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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,...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movie Review - The Bleeding House

The Bleeding House (2011)
Starring Alexandra Chando and Patrick Breen
Directed by Philip Gelatt
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Way back in 2009, I saw a horrible horror movie at the Newark Film Festival.  Filled with talky nonsense, gratuitous blood, and some of the worst acting I'd ever seen, I was hoping that I'd never see another film that stooped to its equivalent cinematic low.  While The Bleeding House doesn't quite reach that level, it comes awfully close.  Perhaps what's even worse is that screenwriter-director Philip Gelatt managed to get the Tribeca Film Festival and American Express to produce this simply awful piece of work which felt like some very poorly crafted student project.

There's no point in even bothering with a lengthy summary here except to say that a southern stranger who appears to be gentlemanly enters the home of a family that harbors some dark secrets and ends up wreaking havoc on them.  The stranger incessantly rambles about God and faith while torturing his victims and nothing he says makes a modicum of sense.

Ugh.  The whole thing was really painful.  The acting "talent" is simply awful.  Granted, they're given horrible dialog to spout and unbelievable actions to carry out courtesy of their director, but they still aren't of any high caliber.  Unfortunately, despite the painfulness of the flick, it doesn't ever reach levels of "so bad, it's good."  It's just all bad.

The RyMickey Rating:  F
Just a reminder that the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' production of Noises Off continues its run both this weekend and next after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday.  My review of the great, highly recommended production can be found here.  Don't miss out on the high quality theater taking place in our small state.

Photo by Paul Cerro

Monday, November 28, 2011

Movie Review - Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Starring Onni Tomilla and Jorma Tommila
Directed by Jalmari Helander

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is certainly one of the most unique Christmas movies I've ever seen and while the tale is almost too simple and is absolutely resolved too quickly, I couldn't help but be won over a little bit by its originality.  I'm not quite sure there's another Christmas movie out there where Santa's naked elves run amok trying to capture naughty children in order to have them be reprimanded by Old St. Nick.  Don't mistake this for a horror movie -- admittedly, that's what I thought it was when I first heard about this flick a year ago.  No, it's really a weird dark comedy (one where you don't exactly laugh) based upon a interesting Santa Claus myth -- one in which Santa doesn't reward good children, but instead rather brutally punishes bad kids.

On the outskirts of Finland, an archeological expedition is underway.  Soon after young Piettari (Onni Tomilla) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) stumble across the site, all of the reindeer which their fathers hunt in order to make a living end up dead...slaughtered, actually.  Piettari begins to feel guilt for entering the site and after doing a bit of research starts to believe that the dig is meant to unearth Santa Claus who was buried under a huge mountain hundreds of years prior in order to prevent him from doing harm to children.  Although his father (Jorma Tommila) finds Piettari's stories hard to believe, he soon finds that his young son may not be imagining things.

Despite the flick's short 80-minute run time, Rare Exports does have a tendency to drag a bit (I think, in part, subtitled flicks have a predisposition to do that sometimes), but for the most part it's an enjoyable little diversion that I am sure will be unlike any Christmas movie you'll have ever seen.  Although it's rated R (mainly for some blurry - and sometimes not-so-blurry - male nudity), it's certainly not filled with language or massive amounts of violence.  For its sheer absurdity, I can't help but recommend a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Movie Review - Nativity!

Nativity! (2009)
Starring Martin Freeman, Marc Wootton, Jason Watkins, Pam Ferris, and Ashley Jensen
Directed by Debbie Isitt
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

As you'll see in the upcoming weeks as Christmas-related movie reviews pop up on the site a little more frequently, there is a slight bit of leeway given to holiday flicks.  For about 75% of them, they're going to be treacly and overly sentimental and that simply comes with the territory of the general feeling of happiness that accompanies this time of year.  So, in that regard, something that may not be a well-made or overly complex film may get a little more leeway from my normal Grinch-ian ways.

That's the case with the semi-improvised British comedy Nativity! in which primary school teacher Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) is forced by his Catholic school's principal (Pam Ferris) to put on the school's annual nativity play for the holidays.  Paul despises Christmas because a few years ago his girlfriend Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) left him around the holiday to go to Hollywood in an attempt to become a big-time producer.  It also certainly doesn't help matters that his former best friend Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) heads up the rival school's popular (and much more successful) local nativity production.

One afternoon, when searching for a Christmas tree for the production with his aide Mr. Poppy (Marc Wootton), Paul runs into Gordon and, in a jealous moment, Paul fabricates a huge lie that Jennifer -- the ever-successful US producer -- is traveling to their small England town to film his school's nativity production to release as a motion picture.  Mr. Poppy (a childish oaf of a man who was forced upon Paul simply because he is the nephew of the school's principal) overhears this and quickly spreads the word, forcing Paul to be faced with a major problem on his hands as the nativity play finds itself growing more and more out of control.

Nativity! is a cute film and one that's perfectly suited to family viewing (although I do think it skews a bit more adult in that some of the humor is derived from religious issues...and not in a disrespectful way mind you...kind of like Sister Act in that regard).  The story is pleasant enough and interactions between the serious Martin Freeman and the irresponsible though lovable Marc Wootton are certainly laughter-inducing...as are the sometimes priceless reactions and line readings from the young grade-schoolers who make up Paul's classroom.  

