[#2020oscardeathrace] A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue

109 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role [Tom Hanks] [PENDING]

 

After the success of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, it seemed certain that we would see a Mr. Rogers biopic. I became surprised that we hadn’t already gotten one in the years following his death, but I learned that his estate was primarily concerned with getting it as accurate as possible, and so when it was announced that Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) would be directing the biopic with Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Toy Story 4) playing Mr. Rogers, it seemed to be perfect, but could Hanks pull it off?

In 1998, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, The Report, TV’s The Americans), a journalist for Esquire magazine, is tasked with profiling Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for an issue on heroes. Lloyd’s at a place in his life where he’s known for his cynical and scathing pieces of journalism, and he’s not too keen on writing about Mr. Rogers, but he begrudgingly accepts. Over several meetings, Lloyd and Fred learn quite a lot about each other, and Fred is determined to understand his interviewer and help him come to terms with his past.

I cannot begin to discuss the merits of this film without giving a whole lot of credit to Tom Hanks and his performance as Mr. Rogers. There are a few different ways that Hanks could have approached playing the iconic personality. The worst of these ways would have been to attempt an impersonation of Fred Rogers. Hanks avoids this by purely studying the mannerisms, inflection, and tone of the character and apply it to his performance. No one can be Fred Rogers, and Hanks plays the spirit of who Mr. Rogers is.

The decision made by the screenwriters, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The Motel Life), to focus on a single story of friendship instead of a straight-up biopic was a great choice. I’m so sick of by-the-numbers checklist biopics. I want to see a story. That’s what we get here. It also works since most everyone who has an interest in the life story can watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and get all that. Using Lloyd Vogel as the lens through which we view Mr. Rogers creates an accessibility that really works for understanding Fred Rogers as a human being.

Another benefit of telling a singular story is that director Marielle Heller is able to experiment and really let her artistry shine. She constructs a dream-like quality by creating a framing device that also lets us see Lloyd through Fred’s eyes as well. She also expanded upon the diner scene in the film, and I don’t want to get into the details of it, but that sequence because I want you to experience it for yourself, but it’s the moment that elevates this film to another level.A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is another outstanding feature from Marielle Heller that contains another stunner of a performance from Tom Hanks. This unforgettable film experience is well worth your time, even if you think you know the whole story…so sing it with me:

“Won’t you please, won’t you please,
Please won’t you see this movie?”

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] Marriage Story (2019)

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever

Screenplay: Noah Baumbach

137 mins. Rated R for language throughout and sexual references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Scarlett Johansson] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Adam Driver] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Laura Dern] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #194 (as of 1/14/2020)

 

It must be a pretty good feeling to live in the Baumbach/Gerwig household right now, with writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) and his wife, writer/director Greta Gerwig, both having films in the Best Picture race for Marriage Story and Little Women, respectively. It definitely raises the odds for them.

Marriage Story is the tale of a marriage at its end, focusing on the downward spiral between husband and wife Charlie (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Dead Don’t Die) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing). It’s also a love story that uses the pain of divorce to highlight the beautiful moments that the relationship gave them both. As Charlie starts to see the mistakes he makes with not listening to his wife’s needs, Nicole finds herself down the career path she’s always wanted, and they find that they are going in different directions. Charlie struggles to find adequate representation for the divorce proceedings while Nicole hires a shark attorney, Nora (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, TV’s Big Little Lies). While Charlie and Nicole both want the process to go as painlessly as possible, they find that they are in a system designed to turn their divorce into a war zone.

Marriage Story accomplishes something that is incredible in its storytelling, but it also makes it look easy. Baumbach is able to tell a story about divorce that is, at its core, a love story. Similar to how Taika Waititi told a story about hate that became a story about love with Jojo Rabbit, Baumbach is able to use tragic circumstances to really show how powerful its inverse is. Using his own real-life divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh as a guide, he crafts a screenplay that gives us equal moments of sadness and joy, and his direction is simple enough to focus on his powerhouse performers.

