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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,...

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Movie Review - The Cobbler

The Cobbler (2015)
Starring Adam Sandler, Method Man, Ellen Barkin, Melonie Diaz, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi, and Dustin Hoffman
Directed by Tom McCarthy 
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

While The Cobbler is one of the better Adam Sandler movies I've ever seen, you must take that news with a grain of salt because the bar isn't set too high.  Written and directed by Tom McCarthy (and released in the same year as his Best Picture-winning Spotlight - which is a crazy juxtaposition of a set of movies), the film attempts a mix of light-hearted comedy with light-hearted drama with light-hearted fantasy aspects, and while segments of each genre work at certain times, the flick doesn't really ever come together as a cohesive whole.

Sandler is Max Simkin, owner of his family's cobbler shop in the Lower East Side of New York City. Passed down for generations, Max took over the shop when his father left Max and his mother abruptly one day.  Run down and not entirely happy with his life, Max is looking for a way out, but continues the day in-day out routine of fixing peoples' shoes.  When a thuggish guy name Leon (Method Man) arrives at Max's shop near closing time and demands that his shoes be ready within a few hours, Max agrees to fix them, but while doing so, his stitching machine breaks.  Remembering an old non-electric machine in his shop's basement, Max fixes the guy's shoes and then waits for him to arrive.  When he doesn't, out of boredom, Max tries the shoes on...and suddenly transforms into Leon.  With the shoes on, he's Leon, yet as soon as he removes them, he's back to Max again.  Curious as to what the heck is going on, Max stitches another set of shoes on the old-school machine and the same thing occurs, inhabiting the persona of the owner of the shoes.

Admittedly, I found this premise surprisingly pleasant and perhaps full of great (unrealized) potential.  There was an innocence in the film's opening forty-five minutes that I bought into with McCarthy nicely honing in on a bedraggled and downtrodden working class man who discovers the pleasures (and disappointments) of life as other people in his neighborhood.  However, the film takes a turn for the worse, becoming a mess in its second half as Max uncovers some of Leon's secrets that hurl him into a world of trouble for which he is completely ill-prepared.  I'm blown away by the fact that the same guy who wrote Spotlight could actually pen this as well because The Cobbler is just a melange of styles and genres that don't coalesce properly.

Sandler is actually surprisingly solid here and helps the film succeed in its first half.  However, most of the rest of cast are playing severely under-conceived caricatures that don't add anything to the plot.  Also, it should be noted that I'm not one to get particularly in a tizzy about such things, but there's a portrayal of a cross-dressing (or perhaps transgender) character here that is so poorly portrayed that I couldn't believe it made it to the screen.  Like I said, I'm not one to usually care about stuff like this (because I'm obviously inherently callous and inconsiderate...ha!), but this struck me as quite disheartening.  Still, while it has its faults for sure, The Cobbler works for half of its runtime...which is more than I can say for most Adam Sandler films.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, July 29, 2016

Movie Review - We Are Still Here

We Are Still Here (2015)
Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie, and Monte Markham
Directed by Ted Geoghegan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Following the death of their young adult son, Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) move to an old remote New England house hoping to leave behind the memories of the past.  Upon their arrival, a neighbor (Monte Markham) and his wife tell the Sacchetti's about the home's mysterious past after which Anne and Paul begin experiencing some strange supernatural occurrences.  When their friends May and Jacob (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden) arrive, even more horrific events begin to occur and the new homeowners begin to realize that they may not be the only occupants in the house.

We Are Still Here is a solid horror flick that filled me with a nervous tension particularly in the film's final thirty minutes which is exactly what I ask for from the genre.  Writer-director Ted Geoghegan has an eye for the "scary" and manages to carry an uncomfortable mood from beginning to end throwing in several moments of all-out blood-flowing gore.  Jumping right into the plot, Geoghegan's tale doesn't drag, but while that's normally a great thing, the Sacchetti house's history -- which plays a pivotal role in the film -- is oftentimes dealt with in much too vague terms.  When somewhat major plot aspects are revealed for the first time in an end credit montage, there's a bit of an issue.  Granted, I appreciated Geoghegan's tale, I found myself surprised that I actually wanted more detail.  Still, this is one of those low budget horror flicks you've probably never heard of, but is worth your time seeking out if this is your kind of thing.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Movie Review - About Elly

About Elly (Darbâreye Eli) 
(US Release: 2015/Original Release: 2009)
Starring Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Mani Haghighi, Merila Zarei, Peyman Moaadi, Ahmad Mehranfar, Rana Azadivar, and Saber Abar
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There aren't too many directors anymore whom I make a point of seeing their films simply because they stepped behind the lens.  However, after 2011's fantastic A Separation and 2013's slightly less fantastic, but still very good The Past, Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is one such guy.  Also a screenwriter, Farhadi crafts family melodramas with moments of slight Hitchcockian suspense that emanate from aspects of Iranian culture and the psychologies that accompany that society.  About Elly continues this tradition.  "Continues" is perhaps an incorrect verb, however, as About Elly was Farhadi's second film which, while filmed in 2009, finally received a US release in 2015 following the success of his last two features.  (Farhadi's debut feature - Fireworks Wednesday - just was released this year -- nearly ten years after its actual Iranian premiere and I'll certainly be placing that in my queue.)  Nevertheless, About Elly is a tale strongly steeped in the values from where it takes place -- values that create problems for the film's characters that may not have occurred had the story been transplanted to another country.

