Thursday, December 31, 2015

Theater Review - The King and I

The King and I
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Where: Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, New York, NY
When:  Saturday, December 26, 2015, 8pm
After the lovely revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific directed by Bartlett Sher at Lincoln Center, The King and I had a lot to live up to seeing as how it's another Rodgers and Hammerstein production also directed by Bartlett Sher and also showing at Lincoln Center.  While it doesn't overtake South Pacific purely based on the book and songs, The King and I is still a charming production, beautifully acted and nicely directed.

Tony winner Kelli O'Hara takes on the role of Anna, a Welsh teacher who travels to Siam to teach the many children of the King played here by Hoon Lee.  The duo of O'Hara and Lee are rather intriguing together -- there's a slight romantic spark between the two coupled with a tension as the authoritarian King attempts to rule over Anna and their quick-worded barbed exchanges are charming.  O'Hara is gloriously at home on the stage with a voice that commands attention in both the most dramatic and comedic of situations.  This is my third time seeing O'Hara onstage and she really is a treat to watch and hear.  Lee is a nice counterpoint, taking on a serious tone, but having a quick wit that makes The King and I much more humorous than I ever expected.

The stand-out moment of the evening for me, however, came from Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang, the King's most "treasured" wife -- you see, he has many women to whom he is betrothed.  When she belts out Rodgers and Hammerstein's rather heartbreakingly written "Something Wonderful," it was the one moment in the show I found myself getting chills.  Kudos to Miles for delivering what I found to be the night's most captivating moment.

Throughout the first act of The King and I -- a musical with which I was completely unfamiliar prior to heading up to NYC -- I found myself rather enthralled by the proceedings with a nice mix of clever songs (a melange of ballads, humorous ditties, and the quintessential "Getting to Know You").  Unfortunately, following the intermission, I felt like the musical didn't hit the right notes.  It's no fault of O'Hara, Lee, or Miles or even director Bartlett Sher, but rather the fault of the musical's book which oddly intersperses some disappointing musical numbers with oddly paced drama.  There's not much there to really grab us and reel us in which is a bit surprising since the first act captivates.

Don't mistake that last paragraph for complete distaste in The King and I.  It's a lovely "old school" Broadway musical certainly earning its "classic" status.  It's just not quite a complete piece to me, but Kelli O'Hara, Hoon Lee, and Ruthie Ann Miles are worth the price of admission.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Martian

The Martian (2015)
Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Ridley Scott

A huge success this fall, I avoided The Martian until the final week it was in theaters (heck, it's being released on Blu-Ray in less than a month) because of a lengthier running time in a genre that I don't dislike but isn't particularly my favorite.  Science fiction flicks oftentimes feel so heavily bogged down with jargon or "deep thinking" that they just don't seem fun.  (I'm talking to you, Interstellar - a film that I didn't mind, but at times felt like a chore to watch.)  While The Martian certainly has hefty scientific details running through it, director Ridley Scott's film is surprisingly witty, full of some charming performances, and has a story that is briskly paced and immensely enjoyable.

Matt Damon is, for all intents and purposes, the title character.  In 2035, botanist Mark Watney is left behind on Mars by the crew of the Ares III after he is struck by debris during a gigantic dust storm and unable to be found.  All indications according to the life support systems in Mark's suit point to him being dead so the crew (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie) -- forced to make a difficult decision as the huge storm will soon make their ship unable to function -- start their three year journey home saddened for Mark's apparent death.  After the storm dissipates, Mark wakes up to find his suit impaled by an antenna which took out his biometer, but also, when mixed with Mark's blood, formed a seal on the suit keeping Mark alive.  Mark returns to the Mars astronaut base and begins to analyze his next moves.  Unable to communicate with Earth, Mark figures out a variety of ingenious ways to keep himself alive in hopes that at some point, he'll be able to get back in touch with NASA.

Meanwhile on Earth, satellite analyst Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) notices that there is movement on Mars in the area where the Ares crew lived while on the planet and determines that Mark is actually alive.  She immediately informs NASA director Teddy Sanders, NASA media relations head Annie Montrose, and Mars mission director Vincent Kapoor (respectively Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and plans are put into place to attempt to get Mark back.

Undoubtedly, The Martian is one of director Ridley Scott's best films -- and certainly his best in over a decade.  Quite frankly, I'm amazed at how involved I found myself in the story.  While not as solitary as a film like Cast Away in which Tom Hanks was essentially the only character onscreen, for huge portions of The Martian Matt Damon is the only actor onscreen.  Rather cleverly, screenwriter Drew Goddard has crafted a device where he has Mark talk to a computer screen in a video diary-type set-up which allows the audience to get into Mark's head and allows for quite a few comedic moments as Mark contemplates how to survive.  Combined, Scott's direction and Goddard's script keep things moving at an incredibly solid and tremendously surprising clip, creating a film that's hugely pleasant to watch.

While I certainly don't have anything against the actor, Matt Damon has never been a favorite of mine, but I must admit that the actor is quite captivating here.  There's a charm he brings to Mark that's intensely watchable, handling the humor and drama quite well and balancing both with ease.  The rest of the cast is also quite solid with not a bad egg in the bunch, but even though folks like Jeff Daniels and Chiwetel Ejiofor figure in quite a bit story-wise, this is really Damon's film and he holds our interest much more than I ever thought he would.

Admittedly, the film's big set piece that makes up the conclusion seems a little far-fetched, but despite the ridiculousness of it, I still found the denouement quite compelling and excitingly lensed.  Quite honestly, though, what's most intriguing about The Martian is how the science of what keeps Mark alive is placed so squarely front and center and seems shockingly plausible (with the exception of that seemingly ludicrous conclusion).  Not only is The Martian funny, but it's also surprisingly smart...and somehow it's still enjoyable.  Kudos to the entire team behind this one as I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one nearly as much as I did.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie Review - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Starring Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Katherine Hughes, Jon Bernthal, Molly Shannon, and Connie Britton
Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

There's no hiding the fact that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a movie about a disease.  In this case, it's cancer and the dying girl in the title is Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a high school senior who is diagnosed with leukemia.  The "Me" in the title is Greg (Thomas Mann), a wry, witty loner of sorts who has managed to make his way through high school by being pleasant enough to every single clique or group, but never really joining any of them.  This casual sense of invisibility has proved to be very successful for Greg, but it's also made him a bit of a loner with the exception of his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) with whom he makes hilariously ridiculous recreations of art house films.  When Greg's mom (Connie Britton) forces her son to visit Rachel after she's been diagnosed (with whom he's said very little to in the entirety of high school), Greg connects with Rachel's wry sense of humor and no-nonsense attitude and the two begin to form a friendship.

As I said, there's no hiding the fact that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a disease movie.  It places cancer squarely at the forefront.  However, the film doesn't create a two-hour mope-fest.  Instead, screenwriter Jesse Andrews and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon have created one of the funniest films I've seen this year.  There's a hip, irreverence imbued in both the dialog and the way the film is shot and acted that immediately clicked with me.  I belly-laughed multiple times (mostly at Greg and Earl's homages/recreations of films), yet still think the film does a nice job at balancing the humor with the pathos.

That said, despite great turns from RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, and Thomas Mann (who is quite captivating and oddly charming as the lead), Me and Earl and the Dying Girl didn't quite click with me emotionally.  Considering the subject matter, I was expecting to be a little more affected.  Granted, this flick doesn't carry the maudlin overtones of something like A Fault in Our Stars (a film which I like quite a bit), but perhaps because of that lack of gravitas, I found myself oddly unmoved as the film reached its conclusion which ultimately felt like a little bit of a letdown.

