Actor Michael Kenneth Williams Passes at 54

It’s a sad day to report the loss of such an incredible talent as Michael K. Williams, who died on September 6th. Deadline confirmed his passing with a statement from a rep, “It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams.” The rep also requested privacy for the family at this time and did not give a cause of death.

The actor, who was 54, had a incredible range of credits stretching back to the 90s, and what struck me was how much he had done that I hadn’t even seen. I’ve seen his work in films like Gone Baby Gone, 12 Years a Slave, The Purge: Anarchy, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, and more, but my most frequently viewed work came from the cult television series Community, where he played Professor Marshall Kane, the Biology professor at Greendale Community College. While getting notes together to talk about Williams, I watched those episodes again, and I was shocked to find that he only appeared in 3 episodes of the 110-episode series. Maybe that was the biggest impact of the actor. Whether he had a few minutes or a few years to play with a character, he always left an impression.

His impression could be felt all around the business over the last few days, with everyone from Ava DuVerney to Spike Lee to Leslie Jones all taking a moment to talk about the impact he had on them. If you have a chance, seek out Wendell Pierce’s words on his relationship with Williams.

Williams will perhaps best be remembered for his work in television, including The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and most recently, the now-cancelled Lovecraft Country, for which he is nominated for an Emmy. Below is a selected filmography of his work. Rest in Peace.

Selected Filmography:

  • Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
  • I Think I Love My Wife (2007)
  • Gone Baby Gone (2007)
  • The Wire (2002-2008)
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
  • Brooklyn’s Finest (2008)
  • The Road (2009)
  • 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  • RoboCop (2014)
  • The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
  • Kill the Messenger (2014)
  • Inherent Vice (2014)
  • Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)
  • The Gambler (2014)
  • Triple 9 (2016)
  • Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)
  • The Night Of (2016)
  • When the Bough Breaks (2016)
  • Assassin’s Creed (2016)
  • The Public (2016)
  • Hap and Leonard (2016-2018)
  • SuperFly (2018)
  • When They See Us (2019)
  • The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
  • Motherless Brooklyn (2019)
  • Lovecraft Country (2020)
  • F Is For Family (2017-2021)


-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2021oscardeathrace] Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Director: Shaka King
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Dominique Thorne, Martin Sheen
Screenplay: Shaka King
126 mins. Rated R for violence and pervasive language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Daniel Kaluuya) [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Lakeith Stanfield) [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “Fight For You” [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [PENDING]


Judas and the Black Messiah, according to the Academy, doesn’t have a lead actor. Both Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Queen & Slim) and Lakeith Stanfield (Knives Out, The Photograph) received nominations for Best Supporting Actor. So who is the lead for Judas and the Black Messiah? Let’s break it down.

The follows Bill O’Neal (Stanfield), a criminal-turned-informant for the FBI, as he infiltrates the Black Panthers and becomes acquainted with Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), the passionate and charismatic leader. Along the way, lines start blurring between Bill’s alliance to the FBI and his handler, Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons, The Irishman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things), and the Hampton’s quest for equality and freedom from impression in the highly divisive 1960s.

The first element of Judas that struck me was the cinematography. This is an excellently-shot piece of cinema. Starting with Bill’s criminal activity at the film’s start, this camera is commanding the screen, almost a character of its own. Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave) has a true handling of the action set pieces, and he knows when to let his powerhouse performers have the spotlight.

Kaluuya and Stanfield are electrifying as Hampton and O’Neal. Kaluuya’s is the more flashy of the two performances as Hampton, who is presented with a silver tongue for unity and a restrained fire to protecting his people, both within the Black Panthers, and for Black Americans across the nation. On the opposite is Stanfield, who is able to access a subtlety in his absolute terror as he stands by Hampton and the rest of the Black Panthers, forced to confront a choice within him that could forever alter the Civil Right Movement. Not knowing a lot of the real story of these two men, I was entranced by the quality of these two performances within the confines of the tension that director Shaka King (Newlyweeds) has constructed.

