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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,...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Means Hitchcock

If it's Halloween-time, I can guarantee that you'll find me watching Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho -- simply the best movie ever made.  As a film buff when I watch this genius piece of cinema, I sometimes wish I was able to walk into this movie without any preconceived knowledge of it.  Imagine watching this not knowing the ingenious twist that occurs at the forty-six minute mark.

Still, after tens of viewings, I find myself discovering new and interesting things with each watch.  For instance, Marion's last name is "Crane" and she mentions that to Norman while in the midst of his stuffed birds -- certainly an ominous foreshadowing to her impending doom.

I've blogged about this flick twice before so I'll take this year off and simply send those of you reading this to my past posts regarding this masterpiece.

And while you're at it, feel free to check out posts from last October's 2010 Hitchcock Fest which found myself watching all of Hitchcock's Hollywood films (and also some of his very early British work).

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Movie Review - Moneyball

Moneyball (2011)
Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by Bennett Miller

Moneyball is a non-sports sports movie.  While we get glimpses of some moments on the baseball field during the Oakland A's 2002 season, the real crux of the movie happens behind the scenes in the clubhouse as general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt in a role he completely embodies) utilizes a decades-old statistical method of choosing players based on their on-base percentage rather than anything else and ends up crafting a baseball team that finds themselves in the running to win the World Series.

After an unsuccessful playoff run in 2001, Beane's squad is hit with the loss of three key players to three teams willing to pay the athletes boatloads of money, and the A's owner refuses to pony up any more money for Beane to entice the so-called 'top tier' players to Oakland -- as Billy says, "there are the rich teams, then there are the poor teams, then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us."  Desperate, Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Yale economics graduate who helps Beane use statistics in an attempt to build a cost-effective and, above all else, successful baseball team.

The whole flick was certainly intriguing and even though I follow the Phillies (a team which I'd rather not talk about in these weeks following their disappointing 2011 playoff run), I wasn't the least bit knowledgeable about this Oakland A's team.  Because of that, there was a bit of genuine suspense that built as the movie progressed and, thanks to a wonderful performance from Brad Pitt, viewers find themselves completely invested in the real-life "character" of Billy Beane.

Pitt plays Beane as a determined man -- he wants nothing more than for his baseball team to be as successful as possible.  But he's also an incredibly doubtful and nervous man, anxious to see if his new approach to the game will be successful, knowing full well that if he fails, he's out of a job.  Having bailed on a full scholarship to college in order to play for the Mets as a young man (which proved to be a quick and unsuccessful venture), he has nothing else to fall back on and Pitt is incredibly adept at relaying that sense of uncertainty and unease.

Jonah Hill as the numbers cruncher Brand and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the A's reluctant and dismissive coach Art Howe both find themselves more than holding their own with Pitt.  This is certainly Hill's best role yet (although that's a bit of faint praise for the heretofore comic actor), although I will say I'm not quite sure where the Oscar buzz for him comes in (although it could very well be that the Supporting Actor category appears incredibly weak at this stage in the game).  Also, nice work from Parks and Recreations' Chris Pratt as a player given a second lease on the game by Beane and the young Kerris Dorsey as Beane's daughter who helps us see the more "human" side of the GM.

While Moneyball is absolutely a good film, there's a lack of passion that is necessary to make a "great" one.  Still, kudos to director Bennett Miller and writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for somehow crafting an interesting flick that's based around baseball statistics.  The fact that they managed to create high levels of tension considering the subject matter is a credit to their talent.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Movie Review - The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers [in 3D] (2011)
Starring Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Orlando Bloom, and Christoph Waltz 
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Sometimes we don't need movies to be deep and meaningful.  Sometimes we want to go to the cinema and simply be entertained and, rather surprisingly, The Three Musketeers succeeds at being entertaining.  This certainly doesn't contain stellar acting or a fantastic script or a unique story, but director Paul W.S. Anderson's flick is fun, never boring, and quite visually appealing.

Utilizing a steampunk style in an incredibly successful manner, The Three Musketeers tells a story we've all seen before.  Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson), and Aramis (Orlando Bloom look-alike Luke Evans) are the titular trio who have been down on their luck as of late, finding themselves running out of funds to support their escapades (and their substantial alcohol consumption).  Along comes young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who ignites a bit of a fire under the group and they find themselves embarking on another epic adventure involving the French king, the roi's villainous confidante Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz), and his helpful double agent Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich).

