Monday, September 28, 2015

Movie Review - Blackhat

Blackhat (2015)
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Leehom Wang, Wei Tang, and Viola Davis
Directed by Michael Mann

I'm not sure movies can get more boring than Blackhat.  There's only so much typing and clicking and looking at words and numbers on computer screens that one can take in a movie and Blackhat crosses that threshold at about the twenty minute mark.  By the end, it attempts to turn into a bit of an action movie, but it's too late to garner the interest of the audience who has all but abandoned the proceedings at that point.

Chris Hemsworth is Nick Hathaway, a convict who is released from prison under the condition that he help the US and Chinese government track down a cyber-terrorist who has somehow managed to cripple both a Chinese nuclear power plant and a portion of the US stock trade.  As military officer Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) of the Chinese cyber-terror unit and Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) of the FBI butt heads, Nick attempts to figure out both the location of the terrorist and his next area of attack.

Unfortunately, the film really does just wallow in blandness for about ninety minutes.  Hemsworth's Nick mumbles a great deal of his lines and isn't the least bit captivating as a character that lacks any gravitas -- either good or bad -- for the audience to care about joining for the ride.  Much of Viola Davis's screen time is spent staring at a computer screen or chastising Nick for thinking too much outside of the box which, of course, is what's needed to catch the bad guy.  An ill-conceived romance between Nick and Dawai's sister Lien (Wei Tang) -- who, quite honestly, I'm not sure as to why she is permitted to tag along in the secretive governmental investigation -- is just plain silly and hurts the film more than anything else.

As mentioned, during the final act, the film attempts to morph into an action piece and while several of these scenes are shot with a keen eye showing that director Michael Mann hasn't lost all of his mojo, it's too little too late.  Blackhat is unfortunately one of the most blandest films I've seen in a long time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Friday, September 25, 2015

Movie Review - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

-- Mission: Impossible Week --
Please note that all Mission: Impossible Week film reviews may contain spoilers related to both the film that is being reviewed and other films in the series.
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, and Alec Baldwin
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

As we come to the end of our Mission: Impossible week, I've come to the determination that the Tom Cruise-led series is a solid entry into the American cinematic action pantheon.  Does that mean that the series is full of overly amazing movies?  No, but what is intriguing (and I'm spoiling my rating for this newest installment with this sentence) is that with the exception of the second film (which, as you'll recall I found absolutely abysmal), all of the films in the M:I series rank in the "B" range.  I'm not sure there are many other film franchises that have gone on for so long that manage to maintain that consistent quality throughout.

In Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team have uncovered a seedy agency known as The Syndicate that attempts to take down world leaders and governments by creating situations that look like accidents yet cause a great amount of havoc.  Just as IMF head William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) attempts to fund Hunt on a mission to take down the group, he is told by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) that due to the numerous close calls that IMF missions have come under as of late (meaning the numerous close calls of the last two films), the US government has decided to defund the organization.  Not only that, but the CIA is under strict orders to now take down Hunt who refuses to return to the US, hellbent on finding the head of The Syndicate on his own if necessary.

Perhaps most interesting about Rogue Nation is that it's the least action-driven film since the first installment in the M:I series.  That isn't to say that there aren't some BIG moments filled with action, it's just that the film finds itself a little more focused on "talking" and duplicitous manipulation than big budget action sequences.  It's actually a bit of a relief and it works well for the film in an attempt to be a little different than its predecessors.

Part of the reason for the talkiness is due to the villain of the piece -- Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), head of the Syndicate and a Steve Jobs-ish lookalike in his turtleneck and glasses.  Lane is evil, no doubt, but his ability to keep his emotions in check and his temper under control makes him even scarier when he's got a gun to your head because you'll never expect him to shoot...and he will.  Lane is matched by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an undercover British MI-6 agent who may or may not have disavowed her homeland for Lane.  Surprisingly, the film does a very good job at keeping the audience guessing as to whether Faust is good or evil and this creates a nice amount of tension throughout the film as Lane matches wits with Hunt.

Tom Cruise has been the one through-line in the Mission: Impossible series of films and he's certainly captivating as the big screen action star.  This film perhaps gives him the least amount to do -- not in terms of stunts, but in terms of an emotional arc.  Rather than focus on aspects of his personal life, Rogue Nation places its emphasis squarely on taking down The Syndicate and I must say that I missed seeing Hunt's character grow...because he doesn't do any of that here.  Additionally, while I liked Jeremy Renner's newly introduced character in the last film, he's rather squandered here spending most of the film essentially sitting in a control room.  Seeing as how he is receiving second billing in the film, I expected a bit more from his character and didn't really get it.

Still, Rogue Nation is a solid entry into the M:I franchise -- I'd rate it second of the five.  [Ghost Protocol takes the top spot, M:I III takes third place, the original M:I fourth place, and M:I II an incredibly distant fifth place.]  Overall, the franchise is a winner in my book.  Should they make more, I'd definitely be along for the ride.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Movie Review - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

-- Mission: Impossible Week --
Please note that all Mission: Impossible Week film reviews may contain spoilers related to both the film that is being reviewed and other films in the series.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Josh Holloway, Anil Kapoor, and Léa Seydoux
Directed by Brad Bird


***The review below was originally published on May 27, 2011.  Reading it over, my feelings are pretty much the same now as they were then.  Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a really solid film and the best film in the Mission: Impossible series.  By far the funniest flick of the bunch (I laughed out loud when the machine that makes the famous Mission: Impossible face masks broke down), Ghost Protocol is also filled with great action sequences -- some of which should be noted for their surprising lack of weaponry and combat, but instead for their ability to create tense moments from something as simple as a desert dust storm.  Enjoy my original review below.***

Although Mission: Impossible II was one of my least favorite movies the year it came out, I don't utterly detest the Mission: Impossible series of films.  Maybe it's just the catchy theme music -- which really is one of the best tv theme songs ever created -- but it's probably more that I like the gadgety spy vibe that runs throughout.  I had heard really good things about animation director Brad Bird's first foray into live action filming.  Fortunately, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol did not disappoint and is probably the best action flick to come out of 2011.

