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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,...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Movie Review - Scream 3

Scream 3 (2000)
Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Foley, Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, and Liev Schreiber
Directed by Wes Craven
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The least loved of the original Scream trilogy, the third and final installment of the series (until the fourth film was released over a decade later) earns that "Worst Film in the Series" honor.  However, Scream 3 wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered it being, finding myself being rather impressed with the overarching connection to the previous two films, but disappointed in the fact that the film is really nothing more than a typical slasher film with better acting.

In this third flick we move from Woodsboro (the setting of the first two films) to Hollywood where a third film -- Stab 3 -- is being produced mirroring the life of Sidney Prescott.  Of course, there's a copycat killer on the loose again and this lunatic is wreaking havoc on the movie set and those involved in the production.  What ensues is simply a progression of people getting stabbed in the back again and again and again and again.  And unfortunately, that's where Scream 3 doesn't work.  The kills are uninventive, repetitive, and we have so little connection to these obnoxious Hollywood types biting the dust that we don't really give a damn that they're being offed.  

What does work, however, is the continuation of Sidney's storyline, delving into the reasons her mother was looked upon as such a tramp in the first film and building the Scream mythology in a decent manner.  It also helps that Courtney Cox and David Arquette take a more prominent role than Neve Campbell's consistently bland Sidney.  Their Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley provide comic relief while, at the same time, giving the viewer characters to root for in the midst of the fairly disappointing characters that are thrown into the mix in this third flick.

Despite all the qualms about this one, I was still entertained and, at times, on the edge of my seat.  Sometimes you can't ask for more than that.  Now I'll just have to sit back another month or two until the fourth installment makes its way to dvd (even though I'm fairly upset that I've had a significant portion of the flick spoiled for me thanks to a television interview I stumbled upon two months after that film had been released).  

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Movie Review - Hall Pass

Hall Pass (2011)
Starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, and Richard Jenkins 
Directed by the Bobby and Peter Farrelly 

While the brotherly directing team of There's Something about Mary doesn't reinvent the wheel with Hall Pass, the Farrelly Brothers have managed to craft a respectable comedy that has enough laughs and likable enough characters to surprise this reviewer.

Hall Pass still has the requisite raunch and toilet humor, but in this day and age of the resurgence of the R-rated comedy, I almost felt like the brotherly writing-directing duo held back a bit and it was a welcome treat.  For a flick whose premise deals with two guys who receive a week-long hall pass from their wives to go out and do whatever they want with whomever they want, I enjoyed that Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis's characters never felt like they stooped to teenagery whims and characteristics.  Wilson and Sudeikis play adult guys simply trying to sow their wild oats after years of wallowing in the sometimes-monotony of monogamy.  Yet, the film never pushes these guys into incredibly over the top situations (although there are certainly many situations presented that your average non-Hollywood male would never find himself in) and manages to keep the two pleasant to watch as opposed to be annoyed by their foolish shenanigans.

Hall Pass certainly isn't a home run.  There are several lulls where laughs come few and far in between and there are moments where the childish humor had me rolling my eyes, but I've got to admit that I laughed out loud (and quite loudly) several times.  Wilson and Sudeikis make a good pair and both certainly make this movie a pleasant watch.  The same, unfortunately, can't be said for the womanly counterparts.  Jenna Fischer as Wilson's wife is kind of a dead weight.  Granted, the film doesn't give her a whole lot to do, but it keeps trying to shoehorn her into the story and it just doesn't succeed.  Christina Applegate fares a little better as the sassier wife of Sudeikis, but it's a role we've seen her play many times before.

Still, for what Hall Pass is -- a raunchy R-rated comedy -- it fares well.  Nothing amazing, but certainly not disappointing in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, July 29, 2011

Movie Review - The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed (1956)
Starring Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Eileen Heckart, Henry Jones, and Evelyn Varden
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The precursor to modern day flicks like The Good Son and Orphan, 1956's The Bad Seed was one of the first cinematic glimpses that all children aren't made up of sunshine and lollipops.  There are certainly a few bad seeds out there whose evil nature is hidden beneath an innocent looking visage, and this flick's blonde-haired eight year-old Rhoda Penmark (played by Patty McCormack in an Academy Award-nominated role) is one of those very devious children.

When a young schoolmate of Rhoda's is found drowned in a local park on a school picnic, Rhoda's mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) is quite upset.  However, she finds it quite odd that her daughter seems to have no qualms over the incident.  In fact, Rhoda's nonchalant attitude makes Christine think about other incidents in Rhoda's past where people close to the Penmarks have died under unusual circumstances in the presence of her young daughter.  Is it all a coincidence or is Rhoda truly evil?