Eight adults converge on a beach house for a weekend vacation.  Three couples (and their young kids) along with their single, newly divorced friend Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini) have known each other for several years, but Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has decided to invite along her child's preschool teacher Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti) for the weekend in an attempt to lighten the teacher's seemingly sullen spirits by introducing her to Ahmad.  While Elly is appreciative, she proves to be shy and a bit secretive.  Her reactions become all the more confusing to the group when she goes missing one afternoon.  Where has she gone and why has she left?

As the story unfolds largely via dialog, the layers of the tale are slowly revealed to the audience and to the characters that make up About Elly and those characters react in ways that are intrinsically believable and unique.  The less known going in, the better, but About Elly isn't about surprise reveals or big "moments."  Instead, we glimpse the reality of Iranian life as the women and men come to grips with how a more regimented society can react to certain aspects of a looser, less conservative culture.  With an incredibly talented cast headed by the aforementioned Farahani who captivates, About Elly doesn't quite reach the exquisitely dramatic moments of writer-director Farhadi's A Separation, but it shows another glimpse of how Farhadi is able to craft drama and individualized characters that are inherently steeped in his culture, yet make them accessible to all audiences.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Movie Review - Mustang

Mustang (2015)
Starring Günes Sensoy, Doga Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu, Ilayda Akdogan, Nihal Koldas, and Ayberk Pekcan
Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

France's submission for Foreign Film at this year's Academy Awards, the nominated Mustang is the first film from director and writer Deniz Gamze Ergüben.  Although submitted by France, Mustang takes place in a remote Turkish village with Turkish being spoken -- so the Academy's rules are mystifying to me, but so be it.  Mustang is an indictment against the conservative mindset that still rules over women in some Turkish communities and while it's an intriguing watch in that it allows us a view of a society with which we Americans aren't familiar, it also is written in such a way that it feels like a debut from a screenwriter still learning the ropes.

On a sunny day, five sisters (the actresses are the first five names listed above) bid farewell to a female teacher at their school.  The youngest sibling, Lale, is particularly saddened by her teacher's departure, so the girls decide to walk home instead of taking a bus.  On their walk, they meet up with a few boys from the school and end up having a fun afternoon playing in the nearby water.  Shortly after they arrive home, their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) and uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) hear other villagers speaking badly about the girls' scandalous afternoon.  To the typical person, the girls did nothing wrong, but in this particular Turkish community, tradition and values are highly regarded and this commingling with boys is unacceptable.  Uncle Erol and the girls' grandmother (who have watched after the five sisters since their mother and father died) decide to lock them in the house, not allowing them to leave for any reason (including to go to school) except to parade them around to the locals in hopes of marrying them off one by one.  Despite the girls' obvious dismay, the quintet slowly begin to be broken up, with girl after girl being forced into marriage against their will.  (Lest you forget, these are school age girls being bound into marriage.)

Although I've read a few commentaries that say Ergüven's film doesn't properly depict these more regimented Turkish societies, I'd venture to believe that there's some truth here.  The problem comes from the fact that Ergüven takes things a step further insinuating some malfeasance on the part of Uncle Erol that throws things for a loop for me.  In fact, the biggest issue I had with this important plot point is that it was so vaguely implied that I totally missed it until I was reading some info about the flick.  This major, though deceivingly inferred, topic threw me for a loop.  Granted, I may have turned my head from the screen once or twice during this subtitled flick, but I should have felt some impact.  Funnily enough, during one scene where Erol's said misdeeds are hinted at, I caught the hint, but then said to myself, "There's no way that could be, because this whole film hasn't even discussed this concept."  Granted, I understand that I'm being vague and circuitous here attempting to avoid spoiling a major plot point, but believe me when I tell you this intrigue either needed to be explored more or eliminated.

All this being said, Mustang gets some fine performances from its young cast and it's certainly watchable.  It presents a culture with which I was unfamiliar, but I think in more experienced hands it would've been a better film.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Movie Review - The Good Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Featuring the vocal talents of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Steve Zahn, Anna Paquin, and Sam Elliott 
Directed by Peter Sohn

As much as I say Pixar is without faults, churning out one hit after another, that's perhaps being overly generous, overlooking the fact that films that some people love -- Finding Dory, Up -- just don't hit the mark with me.  Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur joins that lukewarm bunch.  While the scenic animation is gorgeous and incredibly photo-realistic, the character design is the most basic we've seen from Pixar yet and the story feels like a retread of better animated films of the past.  All in all, The Good Dinosaur is one of Pixar's biggest disappointments.

The story has some strong similarities to The Lion King, although it obviously pales in comparison.  A young dinosaur named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) is the runt of his family with a brother and sister bigger and more capable than he.  His father (Jeffrey Wright) decides to take Arlo on a journey to try and make him braver and more confident in himself.  However, on this journey, a horrible flood rushes down a riverbed and carries Arlo's father away.  Pushed to safety in his father's final courageous act, Arlo finds himself on a journey home where he meets several unique creatures including a dog-like four or five-year-old human he names Spot who he befriends on his trek.

