Thursday, June 22, 2017

Movie Review - The Invitation

The Invitation (2016)
Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Huisman, Michelle Krusiec, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Lindsay Burdge, and John Carroll Lynch
Directed by Karyn Kusama
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

The Invitation is one of those movies where the less said, the better.  Nevertheless, the overall plot revolves around bohemian California couple Eden and David (Tammy Blanchard and Michael Huisman) holding a dinner party for a large group of friends including Eden's ex-husband Will and his new girlfriend Kira (Logan Marshall-Green and Emayatzy Corinealdi).  Needless to say, things start to get weird and the partygoers may not be placing all their cards on the table, harboring secrets that may hold some nefarious intent.

 Dialog heavy, The Invitation does feel the tiniest bit drawn out -- mainly because, as mentioned, the viewers are tipped into the nefarious intentions much sooner than the party guests.  However, it doesn't hinder the fact that director Karyn Kusama has crafted a tense, claustrophobic environment that allows this piece to really enervate the viewer.  We're stuck in this house with the group and just like them, we're unable to really escape and pull our eyes away from the actions that are unfolding in front of us.  This all culminates in a final act that is one of the more exciting finales I've seen from a 2016 film thus far.

Yes, this review is a short one, but The Invitation is a film that shouldn't be spoiled.  This low budget thriller is a fun ride that you should certainly give a go.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Movie Review - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, and Tao Okamoto
Directed by Zack Snyder
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/HBO Go***

Questions I had while watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:

  • Why does the voice of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) when in the Batsuit sound like he's speaking through some voice box that amplifies his voice, making it echoey and deeper than normal?  This amplification makes it utterly obvious that all the vocals were completed in post. (I guess technically there is amplification device in his mask, but considering that the lower half of his face isn't covered by the mask, it just makes Affleck's performance laughable...even moreso than his depressing melancholy already was...)
  • Why do all of the fight scenes look as if they were created by a video game manufacturer instead of looking like creative visual effects?  Zack Snyder isn't exactly known for realism, but it's utterly ridiculous-looking.
  • Why is this movie so long?  And considering how long the title already is, why not add the 's' after the 'v' in the abbreviation of the word 'versus?'
  • Why is Zack Snyder allowed to continue to reign his ugly directorial aesthetic over any films anymore?  His dark, dreary, heavy-handed nature creates an utterly depressing feel throughout, carrying nary a modicum of charm, hopefulness, or pleasantness that even the worst Marvel films contain even if just for a moment or two.
  • Amy Adams' red hair adds at least some color to the muted grays and blacks that permeate the screen.
  • Despite the criticism of Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, at least he's hamming it up in a amusingly crazy way as opposed to the dreary hamming of Affleck.
  • When one of your main characters -- Bruce Wayne, in this case -- gets his motivations because of scary dreams he has, that's just cheap storytelling.  
  • In my Man of Steel review from a few years ago, I mentioned that Henry Cavill carried some charm.  That's not present here at all as he's just an angry superhero the whole time.
  • I admittedly appreciated that they at least tried to explain away the ludicrousness of Man of Steel's destructive finale in which much of Metropolis was destroyed. 
  • And at least the finale of this one was a little less ludicrous.  The post-script of the plot after the final battle was actually oddly resonant and upped my grade below by a spot.
  • I should have stopped watching this at the fifty-minute mark when I first contemplated the idea.  
  • Why will I inevitably subject myself to Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman after this atrocity?  I should know better...
The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, June 19, 2017

Movie Review - The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys (2016)
Starring Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, and Kim Basinger
Directed by Shane Black
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Go/Now***

Director/co-writer Shane Black has created a film in The Nice Guys that perfectly captures the retro 1970s feel of low budget flicks of that era.  This humorous, light-hearted, and slickly seedy vibe along with the chemistry of the film's two stars -- Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling -- help to elevate a film that unfortunately doesn't quite flow as well as it should, overstaying its welcome by a good twenty-five minutes.

With a much more convoluted plot than is typical of comedies, The Nice Guys revolves around the case of two missing girls.  One is popular porn star Misty Mountains and the other is Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), the daughter of the Los Angeles District Attorney Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger) -- somehow these two disappearances wind up connected through an intricate web of deceit.  It's up to beleaguered (and alcoholic) private investigator Holland March (Gosling) and fellow dick (who's also quite a dick) Jackson Healy (Crowe) to try and figure out exactly what happened.  Along with the help of Holland's tween daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), the trio delve into the seedy world of porn, the unethical business practices of the auto industry, and the perhaps criminal LA law enforcement to try and find out why Misty and Amelia have gone missing.

