[Oscar Madness] [Happy 10th Birthday!] Transamerica (2005)

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Director: Duncan Tucker

Cast: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Graham Greene, Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Carrie Preston, Elizabeth Pena

Screenplay: Duncan Tucker

103 mins. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Felicity Huffman)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Travelin’ Thru” by Dolly Parton)

It’s been ten years since Felicity Huffman’s career-making and Oscar-nominated performance in Transamerica. Today, we take a look back.

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Bree (Huffman, TV’s Desperate Housewives, Cake) is a transitioning woman who is about to go through a major life-altering surgery when she discovers that she fathered a son years previously. Her son Toby (Kevin Zegers, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Colony) has been making money prostituting himself to the masses or anyone with clean cash. Bree goes to bail out Toby and then takes him on a cross-country trip back home with her, stopping along the way to see her father (Burt Young, Rocky, Rob the Mob) and mother (Fionnula Flanagan, The Others, Song of the Sea).

Huffman’s performance is definitely note-worthy. There were many many times when I didn’t see Huffman performing in this movie. I saw Bree, a woman going through an awakening, albeit an emotionally painful one, and not wanting to reveal herself to her son while trying to keep a part of him in her life.

Zegers brings a strong piece of work here as well. Toby is going through his own awakening. He hasn’t had a father in his life and doesn’t know how a man is “supposed” to act.

I also enjoyed the supporting plays from Flanagan and Young as Bree’s parents. They are old-fashioned folk who just plain don’t understand Bree’s transition and, especially Flanagan, doesn’t want to.

First-time big-time director Duncan Tucker can handle a camera, but he doesn’t particularly know how to impress with it. This film belongs to the performers, most notably Huffman.

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Transamerica suffers from an uninspired style and too much meandering on the way to a plot, but aided by some terrific performances, it has the worth to be remembered, if only it were more so.

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Into the Woods (2014)

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Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

Screenplay: James Lapine

125 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Meryl Streep) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

I truly enjoy Stephen Sondheim’s work, especially Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. However, do I truly enjoy Disney’s Into the Woods adaptation from director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)? The answer is quite simple: No, I did not.

INTO THE WOODS

Several classic fairytales come to a head as these classic characters enter a magical wood. A mysterious Witch (Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, The Giver) has sent a cursed Baker (James Corden, Begin Again, The Three Musketeers) on a mission to collect several magical items to lift a spell that causes him to be infertile, as his Wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, The Wind Rises) follows in tow. One of the items is a slipper that belongs to the enchanted Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, Cake). Another is a cow belonging to Jack, a boy who needs to sell the cow at market for more than mere beans. Then there is the red cloak belong to Little Red Riding Hood. Finally, hair belonging to Rapunzel. As each tale interweaves with the others, tragedy seems likely to follow.

First of all, I want to discuss the plot and the changes made to it. It hurt. It hurt the film badly. Needless to say, it makes some characters entirely useless. Literally, Rapunzel’s story could have been wiped away without any recognizable notice, other than the loss of a great song featuring Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Horrible Bosses 2). The story just kept going without any of the intensity of the original musical. Characters are written away in unseen ways and have no consequence on the film. I hate that many of the darker elements completely disappear while others are handled so haphazardly that it gnawed away at me for the entirety of the film.

Meryl Streep gives an insanely wild performance as the Witch, breaking the actresses’ “No-Witch Policy” for the sake of being one of the most fun characters in the ensemble. Emily Blunt is fun and fantastic but underutilized. James Corden is terrific as the Baker. Chris Pine works hilarious magic, as is Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Mortdecai) as the Wolf following Red Riding Hood.  Anna Kendrick, while usually great, is horribly miscast as Cinderella. I think the cast here has done good work but can’t seem to get in the correct tone for the film, which is ultimately what the changes to the film caused.

I disagree completely with Oscar Nomination for Production Design. The wood scenes all look so much alike that it is hard to place any of the characters in their current positions. The costumes are nice but the sets all look like they came out of a Lifetime movie (not a compliment).

The pacing here just felt like the story had too many endings due to the plot and tone shifts.

The music had a few great arrangements to it, but many songs fall flat with no clear-cut direction anymore.

INTO THE WOODS

Sadly, Into the Woods is too many good qualities shaped and shifted by Disney to fit a particular mold, and it softens the impact completely. For your money, see the original musical live and enjoy what this story is actually about, rather than a Disneyfied pile of “stuff.”

 

2/5

-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

Jennifer Aniston gets her Piece of “Cake” in New Trailer…Check it Out!

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Hey everyone, got another interesting trailer to check out today. This one is Jennifer Aniston’s possible Oscar nomination as a troubled woman struggling with depression and loss in Cake. Check out the trailer below:

 

This looks like Jennifer Aniston actually taking her work seriously which excites the hell out of me, up until now I’ve only been impressed her recent upsurge in comedic performance, so I’m really stoked to see her actual range in a difficult role.

I would also like to point out the staggering number of Academy Award Winners/Nominees here, it seems like a lot of push to get Cake on the stage. What do you think of Cake? Does it have the chops or is this slice not to your liking? Let me know.

Horrible Bosses (2011)

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Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx

Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

98 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.

 

I usually find one great comedy every year. 2011’s Horrible Bosses was a great comedy. My review for Horrible Bosses here.

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Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, TV’s Arrested Development, This is Where I Leave You) has been working his butt off for a promotion, but his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, TV’s House of Cards, American Beauty) seems not to notice or care. Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Lego Movie) is trying to be the best fiancé he can be, but his boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston, TV’s Friends, Cake) wants to ruin it be forcing Dale into a sexual relationship through blackmail. Then there’s Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers, Drinking Buddies), who is all set up to take over his boss’s position when he retires. Unfortunately, Kurt’s boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1) dies, and his son Bobby (Colin Farrell, Total Recall, Winter’s Tale) takes over instead. Now, these three have no choice but to get the help from Mothafucka Jones (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Annie) to kill their horrible bosses in this dark comedy gem.

I love this movie. Most films don’t try the black comedy anymore and even fewer actually succeed as perfectly as Horrible Bosses did. I also found the story to have plenty of twists and turns to it, enough so to keep me enthused even without the laughs, but then add in the genius of Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis as the everymen along with the strong performances of Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell as the “horrible bosses” and you have a great time at the movies. Director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief, Freakonomics) handles this crew nicely and gives each equal laughs and equal screentime to boot.

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All in all, you see a movie like Horrible Bosses for laughs, and it has plenty. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is about as close to genius comedy as one can get.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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