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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, August 31, 2013

Movie Review - A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
Starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden
Directed by Elia Kazan

"I don't tell the truth.  I tell what ought to be true."

Those are lines uttered by Blanche Dubois in Elia Kazan's telling of Tennessee Williams' "classic" A Streetcar Named Desire.  Personally, I think critics have been following Blanche's dictum for decades telling you that this film and the play from which it is derived are American hallmarks of drama.  We're supposed to believe that because of the pedigree of the director, screenwriter, and actors that come along with this presentation.  Well, let me be the one to counter this belief by saying that A Streetcar Named Desire is an overly melodramatic and overacted disappointment furthering this critic's notion that Tennessee Williams is one of the most overrated playwrights of the twentieth century.

The film stars Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois who visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) and brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando) in New Orleans after she loses everything.  As the trio talk, bicker, and flat-out fight, Stella and Stanley begin to realize that Blanche may not be all right in the head and that everything she says to them may be some figment of her imagination.

First, I'm not sold on this being a fantastic piece of writing from Tennessee Williams.  To me, Williams is the melodramatic master of American theater.  Sure, many say his stuff is full of depth and deep meaning, but I always feel like I'm just watching overly exasperated people throw their hands about and raise their voices without ever speaking in a believable manner.  Sometimes these elevated emotional machinations work (here and here) and sometimes they don't (here).  To me, this filmed version falls into the latter category.

A huge reason for my disappointment stems from the performance of Vivien Leigh as Blanche.  Director Elia Kazan (who also directed the original Broadway incarnation of this work) fails to have Leigh tone anything down for the screen.  Everything -- from her line readings to her facial expressions to her body movements -- feels as if she's ACTING to the nth degree for the very last row of the balcony in a theater.  There's no ebb and flow to her character...no soft and loud...everything is simply blasted to the limit.  It certainly doesn't help that I simply don't get the character of Blanche.  I'm unsure if it's Leigh's portrayal that's throwing me off or the role itself, but I never felt the character had her past depicted well enough to explain why she was the way she was in the present.  And let's not even get started on how in the heck a well-rounded guy like Karl Malden's Mitch ever fell in love with the crazy Blanche.

Brando's solid for sure, but I just don't get this one at all.  Maybe I'd better understand it in a good theatrical production...or maybe it just needs a modern retelling minus the melodramatic moments.  Fortunately, as my loyal readers will soon discover, Woody Allen must've heard my plea.  Check back tomorrow for a review of a much better film with essentially the same premise.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ramblings on House of Cards

I don't usually discuss television at all on this blog, but I just wanted to throw a few thoughts out there about Netflix's House of Cards.  Anchored by a fantastic performance by Kevin Spacey, much has already been said about this being Netflix's first foray into series television and if this is the type of show the company bankrolls, I'll have to check out everything they bring to the table (except Arrested Development -- I tried...I just don't get it).

Spacey is Francis Underwood, a Democratic senator from the South who despite being promised a big position within the new presidential administration finds himself passed over for the job.  This doesn't sit too well with Underwood who sets out to do all that he can to enact revenge and better his position in the process.

What I truly enjoy about House of Cards is that it doesn't ever stoop to the lowest common denominator in any area.  Foul language is used when necessary, but not overly so.  Violence is depicted, but not in any graphic manner.  Sex and nudity sometimes make an appearance, but not to any exploitative degree.  Instead, the producers allow the story to naturally unfold rather than hit us over the head with "THIS IS NOT NETWORK TV!!!" like pay cable stations HBO or Showtime (or even fX) seem wont to do.  We're still being treated to a drama aimed squarely at thinking adults, but it's not risqué just because it "can be."

There are great performances across the board.  Spacey is fantastic.  I loved how they decided to have him speak directly to the camera at times allowing the audience to see the character's true personality amidst the façade he's putting on for those around him.  Robin Wright is also very good as Underwood's wife and I must say that I was truly shocked that her character Claire is given the weight and importance that this series grants her.  As the head of an environmental group, Claire isn't just a trophy wife and the tricky relationship that she shares with her husband is one of the reasons this show proves to be unique.

