Reign of the Supermen (2019)

Director: Sam Liu

Cast: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Cress Williams, Patrick Fabian, Cameron Monaghan, Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson

Screenplay: James Krieg, Tim Sheridan

87 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, DC is killing it with their animated universe. While their live-action work has struggled finding its footing (though I believe they have it now), their animated cinematic universe is chugging along quite well. They took their time in killing Superman, something that the live-action series did not do, and it paid off well for The Death of Superman, a really strong adaptation of the famous comic book arc. So what happens next?

Following the death of Superman (Jerry O’Connell, Stand By Me, Boy Band), the world has been in mourning for six months until four very different new heroes arrive on Earth, each one laying claim to the title of Superman. There’s Superboy (Cameron Monaghan, Amityville: The Awakening, TV’s Shameless), a young and arrogant teen with Superman’s abilities is seemingly backed by LexCorp and Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson, The Meg, TV’s The Office). There’s also a hero named Steel (Cress Williams, Never Been Kissed, Lowriders), a Cyborg Superman, and a protector called The Eradicator. Needless to say, these multiple possible iterations of Superman are not playing nicely, and it is up to Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn, X-Men, TV’s The Librarians) and the Justice League to make sense of it all.

Reign of the Supermen gets a little more convoluted than its predecessor. There’s a lot going on and I wish the film had more time to explore these different Supermen. It would make some of the more interesting developments all the more impactful. The story does get a little lost while building up its central plot.

The voice work again is spectacular in this film, with the exception of course being a woefully miscast Rainn Wilson. I like Wilson, but he does not exude the presence of Lex Luthor. Cameron Monaghan gives Superboy an injection of snobbiness that permeates the realism of a teenager with angst and superpowers.

The ending, though, is where the film’s impact is at its strongest, allowing all the buildup of two films to be resolved. It’s a well-edited, well-paced finale that makes up for some of the earlier plot problems. It doesn’t feel like a setup for future films but a culmination of much of what has come before.

Reign of the Supermen is an enjoyable superhero adventure is mostly successful in translating this popular Superman run into the feature film format. I would have liked more time given to the different Supermen, but overall, handing a larger portion of the screen time to Lois Lane has its benefits. If you liked The Death of Superman last year, you won’t be disappointed with this conclusion.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jake Castorena and Sam Liu’s The Death of Superman, click here.

Leaving Neverland (2019)

Director: Dan Reed

Cast: Michael Jackson, Jimmy Safechuck, Wade Robson

240 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

Leaving Neverland is the type of documentary made for discussion, and it’s also going to spark some controversy. In fact, in the past few weeks, it has done exactly that. There are heated opinions on both sides of this issue, so I’m going to start by just reviewing the merits of the documentary. Let’s get started.

Leaving Neverland is the story of Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson, two men who, as boys, were huge fans of pop sensation Michael Jackson. From their perspective, they both recount separate accounts of their sexual abuse at the hands of the famed musician. It also examines some of the family of these men and how they were involved. It’s a strange and disturbing tale filled with testimony that is difficult but very important to hear.

It’s important to note that the testimonies given within the documentary have not been proven, and to do would be very difficult as Michael Jackson is no longer living. What is striking is how similar the two stories are to one another. How Jimmy and Wade first came into contact with Jackson is different, but the route that their tales take has some strange similarities.

Looking at the film’s structure, I don’t believe that the 4 hour runtime is necessary. I think a good hour could have been shaved from the film. I know the stories are important and many of the events described within them deserves to be said, the gargantuan runtime struggles.

I won’t be the first person to state in his review that I could not finish the film in one sitting. This is due to the graphic description in the film. Safechuck, Robson, and director Dan Reed (The Valley, Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks) do not restrain themselves in the telling of the story. Reed elects to tell the story as it spans over many years and spreads across families over the option to focus on the different viewpoints in the many lawsuits against Jackson. The story Reed wants to tell is one of victims and their experience as opposed to looking at the entirety of the many cases. The way Reed takes his focus to the families and the bonds that formed between Jackson and the parents as well as the kids over many years is shocking, disturbing, and deeply unsettling.

