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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,...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie Review - Ride

Ride (2015)
Starring Helen Hunt, Brenton Thwaites, and Luke Wilson 
Directed by Helen Hunt 
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Every review of a Helen Hunt movie I write begins with some form of the statement that I had a huge crush on the actress when I was growing up.  While jokes have been slung her way about her appearance in recent years, in those Mad About You days, I fell for her looks and (character's) wit.  Hunt actually looks pretty good and proves that she's still a darn good actress in Ride, her second attempt at theatrical directing, but the film itself (which she also wrote) is a ride not worth taking.

Here, Hunt is Jackie, a book editor based in New York City who is prepping her teenage son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) to head off to college in the Big Apple.  Much to her surprise, when she attempts to deliver something to her son's dorm, she is told that Angelo has dropped out of school and she soon discovers that he has moved to California to live with his father whom Jackie divorced several years ago.  In an attempt to knock some sense into him, Jackie hops on a plane and covertly follows Angelo around California discovering that he has a knack for surfing.  As she tries to reconnect with Angelo, Jackie tries her hand at surfing as well, meeting an instructor (Luke Wilson) with whom she starts a little romance.

The acting by all parties and the direction are perfectly fine (though nothing more than that), but it's the script that fails Ride.  The story just meanders for ninety minutes floundering in repetition and some odd mother-son dialog that creates a relationship that never feels believable.  Interactions between Jackie and Angelo are always awkward and while that oddness sometimes works in comedic moments, as the film shifts to the dramatic towards the end, I frankly can't even comprehend the emotional notes Hunt is attempting to hit.  A seemingly pivotal confrontational scene between Jackie and Angelo is wasted because of both a lack of investment from us in the characters and a disappointing screenplay that does the characters no good.  And lest I forget that Hunt stoops to that least favorite movie go-to of mine -- old people smoking pot for comedic effect.  Ugh...

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, November 27, 2015

Movie Review - Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015)
Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Will Rogers, and Jesse Plemons 
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Bridge of Spies is two movies for the price of one -- unfortunately, only one of those movies is really compelling.  Despite decent direction from Steven Spielberg (that isn't without its faults) and a nice performance from Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies works for its first half, but falters a bit during its second half with a story that becomes a bit repetitive and proves to be not quite as intriguing as it thinks it is.

Based on a true story, Hanks is James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer, who is asked by the US government to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a man accused of being a KGB spy.  Despite the disapproval of Donovan's own firm, judges, and the public, Donovan believes that he owes Abel the best defense possible.  In the film's successful first half, we see the intricacies of law as Donovan tries to maneuver his way around all the barriers to a fair trial set up against him.  The film falters a bit as it proceeds, however, when Donovan is then chosen by the government to head to a newly formed and very volatile East Germany in order to negotiate with both the Germans and the Russians to formulate a trade to bring back both a young US Air Force pilot (Austin Stowell) being held as a spy whose plane crashed in the USSR and a young US graduate student (Will Rogers) captured by the Germans who fear the kid was attempting to harm their communist agenda.  While these aspects seem compelling in print, the film doesn't do the best job at integrating the two "Prisoner of War" stories into the overall plot and, quite frankly, the negotiations simply aren't as interesting to watch as Donovan's struggles with the US judicial system.  While I recognize the appeal of including both halves of the story -- and they do connect with one another in an absolutely logical way -- the halves just aren't equal to one another in terms of quality of plot and the fact that the better half is first ends the movie on more of a down note.

Granted, that isn't to say that the second half is unwatchable, but it does come as a disappointment because the first half is surprisingly compelling thanks in large part to Tom Hanks' performance as Donovan.  Hanks has had a bit of a career renaissance as of late and it's good to see him back in top form.  While I don't think the role of Donovan was a particularly tricky one to play, it proves that Hanks is still the go-to guy to play the "everyman" -- we're fully taken in by his struggles and are right there with him as he fights to do his job to the best of his ability and protect his family from the slings and arrows being thrown his way by the American public who aren't fans of his defending a purported spy.  Mark Rylance is also good as spy Rudolf Abel, but the Oscar buzz surrounding him is a bit confounding to me.  While he plays Abel as a completely different spy than we're used to seeing -- which was unique and admittedly refreshing -- I never felt as though his character had much of an arc to go through and because of this there wasn't a lot that he could really dig his teeth into story wise.

