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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Movie Review - The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby (2013)
***viewed in 3D***
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgarton, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, and Isla Fisher
Directed by Baz Luhrmann

The Great Gatsby is distinctly a Baz Luhrmann film and your initial like or dislike will largely hinge on your feelings towards the eclectic auteur.  I was a big fan of Romeo + Juliet upon its release in my junior year of high school, but a revisit in 2011 didn't sit so well with me.  Similarly, I was a huge admirer of Moulin Rouge upon its release simply for its unique take on the movie musical and I rewatched it last year certain that it would land in my Personal Canon, but that didn't come to fruition this time around.  (The less said about Australia the better.)  It's not that Lurhmann suddenly became an incompetent director in my eyes, it's simply that he is a bit of a one trick pony (similar to Quentin Tarantino in that respect).  He does what he does well, but when you already know what you're going to get with him, there aren't as many surprises around the corner.

This isn't to say that is take on The Great Gatsby doesn't provide a solid experience, but the quick cutting, bombastic music, and focus on "love" (all Luhrmann staples) overshadow the other aspects of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work.  And I say that as someone who finds Fitzgerald's so-called masterpiece a fine read, but nowhere near the perfection that others espouse it to be.  [I finished a re-read of the novel mere hours before I went to see the movie.]  To Luhrmann, Gatsby is nothing but a tragic love story between the title character (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his long lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the Midwest gal he's been pining over for the decade since he headed off to war and had to leave her.  Any semblance of Fitzgerald's take on the decline of American morals is brushed aside solely to focus on a love story.  Granted, I will admit that upon reading Gatsby again, I was quite surprised how much the Gatsby/Daisy love story was made a focus in the novel, but Luhrmann trains his camera (and script) right in on it, failing to leave the confines of the lovers' embrace for an exceedingly long time in the film's middle act.

Much like the book, the film is told through the wide eyes of Nick Carraway, played here by Tobey Maguire in the same dorky, oddly reflective way Tobey Maguire plays every single role he's ever undertaken.  No one was more surprised than me to discover that Maguire is a perfect fit for the role.  I realize that may not be a universally accepted opinion -- in fact, I've heard much derision sent Maguire's way -- but having recently read the novel, Maguire totally embodied my vision of Carraway.  That isn't to say that the actor did anything overly ambitious or out of his comfort zone, but Carraway is a part the oftentimes dumbfounded-looking former Spiderman was made to play.

Joel Edgarton and Elizabeth Debicki also aptly personified my visions of, respectively, the womanizing Tom Buchanan and the cynical Jordan Baker.  In her first major film role, I found myself unable to take my eyes off of Ms. Debicki who captivated me despite her character's bitter edge.  Mr. Edgarton continues to be an actor to watch as of late.  I could see how some might find his portrayal of Tom as a bit of a caricature, but he perfectly exemplified the hypocritical arrogance and machismo that comes across in Fitzgerald's work.

If anything, the problem with The Great Gatsby is with Gatsby himself and his paramour Daisy.  DiCaprio plays Gatsby much more fey and weak than I expected.  Yes, I realize once he lays eyes on Daisy, he essentially becomes a child again, but even in moments where he is supposed to exude strength and charisma, I found him a bit empty.  In the novel, Gatsby was a character whom I found passionate about a great many things, but none of this vigor comes to the surface in the film.  There's part of me that wonders if Luhrmann pushed DiCaprio in this direction in order to make the title character more sympathetic and appealing to women -- but that probably just comes off sounding sexist.

Gatsby's counterpart, Daisy, has always been an enigma to me.  She spouts lines that don't make sense to me in the novel and don't make sense to me in the movie either.  I don't understand who this woman is and why Gatsby fell head over heels for her.  Carey Mulligan didn't help my confusion.  Her character's arc is one that doesn't feel fulfilling for me and the film does nothing to change that.

