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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,...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Movie Review - The Hole

The Hole (2012)
Starring Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, Nathan Gamble, Bruce Dern, and Teri Polo
Directed by Joe Dante
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***
(There are currently two movies with this title streaming on Netflix.  Just be aware.)

While The Hole admittedly looks like something you'd see on ABC Family during it's 13 Days of Halloween festival (and it likely didn't have a whole lot bigger budget than those made-for-tv flicks), it's actually a rather enjoyable horror tale for the pre-teen set.  We're not dealing with blood and guts nor are we given substantial special effects to cause the scares.  Instead, we're dealing with noises and eerie music, but overall the film by Gremlins director Joe Dante succeeds at its goal of being an eerie film for the tween set.

When Dane (Chris Massoglia), his younger brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble), and their mom (Teri Polo) move to a rural town from NYC, the family hopes for a slower pace and a respite from big city life.  However, as Dane and Lucas explore their new home, they discover a giant hole in their basement locked up beneath a trap door.  With the help of their neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), the three soon discover that by opening the hole, they've unleashed some type of evil and they must do whatever it takes to stop it from overtaking their lives.

Listen, The Hole isn't a movie that is going to be loved by everyone...and, in fact, it's not loved by me.  But I get that there is a very niche market of about ten to thirteen year-olds being its target and what is presented here is perfect for that age bracket.  Yes, I may have rolled my eyes at some of the dialog and I may have wished that Chris Massoglia was a better actor and I may have wished that the ending wasn't so hokey, but for this movie's target audience, I think it's ideal and that age group deserves to have a "horror" movie like this made for them.  Granted, it's just a slightly scarier version of an R.L. Stine Goosebumps tale, but it doesn't set out to be anything more than that.  If you're hanging out with a tween, this may be a more entertaining movie than the rating below implies.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Movie Review - The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Irrfan Khan, Sally Field, and Martin Sheen
Directed by Marc Webb

Despite better direction of the film's quieter moments and much more talent in the acting department across the board than the 2002 version of nearly the exact same tale, The Amazing Spider-Man is a movie that I watch and can't fathom why it was made.  The Tobey Maguire-Kirsten Dunst origin tale of this masked crusader has not aged well in my book, but we're only a decade removed from the first of that trilogy and only five years from its finale, and this film comes much too soon on those heels to tell this story again. 

You all know the tale -- Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) gets bit by a spider while touring the labs of Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) and turns into this spider/human melding who decides to fight crime after his uncle (Martin Sheen) is murdered in a horrible random crime.  Sure, in this version, Peter falls for the smart Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) instead of Mary Jane, but that makes little difference in the grand scheme of things.  Granted, that's not the only minor difference -- Curt Connors turns into a giant lizard as opposed to Norman Osborn turning into the Green Goblin, there's no J. Jonah Jameson as the kooky editor of The Daily Bugle -- but we're looking at essentially the same plot.

With the exception of the special effects (which are admittedly important in a film like this and prove to be a bit to fake-looking for my liking), everything about this 2012 version of the Spider-Man origin tale is better than the former...which is why it's even more of a shame that the former exists.  Overall, I think the Spider-Man origin story is too silly to craft a film as dark and intense as the recent Batman trilogy, but at least this movie abandons the almost cartoonish look of the original Sam Raimi-directed films.  However, during the film's special effects-heavy scenes, there are moments that prove to be almost laughable in terms of how poorly they are conceived.  However, I felt very much the same about the effects in the original trilogy so I think it's just impossible to make a man look real as he flies through the New York skyline with the help of spiderwebs.

Still, credit must be given to Andrew Garfield whose Peter Parker is less wide-eyed and dumbfounded than Mr. Maguire upon his discovery of his newfound powers.  Garfield delves a bit emotionally darker which is a welcome addition.  Similarly, Emma Stone isn't given much to do, but provides a more believable love interest than Ms. Dunst despite the infamous upside-down kissing scene in the older trilogy.  Stone is a stronger chick (I don't know if that's due to her different character or if that's just Stone's overall persona) and she also screeches and screams nary a once and, if I remember correctly, there was a lot of whiny eeking by Dunst in her film's finale.  There are also some very nice smaller turns from Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary.

