Thursday, February 26, 2015

Movie Review - Filth

Filth (2014)
Starring James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, and Jim Broadbent
Directed by Jon S. Baird
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***


I don't really know what to make of Filth.  There's a part of me that is intrigued by director and screenwriter Jon S. Baird's unique dirty comic book/Monty Python/Tarantino-Luhrmann-esque comedic mashup. (Note:  Filth is weirdly none of those things I just mentioned and all of those things I just mentioned and more at the same time -- an odd mix.)  And then there's another part of me that found myself completely distanced from the proceedings that I didn't care at all what I was watching.

James McAvoy is Bruce, a British cop in line for a major promotion.  Outwardly pleasant to all his coworkers, Bruce's goal is to ruin their chances of upward mobility, therein securing himself the position.  More than just an underhanded manipulator, Bruce is an amoral deviant and a horribly unethical cop, taking drugs from his arrestees, attempting to sleep with underage prostitutes in a blackmail attempts to keep them from jail time, and many other less than kosher schemes.  To build a movie around a guy like this and try to get the audience to relate is a difficult task...and not entirely successful here.

While McAvoy does well with the seedier aspects of his character, the actor is also burdened with less-than-fruitful attempts to connect the audience with an emotional past that partly shaped Bruce into the nasty guy he has become.  This aspect of the plot seems tacked on -- why can't the character just be a giant a-hole?  Why does he need to be saddled with some heartbreaking back story?  Once again, this isn't McAvoy's fault, but he certainly isn't helped by this subplot.  Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, and Imogen Poots are quite good in their smaller roles as well, but this is McAvoy's character's story for sure.

In the end, I appreciated the attempt behind Filth with its larger than life comedic stylists, but it doesn't quite work and should've dropped the attempts at emotional heartstring-tugging.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Movie Review - The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January (2014)
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac
Directed by Hossein Amini
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Quite frankly, I had forgotten that I watched The Two Faces of January about two hours after I watched it.  Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (the writer who brought us Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley), screenwriter and first-time director Hossein Amini fails to garner any modicum of excitement or thrills -- unfortunate seeing as how this is supposed to be a film that seemingly bases its success on whether suspense is generated.

Taking place in 1960s Greece, the film opens with married couple Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) taking a lovely vacation where they meet young tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac). Rydal is set up as a petty crook - milking the MacFarlands and other tourists of their money -- and seemingly the film's "bad guy," however, as we soon discover, it's Chester who holds the film's biggest secrets.  After a lovely day with his wife and Rydal, Chester is greeted at his hotel room by a private investigator who states that his clients have had money stolen from them by shady investment practices employed by Rydel.  This sends the MacFarlands on the run with Rydel assisting them through the streets of Greece and Crete as Chester grows increasingly more wary of anyone who tries to assist him.

The Greek setting is certainly lovely to look upon, but the film lacks the necessary tension for a flick like this to succeed.  While Oscar Isaac fares best as the rather innocent Rydal caught up in Chester's foul play, Mortensen and Dunst are almost blank slates, unable to carry the necessary weight and/or emotion for their characters to truly be believable, relatable, or interesting.

The Two Faces of January is a film that I probably should've liked, but instead found quite disappointing. 



The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Movie Review - Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Starring Eileen Atkins, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Emma Stone, and Jacki Weaver
Directed by Woody Allen

I've come across Woody Allen rather late in my life and I've admittedly still got a lot of catching up to do with his repertoire. While I've kept up to date on his current pieces, his supposedly "good" era of the 1970s and 1980s still is strongly underrepresented in my filmgoing experience.  Nevertheless, Magic in the Moonlight is Allen's latest directorial and penned piece and while it's light and amusing, it's almost too airy for its own good.

Colin Firth is Stanley, an illusionist whose stage act as Chinese magician Wei Ling Soo is renowned across Europe.  Stanley also happens to be well known for debunking soothsayers, fortune tellers, and afterlife believers and he is called upon by his good friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to head to his friend's house in France where a beautiful psychic named Sophie (Emma Stone) is working her charms on Grace and Brice Catledge (Jacki Weaver and Hamish Linklater), a mother and son who find hope in the young woman for different reasons -- one is amazed at Sophie's ability to purportedly contact her dead husband and the other is amazed at Sophie's ability to make him fall in love with her.  Upon Stanley's arrival, he is adamant that he will debunk Sophie's powers, but as he spends time with the psychic, he finds himself being taken in by her charms and begins to think his entire philosophy on life may need to be readjusted.

There's a charm present throughout Magic in the Moonlight and it certainly is thanks in large part to the actors, all of whom exude a 1920s flapper-esque joie de vivre.  Unfortunately, charm doesn't make a movie completely sing and there's not much else the film has going for it.  Allen's film is supposed to be a comedy, but the laughs are few and far between.  Sure, you may smile at Colin Firth and Emma Stone's repartee, but in the end what they're saying is rather inconsequential.  Then again, I always appreciate Woody Allen's use of music in his films and even when his jokes fall flat, his film soundtracks don't.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar Predictions 2014

UPDATE POST-OSCARS

Horrible job this year -- 16/24.  Ugh.  Unfortunately, the worst Best Picture nominee took home the big award (in my opinion).  However, I will take solace in the fact that Whiplash took home three awards -- two of which were somewhat surprising (although not necessarily entirely unexpected...it was my second choice for Editing and Sound Mixing).  Neil Patrick Harris was disappointing.  The show was bland and all of his jokes (with the exception of the Benedict Cumberbatch/Ben Affleck/John Travolta bit) fell flat.  Just poorly written one-liners that didn't land.  Certainly "pleasant," but that doesn't cut it, in my opinion.

