Saturday, July 22, 2017

Theater Review - Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Danny Rubin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Where: August Wilson Theatre, New York, NY
When:  Wednesday, July 12, 2pm
One may find it hard to believe that the 1993 Bill Murray comedy classic Groundhog Day would make a good Broadway musical, but that's just what composer/lyricist Tim Minchin (whose Matilda recently graced the Broadway stage) and writer Danny Rubin tried to accomplish with director Matthew Warchus' production of Groundhog Day playing at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City.  Despite multiple Tony nominations this year, expectations were a bit muted for me and I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.  While certainly flawed, Groundhog Day provides an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon (at a likely discounted price since the show is simply doing okay attendance-wise) with a great starring performance by Andy Karl who carries the entire show on his shoulders and succeeds at making us give a damn about a rather nasty main protagonist.

Much like the film, the musical follows Pennsylvania weatherman Phil Conners (the aforementioned Tony-nominated Andy Karl) who is forced to begrudgingly head to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover that famous town's Groundhog Day festivities.  Desperate to flee the town immediately following the groundhog's weather prediction, Phil and his producer Rita (Barrett Doss) find themselves stuck due to an unforeseen winter storm closing down all the major highways.  Through some mystical magic, however, Phil finds himself waking up the next day reliving February 2 all over again...and again the next day...and again the next day.  The "why" this is happening makes no difference, but instead the repetition causes Phil to look at his life and determine what kind of man he really wants to be -- the slick, slimy playboy he was before he came to Punxsutawney or a kind, pleasant, and caring guy he finds himself wanting to be whenever he's around Rita.

Mr. Karl is front and center for nearly the entire two-and-a-half hour runtime of Groundhog Day and he's a captivating figure, embodying the manic comedy and brutal desperation facing a man who must relive a single day over and over agin.  Through the songs of Tim Minchin, the smarminess of Phil is perfectly captured by Karl and even though those musical numbers may not be entirely memorable or prove to be of the stand-out nature that you'll be singing them as you live the theater, they still do a great job of adding depth and characterization to the characters voicing them.  There are some failures on the song front -- "Stuck" features an ode to an enema that I never need to hear again (and sounded a bit cacophonous in its layering of counterpoint singers), "Nobody Cares" is a weird country ode to small-town life that while staged hilariously is nothing short of odd, "Playing Nancy" is an absolutely lovely song that opens Act II, but it's about an incredibly minor character -- but I still find Minchin's clever words to be worthy of a listen (much like his work in Matlida).

There's a surprising simplicity to the set and direction of Groundhog Day, but both were glorious -- yes, that's high praise, but worthy.  The main crux of Rob Howell's scenic design is a circular roundtable in the center of the stage with a quartet of circles within it.  The clock-like design mimics the repetitive nature of Phil's days, a clever metaphor via set decoration.  Director Matthew Warchus takes that design and runs with it.  The repetition as Phil tries to unearth what is happening to him could've grown wearisome, but Warchus changes little things here and there to create humor and pathos, and there are truly some genius moments including an amusingly clever suicide sequence in which Phil attempts to kill himself in a variety of ways to no avail.  It was like watching a magic show onstage for five minutes and it was a great feat.

While I've praised Groundhog Day rather effusively, there's still something missing from it as a musical and I think it really comes down to lacking a song or two to truly latch onto as you leave the theater.  Sure, Minchin creates character-driven numbers, but they don't always translate to exciting pieces.  And while I praised the set, it is rather sparse.  With Broadway as expensive as it is, you sometimes find yourself wanting more "showiness" because it's "BROADWAY" even if that's an unfair assessment towards a particular show itself which doesn't necessarily call for grandeur.  All that being said, it's a shame that Groundhog Day hasn't really found an audience because it's an admirable piece -- maybe not a $100 ticket-priced piece, but a worthy piece nevertheless.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review - Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, and Kate Hudson
Directed by Peter Berg

Forty-one miles off the Louisiana coastline in April 2010, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon is preparing to begin drilling into the ocean floor for BP.  However, BP executives wish to forego some important safety tests and, in the midst of prepping the drill, a catastrophic series of events occurs, wreaking an enormous amount of damage on the Deepwater Horizon, the Gulf of Mexico, and the workers on the rig, eleven of whom died on that fateful day.

