Friday, July 31, 2015

Movie Review - Cold in July

Cold in July (2014)
Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Wyatt Russell, and Don Johnson
Directed by Jim Mickle

East Texas 1989.  Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) kills a home invader only to have the criminal's father Russel (Sam Shepard) begin to stalk Dane and his family.  Although Cold in July begins with this premise, the flick shifts about a third of the way through and despite some plot holes which probably should've bothered me, I found the gritty film noir a rather enjoyable mystery.

This is again one of those flicks that I almost gave up on.  The opening act does tend to plod along -- how many scenes of Russel skulking around the Dane house can we witness before we start to go a little crazy?  However, things definitely kick into a little higher gear -- or at the very least a different direction -- and the unexpected change of events gives the film a bit of a refreshing angle.  Jim Mickle brings a grittiness to the flick that is certainly befitting of the plot and Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and a humorous (though not overly so) Don Johnson all feel natural in their surroundings without feeling hokey which sometimes happens in film noirs.

I'd like to talk more about Cold in July, but to do so would be a moderate spoiler, so I'll leave this review as simplistic as it is.  While not mind-blowing and certainly containing a few flaws, Cold in July proved to be better than I expected given its rather lukewarm beginning.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Movie Review - Le Week-End

Le Week-End (2014)
Starring Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum
Directed by Roger Michell
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm not quite sure why I stuck this one out to the end.  Admittedly and to my chagrin, what I thought was going to be a light romantic comedy about a longtime married couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) turned out to be a rather glum look at a longtime married couple incessantly bickering with one another causing me to wonder how they'd stayed together for three decades and why in the world I was supposed to want to watch their marital spats play out onscreen.

Overly talky, every time I thought Nick and Meg were finally headed towards a reconciliation, someone would say something stupid and tick the other one off.  Perhaps this is the way things begin to look after you've been with someone for such a long time, but I found the whole thing incredibly uncomfortable and unenjoyable to watch.  I still think this is supposed to be a comedy, but I certainly never found myself laughing once.  Despite decent performances from Broadbent and Duncan who really do try and sell the material, Le Week-End is more triste than drôle.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie Review - The Longest Week

The Longest Week (2014)
Starring Jason Bateman, Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup, Jenny Slate, and Tony Roberts
Directed by Peter Glanz
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix**

Throughout a large chunk of debut director-screenwriter Peter Glanz's comedy The Longest Week, I found myself with the embryonic beginnings of a smirky smile, but it never really came to fruition even once.  The pieces were sort of there for success -- Glanz borrows heavily in stylization from 2000s era Wes Anderson and in writing from 1970s era Woody Allen -- but nothing ever quite fits into place enough to elicit laughs or other emotions.

A love triangle, The Longest Week tells the tale of ladies' man Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) who after years of living on his rich parents' dime is kicked out of his ritzy New York City apartment when they suddenly plan on getting divorced.  Conrad heads over to the abode of his friend Dylan (Billy Crudup), but on the subway ride meets Beatrice (Olivia Wilde) and instantly falls for her.  Later that evening at an art show, Conrad discovers that Beatrice is Dylan's new girlfriend which creates a conundrum for Conrad as to whether to pursue his newfound infatuation.

Despite adequate attempts to breathe life into the script by the trio of aforementioned actors, The Longest Week simply doesn't quite land in the way that the writer-director wants.  While I do think there's a clever absurdity there in the eye and the pen of Peter Glanz, he doesn't achieve it in his debut.  While I'd certainly take a look at his next feature, The Longest Week disappoints.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Movie Review - The Overnighters

The Overnighters (2014)
Directed by Jesse Moss
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I've been fairly lax on my documentary intake of 2014 films, but they'll be a couple popping up here before the RyMickey Awards begin in September.  The Overnighters tells the tale of Jay Reinke, pastor at the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota.  In recent years, North Dakota has become the state with the highest rise in its economy thanks to hydraulic fracturing technology -- fracking -- unlocking enormous oil fields.  Tens of thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans head to the state, but many of these new arrivals have nowhere to sleep and that's where Pastor Jay comes in, offering men the opportunity to sleep in his church hall and the church parking lot.  While his good deed would seem to be innocent enough, Jay's parishioners and the townsfolk of Williston aren't all happy with these out-of-towners invading especially seeing as how some of "the overnighters" (as they're termed) have seedy pasts.

The Overnighters is an interesting look at small town Americana and whether the religious doctrine "love thy neighbor" can be truly realized in a small community.  Pastor Jay himself is a bit of a flawed character, finding it difficult to fully balance his family life, religious life, and "overnighter" life, but his commitment to what he feels his right with his overnighter program trumps everything.  And it may end up being his ultimate downfall if the townsfolk have their way.

Rather oddly, the film takes a sharp 180-degree turn in its final ten minutes.  Granted, with this being a documentary, director Jesse Moss didn't quite know where his real-life subject would take him, but the inclusion of this feels a bit odd and an unfitting coda to all we've seen before.  What was once a film that had Pastor Jay at the center but was really about the people the pastor was helping and the community that was against him shifts squarely onto Pastor Jay himself and it's a bit of a disconcerting notion.

This unfortunate end perhaps unfairly tarnishes The Overnighters as it ends what was otherwise a solid story on a disappointing note.  This one ends up being lukewarm as opposed to worth-watching.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, July 27, 2015

Movie Review - Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
Starring Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne, Jennifer Coolidge, Donald Glover, and Megan Mullally  
Directed by Miguel Arteta

I'll just come right out and say it despite the prospect of being ridiculed -- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a truly enjoyable kid flick that does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere that is amusing to both adults and children alike reminiscent of Disney pics of yore like Freaky Friday and The Parent Trap.  It may not be a popular opinion, but I found myself thoroughly entertained for seventy-five minutes as young Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) and his family go through one of the worst days possible as havoc wreaks quite a spell on everyone.

Alexander is just about to turn twelve and he's discovered that a more popular kid at school has decided to throw his birthday party on the same night as his.  With the prospect of no one coming and having just had a school day filled with some huge blunders, Alexander wants to cancel his party, but his parents Ben and Kelly (Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) won't allow it.  With his brother Anthony (Dylan Minette) prepping for his prom and his sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) landing the lead in the school musical, at 12:01am on the night of his birthday, Alexander blows out the candle on a bowl of ice cream wishing that his family could experience how un-fun is life is for just one day.  In the grand tradition of wishes coming true in movies, when the Cooper family wakes up the next morning, chaos breaks out -- and the humor surprisingly flies all around.

Admittedly, there's a need for a bit of a suspension of disbelief here -- too many things are scheduled on this particular day for even the most reliable family to accomplish -- but if you're willing to make this acceptance, you're in for a treat.  Rather surprisingly -- and perhaps the reason for the film's success -- Alexander focuses not only on its title character, but gives equal opportunity to each member of the Cooper family to be fleshed out in terms of their bad days and all story lines work quite well.  Perhaps because of the notion that the parents are almost the focus here, adults are welcomed into the film in a way that isn't usually expected in movies aimed at a younger demographic.

