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Letterboxd Reviews

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Movie Review - The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black (2012)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, and Janet McTeer
Directed by James Watkins

I must preface this review by saying that it took me nearly two months to get through The Woman in Black.  That's not to say it's horrible (although I'm not saying it's good either), but I started watching this on a plane ride home from London and the little television screen and poor audio weren't doing this ghost story which relies heavily on far-off ghostly images and strange noises any justice.  So, twenty minutes in, I decided that it might be best simply to rent this one once I got home.  Two months later that came to fruition and I finally finished the tale.

I think there's a really good ghost story here -- one of those that you'd tell around a campfire and perhaps genuinely get scared.  In fact, The Woman in Black is an incredibly long-running, well-received, and apparently frightening play in London and I actually thought I might see it when I was over in the UK.  I didn't get around to seeing it onstage and unfortunately something doesn't quite click with the movie.  For only being ninety minutes long, there seems like an awful lot of boring exposition in the first half of the film which drags this thing down horribly.

Lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is sent to a remote village in England to a huge mansion to find the paperwork needed to sell a deceased woman's estate.  For years, many of the town's children have been dying heinous deaths and Arthur uncovers that the unfortunate occurrences stem back to the decades-old death of the young son of a woman named Jennet Humfrye.  Ms. Humfrye, who is also now deceased, feels that her son's death could have been prevented and has been seeking revenge on the youth of the town.

The huge positive of The Woman in Black is that it doesn't try to be anything other than a genuine ghost story.  There's no blood or guts, just old-fashioned scares.  Unfortunately, those scares are too often foreshadowed by director James Watkins' camerawork or Marco Beltrami's score.  We in the audience are conditioned to know in a horror movie that if an actor is standing towards the left of the screen with a large black space to his right, something is going to pop up in that area.  Sure enough, that happens all too often here.  It makes me wonder how this tale would work on a stage.  I can't help but think that it would be more successful than on film.

Daniel Radcliffe is actually fine, but doesn't exude any modicum of charisma (of course, he didn't do that in the Potter films either).  There's also a nice performance from Ciarán Hinds as the only member of the town to befriend Arthur.  In the end, it's kind of a shame things don't come together because the film picks up quite a bit halfway through and at least becomes enjoyable to watch, but it never really becomes "scary" or even "eerie" which ultimately is a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Movie Review - Play Misty for Me

Play Misty for Me (1971)
Starring Clint Eastwood, Jessica Walter, and Donna Mills
Directed by Clint Eastwood
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Play Misty for Me is one of those movies I heard about long ago and just never got around to watching.  Thrillers have always been my favorite genre -- they may not necessarily be the most cinematically deep, but they have always provided me with a lot of enjoyment (hence the Hitchcock Festival on this blog a few years back).  For some reason of another, I had heard of this 1971 Clint Eastwood-starring flick and when I saw in pop up streaming on Netflix, I instantly added it, finally getting around to watching it the other day.

Loyal readers know that I am no fan of Clint Eastwood's directorial oeuvre.  I find him annoyingly heavy-handed, not all that innovative in his by-the-book techniques, and -- perhaps worst of all -- boring.  When I saw Clint Eastwood's name pop up as the director of this, I immediately began to worry I was in for a rough ride.  However, while it's amazing to me that Eastwood has two Best Director Oscars on his mantel, he proves to be adequate enough at the helm of this -- his first directorial venture.  Yes, it reeks of late 1960s/early 1970s cinema -- groovy music montages and all (including an incredibly awkward and uncomfortable sex scene in a California forest set to Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face") -- but it's an enjoyable little flick, albeit a bit too long (but that just shows that Eastwood has always had a problem in the editing department).

A precursor of sorts to Fatal Attraction, Play Misty for Me is a tale of a one-night stand gone horribly awry.  Dave (Eastwood) is a California disc jockey whose smooth voice coupled with smooth jazz has him rising in the ranks on the local airwaves.  One night after work, Dave heads to a local bar where he meets a woman named Evelyn (Jessica Walter, best known to me for her work in Arrested Development) and proceeds to have what he thinks will be a one night only roll in the hay.  Little does Dave know that Evelyn is a tiny bit off her rocker and won't stand for the fact that Dave's former girlfriend and "the one who got away" Tobie (Donna Mills) has just moved back into town.

