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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,...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Movie Review - La La Land

La La Land (2016)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock, and Tom Everett Scott 
Directed by Damien Chazelle

A few years ago, a movie musical called The Muppets topped my list of Best Films of the Year by tapping into nostalgia and creating a flick that put a smile on my face the whole darn runtime.  "Leave your worries outside that theater door and enter a world of happiness and exuberance," so said Kermit and Miss Piggy.  Five years later, a new duo of stars in Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone asked me to do the same thing with a new and completely original movie musical and I obliged, albeit a little nervously as I was hesitant that the hype surrounding their film La La Land would hinder my enjoyment.  My fears were completely unfounded because once Stone and Gosling popped up onto the screen, that oddly euphoric feeling I felt during The Muppets popped up here as well.  Exquisitely directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land is a true cinematic musical treat that will get a second viewing by me to see if it can tick up that one level from "A-" land to the mystical world of the hard-to-get "A".

La La Land is certainly not reinventing the wheel in terms of plot.  It's a simple story of boy meets girl and the relationship that ensues after a meet-cute.  The boy -- Sebastian, in this case, played by Gosling -- is an aspiring jazz pianist who adores music icons of yore like Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong, but is finding the modern day crowd reticent to listen to that style of jazz.  It's a struggle to find his place in the music world of Los Angeles which is ready to leave him behind.  The girl is Mia (played by Stone), an aspiring actress who moved to LA from a small town in Nevada, but is finding herself working at a Hollywood studio coffee shop admiring the actresses who come in for a drink instead of actually being an actress herself.  Our boy and girl meet and eventually fall in love, pushing each other to pursue their dreams across a Los Angeles landscape that is pushing against them succeeding.

The simplicity of the story is enhanced twofold.  First, the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is incredibly palpable with the two radiating joy in nearly every scene.  The repartee between the two is utterly charming and often comedic, reminiscent of 1940s Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant flicks (Bringing Up Baby is even mentioned in the film).  Stone and Gosling have shown us their comedic chops and their chemistry before in the wonderful Crazy Stupid Love and the duo doesn't disappoint here.  They nail every emotional iteration their characters are supposed to experience and honestly as soon as they meet in the film, I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear whenever they were together onscreen.  This is essentially a two-charater piece (hence the lack of a Screen Actor's Guild ensemble nomination) and the duo succeed at every turn.  Their singing isn't too shabby either -- granted, neither would win American Idol, but that's part of the charm of the film.  We get more emotion from the lack of perfection in their voices than we ever would from a spot-on singer crooning these tunes.

Secondly, the simple tale is elevated by the glorious direction of Damien Chazelle -- he of the fantastic Whiplash two years ago.  Nothing in the intense and cinematographically dark Whiplash would've keyed me in that Chazelle had this old school-Hollywood romanticism in him, but with the exception of one four-letter word (and the use of cell phones and Priuses and other modern technology), La La Land feels like it could've been made in the golden era of Hollywood musicals.  Odes to Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (the latter not a Hollywood musical, but you get my drift) are everywhere as a rhapsody of Technicolor hues and stunningly gorgeous lighting are present in nearly every scene which are themselves filled with beautiful costumes and production design.  That aforementioned smile plastered on my face -- part of that was simply from the imagery and colors flashing across the screen.

Admittedly, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, where the film falls the tiniest bit short is in the "musical" aspect in part because there are really only six songs in its 130 minutes.  While the characters are certainly breaking into song, I couldn't help but want more.  I initially thought the film got a little slow in the middle, but upon reflection that was really only because of a lack of songs not because the film itself was actually slow per se.  The songs by Broadway songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are lovely, some soaringly exuberant and some achingly painful, but all (with the exception of an odd opening number that feels the tiniest bit out of place) are intrinsically helpful in advancing the plot.

Then again, the songs are just one key musical element of La La Land as Chazelle not only utilizes lyrics, but also some lovely dance sequences to enhance the musicality of the piece.  Incredibly reminiscent of the extended dances in the aforementioned Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris, Chazelle allows dance to advance his simplistic plot, elevating our character's emotions and feelings through this form of media which is obviously something the modern moviegoing audience doesn't see everyday.  Admittedly, these moments in the 1950s Hollywood films always fell flat for me (the titular ballet scene in An American in Paris puts me to sleep), but thanks to the dazzling original score by Justin Hurwitz which melds old Hollywood and jazz along with extended takes with few cuts and edits by Chazelle, I was onboard.

I was hoping that Damien Chazelle was a director to watch after the intensely exciting Whiplash, but with La La Land he shows us a completely different side of his aesthetic.  The romance, humor, and happiness that jumps off the screen allows us to leave any troubles outside the confines of the four walls of the theater and embrace an old school cinematic mentality that is far too uncommon in modern film.  The simplicity of the story elevates Chazelle's visuals, Gosling and Stone's chemistry, and the music itself in La La Land with all aspects melding into a gorgeous cinematic treat that I'll certainly be exploring again in the near future.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Movie Review - Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (2016)
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Andy Garcia, Neil Casey, and Chris Hemsworth
Directed by Paul Feig

There was much brouhaha over the fact that 2016's iteration of the classic Ghostbusters was being fronted by a quartet of women instead of a quartet of men.  Internet taunts and nasty comments were bandied about by anonymous individuals behind computer screens about how women aren't funny and couldn't possibly headline of film of this ilk.  While that's all certainly uncalled for, what's really unfortunate is that this version of Ghostbusters isn't good -- those initial trailers which were ridiculed across the World Wide Web were justly criticized because director and co-writer Paul Feig has crafted a numbingly painful supernatural action comedy that starts off incredibly promising and then begins to fail set piece by set piece until it makes its way to its disappointingly dull finale.  And the worst part of it is that it's not the fault of the quartet of actresses onscreen, yet the foursome shouldered much of the criticism lodged at the film.

Quite frankly, a plot summary isn't really necessary here -- four gals get together and eventually try and hunt down some ghosts before the supernatural beings take over the city of New York.  Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy take center stage during the film's initial scenes as a dueling duo who once worked together before drifting apart and I must admit that I found myself laughing out loud more than once as they tossed one-liners back and forth at each other.  Thirty minutes in and I was wondering why in the world this flick was so lambasted upon its release.  Gradually, Kate McKinnon works her way into the mix as a kooky mechanic of sorts (her role was praised the most, yet I found it a bit one-note and reminiscent of many an SNL character of hers) and Leslie Jones gets added as an NYC subway operator who calls upon the ghostbusting gang to investigate an occult occurrence on a subway track.  McKinnon and Jones are both fine, but they begin to take away from the more successful camaraderie of Wiig and McCarthy.

And then writers Paul Feig and Katie Dippold just throw everything down the drain with attempts at creating a variety of set pieces in which our female quartet fights ghosts and the whole movie falls apart.  The action aspects are a jumbled mess.  The comedy bits become tired.  Worst of all, the whole film becomes dreadfully boring.  Feig (as a director) has had his share of hits and misses in my book, and this falls on the miss side.  While I would've loved to have seen a resurrection of the Ghostbusters franchise, this female-fronted flick just doesn't fit the bill as the ladies here aren't helped by the behind-the-scenes team.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Movie Review - Loving

Loving (2016)
Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, and Michael Shannon
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Just because a movie tells an important true story doesn't necessarily mean it's good.  Unfortunately, that's the case with Loving which details the circumstances that led to the Supreme Court hearing Loving v. Virginia which ruled that interracial marriages were constitutional.  Director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols gets really nice subdued, lived-in performances from his leads, but the film is tediously numbing, embracing the "everything's slower in the South" mentality and failing to really create any momentum as it progresses.

