Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Two Sides of Psycho

Halloween means my once-a-year viewing of Psycho can commence and, as always, it didn't disappoint.  Quite simply, the best movie of all time is a showcase for Alfred Hitchcock's expertise at creating tension and earning his title as the Master of Suspense.

Psycho is a tale of two movies.  There's a duality that runs throughout and although the points below simply scratch the surface of the two sides, these were some very basic points I picked up on while watching the film this time around.  [Obviously, there are spoilers ahead.]
  • Duality strikes from the very beginning with the iconic Saul Bass-created intro with the gray bars pushing their way onto the black screen for a contrast in "color."
  • Marion wears white undergarments when we first see her in the opening scene, but after she steals the money, she's in a black slip.  Even something as simple as the purse she carries shows her "two sides."  When she leaves her job with the $40,000, she puts the money in a white purse.  When she packs to leave town, she places the money in a black purse.  Innocence vs. Guilt
  • This next one isn't necessarily duality (but then that's such a broad term) except that it shows the two sides of Marion so vividly.  She's just bought her new car and there are voiceovers of Marion's boss and the big oil man who's money she's stolen talking about the fact that Marion is now on the run.  The scene begins with nervous facial expressions from Marion which then slowly switches to an incredibly evil smirk.  This scene always gets me every time I watch it.  Truly one of the best moments in the film.
  • I've always found it odd the way she folds the money into the paper when she arrives at the Bates Motel.  I realize this is a stretch when it comes to "duality," but she takes the two piles of money, places one on each side of the paper and then continues folding the paper in two.
  • A lot of reflections (whether they be in mirrors or windows) always seem to be shown when people are either lying or scheming as we see the two sides of flawed characters.
  • And then at 49 minutes in, the biggest moment of duality in the movie arrives where the film shifts from focusing on Marion to putting more emphasis on Norman (or at least the investigation of Norman).
  • At that same moment, we get the duality of life and death.  [Basic, yes I know, but I'm not writing a college essay here, so most of this stuff is borderline obvious.]
  • As we learn from the psychologist at the end, Norman himself was only half Norman.  He was also half his mother.  He was two people in one body.
Seriously basic stuff, I'm aware, but I'm not watching this thing to analyze its every frame...I already did that for an essay in college.

Previous discussions on Psycho can be found below:

And a link to my 2010 Hitchcock Fest where I watched all of Hitch's films post 1930s can be found here.

The RyMickey Rating:  A+

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Movie Review - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)
Starring Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, and Dev Patel
Directed by John Madden

Old people say the darndest things!  Sometimes they poke fun at the youth.  Sometimes they discuss their sex life for yucks.  And then there's always the humorous racist ones who've never moved out of the dark ages.  And each of these types of elderly folks has taken up residence at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India.  Join them for two hours peppered with moments of laughs, but very little story or substance.  But if Viagra is on your (or your significant other's) bedside table, this may be just the movie for you!

There are some great performances here from very talented British folks.  Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Billy Nighy are just a few of the notable long in the tooth stars on display and they all attempt to make director John Madden's film as watchable as possible.  Those three celebrities and several others take on the roles of aging British citizens who, in their old age, decide to travel to India either wanting a change in atmosphere or for monetary reasons or for seeking discounted medical help.  They all settled on staying at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel run by the young Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) thanks to the establishment's lovely brochure promoting luxury accommodations for the elderly, but upon their arrival they realize Sonny may have misrepresented his rundown complex.  Still, as the group settles in, they realize that India has so much to offer that it my even turn the most racist of people (Maggie Smith in a one-note role) into the most magnanimous by film's end.

The film's problem is that it's entirely too simplistic.  We are well aware of where all these folks' stories are going to end up from the very beginning (with the exception of Wilkinson's character who, although he goes through a rather touching story arc, felt oddly out of place with the rest of the film's overall tone).  There's no depth here and that would be fine if the film didn't attempt to strive for deep meaning.  Whimsicality is perfectly acceptable...they just should've gone for that here rather than trying for something more.

Then again, I don't really think The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was made for me.  Were I forty years older and heading into my seventies, I might have gone gaga over it, but I have not reached the milestone of needing to wear Depends so I'm not the film's demographic.  Yes, I realize that there's flippancy in that last statement, but I really mean no disrespect to the film's audience.  There are people who will love this movie and it's great that the filmmakers behind this decided to ( least from a box office standpoint) appeal to an under-represented audience.  But perhaps because I wouldn't be allowed to check in to the Marigold Hotel, this one just didn't prove successful for me.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Movie Review - Sinister

Sinister (2012)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Michael Hall D'Addario, Clare Foley, and Vincent D'Onofrio
Directed by Scott Derrickson

It's not often that I come out of a movie and wonder why in the world it needed to be made.  I'm aware that even the really bad ones have an audience.  Sinister isn't even fact, it's fairly effective in that it made me uncomfortable quite often which is typically a goal of horror movies.  However, there's an overarching air of unease here that negates the "fun" one often associates with the adrenaline rush of scary movies.  Still, I have to give the film credit because although I may never want to see it again, it successfully told an incredibly disquieting tale.

