[Oscar Madness] Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

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Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkles, Omid Djalili

Screenplay: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

85 mins. Rated PG for rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

It seems like every year, I’m stuck watching an animated film with stop motion techniques. To be honest, I’ve rarely enjoyed this form of the media. There are a few winners out there, but overall, it just hasn’t hit with me.

Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Well, here’s my review of Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun (Justin Fletcher, TV’s Gigglebiz) is up to his old shenanigans again. He and his flock are up to no good as they try to escape from the farm. In the process of this latest attempt, Shaun accidentally injures the Farmer (John Sparkles, TV’s Peppa Pig, Calendar Girls) and gives him amnesia. Now, it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return the Farmer back home and elude the animal control worker Trumper (Omid Djalili, Gladiator, Sex and the City 2) in the process.

I’m going to try and keep this one short as I really don’t like these types of films. That being said…

I actually enjoyed Shaun the Sheep Movie more than I had planned to. The film is cute, and makes great use of its absence of dialogue by offering a visual feast for the entirety of its runtime. I found Shaun to be a capable lead, Trumper to be a capable villain, and the Farmer to be a capable damsel.

The runtime does run on a bit too long, and one has to ask the question of why make this story a feature. The subplot involving the amnesiac Farmer is a little sillier than it needed to be and could’ve explored other storytelling avenues.

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Shaun the Sheep Movie is an imperfect family film, but definitely one of the better and smarter ones. Adults may not enjoy the loss of language in the film, but the test of a dialogue-less story makes for a more interesting one. It isn’t deserving of walking away with the statue this year, but it is very deserving of recognition nonetheless.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The 2016 Oscars! Your thoughts?

Okay, everyone, last night, Chris Rock hosted the 2016 Oscars, and it was full of surprises and controversy! But amidst all that, how did it go? Well, I have a few bullet points thoughts on the matter:

  • The opening was great, but that was about all I needed on the controversy, an entire night of Oscar Guilt was a bit much.
  • Did Chris Rock pull an Ellen when he sold Girl Scout Cookies during the show?
  • I enjoyed the thank-you scroll on the bottom of the screen, but I don’t think the winners got it. Most of them continued to thank people when they arrived on stage. The idea of the scroll was to save time and make the speeches more memorable, but the only ones that really served that were Adam McKay, Emmanuelle Lubezki, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pete Docter, and Ennio Morricone.
  • Another thought? All the time spent on the controversy could have been better served to add more spectacle to the show. One year they did a presentation on horror films, and another year on Bond films. Could they not have spent time on John Williams and his 50th nomination perhaps? There just wasn’t enough presentation to make last night The Oscars.
  • Maybe have all five nominated songs perform, eh? (Even if I did hate Earned It)

Those are my thoughts on the show, but I want to hear yours, both on the awards show and the winners! Did Spotlight deserve the win? Did Leo? Why was Abe Vigoda missing from the In Memoriam? And seriously, did David O. Russell think everything was that hilarious last night? Let me know!

[Oscar Madness] Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014)

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Director: James Keach

Cast: Glen Campbell

116 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond)

 

Here’s a truth for you: I’m not a fan of country music for the most part. Southern rock, certainly, but country music is a no-go. As far as Glen Campbell went, I knew the big hits, the ones that defined him as a performer. Then last year, I heard the song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” and found it to be tragic and beautiful. It took some time longer for me to come across the film, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, and it was worth the wait.

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Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is a film about, you guessed, it, Mr. Campbell and his farewell tour. Director James Keach (Waiting for Forever, Blind Dating) followed Campbell and his family as they experience the trials of the tour life. But the film is about so much more than that. I’ll Be Me is the story of a man inflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease and trying to cope. It becomes all the more taxing for a man who must remember his presence on a stage in front of thousands.

On the surface, the story feels simple enough, but as Campbell’s family unfolds the difficulties, not only for the famed singer but for them as well, the doc evolves into one of the most tragic and heartening experiences I’ve ever seen. Keach knows how to configure the narrative nicely to challenge the means by which we see Alzheimer’s. It isn’t just an ice bucket challenge or a novelty. Alzheimer’s is made all the more saddening in the film as Campbell’s family recalls all the memories that he has no knowledge. All the life he has saved being taken away from him moment by moment. The only real flaw of the film is the running time, which feels like it could be shortened to more accurately feel the impact.

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Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is a very interesting and thought-provoking documentary. It’s a wonder it was only nominated for Best Original Song at last year’s Academy Awards (though, to be fair, the song is phenomenal). Check this one out as soon as possible.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Brooklyn (2015)

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Director: John Crowley

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Saoirse Ronan]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

It seems that every Oscar season, a film comes along, usually with a Best Picture nomination, that I just don’t think will be any good. Some years, I get pleasantly surprised (thinking Philomena here) and other years, I get The Grand Budapest Hotel (which, I get it, many of you enjoyed, but I most certainly did not). This year, that film was Brooklyn. But do I have a winner here or more of the dreckish variety?

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Brooklyn features Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Lost River) as Eilis, an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The film follows her leaving of Ireland and learning to adapt to the American lifestyle. It also shows her finding love in Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Gambler), a nice young Italian man she meets, and how their relationship is tested by her family, her situation, and her past. In comes Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a more comfortable alternative to Tony and Eilis finds herself in a painful position where one heart is destined to be broken.

Brooklyn feels from the surface like a film we’ve seen before, and in fact, from the very beginning, I was doubting its ability to keep me interested. Indeed, it did take me about 10 minutes to be absolutely sucked in, and I was. The film’s pacing picked up almost immediately and didn’t drop off.

Saoirse Ronan commands the screen in her portrayal of Eilis, a young woman torn between the promises and duties she has been tasked in life. Eilis is a woman who doesn’t not own her life at the beginning, but she learns to take charge in order to survive.

Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson play two perfectly opposite sides of the coin, each presenting Eilis with an entirely different complete with pros on cons. Both actors seek to aid Nick Hornby’s (An Education, Wild) excellent screenplay.

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Lastly, the musical score is a beautiful bow to place on this film, which pollinates multiple genres without truly sticking with just one. Brooklyn is a wonderfully nuanced and performed film with a terrific script backing it up. Saoirse Ronan may not walk away with the trophy for her work here, but Brooklyn is another great showcase of the young actress’s multi-layered skills.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

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The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

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Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

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Director: Liz Garbus

Cast: Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite, Lisa Simone Kelly

101 mins. Not Rated

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

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Netflix certainly has their documentary game down. This is the third consecutive year where Netflix has a doc in the Academy Award race.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is the 2015 look at the life of legendary musician and activist Nina Simone and lifelong journey she takes. The film is packed with performances and interviews with Nina and her family/friends/acquaintances alongside previously unseen footage from the entertainer’s life. It paints a mixed portrait, sometimes uplifting, often tragic, of Miss Simone’s world.

I’ve known about Nina Simone’s music for some time, and I’ve often found her to be a terrific musician. I did not know much about her from a personal standpoint. Much of the documentary is interesting but I did find it to drag at times trying to get the most out of its runtime. The pacing is off, and the film does suffer because of it. The look at Simone’s career and activism does remain unbiased, though, in areas where it would be all too easy to drag in one direction.

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Looking back on it now, it seems an all-too-fitting film to be a part of the Oscar race. In an Oscar race where people look to the #OscarsStillSoWhite actors but fail to see the powerful documentary about the African-American activist and the ethnicity of the people behind the cameras of some of the best films of the year, and while I didn’t exactly love this picture, I agree that it is an important film for our time and very fitting for such a world that we live in.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe