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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, August 31, 2016

Movie Review - The Bourne Ultimatum

***Movie #3 of BOURNE Week***
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Starring Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Albert Finney, and Julia Stiles
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Director Paul Greengrass returns a little wiser with The Bourne Ultimatum, the best Bourne film in the series up to this point.  Seemingly put together as a bit of a final chapter for the character of Jason Bourne, Ultimatum succeeds because it brings the character full circle, becoming fully aware of both the reasons he lost his memory and why he worked for the CIA.  While Matt Damon had thus far been a bit bland, he comes alive a little bit here as he tries to uncover the mystery of the CIA program Blackbriar which has turned his world upside down for the past few years.

Full of some nice smaller performances, The Bourne Ultimatum carries the most tension throughout with Greengrass really able to maintain excitement and verve not only his action sequences, but also within the film's calmer moments.  The action scenes, in particular, are the best we've seen in the series so far with a lengthy opening one involving Bourne and a British reporter (Paddy Considine) who is beginning to uncover Blackbriar the most thrilling.  Admittedly, Greengrass's penchant for quick cuts and shaky camera movements feels more obvious in this installment than his first venture, but it worked here, creating a bit of a chaotic feeling surrounding the main character.

The Bourne Ultimatum certainly had an advantage working in its favor in that it was trying to somewhat neatly tie things up in a bow for the character of Jason Bourne, so the sense of finality helps the flick.  Even without that, though, the film's technical aspects are the best in the series so far.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Movie Review - The Bourne Supremacy

***Movie #2 of BOURNE Week***
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, and Julia Stiles
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Director Paul Greengrass carries a certain amount of caché for me as he helmed one of the films that is part of my Personal Canon -- United 93.  The Bourne Supremacy, however, was only his third feature film and his first big budget Hollywood flick...and unfortunately, his nascence shows a little here.

Two years have passed since the events of The Bourne Identity and Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente) are living a peaceful existence in India.  In Russia, however, the CIA are in the midst of an operation headed by Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) to retrieve the "Neski Files" which contain details about the theft of millions of dollars of CIA allocations.  The mission is interrupted when a Russian agent steals the files, kills all the CIA agents present, and plants Bourne's fingerprints at the scene of the crime.  The Russian agent then sets out on a mission to kill Bourne, but that goes horribly awry, sending Bourne out into the world to track down the man who tried to assassinate him.  Meanwhile, Landy and the CIA believe that former agent Bourne is the one who killed their men in Russia.  With Bourne being tracked down by both the Russians and the CIA -- with both seemingly intent to end his life -- he's found himself in a bit of trouble again all the while trying to overcome his amnesia to determine how exactly he became a spy for the CIA in the first place.

Most pleasant about The Bourne Supremacy is that it does a nice job of slowly building the backstory of the title character.  Getting little tidbits here and there places the viewer in Bourne's shoes -- just as he is unaware of his background, we are as well.  This ambiguity connects us to the character in a way that most other films of this ilk are unable.

However, The Bourne Supremacy feels a little too complex for its own good.  It's not that it's particularly confusing, it's just that it seems "big" and more worldly than it needs to be.  Having Russian spies trying to frame Bourne in an effort to keep info from the US expanded the story beyond where I felt or wanted it to be, pulling the focus too much away from Bourne himself.  Director Greengrass also lacks the eye just yet to really lens an action sequence, with many of the moments feeling less impressive than director Doug Liman's venture in the series' first film.  Fortunately for the series, by the time Greengrass went behind the camera again for the third Bourne edition, he learned a tremendous amount.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Monday, August 29, 2016

Movie Review - The Bourne Identity

***Movie #1 of BOURNE Week***
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Julia Stiles
Directed by Doug Liman

It had been a long time since my last viewing of any movie in the Bourne series, so much so that I couldn't quite remember how many of the films I had actually seen.  With the latest film hitting theaters in 2016, I figured I'd revisit the series to determine if my lackluster feeling towards the films (so far as I could remember) was warranted.  After rewatching the first flick, The Bourne Identity, "lackluster" may be too strong of a negative word, but I will say that the flick was a surprisingly low-key affair, lacking the pivotal action sequences we've come to except from films in this "spy-ish" genre.

Granted, I'm all for reinventing the wheel, but The Bourne Identity doesn't really do that either.  What is unique about it is that is gives us a main character who doesn't know anything about himself -- who he is, what he does, what he's done -- when he is found lifelessly floating in a European sea and picked up by a boat.  Shot multiple times, one of the crew members nurses him back to health, discovering an embedded laser chip that seems to reveal the location of a safety deposit box.  Giving the chip to the nameless man upon arrival at a port, upon locating the box in Zurich, the man discovers that this name is Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), but he still doesn't know anything about himself.  However, he continues to have horrific violent memories popping into his mind of him seemingly committing crimes and he is surprisingly adept at fighting, using weapons, and thinking quickly on his feet.  Add to that, upon removing his items from the safety deposit box, he finds himself on the run from operatives who seem to be chasing him down for some reason.  Hoping to elude them, Bourne convinces a German woman named Marie (Franka Potente) to drive him to Paris where he believes he will uncover the truth about who he really is.

