The Death of Superman (2018)

Director: Jake Castorena, Sam Liu

Cast: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Rocky Carroll, Patrick Fabian

Screenplay: Peter Tomasi

81 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action including some bloody images.

 

I remember seeing Superman: Doomsday when I was younger. The animated movie sounded incredibly exciting to me, even though I had not read The Death of Superman, the comic it was based on. It was, to me, probably the most famous Superman run that I could remember, and it was incredibly intriguing as an idea. The animated film version wasn’t very good. I remember finding it slugglishly boring, and that was that. Probably wouldn’t see another version of that story play out, especially with the reception of the most-recent live-action Superman film, Superman Returns. I just figured that was the end of it. To my surprise, DC’s animated films have decided to play this out again, and this new incarnation, The Death of Superman, is thankfully much better.

Clark Kent (Jerry O’Connell, Stand by Me, Boy Band) is struggling internally to tell the love of his life, Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn, X-Men, TV’s The Librarians) his biggest secret: that he is really Superman. He can see that his secrecy about his past is straining things in their relationship, and if he plans to move forward with their courtship, he needs to figure out how to deal with his identity. He sees fellow Justice League members Batman (Jason O’Mara, The Siege of Jadotville, TV’s The Man in the High Castle) and The Flash (Christopher Gorham, The Other Side of Heaven, TV’s Insatiable) moving forward with their real lives and he wants the same thing. Meanwhile, a team of astronauts led by Hank Henshaw (Patrick Fabian, The Last Exorcism, TV’s Better Call Saul), on a mission aboard the Excalibur space shuttle, witness a boom tube opening and unleashing a meteorite toward Earth. When it crashes, a giant creature is released from the wreckage, and it has a trajectory for Metropolis.

I like the voice cast for The Death of Superman. I feel as though the star players involved really understand their characters and I like how they brought them to life. I also wouldn’t have been able to peg a lot of these performers without having looked at the cast to write this review. The only true standout is Rainn Wilson (The Meg, TV’s The Office), who is woefully miscast as Lex Luthor.

The action is much better in The Death of Superman because it takes the time early on to establish its characters and their motivations. Superman spends the whole of the film fighting with himself to open up and be a normal human. Even The Flash describing his normal life makes Clark pine for one of his own, and yet he is the only meta-human capable to taking down the creature, Doomsday. It’s his internal conflict that makes the external conflict so intriguing.

There’s still some pacing issues in the film, especially with the large-scale fight with Doomsday. It is broken up quite nicely but the narrative does tire out earlier than it should. It’s the same problem that Man of Steel had. Superman is such a powerful guy that the stakes don’t feel like they are there, even knowing how this one is going to end, and perhaps that’s part of it. This is very clearly The Death of Superman, and perhaps it would be a stronger outing to focus on the fact that this is the first part of a two-part story or even just smash it all in one film, a bit of a lengthy film, but perhaps one that doesn’t sputter so close to the finish line.

Overall, though, The Death of Superman is a strong DC Animated film. It stumbles a bit as it builds momentum, but for fans of these animated superhero tales, I think there’s a lot to like on display here. It definitely sets up the sequel really nicely and made me all the more excited to see the conclusion. This is a Superman film for Superman fans.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

A Dog’s Way Home (2019)

Director: Charles Martin Smith

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Chris Bauer

Screenplay: W. Bruce Campbell, Cathryn Michon

96 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and language.

 

This is A Dog’s Way Home, a movie with a dog as its main character and the whole film is narrated by the dog. No, you’re thinking of A Dog’s Purpose. That came out two years ago. This is different. No, it’s not the sequel either. That’s A Dog’s Journey, which sounds exactly the same but it’s different. No,really.

Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World, Gold) is a dog that has spent her whole time as a puppy raised by cats in the wreckage of an old home. That is, until she meets Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King, Ashes in the Snow, Old Boys), a nice young human who works at the VA hospital where his mother Terri (Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy, Allegiant) spends much of her day. Bella quickly becomes a member of the family until a law in Denver forces Lucas and his mother to move to a smaller suburb in order to keep Bella. Bella doesn’t understand this as she is sent to New Mexico for a few days while the move takes place. She believes that Lucas needs her and she runs away toward Denver to find him, 400 miles away.