We're also given some great turns from Michael Kelly as Underwood's right-hand man, Kate Mara as an intrepid reporter, Corey Stall as a senator from Pennsylvania who is being manipulated unbeknown to him by Underwood, and Kristen Connolly as the PA senator's girlfriend/chief of staff.  Quite honestly, there wasn't a bad actor cast here from the top to the bottom.

I worry a little bit that this show will be able to sustain itself as I wonder just how many manipulative moves a character like Underwood can make without subjecting himself to the wrath of his fellow politicians.  I also question whether a surprising turn of events in episode ten was a too-much-too-soon moment for Underwood.  What he does isn't necessarily surprising given what we'd come to know about him, but it does seem like it may have come a tad early in the series.

Still, House of Cards has me rooting for the "bad" guy and the complex life he leads.  Part of me wishes the thirteen episode first season would've ended on a bit more of a cliffhanger note, but I'll still be pulled back in for season two which I'll likely binge watch over the course of three days much like I watched season one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Movie Review - Identity Thief

Identity Thief (2013)
Starring Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, Tip "T.I." Arris, Genesis Rodriguez, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick, and Eric Stonestreet
Directed by Seth Gordon

Maybe it's because I was bracing myself for something horrid based off reviews, but Identity Thief isn't half bad.  I laughed a few times (not nearly enough, however), but this one seemed to have much vitriol headed its way.  Admittedly, I had grown tired of Melissa McCarthy's supposed shtick -- I loved her in Bridesmaids, but thought she was phoning it in for her bit role in This Is 40 -- and the previews for Identity Thief depicted her as being much of the same old-same old.  However, her role as Diana, a Florida gal who steals peoples' identities, actually was a bit more well-rounded than I expected, stepping beyond the brashness we've come to expect from her movie characters.

Don't mistake this praise for something fantastic, though.  Identity Thief is a comedy with not enough laughs and a subplot that's simply horrid involving two sets of criminals chasing after Diana for payback for wrongdoings she's enacted upon them.  If the film was smart, it would have had the nerve to simply make itself focus on Diana and Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), the schmuck whom Diana took advantage of by stealing nearly everything he had.  When Sandy is faced with losing his job because of Diana's dirty thievery, he leaves Colorado to track her down in Florida and force her to return to Colorado to tell his boss that he isn't involved in the crimes she's committed.  (He's told by police that they essentially can't do anything which conveniently allows for this set-up to happen.)  On their cross country trek, they bond and become emotionally attached all the while avoiding the bad guys who are trying to hunt down Diana.

I'm sure many critics lambasted the mushiness of the film's final act, but I must admit that I found it welcoming and that it shed a decent light on Ms. McCarthy.  There are moments here that prove she's more than just a raucous buffoon and that she may have more to offer the movie industry than what she's given us prior.  Of course, I say this and can't help but think that The Heat is simply a return to what we've seen from her before...but maybe like Identity Thief the trailers were a poor indication of what was to come.

Jason Bateman is fine here and perfectly watchable, and I really do wish the film had the courage to have simply made this a movie about two people and their interactions with one another.  The extraneous plots of both a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and a two criminals sold faulty credit cards (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) were horribly underwritten and seemingly shoe-horned into things without any rhyme or reason.  Less is more in comedy and, as I always say, we can thank Judd Apatow  (who I don't think was involved in this at all) for the modern notion that comedies must be as lengthy as possible to have "substance."  Still, while I'm well aware lowered expectations helped this one, Identity Thief wasn't nearly as bad as other critics would have you think.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Disney Discussion - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Over the course of a year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie #1 of the Disney Discussion
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Featuring the voice talents of Adriana Caselotti, Lucille LaVerne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, and Moroni Olsen
Directed by David Hand (supervising director)

Summary (in 150 words or less):
The vain Queen wishes to be the fairest in the land, but one day her Magic Mirror tells her that her stepdaughter, Snow White, is the most beautiful.  Angered, the Queen orders Snow White to be killed, but the Hunter that she orders to murder the young girl allows her to escape.  Snow White meets up with some little people and befriends them.  Once the Queen discovers Snow White is still alive, she disguises herself as an old hag and sets out to kill her.

