Featured Post

Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Movie Review - A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year (2014)
Starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Elyes Gabel, and Albert Brooks 
Directed by J.C. Chandor

I must say off the bat that A Most Violent Year is a different movie than I was expecting.  For some reason, I had this notion that it was going to be about this corrupt guy and his attempts to get to the top of his game by any means necessary.  While it's certainly about a business owner striving to succeed, he's a man of character (though not without some major flaws) and his struggles are met with perseverance.

That isn't to say that A Most Violent Year is a film that's all sunshine and lollipops.  Far from it.  It's New York City.  1981.  Abel Morris (Oscar Isaac) is an immigrant who came to the US and found success in the home heating oil industry.  He married the boss's daughter Anna (Jessica Chastain) and eventually inherited the business where he's had moderate success.  Abel desires to expand and while in the midst of placing a down payment on a huge tract of land next to the ocean that will allow him easy access to oil rigs as well as tons of storage capacity, he finds himself under investigation by the authorities (led by David Oyelowo) for fraud.  On top of that, someone is terrorizing his oil truck drivers by hijacking the vehicles and stealing the oil inside of them.  Things are looking shaky for Abel who always felt he did the "right" thing and attempted to take the high ground.  Will he stoop lower in order to save his family business?  His lawyer (Albert Brooks) and his wife think he may have to, but Abel questions if that's the way he wants to earn a living.

I continue to make Abel sound a bit too perfect in that summary and it should be known that he's not an angel.  There's a grit and determination in his demeanor brought to realization by Oscar Isaac that is absolutely palpable.  He's matched onscreen by Jessica Chastain whose performance is surprisingly layered.  Seemingly the Lady Macbeth to Abel's moldable and impressionable "king," Anna definitely will do what is necessary in order for her family to survive, however, she also has limits to how far she's willing to stoop.  The question is can her biting demeanor cause enough tension amongst her enemies to make a difference.

J.C. Chandor's three directorial efforts have all shown much capability in directing actors and this film continues that trend.  While many praised 2013's All is Lost, I found it lacking a bit in terms of character development.  Granted, that film focused squarely on one person, but it still was a bit of a let down.  In A Most Violent Year, Chandor takes on the grander scale of a family and makes it feel soap operatic and intimate at the same time, while also placing the film squarely in the time period of the early 1980s -- a tricky tone to land, but one that is necessary for a film of this ilk which feels almost gangster-y and an ode to the Coppola and Friedkin films of the 1970s.  This is Chandor's best work yet on the page and on the screen and I look forward to his next venture in the years to come.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Jurassic Park Marathon Starts Tomorrow!!!

Mr. DNA is more than excited to inform you that starting on Wednesday, RyMickey's Ramblings will begin its Jurassic Park Quadrilogy Marathon.  Join in as we discuss all four movies in this iconic film franchise.  What exactly does your oh-so-revered blogger think of the reptile-starring series?  Is Jurassic World worthy of being one of the highest-grossing films of all time?  Find out starting tomorrow.

The Jurassic Park Quadrilogy Marathon
Wednesday: Jurassic Park
Thursday: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Friday: Jurassic Park III
Saturday: Jurassic World

Monday, June 29, 2015

Movie Review - Still Alice

Still Alice (2014)
Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and Kristen Stewart
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

While I wouldn't necessarily call Julianne Moore's performance in Still Alice a tour de force, I must admit that due to her acting choices and the way she reads certain lines, she nearly made me tear up in certain scenes in this film about a fifty-something year-old woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.  While the film itself is "just fine," Moore does elevate things which is likely a reason she walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress this past year.  (It also certainly helped that the roles for women in films in 2014 were decidedly weak.)

While I could list a summary for you, quite frankly I've already written all you need to know about Still Alice in the opening paragraph.  Thanks to a relatively quick running time, the directing and screenwriting team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland place the focus squarely on Alice (Moore), a linguistics professor who can't help but find irony in the fact that her education in language and communication is failing her personally now thanks to the incurable disease that is slowly deteriorating her mind.  With her three adult children and husband (Alec Baldwin) by her side, Alice must come to terms with the fact that her life will unfortunately never be the same.

While Moore is in every scene in the film, the moments that ring the most true for me were the ones in which she is discussing her disease with her family.  Baldwin as her husband and Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth as her daughters help to humanize things even more by reacting in a variety of believable ways to their wife/mother's diagnosis.  Without them to play off of, Moore wouldn't have shined nearly as bright as she does.

Still Alice certainly works as a movie and it doesn't particularly do anything wrong in any aspect, but don't go into this one expecting to be blown away because that won't happen.  This is a good film that I admittedly don't think can be any better than it is -- but it's simply good, not great.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Movie Review - The Captive

The Captive (2014)
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand, Alexia Fast, and Bruce Greenwood
Directed by Atom Egoyan
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

The Captive is an odd movie.  From the opening scene, we know who the bad guy is since we see him keeping a teenage girl locked away in a room.  So the suspense of that aspect of Atom Egoyan's film is moot right from the get-go.  The question we find ourselves asking then is "Why has he kept this girl alive for eight years since kidnapping her?"