While I appreciated the intricate plot, it's a bit too complicated to find its footing, although admittedly the kitschy tone helps create an overarching amusement throughout.  Gosling and Crowe are perfect comedic adversaries to one another and their biting repartee is undoubtedly the best part of the piece. Gosling is charmingly rotten, Crowe is bitterly humorous, and together these two men not known for their comedic roles shine where most may doubt they could.  Still, Shane Black's film goes on too long with the aforementioned lengthy plot proving to be a bit too serpentine for its own good.  The Nice Guys is aesthetically pleasing and well-acted, but in the end it's a disappointment.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, June 16, 2017

Movie Review - Wild Oats

Wild Oats (2016)
Starring Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Lange, Billy Connelly, Howard Hesseman, Matt Walsh, and Demi Moore
Directed by Andy Tennant
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There were a few moments at the beginning of Wild Oats when laughter was vocalized by this reviewer and I wondered why this film got such a limited release in theaters last year.  And then the last hour rolled around and the story fell utterly apart, throwing in a kitchen sink's worth of plot that ends up being laughable...and not in way comedies should be.

Shirley MacLaine is Eva, a recently widowed former school teacher who receives a $5,000,000 life insurance check for her husband rather than the $50,000 one she was supposed to receive.  With the help of her recently divorced best friend Maddie (Jessica Lange), the duo deposit the check and head off to the Canary Islands for a little fun before the insurance company comes knocking with a correction at which point they'll just "play dumb."  This vacation sets up a chaotic set of misadventures involving weird old men, attractive young guys, machine guns, gambling, backstabbing, and insurance fraud -- all of which elicit eye rolls of idiocy.

Awkwardly directed and very poorly written, Wild Oats languishes its two leading ladies in a miserable state of affairs.  Although MacLaine and Lange at least make this watchable, it's not enjoyable in the least.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Movie Review - Jackie

Jackie (2016)
Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, and Billy Crudup
Directed by Pablo Larraín

There's something immensely compelling about Jackie as it details the days immediately following President John F. Kennedy's assassination and how Jackie Kennedy deals with her husband's death, and yet, there's also something oddly boring about Pablo Larraín's film which caused me to close my eyes and fall into one of those quick head-snapping doze-offs more than once during the flick's short 95-minute duration.  This juxtaposition has me at odds as to how to rate the film, but in the end, the pros (including an exquisitely mannered and emotional performance by Natalie Portman as the title character) outweigh the cons.

Told in a series of flashbacks as Jackie speaks to a journalist (Billy Crudup) in the weeks shortly following the assassination, screenwriter Noah Oppenheim's film jumps back and forth in time within those flashbacks as we witness the First Lady's immediate reactions to her husband's death, her preparation for her husband's funeral as she fights her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) over the political ramifications of the optics of her husband's funeral, and her grappling with her religious faith with her priest (John Hurt) in the aftermath of the horrific event afflicted upon her, her children, and her country.

Through it all and at the center of everything is Natalie Portman's performance as Jackie.  Her steely demeanor as Jackie emotes a strength that is admirable and creates an all the more emotional experience when the rigid exterior cracks when the beleaguered widow is finally able to break down behind closed doors and fully mourn her husband's death.  Director Larraín rarely strays away from Portman's face for more than a minute or two and this almost-claustrophobic atmosphere pulls the viewer in to Jackie's plight, latching on to her strength and viscerally reacting to her private emotional moments.  Portman is fantastic here and not just in a mimicry way -- in fact, I won't judge her in that way at all as I'm admittedly not overly familiar with Jackie Kennedy's mannerisms and vocal inflections.  She is the reason this film works.

As I said initially, the film is a bit of a tough go story-wise.  There's not much plot here and that does cause some issues in terms of pacing and holding one's interest.  Still, the visually appealing film -- the costumes, set design, and cinematography are beautiful -- is worth a watch if the notion of the story appeals to you in the slightest.  Granted, we may not know how "true" this piece is, but it still paints a vividly sad portrayal of grief and death that never once feels exploitative.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Movie Review - Miss Stevens

Miss Stevens (2016)
Starring Lily Rabe, Timothée Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, Anthony Quintal, and Rob Huebel
Directed by Julia Hart
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

An incredibly pleasant, well-written, and well-acted slice of life dramedy, Miss Stevens details the ale of titular Rachel Stevens (Lily Rabe), a high school English teacher, who takes three of her students - Billy, Margot, and Sam (Timothée Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, Anthony Quintal) - to a weekend drama competition at a hotel a few hours away from their school.  Plot-wise, that's about it, but co-writer Julia Hart's debut directorial effort explores the relationship between a teacher and some of her best students not in any sketchy or ripped-from-the-headlines teacher/student affair-type way, but in the way that a good teacher emotionally connects with her somewhat less mature students.

Rabe gives an absolutely lovely performance as Miss Stevens who longs for an adult relationship, but recognizes the important role she plays in the lives of her young students.  The natural way Rabe interacts with the young actors playing her students adds a realism to the proceedings that elevates this simple film beyond the norm.  Kudos also must go to Timothée Chalamet who plays a slightly troubled youth who has a powerful moment as he presents a dramatically potent soliloquy in the drama competition that exemplifies the difficulties of his life.

