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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,...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Movie Review - Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio (2013)
Starring Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino 
Directed by Peter Strickland
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

From wikipedia:  giallo -- Giallo films are an Italian 20th century subgenre of film...characterized as gruesome murder mystery thrillers...with scenes of shocking horror featuring excessive bloodletting, stylish camerawork, and often jarring musical arrangements...typically introduce strong psychological themes of madness, alienation, and paranoia.

British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) heads over to Italy in the early 1970s after taking a job working on director Giancarlo Santini's (Antonio Mancino) newest film.  Already shot, Gilderoy will be working on the sound effects and perfecting all the looping and voiceover necessary to make Santini's film come together.  One of Santini's producers, Francesco Coraggio (Cosimo Fusco), is Gilderoy's overbearing and slightly scary boss and tires quickly of Gilderoy's insistence on perfection.

And that's it.  That's all the plot Berberian Sound Studio has to offer.  As the film progresses, director Peter Strickland mimics some of the typical shots, sounds, and tones of 1970s Italian gialli flicks, but Gilderoy's sense of madness, alienation, and paranoia aren't enough to elevate this to anything remotely recommendable (and the reasons he feels such madness, alienation, and paranoia are vague and seemingly unfounded).  Admittedly, for the first half of the film, I bought into the premise thinking that ultimately I'd get some type of payoff in the end.  That payoff never came.  Instead, the film just flounders in its second half as it attempts to become thrilling and tense, but never succeeds.  To boot, Toby Jones' mousy performance isn't nearly captivating enough to carry the film.

The one thing this film has going for it -- and it's actually a moderately admirable trait -- is that it really does a fantastic job explaining what foley artists do for films.  The sound (and effects) in this one are really top notch and probably should have been at the very least talked about for consideration at the Oscars this past year.  However, the rest of Berberian Sound Studio was a huge snooze.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, April 28, 2014

Theater Review - Wit

Written by Margaret Edson
Directed by Sanford Robbins
Where:  Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, April 27, 2pm
Photos courtesy of the REP

I am not one to give a standing ovation "just because."  I've found that the "standing ovation" is simply de rigueur in New York City nowadays when I make the all-too-rare trip up there and it's lost its true meaning in my opinion.  A standing ovation is the audience's way of praising an artist or a production for exceeding expectations and delivering a fantastic piece of theater.

Well...at 3:45pm on Sunday, April 27, I found myself standing up...and it wasn't just to get up and leave the Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts at the University of Delaware.  I stood up to praise what I had just witnessed in the Resident Ensemble Players' production of playwright Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Wit, a play that tackles death (and life) head on courtesy of a riveting performance by REP member Kathleen Pirkl Tague.

Wit centers on Dr. Vivian Bearing, a university professor who specializes in the poetry of Englishman John Donne.  As the play opens, Vivian reveals that she has stage IV ovarian cancer...and the prognosis isn't good.  In fact, in one of the play's opening lines, Vivian tells the audience that it isn't her "intention to give away the plot, but I think I die at the end.  They give me less than two hours."  She agrees to an experimental high intensity eight-round chemotherapy treatment, but doesn't realize just how quickly the medical industry's attempts to help her just might wear her down.

Vivian is a tough cookie -- and an incredibly smart one at that -- and Kathleen Pirkl Tague exudes that strength in the play's initial moments.  Onstage for the entire play, Tague doesn't get a moment to rest with the story squarely focused on her for the intermissionless 100 minutes.  Of course, that's not a problem for Tague as she always has a tendency to steal the show whether taking on comedy (Noises Off) or drama (as a fantastic Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman), but this may be the first time I've seen her take center stage and Wit further showcases her talent.

Playwright Edson's script crafts Vivian as a no-nonsense professor -- one of those who you seemingly can't please despite how much you try -- who, in addition to being a bit of a hard-ass, is also prone to dry humor.  Perhaps she needs that sarcastically witty side in order to cope with the fact that she's given her life over to her studies of John Donne so much so that as she lays dying in a hospital room, she has no one to visit her.  This delicate balance of character traits creates an incredibly well-rounded character with whom we come to really feel a connection thanks to Ms. Tague's ability to hit all the nuances of Edson's script.

