[Alright Alright Alright Movies] Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Director: Danny Leiner

Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Ethan Embry

Screenplay: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg

88 mins. Rated R for strong language, sexual content, drug use and some crude humor.

 

Are you good, now? Are you calm? Okay then…

In this yearly celebration of stoner-movies, we look at a rather popular comedy from about ten years ago.

In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, we meet Harold (John Cho, American Beauty, Star Trek Beyond), a Korean-American man working in investment banking, and his friend Kumar (Kal Penn, TV’s Designated Survivor, Epic Movie), an Indian-American who feels as if he is being forced into his family’s line of work as doctors. The two love hanging out, watching movies, and getting stoned. Tonight, though, they have a hankering for a very specific munchie. Tonight, they must have White Castle. The two stoners take to their quest with much vigor and, along the way, get into crazy shenanigans involving an escaped cheetah, racist cops, and Neil Patrick Harris (played by Neil Patrick Harris).

Harold & Kumar is definitely not for everyone, but it falls almost perfectly into the stoner comedy void left behind by the now-classic Cheech & Chong series. The film also says a lot about familial expectations and race in our current times. And it is pretty damn funny, too.

Cho and Penn play off each other rather well, and they are further serviced by a resurging perfectly-played parody by Neil Patrick Harris (in a role that would later earn him Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother). Most other balls-to-the-walls comedies also get help when they receive a number of notable cameos, which this film also receives. I won’t give them all away, but Ryan Reynolds and Anthony Anderson are the most fun.

All in all, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a very funny albeit by-the-numbers comedy. It has the inkling to become a tried and true classic in the genre, but only time will tell if it slips into obscurity. I, personally, do love shenanigans for shenanigans’ sake, and Harold & Kumar is chock-full. It’s a fun time, with or without a puff.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Gone Girl (2014)

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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.

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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.

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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

Sex Tape (2014)

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Director: Jake Kasdan

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe

Screenplay: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

94 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.

 

Sometimes an actor or actress is a part of a film so bad that it really jars your experience of everything they do after for a long time. For Cameron Diaz, that film was The Other Woman. I really didn’t want to see Sex Tape. I didn’t want to get hurt again. When I finally did get around to it, I was pleasantly wrong in my assumption of it.

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Sex Tape is the story of Annie (Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and Jay (Jason Segel, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, This is 40), two lovebirds who feel like the magic has gone from their sex life. So they do what all-too-many celebrities do when the spark is gone: make a sex tape! They do, and Jay promises to delete it after. He doesn’t, and instead activates a program on his ipad which syncs it to every other ipad in his cloud. Jay gives out his old ipads to neighbors, families, and friends, so now everyone who wants to can witness the erotic masterpiece. Now, Annie and Jay have to get back all the sex tape copies before their mutual copulation becomes public domain!

Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher) creates some interesting work, and while it doesn’t always work, it is certainly worth a viewing. Sex Tape has a lot of humor and a lot of emotional truths that should hit a lot of relationships. Much of the humor lands nicely, but not all of it. There are some great over-the-top moments, like the sex book that the two decide to mimic for their tape, and the drug-fueled tirade Annie gets into with potential new boss Hank (Rob Lowe, TV’s The West Wing, Killing Kennedy). I like that this film gets into its own minutiae and creates conflict based on little errors in judgment.

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Sex Tape isn’t a perfect film. Far from it. It is, however, one of the finer comedies of the year and worth much more recognition than Diaz’s previous work with The Other Woman. We will call it performance redemption.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

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The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

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In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

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

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

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