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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,...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Movie Review - I'll See You in My Dreams

I'll See You in My Dreams (2015)
Starring Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, Malin Akerman, and Sam Elliott
Directed by Brett Haley

At the center of I'll See You in My Dreams is a lovely performance from Blythe Danner (in her first leading theatrical role after nearly five decades in the industry) as Carol Petersen, a widow whose husband died two decades prior and is now finally contemplating the possibility of getting into a relationship with another man.  Danner is very good, easily anchoring the film with her charm, glowing exuberance, and reflective emotion.

However, as you move away from Danner at the center, I'll See You in My Dreams as a film doesn't quite match the actress's performance.  Director/co-writer Brett Haley has the makings of a nice short film here, but when stretched out to feature length, the flick flounders a bit.  We're given typical "girlfriend" moments where a cast of funny co-stars -- June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place -- are rather wasted despite working well off of each other.  A rather odd (although admittedly somewhat intriguing) friendship for Carol with a much younger pool cleaner (Martin Starr) walks a weird line of hinting at romance while at the same time creating a maternal-type relationship.  (Granted, I think that was the point, but it never quite feels anything but unsettling.)  And let's not even delve into the fact that once again we're given the "old people smoking pot for comedy" trope which is, as loyal readers know, quite possibly my least favorite movie go-to and reason enough for me to knock this one down a few pegs.

Once again, Blythe Danner is very good here and reason enough to give this one a watch.  Her performance is absolutely captivating and as she navigates the tricky road of her character's late-in-life renaissance, Danner certainly holds the audience's attention.  It's just a bit of a shame that the film itself feels as if it's in need of a little more critical re-writing in order to fully flesh out Carol's new lease on life.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Movie Review - Hot Pursuit

Hot Pursuit (2015)
Starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara
Directed by Anne Fletcher

Reaching levels very close to the abysmal bar set by last year's wreck The Other Woman, Hot Pursuit is another heinously unfunny comedy featuring two actresses who are forced to try and act their way through one of the most poorly-written scripts I've seen in a long time.  The horridness should've been evident from the get-go when Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara signed on to this one, but for some reason, the two ladies decided to tack on producer credits for themselves which makes them equally responsible for the end result.

Witherspoon is Officer Rose Cooper, a hickish Texas cop who despite having had a well-respected cop father who died in the line of duty finds herself relegated to manning the evidence lockers in the police station.  One afternoon she's called to her superior's office where she is told that she is going to be the police escort to drug cartel informant Felipe Riva and his wife Daniella (Sofia Vergara) who is testifying against his recently arrested boss.  Upon arrival at the Riva residence, Felipe and Daniella are attacked with Felipe being killed and Daniella managing to escape with Cooper.  The remainder of the film follows the two ladies as they move from place to place meeting a variety of men who come into the picture for a five minute dalliance only to have them be dismissed without doing a thing to advance the plot.  Bland, unfunny vignette followed by bland, unfunny vignette leads to very little actual plot development and makes the 87-minute runtime feel exorbitantly long.

Unlike The Other Woman which featured some disappointing performances, the ONLY compelling thing about Hot Pursuit is that I felt a genuine chemistry between Witherspoon and Vergara.  That isn't to say that their roles were well-conceived or even that their acting wasn't anything better than a stereotypical caricature, but the two actresses admittedly played well off one another.  And that's the single thing Hot Pursuit has going for it.  Beyond that, the script is filled with way too many ludicrous plot holes, the humor is nonexistent, and the direction ill-conceived at best.  It's a bit shocking how truly awful this is.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie Review - The Walk

The Walk (2015)
***viewed in 3D***
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Clémont Sibomy, James Badge Dale, César Domboy, and Ben Kingsley
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

There's a charm and innocence that accompanies The Walk that one doesn't often see in live-action PG-rated films.  Let's be honest -- what was the last live-action PG-rated flick aimed squarely at adults that was even released?  A movie of this ilk is rare these days.  That said, considering the film's length -- it clocks in at more than two hours -- there's a lack of tension present as we learn about the true story of high wire walker Philippe Petit's 1974 attempt at traversing the two World Trade Center towers in New York City.  While The Walk still works -- thanks in part to a very nice performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit -- you may be better off watching the 2008 Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire which details the same event with a slightly better result.

Now typically, this is where I'd toss in a summary paragraph about The Walk's plot...but I've essentially already done that with the one sentence description of the film above.  Petit is a Frenchman who has devoted his life to street performing and tight rope walking and upon opening a magazine in 1973 while at a dentist's office, he reads about the construction of the World Trade Center towers in NYC and sets a goal of crossing the two on a thin metal rope.  The rest of the film deals with Petit finding a team to help him and researching the necessary mechanics to make such a crazy plan work.

