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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Movie Review - One Day

One Day (2011)
Starring Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, and Patricia Clarkson 
Directed by Lone Scherfig

One Day has such a promising premise that it's a shame its story is so bland and the actors who inhabit it bring no chemistry to their lovelorn characters.  In the film, we meet Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) on July 15, 1988, as they graduate from some British college.  Although they only happen to be in the same place because of mutual friends, despite having never met before, they spend the night together in Emma's apartment.  What initially was a sexually charged meeting ends up being rather innocent and the two decide not to sleep together, instead simply beginning a friendship that will last for many years.  The film then jumps to July 15 in each successive year and we see where Emma and Dexter are in their lives and in their relationship with one another.

I actually love the idea behind this movie and I think that the concept as a whole is going to account for a slightly higher grade than the film probably deserves.  Unfortunately, Emma and Dexter aren't characters that have a whole lot going for them.  Emma readily admits that she's a bore...and she is.  Dexter's an obnoxious man-whore who turns into a rather nasty guy as the years progress, but Emma still holds his friendship near and dear for some reason.  The two always had a thing for one another despite trying their best to keep things in the "friend zone," but it's obvious that we're supposed to feel some sexual chemistry between Hathaway and Sturgess when they're onscreen together...and it just never comes to fruition until close to the end of the movie.  Granted, in the last act, I slowly began to believe that these two characters had some sparks between them, but I can't help but think I should've been experiencing that emotion all the way through the film.

Still, even with this rather large problem -- let's face it, a lack of chemistry in a romantic film is a big issue -- the intriguing premise manages to trump some of the faults.  Yes, the story between these two characters isn't always interesting (it oftentimes feels very repetitive since the characters aren't that interesting or deep) and the actors, as I mentioned, aren't exactly right for their roles, but yet I didn't get as annoyed with it as I probably should have and probably would have had the rather original "one day in the life" conceit not been part of the movie.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, April 27, 2012

Theatre/Movie Review - The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
(original London production on stage since 1986)
Original London Direction by Hal Prince
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Charles Hart
Film direction by Laurence Connor and Nick Morris

I'm one of the few people that simply doesn't get the fascination with The Phantom of the Opera.  On the Broadway stage since 1988 and the London stage since 1986, it's certainly charmed many an audience, but it didn't do a thing for me.  I was told that maybe I just saw the stage production on a bad day, so when I saw that a 25th anniversary production was being filmed for dvd release (after a one-night in-theater presentation earlier this year), I figured I'd give it another shot.  As it turns out, my initial thoughts were right.  This is just a play that I can't get into in the slightest despite rather lovely music courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart.

Ultimately, I think there are two major problems that I'm unable to overcome when it comes to this musical.  Firstly, while the individual songs are great, the "sung-through" opera aspect of this musical just doesn't work for me.  It makes the whole affair feel old and stodgy...and, really, the whole thing is kind of old and stodgy in its costuming, staging, and story.  Which leads me right into my second issue with The Phantom of the Opera -- its story is incredibly weak when stacked up next to the music.  It's simply a love triangle involving an opera singer, her childhood friend, and a nasty, murderous, mask-wearing fiend.  None of the characters are all that well-developed and that combined with a ho-hum story just make the play almost interminable during the "book" scenes.

Still, if you're a fan of The Phantom of the Opera this blu-ray will certainly be something you'll want to see.  Taking place in the Royal Albert Hall, certain concessions had to be made in order to fit onto the stage -- for example, many of the scene changes occur via humongous video screens rather than actual sets -- but it's quite successful nonetheless.  Performances all around are good as well and there's a nice tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber at the conclusion of the play.  Unfortunately, none of that makes me enjoy this musical spectacle any more the second time around.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

REP 2011-12 Season Round-Up

With only five productions this year, it's a bit more difficult for me to do something similar to what I did last year when it comes to expressing my appreciation for the wonderful performances put on by the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players.  This year's plays ran the gamut from slapstick comedy to heavy drama and while some of the plays themselves may have left me a little disappointed, the REP continues to prove why they should be the hottest ticket in town when it comes to live theater.

Total Number of "Nominations"
(# of nominations includes "Honorable Mentions")
(Click on titles for link to original review)

Best Costume Design
Winner -- Martha Hally -- Our Country's Good

Best Scenic Design
Winner -- Takeshi Kata -- The Skin of Our Teeth
Honorable Mentions:
Stefanie Hansen -- The Cripple of Inishmaan
R.H. Graham -- Our Country's Good

The REP continues to shine in both their costuming and scenic design departments which come together to elevate their productions to something very high caliber.  Martha Hally created both realistic slave and soldier garb in Our Country's Good that was the stand-out of the season.

The barren staging of Our Country's Good and the charmingly "depressing" Irish sets of The Cripple of Inishmaan were both wonderful, but The Skin of Our Teeth ended the season with a bang.  Every set from the 1950s style house in Act I to the glitz, glamour, and eye-popping neon lights of Act II to the barren devastation of Act III were top notch.  Although Act II certainly was stunning, as time passes, Act III's move to go "backdrop-less" and allow the audience to see all the way back to the stage's back wall is proving to linger just as much in my mind.  

Best Overall Performances

10. Mic Matarrese - Noises Off
9. Deena Burke - Our Country's Good
8. Elizabeth Heflin - The Little Foxes
7. Kathleen Pirkl Tague - The Skin of Our Teeth
6. Kathleen Pirkl Tague - The Cripple of Inishmaan
5. Elizabeth Heflin - The Skin of Our Teeth
4. Elizabeth Heflin - Our Country's Good
3. Stephen Pelinski - Noises Off
2. Kathleen Pirkl Tague - Noises Off
1. Michael Gotch - The Cripple of Inishmaan

Best Overall Body of Work
Winner -- Elizabeth Heflin
Honorable Mention -- Kathleen Pirkl Tague

If the 2010-11 season was one that placed a bit more focus on the men, the 2011-12 season was definitely one for the ladies.  Kathleen Pirkl Tague continues to be just a joy to watch on stage, excelling in both humorous roles (like Noises Off) and ones that require a little more heart (as in The Cripple of Inishmaan).

This really seemed to be the year for Elizabeth Heflin, however, who took on drastically different major roles in The Skin of Our Teeth and The Little Foxes to great success.  But it was in Our Country's Good where her talent especially shined when she took on a character with one small scene and made her the most memorable part of the play.

However, the best role of the year belonged to Michael Gotch in the title role in The Cripple of Inishmaan.  Completely embodying the character with a limp that had to have been intensely demanding, Gotch not only physically took on the role, but added great depth in terms of heart and vulnerability.

Best Direction
Winner -- Gregory Boyd - Noises Off
Honorable Mention -- J.R. Sullivan - The Cripple of Inishmaan

Favorite Overall Production
Winner -- Noises Off
Honorable Mention -- The Cripple of Inishmaan
Photo by Paul Cerro

In any other year, The Cripple of Inishmaan may have taken the top spot, but it's tough to put anything up against what the REP did with Noises Off which was, quite honestly, one of the best things I've ever seen on stage.  I imagine that this is play that very well could fail miserably in the hands of a less talented cast and director, but Gregory Boyd and the REP crafted something very special.  It helps that they had a great play to work with, but seeing the REP cast of eight play so well off of one another epitomized what is so wonderful about this group.  Watching this troupe change so flawlessly from one play to the next -- comedy to drama and back again -- is what keeps me coming back again and again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Theater Review - The Skin of Our Teeth

The Skin of Our Teeth
Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Sanford Robbins
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Friday, April 20, 7:30pm

Photo by Deenie Howatt

I saw a performance of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth when I was in high school and I didn't remember thinking very fondly of it.  I was hoping that my memory may have been incorrect, but that doesn't seem to have been the case as this is a play that I simply can't find myself getting drawn into despite the best efforts of the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players who end their season with a brilliantly staged production of a decidedly odd and off-putting work.  [Then again, this play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama...but so did this, and I didn't care for it either...]

Over three acts, we watch as the Antrobus family of four witness the near end of humanity only to come together and find resolutions to the impending destruction of the world.  Throughout it all, the play tries to find an appropriate balance of comedy and drama, but (and this hasn't changed since my high school days) I simply don't think it succeeds.  To me, the comedy often falls flat and, seeing how this is my second viewing of this work, I can now say that I believe the fault is in the script itself and not the actors.  Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh here -- I don't despise the play, but I just don't find the comedic bits all that successful -- they feel too old-fashioned and don't seem to have stood the test of time.

A valiant effort is put forth by the REP cast and they are successful at mining all that they can from the script.  This has been a great season for Elizabeth Heflin and her role as the Atrobus's maid Sabina, who, like me, doesn't quite "get" this play either, is most successful at garnering laughs.  Kathleen Pirkl Tague is always a personal favorite of mine and here, as the rather strong-willed wife and mother of the four-member Antrobus clan, she is perhaps given some of the play's most hefty moments which, although they sometimes feel out of place, are delivered with great authority by the actress.  Kudos also to Stephen Pelinski who manages to shine in both the two comedic-skewing first acts and a somewhat intense dramatic third act.

