[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 17 – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson

Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

99 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content.

 

It’s been a crazy ten years, and we are finally arriving, once again, back in Zombieland.

Zombieland: Double Tap picks up some years after the first film, and our favorite zombie killers have arrived at a comfortable life in a luxurious new home. They are not without their struggles, though. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) have gotten past the honeymoon phase of their relationship, and Wichita especially is having a lot of trouble with the idea of settling down with Columbus. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show) have developed a father-daughter regard for one another, but Little Rock pines to interact with someone new, to begin dating boys, whereas Tallahassee would prefer the solitude of Zombieland life. So when Little Rock runs away with a cute boy, the others must band together to save  her.

I’ll make this one super-simple. If you liked Zombieland, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It isn’t as good as the original film, but it’s very self-reflective on the time that has passed culturally and a lot of the humor comes from the idea that these characters really haven’t changed much in that time. It’s regularly poking fun at itself.

The cast does a fine job again, especially Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. Harrelson really matures as an actor in this role, and his is the one character that seems to really evolve to something new. All that being said, though, the best parts of this film are the new additions of Zoey Deutch (Set It Up, TV’s The Politician) and Rosario Dawson (Rent, Reign of the Supermen) to the cast. Deutch’s Madison steals every scene as a clueless woo girl that’s supremely ditzy and made me question how she could even survive this long in the apocalypse. Dawson joins up as the tough-as-nails Nevada, who lives in a bar that gets a visit from the gang. Both add a lot of flavor to the film.

The film is a little too convenient at times, and the additions of new zombies (very Left 4 Dead), new rules (not just by Columbus), and new zombie kills, while fun, don’t add a level of newness to the film. If this had come out right after the first film, I think it would not be as noticeable, but given that ten-year gap, I think the similarities stand out. Still better than the Amazon pilot, though.

Zombieland: Double Tap is fun for fans of the original film, and even though it’s just more of the same, I ended up having some good laughs and entertainment. This won’t bring in a lot of new fans, and it may not win over old fans at the same rate that the first film did, but I think it’s a worthy addition to the zombie genre, and I would really like this see this team come back together for a third installment. Just make it sooner.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, click here.

[Early Review] Joker (2019)

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz

Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

121 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.

 

Well, it’s finally here, the prequel to the Batman series that isn’t connected to any Batman films. Wait, the Joker origin story that isn’t The Killing Joke. Wait, so what is it? It’s something else, I’ll tell you. This film is really something else…

It’s really getting crazy out there, and Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, Her, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot) sees it. He’s down on his luck, living paycheck to paycheck with his mother, and he’s constantly picked on by others. He has a goal in life, to bring joy and happiness to the world, and he sees his idol, late night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull, The Wizard of Lies), as an escape. He wants to be a comedian like Murray, but all he has is negative thoughts. When Arthur is pushed into a corner, he finds a new way to put a smile on, one that will transform him into an icon all his own.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s film. There are no costars. The other performances are practically extended cameos. Phoenix makes this version of the Joker all his own. His performance is filled with intensity (his eyes are filled with anger) and depression. Phoenix researched multiple psychological disorders in order to give an unidentifiable character, one that could not be diagnosed. The dialogue and physicality is disturbing and unnerving to no end.

This is a film that is intense, unhappy, and joyless. Director Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover Part III), who co-wrote the screenplay, infused the film with moments that made me and the rest of the audience nervously laugh, and I felt bad for laughing after. There’s a weird feeling the film gave to me, where I felt like I was watching something I shouldn’t, or perhaps watching something I felt bad watching. There’s an emotionally disturbing quality to the film but I would say that those looking for violence won’t see as much as critics have proclaimed. What violence is in the film is very powerful and more character-focused than shock-driven. It’s more emotionally and mentally violent.

The biggest flaw I would have with the film is the final scene, but I’m not sure how I would end the film other than how it ends. I would also argue that the film contains fewer surprises than I expected. It’s fairly straight-forward. It’s not a true-to-nature flaw, I would say, but the controversy and the critical reception might be overselling the shocking nature of the film. It was pretty much how I expected the story to go.

