Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Means...Psycho!

The annual Halloween viewing of my favorite movie of all time, Psycho, will commence at some point today.  There'll be no in-depth look at the film this year while viewing it -- I want to try and "enjoy" it this time rather than focusing on any specifics.  However, feel free to peruse the posts from previous years on the blog and take some time to remember the Hitchcock Fest of 2010 where I looked at all of Hitch's films post-1934.


(link takes you to "alfred hitchcock" label...scroll down a few posts for the Hitchcock Fest)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Disney Discussion - Melody Time

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

Movie #10 of The Disney Discussion
Melody Time (1948)
Featuring the singing and vocal talents of Roy Rogers (and Trigger, "The Smartest Horse in the Movies"), Dennis Day, The Andrews Sisters, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Freddy Martin, Ethel Smith, Frances Langford, and Buddy Clark as the Master of Ceremonies
Directed by Jack Kinney, Cylde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson; Ben Sharpsteen (production supervisor)

Summary (in 150 words or less):
Yet another package film featuring seven shorts connected to each other only in the concept that they all contain music (all but one with lyrics).  An unseen narrator (who is initially presented as a talking mask of sorts) bridges the gap between each piece with rhyming prose as a paintbrush draws abstract designs of the short we are about to see.

Let the Discussion Begin...
Melody Time is the Walt Disney Company's tenth full-length animated feature film and was released on May 27, 1948.

With World War II over, Walt Disney was ready to move onto full-length stories again, but the company still needed time to get Cinderella completed, hence yet another "package film" being unleashed on the public.  Similar in tone to Make Mine Music, Melody Time fit the bill.

The film was only moderately successful and was not greeted kindly by reviewers.  Melody Time was not nominated for any Oscars.

Continuing on with the Disney Discussion trend for the package films, we're abandoning the focus on "The Characters" and instead will look at and briefly discuss each individual short.

Our first short is Once Upon a Wintertime, featuring Frances Langford crooning the title song about two lovers enjoying each other's company in the cool season.  What begins as a rather standard (and boring) cartoon about a young couple (and their bunny counterparts as seen above) shifts rather surprisingly at the halfway point into something some might even call morbid.  When the female wanders past a "Thin Ice" sign, things take a turn for the worse as the ice breaks around her and she starts to get perilously close to a towering waterfall.  The toon ends in a way that I found unique (meaning that her beau doesn't necessarily come to her rescue), but cute and fitting for this initially idyllic scene.  The animation style here is reminiscent of Americana art to me (but, to be honest, I'm not an art guy so I may have that totally wrong).

With a jazzed up, sped up version of "Flight of the Bumblebee," Freddy Martin and his Orchestra provide the music for Bumble Boogie, the second short in Melody Time.  In a rather surreal scene, a bee tries to navigate his way through a musical landscape where piano keys take on the shapes of flowers and caterpillars as they attempt to capture the little creature.  The animation is in that "Pink Elephants on Parade"-style in Dumbo, but doesn't ever reach that "What in the heck is going on"-type level.  That isn't a negative by any means as Bumble Boogie doesn't overstay its welcome in the slightest providing a great blending of music and animation.

The third short on Melody Time's bill is Johnny Appleseed and it's the piece I was most familiar with in this collection.  Telling the story of the folk legend titular character (based on a real guy), narrator Dennis Day provides all the voices and sings all the songs in this seventeen minute-long short.  With the original song "The Lord Is Good to Me" repeated in many variations throughout the cartoon, the Christian values that shaped the real Johnny Appleseed (real name: John Chapman) are not pushed by the wayside at all which is rather refreshing and helps to create a layered portrayal in this otherwise rote short.

Criticism has been sent Little Toot's way because of its basicness, but this fourth cartoon doesn't attempt to be anything other than cute and it absolutely succeeds in that task.  The short reminds me of the stories of Bill Peet, an author whom I grew up reading as a young kid and, upon internet research for this discussion, just now discovered worked for Walt Disney as a storywriter for twenty-seven years.  Peet was around the studio at the time Melody Time was created so who knows if he had a hand in this simplistic short about a little tugboat who is banished from the shipyard after he causes a major accident only to save the day when a storm threatens a large ship out at sea.  With the story lively sung to us by The Andrews Sisters (returning to the Disney realm after the enjoyable Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet in Make Mine Music), Little Toot doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's a wonderfully enjoyable short that appeals to the kid in all of us.

Certainly the most esoteric of Melody Time's segments, Trees is an animated re-telling of the poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer.  Maybe Kilmer's poem was simply about trees, but here I have to think the animators felt it was about something more -- and that something more was religion.  With some unusual, though beautiful, transitions and lovely animation and colors, Trees is the most Fantasia-like and most "adult" of any of the shorts in this collection (and admittedly doesn't really fit in with everything else).

The winner of "Worst Short in Melody Time" goes to Blame It on the Samba which brings back Donald Duck, José Carioca, and the Aracuan Bird from The Three Caballeros in a seemingly rejected segment from that film.  This is completely a retread of the final scene of Caballeros in which psychedelic colors paint a Dali-esque melange of nuttiness (ie. the crazy singing lips above).  Considering the fact that Caballeros was not a success at the box office, the inclusion of a similarly themed short here is rather surprising.