One would think based off my description above that Sinister falls into the realm of "torture porn," but that's not necessarily the case.  Instead, it's a regular horror flick mixed with a bit of the ever-so-popular "found footage" genre, the latter of which is the cause for most of my distress over the film.  The story revolves around Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a popular true crime author who moves his wife and two kids into a new home in order to research his new book revolving around the unsolved murders of a family of four who were hung from a tree in their back yard a few months prior.  What Ellison fails to tell his wife, son, and daughter is that he's moved them into the very house where the murders took place.  Upon unpacking, Ellison goes up to the attic and finds a box of old Super 8 movies and a projector.  Curious to see if the films involve the home's previous owners, Ellison begins to watch the movies, but discovers that each reel shows the murder of a family in heinous ways. Ranging in dates from the 1960s all the way up to the 2011 hanging murders that occurred in what is now his backyard, Ellison begins to work on discovering the connection between all these crimes.

My qualms with the film are difficult to explain, but I'll attempt to here.  When you watch most horror movies, there's ideally a nervous tension that sets in despite the fact that most of what you watch isn't really in the realm of possibility.  In Sinister, the videos of the murders depicted simply felt too much like actual snuff films.  I sat there watching the movie thinking that someone could duplicate what was seen and that's what made me tense -- not necessarily the actions of the movie itself.  I realize fully that this is irrational and in many eyes this would deem the flick a success.  Filmmaker Scott Derrickson created something so believable that it made me nervous...and kudos to him for that.  He's just made something that I never wish to see again and that, quite frankly, I'm not sure needed to be filmed in the first place.

[I fully realize the above paragraph makes very little sense, but I've yet to pinpoint an adequate explanation for my issues with the film.]

Despite this completely irrational issue (hey, at least I recognize when I'm being a fool), Sinister proves to be a solidly crafted horror movie with a decent performance from Ethan Hawke as writer Ellison Oswalt who slowly finds himself being completely caught up in the horrors he's witnessing from the horrific home videos.  Sinister is successful in most aspects, but it made me uncomfortable and the fact that it wasn't enjoyable to watch is what knocks this down a few notches despite its recognizable quality of mastering several techniques of the horror genre.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Review - Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie (2012)
Featuring the voice talents of Charlie Tahan, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer, and Winona Ryder 
Directed by Tim Burton

I had seen the original live action Frankenweenie short film years ago and remember thinking that it didn't have enough story to pad its thirty minute running time.  So, admittedly, I went into the new animated version a little reluctantly doubting that Tim Burton could make it work with even more time. Somehow, though, this black-and-white stop-motion animated flick fares a bit better than its predecessor likely thanks to an amusing climax full of homages to classic horror films like Godzilla, The Mummy, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon that ends the film on a positive note.

Borrowing heavily from Frankenstein for inspiration, Frankenweenie tells the tale of young Victor Frankenstein and his lovable pet dog Sparky.  Together, they're a great pair and the shy loner Victor finds great comfort in his pet.  Unfortunately, one afternoon a horrible tragedy befalls Sparky as he has an untimely meeting with the front bumper of a car.  Depressed, Victor wallows through his everyday life until one day during science class, his new teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) displays that despite the fact that living things die, their muscles and nerves can still react to electric stimulus.  With the school science fair on the horizon, Victor sets out to reanimate his beloved Sparky.

Unlike this year's previous stop-motion entries -- Paranorman and The Pirates! Band of Misfits -- Frankenweenie's animation is charmingly more herky-jerky in nature.  Whereas the aforementioned films had a fluidity that had me wondering if I was watching a computer-animated version of stop motion, Tim Burton's film was lovingly "old school" and it worked to great effect considering this is Burton's homage to classic horror films.  Both styles prove that stop-motion animation is still a wonderful's simply unfortunate that the general public doesn't seem to feel that way as none of the three films proved to be overly successful at the box office.

With some nice vocal turns from Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, and Martin Landau and a beautiful black-and-white landscape to feast upon, I'd love to say that Frankenweenie is completely successful.  Unfortunately, this animated film falls into the same trap as the short that preceded it -- there's just not enough story here.  Granted, the animated film does adequately fluff out the basic story and while it is more successful in that department than the short, it still doesn't quite achieve success.  For a film with a eighty-minute runtime, I shouldn't find myself staring frequently at a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Movie Review - The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Jacki Weaver, and Kevin Hart
Directed by Nicholas Stoller

I don't understand why comedies in this new century can't seem to find the money to pay for an editor.  I think Judd Apatow single-handedly harmed the genre in the last eight years or so with his inability to make the necessary trims to create a properly paced laugher.  It should come as no surprise that Mr. Apatow produced The Five-Year Engagement, yet another one of his films to clock in unnecessarily at over two hours.  It's a bummer, too, because the film is pretty goshdarn charming.  Yes, it's an R-rated flick and has its moments of raunch, but there's some serious heart here and the comedy stems naturally from those realistic and sometimes touching moments (which, I'll admit, is the one thing Apatow does really well).  And yet the producers and co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller make me have to knock this down a few notches because it just doesn't know how to move things along.

Co-writer and Muppet lover Jason Segel is Tom who meets the lovely Violet (Emily Blunt) at a New Years' Eve costume party.  After dating a year, Tom pops the question to Violet who immediately accepts and the two begin the process of planning their wedding.  A few unforeseen circumstances present a few roadblocks, the biggest of which is Violet's acceptance into the University of Michigan's graduate program for psychology.  Tom, who has a great job as a chef in their current home city San Francisco, agrees to move with Violet for the two years it will take for her to complete the program.  Two years, however, turns into a bit more and Tom finds himself wallowing in disappointment unable to find ways to better himself and his career in the small 'burbs of Michigan.  While they don't call off the wedding, their planning for the event shifts to the wayside as Violet's schooling takes precedence.

