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,...

Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review - Wild Tales

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes) (2014)
Starring Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Lednardo Sbaragalia, Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, and Darío Grandinetti
Directed by Damián Szifron

The concept of a group of cinematic short stories that share no connections with one another making up a feature film is something that doesn't happen very often.  That's the case, however, with Wild Tales, a flick written and directed by Damián Szifron which tells six short stories -- all varying in length -- about people in stressful situations and how they deal with the conflicts they are encountering.

Quite frankly, the less said about Wild Tales, the better.  Going into this anthology piece without knowing too much allows the comedy and drama of the stories to unfold naturally.  I found myself laughing out loud at some points and shrinking uncomfortably in my seat at others.  Szifron has an apparent gift for dark humor, yet surprisingly has a keen sense for ringing out the drama as well -- not only via his script, but also in his direction.  This is as well a directed piece as I've seen all year which is all the more shocking seeing as how Szifron hasn't helmed a film in more than a decade.  Considering the anthology nature here, the viewer is bound to be more intrigued by some pieces than others, yet Szifron keeps everything moving at a great clip so that we never tire of a segment before its time is up.

While certainly some pieces work a but better than others, I found Wild Tales as a whole to be wildly inventive and absurdly humorous.  Bookended by two of the funniest scenes I've watched all year, this flick is one of those reasons I hold off doing my RyMickey Awards until September each year.  A great piece of work that I highly recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Movie Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Ian McKellan, and Patrick Stewart
Directed by Bryan Singer

While perhaps an unpopular opinion, I think that X-Men: First Class is one of the best superhero movies of all time.  Upon a second watch right before viewing its sequel, I once again was captivated by the flick's stories, direction, 1960s setting, and acting.  So, X-Men: Days of Future Past admittedly had a tough act to follow and while it doesn't quite live up to the high water mark of its predecessor, the film's attempt to bridge both the current generation of 2010's X-Men franchise with the 2000s X-Men franchise is solid.

Sometime in the future, robots known as Sentinels are killing all of the mutants and Professor X and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) have devised a plan using Kitty Pryde's (Ellen Page) powers to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time in order to try and change their present.  It's determined that post-Vietnam War, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) was captured by the US government and her DNA was studied by military scientist Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in order to create the shape-shifting beings known as the Sentinals.  By sending Wolverine back to right before Mystique is caught, Professor X and Magneto are hoping that they can change the course of history and prevent the Sentinels from even existing.

Fortunately, the dank, dark, overly computerized world of the future takes a backseat to Wolverine's trip down the 1970s memory lane and the large majority of Days of Future Past takes place in the past with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender reprising their roles as the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr (Professor X and Magneto, respectively).  Once again, director Bryan Singer does a really great job creating a believable 1970s world for the X-Men to inhabit and it creates a landscape we don't often see in superhero movies that are so often told in the present day.  This retro feel continues to work to this X-Men iteration's advantage.

For the most part, the acting ensemble works well together, although I found the focus on Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique to leave a little to be desired.  Behind all that make-up and computer-generated blueness for her character, Lawrence's emoting stays a bit hidden which is a bit of a shame.  Additionally, the actors that make up the "future" segment of the film aren't given a whole lot to do and what they are tasked with gets repetitive pretty darn quickly.

While X-Men: Days of Future Past isn't as interesting or compelling as First Class, I give the film credit for refusing to back down from its conceit of pitting the X-Men against one another as they struggle to figure out whether the US government wants to help or hurt them.  This creates a constant feeling of uncertainty amongst the characters that gives them all much more depth than we have come to expect in superhero movies and it's one of the biggest reasons I think this X-Men series has been so successful.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Movie Review - Dear White People

Dear White People (2014)
Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Brandon P Bell, Teyonah Parris, Kyle Gallner, and Dennis Haysbert
Directed by Justin Simien

While not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as I had thought it would be, Dear White People is a film that doesn't shy away from some uncomfortable racial humor in order to detail race relations on college campuses.  Set at the fictional Ivy League Winchester University, screenwriter-director Justin Simien's debut film shows that the sometimes "on edge" feeling between whites and blacks isn't the fault of either culture, but rather due to the fact that post-racial America has created a society where political correctness actually makes it much more difficult to unite as both sides feel they are being talked down to or coined racist for expressing an opinion that simply may not toe the "correct" line.