The longest segment of Melody Time is its final piece -- Pecos Bill.  Here, rather than introduce the piece with a paint brush (as all the others were as described in the summary above), we have a live action Roy Rogers and his horse trigger speak a few sentences about the folk legend Pecos Bill.  This odd opening shifts to animation rather quickly as Rogers and a folk country band sing us the titular character's tale from childhood (where he was raised by coyotes) to his marriage to Slue Foot Sue later in life.  Certainly told for laughs, the very episodic tale -- Bill creates the Rio Grande, Bill slays the Indians, Bill ends a drought by roping thunderclouds -- overstays its welcome by a bit and I found the whole short lacking the heart that the tale almost was begging to have imparted upon it.  

The Music
Even in the lesser segments, Melody Time has some solid music which I really won't detail as I've discussed it all above. 

My Favorite Scene
Choosing a favorite scene in Melody Time is actually a bit tough as, overall, I liked many of the segments here, but didn't love any of them.  If I had to choose a favorite, I'd probably go with Bumble Boogie as I found the surreal animation coupled with the quick jazzy music a nice combination.

Random Thoughts
  • Editing for PC-ness is so entirely random.  They've digitally deleted the cigarette from Pecos Bill's mouth and deleted an entire scene involving him chasing down a tornado because of the cigarette, but they leave in the scene about "a tribe of painted Indians" doing a war dance.  "Pecos started shooting up their little game.  He gave those Redskins such a shakeup that they jumped out of their make-up and that's the way the Painted Desert got its name."  Really?  Personally, there's no need for deletion of anything, but the arbitrary nature of it all is just silly.
  • Little Toot is like an early test version of Cars.
  • With the explicit Christian overtones in Johnny Appleseed coupled with the implied Christian undertones in Trees (as seen below), with the exception of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Melody Time may be the most overtly Christian animated movie the Disney company has produced.

Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
Although Melody Time is actually probably the most consistent of the package films we've seen thus far (seeing as how no short proves to be a disappointment), there isn't really any particular short that stands out and wows me (like two or three in the similarly themed Make Mine Music).  However, there is something to be said for the fact that everything presented here works for the most part.  The lack of lulls is absolutely a tick in the plus column.  Still, you can see that the Disney animators and storytellers were starting to run out of ideas when it came to feature-worthy shorts (as evidenced in the recycling of Donald Duck and Jose Carioca in the samba scene).  Despite any positives I can throw the film's way, the fact still remains that this is a "package film" that doesn't tell any semblance of a story and for that reason alone, I can't rate it any higher than I have below nor can I say that it belongs in the Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Join us next Wednesday for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the eleventh film in The Disney Discussion.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Review - Prisoners

Prisoners (2013)
Starring Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

I'm not sure there's something more horrific than being a parent and having something devastating happen to your children.  In Prisoners, when two young girls are kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day from their Pennsylvania neighborhood, I can only imagine the horror going through the heads of parents Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis).  The pain, anguish, and anger is all on display in Denis Villeneuve's direction of Aaron Guzikowski's script, but the emotional connection with the characters wasn't there for me and it's something that I really long for in a movie like this.

Take my favorite film of last year -- The Impossible -- or one of the best films of the past few years that you've never heard of -- Trust (seriously, check it out) -- and you'll find yourself becoming completely invested in all the characters -- the kids and the adults alike.  In Prisoners, I never felt that emotional tug I desired.  Maybe it's because the two girls go missing so early and we never get an opportunity to really get to know them.  Or maybe it's because Jackman's Keller takes a rather unique approach to enacting revenge on Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the young man initially accused and then cleared of kidnapping the girls, thus maybe subliminally making me not feel so bad for the tortured father.  Regardless, I kept waiting to have some type of guttural response to the story, but that never really happened.

Performances are good, but oftentimes in movies similar to this, they'll be a character(s) that you immediately find yourself connecting with and rallying behind.  Hugh Jackman is certainly supposed to be that guy and I'm sure I was supposed to be affected by Maria Bello's debilitating anguish, but the film never took me there.  Once again, this isn't to say that Jackman and Bello are disappointing.  In fact, this is probably Jackman's best role yet (and I quite liked his role in Les Miserables), taking a very tricky character and making his motivations understandable.

Perhaps it is, in fact, his interactions with Paul Dano that make this movie so difficult to create an emotional resonance for me.  <<MODERATE SPOILERS FOLLOW, ALTHOUGH THE TRAILER ESSENTIALLY REVEALS WHAT I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS.>>  Dano's Alex Jones is obviously emotionally stunted and psychologically marred.  When Jackman's Keller essentially kidnaps him, we understand Keller's response, but we can't condone it.  And it's maybe this reason why we in the audience can't exactly become as invested in these parents' horror as we'd like.  <<SPOILERS DONE.>>  Dano is creepily fantastic here, though, excelling in a tricky role that somehow manages to walk the line between having the audience both despise and sympathize with him.  Nice turns from Melissa Leo, Viola Davis (who's just great in everything I've seen her in recently) and Jake Gyllenhaal (who, even in this, is a bit overrated in my opinion) round out the cast, but can't fulfill that dramatic oomph I desired.

