[Happy 5th Birthday!] Sucker Punch (2011)

 

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn

Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Steve Shibuya

110 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language.

 

Wow, I remember being very excited for Sucker Punch five years ago. I really enjoyed Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, both directed by Zack Snyder (300, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and I couldn’t wait to see what the visual director was going to bring next. Sucker Punch had the right amount of mystery and confidence to carry it for me. Then, it came out. My mind quickly changed. Looking back now, I decided to revisit Sucker Punch five years later to see if it had changed.

Sucker Punch is another one of those movies impossible to fully describe in a paragraph, so I’ll try to make it as easy as possible. Babydoll (Emily Browning, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Legend) has just lost her mother, and her step-father has sent her to an asylum for the mentally ill, which Babydoll sees as a brothel. She meets others there, like Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish,  Limitless, RoboCop) and her sister Rocket (Jena Malone, Contact, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2), and she is introduced to Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who makes Babydoll and her friends dance at his club. Not wanting to deal with the cards dealt, Babydoll escapes into a fantasy world where she battles Nazi Zombies, Robot Samurai, and of course, a dragon, all the time attempting to get tools to plot her escape.

If there are two truly great things that came out of Sucker Punch, they are the visuals and the music. This movie is gorgeous looking, and I don’t just mean the talent in front of the camera. Zack Snyder’s constant flair for the screen  is again impressive here. The score and soundtrack, both in the original renditions and songs selected to fit the film, are incredible and rhythmic and a lot of fun. That is where the wins for Sucker Punch end.

I’m not even going to touch on the misogynistic feel of the overall film. The movie just wants to be better than it is. I didn’t feel the emotional impact of much of the film because I knew that what I was seeing was not exactly what was really happening. It isn’t very easy to make a popcorn movie with explosions and scantily-clad woman battling monsters into a total snoozer, but Sucker Punch did just that. Honestly, when I read down the list of components of this film, it should be great, but the poor screenplay from Snyder and Steve Shibuya shines through this film, ultimately making a disappointment.

The film is star studded, also including Jamie Chung (Big Hero 6, Bad Johnson), Carla Gugino (Night at the Museum, San Andreas), Jon Hamm (TV’s Mad Men, Minions), and Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs, The Barber), but unfortunately, the film feels overdone and undercooked, a beautifully confusing mess, a nicely mixed cocktail that tastes like mud. I really wanted to love Sucker Punch, but I just wasn’t in love with it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Date Night (2010)

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Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Common, Mark Wahlberg

Screenplay: Josh Klausner

88 mins. Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.

 

Steve Carell (TV’s The Office, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and Tina Fey (TV’s Saturday Night Live, This is Where I Leave You) are comedic powerhouses with great chemistry, and in Date Night, from director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), they get the chance to play with it, even with the screenplay’s excessive shortcomings.

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Carell and Fey play the Fosters, Phil and Claire, and they need a new spark of romance in their lives. Their friends are getting divorced from a lack of love and they desperately want a date night to change it all, so when the tables are booked at the new restaurant, they take the table reserved for the absent Tripplehorns and enjoy their night. That is, until a case of mistaken identity leads to a seedy underworld of bad cops, worse mobsters, and a missing flash drive containing some very dangerous content and the Fosters have more on their plates than a missing spark.

Carell and Fey have tremendous chemistry and play so well off of each other, while director Levy controls the camera nicely lobbing back and forth between action and comedy. We also get some great cameo work from Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Gambler), James Franco, Mila Kunis, and more.

The biggest issue here is from screenwriter Josh Klausner (Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter, The 4th Floor) and his disappointing script. It has a nice general outline; there are laughs here and action there, but rarely do the two meet on equal ground (the dual-car car chase is an exception) which doesn’t give the leads much to do to flash their creative abilities.

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The leads perform quite admirable and carry the film much better than most others could, which help make Date Night a worthy view of a film, even if it suffers from pitfalls of a less-than-worthy screenplay.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum, click here.

For my review of Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, click here.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)

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Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest, Alain Chabat, Robin Williams

Screenplay: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon

105 mins. Rated PG for mild action and brief language.

I avoided the sequel to Night at the Museum like the plague. I enjoyed the original film but thought to myself that a sequel can only harm that. There couldn’t be any possible way for the sequel to be anything new. Literally, the title says it all. It’s just another night at the museum, right?

