Archive for the 'Rye’s (Not So) Weekly Reviews' Category
In the Heart of the Sea, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book documenting the events that inspired Moby-Dick, totally needed more big fish-on-man action. What we end up with is a rather sentimental shipwreck movie with one very aggressive, but elusive, sperm whale.
After the CGI douche-theatrics of Furious 7, the pop spectacle of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the riveting post-apocalyptic reality-based pyrokinetics of Mad Max: Fury Road, the arrival of Tomorrowland seems at its best, quaint. But at its worst, underwhelming and obvious.
Perhaps the lack of surprise and/or the intensity of its sense of adventure is because, bottom line, Disney has made a film for kids. (Vaccinated) kids who will pester their parents to take them to see the real Tomorrowland. The marketing genius even shows in what is likely to be the most easily attainable movie tie-in toy—a lapel pin that gives our heroine a glimpse of Tomorrowland, emblazoned with the letter “T”, approximately $10 on Amazon and perfect for sticking on the outside of a school backpack.
In the film itself, we get flying jetpacks, cute but effectively deadly robots, a gloriously tech-booby-trapped house, and a new use for the Eiffel Tower, but it’s all so blah since there’s no infinity stones involved. Nothing in the conflict quite feels truly at stake. Tomorrowland itself, white and shiny, kinda looks like an Apple store without the employees in t-shirts. This magical realm is actually a parallel universe/dimension/thing where all humanity’s best and brightest gather to nurture great ideas and create and imagine unimaginable feats of technology. A lot of marijuana smoking probably goes on behind closed doors.
Hugh Laurie is on hand as the villain who wants to destroy the “real” Earth since it’s basically destroying itself anyway. That kind of megalomania seems a bit excessive since he’s in charge of the most perfect place in existence anyway but whatever. A plot to revive Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen body would have been cooler.
Sadly, this may be Brad Bird’s most uninspired movie yet. After his live-action debut with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and especially his animated efforts, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, somehow, we just expect more from him. The action scenes aren’t particularly exciting or witty; nothing seems to stay in the memory and the biggest let-down, we catch a glimpse of Space Mountain in the skyline but we don’t get to experience it. (Instead we get It’s a Small World. Don’t ask.) Wouldn’t it have been great if our heroes were trapped in a vehicle chase inside Space Mountain and then everything shuts down and the lights go on and you’re just looking at steel girders? Sorry. I’m still bitter how a certain incident during a childhood vacation ruined the illusion.
And we expect more from George Clooney too, and here, as a genius who was exiled from Tomorrowland a long time ago, he just seems to be going through the rumply, crankily charming motions. Feminists and Black Widow-Gate/Supergirl-Gate conspirators should be thrilled “the chosen one” for the planet’s future is a plucky teen girl, played by Britt Robertson, who is probably fielding offers for a young adult film adaptation at this very moment. The real casting find though is Raffey Cassidy as a young Tomorrowland android that protects the heroic humans and has a genuinely poignant backstory with Clooney’s character. She’s like the Terminator, but little.
At Tomorrowland’s gleaming, wanna-be vintage heart, there is an old-fashioned (too) strong message about going green, saving the environment and how the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. With $10 pins. Barf.
Tomorrowland is now playing in theaters everywhere.
Okay fine, I’m not the hugest fan of the series but seriously, while watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, I was bored. Like, bored out of my skull. And I was in a preview screening so security guards were watching and I couldn’t pull out my phone lest they think I was trying to pirate the film.
Already these movies (and books) weren’t exactly cheerful affairs but with the lack of a Battle Royale in this installment, things are really, really dour. After seeing her do “Live and Let Die” in American Hustle, slinking around as Mystique and calling off her own interview with David Letterman, poor Jennifer Lawrence seems to have outgrown her role as Katniss Everdeen. She’s definitely no Kristen Stewart—J-Law looks like she’s absolutely busting at the seems to do something, anything. Alas, most of her time is spent looking morose and dejected, something K-Stew had no trouble doing.
Granted, the adapted screenplay doesn’t give her much opportunity since it basically cut the final source material in half. Even more so than The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 though, Mockingjay suffers from being a project comprised of only a first and second act. And unlike Peter Jackson, nothing entertaining is made up just to fill in space.
Katniss wakes up on a rebel airship and spends the rest of the time trying to decide whether she wants to become a propaganda instrument against the evil Capitol and it’s equally evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She also worries a lot about her buddy Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who got left behind in the previous film and is now in the hands of Snow, and losing weight very quickly. Hopefully his skinniness was CGI cause poor Hutcherson looks positively anorexic.
