[Early Review] Murder Mystery (2019)

Director: Kyle Newacheck

Cast: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Gemma Arterton, Luke Evans, John Kani, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Terence Stamp

Screenplay: James Vanderbilt

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence/bloody images, crude sexual content, and language.

 

I haven’t been big on Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation) since Funny People. I was such a huge advocate for Funny People, I told everyone I talked to about it and how great and introspective it was. I still think it’s Judd Apatow’s best movie. The point is, Adam Sandler, to me, has been making movies only to hang out with his friends and make a lot of money. He hasn’t been interested in being good since Funny People. Well, I caught an early screening for his newest film, Murder Mystery, and I can report that it’s probably the best movie he’s made since then. It just still isn’t very good.

Nick (Sandler) and Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston, Dumplin’, TV’s Friends) have been married for fifteen years, but they still haven’t gone on the honeymoon that Nick promised Audrey. Since then, Nick’s been struggling to become a detective, but he keeps failing the exam, so now he’s lying to Audrey about passing. He also lied about taking her to Europe on the honeymoon they never had, and on the plane, Audrey meets Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Ma), a rich and suave gentleman who invites them onto his uncle’s yacht for the weekend. The yacht is full of interesting characters that are all seemingly out of the murder mystery stories that Audrey likes to read, and when Charles’s uncle, the rich and successful Malcolm Quince (Terence Stamp, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Viking Destiny), is murdered aboard the yacht, Nick and Audrey find that their fake background in detective work will have to help them solve this murder and find the killer before they become just another couple victims.

The screenplay, by James Vanderbilt (Independence Day: Resurgence, Truth), gets a lot of homage and story from Clue, and it’s not a horrible screenplay, but there are elements of logic that come into play and seemingly make the characters less likable and, at times, extremely dumb. The police on the tail of Nick and Audrey throughout the film are really clueless. The Spitz’s are not world-class detectives nor are they world-class villains, and yet they are able to elude police for a large chunk of the film with ease. There’s also the sense that Nick and Audrey are not concerned at all with the fact that they have become the prime suspect in the murder of Malcolm Quince. They have a huge cliché romantic comedy argument in the middle of the film outside near the flashing lights of the police. I don’t think I would behave with that level of disregard over being in a foreign country and being the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

Both Sandler and Aniston have some pretty funny moments in the movie when they aren’t arguing and nitpicking at each other. They are a frustrating duo because both performers are capable of comedy gold and they have terrific chemistry, but they have moments throughout the film where they become unbearably annoying. There are some moments I would consider to be really funny dialogue and physical comedy, but it is packed with some leads that don’t want us to like them.

The rest of the cast is rather fun in the sense that they are all essentially archetypes. They are cliché dime-store murder novel characters, but that’s kind of the idea. We are presented with two people who are interested in mystery and detectives, and they find themselves in a mystery that they may be able to solve, so in that way, I didn’t mind that they were clichés. As I said earlier, this movie borrows a lot from Clue, which had the very same kind of conceit.

Murder Mystery is funny enough for a movie on Netflix. I wouldn’t tell people to go out, spend money, and hit it up at the theater, but my screening was filled with people enjoying the movie. I enjoyed it myself for the most part, but my mind kept getting caught up on the inconsistencies, the plot holes, the annoyances of some of the characters. I really want Sandler to care about comedy again, and he just doesn’t show it here. It’s his best movie in years, but it still isn’t the Adam Sandler we remember.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

181 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

 

Well, here it is. I’m going to try not to use the word culmination like everyone else has, but I cannot make any promises. This is the end of The Infinity Saga, the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The culmination-dammit…

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes, Chef) is drifting through space with Nebula (Karen Gillan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, TV’s Selfie). On Earth, what’s left of the Avengers have collected at the compound, unsure of what to do next. Thanos (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, Deadpool 2) succeeded in his plan, obliterating half of the universe in a single snap of his fingers. As they each come to terms with the enormous loss that they and the universe have incurred, an old ally appears with an idea, a crazy crackpot idea that has no chance of working. Well, almost no chance. The Avengers, or what’s left of them, assemble on one final attempt to fix everything, and if they fail, they’ll do that together.