Not only is the play funnier than I thought it would be (the humor derived from rather smart "wordplay" was a treat for this English degree recipient), there's a great amount of heart on display as well in large part thanks to the lovely relationship we witness between Vivian and her nurse Susie portrayed by Jasmine Bracey, graduate of the University of Delaware's 2011 PTTP student training program.  (Side Note:  UD -- Let's give that program a budget again and bring it back!!!)  While her doctors (REP members Lee Ernst and Michael Gotch) see Vivian as a research subject, Susie treats Vivian as a person and the connection these two achieve is touching.  Kudos to Ms. Bracey for holding her own with Ms. Tague's Vivian considering that her nurse is a much less-developed character.
Although Wit is a bit less "showy" in terms of sets, the scenic design by Stefanie Hansen embodies the perfect hospital atmosphere and director Sanford Robbins rather adeptly creates an ease and flow between scene changes, tonal shifts, and fourth wall-breaking (Vivian talks directly to the audience often) that never once feels jarring.

However, Wit isn't a play for visual theatrics.  Instead, the showiness comes from the brave leading performance of Kathleen Pirkl Tague.  Although I appreciate all members of the REP troupe, for some reason or another, Ms. Tague has always been my favorite because of her (aforementioned) ability to so easily tackle both comedy and drama.  Her role in Wit allows her to showcase both aspects of her talent. 

The standing ovation I gave as Wit concluded was well-deserved.  I can't recommend this one enough -- check it out before it takes its final bow on May 10.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Theater Review - Faust

Written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Adapted by Heinz-Uwe Haus
Directed by Heinz-Uwe Haus
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, March 23, 2pm

Seeing as how I saw the very last performance of Faust by the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players nearly a month ago, I'm going to make this review short and sweet since, if you're reading this, you'd never get a chance to see this fantastic production of this well-known piece of theater.  With a rather simplistic story -- our title character (played by REP member Stephen Pelinski) makes a deal with the Devil (played by the REP's Mic Matarrese) that in exchange for life's riches and a fulfilling happiness if Faust ever says he's "satisfied" with his life, he will lose his soul and give himself over to the Devil to do his bidding in Hell -- adaptor-director Heinz-Uwe Haus' version of Faust relies on stunning visuals in order to elevate the play to a fantastical level.
Photos by UD REP

Freakish songs, flying angels (and devils), monkeys, large orgies -- this one's got it all.  Visually, I felt as if I was watching some psychedelic mash-up of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and Ken Russell's The Devils -- and that was a new experience for the REP to present to the public for sure.  Although the stage was often a blank canvas, what Mr. Haus and scenic/lighting designer William Browning brought to the table with yards and yards of simple fabric was incredibly stimulating.
As always, performances were top notch with Pelinski and Matarrese making the most of their roles which, ultimately, were both a little more one-note than I expected thanks to Goethe's characterizations.  This is a little bit surprising in that the character of Faust felt as if he should have a little more depth than the play allows him to have and the Devil was...well...a very obvious representation of the Devil.  Perhaps the reason I ended up feeling this way is because of the absolutely riveting performance of guest actor (and former UD Professional Theater Training Program member) Sara J. Griffin as Gretchen, a young woman whom Faust fancies, falls in love, and ultimately ruins.  Griffin was great in the REP's 2010 production of Our Town and she brings much emotional weight to the initially naive Gretchen.  I found her absolutely captivating whenever she was onstage after making her first appearance in the second act.

With Griffin's great performance, it makes me long for the REP to get back to its roots of a few years ago and welcome a new cast of doe-eyed students into the mix to bring a new perspective to the already fantastic troupe.  I keep hoping to hear an announcement of a new PTTP class, but budgets seem to nix that every year.  Fingers crossed we'll get good news on that front soon.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie Review - All Is Lost

All Is Lost (2013)
Starring Robert Redford
Directed by J.C. Chandor

Even moreso than movies of its ilk like Cast Away and Life of Pi, All Is Lost is a bit more of an experiment in filmmaking.  Whereas the lost and foresaken travelers in those two films had either a beach ball named Wilson or a tiger named Richard Parker with whom to converse, the man in All Is Lost -- and he is just a nameless man played by Robert Redford -- has no one but himself to pass the time.  And he's not fond of talking to himself.  So, what you get is a film that has perhaps one minute of dialog combined across its 105-minute run time.  That's a ballsy move on writer-director J.C. Chandor's part because it forces the visuals to be captivating.  Fortunately they are, but the film itself -- perhaps because of the lack of dialog -- failed to allow me to connect with the main character despite his hard-fought battle against Mother Nature and Mother Earth. 

