Monday, February 28, 2011

Movie Review - For Colored Girls

For Colored Girls (2010)
Starring Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Thandie Newton, Loretta Devine, and Whoopi Goldberg
Directed by Tyler Perry

All throughout For Colored Girls, I kept trying to will myself to enjoy it.  I was witnessing some stellar performances from Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, and Phylicia Rashad, and I wanted to like this movie so I could recommend others to watch it solely to see these underused actresses.  Unfortunately, Tyler Perry has written and directed a ridiculously melodramatic movie, forcing his onscreen talent to take part in an epic and, at times, laughable misandry fest.

Based on a play which apparently is a series of poetic readings, Perry has crafted very loose interweaving stories that, I'd assume, relate to the original source material.  There's a lovely young dance instructor (Anika Noni Rose) who meets a seemingly charming guy only to discover he may not be such a great catch.  We move onto her young student who gets pregnant and heads to a back alley in the city to get an abortion (doesn't she know that in this day and age, my tax dollars support Planned Parenthood which can certainly show her the nearest clinic).  That girl's sister is a sex addict (and is played by the ridiculously over-the-top Thandie Newton) and she lives next door to Phylicia Rashad who is essentially playing the same voice of reason she played on The Cosby Show.  In the apartment next to Mrs. Cosby is an abused mother (Kimberly Elise) who stays with her army veteran husband who became insane after his stint in Iraq despite the repeated harm he causes her and her children.  That woman works for Janet Jackson who plays a magazine editor with only one overarching characteristic -- cold bitch.  Her husband is cheating on her...with another man.  This insanity just goes on and on.  Couple these ridiculous stories with actresses who are forced, mid-scene, to suddenly break into poetry.  What they were saying may have been lovely, but I couldn't help but laugh.  What are probably beautiful words about the plight of women (which I assume are written by the original playwright) are pigeonholed in between some of the silliest dialog out there (which I assume is written by Tyler Perry).

Somehow, shocking as it is, I was kind of drawn in to the awfulness of the whole affair.  It come awfully close to the so bad it's good realm, but never quite gets there.  The reason it never achieves that lofty goal is that there are too many good performances here and they, unfortunately, make the bad ones look really godawful.  Kerry Washington is actually quite lovely as a social worker set to look into the case of Kimberly Elise's abused wife.  Washington and Elise actually have moments of brilliance here and it's a shame they're stuck in such a crappy film.  Same goes for Ms. Rashad who has a presence that is felt throughout the film even in scenes where she's just on the periphery.  Kudos also to Anika Noni Rose whose character goes through quite a change with shocking believability.  She's also helped by the fact that the scene that "transforms" her is also one of the few moments in which Mr. Perry shows a vague hint that he knows how to utilize a camera to tell a story.

And it's all a shame because those four roles are pitted against the painful silliness of Thandie Newton who apparently can only express frustration through screaming.  Of course, she is playing the daughter of Whoopi Goldberg's character who also overacts to the nth degree.  Pit that against the one-note Janet Jackson who only knows stone-cold sternness as a facial expression and those leading ladies who did a great job get overshadowed by the weaker ones.

In the end, despite the rating below, it may be worth a Netflix instant watch should it ever pop up simply to see some of the great performances, but, in the end, it still proves that Tyler Perry is not the talent that his high box office grosses would make one think he is.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Predictions

UPDATE:  Sunday, February 27, 11:50pm

I'm pretty average at prognosticating.  A so-so 17 out of 24.  Foolish me for thinking Melissa Leo who won every single award leading up to tonight would've lost out to Steinfeld (that was just wishful thinking).

The awards show itself (with the exception of the Delaware shoutout from one of the night's most entertaining speeches from Short Film winner Luke Matheny) was dry and needed a punch of humor.  Anne Hathaway was fine and gracious, but Franco didn't want to be there and it was simply annoying to watch his apathetic vibe.  Bring Hathaway back to co-host with someone like Billy Crystal or Hugh Jackman and inject the night with more laughs.

Overall, I can't say I'm disappointed.  The King's Speech is my 2nd favorite pic of the Top Ten, so I can't say I'm upset with the outcome.

Well...I definitely didn't see the 200-plus movies I saw last year by Oscar time, but I saw close to 100.  Unfortunately, I missed out on a few nominated flicks, but I managed to see the major ones.

The season started out with The Social Network being the flick to beat, but the tide has shifted to The King's Speech and it's entirely possible that film could sweep nearly everything.  That said, there's a few races that are genuinely up for grabs (Best Director, Best Supporting Actress...and I think Best Actress is closer than people think it is)...or maybe I'm just hoping for a few surprises from Sunday night's awards.