Carell and Garner do a really nice job with both their slapstick and verbal comedy moments and all of the Cooper siblings also pleasantly create humor in their scenes.  The kudos really belong to screenwriter Rob Lieber in his debut for crafting a film that not only appeals to the kiddos, but also to the kid in all of us by never talking down to the younger audience.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Movie Review - Kill the Messenger

Kill the Messenger (2014)
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Paz Vega, and Andy Garcia
Directed by Michael Cuesta

For full disclosure's sake, I nearly stopped Kill the Messenger at the forty minute mark, thinking that this true story about journalist Gary Webb's uncovering of CIA involvement in drug trafficking from Nicaragua to the US was a tad too slow moving and a bit too by the book in terms of the way it was handling Webb's investigation into the government conspiracy.  However, I'm actually quite happy I stuck it out because as the film progresses, it becomes much more than an investigative journey and instead begins to live up to its title as Webb (played by Jeremy Renner) becomes the target of news reports aided by CIA leaks (or lies?) that strive to bring him down by revealing secrets from his past.

The problem with Kill the Messenger is that the film's first half isn't all that interesting.  As Gary moves from location to location meeting a variety of characters uncovering minor details concerning the CIA's cover-up, the whole affair feels very rote and bland.  Fortunately, the change in tone in the second half works to the film's advantage creating a much more well-rounded character in Gary Webb who is essentially hung out to dry by his employers after the CIA and other media outlets go on a mission to discredit the reporter and the tiny newspaper for whom he works.

The performances here are all fine, but there aren't any real standouts which also doesn't help elevate the otherwise boring start to the piece.  In the end, Kill the Messenger tells an interesting story that I was certainly unaware of, but it doesn't quite elevate to a point of consistent interest.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie Review - Joe

Joe (2014)
Starring Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and Gary Poulter
Directed by David Gordon Green
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Nicolas Cage has become such a joke lately that anytime he's in a movie that carries any semblance of merit, it's somewhat shocking.  As the title character, Cage's Joe is a marble-mouthed mumbling ex-con who is trying to get his life together by running a tree-removal company in very rural Texas.  Well-liked by most, Joe still struggles to keep his violent tendencies in check.  When young Gary (Tye Sheridan) meets Joe one afternoon and asks him for a job, Joe obliges and a friendship begins to form between the two.  Gary has struggled with his horrible father Wade (Gary Poulter) beating him, his sister, and his mother and the young boy finds a calmness in the cool attitude of Joe.  When the alcoholic and destitute Wade discovers his son's new friendship, it doesn't sit well and Joe finds himself in the crosshairs of a father who wants to keep his son underneath his thumb.

While Cage is certainly the "star" here, despite being the title character, Joe doesn't particularly belong to him as a film.  Instead the relationship between Gary and his father Wade is the most striking aspect of the melancholic and somewhat heavy film.  Tye Sheridan was introduced to the cinematic scene with The Tree of Life and Mud -- two films that showed potential in the young actor that really comes to light here.  There's a naturalness to Sheridan that shows promise for his future.

Outshining both Cage and Sheridan, however, is Gary Poulter as the rather terrifying Wade.  This was Poulter's one and only role as the first-time actor died before the film's release.  I'm not sure I've seen a role inhabited in 2014 that felt as lived-in as Poulter's Wade.  Perhaps the reason Wade strikes a chord is that Poulter himself was found by director David Gordon Green living homeless on the streets of Austin, Texas.  When you talk about something feeling natural onscreen, I'm not sure it can get much more "real" than Poulter who struggled throughout his life with alcoholism and eventually died on the streets because of it.  It's really a bravura performance that is frighteningly captured onscreen.

While the film itself is a little drawn out, slowly paced, and focuses too much on Cage's Joe who simply isn't all that compelling, Joe is certainly worth a watch if only for the terrifying relationship between Gary and his father Wade and the performances of Sheridan and the deceased Poulter.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, July 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Congress

The Congress (2014)
Starring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jon Hamm, and Paul Giamatti
Directed by Ari Folman
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Robin Wright plays a version of herself in The Congress set in an immediate future in which movie studios have perfected a method of digitizing images of stars and sending the real-life actors packing, creating new movies and media personas out of these fully lifelike computerized images.  Known for being a bit of a difficult actress (in the film, that is), Robin is also an aging woman -- something Hollywood is not overly fond of it seems.  Eager to spend a little more time at home with her two kids particularly since her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is suffering from the early onset of Usher Syndrome in which he is gradually and irrevocably losing his eyesight and hearing, Robin agrees to a contract that allows Miramount Studios to digitize her and use her image however they see fit.

I must admit that despite the somewhat slow pace, I was mildly intrigued with what The Congress was giving me during its first half with Robin Wright giving a surprisingly nuanced and understated performance as an actress struggling to have to let go of her family's source of livelihood and income.

And then the film jumps twenty years ahead and we see Robin driving down a desolate desert road only to be stopped at a checkpoint where she is given an ampule of liquid which she sniffs...and then turns into a cartoon.  Yep.  Although the animation in the film's second half is vivid, colorful, and steeped a visually impressive 1930s/40s style, the storyline of this segment of the film was much too difficult (and/or uninteresting) for me to follow.  With a whole bunch of metaphysical gobbledygook being spewed about one's real self and true being, I found myself zoning out way too many times for the film's own good.

With about thirty minutes left, I said aloud, "Why are you doing this to yourself?  Just stop watching."  And I almost gave in to that temptation, but I continued.  In the end, I'm glad I did as The Congress did become a little more comprehensible to me by the time it concluded, but it's still much too weird and dull for it to be even remotely recommendable which is a shame because the promise of the first half and the intriguing questions it raises about ageism and sexism in Hollywood are actually quite relevant.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Movie Review - Words and Pictures

Words and Pictures (2014)
Starring Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Bruce Davison, Navid Negahban, Amy Brenneman, Valerie Tian, Adam DiMarco, Josh Ssettuba
Directed by Fred Schepisi
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Although I hadn't seen the preview for Words and Pictures in over a year (the film was released in Spring 2014), I could tell by the pictures on Netflix that I was in for a romantic comedy.  Had Words and Pictures instead decided to eschew that angle, I think it would have been a better flick, but as it stands now, this tale of two warring English and Art high school teachers is good, though it's hampered by the romance angle thrown at it in the final half.

When English teacher Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) first meets famous artist-turned-art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) upon her arrival at an expensive private school in Maine, they don't hit it off.  Dina's deadpan seriousness won't stand for his bombastic and cocky personality.  After multiple romantic refusals, Jack decides to take Dina to war and use his students as pawns setting up a battle of words versus pictures.  Is the written word more important in the grand scheme of things than art or is a picture really worth a thousand words?