That question is surely answered and the reveal and aftereffects are quite intriguing.  I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised with The Bad Seed.  At first, I couldn't imagine how this film could sustain itself over 130 minutes, but I found it very impressive that I was entertained throughout the entirety of the low-key thriller.  That may in part be due to the fact that this story had already been a long-running play prior to the making of the film and any kinks that may have impacted the flow were already ironed out.  

Also helping is the fact that director Mervyn LeRoy brought most of the play's cast to the screen and everyone across the board is excellent, although perhaps a little overly dramatic (although I attribute that to moreso the style of acting in the 1950s than anything else).  In addition to the cloyingly sweet and altogether devilish McCormack whom I already mentioned was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar, Nancy Kelly also was nominated in the Best Actress category.  Kelly is the heart and soul of the film and her character is the one that goes through the most ups and downs.  Her character's metamorphosis from a sweet, caring mother to a woman who is genuinely frightened of her daughter is always believable and a key strength to making this movie a success.  [It should also be noted that Eileen Heckart as the alcoholic mother of Rhoda's deceased schoolmate was also nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar.  Although her role amounts to what is mostly a cameo, her role is quite a doozy and her short time onscreen was certainly memorable.]

All in all, The Bad Seed is a flick that I'd absolutely recommend checking out.  While it's slightly disappointing that the production codes of the 1950s caused the film's ending to be quite obvious to me from the outset (I guess that's what a college film studies class will ruin for you when watching films from that era), it certainly didn't ruin the experience for me.  This is a flick that I can certainly imagine I'll revisit in years to come.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Movie Review - The Snake Pit

The Snake Pit (1948)
Starring Olivia de Havilland, Mark Stevens, and Leo Genn
Directed by Anatole Litvak
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Despite the fact that at the film's end the doctors feel the need to explain away every little thing wrong with the schizophrenic Virginia Cunningham in an effort to appease and educate the audience (a la the psychiatrist at the end of Psycho explaining away Norman Bates's psychoses), The Snake Pit is a surprisingly gritty and gutsy take on mental illness.  Certainly carried by a stellar performance by Olivia de Havilland as Virginia, director Anatole Litvak really seems to provide an unflinching look at the state of treatment of mental illness in the 1940s...and it's not always a pretty sight to see.

In what is essentially a character study of a mentally unstable woman, The Snake Pit utilizes voice-overs, clever camera shots, and de Havilland's acting chops to showcase the truly manic state of Virginia.  Also adding to the uncomfortable tone of the film are the wonderful performances from the other female residents in the all-women's mental institution in which Virginia resides for an extended period of time.  There were a couple scenes depicting the women around Virginia that were both frightening and heartbreaking -- sometimes at the same time.

Admittedly, the film does lag quite a lot when it delves into Virginia's past to determine what caused her mental breakdown, but de Havilland is just as good in these early stages of illness as she is at the all-out unstable peak of her disease.  Both de Havilland and director Anatole Litvak were nominated for Oscars and it's really no surprise they were among the top contenders of 1948 as both bring something very unique, raw, and unflinching to the screen.  Slight tweaks to the screenplay would've made this one excellent, but for now it'll just have to settle with being quite good.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four (2011)
Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Dianna Agron, and Teresa Palmer
Directed by D.J. Caruso

Unlike the Stars both Trek and War, the aliens in I Am Number Four are more reminiscent of supermodels than freakish-looking creatures.  Of course, this allows for a much easier ability to fall in love with Earthlings than if one were a long-eared Spock lookalike.  And, in this movie, it's the frivolous love story that takes center stage.

Without getting into the silly names of both alien races involved in I Am Number Four (which make the made-up words in Harry Potter flicks seem normal), the basic story boils down to this -- an alien race was all but obliterated by another.  Nine kids from the massacred race landed on Earth and the "evil" aliens are after them.  So far, they've killed three of the nine and now they're after Number Four, a blond-haired kid who goes by the clever alias of John Smith (Alex Pettyfer).  With the help of his protector (Timothy Olyphant) and alien teen Number Six (Teresa Palmer), John fights the scary aliens all the while going through the typical trails and tribulations of a typical high schooler, including falling in love with the cute girl (Dianna Agron).

