[Hobbit Day] The Hobbit (1977)

Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr.

Cast: Orson Bean, Richard Boone, Hans Conreid, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Cyril Ritchard, Theodore, Glenn Yarbrough, Paul Frees, John Stephenson, Don Messick, Jack DeLeon

Screenplay: Romeo Muller

77 mins. Rated TV-PG.

 

It’s still interesting to me to hear that most film fans, even fans of the Peter Jackson films or the J.R.R. Tolkien novels, are unaware that they were previously adapted: The Lord of the Rings into two animated films of drastically different tones in The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King, and The Hobbit into the film we are going to talk about today. I’m not talking about short films or student films or experimental pieces like Leonard Nimoy’s Bilbo Baggins song (it exists). No, it’s a TV movie released in the 1970s from those guys that made all your favorite Christmas specials, but now, over 40 years later, there’s are some interesting comparisons and contrasts to Jackson’s films. They are uniquely opposite interpretations in execution and finished product, but these older, almost forgotten takes on Middle Earth still carry a lot of weight.

You know the story, but I’ll remind you again. In the Shire, there lives a comfortable enough Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Orson Bean, Being John Malkovitch, InnerSpace) who is rather happy with his cozy uneventful existence, as many Hobbits are, and he is looking for no reason to change it. Everything changes, though, when he is visited by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Chinatown), who enlists his burglary skills (of which he has none) to help Thorin Oakenshield (Hans Conreid, Peter Pan, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) and his band of dwarves to reclaim their home and their dwarven treasure from the villainous and greedy dragon, Smaug (Richard Boone, Vicki, Hombre). Along this journey, Bilbo will encounter trolls, goblins, and a frightening creature by the name of Gollum (Theodore, The ‘Burbs, Nocturna) who carries a nifty magic ring.

The first noticeable difference between this film and Jackson’s trilogy is just that. One is a film running just under 80 minutes, and the other is a three-part film series that comes in (extended cuts and all) at just over nine hours! For many people, Jackson’s Hobbit films are bloated and stuffed with pieces that were unnecessary. They believe that the films are simply too long and undeserving of a full trilogy of films to tell their story. To that extreme, I’ll throw back The Hobbit 1977, a film that I believe loses a lot of its grandness in swiftly running through events like a checklist. This Hobbit interpretation is too short. I personally like the heft of Jackson’s trilogy (yes, flawed as they are, if I enjoy a world, I could live there forever), but I will attest that neither adaptation perfected the length of their story to match Tolkien’s.

There’s also the animation aspect. I’ve always preferred live-action, but the Rankin/Bass animation of this version is rather endearing and warm. There’s a certain charm to the animation style of The Hobbit (though I also prefer Bakshi’s batshit crazy Lord of the Rings animation style), and it works to better effect here than in The Return of the King.

I like the voice cast of our central players. Orson Bean is a positively inspired choice for Bilbo Baggins, and John Huston’s take on Gandalf works wonders (it’s also different enough from Ian McKellan’s take on the character to allow both versions to flourish nicely). The consistently unusual performer Theodore does fine work as Gollum in a role that I wouldn’t have thought to work from a performance angle. I’m just not a fan of the flat characterizations of the company of dwarves. Don Messick (The Last Unicorn, Pufnstuf) and Jack DeLeon (Temptress, Allyson is Watching) voice most of the dwarves and we just don’t get much time to care that they’re on the journey with us. It asks the question of why we care about anyone else on the journey except for Bilbo, Thorin, and Gandalf. Not enough time is delegated to any of the secondary dwarves in this adaptation, but they are there anyway because that’s how the book did it. I understand as well that the book didn’t always give a lot of attention to the secondary dwarves, but if you can’t make them compelling characters, just don’t put them in the movie. It’s an adaptation, not a translation.

Among all that, I still quite liked The Hobbit. It’s a good family-based version of events, and without the Jackson films to compare with, it’s cute and warm and enjoyable. Sure, it’s a nearly forgotten take on Middle Earth, but I find that I keep coming back to it, flaws and all, and enjoying myself. I think you could too.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, click here.

For my review of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s The Return of the King, click here.