Other quick notes:

- Biggest surprise of the night was the win for Big Hero 6 as I thought How to Train Your Dragon was kind of a lock after Lego Movie was passed over.

- Nice win for Eddie Redmayne over the overrated Birdman's Michael Keaton.

- The three Selma standing o's -- so pandering it was disgusting.  (And I REALLY liked the film.)  And Terrence Howard being unable to make it through a teleprompter read because he got too emotional talking about the film?

- I can't believe that for the second time, the fantastic special effects work on The Planet of the Apes films was overlooked.  The work those fx artists are doing on this series is, quite frankly, mind-blowing.

- Poland finally lands a Best Foreign Film award!  Yay!

This blog will continue down its path of catching up on 2014 films with the RyMickey Awards arriving sometime in the summer.

While I'm not quite over the nearly complete dissing of Gone Girl, most of this year's nominees are actually a fairly deserving bunch.  I'm not quite as well-rounded this year as I'd like to be -- missing out on Foxcatcher and a few Best Actress pictures -- but what I did see I enjoyed for the most part.  Some films have aged well in my mind since I've seen them -- Whiplash -- and some have not -- The Grand Budapest Hotel -- but 2014 was overall a solid year for film (which I'm obviously still exploring and will continue to do until the summer's RyMickey Awards).

Listed below are my predictions for what will win along with some thoughts on certain categories about what should win and/or should've been nominated.  (Reviews can be found by clicking on any underlined films.)

Best Picture (listed in order of my personal ranking)
Will Win:  Birdman
Should Win: Whiplash
Should've Been Nominated: Gone Girl

Best Director
Alejandro G. Inarritu - Birdman
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game
Will Win: Richard Linklater
Should Win: Richard Linklater
Should've Been Nominated: Damien Chazelle - Whiplash

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon - Wild
Will Win: Julianne Moore
Should Win: Felicity Jones
Should've Been Nominated:  What a blah year for women for the most part...

Best Actor
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton - Birdman
Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Should Win: Eddie Redmayne
Should've Been Nominated: Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel; David Oyelowo - Selma; Jake Gyllenhaal - Enemy/Nightcrawler

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall - The Judge
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Edward Norton - Birdman
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Should Win: J.K. Simmons
Should've Been Nominated: Chris Pine - Into the Woods; Henry G. Sanders - Selma

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Laura Dern - Wild
Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
Emma Stone - Birdman
Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Should Win:  Blah...
Should've Been Nominated: Agata Kulesza - Ida; Tilda Swinton - Snowpiercer

Writing - Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game
Writing - Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Animated Film: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Cinematography: Birdman
Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Documentary Feature: CitizenFour
Documentary Short Subject: Joanna
Film Editing: Boyhood
Foreign Language Film: Ida
Makeup and Hairstyling: Grand Budapest Hotel
Music - Original Score:  Theory of Everything
Music - Original Song: "Glory" from Selma
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Short Film - Animated: The Dam Keeper
Short Film - Live Action: The Phone Call
Sound Editing: American Sniper
Sound Mixing: American Sniper
Visual Effects: Interstellar

Movie Review - If I Stay

If I Stay (2014)
Starring Chloë Grace Moritz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Jakob Davies, and Stacy Keach
Directed by R.J. Cutler

It's such a shame that If I Stay wallows in the typical cinematic tropes of standard teenage romances because at the crux of the film is a rather lovely and somewhat emotionally resonant contemplation of the afterlife.  On a snowy day, Mia (Chloë Grace Mortiz), her mother (Mireille Enos), father (Joshua Leonard), and brother (Jakob Davies) are all involved in a horrific car accident.  Mia immediately finds herself having an out-of-body experience watching herself being whisked off to the hospital only to find upon her arrival that her parents and brother are in similarly dire straits as well.

Unfortunately, while the aforementioned aspect of the film works surprisingly well providing more than one touching moment, the bulk of If I Stay is told in flashback with Mia recalling her final year of high school when she, a talented cellist, falls for Adam (Jamie Blackley), the guitarist of a punk band.  Her parents -- former rock band performers and groupies themselves -- find the pairing ideal, but Mia questions whether her burgeoning love is harming her chances of getting into a great music college.  This relationship is nothing short of typical, filled with the corniest of dialog, and many scenes of the teenaged actors pining doe-eyed at one another only to get flustered when one or the other questions their commitment to the romantic affiliation.