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
Winter's Bone
Will Win:  The King's Speech
Should Win:  127 Hours
Should Have Been Nominated:  Blue Valentine

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The Kings Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Will Win:  David Fincher, The Social Network (I'm probably out on a limb on this one as it's probably gonna go to Hooper.)
Should Win:  Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Should Have Been Nominated:  Matt Reeves, Let Me In

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Will Win:  Colin Firth
Should Win:  Colin Firth  (Note: I did not see Biutiful.  Also, James Franco was my pick for nearly the whole season, but I just saw King's Speech and Firth is pretty fantastic.)
Should Have Been Nominated:  Joaquin Phoenix, I'm Still Here and Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine

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
Will Win:  Natalie Portman (I was actually going for the Bening upset until Portman beat Bening tonight at the Independent Spirit Awards...if Bening wins, I'll kick myself for changing at the last minute.)
Should Win: Michelle Williams (Note: I did not see Rabbit Hole even though I really wanted to)
Should Have Been Nominated:  No one...a weak year for actresses across the board for me

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Will Win: Christian Bale
Should Win: Christian Bale (although it's really a near toss-up with Geoffrey Rush and I'd be quite pleased if he took the trophy)
Should Have Been Nominated:  I'm pretty happy with all of the above

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Will Win:  Hailee Steinfeld (in an upset over Melissa Leo)
Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld (Note: Despite being my number one movie in my Netflix queue for about a month now, I've been unable to see Weaver in Animal Kingdom)
Should Have Been Nominated:  Once again, a weak year for actresses as you'll see when I list my awards soon, so I'm okay with the above

(For the following, the WILL WINs are in BOLD CAPS and the Should Wins are in italics)

Best Original Screenplay:  
Another Year, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, THE KING'S SPEECH
Should Have Been Nominated:  Blue Valentine

Best Adapted Screenplay:  
127 Hours, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone
Should Have Been Nominated:  Let Me In

Best Editing:  
Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Best Cinematography:  Black Swan, Inception, The King's Speech, The Social Network, TRUE GRIT
Should Have Been Nominated:  Shutter Island

Best Art Direction:  
Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, Inception, THE KING'S SPEECH, True Grit
Should Have Been Nominated:  The Ghost Writer

Best Costume Design: ALICE IN WONDERLAND, I Am Love, The King's Speech, The Tempest, True Grit

Best Original Score:  127 Hours, How to Train Your Dragon, Inception, THE KING'S SPEECH, The Social Network
Should Have Been Nominated:  Tron: Legacy

Best Visual Effects:  Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Hereafter, INCEPTION, Iron Man 2
Should Have Been Nominated:  Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

The remainder are simply predicted winners:

Best Original Song: We Belong Together from Toy Story 3
Best Animated Feature:  Toy Story 3  (Tangled should've been nominated)

Best Sound Mixing:  Inception

Best Sound Editing:  Inception

Best Foreign Film:  In a Better World (Denmark)
Best Documentary Feature:  Inside Job
Best Make-Up:  The Wolfman
Best Live Action Short:  The Crush
Best Animated Short:  The Gruffalo
Best Documentary Short:  Strangers No More

Movie Review - The King's Speech

The King's Speech (2010)
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Tom Hooper

Seeing as how I'm posting this review the day before the Oscars and this British period film has already made over $100 million at the box office, I'm sure anybody that wanted to see The King's Speech has seen it already and no review of mine will make a difference.  That said, The King's Speech is a lovely film.  Filled with wit, charm, and wonderful performances, it's easy to see why this connected with an adult audience longing to see smart films.

There's been talk this Oscar season of The King's Speech having "heart," hence it resonating with moviegoers more than The Social Network, and it's a statement that I can't deny.  I did walk out of The Social Network thinking that the whole affair was rather cold and detached, never letting me relate to any of the characters on a level I would have liked.  The King's Speech, however, is "feel-good" and contains characters we want to see succeed.  Don't get me wrong, I don't need my movies to be happy (heck, my number one flick of the year, Blue Valentine, is as depressing as it gets), but I can see where the Academy members give Speech an edge over Network because of the inspiring mood of the former.

Ultimately, I do think The King's Speech is the better movie of the two main contenders and a huge chunk of the reasoning behind that is the performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.  Firth is just great as King George VI, thrust into power even though he always found himself in the shadows of his father and brother thanks to his stuttering speech impediment.  Firth's role as a nervous and shy (future) king could've been played much showier which would have been much to the film's detriment.  As it stands now, Firth's rather subdued take on the monarch coupled with Geoffrey Rush's at times both snarky and sympathetic role as speech consultant-cum-psychologist Lionel Logue elevate the film to another level.  Two other men in these roles may have made the film run-of-mill and average, but Firth and Rush together play off of each other so brilliantly.

[I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Helena Bonham Carter as the King's wife.  This is probably the best I've seen Bonham Carter -- absolutely lovely.]

Credit also must go to director Tom Hooper who manages to make a period piece about British royalty not seem stodgy and uptight.  With some clever directorial choices and a surprising ability to keep things moving, Hooper deserves the kudos he's been receiving along the way this Oscar season.  Who would've thunk watching a five-minute speech would've been interesting and exciting?  Not I, but Hooper makes it so.

So, while I wouldn't say I saved the Best Film of 2010 for last, The King's Speech will definitely be a worthy winner of Best Picture should it take the top prize on Sunday night's Oscar telecast.  I, for one, would not be the least bit disappointed with it being victorious.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Movie Review - True Grit

True Grit (2010)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin
Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Westerns are not my thing.  I know full well that True Grit is a good movie.  I'd even go so far as to add the qualifier "very" ahead of the "good" in the previous sentence.  However, that doesn't take away from the fact that I've yet to see a western that doesn't have me checking my watch every thirty minutes to see how much time is left.  There's something about the slow pace and the country accents that cannot grab my attention.  Still, despite my random spouts of momentary boredom while watching the Coen Brothers' latest film, I found myself oddly riveted.  I realize that the last sentence is kind of an oxymoron, but my reaction to True Grit is very confusing to even myself, so I can't imagine if this review will make any sense by the time I'm done typing it.

