunis (despite her sexy role in Black Swan) didn't get an undeserved nomination.

My reviews of Oscar-nominated flicks:

Movie Review - Carmen Jones

Carmen Jones (1954)
Starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Bellafonte, and Olga James
Directed by Otto Preminger
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

It's true that in a musical, one doesn't exactly look for depth in performances.  Oftentimes, the emotion comes through in the songs rather than in the stilted dialog.  This is often why some folks dismiss the musical as a cinematic genre, but to me it comes with the territory.  Unfortunately, in Carmen Jones, a retelling of Bizet's opera Carmen utilizing the same music but with lyrics written by Oscar Hammerstein II, the songs barely scratch the surface of what should be intense emotions of the characters.  

With no depth in the lyrics, the simple story of the sexy Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge) just treads water for nearly two hours.  The title character is a tramp and makes no apologies for that.  In her first song, the winning and sultry "Dat's Love" (set to Bizet's "Habanera"), alluring Carmen attempts to get army guy Joe (Harry Belafonte) to leave his down-home, prim and proper gal Cindy Lou (Olga James).  While he initially resists her temptations, Joe eventually gives in and finds his life spiraling out of control thanks to Carmen.

Problem Number One is that after "Dat's Love," the songs just fall flat.  Maybe it was the challenge of pigeonholing lyrics into already written music, but Hammerstein doesn't succeed here in the slightest.  Perhaps back in 1954, it seemed logical for Hammerstein to utilize improper English when writing the lyrics for the all black cast to sing, but in the new century, hearing people sing opera using "dat" for "that" and "de" for "the" just doesn't work.  I'm watching this movie now and not decades earlier, and in the present the songs are laughable.

Of course, it doesn't help that director Otto Preminger dubbed the voices of nearly all of his cast and that becomes Problem Number Two.  Hammerstein's lyrics are very operatic and even though nearly all of the actors were singers, Preminger still found it necessary to dub.  Fortunately, Carmen's dub is a near perfect fit, but whoever sang for Harry Belafonte was laughable.  It's not that the lips don't match up with the lyrics, but the deep baritone voice that is supposed to be Belafonte's never once is believable.  Considering that Belafonte's Joe has the most songs, it's a big failure for the film.

The saving grace of the film is Dorothy Dandridge who became the first African American woman to be nominated for Best Actress with her performance of the title character.  She is absolutely winning and incredibly sexy (in that 1950s kind of way) which is what is called for from the character.  Any time she was onscreen I was immediately drawn to her.  Everyone else in the cast just didn't cut it for me, particularly Belafonte who seemed to simply be going through the motions of the troubled and confused Joe.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Movie Review - Cairo Time

Cairo Time (2010)
Starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig 
Directed by Ruba Nadda

Just right off the bat, I have to say that Cairo Time is a lovely film.  It's a film I'm sure no one's heard of, but it did get a limited theatrical release in 2010.  Still, I can understand why it didn't shine even on the limited landscape -- it's incredibly simplistic and, for a love story, shockingly and admirably romantic (that's romantic and not raunchy as so often is the case nowadays).  This PG-rated flick contains grown-up characters who keep their clothes on throughout, but manage to show how sexy a simple flirtation can be.

After arriving in Cairo to see her husband, Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) discovers that her betrothed has been held up in Gaza on UN business.  In order to help show her around the city, her husband sets her up with his former co-worker, Tareq (Alexander Siddig).  What starts as an awkward uncomfortableness between strangers soon develops into a subdued, though palpable flirtation.  As they tour the old city of Cairo, Juliette and Tareq slowly begin to realize that they have a longing for love and connection, whether that be with each other or not is a big step that neither may be willing to take.

Cairo Time is all about connection.  It's not about the consummating of love, but about the simple gestures, facial expressions, and words that provide the impetus of a burgeoning relationship.  While some will certainly watch this film and think that nothing happens, to this blogger there is a ton occurring up on the screen.  The subtleties of Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig's performances are what make this film a success.  Clarkson, in particular, is wonderful in a graceful, though tricky, performance as a woman who genuinely loves her husband, but also misses the loving bond she has with him.  Her Juliette is not a woman who was looking for love with another man, nor do I believe that she is a woman who would have taken a flirtatious relationship to the next level, but Clarkson portrays Juliette as always thinking...you get the sense that the character is constantly pondering, "This is what could have been, but this could never happen now."