I'm well aware that this is not a great film, but it's just so goshdarn amusing to watch that it's tough to not at least join in on the fun that's displayed onscreen.  As I said, with the exception of some absolutely stunning set design, there isn't much else that could be considered stellar (although I will say that this flick makes some excellent usage of 3D...the best I've seen in awhile).  Somehow, though, the whole thing kind of works despite its faults.  Milla Jovovich took to Twitter this past weekend complaining about the lack of advertisement to promote this family friendly feature.  While I'll neither agree nor disagree with the claim of faulty promotion, I will say that this is certainly a flick that the whole family can enjoy together and be treated to an evening of fun.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-
(Remember, take a look at my ratings over to the right...a 'B-' may seem low based on my review, but this would still fall into the category of 'Still Worth Your Time')

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Movie Review - Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (2011)
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, and Jamie Bell
Directed by Cary Fukunaga

Jane Eyre is a rather lovely film with beautiful cinematography, skillful direction, wonderful acting, and a melodic violin-heavy score.  It's also a period piece with a story that's so utterly depressing at times that it's a struggle to trudge through it.  In the movie's defense, I attempted to read the Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel over the summer and had to stop at its midpoint because I just couldn't get into the thing.  Despite everything being well-above-average in terms of a "film," the story unfortunately drags a bit despite the fact that at the film's end I couldn't help but be somewhat moved by the romanticism on display.

After her parents die, young Jane is sent to live with her aunt (Sally Hawkins) who is angered by the ward left to her by her relatives.  Rather than deal with the child whom she despises, she sends Jane off to an all-girl's boarding school where she remains until her late teens at which point she accepts the position of a governess.  While working at Thornfield Hall, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself oddly drawn to the master of the house, Mr. Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) and he likewise to her.  The two are certainly from different social strata and it seemingly hinders Jane's ability to comprehend that Mr. Rochester could ever be in love with her, causing the young lady to suffer quite a bit under the emotional stress she begins to feel.

The brooding, heavy nature of the tale does cause Jane Eyre to be slow moving, but I certainly appreciate the Gothic tones on display (including a detour into "ghost" territory that provides an interesting twist to the whole story).  Still, I couldn't help but find the whole movie falling into that stereotypical "boringness" that so often permeates British period pieces (despite admirable attempts by director Cary Fukunaga to shake things up including some jumping around in time not present in the novel).

All that said, the film is full of wonderful things.  Its dark shadowy aesthetics are appropriately ominous and are always interesting to watch.  Coupled with a beautiful and haunting musical score, Jane Eyre is a feast for the eyes and the ears.  There are also some great performances from the two leads in an emotionally restrained Mia Wasikowska (in certainly her best role yet) and the somewhat sinister man with a heart of gold Michael Fassbender (who is one of 2011's "People to Watch" apparently based on buzz from his roles in this, the new X-Men film, and the upcoming Shame).

Ultimately, although the film lacks some fire in its story, Jane Eyre has much to admire even though it may not be suited for all tastes.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Movie Review - Creepshow

Creepshow (1982)
Starring Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Stephen King, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, and Adrienne Barbeau
Directed by George A. Romero
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A horror anthology directed by George A. Romero (of Night of the Living Dead fame) and written by modern horror master Stephen King should have worked.  Based off of a series of comic books, Creepshow is an unfortunate blunder.  Made up of five stories, none of them prove to be overly scary or humorous despite the fact that horror and comedy are supposed to mix and mingle in this flick.  There are segments that work better than others -- the middle tale featuring a decidedly nasty Leslie Nielsen playing a vengeful husband pitted against his wife's lover in Ted Danson is the best -- but I couldn't help but think that the whole affair which runs over two hours dragged on for at least thirty minutes too long.  Despite an interesting premise, Creepshow is a bit of a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Movie Review - The Fury

The Fury (1978)
Starring Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving, John Cassavetes, Carrie Snodgrass, Charles Durning, and Andrew Stevens
Directed by Brian De Palma
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I recognize that Brian De Palma's The Fury is a flawed film -- the biggest problem being that it isn't quite sure whether it's a sci fi, action, or horror flick which causes several scenes to appear oddly juxtaposed with or peculiarly placed next to others.  Still, despite its identity crisis and the wealth of overacting on display, I kinda dug this 1978 flick for those very same reasons I feel I should have despised it.

The film opens on a lovely beachfront resort in the "Mid East" (which elicited a chuckle from me right from the get-go in that the filmmakers simply used that overarching moniker rather than pinpointing a particular Arabian location).  Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) is vacationing there with both his teenage son Robin (Andrew Stevens) and his good friend and colleague Ben Childress (John Cassavetes).  Out of nowhere, the beach is attacked at gunpoint and, in the melee, Robin is rushed to safety...or so it appears.  As it is soon discovered, Robin was actually kidnapped by Childress in order to harness Robin's  paranormal powers and utilize them to help (or perhaps harm) the US government.  Peter becomes aware of this plan and vows to get back his son.

Meanwhile back in the States, teenage Gillian (Amy Irving) is coming to the realization that she has some type of paranormal powers as well.  After an event at school leaves her fearful of her powers, she checks herself into the Paragon Clinic.  While there, she begins to find herself psychically connecting with Robin despite the fact that the two never met each other and she soon realizes that the Paragon Clinic may not be as innocent as it appears.