I really had very little interest in A Dog’s Way Home after seeing the trailer. I felt like the entirety of the movie was given away. Then again, the title and the expectations of a film like this would lead one to believe that they know how the story is going to go, and they are pretty much right. There isn’t anything shocking or unexpected in this film, and for most people, that’s going to be fine.

I felt as though this is a film of two halves. The first half of the film revolves around Bella’s relationship with her human Lucas and his mother Terri. That’s where the film finds its heart. I found myself won over by the relationship and love in this family dynamic. It mostly works except for a few truly groan-worthy moments like the one featured in the trailer where Terri and the others at the VA hospital hide Bella in a couch so that the doctor doesn’t find out. Yeah, not everything works in the first half, but more of it than I expected actually did.

The second half of the film is where the title comes into play. Bella ends up 400 miles from home and does everything in her power to find her way back to Denver. This is where the film struggles. The most blatant problem with the latter half of the film is that Bella’s wanderings seem so happenstance and uninteresting. They all seem like things that I would have guessed to happen without even seeing the film, as though they were a checklist of things that missing dogs have to accomplish to find their way to home.

There’s one exception to the clichés of the film’s second half, and it’s the newly formed relationship between Bella and an orphaned baby mountain lion, which she called Big Kitten. The problem with this character is that the CGI in the film is atrocious, and, Big Kitten being a completely CG character, it pulled me out of the film completely whenever Bella and Big Kitten were together. If a film cannot afford to do good CGI, then they just shouldn’t use CGI. Do a script rewrite and move past it. A Dog’s Way Home swings for the fences with Big Kitten, but it just doesn’t work due to shoddy CGI.

I also believe that A Dog’s Way Home could stand better with a different title. Yes, I understand that it’s the name of the book this film is based on, but I think there’s some confusion about this being a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, especially with the upcoming sequel to that film, A Dog’s Journey, hitting theaters this year. I think it would positively impact the film’s box office if it stands aside from those films.

A Dog’s Way Home is flawed, yes, but it still contains enough light fluffy warmth to make it an enjoyable family film to start off 2019. It was better than my expectations for it (though I expected garbage), and I think it has an audience among families and dog lovers. If you thought the trailers looked good, I think you will find something to like in A Dog’s Way Home.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Nominees for the 91st Academy Awards

Hey everyone! We officially have our nominees for the 91st Annual Academy Awards. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be going through as many of the nominations as I can, so join me on this journey using #2019oscardeathrace and share your count on our way to 52!

The nominees are:

Best Picture:

 

Best Director:

  • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
  • Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War
  • Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
  • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
  • Adam McKay – Vice

 

Best Actor:

 

Best Actress:

 

Best Supporting Actor:

 

Best Supporting Actress:

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

 

Best Animated Feature Film:

 

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Capernaum
  • Cold War
  • Never Look Away
  • Roma
  • Shoplifters

 

Best Documentary Feature:

  • Free Solo
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • Minding the Gap
  • Of Fathers and Sons
  • RBG

 

Best Documentary Short:

  • Black Sheep
  • End Game
  • Lifeboat
  • A Night at the Garden
  • Period. End of Sentence

 

Best Live Action Short:

  • Detainment
  • Fauve
  • Marguerite
  • Mother
  • Skin

 

Best Animated Short Film:

  • Animal Behaviour
  • Bao
  • Late Afternoon
  • One Small Step
  • Weekends

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “All the Stars” – Black Panther
  • “I’ll Fight” – RBG
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns
  • “Shallow” – A Star is Born
  • “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

  • Border
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Vice

 

Best Costume Design:

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Black Panther
  • The Favourite
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Mary Queen of Scots

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So there you have it. It’s going to be a hell of a month and I’m looking forward to it. Be sure to join me on this adventure and share your thoughts on these nominees.

#2019oscardeathrace

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon

120 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

It took me over a year to finally watch Justice League. I picked up the film last year, and I just didn’t have the nerve to see it. After all the craziness going on behind the scenes, it felt as though this film just got destroyed by problem after problem. I read some reports from early set visits on Justice League, and the overall mood was quite good. Then, the problems began. Not all of these can be blamed on any one particular person. Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) had to step away from the film after the sudden death of a family member, a move I will never blame him for. So as far as the finished film goes, how does Justice League fair?

It’s been some time since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Fallout) at the hands of Doomsday, and the world has mostly moved on. But Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, The Accountant) cannot. He is haunted by the power he witnessed by the enemy due to a dream he witness of winged creatures and an Armageddon in the potentially near-future. His mission is to build a team of protectors. With Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Furious 7, Ralph Breaks the Internet) already joined up, they focus on recruiting Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian, Braven), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, TV’s True Detective) to the cause. Bruce and Diana find their mission ever more difficult with the arrival of Steppenwolf, a military officer from Apokolips, in search of the mythical Mother Boxes, three cubes capable of immense power.

I’m not usually a guy for high expectations with blockbuster fare. I personally find that smaller films can have just as much impact as larger ones in the blockbuster landscape. For example, Ant-Man is a fairly low-stakes superhero film when compared to something like Avengers: Infinity War (sorry for making my point with MCU films here). The one area where this thinking doesn’t count is the team-up films. When you have a film like Justice League, it needs to be big. It needs to have those memorable set pieces. Justice League’s biggest problem is that it’s forgettable. I just watched a night or two ago and I have trouble placing most of the action. Not much of the set pieces register in my mind. That’s a problem. This should be the one that reminds fans that the DCEU has stumbled in the past but they’re making up for it here and into the future. Snyder’s departure from the film didn’t cause this problem. Warner Bros did.

In response to criticism, Warner Bros stated that Justice League would have a shorter run time. At least, that’s the statement. At no point in any of the DCEU films, outside of Man of Steel, was the run time every really an issue for me. They are lengthy films but the DCEU always kind of branded itself with an epic quality maybe even more so than the MCU was. Warner Bros responded to criticism that wasn’t really there and shorted the run time, allowing for more butts in seats to see this movie. They responded to criticism that the films are too dark. Again, not an issue that I encountered outside of the brooding Man of Steel, but I just think they respond to any criticism big or small and it damages their plan.

I found Justice League, at the time I watched it, to be more enjoyable than anticipated. I feel like it sets up the team dynamic pretty nicely, and I like where it set the trajectory of future installments of the DCEU, but as a film, it also suffers some of the problems of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it completes some arcs we’ve seen started and starts some new arcs but the meat of the film is missing. This is especially apparent with the portrayal of Steppenwolf, performed through Mo-Cap by Ciaran Hinds, a tremendously gifted actor. Steppenwolf’s scenes were altered and sliced up, turning a potentially frightening villain into a flat, one-dimensional CG target. It kind of makes Justice League seem like another example of Suicide Squad, a film with great heroes on a flimsy mission.

I really enjoyed the few moments of interaction between members of the Justice League themselves. I just wish we had more of them. For example, Superman is on the front cover and appeared in the trailers, so it’s safe to say he’s in the movie. He’s been through a lot in this cinematic universe, and I feel like he needs screentime to really showcase it. I would liken his struggle closer to Tony Stark’s from Iron Man 3. He’s been through some shit, but he never gets the time for us to connect with him. They could have utilized Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) to connect us to this higher being, but they choose not to.

Ben Affleck is yet again at the top of his game here with Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’ve been saying for a long time now that he’s the best part of the DCEU and I stand by that claim. It’s a shame he’s been brunted with all these problems that have soured his experience because he’s a damn capable actor/director/writer who really could have spear-headed this whole world, but alas, that’s the way it goes.

Gal Gadot is also quite well-suited for her character. She plays Diana with a sense for saving and protecting, and it doesn’t come off all that cliché or silly. She gets more to do here than she did in Batman v Superman coming off her solo film with such high praise.

The real standout for me was Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry. He played Aquaman in such a different way than I had planned given what little the audience has to go on so far. I didn’t expect to see such a pessimistic asshole interpretation, but it’s all done in jest with an understanding of his place within the team, and I loved every scene with him as they all brimmed with fun.

I think the plotting of Justice League wasn’t wrong from the beginning, though. I remember hearing word from some of the involved crew that the film was initially to open with the large-scale battle for the Mother Boxes and a Lord of the Rings-style opening narration to set up the mysticism around these items. That intrigued me, the idea that DC was perhaps treating this film like an epic in the style of Lord of the Rings was very exciting. The finished film opens with a live-video of Superman that really just doesn’t sit well.

Justice League stumbles a lot throughout, and it had a rocky road leading to its release (can you say Mustache-gate?), but it isn’t the worst thing to come from the DCEU, and maybe that’s its biggest sin. This should have been IT. This should have been the one to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s mildly forgettable and very simplistic. It makes me sad because, while I still enjoyed it, there’s issues abound and I really want the DCEU to survive and thrive. This just isn’t doing it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

 

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman

117 mins. Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language.

IMDb Top 250: #26 (as of 1/13/2019)

 

I was pretty certain that the Sony Animation Spider-Man movie would disappear into obscurity. Sony, as a company, has been throwing everything at the Spider-Man IP and hoping something would stick. After making a deal to get Spider-Man into the MCU, they proceeded to make a Venom movie not featuring Spider-Man, talks of a Kraven the Hunter film and a Silver and Black film, and then there’s Into the Spider-Verse. None of these properties excited me on the outset, but I was at the very least quite thankful to see Miles Morales finally get the big screen treatment.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, Dope, The Pretenders) is a teen struggling with his identity. He attends a boarding school that he doesn’t feel at home in. He looks up to Spider-Man but his father, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry, Hotel Artemis, TV’s Atlanta) sees the masked crusader as a menace. All Miles wants is to have purpose, and when he is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops powers similar to Spider-Man’s, he finds that this may be his chance. Matters are complicated, though, when he runs into Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson, Tag, TV’s New Girl), a Spider-Man not from his universe. That’s not all. Spider-People from all different universes are converging on Miles’s world, and they must work together to fix the problem and get them all home while they still can.

Into the Spider-Verse is an assault on the senses, and I mean that in the best possible way. My eyes actually needed to adjust to the intense color display and terrific voicework displayed in the film. This film actually forced a new animation amalgam to be attempted in order to give it that “jumps off the comic book page” look that makes the film so damn pretty. The process involved rendering the 3D images and then working over them with 2D drawing to give it a comic book panel look. It’s gorgeous and altogether the most impressive feat of the film.

Beyond all that, Into the Spider-Verse has such an impressive and relatable story. Miles is a kid who doesn’t fit in. He even becomes Spider-Man but he doesn’t believe that he is worthy of the mantle. Peter B. Parker is a man who has lost the woman he loves because he was incapable of being the man he needs to be. Even Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, TV’s Ray Donovan), the Kingpin, has an understandable motive for his menacing plot. During all this, I didn’t feel the stakes of the film very much, and that’s a fault, but it was so fun to watch that it didn’t bother me like it should’ve.

Into the Spider-Verse subverts expectations so well. There are genuinely surprising moments, twists, and turns in the film, something not easy to do with a character/franchise that is seven films over the past twenty years. The Stan Lee cameo in the film just has so much more packed within it, especially given our tremendous loss this past year. The film even sends up the post-credits scene with theirs, and I won’t spoil it, but it’s my favorite moment in the film.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a strange movie, and it’s also totally brilliant. It exists perfectly on its own, even though some would argue that it is a sequel to the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films (and I agree). It’s to Spider-Man what Cabin in the Woods is to horror films, in that it validates everything without being beholden to any of it. But beyond all that, it’s an amazing story of finding oneself among the craziness of life. It’s a special damn movie. Go see it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Screenplay: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon

112 mins. Rated PG for some action and rude humor.

 

I was not the biggest fan of Wreck-It Ralph. I had a number of different reasons for my opinion, but I will also say that, at the time, I was carrying a bias about Disney films. After all, Disney is a machine, and like any machine, it has to function similarly at all times. I found the first film to be overly reliant upon video game and arcade nostalgia that bogged it down. I was also much more interested in Ralph’s (John C. Reilly, Chicago, Holmes & Watson) journey and felt it was less interesting when he got involved with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, Battle of the Sexes, TV’s The Sarah Silverman Program). Wreck-It Ralph was a hit, though (everyone I knew loved it), and while it took six years for a sequel, I was still excited for the wild ride that is Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Ralph and Vanellope are celebrating six awesome years as best friends, and while Ralph is fine with the way his days go, Vanellope wants more. She is tired of the predictability of her game, so Ralph sets out to help her. When his plan fails spectacularly, causing Sugar Rush to break down, it seems like as though Ralph may have inadvertently doomed Vanellope. Fortunately, they find that the replacement part for Sugar Rush is available on the internet, and the two set out to bring it back. Through their adventure, Ralph is forced to face his greatest fear: change.