A few performers do what they can with what little they have. Elizabeth Banks still manages to be a diva as Effie, the fashionable emcee of The Hunger Games, even though she is now a political refugee in a jump suit. Donald Sutherland appears to be having a good time overacting with his Satanic line readings, but he’s hardly in the movie so he barely registers.
But esteemed actors like Julianne Moore, as the powerful leader of the resistance, is just going through the firm-jawed motions. The saddest though, is Philip Seymour Hoffman. As a member of the leadership committee, he just meekly agrees or disagrees with Moore. Tragic how this is the last role he will ever play.
But then it all must come down to tragedy with this bleak, dystopian series. Even the cinematography has a gray grain so thick that it almost blurs the scenery. Fans, of course, will not care. And considering that the fan base are pre-programmed admirers of the novels, they should be satisfied with this additional entry of loose-ended angst. Other audience members dragged into the theaters against their will might want to make sure their phones are fully charged prior. There’s a new version of Candy Crush to help pass the time.
The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 1 is now playing in theaters everywhere.
It’s an interesting move to release the adaptation of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys smack in the middle of the summer season, especially if the musical doesn’t star Adele Dazeem. On top of that, the film is about a doo-wop group whose core audience are probably baby boomers, not CGI-craving, catatonic young folks. And it’s directed by a man who talks to furniture. But improbably, it’s June and here we have Jersey Boys, directed by our favorite loony celebrity Republican, Clint Eastwood.
Of course it helps if you’re a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the story documents their street thug origins, rise to fame, and their eventual dramatic dissolution. All the hits are also there: “Rag Doll,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and many more.
I saw the version in Vegas and as far as I can tell—full disclosure—or as far as my mother can tell, this version was just as enjoyable and true to the background material. In fact, this review is really all about my mother. And your mother. She is gonna love this movie. All those doo-wop tunes were from her time, not yours. During a highpoint, much hub-bub is made about playing “the song.” “Just play the song!” And Valli begins crooning those familiar lyrics: “You’re just too good to be true / Can’t take my eyes off you…” Somehow when we finally hear that hit though, it feels anti-climactic.
But then maybe it’s because I’m a non-objective 80s cinephile who can’t forget Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys bringing down the theater in a…well… fabulous montage sequence of the same song. There’s also the fact that the musical then goes on with one more act with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, complete with some truly atrocious old age make-up.
John Lloyd Young, who originated the Broadway role as Frankie Valli lacks a certain screen presence. Yes he has a nice voice and we see female, and even male members of the audience, in rapture with him, but once he’s not singing, he just looks kinda pouty. His performance probably went over better on the stage where he wasn’t at the mercy of Eastwood’s choice of unrelenting Les Miserables-style close-ups.
Only Christopher Walken manages to make an impression as a mobster supporter who, in the end, really doesn’t seem to do much to help them. But the actor manages to bring comic timing to his nefarious dealings.
It’s sad that the movie only truly comes to Broadway musical life during Walken’s scenes and during the end credits that has most of the cast dancing and singing down a street. The movie really could have used more of that energy. In the end, something is just wrong with the tone. At times it wants to be a hard edged tale of boys rising from the mean street of New Jersey and at other times, it wants to be the full fledged musical catalogue of the group’s hits with some slapstick mook comedy thrown in for kicks.
Or maybe I just didn’t get Jersey Boys because, as the movie keeps reminding us, I’m not from Jersey.
Jersey Boys is currently playing in theaters everywhere.
First, contrary to advance word, Skyfall is definitely not the best Bond movie ever. Yet, it is a game changer with some eye-popping moments never seen in a 007 film before so it’s definitely worth seeing for both fans and non-fans. (Incidentally, that little top 10 list I made yesterday? Chuck #10 and replace A View to a Kill with this flick.)
But, there is absolutely no way to have a frank discussion without spoilers so be warned. Turn back now if you haven’t seen it.
Let’s start with the negatives.
Inexplicably, they kill off Judi Dench as M. Unless she, as an actress, wanted to retire, that decision is completely ludicrous. Only she can pull off an Alfred Tennyson poem in the middle of a government hearing in an action movie. Ralph Fiennes is introduced as a bureaucrat monitoring M and by the end of Skyfall, he has taken her place behind the desk handing Bond confidential files. And the problem is, his character is nowhere near as compelling as Dench’s.
In fact, there’s a lot of the sense that they are bringing in the new and tossing out the old in Skyfall. Much is made that 007 has “missed a step” and needs to be put out to pasture and M must retire. Didn’t they just reboot the bloody series a few years ago? If that’s the case, why not just hire Henry Cavill and start the whole thing over again. Again.