I say all this and I realize the review comes across a bit more bitter than I intended it to be.  For the most part, I enjoyed The Great Gatsby while I was watching it.  However, like Baz Luhrmann's previous films, it hasn't lingered as well in my mind as time passes.  There's something alluring and even invigorating when watching Gatsby (at least in the first and final acts...the less said about the love story-fueled lengthy middle act the better), but when you peel back the visual and aural cacophony, there sometimes isn't enough there.  Then again, there aren't many directors that do visual and aural cacophony with the punch and pizzazz Luhrmann brings to the table.  And for that, The Great Gatsby is worth a view.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Movie Review - Oblivion

Oblivion (2013)
Starring Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, and Melissa Leo
Directed by Joseph Kosinski

I saw Oblivion on a whim on its last day of release in theaters and the only thing I really knew about it was that some article I read said that most audiences would find it too complicated to comprehend -- "You really have to pay attention," it stated.  I'm all for something deep and intricate, but I found myself bracing for something rough.  All I can say is that it'd be a shame if people read the same article as me and shied away from seeing this flick like I almost did because Oblivion is one of the best science fiction films I've seen in a long time.

In 2017, aliens known as the Scavengers destroyed Earth's moon which wreaked havoc on our atmosphere, causing earthquakes, tsunamis, and other weather-related disasters.  Seeing our weakness, the "Scavs" invaded Earth, and while we managed to defeat them it was only via nuclear warfare which left most of our planet inhabitable.  Sixty years have passed and the humans that survived the ordeal now find themselves living on Titan, one of Saturn's moons.  Their new colony is powered by giant energy stations that sit atop Earth's oceans and Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria "Vic" Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) live atop and run station #49, reporting back daily to Sally (Melissa Leo), their mission commander back on Titan.  One day, while Jack is out fixing a drone that protects the power stations from the few remaining Scavs on Earth, five pods fall from the sky containing humans including a woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) whom Jack has been seeing in his dreams -- a woman whose past may hold secrets that could change Jack's future.

Director Joseph Kosinski helmed Tron: Legacy three years ago and while I enjoyed that film, I felt that the action sequences weren't quite up to par, making me wonder if the then-first-time director had what it took to craft a special effects-heavy film.  Oblivion erases any questions in my mind about Kosinski's capabilities as he not only gets solid performances from all his actors and corrects any pacing issues I may have had with his prior work (this film moves along exceedingly well), but also creates a fantastic world here for the characters to inhabit.  Granted, considering that the film takes place only sixty years in the future, it is a little bit difficult to fathom the seemingly amazing advancements this plot believes that we as a civilization would have made (especially considering we would have been making said advancements in the midst of an alien invasion), but once you get past the notion that incredibly complicated hovercrafts and flying metallic autonomous drones are commonplace, Kosinski's Earth is a pretty nifty one.  All of the effects here are top notch and are really seamless -- they deserve to be remembered at year's end.

Tom Cruise has his ups and downs in my opinion, but for every Rock of Ages, there's a an action film like this one and I think this is the genre where he succeeds the most for me.  For a good portion of the film, it's just Cruise onscreen alone and he completely holds our attention.  Granted, the film isn't exactly asking for a lot from the guy, but he does a nice job.  Andrea Riseborough (whom I saw live on stage in a play in New York several years ago) is a presence I'd like to see in movies a bit more often.  This was her first big budget film and despite her character's cold exterior, she lit up the screen for me.  I thought there was something special about her when I saw her onstage and I think that's certainly the case.

The film's one disappointment is Olga Kurylenko whom I didn't love in Quantum of Solace and I wasn't a huge fan of here either.  It's not that Ms. Kurylenko does anything drastically wrong, it's just that I've yet to see her bring any modicum of enthusiasm or spark to her acting.  She's a pretty face, but she might have been better off sticking to her earlier modeling career.

Nevertheless, Oblivion surprised me for sure, providing me with one of the best science fiction moviegoing experiences I've had in a long time.  When this one eventually makes its way to Blu Ray, I highly suggest giving it a go.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review - The Apparition

The Apparition (2012)
Starring Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, and Tom Felton
Directed by Todd Lincoln

Quite simply, one of (if not the) worst film I've seen from 2012, The Apparition is a ghost story that has not a single scare, a single well-acted scene, or a single directorial flourish that proves anyone remotely involved with this piece of crap has any semblance of knowledge about how to make a decent horror movie.  Seriously, there is nothing worth noting here except that Todd Lincoln who wrote and directed this lazy flick shouldn't ever get the opportunity to pen or helm a film again.  However, this film does give hope that just about any screenplay can find someone with a pocketful of money willing to produce a piece of $h*t for a tax write-off.

