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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, November 30, 2016

Movie Review - The Boss

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

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Movie Review - Hello, My Name Is Doris

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

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Theater Review - Clybourne Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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