The Amazing Spider-Man would not have been a perfect movie even if the earlier version of Spider-Man hadn't existed.  However, because the story is so darn familiar, the whole thing feels like it's always lagging as the audience longs for something they haven't seen before.  And unfortunately, there's nothing new here.  That being said, if you've never seen the Sam Raimi-directed original films, don't start there.  Go with this new version and you'll likely give it a much higher rating than I did below.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Movie Review - Bel Ami

Bel Ami (2012)
Starring Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, and Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The fundamental flaw of Bel Ami is simply that I cannot comprehend how women lust after the pale-faced, solemn, and emotionless Robert Pattinson.  I don't get this guy's appeal and considering that he plays a ladies' man intent on rising up the ranks of the Parisian bourgeois by seducing and sleeping with the wives of influential men, the film finds itself at a disadvantage in my eyes.  [It certainly doesn't help that when Pattinson is asked to do anything on an emotional front beyond being "vacant," he fails laughably.]

Somehow, though, the film isn't a complete failure despite a leading role that leaves much to be desired.  Plain and simple, Bel Ami is a sexually driven soap opera set in 1890's Paris with Pattinson's Georges Duroy running from lady (Christina Ricci) to lady (Uma Thurman) to lady (Kristin Scott Thomas), quenching his carnal desires.  Ultimately, though, Georges is simply using these women of high society to find out the dirt on their husbands so he can try and impress them since his lower status as a soldier recently returned home from duty carries no caché.  Set this film a century later and you'd find it on the Lifetime channel as a movie of the week because despite the attempts at throwing in some political brouhaha about a takeover of Morocco, there's nothing going on in Bel Ami except for people romping in the hay.

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with frivolous fun and Bel Ami fits that bill at times which actually made this enjoyable to watch for the most part.  It's also adequately directed by two newcomers to the cinematic scene who don't do anything special, but certainly don't do anything wrong.  If Robert Pattinson hadn't been cast as the main character, this likely may have ranked a bit higher.  But as it stands now, the only things that make this worth watching are the over-the-top performances of Ricci, Thurman, and Scott Thomas, and despite not being the worst thing you could watch streaming on Netflix, there's certainly better things out there.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, November 26, 2012

Movie Review - Rise of the Guardians

Rise of the Guardians (2012)
***viewed in 3D***
Featuring the voice talents of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, and Jude Law
Directed by Peter Ramsey

There is certainly the potential for a great movie in Rise of the Guardians, but in the end something doesn't quite come together completely resulting in a surprisingly cold and icy film (no pun intended to the main character Jack Frost).  Despite some lovely animation and a villain whom I relished for his constantly sneering menace, the film's story just didn't work concluding with a disappointing climax that proves to be a bit of a letdown.

First off, it must be mentioned that this is not a Christmas movie.  Yes, Santa is in it (although the not-quite-so-jolly guy is known as "North"), but it's not his story and it's not Noel-centric at all.  In fact, the tale takes place three days before Easter and while we see North in his residence, this isn't a film about him or the December holiday.  I say that not as a criticism at all, but simply as a way of countering the expectations that you would likely have had going into this.  I will admit that it threw me a bit off balance at first.

Trouble is afoot for the Guardians, an Avengers-like group of childhood bigwigs -- Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Sandman (a lovely Chaplin-esque voiceless character) -- who discover that the evil Pitch (AKA The Boogeyman voiced by Jude Law) is stealing the lovely dreams Sandman places into the minds of children and replacing them with nightmares.  Unable to defeat Pitch on their own, The Man in the Moon (who is essentially a faceless and voiceless omnipotent God) sends Jack Frost the guardians' way, hoping that he can help take down Pitch.  Jack (voiced by Chris Pine) doesn't necessarily want to join the exclusive club.  Unlike his Guardian counterparts, he's rather youthful and gets his kicks from making it snow which he realizes isn't exactly as exciting to a kid as Santa or the Easter Bunny.  However, before he can even walk away from the group, Jack and his fellow Guardians are forced to chase after Pitch who, having already stepped in on the Sandman's turf, has now ransacked the lair of the Tooth Fairy.  As children across the world begin to stop believing in the Guardians, their special powers start to weaken and they must join forces to defeat Pitch.