Listen, it may seem like I'm being overly critical of Prisoners by harping on one particular issue and, quite honestly, I am.  However, Prisoners is good.  It's a smart adult drama with enough twists and turns that make its lengthy running time seem to fly by rather quickly.  Overall, it's the kind of movie that I wish Hollywood created more often.  Admittedly, I think the thing the film prides itself upon -- playing with morality and questioning who's right and who's wrong in certain situations -- hurt its overall resonance with me, yet made it intriguing at the same time.  And, it's for that reason that despite my qualms, it still gets the decidedly good rating I've given it below.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie Review - 42

42 (2013)
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, Lucas Black, Andre Holland, Alan Tudyk, Hamish Linklater, T.R. Knight, and John C. McGinley
Directed by Brian Helgeland

There's a hammy heavy-handedness that accompanies 42, the story of how Jackie Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player.  It's not as if Robinson's story isn't worth telling, but there are moments when racial tension takes center stage that were more laughable than tense.  The film written and directed by Brian Helgeland is incredibly straightforward and by-the-book, containing nothing story-wise or shot-wise that anyone could call innovative.  The acting, while fine, is also quite bland with the exception of Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey who formulated the idea of integrating baseball in part due to the fact that his ballpark's attendance was sagging.  At first, I thought Ford was way over the top and out-of-place in the midst of everyone else's subdued portrayals, but his character eventually grew on me (or at least added a much needed spark of life into the proceedings).

It's not as if 42 is bad, but it doesn't do anything particularly well enough to recommend it.  I'm sure there are infinitely better documentaries or books on Robinson's integration into Major League Baseball and its subsequent impact on the sport (the latter of which is barely discussed at all).

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ramblings on Breaking Bad

The Netflix era has certainly created a "binge" era of television viewing in that many of us will now find ourselves plopping down on the sofa and watching three, four, five, or six episodes of a series at a time via their streaming service.  I'd heard great things about Breaking Bad, but about two years ago I watched the first episode of the AMC series, wasn't interested in the slightest, and I subsequently dropped it from my queue.  In the build-up to the final episode of the series at the end of September, there was a huge amount of buzz, but by the time I thought about trying to give the show another try, I was never going to finish in time to watch the finale live.  Still, with the critics and, more importantly, people I know personally waxing poetically about how the show was going out on an artistic high, I succumbed to the pressure and decided to give it another go.

Boy, am I glad I did.

If only for the performance of Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad should be must-see television.  Cranston completely inhabits the role of Walter White -- reserved chemistry teacher who, upon receiving a diagnosis of seemingly terminal cancer, turns to creating crystal meth for a quick money grab in order to provide for the long-term care of his family following his death.  As Walter gets deeper and deeper into the drug world, however, he finds it much more difficult to get out...not that he actually wants to leave once he realizes how amazing he is at creating the most pure addictive drug in the country.  With addicts and their dealers clamoring to get a hold on Walter's superior product, his personality shifts from that of a shy, reserved guy into one of the most maliciously evil men portrayed on tv.  And, as a mentioned, Cranston grabs hold of this role and creates one of the best acting performances I've ever seen.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***
He's certainly aided by a writing staff (presumably headed by series creator Vince Gilligan) who have crafted a sixty-two episode series that takes place over the course of only two years (and, for the most part, only over the span of one year) which allows the audience to become invested greatly in every character that comes along because their stories are given time to be fleshed out.  Whether it be drug kingpin Gus Fring's (Giancarlo Esposito) years-long revenge plot against some Mexican drug cartel members or even something as idiotic as Walt's sister-in-law Marie's (Betsy Brandt) shoplifting (a plot which admittedly could've been excised), the characters surrounding Walt were given ample opportunity to breathe for themselves.

Although I tried to steer clear of all spoilers, I was well aware of some negative buzz surrounding Anna Gunn's character of Walt's wife Skyler and I have no clue from where the anger and resentment towards her character stems.  To me, Skyler's actions and reactions upon learning of her husband's deviant behavior are justified and perfectly natural.  Yes, Walt was a character the public was able to latch onto despite his journey to the dark side, but Skyler anchored the audience back into reality and it's her reactions that made the show have great depth to this viewer.

Still, throughout the whole series I was waiting for the moment when Hank (Dean Norris), Walt's DEA brother-in-law, discovered Walt's secret life and the entirety of Season Five gave me satisfaction when it came to this, particularly the series' final eight episodes.  Despite all the dealings with drug kingpins and crack addicts, it was Walt's duplicity of hiding things from his family that really drew me in...and that moment when Hank and Marie stare at a tv screen hearing Walt's "confession" is probably my favorite moment in the show encapsulating everything I loved about it.

And I've yet to mention Aaron Paul's Jesse, a character whom I hated, then grew to like, then hated, and then grew to like again multiple times throughout the series.  Who would've thought that this low-life drug addict would end up being Breaking Bad's moral center?  Certainly not me, yet Paul gives Jesse a real intelligence that I never expected.

With all this great acting and great storytelling, I'd be remiss not to discuss the fact that the show is directed in a top-notch fashion as well.  There are shots here that rival anything you'd see in a movie and the helmers of the episodes are to be commended for that.  Also, rather randomly, I'd like to mention how much I loved the opening scenes of all the episodes that either hinted at (oftentimes horrific) things to come or were just completely odd (the montage of crack addict/prostitute Wendy selling oral pleasures to men while The Association's "Windy" played in the background is another classic moment).

Admittedly, I'm not sure I'll become invested in the upcoming/proposed "prequel" series surrounding Saul Goodman as he was actually one of my least favorite parts of the series.  Yes, his levity gave a nice counterpoint to the heaviness that surrounded him, but he's not a character I can find myself latching onto in the same way I became fascinated with Walter White.

