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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival

Back in the 90s, I actually used to go and see films because of actors.  I hadn't gotten to the point in my life where the liberal mindsets of people like Tom Hanks off the screen (as an example) made me and my socially and politically conservative tendencies dislike them on the screen as it sometimes does now.

One of the first actors who I began to follow was Elijah Wood.  Seeing as how (a) he's only a year younger than I, (b) his films had a tendency to be rated PG or PG-13, and (c) his films tended to veer towards the serious side and my cultured cinematic mind was already burgeoning at the age of 12, he was one of the first actors who I guess you could say I followed through film.  In my mind back then, I thought this kid was a good actor.  Roger Ebert apparently agreed with me back then, stating that "Wood has emerged...as the most talented actor in his age group in Hollywood history."  That's a huge statement.  The question now is do any of his early films hold up today?

The Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival will attempt to answer that question and also attempt to make me nostalgic for my youth.  The films selected are from a short span of time -- 1992-1994.  Looking at Wood's imdb filmography, after '94 I apparently didn't care anymore, and Wood swiftly flew off my radar (it's possible that '96's Flipper made me vehemently dislike the young actor for his choice in films).

The following films chosen for the festival are all available on Netflix's streaming service, so feel free to join in the conversation and take in a viewing or two along with me.  (No, unfortunately, 1993's The Adventures of Huck Finn is not streaming or else it would have been included seeing as how it was Wood's single venture into the realm of Disney.)

Monday, April 4:  Radio Flyer (1992) 
co-starring Joseph Mazzello of Jurassic Park fame and an uncredited cameo from Tom Hanks

Tuesday, April 5:  Forever Young (1992)
co-starring Mel Gibson and Jamie Lee Curtis

Wednesday, April 6:  The Good Son (1993)
co-starring Macauley Culkin as The Bad Son

Thursday, April 7:  North (1994)
co-starring Jon Lovitz (!) and Bruce Willis

Friday, April 8: The War (1994)
co-starring Kevin Costner

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Movie Review - Rubber

Rubber (2011)
Starring Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnik, Wings Hauser, and Roxane Mesquida
Directed by Quentin Dupieux
***An early review.  The film opens in select cities April 1.***

At the beginning of the odd film Rubber, a police officer walks up to the camera and directly addresses the audience telling us that things happen in movies all the time for no reason whatsoever.  Why is Spielberg's ET brown?  Why don't people ever wash their hands or use bathrooms?  No reason except that it's "a movie."  We should keep that in mind apparently when watching the flick about to unfurl before us.  Unfortunately, unlike a movie like Scream which is totally self-aware of its horror predecessors, Rubber isn't really an homage to any movie in particular and the film suffers quite a bit because of that.

Imagine if you will a movie in which the main character is an inanimate tire with psychokinetic powers that it utilizes to kill and that is the plot of Rubber.  For 80 minutes, we follow a rubber car tire as, for some reason or another, it invades some southwestern town, blowing up various living creatures.

And that's it.  As a short film, Rubber may have worked.  Stretched out over a feature length, it simply falters.  While there were moments that aroused chuckles (including a clever finish), more often than not eye rolls were the bodily action of choice.  This is a flick that may achieve cult status in years to come and it's probably a movie that works better viewing with a group of people in a darkened theater setting, but it just didn't succeed for me.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom (2010)
Starring James Frecheville, Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Ben Mendelsohn, and Jacki Weaver
Directed by David Michôd

While Animal Kingdom certainly wasn't off my radar (what with Jacki Weaver's Supporting Actress nod at this year's Oscars), I wasn't expecting to be completely riveted while watching it...but riveted I was.  This Australian modern-day crime drama slowly reveals its diabolical and surprising cards at just the right moments, creating an ominous tone throughout and proving that, along with 2010's release of the superb The Square, Australia is the new breeding ground for excellent thrillers.

Ultimately, I don't want to give much away here.  It's great to see this film unfold without knowing a whole lot, so I'll simply say what I knew going into it.  Seventeen year-old Josh Cody (James Frecheville) is left orphaned when his mother overdoses on heroin.  Not knowing where to turn, he calls his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) whom he hasn't seen in years.  The outwardly pleasant Janine takes the teen into her home which she shares with her sons who all happen to be mixed up in various crimes, from robbing banks to selling drugs.  That's it.  That's all I knew...that's all you should know...now move this thing up towards the top of your Netflix queue.

First-time director David Michôd does a great job here.  Lensing his own screenplay, I was honestly amazed at how many times I was genuinely surprised by the direction the film veered.  And to keep things nervously tense for two hours is not an easy feat, but Michôd makes it seem like a piece of cake.

Of course, helping keep things interesting is Michôd's cadre of talented actors, including newcomer James Frecheville as Josh, who, much like the lead in the aforementioned The Square, plays things extremely solemn and gloomy, but manages to hold our attention nonetheless.  Couple his glumness with Jacki Weaver's exuberance (and the underlying sheer nastiness underneath the pleasant façade) and you've got a pretty nifty duo to watch.  But it would be a disservice not to direct your attention to the actors I list above underneath the title at the top of this post because everyone in this Australian crew is darn good.  Particular kudos to Ben Mendelsohn who managed to truly skeeve me out every time he came onscreen.

