Monday, April 24, 2017

Theater Review - The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man
Directed by Sanford Robbins
Written by Bernard Pomerance
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, March 19, 2pm

Super-quick thoughts on this production to save for posterity since it closed so long ago:

  • The Elephant Man was my most anticipated play of the season -- a piece that I'd wanted to see for years.  My expectations were perhaps a bit too high as the the playwright's short, truncated scenes led to a little less emotional connection than I had hoped given the play's subject matter which deals with John Merrick, a man coping with severe physical deformities in mid-1800s London.
  • Director Sanford Robbins utilizes giant supertitles spanning across a large arch to introduce each scene.  I've done a little bit of research to see that this has been done in many productions before, but I haven't discovered whether it's something specified in the play itself or not.  While I initially found the technique oddly engaging, it grew a bit tiresome and ended up working against the one-act 100-minute play as I found myself searching for the meaning of the supertitle within the scene itself -- "Oh, that's why this scene is called x or y."
  • Beyond the supertitles, Robbins successfully stages the play keeping things briskly moving and getting some very good performances from Michael Gotch as Merrick and Elizabeth Heflin who, in her largest role in this production, is Ms. Kendall, an actress brought in to give Merrick a "taste" of feminine interaction.  In the play's most touching moment, Kendall begins to realize that she's not "acting" when she kisses the unfortunate man's hand not out of any sort of duty, but out of an emotional connection...but it's an emotional connection that both parties know can never actually exist.
  • The scenic/lighting design was gorgeous in its simplicity -- see the picture above -- with a circle of lights being mirrored in the floor.  Stark, but beautiful.
  • In the end, The Elephant Man is a solid production, but like many of the REP's plays this season, it doesn't rouse excitement.  Decent, but the season just didn't quite click.  One more to go...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Movie Review - Central Intelligence

Central Intelligence (2016)
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, and Aaron Paul
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
***This film is currently available via HBO Now/Go***

Central Intelligence is more enjoyable than it has any right to be thanks to the natural charm and comedic buddy repartee of its two stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.  It's a shame that a better, less generic story couldn't have surrounded the two elevating their chemistry.  Still, they try to make the most of things with a script that has formerly popular high school student Calvin Joyner (Hart) meeting up with formerly unpopular Bob Stone (Johnson) the weekend before their twentieth high school reunion after not having seen each other in those two decades.  Although they weren't close friends, Calvin had helped Bob through a difficult and embarrassing moment and Bob always looked fondly on Calvin because of that.  Through social media, Bob reconnects with Calvin but Calvin soon discovers that the seemingly timid and meek Bob is actually an undercover CIA agent who needs a bit of Calvin's help in solving his latest crime.

Ultimately, the "comedy" aspect of Central Intelligence falls a bit short...and the action side doesn't really do much to buoy it either.  The film works best during its first act as it sets up the relationship between Calvin and Bob with Hart and Johnson playing well off one another in these opening scenes.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't really succeed in creating tension as it progresses so the "superspy" intrigue it tries to muster never really comes to fruition.  However, despite all this, the two stars make this surprisingly watchable and actually end up doing enough to boost this one to slightly above average in the RyMickey rankings.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Movie Review - Sausage Party

Sausage Party (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, James Franco, Danny McBride, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, David Krumholtz, and Edward Norton
Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'm guessing that in order to really and truly appreciate a movie like Sausage Party, certain psychotropic enhancements may be needed.  Undeniably raunchy, this animated tale takes us into Shopwell's supermarket where we find anthropomorphic food dreaming about being chosen by humans (whom the food believes are gods) to take a trip to the outside world (the "Great Beyond") where they will be treated to the most glorious existence they could ever know.  Being chosen is the ultimate goal of Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog in a pack of eight who, along with his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a hot dog bun in a pack of ten, desperately want to leave the supermarket so they can fulfill their destiny of consummating their relationship instead of being stuck in their respective plastic wraps.  Life is pretty grand for these food items until a can of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to Shopwell's and he details the sheer horror the human gods enact on food - boiling, cutting, and chewing in a murderous, heathen-like way.  This sends the food into a bit of a tizzy and, through a series of chaotic events, Frank and Brenda find themselves outside of their packages and trekking across the store to find out if there is any truth to Honey Mustard's claim.

There is some cleverness to Sausage Party that is undeniable.  Decidedly adult, the film doesn't mince any punches when it comes to the risqué aspects of the story.  While this works for a while, Frank and Brenda's sexual innuendos wear thin after a bit as does the film's notion that simply dropping an F-bomb or some other variation of curse word automatically yields a laugh.  Perhaps I'm just becoming a much-too-stuffy adult, but a little restraint in the coarse language would've worked wonders here because about twenty minutes in, I almost gave up seeing as how all the supposed humor was coming from seeing a piece of corn say "Eff This or That."  Nonetheless, I hung on and while I don't think Sausage Party ends up being a successful film simply because the writers cheapened the whole thing by their verbiage, there are some stellar set pieces that are incredibly humorous.  While I won't spoil these moments, they all revolve around the food realizing just how "evil" their human gods really are and they work incredibly well at providing humor that isn't necessarily coarse-language-based.

I realize I may be coming off as a bit of a prude and that's not my intention with this review.  I drop F-bombs often...but there's such a thing as moderation.  Impact is lost when that's your only way of trying to be humorous.  In the end, this hurt Sausage Party overall for me.  Despite some clever moments and some rather ingenious set pieces, there were too many lulls where the writers thought they were being funny, but really weren't.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Movie Review - The Finest Hours

The Finest Hours (2016)
Starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Kyle Gallner, and Josh Magaro
Directed by Craig Gillespie
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Based on a true story, The Finest Hours details a 1952 Coast Guard rescue of the crew of the SS Pendleton during a horrible winter storm off the New England coast.  Buoyed by some nice special effects, the film is well-acted, yet never quite does enough to escape the generic nature presented by director Craig Gillespie.  Nothing about The Finest Hours stands out in any way which isn't to say that the film doesn't work.  The flick is perfectly watchable, yet it never once feels special, unique, or important in any way.  (Sort of like this generic review which is just one of many of a backlog of reviews that have been sitting in my drafts section for weeks now.)  The Finest Hours is a perfectly streamable film, but you won't walk away feeling the need to rave about it to anyone.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Movie Review - Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Hattie Morahan, Nathan Mack, Ian McKellan, and Emma Thompson
Directed by Bill Condon


Although I stopped my Disney Discussion before I got to their fantastic 1991 animated classic, it should be noted that the original Disney Beauty and the Beast is my second favorite film of all time.  (Only Psycho tops it.)  Needless to say, I was not avidly looking forward to Disney's live-action remake.  Much like the 1998 nearly shot-for-shot remake of Psycho which proved to be a waste of time when the infinitely superior original exists, I was extraordinarily hesitant heading into a theater to watch the remake of Beauty and the Beast.  While I'd love to say that this 2017 version is a glorious take on the classic animated film, I can't in the slightest.  Instead, I found myself asking the the following question throughout:

Why does this film exist if its creative team is not going to make a single thing better than the original?