[Fairly obvious spoiler ahead if you've watched any kid movie ever...]

There's a great premise here based off of William Joyce's series of books, but while the film starts off plenty fine, it doesn't come to any form of satisfying conclusion.  There are some great moments when Pitch faces off against the Guardians during the middle of the film -- moments that were truly exciting and tense -- but the film ends with such a thud that it nearly negates all the build-up.  Ultimately, I simply couldn't buy in to the corny and hokey way Pitch is defeated in the end.  The notion that childhood fantasies and dreams could in some way save the day rang false and provided an incredibly disappointing finale.  Add to that an incredibly corny "find your center" chakra-esque mission for Jack Frost to "discover who he really is" and hokeyness was the name of the game.

[End Spoilers.]

Design-wise, the film looks great with an admittedly different look than we've come to expect from computer-animated films.  The lines are a little more sharp and the characters are a bit more anime-esque than we're used to seeing which is a positive (and this is coming from someone who cares not a bit for the anime style of animation).  Also, the film has a great villain in Pitch, voiced to perfection by Jude Law.  While it would have been nice to see a bit more malevolence from the character, he is far and away the best part of the movie...it's just a shame that his evil power grows a bit repetitive as the film progresses.

But, Rise of the Guardians just doesn't come together in the end, not quite managing to make the most of the most popular figures in childhood lore.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Movie Review - Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, and Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a director whose films often feature style trumping substance.  When he succeeds at finding a perfect balance, the result is one of the best movies of the new century.  When he disappoints, at least he always lets us down in an interesting way with a wonderful visual flair.  Moonrise Kingdom falls a bit in the middle of those two spectrums.  His trademark quirkiness is omnipresent in his typical storybook world he has created here, in this case the island town of New Penzance in New England circa 1965.  With beautiful color blocking and visually impressive camera work, Moonrise Kingdom never fails to be a lovely film to gaze upon.  Storywise, however, there's just not a whole lot upon which to heap praises.  It's all a bit too simplistic, feeling even a bit more unnecessarily padded than its short 96-minute runtime would have you believe.

When the film opens, twelve year-old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has run away from his Khaki Scout summer camp.  As Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) frantically rallies his troop members into a search party, across the island young Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) has also run away from home, leaving her parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) worried about her whereabouts.  It turns out that the two tweens have met up with one another to rekindle a budding puppy love romance that began a short time ago.  They plan on running away together and spending a lifetime with one another letting no one in town stop them from their entwined destinies.

That's Moonrise Kingdom in a nutshell and, quite honestly, not much else of importance happens.  There are some quirky side stories that fail to add much to the overarching tale and, as mentioned previously, the main story just doesn't have enough to sustain itself.  Sure, the whole thing is cute as could be, but that doesn't necessarily always cut it.  Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are nice together as the young couple, but (and this always sounds harsh when critiquing younger actors) it took me quite a while to be won over by their mannered and wooden performances.  Ultimately, I think their director wanted their roles to be exactly as they have played them, but they aren't exactly emotionally riveting, falling instead on the side of bland as opposed to interesting.  The rest of the cast is fine, but with the exception of Mr. Norton's whimsical Scoutmaster, they really aren't given a whole lot to do.  None of the characters have a bit of depth (or at least any depth that proves meaningful) and that is a bit of a disappointment.

