[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 28 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Saw II (2005)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman
93 mins. Rated R.

Saw was a horror phenomenon when it released in 2004. It surprised the hell out of me, as I didn’t expect to love it so much, to be rewatching it so regularly, trying to scope out clues and things I had missed before. It wasn’t for everyone, especially those unable to handle gore (even though the first actually didn’t contain as much as the franchise would be known for later on), but for me, there was another element that kept me entranced, and that was the story. I loved the mystery of the film, the clues, the references. I studied that film, and when the sequel came out, it didn’t arrive at my local theater and I was too young to drive to another town to see it, so I waited until the inevitable January DVD release, and I caught it. Now, looking back, let’s see how the first sequel to Saw holds up, and its influence on the direction of the series.

Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, Ransom, Dreamcatcher) is a bad cop and a worse father. His life isn’t what he thought it was, and now he’s become the target of the villainous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm), a killer who likes to play games, set traps, and let his victims kill themselves in their struggle to survive. Eric and his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) have discovered Jigsaw’s hideout, but they soon learn that catching Jigsaw will be tougher than they expected when Eric learns that his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scream 4) is also a part of Jigsaw’s next game. Now, Eric and Daniel are both playing for survival, and Jigsaw has a few surprises in store for both of them.

Saw II actually started as a completely different movie. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Abattoir) had shopped around his script for a film called The Desperate and kept getting turned down, with most telling him that his movie was too similar to Saw. Eventually, the script found its way into the hands of Saw producers, who were looking to get a follow-up to the 2004 smash hit put together. Leigh Whannell, who scripted the original film, came in and adjusted the script into a Saw sequel, and the rest is horror history. In that way, Saw II is a bit of a unique flavor of the Saw films. It has most of Bousman’s writing stamps on it, and it has a look more in line with Bousman’s non-Saw films while still not straying away from the feel of the original. The screenplay, now adjusted to being a Saw sequel, is full of more of those clues and references to the connection with the original, and the way it ends up connecting is bonkers good. In fact, not even the cast was aware of the film’s ending and how it would play into the first film. Although, there are a few times when Jigsaw flat out lies to Eric, something he isn’t known for doing (he stretches the truth and leaves information out, but he never full-on lies to his victims and pawns), and that disappointed me a little.

Donnie Wahlberg is a standout here. His scenes with Tobin Bell as Jigsaw are amazing. The two have such different energies on display, and watching them collide is exhilarating while also highlighting their differences as characters and gives a lot of development to both. Remember, this film does a lot more heavy lifting of the Jigsaw mythos than the first film, in which [SPOILER ALERT!] Jigsaw spends most of the film lying in a bathroom covered in makeup and fake blood. Jigsaw gets to really flex his creed here and the reaction he gets from Eric works so well. Wahlberg’s work as Eric only highlights his own shortcomings as a cop, husband, and father.

Shawnee Smith (The Blob, Believe) also returns from the first film as Amanda, a character with limited but impactful screen time in the original (in fact, her scenes in the original were basically what the short film that inspired Saw were all about). Seeing her as someone who has survived Jigsaw’s game only to find herself back in it is horrifying, and we feel for her, but we also find a level of trust in her as she understands the game better than the others, and we cling to her for support. She also ends up in a fairly uncomfortable trap fighting for survival with the needle pit.

I also want to discuss the house trap, as it’s where most of the action of the film is. It’s a cool house with a lot of history and character to it, and seeing all these people trapped inside with slow-acting poison, looking for antidotes, it creates a larger set piece than the bathroom but doesn’t feel like it betrays the first film. It just has its own flavor, much like the rest of Saw II, probably carried over from Bousman’s earlier script. What I love about the way Bousman directs is that he tries to create a sense that the story never slows down by creating in-camera tricks in filming and editing that make scenes flow from one to the another without actually cutting. Look at the way Eric leaves his apartment early on and ends up at a crime scene. It’s a fascinating shot that emphasizes the best of Bousman’s ability to work low-budget and still create interesting and compelling cinema.