In order to save valuable internet space, I won't even discuss quite possibly the most wooden performances I've seen in years from Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan.  The Apparition is a film that essentially has only two actors playing off of each other for 75 minutes, so it'd probably behoove the director and producers to find two actors who A) have some sort of chemistry, and B) can elicit any form of emotion at all.  But, nope, that isn't the case here.  Instead, we get horrible actors playing equally horrible characters who run around their now haunted home (which they could easily leave, but don't because that wouldn't fit the story).

Worthless, really.  Just worthless.

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Movie Review - Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks (2012)
Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliot Gould, and Antonio Banderas
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

I wasn't the biggest fan of Little Miss Sunshine and Paul Dano isn't ever a draw for me, so a film by the directors and featuring one of the stars of that former Oscar-nominated flick wasn't ever going to jump out at me as a major draw.  However, I couldn't be more pleased that I gave Ruby Sparks a shot because I found the comedy to be more amusing than I ever could have imagined.  Maybe it was a case of lowered expectations, but that's probably selling the film short because I feel like Ruby Sparks is one of the best films to come out of 2012.

A decade ago, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) wrote a quintessential piece of American literature -- a contemporary Catcher in the Rye if you will.  Since then, he's been able to live very well off the money brought in from his novel, but hasn't been able to follow it up with any work as he's been afraid of living up to the expectations from his modern-day masterpiece.  Much like his professional life, his love life has stalled.  After breaking up with a long-time girlfriend a few years ago, Calvin spends time at home alone with his dog much to the chagrin of his brother Harry (Chris Messina).  One evening, Calvin has a dream about a beautiful girl beckoning him to be with her and Calvin's therapist (Elliot Gould) seizes the moment and tells the author to start writing about her to try and get the creative juices flowing.

Calvin finds himself engrossed in writing for the first time in years, falling in love with his creation of the character of Ruby Sparks -- his ideal woman.  Color Calvin surprised when he wakes up one morning only to find Ruby (Zoe Kazan) actually in his apartment, complete with every mannerism and characteristic he has made up for her.  Whatever Calvin writes seemingly comes alive in Ruby right before his very eyes placing Calvin in an interesting conundrum -- does he write Ruby to be the woman he wants her to be or does he try and let her become her own woman with her own will and ambitions.

While there's certainly enchanting fantastical elements in this wonderful debut screenplay by Zoe Kazan, the film's directors don't dwell on the fact that this couldn't actually happen.  Instead, it's played rather straightforward and thanks to all players in front of and behind the scenes, we in the audience buy into the whole thing instantly.  Comedy is front and center at the initial meetings of Calvin and Ruby, but as the film progresses, we delve a bit more into what "love" should mean and that the "faults" of our partners endear them to us all the more.

Kazan has created a nice starring role for herself that allows her to play both the initial bubbly innocence of the fresh-faced Ruby and then shift into the more independent-minded woman that Ruby becomes.  While I'd apparently seen Kazan in a few films (most notably the western Meek's Cutoff), she isn't someone that had registered with me before.  However, after this, she'll definitely be on my radar and I hope that she takes another stab at writing as her screenplay proved to be quite unique.

Much to my surprise, Paul Dano didn't annoy me in the slightest.  It's not so much that Dano ever even annoys me, it's just that he always seems to fade away into the background of whatever movie he's in, never really standing out whether that be because his role is minor or because he's being overshadowed by a bigger, more imposing presence (see There Will Be Blood).  Here, however, the sheer fact that his character longs to be reclusive and away from spotlight fits Dano to a tee.  I think it may be his best work yet -- or, at the very least, his most enjoyable to watch.