Chloë Moretz confounds me a bit here as I found her unbearable to watch in those relationship moments, but moderately intriguing in some of the celestial out-of-body scenes.  Jamie Blackley fares a little better, but his character is so damn stereotypical that I found myself not caring for him in the slightest.  While Mireille Enos makes out the best as Mia's mom, she's not given a whole lot to do which is unfortunate as a movie about her character's relationship with her husband would've made a better film.

The potential was here for something positive and while I can't help but give If I Stay a little credit for its final act which stands out a bit from typical teenage fare (this was aiming for a "D" rating until the film's final twenty minutes), it ultimately sinks itself with a horribly disappointing been there-done that teen romance angle.

The RyMickey Rating: C-

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Movie Review - The Immigrant

The Immigrant (2014)
Starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner
Directed by James Grey
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

It's a shame that the nice, reserved performance from Marion Cotillard as Eva, a Polish immigrant arriving to the States in The Immigrant isn't matched in quality by the film itself.  Instead the onerous bleakness of James Grey's film creates a heaviness that's almost impossible to climb out from under, providing a none too pleasant experience that lost me about halfway through.

When Eva is turned away from entering the US after an erroneous claim is made that she willingly subjected herself to prostitution while on the ship to the mainland, she is forced to await return to Europe.  Separated from her sister who was quarantined upon arrival, Eva is devastated until Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) sees her plight and, noticing her beauty, decides to help her out.  However, Bruno's seeming benevolence isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Bruno runs a burlesque hall which also happens to serve alcohol -- a hot commodity in 1921's prohibition era times -- and Bruno convinces Eva to use her feminine wiles to make money to help get her sister out of quarantine to see a legitimate doctor.  The strong-willed, former nurse Eva finds her steadfastness wear down quickly as she sinks into a world unknown to her.

I was with The Immigrant until this point about forty-five minutes in.  Sure, it was a bit depressing, but I could accept the interesting story and the solid performance from Ms. Cotillard.  However, the film then shifts into a love triangle between Eva, Bruno, and a magician named Orlando (Jeremy Renner) and the love story feels ominously uncomfortable and restrictingly heavy.  For the next seventy-five minutes, no one's happy, there's a lot of talking about how no one's happy, and this viewer wasn't happy either, finding himself zoning out and caring very little about any member of this trio.

Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for such a hefty piece.  That's entirely possible.  However, I can't help but think part of the issue lies in James Grey's direction which plods the film along at a glacial pace and becomes a bit unsure of itself in terms of what kind of film it is when the romantic triangle rears its head.  As mentioned, Cotillard is good here and is positively the only reason to watch.  Renner tries, but his character often seems like a caricature -- not as much as Phoenix's Bruno, however, which feels like a mash-up of typical 1920s gangster-y stereotypes.  Unfortunately, Phoenix doesn't bring anything new to the table from an acting perspective either.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, February 20, 2015

Movie Review - Boyhood

Boyhood (2014)
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Marco Perella, Brad Hawkins, and Zoe Graham
Directed by Richard Linklater

I appreciate the experiment of Boyhood, but the movie itself feels oddly unimportant given its cinematic uniqueness.  Then again, I that's the point, is it not?  Let's place a camera into the life of a boy and follow him through twelve years of his life -- whether that life be full of excitement or not.  A cinematic reality show, if you will, with a fake story to go along with it.  I say that and I ponder just how different this is from something like the Real Housewives franchise that has been going on for years and years.  That's an unfair comparison, however, as Boyhood at least feels steeped in reality unlike the hair pulling and cat calls of those overly privileged women.

Seeing it so late in the game, I'd already heard the critical lauds heaped upon Boyhood and I must admit that I was slightly disappointed as the film began.  That being said, as the film progressed across its nearly three hour length, I found myself becoming oddly more involved in the lives of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater), and his divorced mother and father Olivia and Mason, Sr (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke).  There is something compelling about the simplicity of life and watching it unfold like a home movie onscreen.

As a younger child, Boyhood focuses on Mason's parents a bit more than the kids and while it's perfectly believable that Olivia would fall one alcoholic loser and maybe even two (which she does), these particular scenes that support the bulk of the first half of the film feel the most forced, obvious, and acted.  Perhaps it's because they stand in such stark contrast to the mundaneness of the rest of the film (which I say not with a sense of disdain, but with fondness).  However, as the film advances through Mason's life, Mason himself becomes more interesting as he discovers the person he wants to be.  Granted, I would never be friends with Mason and I'd quite frankly find his philosophical meanderings, drug usage, taste in music, and bleakness rather obnoxious, but it's admittedly interesting to watch a "real" person age through life and find himself.

Director Richard Linklater didn't quite know what he was getting when he cast Ellar Coltrane and his own daughter Lorelei at such a young age and the emotional results of those choices are a little suspect at times.  Though neither Coltrane nor the younger Linklater are disappointing, there are times during which these two are needed to "act" that feel admittedly forced.  Coltrane fares a little better, but then again it's his character's story so he probably should win out amongst the two younger stars.  The young man is particularly at his best during his scenes in eleventh and twelfth grade when he falls for the lovely Sheena (Zoe Graham) -- these moments rang most true and proved to be a nice capstone to Mason's story.

