The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

[#2015oscardeathrace] The Judge (2014)

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Director: David Dobkin

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton

Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque

141 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert Duvall) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

What happens when a judge becomes the suspect in a murder?

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In The Judge, Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr., The Avengers, Chef), a high-powered defense attorney, is going to home to bury his mother who has just passed. Being barely on speaking terms with his father Joseph (Robert Duvall, The Godfather: Part II, Hemingway & Gellhorn), a small-town judge, Hank wants to get in and out and on his way. But when Joseph Palmer is charged with vehicular manslaughter in the death of a man he let off easy years earlier, Hank stays on to help his father as the two rebuild their fractured relationship.

I would like to see Downey take on work that flexes his abilities better than the same character he has played in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and the recent Sherlock Holmes films. That being said, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall have tremendous chemistry, or anti-chemistry, in their portrayal of father and son on the brink of collapse here. These two save an otherwise faulty film with some major flaws.

First of all, Hank’s rekindling of a friendship with old flame Samantha (Vera Farmiga, TV’s Bates Motel, The Conjuring) comes off as boring, unneeded, and somewhat silly. It could’ve been sliced and brought this film down to a more accessible two hours. The courtroom scenes are far less engaging than they should be, wasting the talented Billy Bob Thornton (Armageddon, Entourage) on what almost seems like an extended cameo at most.

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The score here is great and the two leads have some truly tense and unforgettable scenes, but overall The Judge is too long and too little about actual courtrooms. The entirety of Joseph’s criminal trial is uninteresting and useless at building anything. The Judge could have been better under a more capable set of hands (director David Dobkin is known for his goofy comedies like Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up and less so for anything serious).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Hercules (2014)

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Director: Brett Ratner

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt

Screenplay: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos

98 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity.

 

Why does the world let two movies come out in the same year? It happens a lot more than you think? For every Armageddon, there is a Deep Impact. For every Expendables, there is a Losers. And for every The Legend of Hercules, there is a Hercules. This one is the Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, Movie 43) one.

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Hercules is the story of, well, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson, TV’s WWF Raw, Fast & Furious 6). After he completes the Twelve Labors, Hercules is approached by Ergenia, daughter of Lord Cotys (John Hurt, V for Vendetta, Snowpiercer), who asks him to help train warriors to defend from the warlord Rheseus. Stuff happens.

You want to know the most upsetting thing about this film is? I was bored two minutes in. It wasn’t so much as a terrible film as an uninspired one. Nothing happens in this film that can be remotely considered interesting.

And then there’s the incredibly disappointing set design. Some of the sets look gorgeous and others have completely noticeable fakeness to them. I saw a volcano less convincing than the one I made in the second grade for the science fair in one scene. I saw particle board columns. I saw Brett Ratner’s direction. Truly sad film in many ways. That’s what it comes down to here. Boredom. The end credits were the best part of the film and not just because I could leave then.

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Seriously, I haven’t even seen The Legend of Hercules, but I know this was is likely the lesser of two evils. Still pretty damn evil though. I have absolutely nothing great to say here.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ken Jeong, John Malkovitch, Frances McDormand

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

154 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

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

 

C’mon, people. Robots are fighting. Things are blowing up. Of course it is a Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain) movie!

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Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, Fury) is now finished with college and trying to make a life for himself. His only claim to fame is saving the world twice, which he isn’t allowed to mention (even though I’m pretty sure that he is called out in the previous film by name over the television airwaves, so I imagine he wouldn’t have to hide it). He has a new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Mad Max: Fury Road) and a new home, but no job until he meets Bruce Brazos (John Malkovitch, TV’s Crossbones, Dangerous Liaisons) who grants him one. Meanwhile, the Autobots and NEST are coming under heavy fire from Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand, Fargo, Promised Land) who believes that NEST should be restructured or disassembled. The Autobots have been busy trying to uncover the mystery of an Autobot ship that crashed on the moon and caused the space race.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Blood & Chocolate) seems to have learned from the mistakes made in the previous installment. The basic plot structure of this film has reeled it back to where it becomes very simplistic. In fact, the finale of the film is the entire last half. Now, I will admit that there are definite pacing issues. So much of the minutia of the first hour feels unimportant until the major event about halfway through, involving an invasion of Chicago. Once that happens, there are a lot of Chicago set pieces. A lot. I mean it. The film could’ve chopped a few scenes off. Two and a half hours long is reaching for a Transformers movie until they learn about how plot and character development  work.