In only his second film, director Gomez-Rejon shows much promise.  Sure some of the adults (particularly Molly Shannon as Rachel's mother) feel a little too one-note (which is a fault of the script in part) and he doesn't quite hit the bullseye emotionally in the end in the way the way he really needs.  However, there's a freshness to what he's brought to the screen that's refreshing and inviting.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl doesn't hit quite all the right notes, but it comes darn close.

The RyMickey Rating: B

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Movie Review - Brooklyn

Brooklyn (2015)
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Jane Brennan, Fiona Glascott, Jessica Paré, Eva Birthistle, Eileen O'Higgins, Eve Macklin, Emily Bett Rickards, Nora-Jane Noone, and Jenn Murray 
Directed by John Crowley

Brooklyn is a lovely romantic piece that not only takes place in the 1950s, but feels as if it could've been made then, without frills and bells and whistles -- simply a heartwarming story with great performances. Here we have decent, good people trying to earn a decent, good living by doing decent, good things.  It's not always easy for folks, but the story of hard work and perseverance rings true in this story of Irish immigrant Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) as she moves to Brooklyn, New York, to try and better her life. Director John Crowley does a nice job balancing some wonderful comedic moments with an incredibly compelling love story, forgoing flashiness for simplicity thereby allowing screenwriter Nick Hornby's script to really come alive with charming performances from an all-around wonderful acting ensemble.

Leaving behind her mother Mary (Jane Brennan), her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), and her closest friend Nancy (Eileen O'Higgins), young Eilis Lacey decides to take the plunge of many during the 1950s and move from Europe (in this case Ireland) to America.  With the help of Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), an Irish priest living in NYC, Eilis is set up with a job working at a fancy department store under the watch of the tough Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré) and given a place to stay in a small woman's boarding home headed by the hilarious Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters).  Depressed and unable to get out of her funk of homesickness, Eilis has a tough go until she meets the charming and very Italian Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) at a local dance held by the Catholic Church.  The sensible and considerate Tony slowly begins to soften the hardened exterior of Eilis and the two begin to fall for one another.  Unfortunately, Eilis soon receives word of a life-changing situation in Ireland which makes Eilis question whether her loyalties should lie in her old homeland or her new one.

Anchoring Brooklyn and perhaps the greatest reason for its success is the performance of Saoirse Ronan as Eilis.  I have not been the biggest fan of Ronan in the past.  Looking back over my reviews of some of her works, I've called her "bland," "unemotional," and, perhaps most damning of all, "one of the most overrated actresses working today."  Well, that has changed with Brooklyn.  Here, she's finally given the chance to play an adult facing grown-up issues and she proves to be utterly captivating.  There's a sullenness and solemness at the start of the film as Ronan fully conveys Eilis's fear and trepidation about starting a new life in America.  As the layers of Eilis slowly unfurl, we find ourselves becoming mesmerized by her happiness.  Although the story of Eilis's journey may seem simplistic, Ronan adds depth and substance -- her eyes, her moments of silence, her ever-so-slight reactions say so much here --  creating a character who the audience roots for and fully embraces.  I obviously must change my tune about Ms. Ronan and I can only hope that the success of Brooklyn and the raves she's receiving open the doors for more adult roles in her future.

Ronan is surrounded by an extremely talented ensemble that add so much to the film.  Emory Cohen brings a believable charm and innocence to Tony.  As soon as he appears, the connection between Tony and Eilis is immediately palpable and from that moment on, I couldn't help but find myself grinning whenever the two characters interacted.  Julie Walters is a scene-stealer as a no-nonsense boarding house matron.  There are multiple scenes in Brooklyn that take place around dinner tables -- and all are hilariously wonderful -- but when Walters anchors her scenes, they really take flight and become adorably amusing.  Eve Macklin, Emily Bett Richards, Nora-Jane Noone, and Jenn Murray also take part in a good many of these dinner table discussions that are brought to life by this quartet of ladies who add much exuberance to the film.  Back in Ireland, Jane Brennan and Fiona Glascott are a huge part of the heart of the film as the mother and sister of Eilis who long for her to have a better life, but also want to see her travel an ocean away.  Domhnall Gleeson is also good in a quiet, understated role as a young Irish man who also pines for Eilis.

Although the stunning costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux and lovely production design by François Séguin could certainly count as such, there are no bells and whistles here as director John Crowley creates a rather straightforward classic romance.  But it's that word "classic" that's the key here.  Charm, elegance, simplicity -- all descriptors for this wonderful film.  For a film that could've absolutely been made in the era in which it is set, Brooklyn is oddly timely today given the current political landscape, although it is certainly not in any shape or form a political piece.  Instead, it's a romance for the ages that not only gives homage to the immigrants that formed our country, but also honors our country as a whole for the opportunities it can provide if you strive to work hard and be the best you can be.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)
Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Lupita Nyong'o, Peter Mayhew, Andy Serkis, and Domhnall Gleeson
Directed by J.J. Abrams
***viewed in 3D***
You must remember that I come at these Star Wars films as a complete novice, having only watched A New Hope a mere 30 hours ago for the first time as I type this.  And it's true that I've yet to watch (or subject myself to) Episodes I-III.  However, at this point in time, I'm going to just state the following:  Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is, without question, the best Star Wars flick I've seen thus far (and likely the best that has been created if others' trashing of the newer trilogy holds true for me).  Nothing I've seen so far can compare in terms of story, acting, directing, and special effects (which, granted, have a leg up on the 1970s/80s predecessors in terms of capability).  It's a pretty darn good popcorn movie and while I certainly wouldn't consider myself a huge fan by any means, The Force Awakens has at least got me excited about what Disney has in the pipeline for this iconic series.

With the least amount of spoilers possible, the film opens with our typical scroll telling us that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished and that a new villainous regime -- The First Order --has taken on the Empire's dastardly doings and will stop at nothing to find Luke whom they presume to be the last Jedi.  Now a general for the Resistance, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is desperate to find her brother and save the galaxy.  In an attempt to determine his location, Leia sends pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to Jakku to do some research.  Poe's one of the good guys as is Rey (Daisy Ridley) -- a scavenger who may be a more important figure in the fight against evil than even she realizes -- and Finn (John Boyega) -- a Stormtrooper who sees the error of the First Order's ways and has a change of heart.  Our heroes along with returning favorites Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) set out to fight the bad guys, headed this time by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (an over-the-top Domhnall Gleeson), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who, like Darth Vader who came before him, carries off a black cloak and face mask complete with voice digitization quite well.

Director J.J. Abrams has created a film that obviously harkens back to the original trilogy, but also stands on its own as a jumping off point to further tales in the Star Wars landscape.  He eschews the light flares that he's been well known for (and well criticized for) as a director and has created a flick that looks beautiful.  The film moves along at a quick pace and although I still think, like its predecessors, some of the action scenes are a little muted in terms of excitement (light saber battles don't do it for me), Abrams has created a film that flows much better than those films that immediately preceded it.  (Although I will say Abrams only uses about two or three transitional scene-changing wipes.  I missed them a bit...)

It helps, of course, that the film is well-written, certainly with homages to the past, but standing on its own as well.  (Kudos to Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and Abrams himself.) Filled with moments of wry humor and some taut drama, The Force Awakens doesn't really have wasted scenes which I feel hampered Episodes IV-VI a bit.  Abrams also, without a doubt, has found a cast that is quite adept, nicely walking a line between action, drama, and comedy without missing a beat.  With one exception in the aforementioned Domhnall Gleeson whom I usually really like but feel he was directed to go a bit manic, all of the newcomers were captivating, drawing me in to their own stories while also breathing new life into the stories of the "old regime" of Han, Leia, and Luke.

