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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,...

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-