I realize this review's brevity may signify a lack of enthusiasm for Miss Stevens, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  It's charming little indie film that is well worth ninety minutes of your time.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Movie Review - The Little Prince

The Little Prince (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Mackenzie Foy, Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Riley Osborne, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Albert Brooks, Paul Giamatti, and Paul Rudd
Directed by Mark Osborne
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

2016 was a lukewarm year for animation and I was hoping this little flick -- which was supposed to be released in theaters, but was then shopped to Netflix -- would be a quirky venture that I could latch onto.  Unfortunately, the lack of a theatrical release for The Little Prince was probably the correct assessment as it proves to be much too talky and philosophical for a kids' film, but a little too childish to really engage adults.

I don't think I've ever read the popular children's book upon which this film is based so its resemblance to the source material is completely unknown to me.  However, the film revolves around The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) whose Mother (Rachel McAdams) forces her to live a very regimented life focused squarely on education rather than having any modicum of fun.  When The Mother and The Little Girl move to a new home, their next door neighbor ends up being a bit of a handful.  The elderly man (Jeff Bridges) was a former aviator who spends his time piecing together an old plane in his backyard.  Much to her mother's chagrin, The Little Girl ends up befriending The Aviator as he regales her with stories of his youth where he met The Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who traveled to Earth and taught him about being a better man.

The Little Prince looks lovely, there's no denying that.  The mostly typical Pixar-esque computer animation is interspersed with some charming paper-y looking stop motion work that is aesthetically appealing.  The voice acting, for the most part, is also quite good (although there are a few performances - Ricky Gervais, James Franco - that seem more celeb-driven than story-driven).  Unfortunately, it's not enough to help the philosophical mumbo jumbo that drives "The Little Prince" segments of the story which take over as the film progresses.  The film really appears to be unsure to whom it's marketing itself -- is this a kiddie film (as the first half would have you believe) or is this some deeper adult presentation about hanging onto the past and never losing the memories of what came before?  The flick isn't sure of that and it shows in its muddled nature.  Still, it's lovely to look at, but a bit boring to watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Movie Review - Don't Breathe

Don't Breathe (2016)
Starring Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto
Directed by Fede Alvarez

While watching director Fede Alvarez' taut thriller Don't Breathe, I couldn't help but think it was twisted version of the 1967 Audrey Hepburn starrer Wait Until Dark.  In the Hepburn flick, she plays a blind woman being terrorized by men who invade her apartment.  In Don't Breathe, Stephen Lang plays Norman Nordstrom, a blind man whose home is invaded by three twentysomethings hoping for a quick buck.  Rather than be terrorized by the trio, though, Nordstrom fights back.  However, as the three robbers soon come to realize, the blind man is no innocent bystander and instead harbors some sick secrets.

While pretty much everyone in Don't Breathe has less than stellar morals, the film is ultimately set up to have us as viewers side with two of the robbers - Rocky (Jane Levy), a poor young woman who longs to flee to California with her stepsister away from her awful home life and drug-addled mother; and Alex (Dylan Minnette), a quiet, shy guy who harbors a secret crush for Rocky and tries to impress her by using his father's security firm to pinpoint homes they can break into a rob.  While they heretofore have only stolen $10,000 worth of product -- which keeps things under the felony limit -- Rocky and Alex's partner in crime Money (Daniel Zovatto) clues them in to Nordstrom's home with the prospect of a big score thanks to a lawsuit Nordstrom settled some years ago.  Despite their obvious deviant nature, director and co-screenwriter Alvarez pulls the viewers into Rocky and Alex's stories in a way that never seems to cloying or pushy.  Yeah, these kids aren't angels, but we're still rooting for them as they head into Nordstrom's house which we inevitably know will be perilous.

Alvarez -- who also directed the very effective horror film remake of Evil Dead -- is incredibly effective at creating a tense, scary atmosphere.  Much of this film takes place in darkened corridors and dimly lit rooms and yet I had no difficulty determining what was going on which is a difficult task for a director.  His cast is top notch for a film of this nature and the small cast does their best either acting scared or scary.  This one had me on the edge of my seat and proves that Alvarez wasn't just a one-hit wonder in the horror film department.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, June 05, 2017

Movie Review - Deadpool

Deadpool (2016)
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapicic, and Leslie Uggams
Directed by Tim Miller

While I tend to have the reputation that I'm not a fan of superhero movies (hell, I've even said it myself on the blog), that's not necessarily an accurate statement.  While the DC franchise has left me a bit disenchanted (even that lauded Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy leaves me feeling meh), Marvel films tend to have enough exuberance that I find the majority of them enjoyable even if they are a bit frivolous.  And no comic book movie is perhaps more frivolous than Deadpool, the R-rated smash that changed the comic book film landscape in early 2016.  Lauded by the fan base for its coarse language, sexual jokes, the occasional boob or butt (although surprisingly not as many as I expected), Deadpool does contain all these things we haven't yet seen in a Marvel flick.  But what it doesn't have is a decent story, relying instead on shock value and a snarky performance from Ryan Reynolds that's not compelling to this reviewer in the slightest.

