A Star is Born (2018)

Director: Bradley Cooper

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

Screenplay: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Early Review] The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy

Cast: Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

96 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images.

 

I’ve been a fan of The Conjuring universe since the first film, and outside of the original Annabelle film, I’ve found them to be very competently put together as individual films while also contributing nicely to a larger framework. Still, though, there’s been something rather concerning about The Nun and, looking to the future, The Crooked Man. What’s been bothering me about both films have been the narrative that’s been set up within The Conjuring 2. The Nun and The Crooked Man are both very connected to the Warrens and the specific case that they are working on within the film, The Crooked Man purposefully created as an apparition meant to frighten or horrify one particular child. I just couldn’t see how a film could be formed that respected the characters that have been built and forge a new interesting path. Last night, I saw The Nun at an early press screening, and while being a more competent film that expected, it still struggles to exist without hanging on previous films.

The Nun follows Father Burke (Demian Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Alien: Covenant), a sort-of Catholic detective, who is sent by the Vatican to investigate a horrible suicide by a nun at an abbey in Romania. He is joined by Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, The Final Girls, TV’s American Horror Story), a novitiate who suffers from disturbing visions, as the two attempt to unravel the mystery of the suicide and determine what horrors lie within the walls of the abbey.

Comparatively speaking, The Nun is not the worst film in this universe, but it rest on the lower side of things for several small reasons that build to a less-than-incredible experience. The way the film starts made me feel like Warner Bros. put their hands in the post-production process as the opening has a minute-long prologue featuring a montage from The Conjuring 2 all about the Nun. It felt very unneeded and very forced as if the studio-head walked out in front of the audience at the beginning and shouted, “Remember the nun from The Conjuring 2? That’s what this movie is!” You don’t need that. I think without the forced connectivity to the rest of the universe, The Nun works fine as a standalone film. I took a friend to Annabelle: Creation who had only seen the original The Conjuring. He didn’t take issue with the universe connections and enjoyed himself nonetheless. There’s some overworking of the universe connections later on that also could have been trimmed as more of an Easter egg to fans instead of a full-blown forced explanation as well.

I also wasn’t a fan of secondary character Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet, Elle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), the man who helps guide Father Burke and Sister Irene to the Abbey, and the humor he brings to the film. Bloquet is not entirely to blame here. I just found that the combination of the dialogue in Gary Dauberman’s (It, Within) script with Bloquet’s portrayal and the direction by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) combined to make some unfunny pieces of humor that didn’t fit the tone of the narrative. Nothing altogether cringeworthy, but just out of place.

Now, that’s not to say that I hated the film. Far from it. I found myself thoroughly interested in the mystery and the intrigue. I wanted more of it. I did jump quite a bit at some of the more well-planned out scares (though many of the scares are rather similar, someone getting stalked by a nun), and I mildly enjoyed the partnership between Bichir’s Burke and Farmiga’s Irene. It just wasn’t up to par with what I’ve come to expect.

All in all, The Nun is a scary enough film with a flawed screenplay and a little glaringly obvious studio assistance. It’s a nice enough film that should satisfy the audience even if it falls short of its franchise expectations.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Nun yet? What’s your favorite film in The Conjuring universe? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

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 James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

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[Comic-Con] We Now Have a Title for American Horror Story: Season 7

I’ve been off the AHS bandwagon for a few years. It isn’t like I want to be, but living in this day and age with all the television exposure, there just isn’t enough time to see it all. I adored the first season of the horror series but just didn’t get to the rest.

But the series is still a hit with fans, and at San Diego Comic-Con, we have now learned that Season 7 is American Horror Story: Cult. I love that the series makes a big deal about its newest story, although I think they dropped the ball last year by introducing all sorts of possibilities and then revealing. I feel like many viewers got their hopes up for one idea only to learn that it wasn’t the theme.

But still, you can’t blame the show for its spectacle, and Cult seems to be an interesting direction. We had also previously heard that the season had something to do with the 2016 Presidential Election. I’m also happy to learn that, though the series is an anthology, we still get connective tissue creating a universe of possibilities with fan-favorite characters.