Along with beautiful cinematography and a lovely (though a bit repetitive) piano-driven score, Cairo Time is a lovely way to spend 85 minutes.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Movie Review - Three Days of the Condor

Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, and Max von Sydow
Directed by Sydney Pollack
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I have a problem when conspiracy thrillers become so convoluted that the viewer is unable to follow them. As we watch, we know that there's something nefarious going on, but because of the way the film is structured, we're at a loss to explain things.  That's the issue with Three Days of the Condor, a flick that starts off quite promisingly, but falters in the last half because it falls into the trap of too many twists and tangles.

The most successful aspect of the film is Robert Redford's performance as the bookish Joseph Turner who, along with seven colleagues, has been hired by the government to study foreign texts to determine if they contain secret codes or messages.  While out getting lunch one afternoon, all of Turner's co-workers are shot down in their offices. When Turner returns and discovers the horror, he calls his government superior and soon discovers that something shady is underfoot -- a conspiracy that may lead all the way to the top of the CIA.

I was incredibly fond of this film for the first sixty minutes.  It was tense, nicely plotted, and provided Redford with a nice opportunity to slowly morph from "the nerd" to "the action star."  However, around the halfway point, there's an awkward sex scene between Redford and the miscast Faye Dunaway (whose character and romantic subplot are completely unnecessary) and things start to falter.  Backstabbing runs rampant and characters switch their loyalties seemingly every five minutes.  It grows to a ridiculous level and, in the end, it negates the powerful opening.  

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Review - Suspect

Suspect (1987)
Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, Joe Mantegna, and John Mahoney
Directed by Peter Yates
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I've only seen one movie with Cher before (Mask and that was probably close to fifteen years ago), so Suspect was nearly my first foray into her as an actress.  I've got to say that I was impressed with the singer.  There's a naturalness that comes from her that isn't seen most of the time in "stars."  She was absolutely believable as beleaguered public defender Kathleen Riley.  Unfortunately, the film around her fell a little short in the believability department.

Kathleen is placed on a case of a deaf homeless man (Liam Neeson) accused of murdering a Washington D.C. judge's secretary.  Once brought to trial, one of the jurors, a Congressional lobbyist (Dennis Quaid), for some reason or another takes on a detective role, dropping hints to Kathleen in order to bolster her case and get an acquittal for her client.  The problem with the film lies in the fact that there's no reason for this lobbyist to help Kathleen.  In the end, he's not connected with the actual murder at all so it's not like that's the big twist.  There was no valid reason...except that, he's kind of a man-whore and he had the hots for Kathleen.  Beyond that, there's nothing, and that's the downfall of the film.

That being said, I liked the movie despite the fairly major flaw.  As I said, Cher was quite good and, although his character was absolutely ridiculous, Dennis Quaid was rather charming.  In their scenes together, a real chemistry is evident.  

For some reason or another, I remember seeing the video box for this film back when I was a kid in the local Blockbuster.  Of course, it was in the suspense section with all the Hitchcock films and so it always fell into that "maybe I'll watch that one day" category, so when it popped up on Netflix, I figured I'd give it a shot.  Despite its problems, Suspect is an enjoyable courtroom drama that won't land on anyone's best list, but qualifies as a nice diversion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Movie Review - The Morning After

The Morning After (1986)
Starring Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges, and Raul Julia
Directed by Sidney Lumet
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's something about the 1980s.  Seeing as how the decade brought us smooth jazz and an overabundance of pastels (both of which get prominent placement in this film), it's ten years that are probably best forgotten.  The Morning After reeks of the year it was made, but I'm willing to give it that fault.  Unfortunately, the flick about an out-of-work alcoholic actress (Jane Fonda) who wakes up in a drunken haze next to the body of a murdered man just doesn't cut it in terms of a thriller.  From the outset, it's fairly obvious who the killer actually is and who the screenplay is simply setting up as the red herring.  Add to that one of the silliest "reveals" in film history and you've got a disappointment.

It also doesn't help that Jane Fonda (in an Oscar-nominated role no less) seems to be overacting to the hilt.  She brings nothing new to the role of "drunk" and instead utilizes all the stereotypical characteristics.  Granted, I wasn't bored when Fonda was onscreen, but, in actuality, despite the film's flaws, I actually wasn't bored by any of it.  Which places me in an odd conundrum.  I can't say that The Morning After should be watched, but I also can't say it was all that bad despite the fact that it doesn't have much going for it.

