Zoolander (2001)

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Director: Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, Jon Voight

Screenplay: Drake Sather, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg

90 mins. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug use.

 

Zoolander is one of those movies that probably shouldn’t have had a sequel. The film itself exists as a cult hit but it didn’t make any money worthy of setting up another. It also didn’t really need a sequel fifteen years later. But here we are, fifteen years later, and with Zoolander no. 2 on the way, I thought we should take a trip back to the original film.

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Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Tropic Thunder) is no longer the top fashion model after he loses the award to rising runway master Hansel (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, Cars 2), and his bad run of luck continues when an article from Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, License to Wed) tarnishes his reputation even further. After a tragedy forces him to leave the fashion industry, only the request of fashion mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell, Step Brothers, Daddy’s Home) is enough to bring him back. But Mugatu has a motive up his sleeve. He needs to use Derek as a weapon for his own fiendish plans, and its up to Matilda and Derek to stop him.

Zoolander does have a lot to love, and the film would have been more widely accepted today than it was back then. For one, the sheer amount of cameos is jarringly amazing. My personal favorite? David Bowie. My least favorite? A terrible human being who wishes to be president. But enough about Donald Trump. Enough forever.

Zoolander does a great job of building up the mythos of the male model. The entire film is strange and unusual and kind of lovable. Ben Stiller has great chemistry with Wilson and of course his wife Christine Taylor. The film even features Stiller’s mother and sister in cameos, but the big cheese of awesome that is Jerry Stiller (TV’s The King of Queens, Hairspray) steals every scene as Derek’s agent Maury Ballstein. In fact, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles with David Duchovny (TV’s The X-Files, Phantom) as J.P. Pruitt and Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible) as Derek’s father Larry.

But that is perhaps the issue of the film. Derek Zoolander isn’t all that likable nor is he accessible. The film would have more engaging if Matilda had been the focus character and Zoolander could’ve been seen through her eyes. Sadly, she makes a bad decision early on that makes her less likable and Zoolander is just kind of there.

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Zoolander is pretty enjoyable, and it does get better the more you see it. Is it worthy of a franchise revisiting fifteen years later? Probably not. Am I still going to watch it? Yeah, but it’s my thing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, click here.

[Harry Potter Day] [Oscar Madness Monday] Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Steve Kloves

152 mins. Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Happy Harry Potter Day, everyone! Why is today Harry Potter Day? Well, for diehard fans of the series, today coincides with a major battle that took place that, for spoilery reasons, I will not completely jump out and discuss. I imagine some of you have yet to read or see all of the story, and that may be why you are reading, so I will let you get there in good time. No matter…

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, Trainwreck, Victor Frankenstein) doesn’t have a great life. His parents are dead. He lives with his dreadful Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw, The English Teacher, The Tree of Life) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths, Hugo, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) in the closet beneath the staircase of their home. All that gets turned upside down when an onslaught of letters arrive at the home for Harry and a towering behemoth named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, Brave, Arthur Christmas) arrives to tell him that he is a wizard, just like his parents before him. Harry’s world quickly changes around him as he discovers that he is a wizard of legend, is whisked off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, gains new friends in Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint, CBGB, Charlie Countryman) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, Regression, Noah), and learns of a new enemy in He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a dark wizard with a terrifying connection to Harry.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had a hell of a task to accomplish. A film and series with this much scope had not been attempted in some time if ever. Director Chris Columbus (Pixels, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) had a lot on his plate. So when I tell you that this first film in the eight film saga ranks as the seventh best, don’t let me stray you from my appreciation of it.

Working with child actors isn’t easy, especially when you have so many. Columbus had been praised in the past for his ability to work with children and get the most from them. The three main stars were still pretty new to acting, and they don’t give bad work, but it is clear from later entries that they were to make leaps and strides as the series continued. Thankfully, they are aided by a top notch supporting cast like John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Planes), Richard Harris (Gladiator, The Count of Monte Cristo) and John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Hercules) to help add strength and impact to their scenes.

The screenplay too had some difficulty in narrowing down exactly what was important. At the time of release, there were only four books published of the seven books planned. J.K. Rowling was very helpful in plotting out the series trajectory with Warner Bros., a fact that saved several plot holes through the filmmaking journey. Sadly, though, the film feels bloated at times and Columbus doesn’t direct it but merely meanders through it, spending too much time on trivial moments that slow the movie down.

Columbus also looks back on the visual effects, which are rushed but not to the point of ruining the movie. He learned a lot about handling such a big budget and vowed to hone his visual effects for the follow-up (a fact that I laughed at when noting some of the other issues that the director seemed to have missed).