Joker is a masterful film with a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix. This is a man in his playground, a thrillingly-disturbing character study that’s unlike any comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen. The film makes use of its unreliable narrator better than almost any other film ever has. Temper your expectations for any shocking revelations because this is a standalone film that is one of the more crazy movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. See this movie, but only if you think you can handle it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Ad Astra (2019)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Live Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

 

I’m assuming Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, World War Z) saw his Ocean’s Eleven costars George Clooney and Matt Damon receive acclaim for making a space movie, and he got incredibly jealous. Well, be jealous no more Brad. The balls in your court now, Julia Roberts.

Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Pitt), astronaut and son to the famous H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Just Getting Started), who disappeared on a secretive interstellar expedition some 30 years ago. Now, in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by a series of power surges believed to be caused by Cliff’s secret experiment, The Lima Project. Roy has been tasked with traveling to Mars to deliver a message to space, hopefully reaching his possibly still living father, in order to put an end to the power surges before they threaten the entire solar system.

I admire the idea of taking Heart of Darkness and moving it into the sci-fi genre. It worked so well as a war film when Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The problem for me came out of an unimpressive shell for this film. I don’t think we got enough insight into The Lima Project or The Surge or many of the science fiction elements that would have enriched this telling of the classic story. The film kept being marketed as the closest thing to actual space travel, but then I kept getting hung up on the sound work every time there was an explosion. The film looked gorgeous, but my investment was wavering throughout.

Brad Pitt is incredible as Roy, giving a subtle but impressive performance as a man who hasn’t taken much care in his world as he sinks himself into his work, ignoring all outside relationships and distractions. The whole film is carried by Pitt as no other character is given much screen time to match him. In fact, Pitt’s performance is so internalized that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting at all. I liken his work here to another space film from last year, First Man with Ryan Gosling. Comparing this subtle work to Pitt’s other major film this year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, just goes to show that this is an actor who really can do it all.

There’s a lot to really love about Ad Astra. I think, from a technical view, everything is seemingly executed quite well, but I just wasn’t drawn in by the story in the way I wanted to. It’s magnificently shot and the score is impactful and deep. The effects were strong, but the story just didn’t take me. Still, I would recommend you checking it out if you’re a fan of sci-fi, as this contemplative opera showcases another incredible performance from Brad Pitt.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] It: Chapter Two (2019)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

169 mins. Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.

 

When you have a film like It, something that was so consumed by the pop culture at the time of release, getting a follow-up to stick the landing is a pretty tough endeavor. Thankfully, It: Chapter Two was ready for the challenge.

It’s been 27 years since the Losers Club encountered It, and most of them have gone on with their lives, having forgotten all about the dancing clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Assassination Nation) and the oath they made to each other, that they would return to Derry if It ever came back. Now, with children going missing and a body recovered in the small time, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa, The Clinic, TV’s Shadowhunters) places the calls to his friends, who aren’t too keen on coming back to defeat It once and for all. Now, the Losers Club, as adults, will have to perform an ancient ritual that Mike is certain will destroy It, but it will take each of them back to the worst parts of their childhood to confront their darkest fears in an effort to save the town and the children of a new generation.

I’ve stated before that, having read the book, that the stuff with the kids is more interesting than the stuff with the adults, but director Andy Muschietti (Mama) and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (The Nun, TV’s Swamp Thing) have found an workable way to explore these characters and all the changes that have come upon them. It: Chapter Two spends some of its lengthy three-hour runtime on the flashbacks to 1989 and revisiting the Losers Club in their collective youth, something that I think helps connect these adult actors to their younger incarnations. Through the use of digital de-aging (something that has hits and misses in the film), we are able to see the connective tissue and character arcs manifest in the Losers as they return to Derry.

The casting in the film is phenomenal. I had some deep concerns about how the casting for this second part would go, seeing that there could be a potential for the studio to pick all big names or all unknowns, and the final result is more in line with picking performers who can embody the characters through their mannerisms, dialogue, and cadence. I cannot believe how great the cast is here, but the standout is without a doubt Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, TV’s Barry) as the adult Richie Tozier, played in the first film by Finn Wolfhard. Hader steals every scene he’s in, and even though I think he is given a bit too much comedy in the screenplay, he sells it without overdoing it. He also has the best character arc of the group due to some additions that weren’t in the book that work very well.

Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy, Filth, Glass) is the surrogate for King himself here, having aged into a writer that is constantly critiqued for his endings, and the love triangle between himself, Beverly (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Dark Phoenix), and Ben (Jay Ryan, Lou, TV’s Neighbours) plays out really well in this film. I like the way it’s done in the book, but not being able to actually get inside these characters’ thoughts, I think the translation, which makes some adjustments, is satisfyingly put to film here. Chastain’s Beverly has suffered with the men in her life going all the way back to her relationship with her abusive father, and she’s haunted by visions from her time staring into the deadlights back in 1989 have led her down a successful but lonely adulthood, and finding that poem on the postcard back in Derry opens up some wounds and confusion, she herself not certain exactly who wrote it.

James Ransone (Sinister, Captive State) is one of those actors I didn’t know as well, but he embodies Eddie so well, having grown up into a man that is essentially married to his mother but still struggling with his past fears and paranoias as a child. He is easily the most terrified of the Losers upon returning to Derry, and with good reason. I think the fears that Eddie is presented with are so relatable and that’s one of the ways Ransone connects with the audience. He also nails the speech style and physical ticks of Jack Dylan Grazer, who played young Eddie in the first film.

Bill Skarsgård is yet again at the top of his game here, but I will warn you that we don’t see a lot of Pennywise in the finished film. It’s not about him; it’s never really been about him, and It is a shapeshifter meant to take on your biggest fears, so it’s a criticism I heard at my screening that I would take issue with. It’s just a problem with Skarsgård being so good that you want him in the movie more.

It: Chapter Two is, if I’m correct, the longest studio horror film ever, clocking in at 169 minutes, but I never really felt it. I enjoy myself so much with these characters and this town that it didn’t bother me that the film is long. I wanted more time, in fact, but you should know that it isn’t three-hours of white knuckle horror. Again, my biggest flaw with the film is the same as with the first one: I wasn’t scared. I would say I had more effective scares in Chapter Two, but the film is more about the characters than about It.

Muschietti gets more experimental, spiritual, and cerebral with Chapter Two. His visual style elevates here, giving a more nightmarish and odd look at the town and its many horrors, and though some of the film feels like retread, it’s done with a different hook this time around. The haunts of the film tend to rely more on CGI, something that doesn’t look as clean here, but there are still enough shocks and surprises peppered throughout that definitely got the audience during my screening.

Fans of It, be they from the original book or even the 1990 miniseries, should find a lot to enjoy with It: Chapter Two. It’s not a perfect ending, but I found myself thoroughly engaged with the story all the way through to the ending, and it made me want to go back, rewatch the first film again (a requirement, I would say, before seeing this one), and then come right back to the theater to see the second-half again. It’s a very watchable conclusion to this story, one that will be in my regular rotation during the horror months, and it’s definitely more suited to a Kill Bill-style event viewing wherein one watches both films together. I loved the film, though I will note that there are issues with the overall execution, but I would still highly-recommend this finale to anyone who liked the first film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Andy Muschietti’s It, click here.

[Early Review] Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)

Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo

Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rey Howery, Micah Stock

Screenplay: Paul Downs Colaizzo

103 mins. Rated R for language throughout, sexuality and some drug material.

 

While at a Q&A following my screening of Brittany Runs a Marathon, writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo said that he wanted audiences to spend the first act of the film thinking “I know that girl,” the second act thinking “I am that girl,” and the third act thinking “I want to be that girl.” In this way, Brittany Runs a Marathon is an absolute success.

Brittany (Jillian Bell, 22 Jump Street, TV’s Super Mansion) is almost thirty, and she’s having trouble sleeping. Her doctor explains that it might be her weight that is causing her sleep problems, but Brittany’s lifestyle of drinking, partying, eating, and not caring probably have something to do with it as well. She realizes that she isn’t really moving forward in life and decides to finally do something about it. She wants to run a block, and that block turns into 2 miles and then a 5k. Now, Brittany sets her sights upon something bigger: the New York City Marathon. She has less than a year, but with her new running friends Catherine (Michaela Watkins, Wanderlust, Good Boys) and Seth (Micah Stock, Life Itself, TV’s Bonding), Brittany believes that she can achieve this almost impossible goal, but there’s only one problem standing in her way: herself.

