[Early Review] Ready or Not (2019)

Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell

Screenplay: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy

95 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use.

 

I won’t lie to you. I hadn’t heard or Ready or Not until about six weeks ago when the single trailer dropped for this movie. I don’t think Disney wants to market much of the Fox stuff that they don’t have faith in. The trailer looked silly and fun, and it made me very excited to see it. It could be because I love horror movies, or it could be because I love board games, but something about this one just got me in the trailer. Watching that trailer every time I went to the theater for the past six weeks rocketed this movie up into my Most Anticipated list, and it was so worth it.

It’s a beautiful day for bride Grace (Samara Weaving, Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s SMILF). She’s just married the love of her life, Alex (Mark O’Brien, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire), and not even his snide and disapproving family can ruin the wedding for her. That is, until the wedding night, when she is introduced to the family’s tradition. Alex is a member of the Le Domas family, a wealthy dynasty of the board game industry, and their tradition is to play a game whenever someone new joins the family. Every wedding night, this tradition is kept, and the game for tonight is Hide and Seek, but this isn’t just a game for the Le Domas family or Grace. Their version of Hide and Seek involves crossbows, axes, shotguns, and blood. Now, Grace has to survive until dawn to win and survive, but the Le Domas family are very competitive when it comes to this game, and they will do anything to find her.

This is definitely a film that you need to understand before you go in, but it’s also one I would suggest skipping the trailer for if you are interested (a lot of my favorite moments in the film are revealed in the trailer). Ready or Not is silly and goofy and gory and a hell of a good time. Now, this isn’t the type of horror film to keep you up at night, but for a brisk 95 minutes, it was so much fun. It never takes itself too seriously (because, c’mon, how could it?) and its colorful cast of eccentric characters make for quite an enjoyable experience.

Samara Weaving makes a strong case here for a new scream queen. She belts out some seriously guttural yells in this, and she makes for a compelling and accessible heroine. All she wants at the onset of the film is to be accepted by a family, something she’s been missing her whole life, and now she is thrust into the most absurd of circumstances and forced to fight her new family to save her life. You could make the argument that she gets real violent, real quick, but I would also say that she has an edge about herself from her years of living in fear of being alone that she hardened up.

The Le Domas family is full of very fun characters. Each of them has a specific role to play in the night’s events. I personally loved patriarch Tony (Henry Czerny, Mission: Impossible, TV’s Sharp Objects) as the family leader and his loving-but-firm wife Becky (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day, The Last Laugh), but each member of the family has something about them that made them fun to be onscreen.

My one problem with the film is that it puts all of its cards on the table rather early on and I would have liked some of the crazier elements to be slowly unfolded as the film moves along. I think it would have felt less-forced in the narrative to slowly reveal what’s ready going on as opposed to just laying it all out so early.

Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Devil’s Due, Southbound) have crafted a fun action-horror-comedy hybrid tone for their film which works so very well. I’m doubtful that the new Fox Searchlight regime would want to press forward on a sequel, but I could see a lot of ways to make this into an interesting and fun franchise. Ready or Not is the perfect palate-cleanser for a rough summer movie season. For horror fans, seek this one out. Immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Devil’s Due, click here.

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Director: Josh Cooley

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom

100 mins. Rated G.

IMDb Top 250: #132 (as of 7/9/2019)

 

We didn’t need a Toy Story 4. That’s what I kept saying. We just didn’t need it. Toy Story 3 was a great ending to a solid trilogy and we didn’t need to muddy the waters with another installment almost destined to be terrible. We trusted Pixar not to ruin this one, and our trust in them was worth it.