Leaving Neverland raises some interesting questions about the nature of the artist and their relationship with their work. The reaction to the film has been somewhat expected, but I was surprised by radio stations removing Jackson’s music in response. I get it, but I was still surprised. Are we able to separate the artist from the work? With the case of people like Kevin Spacey, I can watch his films knowing that there are more people contributing than just he, but Michael Jackson is more a brand than just a person, so it’s a tough thing. I get anyone choosing to boycott the musician or any talent who has been accused of horrible things, but it is an interesting question.

This is a documentary that is essential viewing, but be warned: this is not a pleasant experience. As far as a cinematic experience goes, this documentary is not one to go back to, but it is very important and raises both questions and conversation.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

ReMastered: Who Shot the Sheriff? (2018)

Director: Kief Davidson

Cast: Bob Marley

57 mins. Not Rated.

 

ReMastered is a monthly music-themed docuseries on Netflix. The first of these documentaries, directed by Kief Davidson (The Ivory Game, Bending the Arc), examines the mysterious shooting of Bob Marley and the possible CIA connection.

For me, Who Shot the Sheriff? doesn’t really scratch the surface of this mystery. They make some interesting claims, but I didn’t feel like they got anywhere deeper than surface-level assumptions based around conspiracy theory without any real discoveries. That’s the real failure of the documentary. I was very interested in the portions of Bob Marley’s life from a purely biographical aspect, but the mystery of the shooting is essentially a non-story based on the doc.

The doc should have focused more on the power of Marley’s music and the effect he had on so many. It spends some time on this portion in the doc but not enough. The power and effect of his music and presence is where the documentary is at its absolute best.

Who Shot the Sheriff? is a so-so documentary. I don’t think the film really knows what it wants to do. It plays itself as a mystery, but it never really delves any deeper into it. This one isn’t worth it for anyone outside of Marley super-fans.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Captain Marvel (2019)

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law

Screenplay: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.

 

Captain Marvel, much to the chagrin of sexists and trolls, is good. Take that!

Vers (Brie Larson, Room, Basmati Blues), a member of the Kree Star Force team with no memory of her life until the last six years, has been taken captive by the Skrulls, a shapeshifting alien race, and when she escapes, she finds herself crash-landing on Earth. Aided by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Hitman’s Bodyguard), Vers begins to uncover secrets of her past life on Earth. She is pursued by the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Robin Hood), on her way to finding her past and her connection to a mysterious woman she does not remember named Dr. Lawson (Annette Bening, American Beauty, Life Itself).

Captain Marvel is filled with spoilers, so I avoided as much as I could, but the film is thick with mythology. Too thick at times and too thing at others. The screenplay has some holes and plotting issues, having perhaps traded hands too many times. It’s the biggest problem with the film. Not enough time is given to developing the various members of the Star Force, which would give more purpose to their goals. There’s also no understanding of Vers’s superpowers. They appear limitless in the film. No boundaries are given which limits the stakes.

Brie Larson is pretty solid in her MCU debut as Vers. Her best work in the film comes from her great chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury. The two actors have worked together on three previous films and, in Captain Marvel, a true comradery is formed. These two characters form a bond that really works well. I also liked her interactions with Lashana Lynch (Brotherhood, TV’s Bulletproof), who portrays Monica Rambeau, someone who knew Vers during her time on Earth and holds many secrets to who she was. I hope these two get more time together in future MCU installments.

Jackson and Clark Gregg (Spinning Man, TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine) return to the MCU, playing their younger selves. The CG de-aging is so great in this film. The MCU is known for de-aging their actors in flashbacks, and each film seemingly gets better. Captain Marvel is the best version of this tech. Not once with Fury did I really think about the age difference. Clark Gregg had one scene where he looked a little glossy, but overall it didn’t pull me out of the film.

