[#2020oscardeathrace] Richard Jewell (2019)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser

Screenplay: Billy Ray

131 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Kathy Bates] [PENDING]

 

Director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, The 15:17 to Paris) is back again with another true life tale, this time surrounding the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the aftermath. It’s interesting that Eastwood’s films just kind of show up with a trailer for a movie I didn’t even know existed, and I loved the trailer for this one, so I was quite eager to see it. I only hoped that the film would live up to the hype.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, I, Tonya, Late Night) is a security guard tasked with patrolling Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. On July 27th, Richard discovers a suspicious package at the park and he makes a call that saves many lives when the package is revealed to be a bomb. Richard is seen as a hero. But FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, TV’s Mad Men) believes that Richard may have actually been the man who placed the bomb in Centennial Park. Add to that the story published on the front page of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution written by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, Life Itself) revealing that Jewell is a suspect, and suddenly Richard is no longer the hero but the prime suspect in the eyes of members of the public, the United States government, and the media. Enter Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon), an attorney who befriended Jewell a decade prior, who is out to protect Jewell’s rights and, hopefully, keep him out of jail.

Paul Walter Hauser may not be a bankable leading man, but he knocks his performance out of the park here. I’ve been a fan of Hauser’s since I, Tonya, and he was a standout in BlacKkKlansman and several other films, but he’s at the forefront here, and he does not disappoint.

Hauser is also surrounded by a bevy of big-screen talent. Kathy Bates (Misery, The Highwaymen) portrays Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother, and while she doesn’t get a lot of screen time, she makes use of it, culminating in a powerful scene that earned her an Oscar nomination. Rockwell is also at the top of his game as Bryant, a man trying to help his friend who seemingly doesn’t understand the politics of his situation. Richard keeps saying the wrong thing and Bryant’s biggest battle is not against the FBI or the media but actually changing Richard’s mindset into that of a fighter.

On the opposite side of things, I really didn’t like the characters of Tom Shaw and Kathy Scruggs. From the writing and characterization to the directing, I was unimpressed with these two antagonists that were reduced to mustache-twirling stock villains. I don’t really get Shaw’s motivation for targeting Richard Jewell, and I feel like Scruggs has a motivation, but it’s never really confirmed and only ever inferred. Much love for Hamm and Wilde who did the best with the material, but these were bad characters.

There’s another small detail of the film that took me out of it. Recently, there’s been a trend of using real footage in films based on true events. Several films have enacted this idea, perhaps in an attempt to remind us as viewers that this actually happened, but it only serves to take me out of the film and remind me that I’m watching a recreation. It happens in when an interview between Richard and Katie Couric occurs that uses Hauser’s voice but real footage of Jewell, and I really don’t like it. It loses the realness and the concoction of the actor voice and the subject visual really doesn’t work. It is a small moment, but it does detract from the viewing experience.

I think that Richard Jewell is a fine film, but it suffers from a lack of elements that draw in the viewer. I liked several pieces of the puzzle, but the way Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Gemini Man) deal with their antagonists absolutely falls flat. Hauser is at the top of his game here as is Bates and Rockwell, and overall they keep the film moving in a mostly-satisfying way. This is still one worth seeing, but it feels like the overall impact of the film is missing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Director: Marielle Heller

Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue

109 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role [Tom Hanks] [PENDING]

 

After the success of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, it seemed certain that we would see a Mr. Rogers biopic. I became surprised that we hadn’t already gotten one in the years following his death, but I learned that his estate was primarily concerned with getting it as accurate as possible, and so when it was announced that Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) would be directing the biopic with Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Toy Story 4) playing Mr. Rogers, it seemed to be perfect, but could Hanks pull it off?

In 1998, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, The Report, TV’s The Americans), a journalist for Esquire magazine, is tasked with profiling Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for an issue on heroes. Lloyd’s at a place in his life where he’s known for his cynical and scathing pieces of journalism, and he’s not too keen on writing about Mr. Rogers, but he begrudgingly accepts. Over several meetings, Lloyd and Fred learn quite a lot about each other, and Fred is determined to understand his interviewer and help him come to terms with his past.

I cannot begin to discuss the merits of this film without giving a whole lot of credit to Tom Hanks and his performance as Mr. Rogers. There are a few different ways that Hanks could have approached playing the iconic personality. The worst of these ways would have been to attempt an impersonation of Fred Rogers. Hanks avoids this by purely studying the mannerisms, inflection, and tone of the character and apply it to his performance. No one can be Fred Rogers, and Hanks plays the spirit of who Mr. Rogers is.

