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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,...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie Review - Creed

***Rocky Week -- Day 7***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Creed (2015)
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew, and Phylicia Rashad
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Without any shred of doubt, Creed is the best made film in the Rocky franchise.  Does that make it the best film overall?  Not quite, but it's definitely up there in terms of quality, acting, story, and direction.  While staying true to its roots with simple homages to the past, Creed introduces us to a new lead character to whom we in the audience admittedly don't quite have as much connection which hampers things a little bit.  Fortunately, though, Creed doesn't abandon all that made Rocky so successful, giving us a touching performance from our former title character in what may be the best role of Sylvester Stallone's career.

As a young boy, Adonis Johnson lived his life moving from foster home to foster home and eventually landed himself in a juvenile detention facility.  At the age of 13, Adonis is visited by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) who takes the young boy in and tells him of his true lineage -- that he is the result of a extramarital affair between her husband (the late Apollo Creed) and Adonis's mother.  Seventeen years pass and despite Mary Anne's wishes that he hold down a good job, Adonis (played as an adult by Michael B. Jordan) feels a passion for boxing and travels to Philadelphia to train with the man who helped to shape Apollo into the name that he was -- Rocky Balboa.

Rocky himself is a bit more weathered, a bit more weary of jumping back into the boxing world.  His pace of everything -- the way he talks, the way he walks -- has slowed as time and his boxing past has taken its toll on him.  Stallone plays Rocky vulnerable here -- and while we maybe saw tinges of that in Rocky Balboa, this adds huge layers of depth to a character we've long known.  Smartly (and perhaps this is due to the fact that this is the first Rocky film to not be written by Stallone), Rocky doesn't steal the spotlight.  Director Ryan Coogler has made this Adonis Creed's film, but Rocky and Stallone's portrayal are the reason the film succeeds as well as it does.

There's a visceral, in-your-face style that director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti bring to the table that we haven't seen in previous Rocky flicks.  Moreso than ever, we feel a part of the action -- we're in the ring fighting with or against Adonis, close enough to feel his pain and comprehend the pain he inflicts.  One scene in particular showcases Adonis's first "real" fight and it's completed in one take that is so blissfully choreographed and amazingly shot that I found myself awestruck.  But Coogler also allows for quieter moments to shine, particularly in some rather touching scenes between Michael B. Jordan and his love interest Bianca played by Tessa Thompson.  Jordan carries many of the same characteristics as Stallone in the first Rocky film, but there's a bit more of an innocence within the tough exterior -- an innocence that probably stems from a sense of hope and heartbreak (both stemming from his difficult, fatherless childhood) that Rocky himself never really experienced.  Thompson also does a nice job of bringing out the softer side of Adonis, obviously playing the "new Adrian," but she's certainly a captivating presence.

As mentioned, there is no doubt that Creed is the best made film in the Rocky franchise.  However, were I to choose to watch another Rocky flick, I'd go with Rocky Balboa first, followed by the original, and then give Creed another go (despite giving Creed a higher grade than the original Rocky).  In time, with inevitable subsequent Creed releases, I'll get to know Adonis a little better as a character and my opinion of this movie will likely only increase in its positivity.  As it stands now though, Creed succeeds for not only introducing us to a new title character, but giving tribute to the iconic Rocky.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Movie Review - Rocky Balboa

***Rocky Week -- Day 6***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes, James Francis Kelly III, and Milo Ventimiglia
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

I fully recognize that it's likely sacrilege to say this, but Rocky Balboa is a better movie than the original Rocky.  Now that I've completely ticked off any fan of the Rocky series, let's delve into why this flick -- coming two decades after the release of Rocky V -- is so successful and deserves plaudits for all involved.  The sense of nostalgia that runs throughout adds an air of poignancy to Rocky Balboa as our title character (played by Sylvester Stallone) finds himself dealing with boththe death of his wife Adrian and his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) feeling the need to distance himself from the overpowering and omnipresent gravitas that comes from being Rocky Balboa's son in Philadelphia.

It's these predicaments that give Rocky Balboa heart and help to shape Rocky into a more well-rounded character here than we've ever seen before.  Having left the boxing world behind long ago, Rocky now runs an Italian restaurant named after his deceased wife.  Days are spent reminiscing with patrons about past bouts, but things begin to change when ESPN formulates a computerized battle between Rocky and the current heavyweight champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), the latter of whom has been criticized for only fighting contenders whom he knows he can easily beat.  With the tv special garnering much attention, Dixon's handlers goad Rocky into one final battle and Balboa finds his boxing memories too precious to pass up one last chance in the ring.

Moreso than any other Rocky movie up until this point, this isn't a film about boxing, but a flick about family.  Sure, Rocky aims to get a little redemption, but in the end, it's Rocky's relationships with his son, his brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young), and his deceased wife that really make this one shine.  With some simple touching reminders of past Rocky flicks -- the turtles make a return appearance; Rocky befriends a female, Marie (Geraldine Hughes), who just so happens to be the young gal who sasses Rocky in the first film -- the film exudes nostalgia while still being its own piece of filmmaking.

Stallone returns as screenwriter and director here and I think this is by far his best work behind the camera of any Rocky flick.  The whole film feels much more complete visually, conceptually, and story-wise than Rockys III-V and the conceit of an older, somewhat defeated man getting one final shot at redemption feels oddly more touching than the first film's classic underdog success.  Maybe it's just that I'm getting older, but the idea of having "one last shot" somehow makes Rocky Balboa the most enjoyable film in the Rocky franchise for me.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Friday, January 29, 2016

Movie Review - Rocky V

***Rocky Week -- Day 5***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Rocky V (1990)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Richard Gant, Tommy Morrison, Sage Stallone, and Burgess Meredith
Directed by John G. Avildsen

Here's the problem with Rocky V -- I've already forgotten about it less than two days after watching it.  Granted, some of that may be attributable to the fact that I've watched six Rocky films over the past six days, but even when I had to refresh with the wikipedia summary, I still oddly found Rocky V a bit of a blur.