Part of the reason for its success is that this Mission: Impossible has an odd joyfulness to it that I don't remember at all in previous incarnations in this series.  There's a humor here that I wasn't expecting and it added a breath of fresh air to the typical explosions and chase scenes that are part and parcel of a film of this ilk.  Certainly much of the chuckles come thanks to Simon Pegg who is the gadget guru Benji, part of the special team headed by Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt, who after being rescued from a Russian prison finds himself on a mission (impossible) to hunt down a Swedish nuclear weapon expert (Michael Nyqvist) deadset on starting a world war.  Aided by Jane Carter (a very solid [and sexy] Paula Patton), Ethan and his team travel from Moscow to Dubai to India tracking down the baddie.

It also helps matters that the story is very straightforward -- read: easy to comprehend.  Sometimes spy films like this tend to throw more info at you than you really need -- red herrings here, ridiculously convoluted background information there.  MI4 doesn't do that at all and I don't mean this as an insult to it.  Don't think that things are overly simplified -- it's just that Brad Bird and his screenwriters have pared things down to be exactly what is needed to make this story fly by.  Bird also crafts his action sequences without the superfluous quick edits and nonstop explosions that are so prevalent in movies today.  There are some genuinely exciting moments here that rely on tension rather than rapid movement to succeed and that's often a rarity nowadays.

Unfortunately, I think the film falters a tiny bit in two areas.  One, Jeremy Renner's character of a government official who is forced to become part of Ethan's team seemed to simply be there to attempt to craft future movies around him.  He isn't really given a lot to do and although he's fine in the role, this is the one point in the movie that probably could've been fleshed out a bit more.  Secondly, the final act of the movie seems almost unnecessary.  When the team moves to India, I couldn't help but think things could've ended in Dubai to much greater effect -- not all movies need to be two hours and ten minutes long.  The final action sequence (which was genuinely tense and exciting) could so easily have taken place in Dubai that the move to India only screamed "Look at our budget!" to me.

Still, those are actually minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things because Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol really excels in all areas -- acting, directing, writing -- where most action movies nowadays fail miserably.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mission: Impossible III

-- Mission: Impossible Week --
Please note that all Mission: Impossible Week film reviews may contain spoilers related to both the film that is being reviewed and other films in the series.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Eddie Marsan, and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by J.J. Abrams

After the absolute debacle that was Mission: Impossible II, anything -- and I mean absolutely anything -- would've been an improvement.  Fortunately, this third installment in the M:I series leaves behind John Woo's white doves and fiery orange color palette for an admittedly much more cookie-cutter action picture.  Still, director J.J. Abrams' debut feature film rounded up a great cast (which as mentioned before is a bit of a staple for the M:I pics) and showed Hollywood that he had potential as a feature film helmer.

The film begins with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) setting out on a mission (impossible) to rescue fellow IMF agent Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell) whom Hunt himself trained from an undercover assignment that has gone horribly wrong.  Unfortunately, the rescue is a failure and Lindsey ends up dead (much to the chagrin of this blogger and longtime fan of Ms. Russell).  Determined to find the person who killed her, Hunt and his team (this time made up of newcomers Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and returnee Ving Rhames) begin to hunt down arms dealer Declan Gormley (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose "business" Lindsey was attempting to infiltrate.

While the action sequences are certainly solid, what makes Mission: Impossible III stand out is Philip Seymour Hoffman's villain.  Hoffman relishes the maniacal nature of his character and from his opening scene to his last, he brings a vibrancy to the flick that we hadn't quite seen yet in the pictures in the franchise.  To balance Hoffman out, Cruise's Hunt is given a serious love interest in this film in Michelle Monaghan's Julia and the relationship gives us a more well-rounded picture of the series' main protagonist.

The negative to this film -- and admittedly it's a bit of a problem -- is that it's oddly forgettable.  As I sit here typing up this review a week after watching the flick, I found myself finding it difficult to remember key action pieces.  Even in the dismal M:I II, I recalled moments.  With Mission: Impossible III, however, it feels a bit too generic for its own good.  Without a particularly unique stylization from an auteur, Abrams has crafted a well-made action movie, but one that feels like it could've been a part of any other franchise.  Still, the film works and it works pretty well.  However, as you'll see soon, improvements could still be made on the franchise to really make it shine.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Movie Review - Mission: Impossible II

-- Mission: Impossible Week --
Please note that all Mission: Impossible Week film reviews may contain spoilers related to both the film that is being reviewed and other films in the series.


Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, Brendan Gleeson, and Anthony Hopkins
Directed by John Woo
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Quite frankly, the fact that Mission: Impossible II is the highest-grossing film domestically in the M:I series shows that Americans have no taste whatsoever because this is without a doubt one of the worst action movies crafted for the big screen...ever.  We're talking Transformers series levels of bad here.  Like its predecessor, there's stylized direction on display here.  Unfortunately, John Woo's weird aesthetic overtakes the story and fails to add anything, instead creating an atmosphere that's laughable with horrible visuals, dialog, and acting.

