[IndyPendence Day] Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan

115 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #48 (as of 6/25/2019)

 

What else would I watch on IndyPendence Day, right?

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, Witness, The Secret Life of Pets 2) is a professor and archaeologist known for acquiring various historical items of merit. Now he’s been tasked by the American government to find the missing Ark of the Covenant, a chest that contains the remains of the Ten Commandments, and an item he has a history with. He doesn’t know its location, but his former love Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen, Starman, Year by the Sea) may know something. He has to work quickly, though, because a group of Nazis, led by rival archaeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Absentia), are already on the search for Marion and the Ark, as Hitler believes the Ark to have mystical powers that may grant the Nazis an edge on their quest for global domination.

I actually got into Indiana Jones in my late teens because of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. When I heard there was going to be a new movie, I knew I had to see the other three first, because I’m a little insane that way. While Raiders of the Lost Ark is not my favorite of the four films, it’s a damn good introductory adventure to our heroic archaeologist and it set the blueprint for how to create an effective adventure under the crafting of director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Ready Player One), George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Solo: A Star Wars Story).

Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Jones. It’s laughable now to even think of someone else like Tom Selleck, Nick Nolte, or even Steve Martin donning the fedora, even though they were all part of the lengthy list of potentials for the lead. He is excellent here, playing an otherworldly parallel to Han Solo, another crotchety character who thinks he knows everything. His chemistry with both love interest Karen Allen and also close friend Sallah, played by John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aquaman), are both exemplary.

What’s so great about introducing this film at this time is that so much of its iconography and recognizable pop culture occurs in the opening sequence. My wife had only seen Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull (the latter of which probably a decade ago), and after Indy takes on the fertility idol, she turned and asked what happens in the movie, assuming that the boulder and everything leading up to it was the plot of the movie. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s true.

Spielberg’s style, borrowed from pulp adventure novels, B-movies, and serials from his youth, elevated the material with a fun sense of style that integrated nicely without getting bogged down in silliness. He also wasn’t afraid to hit the violence hard. In fact, when I was younger, I remember a teacher showing us the violence in one of the sequences of the film. I cannot remember the reason for it, but we were supposed to count the number of violent acts that occur in the fight sequence, and it was a lot. To be honest, that’s one of the great things about the film. The hunt for the Ark is not an easy one for Indy or Marion, and it is their knowledge and skill that keep them going. Plus, Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan actually showcase their lead character’s intellect by having him skirt a few nastier situations in the film by using his brain power over his bullwhip and fist.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a nearly-perfect film which has aged extremely well (except for the age of Marion during her romantic entanglement with the archaeologist). It’s action, violence, and smarts make for a B-movie with an A-movie cast and crew. This is excellent adventure boiled down to its core.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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.

[Harry Potter Day] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Today, to honor the 19th Anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts, we look back at the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that exists in the Wizarding World Cinematic Universe (yep, that happened) but takes place decades before Harry Potter was even born.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Jupiter Ascending) has arrived in 1926 New York with a mysterious case full of amazing and exotic creatures, but when a tiny mix-up with aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, TV’s Secrets and Lies, Kung Fu Panda) causes several of his fantastic beasts to be released upon the No-Maj (America’s term for Muggles) society. Now, it is up to Newt, Kowalski, and ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) to retrieve the missing creatures before they are discovered by the non-magical citizens of New York City.

There are many things to love about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I have to start with the performances. Eddie Redmayne absolutely disappears within his role as Newt and becomes the magi-zoologist with apparent ease, and his foil in Kowalski is expertly lovable and comedic due to Fogler’s performance. I was also blown away by Ezra Miller’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Suicide Squad) work as Credence Barebone, the adopted son of a religious zealot being manipulated by the sinister Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Solace). There’s also some nice supporting work from Samantha Morton (TV’s Harlots, John Carter), Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible), and Ron Perlman (TV’s Hand of God, Hellboy).

The collaboration between screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, The Girl in the Café), who has now directed five films in this franchise, is electric to say the least. Yates has an understanding of how to treat the fans, and Rowling’s decision to use creatures hinted at in the books and previous films to further enhance the experience is something to dazzle at. For me, getting to see an actual Bowtruckle and Nifler, two creatures mentioned in novels but never put to film, was very exciting.