Needless to say, with my lack of affinity towards westerns, I had never seen the John Wayne original upon which this flick is based (although, I'd venture to guess that this 2010 flick may find its basis more in the original novel than in the original film).  So, with that said, I had no prior connection to the plot.  That's probably a good thing as there were a few surprises in the cleverly written screenplay  filled with the typical moments of dry (sometimes absurd) Coen humor.

As is often a staple of Coen Brothers flicks, the acting is some of the best you'll see in cinema. Whether it's the biggest celebrities or some actor you've never seen before (see last year's A Serious Man), the directing duo has a way of getting their actors to shine.  Had Jeff Bridges not won Best Actor at the Oscars last year for Crazy Heart, I'd have to imagine his nomination this year for True Grit would have made him a strong contender in the race rather than just an also-ran.  I, for one, thought he was pretty fantastic in this flick.  The grumbly, mumbly voice he brings to the part of bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn is one of those character choices that an actor makes that may have worried film execs initially, but proves to be a nifty defining characteristic that becomes instantly memorable.

Every bit as captivating is Hailee Steinfeld making her screen debut as the poised and wise-beyond-her-years Mattie Ross who seeks out the help of Cogburn in order to track down and bring to justice her father's killer.  Steinfeld is in nearly every single scene and is the impetus behind the entire film's story, so how she snagged a Supporting Actress nomination (rather than a Best Actress nom) is beyond me.  Nonetheless, she's a joy to watch and is perfectly suited for carrying out the Coens' dialog.

Rounding out the great cast (who will likely be mentioned as a whole in the Best Ensemble category when I get around to naming the coveted RyMickey Awards in mid-March) is Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper, all of whom make the most of their screen time by creating unique and lasting characters.  With everything this film has going for it -- great actors, a clever script, beautiful cinematography -- I have to wonder if there will ever be a western that doesn't have me looking at my watch.  I don't know if it's possible.  Still, I've got to say that despite the momentary minutes of boredom, I really enjoyed True Grit, and it's probably the only western I've seen that I can say I wouldn't mind watching again.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Movie Review - The Fighter

The Fighter (2010)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo
Directed by David O. Russell

I won't pull any punches here (insert rimshot sound) and I'll just say right off the bat that The Fighter is a good film.  Well acted, well directed, and well written, I was never bored during the flick's run time.  However, like most films this year, despite excellent across-the-board technical aspects on display, there wasn't a "wow" factor that made me feel like I needed to watch this movie again anytime in the near future.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  The Fighter is well worth watching and is one of the better films of last year, but 2010 was the year of the "good film" and not the "great film."

At this point, considering the fact that the movie's been out for over two months, there's no need for a synopsis except to say that the flick is based on the true story of boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dickie Eklund with Mark Walhberg taking on the role of nice, but struggling-in-the-ring boxer Micky and Christian Bale tackling the drug-addled, past-his-prime Dickie.  What surprised me the most while watching is that although boxing is the impetus for many of the goings-on in the film, the story is really about a family and the dynamic between two brothers who want the best for each other, but go about attempting to achieve that greatness in different ways.  Ultimately, it's the family struggle (rather than a strict focus on the boxing) that makes this film better than most of the other sports-related "triumph" stories that are a Hollywood staple.

Of course, with three Oscar-nominated acting roles, the talent on the screen is top notch and also helps elevate the flick to a higher level.  Christian Bale is probably one of the greatest actors working today and he doesn't disappoint here.  Getting scarily skinny again (a la The Machinist), Bale injects the drugged-up Dickie with a surprising amount of heart which only makes things even harder for us in the audience when Dickie heads down the wrong path.

Melissa Leo is the front-runner in the Best Supporting Actress race and her role as Micky and Dickie's mother, Alice, could have easily veered into caricature, but Leo somehow manages to never take it there.  To be honest, I'm surprised I liked the role, because every time I saw a clip of the overbearing, thick-accented, sassy broad prior to seeing the movie, I got a hint of the "overacting" vibe emanating from Leo's performance.  In the movie, however, Leo's take on Alice was spot-on.

That being said, I think Amy Adams may have stolen the show despite the fact that her role as Micky's girlfriend Charlene is much more subdued than Leo's.  It's a gritty part unlike any I've seen Ms. Adams tackle before.  She's no Enchanted princess here, but underneath Charlene's gruff exterior is a woman who sees potential in Micky, but is devastated that he's ruining his chances at success by catering to his coked-up brother.

With a surprising amount of humor and heart plus a very tense and exciting final boxing sequence, The Fighter is certainly a good film.  Don't let the first paragraph of this review fool you into thinking otherwise.  