At this point in time, I've probably seen about five Brian De Palma films and they all have an over-the-top vibe to them.  However, The Fury is perhaps the most low key of them that I've seen and maybe that's why I like it the most at this point.  The flick works the best when it delves into the realm of sci fi and horror, but when De Palma tries his hand at the action sequences (which mostly involve Kirk Douglas), it doesn't quite fare as well.  In fact, it's the Kirk Douglas scenes that falter the most mainly because the character of Peter is just too bland to carry a film.  Sure, he's a man on a mission looking for his son, but there's simply not a well-rounded, well-crafted character for the audience to connect with.  Gillian's story proves to be much more intriguing as we in the audience watch her slowly coming to grips with her incredible powers.  When the film was following her, I was thoroughly intrigued.

This certainly isn't a classic, but The Fury is a solid piece of supernatural suspense.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - The Wolf Man

The Wolf Man (1941)
Starring Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, and Bela Lugosi
Directed by George Waggner
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Away from home for eighteen years, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) returns to the English country home of his father (Claude Rains) following his brother's death in a hunting accident.  While there, Larry wanders through the woods one evening and gets bit by a wolf.  Although he manages to kill the beast, an old gypsy woman tells Larry that the wolf Larry believed he killed was actually her son Bela (Bela Lugosi) who was a werewolf...and since Larry was bit by him, Larry is now cursed to be a werewolf, too.

While the whole premise is silly, this is a solid horror film for the 1940s.  There are times here and there where is drags a tiny bit (which is surprisingly considering the running time is a svelte 68 minutes), but I can't ever say I was really bored (unlike the 2010 remake which was pretty awful).  Admittedly, I'm not all that familiar with horror icon Lon Chaney, but he actually acts here which I wasn't expecting at all...and he's pretty good at it, too.  The Wolf Man himself makes a few scant appearances here and there, but for the majority of the time, Chaney is playing "Larry Talbot" and he more than adequately portrays Larry's doubts and guilt concerning his possible werewolf tendencies.  Plus, with a nice turn from Claude Rains as Larry's father and more than adequate performances from the supporting cast, The Wolf Man is a nice diversion and a pleasant look back at Hollywood's initial attempts at creating cinematic horror.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, October 21, 2011

Movie Review - Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire:
The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
Starring Tom Cuise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Stephen Rea, Antonio Banderas, and Christian Slater
Directed by Neil Jordan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's promise in the overall premise of Interview with a Vampire, but there's a surprising lack of drive and oomph behind the story with a particularly leaden final act that ends the whole thing on a disappointing note.  With two fairly bland main characters in the vampires Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt), the story simply can't maintain its momentum the whole way through.  However, thanks to thanks to some beautiful looking images, lovely sets, a nice musical score, and a fantastic performance from a young Kirsten Dunst, there's enough here to recommend the macabre flick despite the fact that it had the possibility of being better.

Bookended by modern-day scenes of two-hundred-plus-year old vampire Louis telling his life saga to a young San Francisco writer (Christian Slater), the general gist of the story is how Louis copes with being compassionate to humankind considering that he needs blood in order to survive.  Turned into a vampire by the insatiable and overtly sexual (in both hetero- and homosexual manners) Lestat, the two vampires we meet could not be more different.  As Lestat tries to help Louis maneuver through the new world of being a vampire, Louis can't quite succumb to becoming a true vampire -- he finds it next to impossible and almost repulsive to take a human's life in order to quench his vampiric need for blood.

While the tension between Louis and Lestat is amusing, the film really comes alive when a young Kirsten Dunst appears as twelve-year-old Claudia turned into a vampire and stuck in her child's body forever.  Dunst manages to become the star here and whenever she is onscreen, I was riveted by her performance.  When her character appears, it's as if life was breathed into the film.  She completely one-ups the "stars" Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, both of whom have performances who vacillate between too subtle and too over-the-top.

As said above, the film looks stunning and gives off a tone of incredible sumptuousness.  Director Neil Jordan does create a nice balance between humor, drama, and gothic horror, however, the story just doesn't quite work all the time thanks to the two somewhat disappointing main characters.  Still, I found the whole thing very intriguing and, even a day later, despite some serious problems with the story, I'm thinking of it moderately fondly.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Movie Review - Videodrome

Videodrome (1983)
Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry
Directed by David Cronenberg
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

From the little bit that I'd heard about Videodrome, I knew that I was in for something weird and off-the-wall.  Not that I'm all that familiar with director David Cronenberg's work, but I had this preconceived notion that many of his films dealt with sex and violence in odd and uncomfortable ways...Videodrome did nothing to change that thought as it takes a twisted look at both subjects.