Bridge of Spies is certainly solid, but it's really just a mid-level Spielberg flick.  The director nicely balances a surprisingly light-hearted tone throughout the piece (likely thanks in part to a script co-written by the Coen Brothers), but he too often tosses in some obvious symbolic references that are eye-rolling as opposed to powerful -- as an example, as some Germans attempt to cross the Berlin Wall, they are shot; thirty minutes later in the film, Spielberg shows American kids freely climbing over a fence between houses in New York.  Cue the groan-inducing eye roll or the obviousness of that visual allegory.  Still, overall the film works, is worth seeing, and depicts an interesting true story from our past.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Movie Review - Suffragette

Suffragette (2015)
Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, and Meryl Streep
Directed by Sarah Gavron

There are certain movies that seem made purely to garner awards attention.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the "importance" of a piece can too highly overshadow a film's cinematic values and that's unfortunately the case with Suffragette, a film that never succeeded in bringing me into its story.  While it certainly tells an important tale as it deals with the British suffrage movement in the late 1910s, Suffragette suffers from relying too heavily on contrived predicaments in order to emphasize the struggles facing women a century ago.  While the heavy-handed plot lines our characters face may very well be based in reality and truth, when placed into a film setting, they can't help but feel piled on in order to achieve a desired emotional impact.

Carey Mulligan is, as always, doing excellent work as Maud Watts, a married laundry worker and mom of one who stumbles onto the suffragette movement one afternoon when she spots co-worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) tossing rocks into a store window in an attempt to have civil disobedience bring awareness to their cause.  However, as great as Mulligan is at taking us on her character's journey that begins with nonchalance towards the movement and ends with staunch advocacy on behalf of equality for voting rights, it is Maud who is inherently the film's problem.  A fictionalized character, screenwriter Abi Morgan piles heartbreak after heartbreak onto this women which, while once again may have truly happened to some in the 1910s, feels in a cinematic setting as an easy way to emotionally tug at audiences' heartstrings rather than resonate as realistic.

Morgan's script isn't helped by Sarah Gavron's pedestrian direction which, given the subject matter, fails to rouse the audience to join the cause in any way.  Weighed down in grays and browns with production design that always seems as if we're on a set rather than in a natural setting, Suffragette keeps the viewer at a distance rather than involving them in the plot despite its obvious intentions to do just the opposite.  While Gavron consistently gets good performances from key cast members -- including a nice turn from a subdued Helena Bonham Carter as a leader in the suffragette movement -- they're not enough to save this one from being a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Movie Review - Cymbeline

Cymbeline (2015)
Starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, John Leguizamo, Penn Badgley, Dakota Johnson, and Anton Yelchin
Directed by Michael Almereyda

Text from the opening moments of Cymbeline tells us the following about one of Shakespeare's lesser-known tales:  For years Cymbeline (Ed Harris), King of the Briton Motorcycle Club, has maintained an uneasy peace with the Roman Police Force.  The Queen (Milla Jovovich), Cymbeline's second wife, has her own agenda.  But she's losing hope that her son Cloten (Anton Yelchin) will pair up with the King's only daughter, Imogen (Dakota Johnson).  Without consulting her royal parents, Imogen decides to marry Posthumus (Penn Badgley), Cymbeline's penniless protégé.  The marriage triggers the King's rage, setting in motion a series of disastrous events.  But fortune brings in some boats that aren't steered...  I presume that the unsteered boat is Iachimo (Ethan Hawke), an acquaintance of Posthumus who sets up a wager that if he can prove to have taken Imogen's virginity he'll win a coveted ring of Posthumus's, but if he doesn't succeed, he'll have to give Posthumus money and a sword.

Quite frankly, Cymbeline feels like an amalgamation of many of Shakespeare's other works and the placement of this particular film adaptation into modern times as is written and directed by Michael Almereyda simply adds to the confusion in tone.  After we grow accustomed to the Shakespearean language (which always takes a little bit of time), the general plot of the play/film lays itself out somewhat clearly.  However, the ultimate problem with the flick is that the character of Iachimo seems sorely out of place and, seeing as how his bet with Posthumus is the integral cog to setting the plot in motion, this causes issues.  Attempting to steal a woman's virginity may have been radical in 1600s England, but by placing this story in a modern setting, this key plot point seems ludicrously childish and silly.

