Early Man

February 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams
Directed by: Nick Park (“Chicken Run”)
Written by: Mark Burton (“Shaun the Sheep Movie”) and James Higginson (debut)

Apart from a character like late comedian Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1990s, most on-screen Neanderthals have been portrayed as doltish, uncivilized apemen for more than 100 years.

In Charlie Chaplin’s 1914 short silent film “His Prehistoric Past,” the iconic actor wears an animal skin toga and twirls around like a fool trying to win the heart of a pretty cavewoman in a grass skirt. More recently, the 2015 animated film “The Good Dinosaur” features a feral caveboy who sniffs around and bites things like a rabid chihuahua. If cavepeople still existed today, we’re sure they wouldn’t appreciate the stereotypes associated with them — from clubbing potential mates over the head to ultimately falling into a river of lava since their pea-sized brains can’t process the temperature of molten rock.

Sure, “Encino Man” gave the caveman movie subgenre some credit by transforming Brendan Fraser into an average California teenager, and Fred Flintstone benefited from modern-day conveniences like automobiles, telephones and even vending machines, but more often than not, cavemen have always been denied those few extra brain cells when it comes to movie and TV entertainment.

Such is the case once again with British director Nick Park’s newest stop-motion animated film “Early Man,” which follows a group of friendly primitive characters as they attempt to save their home from being taken over by a greedy monarch who wants to mine their land for ore. Park, best known as the creator of all things “Wallace & Gromit” and “Shaun the Sheep,” uses his distinctive claymation style to build a pleasant prehistoric world, but unlike the last two feature films he directed — 2000’s “Chicken Run” and 2005’s Oscar-winning “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” — “Early Man’s” script is lacking in creativity and unconventional ideas.

In fact, audiences might be gobsmacked to find out that “Early Man” is actually an underdog sports movie — and a mostly clichéd one at that. When Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) forces the cavepeople out of their valley, so he can dig up precious rock and turn it into bronze, the tribe decides the only way they can protect their homeland is to challenge the banana-nosed aristocrat to a soccer match (football for all you Brits), a sport Lord Nooth and his people consider a “sacred game.” Led by buck-toothed, pig-nosed, matted-haired caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and Goona (Maisie Williams), a ringer from inside Lord Nooth’s fortress, the two begin to train their ragtag team for a shot at victory.

As with many underdog sports movies that have come before, “Early Man” falls into a typical narrative where a meek and unathletic team relies on its heart to compete against a squad of arrogant professional footballers. The by-the-numbers storyline is disappointing considering how imaginative Park’s work has proven to be for the last 30 years at Britain’s Aardman Animations. Instead, the film struggles to make the humor consistent and falls back on things like anachronistic references and obvious ball puns.

“Early Man” feels like an animated movie that lost its way somewhere in the brainstorming process. There’s no denying the impressive, tangible product Aardman’s talented animators have put on screen. The growling dinosaur-sized duck and Dug’s scene-stealing wild pet pig Hognob are high points. But all the characters feel trapped inside a story that doesn’t belong to them. Park and Aardman might’ve made genre meshing work by turning “Chicken Run” into a prison-break action flick and “Were-Rabbit” into a mystery thriller, but constructing “Early Man” as a deadpan caveman version of 1995’s “The Big Green” knocks them back a couple of spots on the evolutionary chart.

Kong: Skull Island

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”)
Written by: Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) and Max Borenstein (“Godzilla”) and Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”)

What if “Apocalypse Now” was remade today, but with a twist:  instead of the Viet Cong, you replace them with King Kong? While the movie isn’t shameless enough to title itself “Viet Kong,” instead “Kong: Skull Island” foregoes subtlety—and, damningly, simplicity—to sort of retell Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece with a giant ape and connective tissue to other giant monsters in the pipeline ready to star in their own film franchises. In short, “Kong: Skull Island” is a weird fucking movie, albeit one that squanders that weirdness by bogging it down in a swamp of exposition, an overabundance of characters, and weird shifts in tone.

