[Early Review] Ad Astra (2019)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Live Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

 

I’m assuming Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, World War Z) saw his Ocean’s Eleven costars George Clooney and Matt Damon receive acclaim for making a space movie, and he got incredibly jealous. Well, be jealous no more Brad. The balls in your court now, Julia Roberts.

Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Pitt), astronaut and son to the famous H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Just Getting Started), who disappeared on a secretive interstellar expedition some 30 years ago. Now, in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by a series of power surges believed to be caused by Cliff’s secret experiment, The Lima Project. Roy has been tasked with traveling to Mars to deliver a message to space, hopefully reaching his possibly still living father, in order to put an end to the power surges before they threaten the entire solar system.

I admire the idea of taking Heart of Darkness and moving it into the sci-fi genre. It worked so well as a war film when Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The problem for me came out of an unimpressive shell for this film. I don’t think we got enough insight into The Lima Project or The Surge or many of the science fiction elements that would have enriched this telling of the classic story. The film kept being marketed as the closest thing to actual space travel, but then I kept getting hung up on the sound work every time there was an explosion. The film looked gorgeous, but my investment was wavering throughout.

Brad Pitt is incredible as Roy, giving a subtle but impressive performance as a man who hasn’t taken much care in his world as he sinks himself into his work, ignoring all outside relationships and distractions. The whole film is carried by Pitt as no other character is given much screen time to match him. In fact, Pitt’s performance is so internalized that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting at all. I liken his work here to another space film from last year, First Man with Ryan Gosling. Comparing this subtle work to Pitt’s other major film this year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, just goes to show that this is an actor who really can do it all.

There’s a lot to really love about Ad Astra. I think, from a technical view, everything is seemingly executed quite well, but I just wasn’t drawn in by the story in the way I wanted to. It’s magnificently shot and the score is impactful and deep. The effects were strong, but the story just didn’t take me. Still, I would recommend you checking it out if you’re a fan of sci-fi, as this contemplative opera showcases another incredible performance from Brad Pitt.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Apollo 11 (2019)

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Cast: Buzz Aldrin, Janet Armstrong, Neil Armstrong

93 mins. Rated G.

 

Especially after seeing First Man, I thought I understood the Apollo 11 mission perfectly. That was, until I saw Apollo 11.

Apollo 11 is a documentary comprised of tons of footage of the famous manned mission to the moon. A lot of this footage has never been publically available until now. Director Todd Douglas Miller (Dinosaur 13, Scaring the Fish) has meticulously assembled, with an incredible team, a narrative from this footage, detailing the entire mission from moments before liftoff to the first step on the moon and then the return.

I don’t need to overly-detail what this doc is about because I think you’ll get it. What’s so fascinating about it is how engaging the film is. Everyone knows this story, right? I do, and yet, in a packed theater with tons of other people, many of which I would assume were actually alive during this time, and we were all enthralled with the story. Miller does something fascinating with his storytelling that made me forget that I knew exactly what was going to happen. I was looking at the screen, searching for details to further unearth, and I couldn’t look away.

This is a documentary worth looking at behind the scenes as well. I did a little research and discovered some of the making of material, and it’s incredible to see the rules adhered to by the creative team in trying to make every specific detail true and correct to factual events. The score for the film was completed only with instruments available in 1969 and all the footage is accurate except where expressly noted. Every attempt was made to make this film accessible as though we were watching it in 1969 itself, and that’s an incredible feat all it’s own.

Apollo 11 is a spectacular behind-the-scenes doc about one of the most incredible human acts in history. It gives its audience the ability to re-experience the moon landing all over again, and what an experience it is. If you are still capable of seeing this one at an IMAX theater, do so. Now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Director: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Straithairn, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.

 

The MonsterVerse is one of the more successful cinematic universe to rise out of the shadow of Marvel, probably the fourth best one after the MCU, the DCEU, and The Conjuring Universe. It’s also the one that feels more easily connected, but it also feels like if has nowhere to go after next year’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. That is, until King of the Monsters blew open the floodgates for franchise expansion.