I must say that I was never bored during director and co-screenwriter Robert Zemeckis' film as he keeps a light and airy feel to the proceedings (including Gordon-Levitt's Petit talking directly to the audience throughout the piece), and despite a bit of repetition in the plot, the pace chugs along rather nicely.  However, it's that lack of tension that really does the film harm.  We all know that Petit manages to rig up the tight rope and we all know that he makes the crossing (in part because of the character's direct talking to the audience), yet in a better film, there'd still be a sense of nervousness and tension surrounding both the covert plan and the walk itself.  That doesn't happen here.

There's been some negative talk of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's accent in the flick, but I had no qualms with it whatsoever.  In fact, I found Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of Petit quite engaging as he undeniably showcases the high wire performer's drive and passion for conjuring up such a ludicrously dangerous scheme.  In fact, it's Gordon-Levitt who who adds the excitement and pizzazz to the film.

To be frank, for a film that was so highly praised for its 3D usage, I found nothing alluring or thrilling about the 3D -- sure, depth was added, but I think I'm over the 3D craze.  (Although, I must admit there was one scene where a projectile came towards the screen that caused me to jump -- which is the way I feel all these 3D movies should play out -- what's the point otherwise?)  Overall, The Walk is decent and its story is compelling -- it's just a shame that the film doesn't create the tense moments needed to really and truly succeed.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Movie Review - Project Almanac

Project Almanac (2015)
Starring Jonny Weston, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Sofia Black-D'Elia, and Virginia Gardner
Directed by Dean Israelite

At some point in time, the found footage genre is going to lose its allure.  Until then, we're going to be treated to seemingly endless movies focused on teens who come across something odd which either causes some horror or science fiction aspect to take place in their lives (because naturally the found footage genre is seemingly only ever used for horror or sci-fi flicks).  Project Almanac falls into the sci-fi realm and it at least shows some promise in the beginning, but when it comes to the found footage aspect of the film, it's ludicrously preposterous.

David (Jonny Weston) is a high school senior intent on going to MIT thanks to his somewhat brilliant mind for science.  When he's accepted without the necessary scholarship money, David searches through his attic to find some of the clever experiments his deceased father had worked on.  While looking, he comes across an old VHS camera with footage of his seventh birthday party...except on this footage is a clear image of David as a seventeen year-old.  How in the world did "current David" show up at the birthday party of "seven year-old David?"  After a little more digging, David discovers that his father had worked on creating a time machine and while he had some success, he never utilized the device.  Using his father's schematics, David and his buddies soon discover that time travel may not be beyond the realm of possibility.

I was actually moderately on board with Project Almanac at first.  Yes, the found footage aspect is unnecessary, but the story at first is surprisingly interesting and the young cast of relative unknowns is decent and moderately compelling.  Unfortunately, after the group's initial attempts at time travel, the writers begin to delve into the tricky space-time continuum aspects present in every single time travel movie ever made and the whole thing falls apart.  It's entirely possible that the screenwriters actually stuck with their mythology concerning the continuum and it all actually makes logical sense, but it just didn't translate to making any sense to me.  Having been along for the ride for the first hour, it's a shame that this thing disintegrates in the last forty-five minutes.  Let's not even delve into how ridiculous the found footage aspect becomes with these teens needing to constantly pick up the camera when they really should just be running away from things or strategically placing the camera in a position that no one realistically would in order to capture whatever the next image would be.  It really got cinematically horrible in this aspect in the final act -- quite frankly, it may be one of the worst attempts at trying to finagle a found footage aesthetic into a film I've seen yet.  The fact of the matter is that this film didn't need to utilize the found footage aspect and yet because it did it hurt the film even more.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Movie Review - The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years (2015)
Starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan
Directed by Richard LaGravenese

In the liner notes of the cd of the movie's soundtrack, lyricist and composer Jason Robert Brown says that he has read often that The Last Five Years is "the musical for people who don't like musicals."  While I would certainly consider myself a fan of the genre, I can understand the meaning behind that sentiment.  Although it's told nearly entirely through song (there is likely less than three minutes of spoken dialog in the ninety minute film), The Last Five Years is a hefty drama moreso than anything else that just happens to tell its story through music.  Much like the fantastic 2007 musical Once, The Last Five Years is a story about the highs and lows of love.  Also much like OnceThe Last Five Years is one of the best musicals yet to come out of the recent influx of the genre ever since the one-two punch of Moulin Rouge-Chicago back in 2001-02.

With literate, smart lyrics and intimate orchestrations oftentimes utilizing only a piano and a violin or two, The Last Five Years tells the story of Cathy and Jamie (Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan) and the inevitable dissolving of their marriage.  Don't worry - that's not a spoiler.  The Last Five Years tells its story in a very unique way.  Cathy's side of the story is told from the end to the beginning, meaning as the film opens, we see Cathy devastated after Jamie has walked out the door.  Jamie's side of the story begins at the start of their blossoming relationship.  The film goes back and forth between a scene involving Cathy (moving backwards in time) and a scene involving Jamie (moving forwards in time).  The two timelines eventually meet in the middle...and then continue moving along so as the film ends we see Jamie's despair and Cathy's hope concerning their pairing.

