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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,...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Movie Review - The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)
Starring Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgarton, CJ Adams, Rosemarie DeWitt, David Morse, Dianne Wiest, Ron Livingston, and Common 
Directed by Peter Hedges

I am sometimes a sucker for sentimentality.  Movies that others may find too sweet or kind I can often find myself enjoying.  But I will admit that films that carry this overly nice sentiment are tricky and can easily veer off onto mind-numbingly mushy and saccharine paths that can't ever be corrected...and The Odd Life of Timothy Green takes a boatload of those unfortunate roads, all of which lead to dead ends.

When married couple Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgarton) are told that they have exhausted all medical methods to conceive, they find themselves deeply saddened by the news.  To try and get themselves out of their funk, they decide to allow themselves one final evening where they imagine what their child would've been like, place these "memories" in a box, and bury them in their garden.  Magically, in the middle of the night, a freak thunderstorm causes a lightning strike in their yard and as the couple wakes up, they discover that a ten year-old boy is in their home.  After much doubt, Cindy and Jim realize that this boy (whom they name Timothy) is actually a culmination of all their dreams of who their child would have been.  Despite the fact that Timothy (CJ Adams) has leaves growing out of his ankles, he's seemingly normal and helps the Greens become the family they've long desired to be.

Of course, since Timothy appeared magically, those leaves on his ankles must mean something -- and they certainly do.  As he helps people throughout the town of Stanleyville, his leaves begin to fall off.  When all his leaves are gone...well, let's just say the Greens will find themselves in a sad state once again.

Unfortunately, nothing works in this movie at all.  The performances from Garner, Edgarton, and Adams never find the right balance with each other and with the film overall.  While I didn't find myself wishing ill will on the couple, I never really found myself rooting for them either.  The townsfolk are all caricatures without a single unique vision for a character.  There's an awful subplot involving a girl with whom Timothy falls in love that I found embarrassingly bland and completely superfluous to the point of annoying.

I realize as I'm typing this that I'm not quite accurately describing my complete dislike for the film.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a movie that attempts to be sugary sweet and perhaps even strives to be reminiscent of a Jimmy Stewart Americana movie of the 1940s, but it really just fails miserably.  There's simply nothing to recommend about this movie.  Nothing at all.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movie Review - Compliance

Compliance (2012)
Starring Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker, and Pat Healy
Directed by Craig Zobel

When you were little, everyone was told the line "Just because your friends jumped off the bridge doesn't mean you should, too."  We're told that because we need to be able to understand that we need to think for ourselves and just because someone tells us to do something doesn't mean we should toe that line.  As we get older, maybe we take a psychology class and learn about the Milgram experiment in which a Yale professor set up a test in which an authority figure asked participants to perform an act that went against their personal morals and consciences.  The test involving electric shock had over half of the participants giving the maximum voltage of electricity to test subjects (who were actually actors) despite the fact that many of these participants knew what they were doing was not humane.

It's a Milgram-type experiment at work in Compliance which is based on an amazingly disturbing true story.  I will admit that as Compliance progressed, I couldn't believe what I was seeing actually occurred, but after doing a bit of research, it turns out that all of the disgustingly inhumane stuff enacted onscreen truly happened which makes the film even more disquieting.

Sandra (Ann Dowd) is the forty-something manager of a Chick-Wich fast food restaurant and Becky (Dreama Walker) is a teen who works the register.  On a busy Friday evening, Sandra receives a phone call from an Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) stating that a woman has arrived at the police station claiming that Becky stole money from her purse while at the restaurant.  Daniels asks Sandra to take Becky into an office and begin questioning her about the stolen money which Becky vehemently denies stealing.  As time wears on, Daniels begins to ask Sandra and others to perform increasingly more disturbing acts to Becky.

Rather surprisingly, about halfway through director and screenwriter Craig Zobel shows us in the audience that Officer Daniels is in fact not a police officer at all, but a mild-mannered guy who just happened to stop into the Chick-Wich for an early dinner and decided to play a heinous prank for reasons that are never quite explained.  We in the audience would like to think that we would never succumb to the seemingly ridiculous requests of a man posing as a cop, but this does raise the question of how far would we go if someone in authority asks us to do something that makes us uncomfortable.

Compliance gives us quite an interesting premise that I'm not quite sure can sustain itself over even as short a movie as this (which clocks in at under ninety minutes).  While both Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker give nice performances, they're stuck doing essentially the same things the whole time (albeit in increasingly disturbing circumstances).  Dowd was actually garnering some awards buzz this season and while she was fine, I don't think her performance was as nuanced as everyone building that buzz believed (which was not the fault of Dowd, but of the role itself).  The film is good and worth seeing, but it admittedly wears a little thin.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sorry, but comments for this post have been disabled due to large amounts of spam commenters for some reason.  If you'd like to comment on this post, I'd love to hear from you.  Simply put your thoughts in another post and I'll certainly respond!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Movie Review - The Impossible

The Impossible (2012)
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

I might as well just start off this review by stating that The Impossible made a tear roll down my face.  There were many moments during this film that caused my eyes to well up, but the saline only fell down my cheek in a single droplet at the film's climax.  I don't know why it fell -- I knew the ending thanks to an interview I had seen with the real life family this film is based upon who were vacationing in Thailand when the horrible December 26, 2004, tsunami hit -- but director Juan Antonio Bayona, screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez, and the wonderful cast of actors who make up the Bennett family have created something so emotionally riveting that I found it impossible to not become invested in this story.

Expecting a relaxing and calming vacation in Thailand over Christmas week in 2004, the Bennett family made up of mom Maria (Naomi Watts), dad Henry (Ewan McGregory), and sons Lucas, Thomas, and Simon (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast, respectively) are lounging at the oceanside pool at their resort the morning of December 26 when out of nowhere a fairly strong breeze begins to kick in off the water and the birds suddenly take flight as fast as they can in the sky.  The giant wall of water came much too quickly for anyone in the Bennett family to be able to run away and instead they are simply pounded by the force of the ocean engulfing the Taiwanese soil.  Rather amazingly, Maria and oldest son Lucas are carried quite far by the water but somehow manage to stay together.  The first half of The Impossible deals squarely with their struggle of trying to stay alive in the hours immediately following the disaster and trying to find help for Maria who has both internal bleeding and a massive gash in her leg causing her to lose large amounts of blood.  A little over halfway through the film, we discover that Henry is still alive and he is with his two younger sons Thomas and Simon.  Henry is desperate to find Maria and Lucas alive but with each passing hour it gets more and more difficult to hold onto that hope.

Let me start my fawning over this movie with director Juan Antonio Bayana.  In what is only his second film (after 2007's The Orphanage, a horror film which I've seen but remember nothing about), he's crafted something rather fantastic here.  Of course, with the tsunami we're given some wonderful large scale special effects within the film's first forty minutes.  Rather amazingly, I never for one minute felt like I was watching Naomi Watts and Tom Holland in a water tank.  [I realize that sentence sounds obvious -- of course I shouldn't feel like they're in a water tank -- but that often isn't the case in films where it's sometimes quite obvious you're watching special effects.]   Bayana uses a variety of different camera angles -- from above and afar, underwater, close-ups -- to masterful effect creating an incredibly visceral and frightening experience for the filmgoers during this horrific sequence.  How these effects didn't get nominated for an Oscar is beyond me.