Rather nicely, Abrams doesn't overextend himself with the special effects.  Yes, there are a ton of them here, but they seem more natural and composed than the effects in IV-VI.  Obviously, this is partly due to advancements in technology over thirty years, but some of it also has to do with knowing the limitations of what looks organic onscreen and what doesn't and Abrams is right on target visually.  The addition of an incredibly amusing ball-shaped robot BB-8 - which most of the time is a practical and non-CGI effect - showcases the positive manner in which Abrams utilizes his visual effects to their fullest potential.

Needless to say, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens should not disappoint.  Fanboys should love the homages to the past, while non-fanboys should appreciate the new story lines that work surprisingly well.  This is a pretty great start to the reinvention of the Star Wars franchise.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Movie (Sort of) Review - Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Sebastian Shaw, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, and Alec Guinness
Directed by Richard Marquand
And onto the final film of the original trilogy.  One that I've heard is the worst of the three?  We'll see about that...

2:15pm - A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

2:18 - It dawned on me that people stand on these docking bays with no oxygen masks or whatnot.  Is the atmosphere different in Star Wars' rendition of space?

2:21 - The Star Wars equivalent of the Wizard of Oz quartet arriving at the gates of Oz with R2D2 and C3PO arriving at Jabba the Hutt's.

2:27 - Dance party at Jabba's!  (With obvious precursors to Lucas's Captain EO's monsters.)

2:30 - Muppet Jabba reminds me of the trash monster from Fraggle Rock for some reason...But Muppet Jabba is so much better than computer animated Jabba that was in one of the scenes from Star Wars (which I assume was an add-on in the new addition).

2:35 - Okay, I'm seriously loving the wide array of Muppets and crazy costumed denizens of Jabba's court on display in this movie so far.

2:37 - Could that really be the first transitional wipe 22 minutes in or did I miss one?  #LovetheWipe

2:37 - "Sexy Leia" makes her appearance.

2:45 - An unfortunate pause in my viewing...
3:30 - And we resume...

3:33 - I'm not quite sure how Leia is exactly choking Jabba- his neck seems way too big for that to have been successful.

3:35 - And we bid adieu to Tatooine.

3:44 - Muppet Yoda is dead?  

3:46 - Thank God Luke and Leia only kissed passionately and nothing else.

3:52 - First light speed in Jedi!  (I think.)

4:02 - First Ewok!

4:03 - I'm sure much to the bane of every Star Wars fan, I'm finding this little repartee between Leia and the Ewok rather enjoyable.

4:05 - Kaleidoscope outward wipe -- there are not nearly enough wipes in this movie!

4:17 - Big dramatic moment for Mark Hamill with Carrie Fisher - finally some story/plot.

4:22 - And another dramatic moment for Mark Hamill and Vader - who knew Hamill had it in him?

4:42 - The problem with a lot of the action scenes in these Star Wars movies is that I find myself checking out because they seemingly go on too long with a very repetitive nature to them.  I mean, they're attacking the new Death Star again and it seems just like the first film.

4:43 - But at least they pepper in scenes with Palpatine ragging on Luke which I'm enjoying.

4:52 - Yet another amputation!  Lucas fetishizes amputations for some reason...

4:54 - After what feels like an hour, Luke and Leia finally take down the shield.  Finally!

4:56 - Luke and Darth Vader hug after Dad throws Palpatine over the edge, right?  For a touching Hallmark movie moment between father and son?  Oh, they don't?

4:58 - It just dawned on me that the Empire builds their massive Death Stars at incredibly rapid rates.

5:01 - So Luke's father is Uncle Fester from The Addams Family?

5:05 - A windshield wiper wipe?  That's a totally new one!  And I say once again that I missed the wipes in this one.  #WhereAreTheWipes?

5:08 - Seriously?  They added Hayden Christensen?

While it's not much better than A New Hope, I'm going to be totally sacrilege here and say that I enjoyed Return of the Jedi the most.  This film finally had some dramatic chops in the mix with the Luke/Leia and Luke/Vader/Palpatine scenes.  Costumed characters added some visual appeal and the conclusion -- though once again seemingly stretched ad infinitum -- proved satisfying.  Still, it has issues, one of which is that Empire and Jedi feel like they simply take some of the better aspects of A New Hope and just rehash them.  But, overall, Jedi ekes out a win over A New Hope.

All this being said, I don't understand at all why or how Star Wars carried on in its popularity over decades.  I understand people from the 1970s being in awe and I guess they pushed that fascination on to their kids and the never-ending cycle begins, but I'd much rather watch the Indiana Jones series than pop the Star Wars series in again.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Movie (Sort Of) Review - Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Frank Oz, and Alec Guinness
Directed by Irvin Kershner

And the saga continues with what I've heard is the best film in the series.  We shall see...

1:30am - A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

1:31 - Ooh...a remote ice world of Hoth is being promised in the opening scroll!

1:34 - Yetis!

1:36 - Yay!  Our first transitional wipe!

1:40 - And we have our first light saber amputation in this film...

1:42 - Diagonal wipe?  So many different kinds of transitions!

1:43 - It didn't even dawn on me that I hadn't seen Yoda yet, but ghost Obi Wan reminded me of his existence.

1:55 - What a difference three years (and presumably a lot more money) can make in terms of special effects and production design.  This film looks so much crisper and richly detailed.

1:59 - And the giant walking enemy weapon thing falls because of getting tangled in wire...I knew they should've just used regular tanks...

2:02 - C3PO's nervous hands-up shaking thing makes me chuckle...

2:10 - This asteroid chase scene is a tad bit too visually reminiscent of the Death Star action scene that ended A New Hope.

2:18 - Yoda and his broken English finally make an appearance.  And after a minute, I find myself pleasantly approving of the Muppet-like creature.

2:19 - Although, it's tough not to hear Fozzie Bear sometimes when Frank Oz speaks as the little green guy...

2:22- Han to Leia - "There aren't enough scoundrels in your life..."  I kinda dig that line...

2:31 - Hamill trying to do his best Tarzan impression as he swings on vines...

2:39 - "You must unlearn what you have unlearned."  That's some deep sh*t from Yoda.

2:41 - I understand that the film is trying to show us the trials of Luke learning how to control the Force within him, but I feel like the past thirty minutes of the film have been rather lethargic in terms of trying to move any type of story along.  I mean, what is exactly happening?  Vader is searching for Han and Leia, but he's not really doing anything except killing members of his fleet who fail him.  Han and Leia are feeling each other up, but beyond that they're not really doing much.  We're sort of at a dramatic impasse here.

2:50 - Black people do exist in space!!!

2:52 - Lando - single-handedly bringing back the Cape as a fashion statement! (I mean, Vader has one too, but it's not nearly as stylish.)

2:57 - The guys tossing around C3PO in the junk pile kind of remind me of the ogreish bankers from Harry Potter.

2:58 - Billy Dee with the sabotage!

3:06 - "I love you."  "I know." - Is it wrong that I wanted this exploration of Han and Leia's romance and their coy repartee explored a little more before they baked Han in carbonite?

3:18 - So far this conclusion is less entertaining than the original's.  Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando running around and shooting lasers and not doing much else.  Vader and Luke just swinging their light sabers around...blah...