It may seem confusing in concept, but if you have knowledge of the conceit before the film begins it actually works pretty well and provides a rather ingenious way of looking at things.  Granted, the back-and-forth timeline does take some getting used to and there are moments where I had to question at what time we were during "the last five years," but that confusion does dissipate quickly and the uniqueness of the whole thing shines through.  [This does beg the question that if it's necessary to know of the back-and-forth nature before the film begins, did director and adaptor Richard LaGravenese do a good enough job?  I'll try and answer this one in a bit.]

With the exception of the timelines crossing in the middle of the film, all of the songs are solos with Cathy or Jamie expressing their thoughts to one another through song...and it's rather genius.  While it's true not everything lands perfectly -- there's a little bit of a lull in the fifth and sixth songs -- the seeming simplicity of the tunes (which are really anything but simple) make the constant singing instantly believable and shockingly introspective.  Jason Robert Brown's libretto and accompanying music span a wide range of genres from jazz to ballads to uptempo, but even the "showstopper" numbers are done modestly -- as mentioned, we're not talking about full orchestral pieces here, but rather smaller orchestrations that may mimic rousing toe-tappers, but don't completely take us to that typical "musical" place.  And that's a good thing.

The film essentially is a two-person piece and for a film like this to succeed, the actors playing Cathy and Jamie need to really excel at their game and Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan do not disappoint.  From Kendrick's opening number as tears roll down her face as she grippingly tells us about Jamie having left her to her gleefully happy final number following the initial consummation of their relationship, Kendrick takes us on a believable backwards journey as an aspiring actress who finds herself living in the shadow of her famous author husband.  Kendrick has become the go-to gal for musicals, but this is the film that really gives her a chance to shine and showcase her ability to truly emote through song.

Her counterpart Jordan is also a revelation here.  A relative unknown on the cinematic landscape, he perfectly conveys Jamie's infatuation with the engaging Cathy, yet understandably gets frustrated when Cathy distances herself from him when her acting skills can't match her husband's success as a writer.  While Kendrick gets to start the film with a real emotional bang, Jordan is the one who gets to end it with a revelatory final number that I found absolutely riveting, showcasing the emotional depths to which his character has fallen.

Director Richard LaGravanese has a difficult task in making the film comprehensible and I think he does all that he can to help his audience grasp where we are in the story's timeline.  Clever placement of calendar dates or the script's usage of certain words key us in -- but you have to be paying attention.  Having read up on the Off-Broadway production of this piece, on stage the two actors never share a scene except for at the very beginning, the middle, and the very end.  They're essentially singing to an empty stage only acting as if the other character were there.  Obviously, that wouldn't work in a film, but LaGravanese still is tasked with the rather tricky concept of only one of the characters doing any singing in any particular scene while the other stands and simply has reaction shots.  Somehow, this works with LaGravanese utilizing a variety of camera techniques -- including some rather long takes which are simplistic but stellar -- in order to keep things interesting.

The Last Five Years has a few flaws, but I have found myself over the last several days being willing to overlook them.  Much like Once, this musical film has stuck with me in ways I never expected.  The story of Cathy and Jamie and their relationship is beautifully told.  I may not have necessarily been humming Jason Robert Brown's tunes at the film's conclusion, but they touched me in rather surprising ways -- and managed to motivate me to purchase the film's soundtrack which is something I rarely do.  If you go into this with the knowledge of the time-jumping conceit, The Last Five Years is a movie that stands a chance of really affecting you and I'm sure will land on my Best Film list in next year's RyMickey Awards.  Even if you're not a musical aficionado, as Jason Robert Brown says, this is "the musical for people who don't like musicals."

Edit 12/28/15:  So, a second viewing has unfortunately sullied my view of the film a tiny bit.  The biggest issue with the film is that the flick the whole "middle" of the film is just disappointing in terms of its songs.  The opening moments of sheer happiness and utter sadness and the closing moments also of sheer happiness and utter sadness are fantastic and contain some of the best scenes of films in 2015.  However, it's those middle moments that prove to be confoundingly repetitive and admittedly lacking in excitement.  Also, despite the nice acting job on display by Kendrick, there is a slight grating aspect to her voice which I absolutely noticed the first time around, but tried to gloss over.  

I note in my final paragraph above that "The Last Five Years has a few flaws, but I have found myself...willing to overlook them."  On a second viewing, it's much more difficult to overlook the flick's issues.  I still stand by the fact that there are portions of this film that are astoundingly heartbreaking and beautifully shot, directed, and acted.  It's just that the middle thirty minutes are a bit of a rougher go.