As someone with an English degree (I know...sometimes it's not easy to believe that with this blog), I found the faux war surprisingly intriguing.  There's a lot of somewhat intellectual talk on the gravity of words and the emotions of art that played nicely against each other thanks to what Owen and Binoche bring to their characters.  However, as I mentioned, during the film's final hour, it shifts to a typical "opposites attract" romance that admittedly the film had been telegraphing from the get-go, but I had hoped it might bypass.  The depth of the battle between Jack, Dina, and their students is infinitely more thought-provoking than the very basic and obvious puppy love between the two teachers.  While this aspect certainly isn't a reason to completely dismiss Words and Pictures, the courtship is a bit of a detriment.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Movie Review - Laggies

Laggies (2014)
Starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper, Gretchen Mol, and Kaitlin Dever
Directed by Lynn Shelton
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Laggies started out so promisingly with laughs coming quite rapidly in the film's first few scenes.  However, as the tale of aimless twenty-eight year-old Megan (Keira Knightley) progressed, its humor began to cease which is a real shame because I think Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz are giving some of their best performances in this flick.

Megan is college educated and could be a therapist should she so choose, but instead she spends her days twirling a sign outside her dad's tax prep business.  She's been with boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) since high school, but her general malaise is a bit off-putting to even him.  While attending her best friend's wedding, Megan runs out in a bit of a panic and heads to a local liquor store where she meets Annika (Moretz) who asks Megan to buy liquor for her and her high school friends.  Megan obliges and ends up spending the night hanging out with the teenagers, having a blast in the process as she remembers the "good old days."  When Anthony pleads with her a few days later to attend a conference that will help better herself, Megan instead meets up with Annika for the week and end up spending a lot of time together with trying to better one another's ho hum lives.

Keira Knightley is really coming into her own as of late and Laggies is no exception.  Here she completely embodies the lackadaisical Megan with her acting feeling wholly natural and completely unforced.  Moretz is also quite good, although her character is admittedly a little less developed and haw much less room to grow.  Together, the two have a nice rapport and movie certainly is aided by the two actresses.

Unfortunately, the film itself isn't quite as humorous as it would like you to think it is.  It also doesn't help that the premise itself isn't quite as believable as it would like you to think it could be either.  Would the father (Sam Rockwell) of Annika really be okay with a woman more than ten years her senior hanging out with his daughter?  And while Knightley sells the prospect of a romantic relationship with Rockwell's character, when the film begins to travel down that road it just seems a bit silly.  So, despite some really solid performances, Laggies doesn't quite work.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Movie Review - The Grand Seduction

The Grand Seduction (2014)
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, Mark Critch, Peter Keleghan, Mary Walsh, Margaret Killingbeck, Cathy Jones, and Matt Watts
Directed by Don McKellar
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm sometimes asked why I wait so long to put together my RyMickey Awards every year and my response is always that I like to look for little gems that others may have overlooked to champion to my few readers.  The Grand Seduction is one such film -- overflowing with charm, humor, and a cast that exudes charisma, this barely known flick is a sleeper and one of the Best Films of 2014 That I'm Guessing You Haven't Seen.

The small Canadian fishing village of Tickle Neck has been floundering for years after the fishing industry began to fail the townsfolk.  With many forced to live on welfare checks, they have placed their hope on securing a lucrative business contract that would bring an oil industry refinement plant to their small town.  However, one of the company's stipulations is that a doctor must live in the town and Tickle Neck is without a physician.  By chance, Dr. Paul Lewis (Taylor Kitsch) happens to stop in for a bit of an extended stay and the residents along with interim mayor Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) find themselves doing whatever they can to make their small little port seductive and enticing to the young MD.

Although I've already used the word once in this review, the best way to sum up The Grand Seduction is simply to say that it's charming.  It's a movie that could've been made decades ago with its rather innocent tone (although certainly not without a risqué humorous moment or two).  It's a movie that you can watch with you grandmother or your tween kid without risk of embarrassment.  And it's a movie that has a heckuva whole lot more humor than you'd expect.  These feel good flicks can sometimes feel a bit heavy-handed or too saccharine for their own good, but screenwriters Ken Scott and Michael Dowse create a nice balance of sarcasm, heart, and charm (there's that word again) without going overboard on any one aspect.

Director Don McKellar has assembled one of the best ensembles brought to the screen in 2014.  Although Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch are certainly well known (and do fantastic work here with Gleeson in particular bringing a surprising amount of genteel humor to the screen), the actors portraying the townspeople of Tickle Neck manage to create memorable, enjoyably amiable, and engrossing characters.  There's a genuineness to the entire ensemble that's difficult to achieve, but magic when it's a success...and it's definitely a success here.  Kudos in particular to Gordon Pinsent as Murray's elderly best friend and Mark Critch as the town's beleaguered banker, both of whom are fresh faces to me, but held my interest every minute they were onscreen and provided many a laugh.

Do yourself a favor.  Add The Grand Seduction to your Netflix instant queue and settle yourself in for a wonderfully sweet flick that will win you over with its gentle tone and lovely charm.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, July 20, 2015

Movie Review - A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)
Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook, and Brian "Astro" Bradley
Directed by Scott Frank

There's something wrong with the notion that since A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn't feature Liam Neeson in "Hellbent Revenge Mode," I found myself enjoying this one a little more than I probably should.  Considering that nearly every movie Neeson makes places him in the Vengeful Family Member Role, his role here as private eye Matt Scudder at least feels like a breath of fresh air.  Sure, he's still playing an aging badass, but at least Neeson changes tone here a little bit, creating a character who isn't a carbon copy of nearly everything else he's been playing in big budget pictures since Taken made him a star late in life.

The plot here is fairly simple -- after an unfortunate event in 1991, Matt Scudder quit the NYC police force and became a private detective.  Now, in 1999, Matt is currently hired to help wealthy drug dealer Kenny Kristo (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens) track down the men who kidnapped his wife and then delivered her back to him literally chopped into little pieces.  Because of his drug connections, Kenny is unable to call the police so Matt reluctantly agrees only to discover that the culprits of the crime haven't finished their reign of terror.

Don't kid yourself here -- while Neeson isn't playing a revenge-obsessed family member, he's still playing a morose, downtrodden, tough-as-nails guy so he's not exactly stretching the boundaries here, but at least director-screenwriter Scott Frank gives Neeson a role that's a tad different.  While most of the other actors here feel as if they're hamming it up for the camera, Neeson appears genuine as does relative newcomer Brian "Astro" Bradley as a young orphan who befriends Matt and helps him solve his case.  Sure, this relationship is essentially unnecessary in terms of plot development, but it added a nice change of pace to the depression that permeates the rest of the film.  Plus, Bradley definitely has a presence that kept my interest and makes the most of a throwaway role.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Movie Review - The November Man

The November Man (2014)
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Korylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Lazar Ristovski, Caterina Scorsone, and Will Patton
Directed by Roger Donaldson
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Blah.  The November Man isn't bad, but isn't particularly good either and because of that I find myself struggling to give a damn in terms of this review.  Pierce Brosnan is retired CIA agent
Devereaux who is asked to return to the fray by his old boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) for a particularly personal mission involving an old flame of his who is infiltrating the Russian political scene.  When Deveraux's sneaky task goes awry, he finds himself being hunted by the CIA and his former pupil Mason (Luke Bracey) seeing as how Hanley kept the mission under wraps from those within the agency.

