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!

[Happy 5th Birthday!] The Lovely Bones (2009)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Saoirse Ronan

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, Peter Jackson

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Stanley Tucci)

 

Certain directors get going and when they do, they just can’t stop. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, King Kong) is one of those directors. The last film he made that truly disappointed me was the splatter-fest Dead Alive, a gore-lovers delight from some twenty years ago. Then came cult classics like The Frighteners and major wins like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong. And like I said before, he just couldn’t stop. In 2009, he gave filmgoers something that they hadn’t seen from Jackson yet. His adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was much awaited and polarized many who saw it, but it’s Jackson’s most personal work in years. It dives to the core of human emotion and digs until it hurts.

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Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a pretty smart young girl living in the 1970s with parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy, Oz the Great and Powerful). She has a bright and shining future ahead as her most important growth period of her life looms ahead, but sadly, her light is cut short all too soon when an encounter with the strange George Harvey (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) leads her to an early grave. As her family struggles to grieve, Susie enters an ethereal plane of existence and must overcome her need for revenge before it tears her family to pieces.

This movie is equal parts visual candy and horrifying family tragedy. I love that its struggle in tone is much like that of its lead characters. The film goes to extremes treating little pieces of genre with the intensity of a mood swing. I find this, whether intentional or not, to be so jarring that it works. Jackson’s visual style is here and it looks gorgeous.

Now let’s talk performances. Wahlberg’s is terrible, this is easily one of the most disappointing areas of this film. He can’t handle the tragedy that Jack Salmon is supposed to experience. Rachel Weisz’s is passable but he really isn’t a fully-realized character. Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Tammy) is Susie’s Grandma Lynn, who jumps in as prime caretaker when Susie’s parents fail to care for the siblings. Michael Imperioli (TV’s The Sopranos, Oldboy) also does passable work as Len Fenerman, the detective charged with finding Susie’s killer.

And then you get George Harvey, played perfectly by Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s performance is so painful and disgusting to watch that every scene with him becomes a living car wreck, one that is so terrifying that you can’t look away. George Harvey is perhaps Tucci’s best work to date and remains a truly chilling piece of work.

The script-work by Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, and Jackson, the same writing team Jackson has used on much of his previous work, does a great job here with the source material. They helped to piss me off as the film’s events meandered through life in the 70s. That’s what this movie does best, it pushes one through the stages of grief while equally pissing me off. I hated this movie, and that’s what I loved so much about it.

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When I look back on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, I remember my anger. I also remember the film’s beauty and the search for a passable moment of happiness in a sea of sadness. If you have yet to see this strange odyssey of death, please do so, and let it anger you, but also, let it take hold of you and show you something you haven’t seen before.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

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Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Chris Zylka

Screenplay: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.

 

I feel like I should describe the film I’m about to review, but to streamline and simplify the process by just having you watch Spider-Man. This film is little more than a carbon copy, subbing one villain in for another and one love interest in for another. I should point out that this is mostly a well-made movie, but the pacing issues really drag it down given the fact that we had seen all of this before.

The Amazing Spider-Man tells the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go), a loser but a smart one at that. The only thing he seems to want in life is Gwen Stacy (perfectly casted with Emma Stone, The Help, Birdman). That, and to discover the truth behind his parents’ death. Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill, The Five-Year Engagement) is the man who may hold some truth, but he is a bit too preoccupied with becoming a monstrous half-man/half-lizard hybrid.

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There is a lot of sameness to this film. Peter becomes Spider-Man. He fights the monster and tries to save those around him from certain doom. This plot is kind of boring for a regular superhero film at this point, but the fact that this is the second time it has been shown on film makes it all the more painful. If this first 90 minutes had been more brushed over, we could be enjoying ourselves a lot more, but this movie just drags. The subplot mystery surrounding Peter’s parents does help, but not enough.

I personally thought Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Spidey was less likable than I would’ve hoped for. Now Emma Stone was pretty likable. She was some damn perfect casting, as with her father, played by Denis Leary (Two if by Sea, Draft Day).

Then you have Curt Connors, a character who was merely cameos in previous Spider-Man films, and here he is in all the glory. And he is friggin’ creepy as The Lizard. Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) and Sally Field (Forrest Gump, Lincoln) are Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and give us solid performances given the unsolid scripting.

Now, from a cinematography standpoint, Marc Webb’s film has some very nice touches. The new costume for the masked hero is actually pretty nice looking. The ending was pretty awesome. I like that they are taking a page from Marvel to end on a note that not all is finished here. So the film does have some great moments, given that it is the same movie.