James Woods plays Max Renn, the president/CEO of Civic-TV, a Toronto television station that prides itself on running softcore pornography.  Max wants to push the envelope more and, while using a pirate television satellite, he picks up a television show called "Videodrome" that mixes sex, torture, and murder.  While he initially believes that the show is beaming in from Malaysia, it is soon discovered that it's coming from Pittsburgh. This intrigues Max's girlfriend Nicki (Deborah Harry) who is aroused by the sadomasochism on the show.  She decides to trek out to Pittsburgh to take part in the show and Max soon finds himself in a bit of a conundrum -- he wants to get Nicki back, but he also wants to have "Videodrome" for his own station.  As the movie progresses, Max soon finds that "Videodrome" is more than just a tv show and that, in fact, it may be causing hallucinatory effects in its watchers, perhaps even creating some odd alternate realities that cause its viewers to question what is their "real life."

Videodrome is weird.  Perhaps too weird.  I was onboard with the twisted tone until about halfway through when the aforementioned Dali-esque surrealist hallucinations came into play.  At that point, rules are thrown out the window and that's not necessarily a good thing.  James Woods is nicely depraved as Max Renn who exudes sleaziness, yet Woods somehow manages to get you to care about his character when his world begins to fall apart.  Deborah Harry (of the rock band Blondie fame) is fine and was better than expected (that perhaps comes across as faint praise, but I mean it as a compliment).

In the end, though, Videodrome is simply okay.  It has solid premise that I'm sure it holds psychological and sociological meanings if one digs enough, but the flick becomes a bit too convoluted and twisted at the end to have any of those deep philosophies make a difference.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Movie Review - Red State

Red State (2011)
Starring Michael Parks, Michael Angarano, Melissa Leo, Kyle Gallner, Kelly Bishé, and John Goodman
Directed by Kevin Smith
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Rather amusingly, the end credits of Red State -- Kevin Smith's horror movie that he distributed on his own after a "fake" attempt at creating a bidding war earlier this year -- separate the cast into three categories -- Sex, Religion, and Politics.  Certainly those are three subjects that are ripe for controversy and debate, and while Smith undoubtedly takes a side on those topics and does so in a not-too-subtle manner, I couldn't help but enjoy myself thoroughly while watching this.  Thanks to some great performances and a running time that moves everything along at an incredibly brisk rate coupled with solid direction and clever (but not his typical raunchy) writing from Mr. Smith, Red State is a surprising winner.

When three high school boys come across a Craig's List-style online ad for an older woman who agrees to sleep with all three of them at once, the licentious trio wants to jump on the opportunity.  Little do they know that they're walking into a trap set up by a David Koresh-like cult leader Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a man whose group at the beginning of the film is seen picketing a gay teenager's funeral.  (While that is a reprehensible act, I was a tad worried that this "obvious" "He's EVIL" stance was going to prove to be a little too blatant throughout the movie...fortunately, Smith curbed this as the movie progressed.)  The three teens are drugged and awaken in Cooper's church where he spreads (his version of) God's word to his family members who are the only members of his congregation.  In the midst of a rousing sermon, it soon becomes obvious that Cooper has warped the Bible into something decidedly crackpot and all hell is about to break loose.

For reasons I won't divulge in order to try and stay as spoiler-free as possible, the government soon becomes involved in this whole affair and sends out agents to try and take over Cooper's compound.  Headed by Agent Keenan (John Goodman), orders are soon given by his supervisors to do whatever is necessary to bring Cooper and his terroristic organization down.

If one were to step back and look at the grand idea that Smith is trying to convey here, his attacks on religion and our society post-9/11 don't necessarily hold water.  While both are certainly topics that can be critiqued in a film landscape, he doesn't dig deep enough to incite change or cause the viewer to even think about their opinion on the subject.

But if we overlook that (and I choose to because the rest of the film is good enough to do so), Red State is a very suspenseful horror film.  No one is safe and there was many a moment when I was shocked by what was unfolding onscreen.  Yes, there are moments of Smith's trademark humor (including a clever though mildly stupid "twist" towards the end), but the film works because the director has a solid grasp on editing his flick to maximize tension.  

Helping achieve this sense of unease are some wonderful performances.  Michael Angarano and Kyle Gallner as two of the sexually charged teens provide the "Kevin Smith wit" prevalent in his other flicks.  Nice work also comes from John Goodman as the agent who takes a rather moralistic stance against his superiors.  Melissa Leo as one of Cooper's daughters is utterly creepy and Kelly Bishé (with whom I'm completely unfamiliar) is beautiful to look at and does quite a good job as a wavering, questioning member of Cooper's clan.

The star here, though, is Michael Parks as the seemingly pleasant smooth-talking Abin Cooper.  At the beginning of the film, Cooper is given a lengthy monologue that, while could have easily been removed or shortened, brilliantly reveals the true character behind this country preacher.  He's outwardly pleasant yet so incredibly evil and Mr. Parks plays him without ever stooping to cheap tricks.  Cooper is a nut and Parks' evenhanded portrayal of him makes him even more terrifying.

Red State isn't going to be for everyone.  It is quite violent and it's not exactly a pleasant watch (although it's not nearly as graphic as the torture porn horror shlock that was so pervasive in the early aughts).  But it did it's job to keep me on the edge of my seat and that's all I can ask from a movie like this. 

