[#2020oscardeathrace] Judy (2019)

Director: Rupert Goold

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon

Screenplay: Tom Edge

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, thematic content, some strong language, and smoking.

Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress [Renee Zellweger] [PENDING]

Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [PENDING]

 

I didn’t know much about Judy Garland outside of The Wizard of Oz, so I was very interested in a biopic about the actress and singer, and I was all the more excited to see Renee Zellweger (Chicago, TV’s What/If) in the lead role. Now, with all the awards talk for Zellweger, I think it’s the right time to discuss this film from director Rupert Goold (True Story, King Charles III).

Judy tells the story of Judy Garland (Zellweger) in 1968 as she performs a series of concerts in London. Judy is still struggling with memories of the past, her time working on The Wizard of Oz, her life being controlled and dictated for her. The pain of her past has led to a reliance on prescription pills and alcohol, and she searches to find a way to get a better financial situation for her and her kids.

Without the performance of Renee Zellweger, I don’t know that Judy, as a film, would work. It’s a perfectly fine narrative, and I especially love the flashbacks to her youth. The actress who plays younger Judy, Darci Shaw, is amazing. I think the rest of the principal cast is fine, but there are times when the pacing doesn’t work.

As I mentioned, the rest of the principal cast does quite well, but make no mistake, Renee Zellweger owns this film with her exemplary performance as Judy Garland. It’s been a while since we’ve seen great Zellweger, and this is probably the best performance of her her entire career. It’s impossible not to be absolutely blown away by her acting and singing in the movie. I can’t see any way that she doesn’t walk away with this Best Actress Oscar.

I think the biggest fault of the film’s marketing campaign is that it was sold as a fairly happy-looking movie, but the finished product is not happy at all. I would say the depressing-to-joyful ratio is 90/10. Those happy moments take some time, and they are isolated, but the wait for them was worth it. I particularly like the sequence where she meets a couple after her show and asks them for dinner. It’s a wonderful sequence and perhaps my favorite in the whole film.

Judy is a solid film with a career-best performance from Zellweger, and it’s the best lead performance from an actress of the entire year. The musical set pieces are wonderful and the cast is filled with solid work from just about everyone. It’s not an easy film to watch, and it definitely isn’t filled with happiness, but then again, it’s exactly the film that would have encompassed the tone of Garland’s final years. Her life was troubled, and it wasn’t filled with only happy moments. All the same, I was so blown away by the lead performance and I cannot recommend this character study enough.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Greta (2018)

Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea

Screenplay: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan

98 mins. Rated R for some violence and disturbing images.

 

I was told by a pretty reputable colleague who had caught Greta at TIFF last year that I needed to see it when it hit theaters, and earlier this week, I was given that opportunity. I didn’t realize that the film was directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Byzantium) until the credits started to roll, which raised my expectations considerably, but I did not expect the seasoned director to turn in something quite like Greta.

When Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz, Let Me In, Suspiria) finds a purse left behind on the subway, she makes a point to do the right thing and drop it off with its owner, a woman named Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert, Elle, Eva). Upon meeting the older widow, Frances begins a friendship with her until she discovers that Greta has a number of secrets. She’s a very lonely woman and Frances isn’t able to cut ties with her very easily. As the cat-and-mouse game spirals out of control, Frances finds that Greta isn’t ready to let go.

Let me be clear: Greta is a little cheesy. There are elements of it that fall into cliché. After leaving the film, I began to think more about the nature of the characters and I found a couple of plot holes I couldn’t wrap my head around. But all that didn’t really matter to me. The film sets out to tell a creepy stalker thriller, and it succeeds.

Director Jordan propels himself out of these problems by keeping the runtime as tight as possible. There’s only a moment or two toward the end of the film where the pacing struggles, but there’s no time to think as he rockets the narrative forward.

He’s also placed confidence in his leads. Moretz and Huppert are on fire as they match wits onscreen. Huppert’s Greta turns from a sweet older woman into a mild annoyance before evolving into a menacing terror. Seriously, I had my hands shaking during some of the more intense and tightly plotted scenes. Jordan’s film oozes with tension in large part to Huppert’s performance.

Greta’s filled out nicely with solid performances from Maika Monroe (It Follows, Tau) as Frances’s friend Erica, a woman who is a bit more focused on fun than fear, Colm Feore (Chicago, TV’s The Umbrella Academy) as Frances’s father, who is attempting to rebuild a relationship with his daughter after the loss of his wife, and especially the terrific turn from Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, Black ’47) as the private investigator who is hired to find out more. It’s amazing how much Rea can do with so little screentime.

Greta is pure cheese at times, but I didn’t mind it because I was so entranced and tense during my experience in the theater. The trailers give away a bit too much but overall, this is a very fun and creepy stalker thriller that kept my nerves tight the entire time. I highly recommend seeing this one in the theater this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, click here.

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Director: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Screenplay: Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon

112 mins. Rated PG for some action and rude humor.

 

I was not the biggest fan of Wreck-It Ralph. I had a number of different reasons for my opinion, but I will also say that, at the time, I was carrying a bias about Disney films. After all, Disney is a machine, and like any machine, it has to function similarly at all times. I found the first film to be overly reliant upon video game and arcade nostalgia that bogged it down. I was also much more interested in Ralph’s (John C. Reilly, Chicago, Holmes & Watson) journey and felt it was less interesting when he got involved with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, Battle of the Sexes, TV’s The Sarah Silverman Program). Wreck-It Ralph was a hit, though (everyone I knew loved it), and while it took six years for a sequel, I was still excited for the wild ride that is Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Ralph and Vanellope are celebrating six awesome years as best friends, and while Ralph is fine with the way his days go, Vanellope wants more. She is tired of the predictability of her game, so Ralph sets out to help her. When his plan fails spectacularly, causing Sugar Rush to break down, it seems like as though Ralph may have inadvertently doomed Vanellope. Fortunately, they find that the replacement part for Sugar Rush is available on the internet, and the two set out to bring it back. Through their adventure, Ralph is forced to face his greatest fear: change.