I was talking to someone the other day about Breaking Bad and he mentioned that, like me, he watched one episode and then gave up thinking that it wasn't for him at all.  To those of you who did this same thing, you're missing out on some good tv here and it's time to give this one another chance.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Disney Discussion - Fun and Fancy Free

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

Movie #9 of The Disney Discussion
Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
Featuring Edgar Bergen and his puppets along with the voice talents of Dinah Shore, Clarence Nash, Pinto Colvig, and Walt Disney
Directed by Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, and Hamilton Luske (animated) and William Morgan (live action)

Summary (in 150 words or less):
Featuring two stories, Fun and Fancy Free first tells the tale of "Bongo," the titular bear who works as a popular act at a circus.  He manages to set himself free and roams the wilderness only to discover that his domestication may have made him too different from his ursine counterparts.  The second tale is the familiar "Jack and the Beanstalk" story, but injects Mickey, Donald, and Goofy into the equation sending them up the beanstalk to fight the giant.

Let the Discussion Begin...

Fun and Fancy Free is the Walt Disney Company's ninth full-length animated feature film and it was released on September 27, 1947.

Critics greeted this with a shrug, neither providing overwhelmingly positive or negative reactions, although some commented on the fact that this continued reliance on "package films" gave off an aire of "coasting" along.  It was not nominated for any Academy Awards.

This was the last time Walt Disney voiced the character of Mickey Mouse and it was the final time that the original voices of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (Walt, Clarence Nash, and Pinto Colvig, respectively) were heard together.

Mickey and the Beanstalk and Bongo were initially planned to be full-length animated films (with Bongo an obvious cousin in tone and story to the incredibly successful Dumbo), but World War II and the lack of financing and lack of animators themselves (many of whom were recruited for the war) stopped that from happening.   Mickey and the Beanstalk was then thought to be partnered with another short film -- The Wind and the Willows -- but that plan was nixed.  (We'll see The Wind in the Willows pop up in two weeks, though.)

The Characters
(The Best...The Worst...The Villains...)
As mentioned above in the summary, Fun and Fancy Free is divided into two segments.  The first is the story of Bongo.  Similar to Dumbo, the title character here doesn't talk -- in fact, no one in the thirty-plus minute short utters a word except for narrator Dinah Shore.  Shore's voice is one-note and monotonous imbuing very little emotion into the proceedings which certainly doesn't help the fact that the minimal plot is stretched out to great lengths.  I'm shocked that this short was initially developed as a feature because, quite honestly, this is painful to sit through for a half hour.  The characters -- Bongo, his love interest Lulubelle, and his foe Lumpjaw -- aren't given much of a personality either through the story or their animation, the latter of which is surprisingly bland and unexciting.

With Mickey and the Beanstalk, we've got Walt's big three characters -- Mickey, Donald, and Goofy -- taking on roles in the familiar "Jack and the Beanstalk" tale.  The appearance of these three mainstays makes this short a bit more enjoyable than Bongo, but it wouldn't take much to make that be the case considering the disappointment I encountered with the first short.  There's still a blandness here mainly because we've seen this tale before and the story isn't injected with anything new except for a rather ingenious scene in which Donald goes crazy due to hunger.

Fun and Fancy Free opens with Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio singing some tune about being carefree (hence the film's title), but it doesn't amount to much of anything.  Mickey and the Beanstalk is set up as being told to a girl at her birthday party.  Edgar Bergen, known for his ventriloquism act in the 1940s, narrates along with two of his well known puppets.  While they admittedly inject a bit of much needed humor into the story, the transition between story #1 and story #2 is lacking and there's no cohesion whatsoever between the two.  Also, while I can understand a little how Bongo fits into the title, Mickey and the Beanstalk doesn't contain characters that fit into either the"fun" or "fancy free" descriptors.
I don't know what to make of the fact that the only attendees at this little girl's birthday party are an old man and two puppets...

The Music
The less said about the music, the better.  There's literally a song in Bongo that tells us that bears slap each other to say they're in love...just ridiculous and, quite honestly, embarrassing.  Every song goes on about two minutes too long and considering their poor quality I couldn't wait for them to end.

My Favorite Scene
Devil Duck...

This was a tough choice due to the lack of possibilities, but the aforementioned moment in which Donald goes insane due to his hunger is the only moment that made me chuckle and I found cleverly original throughout the whole piece.

Random Thoughts
  • I'm nearly 100% certain I've never seen this one in its entirety before.  I'd certainly seen Mickey and the Beanstalk, but I don't think I've ever seen the interstitials like the intro starring Jiminy Cricket.
  • Bears say they're in love by slapping others?  Domestic violence at its worst.
  • For a renowned ventriloquist, Edgar Bergan's lips move an awful lot.
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
The glum faces of these three matched my visage as I watched.