Admittedly, the story here is weak and the attempts to make any semblance of a love story between Paul and his ex Jennifer fail.  The film works when it focuses on the kids and even then director Debbie Isitt tends to linger a bit too long on scenes, trying to milk them for all of the comedy she can get which oftentimes doesn't work.  However, Nativity! is a film that wears its good-natured heart on its sleeve and provides at least a semblance (however funnily bastardized it is) of "the reason for the season" making it worth a placement in your Netflix Instant Queue this holiday.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Movie Review - The Muppets

The Muppets (2011)
Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Animal, and all your favorite Muppets of yore
Directed by James Bobin

If they're searching for methods to help drug addicts get over their cravings, search no further than The Muppets -- a movie that put me on a euphoric high quite like (I'd imagine) any type of illegal substance.  A smile will never leave your face during its running time -- unless you find yourself tearing up at the sentimental musings of a frog made of felt like I did at times.

I was worried about this one.  I had such high expectations.  I tried to avoid everything other than those parody trailers that, while certainly humorous, admittedly made me cautious for fear of trying to "hip up" the Muppets in some way (and after some recent failed attempts since 1992's Muppet Christmas Carol, I was even more on edge).  My worries were unfounded, however, as Muppet-lover Jason Segal has co-wrote a glorious ode to some favorite characters of my youth.  The nostalgia factor is certainly working overtime here, but that's not the only thing carrying this to greatness -- it's a genuinely well-made and charming flick as well.

Echoing their "true life" story, the Muppets in The Muppets have faded from the public's favor after a very successful run from the mid-seventies through the 1980s.  This loss of popularity caused the Muppets to split up, all heading their various ways and leading to the near abandonment of the once great Muppet Studios in Los Angeles.  This doesn't sit too well with Walter, a Muppet himself, who has always found himself out of place in the small town of Small Town, forever living in a world inhabited by humans including his brother Gary (Segel) -- and, no, the movie offers no explanation as to how Walter and Gary could possibly be related despite the fact that one is made out of fabric and the other is made out of DNA -- just go with it.  When taking a trip to the deserted and dilapidated Muppet Studios in LA with Gary and Gary's gal Mary (an absolutely adorable Amy Adams), Walter unwittingly stumbles onto a plan by oil tycoon Tex Richman (the slimy Chris Cooper) to raze the studios and drill for oil underneath unless the Muppets can raise ten million dollars within two weeks.  This sets into effect the whole point of the movie -- a Muppet reunion to have a telethon that will hopefully save the Studios and reinvigorate the public's love for this adorable creatures.

The story is simple and perhaps runs a tiny bit thin during the hunt to track down Kermit's Muppet pals, but none of that really matters in the end because the film is so goshdarn amusing and pleasant that you can overlook a tiny flaw here or there (and they really are tiny because the flick overall is pretty spectacular).  Right from the beginning, Jason Segel, his co-writer Nicholas Stoller, music supervisor Bret McKenzie, and director James Bobin (the latter two worked on HBO's short-lived Flight of the Conchords of which this flick sometimes has a similar vibe) set up a charmingly corny self-aware breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of vibe where the routine task of brushing one's teeth can elicit wonderfully funny and beguilingly whimsical music numbers to take flight.  Segel and his human co-star Amy Adams are game for this happy-go-lucky vibe with their "aw shucks" demeanors playing splendidly next to the old school showmanship of the Muppets who rightfully take center stage throughout much of the film.  Similarly, Chris Cooper deliciously hams up the scenery as the nefarious oil tycoon villain providing the perfect counterpoint to the squeaky clean demeanor of everyone surrounding him.

And the Muppets themselves...they've provided so many great memories for this reviewer and their eponymous movie is just one more winner to add to the list.  Sure, their voices may have changed a little bit (Fozzie's stuck out the most to me as not quite getting the vocal tones right), but they're still the same characters we all grew to love when we were kids.  Gonzo's still goofy, the Swedish Chef is still incomprehensible, Fozzie's still producing the worst jokes imaginable, Miss Piggy's still bossy, and Kermit's still the (perhaps) reluctant, but ever lovable, ringleader of the gang.  Their storyline and the ensuing reunion of sorts was surprisingly touching and absolutely believable.  [There's a moment towards the beginning of the film where a sullen Kermit remembers his heyday that was nearly gutwrenching in its genuine sadness.]  It never feels like we're watching puppets -- even when we're following new and unknown Muppet felt creation Walter whose wide-eyed exuberance and optimism fits right in with older characters we've known and loved for decades.