However, the true star of the show is the set design.  I always am impressed by this at the REP and The Skin of Our Teeth had one of their best sets yet.  When the curtain opened on Act II, I sort of shook my head in disbelief at the sheer amount of detail on a stage set up to mimic the Atlantic City boardwalk complete with loads of neon lights, taffy shops, showgirls, and more.  Amazing stuff...Broadway-caliber stuff...

As a regular REP viewer and all-out admirer of the group, I found the most humorous parts of the play to be those that actually referenced previous REP productions -- like when Sabina/Elizabeth Heflin breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience about her roles in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Little Foxes.  It was these "modern moments" that worked best for me in terms of comedy.  The shout-out to former PTTP member Sara Griffin did not go unnoticed by this REP theatergoer.

But The Skin of Our Teeth is ultimately a play I just don't think of fondly.  The REP's production is well-acted, marvelously designed, and uniquely staged (including trips out into the audience by cast members), but I can't help but feel like I'm missing something when it comes to the humor in this one.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Movie Review - Straw Dogs

Straw Dogs (2011)
Starring James Marsden, Kate Bosworth, Alexander Skarsgård, and James Woods
Directed by Rod Lurie

When screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) move back to her childhood hometown in Mississippi, they're hoping for some peace and quiet away from the Hollywood spotlight so David can work on his new screenplay.  The couple hire a group of hicks (and, yes, I'm using that word derogatively because like in every Hollywood movie, the Southerners here are all hicks that spit a lot and carry shotguns around with them) to fix up the roof of a rotting barn at their secluded house.  The workers, headed by Amy's former boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård), look like trouble from the get-go -- so much so that the thought that a smart guy like David would hire these guys is completely irrational and ruins the movie's plausibility right in the opening act -- and the group proves to be a handful.  Needless to say, Straw Dogs (and the original 1971 movie upon which this remake is based) is touted for both its violence and its message that even a civilized man can resort to heinous acts to save the ones he loves, but that isn't nearly enough to recommend this flick.

The problem is that beyond that overly violent final act, Straw Dogs has nothing going for it.  It's built upon a premise that's simply unbelievable -- David is a smart guy (he plays chess so we know that's the case) and yet he hires this grungy looking group to fix his house.  The movie tries to play it up that he was just trying to be nice to some hometown guys, but as soon as he hires this construction crew, all realism went out the window for me.  And, if I'm being completely honest (and this may make me sound awful), I wanted the violence to come into play a whole lot sooner than it actually did.  There's a particularly heinous act that happens about halfway through the movie that should have precipitated the ending to come a lot sooner, but the film just lingers around for nearly an hour more.

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth are fine, but I found their relationship to be rather odd and off-putting and I don't think that was supposed to be the point.  Alexander Skarsgård is kinda creepy, but he's certainly not bringing anything new to the table.  And the less said about the overacting James Woods whose character precipitates the third act's violence the better.

But at least this flick gave me a better appreciation for using bear traps as a means of enacting revenge on your worst enemy.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Movie Review - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One (2011)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner
Directed by Bill Condon

This is probably not a popular opinion, but I think Breaking Dawn - Part One is the best Twilight movie to come out yet.  However, don't let that praise fool you.  It's still a movie with one of the silliest concepts imaginable and this is the most foolish segment of the series yet.  However, there's part of me that feels like everyone knew they were dealing with utter ridiculousness and gave into the absurdity rather than trying to mask it.

For you see, the first part of the inexplicably divided Breaking Dawn starts off with the wedding of human Bella (Kristen Stewart) to vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and director Bill Condon wastes no time getting to the proceedings.  We get to visit with characters from past Twilight movies (including a forty-five second cameo from Anna Kendrick who steals the movie in her scene) and then we just jump right to the honeymoon on a private isle off the shores of Brazil.  Bella and Edward consummate their marriage which leaves Bella happy, but Edward upset because his uncontrollable animalistic tendencies rear their ugly head whilst in the midst of sex and he not only literally breaks the bedposts, but bruises his darling bride.  The two mope around the fancy honeymoon house because they're seemingly sexually incompatible for the time being -- Bella has yet to determine when she'll step over to the vampire side of things, you see.  All this is cheesy enough, but then Bella starts throwing up and she realizes that after fourteen days on the island and following a nice product placement for Tampex that she's late which must mean that she's pregnant.  Mere seconds after coming to that conclusion, she feels the baby kicking inside of her.  But wait!  Vampires and humans can't have babies together, can they?  And if they can, what the hell is growing inside Bella?  A vampire?  A human?  One thing is for certain -- whatever it is it's certainly going to be the palest baby ever to come out of a mother's womb if Bella and Edward's genes have anything to do with it.  All that and I didn't even mention the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) whose fellow lycanthropes are fed up with vampires taking humans for brides -- hell, that's what the werewolves want!