3:20 - This series loves its amputations!  Luke is obviously using the Force to stop his arm from bleeding.

3:21 - And the pivotal "Luke, I am your father" moment.  I imagine the impact was quite strong in 1980 upon release.  For me, admittedly, the reveal was a foregone conclusion -- I just wasn't sure what film it was in.

3:22 - How did Luke survive that fall?  And where's the blood from his arm?  The heat from the lightsaber obviously cauterized the wound.

3:29 - It just dawned on me that there hasn't been a transitional wipe in over 90 minutes.  Bummer.

Isn't The Empire Strikes Back regarded as a better film than Star Wars?  Maybe I'm not thinking correctly, but despite a much more impressive look to the film, some significantly better written dialog, and actors who honed their craft a little better than in the original, the film itself doesn't really go anywhere and feels repetitive in parts.  I'm aware I'm hindered greatly by the fact that I knew the line "Luke, I am your father," and it's dramatic impact was certainly negatively affected, but Empire lacks a really engaging story.  Part of that, I assume is due to the fact that it's the "middle" piece of a trilogy, but after they left Hoth my interest gradually lessened only perking up in certain spots -- Yoda, Lando's sabotage.  Whereas I would watch Star Wars again, I wouldn't necessarily be rushing to watch The Empire Strikes Back.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Movie (Sort of) Review - Star Wars - A New Hope

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, and Alec Guinness
Directed by George Lucas
I have gone 35 years without watching any of the Star Wars films.  It was "my thing."  As a college student who graduated with a concentration in film, I made in known when asked that I'd never watched Star Wars. Whenever I said that, people were always blown away.

And now that Disney owns the franchise (and for another reason which I'm unable to currently reveal - edit: which is now "revealed" in the comments below), I had to give in and watch.  It is what it is.  There was no inherent opposition to the series...it's just that I'd waited so long, the "not watching" was more comedic than anything else.  

And now "my thing" is over.  Rather than write actual reviews of the series (and I'm only watching episodes IV-VI at the moment), here are my random stream of consciousness thoughts (not necessarily "reviews") that occurred while watching the film.  

10:00pm - A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

10:04 - I've always heard that Stormtroopers can't hit anyone...They're shooting people down in this opening scene, though!

10:05 - It's tough not to see Darth Vader and not want Rick Moranis to be under the suit.  (Go Spaceballs!)

10:09 - There was not much of a budget spent on casting these minor actors...Yikes!

10:15 - One of those robots in the robot dump looked like Wall-E!

10:16 - Oooh...a clock wipe to change scenes...

10:19 - Luke Skywalker's a whiny little runt here initially.

10:27 - Teen Idol Luke with the wind whipping through his hair as he stares at the two moons as the music swells...the gals all swoon...

10:29 - The hovercraft special effect was kinda cool.

10:35 - First lightsaber...and first mention of "The Force" - and, also, finally getting into some actual story after thirty minutes of what felt like nothing much...

10:41- I can't say that I'm too sad that Aunt Beru is dead as her acting skills left a little to be desired...

10:44 - The new CGI is so noticeable in this scene as they hovercraft into some town...it stood out to me right away...

10:46 - Chewbacca!  And droid racism abounds at the cantina!  And chopping off of legs!

10:49 - And Harrison Ford!  Showing more charisma onscreen in mere minutes than most everyone else other than the stoic Alec Guinness!

10:51 - Even I know about this infamous "Han Shot First" scene...

10:58 - First light speed!

11:00 - There's something to be said for villains who are able to implode an entire planet...

11:08 - "I sense something.  A presence I have not felt since...(trails off)..."  Some of Lucas's dialog...sheesh...

11:13 - We haven't had a wipe to change scenes in a long time!  I missed them!

11:14 - Chewy reminds me of a very hairy Rebecca Romijn as Mystique...

11:21 - Sure, it was kinda cool that something grabbed Luke in the garbage chute, but it just disappears?  "It just let me go?"  And all is good?  Why even add that?  Why not just have the chute start compacting right away which is tense enough...

11:30 - The Stormtroopers really are ineffective.

11:33 - I feel like I should be more affected by Obi Wan dying...but the scene feels so sillily thrown away.

11:37 - Honing beacon!  I should've seen that coming!  Intrigue!

11:48 - His name is Porkins!  Porkins?!?!

11:51 - This end action scene is actually surprisingly effective.

11:56 - At least Vader's a good shot to make up for the inadequacies of the Storm Troopers.

11:58 - "Remember...the force will be with you always."  (As a Catholic, every time I heard "The force is with you," I wanted to add, "And with your spirit.")

11:59 - One final wipe to change scenes!

12:01 - And a kaleidoscopic transitional wipe inward to end!

Listen, Star Wars isn't bad.  Were I an eight year-old kid watching this for the first time, I'd think it awesome.  As a thirty-five year-old adult, it's decidedly less exciting.  Yes, I can place myself into the time it was made and I'm able to recognize it's quality of special effects for the time, but Lucas does have some story problems.  Let's be honest with each other -- the first thirty minutes really goes nowhere as it rather lullingly starts off.

I'm gonna admit that I'm not quite sure I understand the huge fandom yet.  Maybe it will become clearer with subsequent films.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Movie Review - Maps to the Stars

Maps to the Stars (2015)
Starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, and Robert Pattinson
Directed by David Cronenberg

Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is an aging Hollywood starlet who is desperate to remain relevant by starring in a remake of one of her deceased actress mother's movies.  She's having difficulty with the notion, however, as she's currently in therapy with Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) dealing with repressed memories of her mother physically and sexually abusing her.  Stafford's family has its own issues -- his movie star tween son Benjie (Evan Bird) is just coming out of rehab for drug abuse and starring in the sequel to his mega hit with his wife Christina (Olivia Williams) negotiating a major multi-million dollar paycheck which is certainly contingent on Benjie staying sober.  Meanwhile, sullen Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) has traveled to Los Angeles from Florida and gets a job as the personal assistant to Havana, but she's hiding a secret connection to the Weiss family that may create havoc upon her return to California.

A David Cronenberg film (which essentially means that weirdness may take center stage at some point), Maps to the Stars is a darkly comic tale about Hollywood that I found surprisingly enjoyable.  Yes, it doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel in terms of its skewering of Big Name Actors and Television Psychologists, but the flick is aided by some really great performances, particularly that of Julianne Moore who embodies the role of an L.A. ditzy actress with such aplomb that you can't help but be impressed.  With John Cusack's best role in a while coupled with a solid turn from young Evan Bird, Maps to the Stars is able to really shine thanks to the acting on display.

The film does falter a bit towards the end when Agatha's secrets begin to reveal themselves and take hold of the Weiss family.  With a genuinely fantastic first two-thirds, I must say I grew a bit disappointed at the conclusion because the movie was so thoroughly enjoyable in its balance of quirky humor and depressing pathos up until that point.  Still, Maps to the Stars proves to be an intriguing film that certain connoisseurs may find appealing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Movie Review - The Age of Adaline

The Age of Adaline (2015)
Starring Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Kathy Baker, and Ellen Burstyn
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

There have been several reviews in the past year (and there are some more to come) where I espouse how much I appreciate films that embrace a 1950s style of filmmaking where foul language is kept to a minimum, sex scenes are understated and chaste, and the story itself feels as if it could be planted in that era without any issues.  The Age of Adaline is one such film -- a film made for adults that you can watch with your grandmother and both enjoy the same amount.  That may seem odd praise, but I think it takes a special touch to make these types of films come off well, not seeming too silly for the modern viewer.  Color me surprised, but The Age of Adaline was a rather lovely film that despite its somewhat ludicrous premise won me over with its 1950s aesthetic.

Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was born on January 1, 1908 at 12:01am.  At age 21, she married her husband and three years later, she gave birth to a baby girl they named Fleming.  In 1937, her husband died in an accident while building the Golden Gate Bridge and ten months later, during a freak snowstorm in Sonoma County, California, Adaline runs off the road while driving her car and falls into frigid water.  Her breathing stopped instantly and her heartbeat slowed and eventually stopped.  Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck the vehicle and the charge defibrillated her heart, allowing Adaline to crawl out of the water.  She continued to live her life, but soon realized that thanks to the bolt of lightning, she was immune to the ravages of time and will never age another day.  As her daughter continues to age (played by Ellen Burstyn in the modern era), Adaline finds that she needs to always run away from people as her lack of aging makes it impossible to stay in one place for a long period of time without folks beginning to question things.

In the present, Adaline has returned to San Francisco, working as a library assistant.  There, she meets Ellis (Michiel Huisman) who instantly falls for her only to find his infatuation unreturned by Adaline.  In what she'd certainly consider a moment of weakness after decades of keeping love at a distance, Adaline spends the night with Ellis and begins to realize that she's missed the human connection that love brings, but she's unsure how to proceed due to her condition.

While there's certainly a suspension of disbelief one must embrace in order to buy into The Age of Adaline, the story hooked me and I was willing to go along for the ride.  Director Lee Toland Krieger has aesthetically created a film that embraces old school romance and charm and his cast gamely jumps on the bandwagon.  Blake Lively is good as the title character although there is part of me that wonders if a slightly more experienced actress could've added a little more depth to Adaline.  I'm not meaning that to be a dig against Lively who I'm admittedly not familiar with as an actress as she succeeds in carrying this film, but I did find myself pondering a different actress in the role.  Harrison Ford is also quite good here in a rather small role as Ellis's father who finds himself questioning Adaline's story.

The Age of Adaline is never going to win any awards - nor should it - but that's no reason not to give this one a go.  This one never was tops on my list of flicks to watch, but I'm quite pleased that I gave this a chance as it's rather lovely and surprisingly enjoyable.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, December 14, 2015

Movie Review - Focus

Focus (2015)
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santora, Gerald McRaney, and Adrian Martinez
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

There are moments of success throughout Focus in which stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie are so charming and charismatic as sly thieves, con artists, and lovers that the Glenn Ficarra and John Requa written-and-directed film almost makes you think that you're watching something that's worthy of your time.  And then the repetitive cat-and-mouse stereotypical double-crossing rears its ugly head and we realize that the story is rather tired and Ficarra and Requa haven't done enough to reinvent things despite making their film look crisp.

Smith is Nicky, a real big shot con artist who heads a fairly large group of crooks who pull off massive amounts of rather small heists that add up to a whole lot of dough.  He meets Jess (Robbie) one evening as she attempts to con him and the two end up falling for one another.  As Nicky trains Jess to be a better crook, we're essentially given two different films:  the first forty-five minutes showcase Nicky and Jess successfully running rampant in New Orleans over Super Bowl weekend and the final seventy-five minutes switch things to Buenos Aires where Nicky attempts to help a race car team owner (Rodrigo Santora) try and win some big race through underhandedness.

The problem with Focus is, ironically, the lack thereof in the film.  We're essentially getting two separate stories here and while the film's first act in New Orleans works in all aspects -- acting, direction, story -- the second act disappoints.  The audience is well aware that most of what they're seeing onscreen is simply double cross after double cross and it ultimately makes us care very little about what we're watching since we take everything we're seeing with a grain of salt, making assumptions that nothing we're seeing is "true."  Smith and Robbie carry the piece and help to ease the disappointment in the film's final hour, but Focus feels like two separate films that don't really come together as one.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Theater Review - Heartbreak House

Heartbreak House
Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Maria Aitken
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, December 6, 2pm

Picture by the REP

Heartbreak House is like the 1910s British equivalent of a Seinfeld episode.  It's essentially about nothing, however Shaw's play feels as if it tacks on a third act that attempts to (maybe?) state that the British aristocracy isn't ready for the impending international wars they'd find themselves apart of in the years to come.  There's perhaps a reason this Shaw piece isn't produced often and despite really top-of-the-line aspects in terms of acting, direction, and production design, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' choice of this play ends up feeling confounding rather than fulfilling.

With the show already closed, I'll keep things a bit brief here.  Told in three acts, Heartbreak House is certainly amusing enough in Acts I and II, but after over two hours of humor relating to eccentric rich people and their foibles (in the same vein as Arsenic & Old Lace or You Can't Take It With You albeit with slightly less kooky characters), I began to wonder what was the point of everything I had seen.  The third act doesn't make things any clearer and, in fact, just muddles things up a bit more as it makes attempts to get deeper for reasons that are unknown to me.

The cast is game, as always, and they certainly make the over-three hour affair an enjoyable watch (despite the confounding nature of its existence and length).  Stand-outs this go-around are the REP's Elizabeth Heflin and Kathleen Pirkl Tague as estranged sisters Hesione Hushabye and Lady Utterwood who are seemingly polar opposites of one another, guest artist Auden Thornton as the outwardly innocent young Ellie Dunn who seeks advice on love from Hesione, and REP member Lee Ernst as the elder statesman of the bunch Captain Shotover who may seem crazed, but is perhaps the most sane of all.  It was nice to see Ernst in particular in an enjoyable role as I've found a great many of his performances to be overly mannered and "actorly" -- here it seemed as if he was fully delving into his character.

The real star of the show, however, is the gorgeous Broadway caliber set by Hugh Landwehr.  The play oddly takes place within the confines of a house built to look like a boat.  During the first two acts, we find ourselves inside the exquisitely detailed confines of the ship and the final act (as seen in the picture above) takes place on the ship's deck.  Both settings added much depth to both the play and the characters themselves, keying us in to certain character traits just via the set alone which is a huge plus to the Tony-nominated director Maria Aitken's production.  Aitken really does her best here and the first two acts -- despite their length and nonsensical nature -- really do seem to fly by (although there are admittedly a few lulls here and there).  The whole production really feels Broadway-caliber.  It's just a shame the play isn't all that good.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Movie Review - Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, and Eddie Redmayne
Directed by The Wachowskis

Essentially incomprehensible, Jupiter Ascending is an utter mess brought to us from the Wachowski siblings.  Lest you forget, I'm actually one of the few people who enjoyed Cloud Atlas, placing that unjustly reviled film in my Top Twenty of 2012, so I'm not inherently opposed to their crazy notions (although I was certainly not a fan of The Matrix).  Their latest incarnation is just a disaster.

Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones, a Russian immigrant who came to the US as a baby and is now working with her mother as a maid for rich folks in Chicago.  About an hour into the film, we discover that Jupiter is the reincarnated mother of three alien siblings from some far away planet and one or more of them may want to kill her.  Prior to this discovery, Jupiter is seen attempting to be captured by a variety of different people despite the fact that we in the audience are clueless for sixty minutes as to why she's being hunted.  I literally found myself looking up things on Google like "Why is Jupiter Jones being chased" because the film sets up the story as if we should know what's going on and I found myself utterly clueless thanks to the piss-poor storytelling on display.