Of course, it doesn't really matter because the likelihood of anyone reading this actually watching this is slim to zippo.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movie Review - The Last Exorcism

The Last Exorcism (2010)
Starring Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, and Louis Herthum 
Directed by Daniel Stamm

If one were to really sit back and think about the goings-on in The Last Exorcism, some of the plot holes stand out like a sore thumb.  However, on the surface, the horror flick is surprisingly tense and, despite a rather silly final reel, the low budget film shot in the same documentary-style vein as The Blair Witch Project is effective in nearly all aspects of production.

Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian AKA Professor Lasky of Saved by the Bell: The College Years fame) is a self-professed fraud of a Louisiana preacher.  While he enjoys the "show" he gets to put on every Sunday, he has reached a point where he doesn't believe a thing he spouts.  For some unsatisfactorily explained reason (which is one of the faults I hinted at above), Cotton allows a two-person documentary film crew to follow him on what will be his last performance of an exorcism (and "performance" is the key word there).  Needless to say, there wouldn't be a movie if something didn't go awry and Cotton's faith (or lack thereof) is soon tested.

The best thing The Last Exorcism has going for it are the performances, particularly that of Ashley Bell whose possibly possessed sixteen year-old Nell is frightening.  Running the gamut from childlike innocence to psychotic demon isn't an easy thing to do. Bell has a tricky role considering the interesting twists the script throws her way, but she handles everything quite admirably.  Also surprisingly, for a film that takes place in the podunk South, the folks we meet aren't of the Deliverance style of acting which is always a nice treat when directors don't resort to the stereotypes which so often happens.

Still, the film is not without its faults...and here's where the SPOILERS come in (so just skip on down to the rating to avoid them).  (1) There is one single camera filming things and yet there are many scenes in which we get multiple angled shots of events as they unfold.  (2) Considering what occurred at the film's conclusion, how was this footage even found?  I'm pretty darn sure that this stuff would've been burned. (3) That ending?  Just kinda silly, unfortunately.  For a film that intrigued me, the ending was a bit of a letdown.  Ultimately, it didn't ruin things, but turning it into some whacked-out Christian thing wasn't the right way to end the film.

Nonetheless, despite the faults, I liked The Last Exorcism quite a bit and certainly think it's one of the better horror films I've seen in a while.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Movie Review - Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010)
Featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Will Arnett, and Kristen Wiig
Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Perhaps I'm just a curmudgeon, but the animated flick Despicable Me just didn't resonate with me in the slightest.  I came away with the equivalent of shrugged shoulders -- it wasn't bad, it wasn't good, it was just "meh."

Ultimately, the fault lies in the story because the animation and voice acting are more than adequate.  While the idea behind the flick is amusing enough -- a down-on-his-luck, aging evil villain plots the ultimate crime by stealing the moon -- Despicable Me becomes bogged down by the addition of three orphaned girls who attempt to provide an emotional counterpoint to the lunacy of the villain.  In its attempt at aiming for the "heart" that Pixar is so adept at providing in its films, Despicable Me doesn't succeed.  I'm honestly not quite sure why the filmmakers attempted to go for the emotion because sometimes simple fun is more than enough.

In the end, my lack of words in this review is because I'm just "meh" on Despicable Me.  I didn't like or dislike it...it was just 85 minutes of "meh."

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Review - Tron Legacy

Tron: Legacy (2010)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, and Michael Sheen
Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Mindless entertainment is perfectly fine sometimes.  I don't need everything I watch to be "awards-worthy."  But, on the other hand, "mindless entertainment" does have the responsibility of being entertaining.  I mean, the entertainment aspect is inherent in its name.  I'm not saying Tron: Legacy wasn't entertaining...I just can't help but feel that it could have been better than it was.

Perhaps my major problem with Tron: Legacy is that the action scenes seemed somewhat disjointed from the rather engaging and unique story going on around them.  When Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) inadvertently gets sucked into the virtual gaming world that his father Kevin (Jeff Bridges) created over a decade ago, the young man finds himself on a quest to find his father whom he believes to be trapped in the game as well.  The father-son relationship/dynamic between Bridges and Hedlund worked (I realize this isn't a popular opinion as this was trashed in a lot of reviews I read).  Unfortunately, the action scenes (while thoroughly entertaining) seemed placed in the film only to showcase the 3-D, which, while good, didn't reach Avatar levels in terms of execution.