The problem with The November Man is that it's so generic, so "been there, done that," and so obvious that it's tough to get excited about anything it presents.  The acting is okay, but no one does anything special.  The action sequences are adequately directed, but they never really create any excitement or tension.  The story kept my interest, but my interest never piqued with true vigor and anticipation of what was around the bend.

So, in the end, The November Man just gets a "blah" from me and nothing more.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Movie Review - Good People

Good People (2014)
Starring James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson, Omar Sy, Sam Spruell, and Anna Friel
Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The solid cast in Good People is the sole reason this flick was added to my Netflix streaming queue as I had never even known it existed, let alone was released to a small amount of theaters back in September 2014.  Then again, perhaps there was a reason I'd never heard of it as this one is pretty much as generic as they come.

Tom and Anna Wright (James Franco and Kate Hudson) are two Americans living in England and unfortunately having a rough go of it with Tom's fixer-upper, flipping houses business falling flat.  With an eviction notice on his doorstep, Tom is at a loss as to how to keep things afloat when the tenant living in the basement of his and Anna's flat dies.  Upon cleaning up his things, the couple uncover a large stash of money and are faced with the moral question of whether to keep their discovery or hand it over to John Halden (Tom Wilkinson), the lead detective who is investigating their tenant's ties with drug dealers.

Obviously, Tom and Anna are the "good people" in this scenario, but we all know the saying that "bad things happen to good people" and the couple find themselves caught in a triangulated spider web with multiple bad guys trying to lay claim to the money hidden in their basement.  Unfortunately, as the film progresses, we don't find ourselves caring for the couple's plight mainly because they're given so many opportunities to save themselves from harm's way that their incessant need to keep the cash seems foolishly oblivious.  Franco and Hudson attempt to let us in to their characters' intentions, but the actors can't persuade us that their actions are anything other than to create reasons for a movie like this to exist rather than be steeped in any semblance of reality.  The film's denouement devolves into a Home Alone style house of horrors moment that provokes laughter rather than creating tension.

While I have many qualms with Good People, it certainly isn't the worst barely released theatrical film I've seen.  I can't say I recommend it, however, but it kept my interest even though it was utterly ridiculous thanks to a very short running time (which is yet another reason why I even watched it in the first place).

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, July 17, 2015

Movie Review - Fort Bliss

Fort Bliss (2014)
Starring Michelle Monaghan, Pablo Schreiber, Ron Livingston, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Oakes Fegley
Directed by Claudia Myers
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A character study of a female US medic soldier dealing with her return home to her young son after over a year fighting in Afghanistan, Fort Bliss brings a slightly different spin to the typical post traumatic stress aspect we've seen in movies over the past several years.  Here, Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) comes back to the States to Fort Bliss in Texas to find that her young son Paul (Oakes Fegley) has seemingly forgot about their relationship.  Having lived with his Maggie's ex -- his dad Richard (Ron Livingston) -- along with Richard's fiancée Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Paul has a very negative reaction to Maggie's return.  Obviously upset, Maggie finds herself desperately trying to reconnect with Paul while also dealing with the fact that she feels a strong commitment to her job and country as she ponders whether to reenlist again and head back to war leaving her son behind.

While director/screenwriter Claudia Myers' film doesn't particularly reinvent the wheel when it comes to post-war films (and a rather pointless "meaningful" quickie relationship between Maggie and a repairman [Pablo Schreiber] doesn't really add anything to the overall tone/plot), Fort Bliss does uniquely detail the emotions of a woman attempting to overcome the struggles we hear about soldiers facing their return home.  While her character feels slightly stereotypical at the beginning, Michelle Monaghan does a really nice job of rounding out Maggie as the film progresses, allowing us to fully understand the reasons behind her difficult decision of determining whether family or country comes first.  There's a beautiful (though uncomfortable to witness) scene in a diner in which Maggie tells a fellow soldier that she feels like an awful mother for even contemplating heading back to Afghanistan that is difficult to watch, but ultimately fitting like a glove with Monaghan's portrayal.

Fort Bliss lacks the editing eye of a more experienced filmmaker, but in only her second feature film as a director, Myers shows a deft hand at giving us a glimpse of a much needed though very underseen type of character -- a mom who loves her family dearly, but questions whether her loyalty needs to be placed elsewhere for the better good of all.  This is an interesting film and one that I'm quite glad I watched.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Movie Review - Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 (2014)
Featuring the voice talents of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph, and James Cromwell 
Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

Big Hero 6 is Walt Disney Animation's first collaboration with Marvel and while the film looks visually appealing and definitely has its successful moments, it falls into the same trap as most Marvel movies in that the film's final half abandons the importance of story and feels like action sequence atop action sequence.  Quite frankly, one of these days I'll get around to continuing my Disney Discussion and I think I'll save a more thorough summary until that point, however, the general gist of the plot is that young braniac Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) becomes unlikely friends with a robot named Baymax (Scott Adsit) created by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney).  As the two bond, Hiro and Baymax uncover a plot by a sinister masked man to utilize some of Hiro's own robotic creations to commit dastardly deeds.

Eschewing the typical fairy tale stories or romances that usually inhabit Disney's animated fare, Big Hero 6 definitely has a different tone especially considering that the film's final half is completely one big battle between Hiro and his group of clever and humorous friends against the masked man whose reveal is supposed to be surprising but is completely obvious to anyone older than ten years old.  Unfortunately, the film isn't subtle in any aspect.  During the opening moments in which better written Disney movies would excel at exposition, Big Hero 6 very bluntly and laughably spells things out for us stating Hiro and Tadashi's back story.  While it sets a bad tone right off the bat, things perk up quite well during the remainder of the film's first and second acts.  Some nice voice acting from all parties -- the lack of "big name" stars is a definite plus -- and animation that is certainly a caliber above average aid Big Hero 6 in overcoming some of its denouement's problems, but it still falls into the 2014 animated credo of "We Must Have a Disappointing Finale" with nary a single release last year ending on a successful note.

I'll hold off on a more in depth analysis for now except to say that the fact that Big Hero 6 won the Best Animated feature Oscar really reveals what a disappointing year 2014 was for what is typically one of my favorite genres.  While I wouldn't hate another Marvel-Disney animated collaboration (and the film is certainly set up for multiple sequels), I hope that a better script creates a more subtle atmosphere for its cast of characters.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Movie Review - Let's Kill Ward's Wife

Let's Kill Ward's Wife (2014)
Starring Patrick Wilson, Scott Foley, Donald Faison, James Carpinello, Greg Grunberg, Dagmara Dominczyk, Amy Acker, and Nicolette Sheridan
Directed by Scott Foley
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

This is one of those late-night, "I'm in the mood for something light", "I'm in the mood for something under ninety minutes" kind of movies.  These hardly ever end well.  Let's Kill Ward's Wife is not an exception to that rule.  Best known for his roles on Scandal and Felicity, first time director and screenwriter Scott Foley fills his film with his tv actor friends, but his attempts at dark comedy fail to prove successful.  Admittedly, there's a tiny bit of charm that arises from these personable actors taking on such a dour story, but that allure wears thin quickly.