Saw II is still a step down from the first film, but it continues the story, elevates the characters, and develops the world-building of this franchise quite nicely while feeling like its own contained story. Yes, there are a few screenplay faults, there are more unlikable characters than likable ones, and the film maybe feels a bit too big at times, not allowing us to spend time with the cattle on their way to slaughter, but at least it highlights its most interesting characters like Jigsaw, Eric, Kerry, and Amanda, the ones who are developed enough to interest. I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it, and I still do, even if I’ve seen some of its faults on repeat viewings. I would still encourage fans of the original to see this one, and those who haven’t seen it in a while to consider revisiting it.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of James Wan’s Saw, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 17 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Doom (2005)

Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Cast: Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Razaaq Adoti, Dwayne Johnson
Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick
105 mins. Rated R for strong violence/gore and language.

Sometimes I wonder why studios and filmmakers keep trying to make video game movies. Sure, there’s a chance for profitability, but it seems to be a risky proposition. For each success, there are quite a few failures (and that’s even if you ignore Uwe Boll). For whatever reason, these adaptations keep coming (and I’m always hoping for this genre to finally break out the way superheroes finally did), and the mid-2000s were full of them. Today, let’s talk about one that has been mostly forgotten: Doom.

In 2026, a wormhole is discovered in Nevada that leads to Mars. This wormhole is named the Ark. Twenty years later, a research facility on Mars is attacked, and a squad of Marines is sent through the Ark to rescue any survivors and eliminate any hostiles. This squad is led by Sarge (Dwayne Johnson, Moana, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), a no-bullshit commander who believes his team can handle anything. Now, he has to team up with Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, The World’s End), the twin sister of his own marine John “Reaper” Grimm (Karl Urban, Thor: Ragnarok, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), who works at the Martian research site. When they come across large aggressive creatures at the location of the carnage, they find that they may be in over their heads, but where did these creatures come from?

Let me get this out of the way by seeing this is not a terrible movie as some reviews would have you believe. I don’t think it’s a bad movie. It’s also not a good movie. It’s merely okay. Doom’s biggest problem is that it’s pretty much a remake of Resident Evil set on Mars. So many of the plot points and characters are similar enough that you might assume it was a complete ripoff. Doom isn’t a bad movie, and with a few tweaks, it could have been a much better film.

First of all, I think Karl Urban is a great lead. I was hearing that the original casting choice for Reaper was Dwayne Johnson himself, but Johnson felt that Sarge was a lot more interesting. This was a good call as The Rock was just starting to get involved in acting for films, and he wasn’t all that good. He shouldn’t have been leading films as he wasn’t strong enough. He’s since gotten quite a lot better at playing characters that suited him, much like Channing Tatum later did. Urban had been a more capable lead for the film, and he works quite well leading the film, and he has good chemistry with Pike (although I do not believe that their characters are twins). They are also aided by a few capable supporting actors including Richard Brake and Dexter Fletcher. Overall, there isn’t anything Oscar-worthy from these actors, but they fit well enough given a pretty underwhelming screenplay.

The creature effects would be pretty damn great to see if the lighting wasn’t so horrendous. It reminded me of Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, which had some cool creature effects but was even darker. You can see enough in this film to know you want to see more, but it’s just too damn dark. The decision by director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave) to focus on practical effects as much as possible, and he even utilized Stan Winston Studios to help create the monsters, and I would have loved for them to be on full display, but the lighting kills it.

The gimmick of Doom is, of course, the FPS sequence which takes up a bulk of the climax of the film. It actually worked quite well for me as an action setpiece and gimmick (one that was later utilized in films like Hardcore Henry), and I would have liked it to be more utilized through the whole film. I don’t think it needed to be the whole film, but it worked pretty well and, for an action film, it was quite exciting.