As is obvious by the summary above, there's nothing remotely fresh in I Am Number Four.  There's much too much focus on the high school melodrama and unfortunately the alien action stuff doesn't work in the slightest either.  In the end, there's simply nothing in this film that works.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie Review - The River Wild

The River Wild (1994)
Starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, John C. Reilly, Joseph Mazzello, and David Strathairn
Directed by Curtis Hanson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I hate to overly praise Meryl Streep because I think, as of late, she puts herself in a movie and the viewing public and the Academy automatically think she should be granted an Oscar nomination.  But that fact of the matter is, Streep is a pretty darn good actress, able to capably perform in comedies, dramas, and, in the case of The River Wild, action flicks.

This 1994 film features Streep as Gail, a mother of two whose marriage to Tom (David Strathairn) is perhaps on its last legs.  For a summer vacation, Gail, Tom, and their oldest child Roarke (Joseph Mazzello of Jurassic Park fame) decide to take a river rapids journey in Idaho.  Gail was a former rafting instructor so she's familiar with the river so when the group comes across Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly), two seemingly bumbling fools stuck on the side of the river, Gail decides to help them make their way down the treacherous rapids.  Little does Gail know that Wade and Terry are more insidious than the river could ever be.

I saw this movie back when it came out and I remembered thinking it was okay, but for some reason or another, I felt like giving it another shot and I'm glad I did.  The River Wild is actually a pretty solid actioner.  It takes a little bit to get started and all of the characters are rather one-note, lacking any real nuances, but to give credit where credit is due, Meryl Streep carves a nice little performance out of what she's given to work with.  She's the reason this movie works as well as it does because she genuinely elevates her character to a different level simply by adding an interesting facial expression here or an uncomfortable laugh there.  She really is an impressive actress and even a movie like The River Wild shows this.

Kudos also to director Curtis Hanson for lensing some pretty exciting rafting scenes that made me kind of want to attempt white water rafting one of these days.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Movie Review - Unknown

Unknown (2011)
Starring Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Aiden Quinn, January Jones, and Frank Langella
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Jaume Collet-Serra's last directorial effort, 2009's horror film Orphan, ended up on my Top 20 list of the year.  His 2011 flick Unknown will not share that same prestige, however.  Unknown, starring the newly-turned bad-ass Liam Neeson as a man who, after a horrible accident, falls into a coma then wakes up to find his wife and friends acting as if they don't know him, is a film that just never reaches any levels of excitement.

Collet-Serra tries to formulate some action sequences, but between himself and the screenwriters, there's nary a new idea brought to the screen.  The whole affair just felt like a rehash of any number of movies previously created.  Neeson is a little too nonchalant and bland for a man whose life is being turned upside down and Diane Kruger as the taxi driver who unwittingly was the cause of his coma joins him in that blasé club.  Sure to find a spot on the worst acting of the year awards is January Jones who plays Neeson's wife who appears to have somehow turned on him following his accident.  I don't watch Mad Men, but if her absolutely wooden performance here is any indication of her acting prowess, then I have no need to add that show to my Netflix queue.

After the amusing Taken, I was hoping Unknown would be a nice follow-up somewhat in the same vein (and therein may lie a problem with the promotions department of this film who made it seem that it would be).  Unfortunately, it's not even remotely as enjoyable.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movie Review - Just Go With It

Just Go With It (2011)
Starring Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nick Swardson, Bailee Madison, Griffin Gluck, Dave Matthews, and Nicole Kidman 
Directed by Dennis Dugan

Perhaps it's a sign of the apocalypse, but I just finished watching an Adam Sandler movie that I legitimately liked it and found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions.  Granted, Sandler isn't doing anything vastly different from his usual schtick in Just Go With It, but for some strange reason that probably had more to do with the people surrounding him than Sandler himself, I couldn't help but have a smile on my face while watching this one.

Sandler is Danny Maccabee, a successful plastic surgeon who seems like a genuinely nice guy.  Over twenty years ago, he found out some disturbing news about his fiancée on his wedding day and called the wedding off.  However, he discovered that pretending like he was still in the midst of an unhappy marriage was an ideal way to pick up women.  One night, he meets the lovely (and much younger) Palmer (Brooklyn Decker) and they hit it off right away.  However, unbeknown to Danny, he had taken his ring off prior to meeting her so when Palmer discovers it the morning after their first tryst, she is immediately upset.  Danny tells her that his marriage is through, but Palmer, not wanting to break up a marriage, insists on meeting his soon-to-be ex-wife to hear it from her.

This throws Danny into a tizzy and his thoughts immediately shift to having his office supervisor Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) play the role of his ex-wife.  Katherine reluctantly agrees, but soon their lies begin to take on a life of their own, and Danny, Katherine, Katherine's two kids (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck), and Palmer end up heading to Hawaii to celebrate some family time together.