Although Dakota Johnson and Penn Badgley are actually quite good (and given the cast they may not seem at first glance to be the members who would really shine), nearly everyone else feels as if they're overacting, upping the dramatics in order to make us feel like we're watching "SHAKESPEARE" in ALL CAPITALS!  While I'll always appreciate a Shakespearean cinematic adaptation for simply existing, this one just doesn't work.  Being unfamiliar with the play itself, the fault may lie moreso with the original work than the film, but as it stands, there are cinematic problems running rampant here as well.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Featuring the voice talents of Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Alex Garfin, Mariel Sheets, Noah Johnston, Venus Omega Schultheis, Rebecca Bloom, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, and Kristin Chenoweth
Directed by Steve Martino

There's a nostalgic charm that runs through The Peanuts Movie.  Despite utilizing computer animation as opposed to the hand-drawn lines of our childhood, that's the only update for our Charles Schulz-created beloved characters.  No cell phones or computers make appearances in this Bryan Schulz-written screenplay that (sometimes slavishly) harkens back to the Peanuts stories of yore.  Brightly colored and visually appealing, if Charlie Brown holiday specials are always on your tv-viewing agenda (or if you happened to play Charlie Brown in a high school musical like your revered blogger here), you'll find yourself quite satisfied by this new incarnation of beloved cultural icons.

The story is incredibly simple and reminiscent of cherished Peanuts tales -- Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) falls for the new cute little red-haired girl (Francesca Capaldi) who has moved into his neighborhood, but our downtrodden and sullen guy can't seem to ever have things go his way.  Although we've seen this story many times before, it's always pleasant to see Charlie have repartee with Lucy, Linus, his sister Sally, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, and a variety of others.  The odd friendship Charlie has with his fellow classmates has always fueled my fascination with Schulz's writings and this film is no exception.

The film falters a little bit when it flips to Snoopy's storyline wherein our beloved dog takes on his Red Baron flying ace persona as he tries to rescue his paramour Fifi who was captured by some evil men.  This aspect of The Peanuts Movie drags on much too long and keeps popping up nearly every ten minutes when all I really wanted to see was Charlie Brown's story.  While not necessarily bad, the Red Baron aspect simply isn't as interesting and does bog down the tale a bit.

Still, the animation is very good, the voice acting is top notch, and there's a nostalgia here -- and admittedly I think that nostalgia plays a role in the grade The Peanuts Movie receives from me below.  While not without an aforementioned problem, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much the film eschews modern culture and really plants itself firmly in a "G-rated" past.  That alone is something we don't often see nowadays and it's a bit of a treat to see something as innocent as this.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Movie Review - Little Accidents

Little Accidents (2015)
Starring Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas, and Chloë Sevigny
Directed by Sara Colangelo
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Inherently, there's nothing particularly wrong with Little Accidents, a film from first-time writer-director Sara Colangelo.  It's fairly well made and well acted, but Colangelo's film is so heavy that it lacks a drive to push its story forward.  An overwhelming sense of depression looms over everything which, in and of itself, would normally be fine except for the fact that here there isn't quite enough story to merit its existence as a feature film.

As the film opens, we are told of a horrible mining accident that killed all men in the mine with the exception of Amos Jenkins (Boyd Holbrook) who is now trying to return to work unsuccessfully thanks to the injuries he sustained.  On the other side of town, we find Diana Doyle (Elizabeth Banks), wife to mine executive Bill (Josh Lucas) who is being investigated by the company for possibly causing the horrible accident.  At the same time, however, Diana and Bill are faced with the heartbreaking fact that their teenage son JT has gone missing.  Only one person knows where JT has gone and that's young teen Owen Briggs (Jacob Lofland) who is harboring a secret that eats at him every day.

Amos, Diana, and Owen's stories end up intertwining, but rather than seem overly natural, their relationships feel as if they were put together strictly to make a better movie.  It's not that it ever feels overly forced, it's simply that it always seems overly happenstance that these three individuals have relationships with one another.  I never felt particularly comfortable with any aspect of this triangular interaction.