Once again, as has been the case with II-IV, we begin the film with a recap the prior film's final fight -- a conceit that I will never comprehend.  Following the unnecessary Ivan Drago remembrance, we discover that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) has returned home to the US only to find that brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) unknowingly had Rocky sign power of attorney over to a crooked lawyer who has depleted nearly all of the Balboa's funds.  Forced to move out of their large mansion and downsize to a row home in Philadelphia, Rocky decides to make a little money by training a young boxer named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison).  Unbeknown to Rocky, Gunn is approached by shady, bombastic promoter George Washington Duke (Richard Gant) who wants Gunn to fight his protégé and when Gunn agrees, he shuns Rocky and his training.

Even that summary exudes boredom which is unfortunately the case throughout Rocky V.  Rather shockingly, this is the one Rocky movie that doesn't showcase Rocky training for another fight -- instead we get montages of Rocky training someone else to fight.  It's very different!  Tommy Morrison is a lukewarm actor and Richard Gant as the obnoxious promoter makes Rocky IV's Dolph Lundgren look like a Shakespearean actor.

The one positive in Rocky V -- and what I actually liked at the film's beginning -- is the relationship between Rocky and his son Rocky, Jr. (played by Stallone's real son Sage).  There are some tender moments at the start that ring surprisingly true, but Junior's storyline is pushed to the sidelines when Tommy Gunn comes into the picture and it hurts the film.  Fortunately, the father/son relationship is explored further and to much greater effect in the next film in the series and my thoughts on that one may surprise and even shock you.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Movie Review - Rocky IV

***Rocky Week -- Day 4***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Rocky IV (1985)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Brigitte Nielsen, and Dolph Lundgren
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

And Rocky IV is apparently where the already diminishing franchise completely falls apart.  Everything about this movie feels excessive which while admittedly is the point with Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) using his nine years of success to have crafted a great life for wife Adrian (Talia Shire) and son Rocky, Jr.; however it also creates plot points that prove ludicrous.  Writer Stallone goes too far here with the excess and auteur Stallone throws in too many directorial flourishes -- both of which inherently go against the innocence, simplicity, and homely nature of the Rocky series.

There's a new fighter on the scene -- Russian Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) who after recently been granted fighting privileges in the US has dominated many of the American boxers.  Retired Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) sees Drago as an opportunity to return to the arena, so he agrees to an exhibition match with the Russian.  With James Brown singing "Living in America," scantily clad dancers, and a fancy Las Vegas setting (note: just a few of the examples of the aforementioned excesses), the purported exhibition has disastrous results for Creed which causes Rocky to avenge his friend.  Rocky travels to Russia to take on Drago and we get yet another "Fight of the Century."

The problem with Rocky IV isn't just that it's the worst of the Rocky films, it's that it's a bad movie in general.  From the horrible acting of Dolph Lundgren to the ridiculously silly montage of Rocky training in Russia by chopping wood (set to one of the worst movie montage songs ever) to a robot befriending Rocky's brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young), Stallone really needed to reel this one in and he fails to do so.  Certainly the low point of the series, the jingoistic Rocky IV signaled the beginning of the end for the franchise...until over two decades later.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Movie Review - Rocky III

***Rocky Week -- Day 3***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Rocky III (1982)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, and Mr. T
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

I guess at this point I must come to terms that every Rocky film is going to end with a big fight -- I mean, it's a sports movie so I won't hold that against it since it's characteristic of the genre.  However, I'd hope that every film doesn't follow the same notes of a retired Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) heading back into the ring for one more Big Fight prefaced by our titular character going through the same rigorous training process we've seen before.

Instead of Apollo Creed, Rocky is facing Clubber Lang (Mr. T), the newest "It" boxer.  Despite the warnings of his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky heads into the ring to fight Lang and fails miserably.  Much like Mickey told him, Rocky was too preoccupied with endorsements, charity events, and celebrity to focus on fighting and it did Rocky in.  It also did Mickey in as the elderly trainer can't deal with the fact that his protégé has fallen so drastically.  Mickey ends up passing away, leaving Rocky devastated and unwilling to fight ever again.  However, during a chance meeting with his former opponent Apollo (Carl Weathers), Rocky agrees to be trained by Apollo in an attempt to regain his former glory and bring honor to Mickey.

Written and directed by Stallone, Rocky III begins yet again with a several minute long recap of the previous movie's final fight.  Why this is necessary, I'll never know.  Fortunately, the film picks up a bit with a nice little montage showing Rocky Balboa's ascendence in the boxing world while juxtaposing against Clubber Lang's recent rise as well.  This cleverly posits the film's pivotal showdown from the very beginning of the flick which works in Stallone's favor.

Unfortunately, whereas Stallone captured emotional moments in Rocky II, he doesn't succeed nearly as well in Rocky III.  Mickey's death should've been heartbreaking, but it's not set up in a way to garner the audience's favor.  It's presumably a pivotal moment in the titular character's life, but it disappointingly doesn't connect emotionally and considering it's the crux of the "homelife" aspect of the story, it's a fairly big issue.

Rocky III isn't particularly awful, but it certainly the least successful of the three Rocky films thus far. I'm pondering how this series can really branch out from here...

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Movie Review - Rocky II

***Rocky Week -- Day 2***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Rocky II (2015)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and Burgess Meredith
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

It's not that Rocky II is a bad movie by any means -- it's simply that the overall story of Rocky II is a complete rehash of its predecessor.  Even though he lost the big fight at the end of the first film, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) finds himself still living on a bit of a high (yes...Rocky's success is the biggest difference between the first and the second films).  After marrying Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky wants to live life as grand as his endorsements will carry him, but the money runs out quickly and he's forced to head back to boxing again.  And he's gonna come back to the ring fighting Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers)...again.  With an even more epic fight at its conclusion (15 rounds!), the beats of Rocky II simply feel to similar to the original.

