[Early Review] Land (2021)

Director: Robin Wright
Cast: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir
Screenplay: Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam
89 mins. Rated PG-13.

The story behind Robin Wright’s directing of Land, her feature directorial debut, came about by a mere scheduling conflict. Wright, who had previously helmed several episodes of House of Cards as well as the short film The Dark of Night, was asked to direct the film when all the pieces had come into play but there was no director, and the film had to be completed with production in 29 days. The entirety of Land was shot in those 29 days with Wright, who appears in every scene, behind the camera as well as in front.

Land is the story of Edee (Wright), a grieving woman who has purchased a plot of land deep in the Wyoming forest. She doesn’t seem particularly skilled at living off the grid, minus a phone and any technology, and when she nearly dies in a snowstorm, she is luckily rescued and brought back to health by Miguel (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight, Chaos Walking), who also lives in the wilderness nearby and has passed her house several times. Edee would much rather be alone, but she’s in no condition to push Miguel away. Miguel instead offers to teach her to successfully hunt, fish, and care for herself in the wild. Edee takes him up on his offer, and she begins to see all the ways that they are more similar than she expected.

Land is a solid debut for Robin Wright as a feature director, but it is not without its faults. The pacing of the narrative holds mostly well for 89 minutes, but this is a case where even 89 minutes feels a little too long. I don’t think the extended periods of Wright all alone on screen consistently maintained my interest. I held this criticism for the Robert Redford film All is Lost, another movie with even less dialogue than Land, but both struggled to keep my focus on the narrative with the lack of visual action onscreen. I never had flat-out signs of boredom, but I found myself checking the time more than once.

The film’s cinematography makes up a lot of ground, though, thanks to some truly striking imagery of the beauty in Wyoming (well, the film was shot in Canada, but we are meant to see Wyoming). The shot composition did a lot to position me in the world with Edee. I felt cold watching the snowy environment and I could almost smell the morning dew on the blades of grass. It’s a wholly arresting bit of scenery that evokes every sense.

I also found Wright’s performance to be quite strong as Edee. I would have liked to peel back the layers of her character earlier on in the narrative. We get a big emotional information dump at the end of the film that would have been more interesting had it shown up earlier than the final ten minutes. We get bits and pieces of her backstory as the film moves along, but we never really get the ability to reconcile with her past and her pain because the movie ends as soon as we get the story that Edee’s been struggling to bury at the very end and therefore the reckoning that we’ve been waiting on never really occurs, though we are meant to believe it has.

Wright plays off of Bichir very well. In fact, so often, Demián Bichir is the secret weapon of any film, as he can do so much with so little. He’s easily the best part of the underwhelming The Grudge from last year, and he even stand out among The Hateful Eight with limited dialogue and screen time. Bichir and Wright have such solid chemistry and they each come at their roles differently, Wright with stoic sadness and Bichir with a limited sense of hope and happiness. The scenes with the two of them onscreen are electrifying.

The only element of the film that flat-out doesn’t work is the invasive and, dare I say, annoying score that invades every scene like an unwelcome intruder. It grates on the ear drums and, though I can sense what it’s trying to do, it never seems to add anything to the film but irritation.

Land has more strengths than weaknesses, and the strong acting from Wright and Bichir as well as an arresting bit of visual delight save an otherwise more forgettable movie. There’s just a lot here that has been done before, and better, but I wouldn’t say that Wright’s feature directorial debut is a bust. It’s a solid little movie for an afternoon matinee, and I would still give it a slight recommendation, if you can handle the score.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

Green Book (2018)

Director: Peter Farrelly

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Screenplay: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.

 

Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, TV’s Loudermilk) kind of came out of nowhere with Green Book. The director, known for working with his brother on low-brow comedies (some of which are quite good), really showed up to bat on his latest film, a solo venture about two men in the 1960s who couldn’t be more different on the surface. It’s quite something.

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Captain Fantastic) is a New York bouncer without a job after his latest club shuts down. He ends up with a job he never expected, driving Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s House of Cards) on a tour of the Deep South for eight weeks. Given the racial tensions of the Deep South, this proves to be a difficult job that brings these two men closer.

Green Book is one of the most interesting and enjoyable tales of friendship put to film in recent memory. It all boils down to the relationship formed between our two central characters. Tony is a smarmy low-brow guy who cares deeply for his wife, played by Linda Cardellini (Brokeback Mountain, A Simple Favor), and only seeks to do right by her. When he takes the job with Shirley, he is able to look introspectively at himself, see his flaws, and seek to better himself. The whole film, he is looking at Shirley through racially-tinted sunglasses, seeing only what his limited, and incorrect, perception of the culture is.