Let the Discussion Begin...

First, let's mention the mere fact that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first of its kind.  True, Walt Disney had made a name for himself with Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts, but Snow White was an out-of-the-box milestone when it had its world premiere on December 21, 1937.  A full length animated feature, Snow White briefly held the record of the highest grossing sound film of all time upon its release and, to this day, adjusted for inflation, it's one of the top ten grossing movies of all time.

The American Film Institute ranked Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the best animated film of all time and while I certainly recognize it for its cinematic achievements, it's not an honor I would bestow on it.  Still, Snow White is entirely successful, holding up extremely well over seventy-five years after its release.  Additionally, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was ranked #49 on the AFI's Top 100 Films of All Time list in 1998 and then rose 15 spots to #34 in the revised 2007 edition.

The film was nominated for Best Musical Score at the 10th Academy Awards.  The Academy did bestow the film with an Honorary Academy Award stating "[Snow White] is a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field."  The honorary award consisted of one regular-sized Oscar statuette and seven miniature ones.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was selected in 1989 to be preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)

Walt Disney knew that although his creation of Mickey Mouse was perfectly pleasant, when stacked up against the likes of Goofy and Pluto, audiences found him a bit dull.  The same can be said of the characters of Snow White and the Prince.  The prince, in particularly, is one-note, bland, and the worst animated character in the film.  Fortunately for us, he only pays a visit during the film's opening and closing moments.  Snow White fares a bit better -- I'd never call her boring -- but Walt knew that he needed something extra to pull the audience in.

Even in a still photo, the Prince makes me yawn.

And that's where the Seven Dwarfs come in.  Each with their own distinct personality, the dwarfs provide the comic relief for the audience while never feeling superfluous or unnecessary.  The animators and screenwriters seamlessly weave in the little guys' comedic bits with heavier, more story-centric aspects of the plot.

When I watched the film in 2010 (as part of the first incarnation of this series), I had a soft spot for Dopey who seemed like Walt's homage to the silent movie stars of yore like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  Dopey doesn't say a word, but is able to convey more than enough through his body language.  

Voiced by Pinto Colvig -- the original voice of Goofy -- Grumpy managed to take the top spot for favorite character upon my re-watch in 2013 thanks to his fortunate scripting of clever one-liners and constant curmudgeonliness.  

And then we get Disney's first attempt at creating a villain in the Evil Queen...and she's a doozy.  Although not greatly developed beyond her vanity, her obsession with beauty is surprisingly effective in its nastiness.  Her change into the old hag in order to kill Snow White is kind of ironic in a way -- in order to become the fairest one of all, she must become the ugliest character in the film.  Her scenes in the movie are truly the most effective, exuding a definite horror vibe (somewhat reminiscent of old Dracula flicks in its gothicness) with tension levels ratcheted up whenever she's on screen plotting Snow White's demise.  And let's be blunt here -- this woman wants to cut out some girl's heart just so she can be deemed the prettiest in the land.  That's devilishly frightening and a plotline that likely wouldn't even be touched in an animated film today.

But a bloody heart will just ruin that pretty box...

The Music

As will be the case in many Disney animated films (especially in the first two-thirds of movies we'll be delving into), the music plays a pivotal role in the overall plot.  Composed by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, the film's eight songs seem completely appropriate for the time period of the film's release.  While some may seem dated today, many of them are still successful in what they attempt to convey.  I'm sure many hold a soft spot for "Someday My Prince Will Come," but the most enjoyable number to me is "Whistle While You Work."  Granted, the song doesn't exactly advance the plot, but it's part of an incredibly clever scene as Snow White gathers her forest friends to help her clean the Dwarfs' dirty cottage.

