Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Movie Review - Wrecked

Wrecked (2011)
Starring Adrien Brody
Directed by Michael Greenspan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Apparently, these days it's rather de rigueur if you're a male actor to want to be in a movie in which you're pretty much the sole person onscreen.  Taking a page from James Franco's 127 Hours and Ryan Reynolds' Buried, Oscar-winner Adrien Brody is all on his own in Wrecked, a flick that unfortunately pales in comparison to those two aforementioned 2010 films.

Adrien Brody is fine as a man who wakes up in a wrecked car in a ditch completely unaware of who he is or how he got in this predicament, but the film lacks the tension, suspense, and character development of 127 Hours and Buried.  I hate to put Wrecked into a compare/contrast-type scenario, but the fact of the matter is when you're creating a movie in which one person is going to be the only person the audience sees onscreen, there needs to be some type of connection or reason for us to care about the one-man show.  It's not that Brody doesn't try...we feel bad for him when he finds his leg trapped by the car wreckage or when the mountain lion tries to dine on him, but there's nothing in the film that allows us to latch onto his character and give a damn if he escapes.  

In the end it's a lack of dialog that kills the flick.  127 Hours and Buried both had unique ways of having their characters speak to the audience (the former through video diaries and the latter via cell phone communication).  Here, screenwriter Christopher Dodd (in his feature film debut) doesn't have a way for his main character to express his feelings, so instead we just here Brody grunting and screaming obscenities for 85 minutes and it ends up creating a gap between the audience and the character.

This flick got a super-limited release, and while it's not awful, it does drag after the novelty wears off about forty minutes in.  Instead of watching Wrecked, go watch those other two movies I mentioned multiple times above (both of which earned spots on my Best of 2010 post earlier this year).

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Movie Review - My Soul to Take

My Soul to Take (2010)
Starring Max Thieriot, Jessica Hecht, and a bunch of unknown teen actors
Directed by Wes Craven

As I get older, I readily admit that I find myself watching more and more crap than ever before.  I think I've said in the past that I always found myself very sheltered from the "horror" genre as a kid and I seem to be making up for that in my more recent years.  My Soul to Take just isn't worth my time describing.  It's not offensive enough to have really ticked me off and it's not even close to being a modicum of good, so it falls in that wasteland of "Blah" where it joins so many other films that came before it.

Well-known horror director Wes Craven directs a cast of unknowns in this tale of a serial killer who wreaked havoc on a small town sixteen years ago only to have him (or someone purporting to be him) return on the anniversary of the night of his last killing spree.  Not that I need horror movies to be steeped in reality, but there's absolutely no legit reason behind the killer's actions (and no satisfying explanation given at the film's conclusion) which ends up damning the movie.

Enough about this one...just not worth the words...

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Movie Review - Dead and Buried

Dead and Buried (1981)
Starring James Farantino, Melody Anderson, and Jack Albertson
Directed by Gary Sherman
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

It's not often that a horror movie can be called truly unique, but Dead and Buried has a premise (which I'll attempt not to spoil fully) that, while silly, is quite different from flicks I've seen before.  This 1981 flick from the writers of Alien welcomes us to the creepy New England town of Potter's Bluff.  When a young photographer stumbles along the town, he stops and wanders along the beach where he finds an alluring young blonde who is more than welcome to have her picture taken.  This innocent moment quickly changes into something much more ominous as a group of people sneak up behind the guy, grab him, tie him to a pole, and light him on fire.  A few hours later this very same guy is found in an overturned car by Sheriff Dan Gillis (James Farentino) who assumes that this is simply a horrible accident.  However, when visitors to the town start turning up dead, Gillis begins to suspect that something more insidious is taking place and he finds it very difficult to determine whom he can trust to help him solve the crimes.

The film is well directed with quite a few "jump moments" that prove successful in performing their required task and it never really lags despite a somewhat repetitive nature in terms of unknowing victims popping up dead in the small town (this repetition is less irksome thanks to some pretty cool make-up effects by Stan Winston).  The actors (mostly unknowns) are all adequate, although nothing spectacular...but it's certainly better than your typical 1980s horror movie.  Plus -- and this might be reason enough to watch if you're on the fence -- Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Jack Albertson plays the town's kooky coroner.  

Don't get me's not like Dead and Buried is a horror masterpiece, but it's a fun little horror flick that is noteworthy for a premise that provides a rather unique spin to the genre.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 26, 2011

Movie Review - Witness to Murder

Witness to Murder (1954)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders, and Gary Merrill
Directed by Roy Rowland
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

When forty-something single woman interior designer Cheryl Draper (Barbara Stanwyck) witnesses the murder of a woman in the apartment complex across from her abode, she immediately calls the police.  Investigator Lawrence Mathews (Gary Merrill) takes the case, but finds that British novelist Albert Richter, the possible killer, has a story that seems to check out.  Cheryl's adamant that she's sure of what she saw and when Richter finds out she's the one who called the police, he refuses to let her ruin his devious plans.