Part of the film's problem, however, is that the time spent in Michigan could have been condensed by at least thirty minutes, if not a little more.  While I enjoyed the many (many) side characters that the writers introduced, they were completely unnecessary and literally did nothing to advance the plot.  At a certain point, the scissors need to come out and the trimming needs to be made, but this is the whole Apatow attitude and mindset and it's why I've really never found myself loving many of the films he's had his hands in (Step Brothers and Bridesmaids being two notable exceptions).

Segel and Blunt (whom I admittedly find incredibly charming and attractive) work very well together which for some reason surprised me.  Perhaps it was wrong of me to think the two actors wouldn't connect at all, but they proved to have nice chemistry.  Alison Brie and Chris Pratt are also given sizable supporting roles as Violet's sister and Tom's friend, respectively, who meet at Tom and Violet's engagement party and end up marrying each other soon after.  Both known best for their work on NBC sitcoms, Brie and Pratt were certainly nice additions to the cast.  And the rest of the supporting cast is also fairly top notch, but unfortunately most of them, as mentioned above, just didn't need to be in the movie.

I really wanted to give this movie a better rating.  There were moments while watching it where I thought this was quite possibly the best movie I had seen so far in 2012 (it's been a really weak year thus far).  And then the second hour hits and the film bogs itself down with extra characters and a more dramatic tone and it loses me.  Granted, it didn't lose me completely -- there's still much about this film to enjoy -- but it makes me wonder whether I should head out to Hollywood for an editing job.  There must be positions open since films like this don't seem to utilize that role to its fullest potential.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Movie Review - Gigi

Gigi (1958)
Starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Hermione Gingold, and Isabel Jeans
Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Gigi succeeded in taking them all at 1959's Oscars...and I have to think it must've been a weak year.  It's not that Gigi is's just that it's not that good.  Everything is just average and that makes this simply an average affair.

The story of the title character (played by Leslie Caron) being groomed by her grandmother (Hermione Gingold) and great-aunt (Isabel Jeans) to learn the ways of Parisian society in order to best please a man (so, sort of being taught to be a prostitute...or courtesan...which is a "nicer" term, I guess), Gigi peppers its tale with some pleasant songs by Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the songwriting team behind My Fair Lady.  While several songs were familiar (including the classic "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" sung by the film's narrator Maurice Chevalier), none really stood out in the midst of the story.

The performances all around were fine, but once again, I couldn't help but fail to be impressed.  "Fine" is perfectly okay, but in the end, there wasn't any "wow" there.  Being a Best Picture-winning film, I'm happy I watched this on Turner Classic Movies the other day, but it's certainly not a flick I need to watch again.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie Review - Headhunters

Headhunters [Hodejegeme] (2012)
Starring Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Eivind Sander, and Julie Ølgaard
Directed by Morten Tyldum
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The joy of the unexpected surprise.  Headhunters is a Norwegian thriller that is far-fetched beyond belief...but it's a helluva lot of fun and the unadulterated amusement makes all the absurdity seem almost plausible.  Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a headhunter who seeks out qualified candidates for upper management positions at various companies.  But that's only his day job.  In his spare time, he steals priceless works of art in order to maintain the extravagant lifestyle he leads along with his incredibly attractive wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund).  One day, however, Roger messes with the wrong guy and finds himself in an ever-escalating set of predicaments that have him doing things he could never have imagined.

While it's true that the film's summary perhaps sounds basic with a "been there-done that" feel, Headhunters feels 100% original and I think a huge part of that has to do with the excellent lead performance from Aksel Hennie.  Hennie, by no means, has the "movie star" looks -- and the first lines of the film told in voiceover by Roger himself actually poke fun at his humdrum visage -- but he's incredibly engaging onscreen.  Roger's not an angel.  He is, in fact, kind of a pompous, arrogant jerk, but thanks to Hennie's portrayal we give a damn about this guy...a very tricky task that is admirably achieved.  As Roger's life slowly begins to unravel, we want him to succeed and that's a testament just as much to Hennie as it is to the ingenious writers who have crafted quite a fun piece of entertainment.

Kudos also must be extended to director Morten Tyldum who has a keen eye for lensing both action sequences and the more subtle moments necessary to make a film like this succeed.  In addition to getting a great performance from his lead actor, Tyldum also gets nice turns from the whole supporting cast especially Ms. Lund as Roger's wife who manages to achieve quite a bit of depth in her character, much more than I ever could have expected in what is her first and, as of yet, only film role.  [And she's stunningly gorgeous...but that's not really relevant in a movie review.]

