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.

Pet Sematary (2019)

Director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Jeff Buhler

101 mins. Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language.

 

Pet Sematary is a haunting novel by Stephen King, one which he claims he almost regrets publishing because it was too dark, even for him. Now, that sounds like a lovely little marketing statement. In all fairness, the novel stayed with me long after finishing it. The original film was fine enough, and it surprisingly retained a lot of the more disturbing elements that one would possibly try to avoid, but I think it’s fair to say that someone should take another crack at it. This year, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes, Holidays) did just that.

Louis (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, Serenity) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color, Wild Nights with Emily) Creed have just moved into their new home in Ludlow, Maine with their kids and pet cat. Louis has a new job working at the university hospital. After some time in the new home, the Creed family cat, Church, dies, and their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) brings Louis to a space located just beyond the Pet Sematary behind the house. Louis buries Church there, and soon after, Church is up and walking again. But something is different with the family cat. He smells like rotted flesh and bites and scratches whenever possible. Louis begins to learn a painful secret about the Pet Sematary, one that will stay with him as further tragedy strikes: whatever is buried out beyond the Pet Sematary comes back, just not the same as it was, and sometimes dead is better.

I would have liked to see Andy Muschietti’s interpretation of the classic novel. The It director had expressed interest in attacking this one, but Kölsch and Widmyer got to it first, and the result is…fine. It has an awesomely grim view of the Creed family saga, and the changes to the story are interesting, but I failed to understand why such changes needed to be made. In effect, the changes to the story for this version of the film almost make it tamer than the previous film, an odd thing that I had not expected.

What’s confusing about the changing of most of the back-half of the film and the ending, apart from the notion that it really offers nothing new to the story, is that the film frequently makes small, almost unnoticeable references to the source novel and how it plays out. It kind of just reminds you of how the story is different, and that doesn’t work well for it. The film of course makes plenty of references to King’s other works, but it is the ones that reference tiny details of the novel that seemingly have no point being in the film.

Clarke and Seimetz are perfectly fine with the material, and Lithgow is expertly cast in a way that he offers an interesting character from the book a very unique and welcome interpretation. His is the best performance in the film.

There’s still a lot of the film that works really well, too, from the performances of the two children and the several real cats that played Church to the constant sense of dread that the directors placed over the proceedings. The scares are still there, and there’s some gruesomely haunting imagery in the film, all of it serves to unnerve its audience quite well. I found the experience quite enjoyable, but the problem was, about a day after seeing the film, I had forgotten much of what I really liked about it. The film didn’t stick with me the same way the source novel did, and that’s a damn shame.

Pet Sematary is an enjoyable albeit disturbing little movie that I enjoyed upon seeing. It’s also a forgettable experience that won’t leave much of a lasting effect on its viewers. Some of you may actually like that, as it deals with not-so-fun topics at times. I am saddened that it didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, but it also wasn’t all that bad either. The film is fine. Just fine enough to warrant a viewing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Late Night (2019)

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Screenplay: Mindy Kaling

102 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.

 

Late Night had a lot of strong buzz coming out of Sundance earlier this year, most of it focused around Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Missing Link) and the screenplay from co-star Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time, TV’s The Office). I was able to catch the film last night at an early screening, and the buzz is absolutely correct.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been the host of a late night talk-show for decades, but she comes to realize under the ownership of new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, Birdman, Beautiful Boy) that she has lost her passion, and she learns that she is soon to be replaced. Challenged by this fact, she hires a woman, Molly Patel (Kaling) to her writing staff with no writing experience. Molly’s equally challenged by the entirely male-dominated writing staff. She buts heads with Monologue Writer Tom (Reid Scott, Venom, TV’s Veep) and starts up a fling with the handsome Charlie (Hugh Dancy, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, TV’s Hannibal). But Molly quickly learns that she is in the lion’s den, and the leader is Katherine, a host who has never brought her personality, beliefs, or background, into the show, and the two women slowly find that they can learn a lot from each other, if they can survive each other.

This is Thompson’s movie, hands down, and it’s one of her most surprising and charismatic performances in a long and varied career. Her take on Newbury is interesting and nuanced. She says early in the film that she only ever really cared about two things: the first being her husband Walter (John Lithgow, Pet Sematary, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the other being her show. It’s sad to hear her say it because of how she is frequently on the edge of losing both, Walter to his illness and the show to a younger, dumber host. At the same time, she fails to understand that she is self-sabotaging herself. It is only in her struggle to find an understanding of Molly’s feedback that she is able to grow, if she decides to listen to it.

Molly’s an interesting character. For the most part, her character’s inclusion in the film is a bit of a conceit, and not very realistic, but I was able to push past it for the needs of the narrative. Her character and Kaling’s performance shine in the ways that Molly is so much like Newbury. She knows not to hook up with the handsome writer she now works with, and she states that this is her dream job, and then she too self-sabotages.