Ultimately, it's the script that's the biggest problem here with the Wachowski's failing to make sense most of the time.  Eddie Redmayne as one of those aforementioned bad siblings mumbles his lines, Channing Tatum rides around on gravity-defying boots acting tough (yet sensitive), and Mila Kunis unsuccessfully attempts to act surprised at everything going on around her.  The final hour of the film is one big action sequence that's just a bunch of noise and clanging and banging.  Ugh.  This one really is a worthless waste of your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Movie Review - McFarland, USA

McFarland, USA (2015)
Starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Carlos Pratts, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez, Ramiro Rodriguez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, and Johnny Ortiz
Directed by Niki Caro

McFarland, USA should have been nothing more than a stereotypical sports movie where a downtrodden coach comes to a down-on-their-luck team and turns things around.  We've seen this story before...many, many times.  Yet, thanks to a heartwarming performance from Kevin Costner, a well cast group of unknown actors as the McFarland High School track team, and a sentimental story that is somehow told without being overly treacly or sugary by director Niki Caro and a trio of screenwriters, McFarland, USA is a sleeper hit that hopefully more people will come to appreciate in years to come.

A true story, McFarland, USA doesn't reinvent any wheel, but what it does well is create an atmosphere of warmth and old-fashioned values that would brighten up even the cruelest of hearts.  Costner is Jim White, a Midwest high school football coach who gets fired after an understandable lapse in judgment causes him to do something he knows he shouldn't have done to one of his players.  Desperate for a job, Jim moves his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and his two daughters to McFarland, California, a small town wherein the majority of the population is Latino.  With Jim and his family sticking out like sore thumbs, Jim finds himself not quite fitting in as the assistant football coach either and is soon relegated to teaching a gym class during which he notices that several of the students have an affinity towards running.  This being the 1980s, California high schools were just on the cusp of allowing cross country racing to be an option for their students and Jim convinces the McFarland High administration to give him a chance coaching a team.  Never easy, Jim and his students struggle both on the track and off as they all grow to become better individuals.

I have to think that part of the reason for the success of McFarland, USA for this blogger anyway is due to the fact that I was expecting nothing from the film whatsoever.  Lowered expectations (or, quite frankly, no expectations) certainly aided its upward trajectory for me.  However, the film is also pretty darn good.  Costner is a staple of sports movies, but here he's a considerate coach who genuinely cares about the well-being of his family and his students.  Coping with the notion that he is responsible for moving his family away from a huge Midwestern house in which they'd settled for years, Costner's White is gruff and angry, but there's a heart at his core that gradually reveals itself when he realizes that he's providing an outlet for underprivileged Latino students to find success.  Kudos also must go out to the group of actors playing those students, most of whom are making their theatrical debuts with this film.  Together, they manage to individualize their personalities in ways I wasn't expecting -- which is also a credit to a nice script and a director in Niki Caro who allows a variety of storylines to all get their due without ever making one feel less important than another.

There's a "basicness" to McFarland, USA that some viewers may not be able to take.  To me, though, this simplicity allows for the true story to really shine through, creating a film that emphasizes a culture we don't often see displayed in mainstream films while also making a movie that really appeals to all generations of viewers.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, December 07, 2015

Movie Review - Trumbo

Trumbo (2015)
Starring Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alan Tudyk, and John Goodman
Directed by Jay Roach

Dalton Trumbo (played here by Bryan Cranston) was one of Hollywood's most sought after screenwriters in the early 1940s, but his Communist political leanings led him and many other Hollywood artists to be questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  After refusing to testify in front of Congress, Trumbo went to jail for a year in 1950 and, upon his release, found himself blacklisted in Hollywood with no one willing to hire him because of his politics.  Trumbo details the title character's story and his fight to get back into the profession he loved.

Director Jay Roach is known for his wacky comedies -- Austin Powers series, Meet the Parents -- and in his first theatrical foray into drama, he unfortunately doesn't quite succeed.  Trumbo feels like a film inhabited by caricatures rather than a film inhabited by actual people.  Because of this, we lose the emotional connection needed in order to really feel for Trumbo and his plight which is admittedly a blight on both our government and the Hollywood machine of the 1940s/50s.

While Bryan Cranston plays things straight for the most part -- although certainly embodying the witty, literate side of the screenwriter -- many of the other major players in the film are told to chew up as much scenery as possible.  Helen Mirren exudes snarky evilness in every line reading and movement as Hedda Hopper -- gossip columnist and strong anti-Communist activist.  While the HUAC was certainly an ill-advised group, portraying Hopper as a vigilante gung ho on bringing down Trumbo proves to be laughable as opposed to realistic.  (The problem here is that Hopper may very well have been the way she's portrayed, but the film makes her out to be so comically and vehemently vile that she loses any sense of reality.)  John Goodman as a bellowing low-budget film producer who hires Trumbo after his incarceration is also simply playing a stereotypical brash bigwig.  Other than Cranston's Trumbo and Diane Lane's portrayal of his wife Cleo, everyone depicted here feels fake.

Trumbo is reminiscent of a film made in the 1940s and 1950s where actors would be playing broad versions of undeveloped characters as opposed to a film made in the 2000s that looks back on that era over a half century ago and really delves into the issues.  Light-heartedness certainly works in a comedy depicting the 1950s and it works in portions of Trumbo as well except that this film -- and Dalton Trumbo himself -- deserved a film that also gave this man's struggles (and those of his peers) the gravitas they deserved.  All this being said, I appreciate the light that Trumbo shines on this pretty disgusting time in Hollywood history, but I wish the film itself was a better representation of the era.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Movie Review - Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)
Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz
Directed by Olivier Assayas

There is an enormous level of pretentiousness that runs rampant through Clouds of Sils Maria.  That's not necessarily a death knell for director-screenwriter Olivier Assayas' film, but it does create some issues in terms of the audience connecting with the characters who perhaps may have interesting stories to tell, but are oftentimes burdened with dialog-driven scenes that reek of pompousness.

Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a famous movie star who started her career by starring in a play by (fictional) Swiss playwright Wilhelm Melchior.  The play -- Maloja Snake -- revolves around the tempestuous relationship between the fiftysomething Helena who begins to fall for Sigrid, a young girl who is working for her.  Eventually, the verbal and emotional battle between the two women leads the older Helena to suicide when her feelings are not reciprocated.  When traveling to Switzerland to accept an award for the now-reclusive playwright, Maria learns that Melchior has died.  She also speaks with a young director who wishes to revive Maloja Snake on the London stage with Maria playing the older Helena now and up-and-coming actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) as the younger Sigrid.  Reluctantly, Maria agrees to the revival and in order to prepare for the role, she goes to Melchior's Swiss house where she and her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) spend a lot of time talking about how age affects women among other things.

Ultimately, the problem with Clouds of Sils Maria is that it feels flat, failing to really create meaningful, interesting arcs for both its characters and its story.  The film thinks it's deep -- and maybe it really is -- but it meanders so mind-numbingly slowly that any metaphorical or psychological importance is lost as the viewer loses interest.  Juliette Binoche is fine and Kristen Stewart (who received rave reviews and the French equivalent of the Oscar for this role) is playing her most natural role yet, but the latter just doesn't have a whole lot to sink her teeth into and the former is mired in depressing malaise for 120 minutes that the audience simply doesn't want to have anything to do with her despite the fact that she's onscreen for every moment of the film.  While nicely shot, the boredom Clouds of Sils Maria inspires in the viewer just can't be overcome.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Friday, December 04, 2015

Movie Review - Home

Home (2015)
Featuring the voice talents of Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, and Jennifer Lopez
Directed by Tim Johnson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

While there's part of me that respects Home for being a two-character dialog-driven film for more than half of its running time, I unfortunately can't praise the film as it lacks drive, interesting characters, and a plot worthy of a feature film.  Animation-wise, it's basically typical Dreamworks -- which means it's a rung lower than Pixar and Disney films -- with its plastic-looking characters that do little to draw in the audience.

