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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,...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Movie Review - Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole (2010)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Weist, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, and Sandra Oh
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

On the "want to see" list for months now, I was worried that the build-up to Rabbit Hole would lead to disappointment.  Fortunately, that wasn't the case.  Although I expected the film to be a bit more emotionally draining and difficult to watch, this tale of a couple who loses their four year-old son in a tragic accident is quite powerful and bolstered by some great performances all around.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are Becca and Howie who, as the film opens, are still reeling from the death of their young child eight months before.  While there may have been attempts to move on, nothing has really helped their grief and their relationship is suffering at this point.  Howie finds some modicum of solace in group therapy with other parents who have lost their kids, but Becca finds the process unbearable.  Instead, she follows around the eighteen year-old teenager who accidentally hit their son with his car, but even she is unsure what relief that will provide her.  Regardless, neither of the two are emotionally healthy.

The performances of Kidman and Eckhart carry this film and without their strength, Rabbit Hole would not have been as solid as it is.  Suprisingly (to me at least), Kidman's Becca is the more subdued of the two characters.  Not without her emotional moments, Becca is a character who has internalized her pain and grief, only releasing it when pushed to the limit by others.  Instead, it's Aaron Eckhart's Howie who is the more vocal of the couple.  Played rather perfectly, Eckhart's Howie is the character that really hit me.  I don't know if it's just because we're not used to males wearing their emotions on their sleeves, but Eckhart's performance is still marinating in my mind several hours after I watched the film.  I'm quite surprised Mr. Eckhart didn't gain any awards traction this past year with this role.

Admittedly, probably because I was so looking forward to this one, I felt a tiny bit let down.  I was expecting the film, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name (and adapted for the screen by its playwright David Lindsay-Abaire), to be a bit more "loud," but instead was treated to a much more subdued emotional display.  It's a case of wrongly placed expectations.  That being said, I really want to see this story played out on a stage.  Credit goes to screenwriter/playwright Lindsay-Abaire who expanded his five-person stage play into a well-rounded film that never once felt boxed in (of course, credit must also go to director John Cameron Mitchell for making this feel like a movie rather than a filmed play).

Overall, this is a solid film with some great performances (that you'll very likely see pop up in my 2010 RyMickey Awards...whenever I get around to finishing them).

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The 2010 RyMickey Awards - Best Cinematography

Once again (and this is somewhat of a broken record for me when it comes to these awards), 2010 just couldn't compare to 2009 for me in the Cinematography category.  There was some beautiful work in 2009 -- Bright Star and Antichrist were simply stunning -- and nothing this year really blew me away.  Still, there was some good work from 2010 and those stand-outs are listed below.

Best Cinematography 2010

#8 -- Robert Richardson - Shutter Island
#7 -- Wally Pfister - Inception
#6 -- Roger Deakins -- True Grit

And the Top Five Are...

#5 -- Danny Cohen - The King's Speech
Even in a simple three-shot, there's always something interesting to look at onscreen.  Credit in part must go to director Tom Hooper, but I remember thinking that nearly every shot of The King's Speech looked really cool thanks to lighting, set design, and the placement of the actors on the screen.

#4 -- Pawel Edelman - The Ghost Writer
Perhaps the richest looking of all the selections, The Ghost Writer contains some beautiful shots like the one above.  The last shot of the film (which may or may not pop up in the Best Scenes of the year category) is another stunning set piece.

#3 -- Matthew Libatique - Black Swan
As time has passed, my feelings for this film have lessened even more than the lukewarm response I initially gave it.  That said, the film looked great.  Personally, I loved the grainy look that was achieved and I found the lighting in nearly every scene (those that featured the characters onstage and off) was particularly spot-on.

#2 -- Benoît Debie - Enter the Void
Apparently, slot #2 of the Cinematography Award goes to the weirdest film I see in a given year.  Last year, this spot went to Antichrist, and this year, the strange Enter the Void takes the runner-up spot.  Dark, edgy, and grittily urban, this movie falters in its script, but succeeds in everything it attempts visually.

#1 -- Martin Ruhe - The American
Like #2 above, The American is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  It's slow-moving and oddly paced, but Martin Ruhe manages to take the most simplistic of shots and make them look great, helping to keep the eye visually stimulated while the story takes its time to unfold.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Movie Review - Love and Other Drugs

Love and Other Drugs (2010)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, and Josh Gad
Directed by Edward Zwick

When womanizing drug rep Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) travels to Ohio for his new job with Pfizer, he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a no-nonsense gal whose dry humor and unabashed affinity for sex seem to be a perfect fit for him.  Things aren't ideal, though, as Maggie has been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's Disease which any movie-watcher will know will turn this rather nice adult romantic comedy into quite a downer by the film's end.  And that's the problem with Love and Other Drugs, a film that works surprisingly well for its first hour and then never quite finds its footing during its final half when it unsuccessfully attempts to pull at my emotional heartstrings.

