Tag: John Goodman

MOVIE REVIEW | True Stories (1986)

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“Who do you think lives there? Four-car garage. Hope, fear, excitement, satisfaction.”

David Byrne is one of those dudes who if I ever gave their career the attention it clearly deserves, I feel like I’d respect him more than I like him.  I have the first Talking Heads album, and I like it fine enough.  And I know their big hits because they still get played on commercial radio regularly today.  But there’s always been something a little too arty, a little too deliberately intellectual about David Byrne and Talking Heads for me to really dive in.  Weirdly enough, while that’s what turns me off when it comes to his music, they’re the exact same reasons I wanted to see what happens when David Byrne writes and directs a movie.  You get True Stories, that’s what happens.

A Narrator (Byrne) drives around a small Texas town in his bright red convertible as citizens prepare for the 150th anniversary celebrations of said town.  A boom is underway as more and more money is generated by the local microchip manufacturing plant.  And while the town is growing, it’s not growing in the best ways.  Miles and miles of desert are turned into miles and miles of suburbs.  Identical steel sheds cover the industrial landscape as things like efficiency and practicality outweigh beauty and tradition. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***SWANSONG WEEK*** Always (1989)

Always

“I love you, Pete… but I’m not enjoying it.”

For a director who’s made more at the box office than any other film maker, I’m surprisingly ambivalent towards Steven SpielbergJaws is undeniably awesome, the original Indian Jones Trilogy is great and Schindler’s List deserves every bit of praise it ever got.  Then there’s his clunkers, like The Terminal  and Catch Me If You Can.  But everything else in his immense filmography is just kind of OK to me.  Nothing too amazing, nothing too terrible.  Just a whole lot of watchable, if not re-watchable, average stuff.


But even with my disinterest in Spielberg, I’m still generally very aware of his movies and their existence.  So when I watched Always, based purely on it being Audrey Hepburn’s last movie, I was surprised to see it had a pretty great cast of big names, and that it was made by Spielberg.  How underwhelming must Always be for it to be so overlooked and seemingly forgotten in the Spielberg canon?

Pete (Richard Dreyfus) and Al (John Goodman) are firefighting pilots.  They fly dangerous missions dumping water on raging forest fighters.  In the control tower is Dorinda (Holly Hunter), Pete’s girlfriend.  After taking one too many risks and scaring her one too many times, Dorinda tells Pete he needs to settle down or lose her.  Coincidentally, Al is trying to convince him that they should take steadier, safer jobs teaching other pilots to fly these fire missions at a new training school in Colorado.

After a pretty spectacular incident (it happens too early to consider it a spoiler, but it’s unexpectedness did make it pretty great, so I won’t go into details), Pete ends up taking goofy young dreamboat Ted (Brad Johnson) under his wing.  All of this with a touch of the super natural that introduces Audrey Hepburn as Hap, basically God.

Being a Spielberg movie, a certain amount of sentimentality and sickly sweetness is a forgone conclusion.  But the beauty of Always is that it has a sense of humour to its sickly sentimentality.  Richard Dreyfus’ Pete is a smartass who, for the most part, keeps enough of a cynical detachment from the emotion to make sure it’s never too overwhelming.  And Goodman’s character is basically that of the loud mouth best friend who refuses to take anything seriously, so he keeps the edge off as well.

Always is a bunch of great actors giving pretty great performances, but I can see why I’ve never heard of it before, despite its pedigree in front of and behind the camera.  There’s just not much to it.  Sure, it wants to make some grand statements about love, life and happiness, but none of those statements are new, or nothing you haven’t seen in plenty of other, better movies.  I feel the same way about Always as I do about most Spielberg movies.  There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, but I’m sure I‘ll forget about it completely soon enough.