Despite a slight bit of a lag in the film's first act, Animal Kingdom is absolutely a must-see and one of the best films of 2010.  I doubt you'll be disappointed if you check it out.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Movie Review - Manhattan

Manhattan (1979)
Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Michael Murphy, and Meryl Streep
Directed by Woody Allen
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

What a nice, pleasant surprise after a recent disappointing string of Woody Allen flicks that I've watched.  Go figure that Manhattan is apparently one of Allen's least favorite films he has directed.  I actually found this to be a wonderful visual love letter to New York that mixed in just enough of the staple Allen-isms (neurotic main character fascinated by the foolishness of the human race who pals around with literate chums, smart female roles, a classy score) to make me realize it's a Woody Allen film, but not hate it for those very same reasons.

Allen plays Isaac who is essentially the same character Woody Allen plays in every other movie.  Twice divorced and with his second wife (Meryl Streep) writing an exposé on their marriage, Isaac is currently in a relationship with seventeen year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway).  He loves her and she loves him, but Isaac realizes that there's probably no future for them.  [Oddly and uncomfortably enough, this May-December relationship (a premonition of sorts for Allen's real-life romance with Soon-Yi) is never looked upon with any scorn or disgust...it's simply set up as normal and okay.]  When out one night with his buddy Yale (Michael Murphy) and his wife, Yale tells Isaac that he is having an affair with a rather snooty writer Mary (Diane Keaton).  Although Isaac initially can't stand Mary, he eventually begins to fall in love with her causing confusion in his already frazzled brain.

To me, what makes this film stand out from other Woody Allen films are some of his directorial choices.  Moreso than in other movies, I felt like he allowed his camera to linger in scenes, allowing a very natural "you are there" feeling to many moments.  I also absolutely adored the interspersed big-city interstitial shots between scenes.  This also felt very un-Allen-esque who oftentimes doesn't tend to look at the "big picture."  Here, though, New York City is almost like another character and it's refreshing.  Plus, the film moves at a brisk pace, filled with nice comedic and dramatic moments and pretty great performances from Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, and Allen himself.

Although I haven't seen Annie Hall (Allen's supposed masterpiece) in ages, I might say that I liked Manhattan better than that one.  This is definitely one of Allen's better efforts and one that I'd imagine I'd watch again in the future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The 2010 RyMickey Awards - Worst Performance

In 2009, I saw many, many bad films.  That's what happens when you watch over 200 flicks.  In 2010, I count myself lucky as I didn't see nearly as many bottom of the barrel movies.  That said, there were still a few performances that left me astonished that they ever made their way to the big screen.

Worst Performances of 2010

#5 -- Paz de la Huerta - Enter the Void
I really liked this trippy film mainly because of directorial choices...certainly not because of the acting.  Paz de la Huerta is painful.  (It should be noted that in the little bit I've seen from her in other things, her awful performance here is not a fluke.  I think she only gets hired because she seems to love being naked.)

#4 -- Johnny Depp - Alice in Wonderland
Yes, I get that Johnny Depp was playing the Mad Hatter as super crazy and drugged-out, but the character ends up being utterly incoherent and it seems like painful overacting.

#3 - Thandie Newton - For Colored Girls
I'm beginning to think that Thandie Newton is not the actress I once thought she was.  For some reason, I always thought I liked her, but looking back on her filmography, I realize that she always plays anger and frustration with this incredible screechiness that is so overpoweringly unbelievable that it ruins any scene she's in and hampers the actors around her.  In this flick where she's surrounded by some surprisingly good actors, she is unable to step up her game.

#2 - The Cast of the Expendables -- The Expendables
Excluding Jason Statham, this cast of geriatric action stars proved there is a reason they haven't been cast in many films lately.  Of course, the group is certainly hampered by an awful script courtesy of Sly Stallone, but it's not exactly like Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke (who is proving The Wrestler to be the exception rather than the norm in his oeuvre), Dolph Lundgren, et. al are up to the task of doing anything beyond holding a firearm.

#1 - Mark Wahlberg - The Other Guys
An honor I'm sure the actor-producer of The Fighter doesn't want on his mantle, but Mark Wahlberg and comedy do not mix.  Wahlberg's attempts at humor amounted to yelling at everything and opening up his eyes really wide to emote some type of anger and frustration.  Stick with drama, Marky Mark, because comedy is not your forte.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Movie Review - Knife in the Water

Knife in the Water (Nóz w wodzie) (1962)
Directed by Roman Polanski
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

This Polish film is inappropriately labeled as suspenseful, an adjective that doesn't fit it at all.  Instead, Knife in the Water is a character study focusing on two males -- one older and one younger and their efforts to win the affections of a young woman.  Perhaps had I gone into it knowing that suspense was not a key characteristic, I may have liked it a little more.  Instead, I can only accept director Roman Polanski's first feature film as a mediocre drama that isn't what I was promised it would be.  (Of course, in the end, that's not really the film's fault, but it's an inevitability that the film itself will take the brunt of the blame.)

Andrezj, an older guy maybe in his mid-40s, is driving to a marina with his young girlfriend Krystyna when he nearly hits a young hitchhiker.  Andrezj agrees to take the hitcher as far as the marina, but when they arrive at their destination, he sees an opportunity -- he'll invite the young man (who remains nameless throughout the film) onto the boat in order to show Krystyna that age has made him wiser than his younger counterpart.  Once out on the water with no means of escape, the hitchhiker realizes that he's essentially a pawn in Andrezj's game and it doesn't sit well with him, so he attempts to twist the game around a bit to prove that Andrezj may not be the best catch for Krystyna.