There’s good and bad to the direction of this Wreck-It Ralph follow-up. It’s similar at times to the story of the first film with video game nostalgia traded out for social media addiction. That being said, the way the social media and internet references work in the film is to force Ralph and Vanellope to examine their lives and change, for good or bad. I think the sequel is more successful in creating real relationships amongst these arcade characters. There’s also a tendency to fall back on Disney properties in the film, a decision opposite to Spielberg’s choice in Ready Player One to seemingly eliminate as many references as possible to his films. Again, though, the Disney Princess scene is absolutely worth the price of admission. As I said, good and bad to these creative choices.

Ralph is a more interesting character this time out. His internal conflict with himself and Vanellope’s choices are so strong and real and accessible. It’s really powerful character direction, something for its viewers to register with as they grow older. I also like how Vanellope is struggling in the sequel, knowing she has a good life but wanting more than that. It makes her more than a cutesy sidekick.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good outing from Disney, though not their best. I think it’s a better film than Wreck-It Ralph, and I think the conflict in the film resonates rather nicely. The film falls back on Disney wanting to sell toys, but there’s some good in there too made by strong characters and a strong story arc. It just gets muddled sometimes.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rich Moore, Byron Howard, and Jared Bush’s Zootopia, click here.

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilyn Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers

Screenplay: Anthony McCarten

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language.

IMDb Top 250: #136 (as of 1/11/2019)

 

There’s two major schools of thought one can go down with a biopic. The filmmaker can choose to hit all the major notes on the subject’s timeline, capturing important milestones from the life, or there’s the biopic event film, where one major event is focused on. When it comes to Freddie Mercury, a man larger than life, you really have to hit all the notes, or as many as you can fit.

Bohemian Rhapsody is the story of Queen, but in many ways, it’s the story of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, Papillon, TV’s Mr. Robot), an artist lost too soon. Freddie did not come from an artistic upbringing, and he found himself in the right place at the right time when Smile, a band he’d been interested in, needed to replace a lead singer. Brian May (Gwilyn Lee, The Tourist, The Last Witness) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, Only the Brave, Mary Shelley), the remaining members of Smile, joined up with Mercury and, alongside John Deacon (Joe Mazzello, Jurassic Park, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), became Queen.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a more stylized, less historically accurate version of the Freddie Mercury and Queen story, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It’s led by an unstoppable turn from Malek, an actor who positively embodies Mercury’s many mannerisms with elegance, grace, and without parody. It’s a tough role to disappear in, and Malek proves to be up to the task.

It is Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street, Apostle) which proves to the most important of the film. Freddie is an eccentric man, to put it lightly, and he perhaps wants more than he can have, but he finds as the story progresses that he is unable to make up for his wants, and Mary’s emotional needs are struggling to be met. It’s a complex relationship brought forth quite nicely in the film.

The Queen portion of the film is undoubtedly the most fun, even if it isn’t 100% accurate. Seeing some of the craziness that went into some of the best music ever put to record is a wonder, and it doesn’t hurt that the film has a kickass soundtrack.

The major problem of the film is its direction, which sometimes feels a little VH1 and without some of the style that you might associate with a band like Queen. There’s something dated about the film, and I’m not referring to the actual events of the film.

Bohemian Rhapsody succeeds as entertainment, and that’s its Number 1 goal. I was smiling from ear to ear for most of the film, and that stayed with me for days afterward. It’s a hell of a fun film with a heart, but it’s made for Queen fans. Those of you that aren’t (and I imagine there’s at least three of you out there) will find little to enjoy outside the incredible performances.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

 

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Vice (2018)

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons

Screenplay: Adam McKay

132 mins. Rated R for language and some violent images.