I understand there innately needs to be some kind of conflict in order for a film to work, but as soon as Sam is trapped in the game, he forced to play a part in some giant futuristic gladiator-style tournament set up by the "ruler" of the gaming world Clu (also played by Jeff Bridges).  In a scene that seems to take forever, Sam battles against faceless robots using light sabers, light rings, and computerized motorcycles. It all looked cool and it was all well done, but I couldn't help but think that it was placed in the film simply because it looked neat.  The film sets up a nice competition of power (of sorts) between Clu and Kevin, but the first twenty minutes in the computer world are simply this game that means absolutely nothing in terms of the grand scheme of the film.  Ultimately, the story came together in a way that worked, but it's once again an action film that didn't need a lot of its action.  It would have been much more successful had certain scenes been deleted.

I realize I'm perhaps being a tad harsh because I did find it better than your average actioner.  I liked Jeff Bridges quite a bit and his duel roles allowed him to play both sides of the spectrum with equal gusto.  I also didn't have any problems with Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde (who plays Kevin's computerized assistant Quorra) who, while both given some silly things to say, were more than adequate in their roles.  And in terms of acting, Michael Sheen was hamming it up as futuristic club owner Zuse.  While the extravagance should have felt completely out of place, I couldn't help but love the over-the-top nature of it, injecting the film with some much needed humor (in fact, it probably won't be surprising to see Sheen on my list of 2010 Best Supporting Actors which I'll post some time in February).

In terms of production values, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Daft Punk's scoring which I thought was probably one of the best scores I've heard this year.  The pumping bass did more to help the mood of the film than any of the computer-generated special effects did (although they were certainly up to snuff as well).

While the film was certainly left open for the possibility of a sequel, I appreciated that it felt wrapped up as well.  I'm not against seeing another Tron, but I'm a little hesitant.  What I enjoyed about this one was the backstory of getting to know these characters and how they got to this point in their lives.  I worry that a sequel will simply be about the action, and in this film, those scenes didn't quite work for me as well as I would have liked.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Movie Review - What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
Directed by Robert Aldrich
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I guess a film classified as "camp" doesn't get that classification until well after its theatrical release which would probably be why What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was actually nominated for five Oscars.  Don't get me wrong.  The flick is pure fun and an enjoyable romp, but it's a cheese-fest (which cannot be denied) with more scenery chewing from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford than you're likely to see in any other film.

The two leading ladies portray sisters, both washed-up actresses -- probably not unlike themselves at the time of the film's release.  In the late 1910's, Baby Jane Hudson was the star of the family, putting on a nice vaudeville show that raked in the dough.  However, she was a spoiled brat and by the late 1930s, Jane was pushed to the wayside in favor of her nicer sister Blanche who proved to be very popular in films.  After a party one evening in the driveway of their home, Blanche gets run over by her sister, leaving her paralyzed and crippled, thus ruining her acting career.  Cut to "Yesterday" as the title card puts it (which I would assume means 1962) and Jane and Blanche have aged quite a bit.  Jane (Bette Davis) finds herself waiting on Blanche (Joan Crawford) hand and foot and she resents it immensely.  Of course, Jane is living in the past, still believing at times that she is "Baby Jane Hudson," even going so far as to dress up in a ruffly white dress and throw her hair into childish pigtails.  You see (and this adds to the camp element immensely), Jane is certifiably nuts.  Blanche attempts to shield herself from this revelation, but as Jane's mental health slowly deteriorates, Blanche must confront the issue head on, much to the chagrin of Jane, and the two begin to battle each other for control.

Listen...this movie is fun.  Bette Davis is hilarious, but at the same time freakishly scary, as Jane.  She's nuts and we know this from the minute we see her onscreen.  There's no subtlety here, but that's what gives the film a jolt of energy.  Counter her schizo Jane to the subdued Joan Crawford's Blanche and the two actresses balance each other out quite well (which is surprising because the two ladies apparently despised each other on set).  The director allows the two of them to just act to the nth degree and they both pull out all the stops.  In the end, the over-the-top style plays to the film's advantage and essentially makes the movie better than it really deserves to be.  

