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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,...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Review - The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now (2013)
Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bob Odenkirk, Kaitlyn Dever, Masam Holden, Dayo Okeniyi, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kyle Chandler
Directed by James Ponsoldt

In this day and age when teens flock to movies like the Twilight and Divergent series that supposedly tell stories to which they can relate, I can't help but think we're also in the midst of a great era for dramas focused on the regular everyday stories of American youths -- you know, without vampires, werewolves, and dystopian governments.  I may not have loved 2012's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it was a film I could appreciate for what it brought to the table in its surprisingly dark and somewhat depressing look at teenage angst.  2013 ushered in The Way Way Back which proved to be another solid piece that gave new energy to a coming-of-age tale.  

Towering over both those films, though, is The Spectacular Now, a flick that earned significantly less dough at the box office than either of those aforementioned flicks, but is a gem that absolutely should be seen.  Led by two fantastic performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now is a touching look at young love and how early relationships can shape us into the person we grow up to be.  Teller is Sutter Keely, a hard-partying high school senior whose mixture of class clown-ish/cool guy demeanor masks the fact that he can't make it many hours throughout the day without sneaking a drink from his secret flask of alcohol stashed in his pocket.  His girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) has just left him for Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), the quarterback of the football team and the class president, in the hopes of finding a more serious relationship as she heads off to college.  While this upsets Sutter and certainly was a blow to his esteem, it doesn't stop him from partying even harder in an attempt to find a lady to latch on to even if it's just for a night.

After a night he can't remember, Sutter finds himself sprawled out on some unknown yard, discovered by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a mousy, smart, yet certainly attractive senior at Sutter's school as she performs her morning paper route.  While the two had maybe seen each other in passing, they definitely belonged to different social cliques.  However, with Sutter woman-less, he sees an opportunity to perhaps make his ex feel a little jealous that he's moved on from her.  Although their relationship begins thanks to a somewhat deviously selfish notion on Sutter's part, he begins to find himself falling for Aimee's simplicity and mild-mannered nature -- the complete opposite of his lifestyle.

Director James Ponsoldt previously directed 2012's Smashed and my complaint about that film was that Ponsoldt didn't allow his camera to linger long enough in certain scenes in order to gain the full emotional impact that the story inherently had going for it.  Ponsoldt has certainly learned his lesson as The Spectacular Now is rather beautiful in its usage of simplistic long takes, taking its time to allow the story to unfold.  There's a naturalness to the dialog that almost languidly and off-the-cuff transpires between leads Teller and Woodley that gives you a sense of improvisation, never feeling forced and creating an incredibly believable world these two characters inhabit.

While I knew Shailene Woodley from her role in The Descendants, Miles Teller was a new face to me -- although I'd apparently seen him before in a film called Rabbit Hole.  What a breath of fresh air Mr. Teller is.  First, it should be mentioned that nearly all of the main actors playing teens here are in their mid-to-early twenties, yet they all believably jumped back into the roles of high schoolers.  That's what took me by surprise first as I found myself checking Teller's age while watching the film to see rather selfishly if I could place him on my Best Younger Actor/Actress list at the 2013 RyMickey Awards.  Second, Teller lands on a perfect mix of smarminess, cockiness, and angst-i-ness for his character of Sutter.  Sutter outwardly seems to have it all, but his constant drinking obviously hides an inner disappointment in himself and Teller captures that wonderfully.  When he finally is able to open up to Aimee, the more mellow side of Sutter rings just as true as the "bad boy" side.

Admittedly, upon her introduction, I was slightly disappointed by the obvious way the filmmakers decided to portray Shailene Woodley's Aimee.  She was given more homely clothes, wore significantly less make-up, and had more tussled hair than Sutter's ex-girlfriend Cassidy.  It just seemed like too obvious a set-up for the audience -- "See!  Aimee is the nice girl!"  However, as the film progressed, I appreciated the fact that Aimee as a character didn't change.  She stayed the down-home, sweet, and calming presence that we first witness from her.  Yes, Sutter opened her eyes to love, but she was strong enough to recognize that she didn't need to change for him.  For some reason, this felt rather refreshing and Woodley's performance was subtle and gentle, lacking a showiness that we so often see.

