[Happy 15th Birthday!] Shaft (2000)

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Director: John Singleton

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vanessa Williams, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Richard Roundtree

Screenplay: Richard Price, John Singleton, Shane Salerno

99 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language.

 

Apparently, Shaft is one bad motha-“Shut Your Mouth!”

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John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) has carried on the family crest from his uncle John (Richard Roundtree, Se7en, Speed Racer). When he responds to a racial attack and has millionaire rich-kid Walter Wade, Jr (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Knight of Cups) arrested in the death of a black youth. Now, with the help of Narcotics specialist Carmen Vasquez (Vanessa Williams, Eraser, Temptations: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor), Shaft must defend the woman who witnessed the attack from Wade who has now teamed up with drug lord Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright, Casino Royale, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).

Shaft is surprisingly not terrible, though it seems to have forgotten a lot of what made the original so cheese-good.

The greatest idea put forth here was to make this incarnation of Shaft a sequel to the previous trilogy. We even get to see the Richard Roundtree as the uncle, also known as John Shaft. I love the idea of continuing the story. Too many films just go the remake route but this works so well.

Sam Jackson does a great job here, but he gets bogged down by the truly disappointing work from Wright and Bale.

I also felt this to be the tamest of the Shaft series. Literally, he doesn’t have any of the sensuality of the original character. Now, granted, as I said before, these are different characters, but I feel like it was a big miss from the film.

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Shaft is good, but I can see why the franchise never continued. Singleton’s directing works in short spurts but this film didn’t really go anywhere. The film had several plotlines that didn’t go anywhere, for example the thread involving Dan Hedaya and that other guy becoming crooked cops. I just didn’t care. There were just a lot of chopping to be done to this film and a lot of elements missing here.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

 

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

[#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

RoboCop (2014)

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Director: Jose Padilha

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.

 

In order to make a solid remake, you need to analyze the areas where the original incarnation succeeded and also find avenues to bring something new to the table. RoboCop tried this, and for what it brought to the table, it worked just fine. The problem stems from the fact that this film could’ve worked so much better as a reboot than a remake. There were avenues laid out in the original series, and they could’ve been examined closer. The original RoboCop is not that far back.

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Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s The Killing, Safe Haven) is a cop on the edge, and he has nothing but contempt and handcuffs for crooked cops. When an attempt is made on his life, Murphy is left horribly disfigured and limbless, essentially dead. But the folks over at OmniCorp, including CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton, Batman, Birdman) and lead science doctor Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) have new thoughts for Murphy. They turn him into RoboCop, a cyborg officer with a human heart.

RoboCop tries new things, but not enough of them. It comes off as a TV movie version of the original, a copy made with a poor printer. Kinnaman’s performance comes off as wooden, which doesn’t work since Alex Murphy is supposed to be struggling to find humanity in his new metal body. Gary Oldman gives us some batshit crazy work here, probably the best in the film. Michael Keaton plays up his villainy and reminds us why we love him. Then there is Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) who portrays Pat Novak, a television personality who essentially takes over the satirical commentary that the original film had. He was interesting but ultimately pulled me out of the film. This script just doesn’t differ or add enough to be worth the trouble.

Let’s talk about the violence. Where is the blood? I know that it shouldn’t be an issue, but this RoboCop is so tame that one can’t help but wish for the days of RoboCop being a badass. This Alex Murphy, a badass he is not.

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Maybe RoboCop is the beginning of a new franchise, and if so, it has a lot to learn about creating a world. As for now, RoboCop 2014 doesn’t have this.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. I also miss the 1987 RoboCop score…

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

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Director: Peter Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Karen Duffy, Mike Starr, Charles Rocket, Victoria Rowell, Teri Garr

Screenplay: Peter Farrelly, Bennett Yellin, Bobby Farrelly

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for off-color humor.

 

1994 was a very good year for films. I may have already discussed this, but I feel like I need to reiterate. 1994 was one of the best years for films in history. From a critical standpoint, we had such classics as Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump. From a comedy standpoint, audiences received a hilarious turkey (or triple play) from Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kick-Ass 2) with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb & Dumber. It was a great year.