While Bayana effortlessly lenses special effects and also moves the film along at a great pace with nary a wasteful or unnecessary sequence, he also gets some absolutely amazing moments from his cast who make the most out of Sergio Sánchez's heartfelt and very strong script.  I don't even know where to start with the fabulous quintet of actors so I'll just begin with the only one who has garnered any awards buzz -- Naomi Watts.  I rarely, if ever, quote other people when writing my reviews, but Reese Witherspoon (of all people) crafted a lovely letter praising Watts' performance that totally sums up my thoughts:
"Your brutal physical performance, the ferocity of your mothering spirit and the soul touching moments where you hold on to life with every part of your being were incredible...such strength and absolute vulnerability in the same performance.  A mother who is determined to teach her son what if means to be a good person even when facing her own mortality...you have created a performance that will stand the test of time."

As if Watts's performance wasn't enough, Ewan McGregor brings quite possibly his best performance to the screen as a father determined to find his wife and son.  There's a moment when McGregor's Henry essentially loses hope and breaks down that is simply heartbreaking and shows us both Henry's strength and vulnerability.

Tom Holland's Lucas is actually the central male character and he more than holds his own opposite the tour de force performance from Watts.  At the start of the film, Lucas is your typical twelve year-old doing all he can to distance himself from what he feels is an overbearing and overprotective mother.  However, after the tsunami hits, Lucas and Maria's roles switch with Lucas needing to take on the role of caring for his injured mother.  There's a moment in the film where it hits Lucas that without his father as a protector, his role in life (at least at this moment) needs to change and Holland expertly conveys all that needs to be said without ever saying a word.

This role is Holland's first film and it's also the first film for the much younger Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast as Thomas and Simon.  Joslin, in particular, is given a scene in which his father tells the young Thomas that he must look after his brother Simon while he goes out to look for Maria and Lucas.  There's a look in Joslin's eyes that is just heartbreakingly real -- without words, we know Thomas is frightened, but willing to do what is necessary when tasked with something no seven year-old should have to undertake.

The Impossible is not an easy film to sit through even when one is aware of the characters' fates in the end.  The chills one experiences during the tsunami sequence, the uncomfortable squirming as the bruised and bloodied characters search for safety, and the gut-wrenching moments when unexpected reunions amazingly occur all combine to create one of the most engaging, exhilarating, and touching cinematic experiences I've seen in a very long time.

The RyMickey Rating:  A

Friday, January 25, 2013

Movie Review - Elena

Elena (2012)
Starring Nadezhda Markina (Elena), Andrey Smirnov (Vladimir), Elena Lyadova (Katerina), and Aleksey Rozin (Sergey)
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I remember seeing Elena listed for a one-week only engagement at the art house up in Philly in early 2012.  The summary stated that it was a modern film noir and my interest was instantly piqued, however I forgot about it as the year went on.  Lo and behold, this Russian film shows up streaming on Netflix a few weeks ago and I figured I should give it a watch.

What a waste of time this was.  Director and co-screenwriter Andrey Zvyagintsev paces this thing so damn slow that it took me three sittings to make it through this one.  Our title character (played by Nadezhda Markina) has recently married her husband Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov) and as they spend their golden years together (both are presumably older than sixty), they seem to be together strictly for companionship rather than love.  Both Elena and Vladimir have adult children.  Vladimir's daughter Katerina (Elena Lyadova) has no relationship with her father, but Vladimir chalks it up to her sowing her wild oats.  Elena's son Sergey (Aleksey Rozin) is married with a newborn and teen son, the latter of whom is faced with the proposition of being forced to join the Russian army since he doesn't have money to go to college.  Elena begs her husband to give Sergey the money to further his education, but he refuses.  When a health issue sidelines Vladimir, Elena decides to take things into her own hands to make sure that her family is taken care of.

The premise is certainly promising, but the film is a slog to get through, dragging on for much too long and paced mind-numbingly slow.  The director chooses to utilize some long takes, but thet do nothing to enhance the film -- watching Elena clean her house in an extended shot doesn't do anything to shape the film's overarching plot.  I'm flabbergasted by the fact that this film won a top prize at Cannes in 2011, but it obviously shows that Europeans are fans of the blasé.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Movie Review - Sleepwalk with Me

Sleepwalk with Me (2012)
Starring Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose, James Rebhorn, Carol Kane, and Cristin Milioti
Directed by Mike Birbiglia
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I am not an aficionado of stand-up comedians so Mike Birbiglia was a name that never crossed my radar ever before.  Apparently known for his work on National Public Radio as well as several Off-Broadway one-man shows, I went into Sleepwalk with Me completely blind and I found the semi-autobiographical story simple, sweet, and a nice diversion.

Birbiglia plays Matt Pandamiglio, a guy who tends bar at a stand-up comedy club and occasionally gets to take the stage when some of the talent doesn't show up.  One night, a talent agent shows up at the club and after much prodding Matt convinces her to allow him to do several gigs across the country.  As Matt's popularity grows, he finds himself leaving his lovely longtime girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose) home alone.  While Matt loves Abby, he's quite the commitment-phobe, but after attending his sister's (Cristin Milioti of Broadway's Once) wedding, he feels forced to pop the question and succumb to the idea of marriage.  Needless to say, Matt's burgeoning career forces both of them to question their relationship and what they both want from love.

Sleepwalk with Me is sappy without a doubt, but its comedy has enough of a bite that it doesn't ever feel too overly sweet.  There's a humorous subplot involving Matt's tendency to sleepwalk (hence the title), funny scenes involving Matt's parents (James Rebhorn and Carol Kane), and some nice stand-up bits peppered throughout that also add to the film's charm.  However, the biggest reason the film works is the scenes between Birbiglia and Ms. Ambrose.  Both have a down-to-earth presence that you want in a movie like this.  Think back to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle -- yes, they were stars, but they felt "normal" and that's what you feel when watching this movie, too.  Don't get me wrong, this is no Sleepless in Seattle (which is one of my favorite movies of all time and in my Personal Canon), but Sleepwalk with Me exudes that same sense of wit, charm, love, and goshdarn niceness that it's certainly worth your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

(On a side note, I want to point out that on the poster, there's a quote from Judd Apatow which says "A funny and insightful movie.  I could have watched it for ten hours."  Had Apatow made this, it might have been ten hours long, but this comedy clocks in at something like ninety minutes which is near perfect for a flick like this.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Theater Review - The Threepenny Opera

The Threepenny Opera
Book and Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
Music by Kurt Weil
(English translation of dialog by Robert McDonald)
(English translation of lyrics by Jeremy Sams)
Directed by Matthew Earnest
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Saturday, January 19, 7:30pm

I was totally onboard with The Threepenny Opera as it concluded its first act.  While the story was relatively simple -- the slimy, sleezy, nasty, murderous Macheath has taken the young Polly Peachum as his bride much to her parents' chagrin -- it had a weird vibe much like the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players' previous foray into the world of Bertolt Brecht The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, however this time around I was enjoying things much more.  In fact, I was thinking that this could very well land in my top five list of REP productions.

And then Act II comes along and put the kibosh on the fun.  [It should be noted that while this production breaks the play into only two acts, it's really the third act of Brecht's work where this thing falls apart.]  Brecht shifts from a tale of a mobster and his moll (in the broadest sense of those words) and hammers home none too bluntly that capitalism sucks.  And when I say "hammers home," the last number almost made me cringe from the blatant obviousness.  [This is of course a completely different cringing from the deus ex machina that makes up the play's final minutes and caused my eyes to roll at its cheap improbability.]  It legitimately makes me wonder how something like this is deemed "classic" in today's day and age.  Maybe it was ballsy for the time, but today it just seems almost tacky in its attempts at trying to be something deeper than its story really permits it to be.  Ultimately, that's the biggest problem with The Threepenny Opera -- the story doesn't really warrant its rather odd tonal shift in the play's last act.  I couldn't help but think we were simply watching a really weird and basic love story and then we're smacked in the face with the thing trying to be "important."  Unfortunately, this rather major problem isn't the fault of the actors who make up the REP company who gamely tackle something that we haven't seen them attempt before -- singing live.