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Review - The Trip

The Trip (2011)
Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Innately British in its humour, The Trip is a 110-minute film edited from a six-episode BBC television series about two real-life celebrities who travel across the English countryside on a tour of restaurants.  Steve Coogan (most well-known in the States for Tropic Thunder) and Rob Brydon (whose role as "First Villager" in A Knight's Tale may be his only claim to fame here, but who is [from what I can tell] a popular comedian in Britain) play fictional versions of themselves as they trek across their native land eating great food, talking about life, and doing impressions of everyone from Anthony Hopkins to Michael Caine and Robert DeNiro to Woody Allen (along with a few British folks with whom I am not familiar).

If I were British, I could see myself loving this film.  Seeing as how I'm not, things just didn't quite work for this reviewer.  Don't get me wrong, during the first thirty minutes, I found myself cracking up at several of the impressions this duo presented.  However, as the film moves on, it wears out its welcome.  Coogan and Brydon are both quite fine, but this is one of those movies where nothing happens and you either buy into that nothingness and enjoy it or you grow tired of it -- I fell into the latter category finding the whole thing tedious and rambling.  Despite their best efforts at crafting an interesting friendship onscreen and an attempt at going super-serious and "artsy" at the film's conclusion, the two stars' rambling had me wishing the film had a better editor to whittle down the tv series a whole lot more.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Movie Review - Hanna

Hanna (2011)
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, and Eric Bana
Directed by Joe Wright

Whereas his previous works -- Pride and PrejudiceAtonement, and The Soloist -- were more by-the-book in terms of camera angles, editing, and acting, director Joe Wright's Hanna takes on a slightly more manic and hectic tone.  Unfortunately, despite the attempts to create excitement via his lensing, the story of a young girl (the title character played by a unemotional and bland Saoirse Ronan) trained by her father (Eric Bana) to enact revenge on the CIA operatives who wreaked havoc on their family over a decade ago just doesn't have enough drive to make the whole affair interesting for some inexplicable reason.

Perhaps it's wrong to say this about a young actress, but I'm not sure Saoirse Ronan has what it takes to headline a movie.  Admittedly, I've only seen her in Atonement and The Lovely Bones, but she has managed to come across as utterly one-note in all three films.  I've yet to see depth in any performance from her and it's much more evident in this film seeing as how she plays the title character.  Her eyes are constantly glazed over and appear empty.

It also doesn't help matters that Cate Blanchett's CIA operative almost seems to be pulled straight from some James Bond/Austin Powers-type flick.  Played rather tongue-in-cheeky and with a over-the-top country accent, her character comes off as laughable as opposed to ominous.

With the two main characters (and/or their actors) providing disappointment, it's no surprise that the film falters.  While it certainly hurts that Ronan isn't captivating, director Wright doesn't quite have a good grasp on balancing the rather ingeniously edited and oftentimes wonderfully disorienting action sequences with the slower paced "dramatic" moments.  Any scenes that don't find Hanna fighting some foe overstay their welcome...much like the film itself which feels about thirty minutes too long.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, October 14, 2011

Utterly giddy with anticipation am I...Thanksgiving can't come soon enough...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review - Scream 4

Scream 4 (2011)
Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Kieran Culkin, Alison Brie, Mary McDonnell, and Marley Shelton
Directed by Wes Craven

I don't know if I'm just tired of the series or if it's the fact that the new Ghostface's motives in Scream 4 seem even more ludicrous than those of Scream 3's killer, but this latest installment in Wes Craven's self-referential franchise is a letdown (and even moreso since we had to wait over a decade to get this to the screen).  Was the world asking for another Scream flick?  Probably not, but I do feel a slight connection to this series simply because it was the first horror franchise that I latched onto in my youth.  Teens in the 80s had the Elm Streets and Jason and Michael Myers to think fondly of, but as a 90s teen, this felt like my series...and plus, for this burgeoning film buff, Scream began as a series that paid homage to its horror flick predecessors which was something I greatly appreciated.  Unfortunately, the allure has faded and the disappointment of Scream 3 is further continued with the fourth flick in the series.

Ten years have passed since the conclusion of the Hollywood-based last installment and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has written her autobiography and is returning to Woodsboro, the scene of the crimes in the original Scream, on her book tour.  Dewey (David Arquette) has become the local sheriff and he and "retired journalist" Gale Withers (Courtney Cox) are happily married.  As soon as Sidney arrives, young high schoolers begin to bite the dust at the hands of a new Ghostface Killer and Sidney, Dewey, and Gale must do what they can in order to save the community and track down the slasher.