The script isn't quite flawless -- there's a subplot involving Sutter's estranged father that plays out a little too melodramatically to work with the rest of the film, as an example -- but the relationship between Sutter and Aimee and the camaraderie between the two actors that play those characters more than makes up for it.  The Spectacular Now is one of those under-the-radar films that you may not have heard of, but is absolutely worth seeking out.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie Review - Jobs

Jobs (2013)
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, Matthew Modine, J.K. Simmons, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, and Ahna O'Reilly
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The best I can say about Ashton Kutcher's portrayal of Steve Jobs is that he's at least trying.  In fact, it's so obvious he's trying that I never once felt that I was watching anything other than an aspiring thespian attempting to act and emote his way through the life story of the founder of Apple computers.  I'm sure Kutcher studied Jobs' motions, mannerisms, and dialect, but he never embodies the man -- he comes across as some lower-grade B-movie actor attempting to be older and wiser (which is pretty darn accurate to the actor Kutcher is in general).

Putting aside Kutcher's sometimes laughable performance (man, when he tries to cry, it's painfully hilarious), Jobs as a movie just isn't good either.  The film begins by delving a little bit into Jobs' personal life, but that aspect thankfully is pushed to the wayside about thirty minutes in, focusing instead on the more boring (but less corny) incorporation of Apple as a company.  From that point on, it's just a series of "battles" Jobs must duke it out amongst his colleagues as they fail to see his vision for what Apple and its computers were meant to be in his eyes.

Listen...I'm an Apple guy all the way.  I have been forever and likely always will be.  While the film did make me want to read the giant Steve Jobs biography that came out a few years ago, director Joshua Michael Stern simply doesn't have the goods to deliver here.  The film plays out very by the book (a discredit to the screenwriter as well -- Matt Whiteley in his debut) and Stern doesn't do a thing to differentiate itself from anything we've seen before.  Just when one conflict is resolved, we move on to the next one.  Scenes are bathed in appropriate lighting (dark for somber moments and glorious golden for the happier ones), coupled with soaring or pensive music in a very paint-by-numbers manner that's not the least bit innovative or imaginative.  For a film that focuses on a guy who was all about thinking outside of the box, Jobs is anything but that.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Friday, March 28, 2014

Movie Review - Turbo

Turbo (2013)
Featuring the voice talents of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Samuel L. Jackson, Luis Guzmán, Bill Hader, Snoop Dogg, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez, and Ken Jeong
Directed by David Soren
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

About 35 minutes into Turbo, I found myself thinking that I had a nice little surprise on my hands with this fairly little seen film (in terms of mainstream animated flicks).  A NASCAR-obsessed snail named Theo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is the problem child of a clan of snails headed by Theo's older brother Chet (Paul Giamatti).  The snails take care of a tomato patch, but Theo seemingly causes chaos with his daydreaming about one day matching the talent of his favorite NASCAR driver Guy Gagne (Bill Hader).  Discouraged by his brother's disappointment in him, Theo wanders away from the tomato patch and, in a freak accident, gets sucked into the engine of a drag racing car wherein, through some crazy DNA fusion, he gets his veins filled with nitrous oxide causing him to be able to move as fast as the cars he's dreamed about.

While I enjoyed the tale's relationship between brothers Theo and Chet, once Theo leaves his home and becomes a souped-up snail, Turbo begins to fall apart.  Theo finds himself at Dos Bros Taco store and, perhaps serendipitously, Tito (Michael Peña), one of the Dos Bro's, races snails for fun.  (Yeah...sure...)  When he discovers Theo's prowess, Tito decides to try and get Theo -- whom he names Turbo -- into the Indianapolis 500.

While Turbo looks decent and its main voice actors -- Ryan Reynolds and Paul Giamatti -- are solid, its story just doesn't work once Theo "becomes" Turbo.  While at Dos Bros, Turbo meets a slew of other snails -- voiced by people like Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, and Samuel L. Jackson -- who have ridiculously stereotypical personalities and don't do anything to advance the story whatsoever.  They all could've (and should've) been eliminated and the plot essentially could have been rolled out in the same manner.  The film's climax feels obvious and rather forced, allowing for very little tension which doesn't help things either.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, March 24, 2014

Movie Review - Blue Is the Warmest Color

Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adele - Chapitres 1 et 2) (2013)
Starring Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

While the sexual chemistry and the heated onscreen love scenes between actresses Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos are a huge reason why Blue Is the Warmest Color garnered such large buzz last year, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find the overly long three-hour relationship drama as compelling as it is.  The idea of a 179-minute French-language romance was a bit imposing, but I felt like I had to bite the bullet and jump in to this one considering the fantastic reviews director Abellatif Kechiche's flick garnered.  I'm glad I did because I was treated to a riveting performance by newcomer (to me) Exarchopoulos who brought such raw emotion to her character Adele - a high school teenager when the film begins who begins to fall for a college-aged girl named Emma (Seydoux).  The acting duo carry the film and create one of the more believable relationships I've seen in a long time.

