[Early Review] Ad Astra (2019)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Live Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

 

I’m assuming Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, World War Z) saw his Ocean’s Eleven costars George Clooney and Matt Damon receive acclaim for making a space movie, and he got incredibly jealous. Well, be jealous no more Brad. The balls in your court now, Julia Roberts.

Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Pitt), astronaut and son to the famous H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Just Getting Started), who disappeared on a secretive interstellar expedition some 30 years ago. Now, in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by a series of power surges believed to be caused by Cliff’s secret experiment, The Lima Project. Roy has been tasked with traveling to Mars to deliver a message to space, hopefully reaching his possibly still living father, in order to put an end to the power surges before they threaten the entire solar system.

I admire the idea of taking Heart of Darkness and moving it into the sci-fi genre. It worked so well as a war film when Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The problem for me came out of an unimpressive shell for this film. I don’t think we got enough insight into The Lima Project or The Surge or many of the science fiction elements that would have enriched this telling of the classic story. The film kept being marketed as the closest thing to actual space travel, but then I kept getting hung up on the sound work every time there was an explosion. The film looked gorgeous, but my investment was wavering throughout.

Brad Pitt is incredible as Roy, giving a subtle but impressive performance as a man who hasn’t taken much care in his world as he sinks himself into his work, ignoring all outside relationships and distractions. The whole film is carried by Pitt as no other character is given much screen time to match him. In fact, Pitt’s performance is so internalized that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting at all. I liken his work here to another space film from last year, First Man with Ryan Gosling. Comparing this subtle work to Pitt’s other major film this year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, just goes to show that this is an actor who really can do it all.

There’s a lot to really love about Ad Astra. I think, from a technical view, everything is seemingly executed quite well, but I just wasn’t drawn in by the story in the way I wanted to. It’s magnificently shot and the score is impactful and deep. The effects were strong, but the story just didn’t take me. Still, I would recommend you checking it out if you’re a fan of sci-fi, as this contemplative opera showcases another incredible performance from Brad Pitt.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwich Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

149 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.

IMDb Top 250: #37 (as of 9/1/2018)

 

Well, it happened. I almost cannot believe it, but it happened. After 10 years and numerous storylines, everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has culminated in this.

Let me say that word again: culminated. I like that word.

So a lot has happened. I’ll try to sum it up as quick as I can.

Thanos (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) has one goal driving his very being: to collect all six Infinity Stones. He already has one, but to get the others, he will have to go through the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight, Now You See Me 2) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, 12 Strong) are quickly dispatched, Thanos sends his minions, The Black Order, to Earth to search for the remaining Earthbound stones while he finds himself facing off with his daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, My Little Pony: The Movie). Now, it’s a fight to protect the stones from the increasingly more dangerous Thanos as the Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, The Child in Time), Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Impossible, Pilgrimage), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall), and others, but do they even stand a chance?

Avengers: Infinity War almost needs to be looked at differently than other films. My goal here and in all my reviews is to look at each within the context that it exists. When I watch a horror film, I look to be scared, thrilled, or shocked. When I watch a comedy, I look to laugh or smile. When I watch a Uwe Boll film, I look to hate myself at the end. Context.

So Avengers: Infinity War needs to be looked at on its own terms as well as how the film changes and shapes the characters in this universe. It’s a season finale of sorts, and it does an incredible job of juggling so many character arcs and stories that have existed within the confines of ten years of storytelling.

Let’s start with the most important arc in the film: Thanos’s. Josh Brolin does the performance capture justice in his work as the Mad Titan. We spend more time with Brolin’s character than anyone else in the film, and for that reason, this is very much Thanos’s film. He’s the protagonist. He is the one with the goal who initiates the action, and our heroes are only trying to stop that mission. He is a believably insane tyrant who moves from planet to planet wiping half of the population out in order to restore order. It’s a crazy idea but he believes it wholeheartedly which makes him all the more frightening. He’s well-written, thoughtful and menacing. There are of course a few similarities to Kurtz from Apocalypse Now or its source novel Heart of Darkness. It’s mostly surface level but it also works pretty well and helped me to understand how his mental faculties would lead him to such a sinister mission.

The rest of the cast get mixed amounts of time, most of them only about 10 minutes onscreen with the biggest characters getting closer to 30 minutes. Thor has one of the better arcs, especially following the opening of the film. He has vengeance in his heart and a plan to stop Thanos. He joins up with Rocket Racoon and Groot to accomplish his mission and it’s an enjoyable and important set of sequences. I would have liked to see a bit more emotion from Hemsworth as the film goes on but he kind of falls back to comedy as a backup.

