Tag: john goodman

Captive State

Captive State (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Social commentary-heavy “Captive State,” based on the screenplay by Erica Beeney and Rupert Wyatt, is an interesting lo-fi science-fiction picture on paper. Instead of engaging in ostentatious display of special and visual effects through action sequences or focusing on elegant character development, a detached approach is employed as the story follows a group of insurrectionists who wish to destroy a Chicago-based “Closed Zone,” a location where aliens known as Legislators reside (aptly named because they have made and enacted laws ever since humanity’s surrender nine years prior.) It is expected the attack would inspire everyone else around the world to rebel against and usurp the aforementioned extraterrestrial invaders from stealing Earth’s natural resources. The execution leaves a lot to be desired, however.

On the surface, there is tension: we have no attachment to the various insurgents, only their main mission. As a result, we get the feeling that any one of them can drop dead at any second. The camera follows them—a medical student, a mechanic, a father, a soldier, among others—being courageous, afraid, and desperate with little regard to their histories or who they leave at home. A sense of realism is created, from information written on a piece of paper being passed around to the hi-tech bomb capable of camouflage that must be activated and placed at an exact location at the right time. This is when the film is at its best.

However, when the material turns its attention on the three “main” characters—in quotations because we spend a little bit more time with them than the others—the pacing screeches to the halt. In the opening scene we see two brothers whose parents perish in the hands of the invaders. Years later, the elder brother, Rafe (Jonathan Majors), is presumed to be a deceased terrorist, and the younger brother, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders), works in an assembly line where electronics are analyzed for information that could be used against the creatures. Although Majors and Sanders have the versatility to communicate a range of emotions, the screenplay fails to get us to care about them as brothers and as individuals with different end goals.

Not even the great John Goodman, playing a commander in charge of capturing rebels, is able to save the material. He is wonderful in communicating with words but his face tells a completely different story. There is subtlety is how Mulligan carries his power and how he exercises it. But I think the writers’ intention is to create a character who is a master chess player. To me, there is not a shred of mystery on what it is he wishes to attain ultimately. Even I was able to stay one step ahead in regards to the details of his job and the reasons behind his manipulations.

I enjoyed the way it is photographed. “Captive State” offers a near-hopeless future where gray and neutrality is in everyone’s hearts and minds. Bright colors are nowhere to be seen. Garbage is not collected and so they pile up in the neighborhood. The sun always appears to be hidden behind clouds. When we hear music, it is quite depressing and never longer than ten seconds. When it is silent, we hear violence from a distance. Sometimes it is of screaming from horror or pain. Even the spacecrafts look lived-in, decaying.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, “Captive State” might have benefited from further revisions because some elements are already strong. While an impersonal approach is ambitious, I felt as though the age of drones, lack of privacy, and our every movement being tracked is already here. It is true that we do not have to care deeply for the characters. However, emotions or ideas must be amplified somewhere else. For instance, the screenplay might have attempted to create outrage from communities being forced to live in a police state, the way they are starved to keep them weak physically and mentally, and the brainwashing that occurs to create a semblance of peace.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Some movies exist as an exercise of style over substance and David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, is clearly an example of such an approach. One way to enjoy this surprisingly visually impressive film is this: tune out during the would-be mysterious verbal exchanges since it is clearly not the material’s forté (which can be concluded about thirty minutes in) and pay close attention during the flinch-inducing action sequences—not just on the violence but how they are executed. They must have taken weeks to plan out, choreograph, and execute. In the middle of all the wonderful chaos, I could not help but wonder how many perfectly good pieces of furniture they destroyed just for the sake of our entertainment.

The familiar plot, inessential if one so chooses, involves an MI6 agent named Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) being assigned to Berlin to acquire a watch that contains invaluable information regarding the identities of secret agents working from both sides of the wall. Before her departure, her superiors warn that she trusts no one during this most sensitive assignment. From the moment she steps outside the airport, KGB agents ambush her. Viewers experienced with the genre will smell a mole hunt from a mile away, but the visual style of the film keeps it fresh.

There is a look of detachment to the picture which is interesting because it wishes to pique our interest in its world of spies and secrecy. Scenes shot outdoors almost always look cold and gray. Bluish shades dominate, pale skins nondescript, emotionless. Appropriately, East Berlin looks depressing, a hole of misery and corruption. It is only slightly better indoors, whether it be inside a hotel room, a club, or a warehouse, there is an aura of impersonality. Even the living space of Lorraine’s contact, David Percival (James McAvoy), despite being filled with books, magazines, and other collectibles, many of them considered illegal in East Berlin, these items do not look to have been touched or read. Except for the alcohol bottles. Percival’s relationship with spirits likens that of fish in water.