I'm not afraid to admit that Jake Gyllenhaal's Jamie is charming here.  It's not surprising to see why Anne Hathaway's Maggie who was adamant about not being in a "relationship" quickly falls for him.  Hathaway also exudes a wry sense of humor and isn't the least bit hesitant to show off her body (which certainly won't garner complaints from me).  The two of them have a good chemistry here during the film's first more humorous half.  Their two light-hearted personalities mesh quite well together.  However, neither Gyllenhaal nor Hathaway pulled me in enough to really give a damn when the film veered towards the dramatic during the final 45 minutes. 

It certainly doesn't help that the two actors are forced to change seemingly with the snap of the director and screenwriter's fingers from lighthearted romance to melodramatic disease-of-the-week Lifetime movie.  What should have ultimately been touching and moving doesn't work because it feels like we're watching two separate movies (and that's more the fault of director Ed Zwick and the trio of screenwriters including Zwick himself).  It also doesn't help that the latter half is peppered with unnecessary and poorly written jabs at the state of the American health care system.  These asides just come off as silly and desperate.

Still, I genuinely liked Love and Other Drugs for about an hour.  I found myself laughing at Gyllenhaal, Hathaway, and side players like Oliver Platt as Jamie's co-worker and Josh Gad as Jamie's brother (a character plopped into the film only to provide laughs...something I usually hate, but really kind of liked here).  I just wish the second half could have resonated with me instead of falling flat.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, April 18, 2011

The 2010 RyMickey Awards - Best Special Effects

I'll be the first to admit that special effects-driven movies don't excite me.  I don't mind watching the occasional comic book flick, but with very few exceptions, I don't fall head over heels for movies that throw a bunch of action set pieces to a wall hoping that something sticks. Still, there were a couple movies this year that used special effects to their storytelling advantage and they're awarded with the coveted RyMickey Award.

2010 Best Special Effects

#5 -- The Social Network
Here for only one reason and that's the seamless look of a single Armie Hammer as both members of the Winklevoss clan.

#4 -- Enter the Void
Let's be honest.  We become the "aura" of a dead man who travels inside of a woman's abdomen to witness the ejaculation of sperm from within.  I'm pretty sure we've never seen that before on film.  Granted, that's not the only odd special effect in this flick, but despite the quirkiness, these special effects work incredibly well.

#3 -- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
A comic book come to life.  Sometimes simple, sometimes not, but always clever.

#2 -- TRON: Legacy
This is one of those movies like I mentioned above where the special effects overpower the movie itself. That being said, I certainly appreciated the sophisticated effects.

#1 -- Inception
The above picture kind of screams out "'Nuff said" to me in terms of why this wins the category.  Yes, the film itself may have faded upon a second viewing.  However, I'm still very appreciative of how, unlike #2 above, the special effects play a vital role in the actual storytelling of the movie itself.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie Review - Hereafter

Hereafter (2010)
Starring Matt Damon, Cécile De France, Frankie and George McLaren, Jay Mohr, and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by Clint Eastwood

At this point in time, I've seen about seven or eight Clint Eastwood-directed films.  And with the exception of maybe one, every single one of them is a complete bore.  Sure, Eastwood may be competent at composing a scene or evoking a mood, but I rarely am excited by his project choices and I'm certainly not impressed with his ability to keep a film moving at a steady clip.  Hereafter is no exception, unfortunately.  

Part of me wanted to see this movie because it's rare nowadays to get a mainstream Hollywood film that even touches upon issues of spirituality.  This flick is unabashedly about that -- this sense of "where do we go after we die."  That, in and of itself, is "ballsy" nowadays.  The script by Peter Morgan and the rather plodding direction by Eastwood just don't do the film any favors.  Broken up into three distinct segments that eventually come together rather anticlimactically in the film's final ten minutes, the film doesn't allow for any real sense of emotional connection with the characters, all of whom have gone through something traumatic which begs for us to really want to give a damn about these people.  Eastwood and Morgan, however, never allow the audience to really relate to the people onscreen.

Matt Damon is perfectly fine as a psychic who speaks to the dead.  Having given up on his craft, he finds himself being pulled back into that world by his caring, but overbearing and slightly money-hungry brother (a decent Jay Mohr).  Another storyline deals with Marie (Cécile De France), a French journalist vacationing in Thailand who gets swept away in a tsunami and has a near-death experience that connects her with the hereafter.  She becomes fascinated by the notion of afterlife and begins to investigate the concept.  Story #3 focuses on twin brothers Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) who are living with their drug-abusing, alcoholic mother.  When Jason runs to a drug store to get medicine for his junkie mother, he gets hit by a truck and dies.  Marcus is rather devastated and tries to do all that he can to reconnect with his brother in a spiritual way.