The film opens with a news report stating that a group of white students held a "black face" party on Halloween setting the campus community into an uproar and starting a small riot.  We then flashback a few weeks to see the lead-up to this event, focusing mainly on the black student population as headstrong radio DJ Sam (Tessa Thompson) whose radio show skewers the white student body of Winchester goes up against seemingly by-the-books Troy (Brandon Bell) whose father (Dennis Haysbert) is the Dean of Students to be the head of the traditionally black Armstrong/Parker House.

This battle is the basis of all conflicts in Dear White People as Simien explores not only white-black race relations, but also rifts within the African American culture itself.  (Note:  In a rather funny line, the film states that utilizing the term "African American" is inherently racist itself in that white culture uses the words because they're "afraid" to simply use the term black thanks to current societal norms.)  Unfortunately, Simien's film seems a little disjointed and it feels a bit obvious while watching that we're witnessing a debut film.

While the direction may have felt a little sitcom-ish at times, the cast more than makes up for the flick's faults.  The aforementioned Tessa Thompson is a compelling lead and Tyler James Williams as a newspaper reporter covering the racial issues on campus is also humorously enjoyable.  Teyonah Parris also succeeds in a rather difficult role as Coco, a stuck-up black student who feels more motivated by white culture than her own.

Rather interestingly, Coco's story is really at the heart of what Dear White People is trying to espouse.  While there's importance in understanding one's own culture, is there really anything wrong with finding an appeal in another way of life?  Perhaps there is, or maybe there isn't.  Your interpretation of what the film has to say may vary, but Simien does a good job at skewering all sides of the argument.  In the hands of a slightly more capable director, Dear White People would've really shined, but as it stands now, it's still an interesting film that's worth a watch and a nice start for a new voice on the film landscape.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Movie Review - Cake

Cake (2014)
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Mamie Gummer, Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, and Chris Messina
Directed by Daniel Barnz
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A little more darkly comic than I was expecting, Cake gives Jennifer Aniston a nice vehicle to showcase her dramatic chops (with tinges of humor), but surprisingly doesn't give her that "Oscar" moment for her to really make a huge impact.  Granted, that's not necessarily a bad thing -- the simplicity of the movie doesn't really call for that "Oscar Scene" to happen.  Still, the flick really fails on creating an emotional arc, with things feeling decidedly and disappointingly one-note.

Aniston is Claire Bennett, a woman in chronic pain struggling to cope with an horrific event from her past that fails to let her create a livable present.  With her life in shambles -- her husband (Chris Messina) has left her, a friend (Anna Kendrick) from her chronic pain support group has committed suicide, her anger causing issues with her group's leader (Felicity Huffman) and physical therapist (Mamie Gummer) -- the only person giving Claire any modicum of support is her housemaid Silvana (Adriana Barraza) who wishes nothing but the best for her employer, but is increasingly frustrated by Claire's reliance on pain medication to make it through day-to-day routines.

The best part of Cake is this relationship between Claire and Silvana, with both Aniston and Barraza playing off each other quite well creating moments of both humor and heartache.  The film falters when it branches out to some of the other aforementioned characters mainly because none of them are really given adequate time to create an emotional impact.  Ultimately, that's the underlying problem with Cake -- too many superfluous side stories when the best part of the screenplay focuses Claire's grief and how she and her only friend -- her maid -- deal with her issues.

You could certainly do worse than watch Cake and Aniston and Barraza are absolutely the reasons to give it a go.  Unfortunately, the screenplay doesn't quite give these two characters the adequate justice they deserve.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, August 28, 2015

Movie Review - Last Days in Vietnam

Last Days in Vietnam (2014)
Directed by Rory Kennedy

The Paris Peace Accord signed in January 1973 officially brought an end to the Vietnam War.  South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam agreed to peace, but two years later in March 1975, the North launched a massive attack into the South, with the imminent arrival of the Communists to the capitol city of Saigon by mid-April.  Rory Kennedy's documentary flick Last Days in Vietnam tells the tale of what occurred at the end of April in 1975, detailing how the US planned on truly making an exit from the war-torn Vietnam through first-hand accounts from government officials, US soldiers, and Vietnamese refugees.

