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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,...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie Review - End of Watch

End of Watch (2012)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, and Natalie Martinez
Directed by David Ayer

End of Watch is a perfectly acceptable realistic "buddy cop" movie about Brian and Mike (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) who work the crime-riddled streets of South Central LA.  As they go through their admittedly difficult and stressful days, they find time to joke around with one another and talk about their significant others -- Brian's got a serious girlfriend in Janet (Anna Kendrick) and Mike is married to Gabby (Natalie Martinez) and they have kids together with another on the way.  When the duo stumble across a human trafficking ring while out doing a routine check on an elderly woman, the Mexican gangs behind the ring are angered and vow to make Brian and Mike pay handily for simply doing their job.

Admittedly, the film is a bit gimmicky.  Brian is taking a college course on filmmaking and he decides to purchase some small cameras that he places in the cop car and on both his and Mike's uniforms in order to film a "day in the life" type documentary about South Central cops.  I actually would've been completely onboard with the concept had director and screenwriter David Ayer had the cojones to stick with it throughout the entirety of the film in a Blair Witch-ian way.  However, the film sometimes cuts to the Mexican gangs and then as it progresses and the action begins to kick up, it abandons the concept altogether at times.  This wasn't necessarily a detriment, but the lack of consistency was noticeable and a bit of a disappointment in terms of the concept.

This film garnered some surprisingly good reviews upon its release last fall and there was even a bit of Oscar buzz surrounding Michael Peña for his role, but for this reviewer, End of Watch didn't stand out in any significant way.  Everything about it was fine and, in fact, better than average, but I was never blown away by anything I was seeing in the acting, directing, or writing department.  This is likely one of the reasons it's taken me over a month to get this review up on the blog.  Despite the lack of anything negative to say about it, there was not a single thing about it that blew me over.  It's solid and you certainly shouldn't be disappointed should you decide to check it out, but I can't help but think End of Watch had a bit more potential than the director brought to it.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Movie Review - Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
Starring Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney, Devin Kelley, Olivia Dudley, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Nathan Philips, and Dimitri Diatchenko
Directed by Bradley Parker

Had I known that Chernobyl Diaries was co-written by Oren Peli, the writer of all the Paranormal Activity movies, I would've prepared myself for an hour of nothing followed by about twenty-five minutes of jump scares, but I didn't realize that going in.  So instead, as this horror film unfolded about six twentysomethings going on an extreme tourist trip to Pripyat, the city that was home to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the 80s, I kept waiting for something to happen.  Anything.  As the sextet along with their Russian guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) explore the city in daylight, I was hoping for at least an ominous feeling to present itself...but director Bradley Parker never achieves a sense of anxiety.  

There's not even any tension after the group's van is sabotaged thanks to some wire-cutting.  Stuck in the town, night falls, Uri somehow disappears, and American Chris (Jesse McCartney) comes back to the van with his leg slashed up.  Chris's older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) starts to feel guilty for convincing his brother, his brother's fiancée Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and Natalie's friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) to come on this kooky extreme trip and vows to get them safely back.  Needless to say, it should come as no surprise that doesn't happen.  As the group fights off wild animals and perhaps even malformed and crazed residents of Chernobyl, they must also fight the ever-increasing nuclear radiation that their Geiger counter is picking up.

Like all of Peli's movies, the biggest problem is that nothing happens in this movie for a good fifty minutes.  When the action finally begins to pick up, director Bradley Parker doesn't have adequate lensing skills to allow the audience to actually be able to see what is going on.  Multiple times I found myself rewinding because pivotal scenes were either too dark or too shoddily staged to get an impression of what was going on in them.  For the most part, the acting is fine (and Devin Kelley in her first feature film was nice on the eyes), but that's not nearly enough to recommend this.  I don't know why I keep giving Oren Peli more chances because he has proven that he does not have what it takes to craft a solid horror film.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Movie Review - Killer Joe

Killer Joe (2012)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, June Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon
Directed by William Friedkin

My experience with Tracy Letts's screenplays and plays has been mixed so far.  I was one of the few people I know who found the Ashley Judd-Michael Shannon 2006 flick Bug a frightening psychological horror flick (it's streaming on Netflix for those interested).  However, when I saw his Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning August: Osage County onstage (soon to be a movie with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), I found the whole thing to be a bloated soap opera.  [I also recently saw Mr. Letts act in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and he was quite good.]  I'd heard good things about Killer Joe and was eagerly looking forward to checking out the film and I'm pleased to say I wasn't disappointed in the twisted trailer park crime tale.

When Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) runs into a bit of trouble with his drug dealer, he figures that an easy way out of his predicament is to kill his own mother for her life insurance policy.  Seeing as how she just recently kicked him out of her house, Chris figures offing her might not be a bad idea.  When he discovers that his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the sole beneficiary of his mother's policy (despite the fact that Dottie hasn't had anything to do with her mother for years), Chris manages to get both Dottie and his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) onboard with the plan.  However, seeing as how neither Chris nor Ansel has any experience killing someone, they decide to hire a hitman named Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a somewhat sleazy cop who performs decidedly criminal work on the side.  When Joe demands $25,000 up front for the deed, Chris and Ansel are unable to come up with the money, so, as collateral, Joe decides that if young virginal Dottie agrees to date him, he'll commit the murder prior to getting paid.  This twisted tale spirals out of control and all the parties may regret their actions sooner then they ever expected.

The inhabitants of Killer Joe are as white trash as they come.  Sleazy, dumb, alcoholic slobs who spend as much time downing liquor or snorting coke in their trailer homes as they do working.  But what Tracy Letts manages to do with these characters is make them surprisingly enjoyable to watch despite their inherent sliminess.  The darkly comic tone that permeates throughout the whole film is certainly a reason why the audience is able to accept these unlikeable characters because the film almost feels as if it's slyly poking fun at them while telling their sordid tale.

This is director William Friedkin's second time around with a Tracy Letts script after Bug and Friedkin (perhaps best known for his one-two punch of The French Connection followed by The Exorcist in the early 1970s) proves he's got the eye to work these twisted plays into equally uncomfortable films.  Knowing that the film is based on a play, it's certainly obvious when watching how easily this would play out on a stage, but that doesn't make film any less viable an option for telling this tale.  Killer Joe is certainly much more "opened up" then Bug which essentially took place in the confines of a hotel room.

Perhaps the best thing Friedkin achieves here is some very nice performances from his main cast of five.  Matthew McConaughey had a high profile turn in Magic Mike this past summer, but I'd sooner watch his sordid take on the title character in this film again.  Despite Joe's secret job as a hitman, he presents himself as a rather moral character, but both the audience and the characters in the film soon begin to realize that despite his somewhat uppity and "well-mannered" charming appearance, he's quite the slimeball.  The sleaziness comes into play most often when Joe is paired up with the much younger (and perhaps underage, although that's never really fully detailed) Dottie played by Juno Temple.  I've seen Temple in a few minor roles, but she manages to really shine here playing a naive young girl who is nothing but a pawn in her family's twisted games.  Kudos also to Gina Gershon who takes on the role of Chris and Dottie's new stepmom Sharla, the epitome of trailer trash.  A seemingly minor character, her role takes on a greater importance towards the film's conclusion and she's front and center in some of film's more disturbing scenes.

There was a bit of buzz surrounding this film upon its release thanks to its NC-17 rating and perhaps it deserves it -- I, for one, will never look at a chicken drumstick in the same way again.  There are certainly disturbing sexual moments that probably earned it that rating, but the film surprisingly never felt too over-the-top thanks in part to that aforementioned darkly comic tone that runs throughout the piece.  While Killer Joe may not be for all tastes, I found it an all-around unique film that makes me want to explore the repertoire of its screenwriter-playwright Tracy Letts even more.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Movie Review - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II (2012)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, and Michael Sheen
Directed by Bill Condon

From the opening scenes, I think I laughed more in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II than I did in the entirety of this supposed comedy.  Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain I was supposed to take newly vampiric Bella (Kristen Stewart) taking down a mountain lion by chomping it in the throat fairly seriously.  As was I not to laugh at Bella getting angry that werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has imprinted on her three day-old daughter Renesmee (thus bonding the two together for life) by spouting the words, "You nicknamed her Nessie!  You nicknamed her after the Lock Ness Monster?!?!"  Let's not even discuss the computer-digitized baby Renesmee giggling and touching her hand to her mother's cheek.  All this craziness happens within the film's first fifteen minutes!