Photo by Paul Cerro

Yes, The Threepenny Opera is an all-out musical and the REP (along with a wonderful seven piece band) do a pretty great job considering that this is not something they are used to performing.  I can't say that we're listening to Broadway-caliber voices here, but I was thoroughly impressed with nearly everyone onstage.  The rawness of some of the voices fits right in with the grittiness of the story and was actually one of the reasons I was loving the first act as much as I was.

Deena Burke won me over with a surprisingly lovely voice and she is finally given a role here that puts her in the thick of things (the less said about the REP production of The Homecoming the better).  As Macheath's new wife Polly, when Burke sings "Barbara Song," she exudes just the right amounts of innocence, sultriness, humor, and sadness all within the span of a four-minute song.

Kathleen Pirkl Tague is, as always, wonderful as Polly's mother and her stage partner Steven Pelinski as Polly's father is also quite good.  The play/musical opens with Elizabeth Heflin alone onstage singing the show's signature song "Mac the Knife" and, despite this being Heflin's second play in a row where she plays a prostitute (which provided a laugh in and of itself for this frequent REP-goer), her Jenny comes with a heavy heart and a crushed soul thanks to years on the job.  Heflin also gets to be part of my favorite moment in the show -- a tango duet with Mac (played by Mic Matarrese) called "Pimp's Ballad" during which both Jenny and Mac recall with melancholic sadness their lives shortly after they first met and the pain their love caused one another.

Add in an absolutely stunning set that truly matches things you'd see on Broadway and fantastic costumes both by Mathew LeFebvre and it's such a shame that The Threepenny Opera didn't work for me.  Director Matthew Earnest who oversaw the heartbreaking and stirring REP production of Way to Heaven a few years ago returns to UD and creates a wonderfully staged piece -- visually appealing and nicely performed.  And all of these plusses make me disappointed that I found this show a bummer.  I fully admit that's it's quite possible I didn't "get" everything I was supposed to "get" (although I do think that in many plays that try to get a message across, multiple viewings or at least a reading of play are necessary in order to fully grasp the playwright's true intent), but I just can't help but think that the huge shift in tone in the play's final act wouldn't work for me in any instance.  [For further explanation of this, please see the comments.]  Why couldn't Brecht have just been satisfied with created a weird love story with some odd music?  That alone would've been interesting enough.

Movie Review - Arbitrage

Arbitrage (2012)
Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Costa, and Nate Parker 
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

Arbitrage is a taut, smart character study about how a single poor decision can balloon into something that can potentially ruin a man, his family, and his business.  Richard Gere is Robert Miller, a New York businessman who manages a seemingly successful hedge fund.  At age sixty, he's looking to step away from the daily rigors of the job and has found a wealthy man willing to buy his business.  However, despite outwardly appearing to be a great business and family man, Robert has secrets in both facets of his life that may very well lead to his downfall.

Rather than go into greater detail with the story, I'd much rather you experience Arbitrage without much knowledge about its plot.  I knew very little about the film except that Richard Gere played a businessman in trouble and I think that my naivete enhanced the viewing experience.  Nicholas Jarecki who both helmed and wrote the film does a really nice job in crafting a well-balanced story and a rich-looking film.  Considering that Jarecki's only other feature film credit was the heinously awful The Informers, I'm shocked that this tale came from his pen as it's a near 180-degree turnaround in terms of quality and overall story.

Jarecki manages to get a fantastic performance out of Richard Gere who was probably within shooting distance of snagging an Oscar nomination this year if his Golden Globe nomination for this film was any indication.  He's really very good here as a flawed guy who's made many bad decisions -- both personal and business-oriented -- and who thought he'd never have to deal with the consequences of his actions.  When he's forced to face his fraudulent actions in all aspects of his life, this man who's had everything handed to him for years finds himself in a downward spiral.

Gere is matched by some very nice turns from Susan Sarandon (who's been slumming it lately I feel in a Liam Neeson "I'll take any role" kind of way) as Robert's wife and Nate Parker as the son of one of Robert's former business partners who helps him when things begin to get rough.  The best supporting turn in the film comes from Brit Marling as Robert's daughter Brooke who is the Chief Financial Officer of her father's business.  When Brooke discovers her father's disappointing actions, she's forced to decide whether blood is thick enough to forgive, and it sets up a very interesting, conflicting, and surprisingly complex decision for a supporting character.

Arbitrage is the kind of movie Alfred Hitchcock would be making were he still around today.  Granted, Hitch liked to craft movies around innocent guys framed for horrible actions a lot of the time and Robert Miller here is fully aware of his poor actions.  However, this is a film that exudes that Hitchcock level of intelligence and character development and it's an underseen flick that I highly recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Theater Review - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Where: Booth Theatre, New York City, NY
When: Wednesday, January 16, 2pm

The liquor is free-flowing in Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1962 play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and once the booze settles into their systems, the quartet of characters who make up the cast say many things they'll soon regret.  Much like the recently released film Carnage (and, I'd assume, it's basis the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf puts two outwardly civilized couples into a room only to have them prove just how animalistic they can become when circumstances become unfriendly.

Here, we meet Martha and George (Amy Morton and Tracy Letts), both in their late forties/early fifties, who have probably seen better days in their marriage based off of their initial conversations with each other.  George is a history professor at a New England university while Martha's father is the President of the same school.  After a party honoring new faculty members, Martha invites the twentysomething couple Nick and Honey (Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon) over to their home for a nightcap.  Nick was recently hired in the biology department and Martha wants to get to know them better, much to the chagrin of George who just wants to call it a night.  As the two couples sit and chat, their true personalities -- not the overly friendly facades put on at parties -- begin to surface and words are bandied about that probably should have remained unspoken.  

In a play with just four cast members during which most of the performers never leave the stage for three hours, every member of the quartet needs to be strong and this production certainly succeeds in that department.  Tracy Letts is perhaps best known for his writing including the wonderfully creepy Bug (made into a movie starring Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon) and the critically acclaimed (though incredibly overrated) August: Osage County, but this is my first experience with him as an actor.  His George is outwardly quiet in his Mr. Rogers-style cardigan, but prone to outbursts that increase in more menacing ways as the play progresses.  I will admit that the character took me a bit to get used to (you could tell the simmering anger was just below the surface and you really just wanted it to make an appearance), but by the end, George proves that he's incredibly adept at sneaky manipulation which Letts's tone didn't necessarily suggest at the play's outset.  

Amy Morton's Martha is just as scheming as George, but she never even attempts to hide this quality below the surface.  Instead, Martha here is constantly poking and prodding at her husband, constantly trying to belittle and emasculate him.  And it isn't just her partner whom she twists around under her thumb.  She does the same with their younger guests (as does George) as poor Nick and Honey are forced to join the cruel mind games set forth by the unhappy older couple.

Although the play certainly belongs to Letts and Morton and their vicious tete-a-tetes, Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon absolutely hold their own with Coon in particular making the most of a difficult role that makes her act quite quiet and prudish at the play's beginning, but then shift to a drunken fool as the evening advances.  Playing drunk always runs the risk of coming off seeming fake, but Coon seems to be hilariously accurate in her descent.

