Brightburn (2019)

Director: David Yarovesky

Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner

Screenplay: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn

90 mins. Rated R for horror violence/bloody images, and language.

 

Brightburn is an excellent example of a “What-If?” kind of film, one that takes a previously established archetype and turns it on its head. For this scenario, the film takes a look at superheroes, most specifically Superman. No, they’ll never be able to say it’s Superman, but c’mon…it’s Superman.

When a spaceship crashes onto a small farm in Brightburn, Kansas, Tori (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman, Puzzle, Logan Lucky) discover a baby boy inside the wreckage. The two adopt the baby, naming him Brandon. Flash-forward twelve years and Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, Avengers: Endgame, Gone are the Days), now nearing puberty, is becoming disobedient and troublesome. It is during this time that he starts to notice that he isn’t like all the other kids. He has superhuman strength and a violent temper. Tori and Kyle are forced to discover exactly what their son really is.

Imagine Superman…but he’s evil. It’s as simple as that. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a very interesting idea to explore in a film, and I mostly dug it. Perhaps the film’s biggest problem is that I don’t think it really explores the idea fully, and it doesn’t offer up enough twists and turns to maintain investment. I knew where it was going the whole time, and nothing really surprised me about the film. Near the end, it just kind of lost my focus. Something like Brightburn would be better as a short film or an episode of some horror anthology series. If you told me to come up with a story about an evil Superman, I’m pretty sure I would hit all the same beats as the film hit without much trouble.

I really enjoyed Banks and Denman’s chemistry and performances as Brandon’s human parents. Their journey of understanding who Brandon really is works pretty well, and I was invested in their conflict. The best aspect of the film is that question of what to do about him. That’s where the ethical discussion would come into play, and I wanted that further explored.

The rest of the film works fine enough, and it sets up where a potential would go, which excited me. Brightburn gives us some likable characters and a really tough premise, and it hits those horror notes really well. There’s some pretty gory stuff in the movie, and director David Yarovesky (The Hive) holds the tension very well.

Brightburn is a fun little experiment in the deconstruction of the superhero mythology. It works pretty well as a fun little horror movie, but my one major problem with the film is that it didn’t surprise me. Everything that happened in the film is exactly what I expected to happen, and that made me less interested in the narrative because I saw all the plot beats way ahead of time, and I would have liked something with a bit more to its plot. I still recommend it to horror fans and superhero fans for a good little time, and I would be totally into seeing a sequel.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

Director: Mike Mitchell

Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

106 mins. Rated PG for some rude humor.

 

Do you remember when Everything was Awesome back in 2014 when The Lego Movie surprised everyone by actually being great? Remember how it got completely snubbed at the Oscars causing complete and utter outcry and sadness? Remember Pepperidge Farm? I remember.

It’s been five years since Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) saved everyone by defeating the evil Lord Business on Taco Tuesday. Unfortunately for Emmet, Lucy (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games, The Happytime Murders), and the others, that victory only made way for the invasion of the Duplos, frightening beings from the Systar System. Now, Everything is Not Awesome, and Bricksburg has become the bleak and dark and brooding Apocalypseburg. Emmet has tried to make the best of it by staying positive, but his happiness is tested when the sinister General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz, Short Term 12, TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine) kidnaps Lucy and the others and takes to them to the Systar System to meet with Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History) for a royal wedding. Emmet has to join up with the dangerous and strong Rex Dangervest (also Pratt in a dual-role) in order to have a chance at saving them and avoiding “Our-Mom-Ageddon” in the process.

The Lego Movie 2 sets itself up nicely as a direct sequel to the original film and even a follow-up to The Lego Batman Movie, but it’s clear that this sequel is missing the boat a bit in terms of its ability to ignite fire in its story. It comes right out and states that this is set 5 years after the events of The Lego Movie, but it doesn’t feel like anything fresh has been conjured in those five years. While the events, scenarios, and overall message of this sequel, there’s just something in the film that doesn’t work as well, as though director Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After, Trolls) is struggling to be Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of the previous film.

Lord and Miller have crafted the screenplay here, and that’s why the overall arc of the film works, including some of the third-act twists and turns. I was surprised at myself for not getting where the film was going as it went, and I think that upped my overall enjoyment of the film. I found the screenplay’s meta-humor broadened even more so with the original film’s revelation that the Lego world is a representation of what is happening in the real world. Lord and Miller are able to use that to craft a lot of interesting humor between the real world and the Lego world that works nicely to bridge the two films.

The voice-work is pretty solid here, especially from newcomers Haddish and Beatriz. Haddish takes a lot of the heavy lifting as Wa’Nabi, and she holds her own in several musical numbers. With their inclusion, though, I felt the loss of Benny (Charlie Day, Hotel Artemis, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Parks and Recreation), and Unikitty (Alison Brie, The Post, TV’s Community), who are all relegated to tertiary-level characters in the sequel.