Decidedly un-political, Last Days in Vietnam is an interesting look at the US's final involvement in the Vietnam War, placing most of its focus on Ambassador Graham Martin who did not want to evacuate the country for fear of sending the message to both the American and Vietnamese people that the war was lost.  While some may deem Martin's actions disappointing and ultimately harmful, the documentary never makes him the easy "villain," instead showing that Martin had his reasons for not wanting to admit defeat.

Admittedly, I'm not incredibly familiar with all of the intricacies of Vietnam, so it's possible this story has been told before, but it was new to me.  The tales become a tad repetitive, but overall, Last Days in Vietnam plays like a feature film with a lead-up to a tense conclusion that ends things on an exciting and emotional note.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards Are Coming!

The RyMickey Awards make their triumphant return a week from today -- September 1.

Yes, I realize that is nine months after 2014 came to an end, but slow and steady wins the race and my handful of readers will be all the more intrigued by having waited this long to find out their humble blogger's take on the over 175 movies he watched released in 2014.  For some strange reason, I feel the need to be as thorough as possible and my arbitrary deadline of August 31 for my 2014 movie watching is rapidly approaching.

Overall, 2014 had many good films, but very few great ones (as a matter of fact, I gave out the least number of 'A' grades in 2014 since 2010).  Still, there were some nice performances, including what was probably the most packed race I've ever seen in the Best Actor department.  However, as you'll soon discover, the Actress line-up vying for their awards were decidedly slim.

Does Oscar-winner Birdman make the cut?  Or will it find itself left on the sidelines?  Make sure you check back daily (for a few more 2014 reviews) and then next Tuesday for the beginning of the 2014 RyMickey Awards.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Movie Review - Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, Slimane Dazi, and John Hurt
Directed by Jim Jarmusch

My only other experience with director-writer Jim Jarmusch was an absolutely awful flick called The Limits of Control, so when I checked out Only Lovers Left Alive from the library and saw that it was penned and helmed by him, the dvd sat atop my tv for nearly two-and-a-half weeks before I decided to give it a shot.  I must admit that I found myself pleasantly surprised.  The slow pace apparent in The Limits of Control was certainly still present, but Only Lovers Left Alive at least contains a story to latch onto that is surprisingly compelling.

In the simplest of terms, Only Lovers Left Alive revolves around Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), two centuries-old married vampires who have evolved into creatures of the night who don't seek out living, breathing humans for their blood sustenance, but instead get their "fix" by other less brutal means.  When Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to town, things get shaken up a bit and Adam and Eve's mellow life becomes a bit more chaotic than they hoped.

Certainly uncomplicated, that's just about the entire summary of Jarmusch's film.  What keeps you interested are Swinton and Hiddleston, both of whom are surprisingly captivating considering that the first hour of the film is about as slow-paced a film you'll have seen from 2014.  Somehow, though, the two actors are compelling with Hiddleston's mopey and depressed Adam being countered by Swinton's more hopeful and pleasant Eve.  Swinton really is one of the best actresses working today and I continue to be impressed with nearly everything she chooses to take part in, and Hiddleston proves here that there's more to him than the egomaniacal Loki from the Marvel Universe.  In addition, Wasikowska really shines in a small role, popping in at about the one hour mark as the childish Ava to give the flick some much needed verve and pizzazz.

This is one of those flicks that you absolutely have to be in the "mood" to watch and it undoubtedly will not suit everyone's tastes.  However, I found Only Lovers Left Alive to be an intriguing piece of cinema -- one that I assume is much deeper upon subsequent viewings (the Adam/Eve symbolism alone would probably give you enough material to write a research paper), but works quite well on its initial watch as well.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Movie Review - The Drop

The Drop (2014)
Starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace
Directed by Michaël R. Roskam

When his cousin Marv's (James Gandolfini) bar gets robbed, bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) finds himself thrust into an investigation that makes him question his family, friends, and himself.  If that summary of The Drop sounds generic, that's because The Drop as a film is a bit generic.  That's certainly not to say that Michaël R. Roskam's film is a bust, but nothing new is brought to the table here in this tale of a corrupt New York City family.