Edit 9/15/16:  So, a third viewing of the flick recognizes the problems I noticed in the second viewing, but I appreciated the storytelling aspects of these slower moments much more.  I appreciated different songs than I had the first and second times around.  The more "grating" aspect of Kendrick's voice on some of the higher belts wasn't as prominent (although I will admit it is there) and she does such a good job at emoting throughout the film that I walked away thoroughly impressed.  I'm still keeping my grade a 'B', however overall, this 'B' is better than several of the 'B+'s" I doled out in 2015.  I'd much rather watch this flawed movie than several of my B+'s.

The RyMickey Rating:  A- (original 10/15/15)
The RyMickey Rating:  B (updated 12/29/15)
The RyMickey Rating:  B (updated 9/15/16)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Movie Review - Black Mass

Black Mass (2015)
Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Julianne Nicholson, and Corey Stall
Directed by Scott Cooper

With an impressive cast, Black Mass is a solid mob pic that's impressively shot, but lacks a real riveting storyline.  That isn't to say that Black Mass is particularly boring, but it didn't quite lure me in as much as I wanted despite very good above- and below-the-line aspects.

Johnny Depp tackles the lead role in this true story as James "Whitey" Bulger, brother to state senator Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) and also one of South Boston's nastiest and violent criminals from the 1970s through the 1990s.  Not only a crime boss, Whitey ends up being "recruited" by FBI agent (and childhood friend) John Connelly (Joel Edgerton) to be an informant, spilling beans on other crime gangs throughout Boston.  As the film details a variety of Whitey's crimes, we also witness his ability to twist things in his favor, most evident by the coercing of Agent Connelly into allowing crimes to be committed with the agent's knowledge.  This manipulation (to which Connelly knowingly acquiesces) makes up some of the best aspects of the film.

Much has been made of Johnny Depp's performance which finally brings the actor back to a serious role after many years of comedy, action, or Tim Burton-esque weirdness.  The praise is warranted with Depp pretty darn scary as the headstrong, violent, and downright nasty Bulger.  He's matched by a solid supporting cast none of which give a bad performance, but none of which can really hold a candle to the admittedly electric charisma Depp has onscreen even behind his character's somewhat harrowing make-up job.

While good, Black Mass never quite reaches levels of greatness.  There's a been there-done that quality that make the film feel not quite as unique as I'd have liked.  Director Scott Cooper does a solid job here, but the film feels as if it meanders a bit in the middle and its conclusion involving the uncovering of some of Agent Connelly's actions doesn't quite land as satisfyingly as expected.  Overall, it's a bit rote and by-the-book, and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just doesn't get me overly excited about the piece as a whole.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Movie Review - Unfriended

Unfriended (2015)
Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki, and Courtney Halverson
Directed by Leo Gabriadze

I'm not sure there's ever been an English language horror movie where so much reading has been required.  Unfriended gives us the admittedly unique atmosphere of watching the film unfold all from the desktop of teenage Blaire's computer.  All we see are the websites she's clicking on, the instant messages she's sending, the Facebook posts she's responding to, and the Skype conversations she's having.  It's a bit clever and, thanks to a short running time, doesn't really get old.  Unfriended wins on concept, but it loses a bit on story.

Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and her five friends happen to be chatting and Skype-ing one evening around 9:15pm when a mysterious unknown person joins their conversation pretending to be Laura Barns, a fellow high school student who committed suicide a year ago after a nasty, embarrassing YouTube video was posted of her at a party.  Attempts to try and get rid of this intruder fail and, as the group of friends continue to harass the stranger, the kids begin dying one by one.

There are several plot holes in this found footage film and there's my even bigger unanswered and never-even-broached question of "Seeing how this film takes place in real time and it starts at 9:15pm and ends around 10:30pm, why weren't any of the parents of these six kids Skype-ing at home hearing their teenage offspring screaming?"  Seriously, as these kids roam around their houses with their computers in their hands, where in the hell were the parents?  Still, Unfriended does manage to create a few moments of dread -- unfortunately, a consistently frightful atmosphere never really surfaces.  With a cast of relative unknowns shooting in essentially a one-take environment, Unfriended is unique in concept, but a bit too typical in its payoff.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Movie Review - The Boy Next Door

The Boy Next Door (2015)
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson, John Corbett, and Kristin Chenoweth 
Directed by Rob Cohen

First off, before I even begin this review (which I'm sure you're all anxiously awaiting), it came as a surprise to me that after seven years of writing this blog, I've yet to review a film starring Jennifer Lopez.  She seems like such a ubiquitous personality that for her movie resume to be so thin in the  last half decade seems a shock.  Then again, after watching The Boy Next Door, maybe it shouldn't seem so astonishing.

