[#2018oscardeathrace] I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Jullianne Nicholson, Bobby Canavale

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

120 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Margot Robbie) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Allison Janney) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]

 

Passion for a project can do amazing things. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Goodbye Christopher Robin) cared so deeply for I, Tonya that she was able to push the film forward and, arguably, is why the film is nominated for Oscars. Originally, it was going to take the limited approach which would have made it ineligible for Academy Award consideration. But Robbie knew there was something to this film, and so she fought for it. Is it worth it?

I, Tonya tells the true-ish story of Tonya Harding (Robbie), her romantic relationship, or lack thereof, with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: Civil War, Logan Lucky), and her family life with mother LaVona (Allison Janney, The Help, TV’s Mom) stretching from early life to the events surrounding the violent assault of Nancy Kerrigan.

The strongest elements of I, Tonya are its performances, specifically Robbie, Stan, and Janney. This trifecta makes the film wholly likable and erases some of its flaws. Robbie and Janney are worthy of their Oscar nominations, and Stan is rightly left off the supporting actor race because there are just better performances for 2017. Janney is going to win this one, though. Her darkly disturbed take on LaVona is one of the best of the decade.

Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Love the Coopers) churned out a screenplay that ended up on the Black List and rightfully so. His usage of fourth-wall breaks is really cool. The only flaw is that I would’ve wanted to see more. It’s a technique that feels underused. It would have been better to use it more or not at all. I  also love that he uses faux documentary footage to tell the story, and seeing the three stars talk right to the audience is a lot of fun. His usage of the unreliable narrator here is really solid.

I, Tonya has a few glaring flaws, but it’s a lot more fun than most other character pieces in 2017. I was thrilled and astounded all throughout the film. It proves that Margot Robbie is so much more than her looks. She is driven, skilled, and entertaining and I, Tonya is just a step on her path to success in her career. See I, Tonya.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2018oscardeathrace] Phantom Thread (2017)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps

Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson

130 mins. Rated R for language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Daniel Day-Lewis] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Lesley Manville] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]

 

Phantom Thread came highly anticipated. After all, it isn’t terribly often that a performer considered one of the greatest of all time unexpectedly announces his retirement. As it happens, in 2017, Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln, Nine) did just that. It was only expected that Day-Lewis would get an Oscar nomination for his currently final film role, and as usual, he earns it. But what of director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice)? This writer has a love-hate relationship with the director of Phantom Thread. Which way did the finished film sway me?

Phantom Thread is a 1950s-set film about fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and the strained relationship he has with Alma (Vicky Krieps, Colonia, The Young Karl Marx), a young waitress he meets. After all, he has a very particular way he likes things done. His working relationship with sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, Another Year, Rupture) proves that. Alma doesn’t want to live like that, but she cares for Reynolds very deeply, as he does her. Can they find a way to overcome their differences or are they doomed to drift apart?

Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible in his performance of Reynolds Woodcock, a brilliant but flawed lead. I do not think he will walk away with a statue at the Oscars for Reynolds (that lies with Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour), but he is brilliant nonetheless. He is matched quite capably by Lesley Manville as Cyril.

My issues with the Phantom Thread? I just flat out didn’t care much for the movie. I thought it was overly pretentious, the film was boring and uninteresting for long stretches and no one in the film is all that likable. Day-Lewis and Manville are interesting, yes, and that makes up for some, but I didn’t care for Alma as a character at all. She is the one we are supposed to connect with, to strive for, and I found myself not caring what she did.

That being said, from a technical standpoint, the film succeeds gloriously. The visuals are often stunningly prepared, the lighting is great, and the sound production works well. As problematic as I found the rest of the film, I cannot fight how well-crafted it is.

Phantom Thread is pretentious, at times boring and its characters didn’t work well in bringing me into the film. I found the general plotline to be confusing in its tone and display. I flat-out didn’t enjoy myself in the theater like I have with some of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films, and that’s really too bad. One cannot argue about the incredible career of Daniel Day-Lewis, and he certainly goes out on a high note with Reynolds Woodcock.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Mahershala Ali, Duan Sanderson, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris

Screenplay: Barry Jenkins

111 mins. Rated R for sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Acheivement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievment in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

Don’t get upset. Moonlight won Best Picture and La La Land did not. Don’t be angry. I foresaw the win (but not the controversy) but needed to see the film before making my own judgment call. I needed to see for myself what the hubbub was all about. I’ve now seen Moonlight several times, and it’s one of the best and most important films you will ever see.