Surprisingly, however, Rocky II is innately watchable despite feeling repetitive.  Stallone and Shire feel more nuanced as characters and actors and their relationship gets to be a little more fleshed out with Adrian's pregnancy taking center stage on the homefront side of the story.  Unfortunately, the boxing side of Rocky II is much too much the same.  Stallone -- who not only wrote but also directed the film this time -- starts the film with the final six minutes of the prior movie.  It's an odd way to try to start things off on a new note and, quite frankly, it's indicative of the film's biggest problem.  That said, Stallone actually does a nice job directing here pretty much equalling the direction of his predecessor with the film having some lovely cinematic scenes.  I worry, however, that the repetition of Rocky II may be indicative of the rest of the series' films.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, January 25, 2016

Movie Review - Rocky

***Rocky Week -- Day 1***
***Note:  Spoilers may appear in all Rocky Week reviews.***
Rocky (1976)
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, and Burgess Meredith
Directed by John G. Avildsen

I had never seen a Rocky movie prior to now.  Growing up near Philadelphia and being a movie buff, I certainly knew of Rocky, but much like Star Wars I never caved in to watching the series.  And then Creed comes out and everyone says how great it is and I figure that maybe it's time to just give in.  So I did.

Rocky doesn't try to be anything other than what it is at its core -- a simple story about how an everyday guy can achieve success by trying hard enough and believing in himself.  A bit of a rags to riches tale that is entirely believable and certainly strikes an emotional cord with its simplicity, Rocky is the quintessential underdog story as we see our titular character (played by Sylvester Stallone), a no-nonsense local Philly boxer, be challenged by the bombastic and braggadocian World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to a huge boxing event.  At the same time, Rocky finds himself falling for the quiet, mannered, and meek Adrian (Talia Shire) causing her alcoholic brother (and Rocky's acquaintance) Mickey to become a bit jealous of Rocky's success in his profession and in his love life.

There's a certain "normalcy" to Rocky's script penned by Stallone himself.  The words that are spoken feel basic and perhaps lacking a little education, couth, or sophistication, but they fit in perfectly with the blue collar setting of the film.  Stallone has crafted a realistic piece here that one can't help believe could truly happen to an underdog boxer living in Philadelphia in the 1970s.

Oddly enough, as the film came to a close, I found myself a bit surprised by the way the final two or three minutes played out.  Here we were waiting all this time for a big boxing match, it happens, and then the film somewhat abruptly ends.  However, I realized as I thought back on it a little more, Rocky ends not placing its focus on the boxing itself (despite an epically long ten-round brawl between Rocky and Creed), but on the human story.  We end with Rocky desperately seeking Adrian and it's Adrian who's given him purpose in life -- not the boxing.  It's rather sweet, certainly simple, yet quite pleasant.  Rocky isn't a great film per se and I'm not quite sure it should've beat out some very solid contenders to win Best Picture, but it's a warmly "familiar" piece that places family, heart, and hard work at its core.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Rocky Week Starts Tomorrow

With Creed released in 2015 and garnering a good amount of buzz, I figured it was time for this blogger to finally give in and watch Rocky.  And then I just told myself that I might as well just watch all of the Rocky films for better or worse -- and there are certainly some better and some much, much worse.

Come back on Monday for a week-long retrospective as I begin to explore Sylvester Stallone's Academy Award-winning franchise about the underdog boxer rising up in the ranks to huge success.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Movie Review - The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack (2015)
Directed by Crystal Moselle
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In an apartment on the lower east side of New York City live the six Angulo brothers, their younger sister, their mother Susanne, and their father Oscar who has controlled his family's lives for over two decades by being the only person who holds a key to their abode and only lets the kids and their mother out onto the scary streets of NYC under strict supervision.  At times, over a year has gone by with the brothers never having been outside with their only real knowledge of "modern culture" coming from films.  Their love for cinema -- the only thing they can really latch onto outside of their apartment -- has shaped the way they talk, dress, and act.  However, in January 2010, fifteen year-old Makunda leaves the apartment against his father's wishes setting off a series of events that change the way the Angulo's live their restricted life.

That's the true story of The Wolfpack brought to us by documentarian Crystal Moselle who found out about the family after Makunda's "escape" opened the doors for the other Angulo brothers to be brave enough to explore life outside their apartment.  While Moselle's film is an intriguing glimpse into a family whose lives were unbelievably unfolding, her film feels a little inert.  Part of that is due to the fact that for the majority of the film, she's simply stuck in a small several bedroom apartment with the Angulo's which doesn't allow for much variety to happen.  However, some of the issue arises from the notion that all the Angulo's know about "life" is from the movies and while their reenactments from flicks like Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs are interesting, they grow a bit repetitive and really do nothing to forward the plot.  That said, The Wolfpack is a solid flick and a documentary worth looking into should its subject matter be even remotely appealing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, January 22, 2016

Movie Review - Carol

Carol (2015)
Starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, and Kyle Chandler
Directed by Todd Haynes

While I can recognize (and appreciate) the rather gentle way Carol approaches the lesbian romance at its core, director Todd Haynes' film didn't connect with me in the slightest.  While the romance between the titular married-though-in-the-middle-of-divorce-proceedings character (played by Cate Blanchett) and a much younger shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) should've felt alive, Haynes has crafted a film where the hints of romance during its first two-thirds simply lead to incredible dullness -- at least for this viewer.

The way that Blanchett and Mara play their characters, the way Haynes films them, and the way Phyllis Nagy pens her script showcase an obvious infatuation between Carol and Therese -- the former whose husband (Kyle Chandler) has known of his wife's dalliances with other women and the latter who herself didn't know her attraction to women, let alone her boyfriend (Jake Lacy) being aware of her predilections.  While the film isn't completely about Carol and Therese "doing the deed" and consummating their relationship, the knowing glances (by the cast), the subtle flirtations (surely in the script), and blatant lensing of the director keep building up to this inevitable moment which, by the time it finally rolls around, feels hokey as opposed to passionate.  The way this piece is structured, crafted, and acted, there needed to be a payoff and that simply doesn't happen here.

Part of the reason behind that is due to the fact that the lead actresses -- both nominated for Oscars -- are frankly overpraised and underwhelming.  There is certainly a time for scenery chewing and Blanchett can chew with the best of them -- just look at Cinderella for an example where she can showcase this talent with aplomb.  Here, her Carol feels like a caricature -- the way she talks, the way she moves, the way she emotes -- none of it feels based in any form of reality.  Mara, on the other hand, is a blank slate, rarely showing emotion, forcing me to ask myself the question of why Carol ever became infatuated with her in the first place.  Granted, I give Mara a bit of credit, however, in that her Therese is just coming in touch with her true self in this relationship with Carol so her moments of blankness or seeming cluelessness are grounded at least in the roots of her character.