That isn't to say that the film is without faults.  Kechiche certainly sets a languid pace from the get-go with the first hour taking its time in letting us get to know Adele and then Emma.  Emma, in fact, doesn't really even come into the picture until about 45 minutes into the film and even then Kechiche (who also co-wrote the film) allows the young women's relationship to unhurriedly build.  He rather smartly peppers the second hour with multiple sex scenes between his two lesbian lovers -- admittedly some of the most erotic and sensual I've ever seen on film -- which helps keep the audience standing at attention before heading into the film's climax with the inevitable breakdown of the relationship.   While the proper amount of time is spent in each segment of Adele and Emma's relationship, I can't help but think some significant trimmings could have been made in order to whittle things down a bit particularly during the final act.

The film actually takes place over the course of several years and while I appreciated the look at the burgeoning relationship and its aftermath, it certainly would've worn out its welcome had it not been for the riveting performance of young Adele Exarchopoulos.  She's in every scene and not only is she beautiful, but she's one helluva actress.  Her uncomfortable naivety when she discovers her attraction to Emma (heretofore, Adele had believed herself to be wholly heterosexual) is fascinating to watch and her gradual thirst for this new life experience is captured perfectly.  Exarchopoulos brings a vulnerability we don't often see to the screen and her brave performance is one that should have been honored with a nomination at the Academy Awards earlier this month.

Equally brave (both ladies bare all and take part in, as I mentioned, some incredibly explicit sex scenes) is the performance of Léa Seydoux whose Emma gradually leads Adele on her (sexual) awakening.  Like a teacher, Seydoux's Emma recognizes Adele's initial resistance, but also comprehends (moreso than Adele herself) that this is a road that the high schooler truly desires to embark upon.  While Adele is being made fun of by her peers at school for being rumored to have "turned lesbian," Emma gives her the confidence and permission to explore her desires.  Seydoux's strength and Exarchopoulus' innocence play off each other to great effect.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is not going to be for all tastes.  First, you've got to be willing to subject yourself to a foreign film.  Second, you've got to be willing to subject yourself to a three hour foreign film.  Third, you've got to have an open mind to the explicit nature of the piece.  However, if you're willing to take the plunge, you'll be witness to some great performances in a film that isn't perfect, but is worth seeing as a glimpse of a youthful look at some 21st century relationships.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie Review - Violet & Daisy

Violet & Daisy (2013)
Staring Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel, James Gandolfini, Danny Trejo, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Directed by Geoffrey S. Fletcher
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I watched Violet & Daisy over a month ago and somehow this review just never happened.  I must say that I didn't dislike this weird little movie, but admittedly there isn't a whole lot to recommend it either.  It's a talky piece which is a little surprising considering its premise -- our title characters (played respectively by Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan) are hired assassins whose heretofore unseen boss sends them on a job to kill Michael (James Gandolfini).  They don't know why they're tasked with the mission, but they don't ask questions.  After they arrive at Michael's empty apartment, they accidentally fall asleep only to wake up with Michael serving them cookies which makes Violet and Daisy begin questioning why this seemingly nice man has a hit out on him.  The film takes place mostly within the confines of Michael's abode with the three central characters simply talking about life.

It's weird...and ultimately not very good, but it's strangely intriguing.  Geoffrey Fletcher previously wrote Precious, winning an Oscar for that film, and Violet & Daisy is a huge departure from that piece with a vibe that feels like the love child of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson in terms of violence and quirkiness.  Alexis Bledel is actually oddly charming and while Saoirse Ronan and the late James Gandolfini are also good, they seemingly realize that this material is a little bit beneath them.

My rating below is low, however, this one's an interesting disappointment.  I can't say I wasted my time, but I can't exactly say you won't be wasting yours if you give this one a go.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Theater Review - The Beatles Love

The Beatles LOVE
A Cirque du Soleil Production (credits found here)
Where: The Mirage Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV
When:  Thursday, March 13, 9:30pm

Aaaah...Las Vegas.  The land of debauchery, cigarettes, and intoxicated people who look like they could vomit on you at any second.  It's also the land of Cirque du Soleil -- that French Canadian troupe of artistic theatrical dancers and acrobats -- thanks to their whopping eight shows that call the Vegas Strip their home.  It seemed necessary to take in a Cirque show while on my first trip to Vegas and The Beatles LOVE was the choice.  Unfortunately, the production proved to be a little disappointing and a fairly big step down from the previous Cirque production I had seen -- La Nouba in Orlando, Florida.  