I’M TRYING TO AVOID AS MANY SPOILERS AS I CAN, BUT BE WARNED THAT  A REVIEW LIKE THIS WILL ALWAYS HAVE SOME SPOILERS. SEE THE FILM FIRST IF IT CONCERNS YOU.

THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING.

Avengers: Infinity War set up an almost impossible task. Let’s give the villain his own movie and test out characters like they’ve never been tested before. I think that’s the importance of the Avengers franchise of the MCU. Much like any team-up movie, I think it’s important to have the team tested in a unique way, and they should almost always come out of the film with more people on the team or less, because that’s one of the only ways to change the story trajectory. Well, Infinity War had tested the Avengers, and they certainly came out of the film with less characters, but it was also an even bigger test for Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree, Welcome to Collinwood) as well as the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pain & Gain), who now had to bring in the fourth Avengers film on a solid landing and end the story. We knew that they had to do something to save some of the dusted Avengers. Hell, there was a Spider-Man trailer out weeks before the film’s release, and even though we joked about it possibly set before Endgame, everyone knew that Sony would not let Marvel kill their most popular character. Certainly, Black Panther’s story would not end after one solo film, but how was this all going to happen, and what’s the cost?

So let’s start with that impossible task. Knowing all the things that had to happen in the follow-up, it’s incredible how the Russos and the writing team actually pulled it off and made it captivating, exciting, and heartbreaking. From the shocking opening of the film to the final act, a dauntingly epic ending that takes up a large chunk of the film’s three-hour runtime, Avengers: Endgame just cruises on by. In a lot of ways, it’s the flipside of Infinity War’s coin, and it’s a good thing that they changed the titles from Infinity War Part 1 and 2 because as much as they rely on each other, Endgame is a completely different film, and that’s why it works so well. Infinity War was a film that gave each of its characters at least one moment to shine, and Endgame does that too, but Endgame even gives each film before it time to shine. There’s references to Iron Man 3 in this film and Thor: The Dark World, two films that don’t even end up in the upper 80% of most MCU fan rankings of the franchise (full disclosure, though, I love Iron Man 3). It’s a love letter to the 11 years of this franchise and the fans that stuck with it for so long.

The performances from the entire cast are solid, but I want to discuss the ones that I think deserve to be discussed, good or bad. Let’s start with Robert Downey Jr. His performance here is a series best (quite a feat for the actor that has not beaten Hugh Jackman for most appearances as a superhero in a franchise), even better than Tony Stark struggling with PTSD in Iron Man 3 (see, I love that one). There, he’s dealing with the knowledge he obtained in The Avengers that Earth is not alone in the universe, and now, he’s dealing with the failure in saving billions or trillions of lives. He becomes weak, and he cannot hold blame. He keeps going back to wanting to put a suit of armor around the world with Ultron. He’s beaten and broken and still hasn’t forgiven Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Gifted, Before We Go) for abandoning him even though he is just as responsible. He’s also dealing with the loss of Peter Parker on Titan. Tony needs some hard truth at this point on his journey, and he gets it in Endgame.

Steve Rogers watched many of his friends die right in front of him. He’s a man who fell out of time into a confusing one and did the best he could, but he comes to realize that his failure to stop Thanos has hit him just as hard as Tony, but in a different way. He’s running a group that helps people to cope with the loss, and he’s going just as much for himself as anyone else. Chris Evans consistently does the impossible with Steve Rogers/Captain America; he makes this superhero a human. He makes the goody-goody Rogers an actual human being, with plenty of flaws and pain. This is the story that tests him and his need for hope, and there’s no one I’ve seen outside of Christopher Reeves playing Superman that embodies that struggle for hope so well.

Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) has taken control of the remaining Avengers, and she’s stopped taking care of herself. She’s dealing with the loss by diving into work, hunting down a rogue Avenger who needs her help, but she’s sputtering on exhausted wheels. She’s just looking to make right on a career filled with wrongs. All the bad things she has done before finding her home with the Avengers have led her here, and she couldn’t do anything about it.