The decision made by the screenwriters, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The Motel Life), to focus on a single story of friendship instead of a straight-up biopic was a great choice. I’m so sick of by-the-numbers checklist biopics. I want to see a story. That’s what we get here. It also works since most everyone who has an interest in the life story can watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and get all that. Using Lloyd Vogel as the lens through which we view Mr. Rogers creates an accessibility that really works for understanding Fred Rogers as a human being.

Another benefit of telling a singular story is that director Marielle Heller is able to experiment and really let her artistry shine. She constructs a dream-like quality by creating a framing device that also lets us see Lloyd through Fred’s eyes as well. She also expanded upon the diner scene in the film, and I don’t want to get into the details of it, but that sequence because I want you to experience it for yourself, but it’s the moment that elevates this film to another level.A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is another outstanding feature from Marielle Heller that contains another stunner of a performance from Tom Hanks. This unforgettable film experience is well worth your time, even if you think you know the whole story…so sing it with me:

“Won’t you please, won’t you please,
Please won’t you see this movie?”

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] Marriage Story (2019)

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever

Screenplay: Noah Baumbach

137 mins. Rated R for language throughout and sexual references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Scarlett Johansson] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Adam Driver] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Laura Dern] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #194 (as of 1/14/2020)

 

It must be a pretty good feeling to live in the Baumbach/Gerwig household right now, with writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) and his wife, writer/director Greta Gerwig, both having films in the Best Picture race for Marriage Story and Little Women, respectively. It definitely raises the odds for them.

Marriage Story is the tale of a marriage at its end, focusing on the downward spiral between husband and wife Charlie (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Dead Don’t Die) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing). It’s also a love story that uses the pain of divorce to highlight the beautiful moments that the relationship gave them both. As Charlie starts to see the mistakes he makes with not listening to his wife’s needs, Nicole finds herself down the career path she’s always wanted, and they find that they are going in different directions. Charlie struggles to find adequate representation for the divorce proceedings while Nicole hires a shark attorney, Nora (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, TV’s Big Little Lies). While Charlie and Nicole both want the process to go as painlessly as possible, they find that they are in a system designed to turn their divorce into a war zone.

Marriage Story accomplishes something that is incredible in its storytelling, but it also makes it look easy. Baumbach is able to tell a story about divorce that is, at its core, a love story. Similar to how Taika Waititi told a story about hate that became a story about love with Jojo Rabbit, Baumbach is able to use tragic circumstances to really show how powerful its inverse is. Using his own real-life divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh as a guide, he crafts a screenplay that gives us equal moments of sadness and joy, and his direction is simple enough to focus on his powerhouse performers.

Speaking of powerhouses, I love that everyone in the film is firing on all cylinders here. Driver and Johansson have such great chemistry and they don’t try to out-act the other, instead letting each other have their moments of grandness amidst the strain, struggle, and fighting. There’s a scene near the end of the film that features the two stars in a contentious conversation that is one of the most well-acted scenes of the decade.

Even the supporting cast is spectacular. From the likely-winner Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern to Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, TV’s Shades of Blue) and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, TV’s M*A*S*H) who play potential lawyers for Charlie, everyone in this film is pitch-perfect, and again, none of them are competing for the spotlight. That’s key here. Everyone is as good as they need to be while also supporting the other players. It’s a real teamwork-heavy acting showcase.

Marriage Story is not a happy film even if it is a beautiful one. It plays with the inverse of a marriage crumbling but also seeing all the beauty that the marriage brought in a fascinating way. With an opening that feels like Pixar’s Up, this movie should have had investors from Kleenex because it will break your heart and then tape it back together. While it runs a little longer than it needs to be, it’s a fascinating case study of a relationship that I cannot recommend enough.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Pain and Glory (2019)

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Penelope Cruz

Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar

113 mins. Rated R for drug use, some graphic nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor [Antonio Banderas] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best International Feature Film [PENDING]

 

Someone posed an interesting question to me the other day: Are there any famous filmmakers that you have never seen a film of theirs? I would’ve put Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her, Julieta) on that list, but I had just seen Pain and Glory. So I cannot give my list of the best Almodovar films because I’ve only seen one. Perhaps the best follow-up question is: After seeing Pain and Glory, would you want to see another Almodovar film? The answer, quite simply, is yes.