Doom is a mixed bag. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The problem is that the elements that work well are usually overshadows by the elements that don’t. Karl Urban is a strong lead, and I liked The Rock more on this rewatch, but the script is a bit muddled. The creature effects are cool, but the lighting makes them too hard to see. The gimmick is solid, but the film sold us a lot more FPS than we really got. It’s just a derivative but fine film. Doom can just be so much better.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 14 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Fog (2005)

Director: Rupert Wainwright

Cast: Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzija, Selma Blair

Screenplay: Cooper Layne

100 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief sexuality.

 

For those of you that have read my opinions and discussions for some time, especially in the realm of horror, you’ll know that John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. I’m talking Mount Rushmore of filmmakers, and that’s all-time, not just in horror. One of Carpenter’s best films is The Fog. That film was remade in 2005, and has since been called one of the worst films of all time. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the 2005 film (I believe I came across a copy when Blockbuster shut down, haphazardly putting it in my hands without stopping to realize that it was not the 1980 John Carpenter film. I’m not sure the last time I actually saw it, but I figured now, with 15 years on it, I should give it another go and see for myself if it’s really that bad. Come along and join me.

Antonio Island is about to celebrate a major town anniversary, and the families of the founders are set to unveil a new statue to celebrate the town’s heritage. What the townspeople do not know, though, is that a fog is about to roll in, and with it, the town’s dreaded past, for there is something vengeful in the fog, and no one on Antonio Island is safe.

The one memory I have of ingrained from previous viewings of The Fog 2005 is the confusion I feel every time I watch it. There’s a number of nonsensical plot points deep within the film’s narrative that I’ve never been able to get past. What anniversary are they celebrating, and why is it so important? It doesn’t seem to be an important date. What does the ending mean (I won’t go into spoilers, but the twist or reveal has never quite made any sense whatsoever)? Why, oh why, are we following such unlikable characters?

To go off that, we spend quite a bit of time with Nick Castle (Tom Welling, The Choice, TV’s Smallville) and his will-they-or-won’t-they girlfriend Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace, Taken, TV’s Fear the Walking Dead), but I don’t like Nick very much. Did he cheat on Elizabeth with local radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions, After) or were they not steady at the time? I just can’t place any of the character relationships together in this film. There seems to be so much “I Don’t Know” going on in this movie, and the characters suffer, as did any of my caring for their safety, with the possible exception of Stevie Wayne.

I really liked Selma Blair’s portrayal of the character, one played to perfection by Adrienne Barbeau in the original film. Blair would not have been the obvious choice in my mind, but she does the best she can with a somewhat poorly written character who makes a few really dumb choices in the narrative. Blair handles it well, but there are moments when the screenplay by Cooper Layne (The Core) push Stevie into making the emotional choices that diminish the strength that she has had before. It’s a narrative risk that makes the character less likable, saved only by a pretty strong performance.

There’s a fundamental lesson in film that is only now being learned by more and more filmmakers and studios, but The Fog is a great case study for it. The argument that CG is better than practical is a foolish one. Looking back at classic films like Jurassic Park, which still looks great, we can see that CG is only really successful when it helps aid the practical effects and is used only when required. The ghosts and creature effects for The Fog 2005 look cheap and fail to create and suspense or fear. Now, look back on The Fog 1980, where the ghosts were created using a strong costume design and makeup aided by…green lights for the eyes. Comparing the two, I would take the green-lit foggy ghost creatures of the 1980 film any time over the really disappointing effects of the 2005 film. I admire the idea of making the fog more of a character, and I think it could’ve worked, but here, this fog and these creatures are wholly forgettable.

The Fog fails in just about every sense as an updating of the mythos and a reimagining of the horrors of Carpenter’s original. Is it one of the worst films ever made? No, it’s just bad. It’s a bad movie. There isn’t anything scary about it, the plot features a lot of things just happening with no real momentum or sense, and the attempt to try new things with the story resulted in a story that has nothing to say. It isn’t one of the worst films of all time, but I see no reason why anyone should choose this film over the original. I know I certainly won’t.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 16 – Land of the Dead (2005)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, Eugene Clark

Screenplay: George A. Romero

93 mins. Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, language, brief sexuality and some drug use.