Paul Downs Colaizzo’s debut film is a very tight character study loosely based on a friend, and his collaboration with Jillian Bell (who lived the character’s struggle in losing 40 pounds herself) in creating the film’s version of Brittany is terrific. Together, they crafted a wholly relatable and flawed human being who thinks she knows what will fix everything in her life. The depiction of the classic hero’s journey here is spot-on, and it’s anchored by a well-written screenplay and well-performed cast of supporting players. I particularly loved Bell’s chemistry with running friend Seth, played by relative newcomer Micah Stock.

What’s so great about the film is that each of the secondary characters has an important role in advancing Brittany’s arc and servicing the story. Brittany’s roommate Gretchen is similar to Brittany in that she seemingly has everything she wants in life but still isn’t a happy and good person. Her coworker Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Pitch Perfect, TV’s Harvey Girls Forever!) is someone who has goals in life but doesn’t really move forward in them, very similar to how Brittany’s journey begins. She is faced with all these possible versions of herself throughout the film as she is forced to confront the person she wants to be.

Brittany Runs a Marathon isn’t splashy or visually stunning. It’s a character piece, and a very inspiring story that made me want to run out and sign up for a 5k (baby steps). It’s headlined by a star-making performance from Jillian Bell and an all-around well-picked supporting cast. Colaizzo’s strongest asset is his excellent character work and story structure, and it’s on full-display here. Outside of a few nitpicks throughout, Brittany Runs a Marathon comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Angel Has Fallen (2019)

or “Someone Please Help Mr. Boreanaz Up”

Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Cast: Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Reddick, Tim Blake Nelson Piper Perabo, Nick Nolte, Danny Huston

Screenplay: Matt Cook, Robert Mark Kamen, Ric Roman Waugh

120 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Wow, someone worked really hard to get the title of this film into the dialogue, and it doesn’t work at all.

Since the events of London Has Fallen, Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman, Se7en, Alpha) has become the new President of the United States, and Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, The Phantom of the Opera, Den of Thieves) is still a member of the Secret Service. When a drone attack seriously injures the President and seemingly implicates Banning, though, Mike is forced off the grid and on the run as a fugitive with FBI agents hot on his tail. He must work quickly to ascertain exactly who set him up and why before Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson, O Brother, Where Are Thou?, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) uses intel about the assassination attempt to start a war with Russia.

I recently watched the first two installments of this franchise for the first time, and I was very vocal that the second film was a big step down in quality, and it seems that trajectory is continued in Angel Has Fallen. Gerard Butler was very hands-on with the story of this one, stating that it will be similar to Logan, a darker, grittier, and more character-driven film. I cannot disagree with that statement more. First of all, dark and gritty do not a Logan film make. To add to that, stop trying to copy Logan and just make a good film. Finally, the note that this is a more character-driven film is rather laughable. The only characters with any real development in this is Mike and his father Clay (Nick Nolte, Warrior, A Walk in the Woods), and their arcs feel like such a complete divergence from where Mike is in the first two films that it doesn’t even really feel like a sequel to the franchise. In fact, many of the theatergoers at my screening didn’t even know this was a sequel.

The screenplay is pretty predictable. I joked to myself, not more than five minutes into the film, that I knew who set up Mike, and I was right. It’s cliché to the point of self-parody. This is a trilogy capper that feels so much like Tak3n down to the simplistic frame-the-hero plot and the FBI team that can’t see the answer right in front of them for most of the film.

The only true winner for this film is the addition of Nick Nolte as Clay, the father. Yes, his character seems out of place here, but working with what I’m given, it’s nice to see some semblance of where Mike gets his thought processes. His dad is a guy who is always thinking several steps ahead and planning for the worst-case scenario, and I kind of get where Mike, as a character, comes from. That being said, there’s no set-up for his character and he just kind of appears. Much of the dialogue from his first few scenes attempts to build a lot of exposition in not a lot of time. Each line is overflowing with information that nobody would ever actually feel the need to say.