One can only hope that The Muppets is a successful revival of the Muppets themselves.  Jason Segel has proven that he truly is a fan of these crazy creatures and his love is blatantly evident onscreen here with genuine care to honor Jim Henson's creations.  As soon as I saw Walter and Gary watching the original Muppet Show at the beginning of the film, I knew Segel was building upon the past rather than taking the Muppets in a completely different direction.  And when the shot of Jim Henson sitting next to Kermit popped up in a scene, this sense of tradition became even more obvious.  Kudos all around to all involved in The Muppets for crafting quite simply the most enjoyable time you will spend in a movie theater in 2011.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Monday, November 21, 2011

Movie Review - The Tree

The Tree (2011)
Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davis, and Marton Csokas
Directed by Julie Bertuccelli
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Not to be confused with The Tree of Life reviewed earlier this week, the Australian flick The Tree is similar to that aforementioned film in that both deal with death and its effect on those whom the deceased leaves behind.  The Tree is a much more straightforward film, however, when compared to Terrence Malick's sometime stream-of-consciousness filmmaking technique.  Unfortunately, The Tree is a tad bland with a story that meanders a bit too much despite a nice performance from the always reliable Charlotte Gainsbourg.

After the sudden death of her husband, Dawn (Gainsbourg) is finding it devastatingly difficult to make it through life.  Her four children try their best to move on and help their mother move past her grieving process, but they're finding that task quite unnerving.  When eight-year-old Simone (Morgana Davis) believes that the aura of her father is alive in the gigantic fig tree next to their home, she finally finds something that will get her mother out of bed.  Despite her better judgment, Dawn discovers that she genuinely feels the presence of her husband in the tree.  However, when the growing tree begins to impede upon their house, the family finds itself forced to make some difficult decisions (complete with completely obvious metaphors).

For a movie that's all about death, The Tree simply comes off as too slight and rather silly.  Ultimately, I bought the premise while watching it, but reflection has caused the film to not sit as well a few days later. Admittedly, Charlotte Gainsbourg is quite good as the grieving and tense mother.  I was unfamiliar with her work prior to last year, but since then, I've been very impressed with her recent repertoire of Antichrist, Melancholia, and this.  Unfortunately for Gainsbourg, her performances are simply too good for these movies she chooses.  Morgana Davis was at times near perfect in her role as a the young daughter, but then had several moments of being that "obnoxious" smarter-than-she-should be character we all hate in movies.

The Tree is a pretty film, but never quite succeeds at providing the drama that a movie with this theme should create.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Theater Review - Noises Off

Noises Off
Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Gregory Boyd
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Saturday, November 19, 2011

Photo by Paul Cerro

No need to bury the lede here...The Resident Ensemble Players at the University of Delaware have produced what is likely the funniest piece of theater I've ever seen performed in their current production of Noises Off.  Granted, they're working with what many call the best comedic play of the modern era, but it's a piece that needs a stellar troupe of actors to pull off the need for both spot-on slapstick and well-timed verbal barbs and, as is typically the case with the REP, the group doesn't disappoint.  In fact, they simply exceeded all expectations -- and there were some lofty ones seeing as how I had read that this play performed properly is a laugh riot.

When the play begins we find ourselves front and center at the final dress rehearsal for the play Nothing On -- a ridiculously written British sex farce filled with door slamming, innuendo, and a bit of mistaken identity.  The play's awful, but the troupe of seven past-their-prime or never-to-have-their-prime actors are still trudging through it.  To the director Lloyd Dallas, it's a lost cause that only a large consumption of pills and alcohol can make better, but he still attempts to get the cast in line prior to the opening night a mere eighteen hours away.

Although Act One of the play was certainly funny, nothing could have prepared me for Acts II and III where I think my cheeks started to hurt from laughing so much.  [I also discovered that my tear ducts still work seeing as how there were some uproariously funny moments that caused my eyes to well up.]  Act II finds us watching Act I of Nothing On again, but this time from backstage.  It's Feburary, a month into the production, and the actors are getting on each other's nerves leading to hilarity and a bit of treachery in the wings.  In the final act of Noises Off, we once again view Act I of Nothing On in April, and the traveling company of Nothing On is a wreck.  Anything that could go wrong does, but as is the case in theater, "the show must go on"...and it does in the most gut-bustingly ways.

A farce within a farce, writer Michael Frayn has crafted comedic gold here.  By showing the audience what Nothing On is supposed to look like in Act I (which still provides its share of laughs), Frayn is able to cull humor from all the mishaps that occur in Acts II and III of Noises Off.  I imagine that this is an incredibly difficult play to direct particularly because of the need for dead-on timing and Gregory Boyd has succeeded in this production.  This troupe of actors (seen below) nails it and that's a credit to him.
Photo by Evan Krape

And the actors...The REP over the years has provided some great theater.  Excellent drama, excellent comedy, but I don't think we've yet to see them perform a play in which every member of the REP was in the production.  Here, we see all eight members perform together (along with guest actor John Tyson) and the way they gel together is kind of amazing.  I know that a play like this takes a lot of work, but it sure looked like they were having a helluva lot of fun up there and that feeling permeated into the audience who had a riotous time as well.

Where do you even begin when it comes to pointing out the actors here seeing as how every single one of them was stellar?  They all (for the most part) have to take on double roles as both the characters in Nothing On and their actor-counterparts and they've crafted unique personalities for both roles.  I could list stand-outs, but I'd be listing the whole cast -- Kathleen Pirkl Tague, Stephen Pelinski, Mic Matarrese, Deena Burke, Carine Montbertrand, Steve Tague, Elizabeth Heflin, Michael Gotch, and John Tyson -- and that would just take up a whole lot of room, wouldn't it?

