[#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

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.

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