Maybe I'm just getting tired of these "package films," but Fun and Fancy Free is the worst of the bunch yet.  Unfortunately, neither short is successful and without the quantity of shorts like in previous films boosting the probability of a positive reaction, this one falls flat.  As mentioned above, both shorts overstay their welcome and the songs in Bongo in particular are some of the worst I've ever heard in a Disney film.  While it's certainly enjoyable to see Mickey and his friends in a feature film, the story they're tasked with conveying is too tired for this modern viewer.  Maybe it felt fresh in 1947, but nowadays, there's no way Fun and Fancy Free belongs in the revered Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Join us next Wednesday for Melody Time, the tenth film in The Disney Discussion.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Movie Review - Admission

Admission (2013)
Starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Gloria Reuben, Wallace Shawn, Nat Wolff,  Travaris Spears, and Lily Tomlin
Directed by Paul Weitz

Admission starts out promisingly enough, but after about forty minutes, I found it nearly inconceivable that there was still over an hour to go.  Tina Fey is charming as Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton who visits a small private high school run by John Pressman (Paul Rudd) only to discover that John's prize student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) may be the son she gave up for adoption eighteen years prior.  With Jeremiah, whose transcript contains nothing spectacular, desperate to get into Princeton, Portia finds herself in a conundrum both professionally and personally.

And, unfortunately, the problem with Admission is that this aforementioned story is dished out in its first third and not much else happens for its remainder.  There's scene after scene of attempts at humor, but they fail to present a well-rounded story.  It certainly helps that Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are both pleasant to watch onscreen either together or separately and the rest of the cast is certainly appealing, but they're left floundering throughout the entire second half of the film.  It's a shame, really, because there's an attempt here to create a somewhat "smart" comedy, but the story simply isn't enough to sustain itself over its run time.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Movie Review - Movie 43

Movie 43 (2013)
Starring Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Kieran Culkin, Emma Stone, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Bobby Canavale, Leslie Bibb, Richard Gere, Jack McBrayer, Kate Bosworth, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Patrick Warburton, Common, Seth MacFarlane, Johnny Knoxville, Seann WIlliam Scott, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry, Stephen Merchant, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth Banks, and Josh Duhamel
Directed by Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, Steven Brill, James Duffy, Jonathan van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, and James Gunn
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Movie 43 isn't the worst movie I've seen in 2013.  And that's about all the praise I can muster for it.  Essentially a series of sketch comedy sequences (most dealing with sex in some way, shape, or form), the film never provides the laughs that it sets out to achieve.  Instead, the "humor" comes from the fact that you're watching a big star like Hugh Jackman play a man who has testicles swinging from his neck with Kate Winslet playing his blind date reacting to the aforementioned swinging testicles.  It's the fact that these are big name stars (too many to even put in the labels section of this post since it's limited to 200 characters) stooping to this level of humor that's the most surprising and is really the only reason the movie kept my interest.  It's not like any of the sketches are overly offensive, but they're really just dirtier versions of the types of crappy skits you'd see during the final thirty minutes of Saturday Night Live -- you know, bits that weren't worthy enough to take up space in the first hour that get relegated to the final third since less people will be watching to see how unfunny they really are.

If seeing Gerard Butler as a nasty leprechaun or Oscar-winner Halle Berry making guacamole with her breasts sounds like the quirkiness you've been longing for, Movie 43 is streaming on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Disney Discussion - Make Mine Music

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

Movie #8 of The Disney Discussion
Make Mine Music (1946)
Directed by Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Bob Cormack, and Josh Meador

Summary (in 150 words or less):
Make Mine Music is essentially Disney's response to those that thought Fantasia was too highbrow.  Here, we get ten shorts that could have certainly been part of Disney's Silly Symphonies series.  Each short is introduced with its title, a three or four word explanation of the type of music we'll be hearing, and the musician who will be either singing or playing the music during the segment. 

Let the Discussion Begin...

Make Mine Music is the Walt Disney Company's eighth full-length animated feature and was released on April 20, 1946.  The film was met with mixed reviews and it was the only Disney animated feature to not be re-released in its entirety.  (Obviously, nowadays, the modern Disney features are rarely re-released thanks to the proliferation of home viewing, but this was certainly commonplace up until the 1980s.)

Although WWII had ended by the time of Make Mine Music's release, it was still developed during wartime (as were the three "package films" we'll see after this).  With many of Disney's animators having to enlist, it was easier (not to mention cheaper) to create shorts and lump them together as a feature-length film.

Make Mine Music was entered into the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.  The film was not nominated for any Oscars.

As has been the case with the two prior films, we're bypassing the "character" section seeing as how the "shorts" nature of the film doesn't lend itself well to focusing on specific characters.  Instead, we'll take a quick look at each individual short.

Make Mine Music actually opens with a segment that was removed from the film for its dvd release.  In order to watch, you must venture over to YouTube where you can check out the The Martins and the Coys, "a Rustic Ballad."  Apparently responding to criticism that the Hatfields and McCoys-esque feud that's depicted had a bit too many guns blasting to deem it "appropriate" for an animated film, Disney excised the segment from its dvd releases in the United States.  Personally, I think that's ridiculous as there's nothing overly offensive or inappropriate here, but the PC Police have ruled it improper.  It's a shame really as this would've been an amusing opening number, setting a tone of fun and humor thanks to the Warner Brothers-esque animation coupled with a fun tune sung by the then popular King's Men.

Instead of opening with The Martin and the Coys, the film opens on dvd with Blue Bayou, "a Tone Poem."  The animation for this segment which features a beautiful stork flying through a twilit swamp was initially created for Fantasia, although it was set to Debussy's "Clair de Lune," instead of the bluesy "Blue Bayou" performed by the Ken Darby Singers.  This is an odd opening for the film which often strives for an upbeat tone rather than a more subdued one.  Still, it's a pretty piece and the best of the film's "quieter" moments.