This has all the makings of a moderately suspenseful plot and the fact that it's directed by Polanski who is well known for some of his more mysterious directorial efforts made me think this movie would certainly veer in that direction.  It doesn't.  Instead, it's simply these three actors talking for ninety minutes (and, oddly enough, the Criterion Collection stream of this movie doesn't subtitle everything that they say which was incredibly weird at times).  Granted, I didn't dislike what they were talking about, but I never really feel like the film had any bit of dramatic tension...and I'm not talking about suspense when I speak of "dramatic tension."  I'm just talking about an arc in the story...that inevitable peak that all movies reach in which we know a resolution is forthcoming.  That never really happened here.  

Yes, it's well directed and shot (it takes place nearly all on a small boat and Polanski had quite a remarkable eye for good mise-en-scene even in his first film).  It's got a pretty great jazz score by Krzysztof  Komeda.  There's a remarkably sexy kissing scene that for some reason or other is one of the most effective cinematic kisses I've ever witnessed.  However, Knife in the Water doesn't flow like it should...instead it simply treads water for most of its runtime and for that reason I really can't recommend it.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Movie Review - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives
Directed by Richard Brooks
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Seeing as how the only Elizabeth Taylor movie I'd seen prior to today had been The Flintstones, I figured I'd better make reparations with what some would call a heinous cinematic crime by watching one of the recently deceased star's more revered works.

Without a doubt, even after viewing just one movie of hers (because, let's face it, the less one thinks about The Flintstones, the better), it's easy to see why she became a movie star.  One, she's stunning onscreen.  The camera loves her in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  She draws your eye to her in every scene.  Second, and perhaps more important, she's a pretty darn good actress.  As modern Southern belle Maggie, she exudes bitchiness and prissiness.  However, you get the odd sense that Maggie is the only character onscreen who is being truthful with all of her feelings which allows the audience to connect with her rather than distance themselves from her.

Family secrets are the underlying basis of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's story and the film certainly has the aire of 1950s melodrama so prevalent in films back then.  Buoyed by Taylor's great performance and a similarly nice turn from Paul Newman as Maggie's alcoholic husband Brick, who, like his name implies, doesn't allow his emotions to show, the actors elevate the film beyond the corny vibe that easily could have overtaken this piece.  Tennessee Williams can certainly write some great dialog (although he's not credited in writing the screenplay here), but he does have a tendency to layer the emotions and drama on pretty thick.  Don't get me wrong, I've liked mostly every Williams piece I've seen/read, but his depiction of "family" isn't exactly "normal," and, if you're not in the mood for him, his work could seem laughably absurd.

That wasn't the case for me here, though, as I bought into the tale.  Unfortunately, the movie's not without faults.  I felt that the character of Brick simply doesn't work for the first half of the film.  Newman admirably tries to create a persona for the guy, but the character is such a one-note crotchety grump for fifty minutes, that I had difficulty finding any type of personality in the character.  Of course, there is an emotional arc that Brick eventually takes part in, but it took a tad long to get there.  I don't place the fault in Newman, however, it would be interesting to see another take on this to see if Newman's to blame or the character itself is just a tad flawed.

Similarly, I can't say I was a huge fan of Burl Ives' portrayal of Big Daddy.  Even though I'd never seen a staging of the play before, the character of "Big Daddy" is somewhat of a literary icon in that I knew a whole lot about the backstory of the character before the movie even started.  That larger than life ideal that I had set up for myself just didn't mesh with the performance of Burl Ives.

Still, as an introduction to Elizabeth Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a good choice.  She is quite the scene-stealer and certainly carries this film on her shoulders (which, considering the talent that is Paul Newman, is surprising).

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Agora

Agora (2010)
Starring Rachel Weisz and Max Minghella
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's not a doubt in my mind that Alejandro Amenábar's flick Agora is anti-Christian.  In case we weren't aware of this via his blatant storytelling, Amenábar costumes all the Christians in dark clothing while everyone else wears white.  Still, somehow this period costume drama that focuses on (sarcasm alert) über-exciting topics like religion and philosophy kept me interested for over two hours, moving at a shockingly quick pace.  Granted, the one-sided nature of Agora ultimately brings the film down a notch or two, but thanks to some decent performances, my interest was piqued in this historical drama.

In 4th century Alexandria, Greek philosopher/teacher Hypatia (Rachel Weisz) finds herself and her students at the center of a changing society.  Her peoples' paganistic beliefs in multiple gods are at odds with the increasing Christian presence in the city, and they're fighting a losing battle as their famous Library at Alexandria soon becomes ransacked and destroyed.  With the Christians taking control of the city, they will stop at nothing to eradicate all non-believers, Hypatia and her colleagues included.

While there's undoubtedly an anti-Christian tone on display, I prefer to look at this film as a diatribe against fanaticism of any religion.  In that sense, I found the film moderately interesting.  (Of course, I may just be stretching the actual truth, trying to make this film more enjoyable for myself than it probably should be.)  Still, the disappointing black-and-whiteness of the whole thing with the Greek pagans doing absolutely nothing wrong and the Christians doing seemingly nothing right is kind of a crock.  Co-screenwriter Amenábar doesn't allow for anything beyond one-dimensional complexities on either side and it hurts the flick in the end.