While I certainly appreciated the performances from the actors and the dialog from writer Edward Albee (my first experience with this playwright), I found a fundamental flaw after the play concluded that I just couldn't shake.  Why the hell didn't Nick and Honey just walk out the door rather than be berated and essentially used by George and Martha?  There was nothing keeping the younger couple there, so despite there being a bit of an answer given at the play's end as to why they stuck around, I couldn't really buy it.  Still, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was great fun.  The three hours absolutely flew by and I found the play still resonates fifty years after it was first presented.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Theater Review - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Rob Ashford
Where: Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York City, NY
When: Wednesday, January 16, 8pm

***It should be noted that this presentation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was the show's last preview performance before opening night on Thursday, January 17.  Seeing as how this very show very possibly was the one that many reviewers attend prior to crafting their critiques which are released on opening night, the show was essentially "locked" and set in place.***

There were a lot of reasons I should've liked Broadway's newest production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Nearly three years ago, I saw Scarlett Johansson in her Tony Award-winning turn in A View from the Bridge and was incredibly impressed with her performance.  Then, two years ago, I had my first experience with a staged production of a Williams work with the University of Delaware Resident Ensemble Players' fantastic take on The Glass Menagerie which, to this date, had one of the most amazing finales of anything I've ever seen before (and since).  And about eighteen months ago, I watched the film version of this very play and I found it enjoyable with a sultry and sexy performance by Elizabeth Taylor.  All of those reasons explain why I should have liked Rob Ashford's production of this oft-performed Williams play (this is the third time it's graced the Great White Way in the past decade).  Unfortunately, I found it a flawed presentation with more than a few issues across all aspects of the production.

Let's start with the character of Maggie portrayed here by Johansson.  Maggie is married to Brick (played here by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's Benjamin Walker), but neither of them are happily in love and most of that stems from the fact that Brick is trapped in the past.  His longtime best friend Skipper has died and Brick has turned to alcohol to deal with his passing.  The whole situation isn't all that simple -- there are homosexual undertones (and some blatant overtones) that create some confusion -- but Maggie doesn't help matters here.  I'm not quite sure who's to blame (the director or the actress), but Ms. Johansson's Maggie is a shrill Southern belle.  After she bursts onto the stage at the play's opening with her breathlessly husky voice, rather than exude smoldering sex appeal (although the gorgeous Johansson does that anyway as she wanders around in a slip for most of Act I) Maggie is presented as a shrew I couldn't believe Brick could ever love -- and maybe he never did love her, but I think I'm supposed to believe he could have if he so desired.  She's a cat -- on a hot tin roof -- and the slinkiness associated with the feline members of the animal kingdom isn't present at all.  Maggie here is a completely unlikeable character -- and since there's been a decision to tone down the sultriness of Liz Taylor's take on the character in the movie (which, admittedly, is my only exposure to this character), you can't even get behind the concept of Maggie as a minx-type figure who won people over due to sex appeal.  Although there's some redemption for Johansson and her character in Act III, she's pretty much simply playing things with one overly strong and forceful note with very few changes in tone.

While I may have problems with Johansson's and the director's choices for Maggie, I had even bigger issues with Benjamin Walker as Brick.  While looking over my review of the film version, I commented that the character of Brick a one-note crotchety grump and I wondered how the role would play in someone else's hands.  Well, Walker's Brick makes Newman's look like Olivier's Hamlet.  There was zero stage presence emanating from Walker and while I admit that may have something to do with pitting him up onstage against the stunning Johansson, I just didn't find the guy remotely interesting.  Granted, he has very little to do in Act I, but as the next two acts unfold and the play becomes much more about Brick than Maggie, Walker still failed to reel me in and it's in those moments during which the audience begins to see the reasons Brick's life has spiraled so precipitously downward that should have registered most strongly.  It doesn't help at all that there is zero chemistry between the two leads, further complicating the fact that I have no idea what exactly the relationship between Maggie and Brick is supposed to be.  

Anyone familiar with the play or movie is well aware that the characters of Big Daddy and Big Momma are the histrionic epitome of mid-twentieth century rich Southern folk, but here they achieve mixed results.  Debra Monk comes off the best of any actor in the production with her Big Momma having the only moving moment of the night in Act III when she is forced to face the truth about her husband and his deteriorating health.  Ciarán Hinds' Big Daddy, however, has less success.  While there's certainly a caricaturish-type quality that comes along with the character, Hinds simply takes that to mean "bombastic" as he yells most of his lines...and anything that wasn't screamed was nearly incomprehensible thanks to a sound system that didn't really do any of the actors any favors.  

[It certainly doesn't aid things that the Richard Rodgers theater is fairly massive.  When I walked into the theater I was shocked that a play was being performed here.  Although the set design was rather striking, I couldn't help but think that this may have worked a little bit better on a smaller stage (although with this production, I'm not quite sure anything would've helped things).]

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick has a brother named Gooper (played here by Michael Park) who is married to Mae (Emily Bergl).  Together they have five children with a sixth on the way and they are supposed to be despised by Big Daddy and Brick because of their money-grubbing tendencies.  You know this play's in the weeds when Gooper and Mae are your most sympathetic characters whom you're hoping win their battle against Maggie and Brick in getting Big Daddy's estate in his will.  Brick is the "Chosen One" of the two brothers, but in this production, I found myself rooting for Gooper to become loved by Big Daddy and was not ever given a clear idea as to why Big Daddy would fawn over Brick rather than Gooper.  To me, this is indicative of this production's issues and the failure of director Rob Ashford.  I recognize that Maggie and Brick are maybe not supposed to be the most likable of characters, but I think there has to be a desire to see Maggie sway Brick off the bottle and into her arms, as well as for Brick to overcome his addictions and forgive himself for the way he treated his deceased friend Skipper in their final days.  Unfortunately, the audience finds itself having no vested interest in these characters which causes the whole production to just sink under the weight of Tennessee Williams' melodrama.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Movie Review - The Words

The Words (2012)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Ben Barnes, Nora Arnezeder, and Jeremy Irons
Directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal

There was maybe potential for The Words in terms of concept.  Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), a down-on-his luck writer whose latest work he's toiled over for years is rejected by multiple publishing agencies, visits Paris on his honeymoon with his wife Dora (Zoe Saldana).  While there, Rory purchases an old messenger bag from an antique shop only to discover when he returns to the States that inside the bag is one of the most well-written novels he has ever read...and it just happens to be unpublished.  Appearing to have been written decades prior, Rory decides to act as if the newfound novel is his own and, after handing it over to a publisher, finds astounding success with the book propelling him to near superstar status in the book world.  It's all rather unfortunate then when an old man (Jeremy Irons) confronts Rory in Central Park one afternoon and proclaims that he wrote the novel.  As the old man (who remains nameless) tells Rory his life story that led to the creation of this amazing work, we witness golden-hued flashbacks of the old man as a young man (Ben Barnes), his wife (Nora Arnezeder), and their struggles that they faced back in World War II-era France.

Not that the above story would have been anything overly special, but it would've made for an okay flick that while corny and overly sentimental still might have been successful to a certain degree.  However, the screenwriters (who are also the directors) end up making The Words a story-within-a-story-within-a-story and the most "outside" story is ludicrously tedious and completely unnecessary involving Dennis Quaid as an author reading Rory Jansen's story at a press event while being essentially stalked by a young chippie (Olivia Wilde) who wants to get in his pants.  As we discover that Dennis Quaid's character wrote a novel about Rory Jansen (so essentially, Dennis Quaid's character wrote the film we saw involving all his fellow actors), the movie is attempting to be meta and it just fails miserably.  The screenwriters were simply trying to add another layer that didn't need to be added to what should have been a simple and straightforward story.