"I'm pregnant" are the first words we hear as the film opens as Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a young black woman, sits on a porch nervously waiting for a response from her boyfriend Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man.  As a smile forms on Richard's face, the two decide to get married, but due to laws in Virginia where they currently reside, they must travel to Washington, D.C., to get a marriage license.  Even after they return to Virginia as husband and wife, Mildred and Richard have to walk on eggshells because the concept of an interracial romance was not looked upon kindly by those in their neighborhood.  Shortly following their wedding day, the couple is awoken in the middle of the night by a police raid on their house which sends both Richard and the pregnant Mildred to jail for sleeping in the same bed together.  Upon their release, they are tried in court and through a plea bargain set up by their lawyer, the couple are forced to leave Virginia in exchange for not facing any jail time.

Over the course of the rest of the film, we see how Mildred and Richard deal with their extradition from Virginia, being forced to leave their families behind and start anew on their own.  Eventually, after nearly a decade, the couple's case is tried before the Supreme Court, but the film doesn't focus on this aspect of their story as much as I'd expect.  The end result, as a matter of fact, feels oddly rushed and almost tacked on which seems a bit odd considering it's the impetus behind their story being told cinematically in the first place.  

The quiet nature of the film grows boring quickly, but Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton both give understated, yet powerful performances where more is told through their eyes and facial expressions than any actual words.  Both Negga and Edgerton have crafted characters that feel lived-in and natural to the 1950s/60s world they're inhabiting in the film.  The connection between the two of them feels credible and Negga in particular is captivating in the strong, yet subdued way she carries herself as Mildred.

The film itself, though, simply wallows in blandness.  Repetitive shots of bricklaying or car races or a laughably silly closing image of a rope hanging over a tree (that is used as a children's plaything but is obviously harkening to its similarity as a noose) feel unnecessary and unimportant to the plot.  There's an appreciation to the notion that Jeff Nichols focuses mainly on the couple rather than the important civil rights battle of their triumphant story, but the quiet nature of the piece almost creates a lack of compassion for these two because the film feels a need to be stoic and calm rather than a little passionate.  Loving is well-acted and it's certainly an interesting story, but in the end it's more likely to put you to sleep than elicit any other emotion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, December 09, 2016

Theater Review - Something Rotten!

Something Rotten!
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Where: St. James Theater, New York, NY
When:  Thursday, December 1, 7pm

While no one will ever mistake Something Rotten! as high art, it's one heckuva fun musical that will undoubtedly have you smiling from its opening minutes to its curtain call.  The Kirkpatrick siblings Wayne and Karey (who have written music for my favorite current musical group Little Big Town which surprised me) have crafted a cadre of songs that are cleverly staged by director Casey Nicholaw in the grandest of Broadway fashion that make Something Rotten! one of the more enjoyable and whimsical nights that you'll have at the theater...but you've got to see it quickly if you want to see it on Broadway as it's ending its run on January 1.

It's 1595 in London and William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal) is the talk of the town, adored by his fans and lauded by his peers -- all of his peers but one.  Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) can't stand the prolific Bard.  A fellow playwright, Nick is admittedly jealous of Will and the praise heaped upon him, so he decides to visit soothsayer Nostradamus (played by understudy David Hibbard at my performance) to ask him what audiences will be clamoring for in the future.  After a fantastical production number in which Nostradamus predicts that the future of theater lies in this thing called "A Musical," Nick sets out to write one of these odd, contrived "musicals" where people just break into song to convey their feelings.  What's the focus of Nick's musical, you may ask?  Nostradamus predicts that Shakespeare's greatest play will be the epic, deeply moving "Omelette" -- say it out loud...notice any similarity to Shakespeare's "Hamlet?"  Yep.

Monty Python-esque in some of its humor (although much better than Spamalot which was a disappointment), Something Rotten succeeds because of its humorous music and lyrics and Casey Nicholaw's direction of said songs.  There are several epic production numbers.  When "A Musical" is performed towards the beginning of the play during which Nostradamus riffs on a variety of popular theatrical moments from Annie to The Music Man to Rent to Avenue Q (to upwards of fifteen more), I didn't think the production could continue conjuring up the epic enthusiasm present in that showstopper.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Towards the end of the second act, we're given another roof-blowing moment in which Nick's "Omelette - The Musical" is staged and it's possibly even more fun than everything that came before it.  The play nicely mixes some other musical styles into the mix - a little gospel, some rock, quite a bit of tapping - and Nicholaw keeps the whole thing running at a nice pace (although there were a few lulls here and there, particularly towards the end of the first act).

Unfortunately, the musical's book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell doesn't quite match the fun of the show's songs.  Tired jokes about Jews and Puritans and women and homosexuals felt like they were written by folks from the 1960s and come across as sophomoric..  I mean, the uptight Puritans have a repressed homosexuality -- haven't we seen that numerous times before?  I'm all for a bawdy joke and I hate the politically correct society in which we currently live, but these jokes were just weak.  The play's core relationships work, but many of the side characters -- placed in the play specifically for a humorous effect -- wind up falling flat.

The acting, for the most part, was as solid as they come on Broadway.  Rob McClure as Nick Bottom more than held my attention with a nice voice and great comedic timing.  John Grisetti as his brother Nigel played nicely off of McClure and Grisetti's secret romance with Puritan Portia (Jenny Hill) led to one of the night's most surprisingly entertaining production numbers.  Adam Pascal was also amusingly entertaining as the egotistical ladies' man Shakespeare.

Is Something Rotten! the best thing I've ever seen on Broadway?  No.  But it's one of the most enjoyable 150 minutes I've spent in a theater.  As someone with a degree in English (whose final thesis focused on Shakespeare) and a fan of all types of theater, this musical felt tailor-made for me and it more than exceeded my expectations.  Fun all-around and absolutely worth seeing, Something Rotten! is indeed anything but something rotten.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Movie Review - Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Teresa Palmer
Directed by Mel Gibson

Hacksaw Ridge is an engaging film of two disparate tones that surprisingly and seamlessly meld together under the direction of Mel Gibson.  Certainly a difficult sit for its last hour which gives the audience one of the most realistically violent portrayals of war I've ever seen captured on film, I never found myself bored or uninterested in the true story of conscientious WWII objector and soldier Desmond Doss even during the film's first ninety minutes which plays like a 1940s style Hollywood wartime romance.  However, while Gibson succeeds at blending two distinct genres (and infusing some amusing humor), his film sometimes plays a bit too hokey due to some of his directorial flourishes and some of his cast's one-note "podunk country" characterizations.

Andrew Garfield portrays Doss who grew up in Lynchburg, Virigina, during the Great Depression.  A near tragic childhood incident in which Desmond could've killed his brother instills a deeply religious belief system into his young mind, with Desmond carrying the missives of the Ten Commandments with him throughout this life.  When WWII begins, Desmond feels that he must enlist to serve his country despite the urgings of his parents (Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths) and his girlfriend Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) to remain in Virginia and do his part on his home soil.  Filled with patriotic pride, Desmond heads off to basic training to be a combat medic where he immediately finds resentment amongst his fellow soldiers for his refusal to carry a weapon, taking on the role of a passive conscientious objector as he abides by the commandment that he "shalt not kill."  Many attempts are made to relieve him of his duties, but Desmond perseveres and is allowed to head over to Japan with his regiment (after a quick wedding to Dorothy, that is).  It's there where the American troops engage in an epic battle to take over Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese -- a brutal melee during which Desmond proves his worth and his unimaginable bravery without ever picking up a weapon.