It’s been two years since Andy gave his toys over to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw, American Sniper, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and departed for college, and the toys have been on a great many adventures since then. Andy’s favorite toy Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks, Cast Away, The Post) is struggling, though, as he has been seemingly forgotten by Bonnie when playtime occurs, but he remains vigilant in his duties to protect her, so when she becomes nervous at kindergarten orientation and makes a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale, Batman Ninja, TV’s Arrested Development), out of some trash and crafting supplies, Woody takes it upon himself to teach Forky how to be the best toy he can be. During this time, Bonnie and her family are on a vacation in the RV, and at one of the stops, Woody spots a lamp at an antique store that he believes may belong to Bo Peep (Annie Potts, Ghostbusters, TV’s Young Sheldon), a toy that one belonged to Andy’s sister, one that he cared for very deeply. Woody and Forky also come across the menacing Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks, Ginger & Rosa, TV’s Good Girls), a defective antique toy who wants Woody’s voice box for her own. Now, Woody must return Forky to Bonnie without getting caught by Gabby Gabby, and he is also forced to confront his own wants in the process.

Let’s cover the purpose of Toy Story 4, because if there was one criticism in just about any fan’s mind as they enter the theater, it’s the question of WHY? Why Toy Story 4? Well, I will say this. I think Toy Story 4 is the second-best film in the series behind the third film. That being said, I think Toy Story 4’s ending is so much better than the third film. It leaves up in a very satisfying place and works very well in questioning everything that came before. It’s a film that looks at the toys we have and asks a lot of questions.

This is very much Woody’s story, and he goes on it mostly without the help of the other toys, encountering lots of new characters in the process. While Toy Story 3 is the ending of the story in relation to Andy, Toy Story 4 takes a good hard look at Woody, a toy that has always been in service of his human, but he is confronted with the very real idea that he may not be Bonnie’s favorite toy. His character arc, especially in relation to Forky’s existential crisis of self, is very well-layered and something I’ve always wanted more out of.

The new characters are so wonderful as well. Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, TV’s Friends from College) and Jordan Peele (Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, TV’s The Twilight Zone) appear together as Ducky and Bunny, two sentient toys made sown-together at the hands, and they are an absolute delight. Key and Peele use the classic comedic timing and chemistry that they’ve been known for to make this the funniest of the Toy Story movies. They had me in stitches, never once ruining the scene by trying to hard.

Then, there’s Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum), a Canadian daredevil toy with a motorcycle capable of performing incredible stunts, or at least, that’s what the commercials had said. I love all the character Reeves packed into such a limited screen time. He worked tirelessly on embodying his character with the director, and it shows in the work. His is a similar character to the one that Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen, El Camino Christmas, TV’s Home Improvement) was in the first film: a toy that is coming to terms with its limits. He is broken on the inside because he was never able to meet the expectations of his commercial.

The only real flaw I had with Toy Story 4 is that I believe that Gabby Gabby is probably the worst villain of the entire franchise. It sounds like I may be in the minority on this one, but I’m going to speak my reasons and let them stand. I never found Gabby Gabby as a villain to be very menacing. Yes, she’s a little creepy and her henchmen ventriloquist dummies are certainly frightening and strange enough, but I never really saw her as villainous in the way that I saw, say, Lotso from Toy Story 3. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like she was antagonistic but never villainous.

Toy Story 4 also feels, at times, like a big game of I Spy. The antique store, where a good portion of the film is set, is chock full of Easter Eggs and references to other Pixar films, to Toy Story films, and to other pop culturally iconic movies, most notably The Shining, which has always had a somewhat odd connection to the Toy Story franchise. Then, there’s voice cameos galore, many of which I didn’t catch until someone told me about them after the film ended. It’s just a celebration of so much magic that Disney and Pixar can craft.

Toy Story 4 is the perfect true finale to the franchise, one I hope they actually keep to, and I absolutely adored this movie. It’s the ending that feels most earned, not just throughout this installment, but through the entire series. It’s a powerful finale that will drive many to tears, this writer included. I really enjoyed it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Alien Nation Remake Shelved at Fox/Disney

Alien Nation is a property primed up for a reboot or remake, but now, the new interpretation has been shelved over at the Fox offices, due almost completely to the Disney purchase. Jeff Nichols of Midnight Special and Mud fame had been set to direct the remake to the sci-fi film, and reports have swirled that the film has not been axed completely but is currently shelved.