It’s been five years since Godzilla faced off against the MUTOs, and the world has been trying to recover, until a group of eco-terrorists under the command of Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Gosford Park, Johnny English Strikes Again) kidnap Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Annabelle Comes Home) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, TV’s Stranger Things) with the intention of using them to help wake up the numerous Titans slumbering all around the world. Now, Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler, Argo, First Man) has been tasked by MONARCH to help track them down, but he wants nothing to do with Titans after the death of his son during the attacks of 2014. He is forced to come to terms with his hatred for Godzilla as the Titans keep waking up, from the fiery Rodan to the great alien beast King Ghidorah, in order to stop them and save the human race from possible extinction at the hands of the kaiju.

Godzilla 2014 had a problem with the handling of the title creature. Godzilla movies actually do not feature a lot of the great kaiju, but when he is used, it is wonderful. The way Godzilla was hidden for a bulk of the film didn’t work all that well for me, so I’m glad to report that King of the Monsters puts those kaiju on display from the opening scene to the epic finale. In fact, while I liked the previous Godzilla film, it seems like all the problems of the last film are somewhat corrected or at least bettered by King of the Monsters.

The human characters are nothing really special in the sequel, but compared to the human story of the first film, I prefer this rag-tag group of monster hunters trying to track the kaiju awakenings around the work. From Chandler’s Mark to returning favorites Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water, Paddington 2) and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu). I at least generally liked this group of humans, and I wanted to see them succeed, with one exception.

The way Emma’s character is written is downright terrible. It would be nearly impossible for her character arc to work well given the arc she is given, and Farmiga does what she can in the role, but the character just flat-out doesn’t work, and it takes a lot out of the film given that she’s one of our human leads.

Thankfully, though, this Godzilla movie is about the kaiju, and that’s what really matters. Looking back at the mission statement of this site, to look at what a film is trying to accomplish, King of the Monsters is about the kaiju, and for that, the films works quite well. Godzilla has a fully realized arc, and he is most definitely the king and star of the film. Where director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) shines here is that he gives great attention and love to the lore of the Godzilla expanded franchise. He picks his versions of each of the kaiju quite well, especially where he takes on Mothra. Mothra can be a trickier kaiju to stay grounded with because of all the mythos of the character, but Doughtery showcases his love of this world with his incredible attention to detail.

Dougherty’s favorite kaiju is Rodan, and he takes the opportunity to include the famed creature in his film. The only problem is that Rodan has such a rich history and stands as a kaiju I really love, and I don’t think it has any purpose in this film. For a character with such an interesting background, Rodan could be a film’s main antagonist, but in this film, it stands as just another lackey of Ghidorah, and I didn’t like the way it was put in the film. It could’ve been replaced with just about any other kaiju and the film would feel the exact same.

The director and his co-screenwriter Zach Shields had to expand upon this world, and in that way, the world feels extremely well expanded for future films. There are so many kaiju in the film, and they are merely cameos or introductions to monsters we may see in future films, but the groundwork has been laid quite well. I can see a lot of possibilities for the future of this cinematic universe, using both established characters or the new ones created in this film. It even nicely lays the groundwork for the next film in the franchise without forcing it by introducing the idea that MONARCH has been following Kong’s life since Skull Island. This is a problem tackled in this film that many fledgling cinematic universes can’t get past. BvS and Iron Man 2 tried to shoehorn a cinematic universe together with references and connections abound, and it could have buried their universe. The Mummy tried to do all that in the first film and killed its franchise. What needs to be done is to make a fun and entertaining experience first, and give blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details next while using your credits to set up the future. That’s why I never understood the aversion to post-credits scenes after the success of the MCU. It’s like a teaser for what comes next without ending every film on a cliffhanger. King of the Monsters is one of the most successful universe-building installments ever.

Dougherty has fun with the film because he understands the tone of his stories, and that’s what has made him such a fun storyteller to watch, from his work on Trick ‘r Treat to Krampus, he’s just a blast of a filmmaker. He finally used the Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla, and he used it well!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a better film than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t perfect the art of kaiju films with its occasionally flawed characters and reliance on spectacle over story, it’s a damn fun movie, one that kept me looking on with childhood glee and praising its visual sense and creative creature design. This is a fun movie, done.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

The Nominees for the 91st Academy Awards

Hey everyone! We officially have our nominees for the 91st Annual Academy Awards. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be going through as many of the nominations as I can, so join me on this journey using #2019oscardeathrace and share your count on our way to 52!

