Zootopia (2016)

zootopia2016a

Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrance, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira

Screenplay: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston

108 mins. Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature of the Year [Pending]

IMDb Top 250: #183 (as of 8/6/2016)

 

You want proof that miracles can happen? Look no further than this year’s Zootopia.

zootopia2016b

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin, TV’s Big Love, Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast) grew up being told by just about everyone that she wasn’t fit to be who she wanted to be: a police officer in the big city of Zootopia. But she proves them all wrong. When she gets to Zootopia, however, she discovers that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to prove herself. Then, she comes across a dangerous mystery involving animal members of the society going stark-raving mad, so Judy enlists the help of con-fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, Horrible Bosses, Central Intelligence) to help her discover who or what is responsible.

Let’s just discuss the problems that Zootopia faced. After Disney/Pixar faced issues with both Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur as far as production went, they immediately went into a film like Zootopia that faced major backlash after the initial test screenings. The original version focused almost entirely on Nick Wilde, who became downright unlikable. The entire film was overhauled in favor of Judy Hopps. Then, the decision to bring in so many heavy issues like Race and Class discrimination. Zootopia should’ve failed.

But it didn’t. Zootopia is a rare animated film that has major appeal for both children and parents (and no, I’m not just referring to the strange Breaking Bad reference). It puts together an interesting case for the heroes to solve, but Zootopia also faces issues like racial discrimination and class treatment head-on, as well as issues of assumed gender roles. In the film, Judy experiences discrimination from Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, Pacific Rim, Star Trek Beyond) over her appearance. The world treats Judy that she was born a bunny, so her place is on the farm. The major themes of Zootopia may be simple (Don’t judge a book by its cover), but its underlying subtext is real heavy.

And that’s fine. The adult material is easily related to viewers of all ages. And the kids get something out of all this too. They see a funny little scene involving sloths. We as adults see a hilarious satire of the DMV (you know the scene). It works so well on multiple levels.

Now, Zootopia isn’t perfect. It runs on a little too long and doesn’t have all that rewatchability that most Disney films have, but these are minor issues overall.

zootopia2016c

The fact of the matter is that Zootopia is a gorgeously animated film that surpassed all of my expectations. It will easily be on the roster of best animated films for this year. If you haven’t seen it yet, this film comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

All the Way (2016)

alltheway2016c

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Stephen Root

Screenplay: Robert Schenkkan

132 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

In the newest film from HBO, Bryan Cranston (TV’s Breaking Bad, Get a Job) takes his award-winning performance from the stage to the screen. But does the play become a movie? Let’s find out.

alltheway2016a

All the Way, from director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Trumbo), covers the role that Lyndon B. Johnson (Cranston) played as President after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Events from Johnson’s work with Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Captain America: Civil War) are shown as well as Johnson’s bid for reelection during the following campaign.

All the Way has so many great performances. In fact, it’s what holds the entire film together. Led by the powerhouse work from Bryan Cranston and the incredible makeup work done to bring the President to life is stunning. He is nearly matched by Melissa Leo (TV’s Wayward Pines, The Fighter) as Lady Bird Johnson. I also liked Frank Langella (TV’s The Americans, Frost/Nixon) as Senator Richard Russell and Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as J. Edgar Hoover.

For flaws, All the Way suffers one of the most common issues of translating a play to the screen. It loses a lot of momentum as it moves. Jay Roach, an extremely capable director, struggles to keep the pacing up and moving throughout, and it shows near the final act of the film.

alltheway2016b

Overall, All the Way is a perfect showcase for its cast (I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Bradley Whitford’s work as well), but it just can’t stand on its own legs as a true film. Not enough was done to properly adapt the work as Robert Schenkkan (TV’s The Andromeda Strain, The Quiet American) adapted his own work. Thankfully, the performances keep the film strong and evocative for most of the film. Still worthy of viewing? Most definite.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

A Long Way Down (2014)

alongwaydown2014a

Director: Pascal Chaumeil

Cast: Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul

Screenplay: Jack Thorne

96 mins. Rated R for language.

 

I like Nick Hornby. I saw him at a writer’s conference some time ago and had the opportunity to just sit and listen to him muse about life and writing. I like Nick Hornby.

A LONG WAY DOWN

I did not like A Long Way Down. I’m speaking about the film here, which is a conflicted little tale about suicide for four people. First we have Martin (Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye, The November Man), a shamed talk show host who has become a social pariah for sleeping with an underage girl. Then there’s Maureen (Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense, The Boxtrolls) who struggles with being a parent for a child with special needs. We get Jess (Imogen Poots, Need for Speed, That Awkward Moment), a young girl with daddy issues and a need to prattle. Finally, there is JJ (Aaron Paul, TV’s Breaking Bad, Exodus: Gods and Kings), who has cancer. These four fail to kill themselves on New Year’s Eve when they accidentally pick the same building to jump off. Then they make a pact to stay with each other until Valentine’s Day, when they would try again.