As Egoyan's film jumps around through time (to presumably keep things [unsuccessfully] suspenseful), we drift back to the day when young Cass was kidnapped out of her father's truck while he went in to buy a pie at a local Canadian diner.  Upon his return, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) finds his daughter missing and his life turned upside down as his wife Tina (Mireille Enos) blames him for their daughter's disappearance and two cops (Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman) think Matthew is hiding something from them.

Of course, we know that Matthew isn't the culprit.  Instead it's Mika (Kevin Durand), a put-together soft-spoken weirdo of a guy who keeps the now teenage Cass (Alexia Fast) locked up in a room, providing for her whatever she needs in terms of food, clothing, and other leisure items.  As part of this weirdly sick game Mika is playing (which doesn't seem to involve any sexual favors with the teen), he places cameras at her mother's place of work so Cass can still connect with her and promises Cass that he will allow her to see her father again for a few brief minutes.  Even when Mika's motive for keeping Cass alive is revealed, it seems odd -- just as odd as the twisted and completely far-fetched and unbelievable game he's playing with Cass and her family.

I can't say I hated The Captive.  I did find that it kept my interest mostly throughout, but that was partly because it was so strange.  It helps that Egoyan's eye behind the camera keeps the drab Canadian landscape seem like an ominous character in and of itself.  Also, Ryan Reynolds is quite good here as the beleaguered dad, proving he really can stretch his dramatic muscles successfully if he so desires.  Rosario Dawson also gives one of her better performances, but her character is unfortunately drafted into one of the more ludicrous aspects of the plot -- and the one that the film tries to "hide" from us as long as possible thanks to the time twisting.  Atom Egoyan unfortunately makes films that I find myself always thinking have potential, but never deliver and The Captive really isn't an exception.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Movie Review - I Origins

I Origins (2014)
Starring Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and Brit Marling
Directed by Mike Cahill

I admired director-screenwriter Mike Cahill's debut film Another Earth for being "different," taking a tale of grief and suffering and adding a sci-fi twist to it, but in the end, I found the feature lacking a bit in execution with its low budget unfortunately rearing its ugly head.  I Origins follows a very similar road of telling a story about grief and suffering with a sci-fi twist, but fares a little bit better thanks to a bit bigger budget and characters that feel more well-rounded.

Lately, I feel as if I've written about many movies that feel like two different films squished into one and I Origins is no exception.  When the film opens, molecular biologist Ian (Michael Pitt) and his grad student lab partner Karen (Brit Marling) are attempting to essentially create an eye for an animal that has no vision.  Through a series of (fortuitous?  fated?  random?) events one afternoon, Ian, who has always been fascinated with eyes since he was a young child, comes across a billboard of simply the eyes of a French woman named Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) with whom he spent an interesting night at a party.  Ian eventually finds Sofi again and falls madly in love with her and the two decide to get married.  On their elopement day, Karen gives Ian the fantastic news that she has found an earthworm that holds all the DNA necessary to "make" an eye, but doesn't currently have vision as one of its senses.  This discovery is the major stepping stone for all of Ian's work and he finds it necessary to cut his wedding day short to head to the lab.  This decision changes his life forever.

And unfortunately, it's incredibly difficult to talk about the rest of the film -- the better part of the film -- without spoiling things too much.  Needless to say, Ian's life takes a strange turn after that day with his success in the lab leading him down a path of both scientific and self-discovery that I found moderately fascinating.

The one thing that Mike Cahill's two films so far have going for them is this sense of intelligence brooding out of them.  You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand what's going on in the slightest, but he doesn't necessarily dumb things down to a point where a general audience would find his flicks palatable...and I like that about Cahill.  Here, science is absolutely in the forefront and what's even more intriguing is how Cahill integrates the battle between science and religion into the picture.  This is always a dichotomy that is a tricky one to embrace without upsetting either side and I think the director/screenwriter succeeds quite well.

Michael Pitt carries the film, but definitely comes alive in the second half -- along with everyone else, for that matter.  As we're watching, we know that the first half is leading up to something major, but it just takes a little too long to get there.  Fortunately, once we're there, it's worth the wait as I was quite captivated by the unique nature of the piece.  Much like Another Earth, I Origins will not be for everyone's tastes, but it may be worth a try if you're in the mood for something a bit thought-provoking and not so run-of-the-mill.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review - Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway (2014)
Starring Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, and Emilia Clarke
Directed by Richard Shepard

Filled with cleverly snappy dialog, an oddly retro aesthetic, and a titular protagonist who's a bitterly nasty guy whom we can't help but think a bit fondly of despite his many deviant issues, director and screenwriter Richard Shepard's Dom Hemingway is a film that works about half the time, but unfortunately falters a bit when it attempts to give its otherwise crude lead character a bit of a heart of gold as the film progresses.