Director Sam Mendes (The Road to Perdition, American Beauty) finally dumps The Bourne Identity mimicking tone and while refreshing with some just plain jaw-dropping, sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption), somehow it doesn’t work. Even though the most exciting action sequences: the opening train destruction in Turkey, the train destruction in London, a fistfight outlined in blue neon, the shootout in a courtroom, a helicopter crashing into an old manor at the climax… Everything seems to fall flat. There’s no punctuation to the violence. And when Bond and Silva finally have their final confrontation, it isn’t the competitive match we expect. At times, the pacing seems more like the recent Alex Cross, not a Bond movie.
The soundtrack by director Sam Mendes’s frequent composer Thomas Newman is particularly disappointing, especially after the great strides made by David Arnold. The music is a tad too non-intrusive and we miss the eponymous Bond theme more than ever. Sometimes during the action scenes, even we find ourselves humming it on our own.
Adele’s theme song, listened to on its own seems subdued and derivative, but in the context of the film itself, it turns out to be absolutely perfect. Daniel Kleinmen returns for the opening credits and it’s the most visually compelling since Casino Royale. It’s a surreal, swooping, unnerving murky underwater nightmare of moving feminine curves and bleeding target range body-sheets that will look terrific on Blu-ray.
Also beautiful is French actress Berenice Marlohe as the mysterious bad guy’s girl Severine. Slinking around in black dress and equally black goth make-up, she just looks gorgeously intriguing right up until the moment she is called upon by the screenplay to portray fear. Then, inexplicably, she has a case of the giggles. Without hesitation, Connery’s Bond would’ve slapped her back into reality.
Albert Finney has a wasted small part towards the conclusion as the gameskeeper of Bond’s old family estate and his presence is a bit unnecessary. Usually Bond doesn’t need amateur assistance, especially from a crotchety character straight out of a Dickens novel. Usually the job goes to the Bond girl to assist 007 during the final conflict. This makes Finney Craig’s Bond girl. Eww… Either that or the bisexuality theory just took an extremely fascinating turn.
Moneypenny is finally introduced in the form of Naomi Harris. It’s a subterfuge; the press releases and advance media portrays her as a Bond girl but by film’s end we learn her last name and find her behind a desk in front of M’s inner sanctum. Frankly, it all feels like a gimmick. And as we infer by the famous shaving scene, her and Bond did it. I know we’re re-inventing the series but Bond and Moneypenny should never oof—that’s just wrong. Their whole relationship is based on unrequited flirting. Prior to Skyfall, I always felt that Moneypenny should be gay; someone for Bond to mercilessly toy with. Oh well… These fill-ins just feel like gimmicks as opposed to organic elements added to the Craig canon.
But leading from homoeroticism, here’s what does make Skyfall work: at the top of the list is Javier Bardem as the evil, unhinged Silva. Arguably the best villain since Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill, he steps it up from his sociopath in No Country for Old Men and goes full-on into psychopath territory. Bardem is given so many great moments, more than Craig himself: his intro with the rat monologue, a deadly game of William Tell with old fashioned pistols, his revealing of a deformity due to a cyanide capsule gone wrong, and best of all, his sketchy, pervy “interrogation” of Bond… It’s the kind of classic jolts that we missed from the villains of the past. (And depending how you interpret Craig’s blech face once Bardem turns his back, could Bond be bisexual?!)
Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) is introduced as Q and he’s completely dorky and watchable even though, as an afterthought, he adds completely nothing to the story. He seems busy pushing a lot of keys on a computer but we really have no idea why. Hopefully he’ll have more to do in the sequels because his presence is refreshing.
Last but not least though is Daniel Craig, Bond himself. His portrayal continues to be sincere and appropriate, no small feat in this era of short-term reboots. While he doesn’t go Roger Moore on us, his subtle injection of humor is just what the series needs for the long term. From adjusting his cuff links after dropping into a train car via construction lift to his confident reply to Silva’s leg-rubbing pass at him: “What makes you think this is my first time?”, Craig proves that the part is his for as long as his muscular fingers want it; regardless if other characters in the movie deem him too old.
Every moment Craig is onscreen, it’s riveting. You can’t help but think that this is the coolest man on the planet, exactly what James Bond is supposed to embody. He does a tequila shot with a scorpion crawling on his wrist and even though the movie isn’t perfect, you feel you are witnessing the best portrayal of the Ian Fleming creation since…well…Casino Royale. There’s a great moment during a fight with a henchmen in a komodo dragon pit. (Yes, komodo dragons are involved.) Craig has the perfect look of MMA focus and surprised confusion as the slow lizard moves into the frame. And he’s wearing a tux in the scene as well. If he ain’t Bond, who is?