Mahershala’s portrayal of Dr. Shirley is a proud man, one who sees his placement in the broken American machine, and he seeks protection on his tour of the South. What he finds is the ability to find joy in moments and appreciation for who Tony is. He also has secrets that he wishes to keep and sees those secrets as faults. He is a multi-layered character and Ali is worthy of the performance.

Outside of their relationship, Green Book is pretty straightforward. Farrelly has no bells and whistles and just lets the camera focus on the two leads, and that’s a good call. It doesn’t really delve too deeply into race of the 1960s, and I will leave that open as to whether or not it was the right call, but it doesn’t injure the film’s central focus.

Green Book is a fascinating tale of friendship set against the backdrop of a difficult time in America. It’s led to two amazing performers who consistently left me smiling with their interactions. It’s a joyful film and a thought-provoking one that left me hopeful for the future.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, click here.

For my review of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Fever Pitch, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Edgar Wright

112 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

 

I missed out on Baby Driver last year. I made the attempt several times to get to the theater to catch it, but each time, I ended up missing out on it. It hit home video and I picked it up, and for months, it sat on my watch pile. Thankfully, I needed to check it off my Oscar Death Race. So here we are.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant) is a getaway driver who works somewhat freelance for Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, TV’s House of Cards). He suffers from tinnitus, and he plays music to drown it out. He is working his way toward paying off a debt to Doc and finally being free when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella, Darkest Hour), an attractive diner waitress he falls head over heels for. Baby sees a future for him and Debora that is without crime, but when Doc pulls him back in, Baby finds himself in a situation where he is forced to betray everything he knows to escape.

This is the first film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) since completing his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and it’s a hell of a way to break out of the wheelhouse. Wright’s direction is strongly tuned to the music (he reportedly wrote each scene with a specific song in mind and sent an iPod with a playlist out with each copy of the screenplay) so that the film feels like a big concert action film. His writing gives the feeling of larger-than-life characters existing within a realistic landscape.

Ansel Elgort shines as Baby with a performance mostly physical. Elgort uses his body language as dialogue here to react to the building tension, especially in the final act of the film, but everyone in this film feels so strongly placed, from Lily James’s Debora to Jon Hamm (Marjorie Prime, TV’s Mad Men) as Buddy (Buddy was written with Hamm in mind, and rightfully so). I also really liked Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Pilgrimage) as Griff, though I would have liked to see more of him. To be fair, though, Jon Bernthal should be in every film.

I wasn’t all that taken with Jamie Foxx (Ray, Sleepless) as Bats, though. It just felt like he took his character from Horrible Bosses and reused him here. He isn’t terribly interesting and I would have liked to see someone else embody that psychotic thief.

But the real star of the movie here is the soundtrack and Wright’s expert handling of the action set pieces. This movie got my toes tapping more than once throughout the runtime. Wright’s focus on practical driving over CGI as much as possible helps to maintain a good pace for the film, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Baby Driver is one of the best action films of the last decade. It’s an enjoyable romp with terrific performances and a lot of heart both in front of and behind the camera. A passion project from Wright, the movie is similar to the director’s previous work in that it’s wholly rewatchable and endlessly fun. This is one to seek out if you missed it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.

 

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Wonder Woman (2017)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya

Screenplay: Allan Heinberg

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

 

Well, DC did it, everyone. They finally won one. In the race to create the first good female superhero film, DC just crossed the finish line before Marvel. Kudos all around. But is it actually good?

On the mystical island of Themyscira, Diana (Gal Gadot, Fast & Furious 6, Criminal) has grown up surrounded by strong and powerful Amazonians, but when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Hell or High Water), an outsider, washes up on the island, Diana finds a call to action as the rest of the world need her help. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator, 3 Days to Kill) forbids her from leaving but Diana believes it her duty to help Steve end The War to End All Wars. Once she arrives in London, Diana is met with an entirely alien culture and new adversaries in German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Big Eyes) and Spanish chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In, The Infiltrator), and it will take all Diana’s might to defeat them and bring peace back to the world.

Finally. Finally, we have an excellent super heroine film. Wonder Woman is damn good, everyone. Hearkening back to the spectacular Superman: The Movie of 1978, Wonder Woman is a fairly straight-forward telling of Diana’s backstory. It is very close plot-wise to the pilot of the Lynda Carter Woman Woman series from the 70s, but it is more successful in its adaptation of the source material.

Director Patty Jenkins (Monster, Exposed) directed the hell out of this movie, focusing on Diana’s character traits and flipping the traditional idea of the hero and the damsel. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg (TV’s The Catch) plays Diana as the hero and Steve Trevor as the damsel in distress, and Jenkins pushes it as far as she can.