Colangelo gets some nice subdued performances from everyone, but she's not able to drive the narrative forward in a satisfying way.  The film overstays its welcome by about half its running time and the ending, while yielding an appropriate conclusion for each character, somehow feels oddly unsatisfying.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Movie Review - Get Hard

Get Hard (2015)
Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip "T.I." Harris, Alison Brie, and Craig T. Nelson
Directed by Etan Cohen

When millionaire hedge fund manager James King (Will Ferrell) is accused of fraud, arrested, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in a "non-cushy" prison, he finds himself completely at a loss as to how he's going to survive in the slammer.  Hoping to gain some street cred, he turns to Darnell (Kevin Hart), his car washer whom he assumes has been in prison because he's black (this is a comedy, remember...).  Desperate for money to move out of the inner city in order to send his daughter to a better school, Darnell reluctantly agrees to help, although Darnell may not be qualified to show James how to Get Hard.

There are a few laughs in Etan Cohen's Get Hard and when they land, they succeed quite well.  However, there are just too many long stretches of time where either the comedy falls flat or the screenplay keeps hitting the same notes over and over again.  This certainly isn't a politically correct movie and for that I appreciate its insistence on trying to push the line, but the "white guy pretending to "be black"" joke can only be utilized so many times before one's eyes start to roll.  Ferrell and Hart are both fine and their interactions together make up the funniest aspects of the film, but Get Hard is too repetitive to really be successful.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Movie Review - Unexpected

Unexpected (2015)
Starring Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, and Elizabeth McGovern
Directed by Kris Swanberg
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Anchored by nice interaction between Cobie Smulders and Gail Bean as, respectively, high school teacher Samantha Abbott and her student Jasmine, Unexpected is a relationship dramedy that details what happens the two aforementioned women find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and how this both bonds them and changes their lives.  Both Samantha and Jasmine were destined for better things -- Jasmine had plans to attend college and Samantha intended to leave her shuttering inner city school to work at a museum -- but impending motherhood ended up beckoning them instead.

Smulders and Bean complement each other quite well and they certainly add depth to their characters.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite know what to do with them after about forty-five minutes.  Writer-director Kris Swanberg kept hitting the same dramatic and comedic notes over and over again and while these notes aren't particularly irritating or grating, the repetition prevents the movie from really progressing.  Unexpected is pleasant, but not overly ambitious and while not every movie needs high aspirations, this one needed to have a bit more story in order to really make it worth a watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  C 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Movie Review - San Andreas

San Andreas (2015)
Starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Archie Panjabi, and Paul Giamatti
Direted by Brad Peyton

There's not much to San Andreas except for what we'd expect -- a giant earthquake wreaking mighty havoc over the southern portions of California.  Sure, there are attempts at a little more substantive story -- divorced father and mother (Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino) band together to find their stranded daughter (Alexandra Daddario), earthquake expert (Paul Giamatti) creates a device to predict quakes but no one will listen -- but at the heart of it all, this is simply a flick filled with special effects earthquake mayhem.

The pure special effects-driven nature works for the film's first hour quite well wasting very little time getting into the action and driving the story along from set piece to set piece.  However, as the second hour begins, the idiocy of what we're watching begins to rear its ugly head.  With Giamatti given absolutely nothing to do except hide under desks after spouting warnings similar to "This aftershock will be the biggest one yet!", the film tries to create some form of realistic story behind Johnson and Gugino attempting to find their teenage daughter in the shambles of San Francisco as the two parents are forced to face increasingly ridiculous scenarios.  How will they outrun a collapsing building?  How will their boat make it over the wave of this rising tsunami?  How will they land a helicopter with engine failure?  Seeing the chaos caused by the earthquake in the first hour seemed naturally plausible...seeing two apparent super humans try and rescue their equally superheroic daughter who McGuyvers her way out of quite a few tight spots herself makes the second hour laughable.