I personally wouldn’t expect to see this revived anytime soon. It’s important to note that Disney will not want its own films to be competing against each other and will more than likely only want to release sure things. Alien Nation is not a sure thing. The same thing happened when Tron 3 was shelved a few years back, and I wouldn’t expect to see that one revived either.

Jeff Nichols will likely have to jump ship to something else, and it’s really too bad not to see a film like Alien Nation get off and going. The original 1988 film starred James Caan and Mandy Patinkin, was followed by a television series and five television sequels, so I know that there is a lot of material to mine for a new film, whether it be a remake or a reboot.

So what do you think? Should Disney rethink shelving Alien Nation or is this a good call? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Dumbo (2019)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

112 mins. Rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements and brief mild language.

 

Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) seemed like an odd choice for Dumbo, right?

When Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster, Widows) returns from the war, his job at the circus is gone, and circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito, Matilda, Twins) assigns him to the elephants, where he meets baby Dumbo, an adolescent elephant ridiculed by many for his unusually-sized ears. When Holt’s children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins), discover that Dumbo is able to fly with the aid of his ears, they set forth to save the failing circus, attracting the attention of the sinister salesman V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton, Birdman, American Assassin).

I want to start by saying I love it when Disney actually takes a property and updates it for a live-action release. As much as I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, I would rather have a different take on the film, like what Cinderella and Aladdin did. This is done again here, but it doesn’t work as well. Dumbo 2019 is a different film than its predecessor, and I respect that, but the results are hit-or-miss. It all boils down to the screenplay by Ehren Kruger (The Ring, Ghost in the Shell), which doesn’t really revive as much magic from the source material as one would like. It feels very straight-forward and, in that process, loses some of the magic and soul that a film like Dumbo should have. Events just kind of happen, and with a more muted Burton directing the film, it feels hollow at times.

Now there is magic, particularly to the central relationship between Farrell, Parker, and Hobbins, who are trying to reconnect after war and tragedy have decimated their family. I also really enjoyed DeVito’s Max Medici. At this point in his career, DeVito knows how to play to the circus performance character, and he really collaborates with Burton quite well.

Michael Keaton’s zany performance as Vandevere starts out strong but really never goes anywhere. He is quirky because he’s in a Tim Burton movie and not for any particularly villainous reason. He’s unlikable, and maybe because he’s a villain, that’s a good thing, but it didn’t really work entirely for me.

Now, the scenes involving Dumbo are crafted very nicely by Burton. His visual take on the CG elephant works really well, and it makes for some truly captivating moments. It’s here where the film shines, and in that way, it is quite similar to films like Godzilla and Transformers in that the CG stuff works better than most of the human characters, but not to that extent, I suppose.

Dumbo is a mish-mash of elements, some that work really well and some that don’t. It’s uneven in this way, with a screenplay that doesn’t reach the heights a flying elephant should be able to rocket it, a director who feels somewhat asleep at the wheel or possibly incorrectly hired, but a group of performers and a cute-as-a-button flying elephant make for an enjoyable experience. It’s a scathing critique of Disney culture made by Disney that doesn’t always know who it should be appealing to; kids will like the Dumbo stuff but the rest of the plot mostly services adults. Still, I enjoyed myself and find the film to be a rather fair addition to Disney’s live-action shelf.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

Feige Talks the Disney/Fox Deal and How to Incorporate the New Properties

I’m sure Kevin Feige is done talking about the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, but during an event for the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home, he took some time to talk again about it. So let’s unpack a few things he said.