Salvador (Antonio Banderas, The Mask of Zorro, Life Itself) is an aging film director who has thought very little about returning to the public eye until elements and memories of his past begin to resurface in the form of old broken connections. Now, he has begun the difficult mental and emotional journey through the choices that have brought him here in order to, perhaps, move forward.

Much like Judy, this movie’s gravitational pull surrounds another incredible turn from Banderas, a performer who, I believe, we tend to forget even though he has consistently put his all into his work. His role here as Salvador is another subtle and nuanced one that holds the heart out ready and willing to be seen. This is such an introspective character, one that isn’t flashy but intimate, as if her were sitting in a kitchen with the viewer and having a conversation. It’s the film’s biggest win.

Almodovar has an interesting style here, one that is flashier than I would have expected, but one that is used to accept the mental state of his lead character. All the rest of the elements in the film are in servitude to Banderas. It’s all meant to make him and his character the star, which works well enough. For me, though, it was tough to reconcile some of the flashbacks with Salvador’s mother with where his present-day self. I would rather have taken some avenues to discover more about his previous romantic relationships, something I felt was presented in such a beautiful manner and then left untouched for the rest of the film.

I really enjoyed elements of Pain and Glory, and while the film as a whole was not as strong, to me, as the lead performance by Banderas, I still found it to be a beautiful and emotional experience, one that I will not forget very soon.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Judy (2019)

Director: Rupert Goold

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon

Screenplay: Tom Edge

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking.

Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress [Renee Zellweger] [PENDING]

Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [PENDING]

 

I didn’t know much about Judy Garland outside of The Wizard of Oz, so I was very interested in a biopic about the actress and singer, and I was all the more excited to see Renee Zellweger (Chicago, TV’s What/If) in the lead role. Now, with all the awards talk for Zellweger, I think it’s the right time to discuss this film from director Rupert Goold (True Story, King Charles III).

Judy tells the story of Judy Garland (Zellweger) in 1968 as she performs a series of concerts in London. Judy is still struggling with memories of the past, her time working on The Wizard of Oz, her life being controlled and dictated for her. The pain of her past has led to a reliance on prescription pills and alcohol, and she searches to find a way to get a better financial situation for her and her kids.

Without the performance of Renee Zellweger, I don’t know that Judy, as a film, would work. It’s a perfectly fine narrative, and I especially love the flashbacks to her youth. The actress who plays younger Judy, Darci Shaw, is amazing. I think the rest of the principal cast is fine, but there are times when the pacing doesn’t work.

As I mentioned, the rest of the principal cast does quite well, but make no mistake, Renee Zellweger owns this film with her exemplary performance as Judy Garland. It’s been a while since we’ve seen great Zellweger, and this is probably the best performance of her her entire career. It’s impossible not to be absolutely blown away by her acting and singing in the movie. I can’t see any way that she doesn’t walk away with this Best Actress Oscar.

I think the biggest fault of the film’s marketing campaign is that it was sold as a fairly happy-looking movie, but the finished product is not happy at all. I would say the depressing-to-joyful ratio is 90/10. Those happy moments take some time, and they are isolated, but the wait for them was worth it. I particularly like the sequence where she meets a couple after her show and asks them for dinner. It’s a wonderful sequence and perhaps my favorite in the whole film.

Judy is a solid film with a career-best performance from Zellweger, and it’s the best lead performance from an actress of the entire year. The musical set pieces are wonderful and the cast is filled with solid work from just about everyone. It’s not an easy film to watch, and it definitely isn’t filled with happiness, but then again, it’s exactly the film that would have encompassed the tone of Garland’s final years. Her life was troubled, and it wasn’t filled with only happy moments. All the same, I was so blown away by the lead performance and I cannot recommend this character study enough.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Bombshell (2019)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Charles Randolph

109 mins. Rated R for sexual material and language throughout.

 

Bombshell is a movie I was very excited to see as soon as I caught the trailer. First of all, I didn’t realize it was Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde) under all that makeup, and that shocked and excited me. Also, I was a big fan of Vice, which follows people I don’t much like doing bad things, and I felt like Bombshell had a lot in common with Vice tonally, so that made me all the more excited.