Yes, humans and dinosaurs co-exist here and I just couldn't help but think that the potential for this premise could've been more fully realized.  While it's true that Spot is the most engaging character in The Good Dinosaur despite the character not speaking a word, the co-mingling of these two species is disappointingly developed.  Obviously, it doesn't help that the film's main character - Arlo - is bland, paling in comparison to the amusing Spot.  Sure, Simba in The Lion King may not have been the funniest or most unique character, but we cared about his plight.  Arlo's plight lacks a captivating thread for some reason.

Although there are certain aspects of the film that are stellar - a great score by Jeff and Mychael Danna and some beautiful environmental imagery, the story (by a slew of people) and the design of the dinosaurs feel pre-schoolish which doesn't allow for anyone older than the age of ten to really connect with the proceedings.  The Good Dinosaur is a big disappointment and quite possibly my least favorite Pixar film to date.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, July 22, 2016

Movie Review - The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)
Starring Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Moises Arias, Nicholas Braun, Gaius Charles, Nelsan Ellis Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Mann, Ezra Miller, Logan Miller, Chris Sheffield, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, James Wolk, and Olivia Thirlby
Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Absolutely fascinating.  That was my reaction all throughout The Stanford Prison Experiment which is one of the year's most riveting edge-of-your-seat films.  While not a horror movie, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's film plays like one as twenty-four young college students are recruited to portray either prisoners or guards and, over the course of what was supposed to be a fourteen-day mock prison experiment, form reactions and attitudes that these men had no idea were inside them.

What exactly are the psychological effects of being a prisoner or prison guard?  That's the question that psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) wanted to explore in August 1971.  After placing an ad in the local paper looking for young male college students, two dozen kids were selected and randomly chosen to be either guards or prisoners by Zimbardo and his student colleagues.  On the relatively empty Stanford campus (thanks to summer break), Zimbardo took over a whole floor of his psychology building, creating cells and a variety of areas for the prisoners and guards to inhabit.  While things start out pleasant enough between the two groups of students, the prisoners begin to insist on certain considerations to which Zimbardo tells his guards to "take control" which they vigorously embrace leading to some horrifically chilling moments of psychological torture.

The fact that this happened in real life -- oh, I hadn't mentioned that tidbit yet -- is insane and it makes what unfolds all the more intriguing.  The cast of young men (and one woman) form one of the best ensembles put onto film in 2015.  Tye Sheridan gives his best performance yet as he gradually comes undone as Prisoner 819.  Similarly, Johnny Simmons has a heartbreaking scene as his Prisoner 1037 faces the parole board (yes, this experiment went so far as to have a parole board) and Thomas Mann also captivates as a prisoner brought in towards the end of the experiment who immediately realizes that something isn't quite right.  Kudos also to heretofore unknown actor Chris Sheffield as Prisoner 2093 who has an incredibly moving moment near the film's conclusion that makes Dr. Zimbardo question the ethics of his experiment.

Speaking of Zimbardo, Billy Crudup doesn't have the flashiest role in the film, but he's certainly the glue that holds things together and does a great job of conveying his initially innocent character's insistence of the importance of the mock prison and his slide into the frightening puppeteer who controls everything.  As the lead guard, Michael Angarano gives one of the scariest performances of the year.  His character's ease into strict authoritarianism depicts a frightening side to human emotions that we all may have inside us.  With the exception of Ezra Miller who I thought was playing his character similar to every other character I've ever seen the young actor play, the entire cast of knowns and unknowns kept my eyes glued to the screen.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a film I didn't want to end.  I'm not a psychology buff in the slightest - I tend to think it's mostly a load of hooey - so for me to be riveted by this film was a complete surprise.  The talented ensemble should take a lot of the credit, but director Kyle Patrick Alvarez deserves much praise as well.  His film doesn't play like an educational documentary.  Instead, this is a tense discomforting two hour journey into human behavior with his camera allowing us to witness both the emotional trauma of the prisoners and the sadistic glee of the guards.  My words at the beginning of this review really sum up my thoughts about the movie as a whole -- absolutely fascinating.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Review - A Brilliant Young Mind

A Brilliant Young Mind (2015)
Starring Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, and Alex Lawther
Directed by Morgan Matthews

Up front, I think I must say that the film A Brilliant Young Mind found itself at a disadvantage for this reviewer seeing as how I recently saw the Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Both tackle an incredibly similar premise - a young boy on the autism spectrum loses a parent, fails to connect with his remaining parent, and, thanks to the help of a teacher, turns to the patterns in math to become more communicative with society - but seeing something unfold live (and unfold live in a rather ingeniously staged way) will always hold the upper hand and that's certainly the case here.  A Brilliant Young Mind is very well acted by the entire cast, but it lacks the emotional gravitas that I wanted and it obviously desired to achieve.

Asa Butterfield is Nathan Ellis, an autistic teen who had a strong connection with his father Michael (Martin McCann) only to have the relationship shattered by a horrible car accident when Nathan was younger.  With his father dead, Nathan's mom Julie (Sally Hawkins) finds her son distant and unwilling to emotionally interact with her, but she also recognizes his innate ability with mathematics.  Sensing this strength, she enrolls Nathan (played at this age by Edward Baker-Close) in a few specialized math classes under the tutelage of Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall), a bit of a curmudgeonly teacher who is dealing with his own medical problem of an onset of multiple sclerosis.  Under Martin's teachings, Nathan blossoms intellectually (though not particularly socially) and Martin pushes Nathan to try out for a prestigious worldwide mathematics olympiad which forces Nathan to step out of his comfort zone and work with teens his own age.