Honestly, this is an immensely enjoyable one despite its kookiness, and if you haven't seen it and are a fan of classic cinema, it's probably well worth a look.  This is definitely one of those films that falls into the "so bad, it's good" genre that we all know and love.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie Review - Cyrus

Cyrus (2010)
Starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, and Jonah Hill
Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

mumblecore (n.) - an American independent film movement characterized by their low budgets and their focus on personal relationships amongst twentysomethings utilizing improvised dialog with mostly non-professional actors

Apparently, Cyrus is considered a pic from the mumblecore movement despite the fact that it doesn't fit about half of the criteria listed above.  You hear that word, though -- mumblecore -- and it just kind of conjures up this feeling of boredom which, considering how I feel about a lot of indie, low budget comedies, is probably apropos.  Surprisingly, however, Cyrus proved to be somewhat enjoyable (even despite the presence of Jonah Hill).

Part of the reason for Cyrus's moderate success is that it doesn't overstay its welcome.  Clocking in at under ninety minutes, directors Jay and Mark Duplass keep things moving along at a brisk pace...which is nice considering that there isn't much story here.  John (John C. Reilly) is a divorced middle-aged guy stuck in a rut, thinking that he'll never find someone with whom to share his life.  At a party thrown by his ex-wife (Catherine Keener), John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a sexy younger woman who shows an interest in him.  Things become serious rather quickly and John soon discovers that Molly has a grown 22-year old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill).  Still living at home, Cyrus and Molly have an odd co-dependent relationship that John soon discovers will cause a serious hindrance to his fun times with Molly.

Ultimately, the problem with the film is with the title character and his relationships with others.  There was not a single instance in the film when I believed that Cyrus could actually exist.  Seeing as how this is a film that bases itself in reality, it is of fundamental importance that I be able to believe what I'm actually watching.  Unfortunately, I never believed in Cyrus as a character.  Part of that blame falls on Jonah Hill who always seemed to be hiding a smirk on his face (which may have been his way of playing the devious character...if it was, it was a tactic that didn't work).  But I think the bigger blame belongs to the screenwriters/directors Jay and Mark Duplass who never shaped Cyrus into anything other than a broad caricature.

Still, against the odds, I found myself liking a decent amount of the movie.  John C. Reilly, who typically doesn't get the chance to shine in lead roles unless they are of a broad comedic type (a la Step Brothers or Walk Hard), is actually quite charming here.  He's understated and completely believable as the depressed then reinvigorated John.  Marisa Tomei is also good as well, although she is burdened with the ludicrous parent-child relationship the script forces her to have with her son.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, January 14, 2011

Movie Review - Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine (2010)
Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams
Directed by Derek Cianfrance

I think the ultimate compliment that I can give Blue Valentine is that I wanted to continue my voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of the two rather tortured individuals onscreen long after the credits began to roll.  While the story can essentially be boiled down to something very simplistic -- married couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are experiencing some troubles, unsure if their rocky relationship can continue -- the roles that the two actors inhabit are anything but basic.  There's a depth here that we don't usually see onscreen.  While the reasons for the couple's problems may not be clear, what is evident is a once loving relationship is now deteriorating...and it's devastating to witness.

What ultimately makes Blue Valentine cinematically special (beyond the great performances from Gosling and Williams which I'll get to in a bit) is the ballsiness of director-cowriter Derek Cianfrance to just keep things squarely in the bubble of Dean and Cindy.  No extraneous characters are presented for comedic relief, but instead moments of respite are provided by Cianfrance bouncing back in time six years to when Dean and Cindy first met.  Counteracting the pain they're experiencing in the present, these joyous moments from the past...goshdarnit...I frickin' loved these moments.  There's a scene where, on their first date, Dean plays a corny song on a ukelele while Cindy does a lovely little softshoe dance.  In this moment, I fell in love with Blue Valentine just as Cindy and Dean were falling in love with each other.  And these happier times make the jump back to the present all the more painful and all the more emotionally trying.