Next comes All the Cats Join In, "a Jazz Interlude," and it's a cartoon that I've adored ever since I remember seeing it on the Disney Channel back when I was a kid.  Here the buoyant energy of Benny Goodman and His Orchestra are coupled with some cool teenage kids whose only desire is to get the malt shop and have a fun time dancing to the music blaring out of the jukebox.  The segment moves incredibly quickly and is uniquely designed in that we see a pencil drawing much of the action as it's taking place.  The images are quintessentially 1940s and the design aesthetic is entirely appealing to this viewer.

The fourth segment is entitled Without You, "a Ballad in Blue," and it's one of the shortest segments in the film. The song about lost love crooned by Andy Russell is paired with a shockingly minimalist animated sequence that stands in such stark contrast to the segment that came before it that it's rather jarring.

Next up is Casey at the Bat, "a Musical Recitation" of the well-known poem by Ernest Thayer.  I remember this segment as well, but it resonated more with me as a kid than it did as an adult.  I enjoyed the early 1900s aesthetic, but the segment felt like much more of a throwaway than I remember it being.  This is certainly pleasant, but not overly so.

Sixth in the lineup is Two Silhouettes, a "Ballade Ballet" and it's the worst short in the Make Mine Music bill.  In an attempt to inject "culture" into the mix, we get live action shadows of two ballerinas prancing about while Dinah Shore croons some depressing tune.  Even moreso than the prior "subdued" pieces in the film, this one brings the flick to a screeching halt.

Peter and the Wolf, "a Musical Fairytale," is next and it's the longest piece in the film.  Unfortunately, the extended length doesn't necessarily equate with quality.  Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" utilized different instruments to depict the different characters in the story he was trying to tell.  Here, thanks to our narrator Sterling Holloway (AKA the Stork in Dumbo), we're told the story via words which is just overkill.  Had the animators followed the Fantasia-style of simply telling stories through music, this segment may have been a success.  Instead, the narration drags the segment out with a bit too much silliness.

The eighth segment brings Benny Goodman back for After You've Gone, a fast jazzy number where anthropomorphized instruments dance about in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness style of animation.  There's nothing special here, but it's certainly an acceptable quick interlude.

Next is the absolutely lovely Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, "a Love Story" of two hats -- the titular fedora and blue bonnet -- who fall in love with each other while sitting in a boutique window.  When Alice is bought one afternoon, Johnny sets out to find his true love.  With an amusing song by the fantastic Andrews Sisters and some clever animation -- heck, these are hats we're staring at, but they're given personalities which is something to admire (look at the way Johnny's smiling above) -- the segment is simplistic, but it's incredibly charming.

The final segment of the film is one of the best -- The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, "an Opera Pathetique."  Here, we meet Willie the Whale who just so happens to be a great opera singer.  When he's discovered by some sailors, he's brought to New York City where he takes the stage by storm.  The story takes a surprising (and sad) turn, but it's done so in a way that seems completely believable and adds to the emotional impact of the piece as a whole.  With all the voices in the segment done by Nelson Eddy, the entire short is a great ending to the film (and it, coupled with Johnny Fedora, can certainly skew you into thinking that you've seen a better film than you really have).

The Music
As the title suggests, music plays a strong role in Make Mine Music and even in segments that may have been less than stellar, the music for the most part is still successfully implemented.  I'm not going to discuss things in great detail as I've already somewhat discussed the music above, but I will say that you certainly won't be disappointed with the aural qualities of this flick.

My Favorite Scene
Choosing my favorite scene is a tough call as there are three stand-outs to me -- All the Cats Join In, Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, and The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met.  The latter two tell a story while the first is a bit more minimalist, but still utterly successful.  As I mentioned above, I've loved All the Cats Join In since I was a kid because of its animation style, but The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met was a treat as I wasn't quite as familiar with it so its "newness" was refreshing.

Random Thoughts
  • After the opening title song, there's a Hidden Mickey that appears onscreen.
  • There's some risque animation in the "All the Cats Join In" segment that's certainly surprising (as seen above).  I'm wondering whether a slow frame by frame inspection would reveal any nudity.  Apparently, the animator who headed this segment was well known for his drawings of nude women so it wouldn't surprise me.
  • In Casey at the Bat, the title character is named "the Sinatra of 1902."
  • You don't often hear the word "ichthyology," let alone have it be rhymed in a song as it is in the film's final segment. 
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
I'm not quite sure any of these "compilation films" will ever find a place in the revered pantheon simply because they're not telling a full story, but Make Mine Music is the best of them so far.  While it's nowhere near perfect seeing as how there are several segments that bring the film to a halt, the shorts that work are fantastic.  I found the animation here to be quite impressive as well which certainly helps the overall aesthetic.  Unfortunately, as is inherently the case with these flicks, the shorts vary in storytelling quality and the animators' attempts to go "intellectual" in certain shorts pales in comparison with the whimsy that is present in the other segments.  Still, if you've never seen Make Mine Music, it's absolutely worth checking out.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Join us next Wednesday for Fun and Fancy Free, the ninth film in The Disney Discussion.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Movie Review - Monsters University

Monsters University (2013)
Featuring the voice talents of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Muray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina, Tyler Labine, Nathan Fillion, Aubrey Plaza, Bonnie Hunt, and John Krasinski
Directed by Dan Scanlon

I've avoided writing this review for over a month.  I have no excuse.  It's not like I've been avoiding it out of some Disney guilt because I didn't enjoy it.  In fact, Monsters University was much better than my initial low expectations which had me avoiding it in its first go around in theaters, only catching this one upon a re-release over Labor Day weekend.  I guess I figured I'd have some "Boo withdrawal" when it came to this, but I didn't miss that incredibly cute character from the original Monsters, Inc at all.

