Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Movie Review - 50/50

50/50 (2011)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Angelica Huston
Directed by Jonathan Levine

I have a confession to make right off the bat here.  I've had my eyes well up in movies before (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was the most recent film to do that to me).  Something just hits me and connects with me on that visceral level, telling my brain that it's okay to feel a little emotional and causing my eyes to perhaps become small pools of saline.  It doesn't happen often, but ever so rarely a movie gets to you in that way.  But to actually have one of those pools escape the lids of my eye and cause a tear to fall down my face doesn't usually happen to this guy, your intrepid (stoic) movie reviewer.  In fact, I can't really remember the last time that occurred.

That all changed when I watched 50/50 which I fortunately viewed alone because when that one legitimate tear began to trickle down my cheek and I had to brush it away, I felt kinda weird.  What was wrong with me?  Why in the hell have I allowed this movie [co-starring Seth Rogen of all people, an actor I thought I despised] to get to me in this way?  It comes down to a solid script, a wonderful lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the simple fact that the movie generationally "spoke to me" in some way.

I don't mean that "generational" comment above to mean anything other than that 50/50 is a film about people my age going through something that is rather unfathomable to be experiencing.  When regular 27-year old Adam (Gordon-Levitt) discovers he has a rare form of spinal cancer, it's obviously a life-changing event that not only affects him, but also his best friend Kyle (Rogen), his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his mother (Angelica Huston), and it takes a young aspiring therapist named Katherine (Anna Kendrick) for Adam to realize that cancer doesn't have to be his battle to fight alone.  That's the story -- plain and simple.

What makes that rather straightforward story unique is a humorous script courtesy of Will Reiser who based the film off his own experiences battling cancer.  I never thought I'd say this, but Seth Rogen proved to set just the right tone here with his take as the supportive friend trying to inject a little bit of light-heartedness into Adam's obviously life-threatening situation.  There's also some great work from Anna Kendrick whom I worried a bit wasn't going to find success after Up in the Air.  Admittedly, her role as Katherine isn't given a ton of depth, but her character felt "normal" and "plain," and while some could look at that as a detriment, I thought it was a charming plus.  Katherine finds it difficult to maintain a balance between showing emotion and remaining completely objective with her patients and seeing her try and navigate these tricky waters is interesting.  Angelica Huston has a rather stock role as the overprotective and nagging mother, but what I thought would end up being quite typical ends up carrying a surprising amount of heart as the film heads into its final act.

Ultimately, however, the film works because director Jonathan Levine has allowed us to connect with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Adam in such a way that we in the audience genuinely give a damn about what happens to this normal young guy.  (SPOILER AHEAD detailing my single tear fallen)  There's a scene towards the end of the film in which Adam, moments before he goes into surgery to have his tumor removed, speaks to his Alzheimer's-afflicted father with such simplicity, but with such darn heart, that I couldn't help but begin to be moved.  Then, as the doctor begins to administer anesthesia and the realization that the possibility of death is imminent, Adam calls out panic-stricken, "Mom," reaching out to her to comfort him...and that was it.  That was when the tear fell.  Here was this guy who was so reserved, trying to not burden others with his life-changing diagnosis, and, finally, the shield comes down and the emotions are allowed to finally express themselves.  Something about that moment and Gordon-Levitt successfully portraying a likable guy in a situation no one would want to face got to me, revealing a shocking amount of heart and a lovely way of crafting a nuanced performance from an understated role.

Tbe RyMickey Rating:  A-

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Predictions

UPDATE -- I did pretty alright -- 17/24 -- same as last year.  At least I'm consistent, right?  The show was alright.  Billy Crystal was a little stodgy, I thought.  It felt a tiny bit dated, but nicely reverent to cinema.  A few surprises -- some good (Hugo for Cinematography), some bad (Girl with a Dragon Tattoo for editing, The Artist for Costumes), and some indifferent (Meryl for Best Actress who was very, very good in Iron Lady, but I kinda wanted Viola Davis to take it).  A couple of nice moments -- Emma Stone and Ben Stiller had the best "host banter" and the Best in Show folks' take on The Wizard of Oz was a hoot -- and just like that the "year in cinema" has come to an end.

Here are my Oscar predictions for a year that contains many movies I like (surprisingly) in the Top Nine contenders for Best Picture.  We'll see how abysmal I do when I tally up the results Sunday around 11:30pm...