Outside of Jackson and Gregg, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Serenity) and Lee Pace (The Fall, Driven) also return to the MCU as Korath and Ronan, having previously appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy. Unlike Jackson and Gregg, these two aren’t given all that much to do. It’s nice to see some more interconnectivity in the MCU, I feel like Korath is on the verge of more development but never quite reaches it, while Pace appears in essentially a cameo appearance. He’s just not given anything worthwhile to do.

Ben Mendelsohn is under thick makeup to play Talos, leader of the Skrulls who are pursuing Vers and Fury, and he’s so much more fun than most other actors would be under all that makeup. Mendelsohn is having fun here, and that’s noticeable. It’s a tough line to walk as a villain to be fun and still threatening, but his performance really works in light of his character arc.

An area where the film stumbles is from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who are dealing with their first big budget film. Marvel has a tendency to get great success in this arena, but I feel like Boden and Fleck are in over their heads with the action. Their skills lie in the drama between characters, but when action happens, it doesn’t feel exciting in the way that it should. This is particularly noticeable in the finale. I didn’t get a sense of the direction in the action, and it was unfocused.

Captain Marvel had a tall order. It was the first solo female-led film in the MCU, the first film to be released following the death of Stan Lee (the way this is handled in the film is exemplary), has to lead into Avengers: Endgame, and became the target of asshole trolls. For the most part, it handles all of these problems very well. Outside of a muddled script and some directing issues, it’s a very fun time at the movies with a terrific 90s flavor and soundtrack, and an MCU movie to push forward into the Post-Endgame slate of the franchise.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Leythum’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

[Short Film Sunday] A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (2011)

Director: Leythum

Cast: Clark Gregg, Jessica Manuel, Jeff Prewett

Screenplay: Eric Pearson

4 mins. Not Rated.

 

In the days of Phase 1 MCU, the franchise was still looking for footing. With that came the Marvel One-Shots, short films set in the MCU outlining characters and events not seen in the MCU theatrical releases.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer is set between Iron Man 2 and Thor as Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, Live by Night, TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine) is heading to the site of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Along the way, he stops at a Roxxon gas station for some snacks just as it’s about to get robbed. Coulson must use his S.H.I.E.L.D. training to escape.

This One-Shot is probably the weakest one in the entire bunch, humanizing Coulson but also showcasing his skillset in a way we didn’t see much of in the theatrical Marvel films. Clark Gregg is great as always but the short is four minutes of fluff. This is one to appease Marvel fans but any general audience member would have no interest. This actually would have made for a more fun post-credits scene as it has no purpose in building anything up in the MCU.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer is cute and fun but really nothing special and rather forgettable. It’s always a good thing to have more Marvel content but outside of seeing Coulson’s uncertainty surrounding his favorite kind of gas station donuts, there’s little to pull here.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

[Early Review] Five Feet Apart (2019)

Director: Justin Baldoni

Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Parminder Nagra, Claire Forlani

Screenplay: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material.

 

Following in the footsteps of films like A Walk to Remember and The Fault in Our Stars, Five Feet Apart is a teen romance film dealing with a whole lot more than romance. It’s basis in Cystic Fibrosis gives it a shot of something I haven’t seen in a romance film, and unfortunately, that was the only thing unique about it.

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen, Operation Finale) has CF, but she has a system. She knows what meds to take and when, when she needs to wear her afflovest, and exactly what she must do to remain on the list for new lungs. So when she meets Will (Cole Sprouse, The Suite Life Movie, TV’s Riverdale), another CF patient with no solid drug regimen, no plans to get better, and no hope, it drives her crazy. She insists that he let her help organize his drug cart in an effort to help him stay healthy, and in doing so, the two begin a bond that becomes something more powerful, but they cannot move forward together without breaking an important guideline for CF patients: that they cannot be closer than six feet to avoid cross-contaminating each other.

I found the Cystic Fibrosis layer of Stella to be incredibly interesting and powerful. I’ll be someone who admits to not know much about the ailment, so I was interested and captivated by her strength in fighting for each day. It’s nice that the filmmakers worked alongside the Claire’s Place Foundation to get all the details right about CF. I also found it interesting how she evolved as a character by her relationship with Will. Until the end. There’s some events and scenes surrounding her arc in the latter half of the film that I didn’t believe. There’s a lot about the third act that completely falls apart, in fact.