The film begins with the voiceover of Redford's weathered older sailor reading a letter to his daughter which tells her that he fought hard, but was unable to overcome the perils of the sea despite his best efforts.  We then flashback eight days already knowing that something awful is going to happen.  This foreshadowing certainly provides the movie with some much needed tension and does its job by keeping us on the edge of our seat until the man's inevitable downfall.  As the seventy-something man sails the Southern seas on his lovely boat named the Virginia Jean, he wakes up one morning to his sailboat taking on water thanks to having a run-in with a large crate (the type carried on those giant cargo ships).  While he manages to get his boat detached from the crate, the gaping hole left behind causes some problems...and the impending stormy weather doesn't help things either.

The story in All Is Lost isn't the film's problem.  In fact, the simplicity is actually refreshing and feels incredibly natural.  The issue with the movie is that I didn't really care what happened to Redford's character -- whether he lived or died made no difference to me.  In films like Life of Pi and Cast Away where we've been given glimpses of the main characters' home lives, I had a rooting interest for the shipwrecked folks to get home.  Here, it was really just a struggle of man vs. nature which inherently is intriguing, but didn't allow me to connect with the character the way I desired.  I respect what J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford did here (although Redford's Oscar buzz seems unwarranted in a year that contained so many fantastic leading actor performances) and All Is Lost is still a really solid film, but they didn't create a film that had me hoping for the man's success which inherently seems like a bit of a problem.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Movie Review - Adore

Adore (2013)
Starring Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Sophie Lowe, Jessica Tovey, and Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by Anne Fontaine
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's an uncomfortable feeling that permeates throughout Adore that I can't imagine anyone really finding kosher.  The story of two grown women -- Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) -- going through a mid-life crisis is at its core.  Lil is a widow left with a son Ian (Xavier Samuel) after her husband dies who, despite nearly a decade without her significant other, hasn't quite moved on with her life.  Roz is Lil's best friend, has been married to Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) for two decades, and has a son named Tom (James Frecheville).  The two families have had their lives intertwined for years, but one night when Harold is away, that "intertwining" takes on new meaning as Ian and Roz have a passionate night of lovemaking only to be seen by Roz's son Ian.  Upset, Ian run to Lil...who ends up comforting him by sleeping with him as well.

Feeling a little skeezed out yet?  You should be.  The two women and their two sons decide that these relationships while admittedly a little odd are exactly what the doctor ordered -- they make the women feel young and also feel natural since they've all known each other for years.  That'd be one crazy doctor, however, to give the okay to the obviously psychologically damaging set-up that's going on here.

Oddly enough, however, I was actually moderately impressed at how the film takes its time exploring the two incredibly inappropriate relationships.  While the concept seems odd, the film makes the couplings feel like a natural progression (although, admittedly, director Anne Fontaine sets things up way too obviously in the film's opening act with sensual looks and simple caresses blatantly foreshadowing what is to come).  All of the actors sell the concept with Watts and Wright doing their best to try and make the audience feel less uncomfortable than the set-up inevitably warrants -- they don't necessarily succeed, but they come close.

Still, in the end, it all just feels rather silly.  There is an attempt at trying to get serious in the film's final act, but after two-thirds of frivolity and sexual shenanigans, I didn't buy into that aspect.  Adore was pretty roundly trashed by the critics upon its release and while I don't think it's deserving of a complete dismissal, it's just a tiny bit too icky to fully embrace.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Movie Review - Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (2013)
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, James Badge Dale, Paul Bettany (voice), and Ben Kingsley 
Directed by Shane Black

After the overhype that was The Avengers -- yes, I didn't love it, so perhaps my thoughts on Marvel movies automatically get negated because of that -- I admittedly wasn't looking forward to tackling Iron Man 3.  In fact, my biggest issue with The Avengers was Robert Downey, Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark who I found to be obnoxiously annoying in that piece.  [Yes, I realize that's the point, however, as I mentioned in my Avengers review, setting him amidst "nicer" superheroes made the character's self-important sarcastic nature more grating.]