Thus is the true story of Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg's depiction of the biggest oil spill in US history.  Although there are certainly some big name stars in this -- Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson -- this isn't a movie where "characters" really matter.  Sure, we're introduced to Wahlberg's electronics technician Mike Williams and his caring and doting wife (Hudson), but his character along with Russell's rig supervisor Jimmy Harrell and Gina Rodriguez's navigation officer Andrea Fleytas are nothing more than nondescript entities who are simply a conduit for the audience to bear witness to the horrors that unfolded.

Ultimately, that's the biggest issue with Deepwater Horizon as a film -- Berg is more interested in upping the ante when it comes to the action than dealing with the human side of things.  Sure, the BP guys are the big baddies, but their manipulative business acumen is never really explored.  Similarly, for the "good guys," there's minimal backstory and what little there is you almost wish Berg had left out because of its stereotypical simplicity.  Deepwater Horizon isn't a bad film by any means, but it's very rote and by-the-book in every aspect from the initial character development in the very first minutes to the written postscript right before the credits roll telling us about the real-life people involved.  I almost feel that I'd have been more invested seeing a documentary of the events rather than a fictionalized depiction even though Berg is certainly adept at creating some exciting action sequences in this new age, true life Poseidon Adventure of sorts.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review - Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe (2016)
Starring Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, and Lupita Nyong'o 
Directed by Mira Nair
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Ten year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) lives a difficult life in one of the poorer sections of Kampala, Uganda.  With her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o) raising Phiona and her three siblings on her own, the wise-beyond-her-years Phiona often spends her days doing what she can to give her mother as much assistance as possible.  One afternoon, however, she stumbles upon a missionary program headed by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) that teaches young Ugandan children how to play chess.  Feeling out of place and a bit guilty for slacking when it comes to helping her mother, Phiona finds it difficult to initially fit in, but Robert soon discovers that Phiona is incredibly talented when it comes to the strategic game of chess and he must struggle to help her realize her full potential.

Thus is the true story of Queen of Katwe -- a well-acted, well-directed, and modest little film that weaves a tale that feels familiar, yet foreign.  The foreignness stems from this taking place in Uganda, a place where admittedly us Westerners are innately unfamiliar.  Director Mira Nair uses the Ugandan landscape to help fully develop her characters in ways that aren't all that common in a PG-rated film about sports.  And yet it's that commonality of being a "sports film" that weighs down Queen of Katwe and doesn't allow it to really expand into something breathtaking or stunning.

Although it's unable to escape the clichés inherent in its genre, there are some great performances that more than lift Queen of Katwe into something that's worth a look.  As the adults in the piece, David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong'o provide solid anchors for the cast of completely unknown young actors to play off.  Front and center through it all is Madina Nalwanga as Phiona who more than captures the struggles facing poor Ugandan youth and the joy that triumphing against adversity can bring.  It's the performances here that make this film better than its average script allows.  Nair's film could've used a few more edits -- it slogs a bit in the middle with some repetitive moments that really don't add to the characters who were well-established in the first act -- but Queen of Katwe still works for the most part.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Review - Criminal

Criminal (2016)
Starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve, Gal Gadot, Michael Pitt, Jordi Mollà, and Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Ariel Vromen
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/GO***

Not that it matters to this reviewer at all, but for some reason I thought Criminal was a Ryan Reynolds-starring film.  Considering this was released shortly after the huge (unwarranted) success of Deadpool, perhaps the marketing did genuinely play up Reynolds' involvement, but let it be known that the actor is barely in this piece.  Reynolds is Bill Pope, an American CIA agent working in London who has recently been in contact with a hacker known as The Dutchman (Michael Pitt) who broke into a variety of computer programs and gained access to a slew of worldwide nuclear codes.  The Dutchman was working for Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà), an anarchist who, upon discovering the Dutchman's betrayal, sets out to find Pope and find out where the CIA agent is hiding the hacker.  Pope refuses to talk and Heimdahl has him killed.  (I promise, that's not really a spoiler as it happens within the first fifteen minutes of the film.)  London CIA head Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), who is also unsure of the Dutchman's location, contacts Dr. Micah Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been working on an experimental treatment for the government where he implants the memories of one individual into another.  Considering the risky operation, the CIA chooses a nasty convict, murderer Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), to test the treatment and, needless to say, Jericho doesn't necessarily follow orders when he's finally released from his isolated prison cell leading Agent Wells and his team to not only have to save the world from the Dutchman's boss, but also try and round up a criminal whom they've set loose in the city of London.

