Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Review - The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (2008)
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, and Nestor Carbonell
Directed by Christopher Nolan

The two things I vividly remember about watching The Dark Knight in theaters four years ago was that the show I was seeing had a projector issue causing a "brain wrap" (in projectionist terms) which made the film stop (forcing me to head to another auditorium to watch the end) and that I thought Heath Ledger was perhaps a bit overrated in his role as The Joker.  At that point in time, I thought that Aaron Eckhart was the one who should be getting more praise for his take on Harvey Dent/Two Face and that Ledger's death was giving him some (slightly undeserved) great posthumous reviews.

Years later, I realize that perhaps I was a bit too harsh on Ledger.  Not that I ever thought his performance was bad, but I always felt that because of his death, he was being praised more highly than he would have had he been living.  While that may very well still be a true statement, the fact is that he did a heckuva job with The Joker.  Freakishly malevolent, there's an eerie psychotic presence whenever The Joker is onscreen.  

It's because of both The Joker's maniacal evilness and the stalwart Harvey Dent's shift into the flawed Two Face that make The Dark Knight an infinitely better movie than Batman Begins.  These two figures bring much more to the table in terms of conflict than anyone did in Christopher Nolan's first Batman film, but it's not just the "villains" that are wreaking havoc on Gotham City.  Batman himself is finding himself loved and hated by the city and Bruce Wayne is forced to come to terms with whether he is helpful or harmful to his fellow citizens.  Now that the origin tale has been told in the first film, Christopher Nolan is able to delve a bit more into the psyche of Bruce/Batman and it's a welcome addition.

Once again, supporting turns are all top notch.  Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman all add an aire of professionalism to the film which often isn't felt in comic book adaptations.  Maggie Gyllenhaal takes on the role originated by Katie Holmes and fares a bit better.  Holmes was never bad (I feel like I'm one of the few people who actually liked her in Batman Begins), but Gyllenhaal felt a little less morose than the somber Holmes, although it's entirely possible that the role was just given a bit more life beyond "love interest" than in the first film.  Also, I find it invigorating that Nolan isn't afraid to create characters that are capable of dying.  Gotham City isn't a pristine town by any means and by having deaths occur to characters we come to know, Nolan creates a sense of urgency and fear that we don't normally feel in comic book adaptations which always seem to feature immortal characters.

The Dark Knight isn't perfect -- once again, Nolan drags the climax out for much too long -- but it's darn close to the best -- if not the best -- comic book flick I've ever seen.  Here's hoping The Dark Knight Rises finishes off the trilogy on a positive note.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Movie Review - Batman Begins

Batman Begins (2005)
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Rutger Hauer, and Tom Wilkinson
Directed by Christopher Nolan

I must admit that I watched this back in mid-August.  I had planned on a one-two-three punch of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but that never came to fruition.  That said, with The Dark Knight Rises just arriving in the mail today, I figured I might as well briefly discuss my thoughts on this first flick in the series.

I didn't remember being a huge fan of this when it first came out in 2005 and this subsequent viewing in 2012 didn't really change my mind.  Origin tales always border on tedious for me and this proves no exception.  While I didn't mind learning the story of Bruce Wayne as a kid, once he gets older (and turns into Christian Bale) and travels to Asia to strengthen both his body and his mind, I lost interest.  As Bruce returns to Gotham, the film picks up a bit, but by the end, I found the climax to be much too lengthy.

It certainly doesn't help that Liam Neeson's Henri Ducard/Ra's al Ghul isn't a great villain, and while Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow is more menacing, I felt he wasn't exactly placed into the spotlight his character probably should have been.  Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman are all quite strong in their roles providing nice characters for Bale's Bruce Wayne to play off of in their respective scenes together.  Katie Holmes is fine as well (although Maggie Gyllenhaal breathes a little more life into the same romantic love interest character in the second film).

As for Christian Bale, I'm not quite sure where I stand on him.  While I respect the choices of the deep voice and stoic emotionless demeanor while in the persona of Batman, it does make the character a bit one-note.  He certainly plays Wayne as a smart (though smarmy at times) playboy which allows for a bit more fun to be injected into things, but when behind the mask, he's almost bland.

While I'm mainly listing qualms with the film, I do think Batman Begins is a pretty solid comic book adaptation and certainly one of the better flicks of the genre over the past twenty years.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movie Review - Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows (2012)
Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, and Chloë Grace Moretz
Directed by Tim Burton

Edward Scissorhands.  Ed Wood.  Sleepy Hollow.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The Corpse Bride.  Sweeney Todd.  Alice in Wonderland.  With the exception of Sweeney Todd, the pairing of director Tim Burton with his acting stalwart Johnny Depp have almost gotten a bit worse with each progressive film.  While Dark Shadows can't quite compete with the abhorrent trip down the rabbit hole that was their last collaboration, this redo of a 1960s vampire soap opera doesn't quite gel.  I see potential around every corner with the director's latest work, but the odd mix of comedy and horror is never humorous nor scary enough to successfully satisfy the cinematic requirements of either genre.

With an appropriately creepy Gothic prologue, Burton starts things off with a perfectly morose tone.  Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was the twentysomething son of a wealthy fishing family whose riches were enough to have a town named after them back in the late eighteenth century.  After seducing and then breaking up with the Collins' maid Angelique (Eva Green), it is discovered that the maid was in fact a witch who through her dark sorcery kills Barnabas' parents.  Some time passes and Barnabas falls for the lovely Josette (Bell Heathcote) much to the chagrin of the jealous Angelique who concocts another spell that both kills Josette and turns Barnabas into an immortal vampire whom she then locks in a coffin buried for eternity.

After those first ten minutes, I asked myself why this film had gotten such bad reviews upon its release earlier in the year.  This seemed like it was going to be a nice little creepy flick.  And that's when the tone shifted.  Barnabas' coffin is unearthed in the early 1970s and rather than focus on horror, the next ninety minutes are all about Barnabas being a fish out of water.  A tv?  It's a magic box that must be destroyed.  A McDonald's?  That must be the hang-out of Mephistopheles because of the big 'M' that adorns the sign.  It's not funny written down and it isn't any funnier in the film.  Ultimately, there's some plot about Barnabas needing to save his family's reputation.  Angelique has managed to live for these nearly two centuries and has pushed the Collins family out of the fishing industry in Collinswood by creating her own fishery.  Barnabas will stop at nothing to prevent the witch from casting his family name into the gutters.

The biggest problem here is simply that the film isn't funny.  I didn't laugh once despite Burton trying to balance both comedy and light horror elements.  The two pieces never fit together.  I'm not quite sure why Burton decided to go this route considering that the 60s soap opera was decidedly not comedic (at least in the dozen episodes or so I ventured to watch a few years ago) except to think that he felt it matched his quirky aesthetic a bit better.  Needless to say, he should have dropped the quirk.