 

Land of the Dead is actually the movie that got me watching the Living Dead franchise created by George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser). When I heard a new film was coming out (the last one had been 20 years prior), I became incredibly interested. I hunted down the previous films (in a time without streaming, Night of the Living Dead was still relatively hard to come by) and they changed my life. Land of the Dead is actually the final film, chronologically, of the Living Dead series, and it’s a pretty solid and explosive entry.

It’s been three years since the dead got up and starting shambling about, and survivors have built a refuge out of the Golden Triangle area of Pittsburgh, calling it Fiddler’s Green. The city is run like a feudal government, with the rich living in a high-rise at the center and the poor on the streets squabbling for survival, but hey, it’s better inside the walls of the city than outside, right? Riley Denbo (Simon Baker, Margin Call, TV’s The Mentalist) operates Dead Reckoning, a large armored vehicle used for traveling the zombie-infested parts outside the city. Riley and his team search for food and supplies that the residents need. His second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Bloodline), wants an apartment with the Fiddler’s Green high rise, but he is denied by the leader, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, Blue Velvet), and decides to take Dead Reckoning hostage as vengeance. Now, Riley and the rest of his team, which includes gunman Charlie (Robert Joy, The Hills Have Eyes, TV’s CSI: NY) and hooker Slack (Asia Argento, xXx, The Executrix), have been tasked by Kaufman to retrieve Dead Reckoning before Cholo uses it to destroy Fiddler’s Green.

George A. Romero always crafted incredibly human stories within the confines of a zombie film, and Land of the Dead is no exception. The story of a class system, feudal government, and alienation, are incredibly well-perceived and well-executed. Land of the Dead is maybe more accessible to modern film-goers with its cast of characters and simpler layout. I know a lot of people that didn’t care for Day of the Dead due to its excessively depressing story. Land of the Dead has a bit more hope in it, though not much more.

This is probably one of the more well-acted of the Living Dead films just due to have actors who have more experience. Simon Baker has some nice chemistry with Hopper, Leguizamo, and Joy. Having a feature zombie like Bubb from Day of the Dead, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark, Christmas Next Door, TV’s Night Heat) adds an interesting layer in the development of the zombie. It feels like this horde that just keeps coming back for more has grown and evolved over time.

The screenplay is serviceable if bloated a bit at the beginning. Romero used a lot of unused material from his original Day of the Dead screenplay. Thanks to his partnership with Universal Pictures, Romero is able to use incredible effects like Dead Reckoning, something I’m certain he would not have been able to do in previous or future Living Dead films

I also find it quite interesting that this is the most-connected film in the series to that point, something Romero’s series has never been very focused on. This film is set about three years after Night of the Living Dead, and just like the other films he seems disinterested in explaining away the advances in technology in the near-40 years since that films release. He uses actors Shawn Roberts and Alan Van Sprang, which he will revisit with future installments (yes, I know they have different names later on, but it seems very interesting how similar they are. He utilizes Tom Savini reprising his role from Dawn of the Dead in a cameo (again, this was likely in a jokey way) and he actually uses dialogue and imagery from Night at the beginning. He actively tried to connect his franchise, either jokingly or with serious intent, and it’s a nice way to end off the series if we never get the long-gestating Road of the Dead that Romero was developing when he died.

Land of the Dead is a fascinating “final” chapter of the apocalypse George A. Romero began back in 1968. His craft is unquestioned here, even if Land of the Dead doesn’t have the bite that some of Romero’s previous work contains. This is a worthy and accessible film and thankfully brought me into this franchise in a big way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman Begins (2005)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ket Watanabe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography

IMDb Top 250: #116 (as of 9/14/18)

 

Happy Batman Day, everyone! Celebrate with some comic books, cartoons, and Batman movies, like Batman Begins.

