Tag Archives: john goodman

Kong: Skull Island – Review

13 Mar

I love monster movies. Like I really, really love monster movies, so the fact that Legendary is giving us a whole universe dedicated to giant monster brawls is almost too exciting. The first film in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla, came out in 2014, and despite some mixed reviews, I thought it was pretty badass. It did have some flaws, but when it got down to the monster mayhem, it really knew what it was doing. Now we have the second film, Kong: Skull Island, which introduces King Kong and the island to the universe. This beloved ape has been around since 1933, and it’s awesome to see that he has no intentions of giving up his big screen glory. This film is excessive, yes, but it’s also an extremely entertaining and action packed thrill ride.

William Randa (John Goodman) is a government official who has all the proof he needs to lead an expedition to an undiscovered island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Skill Island. After fighting for approval, he finally gets the go ahead and begins assembling his team. His first order of business is to find a tracker, which he finds with James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former SAS captain that served in the Vietnam War. He also recruits the help of Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his regiment, the Sky Devils, as a military escort. Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the expedition with hopes of uncovering some unknown government conspiracy. When the group finally gets to the island, it doesn’t take long for the protector of the realm, a 100 foot tall ape named Kong, to show up and defend his land. This attack splits the group in two, which forces them to work together and keep their eyes peeled for Kong and the other horrors that wait for them on the island.

I had such a blast with Kong: Skull Island, that I’m still getting excited thinking back on it. It’s exactly what I wanted from this movie, and based on what some other critics were saying, I was kind of worried I was going to be let down. One thing that’s worth noting that can be seen as a negative are some of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard and John C. Reily’s Hank Marlow are two examples of well thought out and fully realized characters. I understand their motivations and they stand out amongst the rest. There are other side characters that also have large personalities that make them memorable, but there’s no real development with any of them. Tome Hiddleston and Brie Larson, however, seem to hardly be in character at all. They’re just the stereotypical heroes you would expect to see in this movie. They try to add a little back story to them, but that exposition doesn’t really help at all. They’re just there to save the day, and that’s about it.

The original King Kong has one of the most classic stories in the history of film, and no sequel or remake since then has been able to capture that same essence and feeling. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t even try, and it’s all the better for it. Sure, it has the same kind of set up with the characters being introduced and sailing to the island, and there are natives which are to be expected on Skull Island, but that’s where the similarities end. The story of this movie pretty much revolves around Hiddleston and company trying to stay alive and get to the rendezvous point on the other side of the island. This is really all I needed, but there’s a cool subplot added in with Jackson’s character that raises the stakes even more. I was so thrilled to see this movie not get bogged down in trying to be something more than it is. The plot was there to drive the movie forward, but it wasn’t so stale and uninteresting that I lost track of what I was really watching. This keeps the pace fast with the action always moving forward. It’s cool to say that I was never once bored watching this movie.

Let’s talk about the man of the hour though. Toby Kebbel is tasked with being a side character soldier, but also was the motion capture actor for Kong. This seems appropriate since he did the motion capture for Koba in the new Planet of the Apes movies. He really brings Kong to life in this movie, which is awesome, and the physicality of the role is not to be forgotten. Kong has major throw downs in this movie that will force any viewer to go into popcorn munching overdrive. This is where the movie really shines, and I appreciate the visuals that add to the excessiveness that I mentioned I loved so much. Sure, the close ups and the crazy compositions of Kong back lit by the sun may seem cheesy, but they’re really just too cool to look at, and provided some of my favorite parts of the movie.

Is Kong: Skull Island going to match the classic status that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did with the original back in 1933? Of course not, but it does add a fulfilling new chapter to the MonsterVerse, and also was just a highly entertaining film. Once the characters get to the island, the action very rarely slows down and I found myself getting lost in the visuals of the island and the monster brawls that seemed larger than life happening before my very eyes. This isn’t a movie about characters nor does it have any important lessons to teach the viewer. This is about giant monsters throwing down for a couple of hours. In that way, it did not disappoint.