Honestly, if you're in the vicinity of Newark, Delaware, it's simply a disservice to yourself to not get down to the University of Delaware and see this production.  You won't be sorry.  And, who knows, you might even get to see your intrepid reviewer there as I'm certainly going to snatch up another ticket to see this one.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movie Review - Take Me Home Tonight

Take Me Home Tonight (2011)
Starring Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Folger, Teresa Palmer, and Chris Pratt
Directed by Michael Dowse
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Since I saw The Sorcerer's Apprentice last year, I've admittedly harbored a slight crush on the Australian actress Teresa Palmer.  Despite that, my opinion of Take Me Home Tonight, a 1980s-set film that sat on the shelf for a few years, was not swayed by the presence of Ms. Palmer.  Although both she and Topher Grace are actually quite good, this supposed comedy which takes place over one long summer night failed to produce a laugh once and that's simply unacceptable.

Ms. Palmer is Tori, the beautiful gal whom Matt (Grace) has crushed on since high school.  Years have gone by and both have graduated from prestigious universities, but Tori has gone on to be a successful investment banker while Matt isn't exactly using his engineering degree to its fullest potential by working at the Suncoast Video at the mall.  The two meet up at a party held by Kyle (Chris Pratt), Matt's twin sister Wendy's boyfriend.  Wendy (Anna Faris) finds herself in her own predicament -- head off to grad school or stay with Kyle.  While she debates what to do with her life, Matt is focused solely on the night at hand, trying to impress Tori by concocting lies to make himself sound more impressive.  Of course, it should be no surprise that this scheming will backfire.

As I mentioned, there's actually quite a bit of chemistry between Topher Grace and Teresa Palmer and they're certainly pleasant to watch.  However, they're certainly not "funny" characters, so the film feels the need to surround them with quirkiness, including Matt's best friend Barry (Dan Folger) who, having just been fired from his job that morning goes on a raucous rampage complete with hefty drug use, alcohol consumption, and wild sex.  Unfortunately, the character of Barry, like many of the other roles thrown in simply to garner a laugh or two, don't produce chuckles.  Instead, they often conjure up eye rolls more than anything else while also padding the running time.  And the aforementioned character of Wendy -- completely and utterly pointless.  The attempt to give her a storyline that matters is completely unnecessary as us viewers don't care about her in the slightest despite a valiant attempt by Anna Faris.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Movie Review - The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life (2011)
Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, and Hunter McCracken
Directed by Terrence Malick

Misfortune befalls the good...not just the bad...We are often uprooted like a tree...But we must go on.

Right off the bat, let me just say that I don't think I'm smart enough to watch The Tree of Life and fully understand it.  It's a movie that is in need of Cliff's Notes in order to fully get what director-writer Terrence Malick was trying to get across in his dream-like visual style.  In that respect, does anyone really want to go to a movie and feel like they're back in high school reading things like Shakespeare or Chaucer where you can't help but think you learn more by reading the notes that accompany the main works than the actual work itself?  I'm sure were I to watch the movie again, more details that seemed like they were throwaways in the initial viewing would take on more meaning.  Of course, any second viewing of a film reveals things that weren't noticed the first time, but I'm not sure where I stand on the notion that you should have to watch a film a second time in order to understand it's overarching themes.

It's not that I came away from The Tree of Life completely lost...I get that it's a film about grief, about relationships between children and their parents, and about faith.  I understand that at its core is the notion that death is simply a part of life that shouldn't be feared, but rather accepted.  And as I sit here typing out this review, I'm actually growing more and more appreciative of the film and the rather beautiful way it tackles these issues.  [I'm particularly impressed at the way it doesn't shy away from this notion of an all-powerful being (ie. God) and his role in Life.]

However, despite all this, I did find a major problem with the actual plot of the film -- yes, there is a plot, if you can find it amidst the interesting camerawork and incessant (though rather eloquent) voiceovers.  At its heart, The Tree of Life looks at the relationship between father and son and, in this film, we are supposed to take away that Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt) is much too harsh to his three boys, including Jack (Hunter McCracken) whom the film tends to focus on.  However -- and this is the major issue I have with the movie -- I never got the sense that Brad Pitt's character was a bad guy...in fact, there were moments where I felt he was oddly affectionate for what the viewing audience stereotypically thinks of when it comes to a 1950s father.  He wanted what was best for his sons and tried to show them how to be the best boys they could be.  Ultimately, this "tumultuous" relationship proved problematic for me because I never really got a sense as to why Jack was so angry with his father (and, in turn, his mother [played by Jessica Chastain] for putting up with what he felt were his father's faults).  The scars that the father left on his sons didn't seem legitimate.