Best Picture -  CORRECT
Will Win:  The Artist
Should Win: Hugo

Best Director - CORRECT
Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Should Win: Martin Scorsese - Hugo

Best Actor - CORRECT
Will Win: Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Should Win: George Clooney - The Descendants

Best Actress - WRONG (Meryl Streep)
Will Win: Viola Davis - The Help
Should Win: Viola Davis

Best Supporting Actor - CORRECT
Will Win: Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Should Win: Christopher Plummer

Best Supporting Actress - CORRECT
Will Win: Octavia Spencer - The Help
Should Win: Jessica Chastain - The Help

Best Adapted Screenplay - CORRECT
Will Win: The Descendants
Should Win: Hugo

Best Original Screenplay - CORRECT
Will Win: Midnight in Paris
Should Win: Bridesmaids

Best Art Direction - CORRECT
Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Hugo

Best Cinematography - WRONG (Hugo)
Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: The Tree of Life

Best Costume Design - Jane Eyre - WRONG (The Artist -- almost went w/ this, too)
Best Film Editing - The Artist - WRONG (Girl w/ the Dragon Tattoo)
Best Make-up - The Iron Lady - CORRECT
Original Score - The Artist - CORRECT
Original Song - "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets - CORRECT
Best Sound Editing - Hugo - CORRECT
Best Sound Mixing - Hugo - CORRECT
Best Visual Effects - Rise of the Planet of the Apes - WRONG (Hugo)
Best Foreign Language Film - A Separation - CORRECT
Best Animated Film - Rango - CORRECT
Best Documentary Feature - Undefeated - CORRECT
Best Documentary Short - The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom - WRONG
Best Short Film Animated - The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore - CORRECT
Best Short Film Live Action - Tuba Atlantic - WRONG

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Artist...Revisited...

So, I went to watch The Artist again and, unfortunately, my qualms with the film the first time around reared their ugly heads again and my current "A-" grade has to be shifted downward a bit.  [In my original review, I actually gave the film a B+ which is where it stands in my mind now.  I was hemming and hawing about whether it would be a A- or B+ and I eventually changed it to an A- which landed it in my Top Ten films of the year where it will no longer remain.]  While the film still is wonderfully whimsical and charming, it unfortunately lulls terribly in its second half going on for about fifteen minutes too long.  Some condensing of the Peppy Miller growing famous/George Valentin sinking into depression stuff would've worked wonders on the film.  Still, it's a very good film that will be a fine winner of the Best Picture Oscar which it will inevitably win this Sunday evening.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Movie Review - Psycho III

Psycho III (1986)
Starring Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Roberta Maxwell, and Jeff Fahey
Directed by Anthony Perkins
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Honestly, lightning didn't strike a third time in Psycho III, the final theatrical release in the trilogy of the life of Norman Bates. [There is apparently a fourth made-for-tv movie that isn't available on Netflix in any capacity.]  After a surprisingly enjoyable continuation in Psycho II, this Anthony Perkins-directed flick actually garnered better reviews than the second movie which boggles my mind seeing as how I thought this venture was absolutely horrible, feeling more like a standard slasher flick than a rightful follow-up.

The plot -- what little there is -- continues where the second installment left off with Norman Bates (Perkins) still trying to come to grips with the fact that his dead mother is trying to control him.  The film also adds in a nosy investigative reporter (Roberta Maxwell), a former aspiring nun (Diana Scarwid) who left the convent after she inadvertently killed one of her colleagues, and a new drunken night clerk (Jeff Fahey) at the Bates Motel, but none of these characters are the least bit appealing to watch.  And, rather unfortunately, Anthony Perkins doesn't quite know what to do with himself.  His role has become a caricature of itself and he's unable to cull a good performance out of himself.  In fact, he was almost unbearable to watch.  

If anything, this has just given me a greater appreciation for the original which still stands the test of time as one of the best films ever made.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Movie Review - Psycho II

Psycho II (1983)
Starring Anthony Perkins, Meg Tilly, Vera Miles, Robert Loggia, and Dennis Franz
Directed by Richard Franklin
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I don't know if it's sacrilegious to say this seeing as how Psycho is my favorite movie of all time, but I kinda liked Psycho II.  Twenty-two years after his hospitalization, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released from the mental hospital against the opposition of Lila Crane (Vera Miles), the sister of Marion, one of Bates's kills from the first film.  While Norman's psychologist (Robert Loggia) seems to think he's come to terms with the fact that his mother has died, once Norman returns home to the Bates Motel and gets himself a job at a local diner, he begins to think that his mother is speaking to him again.  Although his young co-worker Mary (Meg Tilly) tries to help him keep his sanity, Norman just may be falling back into his old homicidal tendencies.

There's no mistaking Psycho II for a masterpiece, but it's a nice follow-up to the story presented in Alfred Hitchcock's classic.  Mr. Perkins continues to play Norman rather deftly, teetering on the edge of insanity throughout much of the flick, complete with the recognizable tics that made his performance in the first film so effective.  Vera Miles is back as Lila Crane and her character, although perhaps a bit too over-the-top, seems to be on a legitimate believable trajectory from the first film.

Ultimately, what makes this sequel fare a little better with a lover of Hitchcock's original is that director Richard Franklin plays loving homage to its predecessor.  There are scenes and dialog that are replicated with just slight tweaks to make you a bit nostalgic for the original.  Admittedly, the film skews a bit campy and silly, but it's light years better than I expected it to be.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Movie Review - No Man of Her Own

No Man of Her Own (1950)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Lyle Bettger, and John Lund
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Movies from the 1950s can so easily tip to the melodramatic, and while they sometimes can be successfully believable, oftentimes they feel too over-the-top.  Fortunately, while No Man of Her Own certainly gets overly dramatic at times, it proves to be a nicely told film noir with a great performance from Barbara Stanwyck that makes me wonder why I'd never heard of this film before I saw it pop up on Netflix Streaming.