I'd rather director Bill Condon had relished in the kookiness of vampire-werewolf relations as he did in Part 1 of this epic finale, but instead he's forced to tackle the conclusion of The Twilight Saga which deals with the Volturi headed by Aro (Michael Sheen) who want to kill Renesmee because they believe she is an immortal vampire child.  Vampire children are untrainable and thus will wreak havoc by making vampires more visible to humans in some way.  Therefore, for centuries the Volturi have been killing vampiric kids and murdering their parents who sired them.  However, Renesmee is not an immortal because she was born from vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and now-vampire-but-formerly-human-and-human-when-she-gave-birth Bella.  Pretty much the entirety of the film is Edward, Bella, and the rest of the Cullen clan bringing together "witnesses" who can attest to the Volturi that Renesmee is not an immortal and thus causes no threat to their secretive civilization.  This assembly of fellow vampires may play like a Who's Who for the Twilight fans, but to this reviewer, he didn't understand why we were wasting so much time listening to these people talk about their problems as if they mattered in the grand scheme of the plot because they didn't in the slightest.

This all leads to the big standoff between the Volturi and the Cullen-led "witnesses" in which a lot of vampire's heads are decapitated (seriously, there's more disembodiments here than in any movie I've ever seen).  But, in the big surprise twist (and I'm gonna reveal it here because I have to discuss how ludicrous the finale is), the big showdown actually doesn't happen.  In fact, it was all playing out in the mind of Aro who was magically "touched" by one of the Cullen clan and was able to see the future which didn't pan out too well for his fellow Volturi.  Instead, Aro decides to quietly leave, therein creating perhaps one of the biggest letdowns in the history of movies.  Five movies and nearly ten hours of film lead to people walking away from each other rather than fighting for what they believe in.  You've got to be kidding me, right?  Come to find out, this whole fight scene was added just for the movie -- it wasn't even in the book.  What was the point of the books then?

Good Lord, what a horrible way to end a horrible cinematic series.  I won't even delve into criticizing Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson because I've done enough of that in previous reviews of the series (and, actually, they were their best in this two-part finale which isn't saying much).  What I don't understand at the end of this whole series is why these books became such a huge pop culture obsession.  I guess it's that "love triangle" aspect, but the screenplays of these movies lack any modicum of fun or excitement and the finale proved to end things on a huge sour note.  Thankfully, I won't ever need to venture near these movies ever again.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Previous Entries in the Series
Eclipse -- C-
New Moon -- D-
Twilight -- C-

I'm actually frightened by how highly I've rated the series as a whole...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movie Review - House at the End of the Street

House at the End of the Street (2012)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue, and Max Thieriot
Directed by Mark Tonderai

It's a sure bet that this is the last teen horror flick recent Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is going to be starring in for quite a while, but she gives a surprisingly solid turn (although she's not tasked with anything difficult to do) as Elissa, the new girl who's moved to a new town with her mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue).  They got a great deal on a big house because the titular House at the End of the Street just a few yards from their home was the scene of a murder a few years ago.  Still, despite hearing that the girl who had murdered her parents is presumed dead but has yet to be found, Elissa and Sarah brush off the notion of anything bad happening.  When Elissa discovers that Ryan, the son of the murdered parents, still lives in the house, she strikes up a friendship with the shy, sheltered college student much to Sarah's chagrin.  With this being a horror film, let's just say things don't turn out like they do in a Nicholas Sparks movie.

House at the End of the Street doesn't reinvent the horror wheel by any means and its story is admittedly shaky and stretched quite thin even over its short running time.  However, thanks to Lawrence giving her character a little bit of spunk rather than just being the typical horror ingenue, the film rises above the other teen scare flicks the tiniest of margins.  I realize I'm bucking the trend here (as Rotten Tomatoes has this sitting at 11% Fresh) and I don't want to overstate this film's worth -- it's still not anything special -- but it held my interest mainly because of Lawrence.  It's also nice to see Elisabeth Shue return to the screen even though her role (much like all the roles here) isn't really developed beyond a stereotype.  Max Thieriot also doesn't embarrass himself in a role that easily could've veered into corniness (and kind of does at times) -- somehow he reins in the quirkiness required that I didn't find myself laughing at him.