Patricia Arquette has been racking up awards left and right for this performance and while it certainly isn't bad in any way, shape, or form, I found the role oddly bland.  Yes, her Olivia makes questionable decisions when it comes to men, but beyond that her character isn't given a whole lot to do.  I wanted some touching scenes between her and her children, but I never got them.  Ethan Hawke, on the other hand, I found much more compelling as Mason's father.  Perhaps it was the "father-son" dynamic that Linklater wanted to explore a little more, but in the private moments in which Masons Jr. and Sr. talk to one another, Hawke exudes a sense of profound caring for his cinematic son, imbuing in him a sense of purpose, individuality, and identity.  I'm not quite sure Hawke was playing anyone but himself -- it kind of felt oddly similar to his character in the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series -- and I think his character has the least amount of emotional growth, but his work is really solid here and slightly under-appreciated.

It is true that what Richard Linklater has done here is create a compelling piece of art.  Its uniqueness, bravery, and ballsiness can't be understated.  Would I have liked a little more oomph?  Yes.  Would I have skipped over the seven to twelve-year-old years and maybe just crafted a two hour movie from a teenage perspective?  Perhaps.  However, the "epic" nature of Boyhood has to be commended in some ways.  None of Linklater's works blow me away in terms of his directorial flourishes or techniques, but as a writer and storyteller, he's intriguing in what he wants to bring to the cinematic medium.  For that, he must be commended.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movie Review - Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer (2014)
Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinon, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ko Asung, and Ed Harris
Directed by Bong Joon Ho
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm going to put aside any political ramifications of Snowpiercer -- a film which some may seem to be a call for socialism -- and simply say that I found director Bong Joon Ho's film to be quite an amusing take on the uprising of an oppressed lower class as they fight for fair treatment.  Part action, part sci-fi, part drama, and part comedy, Snowpiercer is one of the best films of 2014 with some surprisingly strong performances from an eclectic cast.

In 2014, global warming has wreaked havoc on the earth and scientists decide to push chemicals into the atmosphere to cool things down.  This experiment, however, backfires and ends up freezing the earth making the planet seemingly uninhabitable.  A mysterious man named Wilford (Ed Harris) has built a train that contains various ecosystems and familiar earthly ways of life (beauty shops, sushi restaurants, nightclubs).  This "rattling ark" now contains the planet's last survivors, but the passengers are broken up into different economic strata based on the price of their ticket with the poorest relegated to the dungy, dark caboose of the train.

Jump ahead to 2031 and the inhabitants of the back of the train are fed up with their treatment.  With the help and wisdom of the elderly Gilliam (William Hurt), Curtis (Chris Evans) decides to lead a revolution against their oppressors by staging a coup that will allow them to inch their way up to the front of the train and take control of the engine.

Snowpiercer works because it's an action film -- filled with exciting fight scenes and tense moments -- combined with an actual story that's worth your time.  Director Bong Joon Ho is adept at crafting fight sequences (one that takes place in the dark is particularly intense), while at the same time allowing intimate character-driven moments to shine as well.  The entire cast is strong with particular kudos needing to be lauded upon Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton.

Evans, heretofore known only to me for his superhero roles, takes what we know him for -- those action-oriented roles -- and embraces that, while at the same time adding layers to a character that easily could've simply been a typical "savior" role.  Evans' Curtis is a flawed character with much depth, and in a memorably touching scene in which Curtis recalls a particularly horrific and harrowing time in the back of the train, we see Evans truly showcasing his emotional range and talent as an actor.

Swinton, on the other hand, gets an opportunity to showcase her comedic chops in the amusingly arrogant role of Mason -- Wilford's right-hand woman who is the political mouthpiece of the train's upper crust.  Hamming it up, while at the same embodying a somewhat horrific authoritative side, Swinton continues to prove that she's an actress who constantly makes interesting choices in the characters she portrays.

With some stellar production design to boot to add visual appeal, Snowpiercer is absolutely one of the more interesting and unique films of 2014.  Considering I enjoyed it this much and I'm not even delving into the political ramifications the film espouses, Snowpiercer is much richer than its surface appears.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Movie Review - The Giver

The Giver (2014)
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, and Taylor Swift
Directed by Philip Noyce

I never read The Giver growing up so despite the Lois Lowry book being a staple of many folks' youth, it held no revered place in my mind.  I thought that may help things given how the general public opinion of director Philip Noyce's adaptation was that of disappointment upon the film's release this summer.  Unfortunately, it didn't.  While visually appealing, The Giver fails to deliver anything new on a science fiction premise we've seen before.  (Granted, perhaps the novel The Giver gave us this premise first...but in the cinematic world, this movie feels like old news.)

The year is 2048 and following some horrific events, a community has decided to erase all memory of its inhabitants in an attempt to create a "perfect" city in which everyone lives peacefully together.  The experiment is seemingly working as sixteen year old Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is assigned his career at the annual graduation ceremony.  Jonas is deemed "special" and is granted the right to visit The Giver (Jeff Bridges), the only member of the community who retains the memories of the past.  These memories are utilized by the Giver to advise the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) to shape the community's actions.  Aging, however, the Giver begins to pass on his memories to Jonas who finds his community's robotic and sterile atmosphere disturbing and decides to do something to shake things up a bit.