This is a film that gives Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right, Now You See Me 2) so much to do with the Hulk character, probably the most unique shift for the character in the MCU, and he does a spectacular job with it. It isn’t what I would have done, but I admire the character arc he takes.

One character that doesn’t get much to do is Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, 12 Strong). This is a man who lost his father still very recently, his brother died in front of him, and half of his people are slaughtered after losing their home. He’s another hero dealing with failure. He should have aimed for the head. He came so close to saving everyone and then he didn’t. He should be dealing with the most pain of anyone in the story. Instead, he is used more so for comic relief than anything else. I get it, Chris Hemsworth is really funny, but I know he can play to drama as well. He just doesn’t get the emotional beats that I wanted him to have. It’s similar to what is done with him in Infinity War, where he just doesn’t get the time to develop his trauma. His alcoholism in Endgame could have some serious consequences and bearing on him, but it just doesn’t.

Lastly, I want to talk about Karen Gillan’s performance as Nebula. I’ve never been a big fan of the character, either the way she’s written or the performance. Nebula always reminded me of a fly that comes in the window in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep. You swat and swat and just can’t get rid of her. In Endgame, though, her character is expanded upon so much more because of how we see her and the presentation of how far she has come as a character since we saw her in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. People forget that vol. 2 takes place just a few months after the first one, so it’s been a long time since we’ve really seen Nebula in the MCU, and Gillan’s subtle broken performance is terrific.

From behind the lens, the Russos directed the hell out of this thing, and there’s a lot to be said about the strength of their storytelling as it has evolved over the years. Their cinematography is so clean, especially when it needs to be, in some of the heavier action set pieces. It’s safe to say that there’s a lot going on in this film; there has to be, but the way the Russos keep the focus on where it needs to be to progress the story is great, and the way they handle the set pieces are very focused and strongly laid out. There’s a heavy possibility, especially in the third act, to lose sight of what’s going on and where we’re at from a narrative perspective, but they never let the film lose sight of its goal, a tremendous feat.

With that visual storytelling comes the editing, which is very strong. The film never feels long. It’s the enjoyment factor, no doubt, but clocking in at just over three hours, the film almost should feel long, but it doesn’t. Not once. After seeing it twice, I can say with certainty that there’s only one scene I would cut earlier in the film to tighten it more, and it probably would only save 30 seconds or so.

No offense to Danny Elfman, but I’m really happy to hear Alan Silvestri’s score here after being absent from Age of Ultron. Silvestri’s score takes notes from The Avengers and especially from the ending of Infinity War, but it dives deeper into the depression, loss, and hope that permeates the film, and his score has a note of finality to it. If this is indeed the last time we’ll see some of our favorite heroes, Silvestri sends them out on a high note.

Avengers: Endgame accomplishes the most difficult task assigned to it. It has an ending. This is the end of a big part of this franchise without feeling the need to really set anything else up. For the most part, there isn’t an MCU film that hasn’t had the need to at least set up something in the end credits, but not Endgame, and that’s a strong and restrained decision because the film should speak for itself and everything that comes before it, and boy does it have a lot to speak on. This is an absolute cinematic achievement, and barring a few small hiccups, it comes off without a hitch. The ending raises some questions that we won’t really have answered until Spider-Man: Far From Home (the true last film in Phase 3), but beyond all that, I loved watching this movie and cannot wait to see it again, if only to catch some more of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. If you haven’t yet, then seriously, why not?

#ThanosDemandsYourSilence #Don’tSpoilTheEndgame

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel, 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.

[Early Review] Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.

 

Dark Phoenix may very likely be the last installment of this iteration of the X-Men franchise. We may never see The New Mutants, so this is our swan song, or Phoenix song, to the franchise. It’s almost fitting that it’s the first installment to be directed by longtime franchise writer Simon Kinberg, but is he able to send out this franchise on a high note?