First, he kept to his statement about taking his time, saying that he was in no real rush to add these characters to the MCU. This is still a smart statement for many reasons. First, we should point out that Kevin Feige makes a plan and usually sticks to it pretty close. Notice how his initial Phase 3 announcement compares to what we’ve see play out. The only major changes, to my memory, are the inclusion of Spider-Man, which didn’t need as much work and didn’t wrinkle the plan too much, and the movement of the Inhumans to a series from a movie, a move that you can say either worked out well for him or didn’t. The jury is still out on what an Inhumans movie would have looked like. Now, think about the reactionary approach to a DCEU or even The Dark Universe. A plan was made and then seemingly thrown out the window. He also has to come to terms with the failure of Dark Phoenix, which will leave a stain on the X-Men for a bit. Add that to the stain of a major Fantastic Four failure from a couple years back and Feige will have to play this one carefully.

He also stated that, while he is in no rush, he has been working on this possibility for a while now. Years, he states. He’s been playing though plans that have included and excluded the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man for years now, and that’s how Spider-Man: Homecoming was able to come together so quick in time to open up Phase 3.

It’s important to note that Phase 4 has been kept pretty secret for some time, but I would imagine, based on some of the statements from Kevin Feige over the years, that he has had some form of Phase 4 in his head for a long time. He stated a couple years back that he had storylines planned out through 2028. Now, this was back when Marvel was releasing 2 films a year, and maybe that changed when they moved to 3, but I have to imagine he’s had a future beyond Thanos and the Infinity Stones.

He shared that some character introductions work better in their own films and some, like Spider-Man and Black Panther, worked better in someone else’s story. It’s true, and the more I’ve thought about this, the more it has made sense. I would take that as a possibility that we could see a non-powered Reed Richards appear in someone else’s film in the MCU before the Fantastic Four get a solo movie. I could even believe that perhaps a Hank McCoy/Beast or a Professor X might get an appearance before an X-Men Proper film. These properties have fan expectations, so this one will be a tough inclusion process that might aid them to have an appearance elsewhere first.

So what do you think? When and how will we see the Fantastic Four and X-Men appear in the MCU, if at all? Let me know/Leave a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Aladdin (2019)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kanzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnusson

Screenplay: John August, Guy Ritchie

128 mins. Rated PG for some action/peril.

 

I don’t think anyone needs a live-action version of our favorite Disney characters, but they’re just going to do it anyway, it might as well be good.

In this live-action retelling of the 90s Disney classic, Aladdin (Mena Massoud, Ordinary Days, Let’s Rap) is a street rat living in Agrabah who is rather effective at stealing and pick-pocketing as a means of survival. When he comes across Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott, Power Rangers, The 33), masquerading as a royal handmaiden, on the streets of the city and in trouble in the marketplace, he helps her, and in the process becomes quite smitten. There’s a problem, though, because she can only marry a prince, and Aladdin is far from that life. Aladdin soon finds himself befriending a Genie (Will Smith, Bad Boys II, TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) who can make his dreams come true and make him someone worthy of marrying the princess, but he must ensure that all these outer changes don’t change the person he is on the inside.

We all know the story of Aladdin, right? Well, there’s nothing major that’s structurally changed in this version, but what is changed is rather cool to see. The most drastic change is how the Genie is portrayed, and it’s done so in a manner which shows love to the late great Robin Williams without caricaturing him. Will Smith brings something wholly unique to his portrayal, which works very well in this interpretation. Much like Williams referencing his own work and getting meta, there’s a 90s Fresh Prince vibe to a lot of the humor that Smith brings to his version of the Genie. The toughest thing is to separate the two incarnations, and that’s where Smith is the most successful. I wasn’t comparing these Genies at all while watching because I was so invested in his interpretation. It’s a good thing that Smith did not take the role of Holt Farrier in the new Dumbo film, a role filled by the more-fitting Colin Farrell, because the Genie suits him so well.

