Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

 

Well, we’ve come to the end, haven’t we? I guess, in the grand scheme of things, this is the third end, but who is really counting? With Episode IX, the Skywalker Saga has come to an end…for now, at least. Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) came on to an impossible task of ending the nine-film saga, the sequel trilogy itself, and make a less-divisive film than The Last Jedi. He also had to work around the death of one of his stars, Carrie Fisher (Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy). He also had the, perhaps unfair, perception that he’s much better at starting a story than finishing one. So with all that, is The Rise of Skywalker the perfect film that delivers on all of its goals. As it turns out, it’s more of a mixed bag.

It’s been a year since The Last Jedi, and the crumbling resistance fighters have gained a few additions but still pale in comparison with the size of the dreaded First Order, now under the leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, Marriage Story). Now, a strange message has been sent across the galaxy, seemingly coming from the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, The Lost City of Z, Sleepy Hollow), and it’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Ophelia) and her friends to discover his location before he unleashes his new Final Order upon the galaxy.

I think the best way to describe this final film in the Skywalker Saga is “Great Story, Poor Execution.” I had loads of fun in this movie, and I quite enjoyed the experience when I saw it a second time, but there are a lot of strange choices made, particularly in the screenplay and the editing, that I just didn’t understand. I don’t need everything explained for me in a movie, but some of the plot progression happens just because…

The inclusion of Carrie Fisher in this film had to come as a difficult decision. Ultimately, Abrams decided to utilize unused footage from The Force Awakens to create a performance for Leia in the film. Does it work? Kind of. I still stand by my thoughts that it would have served the character and the story better to just not have Fisher in the film and announce in the opening crawl that “Our princess has passed” or something similar. I think for what he tried to do, I can commend Abrams for getting Leia in the film, and the second viewing softened my criticism in the realm of Leia.

Adam Driver is absolutely stellar as Kylo Ren. I don’t agree entirely with the route taken in this film with Kylo Ren, but Driver’s performance sold me on it. Again, Kylo’s arc is one I felt would be better going one way, but the filmmakers decided to take it the expected route. Overall, he surprised me yet again as Ren.

J.J. Abrams did manage to get the galactic Scooby gang together for a bulk of this film. It was crazy to me that Rey and Poe (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, The Addams Family) met for the first time officially in The Last Jedi at the end of the film. The Last Jedi also managed to keep most of our heroes separate for a bulk of the runtime, so it’s great that they are all on a journey together. These areas are where a bulk of the lightheartedness of the film takes place and elevates what could be a very dreary story.

Daisy Ridley’s arc as Rey is another tough one to pull off, and I think her performance rises above expectations because of Ridley’s inherent charm onscreen. She’s a fun character and one that the audience has no problems rooting for. Again, there are some twists and turns to her character arc, some I did not expect and didn’t think would work, and they mostly did.

As far as legacy characters go, no one had a better showcase in this film than C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, The Lord of the Rings). This is 3PO at his most funny and probably most utilized since the first film. Anthony Daniels continues to prove why this franchise continues to go to the C-3PO well.

The rest of the cast all perform ably, and any faults can be attributed to the screenplay. Newcomers Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth, Yardie) and Keri Russell (Waitress, TV’s The Americans) are both quite entertaining, but their characters seek only to convolute an already bloated screenplay. The subplot involving General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, Frank, Peter Rabbit) and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is well-acted, but it didn’t need to be in the film and is ultimately meaningless. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Man in 3B) back as Lando Calrissian, but he isn’t given a whole lot to do, and one wonders why he wasn’t included earlier. It seems odd for him to just show up now.

Ian McDiarmid’s return to the franchise does give an overall feeling of cohesiveness to the saga, but Palpatine’s plans for Rey and Kylo just don’t really make sense all around. I love the visual look of Palpatine and the environment he appears in (in fact, some of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused concept art from decades ago was put to good use here), but again, it feels like lazy storytelling and I didn’t get the sense that there was detail in the screenplay because the story lacked a lot, not in how Palpatine is back, but why he waited until now and how he manages to do what he does in the film.