[Stephen King Day] Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Director: Stephen King

Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney

Screenplay: Stephen King

98 mins. Rated R.

 

The trailer for Maximum Overdrive, perhaps the single greatest trailer in cinema history, features Stephen King, the writer/director of the film and writer of the short story Trucks, which the film is based on, claims that if you want Stephen King done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. He also claims that he’s going to Scare the Hell out of you! Neither of these claims ever comes true in Maximum Overdrive, but is the film without merit? I don’t think so. Let’s break down the horror novelist’s lone directing credit today, and we’ll find out just what the hell happened.

The date is June 19, 1987, and the Earth has passed in the tail of a comet that creates a supernatural force, bringing all machines on Earth to life. The machines begin a hostile and homicidal takeover, and a group of survivors hold up in the Dixie Boy truck stop gas station, hoping to fend off the mechanical menace.

Let’s start off with King’s second claim. There’s nothing in Maximum Overdrive even remotely terrifying outside of its central concept. It just doesn’t offer chills. Perhaps it’s because we don’t care about our core group of characters, perhaps it’s because we aren’t presented with enough tension once the initial plot comes into play and the survivors are trapped at the Dixie Boy. It isn’t exactly clear where the film falls apart because it is only tenuously held together to begin with. King’s a hell of a novelist, but directing just doesn’t seem his forte. He can direct on the page, but not all that well with a camera. That’s not entirely on him, as he was quoted as saying that he was “coked out of my mind” for the entirety of the filmmaking process, and it shows (perhaps nowhere more obviously than that trailer). If there’s ever been a solid case for quitting drugs, show someone the great modern horror writer and his film only directing film, Maximum Overdrive.

None of the performances are particularly dazzling. I like the Emilio Estevez (The Way, D3: The Mighty Ducks), specifically in Repo Man, but he capture the audience well. Pat Hingle (Batman, Hang ‘Em High) is flatly asshole-like in his work as Hendershot, a secondary antagonist to the survivor group, and everyone else in the film falls into the stock character work, with most of the secondary cast disappearing from memory with hours of seeing the film.

AC/DC provided the music for the film, and their song choices kind of worked with the high-octane motor vehicle villains that circulate around the Dixie Boy looking to pick off our blood-pumping heroes. I’m not big on their ratchety score outside of the song choices though. Again, AC/DC are not writers of musical scores, and while some musicians can do both, perhaps they were not ready at that time to move into the realm of films.

So the film is bad, there’s no denying that (King himself called it his worst adaptation back in 2013, and those 2 Golden Raspberry noms didn’t give it much credibility), but is it a so-bad-it’s-good kind of film? In some ways, it really is. It has such a simple plot that you don’t have to follow it with detailed notes, the inconsistencies (why do some of the working vehicles never come to life when others do?) are almost endearing, and the murder and mayhem are enjoyably silly and entertaining (King’s cameo as a man at an ATM is particularly dumb and fun). Sure, I showed it at a movie night a few years back, and it earned the enjoyment factor raised.

Maximum Overdrive is not a good movie, but like all auto wrecks, there’s some salvaging to do with this one. There are parts that work well enough to get it moving, and you can get some mileage out of it in the right circumstances, as long as you know what movie you are watching. The statements in the trailer may not be truthful, but it does sell exactly what this movie is, if you can handle it. It’s not good, and I won’t claim that it is, but you can still have a hoot with it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Bring It On (2000)

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union

Screenplay: Jessica Bendinger

98 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Bring It On came out? Well, I can, because this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. Let’s take a look back at Peyton Reed’s (Ant-Man, Yes Man) cheerleading film.

Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man, TV’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida) has just been selected to be the new Team Captain for the Toros cheerleading squad. When Torrance tries to add the new girl, Missy (Eliza Dushku, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Saint) to the squad, she learns that her team has been using stolen moves and routines from other people for years. Torrance is forced to reinvent the squad in order to win without stealing, but she soon finds that her team is not as willing to adapt to the new way of doing things.

As I stated earlier, this was the first time I watched this film, and when I spoke with other people who had seen this film back in 2000, I learned that I seem to be in the minority. This is a bad movie. I did not find much to like about it. The opening of this film was awful. I didn’t care much for Peyton Reed’s directing. I wasn’t impressed with the acting. I loathe the screenplay. I’m sorry, but I have to speak my thoughts. This was a bad movie.