While there's no boiling of rabbits, the comparison to Fatal Attraction is quite apt.  While that 1980s Glenn Close-starrer is a better film, Play Misty for Me is a pleasant enough genre flick that works despite overstaying its welcome and being and a bit too obvious for its own good.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Movie Review - In Time

In Time (2011)
Starring Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, and Olivia Wilde
Directed by Andrew Niccol

In Time takes us to an Earth in which money doesn't exist, but instead time is the most precious commodity around.  Here, humans are given twenty-five years of existence, but when their twenty-sixth year rolls around, they stop aging and a digital-type clock implanted into their forearm clicks on with a decreasing timeclock of one year.  Everything we normally pay money for is paid for with time -- a cup of coffee, for example, takes four hours off of your clock (and your life).  You're paid for labor in hours as well, so it's not as if you're absolutely dead in a year.  In fact, just like our current monetary system, there are some very wealthy people with hundreds -- even thousands -- of years to go.

With such an intriguing concept, it's a shame that writer-director Andrew Niccol shifts focus halfway through the movie into an updated Bonnie and Clyde/Robin Hood reboot with Justin Timberlake as the "poor" Will Salas teaming up with the "wealthy" Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) to redistribute Sylvia's father seemingly infinite stash of time to the less fortunate.  Things were going so well until we drifted down this path we'd seen before and it's unfortunate that the unique premise is watered down to something we've seen time and time again.

Surprisingly, Timberlake more than holds his own in this film.  While I don't think he'll ever be mistaken for a great thespian, he definitely embodied the character and abandoned his celebrity persona.  Granted, he still needs some work (one scene in which he's forced to cry just proves laughable), but overall, I think he's got some talent in the acting department.  Ms. Seyfried, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about.  It's not that I dislike her as an actress, but in the last few films I've seen her in she seems to be simply phoning in her performance.  She doesn't bring any depth to her character here and it's a little bit disappointing, although I'm not sure whether it's her fault or the fault of the script.  She's walking on thin ice at this point...her next film may make or break her for me.

Still, this is rather fun film (which also contains a nice performance from the heretofore unmentioned Cillian Murphy as a futuristic "cop" who is in search of the two "criminals") and it's worth giving it a chance.  I'm sure this was a case of low expectations making something appear to be a bit more promising than it actually is, but In Time wouldn't be a waste of your time should you choose to watch it.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Movie Review - The Avengers

The Avengers (2012)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany (voice), and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Joss Whedon

Yes, I'm about sixty days late to the party here...and unfortunately the raves that I've been hearing for two months concerning The Avengers set expectations that were too high to be achieved.  While this is a decent comic book flick, it's still a part of a genre that I'm unable to really relate to because on a purely cinematic level I rarely am able to feel any modicum of tension for the formidable, unflappable, and nearly immortal main characters.

Seeing as how everyone has already seen this third highest-grossing movie of all time, I'm not going to waste time detailing a summary except to say that this gathering of Marvel's Superhero Elite does prove to be successful once it brings its cadre of power players together, but the round-up of these heroes is where the film lacks.  I must preface my "complaint" by saying that i watched The Avengers at the end of a three-movie, seven-hour marathon so that may have something to do with my lack of excitement for the product, but I do also think that I'm maybe using that simply as an excuse for my disappointment in the movie since everyone else seems to be fawning over it.  The whole thing eventually comes together rather nicely and the final ninety minutes really does seem to fly by, but I couldn't help but find myself in a state of ennui during the first hour.

It doesn't help that Robert Downey, Jr., is as annoying as heck in this.  His egotistical Tony Stark plays fine in a movie on his own where he's the main player, but when you put him amidst a group of other more unselfish folks, his character rings obnoxious more than anything else.  [Yes, I realize that's probably the point -- he's kind of a jerk unlike these other guys -- but it still didn't make his character any more tolerable to watch for extended periods of time.]  The less said about Chris Hemsworth's Thor the better (fortunately, his part was minuscule).  Oddly enough, it's the Iron Mans and Thor flicks that I found most successful in the Marvel universe so not caring for those characters here was a bit odd for me.

Mark Ruffalo kinda steals the show with his Bruce Banner/Hulk.  It's a shame the Hulk movie didn't star him as opposed to Ed Norton.  Surprisingly (considering my disdain for his movie), I found Chris Evans' Captain America a big improvement over his eponymous film.  It's also nice that a bit of the focus went to Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow as she's not only pretty on the eyes, but has a storyline that's at least a bit intriguing.

