Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2019

Hello once again!

2019 was crazy. The end of another decade! Another year where everything in my personal and professional life. Now, as we awkwardly segue into a new decade, let’s take a look back at the year that was in film. If you enjoy reading my list, give a listen to St. Paul Filmcast, where Nick Palodichuk counted down the best of 2019, the best of the decade, and more!

Now for our obligatory stipulations and notes:

-I did not see every film that was released in 2019. That would be an impossibility, but I did see quite a few. Of course, as always, life happens and some films were missed. So if you don’t see something on this list, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. It just means I may have missed something it…or it doesn’t belong.

-These are my personal selections of films from the year. These are not predictions for Best Picture at the Oscars or films that are undeniably the 10 best films of the year, hands down, full stop. Some films have different placements at the end of the year than they would have based on their initial scoring, and even though some of them had major flaws, enjoyment can go a long way.

 

Alright, no more fluff. Let’s just do this thing…

 

Honorable Mentions:

Alita: Battle Angel, Ready or Not, Knives Out, Shazam!, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

 

10. Us

I said in my initial review for Us that, while I think Get Out is an overall better film for Jordan Peele, Us is the one I find myself going back to more often. Peele takes a classic story of doppelgangers and turns it into a story of classes and the versions of ourselves that we hide away. Us is a great example that it’s not the story you tell but how you tell it that creates a truly great film. It’s the best horror film of 2019, a year where the gems were tougher to find. It’s genuinely one of the more enjoyable experiences of the year as well, mining everything from its premise.

 

9. Jojo Rabbit

Director Taika Waititi had a nearly impossible task of creating a film about Nazi Germany starring a Nazi child who has an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler that pokes fun and also creates a worthy narrative. He succeeded in ways I never would have thought with Jojo Rabbit. It isn’t as funny as other Waititi films but it certainly has heart in all the right places. The film takes a story that starts celebrating hate and turns it into a story that celebrates love. It’s truly a cinematic achievement that proves Waititi can do just about anything.

 

8. Toy Story 4

I can’t believe how much I loved Toy Story 4. I’ve never been a giant Toy Story fan but I found myself being won over by Toy Story 3, and while I felt it was a great film with a serviceable ending to the series, I now realize how much better Toy Story 4 is at ending the story. What Toy Story 4 does better is that it understands that Andy’s never been the character we’ve been following. It’s always been Woody. The focus of this fourth installment is paying off the character beats that the first three films set up for Woody. It’s a heartfelt, emotional, and very funny new film in a franchise that has continued to impress audiences.

 

7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Can You Ever Forgive Me? surprised the hell out of me when it came out last year. Not only was it the best performance of Melissa McCarthy’s career, but it was also a great showcase for director Marielle Heller, who crafted a film that, on the outset, sounds kind of boring. When she decided to tackle a Mr. Rogers biopic, I was unsure, but the inspired choice to cast Tom Hanks as the legendary television personality worked incredibly well. Hanks elected to play the essence of Mr. Rogers and not do an impression, and that decision also paid off nicely. There’s one specific scene in the film that pushed it past mere biographical film and into a life-changing experience, and if you’ve seen it, I think you’ll know which one: the diner scene. I won’t get any further into it so you can enjoy it for yourself, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, like the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, was a life-changing experience.

 

6. Rocketman

Rocketman was the first film this year that I felt could have been my favorite of the year, and it outlasted quite a few as the year went on. This Elton John biopic is really more a musical based on John’s work than a 100% true-to-life biopic. Again, it gets more of the essence of Elton than a certifiable account, and for that, it’s all the more magical. Dexter Fletcher showcases his unique voice once again with his second collaboration with Taron Egerton, who may miss out on the awards love this year, but he’s on the path to being a true superstar performer. If the film has any one problem, it’s that its framing device, a very Dewey Cox-inspired look back at his whole life, is a bit simple, but it works. Check out Rocketman. Absolutely.