A long summary, yes, but the details at the start of Criminal are the most important...and frankly, the beginning is the only time this movie really works.  Sure, there's an obvious ludicrousness to the medical notions discussed, but it was at least moderately intriguing and slightly different which is more than can be said about the film's second two-thirds which devolve into a rote action chase film.  It's fun to see Kevin Costner as a bad guy -- albeit a bad guy with the memories of a good guy which sets up a slightly complicated character for Costner to sink his teeth into -- but the film Costner's Jericho Stewart is inhabiting is just too typical and ho hum to really become invested.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Movie Review - Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad (2016)
Starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Jai Courtney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Ben Affleck, and Viola Davis
Directed by David Ayer
***This film is currently streaming on HBO Now/GO***

After the disaster that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there was an inevitable sense of dread as I began to watch Suicide Squad, the next film to unfold in the DC Universe.  Yet somehow, despite the horrid reviews (or perhaps because of them lowering expectations), I found this irreverent comedy-action piece a tiny bit better than the film that preceded it.

***SPOILERS from Batman v Superman below***

Notice that I just said "a tiny bit better" because in the end Suicide Squad is pretty bad as well.  However, at least writer-director David Ayer tries to inject a little bit of fun into the proceedings as it introduces a motley crew of imprisoned criminals brought together by government intelligence officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) in an attempt to help America fight big-time criminals following the death of Superman.  Unfortunately, bringing this whole group together in a single film gives little time to develop backstories beyond those of ace sniper Deadshot (Will Smith) and psycho criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who happened to be the love interest of the criminal mastermind Joker (Jared Leto) prior to her incarceration.  There are other folks that make up the squad including an alligator guy, an Australian bloke, and some Asian girl, but they are so disturbingly pushed to the sidelines that their existence in the film ends up being laughable by the time the credits roll.  And let's not even discuss the villain -- an evil spiritual entity that enters the body of archeologist June Moore (Cara Delevingne) and then proceeds to create zombie-like creatures that run rampant.

Despite the music video-esque series of introductions we get to each member of the Suicide Squad (which became immediately ridiculous by the time Ayer introduces his second or third character), I was onboard during the film's opening act.  As Amanda Waller rounds up the criminals, something was working for me and then it all devolves into the horrible dark and dreary DC Universe aesthetic with an hour-long finale that isn't the least bit compelling.  Unlike many I've spoken to about this disappointing flick, I didn't dislike Jared Leto as the Joker (although I'm obviously not attached to these characters in any shape or form) or Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (who at least injected some light humor into the darkness that surrounds her), and I actually think Will Smith plays a nicely grounded character in Deadshot.  Still, Suicide Squad isn't good and it continues the rather abysmal track record for DC.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Movie Review - The Accountant

The Accountant (2016)
Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, and Jean Smart
Directed by Gavin O'Conner
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/GO***

I can't say anything particularly bad about The Accountant, but I can't say anything particularly good either.  That damning middle ground is never a good thing.  Ben Affleck is the title character, a seemingly mild-mannered accountant from a small town outside of Chicago.  Little do his clients know that Christian Wolff, the meek, high-functioning autistic man hiding behind thick-brimmed eyeglasses, is actually a trained hit man who runs the accounts of several of the world's most infamous criminals.  When he's hired by the Living Robotics Corporation headed by scientist/creator Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow) and his sister Rita (Jean Smart) to determine how they're leaking money, Christian and LRC's internal auditor Dana (Anna Kendrick) find themselves in the midst of a huge conspiracy that will lead them into a world of danger.

Much like his role as Batman, Affleck's Christian is depressingly emotionless which is credited to his character's autism, but ends up creating a very bland main character.  There are moments of humor that pop up adding a much needed perk of energy to Affleck's performance, but in the end, it's a rather monotonous portrayal which is perhaps the reason I can't quite throw a ton of support behind the movie.  Fortunately, the rest of the cast perks things up, with a particularly intriguing performance from Jon Bernthal as a fellow hit man.