However, I don't necessarily want to be a downer when it comes to this flick because it absolutely held my interest.  Helping to elevate things are the solid performances from the three leads with Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace giving their roles a bit more intricate depth than the somewhat basic plot seemingly would allow.  There's an innocence to Hardy's role in particular that is oddly striking and ultimately compelling when stacked up against the hardened Gandolfini and a few other mobster types that make their presence known throughout the flick.  It's a bit refreshing as I'm used to Hardy taking the same tough edge in many of his films, so the almost childlike demeanor he presents here is a fresh twist for the actor.

Still, in the end, The Drop emits this sense of genericness that it never really is able to overcome.  It's a perfectly acceptable crime piece, but it never truly excels at elevating itself to something really captivating.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Movie Review - Stretch

Stretch (2014)
Starring Patrick Wilson, Chris Pine, Ed Helms, James Badge Dale, Brooklyn Decker, and Jessica Alba  
Directed by Joe Carnahan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Several years ago, I surprised myself by placing Crank: High Voltage on my list of the Best Films of 2009 and while Stretch doesn't reach that level, the similar balls-to-the-wall aesthetic is appreciated as director Joe Carnahan doesn't hold things back in crafting a weirdly enjoyable little action-comedy film that was tossed aside by a film studio that understandably wasn't quite sure how to market it.

Patrick Wilson is Stretch, a stretch limo driver down on his luck who has been told one morning he has until midnight to pay back his bookie for a gambling debt.  With his boss on his case, Stretch agrees to take a rich, eccentric client around town in hopes that a big tip will be coming his way.  Little does he realize that he's in for a wild night filled with oddities and danger.

Never taking itself seriously, Stretch is fun.  It lacks any purpose and sometimes wears a little thin, but thanks to a solid performance from Wilson (who's always good in pretty much whatever he's in) and a ridiculously over-the-top turn from Chris Pine as the billionaire playboy Stretch picks up, the film retains an enjoyable feeling throughout.  Attempts at creating a romance for Stretch are silly (particularly considering that the bulk of the film takes place over the course of twelve hours) and I'm still unsure whether I liked or disliked Ed Helms as the ghost conscience of Stretch who pops out of nowhere in many a scene, but Stretch is a weirdly pleasant diversion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, August 21, 2015

Movie Review - Grace of Monaco

Grace of Monaco (2014)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, and Parker Posey
Directed by Olivier Dahan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

First off, I must say that the critical lashing Grace of Monaco received after its premiere at Cannes in 2014 that led to the film not being released theatrically is completely unwarranted.  While the Nicole Kidman-starring pic isn't mind-blowing, it's certainly not anywhere close to the bottom rungs of films released in 2014 and should've at least garnered a bit of an audience based on the subject matter and star alone.  Seeing as how it's actually up for an Emmy for Best TV Movie (it premiered on Lifetime earlier in 2015), I'm obviously not alone in this assessment.  For the RyMickey's Ramblings blog, however, logistically, I'm going to call Grace of Monaco a theatrical film released in 2014.

Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956 and by doing so the Oscar-winning actress essentially ended her Oscar-winning film career at the young age of 26.  However, as the film tells us, by 1962, Princess Grace was considering a return to the big screen when Alfred Hitchcock paid her a visit with the script for Marnie.  Seemingly ready for a return to Hollywood, Grace's yearning to act again is put on hold when the people of Monaco begin to question her loyalty to their small country just as her husband Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) finds himself in a dispute with Charles de Gaulle of France over taxation.

Taking a small page out of Grace and Rainier's life, Grace of Monaco is not billed as a biopic and indeed it begins with the wording, "The following is a fictional account based on real events."  You may then ask yourself, "What's the point of the film then?"  To this blogger, it details the universal quest of most women to find balance in one's life in terms of family, career, and love -- here, it's simply amplified to someone more famous as she leaves her old world behind and is thrust into an even higher profile limelight.  Nicole Kidman does quite a good job at conveying Kelly's sense of doubt as to her place in Monaco and I actually think it's one of her better acted roles in recent years.  I was quite captivated any time she was onscreen (director Olivier Dahan excels at capturing the "glamour" of the star and of Monaco) and while I would've preferred her Australian accent be always muted (I was distracted at moments because of this), Kidman more than carries the film.