The level of cheese that 20 years will add to some pop cultural films will help, and I will say, the cheesiness did help with that. I’m a big fan of Eliza Dushku, specifically from the work she did back in the early aughts, and I enjoyed the character of Missy and what she brings to the team. I feel like the film would be more enjoyable from her perspective primarily with Torrance as a secondary supporting lead.

From a purely technical perspective, the film is technically sound, but it lacks any technical flair. The cinematography is fine, but not flashy. The editing is fine, but the pacing is poor. The music was fine, but it isn’t memorable, even for an older film. There just isn’t anything that I loved about this film.

What it boils down to here is that I really enjoyed Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku as the leads, but the film would work much better with the narrative focused on Dushku’s Missy. I like the way the narrative played out near the end. Outside of that, the film just doesn’t work for me. I’m very glad that many people love this movie, and it’s true. A lot of people love it. I am not one of those people. If you are, I’m happy for you, but it didn’t work for me. Bring It On, for me, simply doesn’t work.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[IndyPendence Day] Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Ke Huy Quan

Screenplay: William Huyck, Gloria Katz

118 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Happy IndyPendence Day! Let’s celebrate with the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, set one year prior. Yes, I’m talking about Temple of Doom, probably the darkest film in the Indiana Jones saga.

The year is 1935, and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, The Fugitive, The Call of the Wild) has found himself stranded in India with his sidekick, Short Round (Ke Huy Quan, The Goonies, Second Time Around), and a nightclub singer named Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw, Black Rain, Due East). Now, in order to get home, Indy has agreed to retrieve a sacred stone for some local villagers from the walls of Pankot Palace. What Indy doesn’t expect, though, is that his journey will lead him into a deeper darkness than he has seen before, and there’s a lot more insidious work being done at Pankot Palace.

The decision to make Temple of Doom into a prequel instead of a follow-up is due to a rather silly reason. George Lucas did not want the Nazis to be the main focus off the film, which is notable, but the film didn’t need to be a prequel to forgo the Nazis, but it matters not as most of this franchise does not rely on previous knowledge. Temple of Doom does break the mold and go in a wildly different direction than its predecessor. For example, Indy is not hired for this mission and merely falls, quite literally, into it. The entire story is set after a botched mission, and it’s nice to see Indy kind of out of his element. He’s always capable of thinking on his feet, but the task required of him this time around does not allow himself to plan or plot to complete it.

That doesn’t mean that this Indy adventure is without its faults. I find that the film meanders quite a bit in its search to find footing for its story. While it contains my two favorite sequences in the entire franchise (the opening in Club Obi-Wan and the mine cart chase), the rest of the film is more forgettable outside of the big ritual scene. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine the film has a two-hour run time if you haven’t seen it in a while because so much of that first half of the film is dedicated to exposition and nonsense.

Having Short Round as Indy’s sidekick in this film elevates it so much because of how we see Indy through him. The two performers have such great chemistry that all of their scenes have a sense of fun amidst all the horrors. It’s amazing that Ke Huy Quan wasn’t even trying to audition for the role but instead was providing moral support for his brother who was auditioning. He was picked out and put into a room to do a scene with Ford that ended up getting him the role that hundreds were passed over for. It does add the question of whatever happened to the character as he doesn’t appear in Raiders despite it taking place only a year later.

On the other hand, new character Willie is, I’m sorry to say, absolutely awful. Kate Capshaw has nothing to do in this movie that’s worth a damn and the film would be so much better without her. I’ll agree with Capshaw’s quoted description of Willie as “not much more than a dub screaming blonde.” In fact, the only notable accomplishment that Willie does in the film is scream 71 times in two hours.