The Bourne Identity is certainly a solid piece of cinema and a decent film in the spy genre.  However, in director Doug Liman's hands, the film feels a little bland.  It doesn't take any chances visually and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it doesn't ever feel special because of it.  The minimalist action sequences all work, but I surprisingly walked away from the film wanting a little more oomph and drive from those particular cinematic moments.  The character of Jason Bourne himself is an interesting one, though, whose story could easily be followed for subsequent films particularly due to his pre-amnesiac involvement in the CIA (which is revealed very early in the film, so no spoilers there).  While I didn't particularly love The Bourne Identity, things were looking up as I headed into the second film in the series...but would the Paul Greengrass-directed sequel continue my "This isn't as bad as I remember" mindset?

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bourne Week Starts Monday + RyMickey Awards Coming Soon

Check back Monday for a look back at the Jason Bourne series, culminating with a review of the latest film.

Following that, we'll have back-to-back-to-back-to-back (you catch my drift) 2015 movie reviews leading up to the 2015 RyMickey Awards debut.  I'm always the very last awards body to hand out my accolades -- but at least this way you'll know that you'll be able to catch all my favorites either on dvd or streaming in some capacity.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie Review - Our Brand Is Crisis

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan
Directed by David Gordon Green
***This movie is currently available on HBO Now***

Savaged by critics and completely ignored by moviegoers, Our Brand Is Crisis was one of the biggest bombs of Sandra Bullock's career when it was released last October.  Quite frankly, I'm a bit surprised because I found the film to be an amusingly lighthearted political comedy with an engaging cast who create an atmosphere that's a lot more fun than I expected.  Bullock is Jane Bodine, an American campaign manager who is hired by an American consulting who in turn was hired by Bolivian politician Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) to run his floundering campaign for the presidency.  The film rather simply covers a several-months period in which Jane and her crew (Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan) try to create reasons to sway the public vote to Castillo.

The performances really make Our Brand Is Crisis click with Bullock in particular offering up a strong-willed, sarcastically biting role that lifts the piece higher than I'd imagine.  Unfortunately, the film falls apart a bit towards the end with its political election proving to be highly anticlimactic and its subsequent repercussions off-putting and too dramatically out-of-place with the rest of the feature.  Still this film (a fictionalized account of a documentary of the same name) isn't nearly as bad as its lukewarm reception would have you believe.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 26, 2016

Movie Review - Anomalisa

Anomalisa (2015)
Featuring the vocal talents of David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan
Directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman

Pretentiousness usually doesn't bode well for me when it comes to movies.  Flicks that wear their importance or deeply philosophical spoutings on their sleeve typically are a bit of a turn off...which is why it's all the more surprising that I enjoyed the Charlie Kaufman-penned and co-directed stop-motion animated film Anomalisa because it's ALL about pretentiously philosophical notions.  Somehow, though, the animation both lessens the heftiness yet strengthens the concepts in an admittedly oddly oxymoronic way.

On a business trip to Cincinnati, married customer service specialist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) finds himself in a bit of a rut.  He's bored with the cacophonous drone of life where everyday feels the same, everyone looks the same, and everyone talks the same.  After a meeting with an ex at the hotel bar goes sour, Michael slumps back to his room only to hear the unique voice of a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) that sounds different than everyone else he's encountered thus far on the trip.  (You see, everyone other than Michael and Lisa is voiced by Tom Noonan in order to convey the drone of life.)  Lisa invigorates Michael as they spend an evening together getting to know one another with Michael beginning to see life in a completely different light.

Story-wise, I must admit that I was taken aback at first.  I was befuddled as the movie began as to why every character other than Michael looked and sounded the same.  However, as the film progressed, I began to understand and appreciate Charlie Kaufman's purpose and I found that it was conveyed shockingly well.  There's no way possible that Kaufman could've made this film in a live action format, but animation allows his intriguing premise about monotony and lack of individualization to really shine.

And as for the animation, it's gorgeous.  The figures of Michael and Lisa are so vividly and realistically designed that I found myself watching the dvd extras to see how they were created -- something I don't often do.  Their movement is fluid and their heavy emotions are beautifully depicted.  Thewlis and Leigh also do a nice job of conveying their characters' dour and ebullient emotions, respectively.  Technically, you couldn't really ask for a more thoughtfully animated stop-motion film.