Personally, I think the film looks disappointing as well.  As I watched, I couldn't help but feel that is was distractingly grainy.  I legitimately thought it was an issue with the projection system, but upon researching things when I came home, the film was shot on 16mm film and while I'm all for different film aspects (see Steve Jobs as a brilliant example of how to properly use them), this style was off-putting here.

I didn't go into Carol expecting a sexualized lesbian drama so there's no disappointment in that department.  Instead, I wanted a story between two characters that took us on their journey to either happiness, sadness, or something in between.  Unfortunately, this is a journey that isn't well crafted.  While Carol certainly touches on the trials, travails, and struggles facing women like Carol and Therese in the early 1950s (and the best moments in the film deal with Carol's husbands attempts to take full custody of their daughter), the lifelessness of everything onscreen failed to draw me in and really capture my attention.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Movie Review - The Revenant

The Revenant (2015)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, and Forrest Goodluck
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

This is a frustrating review to write.  There are so many scenes in The Revenant that I found myself loving.  So many beautifully crafted shots both visually appealing and cinematically difficult.  Such good performances that couldn't help but make me feel as if I was placed squarely in the 1820s America fur trade.  So why is director/co-screenwriter Alejandro González Iñárritu's film such a chore to sit through?  Why did I find myself checking my watch twenty minutes in...and then forty minutes in...and then an hour in...and then I had to stop myself from checking every ten minutes.  Something doesn't quite gel and while I understand the director's methodical approach in terms of helping to understand our main character's horrific plight, the film can't help but feel tedious and almost a tiny bit episodic as we simply move from one torture porn-esque scene to the next.

Inspired by a true story, The Revenant is the tale of frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is left for dead by his fellow trappers after being mauled by a bear.  While the party's Captain, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), wants the incapacitated Hugh (who has been invaluable to the trappers) to be watched over until he passes, most men in the party (which has already been depleted due to a vicious ambush by the Arikara Indians) feel hauling Glass to safety is harming them all.  With the promise of money from the Captain, rough and hard-nosed John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agrees to wait with Hugh until he dies.  The young Bridger (Will Poulter) and Hugh's half-Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) stay around with John, but they soon discover that John may be motivated more by the promise of money than keeping Hugh alive and what John does next sets a still-debilitated Hugh to seek revenge on Tom who has truly done him terribly wrong.

For the film's first forty and last twenty minutes, there's a palpable sense of excitement and tension with some of the most brutally realistic and intense fight and battle sequences since Saving Private Ryan.  Grabbing me right away, I found myself questioning the critiques I'd heard that The Revenant is a slow burner.  And then Glass is left for dead and the film just became less and less interesting story wise as Iñárritu seemingly mimics the hazy, dreamlike sequences of Terrence Malick and leaves actual plot behind.  Perhaps I'm being a little too harsh there as we're certainly given "a story" -- it's just that the episodic torturous events that Glass finds himself getting into on his trek to seek revenge on Fitzgerald begin to feel repetitive particularly seeing as how they're interspersed by endless images of babbling brooks or leafless trees or memories of his Pawnee Indian lover.

Leonardo DiCaprio is very good here and his inevitable Oscar win is at least being awarded for a quality role.  While not his most layered performance or his best (that certainly goes to the tour de force turn in The Wolf of Wall Street which I still say is one of the finest film roles I've seen in ages), he conveys everything necessary with his physicality (or lack thereof at times) which is extremely important seeing as how Hugh Glass barely talks for nearly two-thirds of the film.  Tom Hardy continues the trend of creating a difficult-to-comprehend voice for his grizzled character, but Hardy is also strong here in what may be the best role I've seen him undertake thus far.  His motivations, though certainly lacking in morals, are surprisingly understandable given the circumstances of the time and while he's absolutely in the wrong, Hardy makes his character perfectly believable.

Unfortunately, despite many good things -- the film will likely pop up in certain RyMickey Award categories -- The Revenant is simply too long and lacks excitement and momentum.  Much like last year's lauded Birdman (which I overrated with a C+), The Revenant has been incorrectly lauded by many of the Hollywood Elite.  It's got good parts, but it doesn't quite add up to a good whole which is a shame because the positives here are so darn excellent.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Movie Review - Trainwreck

Trainwreck (2015)
Starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller, Dave Attell, and LeBron James
Directed by Judd Apatow

I don't know anything except some peripheral info about Amy Schumer.  I've never seen her Comedy Central show or watched one of her stand-up routines.  I know she's somewhat abrasive and very sexually forward in her comedy, but beyond that, I simply didn't really care to get to know her because (a) I can't tell you the last time I've turned on Comedy Central, (b) I've never really been a stand-up comedy kind of guy, and (c) I didn't think I'd enjoy her sarcastically self-deprecating raw humor.  Trainwreck just may very well have made me a fan.

Written and conceived by Schumer herself and taking on some autobiographical aspects, Trainwreck tells the story of Amy (played by Schumer, naturally), a writer for an edgy men's magazine, who much to her surprise trades in her sexually adventurous, partying lifestyle for a more traditional relationship with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) after being sent to interview him by her boss (Tilda Swinton).  This newfound happiness doesn't sit well with Amy who's given her sister Kim (Brie Larson) a hard time for settling down with her husband (Mike Birbiglia) and his son.  Trying to find a balance between her fun recklessness and her toned down persona sends Amy into a bit of a whirlwind as she tries to discover the woman she's most comfortable being.

Schumer may not be the best actress -- there are moments where you feel she's less acting than doing stand-up -- but there are certainly times where you see layers peaking out wherein a little more experience could shape her into a more solid actress.  Schumer is surrounded by a great cast led by Bill Hader who is both the straight man to Schumer's craziness, but also gets a chance to show off his comedic chops as well.  We also get Tilda Swinton as Amy's snooty (and very funny) editor and the lovely Brie Larson as Amy's "normal" sister.  Surrounding Schumer with such a talented cast elevates her rather than making her "stand out" in a negative way.

