Thursday, August 30, 2012

Movie Review - Margaret

Margaret (2011)
Starring Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Broderick, and Matt Damon
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

2006 was when Margaret was made.  2006.  That means this film was delayed five years before its release which is typically never a good sign.  However, after this film ended up being the number one movie of 2011 on an awards site I frequent and enjoy reading, I was looking forward to seeing this.  Instead of being treated to what some have called the best of last year, I slogged through 150 minutes of an odd tale with tons of loose strands filled oftentimes with bad acting, stilted dialog, and an overall stuffiness that never fades away.  I simply can't fathom that the director's original cut was over three hours.

Maybe I just don't get it, though.  There's supposed to be some deep connection to 9/11 here, but that just flew right over this reviewer's head.  Then again, lots of things in this movie just boggled my mind.  The story itself is relatively simple and the fact that it's stretched out to an epic length is, to me, simply a directorial folly.  While out on the streets of New York City looking for a cowboy hat for a trip to a ranch with her father, teenage Lisa (Anna Paquin) witnesses a tragic bus accident that kills a woman who just so happened to be crossing the street.  She can't help but feel that she is partially responsible for the event, feeling that she distracted the driver (Mark Ruffalo).  Lisa is a spoiled brat whose mom Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) is a burgeoning Off-Broadway actress and their relationship was already on shaky ground prior to the accident, but now it's falling off the deep end with both females at each others' throats.  Lisa eventually decides to try and seek some type of redemption for the woman who was killed by attempting to legally go after the bus driver, but that's the extent of the "plot" of the film.

Beyond what was laid out to you, the film meanders through a bunch of subplots that don't go anywhere and don't add anything to the story.  Joan starts dating some foreign guy (Jean Reno) who loves opera.  Lisa decides to lose her virginity not to the nice guy who genuinely cares for her, but to the druggie "cool" artist (Kieran Culkin) who deflowers her and then is completely abandoned by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan for the rest of the movie.  Lisa flirts with her math teacher (Matt Damon) which causes their relationship to slowly shift to shakier ground, leading to absolutely one of the worst scenes I've ever seen in a movie in which -- SPOILER ALERT -- in the film's final moments, Lisa rushes up to him and says that she's had an abortion which we have no clue is true (and if it is true was he responsible for it?) or simply retaliation for something.  This was so out of the blue that my eyes rolled and I let out a huge guffaw.  END SPOILER ALERT

Margaret just goes on and on, not knowing when to end.  It certainly doesn't help that it's peppered with uneven performances which are likely in part disappointing thanks to some of the most awkward dialog I've heard in recent years.  Anna Paquin -- even a "six years ago Anna Paquin" -- just plays the high school Lisa so awkwardly it's uncomfortable.  Her opening scenes lacked any modicum of believability that I was immediately disconnected from the film.  Admittedly, she does get better as the film progresses, but I still found her very off-putting.  It doesn't help that her character's motives for seeking retaliation against the bus driver are barely laid out and seem selfish rather than selfless.  Jeannie Berlin who plays the dead woman's best friend is playing things very naturalistic...almost too much so for a movie.  I realize that's an awkwardly-worded criticism, but I have no other way to describe it.  There were some emotional moments where I thought Ms. Berlin was rather brilliant and very effective, but in the simpler scenes where she's asked to recite basic dialog, I found her odd and almost too harsh to watch.  Similarly, the rest of the cast was just misguided by Lonergan.  His way of writing just didn't click for me.

And the less said about his direction and his lack of skills in the editing department the better.  Margaret was a real disappointment for me.  It's not even one of those movies that I can say was an admirable failure.  I just didn't get what I was supposed to take away from it.  It's a very basic story drawn out to a nearly epic length that simply doesn't work.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, August 27, 2012

Movie Review - We're Not Married

We're Not Married (1952)
Starring Ginger Rogers, Fred Allen, Marilyn Monroe, David Wayne, Eve Arden, Paul Douglas, Mitzi Gaynor, Eddie Bracken, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Louis Calhern, and Victor Moore
Directed by Edmund Goulding
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

We're Not Married is absolutely mindless entertainment, but goshdarnit, it won me over shortly after it started.  Admittedly, I knew nothing about this flick, but simply added it to my Netflix Instant queue after I watched My Week with Marilyn earlier this year since this happened to star Monroe.  Little did I know that this short eighty-minute film would be a series of short ten to twenty minute vignettes revolving around the central premise of a newly appointed justice of the peace (a delightfully semi-senile Victor Moore) failing to properly marry five couples during his first week on the job.  Two years later, it's unearthed that these initial marriages are nullified and we soon discover what happens to each of the five couples after they get the letter detailing that they aren't really betrothed.  Will they want to stay together?  Or will they discover that this is an easy way out of an unhappy situation?