Let’s be honest here. Stanfield is the lead of the film and Kaluuya is the supporting player. We’re following Stanfield’s Bill O’Neal throughout the narrative, and the decision to push them both for Best Supporting Actor is likely to split the votes and garner neither of them with wins.

It’s shocking to note that this is only the second feature film for Shaka King as a director. King had served as director on a few television series and shorts, and I’m not denigrating those accomplishments, but a show, a short, and a feature film, while being genuinely the same, are very different undertakings. When I watch King’s understanding of character and plot while also being able to give an extra stylistic flair to Judas, I can see how all of that previous work helped and developed the work seen here, but the scale of this particular project is so much larger.

Judas and the Black Messiah was initially envisioned as “The Departed inside the world of COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program)” and that is essentially what we get from a story perspective, but King comes at the material with a totally different and distinguished voice than Martin Scorsese had with The Departed. Judas is blessed with some incredible performances from not just Kaluuya and Stanfield but the entire principal cast, some real lions in the room. King’s film pairs well with another Best Picture nominee in The Trial of the Chicago 7, as Hampton plays a role in both, and it should make an intense and thoughtful film that will captivate your night.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 12 – Annabelle (2014)

Director: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Norton, Alfre Woodard
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
99 mins. Rated R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.

Who would’ve thought that the second-best cinematic universe (after Marvel) in film currently would be the Conjuring Universe? I certainly didn’t peg that, but when The Conjuring first hit cinemas, I knew this was something special I was seeing. I had become a huge fan of James Wan from all the way back with Saw, Dead Silence, and Death Sentence (the latter being cosmically underrated), and I had always been a supporter of his, but I had no idea how strong a storytelling and visionary filmmaker he was. It was only natural to expand on the mythos of The Conjuring, so I was very excited to see where this film, a prequel featuring the mysterious doll from The Conjuring’s cold open, would go. The film garnered very poor reviews, but I eventually got a chance to see it? Was it really that big a step down in quality?

Annabelle is set some time before we meet the Warrens from The Conjuring. Instead, we are introduced to Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis, X-Men: First Class, Tag) and her husband John (Ward Horton, The Wolf of Wall Street, Ford v Ferrari). Mia is pregnant with their first child, and the couple seems very happy at this stage of their lives, but one horrible night the two are beset upon by cult members who have invaded their home, they quickly find that evil lurks in their home, evil that desperately wants Mia’s child, evil that is seemingly attached to a doll of Mia’s with a dark past.

I’ve been critical of John R. Leonetti (The Silence, Wish Upon) as a director for quite some time. I think he’s a great director of photography on a great many films. He knows how to set up a shot. In the case of directing, there’s a lot more to it that seems to go unattended. Acting, sound work, creating mood and tone through pacing. Leonetti doesn’t seem to have a handle of these things yet. He’s gotten a lot better than the mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and his more recent attempts have shown even more improvement, but he needs to focus on bettering these aspects of his filmmaking in order to really be successful. He also doesn’t have much of a handle on scares, as Annabelle is easily the least tense and frightening of The Conjuring Universe’s 7 films. For comparison, the best sequences in the film, the elevator sequence, was guest-directed by James Wan. I can see how much Leonetti learned from working with Wan and observing his filmmaking style, but he needs to up his game in several other areas that are noticeably troublesome in Annabelle.

Wallis and Horton are slightly wood as Mia and John (obvious references to Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, the actors from Rosemary’s Baby), but Alfre Woodard (Captain America: Civil War, 12 Years a Slave) steals every scene as next-door neighbor Evelyn. Her story has hints of sadness and doses of gravitas from the veteran actress, and she adds an extra layer doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Also carrying a lot of weight in the film is Tony Amendola as Father Perez. Both he and Woodard are responsible for a heavy amount of exposition but they are able to get it across without weighing down the narrative too much.