Eva Green is the only actor in the cast who fully embraces the humorous aspects of the film.  While I still didn't laugh at anything her character said or did, Green at least attempts to breathe some life into the comedic moments.  Johnny Depp is sleepwalking through the whole thing -- he's not particularly bad, but he certainly brings nothing to the table.  The rest of the cast -- Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloë Moretz -- aren't given any particularly memorable moments so critiquing anything involving them would prove fruitless.

There was some potential in Dark Shadows, but I think Burton's direction (and admittedly the screenwriter's lack of focus on a particular genre) is the film's downfall.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Review - Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace (2008)
Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, and Jeffrey Wright
Directed by Marc Forster

SPOILER ALERT AHEAD FOR CASINO ROYALE

After a great first experience with Mr. Bond in Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace had quite a bit to live up to and, unfortunately, it didn't really come close.  Taking place mere hours after the start of Casino Royale, Quantum is a quasi-sequel in that James Bond is still somewhat reeling (in that reserved British sense of "reeling") over the death of his lover and he finds himself on a mission to enact revenge on those who caused her death.  In and of itself, that would've been a good film, but we're given a eco-friendly villain (Mathieu Amalric) that I really couldn't care about -- the malevolence of taking away clean drinking water from the poor just isn't as much fun as world domination -- which doesn't help matters.

However, the biggest issue with Quantum of Solace is that director Marc Forster has no clue how to properly direct action sequences.  What I love about Casino Royale is that even the most ludicrous of action sequences are believable because of the way they are fluidly shot.  Forster resorts to the quick cuts that are so prevalent in action flicks today and there were several moments where I simply didn't comprehend what was going on.  Right from the opening scene in which two nearly identical black cars are involved in a chase, I knew I was in for disappointment.  When you can't tell which car is being driven by your protagonist and antagonist, you're in for trouble.

Here's hoping Skyfall is more like Casino Royale than this second Daniel Craig-starring venture.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie Review - Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages (2012)
Starring Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Bryan Cranston, Alec Baldwin, and Tom Cruise
Directed by Adam Shankman

Movies don't get much worse than Rock of Ages, one of the most dreadful films I've seen in a long time.     There's a line in Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" which is sung two or three times in this musical that says "the movie never ends / it goes on and on and on and on," and, boy, does this movie seem an interminable mess.  I'm legitimately not sure why I watched the whole thing except to say that I knew within the first ten minutes that this was going to be the worst movie of 2012 and I needed to at least be able to have seen the movie that warranted that ignominious prize.

Somehow or another, this melange of horrible '80s rock music has been running on Broadway since 2009 and it's still going strong.  With a paper thin plot involving "small town girl" Sherrie (Julianne Hough) who moves to L.A. to make it in the music industry only to find that life is more difficult than she could have imagined, Rock of Ages throws in a bunch of perfunctory characters to try and round out the tale.  Of course, Sherrie falls in love almost immediately upon arrival with Drew (Diego Boneta), an aspiring rock star who works at the iconic rock venue The Bourbon Room run by Lonny (Russell Brand) and Dennis (Alec Baldwin) whose "witty" repartee proves groan-inducing.  The Bourbon Room is unfortunately a bit behind in paying their taxes and Dennis formulates a deal for aging rock star and nonsensical alcoholic druggie Stacie Jaxx (Tom Cruise) to play a solo performance at the establishment, much to the chagrin of the new L.A. mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his bitchy wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the latter of whom is on a mission to "sanitize" the city by ridding it of its bars and strip clubs.

But since bars, strip clubs, alcohol, and rock and roll are totally tubular (there's an '80s term that thankfully faded), screw the government and rock on!  At least, that's what we're supposed to feel.  Instead, I just longed for this movie to come to a close.  Filled with some of the worst performances of the year (Mary J. Blige should never get another acting job after this), there's nothing even remotely positive to latch onto.  I thought maybe Tom Cruise who is certainly taking on a different role in Stacie Jaxx than we've seen from him before might at least provide some amusement in hamming it up for the screen, but instead I just felt bad for him to be involved in this dreck.  The two leads in Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta actually come out of this the most unscathed simply because their characters were the most "normal," and despite looking all doe-eyed and innocent for much of the film, neither were given embarrassing moments to undertake like the rest of their fellow cast members.

Director Adam Shankman who did a rather brilliant job with the amusing and cheerful Hairspray several years ago should've known better.  The film jolts back and forth between its various characters too much and the musical numbers are filmed rather blandly, lacking any imagination or creativity.  I don't think you could pay me enough money to watch Rock of Ages again.  Painful...just painful...

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"Just permit me one sentimental moment here..."

"...I have something to say.  Christmas:  it's not the giving, it's not the getting, it's the loving.  There, I said it.  Now get outta here."


"There's a lot of bad 'isms' floatin' around this world..."

"...but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it's the same - don't care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck."


"Rats..."

"...Nobody sent me a Christmas card today.  I almost wish there weren't a holiday season.  I know nobody likes me.  Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?"


"I'll tell you what Christmas is..."

"It's just another workday, and any jackanape who thinks else should be boiled in his own pudding!"


"This place reminds me of Santa's Workshop..."

"...except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me!"


"Where do you think you're going?"

"Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse. "


Monday, December 24, 2012

"I can't think of anything that's dumber..."

"...to a grouch, Christmas is a bummer."


"But wouldn't it be great..."

"...if Number One this Christmas wasn't some smug teenager, but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price? All those young popsters, come Christmas Day... they'll be stretched out naked with a cute bird balancing on their balls, and I'll be stuck in some dingy flat with me manager, Joe, ugliest man in the world, fucking miserable because our fucking gamble didn't pay off. So if you believe in Father Christmas, children, like your Uncle Billy does, buy my festering turd of a record. And particularly enjoy the incredible crassness of the moment when we try to squeeze an extra syllable into the fourth line.  'If you really love Christmas, come on and let it snow.'  Ouch!"



For the next 24 hours, join me on a tour of movies and tv shows that don't exactly find Christmas the most cheery holiday around.  Don't take this as your lovable blogger being in a "Bah Humbug!"-type mood.  I just found it mildly amusing that Christmas isn't always the happiest holiday around for all.

That said, I hope your Christmas will be a great one!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Movie Review - Flight

Flight (2012)
Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, James Badge Dale, and Melissa Leo
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

As of late, Robert Zemeckis has not been a director you could rely on for solid product.  Caught up in the motion capture world, the director hasn't helmed a live action film since 2000's Cast Away.  Needless to say, his recent track record is one of the reasons I waited a long time to check out Flight and it's a shame since now I can't recommend it to folks since it's already departed from most theaters.

