Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

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Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple

Screenplay: Frank Miller

102 mins. Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use.

 

Sin City is back and at it again with four new tales of brutality and violence.

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In “Just Another Saturday Night”, Marv (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Immortals) wakes up with little memory of last night’s events and tries to piece it all back together. In “The Long Bad Night”, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Inception, The Wind Rises), a gambler on a winning streak, attempts to win it all from Senator Roark (TV’s Nashville, The Avengers), at any cost. In “A Dame to Kill For”, Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin, W., Inherent Vice) gets involved with former flame Ava (Eva Green, TV’s Penny Dreadful, Casino Royale) who is in deep with the wrong people. Finally, in “Nancy’s Last Dance”, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four, Stretch) is still reeling from the loss of her beloved Hartigan (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, Vice) and wants revenge of the men who caused his death.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn’t as good as the original film. The story selection here is a lot of similar fare. Still, it is a gorgeous looking piece of noir cinema. “Just Another Saturday Night” is a great, albeit short, character piece that brings back fan favorite Marv, who appears a lot in this collection. “The Long Bad Night” is mostly entertaining even if it doesn’t really go anywhere, but I don’t agree with the decision to cut the story in two halves which appear separately in the film. “A Dame to Kill For” isn’t the least worthy piece in the film, but it doesn’t have the strength it should and doesn’t make the connection to the original film it should. Finally, “Nancy’s Last Dance” feels like it is missing something. All in all, these stories  are mostly entertaining, but they don’t weave like they should.

The performances are mostly awesome, with notable exceptions being Jamie Chung (Big Hero 6, 7500) taking over as Miho and Jeremy Piven (TV’s Entourage, The Pirates! Band of Misfits) as Bob. Both characters were previously played by Devon Aoki and Michael Madsen, and the originals were much better. Dennis Haysbert (TV’s 24, Dead Rising: Watchtower), on the other hand, takes over for deceased Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute and does well at giving the character something new while not forgetting the work put in by his predecessor.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For looks great and feels good, and while not being as powerful as the original film, it is still a ton of fun.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, click here.

HouseBound (2014)

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Director: Gerard Johnstone

Cast: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru

Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone

107 mins. Not Rated.

 

HouseBound is an interesting little horror comedy about Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), a troubled young woman who is now under house arrest at her childhood home with her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), a superstitious woman who believes that the house has something supernatural about it. Though Kylie dismisses these thoughts as the ramblings of a bored old woman, she begins to hear noises in the night and starts to suspect that all may not be what it seems in the rickety old house.

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HouseBound was fairly well-received at SXSW last year for its unique blending of horror and comedy, and while I mostly agree, the film takes far too long to get to there. The whole beginning of the film takes too much time setting up the concept and introducing characters. The scary moments are scary and the funny moments are mostly funny, but they don’t play off each other like they should until the final act of the film. The movie felt mostly confused to me as I don’t think they knew which direction to go for some of the material, and thus, it doesn’t land all that well. That is, until the ending. The finale of the film works quite well and does leave one with a good impression.

The performances are good enough for the cast, and the real laughs come from the solid cinematography of Gerard Johnstone, who knows where to place the shot to get the most homage from it.

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Looking back on it, I feel like HouseBound has enough promise to warrant the recently announced US remake, and I feel like it’s a film that may benefit from it. The story works and, given some time to learn from the mistakes, it can be done (although perhaps Hollywood could leave well enough alone and just make something fresh and new, but whatever).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Happy Christmas (2014)

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Director: Joe Swanberg

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber

Screenplay: Joe Swanberg

82 mins. Rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content.

 

Happy Christmas is about…wait, let me think for a minute. No,seriously, nothing exciting or entertaining happened here, but I’ll give it my best shot. So Jenny (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods) breaks up with her boyfriend and goes to live with her brother Jeff (director Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies, V/H/S) and his wife Kelly (TV’s Togetherness, Up in the Air). She makes their life terrible essentially. I mean, supposedly they all grow as people, but I didn’t see it.

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This movie was boring as shit. Nothing happened where I felt a connection to these characters. Jenny actually convinces Kelly to throw away her writing abilities to write smut a la Fifty Shades of Grey-like ripoff. The performance serve the screenplay (also by Swanberg), but the story takes them nowhere. This is partly due to the fact that the screenplay called for improvisation and most of the cast could not deliver.