Gal Gadot gives serviceable work here as Diana. She probably isn’t the best actress for the role, but she is showing signs of improvement with each installment of the DCEU. Chris Pine helps by giving fully to his performance and director Jenkins knows how to get the best from her leading lady. It also helps to have a well-balanced supporting cast of players like Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, TV’s House of Cards), Danny Huston, David Thewlis (Naked, TV’s Fargo), and Connie Nielsen. Surround yourself with greats and you will be great, and Gadot is extremely entertaining and charismatic to watch.

Now, the final act of the film falls apart quite a bit, but it is the character piece that Jenkins has presented that makes Wonder Woman such a treat to see, and being the first well-reviewed of DCEU’s slate, this bodes well for the future of the franchise and its star performer.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

What did you think of Wonder Woman? Has all the world been waiting for her? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

 

 

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Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Cast: Mahershala Ali, Duan Sanderson, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris

Screenplay: Barry Jenkins

111 mins. Rated R for sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Naomie Harris)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Acheivement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievment in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

 

Don’t get upset. Moonlight won Best Picture and La La Land did not. Don’t be angry. I foresaw the win (but not the controversy) but needed to see the film before making my own judgment call. I needed to see for myself what the hubbub was all about. I’ve now seen Moonlight several times, and it’s one of the best and most important films you will ever see.

Moonlight’s storytelling technique is a little complex, so I’ll explain. Moonlight is in three pieces, each showcasing a different period in the life of Chiron. In each of the three key pieces, Chiron is played by a different actor of course. There is Little (Alex Hibbert), Chiron (Ashton Sanders, Straight Outta Compton, The Retrieval) and Black (Trevante Rhodes, The Night is Young, Open Windows). The narrative explores Chiron’s upbringing, his relationship with drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali, TV’s House of Cards, Free State of Jones) and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris, Skyfall, Collateral Beauty), and the themes of sexuality and identity that run through Chiron’s blood. It is an elegant and powerful tale.

The strength of Moonlight comes from the incredible ensemble both in front and behind the camera. The performances from Ali and Harris first spring to mind, but all three actors playing Chiron are just incredible.

Director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) put together a great team from a technical standpoint, bathing each stage of Chiron’s life in a different color tone. The film is gorgeously shot and expertly edited into a tight runtime that leaves little out of place. In fact, each piece of the story has its own musical cues and moments to play with. It almost feels like you could watch any one part of the story as a short film and be quite satisfied, but in the grander scheme, Chiron’s life comes into full view.

Moonlight is damn impressive, and very deserving of the Best Picture Oscar it took back from La La Land. I love both films, but I think Moonlight is exactly what it sets out to be and narrowly edges out La La Land. This is impressive filmmaking at its core, and I highly recommend you see it immediately.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Horrible Bosses (2011)

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Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx

Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

98 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.

 

I usually find one great comedy every year. 2011’s Horrible Bosses was a great comedy. My review for Horrible Bosses here.

horriblebosses2011c

Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, TV’s Arrested Development, This is Where I Leave You) has been working his butt off for a promotion, but his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, TV’s House of Cards, American Beauty) seems not to notice or care. Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Lego Movie) is trying to be the best fiancé he can be, but his boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston, TV’s Friends, Cake) wants to ruin it be forcing Dale into a sexual relationship through blackmail. Then there’s Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers, Drinking Buddies), who is all set up to take over his boss’s position when he retires. Unfortunately, Kurt’s boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1) dies, and his son Bobby (Colin Farrell, Total Recall, Winter’s Tale) takes over instead. Now, these three have no choice but to get the help from Mothafucka Jones (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Annie) to kill their horrible bosses in this dark comedy gem.

I love this movie. Most films don’t try the black comedy anymore and even fewer actually succeed as perfectly as Horrible Bosses did. I also found the story to have plenty of twists and turns to it, enough so to keep me enthused even without the laughs, but then add in the genius of Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis as the everymen along with the strong performances of Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell as the “horrible bosses” and you have a great time at the movies. Director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief, Freakonomics) handles this crew nicely and gives each equal laughs and equal screentime to boot.

horriblebosses2011b

All in all, you see a movie like Horrible Bosses for laughs, and it has plenty. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is about as close to genius comedy as one can get.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Netflix Jumps on the Historical Epic Bandwagon with Marco Polo; Trailer Out Now!

marcopolo2014a

Netflix is becoming one of those dynasties in entertainment; they create amazing original programming, they house thousands of good films and a lot more no-so-good, but forget those for the moment.

When they began original programming with series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix immediately proved that they were worth the monthly price of membership. Now, Netflix is taking on the epic series with Marco Polo, stylized like Vikings and Game of Thrones in their sand and sword, blood and breasts approach to high action.

The trailer is below, and looks pretty kick-ass! I’m excited to have a pass to see something like this just for having a service I already use a ton. Let me know what you think of Marco Polo’s trailer and are you excited for December 12?

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