With some very nice supporting turns from Chris Messina (a guy who I admire for taking even the smallest of roles and making them memorable) as Calvin's lewd, but incredibly well-meaning brother, along with Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as Calvin's hippie mother and stepfather, Ruby Sparks proves that romantic comedies don't need to play to the lowest common denominators in terms of either raunchy behavior or bland stereotypes in order to succeed.  How this charming film didn't find more success is beyond me considering that it's the best comedy of 2012.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Friday, May 24, 2013

Movie Review - Lola Versus

Lola Versus (2012)
Starring Greta Gerwig, Joel Kinnaman, Zoe Lister-Jones, Hamish Linklater, Bill Pullman, and Debra Winger
Directed by Daryl Wein

Greta Gerwig is a fairly new face on the movie scene, but there's been a big push lately to have her be labeled the "Indie Girl of the Moment."  Although I haven't seen that many of her films, I do think there's an ease and naturalness to her and she excels at the self-doubting, insecure "brand" of comedy that she's tackled thus far.  She's certainly the best part of Lola Versus which seems like a film tailor-made for her (and maybe it was crafted with her mind), but the movie itself feels a bit stale.

Gerwig is Lola, a 29 year-old doctoral student working on her dissertation in literature while living in New York City with her long-time boyfriend Henry (Hamish Linklater).  When Henry proposes, Lola happily accepts and begins to plan out the wedding.  However, by the time the opening credits roll around, Henry is having cold feet and leaves Lola behind.  Devastated, Lola consoles herself by binge eating rice cakes, moping around her tiny apartment, and hanging out with her best friends Luke and Alice (Joel Kinneman and Zoe Lister-Jones).  Desiring some form of male connection, Lola begins to find herself becoming involved with best bud Luke, but when Henry realizes the error of his ways and tries to woo his ex-fianceé back, Lola finds herself in quite the predicament.

If that whole summary doesn't sound too thrilling, you'd be correct in making that assumption.  Here's this seemingly smart girl who feels that she "needs a man" in order to feel empowered.  Thirty minutes in, you just want the film to fast forward to the inevitable ending where, fueled by this newfound sense of "Girl Power," Lola realizes she doesn't need a man to have a fulfilling life.  Perhaps that last line should have come with some sort of "Spoiler Alert" warning, but the fact of the matter is that this film telegraphs its ending from its very opening moments.

Greta Gerwig certainly tries to bring some life to her character and she truly is the reason the film doesn't feel like a chore to sit through.  Nothing about the way she plays Lola feels "put on" or "fake" -- there's a genuineness that's charming.  But try as she might, Lola is a character we've seen before in many different incarnations.  The same can be said for the best friends played by Joel Kinneman and Zoe Lister-Jones.  Lister-Jones in particular is the stereotypical "sassy girlfriend" and while she's given a much more brash and sarcastic attitude, it just feels like an echo of any number of films that came before it.  And that's unfortunately the way the whole film plays out as its lack of originality proves to be its downfall.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Movie Review - Celeste and Jesse Forever

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2013)
Starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Will McCormack, Rebecca Dayan, Elijah Wood, and Emma Roberts
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

I don't think Rashida Jones will ever become a leading lady movie star, but I've got to say that she's got a fan in me (and it's time to pick up season two of Parks and Recreation from where I left off a long time ago).  There's an easygoing effervescent charm that exudes from her coupled with a edgy sarcastic sassiness that combines into something I find utterly appealing and her starring role in Celeste and Jesse Forever (which she co-wrote) gives her a chance to shine.

Married couple Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) recently separated, but despite this life change, they still remain the best of friends, hanging out with each other whenever they have spare time.  Their friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen) find Celeste and Jesse's situation uncomfortable and odd -- how can they move on with their lives if they never are separate from one another?  To Celeste and Jesse themselves, they're simply the best of friends who have come to realize that they are better friends than lovers, but this revelation doesn't change the fact that they care very much about each other.  When Jesse ends up meeting a former one-night stand (Rebecca Dayan) and re-connecting with her, Celeste is thrown into a tailspin despite the fact that of the duo she was seemingly the one who was more amenable to moving on.

This is Rashida Jones' first crack at screenwriting and she crafts a well-rounded role for herself that fits her like a glove.  Andy Samberg also gives a solid performance that is a bit more subdued than we've come to expect from his Saturday Night Live-Lonely Planet persona and it's pleasant to see this side of him.  Unfortunately, when the film slips away from the titular characters, the script slips a little bit into some tired comedic tropes we've seen before.  We've got the pot smoking best friend (co-writer Will McCormack), the quirky co-worker (Elijah Wood), and even a Lady Gaga-ish pop star (Emma Roberts) -- none of whom add anything to plot and only weigh it down.