It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Split, Sherlock Gnomes) has aged remarkably well (seriously, trace the amount of time spanned between First Class and now), and his work with human/mutant relations have made him a bit of a mutant celebrity among politicians. His team of X-Men, led by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Red Sparrow) have saved countless lives. When he sends them on an outer-space mission to save some stranded astronauts from a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Josie, TV’s Game of Thrones) is caught in the trajectory of the flare and should have been killed, but when they return her to Earth, she appears fine. At least, for a little bit. They soon learn that something is very wrong with Jean. She is unable to control her power, which has spiked significantly since her incident in space, and secrets from her and Charles’s past are coming back to haunt them both. Now, the X-Men face their greatest threat in one of their own, and it’s a fight they may not walk away from.

Reviews are hitting Dark Phoenix pretty hard, and the signs have been clear for some time that this was not going to be the big explosive finale to the Fox X-Men Saga (an entire year of pushbacks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there was good reason), but I think the backlash is a little excessive. Dark Phoenix is not a bad X-Men movie. The biggest problem is that it’s somewhat soulless. It doesn’t really make me feel one way or the other. In a way, it feels like Kinberg and Fox dug themselves into a hole by redoing the Dark Phoenix Saga, a storyline we’d seen played out on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re going to do redo a storyline that you’ve already covered in the same franchise, you better make it damn good. It can’t be just okay; it needs to show the audience why redoing it was the right call, and while Dark Phoenix is a better film and a better version of the story than The Last Stand, it still isn’t that much better. It’s a perfectly okay film.

The movie just lacks a lot of soul. The only area where its style really works is in its score from Hans Zimmer (who came out of superhero score retirement for this film), and he crafted a score that feels very apocalyptic and sets the tone of the film more separate from the extravagant scores of the previous X-Men films. Other than his music, there just isn’t anything of flair to the film. Things just happen, and plot points don’t feel very surprising or shocking. Things just happen. The best part of the film happens to be the finale, something was entirely reshot and revamped during the reshoots. It’s an excellent-looking action set piece but again, it lacks enough story at that point.

McAvoy and Fassbender do just fine with the material given to them, as does Sophie Turner, coming off Game of Thrones, as Jean Grey. It’s nice to see her get some major screen time here, but again, her scenes lack narrative tone. I also have to mention Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Tolkien), who has the best scene in the film in a deeply emotional conversation in the kitchen. On the flipside, it was quite obvious that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t give a shit about this franchise anymore (it was quite obvious in X-Men: Apocalypse), and it’s all the more apparent in this installment. With that, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) is utterly wasted in the film as Vuk, a shapeshifting alien who, along with her cohorts, are essentially plot devices. It’s too bad, because, again, if you’re going to get Jessica Chastain, give her something to do. I feel as though Vuk is an overly-complicated villain without any backstory or reason for being in the film, somewhat of a paradox.

From all that, though, the stars of the film being McAvoy, Fassbender, and Turner, I got enough enjoyment from this installment to give it a “meh” as a recommendation. It’s neither good nor bad, but for fans of the X-Men franchise, there should be enough enjoyment in Dark Phoenix. We should also remember that, if one is marathoning the X-Men series chronologically, then Logan comes last, which is a blessing, because Logan is a far better finale to this hit-or-miss series than Dark Phoenix.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

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 Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, 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.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

For my review of David Leitch’s Deadpool 2, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s Logan, click here.

[Early Review] Late Night (2019)

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Screenplay: Mindy Kaling

102 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.

 

Late Night had a lot of strong buzz coming out of Sundance earlier this year, most of it focused around Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Missing Link) and the screenplay from co-star Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time, TV’s The Office). I was able to catch the film last night at an early screening, and the buzz is absolutely correct.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been the host of a late night talk-show for decades, but she comes to realize under the ownership of new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, Birdman, Beautiful Boy) that she has lost her passion, and she learns that she is soon to be replaced. Challenged by this fact, she hires a woman, Molly Patel (Kaling) to her writing staff with no writing experience. Molly’s equally challenged by the entirely male-dominated writing staff. She buts heads with Monologue Writer Tom (Reid Scott, Venom, TV’s Veep) and starts up a fling with the handsome Charlie (Hugh Dancy, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, TV’s Hannibal). But Molly quickly learns that she is in the lion’s den, and the leader is Katherine, a host who has never brought her personality, beliefs, or background, into the show, and the two women slowly find that they can learn a lot from each other, if they can survive each other.