Reynolds is Wade Wilson whose job nowadays is as a for-hire mercenary, going out every night hunting people down for a profit.  While at the local bar, he meets prostitute Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and the two hit it off right away.  Now boyfriend and girlfriend, things seem to be looking bright for the heretofore downtrodden and sullen Wade until he's diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Faced with his own demise, Wade agrees to an experimental treatment at some seedy establishment which turns out to be both a blessing and a curse.  It turns out the man running the experiment -- Francis Freeman (Ed Skrein) -- has more nefarious plans which end up permanently disfiguring Wade, but also giving him the fantastical superhero trait of being nearly invincible with the ability to regenerate every aspect of his body.  Despite this admittedly awesome ability, Wade is still devastated that he was pulled away from the one meaningful relationship in his life with Vanessa and he sets out on a mission to seek revenge on Francis.

The biggest issue with Deadpool is that it thinks it's infinitely funnier and more amusing than it really is.  Beyond Wade's backstory, there's very little plot here and the screenwriters decided that self-referential jokes would win people over -- and based on this film's blockbuster status, they were correct.  Unfortunately, it didn't work for me.  Sure, a few bits hit their mark and elicited a chuckle or two, but in the end, I found myself feeling decidedly disconnected from the story and the characters.  Granted, part of that disconnection is formed by placing a pompous egotistical jerk of a character at the center of your film -- but, honestly, that just means the filmmakers have to try a little bit harder to get people like me to care about things.  You can have an awful person at the center of your film and succeed -- just look at my all-time favorite movie Psycho -- you just have to work a little harder to have the audience buy into what they're watching.

Ryan Reynolds does a decent job exemplifying the title character, but his wry sensibilities throughout most of the film weren't enough to keep me engaged.  Part of me understands why people fell in love with this movie -- it is admittedly very different than comic books films we've seen previously -- but "different" doesn't necessarily equal "good" and that's the case with Deadpool.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie Review - The Secret Life of Pets

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Featuring the vocal talents of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, and Albert Brooks 
Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's nothing inherently wrong with the animated The Secret Life of Pets, but this Illumination Entertainment picture (from the company that brought us the mind-bogglingly popular and also mind-numbing Despicable Me franchise) doesn't excite in any way -- visually, vocally, plot-wise.  In the end, it just sort of sits there, creating amusing-enough background noise, but not involving the viewer in any way.

In full disclosure, I'm not a "pet person" so the plot about what happens when owners leave their pets home alone for the day doesn't ingratiate itself to me at all.  Human Katie (Ellie Kemper) and her dog Max (Louis C.K.) have a nice life together in their small apartment in New York City.  Things are going swell for Max, but then Katie decides to adopt another dog -- a big ole mutt named Duke (Eric Stonestreet) -- which sets off a tension-filled fight for dominance between the two canines.  This leads to a romp through the Big Apple with silly story tangents that fail to really create a cohesively engaging story.

Much like other Illumination Animation pictures, the visuals look decent, but never exquisitely intricate or cleverly designed.  The basic nature carries over to the vocal talent which takes a cadre of comedians who give solid performances, but nothing exciting.  The lack of anything truly riveting is a staple of this studio's animated pics and until they up the ante, they'll just be middle-of-the-road like The Secret Life of Pets.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Movie Review - Lights Out

Lights Out (2016)
Staring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, and Maria Bello
Directed by David F. Sandberg

While not necessarily the most creative horror film of the last decade, Lights Out takes an intriguing enough premise -- a malicious ghostly entity can only attack when it's completely dark -- and creates a solidly tense film interestingly shot by debut director David F. Sandberg in that the bulk of the scares need to take place in as dark of a setting as possible.

The relatively simple plot involves the young twenty-something Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who had heretofore been somewhat estranged from her mother (Maria Bello) after a difficult childhood coming back into the life of her elementary school-aged half-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) after he tells her he's unable to sleep because of some scary paranormal activity occurring in their house.  Remembering similar occurrences in her youth, Rebecca returns home to aid her younger brother and unearths some family secrets that may be behind the supernatural doings.

Nothing about Lights Out is mind-numbingly astounding, but everything is solid across the board.  The acting, direction, and story all work together to create exactly what you want out of a horror film -- to get entertainment out of being a little bit scared.  