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Dumb & Dumber is a bit of a comedy enigma. The film is far too stupid and outlandish to be good, and yet it is one of the most incredibly perfect comedies ever constructed.

Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) is an idiot. He has just fallen in love at first sight with a woman he doesn’t even know named Mary (Lauren Holly, TV’s NCIS, Spirited Away) and when he finds a briefcase she has lost in an airport terminal, he vows to return it to her. He enlists dog groomer and best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels, TV’s The Newsroom, Good Night and Good Luck) who, like Lloyd, is an idiot, to help him in his quest and make a new name for themselves in the land of opportunity, Aspen. The trouble is, Mary didn’t lose her briefcase, and Lloyd and Harry have entangled themselves in a plot more menacing than either could have anticipated.

The film is made by its performances. Everybody in this movie plays it straight to the book except Carrey and Daniels, and it is made all the more goofy than it should be. We have some incredible supporting work from Mike Starr (TV’s The Young and the Restless, GoodFellas) as a hitman trying to take our lovable morons out of the picture. There is also the terrific late actor Charles Rocket (Dances with Wolves, Hocus Pocus) who is a family friend of Mary’s.

There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners that keep this film at the forefront of fans’ minds long after viewing for the zillionth time. I still cringe at the encounter that the dumb-dumbs have with local law enforcement after getting discovered with an open bottle. I still giggle everytime the guy in the diner yells “Kick his ass, Seabass!” and I still find a happy place every time Seabass tries to get revenge on Lloyd in the bathroom stall of a gas station.

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To make a long story short, or for that matter, a smart story dumb, Dumb and Dumber is a perfect comedy that belongs in a hall of fame alongside other greats like Tommy Boy and Animal House. It stands the test of time even after twenty years and I can see it living on another few decades.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay and action throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a powerhouse that needn’t even be tested right now. After DC/Warner Bros. release their own cinematic universe lineup to follow last year’s Man of Steel, Marvel Studios unleashed their Phase 3 plans involving more films from Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, along with a bunch of new properties that will likely destroy most other contenders. With all this news, it is tough to focus on specific individual films, which is a shame, because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the perfect Marvel movie, as it not only tells a compelling story that works as both a genre film and a superhero movie, and it also stands alone while fueling plot threads for multiple avenues for Marvel to take on in future productions.

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The Winter Soldier follows Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?) as he continues to adjust to life in the present, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) under the tutelage of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, RoboCop). Meanwhile, a plot to attack S.H.I.E.L.D. from within is unveiled and the addition of new foe The Winter Soldier adds multiple new threats to Cap. Rogers is going to have to use new help from Sam Wilson aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Runner Runner) and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, The Lego Movie) to take down the Winter Soldier and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

This movie was awesome. It felt like a separate film much more attuned to 70s espionage and political thrillers than a superhero comic book adaptation. New to the Marvel Directors Club, Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree) saw the film through a unique lens and decided to forgo CG in favor of practical effects whenever possible (and it shows). The cinematography is engaging and the visual literally POP off the screen (even in 2D). The pacing is perfect. I never once found myself reaching for my phone.

We also get some incredible performances from new Marvel family members Frank Grillo (Warrior, The Purge: Anarchy), Anthony Mackie, and Emily VanCamp (TV’s Revenge, Carriers) as Brock Rumlow, Sam Wilson, and Kate, respectively.

I needed to take a moment to talk about Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All is Lost). He just knocks his role out of the park. He plays a very important character, Alexander Pierce, the man in the big office of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he just nails it. For a man without a ton of screentime, Redford makes this film official, and I loved every minute of it.

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In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier would be a great movie even without all the superheroics. It would be a great mystery on that alone. Add in all the Marvel greats that make this franchise what it is and you have a recipe for not only a great installment (easily among the high points in this franchise) but a damn great time at the movies. Better get two tubs of popcorn, because this popcorn flick is something not to miss!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you suit up or defect? Let me know!

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

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