I also would like to point out the excellent score in the film, courtesy of James Newton Howard. Howard is one of my favorite working film composers, and his work here is some of his best. When you compare the score of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to, say, something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it is clear to see where one score outdid the other. Howard’s music entices us with callbacks to the original music, and when it does, it’s pitch perfect, but at the same time, he creates a plethora of new music to further guide this franchise into the future.

As for issues, I felt like the New Salem Philanthropic Society felt a little rushed in their exposition. I would like to know more about them but they don’t get the full exposition needed to really consider them a threat. The same thing with Jon Voight’s character, Henry Shaw, and the secondary plot thread with him doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, as for the twist (if you can call it that), it’s a little easy to spot, and I feel like there was a better way to do what was done at the end of the film. Thankfully, these problems only affect secondary characters and our main characters are more or less unaffected by them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exquisite and sophisticated return to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thanks to some clever callbacks to creatures and major plot points of the franchise like the Deathly Hallows, the film feels new but also honors what came before. It’s a clever film that will have something for everyone, as long as they are a Harry Potter fan. I don’t think this new entry will win over any new fans, but anyone who has taken the ride this long shouldn’t have any trouble going around again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

[Extraterrestrial Abductions Day] Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg

137 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Melinda Dillon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

With today being Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, I wanted to look back at a Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) film that I didn’t have much exposure to: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I didn’t see the film until after college, and I didn’t recall liking it very much. So, today, I thought, let’s give it another try.

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, Madoff), an electrical lineman in Indiana, is forever changed after he experiences a close encounter with an unidentified flying object while investigating an outage. He develops a thirst to discover exactly what he witnessed that consumes him entirely, causing rifts in his marriage to wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie, Aloha, Scooby Doo!) and his children. Roy’s search for answers takes him across the country where he meets Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows, The Green Room), a French scientist also enamored with the possible discovery of alien life.

My frustrations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind do not lie on the technical side of things. I happen to find the visuals and sound design to be superb, some of the best put to film (coincidentally, the film was released the same as the original Star Wars, which nabbed a number of technical awards at the Oscars). I enjoyed the performances from Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story, Reign Over Me) as Jillian, a single mother who shares in Roy’s journey for answers.

My issues, though, come from Spielberg’s screenplay and how he chose to direct it. Roy does some pretty shitty things in the film, he isn’t a character I like or feel for, and yet Spielberg chooses to give the film such a light-hearted tone. It’s as if to say to his audience, “Look at this funny guy pushing his family away! My, isn’t he strange?” It just didn’t work for me. I want to feel for him and what this journey is doing to him, but I don’t.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful film, one that furthers the abilities of the artist with its progressive sound design and visual effects, but I just didn’t like the emotional arcs of the characters. An impressive technical marvel to this writer, but one without true substance.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Mahershala Ali, Duan Sanderson, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris

Screenplay: Barry Jenkins

111 mins. Rated R for sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Acheivement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievment in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

Don’t get upset. Moonlight won Best Picture and La La Land did not. Don’t be angry. I foresaw the win (but not the controversy) but needed to see the film before making my own judgment call. I needed to see for myself what the hubbub was all about. I’ve now seen Moonlight several times, and it’s one of the best and most important films you will ever see.

Moonlight’s storytelling technique is a little complex, so I’ll explain. Moonlight is in three pieces, each showcasing a different period in the life of Chiron. In each of the three key pieces, Chiron is played by a different actor of course. There is Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders, Straight Outta Compton, The Retrieval) and Black (Trevante Rhodes, The Night is Young, Open Windows). The narrative explores Chiron’s upbringing, his relationship with drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali, TV’s House of Cards, Free State of Jones) and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris, Skyfall, Collateral Beauty), and the themes of sexuality and identity that run through Chiron’s blood. It is an elegant and powerful tale.

The strength of Moonlight comes from the incredible ensemble both in front and behind the camera. The performances from Ali and Harris first spring to mind, but all three actors playing Chiron are just incredible.