Angel Has Fallen is the weakest film in the trilogy. I feel like no one is really here to play in this installment. The plot is clunky and thin, the dialogue isn’t very strong, and no character outside of Nolte is really engaging to watch. It’s unfortunate to say that this franchise may have fallen…for the last time.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, click here.

For my review of Babak Najafi’s London Has Fallen, click here.

[Early Review] Ready or Not (2019)

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell

Screenplay: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy

95 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.

 

I won’t lie to you. I hadn’t heard or Ready or Not until about six weeks ago when the single trailer dropped for this movie. I don’t think Disney wants to market much of the Fox stuff that they don’t have faith in. The trailer looked silly and fun, and it made me very excited to see it. It could be because I love horror movies, or it could be because I love board games, but something about this one just got me in the trailer. Watching that trailer every time I went to the theater for the past six weeks rocketed this movie up into my Most Anticipated list, and it was so worth it.

It’s a beautiful day for bride Grace (Samara Weaving, Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s SMILF). She’s just married the love of her life, Alex (Mark O’Brien, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire), and not even his snide and disapproving family can ruin the wedding for her. That is, until the wedding night, when she is introduced to the family’s tradition. Alex is a member of the Le Domas family, a wealthy dynasty of the board game industry, and their tradition is to play a game whenever someone new joins the family. Every wedding night, this tradition is kept, and the game for tonight is Hide and Seek, but this isn’t just a game for the Le Domas family or Grace. Their version of Hide and Seek involves crossbows, axes, shotguns, and blood. Now, Grace has to survive until dawn to win and survive, but the Le Domas family are very competitive when it comes to this game, and they will do anything to find her.

This is definitely a film that you need to understand before you go in, but it’s also one I would suggest skipping the trailer for if you are interested (a lot of my favorite moments in the film are revealed in the trailer). Ready or Not is silly and goofy and gory and a hell of a good time. Now, this isn’t the type of horror film to keep you up at night, but for a brisk 95 minutes, it was so much fun. It never takes itself too seriously (because, c’mon, how could it?) and its colorful cast of eccentric characters make for quite an enjoyable experience.

Samara Weaving makes a strong case here for a new scream queen. She belts out some seriously guttural yells in this, and she makes for a compelling and accessible heroine. All she wants at the onset of the film is to be accepted by a family, something she’s been missing her whole life, and now she is thrust into the most absurd of circumstances and forced to fight her new family to save her life. You could make the argument that she gets real violent, real quick, but I would also say that she has an edge about herself from her years of living in fear of being alone that she hardened up.

The Le Domas family is full of very fun characters. Each of them has a specific role to play in the night’s events. I personally loved patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny, Mission: Impossible, TV’s Sharp Objects) as the family leader and his loving-but-firm wife Becky (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day, The Last Laugh), but each member of the family has something about them that made them fun to be onscreen.

My one problem with the film is that it puts all of its cards on the table rather early on and I would have liked some of the crazier elements to be slowly unfolded as the film moves along. I think it would have felt less-forced in the narrative to slowly reveal what’s ready going on as opposed to just laying it all out so early.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due, Southbound) have crafted a fun action-horror-comedy hybrid tone for their film which works so very well. I’m doubtful that the new Fox Searchlight regime would want to press forward on a sequel, but I could see a lot of ways to make this into an interesting and fun franchise. Ready or Not is the perfect palate-cleanser for a rough summer movie season. For horror fans, seek this one out. Immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Devil’s Due, click here.

[Early Review] Good Boys (2019)

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Lil Rey Howery, Will Forte, Midori Francis

Screenplay: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky

89 mins. Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving tweens.

 

Can we just congratulate Good Boys for being the first film to receive an R rating with the phrase “all involving tweens.” What a time to be alive.

Good Boys is the story of three tween friends: Max (Jacob Tremblay, Room, The Predator), Lucas (Keith L. Williams, Sadie, TV’s The Last Man on Earth), and Thor (Brady Noon, TV’s Boardwalk Empire). When Max is invited to a kissing party at a popular kid’s home, he needs to learn how to properly kiss. With the help of Lucas and Thor, Max sets off on a wild adventure that involves a hostage drone, a potential drug run, and a lot of profanity as the group discover that adolescence is a lot tougher than they expected.