Although the film starts with a harrowing and excitingly well shot plane crash sequence, we soon discover that while the film revolves around the aftermath of this tragic accident, its focus is really on the troubled Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), the pilot of that fateful flight who while being hailed a hero for saving 96 of the plane's 102 passengers is really a lost soul himself.  Whip is an alcoholic and in order to mask that from others, he snorts a nice cocaine chaser to give him the "uppers" that he needs to function.  On the day of the fateful accident, Whip had some substantial amounts of these substances in his system and, despite performing an extremely successful landing that all parties involved admit could have been much worse, this puts him on quite the hot seat.

As Whip struggles with the aftermath of the accident, he finds some solace in a recovering junkie named Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who is striving to better herself and overcome her addictions.  Unlike Whip, Nicole wants to rid herself of the toxic substances she often relied on and the two, while initially seemingly two peas in a pod, begin to drift apart as Whip continues his ongoing downward spiral into addiction.

Denzel Washington is great here in perhaps his best role in years.  "Playing drunk" always runs the risk of going over-the-top and Denzel reins things in, taking a more quiet and inward approach.  Despite the rather introspective nature of the performance, we're always well aware of the thoughts going on in Whip's frazzled mind.  There's a subtlety in certain scenes that is surprising and lovely and shows the talent that Washington brings to the screen.

Zemeckis also gets some great performances from his supporting cast as well.  Don Cheadle is strong as a lawyer assigned to Whip's case who tries to be the voice of reason for the drug-addicted Whip.  Bruce Greenwood plays Whip's loyal friend with equal parts care and concern.  John Goodman is a hoot in a small role as Whip's dealer and Tamara Tunie and Brian Geraghty prove quite successful in small roles as members of Whip's flight crew.

However, much like I was moved by Washington's performance, I was equally bowled over by Kelly Reilly -- a British actress entirely convincingly portraying an American Southerner -- as Whip's new girlfriend Nicole and James Badge Dale in a very small, one-scene role as a nameless cancer patient who tries to imbue a sense of "life's short so embrace what's best" into both Whip and Nicole.  As the three actors find their characters meeting in a stairwell to sneak a smoke while recovering in hospitals for their various ailments -- Whip after the plane crash, Nicole after an overdose, and the cancer patient facing head-on the end of his life -- they speak of life, death, faith, love, and fear.  It's a powerful and beautiful scene that I won't soon forget.

Flight falters ever so little towards the end becoming a tiny bit preachier than it should and ending on a slightly cornier and more uplifting note than the film had heretofore deemed feasible or plausible.  Still, this one was definitely a winner and certainly worth checking out when it comes out on dvd in the upcoming months.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Movie Review - Hitchcock

Hitchcock (2012)
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, and James D'Arcy 
Directed by Sacha Gervasi

On the outset, it appeared that Hitchcock was a movie made for a guy like me.  Psycho, plain and simple, is the best movie ever made and director Sacha Gervasi has crafted a movie detailing the making of that film.  Sign me up for this one!  Oh, wait.  It's really just a movie about Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) doubting his wife Alma's (Helen Mirren) love for him?  And it's a movie about Alma questioning Hitch's affections for her?  So it's a romance?  Well, then...maybe I'm just better off reading the book this film is based on that's been sitting on the Kindle for nearly a year now.

Despite some good performances from Hopkins and Mirren and a nice supporting turn from Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Hitchcock plays like a cutesy almost-Hallmark-esque glimpse at The Master of Suspense.  It took a lot for Hitch to get Psycho made, but this movie feels like it shoves the "movie-making" aspect of the story to the side in favor of the "psychology" of Hitchcock and how his fascination with blondes (including his favorite Grace Kelly) gradually led to a schism in his marriage.  In order to get into his mind, the screenwriters and directors decide to have their Hitch imagine that he's viewing the inspiration for Norman Bates -- Ed Gein (played by Michael Wincott) -- as the criminal performs his murderous acts.  As Hitch talks with Ed, the famous director's inner thoughts are brought to the forefront.  To me, it felt gimmicky and it didn't work in the slightest.

Hitchcock isn't awful by any means.  It's got touches of humor (which were always prevalent in Hitch's films themselves) and there are some nice macabre moments that would make Alfred proud.  However, anytime the film shifts towards the romance between the director and his wife, I wanted it to get back to the movie set.  And that's not to say that Hopkins and Mirren are doing anything wrong.  In fact, as is always the case with the two actors (especially Mirren as of late), they find ways to elevate the rather mundane work that is placed in front of them.  I simply just didn't really care about their characters' marital troubles.  The set of Psycho was where the real interesting stuff was taking place...and this film just doesn't linger in those moments long enough for this Hitchcock buff to find a need for this movie to have been made.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Movie Review - The Campaign

The Campaign (2012)
Starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, and Brian Cox 
Directed by Jay Roach

For some reason, the previews of this Will Ferrell-ZackhGalifianakis election-based comedy looked surprisingly funny as they appeared over the summer.  While one might think my disappointment could be chalked up to election fatigue, I think the plain and simple fact is that The Campaign is just a dud.  Both Ferrell and Galifianakis don't inject a single iota of credibility or genuineness into their roles, instead creating one-dimensional sketch comedy characters that get incredibly tired after about ten minutes.

Admittedly, for the first ten minutes, I did laugh out loud a few times.  Ferrell is Democratic incumbent senator Cam Brady from North Carolina.  Despite being one of the sleaziest and most incompetent men around, he manages to get elected year after year since no one in his small district dares to run against him.  That all changes, however, when "lovable dimwit" Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) is approached by his father (Brian Cox) to run on the Republican ticket against Cam.  Marty's father and his Republican cronies (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) feel they can manipulate Marty in order to get their ideas brought to the forefront.  As the two idiots compete against each other for the Senate seat, the humor fades incredibly quickly after the characters are introduced.

There's probably a solid comedy to be made about southern political rivals (although oftentimes the real life political soap operas we see every two to four years is ridiculous enough), but The Campaign is nowhere near being a solid comedy.  In fact, it's one of the worst laughers of the year at this point...except for the other Will Ferrell starrer Casa De Mi Padre.  His choices of projects as of late are dismayingly and disturbingly painful to sit through.  Stereotypes don't necessarily equate to chuckles and Ferrell seems to refuse to understand that as of late.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Review - Casino Royale

Casino Royale (2006)
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelson, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench
Directed by Martin Campbell

I've gone thirty-two years without seeing a James Bond film and having now watched Casino Royale I have to ask myself why I waited so long.  Granted, one look at this long-lasting series of flicks may not be indicative of the franchise's overarching quality, but Casino Royale proved to be one of the best action movies I've seen in a long time.

I won't get into plots here -- the movie's been out for six years now -- except to give the briefest overview that as this flick starts Mr. Bond (Daniel Craig) is just beginning his British intelligence career.  With the need to prove himself to his boss, M (Judi Dench), he sets out on a mission to stop the criminal mastermind known as Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) from providing funds to terrorists around the world.