Desmond Doss's story on the battlefield is an amazing one -- one that deserved to be brought to the screen.  His tale is treated with reverence by Gibson (and the screenwriters) and it's certainly an odd thing to see religion and faith be treated with respect in a mainstream big budget movie.  For that, I commend Gibson, but I also feel that there were moments when visually the director decides to paint a too blatantly Jesus-esque depiction of Doss.  Slow motion edits and obvious cinematographic overtones hammer home the comparison a bit too bluntly (and actually caused me to laugh at one point in time -- something that was certainly not the intention).  In a similar fashion, during the film's first half, much of cast is forced to portray one-note characters, particularly that of Desmond's father Tom played by Hugo Weaving.  Weaving is the quintessential country bumpkin -- an alcoholic, abusive, slow-talker who is eventually won over by his son's backbone -- and he's playing a joke of a role that feels as if it could've been culled from a Duck Dynasty episode or a human version of The Country Bear Jamboree.  Quite frankly, it's a bit embarrassing, as is the typical array of characters Desmond meets in his army regiment from the tough-as-nails Smitty (Luke Bracey) who refuses to accept Desmond until a pivotal moment changes his worldview to a comedic Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) who puts Desmond through a tough struggle to stay in the army.  Granted, Desmond's army buddies fare better than his father, but the script does these side characters no favors.

Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer come across much better and their love story is peppered with several meet-cutes and blinky-eyed 1940s flirting, but it works in the environment set up by Gibson.  Admittedly, this romance stands in huge contrast to the incredibly violent though brutally realistic war scenes in the film's second half, but Gibson manages to stage both disparate segments with confidence, allowing Desmond's religious faith to remain a strong focus amidst the chaotic freneticism of the violent Hacksaw Ridge battle.

In the end, Hacksaw Ridge is a successful film and portrays a story that will instill a great deal of pride in Americans who give the film a watch (even those inherently anti-war and anti-violence).  Gibson really does do an excellent job in showcasing and merging the brutality of war with the gentle strength of faith and character in Desmond Doss.  I just wish the screenplay could've allowed for a more well-rounded portrayal of the cast outside of the film's central romantic relationship.  It's good to see Mel Gibson back behind the lens again and even if he adds in a few too many flourishes, he proves he's an adept auteur.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, December 01, 2016

TV Review - The Jinx

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
***This series is currently streaming via HBO***

Having heard great things about the six-part documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, I figured I'd give this HBO series a go despite the fact that I knew about the big bombshell it manages to drop (which I will discuss below, so be warned).  In the end, the documentary feels too long-winded to prove totally successful and ends on a disappointingly unfinished note (particularly if you're already aware of the aforementioned bombshell going in), but I still found myself intrigued by the story of the rich New York socialite Robert Durst and the crimes he has been accused of committing.

In 2010, director Andrew Jarecki released his fictional film All Good Things which was based on the life of Robert Durst, the son of a real estate mogul in NYC, who was passed over as head of his father's company in favor of his younger brother.  Robert was intrigued by the film that focused on his life and he contacted Jarecki and offered to be interviewed about the crime depicted in the director's film.  Much like the movie, Durst's wife Kathie had gone missing in 1982 and while Durst was thought by friends to be connected to his wife's disappearance, the police and district attorneys could never get enough evidence to garner a warrant.  Cut to decades later in 2001 and Durst finds himself living in a seedy house in Texas where he gets accused and placed on trial for killing and dismembering his elderly next door neighbor.  Durst is rather shockingly acquitted of the crime, but still finds himself dealing with the looming notion that he killed his wife.

That looming notion ends up being at the heart of director Jarecki's six-part miniseries The Jinx.  Jarecki started out his documentary as perhaps just a glimpse at an eccentric character who may or may not have been responsible for his wife's death.  At the very least, Jarecki saw the opportunity to craft a series around a man who had obviously been accused of doing a great many horrible things.  However, as his investigation into Robert Durst grows deeper, his interviews with people at the heart of Kathie's disappearance (as well as the Texas death) cause Jarecki to "go detective" and attempt to determine whether Durst really did kill his wife as so many of their close friends believed.

Unfortunately, The Jinx suffers from being about two episodes too long with the whole proceeding feeling rather drawn out.  That's not to say that the in-depth look at Robert Durst isn't captivating...it's just it could've been more effective had it been a little more taut.  In addition, I found Jarecki's ending to be disappointing.  Jarecki held onto the ending - which SPOILER ALERT has Durst seemingly admitting to the crime - until it aired on HBO last year, keeping the big reveal a secret from even the cops.  Because of this, there's no resolution to the six hours we've seen prior.  We don't know whether Durst gets his comeuppance or whether he walks away scott free.  (Durst has also been accused of another murder of his close friend for which he was recently charged in California.)  It proved to be a let down after I had given so much time to the story.  Had I watched it live, I may have been blown away, but watching it so many months after and knowing "the big reveal" left me wanting more to come after that "big reveal."  In the end, I think I have to reluctantly not recommend The Jinx despite the fact that I rather enjoyed it while watching.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Movie Review - The Boss

The Boss (2016)
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Ella Anderson, and Kathy Bates
Directed by Ben Falcone

Oh, Melissa McCarthy...such promise after Bridesmaids has just been squashed by subsequently poor comedic film choices and The Boss is no exception.  McCarthy co-wrote the film with her husband Ben Falcone (who also directed the piece) and while her no-nonsense, brashness fits the character of self-made business tycoon Michelle Darnell, the character and the movie itself feel like a stretched-out sketch comedy routine as opposed to a fully realized piece.

Loved by millions for her eccentric approach to making money, Michelle is a self-help guru who seemingly has it all.  However, an insider trading deal gone awry sends Michelle to jail, causing her to lose her iconic status and the respect of her fans.  Upon release from prison, Michelle finds her previous earnings confiscated by the government, so with nowhere to go she lands on the doorstep of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell).  Claire is reluctant to help her former boss, but she eventually obliges after Michelle agrees to help watch Claire's tween daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) which leads Michelle to her new business venture -- a cookie-selling industry set up as competition to a Girl Scout-esque group.

Writing the above summary took me over a month to type out not because of any confusion regarding what The Boss is about, but because it's so unexciting.  This is a short skit waiting to happen and stretching this out to a 100-minute length grows aggravatingly dull.  McCarthy herself is actually okay here.  Although her character is grating, the actress is able to tap in to the absurdity in a way that at least makes the film watchable.  Unfortunately, when the film attempts to highlight its other characters - a bland Kristen Bell, a laughably and ludicrously villainous Peter Dinklage - it fails miserably.  While there are worse comedies out there, The Boss simply isn't worth your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Movie Review - Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris (2016)
Starring Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elzabeth Reaser, Kumail Nanjiami, Natasha Lyonne, and Tyne Daly
Directed by Michael Showalter

Anchored with a strong comedic performance from Sally Field, Hello, My Name Is Doris is a pleasant enough diversion that hints at strong dramatics, but never really bites the bullet on them which is both helpful and harmful in creating a well-rounded film.  Here, Field is the titular Doris, the only senior citizen working at an up-and-coming ad agency in New York City.  Whenever she's not at work, she's her mother's caretaker, but as the film opens, her mother has passed away and Doris finds herself a little bit lost in the wilderness until the young and charming John (Max Greenfield) comes into the picture.  A new recruit at her workplace, Doris is immediately smitten with the man, daydreaming about him being smitten with her as well, igniting a passionate love affair that plays out in her mind.  Following the advice of the teenage granddaughter of her best friend Roz (Tyne Daly), Doris pushes herself to be a bit more outgoing in order to get John's attention and she succeeds with John and Doris becoming fast friends both in and out of work.  Of course, this only increases Doris's infatuation with the young man -- a romantic feeling that he may not be willing to reciprocate.