Nice performances by Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana are somewhat negated because that extra layer makes their tale lack any resonance by the film's end which is a bit of a shame.  While they certainly weren't going to win any awards, they deserved a bit better.  I will admit that I was completely tired of Bradley Cooper around this time last year, finding his roles in things like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers had outstayed their welcome and turned him into an actor I couldn't stand.  However, with his Oscar-nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook and this solid turn in The Words, he's becoming a bit more tolerable to me.  Faint praise, I know, but it's a definite turn in the right direction.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Movie Review - Lincoln

Lincoln (2012)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Gloria Rueben, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Lee Pace, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Gulliver McGrath
Directed by Steven Spielberg

I was not expecting to like Lincoln in the slightest.  First, it's a biopic -- that alone is enough of a reason to make me run.  Second, Mr. Spielberg's last three films ranged from lukewarm mediocrity (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin) to mushy sentimental disappointment (War Horse) which didn't exactly inspire confidence in the director.  Third, I was not looking forward to spending 155 minutes with an historical period piece.  Obviously, this opening paragraph has been a set-up simply to state that Lincoln exceeded all my expectations thanks to a fantastic performance in the title role by Daniel Day-Lewis, a script by Tony Kushner which deals with only a distinct period of time in the sixteenth president's life, and direction by Spielberg that feels like he's gotten his groove back behind the camera.

Set only within the months leading up to the ratification of the thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery, Lincoln details the troubles that the title character faced as a president, a party leader, and a man in attempting to create such a drastic change in our country's public policies.  Through the eyes of Lincoln, we see the struggle he faces -- with the Confederacy ready to surrender, does he accept their terms and undoubtedly diminish the "need" for the amendment and his Republican party's willingness to agree with ratifying it, or does he keep the Confederate's waving of a white flag a secret from everyone.  The difficulties didn't just affect Lincoln either, causing societal conundrums for others as well including Senator Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a Republican proponent of full equal rights for blacks.  Stevens obviously strongly supports Lincoln's amendment, but Lincoln asks that the senator soften his enthusiasm towards full equality as Lincoln fears that would be too radical a step and cause even his fellow Republicans to be turned off.

Lincoln as a film might have been a boring historical piece had we not been given an insight in the man's home life as well.  The biggest struggle facing the Lincoln family is that son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to join the Army and do his part to help his country and its revolution.  Like many parents, I imagine, the Lincolns don't want to possibly lose their son in war, especially after having just recently lost son Willie likely to typhoid fever.  Mary Lincoln (Sally Field) takes a very strong stance, angry at the notion that her husband would even consider allowing Robert to pick up a gun and head off to the battlefield.  This tension amongst the family adds another layer to the portrayal of Abraham Lincoln showing him not just as a politician, but as a husband and father and the conflicts that come with those familial roles.

Much praise has been heaped upon Daniel Day-Lewis already for this role and more is certainly headed his way.  It's all deserved.  As much as I hate the fact that yet another historical "impersonation" is going to win an Oscar, there's something transcendent about his portrayal here.  There was never a single moment in the movie where I felt like I was watching an actor.  I was able to completely lose myself in his role thanks to the strongly resolute, yet quirky down-home quality he brings to the character.  As Spielberg rather brilliantly has the camera stay stationary during many of Lincoln's lengthy anecdotal speeches, Day-Lewis is allowed several long takes to completely lose himself in the character.  These longer takes also allow us in the audience to feel as if we are one of the cabinet members, as an example, listening in.  Just like Lincoln's contemporaries onscreen, we find ourselves quieting down and honing in on his every word.  Together the director and actor have created something special.

They are of course aided by a wonderful script by Tony Kushner that settles on a few short months in Lincoln's life.  Kushner injects quite a bit of both humor and pathos in both the political and personal landscapes. While Day Lewis's Lincoln certainly provides a surprising amount of laughter and dramatic moments in both landscapes, Tommy Lee Jones's Senator Stevens is more than willing throw political jabs at his fellow Democratic opponents especially Senator Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) who is helping lead the charge on the Senate floor against the amendment.  Jones also gets some nice moments of quiet that showcase the actor's strengths.  On the familial front, Sally Field is given two absolutely fantastic scenes -- one in which she "talks smack" to her husband's political friends and another in which she beaks down at the prospect of her son Robert heading into the Army.  Field is fantastic here and in just a few moments she's able to create a well-rounded character with whom we in the audience immediately connect.

The film falters a bit at the end with a rather disappointing final coda tacked on, jumping ahead a few months to the President's final moments including a "gotcha" scene that was actually probably the worst moment I've seen in a good movie this year.  [Knowing what I know about Lincoln's final moments, the "gotcha" moment didn't even work for me which made things even worse.]  There would have been a brilliant place to conclude the film just after Lincoln received word of the amendment's passing as he walks down a set of stairs with lovely light shining into the White House's windows.  Instead, Kushner and Spielberg take it one step too far.  Still, Lincoln is a fantastic look at this important time in our country's history and kudos need to be given to the director, screenwriter, and the entire cast for creating something that even this biopic hater found fascinating.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Movie Review - Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Reda Kateb, Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, and James Gandolfini
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

It is an inevitability that people are going to compare director Kathryn Bigelow's Afghanistan and Pakistan-based Zero Dark Thirty with her fantastic Best Picture-winning Iraq-centric The Hurt Locker.  Whether that is a fair comparison or not, I'm not going to say, but Ms. Bigelow (and her reunited screenwriter Mark Boal) doesn't stretch much from her comfort zone of Middle Eastern-set war movies.  With such a powerful first glance at this landscape a few years ago, hopes were set high for Zero Dark Thirty and unfortunately it's simply not as good as her previous effort.

In my Hurt Locker review, I stated that the film contained "edge-of-your-seat excitement" and I know many would scoff at that remark thinking that the film actually moved at a rather slow pace.  Somehow, though, Bigelow managed to achieve great amounts of tension for me despite deliberately pacing the film.  In Zero Dark Thirty, the pacing is still slowly deliberate, but the tension simply isn't there.  Is it because we already know the result in that Osama bin Laden is killed?  I think that's part of the issue, but not the sole problem.

The film is slowly building for nearly two hours to the invasion of bin Laden's hideaway in Pakistan and while there are moments along the way that create tension, Bigelow isn't able to create a steady escalation which, in retrospect, almost makes the bin Laden raid (which is shown rather interestingly in an almost first person-"you are one of the soldiers" style of filmmaking) a bit of a letdown.  For the entirety of the movie, we watch as CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) fights her superiors on almost every step of the way in the hunt for the terrorist leader.  The movie is much more about the character of Maya and her struggles, and, to be quite honest, I never found myself caring about her.  It doesn't help that the script gives Chastain nothing to work with.  She's told to be averse to torture at first, but then slowly come around to embracing it.  She's told to look steadfast and resolute at all times.  She's told to be strong and not break down.  She's told to never waver in her desire to catch bin Laden and her belief that she is right in terms of his location.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm thrilled that this woman existed in real life (although I've read that "Maya" isn't based on any one specific person, but is an amalgamation of several), but I'm not quite sure this is a character to build a movie around.  The character is such a one-note figure only doing what the film's plot requires of her rather than actually having her own journey and I feel that this is another key reason why the film isn't quite a success.