Headhunters is a film that Alfred Hitchcock would be making were he making movies today (and Ms. Lund would've been his trademark Hitchcock Blonde).  There's a North by Northwest vibe crossed with Sleuth crossed with Deathtrap going on here and it's just a whole lot of fun.  Admittedly, it's far-fetched and ridiculous, but sometimes going so far over the top proves to be successful.  A Hollywood remake is apparently in the works...I can't imagine it being nearly as good.  Do yourself a favor...get over your aversion to subtitles and watch this one with your streaming Netflix subscription.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Review - The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth (2012)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig and Samir Guesmi 
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Let me be honest and upfront here with this one...I'm not quite sure what I watched with The Woman in the Fifth.  The story begins rather straightforward -- or so it seems -- when struggling American writer/college professor Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) moves to Paris to be closer to his daughter whom his ex-wife has taken away from him (perhaps not without justification).  After a rough first encounter with his ex and an even rougher ride on a Parisian bus, Tom finds himself with his luggage stolen and hardly a penny to his name.  In a more industrial (read: grittier) part of town, Tom wanders into a bar/coffee shop/hotel run by Sezer (Samir Guesmi) and convinces him to allow him to reside there for a bit.  While essentially stalking his ex-wife and his daughter, Tom wanders the streets of Paris and meets an American bookshop owner who convinces him to come to a literary party he's throwing.  Tom obliges and while at the party he meets Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) and is instantly drawn to her.  They begin a torrid affair...and that's when things start to unravel for Tom.  Not only may Margit not be who she says she is, but Tom himself may not be the man he always thought he was.

There's something utterly intriguing about The Woman in the Fifth that had I watched it on another evening I might have found pretentious.  But, for some reason, I found myself fully involved in the goings-on of the plot.  That said, I'm still not fully sure of what actually happened in the movie.  What starts as a rather normal, formulaic film ends up being a bit more of a mindf*ck than I was expecting.

Ethan Hawke anchors the film with a strong performance as the beleaguered dad Tom who only wants to spend time with his why won't his ex-wife let him?  We in the audience don't know the answer to that and Tom doesn't seem to know either, but Hawke does a nice job of creating a bit of a sense of mystery, while at the same time crafting a full, well-rounded character.  Kristin Scott Thomas has a pivotal role, but it's a much smaller one than I'd been led to believe it would be.  Margit is a mystery and remains one even after the film is over and because of that, Scott Thomas is never quite able to create a persona with which we can identify (which I realize is likely the point, but it leaves us feeling rather cold about her character as a whole).  There's also a nice performance from Joanna Kulig (whom I recently saw in this film) as Sezer's employee and lover who begins to fall for Tom to perhaps disastrous consequences.

The Woman in the Fifth is an odd film and one that I can't recommend to all, but what it does is leave the viewer with a sense of mystery that lingers quite a bit after watching it.  And sometimes a movie that doesn't answer all the questions it poses is as thought-provoking as one that spells everything out for you.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Movie Review - The Pirates! Band of Misfits

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)
Featuring the voice talents of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Anton Yelchin, Brendon Gleeson, and Salma Hayek
Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt

The Pirates! Band of Misfits feels distinctly Aardman, the same animation studio that brought us Flushed Away, Chicken Run, and the Wallace and Gromit shorts and film.  There's no mistaking the company's wry British sense of humo(u)r and the Claymation-style stop motion animation.  However, while the animation proves to be fantastic (I honestly thought it was computer-animated until I did a bit of research), the story about a band of misfit pirates (hence the title) doesn't quite have enough oomph to satisfy.

All Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) wants is to be named Pirate of the Year.  For years, he's never been able to get the coveted award and he's clamored to be anything other than a laughing stock amongst his fellow pirates (some voiced by Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek).  However, Pirate Captain's biggest problem is that he's simply not very good at his chosen profession.  He always seem to fail when it comes to one of the key factors in gauging a pirate's success -- stealing booty.  Determined to find his place at the top of the Pirate of the Year ballot, Pirate Captain sets off on a mission to steal as much booty as he can find and ends up raiding the ship of Charles Darwin (David Tennant).  Darwin has nothing worth stealing, but discovers that Pirate Captain's parrot is actually the last remaining dodo on the planet.  Seeing dollar signs before his eyes and with the prospect of earning much admiration from Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), Darwin convinces the Pirate Captain to travel to London with him to present the dodo at a huge science convention.  The Pirate Captain, lured by the prospect of a "giant prize" at the affair, obliges despite the fact that the Queen absolutely despises pirates and does all that she can to see they are executed.

All of that plot is certainly amusing and it had me convinced that I was in for a nice and unexpected treat.  However, that all takes place in the film's first thirty minutes and the remaining fifty minutes simply wanders about rather aimlessly, losing the momentum of the strong first act.  As I mentioned above, the animation is rather stunning.  I've always been a fan of Aardman's unique stop-motion style and it doesn't disappoint here.  In fact, the fluidity of movement in Pirates is the best I've seen from them, but it still maintains the uniqueness that is stop-motion animation.  Couple the beautiful animation with some nice voice acting particularly from an unrecognizable Hugh Grant as Pirate Captain and Martin Freeman as his trusty partner Pirate with a Scarf and you have all the makings of a nice film.

Which is why it's all the more unfortunate that the story didn't have a little more to offer.  The Pirates! Band of Misfits isn't a bad film and it's not even something I'd consider a disappointment.  It's disheartening, however, that there appeared to be so much potential here that wasn't quite fully realized.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, October 19, 2012

Movie Review - Intruders

Intruders (2012)
Starring Clive Owen, Carice von Houten, Ella Purnell, Pilar López de Ayala, and Izán Corchero
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

What we imagine can oftentimes be much more frightening than anything realistic and that's the case in Intruders, a horror flick that had a limited release earlier this year.  The movie tells two parallel stories -- one set in Spain and the other in Britain -- about two kids imagining a creature named Hallowface, a faceless entity who prowls the night for faces to remove from people to take as his own.  As the two children are forced to confront this creature from their nightmares, their families find themselves being drawn into the horror much to their dismay.