Of course, none of this would make any difference in a sharply focused indie love story if it weren't for the actors, and Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are amazing.  There's no doubt that Gosling's Dean genuinely loves Cindy -- it's the inability to express that love that causes things to heading south.  While the reasons for their gradual falling apart are never really explained, it's obvious that Williams is playing Cindy as a woman who, in a most basic sense, needs more from Dean.  When the two head to a seedy hotel in order to try and reconnect again, both Williams and Gosling are pained, raw in both their physicality and emotions, which stands in complete contrast to the sweet innocence portrayed by their characters from six years prior when they find each other in bed together for the first time.  This ability of Williams and Gosling to take the viewer down the path from head-over-heels giddiness to sorrow is a key to the film's success.  Williams, in particular, keeps things bottled up and we can sense that she's always ready to truly express her disappointment in the disintegration of the relationship, but never quite able to let it all out -- it's a difficult role to tackle.  Together, their chemistry is palpable.  From the obviously improvised dialog to their sly sexy smiles to one another, the "past" storyline feels as real as it gets when it comes to movies.

I walked out of the film knowing that I really liked it, but didn't quite place it at the top of my 2010 movie list.  However, as the movie continued to work its magic on my mind as the day progressed, I have grown to appreciate it even more than I thought I did upon initially viewing it.  Despite the somewhat disjointed review above, Blue Valentine is an odd kind of love story that makes me want to find love and yet fear the pain it can inflict at the same time.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

On a side note, Blue Valentine got some buzz for initially earning an NC-17 rating due to a sex scene.  After watching Saving Private Ryan a few days ago, if that movie can earn an R, then there's no reason this film shouldn't have earned it from the outset.  The ridiculousness of the MPAA sometimes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Personal Canon - Saving Private Ryan

The Personal Canon is a recurring column highlighting my favorite films 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.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Starring Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, and Matt Damon
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Damn you, Saving Private Ryan.  When the single tear rolled down my cheek after watching you on my freshly received Blu-Ray, I was cursing your name.  I remember back on your opening day on July 24, 1998, as a somewhat fresh high school graduate, I sat in a theater full of mostly senior citizens (of which I assumed some were veterans) for your opening show.  Even twelve years ago, I remember welling up as the credits began to roll.  And I was not alone in the watery eye department.  You worked your emotions on nearly everyone in the theater.  I'm more than happy to report that you still stand the test of time, providing an eye-popping, gut-wrenching, and awe-inspiring glimpse into the trials our soldiers tackled head-on in World War II.

No discussion of director Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan can be had without discussing the epic Omaha Beach D-Day battle sequence that opens the film.  A directing tour de force of the highest degree, Spielberg places us squarely in the action, not giving us a moment to breath for over twenty minutes.  In front of our very eyes, limbs are lost, explosions tear bodies apart -- loss of life everywhere.  The scene is relentless, unceasing, and as a viewer there is no greater desire for this assault (both physically and visually) to end. Emotionally, it's painful to watch.  Cinematically, it's brilliant.  Immediately, Spielberg has made us a soldier, shakily moving the camera as if we were standing on the beach witnessing the horrific chaos.  

By placing us in a soldier's shoes from the outset, we become one of the small battalion of men who go on a mission to search for Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) whose three brothers have been killed in various battles during the war.  Ordered from his superiors to find Ryan, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and a group of eight other soldiers trek across France looking for, as Capt. Miller perfectly describes it, "a needle in a stack of needles."  Along the way, smaller battles will be fought, soldiers will be lost, and the fear, pain, joy, and camaraderie are palpably felt by the viewer.

Even though the film is bookended by two intense, lengthy battle sequences, a huge chunk of the emotional impact the film garners is derived from the quiet moments.  Towards the beginning, there's a gut check moment in which Ryan's mother is given the news that her sons have died.  There is not a word spoken in the scene by anyone, but the emotional impact of John William's melancholic score and Janusz Kaminski's breathtaking Academy Award-winning cinematography (coupled, of course, with Spielberg's deft direction and stellar acting even from secondary actors) make this moment instantly memorable.  Another particular "calm before the storm" moment occurs prior to the film's final battle where the surviving soldiers sit around thinking about life at home.  As they boast about sexual encounters or discuss simply missing their wife's rose garden, these quiet, understated moments in Robert Rodat's script allow us to get to know our fellow soldiers, all the while amplifying the anticipatory tension of the inevitable impact of the forthcoming battles.

Of course, the emotional resonance wouldn't make much of a difference if the actors in the film didn't shape characters to care about, but that's not a problem in the slightest.  Some may think Tom Hanks is rather subdued as Captain Miller and while they wouldn't be wrong per se, the dedication of Miller to both his military career and his fellow soldiers is the greatest quality Hanks brings to the character.  While Edward Burns brings a sarcastic roughness to his Private Reiben, Jeremy Davies' Corporal Upham is just the opposite -- scared and meek as he faces his first combat experience (mirroring, perhaps, how we may feel were we in his shoes).  Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, and Tom Sizemore each craft distinct characters which, to me anyway, is not an easy thing to do in war movies in which many of the physical characteristics of people are so similar.