Director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) put together a great team from a technical standpoint, bathing each stage of Chiron’s life in a different color tone. The film is gorgeously shot and expertly edited into a tight runtime that leaves little out of place. In fact, each piece of the story has its own musical cues and moments to play with. It almost feels like you could watch any one part of the story as a short film and be quite satisfied, but in the grander scheme, Chiron’s life comes into full view.

Moonlight is damn impressive, and very deserving of the Best Picture Oscar it took back from La La Land. I love both films, but I think Moonlight is exactly what it sets out to be and narrowly edges out La La Land. This is impressive filmmaking at its core, and I highly recommend you see it immediately.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 75th Birthday!] Citizen Kane (1941)

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Director: Orson Welles

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorhead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland

Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles

119 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Orson Welles]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound, Recording
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

IMDb Top 250: #67 (as of 5/1/2016)

 

Wow, 75 years. Hard to believe that Citizen Kane, named by many as the greatest film of all time, is 75 years old. A classic by many means, I took the opportunity today to re-experience this film again and showed it to a couple of first-timers in the hopes of teaching them something about the history of film, and I got to witness this film again as if for the first time. Here we go.

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Citizen Kane covers the death of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles, Touch of Evil, F for Fake), a now reclusive businessman and public figure, and a man trying to understand the mystery surrounding him. Jerry Thompson (William Alland, Revenge of the Creature, The Deadly Mantis) sets out to interview Kane’s family and estranged friends to unearth the meaning behind his last words. As Thompson uncovers more and more of Kane’s past in an effort to understand the man, he finds a shocking tapestry of sadness and a man who pined for power but found himself none the happier for it. From firsthand accounts by Kane’s second ex-wife Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore, Prison Train, The Big Night), his closest friend Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton, The Third Man, Shadow of a Doubt), and business partner Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane, The Lady from Shanghai, Someone Up There Likes Me), Thompson finds more questions than answers in his attempt to find the mysterious Rosebud.

Director, star, and screenwriter Orson Welles delivered his first feature film with Citizen Kane, a movie that slipped into obscurity after initial release only to late resurface due to praise from French critics. Though it was nominated for nine Academy Awards, it only won for its screenplay, a top notch work from Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

The idea of opening with a newsreel covering the finer points of Kane’s life really helps to contrast the public view of Kane with the truth Thompson discovers later on. The film becomes a mystery of its own, not just for Rosebud, but for the myth behind the man.

Welles’ first picture also holds the distinction of having mostly newcomers to the filmmaking process, or those without much background, and much like the more recent direction from filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Welles displays his cast for the screen, allowing them time to fully explore the character and give a nuanced performance. I’m speaking particularly about Welles himself, Cotton, Sloane, and Agnes Moorehead (TV’s Bewitched, The Magnificent Ambersons), who played Kane’s mother in an early flashback.

Some of the viewers I introduced to Citizen Kane kept asking the same questions. What makes this the greatest film of all time? I had to answer that much of what they were seeing had never been done before and pioneered the filmmaking process. The music, storytelling with framing device, and gorgeous cinematography tackled new frontiers, many of which are still used today, but we take them for granted now.

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Citizen Kane is an excellent example of how to tell a story in Hollywood. It remains one of the most intellectual and beautiful films of all time. Welles was given freedom to do whatever he wanted and have final cut, an ability few have ever been given. He chose to tell the story of a titan, a mogul, based in part on the life of William Randolph Hearst, but in many ways, the film transcends even that to present a stunning portrayal of regret, sadness, and guilt that carries through even now. I suggest this film to anyone looking for a step into the history of filmmaking.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 17 – Beetlejuice (1988)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder

Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren

92 mins. Rated PG for adult situations/language and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup

 

I remember really enjoying the animated Beetlejuice television series as a kid. When my mother finally introduced me to the idea that it was preceded by a live-action film, I just about went crazy. When she told me that it was going to be on television that night, I lost it. I saw it. I loved it. I still love it.