 

5. Parasite

Just like a parasite itself, this movie stayed with me, feeding off me. I simply cannot stop thinking about it. Bong Joon Ho creates a strange amalgam of comedy, horror, suspense, and drama in this unique and singular experience that needs to be seen to be believed. Parasite is better when you don’t know as much, so I’ll leave the details out of it, but this movie, like Us, is a film about many things, most notably and powerfully class, the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-notes, and its title is evocative of so many element in the film. Parasite deserves to be on everyone’s Top Ten of the year.

 

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4. Avengers: Endgame

I mean, c’mon! Avengers: Endgame is absolutely incredible. Sure, you can make the argument that it only works as well as it does because of the previous twenty-some films that came before, but it’s an accomplishment that Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers stuck the landing. It’s a big-budget television series and this is the series finale that works especially well. The snappy and quick editing help to gloss over some of the sillier and nonsensical things in the films, and it’s just damn fun. That means a lot. It’s a three-hour movie that rushes by, and even though it’s the twenty-second film, it never feels like a slog or a rehash. A pitch-perfect ending that makes me only more curious for what’s next.

 

3. 1917

I was blessed to see 1917 in 2019 (the film doesn’t open wide until later this month), and it’s a powerhouse World War I film, and one of the best war films ever made. Director Sam Mendes clearly learned a lot from his time with the James Bond franchise, and working with Director of Photography Roger Deakins, he was able to plan out a war epic that’s made to look like a single shot. The amount of work that goes into a movie like 1917 is staggering. I couldn’t make a movie like this. There are few who can. It’s a surprisingly-touching film about wartime brothers and the cost of something as simple as delivering a message. 1917 is an epic experience.

 

2. The Farewell

The Farewell is quite different from 1917 in terms of its overall style, choosing to go small instead of big, but that doesn’t change its overall impact. Lulu Wang takes an interesting story and populates it with layered and warm characters who deal with a problem that there really is no right solution to. The film follows Awkwafina’s Billi as she learns that her grandmother is dying and her family has chosen not to tell her, instead fabricating a family wedding in order to see her one last time. It’s a film about culture clash and ethical questions that is surprisingly funny at the same time, and the ending absolutely broke me. Seriously, Kleenex should have invested in this film. The Farewell flew under some radars in 2019, but it shouldn’t fly under yours. Seek it out immediately.

 

1. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Here we are. My favorite film of the year. I cannot deny how many times I have watched Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. It keeps drawing me back in, and each time I see it, I discover something else I like about it. Quentin Tarantino has crafted the ultimate hangout film that feels like it was pulled right out of the 60s, and some of my earlier criticisms have softened each time I’ve watched it. I get why some out there won’t like this movie. My wife wasn’t big on it, but for me, this movie is built on a central relationship between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, a relationship stronger than just about any other in 2019. It’s an awesomely fun time at the movies, and it’s my favorite film of 2019.

 

So there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I’m looking forward to the #2020oscardeathrace to begin, and the list may change a bit once that happens. No one sees everything. So what is your Top Ten Films of 2019? I’d love to hear it. Thanks again for a great 2019 and we will see you in 2020 (which is, of course, right now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

 

Well, we’ve come to the end, haven’t we? I guess, in the grand scheme of things, this is the third end, but who is really counting? With Episode IX, the Skywalker Saga has come to an end…for now, at least. Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) came on to an impossible task of ending the nine-film saga, the sequel trilogy itself, and make a less-divisive film than The Last Jedi. He also had to work around the death of one of his stars, Carrie Fisher (Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy). He also had the, perhaps unfair, perception that he’s much better at starting a story than finishing one. So with all that, is The Rise of Skywalker the perfect film that delivers on all of its goals. As it turns out, it’s more of a mixed bag.