Two things elevate this movie to the higher echelon of action flicks.  First, Daniel Craig gives a suave, debonair, yet no nonsense performance as the superspy.  He makes both his mellower and action-packed scenes completely plausible despite seemingly impossible moments.  Second, director Martin Campbell has crafted some of the best action scenes I've seen in ages.  Nowadays, cuts and edits make many action sequences completely incomprehensible, but I found Campbell's work here to be fluid and amazingly coherent.  Even amidst what may very well be the most unlikeliest of scenarios, I was always aware of what was going on in the rapidly paced scenes and that's a huge credit to the director and a gigantic positive for the film.

Here's hoping any future Bond endeavors can live up to this experience.

The RyMickey Rating: A-

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Movie Review - Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012)
Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, and Emily Watson  
Directed by Joe Wright

Oh, what a conundrum Anna Karenina places me in.  It's not really a conundrum, I guess, so much as disappointment.  Considering all that is good about this re-telling of the classic Leo Tolstoy novel (of which I was entirely unfamiliar with), it pains me to not be able to recommend this one.  Despite some ingenious direction and a career-best performance from Keira Knightley, this flick just can't get past the fact that there's not enough story -- or at least not enough interesting story -- to cause the audience to give a damn.  I'm not quite sure there's anything director Joe Wright could have done -- and he certainly tries -- to have made this late 19th century soap opera appealing to a modern audience.

I knew absolutely nothing about Anna Karenina prior to venturing into this film.  In fact, I'm not even sure I saw a complete trailer for the movie, let alone cracked open a Cliffs Notes version of the book.  However, I knew going in (and this was probably incredibly helpful) that director Joe Wright had rather cleverly set up the film as if it was all being performed on a stage.  Sets move in and out fluidly.  Cast members are sometimes seen playing different roles in the background.  We see stage props and the unfinished backsides of backdrops.  This stylized, grandiose approach certainly kept my attention throughout and provides many glorious scenes that I truly loved.

Unfortunately, this story is just too formulaic and too banal to have any reason to be filmed.  Maybe the novel was a revelation in 1877, but now the whole thing reads as a trite soap opera elevated to importance only because people speak in British accents (despite the fact that this takes place in Russia...but that didn't bother me in the slightest).  Keira Knightley is the title character, a young mother who is seemingly stuck in a marriage with a husband, Alexei (Jude Law), who monetarily provides for her, but fails to express love for her and her son.  While on a visit to see her brother (Matthew Macfadyen), Anna meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and instantly becomes mesmerized with him (as he does with her).  They begin a rather torrid affair that isn't exactly kept as secretive as it should be.  With Anna already in a marriage and Vronsky set to be betrothed to the young Kitty (Alicia Vikander), this doesn't sit well with the community and Anna finds herself being ostracized and looked down upon by all.

Had the Anna-Vronsky-Alexei triangle been all that we had to worry about, I may have been okay with the premise.  However, we then get sidetracked to a forlorn Kitty, sullen and upset that Vronsky left her, falling into the arms of the less wealthy Konstantin (Domhnall Gleeson).  Frankly, despite a decent effort by the actors to convince me otherwise, I couldn't have cared less about the Kitty-Konstantin angle and found that it slowed down the movie to uncomfortable levels.  It certainly doesn't help that Anna's now-ruined life is drawn out seemingly ad infinitum as well.

And the shame of it all is that Keira Knightley is pretty fantastic.  Even in her better roles (like last year's A Dangerous Method), Ms. Knightley still relied on her ever-present crutch of jaw-clenching to express frustration, anger, or fear.  Somehow, she's grown quite a bit as an actor and her director (whom she's worked with twice before) has nixed that jutting jaw of hers.  Anna is her most mature role yet with Knightley exuding passion, sexiness, heartbreak, and maternal instincts.  It really is a well-rounded performance in a movie whose story doesn't permit her character to soar the way it deserves.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Movie Review - Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher, and Jacki Weaver
Directed by David O. Russell

David O. Russell's last film, The Fighter, had a strong focus on family and his follow-up Silver Linings Playbook carries on that familial theme albeit in a bit more comedic tone.  In fact, the odd mix of humor and drama in this flick is the one problem in this otherwise pleasant romantic comedy diversion. Granted, Mr. Russell manages to almost find the proper balance between the two extremes by hour #2, but its first sixty minutes is a tiny bit slow and off kilter.  Still, thanks to a crowd-pleasing finale and some very nice performances, Silver Linings Playbook proves to be moderately successful.

Bradley Cooper takes on his best role since his stint on Alias as Pat, a Philadelphia native who finds himself recently released from a Baltimore mental hospital after eight months of court-ordered examination.  Locked up after he beat up his wife's lover, Pat returns home hoping to have regained control of his anger (and his diagnosed bipolar disorder) allowing him to rekindle his relationship with his wife.  Pat's parents, Dolores and Pat, Sr. (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro), try to convince Pat to move on with his life, but he's hellbent on proving he's a good guy to those he hurt in the past.  While out running one evening, he comes across his best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) who invites him to dinner with his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) and her recently widowed sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).  Like Pat, Tiffany's a little off-the-wall, not quite all there mentally, and still emotionally hurt (on the inside) by her husband's death, but her instability creates a bit of an attraction for Pat.  As the two grow friendlier, Tiffany wants to take things a bit further, but Pat refuses her advances as he still believes that his wife will return to him.  Eventually the story shifts to the unstable duo competing in a dance competition, but it comes as no surprise that "dance" really is just a way of keeping these two centered, allowing themselves to grow into more spiritually, emotionally, and mentally steady people.

Silver Linings Playbook, unfortunately, lacks some groundedness.  Like its two main characters, it's almost searching for what it wants to be.  The first hour places quite serious with some nice comedic punches thrown in, but the last hour is almost sitcommy at times.  I understand David O. Russell was going for a bit of awkward quirkiness, but the film plays like two different movies and it never successfully melds into one cohesive piece.

That being said, the film rises above the average thanks to some great performances.  As previously mentioned, Bradley Cooper has finally stepped out of Douche-Land, a place where he's been stuck in ever since he became a "movie star."  He's still a guy with a hot-headed streak, but Cooper's finally allowed to give a character he portrays some quieter, emotion-driven moments and he succeeds.

It's also a complete pleasure to see Robert De Niro finally choosing a movie that has good intentions.  Just look at his 2011 -- New Year's Eve (which I started watching on a plane ride to Europe and couldn't complete), Killer Elite (which I started watching on Netflix and couldn't complete), and Limitless (which I shouldn't have allowed myself to complete) -- and you'll see how far he's slipped in recent years.  Here he plays a rough-around-the-edges die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan with complete accuracy (just listen to Philly sports radio stations and you'll understand the portrayal).  It was nice to see him commit to a role that isn't in a film that scrapes the bottom of the barrel.