Overall, I’m ecstatic to learn of this news, and I cannot wait to experience this season. You know, when I finish all the other ones.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 27 – Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

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Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon, Zakes Mokae, Joanna Cassidy

Screenplay: Charlie Murphy, Michael Lucker, Chris Parker

100 mins. Rated R.

 

Many horror directors attempt to cross with comedy at some point, and for me, there are two infamous examples of note: John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn. I actually really enjoyed Carpenter’s film, and when I originally saw Vampire in Brooklyn several years back, I liked it too. Sadly, on my most recent viewing, my opinion has shifted drastically.

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Maximillian (Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, A Thousand Words) is the last of a line of vampires from the Caribbean. In order to save his bloodline, he needs to find a female born from a native vampire he knew. Detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett, TV’s American Horror Story, Meet the Robinsons) is that woman, working for the NYPD in Brooklyn. After siring Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison, White Men Can’t Jump, Made of Honor) to be his personal servant, Maximillian sets out to find his destined love in the urban jungle.

Wes Craven (Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Eddie Murphy famously fought on set about the tone of the film, and it is the paramount reason why this movie failed so much. Craven wanted a horror film with comedic elements, and Murphy wanted a comedy with horror elements. The clash was the downfall of the film.

Murphy’s Maximillian didn’t have great voicework, and the choice to do his signature multiple roles thing by playing a few other characters that Maximillian disguises himself as didn’t work nearly as well on second viewing.

Craven’s abilities as a director were really called into question during the making of this film, and his work suffered tremendously from studio interference and the uneasy set. It’s sad, because the overall idea seems like a lot of fun. I really like Kadeem Hardison’s portrayal of the decrepit Julius Jones.

I also don’t think the casting of Bassett works in the film. She has the ability to act, but this just isn’t the movie for her.

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I’m happy to see that Craven was able to recover from a film like Vampire in Brooklyn with solid works like Scream and Red Eye, but Eddie Murphy, who blamed everyone else for making a film he knowingly wrote and acted in disappoints me. He claimed that he only did the film was so that he could finish his contract with the studio and focus on other works. I call bullshit, Eddie. You failed but you couldn’t just accept it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

King Kong (1976)

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Director: John Guillermin

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph

Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr.

134 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some people say nothing is off limits for a remake if you do it right. That’s true, but it doesn’t do anything to save me the pain from the remakes that are less-than-right. 1976’s King Kong is a remake that did some great things, but it also did some bad things. Today, we will dissect King Kong in all its cheese.

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King Kong follows a similar plot to its predecessor. A ship and its crew, on the search for petrol, comes across an uncharted island and a great ape who presides over it. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin, Beethoven, The Ex) sees opportunity for capital gain, while stowaway hippie-man Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son) wishes to protect the island and its inhabitants from the dangerous hands of man, while the beast known as Kong has his eyes set on the beautiful and exotic actress named Dwan (Jessica Lange, TV’s American Horror Story, Big Fish).

I find that the root of all the problems with the film stem from a flimsy and cheese-induced screenplay from Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Papillon, Flash Gordon), who has a shaky reputation for greatness. His screenplay has a lot of set-ups that flop and very few payoffs earned. For starters, the character Dwan, played by Lange, is awful. She is written to be annoying and unlikable, with no help from first-time actress Lange. It would seem that Kong’s entire infatuation with her is similar to the audiences: not a bad gal to gawk at. That’s about it.

I enjoyed Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin, who seem to understand the camp of the film they are a part of, though I still don’t think the tone of the film works at all. And then there is Bridges’ mane of hair, which comes off looking like 70s Teen Wolf mixed with The Lion King’s Simba. Seriously, did no one see him and giggle a bit, perhaps enough to realize that his look just was not working?

Now, as far as the ape goes, I like it. It mostly works well. I like the animatronics utilized here. I think the realism of the beast works enough, but the special effects of placing him in scenes get the size all over the place. Some shots he looks practically normal-sized while other sequences completely overload his presence. I still don’t really know the size that they wanted.

King Kong is probably the third best King Kong movie. That being said, it helped further the world of animatronics and for that it should be thanked. Just not very loudly.

