Posts Tagged ‘scarlett johansson’

isle of dogs

In the Japanese archipelago, 20 years from now, a vicious strain of the Dog Flu has broken out, in order to protect the humans from the flu, the Mayor  of the Prefecture, Mayor Kobayashi , (Kunichi Nomura) has deported all the dogs to Trash Island.  Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) a 12 year old distant relative of the mayor, flies a plane to Trash Island, in search of his dog, Spots. (Liev Schreiber)  The plane crash lands on the island.  The leader of the dogs on Trash Island, Chief (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t trust humans, but decides to rescue Atari.  Atari then sets out to find Spots.

At the prefecture, Professor Watanabe  (Akira Ito) thinks he has come up with a cure to the Dog Flu, but something happens to Watanabe after he eats some sushi.  At the same time, the Mayor finds out that Atari is alive on Trash Island, and he sends his men to find him.  Mayor Takashi easily wins re-election, but exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects a rigged election.  Does Atari find Spots?  Do the Mayor’s men find Atari?  What’s happened to Professor Watanabe?  Is the election on the up and up?

It’s impossible to watch this movie and not draw parallels to the political situation in America over the past two years.  A power hungry politician deports dogs to a distant place in the name of national security.  The election of the politician is called into question, as the politician faces dissension from the populace.  At the heart of it, Isle of Dogs is a story about a boy and his dog,   it’s also story of possible redemption for a jaded dog, who doesn’t like humans very much, and has become something of a recluse.  It’s interesting to see how all the different elements of the story come together in the end of the film.

The acting is very good and it has to be because all the emotions have to be conveyed through the voice.  Kunichi Namora is very good as the corrupt politician, he wants to stay in power at all costs.  Bryan Cranston is excellent as the lead dog, tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, yearning for someone to love him.  Koyu Rankin is also good as Atari, vulnerable but determined.  Greta Gerwig was funny as the angry exchange student.

Wes Anderson did a great job directing and co-writing this movie.  The stop motion animation was terrific, the ha;; where Mayor Kobayashi gave the speech reminded me of the scene from Citizen Kane,  where Kane gave a speech, Trash Island was suitably grungy, and the use of symbolism, Atari wearing white, his dog being a white dog, Chief becoming a white dog after Atari gives him a bath, it was all very well done.  The pacing was fast, the performances were good, I don’t know how much of a role Anderson played in that, these are all skilled veteran actors, except for the boy who played Atari. This film and Moonrise Kingdom are his best work to date.

Isle of Dogs:  Biting satire.

 

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sing movie

Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a koala bear music promotor who fell in love with live musical shows at a very young age.  Buster’s father worked very hard to buy Buster a theater, and now the theater has fallen into disrepair.  Buster has an idea, to put on a live musical competition and offer 1,000 dollars as the prize money to the winner.  But his secretary, Miss Crawley, (Garth Jennings) an elderly glass-eyed lizard misprints the fliers for the show and offers 100,000 dollars for the prize without Buster’s knowledge.  All the finalists have talent, but they also have issues.  Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is a pig songstress with 25 piglet children and an overworked husband.  Mike (Seth McFarland)  is a mouse with the voice of Frank Sinatra, who also has a gambling problem.  He’s being chased by bear gangsters.  Ash (Scarlet Johansson) is a porcupine teenage rock guitarist, whose boyfriend is cheating on her.  Johnny (Taron Edgerton) is a gorilla with a beautiful voice, but he’s part of a gang, headed up by his dad, Big Daddy, (Peter Serafinowicz) the gang robs banks, and has one last big job coming.  Meena is an elephant with a powerful voice, who is too shy to sing.

Buster has a bigger problem, he doesn’t have the prize money, but he has an idea, impress Nana Noodleman, (Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson) grandmother of his assistant, Eddie, (John C. Reilly) and Buster can have the prize money for the concert to save the theater.  So Buster makes some ill-advised repairs to the theater to impress Nana, does Buster’s plan work?  Do the performers overcome their problems in order to perform?