Not knowing this wasn't a full movie, but rather a series of short stories, I was surprised when the film shifted to a completely different "married" couple thirty minutes in and I worried that the movie wouldn't be able to sustain the humorous success it achieves in the first tale featuring Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen as a bickering twosome who only married in order to make a significant profit hosting a radio show posing as a lovingly hitched couple.  Fortunately, my worries were irrational and, for the most part, each tale manages to be amusing (although none quite match the comedic levels Rogers and Allen reach in the opening act).

You must keep in mind that you're watching a 1950s version of romance here...we're not delving deep in any shape or form, but we are treated to amusing sketches that are different enough to hold interest.  Sure, the flick could've maybe been trimmed by one tale (the third act in particular starring Eve Arden and Paul Douglas doesn't really add much to the movie as a whole), but We're Not Married is charming nonetheless and definitely worth a look if you're in the mood for an old-fashioned comedy.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Friends with Kids

Friends with Kids (2012)
Starring Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns
Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt

After an incredibly promising opening act, Friends with Kids unfortunately takes a wrong turn about thirty minutes in and the very game cast is shoehorned into a slightly more adult version of a tv sitcom.  In and of itself, that's not necessarily a bad critique, but I found myself unable to buy into the premise being presented and that's ultimately an unacceptable notion in a movie like this.

With their two sets of single friends partnering up, marrying, and having kids, thirtysomethings and best friends Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) find themselves itching to be parents.  The only problem is that they aren't finding that special someone with whom to spend the rest of their lives.  It also doesn't help that their married friends Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig) and Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd) don't seem to be incredibly happy anymore.  The kids have added loads of stress to their lives and all the spark seems to have diminished from their formerly loving relationships with one another.  This gives Julie and Jason the "ingenious" idea of having a kid together without dating one another.  They'll have sex only to get pregnant and walk away from each other with their friendship still intact.  In the end, they'll both have a kid (which is something they want) and they'll be able to share the joys of parenthood without the inevitable breakdown that occurs to married folks who produce offspring.

And this is where the whole movie falls apart.  What could have been an interesting (although not altogether unique) look at the differences between married couples and single people in their mid-thirties turns into some sophomoric premise that no two intelligent and sophisticated people would ever engage in -- and Julie and Jason are just way too smart to agree to this crazy concept.  Maybe if Jennifer Westfeldt (who directed and wrote the film) and Adam Scott were playing doofuses, I could jump on the bandwagon, but they're smart, witty, and successful folks who I never once thought would sign on to this crazy idea.  In the end, when the whole thing wraps up exactly the way you'd expect it to, I found myself rolling my eyes rather than feeling altogether satisfied.

Ultimately, it's a real shame that Westfeldt decides to take the film down this nutty path because I do think she's got a talent for writing witty and believable dialog and I found her direction quite adept for this being her first time behind the camera.  She manages to get really wonderful performances from Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Chris O'Dowd, the aforementioned Adam Scott, and her real-life longtime beau Jon Hamm while crafting a confident yet neurotic role for herself to tackle.  But it's all for naught in the end because the premise is just too kooky to be believed.

Yes, I laughed quite a bit and I enjoyed myself overall, but Friends with Kids could've been so much better than its finished product.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Movie Review - Paranorman

Paranorman (2012)
***viewed in 3D***
Featuring the voice talent of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elaine Stritch, and John Goodman 
Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

Kid flicks today often seem sugar-coated or, at the very least, a bit more sanitized than the movies kids from the 80s grew up on.  The weirdness of The Neverending Story or Labyrinth or even Disney's The Black Cauldron just aren't present in movies that have a goal of appealing to kids.  In fact, at times, it might have often seemed that movies like those aforementioned, while made for the younger generation, almost held more interest for the adults dragged to the theaters with their young'uns.  Paranorman reminded me more of the movies of my childhood generation than much of what is released today (and I don't mean that in any demeaning way to today's family films).  Oddly off-the-wall, kooky, and entertaining, although I had to wonder if it would hold the interest of a kid.

Norman Babcock is a seemingly normal boy with one exception -- he can see and talk to ghosts.  Naturally, this doesn't sit well with his parents who want him to stop living in a dream world and it certainly doesn't help him at school where he finds himself bullied for his "gift."  With the whole New England town of Blithe Hollow thinking he's a nutjob, Norman finds himself quite the loner.  One evening, however, the town's crazy hobo (who also happens to be Norman's uncle) crosses paths with the boy and tells his nephew that it is up to him to stop a rising of the dead from occurring.  While he doesn't believe it, Norman eventually succumbs to his uncle's wishes, but finds trouble along the way that causes the dead to actually rise from their graves and begin invading the small town with only Norman having the ability to get the zombies back to their below ground residences.