As I said above, Temple of Doom, for all its faults, contains the two best scenes of the franchise, most notable the mine cart scene. It’s one of the best action set pieces in any film ever. That’s where the film truly wins; it has some of the coolest visuals of the franchise. The ritual chamber is epic in scope, the Pankot Palace scenes are elegant and magical, and even the opening in Club Obi-Wan is elaborate and intense, an unforgettable way to open a movie.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is the weakest film in the original Indy trilogy of the 1980s but it has elements that make it stand out as truly unique. Ford gets to flex some new acting muscles here and his dynamic with Short Round is wonderful. There are things, however, that don’t work, most notably Willie Scott, the weakest Indy love interest by a stretch. Still, though, there’s enough here to warrant a watch and a rewatch.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Post, click here.

[Father’s Day] Father of the Bride (1991)

Director: Charles Shyer

Cast: Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams

Screenplay: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer

105 mins. Rated PG.

 

It’s Father’s Day, and while I am not a father (to my knowledge), I figured now would be a great time to watch a good Father’s Day movie.

George Banks (Steve Martin, Roxanne, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk) is dealing with the worst situation of his entire life: his 22-year-old daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams, The Christmas Chronicles, TV’s According to Jim) is getting married to a man he’s never met. As the impending date of the nuptials nears, George’s sanity gets closer and closer to shattering.

The central relationships in the Banks family are the strongest element of the film, specifically between George and Annie. I could genuinely believe that they were father and daughter. George doesn’t hate the idea of her marrying, but he’s terrified of losing his daughter. He wants to be a father for just a little longer. I really enjoyed both of them, and I enjoyed Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Poms) as George’s wife, Nina, who is so easily won over by Annie’s fiance.

George gets into some pretty frustratingly fun interactions early on in the film, like meeting the in-laws in their lavish home. I would have liked more of these situations because as the film moves along, they lose these moments. In that way, it also lost me a little.

For all the love I have for the central family dynamic, I was unimpressed with Martin Short (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, The Addams Family) as Franck Eggelhoffer, the comedic wedding planner who is so unintelligible that he grew old rather quickly. I started out really enjoying his character, and it didn’t work after a while. The filmmakers just leaned so heavily into Eggelhoffer as a supporting character.

Father of the Bride has some really entertaining characters and comedic set pieces. The problem is that it just doesn’t have enough of them to keep the film in that upper tier of Steve Martin comedies. The movie has plenty of heart, though, and that keeps the emotional core strong enough to entertain enough. I still recommend the film but I wish it were stronger.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Ferris Bueller’s Day Off] Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes

Cast: Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck

Screenplay: John Hughes

104 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

Apparently, today is Ferris Bueller’s Actual Day Off, or at least the best approximation. There’s no set date but research was done that June 5 as the most likely day that Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick, The Producers, Wonder Park) took off back in the 80s, and it seems a good time to actually celebrate this day in honor of all the kids who didn’t get to skip school in 2020 because school was skipped for them.

Ferris Bueller is the most popular kid in school, and he’s decided to take a day off of school by faking sick. His best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck, Twister, TV’s Succession), is out of class today as well because he can’t find a reason to get out of bed. Ferris convinces his buddy to partake in a day’s adventure in Chicago alongside Ferris’s girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara, Timecop, Daughter of Darkness), all the while evading his parents and school principal Ed Rooney, who has a vendetta against Bueller.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has a mood all its own, and there are elements of it in other John Hughes (Planes, Trains & Automobiles, The Breakfast Club), it stands all on its own. With the inclusion of Yello’s “Oh Yeah,” a song that wasn’t in the pop culture landscape before its release, this film is every high school student’s dream movie. I saw it for the first time as a child, and I said to myself, “That’s going to be me one day.” Long story short, it wasn’t. More often than not, I was Cameron. There were moments of Ferris, but I leaned into Cameron too.

That’s what is so great about the characters in this film. At times, we are all a Ferris and we are all a Cameron. Broderick finds a way to make a wildly unrealistic character like Ferris into an incredibly relatable idol. He’s a guy who has an answer for every situation, but he also finds himself taking advantage of those around him that doesn’t always have solid consequences. When he confronts some of his own faults later in the film, and he finds that his skills don’t always work, he has to let go of his ego…slightly.