In the end, the whole thing is silly nonsense, but director and screenwriter Joss Whedon is able to at least direct action sequences without relying on Michael Bay-esque nonstop camera cuts and his script has a few witty moments which provide a needed boost.  Some may call this the greatest comic book movie of all time, but coming from a non-comic book fan, I didn't find it as impressive as the millions who did.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Movie Review - Brave

Brave (2012)
*viewed in 3D*
Featuring the voice talents of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connelly, Julie Walters, and Emma Thompson
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell

From a strictly visual standpoint, Pixar is simply the best animation studio working today.  They have a way of animating movement that is just stunningly accurate and beautiful to watch.  From the opening scene of their newest venture, Brave, their expertise is on display again.  The company really is head and shoulders above anyone else in terms of their slick, vivid, and stunning animation.

Story-wise, Pixar is well-known for their heartfelt tales and Brave is no exception.  Focusing on a female lead for the first time, Brave's story is shockingly simple and that's its one slight flaw.  We get a princess tale here (which has drawn some unwarranted criticism) and while the wheel isn't reinvented, it's perfectly fine.  However, Princess Merida's adventure does lack the originality that we've come to expect from the company and despite its rather short running time, the film manages to drag on a tiny bit during its middle act.

Still, there's a good movie here well worth seeing.  Teenage Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is an independent free spirit who finds herself being tied down by rules and proper royal etiquette by her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) who only wants to prepare her for the future rule over their Irish land.  The time has come for Merida to be betrothed, but the three men vying for her hand are all lacking in multiple departments.  Much to her mother's chagrin, Merida takes things into her own hands refusing to wed causing quite a rift between the young woman and her mother that even King Fergus (Billy Connelly) is unable to right.  After a tiff, Merida runs into the nearby woods where she comes across a rundown house inhabited by an old woman (Julie Walters) who also happens to delve a bit in the mystical realm.  Needless to say, this crone's magic ends up weaving quite an interesting turn of events for Merida which makes her begin to realize that her life may not have been as bad as she made it out to be.

As I mentioned, the film looks beautiful (Merida's long-flowing locks alone are amazingly well-crafted) and the voice acting is top notch as always, but Brave surprisingly has a "been there-done that" feel to it, culling much of its story from Disney flicks of the past.  Granted, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- Disney animated films are classics for a reason -- but there is something oddly unoriginal which, for Pixar, is a first.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Movie Review - Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)
*viewed in 3D*
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce
Directed by Ridley Scott

**There will be some spoilers ahead here...the film's been out a month now, so I feel no qualms about that.**

Prometheus - the "not-a-prequel, but really-is-a-prequel" to Alien - has its share of problems most courtesy of a script from Jon Spaihts and Lost alum Damon Lindelof, but despite what are warranted criticisms, I couldn't help but like what I saw onscreen.  I've always been a fan of Ridley Scott's Alien and James Cameron's Aliens (see my Alien Week coverage here), and what Scott does here is further the backstory behind the sci-fi series while, at the same time, creating a stand-alone film that works quite well despite a few faults.

Those delving into Prometheus thinking that they're going to see something in the same vein of any of the previous four Alien incarnations are in for a surprise.  Instead, Prometheus is one archeologist's quest to discover the reason for human existence.  We meet Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in the late 2080s as she and her team are exploring the rocky cliffs of Ireland.  There, they discover cave paintings that closely resemble similar paintings found all across the earth all of which seem to be pointing to the notion that something from space came to earth tens of thousands of years ago.  With the help of the Weyland Corporation (a name familiar to those who've seen other Alien flicks), Shaw and her partner Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are funded for an expedition to a far-off planet that seems to have the same capability as Earth for human existence with the hopes that this planet may hold some of the answers to these cave drawings.  When they land on the planet, Shaw, Charlie, and the crew of the ship Prometheus, including the captain (Idris Elba), Weyland overseer Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and android David (Michael Fassbender), set out to explore and uncover some interesting finds leading us both into familiar territory for this series and quite unfamiliar territory in the overarching religious and spiritual questions it attempts to pose.

Surprisingly, the biggest problem in the film tends to be with the alien side of things.  These people just seem to act plain stupid around them.  Here you've landed on a foreign planet with unknown creatures and you're just going to go right up to these "things" and try to pet them?  I mean, really?  The characters just end up losing all credibility in these scenes and it hurts the movie in the long run.  I think that's what makes the first two Alien films so successful -- even if the characters weren't fully realized (I'm looking at you, Aliens), they still acted "truthfully" and realistically based off of their personal characteristics.  You didn't really get a sense of that here with some of the characters presented.