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Movie Review - A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash (2016)
Starring Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, and Dakota Johnson
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/Go***

Critics fawned over A Bigger Splash upon its release last summer, but I find director Luca Guadagnino's piece beautiful to look at, but empty in content.  I'm sure there's some deeper meaning than what's on the surface, but for the casual viewer, there's not a whole lot there there and it doesn't arouse enough excitement to warrant a second viewing to try and figure out if it's got more important things to say.

Tilda Swinton is Marianne Lane, an aging rock star who is taking a break in Italy along with her significant other Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts).  On strict doctor's orders, she has been told to rest her voice and not speak and she obliges (throughout most of the film with the exception of flashbacks), but Marianne and Paul's quiet respite is interrupted when Marianne's former record producer and boyfriend Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and his twenty-three year-old daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) show up and want to have a bit of fun.

The quartet's relationships are tested throughout the weekend...which should provide some modicum of excitement or tension, but it really doesn't.  The film is well acted.  Swinton is always good and she doesn't disappoint here, taking on an oddly Charlie Chaplin-esque persona seeing as how her character is unable to speak throughout the flick.  Fiennes is also endearingly manic crafting an amusing persona that adds comedy to the mix.  Unfortunately, these two engaging performances don't counter the boring, blasé story that envelops the characters.  Sure, the lensing adds a lushness to the proceedings, but nothing plot-wise happens here until thirty minutes remain, pivoting the film in a different direction that feels natural, but not necessarily indigenous to all that came before.  The out-of-left field conclusion at least adds some much needed excitement to the preceding monotony, but it's not enough to save A Bigger Splash which despite pretty visuals, is too bland to matter.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Movie Review - Other People

Other People (2016)
Starring Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Madisen Beatty, Paul Dooley, and June Squibb
Directed by Chris Kelly
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Eschewing the melodrama (for the most part) that accompanies films of its ilk, writer-director Chris Kelly has crafted a surprisingly light-hearted, emotionally poignant debut feature in Other People which revolves around a difficult subject -- coping with the impending death of a loved one.  It doesn't surprise me that the film is loosely based on Kelly's life seeing as how the film feels believably lived in, managing to meld comedy with drama effortlessly with neither aspect feeling short-changed.

David (Jesse Plemons) is a gay twenty-nine year-old television comedy writer who has moved back home from New York City to California after his mother Joanne (Molly Shannon) is diagnosed with cancer.  With treatment not helping, Joanne decides to quit chemotherapy and try and live the rest of her life to the fullest with her son, two daughters (Maude Apatow, Madisen Beatty), and husband (Bradley Whitford) making the most of their remaining time together.

From the outset of the film, we know that Joanne has died.  Writer Kelly smartly does this so that we in the audience aren't wondering, "Will she make it?"  Knowing that she doesn't, we become more invested in the characters and their journey instead of trying to guess the ending.  Sure, this creates a sense of melancholy from the get-go, but Kelly smarty counters the depressing mood with the character David's humor which he obviously has learned in large part from his mother.  Cleverly choosing comedienne Molly Shannon to play Joanne, director Kelly has an actress obviously well known for her comedic roles, but Shannon is just as good in the quieter, more dramatic moments when the heaviness of her situation rears its ugly head.  Jesse Plemons is also very good here, mining comedy from its deadpan aspects which proves a nice counter to Shannon's more broad type of humor and the two styles work well with one another and also meld nicely with the film's more dramatic moments.

The film falters a little bit when it delves into David's private life -- moments detailing his relationship with his father who has disapproved of his gay lifestyle for the past decade fall flat and feel a little tacked on to the real crux of the story, however true they may be to Kelly's real life.  Still, the film allows the character of David to interact with a bunch of different characters other than Joanne -- his sisters, his grandparents, his ex-boyfriend -- and this variety of relationships creates an incredibly well-rounded character at the center of this little indie film.  This is a fantastic debut for writer-director Chris Kelly and I look forward to seeing whatever he can craft next in his cinematic career.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie Review - The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train (2016)
Starring Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez, Laura Prepon, Allison Janney, and Lisa Kudrow
Directed by Tate Taylor

When I first saw the trailer for The Girl on the Train, I felt a tinge of excitement.  Was this going to be another successful modern-day Hitchcockian thriller along the lines of the glorious Gone Girl?  I then proceeded to read the immensely successful book and realized that The Girl on the Train was unlikely to be a cinematic treat because the debut novel by Paula Hawkins was a bit of a bust.  Sure enough, the movie ends up being a bust as well, despite a solid performance from Emily Blunt as the titular character.

Blunt is Rachel Watson, an alcoholic divorcée who spends her days riding a train from the suburbs to New York City and back again.  The train passes by her old house which her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) now shares with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their baby.  Naturally, the train also passes by the house of Tom's neighbors, the Hipwells.  Scott and Megan (Luke Evans, Haley Bennett) seem like a happy, young couple, but one morning Rachel spots Megan on the porch in the embrace of another man.  Shortly thereafter, Rachel hears on the news that Megan has gone missing and, in her drunken haze, Rachel sets out to investigate.  Unfortunately for Rachel, she herself has no recollection of what she was doing the night Megan was last seen...and the police headed by Detective Riley (Allison Janney) seem to think Rachel may have something to do with Megan's disappearance.

The book was largely an internal piece with the story told through the inner monologues of both Rachel and Megan.  The film tries to tackle this with voiceovers, but voiceovers are always a tricky proposition in movies and having to base a large majority of your plot around them is a bit tiresome.  Emily Blunt is successful in creating the depressed Rachel and nicely embodies the character I envisioned whilst reading the book.  Unfortunately, the screenplay isn't any better than Paula Hawkins' novel with the culprit behind Megan's disappearance surprisingly obvious about halfway through in both iterations.  In the end, what good is a mystery if you can solve it at the midpoint?

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Movie Review - The Witch

The Witch (2016)
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson
Directed by Robert Eggers
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

Subtitled "A New-England Folktale," The Witch takes us back to a 17th century Puritan landscape where William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter Thomas (Anya Taylor-Joy), "tween" son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), young twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson), and baby are forced to leave the established community after a religious disagreement.  Banished, the family stakes their claim on an isolated plot of land that borders a forest, but soon after creating their homestead, their young baby disappears while under the watch of their oldest daughter.  The devoutly religious Katherine is certain that their missing daughter is punishment by God for their Puritan banishment, but William refuses to return to the settled community.  Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse rather quickly with the family finding themselves forced to face demons that may or may not be real.

I wanted to enjoy The Witch more than I did.  First-time writer-director Robert Eggers has certainly crafted an ominous, creepy environment filled with a muted gray color palette that adds to the eerie aesthetic.  The actors -- from the youngest to the oldest -- do a fantastic job ties embodying the inherent oddness of the guilt-ridden early Americana Puritan landscape and help to add to the uncomfortableness that's felt throughout the piece.  Their constant questioning into who to place their trust -- family or religion -- is nicely depicted by the actors and the Eggers' script.  In the end, though, it's a film that doesn't quite have enough story to maintain its ninety minute runtime.  Tightening things up by about twenty minutes would've done wonders to the film and created a tauter, more intense affair.  As it stands now, the slow pace bogs the film down rather than ratchet up the tension.  The Witch works at creating its unique environment, but in the end, it's not a horror film that I ever feel the need to watch again.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Movie Review - Glassland

Glassland (2016)
Starring Toni Collette, Jack Reynor, and Will Poulter
Directed by Gerard Barrett

Two great boring movie.  That about sums of Glassland -- so much potential and yet disappointingly disengaging.  Writer-director Gerard Barrett has crafted a fantastically emotionally fraught thirty minutes...and then not much else after that.  However, what's good is really good and shows that Barrett has an eye for grippingly emotional heartache.

Jack Reynor is John, a Dublin taxi driver, whose mother Jean (Toni Collette) is drinking herself to her demise.  Living with his mother is a job in and of itself with John having to attempt to watch after her whenever he's not out in his cab.  Finally, after one particularly rough night when he finds his mother unconscious with vomit strewn across her bed, he decides that he has to try and help her kick her addiction, forcing her into a rehab facility.

Reynor is a newcomer to me and shows strength as the beleaguered Jack, creating emotional heft in his grim desperation.  His love for his mother shines amidst his dreary surroundings, but it doesn't come without heartbreak.  As good as Reynor is, Toni Collette is even better, embodying the harrowing downfall of an alcoholic with such painful earnestness that it was sometimes uncomfortable to see her unravel in front of our eyes.

The duo's interactions with one another made me wish that Glassland was a better film, but unfortunately there's not much story here.  Side plots about Jack's friend Shane (Will Poulter) attempting to reconnect with his young son and a human trafficking ring into which Jack is pulled are throwaway stories used only to pad the film's runtime which is already a short ninety minutes.  In the end, Glassland is a bit of a misfire, albeit one with some wonderful and humanistic portrayals.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Friday, May 19, 2017

Theater Review - Tartuffe + REP 2016-17 Wrap-Up

Written by Moliere
Translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Maria Aitken
Where: Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, April 30, 2pm
Photo by Evan Krape / REP

No review of this per se as this production has long ceased.  A few words simply for my own posterity's sake.

