[#2020oscardeathrace] Marriage Story (2019)

Director: Noah Baumbach

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever

Screenplay: Noah Baumbach

137 mins. Rated R for language throughout and sexual references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Scarlett Johansson] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Adam Driver] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Laura Dern] [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #194 (as of 1/14/2020)

 

It must be a pretty good feeling to live in the Baumbach/Gerwig household right now, with writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, The Meyerowitz Stories) and his wife, writer/director Greta Gerwig, both having films in the Best Picture race for Marriage Story and Little Women, respectively. It definitely raises the odds for them.

Marriage Story is the tale of a marriage at its end, focusing on the downward spiral between husband and wife Charlie (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Dead Don’t Die) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing). It’s also a love story that uses the pain of divorce to highlight the beautiful moments that the relationship gave them both. As Charlie starts to see the mistakes he makes with not listening to his wife’s needs, Nicole finds herself down the career path she’s always wanted, and they find that they are going in different directions. Charlie struggles to find adequate representation for the divorce proceedings while Nicole hires a shark attorney, Nora (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, TV’s Big Little Lies). While Charlie and Nicole both want the process to go as painlessly as possible, they find that they are in a system designed to turn their divorce into a war zone.

Marriage Story accomplishes something that is incredible in its storytelling, but it also makes it look easy. Baumbach is able to tell a story about divorce that is, at its core, a love story. Similar to how Taika Waititi told a story about hate that became a story about love with Jojo Rabbit, Baumbach is able to use tragic circumstances to really show how powerful its inverse is. Using his own real-life divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh as a guide, he crafts a screenplay that gives us equal moments of sadness and joy, and his direction is simple enough to focus on his powerhouse performers.

Speaking of powerhouses, I love that everyone in the film is firing on all cylinders here. Driver and Johansson have such great chemistry and they don’t try to out-act the other, instead letting each other have their moments of grandness amidst the strain, struggle, and fighting. There’s a scene near the end of the film that features the two stars in a contentious conversation that is one of the most well-acted scenes of the decade.

Even the supporting cast is spectacular. From the likely-winner Best Supporting Actress Laura Dern to Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, TV’s Shades of Blue) and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, TV’s M*A*S*H) who play potential lawyers for Charlie, everyone in this film is pitch-perfect, and again, none of them are competing for the spotlight. That’s key here. Everyone is as good as they need to be while also supporting the other players. It’s a real teamwork-heavy acting showcase.

Marriage Story is not a happy film even if it is a beautiful one. It plays with the inverse of a marriage crumbling but also seeing all the beauty that the marriage brought in a fascinating way. With an opening that feels like Pixar’s Up, this movie should have had investors from Kleenex because it will break your heart and then tape it back together. While it runs a little longer than it needs to be, it’s a fascinating case study of a relationship that I cannot recommend enough.

 

4.5/5

-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.

[Early Review] Boy Erased (2018)

Director: Joel Edgerton

Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwin, Xavier Dolan, Troye Sivan, Cherry Jones, Flea

Screenplay: Joel Edgerton

114 mins. Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use.

 

Joel Edgerton (The Gift) just kind of came out of nowhere. Sure, he had been acting for several years, but I never would have placed him as a more-than-competent director and writer, but he did just that with his first film. Now, he seeks to follow-up The Gift with the true-life family drama, Boy Erased.

Boy Erased is the story of Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea, Mid90s), a college student who is having a crisis of faith. He has impure thoughts about men. His mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies), and father, Marshall (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, The Mummy), sign him up for a gay conversion therapy. His father is a Baptist preacher who will not allow Jared to live in his house or visit if he remains the way he is. Jared attends classes everyday with head therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton), a firm believer in the process who pushes Jared and others to the extreme in his quest to make them “normal” heterosexual boys again. As time goes on, Lucas comes to the realization that he is who he is and “changing” is not an option.

Boy Erased takes a while before it really kicks into high gear. The first half of the film to me was a little lost in trying to find its footing. I’m not sure what the big problem is because I like the film’s structure of beginning in media res. The writing is fine but the slow build nature mixed with some pacing issues in editing likely created this problem.

That being said, when it does get going, the last half of this film is an absolute powerhouse. Hedges and Crowe are, in particular, revelatory. There is one scene in particular toward the end of the film that these two share that brought me to tears. The raw emotion of a father and son on two completely different wavelengths is something so heartbreaking.

Writer/Director/Supporting Actor Edgerton holds a capable lens to the proceedings and he tends to just let the performances do the heavy lifting. His work as Sykes in a little disturbing and very saddening. As I said before, I think his writing stumbles a bit at the beginning, but all in all, he is a talent worthy of watching.

Edgerton has a moral focus with the film and its presentation of this conversion therapy. There are a lot of horrific things happening here and it’s made all the more shocking with his choice to end the film with some follow-up on the characters but also some facts about conversion therapy that really hit home with me. These types of endings don’t always work, but Boy Erased is a film that definitely sticks the landing. It’s just sad that a film like this even had to be made, but conversion therapy is a very real and frightening thing for LGBTQ people, especially the young ones who are already going through so much in their adolescence.

Boy Erased struggles a bit out of the gate, but when it finds its footing, Joel Edgerton proves to be a force both behind and in front of the camera. He fills his films with impactful performances that elevate his own craft in the process. It’s not an easy film to view, even with a few peppered moments of levity, particularly from Jared’s mother, but it’s an incredible moving tale about the human spirit and one man’s journey to accept himself. See this movie as soon as you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2018oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]

 

I guess it’s true. No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. This movie was divided as hell, but does The Last Jedi deserve the hate or is it missing the praise?