I think the problems of The Rise of Skywalker all stem from the fact that Lucasfilm did not have a plan for this trilogy. By not putting the three directors in a room with someone like Dave Filoni who can offer guidance in crafting a cohesive long-form story. Not having a plan forced Abrams to do a lot of heavy lifting here and it created a film with an interesting and exciting finale that lacked direction because so much is jammed into a movie. Having Chris Terrio as a writer may also have created some problems in the screenplay. While I think Terrio is quite talented, he seems to have a lot of trouble with franchise storytelling, most notably from his tie working on the DCEU. It also feels like The Rise of Skywalker would have fared batter as a three-hour film. That and tightening up the MacGuffin-filled narrative would have helped the film to be more successful in its execution.

I still think The Rise of Skywalker turned out better with Abrams than it would have with Colin Trevorrow behind the wheel. The number one thing here is whether the film is entertaining an enjoyable, and problems and nitpicks aside, there’s a lot to love in this finale. The film is filled with fun surprises, callbacks and appearances, and the score from John Williams is absolutely awe-inspiring. A better screenplay and some more cohesive editing could’ve helped quite a bit, but this is a hell of an action-packed conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

The Addams Family (2019)

Director: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon

Cast: Oscar Issac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Matt Lieberman, Pamela Pettler, Erica Rivinoja

86 mins. Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action.

 

I never really liked the idea of an animated version of The Addams Family. I just always felt like The Addams Family always looked better and worked better as a live-action film, especially when you high-calibre talent like Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde), who could both look and embody the characters of Gomez and Morticia Addams. But I nevertheless went into this new Addams Family with an open-mind because I love the franchise and characters.

The Addams family are not, by definition, normal, but that doesn’t stop the from living life their own special way. As Gomez (Isaac) preps his son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, It, TV’s Carmen Sandiego) for the Addams rite of passage, the Mazurka, Morticia (Theron) tries to connect more with daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz, Let Me In, Greta) as she feeds her curiosity surrounding the town in which they reside, especially the local school. All the while, local celebrity Margaux Needler (Allison Janney, The Help, Ma) is determined to rid town of the Addams family so that she can keep the town bright, shiny, and unchanged.

First of all, there’s too much going on in a film that’s as short as this one. I didn’t care about the Gomez/Pugsley/Mazurka storyline, and the Morticia/Wednesday plot has been done better. I also felt like the Margaux Needler storyline doesn’t really go anywhere interesting nor does it really end in a satisfying way. There’s just problems abound in this film.

The voice cast is all fantastic except for Nick Kroll (Sing, TV’s Big Mouth) as Uncle Fester. His is a situation of being poorly miscast.He’s a fine and funny voice actor, but I don’t think he worked well for this character.

The screenplay is the biggest fault of the film in that it doesn’t really do anything unique that makes this film memorable. For a movie like The Addams Family, it’s so forgettable.Outside of one sequence involving Wednesday in school doing frog dissection, the movie has no truly interesting scenes. It’s just a mixture of plot points that have been done in better adaptations. There is no new ground covered in this movie.

The Addams Family is a very poor first outing for this new incarnation of the beloved characters. It made enough money for a sequel, so here’s hoping they learn some new lessons here because this first installment is forgettable and very paint-by-numbers. Skip and just watch the old show or Barry Sonnenfeld films.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] The Kitchen (2019)

Director: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

102 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content.

 

Andrea Berloff has a pretty solid resume for her writing, but The Kitchen is her directorial debut. The film, a 1970s-set Hell’s Kitchen gangster picture, is a perfect showcase for her talents.

When three New York gangsters are sent to prison in the 1970s, their wives must find a way to make ends meet. They’ve all kept relatively out of the family business, and when the family promises to help them financially, they still can’t afford to pay their bills. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy, The Heat, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss, The One I Love, TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) decide to take matters into their own hands and actually provide protection to all the businesses who pay money to the crime family, but their plan creates an internal struggle within the family as the balance of power drastically shifts in Hell’s Kitchen.

