[Oscar Madness] Iron Man (2008)

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Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Gwyneth Paltrow

Screenplay: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holiday

126 mins. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and adventure, and brief suggestive content.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

So, let’s talk Iron Man, Marvel Studios’ first, and arguably biggest, gamble.

IRON MAN

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes, The Judge) is a billionaire genius, a more asshole-ish version of Bruce Wayne. He is the ultimate playboy, in charge of his father’s company, Stark Industries, maker of weapons of all sorts. But when a routine weapon demonstration in Afghanistan leads to Tony’s being taken captive, Tony must use all his cunning and a little bit of luck to escape. He builds a suit of metal to make this escape, and in the process, Tony Stark becomes Iron Man.

Was there ever a doubt in my mind that Robert Downey Jr was the right man to play Tony Stark. He is the perfect embodiment of this character and just understands it to the extreme. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Se7en,  Mortdecai) is one of general endearment, complete sweetness. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son) gives a slightly over-the-top yet wholly understandable performance as Obadiah Stane, mentor and friend to Tony, a man who is out to protect Stark Industries from all threats.

Then there’s Terrence Howard (TV’s Empire, Prisoners). I don’t think Terrence Howard understands this movie, or in fact, this role. I just don’t think he gets that this is a good time at the movies. He’s far too serious at all the wrong time.

Jon Favreau (Chef, Cowboys & Aliens) directs this film with some perfect flair. Were I the heads at Marvel Studious (I’m looking at you Kevin Feige), I wouldn’t have trusted someone like Favreau to make or break my company with this picture, but that’s why I’m not making the big bucks. Jon Favreau gives this film a big style, everything here is crazily over-the-top, and the funny thing is how much it works.

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Now, the film does run on a bit, and Tony Stark is rather annoying for a bulk of the film, but this is still one of the funnest (that’s right, I said it) times at the movies. It isn’t my favorite of the Iron Man films, but the first in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a great place to start.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Louis Letterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Chef, click here.

[#2015oscardeathrace] Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) seems like the kind of guy I could have a beer with. I’ve watched interviews and it just seems like he gets the craft because he has such a passion for it. That passion shines through in his new film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after the previous installment, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that time, over 90% of the world’s population has been depleted by the so-called Alzheimer’s cure that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas) and his apes advanced intelligence. Caesar and his fellow apes, including military commander Koba (Toby Kebbell, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Counselor), have created a utopia outside of San Francisco. They haven’t seen a human in two years, but then one day, his apes run into Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, White House Down) and his people, who is able to come to an agreement with Caesar and the apes to rebuild the power grid. This alliance is short-lived, as there are some on both sides who do not believe in peace, and it just might be Caesar and Malcolm that pay for the sins.

Film Summer Preview

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great example on how to reboot a franchise, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a lesson on how to create an incredible sequel. This film takes everything that was good about its predecessor and makes it better. Director Reeves has a passion for the Planet of the Apes franchise and that shines through here. The plot here is something that I thought I had seen before, but the beautiful screenplay veers into territory I didn’t expect and, when combined with Reeves’ choice to linger on the emotional beats longer than another director might, create a powerful film about the nature of humanity.

Andy Serkis finally receives the top billing he is owed. Caesar truly is the star of this film, and the incredible CGI work is just better than I thought it could get. The film starts out with a nearly silent opening, not even introducing the humans until at least 20 minutes in. This gives us a chance to catch up with Caesar and his apes. Caesar is welcoming his second child, but his mate has been ill since birthing. His relationship with Koba is central to us, as he has known this ape for over ten years. They have grown together. It is interesting to see the lessons that are being taught, rudimentary though they may be, things like Apes Do Not Kill Apes.

When the central conflict of introducing the humans occurs, we officially understand Caesar’s need to protect his group.

Even though Caesar is the star, Toby Kebbell’s portrayal of Koba is a definite scene-stealer. This menacing creature has been scarred from the tests performed on him back at GEN SYS. His distrust for humans causes a rift in his friendship with Caesar. And he is just terrifying.

Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, RoboCop) is very much a smaller character with a major impact on the plot, and he is one of the most interesting humans in the film. He is a tortured man who has lost everything, and his scenes linger on total breakdown. I was constantly tormented by my position on his character.

There is another great relationship between Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road, ParNorman) and the ape Maurice. The two bond over a book and serve as a parallel to some of the more angry confrontations.

I loved that, rather than do a complete sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes that takes place immediately after, this film stands alone while also giving subtle nods to its predecessor. We see how Caesar feels about his past, and his provides the momentum he needs to further develop.

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In essence, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a lot in common with the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Matt Reeves gives us perhaps the best Planet of the Apes film in the entire canon (not to mention one of the best films of the year) this go around, and it excites me for where this series is headed.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

The Ted 2 Trailer is Here…Thoughts?

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So today we see the release of Ted 2‘s trailer, where Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) gets married and wants a child, but living teddy bears can’t exactly get their human wives pregnant because of science, so he needs John’s (Marky Mark Wahlberg) seed to get the job done. Other stuff happens too, but this is my favorite part. I guess.

 

Here’s the trailer, thoughts? Questions? Let me know your initial thoughts…

 

So, Ted 2? Will you be seeing Seth MacFarlane’s third film (and first sequel)? Where was Liam Neeson? Are teddy bears truly infertile? Wait, where’s Mila Kunis? What’s going on over here, and why am I more than excited to see Morgan Freeman talking with Ted for any amount of time?

Liam Hemsworth is the New Will Smith in Independence Day Sequel?!?

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So the news has been circling that Liam Hemsworth, known for The Hunger Games and The Expendables 2 as well as being brother to Thor, has been offered a leading role in the sequel to Independence Day, tentatively titled ID Forever. The film, also featuring Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman returning for the sequel, would feature Hemsworth in the role originally created for Will Smith, who has since discussed no interest in returning. I personally don’t mind Smith not returning, but I hate it when a character just gets turned into another by slapping a new name and rewriting a backstory. The idea of Liam Hemsworth playing Will Smith but not playing Will Smith disturbs me.

So what do you think? Should Liam Hemsworth be the new Will Smith? Should the film be made at all? Let me know.

Have You Seen the Trailer for Fant4Stic? It Was So…meh…

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So the trailer for the reboot of the Fantastic 4 franchise released today! I saw it myself and the first thing I thought to myself. Wow, it looks a lot like Man of Steel. That isn’t really a compliment. This movie has a lot of convincing to do for me. I wasn’t all that impressed. First of all, the film’s tone is so dark. It doesn’t feel like the Fantastic Four at all. It feels like it is trying to be the X-Men franchise and The Dark Knight trilogy, but it just doesn’t seem to be.

What do you think, world? Will you be watching the Four become Fantastic this year? What is your favorite member of the Fantastic Four team? Let me know! See the trailer below:

[#2015oscardeathrace] Maleficent (2014)

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Director: Robert Stromberg

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville

Screenplay: Linda Woolverton

97 mins. Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

Disney has taken on the recent trend of flipping their fairy tales into live-action extravaganzas. The most recent inclusion here is Maleficent.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, Changeling, Kung Fu Panda 2) has only ever been seen as a villain. Now, she is represented as a supernatural being of good who resides in The Moors. She fell for a boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley, District 9, Oldboy), who ends up betraying her to become king. In retaliation, Maleficent brings forth a curse upon Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Boxtrolls) that she will fall into a deep sleep when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, and you know the rest. Or do you?

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My major problem with this film it is supposed to humanize Maleficent, but not only does it get the character wrong, it also makes a villain into a hero by passing the buck and making another character the villain. So in 55 years, they will make a film about that villain being a hero and creating another villain. You see what I’m getting at here?

The actual character herself is very flat. Angelina Jolie plays her like a prankster and very much a non-villain with very little villaining going on. She is a menace in the sense that Dennis was a Menace.