So, color me surprised when I sat through Iron Man 3 and found it an enjoyable action flick.  Tony Stark is dealing with the aftermath of that wormhole/alien incident in The Avengers and it's mellowed him out, helping to build a character that has more depth than the playboy we've seen in movies past.  Stark still has his sarcastically quippy replies to most things, but the script (and Downey, Jr.) does a nice job of creating a few more emotional layers on the character.

In Iron Man 3, Stark is faced with battling The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an American terrorist who's hellbent on making the US pay for their "crimes" against humanity.  After a bombing outside the Chinese Theater in L.A., the police are unable to find any bomb residue or any evidence that a bomb even existed onsite which begs the question of how exactly the Mandarin is causing these disasters.  Despite being more based in reality than some of the previous Marvel flicks, let's just say that the cause of the explosions takes us down that fantastical comic book unrealistic path -- and I don't mean that in a condescending way at all.

Admittedly, director Shane Black hasn't had much experience behind the camera (this being only his second film) and it shows a bit when it comes to lensing action sequences.  While the quick cuts aren't necessarily abundant, I couldn't help but think that many of the "BIG" scenes felt a bit muted in terms of excitement and were a bit confusing and slapshot in the way they were filmed.  Still, Black does a very nice job in the film's quieter moments and gets some good performances from all of his players with Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, and Jon Favreau making return appearances and Kingsley, Guy Pearce, and Rebecca Hall making solid debuts in the Marvel universe.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Movie Review - The Last Days on Mars

The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Starring Liev Schrieber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, and Johnny Harris
Directed by Ruairi Robinson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Seven astronauts are finishing up a research mission to Mars.  On their last day, one of the astronauts sees a spike in some scientific readings and goes out to investigate only to fall into a gigantic pit.  As other members of the crew go out to try and find the missing astronaut, they discover that some type of planetary bacteria has infected the crew member and turned him into a man-eating zombie.

Yeah...zombies...on Mars...

The Last Days on Mars is surprisingly well acted considering the ridiculousness of the plot, but the film isn't very tense and it certainly isn't scary.  With neither tension or scares, the film just falls flat and proves to be ultimately a bit boring.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movie Review - Austenland

Austenland (2013)
Starring Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, and Jane Seymour
Directed by Jerusha Hesh

My Keri Russell fandom isn't unknown to those who know me.  I crushed on her when she first appeared on the 1990s incarnation of the Mickey Mouse Club during my formative early teen years and my fondness for her continues to this day.  Hence, she's the reason I desired to check out Austenland, a comedy in which Russell plays Jane, a dowdy office worker who is obsessed with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  With her apartment decked out from ceiling-to-floor in Austen memorabilia, Jane jumps at the chance to spend a boatload of money to visit Austenland in England -- a immersive Victorian-era experience that places guests squarely in the Jane Austen era.  While there, she finds herself in her own love triangle with a somewhat lowly stable man/maintenance guy named Martin (Bret McKenzie) and the uppity, cantankerous, and more aristocratic Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Feild).

Unfortunately, it's the love triangle aspect of Austenland that never lands quite right and ruins much of the good will and humor that the rest of the script and the actors bring.  The film squarely sets forth her relationship with Martin and does so in a rather lovely and charming manner, but I kept feeling like the third part of the triangle -- her dalliances with Mr. Nobley -- felt forced and not well thought out.  There was never any sense of connection between the characters of Jane and Mr. Nobley, but rather a sense that the script was just forcing them together for want of tension.