A Rear Window-lite (released two months before that Hitchcock classic), Witness to Murder is actually a decent low budget 1950s B-movie.  It's got a solid story, manages to never get bogged down with unnecessary subplots, and contains some successful performances from the three main actors.  Still, there's nothing overly ambitious on display here.  For the most part, everything's rather rote and by the book.  While the tale contains a rather odd and seemingly out-of-place motive behind Richter's crime (let's just say it seems a few too many years removed from WWII to go the route the screenwriters go), it doesn't necessarily harm the film (and, in fact, actually leads to a genuinely exciting final few minutes)...the corniness just reiterates the film's B-movie status.  But a "B-movie" isn't necessarily a put down (despite the negative connotations it often carries) and it's certainly not meant to be in this film's case.  Don't get me're not getting a fantastic flick with Witness to Murder, but you're getting a decent one that is worth a watch if you're in the mood for a black-and-white crime pic.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Movie Review - Crazy, Stupid, Love

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Analeigh Tipton, Jonah Bobo, and Kevin Bacon
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

I know full well that Crazy, Stupid, Love contains a ton of the typical romantic comedy clichés and I know full well that this fact should annoy me.  Instead, somehow screenwriter Dan Fogelman (who wrote my #2 film last year, Tangled), directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, and a winning cast came together and have crafted a smaller-scale American version of Love, Actually that works just as well as that modern British classic.

The film opens with forty-something Cal (Steve Carell) being told by his wife of over twenty years Emily (Julianne Moore) that she has had an affair and wants a divorce.  Cal's completely devastated and heartbroken and finds himself drowning his sorrows at a trendy bar where he meets the suave and debonair playboy Jacob (Ryan Gosling) who (when he's not going home with a different lady every night) attempts to assist Cal in regaining his manhood after having suppressed it for so many years as a married man.

Cal's not the only one with love fact that apple doesn't fall far from the family tree as his thirteen year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) finds himself crushing on his seventeen year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton).  Of course, things can't go smoothly in a romantic comedy and, in this case, Jessica is herself crushing on an older man...Robbie's father, Cal.

Our final tale revolves around Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student who is in a relationship with the rather serious Richard (singer Josh Groban).  Despite prodding from her best friend (a quite funny Liza Lapira who makes the most of what is essentially a throwaway role), Hannah refuses to move on from Richard even when the sexy and charming Jacob (remember him from Storyline #1 above?) hits on her.

Not surprisingly, and in the grand tradition of romantic comedies like this, these storylines will intertwine and yield some interesting results.  Fortunately, Crazy, Stupid, Love is successful in its interweaving and screenwriter Fogelman reveals things and brings things together at just the right times to make this flick flow at a great pace.  Fogelman should also receive credit for crafting a film that is all about sex and the feelings behind the act, but never slips into raunch or debauchery.  This is a comedy about adult situations and emotions and the film refreshingly allows the characters to all act as adults.  Yes, some are a little wackier than others, but the comedy doesn't stem from gross-out humor, instead coming from realistic reactions to unfolding situations.

Helping the directors achieve their humorous success is a fine ensemble of talented actors with nary a dud in the bunch.  Steve Carell is certainly at his finest here, playing Cal as a guy who's genuinely in disbelief that his lifelong love has found solace in the arms of another man.  He's pissed off at his wife, but in his eyes (and in a monologue he states as the film progresses), you can see that he's angry at himself for allowing things to slip to the point where she felt the need to cheat.

Equally appealing is Julianne Moore who brings a believability to her role that rings true to me.  The fact that we don't hate her Emily is a testament to the fact that she somehow manages to make us comprehend why she'd cheat on Cal even if we don't approve of her indiscretion.  

As if those two lead performances weren't enough, Ryan Gosling probably just captured RyMickey's "Best Rising Hollywood Actor" award after his back-to-back completely opposite-spectrum performances in this and last year's Blue Valentine.  Here, Gosling certainly evokes the most laughs as the sometimes over-the-top lothario, but his Jacob has a shocking amount of heart.  Roles like this sometimes grow irksome very quickly, but despite Jacob's take charge attitude when it comes to "making over" the unkempt Cal, we never once get the feeling that he's being condescending to the guy (which would typically be the way every other screenwriter would've crafted the character).

I could go on and on and write paragraphs about the lovely Emma Stone, the sexy Marisa Tomei, the charming Analeigh Tipton, and the lovelorn Jonah Bobo who all manage to make there never be a boring, bland moment in this flick.  But I've already rambled on too long.  Instead, I'll just say that despite a treacly ending (that still somehow manages to work), Crazy, Stupid, Love does enough other good stuff that I'm willing to give it a little bit of a pass on its denouement.  This is a movie that admits love can come with its share of frustrations, but also carries with it passion, sincerity, meaningful connections, and a whole lot of heart.  Yes, it's perhaps overly optimistic about love (very much the antithesis of the aforementioned Blue Valentine), but the fairy tale notion of love that is sometimes depicted here isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Without a doubt in my mind, this is a movie that I can't imagine won't be near the top (or perhaps even claim the top spot) on my year end list.  Yes, it's that good.  Get yourself to this'll laugh, you'll find yourself caring about characters you've never met before, and you'll just plain and simply feel good after watching it.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Movie Review - The Mechanic

The Mechanic (2011)
Starring Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Simon West

No one's ever going to say that The Mechanic is original ('s a remake of a 1970s Charles Brosnan movie for starters), but I've got to say that this little flick is a solid one that, at under 90 minutes, doesn't overstay its welcome, moves along at an incredibly brisk pace, and has some intense action sequences. 