Ms. Stanwyck plays Helen Ferguson, a down-and-out woman with hardly a penny to her name who, while eight months pregnant, travels from San Francisco to New York City to see Steve (Lyle Bettger), her former boyfriend and father of her unborn child.  He refuses to even open his door to her, but buys her a one way train ticket back to California.  A devastated Helen boards the train where she meets the newly married Patrice and Hugh Harkness.  The Harkness's are traveling to meet Hugh's parents whom Patrice, who happens to be seven months pregnant, has never met before.  While the three strike up a nice friendship, things quickly go south when a horrible train accident leaves the Patrice and Hugh dead and, thanks to an odd stroke of luck, Helen being mistaken for Patrice.  Although initially wary of being doted upon by the rich Harkness family, including Hugh's brother Bill (John Lund), Helen eventually gives in, realizing that pretending to be Patrice will help her provide great opportunities for her newborn son that she could have never given him.

I must say that I was absolutely intrigued by the story here.  While it eventually falters a little bit as it dips into the noir aspects in its final act, the "case of mistaken identity" on display here seemed fresh despite being something we've all seen before in films.  It's certainly helped by a very nice performance from Barbara Stanwyck who is able to escape (although perhaps just barely) the typical melodramatic performance "required" by this type of role in the '50s.  Thanks to some nicely directed moments and a surprisingly nifty special effect in the first half hour that I actually rewatched to see its simple effectiveness, No Man of Her Own is a flick I heartily recommend to lovers of classic movies.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Review - April Fool's Day

April Fool's Day (1986)
Starring Biff from Back to the Future and a bunch of interchangeable college age kids
Directed by Fred Walton

When a group of preppy sex-crazed college kids head to some Martha's Vineyard-esque coastal town for a final hurrah with their good friend Muffy (hey, I told you they were preppy...what other caliber of people name their kids Muffy?), they're looking forward to a great weekend.  Little do they know that they'll all begin getting picked off one by one by some unknown villain.

In and of itself, April Fool's Day is a run of the mill 80s horror flick, but I couldn't help but like it despite my better judgment.  Lacking violent acts, but still creating enough tension to keep me interested, the tale ends up being one of the least bloody horror movies I've ever seen.  I say that only so that you know what you're getting into.  While a slasher film of sorts, it's quite "un-slasher-like."  Also, and rather surprisingly, the acting was better than I expected it would be as well which certainly makes the movie a bit more enjoyable than it probably deserves to be.

If you go into April Fool's Day expecting a quick 85-minute diversion, you'll find yourself having a pleasant enough time.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Movie Review - Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock (2011)
Starring Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough, Helen Mirren, John Hurt, and Andy Serkis
Directed by Rowan Joffe

Brighton Rock is one of those movies that I maybe should have read a little about prior to popping in the dvd.  Had I known it was a mobster flick I would have been a little more prepared for a genre I generally find clichéd and oftentimes boring.  Unfortunately, not being prepped, I was treated to one of the most boring movie experiences I've had this year.  While the story itself may have had some promise -- a young woman named Rose (Andrea Riseborough) witnesses the beginning of a mob hit by young up-and-coming kingpin named Pinkie (Sam Riley) whom decides to woo the girl in order to keep her from spilling the beans to the cops -- this film noir was just utterly melodramatic tedium.

The biggest problem lies in Sam Riley, a skinny pole of a timid-looking young man whom I never once bought as a guy to whom anyone in the Brighton, United Kingdom, mob would give any credence.  Ultimately, that's the biggest issue in fully investing in a story like this and the film can't overcome it.  Riley lacks any charisma or drive and I failed to understand how Rose would fall in love with him or his underlings would pay any attention to his nefarious demands.

Similarly, the character of Rose was quite the disappointment.  She's a character with zero personality and while I think we're supposed to feel for her in her plight, I couldn't muster up any semblance of care for her.  I saw Andrea Riseborough live on stage a few years ago in NYC and I liked her quite a bit -- comparing her to a young Kate Winslet, in fact -- but none of that promise was on display here.

Despite a game effort from Helen Mirren to at least up the acting quotient to a decent degree, her role is too small to register any help for this altogether disappointing flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Friday, February 17, 2012

Movie Review - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
Starring Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Max von Sydow, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, and Tom Hanks
Directed by Stephen Daldry

The last Best Picture nominee I needed to watch, I was dreading seeing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as it seems to be the most reviled of the nine films up for the top prize.  I had read the book and enjoyed it, but the reviews calling Stephen Daldry's flick emotionally manipulative and heavy-handed made me wait until the very last minute to see this.  Well, in the end, I can't help but feel that I've certainly saved one of the best flicks of 2011 for last because Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is powerful, heartbreaking, and inspiring -- a lovely film that has been unfairly maligned throughout this awards season.

Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn), an eleven year-old kid with symptoms of Asperger Syndrome (despite having an inconclusive diagnosis for the disorder), was having a perfectly normal day on September 11, 2001 -- but that was the day his life was personally changed forever.  His father (Tom Hanks), a jewelry store owner, had a meeting in the World Trade Center that morning and like thousands of others, he did not make it out alive.  Finding it incredibly difficult to cope with the loss, Oskar comes across a small manilla envelope holding a key in his father's closet.  On the envelope is written the word "Black" and, as a way to keep his father's presence alive in his mind, Oskar sets out on a mission across all of New York City to meet every single person with the last name of "Black" to find out if they know what the key will open in hopes that it will somehow tell him more about his father.

Perhaps the film could be labeled sappy, but I found it incredibly moving and touching.  Yes, it could be deemed heavy handed, but we're dealing with subject matter here that is incredibly intense and the film doesn't tiptoe around it.  In what is perhaps the best film I've seen that deals with the 9/11 tragedies (that isn't a "documentary-type" film a la the spectacular United 93), I'm not ashamed to admit that my eyes welled up multiple times here.  Yes, I know no one that was harmed on 9/11, but this film speaks to anyone who has experienced any type of loss, grief, and pain, and speaks to the courage and drive necessary to move on and continue living your life to its full potential.

A film which places a young fourteen year-old kid who has never acted before front and center in every single scene of the movie is asking for trouble if the kid doesn't connect with the audience.  That certainly isn't the case here -- I found Thomas Horn a revelation.  I realize that's not a word to throw around lightly, but I was really moved by this kid in an incredibly difficult role.  I wrote in my original review of the novel that I was so irritated by the character of Oskar that I almost put down the book 100 pages in.  The cinematic Oskar worked much better for me.  Perhaps I was simply prepared for the quirkiness of the character -- his carrying around of a tambourine to calm himself is just one of his eccentricities -- or perhaps Horn just embodied the character in such a way that made his idiosyncrasies more believable to me.  Regardless, despite having a completely different personality than me, I somehow felt incredibly connected to this young kid -- Horn is really playing an "everyman" trying to cope with grief and that portrayal deeply moved me.

Horn isn't alone in excelling in the acting department.  Hanks is rather charming in his small role as Oskar's father.  In his limited screen time, it's obvious why Oskar loved his father as much as he did and it was his father's joie de vivre that sends Oskar on his mission.  Similarly, Sandra Bullock is surprisingly powerful in her limited role as Oskar's mother.  Her scenes with the young Horn are gripping and oftentimes heartbreaking.

However, it's Horn's scenes with Max von Sydow that I'll remember the most.  Von Sydow plays a man simply known as The Renter, an elderly gentleman who has moved in with Max's grandmother who lives in an apartment across the street from his home.  The Renter doesn't speak and instead writes all his thoughts in a little notebook, but Oskar finds himself able to communicate with The Renter more than anyone else in his life.  With nary a word spoken, von Sydow is wonderful and positively moving, able to express everything we need to know with the raise of an eyebrow or a shrug of the shoulders.

[There is also a beautiful scene that occurs near the film's conclusion with a man played by Jeffrey Wright whom Oskar meets on his quest to discover the purpose of the key that nearly gave me chills. (Too much discussion of this scene would be a bit of a spoiler so I'll stop here, but I'll likely be discussing it more in my Best Scenes of the Year category in the RyMickey Awards.)]

What is a movie if it's not "manipulative."  Film is one of the most "manipulative" art genres around.  All movies have an agenda/story to tell and they all try to take their audience on whatever journey the director and screenwriter want us to see.  To toss the claim around that director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth are simply playing on our emotional connection to 9/11 isn't a fair critique.  They take a horribly tragic moment in our American history, narrow it down to a specific person's take on that painful day, but somehow manage to make it contain themes that speak to us all.  Kudos all around on this one.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is, by far, one of the best films of 2011.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Movie Review - The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
Starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, and Scott Jacoby
Directed by Nicolas Gessner
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A Jodie Foster horror film?  That notion enticed me enough to watch, but I found The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane just all around odd.  Granted, the weirdness perhaps kept my interest piqued a bit longer than I expected, but the whole thing felt like an (off-) off-Broadway play simply filmed for the screen in terms of set-up, dialog, and directing.

Thirteen year-old Rynn (Jodie Foster) is incredibly (and I mean incredibly) wise for her age.  When we first meet her, she's greeting Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), the adult son of her landlady, who barges into her home and uncomfortably attempts to entice Rynn into believing she should become his girlfriend.  I'm saying that all too nicely...Frank is an alleged child molester and a known creep around town.  However, the cops have never been able to pin any crimes on him.  Nonetheless, Rynn gets out of that situation by yelling for her father whom she says is in his study.  However, and herein lies the central mystery, Rynn's father has been dead for several months.  He's left her with the necessary things to stay alive, but she must continue to pretend he's still around in order to avoid being taken into foster care.  Needless to say, Rynn finds herself doing what's necessary in order to maintain her current lifestyle...even if that means doing things that would place any "normal" person in jail.