Least successful is another song sung by Snow White -- "With a Smile and a Song."  After frantically running through the forest escaping the Huntsman sent by the Evil Queen to kill her, Snow White sits on the ground and sings to the forest animals that gather around her.  The song is much too sweet and gentle to fit naturally into the plot after such a horrific moment for her.  

My Favorite Scene

The most effective scene in the film occurs with Snow White running through the woods after being told by the Huntsman that she should flee or else the Evil Queen will kill her.  Tree branches become ominous clawed hands attempting to snatch her, the eyes of animals appear evil, logs take on the shape of crocodiles, and the musical score increases the panicked feeling.  A very close second is the transformation scene in which the Queen turns herself into a hag.  Complete with quick cuts and psychedelic colors, it's a visual treat for the eyes (and even more impressive considering it was crafted so long ago.

Random Thoughts
  • The animation really is top notch.  With the exception of the hand-drawn nature of Snow White and the Prince (which even Disney himself admitted was a bit of a disappointment), the animators paid such close attention to detail, it's astounding.  At the beginning of the film, when Snow White pulls a bucket from the well and water droplets fall off the rope, I was actually somewhat agog.  Considering the fact that this was the first of its kind, this type of meticulousness impresses.
  • I had no memories whatsoever of the song "Bluddle Uddle Um Dum (The Dwarfs' Washing Song)" and it's surprisingly enjoyable and funny.  Why does no one remember this song?
  • Dopey isn't 100% silent as I had thought.  He lets out a yelp when he first sees Snow White in his bed.
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)

Undoubtedly, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs deserves its "classic" status and a place in the Disney Pantheon.  The animation is spectacular particularly considering that it's all 100% painstakingly hand-drawn.  

It's not a perfect film.  As I mentioned, the Prince and Snow White herself are a bit bland and the second act in which Snow White meets the Dwarfs is awfully cute, but overstays its welcome just a tiny bit.  Despite this, credit must be given to Walt Disney and his team because despite a likable, though slightly boring main character and some extraneous subplots involving little men, we still get a great film when all is said and done.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs holds up incredibly well in all aspects -- animation, character development, music.  If you haven't seen this one in a while, you owe it to yourself to give it another look.  I doubt you'll be disappointed.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Join us next Wednesday for Pinocchio, the second film in the Disney Discussion

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Disney Discussion...Take Three...

So, recently, I started back up my series on Disney's animated movies and I'm enjoying it immensely.  However, the random nature of the discussion -- choosing something old like Snow White followed by something new like Atlantis -- is proving to be a little disappointing to me.  I'd like to instead venture into this discussion in chronological order.  This will also allow you, my loyal readers, to more easily follow along with me in the discussion and it also will allow me to compare and contrast Disney's films in a more intriguing manner.

I'd still very much like to continue posting a Disney Discussion every Wednesday, however, chronological order may make things a tad more difficult (as Netflix rentals will certainly be needed) and, ideally, I'd still like to watch the films in their highest quality available to me (meaning Blu-Ray whenever possible).

This change of plans certainly isn't a cop out, but I think this is absolutely the way to go.  I may be making a change or two to the make-up of the discussion, but it will still remain that these won't be "reviews," per se.

For the nine movies previously listed in the discussion, I won't be rewatching them, but I'll be reposting when their chronological order comes up.  If I'm ambitious, when they come up, I may be posting two on those particular days, but we shall see.