Unfortunately, this "utopian" society thing feels so played out nowadays and The Giver comes at (one can only hope) the tail end of this sci-fi subgenre.  While visually appealing (director Philip Noyce begins the film is stark blacks, whites, and grays and only introduces colors as Jonas begins to receive memories), the film feels simplistic and childish at times.  It lacks the metaphorical messages that I assume it wished to espouse.  The young Thwaites is fine, but he's really quite emotionless and his character's romantic subplot with a young gal just weighs the film down with unneeded teenage angst.  Meryl Streep is okay, but certainly nothing special, and Jeff Bridges mumbles so incoherently at times that I felt like I wanted to put on the subtitles.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Movie Review - Under the Skin

Under the Skin (2014)
Starring Scarlett Johannson
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***


It would be perfectly understandable if you were to watch Under the Skin and hate it.  Had I watched the Jonathan Glazer film on another day in another mood, I could totally see myself despising it.  However, perhaps I lucked out as I found this weird science fiction piece oddly intriguing and visually appealing.

There's no denying that this is a unique one.  Scarlett Johannson is an unnamed woman who seduces lonely, isolated men in Scotland, luring them to a location at which strange and tragic things happen.  However, our lead character soon begins to feel doubt about her actions, causing her to discover emotions in herself that she never knew existed.

Under the Skin is a difficult film to talk about without going spoiler-crazy, so I'll leave the summary of the flick as simplistic as it seems above.  While not much is spoken in Under the Skin -- in fact, the film's final act contains perhaps as few lines of dialog we've seen since The Artist -- much is being said through images.  Director and co-screenwriter Jonathan Glazer has crafted a beautiful film to look at with mystical special effects standing in stark contrast to the griminess of some of the seedier streets of Scotland.

Ms. Johannson is front and center through it all and she certainly carries the piece.  Admittedly, however, it took me a little bit of time to fully realize all that her role and character truly is.  While I was watching, I found her nonchalantness to be a bit off-putting, but in retrospect, her alienated and subdued feelings and reactions are quite fitting for her nameless character.

Under the Skin is short, but there are moments where its somewhat repetitive nature wears a bit thin.  The bleakness of some of the middle act causes the film to drag more than it should, but it's a thought-provoking film that likely has metaphors out the wazoo should I give it another go -- which I might in due time seeing as how I appreciated what it brings to the table.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, February 16, 2015

Movie Review - Starred Up

Starred Up (2014)
Starring Jack O'Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, and Rupert Friend
Directed by David Mackenzie
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Gritty and seemingly realistic (although I admittedly am fortunately unfamiliar with the setting), Starred Up is a solid prison tale that adds an interesting twist to the genre as father and son inmates try to reign supreme despite their decidedly hot tempers which wreak a bit of havoc amongst those on their cell block.  Jack O'Connell is the young Eric Love who is transferred to an adult British prison (a practice known as being "starred up") and immediately decides to puff his chest and show his strength by trying to harm a prison guard.  While this would typically place an inmate into solitary confinement, Eric lucks out as his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) just so happens to be in the same prison and just so happens to be well-liked by the officers and guards.  Neville is able to work out a deal that places his son into a rehabilitation program where he meets with Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend) several times a week with a few other prisoners in a group therapy-type setting in hopes that the nineteen year-old Eric can become less angry and more "functioning" as he spends nearly a decade in prison.

As mentioned, director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Jonathan Asser have crafted a gritty flick here with a character in Eric that is disarmingly unpleasant.  Jack O'Connell does a great job of showcasing the youth's visceral dislike for authority and violent tendencies towards everyone.  Ben Mendelsohn is also eerily unsavory as Eric's father -- how does he get what he wants?  Why does he have pull in the prison?  The answers aren't necessarily appealing.

Admittedly, I found the accents in this one a bit harsh to this American's ear and I did find that I had to watch the flick with subtitles in order to fully grasp what was going on.  However, Starred Up is a solid piece of filmmaking with an impressively scarily realistic turn from Jack O'Connell who's certainly seeing his star rise in recent months.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Movie Review - Life After Beth

Life After Beth (2014)
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Anna Kendrick
Directed by Jeff Baena
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Girlfriend dies.  Boyfriend is sad.  Girlfriend suddenly reappears...as a zombie.  Chaos ensues with a supposedly comedic purpose.  There's not much else to Life After Beth, a film whose premise shows some promise but fails to generate any laughs.  With a supporting cast of adult comedic actors whom I expected to buoy the younger set, the likes of John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, and Paul Reiser are given very little to do.  Their reactions to Dane DeHaan's Zach's comedic depression over his girlfriend's death and Aubrey Plaza's frenetic "teenage" zombie Beth are tired and worn, lacking any zip which is what the screenplay is lacking overall.  There's possibility here, but this flick is attempting to really play things for laughs (unlike the similarly themed Warm Bodies which played the romance angle a bit stronger) and it just doesn't deliver in the slightest.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Movie Review - The Interview

The Interview (2014)
Starring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, and Diana Bang
Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen 
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There were many reviews upon the release of The Interview that spouted, "North Korea got upset over this?"  While I hate to simply repeat them, the fact of the matter is The Interview isn't a good comedy at all.  While perhaps nicely shot, there's very little humor derived from this piece.  When the funniest moments stem from reinterpretations of Katy Perry's popular song "Firework," you know you're in trouble.