The Beatles LOVE relies heavily on the nostalgia factor to succeed which may be why the fifty to sixty year-olds in the audience were eating it up, clapping at the most inane things.  However, as someone that appreciates The Beatles, but who wasn't around to get wrapped up in the mania surrounding them, I found myself longing for something more.

There were some beautiful moments -- one set to the song "Something" involving a high flying quartet of beautiful ladies and one landlocked guy was absolutely gorgeous in its simplicity -- that showcased the skills of many of the dancers in the show, but there was very little of the Cirque acrobatics that I had come to expect.  Set in the round, the show often featured scenes of chaotic mayhem that proved a bit too "noisy" in terms of visual stimulation.  Any of the typical Cirque-like maneuvering in these scenes was all but lost because of the intense amount of "stuff" going on around the stage.  That said, most of the time the "extreme" events going on weren't all that "extreme" in the first place, the worst being an extended scene involving some roller skaters who did next to nothing except jump over a small hill, but yet still tried to rally the crowd into clapping for them (which the possibly intoxicated crowd obliged).

The Beatles LOVE wasn't an awful show.  The scenes that were quieter and involved dance were much more successful than the scenes that attempted any circus-type or highly acrobatic stunts.  It just wasn't quite what I thought it would be, I guess.  Perhaps that's my fault for going in with different expectations, but I'd certainly recommend trying out another Cirque du Soleil show should you be heading to Las Vegas anytime soon.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Oscar Predictions

Last year, I was 19 for 24.  I can't tell if this year is tougher or not or I'm just hoping for a few surprises...

UPDATE:  Once again, 19 for 24.  I thought for sure Captain Phillips would take editing considering the various guilds voted that direction, but the Academy pretty much voted for Gravity for everything except the one where it really counted -- Best Picture.  

12 Years a Slave is a very good film.  Granted, it's my fourth favorite of the nominees for Best Picture, but it's a very respectable piece of filmmaking that I think upon second viewing will grow in my mind.  

I'd have loved to have seen Leonardo DiCaprio win and, of course, I'd love for Gravity (a marvelous piece of filmmaking) to have taken the big prize, but I knew that wasn't going to happen.  

The one thing I'll take away from tonight -- I couldn't be happier that American Hustle walked away empty-handed.  Thrilled that the overrated David O. Russell film was seen for the overrated flick that it truly was.

Now you can all focus on the awards that really count -- The RyMickey Awards coming in June!

Best Picture -- CORRECT
Will Win:  12 Years a Slave
Should Win:  Gravity

Best Director -- CORRECT
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Best Actor -- CORRECT
Will Win:  Matthew McConaughey
Should Win: Leonardo Dicaprio

Best Actress -- CORRECT
Will Win: Cate Blanchett
Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor -- CORRECT
Will Win: Jared Leto
Should Win:  Michael Fassbender (although I really have no dog in this weak category)

Best Supporting Actress -- CORRECT
Will Win:  Lupita Nyong'o
Should Win:  Lupita Nyong'o

Best Adapted Screenplay -- CORRECT
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Best Original Screenplay -- WRONG (Winner:  HER)
Will Win: American Hustle
Should Win: Nebraska

Best Cinematography -- CORRECT
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Nebraska

Best Costume Design -- WRONG (Winner:  The Great Gatsby)
Will Win:  American Hustle
Should Win: The Great Gatsby

Best Film Editing -- WRONG (Winner:  Gravity)
Will Win: Captain Phillips
Should Win: Gravity

Best Make-up and Hairstyling -- CORRECT
Will Win:  Dallas Buyers Club
Should Win:  American Hustle (wait...it's not nominated?)

Best Original Score -- CORRECT
Will Win:  Gravity

Best Original Song -- CORRECT
Will Win:  Let It Go
Should Win:  Blah...

Best Production Design -- CORRECT
Will Win:  The Great Gatsby
Should Win:  (tie) Her and The Great Gatsby

Best Sound Editing - Gravity -- CORRECT
Best Sound Mixing - Gravity -- CORRECT
Best Visual Effects - Gravity -- CORRECT

Best Animated Feature -- CORRECT
Will Win:  Frozen
Should Win: Monsters University (which isn't even nominated)

Best Documentary Feature - 20 Feet from Stardom -- CORRECT
Best Foreign Language Film - The Great Beauty -- CORRECT
Best Animated Short - Get a Horse -- WRONG (Monsieur Hublot)
Best Live Action Short - Avant Que de Tout Perdre -- WRONG (Helium)
Best Documentary Short - The Lady in Number 6 -- CORRECT