M:I II goes in a completely different direction from its predecessor which felt like a more intelligent spy film as opposed to a straight action flick.  While the remainder of the series also eschews the aesthetics of the first flick, none of the remaining three films stoop to levels as low as this film.  Quite frankly, the majority of the blame falls squarely on director John Woo's plate.  Saturated with an orange palette, Woo creates some of the silliest action sequences in the M:I series (that finale motorcycle scene is simply ridiculous) and then peppers in some of the hokiest non-action moments as well -- white doves flying out of fire, a lengthy flamenco dance (filmed via sweeping camera) that the main characters watch but never participate in, poorly directed scenes of romance between Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton.  There really is nothing good to talk about here.  Nothing.

While I mentioned in the first film's review this series' expertise in bringing together great casts, Woo directs typically solid actors like Anthony Hopkins and Brendan Gleeson so poorly that they can't add anything to the film.  Dougray Scott and Richard Roxburgh play villains with such a caricaturish spin that I half expected them to grow mustaches to twirl as they maniacally laugh.  Tom Cruise admittedly is solid -- a trait that will continue for him throughout the series -- but his beaming smile isn't enough to save this piece of dreck.

While Woo is certainly responsible for most of the blame, the trio of screenwriters here (one of whom actually helped to write the first film) must accept some responsibility for this film's failure as well.  One of the key gadgets of the Mission: Impossible series is a machine that creates a realistic face mask, accurately duplicating a person's facial features and vocal timbre.  I lost count of the number of times the writers used this trick in this film and utilizing this "gotcha"-type moment numerous times rings cheap and feels like a cop out.

I remember when this flick was released in 2000, I thought it was one of the worst movies of that year.  Having not watched it in over 15 years, I had hoped that maybe my mind was maybe just playing tricks on me and it wasn't nearly as bad as I had remembered.  Unfortunately, I realized that I'm not that senile as Mission: Impossible II is one of the worst action movies I've ever seen.  Fortunately, we move in a slightly different direction as the series moves forward because had this caliber of film continued, the Mission: Impossible franchise would've been one I'd have abandoned.

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Monday, September 21, 2015

Movie Review - Mission: Impossible

-- Mission: Impossible Week --
Please note that all Mission: Impossible Week film reviews may contain spoilers related to both the film that is being reviewed and other films in the series.

Mission: Impossible (1996)
Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by Brian De Palma
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The first film in the series, Mission: Impossible stands in stark contrast to the rest of the films that followed it...and that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Much more of a spy film than an action picture, director Brian De Palma creates a unique look for the film layering it with gray and blue overtones (whereas many of the others are filled with red and black visuals) and eschewing the bigger budget action set pieces for a bit more of a character-driven piece.  That said, the film isn't without its problems.

The flick builds its conflict around the lengthy opening set piece in which a group of IMF agents -- that's the Impossible Mission Force -- infiltrate a party in Prague in an attempt to retrieve a stolen list of IMF agents, the release of which will wreak havoc over the US government and the capabilities of their spy agency.  The mission doesn't succeed and as the agents leave the party, they find themselves ambushed seemingly leaving all but agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) dead.  Seeing as how Hunt survived the attack, his IMF superiors wonder if he is the mastermind behind it and the remainder of the film finds Hunt on his own personal impossible mission to find out who killed his team members.

This first film in the M:I series is the only one that really attempts to create a mystery surrounding who is the "big baddie."  Sure, other films have moments of surprise and red herrings, but they pretty much reveal the bad guy from the outset.  That's not the case here...and it's only moderately successful in terms of creating a whodunit atmosphere.  The biggest problem is that there are so few characters in the film that the possibilities of who could be behind the IMF attack are extremely limited and, in the end, create a lack of surprise when the "villain" is revealed.  Don't be mistaken - the film doesn't fail on this front, it's just that it doesn't succeed as well as it should because of the rather obvious culprit.

While Tom Cruise is certainly the "star" and he handles the lead role quite well, what's been incredibly pleasurable about this series as I've watched it is that they've built incredibly solid ensembles around the Big Name.  Here we get added oomph and gravitas from Jon Voight as Jim Phelps (a holdover character from the original Mission: Impossible tv show), Kristin Scott Thomas as a fellow IMF agent, and Vanessa Redgrave as a mysterious crook who is desperate to get that mysterious IMF secret agent list to sell it to the highest bidder.

As mentioned, Brian De Palma creates a different aesthetic in this initial film than those that follow it.  We're not treated to quick cuts or edits, but rather a camera that flows and moves a bit more casually than we're used to in action sequences.  We see interesting framing of faces and images that are typical of De Palma and admittedly only work sometimes (jarringly screaming "CINEMATIC" at other times), but at least provide interesting visuals.

Pleasingly, Mission: Impossible is a little smarter than your typical action picture.  It's not entirely successful, but it's a promising start to the multi-billion dollar-grossing series.  It's a shame that its sequel will end up nearly ruining the goodwill this flick brought to the screen.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Movie Review - Inside Out

Inside Out (2015)
Featuring the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan
Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen

When young Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) and her parents (Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan) have to move cross country to San Francisco, the middle schooler finds her life turned a bit upside down (or perhaps inside out is a more appropriate phrase).  Being a pre-teen, her emotions are always on edge and constantly changing and, as this latest entry into the Pixar pantheon informs us, this leads to a rather tricky job for the folks inside Riley's brain who have to control the tween's mood swings.  It certainly doesn't help that the effervescent Joy (Amy Poehler) is finding herself having to match wits with her counterparts Anger, Disgust, and Fear (Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Hader) while at the same time dealing with the fact that Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is taking a much more prominent place in Riley's life thanks to the move to the West Coast.