There’s good and bad to the direction of this Wreck-It Ralph follow-up. It’s similar at times to the story of the first film with video game nostalgia traded out for social media addiction. That being said, the way the social media and internet references work in the film is to force Ralph and Vanellope to examine their lives and change, for good or bad. I think the sequel is more successful in creating real relationships amongst these arcade characters. There’s also a tendency to fall back on Disney properties in the film, a decision opposite to Spielberg’s choice in Ready Player One to seemingly eliminate as many references as possible to his films. Again, though, the Disney Princess scene is absolutely worth the price of admission. As I said, good and bad to these creative choices.

Ralph is a more interesting character this time out. His internal conflict with himself and Vanellope’s choices are so strong and real and accessible. It’s really powerful character direction, something for its viewers to register with as they grow older. I also like how Vanellope is struggling in the sequel, knowing she has a good life but wanting more than that. It makes her more than a cutesy sidekick.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a good outing from Disney, though not their best. I think it’s a better film than Wreck-It Ralph, and I think the conflict in the film resonates rather nicely. The film falls back on Disney wanting to sell toys, but there’s some good in there too made by strong characters and a strong story arc. It just gets muddled sometimes.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rich Moore, Byron Howard, and Jared Bush’s Zootopia, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

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Director: Sharon Maguire
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson
Screenplay: Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer, Emma Thompson
122 mins. Rated R for language, sex references and some nudity.
Nobody was more excited for Bridget Jones’s Baby than…my fiance. Me? Meh. While I mildly enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Diary, I had nothing but bad things to say about The Edge of Reason, so now, some twelve years since we last saw Bridget, was I excited? No. Did I end up enjoying it? Perhaps.
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Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger, Chicago, Case 39) has finally reached her ideal weight, but that doesn’t seem to be solving any of her other problems, especially in her love life. So when a work friend drags Bridget to an outdoor music festival, she meets and spends the night with Jack (Patrick Dempsey, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Transformers: Dark of the Moon). A week later, she reunites with her ex Mark Darcy (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech, Kingsman: The Secret Service). Then, the shocker: Bridget Jones is pregnant, but she has no idea who the daddy is or what to do with the two men who now want her heart.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this: I actually enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Baby. Way more than I thought I would. I found Jack Qwant to be a much more interesting foil to Mark Darcy. I like that Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver is dealt with in an interesting way that allows his absence to not halter the film’s progression. I even enjoyed the surprising celebrity cameo.
Now, I had plenty of problems with the film. I felt like the first act of the film takes way too long to get going. You know the film is called Bridget Jones’s Baby, so you know she is having a baby, but it takes so long to set it up that it does lose focus. The finale also has the opportunity to take a few risks but instead the plot takes a safe route and the film suffers for it.
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Some of the best moments from Bridget Jones’s Baby had me laughing out loud in the theater and they were scenes that featured in the trailer but worked so much better in the finished film. The cast all know their characters well by now and the new additions like Dempsey and Emma Thompson (Love Actually, A Walk in the Woods) as Dr. Rawlings fit in nicely. Altogether, it’s a fitting conclusion to this trilogy of sorts that should work for fans of the original.
3.5/5
-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

31 Days of Horror: Day 22 – Monkey Shines (1988)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, William Newman

Screenplay: George A. Romero

113 mins. Rated R.

 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Bruiser) has tackled zombies. I think we all attest to that. He has mastered camp horror (please check out his work with Stephen King in Creepshow, awesome film). There are a lot of things he can do with a horror film. Maybe a killer monkey just isn’t one of those things.

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I recently discovered Monkey Shines, a film I had been looking for since I saw the VHS cover some years back at a rental store (remember all those things?) and I was finally able to watch it.

Allan Mann (Jason Beghe, TV’s Chicago P.D., Thelma & Louise) is a successful athlete who is run down in a traffic collision and becomes a quadriplegic. Suffering from depression and the inability to cope with this new life, Allan is gifted with a monkey from his friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, TV’s Mad About You, Morning Glory). The monkey, named Ella, has been trained by gifted support animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil, The House on Sorority Row, Glitter). Unfortunately, Ella forms an obsessive and violent bond with Allan and begins to kill those around him. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I think the major flaw with Monkey Shines is exactly what doomed it from the start. It is a horror film that lacks horror. Here is a film with an animal that doesn’t seem all that dangerous, and it doesn’t convince me that Ella is. It isn’t easy to convince us that an animal with such an affectionate bond with a human can alter that love so quickly. We have stories that have succeeded where Monkey Shines failed. We have Stephen King’s novel Cujo, an excellent little exercise in creative horror about a dog who becomes the embodiment of fear when rabies (or as King hints at, pure evil) inhabits its body. Cujo (the book, not the movie) was an achievement. Monkey Shines was not. It just plain isn’t scary. Some of it just comes off as funny.

We don’t have any horrible performances. We get some early work from Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, The Lone Ranger) and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Transformers: Age of Extinction) here, but little more.

Although it feels tough to fully blame writer/director Romero, who had his finished film taken away from him multiple times and finally after being completed, the studio put a different ending in that makes it feel very un-Romero.

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Monkey Shines was taglined as “An Experiment in Fear.” I had my hypothesis. I had my conclusion. This is one experiment we need not try again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

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