The biggest problem with director Simon West's action flick is that he doesn't have much to work with from the screenplay.  We've essentially got the tale of hit man Arthur (Jason Statham playing the same tough guy role he always plays but somehow manages to not bore you regardless) who is told to murder his mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) by his employer (Tony Goldwyn).  Although I won't spoil anything, you'd be crazy to not know what's going on here in terms of who the bad guy really is and, unfortunately, the screenplay doesn't do a good job of creating red herrings.  Needless to say (and this is perhaps a moderate spoiler, although it's revealed in the trailer), Arthur's mentor ends up dead and the tough guy finds himself becoming the teacher to Harry's son Steve (Ben Foster) who finds himself wanting to latch on to his father's line of work.  Together the duo continue to go from hit to hit eventually uncovering the truth behind Harry's murder, attempting to seek revenge on those who ordered it.

While the dry Jason Statham and the kooky Ben Foster and both fine and play quite well off of each other, the fact of the matter is that despite the short running time, there's very little story to latch onto in The Mechanic.  It's just hit after hit, target after target, and when you look at the grand scheme of things, none of it really matters.  These assassinations are just set-ups for some admittedly really great and exciting action scenes.  Still, despite the lack of story, somehow I was kind of blind to that in the midst of the film.  Only looking back on it now do I realize that the middle forty-five minutes of The Mechanic don't really matter in the slightest.  I guess that's a credit to the filmmakers and actors in that they really managed to dupe me into enjoying something I'm not sure I should have.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Movie Review - The Ward

The Ward (2011)
Starring Amber Heard
Directed by John Carpenter

Having essentially gone direct-to-dvd after a few showings at scattered film festivals and a brief release in NYC, John Carpenter's The Ward isn't really worth my time to write a review.  Despite one or two "jump moments" this horror flick about a girl named Kristen who finds herself admitted to a mental hospital in the 1960s doesn't really have a thing going for it.  Amber Heard as the headstrong Kristen is adamant that there's nothing wrong with her and she'll do whatever it takes to get her and her fellow patients out of the psych ward.  Somewhere along the line, ghosts pop up, her psychiatrists act odd, and people start to go missing...but there's not a single unique thing in this movie.  The performances are lackluster and the production values look like they were made on the cheap (and they probably were, but that's not an excuse).  

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Movie Review - Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris (2011)
Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Nina Arianda, Kurt Fuller, and Mimi Kennedy
Directed by Woody Allen

It should be noted that there are moderate spoilers below...I call them spoilers in the broadest sense of the word because the trailer, rather ingeniously, did not give away what this movie is about in the slightest.  Perhaps rather foolishly, my fellow moviegoer and I had no concept of a completely major aspect of the plot because of a lack of reading reviews for this and only seeing the trailer.  While I don't reveal any major plot points, just be aware that I'm "giving away" more than you'd see in the commercials.

UPDATED 2/15/12 -- I don't know if it's the fact that now that it's garnered Oscar nominations, I'm looking at the film differently and perhaps a little more critically, but I recently rewatched Midnight in Paris and boy, was my "B" rating way too high.  I found the whole flick this second time around rather pretentious.  While lovely to look at and acted fine by the leads (although Kathy Bates is really painful), it was almost a chore to sit through it a second time.  My adjusted rating will appear below.

Midnight in Paris is pleasant to watch...and that's simply it.  It's a pleasant film that doesn't try to be anything more than that.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  But all this talk about how it's one of writer-director Woody Allen's best films in ages seems rather unwarranted to me.  It's a satisfying romantic comedy, but the awards buzz surrounding this film boggles my mind.  Heck, Allen's Whatever Works was a more satisfying film and failed to get any traction in the Oscar race two years ago.

When the film opens, we meet former screenwriter-turned struggling novelist Gil (Owen Wilson taking on the "Woody Allen" role, but in a thankfully much less neurotic manner than is typically characteristic of Allen's films) who is visiting Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents John and Helen (a somewhat scene-stealing Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).  After hanging out for several days with two friends of Inez's, Paul and Carol (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda), Gil grows tired of Paul's know-it-all, booksmart, and arrogant nature and finds himself separating from the group walking the streets of Paris alone at night.  While contemplating both his career and his relationship, a clock in a small Parisian square strikes midnight and Gil finds himself magically transported back in time to the 1920s where he finds himself trading one-liners with folks like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dali.

Owen Wilson is one of the biggest reasons Midnight in Paris garners the "pleasant" moniker.  He's in nearly every scene and his Gil is a guy that you can't help but root for.  Oftentimes, the "Woody Allen doppelganger" is such a nebbishy whiner, but here Wilson dials down the crankiness...and it's much appreciated.  Wilson is evenly matched by Rachel McAdams who takes on a slightly different persona from the sweet gals we've seen her play recently (think back to her Mean Girls days as a reference point for this role).  With the exception of the overrated Marion Cotillard (an actress whose appeal I just don't get in the slightest) as Gil's 1920s muse, all of the supporting performances (including the aforementioned comedic chops of Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy as the conservative-skewing parents of Inez) are pleasant surprises and help elevate the flick.

