Posts Tagged ‘scarlett johansson’

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.

avengers age of ultron

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Captain America (Chris Evans) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansen) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)  try to get Thor’s scepter from Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kreishman)  one of the leader of Hydra.  But Strucker is hiding more than the scepter, he’s been doing experiments on a pair of twins, Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elzabeth Olsen) and also building artificial intelligence.  Tony Stark finds the artificial intelligence in Strcker’s hideout, and thinks he can merge it with his own artificial intelligence named Jarvis (Paul Bethany) to protect the world.  Does Stark’s plan to protect the world work or will it backfire?

I must say I liked Age of Ultron better than the first Avengers movie, that may be damning this film with faint praise, because I hated the first Avengers movie.  This movie is better because is an Iron Man centered story, and not a Thor centered story of all the Avengers, none bores me as much as Thor, I hated the Thor movies, so building this story off of Tony Stark is a wise decision.  This movie also introduces Quicksilver and the Scarlet With into the Avengers storyline.  But everytime writer Joss Whedon develops an interesting plotline or character, director Whedon sabotages those characters and plotlines by jamming the movie with overextended action sequences, and cascading amounts of CGI. The first scene is an example of the excessive use of CGI.  The Avengers are battling Strucker, why?  There is no set up.  Later, cities are leveled, citizens are screaming for help, yet none of our heroes sustain so much as a scratch, not even Hawkeye.  What’s his superpower?  A bow and arrow? Just once I wish they’d tell us how these annihilated cites get rebuilt.  Maybe they could make a movie and call it, Avengers Reconstruction.  There are also not one but two clunky love stories that ruin the interesting plot lines even further, they try to humanize the characters, but only serve to slow the movie to a crawl.  There is also product placement so obvious that it’s maddening.  None of the Audi cars being showcased got decimated in the midst of cities being leveled. Small wonder.

The acting is ok.  As usual Robert Downey Jr. carries this film, and he should.  He has a real comfort level playing the snarky Stark, and could easily play Stark for the rest of his career, as Hugh Jackman has done with Wolverine. Scarlett Johansson tries very hard to play Black Widow as an emotionless killing machine, but the clunky love story saddles her with drippy romantic lines and wrecks what could have been a very good performance. I don’t like Mark Ruffalo, he plays Bruce Banner as sort of a sad-sack loner. Ruffalo has this dog-that’s been kicked persona that is offputting, I still say Bill Bixby played Bruce Banner better than anyone else has.  I don’t like Chris Hemsworth either, he’s not a very good actor, and he proves it over and over.  Jeremy Renner doesn’t bring much to the film except a few quips and a what –am-I doing- here-attitude.  Chris Evans who’s good in his own Captain America movies doesn’t have much to add here. Elizabeth Olsen, sister of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, does quite a good job as the Scarlet Witch, Aaron Taylor Johnson of Kick Ass fame, is also pretty good as Quicksilver, although I think Evan Peters was better as Quicksilver in The Days of Future Past. Claudia Kim was good as Dr. Helen Cho, Whedon could have done much more with that character and with the actress, but he did not.

Director Joss Whedon keeps the pace going strong except when he tries to integrate romantic elements into the story, then the pace lags.    Whedon tries to overwhelm the viewer with CGI, instead of integrating the special effects within the storyline.  There are extended action sequences that are in severe need of editing, but they go on and on.

Avengers Age of Ultron:  Not The Age of Dull-tron, but could have been much better.

chef

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a chef for a popular Los Angeles restaurant.  He is facing a review from a influential food blogger, Ramsey Michel  (Oliver Platt) and wants to shake up the menu a little.  But after Riva (Dustin Hoffman) the owner of the restaurant stops by and orders him to serve his most popular dishes, Carl complies, and waits for the review.    Michel rips the food, and his review of the restaurant goes viral.  Carl gets his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) to sign him up for Twitter, and Carl throws down the gauntlet for Michel to come try his food again.  Riva again interferes with the menu, and Michel again writes an awful review.  This time, Carl confronts Michel in person, and the confrontation again goes viral, via social media.  Carl is ruined.

With nowhere else to go, Carl follows his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) to Miami.  Inez has been prodding Carl to get to know his son Percy a little better, and get a food truck, and cook what he wants, but getting a food truck would involve making a business deal with Inez’ ex-husband, Marvin. (Robert Downey Jr.)  Does Carl really want to get mixed up with his ex-wife’s ex-husband?  Does he want a real relationship with Percy?  Isn’t being a weekend dad much easier?

This is a great movie.  Jon Favreau wrote, produced, directed and starred in this film about a chef who stands up for his principles and pays a big price.  The question is, can Carl Casper rebuild his life without giving up on the style of cooking that made him famous to begin with?  I think the central aspect of this movie is the relationship between Carl and Percy, Percy just wants to be part of his dad’s life in a real and meaningful way, Carl thinks that taking him to the amusement park and the movies makes him a good father. Can Carl reconcile the differences between Percy’s perceptions of him, and improve his part time parenting skills?  This movie also provides a realistic illustration of the impact of social media in today’s society.  It can ruin people, it can also help them build back what is lost.  A portion this movie is about the impact of critics in the internet age.  As a critic with a blog, I take my responsibility very seriously, and my responsibility is to my followers, to steer them away from the vast array of flotsam and jetsam that Hollywood calls movies, and steer them towards movies that are worth their time and money.  But I found Favreau’s take on critics an interesting one, and I hope to be that influential one day.  The ending is a little too neat, but the flaws in this movie are minor, compared to the many things it does well.  It is much funnier than I expected, heartfelt, and touching.

Favreau does a heck of a job as an actor, as a frustrated chef, who only wants to cook.  He doesn’t want a reality show or a boss that tells him what to do, it’s a great role, and he plays it well.  Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson are really good in small roles.  11 year old Emjay Anthony does an exceptional job in a complicated role, and John Legiuzamo who usually annoys me was funny and restrained more than usual.  Sophia Vergara really was the only part of the cast that was not impressive, in essence, she was playing the same charcter she plays in Modern Family, a loud, brassy Latina.  But she had a relatively small role in the film.  And blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. appears in the film as himself and plays a few songs in the movie, as icing on a very flavorful cake.

Director Favreau does a good job capturing the sights and sounds of Miami and New Orleans, as the film unfolds into a travelogue of sorts.  He also keeps the pacing moving along, and gets good performances from almost everyone. I only know Favreau  as a director of the movie Elf, a very funny movie.  Most of all, he got some great shots of food, or food porn as it is often referred to now.  I think he uses a stunt chef, because all we see are hands in most of the cooking shots.  Producer Favreau must have called in a lot of favors, because he got a stellar cast, and they all fit into the movie flawlessly.

Chef:  Can you smell what Jon Faavreau is cooking?