I simply don't think this is a flaw that I'd be able to overcome on repeated viewings, but I can see myself taking on repeated viewings of this nonetheless.  I'm over a day removed from my initial watch and I still find myself thinking about the movie certainly because of the very vagueness that I critiqued in the opening paragraph.  I found much of the film beautiful to look at and I found the highly spiritual content welcoming and rather thought-provoking...SPOILER...the final scenes in which an adult Jack (Sean Penn) wanders around a heaven-like environment in which he learns that his family is still living on a different spiritual plane were particularly spiritually invigorating.  END SPOILER  However, in a film dealing with grief and the pain that comes along with that emotion, there is an odd detachment from the characters here.  I was never really moved by what I saw onscreen via the characters themselves, but the visual images were oftentimes quite thought-provoking.

Acting is decent overall with Brad Pitt continuing his rather positive year thanks to this and Moneyball. Jessica Chastain is seemingly in everything this year, but this is the first movie I've seen of hers and while she was perfectly adequate as the mother, I'll have to refrain from saying that she's the new "It Girl" as she is called in some parts.  Hunter McCracken was fine in his first acting role, but as I've mentioned before, I find the character a flawed one insomuch as I couldn't quite figure out why he despised his parents as much as he did.

Still, The Tree of Life is an interesting watch.  Kudos to Terrance Malick for creating a dream-like atmosphere containing minimal dialog and interesting camera cuts and movements.  It's for the visuals and the spirituality angle that would cause me to watch this again...and I just might in the near future.  I'll end with a rather simplistic, but beautiful quote from the flick that stuck with me for some reason post-viewing:

The only way to be happy is to love.  Unless you love your life will flash by.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Movie Review - Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses (2011)
Starring Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston
Directed by Seth Gordon

Perhaps I did Horrible Bosses a disservice by watching it a day after Bridesmaids, but this modern-day retelling of 9 to 5 from a male point of view just didn't provide the laughs needed to succeed (especially when compared to the Kristen Wiig-starring raunchfest).

Three guys all have severe problems with their bosses.  Nick (Jason Bateman) is aggravated when his sadistically controlling boss (Kevin Spacey) passes him over for a vice president's job at a big corporate firm.  When Kurt's (Jason Sudeikis) boss dies, the job is taken over by the boss's druggie party-guy son (Colin Farrell) making day-to-day activities a living hell.  For Dale (Charlie Day), a dental assistant, his problem revolves his sex-obsessed, completely inappropriate dentist boss (Jennifer Aniston) as she attempts to do whatever she can to get Dale into bed despite the fact that he is engaged to be married.

Fed up, the three concoct a plan to kill their respective bosses and, unfortunately, that's where the movie falls apart.  Ultimately, the scheme to do aware with their uncouth supervisors isn't all that funny.  In the first third of the film, when the focus is on the devious bosses, the humor comes across rather easily -- Jennifer Aniston, in particular, is riotously hilarious at moments in a role that is unlike anything she's ever done before.  However, the characters portrayed by Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day simply aren't interesting enough to have a movie crafted around them.  Jason Bateman, in particular, is incredibly bland here, giving his character zero personality.  Jason Sudeikis feels like he's rehashing the same character we saw in the better Hall Pass earlier this year.  Charlie Day is the only one of the trio to provide some truly funny moments, but I still couldn't help but think he was playing the same guy he plays on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  And the less said about Jamie Foxx's role as a hired hit man the better.  Completely humorless, his scenes grind the film to a screeching halt.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Movie Review - Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids (2011)
Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Chris O'Dowd, and Jill Clayburgh
Directed by Paul Feig

Somehow, Bridesmaids contains all the well-known aspects of your typical Hollywood rom-coms (including that ever-so-popular favorite of female-centric flicks -- the need to dance at film's end), but twists them in such a way that they feel new, refreshing, and sometimes raunchily dirty.  Still, at the center of the flick -- and what makes it work as well as it does -- is heart.  And, corny as that may sound, in spite of the dirty jokes (or perhaps even because of the contrast they provide), the surprising amount of warmth is what makes this hilarious comedy a huge success.

When her best friend since childhood Lilian (Maya Rudolph) tells her she's engaged, thirtysomething Annie (Kristen Wiig) is quite happy for her...however, it also sets into motion thoughts that thanks to the facts that her bakery business has shut down and that she's yet to settle down in a meaningful relationship she's somehow failed in her life.  Still, Annie takes on the task of being maid of honor with gusto only to find herself in a somewhat self-imposed competition with Helen (Rose Byrne), the wife of Lilian's husband's boss.  Helen has gobs of money and, unknown to Annie up until this point, has apparently formed a wonderful friendship with Lilian over the past year.

This rivalry with Helen is where Bridesmaids gets both its humor and its heart as a skittishly nervous Annie does what she can in order to constantly try and one-up everything Helen puts in her way.  The film succeeds because Annie's insecurities feel real and natural and Kristen Wiig (who also is credited as co-writer) excels at presenting both the comedy and Annie's sense of angst and worry that she is in danger of losing her best friend.  Wiig sometimes takes things over-the-top on Saturday Night Live, but the humor in Bridesmaids arises from the growth and development of the characters and her Annie is a joy with whom to spend two hours.  Yes, Wiig carries over some of her typical SNL mannerisms, but she gives herself a substantial character to wrap her idiosyncrasies around as opposed to just a two-dimensional person from a six-minute skit.  Plain and simple, the movie works because Wiig makes Annie a character who is entirely believable as both the funny easygoing gal and the panicked maid of honor desperate to maintain her relationship with her best friend.