Unfortunately, two of the three storylines just don't carry the emotional weight that they should and that's in part due to some lukewarm acting and just plain silly dialog (which, admittedly, could be because of some stupid subtitled translations from French to English).  Cécile De France seemed very distant to me and I never once felt bad for her character; I have to think that is in part due to her lack of connection with the character and storyline itself.  Also unfortunate is the fact that young Frankie and George McLaren, while adequate, just didn't deliver as well as they could have in what should have been the huge emotional arc of the movie -- I mean, a kid dies...that should've been freakin' tremendously sad and it wasn't.  Matt Damon's arc was probably the best and had a nice turn from Bryce Dallas Howard as a potential girlfriend.  However, considering his story only takes up a third of the movie, it simply isn't enough to carry the flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Movie Review - Conviction

Conviction (2010)
Starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, and Juliette Lewis
Directed by Tony Goldwyn

There's nothing wrong necessarily with being a by-the-books drama.  Sure, it may not win you accolades, but sometimes a movie doesn't call for tricks or surprises.  Conviction, a true life drama about a man wrongly accused of murder and the sister who vowed to free him, doesn't have any tricks up its sleeve.  Unfortunately, it also doesn't have any emotional drive up its sleeve either and that ultimately knocks what is a perfectly acceptable film down a couple of notches.

In 1980 Massachusetts, a young woman is murdered and Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is taken in for questioning related to the crime.  While nothing happens for two years, in 1982, Kenny is arrested and convicted of the murder.  Knowing in her heart that her brother is innocent, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) decides to head to law school to get a degree to help her brother appeal the ruling.  Things aren't easy for her and she finds herself having to jump over many legal hurdles, but, let's be honest here, there really wouldn't be a movie if things didn't turn out for the best.

And it's that inevitability that is part of the reason there isn't a huge emotional arc in play here.  To me, director Tony Goldwyn is to blame because he fails to let the strong brother-sister bond between Betty Anne and Kenny emotionally grab the viewer.  Yes, he tries, but there was nothing there to pull me in.  Instead, I was watching a perfectly adequate drama that felt a little more distant than it should.

That criticism said, all of the actors here are quite good.  Hilary Swank is perfectly suited for the working class, slightly rough-around-the-edges Betty Anne, and Sam Rockwell plays Kenny surprisingly tenderly  with enough hints of anger to make him a possible suspect.  Minnie Driver as Betty Anne's friend, Melissa Leo as the female cop attempting to make a name for herself with Waters' case, and Juliette Lewis as a witness for the prosecution all make the most of their roles as well.

Conviction is certainly a decent drama and one that was worth watching.  It's just that it could have been better had the director somehow created a more emotionally charged relationship between all parties involved.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Movie Review - Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Starring John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Crispin Glover, and Chevy Chase
Directed by Steve Pink

Not once did I laugh while watching Hot Tub Time Machine.  Not once did I even let out a mild smirk.  Raunchy comedies that derive their humor from drugs and alcohol are always a tough sell for me and this one is no exception.  The only thing saving this from dipping as low as the awful The Other Guys is that all the actors here at least attempt to go for the comedy.  John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, and Rob Corddry as the quartet of guys who travel back to the eighties thanks to some crazy time warping hot tub tried their hardest to get me to laugh.  Unfortunately, I didn't.

And that's all I've got to say about this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  D
There have been some updates to the RyMickey Awards in the following categories:

Movie Review - Nowhere Boy

Nowhere Boy (2010)
Starring Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Anne-Marie Duff
Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood

There's a reason I've held off on announcing the 2010 RyMickey Awards and it's because I want to give myself time to see these little movies like Nowhere Boy that I might not have had an opportunity to see last year.  [This film, for example, played for one week at the local cineplex and then vanished.]  What a nice pleasant surprise this biographical take of Beatles star John Lennon's late teen years is.

Aaron Johnson, perhaps best known up until this point as starring in the title role in 2010's Kick Ass, takes on the iconic John Lennon in this flick.  Of course, he's playing John Lennon as a seventeen year-old which was quite a ways before he and his mates made it big as perhaps the most popular music group of all time.  Here we find John living with his rather stern aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who, while only wanting what's best for her nephew, ends up stifling him creating a rather rambunctious youth.  John always wondered what happened to his mother and one day he discovers that she lives within walking distance from his house.  Finding the courage to face the mother who abandoned him as a youngster, John meets the rather free-spirited Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) for the first time in over a decade and soon begins to form a bond with her, much to the chagrin of her sister Mimi.