Newly married and now a new father, Ward (Donald Faison) is essentially shackled to his stereotypical bitch of wife Stacy (Dagmara Dominczyk) and Ward's buddies and their significant others aren't enjoying this new marital relationship.  After jokingly discussing an attempt to kill Stacy, an accident makes their wishes come true which then sets up a string of events that cause the group to commit acts they've never even thought about doing before.

Ultimately, the problem is that the script simply isn't very good.  Motivations are weak and the comedy is even weaker.  I'll give credit to the cast for always keeping things light and amusing, but they aren't given much to do.  There are much better comedies that have tread similar paths and you're better off leaving Let's Kill Ward's Wife behind.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Movie Review - Get on Up

Get on Up (2014)
Starring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, and Octavia Spencer
Directed by Tate Taylor

Unfortunately, I can't say much good about director Tate Taylor's James Brown biopic Get On Up and that's mainly because I found his direction of the piece to prove laughable at times and the time jumping of the script to be more annoying than emotionally impacting.  While Chadwick Boseman does a pretty good impression of the famous singer (his dancing and lip synching are really top notch), he fails to bring any resonance to Brown's numerous plights.  In the end, that's really not the fault of Boseman and more on the script and director, both of which aid in devolving the movie to sitcom-like scenes and atmosphere at times.

Rather than follow a linear path, Get On Up jumps back and forth in time in an attempt to prove Brown's adult life was shaped by his childhood, but never once does the early life of Brown create any impact on the grown man and his story.  Taylor attempts this technique multiple times, but it never works and instead reeks of desperation in terms of the writers and director.  In addition,  decisions have been made to have Brown speak and look directly to the camera at times, breaking the fourth wall.  This endeavor to be cool falls flat on its face and feels cheap rather than clever.

James Brown certainly came from nothing to achieve admirable success, but Get On Up doesn't really give the man the proper send-off he deserves.  I give the flick credit for deciding to show the later years in which Brown went off the deep end into a bit of a crazed life, but it's too little too late (and the make-up on Boseman at this stage in the film is horribly rendered).  As mentioned, the sole reason to watch is for Chadwick Boseman who really does nail the performance aspect of the piece with Brown's gyrating and iconic dance moves really coming to life during the reenactments of his stage performances.  Unfortunately, the movie crafted around these moments is pretty abysmal and full of the typical biopic movie clichés.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, July 13, 2015

Movie Review - Love Is Strange

Love Is Strange (2014)
Starring Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Charlie Tahan, and Cheyenne Jackson
Directed by Ira Sachs

Together for 39 years, longtime couple Ben and George (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) decide to get married to solidify their commitment.  Unfortunately, this legally binding arrangement causes George to lose his job as a Catholic school choir director.  With Ben retired and George now unemployed, the couple find themselves unable to afford their New York City apartment.  So, after nearly four decades, Ben and George are forced to live separately for a bit until they can find an affordable home -- Ben moves in with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan), while George moves in with Ted (Cheyenne Jackson), a gay cop and longtime friend of the couple.

Love Is Strange works best in allowing the audience to feel the surprising amount of pain and sorrow Ben and George feel as they're pulled apart just when they should be joining closer together.  The sense of love that Molina and Lithgow bring to their characters' relationship is admittedly palpable, undeniably charming, and surprisingly captivating.  Unfortunately, the film itself can't claim to be as beguiling as the film's central couple.

Director and co-writer Ira Sachs creates a great, lived-in relationship with Ben and George, but he surrounds them with storylines that don't really go anywhere and characters that lack the depth of the main couple.  He also makes an interesting decision to not spell everything out -- meaning that Sachs will simply start up new scenes days or weeks or months after the last scene without giving us any sense of things that came before.  We must pick up the missing pieces as moments progress.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in a movie that seemingly prides itself on simplicity it's an interesting technique that doesn't always pan out in the film's favor.

Love Is Strange is slowly paced -- I've never heard more complete Chopin piano pieces in a film before -- and it does many things well, but it unfortunately never fully comes together.  Superfluous characters and plot lines bog down an otherwise pleasing look at an aging couple's love for one another.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Movie Review - Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice (2014)
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Joanna Newsom, Jena Malone, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short 
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

What in the hell was in the critics' water when they deemed Inherent Vice worthy of a 73% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes?  Just because a film is directed by an esteemed director doesn't make it worthy of such a ranking.  Just because a film is well acted doesn't make it worthy of such a ranking.  Just because a film looks good and has better than average production values doesn't make it worthy of such a ranking.  A film still has to be enjoyable in a sense that the viewer must remain captivated by any of those aforementioned criteria mentioned or by its story.  Unfortunately, the directing, acting, and production values aren't enough to keep Inherent Vice afloat and, boy, is its story one of the worst and least captivating tales I've seen woven in a film in 2014.

There was talk of the story here being incoherent and frustrating, but I found the general gist of the plot fairly easy to comprehend.  A drug-addled private eye named Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is drafted by his former lover Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) to determine the seriousness of Shasta's current lover's wife and her lover's desire to put her husband (and, remember, Shasta's current lover) into a loony bin and take all of his money.  It should be noted that if the previous sentence has thrown you for a loop, Inherent Vice probably isn't for you.  Then again, Inherent Vice really isn't for anyone.  The biggest issue with director and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson's flick is that it takes an already convoluted premise and branches off on so many tangents that admittedly are related, but fail to resonate or prove meaningful in the slightest.  Characters come in for single scenes, drop some other name for Doc to investigate, and then leave and never come back.  This pattern gets repetitive and old rather quickly and makes the nearly 150-minute run time feels like an eternity.

What saves Inherent Vice from the very bottom dregs of the RyMickey Rating system is that fact that the film looks good and contains acting that is certainly above average.  Unfortunately, I still found myself twiddling my thumbs, waiting for this never-ending story to conclude.  Unable to latch on to any of the film's characters or their plights, I found myself adrift here and completely unimpressed.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Movie Review - Bird People

Bird People (2014)
Starring Josh Charles, Anaïs Demoustier, and Radha Mitchell
Directed by Pascale Ferran
***This films currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm not sure there has been a film that has aggravated me more in 2014 than Bird People.  I was willing to overlook the snail's pace, but when the film takes a wacky, unintelligible, and left-field twist seventy minutes in, I found myself feeling oddly taken advantage of with the equivalent of horrible prank being pulled on me.  Mind you, it's a prank that I'm sure is steeped in some wonky symbolism, but it's symbolism I didn't even come close to understanding and didn't even come close to caring about in the slightest.