The alien race of the Boov are on the run across galaxies from the evil Gorg who is destroying every planet the Boov decide to inhabit.  The Boov happen upon Earth and, as they are wont to do on whatever planet upon which they land, the aliens zap up all the locals -- that'd be the humans in this case -- and place them all in one central location on the planet -- that'd be Australia in this case (and the fact that Australia began its "modern" existence as a penal colony did not escape me).  As the Boov take over the major cities of Earth, one Boov in particular named Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons) finds himself the kooky odd Boov out of his race which is typically very by-the-book and regimented.  With a zest for life, Oh inadvertently sends out a mass e-mail inviting the entire Boov race to a party at his new apartment.  Unfortunately, he also sent the invite to the evil Gorg which causes the villain to set his sights on Earth.  Shunned by his people, Oh goes into hiding where he meets a seventh grade human girl named Tip (Rihanna) who appears to be the only human not transported out of her town.  Missing her mother (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) Oh agrees to help Tip find where the Boov have placed all the humans as he also hopes to hide from all those looking to roast him for alerting the Gorg to their new location.

All that Boov and Gorg talk has me tired -- and Home unfortunately feels a little tired as well.  Its premise lacks originality as I feel like I've seen similarly themed stories done better in the past.  For being rather short, the flick feels repetitive, hitting the same emotional beats over and over again -- how many times do we have to witness Oh do something silly with a human item or misuse an English word?  Jim Parsons is okay, but Rihanna's deep, somewhat grizzled voice just doesn't fit the part for a seventh grader -- unless that seventh grader has spent a lot of time smoking cigarettes on the corner.  Jennifer Lopez does provide a quiet nurturing to her character and Steve Martin as the ruler of the Boov add a little bit of spark, but neither are major roles so any positives they add are somewhat muted.  Overall, Home just doesn't hit the mark and lacks the emotion that a flick like this needs.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Movie Review - Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland (2015)
Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Robinson, Pierce Gagnon, and Judy Greer
Directed by Brad Bird

As a devoted Disney fan, it pains me to say that Tomorrowland is a big piece of trash.  As the first hour of the Brad Bird directed and co-written film came and went, I found myself asking the question out loud, "What is the story here?"  Seriously, an hour in, I felt like I was still sitting through an incredibly repetitive expositional phase with the film aimlessly meandering, completely failing to progress its story in any way.  Not a good start to an ambitious film that I wanted to like (in part because it's an original cinematic idea in a sea of big budget sequels), but found truly disappointing.

The film begins with a young boy named Frank (Thomas Robinson) showcasing his jetpack invention to an unimpressed judge (Hugh Laurie) at the 1964 World's Fair.  However, a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) sees potential in Frank, gives him a special orange and blue pin, and tells him to follow her onto the It's a Small World ride at the fair.  Frank obliges and, thanks to the pin that is scanned while on the ride, the young boy is transported to a futuristic city called Tomorrowland.

Cut to present day and teenage activist and optimist Casey (Britt Robertson) is arrested for attempting to stop the dismantling of NASA's Cape Canaveral space shuttle launching bay.  When she picks up her belongings from her short hours-long stint in jail, she sees the same pin orange and blue pin that transported young Frank to Tomorrowland.  When she grabs the pin, Casey is instantly taken to the futuristic land, but when she tries to show her father (Tim McGraw) the pin's magic, she realizes that no one but she can travel to Tomorrowland.  Completely confused by the pin which has now lost its battery life and refuses to work, Casey goes on a journey to try and find out about the pin which causes her to meet up with Athena and curmudgeonly Frank (now played as an adult by George Clooney) who wants nothing to do with Tomorrowland after he was banished decades ago for challenging the authorities there.

As I type this summary out, I actually find myself intrigued by the premise...unfortunately, that aforementioned story stretches itself out over nearly seventy minutes, repeating itself over and over again with extended sequences that showcase some decent special effects, but do nothing to progress the story.  It also doesn't help that in the final act, the denouement feels silly and too "up with people" to really have any impact.  As Casey and Frank try and figure out how to use Tomorrowland to their advantage, I found their ramblings incomprehensible -- although, admittedly, I had checked out at that point and my lack of interest most likely led to the unintelligible aspects of the plot.  Brad Bird and his co-writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen really dropped the ball with this one.  There was maybe potential for a franchise here (and Clooney and Robertson are both game and by far the best parts of the movie), but Tomorrowland is really a painfully awful big budget flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Movie Review - Spectre

Spectre (2015)
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Rory Kinnear, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, and Ralph Fiennes
Directed by Sam Mendes

While Spectre never hits the exciting levels of Skyfall, nor reaches (or even really tries for) the emotional peaks that its Sam Mendes-directed predecessor achieved, Mendes' return to the James Bond series is still a solid entry into the Daniel Craig-era of the super spy pics.  Whereas Skyfall was a character-driven piece that focused not only on Bond, but also the people and fellow agents closest to him, Spectre places the emphasis squarely back on the suave, debonair, and kick-ass British agent. Here Bond receives a message from someone in his past who tells him that a large heretofore unknown organization named SPECTRE is up to some sinisterly deviant deeds.  With the '00' sub-sector of the British Intelligence Agency under attack by "C" (Andrew Scott), "M" (Ralph Fiennes) is forced to allow Bond to try and uncover SPECTRE on his own without the aid of those who've helped him in the past.

Spectre works in nearly all aspects, but its ultimate "problem" is that it's not as good as Skyfall in any facet -- action scenes, emotional scenes, villain, character interaction, title song.  That's not to say that any of those aforementioned qualities are bad in any way, but Skyfall was so good that nothing quite reaches its levels in Spectre.

Still, what Sam Mendes brings to the Bond table is something that most action franchises would kill to have in their repertoire -- a director who understands how to capably film action sequences in a way that adds excitement while also allowing the audience to completely understand the visuals of high intensity quick-motion sequences.  The opening scene of Spectre as an example showcases Mendes' talent -- we get a very long single take shot that obviously adds to the tension (impressive in and of itself), followed by an explosion, and ending with a stellar sequence shot in a helicopter that had me hankering for more when it was finished.  Throughout this entire opening scene (which must have lasted close to fifteen minutes), Mendes displays a variety of different techniques in making an action scene work -- one of which being a slow burn followed by intensity -- all the while making every single obviously implausible aspect seem totally believable and absolutely comprehensible to the viewer.  Just try watching a Transformers movie or even The Avengers (I know, sacrilege to say such a thing about the latter) and really tell me if you can comprehend every single moment of every single action sequence.  Mendes has really elevated the entire genre with his two Bond films and considering this wasn't even the type of film he was known for helming prior to this, it's even more of a coup for him.

I, for one, will miss Daniel Craig as James Bond should Spectre be his last film, but I must admit that Daniel Craig is the only James Bond I've ever known as I've yet to watch any other Bond flick.  Still, Craig brings a debonair demeanor that seemingly masks a darker side of Bond which we've come to discover over these last two films in particular.  His Bond has been given a lot of depth beyond being just another ladies' man and while credit is certainly due to the writers for exploring this aspect of the well-known character, credit must also be given to Craig himself.