Because of all the controversy surrounding the release over the Christmas holiday, nearly everyone knows the premise -- celebrity interviewer Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producing partner Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) secure an exclusive interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park).  When the CIA get word of this, they recruit Dave and Aaron to assassinate the ruler which the duo initially take on with much aplomb.  Stretched out over nearly two hours, this premise wears thin quickly despite attempts by Mr. Franco in particular to mine what he can comedically from the script by Mr. Rogen and co-director/screenwriter Evan Goldberg.

Rogen and Goldberg teamed up recently to direct This Is the End, a film which I liked quite a bit, but the duo who have written many other films together can't seem to get past some of the drug-related humor that always has a place in their work.  Granted, The Interview certainly feels a little more mature than their past works, but maturity doesn't necessarily come hand in hand with quality.  This is a one-joke premise that is at its best once Dave and Aaron set foot in North Korea and we discover the Americanized pop sensibilities of Kim Jong-un can be used for comedic effect.  Granted, this also wears thin, but the relationship between Franco and Randall Park (who plays the North Korean dictator with gusto) is at least amusing and shockingly believable given the out-there premise.  While Rogen doesn't stretch himself in the slightest in terms of creating a different character than we've seen from him in the past, at least he doesn't embarrass himself here having some nice scenes with Diana Bang as a North Korean army official.

Still, I didn't laugh one single time during The Interview.  Yes, I may have found the performances all acceptable and the aesthetics surprisingly expensive-looking, but this is a comedy and I didn't laugh once.  And therein lies the problem.  For all those Sony officials to be hacked for an unfunny comedy is a shame.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Movie Review - A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
Starring Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, and Liam Neeson
Directed by Seth MacFarlane

I'm not sure I ever thought I'd write a sentence containing this sentiment, but Sarah Silverman is the best part of Seth MacFarlane's much too long A Million Ways to Die in the West.  Quite frankly, it's a shame the female comic isn't in the film a bit more.  Then again, I can take Silverman in small doses so it's probably better her role as a morally conscious prostitute in 1882 Arizona is only a supporting one.  Still, her comedic timing with co-star Giovanni Ribisi as her celibate boyfriend provide the film its few and far between laughs.

In an obvious attempt to meld Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles with modern-day Family Guy sensibilities, writer-director MacFarlane throws a bunch of jokes at the audience (at least in the first two-thirds of its two hour running time), but they mostly fall flat.  MacFarlane's comedic timing works on an animated show like Family Guy where we can easily suspend our reality, but when MacFarlane himself is onscreen rattling off jokes that overstay their welcome, we tire much easier, unable to really foster his scattershot comedic style in a live action setting.

MacFarlane is essentially playing himself (or at least the persona we've come to know) in the character of Albert, a sheep farmer who desires nothing more than to escape the wild west where death is around every corner.  When his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the proprietor of a mustache grooming store, Albert is heartbroken until he meets cowgirl Anna (Charlize Theron) whose no-nonsense style he falls for right away.  Anna reciprocates Albert's feelings, but she is unfortunately involved in a bad marriage with the evil Clinch (Liam Neeson) who is none too pleased when he discovers that his wife is having relations with another man.

Throw in a bunch of fart jokes, Neil Patrick Harris pooping into a hat (scratch that -- multiple hats), Sarah Silverman having a certain male bodily fluid dripping off the side of her face, and many more low-level bathroom-related jabs that any eighth grader would find hilarious and you've got A Million Ways to Die in the West.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Movie Review - Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin (2014)
Starring Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, and Eve Plumb
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

When we first encounter Dwight (Macon Blair), he's living out of his run-down car near a beach in Delaware.  Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's film Blue Ruin makes us think that Dwight is trouble as he sneaks into folks' vacation homes in order to bathe, taking food and clothes to sustain himself.  Soon, however, we discover that Dwight is simply coping with the fact that his father and mother were heinously shot down several years prior.  When Dwight hears news that his parents' killer is being released from prison, he sets out on a mission to seek vengeance on the killer setting off a war between two families who have both dealt with their share of heartbreak.

This low budget revenge flick is surprisingly taut and well-acted by a cast of unknowns (although Jan Brady herself Eve Plumb makes a quick appearance in an important role).  Macon Blair's performance is certainly at the center as his meek and troubled Dwight is pressed with mustering up the courage to do what he feels is right.  While we understand his desire to enact revenge, Blue Ruin never paints Dwight as morally justified.  His vengeance may be what he desires, but it makes him a criminal nevertheless.  This moral dichotomy at the film's center makes Blue Ruin an interesting revenge picture that's worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, February 09, 2015

Movie Review - American Sniper

American Sniper (2014)
Starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller
Directed by Clint Eastwood

Plain and simple, I just don't think Clint Eastwood as a director creates an atmosphere in which actors can create characters that take us on an emotional journey.  (Granted, I'm several years removed from his heralded Mystic River so that may be an exception to the rule, but I can't recall.)  The same can be said for American Sniper -- the true story of Texan Chris Kyle who joined the Navy SEALs right around 9/11 and became the most accurate sniper in US military history.  Eastwood captures the horrors of war quite well, but when he steps away from the warfront, the esteemed auteur (by others, not me) fails at crafting any modicum of emotional impact.

Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle with a hearty (sometimes undecipherable) southern drawl, but don't allow the hickish initial appearance of Kyle make you doubt his intelligence or passion for both his family and his country.  Cooper does a nice job of tackling the authoritative nature of Kyle on the battlefield and, as the film progresses, we do grasp the sense that Cooper's Kyle is slowly mentally deteriorating from the horrors of war that he witnessed.  Unfortunately for Cooper, Eastwood is anything but subtle and Kyle's post-traumatic stress is sometimes a bit too blatant.  

This PTSD aspect of the story isn't aided by the fact that Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall paint Kyle's home life as a by-the-books, paint-by-numbers, stereotype.  Poor Sienna Miller.  After an admittedly amusing meet-cute with Kyle at a bar, her Taya is relegated to crying into a phone begging for her husband to give up his missions and come home.  I don't doubt for a second this happened, nor do I doubt that conversations like this happen every single day with our servicemen and their spouses.  However, Eastwood and Hall just keep hitting the same emotional beats over and over again and the repetition (however truthful) is wearing on the audience's patience.

Yes, I understand that it's perhaps unfair to critique a true story for its lack of originality, but it's the job of the director and screenwriter to make us (a) care for these people, and (b) create a sustainable story that's worth watching.  Eastwood and Hall do a more than adequate job accomplishing this task when Chris Kyle is on the ground in the Middle East, but when the action brings him to his home soil, things fall apart.  When real life shots of Chris Kyle's funeral during the film's credits are the only thing that create an emotional impact, I can't help but think the director is at fault.

Negative critiques aside, this is Eastwood's best work in a while thanks to the incredibly intense war sequences.  With the exception an unfortunate slow motion shot during the film's final skirmish that forced me to stifle a laugh, whenever Bradley Cooper and his fellow actors are placed into combat situations, we can't help but feel viscerally involved with the images.  For this, Eastwood deserves a large amount of credit and proves that he has some chops as a director.  Unfortunately, the staid and tired way he directs the film's other sequences brings this down more notches than Chris Kyle's story deserves to be dropped.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+ 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Movie Review - Obvious Child

Obvious Child (2014)
Starring Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, and David Cross
Directed by Gillian Robespierre  
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Quite frankly, more so than probably any other movie released in 2014, Obvious Child was not made for me.  I'm not one that can find humor in a young stand-up comic going on stage and doing a set where she tries to derive humor from the fact that she's getting an abortion the next day.  I won't sit here and say I was offended (because I wasn't because quite frankly very little Hollywood does could offend me nowadays), but I did find the film a bit disturbing in the way it attempts to bring humor to such a situation.

Jenny Slate is Donna, a twenty something gal who, after being dumped by her long-time boyfriend, has a one night stand with Max (Jake Lacy) which results in her getting pregnant.  Without a steady job (her stand-up comedy side gigs don't bring in much income) and having just been told that her cheap apartment is being taken away from her, there's no second guessing as to what Jenny is going to do -- an abortion is to be had.

I give writer-director Gillian Robespierre credit for having the cojones to make a film so bluntly pro-abortion, but from a comedy standpoint, the humor didn't fly for me here.  I laughed out loud once or twice and Slate actually has a presence that's oddly charming in a rough-around-the-edges kind of way, but the subject matter here is such a turn-off to me that I doubt I was ever going to enjoy this one.  When I watch movies, I try my best to separate my political and moral views from what I'm watching onscreen and I think I'm damn good at it.  However, I can't find humor in the subject of abortion.  It's simply not going to fly with me.  Seeing a mother and daughter waxing fondly over the mother's tale about an abortion she had in the sixties is nothing short of unsettling for me when placed in a humorous context.

Once again, credit for being ballsy enough to appeal to the liberal mindset with this one (and the media naturally fawned over it upon its release), but this one just didn't fly with me when it comes to the comedic boundaries it's pushing.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Movie Review - Stephen King's A Good Marriage

Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)
Starring Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephen Lang 
Directed by Peter Askin
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

No one will ever mistake Stephen King for one of America's best authors, but I certainly have enjoyed reading his works in the past.  Because of this, the use of the King's name in the title of Stephen King's A Good Marriage coupled with a starring role by Joan Allen had me thinking that there might be potential in this horror piece.  Unfortunately, the lack of even a theatrical release beyond a handful of theaters should've clued me in to the disappointment ahead.

Allen is Darcy Anderson, a loving housewife married to salesman Bob (Anthony LaPaglia).  Together, they have two grown children and a seemingly lovely life.  However, their small town in Maine has recently been under attack by an apparent serial killer intent on offing women, stealing their ID's, and then sending them to the police in a cheeky "You can't get me" fashion.  When Bob is away on a business trip, Darcy uncovers a stash of information that leads her to believe that Bob may be the murderer -- and, needless to say, their relationship finds itself on shaky ground.