The Batman franchise was in a bad place in the early 2000s. After the trainwreck that was Batman & Robin, the franchise was limping and needed to be fixed. Even myself, a hardcore non-retconner, can say that there was no other way. In stepped Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Dunkirk).

Batman Begins takes the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, American Hustle, Hostiles) all the way back to its not-so-humble start. By now, we all know the big piece, the death of Bruce’s parents, but Batman Begins delves into his complex relationship with butler Alfred (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Sherlock Gnomes), his combat training with The League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Isle of Dogs), and the mistakes he makes along the way to the hero we all know and love. As Bruce is honing his skills, crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, Denial) and corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, TV’s Peaky Blinders), working for an unseen nefarious foe, are setting Gotham City down the path to destruction from within, and Batman, with the help of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) may be the only one who can stop them.

This was the kick in the ass that the Batman franchise needed to stay fresh. Something I’ve learned in the years since Batman Begins is that there will always be a new Batman. He’s like Robin Hood and Peter Pan. They just keep coming back. This comeback, however, is just that damn good.

Christian Bale kicks ass as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He chose to portray each half of his persona as a completely separate character, as it he had multiple personality syndrome and Batman is just another person living within him. Then there’s The Voice. I’m a firm defender of The Voice within Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader. Otherwise someone would eventually be able to figure it out. It is notable that he packed on the muscle for the role, the insane method actor that he is, having just come off The Machinist.

Speaking of the realism, Nolan took special care to craft a Gotham as realistic as possible. The gothic tone of the World’s Greatest Detective is still there, but Batman’s tech is as grounded in reality as possible. Even its villains stick to somewhat tangible backgrounds, with Crane’s Scarecrow become a truly horrific legend. Murphy’s portrayal is near and dear to my heart with the Scarecrow being my favorite Batman villain, and while originally I took issue with the way Nolan elected to recreate this character, I soon found myself heavily engaged in his frightening take. Ra’s Al Ghul is another character that usually takes on an otherworldly visage in that, if I am correct, he is often shown as having survived for over 600 years, dying and reviving due to The Lazarus Pits. Now, it could be true of the character we see in the finished film, but Nolan never once brings it up. In fact, the way he portrays Ra’s Al Ghul is haunting in its simplicity.

What’s great about Bruce Wayne is how compelling he is without the Batsuit, and how driven he is, just like his counterpart. Being the World’s Greatest Detective is something that applies to both Wayne and Batman, and Nolan, alongside co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, gave us time to connect with Bruce before introducing his superheroic other half.

I think if there was one thing I didn’t like about the film, it falls to some marketing mistakes and the fact that the film doesn’t firmly enough plant itself as being a reboot. Much like the ill-fated Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Batman Begins almost plays itself up as a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. There are clues as the film goes on, most notably in the death of Bruce’s parents, but as the convoluted mythology of the previous Batman series never really had itself nailed down, one wondered if the film was connected, and it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Dark Knight, released in 2008 that we finally got our answers. I just think fans struggled throughout the film’s runtime trying to figure out what it was.

Nitpicks aside, Batman Begins is nearly perfect. There are some slight issues with things like placing the film within a franchise timeline and a few acting slips (looking at Katie Holmes on this one), but all in all, Batman Begins isn’t just one of the best Batman films, it’s one of the best films of any kind.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

 waroftheworlds2005a

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

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

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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

 

[Short Film Sunday] Monster (2005)

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Director: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Susan Prior, Luke Ikimis-Healey, Trash Vaudeville

Screenplay: Jennifer Kent

10 mins. Not Rated.

 

This week, we will be looking at the short film that inspired the 2014 hit The Babadook when I review Jennifer Kent’s Monster.

In Monster, a single Mother (Susan Prior, Animal Kingdom, The Rover) cares for her difficult son (Luke Ikimis-Healey) as he constantly describes his encounters with a terrifying Monster (Trash Vaudeville). It isn’t long before the mother starts to realize that the monster is very real and is all around her.