However, there are two really solid performances from Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender.  Rapace is quite good, embodying a completely different female here than Sigourney Weaver's kick-ass Ripley.  Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw is mellow and slightly timid -- two characteristics that could never apply to Ripley.  Shaw's mission isn't to kill, but to try and understand all that she can about human existence and her place (and the place of spirituality and faith) in this world.  Fassbender also continues his excellent streak of work with the robotic David.  Even lacking the ability to show emotions, Fassbender still manages to draw your eye to him in every single scene thanks to this sense of underlying (and sometimes not so underlying) menace his character exudes in nearly scene.

I actually got a very "last episode of Lost" vibe from Prometheus thanks to the similarities in tone resulting from their exploratory dives into faith, and given that Damon Lindelof co-wrote the last episode of the series, that shouldn't be all that surprising.  However, also like Lost, Prometheus doesn't provide all the answers and while some would complain about that, I'm actually okay with the open-endedness.  To me, we can't have all the answers when we're discussing something as esoteric as faith and to expect them is almost ludicrous.  I'd be more than open for a sequel that delves a bit deeper.

The film looks beautiful visually and I give much credit to director Ridley Scott for taking things in a different direction with this flick.  Yes, there are still some excellent action sequences and some great set pieces (that "computerized surgery machine" came in quite handy, didn't it?) which show that Scott still has quite a knack at filming tense action.  But we also discover that he is quite adept at the quieter moments of which this film certainly has plenty.  If only he could've convinced the writers to give him more fully-realized secondary characters than I would've been a much happier camper.  But as it stands now, Prometheus is a solid addition to the Alien saga landing right in the middle in terms of quality for the series.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Movie Review - The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers (2012)
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly McGillis
Directed by Ti West

I was a fan of Ti West's The House of the Devil which provided an eerie and unsettling homage to horror films in the 1980s.  Unfortunately, I can't be as gung-ho about his latest foray into horror, The Innkeepers, a film that I felt with a few minor scene changes could've played on The Disney Channel as a Halloween-themed movie event.

What's the point of a horror movie if it's not scary?  I don't need the genre to cause me to jump out of my seat, but I at least need it to build a sense of unease and The Innkeepers which weaves a tale about a soon-to-be-closed supposedly haunted inn just doesn't ever gain any modicum of tension.  Thanks to the performances of Pat Healy and Sara Paxton as the two kinda dorky inn workers Luke and Claire, the film strikes a very odd tone in the humor department even dabbling into romantic comedy and never finds an appropriate balance.

I'd love to relay more of the story here, but there really isn't anything to discuss (hence the brevity of this review).  This is a movie that simply didn't work for me, plain and simple.  The 78% positive rating on rottentomatoes.com is rather shocking to this reviewer.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, July 02, 2012

Movie Review - Haywire

Haywire (2012)
Starring Gina Carano, Michael Angarano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and Michael Douglas
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Haywire is mindless fluff.  That's not meant as a criticism, but it's the truth.  No one's going to mistake this female-led action flick as great cinema, but it's certainly an enjoyable ride.  A day after I watched it, I may not remember much in the way of plot or character development, but I will remember that I had an enjoyable 85 minutes seeing it unfold in front of me and sometimes that's all one needs when watching a movie.

MMA-star Gina Carano is Mallory Kane, a "black ops super soldier" (according to imdb's description) who is used by the government to head out on certain missions for them.  She's good at her job and can kick some serious ass, but she often finds herself a bit at odds with Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), her ex-boyfriend and also the man that sets up her jobs for the government.  When set on a job to Ireland, she quickly discovers that she has been set up by her bosses and must go rogue in order to save her life.

There's nothing special that the story brings to the table, and while director Steven Soderbergh does an admirable job of filming the action scenes and keeping the story rolling at a good pace, things are by the book for the most part.  The acting is all above par, even that of Gina Carino who was criticized in reviews that I read for her lack of acting chops.  I found her perfectly acceptable for what this role asks of her.  Do I wanna see her tackle something a bit more weighty?  I'm not sure, but as an action chick, she handles herself well.

Admittedly, there's not a ton to say about this because Haywire is just a standard action flick, but it's a good one and worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B