[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

[Early Review] Five Feet Apart (2019)

Director: Justin Baldoni

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

Screenplay: Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Triple Frontier (2019)

Director: J.C. Chandor

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

Screenplay: Mark Boal, J.C. Chandor

125 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Greta (2018)

Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea

Screenplay: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan

98 mins. Rated R for some violence and disturbing images.

 

I was told by a pretty reputable colleague who had caught Greta at TIFF last year that I needed to see it when it hit theaters, and earlier this week, I was given that opportunity. I didn’t realize that the film was directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Byzantium) until the credits started to roll, which raised my expectations considerably, but I did not expect the seasoned director to turn in something quite like Greta.

When Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz, Let Me In, Suspiria) finds a purse left behind on the subway, she makes a point to do the right thing and drop it off with its owner, a woman named Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert, Elle, Eva). Upon meeting the older widow, Frances begins a friendship with her until she discovers that Greta has a number of secrets. She’s a very lonely woman and Frances isn’t able to cut ties with her very easily. As the cat-and-mouse game spirals out of control, Frances finds that Greta isn’t ready to let go.

Let me be clear: Greta is a little cheesy. There are elements of it that fall into cliché. After leaving the film, I began to think more about the nature of the characters and I found a couple of plot holes I couldn’t wrap my head around. But all that didn’t really matter to me. The film sets out to tell a creepy stalker thriller, and it succeeds.

Director Jordan propels himself out of these problems by keeping the runtime as tight as possible. There’s only a moment or two toward the end of the film where the pacing struggles, but there’s no time to think as he rockets the narrative forward.

He’s also placed confidence in his leads. Moretz and Huppert are on fire as they match wits onscreen. Huppert’s Greta turns from a sweet older woman into a mild annoyance before evolving into a menacing terror. Seriously, I had my hands shaking during some of the more intense and tightly plotted scenes. Jordan’s film oozes with tension in large part to Huppert’s performance.

Greta’s filled out nicely with solid performances from Maika Monroe (It Follows, Tau) as Frances’s friend Erica, a woman who is a bit more focused on fun than fear, Colm Feore (Chicago, TV’s The Umbrella Academy) as Frances’s father, who is attempting to rebuild a relationship with his daughter after the loss of his wife, and especially the terrific turn from Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, Black ’47) as the private investigator who is hired to find out more. It’s amazing how much Rea can do with so little screentime.

Greta is pure cheese at times, but I didn’t mind it because I was so entranced and tense during my experience in the theater. The trailers give away a bit too much but overall, this is a very fun and creepy stalker thriller that kept my nerves tight the entire time. I highly recommend seeing this one in the theater this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, click here.

[Early Review] If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, Emily Rios, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Barry Jenkins

119 mins. Rated R for language and some sexual content.

 

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy) carries a lot of clout based on his recent Best Picture win, and for his follow-up feature, he adapted James Baldwin’s classic novel If Beale Street Could Talk. I’ve had a copy of the book on my shelf for some time and have yet to reach for it (there are stacks of books to read in front of the bookshelf; I’m doubtful I could even reach it at the moment), but I’ve been aware of its important for a while now. I know the book is very important and personal to Jenkins, and the trailers have been magnificent, and so is the finished product.

The film is the story of Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James, Race, TV’s Homecoming) and their love story. Fonny has been incarcerated for the rape of Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios, Quinceanera, TV’s Snowfall), but Tish knows he’s innocent. She was with him that night, and she knows Fonny. There’s a cop, though, Officer Bell (Ed Skrein, Deadpool, The Transporter Refueled), who claims he saw Fonny flee the scene. Now, Tish is tasked with proving Fonny’s innocence while carrying his child, and her loving family is fighting for them.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a damn beautiful love story. It’s sweet and tender and, at times funny and heartbreaking. Kiki Layne shines as a standout in her first feature film, and Stephan James is incredible. He is able to say so much with his eyes. In fact, one of the most powerful elements of Jenkins’s film is his letting the camera focus on one person and just letting them breathe and feel. So much performance is gleaned from the moments of silence that the film allows. It’s a slow burn at times because of it, but I wouldn’t say I was ever bored by it.

The supporting cast is, to be fair, incredible. Colman Domingo (Lincoln, TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) and Regina King (Ray, TV’s American Crime) shine as Tish’s parents, and the film is littered with minor performances from talented actors. The wonderful Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s Atlanta) has maybe ten minutes of screen time but the message and strength of his supporting character gives so much during that time.

The other major strength of the film besides performance and the gorgeous cinematography is the score. Every time the sweeping music came into play, I felt the hair on my arms stand up. Its simplicity and repetition make for a memorable, sweet, and at times foreboding piece of music.

If I had a flaw with the film, it would purely be that its ending is left slightly open-ended. We don’t get resolution on some of our plot threads, but my wife put it quite well. She says that it’s because our characters, even with some closure, still have uncertainty in where their lives are headed, and it’s a haunting way to end things. There’s some light for them indeed, but leaving things open just made me pine for more.