I want to start by stating that I’ve not read the comic-book miniseries that the film is based on. I will say that, for a first feature, Berloff jumps a lot of hurdles that could have really been problems in this film. She has three strong actresses leading the film, and each one has a unique take on their situation. Kathy has a loving husband and just wants to survive until she begins to like the power. Ruby has never been loved by mother-in-law and family head Helen (Margo Martindale, August: Osage County, Instant Family) because of her skin color and sees this as an out. Claire has been beaten on a daily basis by her husband and decides that she isn’t going to be a victim when the men all go to jail. Claire develops a bond with the unstable but doting Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Peter Rabbit).

The film has some nice cinematography and the editing keeps everything moving pretty nicely until the final act, which I felt was more stretched out than it needed to be. One of the reasons it’s all the more noticeable is that some of the most surprising story beats in the final 30 minutes are brushed by while some of the more expected plot points are drug out far more than they needed to be.

The only other flaw in the film for me is that certain events play out a little too easily for our main characters. I kept recalling throughout the film that these three wives were never really involved in the family business and yet they took to it so easily that they were able to hold their own against more seasoned gangsters with ease. I would have liked more struggle for them as they make mistakes and learn from them early on. That’s the story that would’ve engaged me more.

The Kitchen is a stylistic pulpy gangster film that sees a pretty standard “rise to power” tale from the point-of-view of characters that don’t normally get to be a part of that type of story. Andrea Berloff keeps a nice mix of tension and comedic relief that kept me guessing, even if the story beats occasionally drifted to tropes. The dialogue is snappy and the performances, especially from McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, are the true strengths here. It’s an imperfect movie, but it’s one I would gladly see again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Triple Frontier (2019)

Director: J.C. Chandor

Cast: Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, Adria Arjona

Screenplay: Mark Boal, J.C. Chandor

125 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

 

Triple Frontier seemed like a movie that was never going to get made. Cursed, almost. Over the past few years, I’d heard reports of all sorts of actors from Johnny Depp to Tom Hanks board the project and then back out. Some actors, like star Ben Affleck (Argo, Justice League) joined the film only to back out over scheduling conflict and then come back and join the cast once again later on. Kathryn Bigelow was set to direct but then left to direct Detroit. It seemed to wallow away in development hell until finally J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All is Lost) put all the pieces together, with a script from Mark Boal and Chandor, and delivered Triple Frontier, and it turned out to be an intense thought-provoking thrill ride.

Santiago (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) assembles a crew of his friends and ex-Special Forces members to steal from and assassinate a dangerous drug king in South America. When the heist takes a surprising turn and the escape plan changes, their loyalties to the mission and to each other are tested. They are forced to decide between risking their greed or their survival as obstacles mount all around them.

Triple Frontier’s tense screenplay works with the Hero’s Journey really nice, and Isaac’s Santiago, for better or worse, works his way toward a goal, and his decisions have consequences. Affleck’s Tom is a man who needs the money but knows what this kind of mission can do to him. The two play opposite sides of the coin and as their moralities change between them, they play great foils to one another.

Charlie Hunnam (A Million Little Pieces, TV’s Sons of Anarchy) plays William, a public speaker struggling with his mental state after what he’s witnessed. He takes on the job once he knows Tom is involved because he knows Tom’s clear head will prevail. His is a character of habits and little comforts who plays by the book.

Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, If Beale Street Could Talk) is Francisco, a hell of a pilot with a little drug problem. He wants to get in the air again and feel a sense of purpose. These four characters are written as people who don’t break the rules, but the circumstances of the plot and narrative fundamentally change their thought processes, and with that comes mistakes and a sense of moral ambiguity.

That being said, I felt like Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound, Burden) was wasted in this film. His character, William’s brother Ben, doesn’t have all that much to do. He isn’t given a compelling narrative and seemingly fills out the cast.

Triple Frontier has a vivid and gorgeous cinematic look to it. The cinematography is clean and colorful, the editing quick and tight, and the production design realistic. There’s some issues with the sound design in the film, though, and the music choices sometimes feel like a checklist for drug cartel movies, but the film’s most impressive aspect is its use of tension. There are a great many scenes where the wills and resilience of the crew are tested, and thanks to Chandor’s decision to stretch the tension from an already tense script work wonders here. I was pulling my hair wondering just how they were going to escape from several situations.