Sharlto Copley is pretty good as Stefan, but his motives are written to fit the script but not to fit the character.

Elle Fanning is given virtually nothing to do.

The screenplay by Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland) is rather bland and presents us with a rudimentary retelling of the story from Maleficent’s point of view that only seeks to demonize the original film. So either the two films exist in separate continuities or they contradict each other. Not sure which theory is worse.

First time director Robert Stromberg gives us a visually stunning vision of Sleeping Beauty’s world, but not much more than that. I like the fact that this is mildly entertaining if completely flawed, and I think parents will find some enjoyment with their kids, more so than most other “family” films. The film just isn’t all that good.

What wins the film has are visual: the costume design and the visual effects. These costumes stand a good chance to take the Oscar this year, and the effects work is rather stunningly beautiful and dark.

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I get the feeling that Maleficent will not be a remembered film, except for all the copies that people nabbed on Black Friday (seriously, it was pretty cheap) collecting dust on movie shelves. I get the feeling.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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Director: Rupert Wyatt

Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out of nowhere. Seriously. Who would have thought that his franchise was coming back in such a big way. After a fizzled-out franchise of films and television series, a failed remake from director Tim Burton, and a decade of silence, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just sort of showed up, and I’m thankful it did.

Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours, The Interview) is trying to cure Alzheimer’s. His father Charles (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, Interstellar) has the condition and it is accelerating. The current possible cure is ALZ-112, and Will is in the process of ape testing. When Bright Eyes, Will’s star test subject, tragically passes after complications with the substance, Will comes across a baby chimp in her cell, her recently born son who comes to be known as Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas). Will takes Caesar home and trains him, as Caesar was born with ALZ-112 flowing through him, making him progress at an alarming rate. As Will’s life becomes more and more complicated through his illegal theft of the chimp, Caesar becomes more and more aware that this world is the world of humans, not apes, and he wants to change that.

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The plot of this movie nicely takes real-world problems and a franchise decades old and revives it for today’s world without tarnishing the story that came before (to be noted, this is a reboot and kind of a prequel to the original film and not the Tim Burton remake). It takes the problems that we are dealing with and forms it into a cohesive and interesting bit of science fiction.

Franco’s performance isn’t the strongest in the film, I didn’t really believe him to be smart enough to synthesize a cure for Alzheimer’s. Then again, he doesn’t. Altogether, it is his relationships in the film to Caesar and his father that build the warmth for these characters.

Andy Serkis is the winner of this film and deserved top billing for the film, as without him, the impact would not have been felt as much. His nuanced and subtly tragic work as Caesar is beautiful, and the digital effects work only furthers an already incredible performance. The way Caesar interacts with John Lithgow’s character provides us with a slightly warped but wholly touching American family.

The screenplay,  from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (The Relic, Eye for an Eye), does a nice job of not creating villains, there are very few villains in this film and it allows you to understand many of the core characters internally and empathize with their choices.

Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler) behind the camera also provides a lush environment of great camera work, and the flow of the film is very smooth.

I just needed to end on the CG work, which sought to work together with their motion capture performers to create characters as opposed to just creating stock but cool looking apes. It deserved its nomination to be sure.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great way to jumpstart a franchise, and should serve as a course on how to reinvigorate a property rather than just churn out a remake. Bravo.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

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Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig

Screenplay: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

98 mins. Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

How to Train Your Dragon was doomed in the Oscar race by the basic fact that it was nominated next to Toy Story 3. Damn comparative Oscars!

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How to Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel, TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby), a Viking who cannot live up to the image his father Stoick (Gerard Butler, 300, Olympus Has Fallen) has built up. He can’t win over the love of Astrid (America Ferrera, TV’s Ugly Betty, Cesar Chavez). He has no friends, until a rare shot during a dragon raid on his home island of Berk causes him to meet a Night Fury dragon he calls Toothless. The bond they create begins to change the way Hiccup sees dragons and their motives for attacking.

The voice work here is nice, but not great. The big flaw of the voices is that we have Vikings that don’t sound like Vikings. The performers are comedic nonetheless.