Nostalgia is really a key plot point and overarching theme of Midnight in Paris.  Unhappy with his current state of affairs, Gil can't help but think that the Paris of nearly a century ago is the solution to all of his problems.  But is it?  In the end, I'm not sure the film answers that question and it kind of left me feeling a bit empty at its conclusion because of it.  I'm honestly not sure whether I'm supposed to be thinking "Yes, the past is better than the present" or "Learn from the past and shape your present with that knowledge."  (It should be noted that there's a rather interesting read on this conundrum here.  Finding myself confused by what I was "supposed to feel" at the end of this, I tried to do a little research and found that essay that doesn't really answer the question either and contains quite a few points I'd disagree with including calling Gil "anti-nostaligic," but at least is rather intuitive.)

Still, Midnight in Paris is a pleasant watch, and as I mentioned before, there's nothing wrong with simply being pleasant...just go into it trying to suppress the "Oscar talk" and you'll be fine.

The "Original" RyMickey Rating:  B
The "New" RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, August 19, 2011

Movie Review - Limitless

Limitless (2011)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, and Robert De Niro
Directed by Neil Burger

Was the world really asking for a PG-13 version of the gritty, harsh, and absolutely amazing drug addiction drama Requiem for a Dream?  Personally, I think not, but Limitless is kind of like a low-rent version of that 2000 Darren Aronofsky film complete with the same pulse-pounding music, rapid, fast-paced camera movements and edits, and "inside the body" glimpses of drugs entering someone's blood stream.  It's like a toned-down Requiem for folks like my mom (but she didn't like this movie either).  Try as he might and not helping matters in the slightest, I'm not quite sold on the concept of "Bradley Cooper -- Hollywood Star" despite the fact that his cache is certainly rising in the entertainment industry.  Add Robert De Niro into the mix continuing his trend of choosing rather ridiculous roles to garner a paycheck and Limitless just doesn't really have much going for it.

I was a fan of Bradley Cooper when he first appeared on my entertainment landscape via Alias, but I've never quite warmed to his smarmy attitude that's inhibited nearly every one of his movie characters to this date.  In this flick, Cooper is down-and-out writer Eddie who can't seem to get motivated to write his latest novel.  While roaming the streets of New York City, he meets his ex-wife's brother Vernon, a drug dealer who gives him a special pill called NZT that perks up all his senses and activates his brain into remembering nearly everything he's ever learned throughout his life.  Eddie is amazed and goes to meet his ex-brother-in-law for more pills, but finds him murdered and his apartment ransacked.  Someone was looking for NZT, but Eddie somehow magically figures out Vernon's hiding spot and finds a huge stash of pills.  Time passes and Eddie turns from a bum to a ladies man who finishes his novel and manages to become one of the best stock brokers in the industry, working for the famed Carl van Loon (Robert De Niro).

Perhaps I was a little harsh above on Mr. Cooper.  It's not that he's bad here, it's just that I don't quite see him as a "movie star" yet and this film attempts to put him in that role.  That being said, he comes off much better than De Niro who continues slumming it in his later years.  He's really just become a caricature of himself...there was a moment in this movie where his simple presence and squinty-eyed facial expression made me chuckle, ruining what should have been a rather serious moment.

Still, the biggest issue with Limitless is that is has no clue what movie it wants to be.  Is it a mystery surrounding who killed Vernon and why they did so?  Is it a drama about Eddie butting heads with new boss van Loon?  Is it a romance as Eddie tries to win back his ex-girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) who left him when he was a struggling novelist?  Or is it morality tale about our drug-addicted society?  While it tries to be all of these things, it doesn't succeed at any of them.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Movie Review - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two (2011)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, and Alan Rickman
Directed by David Yates

All I can say is that I'm happy the Harry Potter saga is over and done with so I can now never have to watch another moment of this boring fantasy series again.  It's not that any of the movies are godawful, but considering these flicks are supposed to be trips to a fantastical world of magic and sorcery there is a severe lack of creativity and joy onscreen in any of these films.

Picking up immediately where the bland Part One left off, Part Two of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a showdown between Mr. Potter and the evil Voldemort.  I'm not going to get into any additional story description because it all boils down to Good vs. Evil and it's likely not going to be a surprise as to who comes out the victor.  

As stated above, the problem with all of these Potter films is that they all simply seem much too cookie cutter and by the book.  Directors (with the exception of Alfonso Cuarón's take on Prisoner of Azkaban, the third flick in the series) all seem to lack the imagination to make this cinematic series successful and David Yates is no exception.  As a director, he's responsible for not only making the film visually appealing (which this isn't), but also making the film flow...and this film doesn't do that either.

Granted, I think Yates certainly would have been helped had the film been released as a single flick rather than be forced to be stretched out into two parts.  As much as I would have hated the experience, I would have rather had a three hour-and-fifteen minute flick as opposed to 2 two hour films.  Presented in the way they were released, I couldn't help but feel like the editor had to leave stuff in just to pad the running time.

I will say that Daniel Radcliffe whom I criticized in my review of Part One proved to be rather good in this final installment of the series.  This second film is purely his with many the other characters including Emma Watson's Hermione and Rupert Grint's Ron pushed more to the outskirts.  Rather surprisingly, Radcliffe proves that he may well have a career now that his decade as Harry Potter is over.