I think it was a bad call for Warner Bros to move the release date of this sequel to accommodate The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie. It separates this sequel from its predecessor in a way that kind of hurts it for people that haven’t watched the original recently. The Lego Movie 2 is perfectly fine and, at times, brilliant, but it mostly stands in the shadow of The Lego Movie, always being fun but never rising up to the level of its predecessor. I still found myself enjoying it, but it’s a step down.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s The Lego Movie, click here.

May 2015 Preview

 

Now, we are in the thick of it. It is almost May 2015, and with the release of April’s Furious 7, we have seen the blockbuster season begin in full force. So what else does May have to offer? Avengers: Age of Ultron opened just a couple days ago with a wide release this week.

Keep in mind that these Previews are my estimates of the hits and misses for May. These estimates are based on early buzz, history, and other info I have collected about the films in question. Let’s Begin…

 

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Far from the Madding Crowd

Carey Mulligan leads this film scripted by David Nicholls as the fourth adaptation of the novel by Thomas Hardy about a woman, Mulligan, suited by three vastly different men. I will say this. There have been good and bad adaptations of the book. Do we need another? I don’t think so. Mulligan is aided by the great Michael Sheen here and I feel like it has the chops to be well-put together, but we just don’t really need it.

 

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Welcome to Me

Welcome to Me made waves back in 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival starring Kristen Wiig as a lottery winner who decides to start a cable access talk show in the effort to build her fame. This one seems like a real winner to me, though it is concerning that it would be dumped off when Avengers gets a full release, never a great placement. Perhaps the studio thinks it will draw in a different kind of filmgoer, I’m not so sure.

 

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Hot Pursuit

No. That is how I want to start. No. We’ve seen the “hot girl kicking ass in a buddy cop” formula and I don’t feel like this film, from the trailers and posters, is going to divert from that plan. Stay away. Shame on you, Witherspoon.

 

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Maggie

Schwarzenegger is a dad to a zombie. Sign me up! In Maggie, Ahnold plays a loving father to a young girl who is slowly becoming a bloodthirsty zombie. I’ve seen trailers and this film looks beautifully shot. I’m not expecting top acting from The Governator, but I don’t think anyone really is. I’m feeling like, either way, Maggie is going to be worth the time, adding a new storytelling layer to a genre that could use it.

 

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Now where the hell did Mad Max 4 come from? I heard virtually nothing about it until last year’s Comic-Con when a trailer was released that looked like batshit crazy action to the highest level reminiscent of the later Fast & Furious movies but in a post-apocalyptic setting. Max (now played by Tom Hardy, the actor not the writer of Far from the Madding Crowd) has been recruited to help Furiousa (played by Charlize Theron) who needs his help to cross the vast desert wasteland with some seriously important cargo that could change the future of what is left of mankind. Max looks great, Furiousa looks awesome. The villain is absolutely creepy. The action scenes are of the highest octane. This is a win, plain and simple.

 

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Pitch Perfect 2

In the directorial debut for Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect 2 picks up with the cast of the highly enjoyable original film to regain their glory after mistakes cause the group to lose the respect of their adoring masses. I guess. Sorry, I’m sure I would like this movie but I never really saw the original, so that’s on me. What I can tell you is this. Early reports say that this film is very similar to the first and it sounds like if you like one, you’ll like the other. I leave it to you.

 

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Poltergeist

In this remake of the classic Tobe Hooper film, Poltergeist, is essentially a reimagined look at the same story with newer special effects. It has been brought up to present day, but I’ve heard that this film is pretty damn terrifying. I’m thinking high on the bubble here.

 

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Tomorrowland

George Clooney and Britt Robertson travel to a mysterious place that exists somewhere in time and space, a place called Tomorrowland. Not much more is known, but director Brad Bird (who previously gave us the splendid Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) has been in the pocket of Disney for a while and continues to impress. Clooney rarely missteps so I really think we are going to get something incredible here.

 

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Aloha

From Cameron Crowe comes Aloha, starring Bradley Cooper as a contractor assigned to a weapons satellite in Hawaii. It also features Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, and a cadre of different diversely fantastic performers. I’m on the bubble, as Crowe hasn’t blown me away in some time, but I’m leaning to the good here.

 

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San Andreas

Hey everyone, I guess they did make a sequel to 2012! Just kidding, but I might not be. In San Andreas, The Rock saves the world when the San Andreas fault line causes massive earthquakes all over the USA. This one really could go either way, as not much has been released other than a few quick teasers. I want to say good, but I don’t want to lie. I’m going to bubble this one with a drag down to skip.

 

There you have it folks, May 2015 in a nutshell. Take a look below for a final tally, and we will see you in June! Happy viewing!

 

Final Tally:

Best Bets: Welcome to Me, Maggie, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland

On the Bubble: Far from the Madding Crowd, Poltergeist, Aloha, San Andreas

Likely Misses: Hot Pursuit

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

 

Of all the young adult post-apocalyptic stories currently drowning our theaters, The Hunger Games is definitely at the top of my list. The list is of good quality work, and the list is small. At just over two hours, the newest film in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, takes the series in a new direction while setting up the final climactic piece to this series, but does it work?