But the true star of Silver Linings Playbook is Jennifer Lawrence.  Tough, strong, feisty, and sweet, Lawrence is fantastic.  She has a scene in which she essentially tells off Robert De Niro (not an easy thing to do with his strong onscreen presence) that is one of the best moments I've seen all year.  Her Tiffany recognizes her foibles and is attempting to better them, but Lawrence never once plays her as a victim which she so easily could have done.

This has been a very difficult review to write because the acting in Silver Linings Playbook deserves a film that better understands itself.  I completely understand the awards buzz for the actors, but the movie plays a bit like a really, really good Hallmark movie.  And maybe that's what it always wanted to be.  Sweet and charming.  And it succeeds at achieving those characteristics.  But I don't think that's all that it wanted to convey.  I think it wants to delve deeper than that, but when it tries, it doesn't really win.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Movie Review - Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones
Directed by Rupert Sanders

The more financially successful of the two Snow White flicks released in 2012, Snow White and the Huntsman is certainly darker than the lighthearted Mirror Mirror (which is now available to stream on Netflix), but they're essentially telling the same story we're all familiar with since our childhood.  Shockingly enough, I found both oddly enjoyable to watch in their own ways with both ultimately creating interesting enough twists on the well-known tale to make them never fall into the been-there-done-that realm.

Despite being called Snow White and the Huntsman, the film certainly revolves around the evil Queen Ravenna who is played with wicked abandon by Charlize Theron.  Sexy and alluring, but frighteningly menacing, Theron sinks her teeth into the dark side and goes for broke rather successfully.  When she isn't on the screen, you want the film to shift back to her.  [It should be noted that I said the same thing about Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror so the role is obviously ripe for scene-stealing.]

But, despite the focus on the Queen, the film's title certainly implies that we're probably going to spend a bit of time with those two title characters, played in this film by Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, both of whom are perfectly adequate, but undeniably bland.  Hemsworth fares better than Stewart, but that really shouldn't be a surprise considering that I've yet to see Stewart show any smidgen of realistic emotion onscreen in anything.  Here, I'm not sure she even utters fifty lines -- most of the film is her simply reacting vaguely and emptily to things -- but she still manages to prove irksome to this reviewer.

Still, despite the fact that the character of Snow White in a film called Snow White and the Huntsman is a bit of a dud, the film's delving into magic and eerie fantasy is a welcome addition to the tried and true story.  Sure, the Evil Queen has always dipped her hand into the dark arts, but here that's amplified by several degrees to great success and helps to add just enough variations to the tale.  Also amusing, the dwarfs here are typical "munchkin" height, but are played by some fairly famous faces -- Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Toby Jones to name a few -- which allows for some more solid acting than we're likely used to seeing from these smaller statured figures.

Overall, the comparison of Snow White and the Huntsman to Mirror Mirror ends up being a bit of a wash.  I'll admit that most will like this version better, but I can at least recognize that for more light-hearted kiddie fare, Mirror Mirror is a solid picture as well.  Neither are fantastic films, but both are acceptable interpretations of the fairy tale.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, December 10, 2012

Movie Review - Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)
Starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Amr Waked, and Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by Lasse Hallström

Let's be honest here.  With a title as odd as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and a premise that seems almost too farfetched to be believable, this Lasse Hallström flick was facing an uphill battle.  The trailer seemed to be attached to every Oscar-bait movie last year and it conveyed nothing but boredom to me, hence the reason I never ventured out into theaters to check it out.  Much to my surprise, however, I found this light romantic dramedy quite enjoyable with its story being just different enough that it manages to hold one's attention despite its inherent silliness.

[I will say that there may be a slight favorable bias to films that take place in and around London for the next year or so for me.  After my trip over there this past summer, I find it infinitely cool to say, "I walked across that same bridge they're walking over!" which is something I certainly couldn't say six months ago.  Still, I don't think it adds a whole lot to the experience...it just maybe makes me pay a bit more attention to things than I did in the past.]

Yemeni Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked) has grown fascinated with salmon fishing while staying at his residence in England and longs to introduce the sport to his homeland at any cost.  He enlists the help of his financial advisor Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) who, in turn, seeks assistance from a member of the British Fisheries and Wildlife department, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who finds the project silly and frivolous, insisting that the climate conditions are not adequate to sustain the foolish whims of the sheikh.  However, after an explosion in Yemen that paints England in a poor light, the Prime Minister's press secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) sees this as a perfect opportunity to strengthen British-Yemeni relations and forces Dr. Jones to assist in the project.

While the whole thing seems nearly impossible to base a movie around, I found the entire plot to be surprisingly interesting and actually completely believable.  In fact, after the film, I looked up whether the film was based on a true story (it's not) which just goes to prove that screenwriter Simon Beaufoy sold me on the weird concept.  The film certainly ends up delving into the romantic side of things as Dr. Jones and Ms. Chetwode-Talbot end up slowly becoming enamored with one another despite complications in their love lives that should prevent romance from blossoming.  While this is certainly the weakest (and most obvious) part of the film, Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor sold me on it thanks to their charm and pleasant screen presence.  It's tough not to smile when they're onscreen here.  Kristin Scott Thomas also proves to be an absolute hoot as the overzealous, pushy, and often obnoxious press secretary.  That said, there are moments where the director maybe should have reined her in as she goes a bit too over-the-top at times which awkwardly changes the tone of the flick, but it's still nice to see her take on a comedic role -- something the actress rarely does.

I honestly can't believe I'm going to say this, but you really should give Salmon Fishing in the Yemen a chance.  I legitimately had no real desire to see it, but I found myself completely entertained by the flick which is certainly a shock to this reviewer.

The RyMickey Rating:  B


Movie Review - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rufus Sewell
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

It's always nice when I can finally watch a movie and call it the worst I've seen all year.  There's a little bit of a thrill that is unleashed when I finally get one of the worst under my belt.  I feel like the pressure's off.  If someone were to ask me "What's your least favorite film of 2012?," I can at least answer with conviction and say "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," a horrendously painful mix of history and horror filmed with ludicrously gimmicky camerawork by "visionary director" Timur Bekmambetov.

The title of the film tells the story for the most part.  As a child, Abe Lincoln witnesses his mother being attacked and killed by a vampire and as he grows older, he vows to fight the evil monsters who somehow or another are a driving force to keep slavery enacted during the Civil War -- or at least I think they are.  I'll admit to losing interest multiple times, but with a wooden performance by Benjamin Walker as the title character and a director who attempts to do anything he can with his camera -- slow motion, sped-up motion, close-up kills -- I found myself fighting back the yawns.  None of the action sequences look remotely real.  Everything is either too computer animated or too choppily edited to either look believable or make sense.