While the film is undeniably played for laughs, there are some rather dark undertones present and Field does a nice job of landing both disparate aspects of her character's plight.  Ultimately, though, director and co-screenwriter Michael Showalter pushes some of these more serious aspects aside until late in the film despite the fact that we in the audience are well aware that Doris has some intense and frankly dangerous psychological problems from the film's outset.  While these dramatic character traits are detailed in the film's last third, the film may have benefited from a bit more serious tone spread throughout the piece.

I say that, however, and appreciate the humor that both Field and Showalter bring to the table (along with a charming turn from Max Greenfield).  Field captivates in the comedic moments and Showalter really allows the dramatic moments to resonantly punctuate the character and the film itself.  Somehow, it feels just the slightest bit off balance.  The film is also just a bit too meandering and despite its brief ninety minute length, it could've stood to have about ten minutes or so shaved off the opening and middle acts.  I still found Hello, My Name Is Doris to be enjoyable and mostly engaging, however, thanks in large part to Sally Field's amusing performance.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Theater Review - Clybourne Park

Clybourne Park
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Lee E. Ernst
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, November 13, 2pm
Photo by Paul Cerro / The REP

Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play (and subsequent movie -- the latter of which I have recently seen) A Raisin in the Sun was a thought-provoking examination of African American culture in the late 1950s inhabited by a cast of black actors.  In the play/film, matriarch Lena Younger has inherited a $10,000 life insurance policy following the death of her husband and she decides to use this money to move her college-aged daughter, adult son, daughter-in-law, and grandson into a home in the more affluent white neighborhood of Clybourne Park in Chicago.  Upon discovering this news, Clybourne Park resident Karl Lindner attempts to buy out Mrs. Younger in an effort to keep racial tensions in his neighborhood to a minimum.

Writer Bruce Norris spins off Hansberry's play in his Clybourne Park taking along with him only the role of Karl Lindner and deciding to look at how the residents of the titular neighborhood react to the possibility of a black family moving onto their street.  Taking place in two acts across fifty years, Norris and (in this iteration) the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players explore how race relations have changed for the better or for the worse from Act I's 1959 (taking place concurrently as the events in A Raisin in the Sun) to Act II's 2009.  

And things certainly do change in the span of those fifty years in Clybourne Park.  In 1959, we meet Bev and Russ (REP members Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Stephen Pelinski), grieving parents whose son died after he returned home from the Korean War.  Desperate for a change, Bev and Russ have decided to move out of their home which has recently been sold by their agent.  Mere days before their move, however, neighbor Karl Lindner (REP's Michael Gotch) discovers that an African American family has bought Russ and Bev's house which sets off a sea of tension between Karl and everyone else including Russ and Bev's black housekeeper Francine (guest Jasmine Bracey) and her husband Albert (newest REP member Hassan El-Amin).  

Cut to 2009 and the landscape of Clybourne Park has changed drastically.  We discover that the decidedly white neighborhood of the late 50s/early 60s has drastically changed its racial demographics.  The same home once owned by Bev and Russ is now in shambles -- broken down, graffiti'd up, and quite an eyesore.  Young white married couple Steve and Lindsey (Gotch and guest Erin Partin) have bought the property and intend to demolish the house and build an upscale, modern home which doesn't sit well with the home's current neighbors Lena and Kevin (the aforementioned Bracey and El-Amin).  

Racial tensions, economic issues, and political correctness (or the lack thereof) create an atmosphere of debate -- one that I honestly wish was explored a little further by playwright Norris who thankfully tempers the heaviness of the subject matter by creating a play that is full of laughs from the beginning to the end.  These laughs break the nervous tension felt palpably by the audience, but in the end, I felt that some of the racial aspects of the plot were a little too basic to really be biting, particularly in the political landscape in which we live today where simply going on Facebook can be a disturbing experience.

Nearly the entire REP ensemble (as well as the guest actors) take on two roles here and they all create duos of distinct characters despite trying to peripherally connect their Act II roles with their Act I counterparts.   The company is well known for its ensemble-driven plays, but Clybourne Park stands out in particular as one in which no one member in the group outshines another -- a true ensemble piece if I've ever seen one.  If forced to choose a stand out, Michael Gotch's racially driven characters give him a bit more to sink his teeth into than everyone else, but as mentioned this is really a fantastic group effort.

REP member Lee Ernst directs this piece and he does a nice job in keeping the play moving along at a quick clip, making the most of both Norris's punchlines and dramatic moments -- the latter of which, however, end up feeling just a tiny bit lacking, but that's no fault of the REP.  In the end, Clybourne Park feels a little too kitchen-sinky in terms of its myriad of political concepts to really land its emotional core in perfect ten fashion. The final scene, in fact, feels slightly tacked on -- it works, but doesn't resonate quite as I had hoped in part because it deals with an intensely dramatic moment that doesn't really feel explored in great detail throughout the play.  Nevertheless, this production is a winner and it continues to prove that the REP's take on modern works is an area in which they truly excel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Movie Review - The Forest

The Forest (2016)
Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, and Yukiyoshi Ozawa
Directed by Jason Zada
***This film is currently streaming via HBO***

When American Sara Price (Natalie Dormer) receives a phone call from Japanese police saying that her twin sister Jess - who is currently in Japan teaching English to high schoolers - has gone missing, Sara jumps on a plane to try and find out where her sister has gone.  Upon arrival, Sara discovers that Jess entered the Aokigahara Forest known as a place where people go to contemplate and commit suicide.  Certain that her sister is not dead, Sara employs magazine reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and his friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead her into the forest, but not before Michi warns her that the forest has been prone to supernatural stories about many people that have entered to explore the area never to have found their way out.

Obviously, the summary above implies that The Forest is a bit of a horror story.  Unfortunately, it's not the least bit scary and first-time director Jason Zada doesn't succeed in creating that ever-growing sense of tension, dread, and fear necessary in a flick like this.  Natalie Dormer is fine in the duel role of twins Sara and Jess, but the film doesn't give her much to do.  In fact, there's not much to do for anyone in the movie.  Its short ninety-minute runtime feels bloated as it as.  I think there's possibly an intriguing  story to be made about the real-life Aokigahara Forest (and, in fact, there are a few other films this year that use this place as a background), but The Forest is not it.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+ 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie Review - Zootopia

Zootopia (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Maurice LaMarche, and Octavia Spencer
Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Amusing and creative, Zootopia is an engaging animated film with clever gags, solid animation, and quality voice acting.  While some critics deemed this Disney's best animated film in decades, I'm not willing to go there.  However, once you get past the rather lengthy exposition at the film's outset, its story becomes quite engaging and easily is able to win over its audience of both kids and adults alike.

Zootopia takes us a world that is completely made up of anthropomorphic animals where the concept of predators and prey don't exist; rather everyone coexists peacefully.  As the flick begins, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has just moved to the big titular city from the small rural town of Bunnyburrow with the aspirations to become the first rabbit police officer in the Zootopia Police Department.  While she eventually succeeds at achieving her dream, she's given very little respect by her superiors -- including water buffalo police chief Bogo (Idris Elba) -- and is tasked with being a lowly traffic cop.  In the course of her mundane duties, Judy runs across sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who she feels in conducting some type of shady business, but she can't quite put her finger on it.  Back at the police station one afternoon, a concerned Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer) pleads with Chief Bogo to search for her missing husband, but when Bogo seemingly pushes Mrs. Otterton aside, Judy jumps at the opportunity to work on a real case.  Bogo, seeing this as an opportunity to get rid of the overly ambitious Judy, tells the rabbit she has 48 hours to find Mrs. Otterton's husband Emmitt or else she must give up her position as a cop.  Desperate to keep her job and prove her worth, Judy tracks down Nick and bribes him into helping her.  The duo travels through the many landscapes of Zootopia and discover a nefarious plot that is turning the now peaceful predators into vicious animals again.