Triple Frontier hits Netflix screens on March 13th, but you can catch it in theaters before that, and I would suggest it. This is a tense morality play with some intense action, solid character development, and some genuinely shocking moments. I recommend seeing it immediately.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2018

 

Hey there everyone!

What a year 2018 has been, both personally and in the world of movies! Now, as the year draws to a close, I’m ready to take a look back and see which films made the cut of my personal Best of 2018.

Now for some stipulations and notes:

-I did not see every film to come out in 2018. I tried my best, but I was very busy this year and some films just flat out were missed. So if you don’t see something on this list, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. It just means I may have missed it…or it doesn’t belong.

-This is my personal selection of films from the year. These are not predictions for Best Picture at the Oscars or anything like that. Some films may have different placings than they would if I just ordered them by score, and some of them may have been flawed, but I just enjoyed them enough to look past it.

-Lastly, this is one of the first years in a while that my list feels so fluid. Don’t take my rankings too harshly as just about any one of these films could potentially have been a #1 film. It was a good year. Not a great year…a good year.

 

Alright, without further fluff, let’s dive right in…

 

  1. First Man

-Damien Chazelle knocks it out of the park again in this biopic of Neil Armstrong and the NASA Space Program leading up to that fabled first step on the moon’s surface. It’s a long movie covering many of the trials and tribulations of the race to space, but it spends most of its time with Armstrong, played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling. It’s a subtle nuanced performance that isn’t acting larger-than-life but stays true to its subject. The film spends some time asking the questions of value and cost in this race to the moon, and everything is a lens through which to understand our lead. We get great supporting work from Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, and Corey Stoll who plays to Buzz Aldrin’s particular brand of sarcastic wit quite nicely. For those of you that missed this one in IMAX, I feel very sorry for you, because the scenes on the moon’s surface took my damn breath away.

 

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk

-I loved Moonlight when it came out. I was so swept away in the style and simplicity of the story. Director Barry Jenkins has done it again with his character drama If Beale Street Could Talk. While not as strong as his previous outing, this is still top-notch filmmaking and incredible character-driven storytelling. The love story between Fonny and Tish is so emotional, and the performances from Stephan James and newcomer Kiki Layne bring that love out in such a beautiful way. The film is filled with terrific performances from Regina King, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, and so many more. The ending left me frustrated but not with the filmmaker for he did craft an ending meant to make you talk and get the conversation going. It’s a beautiful character piece.

 

  1. Green Book

-If there’s one thing to say about Green Book, it’s that the film from Peter Farrelly is wholly enjoyable throughout. That’s not a normal way to describe the story of two men from different races touring the Deep South in the 1960s, but it works. You can call it surface-level enjoyment if you wish but I call it great character-driven storytelling. Much like If Beale Street Could Talk, the performances are where this film thrives, particularly from its lead actors, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. They are both flawed humans with real fears and desires who come together with great chemistry to create a lasting friendship in this heartwarming tale. This is a movie that will make you think while it entertains you.

 

  1. Ready Player One

-Look, Ready Player One is perhaps more flawed than the previous films on this list, but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment with the film. It continues to grow on me the more I watch it and I find myself going back to it a lot in 2018. It’s a fun adventure dipped in nostalgia. This film is Steven Spielberg making a sundae and putting all the toppings on. The most important factor in the film is that it is just a damn fun time that captures the spirit of the source novel while going to some wildly different places. I enjoyed both the book and film as two sides of the same coin. Ready Player One leaves me with a big damn smile on my face every time I watch it.

 

  1. A Quiet Place

-I’m starting to see a theme in many of these films for my Top Ten. Character. Yes, there’s some high-concept in some, and A Quiet Place definitely has high-concept, but it’s all there to serve character and story. The family dynamic in A Quiet Place works so well, it would make the film watchable even if the sci-fi/horror aspects of the film did not. Thankfully, this is not the case. This is a tense film with real situations set against an impossible world, but it’s because I care about this family that A Quiet Place brings out just as many tears and shrieks. John Krasinski should be given for his terrific direction in addition to his work as male lead.