It’s been a year since The Last Jedi, and the crumbling resistance fighters have gained a few additions but still pale in comparison with the size of the dreaded First Order, now under the leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, Marriage Story). Now, a strange message has been sent across the galaxy, seemingly coming from the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, The Lost City of Z, Sleepy Hollow), and it’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Ophelia) and her friends to discover his location before he unleashes his new Final Order upon the galaxy.

I think the best way to describe this final film in the Skywalker Saga is “Great Story, Poor Execution.” I had loads of fun in this movie, and I quite enjoyed the experience when I saw it a second time, but there are a lot of strange choices made, particularly in the screenplay and the editing, that I just didn’t understand. I don’t need everything explained for me in a movie, but some of the plot progression happens just because…

The inclusion of Carrie Fisher in this film had to come as a difficult decision. Ultimately, Abrams decided to utilize unused footage from The Force Awakens to create a performance for Leia in the film. Does it work? Kind of. I still stand by my thoughts that it would have served the character and the story better to just not have Fisher in the film and announce in the opening crawl that “Our princess has passed” or something similar. I think for what he tried to do, I can commend Abrams for getting Leia in the film, and the second viewing softened my criticism in the realm of Leia.

Adam Driver is absolutely stellar as Kylo Ren. I don’t agree entirely with the route taken in this film with Kylo Ren, but Driver’s performance sold me on it. Again, Kylo’s arc is one I felt would be better going one way, but the filmmakers decided to take it the expected route. Overall, he surprised me yet again as Ren.

J.J. Abrams did manage to get the galactic Scooby gang together for a bulk of this film. It was crazy to me that Rey and Poe (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, The Addams Family) met for the first time officially in The Last Jedi at the end of the film. The Last Jedi also managed to keep most of our heroes separate for a bulk of the runtime, so it’s great that they are all on a journey together. These areas are where a bulk of the lightheartedness of the film takes place and elevates what could be a very dreary story.

Daisy Ridley’s arc as Rey is another tough one to pull off, and I think her performance rises above expectations because of Ridley’s inherent charm onscreen. She’s a fun character and one that the audience has no problems rooting for. Again, there are some twists and turns to her character arc, some I did not expect and didn’t think would work, and they mostly did.

As far as legacy characters go, no one had a better showcase in this film than C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, The Lord of the Rings). This is 3PO at his most funny and probably most utilized since the first film. Anthony Daniels continues to prove why this franchise continues to go to the C-3PO well.

The rest of the cast all perform ably, and any faults can be attributed to the screenplay. Newcomers Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth, Yardie) and Keri Russell (Waitress, TV’s The Americans) are both quite entertaining, but their characters seek only to convolute an already bloated screenplay. The subplot involving General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, Frank, Peter Rabbit) and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is well-acted, but it didn’t need to be in the film and is ultimately meaningless. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Man in 3B) back as Lando Calrissian, but he isn’t given a whole lot to do, and one wonders why he wasn’t included earlier. It seems odd for him to just show up now.

Ian McDiarmid’s return to the franchise does give an overall feeling of cohesiveness to the saga, but Palpatine’s plans for Rey and Kylo just don’t really make sense all around. I love the visual look of Palpatine and the environment he appears in (in fact, some of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused concept art from decades ago was put to good use here), but again, it feels like lazy storytelling and I didn’t get the sense that there was detail in the screenplay because the story lacked a lot, not in how Palpatine is back, but why he waited until now and how he manages to do what he does in the film.

I think the problems of The Rise of Skywalker all stem from the fact that Lucasfilm did not have a plan for this trilogy. By not putting the three directors in a room with someone like Dave Filoni who can offer guidance in crafting a cohesive long-form story. Not having a plan forced Abrams to do a lot of heavy lifting here and it created a film with an interesting and exciting finale that lacked direction because so much is jammed into a movie. Having Chris Terrio as a writer may also have created some problems in the screenplay. While I think Terrio is quite talented, he seems to have a lot of trouble with franchise storytelling, most notably from his tie working on the DCEU. It also feels like The Rise of Skywalker would have fared batter as a three-hour film. That and tightening up the MacGuffin-filled narrative would have helped the film to be more successful in its execution.