Surprisingly violent (not that there's a problem with that), The Accountant meanders back and forth between an action piece and a drama and the balance is never quite perfected by director Gavin O'Conner.  While it's a better than average film, I wanted to like it more than I did, but the sum of its parts don't quite add up to a solid whole.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Friday, July 14, 2017

Movie Review - Race

Race (2016)
Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Eli Goree, Shanice Banton, David Kross, Barnaby Metschurat, and William Hurt
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
***This film is currently streaming via HBO Now/Go***

Better than I expected, Race is an extremely typical biographical retelling of the life of Jesse Owens, 1930s Olympic racing star, anchored by a fine performance by Stephan James as Owens.  While Owens certainly faced racism in the United States as he attended college in the mid-1930s, this film places most of its emphasis on the 1936 Olympics which took place in Germany just as Hitler was gaining power.  Facing anger from the African American community on the homefront for agreeing to compete in the games taking place in a decidedly racist country, Owens stands up to the Nazi regime by competing and succeeding at the Olympic games.  Admittedly, I wasn't too familiar with this piece of history and I found the story quite compelling.

The aforementioned James -- with whom I'm unfamiliar -- nicely conveys Owens' internal conflict about whether his competing in the Olympics is simply foolish self-centered pride or a ballsy attempt at giving a giant middle finger to the Nazi way of life.  As Owens' college coach Larry Snyder, Jason Sudeikis' role provides a change of pace for the actor known for his comedic chops.  Nevertheless, the film works because the story is so interesting.  Perhaps those familiar with the tale will find the rather rote, by-the-book way director Stephen Hopkins runs things a bit bland, but Owens' courageous life reeled me in and made me forget a little bit that the flick itself was just another biopic -- one of my least favorite genres.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Movie Review - Lamb

Lamb (2016)
Starring Ross Partridge, Oona Laurence, and Jess Weixler
Directed by Ross Partridge
***This film is currently streaming on Amazon Prime***

I don't even really know what to say about this one.  How do you write a review about a movie that, at its conclusion, made you feel so wildly uncomfortable, disconcerted, and unsettled?  Lamb begins rather innocently with fortysomething David (Ross Partridge) dealing with the loss of his father.  Following the funeral, while sitting in a parking lot, David is approached by seventh-grader Tommie (Oona Laurence) who asks him for a cigarette.  Tommie looks like a burgeoning prostitute, adorned with high heels, a hot pink purse, and a short skirt and David decides to take it upon himself to help the young girl out of the inevitable hole she's going to slide down if she continues on this path.  They form an odd friendship that then morphs into a kidnapping situation (albeit a voluntary one on Tommie's part) as David takes Tommie to his father's farm to show her the beauty of the world outside the slummy and slimy part of town in which she lives.

Ultimately, I have no clue what Lamb is trying to convey.  David is fully aware that his actions could be construed as those of a pedophile, but he's not one...or is he?  In the film's final moments, the "L" word gets thrown around and when you bring "love" into this equation it starts to make things a bit gross.  I understood what Tommie was getting from the relationship -- a chance to escape her lazy parents and her untrustworthy friends with someone who seems to genuinely care about her well-being -- but what was David's reasoning to embark on this adventure?  It's still unknown to me.  This odd relationship never gelled and only succeeded in making this viewer highly uncomfortable.  In what is essentially a two-hander, Ross Partridge and Oona Laurence are both fine, but Partridge who also directed and adapted this film from a novel is never really able to define why his character does what he does.  With the protagonist's motivation for his increasingly odd actions left unexplored, the film feels unbalanced.  Maybe your mileage will vary and I will admit that I wasn't ever bored watching this odd piece, but I simply can't recommend Lamb.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Theater Review - Waitress

Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Book by Jessie Nelson
Directed by Diane Paulus
Where: Brooks Atkinson Theater, New York, NY
When: Saturday, June 25, 2pm
Charming and moving, Waitress provides its audience with a completely enjoyable two-and-a-half hours of musical theater.  While it may not be the most ostentatious in terms of set design, costumes, or choreography, it makes up for its lack of show-stopping set pieces by giving us a set of characters we can latch onto, root for, and genuinely care about as it progresses.  Couple its completely enjoyable score by pop singer Sara Bareilles with its current stellar cast and Waitress is undoubtedly worth the price of admission.

