[Oscar Madness] [Happy 10th Birthday!] Transamerica (2005)

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Director: Duncan Tucker

Cast: Felicity Huffman, Kevin Zegers, Graham Greene, Fionnula Flanagan, Burt Young, Carrie Preston, Elizabeth Pena

Screenplay: Duncan Tucker

103 mins. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, language and drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Felicity Huffman)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Travelin’ Thru” by Dolly Parton)

It’s been ten years since Felicity Huffman’s career-making and Oscar-nominated performance in Transamerica. Today, we take a look back.

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Bree (Huffman, TV’s Desperate Housewives, Cake) is a transitioning woman who is about to go through a major life-altering surgery when she discovers that she fathered a son years previously. Her son Toby (Kevin Zegers, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Colony) has been making money prostituting himself to the masses or anyone with clean cash. Bree goes to bail out Toby and then takes him on a cross-country trip back home with her, stopping along the way to see her father (Burt Young, Rocky, Rob the Mob) and mother (Fionnula Flanagan, The Others, Song of the Sea).

Huffman’s performance is definitely note-worthy. There were many many times when I didn’t see Huffman performing in this movie. I saw Bree, a woman going through an awakening, albeit an emotionally painful one, and not wanting to reveal herself to her son while trying to keep a part of him in her life.

Zegers brings a strong piece of work here as well. Toby is going through his own awakening. He hasn’t had a father in his life and doesn’t know how a man is “supposed” to act.

I also enjoyed the supporting plays from Flanagan and Young as Bree’s parents. They are old-fashioned folk who just plain don’t understand Bree’s transition and, especially Flanagan, doesn’t want to.

First-time big-time director Duncan Tucker can handle a camera, but he doesn’t particularly know how to impress with it. This film belongs to the performers, most notably Huffman.

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Transamerica suffers from an uninspired style and too much meandering on the way to a plot, but aided by some terrific performances, it has the worth to be remembered, if only it were more so.

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Selma (2014)

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Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephen James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dylan Baker, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey

Screenplay: Paul Webb

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Glory” by Common, John Legend) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Selma is the story of a key moment in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year): the fight for the right to vote. King has tries to get help from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but to no avail. His wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, TV’s Zero Hour, The Purge: Anarchy), would hope to keep him out of harm’s way. But in Selma, Alabama, a woman named Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple, The Butler) can’t even get registered to vote. King takes his civil rights movement to Selma in hopes of swaying Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth, TV’s Lie to Me, Pulp Fiction) to let them vote.

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While the film Selma isn’t perfect, it does contain some of the more perfect casting and performance work of the past year. David Oyelowo is the spitting visage of the late Dr. King. He has the look, he has the voice, and he has the mannerisms down to a science. Tom Wilkinson plays the former President filled with self-doubt and delusion. Rapper Common (TV’s Hell on Wheels, Smokin’ Aces) gives one of his best roles as James Bevel, as does Wendell Pierce (TV’s The Wire, Parker) in the position of Reverand Hosea Williams. We also get some great turns from some major Hollywood players, like Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), in small roles to elevate the craft of the other actors to something truly great.

Director Ava DuVernay’s camera is more stoic than static, offering what feels more like a live docu-drama than a sweeping picture, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mess with the flow slightly.

I really enjoyed the song “Glory” from Common and John Legend that plays over the closing credits. It displays a plethora of African-American cultural music from the time of Dr. King to present day.

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Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a film that must be watched, if only for the powerful messages it conveys. I honestly did not know as much about this facet of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the events in Selma, Alabama, and so I found the film engaging and shocking at times, and definitely worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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Director: Tony Scott

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Jurgen Prochnow

Screenplay: Larry Ferguson, Warren Skaaren

100 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“Shakedown” by Harold Faltermeyer, Keith Forsey, Bob Seger)

 

When Beverly Hills Cop became a downright hit in 1984, a follow-up became inevitable. At first, the idea of a TV series surfaced, but that was quickly shut down and a film sequel began production. 1987: Beverly Hills Cop II.

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Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy, Trading Spaces, A Thousand Words) is deep undercover back in Detroit to stop illegal credit card scammers when he hears that Lieutenant Bogomil of Beverly Hills has been gunned down by a group of thieves for getting too close. Now it’s off to Beverly Hills to stop them, with the help of Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold, The Santa Clause, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts) and John Taggert in this sequel from action director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Man on Fire).