But the centerpiece is clearly the well-executed action sequences. Most impressive is perhaps the drawn-out scene involving Lorraine and a bleeding man being stuck in an apartment complex as protests for freedom rage on outside. The seemingly interminable line of thugs entering the facility, the lack of score or soundtrack, the shattering of glass and numerous appliances, crushing of bones, bullets to the face, chokeholds… all build up to an intense and exhausting visual splendor of violence. I enjoyed that it is strives to deliver Class A entertainment but does not sugarcoat the fact that violence is extremely ugly, gory, and painful. Characters simply do not walk away unharmed. I admired that the film is willing to show Lorraine bruised and battered when it would have been far easier to keep Theron physically beautiful and alluring all the time.

“Atomic Blonde” is a kinetic, hyper-physical, muscular action-thriller. It might have been a stronger work overall had screenwriter Kurt Johnstad taken more of a risk either by minimizing or removing altogether the official meeting between agents and superiors and focused on the protagonist navigating her way through her increasingly complex assignment. It is particularly challenging to establish a suffocating air of paranoia when the picture is divided into two timelines: before and after the mission. During these meetings, on occasion, they tell more than show and this is toxic to aspiring adrenaline-fueled action pictures. But because nearly everything else about the film is strong, it manages to rise above such shortcomings.

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Frank Stokes (George Clooney) has managed to persuade the president of the United States that victory against the Nazis in World War II would hold less meaning if some of the greatest achievements known to man—pieces of art such as sculptures, paintings, tapestries—end up being destroyed or forever lost. So, a group known as the Monuments Men, comprised of seven scholars that range from art collectors, architects, curators, are sent to Germany to collect and protect works that have been stolen.

The heart of “The Monuments Men,” based on the screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov, is in the right place but it is not a good movie. Perhaps most problematic is that the men that the material urges that we remember and appreciate are not painted as very interesting people. Although they are played by big names—Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville—none of them are able to do anything with a script that lacks intensity and focus.

In an attempt to inject some sort of personality in the group that tries to acquire countless invaluable artwork, the members are given lines, would-be jokes, to utter. Less than few work because there is almost always no attempt at building up the punchline. Or maybe too obvious a comedy does not have room in the subject matter that is WWII. Millions of lives were lost during that time and yet the main characters look like they are on vacation. They do not look dirty enough, desperate enough, traumatized enough especially since their lives are supposed to be in constant danger.

The score is overbearing and annoying to the point where the audience is taken out of the experience. When someone is starting a speech, one can bet that the melodramatic score will start in about five seconds. Why does Clooney, the director, feel the need to give some sort of signal on how the audience should feel? Since he helped to helm the screenplay, it gives the impression that he is not confident with his own material. It is an elementary miscalculation—one that is expected from a filmmaker who is directing his or her first feature. Clooney ought to have known better.

The picture is confusing at times. The Monuments Men are paired up eventually and sent to various parts of Europe to collect stolen art. However, after spending about three to four scenes apart, they are quickly back together. The picture gives an impression that traveling from one place to another, especially in times of war, is incredibly easy. We all know that this is not the case. Thus, the whole charade comes off silly and we are never convinced that any of the men are ever in any real danger—even though not all of them live by the end of the movie.

What “The Monuments Men” is missing is complexity. Its subjects put their lives on the line and yet we never learn anything particularly compelling about them. More importantly, it lacks courage—the courage to dig deeper than ill-executed jokes and really hone in on the meaning of preserving culture. I worked in a gallery. I like art. But if someone who may not necessarily feel strongly about art watches this movie, he or she will likely not be convinced why, to some, art should hold equal importance as human lives.

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“10 Cloverfield Lane,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg, is an inspired spiritual sequel to an alien invasion film that was released almost a decade prior. Instead of telling a story that is bigger, louder, and with more visual effects, the focus is on three people hiding in a bunker right next to a farmhouse as a possible extraterrestrial invasion unfolds outside. It is an intimate sci-fi horror-thriller and ultimately one that works.

The picture is tethered by strong performances, particularly by John Goodman who plays a good samaritan named Howard. Goodman’s performance is at times very reminiscent of Kathy Bates in the classic horror-thriller “Misery.” Howard is a highly watchable character because in just about every scene, Goodman gives him a different body language, a strange manner of expressing his emotions, a questionable look. We constantly ask ourselves what he is up to, what he is thinking, what he is he willing to do to maintain his power and control in an impossible situation.

This makes the character difficult to decipher. There are times when we want him to be good but there are signs that he isn’t, yet there are also instances when we are convinced he is a villain but perhaps our imagination is simply playing tricks on us. We want to understand Howard and wrap our minds around his motivations. Goodman is more than up to the task of creating a curious and highly volatile character.