Don't get me wrong.  It's not that Lopez is bad in this one.  In fact, she's probably the one positive the film has going for it.  Lopez is Claire Peterson, a high school English teacher and mom to teenager Kevin (Ian Nelson).  Much to the chagrin of her best friend Vicky (Kristin Chenoweth), Claire is constantly fighting the urge to get back together with her estranged husband Garrett (John Corbett) who, despite cheating on her a few years back, swears he's become a better man.  When much younger eighteen year-old Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door, Claire is immediately attracted to not only his physique, but the way he also interacts with her shy son.  One evening, Claire gives in (with admittedly a little forceful push from Noah) and the two consummate their relationship, but little does Claire know that Noah (who also happens to be a student at her school) has an obsessive and dangerous personality that doesn't take well to Claire's desire to have their fling be a one-time-only event.

Quite frankly, The Boy Next Door is a low budget tv movie that because of a "star" and male buttocks made its way to the big screen instead of the small screen.  There's nothing "good" about it.  Noah as a character is so poorly written as he turns from sweet and angelic to terrifying and demonic without any warning whatsoever except for the fact that the previews of the film told us he would.  The screenplay reeks of R.L. Stine Fear Street-level quality which, as a thirteen year-old I liked and aspired to be able to write, but as an adult, I recognize the inconsistencies in story and character development.  And the less said about the film's ridiculous denouement the better -- with his striped red and gray shirt and oddly lowered gravely voice amidst a fiery landscape, I thought Noah had turned into a reincarnation of Freddy Krueger.  I was actually willing to give this one a slight pass (into D+ territory) until the final scenes -- and then it just fell apart even more than it already had.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Friday, October 09, 2015

Movie Review - Ex Machina

Ex Machina (2015)
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac
Directed by Alex Garland

It's always special when a movie really makes you ponder things while watching and Ex Machina does just that as I found myself questioning whether technology is advancing too rapidly for humans to really comprehend its effects on our culture.  Here, young computer whiz Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is chosen by his reclusive boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac) to come to his remote home to meet with him.  Unsure of the reason for the visit, Caleb soon discovers that Nathan would like him to test the effectiveness of a female A.I. he has created to see if it would be possible for her to pass as a human.  Through a series of tests over the course of a week, Caleb gets to know Ava (Alicia Vikander) who, despite a lack of skin over most of her body, seems to be reacting to his questions in incredibly humanistic ways.

The issue then raised -- and which is certainly the basis for much conflict within the film -- is whether or not Ava is too human in that she has the ability to manipulate real humans into believing everything she says.  Caleb finds himself confused by Ava's responses at times, and although Nathan feels fairly confident that he knows Ava's true being since he programmed her, Caleb begins to question his boss's motives and sanity as the days progress.

There's an overarching sense of uncomfortableness that pervades the atmosphere of Ex Machina, a film that isn't so much a thriller as it is a thinking man's horror film.  As I write this review right now, there is a legitimate news item circulating the web about the fear of man-created robots utilizing their artificial intelligence to wreak havoc on their creators.  Of course, the Terminator franchise treaded this water long ago, but Ex Machina ponders these same questions with a more science-minded thought process that I found absolutely intriguing.

The film is anchored by three fantastic performances by Gleeson, Isaac, and Vikander who essentially have the only three speaking roles in the piece.  Each character has its own distinct personality that the actors vividly capture with all three really grabbing hold of the hefty parts they've been written.  I found each member of the trio compelling in their own ways and as the film progresses I found their character arcs and changing mindsets to be believably portrayed.

In his debut film as a director, Alex Garland is exceedingly successful, crafting a film that while slow paced never feels plodding or as if it's overstaying its welcome.  Having also scripted the film, Garland doesn't shy away from the "talky" moments of exposition which admittedly on first glance seem a tiny bit tedious as the story unfolds.  However, I imagine on a repeat viewing (which I will likely give before next year's RyMickey Awards), the detailed dialog will come together with a little more purpose.  Garland also excels at making the film feels expensive despite a relatively low budget in its luxurious production design and nice special effects.

Overall, Ex Machina is a winner - a science fiction film that makes us question the lengths to which machine is helping man.  Are we overstepping our bounds and will technology do us more harm than good?

The RyMickey Rating:  B+
(Although I must admit that I'm awfully close to an A- on this one...it just felt a little too "talky" on the first watch.  I'm sure on repeat viewings this feeling dissipates, but I will have to wait until then to up the grade.)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Movie Review - Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold (2015)
Starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, and Tatiana Maslany
Directed by Simon Curtis

While Woman in Gold doesn't reinvent any cinematic wheel of any kind, I came away from the film surprised by how much the true story of Maria Altmann kept my interest.  During the 1930s, Altmann  (played during this time period by Tatiana Maslany) and her wealthy Austrian Jewish family lived in Vienna.  However, when the Nazis invaded, the Altmann family's vast collection of art including five pieces by the revered artist Gustav Klimt was seized.  Maria and her sister escaped Austria and several decades later following her sister's death, Maria (now played by Helen Mirren) uncovers several of her sister's letters detailing attempts to get back these Klimt paintings which now reside in an Austrian museum with one piece in particular -- "Woman in Gold" -- being revered much in the same way as Paris's "Mona Lisa."  Maria hires Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a young lawyer and family friend, to aid her in determining whether she has any pull in getting the paintings back to her -- the rightful owner.  Needless to say, the Austrian government is staunchly against this and the struggle to make this happen is a difficult one.

