Kung Fu Panda (2008)

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Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson

Cast: Jack Black, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Jackie Chan

Screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

92 mins. Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

Pixar has pretty high standards. Viewers go into a Pixar film expecting something brilliant, a film with blinding visuals and a heartwarming tale that captures the human spirit.

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Dreamworks Animation…not so much. As big of an advocate as I am for films like Monsters vs. Aliens and the Shrek series, Dreamworks has difficulty hitting it out of the park. People continue to flock to the Kung Fu Panda franchise, though. Even though I didn’t care much for the original film when it came out eight years ago (I was on a date with my now fiancé and we mildly enjoyed ourselves, but the resounding feeling the film gave me was “meh”), I felt the need to return to this franchise after hearing such love from fans about the second and third installments. So here we are. How did I feel the second time around?

Po (Jack Black, King Kong, Goosebumps) is a panda who dreams of a life protecting others, a life of martial arts, a life he cannot have. Po’s father finds him to be most-well-suited in the family business: noodles. But, a dangerous evil, Tai Lung (Ian McShane, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero), has escaped from his incarceration intent on revenge, and the legendary Oogway (Randall Duk Kim, The Matrix Reloaded, John Wick) must select a new Dragon Warrior. His selection? Po. Hijinks, get ready to ensue.

On my second viewing of Kung Fu Panda, I found some elements that I really loved. My favorite sequence was Tai Lung’s prison break scene. There’s also some really unique melding of 2D and 3D animation in homage to Japanese Anime. I even found myself loving the training sequences that Po goes through learning from Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer, Chef) and the rest of the legendary warriors.

Some good should also be said of the voicework from those I’ve already mentioned and also Angelina Jolie Pitt (Maleficent, By the Sea), Seth Rogen (This is the End, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, Dragon Blade).

Now, the cons? It isn’t really funny throughout, and it isn’t really action-packed throughout. When this film hits it, it hits it very well, but it just doesn’t hit the mark enough.

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Kung Fu Panda is uneven, though it has a lot of potential as a franchise starter. After my revisiting of the original film, I see now that this movie had the ability to do well, and it deserved to get another installment.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Mark Osborne and Stephen Hillenburg’s The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, click here.

Chef (2014)

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Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., Emjay Anthony

Screenplay: Jon Favreau

114 mins. Rated R for language, including some suggestive references.

 

Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens) has, in the last six years, exploded due to his involvement in the highly successful but extremely risky Marvel Cinematic Universe, including his directing of two installments. After leaving the directorial duties to others, Favreau chose to take on a more personal project in Chef.

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Chef is all about Carl Casper (Favreau), a famous chef capable of great things but squandered by Riva (Dustin Hoffman, TV’s Luck, Kramer vs. Kramer), an uninspired restaurant owner who is sick and tired of Casper’s ways. When Carl loses his way and his job, he and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony, It’s Complicated), along with colleague Martin (John Leguizamo, Ice Age, John Wick), open up a food truck and take it along the American roads.

This is a cute little movie and star-director-writer Favreau does well as Casper, a father who wants to earn back a little love from his son and earn back a little respect after losing it all. This film is all about the relationship between father and son, and it’s played nicely, albeit too familiarly. Favreau’s style here is nice and somewhat inspirational. There isn’t a whole lot of spectacle here, but there doesn’t really need to be. I also love that Jon Favreau learned to cook everything he cooks. He is completely believable and real as the star cook.

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Chef is a nice little character piece but makes the mistakes of being a little too familiar and a little too fairy-tale bowed. It isn’t a film to change any lives, but it is worth a viewing, just not on an empty stomach.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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