Ms. Russell is charming as usual with that nice, calm, and sweet Felicity vibe being present for this one.  I loved seeing Bret McKenzie onscreen -- I'm not sure I've seen him in anything since Flight of the Conchords (with the exception of his fantastic behind-the-scenes songwriting for the past two Muppets movies).  Jennifer Coolidge is playing her typical brash, larger-than-life, idiotic, ditz persona...but for some reason I've failed to tire of it from her.  She's just so darn good at it that I'm able to overlook the fact that nearly every single one of her characters is interchangeable from one movie to another.  Still, despite these actors' charms, the script does them in on this one and, despite my goodwill going into it, I left a little disappointed.  (However, should you watch, make sure you stick around through the credits for a nice Victorian-era music video set to Nelly's "Hot in Herre" which was hilarious to me for some reason.)

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Movie Review - Closed Circuit

Closed Circuit (2013)
Starring Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciarán Hinds, Julia Stiles, Anne-Marie Duff, Denis Moschitto, Hasancan Cifci, and Jim Broadbent
Directed by John Crowley

I keep waiting for the movie that's going to provide the breakout role for Rebecca Hall.  Not only is she incredibly attractive (with a British accent to boot), but she exudes an intelligence and a down-to-earth demeanor that I find appealing.  Closed Circuit certainly didn't provide the breakout, but it's a perfectly acceptable political thriller that is elevated because of the respectable cast.

The film opens with a bombing in a open-air market in central London.  The police arrest Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), a man who seemingly has ties to Middle East terrorist organizations.  When the barrister set to represent Erdogan in the public hearing commits suicide, up-and-comer Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is plucked to replace him.  However, prior to the public hearing, a private hearing needs to be held.  With many aspects of the bombing having the ability to compromise MI-5's terrorism investigations, the government appoints another lawyer to Erdogan's defense, Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall), to look over all of the government's secret information relating to the attack and determine what, if anything, needs to be made public record in order to help her accused client.  While Martin and Claudia are supposed to not have contact with each other -- as Claudia's private information may affect Martin's public defense -- the two used to have a romantic relationship and find it difficult to cut ties.  Not only that, but as both Claudia and Martin dig into the Erdogan case, they realize that things may not be as cut and dry as MI-5 hoped it would be.

Closed Circuit is a solidly made thriller that moves along at just the right pace.  However, I couldn't help but think this belonged on the BBC rather than in a movie theater.  There's nothing about it that screams "THEATRICS," but that doesn't by any means signify it's not of a high quality.  Seeing as how this is out of theaters and you'd just be watching it at home anyway, it's absolutely worth watching should political thrillers be your cup of tea.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Movie Review - Noah

Noah (2014)
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Douglas Booth; with the vocal talent of Frank Langella and Nick Nolte
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

I go to church.  

I also go to movies.  

When I go to movies, they don't need to reflect any of the teachings that are espoused in the church, but if they do, I prefer not to be hit over the head with them.  I'm an intelligent enough guy to read between the lines and grasp any philosophical or religious undertones.  You won't ever catch me heading to the insanely (though perhaps dubiously) popular God's Not Dead for this very reason.  Blatant religious proselytization is a complete turn-off to me perhaps because it's not how I live my religious life.  (I'm one who you'll never find preaching my beliefs to others -- which perhaps makes me a bad Catholic, but I can't help but feel my beliefs are my own.)

The reason for that preface is to illustrate the point that those who are ragging on Darren Aranofsky's Noah for "taking liberties" with a Bible story that is two pages long don't know what they're talking about.  The criticisms lobbed at this one are utterly unfounded and quite honestly paint "religion" in a bad light.  Then again, I'm one of those religious folks who believe most aspects of the Bible are simply "stories" that present "how to live one's life" as opposed to "actual happenings."  But you Noah-complainers can go on believing that Noah lived to be 950 years old...

Noah is a beautiful film told by a talented director headlined by a movie star giving what could very well be the best performance of his career...and it espouses the overall tone of the biblical story of Noah to boot.  All of those reasons are why Noah is a success.  Granted, the film doesn't quite hit all the right notes -- Aronofsky (who also co-wrote the film with Ari Handel) throws in a "bad sheep" subplot revolving around one of Noah's sons Ham that proves to be the biggest issue -- but I greatly appreciated the film's attempt to display a man's religious convictions and how they shape his life.  While it's true that Noah may "go off the deep end" a little bit in the film's third act as he attempts to bring an end to all mankind as he feels that was God's plan for him, the film more than justifies that stance while also supplying an appropriate ending and epiphanic-type moment for the title character to realize the error of his interpretation of God's word.