Anomalisa falters just a bit in that its slow pace sometimes grows a bit tedious.  By the film's end, I was wanting its short ninety-minute runtime to be about fifteen minutes shorter.  The oppressive monotony that Michael feels is mirrored in the way the film is presented which may be purposeful, but unfortunately ends things on a bit of a down note.  That said, I was captivated for most of the film, and while I will readily admit that this one will not suit everyone's tastes (which is de rigueur for Charlie Kaufman anyway) animation fans should check this one out solely for the wonderful work done by the talented artists.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Movie Review - Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, and David Arquette
Directed by S. Craig Zahler
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

There aren't many western/horror/comedy mash-ups floating around, but Bone Tomahawk would probably fall into that amalgamated category.  When his wife (Lili Simmons), a young deputy sheriff, and a prisoner are kidnapped by a mysterious Native American tribe, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), the town sheriff (Kurt Russell), another deputy (Richard Jenkins), and a rich cowboy (Matthew Fox) set out to find them and bring them back to their small Western town safely.  Little does the quartet realize that they're about to meet face to face with a group of gruesome cannibals with no respect for Americanized society.

Although the film runs a bit too long and falls into the typical trap of the western genre with a whole lot of nothing happening for long periods of time, debut director S. Craig Zahler (who also wrote the flick) has crafted a quirky flick full of humorous dialog spouted by surprisingly detailed characters.  The cast gamely acts out the witty repartee with Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, and Patrick Wilson all playing nicely off one another as they trek across arid, barren landscapes.   Oftentimes, films that attempt to blend genres fail to adequately balance all aspects, but Zahler rather surprisingly is able to marry horror and western and comedy.  Quite frankly, it's a bit shocking that as the film veers into the horror category towards its finale, it feels like a natural fit and that's certainly a credit to Zahler.

Bone Tomahawk isn't a perfect film, but considering it's in the western genre which I typically detest, it's much more enjoyable than I could've ever anticipated.  Sure, it's a bit of a cult-type piece that isn't going to be for everyone's tastes, but it worked enough for me to recommend it.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Movie Review - The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van (2015)
Starring Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings, Jim Broadbent, Frances De La Tour, Roger Allam, Deborah Findlay, and Gwen Taylor
Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Marketed as a lighthearted comedy, The Lady in the Van is the victim of ill-conceived expectations because while it contains some humorous moments, director Nicholas Hytner's film is much heavier than I expected.  Elder stateswoman Maggie Smith is engagingly crotchety as the title character, but the film is a slog to get through, disappointingly boring as it tells the (mostly true) story of Mary Shepherd who lives in a run-down van on the streets of London.  Moving from street to street, Ms. Shepherd has parked her vehicle on a lovely city road in Camden, but when the government institutes a no street parking edict, young playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) reluctantly agrees to allow Shepherd to move her van into his driveway.  Little did he realize that his temporary good deed would turn into a fifteen-year squatting by the elderly woman.

Based off Alan Bennett's play, The Lady in the Van vacillates between whimsy (accentuated by a lyrical score) and slight dreariness (highlighted by classical music), but never finds an appropriate balance between the two.  The story also feels repetitive, spanning fifteen years but failing to give the characters a whole lot of growth in that time.  It's a shame, really, because Maggie Smith is enjoyable to watch (albeit in a very similar role to much that she's played over the past decade), but the character of writer Alan Bennett is irritatingly bland (to no fault, really, of the actor portraying him).  The film tries to give Bennett a bit of a creative punch by having two Bennetts onscreen at once -- one being Bennett as a writer and one being Bennett talking to his writer-self -- but this interaction comes off as too much of a creative crutch rather than inherently necessary to the story.  In the end, The Lady in the Van proves to be a disappointment and, even worse, a bore.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Movie Review - Joy

Joy (2015)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rosselini, Dascha Polanco, Elisabeth Rohn, and Bradley Cooper
Directed by David O. Russell

While I enjoyed The Fighter, David O. Russell's two subsequent well-received films --  Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle -- didn't register as successful to me as they did to others.  Considering the less-than-enthusiastic reviews for the writer-director's latest, Joy, my expectations were quite low.  However, I found myself pleasantly surprised with the tale which isn't without a few faults in its story, but manages to be Russell's most entertaining film to date.

Joy is the semi-biographical story of Joy Mangano (played here by Jennifer Lawrence), a divorced mother of two who invents an ingenious new mop in an effort to better her life.  Obstacles are certainly placed in Joy's way -- her live-in divorced mother (Virginia Madsen) refuses to leave her bedroom where she watches soap operas all day, her father (Robert De Niro) has just moved back in causing trouble, her ex-husband (Edgar Ramírez) lives in her basement -- but she's motivated by her grandmother (Diane Ladd) who has always believed that the high school valedictorian isn't living up to her potential.  With the monetary assistance of her father's new widowed girlfriend (Isabella Rosselini), Joy creates her mop and finds herself shilling the device on the shopping network QVC after convincing an executive (Bradley Cooper) of her wares.  