Based on the 2007 film written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, Waitress tells the tale of Jenna, a diner waitress and pie maker who is stuck in an incredibly unhappy marriage.  Thinking she may finally break free of her husband Earl, Jenna discovers she is pregnant and her dreams about escaping from her husband begin to crumble like a poorly made pie crust.  Depressed, Jenna's visits to her gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter are a bit of a pleasant respite.  However, the doctor-patient relationship quickly shifts to one of romance with Jenna and the doctor entering into an affair despite the fact that they are both married.  Needless to say, hilarity and drama both ensue.

Much like the movie, the story of Waitress isn't anything to write home about.  It's rather basic and its characters (beyond Jenna and Dr. Pomatter) aren't particularly fleshed out.  That said, the core eight person cast imbues charm and emotion into their performances, creating a surprising amount of depth for some underwritten roles, particularly Charity Angél Dawson and Caitlin Houlahan as Jenna's girlfriends and fellow Joe's Diner waitresses Becky (the sassy one) and Dawn (the shy one).  Each getting their moment to shine, Dawson and Houlahan add heart and humor to the proceedings.  Speaking of humor, Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald steals his scenes as Ogie, the rather nerdy prospective beau of Dawn.  His "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me" number towards the end of Act I is hilariously brilliant, enthusiastically performed, and incredibly endearing.

Ultimately, though, the success of Waitress really lies solely on the performance of the title character -- Jenna -- played by recent addition to the cast Betsy Wolfe.  Blessed with a stunningly beautiful voice, Wolfe's Jenna is pessimistically optimistic about things meaning that she nearly always has that hint of seeing the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.  Onstage for nearly the entire 150 minutes, Wolfe more than holds our attention, hitting all the right notes both vocally and emotionally for her character.  Perhaps because she was so new (I believe she'd only been in the role for about a week when I saw her), I felt the slightest lack of chemistry between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) in the opening act -- the closing number of Act I "Bad Idea" should've been ripe with sexual tension, but it was missing that for me.  However, as Act II rolled around, the two actors blended together quite nicely.

As mentioned, there's a simplistic atmosphere to Waitress, although from the moment you enter the Brooks Atkinson Theater and the scent of freshly baked pies enters your nasal passages, you have a sense that you're in for something special.  Sara Bareilles' score sometimes sounds a little one-note, but its overall aesthetic fits right in with the characters.  It delivers exactly what is needed in terms of relaying information about the emotions, motivations, and priorities of the musical's ensemble.  One song in particular -- "She Used to Be Mine" -- may be one of the best written for the stage in the past several decades.  Coming close to the conclusion of the show, it conveys Jenna's entire emotional journey through song taking the audience along for the ride and it's a powerful moment that strongly resonates as we exit the theater with a giant smile on our faces.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Movie Review - Don't Think Twice

Don't Think Twice (2016)
Starring Mike Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard
Directed by Mike Birbiglia
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

There's a naturalness to the two films I've seen directed, written, and co-starring stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia.  In Don't Think Twice, much like his directing debut Sleepwalk with Me, Birbiglia has a way of writing and acting that feels lived-in, believable, and pleasant.  That last descriptor is admittedly an odd one, but Birbiglia realizes that there is something to be said for "normal," pleasant people.  We laugh, we cry, we hang out with friends, we don't do anything crazy...but we live a good life.  In just two films, Birbiglia has tapped into that for me and it's something I eagerly look forward to seeing again from him.

Birbiglia is Miles, an improv comedian and part of the New York-based improv sextet The Commune.  The troupe is in a bit of trouble with their tiny theater being put on the real estate market. Still, they hope to stay together, but things start to fall apart when one of their members lands a job on a popular sketch comedy show a la Saturday Night Live.  The group now finds themselves faced with the notion that now as thirtysomethings they may finally have to hunker down, change their life plans, and come to the realization that a career in comedy may not be in all of their futures.

Humorous and heartfelt, Don't Think Twice succeeds in large part thanks to the comedic sextet at its center.  Along with Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard create an atmosphere that feels improvisational, yet narratively flowing.  While laughs are front-and-center, a gentle earnestness is also present, creating believable drama in everyday situations from the sickness of a parent to the ups and downs of a romantic relationship.  Birbiglia doesn't aim for big comedic or dramatic moments, but rather allows quiet, intimate scenes to tell us all we need to know about his characters.

