Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vog-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief language.

 

Creating a MonsterVerse (I believe that’s the working title) is nothing new. As far back as the third entry in the Japanese Godzilla franchise showed the big kaiju taking on King Kong. But in the world of cinematic universe, at least this one is taking a little time.

Set in the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island sees a group of scientists and soldiers , led by former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers, The Night Manager) and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Incredibles), make their way to the mythic island in search of adventure. In the process, they learn that the island already has an owner, the mighty Kong, who does not want visitors. Other inhabitants of the island include giant monsters dubbed Skullcrawlers as well as missing-in-action Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Wreck-It Ralph). Now, cut off from the rest of the world and possible stranded on Skull Island, the team must find a way to escape before they are ripped to shreds by the many creatures residing on the island.

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is a rather simple one, and it may be the film’s cardinal sin. The simplicity of the put-a-bunch-of-people-on-an-island-and-pick-them-off-one-at-a-time idea feels unoriginal in a film that takes a familiar monster in King Kong and tries to break new ground with it. I can applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something original melding a bunch of the most famous King Kong works into one (seriously, there are parts of all three major King Kong films here as well as belting out references to Apocalypse Now and setting up more of the MonsterVerse). It’s safe to say that there are a lot of moving parts to Kong: Skull Island.

The film is entertaining though. The action sequences are beautifully shot and a lot of fun to watch. Kong is the star of the film and every scene that features him showcases the great motion capture work from Terry Notary (Warcraft) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls). Kong works, and therefore the film works.

I hope that as the MonsterVerse continues to build, the filmmakers working within it try to marry great human characters with the intense action sequences the franchise is likely to be known for. Between the two MonsterVerse films we have, I find Kong: Skull Island to be a much more entertaining film, and I hope the upward trajectory of this franchise continues all the way to the long-awaited mash-up, Godzilla vs. King Kong. Kong: Skull Island is a fine action film that is great at what it needs to be great at…action. Now, if they could only make the humans more interesting, the film would feel much fuller.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Nick Offerman: American Ham, click here.

 

 

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[Early Review] Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad

115 mins. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.

 

I saw Atomic Blonde the other night, and I was heavily intrigued walking into the theater. After all, David Leitch has proven he knows action and the trailers had a lot of bite, so how was the film?

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fate of the Furious) is sent to Germany in 1989 right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall to retrieve The List, an important piece of intel containing information about all current operating spies. Lorraine is ordered to work with David Percival (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Split), a Berlin station chief who has gone native, in order to retrieve The List and take down a powerful group of spies in the process.

Atomic Blonde has some of the best action sequences of any film in the past few years. Charlize Theron proves herself yet again capable of playing a strong kick-ass female protagonist, and her scenes where she is whooping her adversaries are incredibly strong. The rest of the film, however, falls flat rather quickly. We are introduced to interesting characters like Til Schweiger’s Watchmaker and Bill Skarsgard’s Merkel and then instead are subjected to poor villains (and far too many) that are underdeveloped. It’s as if somebody said, “Yeah, there are Russians and Germans and it’s set in the Cold War,” and somehow that was enough. But it wasn’t. I actually would have liked to see more inclusion from Broughton’s allies, including Toby Jones as Eric Gray, her handler, and John Goodman (Monsters, Inc., Bunyan and Babe) as Emmett Kurzfeld, a CIA agent. Sadly, these two great supporting players are relegated to a small role that amounts to little more than a framing device.

The plot is overly convoluted with twists and turns for the sake of having twists and turns, and every time that the bullets stopped flying, I lost interest. This is especially apparent near the end of the film when everything Shyamalans pretty hardcore. By the time the ending hit, I was mostly out of it.

That’s not to say it’s the worst film ever. I liked some of the more stylistic flairs like the titles displayed as spray painted Berlin Wall-esque touches, and the soundtrack is exceptional and worth listening to, but there just wasn’t enough outside the fight scenes to cling to, and Atomic Blonde suffers from it.