While I mentioned earlier that Joy is Russell's most entertaining film, that doesn't necessarily make it his best.  There are moments in Russell's story and in his direction of his actors where he loses some focus, opting for quirkiness rather than fluidity.  While this proves to be amusing at first, it does grow a little wearisome when we in the audience want the film to focus on Joy's passion, perseverance, and fortitude as opposed to her odd family.  De Niro, Madsen, and Rossellini are all good, but I sometimes felt they were in a different film as their characters felt more like "Characters" than actual people.  Also, although Jennifer Lawrence is totally engaging as the strong-willed title character, she has an accent problem here in that whatever she was trying to attempt vocally fades in and out throughout the film enough that it proves noticeable.

Russell's an intriguing director to me in that I appreciate his stylization -- his use of music is always unique, even if sometimes a bit pretentious -- but when he lenses his own screenplays, he lacks the focus needed to reel in some of his odd excesses.  His best film -- The Fighter -- wasn't penned by him and I can't help but think that the guy should open up to filming other peoples' stuff again.  Joy gets him headed in the right direction, though, and I hope he'll continue the upward trajectory.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Friday, August 12, 2016

What I'm Listening To - "Adventure of a Lifetime" by Coldplay

I am not whatsoever what I'd consider a Coldplay fan.  While I somewhat appreciate their singles, I've found their albums as wholes to be disappointingly one-note when played out in their entirety.  So I will readily admit that I didn't have the greatest of expectations heading into seeing them in concert as part of their A Head Full of Dreams tour at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday, August 6.  I was sure they'd put on a good show, but I had this tinge of worry that I'd be a little bored.

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.  This was, undoubtedly, the best concert experience I've had.  Now, can it compare with the first time I saw Paul McCartney back in 2009?  Well, I mean, McCartney's a legend and I was totally swept up in seeing the former Beatle take on hit after hit from his gigantic repertoire.  That said, this Coldplay show was a visual spectacle and the group -- particularly lead singer Chris Martin -- sounded fantastic live crafting an experience with over 45,000 people that I likely won't forget for quite a while.

One would think that lasers, fireworks, plumes of fire, giant video screens, confetti, and a stadium full of tens of thousands of RFID-chipped light-up wristbands (given out for free upon entrance) would take away from the music...and you may be a little right.  I found myself admittedly zoning out of the words that were coming out of Martin's mouth and instead taking in the spectacle of the whole thing -- but I kinda zone out of the words in most Coldplay songs anyway, focusing instead on the pulsing drive of the music itself so the concert setting actually fit my Coldplay listening tendencies to a tee.  Surely, the night's most impactful moments were on songs like "Viva La Vida," new single "Adventure of a Lifetime," "Paradise," and "A Sky Full of Stars" where the quicker-paced beats lended themselves to a bit more visual show.  However, the night's quieter moments -- "Yellow," "Clocks," a lovely cover of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," and even the night's final number, a surprisingly low key though rather stirring "Up and Up" -- allowed Martin's vocals to shine which provided a nice counterpoint to the obviously incredible showmanship of the other numbers.

As Martin ran across the stage, I tried to will myself to want to leave the concert and become the biggest fan of Coldplay ever.  That isn't going to happen.  However, perhaps weirdly (or maybe not), I'd go see these guys in concert again in a heartbeat.  It's not as if I think their music is bad in the slightest, but I'm still not the biggest fan.  However, they can put on one helluva show undoubtedly worth the $75 I shelled out.  I can't recommend them as showmen highly enough.

Below, you'll find "Adventure of a Lifetime" from Coldplay's latest album.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What I'm Listening To - "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town

I'm not what I'd consider a country "fan" per se.  I don't listen to country radio all that much, but I do have a few artists I enjoy.  The quartet Little Big Town is one such group.  In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that Little Big Town is my favorite artist currently recording music.  Sure, I may have more of an affinity for Billy Joel when looking at an entire artist's repertoire, but he stopped making new music decades ago.  Little Big Town, however, is still churning out albums and had their biggest success last year with the fantastic old school-styled "Girl Crush," a lovelorn single about a scorned woman pining to be her boyfriend's one and only once again.

The quartet has been touring this summer with Luke Bryan which disappointed me as I'm not a fan whatsoever and wasn't going to cough up the dough just to see them be a ten song opening act.  Fortunately, they took a little break from their summer gig to attend the Delaware State Fair on July 24 as a headliner and I was able to see a fantastic 20+ song setlist from the group who continues to fantastically harmonize onstage as the modern-day version of Fleetwood Mac (albeit with an obviously country tone).