Mark Ruffalo also gets a lot of time with his journey, especially considering that he spends a lot of the film not being the Hulk. We see a side of both of them that I’m not sure we’ve seen before, and it’s the first time in a while that we see Banner having to deal with not turning into the Hulk.

It’s also nice to give some more time to Gamora, who has gotten some development in the Guardians of the Galaxy films but always as a companion to the others. Now, she has a really interesting relationship with father Thanos. I just wish more time would have been given to further develop the two.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree, Welcome to Collinwood) and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pain & Gain) developed what was later termed as strange alchemy, the forcing together of characters that don’t usually spend any time together. This idea works really well and is a large portion of what makes The Avengers films so fun and so anticipated. It’s what I’m looking forward to more than anything else for next year’s Avengers: Endgame.

The Russos did a tremendous job of weaving all of these story threads together while never once sacrificing the flavor that comes with each film. I love that they devoted time to ensure their film would not be ruined for viewers who were not there on opening night. Each of the separated groups further the problem that this team works best together but now they are caught up in different parts just trying to plug a leak, essentially, and these directors and screenwriters never let the story dry up or get stale.

Avengers: Infinity War is not a perfect movie. The ending, upon a second viewing, doesn’t really feel like it has stakes (though that may change next year), and some more character development would be much appreciated, but overall it accomplishes its goals and in context of what the film is trying to be, it succeeds in almost every way. This is an event film if there ever was one, and it is endlessly re-watchable. If you haven’t seen the film yet (and don’t kid yourself, yes you have), then what are you doing? Go. Now. Watch it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russos’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

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

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vog-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief language.

 

Creating a MonsterVerse (I believe that’s the working title) is nothing new. As far back as the third entry in the Japanese Godzilla franchise showed the big kaiju taking on King Kong. But in the world of cinematic universe, at least this one is taking a little time.

Set in the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island sees a group of scientists and soldiers , led by former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers, The Night Manager) and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Incredibles), make their way to the mythic island in search of adventure. In the process, they learn that the island already has an owner, the mighty Kong, who does not want visitors. Other inhabitants of the island include giant monsters dubbed Skullcrawlers as well as missing-in-action Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Wreck-It Ralph). Now, cut off from the rest of the world and possible stranded on Skull Island, the team must find a way to escape before they are ripped to shreds by the many creatures residing on the island.

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is a rather simple one, and it may be the film’s cardinal sin. The simplicity of the put-a-bunch-of-people-on-an-island-and-pick-them-off-one-at-a-time idea feels unoriginal in a film that takes a familiar monster in King Kong and tries to break new ground with it. I can applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something original melding a bunch of the most famous King Kong works into one (seriously, there are parts of all three major King Kong films here as well as belting out references to Apocalypse Now and setting up more of the MonsterVerse). It’s safe to say that there are a lot of moving parts to Kong: Skull Island.

The film is entertaining though. The action sequences are beautifully shot and a lot of fun to watch. Kong is the star of the film and every scene that features him showcases the great motion capture work from Terry Notary (Warcraft) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls). Kong works, and therefore the film works.

I hope that as the MonsterVerse continues to build, the filmmakers working within it try to marry great human characters with the intense action sequences the franchise is likely to be known for. Between the two MonsterVerse films we have, I find Kong: Skull Island to be a much more entertaining film, and I hope the upward trajectory of this franchise continues all the way to the long-awaited mash-up, Godzilla vs. King Kong. Kong: Skull Island is a fine action film that is great at what it needs to be great at…action. Now, if they could only make the humans more interesting, the film would feel much fuller.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Nick Offerman: American Ham, click here.

 

 

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31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 4 – The Dead Zone (1983)

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Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen

Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam

103 mins. Rated R.

 

Hey folks, just popping on tonight to talk about David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. Sorry, this is coming in pretty late, but I’ve been packed away in preproduction meetings for most of the evening.

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Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser) is an everyman, an English teacher with aspirations of the perfect life. All that is stolen from him when a fateful car accident puts him in a coma for five long years, during which time the love of his life Sarah (Brooke Adams, Days of Heaven, The Accidental Husband) has moved on, a killer stalks the streets of Castle Rock, and a man named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen, TV’s Grace and Frankie, Apocalypse Now) has risen up in the state government. As Johnny awakens and deals with his unevolved state in an evolved world, he has discovered a gift to see into other people’s pasts, presents, and futures and pull out their deepest fear and most horrifying secrets. Johnny must learn that with this new power comes more loneliness and fear than he has ever known, and he must make the hard decisions on how to deal with the information he uncovers about everyone around him.