Always
Directed By – Steven Spielberg
Written By – Jerry Belson

Considering I watched this movie for Hepburn’s final screen appearance, she gets very little attention above.  Because her role here is basically a cameo.  But here are her swansong stats anyway…

Years Active:
1949 – 1989

Peak:
Breakfast at Tiffanies (1961)

Selected Major Achievements/Accolades:                             
Academy Award, Best Actress (Roman Holiday, 1953)
BAFTA, Best British Actress (Roman Holiday, 1953)
Golden Globe, Best Actress Drama (Roman Holiday, 1953)
Golden Globe, World Favourite Female (1955)
BAFTA, Best British Actress (The Nun’s Story, 1960)
BAFTA, Best British Actress (Charade, 1963)
Screen Actors Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award (1993)

***2014 RECAP*** MOVIE REVIEW | The Monuments Men (2014)

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From TV hunk, to a pretty rocky beginning on the big screen, to legit super star, to respected director, George Clooney’s career has been pretty interesting to watch.  Confessions of Dangerous Mind is was the perfect directorial debut to show he was a real film maker with real ideas.  Goodnight and Good Luck was a deserved award winner that got plenty of attention at the time, but doesn’t seem to be all that talked about these days.  Leatherheads seemed like a bit of a tossed off dick around of Clooney having fun.  It was nothing to rave about, but it was perfectly fine.  The Ides of March was a return to trying something a little more important, along the lines of Goodnight and Good Luck, but it came and went without leaving much of an impression.  But now, Clooney gets his first chance at a big budget, big star cast, big everything kind of movie, with The Monuments Men.


The Second World War is coming to a close and Hitler is on the ropes.  But that hasn’t stopped him stealing and amassing the greatest pieces of art on offer as he makes his way through Europe.  Now, there are two possible outcomes.  Either the Nazis win the war and the art will all be shown in the planned Furher Museum, a massive literal building and even bigger figurative wank.  Or, the Nazis lose, and follow Hitler’s orders to destroy all these masterworks before the allies can get their hands on them. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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“I hate cheap knockoffs!”

FULL DISCLOSURE: Before Transformers: Age of Extinction, I had never seen an entire Transformers movie from this current Michael Bay batch. I tried to watch the first one back when it came out, but fell asleep and never bothered returning to it.


FURTHER FULL DISCLOSURE: I didn’t really watch Transformers: Age of Extinction under the best of viewing conditions. I was on a long haul flight, I was half asleep, I had the volume down on the movie and was listening to a podcast. And I came in about 100 minutes in, stared dead eyed at it for 40 odd minutes, then turned off with about 20 minutes left. But I refuse to accept that a Michael Bay movie about robots hitting each other requires any more attention than that in order to form an accurate opinion and make an accurate judgment on its quality. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Monuments Men (2014)

the-monuments-men-uk-quad-poster
From TV hunk, to a pretty rocky beginning on the big screen, to legit super star, to respected director, George Clooney’s career has been pretty interesting to watch.  Confessions of Dangerous Mind is was the perfect directorial debut to show he was a real film maker with real ideas.  Goodnight and Good Luck was a deserved award winner that got plenty of attention at the time, but doesn’t seem to be all that talked about these days.  Leatherheads seemed like a bit of a tossed off dick around of Clooney having fun.  It was nothing to rave about, but it was perfectly fine.  The Ides of March was a return to trying something a little more important, along the lines of Goodnight and Good Luck, but it came and went without leaving much of an impression.  But now, Clooney gets his first chance at a big budget, big star cast, big everything kind of movie, with The Monuments Men.


The Second World War is coming to a close and Hitler is on the ropes.  But that hasn’t stopped him stealing and amassing the greatest pieces of art on offer as he makes his way through Europe.  Now, there are two possible outcomes.  Either the Nazis win the war and the art will all be shown in the planned Furher Museum, a massive literal building and even bigger figurative wank.  Or, the Nazis lose, and follow Hitler’s orders to destroy all these masterworks before the allies can get their hands on them.

Cue the Monuments Men, a group of art experts led by George Clooney’s Frank Stokes, and played by Mat Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Dimitri Leonidas.  After a brief stint in basic training, these candy assed New York intellectuals are soon landing in Normandy, just behind the D Day invasion, and on the hunt for some of the greatest pieces of art ever created.  Matt Damon’s James Granger is deployed to Paris where he meets Claire (Cate Blanchett), a former French resistance member who may know where the Germans have taken the stolen art.

It’s a great story that needs to be told, it’s made up of a great cast, and Clooney’s direction is, well, great.  The only problem is, for all its great aspects, The Monuments Men only adds up to be a good movie.  In no way bad, it just doesn’t reach the levels it really should.  And I put that down to its weird, sluggish pacing.

Almost immediately after arriving in Europe, the core group is split up into four or five little units, all heading to different countries on their own little missions.   Add to this the Russians not so well intentioned version of the Monuments Men, Blanchett’s story line and the odd German character, and it feels like Clooney’s biggest problems should have been finding time to fit everything in.  Yet somehow, every scene, every story, every event seems to be a little slower than should be, and go just a little longer than necessary.  It doesn’t quite ever get the momentum it needs.

When I first heard about The Monuments Men and saw trailers, I wondered how the movie would ever justify the loss of human life just for some paintings.  It’s obvious Clooney thought that too, because he shoehorns in three or four different conversations and monologues all addressing that very topic.  The only problem is, when the movie wasn’t talking about it directly, I kind of got on board with their mission and the huge risks they were talking, just for some paintings.  But whenever the story would stop dead in its tracks to address it, I was taken out of it.  Clooney really needed to have a little more faith in his movie and his audience.

After not so great reviews, I really, really, really wanted to prove them wrong and love The Monuments Men.  On paper, everything about it made it seem like a sure thing.  But ultimately I didn’t love it, I just liked it.  Which should be enough, but I just wanted more.

The Monuments Men
Directed By – George Clooney
Written By – George Clooney, Grant Heslov

MOVIE REVIEW | Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this movie to come out.  It must be at least a year since the first trailer appeared, then it won the Grand Prix at Cannes all the way back in May last year.  After a few festival appearances, I don’t think it even get a wide American release until a month or two ago.  But finally, the latest movie by Joel and Ethan Coen, possibly the most consistently interesting and reliable film makers working today, got released in Australia.  I finally got to see, Inside Llewyn Davis.

It’s 1961 New York and Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is attempting a solo career as a folk musician after the suicide of his musical partner.  He’s in the middle of a destructive cycle of mediocre gigs, drinking too much, then sleeping on the couch of whichever friend he has pissed off the least lately.  While begging for refuge at the home of his friends Jim and Jean (Justin Timberlake and Carrie Mulliigan), Jean informs Davis that she’s pregnant, and it’s possibly his.

In search for money for an abortion, Davis seeks out gigs to play and couches to sleep on, he lowers himself to play as a session musician on a cheesy novelty song, takes an ill fated road trip to Chicago and falls lower and lower every step of the way, until he attempts to swallow his bride and take some responsibility for his life.  What should be the beginning of the redemption of Llewyn Davis actually sees him crash land at rock bottom, before digging deeper.  What do you do when even your last resort is no longer an option?

Because this is a Coen Brothers movie, some of the most entertaining moments are given to minor characters played by great actors who only pop up for moment or two here and there.  There’s John Goodman as a junkie jazz musician, F Murray Abraham as a dismissive record company exec, Adam Driver as…  I’m not sure how you’d describe his character.   The story might be Llewyn’s, but the best bits belong to the people he stumbles across along the way.

If you’ve seen any trailers or read any reviews, you probably know about the cat.  For the first half of Inside Llewyn Davis, the titular character spends a lot of his time trying to find, care for and return a cat that he mistakenly let out of a friends apartment.  Every time I thought I’d figured out what the cat meant thematically or symbolically, the Coen Brothers would throw something new at me, contradicting my latest theory.

Did it show Llewyn’s doomed attempts to care about something other than himself?  Does it represent is futile pursuit of fame and success through music?  Every time he thinks he’s found it, another obstacle is thrown in his path.  I have no idea, but being the Coen Brothers, it’s either the most profound statement ever made in film, or just some flippant idea they threw in there because it tickled them.  No one bounces between profundity and flippancy better than Joel and Ethan Coen.

Like their last proto-musical, O’ Brother Where Art Though, the Coens teamed up again with T Bone Burnett to put together the soundtrack.  And also like O Brother, it’s a major part of everything that’s really great about this movie.  The music is so good that I bought the soundtrack on the way home from the cinema.  But if you haven’t heard it yet or seen the movie, I really recommend watching the movie first.  All the songs are used so perfectly within the story, that having heard them before might have taken away some of their impact.