Gary Dauberman (It, Wolves at the Door) wrote the screenplay for Annabelle, and there are noticeable issues with his work. Dauberman has honed his skills quite nicely in recent years (he did a lot of heavy lifting with It: Chapter Two) but he was still pretty early in his career when he crafted Annabelle, and his reliance on repeating exposition and constantly reminding the audience of info we’d already gotten (yes, Mia is pregnant and yes, Charlie Manson is bad) is pretty rough.

Annabelle shows a fundamental step down in quality from The Conjuring. Is it a bad movie? On the whole, no, it’s merely okay. It just feels like a bad movie coming off the powerhouse that was The Conjuring. It’s a messy movie, a disappointing movie, but not inherently bad. In fact, there’s some really cool moments on that display. I like the elevator scene, and the visuals are pretty striking, and I also think that this was made better by following the prequel Annabelle: Creation, which fixed some of the narrative issues. Should that count for it? Maybe not, but I’m going to because Creation did strengthen this film. It’s not great, but there are a lot worse horror movies to watch. Annabelle is fine…ish.

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 Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home, click here.
For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.
For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

The Lion King (2019)

or “One Step Closer to a Live-Action Aristocats”

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones

Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson

118 mins. Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.

 

Well, it’s finally here, everyone! The Lion King is finally in theaters! Wait, I should preface that The Lion King hit theaters in 1994. This Lion King is the remake! The live-action remake! Wait, I should also preface that it’s not a live-action film.

But, damn, it does look like it.

You know the story, but I’ll refresh you. Simba (Donald Glover, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Guava Island) is destined to inherit Pride Rock when his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, The Hunt for Red October, Coming to America) passes. When the king  is murdered, though, and Simba feels responsible, his uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) convinces him to run away and never come back. The young lion prince flees his kingdom, embarking on a journey to discover the responsibility that lie before him.

There’s very little change in the story of The Lion King, and this remake is pretty close to a shot-for-shot translation of the original film, something I do not agree with. With all the technology being thrown at the film, I feel it would benefit the finished film to take some story risks and changes to set itself apart from what is considered by many to be the greatest animated film of all time, or at least in the conversation. I just think that by making it so similar to the original film, you are inviting comparison, and that’s not a good idea when the film you are comparing to is the considered one of the Greatest of anything.

That all being said, wow, the animation is incredible here. It looks so real, so intense, and so breathtaking. Just like with The Jungle Book, I’m shocked to find that so much of this film was done in a computer, even down to all the backgrounds (I believe only one shot in the whole film is real footage, and I don’t even know what it is). It’s gorgeously animated. My one problem with the realism is that there is a slight disconnect in some of the voice work. I think some actual motion-capture would have helped in the animating process to keep some of the facial expressions more effective, if only for behind-the-scenes video of these performers crawling around on all-fours.

The voicework is quite strong in the film, specifically from Donald Glover, Seth Rogen (This is the End, Long Shot) as Pumbaa, and Billy Eichener (The Angry Birds Movie, TV’s Friends From College) as Timon. The only voice work I would have thought differently about was Beyonce Knowles-Carter (Dreamgirls, Epic), who kind of missed the mark. I know the reason for casting her was to get a new song in the movie, but I just think she missed it.

Overall, The Lion King is a perfectly fine movie, a breathtaking visual achievement, but also a little unneeded. I would venture the question of who is picking this film off their Bluray shelf in a year to watch it if they already have the original film. That is its problem, that it cannot hold a candle to the original. Any other Disney live-action film would avoid that problem by adding something new to the film, but The Lion King doesn’t really do that.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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 Jon Favreau’s Chef, click here.

Us (2019)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

116 mins. Rated R for violence/terror, and language.

 

I’m glad I took some time to decompress after Us. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Us, from writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out), is the story of the Wilson family who, while on their family vacation to Santa Cruz, are beset upon by a family of four red-clad attackers who look exactly like them. The matriarch of the Wilson family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) learns from her doppelganger Red that the doubles are here to “untether” themselves from the Wilsons, and now Adelaide and husband Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther) must protect their family and friends from the growing number of murderous doppelgangers bent on killing them.