I honestly can't believe that this whole thing works, but it does.  Adam Sandler actually has some pretty solid chemistry with both Brooklyn Decker and Jennifer Aniston (oops, did I spoil something by suggesting that there's chemistry there between Sandler and Aniston?), and Sandler definitely tones back his usual immature humor here.  Decker (a newcomer to me) is certainly beautiful and, while not given a whole lot to work with, manages to come off as a bit more than just a pretty face.

It's a pleasure to report that Ms. Aniston is pretty good here.  Granted, I can't help but think she couldn't have pulled off this role in her sleep (it's Rachel from Friends with more grown-up kids), but she plays the romantic comedy lead pretty darn well...and I certainly have no qualms with watching her onscreen.

With some surprisingly funny turns from Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck as Katherine's kids and a nice cameo from Nicole Kidman as an old college enemy of Katherine, the cast certainly helps raise this up several notches even when the humor runs a tad thin at times.

I've got to say that I found myself laughing much more than I thought I would.  Sure, it's not high-brow and there are more than enough jokes that fall completely flat (pretty much anything involving Danny's "Austrian sheep selling" cousin played by Nick Swardson), but Just Go With It is absolutely a solid romantic comedy.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood (2011)
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen, and Julie Christie
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

A pale ingenue.  Two brooding teens vying for her romantic attention.  A dark, eerie forest filled with mist.  A werewolf.

While these are certainly adequate descriptors of any of the Twilight flicks, it also fits Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke's newest teenage angst melodrama Red Riding Hood, a re-imagining of the classic Grimm fairy tale.  Here Amanda Seyfried is Valerie, a young gal living in some European town in the wooded mountains in what is likely the 1800s (even though the ladies still wear tons of make-up and apparently have access to flat-irons for their hair).  She's in love with her childhood sweetheart Peter, but she's set to be married to Henry (the names of the two actors are irrelevant...as are their characters).  In the midst of this romantic triangle, there's a werewolf wreaking havoc on the townsfolk.  There's some kind of gobbledy-gook spouted by religious figure Solomon (Gary Oldman) that states that the werewolf comes out once every few years when the moon turns red in order to pass on his werewolf genes to someone else.  Of course, the moon is now red and the werewolf's on a mission to take a bite out of someone.  Now we just have to guess which one of Amanda's fellow townsfolk is half-canine.  (Needless to say, the identity of the monster was guessed by this viewer a mere twenty minutes into the film.)

Red Riding Hood seriously looked just like a spin-off of the Twilight films.  Hardwicke's direction is simply a paint-by-numbers replica of that series.  From the soundtrack to the sets to the camera shots (all of which were actually decent), the film didn't feel "original" in the slightest.  The acting by Amanda Seyfried is just as bland and boring as that of Kristen Stewart.  Even supporting actors like Gary Oldman and Julie Christie find themselves unable to rise out of the muck that is the lousy script.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Theater/Movie Review - Memphis

Memphis (original production on Broadway in 2009)
Starring Chad Kimball and Montego Glover
Original Broadway Direction by Christopher Ashley
Music and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The "theater" is a form of art that holds that unique notion that the audience is watching something that no one will see in the exact same way ever again.  Sure, the direction and script may stay awfully similar from performance to performance, but the fact that it's live means that this form of art is always different from one night to the next.  Within the past couple years, I watched the musical Passing Strange that was filmed for HBO and found it to be quite a pleasant show that had an electricity that I wouldn't have minded seeing onstage.  The Tony-winning Best Musical Memphis, on the other hand, is darn awful and it's a shame that a musical like this gets the film treatment while other better shows get ignored.

Memphis is like a non-funny version of the much better Hairspray.  Race relations come to a head in the 1960s, this time in the title town as opposed to Baltimore.  Both plays involve a romantic mixed race relationship.  Both plays involve a musical television show that attempts to integrate the races.  Both plays involve corporate television station owners who want the integration to fail.  Unfortunately, those similarities don't do Memphis any favors.  Instead, the comparison to the amusing and pleasant Hairspray just makes Memphis look pitiful.

Filled with some godawful childish lyrics that are much too simplistic to be taken seriously as the writers would like us to, Memphis simply fails as a musical which, to this theatergoer anyway, is a pretty big problem.  If you're gonna write a musical, I better enjoy the music and/or feel that the music is advancing the story.  If not, why make a musical?  Musicals already force you to suspend your disbelief, so you should at least have decent music with which to help suspend that disbelief.  Ugh...Memphis just bombs in that department.

It also doesn't help that there's really no chemistry permitted between the two leads Chad Kimball and Montego Glover as the script doesn't allow any time for their relationship to grow, blossom, and mean anything to the audience.  They're just two people -- one aspiring black singer and one kooky, corny white DJ -- who nearly immediately fall in love and are never even given musical moment (or non-musical moment, for that matter) to express their love for one another.  It certainly doesn't help that Kimball infuses his character with one of the weirdest and unappealing accents I've ever heard...and that we're forced to listen to it for 130 minutes is mind-numbing.

In terms of a transfer to video, the director Don Roy King does a fairly good job of capturing the full stage experience (the fact that there was no unique staging by Broadway director Christopher Ashley probably helped King pinpoint where to put his camera).  In the end, it's probably a good thing that theatrical productions are being filmed and getting released in movie theaters nationwide, but there has got to be better things to record for posterity than this disappointing musical.  

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie Review - Deathtrap

Deathtrap (1982)
Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, and Irene Worth
Directed by Sidney Lumet
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

As the mystery-thriller aficionado that I am, Deathtrap is quite a lovely little flick.  Based on the play by Ira Levin which ran on Broadway for four years, director Sidney Lumet's version of the tale contains a bevy of twists and turns, laughs and double-crosses, and great performances from Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve -- all of which are reasons that you should check this out streaming on Netflix when you get the chance.

Aging playwright Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) is in the dumps.  His last few murder-mystery plays have been complete flops and despite his wife Myra's (Dyan Cannon) best efforts to make him feel better, he can't help but feel like a failure.  When one of his students from a class he taught sends him a finished play to critique, Sidney is awestruck at how fantastic the manuscript is which gives him the crazy idea to invite the student to his home, murder him, and steal the play, claiming it as his own.  When the young playwright Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve) enters the Bruhl home in upstate New York, he has no clue what he's getting himself into...and, it turns out, neither does the audience.

I'm wary to speak any more of this film except to say that, much like a play, the film takes place nearly all in the confined setting of the Bruhl house and essentially contains only five actors who all do a mighty fine job at mining both laughs and tension from the script.  Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve both play off of each other quite well, and Dyan Cannon (who was so very wrongly nominated Worst Supporting Actress of the year by the Razzies the year of this film's release) is over-the-top but in the best way possible as Bruhl's slightly neurotic wife.  There's also an incredibly amusing performance from Irene Worth as a psychic who knows a tad too much about the mischievous goings-on.

Despite its surprising nearly two-hour length, the film never wore out its welcome to me and even though I had seen this flick back when I was probably eleven or twelve, I was still genuinely intrigued and surprised by what playwright/screenwriter Ira Levin threw my way.  All in all, Deathtrap is an incredibly entertaining way to wile away two hours.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie Review - Sanctum

Sanctum (2011)
Starring Richard Roxburgh, Ioan Gruffudd, Rhys Wakefield, and Alice Parkinson
Directed by Alister Grierson

Ugh.  This movie about underwater cave divers who become trapped under the earth's surface after a freak rain storm blocks their exit route just doesn't work on so many levels.  Characters are never anything beyond movie stereotypes -- there's the young twentysomething who resents his father; there's that kid's gruff father who can't find a way to love his son; the possibly slimy corporate donor who wants to press on regardless of whether it's best to do so makes an appearance; and don't forget the trusty sidekick.  While these characters certainly have names in the film, there's no way I'd remember them because there's no development of any of them to a point where I'd give a damn whether they get out of the underwater prison or not.

Perhaps Sanctum looked good in 3D in theaters, but on Blu-Ray, I couldn't help but think that the scenes look incredibly fake and green-screeny...and it's unfortunate because I don't think they really used a whole lot of green screen, but between the lighting that they utilize in the dim underground and the digital transfer nothing looks real.

There are a couple of moderately tense moments, but there's really nothing to recommend about this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Presumed Innocent

Presumed Innocent (1990)
Starring Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, and Greta Scacchi
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I remember watching Presumed Innocent when I was fourteen or fifteen on VHS and being really impressed.  Courtroom settings have always been favorites of mine (loved The Practice and Murder One on television when I was growing up) and this drama starring Harrison Ford as a high-ranking prosecutor accused of murder didn't disappoint upon a second viewing.  In fact, if anything, I actually like it and appreciate it more for its ability to keep things both tense and smart.