I think that Richardson and Sprouse had nice enough chemistry but nothing that really stuck. Their romantic relationship was one of the more boring elements of the film. It hits all the familiar beats of any romantic entanglements. At the end of the film, some bad decisions are made in the name of love, and I didn’t find myself seeing the point in the bad decisions. Where the relationship ends up at the end of the film is also something that seemed like exactly where I expected it to go. All in all, I was completely uninterested in the central crux of the story.

Five Feet Apart is rather forgettable as a love story but the CF stuff is interesting and insightful. Everything outside the romance is engaging at least. It’s just a problem that the film is a love story. Save your money on this one; there are better films at your cinema.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

Director: Joe Cornish

Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Joe Cornish

120 mins. Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language.

 

The Kid Who Would Be King had some pretty bad marketing. It felt too silly and too cliche, and perhaps the finished film is, but the film’s marketing did not sell it well. Word of mouth from reviewers is the only reason I went to see it, and I found it to be much better than expected even if it suffers from several issues that plague these kinds of fantasy films.

Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) isn’t a popular kid by any means. He regularly saves his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from the clutches of bully Lance (Tom Taylor, The Dark Tower, TV’s Doctor Foster). But when he discovers a sword amid the rubble of a construction site and retrieves it, he is enlisted by the mythical sorcerer Merlin to stop the evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Life) from taking over the world and plunging it into darkness. To stop her, he will need to master the sword and enlist some knights to assist him.

There’s some good in The Kid Who Would Be King, and there’s some notable flaws as well. First of all, I think Alex is a well-written character and Louis Ashbourne Serkis does a fine job of holding up the film. He’s realistic and imaginative and very reminiscent of heroic characters. He’s a flawed character with room to grow.

Dean Chaumoo’s Bedders and Tom Taylor’s Lance are rather simple one-note characters. Bedders is there for the jokes and Lance doesn’t display true believable growth. I also found Morgana to be a very bland villain. Rebecca Ferguson gets really nothing to do in the role.

The writing is smart but some of the jokes fall completely flat and the film gets a little lost in search of purpose. This is especially apparent with the finale, where it feels like the film should have ended about 30 minutes earlier. That’s where the film lost me. I was unimpressed with the poor plotting and repetitive action.

The Kid Who Would Be King could have been better. I enjoyed bits and pieces of the narrative but overall I didn’t feel like it was really going anywhere interesting. Where it did go was uninteresting. I admire the film and I think it has an audience out there. I would be interested to see where a sequel ends up taking it, but this first film felt like I’d seen it before many times.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Escape Room (2019)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Nik Dodani

Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut, Maria Melnik

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language.

 

An Escape Room that tries to actually kill you is quite the high concept for a horror movie. How is plays out onscreen is another thing altogether.

Zoey (Taylor Russell, Before I Fall, TV’s Lost in Space) needs to put herself out there more. She is closed off, nervous, and lacks confidence. So when her professor challenges her to do something outside her comfort zone over the school break and a mysterious invite shows up to her dorm for an escape room, she takes the opportunity, but she and the other members of the escape room quickly learn that this is not a normal game, and they are in true danger. The group must work together to pass all the tests of the escape room and hopefully escape…with their lives.

Escape Room was so much more fun than I expected it to be. I felt like the film would be missing a certain amount of style just from what I’ve seen in other films with a similar concept. That being said, each room has a style and theme to it and most of them are really fun to participate in. I was not in a crowded theater but I found myself joining in with the other people in the theater to guess how to solve each puzzle. It was a great experience.

The story’s biggest faults are in the structure. The first scene of the film, set in the escape room, uses misdirection quite poorly. Then, it flashes back to earlier events and the story goes fine from there for the most part. The finale, though, gets very clunky. Getting to see more about the makers of the escape room didn’t really work, and then the film goes on too long trying to build a mythology. The last scene just flat-out didn’t work.