But with this debut screenplay giving her a debut starring performance, Rashida Jones is certainly a positive takeaway from this witty film.  Hopefully we'll see more from her in the future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, May 17, 2013

Movie Review - Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012)
Starring Denis Levant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, and Kylie Minogue
Directed by Leos Carax
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

What the f*** did I just watch?

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Alright.  I guess I'll elaborate a little on the profane words above.  Since profanity doesn't usually flow freely on this website, my gut reaction immediately following the movie of those words above must mean that Holy Motors is one odd cinematic journey.  Perhaps if I was French or was well versed in French cinema or was someone who was actually paid to pen film criticism, I'd have thought this was absolutely fantastic.  But seeing as how je ne suis pas français, am not familiar with old-school French cinema, and am not making dough from this website, this film just had me shaking my head most of the time in disbelief that something so surrealistic could be so lauded.  As I sat watching, I clicked over to RottenTomatoes and discovered that 90% of the critics polled rated Holy Motors "fresh."  Quite honestly, that "fresh" rating was just flabbergasting because they only reason to like this film is if you want others to think you're really smart thereby boosting your own ego.  I'm sure there are insanely deep meanings or heartfelt homages in every scene, but this isn't a film that a typical filmgoer can go into and become entranced.

Now, these criticisms aren't to say that Holy Motors isn't well-made.  It's oftentimes very pretty to look at and the production values from the costumes to the make-up to the set designs are top notch.  Even the acting by Denis Levant is fine (getting surprisingly moving towards the film's end)...but the tone is just all around too odd to comprehend what the hell is going on.  Director and screenwriter Leos Carax has created something incomprehensible.  That in and of itself isn't a reason the film doesn't work.  The problem is that the cinematic journey just grows tiresome after a bit as the insanity of the "plot" simply wears down the viewer.

From what I can make out, Holy Motors is about this guy Monsieur Oscar (Denis Levant) who is maybe kinda sorta an actor.  He's picked up one morning at what is presumably his ritzy house and he's chauffeured around in a fancy white limo all day by some older lady named Céline (Edith Scob).  As Céline drives him around Paris, Oscar changes into various costumes, gets out of the limo, and acts out scenes with people.  Except I don't think the people he's "acting" with know he's an actor.  Or maybe they do.  Who the hell knows.  As an example, in one scene, Oscar dons a motion capture suit (you've seen those full-body lycra things with little balls on them so the camera can pick up on an actor's movements) and then proceeds to simulate killing someone with swords followed by simulating having sex with something which later turns out to be some sensual dragon.  Um...yeah...And then we follow that scene with Oscar dressing up like some vagrant who kidnaps Eva Mendes (who is playing some vapid model) and takes her to the sewers below Paris where he strips for her and then lays his head on her crotch and falls asleep.

Seriously...what the hell?

The funny thing is, though, that as I sit here typing this, I'm finding myself thoroughly amused with what I'm remembering.  Don't get me wrong...this was a chore to slog through (in fact, it took me multiple sittings to finish this one), but there is something a little fascinating about the ridiculous nature of the whole affair.  And, at times, Holy Motors is rather moving, particularly in a scene towards the end in which Oscar sees a former colleague named Eva Grace (played by Kylie Minogue) and they reminisce about a former love affair they had together.  Perhaps it's this scene (which had an oddly Umbrellas of Cherbourg tone to it) that is making me think more fondly of the film than I should be at the moment.  But, it also pinpoints the problem with the film that a "normal viewer" like me faces.  I could connect this rather moving scene and its intended homage to another film (or I at least could pretend to connect it to something I had seen before).  All the other scenes which must hold some deeper meaning failed to resonate with me because I couldn't comprehend what they were trying to say.