If that seems like a bit of a lengthy summarization, that's because I feel like it is...and that's the biggest problem I had with Zootopia.  The film just takes too long to get rolling -- too much exposition at the start and not enough verve to keep my interest.  Fortunately, once Judy and Nick head out on their mission to track down Emmitt Otterton, things begin to pick up and the film becomes filled with clever jokes and clever humanization of animals.  While the film's script doesn't really lend itself to those heart-wrenching or emotionally uplifting moments we've found in Pixar's films, it still ends up successfully balancing its comedic and dramatic moments in the film's final two acts.

Jason Bateman is perfect casting as Nick with the slick fox emanating Bateman's smart-alecky persona.  Ginnifer Goodwin is spot-on sweet as Judy, a character that could grow irksome in her perfectionism, but doesn't thanks to the vocals provided by the actress.  Nice turns also come from Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt (one of my favorite comediennes) as Judy's parents, the aforementioned Elba as the tough-as-nails police chief, and Jenny Slate as a tiny sheep playing assistant to the mayor of Zootopia.

The animators and screenwriters prove to be clever in their homages to other films and to human existence itself.  Puns abound, but never feel too in-your-face or over-the-top which is a good thing because these plays on words/plays on human culture could've gotten old quickly.  Instead, they add atmosphere to the animal environment.  In the end, Zootopia is a worthy entrant to the Disney animated canon, but it doesn't quite match the levels of the company's best.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, October 21, 2016

Theater Review - Matilda

Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Where: Sam S. Shubert Theatre, New York, NY
When: Saturday, September 10, 8pm

Expectations were very high when I walked into the Shubert Theatre in New York City to see Matilda, a musical based on a book by Roald Dahl, one of my favorite authors as a kid.  Reviews for the production (which is closing at the end of the year) were very strong upon its opening in April 2013 and I've been itching to see it for quite some time.  Admittedly, it wasn't quite as fantastic as I had hoped -- the problem with going in with such high expectations, I suppose -- but it was still an enjoyable evening at the theater highlighted by what I think are some of the cleverest lyrics I've heard in a Broadway show in some time.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Matilda is its story in that there isn't much of one throughout the musical's 160-minute runtime.  Our title character (played in rotation by a cast of three young girls -- Ava Briglia at the performance I saw) is a bit of a genius.  With her head always in a book, she's certainly the brightest bulb in the Wormwood family...but that isn't saying much.  Dad (Rick Holmes) is a slimy used car salesman currently caught up in a scheme to sell wrecked cars to the Russian mob and Mom (Lesli Margherita) is an aspiring Latin ballroom dancer -- and neither of them have any time for Matilda.  In fact, as the opening song tells us, Matilda isn't wanted by her parents.  A burden, rather than a blessing, Matilda turned to education for solace from the chaos in the Wormwood household.  Hoping to curb a bit of Matilda's sassiness, the Wormwoods decide to send their daughter to a new school run by a grinch of a woman -- Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness playing in drag) -- whose claim to fame prior to running the school was being a champion Olympic hammer thrower for England.  Rather than embrace education, the Trunchbull instills fear in her students creating an atmosphere of terror which stands in stark contrast to Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), a fellow teacher at the school whose warm heart and tender nurturing provide the parental support to Matilda that she so desperately needs and deserves.

Sure, that sounds like a decent story, but to me, it's all exposition.  There's very little plot to go around in Dennis Kelly's book for Matilda and as the musical came to its end, I had this feeling of "That's all?"  Granted, in a lesser musical, this may be a bigger problem, but fortunately, Matilda contains some of the most cleverly written songs I've come across thanks to Tim Minchin whose bitingly funny lyrics come at the audience so quickly that I found myself often reacting to his ingenious wordplay in oddly delayed fashion.  Admittedly, the British accents impede some of the cleverness as does the fact that a vast majority of Minchin's work is being sung by kids under the age of 12 whose high-pitched falsetto-esque voices sometimes make some of their singing a bit tough to hear from the stage.  Still, the witty, Roald Dahl-esque lyrics are a true tribute to the musical's source material.

In a show that places young kids front and center for what is likely two-thirds of its runtime, the children in the production must carry a lot of the show's weight and the cast certainly succeeds in that department.  Ava Briglia undeniably holds our attention even when her quiet, subdued Matilda is being bombarded by the quirkier, larger-than-life figures that inhabit her life.  Kudos also to young Evan Gray who nailed my favorite song in the musical - "Revolting Children" - in a showstopping end to the evening.  Rick Holmes and Lesli Margherita as Matilda's parents reveled in their nastiness, making the most of their clever numbers and somehow making their over-the-top characters seem believable.  Bryce Ryness also deserves much credit for exuding an ogreish nastiness in Miss Trunchbull whose favorite saying -- "Children are maggots" -- keys us in to a character who begs for over-exaggeration which Ryness fully takes on.

Matilda is certainly an enjoyable evening at the theater, no doubt about it.  I simply had a case of higher expectations than I probably should have had going into it.  It isn't a perfect musical and, in fact, has a fairly big flaw in the storytelling department in my opinion, but it's cleverly humorous and very much in tone with what I imagine would be Roald Dahl's original intentions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review - Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Nina Arianda
Directed by Stephen Frears

Based on a true story from the 1940s, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the tale of its titular New York socialite (played by Meryl Streep) who has a great appreciation and fondness for classical music and opera.  On a whim and with the support of her husband and manager St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) Florence decides that she is going to showcase her operatic singing at a small recital for friends and other New York elite.  St. Clair hires an up-and-coming pianist Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg) to be Florence's accompanist and they begin preparing for the recital.  The problem, however, is that Florence can't sing...at all.  Her riches have allowed her to be trained by conductors of the Metropolitan Opera, but even these great musical minds can't mold Florence into a good singer.

The relationship between Florence and St. Clair is an unusual one.  Florence had been previously married and through that marriage contracted syphilis, so the couple have never consummated their marriage.  Because of this, despite being married, Florence and St. Clair don't live together with the two having an unspoken rule that St. Clair can see others.  Psychologically, this seemingly has an effect on St. Clair to be incredibly kind and generous to his wife, allowing her to act out her whims regardless of whether she really should, hence St. Clair's insistence that Florence be allowed to sing despite the fact that she simply is atrocious.

It's the admittedly odd connection between Meryl Streep's Florence and Hugh Grant's St. Clair that powers the film along.  There is obvious love conveyed for one another, but their unique living arrangements lead both parties to acquiesce to each other's whims.  This blind acceptance leads to quite a few humorous moments, particularly involving Simon Helberg as Florence's accompanist.  Helberg's Cosmé is seemingly only in the film to give reaction shots to Florence's truly horrible voice, but he does so with such aplomb that it's easy to overlook his underwritten character.  Hugh Grant is also charming -- as he is wont to be in films -- but this is really Meryl Streep's film.  Florence is certainly not as complicated a character as Streep as played in the past, but the actress imbues the character with heart, compassion, and a survivor-esque quality.  She's certainly captivating as always.