Wiig is joined by a very funny group of ladies making up the bridal party including the Emmy-winning Melissa McCarthy who got quite a bit of buzz (and is even being bandied about as a possible Oscar nominee) for her role as the uncouth Megan.  While McCarthy is hilarious, my initial reaction is that Rose Byrne has maybe the most difficult role here yet still manages to mine the character for all the comedy it can provide.  Byrne's Helen starts off as the stereotypical rich bitch (which provides many a laugh), but Wiig and her co-writer Annie Mumolo give Helen a bit of a backstory that changes our view of her character by film's end in a pleasant and totally believable way.  Also great is Maya Rudolph who I always liked on SNL.  It's wonderful to see her given a role that, while maybe not the most developed in the film, places her at the center of the action.

Like typical Judd Apatow-produced comedies (as this one is), there are moments where the film feels like it runs a tiny bit too long, but those moments never last long.  I haven't belly-laughed this much in a movie in a long time.  Perhaps even more important, though, and what makes Bridesmaids work is that the incredibly successful adult humor is evenly matched with a warm sentimentality that never feels cloying or preachy.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Movie Review - X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class (2011)
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Oliver Platt, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, and Kevin Bacon
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Admittedly, after watching this prequel to the previous X-Men movie incarnations, I'm shocked X-Men: First Class didn't do as well as the others in the franchise.  Maybe people felt like they'd seen it all before, but this well-made actioner is simply the best X-Men movie to date filled with some solid performances, a great 1960s vibe, and some clever, witty references to the movies that came before it.

The year is 1962 and after discovering the full potential of their genetic mutations in the 1940s, mind reader/controller Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and metal-wielding Erik Lehnsherr AKA Magneto (Michael Fassbender) find themselves friends and at the center of a government "study" of sorts headed by CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) in order to find more humans with these special genetic abilities.  As if the "normal" human race having issues with these abnormalities wasn't enough to deal with, Charles and Erik also find themselves faced with trying to stop another group of "mutants" headed by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who are out to prove that the mutant population should rule over the regular folk.  To add to the intrigue, back in 1944, Shaw was partnering with the Nazis and ended up killing Erik's mother at a concentration camp.  Needless to say, Erik finds himself on a mission to do whatever is necessary to avenge his mother's death.

While it's certainly true that the X-Men series mirrors the Civil Rights movement, here we get an even stronger (and perhaps more blatant) connection to the X-Men equalling the Jews during the Holocaust.  It's a powerful connection, but one that doesn't quite work perfectly.  Still, the connection to WWII does perfectly provide a wonderful villain in Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw.  While some may view Bacon's performance as perhaps over-the-top, I don't see that as a detriment at all.  I mean, we're dealing with shape-shifting, metal-bending, mind-readers here...over-the-top is de rigueur here.  Bacon is certainly larger than life, but it's obvious he's having a heckuva good time playing a deliciously evil baddie with a slick 60s suaveness.

Michael Fassbender is also quite good as Erik/Magneto -- a tortured guy who has comes to terms with his powers, but not quite with the fact that he lost his mother because of them.  James McAvoy was fine as Charles Xavier, but perhaps a tad bland...then again, the character of Professor Xavier never exactly lights the screen up with his personality.

With some really solid action sequences (including a very exciting final showdown) and a lovely 1960s feel that felt near perfect in its retro-ness, director Michael Vaughn has crafted one of the better superhero movies made in the past decade.

The RyMickey Rating (11/13/11):  B+
Updated Ranking (8/29/15):  A-

Friday, November 11, 2011

Movie Review - The Ides of March

The Ides of March (2011)
Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, and Marisa Tomei
Directed by George Clooney

I'm not sure if The Ides of March was attempting to be something more thought-provoking than the simple melodrama I took away from it, but if George Clooney's film was trying to be meaningful and insightful, it didn't succeed at all on that level.  The slowly unfolding story (and I do mean slowly...particularly in the first fifty minutes of tedium) eventually turns into something rather riveting, but it's really just a glorified soap opera -- not that there's anything wrong with that if it's as well-crafted as this is in its final moments.  That said, The Ides of March tries to mask the overly dramatic moments, wanting instead to feign that it's incredibly important when, in fact, it simply reiterates what is already known -- politics is full of shady dealings and lapses in ethics by the very people who purport to be the moral pillars of society.

I knew very little going into The Ides of March and, in the end, that's probably for the best, so I'm going to reveal very little in terms of the plot except to say that the film focuses on thirty-year-old Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a young campaign advisor for Pennsylvania governor/Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney).  Stephen is a strong up-and-comer and is lauded for his smarts when it comes to the political spectrum.  Stephen's partner/boss on Morris's campaign is Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a longtime advisor to Democratic candidates.  Paul and Stephen seem like a solid duo, offering the opposite spectrums of weathered experience and wide-eyed optimism, respectively, to the Morris campaign.  For nearly the first fifty minutes, the film simply feels like a look at these three men on the campaign trail with occasional looks at Morris's competitor's campaign headed by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who is certain his candidate will overtake Morris's apparent lead.