Sing is a movie with a lot of promise, but the script has its fair share of issues with negative racial and ethnic stereotypes   When one of the main characters is a gorilla, and a gang member, that’s got a lot of negative racial baggage attached to it.  Also the relentlessly happy Japanese J-pop group is also a stereotype, also why is the elderly secretary portrayed as a screw-up always searching for her glass eye?  Is it ok to teach kids ageism also?  Despite these stumbles, the theme of music helping people rise above their particular circumstance is a good one.  Music is the perfect vehicle to illustrate this theme because a good song can lift people emotionally, spiritually and even physically if the song is done well enough.  Great acting by all the leads, and great singing by the lead actors makes this movie better than its script.

Matthew McConaughey loses most of his Texas twang for this role and makes Buster a multi-dimensional character.  Buster loves music, he loves the theater, because the theater is symbolic of his love of music and his love of his father.  So it’s a complex performance, and McConaughey pulls it off. Thankfully, he doesn’t sing. Reese Witherspoon also does an outstanding job as a haggard wife and mother who finds a release in singing and she does do her own singing, as she did in I Walk The Line, and she has a great voice.  Her acting skills also make the overworked mom who nonetheless loves her kids convincing. Scarlet Johansson plays a rebellious teen guitarist, who has to cope with a cheating boyfriend. Johansson also has a good singing voice, and amply conveys the pain of being cheated on.  Taron Edgerton is torn between his love of singing and his love for his criminal father, and illustrates the anguish well.  Who knew he had such a good voice? Not me. Seth McFarland hams it up as the Sinatra sound alike mouse, but his voice is better than his acting.

The animation in this movie is beautiful, the first scene of the original theater is so true to life that the viewers will believe that he or she is going into a real theater.  The pacing is good, the director, Gareth Jennings is also the writer.  I would say he gets good performances from the cast, but this is an all-star cast, but this cast doesn’t need any director to shape their performances.

Sing: A few sour notes can’t spoil this film.

hail caesar

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of Capitol Studios, he’s also the studio’s chief fixer.   Deanna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) has a child out of wedlock and Eddie has to find a solution for her.  Superstar Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is set to star in the biblical epic Hail, Caesar, when he is kidnapped by two extras (Wayne Knight, Jeff Lewis) for a 100,000 dollar ransom.  To complicate matters, Eddie is being offered a job by an aeronautics executive. Meanwhile, cowboy crooner Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is starring in famed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) new sophisticated romance, the problem is Hobie can’t act. Can Eddie find Baird before gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) write a tell-all story on Baird?  Can he fix Deanna’s single motherhood issue? Can Eddie get Baird back in time to finish Hail, Caesar?  Will Eddie quit Hollywood altogether and join the aeronautics firm?

Hail, Caesar! is obviously a satire of Ben Hur and Spartacus, but the Coen brothers are not content to showcase one movie, so they attempt to glamorize an entire era of films, the singing cowboy movies of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, the seafaring musicals of Gene Kelly, the aquatic films of Esther Williams, the choreography of Busby Berkely, and the films of Latin star Carmen Miranda.  There is also some subtext of the Hollywood blacklisting scandal and a Hedda Hopper type gossip columnist roaming around.  It also tries to echo the outlandish screwball comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s. In order to create these vignettes and characters, the main story gets diluted and loses its cohesiveness, and the resolution to all the questions seems like an afterthought.  At times the humor was too broad as well, more like David and Jerry Zucker than the Coen brothers.  I expected a little more sophistication here.  It helps that I’ve seen most of these classic movies, if a viewer hasn’t seen those films, they may be lost.

The acting is very good in this film. Josh Brolin is as good as I’ve seen him in anything, he plays a very serious straight man in the middle of two or three different disasters, all of which he’s trying to keep off the pages of the gossip columns.  I’m not a big fan of George Clooney, but he hams it up pretty well here and does a good job as a larger than life Charlton Heston type actor.  There’s something about the Coen brothers that brings out the best in Clooney, he was also very good in O Brother Where Art Thou, as  a small time con-man with a big-time ego.    Scarlett Johannsson is very funny playing a tough-talking swimmer with a baby.  I’ve never seen her take on such a broadly comic role and she was good at it.  I wish she had a bigger role.  Ralph Fiennes was funny as the exasperated arthouse director trying to teach the singing cowboy how to act. Tilda Swinton is quite good as the devilish Thora and Thessaly, competing with each other and threating Eddie by exposing a major scandal.  Swinton is also pretty good at comedy.  Channing Tatum still can’t act, but he can sing, and does a pretty good song and dance here.