In the filmography of the Coens, I’m not sure where Inside Llewyn Davis falls.  Despite the odd moments of legit hilarity, there’s no way it goes with the wacked out comedy of Raising Arizona or Burn after Reading.  It’s not a genre exercise like Fargo, The Big Lebowski or Miller’s Crossing.  And it’s not tied to anyone else’s sensibility through adaptation like True Grit or No Country for Old men.  This is pure Joel and Ethan Coen in the vein of Barton Fink and the under seen A Serious Man, but without the bigger, more fantastical flourishes of those movies.  Inside Llewyn Davis is dark, cynical and border line depressing, if not for the moments of genuine hilarity the Brothers Coen let seep through every now and again.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Directed By – Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written By – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

MOVIE REVIEW | The Hangover Part III (2013)

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Comedies have a pretty terrible track record for sequelisation and franchisation.  For every great comedy sequel like Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey or Police Academy4: Citizens on Patrol, there are dozens of shit bombs like Blues Brothers 2000, Weekend at Bernie’s II and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.  So when The Hangover was followed up by one terrible sequel, I can’t imagine why a single person was excited to see The Hangover Part III.


The wolf pack is back.  Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis).  After a genuinely funny first movie and a genuinely pointless and redundant sequel, the upside of Part III is the writers actually bothered to come up with a new story this time.  The problem is, I just didn’t give a shit.

As the breakout character from the first movie, Galifianakis gets the central role this time around.  After the death of his father, he starts acting even crazier than usual, leading to his friends holding an intervention.  This then leads to some boring, attempted comedy until the core group is kidnapped by John Goodman as crime lord Marshall.  There’s some story here that linked to the first two movies, but I dare you to be interested enough to pay attention.

This is where The Hangover Part III goes full blown Urkel.  Ken Jeong was legitimately funny as Mr Chow in the first movie.  And after watching Part II, it was blatantly obvious that he was so funny because he was used so sparingly.  So when Part III trots him out as the central character to everything that keeps the movie moving forward, he wears out his welcome almost immediately.

Galifianakis is a really funny screen presence.  Ed Helms has proven himself to be super funny in other things.  Bradley Cooper is one of those effortlessly charismatic actors who makes even the most extreme ass holery somehow charming.  But Todd Phillips found a way to make me hate all three.

The Hangover trilogy runs a tight parallel with Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans trilogyThe first was a surprisingly great genre movie that came out of the blue to become a big hit.  It was light, escapist fluff, but well mede, well executed light, escapist fluff.   The second was an exact carbon copy of the first, almost like the writers just used “find and replace” in Microsoft Word to change the location from Vegas to Bangkok.

The third…  Well, in both cases, at least the third tried something different and kind of interesting.  But in both cases, all goodwill from the original was long gone and long exploited before I ever got a chance to give a crap about the final installment.

The Hangover Part III isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just a totally unnecessary one.  There are a few funny moments, but nothing that wasn’t done better and funnier in the first movie.  Parts II and III are the kinds of sequels that even manage to take some of the shine off the original.  So if you’re fan of the first and have managed to so far avoid the sequels, keep it that way.  You’ll like the original all the more for it.

The Hangover Part III
Directed By – Todd Phillips
Written By – Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DUD SEQUEL WEEK*** Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Blues Brothers 2000
How do you make a sequel almost 20 years, later to an absolute classic?  How do you do it when one half of your key duo is dead?  I don’t know the answers to those questions, and after watching Blues Brothers 2000, it’s clear that Dan Aykroyd and John Landis didn’t know either.


The movie opens with a Blues Brother getting out of prison, there’s an ex-police car involved, and a visit the no-bullshit nun who raised him.  This is the start of Blues Brothers 2000.  It’s almost exactly the same as the opening to the original Blues Brothers.  The only difference, this time it’s Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) getting out of jail, not Jake.  It’s not Jake, because Jake is dead.  There’s a quick stretching of a very long bow to team up the remaining brother a precocious little shit of a kid named Buster (J Evan Bonifant) and a Jake Blues analogue named Mighty Mack McTeer, played by John Goodman.

From here, it’s a beat by beat retelling of the original story with vastly diminishing returns.  Elwood decides to get the band back together, tracking them down one by one, through a series of adventures and musical cameos from people like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, BB King. Bob Diddley, Eric Clapton, Paul Schaffer, Isaac Hayes and Wilson Pickett.

The original has white power Nazis, the sequel has white power red necks.  The original has Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy abandoning his wife and their diner, the sequel has Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy abandoning his wife and their car dealership.  The original has John Candy’s tenacious cop who won’t stop in his pursuit of the band, the sequel as Joe Morton, a tenacious cop who won’t stop in his pursuit of the band.  The original has the mix up at Bob’s Country Bunker where they have to pretend to be a county band, the sequel has a mix up at a county fair where then need to pretend to be a bluegrass ba…  Well, I think you get the point.