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Meet the Maitlands: Adam (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and Barbara (Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise, In a World…). They just died and now confined to an afterlife in their home. But when Charles (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow, 10.0 Earthquake) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) Deetz move in, accompanied by outcast daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, Black Swan, Homefront), they are forced to go to extreme situations to haunt the Deetzes into moving out. In steps Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Minions), a bioexorcist who specializes in getting people to move out of their dwellings, but the self-described “ghost with the most” has an agenda of his own, and the Maitlands have just gotten in too deep.

Beetlejuice came after director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) greated great success as director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and used his clout to reveal his true genius with the visual medium as a gothic director of merit. Beetlejuice is an excellent exercise in tone, cinematography, storytelling, and excitement.

It seems as though everyone knows their place in this film, from Baldwin and Davis playing the timless Maitlands to the big city quirky Deetzes, and especially an often overlooked performance from Glenn Shaddix, who plays the smug and cynical Otho (after Shaddix’s death in 2010, the famous Day-O from the film played at the end of the funeral). Otho’s role in driving the plot with his hubris-filled attempts at showing his wide array of skills gives the story so much flavor.

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From a storytelling perspective, Beetlejuice proves that you don’t have to explain away the mysteries of your film. The script from Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren was rewritten from being a straight horror film with several cliché plot points into the afterlife character study that it is today. It is arguably one of Tim Burton’s finest works, and is easily viewable to any audience in any time, even if some of the effects have not dated well.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 5 [Oscar Madness Monday] – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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Director: Jonathan Demme

Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine

Screenplay: Ted Tally

118 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Anthony Hopkins]
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Actress in a Leading Role [Jodie Foster]
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced

iMDB Top 250: #23 (as of 10/5/2015)

 

This year, I wanted to ensure that I presented you with top-tier fear and what better way to do that than merge Oscar Madness Monday with the 31 Days of Horror and present Jonathan Demme’s 1991 masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in the 1991 film “Silence of the Lambs.” Photo Courtesy: MGM Home Entertainment

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, Elysium, Carnage) has been tasked with completing a psychological profile on the infamous serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, Thor, Noah) and, without her knowledge, discover his possible connection to the new killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” in the process. Clarice is naïve and accepts the responsibility, unwittingly placing herself within a game of wits and murders with the two serial killers. Dr. Lecter develops a wanting to help Starling, and Clarice as well as Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn, The Bourne Ultimatum, Sucker Punch) take the opportunity to hunt the elusive Buffalo Bill before he claims his newest victim.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of three films in the history of the Oscars to win the Big Five, and deservedly so. This film is staggering and cold. When my girlfriend and I were revisiting it, we couldn’t stop developing shivers and chills before the most disturbed sequences occurred, as though we were prepping for them. It didn’t help, as large sections of the plot are unnerving and difficult to view. In that, however, we get some excellent performances from a seasoned and respectable cast including Jodie Foster, a cold and untrusting Clarice who wishes to further her career by proving her worth, and Anthony Hopkins owns the role originally performed by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Lastly, the work by Ted Levine (Shutter Island, Little Boy) as the unhinged killer is absolutely unsettling in all its madness.

The film is a slow burn, but at no point was I bored. The pacing set up by director Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Ricki and the Flash) and screenwriter Ted Tally (All the Pretty Horses, The Juror) slithers through this dark and sad landscape of disorder, landing on a finale that is pulse-pounding to the very core.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray Screenshot

The Silence of the Lambs is one of those films that lands on many lists of Best Films Ever Made, and it should be. Just about every aspect of the production was critiqued and perfected by the veteran cast and crew, resulting in one of the most unforgettable movie experiences you will ever have. See it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman (1989)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance

Screenplay: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

 

Happy Batman Day! I think, in honor of the legendary Caped Crusader’s special day, we should look back on the 1989 Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) film, Batman, featuring Michael Keaton (Birdman, Minions) as the tycoon-turned-hero.