Now, I’m going to just state something. I hate comparing reboots and remakes to their predecessors. I don’t think it is fair as we have already had too much time to fall in love with the originals. It doesn’t offer up a fair fight, but then again, maybe that is the reason that we shouldn’t have remakes. It makes a good argument, but at the same time, I feel like some remakes are pretty damn perfect (John Carpenter’s The Thing and Peter Jackson’s King Kong to name a few). The problem with not comparing The Amazing Spider-Man to Spider-Man is that both films are so close in both exact plotting and timing that it is difficult not to. If you make a film right, it doesn’t have to be up for comparison. I never find myself comparing Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins to Tim Burton’s original Batman because both films have difficult tones and aim for different ideas.

So, when I come to a topic of comparison from a music perspective, I don’t want to compare the fun and upbeat feeling of Sam Raimi’s trilogy to the ominous toning of Marc Webb’s film. But I do, and the difference and preference keep me to the original.

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Now, this film was originally scripted as Spider-Man 4, and I don’t understand the reason to reboot. All the best parts of this film would’ve been made better by continuing the previous film. We already introduced Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, so even planting Emma Stone in would’ve done fine enough. Curt Conners was already a character, so his introduction would’ve reduced the strained runtime. The mysetery around Peter’s parents would’ve injected some serious intrigue into the series. Even the open-ended finale would’ve translated perfectly. It just felt like a monetary decision (and it was) to push the reboot button, and we can tell.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of The Amazing Spider-Man? Did this tale need retelling or where you experiencing deja vu?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom.

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro.

161 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Peter Jackson continues his return trip to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a more fun follow-up to An Unexpected Journey, which showed up in late 2012 to polarized reactions. The Desolation of Smaug falls for some of the same pitfalls that troubled its predecessor, but all in all, it is a worthy addition to the epic world created by J.R.R. Tolkien many years ago.

We meet up with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Sherlock) and his Dwarf company (consisting of Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) as well as Gandalf the Grey, played once again by Ian McKellan (X-Men, Stardust) to rescue the dwarven city of Erebor from the beastly dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, also of Sherlock fame). This is the part of the story where we really get to the meat of Tolkien’s epic journey.

The performances here are at the top of their game. McKellan makes me fear for the beloved wizard for the first time since The Fellowship of the Ring. I can honestly say that I was unsure that we would be seeing Gandalf again after he breaks away from the group to hunt down the location of the foreboding Necromancer we keep hearing about. You can tell Freeman is getting more comfortable with the weight he now carries in this franchise, as Bilbo is now more comfortable with his stake in things as well. Bilbo definitely takes a step back though, for a sizable amount of this film so that we can focus on other characters. Richard Armitage (Captain America: the First Avenger) has more to do in this film than just brood, which is a welcome addition.

Let’s get to Benedict Cumberbatch, who has received a lot of talk since this film was release barely over a month ago. Other critics of this film claim that he is nothing more than a name tacked on to this film and that his voice-work for both Smaug and the Necromancer could have been done by anyone. I will disagree with this claim, let us not forget that Cumberbatch also did performance capture for the characters and I feel like he adds a layer of tone and inflection to what could’ve been stock bad guys in a fantastical backdrop.

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Lee Pace is finally given the chance to boast some acting chops in this film, after completing what could be thought of as a mere cameo in An Unexpected Journey as the Elvenking Thranduil, father to Legolas, who also returns to the series played again by Orlando Bloom.

Desolation also brings some new faces to the world of Middle-Earth, one in particular, Tauriel, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, is a completely original character, who gets some nice screen time with Aidan Turner’s Kili. We also meet Bard the Bowman, who is introduced much earlier and given more to do than in Tolkien’s original work. For those of you who are fans of the book, we will be seeing Bard again.

The Hobbit’s gorgeous cinematography and high-frame rate compliment this more-actionier installment, especially when Bilbo and company take a rather exciting barrel ride down a river. The music is definitely owed dues once we encounter Lake Town. Howard Shore really creates some new auditory wonders for us as we edge closer to Erebor. As per usual, the visual effects are stunning and magical without taking us away from the real reason that Thorin and Bilbo have come all this way.

Really, the only thing I can see film-goers not loving about this film is the length. Jackson and fellow writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (who worked on the script when he was originally attached to direct) have bulked up this story a lot more than the 300-page novel had, we will call it Epic-sizing it up to turn a novel shorter than that of any of the individual Lord of the Rings books into a 9-hour love letter to Middle-Earth. I am a big fan of Tolkien’s original work and Jackson’s storytelling, so the length really doesn’t bother me, but I can see how casual viewers may not be as swept up as I was.

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The film ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and I have to say that I’m not sure I can wait a year to revisit this world, but fans fear not, I’m sure we’ll get an extended edition of Smaug soon enough.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

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