Speaking of powerhouses, I love that everyone in the film is firing on all cylinders here. Driver and Johansson have such great chemistry and they don’t try to out-act the other, instead letting each other have their moments of grandness amidst the strain, struggle, and fighting. There’s a scene near the end of the film that features the two stars in a contentious conversation that is one of the most well-acted scenes of the decade.

Even the supporting cast is spectacular. From the likely-winner Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern to Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, TV’s Shades of Blue) and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, TV’s M*A*S*H) who play potential lawyers for Charlie, everyone in this film is pitch-perfect, and again, none of them are competing for the spotlight. That’s key here. Everyone is as good as they need to be while also supporting the other players. It’s a real teamwork-heavy acting showcase.

Marriage Story is not a happy film even if it is a beautiful one. It plays with the inverse of a marriage crumbling but also seeing all the beauty that the marriage brought in a fascinating way. With an opening that feels like Pixar’s Up, this movie should have had investors from Kleenex because it will break your heart and then tape it back together. While it runs a little longer than it needs to be, it’s a fascinating case study of a relationship that I cannot recommend enough.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Pain and Glory (2019)

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Penelope Cruz

Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar

113 mins. Rated R for drug use, some graphic nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor [Antonio Banderas] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best International Feature Film [PENDING]

 

Someone posed an interesting question to me the other day: Are there any famous filmmakers that you have never seen a film of theirs? I would’ve put Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her, Julieta) on that list, but I had just seen Pain and Glory. So I cannot give my list of the best Almodovar films because I’ve only seen one. Perhaps the best follow-up question is: After seeing Pain and Glory, would you want to see another Almodovar film? The answer, quite simply, is yes.

Salvador (Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro, Life Itself) is an aging film director who has thought very little about returning to the public eye until elements and memories of his past begin to resurface in the form of old broken connections. Now, he has begun the difficult mental and emotional journey through the choices that have brought him here in order to, perhaps, move forward.

Much like Judy, this movie’s gravitational pull surrounds another incredible turn from Banderas, a performer who, I believe, we tend to forget even though he has consistently put his all into his work. His role here as Salvador is another subtle and nuanced one that holds the heart out ready and willing to be seen. This is such an introspective character, one that isn’t flashy but intimate, as if her were sitting in a kitchen with the viewer and having a conversation. It’s the film’s biggest win.

Almodovar has an interesting style here, one that is flashier than I would have expected, but one that is used to accept the mental state of his lead character. All the rest of the elements in the film are in servitude to Banderas. It’s all meant to make him and his character the star, which works well enough. For me, though, it was tough to reconcile some of the flashbacks with Salvador’s mother with where his present-day self. I would rather have taken some avenues to discover more about his previous romantic relationships, something I felt was presented in such a beautiful manner and then left untouched for the rest of the film.

I really enjoyed elements of Pain and Glory, and while the film as a whole was not as strong, to me, as the lead performance by Banderas, I still found it to be a beautiful and emotional experience, one that I will not forget very soon.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Judy (2019)

Director: Rupert Goold

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon

Screenplay: Tom Edge

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking.

Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress [Renee Zellweger] [PENDING]

Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [PENDING]

 

I didn’t know much about Judy Garland outside of The Wizard of Oz, so I was very interested in a biopic about the actress and singer, and I was all the more excited to see Renee Zellweger (Chicago, TV’s What/If) in the lead role. Now, with all the awards talk for Zellweger, I think it’s the right time to discuss this film from director Rupert Goold (True Story, King Charles III).

Judy tells the story of Judy Garland (Zellweger) in 1968 as she performs a series of concerts in London. Judy is still struggling with memories of the past, her time working on The Wizard of Oz, her life being controlled and dictated for her. The pain of her past has led to a reliance on prescription pills and alcohol, and she searches to find a way to get a better financial situation for her and her kids.

Without the performance of Renee Zellweger, I don’t know that Judy, as a film, would work. It’s a perfectly fine narrative, and I especially love the flashbacks to her youth. The actress who plays younger Judy, Darci Shaw, is amazing. I think the rest of the principal cast is fine, but there are times when the pacing doesn’t work.