It would appear that Jordan Peele is not a one-hit wonder when it comes to his horror films. The man has a keen visual sense and the ability to tell an intelligent story. He, like Quentin Tarantino before him, was baptized and raised by film, and it shows in both Get Out and especially Us. He uses symbols and themes so intricately that Us becomes infinitely more enjoyable upon a second or even a third viewing.

If there are problems with Us, it mostly boils down to two factors in the story. First, there’s a lot of cool mythology building in the film, but the story does have moments where it becomes clear what is happening even if the mythology is not revealed yet. Doppelganger stories sometimes have certain tropes that need to be ticked off, and Us is not exempt from all of them. Secondly, with the mythology and world-building, there are some things that feel like they either aren’t fleshed out enough or don’t make as much sense the more you read into them. There are explanations, but some don’t appear in the film, and if you try to peel away the layers, you might ruin the experience, so just watch it without trying to understand it all, the film will do the heavy lifting for you.

Lupita Nyong’o proves her abilities here are just as strong as any other genre. The way she plays both Adelaide and Red are so unique and different. Adelaide is a woman who has grown up being terrified of an experience she had in Santa Cruz as a child, and so she almost isn’t surprised when these doppelgangers show up to start wreaking havoc upon them. It’s like she’s prepared for something, anything, horrible to happen, and it appears to be a blessing that she did. Red, though, hasn’t used her voice in so long that it appears that she is struggling to use correct speech patterns, her vocal cords straining due to not being flexed in a long time.

Winston Duke is also tremendous as both Gabe and the doppelganger Abraham. Gabe is seemingly nonviolent outside of his wit and the way he acts. On the flipside, it seems like Abraham only knows violence and anger, and it’s interesting to see the way Gabe tries to work around a solution.

Also like Tarantino, Peele has a terrific sense of music, and he uses it to great effect here, giving the film both catchy tunes to exude the fun of the horror, while also staging his serious sequences with more disturbing and unsettling music. His use of I Got 5 On It (he added it to the finished film after it performed with audiences in the trailer) is absolutely incredible.

Us is quite the powerhouse second feature for Jordan Peele, and while I think Get Out might be the better film, Us is my personal preference and the one I will probably go back to more often. Us is Peele swinging for the fences, and he takes a lot of risks that pay off quite well. It’s just a damn fun time at the movies and is one of the best horror films of the year.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, click here.

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke

Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.

 

Well, Black Panther’s finally here. Compared to every other MCU film to date, Black Panther is one of the titles I hadn’t read until the film was revealed. Like Iron Man before it, I just didn’t know much about the character or the comic, but as soon as I heard about the adaptation and the inclusion of director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), I wanted to read as much as I could. Black Panther is under a lot of pressure to be good. Expectations have been abnormally high on this one. How did it turn out?

Picking up about a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall) arrives home in Wakanda to claim his birthright as King. He is reunited with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), an old flame who sees Wakanda’s secretive advances in technology as a tool to help the world, but T’Challa believes that revealing Wakanda for what it is puts the country in jeopardy and creates enemies. One such enemy is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, War for the Plane of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), a smuggler and arms dealer, has allied himself with the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), who has his own reasons for wanting to reach Wakanda.

Black Panther is one of the most-layered films in the MCU, and it excels in two areas that MCU films regularly fail: the villain and the music. First, the villain is an interesting and flawed character who has understandable motives in his ultimate quest. Just like Civil War before it, Black Panther presents a very interesting dilemma that has merits on both sides of the argument, and T’Challa is just as flawed with his decision as Killmonger.

The music is also a major step up from previous MCU films in that Black Panther has a theme, courtesy of Ludwig Goransson, and its complimented by Kendrick Lamar’s music supervision of the soundtrack. This film has a unique feeling that stands on its own while embracing the tightrope act of the larger MCU framework.