 

  1. A Star is Born

-There’s something magical to A Star is Born. We are looking at the fourth official version of this tale, and yet somehow this incarnation has connected with the audience in such a special way. Maybe it’s Bradley Cooper’s strong first outing as a director, or maybe it’s his hauntingly powerful performance as Jackson Mayne, a struggling fading star, or maybe it’s Lady Gaga’s powerhouse work as Ally, a rising star. You can give me all the crap for praising Gaga’s acting in this film, and you can say that she plays herself, but I heard a colleague point out that she gets on the stage to perform her first song and she’s absolutely terrified, something that Gaga would not be or likely hasn’t been in some time. She’s acting her ass off here, and it shows. Yes, the film finds itself in a lot of the same familiar beats we’ve seen before, but it’s been said many times that all stories have been told and what matters is how you tell it. I love how this story is told.

 

  1. Annihilation

-Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina is a sci-fi/horror masterpiece. It’s a beautiful striking moving painting filled with horrific and dazzling imagery. The story, about a group of scientists exploring a strange area called The Shimmer where biology, chemistry, and physics are unlike anything known to human understanding. This is a thinker of a movie, but it haunted me for days and I couldn’t stop telling people to see this movie. It likely isn’t for everyone, but I would encourage you to seek it out and give it a try. This is a What-The-Fuck movie experience for the ages that I haven’t seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

  1. Hereditary

-You know something? Screw anyone who says there isn’t enough great horror these days. Horror is on such an incredible ride in recent years, and there’s probably enough good horror for its own Top 10 list for 2018, and Hereditary would be at the top. Led by a career-best performance from Toni Collette, Hereditary is a shocking and disturbing story of loss, grief, and madness, all centered around a family caught in something out of their control. Beyond the shock of some of the film’s more frightening moments, there are some truly horrific moments of character development. This movie’s strengths cannot be understated and it is truly sad that Collette’s more of a long shot to the Best Actress Nomination this year because she without a doubt deserves. The only tiny complaint I have with the film is that it over-explains itself at the end, but it is merely a nitpick and actually saved a friend’s enjoyment of the film, so what do I know?

 

  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

-As I’ve said before, the movies that will likely be most remembered in 2018 are the Feel-Goods, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is at the top of that list. This documentary about the life of Fred Rogers is stunningly heartfelt and masterfully executed. It is a viewpoint of the man’s life, his beliefs, his goals, and his dreams, and it brought me back to moments in my childhood, memories that I shared with someone through a television set. I welled up with tears at several points in the narrative and connected with the film on so many levels. What makes this film stand out from others this year is that it asks its audience to take part in it near the end, asking us how we can be more like Fred, and I think it connects us with an incredible human being on a personal level, a touching tribute to a beloved neighbor.

 

  1. BlacKkKlansman

-Spike Lee is the best he’s ever been with BlacKkKlansman. You heard me. The best he’s ever been. I loved Do the Right Thing, but this film just barely edges it out for so many reasons. It’s an incredible well-acted film, especially from John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace. The screenplay and editing have turned this so-crazy-it’s-true story into something even more timely given the current state of the country. Lee makes it quite known what he wants his film to evoke and the finale of the film left my jaw on the floor. As soon as I left the theater, I wanted to turn back around and see it again. Spike Lee knows his craft so well that he is able to fuse lighthearted comedy into the shocking tale of a black cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, and this film is his masterpiece. It’s the best movie of 2018.

 

So there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I’m looking forward to the #2019oscardeathrace to begin, and the list may change a bit once that happens. No one sees everything. What is your Top Ten of 2018? I’d love to hear it! Thanks again for a great 2018, and we will see you in 2019 (which is right now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

 

[Early Review] Life Itself (2018)

Director: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, Olivia Cooke, Laia Costa, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas

Screenplay: Dan Fogelman

118 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images and brief drug use.

 

Life Itself is poised to capture that couples date night money this weekend, but is it any good?