As mentioned, A Brilliant Young Mind is well-acted and that's undoubtedly one of the reasons I found myself interested in the story.  Young Butterfield is compelling, Rafe Spall gives the film a nice comedic touch, and Sally Hawkins continues to be one of the more underrated actresses of this era.  However, their performances aren't enough to boost the desired emotional impact I wanted and didn't get from the film.  I wanted the chasm between mother and son to really hit home, but this key aspect of the story didn't make it there for me.  Once again, I do think the film was at a disadvantage as I simply saw a better telling of a similar story a short time ago.  That said, had the film achieved the pivotal and necessary dramatic moments, it still would've felt like a successful cinematic experience.  As it stands now, A Brilliant Young Mind is just a little better than fair.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Movie Review - Grandma

Grandma (2015)
Starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Judy Greer, Nat Wolff, Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott, and Marcia Gay Harden
Directed by Paul Weitz

I watched Grandma on the first night of the 2016 Republican National Convention.  I say this only to prove that this conservative reviewer can push aside his political leanings when watching a film and judge it based on its cinematic merits and Grandma is a surprisingly funny and touching film about the title character Elle (Lily Tomlin), a bit of a hippie lesbian old lady,  who spends the day traveling around to a variety of friends and enemies attempting to pool up money for her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) to be able to get an abortion.  While I'm sure I'd be shunned for appreciating this film by many members of my political affiliation, its story is well told and comes across surprisingly natural.

Plot-wise, there's not much else to talk about as the short under-eighty minute runtime of Grandma keeps things moving.  On its surface, writer-director Paul Weitz's film is really just a series of vignettes with Elle and Sage meeting a variety of kooky (and not-so-kooky) people.  Digging a little deeper, the film allows the character of the somewhat curmudgeonly Elle to blossom a little with each successive introduction of people in her life.  As her layers are revealed to the audience and to her granddaughter, we get a surprisingly multi-dimensional character for such a lighthearted film.  Kudos to Weitz and Lily Tomlin for creating this depth-filled woman whom I may not necessarily agree with all the time but at least has a purpose for having her story be told.

While the film does suffer from what I like to call Finding Nemo Syndrome in that it always feels like we're just moving from place to place for quick little meet-cutes with a variety of characters, Grandma still proves to be much more successful than I ever could have expected.  While its somewhat nonchalant way of dealing with abortion won't suit everyone's tastes, part of the reason the film works and feels decidedly not preachy (despite one horribly blunt scene outside an abortion clinic that is unnecessarily bashing of pro-life supporters) is that it's not really about abortion.  It's about an older woman coming to grips with things that have haunted her past and because that's the focus, the film comes off well.  Well acted by all members in the cast -- with a particularly moving and somewhat heartbreaking small cameo from Sam Elliott -- Grandma succeeds with me when I didn't even think it had a chance.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie Review - By the Sea

By the Sea (2015)
Starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Richard Bohringer, and Niels Arestrup
Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt

Due to circumstances not involved with the film, I had to stop watching By the Sea at just about an hour and fifteen minutes into my first viewing.  Upon returning to the film a mere few hours later, I had to re-find where I had stopped.  For the life of me, I couldn't.  Why is that?  Because By the Sea is essentially two hours of the same scenes over and over and over again - a mopey couple sitting around a luxurious French seaside hotel (either together or alone) pontificating about why their relationship went south and what they can do to make it better, whether that be attempting to connect with one another sexually or watching another younger couple connect sexually through a peephole.  Stagnant in its drama and overly repetitive, By the Sea is an interesting departure from Angelina Jolie's previous directorial feature Unbroken, but it's unsuccessful in its attempt to mimic some classic 1970s relationship dramas.

Jolie and her real-life husband Brad Pitt are Vanessa and Roland, a couple married for fourteen years who find themselves in obviously troubled relationship times.  Roland is a writer who is finding himself blocked so he decides to take a journey to a quaint, tiny French seaside town.  Upon arrival, Vanessa is distant, detached, emotionless and, quite frankly, a bit of a dramatic ice queen.  Inferences are made to something having happened in their past that has led to the emotional chasm that affects them now and while Roland hopes that this trip will help them reconnect, he finds himself met with reticence from Vanessa.  While Roland works in a local bar, Vanessa mopes around the hotel room where she discovers a circular peephole that peeks into the adjacent room where she watches the lives unfold of recently married and honeymooning couple Lea and François (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) whose lust for life stand in sharp contrast to her obvious depression.

I was along for the slow ride of By the Sea for nearly its first hour.  Sure, it had a meandering pace, but I was particularly interested and surprisingly invested in Brad Pitt's writer character and his struggle to get his wife out of her emotional funk.  However, as the film's second half came into focus, By the Sea felt like a film that didn't know where it was going, instead circling around the same scenes and themes over and over again.  Jolie (who also wrote the film) has crafted a movie that looks beautiful and sumptuous, but fails to create a substantive story to match the visuals.  Rather than feel well-rounded, her character Vanessa is excruciatingly one-note in her emotions.  Even when she begins to blossom after spying on the honeymooners, Vanessa's motives never seem reasonably explored.  And, quite frankly, the less said about that aforementioned something that caused Vanessa's deep depression, the better.