This is Thompson’s movie, hands down, and it’s one of her most surprising and charismatic performances in a long and varied career. Her take on Newbury is interesting and nuanced. She says early in the film that she only ever really cared about two things: the first being her husband Walter (John Lithgow, Pet Sematary, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the other being her show. It’s sad to hear her say it because of how she is frequently on the edge of losing both, Walter to his illness and the show to a younger, dumber host. At the same time, she fails to understand that she is self-sabotaging herself. It is only in her struggle to find an understanding of Molly’s feedback that she is able to grow, if she decides to listen to it.

Molly’s an interesting character. For the most part, her character’s inclusion in the film is a bit of a conceit, and not very realistic, but I was able to push past it for the needs of the narrative. Her character and Kaling’s performance shine in the ways that Molly is so much like Newbury. She knows not to hook up with the handsome writer she now works with, and she states that this is her dream job, and then she too self-sabotages.

The writer’s room cast of characters are all quite funny here. It’s great to see Paul Walter Hauser show up; he’s an absolute delight in everything. I think we get a nice crew of writer/showbiz archetypes that never feel flat because of the diverse collection of performers placed in the roles. Kaling’s screenplay gives most of them something to do without resorting to grouping them all together.

Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Pete’s Christmas) capably handles the film, and while her style here is nothing flashy, it is her focus on the characters and relationships that keep the whole thing afloat and moving, and the film just flies by thanks to some strong editing and tight storytelling.

Late Night showcases another powerhouse acting performance for Emma Thompson, one I expect that will be talked about in the next few months as we tick closer to the awards season. Kaling’s screenplay doesn’t provide as many laughs as I had expected, but there’s so much heart to it, and some of the funnier bits come out of the real situations she places her characters. It’s a sweet and occasionally funny trip to a part of our entertainment process not so often looked at. This comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Yesterday (2019)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran

Screenplay: Richard Curtis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.

 

Yesterday is kind of a strange movie. Ever since I first heard bits and pieces about its story and style, I found myself to be a bit confused. I wasn’t really sure what a film like this could say about anything, and I didn’t really see where a character-driven journey could go that actually made the film’s existence worth it. Really, the only pure driving force that kept me interested was Danny Boyle (127 Hours, T2 Trainspotting) as director. As my screening grew closer, though, I found my curiosity building and my excitement rising, though I couldn’t really tell you why. Upon seeing the film, I still think it’s rather strange, but I cannot fault it for finding a very human and moving story through the eyes of a struggling artist, and it’s a film definitely worth trying.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, The Fox, TV’s EastEnders) is a struggling musician trying to find an audience. He knows there’s something special in his music. His manager and close friend, Ellie (Lily James, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), knows it too, but for some reason, he just cannot find the fame he’s been looking for. He’s decided to give up on his dream, but that night, a major power outage occurs across the entire Earth and he is accidentally hit by a bus that doesn’t see him in the dark streets. When Jack wakes up, he discovers that he is in an alternate history where The Beatles never existed. He remembers them perfectly, but no one else does. Now, everyone has fallen in love with Jack’s songs, but they aren’t really his, and he finds that the fame he’s been seeking doesn’t mean much if you aren’t happy with yourself. Jack is in a situation where he must decide if a career of fortunes surrounding a lie is worth losing the woman he loves in the process.