Everyone knows the story of Noah (played by Russell Crowe) and his ark, but Aronofsky and Handel expand upon the short tale in great detail and with significant "free reign."  I'm pretty certain the Transformers-like Watchers -- six-armed stone creatures who protect Noah as he builds his ark -- didn't make an appearance in the Bible.  Nor was there an epic battle between Noah and the descendants of Cain headed by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) who desperately want to find refuge on the ark to live through the water apocalypse.  Personally, I found that this expansion of the biblical Noah story added depth, heart, and even strengthened the religious aspects of the tale.

Noah is a man who wants nothing more for his family to live a life at peace with the Earth and the creatures and humans who inhabit it.  When we first meet Crowe's Noah, he's a humble, quiet man who we can tell deeply cares for the well-being of his family and has a strong faith in the Creator.  (This "Creator" nonsense is perhaps the biggest "uproar" the movie caused.  With only one mention of the word "God," opponents of the film are up in arms.  This criticism is utterly unfounded.)  However, when he "hears" God speak to him, telling him to build an ark to safely shepherd his family and two of every creature through the approaching storm, his calmness shifts to diligence and steadfastness to the Creator.  However, upon seeing the Creator's wrath upon humanity, Noah admittedly starts to go off the deep end, feeling that this horrific event imposed upon humans must mean that God doesn't want them to inhabit the Earth anymore.  (This religious fervor that Noah feels is essentially mirrored in the religious folks who don't want you to see this film.  To me, they're eerily similar in that they both feel they are fully aware of what God would want from them.)  Nevertheless, Aronofsky's Noah character is a tricky one and Crowe absolutely succeeds at portraying every aspect of the complicated and thought-provoking character.

Jennifer Connelly as Noah's wife Naameh and Emma Watson as Noah's adopted daughter Ila also provide powerful performances in a film that also heavily focuses on the women in Noah's life.  In fact, it's when the film attempts to shift to the trials of Noah's two oldest sons Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ham (Logan Lerman) that the film falters.  Their "love triangle" of sorts with Ila is disappointingly trite and Ham's attempts to undermine his father oftentimes feel cheap and overly dramatic.

As far as the cinematic aspects of the film are concerned, despite the subject matter this is most certainly Darren Aronofsky's most "mass appeal" film to date.  After the quick cuts of Requiem for a Dream, the somewhat erotic Black Swan, and the inward "simplicity" of The Wrestler, Aronofsky allows the story to take center stage (despite having a much bigger budget for this one than any of his other features).  That isn't to say that there aren't some typical trippy moments -- the "creation" story Noah details in the third act is beautiful in that it stands in such stark contrast to the rest of the aesthetic of the film while still feeling like it naturally belongs in the piece -- but this is the "least Aronofsky" Aronofsky film I've seen.  Personally, I love what he brings to the table and I think he created a very thoughtful big budget flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Movie Review - Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
Starring Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and a whole mess of Muppets
Directed by James Bobin

I was inevitably prepared to be a little let down while watching Muppets Most Wanted after the genius that was The Muppets (the RyMickey Award winner for Best Movie of 2011) -- a film that provided the resurrection and "rebirth" of the Jim Henson-created franchise of characters whom I've loved since I was a wee lad.  I wasn't quite prepared to be let down as much as I was, however.

It's not that Muppets Most Wanted is particularly bad in any way.  It's just that the heart that permeated throughout the humor of The Muppets isn't present this time around.  Granted, Muppets Most Wanted is a completely different beast -- it's a caper adventure with the Muppets trying to solve a crime spree across Europe -- and nothing like the nostalgia trip of director and co-writer James Bobin's first venture with the felt characters.  (Like Bobin, co-writer Nicholas Stoller returns for this flick as well.)  Still, if you're going to drop the emotional aspect, the humor needs to be pumped up and Muppets Most Wanted doesn't adequately succeed in that department.