When Rusty Sabich's (Harrison Ford) colleague in the district attorney's office turns up dead after a brutal rape and murder, Sabich's boss Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) asks him to take on the case.  Horgan is up for re-election in a mere ten days and wants Sabich to have the killer in custody before then.  Horgan is unaware that several months prior Rusty had a lengthy torrid affair with the victim, Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), and that Rusty may be hesitant to reveal all of his findings about the crime.  However, it's soon discovered that it appears that Rusty was at Carolyn's house on the night of the murder and Rusty is shortly thereafter accused of the crime.

This is an incredibly solid thriller that works on all levels.  Screenwriter Frank Pierson and writer-director Alan J. Pakula slowly reveal layers of the crime, pulling out surprises that are never too absurd to believe, but are always made known at just the right time to keep the audience on their toes.  Acting across the board is great with Harrison Ford in one of his best roles as a man who can't quite get over his infatuation with his ex-lover, but regrets the damage the affair did to his relationship with his wife who stuck with him even after his illicit liaison.  Brian Dennehy as the hard-nosed D.A., Raul Julia has Rusty's defense attorney, and Bonnie Bedelia as Rusty's wife all give great performances as well.

Couple all that with a classic ending and Presumed Innocent is a flick that should certainly be placed on everyone's Netflix Instant Queue.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Movie Review - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Starring Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Elliot Reed (detective), Charles Coburn (Piggy), and Tommy Noonan 
Directed by Howard Hawks
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I think I can genuinely say that I'm a fan of Marilyn Monroe.  This is movie #4 I've seen of hers and while she seems to be playing the ditzy blonde in all of them, she plays that part so darn well that it's impossible not to appreciate what she brings to the screen.  Exuding a sex appeal that's palpable nearly sixty years later, she's a real treat to watch.  In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Monroe is paired with the brunette Jane Russell and the duo who portray a pair of singers play off each other so well that it's near impossible not to be entranced by them.

Monroe is the sultry, soft spoken Lorelei Lee and Russell is the sassy, sometimes brash Dorothy Shaw and as the film begins, the singers embark on a cruise to Paris.  Lorelei is engaged to be married to Gus Esmond (Tommy Noonan), but Gus's father feels that Lorelei is just after the Esmond family fortune.  Because of that, the elder Esmond sends private eye Ernie Malone (Elliot Reed) on the cruise to secretly watch over Lorelei.  Little does the investigator realize that he'll find himself falling in love with Dorothy.  This ends up creating some difficulty for Ernie because he soon discovers that Lorelei is schmoozing it up with diamond mine owner Francis 'Piggy' Beekman (Charles Coburn).  What Ernie sees as a woman cheating on her fiancé, Lorelei just sees as playful flirting in order to get her hands on some of Piggy's diamonds because, after all, diamonds are a girl's best friend.

And that iconic song is just one of many that pepper the film.  And it's in those songs that the film falters a bit.  The premise I described above is absolutely winning and every single actor is truly fantastic.  But when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes becomes a musical, it just doesn't work.  I think the director realized this at a certain point because for about forty minutes in the middle of the film, there's nary a musical number.  It's not that all the songs are bad, but they only work when used in a diegetic manner.  When Lorelei sings "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" at a nightclub, it's a complete success (and an iconic film moment, at that), but when Dorothy breaks out into song as she watches the men's Olympic gymnastic team work out on the cruise ship, it's a true failure (and a moment that brings the movie to a complete stop rather than be a showstopping number).

Still, for the most part, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a true classic.  I genuinely guffawed quite a few times and found myself wishing the film wouldn't end after its too quick ninety minutes.  This one's well worth checking out.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Movie Review - Blackout

Blackout (2008)
Starring Amber Tamblyn, Aiden Gillen, and Armie Hammer
Directed by Rigoberto Castañeda
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

What can I say...at 2am in the morning, sometimes I just feel like watching a crappy thriller.  You got a problem with that?  One of these days I'm going to learn my lesson that it's just not worth the time, but until that day comes, you're saddled with reading about it (or not reading about it).  Nevertheless, Blackout has a perfectly solid premise that's actually executed directorially fine, but thanks to some unfortunate writing the thing just doesn't work in the end.

Simple premise:  Three people (tv actress Amber Tamblyn, Social Network-er Armie Hammer, and horrible Irish actor who can't cover up his accent and apparently was in The Wire Aiden Gillen) get stuck in an elevator in what is essentially an abandoned apartment complex.  All three have backstories that reveal how and why they happened to be stepping foot into the elevator at the moment that they did.  Said backstories will eventually reveal one of the three to be maniacal even though it's clearly apparent (and therein the film's downfall) from the opening minutes.  