You could call Good Boys a gimmick movie. In a lot of ways, that’s exactly how it’s being marketed, and it isn’t an incorrect assumption. The entire move hinges its comedy on the idea that three kids are getting involved in a lot of adult situations and swearing a lot. That’s the movie, but for what it is, it works rather well. I found a lot of comedy in the things that they don’t understand about adults than by the things they do. It’s a hard-R comedy that never really gets mean-spirited but knows what it is trying to accomplish, and it’s probably the most I’ve laughed at a movie in a long time.

Jacob Tremblay shines in just about everything he’s in. He’s even solid when the movie isn’t, but thankfully, Good Boys and the screenplay from Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg give him a lot to work with. I’ve not seem much from Williams or Noon, but they each stand on their own in the film fine enough. What’s great about the writing and performances is how I could genuinely believe that these three kids are friends and yet each of them is their own person with drastically different views on their growing-up. It’s the believability of their acting combined with the basic human fact that I was just as foul-mouthed as a kid that bridges that realness to how a lot of kids actually are. It feels like Stand by Me, It, and Dreamcatcher (all from Stephen King) viewpoints of youth.

Good Boys is very funny, and it’s only real flaw comes when the narrative hits a brick wall about 2/3 of the way through. It recovers quite nicely but there is a noticeable wearing on the shtick as the film gets closer to the end. There’s no chance this thing is winning awards but it knows what it’s trying to be and is quite successful in that endeavor. It’s problem with pacing near the end isn’t a major one and the comedy laced throughout works so well that it didn’t ruin the experience for me. This is, without doubt, the funniest movie of the year so far.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] The Kitchen (2019)

Director: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

102 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content.

 

Andrea Berloff has a pretty solid resume for her writing, but The Kitchen is her directorial debut. The film, a 1970s-set Hell’s Kitchen gangster picture, is a perfect showcase for her talents.

When three New York gangsters are sent to prison in the 1970s, their wives must find a way to make ends meet. They’ve all kept relatively out of the family business, and when the family promises to help them financially, they still can’t afford to pay their bills. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy, The Heat, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss, The One I Love, TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) decide to take matters into their own hands and actually provide protection to all the businesses who pay money to the crime family, but their plan creates an internal struggle within the family as the balance of power drastically shifts in Hell’s Kitchen.

I want to start by stating that I’ve not read the comic-book miniseries that the film is based on. I will say that, for a first feature, Berloff jumps a lot of hurdles that could have really been problems in this film. She has three strong actresses leading the film, and each one has a unique take on their situation. Kathy has a loving husband and just wants to survive until she begins to like the power. Ruby has never been loved by mother-in-law and family head Helen (Margo Martindale, August: Osage County, Instant Family) because of her skin color and sees this as an out. Claire has been beaten on a daily basis by her husband and decides that she isn’t going to be a victim when the men all go to jail. Claire develops a bond with the unstable but doting Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Peter Rabbit).

The film has some nice cinematography and the editing keeps everything moving pretty nicely until the final act, which I felt was more stretched out than it needed to be. One of the reasons it’s all the more noticeable is that some of the most surprising story beats in the final 30 minutes are brushed by while some of the more expected plot points are drug out far more than they needed to be.

The only other flaw in the film for me is that certain events play out a little too easily for our main characters. I kept recalling throughout the film that these three wives were never really involved in the family business and yet they took to it so easily that they were able to hold their own against more seasoned gangsters with ease. I would have liked more struggle for them as they make mistakes and learn from them early on. That’s the story that would’ve engaged me more.

The Kitchen is a stylistic pulpy gangster film that sees a pretty standard “rise to power” tale from the point-of-view of characters that don’t normally get to be a part of that type of story. Andrea Berloff keeps a nice mix of tension and comedic relief that kept me guessing, even if the story beats occasionally drifted to tropes. The dialogue is snappy and the performances, especially from McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, are the true strengths here. It’s an imperfect movie, but it’s one I would gladly see again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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