The whole thing is utterly ridiculous with some of the most inane dialog around...but it's kinda fun.  I mean, even writing that ludicrous summary, I couldn't help but smile about the whole thing.  Sure, I'm sick and tired of the whole premise of this godawful series.  But at least in Breaking Dawn the stupid subplots about European vampires wanting to bring an end to the Cullen clan are brushed aside and the focus sits squarely on the insanely idiotic dynamic of human-vampire sexual relations.  Dare I say it, but Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson weren't as annoying as in past movies and I think new director Bill Condon actually managed to pull average performances out of them (which is more than I can say from past directors).  Condon also makes the film rather nice to look at and has a moderately deft hand at pacing the flick out...although in the grand scheme of things, I'm sure these two Breaking Dawn pictures could have easily been condensed into one without any problems at all.

The end credits scene alluded to the fact that the second film will shift focus to more of a battle between the Cullens and this aforementioned European vampire group headed by Michael Sheen...and this will inevitably bore me to no end.  But, Part One of Breaking Dawn surprisingly managed to hit that "so bad it became laughable" point that at least made the whole thing not as tedious to watch as the other movies in the series.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Movie Review - Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Starring Christopher Nicholas Smith, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, and Jessica Tyler Brown
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Sometimes you just have to concede that a movie concept is not for you and I think the Paranormal Activity franchise just doesn't work for this reviewer.  Even with this third chapter (a prequel to the first two) being the best of the series, I still can't get past the fact that all three of these films have quite literally an hour of nothing happening followed by twenty minutes of tense horror.  I could almost give it some slack if these films were at least creating a very slow build-up in the first sixty minutes to some amazing payoff, but that just isn't the case.  I think there is an attempt at the aforementioned slow build-up to amazing payoff, but it didn't succeed in the first two and it doesn't succeed in this third flick either.

Still, rather positively, Paranormal Activity 3 at least has some semblance of a story beyond "ghost invades a house and someone videotapes it." Granted, it still has that tried and true storyline, but as a prequel, we go back to 1988 to when the first movie's Katie and the second movie's Kristi (played respectively by Katie Featherston and Sprague Graydon in brief cameos here) are young kids.  Thanks to the first two movies, we were aware that sisters Katie and Kristi experienced some type of paranormal activity in their home when they were children, but in this third movie, the audience gets to witness what they went through.  With nice performances from the child actors Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown (particularly Brown as Kristi who manages to be cute as a button and creepy at the same time), and, across the board, the best turns from adult actors in the series (thanks to Lauren Bittner as the girls' mother and Christopher Nicholas Smith as her new younger boyfriend), the film is already able to improve on the first two of the series.  Couple the better performances with an ending that admittedly surprise me a little bit and you've got checkmarks in the positive column.

However, Paranormal Activity 3, much like the first two, fails to hold my interest in the first hour.  It's just not exciting to watch video of nothing happening and even though filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who brought us last year's great documentary Catfish) try a few different techniques to make things at least interesting, but they're admirable failures.  I know people love these movies, but a great ending doesn't necessarily negate an interminable beginning and that's certainly the case in all these flicks.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Movie Review - A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember (1958)
Directed by Roy Ward Baker

On this, the centennial of the unsinkable Titanic's demise, I could have headed into theaters to watch James Cameron's 3D re-release of his Oscar-winning film, but instead I checked out Turner Classic Movies' airing of 1958's A Night to Remember that ditches the fictional plotlines of other Titanic movies and tells the tale in a straightforward fashion that works surprisingly well.

A Night to Remember doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to the Titanic story, but it does tell the tale in a somewhat unique way.  While we follow some characters around for brief scenes -- the captain of the ship, the second officer, "unsinkable" Molly Brown -- we never focus on any one of them for long periods of time.  Not placing the dramatic emphasis on any one person allows the audience to connect with everyone on the ship -- first, second, and third class guests in addition to the crew --  rather than just a "main character," so we end up feeling compassion for all.  The acting is all top notch and it never succumbed to that "overacting" we nowadays sometimes feel like we're seeing when we watch a film from decades ago.

Also impressive are the special effects which are really fantastic for the time period.  Still, director Roy Ward Baker knows that sometimes it's the most simplistic moments like an ashtray sliding off a table that are the most riveting.  Baker also doesn't waste anytime getting to the tragic moment when the large ship strikes the iceberg.  I was rather surprised (in a very good way) when thirty minutes we were already witnessing water rushing into the ship.  However, Baker does create the film's biggest problem as well -- focusing way too much time on the moments in which the crew gathers women and children into the lifeboats to escape the sinking ocean liner.  If I had to hear, "Women and children only!", one more time I may have flipped my lid.