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, February 21, 2011

Six Days 'Til Oscars

This being a mostly movie-related blog, I've got to say that I'm looking forward to this Anne Hathaway/James Franco-hosted Oscar ceremony on Sunday.  Granted, I've still got three major Best Picture nominees to see before then -- The Fighter, True Grit, and The King's Speech -- but that's neither here nor there (yes, I know I'm way behind this year).  Hathaway's got comedic chops and I'm hoping the show is just as amusing as the clips of the co-hosts on the Oscars YouTube channel.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Theater Review - All the King's Men

All the King's Men
A new adaptation by Adrian Hall based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren
Directed by Adrian Hall
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware)

I'm pretty darn sure the point of this somewhat scattershot production wasn't for me to walk away from it talking about nudity, but that's what happened.  Instead of making me think about backwoods politics or corrupt media or southern family values (all of which this play very well could have made me think about), I kept thinking about the completely irrelevant moment of nudity at the outset of All the King's Men.  "Why discuss this?" one may ask, "if it's completely irrelevant?"  It is for that very reason -- the irrelevance -- that as I left the theater with my fellow patron, the topic was brought up.  Perhaps it's there for shock value or for the sake of art, but there is no reason for it to be there.  It wasn't an incredibly passionate moment, it wasn't done for the sake of comedy, and it happens so soon in the play that we in the audience have no connection to the characters that the actors are trying to convey to us.  It's the last part there that irritates me the most.  I'm all for nudity, but give me a reason to want to see the nudity...let me know who these people are and why these characters are doing what they do.  I have to wonder what motivation the director gave the charming actress who bared all...because it added nothing to the plot or story.  But, got me talking about the play and, as is the case in many instances of nudity in movies, art, or theater, that "buzz" is often the sole reason for someone to bare all.

Of course, the play doesn't live or die by the fact that there's a brief moment of bare skin.  But All the King's Men is so uninteresting that it's the "shock value" that resonates moreso than anything else.  To this reviewer, it's a play in search of itself.  Is it about young newspaper reporter Jack Burden (played by PTTP member Matthew Simpson) who starts off following burgeoning politician Willie Stark (REP actor Mic Matarrese) or is it about Stark himself who eventually puts Burden on his payroll?  Regardless of who the focus should be on, neither character is charismatic or the least bit interesting, and when your play goes on for over three hours, you better be able to sustain my interest.  Filled with seemingly endless (choppy) vignettes, odd staging, an interminable opening focus on a character completely unrelated to either Burden or Stark, and musical interludes courtesy of Randy Newman (which, handled admirably by the cast, provide a surprising jolt of energy even though they're out-of-place at times), I couldn't help but think that the play just meandered aimlessly.  

Fortunately, the acting ensemble makes the most of the little they are given.  Matthew Simpson, in particular, is engaging in a rather bland role.  Mic Matarrese also makes the most of his part, but I kept expecting the character of Willie Stark to be a little more eccentric which the play never permitted him to be.  There are also nice turns from the play's quartet of ladies, the REP's Elizabeth Heflin and PTTP members Jasmine Bracey, Meaghan Sullivan, and Sara J. Griffin. 

Still, All the King's Men needs some serious trimming in terms of story before I could deem it a play I'd care to watch again.  It's an unfortunate bump in the road on the REP's overall enjoyable season thus far.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movie Review - James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Starring Paul Terry, Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margoyles, and Pete Postlethwaite
Featuring the voices of Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, and Susan Sarandon
Directed by Henry Selick
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Although I've always been a fan of Roald Dahl, I wasn't a fan of this film version of his book James and Giant Peach when it was released fifteen years ago.  Still, I figured that it may be worth a revisit to see if I was just a sixteen year-old curmudgeon when it came out.  Well, I'm either still that same curmudgeon today or the film just doesn't work.

Coming on the heels of his critically-acclaimed The Nightmare Before Christmas, director Henry Selick returns to the world of stop-motion animation, but mixes in some live-action bookends featuring young actor Paul Terry as the title character (that would be James...not the Giant Peach).  Living in England with his horrific aunts (Miriam Margoyles and Joanna Lumley) after the death of his parents, James longs to escape his sullen life and visit New York City.  One evening, he meets a mystical traveling guy (Pete Postlewaite) who gives James some magical "seeds" which grow a giant peach larger than most houses.  In order to hide from his nagging aunts, James climbs into the peach, turns into a Claymation creation, and meets a motley crew of insects who call the peach their home.

Surprisingly, it's the live action segments of the film that work best.  There's an absurdist, over-the-top quality to them that feel as if they were pulled right from the pages of Dahl's books.  However, the stop-motion animation portion of the tale fails miserably.  There's never any zip or excitement and the insect gang isn't the least bit engaging.  Of course, they're forced to sing the least interesting songs possible (crafted by the overrated Randy Newman), but that's only a part of the problem.  The biggest issue is that the story just flounders around once James is in the peach (which could be attributable to the original source novel...I never read this book, however).

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Vanishing on 7th Street

Vanishing on 7th Street (2011)
Starring Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, Jacob Latimore, and John Leguizamo
Directed by Brad Anderson
***An early review -- This film will be released in local theaters on February 25***

One evening during a quick electrical power outage, nearly everyone in Detroit vanishes into thin air, leaving their piles of clothing strewn about the city.  Four people have seemingly survived the mass disappearance and they soon realize it's because they were around a non-electical light source at the time -- a candle, flashlight, etc.  Can this quartet survive the ghostly shadows that appear all across the city or will their metaphorical light be snuffed out?

The whole premise of Vanishing on 7th Street sounds silly, I realize, but I've got to say that the story was moderately entertaining.  There is an eerie quality present that derives its spookiness from sheer simplicity.  It's obvious that the budget on this flick wasn't large, but director Brad Anderson makes the most of things, creating a tense atmosphere with very little with which to work.  Anderson keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and the under-90 minute running time was a welcome surprise.