The characters are fun to connect to, even though many of them are archetypes of characters we would see in a horror film. They are enjoyable to watch as people get picked off but they aren’t extremely well-put together for the film. Zoey is the girl that is super-shy. Ben (Logan Miller, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Love, Simon) is the weird awkward guy. Jason (Jay Ellis, A Boy. A Girl. A Dream., TV’s Insecure) is the rich douchebag who is just out for himself. Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll, Silver Lake, TV’s True Blood) is the pretty and tough ex-military woman. Everyone has their archetype, the most interesting being Danny (Nik Dodani, Alex Strangelove, TV’s Atypical), a guy who has been in escape rooms before and is kind of the expert, but even he is the nerd of the group.

Escape Room is a flawed but extremely enjoyable time at the movies. I’m happy to hear that a sequel is on the way because I believe this has the makings of a franchise. They need to fix the mythology or throw it out altogether and just focus on the rooms and character development. This is a popcorn thrill ride at the core and so much fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key, click here.

[Early Review] Triple Frontier (2019)

Director: J.C. Chandor

Cast: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, Adria Arjona

Screenplay: Mark Boal, J.C. Chandor

125 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Triple Frontier seemed like a movie that was never going to get made. Cursed, almost. Over the past few years, I’d heard reports of all sorts of actors from Johnny Depp to Tom Hanks board the project and then back out. Some actors, like star Ben Affleck (Argo, Justice League) joined the film only to back out over scheduling conflict and then come back and join the cast once again later on. Kathryn Bigelow was set to direct but then left to direct Detroit. It seemed to wallow away in development hell until finally J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All is Lost) put all the pieces together, with a script from Mark Boal and Chandor, and delivered Triple Frontier, and it turned out to be an intense thought-provoking thrill ride.

Santiago (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) assembles a crew of his friends and ex-Special Forces members to steal from and assassinate a dangerous drug king in South America. When the heist takes a surprising turn and the escape plan changes, their loyalties to the mission and to each other are tested. They are forced to decide between risking their greed or their survival as obstacles mount all around them.

Triple Frontier’s tense screenplay works with the Hero’s Journey really nice, and Isaac’s Santiago, for better or worse, works his way toward a goal, and his decisions have consequences. Affleck’s Tom is a man who needs the money but knows what this kind of mission can do to him. The two play opposite sides of the coin and as their moralities change between them, they play great foils to one another.

Charlie Hunnam (A Million Little Pieces, TV’s Sons of Anarchy) plays William, a public speaker struggling with his mental state after what he’s witnessed. He takes on the job once he knows Tom is involved because he knows Tom’s clear head will prevail. His is a character of habits and little comforts who plays by the book.

Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, If Beale Street Could Talk) is Francisco, a hell of a pilot with a little drug problem. He wants to get in the air again and feel a sense of purpose. These four characters are written as people who don’t break the rules, but the circumstances of the plot and narrative fundamentally change their thought processes, and with that comes mistakes and a sense of moral ambiguity.

That being said, I felt like Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound, Burden) was wasted in this film. His character, William’s brother Ben, doesn’t have all that much to do. He isn’t given a compelling narrative and seemingly fills out the cast.

Triple Frontier has a vivid and gorgeous cinematic look to it. The cinematography is clean and colorful, the editing quick and tight, and the production design realistic. There’s some issues with the sound design in the film, though, and the music choices sometimes feel like a checklist for drug cartel movies, but the film’s most impressive aspect is its use of tension. There are a great many scenes where the wills and resilience of the crew are tested, and thanks to Chandor’s decision to stretch the tension from an already tense script work wonders here. I was pulling my hair wondering just how they were going to escape from several situations.

Triple Frontier hits Netflix screens on March 13th, but you can catch it in theaters before that, and I would suggest it. This is a tense morality play with some intense action, solid character development, and some genuinely shocking moments. I recommend seeing it immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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