The film itself isn't quite as successful.  It's by no means bad, but in the end it's very much a throwaway.  There simply isn't a lot here.  Once we hear how awful Florence is, the comedic schtick runs a bit cold.  You can only hear a woman sing off-key so many times before you find yourself looking at your watch secretly urging the film to come to its conclusion.  Florence Foster Jenkins is amusing and lighthearted, but in the end, it's a bit empty.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie Review - Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

I am not the most erudite guy, but I generally like to think of myself as somewhat intelligent.  When it comes to movies, while I'm sometimes up for a mindless comedic jaunt, I also appreciate more nuanced approaches to humor.  With that in mind, I tried to understand what the Coen Brothers were trying to do with Hail, Caesar!, but I must admit that I found myself lost in the scattered, disjointed, and utterly dull satire that lingered on the screen.  Considering the overwhelmingly positive reviews (85% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), I'm obviously in the minority here, however, this flick never once seems to come together as a cohesive whole.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of film production at Capitol Pictures in the early 1950s, but he spends most of his time working as a fixer, trying to keep his top-of-the-line stars from ending up in the gossip pages of well-known columnists like twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton).  It isn't easy and it gets progressively harder when one of the studio's biggest names -- Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) -- gets kidnapped from the set of the studio's big extravaganza Hail, Caeasar by a group of Communist screenwriters.

Were this the only plot of the Coens' Hail, Caesar, it may have been successful, but the duo pepper in a variety of other characters who serve little to no purpose in the film's overarching storyline.  Sure these characters help to create an atmosphere which is admittedly successfully portrayed, but their side stories are so superfluous and unengaged with the main plot line that I felt as if the movie would've worked better as a ten episode-long tv series rather than a self-contained 100-minute movie.  Scarlett Johansson is humorous as a brash, pregnant, unmarried Esther Williams-type synchronized swimming star.  Channing Tatum is fine as a Gene Kelly-esque singer/dancer.  Alden Ehrenreich steals the show as an "aw shucks" Roy Rogers-esque western star/singer.  Still, while these three actors have crafted believable characters, they're not all that integral to the overarching plot.  Unfortunately, that overarching plot is bland and boring and we find ourselves wanting to spend more time with Ehrenreich and Johansson despite the fact that they do little to forward the film.

The flick admittedly looks lush in its period setting and the acting is solid across the board (Ehrenreich is definitely the star of the bunch).  However, production and costume design can only get you so far.  In this so-called comedy, I can count on one hand the amount of times I laughed...and that's a bit of a problem.  The Coen Brothers are admittedly a directorial and writing team who don't always succeed for me, particularly in the comedy world.  Hail, Caesar! is one of those failures.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movie Review - The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans (2016)
Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, and Florence Clery
Directed by Derek Cianfrance

If someone were to come out of The Light Between Oceans and say they were bored senseless, I wouldn't be able to necessarily argue with them.  Writer-director Derek Cianfrance's film is indeed deliberately slow-paced, but to this reviewer it adds much nuance to the film's plot which details the lives of recently married lighthouse keeper Tom and his wife Isabel who live a secluded life on an island, unable to contact anyone on the mainland without the help of a several hour boat ride.  The detachment Tom and Isabel experience is palpably felt thanks to Cianfrance's methodical direction which in addition to looking cinematographically beautiful also gets some emotionally riveting performances from its cast.

Taking place in the early 1920s, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a WWII vet who recently moved to the western Australia coast.  Upon arrival, he is offered a job as a lighthouse keeper on the secluded island of Janus Rock which Tom accepts without hesitation, seeking an opportunity to live alone and reflect upon the horrors of the war.  Tom's seclusion, however, is short-lived as he soon falls for a young woman named Isabel (Alicia Vikander) on one of his visits to the mainland for supplies.  Isabel agrees to marry him and the newly betrothed couple begin their life together on Janus Rock, soon discovering that Isabel is pregnant with their first child.  Ecstatic, the couple prepare for their upcoming arrival, but unfortunately Isabel miscarries which spirals her into a great depression from which she only recovers when the couple discovers that they are pregnant again.  However, this pregnancy is met with the same hurtful result as Isabel loses this child as well.  The confinement of the island coupled with the loss of the two children devastate Isabel, but one afternoon, Isabel and Tom discover a boat floating near the coast of Janus Rock and, upon pulling the craft to shore, they find a weeks-old baby girl inside along with a deceased man.  Because of their seclusion, no one was yet aware of Isabel's latest miscarriage and, after Isabel's insistent pressing of Tom, the couple decide to act as if the baby is theirs.  To say this won't end well shouldn't come as a surprise as upon a visit to shore several years later, Tom discovers a disparate Hannah (Rachel Weisz), devastated that her husband and child seem to have been lost at sea.

The Light Between Oceans is certainly a film in which the human emotional psyche is placed front and center which can lead to an overly melodramatic piece if the director and actors aren't careful.  I'm pleased to report that isn't the case here in the slightest thanks in large part to the performances of the three aforementioned cast members.  Rachel Weisz nicely captures the mournful essence of a recently widowed woman dealing with not only the loss of her husband, but her child as well.  Michael Fassbender's imbues Tom with an icy exterior that melts away when he meets Isabel, only to return when he realizes the gravity of the crime they've committed despite the fact that it has brought the couple much-needed happiness.

The film, however, belongs to Alicia Vikander.  As the film opens, Isabel's youthful sassiness is an attractive asset to the stern Tom and her zest for life doesn't exactly echo the more subdued surroundings of her quiet coastal Australian town.  Capturing the joy of impending motherhood, Vikander also completely embodies the devastation of a woman who loses two children via miscarriage and her brooding pain is palpably felt.  The epicness and freedom their secluded island once gave Isabel now feels lonely, restricting, and painful.  Vikander perfectly captures these varied emotions which take her character on a bit of a roller coaster ride, but never feel out of place.  Together, Vikander and Fassbender (a couple in real life) create a beautiful romance that is dealt many an ill-fated blow.

To me, the film works best in the first two-thirds where the brooding nature and the deliberate slow pace add to Tom and Isabel's plight.  (I will readily admit that this sentiment will not be shared by all.)  The final third is where things begin to derail a little bit and, oddly enough, it's the point when there's the most plot.  Machinations in the story lead the characters of Isabel and Tom to begin to question one another and there's one too many changes in heart as the story progresses.  However, Derek Cianfrance had built up such goodwill in the prior acts that I was willing to overlook it somewhat.  Thanks to some nuanced direction and terrific performances (including the not-yet-mentioned wonderful work from young Florence Clery as Tom and Isabel's child whose acting feels incredibly innocent and natural), The Light Between Oceans is a great start to the awards season.  Unfortunately, I doubt it will be remembered in any capacity come Oscar time.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Movie Review - Sully

Sully (2015)
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O'Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, and Laura Linney
Directed by Clint Eastwood

I have long criticized that as a director Clint Eastwood doesn't create films that garner an emotional connection between the characters and the audience.  There's a disconnect that Eastwood often isn't able to overcome even in films where the kinship should be palpable (ex: American Sniper).  I'm happy to report that isn't the case in Sully, a film that retells the tale of pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his successful attempt to land a passenger aircraft on the bitterly cold Hudson River on January 15, 2009, after a massive engine failure.  Credit is certainly due to Eastwood for crafting a briskly edited film and capturing a fantastic performance from Tom Hanks as the title character.