Hail Caesar is a wonderfully visual movie, the viewer feels like he/she is watching those classic movies from which the scenes are taken.  The Hail Caesar movie looks very much like Ben Hur.  The scene with three crosses in silhouette is visually shocking for a comedy, but necessarily authentic to mimic the look of a Biblical epic.  The Esther Williams vignette is visually breathtaking, and illustrates the beauty of a Busby Berkely choreographed film.  The Gene Kelly-esque scene is scarily accurate in terms of visuals.  The Coens also get great performances from a stellar cast.  If the writing was as good as the acting and direction, this movie would have been an instant classic.

Hail Caesar.  I come to bury Caesar not praise him.

captain america civil war

In Lagos Nigeria, while trying to prevent a terrorist attack and save Captain America, (Chris Evans) The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) inadvertently kill a number of Nigerians in an office building.  The Avengers have caused a great deal of collateral damage while trying to save people.  Towards that end, 118 nations have signed a treaty to have the United Nations regulate the use of the Avengers.  Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets lectured by the mother (Alfre Woodard) of one of his inadvertent victims.  He’s ready to hang up his suit, but Captain America doesn’t want to sign the treaty arguing that the Avengers should have the freedom to control their own actions. As representatives gather to sign the treaty in Vienna, there is a bombing, and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is the main suspect, but Captain America can’t believe his buddy from Brooklyn is responsible for such bloodshed.  Who is responsible for the Vienna bombing?  Whose side will the rest of the Avengers take on the treaty? Iron Man’s or Captain America’s?

I had reservations about this film, a film about the Avengers fighting each other could be very dumb if handled badly, especially in light of Batman vs. Superman. And when I saw they were fighting over a treaty, I thought, ‘Is that all there is?’  But happily, the reason they are fighting goes much deeper than the treaty, and that is the heart of the story.  The rest of the story is engaging and surprisingly funny.  The characters are nicely integrated, and there are new characters introduced and that’s nicely done too.  There is an element of “The Manchurian Candidate” a great Frank Sinatra film, in this film, which Iron Man mentions himself.  In all, Civil War takes what could have been tired characters and a hackneyed story and breathes new life into them.  The only criticism I have is that sometimes the fighting sequences go on for too long, and the story gets lost, but other than that, this was a thoroughly enjoyable film.

The acting was mostly very good.  Robert Downey Jr. again stands out from the rest with his usual witty, off the cuff delivery.  He really understands Tony Stark/Iron Man, I really wonder how much of his dialogue is ad libbed.  Chris Evans understands Captain America too, but I wish they would give his character a little more complexity.  Sebastian Stan was ok as The Winter Soldier, he’s not a good enough actor to play a bad guy, in my opinion.  Scarlett Johansson is great as Black Widow, and deserves her own Black Widow movie for crying out loud. The actors who play the new characters are also very good.  Don Cheadle, a very good actor, is not good as Rhoadey.  I preferred Terrence Howard. Elizabeth Olsen, who I liked in the last Avengers film, has trouble maintaining her Sokovian accent, so this performance is not as good as her last one.Jeremy Renner is very bland for this type of movie, he’s bland in every movie I’ve seen him in except for The Hurt Locker, where he was very good. Paul Bethany gives a good performance as Vision and Anthony Mackie adds some humor as Falcon.

The Russo Brothers direct again, and it’s better than their last Captain America effort, the pacing is fast, the action sequences are well staged, if a bit long, and they get mostly very good performances from a very large cast.

Captain America Civil War:  Aye Aye Captain!

The Jungle Book 2016

Mowgli (Neel  Sethi) has been raised by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) for most of his life.  Bagheera leaves Mowgli with a pair of wolves named Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha, (Lupita N’yongo) but he knows the arrangement is only temporary.  Bagheera wants the man cub Mowgli to go to the man village and be raised by men, Mowgli wants to be raised by the wolves.  During the dry season during a water truce, Sher Khan, (Idris Elba) gets his first look at Mowgli, and promises to eliminate the man cub when the water truce is over.  During the rainy season, Bagheeera starts to take Mowgli to the man village, but is attacked by Shere Khan, Mowgli escapes with the help of some water buffalo.