I'm oddly pleased that I gave By the Sea a chance because I'm still mildly intrigued by the notion of Angelina Jolie as a director (as I mentioned, the film looks gorgeous and the first hour was uniquely lensed), but she's missing something as a writer.  It's in the screenplay that By the Sea flounders and unfortunately it flounders too much to even think about recommending.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, July 18, 2016

Movie Review - In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw, Tom Holland, and Brendan Gleeson
Directed by Ron Howard

On a rainy night in 1850, young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) arrives at the home of the grizzled Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a seasoned seaman, who tells the aspiring author about his time on the whaling ship Essex in 1920 and the horrible events that led to its sinking.  Nickerson's memories about his time as a young boy (played by Tom Holland) capturing whales for their oil alongside the Essex's first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) paint a vivid portrait of sea life for Melville.  Of course, with Melville being known for the epic tale of man vs. nature Moby Dick, it's easy to see that In the Heart of the Sea isn't always a pretty picture -- sometimes nature wins out.

Shockingly, Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea was one of my most anticipated films of 2015 thanks to a fantastic first trailer.  It was due to be released early in the year, but was then pushed back to December which many assumed was a ploy to garner awards recognition.  Well, it came up empty with every awards body, Star Wars ate up all the screens at the box office in mid-December, and In the Heart of the Sea didn't even stick around for the holiday season.  So, with my palette failing to be satiated in a theater, I recently rented the film and found it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

While the film isn't without its faults -- some of the special effects on the sea disappointed, the production design of the New England towns often appears fake, and Chris Hemsworth's accent veers heavily from Bah-stonian to his native Australian oftentimes within a single scene -- its story is a fascinating one, more than holding my interest throughout.  Ron Howard does a great job of placing the audience on the boat, squarely in the middle of the action.  We palpably feel the excitement as we go whale hunting and we certainly become anxious and tense when the inspiration for Melville's novel comes into the picture and begins to wreak havoc on the crew.

I genuinely didn't know how the film was going to end -- although I could have seeing as how this was all based upon a true story -- so as the story unfolded, I was riveted as I watched the crew attempt to survive.  This flick was unjustly maligned by both critics and the public upon its release and while In the Heart of the Sea may not necessarily land on my awards charts either, it didn't disappoint.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, July 11, 2016

Movie Review - The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig, Madeleine Waters, and Christopher Meloni
Directed by Marielle Heller

San Francisco.  1976.  Fifteen year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) has just lost her virginity, finding herself newly sexually awakened, but still unsure of her beauty and worth in the world. Complicating things ever so slightly is the fact that Minnie was deflowered by her mother's boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) which, despite the obvious "ick" factor, leads to complications keeping this from Minnie's bohemian and laid-back mom/Monroe's girlfriend Charlotte (Kristen Wiig).  Minnie soon finds herself exploring not only her sexuality, but also the drug-fueled landscape of the 1970s which makes the young teenager even more of an emotional mess.

A dramedy of sorts, The Diary of a Teenage Girl - the debut of writer-director Marielle Heller - is a strangely uncomfortable watch...but I guess that's partly the point.  As Minnie explores her teenage years, the audience feels her confusion right alongside her.  Twenty-four year-old Bel Powley does a great job of showing the conflicted, carefree, and emotionally befuddled mind of a teenage girl who sees no great problem in falling for a man two decades her senior.  Monroe is never made out to be a sleazy guy by either Heller or Alexander Skarsgård and your mileage may vary as to whether you agree with that interpretation or not.  For all intents and purposes, he's a pedophile, but this film never makes that law-breaking its driving force -- or any force, for that matter.  While certainly treated with the emotional baggage that such an odd relationship would carry, you do find yourselves sometimes questioning the way the connection between Minnie and Monroe is portrayed.

Ultimately, The Diary of a Teenage Girl never quite clicked with me.  While Powley is captivating and capable of carrying the hefty film on her shoulders, I was never drawn in to her character's plight.  I think part of the reasoning for this is that her initial exploration into her sexuality was treated with humor and lightness.  When the film switches to a more serious tone -- the time when I really thought I should be "feeling" for Minnie -- I never connected on an emotional level with the characters.  Perhaps it was the tonal switch or perhaps it was just some unconscious voice in my mind saying that "she got what was coming to her," but despite wanting to become invested in Minnie, I never got there.  That said, the film shows promise for writer-director Heller and places young Bel Powley on the map of up-and-coming actresses.  Here's hoping for a bit more solid cinematic contributions in their future.

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Movie Review - Burnt

Burnt (2015)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Omar Sy, Daniel Brühl, Matthew Rhys, Alicia Vikander,  Uma Thurman, and Emma Thompson
Directed by John Wells

Burnt is a well-acted film about a once great Michelin Star-earning chef named Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) who lost it all when drugs and horrible behavior upended his career at an early age.  After taking time to reflect on his wrongs back home in the United States, Adam returns to London to start his career again, opening a new restaurant and trying to right the wrongs of his past.

Despite the aforementioned notion that Burnt is well-acted, it's a film that just kind of sits there and doesn't excite the audience in any way.  Director John Wells paces the already short film in such a way that it doesn't engage us and pull us in to Adam's life.  Sure, the glossy and well-lit scenes of kitchen work are pretty, but once we move beyond the boiling pots, buttered-up pans, and fancy sous vide machines, there's no dramatic tension in this otherwise typical film about a formerly unpleasant guy becoming pleasant.