Here's the thing about this 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast -- the story still holds up incredibly well.  I was never bored as I watched the tale of Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens) unfold with the layers of their distrust in one another changing to love blooming in its place.  The nuances of Alan Menken's music and the late Howard Ashman's lyrics still paint a lovely picture in song and add pivotal characterizations to the film's core ensemble.  Yet despite a few new songs and some odd and misguided changes to the story, director Bill Condon has assembled a film that hews much too close to the original to have a feeling that it's its own unique piece.  If the only purpose of this film is create the same exact tone and feel of its animated predecessor but to do so in live action, what was the point other than to simply be a major cash grab for the Walt Disney corporation?

Frankly, it's obvious that there was no other point.  This is a cash grab through and through, moreso than any of the previous Disney live action remakes of the past few years.  Despite its epic failure, Alice in Wonderland at least was manically what it was.  Maleficent took on the Sleeping Beauty story from a different perspective.  Cinderella gave us more well-rounded and deeply developed characters.  The Jungle Book provided a sensory special-effects experience that was visually enticing.  This Beauty and the Beast does none of that, instead insisting on staying so close in tone to its predecessor that its reason for existence proves moot.  Sure, the film attempts to give us a little more backstory to Belle and the Beast (hence its 30-minute-plus longer runtime than the richly developed, yet concise original), but that exposition proves to be silly most of the time rather than insightful.  (As an example, one of the few unique moments of the piece -- a journey back in time to when Belle was a child -- seems aggravatingly unnecessary despite its attempt at character development.)

I realize my last parenthetical comment seems contradictory to my biggest qualm with the film.  Here I am complaining about this iteration's lack of originality and yet I'm berating its attempts to be different at the same time.  I was all for "difference" here, but there has to be a reason for it and I found most of the film's changes disappointingly uncreative.  Frankly, the best change is one that's been widely criticized in a large chunk of the reviews I've read.  Following their dance to the titular song (which is a huge let-down in and of itself in both visual and aural execution), Belle runs home to her father who she discovers is being harmed by the maleficent Gaston (Luke Evans -- the one shining aspect of the piece).  The Beast is in emotional shambles, destitute that his one true love (and his one chance of overcoming the horrible spell that's been placed upon him) has run away.  He sings a desperately emotional plea in the new song "Evermore" which, while not quite as emotionally heartbreaking as Broadway's equivalent version of this number "If I Can't Love Her, still succeeds in cluing the viewers in to the Beast's psyche at the time.  This unique moment is what I wanted more of from this film and instead director Condon, writers Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and the Disney corporation have just regurgitated nearly everything that made the animated film so fantastic.  The second time isn't always the charm, however, and that's the case here.

Emma Watson is lackluster (though serviceable) as Belle.  She lacks the charisma present in the animated character and while Watson's Belle is perhaps a bit more assertive and "feminist" (in a good way), there's an emotional blankness behind her eyes in many of the scenes.  I'll also never understand why one's singing voice isn't always a top priority when casting actors in a musical.  Sure, some musical films -- La La Land, as an example -- can skate by on the charm of the characters whose less-than-perfect singing actually adds a layer to their cinematic personas.  I simply don't think that works in a movie like this which sets itself up as an old-school stylized musical.  Being able to sing is important here and with the exception of a few adequate moments in the song "Something There," Watson lacks the emotional phrasing needed to succeed when starring in a movie musical.  Dan Stevens as the Beast fares a little better with the aforementioned "Evermore" number granting him an opportunity to give his character some hefty gravitas.  Granted, his performance is essentially crafted by motion capture special effects experts, but I found the Beast to be a well-animated effect at least.

Unfortunately, that's more than I can say for many of the other special effects-created animated supporting cast who take on the forms of candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), feather duster Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), armoire Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), and piano Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci).  None of these performers (with perhaps the exception of Mbatha-Raw) do a thing to exceed their marvelous vocal predecessors who came before them and their gothic, dark design is almost always visually unappealing.  Essentially all doing voice-overs, the heart and charm of the animated film is lost in this version's characters.  Pivotal moments like "Be Our Guest" and "Beauty and the Beast" are disappointingly staged, poorly re-enacted, and oddly paced and sung by the likes of McGregor and Thompson, creating emotional vacuums where there should've been charm and heart.

The funny thing after writing all of the above which should seemingly yield a scathing rating below is that inherently the story behind Beauty and the Beast is still a successful one and since this version hardly deviates from the original, it's not an all-out failure.  While nothing in this go-around is better than the original -- although Luke Evans interpretation of Gaston comes awfully close as he fully embraces the hammy machismo that shaped that character in the animated version -- it's tough to say this film is unwatchable.  What I can't understand, though, is why anyone would want to watch this version when a perfect version of this same story is available.  Inherently, I do have problem with Disney reaching back into its animated vault to create live action versions simply to pad its coffers (albeit with boatloads of money if this film's success is any indication).  However, it they're going to have to do it, they need to at least be willing to deviate somehow from the original especially if it's one as perfect as Beauty and the Beast.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Movie Review - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, Chris O'Dowd, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, and Judi Dench
Directed by Tim Burton

Things started out so positively in the titularly long-winded Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children that I thought Tim Burton may had finally found himself back on the positive side of things after giving us such directorial dreck as Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and Big Eyes over the past decade.  Unfortunately, the eerie quirkiness that is the staple of the director's work hinders things here rather than helping which causes the film to falter after an incredibly promising opening thirty minutes.  That said, perhaps my disappointment with the film isn't fully Burton's fault -- I had actually read this young adult novel upon which this was based and found it oddly un-compelling considering its unique subject matter so maybe enjoyment of this work as a cinematic experience was never in the cards for me in the first place.

Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) has for years regaled his grandson Jake (Asa Butterfield) with WWII stories in which he says he spent a great deal of time at Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in Wales.  The tales of the odd kids that inhabited the house stuck with Jake and following his grandfather's unfortunate and odd death, Jake and his father (Chris O'Dowd) travel to Wales to try and give them both some closure.  The exposition-filled opening act was impressively tailored by Burton to give the film a quirky vibe which, while successful initially, begins to teeter upon Jake's arrival in Wales.  Upon arriving, Jake discovers that the home of his grandfather's stories was destroyed in an air raid during the 1940s, but when he visits the house, he is greeted by a group of children who end up taking him through a time portal and back in time to September 3, 1943, where he meets the caretaker of both the home and the children residing in it -- Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).  Jake is told that Miss Peregrine has the unique ability to manipulate time and, because of this, she has created a world in which the children under her care relive the same day -- September 3, 1943 -- over and over again.  Their peaceful existence seems quaint enough, but Jake soon discovers that not everyone is happy with Miss Peregrine's abilities and there may be some other "Peculiars" who would like to see her home cease to exist.

Ultimately, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children becomes too bogged down in convoluted plot to really land successfully.  If that summary above proved a bit twisted, it's frankly much more complicated than that.  Sure, there are some nice performances which help the whole affair.  Eva Green in particular, who I've not like in the past, is charmingly odd and it works incredibly well. Asa Butterfield is somewhat of a blank slate, but I think that works for his character here (much like his role in Hugo) as he is faced with the absurdity of what he encounters.