Inside Out is at its best when it aims for the funny bone.  There is much humor to be had inside the mind of a tween and the script is at its best when it mines for the comedy aspects.  Unfortunately -- and this is the film's one fault -- the flick falls a bit flat when it comes to the more dramatic side of things.  There were two obvious heart-tugging key moments in the film and neither felt as fleshed out as they needed to be in order to really make an impact.  It's certainly a bit disappointing and it keeps the film from garnering the effusive praise I'd like to laud upon it since nearly every single other element is close to perfection.

Perhaps most stunning about Inside Out is the collaboration between voice actors and animators to create two of the most well-thought-out characters I've seen in an animated movie in a long time in Joy and Sadness.  Amy Poehler is captivating as Joy, exuding a charm and ebullience that comes through in her voice from the moment we first hear her speak.  Coupled with the star-like quality of the way Joy looks -- she has no "fine lines" outlining her, but rather this sensation of "fuzzy light" creating a yellowish aura around her -- and you've got a tremendously memorable character.  Not only is Joy incredibly successful, but Sadness is just as marvelous.  Shaped almost like a teardrop, Phyllis Smith is vocally spot-on as the depressed, down-on-her-luck emotion.  And the repartee between these two characters is hilarious and elevates the film far beyond what I thought possible.

Pixar films never disappoint in the visuals department and that's the case here as well.  I've already discussed the lovely character design for Joy and Sadness, but rest assured that the same care and detail went into the development of the rest of the film's cast as well which while all caricatures of what we think emotions may look like or how they may act still succeeds tremendously.  Story-wise the film doesn't quite hit all the notes is aspires to (and that's due in part to a bit too lengthy middle act that never wears thin, but comes awfully close to overstaying its welcome), but overall Inside Out is a winner and one that I look forward to watching again in the near future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Friday, September 18, 2015

Movie Review - Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes,  and Marcia Gay Harden
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

So here's the deal with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Let me just say right off the bat that it unfortunately never hits the level of "so bad, it's good."

It has some of the cheesiest dialog I've heard in a movie in a long time.

It has characters whose arcs I can't feasibly comprehend despite the movie trying to spell it out for me with that aforementioned cheesy dialog, and it has a story that...well, is there a story?

With the exception of one moderately hot scene involving an ice cube, it has some of the unsexiest sex scenes I've seen filmed in a long time including its final S&M-heavy escapade set to Gregorian-like chants.

And yet, somehow, despite this multitude of problems, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't one of the worst movies of 2014.  Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as, respectively, virginal college student Anastasia and tormented billionaire Christian Grey are surprisingly watchable in the midst of what is quite a bit of dreck.  Their attempts at trying to make a connection with one another despite their seriously underwritten characters is a credit to the fresh-faced actors.

Despite my many qualms, the film looks slick.  Granted, Sam Taylor-Johnson can't make the sex scenes pop (or perhaps my lack of interest in sadomasochism is to blame), but the film looks sharp thanks in part to the rather lovely cinematography of Seamus McGarvey (who has proven his worth before in films like Anna Karenina and Atonement).  Additionally, kudos must be given to the filmmakers for compiling one of the best pop soundtracks for a movie in a long time.  Granted, I may not like some of the singles (that are still getting rampant airplay on the radio months later) outside of the context of the movie, but within the confines of the film, they're perfect matches for the visuals onscreen.  You'd be surprised what a kick-ass soundtrack can do to elevate a film and, quite frankly, I think it helped Fifty Shades of Grey immensely.

Still, please understand that Fifty Shades of Grey isn't good.  To its credit, though, it isn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Movie Review - It Follows

It Follows (2015)
Starring Maika Monroe, Jake Weary, Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, and Daniel Zovatto 
Directed by David Robert Mitchell

Lauded as one of the best horror films in years, It Follows tells the tale of teenage Jay (Maika Monroe) who, after sleeping with her boyfriend one evening, finds herself being constantly followed by a supernatural figure who wants her dead.  In order for this demon creature to leave her alone, she's been told she just has to sleep with someone else...but that will simply cause whomever she sleeps with to be cursed by the demon and Jay's not sure she can live with that guilt.  But then again, she may not have to worry about living with that guilt because she may not be living much longer as it is.

Silly plot?  Yes, but it works decently, though not nearly as good as the glowing reviews would indicate.  However, what's a bit unfortunate is that the film simply isn't all that scary.  I don't necessarily need "jump scares" in my horror movies, but there needs to be some palpable level of tension to create a bit of unease -- why watch a horror movie if that feeling doesn't exist?  It Follows never really achieved that sense of dread -- or at least wasn't as consistent with that notion as I would've liked.