Finally, nearly an hour into the movie, something interesting finally happens which I won't reveal here and the movie takes the viewer on an interesting little ride which, while not full of necessarily surprising twists and turns, is at least thoroughly entertaining.  As an auteur, George Clooney (like his fellow actor/director Clint Eastwood) is very old school, utilizing very little in terms of gimmickry.  Usually, I'd be all for that, but in all of Clooney's films (much like Eastwood's) he can't move the movie along at a quick enough clip to keep me interested.  While well shot and nicely framed, the story just lacks a powerful punch for nearly half of the running time.

Part of the problem in The Ides of March is that the film doesn't give the viewer anything new to chew on.  Are we surprised that members of the same political party do anything and everything they can to defame their fellow members (shades of Herman Cain and the current Republicans perhaps)?  Are we shocked by a lack of ethics from our political candidates and their campaign workers?  There's just nothing surprising about the uncouth underbelly of politics.  The film at least comes alive when it gravitates towards the melodrama that comes hand-in-hand with lapses in morality.  The lack of vivacity and any modicum of excitement in the first half, though, doesn't push the film forward at all.  [Truth be told here...I looked at my watch about twenty minutes into the movie and I seriously felt that at least fifty minutes had gone by...I almost said aloud, "You've got to be kidding me."]

"Star" George Clooney actually takes a backseat to Ryan Gosling's Stephen, but this is still Gosling's least interesting role this year (after Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive).  However, Gosling continues to prove that he is probably the best actor of my generation.  He plays a smooth talker here with Stephen's up-and-coming status in politics not having sullied him yet by the cynicism that permeates his fellow older co-workers' daily lives.  Clooney is fine, but is hurt by an opening hour that simply has him spouting off speeches that seemed too well-written to ring true.  Hoffman and Giamatti are both quite good in their roles of the weathered campaign advisors and Evan Rachel Wood is also strong as the young intern who has a thing for Stephen.

Still, had The Ides of March simply dropped the pompous aire of self-importance in the opening acts and skipped directly to the smart soap opera-like twists and turns that made up the rather exciting climax, this would have been a flick I could have wholeheartedly recommended.  As it stands, though, it's too bland to really amount to anything worth talking about.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Movie Review - Melancholia

Melancholia (2011)
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård, and Charlotte Rampling
Directed by Lars von Trier
***An early review -- This film arrives in local arthouses on Friday***

Melancholia is, by definition, a sense of sadness and the dour atmosphere of Lars von Trier's Melancholia is enough to send one into a depressive state.  This is a film that just reeks of self-importance and self-indulgence and despite some solid performances, I found myself unequivocally disinterested in the whole affair.  Ultimately, the overarching problem with the film is a main character who is so oddly unbalanced that I never once got a sense of who this person was or why she was acting in the manner that she was.  This proves to be a nearly insurmountable problem with Melancholia despite a final hour that was surprisingly tense and well-executed.

That aforementioned problematic character is Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst who won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival this past May), a young woman whom we meet on her wedding day as she arrives at the reception held at a fancy country club owned by her brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland) and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  She is seemingly happy, fawning over her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård).  Sometime in the night, though, things seem to fall apart for Justine and she retreats from the festivities, falling into a depression that just simply doesn't seem warranted (or, if warranted, comes on much too quickly and intensely), causing her to do things that seem so incredibly out-of-place thereby ruining the "credibility" of the character for me.

Part One of the film focuses on "Justine," but the much more successful Part Two focuses on her sister "Claire."  At the beginning of the film, we are treated to an odd eight-minute long wordless dreamlike sequence set to classical music detailing an apocalyptic moment.  It is in Part Two that we begin to realize what the heck that opening barrage of images was all about.  After having welcomed an almost catatonically depressed Justine back into their country club home, Claire is worried about the fact that a rogue planet called Melancholia is set to pass by Earth, just missing a catastrophic collision.  While her astronomy-nut husband John tries to console her, Claire finds herself slowly slipping into a state of depression.  Unlike Justine's depression, however, Claire's emotional state feels legit -- she's got a young son and the thought of the world ending is intensely foreboding.

While I may not have understood the emotional state of Justine at all, I will say that Kirsten Dunst is in top form and I blame director-writer Lars von Trier for crafting an unbalanced character rather than harp on Dunst for the flaws.  Dunst particularly shines in Part Two (as does the whole movie in general) thanks to interactions with the wonderful Charlotte Gainsbourg who, unlike Dunst, is given a character with an arc that is fully believable.  Because of this, Gainsbourg's emotional journey is the one which the viewers will respond to the most and the film's final moments are rather riveting because of this.  [I should also note that I was rather surprisingly impressed by Kiefer Sutherland here, portraying (at least outwardly) the only sane person amidst this group of crazies.]