The central relationship between Himesh Patel’s Jack and Lily James’s Ellie is so great and pure. She’s been his biggest supporter for fifteen years, loving him from afar and showing it with her belief and dedication and he fails to see what she needs from him. Sometimes, those relationships between friends really strain because both parties aren’t getting what they need from each other, and Ellie has ended up in a friend/manager column of his life instead of a love column. Now, I fail to see how any person wouldn’t fall in love with Lily James instantly, but for the purposes of this review, I will say that Jack’s eyes are set on the eventual fame and career he wants, and it makes for a moving struggle between two people who obviously love each other but just cannot get their paths to come together in the right way to make it work.

Now, there’s some logic issues to the film that I was hoping wouldn’t keep coming to mind, but Jack wakes up in a version of the world where The Beatles never existed as a band. As the story progresses, we see that their non-existence has an effect on more than just their music’s absence, so the question arises as to how Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Pop Star) became a musician if his primary influence never existed. Would he have pursued music? The Beatles aren’t the only band that doesn’t exist. Oasis never became a band and sang Wonderwall. There are writers that didn’t exist. There are products that were never invented. It never really explains what the central break in these timelines is or how it affected certain things but not others. Would Coldplay have existed? The film reminded me of Us or Avengers: Endgame where, if you let the logic gaps or questions bother you then you’ll miss out on the journey itself, so it’s best not to think about it. But the question did come up for me.

In that same vein, there are questions raised about the nature of a song like Back in the USSR, which Jack claims to have written the day of a concert in Russia. Ed Sheeran points out that it hasn’t been called the USSR since before Jack was born, and it’s a funny scene because it does point out the potential for problems in making music at a different time than was intended, or if you didn’t live the life of the person who wrote it. It comes up again with Hey Jude later on. I really liked when Jack’s narrative was tested; I just wanted more of it. For example, later in the film, Jack sings I Saw Her Standing There, which starts with the lyric “She was just seventeen…” and when I heard him sing it, I thought to myself that a song like that probably wouldn’t exist in this timeframe without some controversy. It’s something I wish Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) would have delved into more.

Then there’s Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, TV’s Saturday Night Live), who in the film essentially plays Kate McKinnon. She’s a very capable actress but sometimes she is used to excess, and the film struggles to find a use for her near the end, causing her to turn into a quite an annoyance by the end. I get what she’s trying to do, but the narrative doesn’t need it.

If the central relationship and moral quandary of the film didn’t work, Yesterday would be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, those two elements make for an extremely satisfying film, one that created conflict even among the people watching the film with me. It isn’t exactly going to leave you in a place you expect, but the film overall is surprisingly enjoyable and a good example of uniquely interesting ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. This is one I’ll be recommending for some time.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

Screenplay: Henry Gayden

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.

 

After the success of Aquaman, it seems like the DCEU may finally be righting the ship with their cinematic universe, and now, only a few months later, the question remains as to whether or not they can actually bring a wacky character like Captain Marvel (no, not that one) to life. Well, I have the answers you seek.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, Driven to Dance, TV’s Andi Mack) has been bounced from one foster home to another for years following his accidental separation from his mother as a child. He’s been given one last chance with a large foster family run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez. Billy, not one to settle, struggles with connecting to his new family, but while fleeing bullies after defending foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It, Beautiful Boy), Billy finds himself pulled out of the world, landing in a strange place where a mythical wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Captain Marvel) informs Billy that he’s been chosen as the new champion, Shazam. After saying the word Shazam, Billy finds himself transformed into an older and much more powerful version of himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to fix it, but Freddy might.

It seems like the DCEU has finally adopted the MCU viewpoint of developing great stories that just so happen to include superheroes. The screenplay by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) is, first and foremost, a film about family, both the search for one and the power of finding one, and its themes permeate the story with subtle moments that use the Shazam lore to expose character and progress plot nicely. The emotional beats of the film ring true in a lot of ways, and it’s great to see representation like this on film.

Beyond all that, Shazam! is a ton of fun. The tone of Big as a superhero film is perfect, and it weaves seamlessly into the darker material surrounding Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, TV’s Deep State). The film takes its source material seriously while pointing fun at what would happen if a teenager all of a sudden gained superhuman powers. This is a movie that is perfectly encapsulated within its trailers, as opposed to a tonally troubling film like Suicide Squad which was sold on one tone and struggled to find one in the finished product.