Mena Massoud is not a household name, but he was a perfect choice for Aladdin, one of the reasons being because he isn’t a household name yet. He had that Aladdin charm and comedy, but he was able to play to the character’s emotional arc quite well. It’s funny, because I was wondering how some of these live-action interpretations could get over the idea of falling in love with someone you just met a day earlier, but Massoud’s emotions are on his face the whole time, and his chemistry with Naomi Scott is solid.

There’s a few new layers in the film for the character of Jasmine. It’s a more feminist look at the beloved character, and in the past few years, as Disney has been refocusing their princesses away from the idea that they need a prince or love or a man to make them happy, it works quite well. I’m not sure of its historical accuracy, but there’s a talking magic genie, so there you have it. I really like the new character arc for Jasmine, but I wasn’t a big fan of the new song, Speechless. The song itself is fine, but it doesn’t sound like the rest of the music in the film, and it’s obvious that it was written by other artists. It’s a good song, but it doesn’t mesh with the film, and it doesn’t really fit.

Director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) seemed on the surface like an odd choice for Aladdin, but I read something he had said about Aladdin being the character he identified with most at a younger age. Ritchie is known for his fringe heroes, the ones who do not so great things but do them for the right reasons. The pick-pocketing street hustler character of Aladdin does fit him rather well, and this film is a good melding of his style with the Disney-branded wide appeal. There are times we see the Guy Ritchie slow-motion shot and the times we do work really well. The movie feels very collaborative in the best of ways.

Ritchie’s style fits with this new version of Jafar, played in the film by Marwan Kanzari (What Happened to Monday, The Angel). Dubbed Hot Jafar, Kanzari’s version of Jafar works right into Ritchie’s vision. He’s less a menacing, beard-twiddling evil and more of simpler, tighter version of a character, boiled down to his essence, a con man. He’s manipulating the system in order to become the Sultan. His menace lies both on the surface and under layers of cunning. His staff is a tool but he is nearly as good as changing people’s minds as the staff.

Navid Negahban (12 Strong, American Assassin) plays the Sultan, and this is another change that works better for the medium of live-action. The bumbling almost comic-relief Sultan of the animated film works very well for that version, but Negahban is a Sultan concerned with changing the laws of his land, and he is conflicted by his love for his daughter and his duty to tradition. A problem with eliminating his silliness is that it was given to another character in the film, Prince Anders (Billy Magnusson, Into the Woods, Velvet Buzzsaw), a worthless added fool that does little to add anything of substance to the narrative. Negahban’s character works, Magnusson’s flat-out does not.

Aladdin feels at times, especially early in the film, that it’s going too fast. There’s a jumbling to the early parts of the story that makes everything feel so rushed, but once the Genie is introduced, the film slows down significantly, and that’s where the story really opens up and breathes.

Aladdin is imperfect, but it is fun. It’s an enjoyably nostalgic ride through the Disney classic that isn’t overly-beholden to it. That’s when it works. Disney has ridden this line of how much they want their live-action retellings to carbon copy the animated film and how much they want to strike a new path. Aladdin isn’t always as successful as, say, a Cinderella or The Jungle Book, but it cannot be faulted for its lovely color-palette and visually striking storytelling or its fast-paced and fun action set pieces. I had a lot of fun with the flawed Aladdin. I think you will too.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Box Office Report] Secret Life of Pets and Dark Phoenix Win the Weekend in Underwhelming Openings

The new releases of this past weekend failed to make a large impression at the domestic box office. The Secret Life of Pets 2 opened to $47.1 million. To compare, the first film knocked it out of the park with a $104.3 million opening weekend, a record-breaker for original animated properties. So I didn’t expect the second film to hit that, but it is surprising how not-close it got, especially after opening on 4,561 locations, second highest theater count ever to Avengers: Endgame. I found the first film’s marketing to be much better on an underwhelming film experience. I expected the original film to be about the secret lives our pets have when we aren’t around, much as the titles suggests. Instead, it was a cheaper less-interesting version of Toy Story.