Cameron is another character that, while relatable, could have been very annoying. Cameron is the kind of character that isn’t always easy to translate, but having suffered with confidence and self-worth in the past, his arc works quite well. He’s struggling the whole film with trying to find his worth and trying to connect with a distant parent, and all of Ferris’s pokes and prods are unable to empower him. Cameron’s strength needs to come from within, but he is unable to bring it forth.

The question comes up a lot as to who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist of the film, and I guess there’s no clear answer. While some would call Cameron the protagonist and Ferris the antagonist, I would go the simpler route of protagonist Ferris as the protagonist and Rooney as the antagonist. There’s even talk about whether or not Ferris is even real or just an imagined friend for Cameron. That’s a lot of crazy talk. Ferris the protagonist who gets the ball rolling on the plot and Rooney is a classic antagonist. Rooney is not inherently a bad guy but he is against Ferris.

None of that matters, though, because however you choose to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s a damn enjoyable film. It’s very unrealistic, but writer/director John Hughes pulls off a movie that works on so many levels. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it takes advantage of a interesting world (is the Shermerverse a thing?) of fun characters and uniquely-tense situations. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is worth revisiting or seeing for the first time. It hasn’t even aged all that much. See it now. Go on, take the day off.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.

 

Let’s talk everyone’s favorite Wizarding World Film, The Crimes of Grindelwald…wait, people don’t like this one? Well, we’re still going to talk about it.

It’s 1927, and the evil and radical wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sherlock Gnomes) has escaped custody while being transferred to Europe to be tried for his many villainous crimes. Some time after, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables, The Aeronauts), unable to get past his international travel ban, is tasked by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Sherlock Gnomes: A Game of Shadows) to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Justice League), who is shockingly still alive, and save him from the grips of Grindelwald. Lots of other stuff happens too.

This movie’s biggest problem is that is has no real discernible plot by the end of it. Yes, it all comes down to the search for Credence, but there’s too much other stuff happening in this film to keep focus on the main plot. It just gets lost in all that. I’ve seen the film several times and even I have trouble relaying the plot to people who ask about it. There are all these elements in the film that seemingly have no impact on the central plot…yet. Granted, this is a film that may be a lot better when seen in context of the entire series once it’s finished, but it shouldn’t have to be. Each of the Harry Potter films and even the first Fantastic Beasts have been able to stand on their own in some capacity, so even though a lot of individual elements of the movie work, it doesn’t fit together all that well.

The Crimes of Grindelwald has some truly great elements, though. For example, the returning cast is incredible. I love Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, and he’s great here. I wish we had more time with the main four together again because Katherine Waterston is great here, as is both Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol as Jacob and Queenie.

I also was so surprised by Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. I was initially hesitant to see Depp enter the Wizarding World, but I think what we get from him as a villain here is interesting and exciting, but again, I just wanted more. His interactions with his followers and enemies, and specifically in the films finale, are so powerful.

There are some cool creature designs and magical elements to the film, but as with everything else in this movie, there just aren’t enough of these elements in a bloated film. Too much stuff jammed into not enough movie.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mess of a movie, but there are still things I really liked in the movie. The ideas are there, but J.K. Rowling was not capably able to make a film that works on its own as well as part of a larger story. So many pieces of this movie could have worked in a stronger shell of a film. The extended cut fixes some of the problems, but not enough to completely save the movie. They need to fix the franchise with a simpler follow-up with the next film, and they need to focus on the few things that worked here.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, click here.

 

[Oscar Madness Monday] Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon

117 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

IMDb Top 250: #53 (as of 4/29/2020)

 

Recently, in April, Alien fans everywhere celebrated Alien Day on 4/26 (as in LV-426, the moon where the Facehugger Eggs are first discovered in the original film), and it seems like a great time to revisit that very important film, one that changed many minds about the strength of horror films and sci-fi films.

The commercial transport ship Nostromo is returning to Earth with Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt, Contact, Lucky) and the other six members of the crew in stasis sleep. They are awoken by the ship’s computer it detects a transmission coming from a nearby moon. The crew sends a team down to discover the origins of the transmission, and what they uncover on the planet is more horrifying than any of them have ever known.