The film places Sully in a bit of a predicament, opening not by showing the audience the Hudson River landing, but instead in the midst of the build-up to an evidentiary hearing debating whether Captain Sullenberger could've landed his plane at one of several nearby airports as opposed to on the water.  Most of the film is spent doubting Sully's abilities (by both the NTSB and Sully himself) while at the same time the media touts his heroic effort, and this juxtaposition causes the title character to question his actions -- is he really as good of a pilot as he thought he was and does he deserve the praise he's receiving nationwide despite the fact that he saved all 155 souls onboard the plane.  This conceit of placing Sully under fire does wonders for creating a well-rounded title character in that it allows the fantastic Tom Hanks to play someone largely doubting himself throughout the entirety of the film, a man haunted by a frightening event that, for all intents and purposes, ended positively.  Rather than just be portrayed as a outright hero, Hanks is allowed to layer his performance with humility, anger, confidence, weakness, and strength.  Tom Hanks has always been known as the modern-day Jimmy Stewart -- cinema's everyman, cinema's "normal guy."  While there may seem to be a simplicity with playing a regular joe character like Sully, Hanks creates an effortlessly humbling performance which, to this moviegoer, isn't necessarily easy to achieve.

Kudos must also be given to Eastwood whose tautly directed film (which clocks in at a speedy 96 minutes) creates suspense out of a 205-second plane landing and its aftermath -- the results of which we in the audience already know the outcome.  In a successful effort to keep our interest, Eastwood (and the screenwriter, presumably) has his film jump around in time and while we in the audience never question where we are in the chronological timeline, we at least are given a bit of a puzzle to piece together from this admittedly well-known story.  While it gets a tad repetitive towards the end (we essentially get a complete redo of the plane landing sequence which we had already seen less than thirty minutes prior), Eastwood successfully creates a tension-filled movie and doesn't disappoint with his lensing of the initial landing sequence -- a moment we in the audience are waiting for from the outset.

Along with a nice supporting turn from Aaron Eckhart as Sully's co-pilot Jeff Skiles (who is a real-life person I didn't know about in the slightest), Eastwood has created a winner with Sully.  Color me surprised as I didn't think the aging director had it in him, but he proved me wrong with this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

TV Review - Crisis in Six Scenes

Crisis in Six Scenes
Starring Woody Allen, Elaine May, Miley Cyrus, John Magaro, and Rachel Brosnahan
Directed by Woody Allen
***This show is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***
I preface many of my Woody Allen reviews with the notion that I've discovered the auteur's work within the past decade, so I'm not really aware of all the movies that he released during the 1970s/80s which most people would deem his best era of work.  I mention this only to say that while I enjoy Woody Allen, I don't hold him up on some pedestal, like some may.  His work in the new millennium is certainly a crapshoot with some films being quite good and some being quite bad. Unfortunately, Allen's first foray into episodic television falls into the latter category as Crisis in Six Scenes feels more like a disappointing two-hour movie broken up into 22-minute segments than a tv show.

Ultimately, it's that lack of "tv feel" that is one of the biggest hindrances to the success of Crisis in Six Scenes.  When formulating a tv show -- even if it's a tv show that has an overarching storyline over the course of its season -- individual episodes tend to have a sense of encapsulation.  Sure, if the "A" storyline runs throughout the season, there's at least a "B" or "C" storyline that wraps up in a comedy's 22 minutes or a drama's 44 minutes on network, cable, or streaming tv.  Here, Woody Allen has none of that.  He has literally just chopped up a movie into segments for a tv show.  Given the streaming format of this show (via Amazon Prime) where all episodes are available at one time, Allen's technique makes no sense whatsoever because he's essentially gipped Amazon out of a tv series and and really just delivered a movie.  I don't think it was Allen trying to reinvent the wheel or try something "different," it was simply that he had no concept of how to craft a television comedy so he wrote a movie and just chopped it up into twenty minute piecemeal segments.

It's not simply Allen's lack of television prowess that hinders Crisis in Six Scenes from working.  Frankly, it's just not all that funny.  Taking place in the 1960s, Allen plays Sidney J. Munsinger, a novelist who has decided to try his hand at writing for television (so meta).  His wife Kay (Elaine May) is a marriage counselor who works out of their fancy home in the fancy suburbs of New York City.  While life is pleasant enough for the aging couple, things begin to spin out of control when hippie revolutionary Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus) shows up on their doorstep looking for refuge after she fashioned a prison break to escape from jail.  Incarcerated for a radical protest bombing (this is a comedy, remember), Lennie has come to the Munsinger household because when she was a child she had a relationship with Kay and hopes that the elderly Kay will protect her now.

This doesn't sit well with Sidney and in Sidney, Woody Allen's typical neurotic Jewish schtick shines through.  Allen is actually fine, though.  He's playing the same character I've seen him play in everything so if you buy into that -- which I do -- you'll find the series tolerable.  His interactions with his wife Kay as she slowly starts to buy into Lennie's radical philosophies are the best parts of the show.  But unfortunately, there's not much else that Crisis in Six Scenes has going for it.  Miley Cyrus simply isn't a good enough actress to feel believable as the 1960s revolutionary, although, in her defense, she's not exactly gifted a great role.  The rest of Allen's story here feels stretched out in order to accommodate the series' six episode runtime than actually benefit the production.

Sure, there are moments of cleverness and I laughed a few times, but Crisis in Six Scenes is really a bit of a mess.  I was looking forward to this show for some reason and I admittedly binge-watched it over the course of two late nights (so I wasn't inherently turned off by what I saw to stop watching after two episodes), but it was a pretty big disappointment.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Movie Review - Pete's Dragon

Pete's Dragon (2016)
Starring Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, and Karl Urban
Directed by David Lowery

The original 1977 Pete's Dragon doesn't hold a particularly fond place in this Disney fan's heart simply in that it wasn't a staple in my household growing up.  I was hoping that would bode well for the prospects of Disney's 2016 remake, but unfortunately the updated version was a bit of a disappointment.  Although it was well acted, I found the film to be rather dull, lacking enchantment considering the somewhat whimsical subject matter.

While driving with his parents through the forests of the Northwest United States, a horrible car accident occurs and leaves six year-old Pete the only survivor.  Wandering the woods with no one to help him, Pete comes across a green, furry dragon whom he names Elliot and the two become close friends.  Six years later, an eleven year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) is discovered by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a national park ranger, who brings the young boy back to town.  Despite having the luxuries of modern-day conveniences, Pete misses his friend Elliot, but he has a difficult time convincing people that his dragon/friend/caretaker is real.

Throw in some bad (though not necessarily "evil") loggers, Grace's somewhat kooky father (played by Robert Redford), and a bit of an unnecessarily destructive climax involving a bridge collapse and you end up having a film that feels like it needed a little more focus in order to succeed.  As mentioned, the acting across the board is quite good, but the cast isn't given much to work with here.  This is a kid's movie about a dragon for goodness sakes -- it should scream "fun" and "enchanting," but director and co-writer David Lowery's film lacks any charm and fancifulness.  While Lowery crafts a film that looks good and creates a believable atmosphere for its characters (including the computer-generated Elliot) to inhabit, I found myself not wanting to spend all that much time with them with the heavy dreariness that seems to permeate throughout the piece.

Once again, as is often the case, Disney's live-action remake machine disappoints.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, October 03, 2016

Theater Review - Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot
Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Ben Barnes
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, October 2, 2pm
Photo by Paul Cerro/The REP

So is a play a success if it aims to be boring and succeeds at that?  While some may argue that Waiting for Godot isn't tedious, but rather an engaging 150 minutes of tragicomedy, this theatergoer must disagree.  However, considering this is a play that focuses on the mundanity and repetition of daily existence, I'd say the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' production of Samuel Beckett's well-known play is a success despite the fact that I never want to see it again.