From the opening scene, we glimpse what kind of film we're getting into and while I don't want to spoil the hilarity of the sheer audacity of the moment, we really do immediately key in to the movie's pulpy usage of dialog and visuals to evoke humor.  In that scene (and the ones immediately following it), we discover that Dom Hemingway has been in jail for twelve years after having committed a crime and refusing to name the crime boss who tasked him with the job.  Upon his release, he meets up with his best friend (Richard E. Grant) to head to France to meet up with Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), the man employing Dom when he was captured.  The ballsy, hold-no-punches guy that he is, the recently freed Dom demands that Ivan -- an incredibly wealthy, smooth-talking mafioso type -- give him a substantial payday.

Rather than spoil things, I'll leave the summary at that except to say that at about halfway through the film, Dom Hemingway begins to disappoint a bit.  Rather than continue on the comedically vulgar track, the second half of the flick attempts to reform Dom as he tries to reconcile with his adult daughter (Emilia Clarke) and her grandson.  I can understand how some films feel the need to make their nasty protagonist seem at least a bit rehabilitated as they progress and "grow," but Shepard did such a good job of creating a sleazy guy the audience can root for in Dom that this amelioration of his character is unnecessary and actually harms the film more than it does it good.  Granted, Dom never completely glistens with an angelic glow, but the whole last half struck me as a bit disingenuous for the character we had seen come before.

2014 was a surprisingly fantastic year for actors (as my RyMickey Awards will show) and in a lesser year, Jude Law would undoubtedly rank in my Top Five Actors for his brash, ballsy, and positively delightful portrayal as the title character.  While I'm not quite sure he'll make it there this year, his performance alone makes Dom Hemingway worth watching even if the film itself is hampered by a misguided attempt at creating a tiny bit of morality in the end.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Movie Review - Chef

Chef (2014)
Starring Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johannson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Bobby Canavale, and Robert Downey, Jr. 
Directed by Jon Favreau
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Chef certainly isn't aiming to be anything deep, but director and screenwriter Jon Favreau creates a lovely glimpse at a father/son relationship, the simplicity of which we don't often see on screens in this day and age.  Chef details the story of chef Carl Casper (Favreau) who has worked in a moderately ritzy restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman) for years, but has really been unable to create unique dishes as Riva wants to maintain the status quo because customers are still pouring in.  When a food blogger/critic (Oliver Platt) comes to the establishment one evening, he writes online that Carl's food is tired, old school, and lacking any modern flair.  Upon receiving the bad review, Carl goes a bit berserk online thanks to a visit from his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) who introduces his father to Twitter.  After Carl inadvertently tweets numerous public jabs at the critic that he thinks were sent privately, Carl becomes a bit of a laughing stock across the country at which point he realizes that he's not happy doing what he does anymore and decides to take a little respite to Miami with Percy and his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) where he rediscovers his passion for food and his desire to show that to the public.

Chef is a movie broken up into two halves -- the first with Carl at the restaurant and the second with Carl reinventing his food passions by opening up a popular food truck.  While the halves certainly carry a similar tone to them, the film feels almost like two different movies at times.  Fortunately, Carl's relationship with his son is the through line between the two and it's this paternal connection that feels incredibly comforting and realistic.  In fact, what really makes Chef shine is that all of the relationships here -- Carl with his ex-wife, boss, co-workers -- carry a sense of believability and genuineness.  Favreau as a writer seems to have a real grasp of dialog -- his characters' moments with his son are particularly authentic despite the fact that his son seems a bit too tech-savvy for his own good at age ten.

Nonetheless, there's a charm that exudes in Chef thanks to the writing and the cast, all of whom really take Favreau's words and make them come to life.  Sofia Vergara is at her least annoying here, playing a loving mom and ex-wife to Carl -- once again, the ex-wife/husband relationship exudes a credible believability despite being a shockingly pleasant association we don't typically see displayed in films.  John Leguizamo as Carl's friend and co-worker adds some character to the mix and Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman keep the first half of the film buzzing with some interesting camaraderie with Carl.

In the end, Chef is maybe a bit too simple for its own good -- I compliment the film quite highly above, but I found it a little bland at the start and it took me three sittings to make it past the first hour.  While that sounds a bit damning, I simply don't think I was giving Chef a big enough chance.  Had it dropped an F-bomb or two or a sexual innuendo out of the equation, Chef would've been fit for all ages, exuding a sweetness that I frankly wasn't expecting, but truly enjoyed.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Good Lie

The Good Lie (2014)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jay, Kuoth Wiel, and Corey Stall
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

In 1983, a civil war broke out in Sudan over religion and various natural resources, leaving many southern villages ravaged by northern armies.  Orphaned children fled on foot as many as one thousand miles to Ethiopia and Kenya in hopes of finding a safe refuge.  More than a decade later, 3600 Sudanese refugees relocated to the United States.  The Good Lie is the story of four of them and their incredible journey is uplifting and inspirational.  