Zachary Levi (Blood Fest, TV’s Chuck), who plays the heroic older Billy/Shazam, is a kinetic and magical onscreen presence. He consistently shines as a superheroic version of a teenager, and he’s believable in the role, something many performers before have struggled with. I bought into the whole thing quite well. His interactions with Jack Dylan Grazer were pitch-perfect.

Mark Strong is mostly great as Dr. Sivana, but the one problem with his arc is that he is another DC villain who falls prey to the DCEU villain problem. It took Marvel some time to dig out of this as well, and Dr. Sivana is a step in the right direction, but parts of his villainy devolve into CG monster territory.

Shazam! had a tall order after its first few trailer gave us a feel for the tone of the film. I was excited but apprehensive because I’ve been hurt before by DCEU films like Suicide Squad which sold one tone but ultimately gave me a different one. Thankfully, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) has done it again by crafting a film wholly different than any of the others he has been known for. Shazam! is aided by powerful turns from its entire principal cast, and it mostly dodges many of the pitfalls that its predecessors have fallen into. This is a fun and exciting superhero movie unique to its character and story and well worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-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 Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (2013), click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

[Early Review] The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Director: Michael Chaves

Cast: Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Patricia Vasquez

Screenplay: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis

93 mins. Rated R for violence and terror.

 

I had one major question about the marketing for this movie before I went in, and I left with that same question: why the hell did they not market this film as a part of The Conjuring Universe? It states on most of the material that the film has the same producers and studio as The Conjuring, but not once in the marketing is expressly stated. I just don’t get it. This film is not like Captain Marvel or Aquaman where you have the understanding going in that it naturally connects to a shared universe, so why the hell not use that angle in your marketing?

The Curse of La Llorona, based on Mexican folklore, follows Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini, Avengers: Age of Ultron, A Simple Favor), a widowed social worker and mother of two who is searching for foul play in a tragedy involving a case she has worked for some time. As she probes for information about the tragic events, her family begins to see supernatural horrors in the form of a weeping woman called La Llorona who has now targeted her kids. When the church is unable to help her, Anna turns to Rafael (Raymond Cruz, Alien: Resurrection, TV’s Major Crimes), a mystical former priest who believes he can stop La Llorona before the weeping woman claims Anna’s kids for herself.

The Conjuring franchise has struggled with quality in their spin-off films, and The Curse of La Llorona is no exception. I applaud it for choosing to hit its horror very early but that leads to a sacrifice in character development. We don’t get to know much about Anna’s kids and so our only fear from them comes from the fact that they are children and because the audience understands Anna’s love for them. Outside of that, though, they are tremendously underdeveloped.

Raymond Cruz gives great work here but I didn’t like that screenplay from Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (Five Feet Apart) gave his character so much comic relief. After a bulk of the film contains virtually no comic relief, getting it at the end from a character the audience is supposed to look to for safety is an odd choice.

The Conjuring Universe has been trying this interconnected thing and it’s probably the second-best cinematic universe right now outside of the MCU juggernaut, but I haven’t been a fan of their forceful shoehorning of references in their films. In this film, there is stock footage of Annabelle to show how Tony Amendola’s character connects these two stories and it couldn’t have felt more forced if the director had paused the narrative and stepped out in front of the film to proclaim, “Here! Look here! This is how they connect!” The film doesn’t need that to thrive. Just have Father Perez reference the Annabelle doll like he did and let that be it. It will not alienate people who did not see the first Annabelle film and for those that get it, it will be all the more fun.

I feel like we should talk about the actual horror in the film. This is an angry spirit who, for the most part, has two major elements to her scares: her voice and her shock value. The voice is a really strong part of her character. There’s one scene in particular that works really well in the film where we don’t even see La Llorona but we hear her crying and then her scream just filled the atmosphere, putting all the candles out in the dimly lit home. It’s a great moment that we don’t get enough of. The other scare, though, is done all too often. This film is full of jump scares. La Llorona barely has buildup when she appears outside of the sound of her weeping. Most of the time, though, director Michael Chaves (The Maiden, TV’s Chase Champion) doesn’t let his film breathe enough to develop the scares. It’s something I really hope he learns to do before he gets behind the camera for The Conjuring III.

