Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Director: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy

121 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity.

 

I’d been looking forward to Battle of the Sexes ever since I heard that Emma Stone (The Help, The Croods) would be playing Billie Jean King and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, Despicable Me 3) would be playing Bobby Riggs. The two performers worked so well together for their limited time in Crazy Stupid Love. In fact, Emma Stone also appeared in Birdman with Andrea Riseborough  and Superbad with Martha MacIsaac. She’s built quite the incredibly portfolio, but is Battle of the Sexes up to snuff?

Battle of the Sexes is more about Billie Jean King than her opponent. It covers her strained relationship with husband Larry (Austin Stowell, Whiplash, Colossal), her secret relationship with lover Marilyn (Riseborough) and her fight against Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman, Independence Day, The Equalizer) over women’s rights in professional tennis. But when she finds herself head-to-head with the showboating Riggs, a man who is about to lose his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas, Chasing Mavericks) due to his lies and gambling addiction, she finds herself fighting for more than just bragging rights in this film from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks).

Battle of the Sexes is a classic character study and a great showcase for numerous incredible performances, led by Stone and Carell. Emma Stone disappears into her role, proving that she is one of the best actresses working in the business today. Her role as King isn’t imitation or caricature but rather a true interpretation by one artist of another. Steve Carell too is tough to spot in the charismatic Riggs, a feat for the performer who could’ve turned to other comedic performances to channel. Instead, his humor is met with a nuanced characterization of a man who understands what he is doing wrong yet cannot stop himself. It’s like he is watching a car accident, unable to turn away.

The screenplay comes from Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, Everest) and, for the most part, it is quite strong. I found the film dragging a bit in the second act, which could’ve been fixed easily in the editing bay or with a tightening of the script.

The director duo husband and wife that is Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have delivered a film that feels like a documentary. The style and tone is something that could’ve come straight out of 1973. An event like this could very easily have turned satirical or lampoonish, and the filmmakers ride the line very well.

Battle of the Sexes is Emma Stone’s movie, and that’s a really good thing. In fact, this could be the best she’s ever been. That doesn’t excuse her costar Carell from an amazing turn as the showboating aging tennis star, but it just proves the acting caliber of the stars. If you get the chance, check out Battle of the Sexes while it’s still in theaters. This is one to watch come awards season.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon

Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker

Screenplay: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio

90 mins. Rated PG for action and mild humor.

 

Despicable Me 3 opens with Gru (Steve Carell, Foxcatcher, Café Society) losing his job at the AVL (Anti-Villain League) for failing to capture Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Team America: World Police), a child-star-turned-villain bent on stealing the world’s most expensive diamond. Now Gru, Lucy (Kristen Wiig, The Martian, How to Train Your Dragon 2), both jobless, are invited to meet his long-lost brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), a successful, rich, and slightly better looking twin who wishes for Gru to train him in the family business: villainy. Gru decides to utilize his brother’s impressive cache of expensive technology to capture Bratt and get back into the AVL. Also, there are minions.

If you were looking for anything new or shocking in Despicable Me 3, take this as a warning. For the most part, you won’t find anything that rockets this franchise to the next level short of the excellent voice work by Parker, who is mostly known for his foul-mouthed presence on the popular Comedy Central series South Park. That being said, writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (The Secret Life of Pets, The Lorax) asked themselves, “What is this franchise missing?” and answered in unison “More Gru!” Sadly, the Gru/Dru story fizzles out. It’s rather cliché and doesn’t really add anything new.

On that note, I also felt like the film was rather overstuffed with plot threads. Gru has Dru, Lucy has a uninteresting arc of a new mom learning to become a new mom and it doesn’t really surprise and interest. The three girls gets short little arcs that kind of work but feel underdeveloped. At least the minions have a lot of fun on a somewhat solo adventure after leaving Gru when he chooses not to return to the life of villainy. Their plotline feels similar to Scrat from the Ice Age films when Scrat actually worked.