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Yes and no.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: Days of Future Past) has escaped from the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games intact, and now she finds herself in the midst of a major rebellion against the Capitol and the insidious President Snow (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, Horrible Bosses). Her on-again-off-again real-but-also-kind-of-fake boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia, Epic) has been captured and might be dead. She is joined in her quest to take down Snow by friends Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2, Empire State) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, TV’s True Detective, No Country for Old Men) as well as the rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, Magnolia, Non-Stop) and her second-in-command Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote, Doubt). Does Katniss have what it takes to be the face of a rebellion, and can she save the ones she loves from the dark and powerful Capitol?

First of all, I must say that I was in agreement about making Mockingjay into two films. Having read the book, I found that there was a lot of material to be mined from it and I couldn’t see a logical place to cut it without it feeling rushed. That being said, I felt that the area they could’ve beefed up and gone into more were not. We are thrown into the film without have a few minutes to start connecting the dots. I spoke to some views who hadn’t read the books to question their thoughts and they felt as though a little more prologue or something to bring the story into its frame of reference would’ve been appreciated. We also could have spent more time with some of our new characters and there are a lot of them, virtually all of them in this film. We could’ve developed Liam Hemsworth’s Gale as more than just a good-looking fella. There is some action for Hemsworth in this picture but it doesn’t feel as exciting because frankly we don’t know his character like we should.

Now, this movie isn’t bad, don’t think that’s where I’m going with this, but it could’ve had better pacing and more to it. We get some great work from J-Law here as Katniss, and some awesome work our second tier players Moore, Hoffman (in the last performance before he was taken from us), and Harrelson.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) handles the material well, but I don’t think he added as much from a stylistic perspective as he could have. Think about the latter Harry Potter films, the ones directed by David Yates. Each Yates film in the series, although directed by the same man, has a different feeling and a wholly unique style. I could see a moment from Yates’ film and know which film it is. I don’t feel like F-Law has learned anything from last year’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which he should have. Again, not really a flaw, just a notice.

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The problem with most of these films is that they are intended to be viewed as a whole, so when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is released next year, I will take a look back at this first installment (or third, technically) and see how it holds up as a complete saga. Mockingjay – Part 1 is a strong and powerful entry in The Hunger Games saga. There are some truly great moments in this film, and we get a wide array of awesome performances and a lot of tension building for next year’s finale. It is, however, a step down from Catching Fire.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Lego Movie (2014)

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Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Cast: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

100 mins. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.

 

The Lego Movie has a simple enough premise: an ordinary everyday man (mini-figure?), Emmet (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, next year’s Jurassic World) discovers that he may actually be the Special, a Master-Builder who can save the Lego world from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell, Step Brothers, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), who plans to unleash a weapon known only as the Kragle. Joining Emmet in his quest is Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games, Walk of Shame), another jealous Master,a Lego-ized Batman (Will Arnett, Despicable Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a cyborg pirate named Metal Beard (Nick Offerman, TV’s Parks & Recreation, 22 Jump Street), a princess unicorn/kitty (Alison Brie, TV’s Community, The Five-Year Engagement), a hyper-active astronaut (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Horrible Bosses 2), and a wizard with a prophecy (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption, Lucy). Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, A Million Ways to Die in the West) is Good Cop/Bad Cop, an unhinged enforcer working for Lord Business is hot on their tails.

This movie shocked me by how much I enjoyed it. After it began raking in the big bucks, I assumed it was at least something of merit, but originally, I laughed it off. I had seen toys/board games turned into really bad movies before, and I just knew that this would be one of them. After all, do Legos have a plot? Not really. In fact, they are meant to be a tool for imagination in a lot of ways. Little did I think that this would be the resounding theme of the film.

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The breakout voice work here is from Pratt, Arnett, and Neeson. The former two for their great comedic timing, and the latter for his ability to play straight-laced with absolutely wacky. I can tell from this performance that we will see a lot more headlining from Chris Pratt in the future (and that isn’t all that much of a prediction with Guardians of the Galaxy just recently released and Jurassic World on the way for 2015).

The cinematography in this movie is astounding. Get a look at this visual perfection. The Lego-style brick animation looks very stop-motiony and mixes perfectly with the lush landscapes in a very unique way that I’ve never seen before.

The music is another major win here. This score is very mechanical and, forgive my pun, building the entire story in a way that just pumped me up for the action and mayhem still to come. Let’s not forget the song “Everything is Awesome!” I could probably spend another article just analyzing this incredible piece that not only is very catchy, but also adds an entirely new dimension to the story.

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What more can I say? The Lego Movie is absolutely astounding! From the Octan references that harken back to my childhood to the overtly meta-storytelling we could get from Writer-Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, I cannot recommend this movie enough, both for children and adults, it works on just about every level, and it just so happens to be one of the best films of the year. Look for it in the Best Animated Feature category at next year’s Oscars.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie? Was Everything Awesome? Did the film just not snap together for you? Let me know!

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