Final Grade: B+

Inside Llewyn Davis – Review

31 Mar

I recently reviewed the Coen Brothers’ newest film, Hail Caesar! last month, and now I’m right back at it, but this time with their 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis. I really wanted to see this movie when it first came out, but a combination of laziness and more laziness prevented me from actually making it to the theaters. It’s been quite some time since its release, and I have just now gotten around to seeing it. Let me just say, that it was worth the wait and I feel it is one of the Coen Brothers’ best. Inside Llewyn Davis was one of the movies that really hit me, and not only made me want to evaluate the movie and its different themes and artistic stylings, but also made me want evaluate some parts of myself. That’s a sign of a great movie right there.

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The year is 1961 and the folk scene of New York is a melting pot of different ideals, lyrical storytelling, and melodies that were made to hum to. For Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), music has become something of a burden, despite his overwhelming passion to express himself through song and not be forced to sell out to some giant music industry monstrosity. As Davis navigates his way through the different basket houses and venues of New York trying to find a gig and make some sort of income, he is also confronted by demons from the past that are only making it more difficult for his life to fully come together. On a whim, Llewyn Davis decides to make the trip to Chicago to hopefully gig at one of the most important venues of the city, and also get the appreciation and income he feels he deserves. What Davis doesn’t understand, is that all of his misfortune can be followed back to his own poor life choices and decisions made out of haste.

The first thing I think anyone has to talk about after seeing Inside Llewyn Davis is the outstanding usage and performance of music. The Coen Brothers have always seemed to use music in the best ways possible to enhance their movie, and before this one the primary example would have to be O Brother, Where Art Thou?. A lot of the success of the music in both of those movies is probably due to the fact that songwriting and producing titan T. Bone Burnett was the main creative force behind the song production, composition, and performance. What makes it all even more impressive is all the music in the movie is performed live and not added in in post production. That really says a lot for the musical talent of the actors. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake all sound excellent in the movie.davis12e_zps7d455a27Another thing the Coen Brothers are known for are the memorable, and sometimes even iconic, characters they create. Wether it’s Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, Barton Fink, or Marge Gunderson, the people that inhabit the strange world of these movies never fail to leave an impression. Now I can add Llewyn Davis to the list of Coen characters that really hit me hard. In fact, he might be one of the best characters they’ve ever created. Llewyn Davis is quite an unlikable guy who uses his friends, condescends to people with what he thinks is his unmatchable passion for music, and treats all the people who help in like garbage. At the same time, however, there are reasons as to why he has ended up like this, which makes him something of a tragic character and one that, despite all of his faults, can be understood. I wanted to see Llewyn Davis succeed, but I more so really wanted him to realize it was time to change. He’s such a great character, and certainly one that I won’t stop talking about for a long time.

I’ve seen some people compare Inside Llewyn Davis to the Coen Brothers’ 2009 film A Serious Man. Both movies share a similar theme of a life slowly being destroyed as if it’s part of some rotten cosmic joke. A Serious Man presents this in a darkly funny way where it’s hard not to laugh the entire way through. Inside Llewyn Davis has a lot of funny moments in it, but I can’t consider this a comedy. This movie is far from being a straight up comedy. The humor that is in this movie is the same kind of dark, absurd comedy you see in many Coen Brothers films, but all the laughs really can’t outweigh the overwhelming sadness I felt at the end. This is definitely the Coen Brothers’ saddest film, and maybe part of it is because there’s nothing too hyperbolic about any of the scenarios in the movie. John Goodman certainly has the most outlandish part, but it’s really not hard to imagine that character being a real person. Just don’t expect to feel in a joking mood once the credits begin rolling.

I don’t know how many people agree with me on this, but I believe that Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ strongest films. Not only do they create a believable version of the New York folk scene in the 1960s, which seems to live and breath all on its own, but they also have created a tragic, yet sometimes funny tale about a deadbeat with more potential than he may realize. Everyone in this movie is great, and the music that is performed for the movie sounds amazing. It’s a certainty that you will be thinking about this movie long after it ends, and even though it left me with a rain cloud over my head, it also offers some great lessons and works as an expressive work of cinematic art.