I realize every good comment above is laced with some bad undertone and that's simply because I must recognize that House at the End of the Street isn't a great film, but if you're in the mood for cheesy teen horror, you could certainly do worse.  Jennifer Lawrence makes this more than tolerable.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, March 18, 2013

Movie Review - The Bay

The Bay (2012)
Starring Kether Donahue, Frank Deal, and Stephen Kunken
Directed by Barry Levinson

On July 4, 2009, something horrible happened in the Chesapeake Bay-side town of Claridge, Maryland.  As partygoers celebrated the day of our nation's birth, things took a turn for the worse as people began breaking out in massive rashes creating huge boils on their skin.  The outbreak led to an influx of patients at the local hospital where Dr. Jack Abrams (Stephen Kunken) tried everything he knew to solve the problem, only to have the conditions of patients worsen.  Not only did it appear that the rash was forming on the outside of the skin, but something was eating away at these patients from the inside in an attempt to get out.

What exactly caused this biomedical breakout in Claridge?  That's what The Bay attempts to answer through first-hand video accounts compiled by former news reporter Donna Thompson (Kether Donahue) who was a fresh-faced college intern reporting on the local Claridge holiday festivities when all hell broke loose putting her smack in the middle of the action. Donna managed to survive the ordeal that hundreds of people did not and after three years and numerous attempts to be quashed by the government, she has decided to videotape her story and release it to the public so they can see the environmental rigamarole our government enacted that played a huge role in the horrifying story of Claridge.

Of course, this is all fake and although I've certainly tired of the found footage genre, The Bay manages to elevate the latest horror craze by allowing the found footage to play like a thesis for Donna, helping her to stand up to the greater powers.  The ecological agenda that the film is certainly striving towards can be a little heavy-handed at times, but director Barry Levinson (best known for 80s hits like Rain Man and Good Morning Vietnam) creates a crafty little low-budget horror film.  While it contains a really solid jump scare or two, there's an overarching sense of unease in The Bay thanks to the crazy notion that it's (sort of) possible something like this could happen.  While I doubt the government in this day and age could manage to cover up the near complete demise of a town (leading to the one incredibly unbelievable aspect of the film), the biological horror is something that does manage to put me on edge a little bit.  [See my love of Contagion as another recent example.]

It's obvious at times that The Bay is a low-budget flick -- the acting isn't exactly top notch, the production often reuses some non-important clips multiple times -- but this is a nice flick that managed to keep me on edge quite a bit of the time.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Movie Review - Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 (2012)
Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve, and Emma Thompson
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

It's been years since I've seen either of the first two Men in Black movies, but I remember finding them a bit better than typical action comedies.  They weren't anything fantastic, but I at least recall there being a slight enjoyment stemming from them (and if that isn't the case, at least they're remembered that way for their sake).  None of that sense of joie de vivre is present in Men in Black 3, a surprisingly joyless affair without any laughs and lacking either big or small action sequences to provide a sense of excitement.  This third movie just slogs along going nowhere in particular.

Men in Black 3 begins in the present day with alien outlaw Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escaping from his lunar prison and traveling back down to Earth to enact revenge on the man who put him away and blew off his arm in the process -- Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones).  Boris finds a time machine and goes back to the 1969 day before he lost his arm and was captured in order to kill Agent K.  Somehow or another, K "rids" the world of everything that K himself caused since that fateful day so when K's partner Agent J (Will Smith) wakes up in the modern world, he is told that K died back in 1969.  [Why this has to happen, I'm not sure..]  J then goes back in time to try and help K kill Boris (and help past K not be killed by the modern-day Boris) rather than simply capture him in order to save the planet from Boris's modern day nastiness.

Confused?  Yeah, I was, too.  There's no easy way to write the summary in a way that makes sense because the film doesn't really attempt to make a whole lot of sense itself.  Will Smith attempts to try and work his smooth-talking charisma, but his charming persona as J can't win over the audience here because the audience is left flabbergasted at the foolishness of the plot.  With the film taking place mostly in the past, Tommy Lee Jones sits on the wayside for nearly all of the film with Josh Brolin doing an impressive impersonation of a young 1969 version of Agent K, and although Brolin is a bright spot, the allure of the impression wears off after a few minutes.