I still think The Rise of Skywalker turned out better with Abrams than it would have with Colin Trevorrow behind the wheel. The number one thing here is whether the film is entertaining an enjoyable, and problems and nitpicks aside, there’s a lot to love in this finale. The film is filled with fun surprises, callbacks and appearances, and the score from John Williams is absolutely awe-inspiring. A better screenplay and some more cohesive editing could’ve helped quite a bit, but this is a hell of an action-packed conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

 

3.5/5

-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 Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, 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 my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

[Early Review] Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Director: Jake Kasdan

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito

Screenplay: Jack Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language.

 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle kind of surprised everyone when it came out back in 2017. I was not expecting much, and similar to Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the trailers left me not knowing what to expect. Was it a true sequel to the original film or an updated remake? Why exactly did it exist at all? Well, upon seeing it, I and many like me were in shock with how much fun it was, and I was looking forward to a sequel. The question, however, still remained: could director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Sex Tape) do it again?

It’s been some time since Spencer (Alex Wolff, Hereditary, Dude) and his friends had their journey in Jumanji, and now they are out of high school. It seems like everything is going well for them, except that Spencer is depressed, missing the purpose he once had in the game, and he decides to go back, but the game is broken, and it’s starting to glitch. When Martha (Morgan Turner, Invincible, Wonderstruck), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain, Literally Right Before Aaron, TV’s Charmed), and Bethany (Madison Iseman, Annabelle Comes Home, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween) learn that Spencer is in Jumanji, they decide to go in after him, but with the game glitching, they end up not choosing their characters, and the game has pulled in two other unlikely allies to join them on the journey.

The Next Level does not reinvent the franchise in the way that its predecessor did, but it’s still a fine and funny little adventure. Again, our main avatars are a lot of fun. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas) is probably the most mixed of the performances here, as his impression of Danny DeVito (Matilda, Dumbo) has its hits and misses, never getting to the groan-worthy level but never being flat-out spot-on either.

This is perhaps my favorite performance by Kevin Hart (Ride Along, The Secret Life of Pets 2) in any film. How he melds Moose Finbar with Milo Walker (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon, The Dead Don’t Die) is comedy gold.

We also get new to the series Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight, Between Two Ferns: The Movie) as Ming, a stereotyped video game character that proves that whatever spirits were in charge of creating the Jumanji game were pretty prejudiced. In fact, let’s see that movie next time. Back to Awkwafina though, who proves herself capable of melding the comedy, the action, and the emotion of playing Ming as an avatar.

The adventure this time around is a little zanier, a little more wild, and I personally felt, considerably less difficult. Seriously, the fact that Smolder and Moose are both pretty worthless for a bulk of the film, the actual gameplay of getting through Jumanji goes a lot simpler for the players. I guess I could write it off as a game that adjusts difficulty for its players, but is it really?

Jumanji: The Next Level doesn’t bring anything crazy to the franchise. It’s a lot funnier than the previous film and the action is quite fun to behold, and even though Jake Kasdan aims for the stars, it isn’t altogether a more cohesive and sensible follow-up. There’s a lot in the movie that doesn’t really make sense and some things that stretch belief, even in a film like this. All in all, fans of Welcome to the Jungle will have a lot of fun. I sure did, but I don’t think this is the one to win over critics of the previous installment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jake Kasdan’s Sex Tape, click here.

[Early Review] 1917 (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Dubercq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Screenplay: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

119 mins. Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.

 

I knew very little of 1917 until I caught it at an early screening. The single trailer I had seen looked impressive, but I didn’t know about the task of creating the film that led to its most incredible and jaw-dropping feat, the fact that it was filmed and styled to look as though it were shot in a single take. At first thought, this film seemed like one that’s narrative may not allow for something as difficult as that to actually successfully happen, so how did it all turn out?

Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Before I Go to Sleep, Blinded by the Light) has been tasked with delivering an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Avengers: Endgame), and he has less than 24 hours to do it, as Mackenzie and his men are about to walk into an ambush that could lead to the deaths of 1,600 soldiers, including Blake’s older brother. Now, Blake and his fellow soldier and friend, Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic, Been So Long), have precious hours to complete their mission, and time is their greatest enemy in the journey.

Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go) always has a unique vision to his projects, and 1917 is no exception. It would seem that his time with the James Bond films has upped his ambition, and 1917 proves to be his most challenging visual film. As I stated earlier, he and cinematographer Roger Deakins (the greatest DP is history, just saying) have crafted their film to look as though it was shot in one long-continuous take. This requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, as obviously their mission took longer than 120 minutes, but it’s more about the journey it puts the audience in than the realistic time-frame of the mission. For the most part, too, it’s an incredible feat of filmmaking. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the expertly-planned shots, and it did trick some people into thinking the film was done in a single-take.

Care should also be given to the editing. A film like 1917 wouldn’t work without someone able to stitch the whole thing together and create the illusion of a single-shot, single-take. The pacing of the overall film as sequences flow from one to another is only able to keep interest if the editing works, and it does.

Our two leads in Chapman and MacKay do some pretty good work together. Neither of them are the best of the year performers, but given minimal dialogue and a mostly physical performance from both, there’s a level of strained-friendship and brotherhood between the two of them, something that war and battle have the ability to create in its soldiers.

The screenplay, Mendes’s first, co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairnes, is mostly incredible, but I feel like it didn’t service the two leads with enough character development to really flesh them out for the audience. There’s some emotional beats in the film that would have been better served if the characters were more-layered early on in the film. Blake and Schofield are developed through their actions quite nicely, but I just needed more character.

The rest of the supporting cast is exemplary in the film. In order to elevate the two relative newcomers in the lead roles, Mendes and the casting director placed as many upper-talent supporting roles in place to help, and it’s great to see so many fine actors supporting the journey, and it works to elevate MacKay and Chapman through interaction.

1917 is an excellent war film, one of the best ever put to film. This is an instant classic in so many ways as it illustrates the unrelenting nature of battle and war and the toll it takes on those involved. It’s also a story of brotherhood among soldiers and a promise made, and I was absolutely enthralled in it from start to finish. For a film done seemingly in one shot, there are countless sequences that are seared into my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. This will stay with you long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sam Mendes’s Spectre, click here.

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for some language and peril.

 

It’s weird how much I love racing films and movies about cars because I really have no interest or knowledge of them in real life. It doesn’t matter to me if they are true stories, like the one we’re going to talk about today, or if they exist in varying degrees of over-the-top insanity, like the Fast and the Furious franchise or Speed Racer. I just love car and racing films, so I was very excited to see Ford v Ferrari. I heard a lot of festival buzz and award love coming from my colleagues, and now I’m ready to talk about it.

Ford Motors is looking for a way to boost their sales, and Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Accountant) has an idea: purchase the financially-struggling Ferrari, but when their offer is declined and they are made fools of, Henry Ford II orders Iacocca to assemble a team capable of beating Ferrari at the difficult and dangerous 24 Hours of Le Mans. Iaccoca goes to Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot), who actually won Le Mans some years earlier, to help with this daunting task, and Shelby goes to the difficult-to-handle racer and mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) to get behind the wheel. As race day nears, time is short and concerns run wild, and Shelby and Miles learn that the difficulties in winning the race may come from Ford itself.

Ford v Ferrari is damn good, and a lot of that comes from the performances of both Damon and Bale. Damon biggest reason in taking the role of Shelby was getting the chance to work with Bale, and the two have very strong chemistry as they go at the various problems of their quest from different angles. Damon’s performance is rather subdued and subtle, whereas Bale’s is more flashy and juicy, but that isn’t to knock either. They both play to exactly their strengths and exactly the character they need to, but neither is trying to steal the spotlight from the other.