 

10 Cloverfield Lane – Review

26 Mar

What kind of black magic did J.J. Abrams have to perform to bring Alfred Hitchcock back from the dead to make a sequel to the beloved monster movie, Cloverfield? Of course that’s not the case, but 10 Cloverfield Lane has all of the suspense and tension found in Hitchcock’s best films. This movie, however, is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who has made a few short films but this is his feature film debut. While 10 Cloverfield Lane can be considered a sequel to Cloverfield in some ways, it more so builds upon a universe shrouded in mystery. I really wasn’t expecting much when this was first announced, but this was a great movie.

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After being in a major accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a bare room that she’s never seen before. It turns out that she was pulled from the wreckage by a farmer named Howard (John Goodman), who brought her into his doomsday bunker after he claims that the United States has been the victim of a mysterious and catastrophic attack. Michelle isn’t the only one down there with Howard, however. Soon she meets Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a local guy who helped Howard build the bunker and claims to have seen the attack first hand. As time in the bunker passes and the trio get to know each other a little better, more distrust of Howard begins to build as strange evidence starts piling up that begs the question of wether he’s completely sane or not and wether it’s worth risking contamination to escape the bunker.

Take everything you know about the style and mood of the first Cloverfield and just toss it out the window. You don’t need it for 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is a completely different movie than its predecessor. In fact, this movie can be viewed as a stand alone film because the connections are so hidden, it’s easy to miss what they are. More on that later, though. What I learned about Trachtenberg from this movie is that he works really well with space. Most of this movie just takes place in Howard’s bunker, which really isn’t all that big, but there’s so much tension and suspense present that you could fill 5 bunkers. What’s also great about the suspense is that it isn’t drawn out too long or too slowly. This movie is actually very quick paced, so I felt like I was really being thrown into an intense situation before I was even prepared for it. Not only that but I had this overwhelming desire to figure out everything and know what happens. That kind of viewer engagement is a sign of a really great m10 Cloverfield Lane

One of the most entertaining things about this movie is the interaction between the three characters in the bunker. It’s really the driving force behind the entire movie, because without the interactions written exactly right (like they were) and performed with the utmost believability (which the were) this movie wouldn’t be nearly as effective. The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (who also wrote and directed Whiplash) is fantastic and full of memorable dialogue and suspense sequences. I also have to give the acting a lot of praise. John Goodman, in particular, steals the show and is one of the most memorable antagonists I’ve seen in recent movies. Mary Elizabeth Winstead also gives a strong performance as a protagonist determined not to give in. The only person who is a little underwhelming is John Gallagher, Jr., which has more to do with the attention given to his character in the screenplay rather than his performance in the movie.

What was great about the first Cloverfield was the mystery behind it. Sure, it’s essentially a monster movie, but the entire time it’s on you feel like you aren’t getting the whole story. This is because it doesn’t treat the audience like a child. There are clues all over Cloverfield as to what’s really going on, and there’s the same kind of clues in 10 Cloverfield Lane that are sometimes hidden in plain sight for you to find. These both give the story some more mystery and answers, but also serves to tie this movie in to the original. It’s just really nice when a movie doesn’t condescend to an audience and treat us like we can’t figure anything out for ourselves.

At first, I had very low expectations for 10 Cloverfield Lane and when I saw the praise that it was getting I was relieved. I really can’t stress it enough that this movie is nothing like the original in terms of its style, but the mood and feeling of mystery and paranoia still hold strong. J.J. Abrams really knows how to market a movie, but this wasn’t just clever marketing that makes this movie a success. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a success because it is smart, suspenseful, and superbly crafted.

The Artist – Review

8 Apr

In the beginning of cinema, film makers and the studios that backed them had the distinct challenge of telling a story without the use of dialogue, and relied on the talent of the actors and the use of montage. This was a magical time for movies that serves as the genesis for the films we know and love today. There are people who are turned off by the idea of silent films, and that’s the reason why I feel that Michel Hazanavicius’ Academy Award winning feature The Artist was a bold move that reflects his love of film and successfully captures an important and unique time in film history.