  • The production was engaging and well-acted although in these over-the-top farcical plays, the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players sometimes chew the scenery a bit more than necessary, crafting comedic "caricatures" as opposed to comedic "characters."
  • Beautiful set -- as is typical of the REP's productions.  Hugh Landwehr's three story abode featured clever touches that added a lived-in sensibility to the atmosphere.  Looking back over my previous reviews, Mr. Landwehr has teamed up with director Maria Aitken before at the REP for Heartbreak House and while his set doesn't quite match the exquisiteness and uniqueness of that prior attempt, it comes close.
  • Speaking of Aitken, she keeps things briskly moving along and while I did find a bit of fault with some of the performances, Aitken gets her cast to land all of the comedic bits in great fashion.  I certainly laughed and enjoyed myself over the course of the play's two hours.
  • As I'll discuss below, fresh faces are growing increasingly important for the REP (in my opinion) and co-stars Kristin Villanueva and Justin Keyes as two lovers were welcome additions to the cast this go-around.
This REP season overall was a bit of a disappointing one.  The first show of the season -- God of Carnage -- ended up being my favorite piece of the season.  I really think the REP excels nowadays with modern works because it allows the ensemble to explore a more modern sensibility in terms of acting.  These "current" works are few and far between for them and I think it freshens things up.

While I appreciate the consistency of the ensemble, it proves to be a double-edged sword.  Some of their actorly mannerisms have now grown so well-known to this frequent theatergoer that it hinders my ability to see the character they're creating.  While I still thoroughly enjoy longtime REP members Stephen Pelinski, Kathleen Pirkl Tague, Elizabeth Heflin, Michael Gotch, and Mic Matarrese, it's always nice to see some fresh faces thrown into the mix.  This season Hassan El-Amin was added to the ensemble and I hope he'll continue to get some prominent placement in upcoming shows.  I'll also continue to hope that the University of Delaware's theater program brings back its well-regarded PTTP training program for graduate students.  Nothing quite compared to that fantastic 2010-11 season of ten productions featuring both the resident ensemble plus the talented student cast.  I miss those days, but unfortunately this just doesn't seem like something the University wishes to bring back.

Regardless, the REP continues to excel at creating exquisite environments -- set and costume design never disappoint and are sometimes worth the price of admission alone.  Unfortunately, something just didn't quite click with me this season.  With the exception of The Bells -- seriously, the REP can drop its fascination with Theresa Rebeck -- nothing outright disappointed, but nothing roused me enough to tell others to check out the production.  I'd usually write my reviews as soon as I'd get home in hopes that maybe one person out there would say to themselves, "Maybe I should check out that production of Noises Off or A Midsummer Night's Dream or Wait Until Dark or The Glass Menagerie."  This season -- not so much.  I'm always happy to be afforded the opportunity to see plays I've heard so much about -- The Elephant Man, Waiting for Godot, Clybourne Park -- but had never seen even if they end up leaving me feeling lukewarm rather than captivated.  Still, here's hoping for a return to form with the 2017-18 season!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

TV Review - Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies (2017)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Jeffrey Nordling, and Iain Armitage
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
***This show is currently available via HBO Now/Go***

I don't usually delve into television all that much here on the blog, but the star wattage of HBO's Big Little Lies was undeniably calling for me to at least check out the first installment of this seven episode limited series.  Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley headline this intriguing mystery series set in the beachfront community of Monterey, California -- a town where the wealthy adult inhabitants trash-talk one another behind their backs as if they were petty high school gossipers.  As the series opens, someone has died at a hugely popular fundraising event for the town's public elementary school.  We don't know who is dead, but we know that the police are investigating the scene as if something malicious occurred.  As the various residents of the community talk about the backstabbing, strong-willed moms and dads who attended the event, we flashback a few weeks to the start of the school year and that's where all the fun begins.

Single mom Jane Chapman (Woodley) has just moved to Monterey with her first-grade son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) who is quiet, subdued, and perhaps a bit of a pushover -- traits Jane carries as well which don't particularly fit in with the uppity community of Monterey.  After the first day of school, Ziggy is called out in public by classmate Annabella as having tried to choke her during class.  Annabella's mother is Renata Klein (Laura Dern), a strong-willed executive whose guilt about returning to the workforce makes her virulently appalled anytime her daughter is wronged.  Ziggy denies hurting Annabella and the wealthy Madeline Martha Mckenzie (Reese Witherspoon) immediately comes to Jane and Ziggy's aid, in large part because Madeline and Renata are seemingly the two den mothers of distinct large packs of Monterey elite with neither caring for one another in the slightest.  Madeline is also good friends with Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), a retired lawyer and mom of twin boys, and while Celeste is a little more hesitant to simply believe Ziggy's innocence, she's frankly got more personal things to be worried about -- she's in the midst of a horribly abusive relationship with her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) that she can't get out of...or perhaps doesn't want to remove herself from.

Yes, I realize the brief summary may create some confusion, but that's not even half of the web of interpersonal relationships that play a role in Big Little Lies and despite the tangled web, it's all incredibly crystal clear where and when allegiances are forged and tensions are raised.  David E. Kelley's script is pitch perfect at creating an uppity liberal atmosphere where wealth and bitchiness equals power.  Yes, the women presented are all strong, but they're all battling with the fact that they feel they have to exhibit nastiness in order to get their way in their town.  This inner conflict in all of them -- they so obviously don't want to act the way they do -- is a pivotal aspect of the character development here and Kelley nails it.

