Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

I personally felt like the biggest risk of the early days of the MCU was Captain America (Chris Evans, Gifted, Playing It Cool). As a character, he ran the risk of being the goody boy with too many morals and stances to be an interesting or layered character. I wasn’t concerned with Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk. I even thought Thor has a better chance of success. It was Captain America, especially with Evans leading as the character. I’d seen him do good work, but I didn’t see him as Cap. I’m glad I was wrong.

In 1942, the villainous Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Mortal Engines) has just acquired the Tesseract, a weapon of the gods. With it he plans to turn the tide of the war and change the world forever. In America, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci, Big Night, Nomis) plans to do the same with a weapon of his own: a Super-Soldier serum. He selects Steve Rogers (Evans), a physical weakling with a big heart and mind and an interest to help people. Now, Rogers is ready to end the war and take down Schmidt before he masters the Tesseract and unleashes its unlimited power.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a sign that the MCU is making films that have a similar flavor but make conscious tonal decisions. The previous film, Thor, was made as a Shakespearean superhero film, complete with Kenneth Branagh as a director. The First Avenger is a period serial film in the vein of The Rocketeer or The Phantom, an adventure film with a noted director, Joe Johnston (October Sky, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) at the lead.

Chris Evans does great work as Captain America. He completely surprised me. With the aid of CGI, he performs quite well as pre-Cap Steve Rogers. He is somehow able to convey dialogue that could appear cheesy do-gooder lines with purpose and meaning. He is dedicated. As Captain America, it is his stance that drives the story forward. It is his convictions to best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, Destroyer, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and to his country.

Hayley Atwell (The Duchess, Christopher Robin) is also quite good as Peggy Carter, who assists with the Super-Soldier program and develops a strong connection to Rogers. Their chemistry is sizzling and it holds the whole film together. She played the character with a physical toughness matching the Cap’s and conveyed strength. She isn’t a damsel in distress but an equal.

Marvel struggled with villains a lot but their focus on hero development was so strong, many seemed to forgive. Unfortunately, Red Skull was just not very compelling here. He could have twirled his own mustache if he had one. With an actor of Hugo Weaving’s caliber, a compelling villain should have been easier, and Red Skull is serviceable in moving the plot and arc of the MCU in this film, but that’s about it.

Joe Johnston created a 1940s Marvel movie and it works pretty damn well, even as the weakest in the Captain America trilogy. Chris Evans gets a great start in his tenure as Steve Rogers, and his relationship with Peggy Carter ties the film to something real and tangible. The action is fun and eye-popping and the wide array of supporting players are fun. It struggles with a villain but not with its musical score, very American muster type of music. Overall, this risk paid off quite well.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Letterier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

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

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

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Director: Bill Condon

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra MacDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson

Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos

129 mins. Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images.

 

It’s a tale as old as time but now Disney has turned it into a twice-told tale, but is it any good the second time around?

Belle (Emma Watson, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Circle) is a bookworm and inventor living with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda, Dean) in the small village of Villeneuve. Belle deals daily with the advances of the slimy and arrogant Gaston (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, The Fate of the Furious) and his sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad, Frozen, A Dog’s Purpose) as well as the looks from the townspeople who find the young woman rather odd. When Maurice is lost in the woods, he comes across a castle inhabited by a terrible Beast (Dan Stevens, TV’s Downton Abbey, Colossal) who trades Maurice for Belle. Then, Belle and the Beast find themselves falling for one another in the best adaptation of an animated Buffalo-Human Romance film ever to grace the silver screen.

But how about the actual film?

Well, in the world of adaptations, I found that this 2017 iteration from director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) has some improvements on the original and some elements that didn’t work. Mostly, though, it’s the same film. And in a lot of ways, that lessens it. There are very few liberties taken here, and overall it gives the film a very tame feeling which never really drew me in.

Let’s start with what works. The amount of respect given to the French location of the film is strong. Most of the accents work and even little touches like French subtitles in the end credits give flair. There’s also a sense of theatricality to the film due to Condon’s decision to treat this like a tale you’ve seen before. I highly suggest watching the film with the overture as it harkens back to the classic tale from decades back. I thought the treatment of Disney’s first gay character LeFou was respectful. I thought the tightening up of plot points in the prince’s age and in his ability to read (a major change to the character from the 1991 film) work well here. I also really liked a lot of the personalities and performances from the various living pieces of furniture, most notably Lumiere (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, American Pastoral), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan, TV’s Vicious, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility, Bridget Jones’s Baby). I am very thankful, however, that the director decided to cut the character known as Monsieur Toilette, played by Stephen Merchant, who would have been, you guessed it, a toilet.