While Reese Witherspoon gets top billing here, this "based on true events" amalgamation isn't her tale at all which I actually found oddly refreshing.  Eschewing the typical Blind Side savior aspect, The Good Lie places its focus squarely on the Sudanese refugees themselves -- Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jay), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel).  The quartet of siblings (though not all necessarily through blood, but rather through spirit) win a lottery to travel to the US and find support from Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), a job placement specialist in Kansas City, Missouri.  Although they slowly but surely begin to grow accustomed to American social cues, the three brothers long to be reunited with their sister Abital who was sent to Boston to live with a family there.

As mentioned, The Good Lie is the refugees' tale -- Witherspoon doesn't even come into the picture until close to 35 minutes in.  Rather, we get a detailed story of the quartet of refugees as youths as they make their incredibly long and dangerous trek through Sudan to safe harbor in Kenya.  By connecting with them as kids, we grow to understand the familial bonds they form despite the fact that only Mamere and Abital are actually related.  The film unfortunately falters a bit when it initially makes it to the US as it falls into the stereotypical fish out of water moments that we've seen before -- "What's this 'McDonald's'?", mistaking a telephone for an alarm clock, how do you use a straw -- but this lighthearted overused element shifts rather quickly back to the bigger story at hand.

While Witherspoon is certainly solid in her portrayal, The Good Lie belongs to the Sudanese quartet. Thankfully, the actors portraying them -- three of whom are actual Sudanese refugees themselves -- are more powerful than I could've expected.  The feelings depicted by the quartet all feel genuine and we never get the sense that this is one of the first acting gigs for most of them.  This is by far the most impressive aspect of the film and director Philippe Falardeau deserves kudos as much as the fresh-faced actors for being able to believably deliver and elicit the wide range of emotions needed for these refugees' stories to spring to life.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Movie Review - Let's Be Cops

Let's Be Cops (2014)
Starring Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, James D'Arcy, and Andy Garcia
Directed by Luke Greenfield

I think I laughed a sum total of three times in the nearly two hour-long Let's Be Cops -- a flick in which two thirty year-old nobodies (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr) attend a costume party as cops and find that everything becomes infinitely better for them when they wear an officer's uniform.  Little do they expect that their masquerade will soon take a scary turn when they inadvertently mess with a criminal kingpin (James D'Arcy).

Johnson and Wayans Jr. certainly have a chemistry with one another and admittedly they make the flick at least remotely watchable, but the humor here is virtually nonexistent.  When the flick was theatrically released, there was some disgust over the entire concept of the film -- guys pretending to be cops for shits and giggles -- but the only thing offensive here is that they couldn't mine more humor out of this whole ordeal.  If the Jump Street series has taught us anything, idiot cops should be a hoot.  Here, that's unfortunately not the case.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie Review - This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
Starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stall, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, and Jane Fonda
Directed by Shawn Levy

When their father dies, the Altman family -- siblings Judd, Wendy, Paul, and Philip and their mother Hillary (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stall, Adam Driver, and Jane Fonda -- gather together at their childhood home to sit shiva (a seven day Jewish period of mourning) in honor of their dad.  Old sibling rivalries and current spousal struggles rear their ugly heads as the Altmans learn to cope with their patriarch's death.

A completely believable familial banter isn't as easy to come by in films as one would think and the repartee that Bateman, Fey, Stall, and Driver have with one another in This Is Where I Leave You feels genuine.  While Fonda's role is a little over the top, I appreciated that her eccentricities appeared to have at least influenced her grown children's emotional states, helping to further craft authentic characters.  Solid performances by Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, and Abigail Spencer add to the great cast.

While I would've liked to have had a bit more heart imbued into the flick, I still found myself engaged and interested in each sibling's highs and lows.  This Is Where I Leave You admittedly treads similar paths of typical familial dramedies, but with a stellar cast, director Shawn Levy's flick proves to be a nicely paced, pleasant sleeper that surprisingly balances its myriad of story lines with ease -- some prove a little more successful than others (and a particularly out-of-left-field "surprise" at the film's conclusion seems simply added for shock effect), but the overall result is quite successful.  

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Movie Review - Young Ones

Young Ones (2014)
Starring Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, and Kodi Smit-McPhee
Directed by Jake Paltrow
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Director and screenwriter Jake Paltrow's Young Ones takes place in the future, but feels squarely rooted in the past.  With some unique, odd, and retro cinematic and cinematographic choices, the visual landscape of Young Ones unfortunately overtakes the rather lukewarm and surprisingly emotionally empty story.