Eschewing songs from their latest experimental album with Pharrell (with the exception of "Willpower" which was greeted less than enthusiastically by the fans), Little Big Town created a setlist that contained many of their hits, but also skewed heavily towards their most recent albums.  For the open air venue at the State Fair, the group went uptempo-heavy which I appreciated immensely, however, I missed some of the more intimate numbers that I've seen them perform at smaller venues in the past.  That being said, that's a minor quibble because the group sounds fantastic singing whatever they decide to do -- which included covers of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Prince's "When Doves Cry," Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," and Fleetwood Mac's pulsing "The Chain."

There is no doubt in my mind that I'll be back to see them again.  Their live performances have never disappointed in the slightest and this concert that put them front and center was their best show I've seen yet (this was my fourth time seeing the group live).  Even if you think you're not a country fan, give this group a try.  They may just surprise you.

Little Big Town's biggest hit, "Girl Crush," can be found below.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I'm Listening To - "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney, Part II

On Tuesday, July 12, I headed to Citizens Bank Park to check out my second concert headlined Paul McCartney -- this time his One on One tour.  My first experience with Sir Paul was back in 2009 and it was one of the best concert experiences I've ever had.  Could lightning strike twice?

Not quite.  From my seat in the stadium, it took awhile to get acclimated to the sound system with McCartney's voice being nearly drowned out for the first five or six songs.  When things finally began to click sound-wise, Paul's setlist (found here) left a little to be desired.  Starting off with some of his newer pieces and a few lesser known songs, the rhythm of the concert lacked a driving momentum at first really failing at times to get the crowd excited and in the mood for the show.

However, as Paul progressed through the set, things really started to come alive with the entire second half of the show composed of hit after hit after hit.  As "Live and Let Die" played towards the very end, how could I not get excited with the song's pulsing drive and the pyrotechnic show that accompanied it?  Seeing McCartney and his band perform that single song is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Paul is still amazingly capable of putting on a lengthy show even at 74 years old with nary a break for water or a pause in the proceedings.  Of course, I'd recommend seeing him, but I just wish I may have left my McCartney concert viewings after one go.  While I'd not be opposed to seeing him again, I'd take a look at the setlist before I'd shell out the money.  Still, Paul is absolutely a star and deservedly so.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Movie Review - '71

'71 (2015)
Starring Jack O'Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer (father), Sean Harris, Martin McCann, Cory McKinley (kid), Charlie Murphy (daughter), Sam Reid, Killian Scott, and David Wilmot
Directed by Yann Demange
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

As I watched '71 and recognized the quality of the direction from first time feature film auteur Yann Demange, I also couldn't help but be thoroughly befuddled by the various political factions trying to win out as this story unfolded.  With actors/characters looking too similar and heavier Irish and Brit accents, I found myself lost at times.  Couple that with a late night viewing (which obviously is no fault of the film itself) and I must confess that these various factors affected my enjoyment.

'71 takes place in Northern Ireland in 1971 when Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists found themselves fighting one another for political control.  Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell) is a young, British solider sent with his platoon to try and help appease the disruptions, but when they're sent out on their first peacekeeping/protection mission, a riot breaks out.  When one of the Catholic rioters steals a soldier's gun, Gary is told to rush and get the gun back.  In the ensuing melee, Hook's regiment leaves him behind and Gary finds himself as a soldier in enemy territory with people who don't want him in their neck of the woods to try and quell the political upheaval.

Director Demange does a fantastic job in the film's first half creating a chaotic atmosphere in which Gary is unsure who to trust or how to escape.  There are several jaw-dropping moments that had me thoroughly excited for the remainder of the film to play out.  Unfortunately, the flick becomes very talky in the second half which may hold significance for Brits and Irish watching this, but for this American, I began to lose interest.  I don't mean that as an Ameri-centric slight on other cultures, but rather as a fact that I'm simply unfamiliar with the crux and political aspirations of the Catholic-Protestant contention of this era.  I know it was highly significant and I'd certainly heard about and had some knowledge of the issue, but not being fully informed on the tensions proved to be detrimental to the film.

As I mentioned above, many of the actors look somewhat similar and the cast is full of relative unknowns to me.  While they all do a good job, it grew a bit confusing in part because of my lack of full understanding of the historical event, but also because there were factions within factions of both groups that were "tertiarally" mentioned that then come into greater play as the film progresses.  To keep up with these side groups while I was trying to comprehend the main political event proved to be too much.

Yes, I realize I should be more up to date on my Anglocentric history, but it let me down here.  I also recognize that perhaps this shouldn't have been a late night watch where my mind may have wandered more easily than had I watched it another time.  I say these things because I recognize that Jack O'Connell is quite good here as the beleaguered soldier and I've already praised the first-time director for his work, yet somehow '71 just didn't quite click for me.  That said, I do think it does a nice job of portraying the history of this heated internal Irish battle -- if only I'd known a little more of the history beforehand...