Fox’s last outing with this iteration of the X-Men, Dark Phoenix, opened to a disappointingly low $33 million, making it the lowest-opening of all the X-Men films and an absolute disaster set to perhaps even lose money, close to half the $65.7 million for X-Men: Apocalypse. News and rumors of the production nightmares as well as the reshoots and release date changes spelled potential doom for this film long ago, but I don’t think I expected it to fail on opening weekend. I had assumed that on its second weekend, we would see a higher drop-off, but this was a surprising turn of events. I checked out Dark Phoenix on Thursday night, and while I felt it was far from the worst in the franchise, it was still in the lower half of rankings, with a disappointingly soulless reinterpretation of the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Disney’s live-action Aladdin claimed third place this weekend with $24.5 million on its third weekend of release. The newest of Disney’s live-action interpretations of their famous properties, Aladdin stumbles in a few places but overall is a fun nostalgic ride that aims to try something new with the story, and I really enjoyed it. Globally, it sits at $604 million, which is currently the fourth highest-grossing film of the year behind Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and China Film Group’s The Wandering Earth.

Fourth place this weekend is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third film in the MonsterVerse behind Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, with $24.5 million. King of the Monsters has struggled in its release even though I felt like it was a major step up from the 2014 Godzilla, including all that kaiju which I love so much. The film has issues with its human characters but I liked them more than the blander humans of the 2014 film. It’s doing just fine globally, but its domestic run has been a rough one.

Rocketman nabbed fifth place this weekend, the musical biopic of Elton John claiming $14 million. I caught the film yesterday, and I absolutely adored it, and I hope it holds onto the Top Five for a bit longer.

Late Night opened in limited release with $249 thousand in four theaters. I quite enjoyed Late Night, and it should see some recognition for Emma Thompson’s incredible performance as an aging late-night talk-show host.

Next weekend should be an interesting one as Men in Black International drops alongside the newest Shaft sequel and Jim Jarmusch’s zombie film The Dead Don’t Die. Late Night will also open in wide-release.

So what did you see this weekend? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Box Office Report] Aladdin Grants a Memorial Day Wish for Earnings

Memorial Day weekend just ended here in the United States, and the four-day box office earnings have come out, and it looks like Disney’s newest live-action redo Aladdin has unsurprisingly taken the top spot with $112.7 million, but what is surprising is how much it made this weekend, even with trailer criticism and rumors of problems on set surfaced for months leading up to its release. The film initially garnered good reviews from critics which have somewhat middled-out since its premiere. The $112.7 was not enough to unseat Disney’s own Memorial Day weekend record of $139 million with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. It looks like people are willing to give Disney a chance on Aladdin. I personally thought the trailers looked fun, and I wasn’t going to give into trolls and critics on Will Smith’s take on the Genie because it is unfair to compare him to the late great Robin Williams and his classic vocal performance.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum held onto #2 this weekend with $31 million. The dropoff wasn’t terrible for the Keanu Reeves action film which is celebrating its best box office run in the series still. John Wick 4 has already been officially greenlit and will open in theaters in 2021, so don’t be too concerned for the John Wick franchise. This newest installment boasts some of the most intense and gripping action ever put to film, even if the story isn’t as strong as the original’s.

Avengers: Endgame took third place this weekend with $22.3 million. The long-awaited end to the Infinity Saga edges ever closer to Avatar’s worldwide record gross, but I doubt it will have the legs to make it past the James Cameron-directed sci-fi epic. The only factor still at play for the MCU’s latest is a possible bump when Spider-Man: Far From Home drops, but will it be enough?

In fourth this weekend is Pokemon: Detective Pikachu with $17 million. I was still hoping that the first live-action Pokemon film would have performed better, but give the hesitancy to see video game movies and the juggernaut of Endgame, I think the studio should still be proud of Detective Pikachu’s run. You also have to remember that Detective Pikachu was a popular game in Japan, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t even hit stateside until 2018.