It’s 2016, and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) has made an enemy of Donald Trump by asking him about his comments toward women. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies) has been removed from her place on Fox & Friends, and she is contemplating a lawsuit. At the same time, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Peter Rabbit) has just been hired and she wants to get to the top. When she reaches out to the Head of Fox News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun), she is put into an inappropriate situation by Ailes. Soon after, Gretchen begins a firestorm when she comes forward with sexual harassment claims against Ailes, and Fox News begins to implode in the process.

This movie was painful to watch, and that’s kind of the point. The film’s trailers presented a very chic and stylized film, and while the style is definitely there, the story made me really uncomfortable, and in that way, I really found it to be an effective drama. It’s hard to really explain the techniques, but I think mostly it came from the tremendous acting work across the board and the sharp writing from Charles Randolph (The Big Short, Exposed). Director Jay Roach (Trumbo, All the Way) also elected to focus his camerawork on the performances and the story, which I really respect. The film’s overall effect on me was powerful.

Our three female leads are all incredible, each one owning their screen time quite well. The fact that Margot Robbie is able to hold her own against Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is astounding considering the latter two actresses have been around for awhile and are playing real-life humans, whereas Robbie is an amalgam of other people. Their interactions are fiery and full of so much humanity. It’s astoundingly-performed.

John Lithgow is a disturbing presence as Roger Ailes. I never would have placed him in the role, but he is incredibly slimy and full of so much villainy. His makeup as well as that for Theron and Kidman is incredible, and their strong performances work all the better for the makeup. Having seen recent films like The Grudge, I can say that a poor makeup prosthetic can ruin a good performance and a good one can elevate it.

I also have to throw some love to Connie Britton (American Ultra, TV’s Dirty John) because she won’t get the attention she deserves for her work as Beth Ailes, Roger’s adoring wife. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes in the film, but with that time, she disappears in this role and showcases a woman who believes with all her heart that her husband couldn’t have done anything wrong (that, or she willing ignores it), and it’s shocking how long she is able to keep up with the scandal. In a lot of ways, we like to believe that our loved ones could never do anything to hurt us, and Britton exemplifies that.

Outside of the writing and acting work, there’s nothing too flashy in the film other than the strong production design, which recreates an environment like Fox News, and I think it creates a sense of realism in the film. Director Jay Roach also capably creates connections with people that I don’t really know and makes them realistic.

Bombshell is a strong performance-laden film with some shockingly-good acting work from pretty much the entire team, and its screenplay is incredibly well-constructed to connect with its audience on a cerebral level. It’s not an easy viewing experience but it is well worth it. Outside of those elements, there isn’t a lot of notable wins here, but I highly recommend the film to anyone, whether or not you like the people being portrayed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jay Roach’s All the Way, click here.

Little Women (2019)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Screenplay: Greta Gerwig

135 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking.

 

I’m a major fan of Lady Bird, and though I disagreed with the decision made by its director, Greta Gerwig (Nights and Weekends), to adapt Little Women for her next project, I was interested enough in her as a filmmaker to see it. Truth be told, I do not care for the source material (I’ve read it two or three times throughout my schooling and it just never really got me), and I feel like the six other adaptations probably covered enough ground that making a new version really couldn’t do much to rise above. But, it’s Greta Gerwig, so I was going to support her as a filmmaker. With that, how did Little Women end up?

Little Women follows the March sisters as they navigate growing up and pursuing their dreams. Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna, Mary Queen of Scots) wants to be a writer, and she doesn’t have any interest in love. Meg (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and the Beast) falls in love and is perfectly happy raising a family. Amy (Florence Pugh, The Falling, Fighting with My Family) has talents with her painting, but she has trouble controlling her jealousy. Beth (Eliza Scanlen, Babyteeth, TV’s Sharp Objects) is a musician at heart, but health problems have stayed with her throughout her youth. Through it all, these women try to remain together, even as life attempts to drift them apart.

Like The Irishman, Little Women‘s best attribute is its performances. Across the board, everyone in the film is engaging and powerful and layered. I was primarily interested in Florence Pugh’s take on Amy, a character I am not alone in loathing. Amy is a very difficult character because she’s not a likable character, she makes some truly poor choices, and her growth is slow. With that, though, I cannot give enough credit to Pugh’s take on the character. Pugh is worth seeing even in films that I don’t like, as was the case with Midsommar earlier this year.

Saoirse Ronan is also quite spectacular, as expected. Ronan has a lot of Jo in her already, and she capably steals the screen in every scene. I connected with her mostly because of my career choices, and I understand the troubles she deals with. Jo’s got the most screen time in the film, and we see the scenes that Jo chooses to write about, and it elevates her narration quite well. I particularly like that Gerwig focused Jo’s character on being more work-driven as well.