As I mentioned, the rest of the principal cast does quite well, but make no mistake, Renee Zellweger owns this film with her exemplary performance as Judy Garland. It’s been a while since we’ve seen great Zellweger, and this is probably the best performance of her her entire career. It’s impossible not to be absolutely blown away by her acting and singing in the movie. I can’t see any way that she doesn’t walk away with this Best Actress Oscar.

I think the biggest fault of the film’s marketing campaign is that it was sold as a fairly happy-looking movie, but the finished product is not happy at all. I would say the depressing-to-joyful ratio is 90/10. Those happy moments take some time, and they are isolated, but the wait for them was worth it. I particularly like the sequence where she meets a couple after her show and asks them for dinner. It’s a wonderful sequence and perhaps my favorite in the whole film.

Judy is a solid film with a career-best performance from Zellweger, and it’s the best lead performance from an actress of the entire year. The musical set pieces are wonderful and the cast is filled with solid work from just about everyone. It’s not an easy film to watch, and it definitely isn’t filled with happiness, but then again, it’s exactly the film that would have encompassed the tone of Garland’s final years. Her life was troubled, and it wasn’t filled with only happy moments. All the same, I was so blown away by the lead performance and I cannot recommend this character study enough.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] The Nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards

Nominations are officially out for the 92nd Academy Awards, and the #2020oscardeathrace has officially begun. The nominees are listed below, which some notable snubs and surprises throughout. Every year, I take part in a challenge called the Oscar Death Race, in which one attempts to see every nominated film by the night of the Academy Awards. It isn’t easy, and there’s usually a couple remaining films each year, but I love it. Take a look, and let’s get started.

 

Best Picture:

 

Best Director:

 

Best Actor:

 

Best Actress:

 

Best Supporting Actor:

 

Best Supporting Actress:

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

 

Best Animated Feature Film:

 

Best International Feature Film:

  • Corpus Christi (Poland)
  • Honeyland (North Macedonia)
  • Les Miserables (France)
  • Pain and Glory (Spain)
  • Parasite (South Korea)

 

Best Documentary Feature:

  • American Factory
  • The Cave
  • The Edge of Democracy
  • For Sama
  • Honeyland

 

Best Documentary Short:

  • In the Absence
  • Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
  • Life Overtakes Me
  • St. Louis Superman
  • Walk Run Cha-Cha

 

Best Live Action Short Film:

  • Brotherhood
  • Nefta Football Club
  • The Neighbors’ Window
  • Saria
  • A Sister

 

Best Animated Short Film:

  • Dcera (Daughter)
  • Hair Love
  • Kitbull
  • Memorable
  • Sister

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4
  • “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman
  • “I’m Standing With You” from Breakthrough
  • “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II
  • “Stand Up” from Harriet

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

 

Best Costume Design:

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So there you have it. Lots of nominees and lots of interesting discussion on the way. Let the #2020oscardeathrace begin!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Bombshell (2019)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Charles Randolph

109 mins. Rated R for sexual material and language throughout.

 

Bombshell is a movie I was very excited to see as soon as I caught the trailer. First of all, I didn’t realize it was Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde) under all that makeup, and that shocked and excited me. Also, I was a big fan of Vice, which follows people I don’t much like doing bad things, and I felt like Bombshell had a lot in common with Vice tonally, so that made me all the more excited.

It’s 2016, and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) has made an enemy of Donald Trump by asking him about his comments toward women. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies) has been removed from her place on Fox & Friends, and she is contemplating a lawsuit. At the same time, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Peter Rabbit) has just been hired and she wants to get to the top. When she reaches out to the Head of Fox News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun), she is put into an inappropriate situation by Ailes. Soon after, Gretchen begins a firestorm when she comes forward with sexual harassment claims against Ailes, and Fox News begins to implode in the process.

