[#2018oscardeathrace] Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Edgar Wright

112 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

 

I missed out on Baby Driver last year. I made the attempt several times to get to the theater to catch it, but each time, I ended up missing out on it. It hit home video and I picked it up, and for months, it sat on my watch pile. Thankfully, I needed to check it off my Oscar Death Race. So here we are.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant) is a getaway driver who works somewhat freelance for Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, TV’s House of Cards). He suffers from tinnitus, and he plays music to drown it out. He is working his way toward paying off a debt to Doc and finally being free when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella, Darkest Hour), an attractive diner waitress he falls head over heels for. Baby sees a future for him and Debora that is without crime, but when Doc pulls him back in, Baby finds himself in a situation where he is forced to betray everything he knows to escape.

This is the first film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) since completing his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and it’s a hell of a way to break out of the wheelhouse. Wright’s direction is strongly tuned to the music (he reportedly wrote each scene with a specific song in mind and sent an iPod with a playlist out with each copy of the screenplay) so that the film feels like a big concert action film. His writing gives the feeling of larger-than-life characters existing within a realistic landscape.

Ansel Elgort shines as Baby with a performance mostly physical. Elgort uses his body language as dialogue here to react to the building tension, especially in the final act of the film, but everyone in this film feels so strongly placed, from Lily James’s Debora to Jon Hamm (Marjorie Prime, TV’s Mad Men) as Buddy (Buddy was written with Hamm in mind, and rightfully so). I also really liked Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Pilgrimage) as Griff, though I would have liked to see more of him. To be fair, though, Jon Bernthal should be in every film.

I wasn’t all that taken with Jamie Foxx (Ray, Sleepless) as Bats, though. It just felt like he took his character from Horrible Bosses and reused him here. He isn’t terribly interesting and I would have liked to see someone else embody that psychotic thief.

But the real star of the movie here is the soundtrack and Wright’s expert handling of the action set pieces. This movie got my toes tapping more than once throughout the runtime. Wright’s focus on practical driving over CGI as much as possible helps to maintain a good pace for the film, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Baby Driver is one of the best action films of the last decade. It’s an enjoyable romp with terrific performances and a lot of heart both in front of and behind the camera. A passion project from Wright, the movie is similar to the director’s previous work in that it’s wholly rewatchable and endlessly fun. This is one to seek out if you missed it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2018oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]

 

I guess it’s true. No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. This movie was divided as hell, but does The Last Jedi deserve the hate or is it missing the praise?

Picking up moments after the events of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Only Yesterday) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Brigsby Bear, Bunyan and Babe) on Ahch-To to discover that he has abandoned the Jedi code to live out his days in quiet solitude. Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy) leads the resistance forces away from D’Qar as a First Order fleet arrives to take them. Now, they are on the run from First Order forces. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Suburbicon) makes a costly mistake in the defense of the convoy and falls into a path of mistrust when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, Wild, TV’s Big Little Lies) assumes command of the Resistance forces. Now, as the First Order closes in, Finn and Poe attempt to save the convoy, Rey finds herself drawn ever closer to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, TV’s Girls) and the truth about her past.

Okay, so I’m not a Star Wars apologist. I find the prequels to be extremely middling in quality, and even though I love all the Star Wars films, I’m not above finding glaring issues that stick out. That being said…

I loved The Last Jedi. It completely changed the game and added so much to the mythology by driving the film forward rather than looking to the past. This is an incredible addition to the Star Wars Saga. Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) came to the table and took what J.J. Abrams created with The Force Awakens and pushed it further. It’s definitely not like its predecessor in that it isn’t how I expected it. In fact, that’s what I love most about the film. I walked into it with all these preconceived ideas about how the movie has to go, and I would say just about all of them were wrong. I love The Last Jedi because I was shocked and surprised when I watched it, and that hasn’t happened since The Empire Strikes Back.