However, the film falters a bit when it comes to surviving quartet of characters themselves.  Everything that we learn about the group seems completely irrelevant.  Hayden Christensen's young news reporter was cheating on his wife with a married woman and Thandie Newton (who overacts out the wazoo at the beginning of this flick) is a new mother who recently separated from her baby's daddy.  I guess these plot revelations were supposed to make me "feel" for these characters or, at the very least, make them seem more relatable to me...needless to say, that didn't happen.  John Leguizamo's character doesn't have any secrets revealed, but he plays a film projectionist and we all know what secrets those recluses hold.  The fourth character is a kid because every movie like this has to have a kid in it because apparently kids in peril make audiences nervous or something.  Unfortunately, the film really fails these four actors by not developing their characters in the slightest.  I didn't give a damn about any one of these people and couldn't care less if they were taken by the shadows.

Despite my dislike for the character development, it wouldn't have been enough for me to disregard the flick.  However, it's also a shame that the film ends on a disappointing note.  The ending is slightly cop-outtish and I wish the movie would've had the nerve to conclude on a slightly different note.  Still, despite the qualms (and the not-so-great rating below), I didn't despise the movie.  Not that I ever need to watch it again, but you can certainly fare worse when it comes to eerie ghost movies.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Movie Review - The Towering Inferno

The Towering Inferno (1974)
Starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Wagner, Fred Astaire, and O.J. Simpson
Directed by John Guillermin
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The Towering Inferno, a frivolous action film about a burning skyscraper, is a flick that couldn't be made in a post-9/11 world.  Nor should it be.  There's an oddly prescient line at the end uttered by Steve McQueen's Fire Chief O'Hallorhan that nowadays could send shivers up a viewer's spine...
"You know we were pretty lucky tonight.  Body count's less than 200.  You know, one of these days, you're gonna kill 10,000 in one of these firetraps."

From the same producing team that brought us The Poseidon Adventure (a guilty pleasure of mine), Inferno is a generic disaster flick filled with characters that are placed within the plot simply to allow more deaths to occur by the film's conclusion.  The underlying plot is that architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) has built a 140-something-floor tall skyscraper and it's having its unveiling to the bigwigs in San Francisco.  However, on the night of the party, it's discovered that there is some faulty wiring in the building and, sure enough, things go haywire.

That plot is fine...but the paper-thin quality of it can't sustain itself for the film's ridiculously long running time of over 165 minutes.  The film is much too long and considering the "stars" ranging from Fred Astaire to O.J. Simpson, there aren't nearly enough celebrity deaths to whet this viewer's appetite.

Still, I have to say that despite the fact the film isn't all that good, I enjoyed it.  While not quite reaching the guilty pleasure level of The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno is an enjoyable (long) diversion if you're ever bored one afternoon.  Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden throw in better performances than a film of this caliber deserve and they manage to make the film much more watchable in the process.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Social Network...A Revisit

My original Social Network review can be found here and while my opinion hasn't changed a whole lot, I did find the flick a little more engaging this time around.

Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor's Oscar-nominated score fared much better on the small screen.  Additionally, after re-reading my review, I found it surprising that I failed to really mention Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins.  A nice job from Mr. Hammer who I'd never seen in anything prior to this.  Also, I find the scene in which Andrew Garfield's Eduardo tells Mark Zuckerberg to "lawyer up" to be kinda genius.

The "problem" with the film is that I still feel very distant from the character of Zuckerberg.  Jesse Eisenberg does a fine job, but the role itself is just very flat.  With the exception of the final scene in which Zuckerberg realizes that his invention has ruined a great friendship, I just fail to get emotionally invested in the character.  There are times where I feel like I should give a damn about the guy, but I can't.

Still, The Social Network is a fine film, but I think its placement on the Top 20 of 2010 chart on the right is appropriate.  Maybe a slight adjustment upon a second viewing of Toy Story 3 and The Town will shake up current spots 9 through 11, but it's still nearly correctly charted.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Personal Canon - Sleepless in Seattle

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.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger, Bill Pullman, Rosie O'Donnell, Victor Garber, Rita Wilson, David Hyde Pierce, and Rob Reiner
Directed by Nora Ephron

Call me a wuss all you want, but I'm secure enough in my manhood to say that I love Sleepless in Seattle.  It's one of those movies that I will keep on every single time I come across it on TBS or TNT despite the fact that I own it.  It's a movie that I love enough that I wrote a paper on it in a college film class (that earned me a near perfect A-).  It's one of those movies that makes me feel good...and goshdarnit there's nothing wrong with that.  Sure, it may not be "epic" or ingeniously directed, but it holds a place in my Personal Canon and ranks quite high up there on my list of All-Time Favorite Movies (which, I guess is kind of redundant since the Personal Canon will really only contain my "All-Time Favorite Movies").

Based a bit upon the classic film An Affair to Remember (which I watched as part of a double feature following Sleepless one year and found it treacly and cloying), director and co-screenwriter Nora Ephron's flick keeps our two leading actors -- Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in perhaps my favorite roles of each of theirs -- apart for nearly the entire movie.  We know that fate will bring Hanks's widowed father-of-one Sam Baldwin and Ryan's recently-engaged-although-probably-just-settling-in-love Annie Reed together, but the process of getting the two to meet is what makes this movie work.

And a huge part of that successful process of uniting the two adults is child actor Ross Malinger as Sam's son Jonah.  This is a character that could've easily been one of those "too smart for his own good" types, but is probably the best part of the movie.  The father-son bond created by Hanks and Malinger is what sells me on this film.  The relationship moves seamlessly from the gut-wrenching moments of sadness following the death of Sam's wife to the rather humorous scenes several months later depicting Jonah's dislike of Sam's new girlfriend.  Despite the wide-range of emotions, there's never a false moment between these two and that's just as much of a credit to little Ross Malinger as it is Oscar-winning Tom Hanks.  [Of note: Malinger is the voice of T.J. on the animated show Recess...I knew I liked that show for a reason.]

As good as Hanks and Malinger are, Meg Ryan shines as well even if her role is a little less developed than her male counterparts.  This is film that made her America's Sweetheart in the early 90s and her Annie is just about as cute as could be.  She exudes charm, wit, and kindness -- three characteristics that will get a lady far in my book.  She may not be the sexiest woman on the block, but she's the one that would catch my eye nonetheless.  (Of course, nowadays, Ms. Ryan's plasticky face would make me run the other way).

Sleepless in Seattle actually falls a little more on the romance side of the "romantic comedy" descriptor, but the humor is provided by the supporting characters, none of whom overstay their welcome.  Whether it be Rob Reiner as Sam's buddy or Rosie O'Donnell as Annie's boss, they give the gentle funny nudging that the two leads need in order to get to that inevitable climactic meeting.  Add Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, and Bill Pullman to the mix and there's not a bad actor onscreen.  Honestly, there's not a funny moment that falls flat.  Every joke hits the mark.

All this being said, one of my favorite aspects of Sleepless in Seattle (and what I wrote that aforementioned paper on) is the film's spot-on use of music.  Using original recordings of classic songs like Nat King Cole's "Stardust," Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again" and covers of standards like "Makin' Whoopee" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," music supervisor Marc Shaiman worked rather ingeniously with Nora Ephron to utilize music to both provide humor and further the plot by cluing us in to the characters' inner thoughts.  I'm not sure I've ever heard music so expertly placed in a film as in this flick and it's honestly one of the biggest reasons why I love this film.

Say what you will, but Sleepless in Seattle is one of the absolute best romantic comedies of my generation.  It never finds itself needing to be lewd or crude, but instead is sweet without ever being too sugary.  It's a movie that you can watch with your twelve year-old nephew or your ninety year-old grandmom and both will enjoy it.  It's simple, but lovely, full of terrific little moments that just make you go "awww" -- one concerning the peeling of an apple gets me every single time.  If you've never seen it, leave your cynicism at the door and check it out.  And Happy Valentine's Day to all...

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Movie Review - No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached (2011)
Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Mindy Kaling, Ludacris, Jake Johnson, and Kevin Kline
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Sometimes chick flicks surprise me (example) and sometimes they're simply failures (example).  When one just falls in the middle as No Strings Attached does, it doesn't really register with me at all.  Sure, some may take offense to the term "chick flick," but I'm classifying this as one for the sole reason that I saw Ashton Kutcher's ass but did not see Natalie Portman's.  If that doesn't shout "chick flick," I don't know what does.

Nonetheless, this tale of a guy and a girl who decide to have sex together without getting emotionally attached doesn't bring a single thing new to the genre.  Sometimes that's okay, but you've at least got to utilize the typical rom-com characteristics to the best of your ability.  Here, there's some moderately funny "best buddy" roles (played by Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling, Ludacris, and Jake Johnson), but they serve zero purpose in advancing any key points in the plot.  They're there simply to dole out a funny line or two, and while they were humorous at times, they could have been left on the chopping room floor and no one would have noticed.

There's the staple of the funny parent -- Kevin Kline plays Kutcher's former celebrity pop.  Unfortunately, his role contains one of my biggest movie pet peeves -- Old People Smoking Pot For Comedic Effect.  I've said it before and I'll say it again to filmmakers across the world -- a mid-fifties adult smoking pot is not funny.

And then there's the inevitable splitting up of the romantic couple only to find some way to bring them together again.  I know that this is pretty much a standard plot device and it actually works better in this flick than in some others I've seen, but it's just something that's wearing thin on me lately.  Once again, this is a rom-com standard that will never cease and I don't fault this film for it, but its charm (if it ever was charming) is waning.

Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are fine here, but neither of them are able to elevate the mediocre material to anything above average.  For Valentine's Day this year, just stay home and throw in Sleepless in Seattle or Love, Actually.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Movie Review - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2010)
Starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist
Directed by Daniel Alfredson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Spoilers pertaining to the second part of this trilogy are ahead, FYI...No spoilers revealed for this film, however...

The finale of the Millennium Trilogy picks up immediately where the disappointing Girl Who Played with Fire ended.  Our heroine Lisbeth Salandar (Noomi Rapace) finds herself in a hospital after being shot in the head by her estranged father.  Seeing as how Lisbeth attacked her father with an ax, she also finds herself in police custody.  Needless to say, Lisbeth isn't the least bit pleased that her father has survived the attack.  Also not happy is Lisbeth's only friend in the media, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist).  Backed with boatloads of evidence, Mikael attempts to clear Lisbeth's name, proving that she has been part of some incredibly convoluted government conspiracy.