The writer’s room cast of characters are all quite funny here. It’s great to see Paul Walter Hauser show up; he’s an absolute delight in everything. I think we get a nice crew of writer/showbiz archetypes that never feel flat because of the diverse collection of performers placed in the roles. Kaling’s screenplay gives most of them something to do without resorting to grouping them all together.

Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Pete’s Christmas) capably handles the film, and while her style here is nothing flashy, it is her focus on the characters and relationships that keep the whole thing afloat and moving, and the film just flies by thanks to some strong editing and tight storytelling.

Late Night showcases another powerhouse acting performance for Emma Thompson, one I expect that will be talked about in the next few months as we tick closer to the awards season. Kaling’s screenplay doesn’t provide as many laughs as I had expected, but there’s so much heart to it, and some of the funnier bits come out of the real situations she places her characters. It’s a sweet and occasionally funny trip to a part of our entertainment process not so often looked at. This comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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Director: Rupert Wyatt

Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out of nowhere. Seriously. Who would have thought that his franchise was coming back in such a big way. After a fizzled-out franchise of films and television series, a failed remake from director Tim Burton, and a decade of silence, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just sort of showed up, and I’m thankful it did.

Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours, The Interview) is trying to cure Alzheimer’s. His father Charles (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, Interstellar) has the condition and it is accelerating. The current possible cure is ALZ-112, and Will is in the process of ape testing. When Bright Eyes, Will’s star test subject, tragically passes after complications with the substance, Will comes across a baby chimp in her cell, her recently born son who comes to be known as Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas). Will takes Caesar home and trains him, as Caesar was born with ALZ-112 flowing through him, making him progress at an alarming rate. As Will’s life becomes more and more complicated through his illegal theft of the chimp, Caesar becomes more and more aware that this world is the world of humans, not apes, and he wants to change that.

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The plot of this movie nicely takes real-world problems and a franchise decades old and revives it for today’s world without tarnishing the story that came before (to be noted, this is a reboot and kind of a prequel to the original film and not the Tim Burton remake). It takes the problems that we are dealing with and forms it into a cohesive and interesting bit of science fiction.

Franco’s performance isn’t the strongest in the film, I didn’t really believe him to be smart enough to synthesize a cure for Alzheimer’s. Then again, he doesn’t. Altogether, it is his relationships in the film to Caesar and his father that build the warmth for these characters.

Andy Serkis is the winner of this film and deserved top billing for the film, as without him, the impact would not have been felt as much. His nuanced and subtly tragic work as Caesar is beautiful, and the digital effects work only furthers an already incredible performance. The way Caesar interacts with John Lithgow’s character provides us with a slightly warped but wholly touching American family.

The screenplay,  from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (The Relic, Eye for an Eye), does a nice job of not creating villains, there are very few villains in this film and it allows you to understand many of the core characters internally and empathize with their choices.

Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler) behind the camera also provides a lush environment of great camera work, and the flow of the film is very smooth.

I just needed to end on the CG work, which sought to work together with their motion capture performers to create characters as opposed to just creating stock but cool looking apes. It deserved its nomination to be sure.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great way to jumpstart a franchise, and should serve as a course on how to reinvigorate a property rather than just churn out a remake. Bravo.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Shrek (2001)

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Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman

90 mins. Rated PG for mild language and some crude humor.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced.

 

It isn’t easy to pull off a family film that stands tall years later. It is tougher to make that film a satire and to have to comedy still funny. Shrek did it. Shrek did it wonderfully.

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Shrek (Mike Myers, TV’s Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is a simple ogre. He has a swamp and a boulder and he likes it that way. The local villagers leave him alone and in turn he keeps to himself. It isn’t until he runs into a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, A Thousand Words) and is sent on a mythical quest to save a princess (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Sex Tape) from a dragon-guarded castle at the behest of the powerful Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock From the Sun, Interstellar) that Shrek truly learns what companionship can do to an ogre.

Shrek is a masterpiece and truly cemented Dreamworks Animation as being a powerful competitor to Disney’s Pixar. The voicework from Myers and Murphy is very strong here. They have a terrific chemistry (or lack thereof) during their scenes together. Lithgow really menaces here; until this movie, I hadn’t really seen anything from him proving that he could be villainous in nature.

Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson created a wonderful enthusiasm that both satires and homages classic fairy tales. This was a precursor to shows like Once Upon a Time and Penny Dreadful, where we are treated to an alternate version of classic characters.

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Shrek is a master stroke of genius for family films and just comedies in general. I wish more films targeted at children had the boldness to provide laughs for all ages instead of pandering the way most of them do.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Puss in Boots, click here.

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