I think Gerwig, between her screenwriting and directing, packs a lot into such a small run time, and she manages to make a book I didn’t care for into a film that I actually liked. I still didn’t love the film in the same way that I hoped to, having been such a huge fan of Lady Bird. I wanted to love it, but the story, for me, was still lacking. I don’t fault any of the elements for this reason. It’s more the source material that I didn’t care for.

Everything else in the film is so technically well-done also. I was very impressed with the film overall, and I wish that I had loved it in the same way as some of my colleagues, but I overall liked it just fine. It’s just not a film I feel like revisiting.

Little Women is very well-done, and it’s a film that deserves to be seen by fans of the novel or people who haven’t even read it. I don’t think it will win over those who didn’t like the source material, but I would say that I think this is an adaptation that is better than the novel it is based on. Fight me.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, click here.

 

The Irishman (2019)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

Screenplay: Steven Zaillian

209 mins. Rated R for pervasive language and strong violence.

IMDb Top 250: #221 (as of 1/2/2020)

 

It took a long time to make, and it took a long time to watch, but The Irishman has arrived. It’s a weighty tome of a crime epic, and it’s a crazy mixture of classic Scorsese gangster films and more contemplative, thoughtful filmmaking. It’s also, according to Scorsese himself, Cinema. Now let’s just see if it’s as good as I hoped.

Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Joker) stars as Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who climbs the ranks of organized crime, making friends but working for himself. Frank gets involved with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci, Goodfellas, Love Ranch) of the Bufalino crime family and befriends Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, Serpico, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood), a teamster with connections to illegal activity. Now, Frank, as an old man, reflects on the countless acts that raised him higher in the world of organized crime and, perhaps, why he’s so alone now.

The first and most notable strength of The Irishman is in its performances. There’s not a single squeaky wheel in the whole production, but specifically the three leads are giving truly strong, as expected, performances. There’s a level of restraint to each of them, specifically De Niro’s quiet, contemplative Frank. Frank consistently makes the decision to put his responsibilities to his work above most of his friends and all of his family, and De Niro capably performs each of these periods of Frank’s life with ease.

Al Pacino’s take on Jimmy Hoffa is more restrained than the usual Pacino performances (with all due respect), but he plays Hoffa’s arrogance with precision. Pacino does a whole lot with a smaller amount of screen time. Jimmy Hoffa has been played by several major actors, and Pacino provides another unique and worthwhile take on the teamster.

The most surprising turn of the lead actors is Joe Pesci’s triumphant return to the screen with Russell Bufalino. Pesci has been off the acting tree for the last decade, and I don’t recall seeing him in a movie since The Good Shepherd. Does Pesci seem like he’s been missing from acting? No, not at all! He’s incredible, and he’s so subdued. I think that’s why he’s so good here as well. In so many appearances, Joe Pesci is the loud one, the violent one, but here, he’s quiet, he’s thoughtful, and he’s engaging.

This is Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story) at his most contemplative. He’s using new themes like mortality and blending them with his mobster morality to create something we haven’t seen within the shell of something familiar. This is why we keep seeing characters popping up with their date and cause of death. We begin to see that, like with most people, his circle of friends, family, and confidantes gets smaller, but that becomes more accelerated due to his choice of work. It’s a sadder film, and it’s a film that Scorsese couldn’t have made even ten years ago.

The Irishman is not perfect, though, and its cardinal problem is its pacing. It doesn’t bother me that the film is long, but there are pacing issues that plague that lengthy run time. It didn’t sustain a speed to match the length. It sustained my interest, but not in the way that Scorsese’s have done before.

I also believe that the film does not showcase its aging technology as perfectly as I had hoped. There are moments that look incredible, and then certain shots and sequences in the film do not work at all. I don’t mind that Frank seems to move like he’s an older gentleman throughout his entire life, but some of it looked like plastic. Not enough to ruin the film, but it is noticeable enough to remind you that it’s there.

The Irishman isn’t a traditional epic in every sense, but it mostly works. It’s a view of an aging mobster seen through the eyes of an aging filmmaker, and it’s reflective and quiet and contemplative. It’s an incredible story and film, one worth its run time, one that I cannot wait to watch again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Screenplay: Taika Waititi

108 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.