Now Swanberg can direct. I’ve seen some of his work and I liked it. He also can serviceably act. Writing, though? Not so sure.

I’m lucky I watched Happy Christmas by myself at home because I got up and left the room several times out of frustration. Even the dialogue gave me nothing to cling to, which sucks because I love Anna Kendrick and could possibly watch her paint a house and enjoy it, or at least I thought.

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Happy Christmas is so disappointing that I strain to find any merit. There is a great scene post-credits I guess…but even that doesn’t fit the characters and I merely enjoyed the banter between the two female leads and Carson (Lena Dunham, TV’s Girls, This is 40). Seriously. This movie pained me. Bad. Bad movie.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Amityville Horror (2005)

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Director: Andrew Douglas

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Philip Baker Hall

Screenplay: Scott Kosar

90 mins. Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexuality and drug use.

 

Platinum Dunes is known (or notorious?) for their remakes of classic horror films. In 2005, we got a new Amityville Horror film. Like it or not, it happened.

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In 1975, George Lutz (Ryan Reynolds, Green Lantern, Woman in Gold) and his wife Kathy (Melissa George, TV’s The Slap, 30 Days of Night) move into their new home. Their time at the home would last 28 days of sheer terror as they discover the previous owners were murdered in the home one year previously.

Something I noticed as I watched this film yesterday that I hadn’t seen before. This movie is so PG it is ridiculous. I wasn’t scared once. I was barely even intrigued. This film is so tame I couldn’t take it. Ryan Reynolds is perhaps my favorite part and even he came off as too hokey at times, trying to deliver snappy dialogue when he should have been focused on his character’s development. I enjoyed his process (he actually neglected getting to know his on-screen children to make him more menacing when needed), but the finished product couldn’t coordinate him in.

Now, the set was actually scarier than the film. On the first day of the shoot, a dead fisherman washed ashore on set. That shit is scary. We’ll get to that one day.

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All in all, there are reasons Andrew Douglas isn’t a big name at all. This is one of them. The Amityville Horror is a movie that could have worked as a remake. The whole franchise has a lot of problems and a remake could have course-corrected and brought the series together. It didn’t work, though. It didn’t at all.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Whiplash (2014)

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

107 mins. Rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (J.K. Simmons)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

Whiplash was a strange entry to the list of Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. It kind of just came out of nowhere. Everyone was talking about this movie that came out at the beginning of the year and just sort of slipped by everyone. All of the sudden, though, people were talking about J.K. Simmons (TV’s The Legend of Korra, Spider-Man) and his riveting performance as a musical maestro with a sharp edge.

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Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), a fantastic drummer who dreams of entering stardom at any cost. He will do absolutely anything to become one of the greats. This brings him to the attention of Fletcher (Simmons), a bandleader at the prestigious music school Andrew attends. Fletcher has the hottest ensemble on campus and everyone wants to join, but there are costs to working with the best, as Andrew soon discovers. As relationships with his girlfriend and father (played by Paul Reiser, Aliens, Life After Beth) crumble around him, can Andrew hold it all together?

Whiplash is, to put it best, a jarring piece of art. It is difficult to watch and, in equal measures, glorious and destructive. The performances by Teller and Simmons are intense and building and emotionally draining.

The screenplay, by writer-director Damien Chazelle, is an engrossing pile of paper, with themes of stardom and loneliness worked in.

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Whiplash feels like a rock concert that you want to see but don’t necessarily want to be a part of. The stellar work from just about everyone involved is top notch. My only complaint is that it does lull for a bit in the middle, but other than that, this is a movie you need to see. Now. Seriously. Go rent it now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 30th Birthday!] Cat’s Eye (1985)