Still, there's a pretty good performance from Rachel Weisz as Hypatia even though I found some of the dialog she's forced to spout comparing scientific reason to unwavering faith fairly lame.  In fact, it's the subdued scenes with Weisz that play much better than the rather silly swordfighting shenanigans that go on around her.

The RyMickey Rating:  C 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The RyMickey Awards 2010 - Best Posters

I said that last year was a pretty disappointing poster year and this year fared a little better.  Overall, I like my 2010 Top Ten a little better than my 2009 Top Ten, but none of these posters can match the brilliance that is last year's winner.  Still, looking back on posters as a whole is bit of a disappointment.  Be a little more inventive, marketers!

A trio of horror flicks that use different tactics to get across their aire of unease.

The top ten come after the jump...

Friday, March 18, 2011

2010 RyMickey Awards

The 2010 RyMickey Awards will start to be doled out tomorrow (and will stretch out for probably an interminable amount of time).  I certainly didn't see as many movies as I did in 2009, but I still saw quite a bit more than your average moviegoer.  Yes, I still missed out on a few flicks that may have played into my awards season -- Rabbit Hole, Animal Kingdom, Conviction, Fair Game, Love and Other Drugs, Hereafter, Biutiful -- but I just couldn't make as many trips to the arthouse as I would've liked.  I'll certainly be watching all of the above as they make their way onto dvd and I'll probably adjust any awards for posterity's sake.

I know everyone's on the edge of their seat, but please hold back your excitement...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Personal Canon - Once

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.

Once (2007)
Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Directed by John Carney

I don't know if it's because I've played the piano for nearly 25 years, but for some reason or another, music in movies can make a major impact on me.  Whether it be a soundtrack culled from other sources (see my previous Personal Canon post on Sleepless in Seattle) or created specifically for the film as in this latest entry into the Canon, Once, I have an affinity for scores and/or songs in cinema.  If you were to ask me, "Are you more of a movie or music buff," my answer unequivocally would be film, but putting these two mediums together is oftentimes fascinating to me.  Certainly, this mixing of the two is one of the major reasons why I love the movie Once.  It certainly helps that the film has a good (though incredibly simple) story and two fantastic lead actors, but it is the melding of cinema and music that makes this film stand out to me.

There are two scenes in Once where the lead actor (Glen Hansard) watches the lead actress (Markéta Irglová) play the piano.  [It should be noted that neither lead has a name in the film, so for the purposes of this review, they'll be Guy and Girl].  We see everything in Guy's eyes.  He loves Girl.  Even though they've met only hours before (in the first instance) or days before (in the second instance), when Girl sits at the piano, it's her true self and it fascinates and intrigues him.  Admittedly, I never noticed this before, but in this, my fifth or sixth time watching the film, these two scenes were stunning in their simplicity.  No words are spoken, but the audience knows every single thing that's going on in Guy's eyes.

That's certainly a tribute to Glen Hansard, lead singer for the Irish group The Frames and co-lead of his duo with Ms. Irglová, The Swell Season.  The film totally goes for a naturalistic, day-in-the-life style of filming and Hansard (in what is essentially his first and only acting role) is nothing short of electric.  Then he starts to sing and he gets even more into his element and it really becomes a beauty of a performance.

Marketá Irglová (also a non-actor in her first film role), a mere seventeen years old when the film was shot, is infinitely wiser beyond her years (and not playing seventeen in the film...it should be noted that the discovery that she was seventeen kind of freaked me out because I would never have guessed that she was so young).  When she first meets Guy as he performs his music busker-style on the streets of Ireland, you can see that she's kind of crushing on him.  But she plays hard to get quite convincingly.  The pair find a mutual respect and love for one another through music, but both are being pulled away from each other romantically by separate forces -- Guy by his ex whom he maybe still loves who is now living in London and Girl by her estranged husband with whom she has a young daughter.  The pair tries to tell themselves that these other forces from the past are more important than the obvious tangible feelings in the present, but it's obvious to them (and to us) that they're simply too afraid to admit their true feelings to one another.  (It should be noted that the chemistry between these two is palpable.)

And then there's the wonderful music which takes up over half of the film's 86-minute running time.  I saw Hansard and Irglová in concert with The Frames about two years after they won the much deserved Oscar for Best Song for this film and they were fantastic.  Out of context, the songs from the movie still work amazingly well.  However, in context, they're even more beautiful.  Once isn't a "musical," per se, with people breaking out into song to express their feelings.  Instead, the two leads are musicians and the music simply comes naturally to them.  There is never a sense that any song feels forced into the film simply to pad the running time...they're all there for a reason and, goshdarnit, I love them.

And it's that melding of music and movie that make Once an unmitigated success to me.  It's an incredibly simple film with gorgeous music, great performances from non-actors, and nice documentary-esque, natural direction from musician-turned-director John Carney.  Much like a viewing of Psycho has become my Halloween tradition, a viewing of Once has now become this non-Irish guy's way of celebrating St. Paddy's Day.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Movie Review - Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise (1995)
Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Directed by Richard Linklater

At the request of a long-standing loyal RyMickey's Ramblings reader, I popped in the Before Sunrise dvd the other day.  For months, said reader has been on my case about needing to watch this movie.  It's one of his favorite movies of all time (maybe #2...definitely top 5?) and I simply had to check it out, I was told.  Granted, while I wasn't head over heels in love with it (it's tough to live up to that hype), it's a very good movie, a lovely romance, and has the ability to make anyone get sentimental, mushy, and long for the kind of romantic relationship we're witnessing onscreen.

The story of Before Sunrise is incredibly simple.  Two twenty-somethings, an American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the French Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train traveling across Europe.  They get off in Vienna and decide to spend one romantic night together in the city before Jesse has to catch a plane back to America in the morning.

That's it.  Nothing more.  The general plot of the film can be condensed into less than fifty words.  However, what the film lacks in plot (and I don't mean that derogatively) it makes up for in charming dialog and an overall sense of romance.  As Jesse and Celine talk about everything from art to religion to a fear of flying to sex, they get to know each other better than most couples who have been dating for months.  As they talk, they both begin to realize that they're quickly falling in love -- something neither of them expected and something they're both hesitant to admit since this romance can be nothing but a whirlwind because of Jesse's impending departure to the States.

The amazing thing about the movie is how everything seemed so natural.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are both great, completely embodying these characters.  There's a simplicity to both their performances and neither grandstands or feels the need to be showy (this same exact statement could apply to the film as a whole itself).

That said, if there's one fault in the film, it's this.  I'm not a fan of college kids attempting to show that they're smarter than they really are by speaking eloquently about poetry or art -- I get that you know one poem or know a lot about one artist to try and act all impressive around the opposite sex, but let's be honest.  You only learn that stuff to try to pull off that you're smarter than you look.  It's just pretentious.  There were moments in Before Sunrise that were like this and I can't stand it when college kids act this way.

Beyond that, however, this is a solid film that has only grown in its appeal in the twenty-four hours since I watched it.  I imagine that with a repeated viewing or two, this one will likely rise up in the rankings.  And I'm looking forward to watching the sequel Before Sunset sometime in the near future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B
(Original Rating:  B+; rating revised 9/3/14 after a repeat viewing)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie Review - Rango

Rango (2011)
Featuring the voices of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, and Bill Nighy
Directed by Gore Verbinski

Just because a western is animated doesn't mean it's going to change my opinion about the genre.  Westerns bore me immensely and they always seem like they contain some moralistic gruff hero tracking down some corrupt bad guy who wronged someone in a small town.  Rango's got the same vibe although the hero isn't gruff; rather the titular character is a literal and figurative chameleon, theatrically changing his characteristics to best suit his situation.  And while I may not dig the genre of Rango, it's a film that I very much admire for many reasons.

Reason 1:   Voice Acting -- I'm not one that gets won over when animated flicks pull in some big-name actor to voice a character.  If anything, that big star can be a detriment if I'm unable to disassociate their voice with their physical appearance.  In the title role, however, Johnny Depp is pretty fantastic.  Nowadays, bigger stars than Depp are hard to come by, but the actor's vocals are charmingly irreverent and  absolutely solid.  He embodies the character (or perhaps, vice-versa, the animators used his vocals to embody their character).  But it's not just Depp that's winning.  The British Isla Fisher tackles the quirky role of Beans, a spunky gal with an exaggerated Southern twang, with gusto.  Although Depp and Fisher are certainly the leads, the vocal talent is top notch across the board.  Together, the voices breathe life into the odd characters of the town of Dirt who are desperately trying to find out who stole the town's water supply.

Reason 2: Animation -- Richly detailed characters, a beautifully realized run-down setting, and wonderful effortless movements are three of the key reasons why Rango's animation is some of the best you'll see this side of Pixar.  Director Gore Verbinski (best known for his Pirates trilogy with Mr. Depp) cleverly filmed his voice actors working together (rather than the usual "animation separation" that occurs with voice actors recording separately in sound booths) while wearing makeshift costumes and utilizing flimsy props so that the animators could see various interactions and movements prior to animating.  This unique approach to animation showcased little mannerisms and facial expressions with astounding clarity and, for this animation buff, was a much appreciated aspect to the film.

Reason 3:  Aim for the Adults -- It's not that Rango is inappropriate for kids, but it doesn't aim for the young crowd at all.  The humor is based more from clever references to other films in both the western and crime genres with a nifty and rather hilarious "cameo appearance" (of sorts) from quite a famous actor.  However, because of this lofty goal of not stooping down to a "kid level" in terms of humor, the moments that did aim for the kiddies (including one too many fart jokes) made me cringe.

Despite these reasons to love Rango, in the end, it's a western and I just couldn't get completely enveloped by the story.  Yes, I fully realize that it's a bias in me, but I'm not sure I'll ever really fall head over heels for a western.  I will say that Rango's a flick that I'd like to watch again and perhaps upon second viewing, my rating will inch up a notch or two.  But still, as it stands now, this is one animated flick worthy of checking out.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - In the Mouth of Madness

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Starring Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, and Charlton Heston(!?!?)
Directed by John Carpenter
***This film is currently streaming on Netflx***

I don't know why, but this is another one of those flicks that I wanted to see back when I was a teen, but never got around to it.  I was very horror-deprived growing up when it came to movies.  Horror books were a staple of my youth, but I never got to watch many horror movies...which probably accounts for the odd abundance of horror flicks I watch nowadays.  Seeing as how I loved reading horror, this film about a horror writer whose books begin to come to life seemed like an ingenious idea to me at the time.  Fifteen years later, the premise of In the Mouth of Madness seems a little flimsy and while it isn't exactly executed to perfection, I've got to say that I had a moderately enjoyable time watching this.

Sam Neill plays John Trent, an insurance investigator hired by Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), the head of a publishing film, to investigate the disappearance of the world's best selling author Sutter Cane.  Much like Stephen King who based many of his books in the fictional New England town of Castle Rock, horror novelist Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) created the town of Hobb's End, and Trent believes that Cane is hiding out in the vicinity of where that town would be found in the Northeast.  Trent, along with Cane's editor Linda (Julie Carmen), set out to track down Cane only to discover that they may have somehow fallen into the freakish Cane's vivid creations in which the lines between fiction and reality are greatly blurred.

It helps the ludicrous storyline that Sam Neill is actually darn good here.  There's a winking sensibility in his performance that he knows everything he's forced to do or say his just plain silly, but he never stoops to the level of playing things for laughs or hamming it up.  Unfortunately the same can't be said for his co-stars Julie Carmen or Jürgen Prochnow -- never heard of them?  I didn't either and there's certainly a reason they never achieved stardom.  (Although their filmographies on imdb are actually quite extensive which is rather surprising.)

Director John Carpenter does an adequate job keeping things tense.  He fills the flick with random stream of consciousness quick cuts that surprisingly add to the eeriness rather than seeming like unnecessary directorial flourishes.  Granted, my ventures into the Carpenter oeuvre are slim (I've never seen his supposed "masterpiece" Halloween), but I liked what he did with In the Mouth of Madness even if it is silly and ridiculous at times (but, let's be honest...silly and ridiculous just plain works in horror movies sometimes).

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Movie Review - The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, and John Slattery
Directed by George Nolfi

I've never had any real "connection" to The Twilight Zone.  I didn't watch it in repeats as a kid and, frankly, I've probably only ever seen five episodes at most.  Still, I'm kind of fascinated by the premise and the execution of those said episodes.  The Adjustment Bureau (much like 2009's The Box) certainly has that Twilight Zone-retro feel.  However, despite some decent turns from Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, the whole affair fell amazingly flat and left me clamoring for a better story to go along with the surprisingly effective romance between the two leads.

David Norris (Damon) is running for senator of New York City.  As one of the youngest-ever candidates, he's got the buzz, but unfortunately, he doesn't necessarily garner the respect of the general public and he finds himself losing the election.  While preparing his concession speech in what he believes to be an empty men's room, he meets Elise (Blunt), a free-spirited gal who crashed a wedding at the locale and is hiding out from security.  Nearly immediately, there's a connection between the David and Elise, but they're quickly pulled apart without either being able to give each other their contact information.  

Cut to a couple of months later and, by chance, David meets Elise on a bus as he travels to his new job.  The connection is still there between them and this time the duo exchange numbers.  However, immediately after the meeting, David arrives at his office and stumbles upon a group of mysterious men who work for the equally mysterious Adjustment Bureau which David soon discovers attempt to control nearly every major event that occurs in the world.  Leaving nothing up to Fate or Chance, the hat-wearing members of the Bureau state that David and Elise are not supposed to be together.  While the group attempts to pull the two lovers apart, David desperately tries to stay with the woman he knows he's meant to spend his life with.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt admirably try to make this film work and the scenes depicting their budding romance are the best part of the movie and a breath of fresh air.  However, any scene dealing with the men of the Adjustment Bureau (including the incredibly wooden acting of Anthony Mackie and John Slattery) is a failure.  The constant exposition in these moments in which the screenwriter (George Nolfi, who is also the director) feels the need to explain everything -- and do so multiple times -- is simply painful.  The repetitive nature makes the film endlessly drag in the middle hour, and while it seemed to be heading towards an edge-of-your-seat ending, the promise of excitement is never delivered.

Two disparate storylines -- one of which works and one which doesn't -- are the downfall of The Adjustment Bureau.  The palpable chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt is charming, but the retro science fiction aspect of the titular group responsible for controlling the lives of everyone is nothing less than an epic failure.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, March 11, 2011

Movie Review - Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
Starring Brian Boland, Sprague Graydon, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, and Micah Sloat
Directed by Tod Williams

I couldn't wrap my head around the phenomenon of the original Paranormal Activity when it was released in 2009.  Yes, it was a tad tense during the film's final act when Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) fully came to the realization that there was some evil spirit in their house, but there was an hour prior to that where absolutely nothing happened.  Writer-director Oren Peli just wasn't able to craft a film that consistently raised the tension throughout and it just didn't work for me like it did for the millions of other people who saw it and liked it.

Unfortunately, the same things apply to Paranormal Activity 2 which is really a prequel to the first film.  We get an hour of nothing, followed by a solid thirty minutes of suspense.  That just doesn't have the makings of a very good film to me.  However, I will say that this second flick has a slight edge on its predecessor in that it gives us an interesting backstory that actually enhances the overarching storyline of the series as a whole.  For that, I'll give the writer props, but it still is a film with sixty minutes of essentially nothing going on worth watching.  And that sixty minutes is essentially the exact same sixty minutes of nothingness that we saw in the first film.  However, this time, the handheld video and nanny cams have shifted to Katie's sister's house.  