Ultimately, Moonrise Kingdom is an enjoyable diversion, but beyond the visuals (which, once again, I find beautiful and make the film certainly worth watching), this proves to be a film that I likely never need to see again sheerly because of the throwaway nature of the whole thing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-
(I realize that the above review sounds overly harsh for a 'B-' rating, but the visual style of the flick carried a lot of weight here.  And the plain and simple truth is that the story just didn't have enough oomph to warrant a higher rating.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Movie Review - Red Dawn

Red Dawn (2012)
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Josh Hutcherson, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Directed by Dan Bradley

As a conservative, I probably should be falling head over heels for the remake of Red Dawn, a jingoistic Republican fantasy with a rallying cry for American freedom.  Hell, there's even a line in the film about a lesser military spending leading to a weakened national defense thereby allowing the North Koreans to invade the northwestern corner of the nation (or maybe all of the US...that was never really made clear), run rampant over the local governments, and begin the process of forcing us Americans to our knees.  But the fact remains that Red Dawn is an awful movie.  Horrible dialog.  Disappointing acting.  Poorly edited.  You name it and it was likely pretty pitiful.

The biggest problem isn't with the overarching story of the North Korean takeover of the US, but with the insignificant and poorly explicated character relationships.  Right off the bat, we're supposed to feel for brothers Jed and Mack Eckert (Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck) because Jed's been off in Iraq and has left Mack at home.  I guess the separation caused some issues to develop, but their dad (Brett Cullen) tries to bring the two boys together.  And, of course, the story forces them to bond and become best buds.  There are two incredibly tired and hastily perfunctory love stories thrown into the mix as well, neither of which are developed enough to provide even a modicum of reason for them existing.  [I won't even get started on actresses Adrianne Palicki and Isabel Lucas and their "acting" here...although I will ask the public if Ms. Lucas was trying to hide her Australian accent or if her character was supposed to be from The Land Down Under because that Aussie lilt more often than not made its presence known.]

The whole thing really is a mess with there being nary a technical or story-based aspect that truly shines.  The one bright spot of the film is that Hemsworth actually proves to be moderately adept at carrying a film.  I was somewhat impressed with his role in Thor and this proves that there may be some type of slight star quality present to carry a crappy action movie here or there in his future.  He's pretty much wasted here, however.

It's fairly obvious to see why this one was held in limbo for over two years and just finally found a release.  I think that the concept would actually permit a good movie to be made (maybe the 1984 original is solid -- I've never seen it), but the sun should've set on this version of Red Dawn before it even got off the drawing board.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Movie Review - Argo

Argo (2012)
Starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, and Kerry Bishé
Directed by Ben Affleck

Having been born in 1980 and having taken very few (if any) "modern" history courses, I'm feeling moderately okay with the fact that I know very little about the Iran Hostage Crisis beyond the fact that "it happened."  I realize this is an irrational justification...I should know about this...but I don't.  Having said that, the story behind Argo wasn't even fully known until 1997 when President Bill Clinton declassified the information behind the release of six Americans from Iran who were previously thought to have been freed solely due to Canadian ingenuity.  The truth is that the release of the hostages was formulated much more thanks to US creativity, but the joint effort between the two countries was nothing short of amazing...and also kind of crazy.  Were this a fictional movie, you'd never believe it possible, but considering this actually happened, it's fascinatingly riveting.

Without going into the brief history lesson at the beginning of the film, let's just jump into the fact that in 1979, the US Embassy in Iran was overtaken and fifty-two Americans were taken hostage for over 444 days.  Argo is not their story, however.  Instead, Ben Affleck's film focuses upon six Americans who escaped the embassy and found a safe haven at the Canadian consulate.  Finding themselves forced to stay hidden, they quickly come down with a case of cabin fever with nowhere to turn.

Back in the States, our government is under pressure from Canada to get the Americans out of their embassy as Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) is finding it increasingly difficult to keep his "houseguests" out of Iranian sight.  CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is called in by his boss Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) to try and figure out how to safely remove the hostages when every other CIA plan proves inadequate.  Mendez concocts a crazy notion to create a fake movie with the help of a Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and a make-up artist (John Goodman) that plans on shooting in Iran.  With a background story in place, Mendez heads into Iran posing as a Canadian film producer with the intent of getting the six hostages safely back home.