Still, for one of the first "disaster" movies to hit the silver screen, A Night to Remember is worth checking out.  And it's certainly obvious that James Cameron lifted many a scene for his blockbuster flick as an homage to this 1958 oldie.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Movie Review - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2012)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, and Donald Sutherland
Directed by Gary Ross

Much like its book counterpart, Gary Ross's The Hunger Games is an enjoyable take on a "future America" that has become a squalid dystopian society that gets its kicks from watching teenagers battle each other to the death in a "game" set up by the government in order to keep its citizens in check.  For a franchise marketed towards teens, I give the concept credit for being something more than just a girl lovestruck with a beau.  Still, both in print and on screen, The Hunger Games is simply just a little better than average.  It too often drags and, ultimately, the final act which should have been a tense showdown lacks the necessary oomph to end things on a positive note.

The dramatic disappointments in the last hour are no fault of Jennifer Lawrence who plays Katniss Everdeen -- one of the chosen "tributes" who must fight in the battle to the death where only one of 24 teens will come out alive.  Lawrence certainly manages to hold your attention and is believable as both a caring sister and a tough as nails kick ass gal.  Her co-stars are also all more than pleasant to watch with Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson most impressive thanks to their eccentric roles into which they can really sink their teeth.

Somehow, though, despite a neat concept and acting that is certainly above par for your average teen pic (**cough**Twilight**cough**), The Hunger Games doesn't quite succeed because it drags too much.  The film actually starts off rather quickly and doesn't linger too long in the opening act which was rather refreshing.  Jumping right into the the story was the way to go -- within the first fifteen minutes, Katniss has been chosen as a tribute (or more fittingly, "volunteered" as tribute to save her younger sister who actually was picked to go into battle) and is on her way to The Capitol where the games will take place.  Even the moments in the second act detailing the preparation of the Games were solid and well executed.  However, once we shifted into the actual Hunger Games themselves, I couldn't help but feel like the film left a lot to be desired.  What should have been an edge-of-your-seat tense kill-or-be-killed kind of setting instead is bland and shockingly boring.

It's been said that director Gary Ross will not be helming the next movie in this series and I think that's probably a good thing.  While he certainly created a nice basis for future movies, I can't help but think that the concept deserves a little better (and I can only hope that the new director abandons the "shaky cam" look which usually doesn't bother me, but had me intensely annoyed right from the start here).  Despite my qualms about the flick, The Hunger Games is still enjoyable, but the potential was there for more and it's a bit unfortunate it didn't succeed fully.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Movie Review - The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Jenkins
Directed by Drew Goddard

Five college kids head to a remote cabin in the woods for a fun weekend, but they're soon in for much more than they bargained for as their vacation turns into a hellish nightmare.  And that's the only summary I'll give you for The Cabin in the Woods because part of the fun of watching this incredibly absurd and original horror flick is watching it unfurl in front of you with the rather unique turns seemingly coming out of left field, but proving to be completely believable by the film's end. (Well, maybe not believable in the "real world," but believable in the "cinematic world" this film inhabits.) 

It should be noted that when I like a horror movie, it's generally a good bet to assume that the American public will not.  And that very well may be why Drew Goddard's film has sat on the shelf since 2009.  This is certainly not going to be a movie for everyone.  And, admittedly, it wasn't a movie for me for the first thirty minutes (which I must say felt a little interminable).  The humor wasn't clicking for me and I was quite bored as the film followed an incredibly typical horror flick arc.  However co-screenwriters Goddard and Joss Whedon twist things around and while The Cabin in the Woods remains most definitely in the "slasher flick" genre, it expands upon the boundaries we think of when we think of cinematic blood and gore.  In a sense, it echoes a bit of what Scream did back in the 90s, but Whedon and Goddard push things even further.

It helps that, for the most part, the acting is above average for your standard horror flick and Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford prove to be a real treat as a duo whose purpose would be too much of a spoiler to reveal here.  As soon as Jenkins and Whitford appeared, it was quite obvious that The Cabin in the Woods was going to be a bit different and their quirky sensibilities provide many a laugh.

