Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Screenplay: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon

112 mins. Rated PG for some action and rude humor.

 

I was not the biggest fan of Wreck-It Ralph. I had a number of different reasons for my opinion, but I will also say that, at the time, I was carrying a bias about Disney films. After all, Disney is a machine, and like any machine, it has to function similarly at all times. I found the first film to be overly reliant upon video game and arcade nostalgia that bogged it down. I was also much more interested in Ralph’s (John C. Reilly, Chicago, Holmes & Watson) journey and felt it was less interesting when he got involved with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, Battle of the Sexes, TV’s The Sarah Silverman Program). Wreck-It Ralph was a hit, though (everyone I knew loved it), and while it took six years for a sequel, I was still excited for the wild ride that is Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Ralph and Vanellope are celebrating six awesome years as best friends, and while Ralph is fine with the way his days go, Vanellope wants more. She is tired of the predictability of her game, so Ralph sets out to help her. When his plan fails spectacularly, causing Sugar Rush to break down, it seems like as though Ralph may have inadvertently doomed Vanellope. Fortunately, they find that the replacement part for Sugar Rush is available on the internet, and the two set out to bring it back. Through their adventure, Ralph is forced to face his greatest fear: change.

There’s good and bad to the direction of this Wreck-It Ralph follow-up. It’s similar at times to the story of the first film with video game nostalgia traded out for social media addiction. That being said, the way the social media and internet references work in the film is to force Ralph and Vanellope to examine their lives and change, for good or bad. I think the sequel is more successful in creating real relationships amongst these arcade characters. There’s also a tendency to fall back on Disney properties in the film, a decision opposite to Spielberg’s choice in Ready Player One to seemingly eliminate as many references as possible to his films. Again, though, the Disney Princess scene is absolutely worth the price of admission. As I said, good and bad to these creative choices.

Ralph is a more interesting character this time out. His internal conflict with himself and Vanellope’s choices are so strong and real and accessible. It’s really powerful character direction, something for its viewers to register with as they grow older. I also like how Vanellope is struggling in the sequel, knowing she has a good life but wanting more than that. It makes her more than a cutesy sidekick.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good outing from Disney, though not their best. I think it’s a better film than Wreck-It Ralph, and I think the conflict in the film resonates rather nicely. The film falls back on Disney wanting to sell toys, but there’s some good in there too made by strong characters and a strong story arc. It just gets muddled sometimes.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rich Moore, Byron Howard, and Jared Bush’s Zootopia, click here.

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilyn Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers

Screenplay: Anthony McCarten

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language.

IMDb Top 250: #136 (as of 1/11/2019)

 

There’s two major schools of thought one can go down with a biopic. The filmmaker can choose to hit all the major notes on the subject’s timeline, capturing important milestones from the life, or there’s the biopic event film, where one major event is focused on. When it comes to Freddie Mercury, a man larger than life, you really have to hit all the notes, or as many as you can fit.

Bohemian Rhapsody is the story of Queen, but in many ways, it’s the story of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek, Papillon, TV’s Mr. Robot), an artist lost too soon. Freddie did not come from an artistic upbringing, and he found himself in the right place at the right time when Smile, a band he’d been interested in, needed to replace a lead singer. Brian May (Gwilyn Lee, The Tourist, The Last Witness) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy, Only the Brave, Mary Shelley), the remaining members of Smile, joined up with Mercury and, alongside John Deacon (Joe Mazzello, Jurassic Park, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), became Queen.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a more stylized, less historically accurate version of the Freddie Mercury and Queen story, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It’s led by an unstoppable turn from Malek, an actor who positively embodies Mercury’s many mannerisms with elegance, grace, and without parody. It’s a tough role to disappear in, and Malek proves to be up to the task.

It is Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street, Apostle) which proves to the most important of the film. Freddie is an eccentric man, to put it lightly, and he perhaps wants more than he can have, but he finds as the story progresses that he is unable to make up for his wants, and Mary’s emotional needs are struggling to be met. It’s a complex relationship brought forth quite nicely in the film.

The Queen portion of the film is undoubtedly the most fun, even if it isn’t 100% accurate. Seeing some of the craziness that went into some of the best music ever put to record is a wonder, and it doesn’t hurt that the film has a kickass soundtrack.