To give you an idea of what kind of movie you're getting into, the first five minutes of the film is simply looking at people waiting to get on or on a subway, listening to ten second snippets of their conversations or going into their mind and "hearing" their thoughts.  The film then shifts to Gary (Josh Charles), a computer programmer who has flown to Paris on business.  After a business meeting, he returns to his hotel and attempts to go to sleep, but wakes up continuously throughout the evening suffering panic attacks.  This sets into motion of series of thoughts for Gary ending with the idea to quit his job, leave his wife and kids, and start a new fresh life in Paris seeing how his old life is causing him to be miserable and likely starting to literally kill him.

We're with Gary for about an hour and ten minutes and the slow pace is admittedly a bit torturous, but I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt, thinking that Gary's mid-life crisis may actually lead somewhere.  Unfortunately, I couldn't have been more wrong.  The film then abruptly switches to Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier), a maid at the same airport hotel Gary has been staying at for several days.  On Audrey's final room of her already long day, she goes up to a rooftop deck for a little fresh air when -- HUGE SPOILER ALERT (AND REASON FOR MY HATRED) --

she turns into a bird.  Yep.  No explanation given.  It just happens.  And she's a bird for the next fifty minutes as she flutters around, stopping in people's rooms at the hotel (but never Gary's!), following her co-workers home, and listening to conversations of strangers.  I don't understand the point.  I'm sure it has something to do with the mundaneness of everyday life, but I certainly didn't give a damn.

END OF SPOILERS

While there were other problems with the film beyond the twist (Josh Charles doesn't quite have the acting chops to really reel me in to his character, Anaïs Demoustier feels a bit too childlike in her role), it annoyed and irritated me enough that director and co-screenwriter Pascale Ferran went down this ridiculous road that I can't recommend Bird People in the slightest.  It felt like some awful trick after the viewers have become connected to Gary to suddenly have the second half of the film leave him behind completely.  While Bird People doesn't quite hold the same "heinousness" as other films I've rated an "F," it pissed me off enough that it's garnered that same grade for a different set of reasons.

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Friday, July 10, 2015

Movie Review - The Last of Robin Hood

The Last of Robin Hood (2014)
Starring Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, and Dakota Fanning
Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

Produced by Lifetime Films, an unsurprising aire of cheapness hovers over everything in The Last of Robin Hood from the soft lighting to the corny, repetitive score.  Considering that co-directors/screenwriters Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland also brought Still Alice to the cinematic landscape in 2014, I am admittedly surprised that both films share the same helmers because they frankly couldn't be more different in terms of every aspect of cinematic quality.

Telling the true story of actor Errol Flynn's last years, The Last of Robin Hood brings us in to Flynn's romantic relationship with fifteen year-old Beverley Aadland (Dakota Fanning) whom he fell head over heels for in his final days.  Once Flynn (Kevin Kline) discovers his paramour's true age, he recognizes the need to sweet-talk Beverley's mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) who has been pushing her daughter's Hollywood dreams for more than a decade even going so far as to falsify her birth certificates.  This triangular relationship travels a rocky road with tensions always rumbling right below the surface.

With a solid cast of two Oscar winners and one well-respected young actress, I had hoped that the acting may shine, but that did not come to fruition.  Instead, Kline feels as if he's hamming it up for the camera, playing a caricaturish performance of an aging Hollywood lothario.  Not only does Sarandon give quite possibly the worst voiceover work I've ever heard as her character tells her tale to an Errol Flynn biographer, but she also brings absolutely no emotion to her scenes as the "stage mom" and her Florence feels incredibly flat and bland (a fault of the script, for sure).  Fanning fares best, but that's mainly because her character is at least the most nuanced.  That said, Fanning doesn't play anything subtle here which is incredibly unfortunate as there are times where her reactions or emotions often come off as laughable.

Frankly, I'm flabbergasted that this film was ever released in theaters.  As soon as it started, I could sense the "movie of the week" tone permeating through the cheapness of all aspects of the production and looked up online as to whether its "R-rating" was given only for its dvd release.  However, it does appear to have been a theatrical release which truly is dumbfounding.  Yes, it contains a trio of stars, but the directors and screenwriters have crafted a film that lacks any emotional connection with its characters and leaves its cast floundering in unbelievable dialog and settings (which is all the more horrible seeing as how this is based on a true story).

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Movie Review - The Love Punch

The Love Punch (2014)
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, and Celia Imrie
Directed by Joel Hopkins

In The Love Punch, Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson play Richard and Kate Jones, a divorced couple whose retirement nest egg is depleted after a nasty young French businessman buys the company for whom Richard works.  Richard and Kate are obviously devastated, but after discovering that the businessman is due to be married to a French model whom he has bestowed the biggest diamond ever sold at auction, Kate hatches a plan to steal the diamond in order to make back their money as they enlist the help of their best friends (Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) as they trek across France.

This comedic caper first lacks any comedy.  With the exception of maybe a chuckle or two, The Love Punch falls completely flat.  It's also a flick that's much too obvious and transparent with the bickering Richard and Kate inevitably being set up to fall in love again from the film's opening scenes.  Brosnan and Thompson (along with Spall and Imrie) try to make the most of things, but when they're tethered to lame jokes that play off their age -- lack of bladder control being used multiple times -- they can't save this lame duck.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Movie Review - Calvary

Calvary (2014)
Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach de Bankolé, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josée Croze, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt, and Gary Lydan
Directed by John Michael McDonagh

I'm going to be honest with you.  Despite having an English degree, I had to look up the definition of "calvary" as I was really only familiar with the term "cavalry," dealing with a military force.  "Calvary" is either "a sculptured representation of the Crucifixion, usually in the open air," or "an experience or occasion of extreme suffering, especially mental suffering."  Needless to say, by the end of Calvary both of those definitions will make sense to the viewer.

Now with that out of the way, if you look at the cast list above, you'll notice a lot of names -- most of which you're likely unfamiliar.  However, I felt the need to include them all because Calvary is an ensemble piece of a film with Brendan Gleeson at its center as Catholic priest Father James as he struggles to deal with the fact that in a closed confessional a member of his parish tells him he was abused as a child by a priest and plans on killing Father James in one week's time as recompense for the Church's abuse.  As Father James struggles with whether to inform the authorities, attempts to confirm the identity of the confessor, and also determine if there's any veracity to the threat, the priest travels throughout the small Irish town talking about a variety of things with his parishioners.

Despite the heaviness of the overarching (and always present) death threat, Calvary is more about the inhabitants of the town itself.  More than three-quarters of the film is simply Father James visiting his people and discussing their sins, problems, and aspirations.  Therein, unfortunately, lies Calvary's biggest problem -- rather than feel like a fully realized film, it feels like a series of vignettes.  I realize that overall they all contribute to Father James' emotional state in what could possibly be his final days, but the film lacks a really important "through line" with which all of the tortured lives of the Irish town's residents really come together.  It feels more episodically play-like than a well-rounded film.