Story-wise, I feel like there could have been something here, but the character of Rynn is just too wise for her age.  The only reason it's even remotely believable is because Foster always has exuded a wise aura, but even she can't fully succeed here.  Maybe if Rynn was a seventeen year-old, I could have stretched my imagination a bit, but at thirteen, I just don't see the realism in this.  And that's ultimately a big problem and the film's downfall.

Foster, as I mentioned, is good in one of her early roles and Martin Sheen is undeniably creepy, but they can't save a story that just doesn't ring true.  It doesn't help that Nicolas Gessner filmed this almost like a stage play with a severe lack of imagination in his camera work.  This by-the-books basic direction reeked of low budget tv movie of the week rather than feature film.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Movie Review - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgård
Directed by David Fincher

Even though I watched the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only a little over a year ago, I was rather surprised when I went back and looked at my original review because I don't remember liking it as much as I apparently did.  I think, unfortunately, the disappointments of the two subsequent Swedish flicks in the trilogy must have sullied my thoughts on the overall series because I certainly don't look back fondly on the saga as a whole.

That being said, David Fincher's remake falls into the category of "Completely Unnecessary."  It basically seems like a shot for shot retelling and although it's well acted and nice looking, I found myself bored since I'd seen this exact same story before.  Also, watching this tale unfold a second time made me realize that the three distinct storylines that the movie attempts to tell fail to combine and gel in a proper manner causing me to wonder why in the world they were told in the same movie to begin with.

I'm not going to rehash the summary here -- that can be found in the original review linked above -- except to say that this is a movie in search of which plot matters the most.  We've got shamed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who has just lost a libel suit brought on by a Swedish corporate bigwig. He wants to go into hiding, but he's hired by an elderly retired man named Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to discover what happened to his niece Harriet who went missing over forty years ago.  Henrik suspects that someone in his family is to blame and he wants Blomkvist to get to the bottom of things.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to the incredibly rough-around-the-edges Lisbeth Salandar (Rooney Mara) whose jet black hair, pale skin, and multiple piercings help her to hide a horrible past.  Lacking in any type of people skills, Lisbeth spends her days as a hired hand hacking computers and unearthing personal information for big companies -- sort of a modern day private eye.  Lisbeth also finds herself having to deal with the fact that she's a ward of the state -- I mentioned that "horrible past" that is coming back to haunt her despite her efforts -- and she's forced to report to a new and nasty legal guardian who proves to be a handful for the young woman.

Alone, these stories may have worked fine as their own film, but combining these tales -- Mikael's libel suit, the mystery of Henrik's missing niece, and Lisbeth's life -- ultimately doesn't work.  The missing girl storyline is the heart of the story and when that ends (in a rather unsatisfying way, I might add) and the film still goes on for another 35 minutes, you've got a major problem.  

Fortunately, what this movie has going for it is a very nice performance from Rooney Mara.  Despite seemingly lacking any type of emotion and appearing almost Aspergers-like, Mara imbues a rawness into Lisbeth that is exciting to watch despite the character's seemingly outwardly monotonous dryness.  It also helps that Daniel Craig is much better than his counterpart in the Swedish version of this film and gives Mara something to play off of once their characers meet nearly 100-plus minutes into the movie.

The acting is the ultimate reason to watch this American version rather than the Swedish original because Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig really do elevate this to a higher level.  David Fincher does a fine job directing, but this film is rather straightforward in terms of visuals.  If anything, though, Fincher should have been able to find a way to better edit this thing down and get to the true crux of the tale instead of allowing it to meander as much as it does.

Admittedly, had I seen this remake first, I very well may have given it a higher rating, but having seen the original and seeing that this unnecessary redo does very little to fix the problems its predecessor, I can't help but give this the lower rating that I give it below.

The RyMickey Rating:  C
I don't know if it's the fact that now that it's garnered Oscar nominations, I'm looking at the film differently and perhaps a little more critically, but I recently rewatched Midnight in Paris and boy, was my "B" rating way too high.  I found the whole flick this second time around rather pretentious.  While lovely to look at and acted fine by the leads (although Kathy Bates is really painful), it was almost a chore to sit through it a second time.  My original review can be found here (even though I'm incredibly "wrong" in it), but my adjusted rating is more along of lines of a "C."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Movie Review - The Debt

The Debt (2011)
Starring Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Jesper Christensen, Marton Csokas, Ciarán Hinds, and Tom Wilkinson
Directed by John Madden

Despite liking the overall premise and enjoying the acting, something didn't quite click with me after watching The Debt.  I think, ultimately, the "payoff" doesn't quite measure up to the "build-up" and that's always a bit of a disappointment.  Plus, an oddly underdeveloped romantic subplot thrown into the mix doesn't do anything to increase the tension despite attempting to do just that.

The film jumps back and forth between two time periods.  In 1965, we meet the twentysomething Rachel, Stephen, and David (played by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) -- young Israeli government agents sent to East Berlin to kidnap the infamous Doktor Bernhardt (Jesper Christensen), the Surgeon of Birkenau known for performing heinous medical experiments on Jews during WWII.  Ideally, the trio will be bringing back Bernhardt to Israel to stand trial for his crimes.  Needless to say, entanglements inevitably arise putting a damper on those plans.