Maybe if you're a lover of francophile cinema, you'll go gaga over Holy Motors, but I unfortunately was unable to do so.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie Review - Lawless

Lawless (2012)
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, and Guy Pearce
Directed by John Hillcoat

Although based on the true story of the three Bondurant brothers who, in the midst of early 1930s Prohibition, ran a very profitable moonshine business in a small Virginia county, Lawless is one of those films that you watch and simply ponder why it was brought to the big screen.  Why was this tale deemed exciting enough to be told?  And if it was worth retelling, what went wrong in its adaptation to the cinematic form?  Because, unfortunately, not much went right in this bland and boring flick directed by John Hillcoat (who also brought us the lukewarm The Road, a film which in retrospect I feel I overrated back in 2009).

Jack, Forrest, and Howard Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke, respectively) are known throughout Franklin County, Virginia, for creating some of the best moonshine around.  Selling to the local cops, they seemingly have it made until a bigwig Special Agent from Chicago, Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce, overacting to the point of laughable ridiculousness), comes to the county and demands a share of their profits in order to allow them to continue their illegal shenanigans.  Well, the Bondurants don't want anything to do with that and their refusal leads to some violent outbursts from folks on both sides of the law.

When Lawless gets violent, there's actually some life in the story, but whenever there isn't a gun firing or a fist making the most out of hitting someone's face this is one of the most boring films released in 2012.  John Hillcoat is tasked with directing a misguided screenplay by Nick Cave that meanders all over the place.  Neither the director nor the screenwriter are able to reel in the story and give us the necessary dramatic ebb and flow to create a decent film.

Although I think Shia LaBeouf is obnoxious offscreen, I must admit that he's the best part of Lawless by far.  His scenes are the only ones worth watching and the only ones that have any modicum of life breathed into them.  Even the ridiculous romantic subplot he's shouldered with involving his character's fascination with an über-religious young gal (Mia Wasikowska) is better than it deserves to be because of his presence.  Unfortunately, when the film isn't in LaBeouf's hands, yawns are induced. Tom Hardy follows up his Dark Knight Rises mumblings with an even more incoherent performance here.  Seriously, open up your frickin' mouth when you talk, dude!  I liked you in Warrior and Bronson, but this marble-mouthed inarticulation is getting old.  And poor Jessica Chastain is just wasted here with nary a single character trait or meaningful plot point applied to her role as a former stripper with a heart of gold.

Even her unnecessary nudity couldn't save this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, May 06, 2013

Movie Review - Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os) (2012)
Starring Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, and Corinne Masiero
Directed by Jacques Audiard

I was expecting the two hour length of French drama Rust and Bone to be dreadful, but right off the bat, I'll state that the film moves along at a nice clip considering this is a small, intimate relationship story between two people whose chance meeting one night at a club links them together after a tragic moment strikes one of them.  While I was engaged in the film, I must admit there's something missing here -- the film strikes me as wanting to be deep and meaningful, but it failed on that front.  While Rust and Bone presents a good story, its pieces don't quite come together in the end in order to create a cohesive and emotionally riveting tale.

As I began to describe above, Rust and Bone tells the tale of Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stéphanie (Marion Cotiallard) -- two people who meet by chance at a popular French dance club where Ali works as a bouncer.  When Stéphanie is punched in the nose during a fight, Ali agrees to take her home where he discovers that she's living with a significant other which he finds a bit odd considering that she was alone at the club seemingly looking for some form of hook-up.  While he may have entered her apartment with romantic intentions, Ali leaves and doesn't really plan on ever hearing from Stéphanie again.

A few months later, Stéphanie is involved in a horrible accident at a local marine park (reminiscent of Sea World) where she works as a killer whale trainer.  After waking up from a coma after the incident, Stéphanie heartbreakingly discovers that both her legs have been amputated below the knees.  Homebound and feeling destitute, she calls up Ali on a whim and he agrees to come and see her.  A friendship is formed almost immediately and the relationship between the two of them grows into something quite surprising for both parties.