Considering its streaming status on Netflix, I think this one is worth a look if the subject matter is even remotely interesting to you.  The boos and hisses Grace of Monaco received after its premiere at Cannes in 2014 were simply those of uppity folks expecting a bit more than they probably should have.  For the Weinstein company to have abandoned this flick like they did is kind of ridiculous and paints an unfair portrait of the perfectly acceptable film itself.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Movie Review - Devil's Knot

Devil's Knot (2014)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Alessandro Nivola, James Hamrick, Seth Meriwether, Kris Higgins, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos, Bruce Greenwood, and Amy Ryan
Directed by Atom Egoyan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

On May 5, 1993, three young boys went missing in West Memphis, Arkansas, after riding their bikes one evening.  A few days later, their bodies were found naked and bound in a small river.  Nearly a month later, three teens were arrested for the crime after the police force and the town in general found the youths' love for heavy metal and penchant for learning the Wiccan religion to be red flags.  This is the true story behind Devil's Knot, a flick by Atom Egoyan that I found engaging, though a bit too "surface" to really have much of an impact.

Reese Witherspoon as the mother of one of the murdered boys is solid, bringing the requisite amount of emotion to her character (and actually probably faring a little better than even her Oscar-nominated work in Wild which I felt was a tad overrated).  As the heart of the movie, she pulls the viewer in, although her character's constant doubts concerning the guilt of the three teens plays much too obvious.  There is reason for doubt which I won't delve into here, but because of the time constraints of the movie, once the film shifts to the trial of the three teens, things feel rushed and forced.

This whole true saga has apparently been played out in three well-regarded documentaries which I can only assume allow for a little more thoroughness.  That said, Devil's Knot is better than the disappointing reviews it received and it certainly piqued my interest in this case as a whole which definitely isn't a bad thing.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movie Review - Pride

Pride (2014)
Starring Ben Schnetzer, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Andrew Scott, George MacKay, and Joseph Gilgun
Directed by Matthew Warchus

While the jovial atmosphere nearly always omnipresent in Pride is welcoming and certainly entertaining, Matthew Warchus' film about a group of gay and lesbian activists working to help Welsh miners during a year-long 1984 strike finds itself a bit too packed to the gills with quirky characters to really make an impact.  The removal of a variety of subplots would've trimmed down the rather extended runtime and created a more concise and resonant piece.  As it stands now, Pride is a decent film, but always finds itself teetering on the edge of overstaying its welcome.

Although the subject matter can get serious at times, Warchus keeps the atmosphere relatively light-hearted while detailing the mining strike and the oftentimes anti-homosexual attitudes of 1980s England.  Plus, despite the abundant and sometimes superfluously large cast, all the actors assembled here more than adequately provide the requisite humor and drama necessary for their individual characters.  Ben Schnetzer is certainly captivating as the film's lead, emoting the proper amount of strength and vulnerability in the role of the leader of his founded group - LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners).  Aided by the jaunty Imelda Staunton, buttoned-up Bill Nighy, and charming Paddy Considine as Welsh townsfolk who welcome LGSM to assist them in raising money for the miners, the cast clicks.

The successful cast, in the end, makes it all the more unfortunate that the movie doesn't quite click as well.  Pride is fine, but "fine" could've been so much better with a little more working with the script in order to excise some of the extra side stories.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Movie Review - Honeymoon

Honeymoon (2014)
Starring Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway
Directed by Leigh Janiak
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Newly betrothed Bea and Paul (Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway) head to a Canadian lakeside cabin to celebrate their honeymoon.  After a few days of lustful fun, Paul begins to notice a personality change in Bea with her formerly perky and sweet personality becoming distanced.  When weird markings begin showing up on her body, Paul becomes even more concerned, wondering what exactly is happening to his new wife.

Although Honeymoon takes a little while to get going (a bit too long for comfort), first time director and screenwriter Leigh Janiak proves quite adept at getting great performances out of her actors which is absolutely needed in a low-budget horror/thriller such as this.  Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway more than captivate in what is essentially a two-person film.  Their connection is believable both at the start and the end as their characters find themselves on quite the roller coaster ride of emotions.