While the film follows typical "biopic" tropes, thanks to a nice performance from Helen Mirren, Women in Gold is oddly compelling.  Granted, the film has a lightness to it -- thanks to witty repartee between the older Maria and the younger Randy -- but that nicely counters the more serious aspects of the plot which admittedly seem a little bit glossed over at times with that Hollywood Magic sheen. Still, despite the lack of some emotional heft (especially considering the Holocaust storyline), there's still heart which some could possibly view as corny, but I found charming.

Helen Mirren helps to elevate the material as is typical of the great actress and, honestly, she probably makes the film more enjoyable than it really should be.  However, there's nothing particularly wrong with that.  The film itself at least tells a new story from a much-filmed cinematic time period and it does so with solid technique, making Woman in Gold worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Theater Review - The Patsy

The Patsy
Adapted by Greg Leaming from "Le Dindon" by Georges Feydeau
Directed by Steve Tague
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, October 4, 2pm
Photo by The Rep

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players kicks off its 2015-16 season with the amusing farce The Patsy, an absurd comedy that layers on nonsensical romantic situations coupled with physical humor and some over-the-top performances.  Slamming doors, mistaken identities, and slapstick fighting also make more than one appearance, but as long as you give in to the nature of the very definition of a farce, you'll enjoy yourself for sure.

Although the play throws much more at the audience than this, the general gist of the plot is that wives Lucienne Vatelin (guest artist Victoria Adams-Zischke) and Clotilde Pontagnac (REP member Deena Burke) pledge that should their respective husbands Maurice and Eugene (the REP's Lee Ernst and Stephen Pelinski) cheat on them, they'll vow to seek revenge by sleeping with a suitor of their choosing who just so happens to be the same person, Ernest Redillon (REP's Michael Gotch).  Yes, it sounds ridiculous and along the way even more plot twists and characters are thrown in including (but certainly not limited to) a crazed German lover, her macho boxer husband, a prostitute, and many more frivolities.

While nearly all of these eccentric side characters are silly enough to warrant their existence, the problem with the play overall is its too-long length.  Clocking in at nearly two hours and forty-five minutes, The Patsy overstays its welcome for something as light and silly as it is.  The first act and its plot set-up is certainly necessary, but it drags a bit.  The second and third acts undoubtedly kick up the humor quotient (and the pace absolutely quickens as the jokes come at a much faster pace), but they can't help but feel slight and inconsequential.  While triviality is oftentimes a characteristic of a farce, the three act structure of this piece unfortunately stretches things out by about thirty minutes too long.

Granted, that isn't to say that The Patsy isn't successful.  It is.  There are some great performances to be seen here particularly those of the more secondary characters including the aforementioned Michael Gotch as a weirdly timid yet brazen ladies' man who received laughs upon his very first entrance, REP member Kathleen Pirkl Tague as a high-voiced hooker, and guest actor Torrey Hansen and REP member Elizabeth Heflin as an American couple whose love is tested in a French hotel room.  It's also nice to see one of the lead roles go to a guest artist as it's always nice to see some fresh faces mixed in amongst the REP members.  (Which was why it was always fantastic when the university actually had a Masters program in theater and students were taking part in the productions...it's just shockingly disappointing that artistic director Sandy Robbins and the University of Delaware have let that fall by the wayside just as the REP was coming into its own a few years ago...but that's another rant for another day...)

The set design and costumes, while not as elaborately sumptuous as past plays, both work as does the play itself for the most part.  While there are some reasons to be critical of this adaptation, it generally works most of the time.  A few edits here and there and I'd have been a happier theatergoer, but a fun time is still to be had at The Patsy.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Movie Review - Everest

Everest (2015)
***viewed in 3D***
Starring Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Elizabeth Debicki, Naoko Mori, Emily Watson, and Keira Knightley
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur

To me, there's an insanity that comes with wanting to climb a nearly unclimbable mountain like Mt. Everest.  Shelling out $64,000 to join the Adventure Consultants team headed by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) seems like a crazy notion to me, but mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), doctor and father Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), writer Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), and forty-eight year-old avid climber Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) are just a few of the people who decided to do such a thing in March 1996.  Everest tells their tragic true story.