This comparison has been made many a time, but Alien shares a lot with Jaws. Now, everyone is going to say that the less-is-more comparison is obvious, but I’m looking at it from a different angle. The use of darkness and perspective in particular highlights all of the strengths of the film, particularly in their central monster. Director Ridley Scott (The Martian, All the Money in the World) understands what will work and what won’t, and he utilizes his tools well. Looking at some of the behind-the-scenes photos of the film, and particularly the xenomorph (played by Bolaji Badejo) showcase that this movie could’ve looked damn goofy, but the way it was shot and the way it was lit helps to focus the mood of the film, and it still, to this day, looks gorgeous as much as it looks gruesome.

Actor John Hurt on the set of “Alien”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The cast is fantastic, with specific emphasis thrown toward Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, Ghostbusters II) as Ripley, the warrant officer, and Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth) as Ash, the science officer. Everyone gets at least one great moment in the film.

The script is very strong and runs along very smoothly. This movie just cruises along, with no extra fat. Looking at Alien as a screenplay, it could very simply boil down into a slasher film as the xenomorph moves through the ship trying to pick off the crew one-by-one, but thankfully, the Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, The Return of the Living Dead) screenplay is stacked with flavor and atmosphere that Scott was able to play off of.

Ridley Scott’s strong directing and Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay combined to make a truly excellent atmospheric horror film. This is one that has aged like a fine wine, and it features some incredible set pieces, including the dinner scene with John Hurt’s (1984, The Elephant Man) intense performance is still one of the most shocking movie moments of all time. This is a movie that shows that not everything needs explaining and that, in fact, some films are stronger without all the answers. Stick with the Theatrical Cut as Scott’s Director’s Cut no longer makes full canonical sense within the confines of the xenomorph’s life cycle, but both versions of Alien are well-worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, click here.

For my review of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, click here.

[Alright Alright Alright Movies] Grandma’s Boy (2006)

Director: Nicholaus Goossen

Cast: Linda Cardellini, Allen Covert, Peter Dante, Shirley Jones, Shirley Knight, Joel David Moore, Kevin Nealon, Doris Roberts, Nick Swardson

Screenplay: Barry Wernick, Allen Covert, Nick Swardson

94 mins. Rated R for drug use and language throughout, strong crude and sexual humor, and nudity.

 

Hey, it’s April 20th, and we could all use a laugh right about now, so in honor of this most blessed day, let’s take a look at Grandma’s Boy, the 2006 stoner comedy from Happy Madison that kind of went unnoticed upon first release only to resurface a few years later as a dumb piece of pop culture. I remember hating the film on first release, so let’s see how we are sitting on the film today.

Alex (Allen Covert, 50 First Dates, Murder Mystery) is a stoner video game tester who’s just been booted from his apartment. With nowhere to go, Alex moves in with his grandmother Lilly (Doris Roberts, Christmas Vacation, TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond) and her two friends. Alex doesn’t want his friends to know he’s living with his grandmother, so he starts lying about his three crazy wild roommates, and it works…until the lie is undone.

I wasn’t lying when I said this film went unnoticed. It only grossed about $6 million in its theatrical run but went on to bring in $50 million in home video sales. Why was it popular? Perhaps because it’s so damn stupid. No, that’s not exactly a criticism. The first priority of a comedy is to entertain and make you laugh or, at the very least, smile. In a stoner comedy, those moments are usually derived from stupidity, and yes, there is stupidity abound, and some of it really works. Then, there are chunks of the film that do not. Let’s talk about the parts that worked for me first.

I felt that Linda Cardellini (Scooby-Doo, Avengers: Endgame) was great as Samantha, Alex’s new “boss” who has been sent to oversee final touches of Eternal Death Slayer 3, the video game Alex and his coworkers are working on. The overall character arc conceived for her is terrible, but she makes the most of it and is a fun presence onscreen.

I also really enjoyed Peter Dante (The Waterboy, Grown Ups 2) as Dante, the stereotypical stoner drug dealer who tries to buy a tiger in the movie. That’s pretty much all he does in the film, but everything that comes out of his mouth is hilarious. Same thing with Nick Swardson (The Benchwarmers, Airplane Mode), who plays Jeff, Alex’s very childish friend. Swardson can’t really lead a film, but he works really well in a supporting role. Even Doris Roberts, who is very funny in the film playing a similar character to others but in a completely whacko movie.