After a prologue shows us a pair of pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on an island in the South Pacific during World War II and encountering our title character, we’re thrown ahead nearly 30 years to the waning days of the Vietnam War. Satellite photography and mapping is all the rage, and would-be explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) uses the threat of Russian discovery to convince a senator to finance an exploratory mission with a military escort to Skull Island, which is permanently surrounded by storms.

The military enlists Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a career soldier looking for a fight after having to “cut and run” in Vietnam, and his men to facilitate the expedition. Along for the ride is former British special forces tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the latter of which provides the story with its inevitable “Beauty and the Beast” allegory. As soon as the team arrives and sets off bombs for, uh, some reason, they’re met with a fury by Kong himself, swatting helicopters out of the air and leaving Packard with a thirst for revenge.

Cool monster fisticuffs aside, “Kong: Skull Island” ends up a mess as we’re expected to follow too many different poorly-drawn characters (big ape included) as they make their way across the unclear geography of Skull Island, during which moments of would-be or unintentional comic relief mar what comes down to a movie about a crazed Samuel L. Jackson taking on King Kong. I mean, that sounds badass, right? But then what the hell is with Tom Hiddleston tossing on a gas mask and grabbing a katana to knife through a flock of pterodactyls in a poisonous gas cloud in slow motion? Is THAT supposed to be badass? Because it’s just sort of laughable. And the glut of characters leaves fine actors, like Goodman, Brie Larson, Shea Whigham, and Toby Kebbell, either stranded with nothing to do or with so little motivation the whole thing feels like a byproduct of bad editing.

Ep. 84 – Star Trek Beyond, SDCC trailer dump, and Kiko is treading the boards with a new take on The Little Mermaid’s Ursula

July 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Star Trek Beyond, talk about all the comic book movie trailers that dropped at San Diego Comic Con, and speculate on what stage role Kiko has taken that’s caused him to miss this week’s show.

[00:00-11:48] Intro/Where is Kiko? Is he starring in The Little Mermaid?

[11:48-38:53] SDCC trailers: Justice League, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Kong: Skull Island and Doctor Strange, plus casting news featuring Brie Larson, Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone.

[38:53-1:09:53] REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

[1:09:53-1:17:43] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Crimson Peak

October 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”)
Written by: Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”) and Matthew Robbins (“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”)

In the opening scene of director Guillermo del Toro’s new film “Crimson Peak,” a ghost of the mother of our main character gives the warning: “Beware of Crimson Peak.” With a dull story, bland horror and clunky imagery, I couldn’t agree more, unscary ghost-lady.

After a young woman named Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is swept off her feet by visiting a Englishman named Thomas (Tom Hiddleston), she decides to follow him to his new home after facing a family tragedy. Accompanied by his mysterious sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Thomas and Edith arrive and settle into Thomas’ broken down albeit beautiful home. As she spends more time there, however, Edith begins to notice strange things around the house and becomes haunted by ghosts. When she realizes things may not be what they seem, Edith attempts to navigate the truth about what is really happening at Crimson Peak.

Any horror elements, mostly taking place in the form of ghosts, feel like a complete afterthought. None of it is that frightening, but rather a polite haunting that is shoehorned in to spice up a dull romantic story. The romance feels decidedly passionless, as those plotlines are not given nearly enough time to breathe or develop. After a few meetings and some lustful looks, the audience is led to believe that Thomas and Edith are deeply in love, which never feels like the case.

While some plot points and a general sense of unease are pretty obvious early on, the film plays those plot points close to the vest, and takes forever to reveal (barely) what is actually going on. When the film reaches enters it’s Third Act and motives and answers are finally revealed, the movie has taken far too long to get to the point and there’s an air of “Who cares?” that permeates the exposition.

There’s no question the film’s gothic aesthetics are pretty to look at, but once you get past the sheen, there’s nothing worthwhile there. When you throw in some ham-fisted usage of the color red for blood imagery, a lame script of clichéd dialogue, and far too much brooding (I’m looking at you, Chastain), you get a film that lacks in nearly every department. Though the genre of the film may be up for debate, the fact remains that the romantic elements aren’t alluring enough and the horror elements are not chilling enough leaving “Crimson Peak” as a film with much to be desired.