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Not exactly.

Sure, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is more of the same, but it takes the original premise and expands immensely on it, providing a little of the repetition, but a lot of new fun that makes it comparable to the original.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller, Zoolander, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) has taken his inventing career to the next level, creating all manner of As Seen On TV that you see on the endcaps in stores across the nation. He has essentially put his past in the Museum of Natural History behind him, but that changes when he gets a call from Jedediah (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, Inherent Vice) telling him that Dexter the Capuchin Monkey had stolen the Tablet that brings the exhibits to life at night and it has been moved to the Smithsonian Museum where all heck has run loose, and it’s now up to Larry and his cadre of walking talking exhibits including Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society) and Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams, Man of Steel, Big Eyes) to take on the evil and now alive again Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria, TV’s The Simpsons, The Smurfs 2) who thinks the Tablet belongs to him.

I loved all the ways that Battle of the Smithsonian expanded the universe created by the first film. From the talking bobbleheaded Einsteins in the gift shop to the paintings that Larry and Amelia get caught up in, this is a well-thought sequel with several new avenues for adventures. It does tread some of the same waters as the original, but does so with enough flair that it’s more forgivable. Director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, This is Where I Leave You) continues to stylishly supply action/comedy at full-tilt and it seems like the new characters like Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest, This is Spinal Tap, The Invention of Lying) have great chemistry with our returning players.

As always, the cinematography isn’t anything to sing to the mountaintops, and the film might run on a little too long for its own good, but Levy’s work behind the camera keep the film light-hearted and moving along.

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As far as sequels go, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian could have been better (I’m still a little curious about where Carla Gugino went) but it stands up as a lot of fun that adds some new fun and sends up its predecessor nicely.

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Night at the Museum, click here.

Night at the Museum (2006)

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Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Robin Williams

Screenplay: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon

108 mins. Rated PG for mild action, language and brief rude humor.

 

As 2014 comes to a close, and the final film featuring Robin Williams is soon to be released, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. With that in mind, I decided to look back at the original film.

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Night at the Museum features Ben Stiller (Zoolander, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as Larry Daley, a failing inventor out of his luck and looking for a job. That is, until he gets a break in the form of a position as a night security guard at the Museum of Natural History. The only catch is, everything in the museum comes to life at night thanks to a mysterious tablet. Now, with the help of a wax Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society), Larry has to protect the natural order of the museum and defend it from the forces trying to get their hands on the tablet.

Ben Stiller is a lot of fun in this movie. It happens to be a comedy that is more focused than a lot of Stiller’s less-than-stellar work. He does get great help from Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Man of Steel) who is largely wasted on a bit role, as well as support from legends Dick Van Dyke (TV’s Diagnosis: Murder, Curious George), Mickey Rooney (The Fox and the Hound, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Bill Cobbs (Oz the Great and Powerful, The Muppets), but the film really rests of the shoulders of a strong screenplay and the masterful handling by director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, This is Where I Leave You).

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The CG effects are strong and still look pretty good some eight years later, and the films jokes largely continue to land (with the exception of a few noticeable improvs from Stiller). I just plain had a lot of fun watching this movie. It is zany and yet smart and makes great usage of an interesting plot device. All in all, Night at the Museum is a wonderful film for audiences of all ages and it has the thrills and laughs to keep it going the entire runtime.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

December 2014 Preview

 

Well, folks, 2014 is winding down, and as perusual, we have a ton of major films coming out now to cap off the year nicely. Let’s take a look at them today, and remember, I have not seen these films and my predictions come solely from early reviews, trends, Oscar buzz, and my abilities as a film reviewer. I’m pretty good at predicting success or failure based on a lot of factors, and I merely want to provide you with a solid bit of info to make your holiday choices well.

 

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The Pyramid

We discussed The Pyramid before, and I have high hopes for it, but personally, I feel as though the studio decision to drop it at the beginning of December is not something I feel great about. While December is a great month for films, a horror film release during this time is almost as much a death notice as sending it out in January. I like the story about a group of archaologists studying pyramid ruins only to be hunted by something alive in there intrigues me, and I like the work of first time director Gregory Levasseur, who penned previous horror films like the remakes to The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors, so it may stand tall, but I’m pretty on the fence with this one. That being said, horror movies are a lot of fun in theaters, are they not?