Fortunately, this third film is much easier to follow than number two.  Unfortunately, it's the worst crafted film of the bunch.  These flicks were made for Swedish television and this one feels like it had no budget whatsoever.  It didn't feel cinematic in the slightest.  From the dialog to the acting to the plot, it all seemed like something you'd see on a poor episode of CSI.  Even the two leading actors -- Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist -- seem bored by the whole affair.  There's no excitement to be had here and they're well aware of that fact.

In the end, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is marginally better than the middle film of the Millennium Trilogy (simply because I actually understood what was happening), but overall, the last two films were disappointing follow-ups to the series' first flick, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  In the end, I've got to say that this is a series of films that is not worth the seven hour investment.  I can honestly say that I'm not looking forward to the US remake of this at all...however, there is definite room for improvement.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Movie Review - The Other Guys

The Other Guys (2010)
Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Dwayne Johnson, and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Adam McKay

I was a pretty big fan of the previous Will Ferrell-Adam McKay collaborations Step Brothers and Anchorman.  Their latest venture The Other Guys doesn't even come close to those previous flicks.  In fact, this 2010 "comedy" is one of the worst movies of last year.

It's true that comedies are perhaps best viewed with a crowd of others.  As the crowd laughs, you can either laugh with them or laugh at them for finding something humorous.  I watched The Other Guys all by my lonesome and while I chuckled once or twice, that's not nearly enough.  In this bumbling odd couple buddy picture, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg never seem to mesh with one another in the slightest.  In their quest to uncover the mystery behind some Wall Street stock fraud (did that ever sound funny in the writer's room?), their two cop characters grow to realize they're not as different as they thought they once were.

Ferrell is fine here, but he does nothing special and can't garner laughs.  Wahlberg is just horrendous.  His attempts at humor involved yelling everything and opening his eyes really wide to convey frustration and anger -- it just may be one of the worst performances I've seen this year.  The rest of the supporting cast from Eva Mendes to Michael Keaton to Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson as a pair of celebrity-level NYC officers are simply serviceable, but don't add anything to the mix.

All in all, this film wasn't the least bit funny and I contemplated stopping it several times before it was through...I kinda wish I had because I at least would've had an hour to watch something worthwhile.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Movie Review - The A-Team

The A-Team (2010)
Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Sharlto Copley, and Patrick Wilson
Directed by Joe Carnahan

I've never seen an episode of the television show The A-Team, so I have no clue if this flick is some bastardization of the premise.  The lack of connection to the show may have helped my opinion of the flick as I shockingly enjoyed this ridiculous action movie.  Granted, I tend to like my action movies a little more grounded in reality, but despite the ludicrousness of many a scene, I enjoyed this one.  

I hate to harp on Stallone's The Expendables, but a little injection of humor into that one may have helped things out quite a bit as the cast of The A-Team realizes that when you're dealing with ridiculous plotlines that have army tanks parachuting out of airplanes you need to have fun with things.  As much as I want to dislike the smarmy Bradley Cooper, I liked his machismo in this one.  He was seemingly enjoying himself while working on this one and it paid off.  His pairing with the more solemn Liam Neeson worked quite well.  While I wish they could have maybe found a better Mr. T clone than the wooden Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Cooper and Neeson more than made up for Jackson's inadequacies.  

Yeah, I could get into plot here, but it really doesn't matter.  The whole thing's silly and so insanely implausible that if I sat here and typed it out, I think I'd wonder what the hell was wrong with me for liking the movie.  So, instead, I'll just say that while The A-Team is no masterpiece, it absolutely kept my interest for two hours and is worth your time if you want some mindless entertainment.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Movie Review - How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
Starring Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee, and Maureen Arthur
Directed by David Swift
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a genuinely funny movie.  I laughed out loud several times as the story of window-washer-turned-executive J. Pierrepont Finch (Robert Morse) unfolded and found the kitschy 60s vibe to be an all-around pleasant experience.  Unfortunately, the film is handcuffed by the fact that it's a musical...and a not very good one at that.  How to Succeed is successful in every single scene where there isn't a musical number.  However, when the cast begins to break out in song, my eyes couldn't help but roll.  Not that there's anything inherently wrong with a musical...but you've got to have good music and this flick fails on all fronts in that area (see my recent review of Carmen Jones for further analysis on this same topic).

And it's all rather unfortunate, too, because as I said above the film works in every single other scene.  Robert Morse is oddly charming as the go-getter Finch and Michele Lee is winning as his sweetheart Rosemary.  Combined with some nice supporting turns from Rudy Vallee as Finch's boss and the hilarious Maureen Arthur playing the boss's "floozy on the side," the film's cast is pretty darn good.  Which makes it all a real shame because at the end of every great scene with the actors, you know they're inevitably gonna break into singing some awful song.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Movie Review - Buried

Buried (2010)
Starring Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés

Watching a man stuck in a coffin for ninety minutes shouldn't be entertaining.  And, to be completely honest, fifteen minutes in I was finding myself a bit fidgety, wondering if I was gonna be able to make it through the one-man show that is Buried.  Fortunately, things quickly picked up, and director Rodrigo Cortés's film provides some of the most exciting scenes captured on film in 2010.