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Monday, August 08, 2016

Movie Review - Goosebumps

Goosebumps (2015)
Starring Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, and Jillian Bell
Directed by Rob Letterman
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Were I a nine to twelve year-old kid, Goosebumps would be a great film.  Hints of comedy, teen romance, and fun horror-adventure would've been exactly what I was looking for in a Jumanji-style flick.  However, I'm over two decades removed from that ten year-old me, so the faults in Goosebumps stand out more than they would to the targeted viewer.  While Goosebumps is a fun watch (even for someone who wasn't a Goosebumps reader as it came on the scene several years too late for me), it doesn't have the universality to appeal to all age demographics.

When his mother (Amy Ryan) moves to Delaware(!) for a new vice principal job, teenage Zach (Dylan Minnette) is disappointed to have to start anew.  However, he soon meets his next-door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush) and she keys him in to the fun stuff in the small town of Madison.  Unfortunately, Hannah's father (Jack Black) is a bit overprotective of his daughter and forbids Zach to hang out with her.  One evening, upon hearing what he thought was a scream from inside Hannah's house, Zach and his new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) break in to the house and discover that Hannah's father is the popular author R.L. Stine.  His Goosebumps manuscripts are all kept individually locked and when Zach opens one up, chaos ensues as all of Stine's literary creations begin to wreak havoc on the town.

Goosebumps works best when it focuses on the comedically scary creations of Stine's books.  Whether it be a smartly sarcastic dummy that's come to life or the Abominable Snowman or a cadre of sweet-looking though menacing garden gnomes, the special effects sequences in the film (which are tinged with moments of comedy) all work surprisingly well.  Disappointingly, when the flick doesn't focus on Stine's creatures, things are a bit of a mess.  We get subplots galore that are either unresolved or unnecessary.  Zach's crazy aunt looking for love (played by an admittedly humorous Jillian Bell); a gym teacher trying to make the move on Zach's mother; Champ trying to find a(ny) girlfriend; a quickly tossed together love story between Zach and Hannah; Zach's father's recent death and its effect on him -- it's just too many subplots for a film that doesn't need any of them, quite frankly.

There was potential here for Goosebumps to be an instant kids' movie classic, but the writers squandered that away by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix.  As it stands, Goosebumps is only a moderately entertaining diversion that doesn't live up to what it could have been.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Movie Review - Welcome to New York

Welcome to New York (2015)
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset, Marie Mouté, and Pamela Afesi
Directed by Abel Ferrera

Apparently, the US release of director/co-writer Abel Ferrera's Welcome to New York was heavily edited from his original vision which may explain why the flick falls apart in its final hour, appearing unfocused and sometimes a bit incomprehensible.  Then again, perhaps the edits strengthened an otherwise poorly directed film -- I won't know because I don't plan on seeking out the original edit.  Despite what could've been an intriguing premise -- loosely based on the true story of French businessman/politician Dominque Strauss-Kahn -- and some decent acting from the film's two leads, Welcome to New York doesn't form into a cohesive enough whole to be a success.

Devereaux (Gérard Depardieu) is a powerful French businessman, perhaps in line to become the country's next President.  Upon arriving in New York City on business, Devereaux is greeted at the hotel by some friends and a trio of prostitutes they've hired to give the sex-crazed Frenchman a good time.  After the arrival of more prostitutes and a fun night, a maid (Pamela Afesi) arrives to a seemingly empty room the next morning.  As she begins to clean up, Devereaux steps out of the shower and, according to her forces her to commit a sexual act.  Upon telling the police, Devereaux is detained at the airport and imprisoned for his crime awaiting trial.

All is good up until this point of the film, but here's where the final half starts to fall apart with a lack of story.  There's simply not much that happens in the film's final hour besides some weird monologues and some well-acted, but sometimes misplaced scenes between Devereaux, his strong-willed wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), and his expat daughter Sophie (Marie Mouté).  Dépardieu and Bisset play nicely off one another as a couple seemingly together for societal advancement as opposed to love, but the moments involving his daughter in particular seem unnecessary and lacking reason for existence.  It's tough to criticize the director as this version wasn't his vision, but I can't fathom how a longer edit would've solved this film's problems in its second half which is filled with nothing that feels like any semblance of a plot.  Unfortunately, a promising start fades to disappointment in Welcome to New York.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Movie Review - James White

James White (2015)
Starring Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, and Ron Livingston
Directed by Josh Mond
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Grippingly acted, James White is a beautifully heartbreaking look at the relationship between the self-destructive twenty-something title character (played by Christopher Abbott) and his ailing, cancer-stricken mother Gail (Cynthia Nixon) who hopes to change her sons hard-drinking and drugging days before her days may possibly end.  Simplicity rules the day here in debut director/screenwriter Josh Mond's first film and while it takes a little while to find its footing, James White ends with a final act that is one of the more grippingly emotional pieces of film from 2015.