Picking up moments after the events of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Only Yesterday) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Brigsby Bear, Bunyan and Babe) on Ahch-To to discover that he has abandoned the Jedi code to live out his days in quiet solitude. Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy) leads the resistance forces away from D’Qar as a First Order fleet arrives to take them. Now, they are on the run from First Order forces. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Suburbicon) makes a costly mistake in the defense of the convoy and falls into a path of mistrust when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, Wild, TV’s Big Little Lies) assumes command of the Resistance forces. Now, as the First Order closes in, Finn and Poe attempt to save the convoy, Rey finds herself drawn ever closer to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, TV’s Girls) and the truth about her past.

Okay, so I’m not a Star Wars apologist. I find the prequels to be extremely middling in quality, and even though I love all the Star Wars films, I’m not above finding glaring issues that stick out. That being said…

I loved The Last Jedi. It completely changed the game and added so much to the mythology by driving the film forward rather than looking to the past. This is an incredible addition to the Star Wars Saga. Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) came to the table and took what J.J. Abrams created with The Force Awakens and pushed it further. It’s definitely not like its predecessor in that it isn’t how I expected it. In fact, that’s what I love most about the film. I walked into it with all these preconceived ideas about how the movie has to go, and I would say just about all of them were wrong. I love The Last Jedi because I was shocked and surprised when I watched it, and that hasn’t happened since The Empire Strikes Back.

The film’s performances and cast are top-notch yet again, particularly leads Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, this being her final Star Wars outing. Hamill could easily have been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars with his most subtle and tortured performance in his entire career. Skywalker is broken by his failure to save Ben Solo.

There’s also some really great work from Ridley and Driver, especially in their shared scenes. We see some darkness in Rey and some potential good in Kylo. It’s clear that these two have not fallen into their roles as enemies yet. There are some nice flaws showcased on both sides here.

I also have to say some about Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Supreme Leader Snoke. He doesn’t get as much to do in this new installment, much like The Force Awakens, but the way he is utilized in this film is far superior to Episode VII. Unfortunately, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe) and Gwendoline Christie (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, TV’s Game of Thrones) feel shoehorned in as Maz Kanata and Captain Phasma, respectively.

But the film was always going to be divisive. I just wasn’t prepared for how divisive it would be. Even Mark Hamill expressed concerns to Johnson about the direction of the film, but after seeing the finished product, it sounds like he has since been won over.

And there are things I take issue with in the film, but they are merely nitpicky things like a particular Leia scene that comes across a little silly. There’s a moment early on with Luke that could have emotional impact but instead falls to cheap comedy. These are mere nitpicks and, in the scope of the film, this being the darkest film in the saga, I can understand the reliance on some levity.

The Last Jedi honors what has come before while also paving the way to what’s yet to come. It’s a unique Star Wars film, and it’s the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson’s attention to detail and the film’s connective tissue with the rest of the sage, including Rogue One, is just another reason that this film works as well as it does. With this film, Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) becomes the only actor to appear in all the Star Wars live-action releases. I unabashedly loved the theater experience of seeing The Last Jedi, so much so that I saw it an additional two times. See this movie. Three Times.

 

4.5/5

-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 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 more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] The Beguiled (2017)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Screenplay: Sofia Coppola

93 mins. Rated R for some sexuality.

 

The Beguiled is the second adaptation of the 1966 novel A Painted Devil (rather than a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood) and features Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as a Civil War soldier taken in by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman, TV’s Big Little Lies, The Hours) after he is found injured nearby. Miss Martha runs a girls’ school in Virginia, and Corporal McBurney is the first interaction many of the women have had with the war. Miss Martha is untrusting of the man and how quickly he gains the trust of teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man, Hidden Figures) and the girls of the school. Miss Martha continues to remind him that he will leave as soon as he is healed and repeatedly threatens to turn him over to the Confederate Army. The house is very quickly altered by McBurney’s presence, bubbling with sexual tension and jealousy among the inhabitants until finally it takes a shocking and unexpected turn, putting them all in grave danger.

I had to really tiptoe around this synopsis as I dare not spoil the events depicted in this new film from Writer/Director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, A Very Murray Christmas). I would also advise you to avoid trailers for the film as they give away a bit too much. Overall, I enjoyed The Beguiled much more than I expected to.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the film. First, the writing of Colin Farrell’s character. I love Colin Farrell when he gets it right. Sure, he’s had stumbles in his career, but when he nails it, he really nails it. And he is great in The Beguiled, but the manner in which his character is written doesn’t feel like a fully-formed arc. His performance is top notch but there isn’t enough screen time for us as viewers to accept the journey his character takes.

I also didn’t really like the ending. It felt almost too easy, and there’s a near-horrific plot point that gets brushed away too easily that would’ve made things more interesting. Overall, the ending does linger with you, but I think there could’ve been more to it.

Everything else in the film is amazing, most notably the incredible performance from Nicole Kidman. Coming off her Oscar-nominated performance in Lion, Kidman is chillingly cold as Miss Martha, a motivated and strong woman who takes charge of her situation. There’s a beauty to her performance with an underlying uneasiness, especially when she shares the screen with Farrell. The rest of the performances are great as well, but I want to recognize Elle Fanning (Maleficent, 20th Century Women) and Angourie Rice (who you may remember from last year’s The Nice Guys, if anyone else actually saw it) for their turns as members of the school. Both of these actresses give impressive turns in every film and The Beguiled is no exception.

Sofia Coppola became the second female director ever to win Best Director at Cannes (and hopefully we won’t wait 50 years for another), and The Beguiled is a worthy film of such an award. Its tension and drama is all based around its characters , usually a win for Coppola. The film stumbles rarely, but manages to pick itself up rather quickly and recover. It’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and it is worth your time to catch it when it expands to wide release this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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