While there are certainly positives, I can't help but think that there isn't a whole lot of rewatchability in this one.  Knowing the twists and turns ahead of time may very well spoil what made the film so much fun the first go-around.  And, as I mentioned, the movie takes a bit too long to get rolling.  That said, this movie provides the right amounts of humor, tension, and scares, making The Cabin in the Woods an enjoyable ninety minute ride.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Movie Review - Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Starring Emily Browning and Rachael Blake
Directed by Julia Leigh
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

To the parent who accidentally rents this Sleeping Beauty instead of this one, good luck explaining to your kids what they're inadvertently watching.  This 2011 version of the tale has nothing to do with that classic French fairy tale about a girl who accidentally pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls asleep.  Granted, "pricks" are still prevalent in this tale, but the definition of that word is slightly different. [Too risqué, there?  If that "joke" turns you off, though, this movie is certainly not for you.]

Right off the bat, I need to say that I have no clue what this movie is trying to say.  I think it's probably some feminist-skewed morality tale about a chick who after falling into an odd form of prostitution comes to the realization that she's a better person than she gives herself credit for, but I'm really just grasping for straws to even come up with that.  Still, despite not having a clue as to what I was watching, I can't say I was bored (although there were certainly stretches that tested my patience).  I only wish there was a bit more of a complete thought in the midst of the vagueness depicted onscreen.

Emily Browning is Lucy, a college student in Australia struggling to make ends meet by working multiple jobs.  Right off the bat, we're aware that Lucy is "sexually adventurous" as she heads into a bar and sleeps with a man with whom she's known for less than five minutes.  Still, that doesn't quite prepare us in the audience for when Lucy takes a job at what is essentially an upscale escort service catering to people with odd sexual desires.  While the "madam" of the service (played by Rachael Blake) insists that "no penetration" will be allowed in the situations into which she places Lucy, the young woman is still subjected to some very odd sexual situations that (maybe?) eventually awaken her to what exactly she is putting herself through.  Still, despite being all about sex, there's a lack of titillation on display in Sleeping Beauty...rather, we find ourselves nervous for Lucy rather than being excited by her exploits.

Kudos to Emily Browning for being brave enough to be completely nude for quite a lot of the movie.  However, the film fails miserably at letting us get any glimpse into how Lucy truly feels for using her body in order to make a living.  Lucy is rather one-note and it's a character that screams for multi-dimensionalism.  This lack of any depth oftentimes makes Browning appear dry and bland, but I can't help but think that's more the fault of the script and direction (both by first-timer Julia Leigh) than Browning (although I will say that Ms. Browning has yet to really showcase herself in any role I've seen her in at this point, lacking that charisma oftentimes needed to carry a film).

While there are certainly problems with Sleeping Beauty, I was moderately intrigued by the whole thing.  Sure, I don't know what I was supposed to get out of it and it's certainly one of the oddest movies of 2011, but it manages to at least be different enough to be interesting.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Movie Review - A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method (2011)
Starring Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, and Vincent Cassel
Directed by David Cronenberg

I'm sure there's an appeal out there for the psychological gibberish that's spouted by Karl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in A Dangerous Method, but it's simply not my cup of tea.  I remember studying these two guys in college and writing papers about how laughable their theories were to my mind.  Still, for about half of this ninety minute flick, I was admittedly intrigued by hearing their various theories discussed and debated.  However, after a while, this very talky film just wears out its welcome and despite a good performance from Fassbender and an oftentimes riveting turn from Keira Knightley, David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method just doesn't quite have enough of a story around which to craft a film.

A Dangerous Method revolves around Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a Russian Jew who is brought to Karl Jung's mental facility acting out with strange and violent twitches.  Jung is taken by the case and finds himself using many of his colleague Freud's sexually charged theories to diagnose Sabina.  As time passes, Jung finds himself falling for Sabina despite his best efforts to keep his focus on his marriage, and he soon finds that his growing obsession with Sabina could ultimately create a divide not only with his wife, but with his esteemed colleague Freud as well.

The film starts out simply astonishingly with Keira Knightley giving the best performance of her career in the opening scenes.  Manic, crazed, and given the perfect opportunity to jut out her jaw (which, if you've seen any of her films, she's very prone to do), I found myself unable to take my eyes off of Knightley.  She has captured what I can only assume to be an incredibly accurate depiction of a psychologically damaged young woman.  Unfortunately for Knightley, once her character begins to turn towards the sane side, she becomes a bit tedious and boring to watch.  While the progression of her character is believable, the commitment and tour de force performance of Knightley in the first half of the film becomes rather bland in the second half.