I think first and foremost praise for Argo's success needs to be heaped upon director Ben Affleck.  Affleck proved himself competent in the overrated though good Gone Baby Gone in 2007 and further showed his talent in the tense and taut The Town in 2010.  Neither of those films showed the deft hand he puts in place in Argo, though.  The last hour of this film flies by like no other movie I've seen this year (which is certainly, in part, due to the excellent script by Chris Terrio [in his debut!] which balances the severity of the rescue attempt with the sheer ridiculousness of the real life plot).  Amazingly crafted, Affleck is a talent behind the camera and this film shows it.  This is a smart thriller that had me biting my nails for the final thirty minutes.

Still, where Affleck proves his worth (as he has in all his films thus far) is in his way of pulling together incredibly talented actors and getting them to give great performances.  Argo continues this trend without a doubt.  A veritable "Who's Who" of "I've Seen That Guy Before," everyone here is working together as an ensemble.  No single person towers over another including Affleck who certainly has the lead role.  Ultimately, this may work to the film's disadvantage come Oscar time because I'm not really sure any one person stands out enough to warrant awards attention, but as an ensemble they are simply amazing.  Kudos certainly need to go to the six hostages -- Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochrane, Christopher Denham, and Kerry Bishé -- who find the perfect balance between relief that they found a safe home at the Canadian embassy to neurosis that they may never get back home alive.

Argo is a thrilling drama aimed at smart adults and the director at its helm deserves credit for its success.  I am well-known for looking at my watch during movies, but as I mentioned above, Argo flew by and that is always a success in my book...and it's also my first "A" rating of the year.

The RyMickey Rating: A

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Movie Review - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (2012)
Featuring the voice talent of Danny Devito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, and Betty White
Directed by Chris Renaud

Welcome to Thneedville, a town that's plastic, fake, and devoid of a single living tree...and its residents like it that way!  In fact, they gleefully sing about swimming in water that causes them to radioactively glow and buying fresh air that has to be pumped through battery-controlled machines.  And right away within The Lorax's opening minutes, I was lost.  I've never read the book and while I can assume it's very similar to the movie, this ironically jolly song was such an utter turn-off that I was kind of disgusted right off the bat.

The anti-commercialism/pro-environmental theme runs rampant through The Lorax as I know it does through Dr. Seuss' book, but it's so nastily and blatantly hitting you over the head here that it simply reeks of obnoxiousness.  All that could have been forgiven (or at least glossed over a little bit) if the story was solid and the animation looked good, but that's unfortunately not the case.

From the team that brought us the incredibly overrated Despicable Me, The Lorax animation-wise is kind of a bust.  The lack of straight lines is very Seussian, but despite being very colorful, there was no depth to any of the scenes and all of the character animation was disappointingly one-note.  The voice acting is lukewarm at best, and I found some of the dialog to be oddly synched up with the mouth movements which is something I don't notice often in animation.

And the story is just weak.  Teenage Ted (Zac Efron) is enamored with his next door neighbor Audrey (Taylor Swift) whose one true wish is to see a real tree.  After speaking with his grandmother (the ubiquitous Betty White), Ted hears of an old man known as The Once-ler (Ed Helms) who lives outside the walls of Thneedville and who just may know where Ted can find a real tree.  Upon arriving at The Once-ler's dank and dreary residence, Ted is treated to essentially a whole movie's worth of flashbacks in which The Once-ler tells of how he single-handedly destroyed all the trees surrounding Thneedville much to the Lorax's chagrin.  The Lorax (Danny Devito) was the guardian of the forest and although he befriended The Once-ler, he could do little to compete with The Once-ler's corporate greed in taking down the trees.

Fun stuff for kids, huh?  Well, the animators fill the screen with Minion-esque humming fish and cute, cuddly bears to try and counteract the heaviness, but to adults, those additions are superfluous fluff that do nothing to enhance the story.  And the songs were so awful that I couldn't believe they made it past the preliminary drawing board stages of the movie.