But the biggest problem is that for a film called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter there's zero fun on display.  Everything feels incredibly heavy-handed and overly serious.  This movie is about a really tall president killing a bunch of supernatural beings.  There should be some modicum of unabashed fun...and there's not the slightest to be found.

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Movie Review - Magic Mike

Magic Mike (2012)
Starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, and Alex Pettyfer 
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Unexpectedly good reviews and throngs of horny women greeted Magic Mike upon arrival in theaters in Summer 2012.  Like most straight men, there was simply no reason for me to check this out despite the fact that Steven Soderbergh has proven a solid (or at least an interesting) director whom I've certainly appreciated in the past.  Somehow, what was sold as a female fantasy flick about male strippers has managed to already garner awards this season with Matthew McConaughey being named Best Supporting Actor by the New York Film Critics' Association.  Time had come to check it out, throw any uncomfortableness and awkwardness aside, and find out if this thing really was any good.  The answer to that, plain and simple, is that Magic Mike is okay.  It certainly isn't the unabashed raunchfest its trailers made it out to be, but it tells a story that's been told a hundred times before and, despite the addition of male posteriors on display, it doesn't bring a whole lot new to the table.

Supposedly somewhat autobiographical for star Channing Tatum, Magic Mike is the story of the title character (played by Tatum), a man of many trades -- construction worker and furniture designer by day, stripper by night -- who befriends the young nineteen year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) while on a roofing job together.  Adam eventually discovers the truth about Mike's late-night source of income and finds himself thrust on stage one evening gyrating his junk in front of a bunch of crazy ladies.  Unable to pass up the nice income, Adam begins to blossom into his own on the nightclub's stage much to his sister's (Cody Horn) chagrin who worries (perhaps rightly so) that this career choice may lead her brother down seedier paths.

The biggest problem with Magic Mike is that the story is far from original despite the fact that director Steven Soderbergh attempts to liven things up with what I can only assume is improvised dialog and creative lensing.  Soderbergh also gets a fun performance out of Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the owner of the strip club where Mike and Adam work.  Over-the-top and certainly charismatic, McConaughey is a strong presence, but I'm not sold on the fact that he's awards-worthy.  Also of note, Mr. Tatum and Mr. Pettyfer offer up what is likely their best work yet, despite the fact that neither character goes on any semblance of an original arc.

Ultimately, though, Magic Mike suffers from blandness in the story department.  While the horny women may have been able to overlook that because of the chiseled abs and asses, this reviewer wasn't moved by such displays.  Color me surprised that this one was so lauded by the critics.  I think they were just surprised by the fact that Soderbergh had delivered something that wasn't as jokey and hokey as Showgirls.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, December 07, 2012

Movie Review - Virginia

Virginia (2012)
Starring Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Emma Roberts, Harrison Gilbertson, Amy Madigan, and Toby Jones
Directed by Dustin Lance Black
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the little seen indie called Virginia which I'd heard about sometime earlier this year in a positive light.  It was only until I was halfway through when I ventured onto rottentomatoes.com and discovered that this had a whopping 4% Fresh rating.  Now, I don't always agree with the general consensus of freshness levels on that site, but they were right on the money here.  The flick, scripted and lensed by Dustin Lance Black, can't ever find an appropriate balance between dark comedy and emotional drama and, as such, it never once appears to be anything other than a jumbled mess.

There is the possibility of potential somewhere in there and I think most of it comes from the all-over-the-place performance of Jennifer Connelly as the title character.  I say "all-over-the-place" not as an insult to Ms. Connelly because actually think she does quite an admirable job considering what she's been given to work with, but rather because Virginia herself is such an odd duck.  She's a single mom with a teenage son named Emmett (Harrison Gilbertson) who seems to be moderately put together enough.  She's got her own home, but a menial job driving a boardwalk tram at a coastal Virginia town has her just gradually scraping by.  As if the economic woes weren't trouble enough, she's in the middle of a decades-long affair with Sheriff Richard Tipton (Ed Harris), a married and purportedly strongly religious Mormon who is currently running for governor of Virginia.  Since Dustin Lance Black is apparently a masochist, he also makes Virginia a schizophrenic who has likely just been stricken with lung cancer.  Let's be honest here -- that's simply too much for one actress to take on in a two hour film, but Connelly tries her hardest and she is the only reason I stuck with the film from beginning to end.

Because the film was just begging for more story, young Emmett finds himself falling for Sheriff Tipton's daughter Jessie (Emma Roberts), the local amusement park owner (Toby Jones) likes to dress up as a woman in his downtime, and the Sheriff has a fascination with S&M that his wife (Amy Madigan) uncovers.  If you're as confused as I am about how all this crap comes together, I'm here to tell you that watching this movie doesn't help you decipher that puzzle.

Ultimately, the fault lies with Dustin Lance Black whose script and direction can't determine what kind of film Virginia should be.  Anything that's supposed to be funny -- and I think the hugely stereotypical and overly broad characterizations of both Mormons and "southerners" condescendingly fall into that category -- fails to elicit a single laugh.  Anything that's supposed to have us feel empathy for the characters does nothing but cause us to roll our eyes.  Throughout Virginia, there fails to be a moment that rings legitimately true.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Movie Review - The Raven

The Raven (2012)
Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, and Brendan Gleeson
Directed by James McTeigue

I have to be perfectly blunt -- The Raven never once captured my attention, so as I watched this thing, I found myself fading in and out of cognizance.  Oddly enough, I didn't even have my computer to detract my attention.  No, instead, I'd find my eyes wandering over to the ornaments on the Christmas tree or to figuring out why the Playstation controller wouldn't charge when plugged in to the system.  I don't think it's that The Raven is horrendously awful or poorly directed or horribly acted, but something just didn't click for me with this period piece that creates a murder mystery in the days immediately prior to writer Edgar Allen Poe's death.  

Admittedly, I think part of the problem is that I'm not exactly the biggest John Cusack fan and placing him in a period piece as the famous horror author didn't sit well with me from the get-go.  He doesn't exude 19th century anything, so I couldn't really buy him as the gothic writer.  It doesn't help that Poe is being set up in an off-putting modern-in-tone way by some madman who is using Poe's writings as a means of creating "copycat" murders throughout the town of Baltimore.  Maybe something like this would've been possible in 1849, but I found the whole thing incredibly unbelievable.  There was never any sense of tension derived at all.  [So maybe it was poorly directed and horribly acted after all.]