But none of that, absolutely none of it, matters if the film isn’t funny. Thankfully, the guffaw laughs are far more prevalent than the eye rolls. Yes, there are a few eye rolls, but some truly funny lines, scenes, and characters exist within the frames of Grandma’s Boy. Without a doubt, this one is very funny.

So there you have it. It’s 420, and now is probably the best time to watch this stoner comedy. Yes, it’s really dumb and some of it is nonsensical and they completely waste Jonah Hill early on in his career, but it is undeniably funny for a number of scenes, and while it may not work for everyone, it will work well for its demographic.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness Monday] Gangs of New York (2002)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson

Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

167 mins. Rated R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Daniel Day-Lewis]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song

 

I’ve really wanted to revisit Gangs of New York for some time. I recall catching it back in college, and I also recall not liking it very much. Since college, I’ve grown to love and respect Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Irishman) and his filmography. He’s since become a director, in my eyes, that I would place on a Mt. Rushmore of all-time directors, but a few films by the director just didn’t click with me at the time, but I’ve wanted to watch those films again. Gangs of New York is one such picture. During this time of social distancing, I now have that time to rewatch Gangs of New York. Let’s see how this plays out.

The year is 1862, and Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) has return to New York City, to a place called the Five Points he fled from years ago. Vallon only has one goal in mind: to kill Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), the man who killed his father in a brutal gang fight when Vallon was a child. Vallon finds himself infiltrating Bill’s inner workings in order to gain his confidence and get his vengeance, but matters are complicated when he comes into contact with an attractive pickpocket named Jenny (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and the lines are blurred among the Five Points.

It’s impressive that Leo is able to maintain a presence onscreen with Day-Lewis. This is still a film relatively early in the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, and his subdued yet strong performance is still able to hold his own. I really like DiCaprio here because he is able to portray Amsterdam Vallon’s internal flaws, which is something that becomes more complex as the narrative unfolds. Vallon’s emotional strain is stretched to the snapping point by what he is forced to endure at the hands of Bill “The Butcher” throughout the film.

Make no mistakes, though, no one is outshining Daniel Day-Lewis here as Bill Cutting. His fast-talking molasses-drawled speech is engaging, and his menacing visual performance is so catching and engaging. I love how DDL stays in character throughout shooting (he reportedly had dinner with Scorsese and DiCaprio in character after shooting wrapped for the day), and it seemingly helps his performance because he owns every film he appears in.

I know I’m beating a dead horse with this, but because of all the performing prowess displayed by not only DiCaprio and Day-Lewis but most of the supporting cast, it is quite noticeable how out-of-her-element Diaz is. Her broken accent as Jenny Everdeane is only overshadowed by her seeming disinterest in her character or the film she’s in. She just doesn’t engage on an entertainment level.

The screenplay for Gangs of New York is from Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. There’s some prowess to this screenwriting crew, but I have a lot of problems with the screenplay. I feel like it was written very capably but it isn’t accessible. It’s a screenplay made for the audiences of 1862 instead of for today. The first time I watched it, I just couldn’t get into it, but I will say it was much better on the second viewing, but even then, I find some real problems with the screenplay. There’s a lost quality to the narrative at the beginning and near the end, with the second act of the film finding its footing.

Martin Scorsese is really trying something new with Gangs of New York. His directing style is a little more erratic, ambitious, and violent. Not all of it works within the confines of the film, but it showcases Scorsese’s interest in evolving. You can complain all you want about Martin Scorsese as a gangster filmmaker, but he is so much more than that, and Gangs of New York is a very different gangster film, or film in general, than anything else in his oeuvre. As stated, not all of the visual storytelling Scorsese presents here works, and I think, again, it works on a second viewing better than the first time around.

Gangs of New York is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s more positive than negative in all this, but it still struggles getting going and finishing strong. There’s a lot of good meat to the film, but it both works and doesn’t work, with the positive outweighing the negative. I enjoyed it on the second viewing way more than the first, mostly from the incredible work from DiCaprio and DDL. This will work for historical buffs or anyone with a bloodlust for bloody violence as well, to varying degrees.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, click here.

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