 

From the moment I first heard that Writer/Director/Actor Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) was planning on writing, directing, and acting in a Nazi comedy about a boy with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler, and that Waititi would be playing Hitler, I was immediately concerned, confused, and a little unsure what to think. Then, the first still came out, and it didn’t really help. In my mind, I’ve never been let down by Waititi, but it’s a tall order to accomplish something like Jojo Rabbit. Thankfully, wonderfully, Waititi is able to do the impossible yet again, making a film about hate that becomes about so much more.

Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) doesn’t have many friends outside of his buddy Yorki and his imaginary friend, Adolf. When he attends a Hitler youth training camp, he hopes to impress Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) by showing off his fierceness and prowess, but things do not go the way he plans. His mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) seems to have an alternative idea of the war and Nazism, but she hides it. Jojo learns that’s not all she hides when he comes across a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace, The King), in a hidden space in her room. As Jojo struggles with how to treat his treasonous mother and the girl in the crawl space, he is forced to make a choice that could alter everything he’s ever known.

It’s been stated a lot, but the first ten minutes of this movie made me pretty uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the very way it sets up the world of wartime Germany near the end of WWII. It puts you right in Jojo’s world, and that world was not one I felt okay being in until the plot really started to move. Davis does good work in his first major role as Jojo. It’s a tough character because even though he’s a child and seemingly doesn’t know any better, he’s still a Nazi child. His worldview has been painted for him with signs of Jewish evil and demons and some truly disturbing things. It’s not an easy viewing and even though it has some really funny moments, it’s also a movie I felt strange for laughing during.

As with a film like 1917, which I recently reviewed here, Davis is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, ranging from Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic) as Fräulein Rahm, an instructor at the youth camp (the best she’s ever been), to Alfie Allen (John Wick, TV’s Game of Thrones) as Finkel, the second-in-command to Rockwell’s Klenzendorf, who finally gets to stretch some comedic muscles and does a very fine job. Rockwell is awesome in this movie, and he yet again excels at playing those fringe characters who are really bad guys but he puts an emotional spin on them to really connect with the audience.

It is Waititi’s Adolf that is most interesting in that he’s playing an imaginary friend who looks like Hitler but is very much just a visage of Jojo’s interpretation of how Hitler would be to him, a child. Waititi’s portrayal of this imaginary friend rides the line very nicely between silliness and seriousness, and he’s essentially just Jojo, so it never felt like an out-of-place idea to have Hitler appearing in the film.

I can’t think of anyone else that can make a movie quite like Taika Waititi. His eye is unique and his style works well with certain stories. With Jojo Rabbit, he mines real-world events and circumstances for comedy, pointing out the ridiculousness of the beliefs that Jojo has, and he pushes them into the audience consciousness. He views wartime Germany as a bustling and more happy place that most films have chosen to, but it makes sense. To Jojo and the other townspeople, they are really winning, whether they really believe it or not, their wanting to believe it is too strong for most. There is a bubbling-under-the-surface fear that is present and permeating, and that foreboding feeling like things will not turn out that way, but it’s covered in a layer of liveliness, something that we don’t usually get in these types of films.

Jojo Rabbit is surprisingly good, but after this any hits, it’s tough to doubt Taika Waititi’s abilities in any way. He has consistently made great films across his career, and Jojo Rabbit is no exception. This isn’t always the happiest viewing experience (Waititi mixes tones elegantly enough to hit hard when the film requires it), and I found myself more nervous-laughing than downright bellying over with giggles, but that’s not what this film requires. What it does require is your attention, though. Go see Jojo Rabbit as soon as you can.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.

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

Kyle’s Top Ten Worst Films of 2019

2019 has ended. It has, and we have to deal with it. There were amazing movies, and there were stinky movies. We can’t hide that. I was blessed in that there were fewer awful films and quite a few just disappointing films, so the year didn’t hurt me like I have been before.

Just a few notes while we get things going here:

  • I didn’t see every film in 2019. That means I didn’t see all the bad movies in 2019. This is just a list of the lowest ranking movies I saw.
  • This is my personal list. You may have liked some of these. I just didn’t. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
  • I still have not seen The Emoji Movie from 2017. Sticking it out.