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George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the king of the silver screen. At the premier of his latest picture, a random fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), bumps into him leading to a front page headline. This chance encounter changes Peppy’s life as she begins rising through the Hollywood ranks, and getting bigger and better parts. Soon, the studio that Valentin works decides to start producing only “talkies” leaving Valentin in the dust. As Peppy’s career takes off, Valentin’s plummets to the lowest depths that the actor has ever experienced.

The Artist is a truly remarkable film that just goes to show that silent film still has the same power that it had 80 to 100 years ago. Like I said, this is a very magical time in the history of film, and Hazanavicius has recreated the feeling of the time and the mood of classic Hollywood films. This is a comedy, a drama, and a romance that isn’t just an homage to a simpler time, but also a great stand alone piece that is highly artistic, but never condescending. People with no prior knowledge to the time period will still have a great time, although if you’re a fan of these types of films you will probably better appreciate everything the film has to offer.

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Being a silent actor is not an easy thing to do because you have to rely on how well you can physically convey something. In this respect, every single actor in this movie knocks it out of the park. Dujardin deserves his Academy Award for Best Actor. His character is pompous, yet likable and even though he doesn’t talk, I understand his character very well and got very emotionally attached. I can say the exact same thing about Bejo’s character. While Dujardin’s character communicates to the audience with his over the top body movements, Bejo is very good with her face. What I mean by that is that she has a very broad smile and eyes that can switch the tone to sadness. Let me reiterate, this type of acting is very difficult and these two actors are absolutely superb. Oh, I almost forgot. Keep your eye on the puppy in this movie. Please.

The production design is beautiful. Shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the audience is from the very beginning thrown through time. This certainly is the farthest thing from IMAX. The title screen also completely mimics the titles of the time. I was smiling from ear to ear before the narrative even started. The sets are elegant and occasionally over the top. One great scene in particular shows a stair case from an angle that you don’t usually see in movies. Finally, what would a silent film be without its soundtrack? The soundtrack is more than appropriate. It’s almost eerie how well the music sounds in relation to the film. I loved it.

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The Artist is a magical film. I know, I know. That sounds completely corny, but as a person who has dedicated most of his life to film, it’s really a wonder to watch. In a culture that has become jaded by dialogue driven movies, it was so refreshing to see a silent film sweep all of the major awards, but also deserve every award it got. From the acting to the production design, this is a perfect movie. It’s easy to find faults in movies, but The Artist is absolutely flawless.

Argo – Review

1 Mar

It’s hardly even an opinion to say that truth is stranger than fiction. There are some things that happen in this world that make me stop and say, “How could someone ever think of this?” Now take a film like Argo, which is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper in 1980. Again, how could someone ever think of this? The story is so hard to believe that I almost dismissed the movie, but in light of overwhelmingly positive recognition, it was about time I gave it a watch.

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In 1979, the American Embassy in Iran gets over run by protestors who are demanding the return of their exiled leader for his prompt execution. Many workers are held as hostages, but six manage to escape and take refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA brings in an expert in exfil missions, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is at first unsure with how to go about a rescue mission. It comes to him one night. Enlisting the help of Hollywood make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez heads over to Iran under the guise of a film maker doing location scouting. With the escapees acting the parts as film makers, the group attempts to leave Iran in plain sight.

Just writing this small summary, I find it hard to believe that a lot of this actually happened. A portion of it is definitely dramatized and the roles of the Canadians are downplayed while the roles of New Zealand and Britain are left out all together. Affleck said this was to keep the film at a quick, but steady pace and I can agree with him there. This movie does feel very Hollywood in a couple of ways. For one, it is partly a satire of the Hollywood business, but the entire feel of the movie feels like something that would have been made in the classical period in film history.

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It’s become quite clear with Gone Baby Gone and The Town that Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is actor. To me, his acting is nothing special, including his performance in this. His “character” is very passive in this movie up until the end, which was when I really got into his performance. His directing is impeccable, however. With Argo, my opinion about Affleck has only gotten better. This is a completely different film than his previous two, which only proves that he is versatile and can cover any number of genres. Speaking of genres, Argo quite clearly blends a few.