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Director: Lewis Teague

Cast: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, Candy Clark

Screenplay: Stephen King

94 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

A cat named General is on a mission in this adaptation of two Stephen King stories with an all new tale from the master of horror. The three stories are linked by General making his way to a little girl named Amanda (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko, Blended). In the first story, “Quitters, Inc.”, Dick Morrison (James Woods, Once Upon a Time in America, White House Down) has a problem: smoking. He needs to quit and he needs to do it now. Quitters, Inc. is the place to go, though the man in charge, Dr. Vinny Donatti (Alan King, Casino, Rush Hour 2), has some very unique methods in ensuring that his clientele quit for good. In “The Ledge”, Johnny Norris (Robert Hays, Airplane!, Sharknado 2: The Second One) has been kidnapped by Cressner (Kenneth McMillan, Amadeus, Dune), a wealthy gambler who has discovered Norris sleeping with his wife. Cressner challenges Norris to a bet: walk around the ledge outside Cressner’s penthouse or die trying. Finally, in “General”, our cat has made it to the home of Amanda, who is being hunter by a troll who wants to kill her in her sleep, and only General can stop it. Lewis Teague (The Jewel of the Nile, Navy Seals) directs and Stephen King (A Good Marriage, Desperation) himself writes in this heightened reality collection of stories which celebrates thirty years today, but is it good?

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I say yes. Cat’s Eye is quirky and goofy and classic King. Few films choose to display King’s twisted sense of humor the right way like this one. I saw a lot of dreamlike sequences like one where Dick has been without cigarettes long enough to be seeing them in the mouths of everyone he encounters at a party. James Rebhorn plays Morrison’s work partner as he lights up a dozen cigarettes all at once while dancing packs of smokes encircle the struggling addict. It is chilling and a little silly and amazing. Any fan of King’s work should be sold on this film.

It doesn’t help to have some great performances from genre actors like James Woods and Robert Hays. Teague knows his target audience here as well, and he crafted what could be construed as an early attempt at a shared universe with references to Cujo and Christine. More than anything, it’s a lot of fun.

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Cat’s Eye is a mostly enjoyable experience with callbacks to some of King’s more iconic work. With a tonally perfect screenplay from the master of horror himself, some of King’s stranger work makes it to the screen in one piece, mostly. Now it isn’t perhaps as scary as it could be, but it still works. I would like to see this film immortalized as part of a possible Stephen King shared universe (and yes, there is currently one being worked out with the impending Dark Tower adaptations). Enjoy this film for what it is: a piece of 80s candy.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Lucy (2014)

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Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-Sik, Amr Waked

Screenplay: Luc Besson

89 mins. Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality.

 

Lucy, the new film from occasional visionary Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Family) is the tale of a young woman who becomes more than human thanks to an experimental drug and a situation she couldn’t have imagined falling into. Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is Lucy, who has become a drug carrier to appease her boyfriend. When the drug she is delivering ends up in her bloodstream it awakens her full brain capacity and starts turning her into the Star-Child. You remember Star-Child, right? From 2001: A Space Odyssey? Yeah, well, this movie kind of just rips that off, but don’t worry, there are also bits of Limitless in there, too.

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Luc Besson’s major fault as a filmmaker is that he comes up with great ideas, but sometimes, he is a bit late to the game, and when he does get there, he can’t always formulate the ideas into a workable piece of art. Not all his films are like that, but it is a trend I am starting to see with the writer-director.

Scarlett Johansson is reduced to playing an unemotional machine by Act II, which depletes all the emotional resonance that she is capable of. Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolphin Tale 2) is relegated to reading out of a textbook for the entirety of the film as Professor Norman. Really, the only character I found myself even marginally connecting to by the midpoint of the film is Pierre (Amr Waked, Syriana, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), a cop caught up in Lucy’s mission to ascend to the next plane, and even he isn’t given enough fleshed-out time to really do anything.

The visuals are cool but they feel like they’ve been taken from better films. The screenplay (which took nine years to get off the ground) doesn’t offer anything new to the genre and just sort of falls flat.

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I wanted to like Lucy, but Lucy just didn’t like me back. Near the end, like Johansson’s previous Under the Skin, the film started to win me back, but it was too little too late for me. There are better films that play with these themes, so experience one of them instead.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

St. Vincent (2014)

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Director: Theodore Melfi

Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher

Screenplay: Theodore Melfi

102 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language.

 

Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Dumb and Dumber To) has done a lot of things recently seemingly to piss me off. He has also done a lot of things recently to make me happy. He is an enigma, much more aligned with the assholery of his fellow Saturday Night Live-r Chevy Chase (there, I said it). So when St. Vincent came out, I wasn’t terribly keen to see it. I forgot, though, about Murray’s innate ability to perform the hell out of a movie.