This is one of those little-known gems that I hope to come across whilst reviewing movies every year.  I encourage you to give this one a go -- I don't think you'll regret it.  Hopefully, Mike Birbiglia won't wait four years before crafting another gem of a comedic film.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Movie Review - The Fits

The Fits (2016)
Starring Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblitt, Lauren Gibson, and Da'Sean Minor
Directed by Anna Rose Holmer
***This film is streaming via Amazon Prime***

Toni (Royalty Hightower) is a bit of a tomboy, training in the boxing ring with her brother (Da'Sean Minor) at a local community center in Cincinnati.  The eleven year-old girl thought she was satisfied being one of the guys, but she finds herself yearning to take part in the award-winning girls' dance team that trains in the same facility.  Unbeknownst to her brother, she goes to the dance tryouts and earns a spot in the troupe, but soon after several of the female team members start getting ill, having terrible, frightening spasms during practice.

The question of what exactly is causing these fits takes center stage in The Fits, the debut feature from writer-director Anna Rose Holmer, but it's not really what the film is about.  That said, I'm not really sure what the film is about.  At its crux, The Fits the story of young Toni trying to find herself, but the sickness infecting the girls overtakes things with its metaphor-like elusiveness standing in for either puberty or teenage anxiety or maybe even environmental safety.  The lack of a solid conclusion irritated me more than intrigued in large part because the film was set up as being based fully in reality and as the flick progresses, it unfortunately loses that grip.

I would've never guessed that The Fits was the debut acting performance for young Royalty Hightower.  Director Holmer really gets a lived-in, emotional, and physically engaging turn from the young actress.  It's Hightower's performance that kept me intrigued throughout the short 70-minute runtime.  Unfortunately, the rest of the film falls flat for this reviewer which is a hugely unpopular opinion amongst critics who were much more captivated than I was.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Movie Review - Team Foxcatcher

Team Foxcatcher (2016)
Directed by Joe Greenhalgh
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Foxcatcher was one of my favorite films of 2014, garnering a top three berth on my Best Pictures of that year (along with multiple other RyMickey Awards).  The story of how the wealthy wrestling enthusiast John du Pont murdered Olympic wrestler David Schultz is a fascinating one so I was looking forward to the Netflix documentary Team Foxcatcher in hopes to find out a bit more information concerning this oddly intriguing and incredibly sad story.

While Team Foxcatcher is a success, it doesn't particularly add a whole lot of info to the tale beyond the fictionalized movie from three years ago.  Sure, we get detailed interviews with a variety of wrestlers who trained at the du Pont compound in Pennsylvania.  David Schultz's wife is front and center in several interviews describing the pleasant and caring du Pont who had lulled the family into a sense of community only to slowly show his mentally unstable colors as the months passed on.  It's all compelling, no doubt, but if you'e seen Foxcatcher, director Joe Greenhalgh's film is a bit of an unnecessary viewing experience.  (It also doesn't mention David's brother Mark who was also a wrestler and lived on the Foxcatcher compound.  Mark's absence is obvious to anyone who had seen the fictionalized film and his participation here would've undoubtedly added depth to the whole flick.)  Team Foxcatcher is a good film and an interesting glimpse into (some) of the key figures of this horrific event, but unless this story is truly a compelling one for you (as it was to me), you're better off just watching the slightly superior narrative film version.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Movie Review - Remember

Remember (2016)
Starring  Christopher Plummer, Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow, Heinz Lieven, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris, and Martin Landau
Directed by Atom Egoyen
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

A rather simplistic revenge drama steeped in historical intrigue anchored by an appropriately melancholy performance from Christopher Plummer, Remember proves intriguing.  While director Atom Egoyen's film is a bit episodic because of the nature of Benjamin August's screenplay, this unique tale is an interesting success.