It’s actually kind of amazing how well this movie combines a human drama, a political thriller, and a satirical comedy. A lot of movies try to do this, but they unfortunately don’t always measure up to what they’re trying to accomplish. I feel like I reference Hitchcock a lot in this blog, but with good reason. Think of North by Northwest and how it’s a thriller, but also an excellent comedy. Argo works just as well. I laughed as hard as a bit my fingernails. The writing is sharp, witty, and smart.

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Argo has swept the awards this year, and I think with good reason. It was an excellent film about an incredible true story. It’s expertly written, directed, and acted (especially Goodman and Arkin). I’m content with this movie winning Best Picture, amongst other Academy Awards, but I can’t say it would’ve been my choice. I’m still going to stick with The Master as my favorite film of 2012. Still, Argo is an excellent movie that deserves all of the recognition it is receiving.

Red State – Review

21 Dec

Kevin Smith is a huge inspiration of mine as I’ve made clear with numerous past reviews. His name is synonymous with raunchy, yet smart, comedy. That’s why Red State is such an out of the blue movie for Smith. The long winded and quick dialogue is still there, but this is an intense action thriller/horror film that is aimed to shock and inspire thought. Even amongst all this, there is still some room for comedy.

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Three horny teenage boys are invited by an older woman named Sarah (Melissa Leo) to come to her house for a night of drinking and sex. The boys are thrilled until they realize their drinks have been drugged and the pass out. They awake to find themselves held hostage by the Five Points Trinity Church, a fanatical Christian group led by Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), who is using the boys as an example against sin. As the boys fight for their lives, the local police are alerted and inform the ATF who send a task force led by Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman). Negotiations end quickly as a firefight erupts…

It isn’t hard to believe that this is a Kevin Smith movie, despite the drastic change in genre. The character’s dialogue is as quick and as sharp as ever, filled with youthful cynicism and sarcastic commentary. That is until 20 minutes into the film where we meet Abin and his family. The audience is treated to an entire sermon said by Abin that goes on for quite a long time, but never gets dull. It’s a terrifying speech filled with a strange brew of hate towards others but also sweet love for his family. There are times where Smith injects his own brand of comedy that often works, but sometimes throws the mood off. There are some quick scenes of comedic dialogue between the ATF agents right before the firefight, which isn’t really the best time.

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The combination of genres is also pretty impressive. In the beginning, the movie fools the viewer into thinking that this is just another movie like Mallrats or Clerks. There’s a lot of talking and banter that doesn’t serve much purpose except to entertain. Then the movie gets scary with the Cooper family murdering a poor guy while preaching their hateful message. The genre changes again when the ATF force shows up and the massive shoot out starts. The shoot out is kind of odd. For a lot of it, you can only hear what’s going on, but can never see a whole lot of the action going on outside. We’re mostly stuck inside the house with the Coopers, while occasionally moving outside. It was an interesting way of filming. Speaking of filming, Red State was filmed on the Red camera system that allowed Smith to edit on the spot, but it also left the finished product looking digitally extra crisp.

Let’s look at the topical side of this movie. This isn’t a religious movie like Dogma is a religious movie. Red State is far more serious. The Five Points Trinity Church has a lot in common with the bastards at the Westboro Baptist Church. Now, I’m not saying that they kidnap and kill people, but the family in the movie protest at a funeral and share the same beliefs as WBC. The way the family follows Abin so unquestioningly can be compared to those at Jonestown, which truly ended in disaster. The point is that this isn’t totally fiction. There are fanatical groups in the world who would be willing to commit such atrocities as seen in this film. This is an action thriller that provides some food for thought.

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I really liked Red State a lot. Like a whole lot. It was great to see Kevin Smith leave his comfort zone and make a mature and brutal film about something that is all too real. The multiple genres, characters, and choices that this movie includes proves that it is intelligent and creative. It’s a great movie that I don’t think gets as much credit as it really should. Check out Red State.