I will admit that I watched this on my computer and the whole thing looked awfully dark and almost incomprehensible at times.  I fully understand that the director -- like most helmers of horror flicks -- was going for a shadowy tone, but it was much too under-lighted to even see what was going on.  [Then again, as I pointed out, perhaps not viewing this on a larger screen hurt.]  Still, beyond the visuals, there's simply not a lot going on here.  While the story is fine and the acting is certainly better than expected, I couldn't help but think there wasn't really enough here to warrant a feature-length film. Unfortunately, both parallel stories are essentially telling the same tale without enough to differentiate them beyond the subtitles in the Spanish half.  Yes, the movie ends with an interesting enough twist to make me feel that I didn't waste my time, but it's not enough to warrant a glowing review.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, October 15, 2012

Movie Review - ATM

ATM (2012)
Starring Brian Geraghty, Josh Peck, and Alice Eve
Directed by David Brooks
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In the same vein as 2010's Buried, ATM conjures up a claustrophobic feel by taking three folks and trapping them in an ATM vestibule with an insane killer watching them on the outside.  The three co-workers on their way home from an office Christmas party go through the expected emotional and plot-driven rigmarole -- fear, escape attempts, blame, anger, defeat, renewed fervor to break out -- only to conclude with an ending that can only be deemed a bit of a let-down.

Surprisingly, considering the limited nature of the film, director David Brooks does a pretty solid job of keeping the florescent lighting and boxy nature of the ATM booth visually appealing and he manages to conjure up some decent performances from his trio of three young actors.  Brian Geraghty is certainly best known for his work in The Hurt Locker (he landed on my Top Five Best Supporting Actor list that year) and I'm surprised he hasn't gained a little more traction from his role in that Academy Award-winning film.  Granted, he's not reinventing the wheel with his performance here, but he's definitely able to hold your attention throughout the film.  Josh Peck (a former Nickelodeon child star) is fine as a smarmy, egotistical, yet lovable SOB who has the misfortune of getting his friends into the predicament they're in.  Alice Eve rounds out the trio, but her role is too bland and one-note to allow for anything beyond acting jittery and nervous.  Still, the trio does a decent job running the gamut of emotions needed in a scenario like this.

Looking beyond the ludicrous premise, ATM is better than it probably deserves to be.  However, the silly concept coupled with an ending that feels incomplete can't help but knock this down a couple notches.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie Review - Piranha DD

Piranha DD (2012)
Starring Daniele Panabaker, Matt Bush, Katrina Bowden, David Koechner, Christopher Lloyd, and David Hasselhoff 
Directed by John Gulager

"Josh cut off his penis because [a piranha] came out of my vagina."

I start with that line because that sums up Piranha DD (or Piranha 3DD as it was titled in the very few theaters it actually played in), the sequel to the so-bad-it's-enjoyable Piranha 3D.  This movie is awful and it's dialog like the line above that add to the sheer absurdity.  Unfortunately, while the film does fall into the same so-awful-it's watchable category as the first film, this sequel doesn't do a thing different and ultimately makes it a pointless retread without any merits for actually existing.

What little plot there is begins shortly after the events in the first film in which piranhas invaded Lake Victoria, Arizona.  It won't come as the biggest surprise to hear that the man-eating fish have resurfaced, but with a newfound sense of intelligence that allows them to get into man-made water systems to conveniently possibly invade places like The Big Wet waterpark, half-owned by wacky entrepreneur Chet (David Koechner).  Chet co-owns the park with his stepdaughter Maddy (Daniele Panabaker) who returns home from college to discover that Chet has turned The Big Wet into an adult funzone where nudity is encouraged and projected onto giant screens via the underwater Cooch Cam.  [I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.]  Of course, this is simply an attempt to throw as many naked bodies onto the screen as possible and it succeeds in that venture.

But where Piranha DD doesn't succeed is in being original.  Granted, I recognized the flaws in the first film, but in this sequel, we get absolutely nothing new and it simply cheapens whatever brand the filmmakers were attempting to create.  At times, it's almost a literal scene-by-scene repeat with the film even stooping so low as to having a piranha latch on once again to a guy's penis (as referenced in that glorious quote above) only to have said appendage be chopped off.  While that may have been grossly funny the first time around, here it just reeks of laziness on behalf of the writers.

"Lazy" is just a good all around word to describe this thing.  It's not that it's a whole lot worse than the first film, but Piranha DD doesn't even attempt to do anything new and resting on its already shaky laurels wasn't the way to go with this one.  I can't lie and say I didn't have a good time watching this -- talking back to screen with other people can certainly make this more enjoyable than it has any right to be -- but if you wanna see a crappy movie, you're better off just renting the first one and watching that again.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Movie Review - Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror (2012)
Starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, and Nathan Lane
Directed by Tarsem Singh

No one was more surprised than me to discover that Mirror Mirror wasn't nearly as bad as its heinous trailer advertised it to be.  A case of lowered expectations certainly worked in this film's favor, so take this review with that in mind, but for what this movie is -- a slightly re-imagined, humorous take on the Snow White tale aimed at kids and their parents -- Tarsem Singh's visually gorgeous and sumptuous spin is inventive and unique enough to make you feel as if you're not watching the same tired fairytale over again.