Anyone who has read this blog knows that the "biopic" is one of my least favorite genres, but Nowhere Boy succeeds where others have failed in that it focuses solely on five years of John Lennon's life.  We never even hear a Beatles song here.  Instead, this is a look at part of what shaped Lennon into the man he would become.  This brief glimpse into a short portion of his life is intriguing and shows fans something they may not have known about the singing superstar.

It also helps immensely that the film is carried by three really stellar performances.  Aaron Johnson is pretty great as Lennon, showcasing both emotional vulnerability and the necessary rock star swagger needed to be an aspiring teen idol.  Kristin Scott Thomas takes what could have been a stereotypical curmudgeonly role and turns it into something rather endearing.  Despite her icy demeanor, it's obvious that she cares for young John and wants to nurture him the best she can.

But perhaps the best role belongs to Anne-Marie Duff, an actress who is new to me, but delivers one heckuva performance as John's long lost mom, Julia.  She knows that John is in good hands with Mimi and she knows she herself wasn't quite fit to raise John a decade ago.  Having two daughters now and seemingly having settled down, John's re-emergence in her life seems to cause her to revert back to the crazier days of her youth which is obviously a detriment to her current family situation.  There's a twinkle in Julia's eyes whenever she's around John, but behind the happiness that Duff presents is a sorrow for having to be the "adult" that she is forced to be today.  This struggle is pivotal to the flick and Duff excels in every scene.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Movie Review - Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy (1990)
Starring Warren Beatty, Charlie Korsmo, Glenne Headley, Al Pacino, and Madonna 
with cameo appearances by Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, and Dick van Dyke
Directed by Warren Beatty

Seems like I'm on a streak of childhood memories here, so why not continue with Warren Beatty's 1990 rendition of Dick Tracy.  Utilizing some rather unique comic book flavored art direction, bright and bold costumes, and killer make-up, Beatty has created a retro-looking 1930s comic book on the big screen.  It's unfortunate that the story lags a little bit, lacking the punch and drive one would have liked to really propel this comic gangster storyline.

Things aren't faring so well in Dick Tracy's big city.  Tracy (Warren Beatty) is the town's best police detective, but he's run into some trouble with the city's big crime bosses led by the eccentric Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino).  When Caprice takes over the Club Ritz, turning into his crime headquarters, Tracy knows there's something awry, but can't quite catch the crooks in the act.  When Tracy tries to convince the club's singer, Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), to squeal on her boss, he gets more than he bargained for with the sultry chanteuse creating a rift between him and his longtime girlfriend Tess (Glenne Headley).

Everything in Dick Tracy is over the top and it's certainly meant to be that way.  Because Beatty pushes everything to the limit, the film's overall "fake" aesthetic works.  Whether it be the outrageous Academy Award-winning make-up or the obviously fake painted backdrops, the visuals here are oftentimes stunning (the film also won an Oscar for Art Direction).  Bold usage of bright colors and nifty camera angles fill the screen with great images.

Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down a bit too much by a slightly convoluted storyline involving the mobster scene and it ends up running about twenty minutes too long.  The flick moves along at a brisk pace for about 45 minutes at which point I can't help but think it began to flounder about feeling the need to simply pad the running time.  A bit better job at editing would have made this movie a true classic.

As it stands now, it's a perfectly adequate comic book movie with some very good performances.  Beatty is slightly wooden as Dick Tracy, but I think that's the point.  Tracy is the upright and straight shooter amidst the world of the crazy mobsters, which includes a zany performance from Al Pacino and a great cameo from Dustin Hoffman as a mumbling goon.  Madonna also fares quite well here and has the opportunity to belt out some sexy songs written by Stephen Sondheim (one of which rounded out this film's trio of Academy Award wins).

Overall, Dick Tracy is worth a watch if you've never seen it before.  And it's a film I wouldn't mind watching again a couple of years in the future.  It's one of those that while I might not seek out, I'd certainly watch it if it popped up on tv.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The 2010 RyMickey Awards - Breakthrough Award

***Edited 4/14/11***
For the following actors and actresses, 2010 may or may not have been the first year they came onto the film scene, however, it was their year where they really came into their own on the cinematic landscape.


#7 -- Mila Kunis - Black Swan, The Book of Eli
#6 -- Ashley Bell - The Last Exorcism

And the Top Five...

#5 - Armie Hammer - The Social Network
I didn't really appreciate his role as the stuck-up snooty Winlevoss twins until a second viewing, but it'll be interesting to see what else Mr. Hammer has to give in the acting department.  

#4 - Gemma Arterton - The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Maybe it's best that I didn't see Ms. Arterton in Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia or else she may not have made the list.  However, in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, she's proves to be both vulnerable and strong in a very difficult role that many actresses would not have been brave enough to take on.