And Burton himself really tries as a director to make the picture a success.  Despite not liking the movie all that much, this is Burton's best turn behind a camera in years.  He successfully created the world in which these characters exist -- unfortunately, the world is just a bit too confusing to succeed itself.  While not an out-and-out failure, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ultimately is a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Movie Review - How to Be Single

How to Be Single (2016)
Starring Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann, Alison Brie, Anders Holm, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nicholas Braun, Jake Lacy, and Jason Mantzoukos
Directed by Christian Ditter
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/Go***

I came so very close to stopping How to Be Single at about the halfway point.  In retrospect, I should have followed through with that because it really was a tremendous waste of time, but for some odd reason, Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann had me oddly engaged in what ended up being a bit of a trainwreck of a movie.  Considering that Leslie Mann landed in the top spot of the Worst Performances of 2014 for The Other Woman, color me surprised that she's one of the reasons I kept this one going, but in this ensemble piece, she shined brighter than many others -- including Rebel Wilson who landed in the top spot of the Worst Performances of 2015.  Unlike Mann, she doesn't redeem herself here.

Enough about year-old awards, though.  How to Be Single takes a look at a quartet of women and their struggles with living life without men.  Dakota Johnson is Alice, a recent college grad who decides to break up with her longterm boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) to explore her options, not because she doesn't love him but because he is the only person she's ever seriously dated.  A new job as a paralegal at a fancy New York law firm has Alice meeting Robin (Rebel Wilson), a rambunctious, carefree, balls-to-the-wall, rowdy single lady who takes the newly unchained, mousy, and subdued Alice out on the town to try and teach her the rules of how to be a single woman.  At night, Alice goes home to her sister Meg (Leslie Mann), an obstetrician who has reached a point in her life when having children seems important with her single status proving to initially be an obstacle.  And then there's Lucy (Alison Brie), a completely superfluous character who spends her days hanging out in a bar looking at dating websites trying to find her true love while womanizer bartender Tom (Anders Holm) begins to pine over her.

While there are moments that work comedically -- however sporadic those moments may be -- How to Be Single also attempts to be serious, particularly in its second half and this doesn't work at all in its favor.  Attempts at mining drama out of unimportant or under-explored issues in the film's second half prove laughable and weigh down the lackluster flick which already suffers from repetitive and uninspired comedic scenes in its first half.  Sure, Dakota Johnson is oddly engaging as the timid Alice who is trying to find herself in the hectic dating landscape of New York City.  Her moments with Leslie Mann as her sister are charming and Mann herself makes the most out of a somewhat underdeveloped/stereotypical character.  However, the two are not enough to save the film from coming close to being a disaster.

I've already mentioned that Alison Brie's character could've been excised from the film with no harm done.  That's no fault of Brie, but her Lucy is completely unnecessary.  And then there's Rebel Wilson who continues to play the same character here that she plays in every other movie.  There's no branching out for her and her shtick has already worn threadbare.  While she's certainly not the sole reason How to Be Single doesn't work, she plays a part in its failure.  Sure, it's not as bad as some recent chick comedy flicks -- the aforementioned The Other Woman or Bad Moms -- but it's not a whole lot better.

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Movie Review - Little Men

Little Men (2016)
Starring Greg Kinnear, Paulina García, Jennifer Ehle, Theo Taplitz, and Michael Barbieri
Directed by Ira Sachs
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I'd heard some really good things about the simplicity of Little Men and its portrayal of a charmingly realistic relationship between two childhood friends torn asunder by circumstances outside of their control.  While the friendship between the two teen boys is nicely portrayed by writer-director Ira Sachs, the film never kicks into gear, languishing in that aforementioned simplicity instead of being enhanced by it.

Following the death of his grandfather, thirteen year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz), his father Brian (Greg Kinnear), and mother Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) move into the Brooklyn apartment they inherited.  Their abode is located above storefront which Jake's grandfather rented out to Leonor (Paulina García) whose son Tony (Michael Barbieri) becomes fast friends with Jake despite their very different personalities.  When Brian discovers that his father was charging a very low rent to Leonor, he decides that he has no choice but to increase her monthly fee which unfortunately she is not able to pay, creating inevitable tension between the two sets of parents and leading them to forbid their children from seeing one another.

Young Taplitz and Barbieri have a nice chemistry with one another as best friends with Barbieri's brazen, no-nonsense New York attitude the highlight of the film.  However, even at 85 minutes, Little Men just drags with much too little dramatic gravitas to land successfully.  Sure, there's "story" here, but its slice-of-life nature didn't land with this reviewer in a way that caused me to really be invested in the characters.  While Sachs' film admittedly feels realistic, it never feels well-rounded and its conclusion left me with a "That's all?"-type feeling, irritating me that I gave the flick even the short amount of time that I did.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review - Eddie the Eagle

Eddie the Eagle (2016)
Starring Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, and Keith Allen
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/Go***

Straightforward as can be, Eddie the Eagle is an inspirational sports movie that hits all the notes expected as it explores the true story of Eddie Edwards (played here by Taron Egerton), a young British man who has dreamed of being an Olympian despite being awkward (to say the least) when it comes to sports.  With the Summer Olympics necessitating strength and speed which is out of the question for the lanky twentysomething, Eddie shifts his attention to the Winter Olympics and ski jumping -- a sport in which Great Britain hadn't competed for over six decades as of the 1980s.  Eddie decides to self-train at a ski jumping facility in Germany where he meets American Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former Olympic ski jumper who now tends to the snow at the training center.  Bronson eventually (and reluctantly) takes Eddie under his wing, helping him prepare for the Olympic games and also convince the British Olympic Committee to allow him to compete.

Steeped in low budget 1980s-style movie quirkiness including some fantastically retro music, Eddie the Eagle is just offbeat enough to make the clichéd aspects of the stereotypical "sports movie" work here.  Director Dexter Fletcher embraces the kitschy nature of stylized aesthetic -- which includes a somewhat over-the-top, but oddly totally believable and utterly engaging performance from Taron Egerton -- and makes this film better than I expected.  It's a family friendly piece in the best way possible -- it doesn't cater to the kids despite being totally acceptable for all ages with the exception of maybe a curse word or two, but it causes us adults to embrace the wild abandon we've pushed aside for years.  This true story is one with which I wasn't the least bit familiar, but I was thoroughly engaged its entire runtime.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie Review - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
Starring Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, and a slew of celebrity cameos
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

Told in a mock-documentary style, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping details the life of Conner Friel (Andy Samberg), the lead singer of the rap group The Style Boyz who shot to popularity over a decade ago.  However, following some internal fighting, The Style Boyz break up and Conner embarks on a solo career wherein he becomes an incredibly successful solo rap artist.  This mockumentary focuses on Conner getting set to release his second solo album and, needless to say, things don't go quite as planned.