Unfortunately, nothing new is brought to the table here.  Scream 2 followed Syd to college and Scream 3 (although not nearly as good as the first two flicks in the series) changed the scene to Hollywood, but returning to Woodsboro and essentially copying the exact same storyline of the first film just makes Scream 4 flounder aimlessly with nothing really driving the plot along.  The new characters introduced including Emma Roberts as Syd's cousin Jill, Hayden Panettiere as Jill's sassy friend, and Kieran Culkin as a high school film geek just seemed liked doppelgangers of characters in the first film.  All were certainly adequate (and the acting in all the Scream flicks is always much better than most horror flicks), but their characters were bland and I never was able to connect with any of them or any of the other new folks introduced.

As mentioned above, once the Ghostface killer is revealed, it was met by me with an eye roll.  The motive (while perhaps fitting in this day and age) isn't solid enough to base a whole movie around and it ends up being a disappointment.  That said, I did think that the final scenes after the reveal were quite tense and helped the film end on a somewhat better note than I expected.  Still, I can't help but think that Scream 4 is just a pale imitation of the original flick and, although this goes against popular opinion since many think the third flick is the worst in the series, this fourth installment is the lowest on the totem pole for me.  I'm sure that if a Scream 5 were made I'd give it a go, but the expectations would certainly be mighty low.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Movie Review - Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (1984)
Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson
Directed by Ivan Reitman 

***Ghostbusters is being re-released in select theaters for one daily show only on Thursday evenings in October.***

Without a doubt, 1984's Ghostbusters still remains a classic flick from my childhood.  Certain movies just maintain that nostalgic feeling and this is one of them.  At a certain point, your mind may get clouded by these thoughts and allow yourself to overlook what some may perceive as flaws, but that's what nostalgia does to you.  And that's not a bad thing.

With all this talk about a third film being added to the series, it's completely obvious that without Bill Murray (who is apparently the lone holdout on the movie's progress), the best part of the series would be missing.  Murray's parapsychologist Peter Venkman is one of those characters that is iconic to me.  Full of wry, witty, and dry humor, I found myself chuckling (or at the very least smiling) after nearly every single line reading of his.  His interactions with his ghostbusting partners Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are priceless and coupling that with his flirtatious attempts to bed Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver as a customer who needs the help of the paranormal experts), Venkman is comedic genius.

That certainly isn't meant to belittle Aykroyd, Ramis, and Weaver who, along with Rick Moranis as the geek living next door to Dana and Annie Potts as the overworked and sassy Ghostbusters' secretary, provide ample reason to watch.  In fact, with the exception of Ernie Hudson as newly hired Ghostbuster #4 Winston -- a character who is given nothing to do and adds nothing to the plot whatsoever in terms of either comedy or purpose -- Ghostbusters is filled with characters you'd desire to see again.

Despite moving at a rather rapid pace, the film's conclusion does seem a little anti-climactic to me and feels like a jumbled mess at moments.  For that reason, Ghostbusters doesn't quite make it into The Personal Canon despite the fact that I did enjoy taking this nostalgia trip with the gang on the big screen again.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Movie Review - Contagion

Contagion (2011)
Starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Ehle, John Hawkes, Sanaa Lathan, and Elliot Gould
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Contagion is a modern-day version of those 70s "classics" like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.  Let's put a bunch of well-known actors into a plot, throw in a natural disaster, and see who makes it out alive.  Unlike those special effects-laden films of a few decades ago, however, Contagion is actually good.  

Really good.  

And genuinely frightening.  I do think that, in the end, Steven Soderbergh's thriller about a new strain of deadly virus wreaking havoc on the world hopes that it feels "important."  And while it certainly paints a rather grim picture of what would happen should such an incident occur, I can't help but think it seems more "fluffy" than "substantial," but that's certainly not a bad thing in this case because it still succeeds at nearly every level.

The film opens on a black screen with the sound of someone coughing.  And already the mood is ominous.  We discover (thanks to a subtitle on the screen) that we are in Day 2 of this new viral outbreak and we see the young and vibrant Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) sitting at an airport bar talking on the phone with a man whom she just slept with.  All seems fine...except then we realize that Beth is the person whom we heard coughing mere seconds ago.  And Soderbergh makes it very clear via his directorial choices that Beth is passing this thing along to others -- the close up of the bowl of peanuts that she just ate from, the handing of a credit card to the bartender.  We're in for trouble and Soderbergh isn't hiding that from us.  The very fact that he makes these incredibly mundane things manage to appear so scary is a credit to him.

From there, the film branches off into various storylines -- some following "normal" citizens like Beth and her husband (Matt Damon), with others focusing on members of the Centers for Disease Control and their attempts to discover the origins of the virus (which is where folks like Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard come into play).  Never staying with any of these plotlines for extended periods of time allows the viewer to never tire of any of them and always keep them longing for more.  Much like the disaster flicks of the 70s, no one is safe here.  Big stars (all of whom perform very well here) are going to bite the dust and this certainly increases the nerves that the viewer feels.