This story is offensive even on the surface. We get characters that make light of the decision to kill themselves, and even regularly joke about it. I found none of this funny. I can stomach a lot, but it even felt like the actors were having troubles with the line reading, stemming from a bad script  by Jack Thorne (TV’s The Fades, The Scouting Book for Boys) from the novel by Nick Hornby. Poor Nick, he has his name attached to this piece of garbage. Everything after the first scene just falls short of remembrance and the plot meanders from one unimportant event to another.

A Long Way Down

With disappointing work from pretty much everyone involved, especially Imogen Poots, who acts as though she will vomit if she can’t get her line out right now, and an ending that you see coming a mile away, A Long Way Down is a dreadful piece of dreck that belongs in a furnace somewhere. Haven’t read the book, but I can bet it is streets ahead.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Godzilla (2014)

MV5BMTQ0ODgzNjg2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDkxMzc3MDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_

Director: Gareth Edwards.

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Straithairn, Bryan Cranston.

Screenplay: Max Borenstein.

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.

 

Back in 2010, relatively unknown director Gareth Edwards released Monsters, a technical masterpiece of hard work, mostly completed by Edwards himself. His handling of a difficult workload in post-production proved that he was capable of controlling a film shoot. Now, he has his hands on one of the most important releases of the year: the second attempt at an American Godzilla franchise. A daunting task to be certain, but not impossible.

Edwards’ film isn’t exactly the no-holds-barred masterpiece we have hoped for, but it isn’t 1998’s Godzilla either. This film comes in somewhere in between, with both pros and cons but still capable of triggering a follow-up. In fact, it already seems like Godzilla will be the first of a (so-far) trilogy, with two sequels on the way from Edwards himself. He seems like the kind of filmmaker to learn from his mistakes, so let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, back to this film. This incarnation of the mythos is centered around the Brody family and the effect that these kaiju, have had on their lives. The patriarch, Joe (Bryan Cranston, TV’s Breaking Bad, Argo), survives an initial event back in 1999 that takes the life of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche, The English Patient, Cosmopolis). Flash-forward to present day Tokyo, where Joe has slowly slipped into madness by the many conspiracy theories he has pursued involving the destruction of his home. He quickly pulls his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina) into the mix chasing creatures nicknamed MUTOs. Who will come to the rescue? Cough. Cough.

Godzilla. Godzilla does.

Godzilla is a far different creature than the one introduced to American audiences in our previous flimsy attempt. This Godzilla is a heroic one. Now, Godzilla has been seen as a hero in many installments of Toho’s three series (Showa, Heisei, and Millenium).  He is a protector, and pretty damn awesome.

maxresdefault

Let’s talk performances here, because this is where the failings begin to manifest. We have some pretty big actors here: Taylor-Johnson, Cranston, Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Straithairn. The problem? The only characters with any development are Joe Brody (who doesn’t have enough screentime to carry) and Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. The rest of these are wasted on character the screenwriter (Max Borenstein) didn’t bother to actually develop. Bryan Cranston carries a powerhouse performance with limited time. This is a character that delivered the most important moments in the film.

Ken Watanabe also delivers a unique performance here. As Dr. Serizawa, we see a character reminiscent of many previous characters in older Godzilla films. The doc is designed to create ambience around a creature who we largely don’t see until at least an hour in.

Who’s the star of this film? It certainly isn’t Godzilla. The beast itself doesn’t take up much screen time. I didn’t mind this approach, reminiscent of older monster movies, like The Wolf Man or Jaws, if the main characters were developed enough to make up for it. They weren’t.

The cinematography  here is gorgeous. The editing of the shots, though, drew me out of the film. Every time the MUTOs or Godzilla show up, they cut away to the aftermath. Now, I find reservations with this, as this is one of the big things about Godzilla: Destruction!

The visual effects are also top notch here. Godzilla being modeled after komodo dragons and bears makes for a beautiful creature.  I’m almost certain we will see Godzilla on the shortlist for Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. Quote it.

images

After reviewing all the individual pieces here, I can say that this film was far from perfect, but it showed a lot of potential in creating a franchise, which I hope happens soon, as the ending was completely left open! Give us more, Gareth! More!

Have you seen Godzilla? What did you think? Was it enough Kaiju-on-Kaiju action or were you squirming in your seat? Comment below!

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