Coogler presents powerful themes in the film like Responsibility and Legacy. While T’Challa doesn’t want to lead from a throne, he is challenged by what has come before. He would rather be out hunting for Klaue himself. He looks up to his father but he is challenged by the difficult decisions T’Chaka had to make as king. T’Challa is forced to confront these difficult decisions and their aftermath, further conflicting his views on the legacy that his father left. The way he interacts with Killmonger, too, brings forth conflicts in identity and the question of nature vs. nurture in their lives.

I think Black Panther is a hell of a showcase of its principal cast. It’s proof of the incredible amount of top-notch performers of all races. Each role was cast with purpose, from Danai Gurira (The Visitor, TV’s The Walking Dead) as Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, an all-female team of protectors, to Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival) as Zuri, a spiritual figure in Wakanda who protects a special and powerful herb. Every performer in the film is so precisely cast that you couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. I was especially impressed with Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario) as W’Kabi, friend to T’Challa. Up until his role in Get Out, I did not know Kaluuya, but with such a small amount of screen time, he creates a lasting impression in the film.

For all the amazing things Ryan Coogler did with Black Panther, one cannot forget that this is a superhero movie in a crowded genre at the beginning of the year. He should be recognized too for the absolutely incredible experience of watching the film. Black Panther was downright fun to watch and be a part of. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d advise you to head to your theater immediately to see it in the largest crowd you can. This is probably my favorite film so far this year.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2018oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]

 

I guess it’s true. No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. This movie was divided as hell, but does The Last Jedi deserve the hate or is it missing the praise?

Picking up moments after the events of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Only Yesterday) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Brigsby Bear, Bunyan and Babe) on Ahch-To to discover that he has abandoned the Jedi code to live out his days in quiet solitude. Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy) leads the resistance forces away from D’Qar as a First Order fleet arrives to take them. Now, they are on the run from First Order forces. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Suburbicon) makes a costly mistake in the defense of the convoy and falls into a path of mistrust when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, Wild, TV’s Big Little Lies) assumes command of the Resistance forces. Now, as the First Order closes in, Finn and Poe attempt to save the convoy, Rey finds herself drawn ever closer to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, TV’s Girls) and the truth about her past.

Okay, so I’m not a Star Wars apologist. I find the prequels to be extremely middling in quality, and even though I love all the Star Wars films, I’m not above finding glaring issues that stick out. That being said…

I loved The Last Jedi. It completely changed the game and added so much to the mythology by driving the film forward rather than looking to the past. This is an incredible addition to the Star Wars Saga. Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) came to the table and took what J.J. Abrams created with The Force Awakens and pushed it further. It’s definitely not like its predecessor in that it isn’t how I expected it. In fact, that’s what I love most about the film. I walked into it with all these preconceived ideas about how the movie has to go, and I would say just about all of them were wrong. I love The Last Jedi because I was shocked and surprised when I watched it, and that hasn’t happened since The Empire Strikes Back.

The film’s performances and cast are top-notch yet again, particularly leads Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, this being her final Star Wars outing. Hamill could easily have been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars with his most subtle and tortured performance in his entire career. Skywalker is broken by his failure to save Ben Solo.

There’s also some really great work from Ridley and Driver, especially in their shared scenes. We see some darkness in Rey and some potential good in Kylo. It’s clear that these two have not fallen into their roles as enemies yet. There are some nice flaws showcased on both sides here.

I also have to say some about Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Supreme Leader Snoke. He doesn’t get as much to do in this new installment, much like The Force Awakens, but the way he is utilized in this film is far superior to Episode VII. Unfortunately, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe) and Gwendoline Christie (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, TV’s Game of Thrones) feel shoehorned in as Maz Kanata and Captain Phasma, respectively.

But the film was always going to be divisive. I just wasn’t prepared for how divisive it would be. Even Mark Hamill expressed concerns to Johnson about the direction of the film, but after seeing the finished product, it sounds like he has since been won over.

And there are things I take issue with in the film, but they are merely nitpicky things like a particular Leia scene that comes across a little silly. There’s a moment early on with Luke that could have emotional impact but instead falls to cheap comedy. These are mere nitpicks and, in the scope of the film, this being the darkest film in the saga, I can understand the reliance on some levity.