Moonlight’s storytelling technique is a little complex, so I’ll explain. Moonlight is in three pieces, each showcasing a different period in the life of Chiron. In each of the three key pieces, Chiron is played by a different actor of course. There is Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders, Straight Outta Compton, The Retrieval) and Black (Trevante Rhodes, The Night is Young, Open Windows). The narrative explores Chiron’s upbringing, his relationship with drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali, TV’s House of Cards, Free State of Jones) and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris, Skyfall, Collateral Beauty), and the themes of sexuality and identity that run through Chiron’s blood. It is an elegant and powerful tale.

The strength of Moonlight comes from the incredible ensemble both in front and behind the camera. The performances from Ali and Harris first spring to mind, but all three actors playing Chiron are just incredible.

Director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) put together a great team from a technical standpoint, bathing each stage of Chiron’s life in a different color tone. The film is gorgeously shot and expertly edited into a tight runtime that leaves little out of place. In fact, each piece of the story has its own musical cues and moments to play with. It almost feels like you could watch any one part of the story as a short film and be quite satisfied, but in the grander scheme, Chiron’s life comes into full view.

Moonlight is damn impressive, and very deserving of the Best Picture Oscar it took back from La La Land. I love both films, but I think Moonlight is exactly what it sets out to be and narrowly edges out La La Land. This is impressive filmmaking at its core, and I highly recommend you see it immediately.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2017oscardeathrace] Fences (2016)

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Director: Denzel Washington

Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney

Screenplay: August Wilson

139 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay

 

You’d think, after 114 performances of Fences on the stage, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters, Antwone Fisher) might not to partake in a screen version, and you’d be wrong.

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Washington directs from a screenplay by the late August Wilson (The Piano Lesson) and also stars as Troy Maxson, a former baseball player in the Negro Leagues who now works as a garbage collector. Viola Davis (TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, The Help) is Rose, Troy’s wife, who does her best to keep the peace in the volatile Maxson home. Troy’s son from a previous relationship, Lyons (Russell Hornsby, TV’s Grimm, Something New), is always coming over asking for money that Troy doesn’t think he’ll ever pay back. Cory (Jovan Adepo, TV’s The Leftovers), Troy and Rose’s child, wants to be a professional football player, and he really has a shot at the NFL, but not if Troy has anything to say about it. Then there’s Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson, Con-Air, The Purge: Election Year), Troy’s brother, who suffered an injury in World War II and was mentally impaired by it. With all the happenings going on at the Maxson house, Troy focuses his attention on a fence extending around his property. But a simple fence doesn’t keep secrets and regrets and frustrations from releasing themselves and forever changing the entire Maxson family in the process.

I recall seeing Fences some years back in a smaller production and absolutely enjoying it, but this play has become Washington’s and Viola’s permanently. Each of them brings a gravitas and strength to the story that is shockingly heartfelt and heartbreaking. The chemistry between Troy and Rose is the best strength of the film.

Honestly, the most frustrating element of the film is Washington’s decision to copy and paste the play on the big screen. It’s a great play but it is not adapted into a film. Washington chose not to risk compromising any of Fences impact by not making it a movie, and for me, that’s where the film suffers. I’m not talking about fundamentally changing the way the story is, but there is zero attempt at creating a film. That being said, it’s a great play on film.

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Overall, Fences is a very important film which captures Wilson’s original story quite well. It doesn’t really try to adapt the play so much as copy it perfectly which has some issues for me, but the film is largely focused on its incredible performers, notably Davis and Washington. This is their movie and their story is an unforgettable one.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Hateful Eight (2015)

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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

167 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, a scene of violent sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Jennifer Jason Leigh) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [Pending]

 

What happens when eight morally ambiguous humans find themselves snowed in for the weekend? You get The Hateful Eight, the newest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained). We are first introduced to Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chi-Raq), a famed bounty hunter known for his past transgressions in the civil war. He is out amongst the snow when he is met by John Ruth (Kurt Russell, The Thing, Bone Tomahawk), a fellow bounty hunter known as “The Hangman” who is delivering the notorious Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Machinist, Anomalisa) to the proper authorities in Red Rock. Along the way, the three come across the new sheriff of Red Rock, or so he says, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, TV’s The Shield, American Ultra), and the group make their way toward Red Rock before being stranded at Minnie’s Haberdashery in the blizzard. Now, John Ruth is under the impression that one amongst the group snowed in is out to free Daisy and kill anyone in her way in this thrilling whodunit.