Putting three people in an elevator and leaving them there could certainly make for a tense movie.  The "twist" that one of these people is not so nice is where the flick falters.  Made prior to the release of the similarly themed M. Night Shyamalan-produced Devil, Blackout doesn't contain the spiritual aspect that the other film espoused, but it certainly contains a person who is essentially an inhuman creature.  If only this wouldn't have been so blatant and obvious, this flick may have worked.  However, the "reveal" isn't the least bit revealing and the climactic moments just don't have the tension that they should.  [Although I will say that I was positively skeeved out by an odd sexual proclivity of one of the folks stuck in the elevator.]

Amber Tamblyn and Armie Hammer are actually decent here...nothing mind-blowing, but perfectly acceptable.  From his opening scene, however, Aiden Gillen was torturous to watch.  I don't know if it's because he was trying to cover up his Irish native tongue, but his line readings just completely took me out of the film.  Stilted and staccato, it was just not enjoyable in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, July 08, 2011

Movie Review - Savage Grace

Savage Grace (2007)
Starring Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Hugh Dancy, and Stephen Dillane
Directed by Tom Kalin
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I don't know why in the world this movie was in my Instant Queue, but it's been there for a while.  I must have read some decent review of it somewhere, because it's a film that wasn't on my radar at all.

And I'm tremendously thrilled that I watched Savage Grace if only so that I can now remove it from the queue and never think about it again.  While watching this movie, I couldn't help but wonder at what point have you invested too much time in a movie to stop watching even though you're completely aware that the movie is pure and utter crap?  I got 45 minutes into this biographical tale detailing the 1940s-1960s life of Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore) and her incestuous relationship with her son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), and I was ready to check out.  But then I said to myself, this is halfway over...and according to the Netflix description, Tony's gonna kill Barbara so that's gotta be somewhat interesting, right?

Well, nope...it wasn't interesting.  Not in the least.  All the characters (all real-life people, apparently) seemed completely fake, lacking any kind of true depth.  None of their emotional arcs seemed like arcs at all, and I didn't understand any of the motives or reasoning behind their ever-changing thought processes as scene after scene progressed.  Julianne Moore never seems to come to grasp of who Barbara really is.  I never once had any sense of why the heck she was the twisted rich housewife she was portraying.  Eddie Redmayne as her son seemed rather normal and then appeared to change into some psychopath on a dime.  

Really despised this one.  That rating below doesn't come often, so in that regard, congrats to those involved with this dreck.

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Movie Review - You Again

You Again (2010)
Starring Kristen Bell, Odette Yustman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Victor Garber, Kristin Chenoweth, and Betty White
Directed by Andy Flickman

You Again has me in a bit of a conundrum.  I laughed much more than I thought I would watching this PG-rated comedy, but there are also uncomfortable stretches of time where the comedic pacing falls incredibly flat making this 105-minute film feel a whole lot longer than it actually is.  Parts of this movie push me to rate it higher than a 'C'; other parts are pulling me to rate it lower than a 'C.'  In this tug of war, there isn't really a winner and You Again simply falls into the middle.

In an appealing performance, Kristen Bell stars as Marni, a twenty-something gal who returns home for her brother Will's (James Wolk) wedding.  Upon arrival, Marni meets Will's fiancé Joanna (Odette Yustman) who just so happens to be the bitchy cheerleader who made Marni's life hell in high school.  While Joanna appears to be a completely different person now, she acts as if she's never met Marni which irritates the former "nerd" to no end.  Couple all that with the fact that Marni and Will's mom, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Joanna's aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) were also former friends turned high school rivals and hilarity is meant to ensure.

And, like I said, humor does arise from moments, but there are times where much of the attempted laughter just doesn't work.  In particular, Betty White as Marni and Will's grandmother and Kristin Chenoweth as the wedding planner were seemingly thrown into the mix as afterthoughts to try and showcase the two actresses' talents rather than creating actual meaningful characters...and it unfortunately shows.  It's not quite a fault of White or Chenoweth, but there's just no real reason for either lady to be in the film.

Kristin Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Sigourney Weaver are all game and it's actually really nice to see Curtis and Weaver on the screen again...it doesn't seem like their talents are showcased enough in this day and age.  Curtis, in particular, is a comedienne that's always rather pleasant to watch.  That said, in the end, even the talents of these lovely ladies can't quite elevate You Again to anything above average.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Movie Review - Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill (1980)
Starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, and Dennis Franz
Directed by Brian De Palma
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The Hitchcockian homages abound in Dressed to Kill which owes a huge sum of money to the Hitchcock estate for borrowing very heavily from two of the Master of Suspense's most loved films -- Vertigo and Psycho.  As a huge Hitchcock fan (please peruse my reviews of nearly all of Hitch's films as part of last year's Hitchcock Fest), there's part of me that enjoyed the tip of the hat that director Brian De Palma gives to Alfred, but there's another part of me that wanted the guy to pave his own way in the movie industry rather than hitch a ride from Hitch.