The Last Jedi honors what has come before while also paving the way to what’s yet to come. It’s a unique Star Wars film, and it’s the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson’s attention to detail and the film’s connective tissue with the rest of the sage, including Rogue One, is just another reason that this film works as well as it does. With this film, Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) becomes the only actor to appear in all the Star Wars live-action releases. I unabashedly loved the theater experience of seeing The Last Jedi, so much so that I saw it an additional two times. See this movie. Three Times.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Sleepless (2017)

Director: Baran bo Odar

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Gabrielle Union, Scoot McNairy

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

95 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

Sleepless is the story of Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Baby Driver), a corrupt cop who steals a cocaine shipment from Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Dirty Grandpa). When Rubino’s men assault Vincent and kidnap his son, the crooked cop needs to retrieve the coke and return it. Matters are further complicated by Internal Affairs agents Bryant (Michelle Monaghan, Source Code, Mission: Impossible III) and Dennison (David Harbour, Suicide Squad, TV’s Stranger Things). Now, time is not on Vincent’s side as he navigates the city in order to save his son and keep his cover from being blown.

It’s hard to defend a movie when its star can’t even find good in it. Jamie Foxx has come out numerous times refusing to give any merit to Sleepless, and he’s right. There isn’t anything good here, including Foxx’s performance. He is one-note, unlikable, and uninteresting.

That’s not all. I didn’t really like anyone in the film. Mulroney and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire) are both flat villains, not given enough room to play. The Internal Affairs agents are both fools for not being able to put together that Vincent has been crooked. There just isn’t anything good in this remake of the foreign language Sleepless Night.

Director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I, The Silence) has delivered a hollow husk of a thriller that is neither thrilling nor redeemable. The screenplay, from Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father) trips over itself, falling into cliché. The final twist does nothing to the plot or the characters worth speaking about.

Sleepless is, not surprisingly, bad. It starts with a premise not all that good and underwhelms sluggishly to its end. This is a forgettable experience. I’d certainly like to forget it.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

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Director: Billy Ray

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Alfred Molina

Screenplay: Billy Ray

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.

 

Secret in Their Eyes is an American remake of a 2009 Oscar-winning foreign language film. The original 2009 film is a celebrated masterpiece (honestly, this writer has not seen the original film, but hey, I just watched the remake), and the remake stars three big players in the acting world. What could go wrong?

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Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) and fellow investigator Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts, Notting Hill, The Normal Heart) respond to a report of a body found near a mosque they are monitoring back in 2002, three months after 9/11. When the body found is Cobb’s daughter, their lives are forever strained and torn as Ray finds his allegiance to a counter-terrorism task force pulling him away from uncovering the truth about the murder. He is further tormented by the love he has for superior Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, Before I Go to Sleep). Years later, Ray’s lust for answers brings him back to the case and a shocking realization he isn’t quite ready for.

Secret in Their Eyes starts out interestingly enough. I really wanted to uncover the truth after a fantastic scene where Julia Roberts becomes hysterical at the sight of her daughter’s body. After that powerful sequences, the film comes to a crashing halt as the film seemingly goes nowhere for the next ninety minutes. Damn, it got boring real fast.

Ejiofor and Kidman are barely awake in their roles, and Roberts bounds between incredible performance and out-of-tune dialogue that she cannot latch onto. It would seem that Secret in Their Eyes has everything going for it, and yet nothing here works. Writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach) has a poor screenplay and cannot seem to handle his actors, even while maintaining moments of sheer beauty in the cinematography and the occasional gripping sequence.

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Overall, Secret in Their Eyes struggles to find a purpose, even after having tailored itself to a tragic period in recent American history. The film scours for reason and just cannot find it. Everything that it tries to accomplish is outdone by a similar film Prisoners, which came out back in 2013. The performances are bland and the story goes nowhere. A true disappointment.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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