The major problem of the film is its direction, which sometimes feels a little VH1 and without some of the style that you might associate with a band like Queen. There’s something dated about the film, and I’m not referring to the actual events of the film.

Bohemian Rhapsody succeeds as entertainment, and that’s its Number 1 goal. I was smiling from ear to ear for most of the film, and that stayed with me for days afterward. It’s a hell of a fun film with a heart, but it’s made for Queen fans. Those of you that aren’t (and I imagine there’s at least three of you out there) will find little to enjoy outside the incredible performances.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

 

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Vice (2018)

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons

Screenplay: Adam McKay

132 mins. Rated R for language and some violent images.

 

At the end of Adam McKay’s (The Other Guys, The Big Short) film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the narrator informs the audience that Brick, the character played by Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office), got a job working in the Bush White House. It’s nice to see McKay sticking with the narrative.

Vice is the first film about the life of a US Vice President, and it explores the political upbringing’s of the most powerful and dangerous Vice President in history, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle). It’s the tale of a man of immense power and the way he ran his political career with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) at his side. It’s the true enough tale of his time learning from and working with Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), spanning from his time as an intern to the most powerful man in America.

What works so well in Vice is McKay’s storytelling style. He adopts what worked well in The Big Short for this larger-than-life vision of Cheney’s life and career. His film informs the audience early on that this film is as true as it can be given Cheney’s guarded and secretive life, and he puts as much truth to the screen as possible and lets his performers and absurdist storytelling gifts fill in the rest. McKay’s far-reaching ambition is on full display here, including his post-credits scene which brings us all the way to a discussion of present-day politics.

Bale is at his best here as he disappears behind his character. The weight gain workout regimen as well as the makeup effects work wonders here, but beyond that is Bale’s amazing quality to become his character, something he does quite well here. Adams is great here as well, a loving wife who has expectations for the man she marries and will not accept anything less than perfection from him.

The supporting cast is another strength of this film, littered with special performances like Carell’s. Sam Rockwell (Moon, TV’s F is for Family), just like Bale, expertly assumes the form of George W. Bush. Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Star) becomes Colin Powell. The performances in Vice are top-notch.

If there’s a fault in the film, it’s the difficulty in making such an unlikable man the focus of a 2-hour-plus runtime. McKay sticks close to the rule of characters: if you can’t make them likable, make them interesting, and he does just that, but as the film wears on, it does become difficult to maintain focus on Cheney with the same lightheartedness that permeates the early part of the film.

Vice is another strong outing for Adam McKay, a filmmaker who has proven to be as exciting now as he was over a decade ago when his satirical eye was used only for the purpose of comedy. His funny approach to unlikable characters offers up a different side of the coin to a filmmaker like Oliver Stone, and it is this keen eye for teaching through absurdity that makes this biographical drama such a winner. It’s runtime hurts the film a bit but McKay keeps things going pretty good aided by some astonishing acting from its principal cast. See Vice now before someone gets sued.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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A Star is Born (2018)

Director: Bradley Cooper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle

Screenplay: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

136 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse.

 

A Star is Born has been made several times over, but what makes each incarnation so special is how they capture the time period they are set in. With a constantly evolving music landscape, A Star is Born is more of a time capsule film, so does it matter that there’s a new one? With first-time director Bradley Cooper at the helm, yes, a resounding yes.

Cooper stars as Jackson Mayne, an alcoholic rockstar who discovers Ally (Lady Gaga, Machete Kills, TV’s American Horror Story), a waitress/singer/songwriter who he helps get into the public eye. As their attraction blossoms into full-blown love affair, Ally finds herself propelled to stardom as Jackson discovers his star slowly fading.

The plot of A Star is Born is nothing new, and there’s the tendency with this film to find itself hitting all the bullet points of the narrative, but it boils down to strong character development in the writing, some truly unforgettable performances and incredible chemistry, and some memorable music. Cooper’s direction is strong for a first outing (though I wouldn’t put him in the conversation of best of the year), but it is his role as Jackson that is worthy of awards consideration. He continues to slip into a role and disappear behind a character, something he’s done several times in recent years.