The actors and actresses seem better in this film when compared to the previous installment. Patrick Dempsey (TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Valentine’s Day) is one notable exception as Dylan, Carly’s boss who helps Sam get his job but has some secrets of his own. He is absolutely awful, and I like him normally. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley actually succeeds at performing worse than Megan Fox did. I don’t know how, but she did.

We get a lot of awesome battles, specifically a few involving Shockwave, a massive beast of a Decepticon who can take down skyscrapers with ease. The visual effects continue to impress in this series.

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn’t get nearly as much right as the original film, but is more of an achievement than Revenge of the Fallen was. It gets a lot more on track, but it still comes down to likable trash. Worth a see, but still mostly for major fans.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Transformers (2007)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight

Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language.

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

 

I had a conversation once with a friend who told me something very profound and possibly the best description of director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pain & Gain). He said, “Michael Bay makes likable trash.” It’s true. None of his films are very well put together, so going into them with the thought process that you are reviewing a Best Picture nominee would be a mistake. You have to take it at face value.

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That being said, I think Transformers is one of his best works. It stars Shia LaBeouf (Lawless, Fury) as Sam Witwicky, a teenager who just wants a car. He wants something that is his, something that he thinks will make him unique. He quickly finds out how true that is when he comes across the realization that his newly acquired vehicle is actually a robot in disguise named Bumblebee. Bumblebee is an Autobot, a good guy, and he isn’t the only Transformer on Earth. In fact, Sam soon finds himself entangled in a battle between the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by an unknown force. Sam only has romantic interest Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, This is 40) to assist him as he is hunted by the mysterious government agency Sector 7 and its leader Agent Simmons (John Turturro, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Exodus: Gods and Kings). Meanwhile, a military base in Qatar is attacked by Decepticon forces, leading Captain William Lennox (Josh Duhamel, TV’s Las Vegas, Scenic Route) and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Black Nativity) across the desert in search of rescue and answers.

I walked into Transformers expecting crap, but what I got was a fun romp that didn’t take itself very seriously and worked for that very reason. It had a lighthearted screenplay from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and strong actors in the roles, with the exception of Megan Fox who essentially fills the role of Boobs and Ass very nicely, but is little more than a thing to look at when the robots aren’t fighting. Bay doesn’t take his source material very seriously either, and I think that is why it works so well. He was reported as almost turning down the film based on the fact that he didn’t know or like the Transformers line. The same can be said of J.J. Abrams when he took the role of director on the Star Trek films. He wasn’t a fan of them and therefore came at the material from an unclaimed perspective.

I think that is one of the reasons that the sequels to Transformers suffer from so many more flaws, but the original film is a good time. Most of the production’s technical aspects are nothing too exciting, but the post-production work with the visual effects is astounding and if you asked me, and of course you are, I think that it got robbed the Oscar in visual effects that year.

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Have fun with this movie. I did. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how much fun I had. It had some pretty likable trash indeed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Puss in Boots (2011)

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Director: Chris Miller

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris

Screenplay: Tom Wheeler

90 mins.  Rated PG for some adventure action and mild rude humor.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Not too long after the completion (for now) of the Shrek franchise, Dreamworks got the bright idea to expand the slightly off-kilter world of fairy tales by telling an origin story of one of the favorite side characters, Puss in Boots.

In 2011’s Puss in Boots, we meet Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas, Desperado, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out of Water) during his dark days of hunting for bounty, when he is enlisted by old thief and ex-confidante Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover, Birdman) to steal a golden goose. He is aided in this effort by Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek, Frida, Grown Ups 2), a silent but deadly assassin and thief. Matters are further complicated by the bandits Jack (Billy Bob Thornton, Armageddon, The Judge) and Jill (Amy Sedaris, TV’s Bojack Horseman, Strangers with Candy), who want the goose eggs all for themselves.

This movie plays out its one trick, and its one trick is played out pretty well. The one trick referenced here is the “he’s a cat” joke. We have seen the cutesy work before with the dough eyes to escape torture or the way he drinks his milk. It is funny, but by the time the film comes to an end, we as viewers understand why Puss in Boots has always been a side character.

The references to the fairy tales upon which these characters are based work pretty well, too, but not for children. This is the candy for the adults, and in that way, I feel like Puss in Boots was merely stuck in its place by not knowing its audience. It spends equal parts trying to please everyone with cheap jokes. Now, I liked the movie, but it didn’t stand up with the first two Shrek films.

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See Puss in Boots, it has the ability to make you love it, but it also has the ability to annoy you away. Take the chance but not a guarantee.

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson’s Shrek, click here.

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