Alright, let’s just get it going…

 

10. Cats

To be honest, I didn’t hate Cats. It actually hurt me quite badly to put in on the list because I didn’t want to get on the hate bandwagon, but there’s one thing that forced my hand. The reason Cats is on this list is because the studio felt it was “okay” to release this movie with unfinished visual effects. Sure, they decided to “fix” them by sending out an updated version only two days later, but by this point, they had basically screwed over the fans that showed up opening night. So not a great move. I caught the film with the unfinished visual effects and it kept taking me out of the movie, spoiling the insanity that I was mildly enjoying.

 

9. The Secret Life of Pets 2

This sequel just should not have happened. The first film wasn’t all that great, but this sequel ended up completely ruining their characters, making none of the pets nor humans very enjoyable to watch. If the worst sin is being boring, The Secret Life of Pets 2 is guilty as well. It was nice to see Harrison Ford show up, but I’m certain that someone just put a mic on him and recorded, and he was likely not even aware that he was voicing the dog. The worst part of it all is that this was supposed to be about the Secret Life of Pets, and neither this film nor its predecessor utilize this idea.

 

8. Jexi

I just wish this film wasn’t marketed as a comedy. I hate when a marketing campaign doesn’t understand the film its marketing. Oh wait, this was supposed to be a comedy? Seriously? Well, I must have missed something because I don’t remember laughing at all. Jexi was a terribly unfunny movie filled with really poor attempts at jokes. Her was a better and funnier version of this story and Jexi just seems both lazy and a little too late to work at all. Now that I know it was a comedy, I’m even more broken up by the experience.

 

7. Child’s Play

I hate that this movie exists. Don’t get me wrong, I actually was fairly won over by the marketing campaign, which was brilliant at poking fun at the release date they shared with Toy Story 4. Yeah, I was actually pretty excited to see it after all that, but I hate the disrespect that MGM was showing to the creators of the franchise. The whole backstory is rather convoluted, but suffice it to say that the main franchise is still going on and has new installments on the way. Still, I went to see it, and it was bad. Outside of Mark Hamill, nothing worked in this poorly constructed film.

 

6. Rent Live

Rent Live aired earlier this year, and I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t really care for Rent as a musical. But I really didn’t like this version of Rent, done live as a sort-of concert experience on a square stage visible from all sides. None of it really worked, I was with Rent fans that seemed disappointed, and overall, I was just incredibly bored throughout the whole affair. I just wanted it to end. It’s one of the worst versions of this musical I’ve yet to see, and I hope I never have to sit through that one again.

 

5. Overcomer

You all know that I don’t try to hate on religious cinema. There are religious movies that I love and adore, but some of these movies are so schmaltzy and without any reality. Overcomer is one of those movies. I just don’t find any of these characters interesting or layered enough to maintain energy for 90-some minutes. Overcomer was just kind of boring, and I didn’t connect to the narrative or really anything.

 

4. The Dirt

You know, I was very excited for this Motley Crue biopic coming off Bohemian Rhapsody and with the excitement of the incoming Rocketman. This film, from the director of the Jackass films, was just not good at all. The focus was placed on the debauchery of the band and not on creating realistic characters or anything worth watching. It’s exactly what you would expect the director of the Jackass films would do with a Motley Crue biopic. There were two small elements/scenes that worked, but it was too much ugh and not enough good.

 

3. Five Feet Apart

I was given the book for Five Feet Apart upon entering the press screening, and I decided to read it after seeing the incredibly disappointing film. The book wasn’t all that good either. I just felt like this movie didn’t offer anything worthwhile on its premise, which I initially found intriguing. The film could’ve put something interesting into its premise and before long it devolved into a typical cliche teen romance flick. Once it got there, I was over it and I never got back in.

 

2. Playmobil: The Movie

I heard terrible things about Playmobil, but I had no idea what I was getting into. I now know, but this movie hurt real bad. This was a bad ripoff of The Lego Movie and just like so many of the other ripoffs, this one doesn’t work because it isn’t about anything. When your movie begins with a musical number followed by the awkward death of parents, it just isn’t going to maintain much else. Playmobil was real dumb and real forgettable.

 

1. Walk. Ride. Rodeo.

This supposedly true story of a rodeo rider who gets paralyzed and continues to fight for her ability to ride once again is the stuff of Lifetime Movies nightmares. It’s on Netflix right now, and it’s not good. There just isn’t a single part of this movie that works. I just don’t even want to talk about it anymore. It’s my least-favorite film of 2019.

 

So there it is. These are my least-favorite films of the year.

Glad that’s over. Is there something I missed here? What did you think was the worst movie of the year? Let me know/Drop a comment down below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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