The unspoken star of the film is Bernthal as Iacocca. He’s the unspoken star of just about everything he’s in, and he never gets the credit he deserves. His way of dancing between friend and for in an effort to complete the monumental task he is assigned is really interesting and strong, and it’s only because of Bernthal that the character is as memorable as he is.

Director James Mangold (Logan, Knight and Day) certainly understands how to direct action from his time on films like 3:10 to Yuma and the X-Men franchise, and he does not disappoint here. It’s tricky work making a race look cinematic, although Mangold’s handle on it makes it look easy. Remember this is a film about people driving in circles for 24 hours, and yet, I almost never noticed that realization.

My biggest faults with the film lie in the somewhat bloated run time and the way it orchestrates its final scenes. This film did not need 152 minutes. It could have easily chopped off 20 minutes or so. In fact, they could cut the last few minutes quite simply as well. There’s a few scenes at the end, after the race is over, that I feel are unneeded and don’t serve the narrative. You can say that the sequences shown are important information, but we must remember that this is a film and the characters need to serve the story. I don’t feel like the last few minutes of the film do that, but that’s just me.

James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is an excellent racing movie, and it’s an excellent story of friendship between two unlikely men with a shared passion. Both Matt Damon and Christian Bale are great together, and the film is supported by some impressive supporting players as well. I highly recommend this one.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Director: Gary Dauberman

Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

106 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

The Conjuring Universe had a big year with the release of the distantly-related The Curse of La Llorona and the film we’re going to talk about today, the third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh film in the universe, Annabelle Comes Home. How does it fit within the framework and does it successfully continue expanding the franchise mythos? Let’s find out.

Ed (Patrick Wilson, The Phantom of the Opera, Aquaman) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Captive State) have taken possession of the haunted doll Annabelle, and now she sits within a glass protective case in a locked room of their home. No one is allowed access. When they depart on an overnight trip for work, their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, Gifted, Captain Marvel) is left with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween). They are both well-aware to stay away from the room and its many dangerous items, but Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife, Twisted Sisters, TV’s Youth & Consequences) comes over and inadvertently leaves the room unlocked. Now, the spirit attached to Annabelle has awakened everything that resides in the room, and it’s up to Judy and Mary Ellen to survive the night and get Annabelle back in her case.

My biggest criticism of Annabelle Comes Home is that I didn’t find the film scary at all. That’s not a big fault on it because, while not being very scary, this installment is loads of fun. I loved visiting the many different corners of creep within the Warren’s protection room. I really liked the new additions of the Ferryman and the Samurai warrior of the Oni (though I’m not yet convinced that either one could carry its own film), and there are a lot of cool setups and sequences in the film. I kind of wish that the werewolf was saved for The Conjuring 3 because it has a really cool story attached to it and could’ve made a really cool standalone film, but that’s not where The Conjuring 3 is going now.

I think part of the problem with the lack of tension and fear in the film is the director, Gary Dauberman. Dauberman is known for having a hand in a lot of horror in recent years, including several other Conjuring Universe films and It, but he’s never directed, and I don’t think he was as successful in building the tension. He has the ability to create fear on the page, but he needs some more practice on creating it on the screen.

I really liked the dynamic between Judy and Mary Ellen. I think Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman have great chemistry, which is very good considering so much of the film relies heavily on these two performances. On the other hand, I was less than impressed by Katie Sarife. It’s a mixture of some poor writing for the character, making her a bit too unlikable, and the performance, which just didn’t do anything for me.

I like the addition of Ed and Lorraine Warren to the story. I think, while not starring in the film, they add a layer of validity to the story and really help to bring this whole universe together. It always felt to me that The Conjuring films were seen as higher importance because Ed and Lorraine never appeared in the other films, but I think that the way they are utilized here really helps with the connective tissue that a universe thrives on.