Once again, the grade below is possibly unfair and unjust, but the plain fact is that I tried to give this one a shot and since I made it all the way through, I feel that the thing's gotta be graded.  Maybe you'll love it (and it wasn't the worst thing I've seen this year), but this one didn't work for me.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Movie Review - The Sessions

The Sessions (2012)
Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, William H. Macy, and Alan Arkin
Directed by Ben Lewin

The year -- 1994.  A fourteen year-old guy comes across a tv show called Mad About You.  No sane eighth or ninth grader would find the show funny.  There was nothing about it that he could relate to since it was about adult relationships, but he still found it humorous and discovered he was experiencing one of his first crushes ever on an actress named Helen Hunt.  1996 brought along a little blockbuster movie called Twister and Helen Hunt made a white t-shirt look so good.  1997 brought the lady an Oscar for As Good As It Gets.  But that's when things started to shift for Ms. Hunt and that now seventeen year-old's crush.  As she faded from the spotlight, so did his crush status.  Still, he always held a fondness for the lady despite the fact that no other person his age understood what he saw in her.  They didn't understand that to him, she exuded a smartness that seemed incredibly attractive.  And that the white t-shirt in Twister certainly helped matters.

Cut to nearly two decades later and that fourteen year-old guy is now your lovable blogger himself who is certainly happy to see Helen Hunt back on the big screen again garnering a bunch of awards buzz for her role in the film The Sessions.  Needless to say, I'm happy to report that even if one didn't have a teenage crush on Ms. Hunt -- and let's be honest, I'm likely the only guy who had that fascination -- they'd still find themselves watching one of the most heartfelt and best films of 2012.

Based on a true story, The Sessions is an incredibly simple tale laced with much more humor than I expected, full of affection and compassion towards its characters, imbuing them with a surprising amount of depth.  John Hawkes finds himself in a prone position through the entire movie playing Mark O'Brien, a poet who was inflicted with polio at a very young age leaving him essentially paralyzed from the neck down and forced to be in an iron lung nearly all day.  Mark, whose muscles fail to work but still manages to have feeling across his body, has managed to live his life as well as he possibly could considering his disability -- graduating high school and college and continuing to successfully write utilizing a typewriter and a stick he places in his mouth to press buttons -- but he has never experienced sexual intercourse.  He's fully cognizant that despite his charming and self-deprecating personality, it would likely be very difficult for a woman to find him attractive.

After seeking the advice and blessing of his Catholic priest (William H. Macy), Mark meets Cheryl (Hunt), a sex surrogate whose chosen profession is misconstrued by the public at large.  A licensed therapist with a husband and son, Cheryl explains to Mark that she is here to help him understand both his body and her body, allowing him to gain knowledge about physical intimacy.  After six sessions together, they will need to go their separate ways, ideally to prohibit any connection of affection from forming between them as they perform intimate acts together.

The Sessions is certainly unique in that it's a Hollywood movie that doesn't shy away from sex, instead placing it front and center in an adult manner that doesn't stoop to raunch and is never once exploitative.  Couple that with the fact that Mark's religion plays an integral role in his life and is treated with respect and tolerance and you've got a movie that should really never have been made.  And maybe that's why I found it so invigorating to watch.  A flick about sex and religion?  And a film that brings those two together in an incredibly thoughtful and intelligent manner?  Unthinkable, really.  This was a ballsy movie to make (and there's no sexual pun intended there) and director and screenwriter Ben Lewin certainly took a chance and succeeded undoubtedly.

Ultimately, the biggest reasons for the film's success are John Hawkes and Helen Hunt who are fantastic.  Hawkes essentially is forced to act only with his head and his voice and I can only imagine that these physical restrictions were particularly challenging for the actor.  Nevertheless, there's a great amount of feeling in his eyes and a huge amount of depth to his character's heart that Hawkes amazingly brings to the table.  Oddly enough, while we feel sorry for Mark's condition, Hawkes and the director never once dwell on the notion of pity which is another reason why the film feels so refreshing.

Ms. Hunt finds herself completely nude for a good chunk of the film, but to the director's credit, there's no titillation factor on display.  That's not what the movie's about at all.  This movie is about providing comfort to others and Hunt perfectly embodies that.  There's a kindness and gentleness that emanates from Hunt's Cheryl that is absolutely lovely and gives Hunt what could possibly be her best cinematic work to date.  Her role gives the film a tenderness that never becomes melodramatic.

I don't think The Sessions is a perfect movie for it falters a bit by delving into Cheryl's home life, but not quite digging deep enough to really matter (although the home scenes do help to provide some added emotional gravitas to an absolutely beautiful moment following Cheryl and Mark's last session together).  And while I recognize that minor flaw, I walked out of the film feeling invigorated and charmed by what I had seen onscreen.  It's life-affirming in an odd way (and I mean that in the least Oprah Winfrey-esque way possible) and a lovely piece of work with some fantastic performances.  [I realize now I never even mentioned the simple, yet thoughtful work of William H. Macy as Mark's priest/friend and the short, almost cameo, appearance by an actress named Annika Marks who starts Mark on his sexual journey.]  Simply put, in case my effusive praise above isn't telling enough, I can't recommend The Sessions highly enough...even to you folks who didn't have a crush on Helen Hunt when you were fourteen years old.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Side Note:  It bothers me that when I typed in "Helen Hunt" to label this post, I realized I had never labeled anything with a "Helen Hunt" tag before.  I apparently need to watch Twister again and post about it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Movie Review - Union Square

Union Square (2012)
Starring Mira Sorvino, Tammy Blanchard, and Mike Doyle
Directed by Nancy Savoca
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The problem with a very small, independent, and presumably low budgeted movie like Union Square -- which delves into three days in the lives of two estranged sisters who come together around Thanksgiving -- is that if your movie is incredibly talky (which this is) there needs to be some kick at the end that gives reason for the film to exist.  Yes, the characters will inevitably change or see where they've gone wrong, but you need more than the obvious or, at the very least, something outstanding -- direction, acting -- that makes it worthy of the celluloid it is filmed on (or digital space in this day and age).  Union Square never reaches beyond the middle of the road and despite being a movie with average direction, average acting, and an average story, I can't help but come away from it with a shrug of my shoulders and a "Who cares?"muttered from my lips.

Mira Sorvino is the crazy sister and Tammy Blanchard is the quiet one.  When Crazy knocks on Quiet's door after three years of separation, you know right away that the story is going to make Crazy be a little more reserved in the end and make Quiet be a bit more loose.  Some family secrets are revealed that help these character changes occur -- and those secrets are likely supposed to be the big surprise, but are presented so awkwardly that I had to rewind a pivotal scene in order to make sure I understood what had just happened -- but in the end, it's just all a bit too blah to really make any difference.