Only Lovers Left Alive

May 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”)
Written by: Jim Jarmusch (“Broken Flowers”)

Taking a realistic approach to the idea of two vampires who have been living and loving on this earth for centuries, unconventional writer/director Jim Jarmusch breaks the mold with “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a fresh and distinctive entry into the vampire genre. For those who like their vampires to sparkle like diamonds like they do in the “Twilight” series or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – live like gorehounds and quench their insatiable thirst any way they can, Jarmusch’s cool, laid-back vampire story probably won’t do anything for you. Art-house film aficionados, however, should be pleased to see what Jarmusch is able to do with his non-formulaic narrative, especially with perfectly-cast actors Tom Hiddleston and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton in the lead roles. The result is undeniably tasty.

For a couple of undead characters who have been around for centuries, vampires Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) sure do have this whole “living” thing down pat. Adam, a depressed and reclusive musician, lives in the most lifeless part of Detroit while Eve has found a happy existence living in Morocco. It makes sense that vampires, who have been together for hundreds of years, would probably take some time off from inhabiting the same space so they won’t grow tired of each other.

Adam, however, is depressed. His only real link to the outside world is Ian (Anton Yelchin), the only “zombie” (AKA human being) he can stand to be around, who provides him with rare stringed instruments to purchase. Upon seeing that Adam is acting more emo than usual, Eve decides she’ll fly out (on an airplane, not as a bat) for a much-needed visit. The two are enjoying their time together until Eve’s immature sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up and does some really vampy things, which send Adam and Eve’s lives into a tailspin.

Along with the fact that Adam and Eve don’t live together, Jarmusch pays attention to other details that would come up if vampires really existed, which makes “Only Lovers” all the more believable and authentic. For example, when it comes to nourishing themselves with human blood, it wouldn’t make much sense if the couple lived off the necks of real people in the 21st century (haven’t you seen “CSI?” They’d be arrested or always on the run). Instead, both have their own personal hook-up to blood that keeps them from having to murder everyone they meet. Adam pays a doctor (Jeffrey Wright) handsomely for it; Eve turns to a famous 16th century playwright (John Hurt) for her premium-grade sustenance.

Jarmusch, whose past films include the wonderful “Broken Flowers” starring Bill Murray and “Stranger than Paradise,” takes on a different tone than his previous work. There is an underlying sadness to “Only Lovers” that paints an intriguing picture about what it would be like to live forever. While there are many people out there who would love to discover the Fountain of Youth, Jarmusch raises interesting issues about mortality and about just how much living one person can do when you know you’re always going to wake up the next night.

This film was screened at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival. For more coverage, click here.

Thor: The Dark World

November 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Alan Taylor (“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Palookaville”)
Written by: Christopher Yost (debut), Christopher Markus (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) and Stephen McFeely (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)

Before heading into the screening of “Thor: The Dark World,” my mind rang with an echo of a thought I had back in May, before “Iron Man 3” hit theaters. Here’s what I wrote then:

After the roaring success of last summer’s “The Avengers,” the biggest question facing the Marvel cinematic universe is “What’s next?” Since 2008, with the release of the original “Iron Man” film, everything that came afterward—vehicles for Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk—was build-up (for better or worse) to the epic team-up adventure of “The Avengers.” And boy, did it deliver, wowing critics and audiences on its way to becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. But after all of that (which Marvel is now calling Phase 1), what do you do?

The answer with Tony Stark’s third outing, and also with Thor’s sequel, was to stick the character back into a solo adventure that, instead of being a chapter in a larger story, marks time with epic battles for Macguffins until we see the Avengers assemble again in 2015.