#3 - Aaron Johnson - Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass, The Greatest
I actually liked Aaron Johnson in all of the movies listed above, but wouldn't have said that he belonged in this category until I saw his performance as a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy.  Throughout all three of those films above, he showed a wide range of emotions and has me looking forward to what he does next.

#2 - Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
A nice star-making turn in True Grit will hopefully carry the young Ms. Steinfeld to much success.  She's already got some major films coming out in the upcoming years and she earned a much deserved Oscar nomination (and, in my opinion, was robbed of the award).

#1 - Andrew Garfield - The Social Network, Never Let Me Go
Mr. Garfield was the best thing in both The Social Network and the disappointing Never Let Me Go, providing both movies with their respective "best moments."  While it's slightly upsetting that his next major project is the new Spiderman series, here's hoping that he continues to throw in some "indie" movies in the midst of his Hollywood blockbusters.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Movie Review - The War

The War (1994)
Starring Elijah Wood, Kevin Costner, Mare Winningham, and Lexi Randall
Directed by Jon Avnet
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

***Posted as part of the Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival***

The unfortunate thing about this Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival is that the films that made up this five day affair simply weren't all that good and 1994's The War does nothing to change that way of thinking.  However, what these films did prove is that Wood was a darn good child actor and although he sullied himself with the likes of Flipper following his appearance in The War, he has a stretch of movies in his youth for which he can be proud of his acting abilities.

It's 1970 in Mississippi and Stephen Simmons (Kevin Costner) has returned home from the Vietnam War with a Purple Heart and some severe post traumatic stress disorder.  Unable to hold down a job, Stephen is disappointed in his ability to help his family.  Still, Stephen's children Stu (Wood) and Lidia (Lexi Randall) love their dad despite the monetary struggles he's putting their mother (Mare Winningham) through.  Amidst the family toils, Stu and Lidia are finding themselves in their own war taking place in their backyard with the Lipnicki clan, a group of stereotypical redneckers who want nothing less than to ruin Stu and Lidia's summer and their plan to build the ultimate treehouse.  If you were guessing that there'd be some comparisons between the Vietnam War and this war over whether the Lipnickis or Simmonses own the treehouse, you'd be correct.

And that comparison is just one of the reasons the movie doesn't work.  It tries to bring "the war" to the homefront, but it just ends up being rather silly.  And it doesn't help that the Lipnicki kids who make up a huge part of the story are laughable caricatures of uncultured southerners.  Add in an underdeveloped and unnecessary racism subplot and The War is stretched too thin in terms of trying to seem "important."

But Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner help to elevate this to a decent level.  Costner is quite good as a dad under stress.  Had the film been simply about him and his family dealing with the aftereffects of Vietnam, there may have been something really special here.  Wood also provides the film with fine work.  He gets a chance to be silly and serious and was certainly coming into his own.  There's an obvious difference between Radio Flyer and this movie and his growth as an actor over those two years is nice to see.

The War is decently directed and shot and there's a nice musical score from Thomas Newman.  Unfortunately, it just doesn't really work since it tries too hard to be more important than its script allows it to be.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Movie Review - North

North (1994)
Starring Elijah Wood, Jon Lovitz, Bruce Willis, Matthew McCurly, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates, John Ritter, Faith Ford, and Scarlett Johannson
Directed by Rob Reiner
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

***Posted as part of the Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival***

I remember watching North as a kid and thinking that I really liked it.  I also remember watching a 1994 Year in Review show on Siskel and Ebert and Siskel called this film "deplorable."  I was livid that Siskel hated this.  How dare he!  But, for some reason or another, I never watched this movie again.  Until today, that is, and I can now fully understand why Siskel trashed it.

North (Elijah Wood) is your average run-of-the-mill young kid who does quite well in school, has the starring roles in plays, and is quite adept at hitting a baseball.  The problem is that his parents (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) don't pay him any mind, finding themselves too wrapped up in their miserable jobs to notice their son.  Fed up, North decides that he's going to take his parents to court and ask the judge (Alan Arkin) to allow him to find new parents.  The judge agrees and North sets out on his mission that takes him to Texas, Hawaii, Alaska, and New York where he meets both a wide array of kooky and quirky adults vying for him to be their son and a guardian angel of sorts (Bruce Willis) who pops up in every scene to remind North that maybe he really belongs back home with his real folks.

My problem with the film is that it just isn't funny and it is attempting to be.  The jokes are horrendous.  Here's a sample of one:  When North visits Hawaii, he asks why Mr. and Mrs. Ho want him to be their son.  Mr. Ho responds by saying, "Hawaii is a lush and fertile land.  In fact, there's only one barren area on all our islands.  Unfortunately, it's Mrs. Ho."  Yep, that's the kind of humor we're talking about.