Lady Gaga’s performance as Ally is very well done too. There’s some criticism about her essentially playing herself, but I don’t buy it. I find that she is accessing parts of herself but the chemistry cannot be understated and the way she folds her own background into the role is wonderful.

Cooper’s primary strengths as a director are where his passion lies, usually with character and story and less so with the technical side of things. He is particularly adept at using the music in the film to influence character and story, and there’s some nice foreshadowing in the film’s many musical numbers.

Overall, A Star is Born isn’t revelatory in its story, but the romance between the leads is so beautiful and heartbreaking that it stands as one of the best films of the year. Bradley Cooper has proven himself yet again with the added directing and co-writing, and Gaga adds another strength to her skill set. This is a terrific piece of cinema.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells

Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty

106 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use.

 

Ben Falcone, the husband of Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Life of the Party), does not direct great films with his wife. His efforts have included Tammy and The Boss. That being said, he’s responsible for getting McCarthy locked for the film we are talking about today. For that, I’ll let him take a win.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the true story of Lee Israel (McCarthy), a one-time writer who has fallen on hard times. She can’t afford to pay rent, she can’t afford to pay her cat’s medical bills, she can barely afford to drink, but when Lee strikes up a friendship with Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) and turns to embellishing literary letters, things start improving for Lee. Soon, though, she finds her lies building up as she gets closer and closer to being caught.

Director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) seems to excel with character as she pulls such an interesting friendship out of Lee and Jack, aided of course by two career-best performances from McCarthy and Grant. Seriously, as great as the set design, pacing, and writing are, none of it matches the level of acting displayed by these two actors.

I really enjoyed how swiftly the film moves. I didn’t feel for a second like looking at my phone. I just sat along for the ride and enjoyed it as it went. Part of that goes to the tight edit of the finished film, and part of it goes to the great writing from Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty.

I think where Heller’s direction and the screenplay come together is their portrayal of Israel. She is not seen as a deviant or a criminal. She is seen as a human being struggling to keep up with a world seemingly hell-bent on keeping her down. She is struggling in a way I can connect with and empathize with. It’s a tricky task but one that Heller and McCarthy knock out of the park.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an incredible character study that connected me to people I understand and want to succeed, even when they commit crimes and perform shady acts to get there. The film is tied to two central characters and their friendship, and it’s there where it flourishes.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Jack Kesy

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds

119 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.

 

When Deadpool hit cinemas back in 2016, it was something of a surprise juggernaut, claiming a ton of box office and terrific critical reviews in the process, something that I think shocked just about everyone from the cast, crew and studio as well as fans and filmgoers everywhere. That’s not to say that they didn’t work hard to get the film as right as possible, but the original Deadpool ends up on many lists of Best Superhero Films of all Time just two years after coming out. People loved it.

So Deadpool 2 had a lot to live up to. With the loss of original director Tim Miller, David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) stepped in and took over. With all that, how did the movie end up?

Rest assured that Deadpool 2, despite horrific deplorable violence and naughty words, is a family movie. Kind of. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, Buried, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) has been busy taking out the baddies every day and spending his nights with the love of his life, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, Serenity, TV’s Gotham). But when Wade’s life drastically changes, he is forced to search for meaning. A time-traveling soldier named Cable (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War) comes back from the future to kill a kid who calls himself Firefist (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Paper Planes), Wade assembles a team of heroes, the X-Force, to stop him.

There’s so much happening in Deadpool 2 that its pacing slows down at times and not every sequence works, but the biggest problem of the film comes from its inciting incident. There’s a lot of time in the original Deadpool devoted to Wade’s driving force and motivation. In fact, it’s one of the areas where the original film even avoids lampooning itself. There’s some events early on in Deadpool 2 that essentially throw the whole first film out in some ways, cheapening it. Now, without getting spoilery, it’s tough to dive too much in. What I will say is that these issues lessen on multiple viewings, especially so in the Super-Duper Cut of the film, but on initial viewing, it’s a little rockier of a film.

The new additions to the cast, especially Brolin’s Cable and Zazie Beetz (Geostorm, Slice) as the lucky mutant Domino, steal a lot of scenes. Cable gets to drive the mythology really well, and I was someone who wasn’t really for Brolin in the role. Don’t get me wrong, I thought he’d be fine, but he wasn’t my first choice. I’m happy to say that I was wrong and Brolin was perfect for both the role and the chemistry he has with the others in the film.