Bradley Cooper is quite good and his character is at least a little bit captivating.  His relationships with his sous chefs (Sienna Miller, Omar Sy), his front-of-house staff (Daniel Brühl), and rival (Matthew Rhys) are all pleasant enough and all well-performed by the cast.  Unfortunately, there's very little for the actors to sink their teeth into which goes hand-in-hand with the lack of any tension and significant plot.  Burnt isn't a particularly bad movie, but by the end I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Movie Review - Man Up

Man Up (2015)
Starring Simon Pegg, Lake Bell, Sharon Horgan, Ophelia Lovibond, Rory Kinnear, and Olivia Williams
Directed by Ben Palmer
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Man Up is an average romantic comedy elevated only by the oddball chemistry and talents of Simon Pegg and Lake Bell who make this silly flick better than it really has any right to be.  Bell is Nancy, a thirty-four year-old single woman who has all but abandoned dating due to her admitted awkwardness.  While on a train out of the city to celebrate her parents' fortieth wedding anniversary, Nancy meets Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond), a young twenty-four year-old whose obsession with a very popular self-help book has led her to embark on a blind date.  Nancy falls asleep on the train after berating the young woman for her bubbly personality and when she awakens she discovers that Jessica has left her book behind.  Rushing to catch up with her, Nancy is mistaken by Jack (Pegg) to be Jessica as he was looking for a woman holding the aforementioned self-help book.  Nancy is immediately taken in by Jack's equally awkward, though charmingly witty, demeanor and Nancy decides to pretend to be Jessica, taking an uncharacteristic plunge and going on a blind date.  Not expecting much, Nancy begins to fall for Jack and he for her -- of course, considering the case of mistaken identity, humor should be abundant!

While all-out hilarity may not ensue, there were a several chuckles and maybe even a few flat-out guffaws throughout Man Up mostly thanks to Simon Pegg's deliveries and Lake Bell's reactions to them.  The two pair off of each other nicely and make this otherwise formulaic and typical rom-com fare a little better than average.  Unfortunately, rather than try and build a story that focuses squarely on these two individuals, the film's debut screenwriter peppers in one-note unfunny characters that do little to advance the plot, but take up much too much of the film's running time.  Even with a speedy 90-minute running time, these superfluous "extras" unnecessarily pad and bring down the movie.  There's better out there than Man Up, but it proves that Lake Bell is an underused commodity in Hollywood and Simon Pegg is a clever and witty cinematic comedian.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, July 08, 2016

Movie Review - Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four (2015)
Starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Tim Blake Nelosn, and Reg E. Cathey
Directed by Josh Trank
***This film is currently available via HBO Now***

The claws came out upon the release of Fantastic Four last summer with the film garnering the worst reviews of any film in the Marvel canon.  (Granted, this isn't part of the Disney Marvel canon, but it's still Marvel nonetheless.)  I was hoping for a heinously bad film that proved to be enjoyable to watch.  Instead, I just got a bad film that never dipped into campy territory and while it isn't the worst film I saw from 2015, it will certainly find a spot in the bottom tenth of the flicks I watched.

Yet another superhero origin story, Fantastic Four spends over half of its short 100-minute runtime telling us how Sue and Johnny Storm, Reed Richards, and Ben Grimm became the titular fantastic quartet harboring super powers like invisibility, fire control, stretchability, and superhuman strength.  While I'm not usually a fan of origin tales - and Fantastic Four doesn't reinvent the wheel in this department - this part of the film isn't as awful as it could have been...particularly when compared to the film's second half which is a muddled, confused mess.  The film's conflict rears its head when Victor Von Doom decides to take on the title crew in some unknown alternate universe in an effort to destroy Earth.  (I mean, I think that's Von Doom's intention, but it's so unclear that I may just be guessing.)  The climax is so shoddily cobbled together (and so quickly resolved) that one has to wonder how anyone thought this would be a positive addition to the Marvel universe.

With characters underdeveloped (although played as well as they could by the young cast), Fantastic Four is a huge disappointment.  Don't be fooled by the awful reviews thinking you're going to get something laughably enjoyable, however.  It would've been better had that been the case.

The RyMickey Rating:  D 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Movie Review - Meadowland

Meadowland (2015)
Starring Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, John Leguizamo, Elisabeth Moss, Ty Simpkins, and Giovanni Ribisi
Directed by Reed Morano
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In Meadowland, a typical stop at a gas station convenience store ends in horror when the young son of Sarah and Phil (Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson) is snatched out of the bathroom right under their noses.  Panic sets in and unfortunately over a year later, their boy is still nowhere to be found.  Phil, a police officer, has succumbed to the fact that his son will likely never be returning, while Sarah, a middle school teacher, will not face the possibility that she will never hold her son again.  Unable to really connect with one another, they find other outlets to try and find relief, but relief doesn't equal happiness.

With some wonderfully nuanced performances from Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson (two actors who I must say that I may never have appreciated as much as I did in this film), it's a bit of a shame that about halfway through Meadowland starts to fall apart.  Watching Sarah and Phil's initial devastation is heartbreaking, but as they begin to explore opportunities that give them a little joy, director Reed Morano's film doesn't really know where to go story-wise, ending in such an awkward and unappealing way that a good chunk of the goodwill it harbored in the very good first half is nearly diminished.