The story, although vastly different from the one in Cressida Cowell’s book of the same name, but the changes all seek to create a more compelling story, and they do.

The animation is gorgeous and the characters well-designed. Sometimes, in movies with monsters or aliens, the characters and species don’t feel different, but in How to Train Your Dragon, they are dynamically different. Toothless’ design, based on cats, dogs, and horses, is quirky and cute.

Lastly, the music is everything I wanted it to be. It engaged me and kept me involved throughout and it’s the kind you keep humming after you leave the theater.

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How to Train Your Dragon isn’t the strongest Dreamworks Animation film and it definitely wasn’t stealing the Best Animated Feature Oscar from Toy Story 3, but it is still a pretty strong piece of animation that compels audiences of all ages and is well worth a viewing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Ida (2013)

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Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

Screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz

82 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Awards Not Yet Announced)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

The foreign language Academy Awards will very likely soon be relegated to an unseen technical award given out before the ceremony. People just don’t care about foreign language films. I happen to find a couple gems each year, but our breed is dying. Maybe the style is unusual to them, or perhaps they are too lazy to read subtitles (this makes me sad), but for whatever reasons, these films are looked over. I was able to get my hands on Ida on Netflix, and it is a different film than I am used to, but that’s why I needed to see it.

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Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is about to take her vows and become a nun, but beforehand, she is sent to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza, Suicide Room, The Mighty Angel) and learn about her parents. What she learns about them opens up her view of life and causes her and her aunt to learn about their vastly different lifestyles.

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Ida has a beautiful cinematography to it, colorful in its black-and-white grandeur. The performances of the two Agatas work well together for characters who take on a bit of role reversal in understanding each other. Anna’s journey of discovery is an interesting one, one that I enjoyed taking part in, and her aunt Wanda’s dual-emotional tragedy of a woman who equally embraces her lifestyle and loathes it works well. The film isn’t perfect, but has a tightness to it that flows nicely. Ida may just take away the award this year (the foreign language one, not the cinematography one). So yeah.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Gravity (2013)

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Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Screenplay: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron

91 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Sandra Bullock)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Gravity’s trailer won me over because it did something that too many trailers to wrong. It teased plot, but didn’t give it all away. There has been a recent trend in trailers which have been very good at not spoilering the whole freaking movie. Frozen and Monster University have actually been like short films teasing the tone of the movie while not ruining the experience, while Star Wars-Episode VII: The Force Awakens gives us just moments to titillate us, and it worked. Gravity’s trailer just touches on the first ten minutes. That’s it. A tease.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Proposal, The Heat) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven, The Monuments Men) are astronauts on a mission to fix and update some parts on the Hubble Telescope. While on a spacewalk, their shuttle is hit by debris from a chain reaction satellite explosion, causing them to be stranded out in space. Now, they must find a way to get back to Earth with no shuttle in the new film from Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

GRAVITY

I may not like Sandra Bullock, but this is easily her best performance in years. She just knocks in out of the park.

George Clooney provides some terrific work in a supporting role as Matt. He has the confidence of a man on his last mission.

Cuaron had to develop new filmmaking techniques to handle the cinematography of weightless space and increase the capabilities of an all-CGI film. It took at least four years to get there, but it was worth it, and we all knew it was taking those technical awards at the Oscars. Here’s a tip: if your film has to invent new processes and equipment, you will win Oscars. It just happens.

The film is edited to together to keep movie and it features some really long sequences to keep the audience involved in the movie. It certainly works, because it literally left me shaking. I wish I could’ve paused it so I could leave for a few minutes to calm back down.

Innovative lighting techniques also create an involved experience.

The sound, or lack thereof, and the minimal use of music really assist in making the film real, and few space films utilize the silence of space so well.

Awesome CG! Just sayin’!

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Gravity is everything I wanted it to be. This uplifting space adventure kept me on the edge of my seat that I was fearful I would fall out of it. If this film doesn’t leave you breathless, you don’t have lungs.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe