[Happy 5th Birthday!] Your Highness (2011)

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Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel

Screenplay: Danny McBride, Ben Best

102 mins. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use.

 

Some movies are divisive, with praise and derision in equal measure. Your Highness isn’t even one of those. But I’m still going to watch it for you.

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Your Highness is the story of two brothers and a quest to end all others. One of them, Fabious (James Franco, TV’s 11.22.63, 127 Hours) is a rugged and valiant prince on his way to rescue his beloved Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, TV’s New Girl, Elf) from a frightening and perverse warlock. The other brother is Thadeous (Danny McBride, This is the End, Sausage Party), a fat loathsome slob of a prince only interested in getting laid, a task not so easy for the failure of a son. The two set out to complete Thadeous’ first quest and gain his father’s respect. Along the way, they meet Isabel (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Jane Got a Gun), who also has reasons to defeat the wicked warlock.

The premise is rather simple and rather stupid. According to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Our Brand is Crisis), the concept came from a game between him and McBride about coming up with hilarious titles and then making up a movie premise about them. Apparently, this was the best one. McBride then proceeded to write a draft, and then most of that was thrown out in favor of improv. How this movie even got made is a shock, and how it managed to bring on multiple Oscar nominees also confounds.

McBride cannot carry a movie, funny as he is. Franco (who did sword training and flew back and forth between set and his classes across the country) and Portman (who only signed on to get Black Swan financed) do capably enough to keep this flimsy story going.

All this is important as it creates a movie that doesn’t really want an audience. That being said…

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I laughed my ass off at a lot of this movie, and I have to applaud them for trying to craft a unique mixture of fantasy and raunchy comedy. Still not a great movie, but it isn’t the worst viewing experience I’ve ever had.

 

2.5/5

-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 2 – Insidious (2010)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language.

 

On this second day of our 31 Days of Horror, I want to talk about a modern classic from one of my favorite filmmakers currently working: James Wan (Saw, Furious 7). The film is Insidious.

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The Lambert family is almost finished unpacking after their big move. Josh (Patrick Wilson, TV’s Fargo, The Conjuring) is busy with his new teaching position. Renai (Rose Byrne, X-Men: First Class, Spy) is juggling packing boxes, her infant child, and her struggling passion for music. But when her son Dalton mysterious enters a comatose state and she begins hearing loud noises and seeing suspicious figures around her home, she learns that her son has become a conduit that insidious and nefarious spirits are using to enter our realm. Now, Josh and Renai have enlisted the help of paranormal investigators Elise, Specs, and Tucker to rescue Dalton from a place called The Further.

Insidious is one of my absolute favorite recent horror films. Director James Wan utilizes tone and style to create his scares, launching some very effective jump scares because of it.

First of all, if you want to build an effective horror film, there are a few great ways to do it. Having Grade-A quality performers helps a lot. I’m talking about Wilson, Byrne, Barbara Hershey (Black Swan, Riding the Bullet), who plays Josh’s mother Lorraine, and of course veteran character actress Lin Shaye, who knocks it out of the park as Elise, the lead paranormal investigator.

The second way to build fear is through creating an effective and powerful tone. Wan balances his tone with heavy use of sound and music and juxtaposing them with scenes of more lighthearted fare featuring Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).

Now, it’s true that the film forces fear through its sound work (often, the music cues the scare before the scare actually happens) and the final reveal of the beast vying for Dalton’s vessel (played by orchestrator Joseph Bishara) could’ve been better if not fully revealed, but these are minor flaws that lessen over multiple views.

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Insidious builds a mythology very solidly over the course of its runtime and inhabits its world with interesting characters and frightful apparitions. This is a great film for those filmgoers that can’t handle the gore of heavier films that we see in today’s horror films. Big buy.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth

Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity.

 

I have been a fan of The Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) since the original Matrix film (it took three viewings for me to properly enjoy it, but it matters not). I loved the entire Matrix trilogy, and I count Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas as two of my all-time favorite films (even if the rest of the population would rather the two films not exist), but when I saw the trailer for Jupiter Ascending, I was so excited to have the sibling directors release a new film that would draw the audience back in. For some reason, moviegoers just haven’t embraced these filmmakers since their breakthrough with The Matrix, and I was hoping for Jupiter Ascending to change that.

And then it was pushed back. Whether or not a film is good or bad, pushing it back, especially to the graveyard of the late winter months, is a death sentence. When it came out, fans gave it that death sentence. I was nervous to see the film as it has so much riding on it.

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Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, TV’s Family Guy, Black Swan) is an illegal alien working as a janitor with her widowed mother. She lives an unlikable life. That is, until she is swept off her feet by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street, The Book of Life), a hybrid humanoid creature made by splicing human DNA with wolf DNA. Caine informs Jupiter that she is the inheritor of the Earth which is currently being held by the Abrasax family who each want the Earth for themselves and want Jupiter out of the picture. They seek out help from Stinger Apini (Sean Bean, TV’s Legends, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), another hybrid, who recognizes Jupiter’s importance, and the three set out to lay claim to the young woman’s planet.

Channing Tatum has really grown as a performer in the years since bursting onto the scene, and his physicality and charismatic approach to Caine really give us a unique character to connect. His chemistry with Mila Kunis’ Jupiter is pretty strong as well. Kunis is a great everywoman, even if I wasn’t quite convinced that she was a janitor.

On the other side of those performances, I wasn’t all that content with Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Les Miserables) as the eldest Abrasax, Balem. His delivery came off in shouts and whispers but never in a cohesive way. I also absolutely hated Douglas Booth (Noah, Romeo & Juliet) phoning his performance in as the youngest Abrasax, Titus, a sensual and foolish child.

I felt the notion of water throughout this entire film. From the cinematography, where the shots all flow in such a cyclical way, like liquid through the inside of a pipe, to the action sequences, played out like the spinning of a top, everything was just gorgeously mapped out.

Michael Giacchino’s score is another win here, with elements from Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz (two major influences on the film) in his score.

Now, the pacing is a bit off, some sequences rocketing from beginning to end, while others hitting a wall and staying there, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

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The Wachowski siblings are known from creating worlds, especially worlds that cause the audience to think and interpret, and many don’t like that. Nowadays, we as an audience ask for original content and then choose not to embrace it. Audiences and critics complained about a lot of the things in this film that don’t work (the bee scene with Kunis was rather strange, I’ll admit) that they forget about all the things that work so well here. The film is not perfect, and it doesn’t stand as the toppest of tiers for these filmmakers, which is sad, because Jupiter Ascending may serve as a death knell for these original artists, especially if their upcoming Netflix series Sense8 doesn’t work as well. I hope you see this film, I hope you embrace it, and I hope you like as much as I did, or more.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Oscar Madness] Ted (2012)

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Director: Seth MacFarlane

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi

Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild

106 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” by Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane)

I never thought Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways to Die in the West) would host the Oscars. I also never thought he would nominated for his own film that very year, but he was. And he was.

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Ted is the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, The Gambler) and a wish he wished when he was but a child. After receiving a teddy bear for Christmas, John dreamed that Ted would come alive and be his friend forever. That wish came true, and now, years later, John has become an adult, has a girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis, TV’s Family Guy, Black Swan), and wants to shed all the piece of his childhood. But is he ready to lose Ted (voiced by Director MacFarlane)? Now, John has to decide what is truly important as a loser boss named Rex (Joel McHale, TV’s Community, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas) threatens to take Lori away and a psycho fanboy named Donny (Giovanni Ribisi, Avatar, Selma) threatens to steal Ted.

Seth MacFarlane is great at taking cutesy little stories with lessons about love and growth and punctures them with toilet humor and crude content. I thought the plot was nicely laid out while flipping situations like a best friend moving out and morphing it into the story of a teddy bear.

The performances are more a live-action version of a Family Guy episode than anything of actual merit, but that doesn’t take away from the film’s enjoyment.

Ted’s motion capture performance by Seth MacFarlane looks really good and blends into the film well.

I loved the send-ups to films like Airplane! and Flash Gordon. I loved the Cheers DVD segments, and the wonderful flash Family Guy way about this film. It harkens back to the more simplistic of the cartoon’s episodes back before the first cancellation.

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Ted is a lot of fun if you are willing to accept the extreme crudeness of the piece. It is a hilarious time at the movies, especially for those who can “get” some of the more selective jokes.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Zack Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Screenplay: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

119 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Director (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor (Michael Keaton) (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone) (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Editing (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Mixing (Awards Not Yet Announced)

Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Wow. Birdman, like Interstellar, is a movie you just kind of have to let it settle in to get something out. This movie actually kept me in silent thought for hours after leaving the theater, but what an incredible journey.

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Riggan (Michael Keaton, Batman, Need for Speed) is an aging former star, known for his Birdman franchise of superhero films from some time ago. Now, he wants to reignite the flame of his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” with the help of friend and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis, The Hangover, Muppets Most Wanted). He has just fixed a casting problem by hiring wild card performer Mike (Edward Norton, Fight Club, The Grand Budapest Hotel) who has complicated production right before preview nights start. Now, Riggan’s entire world is crumbling around him as his career rides the line, his complex relationship with daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone, The Help, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) melts away, and his cracked relationship with actress Laura (Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion, Welcome to the Punch) takes on startling new weight, all while being egged on by his ego in the latest film from visionary storyteller Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful).

This movie just melts the mind with its constant onslaught of problems for Riggan and his production. I love the cinematography here, playing out as if the entire film is one long sequential shot. It doesn’t let you pause for a moment, and that’s just the way I like it. As Riggan runs out of time to stop, so too do the audience as Inarritu throws issues at the screen. I loved being inside Riggan’s head and what Michael Keaton was able to do with this character who I’m sure he connected with in a big way as the fictional Birdman franchise becomes a critique of the entire superhero genre (of which Keaton should be very familiar with) as well as the entire canon of pop culture franchises that are spewing out of Hollywood right now.

The screenplay, a tongue-in-cheek masterpiece of its own, presents a warped view of fame and personal acceptance (or lack thereof) and sends up a lot of current filmmaking trends while skewering itself for the very same problems. This film has more levels than an onion and I loved the smell it reeked of as I peeled each layer away.

Michael Keaton’s work here is stunningly off-putting. He is a broken man who just wants the world to see him as he does. His interactions with fellow performers Lesley (Naomi Watts, King Kong, St. Vincent) and Laura present the feeling of walking on thousands of eggshells while his confrontations with the complexly inept Mike makes one shudder.

Even the visual effects, though few, add to its own narcissism. I love what this movie says about movies and the entire performing arts as a whole. This is the best parts of Cabin in the Woods and Black Swan rolled up.

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I can’t say enough about this movie but I can say that it sends out a rhythm of sadness and absurdity that I didn’t know Inarritu was capable of. See this movie, even if you don’t believe me. You will soon enough.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Noah (2014)

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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel

138 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggest content.

 

When I heard that Academy Award nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) would be taking on the biblical tale of Noah, I knew two things. One: this film was going to divide audiences and potentially upset a lot of people. Two: I knew I had to see it. I knew the director, who also directed such genre-busting films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, was going to have a specific view of the source material and he was going to create a unique vision that we hadn’t seen before. He did.

The film is the story of Noah (Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, Gladiator) and his family, including wife Naameh (Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind), adoptive daughter Ila (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, This is the End), and son Ham (Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters). Noah receives a message from The Creator and then further proof of his destined path from The Watchers, a group of rocklike creatures with unimaginable strength of body and mind. He begins work on an ark after receiving further guidance from his grandfather Methuselah (Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs). As the ark is constructed, it attracts some unwanted attention from Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone, The Departed, Snow White and the Huntsman) and his group, who want the ark for themselves.

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The special effects work from ILM is astounding here. They created slightly tweaked versions of animals along the evolutionary line. They also created The Watchers, a very interesting addition to this tale. They appear to be fallen Seraphim angels, who had six wings. That would explain why the creatures have six limbs.

I also happened to find the film’s ambiguous time period both confusing and interesting. It could be in the past, and it could be in the future. It turns the whole tale into a kind of cautionary tale about the direction mankind may be heading.

Russell Crowe gives one of the most powerful performances of his career as Noah, and he and Connelly’s chemistry is strong given this as the second film they have appeared in as romantically-linked characters.

I completely got why the film would be controversial. Any time you have an adaptation of a biblical tale, you have controversy. This film harkens back to the controversy behind Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, or even Ron Howard’s The DaVinci Code. So many parts of this film are so anti-biblical in their biblical portrayal. Crowe’s version of Noah as an angry, alcoholic, and unyielding servant to his creator is bound to spark arguments. Paramount Pictures had to actually create a disclaimer for the film stating that liberties were taken. Honestly, how could they not be? The entire story of Noah takes up all of two chapters of the bible. Not a lot of detail.

This is the point where I make a stand. People, it’s a movie. It isn’t some antichrist-made archaic devil-worshiping creation. It is a movie. So calm down. None of the stuff in this movie is all that far off. Yes, Aronofsky’s Noah suffers from survivor’s guilt. His Noah has evolution in it. His Noah had fallen angels and darkness and suffering. His Noah is some of the saddest and also inspiring work I’ve seen. It actually changed the way I see the story, and not in a bad way. It is an interpretation, and if you didn’t like it, I’m sorry, but Aronofsky wasn’t making a film to appease the masses. He was making a story the way he saw it. Everybody needs to take a chill pill.

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I’m a Christian and I liked Noah. That’s all I feel I need to say. I thought it was one of the best films I have ever seen. When I finished it the first, I felt like I needed to see it again immediately. The only flaw, if it is one, is that it is a much more simple story than Aronofsky’s other work with Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, and The Fountain. Go see this movie. I can’t say that you will love it like I did, but I feel like it needs to be seen, no matter if you have religious background or not.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? Did it sink or swim? Let me know!

 

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