This is Morano's first film and there's certainly potential in the young director.  He got two great turns from his two leads and I think the fault lies more in the script (also from a debut screenwriter) than his direction.  While I'd like to recommend it (and the rating below infers a slight recommendation), Meadowland is really only worth watching for Wilde and Wilson -- there are better films about parental grief than this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Movie Review - Krampus

Krampus (2015)
Starring Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Krista Stadler
Directed by Michael Dougherty

The Christmas horror comedy Krampus has its moments of cleverness, but the flick never quite comes together in a way that cohesively meshes.  When young Max (Emjay Anthony) is taunted by his relatives over his Christmas list for Santa, the boy tears up his note and sends it off into the cold winter wind.  Little did he realize that this lack of belief causes the hideous Christmas demon Krampus to come to town and wreak havoc on Max's family.

With such a simple story, the film needs a little extra pizzazz to really lift it above the average and that never happens.  Told in a very Gremlins-esque manner -- meaning the horror is never played for blood and gore, rather for slight chills that are certainly appropriate for any twelve to fourteen year-old -- there are certain scenes involving Krampus's minions which include nasty gingerbread men, fang-bearing stuffed animals, a demonic tree-topping angel, and a snake-like jack-in-the-box that liven up the proceedings, but whenever they're not onscreen, the story feels limp.  Adam Scott and Toni Collette hold the proceedings together trying to make the most of the disappointing screenplay, but they're not really matched by the rest of the ensemble who, while decent, feel like they're part of a campier movie.  (That inherently begs the question as to whether Scott and Collette should've been campier as well since Krampus certainly qualifies as being campy.)

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Movie Review - Best of Enemies

Best of Enemies (2015)
Directed by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I had perhaps vaguely heard of the rivalry between conservative Christian William F. Buckley, Jr., and liberal writer Gore Vidal during the 1968 presidential cycle, but my knowledge of their political tête-à-tête was close to nil.  A war of words that changed the way news organizations covered politics, Best of Enemies details the ten contentious battles between the two pundits that was waged on ABC in the lead-ups to the Republican and Democratic national conventions that year.

At its heart, as is stated by a commentator in Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's documentary, the argument between Buckley and Vidal was about lifestyle -- who should we be.  What should the image of America be?  Buckley stood for morals and standards whereas Vidal (who at that point was well known for being boundary-pushing) desired a more open, carefree concept of living.  Prior to the debates, Buckley did very little research expecting to be able to walk all over his competition, while Vidal did a ton of homework, desiring to make Buckley look like an old racist, sexist, and out-of-touch member of the political system.  To this reviewer, while both Buckley and Vidal were self-centered individuals, Vidal's sole purpose of attempting to sully Buckley's name was hideously prickish.  Quite frankly, based on what is said about Vidal in the piece, he'd likely agree with that name-calling of mine.

While surprisingly entertaining and well-presented, I admit that I began to get a little bored as the second half of Best of Enemies rolled around.  While the film does a thorough job of painting a picture of Buckley, Vidal, their beliefs, and their distaste for one another, it doesn't succeed fully in depicting how these ten debates changed the media landscape which is a task it absolutely sets out to do initially.  Still, considering I had no real connection with this aspect of political media from our past, for it to hold my interest for as long as it did and be at least moderately compelling all the way through is a credit to the way the story is presented in this documentary.  While I certainly won't be recommending this to the Average Joe, those interested in this sort of thing should note that Best of Enemies is well done.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, July 04, 2016

Movie Review - Dark Places

Dark Places (2015)
Starring Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, Corey Stall, Tye Sheridan, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Drea de Matteo
Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Gone Girl is perhaps my favorite film of the decade thus far -- a brilliant Hitchcockian piece of cinema crafted with a deft hand from director David Fincher and a biting screenplay from Gillian Flynn adapting her own novel.  So, when I saw that another novel of Flynn's was getting a feature film adaptation, I had to check it out.  Disappointingly, there was a reason for Dark Places to get an extremely limited release last summer as writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner is unable to create any modicum of suspense with his story or direction thereof.

When Libby Day was eight years old, she saw her mother and sisters be brutally murdered in their Kansas house.  Libby's testimony put her brother (Tye Sheridan as a youth, Corey Stall as an adult) behind bars for the crime, but thirty years later, an adult Libby (Charlize Theron) is compelled to reexamine the murders thanks to a young true crime "enthusiast" (Nicholas Hoult), realizing that her memories may not be accurate depictions of that horrific day.

Ultimately, Dark Places fails at creating a compelling storyline.  At its center, Charlize Theron's Libby lacks the emotional gravitas to be placed front and center due not so much to Theron's performance, but moreso because of the character's forlorn and malaise-filled life.  Sure, Libby has certainly been through a lot and has every right to lead a depressing life given her past, but her journey becomes tiresome rather quickly and lacks a payoff that excites.  The twisted humor and sensibility that runs rampant through Gone Girl and elevates it beyond the typical "thriller" is nonexistent here.  Instead, we're treated to a bland story with even blander characters and even blander twists and turns.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Movie Review - The Gunman

The Gunman (2015)
Starring Sean Penn, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance, Jasmine Trinca, Idris Elba, and Javier Bardem
Directed by Pierre Morel
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

While not as awful as the poor reviews made it out to be, the biggest flaw of The Gunman is that it lacks originality.  After initially attempting to play out like an environmental/sociopolitical message movie (and seeing that it was co-written by Sean Penn, that's not a big surprise), the film thankfully shifts to an all-out action piece.  While that change of pace is certainly welcome (because the preachy heaviness of the film's opening minutes isn't amusing in the slightest), it's also the center of the flick's problem.  Director Pierre Morel also helmed Taken, and The Gunman feels like that film's sibling as an older man seeks revenge against people who are out to take him down.