Ultimately the film's downfall is that there's nary a suspenseful moment in it.  Thirty minutes in -- SPOILER ALERT (although it happens thirty minutes in so the film doesn't hide things for all that long) -- Bob admits to being the killer and from that point on all we get are scenes of Joan Allen unsure of how to react to her husband's "other life."  Perhaps aiming for more of a weird relationship "drama" than anything else, King's short novella upon which this film is based must have worked better on the page than in his own screenplay adaptation.  Here, it's a bit of a snoozefest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, February 06, 2015

Movie Review - Selma

Selma (2014)
Starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Common, Renee Toussaint, Wendell Pierce, André Holland, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Colman Domingo, Omar J. Dorsey, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Strong, Henry G. Sanders, Keith Stanfield, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Martin Sheen
Directed by Ava DuVernay

For years, I've made note of how much I hate the film genre of the "biopic," but over the past few years, I've grown to appreciate what such flicks bring to the table in terms of opening my eyes to the intricacies of historical events that may have not necessarily flown under my radar, but perhaps been lower key in my mind than they probably should have been.  In 2014 alone, I've been treated to two very good stand-outs in the genre with The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.  Selma joins that list.

Smartly detailing only a small segment of his life, Selma focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s attempted 1965 fifty-four mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in order to raise awareness of that state government's refusal to give black Americans the right to vote.  Rather than introduce us to Mr. King via childhood anecdotes or college shenanigans, director Ava DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb sink us right into the action with King (played strongly and confidently by David Oyelowo) trying to persuade President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass a Voter's Rights Act that would allow all Americans to be allowed to register to vote without harassment from government officials.  When Johnson denies that request, King decides that he must continue on his mission of peaceful, nonviolent protest in order to get his point to the American people since his government was not assisting in providing this basic human right.

The film very shrewdly shows that King was cunningly media-savvy, knowing that in order for him to succeed, he needed to have cameras and reporters present.  While he respected the work that some lesser black community organizations were doing to push voting bills into place, King knew that they would fail simply because they were "too small."  This sly intelligence and insight into this brilliant man's mind was interesting to see unfold.  Credit must also be given to the fact that the film doesn't present King as a saint as his well-known infidelities are touched upon more than once.

David Oyelowo takes on the unenviable task of embodying Mr. King -- a man whose recorded and televised speeches are some of the most well-known in American history.  Oyelowo is hugely successful at bringing the civil rights' leader's diction, mannerisms, strength, humility, and intelligence to the screen.  Oyelowo is moving in the film's quiet moments, yet powerfully rousing as the rather ingenious orator that King was.  Oyelowo is buoyed by a strong supporting cast that weave in and out of the tale, including a nice turn from Carmen Ejogo as King's put-upon wife Coretta.  Tom Wilkinson as a headstrong (less-than-eloquent) president provides a nice counterpoint to King's/Oyelowo's passionate fervor.  (Also interesting to note -- Democrats weren't exactly kosher with the African American community getting the right to vote -- yet us Republicans are constantly paraded around as the more "racist" party.)  Particularly moving is an incredibly strong small role by Henry G. Sanders as the grandfather of a young man killed in cold blood by an Alabama police officer.  Sanders has very few scenes, but I found him riveting and emotionally powerful whenever he was onscreen.

On the downside, the film felt a little longer than its two hour running time and I found myself checking the watch a few times.  However, I certainly was never bored.  Perhaps more than any other film I've seen this year, I came away from the theater thinking about how our society needs someone powerful like Martin Luther King, Jr., today.  The Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of the world are only out for themselves despite what they may have you believe.  While I mentioned King's utilization of the media above, Sharpton and Jackson manipulate the media for their own time in the spotlight.  King used the press for the betterment of the people.  

The film certainly comes along at a pivotal time in our culture what with the Ferguson fiasco.  No matter where your opinion may fall on that spectrum, what this film showed me was that our society now doesn't have the voice that Martin Luther King, Jr., provided in the 1960s.  (I always thought Bill Cosby could maybe have been that voice -- but we all know where that ended up now.)  In that way, Selma made me quite sad for our current state of affairs.  King didn't pit society in a black-against-white type way, whereas nowadays that's the way everything is presented whenever "race" is involved.  King knew that a "race war" wouldn't solve any problems -- unity was needed, not race baiting.

Kudos to the relatively new-to-the-scene Ava DuVernay who has crafted a pic that resonates.  She doesn't necessarily pull out any tricks (and when she does, they sometimes fall flat -- like a slow-motion fight scene involving police officers and actress Oprah Winfrey), but she creates a impact showcasing the courage of not only Dr. King, but the many black and white Americans who quite literally joined hands with him to create change.  There's power in these images DuVernay brings to the screen -- the opening shot of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing starts things off with such an impact that I was taken aback (in a good way) by the way Ms. Duvernay decides to present things -- and there's absolutely something to be said for being able to create something that can carry such weight.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+