And it's in that second half that things start to unravel.  I give credit to director David Cronenberg for his use of deep focus -- allowing all things near and far to both be in focus in a particular scene -- which adds an interesting visual tableau to the mundanely verbose proceedings throughout much of the film, but the lovely sights aren't enough to save the disappointing conclusion to the flick.  As Sabina gets mentally better, the film shifts a bit more of its focus onto the relationship between Jung and Freud and, quite bluntly, it couldn't keep my interest.  Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen are fine as the two doctors (with Fassbender coming off a bit better probably only because his character is given an actual arc as opposed to Mortensen who seems to simply be playing a figurehead with little else to do other than spout Freud's famous dictums), but neither of the actors (or perhaps their characters) are charismatic enough to carry the second half of the movie.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, April 09, 2012

Movie Review - Texas Killing Fields

Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Starring Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Jessica Chastain
Directed by Ami Canaan Mann

Admittedly, I only watched Texas Killing Fields because 2011 was the year of Jessica Chastain and I figured I'd give as many movies of hers a shot that I could.  Good Lord...not only was this the worst of the five Chastain movies I've seen thus far, but this is one of the worst movies released last year period.  Weaving a tale about a series of unsolved murders in Texas City, Texas (apparently based loosely on true events), Texas Killing Fields focuses on three cops -- Sam Worthington with a sometimes unintelligible mumbling country accent, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a cop with a conscience, and Jessica Chastain as the stereotypical take-no-prisoners tough as nails female officer -- and their investigation into the killings.  Along the way, various storylines are thrown at us that have no discernible connections, manage to bog down the movie with a heaviness and emotional emptiness the likes of which I haven't seen in a movie last year, and fail to come together at the conclusion in any satisfying manner.

Director Ami Canaan Mann (daughter of director Michael Mann) is no whiz behind the camera.  The film looks alright, but the pacing is so mind-numbingly boring and the movie is so choppily edited that while it seemed to be in chronological order, it very well may have been told in some oddly spliced together manner because, quite frankly, scenes failed to make any sense when placed next to one another.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Friday, April 06, 2012

Movie Review - The Whistleblower

The Whistleblower (2011)
Starring Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Larysa Kondracki

Based on a true story, The Whistleblower explores the United Nations cover-up of sex trafficking crimes in post-war Bosnia through the eyes of a Nebraska cop named Kathy Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) who took a job to help police the war-ravaged area.  For a film that essentially has no more story than that, I was rather surprised that the film, despite its nearly two hour run time, didn't drag.  In fact, it's actually quite a plus that the flick moves along at such a good pace.

Unfortunately, I couldn't shake the fact that the movie which highlights the lack of women's rights in Bosnia would have found a better home on Lifetime rather than in a movie theater.  Granted, it's got a decent performance from Rachel Weisz as the headstrong Bolkovac, but Weisz can't escape the fact that her character is so typical of movies like this -- strong female in a male-dominated working environment finds herself being harshly derided by her colleagues.  It's this aspect of failing to create anything beyond a stereotype for the character of Bolkovac (and her male co-workers) that makes the movie feel less worthy to be a theatrical release.

Then again, I'm critiquing The Whistleblower, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit.  Admittedly, I wasn't expecting much, but it certainly was an interesting watch.  I just couldn't help but think it could've been much better with a little more depth in the main characters.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Movie Review - Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy 
Directed by Sean Durkin

I was disappointed I missed this flick in theaters last year and the anticipation level had been building as the months passed, so I was happy to discover that Martha Marcy May Marlene did not let me down.  A great performance from Elizabeth Olsen in her first feature film role and a deft directorial hand from Sean Durkin lensing his own script (in his first time directing and screenwriting a feature film) come together to craft an eerie psychological drama that gives an intense look at the warped mind of a cult member.

Effortlessly jumping back and forth through time, Martha Marcy May Marlene is essentially two timelines in one -- the first allowing us to glimpse young twentysomething Martha's (Elizabeth Olsen) life in a farming commune/cult led by the mild-mannered though devastatingly twisted Patrick (John Hawkes).  Through the seemingly simplest of ways -- for example, changing Martha's name to Marcy May to give her a new identity away from her previous life -- Patrick is a frightening presence whose calm demeanor masks a sinister bastardization of religion.

In the opening scene of the film, we see Martha running away from the cult, and after she escapes she calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) who takes Martha back to her lakefront home she shares with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy).  Making up timeline number two, we watch as Martha attempts to come to terms with the true hell she went through while with the cult all the while masking what really happened from her sister, the one person who truly loves her.  Unable to reveal the truth to where she has been for two years, Martha herself is unable to escape the indoctrination Patrick forced onto her and finds herself being constantly reminded of her past.

Looking back on the film, I'm impressed with the fact that this is a real deep psychological study of the victims of cults and Elizabeth Olsen does such a fantastic job as Martha that it's nearly impossible to think that this was her debut performance.  The last shot of the film (which in and of itself ends things on a killer note) showcases Olsen's talents -- a vulnerability that can effortlessly shift from hopefulness to dread with such believability.  Needless to say, I was really impressed by her turn here and look forward to seeing what she brings in the future.