Take my review of this one with a grain of salt.  This series just never worked for me and although I saw all of them in theaters, they never once transported me into the magical, mystical world of J.K. Rowling's best-selling series.  With the exception of a pleasant theme by film composer John Williams, there's really nothing worth remembering about the Harry Potter series in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie Review - Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch (2011)
Starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn, and Carla Gugino 
Directed by Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder is the King of Style over Substance.  From 300 to Watchmen, Snyder finds a way to make stories seem pointless while transporting viewers into video game-reminiscent settings complete with a pulsing soundtrack. [Note:  This is coming from someone who actually didn't mind Watchmen.]  Sucker Punch is really no exception to the above characteristics and his stylized direction has worn out its welcome (if it was ever welcome to begin with).

In his latest assault on the senses, Snyder introduces us to Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who finds herself being forced into a mental institution after she accidentally kills her younger sister while trying to save her from their evil sexually abusive stepfather.  Unfortunately, after the surprisingly promising and genuinely exciting opening moments, things fall apart.  While in the institution, Baby Doll dreams that she, her fellow inmates, and all of the doctors work at a brothel.  Mirroring her thoughts in the loony bin, Baby Doll tries to rally her fellow hookers into escaping the clutches of the evil owner Blue (Oscar Isaac).  In order to do that, Baby Doll performs some sultry, sexy dance (which we the viewer never see) that puts all men into some sort of trance, thus allowing Baby Doll and her friends to steal the necessary supplies to bolt.

But wait...that's not all.  Instead of seeing Baby Doll dance, we go into her mind and see what she is imagining while she shakes her moneymaker.  And what she sees apparently is a war going on between her ladyfriends and Nazis, dragons, and futuristic robots.  It's these moments in particular (which take up at least half the film) that grow ridiculously repetitive and ultimately wreck Sucker Punch.  While I completely understand that none of these epically shot fight sequences are supposed to seem "real" since they're all occurring within Baby Doll's imagination, I couldn't help but think that the video game commercials I saw on the Blu-Ray prior to the film starting had better aesthetics and graphics.  Everything in these sequences (and the whole movie for that matter) is so washed out and hued in grays and browns that nothing is pleasing to the eye.  [This is a consistent problem for Snyder...for a guy that loves visuals so much, he manages to create worlds that are completely devoid of luminosity and appeal.]

While all of the ladies in the flick are certainly attractive, some -- Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone -- fare better than others -- Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung -- in the acting department.  Rather oddly, as the film's main character, Emily Browning is given absolutely nothing to do with her role.  She barely speaks and finds herself being told to stare blankly at things more often than not.  And the less said about Carla Gugino forcing out some laughable German or Austrian accent the better.

Not that I was ever on the Zack Snyder bandwagon, but Sucker Punch certainly knocked me off of it.  This writer-director needs to shake things up a bit and actually create a story that's worth telling and craft visuals to go with it that don't look so cheap.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - Arthur

Arthur (2011)
Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Geraldine James, and Jennifer Garner
Directed by Jason Winer

Having never seen the original somewhat beloved and Oscar-winning 1981 Arthur with Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli, I came into this with no preconceived notions.  To be honest, the only thing I really associated with the film was the cheesefest of a song by one of my father's favorites shlockmeister songwriters Christopher Cross.  I did know (as the previews for this 2011 re-telling made clear) that the film focuses on the titular character, Arthur, a booze-swilling rich guy who, as the aforementioned song says, "does as he pleases...but deep in his heart he's just a boy...showing himself a really good time laughing about the way they want him to be."

And, sure enough, that premise is pretty much spot on in the remake.  Arthur (Russell Brand) is a rich man-child who proves to be quite a handful for his mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) who, while running the billion dollar Bach Corporation, finds her son's crazy antics across New York City to be quite detrimental to her company and its investors.  In order to curb his shenanigans, she presents her son with an ultimatum -- either marry the up-and-coming businesswoman Susan (Jennifer Garner) who can then be next in line to run the company or be completely cut off from mommy's pocketbook.  Afraid to give up his lavish and outrageous lifestyle, Arthur agrees to the plan, but soon finds himself falling in love with Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a "normal girl" whom he meets on the streets while gallivanting one day.  The quasi-love triangle puts Arthur in quite a predicament.

All of the above is a perfectly acceptable storyline.  As a matter of fact, I thought the first hour of Arthur flew by, provided me with enough guffaws, and proved to be pleasant enough thanks to a surprisingly charming performance from Russell Brand.  However, the second hour delves into trying to get Arthur to "change" from a drunken oaf to a regular Joe Schmo.  And the problem is I didn't give a damn about Arthur's reform.  This guy's much more fun as a lewd drunk than he is as a serious guy.  Apparently the original recognized this to a certain degree as they left the awkward Alcoholics Anonymous bit, but this remake just falters when it forces Brand to try and act sane.