The nominees are:

Best Picture:

 

Best Director:

  • Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
  • Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War
  • Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
  • Alfonso Cuaron – Roma
  • Adam McKay – Vice

 

Best Actor:

 

Best Actress:

 

Best Supporting Actor:

 

Best Supporting Actress:

 

Best Original Screenplay:

 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

 

Best Animated Feature Film:

 

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Capernaum
  • Cold War
  • Never Look Away
  • Roma
  • Shoplifters

 

Best Documentary Feature:

  • Free Solo
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • Minding the Gap
  • Of Fathers and Sons
  • RBG

 

Best Documentary Short:

  • Black Sheep
  • End Game
  • Lifeboat
  • A Night at the Garden
  • Period. End of Sentence

 

Best Live Action Short:

  • Detainment
  • Fauve
  • Marguerite
  • Mother
  • Skin

 

Best Animated Short Film:

  • Animal Behaviour
  • Bao
  • Late Afternoon
  • One Small Step
  • Weekends

 

Best Original Score:

 

Best Original Song:

  • “All the Stars” – Black Panther
  • “I’ll Fight” – RBG
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” – Mary Poppins Returns
  • “Shallow” – A Star is Born
  • “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 

Best Sound Editing:

 

Best Sound Mixing:

 

Best Production Design:

 

Best Cinematography:

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

  • Border
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Vice

 

Best Costume Design:

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Black Panther
  • The Favourite
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Mary Queen of Scots

 

Best Film Editing:

 

Best Visual Effects:

 

So there you have it. It’s going to be a hell of a month and I’m looking forward to it. Be sure to join me on this adventure and share your thoughts on these nominees.

#2019oscardeathrace

 

-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,

 

First Man (2018)

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke

Screenplay: Josh Singer

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language.

 

Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) is working pretty hard to make up for the disappointing and embarrassing situation at the Oscars in 2017. This year, he returns with the wildly ambitious biographical drama First Man.

First Man chronicles the life of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine, Blade Runner 2049) in the eight years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission, where Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. During that time, Armstrong experienced great loss in his personal and professional life, and the relationship with his wife Janet (Claire Foy, Unsane, TV’s The Crown). It also encompasses many of the trials, training, and missions that were required to get to the moon.

Chazelle really excels with his character development. His strengths are characters that have trouble connecting to other people. He tends to have characters who are driven by a specific goal and cannot see how that goal is affecting those around them. The relationship between Neil and Janet is so strongly built and examined in the film so that we as viewers can watch them strain and test their marriage with Armstrong’s excessive drive to complete his mission. Neil is running from the pain of loss in his life and as he gets closer and closer to achieving his goal, he finds that the losses continue to pile.

The film is magnificently shot. This is one of the most beautifully filmed pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year. The visuals are aged and elegant and they capture the feeling of the time. The gorgeous visuals are matched and juxtaposed with actual audio and video from the time. He uses this to convey a new sense of the time. So many films about the space program push for an America Pride angle with their imagery. Chazelle instead chose to show how pain and difficulty comes with this mission, and how many Americans viewed it at the time. The question of whether or not this Space Race was worth it becomes a central argument in First Man, and it fits very well with the story that Chazelle is telling.

The controversy about the flag plays in here quite heavily. It’s not really spoilery to say that we will see Armstrong on the moon at some point in the film, and when he does, I feel like many expected to see an American flag firmly planted on the moon’s surface, and while the flag is visible, it is not directly focused on. Some have complained about this (people who hadn’t seen the film yet and wanted something to be mad about), but again, Chazelle’s focus seems to be on the impact for Mankind and also on Armstrong’s personal journey.

First Man is the first Universal Pictures film to use IMAX cameras, and they are only used for the lunar sequences, but those sequences just left me…breathless. I felt like I was actually on the moon with Armstrong. If you get the chance, see First Man in IMAX. It is worth it.

The other area where Chazelle has an edge is his endings. All of his movies that I’ve seen have had such awe-inspiring endings, and First Man, while quiet and subtle, has an excellent ending that shows what was most important to Chazelle: character.

I have so many things to say about First Man as I unravel more of what I saw, but this was quite an experience. The pacing was one area that seemed to be a struggle for me. Even though I loved the slow-burn, I felt as though the movie could have trimmed maybe 10-15 minutes, but overall, this is a tremendous achievement for Chazelle, who is just killing it right now. See this one in theaters.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, click here.

For my review of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, click here.

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