You might think I hated the film, but I didn’t. In fact, I rather enjoyed myself for one exemplary reason. I love these characters. And while I hate on Gru quite a bit, it’s because he works better when played off another, and that’s why his story with Dru might have worked better if they hadn’t been twin brothers and it someone other than Carell had voiced him. I also enjoy Lucy and the girls even if they  don’t have enough to do. I was sad at the absence of Dr. Nefario from the previous installments but I felt like the minion sections of the film learned a lot from the experiment spinoff feature that they had a few years ago. They are given enough screentime to really play around without the film relying too heavily on them.

But I must return to the impressive work Trey Parker as Balthazar Bratt. His role was so much fun as an over-the-top villain obsessed with his past (a nice parallel to Gru’s journey) and addicted to the 1980s. A big win for me as I was unimpressed with the villain of Despicable Me 2.

Now it sounds like Despicable Me 3 may be the last of the official series with Steve Carell said in an interview that he may not return as Gru outside of another Minions cameo, so if this is it, it ends on an okay note. Again, the finale of the film is nothing original, but I’m also thinking I’d rather end it there rather than see what happens next. Overall, Despicable Me 3 was a lot of fun and I did enjoy myself. This is the entry that gets closest to the original with some big wins and a few classic sequel misses, but if you’ve enjoyed this franchise so far, I see no reason to miss this one.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Foxcatcher (2014)

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Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller

Screenplay: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

134 mins. Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Steve Carell)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

 

I knew nothing about the actual events of Foxcatcher until Foxcatcher.

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Foxcatcher tells the story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street, Jupiter Ascending) and his relationship with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell, TV’s The Office, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). The true story of these two men, as well as Mark’s brother David (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, The Normal Heart), is a powerhouse tale of manipulation, love, and neglect at the infamous Foxcatcher Farms as du Pont plays the brothers for what they can give him as he furthers himself in the world of professional wrestling in the latest film from director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote).

I’m going to bring up my big beef with this movie right now, because there are so few. I don’t like that we spend so little time in du Pont’s head. Carell’s performance is unbelievably incredible, but we don’t get to delve into the man’s psychosis. I also have some trouble with the runtime, which has some definite places to cut.

That being said, these performances are at a level so incredibly powerful that you forget you are watching a film. I already mentioned Carell, but Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo turn in near-perfect work as well, not to mention their amazing chemistry as brothers. Don’t let me forget Sienna Miller (Stardust, Unfinished Business) as Nancy Schultz, David’s wife.

Bennett creates a world in this film, and he has the ability to really get the best work out of his actors. His vision always gives something completely fresh.

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The editing and screenplay could have used a little more development, but Foxcatcher is an intense film that shows a shocking set of events that I didn’t know all that much about. The impact will not wear off soon, that much I can promise.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

American Sniper (2014)

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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).

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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.

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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

[#2015oscardeathrace] Begin Again (2013)

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Director: John Carney

Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Catherine Keener

Screenplay: John Carney

104 mins. Rated R for language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Lost Stars” by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

In Begin Again, Dan (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, Foxcatcher) is an recently unemployed music producer who has just discovered Gretta (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), a young woman with a rare voice who isn’t interested in pursuing a character. Dan has a strained relationship with daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2) and her mother Miriam (Catherine Keener, Captain Phillips, Enough Said), but not Gretta provides a much-needed inspirational boost to Dan who wants to use her to get back in the game.

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Begin Again is little more than a cheese-filled sandwich trying to disguise itself as a movie of substance. These characters are flat and uninspired and there are better versions of them sprinkled throughout better films. I found myself checking my watch out of boredom several times here.

The film is almost completely improvised and it proves one thing very well: these actors should not improvise lines. There are entire sequences of uninspired and uninteresting exchanges between the characters.

As for the Oscar nominated son “Lost Stars” from Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, it isn’t that bad. A nice song sung in several different ways throughout the film. Not deserving of the award, but perhaps worth the nomination.

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Begin Again is a carbon-copy of so many other films just like it, with one exception: somebody smudged this copy somewhere along the line. Just keep in mind: there are better films about the music industry. Many.

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Let’s Begin…

Hey everyone, so here’s the deal, every year, I try to make my way into seeing every film nominated for an Academy Awards (no short films, it’s just not possible). This year, there were forty-five films nominated, and here they are:

Best Picture:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

 

Best Director:

  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  • Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

 

Best Actor:

  • Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

 

Best Actress:

  • Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild

 

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Robert Duvall, The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Edward Norton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

 

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Laura Dern, Wild
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • American Sniper
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

 

Best Animated Feature:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

 

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Ida
  • Leviathan
  • Tangerines
  • Timbuktu
  • Wild Tales

 

Best Documentary:

  • Citizenfour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
  • “Glory” from Selma
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken
  • Whiplash

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

 

Best Costume Design:

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So, how many can you see? You’re on!

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Ninth Day… [Take 5] Christmas Episodes!

Hey everyone, today we are looking at 5 Christmas Episodes and whether they are worth your half-hour! Let’s begin!

Take 5 Christmas Episodes

Family Guy “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas”

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It is Christmastime in Quahog and Lois (Alex Borstein, TV’s MadTV, A Million Ways to Die in the West) is dedicated to getting her family the perfect Christmas. It doesn’t go over well when Peter (Seth MacFarlane, TV’s Robot Chicken, Ted) drops off the family’s gifts at the donation for in-need families, Stewie takes his roll as Baby Jesus in the Nativity scene too far, and Brian burns the turkey. Lois has to come to terms with an imperfect Christmas for the Griffin family.

I like this special. The call-outs to other stranger Christmas specials are quite interesting, as seen with Kiss Saves Santa. I also happen to think a lot like Lois here. I want the perfect Christmas for my family and it never actually happens the way I want. It is a cute little detour for the Griffins, made before the series cancellation and long before the onset raunchiness began.

Community “Comparative Religion”

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As Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown, TV’s Pound Puppies, (500) Days of Summer) tries to keep the peace and the holidays in check, Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, TV’s The Soup, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas) decides that Christmas is the right time to fight the school bully.

As far as Christmas episodes go, this one is more forgettable. A fine episode, to be sure, but not a regular yearly tradition. Wait until Season 2’s special.

Arrested Development “In God We Trust”

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It is time for the yearly Christmas “Living Classics Pageant” in which famous artworks are reenacted for the public. George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor, TV’s Transparent, The Hangover) always plays God and Buster (Tony Hale, TV’s Veep, Stranger Than Fiction) always plays Adam in The Creation of Adam, but with George Sr. in jail, the family needs to front the money to get him out for the day, but is he just trying to escape?

This is a classic episode for fans of Arrested Development. For all others, this episode has too many intersecting plotlines from previous episodes.

Spongebob Squarepants “Christmas Who?”

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Spongebob hasn’t heard of Christmas. Until Now. Now he wants it more than even, but unfortunately Squidward has become a certifiable Grinch. What is Spongebob going to do?

I love this episode. Not only does it have a catchy song to accompany it, but it has a nice lesson about what’s important to others. Watch this one!

The Office “Christmas Party”

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When Michael Scott (Steve Carell, Crazy Stupid Love, Foxcatcher) decides to break the rules to Secret Santa, he has to fix the situation by breaking the rules again: by breaking corporate’s policy of no alcohol at the Christmas party.

Another great episode! We have all has that boss, and we have all had that Christmas party, and we have all received that gift.

Take-Aways:

The real winners here are Spongebob Squarepants and The Office, not to mention Family Guy. The other two episodes are great for fans only. What’s your favorite Christmas episode? Let me know!

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