Maika Monroe is engaging enough and does a solid job of showcasing the inner guilt she feels if she wants to rid herself of this looming creature by sleeping with someone else.  The film, unfortunately, ends up feeling a bit repetitive with multiple scenes of Jay placed into incredibly similar situations outrunning the zombie-like "It" that is following her.  Despite a rather exciting climax, I wanted more given the effusive laurels heaped upon it earlier this year.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie Review - The Loft

The Loft (2015)
Starring Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Isabel Lucas, and Rachael Tayler
Directed by Erik Van Looy
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There is not a single character in The Loft that stands on any moralistic ground.  And it's not even just that everyone is such a deplorable character, it's that there's not even a modicum of pleasantness in anyone.  If you look at movies like The Godfather or Goodfellas, you can at least say, "Hey, these guys are all crooks...but they love their families!"  In The Loft, the five main male characters who purchase a loft together as a sex pad for their out-of-welock dalliances have no love for anyone or anything except for their hormones which appear to be constantly telling them to screw someone other than their wives.

In an attempt to demonize these men a little bit for being such jerks, a female acquaintance of one (or more?) of the men is found murdered in the loft one morning.  This causes the group of friends pointing fingers at one another in order to try and determine which of them (if any) is responsible for the murder.  With every twist and turn, The Loft's ludicrousness grows and grows.  By the end, you're hoping that the entire quintet of male actors ends up going to jail for the crime.

Karl Urban with his stolid demeanor and James Marsden as the "nice guy" are moderately compelling leads, but Eric Stonestreet and Wentworth Miller really should just stick to tv, with Miller particularly growing more laughable as the film progresses.  And the less said about the wooden Isabel Lucas the better.  She landed on my Worst Actor's List a few years ago and I'm already keeping a spot warm for her for next year's RyMickey Awards.

Ultimately, you're supposed to be rooting for these guys to find out who killed this woman in their loft, but the only thing you're rooting for is for them all to get their comeuppance.  Their deplorable actions create an atmosphere where you always find yourself cringing rather than enjoying the experience.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's Mission: Impossible Week on the Blog


Starting Monday, join me as we delve into the Mission: Impossible franchise here on the blog starting with 1996's initial film all the way to 2015's latest addition.  Spanning nearly two decades, the five films have brought in nearly a billion dollars domestically and well over two billion when overseas grosses are factored in.  Is the Tom Cruise-starring series worthy of the money?  Find out next week.


Monday, September 14, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Best Picture

I watched quite a few movies released in 2014 -- 185 to be exact -- and I think it was overall a pretty good year for films.  Admittedly, the year was a little lacking of those really emotional pieces that moved me or gave me chills, but my top fifty films listed below are a really solid mix of drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, and horror.  Whatever your cop of tea, 2014 had solid films for each genre.  I'm actually quite pleased with my Top Twenty which is populated with some big budget studio pics and low budget indie sleepers which you may never have heard of before.  Take a gander at a few of them (particularly if they're available via a streaming service) and let me know your thoughts.  Let's create a discussion!

Best Picture of 2014
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Runners-up
B-
#50 - Guardians of the Galaxy    --    #49 - Black or White (SoN)
#48 - Dear White People (SoN)    --    #47 - Dom Hemingway
B
#46 - Honeymoon (SoN)    --    #45 - St. Vincent
#44 - Beyond the Lights (SoN)    --    #43 - Starred Up (SoA)
#42 - Last Days in Vietnam    --    #41 - As Above So Below
#40 - They Came Together (SoN)    --    #39 - Fort Bliss
#38 - Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1    --    #37 - The Sacrament
#36 - Enemy (SoA)    --    #35 - Boyhood
#34 - This Is Where I Leave You    --    #33 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
#32 - Still Alice (SoN)    --    #31- Chef (SoN)

Honorable Mentions
  • #30 - What If -- B -- An amusing romantic comedy starring Harry Potter himself
  • #29 - The One I Love (SoN) -- B -- While not perfect, it's incredibly unique and definitely worth checking out
  • #28 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- B -- The best Marvel movie to date
  • #27 - Interstellar -- B -- Has its problems particularly in the first third, but it is surprisingly captivating over its lengthy runtime
  • #26 - Under the Skin (SoA) -- B -- Weird and not for everyone, but an interesting sci-fi/horror mash-up
  • #25 - Blue Ruin (SoN) -- B -- Really solid low budget film noir
  • #24 - Only Lovers Left Alive -- B -- A different type of vampire story with two very good leads
  • #23 - The Lunchbox -- B -- A lovely tale about two people who are falling in love with one another despite never having met
  • #22 - Into the Woods -- B+ -- A nice addition to the cinematic musical genre with a stellar cast
  • #21 - The Babadook (SoN) -- B+ -- Good horror flick with two fantastic lead performances
And the Top Twenty...

#20 - The Good Lie - B+
While Reese Witherspoon gets top billing in this, The Good Lie isn't her film at all.  Instead, she takes a back seat to the incredible "based on real events" story of four Sudanese refugees who, after a harrowing childhood, find themselves immigrating to America over a decade later.  Humor and heart is present here and I was captivated by the refugees' journey.

#19 - Ida - B+
Even just looking at that image above, you can see the stunningly gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal on display in director Pawel Pawlikoski's film about a Polish nun who searches for her family before giving herself over fully to the Lord.  Ida is a film about World War II, but it's unlike any other WWII film you've probably ever seen.  (SoN)

#18 - Coherence  - B+
My suggestion for watching Coherence is to view it with another person.  That way, at the end when your mind is a complete jumble because of what you've seen, you can turn to your friend and ask them what in the heck just happened.  While I may be overstating the film's lack of its titular noun slightly, Coherence is a jigsaw puzzle of a movie that questions our perceptions of reality.  (SoA)

#17 - Grand Piano - B+
At a brisk 74 minutes long (that's excluding a four minute opening credit sequence and twelve minute (!!!) of closing credits), Grand Piano is pulpy fun.  While certainly cheesy, it utilizes its overly exaggerated moments of tension to create a surprisingly enjoyable roller coaster ride that relishes in its implausibility.  (SoN)

#16 - Noah - B+
Finally a movie that talks about religion in a way without hitting me over the head with treacly morals and blatant proselytization.  Writer-director Darren Aronofsky takes liberties with the biblical tale of the title character, but he's crafted a thoughtful big budget experience.  (SoN)

#15 - Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - B+
I can only assume that if you've gotten to this point in this post, you're completely confused as to why this film has found a place in my Top Fifteen Movies of 2014.  Although I may be ridiculed for this, Alexander is a charming kid flick that does an excellent job in creating an atmosphere that is humorously enjoyable to both kids and adults alike reminiscent of Disney pics of yore like The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday.  