Over the last year or two, I've grown to like Ryan Reynolds as an actor.  After decent turns in Definitely, Maybe and The Proposal, he'd proven to be a likable romantic lead.  I wasn't sold that he could take on a serious dramatic role...let alone a role that would force Reynolds and only Reynolds to be onscreen for the entirety of the movie.  Sure, Tom Hanks had done this before in Cast Away, but he had a whole island (plus Wilson) to play around with.  Mr. Reynolds is stuck in a two-by-seven foot casket with only a lighter, a cell phone, a crappy flashlight, some glow sticks, and a tiny flask of alcohol.  He's on his own with not much to play off of.

Same goes for the director.  Rodrigo Cortés is a brave man to tackle Buried because there's no place to go outside of the coffin.  One could see Hitchcock attempting to make this movie were he alive today, employing similar stylistic camera techniques that Cortés uses to keep the audience interested (for the most part).  Admittedly, during the beginning, I found myself disenchanted with the film, chalking it up to a failed experiment.  I was not enjoying Cortés's rather static camera shots and was pondering whether to just give up.  In the end, I'm thrilled I didn't.  Cortés (helped, of course, by screenwriter Chris Sparling) begins to amp up the tension, creating a claustrophobic paranoia that was certainly intriguing to watch.  Two scenes I won't spoil here (but would be more than happy to discuss in the comments) -- one in the middle of the film and the flick's final moments -- were just about as good of an edge-of-your-seat cinema moment as you're going to see.

Yes, Cortés is responsible for making the film visually successful.  Ryan Reynolds is responsible for the flick connecting on an emotional level with the audience.  As Paul Conroy, an American working as a contracted truck driver in Iraq, his character is just a normal guy trying to earn money to keep his family together...which makes it all the more upsetting to see an everyman wake up after an Iraqi ambush in a darkened coffin underground.  As he uses the cell phone in his possession to call relatives, the US government, and his captors, Reynolds succeeds in creating a believable character (whose emotions run the gamut from anger to sorrow) in an amazingly unbelievable situation.

Still, for all its positives (and there are many), the film doesn't achieve perfection.  A tiny bit of editing or perhaps a more visually stimulating camera technique in the first few minutes of the flick may have been all Buried needed to crack into my Top Five films of the year.  For now, it'll just have to settle for being a member of the Top Twenty.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

On a side note:  Why the heck wasn't this movie released wider than it was?  I can maybe understand not going completely wide with it as its premise may not appeal to the masses, but the Philly market never even saw this film hit a theater?!  What's up with that?  Reynolds is certainly a bankable enough star that there's really no reason this film shouldn't have been treated a bit better than it was.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Movie Review - The American

The American (2010)
Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, and Johan Leysen
Directed by Anton Corbijn

For a movie about killers, snipers, and hit men, The American is oddly low key.  Some may even go so far as to throw out the word "boring" when describing it.  Surely, when compared to other tales of similar ilk, this flick about a hired American hit man and his assignment in a small Italian town doesn't jump off the screen.  However, thanks to a subdued performance from Clooney and some lovely direction and cinematography, The American succeeds as long as you know what you're getting into when you watch it.

Thinking that The American is some shoot-em-up thriller will only do you harm.  Instead, it's an introspective look at hit man Jack (George Clooney) and his desire to connect with people, rather than kill them (in other words, he's searching for love and not war).  That makes the flick sound silly, but in the grand scheme of things, that's the crux of the film.  Much more of a personal story than a thriller, in terms of keeping the audience interested, the film rests squarely in George Clooney's hands.  In nearly every scene, his quiet nature throughout the picture may be one of the reasons the flick was given that "boring" tag.  To me, I actually liked his character a lot and think that this may be Clooney's best performance yet.  While some may deem it emotionless (which it sort of is), his Jack is a guy whose job won't allow him to show emotions, but it's obvious that under the surface, he desires to stop keeping things so pent up.

In order to attempt a release from his everyday life, Jack finds himself befriending a prostitute, Clara (the lovely Violante Placido).  As is the case in many foreign movies (of which this American production surely resembles), all the ladies in The American are beautiful (with and without clothes on).  Of course, beauty doesn't necessarily mean sweet and innocent and Jack's mistrust of everyone in his life is one of key elements of his character that move the plot along and keep things interesting.  While this concept of an alluring woman perhaps being a man's downfall is a staple in movies, it doesn't seem a bit tired here which is a credit to writer Rowan Joffé.  Joffé knows just the right times to throw in the suspenseful moments which, while low key by most movie standards, contained quite a few genuine surprises.

Is The American a great film?  Not quite.  That "boring" word that was used in many reviewers' critiques of the film isn't entirely incorrect.  I feel like with some trimming here and there, director Anton Corbijn's flick could've been a little tauter and, consequently, a little more enjoyable to watch.  Still, this is an interesting one with a pretty nice turn from Mr. Clooney who is slowly morphing from simply being "Star Celebrity GEORGE CLOONEY" up on screen to a nice little character actor.

The RyMickey Rating:  B
Thanks for making January 2011 the most viewed month ever on the blog.  Yes, while a few hundred of the hits are coming simply because German and Dutch Google Image searches have my pics for "Book of Eli poster" and "Frankenstein book" at the top of their search lists, there were actually just a whole lot of daily hits for January's new postings.

So thanks to those regular readers and to those that arrived here by searching such varied terms as "resident ensemble players glass menagerie" or "free hairy armpits of beatrice dalle".  I'm having fun with this thing while it lasts.

And as always, don't be afraid to comment...