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Still, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is looked on more critically because of how great the series would become by its end, and the film itself is a triumph in many ways, showing fans and newcomers alike that movies can still leave one with a sense of awe. I absolutely love watching this series and harbor no ill will towards its more humble beginnings, because it is still an enjoyable experience by all.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

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Director: Rob Cohen

Cast: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, Ted Levine

Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, David Ayer

106 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language.

 

This year, we see the release of Furious 7, the latest in the series of title-jumping action car movies. Most people see the series as essential one long chase scene, but people forget how much these films have evolved in fourteen years. Let’s look back at the original film today.

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When Brian Spilner (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) falls for Mia (Jordana Brewster, TV’s Dallas, Annapolis), the sister to the ferocious street racer Dominic (Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick), he enters a world that he may not be able to survive within. What Dom and Mia don’t know, however, is that Brian Spilner is actually Brian O’Connor, undercover cop chasing a lead that some street racers are involved in some major electronics theft. As Brian conceals his true identity, he finds himself getting closer to the Toretto “family” of outcasts and possible outlaws.

There is a term that doesn’t get tossed around much for this film but it really deserves to be mentioned. That term is “Grindhouse.” The Fast and the Furious is fairly Grindhousian in nature. The underground “society” of racers is over-the-top in many ways as a sexier, more dangerous version of the truth. This is an exploitation piece at the most explosive level. There aren’t many films with the budget of The Fast and the Furious that it doesn’t often get associated with this genre, but it is true.

Can Rob Cohen direct the pic? Better than a lot of his other attempts. If you’ve seen The Boy Next Door, I’m sure you can see his low points. I like his stylistic choice as he tries to visual show speed on film, something he really wanted to convey with the picture.

The film is made on the shaky relationship between Brian and Mia, a gorgeous girl who exists in a dangerous world. Diesel’s Toretto is good enough to pass here, but comes off as a one-note antihero. I enjoyed Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar, InAPPropriate Comedy) as Letty, Dom’s girlfriend who might just wear the pants in the relationship. We also get a great turn from character actor Ted Levine (TV’s Monk, Little Boy) as Sergeant Tanner, Brian’s supervising officer.

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The Fast and the Furious is a fun, albeit flawed, action spectacle that tries a lot of new things (even if some of them don’t work). You can put the story pieces together a lot faster than I would have liked, but once this film became a franchise, that was going to happen anyway. The script polishing by David Ayer helped this film a lot, but it is far from a masterpiece and far from the best in this series.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

[Oscar Madness] The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

178 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ian McKellan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“May It Be” by Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some projects are doomed from the very start. Imagine filming three movies at the same time, on one budget, and having creating a trilogy between them of at least 11 hours in length. Yeah, Peter Jackson did that.

Sir Ian McKellan in a scene from THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, 2001.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties), a hobbit from Hobbiton. He lives with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Renaissance) who is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday (that’s 111 to you non-hobbit folks) and has just left Frodo with his magical ring of power which he found sixty years earlier. What Frodo and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) are about to discover is that this ring is the powerful One Ring of Sauron, a dark lord who used the ring to take over the land long ago. Sauron had been destroyed, but the ring of power had passed along looking for its master to reunite and bring back an age of darkness and despair. Now it is up to Frodo, his gardener Samwise (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis), and their fellowship of seven others, including elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and the mysterious ranger known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road) to get the ring of power to the one place where it can be destroyed: the fiery Mount Doom in the land of Mordor. There’s just one problem: Mordor is where the Eye of Sauron is still looking for his ring with armies of orcs at his disposal.

This film is staggering in scale. It is almost too realistic for a fantasy film, it just sucks you in. The plot here is immensely entertaining due to director Jackson’s attention to detail and knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. The screenplay, by Jackson and fellow writing team members Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (with whom he also penned The Lovely Bones and King Kong), is incredibly engaging and equal parts exhilarating and fun.

This is Elijah Wood at his career best. His portrayal of Frodo, a hobbit who is only used to the good parts of life and used to only happiness, solitude, and relaxation, now thrust unto this great quest, is deeply personal. I saw in Wood’s performance a hobbit who looks up to his uncle for all the adventures he has been on, but also doesn’t really want to live them.

Viggo Mortensen here is another strength (of which the entire cast is). Strider is a character with deep levels of history and emotion, a true well of sadness. Mortensen plays it to perfection.

I also truly loved Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Mirror Mirror) as Boromir, a man entrusted to Frodo’s fellowship who has a weakness for power and believes that the ring holds the key to saving his homeland.

Peter Jackson isn’t afraid here to get down and dirty and display epic-sized battles for his audience. This movie chooses to show, not tell, and it is totally worth it.