The Lonely Island crew of Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer shot to popularity with their viral skits on Saturday Night Live nearly a decade ago and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping certainly hews close to that style of raunchy, pop culture-based humor for which they became well-known.  Much like an episode of SNL, the film works in spurts.  When it's funny, it's oftentimes hilarious; but when it's not funny, it's oftentimes painful.  Even at a short 86 minutes, it's about 15 minutes too long, growing a bit repetitive as it meanders through its very basic plot.  Andy Samberg holds one's attention onscreen and some of the bit cameos are engaging, but it does overstay its welcome.  That said, I laughed out loud quite a bit -- more than I ever thought I would to be quite honest and in that regard Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a success.  However, with a keener group of editors, it could've been even better.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movie Review - The Meddler

The Meddler (2016)
Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, JK Simmons, Jerrod Carmichael, and Cecily Strong
Directed by Lorene Scafaria

Following her husband's death, widower Marnie (Susan Sarandon) moves from New York to Los Angeles to be closer to her adult daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), a screenwriter coping with a breakup with a longterm boyfriend.  Although she has good intentions, Marnie meddles in every aspect of Lori's life and The Meddler takes this simplistic story and stretches it out over 100 minutes.

While there may seem to be some moderate disappointing shade thrown by this reviewer in that last sentence, The Meddler is a perfectly acceptable comedy with some nice performances.  It's totally watchable and does the job it sets out to do in creating a difficult family dynamic between Marnie and Lori.  Ultimately, there's not quite enough story to prevent the viewer from getting a tad bored in the film's middle acts and what story there is proves to be fairly generic.  However, thanks to Susan Sarandon who really excels here at capturing the overprotective, busybody, stereotypical Italian widower, The Meddler fares better than it maybe even deserves.  I laughed a few times and was engaged in the Marnie character even when her actions were a bit too eccentric to be believed.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, March 06, 2017

Movie Review - Blue Jay

Blue Jay (2016)
Starring Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson
Directed by Alex Lehmann
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

In Blue Jay, former high school sweethearts Jim and Amanda (Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson) meet for the first time in over a decade in a grocery store when Jim returns home to California to clean out the house of his recently deceased mother.  The two decide to go to a local diner to reminisce where there's an immediate reconnection for Jim despite the fact that Amanda tells him that he's married and now the stepmother to two grown children.  Although initially hesitant, something clicks for Amanda as well and the two return to Jim's mother's home where they reminisce about their high school days, what became of them since they broke up, and what could've been had they remained together.

For the film's first half, the connection between Duplass and Paulson is engaging and palpable and I found myself enjoying this obviously low-budget film.  The black-and-white cinematography makes the viewer focus on the story...which works for the first half.  However, the flick begins to drag and the improvisational dialog aspect of the film begins to rear its ugly head.  The short 80-minute runtime starts to feel much longer than it should.  Fortunately, Paulson and Duplass continue to create a believable relationship and their characters' chemistry carries the film even through its roughest times.  Blue Jay showed much promise at the outset, but in the end, it's a bit too short on plot to really make an impact.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Movie Review - Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

Pee-Wee's Big Holiday (2016)
Starring Pee-Wee Herman, Joe Manganiello, 
Directed by John Lee
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  In the case of Pee Wee's Big Holiday, it allows me to overlook the fact that Paul Reubens' return to the character that made him a giant hit in the 1980s isn't very good.  I fully recognize that the generic plot isn't worth praising and the comedic aspects feel as if they were cooked up three decades ago.  However, because of that kooky thing known as nostalgia, I warmed up to what I was watching and was able to (somewhat) overlook the many foibles of this new film because it reminded me of a simpler time.

In Pee-Wee's Big Holiday, our title character Pee-Wee Herman lives in Fairville, a picturesque small town that seems stuck in the 1950s based off its vehicles and clothing and general aesthetic.  After a signature Rube Goldberg-esque opening, Pee-Wee arrives at his workplace -- a diner where he is the short order line cook.  One afternoon before the big lunch rush, Pee-Wee finds himself alone in the restaurant when a mysterious man arrives.  After he orders a milkshake, Pee-Wee strikes up a conversation with the stranger who turns out to be Joe Manganiello (playing himself), an actor traveling through Fairville on his way home to New York City.  Joe -- a macho, carefree guy --  is seemingly the complete opposite of Pee-Wee whose pleasant, though buttoned-up persona has kept him cloistered in the town of Fairville, unaware of the wonders that could await him outside of the town.  Joe is about to celebrate his birthday and in an effort to open Pee-Wee's eyes to the wonders of the rest of America, Joe invites our title character to his birthday in NYC, but he insists Pee-Wee travel cross-country to get there so that he can truly experience the nation.  After Joe leaves, Pee-Wee ponders the notion and decides to live his hometown behind to take a journey to NYC and along the way he meets a bunch of loony folks who should ultimately make him realize that he should've just stayed home.

I am fully aware that Pee-Wee's Big Holiday is not good.  Its episodic nature grows old fast as some of the characters Pee-Wee encounters simply aren't enjoyable enough to spend ten minutes getting to know.  However, as someone who watched "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" and loved Pee-Wee's Big Adventure as a kid, I found myself sinking in to a warm and comforting nostalgia while watching this.  I laughed a few times and the innocence of the characters reminded me of a simpler time in my life and I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that.  If Pee-Wee Herman doesn't hold a special place in your childhood memories, this one isn't for you at all, but if you fondly remember waking up on a Saturday morning and turning on CBS to watch him prance around his playhouse with Chairy and Jambi and Pterri, Pee-Wee's Big Holiday will be an enjoyable enough ninety minutes.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Movie Review - The Shallows

The Shallows (2016)
Starring Blake Lively
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

In my mind, Blake Lively came to prominence via MTV's Laguna Beach and its various fake-reality iterations.  I never watched an episode, but if I had I would know that Lively never was on those shows acting like some pompous self-centered egotist.  No, she became well known for tv's Gossip Girl, another show with which I have no history, but for some reason find myself assuming is Laguna Beach whenever I hear Lively's name.  I mention this only because my totally false impressions of Blake Lively caused me to scoff at the concept of The Shallows which is essentially a one-woman show about how a med student's surfing trip to Mexico turns horrific when she encounters a vicious shark.  However, following her role in The Age of Adeline (an underrated movie, FYI), Lively proves to be a innately watchable actress who takes control of the screen in a very understated, though believable way.

The Shallows is very simplistic -- it really is just the story of one woman against a shark -- but it's oddly compelling and tense at times thanks to the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra who keeps the film brisk, not overstaying its welcome.  Sure, there are moments that may seem implausible, but in this genre, you either have to accept it or not and this film garnered enough good will that I was willing to buy in to its plot.  Overall, color me surprised that this one was as enjoyable as it was.  It's a nice little sleeper flick if you're looking for a quick watch some rainy afternoon.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscar Predictions

UPDATE:  Ugh...a very poor 15/24 showing.  Pretty awful.  A solid ceremony that unfortunately tainted my thoughts about Moonlight which I now see as winning simply because of Hollywood's need to push a liberal agenda -- a tweet from Jessica Chastain post-ceremony solidified this notion for me.  Moonlight is a very good movie, but I can't help but think Hollywood feels the need to "message movie" America now into thinking the way they think (and also make up for last years #oscarssowhite fracas.  Once again, no slight on Moonlight which is great (hence my grade below), but it's a win that will feel tainted even though it shouldn't.