Zero Dark Thirty isn't a bad film.  The story certainly kept me interested and despite my issues with the film, Bigelow is still a better director than most out there (and Mark Boal's screenplay is still a smart adult drama albeit with some problems).  Perhaps it's unfair to compare a film like this to Bigelow and Boal's earlier work, but as I said above, I think it's inevitable, and Zero Dark Thirty just comes out significantly below their fantastic collaboration in The Hurt Locker.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, January 11, 2013

Movie Review - Skyfall

Skyfall (2012)
Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, and Ben Whishaw
Directed by Sam Mendes

After seeing my first James Bond flick in Casino Royale a month ago, I finally got around to checking out Skyfall and am pleased to report that it's a return to glory for 007 after the disappointment of Quantum of Solace.  Thankfully ditching the director of Quantum whose camerawork made that film's action scenes nearly incoherent, Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes takes the helm here and, with the help of his screenwriters, guides a surprisingly low key and much less frenetic Bond film to success.

I was perhaps most amazed by the fact that the action scenes that I've come to associate with Bond films after my initial viewings take a backseat to character development in Skyfall.  After a fantastic and adrenaline-pumping opening sequence involving the unsuccessful capture of a criminal who has confiscated a hard drive with all of the true identities of MI6's undercover agents, we watch James Bond (Daniel Craig) seemingly plunge to his death from atop a huge fall off of a train.  Cut to London and M (Judi Dench) is now preparing an obituary for 007 and also needing to face the fact that her MI6 is in serious trouble since that hard drive was not recovered.  After a meeting with Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of the British Intelligence and Security Committee, M finds herself under intense pressure to resign which she refuses to do, insisting that she will bring MI6 back from its current dark place.  However, upon returning from her meeting with Mallory, MI6's headquarters are attacked and six agents are killed thanks to someone hacking into M's personal computer systems.  Mr. Bond, who happened to survive his steep fall and had taken the opportunity to retire and secretly slip away from duty, hears about the London attack on a news broadcast and decides to return to England to help out M who made him a success.

But who is the culprit seeking revenge on MI-6 and why is he focusing solely on taunting M?  While I won't spoil any motives, I will say that Javier Bardem plays supervillain Raoul Silva with slimy gusto.  Honing in and capitalizing on the uncomfortable humor that sometimes comes hand in hand with a great villain, Bardem reinvigorates the film once he first appears about ninety minutes in.

Not that the film necessarily needed a jolt to reinvigorate it, but Skyfall is definitely a more character-driven piece than I was expecting.  This film is as much about the emotional roller coaster of being an undercover agent (or running an agency responsible for those agents) as it is about the action sequences.  Rather brilliantly, the movie is able to successfully balance both disparate spectrums thanks to Sam Mendes.  His action-oriented scenes are taut and exciting -- the opening fifteen minutes are just stellar -- and his more intimate moments carry more weight than most dramas out there today.

Mr. Mendes is of course aided by Judi Dench whose M takes on a much more significant role here than in the other Bond films I've seen.  She brings a weathered intelligence to every scene and she gives Daniel Craig's Bond a real emotional and deep attachment to care for rather than the Bond Girls he leaves after one romp in the sack.  Supporting turns from Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and a ravishing Naomie Harris definitely showcase the promise of future Bond movies for sure.

I'm over 24 hours removed from watching Skyfall and I'm still finding myself thoroughly enjoying its thrills and somewhat ballsy dramatic turns.  The James Bond franchise was certainly not one that I eagerly looked forward to every three years or so when a new movie would be released, but I'm happy to say that I'm onboard the bandwagon and look forward to more in the future.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 Academy Awards Predictions

Oscar nominations are due Thursday morning and here's a few predictions.  We'll see how I fare come 9am on Thursday.  All categories have the nominees listed from most likely to least likely to be nominated.  I'll be back for "analysis" after the announcement.

Best Picture
1. Argo
2. Lincoln
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Les Miserables
5. Life of Pi
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Django Unchained

There could be as few as five or as many as ten nominees.  I'm going to go with seven, with slots 8-10 being taken up by the movies below.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
9. Amour
10. Moonrise Kingdom
POST NOMINATION THOUGHTS:  9/9 -- Essentially I was right on, however, I only predicted seven nominees as opposed to nine.  I thought this was maybe going to be a difficult race to predict, but as the Best Director nominees will show, I'm thinking this may be Lincoln's all the way now.

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis - "Lincoln"
Hugh Jackman - "Les Miserables"
John Hawkes - "The Sessions"
Denzel Washington - "Flight"
Joaquin Phoenix - "The Master"
alt: Bradley Cooper - "Silver Linings Playbook"
POST NOMINATION THOUGHTS: 4/5 -- I should've guessed that The Sessions was fading, but I liked it so darn much that I couldn't keep John Hawkes off my list.   

Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Jessica Chastain - "Zero Dark Thirty"
Naomi Watts - "The Impossible"
Marion Cotillard - "Rust and Bone"
Emanuelle Riva - "Amour"
alt: Quvenzhané Wallis - "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Longshot: Helen Mirren - "Hitchcock"
POST NOMINATION THOUGHTS: 4/5 -- Once again, my alternate makes it in with the overrated performance of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild instead of Marion Cotillard.  Before I went to bed last night, I thought I was asking for trouble with two foreign language nominees in the same category, but I stuck with it thinking the Academy wouldn't be swayed by "cute" and instead go for substance.  Then again, I'm one of the few "critics" who didn't like Beasts.

Best Supporting Actor
Tommy Lee Jones - "Lincoln"
Philip Seymour Hoffman - "The Master"
Alan Arkin - "Argo"
Robert De Niro - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Leonardo DiCaprio - "Django Unchained"
alt: Christoph Waltz - "Django Unchained"
Long Shots: Javier Bardem - "Skyfall"; Matthew McConaughey - "Magic Mike"
POST NOMINATION THOUGHTS: 4/5 -- Leo was my "no guts/no glory" pick as his only precursor award was a Golden Globe nomination and we all know they love naming the biggest stars they can name.  Leo's costar Christoph Waltz takes the last slot instead.

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway - "Les Miserables"
Sally Field - "Lincoln"
Helen Hunt - "The Sessions"
Nicole Kidman - "The Paperboy"
Maggie Smith - "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
alt: Amy Adams - "The Master"
Long Shot: Ann Dowd - "Compliance"
POST-NOMINATION THOUGHTS:  3/5 -- The top three were givens and the bottom two were complete toss-ups.  While I haven't seen The Paperboy, I'm thrilled Maggie Smith didn't make it in as I thought her role was completely one-note.  Amy Adams was always the closest to making it in from the outside, but Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook comes out of nowhere with no precursor nominations anywhere (I think) to take the slot.  There's usually always one of them in the acting categories, but I just didn't think it was going to be her for what isn't a very deep role in the slightest.