Domino is another character that I didn’t really know would work until I saw the film. From the moment she appears, though, Beetz’s portrayal as an almost sisterly ball-breaking of Wade is phenomenal. Her action sequences are so much fun to watch as well, way better than I had anticipated.

We should talk about the X-Force stuff. I went into this movie knowing that the next adventure for Deadpool (not counting Once Upon a Deadpool) would be X-Force, and there was probably going to be some buildup in this film for it, but the way X-Force is used is amazing and unexpected. Wade even hires a normal man named Peter who has no special powers but he does have a damned good LinkedIn page (which actually exists, by the way) is really funny.

The style of the film is a little less-restrained than the original (if the first film could be called restrained) but the usage of little bits like bringing in Celine Dion to sing the theme song “Ashes” and treating the opening of the film like a James Bond film is really special and memorable. The most important aspect of the Deadpool films has been the laughter and comedy and these are areas where Leitch and Reynolds pull the most out of the screenplay.

I think Deadpool 2 has more flaws than the first film. There’s some story choices and some tonal choices that don’t work as well as I would have liked. The ending is a little underwhelming and predictable. That’s true, but the rest of the film is exemplary. The way it subverts expectations is a lot of fun, and the chemistry between Reynolds, Brolin, and Beetz is the central win of the film. If you missed Deadpool 2 earlier this year, give it a go. It’s a worthy sequel.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

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

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

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

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

For my review of David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde, click here.

 

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Director: J.A. Bayona

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum

Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

I think a lot of people would say, when Jurassic World came out back in 2015, that it was the best film in the series since the original. That may be true. What’s also true is that it was the safest choice to make by following very closely the trajectory of the original film. That’s not really the case with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Fallen Kingdom picks up some time after the events of Jurassic World. The park is closed and deserted. Dinosaurs roam free. But people haven’t forgotten about Isla Nublar. There are groups of dinosaur rights activists, one of which is led by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, Gold) who are trying to protect these precious species. When Claire is given the opportunity to work with a team on the island to save these creatures from certain destruction at the hands of the island’s no-longer-dormant volcano, which is set to erupt, she goes to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lego Movie) for help. With a team assembled, they head back to the island in hopes of saving these creatures, but there’s a much more nefarious reason for this expedition.

Fallen Kingdom got a lot of hate this year for a film that performed so well at the box office. I got married the week it was released so I didn’t actually catch it until it hit home video. This means I was able to temper my expectations, which were high considering that it was directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), a highly-skilled director with a particularly good eye for horror.

What’s great about the choice of Bayona as director is what he brings to the second half of the film. I won’t delve into spoilery territories but there are elements to the back half that are reminiscent of a horror film. And this is really a film of two halves.

The first half of Fallen Kingdom boils down to a standard sequel to Jurassic World. In fact, it’s a plot point hinted at since the original Jurassic Park novel by Michael Crichton that a dormant volcano lies at the center of the island. The second half of the film is ballsy and ambitious. Does the second half work? Some of it did for me. I’ve heard criticisms about the final moments of the film and yes, I agree, they are infuriating for how they play out, but I get it given the character development we’ve seen from these people over the course of two films.

The biggest issue that rises up from me is some of the timing inconsistencies in the film. The opening literally has characters talking about a dinosaur that should be dead by now that are not, and then there are moments brought up later on that do not confirm this timeline. Even co-screenwriter Colin Trevorrow’s answer to the mystery of how much time has passed makes it seem like he really didn’t put much thought or care into the decision of setting the film at a specific distance from Jurassic World.

I think that Fallen Kingdom puts the characters from Jurassic World to better use in a more interesting narrative. Claire is more accessible and, in a lot of ways, this is more her movie whereas the previous film is more Owen-centric.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a really ambitious installment of the franchise, and while I don’t think it really works as well as it should, I found myself engaged with the plot of both halves of the film, and I’m shocked that it was allowed to be made at all. If you haven’t seen this one yet, don’t listen to the naysayers and give it a go. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, and it makes me very excited for where the series will go next.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, click here.

 

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[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.

 

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[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.