I appreciate director-screenwriter John Michael McDonagh's ambition here.  The simplicity of the film is interesting and the overall concept is unique with several of the townsfolk's stories proving to be emotionally stimulating.  Still, while Calvary is better than McDonagh's first film The Guard, I couldn't help but find myself teetering on boredom multiple times with the film not quite equalling the sum of its many, many parts.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Movie Review - Rosewater

Rosewater (2014)
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Nasser Faris, and Shohreh Agdashloo
Directed by Jon Stewart
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Being held captive against your will by a corrupt government must be horrible.  There's no denying the agony that something like this would put both the captive person and his or her family through, fearing that death is always an imminent possibility.  Because of how horrid this circumstance would be, I can't help but feel incredibly guilty that while I was watching Rosewater I found myself saying that Iranian-Canadian journalist Mazier Bahari's plight wasn't all that bad while he was detained by Iran for 118 days.

Don't get me wrong -- it was awful.  I know it was awful that Bahari was taken in after a Daily Show interview was looked upon as "truthful" by Iranian officials as opposed to the "satire" it was meant to be.  I know it was awful that he was kept away from his pregnant wife for nearly four months.  I know that it was awful that he was kept blindfolded in a small cell while interrogated for hours on end about his purportedly treasonous ways.

Yet, somehow his plight didn't feel "movie-worthy."  I recognize the callousness of this.  I know I'm wrong.  But first-time director-screenwriter Jon Stewart doesn't make Bahari's horrible condition compelling enough to warrant celluloid.  While there were certainly moments that show some potential in Stewart's eye and from his pen and the director gets a nice turn from Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari, Rosewater lacks compelling action and the languid state of the piece doesn't work in its favor.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, July 06, 2015

Movie Review - Young and Beautiful

Young & Beautiful (Jeune & jolie) (2014)
Starring Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, and Charlotte Rampling  
Directed by François Ozon
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The French are always so much more open about sexuality in their movies than Americans and Young  & Beautiful continues this well-known axiom.  Young -- and beautiful -- Isabelle (Marine Vacth) has just celebrated her 17th birthday and one present she gave to herself was losing her virginity to a flirtatious German fling during her family's summer beach vacation.  However, the deflowering had little to no effect on Isabelle as she finds herself oddly emotionally detached from her first sexual experience, garnering no pleasure, pain, or any modicum of satisfaction.  Perhaps because of this blasé attitude, Isabelle decides to become an escort -- as any seventeen year-old would.  As she moves from job to job, her aloofness regarding her sexual exploits is gradually diminished thanks to an ongoing paid "relationship" with a much older man who begins to make her understand the connection sex has to offer...but this unfortunately comes to an end much too soon for Isabelle's preferences.

Even if I were to set aside the oddness of a heretofore virginal seventeen year-old deciding that the sex trade is the right thing for her, the biggest problem with Young & Beautiful is the fact that by the time the film's conclusion rolls around, I'm not sure what the point of the whole thing was for Isabelle.  I'm not certain that she learns anything or feels anything or gives a damn about anything that happens to her.  There's not a bit of an arc for Isabelle and since she's squarely the focus of the film, an arc is ultimately necessary and this flick has nothing there for its main character.  Because of this, Young & Beautiful broods blandness and sullenness.  When your main character doesn't grow from her particularly unique set of experiences -- there are some pivotal plot-driven things that happen to her that should cause her to mature -- you're left feeling empty...and bored.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Movie Review - The Signal

The Signal (2014)
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Lin Shaye, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by William Eubank

Nic, his girlfriend Haley, and his best friend Jonah (Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, and Beau Knapp) are traveling cross-country to take Haley to college.  Nic and Jonah are MIT students who are admitted computer nerds, both of whom are irritated when a hacker successfully breaks into MIT's student database, stole a bunch of data, and nearly placed all the blame on the two friends.  When they discover that the origin site of the hacker's computer appears to be on their route in a town in Nevada, Nic and Jonah want to check it out and confront the guy who nearly got them expelled.  However, the location of the computer is an abandoned old house and upon exiting, all three youngsters are greeted with a phenomenally bright light and immediately lose consciousness.  Upon waking up, a researcher in a HAZMAT suit (Laurence Fisburne) informs Nic that they believe he and his friends have been in contact with an extraterrestrial life form and their current quarantine situation is for their safety as well as the entire planet's.  What in the world happened in that abandoned house?

While the premise of The Signal is certainly intriguing, director and co-screenwriter William Eubank has crafted a film that looks really good (and surprisingly expensive given what I must assume was a relatively low budget), but lacks any real substance.  His eye for images is impressive, but Eubank's film drags.  There's not enough here to warrant a feature and a few inconsistencies in the story make the climax feel a bit too far-fetched.  The three younger actors are all charismatic enough to carry their scenes, but overall there's just not enough positive here to place this in the recommendation column.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Movie Review - Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015)
***Viewed in 3D***
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, and Judy Greer
Directed by Colin Trevorrow

While Jurassic World doesn't have the same emotional pull as 1993's Jurassic Park when we first witnessed dinosaurs roam across the screen under the more than capable direction of Steven Spielberg, this 2015 return to that same Costa Rican island is by far the best sequel of that film to come down the pike.  Thanks to similarly capable direction by Colin Trevorrow (of which this is only his second film), his crew of screenwriters, and surprisingly winning performances from Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World is an enjoyable continuation of this series paying enough homage to the past while also creating well-rounded characters all on its own.

We return to Isla Nublar, and despite the chaos that ensued in the first three films of this series, the InGen corporation and its CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) have decided to bankroll the theme park Jurassic World.  Years have gone by and the park is a huge success -- which is more than can be said for John Hammond's initial attempts in the first film of the series.  However, much like your typical theme park experience, the guests keep wanting more and more.  In order to satisfy the masses, the park's operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) has had InGen's geneticists (headed by Dr. Henry Wu -- BD Wong of Jurassic Park fame) cook up a genetically-modified dinosaur called the Indominus rex which is bigger and more deadly than any predator currently on the island.  While he certainly appreciates the "Bigger!  Faster!  Scarier!" mindset, Masrani wants to ensure his guests' safety, so he asks Claire to have one of the park's well-respected trainers and former military man Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) check out the Indominus' paddock.  Unfortunately, as is wont to happen in a film like this, something goes wrong...and then things start getting worse and worse.

While the basic plot is certainly similar to that of Jurassic Park, the film never feels as if it's simply aping the original.  The amusement park aspect of this film is much more fully realized and more commercialized -- more fitting for today's society -- and feels unique enough to not be a simple rehash.  Yes, we're still given two kids in peril -- Claire's nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are visiting their aunt when all hell breaks loose.  We have another vehicle malfunction which causes some issues with the dinos (although this is at least almost as exciting as the Jeep sequence in the original since The Lost World gave us such a hideous car moment).  We have an ending that is nearly identical to the original.  Yet, somehow, Jurassic World still comes out feeling fresh (and this is coming from someone who just watched all the films in the Quadrilogy within the span of a week).