Not only does Kelley succeed, the actresses in this piece are all stellar.  Shailene Woodley is an actress I hadn't yet loved, but here she's spot-on as the beleaguered mother who desperately wants to believe her child's innocence, but begins to question it as the community begins to rally against her.  Reese Witherspoon is perhaps the best she's ever been (dramatically speaking) as Madeline whose past indiscretions begin to rear their ugly heads as the series progresses.  For the first several episodes, I thought she was going to be the MVP here, but then along comes a tour de force performance from Nicole Kidman in the final three episodes and I had to concede the MVP title to her.  As a bruised and battered wife who feels unworthy of love and affection, her Celeste is heartbreakingly numb to her surroundings and her pain is palpable throughout.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee (whose previous films Wild and Dallas Buyers Club failed to impress me) not only gets great performances from his trio of leading ladies, but from his entire cast including Laura Dern, Zoë Kravitz, and the young Iain Armitage.  Along with a heavy dark, muted color palette that morosely paints most of the visuals, Vallee's camera often lingers in scenes, making us as viewers sometimes feel uncomfortable as we impede on the lives of these strong-willed, flawed women.  In the end, though, we don't want to leave.  At seven episodes, Big Little Lies was much too short.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Movie Review - Café Society

Café Society (2016)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Jeannie Berlin, and Anna Camp
Directed by Woody Allen
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

Café Society is a nonstarter when it comes to a Woody Allen movie.  There's nothing about it that really pops, but there's nothing about it that's bad enough to rouse hatred.  In the end, it's just a middle-of-the-road flick from a prolific auteur who has maybe run out of ideas when it comes to comedy despite still having some life in him when it comes to writing and directing dramas.

It's the 1930s and Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) isn't happy working for his jeweler father in New York City so he decides to move to Los Angeles where he gets a job running errands for his uncle Phil (Steve Carell) who is one of the biggest agents in Hollywood.  At his uncle's office, Bobby meets secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) and immediately becomes infatuated with her.  Unfortunately for Bobby, Vonnie happens to be secretly seeing her married boss, Phil, but she's aggravated that he won't leave his wife despite promises that he will.  With Phil leaving her in limbo, Vonnie acquiesces to Bobby's advances, but their relationship eventually causes some tension between Bobby and Phil, leaving the young man to head back home to New York City where a whole second half of the story begins involving a ritzy supper club.

And therein lies the biggest problem with Café Society -- it's two disparate stories that don't really mesh together as well as they should.  The film really is broken into two halves and while neither half is disproportionately worse than the other, it just doesn't really click as a whole.  Fortunately, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have nice chemistry (in what I believe is their third film together) which helps Woody Allen's words come to life.  Anna Camp, Parker Posey, and Blake Lively take on cameo-sized roles and inject a lot of character into them as well.  In the end, though, Woody Allen may have been better served if he just chose one half on which to focus.  Still, Café Society isn't the worst of Allen films, but it's certainly not the best.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Movie Review - Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)
Starring Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, and Sam Richardson
Directed by Jake Szymanski
***This film is currently available via HBO Now/GO***

I've been on a stupid comedy run as of late perhaps hoping that something will click and prove enjoyable.  Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates isn't that film.  Based partially on a true story, Zac Efron and Adam Devine are the title character brothers whose man-child boys-will-be-boys bachelor behavior at previous family functions has caused their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) to insist on them finding proper dates for the wedding of their only sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) with the hopes that a lady will tamper their erratic behavior.  The brothers become a viral sensation when they post for dates online, but the women applying for the "job" all seem a bit crazy until the seemingly normal Alice and Tatiana show up.  Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) is a teacher, Alice (Anna Kendrick) is a hedge fund manager, and both seem to be the perfect "sane" match to please Mike and Dave's parents.  The problem:  Alice and Tatiana are crazed party girls who are putting on a show to get a free trip to Hawaii where Jeanie's wedding is taking place.  Needless to say, upon the quartet's arrival in Hawaii, the true Alice and Tatiana begin to reveal themselves and it leads to some chaos.

Zac Efron and Anna Kedrick are both fine here, but the film certainly isn't asking them to do anything special.  Adam Devine and Aubrey Plaza, on the other hand, are playing the same comedic schtick we're used to seeing from them.  While neither have reached the levels of Rebel Wilson annoyance yet, they're walking that fine line of becoming nearly unwatchable with their repetitive attempts at laughs.  Plaza, in particular, with her deadpan, sarcastic, nonemotional delivery of every joke is starting to wear thin with this reviewer.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has its moments, but they're too few and far between.  In the end, it's just not funny enough to recommend.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

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+