In 1997, we are introduced to the elder Rachel, Stephen, and David (played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds).  Thirty years have passed and the group has been celebrated as heroes for decades thanks to their work involving the horrible doctor.  However, the three former agents harbor a great secret known only to the trio and no one else...or so they thought.  When the truth behind their secret runs the risk of being revealed, it may be time for the now senior citizen former agents to head back into the dangerous world of espionage.

As I mentioned, the premise is altogether promising and enjoyable.  And there are also some really nice performances from Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren, both of whom give their respective portrayals of Rachel much greater depth than I expected.  Still, I can't get over the fact that a love triangle between the three principals just doesn't work and failed to get me invested in any angle of the attempts at amour.  Plus, the older generation's story just doesn't capture the attention like the younger generation's tale.  Although the film jumps around in time (to nice effect actually), the end plays only to the 1997 aspect of the tale and, although it brings the story to a resolution, it proves to be a bit too anticlimactic given the tension achieved in the 1965 segment of the tale.

The Debt certainly isn't a bad film, but it's not one I could really tell anyone to rush and see.  It's adequate, but that's about it.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Movie Review - Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy (2011)
Starring Maria Bello, Michael Sheen, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, and Kyle Gallner
Directed by Shawn Ku
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I was speaking just the other day with someone about the dearth of indie movies in 2011 that resonated with me.  There were a few here and there, but my top list of movies features a lot more mainstream wide-release movies than in years past.  Thankfully, Beautiful Boy, a little seen flick from last year, helps pick the slack in that 2011 independent movie market.  With two stunning performances and a story that just emotionally hits you at the core, the debut from director and co-screenwriter Shawn Ku is a welcome surprise.

Maria Bello and Michael Sheen are Kate and Bill, a married couple who are in the process of separating.  Their son, Sammy (Kyle Gallner), is off at his first semester in college, and the empty house is making their relationship even more difficult to bear.  The two could never be prepared for the news they receive early one morning when police officers show up on their doorstep and tell the couple that Sammy went on a shooting spree at his college, killing over fifteen people before turning the gun on himself.  

With this huge news occurring in the film's first ten minutes, the remainder of Beautiful Boy rather effortlessly focuses solely on the emotional impact of this horrific event on the parents of the murderer.  We never leave the side of either Kate or Bill and their grief and sorrow is gut-wrenching.  Their crumbling relationship is pushed to the limits -- for they've gone through something so devastating that few can relate to them -- and the script provides a resolution for the couple that is completely believable and wholly satisfying.

Maria Bello is simply wonderful.  Harboring a tremendous amount of guilt -- Kate was the last one to speak with Sammy the night before he went on his rampage -- Bello allows Kate to run the gamut of emotions from tearful grief to harsh anger, wondering whether she or her husband are also responsible for their son's actions.  Michael Sheen is also riveting, beginning the movie as the calmer of the two, but finally breaking down and unleashing his emotions as the film progresses. 

Together, the two are part of one of the best scenes I've seen in a 2011 film as a rather tender, lovely moment in a hotel room gradually shifts into a raw and hate-filled screaming match showcasing both Bello and Sheen's talent and proving that the film has allowed the audience to become so incredibly invested in these characters and their emotions.  As the scene unfurled, I both didn't want it to end, but couldn't wait for it to be over.  It was so uncomfortable, but so revealing and truth-filled.  The barriers had come down for the coupl (thanks to the introduction of alcohol) and it was positively riveting.

There were a few moments here and there that screamed "low budget indie" in terms of the camera work and editing which admittedly took a little bit away from the overall experience.  And, in the end, you kind of want to know what turned young Sammy down this painful road (although, on the other hand, the ambivalence makes us fully understand the disbelief Kate and Bill are feeling post-shooting spree).  Still, those are minor gripes in a film that moved me quite a bit and featured two fantastic performances.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Movie Review - A Better Life

A Better Life (2011)
Starring Demián Bechir and José Julián
Directed by Chris Weitz

As much as A Better Life tries (and, boy, does it try), it can't change my thoughts on illegal immigration even if the person being deported (as is the case here) is the nicest guy in the world.  Still, I'm able to overlook my personal conservative beliefs on this subject matter (and let's face it, when it comes to Hollywood, I have to overlook my conservative beliefs often in order to enjoy "art"), but I'm unable to look past the fact that the main character here -- a very nice Mexican (illegal) immigrant named Carlos who has been in this country for over 15 years -- is much too noble and saintlike for me to believe his story.  Yes, I know that there are plenty of nice people in the world (I'm one of them), but something here just doesn't ring true.

A Better Life fails at creating intricacies.  People are either good or they are bad and it's obvious from the moment they're introduced into which category they fall.  Carlos (played by Academy Award-nominated actor Demián Bechir) is a hard-working good guy.  He's trying his very best to raise his American-born teenage son Luis (José Julián) to respect others and understand the importance of a good education.  While Luis is tempted daily to join the local gang, Carlos is off earning a living seven days a week as a gardener.  In order to achieve a better life (hence the title), Carlos buys his boss's truck and begins to set up his own gardening business.  However, thanks to a few unfortunate events, things quickly take a turn for the worse for Carlos and he must figure out how to make things right for himself and his son.