And of course, the film looks gorgeous. There are a number of images I’d love to have on my wall from this film. Everything here looks astounding with a tremendous attention to detail.

Now, the issues with the film are glaring. I thought “Be Our Guest” was grossly over-animated and looked terrible. I felt like the film’s forcefulness to sticking to the source material made the film feel like it was dragging on forever. The musical numbers felt very autotuned and unrealistic and none of them really enhanced the original pieces. The issues amount to very simply not improving the original. This film is essentially a shot-for-shot remake in a lot of ways, and we’ve seen how that works out a number of times, most notably with Psycho and The Omen. It never seems to work, and it only reminds you how superior the original is.

Overall, I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast much more than I thought I would. Disney continues to create enjoyable experience rehashing old tales. The biggest problem with Beauty and the Beast is that I don’t see why anyone would choose to watch it again if they have the original film to go to. It just feels forgettable for all of its 129 minutes. There’s just a better version already out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

165 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

 

It has been seven years since Transformers came out. I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing a review of the fourth film in this series, Transformers: Age of Extinction. This film is a bit of a departure in that it takes place five years after The Battle of Chicago, as it is referred to (which took place in Dark of the Moon) and features an entirely new cast of characters. Literally, nobody returns to this franchise for the fourth film except some of the voice actors for the Transformers.

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This installment introduces us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Ted 2), a novice inventor, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, TV’s Bates Motel, The Last Airbender). Cade is a picker who scavenges for parts to use in his various inventions. He and his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, Big Hero 6) come across a truck in an old abandoned theater and take it home to discover it is Optimus Prime in hiding. A government official named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3) has hired a human hitman (Titus Welliver, The Town, Promised Land) and a bounty hunter Decepticon named Lockdown to hunt down and destroy the remaining Transformers. Meanwhile, a big-time business named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) is developing new technology incorporating Autobot tech and using it to build his own Transformers.

The plot is at least a new direction for this series. I was getting tired of the limited character development of Shia LaBeouf. This film isn’t great, but it certainly epitomizes the Michael Bay promise: likable trash. I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It just felt newer, and it had a lot more in terms of acting prowess (from Wahlberg, Tucci, Grammer, and Miller). The plot runs on for damn near forever, but I’ve come to expect that from this series and I didn’t feel as restless as I had from the last few movies.

I also absolutely love the design of the new Transformers in this installment. Hound (voiced by John Goodman) is a new Autobot who plays off like an old army colonel. He is an absolutely fantastic and angry beast who actually transforms to have a cigar in his mouth, too. Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) is a samurai who has blades that come from his transformation into an Apache helicopter. The faces are so well-defined that this is the first Transformers movie where I know all the Transformers based on looks. These are different characters.

And then there’s Lockdown. This is a complex character who is joining the US government to take on the Autobots and also has plans of his own.

I enjoyed this movie more so than I thought, and perhaps that comes from hearing all these bad reviews coming out of this movie’s initial release. I guess I had my hopes down.

One major flaw came from Galvatron, who is one of the new lead villains, a man-made Decepticon who feels so underdeveloped that it becomes really tough to fear him.

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All in all, this was more fun than expected. Make sure you have a comfortable chair, because you will be here awhile, and non-Transformers fans need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction? Did it transform into a masterpiece or did you “Roll Out” of the theater? Let me know!

 

For my review of Transformers, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

 

Of all the young adult post-apocalyptic stories currently drowning our theaters, The Hunger Games is definitely at the top of my list. The list is of good quality work, and the list is small. At just over two hours, the newest film in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, takes the series in a new direction while setting up the final climactic piece to this series, but does it work?