It's entirely possible Theodore Geisel would have been thoroughly impressed with this eco-friendly tale, but to me it was just horribly executed and a dismal attempt at recreating a Seussian landcape.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Movie Review - Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Featuring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk 
Directed by Rich Moore

I am certainly not a gamer.  As I grew up, I had an old Atari in the house, but it wasn't until my brothers came along and grew up a bit that there was any semblance of "Nintendo" or "Sega" around.  And, the fact is, I never really cared.  I never felt like I was missing out on anything and I certainly don't feel like I'm missing out on anything today.

Because of that, I was a bit hesitant going into Wreck-It Ralph which, in its previews, was certainly priding itself on bringing together a vast array of characters from video games.  To me, that meant nothing and I admittedly doubted the film's ability to connect with me.  Much to my surprise, after a very amusing intro that plays as a Who's Who of '80s and '90s video game characters (but still amused to this non-player), the film shifts into its own storyline that proves to be more heartwarming and humorous than I expected.

Ralph (John C. Reilly) is fed up with being labeled a bad guy.  Day in and day out, he finds himself continually demolishing an apartment complex in his game Fix-It Felix, Jr., but Felix (Jack McBrayer) and the apartment dwellers in the game don't want anything to do with Ralph after the arcade closes forcing him to mope in a junkyard he created himself.  Fed up with a lack of friends and being constantly looked down upon, Ralph decides to game jump into a first-person actioner name Hero's Duty where he meets the gritty and tough Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) who soon realizes that Ralph, despite being disguised in an army uniform, is not meant to be in her game.  However, Ralph discovers that winning Hero's Duty yields a medal which he feels will show the characters in his game that he is worth something.  Unfortunately, a series of events manages to land Ralph the medal, but also put him into a racing game named Sugar Rush where he meets the precociously obnoxious Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who finds herself in a similar predicament to Ralph in that no one in her game (including the goofy King Candy [Alan Tudyk]) wants her around either.  Ralph and Vanellope mutually connect because of their problems and together decide to do their best to earn the respect of their peers.

Surprisingly, Wreck-It Ralph is much more emotionally engaging than its "video game" concept would lead you to believe (but maybe my mindset of games being hard-edged and lacking warmth is ill-conceived).  The connection that Ralph and Vanellope form is perfectly pleasant and despite their noticeable differences in age, appearance, and demeanor, the two misfits' newfound friendship creates an emotional core that is hard to deny.  It certainly helps that John C. Reilly absolutely nails the depressed tone with which his titled character is burdened creating a top notch vocal performance that rivals the best we've seen before.  Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer aren't necessarily doing anything different than what we've come to expect from them, but their tones fit their characters to a tee.

The film's problem spot comes sporadically from Sarah Silverman who, admittedly, has a persona in real life that I cannot stand (or at least can only stand in small, limited amounts like in this video).  Here, her voice is a good fit for the annoying character of Vannelope, but it does grate at moments.  However, I will say that I'm not entirely certain that it's her fault.  The character was written as a bit of an obnoxious brat (albeit, a brat who simply wants to be loved), but when Vannelope stoops to incessant name-calling and foot-stomping pouting, it makes Wreck-It Ralph a little less timeless to me than other Disney movies.

Still, Wreck-It Ralph is certainly one of the best animated films of the year.  In terms of animation, this is Disney at the top of its game, rivaling Pixar in terms of beautiful images and clever design.  [I loved how some of the old school video game characters were animated with a choppy motion...rather ingenious.]  At this point, it's in a close battle with Paranorman for the top spot in that category, but I'm going to refrain complete judgment until my end of 2012 round-up rolls around (and as everyone knows, that likely won't be until mid-2013...so I have plenty of time).

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Movie Review - The Pact

The Pact (2012)
Starring Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, and Agnes Bruckner
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The Pact is a nice little ghost story from first time director-writer Nicholas McCarthy that manages to create an appropriate sense of eeriness on what I can only assume was a relatively small budget.  I wasn't blown away by this one as it does meander a little bit especially in the middle, but thanks to a solidly exciting conclusion, The Pact proves to be better than expected for a film that never really made it past the 2012 film festival circuits.