The story is fine here and the time spent focused on Stéphanie and her recovery from her accident are actually quite touching and very well acted by Marion Cotillard.  However, ultimately, the film doesn't quite click because the arcs of the characters of Stéphanie and Ali don't quite mesh together.  Stéphanie's character grows in an obvious way (and I mean that not in a negative manner) as she learns to cope with her new way of living.  Ali's character, though, is an enigma to me.  At the beginning of the film he's a down on his luck guy who moves to his sister's home with his young son (Armand Verdure).  He's rough around the edges and hasn't spent much time with his kid, so he's learning the ropes as he goes.  Without any money, he takes jobs in security positions -- bouncer, nighttime guard -- until a friend convinces him to start fighting in a "fight club"-type street tournament.  This character background is all well and good, but it doesn't take the character of Ali anywhere worth going.  Yes, we find out he has a heart at the end when tragedy strikes him as well, but I feel like the writers simply didn't know what to do with his character and it blatantly shows onscreen.  The unfortunate thing is that Ali is actually the main character here -- the film starts and ends with his story -- whereas we in the audience are much more invested in Stéphanie and her struggles.

Rust and Bone is not a bad film, but the potential for more was evident and not realized.  The performances all around are quite good (with Marion Cotillard giving the best performance I've seen from her...but I should say that I haven't really been a fan before this).  If it shows up streaming on Netflix, I'd say it's worth a watch, but I wouldn't exactly be going out of my way to see this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

REP 2012-13 Season Round-Up

Once again, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players only gave us five productions this year...that 2010-11 season that brought us ten shows seems so long ago and I long for a return to a double digit season!  I will say -- and this almost feels sacrilege considering how much I truly enjoy what's going on at the Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts -- this season didn't bowl me over and, in fact, proved to be a bit disappointing when looking back on it.  While it's great to see the same actors take on different roles, I long for the return of the students in the Professional Theater Training Program and, unfortunately, it seems they foolishly won't be returning next year either.  The troupe does need a little bit of new blood injected into it in order to shake things up a little bit.  [This season's addition of Erin Partin in several plays was a welcome new face.]

I was pleased that this year we got to see two modern plays bookending the season -- Fever and The Weir (although the latter is steeped in ghost stories of the past) -- which is something this troupe hasn't always done and I hope to see more of in the future.  Both plays had the similarity of taking place in bars, but only one was truly successful, while the other has faded considerably in stature in the short time since I've seen it.  [While I fully appreciate the "coup" that is having a Broadway-produced playwright compose a work specifically for your repertory theater, I think two plays by Theresa Rebeck is enough for quite a while.]

We got another Shakespearean production in Hamlet and although it didn't quite create the mesmerizingly joyful experience of 2010's Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet's a different beast and expecting wide-eyed wonderment from such a heavy piece is asking for something even the REP can't magically conjure up.  The idea of a Shakespeare piece every other season sounds like a winner to me as I truly appreciate seeing the Bard's words spring to life.

Although I wasn't a fan of the comedic Anything to Declare (I think there's a reason it's not a well-known farce) or the musical The Threepenny Opera, I know some that thoroughly enjoyed them.  [I know for a fact that my sentiments on Anything to Declare are not shared by many.]  But even this year's "lesser" shows (in my opinion, obviously) further prove why I enjoy the REP so much in that it opens up my eyes to playwrights that I might never have shelled out the big bucks for to see on Broadway, but now I might (this season's Conor McPherson [The Weir] as an example).  Then again, when you have the production quality that the REP embodies in podunk Delaware, there's really no need to spend the exorbitant amounts New York City requires to see a show.

In my reviews, I try to only focus on the positives of the wonderful REP (as we're pleaded to do by the REP's artistic director Sanford Robbins prior to ever show) even if there are faults, and I recognize the significance of the varied types of works the troupe presented to us this season.  However, here's hoping next season is a return to the tip-top form they've proven they're capable of in seasons past.

For the third year in a row, what follows is a list of the stellar aspects from the REP's 2012-13 season.

Total Number of Nominations
(# of nominations includes Honorable Mentions)
(Click on titles for link to original review)

Best Costume Design
Winner -- Fabio Toblini - Hamlet
Honorable Mention -- Mathew LeFebvre - The Threepenny Opera
Photos by Paul Cerro/REP

Best Scenic Design
Winner -- Mathew LeFebvre - The Threepenny Opera
Honorable Mention -- Alexander Dodge - Hamlet

One can always rely on the REP to place production design at the forefront and this season's Hamlet and The Threepenny Opera were the two plays that exemplified this philosophy the best.  Mathew LeFebvre tackled both the costumes and scenic design for Threepenny, winning my award for his stark sets which were stunningly beautiful in their simplicity.  That snapshot of Threepenny above started the play out on an incredibly high note.

