[#2020oscardeathrace] Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Director: Joachim Rønning

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Leslie Manville, Michelle Pfeiffer

Screenplay: Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster

119 mins. Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [PENDING]

 

I was genuinely interested in Maleficent when it came out back in 2014. I liked the idea that Disney was taking a different route with their live-action adaptations by focusing on the villain. It’s an overall rough move, but I admired the attempt. Unfortunately, that was all for naught, as Disney merely decided to make Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted, Kung Fu Panda 3) into the hero and make the King an evil bad guy. It was a disappointing move that essentially turned Maleficent into a film that didn’t work. Now, some years later, Disney is going back into the world of Maleficent with a sequel, and to be fair, the trailers seemed quite intriguing. But would Mistress of Evil be a course-correction, turning Maleficent into the villain we all know her to be, or is this another misfire?

Five years have passed since the death of the evil King Stefan, Maleficent has been protecting the Moors with Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8, A Rainy Day in New York) serving as Queen. When Prince Phillip from Ulstead proposes marriage to Aurora, Maleficent is forced to play nice when meeting Phillip’s parents, King John and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray, Avengers: Endgame). That plan goes south when Ingrith creates toxicity at their first dinner together, manipulating the situation to make Maleficent look like the evil creature that the people of Ulstead believe her to be. She flees but is attacked by Ingrith’s soldiers and is injured, rescued at the last second by a winged creature who looks similar to her. Now, with Maleficent in hiding and Ingrith twisting the narrative, it would appear that there’s no stopping an all-out war between the humans and the magical creatures, and it’s up to Maleficent to stop it.

Apart from the obvious question of “Who Was Asking for Maleficent 2?” comes the realization that, to a lesser extent, this follow-up repeats the same mistakes as the original. Again, we have a marketing campaign selling us on Maleficent, the Mistress of Evil, one of the greatest villains in history, and the movie is Maleficent Lite, the “Diet Coke of Evil” as Mike Myers once put it. Yet again, we have an opportunity to see a hero turn to darkness, and yet again, the decision is made to keep her heroic. This film rides the line a little better than before, but it still keeps Maleficent heroic.

The performances are all just fine, specifically Jolie, Fanning, and Pfeiffer, but I feel like the writing for Queen Ingrith intrudes on Pfeiffer’s performance, making her a little mustache-twirly at times. I don’t get her motivation as a villain considering how the first film framed Maleficent, and I need more from her character to showcase why she has it out for Maleficent.

Outside of all that, some of the action is fun even though this movie is so CGI-heavy that it’s tough to take any of it seriously. The CGI is just a little too glossy. It’s enjoyable enough, and what can I say, it’s a better movie than its predecessor, but not by much.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a poor title for this film considering Disney isn’t actually willing to make a story about the real villain and chooses to sugarcoat this story making the villain into the hero…yet again. It’s disappointing because this sequel just feels like broken promises stretched into two hours. I think there are people that will enjoy it, and I believe it is a wholly better film than the first one, but I don’t think we need this franchise to continue.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent, click here.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

It would be incredibly hard to market a film like Alita: Battle Angel. Like Speed Racer a decade ago, the film is like a living anime, not something easily sellable in two minutes. There was immediate discussion about the main character’s appearance, as she had two large, cartoonish eyes. Many wondered if it was possible to view her as a relatable character when she looked so toony. I was concerned about that as well. Thank goodness that is not the case.

In Iron City, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Downsizing) finds a destroyed cyborg with a working brain. He fixes it up, brings it back to life without any memory of her past, and gives her a name. Now, this cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), is actively trying to learn more about her world, and she befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, Heritage Falls, TV’s Spooksville), a young man who dreams of rising out of Iron City into the floating sky city above them, Zalem. In her travels, Alita finds that her past is one of great importance, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all the while being hunted by other nefarious cyborgs.

For starters, let’s talk about Alita. Rosa Salazar owns this role and this film. For a cyborg, her performance is incredibly human. She is a playful child in some ways as she rediscovers the world, and the emotions that exist within it. As far as the CG facial work, it’s hardly noticeable. It lends to a unique character, and it works quite well. After the first few moments, I found myself not even realizing that I was seeing CG and I just became lost in the character.