I had never read Waiting for Godot in any literature class, but its reputation was certainly known to me.  It's been the butt of numerous jokes all of which capitalize on the notion that it's a play about "nothing" -- a bit of a 1950s Seinfeld episode stretched out to over two hours.  Plot-wise, I'd concur - the play is really about nothing other than two hobo-ish tramps sitting around talking (in a very circular way) as they literally wait around for a guy named Godot who -- spoiler alert -- never shows. While there's minimal plot (or, as some would say, no plot), there is something here.  A pre-show talk featuring REP member Steve Tague keyed me in to the notion of the play being about people's daily repetitive lives while also allowing some small, though key, glimpses into the post-WWII era in which the play was written.  

All of that is well and good...but you still walk away from it going, "Is that all?"  It's a play I'm glad I saw, but I'd never recommend it to anyone.  That said, if you're going to see a production of Waiting for Godot, I have to imagine the REP is putting on as good of a one as you're going to get.  The playful, almost clownish repartee between REP leads Stephen Pelinski and Lee Ernst -- the former is as good as always and the latter succeeds in making this his best REP role yet -- makes the play innately watchable despite the fact that you're often admittedly struck dull by the monotony of the piece.  The sometimes quick back-and-forth patter between Ernst and Pelinski oftentimes had a very "Who's on First" Abbot and Costello stylization which at least provides pockets of amusement in the midst of ennui that makes up much of the rest of the dialog.  Nice turns from Mic Matarrese and Michael Gotch round out the ensemble who all deserve the credit for allowing me as a viewer to "hang in there" when many would've baled...or at the very least fallen asleep (as the woman next to me did as well as two people in the front row).

Amid a barren, though starkly beautiful set by Kristen Robinson, to me director Ben Barnes does all that he can with the script and certainly, as mentioned, gets the very best from his cast of actors.  Obviously, those more erudite than me find this play to be a bit of a masterpiece and I'm nowhere near able to agree with that statement.  Surprisingly, though, as I formulated this review, I found myself wanting to read a bit more about the play and research its "meanings" and "reason for existence."  Perhaps I'll do that in time.  In the end, Waiting for Godot wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be.  And while I admit that's damning praise, I'm actually very happy the REP afforded me the opportunity to see the piece performed.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Film

And the 2015 RyMickey Awards come to an end with this year's final category -- Best Picture of the Year.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've become a bit nicer in my old age -- I doled out more B's and above this year percentage-wise than most other years.  Looking back, I may have been a tad too generous, but I feel like I've crafted a really solid Top Twenty list this year full of blockbusters, indie pics, documentaries, dramas, comedies, musicals, animation -- I really ran the gamut of genres which pleasantly surprised me when I began to realize what films made it into my Top Twenty.

I urge my few readers to give a movie or two listed below a chance -- more than half are streaming in some capacity, so check them out if any of them pique your interest.

Best Films of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon / SoH = Streaming on HBO)

#50 - Cinderella   ---   #49- The Peanuts Movie (SoH)
#48 - Manson Family Vacation (SoN)   ---   #47 - The Voices (SoA)
#46 - 45 Years   ---   #45 - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (SoA)
#44 - Batkid Begins (SoN)   ---   #43 - Grandma
#42 - 6 Years (SoN)   ---   #41 - I Smile Back (SoA)
#40 - Victoria (SoN)   ---   #39 - Everest (SoH)   ---   #38 - Circle (SoN)
#37 - I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (SoA)
#36 - We Are Still Here (SoN)   ---   #35 - The Gift
#34 - Jurassic World (SoH)   ---    #33 - Straight Outta Compton (SoH)
#32 - The Age of Adaline (SoA)   ---   #31 - Spectre

Honorable Mentions
  • #30 - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - (B) - A hip irreverence makes this cancer comedy a winner (SoH)
  • #29 - Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - (B) - One-sided, but rather damning in its indictment of this unique religion (SoH)
  • #28 - The Girl in the Book - (B) - A sleeper film with two very nice female performances at its center (SoN)
  • #27 - The Hateful Eight - (B) - Typical Tarantino, and while I'd like to see him branch out a little more, this is a solid piece squarely in his wheelhouse
  • #26 - In the Heart of the Sea - (B) -  Much better and much more interesting than its lack of box office implies (SoH)
  • #25 - Beasts of No Nation - (B) - A sad tale detailing a horrific atmosphere that is occurring in our world today (SoN)
  • #24 - Anomalisa - (B) - A unique animated tale for adults
  • #23 - Sicario - (B) - Frighteningly realistic in its take on the US/Mexico drug war
  • #22 - About Elly - (B) - Another interesting flick from director Asghar Farhadi that details cultures unknown to most Americans (SoN)
  • #21 - Shaun the Sheep Movie - (B+) - Wonderfully animated and very clever in its ability to tell a story with hardly a word spoken

And the Top Twenty Are...

#20 - Amy - B+
Amy Winehouse never really impacted by musical landscape and it certainly didn't help that her heavily scrutinized public life made her quite unappealing to me.  However, this documentary told completely through interviews with Amy's family, friends, and the singer herself details the tragic story of Ms. Winehouse's early death at the age of 27.  Director Asif Kapadia never presents Amy as a victim, martyr, or saint, but hearing her own words describe the pleasure of the addictions that led to her downfall makes the singer's tragic end all the more poignant. (SoA)

#19 - McFarland, USA - B+
We've seen this underdog sports story many, many times before, yet thanks to a heartwarming turn from Kevin Costner, a well-cast group of unknown actors portraying the McFarland High School track team, and a sentimental story that comes off surprisingly non-treacly, McFarland, USA is a sleeper hit that hopefully more people will come to appreciate in years to come.  

#18 - Danny Collins - B+ 
Danny Collins is an example of one of those little hidden gems that I love to come across over a year of film.  The talented cast take what may have been a typical dramedy about an aging rockstar (albeit with some very clever dialog) and transform it into something more engaging than could be expected.  Underrated and under-seen, Danny Collins is one you should definitely add to your viewing queue. (SoA)

#17 - Inside Out - B+
I didn't hold quite the same affinity towards Inside Out as most critics, finding the film to be a bit lacking in the "heart" department despite attempts by the screenwriters and directors to try and pull on the heartstrings a few times.  For that, Inside Out doesn't land in the upper echelon of Pixar films story-wise for me.  However, visually, it's a bit of a masterpiece.  With wonderfully developed characters expertly voiced by their respective actors, Inside Out is a clever piece of animation.

#16 - The Last Five Years - B  
Attentive readers will notice that my RyMickey Rating for The Last Five Years is a 'B' which is lower than the previously discussed five films in this list which all garnered a 'B+'.  However, The Last Five Years provided a unique experience for me.  I know it's a flawed film.  But I really like it.  Detailing the story of the relationship of Cathy and Jamie, the film is told in a unique manner -- Cathy's side of their story is told from the end to the beginning, whereas Jamie's side of the story is told from the beginning to the end.  The two sides of the story intertwine creating a sometimes disconcerting experience, but an immensely watchable one.  And it's a musical with some heartbreaking and heartwarming songs from composer Jason Robert Brown.  All I'll say is give this one a chance.  It will not be for everyone -- in fact, I've shown it to a few people who think it's one of the worst things they've seen.  But, as I quote at the top of my blog, "The joy of watching movies...is arguing about them."  (SoN)

The Top 15 will be revealed by clicking that tiny little "Read More" to the lower left!