Those who have frequented this blog know that I think Judd Apatow is one of the most overrated directors and screenwriters around, but I must give him kudos here for helping to shape Schumer's debut screenplay into something that plays both charming and disarming onscreen.  Although Apatow tries to imbue heart into his films, I find them often empty and emotionless -- that isn't the case here as Schumer herself creates a surprisingly balanced film that feels both modern in terms of its raunchy humor and classic when it comes to romantic comedy tropes.  Apatow keeps things moving (which is a rarity in his films) and while there were still minor thoughts of "could they have trimmed this" that ran through my head, Trainwreck is an all around amusing venture.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, January 18, 2016

Movie Review - The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hamer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Groth, Luca Calvani, and Hugh Grant 
Directed by Guy Ritchie

More style over substance, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. unfortunately doesn't come together as a full motion picture despite rather charming and winning performances from its key quartet.  When your film's climax feels unimportant, you know you've got a bit of a problem and that's the case here.  By the time the last twenty minutes rolls around, you may be in danger of having checked out even though you were somewhat intrigued by everything that came before.

Based on the tv show of the same name, The Man from Uncle is a spy flick that's firmly planted in the 1960s.  With WWII over, tensions are still high thanks to nuclear fears and the US, led by thief turned CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), finds itself teaming up with Russia in the form of KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to track down the villainous Alexander and Victoria Vinciguerra (Luca Calvani and Elizabeth Debicki).  The wealthy couple may have kidnapped the physicist father of auto mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) in order to help formulate a nuke that they can sell to the highest bidder and the US and Russia see Gaby as the way to get into the Vinciguerra compounds.

Director and co-screenwriter Guy Ritchie certainly creates a stylish, classy, and mod-looking film.  Visually, there are absolutely appealing aspects to The Man from Uncle.  Ritchie also does a really nice job of bringing elements of comedy to the mix, cleverly mixing witty wordplay with some rather ingenious visual set-ups.  Unfortunately, there's something about the espionage aspect of the script that never quite lands.  After a rather fun opening chase sequence, Ritchie can't quite craft his action sequences in ways that feel as if they're enhancing the plot and they bog things down rather than rile things up.

The cast is all around charming (albeit a little wooden in that James Bond "suave" sense -- not a bad thing) and fits perfectly in the 1960s era the film depicts with particular kudos to Elizabeth Debicki who snidely plays the dastardly villainess.  Ritchie just can't bring the varying genres of his film together to create a fully realized flick.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movie Review - True Story

True Story (2015)
Starring Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Felicity Jones
Directed by Rupert Goold

***A few spoilers ahead in this one, but the story is "public knowledge" in that it's a true story that one could research via news articles.***

Based on a true story, True Story tells the tale of Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a well-respected New York Times reporter who just lost his job after partially fabricating a story.  Returning home to his wife (Felicity Jones) in Montana, Michael is told of Christian Longo (James Franco), a man accused of murdering his wife and children who, upon being arrested in Mexico, lied to the authorities by saying he was "Michael Finkel."  Intrigued by this and curious as to why Christian would initially have pretended to be him, Michael meets the accused criminal in jail and begins to wonder of Christian is truly guilty of the crimes he purportedly committed.  In addition, Michael sees this as an opportunity to create a nonfiction book that may place him back into the good graces of the investigative journalism community.

True Story works in that it keeps one's attention throughout, but despite its relatively short running time, it often feels as if it's being dragged out a bit.  In what is essentially a three character piece, we're given a lot of dialogue between Michael and Christian as they both try and feel each other out and while it's interesting to begin with, it admittedly grows a little tedious as things progress.  Fortunately, Jonah Hill is quite good, capturing the desperation of a man who has made errors in judgement and must do what he can to get back on the right track.  Felicity Jones also gets one scene to shine, but it's only one -- and it made me wish she had more to do because she's captivating in her one moment.  James Franco, on the other hand, has me befuddled.  Christian is a bit of a psychopath, but there was never a single moment in this film that had me questioning his innocence.  Franco plays him a bit too nefarious and over-the-top for me to really grasp Michael's willingness to believe in him.  While there are certainly reasons the beleaguered journalist bought in to Christian's effusive praises, the way Franco depicts things there is always a glint of evil in his eyes as opposed to a vagueness which I think is necessary to really create dramatic tension.

Overall, True Story is a decent true crime pic, but it never quite fully comes together.  Still, if this one ever ends up streaming on Netflix, it'd be worth a look.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 Academy Awards Predictions

Updated 1/14 - 8:50am
I'll be back Thursday morning to see how I fared.  An odd year as nothing has really taken the lead and run with it.  Also rather odd in that I feel that I'm way behind on Oscar-related films.

Best Picture
1. Spotlight
2. The Martian
3. The Big Short
4. The Revenant
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Brooklyn
7. Carol
8. Bridge of Spies
9. Room
10. Straight Outta Compton
alt. Inside Out, Trumbo
I'm not quite sure of the algorithm as to how they choose the nominees, but I think it has to do with how many first place finishes there are in the rankings.  With this in mind, I feel like the Best Picture line-up could end at #6...or perhaps it's so wide open that we could have a ten-large field this year.
Update:  You can either count this as 8/8 or 7/8 -- Carol didn't get the nod, but slots 8 and 9 did.

Best Actor
1. Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
2. Matt Damon - The Martian
3. Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
4. Bryan Cranston - Trumbo
5. Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl
alt. Will Smith - Concussion
Update: 5/5 -- slots 4 and 5 are such a waste here...

Best Actress
1. Brie Larson - Room
2. Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn
3. Cate Blanchett - Carol
4. Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
5. Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
alt. Jennifer Lawrence - Joy
Update:  4/5 (thanks to Academy "cheating") -- I thought the Academy would be smart enough to realize that Vikander is a leading actress in The Danish Girl, but they voted her as Supporting.  Jennifer Lawrence sneaks in because of that.