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On the dark criminal-filled streets of Gotham, tough guy Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson, The Shining, How Do You Know) has been betrayed by his boss, villainous gangster Carl Grissom (Jack Palance, The Swan Princess, Tango & Cash) and now, disfigured by a vat of toxic chemicals, he has donned a new persona, the Joker. Commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle, The Land Before Time, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams, Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Fanboys) are powerless to stop him, but there is hope in the guise of the near-mythical masked vigilante Batman (Keaton) to stop the incoming crimewave.

Batman is a strange but not entirely out of line choice for director Tim Burton, who had previously worked on dark horror-comedies like Beetlejuice and the short film Frankenweenie. Burton had a very tall order to deliver on, having a pantheon of stories to honor is his depiction of Bruce Wayne and his story, and fans were not too thrilled with the decision to cast Keaton in the role.

I think I can say wholeheartedly that fans were proven wrong. Michael Keaton kills it in this role. His decision to play Bruce as an unhinged man, fully committed to his insane lifestyle is what drives his performance home. He fits perfectly in Burton’s over-the-top occasionally overtly-goofied version of Gotham.

Add to that an absolutely bonkers portrayal of The Joker given by a perfect casting choice in Jack Nicholson. Nicholson almost passed up the opportunity to play the villain, but thankfully, due to a considerable offer, he signed on. This is also the first time ever that viewers received a Joker origin story. Up until that point, and in many subsequent versions of the character’s tale, we do not get the answers to why he is the way he is. This origin is perhaps not as powerful as the mystery surrounding the character, though.

Now, from a technical perspective, Batman is hit-and-miss. The set decoration, for which the film won an Oscar, is incredible, but from a sound perspective, I believe the film mostly misses the mark. The sound mixing is a real loss, and the idea of jamming a great theme from Danny Elfman (I can’t believe I just said that) with original music from Prince was a huge mistake.

I should point out that I do love the opening titles. How about that fantastic theme? Am I right? Another interesting tidbit from this film is in the sequence where an underground doctor is fixing up Napier after the incident with the toxic chemicals. The tools used to operate actually came from the Little Shop of Horrors props, which was remade from a 1960 film featuring Jack Nicholson way before being famous. Movies are fun, eh?

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Batman wouldn’t have worked if it were made in a different time period. It is darker than the overtly campy 1960s iteration and yet still embraces the silliness more so than Christopher Nolan’s self-contained trilogy. I still find the film, despite its shortcomings (seriously, how do people not know who Bruce Wayne is), to be an interesting and enjoying piece of pop art, and it was a ton of fun to revisit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

  

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

[Oscar Madness Monday] Still Alice (2014)

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Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parish

Screenplay: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

101 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Julianne Moore]

 

Well, there simply aren’t enough days during Oscar season to talk about movies. There aren’t. So, on the occasion when I feel like it, I’ll be talking with you on some Mondays about films the Academy has deemed worthy of admiration. Today, an Oscar winner from this most recent awards ceremony: Still Alice. So let’s begin.

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Alice Howland (Julianne Moore, The Big Lebowski, Freeheld), a brilliant linguistics professor, lives for her mind. Her world is that much more shattered when she is diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Now Alice must learn to lean on her family, including caring husband John (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and strained daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart, Twilight, American Ultra) as she slowly loses the parts of her that make up who she is.

Still Alice isn’t a perfect film. It has faults, to be sure. I find that the runtime could be shortened. A few of the character arcs are believable. A few of the story points are cliché. But none of that really matters.

This is Julianne Moore’s film. She controls the screen in perhaps her most captivating roles. She takes viewers on a journey with her as we see Alice slowly deteriorate in front of her family’s eyes. Seeing her in her place of zen, a cabin by the beach with husband John, struggling to remember where the bathroom is. The scene is heartbreaking. There is a difficult and triumphant sequence in which Alice attempts to give a speech on her disease. Her character’s emotional and physical transformations are on full display, and Moore’s nuanced performance carries this film, so much so that the problems I encountered bothered me a lot less.

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Still Alice is one of those difficult movies. Like Precious or 12 Years a Slave, it isn’t a film I like to watch. That doesn’t stop it from being an important and challenging piece, moving in its own right. Julianne Moore owns the screen and her statue due to an unparalleled and unstoppable command of the craft.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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