“Thor: The Dark World” opens in a flashback, telling the tale of Thor’s grandfather Bor vanquishing the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his Dark Elves. Malekith’s goal was to use a powerful force known as the Aether to return the Nine Realms to a state of darkness, but Bor was able to contain the Aether in a hidden stone column. In the present, Thor and his warrior compatriots have brought peace to the Nine Realms, while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is imprisoned for his crimes by his adopted father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Back on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), still missing Thor, discovers a portal wherein she becomes possessed by the Aether. When Jane disappears from Earth, Heimdall (Idris Elba) informs Thor, who ventures to Earth to save Jane. The Aether’s release awakens Malekith and his forces, who will stop at nothing to capture Foster and release the Aether, plunging the Nine Realms back into darkness.

To say the mythology is dense is an understatement. There’s an awful lot going on here that ultimately doesn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe, settling for a return to the status quo by the time the end credits roll–thanks mostly to a twist that seems to forego logic and is content to let future films figure out how to explain. For those concerned that Thor’s first cinematic outing spent too much time on Earth, “The Dark World” solves that problem by spending the vast majority of its runtime in and around the sci-fi/fantasy hybrid worlds of Asgard and beyond. While that answers the question all post-”Avengers” movies will struggle with—namely “why don’t the Avengers help out?”–it may leave casual fans of the Marvel movieverse feeling indifferent.

Director Alan Taylor, a veteran of HBO’s spiritually-similar “Game of Thrones,” has done a fine job expanding Thor’s home world, but in the process it seems he’s made the character more obtuse. I have a theory that at some point the general public will throw its hands up at one of these Marvel movies and say, “No more…that’s TOO comic-book-nerdy!” While “Thor: The Dark World” probably won’t be that tipping point, the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy,” previewed in one of the movies’ two post-credits sequences and featuring a blond, be-caped Benicio Del Toro, is the odd-on favorite to send this whole thing back into the sweaty hands of the fanboys.

War Horse

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”)
Written by:  Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) and Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”)

In my generation, childhood affection for horses was strictly a girl thing. No male I’ve ever known has squealed with delight at the mention of a pony. No guy I’ve ever met has ever doodled pictures in their notebook of the majestic steed they hoped to get for their birthday. That’s not sexist; it’s just a fact: horses were for girls. Maybe it has something to with the landmark boys’ toys of my youth being Transformers and G.I. Joe, while the girls my age had My Little Pony. Hasbro made the call. If my disinterest in horses is entirely market-driven, then it shouldn’t be surprising that the commercials for “War Horse” left me rolling my eyes. Why is this teenage boy whining so much about his horse?

Directed by Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”), “War Horse” follows the adventures of Joey, a horse owned by teenager Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine). Purchased by Albert’s drunken father (Peter Mullan), Joey is saddled with the burden of saving the family farm. Trained by Albert to plow the field, Joey earns the admiration of the village. However when a flood wipes out the crops, money is needed to pay the rent. Joey is sold to the British army on the brink of World War I as Albert vows to reunite with him one day. As the war progresses, Joey’s journey takes him across Europe, and across enemy lines, from one owner to another.

As proven with “Saving Private Ryan,” no one directs early-20th century battle scenes like Spielberg.  From an early charge of the cavalry to a later battle in the trenches, the sequences here end up more family-friendly than the grisly, gory nightmares depicted in “Ryan” without losing the immediacy that made that film the standard-bearer. As the last conflict where man and beast worked together, World War I proves to be fertile ground for Spielberg, depicted here as a turning point in the history of war where mounted soldiers swung swords while being fired upon by machine guns. That’s the story you’ll wish was being told here. As it turns out, the film strays a little too far into schmaltzy territory when no weapons are being fired. As mentioned before, pre-Army Albert comes across whiny, and his passionate love for his horse falls on the wrong side of cheesy. One of Joey’s stops, with a sickly French girl and her doting grandfather, feels too cute by half and is mercifully ended by a battalion of German soldiers. And the less said about the sassy goose and Joey’s horse friend, the better.

It is a testament to the power of Spielberg, however, that the too-earnest parts can somehow stitch themselves together in a satisfying way, teaming up with the director’s masterful combat scenes to craft an uplifting conclusion that ends up bringing a tear to your eye.