For the most part, the actors are game and actually do a nice job of keeping us interested in the action despite the building implausibility.  Johnson and Gugino are a nice match and Daddario more than carries her storyline with the help of British mates she meets along the way played charmingly by Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson.  In the end, San Andreas is about what can be expected, however, the film hurts itself by presenting a surprisingly solid first half only to dive deep into the realm of impossibility in its second half.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Movie Review - Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (2015)
Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss
Directed by Danny Boyle

Told in three acts in "real time" with each detailing the forty minutes leading up to a product launch, Steve Jobs is a unique experience of a film told in a provocative way by director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin who have created something I've yet to see before that quite frankly shouldn't have worked, but proves exceedingly successful.  Providing excitement through dialog -- a rarity in art nowadays -- Sorkin and Boyle have crafted not so much a biopic, but a look at how a man's psyche and emotional state can both change over time and remain disappointingly the same.

There's certainly no way that prior to the 1984 launch of Macintosh, the 1988 launch of the Next computer system, and the 1998 launch of the iMac that Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) received visits from Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), Apple programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), colleague Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), ex-wife Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), and daughter Lisa (played at the three stages by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine). There's also certainly no way that this group of people conveniently visited Jobs so that their respective story lines with the Apple founder/genius could progress in their respective manners.  There's also certainly no way that in the moments leading up to some incredibly important product launches, a man like Jobs would allow himself to be pulled away from such pivotal career moments to deal with crumbling personal and workplace relationships.  Yet, for some reason, thanks to the rather ingenious storytelling by Aaron Sorkin, this film and its rather obvious regimented set-up works.

Rarely do I write a review where I find myself giving tons of credit to the screenwriter, but in the case of Steve Jobs, I think what Aaron Sorkin does to create an atmosphere where the obviously manufactured set-ups work is something of a revelatory experience.  Part of the reason I think the three act structure is so hugely successful is Sorkin and director Danny Boyle's insistence to have the scenes play out in real time.  As Jobs's right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) tries to wrangle her boss into prepping for his big event(s), we in the audience find ourselves gradually inching towards the edge of our seats desperate to see whether everything will be resolved by the time Jobs needs to take the stage.  As the film progresses and the second and third acts begin, we in the audience are now aware of the gimmick and the insistence of Sorkin to have Jobs meet up with all the aforementioned people, and the anticipation we felt in Act One grows even more as we now find ourselves desperate to discover how Jobs's relationships will either become positively or negatively affected by his actions.  This concept is a writer's conceit but it, along with Sorkin's fast-talking, highfalutin dialog, works.  (Seriously, how often do we hear the words "halcyon" and "somnambulant" in movies?)

Three paragraphs in and I've yet to discuss what may very well be the best cast assembled for a 2015 release when the RyMickey Awards roll around next year (there's a ways to go still, though).  There's not a bad egg in the bunch and everyone bites into the Sorkin mile-a-minute pitter-patter style with gusto and rolls with it.  Michael Fassbender is great as Jobs, although the film admittedly doesn't quite give the character the emotional arc it actually thinks it does -- his comeuppance at the hands of his teenage daughter while bitingly written and believably acted is the only aspect of the film that feels a tad contrived (and that's saying something in a film whose structure is entirely contrived).  Still, Fassbender is in every moment of the film and his interactions with each and every actor feel natural, real, and never forced.  Great work is also had by Katherine Waterston and Kate Winslet -- two women playing very different roles, neither of which are easy by any means, but both of which are absolutely necessary for the title character to be a fully realized one.  Quite surprising is Seth Rogen's take on Steve Wozniak.  Usually the star, Rogen is relegated to second banana, but his Wozniak is a character desperate for attention from his father figure in Steve.  Much like Jobs has all but abandoned his daughter (a pivotal Act One moment that resurfaces in subsequent acts), he has also left Wozniak behind and Rogen's depiction of Woz's woeful despondency and his deteriorating relationship with Jobs is the emotional crux of the piece for me.  (Their showdown in Act Three is fascinating stuff.)

Although I've heaped much praise on Aaron Sorkin, credit is also due to Danny Boyle who has created a rhythm in Steve Jobs that causes this talky, play-like film to move at a breakneck pace.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a film so chockfull of dialog that felt this fast-paced to me and the real time aspect of the three acts ingeniously keeps the tension palpable.  Kudos also to the concept of utilizing three different types of film -- 16mm, 35mm, and digital -- creating unique visual imprints in order to capture the various acts.