It's a shame, really, because I did find myself somewhat admiring Brand's performance here.  He manages to be both debonair and repulsive at the same time and that's not exactly an easy task.  Similarly, although Jennifer Garner and Greta Gerwig don't have much to work with as stereotypical opposite ends of the dating spectrum, they do well with what they're given.  And Helen Mirren as Arthur's nanny, even with her hair up in bun and clad in muted grays, is still a pretty darn attractive 66-year old lady.  And all of those performances make it rather disappointing that the film is fundamentally flawed in its attempt to change the attitude and mindset of the title character.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Movie Review - Insidious

Insidious (2011)
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, and Barbara Hershey 
Directed by James Wan

I must admit that due to circumstances beyond my control, I saw the final three minutes of Insidious several months prior to watching it all the way through this past week.  Admittedly, that led to a little bit of spoilerish anti-climactic viewing experience watching this at home.  So, I guess this review should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to talks of "suspense" or "tension."  Still, regardless of knowing the conclusion, this is a decent, albeit rote, horror flick that's buoyed by some decent performances and an eerie tone of unease throughout.

Seeing as how this is written and directed by the duo that brought the world the onset of torture porn flicks with the creation of Saw, Insidious reaches beyond the blood and gore and gains its thrills by seemingly giving homage to early horror flicks utilizing a minimal amount of special effects to create scares.  At its core, this is a haunted house flick, however it is soon discovered by the lead characters that it's not the house causing the scares, but their son.  And that's not really a spoiler.  When their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a mysterious coma-like condition, Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) are obviously devastated.  Months pass and Renai begins to see strange figures and hear odd noises throughout their house.  Eventually, things get so out of control that Renai begins suspecting something more insidious is afoot and she calls in the help of a medium (Lin Shaye) to attempt to make some sense of what seems to be paranormal entities.

Although there is an overall sense of discomfort and dread that permeates throughout Insidious, at times the scares are simply too generic and basic.  I understand that this low budget horror flick was certainly going for that homage-like atmosphere to horror films of yore, but there were some moments that were laughable as opposed to frightening.  It's also rather unfortunate that the film's final act isn't all that interesting.  After a bunch of build-up, I can't help but think that it felt like a bit of a let down (however, once again, the ending was spoiled for me, so perhaps that played a role in my disappointment).

Still, there are some good performances here from Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey (as Josh's mother), and Rose Byrne who manages to redeem herself after falling on my Worst Performances list in 2009.  Together this group of actors plays off the scares quite well.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 12, 2011

Movie Review - Mars Needs Moms

Mars Needs Moms (2011)
Featuring the voice talent and/or motion capture of Seth Green, Joan Cusack, and Dan Fogler
Directed by Simon Wells

It's no secret that Mars Needs Moms is one of the biggest failures in Disney's long history.  As it stands now, the film ranks as the fourth biggest box office bomb ever losing over $100 million dollars.  I'd love to come here and say that people just didn't "get" this one or that the marketing just didn't get things right, but the fact is Mars Needs Moms simply isn't a good film, lacking any heart despite numerous attempts to shove tenderness and compassion on to the viewer.

On the positive side, Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital Studios which utilizes motion-capture technology to animate has actually crafted a rather pleasant-looking film.  Some people have an absolute hatred for mo-cap animation, but I don't mind it at all and the craft has gotten much better from the days of the likes of The Polar Express.  The animation of both the characters and the space-age environment was a bright spot for sure.

That character animation is obviously helped by good performances by the actors taking part in the motion capture experience.  Seth Green's voice was deemed too adult during the midst of production so although his physical performance was captured by the camera, his voice was dubbed by a younger actor.  Still, Green rather brilliantly physically embodied the young protagonist Milo whose mom (played by Joan Cusack) is kidnapped by Martians and taken to their home planet.  While on Mars, the aliens attempt to utilize his mother's mind to create the "ultimate mom" robot caregiver to raise their young.  Milo manages to hop onto the alien spacecraft in an attempt to save her.  Once on Mars, though, nothing much happens and the movie, despite a short eighty minute running time, flounders aimlessly attempting to create emotional moments between a mother and son.  

Right from the beginning, I found myself checked out as Milo in a fit of anger yells, "I wish I didn't have a mom!"  When your premise and emotional arc starts on such a typical, been there-done that flimsy note, it's difficult to rebound.  In the end, a disappointing story trumps a good-looking film and Mars Needs Moms lacks any type of promising narrative.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Movie Review - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Starring James Franco, Frieda Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, John Lithgow, and Andy Serkis
Directed by Rupert Wyatt

I mean there's no sense in keeping anyone in suspense here -- it feels great to finally see a 2011 movie that is really worth seeing.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a near perfect summer action flick that actually manages to transcend the genre to a degree by providing heart-tugging moments that never seem forced or fake -- which is all the more surprising when one realizes that there was not a single real monkey or ape used in the production of this movie.  Computer-generated effects have come a long way -- despite the thought in the film's initial moments that these were fake apes, I never once thought of it again as the movie progressed which is a testament to both the effects wizards and everything and everyone else that surrounded their creations.

I'm certainly familiar with the Planet of the Apes flicks, but I've only ever actually seen the 2001 Burton remake (and the less said the better about that one).  This 2011 version is apparently a prequel of sorts to the original 60s-70s series of flicks and, as the title would suggest, it showcases the rise of the apes and how they, perhaps, may take over the planet.  We're introduced to genetic engineer Will Rodman (James Franco) and his quest to create a drug to cure the effects of Alzheimer's, a disease that hits close to home as his father (John Lithgow) finds his quality of life to be seriously deteriorating thanks to the illness.  Testing his new drug on a group of chimps, Will finds the simians to grow highly intelligent.  However, when one of the chimps goes on a rampage, Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo), the head of the company sponsoring Will's research, slashes the program and orders all the apes to be put down.