Sean Penn is Terrier who in 2006 was a member of a assassination team who killed Congo's Minister of Mining and then is forced to go into hiding to prevent his identity from being revealed.  (The mining aspect is where the political and environmental concepts rear their heads, but that's fortunately abandoned rather quickly.)  Eight years later, Terrier is working for an African mining company when a group of vigilantes arrives at his worksite intent on killing him.  Terrier escapes, but must set out to find who wants him dead and why they've waited so long to do him in.

Surprisingly, Penn is capable of being the action star, bringing a bit of inward turmoil to Terrier that we don't often see in flicks like this.  That said, the character doesn't quite feel as developed as he should be.  Sure, he's given some odd quirks and a dire medical diagnosis that he must overcome, but I lacked a connection to his plight that could've come from a bit more deepening of the character.  The action sequences are well shot and well-paced, but I began to lose interest in the film's final act which is never a good sign for a film in this genre.  The supporting cast -- Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance -- is solid and certainly add to the quality of the film, but in the end The Gunman doesn't quite develop into the piece it could've been.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Movie Review - October Gale

October Gale (2015)
Starring Patricia Clarkson, Scott Speedman, and Tim Roth
Directed by Ruba Nadda
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Despite a nice performance from Patricia Clarkson as Helen, a recent widow returning to her family's Canadian cabin following her husband's death there a year ago, October Gale is a film that doesn't achieve what it sets out to do.  Director and writer Ruba Nadda previously paired with Clarkson on 2010's Cairo Time, a film I admired and placed in my Top Fifteen of 2010 in addition to giving Clarkson a Top Five berth in my Lead Actress category that year.  Nadda definitely has an eye for lensing and creating well-rounded female characters, but in October Gale she attempts to tack on a "thriller" aspect that disappoints immensely which is a shame because there's certainly promise in this filmmaker's work.

Upon arrival at her lakeside cabin, Helen begins to clear out many of the things left there by her husband after he was killed in a boating accident the prior October.  Now, almost exactly a year later, during the middle of another brewing thunderstorm, a young man named Will (Scott Speedman) arrives on her doorstep, barely able to walk and with a bullet in his shoulder.  After taking care of him, Will reveals that he has been in jail for killing a man whom he had known for decades and considered to be his brother during a bar fight that got out of hand.  That man's father (Tim Roth) whom he considered to be his father as well is now hunting Will down, displeased with the prison sentence Will received and hungry for revenge.

During the film's first act, I appreciated Nadda's display of simplicity, taking her time developing the character of Helen, but as soon as Scott Speedman's Will shows up, things start to take a turn for the worse.  Through no fault of Speedman or Clarkson -- who pair nicely together in their scenes -- October Gale simply fails to create tension or suspense.  By the time Will's secrets are revealed and Tim Roth comes into the picture, I'd already lost interest.  This is an unfortunate misfire, but Ruba Nadda still has goodwill built from her previous effort so I'm willing to give her another shot when her next feature rolls around.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, July 01, 2016

Movie Review - I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2015)
Directed by Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker
***This film is currently strewing on Amazon Prime***

Much like Mickey Mouse, there's an iconic nature to Big Bird, the lovable childlike yellow bird whom huge portions of the world spent watching as kids.  The innocence of Big Bird stems from Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who has been inside that huge costume since Sesame Street's inception and continues voicing and bringing him to life today.  I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a lovely documentary that gives voice to the man inside that costume and how his life drastically changed when Jim Henson spotted him at a puppet expo in the late 1960s.

It's tough not to have a smile on your face the whole run time of I Am Big Bird (except for the surprisingly gut-wrenching moment when Big Bird sings at Jim Henson's funeral -- oh man, that nearly got me).  Sure, Spinney has some difficult moments in both his personal and professional life that are chronicled here, but he seems to be a genuinely sweet, mild-mannered, and soft-spoken guy who has lived in an exemplary way, desiring to bring joy to the youth of America and around the world.  This sense of happiness oftentimes had me wondering what exactly the point of the documentary was -- I mean, there's very little dramatic tension -- but then I realized that the point is for people like me to be able to appreciate someone who had great impact on their life.  Through interviews with Spinney, his wife, children, fellow Sesame Street cast members (Luis!  Maria!), and puppeteers, we get a great picture of the man who created not only Big Bird, but also Oscar the Grouch.

As I said, there's very little emotional impact here and writer/co-director Dave La Mattina jumps around in Spinney's personal time line in a way that felt slightly odd to me, but I Am Big Bird still was a joy to watch.  I can't see how anyone who grew up watching Sesame Street on weekday mornings wouldn't get a kick out of seeing the man behind the puppets they love.

The RyMickey Rating:  B