Christopher Walken plays a unique and powerful Johnny Smith, effectively putting a haunting edge to the character that director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Maps to the Stars) once believed to be too general. He commands the screen with his presence and pain through most scenes, except the ones with Brooke Adams. I like Brooke Adams, but I do not like her in this film. Here, she plays a removed Sarah Bracknell, in which she has no connection to Walken’s character and therefore loses footing on every encounter.

We get some great supporting turns from Tom Skerritt (Alien, Ted) as Castle Rock Sherriff Bannerman running cold on the trail of the Castle Rock Killer who turns to Johnny for guidance, Anthony Zerbe (American Hustle, The Matrix Reloaded) as Roger Stuart, a man removed from the relationship with his son who Johnny finds comfort in helping without the use of his abilities, and Martin Sheen as the shady Greg Stillson, who just might have more demons in his closet than anyone Johnny has encountered. The three absolutely knock it out of the park without playing too high to camp.

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Now the finished film is missing some key scenes from the novel that would have elevated the storytelling much more, creating a more unique tale, but Cronenberg shows a beautiful sense of the New England landscape and character-driven story to the piece that remain from King’s source material. There isn’t a whole lot that doesn’t feel aged here, but that isn’t always  a bad thing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, click here.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

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Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Chris Zylka

Screenplay: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.

 

I feel like I should describe the film I’m about to review, but to streamline and simplify the process by just having you watch Spider-Man. This film is little more than a carbon copy, subbing one villain in for another and one love interest in for another. I should point out that this is mostly a well-made movie, but the pacing issues really drag it down given the fact that we had seen all of this before.

The Amazing Spider-Man tells the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go), a loser but a smart one at that. The only thing he seems to want in life is Gwen Stacy (perfectly casted with Emma Stone, The Help, Birdman). That, and to discover the truth behind his parents’ death. Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill, The Five-Year Engagement) is the man who may hold some truth, but he is a bit too preoccupied with becoming a monstrous half-man/half-lizard hybrid.

The Amazing Spider-Man

There is a lot of sameness to this film. Peter becomes Spider-Man. He fights the monster and tries to save those around him from certain doom. This plot is kind of boring for a regular superhero film at this point, but the fact that this is the second time it has been shown on film makes it all the more painful. If this first 90 minutes had been more brushed over, we could be enjoying ourselves a lot more, but this movie just drags. The subplot mystery surrounding Peter’s parents does help, but not enough.

I personally thought Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Spidey was less likable than I would’ve hoped for. Now Emma Stone was pretty likable. She was some damn perfect casting, as with her father, played by Denis Leary (Two if by Sea, Draft Day).

Then you have Curt Connors, a character who was merely cameos in previous Spider-Man films, and here he is in all the glory. And he is friggin’ creepy as The Lizard. Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) and Sally Field (Forrest Gump, Lincoln) are Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and give us solid performances given the unsolid scripting.

Now, from a cinematography standpoint, Marc Webb’s film has some very nice touches. The new costume for the masked hero is actually pretty nice looking. The ending was pretty awesome. I like that they are taking a page from Marvel to end on a note that not all is finished here. So the film does have some great moments, given that it is the same movie.

Now, I’m going to just state something. I hate comparing reboots and remakes to their predecessors. I don’t think it is fair as we have already had too much time to fall in love with the originals. It doesn’t offer up a fair fight, but then again, maybe that is the reason that we shouldn’t have remakes. It makes a good argument, but at the same time, I feel like some remakes are pretty damn perfect (John Carpenter’s The Thing and Peter Jackson’s King Kong to name a few). The problem with not comparing The Amazing Spider-Man to Spider-Man is that both films are so close in both exact plotting and timing that it is difficult not to. If you make a film right, it doesn’t have to be up for comparison. I never find myself comparing Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins to Tim Burton’s original Batman because both films have difficult tones and aim for different ideas.

So, when I come to a topic of comparison from a music perspective, I don’t want to compare the fun and upbeat feeling of Sam Raimi’s trilogy to the ominous toning of Marc Webb’s film. But I do, and the difference and preference keep me to the original.

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Now, this film was originally scripted as Spider-Man 4, and I don’t understand the reason to reboot. All the best parts of this film would’ve been made better by continuing the previous film. We already introduced Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, so even planting Emma Stone in would’ve done fine enough. Curt Conners was already a character, so his introduction would’ve reduced the strained runtime. The mysetery around Peter’s parents would’ve injected some serious intrigue into the series. Even the open-ended finale would’ve translated perfectly. It just felt like a monetary decision (and it was) to push the reboot button, and we can tell.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of The Amazing Spider-Man? Did this tale need retelling or where you experiencing deja vu?

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