Best Supporting Actor
1. Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies
2. Sylvester Stallone - Creed
3. Christian Bale - The Big Short
4. Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation
5. Jacob Tremblay - Room
alt. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton - Spotlight; Paul Dano - Love and Mercy
(really one of the most wide-open categories this year...only 1 and 2 are locks above)
Update:  3/5 -- as I said, a wide open category with Ruffalo getting in along with Tom Hardy from Revenant who didn't make an appearance in any precursors.

Best Supporting Actress
1. Rooney Mara - Carol
2. Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
3. Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs
4. Jane Fonda - Youth
5. Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina
alt.  Helen Mirren - Trumbo
Update:  3/5 -- With the Academy's cheating moving Vikander to supporting for The Danish Girl, I guess I'm 3/5 here, but since I chose Vikander anyway (albeit for a different role), maybe it still counts?  Ha!

Best Director
1. Tom McCarthy - Spotlight
2. Ridley Scott - The Martian
3. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - The Revenant
4. George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Adam McKay - The Big Short
alt. Todd Haynes - Carol
Update: 4/5 - Shocked that Ridley Scott who almost seemed a given to win didn't make the cut, but the director's branch of the Academy has been known to shake things up in recent years.  In is Lenny Abrahamson for Room -- I really need to see that one.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. The Big Short
2. Carol
3. Steve Jobs
4. Brooklyn
5. The Martian
alt. Room
Update:  4/5 - For the second year in a row (last year it was Gone Girl), my favorite screenplay of the year in (thus far) in Steve Jobs gets shoved aside.  Room gets bumped up.

Best Original Screenplay
1. Spotlight
2. Inside Out
3. The Hateful Eight
4. Bridge of Spies
5. Trainwreck
alt. Ex Machina
Update: 3/5 - No Trainwreck (an out-there prediction, I know) or Hateful Eight (they love Tarantino, seemingly), but the alternate (and deserving) Ex Machina moves up and Straight Outta Compton joins the list

Best Animated Film
1. Inside Out
2. Anomalisa
3. The Peanuts Movie
4. Shaun the Sheep Movie
5. ??
Update:  3/5 - No Peanuts and the branch went with two unknown features which they often do, but it's always difficult to determine which independent features they'll go with.

Overall:  35/48 -- pretty bad and worse than last year.  (If you include my alternates, I raise that score by 4 and I'm still bitter about the category fraud placement of Vikander's Danish Girl performance in supporting.)   Oddly enough, I've seen a lot of movies I've liked this year, but I'm feeling very removed from this whole Oscar landscape this season.  Perhaps it's because the two of the three movies I've really liked -- Steve Jobs and Ex Machina -- haven't been embraced by the Academy as much as I would've liked.  Brooklyn making the cut is nice because its simplistic story certainly wasn't a given for the win, but with only three nominations (I think) for the film, the passion isn't there for this one either.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Movie Review - Spy

Spy (2015)
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, and Jude Law
Directed by Paul Feig

Lately, Melissa McCarthy's comedic ventures have been weak, attempting to recapture the brash persona that brought her an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids, but only feeling like cheap carbon copies.  Fortunately, Spy changes things around a little bit as McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a rather humble CIA agent who spends her day behind a desk helping the dashing and debonair field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law).  During a mission in which Fine is raiding the home of Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a nasty criminal who perhaps knows the location of a nuclear bomb, Rayna shoots Fine dead, but not before stating that she knows the names and identities of many CIA field agents and will kill them just like she did Fine if they try and hunt her down.  With the knowledge that many of their agents may now be compromised, CIA director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) agrees to send Susan undercover to try and get information about Rayna and the location of the nuke.  Needless to say, the somewhat timid Susan finds herself needing to showcase her strength and machismo as she tries to take down Rayna.

McCarthy is certainly more of an actress than just her admittedly hilarious Bridesmaids character and I am more than pleased that the comedienne is able to show a different set of comedic chops in Spy.  Here, she's absolutely charming to watch onscreen and more than holds the audience's attention.  I can only hope that this type of character finds her more in the future.  Pairing McCarthy with the hardened Jason Statham as a CIA agent angered that Cooper is out in the field provides many a humorous moment as does McCarthy's repartee with the evilly snarky Rose Byrne who continues to showcase her talent in the comedy world.

I laughed out loud quite a bit during Spy, but the film doesn't quite find the balance in terms of teaming comedy with action.  I enjoyed the flick, but there are certainly more than a few dull moments that do little to move the story forward or provide laughs or excitement.  I'd certainly be game for another go-around with the characters in the film so there's definitely something to be said for that.  With a bit more editing (as is needed in nearly all comedies that come out of today's cinematic landscape), Spy would've been the tauter flick it needed to be to really succeed.  As it stands now, it's a solid vehicle for Melissa McCarthy who's finally given a chance to shine after several years of shoddy films.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, January 11, 2016

Movie Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Sam Claflin, Mahershala Ali, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, and Elizabeth Banks
Directed by Francis Lawrence

The thought that kept running through my head while watching this final chapter of The Hunger Games saga was that I'm not sure if there's been a more depressing film franchise placed to have such enormous monetary success.  While I rather enjoyed the first part of Mockingjay as it took a spin away from the titular fight-to-the-death battles set up by the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland), stretching what is a political flick across two over-two-hour films becomes a little tedious.  Everything heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was striving to achieve in Part 1, she's still striving to achieve here.  That isn't to say that there aren't some nice moments as director Francis Lawrence has a good eye for crafting action set pieces, but Mockingjay Part 2 feels like a bit of a letdown for a series I rather enjoyed.

I could go on further in this review, but I'll leave things rather simplified.  It's not that Mockingjay, Part 2 is bad, but it's disappointingly bland considering what has come before.  Emotionally, I found myself rather disconnected at its conclusion and it's just a bit of a shame that the series couldn't end on a better note given all the positives that came before.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, January 08, 2016

Movie Review - The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl (2015)
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, and Matthias Schoenaerts
Directed by Tom Hooper

Talk about Oscar bait -- every single solitary thing about The Danish Girl just screams "GIVE ME AN OSCAR IN ANY AND EVERY IMAGINABLE CATEGORY!"  From the cinematography's soft lighting to the musical score's dramatics to the direction that is sometimes laughably mannered to a leading actor who seems to be trying so desperately hard to "inhabit" a role, all aspects of The Danish Girl seem to have been made with the hope of claiming film's most coveted prize.  Needless to say, director Tom Hooper's film is so utterly disappointing and bland in nearly every aspect -- save one -- that I hope the Oscar voters don't take the obvious bait.