Maybe at 14, I thought this was a rather adult kid's movie.  Seeing as how I had two younger brothers, I was still in the phase where I was being taken to see the most "kiddie" of kid movies and with North's bad language and talk about sex, maybe I thought it was a bit edgy.  Nowadays, it just doesn't work.

Still, I must give credit where credit is due.  I actually really liked the subplot about North's best friend Winchell (Matthew McCurly), a school newspaper reporter who starts a Che-like revolution amongst the kids across the country, telling them to stand up to their parents and take control of their lives.  Clever and well acted (even if it is played over-the-top), any scene with McCurly at least brought a bit of a relief from the onslaught of godawful auditioning parents.

In preparation for this review, I found the Siskel and Ebert clip of them reviewing it and Ebert throws out the line "I hated this movie as much as any movie we've ever reviewed in the nineteen years we've been doing this show."  While I wouldn't go that far, North is a movie that simply doesn't work...and it certainly makes me question my cinematic tastes from back in the day.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Movie Review - The Good Son

The Good Son (1993)
Starring Macauley Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson, Daniel Hugh Kelly, and David Morse
Directed by Joseph Ruben
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

***Posted as part of the Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival***

There is a certain morbid charm in hearing a 12 year-old Macauley Culkin utter the words, "Don't fuck with me."  And it's Culkin's playing against type that makes this movie better than the generic nature of the script should permit it to be.  With a relatively quick running time (just a little over 80 minutes), The Good Son is a perfectly acceptable suspense flick that probably would be right at home as a 90s tv movie were it not for the occasional curse word.  (Yes, I say that as a slight jab, but I also say that with the understanding that the "tv movie" descriptor almost makes it a guilty pleasure to watch.)

Shortly after his mother dies, young Mark Evans (Elijah Wood) goes to live with his Aunt Susan (Wendy Crewson) and Uncle Wallace (Daniel Hugh Kelly) while his father (David Morse) travels to Asia for business.  While there, Mark befriends his cousin Henry (Macauley Culkin), but soon discovers that Henry's behavior leans towards the psychotic.

And it's in that psychotic behavior as portrayed by Macauley "Home Alone" Culkin that makes this film surprisingly watchable.  Culkin is actually really good playing evil and Elijah Wood is just as good playing counter to the devil child.  Yes, the two kids are forced into silly situations and the parents are completely oblivious to the obvious things going on around them, but thanks to Culkin and Wood fully diving into their different characters, The Good Son works.  It's certainly not the best suspense movie you'll see, but it's absolutely better than it has any right to probably be.

In terms of the Elijah Wood mini film festival, this is probably my favorite role of Wood's so far.  As he's aging, you can see a little more depth behind the eyes, and, considering that this role is probably the most simplistic he'd been asked to tackle up until this point, that's an admirable task.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Movie Review - Forever Young

Forever Young (1992)
Starring Mel Gibson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Elijah Wood
Directed by Steve Miner
***This movie is currently streaming on Netflix***

***Posted as part of the Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival***

Schmaltzy and cheesy, Forever Young is a movie that will probably have you rolling your eyes more than once.  But, thanks to decent performances all around, a quick pace, and an overall interesting idea (from a script written by J.J. Abrams, no less), this flick proves to be moderately successful.

The year is 1939 and test pilot Daniel McCormick (Mel Gibson) is about ready to propose to his longtime girlfriend.  Unfortunately, he chickens out and mere seconds after she leaves, she is hit by a car and falls into a coma.  Devastated, Danny turns to his best friend (George Wendt), a scientist for the Army, who has crafted a cryogenic machine that can successfully freeze (and then unfreeze) a person.  Feeling like he has no reason to live, Danny agrees to be a guinea pig for the experiment.  Cut to 1992 and Nat Cooper (Elijah Wood) and his friend uncover the machine and accidentally open it up, allowing Danny to wake up.  Needless to say, things are a bit different in the 90s than they were in the 30s and Danny must both adjust to a new world and attempt to find the reason he's been kept frozen for so long.

Although it's certainly odd, Mel Gibson sells the difficult role.  His wide-eyed childlike innocence when he awakens from his frozen slumber is spot-on at times.  Elijah Wood is also quite good here.  He's allowed to play a normal kid and sometimes that's difficult to do.  There's nothing special for him to do here, but he plays "normal" very well.  Jamie Lee Curtis as Nat's mom is also pleasant to watch.  None of these three actors do anything remotely extraordinary, but they all do fine jobs with what they're given.