Dressed to Kill is a film that's difficult to talk about without spoiling too much, but the main gist of the story is that one of psychologist Robert Elliot's (Michael Caine) patients has killed another of his clients.  High-priced call girl Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) saw the murder occur and now Dr. Elliot's patient is trying to hunt Liz down.  While none of the overarching plot is reminiscent of a Hitchcock flick, once details emerge (that I don't want to spoil here), the comparisons become all too apparent (and laughably so, at that).

However, despite these similarities, I kind of liked this movie.  It's true that the first thirty minutes are kind of tortuous.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say utterly ridiculous and painfully pretentious.  I was really about to give up on this one.  However, things took a turn for the better and the remainder of the film really flew by.  I'll say this about De Palma -- I've seen a few films by this guy now and he is pretty darn decent at wielding his camera to create suspense.  While he very well may be the biggest Hitchcock fanboy around (and, in turn, a Hitchcock wannabe), he did learn quite a bit in terms of pacing and editing from his idol.  

There are certainly problems with Dressed to Kill, but for Hitchcock fans out there, I can't help but recommend a viewing even though it's not exactly a winning film.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Movie Review - House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Starring Vincent Price and a bunch of unknown television actors from the 1950s
Directed by William Castle
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I don't think I've ever seen a William Castle movie, but I knew prior to watching House on Haunted Hill that he was known as the master of low-budget B-horror flicks in the 1950s and '60s.  I certainly wasn't expecting anything from this one, and, if I'm being completely honest, I only watched it because it was the shortest movie in my Instant Watch queue (clocking in at 74 minutes).  Little did I know that this flick was an absolutely solid low-budget horror flick with a surprisingly enjoyable conclusion.

Millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and his wife invite an odd group of five people to the eerie house on Haunted Hill, daring them to stay in the supposedly haunted abode overnight with the promise that anyone who lasts the evening will walk away with $10,000.  Why they've been invited is unknown to them, but it's fairly obvious to the group right away that something is quite awry in the titular house and it may take all that they can muster to stay alive through the evening.

Unlike its 1999 remake (which, if memory serves me correctly I also liked [although I get it mixed up with the similar in tone Thir13en Ghosts]), this is a bloodless affair, but it's not without its interesting eerie moments.  While there aren't any jump out of your seat moments, there's an overall creepy tone throughout the film.  It certainly helps that all the actors (while overacting at times in that 1950s tone so common in that era) were game for the whole affair, playing into the schlocky horror moments with unwavering aplomb.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Movie Review - Somewhere

Somewhere (2010)
Starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning
Directed by Sofia Coppola

In the opening shot of Somewhere, director Sofia Coppola plants her camera at the edge of what seems to be an oval racetrack in a desert.  A car speeds into and out of the shot multiple times, racing around the track at great speeds, yet going nowhere at the same time.  I'm all for movies that have a slow, methodical pacing as long as it gets somewhere in the end.  [One of my top 20 films of 2010, Cairo Time, fits into that description.]  Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, however, much like that car that just continues to loop the track, doesn't go anywhere.

I fully get that the tone and pacing of the film is supposed to evoke the melancholic, depressed emptiness of Stephen Dorff's character Johnny Marco, a moderately successful actor living in L.A. who is seemingly going through a midlife crisis.  As he beds attractive woman after attractive woman, it's obvious that he's not satisfied in life, simply bored with his day-to-day routines [there's that racing around the track going nowhere metaphor for you].  When Johnny's ex-wife drops their daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) off for an extended stay, Johnny's life begins to take on meaning...or at least I think he thinks it does.  He still finds himself sleeping with whatever hot woman knocks on his door, but I guess he realizes that there's more to life than that.  The epiphany Marco comes to at the film's end unfortunately comes off as slightly laughable as opposed to emotionally satisfying.

Oddly enough, it's not that Johnny's not a believable character.  There is more than a semblance of truth in the character of Johnny Marco.  There just isn't a good enough story surrounding the character in order to make me invested in the outcome.  Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning certainly try to reel me in and Dorff in particular is actually quite good, but they're just not given anything to work with.

In the end, Somewhere is too minimalist (and obvious despite attempts to be deep and meaningful) for its own good.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-