Taking place in the not-so-distant future when water is a scarce and precious commodity, Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) lives in the dry and barren Midwest with his two children Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Mary (Elle Fanning) -- the former who travels with his father around the land as a traveling salesman/barterer and the latter who stays at home and cooks, cleans, and harbors a growing animosity for her dad for essentially being shackled in the house.  Mary's moments of happiness center around her boyfriend Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), but Flem gets upset when Ernest wins an auction for a simulated donkey (not as weird as it sounds) that Flem feels was rightly his causing the young man to ponder ways to get back at Mary's father.

Unfortunately, the story is quite slim and even a relatively short run time can't save it.  Despite some solid acting from all four of the main actors, I found next to no connection to the emotional plights of the characters.  Considering that Shannon, Hoult, Fanning, and Smit-McPhee have all been pretty solid in the past, I have to think that the fault therefore lies in the script which leaves their characters languishing in a dusty landscape.  While certainly having moments of uniqueness, Young Ones just lacks the spark and vigor to really make it compelling.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Movie Review - The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (2014)
Starring Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, and Patricia Clarson
Directed by Wes Ball

At a certain point, all of these teen-centered dystopian fantasies start to blend together what with The Hunger Games, Divergent, and now The Maze Runner all of which take place in a future where teens are placed in perilous situations the likes of which seem too outrageous to really be believed thanks to some overriding governmental entity.  Here, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up to find himself in the middle of a giant maze inhabited by a group of teen guys -- none of whom know how they got there or have any memory of who they were prior to being placed into the maze.  Every night, the maze shifts and while many have tried to find a way out, most who attempt wind up dead thanks to spider-like bio-mechanical creatures known as Grievers that inhabit the labyrinth.  Someone put these kids here for some reason and Thomas and his fellow runners of the maze will stop at nothing to find out who is behind their captivity.

Although the film finds itself getting a bit repetitive as it progresses, the overall concept of this dark tale is quite intriguing -- perhaps the most interesting of all the aforementioned similarly themed teen flicks.  With a game cast of actors (most of whom I'd never seen before) who all do a solid job of making us believe their plight, The Maze Runner has the makings of something promising as it continues on its way in future films.  Once again, though, similar to the Divergent series, I have serious doubts as to whether it can maintain its "reason for existence" past Movie #1.  All of these teen series feel drawn out as they progress and I worry that The Maze Runner will fall into the same trap.  For now, however, it's unique enough to warrant a look.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Movie Review - Top Five

Top Five (2014)
Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, and  J.B. Smoove
Directed by Chris Rock

I laughed out loud quite a bit in the first five minutes of Top Five which seemed rather promising and appeared to confirm the overwhelmingly positive critical notices Chris Rock's personally penned and helmed film received at last year's Toronto Film Festival.  Unfortunately, after the initial hilarious rants as Rock's movie star persona Andre Allen goes toe-to-toe with reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), the laughs dissipated and this tale of a fading comedian lost its allure.

Top Five's story is relatively simple which certainly isn't a detriment to the piece.  After successfully transitioning from the stand-up comedy circuit to hugely profitable (though mind-numbingly stupid) Hollywood action comedies, Andre Allen succumbed to some hefty alcohol abuse.  After meeting reality show hottie Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), Andre decides to turn over a new leaf, eschewing his drinking habits and leaving the comedy circuit behind by starring in an historical epic about a slave uprising in the 19th century.  Set to marry Erica on her Bravo tv series and with the new film about to be released, Andre's manager (J.B. Smoove) sets the star up for an interview with New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown.  Taking place over the course of one day (with flashbacks to Andre's past thrown in), Top Five details how a single interview could shape Andre's entire future.

The premise of Top Five is perfectly fine.  The problem stems from the fact that it's simply not very funny.  Flashbacks and scenes with Cedric the Entertainer, Tracy Morgan, Sherry Shepherd, and a slew of other African-American comedians feel contrived as opposed to realistic.  Andre's relationship with Erica also never feels rooted in reality (which, admittedly, may be a purposeful jab against Bravo's Real Housewives franchises), and while there are snippets of truth and chemistry between Andre and Chelsea, Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson can't maintain the refreshingly realistic tone of the film's opening scene.  Rather than feel fresh, much of the comedy feels tired and rehashed.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Movie Review - Unbroken

Unbroken (2014)
Starring Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, and Finn Whitrock
Directed by Angelina Jolie

The courage and sheer will to survive of Mr. Louis Zamperini is incredible and, considering how thematically inspirational it is, I'm surprised his fascinating story hadn't been brought to the screen prior to director Angelina Jolie's Unbroken was released in 2014.  Here's a guy who went from being a misfit child to an Olympic runner to a soldier whose plane was shot down near Japan after which he spent 45 days floating on the ocean with two of his fellow heroes...only to be captured by the Japanese and taken to a prison camp where he found himself the target of a vicious general.  You can't write something like that and make it seem believable if it didn't really happen...but since it did really happen, you can only be in awe of the willpower of Zamperini.  Unfortunately, Jolie's movie doesn't quite find itself firing on all cylinders, wasting most of its gas in the film's admittedly very good first half and petering out in the end.

