[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,

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

[#2017oscardeathrace] La La Land (2016)

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Ryan Gosling) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “City of Stars” [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

IMDb Top 250: #41 (as of 2/5/2017)

 

Now we get to the biggie. La La Land matched the record at this year’s Oscar nomination celebration with 14 nominations. Now, it technically could only win 13 because of its double nomination for Original Song, but all the same, it looks to be a possible sweep of many awards on the upcoming awards night.

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Nice Guys) is a jazz musician looking to start his own club when he meets Mia (Emma Stone, The Help, Aloha), an aspiring actress currently shuffling coffee on a set while searching out her big break. The two are initially at odds, but their friendship soon blooms into romance as they discover a passion for the art within each other, but they soon find that the path of the artist is a narrow one and there isn’t always space for two to walk it together in the newest film from writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench).

La La Land is a film that takes everything learned from Whiplash and uses it to push the boundaries of filmmaking, and Chazelle is an amazing artist who has crafted a modern musical masterpiece. The film also displays a common theme in Chazelle’s work, a dour but realistic representation of the costs to being an artist. It is a prevalent theme in Whiplash and only further pushes in La La Land.

Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry, having worked previously together in Crazy Stupid Love and Gangster Squad. These two are destined to be one of the great romantic duos of our age. Their performances together are brilliant. Gosling also gives great work with John Legend (Soul Men, Loverboy) who appears in the film as colleague Keith. Gosling learned piano for the film while Legend learned guitar.

The difference here from, let’s say, Fences, is that La La Land is focused on the relationship but has the style to elevate the film to another level, whereas Fences only focuses on the relationship. Chazelle’s direction is almost another character, aided by top-notch cinematography, set design, and film editing.

Chazelle also takes the risky route with his finale, presenting a unique and interesting twist on this love story that may not win everyone over, but I love how it presents an ending that felt authentic but also hit on everything my inner romantic wanted from this film. The ending has its roots in the musical community and is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it just works so damn well here.

Lastly, I need to touch on the music, particularly “Audition (The Fools Who Dream” and “City of Stars,” both songs very worthy of their nominations. While I loved the opening number, it doesn’t have the emotional hit that these two songs have. I personally have my vote down for “Audition” but I wouldn’t mind a win for either.

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La La Land is going to take the awards this year, but I’m not certain about Best Picture just yet. Even so, it is a powerhouse film destined to be a classic for years to come. Even if you don’t love musicals, give it a try.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen La La Land? What did you think? What was your favorite number? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, click here.

[#2017oscardeathrace] Arrival (2016)

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

IMDb Top 250: #143 (as of 1/24/2017)

 

Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) is essentially on one hell of a streak as a director. He has, time and time again, come to the table with an excellent film, the latest being last year’s Arrival.

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Louise Banks (Amy Adams, Man of Steel, Nocturnal Animals) remembers exactly where she was when they arrived. Large ships at several strategic points around the globe have come to a stop, floating a few stories off the ground. Louise is asked by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker, Platoon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) to come aboard a team tasked with establishing first contact with the extraterrestrials. She is brought to Montana and meets Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War), a theoretical physicist. As tensions arise from other groups stationed around the world, Louise and Ian must work quickly to ascertain why the beings have come to Earth while also avoiding putting the planet’s safety in further jeopardy.

It’s hard to talk too much about Arrival without coming across spoilers, but I’ll try my best. Simply put, Arrival is the best science fiction film of the year and one of the best of all time, but it’s also much more than that. Arrival is the story a mother. It’s the story of a relationship between a mother and her daughter. Yes, there are aliens, and yes, there’s a lot to breathe in, but thanks to Villeneuve’s masterful work behind the camera and Adams’ affecting and powerful work in front of it, Arrival stands as one of the more captivating experiences you are likely to see.

The visuals of the film are incredible, due in no small part to Director of Photography Bradford Young, a name many in the film community have come to love after this and other previous work. His upcoming work on the Han Solo Star Wars film have put many a fanboy at ease on the shaky project. Coupled with the excellent sound design for the film, Arrival’s merits come to much more than just acting but rather a true cinematic experience.

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I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Arrival is absolutely incredible from start to finish. If you missed this film in theaters, it is coming out on home video soon so do not hesitate this time. Arrival stands as a simple tale of love and family while also being a complex and weaving story that doesn’t dumb itself down for its audiences, trusting them to come to the incredible revelations it offers. The one flaw I had was that I came to the conclusion perhaps before I was supposed to, but it didn’t hamper my experience too much to come out breathless. See this film before it is ruined for you.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Hateful Eight (2015)

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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

167 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Jennifer Jason Leigh) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [Pending]

 

What happens when eight morally ambiguous humans find themselves snowed in for the weekend? You get The Hateful Eight, the newest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained). We are first introduced to Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chi-Raq), a famed bounty hunter known for his past transgressions in the civil war. He is out amongst the snow when he is met by John Ruth (Kurt Russell, The Thing, Bone Tomahawk), a fellow bounty hunter known as “The Hangman” who is delivering the notorious Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Machinist, Anomalisa) to the proper authorities in Red Rock. Along the way, the three come across the new sheriff of Red Rock, or so he says, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, TV’s The Shield, American Ultra), and the group make their way toward Red Rock before being stranded at Minnie’s Haberdashery in the blizzard. Now, John Ruth is under the impression that one amongst the group snowed in is out to free Daisy and kill anyone in her way in this thrilling whodunit.

