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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,...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Movie Review - The Gallows

The Gallows (2015)
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, and Cassidy Gifford
Directed by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing
***This film is currently available on HBO Now***

I will readily admit that there were one or two scares that had me jumping out of my seat as I watched The Gallows, but even with its 80-minute running time, the flick meanders through the lives of unlikeable characters in a tired found-footage format with a premise that just seems too far-fetched to really be believed.

Back in 1993, high school student Charlie Grimille is killed in a horrible accident during a school play titled "The Gallows" when he is left hanging from the titular execution device onstage.  Cut to twenty years later and senior drama student Pfeifer (Pfeifer Brown) stages a revival of the play, casting herself and football player Reese (Reese Mishler) as the leads.  After being taunted by one of his friends Ryan (Ryan Shoos), Reese agrees to wreck the set of "The Gallows" with Ryan and his girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) the set before the debut so that the production will have to be cancelled and Reese will save himself from embarrassment.  Unfortunately, upon entering the school that evening, they find themselves in a world of trouble with someone hellbent on not letting them escape alive.

As mentioned, there are moments in The Gallows when co-directors (and co-writers) Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing succeed at jump scares and building the requisite tension.  However, Cluff and Lofing's script contains one too many plot holes and inconceivabilities.  Contrivances abound to keep the kids locked in the school -- was there really no window in the entire school to break out of despite the fact that they try to tell us there isn't; secret passageways go unnoticed by faculty and students for decades -- and the plot ends up harming the film more than helping it.  The cast of relative unknowns in game (with the exception of Ryan Shoos who is unfortunately sired with an incredibly one-note obnoxious character), but the found footage format does them no favors and the film takes too long to really kick into gear.  There are certainly worse horror movies out there without a doubt, but The Gallows isn't a winner.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Movie Review - What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows (2015)
Starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonny Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Ben Fransham, and Jackie van Beek
Directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
***This film is currently available on HBO Now***

I certainly haven't laughed as much during a movie in 2015 as I did while watching the New Zealand import What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary that takes us inside the shared flat of a group of vampires as they deal with each other, everyday life in New Zealand, and, of course, werewolves.  Completed on what I can only assume was a small budget, the writing and directing team of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have crafted a hilarious spin on vampire tales by placing the audience into a Real World-type setting where creatures of the night stop acting nice and start getting real.

I went into this fairly fresh - unaware of the story, characters, or overall tone and I would like to reward my readers with that experience as well should they care to give this one a chance.  Filled with both physical comedy and verbal barbs, Clement and Waititi (who also star as two of the vampire roommates) prove equally adept at presenting both kinds of comedy onscreen.  There's a self-awareness on display -- several times they question the omnipresence of the "documentary" film crew recording them -- that proves to be perfect in setting the not-so-serious tone.  There's almost a sense of whimsy present and, considering the subject matter, it makes the whole thing even funnier as they try and paint a pleasantly "normal" atmosphere amongst the vampire crew.

With a great ensemble who are all adept at creating laughs, What We Do in the Shadows is a treat.  As mentioned, I'd discuss more, but I don't want to ruin the experience for others.  Surely, this will pop up in the RyMickey Awards in the months ahead and I'll delve into it a bit more there.  As long as you buy into the type of comedy - which will either occur in the first ten minutes or not -- I can't imagine you won't have a good time with this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Movie Review - Mortdecai

Mortdecai (2015)
Starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor, and Olivia Munn
Directed by David Koepp
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

I'm not sure movies can come worse that Mortdecai.  A purported comedy, not only did I not laugh once, but I never even found a smile forming on my face.  Johnny Depp is the title character -- an art dealer, but also a bit of a deviant conniver, willing to be a bit unscrupulous in order to try and save his vast English countryside estate from going under due to back taxes.  When an assailant kills an art restorer and steals a priceless painting, Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) enlists Mortdecai's help to try and track the painting.

The problem with Mortdecai - and it's a major problem - is that the film is a jumbled mess in tone and style.  I guess one would call it a spoof of a heist flick, but director David Koepp's cinematic mess never once finds its footing.  There are mild attempts at sex comedy that fall undeniably flat, seemingly in place only to gain the film an R-rating, but even they are so childishly risqué that it seems incomprehensible that the filmmakers felt like a R-rating was the way to go with this one (which is perhaps why you can watch a PG-13 version on Amazon Prime as well).  Action sequences feel out of place and poorly staged, lacking any semblance of excitement.  Dramatic moments are played for laughs which, since this is a spoof, could have been fine, but they play out with excruciatingly mind-numbingly idiocy.