Based on a true story, The Danish Girl tells the tale of Dutch artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) who was born and lived life as a man, but feels that he is truly meant to be a woman.  Back in the 1920s, terms like "transgender" weren't known and Wegener certainly didn't know what was "wrong" with him in terms of his inability to truly feel his natural self.  His wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), who is also an artist, has seemingly always known of Einar's proclivities to femininity and she embraces it, thinking that it will make their relationship better also presumably completely unaware of Einar's true feelings.  One evening, Gerda convinces Einar to attend an art gathering dressed as a woman whom they name Lili and Einar's world is turned upside down as he realizes that being a woman is who he truly longs to be.

In the grand scheme of things, buying into the story of The Danish Girl isn't particularly difficult, but the film makes it impossible to give a damn about nearly everything we see unfold.  Director Tom Hooper takes Lucinda Coxon's bland and watered-down screenplay and drags things out interminably.  There's really not much that happens here plot-wise and yet somehow I feel like Hooper and Coxon failed miserably at creating soul and dramatics around this life-changing moment in Einar's world.

Of course, Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (who was so fantastic in The Theory of Everything) is also a huge reason as to why the film lacks emotional connection as well.  Rather than really dig into the role, Redmayne's mannered performance feels paint-by-numbers and studied rather than natural.  Granted, some would say that Einar is learning how to be a woman so of course he would feel uncomfortable, nervous, and mannered at first.  I'd certainly agree with that which is why it may seem unfair to say that every moment of Redmayne's performance felt as if he was "acting" rather than "inhabiting" (since Einar is kind of, sort of "acting" at first, too), but there wasn't a single moment here where Redmayne breathes life into Einar/Lili.  Even towards the end when Lili is finally coming into her own, it's as if we're watching a soft-spoken, one-note audio-animatronic rather than a real person onscreen.  To say Redmayne is a disappointment here is an understatement.

It certainly doesn't help that for every lack of insight in Redmayne's eyes, we see the exact opposite of that from Alicia Vikander who is the only good thing going for this film.  Vikander is compelling as Gerda and she does her best to make things as compelling as possible.  There are scenes where you get a sense of desperation, sadness, and yet understanding of her husband's plight (which becomes her plight as well seeing as how her world will drastically change), but none of that emotion is reciprocated to her by anyone else onscreen.

The Danish Girl is truly a disappointment.  With the pedigree behind it -- I truly enjoyed Hooper's The King's Speech -- I can't help but say I was hoping for something more than softly-lit scenes of softly spoken words being whispered to one another by characters as they run their fingers over pieces of clothing or make brushstrokes on a canvas.  Rather than artfully tell a story, this film reeks of desperation to win awards moreso than any other film I've seen in a long time which in part would be acceptable if it was any good which The Danish Girl is certainly not.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Movie Review - Black Sea

Black Sea (2015)
Starring Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, and Bobby Schofield 
Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Maybe I've just hit the wall with submarine movies.  In the past year, I've watched Pioneer and Pressure, and perhaps unfortunately Black Sea is hitting many of the same notes as those previous flicks.  In fact, and I'm spoiling the lede here, Black Sea ends up getting the same grade as those prior pics -- it's perfectly average.

Much like those other flicks, we get a group of men who head down in a submarine (or some submersible) -- here, the group headed by recently unemployed Robinson (Jude Law) are searching for a German U-boat that sank decades ago and is rumored to be filled with gold.  Robinson's crew is a joint venture between some Russians and some Brits and the tension between the two groups comes to a head once Robinson announces that the gold will be split evenly amongst the crew once they surface.  The theory arises, though, if there are less people alive when they surface that means more gold per individual and this notion leads to some deviance.

Black Sea is probably the best acted of the trio of submarine flicks with Jude Law giving a well-balanced performance, but the film itself feels slowly paced and oddly unexciting considering the premise of men starting to turn on one another.  Kevin Macdonald does a nice job of making the film feel as unclaustrophobic as possible, but by the time the film finally starts rolling about an hour in, I was in the process of checking out.  Fortunately, Law's performance and the story kick up a few notches and the flick becomes more captivating, but it's a shame it's not a fully well-rounded film.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, January 04, 2016

Movie Review - The Gift

The Gift (2015)
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton
Directed by Joel Edgerton

The Gift is a rather unique flick.  Yes, it would certainly be classified as a "thriller," but rather than place emphasis on jump scares or classically "suspenseful" moments, writer and first-time director Joel Edgerton creates an atmosphere with an always building sense of foreboding, and while some may consider the ending a bit of a "letdown" in terms of a lack of stereotypical "Hollywood-style" confrontation, the film ends up feeling more realistic and therein scarier than most flicks of its ilk.

Married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) have recently moved to Simon's old hometown for his new job.  While shopping for furniture for their new home, Simon runs into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old classmate of Simon's whom Robyn invites over for dinner.  Gordo is slightly off kilter in terms of having an odd personality that doesn't sit so well with Simon who becomes particularly distressed when Gordo brings a variety of gifts to them on multiple occasions seemingly in an attempt to simply hang out.  Simon ends up telling Gordo to essentially take a hike which doesn't sit so well with the former classmate who may have a reason to seek revenge on Simon for things from the past.

As mentioned, writer-director Edgerton does a nice job of building ever-increasing tension thanks to the various layers he peels back on the lives of Simon, Robyn, and Gordo.  With a film that is essentially a three-person dialog-driven piece (albeit with slow burn directorial flourishes thrown in thanks to the genre on display), Edgerton impressively weaves his story with the appropriate levels of dread and tautness.  Rebecca Hall and Edgerton himself come off the best with Bateman also solid.  The latter suffers a bit from the fact that he's playing a role we've seen him play before in that Simon is a bit of a slimy guy and while Bateman can play slimy guys well, it's seemingly de rigueur for him.  Still, all three actors play well off one another and help to create the necessary character twists and turns seem believable.