Admittedly, the film is bogged down with the character of Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), a blogger who says that he will show the public the truth behind the secrets that the government and the CDC are hiding.  Anytime the plot veered into his territory, I kept wanting it to head to someone else.  His conspiracy theories just didn't seem well developed and, quite frankly, bored me (as most ludicrous conspiracy theories do).  Fortunately, as stated, the film doesn't stay on any one character for long and we find the plot quickly shifting to others.

Still, despite that one fault, I couldn't help but find myself absolutely enthralled by Contagion.  On the edge of my seat thanks to Soderbergh's creative direction, this is a completely believable real-life horror story the likes of which I hope we never see actually happen even though it positively could.  Time to grab that hand sanitizer...

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Movie Review - Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go (2011)
Starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher C.J. Wallace, Michael Peña, and Laura Dern
Directed by Dan Rush

Essentially getting a direct-to-dvd release after an extremely limited theatrical run, Everything Must Go is Will Ferrell's latest attempt at being more "mature" in his comedic roles.  Just as Jim Carrey peppered his career with a few dramas or dramedies post-superstardom success, Ferrell is doing the same thing with his repertoire every now and then.  Adapted from a short story, Everything Must Go would have worked infinitely better as a short film.  As it stands now, the story of businessman Nick Halsey (Ferrell) who both loses his job and gets kicked out of his house by his wife on the same day meanders on for a bit too long and doesn't really get anywhere.  With no place to go and with all his personal belongings strewn out across his front lawn, Nick simply hunkers down and finds himself living in his yard for five days, reverting back to drinking (after being six months sober) and finding his life essentially unlivable.

While this is nothing like Step Brothers or Anchorman, there is definitely comedy to be had here, but at times Ferrell seems to forget that he's not in one of those aforementioned movies of his and he takes things a step too far in the physical comedy direction via his mannerisms.  That said, overall, Ferrell is certainly a decent dramatic actor.  Even though the film grew tiresome towards its conclusion, Nick's eventual "awakening" and introspective look at the man he has become is absolutely believable and that's due to the actor behind the character.  Credit should also go to director-screenwriter Dan Rush who does create a nice balance between the humor and the pathos.  However, at times, that balance is thrown a bit out of whack by a story that just doesn't really have anywhere to go.  Too much time is spent before Nick reaches his (in Oprah terminology) "A-Ha! Moment" and by the time that happens my interest in the film had waned.

Still, thanks to some solid supporting turns from Rebecca Hall (who is genuinely becoming an actress whom I'm enjoying more and more with each performance I see of hers) as Nick's new next door neighbor and the debut performance of Christopher C.J. Wallace as the young kid Nick befriends while living on his front lawn, Everything Must Go is worth an add to your Netflix Instant Queue if and when it shows up in that format.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Movie Review - Drive

Drive (2011)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks 
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There's a low budget B-movie noirish vibe that I got while watching Drive, the latest film by director Nicolas Winding Refn whose Bronson I appreciated in 2009 (and is available to stream on Netflix for those interested).  Ubiquitous Ryan Gosling plays the main character, a man with no name who is a movie stunt car driver and garage mechanic during the day and a getaway-car-driver-for-hire by night.  As the film opens, the Driver (as heretofore Gosling's character will be called as that is how imdb lists him) is in the midst of a crime in progress.  Seemingly calm, cool, and collected, the Driver never appears to break a sweat even when he's being tailed by police cars and helicopters, and, sure enough, he completes the getaway without any problems.

On the surface, the Driver is oddly emotionless, but when he meets the lovely Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her cute son Benicio, it's obvious that despite the stolid face and the lack of expressive words, the Driver is growing to care for the two of them.  When Irene's husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison, he still finds himself needing to repay his debts to his former criminal friends.  The Driver agrees to help Standard by being his getaway car driver in a robbery in order to keep Irene and Benicio out of harm's way.  From there, things begin to spiral out of control for the typically sedate Driver as he finds himself caught up in an imbroglio the likes of which he hasn't seen before.

Like many noirs, a woman leads to the main character's potential downfall and this is the case here as well with Carey Mulligan's Irene.  Much like the Driver, Irene is calm, pensive, and a lady of few words.  One has to wonder what led her down the path to marry the rough-edged Standard, but considering the fact that she's also obviously attracted to the less-than-angelic Driver, maybe it shouldn't be too surprising.  Mulligan plays things subdued, but is positively charming and tender.

The subdued nature of the acting carries over to Gosling as well who manages to relay all he needs to via his facial expressions seeing as how dialog is not the Driver's strong suit.  Taking on a completely different role from his last film Crazy, Stupid, Love, Gosling is truly the actor to watch right now.  He's a confident actor who seems to be right at home in his role here as a nice guy with slightly shady tendencies.