If Beale Street Could Talk is an excellent follow-up for director Barry Jenkins. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was nominated for or even wins Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. It’s stacked with amazing performance work, stunning visuals and color choices, and a musical score that will stay with you long after leaving the theater. Take some time after Christmas to find a theater playing this one. You’ll be happy you did.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Welcome to Marwen (2018)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monae, Eiza Gonzalez, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Neil Jackson

Screenplay: Caroline Thompson, Robert Zemeckis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language.

 

I look forward to every film Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Allied) makes. The man is always a captivating storyteller who brims with ambition and pushes the boundaries with every time he steps behind a camera. Ever since I saw the first trailer for Welcome to Marwen, I felt that this was another chance he had to push himself further. The struggle for the film, based on true events, is that it can’t seem to translate to the big screen in a wholly appealing and accessible way.

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office) is struggling. He’s a man with a secret that makes some people not like him. When he is beaten within an inch of his life by some scumbags, he is unable to cope with his memory loss, his physical and emotional pain, his anxiety, and his depression. So he creates a world, Marwen, where he imagines himself as World War II Captain Mark “Hoagie” Hogancamp and all the women in his life as kick-ass soldiers, it helps. Enter new next-door neighbor Nicol (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up, Blockers), an attractive and friendly human who takes to Mark well and finds him to be a really interesting person. When Mark designs a figure in Marwen after Nicol, he finds that she helps him to be the person he needs to be to defeat his demons.

When Welcome to Marwen works, it works really well. When the film misses the mark, it misses it hard, so let’s unwrap this thing, firstly Steve Carell. Carell is becoming such a prolific and nuanced actor and he excites me with every new project he signs on for. Marwen is no different. His portrayal of Hogancamp is really incredible, and he accesses portions of anxiety and depression very nicely. His performance really highlights that sometimes, anxiety and depression manifest themselves in different ways.

Though Leslie Mann does great work as Nicol, I really don’t like where they take her character, especially with where she ends up. The ending of Nicol’s arc is really odd and it kind of thuds the movie. It feels like there isn’t anything for her character to do in the latter half of the film, but there’s a better way to wrap up her character.

The rest of the women of Marwen all have nice performance work, but I didn’t get the chance to connect with many of them. Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Darkest Minds) plays Anna, Mark’s social worker. She gets one scene, but we are asked to connect with her action-figure avatar. Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures, Moonlight) plays Julie, his physical therapist, and it seems on the surface that we will get some time with her, but she barely plays a role outside of, again, her action-figure avatar. Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver, TV’s From Dusk Till Dawn) is Caralala, a co-worker of Mark’s at a local pub and grill, and she gets more screentime than the rest, but she isn’t a fully-realized character.

It’s too bad that we don’t have much characterization with the women of Marwen because the sequences in Marwen are really interesting and layered. Again, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The visual palate of the Marwen stuff is great. I was worried that these figures wouldn’t get the emotion and look right and the audience would be stranded with this fake-looking character that’s supposed to look fake and real. It’s an odd problem to have. Thankfully, I never stepped out of the film during these sequences outside of a really odd Back to the Future reference that crashes and burns near the end of the film.

The Marwen sequences struggle with the characterization because we don’t get to know these people in real life and therefore cannot see the portions of their Marwen personas that belong to them and the portions that belong to Mark. Each time the Nazis show up, we get a lot of gunfire but no character. I was forced to relay all the characters through Mark’s spectrum.

Welcome to Marwen is hit-and-miss. The fantasy scenes are really interesting and kind of feel like a more-improved attempt at Sucker Punch, where the fantasy is important and has stakes on the film, but the film’s screenplay skips some important moments and includes some really strange stuff. The villain of Marwen, personified by a witch named Deja (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds, In the Fade) really felt out of place. I wanted to like the movie so bad, and I did enjoy myself more than most, but it’s frustrating when it stumbles. It is Carell’s intense performance that kept me going and invested throughout, and he deserves more recognition than he gets.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Mortal Engines (2018)

Director: Christian Rivers

Cast: Hera Hillmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action.

 

So if you look back at my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 List, you will find that the final spot on that list was given to Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel by Philip Reeve and the first of a series of stories. I saw the teaser trailer at an opening night screening of The Last Jedi, and I didn’t know what to think initially. It was a crazy few moments of giant city-like machines chasing each other. I’d never read the books and had no context to place the film other than the name Peter Jackson. That was enough for me.

Mortal Engines follows Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, Bad Samaritan, TV’s Love/Hate), an apprentice historian from the giant “predator” city of London. Tom once dreamt of more with his life before the death of his parents, but now he resides in pillaging through the garbage of cities London has ingested. Now, when a mysterious woman makes her way into London and attempts to kill Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Hacksaw Ridge), Tom finds himself embroiled in their feud as he learns a horrible secret from the woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hillmar, Anna Karenina, An Ordinary Man), that changes his view on everything. Now, he and Hester are searching for a way to stop Valentine from unearthing a great weapon while being endlessly pursued by a Stalker from Hester’s past named Shrike (Stephen Lang, Avatar, TV’s Into the Badlands).