This movie was painful to watch, and that’s kind of the point. The film’s trailers presented a very chic and stylized film, and while the style is definitely there, the story made me really uncomfortable, and in that way, I really found it to be an effective drama. It’s hard to really explain the techniques, but I think mostly it came from the tremendous acting work across the board and the sharp writing from Charles Randolph (The Big Short, Exposed). Director Jay Roach (Trumbo, All the Way) also elected to focus his camerawork on the performances and the story, which I really respect. The film’s overall effect on me was powerful.

Our three female leads are all incredible, each one owning their screen time quite well. The fact that Margot Robbie is able to hold her own against Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is astounding considering the latter two actresses have been around for awhile and are playing real-life humans, whereas Robbie is an amalgam of other people. Their interactions are fiery and full of so much humanity. It’s astoundingly-performed.

John Lithgow is a disturbing presence as Roger Ailes. I never would have placed him in the role, but he is incredibly slimy and full of so much villainy. His makeup as well as that for Theron and Kidman is incredible, and their strong performances work all the better for the makeup. Having seen recent films like The Grudge, I can say that a poor makeup prosthetic can ruin a good performance and a good one can elevate it.

I also have to throw some love to Connie Britton (American Ultra, TV’s Dirty John) because she won’t get the attention she deserves for her work as Beth Ailes, Roger’s adoring wife. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes in the film, but with that time, she disappears in this role and showcases a woman who believes with all her heart that her husband couldn’t have done anything wrong (that, or she willing ignores it), and it’s shocking how long she is able to keep up with the scandal. In a lot of ways, we like to believe that our loved ones could never do anything to hurt us, and Britton exemplifies that.

Outside of the writing and acting work, there’s nothing too flashy in the film other than the strong production design, which recreates an environment like Fox News, and I think it creates a sense of realism in the film. Director Jay Roach also capably creates connections with people that I don’t really know and makes them realistic.

Bombshell is a strong performance-laden film with some shockingly-good acting work from pretty much the entire team, and its screenplay is incredibly well-constructed to connect with its audience on a cerebral level. It’s not an easy viewing experience but it is well worth it. Outside of those elements, there isn’t a lot of notable wins here, but I highly recommend the film to anyone, whether or not you like the people being portrayed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jay Roach’s All the Way, click here.

New Episode of Kyle & Nick on Film Discusses the Most Anticipated Films of 2020

Hey everyone! There’s another new episode of my video series, Kyle & Nick on Film, where Nick Palodichuk and I discuss our Most Anticipated Films of 2020. The discussion is presented over the course of two episodes, embedded below.

Give the episode a watch, and if you enjoy the episode and want to support the shot, check out the Show’s Patreon here. If you cannot support the Show in that way, give us a like, comment with your Most Anticipated Films of 2020, and Subscribe to the Channel. That way, you don’t miss the next episode!

 

Part 1:

Part 2:

-Kyle A. Goethe

Little Women (2019)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Greta Gerwig

135 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.

 

I’m a major fan of Lady Bird, and though I disagreed with the decision made by its director, Greta Gerwig (Nights and Weekends), to adapt Little Women for her next project, I was interested enough in her as a filmmaker to see it. Truth be told, I do not care for the source material (I’ve read it two or three times throughout my schooling and it just never really got me), and I feel like the six other adaptations probably covered enough ground that making a new version really couldn’t do much to rise above. But, it’s Greta Gerwig, so I was going to support her as a filmmaker. With that, how did Little Women end up?

Little Women follows the March sisters as they navigate growing up and pursuing their dreams. Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna, Mary Queen of Scots) wants to be a writer, and she doesn’t have any interest in love. Meg (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and the Beast) falls in love and is perfectly happy raising a family. Amy (Florence Pugh, The Falling, Fighting with My Family) has talents with her painting, but she has trouble controlling her jealousy. Beth (Eliza Scanlen, Babyteeth, TV’s Sharp Objects) is a musician at heart, but health problems have stayed with her throughout her youth. Through it all, these women try to remain together, even as life attempts to drift them apart.