Annabelle Comes Home is in the middle ground of the Annabelle series and the Conjuring Universe as a whole, and this sounds like a criticism, but it really isn’t. I had a lot of fun watching the movie, but it doesn’t capture horror the way both Conjuring films or the superior Annabelle: Creation did. It’s still miles ahead of the first Annabelle film, showing that the filmmakers know how to learn from their mistakes, and it creates a bright new avenue for where this franchise can go next. Check out Annabelle Comes Home for all that creepy Night at the Museum-level fun.

 

3.5/5

-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 Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

Parasite (2019)

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Jo Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-sik, Park So-dam, Lee Jeong-eun, Jang Hye-jin

Screenplay: Han Jin Won, Bong Joon-ho

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

IMDb Top 250: #45 (as of 11/14/2019)

 

Parasite really exploded onto the film scene in such a dynamic way. It’s a movie that I knew virtually nothing about before seeing, and my only connection was director Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer), and even then, I’ve only seen one of his films, so I was completely blind. That, as it turns out, was the perfect way to see this film.

Parasite is the story of Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho, Memories of Murder, The Drug King) and his family as they con their way into good standing with the Parks, a wealthy upscale family, and the potential unraveling of their facade when unexpected new circumstances reveal themselves and complicate the matter.

Parasite is a film about classes and social standing. The Kim family is one of lower-standing, and their decision is simple: manipulate their way up, feeding off of whoever they need to. The film views them in a dingy way, presenting us with likable bad folks who are looking for their fair chance at things. It’s fairly straight-forward for a good bulk of the film before, and I wouldn’t consider this too much a spoiler, the film takes a turn that I did not expect, asking questions about the true nature of the Kims and the real parasites among societies.

The film flourishes with symbolism about the struggle, unbeknownst to the “victims,” between the Kims and the Parks. There are subtleties to the visuals of the film but Bong puts everything on display here, and through his obvious examination of the haves and the have-nots, he weaves a narrative that stayed with me long after my first viewing. Parasite has infested itself within me and I just need to see it again.

Parasite is excellent filmmaking, a story of manipulation and feeding off of one another. There are no good guys or bad guys in the film; everyone exists in a gray area. It’s bursting with excellent performances and biting social commentary, and the narrative is full of black comedy and some of the tensest plotting I’ve seen in quite some time. You should absolutely see it. Then, you should absolutely see it again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, click here.

The Addams Family (2019)

Director: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon

Cast: Oscar Issac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Matt Lieberman, Pamela Pettler, Erica Rivinoja

86 mins. Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action.

 

I never really liked the idea of an animated version of The Addams Family. I just always felt like The Addams Family always looked better and worked better as a live-action film, especially when you high-calibre talent like Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde), who could both look and embody the characters of Gomez and Morticia Addams. But I nevertheless went into this new Addams Family with an open-mind because I love the franchise and characters.

The Addams family are not, by definition, normal, but that doesn’t stop the from living life their own special way. As Gomez (Isaac) preps his son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, It, TV’s Carmen Sandiego) for the Addams rite of passage, the Mazurka, Morticia (Theron) tries to connect more with daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz, Let Me In, Greta) as she feeds her curiosity surrounding the town in which they reside, especially the local school. All the while, local celebrity Margaux Needler (Allison Janney, The Help, Ma) is determined to rid town of the Addams family so that she can keep the town bright, shiny, and unchanged.

First of all, there’s too much going on in a film that’s as short as this one. I didn’t care about the Gomez/Pugsley/Mazurka storyline, and the Morticia/Wednesday plot has been done better. I also felt like the Margaux Needler storyline doesn’t really go anywhere interesting nor does it really end in a satisfying way. There’s just problems abound in this film.