He survives a mudslide, but is trapped by a seductive python named Kaa, (Scarlett Johansson) who plans to make a meal out of Mowgli, but he’s saved by a friendly bear named Baloo, (Bill Murray) who is in desperate need of some honey.  Mowgli uses his man cub tricks to rig up a contraption to get the honey for Baloo, but by this time, Bagheera has tracked Mowgli down, and wants to take him to the man village.  Just as Mowgli is ready to leave, he is kidnapped by some monkeys loyal to King Louie.  (Christopher Walken) Louie wants to know how to control fire, or as the animals call it “the red flower.”  When Mowgli refuses to share the secret of fire with Louie, Louie tells Mowgli a secret that both Baloo and Bagheera didn’t tell Mowgli. What is the secret, and what does Mowgli do once he finds out about it?

This version of The Jungle Book is definitely not the kid-friendly version that Disney first animated years ago.     It is a much more serious and intense telling of the Rudyard Kipling story, young kids might be scared by some of the animal fights, and would not understand subtle casting decisions like casting Scarlett Johansson as a seductress.  This is more a pre-teen adult movie, than a young child story, and parents of young children might be sorry that they took little kids to see it.  But for older kids and adults this is an interesting story, with a backstory in an interesting place, and appropriate use of CGI.  The ending was expected and appropriate, but again, maybe too intense for young kids.

The acting is excellent.  Ben Kingsley makes Bagheera sound regal and noble, he is Mowgli’s protector, and makes sure everyone is aware of that.  Lupita N’yongo really plays up the maternal instinct in this movie, and it’s amazing that an actress who’s so young, can play a mother figure so convincingly.  Idris Elba plays Sher Khan as a fiercely sinister creature who rules by intimidation, the viewer can feel the seething rage in Sher Khan.  The viewer understands his rage as the story unfolds.  It is not by any means a one note performance. Scarlett Johansson is also very good in an integral scene. Bill Murray hams it up relentlessly as Baloo, but the comedy relief is a welcome break from the serious tone throughout .  Christopher Walken plays Louie as a darkly comic villain, and does so effectively. Neel Sethi is a kid, and sounds like one, so nothing really good or bad about his acting, he handles the serious and comic bits well for a kid.

Director Jon Favreau really knows how to tell a fantasy, story, he knows how to pace the story and when to insert plot points to keep the story interesting, he made the talking animals look natural, and doesn’t  use  CGI excessively ,or should I say it doesn’t look excessive.   Favreau directed one of my favorite movies, Elf, and he does a great job keeping the story coherent, while working with all CGI animals. The key was, the animals looked natural, and didn’t look like they stepped out of a video game. He also gets very expressive voice acting from all of his stars. Favreau also wrote, directed, and starred in the excellent movie Chef, he is obviously a talented guy.

Because of its success, Disney is already planning a sequel, they will probably suck the life out  of Kipling’s books, I hope not.

The Jungle Book:  Khan you see it? Shere you Khan!

lucy

A woman named Lucy, (Scarlett Johansson) living in Taiwan, has a shady boyfriend named Richard, (Pilou Asbaek) who she’s only been dating for a week. Richard wants Lucy to deliver a briefcase to Mr. Jang. (Min Sik Choi) Jang is too frightened to open the package himself, so he makes Lucy open it.  The suitcase contains CH4, a synthetic drug, which Jang wants to ship across Europe, and create a new addiction for kids.  Jang wants to use Lucy, and three others, as drug mules and sews the drug into her stomach.  Unbeknownst to Jang, the drug has the ability to enhance the capacity of the brain that is used by humans from 10 percent to 100 percent.  While in captivity,  Lucy gets beaten up by Chinese drug dealers, and the CH4 seeps into her system, and transforms Lucy into an omnipotent woman, bent on revenge on Jung and sharing her new found knowledge with world renowned theoretical scientist , Professor  Norman (Morgan Freeman)  Does she get her revenge?  Does she get to share her boundless knowledge with society?