The supporting cast is mostly filled with talented work, but some performers, like Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV’s True Detective) as Vector, the criminal entrepreneur, and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Only the Brave) as Dr. Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife, are given little to nothing to really do in the movie. Ali and Connelly do fine work with what their given, but it just isn’t enough to create the memorable characters both are capable of, and especially considering Ali’s most recent success with Moonlight and Green Book, it feels wasted.

Then there’s Hugo. I didn’t like Hugo as a character. I didn’t like the way he was written and I didn’t like the way he was portrayed. I didn’t like his lack of chemistry with Alita. It’s frustrating when he’s on film because I get what is being attempted, but it just never really hits.

Where director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Machete Kills) truly wins here is his knack for understanding and showcasing spectacle, something Alita: Battle Angel explodes with. Both Rodriguez and screenwriter James Cameron understand the spectacle of a true cinematic experience, and that’s what is accomplished with Alita. I just had so much fun in this true theater-going adventure, and it looks better than just about anything out there right now. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to in the Avatar sequels, the sense of wild and incredible visual candy, and that’s what I got here.

Alita: Battle Angel stumbles with a few characters, but it’s also unlike anything I’ve seen on screen before. Director Robert Rodriguez swings for the fences, and it mostly works really well. This is the kind of film that begs for a sequel to further explore the world, the mythology, and the characters, and it may not get that, which is a true shame because Alita: Battle Angel did a lot of heavy lifting here, and it left me wanting more in the best possible way. Seek this one out on the biggest screen you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, click here.

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

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, click here.

[Early Review] If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, Emily Rios, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Barry Jenkins

119 mins. Rated R for language and some sexual content.

 

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy) carries a lot of clout based on his recent Best Picture win, and for his follow-up feature, he adapted James Baldwin’s classic novel If Beale Street Could Talk. I’ve had a copy of the book on my shelf for some time and have yet to reach for it (there are stacks of books to read in front of the bookshelf; I’m doubtful I could even reach it at the moment), but I’ve been aware of its important for a while now. I know the book is very important and personal to Jenkins, and the trailers have been magnificent, and so is the finished product.

The film is the story of Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James, Race, TV’s Homecoming) and their love story. Fonny has been incarcerated for the rape of Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios, Quinceanera, TV’s Snowfall), but Tish knows he’s innocent. She was with him that night, and she knows Fonny. There’s a cop, though, Officer Bell (Ed Skrein, Deadpool, The Transporter Refueled), who claims he saw Fonny flee the scene. Now, Tish is tasked with proving Fonny’s innocence while carrying his child, and her loving family is fighting for them.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a damn beautiful love story. It’s sweet and tender and, at times funny and heartbreaking. Kiki Layne shines as a standout in her first feature film, and Stephan James is incredible. He is able to say so much with his eyes. In fact, one of the most powerful elements of Jenkins’s film is his letting the camera focus on one person and just letting them breathe and feel. So much performance is gleaned from the moments of silence that the film allows. It’s a slow burn at times because of it, but I wouldn’t say I was ever bored by it.

The supporting cast is, to be fair, incredible. Colman Domingo (Lincoln, TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) and Regina King (Ray, TV’s American Crime) shine as Tish’s parents, and the film is littered with minor performances from talented actors. The wonderful Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s Atlanta) has maybe ten minutes of screen time but the message and strength of his supporting character gives so much during that time.

The other major strength of the film besides performance and the gorgeous cinematography is the score. Every time the sweeping music came into play, I felt the hair on my arms stand up. Its simplicity and repetition make for a memorable, sweet, and at times foreboding piece of music.

If I had a flaw with the film, it would purely be that its ending is left slightly open-ended. We don’t get resolution on some of our plot threads, but my wife put it quite well. She says that it’s because our characters, even with some closure, still have uncertainty in where their lives are headed, and it’s a haunting way to end things. There’s some light for them indeed, but leaving things open just made me pine for more.

If Beale Street Could Talk is an excellent follow-up for director Barry Jenkins. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was nominated for or even wins Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. It’s stacked with amazing performance work, stunning visuals and color choices, and a musical score that will stay with you long after leaving the theater. Take some time after Christmas to find a theater playing this one. You’ll be happy you did.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Ed Skrein Joins Hellboy Reboot

Hey everyone,

Just a little news to report today as Ed Skrein from Deadpool (and also the first iteration of Dario from Game of Thrones) has joined the cast of the Hellboy reboot. The film, directed by Neil Marshall, has already assembled a pretty stellar cast in Ian McShane, Milla Jovovich, and David K. Harbour. Skrein will play Major Ben Daimio, a fan favorite character introduced thirteen years ago when the first Hellboy film was coming together. Daimio has never been put to film.