A very quick rundown of predictions this year is below.  I think I'm getting older and more cynical because despite actually enjoying all of the films nominated for Best Picture this year, I'm looking forward to this evening's Oscar ceremony the least of any that I can remember.  Let's just say it's tough being a conservative and a lover of movies on nights like this -- I know I'm gonna be sanctimoniously lectured this evening.  [Links in the Best Picture category are to my original reviews.]

Best Picture (in order of my preference)
La La Land -- A-
Moonlight -- A-
Lion -- B
Arrival -- B
Hidden Figures -- B
Hacksaw Ridge -- B
Manchester by the Sea -- B
Fences -- B
Hell or High Water -- B-
Will Win/Should Win: La La Land

Best Director
Will Win/Should Win: Damien Chazelle - La La Land

Best Actor
Will Win/Should Win: Denzel Washington - Fences
Very tight race between him and Casey Affleck (Manchester). 
Note:  Did not see Captain Fantastic yet

Best Actress
Will Win/Should Win: Emma Stone - La La Land
Note:  Did not see Elle or Jackie

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win:  Mahershala Ali
Should Win:  Dev Patel
Note:  Did not see Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win/Should Win:  Viola Davis - Fences

Animated:  Zootopia
Cinematography:  La La Land
Costume Design:  La La Land
Documentary Feature:  OJ: Made in America
Documentary Short Subject:  Joe's Violin
Film Editing:  La La Land
Foreign Language Film:  The Salesman
Makeup and Hairstyling:  Star Trek Beyond
Music - Score: La La Land
Music - Song: City of Stars - La La Land
Production Design:  La La Land
Short Film Animated: Piper
Short Film Live Action: Ennemis Interieurs
Sound Editing: Hacksaw Ridge
Sound Mixing: La La Land
Visual Effects: Jungle Book
Writing - Adapted: Moonlight
Writing - Original: Manchester by the Sea

Friday, February 24, 2017

Movie Review - Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures (2016)
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, and Mahershala Ali
Directed by Theodore Melfi

There's something so refreshing about the simplicity and basic nature of Hidden Figures and its engagingly pleasant and uplifting story that it's awfully tough not to enjoy director Theodore Melfi's film as it jauntily prances across the movie screen.  The great trio of black actresses at the film's center -- Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe -- do a fantastic job of sugarcoating the fact that the film's screenplay is riddled with one-note white supporting characters and its direction is full of clichés.  However, despite the lack of edginess and its rather elementary (and rudimentary at times) treatment of race relations in the 1960s, Hidden Figures is immensely enjoyable and held my attention as the true story of the three fascinating lead characters unfolded.

Hidden Figures succeeds not because it's got great direction or plot, but because it's a mainstream Hollywood film that capably tells an unknown true story headlined by three charismatic lead actresses.  At the forefront is Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble, a rather genius mathematician who worked for NASA at the Langley Research Center in Virginia.  After working in the segregated computer lab, Goble is called up to help the head of the Space Task Group Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) as his team attempts to launch an American into space.  Henson's Goble is an extremely intelligent woman, but she's also a caring mother to her three daughters who faces all the challenges thrown at her with perseverance ever after losing her husband a few years ago.  Henson is captivating at the center of the film, balancing heart and humor with ease.

Perhaps the bulk of the film's humor (and this is a surprisingly funny piece at times) is supplied by Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, the requisite sassy gal who longs to get her Masters in Engineering but isn't allowed because of Virginia's segregation laws.  While not known for acting, Monáe has proven to be an intriguing newcomer in the field with her work here and in 2016's Moonlight.  She has a presence onscreen that emits strength and grace and she's someone I'm certainly going to pay attention to in the years to come.

The only actress Oscar-nominated for her role here is Octavia Spencer, who plays Dorothy Vaughn, the supervisor of the "colored" computer room.  Spencer is essentially playing the same role here that she played in her Oscar-winning turn in The Help, but she's admittedly good in that no-nonsense type role.  Here, Spencer takes on the motherly role with ease, but I honestly think she's the least impressive of the acting trio -- not saying that in a derogatory way, just in the fact that her role seems the most generic.

The three actresses make this film shine.  Unfortunately, some of what goes on around them proves disappointing.  Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons are given rote, been-there-seen-that roles as 1960s white folk seemingly opposed to integration only to have their eyes opened up when they see what other groups have to offer.  Their evil side-eyes and brusque mannerisms are so utterly stereotypical that it sometimes proves laughable as opposed to impactful which is a shame because I'm sure that these three real-life ladies faced some true opposition to their emergence in NASA.  Kevin Costner bucks the trend as Goble's superior, but it's a bit too little to help.

Director Theodore Melfi doesn't reinvent the wheel here in any way, but in the end, that's okay.  Hidden Figures was meant to be a crowd-pleaser, not a deeply innovative piece.  In that sense, it's entirely successful.  In the end, though, it lacks the gravitas or uniqueness to really make a cinematic impact, but the story of the three ladies at its center is certainly a worthwhile historical footnote to learn about.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Movie Review - Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and Matthew McConnaughey
Directed by Travis Knight

The stop-motion animation from Laika Studios is always exquisite.  When their films begin (be it Coraline or Paranorman or The Boxtrolls) I find myself completely enthralled by the hand-crafted nature of the work and that awe was no exception with Kubo and the Two Strings, the company's latest venture.  Unfortunately, as is also the case with films by Laika, I find myself disappointed with the story and the company's inability to pace their films properly throughout.  Promising starts always lead into disappointing middle acts which are sometimes lifted in the finales.  Gorgeous animation can only get you so far.

That isn't to say that Kubo and the Two Strings is bad by any means.  It certainly is successful during its first half when we are introduced to our title character, a young one-eyed boy (voiced by Art Parkinson) who lives in a secluded cliffside cave with his depressed and sickly mother.  Every day, he makes the trek to the Japanese village near the cave to regale the townsfolk with a glorious story about a warrior who defeats an evil warrior -- all told through magical origami that comes to life when Kubo strums his guitar.  (Yes, it sounds odd, but it's rather beautifully imagined.)  Kubo has always been told to return home before dark, but one day Kubo attends a festival in town during which the living townsfolk create remembrances of the dead.  Enthralled by the festivities, Kubo stays out too late and the ghostly visages of his mother's two sisters Karasu and Yukami (Rooney Mara) come to try and steal Kubo's good eye in order to give it to his grandfather who, legend has it, stole his missing eye.  Kubo's mother fends off her two sisters and tells Kubo to run away and hide.  Upon waking up the next morning, Kubo is greeted by Monkey (Charlize Theron) which seems to be a real-life iteration of a wooden snow monkey figurine he had his entire life.  Together, Kubo and Monkey trek across the landscape of Japan in order to find the pieces of a magical armor that will protect Kubo from his grandfather who obviously wants to do him great harm.