In addition to the very nice stop-motion animation on display, Paranorman comes with a decidedly adult sensibility in tow filled with humor that will go over many a ten year-old's head.  I'm not talking about raunch here, but I am impressed with screenwriter Chris Butler's sensibility to not talk down to the kids in the audience (and the parents who accompanied them).  [There's a character "twist" at the end is shockingly ballsy -- even though it maybe shouldn't be in this day and age -- and further exemplifies the "mature-skewing" nature of the film.]  I'm sure the homages contained in this film are plentiful, but even something as simple as a slight rehashing of the Friday the 13th synthesizer score was enough to bring a smile to this reviewer's face.  Still, despite honoring some horror movies of the past, the film feels fresh and innovative, standing rightly on its own.

Somehow, though, Paranorman never quite allows us to connect to the characters in a way that Pixar movies do.  Those Pixar folks have seriously cornered the market on heartfelt animation and even when something like Paranorman attempts a tugging on the heartstrings, it never quite reaches the levels the Pixar guys manage to set.  That's not taking anything away from this movie, however, it does stop it from reaching the upper echelon of modern-day animated classics.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Movie Review - 21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street (2012)
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, and Ice Cube
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

2012 seems to be the year of Channing Tatum, but 21 Jump Street is only the fourth time I've ever seen him act.  I'm not quite sold on the guy, finding him to have an onscreen presence that's rather arrogant and cocky, and the flick didn't really change my mind on the newfound star.  Still, this comedic reinvention of a dramatic 80s tv show (that I never watched once) has enough laugh-out-loud moments to make this worth checking out.

In 2005, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are both in their senior year of high school, but they are definitely on two different sides of the tracks when it comes to popularity.  Jenko is the popular school jock, while Schmidt can't find a date to prom.  Their lives barely intertwine and when they do, it's only for Jenko to throw a slightly demeaning joke Schmidt's way.  Cut to six years later and both young twentysomethings find themselves in the same class of recruits at Metropolitan City's police academy.  With Jenko failing miserably at the written exams and Schmidt bombing the more physical tests, the two team up to help one another and become good buddies.

Unfortunately, Jenko and Schmidt aren't given much respect and are relegated to patrolling on bikes through a typically serene park.  When they perform a drug bust that goes a bit awry, the young duo is sent on an undercover mission headquartered at 21 Jump Street in which Jenko and Schmidt will act as high schoolers in order to try and find the source of a new drug that is making the rounds amongst the teens in the area.

Though we get the standard comedic go-to's like mistaken identities, drug-induced hallucinations, and a bit of gross-out humor, 21 Jump Street is really a buddy comedy that works thanks to Hill and Tatum's chemistry with one another.  While I may not care much for either actor overall, together they are surprisingly appealing to watch.  Sure, I never got any sense that they were anything other than "Jonah Hill" or "Channing Tatum," but they both bring a nice sense of comic timing (a first for Tatum to display) to the affair.

What's perhaps most impressive and also quite promising is that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's only other feature film is the charming and hilarious Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  For 21 Jump Street to be their first foray into live action is moderately astounding.  Yes, the movie isn't perfect -- a few of the scenes with the high schoolers fall a bit flat, some of the supporting cast like Rob Riggle as a gym teacher are a bit too over-the-top, and the whole thing runs about ten minutes too long -- but it's a darn good first try at live action.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Movie Review - The Grey

The Grey (2012)
Staring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, and Dallas Roberts
Directed by Joe Carnahan

The cinematic equivalent of a Bear Grylls Man vs. Wild adventure, The Grey strands a group of oil workers in the cold Alaskan wilderness after a horrible plane crash.  Not that the extreme weather elements wouldn't have been enough, but the survivors are faced with the fact that they crashed in the midst of a large wolf den and the wild beasts are none too happy about their uninvited guests.  Fortunately for the survivors, they happen to have John Ottway (Liam Neeson) with them -- a man whose sole purpose at the refinery is to kill wolves before they attack the oil men.

For the most part, The Grey is a success.  Liam Neeson, who lately has seemingly been taking any film that comes his way for a paycheck, finally finds himself in a movie that's actually got some purpose and depth behind it and he takes on the headstrong Ottway with gusto.  His supporting cast is all incredibly strong as well with nary a one of them succumbing to the curse of stereotypes -- "The Quiet One;" "The Tough One;" "The Smart One" -- that often befalls ensemble flicks having characters with distinct personalities.

