[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

 cinderella2015a

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

cinderella2015c.png

The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

cinderella2015b.png

Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

theincrediblehulk2008a

Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

theincrediblehulk2008b

The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

theincrediblehulk2008c

The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

[#2015oscardeathrace] Gone Girl (2014)

gonegirl2014a

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon

Screenplay: Gillian Flynn

149 mins. Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Rosamund Pike) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) can really do it all. I’ve seen footage of him on set directing, and he knows his stuff. He understands the complex process of lighting, cinematography, editing, music, everything. Perhaps that is why his films are so totally tonally jarring.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, Argo, Runner Runner) is about to celebrate his fifth wedding anniversary with wife Amy (Rosamund Pike, Pride & Prejudice, Hector and the Search for Happiness). When he arrives home after checking in with sister Margo (Carrie Coon, TV’s The Leftovers), he discovers that Amy is gone. The living room shows signs of a struggle, and the door is wide open. Now, the police are investigating and Nick is dodging questions and lying. He can’t explain his whereabouts when Amy went missing, and the media firestorm is heating up. So the question is: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

The first thing I fell in love with in Gone Girl is the opening titles. I always look forward to a great opening from Fincher. The man knows how to set a scene, but in Gone Girl, we just got little flits of names, roughly half the time needed to read them. I missed a few even. They pop up and then boom!, they are gone, like the girl in question.

gonegirl2014c

Ben Affleck is absolutely perfect as suspected husband Nick. He plays the role so well, that it becomes entirely believable that he may have kidnapped and killed his wife. But did he? He plays both sides so well that it is impossible to know for certain until the answers come forth. When I saw Ben Affleck channeling the likes of Scott Peterson and playing to the faults and wins of Nick, I got chills.

Rosamund Pike isn’t so much a leading lady as she is a presence on the screen. Totally deserving of her Oscar win as the film presents Amy’s side of the story through journal entries chronicling the ups and downs of their love story. She commands her scenes.

Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s How I Met Your Mother, A Million Ways to Die in the West) is a creepy presence as Amy’s ex-love Desi, who has an alibi but to Nick seems to be hiding something nonetheless.

Then there is Tyler Perry (I Can Do Bad All By Myself, The Single Moms Club), who needs to do more acting in movies he isn’t directing. Seriously, I enjoyed the small screen-time he had in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, but he just nails it in the role of Tanner Bolt, a big-shot lawyer who takes on impossible cases like Nick’s.

I should also point out the great additions of relative newcomers Carrie Coon and Emily Ratajkowski. Coon is convincing as Nick’s sister Margo despite the age difference, and Ratajkowski plays to her strengths as the college girl who wants more from teacher Nick than just lessons.

The novel’s writer Gillian Flynn is responsible for adapting the screenplay, and she does well. Without losing the structure, she adapts the novel quite well, excelling at picking the right moments to adapt without just throwing the novel at the screen. The screenplay took some slashing before filming began, and perhaps it could have been tipped a few more times, but the pacing is still pretty solid.

The score, from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, their third collaboration with Fincher, works perfectly here. I enjoyed their work in The Social Network but felt that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo missed some cues that could’ve been more exemplified. It is equal parts tonally exhilarating and utterly unnerving.

?????????????????????????????????????????

Gone Girl is a near-perfect adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel that stays true to it from every angle. Fincher is the perfect man to bring it, and Affleck’s manhood, to the screen. See this movie. You may love it, you may hate it, but one thing you can’t argue about, you can’t forget it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

birdmanortheunexpectedvirtueofignorance2014a

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.

_AF_6405.CR2

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.

birdmanortheunexpectedvirtueofignorance2014c

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

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Frankenstein (1994)

frankenstein1994a

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Aidan Quinn

Screenplay: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont

123 mins. Rated R for horrific images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

After the commercial and critical success that was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, the decision was made to revisit another gothic horror classic novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Coppola made the decision to pass directorial duties to the talented Shakespearian director/performer Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Cinderella), something he would later in life admittedly regret, but we will get to that later.

frankenstein1994c

Frankenstein 1994 is closer to Shelley’s original novel than its 1931 counterpart, showing the story of Victor Frankenstein (played by Branagh) and his making of the iconic Creature (Robert De Niro, GoodFellas, Grudge Match), much to the tragedy of friend Henry Clerval (Tom Hulce, Amadeus, Jumper) and love Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Burton and Taylor).

Frankenstein suffers from a crisis of identity. On one hand, it is trying to be a gothic horror filled with a mixture of dark realism and fantastical surrealism; on the other hand, it is too much Shakespeare. Branagh seems to have difficulty playing to anything other than Shakespeare, with a series of over-the-top performances and exaggerated jubilation during the happy moments. I just couldn’t believe the events of this film as actually realistically happening.

De Niro dominates this film with his portrayal of The Creature. He studied stroke victims and other medical cases where speech patterns can be fractured in his line delivery. He becomes a tragic figure in cinema, a man who is ultimately an angry boy with a conflict of adult attraction and childhood longing for understanding. I could watch this movie just for Robert De Niro.

The rest of the cast really struggles here with giving viewers something to attach themselves to. Nobody can decide the tone and mood of a picture like this. I’m not saying the film is a complete failure, but it certainly has more detachers than strengths.

The screenplay is pretty strong here, delivered by Steph Lady (Doctor Dolittle) and Frank Darabont (TV’s The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption). I enjoy the addition of unique steps in the creation of Frankenstein’s monster; this film has electric eels rather than the toted lighting. That being said, Frankenstein’s obsession with lighting in the beginning now makes less sense and has less impact on the actual movie.

frankenstein1994b

I would say that Frankenstein isn’t a worthless movie, but it has unnecessary conflict behind the scenes that reduces the tension in front of the camera. Coppola agreed that the film was scary and that Branagh completely mishandles the picture, and I can’t say my opinion differs.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