It's discovered, however, that the reason for the chimp's rage was that she had secretly given birth and was simply being protective of her offspring which also happens to have inherited his mother's human-like intelligence.  Finding himself unable to kill the newborn chimp, Will takes him home, names him Caesar, and, to a degree, raises him as his own son.  Still, chimps are wild animals and, despite all the sign language in the world that Will can teach him, Caesar really just wants to be out in the real world.  Growing pains abound and Caesar (Andy Serkis) eventually commits an act that forces him to be removed from Will's home and placed into a primate compound where he finds himself awkwardly interacting with other apes.  It shouldn't be difficult to realize that things take a turn for the worse and somehow or another, the title of the film begins to come to fruition.  

Rise of the Planet of the Apes works for two big reasons.  Reason One is that director Rupert Wyatt manages his time well.  There's never really a dull moment here.  He sticks with scenes and characters just long enough for you to get to know their motivations and then he moves onto something else.  That being said, don't infer that there is a frenetic atmosphere on display here.  Quick cuts do not abound in this movie and that's seemingly a rarity in the summer movie season.  There really is a flow to this flick that's quite impressive.  Scenes that start out rather calm can find themselves effortlessly raising to palpable tension, but they never overstay their welcome.

Reason Two for the success is the surprising amount of heart on display.  Goshdarnit, I felt kinda moved when Will had to give Caesar away.  Sure, that's in part due to a solid performance from James Franco (who manages to redeem himself from his Oscar-hosting fiasco here).  But a huge reason is because Caesar seems so freakin' real.  I don't know what exactly Andy Serkis did here and what was crafted by the motion capture special effects wizards, but however they combined their powers was rather genius.  I'll take these apes over the Na'vi of Avatar any day.

Still, it's not quite without a flaw or two.  The film drags the tiniest bit when Caesar is first introduced to his fellow apes in the compound, but it's quite minor in the grand scheme of things.  On the other hand, the film's biggest drawback is Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame who repeats his fondness for playing villains in this flick as well...and unlike the real-looking apes, Felton's character (a worker at the primate compound) is one of the most cardboard evildoers I've seen in a while.  It's no fault of his own -- the screenwriters made his character obviously one-note -- but it's a real shame because he's the only thing in this movie that me cognizant of the fact that I was watching a "story" unfold as opposed to something that could (in some weird way) actually happen.

Seeing a good movie simply makes you want to delve into another and immerse yourself in the world that's on the screen.  It's nice that 2011 has handed me the first flick that fits that description.  I've missed you, you mistress that is Film.  I've seemingly abandoned you this year, but perhaps you've drawn me back under your spell with a film that I never believed could have done that.  So, kudos to you, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Monday, August 08, 2011

Movie Review - Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids (2011)
Starring Ed Helms, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sigourney Weaver, and John C. Reilly
Directed by Miguel Arteta

Cedar Rapids kind of feels like The Office transplanted to the Mid-West and paired with a bit more raunch and a little less humor (despite its best attempts).  There's a droll, dry sensibility on display that works some of the time.  However, there are simply too many moments in the film's short 86 minutes that fall flat, relying on that indie comedy staple that humor can be derived from poking fun at the small town local yokels who live inside some cocoon and go a little cuckoo once the bubble pops enabling them to escape into the more metropolitan world.

Ed Helms is Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman from the small town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin.  Having never really set foot outside of the confines of the town, when Tim's boss asks him to attend an insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he finds himself a bit on the edge.  With the encouragement of his lover and former elementary school teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver), Tim gets the courage to head to the "big city," getting on his first plane and sleeping at his first hotel.  With the goal to win his company the coveted Two Diamond Award, Tim finds himself spending time with three conventioneers who have been to the affair before -- the serious and solemn Ronald (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), the crazy and lewd Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly), and the sexy and wry Joan (Anne Heche).  Needless to say, Tim's eyes will be opened to a brand new world unlike his small-town eyes have ever seen before.

The problems with Cedar Rapids certainly don't stem from the actors.  Everyone here is actually quite charming and surprisingly believable.  Based off of his introduction, I figured I'd have been rolling my eyes every time John C. Reilly's oafish Ziegler came on the screen, but he won me over somehow.  Isiah Whitlock (apparently of The Wire) probably struck the best note with me thanks to his dry delivery.  And Anne Heche is goshdarn charming and cute here.  Ed Helms simply seems to be playing his character from The Office and he's the weak link of the quartet, but that's more the fault of "Tim Lippe" than "Ed Helms."

All in all, with the pleasant group of actors, it's a disappointment that the humor just isn't there.  The film veers off into an odd and rather uncomfortable finale which is supposed to serve as some kind of awakening for Helms' Lippe, but it ends up veering into my Movie Pet Peeve which I've mentioned numerous times before -- Old People Doing Drugs for the Purposes of Laughter.  And while that's not the only sticking point -- see my initial paragraph about a common indie comedy staple that applies here as well -- it made the film end on more of a down note than I would have preferred.  Cedar Rapids is pleasant enough thanks to the actors, but it's a shame they weren't given a bit better material.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Movie Review - Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, and Bridget Moynahan
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

A Marine platoon treks across Los Angeles attempting to rid the city of alien invaders who have landed in dozens of major cities on the planet.  Over the course of Battle: Los Angeles' two hours, attempts are made to no avail to try and create emotional, meaningful moments amongst characters who have no discerning characteristics.  Instead, the film pushes its nonstop barrage of battle sequences onto the viewer and ultimately disappoints despite a somewhat promising start.