I have very mixed feelings about Lucy.  It’s very much like Limitless with Bradley Cooper in concept, but Limitless was actually a better movie.  I resented the fact that Lucy began this movie as a dumb blonde party girl, literally a deer in the headlights, that’s a pernicious stereotype for a woman to overcome.    This movie tried to combine too many genres, action, science fiction, and art house, in trying to please everyone, it ended up pleasing no one.  The sequences with Scarlett Johansson were fun, it’s nice to see a female protagonist in an action movie, but the movie’s scope was too broad, it literally tried to account for all human history, and that was too much.  The science was gobbledygook, and sounded more like philosophy.  Also, when the French detective was introduced, the story became much too conventional, and it suffered for it.

Scarlett Johansson did what she could with a poorly written script and bad direction, she has a very emotional and touching speech with her mom early on in the film, but as her powers grow, she becomes emotionless, almost robotic, I’m sure that was the direction she was given, or the way the script was written. Johansson handles the action sequences with aplomb, and seems to relish the hero role.  She’s not sharing the screen with Avengers in this film, and she carries the film.  Morgan Freeman is good at taking outlandish sounding dialogue and making it sound plausible, there’s no exception here.  Amr Waked seems uncomfortable and adds little as Pierre Del Rio.  I really liked him in Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, but he does not make his presence felt here.

The direction by Luc Besson is too artsy, he puts in these visual vignettes in the middle of some scenes to explain the mood, it’s a totally unnecessary flourish and becomes distracting.  His direction of the actors was probably overdone as well, when a film features Morgan Freeman and Scarlett Johansson, he didn’t need to do much.  His script was weak, and his over visualization while pleasant to look at, is way over the top. It was a box office smash, due in large part to Ms. Johansson.  There will be a sequel.

Lucy:  This movie’s got some splainin’ to do.

captain america winter soldier

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is back working with Shield, despite having some reservations about the methods they use.  Steve has been asked to work on Project Insight by Shield Director Nick Fury. (Samuel L. Jackson) Project Insight seeks to link next generation helicarriers to targeting satellites.  But Shield has been infiltrated and compromised by Hydra agents, Fury asks Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) Secretary to the World to delay Project Insight.  Shortly thereafter Fury is shot by a mysterious assassin named The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) while at Steve’s apartment.  Fury’s warning to Steve:  Trust no one. Fury gives Steve a thumb drive, which is promptly stolen by Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow,(Scarlett Johansson)  Steve and Natasha decide to work together. They can’t decrypt the files, but the program was created in New Jersey, what do the two find in New Jersey?  Can Steve trust Natasha?

I like this movie, but there is a lot of plot to unpack and it’s quite complex, so the casual watcher of this movie could easily get lost in any one of the tangents that this movie takes.  There are several twists, only one is really not believable, and the movie is quite long, so it’s easy to give up on this movie, but hang in there, once the mission comes into focus, it’s an exciting film to the end.

The acting is first rate, except for one glaring exception, Robert Redford, more on him later.  Chris Evans does a great job playing the conflicted hero, he would like to live in the simpler time in which  he was born, but he has to live in the here and now, where the innovations in technology speed past discussions of the ethics of using this technology.  Scarlett Johansson does a fantastic job of playing the cryptically ambiguous Natasha, and she handles the action scenes quite nicely, thank you very much.  Also, she has great chemistry with Evans, their verbal jousting adds to the overall fun of the film.  Samuel L. Jackson is great as usual, and has a soliloquy about his grandfather in the elevator, that damn near knocked my socks off.  Poor Anthony Mackie, he gives a strong performance as The Falcon and seems headed for perpetual sidekick status, as in Ant Man. Now for the fly in the ointment, Robert Redford, gives another flat, emotionless, performance.  He really is overrated as an actor.

The directors are not well known, but they acquit themselves quite well.  The action sequences are well staged, the pacing is mostly good, there are some slow spots for exposition, but the film is mostly fast paced. The directors also get very good performances from a veteran group of actors.

Captain America:  The Winter Soldier:  A movie I warmed up to.