Rather than anchor the film around Snow White, Mirror Mirror certainly places its emphasis on the Wicked Queen, played here in an over-the-top scenery chewing performance by Julia Roberts.  Obviously hamming it up and seemingly having a blast, Roberts appears to be relishing this opportunity to play evil.  Clothed in some of the most ambitious, colorful, and flamboyant costumes I've seen in years (courtesy of the late Eiko Ishioka), anytime the Queen wasn't onscreen, you longed for her to return.

And given that this film is, at its core, a story about Snow White, the lack of creating an interesting story for Snow herself is perhaps the film's biggest disappointment.  Lily Collins plays Snow White as innocent, yet with a modern-day spunk that is typically attributed to princesses in films today (think Rapunzel in Tangled) and she's quite good and absolutely engaging in the role.  In fact, she's almost about as perfect as one can get in terms of casting the "ultimate image" of Snow White.  However, despite having a bit more independent take on the character, the screenwriters couldn't give Snow nearly enough of an interesting storyline to compete with her wicked stepmother.

The rest of the cast of characters we've come to expect from Snow White tales are present as well.  Armie Hammer plays a suave yet smarmy Prince with much exuberance and the Seven Dwarves are given a bit of an interesting spin as they turn into thieves stealing from the rich.  There's also a nice sidekick role for Nathan Lane that provides a bit of humor (although he's certainly overshadowed by Roberts in their scenes together).

But the real star of the show (beyond Roberts' performance) is the previously mentioned costumes (which deserve an Oscar nomination...and likely an Oscar win) and rather ingenious production designs.  Director Tarsem Singh is known for his attention to detail when it comes to these areas and Mirror Mirror is no different.  For those reasons alone, Mirror Mirror is worth a watch.  It's not without its flaws and its humor does skew a bit young, but with the nice performance from Julia Roberts and the fantastic visuals, you likely won't be disappointed with a rental of this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Movie Review - The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea (2012)
Starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale
Directed by Terence Davies
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Melodrama Alert!  While The Deep Blue Sea was released this year, with the exception of a bit of nudity and language, it could easily have been a contemporary to British romances of yore like Noel Coward's Brief Encounter.  With a classical music soundtrack filled with melancholic violin cues keyed to tell us exactly how we're supposed to feel, director Terence Davies' film about a woman having an affair in 1950 is lovely to look at, well-crafted, and decently acted, but I found myself removed from the proceedings, not caring a whole lot about the main characters.

Rachel Weisz is Hester, the troubled younger bride of Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), an older gentleman whom she seems to care for, but doesn't love.  Sometime into their marriage, Hester strays into the arms of the handsome and dashing Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) who sweeps her off her feet.  After ten months of fun, during which time she has left her husband to live with Freddie, Hester finds that her new paramour may not be the dream catch she always hoped to snag.  So, on a typically overcast English afternoon, Hester turns on the gas fireplace in her and Freddie's apartment and attempts to end her life.

Don't worry -- there's no spoiler alert needed with that revelation as that is The Deep Blue Sea's opening scene.  The entire film -- which actually takes place over the course of a single day -- plays out as flashbacks to Hester's loveless past countered with the aftermath of her suicidal actions.  And yes, it's as disheartening and morose as it sounds.  This overarching sense of depression and lack of any joviality makes the whole film feel rather heavy-handed and the story difficult to connect with.  The film is certainly beautiful to look at with its brown hues and foggy London nights and Rachel Weisz certainly has the appropriate amount of British angst for her character, but The Deep Blue Sea is just a tiny bit too depressing to recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, October 05, 2012

Movie Review - Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect (2012)
Starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, John Michael Higgins, and Elizabeth Banks
Directed by Jason Moore

I walked into Pitch Perfect hoping that it would do for a capella singing what Bring It On did for high school cheerleading -- a romp that pokes fun, but ultimately respects the extracurricular activity.  Unfortunately, while the collegiate-set musical comedy has some laughs (and is respectful of the music-based singing phenomenon), they're too few and far between and despite a nice performance from Anna Kendrick, there's a disappointing and bland story that never provides anything other than a "been there-done that" vibe.

We've got all the typical cliches we've come to know when it comes to a movie like this.  New girl in school -- in this case Kendrick's freshman Beca -- arrives on the scene and is "different" from others her age (we know this because she wears black nail polish and thinks everyone is too cookie cutter).  She meets the various stereotypes and then ends up joining an a capella group mainly because her father is worried that she's not fitting in.  Group competes in several competitions across the country leading up to "The Big One" in NYC in which Beca's group goes up against another a capella group from her same college which just so happens to feature the guy (Skylar Astin) who has been trying to get her to date him throughout the movie.

There's nothing new and exciting in the story and despite some laugh out loud moments, the story fails this movie in the end.  Granted, I realize I'm not the target audience for this -- some of the songs that I probably should have known were I a sixteen-year old girl whizzed in one ear and then right out the other without any recognition -- but the movie should've done something a little bit different in order to make it stand out from the typical teen flicks.