I guess what I’m saying is, if the only problem you had with the original was that it was little bit too good, and you’re looking for a watered down, cheap, lazy imitation, the sequel is just what you’re after.

It’s amazing that Aykroyd could invent this character, make a movie using this character that has become a classic, then seemingly have no idea who this character is when it came time to write and act in the sequel.  In the first movie, Jake and Elwood’s dialogue was generally kept monosyllabic and deadpan, especially Elwood, who only came alive when on stage.  In Blues Brothers 2000, he’s spouting monologues every second scene and doing them in a crazy, over the top Chicago accent that the Aykroyd of the 80s would have made fun of.

John Goodman’s a great actor, he’s often an hilarious actor.  He’s a better than decent singer.  But when it comes to playing a Blues Brother, he’s just not John Belushi.  Belushi could move in a way his size would never let on, he had an energy and attitude to him that Goodman just doesn’t deliver.

I love Dan Aykroyd.  He did enough awesome things for comedy in the 70s and 80s that I don’t care how many shit bombs he’s connected to, I’ll always consider him a legend.  But sometimes he thinks a little too big for his own good and needs a collaborator to reign him in.  There is a story about his first draft of the Ghostbusters screenplay in which Mr Stay Puft appears in the first act and the rest of the movie gets even crazier from there.  The first Blues Brothers had a subplot cut out about the car having magical powers.  Some of it is in the DVD version I have of the movie and it’s so out of place.  So while people like Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and John Belushi helped counter his worst instincts in those classic, it appears there was no on the set of Blues Brothers 2000 to ever say, “Hey Danny, do you really think we need some voodoo zombies in this thing?”

At least some of the songs and car stunts are good.

Blues Brothers 2000
Directed By – John Landis
Written By – Dan Aykroyd, John Landis

MOVIE REVIEW | Monsters University (2013)

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With Toy Story 2 and 3, Pixar showed they could make sequels that were even better than what preceded them.  Finding ways to build on characters for more intricate stories, more emotional connection and more of what made you love the original, without pandering.  With Cars 2, Pixar showed they’re not above a blatant cash grab by exploiting the laziest, most clichéd title in their catalogue, with an even lazier, more clichéd sequel that amps up everything that was bad about the original.  So with Monsters University, I wasn’t sure which style of Pixar sequel I was in for.  And the answer, it’s a kind of a bit of both.  But mercifully, it’s a lot closer to Toy Story 2 than Cars 2.


Monsters University is the origin story of Monster Inc’s Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman).  Before they were best friends working in the scream collection business, they were college enemies.  If you’ve ever seen a college based comedy, you know the story of Monsters University beat by beat, but that’s fine.  This is about making you care about the characters and laugh at the jokes.  The cast is rounded out by Mike and Sully’s band of loser fraternity brothers, one of whom is the clear stand out of the movie, Art, voiced by Charlie Day.  This is a kids’ movie, so Art isn’t technically a stoner, but he is totally a stoner.  And Day manages find a way to make this over used character cliché really funny by making him just a little unhinged and scary.

Here’s the one problem I had with Monsters University.  If there’s a way to base a family movie on such a raunchy genre, these guys didn’t find it.  Sure, a lot of the college movie standards come down to slobs versus snobs, but they were more than that.  In the 70s, Animal House had the slobs of Delta Tau Chi battling the snobs of Omega Theta Pi, but it also revolved around chasing tail and getting high.  In the 80s, Revenge of the Nerds told the inspirational story of the slobbish Tri Lambs taking on the snobbish Alpha Betas.  But there’s also tail chasing, getting high and hair pie.  These movies are also old enough now that not only are the kids seeing Monsters University unlikely to get a single reference, I lot of parents are probably too young to get them as well.

OK, I lied about only having one problem with Monsters University, because there is a second.  And before I get into it, I am fully aware how ridiculous it is that I think this, but it bugged me for the entire movie.  Why does Monsters University, the college Mike and Sully attend students, have the same logo as Monster Inc, the factory they end up working at as adults?  Why is a learning institution so tightly connected to this massive corporation?  It’s almost like the good people at Pixar were more concerned about brand recognition than they were with addressing this major issue that I’m sure no one but me even gave a second thought.

Monsters University
Directed By – Dan Scanlon
Written By – Daniel Gerson, Robert L Baird, Dan Scanlon