Also rather amazingly is that this is Sean Durkin's first time both behind the camera and penning a feature-length screenplay.  His vision of jumping back and forth through time was perfect for the tale he wanted to tell and he did so in such a manner that never proved to be gimmicky or confusing.  Sure, there are times of disorientation, but that is ultimately one of the points Durkin is trying to get across -- Martha's life isn't going to be easy and clear-headed from here on out simply because she has escaped the horrors of the cult.  If anything, shifting back to a "normal" life may prove to be more difficult than she could have imagined.

There's definitely something special in Martha Marcy May Marlene...and the ending has me still thinking about it many hours later.  [I'd be more than happy to elaborate and/or discuss in the comments should anyone desire.]

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Movie Review - Anonymous

Anonymous (2011)
Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Sebastian Arnesto, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Edward Hogg, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Derek Jacobi
Directed by Roland Emmerich

I am by no means a Shakespeare connoisseur, but I do have a certain fondness for the Bard.  My final English class in college was a seminar on Shakespeare, his history plays, and how history has regarded him the centuries have passed.  We also briefly touched upon the notion that there is an underlying movement in England (and around the world) to prove that William Shakespeare did not, in fact, pen the plays that he is so well known for writing.  This subculture is explored in Roland Emmerich's Anonymous which twists history around and attempts to show how it could very well have been possible for Shakespeare to have just been a front for another man's work.

That other man in Anonymous is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (played rather well and almost unrecognizably against type by Rhys Ifans whom I particularly know for his comedic work).  Although it seems rather laughable, de Vere is forced to write in secret, having grown up in a puritanical home and forced to marry the daughter of one of Queen Elizabeth's most trusted advisors.  Desiring to see his plays presented on the stage, de Vere first presents them anonymously, but then discovers that the public needs a face to put behind the page.  He initially attempts to woo aspiring writer Ben Johnson (Sebastian Arnesto), but through the stroke of fate, an actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) takes credit and begins to pretend to be the writer of the fantastic canon of literature.

Had the movie solely focused on this aspect, I can't help but think I would have enjoyed the proceedings much more.  However, the crux of the movie lies not in this trickery being put upon the British public by de Vere and Shakespeare, but instead fixates on the political intrigue behind the succession of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave as the elder Queen and Joely Richardson in flashbacks).  Admittedly, I zoned out multiple times so I can't even give a good description of what was happening except to say that de Vere's "adopted" father is involved in much of the "intrigue"...but I couldn't have cared less.

Clocking in at 130 minutes, Anonymous overstays its welcome by a good 45 minutes and had it dropped the mind-numbingly boring succession plot, it may have been a solid picture.  Performances are okay, but everyone lacks emotion and punch making the whole affair so solemn and austere that a coldness exudes throughout.  Roland Emmerich crafted a solid-looking film (apparently much of the sets were completed utilizing CGI technology which certainly fooled me), but a movie that lacks any type of emotional connection to anything it tries to present.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Movie Review - The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In [La piel que habito] (2011)
Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, and Marisa Paredes
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

While I've certainly heard of Spanish director-screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar, I've never seen one of his films.  From the little I know of him, I've gleaned that his films are often melodramatic and full of appealing visuals.  The Skin I Live In definitely fits that criteria...I'm just not exactly sure heavy dramatics and pretty colors make a good film.

It's not that The Skin I Live In is bad...it's simply that its story is odd (and I don't want to spoil it too greatly).  Basically, Antonio Banderas is Robert Ledgard, a world renowned surgeon who, after his wife was horrifically burned in a car crash several years prior, throws himself into the task of creating an artificial skin to help burn victims live a better life.  In and of itself, that's the basic storyline.  However, throw in a woman (Elena Anaya) secretly locked up in Ledgard's house for reasons unknown, a maid (Marisa Paredes) with a son who has a fondness for sex crimes, and a guy on a motorcycle who winds up at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the film absolutely scores high on the soap opera aspects.

Admittedly, I wasn't bored a single bit while watching this movie.  It successfully held my interest and when it ended, my thought was, "Well, that was interesting."  I still think it was "interesting" two days removed, but I also can't help but think that there just wasn't a believable story there which ultimately hurt the flick.  The over-the-top storyline perhaps makes for a fun watch, but it causes the flick to lose any resonance as the days pass.

Still, The Skin I Live In is a flick that I'm happy I watched.  There's a nice performance from Antonio Banderas and a subdued though intriguing turn from Elena Anaya as Ledgard's captive.  The direction by Almodóvar certainly intrigued me enough to check out some more of his films, but I worry a bit that his kooky screenwriting is something that I just might not be able to fully embrace.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+