In the end, though, if you notice a lack of excitement in this review of Drive, it's because I have an overall general lack of excitement for the film.  Drive is a good film, but it's not as good as the raves would lead you to believe.  The tremendous buzz over Albert Brooks' role as a seedy criminal mastermind is groundless, in my opinion.  Like the film itself, Brooks was fine, but nothing rave-worthy.  Yes, the chase scenes are well shot, the film exudes a smart arthousey vibe which I enjoyed, and I never once found that the film lagged or felt boring (as was the major complaint I've heard from the haters of this movie).  Still, the film just didn't rouse me the way the "best" movies are wont to do.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Movie Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and Patrick Dempsey
Directed by Michael Bay

I felt this incredible sense of promise during the first ten minutes of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  The year is 1969 and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin having just landed on the moon are given a top secret mission to explore some unknown object that had landed there eight years prior.  They uncover some weird humongous spacecraft that ends up belonging to the Autobot "race" of Transformers.  

And then the movie jumps to modern times...and the movie falls apart and turns into just as awful a piece of junk as the second movie in this heinously bad series.  You don't need to know anything other than the fact that the good Autobots are trying to save the Earth from the bad Decepticons.  Nothing else matters because nothing happens.  And it still clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours.

The second flick of the series got the rather dubious honor of being one of the worst movies I saw in 2009 and I would venture to guess that Dark of the Moon will fall into that same category.  There's just nothing good here.  Subpar acting, ridiculously inane battle sequences, and a visual color palette that is nothing but metallic gray.  

God...I could go on and on, but I despise this series and I think that in the future, I won't subject myself to any more of them.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Theater Review - The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Leslie Reidel
Where:  Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Saturday, October 1, 2011

Photo by Nadine Howatt

I must admit that I was spoiled by the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players' ten-show roster in 2010-2011, so I can't help but feel a little gypped that I only get to see this wonderful troupe in five plays this season.  Still, the group is mostly in tact from previous seasons and the caliber of acting hasn't declined in the slightest in their first production this season, Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes.  It's slightly unfortunate that the play itself which is full of melodramatic manipulative backstabbing amongst a wealthy southern family in 1900 isn't a bit more wickedly devious and underhanded.  I can absolutely see how this would have been eaten up by the public in 1939 when it was written, but today it doesn't quite have the oomph and driving force to reach a modern day audience.  Don't get me wrong...The Little Foxes is a solid play, but it didn't rouse me or particularly excite me in any way.

What is exciting and wonderful (as is always the case with these REP productions) is the caliber of acting on display.  Front and center is Elizabeth Heflin who takes on the juicy role of Regina Hubbard -- a character just ripe for scenery-chewing in a good way.  In what is probably her best role yet (although I missed a few turns from her in the 2009-2010 season), Heflin grabs your attention whenever she steps foot on the stage.  With hints of flirtatiousness on the outskirts of her personality, when her almost diabolical true intentions are revealed, Regina Giddens is simply a great central character whom to base a play around and Heflin is a commanding presence.

Unfortunately, it is in Regina's interactions with her brothers where the play lost my interest.  Looking to build a cotton mill, Ben and Oscar Hubbard (Stephen Pelinski and Mic Matarrese) discover that Regina is interested in investing some money of her ailing husband (Steve Tague) into the venture.  Eventually coming to terms regarding the new business, the three siblings can't quite permit family values to take precedence over their own personal greediness.  Blood certainly takes a back seat to the quest for power in the Hubbard clan.  At a certain point, maybe my ill-conceived preconceptions of the word "melodramatic" equalling "campiness" was a detriment.  Part of me expected the siblings to continue one-upping one another ad infinitum, but things are perhaps a little more "subdued" than I thought they were going to be prior to the start of the play.

In addition to the aforementioned Heflin, special recognition should also go to REP member Carine Montbertrand who continues to succeed in every role she tackles with the repertory company.  Here her Birdie is almost the heart of the production with the character finding herself appalled by the corruptive nature of the Hubbard family including the actions of her power-hungry husband Oscar.  Forced to act a certain way in order to appear presentable, Birdie is devastatingly unhappy with her life and her true feelings are exposed heartbreakingly by Montbertrand in the final act.  Also, excellent work from guest actor Erin Partin who portrays Regina's daughter Alexandra.  Similar to Birdie, Alexandra is being forced to kowtow to her family's desires.  In the hands of the young Partin, Alexandra is certainly questioning her expected role in life and has quite an exciting moment in the play's final scene.

[On a side note, it was wonderful to see a play from the REP that places much focus on the women of the troupe.  Last year, I mentioned that I thought the ladies were pushed to the wayside in many of the plays they presented, but that certainly isn't the case in The Little Foxes.]

As is to be expected in REP productions, the audience is treated to a lovely set and beautiful costumes.  And, as is also always the case with this company, the production itself is high quality.  As I've said in the past, the REP is simply the best theater you'll see in Delaware and some of the best theater you'll see on the east coast (and the price simply can't be beat).  Even if I couldn't get into The Little Foxes entirely, I'm certainly appreciative of seeing the different types of plays put on by my alma mater.