 

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwich Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

149 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.

IMDb Top 250: #37 (as of 9/1/2018)

 

Well, it happened. I almost cannot believe it, but it happened. After 10 years and numerous storylines, everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has culminated in this.

Let me say that word again: culminated. I like that word.

So a lot has happened. I’ll try to sum it up as quick as I can.

Thanos (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) has one goal driving his very being: to collect all six Infinity Stones. He already has one, but to get the others, he will have to go through the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, 12 Strong) are quickly dispatched, Thanos sends his minions, The Black Order, to Earth to search for the remaining Earthbound stones while he finds himself facing off with his daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, My Little Pony: The Movie). Now, it’s a fight to protect the stones from the increasingly more dangerous Thanos as the Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, The Child in Time), Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Impossible, Pilgrimage), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall), and others, but do they even stand a chance?

Avengers: Infinity War almost needs to be looked at differently than other films. My goal here and in all my reviews is to look at each within the context that it exists. When I watch a horror film, I look to be scared, thrilled, or shocked. When I watch a comedy, I look to laugh or smile. When I watch a Uwe Boll film, I look to hate myself at the end. Context.

So Avengers: Infinity War needs to be looked at on its own terms as well as how the film changes and shapes the characters in this universe. It’s a season finale of sorts, and it does an incredible job of juggling so many character arcs and stories that have existed within the confines of ten years of storytelling.

Let’s start with the most important arc in the film: Thanos’s. Josh Brolin does the performance capture justice in his work as the Mad Titan. We spend more time with Brolin’s character than anyone else in the film, and for that reason, this is very much Thanos’s film. He’s the protagonist. He is the one with the goal who initiates the action, and our heroes are only trying to stop that mission. He is a believably insane tyrant who moves from planet to planet wiping half of the population out in order to restore order. It’s a crazy idea but he believes it wholeheartedly which makes him all the more frightening. He’s well-written, thoughtful and menacing. There are of course a few similarities to Kurtz from Apocalypse Now or its source novel Heart of Darkness. It’s mostly surface level but it also works pretty well and helped me to understand how his mental faculties would lead him to such a sinister mission.

The rest of the cast get mixed amounts of time, most of them only about 10 minutes onscreen with the biggest characters getting closer to 30 minutes. Thor has one of the better arcs, especially following the opening of the film. He has vengeance in his heart and a plan to stop Thanos. He joins up with Rocket Racoon and Groot to accomplish his mission and it’s an enjoyable and important set of sequences. I would have liked to see a bit more emotion from Hemsworth as the film goes on but he kind of falls back to comedy as a backup.

Mark Ruffalo also gets a lot of time with his journey, especially considering that he spends a lot of the film not being the Hulk. We see a side of both of them that I’m not sure we’ve seen before, and it’s the first time in a while that we see Banner having to deal with not turning into the Hulk.

It’s also nice to give some more time to Gamora, who has gotten some development in the Guardians of the Galaxy films but always as a companion to the others. Now, she has a really interesting relationship with father Thanos. I just wish more time would have been given to further develop the two.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree, Welcome to Collinwood) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pain & Gain) developed what was later termed as strange alchemy, the forcing together of characters that don’t usually spend any time together. This idea works really well and is a large portion of what makes The Avengers films so fun and so anticipated. It’s what I’m looking forward to more than anything else for next year’s Avengers: Endgame.

The Russos did a tremendous job of weaving all of these story threads together while never once sacrificing the flavor that comes with each film. I love that they devoted time to ensure their film would not be ruined for viewers who were not there on opening night. Each of the separated groups further the problem that this team works best together but now they are caught up in different parts just trying to plug a leak, essentially, and these directors and screenwriters never let the story dry up or get stale.

Avengers: Infinity War is not a perfect movie. The ending, upon a second viewing, doesn’t really feel like it has stakes (though that may change next year), and some more character development would be much appreciated, but overall it accomplishes its goals and in context of what the film is trying to be, it succeeds in almost every way. This is an event film if there ever was one, and it is endlessly re-watchable. If you haven’t seen the film yet (and don’t kid yourself, yes you have), then what are you doing? Go. Now. Watch it.

 

4.5/5

-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 Russos’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

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

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

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

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

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

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

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

 

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