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There’s no way to get this film confused with the work of any other filmmaker. This is pure-laced Tarantino from its deepest core. There are all the stylings of this one-of-a-kind director like the gripping dialogue, the extreme violence and Samuel L. Jackson, who eats up the screen. He is matched in prowess with Kurt Russell, who proves to be perfectly matched for our director in style and wit. Jennifer Jason Leigh also steals her scenes as the morbidly chilling Daisy, but to be fair, everyone is playing their A-game here, from regular performers Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Selma) and Michael Madsen (Kill Bill vol. 1, Hell Ride) to Demian Bichir (TV’s The Bridge, The Heat) as the hilarious Bob and the Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Twixt) as the racist General Sandy Smithers.

Then there’s the cinematography, expertly handled by DP Robert Richardson. The film, if you hadn’t heard, was shot using an Ultra Panavision 70 and projected in a 70mm cut, which is absolutely excellent. The frames are stark and beautiful and rich and actually help to drive the story even if a large amount of it takes place in a single shack. If you didn’t get the chance to see it in 70mm, let me assure you that both cuts of the film are terrific, so don’t feel too bad.

I also fell in love with Ennio Morricone’s original score, the first original score from the famed composer in decades. He is almost ensured to win the Oscar for it.

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The Hateful Eight could have been shorter, but I really loved the feel and grandeur of such a simple and intense whodunit like this. After two viewings, the film has continued to grow on me, and while it isn’t top-tier Tarantino, it certainly is still one of the best films of 2015.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

Unbroken (2014)

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Director: Angelina Jolie

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

In Unbroken, based on the true story, Olympic athlete and World War II airman Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire) is captured behind enemy lines after his plane is shot down. The film, from director Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey), chronicles Zamperini’s time after the crash leading up to and including his time at a POW camp and his altercations with the Japanese soldier Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).

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I found myself checking the time several times throughout Unbroken. It seemed to meander far too long on events that should have been more exciting and climactic than they ended up feeling. It also looks too glossy, and it doesn’t end up feeling real, but more like a Lifetime presentation of the Zamperini story.

Now, I won’t bash the entire film. I liked Jack O’Connell’s performance, as well as supporting work from newcomer method Ishihara. Even the smaller roles played by Domnhall Gleeson (About Time, Ex Machina), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis) and Finn Wittrock (TV’s American Horror Story, Noah) were all spot-on.

So what makes the film so underwhelming? Is it the screenplay from the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson? No, not at all. Then what? I think Angelina Jolie had a lot of great elements to use, but they just weren’t put together the right way. As I said before, the cinematography was great, but the sets and costumes captured felt fake. They just didn’t have the look they needed. The pacing is off as well. It’s disappointing from my initial hopes of the film.

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Unbroken is broken in several ways. Like a puzzle with too few edge pieces, it just has a lot of trouble fitting together. Angelina Jolie has proven before she can handle the directorial duties, but this film isn’t a great representation of that handle. For my money, there are better war films…American Sniper, anyone?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[#2015oscardeathrace] Ida (2013)

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Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

Screenplay: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz

82 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and smoking.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Awards Not Yet Announced)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

The foreign language Academy Awards will very likely soon be relegated to an unseen technical award given out before the ceremony. People just don’t care about foreign language films. I happen to find a couple gems each year, but our breed is dying. Maybe the style is unusual to them, or perhaps they are too lazy to read subtitles (this makes me sad), but for whatever reasons, these films are looked over. I was able to get my hands on Ida on Netflix, and it is a different film than I am used to, but that’s why I needed to see it.

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Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is about to take her vows and become a nun, but beforehand, she is sent to meet her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza, Suicide Room, The Mighty Angel) and learn about her parents. What she learns about them opens up her view of life and causes her and her aunt to learn about their vastly different lifestyles.

