Tag Archives: john goodman

Quickie: The Monuments Men

monuments-men-posterWith the Nazis stealing all the paintings and sculptures they can lay their hands on, Frank Stokes (George Clooney) enlists a crack team to help the Allies reclaim the stolen art.

Trying to find new and interesting stories to tell about World War II may seem like a bit of a stretch, but with The Monuments Men, George Clooney has done just that. So just how he’s managed to turn it into such a mediocre film is somewhat of a mystery.

Clooney has assembled quite the cast, including Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, but many of them feel underutilised and underdeveloped. We’re led to believe they have some kind of history together but this is never explored, and as such we never really care about what happens to them.

The plot also feels somewhat disjointed and lacks cohesion. It flits back and forth between different plot threads, none of which ever really grab your attention and struggles to find a balance between a lighthearted and serious tone. It even descends into some good ol’ fashioned American flag waving by the end.

There is some fun to be had, however, and there are some nice interchanges between some of the characters, with Bill Murray and Bob Balaban probably the standouts. The period detail is also excellent and helps create a really believable setting.

The Monuments Men recalls classic war movies but ultimately fails to have similar dramatic or emotional impact. Great concept, poor execution. Sorry George.

2 and a half pigeons2.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Inside Llewyn Davies

Llewyn Davies (Oscar Isaac) was one half of a popular folk duo on the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s until his partner threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. Llewyn must then rely on friends, family and strangers as he struggles to make it on his own, but doesn’t make life easy for himself.

There are few filmmakers who successfully span as many genres as the Coen brothers. Pretty much every film they make is a departure from the last, and yet you still know what to expect, such is their style. Inside Llewyn Davies may not be their most accessible film but is still another intriguing string to their already impressive bow.

Llewyn is a decent enough artist but has struggled to catch a break. He’s stuck in a rut, making no money and having to crash on the sofas of anyone who’ll have him. He’s also not a particularly nice person, leading to a rather uneasy, morose tone for the film. Llewyn tries to make his way in the world but we never really get the feeling it’ll ever work for him.

Looming over Llewyn and the whole film in general is the death of his friend and musical partner. From the first song we see Llewyn sing, ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, to the nightmarish road trip he takes with jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) and beat poet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), death seems a ubiquitous presence throughout.

All this does make the film a little cold and not always engaging. Llewyn is his own worst enemy and generally a bit of a dick, which succeeds in keeping you just at arm’s length throughout. However, Llewyn is the source of a dry vein of humour that runs throughout, which is necessary to keep it from getting too depressing, and Oscar Issac must take a lot of credit for his performance. Isaac is note perfect as the downtrodden Llewyn, carrying an air of entitlement whilst trying to repress the fact he knows he’s not quite good enough.

As you’d expect, the music and in particular the folk songs (which were recorded live) are superb, and rather than just get snippets of the tracks, we’re treated to full length versions, which actually makes the film seem more akin to a traditional musical. Complementing the music is Bruno Delbonnel stunning cinematography which definitely has a touch of the Wes Anderson or Stanley Kubrick about it.

Inside Llewyn Davies also has an elliptically structured narrative which, whilst interesting, may frustrate some in not offering a clear conclusion to the story. But this is the Coens, so the chances of it wrapping up nicely were always pretty slim. It lets us draw our own conclusions, and few films recently have had me coming up with my own theories for so long afterwards.

In fact, there’s quite a lot to ponder upon and analyse should you feel the need. Everything from a ginger cat that Llewyn looks after to the songs he sings can take on alternative interpretations if you want to find them. It’s more than possible to enjoy the film at face value, but one could argue it’s a richer experience if you dig a little deeper.

Those expecting a by-the-numbers biopic are likely to be a little taken aback by Inside Llewyn Davies’s slow-burning, almost uneventful story, but the Coens have done what they do best in creating a film that rewards those who allow themselves to succumb to its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. In short, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

Pros

  • Fantastic performance from Oscar Isaac
  • Great soundtrack
  • Stunning cinematography
  • Can leave you thinking about it for days

Cons

  • Some may find it slightly cold and unfulfilling

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Monsters University

18Mike Wasowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) are scare students at Monsters University. A rivalry ensues between the two to be top of the class and an accident gets them thrown off the course by the imposing Dean Hardscrabble (Dame Helen Mirren). Only by working together to win the annual Scare Games will they be allowed back on the course.

The release of Cars 2 in 2011 signalled a change in attitude from Pixar. Prior to that they had largely dealt only in new IPs (Toy Story being the exception) and had shied away from sequels. However, since then the Disney-owned company have followed Hollywood’s lead and started to revisit past successes. As well as the return of Lightning McQueen et al, we now have Cars spinoff Planes and Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory on the way. And then, of course, we have Monsters University, a prequel to the 2001 original and the Pixar franchise with arguably (again Toy Story aside) the most to lose.