Despite decent turns from Demián Bechir and José Julián (although I'm not quite sure why the former got a Best Actor nomination at this year's Oscars...he's good, but I wasn't blown away), the film just feels overly generic, simplistic, and bland.  There's no depth to anyone or any situation and it leads to a rather boring overall tone.

There was much talk that A Better Life was an eye-opening look at the illegal immigration/deportation debate in our country.  To me, I'm hard-pressed to find anything that the film adds to the discussion.  Just because Carlos is a nice guy doesn't (and shouldn't) sway me into thinking that it's okay for our borders to be open and if the liberal landscape wants to think that way it just shows how narrow-minded and shallow they are.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Movie Review - Psycho

Psycho (1998)
Starring Anne Heche, Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, and William H. Macy
Directed by Gus Van Sant
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

***Warning -- Spoilers ahead***

Why?  That's the question I've posed for the last fourteen years since I first found out that Gus Van Sant was making a near shot-by-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece (and my favorite movie of all time) Psycho.  What's the point?  I still don't get it even after I watched the film -- I guess it was some weird "experiment" -- but I will say that the film was better than I thought it would be.  That being said, I also thought this was going to be one of the worst moviewatching experiences I'd ever have so it wasn't going to take much to prove me wrong on that front.  However, the remake comes nowhere near close to the brilliance of the original.

Admittedly, I was actually quite impressed with Anne Heche's take on Marion Crane.  Janet Leigh is so iconic to me in that role and has an undeniably devious take on the character.  Not that the viewer ever gets a sense that Leigh's Marion "deserves" to die, but there is a slight feeling that she gets her appropriate comeuppance in the end.  Heche, however, plays Marion a bit more innocently and I admired that quality.  Unfortunately, Heche is only in the film for 35 minutes and things fall apart rather quickly at that point.

Vince Vaughn is simply painful as Norman Bates.  His Norman is visibly off his rocker right from the very first time we lay eyes on him -- he nervously laughs at the end of his first line and it felt so forced and "actor-y" that it took me out of his performance immediately.  Anthony Perkins played Norman as an outwardly normal guy who just so happened to be nuts.  Vaughn's Norman is simply nuts.  I despised nearly every line reading by him and when the last two-thirds of the movie shifts its focus towards him, it disappointed.  Similarly, Julianne Moore has been told to play Marion's sister Lila as a seemingly "butch" tough gal which didn't fit for me at all and felt incredibly off-putting.  When Lila gives Norman a take-down kick to debilitate him in the final basement scene at the Bates Motel, I couldn't help but think she should have yelled "Girl Power!" and it nauseated me with the political correctness of the change.  

The film updates the story to 1998 and I can't help but think it proves to be a detriment.  While it takes place in modern times, everything felt incredibly dated.  By replicating nearly everything from the 1960s -- sets, camera shots, music, costuming -- I don't quite understand the point.  Maybe it was done to allow the slight changes that are enacted -- like Norman masturbating when looking through the peephole as Marion prepares to shower or the odd flashes of rolling thunderclouds as Marion meets her demise in the shower -- seem appropriate in tone or something.  Nonetheless, those changes evoked chuckles from me and didn't add a thing to the tale.

The question still remains -- why was this remake needed?  What does it add to the discussion of Hitchcock's Psycho?  The answer seems to be that the story itself still holds up and the camera shots and dialog still work even in a modern-day setting.  However, it's not even remotely comparable in terms of quality and tension to the original.  Do yourself a favor -- if you've never watched Hitchcock's classic, rent it and revel in its awesomeness.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Movie Review - War Horse

War Horse (2011)
Starring Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, and Niels Arestrup
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg is a guy who always tries to tug the emotional heartstrings.  There's nothing wrong with that and its an overarching characteristic of nearly all his movies.  In War Horse, though, this heartstring tugging is more like manipulative puppeteering, forcing the audience to feel a certain way even if the story doesn't naturally lead its audience down that road.  I found War Horse lovely to look at, but absolutely stilted in terms of storytelling and repetitive when in comes to telling the tale of the "miracle" titular horse known as Joey.

From the very outset, I totally understood the vibe that Spielberg was trying to invoke here.  There's a 1930's Rin Tin Tin childlike innocence on display in both visuals and story.  The opening act in which teen Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) gets a ragged looking horse from his father (Peter Mullan) and must train it to pull a giant trough through England's stony landscape felt like I was watching a old-time children's movie.  Not that there's a problem with Spielberg replicating his innocence of E.T. -- War Horse is, in fact, based on a children's book -- but after the opening act ends with Albert's father selling off Joey to save the family farm much to Albert and his mother's (Emily Watson) chagrin, the film falls into depressing episodic melodrama.  We watch as Joey exchanges hands multiple times throughout the battles of World War I causing surprising amounts of bad luck and harm to those who come in contact with him.  It all just becomes laughable rather than emotional.