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Ida has a beautiful cinematography to it, colorful in its black-and-white grandeur. The performances of the two Agatas work well together for characters who take on a bit of role reversal in understanding each other. Anna’s journey of discovery is an interesting one, one that I enjoyed taking part in, and her aunt Wanda’s dual-emotional tragedy of a woman who equally embraces her lifestyle and loathes it works well. The film isn’t perfect, but has a tightness to it that flows nicely. Ida may just take away the award this year (the foreign language one, not the cinematography one). So yeah.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Gravity (2013)

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Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Screenplay: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron

91 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Sandra Bullock)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Gravity’s trailer won me over because it did something that too many trailers to wrong. It teased plot, but didn’t give it all away. There has been a recent trend in trailers which have been very good at not spoilering the whole freaking movie. Frozen and Monster University have actually been like short films teasing the tone of the movie while not ruining the experience, while Star Wars-Episode VII: The Force Awakens gives us just moments to titillate us, and it worked. Gravity’s trailer just touches on the first ten minutes. That’s it. A tease.

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Proposal, The Heat) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven, The Monuments Men) are astronauts on a mission to fix and update some parts on the Hubble Telescope. While on a spacewalk, their shuttle is hit by debris from a chain reaction satellite explosion, causing them to be stranded out in space. Now, they must find a way to get back to Earth with no shuttle in the new film from Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).

GRAVITY

I may not like Sandra Bullock, but this is easily her best performance in years. She just knocks in out of the park.

George Clooney provides some terrific work in a supporting role as Matt. He has the confidence of a man on his last mission.

Cuaron had to develop new filmmaking techniques to handle the cinematography of weightless space and increase the capabilities of an all-CGI film. It took at least four years to get there, but it was worth it, and we all knew it was taking those technical awards at the Oscars. Here’s a tip: if your film has to invent new processes and equipment, you will win Oscars. It just happens.

The film is edited to together to keep movie and it features some really long sequences to keep the audience involved in the movie. It certainly works, because it literally left me shaking. I wish I could’ve paused it so I could leave for a few minutes to calm back down.

Innovative lighting techniques also create an involved experience.

The sound, or lack thereof, and the minimal use of music really assist in making the film real, and few space films utilize the silence of space so well.

Awesome CG! Just sayin’!

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Gravity is everything I wanted it to be. This uplifting space adventure kept me on the edge of my seat that I was fearful I would fall out of it. If this film doesn’t leave you breathless, you don’t have lungs.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Avatar (2009)

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Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver

Screenplay: James Cameron

162 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and smoking.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

Titanic was a powerhouse at the box office during its release back in 1997. I don’t think anyone could have guessed that director James Cameron (Aliens, Aliens of the Deep) would be the one to dethrone his own film as highest grossing film of all time, but as it turns out, he did in 2009 when he released Avatar, a masterpiece of science fiction and general filmmaking.

Avatar is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator: Salvation, Cake), a paraplegic grunt who takes on his dead twin’s job as explorer on the planet Pandora. Jake’s job is simple, explore and make contact with the Na’vi, a species of humanoid blue aliens living on the planet, through the use of neural link with something called an avatar. When he gets lost on the planet by himself, he is saved by Ney’tiri (Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Book of Life), a Na’vi princess who is tasked with showing Jake the ways of their community. While the science lead Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Cabin in the Woods) wants to pursue peace talks with the indigenous Na’vi, the military Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, Conan the Barbarian, A Good Marriage) is only interested in moving them elsewhere in order to mine the precious element Unobtanium which lies beneath their home.

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James Cameron should be awarded for the directing skills he has. I love the work he puts into his films. His screenplays, however, often fail to truly inspire. That’s where the controversy surrounding Avatar lies. Cameron’s screenplay was very criticized for being essentially the same movie as Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Fern Gully, and The Last Samurai. Now, I don’t see that as being a problem, because there are only essentially two stories. The first is the story of a man who leaves home and finds a mysterious place, and the second is the story of a mysterious man who comes to town. Yeah, these films are similar, but so many stories are the same. It’s how you tell them that matters, and James Cameron tells his story well.

Avatar’s cinematography deserves to be experienced, not merely seen. The environments on Pandora are so beautifully envisioned and so deeply realized. The film is edited together very tightly, though the story does run on a little longer than it needed to be. The special effects are so vivid and so well-crafted that they are the most-deserving of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year.

Let’s take a look at the performances here. Sam Worthington definitely has the look of a superstar and there was even a time when I thought he was capable of acting, but since that time has passed and I have realized that isn’t true. His work in Avatar isn’t the worst in cinema, but he is easily trounced by his fellow actors. Stephen Lang’s over-the-top performance works quite well given the out-of-this-world story here.

Can I just have a moment to proclaim Zoe Saldana as the hottest alien working in films today? She is mostly known for the incredible work in three science fiction masterpieces like Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and here as well.

I give enough props to Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious, Machete Kills) for portraying the same character she plays in every movie, and she does it well enough.

Sigourney Weaver adds that extra layer of professionalism to the film that raises the level nicely.

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Avatar isn’t a perfect film, but it comes pretty damn close for all the hype it had. I still find it quite enjoyable, even for a film with a less than stellar screenplay and a runtime a little longer than needed. Still worth it. Still a phenomenon.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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