The key to the success of James White which is a hugely character-driven piece is in the wonderful performances of Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon whose interplay with one another is top notch.  Nixon captivates as a grieving mother (her ex-husband, James' father, has just died as the film opens) who is then forced to deal with a reoccurrence of cancer that had stricken her in times past.  Heartbreaking in her realistic portrayal, Nixon's deterioration highlights the toll cancer has on its victims.  Christopher Abbott comes out of nowhere (he's been in a few flicks I've seen, but has hardly stood out) and delivers one heck of a powerhouse performance as a New Yorker who uses alcohol (and some drugs) to mask his pain -- pain caused by the lack of a job, his father's death, his mother's illness -- a seemingly never-ending list.  The intensity James bottles up (and Abbott skillfully depicts) bursts out sometimes in painfully unfortunate ways, but his character's journey from his mother's son to his mother's caretaker and the emotional toll that takes is exquisitely portrayed by actor.

James White takes a little while to get started.  In fact, there was a moment where I thought I might turn this one off.  However, in the end, the film pays off big time as the relationship between James and Gail is one of the most realistic and touching interactions I saw captured for the screen in 2015.  Stick this one out and you'll be treated to one of the more emotional flicks of the past year.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Friday, August 05, 2016

Movie Review - Z for Zachariah

Z for Zachariah (2015)
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, and Chris Pine
Directed by Craig Zobel
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

In Z for Zachariah, a catastrophic radioactive event has seemingly killed everyone except for Ann Burden (Margot Robbie), a young woman from a Southern town nestled between two mountains.  Her family went out to search for other survivors...but that was a long time ago and they've never returned, so Ann spends her days with her dog trying to do as best she can alone in the world.  One afternoon, she spots someone removing a radioactive suit after his geiger counter tells him the area lacks radiation.  Ecstatic, the man runs to a nearby watering hole only to be greeted by Ann who tells him that the water where he is bathing comes from outside the mountain range and, thusly, is radioactive.  The man, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), becomes deathly sick, but Ann nurses him back to health and the two become close friends, ready to do what is necessary in order to reignite civilization.  However, Ann and John's blossoming relationship is soon tested when another man, Caleb (Chris Pine) enters the picture and the three survivors must deal with jealousy, anger, and love - emotions that the trio had all but stricken from their psyches when they assumed they were the sole survivors.

I feel as if I've been watching a lot of slow-paced character-driven pieces over the past few days and Z for Zachariah is no exception.  While it's a tad too methodical for its own good, the allure of the film stems from the fact that there are only three actors and their chemistry and interactions with one another make up the entirety of the film.  Ejiofor and Robbie continue to prove that they are rising stars in the industry by taking on this small, indie piece to show us their considerable acting chops.  Pine, who I typically like, doesn't fare quite as well, but his character is the least developed so his intentions and motivations are the least explored.  Still, director Craig Zobel deftly explores the trio's emotions utilizing simplistic direction and production design in order to let his characters really be the defining aspects of the film.  The flick lacks forceful momentum and its heavy premise bogs things down, but it's an interesting, thoughtful, and well-acted piece.

The RyMickey Rating: B-

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Movie Review - 45 Years

45 Years (2015)
Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay
Directed by Andrew Haigh

One morning a week before their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, a letter arrives at the home of Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling) that brings back memories that may change their lives forever.  

And that's all I'll say about 45 Years as it's best to let the somewhat simplistic story unfold with as little knowledge as possible.  This is a quiet and slow-moving film that may not be for everyone's tastes -- I'll admit that there were moments I found myself willing the flick to pick up the pace.  However, writer and director Andrew Haigh's film really allows the viewer to hone in on the feelings this letter arouses in both Geoff and Kate with the former being directly affected by the contents of the parcel and the latter affected by Geoff's reaction to its information.  Life had already changed for the aging, long-term couple after Geoff's heart attack five years prior had led to a slight lessening of his motor skills and intellect, but their relationship finds itself tested in a different way as they head into their forty-fifth year together.

The quietness of the film's direction is echoed in the performances of Rampling and Courtenay, with Rampling in particular asked to display a majority of her character's emotions internally.  As she gradually realizes that Geoff may not have been forthcoming with her about everything in his life prior to their marriage (not a spoiler, I promise), Rampling's Kate grapples with the notion that her still somewhat-sick husband needs her despite the fact that his past may have tainted aspects of the their entire marriage.  Rampling nicely crafts a character whose building tension is seemingly waiting to bust free as she's preparing for an anniversary party that's supposed to celebrate their years together.  Courtenay is also quite good as the husband who not only is coming to grips with the fact that he's physically not the man he used to be, but who is also forced to remember something from his past that has perhaps shaped everything he's done.  