The voice cast is all fantastic except for Nick Kroll (Sing, TV’s Big Mouth) as Uncle Fester. His is a situation of being poorly miscast.He’s a fine and funny voice actor, but I don’t think he worked well for this character.

The screenplay is the biggest fault of the film in that it doesn’t really do anything unique that makes this film memorable. For a movie like The Addams Family, it’s so forgettable.Outside of one sequence involving Wednesday in school doing frog dissection, the movie has no truly interesting scenes. It’s just a mixture of plot points that have been done in better adaptations. There is no new ground covered in this movie.

The Addams Family is a very poor first outing for this new incarnation of the beloved characters. It made enough money for a sequel, so here’s hoping they learn some new lessons here because this first installment is forgettable and very paint-by-numbers. Skip and just watch the old show or Barry Sonnenfeld films.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Harriet (2019)

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn

Screenplay: Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons

125 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

It’s crazy to think that it’s 2019 and we still don’t have a major memorable release about the life of Harriet Tubman. Maybe I’m just not thinking about one or can’t bring one to mind, but I don’t think one exists. In fact, the film we’re talking about today almost didn’t get made at all, sitting on a shelf at Disney for years until they relinquished rights to the script. So with all that, how did it turn out?

When a young slave woman named Minty (Cynthia Erivo, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Genius) escapes and heads for the border, she takes on the new name of Harriet Tubman and joins up with William Still (Leslie Odom Jr., Murder on the Orient Express, TV’s Smash) and the Underground Railroad to become one of the most celebrated slave-rescuers in history. Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) shows Harriet’s religious views when she has visions giving her direction in saving slaves, and it shows her fearless nature in the pursuit of freedom for her fellow slaves.

Let’s talk Cynthia Erivo here. I really liked what she did with the role, and I think she almost-flawlessly plays the role of Harriet Tubman. Almost-flawlessly. My big problem with the way Harriet is portrayed is that I don’t think the visions of God that she has works very well onscreen. I think there’s a better way to put this on film. It just didn’t work for me. I really think there’s a way to get this element put to screen better, and I keep thinking how, if it were put to film better, then it could be considered a strong film about religion. I kick on religious films a lot because I don’t think they successfully convey religious tones in a strong enough manner, and I think with the strong production of a film like Harriet, this could be something really cool if it were pulled off better. Back to Erivo, though, this film proves without a doubt that Erivo is capable of carrying a lead performance.

Director Kasi Lemmons does some good work in the film, but her presentation is a little formulaic and straight-forward, and what she needed to remember while making the film is that there’s a lot of the same thing happening in the film. That’s not to knock the incredible thing that Harriet Tubman accomplished, don’t think I’m saying that. All I mean is that the notion of her moving slaves to safety could’ve been given something more visual to represent the journey. Outside of her initial escape, I don’t the length of the journey is presented extremely well. It’s serviceable, but not truly accomplished in the movie.

From the supporting cast, I really enjoyed Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still and Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, UglyDolls) as Marie Buchanon, a friend to Harriet who gets her on her feet when she makes it to the north. They are both exemplary performers who elevate the material. Joe Alwyn (The Favourite, Boy Erased) also stars as Gideon Brodess, the son of the man who owned Harriet in the south. I didn’t like the way his character was portrayed in the film didn’t make him a fleshed-out character. I think the way to make a powerful villain is more than just being menacing and violent. There are moments early on in the film where he interacts with Harriet about their past and then it is barely mentioned after her escape. I would have liked their childhood past delved further into in the film through flashback to help fuel his character arc. Again, Gideon isn’t a bad villain. He does villainous things in the film, but I don’t think he’s a realistic villain and I think the finale of the film would have been more powerful if he was given more to do than be menacing.

Harriet is a strong enough biopic on Harriet Tubman that is worth your time. It’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty damn powerful nonetheless. Harriet won’t be accepting any Oscars come 2020, but this is still a solid history lesson about an incredible human being and an incredible triumph of the human spirit. This is still one worth checking out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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