I didn’t read a lot of the B.P.R.D. and Hellboy comics but it appears that Daimio is a soldier who was killed but brought back to life as a were-jaguar. In any other character breakdown, that might be strange, but it seems par for the course here. It sounds like Daimio is an Asian-American, though, so I worry about cries of whitewashing hurting this casting.

I personally believe an actor should play a role because he can perform it, but I also think this possible controversy is going to hurt the film. I love Skrein in Deadpool even though I felt he was miscast in Game of Thrones and was happy he left the project.

All in all, I’m starting to get excited for Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, even though I’m very sad to see Guillermo del Toro’s vision for a Hellboy III completely disappear because of it. I get it, it was probably never going to happen, but it still breaks my heart. However, the reboot is chugging along rather nicely, and as more of the pieces fall into place, I’m finding myself more and more interesting in how this whole thing will come together, and Skrein is a definite win for the film.

What do you think? Are you excited for Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen? Do you like the addition of Ed Skrein to the cast? If not, who would you put in the role of Ben Daimio? Let me know/drop a comment below!

Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen is aiming for a 2018 release date.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Deadpool (2016)

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Director: Tim Miller

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Ed Skrein, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

108 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity.

IMDb Top 250: #86 (as of 3/17/2016)

 

I’m almost in shock that I’m writing a review to Deadpool. I honestly never thought this film would even get off the ground, and many times, it actually didn’t, but due to the nerd-filled world we now live in, we somehow have been blessed with a Deadpool, and not only that, but the Deadpool that we deserve.

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Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, Green Lantern, Self/Less) is a mercenary and an asshole, or perhaps a Merc with a Mouth, who falls for the beautiful and damaged Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, TV’s Homeland, Batman: Bad Blood) after literally boning for a year. Their love has been sealed, until fate, in the form of cancer, begins knocking on Wade’s door. He enters into a secretive and risky program run by Ajax (Ed Skrein, The Transporter Refuled, The Model), a mutant scientist weird guy. Soon, Wade is bestowed mutagen powers in the form of regeneration which gives him some terrible side effects. He pursues Ajax, the mutant responsible, by killing all of his henchmen, and dons the moniker Deadpool. Also, there are X-Men in the movie.

Oftentimes, when I review a film, I ask myself, what should this film be? How should it feel? How should it look? How should I leave it? Deadpool has the distinction of being almost exactly how this movie should be, a veritable knock-out of a film. Ryan Reynolds is the perfect embodiment of the Merc in just about every way, and what’s better, he cares about the source material, which matters.

Morena Baccarin is hot. She is portrayed as hot. And her chemistry with Reynolds is wonderful. Add to that the perfect casting of T.J. Miller (Cloverfield, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Weasel, essentially the comic relief sidekick no one asked for but everyone is glad to have.

I also enjoyed the cameo-like appearance of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) as members of the X-Men, though in future installments, I feel like the connective tissue between Deadpool and the X-Men can be deeper (this will require great care as the two have very different styles). I was disappointed to find that there was no mention of Wolverine’s DNA and its connection to Wade. One of the few problems I had with the film was that it felt like it was trying to distance itself from the X-Men universe while also sending up references to the MCU. Being a general nerd here, I can ascertain that these are two different franchises, but I don’t think the general movie audience can completely separate the two.

The screenplay, from duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) is mostly solid, with the exception being that without the interesting flashback structure, the “origin” story is rather one-dimensional, very much a paint-by-the-numbers tale. Thankfully, structure and style had this fact, but they can’t entirely hide the fact that the villain is rather one-dimensional (Ed Skrein really should’ve thought harder about leaving Game of Thrones).

Lastly, I feel compelled to point out the success of the fourth-wall breaks (they work really well), and note that the Stan Lee cameo in Deadpool is perhaps the best he’s ever had.

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Deadpool: the little Marvel property that could. It survived horrible butchering in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and made it all the way to success in a new timeline thanks to X-Men: Days of Future Past, and it was all worth it. Deadpool is loads of fun, really cool, and it elevates itself above the level of a normal superhero movie. Why haven’t you seen it yet?

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

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