Whether or not Steve Jobs depicts the exact psychological journey of Steve Jobs "The Man" I don't know; but I do know that the film showcases talented folks in front of and behind the lens who have crafted a cinematic experience that still has me thinking about it nearly a week after watching it.  There aren't too many films that I experience in a theater that have me wanting to rush out and see it again -- and there certainly aren't many biopics that make me feel that way -- but Steve Jobs did just that.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Movie Review - Truth

Truth (2015)
Starring Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, and Dermot Mulroney
Directed by James Vanderbilt

Despite a solid performance from Cate Blanchett (who, lets be honest, rarely disappoints), Truth feels as if it's not quite doing what its title implies.  Based on a true story, Blanchett is Mary Mapes, a producer for the venerable CBS news series 60 Minutes.  With the 2004 presidential election on the horizon, Mapes and segment host Dan Rather (Robert Redford) present a story that claims that then-current President George W. Bush received preferential treatment from Air National Guard officials in the 1970s.  Nearly immediately after the airing of the segment, a variety of sources begin to question the thirty-plus year-old documents that were the building blocks and particularly damning evidence of Mapes and Rather's report.  As Mapes attempts to quell the criticism, she finds herself at odds with her CBS bosses who keep questioning her journalistic ethics.

Taking politics out of the equation, the ultimate problem with Truth stems from the fact that it is based on Mapes's memoir and it makes out her CBS bosses and the litigation team investigating her journalistic ethics to be manically devilish in their attempts to take her down.  You can almost see Dermot Mulroney's lawyer character twirling his comedically villainous mustache as he tries to silence Mapes, and a lengthy and vindictive diatribe against the CBS honchos spoken by Topher Grace's ambitious reporter (and Mapes colleage) proves laughably farcical rather than substantive.  While there may be some truth behind the preferential treatment Bush received (and there may very well not be), the lack of well-roundedness in the side players of Truth and the need to make Mapes seem "right" hinders the film greatly.

As mentioned, Blanchett is good as the strong-willed Mapes who faces a possible career-ending crisis with the actress allowing us to see the pain Mapes internally confronts, but the film steers her wrong at the end and the self-aggrandizing, boastful attitude of the film does Blanchett no favors.  The film is blatantly telling us how to feel about her character rather then letting the audience naturally come to that conclusion.  The rest of the typically solid cast isn't given much to do at all with Redford in particular inhabiting a role that feels underwritten and shockingly sidelined for much of the film.  Then again, this is Mary Mapes's story and despite its attempts at trying to balance both sides, the film, although adequately produced and lensed, just doesn't land in the way it hopes.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Movie Review - Circle

Circle (2015)
Starring a Group of Fifty Actors
Directed by Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Fifty strangers awaken from a drug-induced "sleep" to find themselves standing on lighted red circles, facing one another around a central black orb-like device.  Step off of the red circle, you die.  Touch another person, you die.  As if that weren't bad enough, the strangers soon discover that every one to two minutes they are forced to vote for someone they think doesn't deserve to live and the person who receives the highest votes will die.

While Circle is innately a horror film, it's unlike any horror film you'll likely have ever seen.  Saw comes to mind with its characters needing to turn against one another in order to live, but there's nary a drop of blood here.  Instead, this is one of the talkiest movies I've seen in a while because the entire film revolves around human nature -- how do we see others and do they see us in the same way?  As the fifty people are whittled down to less and less, first-time writer-directors Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione ask the viewers to question what we would do in this situation -- how desperate would we be to survive?

Granted, as prejudices and the worst of human's psyches come to the surface, Hann and Miscione are sometimes a little too blunt and obvious with their reveals of the basest of human reaction/interaction. There are moments where subtlety would've been just as effective for some of the characters as the ungracious tactlessness they exhibit, but overall, Circle proves to be a very unique concept.  With close to fifty speaking roles, Hann and Miscione not only compiled a solid cast of relative unknowns, but the writers impressively and effectively keep the audience completely guessing as to who is going to bite the dust next.  Characters whom you think may make it to the end don't last more than ten minutes and just because they're speaking the most doesn't mean they're going to be staying around the longest.  This is truly the epitome of an ensemble film and the cast for the most part steps up to the plate.