Part of the reason for Jurassic World's success is the charisma and charm exuded from Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.  While I've liked Howard in things, I've never thought her to be a captivating presence onscreen.  She tends to always play dour and forlorn, yet here she totally won me over with an authoritative bitchiness which then gradually cedes into a somewhat heartwarming aunt who not only fears for her nephews but for her guests within the park.  It helps, of course, that in her scenes with Chris Pratt the two have a natural chemistry that creates a humorously amorous relationship.  Their constant bickering at the film's outset is inevitably foreshadowing a romance down the line, but the duo make the obviousness work.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure Pratt could ever not have chemistry with someone onscreen.  It's obvious that this guy has the charm, suaveness, and debonair attitude to be this decade's Movie Star and Jurassic World continues to prove that point.  He's fun to watch and I think that has to stem from the fact that Pratt is just beginning this leg of his career path.  He knows what's ahead and I think he's living in the moment and relishing every second of it.  His excitement is contagious and certainly works in the film's favor.

There's nothing wrong with having a little fun at the movies and Jurassic World is just that.  While it can't reach the levels of the original, it's certainly a worthy successor and one that carries on Spielberg and Michael Crichton's legacy proudly.

The RyMickey Rating:  B
*Note:  I'm really hovering between a B+/B here.  I'm so early in my 2015 reviews -- I've only seen three films at this point -- that my rubric is so small, it's tough to really judge.  I reserve the right to lower or raise this slightly once I've seen ten or so 2015 films.*

Friday, July 03, 2015

Movie Review - Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001)
Starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, and Laura Dern
Directed by Joe Johnston

After the debacle that was The Lost World, Jurassic Park III really didn't need to do much to fare better and fortunately this third film of the Jurassic Park Quadrilogy at least finds itself having a little more fun than its predecessor.  There's an action-comedy vibe reminiscent of Romancing the Stone here thanks to the repartee between newcomers William H. Macy and Téa Leoni as divorced couple Paul and Amanda searching for their son Eric (Trevor Morgan) who is lost on the dinosaur-infested Costa Rican island after a paragliding accident.  Paul and Amanda trick original Jurassic Park character Alan Grant (Sam Neill) into helping them find their son and -- surprise, surprise -- a bit of chaos ensues.

Right off the bat, bringing Alan Grant back into the mix proves to be a much bigger benefit than Ian Malcolm of Part 2.  Jeff Goldblum's stuttering kooky shtick worked as a secondary player in the first film, but having him take the bulk of the focus proved to be more annoying than anything else.  Sam Neill's Alan Grant has already played "the lead" before and he carries a bit more authority and believable presence which works in the film's favor.

Some may find Macy and Leoni a tad obnoxious, but I found their banter a pleasant diversion, adding the light comedy back into the mix that was welcome in the first film (wherein Grant and Laura Dern's Ellie bounced barbs back and forth to one another -- Dern also appears here in a brief role and is a welcome addition).  This couple's plight and their lovingly conniving motivations for coming to the island worked as a valid storytelling reason to return to this land again.  Surprisingly, the film doesn't add too many superfluous characters who are simply there to be eaten.  This is a positive as we already know the carnage these giant reptiles can enact so no need to be so blatantly over-the-top with it.

Here, Steven Spielberg stepped down as director and Joe Johnston stepped up to the plate, proving to be more than adequate.  He attempts to blend a little more puppetry/robotics into the mix a la the original Jurassic Park and while he isn't as successful as Spielberg's first effort, the effects are still much better than The Lost World which still boggles my mind with how dismal the dinos looked in it.  Johnston also keeps the pace surprisingly quick with this being the shortest entry into the quadrilogy by nearly thirty minutes.  There isn't much exposition at the start, but it's certainly enough to set up the story and get the ball rolling.

Jurassic Park III is a different beast altogether -- it's a "rescue" movie whereas the first two dealt a little more with the science of bringing these giants back to life.  There's not much talk of gene-splicing and DNA in this one and that's a bit of a relief.  Unfortunately, despite all the positives, the film still isn't all that fantastic.  It works, but it's still a pale shadow of the original.  It lacks the spirit and awe-inspiring moments of Jurassic Park.  While infinitely better than The Lost World, Jurassic Park III is simply a little-better-than-average summer popcorn flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Join in tomorrow as we explore more of the Jurassic Park Quadrilogy:
Tomorrow:  Jurassic World
Previously:  Jurassic Park
Previously: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Movie Review - The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Richard Schiff, Arliss Howard, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, and Richard Attenborough
Directed by Steven Spielberg


How can the same director and half of the screenwriting team of one of the best "popcorn" blockbuster movies of all time fail so miserably the second go-around as we venture back to the islands off the coast of Costa Rica again in The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Quite frankly, there's hardly anything to recommend in this second segment of the Jurassic Park Quadrilogy.  Instead we get rehashed scenes, duplicated themes, and special effects that can't hold a candle to its predecessor. I didn't remember The Lost World being as bad as this when I watched it decades ago...but this is really awful stuff.

Since I created a list in my Jurassic Park review, let's continue that trend here as we discuss the many detriments of The Lost World:
  • Let's just begin with the obvious "gymnastics" foreshadowing at the beginning of the film that then wreaks havoc during a pivotal scene in the movie's climax.  Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the only returning character to hold a pivotal role in this sequel, has a daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) whom we discover at the beginning has been let go of her gymnastics team for not being good enough apparently.  When she stows away and arrives on the island with her father, we're well aware that her "lack" of gymnastics skills is going to come into play at some point.  For the whole film, Kelly is a character that is given next to nothing to do, hardly ever being put in peril.  However, at an integral point in the film's climax, Kelly, her father, and fellow scientist and current love interest of Ian, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), are trapped in some type of facility with a bunch of beams and high walkways.  Of course, Kelly's gymnastics will come into play here as she jumps around the facility like some acrobatic mini Flying Wallenda brother.  Utterly preposterous and painful to watch.
  • Similar to the first film, our main characters are placed into peril while in a vehicle, but this time, it's just ludicrous.  As Ian, Sarah, and videographer Nick (Vince Vaughn) fall over the edge of a cliff in a trailer, scenes of shattering glass and falling debris aren't perilous, but rather ridiculous.  This purportedly tense moment wreaks of unbelievability and the resolution to this scene is nonsensically laughable.
  • What the heck is up with the subplot of what are essentially poachers (played by Pete Postlethwaite and Arliss Howard amongst other) coming to the island?  All these characters are is quite literally dead weight as we await for a T-Rex to chomp them to bits.  They play no part other than Stereotypical "Bad Guy" which the first film didn't need at all in order to succeed.
  • The special effects here look so much worse than the original.  How they downgraded to dinosaurs that look less realistic than the original is unfathomable to me.  The use of less puppetry and more computer-driven graphics doesn't do the film any favors and the overall result is a huge letdown from the original's stellar effects.
It certainly doesn't help matters that the finale with a T-Rex wreaking havoc on San Francisco is so excessively irrational that The Lost World ends on a horrible note, but that would've really made no difference anyway.  Obviously, my affinity for Jurassic Park taints my opinion of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but it's not even that the sequel is inferior, it's just that it attempts to carbon copy the original at every turn and fails miserably.  

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Join in tomorrow as we explore more of the Jurassic Park Quadrilogy:
Tomorrow: Jurassic Park III
Saturday:  Jurassic World
Previously:  Jurassic Park