#14 - The Fault in Our Stars - B+
I never expected to like The Fault in Our Stars, but thanks to two nice leading performances, this teen romance won me over.  Yes, it's overly saccharine, but it balances that sugary sweetness with some modern-day sarcasm.

#13 - A Most Violent Year - B+
A film that feels soap operatic and oddly intimate at times, A Most Violent Year successfully emulates the 1980s era in which it takes place, feeling almost like an ode to the Coppola and Friedkin films that populated the 1970s.  While not a gangster film, per se, those types of overtones loom over and create an atmosphere where both the characters and the audience are always a little on edge.

#12 - Wild Tales - B+
The last 2014 film that I watched nearly lands a spot in my Top Ten.  This foreign flick is an anthology of six stories focusing on how different people deal with stressful situations.  Comedic and dramatic, director Damián Szifron has crafted a film that may seem disjointed simply due to its "short stories" nature, but actually is intriguingly connected thanks to its concept.

#11 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - B+
The highest-ranked narrative film on this list that didn't find itself pop up in any other RyMickey Award categories this year, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues a franchise populated with stunning special effects and thought-provoking stories. 

The Top Ten Movies of 2014 can be found by clicking that little "See More" verbiage to the left.  So click it already!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Best Scene

With the exception of naming my Best Pictures of the year, Best Scene is typically my favorite category as I remember back on particular moments in films that stood out to me in the prior year.  While I certainly have some great scenes below, this year I found this category a little wanting with four films with two scenes in the Top 15 (so that's four films taking up more than half the slots in the top this year).  In a year where I actually saw quite a few good films (more than in years past if my ratings are any indication), they lacked those "WOW" moments that really made me want to rewind and watch them again.  Still, you'll find quite a few winning moments listed below with the number one slot reserved for a film you've yet to see pop up in any RyMickey Award category yet.

It should be noted that SPOILERS ABOUND ahead!

Best Scene of 2014
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Honorable Mentions
(in alphabetical order)
  • Begin Again - iPod splitter scene
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Battle on a Washington, D.C., highway
  • Dom Hemingway - Opening scene felatio
  • Fault in Our Stars - Final eulogy given by Hazel
  • Ida - Hospital scene where the truth about Wanda's son and sibling are revealed (SoN)
  • Into the Woods - "On the Steps of the Palace"
  • Wild Tales - Opening sequence on a plane
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past - Time in a Bottle really fast "slow mo" sequence
And the Top 15...

#15 - Noah - The Story of Creation
Darren Aronofsky goes a bit Requiem for a Dream-ish as he takes us on a journey through the seven days of creation narrated by our title character.  (SoN)

#14 - Into the Woods - Agony
Our two princes lament that their desired princesses may not share a similar longing for them.  Best Supporting Actor contender Chris Pine shows his comedic chops in this nice number.

#13 - Whiplash - "Good Job"
"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job.'"
 "I tried and I will never apologize for how hard I tried."
Powerful words from a character we've loved to hate...and it hit me hard.

#12 - The One I Love - Final Scene
***MAJOR SPOILER ALERT***
After a crazy weekend, Ethan wakens to find his wife Sophie making him bacon and eggs.  But Sophie never allowed Ethan to have bacon.  So is Sophie "Sophie 1" (his wife?) or "Sophie 2" (the "imposter" from the weekend?)?  We're left cleverly hanging.  (SoN)

#11 - Interstellar - Sabotage
***MAJOR SPOILER ALERT***
My jaw dropped when Mann turns on his fellow astronauts.

#10 - Into the Woods - Prologue
The charm of the fourteen minute-long opening number sets the stage with each character's story arc as well as getting the audience attuned to the fact that we're in the midst of a musical.

The Top Nine will be revealed by clicking that little "See More" link below!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Best Actor

2014 was a strong year for actors and while none of them quite reached the 2013 tour de force performance of Leonardo Dicaprio's Wolf of Wall Street, it still was an abundance of riches.  I've flip-flopped on my top two spots up to the very last minute and #3 was oh-so-close to moving up in the ranks as well.  I may regret my decision as the years pass, but either nominee would be a worthy winner.  That said, there's no Michael Keaton from Birdman here who was of many pundits' choices to win the Oscar before being beaten out by Eddie Redmayne...who does make an appearance somewhere on the list below.