Overall, Atomic Blonde is mindless action, but its major detractors are its plot, and no film should have that noted. Charlize Theron does better than I expected again, and she is surrounded by capable players that have nothing to do.  The film quickly finds itself out of excitement and it isn’t something I see myself wanting to watch again.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

 

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Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017

 

Okay, folks, I’m a little late on this one, as I’ve already seen a few of 2017’s early films. But don’t worry, I made this list almost a month ago and am just now getting the chance to write it up for you. So, let’s start off with a point.

  • This list is most anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to at the beginning of the year, so there will be a lot of bigger blockbustery films because that’s Sundance is just now happening and the other big Oscary films haven’t premiered yet. So with that being said…

 

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN BUT A LIST.

 

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Star Wars Episode VIII

  • Whatever the title may be, I’m so excited to pick up with the further adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Luke, and Leia in Star Wars Episode VIII. It’s also a bittersweet film for me personally as it is the last time fans will see Carrie Fisher as their general. It means so much for fans to have that connection, one that many have felt since 1977. But there are many things to be excited for in Episode VIII. More revelations about Snoke, seeing Luke back in action, and new characters played by Benicio del Toro and Laura Dern. What’s not to love? Have I even mentioned director Rian Johnson? So excited!

 

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Alien: Covenant

  • I may find myself in the minority here, but I really enjoyed Prometheus. I had issues with some of the plot points, but the film made me yearn for more from this universe, and this year, we get it in full force with Alien: Covenant. I reported years ago about the then-titled Prometheus 2 having no Xenomorphs. I’m glad that director Ridley Scott changed his mind on that are we are getting Alien proper. Add in Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, James Franco, and a return from Michael Fassbender as android David and you have a recipe for one hell of a film. At least…I hope.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

  • I really enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but I absolutely loved Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Talk about a film that services fans both big and small. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of the best films of 2014 and remains a powerful work of art. Director Matt Reeves returns to helm War for the Planet of the Apes, and after Dawn, Cloverfield, and his remake Let Me In, I’m overjoyed to see what he does with this franchise next. Add in the extremely underrated Woody Harrelson to match the mo-cap performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. This is an opening night kind of movie.

 

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Kong: Skull Island

  • The fact that Skull Island is actually happening is pretty impressive. The fact that the trailers look amazing is even more so. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts adds some lovely flair to this story of 1970s-set Kong tale with John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, and Tom Hiddleston. I only hope that the focus is on Kong and not set-up for the eventual match between the King of Skull Island and the King of Monsters, Godzilla in a few years. I’m thankful this one is coming out around my birthday so I have an excuse to drag everyone I know to this movie with me.

 

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It

  • As sad as I am to be missing Will Poulter as the titular creature and Cary Fukunaga behind the camera, I’m still very excited to see this new R-rated take on Stephen King’s classic story. It is a fascinating look at fear itself as a beast targeting children. Splitting it into two films scares me only for the concern that we may not get the conclusion we want if the first isn’t successful. Thanks to Stranger Things from last year, I do not believe that to be the case, but hopefully a trailer drops soon to help convince film-goers to spend their money.

 

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The Dark Tower

  • While we are on the subject of Stephen King, the long-gestating adaptation of his behemoth series The Dark Tower is almost upon us. Starring Idris Elba as the gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black, there has been a lot of confusing information being thrown around about what the film is actually going to concern itself with. With producer Ron Howard helping shepherd the film, I trust that it will be a hell of an experience, but I hope it will also bring in casual moviegoers with its marketing campaign. I’ll be there opening night, and I hope you join me.

 

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The Mummy

  • Cinematic universes are such a big thing right now that many fail to realize the first universe created was the Universal Monsters universe with films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula. Universal hopes to ignite a new fire in their monsters with The Mummy, the first in a series of monster movies aimed at bringing these creatures out from the darkness. After the first attempted failure of Dracula Untold, write Alex Kurtzman took directing duties with powerhouse producer and star Tom Cruise set to introduce the female mummy played by Sofia Boutella to the world. Aided by Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll, Cruise’s Nick Morton must save the world from an ancient and malevolent princess recently awakened. Count me in.