On a strictly personal level -- and if anyone who reads this has seen the film, I'd love to discuss it -- I will admit that I found myself aggravated a bit with the character of Kate.  It's difficult to talk about without spoilers -- so I won't go into great detail -- but I found her character's reactions plausible, yet a bit inconsiderate.  The film's final moment hammered home this notion for me because despite Geoff's past, he's still a man that deeply cares and loves his wife, yet Kate seems to be harboring insecurity that isn't Geoff's fault in the slightest.  That said, I can go into detail no further, but I will say my feelings for the character don't negate the film in the slightest as I think Kate is open for interpretation in that regard.

45 Years is a deliberately slow film that even at ninety minutes feels about a third longer which is the crux of the flick's biggest problem.  That said, the story unfolds believably and thoughtfully and while I also bored of the pace at times, I appreciated Haigh's slow burn onscreen.  This won't be a film to suit everyone's tastes, but it's a good one nonetheless.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Movie Review - 6 Years

6 Years (2015)
Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsey Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, and Molly McMichael
Directed by Hannah Fidell
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Anchored by some captivatingly real performances by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield, 6 Years is a tenderly executed portrayal of young love as Melanie and Dan, together since high school, find themselves maturing and growing as their enter their later years at college, questioning whether their relationship has the ability to mature and grow along with them.  Obviously low budget, the simplicity that runs through all aspects of the production allows Melanie and Dan's story to take center stage. Writer-director Hannah Fidell does a nice job of finding the balance of the story between focusing on the couple's relationship with one another and with outside forces that may cause harm to their longterm love.

The film isn't without its share of melodrama and despite its short 70-minute runtime, the said melodrama wears a bit thin and grows repetitive, but Farmiga and Rosenfield do such a nice job of creating their characters and their relationship with one another that when the film ended I was won over a bit more than I thought I'd be.  The lack of bells and whistles works in the film's favor for sure.  Don't let the brevity of this review sway you into thinking I didn't appreciate 6 Years.  While it isn't without a few faults, it's definitely one of the better college relationship dramas that have come along in the past several years.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Movie Review - Results

Results (2015)
Starring Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker, and Constance Zimmer
Directed by Andrew Bujalski
***Ts film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Despite nice performances from Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders as fitness instructors Trevor and Kat, Results feels like a film searching for its core plot.  Is it a film about the current business and potential personal relationships between gym owner Trevor and employee instructor Kat?  Or is it a film about Danny (Kevin Corrigan), an overweight divorced guy who, following his mother's recent death, has received a windfall of money and decides to use some of it to try and lose weight (and emotionally grow) by hiring a personal fitness instructor from Trevor's gym?  Or is Results about Danny wanting to use his money to help Trevor expand his gym empire from a small single storefront to a chain of all-encompassing wellness center?

Writer-diretor Andrew Bujalski's film seems completely unsure of what it exactly wants to be.  While it succeeds at creating an appropriate balance between comedy and light drama, its various plotlines prove to be underdeveloped and scattered.  Initially, I thought the film was going to be all about Danny, but then that character seems to disappear in the film's final half after we've already invested a good amount of time with his storyline.  The switch is jarring and ultimately proves to be disappointing in a film that I was somewhat buying into initially.  As mentioned, Pearce and Smulders are quite good, proving to have a chemistry with one another and other characters that keep the film interesting, but it's simply not enough to make the flick recommendable.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, August 01, 2016

Movie Review - Heaven Knows What

Heaven Knows What (2015)
Starring Arielle Holmes, Caleb Landry Jones, and Buddy Duress
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

"Uncomfortable" is perhaps the best descriptor of the Safdie Brothers' Heaven Knows What, the semi-autobiographical tale of the film's star and first-time leading lady Arielle Holmes who portrays Harley, a homeless twentysomething in New York City addicted to alcohol, heroin, and bad men.  As the film opens, Harley is desperately trying to please her on again-off again boyfriend Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones) after she has done something to disappoint him.  His response to her:  slit your wrists and die to prove your love for me.  In her drug-induced haze (a constant state for her), Harley does just that and after a trip to the hospital, she decides that time apart from Ilya may be what she needs.  She moves on to Mike (Buddy Duress) and he isn't much better for her, providing an abundance of heroin and convincing her to steal in order to make money for more drugs.

Heaven Knows What is devastatingly realistic, dropping its audience right into the mix and jolting us into the horrific environment of young homeless people in New York City.  There's certainly a sense that first-time actress Arielle Holmes has lived through the horrors onscreen as the semi-autobiographical nature would attest as she imbues Harley with a jittery anxiousness that makes the audience just as anxious watching the story unfold.  While I appreciate the realism, it doesn't exactly make for a pleasant or recommendable viewing experience.  I was onboard until the film hit the halfway mark (about forty-ice minutes in), but then I found the film to be repetitive.  While I believe the repetition is purposeful showing us a never-ending struggle of the homeless to find places to sleep, buy and sell drugs, and earn money however they're able, it grows tiresome, perhaps in part because of the low budget, unobtrusive, almost-documentary style of filmmaking.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+