In the opening moments of Battle: Los Angeles, director Jonathan Liebesman is already well aware that viewers will never comprehend that the members of the platoon of Marines are different people.  Even though attempts are made to try and give each one an overarching storyline -- this one's getting married, that one's the virgin, that one wears glasses, this one's a doctor -- none of them are anything other than "Hoo-Rah Marine."  This is so clear a problem that Liebesman decides that it's necessary to flash up each Marine's name on the screen when they first appear so we're well aware that we're seeing different people.  That was clue #1 that character development was not a priority here.

Okay, so we're not going to have fully fleshed out people and I can be on board with that to a certain extent in a special effects-heavy film.  At the very least, I was impressed that the film essentially jumps right in to the alien invasion sequences.  If you're not going to give us discernible people, at least jump right into the action and this flick does just that.  And, for the first hour or so, I was moderately impressed with the sequences.  Despite the full scale invasion going on the city, the action was on a surprisingly intimate level as we travel with Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (played by Aaron Eckhart who seems to be performing every line reading through gritted teeth in order to convey gruffness and toughness) and his platoon on the city streets, going in and out of buildings attempting to save civilians all before an impending bomb attack planned by the government to decimate L.A. in t-minus two hours.

It's in the film's final hour, however, once Nantz and his crew have left the inner city, stop fighting the aliens in a one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat-type level, and begin to look at the "bigger" picture and the need to take down the alien mothership, Battle: Los Angeles really falls apart.  More attempts are made at creating those "emotional moments" as more and more of Nantz' group begins to perish and the whole thing just becomes rather messy, unappealing, and plain boring to watch.  No excitement can even be gained from glimpses of the aliens or their spacecraft because there's absolutely nothing unique or special about them in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Movie Review - Daybreakers

Daybreakers (2010)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Oh, lowered expectations, how you please me at times.  Now, it's not like Daybreakers is a masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable B-movie style vampire flick that brings an entirely new premise to the screen that proves to be moderately intriguing in its uniqueness.

It's 2019 and us humans have all but been obliterated by vampires.  While there are some rogue groups of homo sapiens out there, for the most part, the fanged monsters have taken over the earth.  They seemingly live just like humans -- drive cars, have jobs, wear normal clothing -- but they just need a blood supply to survive.  However, since they've managed to eradicate nearly the whole human race, the vampires are attempting to find a blood substitute and hematologist vampire Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is leading the charge.  (Side Note:  Between this and Twilight, do all vampire protagonists need to be named Edward?)  Edward actually despises his need for human blood and hates the "farm system" his employer, the wealthy Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), has set up to both collect and sell the "product," so when he meets Elvis Cormac (Willem Defoe) who says he has a way of turning vampires human again, Edward is undeniably fascinated.

The story of Daybreakers really sold me.  I mean, maybe it's been done before, but this was fresh and extremely interesting to me.  Co-directors and co-screenwriters the Spierig Brothers definitely brought something new to the table.  Their somewhat-dystopian vampire society was brought vividly to the screen by both their visuals and their story.  Granted, the dialog is sometimes straight from B-movies of yore and the acting falls into one of two categories -- over-the-top (Sam Neill and Willem Defoe) or mind-numbingly muted (Ethan Hawke) -- but neither distract greatly from the overall tone of the film.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, August 01, 2011

Movie Review - Source Code

Source Code (2011)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright
Directed by Duncan Jones

Duncan Jones's previous directorial effort Moon was quite a mindgame and the bigger-budgeted Source Code attempts to be the same thing, but doesn't fare nearly as well.  For all intents and purposes, Source Code is trying to be suspenseful, but instead this 90-minute affair simply plodded along rather than keep me intrigued.

A commuter train headed into downtown Chicago blows up one morning in an act of terrorism killing every onboard.  The government has knowledge that another larger attack is imminent, so in order to try and prevent the second bombing, a new military program called Source Code is called into play.  Air Force pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is essentially placed in the body of a passenger on the train eight minutes prior to it blowing up.  Within those eight minutes (which can be looped over and over again ad infinitum), he must attempt to discover who planted the bomb.  While he can't change the past, he can possibly alter the future by helping the military nab the bomber to prevent the future attack.

The concept of seeing the same thing over and over again with minor changes just flat out bored me (unlike the more successful Groundhog Day which essentially plays up the same basic premise but with a comedic edge).  Dull is an apt word to describe my feelings towards Source Code.  From the direction to the performances to the premise -- all of it can be deemed "dull."  Tack on an ending that completely negates everything that's been told to the viewer throughout the whole film and I can't help but feel that I was somewhat tricked (even though the ending could be seen a mile away).

In the end, the praise and 91% Fresh rating heaped on this film by the Rotten Tomatoes critics is kind of astounding to me.  Yes, it's nice to have more adult-centric, smart films in the marketplace, but this one really lacked an iota of pizzazz needed to sustain my interest.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+