Once the flick really gets rolling at about the forty-minute mark, Janiak adeptly takes control of the tension and creates an atmosphere of slowly building insanity that's totally believable and palpable.  There aren't any jump scares or "typical" thriller moments.  Instead, Honeymoon creates its enervating vibe thanks to its two actors and the story itself.  While not perfect, Honeymoon is certainly one of the better "horror" movies of 2014 and worth a look if this genre is of any appeal to you.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Movie Review - Frankie & Alice

Frankie & Alice (2014)
Starring Halle Berry, Stellan Skarsgård, Phylicia Rashad, and Chandra Wilson
Directed by Geoffrey Sax
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Originally shown at Cannes at 2010, but not released until August of 2014, Frankie & Alice is a failure on nearly all fronts.  I have to imagine that this was created and produced as a star vehicle for Halle Berry to earn herself another Oscar nomination (she did snag a Golden Globe nom back in 2010...I'm not sure how considering the film wasn't released in theaters until last year), but Berry's performance as a tortured woman with multiple personalities is mannered, over-the-top, and oftentimes laughable.  Quite frankly, I've never really been a fan of Berry as I find her acting very stilted and artificial and Frankie & Alice does nothing to change that despite a few moments here and there that show some promise.

Unfortunately, it's not just Berry that's a disappointment here.  Stellan Skarsgård as Frankie's psychiatrist is one-note, monotonously boring, and lacks any modicum of emotion.  Phylicia Rashad fares no better as Frankie's mother as she overly dramatizes every scene (obviously taking her cues from the Halle Berry School of Acting).  Based on a true story, Geoffrey Sax's film screams 1990s tv-movie-of-the-week in nearly every aspect and the helmer attempts to use his direction for dramatic effect multiple times, but his camera angles and movements only made this filmgoer chuckle.  Considering the eight (!) screenwriters for this film, one would've thought at least something would've gone right...and one would've thought wrong.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, August 14, 2015

Movie Review - Sabotage

Sabotage (2014)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, and Mireille Enos
Directed by David Ayer
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I don't know why Sabotage looked compelling when I saw the trailer over a year ago, but for some reason, I had in my mind that this was an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that I wanted to see.  I'm shaking my head now because this was certainly a waste of time with The Governator playing a DEA agent who heads a team of stereotypical characters as they attempt to take down a Mexican drug lord only to have the DEA team being killed one by one in an act of revenge.

David Ayer who solidly directed End of Watch and Fury fails miserably here, but with Schwarzenegger's poor acting (and really the poor acting of everyone across the board) failing to garner any sympathy for his character who is seeking revenge for the deaths of his wife and son at the hands of drug dealers, Ayer's task was unenviable.  Then again, Ayer also co-wrote the piece and the flick certainly disappoints heavily in that department, too -- particularly the film's final twenty minutes which ends with two ludicrously shot set pieces that laughably bring things to a conclusion.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Movie Review - Next Goal Wins

Next Goal Wins (2014)
Directed by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In 2001, American Samoa suffered the biggest defeat in the history of international soccer when they lost to Australia 31-0.  Bad as that is, the Pacific Island team had lost every official match they'd ever played for decades before and decades after.  Then comes 2011, and FIFA (the international "football" association) posts a job opening for a coach for the American Samoans.  Only one man -- Thomas Rongen, a Dutch coach -- applies for the job.  Next Goal Wins is a documentary of Rongen's attempts to lift the American Samoa football team out of the basement.

While compelling enough, Next Goal Wins follows the typical underdog formula we've come to expect in nearly every feature film about sports.  The Bad News Bears of the soccer world, the attempts at profiling certain members of the team fall a bit flat as there's a blatant exploitation of the least-athletic to show their "growth" under Coach Rongen.  Rongen admittedly is quite a character and his motivational techniques and coaching styles were the most enjoyable aspects of the film, but Next Goal Wins, while certainly watchable, doesn't extend beyond the average and isn't quite worth your time unless you're a huge fan of soccer.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Movie Review - Pioneer

Pioneer (Pionér) (2014)
Starring Aksel Hennie, Wes Bentley, Stephanie Sigman, Jonathan LaPaglia, Ane Dahl Torp, Jorgen Langhelle, André Eriksen, and Stephen Lang
Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

During the early 1980s, the Norwegian government was in the midst of beginning its program for oil harvesting.  During a test dive, Petter (Aksel Hennie) and his brother Knut (André Eriksen) are involved in a terrible accident.  Upon resurfacing, Petter discovers that this accident may not have been coincidental and may be the start of a large conspiracy involving the Norwegians and Americans' attempts to gain control of the massive amount of oil below the ocean's surface.