I happened to prefer this short to the feature-length The Babadook. I like the simplicity of the monster here and I think the pacing was pretty spot-on, whereas The Babadook tends to drag on a bit. I liked the turn from Susan Prior before she made it to American films, and Australian director Kent’s placement of the camera is in the right places to get the most effective mood for the short.

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Monster is a pretty solid short film that you can find quite easily online without much trouble. If you saw The Babadook or not, you should check it out. While the performance from the child isn’t nearly as engaging as Prior or even Trash Vaudeville as the monster, but this is the kind of short that provides perfect tone and is easily watchable and rewatchable again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Longest Yard (2005)

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Director: Peter Segal

Cast: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, James Cromwell, Nelly, William Fichter, David Patrick Kelly, Tracy Morgan, Cloris Leachman, Burt Reynolds

Screenplay: Sheldon Turner

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, violence, language and drug references.

 

I think The Longest Yard was an interesting choice for a remake. Technically, my rule on remakes is that one should remake a film if it has faded into obscurity or not succeeded in making a noteworthy film to begin with. I know that the original film The Longest Yard was somewhat successful upon first release, but by 2005, it wasn’t a talked about film.

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The Longest Yard is the story of Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler, Grown Ups, The Cobbler), a washed-up ex-professional football player who has just been imprisoned. There, he is offered the chance to earn some brownie points and possible early parole by Warden Hazen (James Cromwell, The Green Mile, Big Hero 6). All he has to do is recruit a team of convicts to play a game of football against the guards. Paul makes nice with Caretaker (Chris Rock, Head of State, Top Five) and an older coach, Nate Scarborough (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights, Delgo) and proceeds to turn a rough-hewn group of criminals into a well-oiled footballing machine in this remake from Peter Segal (50 First Dates, Grudge Match).

The biggest fault of The Longest Yard is the aging process for an Adam Sandler movie. Adam Sandler’s films, with a few notable exceptions, do not age like a fine wine, but rather an open beer bottle. The jokes become less enjoyable as time goes on, and they start to turn from funny to annoying. There are still some hits that work, but ultimately, I groaned more than giggled. I surprisingly enjoyed Chris Rock’s performance as Caretaker, and unsurprisingly I had fun watching James Cromwell and Burt Reynolds let loose.

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Peter Segal isn’t the kind of director to thrill, but I thought he handled the action scenes during the football game pretty well. Ultimately, however, the film felt tame, having a lot less grit than its predecessor. I found it enjoyable enough for one viewing, but after another ten years, I don’t think I could do it again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

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Director: Garth Jennings

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, John Malkovitch

Screenplay: Douglas Adams, Karey Kirkpatrick

109 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, action and mild language.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was perhaps doomed from the start. A big-budget adaptation of the wackiest space adventure ever conceived could only accidentally succeed or admirably tank.

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Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) is fed up. His home is about to be demolished to form a hyperspace motorway, and he barely escapes thanks to a friend named Ford (Mos Def, The Italian Job, Begin Again) who might not even be human. As the two hitchhike across the galaxy alongside fellow Earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel, TV’s New Girl, Elf) and Galactic President-turned-fugitive Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, Moon, Better Living Through Chemistry) in an attempt to find the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

From a script by original author Douglas Adams aided by Karey Kirkpatrick, the film has everything that made the novel great. The performances are quirky enough to serve the source material while real enough to fit the film. I love that director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) seamlessly blends the main story with interjecting narration from the talking Guide (voiced by Stephen Fry).

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I think the major problem that people had with this film is that if you hadn’t read the book, you didn’t know what you were getting into. The novel was considered somewhat unfilmable because of its innate sense of insanity. Many thought they would get an interesting sci-fi comedy but they hadn’t expected to see anything like the finished product, because there really is nothing like this finished product. Another example of a film being misrepresented by its marketing. Another example of a great franchise squashed far too early.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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