While there are certainly moments of sentimentality -- most stemming from the aforementioned climbers' phone calls home to their loved ones (Keira Knightley, Robin Wright) or base camp manager Helen (Emily Watson) -- Everest doesn't harp on them.  In a film that so easily could've created emotional connections between the climbers, Everest is really about Man vs. Nature.  When someone falls off a cliff edge, it's certainly a painful moment and it's greeted with sadness and grief by other climbers, but it's also the nature of the beast.  Don't mistake my writing and think that the film is callous to those who truly lost their lives -- it's not in the slightest.  It's simply that the film is like a docudrama, detailing the incidents with a bluntness we're not necessarily used to seeing in films -- and it works.

The film admittedly takes its time to get going, but director Baltasar Kormákur succeeds in making the build-up to the climb nearly as compelling as the climb itself.  Thanks to the adept screenplay, we learn little tidbits of info about each of our climbers without ever being burdened with big backstories (with the exception of perhaps Rob Hall who leads the expedition and is the main character in the ensemble).  Once we get onto the mountain itself, Kormákur creates an intense atmosphere where that aforementioned bluntness keeps us on a constant edge because we're never really given a warning or a build-up to when bad things are going to happen.

With special effects that are near flawless -- I genuinely felt like I was on Everest making the climb with the group -- Everest is certainly a success.  However, the lack of emotion -- the same thing I praised the film for earlier -- does end up being a slight downfall in the end.  It's the docudrama aspect of the whole affair that doesn't fully allow us in the audience to "feel" for the characters.  Only in the end when the requisite character codas flash up on the screen with "real life" photos of those who lost their lives on the mountain did I actually "feel" something.  The coda is there obviously to remind us that what we witnessed was true and there's no doubt in my mind that ending the film on this note is necessary to pay the proper respect to those who passed away.  However, the end also oddly makes us wish that the film itself inherently created the emotions that are aroused within us when we see the real-life photos.  It doesn't do that and because of that it's a bit too jarring of a conclusion.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, October 05, 2015

Movie Review - The Overnight

The Overnight (2015)
Starring Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, and Judith Godrèche
Directed by Patrick Brice

In The Overnight, we meet Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) who have just moved to Los Angeles from Seattle.  While taking their son to a local park, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) who is also there with his son who tells the recent transplants to come to his house for dinner.  Knowing very few people, Alex and Emily agree and upon their arrival meet Kurt's French wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche).  Eclectic and somehow oddly charming, as the wine is poured and the pot is smoked, Alex and Emily find themselves being won over by the free-wheeling LA couple.  As the night continues, things become increasingly more humorously wild and zanily crazy eventually reaching several points of no return that take Alex and Emily to places they've never been before.

Breezy, light, and certainly funny, The Overnight is simple, yet effective.  This adult sex comedy (of sorts) is all about pushing boundaries and comfort levels as we in the audience find ourselves relating to the LA newcomers and their shock as Kurt and Charlotte keep topping themselves with raucousness.  Featuring a strong quartet of actors, writer-director Patrick Brice has given each actor a few unique nuances to work with that give a surprising amount of character depth considering that the film essentially takes place over the course of one day.  All four actors more than hold their own and are certainly adept at creating comedic moments.

The Overnight isn't going to blow you away by any means, but it's definitely funny if you're willing to take the journey with the characters.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Movie Review - Pressure

Pressure (2015)
Starring Danny Huston, Matthew Goode, Joe Cole, and Alan McKenna
Directed by Ron Scalpello
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In the Somali Basin, the DSC Lorimer sailing vessel has discovered a leak in an oil pipeline nearly 650 feet below sea level.  Of course (seeing as how this is a suspense movie), there's a storm on the way, but four men are told to head down in a diving bell to fix the issue.  Needless to say, things go awry and the bell becomes separated from the ship.  Running low on oxygen and with their communication seemingly gone, the quartet must muster all their energy to make it back to the surface alive in Pressure.

Essentially taking place all within the confines of a small diving bell, Pressure is a low-budget thriller that had me completely interested for about fifty minutes before overstaying its welcome for another forty.  Ultimately, the repetition of the whole thing -- "Will we have enough oxygen," "Can anyone on the surface hear us," etc. -- wears thin after a while.  The cast does a decent job of making the most of what they're given, but attempts at fashioning backstories seem silly rather than impactful.  While director Ron Scalpello is adept at creating some tense moments, you can't help but think if there's a reason Pressure received such an extremely limited release in theaters this past summer.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Movie Review - Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me (2015)
Starring Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, James Marsden, Tim Robbins, and Alan Tudyk
Directed by Shira Piven
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

While I must admit that I laughed quite a bit during Welcome to Me, after nearly every chuckle I found myself cringing that I was finding what I was watching humorous.  Sometimes it's a good thing when a movie makes you question your innate emotional reaction, but by the end of Welcome to Me, I ended up just feeling unpleasantly uncomfortable because the film disappoints in creating a well-rounded lead character.