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Yes and no.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: Days of Future Past) has escaped from the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games intact, and now she finds herself in the midst of a major rebellion against the Capitol and the insidious President Snow (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, Horrible Bosses). Her on-again-off-again real-but-also-kind-of-fake boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia, Epic) has been captured and might be dead. She is joined in her quest to take down Snow by friends Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2, Empire State) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, TV’s True Detective, No Country for Old Men) as well as the rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, Magnolia, Non-Stop) and her second-in-command Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote, Doubt). Does Katniss have what it takes to be the face of a rebellion, and can she save the ones she loves from the dark and powerful Capitol?

First of all, I must say that I was in agreement about making Mockingjay into two films. Having read the book, I found that there was a lot of material to be mined from it and I couldn’t see a logical place to cut it without it feeling rushed. That being said, I felt that the area they could’ve beefed up and gone into more were not. We are thrown into the film without have a few minutes to start connecting the dots. I spoke to some views who hadn’t read the books to question their thoughts and they felt as though a little more prologue or something to bring the story into its frame of reference would’ve been appreciated. We also could have spent more time with some of our new characters and there are a lot of them, virtually all of them in this film. We could’ve developed Liam Hemsworth’s Gale as more than just a good-looking fella. There is some action for Hemsworth in this picture but it doesn’t feel as exciting because frankly we don’t know his character like we should.

Now, this movie isn’t bad, don’t think that’s where I’m going with this, but it could’ve had better pacing and more to it. We get some great work from J-Law here as Katniss, and some awesome work our second tier players Moore, Hoffman (in the last performance before he was taken from us), and Harrelson.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) handles the material well, but I don’t think he added as much from a stylistic perspective as he could have. Think about the latter Harry Potter films, the ones directed by David Yates. Each Yates film in the series, although directed by the same man, has a different feeling and a wholly unique style. I could see a moment from Yates’ film and know which film it is. I don’t feel like F-Law has learned anything from last year’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which he should have. Again, not really a flaw, just a notice.

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The problem with most of these films is that they are intended to be viewed as a whole, so when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is released next year, I will take a look back at this first installment (or third, technically) and see how it holds up as a complete saga. Mockingjay – Part 1 is a strong and powerful entry in The Hunger Games saga. There are some truly great moments in this film, and we get a wide array of awesome performances and a lot of tension building for next year’s finale. It is, however, a step down from Catching Fire.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[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.

31 Days of Horror: Day 22 – Monkey Shines (1988)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, William Newman

Screenplay: George A. Romero

113 mins. Rated R.

 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Bruiser) has tackled zombies. I think we all attest to that. He has mastered camp horror (please check out his work with Stephen King in Creepshow, awesome film). There are a lot of things he can do with a horror film. Maybe a killer monkey just isn’t one of those things.

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I recently discovered Monkey Shines, a film I had been looking for since I saw the VHS cover some years back at a rental store (remember all those things?) and I was finally able to watch it.

Allan Mann (Jason Beghe, TV’s Chicago P.D., Thelma & Louise) is a successful athlete who is run down in a traffic collision and becomes a quadriplegic. Suffering from depression and the inability to cope with this new life, Allan is gifted with a monkey from his friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, TV’s Mad About You, Morning Glory). The monkey, named Ella, has been trained by gifted support animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil, The House on Sorority Row, Glitter). Unfortunately, Ella forms an obsessive and violent bond with Allan and begins to kill those around him. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I think the major flaw with Monkey Shines is exactly what doomed it from the start. It is a horror film that lacks horror. Here is a film with an animal that doesn’t seem all that dangerous, and it doesn’t convince me that Ella is. It isn’t easy to convince us that an animal with such an affectionate bond with a human can alter that love so quickly. We have stories that have succeeded where Monkey Shines failed. We have Stephen King’s novel Cujo, an excellent little exercise in creative horror about a dog who becomes the embodiment of fear when rabies (or as King hints at, pure evil) inhabits its body. Cujo (the book, not the movie) was an achievement. Monkey Shines was not. It just plain isn’t scary. Some of it just comes off as funny.

We don’t have any horrible performances. We get some early work from Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, The Lone Ranger) and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Transformers: Age of Extinction) here, but little more.

Although it feels tough to fully blame writer/director Romero, who had his finished film taken away from him multiple times and finally after being completed, the studio put a different ending in that makes it feel very un-Romero.

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Monkey Shines was taglined as “An Experiment in Fear.” I had my hypothesis. I had my conclusion. This is one experiment we need not try again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

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