The horror-film take on the superhero myth, Brightburn, opened in fifth place this weekend with $9.5 million, below forecast. Both this film and Booksmart took in less-than-stellar hauls, but I think timing on release was a problematic factor. There’s just too much out there right now and people made decisions with their dollars.

This weekend, I didn’t get a chance to nab any of the new releases mentioned here. I was only able to catch the somewhat wider release for the Ralph Fiennes-directed The White Crow. What did you see this weekend? Did you pick with your dollars? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Breakthrough (2019)

or “Not a Great Remake of The Dead Zone”

Director: Roxann Dawson

Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Marcel Ruiz, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell

Screenplay: Grant Nieporte

116 mins. Rated PG for thematic content including peril.

 

Breakthrough holds the historical distinction of being the first 20th Century Fox film released under Disney’s ownership. Fun factoid for you.

Breakthrough is based on the true story of John Smith (Marcel Ruiz, TV’s One Day at a Time), a teenager who fell through the icy lake and was without oxygen for an extended period of time. After being brought to the hospital, he was pronounced dead. His mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, TV’s This is Us) prays to God to help bring back her son, and miraculously, her son’s heart starts beating again, but John is still fighting for his life, and as the community rallies around Joyce and her family, prayer and hope become a fighting force.

I have gotten a lot of flak for my reviews of faith-based films in the past. I go into every film hoping for it to be a winner and I tend to put myself in the mindset of the film, asking “What does this film intend to accomplish?” For horror films, it’s usually to scare the pants off the audience. For comedies, it’s often to brighten someone’s day. It’s important to know a film’s intention before going in. When I see a faith-based film, I expect to have something inspirational or uplifting or at least something that challenges my beliefs to strengthen them. Most of the time, I don’t get that, and a lot of the time, it’s because the film doesn’t pull me in.

Breakthrough is one of the stronger faith-based films in recent years. It didn’t feel, to me, like the first feature film for a director, but it is. Director Roxann Dawson, a veteran of television directing for many years, tackles the subject material rather nicely.

The film’s biggest blunders come from its screenplay from Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds). The script has some of the cringiest dialogue of the year, but there’s such a well-rounded cast performing that it isn’t as noticeable as often. That being said, there’s only so much that can be done with Chrissy Metz’s dialogue. She often has to deliver some really cheesy work and it falls flat at times and pulls you right out of the film.

The screenplay’s structure works pretty well in that it establishes our emotional conflicts in the film early on and plays with the relationships of the various characters as they maneuver in and out of the film. I respected the fact that Joyce doesn’t get along well with the new Pastor in town, played by Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, TV’s The Hot Zone). Their conflict is a little goofier than I would have liked, but I still see the attempt. I also liked that the story attempts to tackle the idea that some people are saved by faith while others are not. It doesn’t wholly accomplish this, but again, it’s an area these films tend not to tread.

Perhaps the area where the film struggles in its overall narrative is placing Joyce at the center. I was much more engaged with her husband Brian (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House) and his struggle to accept that his son is fighting for his life. I would have liked to see his journey to faith be reclaimed). I also liked Tommy (Mike Colter, Men in Black 3, Extinction), the firefighter who saves John because he hears a voice telling him to keep looking. His problem is that he thinks God was talking to him, but he doesn’t believe in God. Either of these characters would have been stronger to place the load of the film on because they both have journeys to go on. We never see Joyce truly struggle in a realistic way and that makes her less of a dynamic character who is believable. Her struggle is not identifiable.

Breakthrough is altogether not a great film, but as far as films of this type go, I think this one is worth catching if you need a pick-me-up. It’s rather glossy and the dialogue needed a miracle at times, but it also made me feel good at times and inspired me in little doses. Breakthrough is not for everyone, but it will satisfy its core audience.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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.

 

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