Credit goes to the writers, Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle, for consistently coming up with ways to engage the audience—a challenge because the majority of the film takes place in a confined living space. There is not one moment of boredom because the screenplay takes advantage of the setting to induce an increasingly paranoid feeling. One of the most shocking revelations involves our heroine taking a trip through the air ducts to reset the air filtration system.

Although the look of the film is nothing special, there is a confidence in Trachtenberg’s direction. For example, during the quieter moments, there is fluidity between the framing of a character’s face and body language. That smoothness is necessary so that we can absorb what is being expressed and confessed. During the action scenes, on the other hand, the camera moves quickly and efficiently—but never incomprehensible or headache-inducing—not so much concerned about flow or rhythm between shots but the urgency between survival and death. One gets a sense that the director has a lot of fresh ideas and energy.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” has the desire to genuinely entertain and make us feel uneasy rather than simply rehashing action sequences that do not deliver an iota of thought, creativity, or intelligence. Although some may be put off by the more overt answers during the last fifteen minutes, others, like myself, may consider it to be a moment to showcase the filmmakers’ versatility.


Matinee (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Half man, half ant—all terror!” is the tagline of Lawrence Woolsey’s (John Goodman) new monster film, “Mant!,” strategically released on a weekend when fear is on an all-time high in the Key West, less than hundred miles from Cuba where Soviet missiles threaten nuclear abyss. Gene (Simon Fenton) and his younger brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer) are big horror movie fans and they have made the decision to see next week’s feature. Word has it that it is unlike any other monster flick that came before. And although “Mant!” has not yet been released, there is already protesting outside the movie theater.

Based on the screenplay by Charles S. Haas and directed by Joe Dante, “Matinee” offers a real good time, perfect for anyone who loves the movies. It is funny, entertaining, creative, and offers surprises when one least expects it.

There is an innocence about the film, just like the monster movies in the ‘50s. There is a sweetness between the young characters, from the way Gene teases his little brother to the manner in which Gene treats a potential girlfriend (Lisa Jakub) who is unlike anybody else at school. Particularly fresh is the latter. There is no scene where a boy is depicted to be grossed out by girls, vice-versa. Credit to the screenplay for not being afraid to treat kids and teenagers like they have a heart and a brain.

Goodman is at the centerpiece, playing a film producer who is broke. Mr. Woolsey’s many gimmicks to sell the film are riotously amusing, from the way he inspires people who work at the movie theater to the vibrating seats he installs right before moviegoers buy their tickets. There is even a consent form required to be signed by the audience because kids in other cities have supposedly had heart attacks during “Mant!” showings. The look on Dennis’ face reminds us of that tickle we felt in our stomach back when we were children and our little or brother or sister believes just about anything he or she is told.

We get to see a good portion of “Mant!” In a way, we become a part of the audience. They are shown to be having a great time and we get to see why. The black-and-white movie is silly, cheesy, and ridiculous but there is something about it—in terms of visuals, music, and energy—that we cannot help but look away. Though we get to see only several scenes of the monster film, I thought it was actually something I would be interested in watching from beginning to end.

Its weakness is a subplot involving Gene’s classmate, Stan (Omri Katz), and a troublemaker (James Villemaire) who happens to be a poet. Both like the same girl and so the latter threatens the former to back off. Unlike Gene and the girl he likes, this triangle is a tired regurgitation of what we already expect. It might have been better if this subplot had been excised to make room for the real fears of Gene and his family because the head of their household is on a blockade ship by Cuba. Maybe the brothers go to the movies to escape having to think about the possibility that their father might not come back.

“Matinee” offers nostalgia but does not rest on it. It has an active imagination and so we are engaged just about every step of the way. There are jokes on the foreground to be sure but take a second to look in the background once in a while. The film deserves to be seen more than once not for the sake of understanding it completely but to capture the little golden nuggets one might miss the first time around.

The Hangover Part III

The Hangover Part III (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has been off his meds for six months and is in dire need of an intervention. His family has found a treatment facility in Arizona and his friends—Stu (Ed Helms), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Phil (Bradley Cooper)—agree to take him there. While making their way through a desert, their car is run off the road by a truck. Inside are armed men wearing pig masks. They work for Marshall (John Goodman) who is very upset because Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) had stolen his gold. He thinks that the wolf pack know the man enough to be able to track him. If they fail to present Mr. Chow to Marshall within three days, Doug is as good as dead.

“The Hangover Part III,” written by Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin, has no reason to exist. Clearly, it received the green light because there is dinero to be made. Nobody cared about creativity, making the audience laugh, or creating a good movie. This is as depressing as it gets. It proves that sitting through over ninety minutes of mostly unfunny and forced gags is a draining and maddening experience.