Jolie crafts a perfectly adequate film in Unbroken and it's obvious that she has the utmost respect for Zamperini (played in the film by Jack O'Connell), but despite the crisp look of the piece, the film feels oddly empty.  For all of this guy's struggles, I never found myself emotionally invested in the character in the way that I wanted to be.  Jolie is absolutely at her best in the scenes after the plane crash in the riveting time at sea on two small yellow rafts with Zamperini and his two fellow soldiers Phil and Mac (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Whitrock).  When her focus shifts to the Japanese war camp headed by the sadistic Watanabe (played by Miyavi) in the film's final hour, the emotional struggle to survive so present in the film's first half fades away when it should've become perhaps even more relevant.  Unable to carry this important emotional aspect through the entire piece is a bit of a disappointment.

With great technical aspects all around -- cinematography, score, costumes -- and solid acting, the potential for Unbroken seems disappointingly untapped.  This is the first film I've seen directed by Jolie and I appreciate her eye behind the lens.  Considering the obvious admiration she holds for Mr. Zamperini, it's a shame the film didn't resonate as emotionally impactful as it should have.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Monday, June 15, 2015

Movie Review - Ouija

Ouija (2014)
Starring Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca Santos, Douglas Smith, Lin Shaye, and Shelley Hennig
Directed by Stiles White

What happens when you create a horror movie with nary a single scare or any modicum of tension or suspense?  You get a film like Ouija, the debut feature of director (and co-screenwriter) Stiles White who has no inkling what is necessary in order to create a foreboding atmosphere or keep the audience even moderately close to the edge of their seat.  Had it not been for an acceptable performance by Olivia Cooke as a high schooler who is trying to cope with the death of her best friend, this would've undoubtedly landed in the "F" column.  While just escaping that ignominious honor, Ouija suffers from behind-the-camera mediocrity that it has no chance of overcoming.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Friday, June 12, 2015

Movie Review - Aloha

Aloha (2015)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Jaeden Lieberher, Danielle Rose Russell, Danny McBride, and Alec Baldwin
Directed by Cameron Crowe

There are moments of clever wordplay in director-screenwriter Cameron Crowe's Aloha that pinpoint that this lauded filmmaker (by others, not myself) has an ear for dialog that evokes a sense of spontaneity and naturalness while still feeling somewhat elegant and eloquent.  However, these small moments aren't enough to make a film work or carry a story and Aloha is a near disaster in the story department.  An hour into the film I found myself pondering what in the hell is the main storyline here?  The flick was a jumbled mess until that point and, quite frankly, doesn't get much better in its second half.

In the end, I think Aloha is trying to tell the tale of a beginning and an ending (how clever in that "aloha" can mean "hello" or "goodbye") when it comes to relationships for its main character Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a hired defense worker who is employed by the filthy rich Carson Welch (Bill Murray) to do computer work (I think?) on Welch's new space communications satellite launching off the coast of Hawaii in the near future.  Hawaii used to be Brian's home and while living there, he was in a serious relationship with Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is now married to Air Force pilot Woody (John Krasinki) with whom she has two kids.  Brian's return to the 49th State creates a bit of havoc in Tracy and Woody's relationship with long buried feelings resurfacing between the former couple.  Also thrown into the mix:  pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone) who is tasked with escorting Brian around the island and begins to fall for him;  Tracy and Woody's son Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher) believes that Brian's arrival signifies the beginning of some Hawaiian lore that will cause volcanic eruptions and new islands to form; and, just for kicks, Tracy and Woody's daughter Grace (Danielle Rose Russell) may or may not be Brian's biological daughter.

While another film may be able to balance all these storylines, Aloha is unable and proves to be a painful experiment to watch.  As mentioned, sixty minutes in, I had no clue what was supposed to be the "big" storyline here.  I figured it would be the love triangle between Brian, Rachel, and Allison, and while that proves ultimately to be true, this segment is so poorly laid out and structured in the film's opening hour that it's impossible to feel any connection to these characters or have any desire to see this plot point reach its conclusion.  Instead of honing in on this three-cornered relationship, much of the film's beginning is focused on Brian attempting to convince native Hawaiians to allow Carson Welch to build a bridge through their land along with a huge emphasis on "mystical" and "mysterious" ancient Hawaiian folklore.  And the kicker -- neither of these two concepts make much of an appearance in the film's second half.  Throw in some incredibly weird, purportedly comedic moments that just stick out like a sore thumb (or an extra toe which literally makes an appearance here) and Mr. Crowe's script just proves to be laughably bad.