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PS: If anyone out there uses editing software, can you create a video of Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott performing The Lion King soundtrack. Just a thought.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Unbroken (2014)

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Director: Angelina Jolie

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

In Unbroken, based on the true story, Olympic athlete and World War II airman Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire) is captured behind enemy lines after his plane is shot down. The film, from director Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey), chronicles Zamperini’s time after the crash leading up to and including his time at a POW camp and his altercations with the Japanese soldier Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).

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I found myself checking the time several times throughout Unbroken. It seemed to meander far too long on events that should have been more exciting and climactic than they ended up feeling. It also looks too glossy, and it doesn’t end up feeling real, but more like a Lifetime presentation of the Zamperini story.

Now, I won’t bash the entire film. I liked Jack O’Connell’s performance, as well as supporting work from newcomer method Ishihara. Even the smaller roles played by Domnhall Gleeson (About Time, Ex Machina), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis) and Finn Wittrock (TV’s American Horror Story, Noah) were all spot-on.

So what makes the film so underwhelming? Is it the screenplay from the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson? No, not at all. Then what? I think Angelina Jolie had a lot of great elements to use, but they just weren’t put together the right way. As I said before, the cinematography was great, but the sets and costumes captured felt fake. They just didn’t have the look they needed. The pacing is off as well. It’s disappointing from my initial hopes of the film.

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Unbroken is broken in several ways. Like a puzzle with too few edge pieces, it just has a lot of trouble fitting together. Angelina Jolie has proven before she can handle the directorial duties, but this film isn’t a great representation of that handle. For my money, there are better war films…American Sniper, anyone?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Tammy (2014)

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Director: Ben Falcone

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates

Screenplay: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone

97 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references.

 

Melissa McCarthy (TV’s Gilmore Girls, St. Vincent) has the acting chops for both comedy and drama, yet she chooses to write comedies that just aren’t very good. Thus is the case with Tammy, her newest effort from husband-director Ben Falcone.

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In Tammy, McCarthy plays a down-on-her-luck food server who has just lost a car and a job and now decides to just leave town with her elderly grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, The Big Wedding). I know, it doesn’t make much sense. Along the way, she meets Bobby (Mark Duplass, TV’s The League, Mercy) and his father Earl (Gary Cole, Pineapple Express, The Town That Dreaded Sundown) who both take a shine to ladies. Somehow. There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry, but apparently they do. They also meet up with lesbian lovers Lenore (Kathy Bates, TV’s American Horror Story, Titanic) and Susanne (Sandra Oh, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Rabbit Hole) who are also related to Tammy but it doesn’t seem that way. Again, I must say that it isn’t a good plot.

Essentially, this story was terrible. These characters were flat and unlikable. Melissa McCarthy isn’t funny. Susan Sarandon is disappointing. Also, the ages kind of mess with you. How is Susan Sarandon the mother of Allison Janney (TV’s The West Wing, Get On Up) who is also the mother of Melissa McCarthy? Seriously, how?

Then there is the terrible chemistry or lack thereof with Mark Duplass. I mean, c’mon, there wasn’t a single moment when I believed these two.

Let’s not forget the misuse of Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, The Boxtrolls). That’s right, she is in this movie, but look fast or you’ll miss it. The same is true with Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return).

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All in all, Ben Falcone’s absent directing of a bad screenplay between himself and wife McCarthy does nothing to make this movie anything more than a turd. Yes, I said it, a turd.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sarah Paulson Join First Season of American Crime Story; In Other News, WTF is American Crime Story?

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In the world of weird Hollywood news, I just have to mention this. Ryan Murphy, creator of American Horror Story, has created something of a companion series called American Crime Story which chronicles major crimes like the one I am about to talk on. Cuba Gooding Jr. has jumped on the wagon portraying WAIT-FOR-IT…O.J. Simpson in the true story of the O.J. Simpson trial. Seriously.

Sarah Paulson of American Horror Story has also signed on as Marcia Clark. This is big news kind of. But that doesn’t change the oddity of this news. I honestly think this is a poor idea for a new series and I have been concerned that Ryan Murphy is spreading himself so thin that he isn’t applying the right focus to any one project. When that happens, start waiting on the death knell. Here it comes, Murphy, the dead career bell tolls for thee.

So what do you think of American Crime Story? Does it sound terrible or do you see a silver lining? Let me know!

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