 

At the end of Adam McKay’s (The Other Guys, The Big Short) film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the narrator informs the audience that Brick, the character played by Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office), got a job working in the Bush White House. It’s nice to see McKay sticking with the narrative.

Vice is the first film about the life of a US Vice President, and it explores the political upbringing’s of the most powerful and dangerous Vice President in history, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle). It’s the tale of a man of immense power and the way he ran his political career with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) at his side. It’s the true enough tale of his time learning from and working with Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), spanning from his time as an intern to the most powerful man in America.

What works so well in Vice is McKay’s storytelling style. He adopts what worked well in The Big Short for this larger-than-life vision of Cheney’s life and career. His film informs the audience early on that this film is as true as it can be given Cheney’s guarded and secretive life, and he puts as much truth to the screen as possible and lets his performers and absurdist storytelling gifts fill in the rest. McKay’s far-reaching ambition is on full display here, including his post-credits scene which brings us all the way to a discussion of present-day politics.

Bale is at his best here as he disappears behind his character. The weight gain workout regimen as well as the makeup effects work wonders here, but beyond that is Bale’s amazing quality to become his character, something he does quite well here. Adams is great here as well, a loving wife who has expectations for the man she marries and will not accept anything less than perfection from him.

The supporting cast is another strength of this film, littered with special performances like Carell’s. Sam Rockwell (Moon, TV’s F is for Family), just like Bale, expertly assumes the form of George W. Bush. Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Star) becomes Colin Powell. The performances in Vice are top-notch.

If there’s a fault in the film, it’s the difficulty in making such an unlikable man the focus of a 2-hour-plus runtime. McKay sticks close to the rule of characters: if you can’t make them likable, make them interesting, and he does just that, but as the film wears on, it does become difficult to maintain focus on Cheney with the same lightheartedness that permeates the early part of the film.

Vice is another strong outing for Adam McKay, a filmmaker who has proven to be as exciting now as he was over a decade ago when his satirical eye was used only for the purpose of comedy. His funny approach to unlikable characters offers up a different side of the coin to a filmmaker like Oliver Stone, and it is this keen eye for teaching through absurdity that makes this biographical drama such a winner. It’s runtime hurts the film a bit but McKay keeps things going pretty good aided by some astonishing acting from its principal cast. See Vice now before someone gets sued.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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A Star is Born (2018)

Director: Bradley Cooper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle

Screenplay: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

136 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.

 

A Star is Born has been made several times over, but what makes each incarnation so special is how they capture the time period they are set in. With a constantly evolving music landscape, A Star is Born is more of a time capsule film, so does it matter that there’s a new one? With first-time director Bradley Cooper at the helm, yes, a resounding yes.

Cooper stars as Jackson Mayne, an alcoholic rockstar who discovers Ally (Lady Gaga, Machete Kills, TV’s American Horror Story), a waitress/singer/songwriter who he helps get into the public eye. As their attraction blossoms into full-blown love affair, Ally finds herself propelled to stardom as Jackson discovers his star slowly fading.

The plot of A Star is Born is nothing new, and there’s the tendency with this film to find itself hitting all the bullet points of the narrative, but it boils down to strong character development in the writing, some truly unforgettable performances and incredible chemistry, and some memorable music. Cooper’s direction is strong for a first outing (though I wouldn’t put him in the conversation of best of the year), but it is his role as Jackson that is worthy of awards consideration. He continues to slip into a role and disappear behind a character, something he’s done several times in recent years.

Lady Gaga’s performance as Ally is very well done too. There’s some criticism about her essentially playing herself, but I don’t buy it. I find that she is accessing parts of herself but the chemistry cannot be understated and the way she folds her own background into the role is wonderful.

Cooper’s primary strengths as a director are where his passion lies, usually with character and story and less so with the technical side of things. He is particularly adept at using the music in the film to influence character and story, and there’s some nice foreshadowing in the film’s many musical numbers.

Overall, A Star is Born isn’t revelatory in its story, but the romance between the leads is so beautiful and heartbreaking that it stands as one of the best films of the year. Bradley Cooper has proven himself yet again with the added directing and co-writing, and Gaga adds another strength to her skill set. This is a terrific piece of cinema.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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