Instead, I fully enjoyed this prequel following Mike and Sulley (voiced once again with gusto by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) and their journey through college.  As they enter the hallowed halls of Monsters University, the two are as opposite as could be.  Mike has his eye (singular, naturally) always in a book studying up on how to perform the proper scare, whereas Sulley is all about having the crazy college experience joining the frat Roar Omega Roar immediately upon arrival.  However, when performing their final scare exam, Mike and Sulley have a horrible accident that angers the frightening Dean Hardscrabble (a spot-on Helen Mirren) who nearly expels the two, but instead removes them from the scare program.  This prompts Roar Omega Roar to cut their ties with Sulley and it puts Mike into a depression because all he's ever wanted is to scare.  As the college prepares for their annual fraternity and sorority Scare Games, Mike convinces Dean Hardscrabble to allow him back into the scare program if he wins the Scare Games.  She obliges, however, without a fraternity willing to accept him, Mike seems out of luck until Sulley steps up and helps Mike form their own frat Oozma Kappa.

With the formation of OK, we meet a bunch of new characters who more than make up for the loss of the adorably cute Boo.  The humor derived from these new cast members (voiced by Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, and Charlie Day) is fantastic and I laughed out loud much more than I expected.  While it's true that Monsters University doesn't have the heartwarming characteristics we've come to expect in most Pixar films (although it certainly has its moments of warmth), the flick stays true to its established characters and the enhancement of their backstory rounds them out more fully.

I'd like to write a bit more, but this quickly typed up review will have to suffice for now.  Needless to say, my reluctance to see Monsters University was totally unfounded, so if you're feeling that same way, you should definitely give this a chance.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movie Review - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Jannsen, Peter Stormare, and Thomas Mann
Directed by Tommy Wirkola

In a movie like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, you have to give in to the complete absurdity and ridiculousness of it all or else you're never going to be able to enjoy it.  Unfortunately, after a pre-opening credits segment in which the traditional Hansel & Gretel fairy tale is depicted and a young Gretel throws a horrid-looking witch into a burning fire followed by uttering the line "Is that hot enough for you, bitch?", I was nearly ready to check out.  While director-screenwriter Tommy Wirkola manages to craft something infinitely better than the similarly themed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement and despite trying to scream "fun" all the time, Hansel & Gretel doesn't have enough substance for its unique spin on the traditional fairy tale story.

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the title brother/sister pair and both are actually quite good playing their characters as if they were seemingly self-aware of the corniness, cheesiness, and insanity that goes on around them as Hansel and Gretel attempt to save a European village from the evil witch Muriel (Famke Jannsen) who is snatching up children in order to complete some massive supernatural spell that will give her incredible control.  Unfortunately, there are a few additional subplots thrown in the mix that bog things down, taking focus away from the main crux of the flick.

Honestly, there's part of me that wants to hate Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters because I'm well aware that it's utterly ridiculous.  However, it was enjoyable enough that it's worth your time should it ever start to stream on Netflix.

The RyMickey Rating:  C



Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Disney Discussion - The Three Caballeros

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

Movie #7 of The Disney Discussion
The Three Caballeros (1945)
Featuring the voice talents of Clarence Nash, José Oliveira, and Joaquin Garay
Directed by Norman Ferguson

Summary (in 150 words or less):
It's time to celebrate Donald Duck's birthday!  As the film begins, Donald receives a present.  When he opens it, José Carioca (from "Saludos Amigos") pops out to take Donald around Latin (and South) America through a series of various animated shorts and introduce him to his fellow bird relatives including Panchito who becomes the third caballero in the title.

Let the Discussion Begin...
The Three Caballeros is the Walt Disney Company's seventh full-length animated feature film and was released on February 3, 1945 in the United States.  The film was met with mixed reviews upon its release.

Surprising me once again, The Three Caballeros was nominated for two Oscars -- Best Musical Score and Best Sound Recording -- but won neither.

The film is a sequel of sorts to Saludos Amigos in that it features some of the same characters and is similarly themed with animated shorts that are focused on countries in Latin and South America being strewn together to create a feature-length film. 


While The Three Caballeros at least has three characters we could focus on, the film isn't about them in the slightest.  Once again, like Saludos Amigos, the film is about the shorts that accompany the interstitials of Donald, José, and Panchito.

After Donald opens his birthday present, José begins his tour of Latin-themed birds with Pablo, a penguin supposedly from Argentina.  Pablo despises the cold weather at the South Pole so he decides to get on a floating iceberg and travel to a warmer climate.  What I don't quite get about The Cold-Blooded Penguin short is that Pablo is introduced to us right away as living at the South Pole...which, according to my geographical knowledge is not "South America."  Yes, I'm aware that there are penguins that inhabit the southern tips of South America, but it's pretty obvious in the short that Pablo makes his home in the icy barrenness of Antarctica.  Oh, well.  A minor quibble in an otherwise enjoyable short (narrated amusingly by Sterling Holloway) that admittedly features gags we've all seen before, but still works.


And then the film starts going downhill.