Like The Irishman, Little Women‘s best attribute is its performances. Across the board, everyone in the film is engaging and powerful and layered. I was primarily interested in Florence Pugh’s take on Amy, a character I am not alone in loathing. Amy is a very difficult character because she’s not a likable character, she makes some truly poor choices, and her growth is slow. With that, though, I cannot give enough credit to Pugh’s take on the character. Pugh is worth seeing even in films that I don’t like, as was the case with Midsommar earlier this year.

Saoirse Ronan is also quite spectacular, as expected. Ronan has a lot of Jo in her already, and she capably steals the screen in every scene. I connected with her mostly because of my career choices, and I understand the troubles she deals with. Jo’s got the most screen time in the film, and we see the scenes that Jo chooses to write about, and it elevates her narration quite well. I particularly like that Gerwig focused Jo’s character on being more work-driven as well.

I think Gerwig, between her screenwriting and directing, packs a lot into such a small run time, and she manages to make a book I didn’t care for into a film that I actually liked. I still didn’t love the film in the same way that I hoped to, having been such a huge fan of Lady Bird. I wanted to love it, but the story, for me, was still lacking. I don’t fault any of the elements for this reason. It’s more the source material that I didn’t care for.

Everything else in the film is so technically well-done also. I was very impressed with the film overall, and I wish that I had loved it in the same way as some of my colleagues, but I overall liked it just fine. It’s just not a film I feel like revisiting.

Little Women is very well-done, and it’s a film that deserves to be seen by fans of the novel or people who haven’t even read it. I don’t think it will win over those who didn’t like the source material, but I would say that I think this is an adaptation that is better than the novel it is based on. Fight me.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, click here.

 

Rest in Peace: Buck Henry, 89

The entertainment mourns a tremendous loss today as we learn of the passing of Buck Henry, known for his work as an actor, a director, and a writer. Henry has a great many credits to his name, and I’d like to talk a bit about the ones I feel strongly about, in no particular order.

 

Grumpy Old Men: I think my first memory of seeing Henry onscreen was in the film Grumpy Old Men, where he played Snyder, the government employee trying to take John Gustafson’s house from him. He’s a straight man in the comedy, and the closest thing to a true villain in the film, and while he’s not onscreen a lot in the film, he’s memorably without any remorse for what he has to do, and it made him an effective antagonist.

Get Smart: Henry was the co-creator of Get Smart with Mel Brooks, and this is one of those shows that I feel was so ahead of its time, creating a great many tropes of parody-storytelling, and it’s a shame it’s gone mostly forgotten outside of the so-so film adaptation from a decade ago. I truly enjoyed watching these classic episodes and I actually had no idea that Buck Henry helped create and develop the series until a few years ago.

The Graduate: This is a film I only recently saw for the first time, but Henry’s dry humor can be found all over this screenplay. He was a gifted storyteller that created moments and situations that feel lived-in, even when the subject matter is almost silly. This a terrific screenplay and a wonderful film.

The Player: I actually saw The Player before The Graduate. It was in a film appreciation class in college, but revisiting it some time later, I absolutely adore the appearance by Henry, playing himself, pitching a sequel to The Graduate. It’s a fun little moment in a strange and surreal satire of Hollywood.

Saturday Night Live: I’ve seen several of Buck Henry’s appearances on SNL, dating back to the show’s first season. I firmly believe that his numerous appearances early on helped to develop a tone for where the show would go. He was always quite funny and unique, and I enjoyed seeing his episodes of the classic sketch comedy series. They are some of the best.

 

Buck Henry had his hand in a lot of Hollywood throughout his varied career in front of and behind the camera. He will be missed.

 

Notable Credits:

  • The Graduate (1967)
  • Get Smart (TV) (1965-1970)
  • What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Heaven Can Wait (1978)
  • Saturday Night Live (TV) (1976-1980)
  • The Nude Bomb (1980)
  • Eating Raoul (1982)
  • The Player (1992)
  • Short Cuts (1993)
  • Grumpy Old Men (1993)
  • Town & Country (2001)

Do you have a favorite piece of cinema from Buck Henry? Let me know/Drop a comment down below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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