 

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Thor: Ragnarok

  • I’m only picking one Marvel film this year and that’s because I really love Thor. I love Chris Hemsworth. I love the Hulk. I love Mark Ruffalo. I love director Taika Waititi. I just love everything I’ve heard coming out of this film. I cannot wait until November to see how this all plays out. Yes, I get it. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 will be pretty great. Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot riding on it. But Thor…Thor is my favorite film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I’m just dying to see him suited up, especially after that [SPOILER ALERT] post-credits scene in Doctor Strange.

 

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Blade Runner 2049

  • I’m pretty late to the Blade Runner game, having only recently falling in love with the original film from Ridley Scott (Final Cut for the win!), but with Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival, need I say more?) behind the camera and original scribe Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, Blade Runner 2049 looks to be serving up some excitement heading towards its October release. It’ll be exciting to see original star Harrison Ford back in the fold with Ryan Gosling joining him. Another situation here of what’s not to love about this movie? Much in the way of The Force Awakens, there’s just so much to be excited about after being absent from these characters for over 30 years.

 

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God Particle

  • Lastly, we get to the strangest entry in this list. God Particle is apparently the third installment of the Cloverfield series, and after only last year discovering that there is a Cloverfield series, its safe to say that something interesting is happening here. Now, the film was pushed back to October for reasons, and the IMDb page has updated with the title Untitled Cloverfield Anthology Movie (2017), I can only wonder when news will come of this tale featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, and David Oyelowo. One thing I can say: J.J. Abrams is insane.

 

SO there you have it. What film are you most excited for in 2017? Let me know/Drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2016

 

Hey folks, sorry this is coming in a bit late but I’ve not been feeling well and it’s given me the opportunity to catch some of the films I’d missed in 2016 and I wanted to see as much as I could before delivering this list to you.

Just a couple notes before we get into all this:

  • These are my personal top ten films of the year from the many I have seen. Not all of them are Oscar-y in nature because I still haven’t gotten the chance to see a lot of the late releases of the year. On that note…
  • I haven’t seen all the movies released in 2016. If you read this list and find that something is missing, let me know, drop a comment, and I’ll get to it.
  • This is a tentative listing of the films. I tend to do a final ranking after the Academy Awards every year, but enjoy what I have so far.
  • Lastly, this isn’t a ranking of my best reviewed films of the year. These are the films that, to me, were exactly what they were supposed to be. SO here we go…

I present to you, my Top Ten Films of 2016.

 

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  1. 10 Cloverfield Lane

-When the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane dropped just weeks before it’s theatrical release, it blew me away. How was this film connected to Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield? What’s John Goodman doing in this? Why isn’t it found-footage? After seeing the film, I still don’t really have answers, but one thing I do know is that 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of the most tense and shocking thrillers in recent memory. Carried by strong performances from its leads and the standout chilling work from Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane does a lot with a little, adding to this unique franchise and making me look forward to God Particle, the next film in the Clover-verse coming later this year.

 

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  1. Captain America: Civil War

-This is the kind of film that shouldn’t work. A big budget superhero blockbuster based around themes that are so important today. With the cast of somewhere 124 leads comes a showdown between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark over the damage that superheroes do just to save lives. It is full of rich fully-realized character development and action scenes so insanely busy but perfectly captured that it seems an impossible feat and yet, the Russo brothers made one of the best superhero movies of all time with the odds so dangerously stacked against them.

 

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  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

-When Disney purchased the Lucasfilm brand and immediately started work on a new Star Wars film, I was hesitant, but here we are with the second film released since the acquisition, and it is even more impressive than The Force Awakens. How director Gareth Edwards wrote a love letter to the Star Wars saga and turned it into one of the best films in the entire series is beyond me. Rogue One seamlessly blends with A New Hope and creates such an amazing story out of one paragraph of the opening crawl from the original movie. Great work from Ben Mendelsohn, Felicity Jones, and Alan Tudyk carry this incredible story that is really for the fans who have been there since the very beginning, Rogue One is much more than just a Thank You.

 

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  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

-I actually came across this film because it was a 99 cent rental on Amazon, and I’m so thankful I did. Hunt for the Wilderpeople didn’t really get me with its trailers, I probably would’ve passed it by, but since I have now seen it, all I can say is, why haven’t you? This was a gorgeously shot and humorously-injected coming-of-age story with the two most unlikely heroes this year. The story of Ricky Baker, a foul-mouthed troublemaker, and his “Uncle” Hector as they get lost and get wild in the Bush of New Zealand is fun and heartwarming. The two are hunted by authorities after Hector is seen as possibly unfit to raise Ricky. The movie is equal parts fun and touching. See it.

 

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  1. Green Room

-I was blessed to be able to see Green Room before its initial release and I was blown away by the visceral survival thriller featuring the late Anton Yelchin. My skin crawled and I leapt out of my chair more than once in the painfully captivating tale of a rock band attempting to escape a Neo-Nazi bar after witnessing a murder. Green Room isn’t a film for anyone (and I don’t say that often, but this is often very difficult to watch) but it’s also one of the most fun experiences I had in a theater all year.

 

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  1. The Conjuring 2

-Another shockingly great movie from 2016 was the hotly-anticipated sequel to the classified horror classic from 2013, The Conjuring. Director James Wan returned to helm the sequel which hopped across the pond to Enfield to see Ed and Lorraine Warren face their most difficult case to date. This movie is a rare horror film with as much heart as horrors, and I was absolutely floored by both the creepy and inventive techniques behind the camera and also the emotionally-charged beats in front of it. For me, this is the rare horror sequel that actually surpasses the original.

 

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  1. Kubo and the Two Strings

-Why? Why haven’t you seen this film? Kubo and the Two Strings, the newest film from Laika, virtually disappeared from theaters after kind of dudding upon release. It’s tragic, as the film is their best stop-motion film to date. An animated film that is just as much for adults as for children, Kubo and the Two Strings takes on strikingly adult subject matter in this beautifully crafted journey of a boy’s journey to defeat the terrifying Moon King using his magical shamisen. Influences from classic Kurosawa and spaghetti westerns infused with intelligent characters are what makes Kubo and the Two Strings an instant classic.

 

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  1. Don’t Breathe

-Wow, I did not see this coming. Don’t Breathe, from director Fede Alvarez, is another exemplary horror film from a terrific year for the genre.  In it, three thieves break into a blind war vet’s home to claim his fortune for themselves when they discover their victim has skills and secrets that none of them expected, and they may not survive the heist. Don’t Breathe played a surrealist approach to the escape room subgenre in a different way that Green Room did earlier in the year. Instead, it made us fear for our antiheroes and dread the terrifying Blind Man, played excellently by Stephen Lang. Don’t Breathe is visually stunning as well relentlessly disturbing, and it’s a must-see for fans of the genre.

 

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  1. Arrival

Arrival is just proof that Denis Villeneuve can do whatever he damn well pleases. You want a sequel to Blade Runner? Sure, whatever you want! After Prisoners and Sicario and Enemy, to hit it out of the park yet again with Arrival is almost unprecedented. Villeneuve is quickly becoming a household name, even if most Americans butcher the pronunciation. Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, accomplishes the rare task of being a genre film that isn’t really about aliens. Sure, that’s been said a lot, and if you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean. But in all fairness, it’s just really nice to see a complex and interesting story that isn’t dumbed down to suit audiences.

 

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  1. The Nice Guys

-Another sad bomb from this past year, I saw The Nice Guys while waiting to board my plane leaving Hawaii. I had just gotten engaged, so you might play off my enjoyment with the film to that, but I revisited the film a few times since then, and I love it more and more each time. A sendup to 70s cinema and hard-boiled detective stories as well the classic buddy-cop subgenre that director Shane Black continues to wring perfection from (I’m talking to you Lethal Weapon), The Nice Guys is just a perfect damn movie that excites and entertains and makes the unlovable people the most fun to spend time with.

 

Honorable Mentions: Swiss Army Man, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Deadpool.

 

Well, there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I’m excited for #2017oscardeathrace to begin, and I may see a few favorites get knocked off, but overall, 2016 was a great year for movies, just not a great year for most anything else. Well see you in 2017 (which is kind of now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Screenplay: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.

 

What is 10 Cloverfield Lane? Is it a sequel to Cloverfield? How is it actually connected? What the hell is actually going on here? Lots of questions circulate the pseudo-sequel, or as J.J. Abrams calls it, the “spiritual successor” to Cloverfield, ever since its trailer premiered in front of 13 Hours after filming was completed without anyone really knowing about it. The idea is brilliant, but it remains with a follow-up question: Was it worth it?

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SPOILER ALERT: A film like 10 Cloverfield Lane has been shrouded in so much secrecy that many would consider any discussion to be spoilery. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of the spoiler territory and tread lightly here, but for all you spoiler purists out there, this is a heads up.

When Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Final Destination 3, Faults) wakes up in an underground bunker handcuffed to a pipe, she doesn’t understand what’s going on. It isn’t until she meets her captor, Howard (John Goodman, Monsters, Inc., Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle) that she learns of a horrible truth: there has been an attack on American soil. Everyone else is dead. She meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr., TV’s The Newsroom, Short Term 12) who backs up the claim but doesn’t have any proof. So the question remains: Is Howard telling the truth? Or is Michelle in more danger beneath the soil? Also, it has Cloverfield in the title, so there’s that.

I spend the entirety of the film trying to tie it to Cloverfield. I’ll tell you right now, the film is tied to Cloverfield, but if you haven’t seen the original film, you could enjoy this one all the same.

John Goodman gives an award-worthy performance as the jealous and tense Howard, and he is met on an almost-equal playing field by Winstead and Gallagher here, as this single-location thriller unfolds. Director Dan Trachtenberg plays the claustrophobia well here, not overdoing it but letting the story dictate when. It’s a tautly-edited film, packed with great set design and excellent dialogue.

This entire film is exactly what it should be with one exception concerning the film’s ending (which I actually really enjoyed, but I also wanted more). I really can’t get too much into it, but I will say this: I’ve heard Abrams discuss a possible third installment, and I cannot wait. Not that this film sets up a sequel so much. I just want to see the next direction the series will take. After the stunning found-footage Cloverfield and the tightly-wound thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, I just…I want more!

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So there you have it. See this damn movie! It’s the best film I’ve seen this year (so far, of course, but all the same). If you didn’t like Cloverfield or couldn’t sit through the found-footage, that’s fine. Go to 10 Cloverfield Lane. Now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

 

So have you seen 10 Cloverfield Lane? What did you think? Did you catch the cameo at the beginning? Let me know!

New Trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane Gives Us More Questions…And No Answers!

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Good morning everyone!

Well, yesterday another trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane dropped. This one is a quick little 30 second promo, more of a spot anyway. But it did give us a look at some of the elements at play.

We did get to see a bit of Mary Elizabeth Winstead outside, either before or after her incarceration in John Goodman’s home. We also get a glimpse (and I mean just that) of the “thing” outside the house, whether that be Clover, the main monster from the fantastic film Cloverfield, or not. This film’s connection to the original, if any, still remains to be seen.

I absolutely love the marketing campaign here, playing off of what we know and what we think as an audience. It’s a marketing campaign that doesn’t demean the viewer. Not like how executives were nervous about Batman v Superman being too smart for viewers.

I just can’t wait to see this movie. How about you? Did you see the trailer and what did you think? Will you be seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane, and what film do you think had the best marketing campaign (and don’t say Deadpool, we all know it’s Deadpool)? Let me know.

10 Cloverfield Lane lands in cinemas on March 11th.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 20 – Monsters University (2013)

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Director: Dan Scanlon

Cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren

Screenplay: Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon

104 mins. Rated G.

 

Pixar sequels scare me. I wasn’t a big fan of Toy Story 2. I hated Cars 2. Toy Story 3 was great, but it felt like the exception that proved the rule. When Pixar announced that my favorite property Monsters, Inc. was getting a prequel, I was both shocked and intrigued by the concept. When I discovered that we would be seeing the story of Mike and Sully meeting in college, I was still very confused. Then, I saw it…

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In Monsters University, we get another look into the unique universe that Pixar created where monsters exist and get energy from the screams of children, where a young monster named Mike Wazowski (TV’s The Comedians, When Harry Met Sally…) experiences disapproval by his peers in his attempts to become a professional scarer. But he finds a new rival in fellow student Sully (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, The Gambler). When both students are kicked out of the scaring program, they decide to join Oozma Kappa, a failing fraternity, in an effort to win the Annual Scare Games and earn their way back into the scaring program, proving to their judgmental Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, The Queen, Woman in Gold) that they have what it takes.