So, join in on the fun.  Snow White will be getting re-posted tomorrow and Pinocchio will be coming up next week.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie Review - To the Wonder

To the Wonder (2013)
Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem
Directed by Terrence Malick, 

I don't think anyone could say that To the Wonder doeen't look fantastic.  Granted, it doesn't quite have the cinematic beauty of Terrence Malick's last film The Tree of Life, but my only two experiences with the director prove that he does have an eye for creating visual eye candy where even the most mundane and everyday images (like a Sonic drive-in restaurant) take on an appealing look.  However, images are only one aspect of a film...story is another and, in my eyes, it's a fairly important one.  To the Wonder is essentially all told via voiceover dialog.  We see images that are pieced together to tell a story, but hardly anyone speaks.  It's an interesting method, but one I was never sold on as I felt like it gave too much credence to the visuals as opposed to the narrative.  After about thirty minutes this thing feels like a really expensive make-up commercial starring a famous celebrity.  [You know, those weird ones where someone like Charlize Theron says "J'adore" a bunch of times.]

At its core, To the Wonder is about finding love whether that be in a more sexual context with a lover or a spiritual one with God.  The film looks at four individuals and their intertwining paths to aforementioned emotion which we all long to covet.  Neil (Ben Affleck) has fallen for Marina (Olga Kurylenko) while in Paris and the two decide to bring themselves and Marina's daughter Tatiana back to Neil's native Oklahoma.  As they spend time together, their romantic life begins to unravel and Marina ends up taking herself and Tatiana back to Paris.  Neil reconnects with a former love Jane (Rachel McAdams) only to have Marina want to come back to the US to try and work things out with him.  Meanwhile, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is finding himself in a crisis of faith, unable to find solace in his work.

For all four of our characters -- who actually remain nameless throughout the film (names are mentioned only in the credits) -- love isn't easy or pleasant.  It's a bitch, actually.  What starts with twirling around the landscape with long flowing clothing (which is all that Olga Kurylenko's Marina does in nearly the entirety of the film) turns into solemn looks and throwing things around in anger (which is all that Olga Kurylenko's Marina does when she's not twirling around in her long flowing clothing).  For a film with next to no dialog, even the visual representation of the story gets incredibly repetitive.

To the Wonder is one of those films that exudes pretentiousness.  While The Tree of Life emitted the same affected and artsy aire, it at least had a bit more of a story to go along with it (along with better cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki who also contributes here).  Filmophiles fall head over heels for Malick, but so far this director hasn't become "must see" for me in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Movie Review - Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad (2013)
Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Mirielle Enos, and Sean Penn
Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Los Angeles.  1949.  Gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his goons have taken control of everything and everyone.  The cops.  The politicians.  The drug dealers.  Even a good cop like Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is being told by his superiors to let Mickey be.  However, police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) hasn't been bought by the mob and he commissions O'Mara to form a gangster squad of cops under the table to infiltrate all aspects of Cohen's shady dealings.

I must say that two-thirds of the way through the "based on a true story" Gangster Squad, I was digging the slight buddy comedy-retro action vibe that was going on amidst O'Mara and his cronies played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, and Michael Peña.  There were enough hints of humor, drama, and action that it made each scene leading up to the final act interesting enough to not feel so derivative of movies past.  However, when the final act kicks in and the Gangster Squad actually comes face to face with Cohen, the film falls apart for me.  The action scenes prove to be bland and the big showdown with Cohen himself is a bit of a letdown.  No one was ever going to say Gangster Squad was fantastic, but it had potential that it somewhat squanders in the end.

However, the film has a real solid cast going for it.  I wanted to dislike Sean Penn immensely because I can't really stand the pretentious guy in real life, but he makes a decent bad guy here, and Mirielle Enos brings just enough of a stock character to life in her role as O'Mara's wife, helping to humanize and give a more well-rounded portrayal of her husband.

The stars, really, are Josh Brolin and his gang.  Brolin's actually the lead here (despite the fact that I thought this was going to be Ryan Gosling's show all the way) and he steps up to the plate in a role that, in a better written film, may have had potential to be something really special.  Still, as it stands now, he's completely compelling and makes his quiet scenes with Enos have just as much meaning as the ones with his cop buddies.  And it's in those scenes with his cronies that the film really springs to life.  Brolin, Gosling, Ribisi, Patrick, Mackie, and Peña really make each other better and play off each other quite well.