When Annie (Caity Lotz) receives word that her mother has died, she returns to her childhood home to meet up with her sister Nichole (Agnes Bruckner).  Upon arriving, Nichole is nowhere to be found causing Annie to be fed up with the fact that her sister has likely escaped on one of her drug binges again.  However, as Annie spends more time in her old home, she begins to wonder if the creaks and bumps in the night she's hearing aren't simply signs of a house in decay, but perhaps indications that an otherworldly presence is in her midst.

Relative newcomer Caity Lotz is appealing enough to hold our interest and considering she's onscreen for nearly the entirety of the film, that's certainly a positive.  The rest of the cast leaves a bit to be desired, particularly Casper Van Dien who I only know from Starship Troopers -- and, based off his work here where he overacts as a gruff and grizzled cop, there's likely a reason he's been relegated to tv movies for the past fifteen years.  Still, it's not enough of a problem to be a turn-off mostly because the director manages to keep the film suspenseful enough to overlook the acting a little bit.

The Pact isn't going to blow you away, but it's a bit unique enough particularly in the film's final act to warrant a watch if you're interested in a ghost story.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, November 09, 2012

Movie Review - Battleship

Battleship (2012)
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, and Liam Neeson 
Directed by Peter Berg

Movies like Battleship make me wonder why I like the cinematic medium as much as I do.  When such dreck can be produced, mass-marketed, and proven successful (at least in the overseas territories), I have to question the taste level of our world as a whole.  There's nothing to like about this movie.  Nothing at all.  It's not like it's the worst thing ever created, but it's simply a waste of two hours that simply shouldn't exist.

It's as if the film was created solely using focus groups trying to determine what the mass populous likes in the broadest sense possible.

  1. Tropical Settings -- Hawaii should work, so let's set this thing there.  Plus, it's surrounded by water and since our movie's name is Battleship that means we have to spend time on boats.
  2. Military Men in Uniform -- Ladies love that, plus it implies "war" and that appeals to the men.
  3. Sports Illustrated Models -- Brooklyn Decker fits the bill, trying her hardest to make you look anywhere other than her breasts. (FYI -- she doesn't succeed at that task.)
  4. Aliens -- They've proven successful in terms of entertainment value in the past, so let's have some aliens come to earth...and they won't be friendly...but they won't be real nasty either...
  5. War -- As mentioned in Point #2, let's have the military men go to war against the alien beings.  Men can relate to the machismo, while women can swoon over a guy like Taylor Kitsch who can save the day.  [Poor Mr. Kitsch -- after this and John Carter he's not a guy you can bet on for quality, that's for sure.]
  6. Top 40 Music -- Can we just throw some urban singer in the movie since our cast is mostly caucasian?  We need to appeal across the boards here.  L.L. Cool J isn't available? Okay, Rihanna fits the bill.  Doesn't matter that she hasn't acted before and doesn't exude any charisma.  She's popular.  That's all that we need to worry about.
  7. Sassy Side Characters -- See Point #6
  8. Action, Action, Action! -- People like explosions.  People like gunfire.  People apparently like to watch a movie where the action sequences make no sense and are pieced together in the most ridiculous ways creating a sense of incoherence.
  9. "Pearl Harbor" Romance -- Remember in Pearl Harbor how people loved that the first hour was filled with nothing but Kate Beckinsale flip-flopping between whether she liked Ben Affleck or Josh Hartnett?  People loved the fact that we held off seeing the action, right?  Let's not copy that exactly, but let's take forty minutes before anything happens.  Ms. Decker and Mr. Kitsch should be more than adequate to hold an audience's interest.
  10. Gaming Culture -- We're a culture of gamers and while I know that tends to mean video gaming, why not go retro and create a movie around a game like Battleship?  Isn't that what focus groups were asking for when they said they liked gaming?
The problem with Battleship is simply that it takes too many basic concepts, throws them into the pot, and lets them simmer without allowing any cohesiveness to form.  Director Peter Berg has crafted his worst film yet by a mile.  Not only does he fail at creating decent action sequences, but his quiet character moments are laughable and painful to sit through.  Quite simply, there's no reason Battleship needed to be made and it's certainly a waste of time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Movie Review - Looper