Best Director
Steven Spielberg - "Lincoln"
Kathryn Bigelow - "Zero Dark Thirty"
Ben Affleck - "Argo"
Ang Lee - "Life of Pi"
Michael Haneke - "Amour"
alt: Tom Hooper - "Les Miserables"
Long Shots: David O. Russell - "Silver Linings Playbook"; Quentin Tarantino - "Django Unchained"
POST-NOMINATION THOUGHTS:  3/5 -- Holy crap.  What a shocking category.  Spielberg was a lock, but I don't think there was a single person out there who didn't think Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck weren't going to get nominated for Zero Dark Thirty and Argo respectively.  I can't speak for Zero Dark Thirty yet, but I think Argo is one of the best directed films of the year, so Affleck's diss here shocking.  What I thought were wild cards in Ang Lee and Michael Haneke are in along with David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook and an out-of-nowhere Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Quite honestly, I'm not quite sure what the director's branch was smoking.  To nominate those two over the likes of Affleck (and presumably Bigelow) is kind of a travesty.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
alt: Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Original Screenplay
Zero Dark Thirty
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
The Master
Long Shots: Looper, Flight
POST-NOMINATION THOUGHTS: 4/5 -- I thought there might be a tiny bit of more love for The Master (they did give it three acting nominations), but I'm thrilled that Flight made it into the final cut.

Best Animated Feature
Wreck-It Ralph
The Painting
alt: Rise of the Guardians
POST-NOMINATION THOUGHTS: 4/5 -- The Painting was my "out of left field" prediction for this category and The Pirates Band of Misfits admittedly wasn't anywhere on my radar.  While I didn't love it, kudos for it getting in.  I'm just more than thrilled that Paranorman made the final cut.


- I'm really happy that Paperman got a nomination for Best Animated Short since it was absolutely fantastic.  I certainly haven't seen all the others (although I have seen its fellow nominee Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'), but this has got to have a good chance of winning.
- Production Design nominees are all incredibly strong it seems.  I admit to not seeing all the nominees yet (and I won't see The Hobbit), but Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, and Lincoln form a great category.
- Similarly, Best Costume Design is quite strong as well -- Anna Karenina, Les Misérables, Lincoln, and the two Snow White movies Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.  
- Nice to see five Best Song nominees again since that category has been heinous over the past few years with last year's two nominee embarrassment.  I'm not sure the nominees are the right ones, but at least here's hoping we'll get to hear Scarlett Johansson and the eventual winner Adele perform at the Oscars.
- I just keep going back to the fact that Ben Affleck was robbed for Best Director.  Just shocking.

Movie Review - Not Fade Away

Not Fade Away (2012)
Starring John Magaro, Bella Heathcote, Jack Huston, Will Brill, Dominque McElligott, Molly Price, and James Gandolfini
Directed by David Chase

Not that I watched more than a season-and-a-half of The Sopranos, but David Chase should probably stick to tv rather than venture out into the cinematic landscape if Not Fade Away is any indication of his movie ambitions.  Everything about the film -- with the exception of the fantastic collection of sixties music -- feels utterly generic.  It doesn't help that Chase -- who also wrote the film -- adds in side stories that fail to go anywhere (as if he were setting up scenes for next week's episode or something).  I'm at a loss as to how this film is rated so highly on RottenTomatoes.  I'm apparently definitely going against the grain on this one.

When teenage Douglas (John Magaro) hears The Rolling Stones on the radio, he immediately knows that he wants to be in a band.  With his buddies, he achieves that dream, performing at local parties, but longs for something more.

And that's it.  There's a love interest (Bella Heathcote, a dead ringer for Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas), a father and mother (James Gandolfini and an awful Molly Price) who don't understand his teenage angst, and bandmates who turn on each other in typical and expected fashion.

Nothing you haven't seen before here.  Go ahead and move on...

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Movie Review - Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2012)
***viewed in 3D***
Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, and Gérard Depardieu
Directed by Ang Lee

I knew very little about Life of Pi prior to going in.  I was aware that it was "faith-based" in the sense that spiritual beliefs would take a large role in the film, and I also knew that most of it took place on a small boat with a tiger.  Beyond that, I went into this pretty blind.  Perhaps this was one of the few times, however, that the lack of knowledge hurt things a little bit.  It's not that I couldn't comprehend what was going on -- in fact, this is one of the most "basic" movies I've seen in a long time in terms of plot -- but not being aware of the overarching story itself had me expecting something a bit more epic as opposed to more intimate and I was caught a bit off guard.  [I don't know why I felt this way.  It's a kid on a boat with a tiger...why was I expecting epicness?]

Eleven year-old Pi Patel (Ayush Tandon) is a curious kid growing up in India next to his parents' zoo.  While his father lacks religious beliefs, Pi ponders the various tenets of religions as diverse as Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam, recognizing the underlying similarities of them all.  As Pi grows into a teen (now played by Suraj Sharma), his father and mother announce that they must leave India for Canada for monetary reasons and they plan on taking the family and all their animals with them on a large ship.  While at sea, a terrible storm strikes and Pi finds himself seemingly the only survivor on a small lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger.  As Pi spends months stranded in the ocean, he must come to terms with humanity, faith, and fate as everything he believed in prior to the wreck comes into question.

First, I should say that Suraj Sharma who finds himself sharing the stage with digitally created animals for most of the film does a fairly remarkable job of holding his own and creating a presence onscreen that is strong enough to keep the audience's attention for nearly ninety minutes.  Considering that this is the young actor's first film role, kudos must be extended to him.

Secondly, director Ang Lee utilizes digital effects to create lifelike and, at the same time, fantastical sea settings that are quite visually appealing film despite the fact that the supposedly amazing 3D effects weren't all they were cracked up to be.  Lauded in the reviews likely due to a single scene in which Lee decides to "letterbox" his film and have fish fly outside of the letterboxing, this effect was already done in the flop G-Force to much greater effect.  Still, the 3D looks fine...it just isn't as fantastic as one was led to believe.  Beyond the 3D, though, Lee manages to keep the film moving at a decent pace lensing some lovely scenes to feast upon.

However, whenever the film is off the small boat with Pi and the tiger, Life of Pi falters pretty significantly.  There's a framing device utilized of an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) telling his story to a man (Rafe Spall) who wants to write a book on his life.  Perhaps this is in the book as well, but jumping back to the adult Pi just stymies any dramatic flow the movie has thus far achieved.  Removing this altogether would have provided a more cohesive and magical film and ended things without a treacly sense of melodrama.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Movie Review - Premium Rush

Premium Rush (2012)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, and Jamie Chung
Directed by David Koepp

Premium Rush is essentially an eighty-minute long chase sequence, and for a movie that's all about a race to the finish to be lacking in any drive or excitement that has to be considered a disappointment.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Wilee, a bicycle courier in New York City.  It's a somewhat dangerous profession navigating the busy streets of NYC, but Wilee thrives on the rush it gives him.  One afternoon, Wilee is dispatched to a local university to pick up an envelope from, as it turns out, his girlfriend's roommate Nima (Jamie Chung) and deliver it to a location in Chinatown.  Almost as soon as he gets the envelope, Wilee is confronted by a man who states he's Nima's boss demanding that Wilee return the delivery.  When Wilee refuses, the man (played by Michael Shannon) sets out to track Wilee down and do whatever is necessary in order to obtain the contents of that envelope.

Premium Rush knows it's pure fluff and pure fluff is fine sometimes, but something doesn't quite click here.  Michael Shannon is over-the-top (and not in a good way) as the neurotic man who demands the envelope be handed over to him.  As his character's secrets are revealed and Shannon chews more and more of the scenery around him, my eyes began to roll a bit in frustration.  Gordon-Levitt shows that he can ride a bike...but he isn't given much else to do except pedal and constantly look behind him to see if he's being tailed.