The problem lies in the fact that star Kristen Wiig is playing Alice Klieg -- a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who wins an $86 million dollar lottery and immediately abandons her meds -- as if she were a caricature from a Saturday Night Live skit rather than a well-rounded person.  That isn't to say that Wiig isn't funny.  As Alice, who obsesses over Oprah Winfrey's feel-good talk show and decides to spend millions to create her own lifestyle low-budget cable access show, Wiig has many moments that elicit laughs.  However the script and Wiig's portrayal full of jittery physical motions and dazed eyes are one-note, attempting to define a character only by a psychiatric disorder and the idiosyncrasies that accompany the disease as opposed to other aspects of life.

Oddly enough, however, despite this obviously major problem, I actually didn't dislike Welcome to Me altogether because the premise was certainly unique enough to warrant its existence.  With a supporting cast of many well-known names -- who really aren't given much to do -- the actors countering Wiig do a nice job of trying to keep the film based in reality.  As mentioned, I laughed during this one, but by the time the film ended, I found myself thinking back on it disappointed as opposed to pleased due to the fact that there was potential there for something only to be hindered by a script that fails to help its lead character.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, October 02, 2015

Movie Review - Bluebird

Bluebird (2015)
Starring Amy Morton, John Slattery, Louisa Krause, Emily Meade, Margo Martindale, and Adam Driver
Directed by Lance Edmands
***This film is streaming on Netflix***

The first feature of director-screenwriter Lance Edmands, Bluebird shows hints of promise, but ultimately doesn't quite deliver despite an admirable effort on all fronts.  Heavy, dreary, yet captivating in its visual depictions of a black New England landscape, Bluebird captures the life of Lesley (Amy Morton), a Maine school bus driver, who makes a horrible inadvertent mistake one day that causes a young boy's life to hang in the balance.  Gripped by grief, Lesley's devastation affects both her husband (John Slattery) and daughter (Emily Meade) who are also forced to deal with the ramifications of Lesley's error.

The focus on Lesley's family and her emotional state carry Bluebird and are certainly the film's best aspects.  Unfortunately, the film also spends a great deal of time with Marla (Louisa Krause), the young early twentysomething mother of the boy in peril.  An unfit parent, the young child has been raised in part by Marla's aunt Crystal (Margo Martindale) who blames her niece more for her son's current state than bus driver Lesley.

As we watch Marla's struggle trying to suddenly become an adequate mother to her child, we find ourselves not caring nearly as much as when we spend time with Lesley.  Part of the problem is that Amy Morton is head over heels a better actress than Louisa Krause who, while not unwatchable, isn't enthralling in the slightest.  We palpably feel Lesley's grief thanks to Morton's solemn portrayal...the same cannot be said for Krause.

It also doesn't help that the screenplay decides to leave things hanging as the film comes to a close.  Rather than create a sense of intrigue as to how the lives of the film's characters will unfold, the abrupt conclusion left me ticked off which is never a good way to end things.  That said, Amy Morton's desolate and grim performance is almost reason enough to give this one a shot.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Movie Review - Paddington

Paddington (2015)
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Samuel Joslin, Madeleine Harris, Jim Broadbent, and Nicole Kidman
Featuring the vocal talent of Ben Whishaw, Michael Gambon, and Imelda Staunton
Directed by Paul King

Those who read this blog know that I am not afraid to give adequate credit to a kid pic that does its job well.  (The Top Twenty placement of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in the 2014 RyMickey Awards is evidence of that.)  Because of this, it's a bit disappointing to say that I wasn't completely captivated by Paddington, an admittedly charming film that feels a bit too choppy and episodic to make a big impression.

Through a rather odd and off-putting prologue, we learn that British explorer Montgomery Clyde discovered a new species of bear upon his travels to Peru.  While he had to leave South America, Clyde befriended the bears who learned English and he told the ursine creatures to visit him someday when they were able.  Cut to years (decades?) later and a terrible earthquake ruins the bear's Peruvian home and young Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is sent to Britain by his Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton) in order to live a better life.

Upon his arrival in London, Paddington finds himself adrift in the Paddington subway station only to be discovered by the Brown family headed by dad Henry and mom Mary (Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins).  With it difficult to acclimate to suburban life, Paddington finds himself at odds with Henry who wants the bear out of his house.  With this apparently not enough of a story, Paddington also must avoid being captured by a rather sadistic taxidermist named Millicent (Nicole Kidman) who wants to stuff the rare bear for her collection.

If the summary seems rather at odds with itself and a conglomerative mess, that's because it kind of is.  There are too many "episodes" without a really singular captivating storyline to carry the film.  That isn't to say that the film disappoints entirely.  Director and co-screenwriter Paul King has made an innately "British" picture with much of the film's charm and laughs coming from Paddington's experiences with this new culture with which he's attempting to assimilate.  Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are both delightful in their roles and Nicole Kidman succeeds with her rather underwritten and seemingly unnecessary character.  Additionally, the special effects that create Paddington himself are quite good and meld rather seamlessly with the bear's human counterparts.  However, overall, Paddington just doesn't quite cut it.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+