In and of itself, that aforementioned story is engaging, unique, and melds modern and historic Japanese traditions.  However, once Kubo's trek starts, Kubo and the Two Strings loses much of its dramatic tension, essentially becoming a road movie with Kubo meeting the warrior from his stories (Matthew McConaughey) who helps the young boy and monkey on their quest.  Sure, there is some nice repartee between the voice actors with the trio of Theron, McConaughey, and Parkinson creating an enjoyable listening experience.  And, as mentioned before, the animation throughout the entire film is stellar.  Lush landscapes, gorgeous costumes, and fascinating imagery populate the entire film, creating a visually stunning experience.  However, the story falls apart a bit and while the animation saves it -- this one ekes out a win for me thus far when it comes to the animated films of 2016 -- I really want Laika to step it up in the story department because they've got the goods visually that's for darn sure.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Review - Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water (2016)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham
Directed by David Mackenzie

As Hell or High Water opens, brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are robbing the small-town Texas-Midland Bank.  Sure, Tanner's been in jail before, but in general the duo seem like nice enough guys...they're just desperate to save their deceased mother's estate which was just recently discovered to be sitting atop a vast supply of oil.  However, a disastrous reverse mortgage set up by Texas-Midland Bank has the agency wanting to seize the house from the Howard family leading the brothers to formulate the plan to rob the bank's branches and then give the money back to the bank in order to save their property.  The Howards continue on their mission while being pursued by a duo of Texas Rangers -- the retiring Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and the up-and-comer Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) -- eager to stop the culprits before they steal any more dough and perhaps do something more deadly.

Much like is typical in the Western genre -- at least for this reviewer -- Hell or High Water is a very slow starter.  Director David Mackenzie's film is lullingly dull in its first forty-five minutes when it comes to plot.  Sure, the rapport between the Howard brothers and the two Texas Rangers provides heart and humor, but the film was lacking forward momentum and drive.  (Once again, this seems typical of most westerns for me, so your mileage may vary.)  The film's second half picks up the pace, racing forward as the two aforementioned duos meet each other following an intense bank robbery, ending the film on a much better note than it started.

While dull at times, the main quartet of four actors solidly delivers.  Ben Foster is charismatic as Tanner whose unhinged personality ultimately overtakes his more subdued brother Toby who is subtly played by Chris Pine with just the right amount of emotional pain to make me truly believe his character's descent into crime.  The two feel incredibly natural together, coming off as believable brothers despite their distinct personalities.  Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham play splendidly off of one another in large part thanks to the wonderfully witty and natural dialog conjured up by screenwriter Taylor Sheridan who has a keen ear for the spoken word (even if the film's plot leaves a little to be desired).

The acting certainly elevates the whole film and is undoubtedly the reason for giving this one a go.  Mackenzie as a director creates an incredibly taut and exciting final act, but unfortunately, the build up to the final moments is a bit slow.  This is a capable film that is perhaps more highly praised this awards season than it should be, but I imagine that's in large part due to the fact that the film ends much more enjoyably than how it begins.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Movie Review - Moonlight

Moonlight (2016)
Starring Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali
Directed by Barry Jenkins

I will readily admit that I wasn't expecting to care for Moonlight in the slightest.  Preconceived notions about a plot revolving around a gay black kid's struggle led me to believe that this couldn't be further from a movie with which I would connect.  However, thanks to a realistic screenplay and a unique directorial structure (both created by Barry Jenkins), Moonlight moves along a fast clip as it explores a central character who we can't help but connect with regardless of our race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Told in a triptych fashion with three segments detailing the life of young Chiron, Moonlight allows us a glimpse into the world of a black child trying to come to grips with who he really is.  We first meet Chiron as a child (played by Alex Hibbert) when he earns the nickname "Little" for his meek, tender personality.  While hiding from bullies in an abandoned hotel room, Chiron is discovered by drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) whose kind persona causes Chiron to open up to him as he questions what makes him so different from the other kids his age including his friend Kevin (played as a child by Jaden Piner).  Chapter Two opens with a teenage Chiron (now Ashton Sanders) still finding himself struggling as an outcast, but beginning to truly understand who he is thanks to Kevin (now Jharrel Jerome).  As an adult, the Chiron in Chapter Three (now Trevante Rhodes) seems to be a completely different person as he deals with the aftermath of a monumental decision he makes at the end of the previous chapter.  His life seems to be on a particular path now (perhaps different than he could've imagined), but that changes when out of the blue he receives a phone call from Kevin (André Holland) with whom he'd fallen out of touch with during high school.

Moonlight seems overly basic when crafting a summary, but admittedly its strength isn't in its plot per se, but in its characters and their awakenings as they discover their paths in life.  Thanks to the rather tender portrayal by young Alex Hibbert of Chiron as a child and the heartwarming camaraderie brought to the screen by Mahershala Ali as his adult father figure, we in the audience are immediately drawn into Chiron's story.  Add to that the fact that his mother (Naomie Harris) is more focused on where to get her next stash of drugs than her son's well-being and we can't help but feel sympathy for Chiron's plight.  Somehow, Barry Jenkins and his casting director give us three (unknown) actors in Chiron who seamlessly meld into one another each taking on the quiet, subdued character creating more depth as the film progresses and ending with a final segment that proves heartbreakingly sad and emotionally effective in its simplicity.  While it's true that Mahershala Ali is getting the bulk of the awards season talk from the film, it's Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes who carry the bulk of the emotion in the film.  In fact, Ali is perhaps the slightest bit overpraised in his role which is quite small.  While he has one very heartwarming scene, I found the performance to be nice, but not overwhelmingly "awards-worthy" by any means.  Similarly, Naomie Harris is a bit too histrionic in her too-stereotypical role as Chiron's drug-addled mother.  There's little depth and originality to her character which felt too stock and rote to this reviewer.

Moonlight is well-directed for sure, but feels "independent" all the time (a la Boyhood from a few years ago although this is a superior film).  That's not really a criticism, but it's not able to break out of the "low budget" feel like the similarly independent Room was last year.  Still, I found myself drawn into this tale much more than I ever thought I would which is a huge credit to writer-director Jenkins and his outstanding ensemble of actors playing Chiron and Kevin.  Together, those six actors created an intensely personal and emotional tale that is surprisingly resonant to audiences across all spectrums.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Movie Review - Moana

Moana (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Nicole Scherzinger, and Jemaine Clement
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

The fact that I watched Moana more than a month ago and am just now getting around to writing a review should tell you something.  It's not that Moana is particularly bad -- I enjoyed it a little bit  more than Frozen and 2016's Zootopia -- but it's so generic that it's a bit difficult to get excited about it.  Nothing about it particularly roused the cinematic corners of my brain despite its nice animation and solid voice acting.

The story of our titular character begins when she is a toddler, fascinated by the ocean, but told by her father and mother (Temuera Morrison and Nicole Scherzinger) that their Hawaiian tribe doesn't venture out into the water.  As she grows older, a now teenage Moana (brightly and confidently voiced by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho) is encouraged by her grandmother (Rachel House) to explore the vast aquatic landscape and when Moana's tribe finds its food supply deteriorating, Moana ventures out on her own to try and help her people.  Along the way, she meets the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who eons ago stole the heart of island goddess Te Fiti who is systematically going island to island damaging the landscape.  Together Moana and Maui try to help one another tackle Te Fiti and regain stability across the Hawaiian islands.