I understand the old film vibe Spielberg is trying to achieve, but War Horse just feels awfully hollow and uncertain for whom the flick is made. We get these grand war scenes (which lack the violent brutality of Saving Private Ryan), but then they're interspersed with the silliness of moments like Joey literally "volunteering" himself to save his fellow horse from a deathly job on the battlefield or a young French girl -- one of Joey's "owners" -- hiding the horse in her room when the Germans invade the family farm.  There's a severe lack of balance and Spielberg is never able to figure out what type of movie he wants to display.

The film looks fine, but even on that front, there isn't anything overly special about the visuals.  Spielberg certainly culls lighting and lensing from the olden golden age of cinema, but it once again feels like a rehash of things we've seen before.  Granted, one could certainly say (and I did say in my review of it) that The Artist is a rehash of films that came before it, but it at least knew who its audience was which is the huge overarching problem of War Horse.  It's too simplistic for adults and too violent for kids and therefore finds itself wallowing in the middle of mediocrity.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, February 06, 2012

Movie Review - Restless

Restless (2011)
Starring Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska
Directed by Gus Van Sant

Perhaps if I had watched Restless on another day, I would've found the quirky and twee flick irritating and obnoxious.  However, luckily for the Gus Van Sant film, I was apparently in a mood for oddness, because I was won over by the sweet and touching (though doomed from the outset) romance, and while it's a film that has some flaws, Restless is a pleasant tale of youthful romance.

Enoch (Henry Hopper) is a teenage high school drop-out who spends his days crashing funerals.  Ever since his parents died in a car crash, Enoch's been living in a world replete with death (including his "imaginary" best friend, Hiroshi [Ryo Kase], a Japanese kamikaze pilot who died in World War II).  While out on his daily funeral visits, Enoch meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) who doesn't find Enoch's obsession with mortality bizarre at all.  In fact, she's a bit of an oddball sweet free spirit as well...who also happens to have inoperable brain cancer and a three-month window to live.

What certainly makes Restless succeed are the great performances of the two leads.  In one of his first roles, Henry Hopper (son of the late Dennis Hopper) seems pitch perfect.  Yes, his character is morbid, and yes, he's essentially stone-faced throughout much of the movie, but I totally understood the odd character of Enoch thanks to Hopper.  I understood why he went to funerals; I believed the ridiculousness of him speaking with dead Japanese fighter pilots; and I felt when he fell in love with Annabel.  Something clicked there that was impressive.

And as for Mia Wasikowska, it's by far the best role I've seen her in yet.  While I liked her in Jane Eyre where she was forced to play an emotionless statue, in Restless she is as goshdarn cute as could be.  There's a slight Woody Allen-Diane Keaton Annie Hall vibe coming from her (and not just because of the hats she wears throughout) that I totally dig.  You connect with her Annabel right away because she creates a character that seems real and lovable despite her idiosyncrasies, and, because of that connection, the film becomes all the more difficult to watch as her illness progresses.

As the two begin to fall in love, they find themselves overcoming their own demons thanks to the help of one another and considering the rather morose undertones of the whole flick, I found myself smiling quite a bit thanks to the tone set by the director and screenwriter.  Admittedly, as I mentioned in my first sentence, you need to be willing to go along for the ride on this one and give in to the weirdness or else you'll find this a tedious mess to sit through.  I succumbed to the cuteness and found the whole thing rather surprisingly enjoyable.  Granted, it isn't without its faults -- I think the last third unfortunately ends the movie on a rather sour note and doesn't wrap things up with its characters in a believable manner [a pretty big fault, actually] -- but, for the most part, Restless works.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Movie Review - The Double

The Double (2011)
Starring Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Odette Yustman, and Martin Sheen
Directed by Michael Brandt
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Although imdb lists The Double as getting a theatrical release last year, I certainly never heard anything about this until I saw some commercials promoting its appearance on Blu-Ray.  With a promise of political intrigue (and the ease of streaming availability), I figured why not give it a shot.  However, I soon discovered the reason this was buried at the box office is because The Double simply isn't very good.

Richard Gere is Paul Shepherdson, a retired CIA agent who spent much of his life tracking down a group of Russian bad guys led by an ominous assassin named Cassius.  Having seemingly taken down the bad Russians, Paul spends his days (creepily) watching Little League games outside of Washington, D.C.  When a prominent senator gets murdered in the same style as Cassius's killings, CIA director Tom Highland (Martin Sheen) calls Paul back into the game partnering him up with young FBI agent Ben Geary (Topher Grace).  Ben, a young expert on Cassius, soon begins to see that Paul has all the characteristics of the Russian baddie and slowly uncovers that Paul may be hiding a huge secret from the US government.

Sound moderately interesting, right?  It's not.  The "big reveals" aren't that exciting and the multiple twists thrown in at the film's end seem forced rather than natural to the story.  Gere and Grace are fine, but neither are given much to do and they don't provide a whole lot of charisma to liven things up.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+