Forever Young certainly isn't great, but it moves along surprisingly briskly -- if this film were done nowadays it would've been 130 minutes as opposed to 100.  It's silly and the ending is super sugary sweet, but it's a perfectly acceptable romance with just enough of a different tone to make it watchable.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, April 04, 2011

Theater Review - The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor
written by Neil Simon
Directed by Jeff Steitzer
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware)

A pleasant, humorous night at the theater is what you'll get if you venture over to the lovely Roselle Center for the Arts at the University of Delaware to see the Resident Ensemble Players' production of Neil Simon's 1973 play The Good Doctor.  Made up of a series of vignettes created by our onstage Russian writer-narrator (who is essentially playing writer Anton Chekhov...but more on that in a bit), the play itself seems a little disjointed at times in terms of overall theme and tone, but more often than not, UD's REP troupe succeeds at creating a wonderful theatrical experience.

I always wonder whether it should be a criteria for one to know any background prior to watching a play, or (in the case of this play) should the playwright have crafted things in such a way that someone who is not well versed in "classic Russian literature" still completely understand what is going on?  If the latter is the case, there were certainly things in The Good Doctor that I just didn't understand.  Two very serious vignettes in particular (one very obviously borrowing from Chekhov's play Three Sisters) left me completely befuddled as to why Neil Simon put them in this play.  The tonal shift these scenes create at the beginning of Act II is kind of a shock to the system.  That said, I certainly appreciated the weight of these scenes (the other being an absolutely lovely and poignant song performed by two elderly people longing to love again), but I didn't quite get why they were there.  Had I read more Chekhov, I may have understood...but I haven't, so it left me at a loss.

Still, this lovely production proves once again that when the REP is on top of their game, they are the best ticket in town.  From a simplistic, yet nicely utilized set by William Browing (complete with the first theatrical "red curtain" I've seen used by the troupe...I think) to the absolutely beautiful costumes by guest artist Laura Crow, the production values are up to the REP's usual high standards.

And the acting ensemble here (all of whom play multiple roles) may be the best I've seen all season (and lest you forget that this company has had some really great productions so far this year).  A wonderful mix of the REP and the soon-to-be-graduating PTTP class, it's impossible to tell who are the elder statesmen and who are the up-and-comers.  Stand-outs this time around from the PTTP include Andrew Goldwasser who plays a man who chooses an unfortunate time to sneeze and Erik Mathew as a sly lothario.  Carine Montbertrand, as always, proves to be a winner in a role much more slapsticky than I've seen before from her.  Also excellent was guest actor Drew Brehl who, along with PTTP member Ben Charles, provide the night's biggest belly laughs in a scene involving an aching tooth.

The play itself is what isn't perfect here.  The tonal shifts were a bit off-putting to me and I can't help but think that even my favorite scenes probably could have succeeded a bit more if they were trimmed of three minutes of dialog, but that's a fault of the playwright.  In fact, there's really nothing that the REP troupe themselves does wrong here...on their end, this production's pretty close to perfection.

Movie Review - Radio Flyer

Radio Flyer (1992)
Starring Elijah Wood, Joseph Mazzello, Adam Baldwin, Lorraine Bracco, and Tom Hanks
Directed by Richard Donner (and an uncredited David Evans)
***This film is streaming on Netflix***

***Posted as part of the Elijah Wood Early 90s Mini Film Festival***

Radio Flyer simply isn't a very good film.  [That will probably be a line you'll see a lot in this Elijah Wood Retrospective.]  However, it's got two of probably the most natural kid performances captured on camera from Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello that I can't help but like it more than I should.  Wood (who was probably 10 or 11 at the time of filming) and Mazzello (who was probably 8) are really charming and there's an absolute sense that neither of them are really acting in several scenes -- they're simply being themselves.  That naturalness and ease in front of the cameras is winning, but, in the end, the silliness of the story can't match the acting chops.

Admittedly, I think this was one of the first films that I went to when I was younger and got emotionally invested in.  As a 12 year-old kid who had younger brothers, this thing resonated with me.  The story about an abusive father couldn't have been farther from my real life, but what did connect was this idea of having to be protective of your siblings.  In Radio Flyer, older brother Mike (Wood) tries to do whatever he can to protect his younger brother Bobby (Mazzello) from the near constant beatings of his stepfather, a man seen mostly in shadows and known only as The King (Adam Baldwin).  The two brothers make a promise to one another to not tell their mother (Lorraine Bracco) about the beatings because she seems to be happy for once in her life with The King and she's always led a rather sad existence.  In order to avoid The King, Mike and Bobby spend most of their time exploring the area around their new home during which they hear about the tale of Fisher, a kid who many years ago crafted a flying machine out of his bicycle in an attempt to become airborne.  This gives Bobby an ingenious idea to utilize their Radio Flyer red wagon as a means to fly away from the pain in his life.