The film follows a couple, Will (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Annihilation) and Abby (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, TV’s Vinyl) from college to marriage and onward as the twisting, winding road of their story echoes throughout future generations. After their marriage ends, Will is forced by to tread through his past by Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening, American Beauty, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) in order to put his life back on track. But is he remembering things right? Is he a reliable narrator? Is anyone? Life Itself attempts to answer these questions as several different people from vast walks of life intertwine.

Life Itself is poorly-conceived schmaltz and depression disguised to look like a romantic drama. Director Dan Fogelman (Danny Collins) attempts to pull at heartstrings with some of the most awkwardly crafted sequences trying their best to swim in a sinking plot. I could tell Oscar Isaac was really trying, but some of the dialogue he is forced to utter is so cringe-worthy that I almost can’t believe he was able to get it out. The scenes in which he and Dr. Morris are looking back at his relationship with Abby feel like a soap opera mixed with an afterschool special in some sort of attempt at being A Christmas Carol. They stand there and awkwardly toss words at each other while the more important stuff, the actual flashback lies before them.

Life Itself’s plot construction also left a lot to be desired. This film felt like it was laid out with a connect-the-dots in which someone already completed for me. I was sitting in my seat, actively betting myself on how certain sequences would play out and, more often than not, I was right.

I think what’s most shocking is how Life Itself both does and does not take its emotional core seriously. The film jokes about death and pain in some of the strangest ways while actually asking you to feel sad at the right times. It’s tone stays consistent for large stretches and then drastically veers into uncharted territory.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some value in the film. I actually found many of the performances to be fine, particularly from Isaac as Will, Bening as Morris, Mandy Patinkin (Smurfs: The Lost Village, TV’s Homeland) as Will’s father Irwin, and Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, TV’s Genius) as Mr. Saccione, an owner of a olive farm featured in the latter part of the movie. Banderas delivers a monologue excellently when he is first featured.

Life Itself is a bigger-budgeted version of a high schooler’s experimental short film. It’s really trying to be something here, but it waxes philosophy in such a hammy fashion that it devolves into little more than drivel by the end of its lengthy runtime. I actually really wanted to like this movie, but alas, this is one that is definitely not worth your time.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Screenplay: Alex Garland

115 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

 

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a director to keep an eye out for. He is mostly known for his writing on films like Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later, but now that he is directing, his vision has never been more focused.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie, Song to Song), a biologist who signs up for a dangerous exploration of a mysterious area called The Shimmer to find out what happened to her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). What she quickly discovers upon entering is that The Shimmer does not operate by the standard laws of nature, and there is something else alive inside.

Okay, so I just got home from Annihilation and there’s a lot more to unpack before I really understand. Don’t worry, no major spoilers here. In fact, I did a pretty good job tiptoeing around spoilers in the above description. Suffice to say, Annihilation is an impressively ambitious mind-bender. I was enthralled as the film’s chess pieces moved into place and the ending was strange, beautiful, haunting, and confusing in all the right ways.

As the film moves along, there are some tremendous set pieces and some truly disturbing imagery. One of the flaws of the film, though, is that it takes a bit before it starts rollicking along. There’s some heavy exposition chunked up at the beginning of the film, and it isn’t until they enter The Shimmer that the film really takes off.

Annihilation is bolstered by tremendous acting performances from Portman as expected. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Amityville: The Awakening) plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition. Leigh is cold and broken as Ventress, a haunting portrayal of a woman driven to discover. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) is also brilliant as Josie, another member of the expedition.

Annihilation has a lot in common with other sci-fi fare on its surface, but what makes it different is the calculated pacing and the slow build of tension that is at times horrific and shockingly beautiful in equal measure. The questions it asks are not easily answered, some are not answered at all, but for all of its inquisition, Annihilation is a beautiful examination of ideas and thoughts. This one is likely to keep viewers dissecting and reassembling the piece long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

Director: Rian Johnson

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

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

 

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Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2018

 

Since I’ve already seen one of 2018’s releases, I’m probably a little late on presenting my most anticipated list for 2018. Don’t worry, it hasn’t changed much. Let’s start off with a note:

  • This list is more anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to as of right now, so there will be more blockbusters than indies because that’s just how it plays out. So, with that being said…

 

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN BUT A LIST.