Most impressively to this viewer, for a film that is based essentially around people talking to each other for ninety minutes with no real action so to speak, Circle moves at a relatively breakneck pace.  It was almost an hour in before I looked at how much time was left and I was blown away that I had been riveted as much as I had for so long.  Admittedly, the film falters a bit at the end -- a little open-endedness would've maybe been more effective than the actual ending -- and I still stand by the fact that certain political and societal topics that are brought up are sometimes done too heavy handedly to really be effective, but Circle is a unique cinematic experience that I highly recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Movie Review - Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, and Katey Sagal
Directed by Elizabeth Banks

I wasn't a huge fan of the original Pitch Perfect and expectations were not high for its sequel...and that's a good thing because Pitch Perfect 2 simply rehashes all the same jokes, character traits, and plot points as its predecessor.  The biggest problem with Pitch Perfect 2 is that not a single one of the a cappella numbers in the film seems as if it has any basis in reality.  Where exactly did the Barden Bellas headed by Beca, Chloe, and (Fat) Amy (Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Rebel Wilson) get the money for fire effects for a show set up in a hotel ballroom?  And let's not even delve into the opening scene that places the Bellas at a concert celebrating President Obama's birthday.

It's that concert for the president that sets the ball rolling as Fat Amy inadvertently exposes her nether regions to the public when her pants rip while hanging from a Cirque du Soleil-ish device.  Amy's commando ways bring shame to the Bellas and the a cappella community and higher-ups John and Gail (the rather hilarious John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) ban the girl group from participating in any events or competing anywhere except for the World Finals in Copenhagen.  With the Bellas in chaos, they must regroup and regain their illustrious status once again.

Unfortunately, the film feels like a complete retread of the original with the same jokes, set-ups, and types of songs being made a cappella.  Like the original, there are a few laugh-out-loud moments here and there, but the directorial debut of Elizabeth Banks just doesn't ring true in any single moment of its screen time.  Perhaps on the plus side, the best aspect of the film is a rather subdued performance by Hailee Steinfeld as a freshman at Barden College who joins the Bellas -- Steinfeld will presumably carry the torch for subsequent sequels seeing as how this film concludes with the majority of the Bellas facing graduation.  Steinfeld is pleasant enough and perhaps the most grounded character, but my hopes aren't high that future films will maintain this realistic approach for character's wide-eyed innocence.

Pitch Perfect 2 is watchable, but not much works.  Anna Kendrick looks like she doesn't want to be there, Brittany Snow's Chloe is too ditzy to be believable, and Rebel Wilson doesn't improve her acting skills at all from her first attempt at Fat Amy.  Wilson, in particular, is just an embarrassment and while I imagine some tweens may find her shtick funny, I find it nearly unwatchable.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Friday, November 06, 2015

Movie Review - Tom at the Farm

Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme) (2015)
Starring Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, and Evelyne Brochu
Directed by Xavier Dolan
***This film currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

When Tom (Xavier Dolan) arrives at the Canadian farmhouse of his deceased lover Guillaume, he is greeted by a mother (Lise Roy) who has no idea that her dead son was gay.  Confused, Tom then meets his lover's brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who through aggression and force manipulates Tom into crafting a story about his brother's heterosexual tendencies.  Tom agrees to keep his true relationship with Guillaume a secret, but soon finds himself in a twisted battle with Francis whose savage demeanor may be hiding his own secrets.

Tom at the Farm is an odd duck of a film that plays at times like a thriller, at times like a drama, and at times like a twisted romance.  Just when you think director-cowriter-leading actor Xavier Dolan is taking it down one side of that triangle, he veers to another angle or reins things in just enough that it feels a bit like a tease...in a good way.  The film feels soap operatic and overly dramatic at times, but the tone works for the most part.

The problem with the film lies in the character of Tom himself.  Attempts are made to showcase that Francis is forcibly keeping Tom on the farm, but there was never any moment during the movie where I felt that Tom couldn't have just walked down the road and left.  While I understand that Dolan was trying to show that Francis wielded some masculine control over Tom which, having just lost his lover, he may have found intriguing, but attempting to build tension from a story aspect that to me is easily solvable by a character simply walking out of a door doesn't quite work.  I won't even discuss the heavily anti-American tone to the film which becomes horribly blatant in the film's climactic moments and then is hammered home by a rather horrid song by Rufus Wainwright that runs over the end credits.