Fabio Toblini's costumes for Hamlet were fantastic.  I noted in my review that there was an audible gasp from the audience when Elizabeth Heflin first appeared onstage as Gertrude in her sumptuous blood red gown that apparently took 200 man hours to create.  Even the simplicity of a tattered white gown worn by Ophelia as she begins her maddening downward spiral was gorgeous.

Best Performances
8. Kathleen Pirkl Tague - Fever
7. Elizabeth Heflin - The Threepenny Opera
6. Michael Gotch - Hamlet
5. Michael Gotch - Fever
4. Stephen Pelinski - The Weir
3. Erin Partin - Hamlet
2. Kathleen Pirkl Tague - The Weir
1. Mic Matarrese - Anything to Declare?

Best Overall Body of Work
Winner -- Mic Matarrese

Anything to Declare was my least favorite production of the season, but seeing Mic Matarrese play the comedic lead (which seems like it doesn't happen often) was one of the play's bright spots.  He takes his character's ridiculous predicament and imbues a nervous tension that makes the whole thing seem believable.  It may seem odd that I place Matarrese as having the best overall body of work considering that he's only in my Best Performances list once, but I felt like this was the year the REP really gave him an opportunity to shine in a wide variety of ways.  From the simple role of a bartender in The Weir to the slightly more complex role as a bar patron in Fever (roles which bookended the season), Matarrese was a pleasure to watch in every role he embodied this year.  [He was in the forefront of The Threepenny Opera and while he did a nice job, I will admit that something about his character in the play's final moments turned me off completely...but that's more of a problem with the deus ex machina at the end of the play more than anything else.]

The duo at the center of The Weir -- Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Stephen Pelinski -- were fantastic.  Ms. Tague excels at comedy (see her #8 placement for Fever), but she can nail a dramatic role and she did so in The Weir.  And in the same play, Mr. Pelinski gave us what I think is his best performance yet with his character's unexpected and heartstring-tugging arc as the play progressed.

Kudos also to guest artist Erin Partin who I thought was fantastic as Ophelia in Hamlet, outshining even the title character, who was also nicely portrayed by REP member Michael Gotch.  That said, I think in a ranking that would surprise anyone who saw all the REP's plays this season, I actually rank Gotch's smaller role in Fever higher than what some might call his tour de force performance in Hamlet.  Mr. Gotch oftentimes is given comedic roles that require nervous tension and squirminess to be in the forefront, but in Fever, he wasn't forced to utilize those characteristics and gave us something quite different and much more confident character-wise than what we're used to seeing and it was quite refreshing.

Best Direction
Winner -- Mark Lamos - Hamlet
Honorable Mentions:
Leslie Reidel - The Weir
Matthew Earnest - The Threepenny Opera
(Yes, despite my dislike for Threepenny, I loved the staging that Earnest brought to the stage, matching his fantastic work on the REP's Way to Heaven a few years ago...I almost named him the winner here.)

Best Overall Production
Winner -- The Weir
Honorable Mention -- Hamlet

A split vote here for the two "big awards."  Although I didn't necessarily agree with everything Mark Lamos brought to Hamlet (I longed for a bit of ambiguity as to whether Hamlet truly was going mad and I never got that in the rather steadfast and strong performance of the title character), there's no denying that Lamos quickened the pace of Shakespeare's beloved masterpiece and still kept all the necessary gravitas intact.  With a stunning set and costumes that permitted Lamos to have more than a few moments of visual beauty onstage, this was a production that was well worth the price of admission.

However, the best production of the season belongs to the understated, yet moving, The Weir written by Conor McPherson and directed by Leslie Reidel.  With fantastic leading performances by Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Stephen Pelinski, the REP's production of The Weir was a perfect fit for the group -- a show that had bits of humor (at which the troupe excels) peppered amidst a dramatic show (at which the troupe also excels) thus allowing us to see the best of both worlds from the cast.  Couple that with the fact that this is a play set in modern times (a refreshing change of pace from what we typically get from the REP which, perhaps rightfully so, focuses more on "classics" than contemporary pieces...although that is changing a little bit it seems), it started off the season with a bang.