While a little slow moving at the start and quite a bit repetitive in the middle, Pionér is intriguingly based on a true story and this reality carries an inherent interest that makes even the dullest moments more watchable.  Aksel Hennie -- so good in Headhunters which is also streaming on Netflix (watch it!) -- more than ably anchors the film and creates a character whose paranoid demeanor following his brother's accident never seems forced or over-the-top.

Unfortunately, Erik Skjoldbjærg's film meanders, hitting much of the same dramatic notes over and over.  While the director more than adequately crafts the underwater scenes with tension, his surface-based suspenseful moments don't land as well.  Pionér is a worthy film with an interesting true premise, but it's not as successful as it probably should be.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Movie Review - Third Person

Third Person (2014)
Starring Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Moran Atias, Maria Bello, and Kim Basinger
Directed by Paul Haggis

I've always said I'm a fan of movies that attempt to interweave multiple storylines with an overarching theme.  Third Person is one such film, but it fails so miserably as it attempts to fill its bloated 135-minute runtime with three tales of loss that feel so poorly thematically connected that I couldn't help but wonder why Oscar-winning screenwriter-director Paul Haggis was ever given the green light in the first place.

One piece of the triad deals with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael (Liam Neeson) who has secluded himself in a hotel room to finish penning his next masterpiece.  When his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde) surprises him, we realize that the relationship between these two lost souls is tenuous at best.  Then there's Julia (Mila Kunis), a mom whose son has been taken away from her by her ex-husband Rick (James Franco) after a horrible accident almost left their child for dead...or was not an accident at all?  Finally, Scott (Adrien Brody) is a sneaky businessman who steals upcoming suit designs from ritzy high-fashion designers in order to make cheap knock-offs.  While in a bar in Italy, he meets Monika (Moran Atias) who is struggling to find the money to pay off a gangster who has kidnapped her child...but is this all a con?

None of those stories really sound all that interesting on their own and when put together, they amount to a whole lot of depressing nothingness.   The male actors fare a bit better in the ensemble as most of the females are written so poorly that Kunis, Wilde, and Atias really couldn't do a thing to help forward their characters' plots or dimensionality.  Man or woman, though, I found myself completely removed from the variety of plights on display rather than being pulled in and invested.  Quite frankly, Third Person is a bit of a mess.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Movie Review - Black or White

Black or White (2014)
Starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr, Mpho Koaho, André Holland, Jennifer Ehle, Paula Newsome, and Anthony Mackie
Directed by Mike Binder

While Black or White certainly isn't a deep introspective look at race relations in America, director and screenwriter Mike Binder's film surprisingly tackles multiple sides of the incessantly hot button topic.  Based on a true story, Kevin Costner is Elliot Anderson, grandfather to Eloise (Jillian Estell), a biracial young girl whose teenage mother died during childbirth and whose father is a drug addict and criminal who has had nothing to do with his daughter's life.  After Elliot's wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) passes away, the custody of Eloise is brought into question by her paternal grandmother Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer) who wonders if Elliot -- who has a tendency to drink -- is capable of raising his granddaughter on his own.

With the biracial Eloise caught in the crossfire, Black or White raises questions of culture and race with neither side coming out unscathed.  It's intriguing to see a film that doesn't shy away from both sides taking responsibility for actions rather than just playing the blame game.  There are moments on both sides of the race aisle here that were rather revealing and admittedly rang a little true.  Costner gives a good performance, but I'm still a bit unsold on Octavia Spencer who seems to be playing a very similar role here to her Oscar-winning turn in The Help (which placed in my Top Five Supporting Actresses in 2011).  There's been little stretching by her as of late (partly due to scripts that are stereotyping her a little) and I'd like to see a bit more from her in the future.

Admittedly, despite digging a little deep on the race issue, the overall story of Black or White rings a little generic.  The conclusion, which I thought may prove to be powerful, felt like a bit of a cop out.  Then again, this is based on some form of true story, so me calling it a cop out may be an unfair assessment, but cinematically, it disappointed.  However, the lead-up to the final act kept my interest more than enough to warrant this one a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 07, 2015

Movie Review - The Guest

The Guest (2014)
Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick
Directed by Adam Wingard
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Director Adam Wingard had a critical success with his previous horror film You're Next, but I found the flick a little blander than most.  With The Guest, Wingard fared even better with the reviews and while I agree that it's a more intriguing effort, it still didn't quite hit all the right notes and beats to be hugely successful for me.

Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens is David, an Army vet who shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family home one afternoon.  Mom Laura, Dad Spencer, and daughter and son Anna and Luke (Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Maika Monroe, and Brendan Meyer) are still coping with the death of their son who died in action, but David claims to have been one of their son's war buddies.  Pictures seem to prove the veracity of this claim, but as mysterious deaths begin to pile up, the family begins to question whether David is who he really claims to be.

With a Halloween-esque 1980s-inspired electronic score and some likely purposeful corny acting, The Guest certainly is paying a bit of an ode to horror films of the past and while it does so successfully, sometimes I find myself wondering whether the self-referential aspects to films like this are a bit of a cop out for a director who can't quite find his own place in the auteur realm.  While this isn't necessarily a problem here -- going for "corny" works for The Guest especially as the story unfolds -- it sometimes feels like the aesthetic trumps the plot which typically isn't a good thing.

Elevating The Guest is a solid performance from Dan Stevens as the titular character.  Even if you hadn't seen a trailer or read a review, it would be obvious from the beginning that David isn't who he seems to be, but Stevens knowingly plays up the ambiguity and brings us along for the ride.  The film's quick pace never allows it to overstay its welcome and while I had hoped for a bit better because of its overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, you could certainly fare worse on the streaming side of Netflix.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Movie Review - The Face of Love

The Face of Love (2014)
Starring Annette Bening, Ed Harris, Robin Williams, Jess Weixler, and Amy Brenneman
Directed by Arie Posin

While certainly pleasant enough and a nice showcase for some "older," more established actors, The Face of Love meanders a bit too repetitively for its own good, hitting the same emotional notes over and over again over its rather short running time.  When Nikki's (Annette Bening) husband dies on a trip to Mexico, she is devastated by the sudden loss.  Five years pass and she still thinks of him nearly every day and although she's gotten the strength to move on, her love for him still continues.  On the urging of her daughter Summer (Jess Weixler), Nikki begins to explore some of the California institutions that she loved visiting with her husband including the Los Angeles Art Museum.  One day, while visiting, she spots a man (Ed Harris) that looks nearly identical to her husband and her world is turned a bit upside down.

In another film, this discovery would lead to a conspiracy surrounding her husband's death, but here this is simply the story of a woman re-falling in love with a similar-looking man.  No mystery here.  While the premise is actually more solid than it sounds (because I admit it seems hokey), The Face of Love fails to really shift emotionally at any point in time during the film.  There's an undercurrent of grief throughout from the very initial scenes in which Nikki is just beginning to cope with the death through to the rather sorrowful feelings we in the audience conjure up as Nikki desperately clings to the new man because of his resemblance to her late husband.  This constant pity that we feel for Nikki admittedly gets a little monotonous and the film fails to create another emotion for us to latch onto.

The Face of Love isn't so much a disappointment as it is a bit of a letdown -- an interesting premise with solid acting that doesn't really go anywhere.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Movie Review - Sex Tape

Sex Tape (2014)
Starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, and Rob Lowe
Directed by Jake Kasdan

From the co-writers of the Best Film of 2011 -- Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller -- comes one of the worst films of 2014.  Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel attempt to salvage what they can from what they're given (and from what Segel himself wrote), but this story of bored married couple Annie and Jay who decide to spice up their love life by making a sex tape only to have it disseminated amongst their friends thanks to the Apple iCloud is just abysmal.  With maybe one laugh, this is a chore to sit through for ninety minutes.

Not only is Sex Tape one of the worst written movies of 2014, but it's also one of the worst directed films of the year, filled with one of my biggest directorial pet peeves -- shots where someone is  talking and from a side view their lips obviously aren't moving.  It doesn't take much to get this right in a big budget Hollywood film, but Sex Tape manages to do this within the film's first five minutes and it doesn't let up.  I realize there's a pettiness attached to this complaint, but it goes to show the lack of care put into a film like this.

Poor Cameron Diaz -- she's had a lousy 2014 (as the upcoming RyMickey Awards will show).  Shockingly, Sex Tape isn't the worst thing she's been in.  So, if you're looking for her best effort, this one wins at least that ignominious battle.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-