Depp plays Mortdecai so incredibly over-the-top when compared to the rest of the cast (who only play things somewhat over-the-top) that he stands out like a "character" amongst more "real" people which is never a good thing.  Everything about his performance and everything about the movie is so heinously misguided by the director and the screenwriter that after twenty minutes, I desperately wanted to turn it off, but willed myself onward so I could finalize my Worst Films of 2015 list.

I could go on with this one, but quite frankly, I'm already so irritated that I've allowed my life to spend so much time dealing with this one.  Mortdecai is undeniably one of the worst films I've ever reviewed on this blog.

The RyMickey Rating:  F

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Movie Review - Child 44

Child 44 (2015)
Starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Fares Fares, Jason Clarke, and Vincent Cassel
Directed by Daniel Espinosa

"In 1933, at the height of Stalin's state-imposed famine against the Ukranian people, an estimated 25,000 died each day from starvation.  The systematic extermination by hunger known as the Holodomor left millions of children orphaned."  One of those children mentioned in Child 44's opening subtitles is Leo Demidov who as an adult (played by Tom Hardy) has become a Russian Ministry of State Security agent.  When a series of child murders is uncovered including the killing of his partner's son, Leo sets off on a mission to find the murderer...however, this doesn't sit well with his commanders because Russia at the time failed to acknowledge murder as they felt that was a crime brought about by capitalism.  Soon, Leo finds his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) accused of being a traitor to the state and the only way Leo can save her is by moving far away and taking a job in a lowly militia.  Desperate to find the serial killer ending the lives of innocent children and also hoping to seek revenge on fellow agent Vasili Niktin (Joel Kinnaman) whom Leo believes set up his wife, the vengeful Leo finds himself battling a Russian mindset that is unwilling to face the truth.

Ultimately, the problem with Child 44 is that it tries too hard to be too many things.  In addition to the variety of story lines above -- murdered children, traitors, the Holodomor -- there are numerous other tales woven into the mix.  While the serial killer certainly takes precedence, it too often feels pushed to the side while a variety of other depressing aspects make appearances with very little emotional impact.  Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace are fine, but there's certainly no aire of charisma between the two.  Quite frankly, I didn't even realized they were actually married until about halfway through.  Gary Oldman (as an officer who befriends Leo) has a tendency to overdo it in certain films, but here, his screen presence is a welcome breath of fresh air in the film's second act.  Granted, it's not enough to save the film from being a rather tiresome slog to sit through.  While there are aspects of the story that could very well stand on their own, the kitchen sink method of Child 44 just doesn't work in its favor.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Movie Review - Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, and Mark Hamill
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

For a movie I actually enjoyed, I've waited over a month to write this review of Kingsman: The Secret Service.  I think part of my issue is that Kingsman is sometimes like two different movies -- there's an attempt to be James Bond-ian in its take on the British spy genre, but then it also feels very Quentin Tarantino-esque in terms of glorified, bloody violence.  While I find both of those genres appealing (at times) on their own, the meshing of the two never quite fits for me.

That said, the story of a rough-around-the-edges young man named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is recruited by the suave, debonair, and mysterious Harry Hart (Colin Firth) to join the ranks of an elite secret British spy agency is thoroughly entertaining.  Typically, I'd grow weary of "origin" stories, but Kingsman (based on a comic book) places its character of Eggsy through a recruitment process that is entertaining, exciting, and surprisingly tense.  As Eggsy gets to know both his potential and the intricacies of the agency for which he may soon work, director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn keeps things uniquely stylized.

At the same time Eggsy is learning the ropes, billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is attempting to take over the world via his telecommunications company.  Needless to say, it's obvious that the two stories are eventually going to intertwine and while I enjoyed both the Eggsy and Richmond sides of the plot separately, when they begin to come together is when the film begins to falter a bit.  The disjointed nature of the film hits its peak when Firth's Harry Hart finds himself in the midst of an incredibly gruesome attack where more blood is spilled in one scene alone than I've seen since The Bride went nuts on the Yakuza and the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill.  In Tarantino's flick, however, stylized violence played a role from the beginning of the film, whereas here it feels as if Vaughn brings things on too suddenly to feel cohesive.  It's not that the film proves to be a disappointment, it's simply that the writers (and Vaughn as the director) begin to take things too over-the-top in terms of violence.