Looper (2012)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Paul Dano, Pierce Gagnon, and Jeff Daniels
Directed by Rian Johnson

Why did I wait so long to see Looper?  Everyone raved about it.  It's directed and written by a guy whose last film I greatly admired specifically for its direction and story.  It stars the guy who was in my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies of 2011.  And yet, I waited.  And the buzz built.  And the movie could never live up to the hype.

But it did...and now I wished I had seen it sooner as it may have gotten me excited and interested about seeing movies again in theaters.  One great movie can do that you -- pique your interest enough to make you realize that not all movies are schlock.  Don't get me wrong.  Looper isn't without its faults (it's first act drags on a bit too long, but it has a second and third act that more than make up for it), but it's an original piece of cinema that is directed with a keen eye and acted with precision from the youngest member of the cast to the oldest.

By 2074, time travel has been invented, but the concept is controlled by someone who has never been seen and is known only as The Rainmaker -- the head of a crime syndicate.  When The Rainmaker wants to get rid of someone, he sends them back thirty years and has them killed by "a looper."  Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper in 2044 and he gets paid well for his job, but like all loopers, The Rainmaker will eventually decide to "close his loop" and eliminate Joe's job, allowing him to live a good life for 30 years before he's forced to "close the loop" by killing his future "older Joe" self.  [This sounds confusing, but it really isn't in the slightest when you see it acted out.]  However, when Old Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to be killed, he refuses to let it happen which puts Young Joe in a bit of a predicament for if he doesn't kill Old Joe, the future will irreversibly change perhaps to great effect.

That summary involves only Act I and the remainder of the film really should be left to simply let unfold before you.  It's not that it contains surprises, but it's a film that only knowing the science fiction basics really allows the rest of the "human" story to flesh out naturally.  Rian Johnson has two tales layered together here -- one would fit perfectly into a Star Trek or Twilight Zone episode involving time travel while the other pushes all of sci-fi to the side and allows a romance to blossom between Joe and a tough farmhand named Sara (Emily Blunt, oddly unrecognizable at first and talking without a hint of her British accent) who comes with some baggage in tow with her young son Cid (the fantastic Pierce Gagnon).  Neither side of the story is given the short shrift and because of that and Johnson's intricate way of melding the two, one finds oneself rapt the whole time with the proceedings.

Although set in the future and certainly peppered with inventions to which we are not yet privy, Looper almost feels retro (much like the tone set in Johnson's former work The Brothers Bloom).  Gordon-Levitt plays Joe as a 1950s James Dean-type guy and, in fact, he's even called out on his old-fashioned stylings by his boss (Jeff Daniels), the head of The Rainmaker's loopers in 2044.  I will admit that it took me a little bit to warm up to Gordon-Levitt's Joe -- I felt he was "playing a character" more than "embodying one" -- but I later grew to appreciate his approach.  As mentioned above, Emily Blunt is quite good here, un-prettying herself and getting a bit grittier than we usually see her.  I love the fact that she can usually elevate comedic fluff to something better, but in Looper she shows that she's also quite a talented dramatic actress.  And her young son, played by five year-old Pierce Gagnon is wonderful.  His role is an interesting one and he manages to be both child-like and adult with such ease that he helps elevate the film's second half to something quite special.

I wasn't a fan at all of Rian Johnson's first film Brick (but then again I'm kind of snob when it comes to good film noir), but I found The Brothers Bloom a pretty fun piece of work.  With Looper, he proves that he wasn't a one-trick pony.  Hopefully, he can continue this upward momentum and we don't have to wait another four years before his next work comes around.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-