Like I said, though, the film flounders in the final act.  Perhaps it's because the film's end was reshot after 2012's horrible Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting and the whole thing just didn't come together, or perhaps the screenwriter just didn't have a solid way to conclude the flick.  While the first two-thirds certainly aren't perfect (a love story between Gosling and Emma Stone should've really been left on the editing room floor), Gangster Squad is a fun ride for about seventy minutes and a bit of a letdown in its final thirty.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Movie Review - The Fox and the Hound 2

The Fox and the Hound 2 (2006)
Featuring the voice talents of Reba McEntire, Patrick Swayze, Jeff Foxworthy, Vicki Lawrence, Jonah Bobo, and Harrison Fahn
Directed by Jim Kammerud
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I don't know whether I'll subject myself to every direct-to-video Disney sequel, but I figured I'd give at least one a shot and, considering my surprise liking of The Fox and the Hound in the ongoing Disney Discussion, The Fox and the Hound 2 seemed like a appropriate start.  Shockingly, the film wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be -- although I must admit that my expectations were in the gutter.

The Fox and the Hound 2 really isn't a sequel at all; it's more a "midquel" supposedly taking place in the timeline of the original Fox and the Hound when fox Tod and hound dog Copper were best buds in their youth.  When the county fair arrives to their town, Tod and Copper take a look and discover the Singing Strays, a quartet of singing dogs with whom Copper instantly takes a liking.  The Strays are led by Cash (voiced by Patrick Swayze) who's hitting a bit of a rough patch with his lead singing partner and on again-off again girlfriend Dixie (Reba McEntire).  When Dixie quits the group, Cash decides to give Copper a shot which doesn't sit well with Tod who feels like he's losing his best bud.  Trauma!

There's a reason a film like this isn't released into theaters and that's because of the ridiculousness of a plot I've outlined above.  However, despite the flimsiness of the plot, the film (which clocks in at just 69 minutes with credits) moves along at a perfect pace and doesn't overstay its welcome.  The animation is actually fairly solid (although certain computer animated background pieces don't quite mesh 100% with the traditional animation) and the voice acting is certainly well done.  Obviously, with Reba McEntire voicing a character and country canine crooners front and center, there are certainly going to be songs involved and while they're all fine, there aren't any stand-outs.

Still, while this certainly isn't a fantastic piece, what struck me as I was watching this was that the success of The Fox and the Hound and its midquel stems from the pure innocence of the characters of Tod and Copper.  Despite being voiced by different actors here, there's something utterly charming about these two figures that draws in an audience and makes you almost smile whenever they're onscreen.  That's something that's tough to come by and it's reason enough to at least watch the original (and, if you're a Disney "fanatic" like me, its sequel).

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie Review - Broken City

Broken City (2013)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey Wright, and Kyle Chandler  
Directed by Allen Hughes

Broken City is one of those films that makes you ponder how in the world the producers snagged such big names to attach themselves to it.  It's not that it's mind-numbingly bad (although it certainly isn't any good), but it's so utterly generic that it becomes painful to sit through.  There's a corrupt [Republican] New York mayor up for reelection (Russell Crowe), his possibly philandering wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the good cop who's forced into doing bad things (Mark Wahlberg), the police chief who may not be running things by the book (Jeffrey Wright), and the upstart [Democratic] opponent who wants nothing more than to bring down his competition (Barry Pepper).  We've seen all these characters' stories before scripted, acted, and directed better, so without Broken City doing a thing to differentiate itself from its predecessors, there's little to recommend about it.