Of course, the actors are helped by a solid script co-written by director Joe Carnahan who manages to give each character a presence that isn't usually felt in movies like this.  Carnahan takes things slow and admittedly could have sped things up a bit as the film has a tendency to drag when it drifts into the pseudo-religious philosophizing of Ottway's mind, but I can't necessarily say that I ever found myself longing for the flick to be over.  Still, it should be noted that despite its "action" premise, The Grey is much more of a character-driven drama than anything else.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Man on a Ledge

Man on a Ledge (2012)
Starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Genesis Rodriguez, Edward Burns, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick, and Ed Harris
Directed by Asger Leth

The cast of solid, but (let's face it) second-tier movie stars should've clued me in that Man on a Ledge wasn't exactly a high-caliber, but I was willing to give the thing a shot.  Unfortunately, the ludicrous plot and horribly written dialog ends up being a painful affair to suffer through.  The actors try, but are given an impossible task at which they simply can't succeed.

The film's title gives away a substantial amount of the plot, but why Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is out on that ledge is the question that seems to take forever to answer.  We learn from a flashback that Nick, a former cop, was in jail for stealing a pristine and large diamond from stereotypical nasty rich guy David Englander (Ed Harris) -- a crime which he denies he committed.  When his father dies, Nick is able to obtain a day leave from prison to attend the funeral.  While there, he manages to escape only to find himself months (years? maybe days?) later on the ledge of a hotel building threatening to jump.  There's a well-thought out reason Nick's there involving some insanely convoluted plan involving his brother (Jamie Bell) and his sassy Latina girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) to prove his innocence, but the attempt to clear his name is so ridiculously ludicrous that it's utterly laughable.

It shouldn't have been surprising when I looked at director Asger Leth's imdb page that Man on a Ledge is his first feature film.  There's simply not a grasp at how to handle the action on display and he certainly fails at achieving any emotional attachment to the characters.  Then again, Leth really isn't the film's biggest problem which is an awful script from Pablo F. Fenjves who also happens to be having his first foray into feature films with this piece of junk.  One needs only to look at the extraneous sidekick cop character of Edward Burns or the completely unnecessary tv news reporter played by Kyra Sedgwick to know that both Leth and Fenjves were failures at learning how to edit themselves -- just two of the many things in this movie that could have and should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Movie Review - Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry
Directed by Benh Zeitlin

Although you may not have heard of the little indie flick Beasts of the Southern Wild, rest assured that this film is the hot topic amongst cinephiles in the midst of this big budget-filled summer.  The Oscar buzz is already circling this debut feature of Benh Zeitlin featuring a cast of virtual unknowns, the huge majority of which are starring in their first film.  Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure the praises heaped upon this at its Sundance Film Festival premiere, its Camera d'Or best first feature film award win at Cannes, and its subsequent overwhelmingly positive critical reception are warranted.

In the Louisiana bayou is a place known as "The Bathtub" -- a small island community that is nearly completely blocked off from the rest of the United States attempting to live and without the everyday necessities we deem integral to our lives.  Us folks on the dry land are too caught up in the hectic hullabaloo of our fast-paced lives and the residents of "The Bathtub" have learned to appreciate the slower pace of things.  Our glimpse into this community comes via young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a young six year-old tomboyish girl whose mother left her at an infant and whose father (Dwight Henry), in between the bouts of heavy drinking (which is de rigueur amongst the Bathtub townies), epitomizes the meaning of tough love trying to help his daughter learn the lay of the land as he finds himself growing sicker and sicker with each passing day.

When a huge storm hits Louisiana (which we can all presume is Hurricane Katrina although that natural disaster is never mentioned), many residents of "The Bathtub" abandon the area, but a select few including Hushpuppy and her father stick it out and survive.  They soon find themselves facing the possible end of their simple existence.

The film seemingly is full of heartbreaking reality, but also abounding with the imaginative fairy tales of a young girl and I'm quite certain that the fantasy world is supposed to connect with the real world in some fashion.  In fact, I can one hundred percent guarantee that this movie is filled with all kinds of metaphors, but I'm not really sure what they all stand for.  And I'm not really sure I care.  Granted, I certainly was thinking about the flick after the movie ended, but it lacked the heart that a movie like this should have in order to make it truly enduring and endearing.  I never found myself connecting at all with young Hushpuppy and her poetic voiceover narration, her father, or the citizens of the Bathtub.  While I don't think it's the fault of the untrained and fresh cast who bring a sense of naturalism to the whole affair, there's something here that doesn't quite mesh.

Director Benh Zeitlin has crafted an oddly pretty looking film, but I can't help but think that he got lost somewhere between the reality and fantasy he attempts to bring together.  Neither world is successfully combined to create a cohesive whole as the increasingly overbearing heaviness of reality fails to balance with the Where the Wild Things Are-stylized imaginings of the young Hushpuppy, ultimately leading to a film that doesn't work as well as the Oscar bloggers and the majority of the big-time critics would have you believe.

The RyMickey Rating:  C