Unlike some future films that will be a part of my Personal Canon, Saving Private Ryan was honored by many of the year-end awards bodies.  For what it's worth, it walked away with Golden Globes for Best Picture Drama and Best Director.  At the Oscars, the film was nominated for eleven awards, walking away with five for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Film Editing.  It did, however, lose the big Best Picture award in a memorable upset to Shakespeare in Love, a film I have grown to really enjoy in recent years (and, who knows...it may end up in the canon in time, I enjoy it that much).  But for it to beat Saving Private Ryan?  That's just crazy.  Granted, if Ryan has a fault it's that it runs on a tad too long, but it never feels like the nearly three hour film that it is.  Maybe folks in the Academy couldn't get past the intense opening reel (or maybe those infamous Weinstein brothers -- the producers of Shakespeare -- paid off a bunch of voters). 

I'm not afraid or ashamed to admit that Saving Private Ryan hits me in the gut and genuinely makes me well up.  I wiped away a single tear as the film concluded.  Yes, I knew how it ended, but this film fires on all emotional cylinders, rousing up pride for our country and our soldiers who helped shape this country into what it is today.  You ladies can cry over something like The Notebook, but give me a movie that, while perhaps sad, is about the joys of the brotherhood of man.  That's what gets to me and Saving Private Ryan fits the bill perfectly.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Movie Review - Ransom

Ransom (1996)
Starring Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Brawley Nolte, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor, Donnie Wahlberg, and Liev Schrieber
Directed by Ron Howard
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Not that the trailer for Ransom in and of itself is all that amazing, but in 1996, Mel Gibson's uttering of the film's somewhat classic line, "Give me back my son!", was played seemingly ad nauseum in theaters and on tv.  It's a simple line, but in that one line reading from Mel, the primal, guttural instinct of a parent who has had a child kidnapped shines through and Gibson shows why everyone loved him prior to his late aughts breakdown.  As far as the film goes, despite it's completely generic nature and its by-the-book direction from Ron Howard, Ransom does the job required of it, continuously ratcheting up the tension until the rather silly, although plausible climax.

There's no need to go into any plot summaries here as the film doesn't deviate from any standard kidnapping flick.  Rich parents get their son kidnapped and the abductors demand a significant ransom for the return of the child.  Sure, there are slight turns along the way, but there's absolutely nothing new brought to the table either by the writers or by the director.  

Nevertheless, the film does exactly what it needs to do in order to be entertaining.  In part, all the actors really step up to the plate.  From Gibson and Rene Russo as the distraught parents to Delroy Lindo as the FBI agent helping to track down the kidnapper to Gary Sinise as a troubled cop, the acting lifts up all the generic roles to a degree higher than what they likely deserved.

Yes, I find myself criticizing the film above, but I also was thoroughly entertained throughout Ransom.  I'd seen this upon its release and remembered liking it back then and wasn't disappointed upon the rewatch.

On a completely unrelated note, I find it quite odd that I've now watched two kidnapping movies in the span of four days...slightly odd how that happened.

And on another completely unrelated note (one that I've said before), I miss Mr. Gibson as an actor.  

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Movie Review - The Third Man

The Third Man (1949)
Starring Joseph Cotten, Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard
Directed by Carol Reed
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

When Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) comes to Vienna to meet his good friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), he's shocked to discover that Lime has been accidentally killed after being hit by a truck.  After meeting Lime's girlfriend Anna (Valli), Holly is fairly certain that something is awry with the police investigation of Lime's death headed by military leader Major Calloway (Trevor Howard).  Needless to say, many secrets are uncovered, some of which people certainly wished to stay hidden.

Filled with gigantic shadows, darkened images, and sharp-tongued dialog, The Third Man undoubtedly has that film noir feel.  Director Carol Reed utilizes crooked camera angles (which were initially fun, but eventually off-putting) and puts his camera close to the action.  The film moves along at a brisk pace which is actually fairly surprising considering that the story for all its tinges of espionage and wrongdoing is actually pretty simple.