As mentioned above, Anna Kendrick is pretty darn good...definitely as good as you can get for a film like this and she's certainly a lovely singer.  [And it helps that she's easy on the eyes, but that's neither here nor there.]  In fact, the acting (and the singing), for the most part, is not too shabby.  However, this is only the second movie in which I've seen Rebel Wilson and her comedic schtick is already on my last nerve.  She provided some laughs, but her fifteen minutes of fame have reached their limit at this point unless she can change it up.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Movie Review - The Master

The Master (2012)
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Laura Dern
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Without a doubt, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is filled with beautiful direction and superb acting, but I can't exactly say it's overly enjoyable to watch.  In and of itself, that's not a bad thing, but the film which delves into the inner workings of cults, mind control, wartime post-dramatic stress disorder, and free will (or a lack thereof) is an odd duck.  While I grew fascinated with the characters, I couldn't help but notice an odd sense of detachment that runs throughout, never quite allowing me to fully enter the world that was created oscreen.  For some reason, there was just some odd disconnect with the film that less than twenty-four hours removed I can't quite explain yet.

I had heard some talk that there wasn't really a narrative throughout the film, but I thought there was a fairly legitimate through-line story...although "story" isn't necessarily the driving force of the film which may be why it doesn't quite settle in comfortably while you're watching it.  We meet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a WWII vet who turns to booze to cope with his memories and finds that he can't quite keep the lowly jobs that have come his way upon return to the States.  One night Freddie stumbles upon a party on a yacht and sneaks aboard.  Upon awakening, rather than be booted off the boat, he's befriended by the man chartering it -- Lancaster Dodd.  Dodd's a charming man with a charismatic personality that easily switches from introspectiveness to bombast, but it makes him a difficult man to pin down by both the audience and by Freddie.  Dodd's the leader of a movement known as "The Cause" and believes strongly in the philosophies of past lives.  Through psychological and sociological experiments, Dodd seems to be a manipulator of sorts and for some reason does what he can to keep Freddie firmly under his thumb.  As the film slowly progresses, we see the relationship between Freddie and Dodd evolve and devolve and it certainly is the basis for any type of story we witness (however loose that story may be).

The film looks stunning.  There were shots that had me in awe of their simplicity, yet enthralled by their depth, richness, and gorgeousness.  And the acting is definitely top-notch, with Philip Seymour Hoffman actually impressing me a bit more than Joaquin Phoenix (the latter of whom is garnering much deserved praise for his role).  While I admired both of them, Phoenix's part simply seemed a little more "actorly" and a bit more gimmicky in his mannerisms and verbalizations.  I say that with great respect as Phoenix still managed to enthrall me throughout, but if I were to compare the two, Hoffman's role comes out a bit on top.  I think a large part of that is due to the fact that his character is still such an enigma to me.  A kind and considerate man, yet one who has great power and knows how to manipulate so easily that it's almost frightening, Hoffman as Dodd had me thoroughly intrigued every moment he was onscreen.

And yet something didn't quite click and, as I mentioned above, I'm not quite sure what didn't work.  I found myself checking my watch quite often throughout the film despite loving many scenes, being fascinated by the visuals, and enamored with the two main performances.  [I've left Amy Adams out of the conversation because while her role was good, I don't find it quite worthy of the unanimous effusive praise it's been receiving.]  I liked the almost behind-the-scenes look at the Scientology-based group "The Cause," but the film doesn't really take a stand as to whether this religion (or any religion, for that matter) is a help or a hindrance to society as a whole.  It also left me questioning why these two souls in Freddie and Lancaster mutually needed the contentious relationship in which they found themselves.  On Freddie's end, it's almost understandable -- a wayward drifter who found a somewhat steady hand to feed and clothe him.  But on Lancaster's side of the equation, was Freddie just a guinea pig for his attempts at strengthening his "Cause?"  The question is never really answered and, unfortunately, I think it's an important enough one that an answer is deserved.

The Master is certainly an interesting movie and one that has some beautiful moments, but it's also one that probably deserves to be watched again to more fully comprehend just what Paul Thomas Anderson was trying to say.  However, and perhaps rather unfortunately, it's not the type of film that you want to jump right back into to have another go.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Safe House

Safe House (2012)
Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Robert Patrick, and Sam Shepard
Directed by Daniel Espinosa

I can't say that Safe House is original in the slightest.  I feel like I've seen everything presented in this thriller before.  Still, thanks to some strong performances from Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, a quick pace, and a solid (if by-the-books) story, director Daniel Espinosa's first English-language venture is promising (and certainly entertaining) enough to indicate the possibility of success in the young auteur's future.

Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a young aspiring CIA agent stationed in South Africa.  Set to watch over a safe house, his days are filled with boredom, dreaming about the possibility of an upward move within the government agency.  One evening, Weston receives a call that a guest is coming to the house and when the visitor arrives, Weston immediately recognizes him as Tobin Frost (Washington), an ex-CIA operative who has since gone rogue and taken up some criminal activities.  Frost is on the run from some nasty fellows who want a microchip he has obtained and the only way of saving himself was to turn himself in to the US consulate in Cape Town.  Needless to say, the CIA safe house is soon compromised and the young Weston is forced out onto the streets of South Africa with the experienced and untrustworthy Frost where the young agent's skills are put to the ultimate test.

Safe House's biggest problem is that while it attempts to build drama by insinuating that there is a double agent within the CIA, director Daniel Espinosa foreshadows any type of surprises this revelation may have created via his camera work.  Fifteen minutes in, I already was well aware of how this movie was going to end.  That's not to say that there weren't some interesting twists and turns along the way, but the conclusion of the movie is ultimately too obvious and a bit of a letdown.