With that, I'm going to draw this shoddily written review to a close.  When I can't find a way to explain a summary of a movie, I'm turned off from writing my opinion about it.  Just know that Men in Black 3 is the worst of the bunch in this series.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Movie Review - Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass, and Karan Soni
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Remove the curse words and the character who's obsessed with hooking up with his high school flame from twenty years ago and Safety Not Guaranteed feels like a movie Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn could have starred in seventy years ago.  There's an innocence surrounding this film about Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a guy who posts a help wanted ad in a local newspaper where he says he's seeking out people who want to travel back in time with him (their "safety not guaranteed"), and Darius (Aubrey Plaza), the girl who interns at a local magazine that is doing a story about Kenneth who they all deem as cuckoo.  As Kenneth and Darius get to know each other better, it's inevitable that they're going to begin to fall in love for each other despite their best efforts not to wander down that path.

The problem with Safety Not Guaranteed is the same problem that faces many other indie comedies -- a good premise, but not enough plot to sustain itself.  Despite its under ninety-minute run time, there's just not enough here to make a full-fledged movie feel necessary.  The whole thing was quite cute and Aubrey Plaza's dry delivery is a perfect fit for the dialog she's given, but whenever the film left the world of Kenneth and Darius, it falls flat.  There are two subplots involving Darius's co-workers -- one dealing with head writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and his mission to find his high school sweetheart and sleep with her again (which is the only reason he took on writing this article in the first place) and the other focused on Jeff's desire to get Arnau (Karan Soni), the mild-mannered Indian computer geek intern, laid for the first time -- neither of which add anything to the overarching storyline.  I can't even find an incidental thematic connection between them and the main plot.

Safety Not Guaranteed is fine.  I laughed enough to not make it a complete bust.  But it never quite comes together in a way that would make it something truly recommendable.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, March 08, 2013

Theater Review - Hamlet

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Mark Lamos
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware)
When: Thursday, March 7, 7:30pm

Photos from the REP

Maybe the Resident Ensemble Players at the University of Delaware should give the audience a Shakespearean production each season.  While this doesn't quite compare to the 2010-11 season's fantastical A Midsummer Night's Dream, this year's Hamlet is quickly paced, nicely acted, and sumptuously designed -- elements that make a centuries-old play a bit more relatable for a modern-day audience.  Not that Hamlet necessarily needs any help in that area.  In fact, although I'm not incredibly well-versed in all of Shakespeare, this seems to be one of his easiest plays to grasp in terms of plot and characters which is all the more reason I'm surprised that I never had to read this in either high school or college as it seems like a really good starting-off point to get into the Bard.  While I had seen the four hour-long Kenneth Branagh version back in eleventh grade and I prepped myself a little bit by watching a recent PBS special on the play, I'm not sure this prior knowledge of Hamlet would've been necessary (but admittedly it was nice to have a general overview of the plot).  That being said, despite a simple story, there is depth to Hamlet and if I had to fault the production in one area it's that director Mark Lamos almost plays things too straightforward -- there really isn't much ambiguity in this production and maybe there should have been a bit in order to see the many layers that make up the title character and his emotional struggles.

The play's called Hamlet so it's a good guess to assume that the thing revolves around the title character with Shakespeare providing quite a commanding role for an actor to tackle.  Here, REP member Michael Gotch grabs hold of the Danish prince and doesn't let go.  Running the gambit of emotions, to me Gotch presents a compelling Hamlet that is undoubtedly intelligent and steadfastly resolute in his need to enact revenge on his uncle Claudius who murdered Hamlet's father and then married his mother in order to ascend to the throne (the latter of which makes for a very funny line in which Hamlet questions whether that now makes his mother his aunt).  If anything, it's this strength Gotch exhibits after seeing his father's ghost that leads to the lack of ambiguity I mentioned above.  I never once believed that Hamlet's nonsensical rambling craziness that he undertakes near the beginning of the play was anything other than an incredibly intelligent young man trying to fool others into thinking he was going mad so they'd render him not capable of committing an act of revenge against Claudius.  Now, all of this is certainly up for interpretation and, as was mentioned in the talkback following this evening's production, there's really no wrong way to interpret the title character here.  That said, after the play had ended, I longed for a tiny bit of ambiguity as to whether Hamlet was slowly going mad and I never really got that.  While Hamlet certainly questions himself and his motives (the "to be or not be" soliloquy comes to mind), the way things are presented in this production, I couldn't help but think he found his answers very quickly despite perhaps putting on a show for those around him.  Listen, though, this is a really minor quibble (and it's not even really a quibble) as Gotch has created something quite great here and if the standing ovation he received at this production is any indication, he has certainly succeeded.