The most successful aspect to Moana is the voice acting.  Auli'i Cravalho has a gorgeous singing voice, yet imbues Moana with spunk, personality, and charisma.  The titular character would not have been as successful as it is without Cravalho at the vocal helm so kudos to the casting department for finding this unknown.  Coupling that with Dwayne Johnson's hilariously egotistical Maui and the scenes between these two main characters turn into a treat.

Unfortunately, the film itself plays out a little too episodic and generic to feel unique.  The trials and travails of Maui and Moana do little to advance the story, instead they simply feel like individual segments without a cohesive through-line.  (A meet up with a giant crab which takes up a good ten minutes is amusing, as an example, but in the end proves rather fruitless in the grand scheme of things.)  The music by the immensely popular Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn't help advance the story either a la the Menken-Ashman 90s era collaboration that brought us The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  Miranda's songs are decent -- Moana's yearning (and Oscar-nominated) "How Far I'll Go" and Maui's fun "You're Welcome" being the best -- but in the end, they do little to add depth that we didn't already see.  That being said, Miranda certainly has crafted better tunes here than we saw in Disney's last musical extravaganza Frozen.

There are some incredibly odd editing and directorial choices that harm the film sometimes (and I never find myself saying that about animated films), but overall, despite the somewhat negative tone of this review, Moana works...it just doesn't soar.

The RyMickey Raing:  B-

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Movie Review - Money Monster

Money Monster (2016)
Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, and Caitriona Balfe
Directed by Jodie Foster

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of the successful financial cable tv show Money Monster, but one afternoon, mid-show, an armed man enters the soundstage on live television.  Aggravated that Lee's advice to invest in a company called IBIS has backfired, deliveryman Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) had had enough and his irritation built to anger at Gates and the 1% culture.  After placing an explosive vest on Lee, producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) must figure out how to save Lee, appease Kyle, and get the crew out alive.

Told closely to real time, director Jodie Foster creates a decent amount of tension in Money Monster, achieving most of that thanks to the solid performances of her three main cast members who certainly create an atmosphere that consistently keeps them on edge.  For the film's first forty-five minutes or so where it's trapped in the confines of the television studio, there is an overarching sense of doom and fear.  Unfortunately, the script drifts during the film's second half, taking Lee and Kyle on a ridiculous journey through the streets of New York City that seems ludicrous and improbable, oftentimes eliciting laughs as opposed to its intended goal.  It's a shame, really, because there was something exciting going on in its first half and the whole affair falls apart a bit as it continues down an ever-increasingly silly path towards its conclusion.  You could certainly do worse than Money Monster, but in the end, it's not quite recommendable thanks to its disappointing conclusion.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Movie Review - Fences

Fences (2016)
Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson
Directed by Denzel Washington

I will readily admit that I walked into Fences expecting to be bored.  Its length of 140 minutes coupled with the boxed-in nature of filming an adaptation of a melancholy play that takes place essentially in a single house was a bit of a turn off.  Oddly enough, all of my fears came true in certain ways, but I managed to still enjoy director Denzel Washington's take on August Wilson's popular play thanks to some fantastic performances and a storyline that really kicks into gear in its second half.

Washington is Troy Maxon, a trash collector and former baseball player who never made it into the Major Leagues and admittedly holds a bit of a grudge because of it.  He lives in a sizable home with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and his teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) who is finding great success with high school football, landing on the prospect list of several colleges.  Troy, who was shafted by sports in the past, refuses to allow Cory to dream his life away with the promise of a future in sports and demands that the teen earn a living through hard work like himself.  Needless to say, this causes a rift in the house not just between Troy and Cory, but also between Troy and his wife and leads to a second act turn of events that changes the course of the Maxon household forever.

Fences takes a while to really get going.  The whole piece is a talky affair, but the first forty minutes or so are filled with some lengthy diatribes by Troy or his best buddy Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) that do little to advance the plot despite admittedly adding to the overall character of Troy himself.  However, once the actual conflict takes shape, the film starts to roll with Denzel certainly taking the lead reins and driving the ship as both its star and director.  Some have said Washington is too "actorly" or "stagy" in this flick, but I found him utterly captivating as a grizzled man who's done his share of wrong things, but wants nothing more than to create a life for his son better than the life he himself had.  This desire is palpable, showing itself in Washington's intense portrayal which is matched with equal ferocity by Viola Davis whose mild-mannered and somewhat subservient Rose turns from a typical 1950s housewife at the beck and call of her husband to a take-no-prisoners head-of-household when Troy's actions lead the Maxon family down a path they never could've expected.  Washington and Davis play exquisitely off one another in their tender moments, but simply excel when the late August Wilson's script requires them to really explore their truest, basest, and fiercest emotions in the film's second half.

This is a tough play to expand beyond the walls of the Maxon house and director Washington rarely explores another venue.  Yes, this leads the film to be a bit static at times and come off feeling rather simplistic particularly in the film's first hour.  However, Washington really manages to create an ever-building sense of emotional tension as the film progresses and its release in the final scenes is the payoff for which we'd waited.  Still, Fences can't quite escape the "boring" moniker even from someone who enjoyed it like myself.  It's not a film I'd particularly ever want to watch again, but it's a film that I appreciate and feel is ultimately worth seeing at least once since Washington and Davis give two of the best performances of the year.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Theatre Review - The Bells

The Bells
Written and Directed by Theresa Rebeck
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Saturday, January 28, 2pm
Photo by The REP

A gorgeous set, sophisticated lighting, and an enveloping atmospheric aural design can't save The Bells by playwright Theresa Rebeck which proves to be a snoozefest despite a game cast made up of the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players.  A tale of a bar owner in the Yukon as he faces the demons of his past, The Bells ultimately is a play that leads to nowhere -- character motivations scarcely are enhanced or developed as its two hours unfold which leads to an ultimately disappointing ending seeing as how the play's conclusion feels like it could've occurred at any point in the story.

At its core, The Bells is a ghost story about Xuefei, a young Chinese man (played by guest artist Austin Ku) who comes to the Yukon in 1899 in search of gold.  He proves successful and in the process meets a young woman named Annette (guest artist Sara Griffin) whose father Mathias (Lee Ernst), owner of the local tavern, is certainly impressed with this foreigner's prospecting abilities.  Tragically, however, Xuefei goes missing soon after meeting Annette, but his presence looms heavy over the community eighteen years later which is when the majority of the play takes place.  Guilt hangs heavy over Mathias from the play's outset as echoes of bells -- a present Xuefei gave Annette -- ring constantly in his mind reminding him of the Chinese visitor who forever changed Mathias' life.