Pixar has great timing. Releasing Monsters University at a time when fans of the original film are entering the college portion of their lives is perfection, much in the same way they did with Toy Story 3 a few years previously. Great working of their audience.

The voicework here is phenomenal, getting great work from the veterans as well as new additions Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion. Charlie Day absolutely steals his scenes.

"MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" (Pictured) SULLEY amongst other MU monsters. ©2013 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Monsters University is a perfect prequel, rarely feeling the need to fall back on referencing the original. For the most part, it blazes a new trail and knows it doesn’t have to embrace a cliché finale.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc., click here.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

165 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

 

It has been seven years since Transformers came out. I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing a review of the fourth film in this series, Transformers: Age of Extinction. This film is a bit of a departure in that it takes place five years after The Battle of Chicago, as it is referred to (which took place in Dark of the Moon) and features an entirely new cast of characters. Literally, nobody returns to this franchise for the fourth film except some of the voice actors for the Transformers.

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This installment introduces us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Ted 2), a novice inventor, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, TV’s Bates Motel, The Last Airbender). Cade is a picker who scavenges for parts to use in his various inventions. He and his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, Big Hero 6) come across a truck in an old abandoned theater and take it home to discover it is Optimus Prime in hiding. A government official named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3) has hired a human hitman (Titus Welliver, The Town, Promised Land) and a bounty hunter Decepticon named Lockdown to hunt down and destroy the remaining Transformers. Meanwhile, a big-time business named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) is developing new technology incorporating Autobot tech and using it to build his own Transformers.

The plot is at least a new direction for this series. I was getting tired of the limited character development of Shia LaBeouf. This film isn’t great, but it certainly epitomizes the Michael Bay promise: likable trash. I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It just felt newer, and it had a lot more in terms of acting prowess (from Wahlberg, Tucci, Grammer, and Miller). The plot runs on for damn near forever, but I’ve come to expect that from this series and I didn’t feel as restless as I had from the last few movies.

I also absolutely love the design of the new Transformers in this installment. Hound (voiced by John Goodman) is a new Autobot who plays off like an old army colonel. He is an absolutely fantastic and angry beast who actually transforms to have a cigar in his mouth, too. Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) is a samurai who has blades that come from his transformation into an Apache helicopter. The faces are so well-defined that this is the first Transformers movie where I know all the Transformers based on looks. These are different characters.

And then there’s Lockdown. This is a complex character who is joining the US government to take on the Autobots and also has plans of his own.

I enjoyed this movie more so than I thought, and perhaps that comes from hearing all these bad reviews coming out of this movie’s initial release. I guess I had my hopes down.

One major flaw came from Galvatron, who is one of the new lead villains, a man-made Decepticon who feels so underdeveloped that it becomes really tough to fear him.

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All in all, this was more fun than expected. Make sure you have a comfortable chair, because you will be here awhile, and non-Transformers fans need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction? Did it transform into a masterpiece or did you “Roll Out” of the theater? Let me know!

 

For my review of Transformers, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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Director: Ron Clements, John Musker

Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jennifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman

Screenplay: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards

97 mins. Rated G.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (“Almost There” by Randy Newman)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (“Down in New Orleans” by Randy Newman)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Disney has been known for years to be the leading developer and creator in 2D animation. So even after they had essentially made the change to CG animation, it was a shock to see Disney reverting back to 2D for their next release in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog. It was a definite risk as most moviegoers had made themselves comfortable with the newest form of animating.

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Tiana (Anika Noni Rose, Dreamgirls, Bag of Bones) wants, more than anything, to own a restaurant. It was a passion she shared with her father (Terrence Howard, Iron Man, Sabotage) until he passed away. Now, after years of all working and no playing, Tiana is a dull girl but has forged enough dough to buy her restaurant. It seems like everything is going her way finally, until a talking frog claiming to be the rich Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos, Mimic 2) convinces her to kiss him to turn him human. That kiss backfires, changing Tiana herself into a frog. Now, the two, along with some new friends, must find Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis, Cars, Think Like a Man Too) in order to turn back to humans.

I happen to find The Princess and the Frog to be one of the more unique entries in the Disney Animated catalog. It also falls into one of the safer entries in that same catalog. I enjoyed the film and the stylistic choices made for the music and the characters, but I don’t feel like The Princess and the Frog takes any steps to be less generic. I feel like the Disney execs were so worried about not offending anyone by showing the first black Disney princess in an imperfect light that they turned the film rather bland, which is too bad for a film with so much flavor. It jumps back and forth in the belief that it will be approved by everyone and in that sense it doesn’t leave the audience with much. Likable? Somewhat. Memorable? Less so.

The voice work is fine, with extra praise to Keith David (TV’s Enlisted, Platoon) for his portrayal of Dr. Facilier and Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple, The Butler) as Tiana’s mom.

The film deserves attention for the music by Randy Newman, usually known for a specific style which is wholly unlike what he gives us here.

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Is The Princess and the Frog worth a Best Animated Feature Oscar? Probably not, but it is a fun romp which kids should enjoy and adults should be able to sit through.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 3 – Monsters, Inc. (2001)

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Director: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich

Cast: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson

92 mins. Rated G.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song “If I Didn’t Have You”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature

iMDB Top 250: #215 (as of 7/14/2015)

I might get some trouble for reviewing a family film in the 31 Days of “Horror” category for the month of October, but I should stress. These posts are meant as a celebration of horror, and in that way, Monsters, Inc. is very fitting.

Pixar is a brand name all its own these days, about as recognizable as the name of its owner, Disney. Known for creating fully realized worlds that are capable of translating highly complex moral questions, Pixar is perhaps most well known to me for the creation of Monsters, Inc., a gorgeous little gem from 2001.

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It tells the story of James P. Sullivan or “Sully” (John Goodman, TV’s Roseanne, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and his roommate and best friend Mike Wazowski  (Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally…, Parental Guidance), two monsters existing in a world parallel to our own, in which their main source of power and energy comes from human children’s screams. It isn’t an easy job scaring the screams out of kids anymore, especially when a single touch could kill you. But when a child called Boo (Mary Gibbs, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride) is found after hours in Monsters Incorporated, where Mike and Sully work, the two find themselves in quite a pickle trying to right the many wrongs and solve the mystery of why she is there. Mike and Sully have to discover while how fellow scarer Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi, TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Fargo) is involved, get the information to boss Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn, The Great Escape, Snow Dogs), and avoid Mike’s girlfriend (for her own safety), Celia (Jennifer Tilly, TV’s Family Guy, Bound).

Monsters, Inc. is one of the best films in Pixar’s roster (my personal favorite, in fact). The voice work from Goodman and Crystal (who actually recorded lines together, a rarity in the voice work business) is phenomenal. The animation here is top notch for its time and still looks pretty good for being over thirteen years old. The pacing on the film is another major take-away. It never misses a beat.

Even the musical score just stays with you; this whole film does.

Enjoy watching this film if you haven’t already seen it; it plays with the mythos as well as pulling at the right heart strings, and it pours a couple dashes of The China Syndrome in for good measure.

Take a moment to enjoy some of the little in-jokes that Monsters, Inc. has to offer. Notice that Randall Boggs threatens to throw someone into a wood chipper (a fate he isn’t all too unfamiliar with himself from his work with the Coen brothers). Laugh at Mike’s chair during the employee theatrical performance of “Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me” (it happens to resemble one Krang’s chair from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon).

The best little homage in-joke comes from the restaurant Harryhausen’s, which takes its name from Ray Harryhausen, famous stop-motion creature maker known for Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts. Also, when Harryhausen made the film It Came from Beneath the Sea, he only had the budget for a six-tentacled octopus, which appears as a chef in the restaurant named for him in Monsters, Inc. Isn’t learning fun?

Also, wait around during the credits for a list of Production Babies (a staple for Pixar, covering all the children born during production) and a notice proclaiming “No Monsters Were Harmed During the Making of this Film.”

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What a terrific film, I was so excited to revisit it for the 31 Days of Horror and I hope you will view it yourself, either for the first time or the 1000th.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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