The film’s performances and cast are top-notch yet again, particularly leads Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, this being her final Star Wars outing. Hamill could easily have been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars with his most subtle and tortured performance in his entire career. Skywalker is broken by his failure to save Ben Solo.

There’s also some really great work from Ridley and Driver, especially in their shared scenes. We see some darkness in Rey and some potential good in Kylo. It’s clear that these two have not fallen into their roles as enemies yet. There are some nice flaws showcased on both sides here.

I also have to say some about Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Supreme Leader Snoke. He doesn’t get as much to do in this new installment, much like The Force Awakens, but the way he is utilized in this film is far superior to Episode VII. Unfortunately, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe) and Gwendoline Christie (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, TV’s Game of Thrones) feel shoehorned in as Maz Kanata and Captain Phasma, respectively.

But the film was always going to be divisive. I just wasn’t prepared for how divisive it would be. Even Mark Hamill expressed concerns to Johnson about the direction of the film, but after seeing the finished product, it sounds like he has since been won over.

And there are things I take issue with in the film, but they are merely nitpicky things like a particular Leia scene that comes across a little silly. There’s a moment early on with Luke that could have emotional impact but instead falls to cheap comedy. These are mere nitpicks and, in the scope of the film, this being the darkest film in the saga, I can understand the reliance on some levity.

The Last Jedi honors what has come before while also paving the way to what’s yet to come. It’s a unique Star Wars film, and it’s the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson’s attention to detail and the film’s connective tissue with the rest of the sage, including Rogue One, is just another reason that this film works as well as it does. With this film, Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) becomes the only actor to appear in all the Star Wars live-action releases. I unabashedly loved the theater experience of seeing The Last Jedi, so much so that I saw it an additional two times. See this movie. Three Times.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2017oscardeathrace] La La Land (2016)

lalaland2016b

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.

lalaland2016c

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)

arrival2016a

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.

arrival2016c

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.

arrival2016b

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 Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

 starwarsepisodeVIItheforceawakens2015e

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Editing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #74 (as of 1/24/2016)

 

I’m still a little shocked that I’m sitting in my chair writing a review for a NEW Star Wars film, here in 2015. It’s a strange feeling knowing that the stories that inspired me to tell stories are back and big and (hopefully) glorious. Well, I won’t waste time covering all that I love about this franchise, and I’ll leave that to the previous reviews that you can check out below. Instead, let’s just focus on the elephant in the room: Is The Force Awakens any good?

Happily, yes.

It’s been thirty years since the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of the villainous Emperor and his disciple Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness, Kingsman: The Secret Service), the face of the rebellion, is missing. In his absence, the Empire has reformed into the First Order, and new evils Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Age of Ultron), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time, The Revenant), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) have brought their special form of tyranny to the galaxy. Leia (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, Sorority Row) has dispatched rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina) to find her missing brother. As Poe finds new allies in ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block) and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), they begin to uncover the mystery of Luke Skywalker’s location.

starwarsepisodeVIItheforceawakens2015c

I’m going to leave the plot details to this, which is probably too much already, but you probably should’ve seen the film by now. Where have you been?

So let’s look to our director, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness). While the film has been criticized as being too similar to parts of the Original Trilogy, I found it to be more of an homage of where we’ve come in this franchise and where we are going. The Force Awakens is a transitionary film, and a lot of that can be credited to Abrams, plus most people forget about all the new elements to this film.

The film relies a lot less on the seasoned performers than I’d thought. Instead, we meet so many colorful characters to liven up the franchise and move it forward. Daisy Ridley is the most impressive to me as Jakku scavenger Rey, who finds herself in a much lonelier place that Luke Skywalker did at the beginning of A New Hope. She lives a solitary life on the planet of Jakku, where she steals from the relics of the previous Empire and uses it to survive on the desolate desert planet. Her emotional resonance as a forced heroine is astounding and impactful and her character is the strongest female we’ve seen in this franchise so far.

Also throw in John Boyega, who provides a nice amount of true terror and comic relief without becoming a stock character. Finn has to deal with a life he learns he doesn’t want, and while I feel like the start of the film doesn’t do him justice, he grows to be lovable by the film’s climax.

Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver aren’t novice performers even if they aren’t exactly household names, and both turn out incredible performances as Poe and Kylo, two opposite ends of a spectrum. Poe could be a repeat of Luke but becomes something entirely different. Kylo Ren could just be Darth Vader 2.0, but the film is as much his origin story as it is Rey’s, and Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He is angry, spiteful, emotionally unstable, and mentally broken, which makes his character’s evolution something very interesting to see in the film.

Now, our returning actors are top notch as well, and of them, this is Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) film. It’s nice to see Ford really giving it all to this franchise again, and even his relationship with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, Killer Ink, Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Journey) has grown and changed in the past three decades. On that note, Chewie gets a lot more development in this film than I expected.

Abrams isn’t afraid to bring something new to this franchise (and I don’t mean lens flares, though there are a few), and that can be seen from his choice in cinematography and editing. Though this feels like a Star Wars movie, it has a lot of updated choices to its camera movement and pacing that add to the excitement.

John Williams returns to the franchise, too, and his score, which has been nominated for an Oscar, is astounding. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of new music Williams created for the film, which has its cues in the themes we’ve had before, but so much more, and it makes him deserving of the gold statue.

From a production standpoint, it’s easy to see the attention and care given here by the use of practical effects, which also elevate the visual effects and style of the movie throughout.

starwarsepisodeVIItheforceawakens2015d

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an awakening to the entire franchise, bringing us back to that childhood wonder of the original film while scoring a path to future adventures. It angers me that I find myself more excited for the next installment because of how much I enjoyed this one. Now, the film is imperfect in a few ways. I didn’t feel like every new character landed the way they were intended to, and some of the film’s most climactic moments (in the spoilery territory) faltered and their impact lessened. That being said, I found myself nitpicking Episode VII because of how much fun the movie was. Why haven’t you seen it yet? If you have, why haven’t you seen it again? Go. Go now!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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

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

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

[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.

waroftheworlds2005c

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.

waroftheworlds2005b

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.

 

Unbroken (2014)

unbroken2014a 

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).

unbroken2014c

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.

unbroken2014b

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

 

American Sniper (2014)

americansniper2014a

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Screenplay: Jason Hall

132 mins. Rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

 

American Sniper is the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, Serena), the most lethal sniper in US military history and the effect his fame, and sometimes infamy, has on his life in the states with the woman he loves, Taya (Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher, Unfinished Business).

americansniper2014b

I enjoyed the film immensely, although I did have one major fault. I believe that this film spends too much time out of the country when the real heart of the film lies in the problematic yet loving relationship he has with Taya. I enjoyed Cooper’s character arc in the film, but there were sequences that could’ve been trimmed down to streamline Kyle’s story to something slightly more engaging, especially under the powerful work, both physically and emotionally, given by Bradley Cooper.

The chemistry between the two leads is fantastic, and director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Jersey Boys) presents his audience with a completely engrossing near-masterpiece on the effects of PTSD on the armed forces. His cinematography is exquisite, the score is engaging and simple, and the sets are so real that I got lost in them. This film is an expertly crafted piece of moviemaking.

Now, many have described American Sniper as a pandering film, but I feel it provides an unbiased look at a man’s life. This was a man who was serving his country. This was a man with morals who gave his all to protect the people he loved. I personally didn’t agree with the decision to go to war with the amount of intelligence we had, but that doesn’t mean that I have a problem with the decisions that Chris Kyle made in defense of his country. No matter how you feel about the subject matter presented, this is an epic tale of what we pay to keep others safe.

americansniper2014c

Bradley Cooper definitely does justice to the late Kyle, and he gives perhaps the most engaging performance of his career, proving yet again that the funny man can continue to surprise. Under the expert eye of seasoned director Eastwood, American Sniper is a slightly flawed but certainly engaging film. Definitely worth the time, no matter your thoughts on the man.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