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In St. Vincent, Murray plays…Vincent, an older war vet who seems to hate everything and everyone except his dear Daka (Naomi Watts, King Kong, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), a paid lover who is having his baby. When he is roped into babysitting Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) at the behest of his down-on-her-luck mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, TV’s Gilmore Girls, Spy), Vincent uses the situation to his benefit, practically extorting the situation to his liking. When he finds that Oliver is in need of a father-figure, Vincent finds himself growing closer to the boy, whether he like it or not.

The performances here are great, especially those from Murray and Watts (who plays Daka so well that I forgot it was her). Even young Lieberher keeps his own with the commanding comedic vet Murray.

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A lot of people have discussed this film’s merits and its possible snub during the Oscars, and while I feel that it has a great many good things about the screenplay and the performances, the film’s technical aspects are nothing of particularly astounding quality. Director Theodore Melfi can make a movie, but a powerhouse award winner perhaps not. For what it is, St. Vincent is a cute little piece of a movie with some great work turned in from the actors. Groundbreaking? No. Funny with a heart? Sure. The acting here is what makes the film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Letters to God (2010)

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Director: David Nixon, Patrick Doughtie

Cast: Robyn Lively, Jeffrey Johnson, Tanner Maguire, Bailee Madison, Michael Bolton

Screenplay: Patrick Doughtie, Art D’Alessandro, Sandra Thrift, Cullen Douglas

110 mins. Rated PG for thematic material.

 

The Dohertys are going through a rough period. The youngest son Tyler (Tanner Maguire, The Hangover Part II) has cancer. His older brother Ben (Michael Bolton, no not that one) is feeling neglected while worried about Tyler. The mother Maddy (Robyn Lively, The Karate Kid Part III, Ouija) doesn’t know how to process her son’s illness. When Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnson, Helter Skelter), a new mailman, takes up the Doherty route and begins receiving letters to God from Tyler, it sets them all on a course of learning, loving, and growing that none of them could have predicted.

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This film takes true events and shoehorns them into a goofy religious piece of schmaltz that doesn’t do the actual events justice. Granted, this is one of the better films of this particular subgenre in recent years, but the film is just too damn long. It is so boring for most of the later 2/3 of the film. The performances are disappointing, most of the characters come off as trying to be Disney characters and the entire film feels like it would be indiscernible from Lifetime channel dreck.

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I like the general idea of the movie, and I feel like under better hands, it would make a pretty nice short film. The fact is, the runtime is by far the worst part of this not-so-great time at the movies. There are better ways to spend two hours, so I’ve saved you from it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. Don’t get on my case about giving bad reviews to religious movies. I have seen a few really good religious films in my time but this was not one of them. This one is more in line with Mom’s Night Out and that is what earned it bad props. So there, got it?

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Fever Pitch (2005)

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Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Cast: Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, JoBeth Williams, KaDee Strickland

Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality.

 

In Fever Pitch, from directors Bobby & Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber To), we see a beautiful romance between Ben (Jimmy Fallon, Whip It, Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star) and a group of men known as the Boston Red Sox. Also, he falls in love with a woman named Lindsey (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko, Blended).  Lindsey and Ben desperately want to make things work, but Ben just can’t seem to make sacrifices for Lindsey, especially when it comes to his beloved team who hasn’t won a World Series since 1918. As Lindsey tries to balance her time with Ben with his time and the team, tempers start fueling and seek to topple the relationship.

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I enjoyed Fever Pitch, especially the timing of the film, which permanently place this film in a historic time frame for the Red Sox (it was being filmed right when the Sox won the 2004 World Series). Jimmy Fallon’s obsessed man-boy isn’t too far of an acting stretch for the comedian, while Drew Barrymore flubs around in an unlikable character. Most of her dialogue comes off as condescending when it really shouldn’t.

The Farrelly’s understand how to wield a camera and tell a fun story, though their recent efforts would persuade otherwise. Fever Pitch is slightly more in line with their earlier work, while not being as laugh-out-loud funny as There’s Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber. Best of all, the story is accessible. I see a lot of my own frustrations in the film. I am an obsessed individual (not with the Red Sox, mind you, that is a mere fascination). I talk about film constantly. My girlfriend knows this and sometimes she puts up with it to make me happy. In return, I try not to drag to every movie I want to see in the local theater. Compromise. That’s what Fever Pitch is all about.

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And it is kind of funny. Kind of.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, click here.

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