 

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Wild

Jean-Marc Vallee is riding high off the success of last year’s Dallas Buyer’s Club, and it would seem to be continuing with the Oscar buzz connected to Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name, chronicling her journey of over 1100 miles hiking to come to emotional terms with tragedy in her life. Reese Witherspoon won’t be taking the Oscar for her portrayal this year, but I’m hearing that she is on the short list of possible nominees. This seems like a definite win, from the adaptation by famed writer Nick Hornby to the many performances being universally loved.

 

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

Ridley Scott and I have a strained relationship. I love his skills as a director, but every director’s cut he has ever had has disappointed me beyond belief, so in that way, I like that he is a studio man, and doesn’t get final cut. His new film, based on the works of the Bible, features Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, looks epic to be sure, and the Oscar buzz for its technical achievements cannot be ignored. I think Ridley Scott has crafted a unique look at these events, and after a year of unique visions (Noah) and Christian pandering films (God’s Not Dead), Exodus will likely divide moviegoers. I’m all in, but not everyone will be.

 

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I mean, C’MON! It’s the friggin’ Hobbit! I loved The Lord of the Rings! I love the previous Hobbit films. How can this not be an event film? I get the first feelings of huge critical acclaim for this finale to the Middle-Earth Saga. The previous Hobbit releases were less loved than their decade-old brethren, but I think director Peter Jackson is ready to cap off his saga the right way, delivering a truly epic experience.

 

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Annie

I’m just going to say this one.  NO! There. Annie getting a remake didn’t bother me much, until I saw the cringe-inducing trailer. This film likely had its heart in the right place, but it will be awful.

 

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The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg has had an interesting career. He does big Oscar films like Lone Survivor and The Fighter, and then he has Pain & Gain and Transformers: Age of Extinction. So what is The Gambler? A lit professor has an affair with a student and then gets involved with a loan shark in this film from director Rupert Wyatt and writer William Monahan. I think this film will be more towards The Fighter, which is good. I like Wyatt’s directing and I love Monahan’s writing, so I have some good vibes.

 

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Here we are, at the end of Robin William’s esteemed career. This is the last film of the famed performer and if we can look back at the previous two Night at the Museum films, we can say that we are looking at a lot of fun. Don’t expect a perfect night, and understand that it won’t be an original masterpiece (even the first sequel retreaded the same waters as its predecessor), but I’m not thinking bad.

 

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Big Eyes

So Tim Burton’s newest film doesn’t look like a Tim Burton film. The true story of Margaret Keane and her husband during her explosion as an artist seems like a good place to take filmgoers. There are nuances of Burton’s style here but this is wholly new territory and I can respect that, and with the great work previously seen from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, I’m actually pretty excited for Big Eyes.

 

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The Interview

I guess no controversy is bad controversy, right? The Interview is literally a movie about an undercover assassination of Kim Jong-Un. And it is a comedy with James Franco and Seth Rogen. Yes, those two sentences are related. There was so much controversy surrounding this film when it had its first trailer release that I wasn’t sure the film would ever be released, but here it comes, just in time for Christmas. I’m sure it will have the right laughs and I feel like I need to see it just to understand what the hell this was all for, but tread carefully people. Sometimes studios push controversy to cover a disappointing finished product.

 

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Into the Woods

Disney’s star-studded adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical bringing together a cadre of fairy tale creatures in a dark and stunning atmospheric wood seems to be bringing the good buzz. There was definite controversy surrounding whether Disney’s version would contain some of the darker aspects of the original musical brought me out a bit, but I’m hoping that Rob Marshall’s directing and the incredible Meryl Streep can keep this film rollicking.

 

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Unbroken

The last major film on our list is Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, is a true story of Louis Zamperini who was a POW in World War II after being hailed for his skills as an Olympic runner previously. Zamperini’s intense story of survival is already garnering a ton of Oscar buzz so I have good feeling abound. See this one. I know I will be.

 

 

So there you go. And here you go:

 

Best Bets: Wild, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Big Eyes, Unbroken

Likely Drops: Annie

On the Bubble: The Pyramid, The Gambler, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, The Interview, Into the Woods

 

Remember these are not set in stone, sometimes a film can surprise (in both directions) and you may seem something I did not. Enjoy yourself and Happy Holidays!

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