Much like her sister, Kristi (Sprague Graydon) had some issues with the paranormal in her youth.  Soon after Kristi gives birth to her son Hunter, strange things begin happening around the house.  Despite attempts to persuade her husband (Brian Boland) that a ghost is running amok, Kristi can't convince him of the demonic activity in their home.  I could continue, but you'd be reading the same storyline from the first film and it bored me then, so it's certainly boring me now.

The acting here is better than in the original.  Ms. Graydon and Mr. Boland are a much better duo than original stars Ms. Featherston and Mr. Sloat (they make brief appearances in this film as well).  And, like I said above, I enjoyed how this sequel/prequel actually managed to enhance the storyline of the first flick.  Still, this is a series that has only worked for a collective hour out of three and that just doesn't cut it in my book. 

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie Review - Black Death

Black Death (2011)
Starring Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, and Carice van Houten
Directed by Christopher Smith
***An early review...of sorts***

For some reason or another, I can't seem to find a theatrical release date for the period horror flick Black Death.  Part of me understands why this won't hit US theaters...the film has no stars, it's not as if films set in the 1300s are hot commodities, and this isn't exactly a movie that screams "art house" which is where it would have certainly been screened.  Still, it's a bit of a shame because Black Death, while not a great film by any means, is an enjoyable diversion that's certainly worth the inevitable Netflix streaming that will be in its future and is probably worthy of even a most limited theatrical run.

I know Sean Bean's been in a lot of other movies, but he always seems like the go-to guy when casting directors need some moderately buff warrior-type for a flick that takes place ages ago (see Troy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Percy Jackson and the Olympians where he played Zeus).  I'm not faulting the man -- he's good in that strong leadership-type of role and here it's not an exception.  Bean is Ulric, a knight who, after the deaths of his wife and child, lives only for the Church, eradicating non-believers.  1348 is a very difficult time in England with the bubonic plague rearing its ugly head, and Ulric has heard of a small community that has not been affected by the disease.  Believing that the only logical explanation for their lack of sickness is that the town has been taken over by wily witchcraft, Ulric persuades the Church to allow him to go on a crusade (of sorts) to bring back the heretics in the community.  He brings along a young monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), who is having a difficult time giving himself over to God completely (for, you see, he is in love with the beautiful Averill which is obviously something that is not permitted). Together, Ulric and Osmund along with a small group of soldiers head out to find the nonbelievers.

Looking back on the film, it's all rather silly, but I must say that after a shaky, slow, and plodding opening act, the film picked up its pace considerably and had a general aire of eeriness on display.  It's a "horror" film in the loosest sense of the word, but any time you throw cults into the mix in movies, your flick is gonna fall onto the "horror" side of things.  Still, there are no moments that will make you jump (although there are a few moments of medieval torture that may make you cringe a bit) and it's not as if the blood flows profusely.  

The acting is perhaps a step above what one would expect in a film like this and director Christopher Smith does an admirable job keeping things on edge in the film's final two-thirds.  That said, I can certainly see why this film isn't getting a big push on the US cinema front (it's already been released overseas). Black Death is not nearly as bad as the stigma that a lack of theatrical release would make you think.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Movie Review - Mother and Child

Mother and Child (2010)
Starring Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, Cherry Jones, and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Rodrigo García
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm usually a big fan of movies like Babel or 21 Grams that have distinct storylines that eventually converge or are revealed to be interrelated.  There's a similar tone on display in Mother and Child (the director of those aforementioned films, Alejandro González Iñárritu, executive produced this flick), but writer-director Rodrigo García has a difficult time creating believable characters.  Adoption (which is the underlying societal "issue" tackled in this drama, much like Babel discussed gun control and 21 Grams delved into drug addiction) apparently causes women to turn into harsh ice queens with a hatred for men, themselves, and children.  With nary another characteristic beyond "bitter" to describe the three talented actresses onscreen -- Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington -- the film becomes overbearing and almost a chore to watch.

We first meet Karen (Bening), a fifty-one year-old woman who is still living with the guilt of giving up a child for adoption thirty-seven years ago.  While she cares for her aging and bedridden mother, Karen has turned resentful.  Meanwhile, in some other city, Elizabeth (Watts), a thirty-seven year-old lawyer is starting a new job.  [Yes, the fact that Karen gave up her child thirty-seven years ago and Elizabeth is thirty-seven is not hidden in the film.]  We soon discover that Elizabeth (who has the exact same unpleasant acrid attitude as her biological mother) uses sex as a way to mask her hurt for her lack of a caring family growing up, going so far as to have an affair with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) at her law firm.  Rounding out the trilogy of women dealing with the ramifications of adoption is Lucy (Washington) who is unable to have children with her husband and is longing to adopt.  While not quite as nasty as Karen and Elizabeth, Lucy isn't exactly a shining example of womanhood.