These qualms aside, though, Tom at the Farm is interesting.  I'm not sure I'll be rushing to see another Xavier Dolan film, but this one proved unique enough to maintain my interest throughout.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Monday, November 02, 2015

Movie Review - Poltergeist

Poltergeist (2015)
Starring Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie Dewitt, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Saxon Sharbino, Jared Harris, and Jane Adams
Directed by Gil Kenan

I know full well that it's not the least bit cool to say this, but I actually found this 2015 remake of Poltergeist surprisingly tense and much better than I expected it to be.  It's surely not without its share of story problems, but director Gil Kenan does his job of creating an atmosphere that keeps the audience always a bit nervous for the ominous outcome.

Much like the 1982 original (which, I must admit, I don't particularly hold any fawning affection towards), this remake focuses on a family relocating only to discover that their home was built upon an ancient Indian burial ground.  When the ghosts lure the family's young daughter Madison (Kennedi Clements) into their world, mom Amy, dad Eric, and older brother and sister Griffin and Kendra (Rosemarie Dewitt, Sam Rockwell, Kyle Catlett, and Saxon Sharbino, respectively) do all that they can to get the youngest member of their family back into the real world.

At its heart, the story of Poltergeist is successfully realized here, but attempts at adding modern updates -- cell phones, camera drones -- conjure up nothing but laughs as they are utilized to try and further the story.  Despite these moments of silliness (and a severely underwritten and overly exaggerated performance by the family's teenage daughter), the film still creates a foreboding environment thanks to the direction (which, like the original, eschews gore in favor of atmospheric creepiness) and a game cast led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie Dewitt who definitely elevate this horror flick.  As mentioned, tension is present here and there were multiple moments throughout the film where I found myself on the edge of my seat which is sometimes all I can ask for from a horror flick.  Yes, it's not without a couple issues (and the question of "did the original really need to be remade" still lingers), but this reboot of Poltergeist is much better than the consensus of negative reviews would have you believe.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Movie Review - The Lazarus Effect

The Lazarus Effect (2015)
Starring Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, and Sarah Bolger
Directed by David Gelb
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

If you've seen the Scarlett Johansson flick Lucy, there's certainly no reason to watch The Lazarus Effect which is essentially a horror version of that film.  If you haven't seen Lucy (and really you're missing nothing if you haven't), there's still no reason to watch The Lazarus Effect because besides an ending that perks up the thrill quotient after a decidedly bland and surprisingly boring first hour, the conclusion fails to really make a whole lot of sense and ends things hugely disappointingly.

Here, a group of scientists headed by engaged couple Frank and Zoe (Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde) create a manipulated serum of cells that through injection and electrical stimulation have the effect of being able to bring the dead back to life.  After years of unsuccessful attempts, the team succeeds in bringing back to life a dog, but they discover that the newly resuscitated canine is utilizing huge portions of his brain, making him overly aggressive and violent as he's unable to control his emotions.  Needless to say, following an unfortunate accident, the team doesn't just stop the experiment with the dog and instead find themselves using it for more a more advanced carbon-based life form which may yield some truly frightening results.

The overarching question of this film (and Lucy for that matter) is what happens when humans -- who typically use only 10% of their brain capacity -- are given the opportunity to utilize much more than that.  Whereas Lucy somewhat succeeds in answering this question through the format of an action film, The Lazarus Effect as a horror movie isn't nearly as successful.  The biggest reason for this is that it's utterly boring for the film's first sixty minutes.  Part of the reason I was intrigued with the flick was the cast who I thought may elevate this beyond your typical cliché-ridden genre pic, but the quintet listed up above just sputters out scientific mumbo-jumbo for the film's first twenty minutes and then spends the rest of the first hour debating whether to continue with their now successful experiment.  In a better film, the tension between the scientists may have been intriguing, but here it amounts to nothing but absolute boredom.

Unfortunately, when the film delves into horror during its final twenty minutes (although its eighty minute runtime should seem short, it feels interminable), it's more laughable than anything else and that's never a good thing.  There are no scares whatsoever with the film throwing out one horror cliché after another trying to get something to land successfully.  Nothing does.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-