Still, the film doesn't quite achieve the levels of Skyfall -- the villain Blofeld played by Christoph Waltz is one of the larger reasons for this.  Waltz is playing the exact same character we've seen him play in seemingly every other movie he's been in over the past eight years since he really popped onto the scene.  Calmly maniacal, I'm tiring of his same-old schtick and while it's not necessarily his fault that his character is so squarely in his wheelhouse, it is his fault for not expanding his own wheelhouse.  The lack of Judi Dench here also is a bit of a detriment (but one that we're going to have to get used to) and the film doesn't help this loss much having Bond be separated from the new M, Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw) for long periods of time, missing the witty repartee Bond has had with these characters in the past.  (Seriously, the next film needs to expand Naomie Harris' role...please...she shows such potential and she's nearly wasted with nothing to show.)  However, Spectre is a solid action picture and one that shows that the Bond franchise is still alive and kicking.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie Review - Ride

Ride (2015)
Starring Helen Hunt, Brenton Thwaites, and Luke Wilson 
Directed by Helen Hunt 
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Every review of a Helen Hunt movie I write begins with some form of the statement that I had a huge crush on the actress when I was growing up.  While jokes have been slung her way about her appearance in recent years, in those Mad About You days, I fell for her looks and (character's) wit.  Hunt actually looks pretty good and proves that she's still a darn good actress in Ride, her second attempt at theatrical directing, but the film itself (which she also wrote) is a ride not worth taking.

Here, Hunt is Jackie, a book editor based in New York City who is prepping her teenage son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) to head off to college in the Big Apple.  Much to her surprise, when she attempts to deliver something to her son's dorm, she is told that Angelo has dropped out of school and she soon discovers that he has moved to California to live with his father whom Jackie divorced several years ago.  In an attempt to knock some sense into him, Jackie hops on a plane and covertly follows Angelo around California discovering that he has a knack for surfing.  As she tries to reconnect with Angelo, Jackie tries her hand at surfing as well, meeting an instructor (Luke Wilson) with whom she starts a little romance.

The acting by all parties and the direction are perfectly fine (though nothing more than that), but it's the script that fails Ride.  The story just meanders for ninety minutes floundering in repetition and some odd mother-son dialog that creates a relationship that never feels believable.  Interactions between Jackie and Angelo are always awkward and while that oddness sometimes works in comedic moments, as the film shifts to the dramatic towards the end, I frankly can't even comprehend the emotional notes Hunt is attempting to hit.  A seemingly pivotal confrontational scene between Jackie and Angelo is wasted because of both a lack of investment from us in the characters and a disappointing screenplay that does the characters no good.  And lest I forget that Hunt stoops to that least favorite movie go-to of mine -- old people smoking pot for comedic effect.  Ugh...

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, November 27, 2015

Movie Review - Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015)
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, and Jesse Plemons 
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Bridge of Spies is two movies for the price of one -- unfortunately, only one of those movies is really compelling.  Despite decent direction from Steven Spielberg (that isn't without its faults) and a nice performance from Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies works for its first half, but falters a bit during its second half with a story that becomes a bit repetitive and proves to be not quite as intriguing as it thinks it is.

Based on a true story, Hanks is James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer, who is asked by the US government to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a man accused of being a KGB spy.  Despite the disapproval of Donovan's own firm, judges, and the public, Donovan believes that he owes Abel the best defense possible.  In the film's successful first half, we see the intricacies of law as Donovan tries to maneuver his way around all the barriers to a fair trial set up against him.  The film falters a bit as it proceeds, however, when Donovan is then chosen by the government to head to a newly formed and very volatile East Germany in order to negotiate with both the Germans and the Russians to formulate a trade to bring back both a young US Air Force pilot (Austin Stowell) being held as a spy whose plane crashed in the USSR and a young US graduate student (Will Rogers) captured by the Germans who fear the kid was attempting to harm their communist agenda.  While these aspects seem compelling in print, the film doesn't do the best job at integrating the two "Prisoner of War" stories into the overall plot and, quite frankly, the negotiations simply aren't as interesting to watch as Donovan's struggles with the US judicial system.  While I recognize the appeal of including both halves of the story -- and they do connect with one another in an absolutely logical way -- the halves just aren't equal to one another in terms of quality of plot and the fact that the better half is first ends the movie on more of a down note.

Granted, that isn't to say that the second half is unwatchable, but it does come as a disappointment because the first half is surprisingly compelling thanks in large part to Tom Hanks' performance as Donovan.  Hanks has had a bit of a career renaissance as of late and it's good to see him back in top form.  While I don't think the role of Donovan was a particularly tricky one to play, it proves that Hanks is still the go-to guy to play the "everyman" -- we're fully taken in by his struggles and are right there with him as he fights to do his job to the best of his ability and protect his family from the slings and arrows being thrown his way by the American public who aren't fans of his defending a purported spy.  Mark Rylance is also good as spy Rudolf Abel, but the Oscar buzz surrounding him is a bit confounding to me.  While he plays Abel as a completely different spy than we're used to seeing -- which was unique and admittedly refreshing -- I never felt as though his character had much of an arc to go through and because of this there wasn't a lot that he could really dig his teeth into story wise.

Bridge of Spies is certainly solid, but it's really just a mid-level Spielberg flick.  The director nicely balances a surprisingly light-hearted tone throughout the piece (likely thanks in part to a script co-written by the Coen Brothers), but he too often tosses in some obvious symbolic references that are eye-rolling as opposed to powerful -- as an example, as some Germans attempt to cross the Berlin Wall, they are shot; thirty minutes later in the film, Spielberg shows American kids freely climbing over a fence between houses in New York.  Cue the groan-inducing eye roll or the obviousness of that visual allegory.  Still, overall the film works, is worth seeing, and depicts an interesting true story from our past.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Movie Review - Suffragette

Suffragette (2015)
Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, and Meryl Streep
Directed by Sarah Gavron

There are certain movies that seem made purely to garner awards attention.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the "importance" of a piece can too highly overshadow a film's cinematic values and that's unfortunately the case with Suffragette, a film that never succeeded in bringing me into its story.  While it certainly tells an important tale as it deals with the British suffrage movement in the late 1910s, Suffragette suffers from relying too heavily on contrived predicaments in order to emphasize the struggles facing women a century ago.  While the heavy-handed plot lines our characters face may very well be based in reality and truth, when placed into a film setting, they can't help but feel piled on in order to achieve a desired emotional impact.

Carey Mulligan is, as always, doing excellent work as Maud Watts, a married laundry worker and mom of one who stumbles onto the suffragette movement one afternoon when she spots co-worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) tossing rocks into a store window in an attempt to have civil disobedience bring awareness to their cause.  However, as great as Mulligan is at taking us on her character's journey that begins with nonchalance towards the movement and ends with staunch advocacy on behalf of equality for voting rights, it is Maud who is inherently the film's problem.  A fictionalized character, screenwriter Abi Morgan piles heartbreak after heartbreak onto this women which, while once again may have truly happened to some in the 1910s, feels in a cinematic setting as an easy way to emotionally tug at audiences' heartstrings rather than resonate as realistic.

Morgan's script isn't helped by Sarah Gavron's pedestrian direction which, given the subject matter, fails to rouse the audience to join the cause in any way.  Weighed down in grays and browns with production design that always seems as if we're on a set rather than in a natural setting, Suffragette keeps the viewer at a distance rather than involving them in the plot despite its obvious intentions to do just the opposite.  While Gavron consistently gets good performances from key cast members -- including a nice turn from a subdued Helena Bonham Carter as a leader in the suffragette movement -- they're not enough to save this one from being a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-