The biggest problem with Mother and Child is the simple fact that none of the three women are the least bit pleasant to watch.  They're all rather nasty.  Then, about halfway through the movie, these ice queens suddenly melt into loving, caring ladies.  The transition is so instantaneous in all three cases that it almost seems like I was watching two disparate films.  When you tack on a rather melodramatic final act, even the three lovely actresses who I've liked in many of their previous films can't rise above the flawed characters they're forced to portray.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Movie Review - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
Starring Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, and Naomi Watts
Directed by Woody Allen

Woody Allen keeps churning out the movies at a rate of about one a year.  Maybe if he took a tad more time between flicks, he'd come up with an actual plot because in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the lack of any story and any comedy (and this certainly attempts to fall into Allen's comedy genre as opposed to his dramatic undertakings) makes this film flounder about aimlessly without ever going anywhere.

I guess I'm fibbing a bit when I say there's no story...there's just not a story here that anyone would find moderately interesting.  There's an older couple (Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones) who are recently divorced -- the husband finds himself a younger woman (Lucy Punch) who happens to be a prostitute, while the wife mopes around depressed.  They have a daughter (Naomi Watts) who's in a loveless marriage with her struggling writer husband (Josh Brolin) who has fallen head over heels for the exotic guitar player (Freida Pinto) who lives across the street.  There's not a doubt that these relationships were supposed to be played for a bit of laughs, but, with the exception of Lucy Punch (whose over-the-top hooker doesn't fit in at all with the rest of the character landscape of the flick but at least supplies the film's few moments of humor), there's nary a chortle to be had here.

I can take or leave Woody Allen's films (and I'd mostly leave them), but I keep watching his newer ventures (without delving into many of his earlier, more well regarded works for some reason) realizing that every now and then there's a diamond in the rough (example).  Not here.  It seems like the actors were well aware of this drab script because (with the exception of the previously mentioned Lucy Punch) none of them brought their A-game...although Allen certainly didn't bring his best to the table here either.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, March 07, 2011

Movie Review - Please Give

Please Give (2010)
Starring Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Anne Guilbert, Sarah Steele, and Amanda Peet
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Honestly, I'm not quite sure of the point that writer-director Nicole Holofcener was trying to impart on the audience in her feature Please Give.  I think that she was trying to say something about either personal connections or feeling guilty about things as we age (very Oprah-esque), but the film never quite got there (or, if it did, I didn't really care).  Shockingly, however, despite the lack of an apparent purpose, Please Give was quite an enjoyable ninety minutes.  Mixed in with both the laugh-out-loud and touching moments that are sprinkled throughout, there are actually some realistic characters onscreen, none of whom I found to be the least bit fake...a rarity in film and what makes this flick rise above what I perceive to be a slight lack of focus.

The film focuses on two families.  Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) are a married couple with a teenage daughter (Sarah Steele).  They own an antique furniture store and are financially stable.  Emotionally stable?  Not so much...while they're both happy, it's obvious that they're in a rut.  Living right next door to Kate and Alex is Andra (Anne Guilbert), a crotchety ninety-plus year-old lady who is taken care of by her granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) with a little bit of assistance from Mary (Amanda Peet), her other granddaughter who's incredibly abrasive and isn't afraid to admit that she's looking forward to her grandmother's death so she can stop wasting time caring for her.  The two families meet up to celebrate Andra's birthday and things begin to unravel a bit.  The nice thing about the unravelling is that Ms. Holofcener never takes things to a point of unbelievability.  The outcomes for each of the six characters above all seem logical.

All of the actors are quite good here and it was lovely to see all six of them really come together and play off of one another at the aforementioned birthday party.  Each character has a unique voice and there's not a bad apple in the bunch.  It's also nice to be able to say that Please Give is truly an ensemble piece with no one stealing anyone else's thunder in scenes.  So, instead of pointing out any particular actors here, I'll simply say that the group as a whole is worth your Netflix streaming time.

Yes, in the end, I think that the writer didn't quite succeed in getting across her thoughts on guilt and love, but Ms. Holofcener almost makes it there and her acting sextet more than makes up for those flaws.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Movie Review - Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (2010)
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johannson, Sam Rockwell, Paul Bettany (voice), and Mickey Rourke
Directed by Jon Favreau

I watched Iron Man 2 nearly two weeks ago now and never got around to writing anything about it.  One would think that I hated it.  That's certainly not the case.  In fact, for the film's first hour, I found it very engaging and actually a bit more enjoyable than the origin story that took place in the first film.  However, as hour two rolled around, the excitement level actually dwindled and the climax was quite a letdown.  

Still, the Iron Man series is one that I'll continue to watch mainly because of Robert Downey, Jr., who puts in quite a spirited cynical, semi-sardonic turn as the billionaire Tony Stark.  The problem with the film, I guess, is that when Stark is in the Iron Man get-up, I really just want him to become the enjoyable Tony Stark again.

Supporting roles in this one were decent across-the-board.  Gwyneth Paltrow has seemingly become one of the most hated celebrities on the planet according to some blogs I read, but I'm not quite sure why.  She's decent enough and does what is required of her barely fleshed-out role.  Scarlett Johannson, Sam Rockwell, and Don Cheadle (replacing the original Iron Man's wooden Terrence Howard) are all welcome additions.  Mickey Rourke is still coasting on his Wrestler mystique and his second helping of fifteen minutes of fame is about up.  He's okay here as the Russian nemesis to Stark, but he's nothing special.

I realize this isn't much of "review," but seeing as how I haven't posted anything in nearly a week, I was kinda tiring of staring at the same thing at the top of the page.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+