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Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Movie Review - How to Be Single

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

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

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating: D+

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Movie Review - Little Men

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

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, March 27, 2017

Movie Review - Eddie the Eagle

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie Review - Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movie Review - The Meddler

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

Monday, March 06, 2017

Movie Review - Blue Jay

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Movie Review - Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

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

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Movie Review - The Shallows

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

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

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

The RyMickey Rating:  B