The greatest strength of Mortal Engines comes down to its world-building. This is a fully realized environment, one that I really enjoyed spending time in. This of course comes from Philip Reeve’s source material, aided by the powerhouse writing team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones). I craved more information and wanted more time to be spent here in this world.

Though the world itself is really well built, it is inhabited by flimsy characters. I didn’t really get any of Valentine’s motives for his actions in the film, both in flashbacks and present. I didn’t really feel like any of the characters were likable enough to connect to or interesting enough to keep myself invested. They are people just kind of doing things for two hours.

There was so much more I wanted from this film. I feel like the biggest mistake was keeping such a short prologue at the beginning to set up the story. There is a voice recounting the Sixty-Minute War in shockingly lack of detail that it doesn’t really serve its purpose. An effective prologue can work wonders as we’ve seen previously with The Lord of the Rings films, written by the same writing team. I wanted to have the Shrike and the Stalkers set up more. I wanted to have the predator cities and the static settlements explained more to just get things going. It would have taken the great world-building and used it as a tool to drive story and develop character.

I think the lack of character depth comes from a very fresh and new director in Christian Rivers (Minutes Past Midnight) and a lot of new talent that hasn’t been tested in this large of an arena yet. I think Rivers has an excellent knack for capturing visuals (his film background up until now would show that), but I don’t think he pressed hard on character and performance. Hillmar and Sheehan have virtually no chemistry in the film and not a lot of depth. They perform as well as they can but they never develop that chemistry piece that is either miscasting or lack of time spent on directing performance.

Mortal Engines is capably enough put together to the point I would want to see a franchise continue based on the other books. The film is bursting at the seams with ambition. There is a world here that looks gorgeous on film and I want to spend more time in it, but there are problems in this film. It is far too rushed, it needs character direction, and it lacks enough power in its story. I thought the film was just okay, and I wanted to love it, but I was entranced enough by its strengths that I still want to see more.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of the anthology Minutes Past Midnight, click here.

 

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[Early Review] Boy Erased (2018)

Director: Joel Edgerton

Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwin, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea

Screenplay: Joel Edgerton

114 mins. Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use.

 

Joel Edgerton (The Gift) just kind of came out of nowhere. Sure, he had been acting for several years, but I never would have placed him as a more-than-competent director and writer, but he did just that with his first film. Now, he seeks to follow-up The Gift with the true-life family drama, Boy Erased.

Boy Erased is the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea, Mid90s), a college student who is having a crisis of faith. He has impure thoughts about men. His mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies), and father, Marshall (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, The Mummy), sign him up for a gay conversion therapy. His father is a Baptist preacher who will not allow Jared to live in his house or visit if he remains the way he is. Jared attends classes everyday with head therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton), a firm believer in the process who pushes Jared and others to the extreme in his quest to make them “normal” heterosexual boys again. As time goes on, Lucas comes to the realization that he is who he is and “changing” is not an option.

Boy Erased takes a while before it really kicks into high gear. The first half of the film to me was a little lost in trying to find its footing. I’m not sure what the big problem is because I like the film’s structure of beginning in media res. The writing is fine but the slow build nature mixed with some pacing issues in editing likely created this problem.

That being said, when it does get going, the last half of this film is an absolute powerhouse. Hedges and Crowe are, in particular, revelatory. There is one scene in particular toward the end of the film that these two share that brought me to tears. The raw emotion of a father and son on two completely different wavelengths is something so heartbreaking.

Writer/Director/Supporting Actor Edgerton holds a capable lens to the proceedings and he tends to just let the performances do the heavy lifting. His work as Sykes in a little disturbing and very saddening. As I said before, I think his writing stumbles a bit at the beginning, but all in all, he is a talent worthy of watching.

Edgerton has a moral focus with the film and its presentation of this conversion therapy. There are a lot of horrific things happening here and it’s made all the more shocking with his choice to end the film with some follow-up on the characters but also some facts about conversion therapy that really hit home with me. These types of endings don’t always work, but Boy Erased is a film that definitely sticks the landing. It’s just sad that a film like this even had to be made, but conversion therapy is a very real and frightening thing for LGBTQ people, especially the young ones who are already going through so much in their adolescence.

Boy Erased struggles a bit out of the gate, but when it finds its footing, Joel Edgerton proves to be a force both behind and in front of the camera. He fills his films with impactful performances that elevate his own craft in the process. It’s not an easy film to view, even with a few peppered moments of levity, particularly from Jared’s mother, but it’s an incredible moving tale about the human spirit and one man’s journey to accept himself. See this movie as soon as you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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