Sentimental, mushy, and kind of silly, Radio Flyer simply doesn't succeed in its storytelling.  It apparently was heavily re-written, re-shot, and changed directors' hands...and it shows.  There's not really any cohesion throughout and it takes a long time to figure out where it wants to go...and when it gets there, it still doesn't work.

However, as I said above, there's two pretty great kid performances here and, to a certain extent, that's a reason to watch despite the lower rating I'm going to give this below.  Seeing as how this would've been my first Elijah Wood movie, I can see why I liked him as an actor.  Here is this kid in a movie with Tom Hanks (who has a small cameo as a grown-up Mike).  Even at 12 years old, I knew Hanks was a "movie star" and Wood is holding his own up against this Hollywood bigwig.  Even though I think young Joseph Mazzello actually outshines Wood, it was still very evident that this youth had acting skills.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The 2010 RyMickey Awards - Best Younger Actor/Actress

***EDITED 4/14/11***
I originally did not have five nominees for this category, but a recent viewing has added a new face into the mix, so my original "jokey" #5 nominees are now in the runner-up spot.

***Originally Posted 4/3/11***
For my purposes, this category is open to anyone under the age of 21.

For those wondering about some possible notable absences, The Social Network's Brenda Song is 22 and I didn't care for the Academy Award nominated performance of Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence all that much (although Ms. Lawrence was number two in this category last year).


#5 (tie) - Rapunzel -- Tangled // Bonnie -- Toy Story 3
 The well-rounded character of Rapunzel was one of the best surprises of 2010.  And who didn't think that Toy Story 3 should have had many more scenes with the cute Bonnie?

Best Younger Actor/Actress

#5 - Kodi Smit-McPhee and #4 - Chloe Moretz -- Let Me In
These two young actors were not playing even remotely happy people, but this duo crafted characters that were relatable (difficult to do considering one is a vampire) in spite of their gloomy depressed demeanors.

#3 - Aaron Johnson - Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass, The Greatest
Although Johnson was certainly good in Kick-Ass and The Greatest, his turn as a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy is what lands him on this list.

#2 - Dakota Fanning -- The Runaways
A ballsy turn from the young actress.  Fanning absolutely disappears right into the role of drug-addled Cherie Currie providing many uncomfortable but tremendously effective moments.

#1 - Hailee Steinfeld -- True Grit
A very nice debut performance from Ms. Steinfeld who absolutely carries this film.  In nearly every scene, her head-strong, poised, and wise-beyond-her-years Mattie Ross is a winner.  And she manages to spout that sometimes tricky Coen Brothers dialog without any problem at all.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Movie Review - The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Starring Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, and Danny Aiello
Directed by Woody Allen

An ode to classic cinema and a glimpse at how we utilize motion pictures to escape from our everyday lives, Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo is a nice effort from the writer-director, but is a little too slight and drawn out to be in the filmmaker's upper echelon of films.  Still, it's an all around pleasant movie, perhaps Mr. Allen's most charming and sentimental, with nary a hint of pessimism or neurosis.

In 1930s Depression Era New Jersey, waitress Cecilia (Mia Farrow) heads to the cinema nearly every day to find solace in the characters onscreen.  Cecilia's real life is fraught with troubles pertaining to her out-of-work and possibly philandering husband Monk (Danny Aiello), so she instead is constantly heading to the movies to escape to the world portrayed in the light comedy The Purple Rose of Cairo.  While watching the film for the fifth time, the charming character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) begins to speak directly to Cecilia and he soon walks right out of the movie screen and into her arms.  Together they run away and begin to fall in love with one another.  However, Tom's shenanigans not only strand his fellow castmates in the film with nothing to do floundering around in reel two without a way of continuing on in the story, but they also begin to wreak havoc on the actor who portrays Tom in the film, Gil Shepherd (also played by Jeff Daniels).  Gil soon meets up with Cecilia and the two also begin to fall for one another.  This sets up an interesting love triangle that doesn't necessarily end the way I expected it to.

Before I watched the film, I assumed that Tom Baxter coming out of the screen would simply be part of Cecilia's imagination.  Cleverly, though, Woody Allen stages this as reality.  Everyone in town is witness to Tom's leaping into the "real world" and this event soon makes its way to the national stage.  Personally, I thought this was rather ingenious.  However, the film tries very hard to ape classic cinema of the 30s and 40s, but it never quite gets there.  The humor often falls flat, but the romance is rather charming and sweet and helps make up for the film's faults.

With some nice performances from Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, and Danny Aiello, The Purple Rose of Cairo is a pleasant enough diversion if you're looking for a nice flick to watch some rainy afternoon.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-