Best Actor of 2014
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Also in the running...
(in alphabetical order)
Ben Affleck  - Gone Girl
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Robert Downey, Jr. - The Judge
Ansel Elgort - The Fault in Our Stars
Bill Hader - The Skeleton Twins (SoN)
Tom Hardy - Locke (SoA)
Oscar Issac -  A Most Violent Year
Bill Murray - St. Vincent

Honorable Mentions
  • #14 - Jack O'Conner - Starred Up - A gritty performance in which O'Conner creates a visceral love for violence that proves a bit scary.  (SoA)
  • #13- James Corden - Into the Woods - Corden reminds me of me were I to be in movies.  There's nothing wrong with a charming, moderately pudgy guy succeeding!
  • #12 - Chris Evans - Snowpiercer - Who knew that this action star could handle the dramatic side necessary for not only his character, but for this film to succeed?  (SoN)
  • #11 - Jake Gyllenhaal - Enemy - While I initially thought Gyllenhaal's double role in Enemy was a little greater than another 2014 role he undertook (which you'll see further down the list), in retrospect this one hasn't quite stayed with me as much.  Still, taking on two distinctly disparate roles, Gyllenhaal is captivating as a man struggling to figure out the chaos going on around him. (SoA)
And the Top Ten...

#10 - Miles Teller - Whiplash
Certainly the less showy of the two roles in the forefront of Whiplash, Teller finally gives us an acting performance that doesn't exude any of the frat boy-esque prickish machismo we're used to seeing from him and instead takes us on a journey with his character, letting us truly understand why he puts up with the insanity of his drill sergeant of a music professor.

#9 - Noah Wiseman - The Babadook
Already the winner of the Best Younger Actor of 2014, Wiseman is chillingly compelling as an out-of-control child whose behavior warps his mother's reality and then must do all that is necessary to help her regain her sanity.  (SoN)

#8 - Jude Law - Dom Hemingway
Brash, ballsy, and delightfully disarming, Jude Law makes Dom Hemingway worth watching with his portrayal of a sleazy crook whose release from jail brings him heaps of trouble.

#7 - Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
Obviously known for his comedic prowess, Steve Carell proves he can also tackle drama in this hefty, melancholic film.  Lacking the typical social skills to really communicate with others, Carell's John du Pont has skated by for decades on his family's money and when he attempts to finally make a name for himself, it's obvious to the audience he'll never succeed.  Carell, however, makes us believe in his character's warped drive and it's a scary and unpleasant thing to witness.

#6 - Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Without feeling treacly or forced, Benedict Cumberbatch tackles the unique tics and idiosyncrasies of Alan Turing creating both a heartbreaking and inspiring figure.

#5 - Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler
Weird.  That's probably the best word to describe Jake Gyllenhaal's role as the driven videographer Louis Bloom who will stop at nothing to get a news story.  Fast talking and manipulative, we never once feel at ease watching Bloom and that's a huge compliment for Gyllenhaal who's crafted a character who has creepiness seeping out of his pores.  (SoN)

#4 - Channing Tatum - Foxcatcher
With an animalistic monotone delivery of mainly monosyllabic words, Tatum's muscular loner is surprisingly captivating.  In what is by far is best work yet, Tatum shows here that he's got the dramatic chops to really take on heavy pieces.

#3 - David Oyelowo - Selma
It's an unenviable task to bring a well-known figure such as Martin Luther King, Jr., to life on the big screen, but Oyelowo succeeds at undertaking the spiritual leader's diction, mannerisms, strength, humility, and intelligence.  Moving in the film's calmer moments, yet powerfully rousing as the rather ingenious orator that King was, Oyelowo is the biggest reason this film worked as well as it did for me.

#2 - Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Playing handicapped is often an easy road to an Oscar, and while Redmayne won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, he wasn't simply handed the Academy Award because he mimicked a man with ALS.  There's a joy an vigor in Redmayne's portrayal prior to his character's diagnosis that makes it all the more heartwrenching when his life gets turned upside down.  Redmayne certainly captures the physicality -- both vocal and physical -- of an ALS patient, but he also captures the emotional pain that accompanies it, showcasing glimmers of forgotten joy in his eyes for his jubilant past.

#1 - Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Comedy is never easy, but Ralph Fiennes gives an effortless performance as Gustave, the manager of the titular hotel.  The dry humor and wit that exudes from every line reading and gesture of Fiennes showcases his enviable acting chops.  Balancing an elegance and a chauvinistic crassness, Gustave is the absolute best part of a somewhat off-balance film, but Fiennes excels and is an absolute treat.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2013    --    2012
2011    --    2010

Friday, September 11, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Best Actress

While I've complained about a lack of product for females to really sink their teeth into in 2014, I must admit that when I was formulating my list below, I found myself quite intrigued by my top eight contenders.  My top three contenders were my three solid choices throughout the year, but beyond that slots 4-8 put me into a bit of a pickle in terms of placement.  Still, you'll notice the absence of some Oscar nominees -- no Reese Witherspoon for Wild (movie didn't captivate me) or Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night (only made it through 45 minutes...sooooo boring).  However, when placed up against the nearly twenty contenders I have on the Best Actor side, it saddens me that I only felt truly passionate about four or five performances below.

Best Actress of 2014
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon)

Also in the running
(in alphabetical order)
Jennifer Aniston - Cake (SoN)
Jessica Chastain - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (SoN)
Angelina Jolie - Maleficent
Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights (SoN)
Michelle Monaghan - Fort Bliss (SoN)
Kristin Wiig - The Skeleton Twins (SoA)
Shailene Woodley - The Fault in Our Stars

Honorable Mentions

#8 - Nicole Kidman - Grace of Monaco
This much-maligned film actually contains quite a good performance from Nicole Kidman as the title character.  Thrust into an even higher profile life than she was used to, Kidman conveys quite well Grace Kelly's sense of doubt and fear as she embarked on this new journey in her life. (SoN)

#7 - Tilda Swinton - Only Lovers Let Alive
Tilda Swinton has already popped up on this year's Best Supporting Actress chart and she grabs a spot here as well for her role as a hopeful vampire.