Overall, The Curse of La Llorona is very similar to The Nun. Both films have strength in their spiritual mythologies, but they both struggle with building their horror and rely all too often on jump scares. I think this will appeal to fans of The Conjuring Universe, and it’s a breath of fresh air for a series that has relied so heavily on the Warrens and the main Conjuring film mythology. I surely had a lot of fun in this theater experience, so if you see it, do so on opening weekend with a good-sized crowd.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Maiden, click here.

[Early Review] Breakthrough (2019)

or “Not a Great Remake of The Dead Zone”

Director: Roxann Dawson

Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Marcel Ruiz, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell

Screenplay: Grant Nieporte

116 mins. Rated PG for thematic content including peril.

 

Breakthrough holds the historical distinction of being the first 20th Century Fox film released under Disney’s ownership. Fun factoid for you.

Breakthrough is based on the true story of John Smith (Marcel Ruiz, TV’s One Day at a Time), a teenager who fell through the icy lake and was without oxygen for an extended period of time. After being brought to the hospital, he was pronounced dead. His mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, TV’s This is Us) prays to God to help bring back her son, and miraculously, her son’s heart starts beating again, but John is still fighting for his life, and as the community rallies around Joyce and her family, prayer and hope become a fighting force.

I have gotten a lot of flak for my reviews of faith-based films in the past. I go into every film hoping for it to be a winner and I tend to put myself in the mindset of the film, asking “What does this film intend to accomplish?” For horror films, it’s usually to scare the pants off the audience. For comedies, it’s often to brighten someone’s day. It’s important to know a film’s intention before going in. When I see a faith-based film, I expect to have something inspirational or uplifting or at least something that challenges my beliefs to strengthen them. Most of the time, I don’t get that, and a lot of the time, it’s because the film doesn’t pull me in.

Breakthrough is one of the stronger faith-based films in recent years. It didn’t feel, to me, like the first feature film for a director, but it is. Director Roxann Dawson, a veteran of television directing for many years, tackles the subject material rather nicely.

The film’s biggest blunders come from its screenplay from Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds). The script has some of the cringiest dialogue of the year, but there’s such a well-rounded cast performing that it isn’t as noticeable as often. That being said, there’s only so much that can be done with Chrissy Metz’s dialogue. She often has to deliver some really cheesy work and it falls flat at times and pulls you right out of the film.

The screenplay’s structure works pretty well in that it establishes our emotional conflicts in the film early on and plays with the relationships of the various characters as they maneuver in and out of the film. I respected the fact that Joyce doesn’t get along well with the new Pastor in town, played by Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, TV’s The Hot Zone). Their conflict is a little goofier than I would have liked, but I still see the attempt. I also liked that the story attempts to tackle the idea that some people are saved by faith while others are not. It doesn’t wholly accomplish this, but again, it’s an area these films tend not to tread.

Perhaps the area where the film struggles in its overall narrative is placing Joyce at the center. I was much more engaged with her husband Brian (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House) and his struggle to accept that his son is fighting for his life. I would have liked to see his journey to faith be reclaimed). I also liked Tommy (Mike Colter, Men in Black 3, Extinction), the firefighter who saves John because he hears a voice telling him to keep looking. His problem is that he thinks God was talking to him, but he doesn’t believe in God. Either of these characters would have been stronger to place the load of the film on because they both have journeys to go on. We never see Joyce truly struggle in a realistic way and that makes her less of a dynamic character who is believable. Her struggle is not identifiable.

Breakthrough is altogether not a great film, but as far as films of this type go, I think this one is worth catching if you need a pick-me-up. It’s rather glossy and the dialogue needed a miracle at times, but it also made me feel good at times and inspired me in little doses. Breakthrough is not for everyone, but it will satisfy its core audience.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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.

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