The good news is that Monsters University is a worthy addition to Pixar’s portfolio. It does lack a little originality, but that’s to be expected; we don’t get that initial ‘wow factor’ as we’re already familiar with the film’s universe and its inhabitants. As such the film does labour slightly in the outset, although it soon picks up and we settle back in to where we were an amazing/depressing 12 years ago.

It’s a delight to be back with Mike and Sully, but the film does seem to rely on this almost nostalgic feeling a little too much. Whilst the scrapes the duo get themselves in are amusing, the stakes just never seem as high as they did in Monsters Inc. The worst that will ever happen is that Mike and Sully don’t get back on their scaring course; there’s never much in the way of peril to make you really worry about them.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

What the film does show off is Pixar’s amazing character design. On top of the regular cast to which we’re now accustomed, we are introduced to a plethora of new characters, some playing major roles, others less so. However, the sheer number of incidental background characters is staggering and really does showcase Pixar’s imagination and attention to detail. From the Scare Games’ jock announcer to Mike and Sully’s furry, hippy biped friend, it’s a joy to let your eyes wander around the screen to check out the variety of characters.

One thing that did cross my mind was how well the film would hit the mark with a young audience. Pixar films always have a vein of adult humour running throughout to keep us older ones entertained, but they’re first and foremost children’s films. As such, I’m not sure if children will fully appreciate jokes based on university life. There’s still plenty of stuff for children to enjoy, but I don’t know if they’ll really get the maximum from it. Also, I don’t know if kids will properly understand the concept of a prequel. If your children have been to see it, please feel free to prove me wrong!

So for those worried that Pixar are on a slippery slope, Monsters University, at least for now, shows that they still have plenty in the ol’ think tank. Asking the film to live up to its predecessor was always going to be a near impossible task, but it does get about as close as you could hope for.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Pixar short: The Blue Umbrella

It’s been customary for quite some time now for Disney and Pixar to screen short films before their main features (which makes it even more annoying when people grumble about having to sit through them) and their latest, The Blue Umbrella, is quite simply one of the most stunning pieces of animation you’re likely to have seen.

THE BLUE UMBRELLAThe Blue Umbrella is about a, erm, blue umbrella who meets a red umbrella amongst a sea of black umbrellas. However, the two become separated, with our little blue friend desperate to get back to his new fancy ‘lady’.

In terms of narrative, The Blue Umbrella is very similar to Paper Man (shown before Wreck-it Ralph). In fact, it’s probably a little too similar; originality is something that has always set these shorts apart, but it’s lacking somewhat here. But it’s in the animation that the film really amazes. There are times when you really won’t believe this is an animated feature; only our blue and red protagonists are obviously animated, which adds something to the whimsicality of the picture.

Whilst it is disappointing that The Blue Umbrella lacks a little something in originality, it’s still a delightful short and the perfect appetiser before the main feature.

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Film Review: Flight

FlightA naked women walks around a hotel room. A man awakes in a daze before taking a huge line of cocaine. He clearly has his vices. He realises he needs to get ready for work and pulls on his uniform – a pilot’s uniform.

Instantly, from the very first scene, it’s clear that the man in question, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), is going to have a pretty tough time of things. The mix of alcohol, drugs and piloting a plane is never going to end happily and so even when he spectacularly negotiates a crash landing, saving numerous lives, a toxicology report leaves him at the centre of an investigation and facing life in prison.

It should be noted that Flight is not a film about flying. Sure, it has planes, pilots, etc, but it’s not in any way about flying. Swap the plane crash for any other disaster and it’s the exact same film. This is very much a character piece about a man struggling to curb his addiction.

The film’s opening third is suitably impressive. We know that Whit is drunk and high on drugs and yet he’s calmness personified captaining his flight. We also know something is going to go wrong and there’s a real intensity and tenseness about the scenes. However, from that point, the film never really regains this intensity and it focuses solely on Whip trying to deal with his addictions before his life spirals completely out of control. This drop in pace is not a criticism as it is largely handled very well, but some may be left wanting for the thrill of the opening act. Similarly, the film’s climax and denouement are somewhat formulaic and don’t do the rest of the film service, although there are few directions it could have gone to achieve a satisfying conclusion. There’s not much here that hasn’t been done before or that comes as a surprise but it’s still handled effectively enough.

What does really helps the film tick along is Denzel. His performance as Whip is superb and really makes you toil with yourself whether to support or abhor him. Washington is more renowned for his action roles but it’s performances like this that show he has much more in his locker. His supporting cast, however, aren’t quite on the same level. His tumultuous romance with fellow addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly) feels rushed and her character underdeveloped, whilst Harling (John Goodman), Whit’s dealer friend, feels ridiculously out of place and far too over the top. This is a film about Whit, though, so it’s only expected that other characters may be marginalised slightly.

Flight marks director Robert Zemeckis’ first live action film since 2000’s Castaway and proves that this is where his talents lie. During that time he directed the animated trio of The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol but none of them really had the impact his previous work did. Flight, however, is very much a return to form, or at least a step in that direction.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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