Given the mediocrity of the script, the typically solid cast isn't given a lot to work with and they find themselves floundering for motivation.  McAdams and Krasinski fare the best, but their characters are supposed to be incredibly unhappy with one another and this never comes across despite the actors' best efforts.  The typically charming Cooper is all over the place in a role that never determines whether it's supposed to be comedic or dramatic or a mix of both.  The equally typically charming Stone is like a cartoon character, never once feeling real or based in reality.  Aloha is a huge miss and one that I couldn't wait to say "good-bye" to nearly as soon as I had said "hello."

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Movie Review - Venus in Fur

Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure) (2014)
Starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric
Directed by Roman Polanski
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Venus in Fur is a movie based on a 2010 play in which a playwright is holding auditions on a stage for a play he has written based on author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book Venus in Furs.  Confused yet?  That's kind of the point of director Roman Polanski's film as he blurs the lines between fiction and reality and whether the written word can have effects on real life.  While I'm not sure the film is entirely successful (some of which stems from the fact that it's in French and mutes some of the emphasizing of important philosophically wordy elements of the script for us English speakers), it's an interesting look at a small and very specific battle of the sexes.

Thomas Novacheck (Mathieu Amalric) has just written a new play based on the aforementioned Sacher-Masoch's book.  If you look at that author's name close enough, you'll realize that the term "masochism" is derived from it which gives us a slight idea into just the kind of play Novacheck has written.  When Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives to the auditions late, her brash personality instantly wins over Thomas who was more than ready to call it a day after seeing tens of women who did not fit the play's female role.  At first, Vanda seems a shoo-in for the part, allowing herself to succumb to the desires of the play's protagonist.  However, as the evening continues, Vanda begins to take control of things, attempting to turn the tables on both Sacher-Masoch and Novacheck's idealizations of male domination.

His personal life notwithstanding, I've always found myself a fan of Roman Polanski's work and there is certainly much to admire here.  Taking place all within the confines of a theater and its stage, Polanski keeps things visually appealing, utilizing the camera, lighting, and music to keep the rather simplistic staging invigorating.  Both actors are captivating and while Vanda's motives aren't entirely clear, I have to imagine that this vagueness is what playwright (and co-screenwriter with Polanski) David Ives was attempting when he wrote the original play.  On stage, this ambiguity may have worked a little better, but here it keeps us at a distance from Vanda which seems a bit unfortunate.

Should I watch this again or see this on stage, I think I'd appreciate it much more upon a repeat viewing.  As it stands now, the intricacies of some of the commands, directives, and mandates Vanda places on Thomas were lost on me a bit and, admittedly, became a bit tiresome as the film progressed across its ninety minute run time.  Venus in Fur is an interesting film and one that I'd recommend -- but I'm not sure you'll find it enjoyable.  I'm not entirely sure I did either.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Movie Review - Fury

Fury (2014)
Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal
Directed by David Ayer

April 1945 -- less than six months until the end of WWII.  The Allies are making one final push into Germany in order to bring an end to Hitler.  Throughout the war, it had become evident that German tanks were infinitely superior to the Allied machinery, but with nothing else in their arsenal, the Allies were still forced to fight using their inferior warcraft.  Fury follows the story of one tank crew detailing several small-scale (though intense and life-threatening) battles as they continue their mission to end the Nazi's reign.

Director and screenwriter David Ayer creates a tense atmosphere throughout which is a bit surprising seeing as how Fury feels as if it's 80% battle sequences -- a notion that could easily wear thin (and does for a tiny bit during its first act), but ends up being surprisingly effective.  The film's final lengthy stand-off is easily the best battle scene and while not entirely realistic, it does a fantastic job at conveying the horrors of close combat warfare so evident in WWII.

Unfortunately, Ayer doesn't quite succeed in creating well-rounded, non-stereotypical characters.  Pitt as Don "Wardaddy" Collier is the leader of the tank quintet that we find ourselves focusing on and while he does a perfectly adequate job, I felt very little attachment to him and that's the fault of the script moreso than anything else.  Similarly, Logan Lerman plays the young, new-to-battle Norman and all the typical characteristics are present for him -- always nervous, unwilling to kill, quiet, the requisite vomiting shot when he sees something disgusting.  It's all there.  The film attempts to create a bond between Collier and Norman and while it somewhat successfully does so thanks to a moving scene in which duo invade the apartment of two German women, the teacher/student relationship between these two didn't flourish the way I would've liked.  Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal make up the rest of the crew and while all seemingly give realistic portrayals of war torn soldiers, I wasn't swept up by their plight.

While I'd typically find this lack of connection a somewhat major problem, the other elements of the film create enough of a positive effect that I'm able to overlook these character flaws a bit.  Fury provides an engaging look at an aspect of war that isn't typically filmed and for that it deserves a bit of credit despite its shortcomings.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Movie Review - Interstellar

Interstellar (2014)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Timothée Chalamet, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine
Directed by Christopher Nolan

I was extremely wary about Interstellar.  During its theatrical run, I found myself avoiding it due to its nearly three-hour running time and the much-gossiped about notion that its story was too talky and too befuddling.  So, with trepidation I sat down to watch director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan's Interstellar in one sitting not expecting to enjoy myself.  Obviously, this lede is insinuating that I liked the film and that intimation would be true.  While not without its faults, Interstellar is a surprisingly action-filled drama that, while certainly "deep" and a bit convoluted, is much easier to comprehend than I expected.