From the moment they met each other in the nursing home, Zev Guttman (Plummer) and Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) recognized each other -- decades ago they had been in the same Jewish concentration camp together.  Having survived that ordeal, Zev and Max begin to formulate a plan to seek revenge on their block attendant Otto Wallisch who, after an extensive amount of research, they know emigrated to America under the alias Rudy Kurlander.  Following the death of his wife, Zev sets out to find Kurlander and kill him.  Unfortunately, Zev suffers from dementia and with his memory failing him, this proves to be a difficult task.  As he travels across the country meeting with a variety of Rudy Kurlanders in an attempt to find the man who wreaked havoc on the Guttman and Rosenbaum families (as well as innumerable others in the camp), Zev desperately tries to remember a past that is quickly fading from his mind.

The key to Remember is Christopher Plummer.  The 87 year-old actor is in nearly every scene of the film and Zev's deterioration is palpably sad to watch.  Story-wise, as mentioned, it's a bit of a stilted flick made of of chapter-like scenarios, but these similarly themed scenes build Zev's paranoia and emotional commitment to finding the man who harmed him long ago.  Interestingly, Remember is a Holocaust pic that is unlike any Holocaust pic I've ever seen.  The elderly vigilante angle in this serious drama is certainly unique and while the end cheapens the proceedings before it by a smidgen, Remember is one you should add to your queue and not forget to watch.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Friday, June 30, 2017

Theater Review - Aladdin

Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Book and Additional Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Where: New Amsterdam Theater, New York, NY
When: Saturday, June 24, 8pm
Spectacle over substance is the best way to describe one of Disney's most recent Broadway experiences in Aladdin, a musical that mixes adult pop culture references with inane childish jokes in a way that fails miserably onstage despite working well in the 1993 animated feature film upon which this musical takes its cues.  Limply trodding along with its horrible book written by Chad Beguelin, director Casey Nicholaw's production is heavy on similarly choreographed stage numbers, but light on substance, heart, and character.  While not quite as bad as Disney's abysmal production of The Little Mermaid which took up residence on the Great White Way nearly a decade ago, Aladdin certainly ranks in the lower quarter of shows I've seen on Broadway.

For the most part, the story of the stage show of Aladdin is very similar to the film.  The title character, a down-on-his luck street rat (played by new addition to the cast Telly Leung), falls for Princess Jasmine (original cast member Courtney Reed) as she strolls around the dirty streets of Agrabah while running away from her overbearing father.  There's the villain Jafar (played by original film voice actor Jonathan Freeman) who secretly harbors love for the princess and then an eccentric and pop culture-fueled Genie (Major Attaway) who befriends our titular hero.  All that is fine, telling the same story as the film.  Unfortunately, the additions here -- a trio of Aladdin's friends who do little to advance the plot, new songs that while actually decent don't add emotional levels to the ongoing proceedings -- bog the show down as opposed to pulsing it forward.

With all of the big production numbers staged in an all-out toe-tapping manner, "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me," and "Prince Ali" all just blend together.  "A Whole New World's" emotional impact is slightly muted by a similarly themed (though well-written) "A Million Miles Away" that precedes it.  A new song for the Genie towards the show's conclusion does little to add to the eccentricity of the character.  Everything about the show feels repetitive and unoriginal.

The late Howard Ashman wrote several songs with Disney maestro Alan Menken that were excised from the film that reappear here and while these songs are cleverly written and jauntily executed, they do little to engage the audience, simply padding the show's runtime rather than creating a well-rounded and emotionally affecting story.  There was a reason the film's original creators removed Aladdin's friends from the motion picture -- they're weren't needed and proved a distraction from the main storyline...and they're not needed here.

Unfortunately, in addition to the lackluster direction and book, the acting company disappoints as well.  Telly Leung is a recent addition so perhaps he's just finding his footing, but his Aladdin felt a little limp and lacking connection with Princess Jasmine.  Then again, original cast member Courtney Reed does little to make Princess Jasmine anything other than a photocopy of the film's princess.  Her vocals were disappointingly weak as well.  I was expecting some excitement from the original Jafar voice actor Jonathan Freeman, but he's given very little to do.  Major Attaway as the Genie was a jolt of life in an otherwise limp affair, but I found the direction of this character -- flamboyant and manic -- disappointing.

And that descriptor - "disappointing" - sums up my feelings towards this whole affair.  Maybe I'm just too old to enjoy a Disney Broadway show.  How then to explain the wonderful Mary Poppins that was the previous inhabitant of the New Amsterdam theater which exuded whimsy, charm, and heart -- three characteristics Aladdin doesn't have in the slightest.

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+