However, buoyed by some very nice performances from Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds (the latter whom surprised me by being totally believable in an action role) and a solid supporting turn from Vera Farmiga who rarely (if ever) disappoints, Safe House is a good action piece that deserves a look.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, October 01, 2012

Movie Review - John Carter

John Carter (2012)
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Thomas Haden Church, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Daryl Sabara, and Bryan Cranston
Directed by Andrew Stanton

While John Carter may not be worthy of the ridicule that came its way thanks to its extremely high budget and disappointing box office returns, this Andrew Stanton-directed picture was already at a disadvantage in my book as its premise simply isn't up my alley in the slightest (remember, you're talking about the guy who's never seen Star Wars and likely never will).  Ultimately, the film's biggest problem is that there's way too much story here for 130 minutes.  We've got introductions to multiple alien races, at least two civil wars amongst rivaling sanctions on the planet we know as Mars (but known to the natives as Barsoom), and, perhaps the most intriguing aspect (yet least focused upon) that some Civil War-era American has been transported to Mars and rather nonchalantly becomes the savior of some of Barsoom's peoples.

I could delve into more plot, but if I did it'd just take too long, so that last sentence in the above paragraph will have to do.  That said, that last sentence is really the reason the film isn't successful.  I understand that this was likely setting up any future films (that will now never happen), but I'm still not sure why there was a need to place so many different plotlines into this first movie.  If anything, these various storylines fight for prominence and oftentimes become incomprehensible due to the plot's overly ambitious nature.  Ultimately, the fault lies in the director and co-screenwriter Andrew Stanton (to whom this was a pet project for years) for failing to either simplify (or at the very least condense) the various plotlines to create something a bit more enjoyable to watch.

I should say, though, that for Stanton's first foray into live action, he does a fine job in terms of creating an aesthetically pleasing landscape and he has quite an eye for mixing humor and action especially at the beginning of the film.  And, given the enormity of the plot he tries to present, the film's pacing is actually decent.  But in the end, there's simply too much story where there doesn't need to be.

Taylor Kitsch is fine, but bland, as the title character.  He's given very little to do despite being in nearly every scene.  I had hoped his character would've been given a little more emotional oomph considering this American got mystically transported to Mars, but after an amusing few minutes of Carter getting used to differences in gravity, the character almost acts as if this new planet is nothing he hasn't seen before.  The rest of the acting is par for the course.  Nothing exceptional, but about what is to be expected in a sci-fi/fantasy flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Theater Review - The Weir

The Weir
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by Leslie Reidel
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Saturday, September 29, 7:30pm

Photo credit from the REP

It'd be easy to say that Conor McPherson's The Weir is just a tale of Irish men trying to impress an engaging and attractive woman who wanders into their bar by telling her increasingly more intense supernatural tales.  However, there is quite a bit more than just simple ghost stories on display (meaning, don't go into this expecting to be "freaked out" or scared, by any means).  What starts as simple pub talk shifts into a surprisingly emotionally wrenching story filled with grief and melancholic nostalgia.

And, I mean this with the highest bit of respect and admiration, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players are just the people to put on such a sad show that's peppered with moments of genuine humor.  Most of the cast of five are onstage for nearly the entirety of the intermissionless play's 100-minute run time and they have no problems holding our attention in the slightest.

While there isn't the glitz of fantastically intricate sets or costumes (even though what is presented by Stefanie Hansen and Andrea Barrier, respectively, is perfect in creating the necessary atmosphere), where The Weir excels is through some great performances, notably Ms. Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Mr. Stephen Pelinski both of whom balance the superfluous pub talk with heavy emotional monologues that manage to hit you deep down.

Tague (nominated earlier this year for a Barrymore Award [Philly's "Tony equivalent"] for her role in last season's The Skin of Our Teeth) has always impressed in her ability to so easily transition from comedy to drama and I'm still unable to tell which genre I prefer when it comes to her talent.  When she's required to reach deep down for moments of pathos as she is in this production in her role as Valerie, the new girl in town, she does so with such ease that it always elicits some awe from this theatergoer.  The Weir is a play filled with monologues and I'd often find myself staring at the rest of the cast during a character's story-telling speeches simply to see their reactions -- and Tague (and the ensemble as a whole) even impressed in these moments by naturally and effortlessly "listening" onstage.

Similarly, Pelinski shines here in what may be his best performance I've seen from him to date (and that includes his stellar work in Death of a Salesman).  Thanks to an unexpected and heartstring-tugging arc towards the play's end, Pelinski's Jack -- a curmudgeonly fellow with a softer side -- managed to resonate with me in a way that I didn't expect as the play progressed.  Like Tague, Pelinski brings a believable naturalness that never once made me feel as if I was watching an actor onstage.

With some nice performances from Michael Gotch and Mic Matarrese, the cast (for the most part) continues the excellent streak of performances that we've come to expect from the REP.  Also, it's always refreshing when the company does a more modern play (even one like The Weir that is steeped in ages-old folklore).  Although the play gets off to a little bit of a shaky start in terms of pacing, by the end, I didn't really want to leave these five characters we'd grown to know which is a testament to the playwright, the director, and the great troupe of actors.

Side Note:  Conor McPherson's film The Eclipse is streaming on Netflix and definitely worth checking out.