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In fact, just about every aspect of this film could be classified as stellar. It happens to be my favorite of the six Middle-Earth films Peter Jackson has poured his soul into. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is incredible on just about every level. Take a trip to Middle-Earth with me, and enjoy yourself along the way.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

Shrek (2001)

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Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman

90 mins. Rated PG for mild language and some crude humor.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced.

 

It isn’t easy to pull off a family film that stands tall years later. It is tougher to make that film a satire and to have to comedy still funny. Shrek did it. Shrek did it wonderfully.

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Shrek (Mike Myers, TV’s Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is a simple ogre. He has a swamp and a boulder and he likes it that way. The local villagers leave him alone and in turn he keeps to himself. It isn’t until he runs into a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, A Thousand Words) and is sent on a mythical quest to save a princess (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Sex Tape) from a dragon-guarded castle at the behest of the powerful Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock From the Sun, Interstellar) that Shrek truly learns what companionship can do to an ogre.

Shrek is a masterpiece and truly cemented Dreamworks Animation as being a powerful competitor to Disney’s Pixar. The voicework from Myers and Murphy is very strong here. They have a terrific chemistry (or lack thereof) during their scenes together. Lithgow really menaces here; until this movie, I hadn’t really seen anything from him proving that he could be villainous in nature.

Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson created a wonderful enthusiasm that both satires and homages classic fairy tales. This was a precursor to shows like Once Upon a Time and Penny Dreadful, where we are treated to an alternate version of classic characters.

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Shrek is a master stroke of genius for family films and just comedies in general. I wish more films targeted at children had the boldness to provide laughs for all ages instead of pandering the way most of them do.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Puss in Boots, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 3 – Monsters, Inc. (2001)

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Director: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich

Cast: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson

92 mins. Rated G.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song “If I Didn’t Have You”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature

iMDB Top 250: #215 (as of 7/14/2015)

I might get some trouble for reviewing a family film in the 31 Days of “Horror” category for the month of October, but I should stress. These posts are meant as a celebration of horror, and in that way, Monsters, Inc. is very fitting.

Pixar is a brand name all its own these days, about as recognizable as the name of its owner, Disney. Known for creating fully realized worlds that are capable of translating highly complex moral questions, Pixar is perhaps most well known to me for the creation of Monsters, Inc., a gorgeous little gem from 2001.

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It tells the story of James P. Sullivan or “Sully” (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and his roommate and best friend Mike Wazowski  (Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally…, Parental Guidance), two monsters existing in a world parallel to our own, in which their main source of power and energy comes from human children’s screams. It isn’t an easy job scaring the screams out of kids anymore, especially when a single touch could kill you. But when a child called Boo (Mary Gibbs, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride) is found after hours in Monsters Incorporated, where Mike and Sully work, the two find themselves in quite a pickle trying to right the many wrongs and solve the mystery of why she is there. Mike and Sully have to discover while how fellow scarer Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi, TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Fargo) is involved, get the information to boss Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn, The Great Escape, Snow Dogs), and avoid Mike’s girlfriend (for her own safety), Celia (Jennifer Tilly, TV’s Family Guy, Bound).

Monsters, Inc. is one of the best films in Pixar’s roster (my personal favorite, in fact). The voice work from Goodman and Crystal (who actually recorded lines together, a rarity in the voice work business) is phenomenal. The animation here is top notch for its time and still looks pretty good for being over thirteen years old. The pacing on the film is another major take-away. It never misses a beat.

Even the musical score just stays with you; this whole film does.

Enjoy watching this film if you haven’t already seen it; it plays with the mythos as well as pulling at the right heart strings, and it pours a couple dashes of The China Syndrome in for good measure.

Take a moment to enjoy some of the little in-jokes that Monsters, Inc. has to offer. Notice that Randall Boggs threatens to throw someone into a wood chipper (a fate he isn’t all too unfamiliar with himself from his work with the Coen brothers). Laugh at Mike’s chair during the employee theatrical performance of “Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me” (it happens to resemble one Krang’s chair from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon).

The best little homage in-joke comes from the restaurant Harryhausen’s, which takes its name from Ray Harryhausen, famous stop-motion creature maker known for Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts. Also, when Harryhausen made the film It Came from Beneath the Sea, he only had the budget for a six-tentacled octopus, which appears as a chef in the restaurant named for him in Monsters, Inc. Isn’t learning fun?

Also, wait around during the credits for a list of Production Babies (a staple for Pixar, covering all the children born during production) and a notice proclaiming “No Monsters Were Harmed During the Making of this Film.”

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What a terrific film, I was so excited to revisit it for the 31 Days of Horror and I hope you will view it yourself, either for the first time or the 1000th.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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