Following a brief rundown of some other unusual (real and fake) birds, we move to Uruguay for the short The Flying Gauchito which details a flying donkey named Burrito.  Yes...Burrito.  This is just the first of a few slightly un-PC moments this film tosses our way.


We then travel to Brazil where José Carioca sings to us how great his country is via the tune "Baía."  Unfortunately, the song is awful and the animation is fairly generic.  Doubly unfortunate is the fact that after "Baía" is finished, the segment shifts into another song featuring a "real" woman singing some interminably obnoxious number and dancing about with Donald.  While the animators do an okay job mixing live action and animation in the segment, this one is painful to sit through thanks to the less than lackluster musical numbers.


We're then introduced to Panchito, the third caballero, who takes Donald and José on a tour of Mexico. First, he tells us a Christmas story (!) about piñatas (the less said the better), then he prances about shooting off his pistols, and finally Panchito and his buddies jump on a flying carpet and start chasing after scantily clad women on the Mexican coastline and succeeding in turning Donald into a savage horny beast.


The film's final segment is an incredibly trippy and psychedelic trek through Mexico City that would rival even the insanity of "Pink Elephants on Parade" in Dumbo in terms of craziness.  Things start off rather calmly with the nice and lovely song "You Belong to My Heart," however, after Donald becomes enamored with the live action singer, things turn Dali-esque.  The segment really is nuts, but the animation is at least interesting and different which is certainly a positive in an otherwise overly generic film such as this.

The Music
Although many of the segments in The Three Caballeros contain music, with the exception of "You Belong to My Heart," none of the songs (including the title track) are very good.  

My Favorite Scene
Although it ends incredibly abruptly, the final segment with its psychedelic nature is an enjoyable romp.

Random Thoughts
  • Donald Duck’s birthday is Friday the 13th…The month isn’t specified, though…
  • Jose Carioca has a cigar in his mouth the whole time…that would never be allowed today.
  • Although Disney certainly mixed animation and live action in his first cartoons he ever produced (the Alice series), the mix in this film is moderately impressive for the time.  In one segment, Donald dances with a “real” lady and the effect is done quite well.
  • Donald chasing after Mexican ladies in bathing suits was surprising and funny…it’s not often that Disney is so blatantly “sexual.”  Not that the segment was even remotely “sexy,” but it was all about a male chasing after females because of their beauty. 
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
The Three Caballeros had less government influence so it's certainly feels less of a propaganda piece than its predecessor Saludos Amigos.  However, its length -- clocking in at 71 minutes -- is much too long considering it's just a collection of very quick animated shorts.  While there was part of me that wished Saludos Amigos was longer, having that wish come true in The Three Caballeros proves that quality doesn't increase exponentially when minutes are added.

Thanks to the interstitial segments detailing Donald's birthday which hold the film together, I liked The Three Caballeros a tiny bit better than Saludos Amigos, however, the individual segments themselves are actually better in Saludos.  Nonetheless, this is a film I'd rather forget exists and it certainly doesn't belong in the revered Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Join us next Wednesday for Make Mine Music, the eighth film in The Disney Discussion.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Movie Review - The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Ben Mendelsohn, and Ray Liotta
Directed by Derek Cianfrance

There's a grandness to the scale of The Place Beyond the Pines that isn't often seen in cinema.  Director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance takes his time building his characters and their arcs.  Some might even say he spends a bit too much time as the three intertwining stories he weaves here slowly unfold in their layers of connection to one another.  While the film isn't perfect, to me The Place Beyond the Pines features storytelling that you typically only get from a great novel and it's a welcome change of pace.

Now, this may seem like a cop out (and it sort of is as I'm trying to get this review done quickly), but I'm not really going to divulge much of the plot here.  If you're not aware of what the film is attempting to do, it's better that you stay in the dark and let things unfold scene by scene.  This isn't to say that The Place Beyond the Pines is particularly surprising or holds twists and turns, but it is told in a unique fashion that may be best kept secret if you're unfamiliar with the director's overall concept.

I will, however, simply state that the film tells the tale of two men -- Luke (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist who discovers that he has a young son with Romina (Eva Mendes), a girl he had a fling with over a year ago; and Avery (Bradley Cooper), a first-year cop who also has a young son the same age as Luke's.  Luke and Avery's lives will become interwoven as will the lives of their sons as they grow older (played by Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen as teens).

I mentioned a "grand scale" in my opening sentence of this review and you shouldn't misinterpret that as being a multi-million dollar Ben Hur-esque special effects-driven type of scope.  Instead, the grandeur comes from the fact that we follow Luke, Avery, and their families over the course of two decades, seeing how their lives change, and how even a spur of the moment decision can affect those around them years down the line.  It's this concept of following multiple characters across generations -- a la Steinbeck's East of Eden -- that makes this movie unique and stand out from the crowd.

With a nice performance from Bradley Cooper anchoring the film [and kudos to Cooper for changing my opinion on him within this past year...he's becoming quite the actor], The Place Beyond the Pines is absolutely worth watching assuming you're ready for a slow-burning type of film.  Then again, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine could've been described in a similar fashion.  While Pines can't hold a candle to the masterpiece that is Blue Valentine (my number one film of 2010...which is also streaming on Netflix, FYI, so watch it immediately), it's still a fine piece of cinema that admittedly sinks into a bit of hokeyness at times (to the detriment of the rawness it's trying to convey), but is still worthy of a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B