Instead of focusing on how the movie is an endurance test one cannot win, I choose to mention bits that do work. Though evanescent and few, they are there—if one is forgiving enough to see through the boredom and lack of inspiration.

The shining star, not surprisingly, is Melissa McCarthy, playing a pawnshop clerk with whom Alan has fallen for. McCarthy makes the correct decision to play it small because the men’s personalities are larger-than-life. This way, by playing an ordinary character who can be vulnerable and tough, she stands out. The lollipop scene is outstanding. Since it is so effective, I wondered by McCarthy was not given a bigger role to play.

I have always found Alan’s creepy, homoerotic remarks toward Phil to be awkward and odd or somewhat amusing. Galifianakis’ line deliveries during these scenes are close to perfect and having Cooper’s character respond in a macho but secure way is icing on the cake. There is an element of comedy to it because, in real life, most or many straight men that do look like Cooper’s character tend to respond with a level or tone of animosity.

So why is the movie not good? It is a question worth asking because, in my opinion, the on-screen talent is there. Occasionally, they are able to rise above what is on paper because they allow their charm and energy to seep through. The writing lacks a special punch that made the first of the series so surprising and enjoyable. Here, there is nothing to discover about the characters or the wild situations they are thrusted into. In other words, it has nothing to go on and yet the film is made anyway.

Directed by Todd Phillips, “The Hangover Part III” is pessimism on a platter. Though I am optimistic and try to separate what works from what does not, one thing is certain: I do not respond well to mediocrity—a trait embedded in the marrow of this movie. One can only hope that the screenwriters will have enough insight to stop and create a project that is more fulfilling—to them and us—one that contributes something to the art form.

Monsters University

Monsters University (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

If the back half of “Monsters University,” directed by Dan Scanlon, where Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) take a detour from their world and into a foreign universe, had been expanded and explored, it might have turned out to be more than just a superficially enjoyable, family-friendly movie and delivered something truly memorable. Some of these later scenes are so strong, I wondered how it would be like if Pixar made a genuinely creepy or scary film for kids, channeling the same aura as Gil Kenan’s underrated “Monster House.”

Gone is the warm hug of jazz that gave Pete Docter’s “Monsters, Inc.” a special life force. Instead, and perhaps more appropriately, marching band tunes are employed to get us stoked for one-eyed Mike’s first year in the university where he plans to major in Scaring. These tunes also conjure up excitement for the Scare Games, founded by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), which will determine the best sorority or fraternity on campus. According to her, a monster is defined only by his or her ability to scare. A monster that is incapable of it is an embarrassment. It is a shame that the screenplay does not do much with Hardscrabble because she has such a presence, an air of dour authority. She dares her students to surprise her, but not once she is able to surprise me.

There is more to the picture than a series of challenges. While they are highly amusing to sit through, especially the first challenge involving poisonous urchins, it also has easily digestible messages about teamwork, friendship, and acceptance that children should learn (and adults should know by now). And because this is a comedy, it is expected that the fraternity that Mike and Sulley join is composed of outcasts who are anything but scary: a middle-aged salesman (Joel Murray), two heads sharing the same body (Sean Hayes, Dave Foley), a long-legged purple philosopher (Charlie Day), and a multi-eyed plump youngster who lives with his mom (Peter Sohn). Each member of the group is given time to shine in and outside the games.

But the real gem is the lesson about knowing one’s limitations. Ever since he was a child, Mike has wanted to become a scarer. However, he simply does not have the physicality for it, not like Sully or the meatheads in Roar Omega Roar, but he is determined to prove everybody wrong. So, he turns to books and hopes that by knowing a lot, somehow it will make up for what he lacks.

This should have been at the forefront more often so that there is a constant build-up of the dramatic core. And yet since the lesson might be difficult to swallow, especially for its target audience, at times the screenplay uses cuteness and easy jokes as crutches when the mood gets too heavy. This frustrated me. It is like being a handed the lollipop when I really want is the steak. With so many children who have and are being led to believe that they are “special” and that they can become “anything” they want to be as long they “put their minds” into it, a point about being aware of one’s limitations is, I think, pretty daring.

The animation is first-class. Every square inch of space seems to glisten, the creatures command a defined set of characteristics (as well as physical gags to go along with them), and scenes that require howling energy to make high velocity movements stand out are mesmerizing. But “Monsters University,” based on the screenplay by Dan Scanlon, Daniel Gerson, and Robert L. Baird, lacks a moving story and the willingness to go all the way with whatever is needed to be communicated. It has the character for it–idealistic, strong-willed Mike Wazowski–but not a clever enough screenplay to camouflage the pill among the candy and trust that the ruse will work.