After having successfully returned to the Hollywood scene thanks to their last movie, The Muppets are trying to decide what to do next to capitalize on their revitalization.  They meet with Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who in a job interview to be the Muppets' manager suggests that the crew travel across Europe on a world tour.  Despite Kermit's misgivings, our favorite frog is outvoted by his friends and they agree to hire Dominic and head over to Germany to start their tour.  Little do the Muppets know that Dominic is a crook who works for the criminal mastermind known as Constantine.  With the exception of a mole on the right side of his face, Constantine is a dead ringer for Kermit so when Constantine escapes from a Russian gulag run by the hard-nosed Nadya (Tina Fey), he switches places with Kermit and, in a rather Superman/Clark Kent-ian manner, none of the Muppets (except for Walter, introduced in last year's The Muppets) notice a difference.  With Kermit being re-captured and taken back to the gulag, Constantine and Dominic set out on a mission to snatch the Crown Jewels of London, stealing a bunch of other valuable goods along the way as the Muppets travel across Europe.

The plot, while somewhat of a rehash in tone of The Great Muppet Caper, is actually humorously developed, but the film lingers around too long at 110 minutes.  Trimming twenty minutes would've done wonders for Muppets Most Wanted.  [As much as I love Sam Eagle, his lengthy bits with Ty Burrell as CIA and Interpol agents trying to track down the criminals could've all been left on the cutting room floor without me feeling the least bit depressed.]  Without the touching nostalgia of The Muppets and relying strictly on laughs, the flick is guilty of the typical 21st century "movie crime" of being a comedy that overstays its welcome.

Much like the rest of the film falling short of its predecessor, Bret McKenzie's songs don't quite have the same impact as his wonderful, ingenious, and Oscar-winning numbers from the first film.  Granted, there are a few moments thanks to McKenzie's music where the film really comes to life -- the 1970s-inspired "I Can Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)" sung by Contantine (the best moment in the film by far and an early frontrunner for Best Scene of 2014), the power ballad "Something So Wrong" performed by Miss Piggy and Celine Dion (!), and the opening self-referntial number "We're Doing a Sequel" -- but overall they're not as inspired as his first venture into the Muppet realm.

I must confess, though, that perhaps I'm being way too harsh on this.  Any Muppet movie is better than no Muppet movie and maybe if this was the first Muppet movie in over a decade (like the last one was), I'd have felt a little differently.  However, 2011's The Muppets was so fantastic that I can't help but feel let down on this one.  A second viewing with a little perspective at the end of the year perhaps will be necessary to be certain that the rating below is the rating I want to give the film.  But for now Muppets Most Wanted is just...okay.  And that one word -- "okay" -- is the most damning one in the whole review.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Movie Review - The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger (2013)
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, and William Fichtner
Directed by Gore Verbinski

The Lone Ranger isn't nearly as bad as its dismal box office numbers last summer would have you believe.  However, it's not very good either.  Director Gore Verbinski of Pirates of the Caribbean fame does know how to solidly lens an action scene and all of The Lone Ranger's souped-up special effects moments really excel, succeeding at not appearing the least bit computer-generated or post-produced.  For that, I give The Lone Ranger much credit.

Unfortunately, the film feels bloated and surprisingly empty on story considering its nearly 150-minute running time.  For a movie called The Lone Ranger, one would think that the title character would take top billing when it comes to story.  But seeing as how Johnny Depp is involved and isn't playing that title character, you know that scene-stealing has to take place on his part...and that's certainly the case here.  Depp is Tonto, the title character's trusty Native American sidekick who is quick with witty retorts and swami-like wisely sage advice.  No matter what he's saying, however, Depp decides to mumble his way through the words much like his Pirates of the Caribbean Captain Jack character only this time without the English accent and with less of a slurred/drunken vibe and more of a stilted/monotone one.

Unlike Depp, Armie Hammer actually has a presence that at least proves charming and watchable as John Reid (who later becomes The Lone Ranger).  His story about avenging some wrongs done to his family plays out in typical western fashion, but Hammer at least is somewhat captivating.  Unfortunately, the film pretends like it cares about him as a character, but really just wants us to place our attention on Tonto and that's just a premise I couldn't get behind.

Like I said above, Verbinski has lensed a nice looking film.  Unfortunately, the script does this one in.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-