Melancholia is at times a beautiful film.  There are images that are sometimes stunning to look at.  The film's final moments are pretty good (perhaps even verging on great) cinema.  However, the great forty-five minute finale can't negate the fact that the film's opening ninety minutes are intensely flawed due to the fact that the main character rings so untrue.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, November 07, 2011

Movie Review - Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors (2011)
Starring Emily Hampshire, Scott Speedman, and Jay Baruchel
Directed by Jacob Tierney
***This movie is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's a serial killer loose in Québec and wheelchair-bound Spencer (Scott Speedman) and his neighbor Louise (Emily Hampshire) often spend their nights morbidly discussing the crimes.  When new tenant Victor (Jay Baruchel) moves in to the complex, he immediately feels a connection with Louise and he soon finds himself becoming involved in their conversations much to Spencer's chagrin.  As the dark comedy unfolds, it becomes clear that some people may not be whom they seem to be as hidden secrets are slowly revealed.

Good Neighbors is a pleasant enough watch that works mostly because of a few twists towards the end that I didn't see coming in the slightest.  Admittedly, I was rather alarmed at the beginning of the film because the first "twist" regarding the serial killer was obvious to me from the film's opening moments and if it was supposed to be a surprise, it failed miserably.  However, I'm not quite sure it was supposed to shock because the subsequent turns of the plot proved to be much more interesting and alarming.  Director-screenwriter Jacob Tierney initially makes us think the film is about the serial killer, but instead it's really about the reactions of the public to the fact that there's a killer roaming around the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce section of the Canadian province.

Emily Hampshire's Louise is an oddball who took a little bit of time for this viewer to warm up to, but once I did, I found her quite the amusing character.  A woman in love with her cats more than anything else in the world, her interactions with humans are short, curt, and almost Asperger-like in their awkwardness.  Despite that, Victor seemingly falls for her immediately and Jay Baruchel continues playing the same quirky neurotic that he portrays in everything.  Still, I like the guy and think he's darn good at playing that role.  Scott Speedman is perhaps the weak link of the trio, but that's only because his storyline is the one I found fault with which really isn't a problem of his.  

Good Neighbors isn't perfect, but it's an enjoyable dark comedy that drags a bit, but works for the most part and is worth an Instant Watch on Netflix if you're bored.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Movie Review - Win Win

Win Win (2011)
Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, and Alex Shaffer
Directed by Thomas McCarthy

I went into Win Win thinking I was in for some quirky low budget indie comedy (a genre that I find myself quite wishy-washy on), but what I got was a movie that has a surprising amount of heart and humor and one of the best ensemble casts I've seen so far this year including a very nice debut turn from young actor Alex Shaffer.

Lawyer Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) is in a bit of trouble.  With clients few and far between, he ends up taking over guardianship of Leo, one of his elderly senile clients (Burt Young), in order to receive a monthly commission of $1500.  One Sunday morning while stopping by Leo's home, Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) spot a teenager sitting on the front porch who, it turns out happens to be Leo's grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) who has run away from home and has a mother who is currently residing in a drug rehab facility.  Feeling a bit of guilt for collecting the monthly stipend from Leo, Mike takes the teen into his home and soon discovers that despite Kyle's typical teenage quirks, he's a good kid who Mike and his family begin to deeply care for as he slowly becomes acclimated to the community, even joining the wrestling team that Mike coaches at the local high school.

Director and screenwriter Thomas McCarthy has crafted an absolutely lovely dramedy here with moments of laugh-out-loud humor and bring-a-tear-to-your eye emotions.  That's due in huge part to the absolutely terrific cast led by Paul Giamatti in what I think may be his best role yet.  Yes, he's just playing a normal suburban dad, but there's just a genuine true quality to his performance that I latched onto right away.  He loves his wife; he loves his family; he (kinda) loves his job...he's just an all around good guy and, although he's certainly flawed, the audience understands that his slight imperfections are only there in order to do the best he can for his wife and two young daughters.  

Similarly, Amy Ryan is near perfect in a simple role, but one that is incredibly effective thanks to its strong roots in reality.  Bobby Cannavale as Mike's best friend and Jeffrey Tambor as Mike's assistant wrestling coach provide much of the humor and, although neither are essential to the plot, never feel shoehorned into any scenes simply to provide comedic elements.  Melanie Lynsky is turning out to be one of my favorite small-time character actresses and as Kyle's mom who comes onto the scene late in the film, she is the impetus behind many of the film's most dramatic moments.  Alex Shaffer plays Kyle as a moody teenager, but there's something oddly different, innocent, and somewhat sweet in his portrayal and it was a fresh take that was a welcome change from the typical "troubled" teens we so often see.  He plays Kyle as a good kid who's been in a bit of trouble, but has overcome a lot and deserves better than his lot in life.  

Despite a few F-bombs dropped here and there, Win Win is a really great "family-style" film that may not necessarily think "out of the box" when it comes to storytelling, but it tells its story so darn good that it makes it incredibly easy to overlook its sometimes melodramatic moments.  It's not the least bit flashy, but it is a pleasure to watch and it's a flick that I'll certainly revisit in years to come.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-