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There’s no way to get this film confused with the work of any other filmmaker. This is pure-laced Tarantino from its deepest core. There are all the stylings of this one-of-a-kind director like the gripping dialogue, the extreme violence and Samuel L. Jackson, who eats up the screen. He is matched in prowess with Kurt Russell, who proves to be perfectly matched for our director in style and wit. Jennifer Jason Leigh also steals her scenes as the morbidly chilling Daisy, but to be fair, everyone is playing their A-game here, from regular performers Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Selma) and Michael Madsen (Kill Bill vol. 1, Hell Ride) to Demian Bichir (TV’s The Bridge, The Heat) as the hilarious Bob and the Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Twixt) as the racist General Sandy Smithers.

Then there’s the cinematography, expertly handled by DP Robert Richardson. The film, if you hadn’t heard, was shot using an Ultra Panavision 70 and projected in a 70mm cut, which is absolutely excellent. The frames are stark and beautiful and rich and actually help to drive the story even if a large amount of it takes place in a single shack. If you didn’t get the chance to see it in 70mm, let me assure you that both cuts of the film are terrific, so don’t feel too bad.

I also fell in love with Ennio Morricone’s original score, the first original score from the famed composer in decades. He is almost ensured to win the Oscar for it.

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The Hateful Eight could have been shorter, but I really loved the feel and grandeur of such a simple and intense whodunit like this. After two viewings, the film has continued to grow on me, and while it isn’t top-tier Tarantino, it certainly is still one of the best films of 2015.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

Boyhood (2014)

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Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

Screenplay: Richard Linklater

165 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Patricia Arquette)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Ethan Hawke)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing

 

In 2002, director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Bernie) began shooting a film, one that would keep him busy for the next twelve years. That film was Boyhood, a tale surrounding the adolescence of Mason (Ellar Coltrane, Fast Food Nation, Lone Star State of Mind), his mother (Patricia Arquette, TV’s Medium, Holes), his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his absent father (Ethan Hawke, Gattaca, Predestination). It covers the hurdles that young people encounter in their lives and the many challenged in adjusting to the world. It may appear simple, but this isn’t a simple film by any means. Its assembly, too, was a difficult one, as Linklater gathered his cast and crew together every year for twelve years to film sections of the movie as the actors aged alongside it.

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What a film! Boyhood constantly flips back and forth in my mind for the best film of 2014 (the other possibility being Birdman). I love how the film analyzes those major steps on the way to adulthood. Mason’s journey, aided by powerhouse performances by Arquette and Hawke, is a heartfelt one, one that many others have been on and can completely connect to. Coltrane’s performance improves as the film moves on, but it isn’t anything to mess up the film.

Linklater’s perfectly helmed camera gives us some gorgeous (and somehow unaged) cinematography. His camera elevates the vision to a true art form.

Linklater understood his audience would want to place the film on the timeline. He placed clues to guide the film, like song choices and events like discussions about a seventh Star Wars film.

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Boyhood is a visually stunning, emotionally resonant film that continues to impress and overwhelm each viewing. Linklater’s careful planning (he was to sign over directorial duties to Ethan Hawke if he died during production) led to an incredible film that will be known for its uniqueness as much as for its universality.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] The Imitation Game (2014)

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Director: Morten Tyldum

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

Screenplay: Graham Moore

114 mins. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Benedict Cumberbatch) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Keira Knightley) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Editing [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Hey wait, before we begin, take a look at that MPAA rating. “Historical Smoking.” Seriously? Many of you know my thoughts on the MPAA, so this gives me a giggle. Of anger.

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I’m sure you’ve heard of Alan Turing. I have. But I didn’t know him. Not much. This is the story of a pivotal few years in Alan Turing’s life.