First of all, how does this sequel compare to Beverly Hills Cop? It isn’t technically better, but it is bigger and a little crazier. The level of believability is pushed pretty hard a few times in this film, particularly during a high-speed chase involving a cement mixer. Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and John Ashton are a great action-comedy trio, providing laughs that come from the story rather than just jumping out of thin air. Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, Beerfest) and Brigitte Neilsen make some great villains as well.

I happen to love the Academy-Award Nominated song “Shakedown” and I think it adds to the musical score without completely redefining it. The great qualities of this film come from the fact that the great parts of the original film are kept intact while getting a fuel-injection of energy.

Tony Scott knows how to direct action, and he knows how to let the actors do the work.

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Now, is Axel Foley the next James Bond? Perhaps not. Axel Foley is a fantastic character and Beverly Hills Cop is a fantastic series…also “Shakedown.” “Shakedown” is awesome. That too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Ted (2012)

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Director: Seth MacFarlane

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi

Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild

106 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” by Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane)

I never thought Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways to Die in the West) would host the Oscars. I also never thought he would nominated for his own film that very year, but he was. And he was.

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Ted is the story of John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, The Gambler) and a wish he wished when he was but a child. After receiving a teddy bear for Christmas, John dreamed that Ted would come alive and be his friend forever. That wish came true, and now, years later, John has become an adult, has a girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis, TV’s Family Guy, Black Swan), and wants to shed all the piece of his childhood. But is he ready to lose Ted (voiced by Director MacFarlane)? Now, John has to decide what is truly important as a loser boss named Rex (Joel McHale, TV’s Community, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas) threatens to take Lori away and a psycho fanboy named Donny (Giovanni Ribisi, Avatar, Selma) threatens to steal Ted.

Seth MacFarlane is great at taking cutesy little stories with lessons about love and growth and punctures them with toilet humor and crude content. I thought the plot was nicely laid out while flipping situations like a best friend moving out and morphing it into the story of a teddy bear.

The performances are more a live-action version of a Family Guy episode than anything of actual merit, but that doesn’t take away from the film’s enjoyment.

Ted’s motion capture performance by Seth MacFarlane looks really good and blends into the film well.

I loved the send-ups to films like Airplane! and Flash Gordon. I loved the Cheers DVD segments, and the wonderful flash Family Guy way about this film. It harkens back to the more simplistic of the cartoon’s episodes back before the first cancellation.

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Ted is a lot of fun if you are willing to accept the extreme crudeness of the piece. It is a hilarious time at the movies, especially for those who can “get” some of the more selective jokes.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Eighth Day… Home Alone (1990)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara

Screenplay: John Hughes

103 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “Somewhere in My Memory”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Growing up, I was not a major fan of Home Alone. I can’t really say why, but perhaps I feel like the film was oversaturated and existed in such a wide capacity that it was just too much. Every year with this film, and I often confused the events of the first film with those of the second which was very jarring.

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At the behest of my mother, who adores the film, I took a look back on it a few years back. My feelings were very different that time around.

Kevin McAllister (Macauley Culkin, Richie Rich, Sex and Breakfast) doesn’t connect with his family. In fact, he wishes he never had a family. When he awakens one morning to discover that his family is gone, he is overjoyed that his wish came true. Kevin’s family has gone to France without him, but now he is home alone while two criminals named Harry (Joe Pesci, GoodFellas, The Good Shepherd) and Marv (Daniel Stern, TV’s Manhattan, City Slickers), known as the Wet Bandits, try to break into his home. It is up to Kevin to protect his home and himself while his mother (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) attempts to get back home to spend Christmas with her son.

I like this movie much more as an adult. There is something about returning to the imagination like a situation like this actually happening. I didn’t have the growing up experience where I wanted to get rid of my family. I enjoyed Macauley Culkin’s ability to carry this movie and the great supporting work from Pesci and Stern certainly help. John Hughes (Vacation, The Breakfast Club) knows how to write a screenplay, and this is one drastically different from his 1980’s teen comedy work. Then there’s Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), who isn’t so much a good director as he is a capable one. He does fine work here assisted by a powerful and unsettling score from John Williams.

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Looking back, Home Alone was a fun time to watch a movie. It has the insane premise which amazingly works quite well, it isn’t derailed by a less-than-amazing Chris Columbus or the bumbling thieves or even the quite rude family members. Still a fun time; still a Christmas miracle.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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