And with that, I'm pretty much done with this one.  However, I will add that as I was watching this, I came to the realization that Catherine Zeta-Jones probably should retire from acting.  I'm not sure she was ever all that good, but her Academy Award win at least gave her some respect from the public and from this blogger.  Perhaps that respect was ill-informed, however, as with last year's Rock of Ages (which garnered her a Worst Performance of the Year award) and this year's Broken City (and even Side Effects, a film that I truly liked, but found her performance lacking), she's more than proven that it may be time to snuggle up with her Oscar, spend some time with Michael Douglas, and bid the acting world adieu.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Review - Stoker

Stoker (2013)
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Phyllis Somerville, Jacki Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney
Directed by Chan-wook Park

I've only seen two Chan-wook Park films -- Thirst and now Stoker (I've heard great things about Oldboy so I probably should check that out) -- but I feel like I understand the director's quirky tendencies when it comes to choosing stories to lense, peppering his films with oddly uncomfortable moments.  Then again, two films does not a director make, but the similar aesthetic is certainly intriguing.  That isn't to say that Stoker doesn't feel "weird for weird's sake" at times because in the film's first half, I was certainly getting a bit antsy wondering if this was simply a director taking an unusual screenplay (by Prison Break's Wentworth Miller) and failing to inject anything other than a unique stylization behind it.  However, once some of the screenplay's secrets are revealed, the story kicks into high gear and doesn't take a whole lot of breaths, providing an unusual homage to Hitchcockian films of the past.

Owing a significant debt of gratitude to Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, Stoker begins with the death of 18 year-old India Stoker's father from a terrible car accident.  At the wake at the family home, India (Mia Wasikowska) is greeted by her father's brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) and Uncle Charlie and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) hit it off almost instantly.  Uncle Charlie had traveled the world for close to two decades and neither India nor Evelyn had ever met him, but Evelyn is pleased to have a man around the house.  Soon, however, people start disappearing and India begins to wonder if the charming Uncle Charlie is to blame.  While Evelyn slowly becomes enraptured by Charlie's good look, India also starts to fall under his spell despite her better judgment.

The cast overall is solid although Mia Wasikowska continues to amaze in that her blandness has won her leading roles.  Granted, she's proven herself (see this as validation) and in this role her nonchalance and lack of emotion are warranted, but I am shocked she's a top choice amongst directors.  The rest of cast excel, including Jacki Weaver, Phyllis Somerville, and Dermot Mulroney who make the most out of small roles.  Matthew Goode in particular is fantastic.  Able to convey both an alluring suaveness and frightening slyness, it's as if Goode was picked right up out of a Hitchcock film -- it's a near perfect union of character and actor.  (And although I've failed to discuss Ms. Kidman, she also shines here.)

Much like Thirst, Stoker revels in the sexual tension it creates, at times reaching levels of true uncomfortableness in the audience.  It isn't that the film contains nudity or graphic sex scenes, but there's a sense of unease that's created that has the audience oddly repelled and intrigued at the same time.  Although India is certainly more "adult" than her young eighteen years would suggest, her infatuation with her uncle (and his reciprocation of that) is disconcerting.  But that's part of the game of Stoker and it's why the film works.  Hitchcock wasn't afraid of making his audiences squirm a bit and director Park (in this is first English language film) isn't either.  Park obviously is paying homage to that great director (there's a scene involving a fly that most would overlook, but screamed Psycho to me), but he's also ramping things up just a tiny bit for the modern age.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Friday, August 16, 2013

Movie Review - Dark Skies

Dark Skies (2013)
Starring Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, and J.K. Simmons
Directed by Scott Stewart

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, this here blogger would come home from school and turn on the new Mickey Mouse Club.  Little did he know that this little show would launch the careers of folks like Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera.  However, what the then eleven or twelve year-old kid knew was that he found himself having a crush on a young gal named Keri Russell.  Much like my teenage fascination with Helen Hunt (and I'm well aware that I was probably the only teenager in the 90s that had that crush), my appreciation for Ms. Russell has carried on into my adult life.  I watched all of Felicity (also due to J.J. Abrams' involvement) and have continued to follow her career (although I can't get into her current series The Americans).  This is a long-winded way of saying that I may be slightly biased when I say that Dark Skies proves to be a solid horror flick that manages to eschew the typical scary movie clichés.  It's not mind-blowing, but perhaps its focus on aliens rather than ghosts or supernatural entities made it a unique enough concept to this reviewer.

Russell is Lacy Barrett, wife of Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and mom to young teenage Jesse (Dakota Goyo) and six or seven-ish year-old Sam (Kadan Rockett).  Daniel was recently laid off of work and Lacy finds herself the sole bread winner with her real estate job, but even that is struggling as of late.  Still, they're a loving family, seemingly well-adjusted and "normal."  However, strange things begin happening in their house overnight -- the refrigerator is opened and food is strewn across the floor or their family pictures are removed from their frames -- with no explanation and no signs of forced entry. When Sam claims he's being visited by the mysterious "Sandman" in the middle of the night who takes responsibility for the mysterious occurrences, Lacy and Daniel chalk things up to childhood growing pains, but then the married couple start to experience some unwelcome scares of their own.

Dark Skies isn't a perfect horror film by any means, but it manages to combine decent acting with solid direction (a step up for Scott Stewart from this last film of his I reviewed) and a storyline that moves along at a pretty solid clip.  By the film's final moments, there's genuine tension created and I admittedly was on the edge of my seat wondering how it would conclude.  This isn't a horror film that attempts to frighten you with pulsing music or cheap jump scares.  Instead, it builds its uneasiness gradually with its story instead of trickery.  Don't mistake my fawning for excellence.  The film takes itself a little bit too seriously and I wanted it to provide a few more thrilling moments than it did, but Dark Skies is a good flick and was underappreciated upon its release earlier this year.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, August 05, 2013

Movie Review - Mama

Mama (2013)
Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, and Daniel Kash
Directed by Andy Muschietti

I had heard some good stuff about Mama, a film that came out at the height of Oscar season and was buzzed about because Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain was making an appearance in a "lowly" horror movie.  Well, Mama is okay, but I think Chastain's appearance in it raised its actual worth in most critics' eyes...but not this critic.

Following some horrible financial/stock market crash, a distraught guy Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kills his business partners and wife and then runs away with his two young daughters.  After their car crashes on a snowy road, Jeffrey takes his two girls into a deserted cabin he finds in the woods.  However, inside this cabin a spiritual entity resides, killing Jeffrey when he attempts to shoot his young girls before turning the gun on himself.

Five years pass and Jeffrey's brother Lucas (also played by Headhunters' Coster-Waldau) has never given up on finding his nieces Victoria and Lilly (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse) and, because of his relentless effort, the two are found living seemingly alone in the same isolated cabin to which their father took them a half decade ago.  Victoria and Lilly move in with Lucas and his wife Annabel (Chastain), a guitar player in a punk band who has to give up her lifestyle in order to help her husband with the new additions to their family.  Victoria and Lilly don't adapt to the new lifestyle very easily.  In fact, they constantly act as if someone named Mama is always around.  While Lucas, Annabel, and the child's psychiatrist seem to think Mama is just a figment of the girls' imaginations -- a person they formulated to help them make it through the five years in which they were abandoned -- perhaps Mama is more than that.

Mama is nicely shot and contains a few clever camera techniques that elevate it beyond your typical horror film.  Debut director Andy Muschietti certainly doesn't embarrass himself in that department.  However, his debut script does leave a lot to be desired.  For some reason, the film just never felt tense or scary to me.  Granted, I don't think the film was ever trying for those clichéd "jump scares" (at least not often), but if it was attempting to build tension through overall eeriness like a good ghost story should, it never achieved that either.  One of the biggest reasons for this is the disappointing special effects of Mama herself.  There's a cartooniness to her and her movements that never rang realistic (or as "realistic" as a ghost can get) and that certainly doesn't aid in making her a scary specter.

While it's true that Chastain puts in a solid performance here and likely elevates Mama a bit more than another actress might've been able, she's not given a ton to work with in terms of a character.  Perhaps writer-director Muschietti should've kept Mama in its original form as a short film as I'm not quite sure the story was adequate enough to stretch the creepiness out over 95 minutes.

The RyMickey Rating:  C