#6 - Emily Blunt - Into the Woods
I've always been charmed by Emily Blunt and her role as the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods is no exception.  With a lovely voice and nice repartee with costar James Corden, Blunt is captivating and brings a surprising amount of depth to a role that seems rather lightweight on the surface.

And the Top Five...

#5 - Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Julianne Moore has long been primed to win an Academy Award and she succeeded in Still Alice which, while not her best movie, certainly gives her a chance to showcase her talents in the titular role of an Alzheimer's patient slowly coming to grips with the disease that is wreaking havoc on her mind.  Moore is very good here and has many a chance to shine.  She's by far the best part of the film.

#4 - Nimrat Kaur - The Lunchbox
An underseen film for sure, The Lunchbox gives us a great performance from Nimrat Kaur, an actress fairly new to the game.  With her marriage falling apart, Kaur's Ila is crumbling, finding hope only in the notes from the unknown man to whom she is sending a lunchbox every day.  There's one scene in particular as Ila waits in a bar for her unknown paramour to arrive in which Kaur perfectly emotes her character's anticipation, nervousness, and frustration with nary a word spoken that even actresses who have been around for decades wouldn't have been able to convey as perfectly as she.

#3 - Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Moderate Spoilers:  Essentially playing two roles as the both the charming wife and the bitchy ice queen, Rosamund Pike lulls the audience into a sense of compassion before perfectly shocking us with her deviant mind.  The ability to balance both of these disparate roles in one film is what ranks Ms. Pike so high and makes us oddly disarmed with ourselves as we almost root for her success.

#2 - Essie Davis - The Babadook
Slots #1 and #2 here are so close that if you asked me on a different day, I may choose a different winner, but for now, Essie Davis gets the runner-up spot for her role as the beleaguered mother in the horror film The Babadook.  As a widowed mother worn down by her troublesome young son, Davis exudes a constant sense of malaise and frustration and we in the audience palpably feel her pain and struggle. (SoN)

#1 - Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Perhaps Felicity Jones didn't have the toughest role of the year, but her performance in The Theory of Everything was one of the most moving of 2014 for this blogger.  As the film began, I worried that Jones's part was going to be one note, shackling her with a basic, typical role of a wife having to help a disabled husband.  However, as the film progresses, we see that this isn't only a flick about Stephen Hawking, but that it's also about his wife and her strength of character that she needed not only for herself to survive, but also for her wheelchair-bound husband.  Both the struggle and love is conveyed in nearly every glance and posture of Ms. Jones and it's truly a lovely performance.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2013    --    2012
2011    --    2010

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The 2014 RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actor

Traditionally, the Best Supporting Actor category always feels the weakest to me year after year.  This year felt a little strong with my top eight feeling like legitimate contenders.

Best Supporting Actor of 2014

Also in the running...
(in alphabetical order)
Zac Efron - Neighbors
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Tye Sheridan - Joe

Honorable Mentions

8. Will Arnett - The Lego Movie
An overhyped film for certain, but the vocalized vigor that Arnett brings to the character is hilarious.

7. Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
The least showiest of the three main roles in Foxcatcher, Ruffalo's character finds himself at the emotional cruxes of the upheavals of his brother Mark (Channing Tatum) and John DuPont (Steve Carell).  While he isn't afforded the same arc as his fellow characters, Ruffalo succeeds in being the audience's way into this tricky story.

6. Gene Jones - The Sacrament
As a sleazy southern religious zealot, Gene Jones emotes a docile tone that hides some crazily warped religious sensibilities.  He's scary...and that's just what's needed for the film.

And the Top Five...

5. Ed Norton - Birdman
By far the best acting aspect of Birdman, Norton sometimes makes Michael Keaton look like a bad actor -- but that may be the point...or maybe it isn't.  There's a palpable sense of excitement whenever Norton's on the screen and it was a welcome treat throughout the overrated film.

4. Chris Pine - Into the Woods
I never looked at Chris Pine as being one who excelled at comedy, but his take on the pompous, arrogant, and utterly uncharming Prince Charming was one of the best aspects of Into the Woods which already had assembled a strong ensemble.

3. Gary Poulter - Joe
In his one and only film role (he died shortly before the film was released), Gary Poulter brings a terror to the screen as the drunken, abusive father to his teenage son.  Poulter was found by the director living on the streets of Austin, Texas, and the obviously hardened lifestyle he lived makes Poulter's role feel more natural than most of what we see in films.

2. Henry G. Sanders - Selma
Admittedly, Henry G. Sanders' role in Selma is little more than a glorified cameo, but as the grandfather of a young man killed by police officers in the title city, I was riveted by his few scenes.  When he breaks down in the morgue...powerful stuff...

1. J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Simmons is a powerhouse here.  With a shaved head, tight t-shirt, and muscular physique, his jazz instructor character Terrence Fletcher is an imposing figure.  On the surface, there seems to be only brutality and anger, but as the film progresses, we begin to see that there's more underneath the surface of Fletcher.  His repartee with his newest protégée is captivating as we find ourselves unable to turn away from the nastiness, while also slowly coming to an understanding as to why he acts this way towards his students.  As I said -- a powerhouse performance that holds up just as strongly upon repeat viewings.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2013    --    2012
2011    --    2010