The film has some fun with jumping around in time and it certainly is a gimmick that makes a throwaway film like this a bit more enjoyable.  Unfortunately, as the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, I didn't care much about the final product.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, January 07, 2013

Movie Review - The Devil Inside

The Devil Inside (2012)
Starring Fernanda Andrade, Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth, Ionut Grama, and Suzan Crowley
Directed by William Brent Bell
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Nearly a year ago today, The Devil Inside made over $38 million its opening weekend only to drop by over 70% in weekend #2.  The moviegoing public is generally a very forgiving group, but the CinemaScore rating (whoever the heck they are and where they tally their votes is unknown to me) of opening night filmgoers was an 'F', a rare occurrence.  Seeing as how I often enjoy horror movies that the general public doesn't rally behind (see Orphan and Let Me In as two examples of fantastic scary movies as of late), I figured I'd give this one a go.  For the most part, despite forking over the massive amount of dough in its first weekend, the public got this one right.

Set up as a fake documentary (because when you want to make cheap horror movies, that's obviously what you must do in this day and age), The Devil Inside follows twentysomething Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) on a trip to the Vatican.  Her mother Maria (Suzan Crowley) resides in a mental institution in Italy after having killed three people during an exorcism being performed on her nearly twenty years prior.  Isabella hopes to learn whether her mother truly is possessed by the devil or if she's simply mentally disturbed.  With the help of both an ordained and excommunicated priest (Evan Helmuth and Simon Quarterman), Isabella and her videographer Michael (Ionut Grama) set out to find out the truth about her mother.

I will admit that I was surprisingly intrigued during the film's first half.  I was impressed by the fact that director and co-screenwriter William Brent Bell was taking his time, not throwing many scares our way.  This was a "documentary" after all, so there was an amount of realism in the restraint he held.  However, I expected there to be a bit of a payoff and, in the end, there really wasn't.  There's been a lot of ire spewed towards this film because the ending tells the audience to visit a website to find out more info.  While certainly tacky (and unhelpful as the website contains no info that advances the story in any way), the film has a definitive ending so it didn't bother me nearly as much as everyone else.  Still, The Devil Inside contains the same old exorcism tomfoolery we've seen in other movies and fails to provide a unique take on the genre.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Movie Review - Butter

Butter (2012)
Starring Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Yara Shahidi, and Hugh Jackman
Directed by Jim Field Smith
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

For some reason or another, Butter got trashed by the critics upon its very limited release earlier this year.  While it's a skewering of sorts of Midwestern conservatives, it's only a mild roasting and from this conservative's perspective, there are times when we deserve some slight jabs aimed our way.  I think maybe some felt Butter didn't go far enough, but I thought it was a surprisingly amusing comedy with some decent performances and a pleasant enough script that never overstays its welcome at any point.

In Iowa, butter carving is a huge pastime, taking a coveted prime spot at the State Fair.  For the past fifteen years, Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) has been the champ, creating such memorable carvings as the holocaust-themed Schindler's List sculpture in 1995 or this past year's epic The Last Supper.  However, the governing board of the butter carving contest has told Bob that the time has come for him to relinquish his crown and allow someone else to have an opportunity to succeed.  While Bob agrees, his wife Laura (Jennifer Garner) is disgusted with the notion, afraid that she is going to lose the high profile awareness that comes with her gig as the wife of the best butter carver in Iowa.  Laura sets out at becoming an expert carver herself and all would seem to be going according to her plan until ten year-old Destiny (Yara Shahidi) decides to enter the competition.  A young African-American girl living with her new foster parents (Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry), Destiny discovers that she is fantastically adept at carving the yellow dairy product and sets up quite a showdown between herself and Laura.

There are some nice performances peppered throughout.  Jennifer Garner was over-the-top, but the role required that level of insanity to a certain degree, and I think she has proven with this and a few other roles that she's a nice comedienne.  Ty Burrell is actually nicely subdued and I found it a welcome change of pace for the sometimes frantic (though very funny) character he plays on Modern Family.  Yara Shahidi was great despite the fact that the screenwriter wanted to make her "wiser beyond her years."  Oftentimes that can prove excruciatingly annoying, but Shahidi was able to reel it in a bit and at least act like a kid.

Surprisingly, the best role in the whole flick comes from Rob Corddry and no one is more shocked than me to be saying that.  Corddry plays Destiny's foster dad Ethan and there's something incredibly natural when he's onscreen with young Shahidi.  His character never talks down to this kid who's been shipped from foster home to foster home because he knows she's been through a lot in her short life.  He recognizes that she's young, but he treats her with respect and kindness.  Considering other things I've seen Corddry in, I was shocked that he had this simple, down-to-earth, "dad" character in him...so big kudos to him.

Butter isn't some fantastic film, but I had a heckuva good time with it.  Granted, there are some faults -- Hugh Jackman pops in more than halfway through in a role he likely did as a favor for someone and Olivia Wilde plays an Asian stripper who, while quite funny, felt a tiny bit out of place -- but overall, this is well worth the ninety minutes it'll take you to watch it via Netflix's streaming.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Theater Review - The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Music, Lyrics, and Book by Rupert Holmes
Directed by Scott Ellis
Where: Studio 54, New York, NY
When: Saturday, December 29, 2pm

Back in lower and middle school I was fascinated with a series of books called "Choose Your Own Adventures."  You'd get to the end of a page and have either two or three choices telling you to turn to a certain page, allowing you to determine the outcome of the book.  The Mystery of Edwin Drood playing in Broadway's Studio 54 theater is a "Choose Your Own Adventure" brought to real life.  Unfortunately, despite the amusing aspect of the audience being able to choose multiple facets of the story for the actors to perform on the spot, a musical without great music is a bit of a bummer and that's the case here.

Charles Dickens' last novel was a murder mystery revolving around the death of a man named Edwin Drood, but the author died before he was able to finish his work.  The play's book writer Rupert Holmes took this concept of an unfinished novel and ran with it, creating a musical set in a late 19th century music hall in England with a troupe of actors taking on the roles.  During Act I, we meet Edwin Drood (played by female Stephanie J. Block as the troupe didn't have enough talented males to take on the role presumably) and discover that multiple people have reason to kill him.  As Act II rolls around, the play comes to a stop at the exact point that Mr. Dickens failed to pick up his pen again and the troupe turns to the audience to determine Drood's killer, the person who will take on the role of the detective who will solve the case, and two lovers (simply because all plays must end on an up note and what's more pleasant than love).

This audience participation aspect is admittedly enjoyable...but the rest of the show, not so much.  I can deal with the notion that this being set in a rowdy 1895 London music hall and that the story would be told in a straight-foward, tongue-in-cheek, and comedic manner in order to appeal to the masses at that time.  I totally understand that premise and can get behind that.  The fault isn't in the story, but rather in the music.  There's really not a memorable song among the bunch and the songs really do nothing to advance the plot.  Actors aren't given "wow" moments, but they aren't given nice reflective moments either.  With no showstoppers or purposeful plot-driven songs, the whole thing fell flat.  

The actors were okay, but I think the play itself just fails them from being able to give memorable performances.  I don't really know anything about her except that she's a "theater legend" for winning multiple Tonys, but it was nice to see nearly eighty year-old Chita Rivera onstage still performing her heart out eight shows a week.  Will Chase, who recently appeared on NBC's Smash, probably had the best role in terms of making an impact by song and he can belt a tune quite well.

It certainly doesn't help that the sound system made some of the singing nearly indecipherable (although some of that fault lies with the performers as well, particularly Jessie Mueller who as the Egyptian Helena Landless was incomprehensible...which is why it was even more of a shame when she was voted the murderer by our audience).  Still, The Mystery of Edwin Drood simply didn't work for me.  It's been well-received in NYC getting some of the best reviews of the season, but it proved to be a disappointment.