Personally, I think the standing ovation should have started when Erin Partin came onstage to take her bow.  As Ophelia, a former love of Hamlet wronged by his disgust of women after his mother's betrayal of her father, Partin (who is a frequent guest artist of the REP) takes on her best role yet giving the audience something hauntingly beautiful.  The scene in which she tries to win Hamlet back by reminding him of the time they spent together ends in such a viscerally intense manner that it was almost uncomfortable to watch (kudos to both Mr. Gotch and Ms. Partin on that as I mean that as the highest compliment).  Then as Ophelia begins to spiral downward, I couldn't help but feel her pain and sorrow.

In that very scene in which Ophelia's heartbreaking insanity begins to show itself, Partin is wearing a flowing, yet much tattered gown, and while it's incredibly simple, it adds so much to who that character is at that moment in time.  That is the case throughout this production as the costume design by Fabio Toblini is exquisite.  From the blackened iron-clad Ghost of Hamlet's father to the royalty and pomp of Queen Gertrude's blood red gown (which apparently took over 200 man hours to create and rightly so caused some audible awestruck gasps upon its first appearance), the REP continues its tradition of crafting design elements that could rival anything you see on Broadway.  [The stark, yet almost convoluted, scenic design by Alexander Dodge is wonderful as well.]

With nice turns from Elizabeth Heflin as Hamlet's mother Gertrude and Stephen Pelinski as the outwardly innocent Claudius along with the return of REP actor Carine Montbertrand whose comedic chops have been missing this season, this ensemble proves once again that they're capable of pretty much any play put in their midst.  Together, they help to make this play hugely accessible to an audience of people who are likely not as well versed in Shakespeare's work as they are.  Along with the aforementioned Mr. Lamos who keeps this piece moving along at a rapid pace with nary a moment to catch your breath, this Hamlet is absolutely worth the price of admission.  If you've never seen a REP production and find yourself game for a bit of Elizabethan-era drama, spend the $25 because, to roughly quote a line from the production, this play's definitely the thing.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Movie Review - Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Starring Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Woody Harrelson, and Christopher Walken
Directed by Martin McDonagh

I'm not quite sure why Seven Psyhopaths took me two sittings nearly a week apart to make it through, but something in the opening forty minutes didn't reel me in and didn't lure me back to complete it after I had to stop watching.  Oddly enough, the same thing happened with director-writer Martin McDonagh's first film In Bruges.  I started that one, stopped after about twenty minutes, and then never went back (I know, I know, people love that one).  Admittedly, maybe I do need to give In Bruges another chance because once I finished up Seven Psychopaths, I found the whole thing a bit refreshing and, while a bit derivative of other films at the beginning, surprisingly original in how its story plays out.

Having recently seen Mr. McDonagh's work onstage in The Cripple of Inishmaan, the Irish writer certainly has an ear for witty dark humor and Seven Psychopaths certainly fits into that category.  Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter toiling away at his latest endeavor about a movie containing a tale of seven psychopathic murderers (scenes of which we often see in blips as the flick progresses).  Marty's good buddy Billy (Sam Rockwell) is quite the off-the-wall wackadoo who has partnered up with Hans (Christopher Walken) to establish a dog-stealing business in which they kidnap dogs only to return them for the inevitable reward money their owners put up.  However, when Billy and Hans kidnap the dog of Los Angeles gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), Marty soon finds himself tangled up in the criminal underworld.

Most intriguing about Seven Psychopaths is the "meta" aspect of the whole thing that kicks in during the second half and elevates the film more than I could have imagined at the outset.  As Marty's script comes alive around him, McDonagh shifts from what was simply a "been there-done that" darkly comedic modern "gangster" film into something with a bit more depth whose twists and turns become much more interesting and plausible despite their inherent implausibility.  McDonagh jokingly (and referentially) points out his script's "flaws" creating a more elevated comedy than we're used to experiencing in a nationwide Hollywood release.

Across the board, the actors are all game with Sam Rockwell standing out mainly because his character is such a live wire that the actor is given a bit more to do.  As McDonagh's self-referential script mentions, the females here are essentially tossed aside and it makes me wonder why Abbie Cornish, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, and Gabourey Sidibe's roles were even written into the script in the first place.  While it's true that McDonagh recognizes this fault, I can't help but think we actually would have had a slightly stronger film here without the ladies being included.