Mr. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, TV’s Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness) has just hired to break a code. A code called Enigma. The only problem is, Enigma gets reset every night at midnight with a new cipher created by a machine, and people are dying every minute that it isn’t solved.

Alan has been charged to solve Enigma every day, when the odds are stacked against him. What can solve an unsolvable code?

The Imitation Game is an elaborate true-life thriller covering major pieces of the real life of Alan Turing, including his relationship with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Laggies).  The two performers (who are actually friends) have great chemistry in the roles. Fantastic supporting work from Matthew Goode (Watchmen, Belle) as Hugh Alexander, the man running the project to break Enigma, and Charles Dance (TV’s Game of Thrones, Alien 3) as Commander Denniston, the man just looking for a reason to fire Turing, who has some secrets of his own.

Cumberbatch here gives a pointed, tragic spin to Turing here, his performance is so deeply saddening, it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ great turn from 2013’s Captain Phillips. I love how we get bits of Alan’s life to fuel the story rather than just someone yelling at the screen “ALAN LIKES TO GO RUNNING!” When Cumberbatch shows us a man who has given everything to solving the puzzle that when the question is finally asked, “How do we thank him?” the answer is rather heartbreaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.

The Black List (an annual list of the most popular unproduced screenplays) for 2011 had The Imitation Game smack dab on top and it’s hard to think of why it took so long for this film to reach the screen, but I’m happy it did. This is an engaging film for the all the action it doesn’t need to show and all the pure gold acting work given by the cast. Definitely worthy of its Best Picture nomination.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2015oscardeathrace] Into the Woods (2014)

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Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp

Screenplay: James Lapine

125 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Meryl Streep) [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

I truly enjoy Stephen Sondheim’s work, especially Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. However, do I truly enjoy Disney’s Into the Woods adaptation from director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)? The answer is quite simple: No, I did not.

INTO THE WOODS

Several classic fairytales come to a head as these classic characters enter a magical wood. A mysterious Witch (Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, The Giver) has sent a cursed Baker (James Corden, Begin Again, The Three Musketeers) on a mission to collect several magical items to lift a spell that causes him to be infertile, as his Wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, The Wind Rises) follows in tow. One of the items is a slipper that belongs to the enchanted Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect, Cake). Another is a cow belonging to Jack, a boy who needs to sell the cow at market for more than mere beans. Then there is the red cloak belong to Little Red Riding Hood. Finally, hair belonging to Rapunzel. As each tale interweaves with the others, tragedy seems likely to follow.

First of all, I want to discuss the plot and the changes made to it. It hurt. It hurt the film badly. Needless to say, it makes some characters entirely useless. Literally, Rapunzel’s story could have been wiped away without any recognizable notice, other than the loss of a great song featuring Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Horrible Bosses 2). The story just kept going without any of the intensity of the original musical. Characters are written away in unseen ways and have no consequence on the film. I hate that many of the darker elements completely disappear while others are handled so haphazardly that it gnawed away at me for the entirety of the film.

Meryl Streep gives an insanely wild performance as the Witch, breaking the actresses’ “No-Witch Policy” for the sake of being one of the most fun characters in the ensemble. Emily Blunt is fun and fantastic but underutilized. James Corden is terrific as the Baker. Chris Pine works hilarious magic, as is Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Mortdecai) as the Wolf following Red Riding Hood.  Anna Kendrick, while usually great, is horribly miscast as Cinderella. I think the cast here has done good work but can’t seem to get in the correct tone for the film, which is ultimately what the changes to the film caused.

I disagree completely with Oscar Nomination for Production Design. The wood scenes all look so much alike that it is hard to place any of the characters in their current positions. The costumes are nice but the sets all look like they came out of a Lifetime movie (not a compliment).

The pacing here just felt like the story had too many endings due to the plot and tone shifts.

The music had a few great arrangements to it, but many songs fall flat with no clear-cut direction anymore.

INTO THE WOODS

Sadly, Into the Woods is too many good qualities shaped and shifted by Disney to fit a particular mold, and it softens the impact completely. For your money, see the original musical live and enjoy what this story is actually about, rather than a Disneyfied pile of “stuff.”

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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