Maybe somewhere there's a good story here, but Rebeck (who also directs this production) drags the whole affair out much too long.  Considering that the character of Mathias barely changes from the play's initial moments to its final scene, there's no reason this play couldn't have been abbreviated to at least a one act production.  Lee Ernst adequately depicts the transgressions of Mathias and the actor has a lot to chew on in terms of emotional backstory, but it all proves disappointing because there's no arc whatsoever for the character.  Ernst's colleagues in the REP also aren't given much to do  as they for the most part depict nondescript townsfolk, but guest artists Austin Ku and Sara Griffin prove to be solid additions to the REP crew with Griffin in particular proving compelling as the strong-willed daughter of Mathias.

Tony-nominated set designer Alexander Dodge manages to create both a believable vast mountain landscape and an intimate, lived-in tavern setting which, along with the beautiful lighting design from Philip S. Rosenberg and an eerie wind-filled sound design by Obadiah Eaves (though the less said about his awkward folk songs that bridge scene changes the better), the under-the-line elements shine in The Bells.  Unfortunately, the play itself is -- ready for this -- unable to get a ringing endorsement from this reviewer.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Movie Review - Bad Moms

Bad Moms (2016)
Starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Oona Laurence, Emjay Anthony, Annie Mumolo, Jay Hernandez, David Walton, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Christina Applegate
Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

I'm not a fan of Hangover-styled comedies where adults act raucous just because they usually can't in their normal lives so admittedly Bad Moms had an uphill battle to work for me, but with its essentially non-existent story, directors and co-writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have crafted one of the worst films of 2016.  Color me unsurprised upon looking at imdb.com that Lucas and Moore were the genius writers behind The Hangover and its sequels -- certainly shows that their quality of penmanship hasn't improved all that much in the past decade as they still mine for comedy in alcohol, drugs, and raunch but in the basest way possible.

The failure of Bad Moms has absolutely nothing to do with the women at its center -- a trio of moms who find their homelives in various states of disarray as their status as "Mom" has taken over all other aspects of their identity.  Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathyrn Hahn are the reasons I stuck with this one for its entirety -- well, that and the fact that I watched it on a long car ride home from vacation and had nothing better to do.  Together, the trio are engaging and really do attempt to make the most out of a bad situation.

That bad situation, however, is simply unsaveable.  Sure, there are moments of levity -- many of them coming from Hahn's carefree, sex-crazed character -- but this film has almost no story to latch onto and its characters are so underdeveloped that it makes its 100-minute runtime feel interminable.  Were it not for the aforementioned cast -- which also includes Christina Applegate in a thankless and underdeveloped villainess role and Oona Laurence and Emjay Anthony as Kunis' kids -- there would've been no way I could've made it until the end.  Acting crazy doesn't always equal laughs as writers Lucas and Moore have more than proven looking at their resumés.  The public has spoken for some reason, though, and their style of pedestrian screenplay seemingly does the trick -- not for this reviewer, however.

The RyMickey Rating:  D-

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Movie Review - Hush

Hush (2016)
Starring Kate Siegel, John Gallagher, Jr., Michael Trucco, and Samantha Sloyan
Directed by Mike Flanagan
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A surprisingly effective low budget horror movie, Hush introduces us to Maddie (Kate Siegel), a deaf author who lives in a secluded house in the woods.  With this being a thriller, that isolation will ultimately do Maddie harm when a masked man (John Gallagher, Jr.) stalks the young woman and creates a hellish night from which she may not escape alive.

A simple story told in taut fashion, director and co-writer Mike Flanagan and co-writer and star Kate Siegel have created a film that certainly kept me on the edge of my seat.  Sure, there are some moments of ludicrousness (Why is she going upstairs?  Why doesn't she just stay locked in the room?), but Hush overall is an enjoyable watch, filled with those jittery moments that we long for in horror films.  Siegel more than holds her own and John Gallagher, Jr., is deviously horrific as Maddie's unnamed assailant -- together they make what is essentially a two-handed piece immensely watchable.

Yes, this review is short and to the point, but don't let it's brevity fool you -- Hush is worth a watch if thrillers are your cup of tea.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie Review - Mascots

Mascots (2016)
Starring Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley, Jr., Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Tom Bennett, Christopher Moynihan, Susan Yeagley, Chris O'Dowd, Bob Balaban, and Jennifer Coolidge
Directed by Christopher Guest
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Writer-director Christopher Guest's mockumentary Best in Show which took the audience behind the scenes of a low-rent dog show is one of the best comedies of all time.  A ballsy statement, I'm aware, and one that may not be shared by all, but it's a movie that I find myself cracking up with whenever I put it on.  In a similar vein, his latest film Mascots takes its viewers to the annual Mascot Championships where his interviews with a wacky cast of characters unveil the mask behind some unique college and sport team mascots fighting for the top prize at the event.

Told in a fake documentary style -- the genre of all Guest's films -- Mascots has its moments and is certainly watchable, but it doesn't compare to the genius that is Best in Show (then again, the rest of Guest's films don't compare to that genius either).  Guest allows large chunks of his acting ensemble to simply improvise and while that does provide some clever moments, it also fills the film with a lot of nothing in terms of character development.  Despite only being 95 minutes long, the flick feels much longer with too much focus placed on the mascot bits at the final competition rather than creating well-rounded and interestingly quirky characters.

I'm overly critical here because I know Guest and his ensemble (many of whom were in Best in Show) can do better.  I did laugh during Mascots -- quite a bit actually -- but I wanted more from the film.  The humor came a bit too sporadically for me to truly be able to recommend this one.  Best in Show, however -- get yourself a copy today!

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, January 13, 2017

Movie Review - The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Frances O'Connor, Simon McBurney, and Franka Potente
Directed by James Wan

Although Psycho is my favorite film, the horror genre was one that I never explored as a youth, but as I entered by third decade, I found myself exploring scary movies with much more aplomb.  Three years ago, I was quite impressed with The Conjuring and the film landed on my Top Twenty list of 2013.  Director James Wan created a 1970s vibe that gained its scares from tension-filled build-ups as opposed to cheap jump scares and the film itself was one of the best horror films of the decade thus far.  Unfortunately, The Conjuring 2 doesn't quite live up to its superior predecessor, relying on a too-similar story, setting, and atmosphere to really feel like anything other than a rehash.

The Conjuring 2 takes us another journey with the husband-and-wife paranormal investigation team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) whose talents are called upon to help the Catholic Church investigate a possible demonic presence in Enfield, England, in 1977.  A young teen girl named Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) has purportedly become possessed and her single mother Peggy (Frances O'Connor) has had to send her other children away from their home for fear of Janet and the demons in their house causing them harm.  With the family desperate for help, Ed and Lorraine start their investigation, but soon discover that the Hodgsons may in fact be making this all up for attention.

There is certainly a foreboding atmosphere present throughout The Conjuring 2 as James Wan definitely has a way with creating scares not through gore and violence, but rather through an ever-building uncomfortable tension.  He also gets great work out of his cast all of whom elevate the horror film to a higher level than most.  Unfortunately, the story here (also co-written by Wan) just feels like too much of the same thing.  Running nearly 145 minutes, there's not enough new story brought to the table and, admittedly, the scares, though effective, also feel a bit repetitive from the first film.  The Conjuring 2 is by no means a bad horror film...it just suffers in the wake of its predecessor to which it hones a bit too close to truly be original.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-