To make a (very) long story short, Earth is dying and within several years, it will be uninhabitable.  While driving around with his daughter one evening, former astronaut Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret NASA facility wherein scientists are building a spaceship that can send a crew to explore the far regions of space to look for another planet that can sustain human life.  Much to his daughter Murph's (Mackenze Foy) chagrin, Cooper agrees to take part in the mission which will likely take him away from home for several years.  This connection between father and daughter continues to take shape as the film progresses with Murph aging into a young woman (played by Jessica Chastain) and Cooper still out in space.

Interstellar works best when it finds itself in space.  There's a harrowing sense of anticipation and excitement in nearly every story element as Cooper and his fellow astronauts (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentlely, and David Gyasi) desperately struggle to find a place where the human race can survive for eons to come.  As they journey from planet to planet, they're forced to make some tough decisions which are intellectually complex, though at the same time fathomable to the general movie-going public.

Unfortunately, Insterstellar takes a long time to actually get Cooper up into space.  For nearly an hour, we find Cooper and his family bemoaning the state of the Earth and then debating whether Cooper should take on the space mission.  I remember about forty minutes in looking at how much time was left and getting antsy that there was still nearly two hours to go.  I recognize the need to set up a father/daughter relationship in the first act, but Nolan and his co-screenwriter brother Jonathan fail to keep things moving and the languid pace weighs down the entire film.

As mentioned, though, once we're in space, Interstellar becomes an intriguing film.  The special effects are top notch and the sound design (which got dinged a bit by critics who watched the film in theaters) works fine on a small screen sound system.  The acting is solid, but I had a few qualms with Matthew McConaughey's lead performance as Cooper.  First, I wanted him to open his damn mouth when he talked because multiple times it sounded as if he was talking with a handful of marbles in his mouth.  Perhaps more importantly, though, I felt that he looked bored for most of the flick.  Unlike other characters who were desperately trying to save their planet and complete a successful mission, McConaughey's Cooper didn't convey that sense of urgency.  While there are certainly moments in space during which McConaughey successfully showcases his emotions as a father longing to be reunited with his children, overall I felt that Cooper left me longing to connect with him seeing as how he was the crux of the whole film.

Despite some qualms, Interstellar actually provides a rather enjoyable experience.  Did I understand everything that happens at the end as the film veers into some weird metaphysical stuff?  Nope.  But I at least didn't feel like I was completely oblivious to the proceedings.  If you were wary like me to see this because of these fears of confusion (or simply because of the film's length), let me brush those aside for you and beckon you to give Interstellar a chance.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Movie Review - Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Anne-Marie Duff
Directed by Rowan Joffe
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Considering the strength of the actors involved, Before I Go to Sleep had the potential of being a solid thriller.  Unfortunately, the combined talents of Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Anne-Marie Duff (all of whom I've certainly liked in things in the past) can't save a script that keeps hitting the same beats over and over again making this 90-minute flick a bit of a snooze.

Kidman plays Christine, a forty year-old woman who wakes up every morning unaware of who she is and where she's been for the last decade.  Next to her every single morning is Ben (Firth), her husband of fourteen years who strives to make the best of his wife's unfortunate situation which came about after a horrible accident caused trauma to her head.  Also trying to help Christine is Dr. Nasch (Strong) who gives Christine a camera to record her thoughts and memories throughout her day in an attempt to jog her mind the next morning.  However, Dr. Nasch seems to believe that Ben is not being entirely forthcoming with Christine and he may be hiding some dark secret from her.  Christine, on the other hand, begins to question whether Dr. Nasch is someone she can even trust.  This constant uncertainty plagues Christine and she can't help but question if she is truly safe in her own home.

I'll give Before I Go to Sleep credit in that admittedly I didn't peg the ending in director/screenwriter Rowan Joffe's flick.  I probably should have -- it's not like it was incredibly off-the-wall or unfathomable -- but I did wind up a tiny bit surprised at the end.  Unfortunately, the film's inherent flaw is that when Christine loses her memory and wakes up the next morning, we in the audience are constantly bombarded with her need to relearn everything again.  We seemingly witness the same scenes over and over and over again with the tiniest minutiae of changes.  While I understand this is a way for Joffe to allow us to connect with the film's dazed protagonist, it just wears out its welcome very quickly and it bogs down the film to an almost unwatchable point halfway through.

Credit certainly goes to the quartet of actors listed above who all make the most of what they've been given here.  Firth and Kidman in particular more than carry the film and strive to elevate it above the level of a television movie.  I'm not quite sure they achieve that goal, but their attempts are admirable.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-