The film is certainly aided by three great actors.  As was noted by my fellow movie-watcher, I'm not sure Joseph Cotten has much of a range.  His demeanor and actions are very similar in this to his roles in Shadow of a Doubt, Citizen Kane, and The Magnificent Ambersons, but that's not a bad thing.  I like Cotten as an actor quite a bit.  In a lot of what he does, there's an everyman quality to him with a hint of nastiness underneath.  Orson Welles is hamming it up in this film, but every time he is onscreen, it brought a smile to me.  And it's nice to see that Trevor Howard, who I thought was utterly bland in Brief Encounter, show that it was the script that brought him down in that previous film rather than his acting capabilities.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

The Personal Canon

If you google "film canon," you'll like find a bunch of folks listing off pretentious movies as if these films are the best cinema has to offer.  In an effort to make themselves feel superior to us regular moviegoers, many of the films in peoples' canons will be foreign or made decades upon decades ago or be overly violent or edgy.  Now, personally I have nothing against foreign films or older films or edgy, violent films, and if you want to include them in your canon, that's fine with me (in fact, there will likely be some of each in my canon).

However, my personal canon is filled with films that perhaps may not have been groundbreaking in cinema, but mean something to me (for example, you won't find the mundane [story-wise] Citizen Kane here even though I fully recognize the very significant impact it made on the industry).  That's not to say that films that bring something new to the table wouldn't be in the canon, but I'm not going to include them simply because they were innovative.

Films in my Personal Canon will be films that mean something to me in one way or another.  Did they make me crack up?  Did they make me cry?  Did they make me think about something in a new light?  Did they make me appreciate the medium that is film even more?  The movies in my canon may not necessarily get the "A" rating, but they're films that even though they may be flawed, I return to again and again simply because I truly love them.  With rare exception, these are going to be movies that I've seen multiple times as it's oftentimes difficult (though not impossible -- see here) for a movie to jump into the Personal Canon after just one viewing.

So, within the next week, I'll announce the first film in my Personal Canon.  Several of the films may be expected (and may show up on those snooty film canons that pepper the internet already), but many others will be unique.

It's time to watch some good movies for a change...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Movie Review - The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)
Starring Martin Compston, Eddie Marsan, and Gemma Arterton
Directed by J Blakeson

It's nice every now and then for a movie to come out of nowhere and genuinely surprise you.  The Disappearance of Alice Creed is one of those movies.  I knew next to nothing about it except that this was a taut British thriller, but I also read that the trailer spoiled the film and should be avoided at all costs (which, after watching the film and then the trailer, I'd tend to agree with that assessment).  So, when the film arrived on dvd late last year, I figured I'd check it out and I was pleasantly surprised.  Working with a cast of only three people, first-time feature film writer-director J Blakeson has crafted a nice little kidnapping flick that doesn't necessarily reinvent the genre, but certainly proves to be entertaining.

The film opens with two men prepping a run-down apartment for a kidnapping complete with handcuffs, rope, and soundproof walls.  Shortly thereafter, they have abducted their victim, gagged her, and tied her to the bolted-down bed in the prison-like apartment.  With ninety minutes left to unspool in the film, I was unsure where the flick was going to go from here, but thanks to some clever (and completely believable) twists, Blakeson and his actors kept me completely interested in the goings-on.

With only three people in the film, if there was a single bad apple in the cast, the flick would've failed, but fortunately, all three actors give it their all.  Eddie Marsan as Vic, the career criminal and "man in charge," brings a creepiness that counteracts Martin Compston's subdued and on-edge Danny quite well.  While neither of their roles are "new" in the broad scheme of character development, the screenplay creates enough unique spins to make these two crooks interesting.  

The toughest role belongs to Gemma Arterton who, as the title character, finds herself chained and gagged for much of the film, yet gives her absolute all in a rather riveting performance.  This was not an easy role and I imagine it wasn't an easy undertaking for Arterton who bares all emotionally (and often physically) throughout the entirety of the film.  While I won't subject myself to her roles in Prince of Persia or Clash of the Titans, I look forward to seeing what else this up-and-coming actress has to offer in the future.

It should be noted that The Disappearance of Alice Creed isn't exactly an easy film to watch (and may not be suited for everyone's tastes), but thanks to three great performances and an edge-of-the-seat screenplay courtesy of the film's director, it's a flick that should be checked out by those whose interest I may have piqued with this review.

The RyMickey Rating:  B