Seven Psychopaths didn't really come alive for me until the film's second half when the "meta" aspects came front and center.  Prior to that, it felt like a rehash of other dark comedies we've seen before, but by the end I realize that this was likely McDonagh's point.  By creating something so typical, his final acts the way they are writtern are able to branch away and revel in their absurdity.  I wonder if watching it again, I might appreciate things a bit more.  Maybe I need to try to watch In Bruges again...

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Movie Review - Taken 2

Taken 2 (2012)
Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, and Famke Jannsen
Directed by Olivier Megaton

Taken 2 may not be the worst movie of 2012, but it may very well be the most offensive in its blatantness at being a pure cash grab for 20th Century Fox.  The fact that US audiences ate this up to the tune of nearly $140 million further disgusts me.  The first Taken wasn't exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but it was a fun ride and served as a launching pad for Liam Neeson to shift from an art-house favorite to cash-grabbing and less selective action star.  More power to the guy for making dough, but at a certain point, it's time to take on something a bit more challenging than continual turns as a generic bad ass -- leave that to Jason Statham who has shown he refuses to play any role that doesn't contain that characteristic.  

As far as a plot, Taken 2 borrows heavily from its predecessor except this time instead of teenage Kim (Maggie Grace) being taken by Albanian baddies for their sex trading schemes, her retired CIA agent father Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and his ex-wife (Famke Jannsen) are abducted by the revenge-seeking family members of the Albanians Bryan killed in the first movie.  Ugh.  It's utterly ridiculous and incredibly lame.  Am I really supposed to believe that Kim is going to be able to awkwardly run through the streets of Turkey (a country she knows nothing about) and save her father?  Rather conveniently, Bryan stashed a miniature cell phone in his sock so he's able to talk his daughter through how to set off grenades and also give her a mini-cartography lesson.  In that not-so-clever way movies like this often foreshadow things to come, in the film's excruciatingly boring first half hour, Bryan teaches Kim how to drive, so when she commandeers a Turkish taxi, she's able to careen through the narrow alleys without a bit of trouble.  And it should come as no surprise that we're left with the ability to continue on Bryan's story in future movies to come!

I almost could have dealt with the hackneyed and rehashed plot if there was any amount of excitement at any point in time, but director Olivier Megaton fails to create a modicum of tension in the action sequences.  Obviously having graduated from The School of Quick Cuts based out of Michael Bay's backyard, Megaton (who I despise even more after discovering that he took that last name because his birthday is the 20th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima which is horridly tacky) is just lazy with some of the worst chase sequences I've seen in years.  Everything about this movie looks cheap and all the actors seem like they're just there for the cash and nothing else.  The first Taken was silly fun, but this comes nowhere near that level.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, March 01, 2013

Movie Review - Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Starring Howard Keel and Jane Powell
Directed by Stanley Donen

So I have no idea why I watched Seven Brides for Seven Brothers except that I think my mom made me watch this about twenty years ago and when I saw it pop up on Turner Classic Movies during their February Oscar Month, I figured I'd give it a shot as I didn't remember hating it. Well, despite some amusing dance sequences, this 1950s musical doesn't really have any lasting appeal.

The film revolves around the seven Pontipee brothers living in the wilderness of 1850s Oregon.  With no woman to cook and clean for them, eldest brother Adam (Howard Keel) heads to the nearest town to pick up supplies and a fine woman to bring home.  Rather conveniently, he comes across Milly (Jane Powell) who immediately falls for the strapping outdoorsman when he comes in to the restaurant where she works.  On the spot, Milly agrees to marry Adam and within the span of mere hours, the two are betrothed heading back to the Pontipee residence.  Unfortunately for Milly, Adam conveniently left out the part that he has six brothers whom she'll have to care for as well.  Slightly discouraged, Milly resolves to make the most out of her situation and try to turn the Pontipee brothers into nice gentlemen rather than ragged ragamuffins.  Once she finishes her school of etiquette, the brothers set out to get themselves wives of their own.

Ultimately, I'd be willing to forgive the cheesiness of the storyline if the songs had anything going for them, but unfortunately they don't.  While there are some rousing dance routines, they simply aren't enough to recommend this one which proves to be much more dated than musicals from its time frame.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-