 

Annihilation

-I thoroughly enjoyed director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina from 2015, and on that film alone, I cannot wait to see Annihilation. Garland has had a run of pretty solid work in the last few years, and getting top talent like Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac involved is only making this more hyped for me. I don’t know much about the film’s plot outside of the lone trailer I’ve seen, but getting a chance to see a great storytelling weave a yarn in his own sandbox is always a great thing.

 

Pacific Rim: Uprising

-I’m very sad that Guillermo del Toro isn’t returning to helm the sequel to his underappreciated Pacific Rim, but that’s what it took to get The Shape of Water, so what can you do? At least he is staying on in a producer role and the franchise is continuing. I’m not sure how to feel about Uprising as the film looks drastically different from the original, but John Boyega playing Idris Elba’s son looks interesting enough, and genre favorite Steven S. DeKnight behind the camera is setting the film up for success. I’m very excited to see an expanding of this mythology and more Jaeger/Kaiju action.

 

Ready Player One

-I’m just starting the book right now, and the trailers for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One have been fascinating. I just don’t know how to feel but the film looks bonkers. There is absolutely no reason not to be excited for more Spielberg but this one feels so familiar and yet so different from what we’ve seen recently from the director. As long as there are enough weird Easter Eggs, I guess I will keep plenty busy at this one.

 

God Particle

-Yeah, this one was on my list for 2017, but it got bumped back. God Particle is all but confirmed to be the next Cloververse film after Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Since I loved both of its predecessors and I enjoy dissecting theories about this quasi-anthology, God Particle should be a fun and interesting ride.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

-What do I say that hasn’t already been said? Almost 20 films in and we are getting this massive film. I have no words. I doubted that this franchise could or would work, and I was wrong. Pop in Black Panther and Ant-Man & the Wasp (I didn’t want to have more than one franchise installment on this list but I’m stoked for all three) and this should prove to be another exciting year for the MCU.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

-All the drama behind-the-scenes has made me rather nervous for Solo, but I trust the minds at Lucasfilm because I’ve enjoyed all three Star Wars adventures since their acquisition by Disney, so I trust that they acted at the right time installing Ron Howard as the new director to fix this anthology film. What does make me nervous, though, is the lack of the trailer with only four months to go.

 

Deadpool 2

-I elected to pick Deadpool 2 over The New Mutants and Dark Phoenix because of how surprising the original Deadpool was in 2016. With the shuffling around behind the camera, the exit of Tim Miller, and the addition of David Leitch, it is interesting to see how this one plays out. If the teaser or short that were released are any indication, I think we are in good hands here.

 

The Predator

-Trust me when I say that all of my excitement for this film is riding on Shane Black. I always love a new Predator film, but Shane Black is the reason this is on the list. I love Black’s storytelling sensibilities from his writing of the greatest action film of all time (yeah, I’m calling it for Lethal Weapon) but also his work as a director with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys. Some people aren’t aware that Black even co-starred in the original Predator, so he has a good tie to this series.

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was quite a surprise. I love Harry Potter, but the idea to expand the mythology with an adaptation of a textbook was weird. Turns out, J.K. Rowling has a few more stories to tell. The flaw with the first film, though, was Johnny Depp’s cameo as Gellert Grindelwald. I didn’t like his appearance and I don’t have as much faith in him as an actor, so seeing him take on the second-biggest villain in the Harry Potter universe was an odd choice. With The Crimes of Grindelwald, Depp will be taking on a much larger role, so I’m interesting if a little nervous to see what comes of it.

 

Mortal Engines

-Though the trailer didn’t have much to offer (as the film is still about a year out), seeing Peter Jackson’s name onscreen again is always a welcome sight. He’s taking on a producer and screenwriter role this time with Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel series by Philip Reeve. Jackson and his team are incredible writers, so a nice foundation to this film is enough to spark my interest. We will have to wait for another trailer to see how it is all shaping up, but Mortal Engines has a lot on its plate.

 

So there it is. What film are you most excited for in 2018? Let me know/drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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