Union Square isn't awful, but there's a reason you've probably never heard of it until reading this review.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, December 03, 2012

Movie Review - Bernie

Bernie (2012)
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey
Directed by Richard Linklater
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Bernie Tiede is perhaps the nicest guy in the small town of Carthage, Texas.  Loved by all, as the assistant funeral director at the local mortuary Bernie is quiet, kind, gentle, and a seemingly genuinely sweet man.  Shortly after the chairman of the local bank dies, Bernie (played brilliantly by Jack Black in by far the best role of his career) pays a visit to his widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) to check in to see how she's doing and a friendship is formed.  Despite Marjorie's reputation around town as being the bitchiest and meanest woman for miles, Bernie refuses to listen to the naysayers.  For Marjorie, the relationship gives her an emotional connection with someone since her attitude has turned many (including all her family members) away from her.  For Bernie, while he also enjoys the friendship (which is only vaguely, if at all, sexual), he finds himself able to live a bit beyond his means thanks to Marjorie's bank account.  However, rather than spending the money on himself, he often doles it out to needy townsfolk, endearing him to all those in Carthage.  Unfortunately, after several years, Marjorie becomes more and more possessive, creating a rift in her relationship with Bernie and forcing the town's saintly gentleman to go to extreme means to cut ties with her.

Bernie is rather surprisingly and unexpectedly one of the best films of 2012 thanks in huge part to Jack Black's great performance.  Admittedly, I've been avoiding watching this movie on Netflix simply because of Black's starring role, but this was certainly a different turn for the actor known for his comedic roles.  While certainly humorous, the character of Bernie so easily could've fallen into an SNL parody-type one-note role (reminiscent perhaps of the Al Franken Stuart Smalley character), but Black manages to create depth and layers in a type of character who often isn't given such opportunities.  That's likely due in part to the fact that Bernie is based on a true story -- so the title character is "real" as opposed to "created" -- but Black is certainly the conduit to bring the real person to believable life onscreen.

Director Richard Linklater has created an interesting film in Bernie.  Just as much as Bernie is a portrait of a flawed man, it's also a picture of small town Americana that someone could easily see as insulting, but I see as a tribute to that slowed-down, "old school" Bible-thumping lifestyle.  Linklater sets up much of the film as a faux-documentary using a mix of actors and real-life Carthage residents who knew Bernie Tiede first hand who comment on the much revered man.  Yes, I found myself laughing at the folks at times which is why I could see some taking this flick as a diatribe against this Southern culture, but I never found it condescending or demeaning in tone.

Still, Bernie is a film of many tones -- comedy, drama, courtroom saga -- all of which are nearly perfectly melded together into one of the most interesting and underseen films of 2012.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Theater Review - Anything to Declare?

Anything to Declare?
Written by Maurice Hennequin and Pierre Veber
(Translated and Adapted by Greg Leaming)
Directed by Steve Tague
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Saturday, December 1, 2:00pm

Photo credit from the REP

Last season, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players put on one of the best things I've ever seen on stage with their version of Noises Off.  After having seen that production twice, the troupe's annual trek into rip-roaring comedy was going to have a lot to live up to, and while this year's Anything to Declare never reached the tear-inducing laughter I experienced during Michael Frayn's brilliant British farce, this little seen 1906 French play certainly has its share of fun proving once again that the REP is simply a nice gem in the state of Delaware.

Taking the spotlight this time around (in my opinion, anyway) is REP member Mic Matarrese who is comedically brilliant as Robert De Trivelin, a recently married man who was unable to consummate his relationship with his wife Paulette (Deena Burke) while on their month-long honeymoon thanks to the inopportune interruption of a train's customs inspector.  After his wealthy in-laws -- Adelaide (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) and Benjamin Dupont (Stephen Pelinski) -- discover Robert's unfortunate predicament, they give him three days to "do his husbandly duty" or else they'll have the marriage annulled and allow Paulette to wed the diabolical looking, though emotionally distraught La Baule (Michael Gotch). Taking the advice of his wife's godfather Philippe Couzan (guest actor Torrey Hanson), Robert pays a visit to the town trollop Zeze (Elizabeth Heflin) for a little reinvigoration only to find himself upon his arrival caught in the midst of some hilarious Dupont family secrets.

As already mentioned, Mr. Matarrese was the shining star this time around, playing Robert with just the right amounts of nervous tension and steadfast resolve to win back the hand of his wife.  His predicament is rather ridiculous, but in Matarrese's hands it comes off surprisingly believable.  While the whole cast was wonderful, kudos also go out to guest actor Torrey Hanson who despite having one of the least pivotal characters in the overarching storyline still proved to be fantastic at delivering some deadpan comedic lines that had me laughing out loud.

The REP continues its tradition of beautiful costumes and sets, the latter of which includes a charming French artist's loft in Act II that was lovely to look at and also provided one of the funnier slapstick moments involving a "falling" member of the cast.  The play itself is perhaps the only weak link here as I think director Steve Tague did all that he could to move the nearly three hour affair along at a surprisingly brisk pace.  But, the fact remains that a play that is this light-hearted and lacking of any real depth really shouldn't be three hours long.  The fault falls more on the original playwrights than anyone else, but the cast does such a good job with even the most ridiculous of plots that you can almost look beyond the inanity of it all.

Anything to Declare has been selling out like crazy (which is fantastic for this wonderful troupe) and there are only five shows left before it ends its run.  It certainly may be something you'd want to check out.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Movie Review - The Hole

The Hole (2012)
Starring Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Bruce Dern, and Teri Polo
Directed by Joe Dante
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
(There are currently two movies with this title streaming on Netflix.  Just be aware.)

While The Hole admittedly looks like something you'd see on ABC Family during it's 13 Days of Halloween festival (and it likely didn't have a whole lot bigger budget than those made-for-tv flicks), it's actually a rather enjoyable horror tale for the pre-teen set.  We're not dealing with blood and guts nor are we given substantial special effects to cause the scares.  Instead, we're dealing with noises and eerie music, but overall the film by Gremlins director Joe Dante succeeds at its goal of being an eerie film for the tween set.

When Dane (Chris Massoglia), his younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble), and their mom (Teri Polo) move to a rural town from NYC, the family hopes for a slower pace and a respite from big city life.  However, as Dane and Lucas explore their new home, they discover a giant hole in their basement locked up beneath a trap door.  With the help of their neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), the three soon discover that by opening the hole, they've unleashed some type of evil and they must do whatever it takes to stop it from overtaking their lives.

Listen, The Hole isn't a movie that is going to be loved by everyone...and, in fact, it's not loved by me.  But I get that there is a very niche market of about ten to thirteen year-olds being its target and what is presented here is perfect for that age bracket.  Yes, I may have rolled my eyes at some of the dialog and I may have wished that Chris Massoglia was a better actor and I may have wished that the ending wasn't so hokey, but for this movie's target audience, I think it's ideal and that age group deserves to have a "horror" movie like this made for them.  Granted, it's just a slightly scarier version of an R.L. Stine Goosebumps tale, but it doesn't set out to be anything more than that.  If you're hanging out with a tween, this may be a more entertaining movie than the rating below implies.

The RyMickey Rating:  C