All these positives being said, however, The Gift misses the mark a bit in that it overstays its welcome a little too long.  I understand the slow burn mentality Edgerton was bringing to the party here, but there are a few scenes at the beginning and during the middle that I couldn't help but feel could've been trimmed without detriment to the overall storyline.  There's also a character issue that's been gnawing at me in the past few days that I can't quite get over.  Maybe I missed something in the story, but this particular "trait" is a bit to spoiler-y to reveal here -- I'll throw it into the comments if I remember but it has to do with things in Simon's past that are brought to life that strike me as a bit inconsistent with the story The Gift is trying to tell.  Still, Edgerton proves to be a deft director here and the film itself is a solid thriller.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Movie Review - Little Boy

Little Boy (2015)
Starring Jakob Salvati, David Henrie, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin James, and Michael Rapaport
Directed by Alejandro Monteverde
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Faith-based movies are always a tricky go for this Catholic blogger.  Part of me wants to enjoy them, but they're quite frankly so poorly acted and written (or at least that's often the way their trailers look so I'm never drawn in) that it's tough to find one that is actually worth your time.  Little Boy doesn't change that notion although it is slightly more of a "movie" than a special after school edition of The 700 Club.  Perhaps more "Catholic" in its preachings than most other religious-themed films seeing as how the faith on display in the flick is the Catholic religion, Little Boy attempts to showcase how religion and faith can heal all, but the end result is a muddled mess.

The "little boy" of the title is Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati), an eight year-old who is saddened when his father and best buddy James (Michael Rapaport) is called off to fight in WWII after Pepper's older brother London (David Henrie) is said to be too unhealthy to go to war.  With the help of Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson), Pepper begins a series of tasks that "prove" his faith in hopes that being strong in his beliefs will bring his father home safe.  And it's that "proving your faith" thing that makes Little Boy ridiculous.  I mean, I'm gonna spoil something here, but it's implied in this film that through "faith" and through Pepper's "hope," the little boy caused the war to end by praying for the US to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.  That's just inane and insulting.

Admittedly, the film does a nice job at creating an interesting relationship between young Pepper and older Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), an Asian-American who has just been released from an internment camp and is finding it very difficult to live in the US with the anti-Japanese feelings throughout the country during WWII.  Though their dialog is sometimes oddly written, I found the mutually beneficial relationship a tiny bit compelling, but that's the only thing Little Boy has going for it.  Beyond that, it's too simplistically (and sometimes embarrassingly and offensively) preachy for its own good.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Movie Review - Adult Beginners

Adult Beginners (2015)
Starring Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne, and Bobby Cannavale
Directed by Ross Katz

Having never watched The League or The Kroll Show, I was completely and utterly unfamiliar with Nick Kroll.  I have a feeling that the obnoxious, childish adult character he plays in Adult Beginners is his forte (although I am admittedly just guessing at that) and while that may be fine to find your niche and run with it, it doesn't work as a compelling movie character.  Kroll is front and center as Jake, an egotistical and narcissistic entrepreneur whose latest techie device goes belly-up causing him to lose all his money and friends.  Jake heads to his hometown in rural New York and rooms with his sister Justine (Rose Byrne), brother-in-law Danny (Bobby Cannavale), and their young son Teddy (Caleb and Matthew Paddock), agreeing to watch after Teddy while Justine and Danny work as a way to earn a little money.  While there, wild child Jake and sane Justine grow up a little and realize that really they're just Adult Beginners trying to learn their way through life.

Ultimately, the biggest issue with Adult Beginners is that it just isn't funny.  I can live the clichés and the stereotypes in the script as long as there's some kind of humor or charisma or charm to keep me hooked into the story, but none of that really exists here.  I've certainly seen better work from Byrne and Cannavale before and Kroll is not nearly captivating enough as an actor to have a film be centered around him particularly if he's playing the kind of blowhard guy he's playing here.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Friday, January 01, 2016

Movie Review - Danny Collins

Danny Collins (2015)
Starring Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, and Christopher Plummer
Directed by Dan Fogelman
***This movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

I hold absolutely no affinity towards Al Pacino, so I wasn't exactly jumping to see Danny Collins when it was released last spring.  Much to my surprise, this is one of those hidden gems that I love to uncover while making my way through a year's films.  Pacino is the title character, an aging rock star who still is living the wild lifestyle well into his golden years.  When his manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) surprises Danny with a personal letter from John Lennon that had been missing for decades, Danny suddenly has a change of heart thanks to Lennon's words.  He decides to clean himself up, stop his lucrative touring, and head to New Jersey to meet his estranged adult son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) for the first time.  Tom isn't exactly jumping at the chance to help Danny find peace with himself seeing as how he'd never met the man, but with the urging of his wife (Jennifer Garner) Tom begins to see that Danny may be a changed man.

Cliché?  You bet.  But writer-director Dan Fogelman (who also wrote the stellar Crazy Stupid Love and Tangled) has crafted such witty wordplay spouted by surprisingly well-rounded and gosh-darn likable characters that you can't help but have a smile on your face as you watch this.  Pacino is hugely entertaining bringing a cocky suaveness to Danny, but never taking him over the edge into prickishness.  Bobby Cannavale brings a surprising amount of heart to the film as his story gradually is revealed to be a bit more layered than initially believed.  Pacino and Cannavale share the film's final scene and it's so brilliantly and simplistically written by Fogelman that it will surely end up on my Top Scenes of the Year list.

Perhaps the best part of Danny Collins, though, is the witty repartee that occurs between Danny and the manager of the Hilton Hotel he's staying in while in New Jersey.  As Mary Sinclair, Annette Bening is irresistibly charming, yet resolute when standing her ground against Danny who has a slightly egotistical attitude in his air when he initially arrives.  As Mary and Danny banter back and forth, the chemistry between Pacino and Bening is palpable and extremely entertaining to watch.  While we viewers certainly have an idea of where this character duo may be heading, Fogelman doesn't necessarily take us down the expected path which was a pleasure to discover.  The cast is a huge key to the success of Danny Collins who take what may be a typical dramedy (with some admittedly clever dialog) and transform it into something more magical than could be expected.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+