Despite its imperfections, Kingsman: The Secret Service proves to be an enjoyably fun ride.  Vaughn takes some risks here and while some pay off -- I very much appreciate that no one is safe here in terms of characters making it out of the movie alive -- others don't quite work.  Still, I'd certainly be willing to check out any sequel should it make its way to the big screen as I found the whole flick entertaining enough to warrant a second go with the characters it presents.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Movie Review - Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Leigh, and Courtney Eaton
Directed by George Miller

Winning six Academy Awards is no easy feat -- especially for a genre film such as Mad Max: Fury Road.  I will totally agree that director George Miller's film is uniquely designed in terms of sets, costumes, and sound -- all for which it won Oscars.  However, it's rather telling to me that the film didn't receive a screenplay nod amongst its ten nominations.  After watching, it's no surprise, though, as the script is one of the biggest downfalls of the manic film that, while better than the 1979 original which I despised, is still too much of a punk-fueled visual cacophony to merit me ever wanting me to subject myself to it again.

The title of the film would have you believe that "good guy" Max (Tom Hardy) is the star of the film, but the little story that Mad Max: Fury Road has to offer isn't really about him.  Sure, the flick opens with Max attempting to escape from the army of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a tyrant who rules over a large group of people by controlling all access to water and fuel in a post-nuclear-explosion apocalyptic desert society.  When Max fails his escape, the film shifts to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), one of Joe's best warriors who is responsible for heading out into the world to bring back gas and water in a giant tanker truck.  However, on her latest mission, it's discovered that she has smuggled out five of Joe's young wives in an attempt to take them to safety.  When her treachery is unveiled, one of Joe's War Boys, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), straps Max to the front of his truck (because, you see, Nux is draining the blood out of Max in order to get healthier himself) and chases after Furiousa along with a bevy of other crazy-looking folks.

And then everything else in the entire movie is one long chase sequence after another...after another...after another.  It never ends.  There's very few moments of respite and, quite frankly, because of the nonstop barrage of chaotic sound and in-your-face visuals, I zoned out after about an hour.  Quite frankly, there's nothing here.  Sure, you've got a "woman scorned" angle with Furiosa trying to help out objectified women, but the feminist angle never really rises to the occasion.  Max himself is left with very little to do in the film and Tom Hardy continues to give us just the low-voiced growling he's become so well known for over the past several years.  

George Miller (who also co-wrote the film) feels as if he came in with the attitude of "Let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks."  And then he proceeded to either think everything stuck or he just was too lazy to clean up, because as his camera zigs and zags crazily through the insanity he's placed onscreen, he seems to hope that the audience can't see all the nuttiness he left scattered throughout.  Mad Max: Fury Road has reasons to be recognized.  The costumes are unique and the production design was admittedly awesome, but beyond the below-the-line crafts (which certainly hold merit and helped my rating be as high as it is), Fury Road is a mess.  I can't imagine watching this on a screen bigger than my tv screen at home -- I'm not quite sure I would've been able to sit through the freneticism.  

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Movie Review - Amy

Amy (2015)
Directed by Asif Kapadia
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

With the exception of two or three songs on my iPod, Amy Winehouse never really impacted my musical landscape.  Her gravelly marble-mouthed voice never really appealed to me despite her obvious appreciation of old-school jazzy Motown-y stylizations.  It also didn't help that her heavily scrutinized public life showed that Winehouse lived precariously when it came to drugs and alcohol and I have a tough time rooting for someone to really succeed financially who falls down that path.  Little did I realize how treacherous that road had become for Winehouse, the subject of Asif Kapadia's documentary Amy which delves into the tragic price the singer paid for her success, eventually leading to an early death at the age of 27.

Told completely through interviews with the singer and her close friends, home videos, and personal photos, Amy is a rather damning look at the perils of success.  Amy Winehouse was likely always someone who walked on the edge of addiction, but her success catapulted both the ease of getting drugs and her desire to take them.  When we hear that Amy uttered the line, "This is so boring without drugs" after winning the Grammy for her popular (and prescient) song "Rehab," it's both incredibly sad and incredibly enervating that her family -- including her husband Blake who was also dependent on drugs -- allowed her to travel down this path.  Yes, they tried to make her go to rehab (as her most popular song states), but they never pushed hard enough in part because they worried both about the stigma that would place on Amy and the loss of money from tours, albums, and interviews during her stint in such facilities.

It's not that Amy tells a story we haven't seen before -- I mean, I grew up in the era of VH1's Behind the Music which built its success on the seedier sound of the music industry -- but Kapadia never presents his title subject as a victim, martyr, or saint.  Sure, Amy may have been predisposed to this type of lifestyle thanks to her upbringing, but it doesn't change the fact that this is a touchingly human story.  Hearing Amy's own words describe the pleasure of addiction make her tragic end all the more poignant and those words she said after winning the Grammy -- "This is so boring without drugs" -- just resonated with me long after the movie ended.  Kudos to Kapadia for painting the whole picture, warts and all, because I think Amy's story is an important one to tell since it's one that is so easily malleable if people in your life give you the needed assistance rather than turning the cold shoulder.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+