[#2020oscardeathrace] Richard Jewell (2019)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser

Screenplay: Billy Ray

131 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Kathy Bates] [PENDING]

 

Director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, The 15:17 to Paris) is back again with another true life tale, this time surrounding the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the aftermath. It’s interesting that Eastwood’s films just kind of show up with a trailer for a movie I didn’t even know existed, and I loved the trailer for this one, so I was quite eager to see it. I only hoped that the film would live up to the hype.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, I, Tonya, Late Night) is a security guard tasked with patrolling Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. On July 27th, Richard discovers a suspicious package at the park and he makes a call that saves many lives when the package is revealed to be a bomb. Richard is seen as a hero. But FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, TV’s Mad Men) believes that Richard may have actually been the man who placed the bomb in Centennial Park. Add to that the story published on the front page of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution written by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, Life Itself) revealing that Jewell is a suspect, and suddenly Richard is no longer the hero but the prime suspect in the eyes of members of the public, the United States government, and the media. Enter Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon), an attorney who befriended Jewell a decade prior, who is out to protect Jewell’s rights and, hopefully, keep him out of jail.

Paul Walter Hauser may not be a bankable leading man, but he knocks his performance out of the park here. I’ve been a fan of Hauser’s since I, Tonya, and he was a standout in BlacKkKlansman and several other films, but he’s at the forefront here, and he does not disappoint.

Hauser is also surrounded by a bevy of big-screen talent. Kathy Bates (Misery, The Highwaymen) portrays Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother, and while she doesn’t get a lot of screen time, she makes use of it, culminating in a powerful scene that earned her an Oscar nomination. Rockwell is also at the top of his game as Bryant, a man trying to help his friend who seemingly doesn’t understand the politics of his situation. Richard keeps saying the wrong thing and Bryant’s biggest battle is not against the FBI or the media but actually changing Richard’s mindset into that of a fighter.

On the opposite side of things, I really didn’t like the characters of Tom Shaw and Kathy Scruggs. From the writing and characterization to the directing, I was unimpressed with these two antagonists that were reduced to mustache-twirling stock villains. I don’t really get Shaw’s motivation for targeting Richard Jewell, and I feel like Scruggs has a motivation, but it’s never really confirmed and only ever inferred. Much love for Hamm and Wilde who did the best with the material, but these were bad characters.

There’s another small detail of the film that took me out of it. Recently, there’s been a trend of using real footage in films based on true events. Several films have enacted this idea, perhaps in an attempt to remind us as viewers that this actually happened, but it only serves to take me out of the film and remind me that I’m watching a recreation. It happens in when an interview between Richard and Katie Couric occurs that uses Hauser’s voice but real footage of Jewell, and I really don’t like it. It loses the realness and the concoction of the actor voice and the subject visual really doesn’t work. It is a small moment, but it does detract from the viewing experience.

I think that Richard Jewell is a fine film, but it suffers from a lack of elements that draw in the viewer. I liked several pieces of the puzzle, but the way Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Gemini Man) deal with their antagonists absolutely falls flat. Hauser is at the top of his game here as is Bates and Rockwell, and overall they keep the film moving in a mostly-satisfying way. This is still one worth seeing, but it feels like the overall impact of the film is missing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, click here.

[#2018oscardeathrace] I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Jullianne Nicholson, Bobby Canavale

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

120 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Margot Robbie) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Allison Janney) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]

 

Passion for a project can do amazing things. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Goodbye Christopher Robin) cared so deeply for I, Tonya that she was able to push the film forward and, arguably, is why the film is nominated for Oscars. Originally, it was going to take the limited approach which would have made it ineligible for Academy Award consideration. But Robbie knew there was something to this film, and so she fought for it. Is it worth it?

I, Tonya tells the true-ish story of Tonya Harding (Robbie), her romantic relationship, or lack thereof, with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: Civil War, Logan Lucky), and her family life with mother LaVona (Allison Janney, The Help, TV’s Mom) stretching from early life to the events surrounding the violent assault of Nancy Kerrigan.

The strongest elements of I, Tonya are its performances, specifically Robbie, Stan, and Janney. This trifecta makes the film wholly likable and erases some of its flaws. Robbie and Janney are worthy of their Oscar nominations, and Stan is rightly left off the supporting actor race because there are just better performances for 2017. Janney is going to win this one, though. Her darkly disturbed take on LaVona is one of the best of the decade.

Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Love the Coopers) churned out a screenplay that ended up on the Black List and rightfully so. His usage of fourth-wall breaks is really cool. The only flaw is that I would’ve wanted to see more. It’s a technique that feels underused. It would have been better to use it more or not at all. I  also love that he uses faux documentary footage to tell the story, and seeing the three stars talk right to the audience is a lot of fun. His usage of the unreliable narrator here is really solid.

I, Tonya has a few glaring flaws, but it’s a lot more fun than most other character pieces in 2017. I was thrilled and astounded all throughout the film. It proves that Margot Robbie is so much more than her looks. She is driven, skilled, and entertaining and I, Tonya is just a step on her path to success in her career. See I, Tonya.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 2 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Director: Jack Sholder

Cast: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Robert Englund

Screenplay: David Chaskin

87 mins. Rated R.

 

The first sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the more interesting tales out of Hollywood. The sequel that saved New Line Cinema.

Five years after the events of the first film, the Walsh family has moved into Springwood. Jesse (Mark Patton, Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Family Possessions) has not been sleeping well since the move. The air conditioner is broken, the heat upstairs is unruly, and the nightmares have been unyielding. But things are looking up. He has the hots for Lisa (Kim Myers, Hellraiser: Bloodline, 10,000 Days) and a new best friend in Grady (Robert Rusler, Weird Science, Blood Feast), but he still can’t shake the feeling that there is something dangerous within him. In his dreams, that danger takes the form of a burned man named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Kantamir, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda).

So let’s talk about the magic that is Robert Englund. This franchise would be nothing without him, and he seems to find himself in a different way with each installment. The magic in this series mostly rests on him, as we’ve seen in the remake that did not feature the iconic actor in role. Just think, though, that there was a time when Robert Englund had not been hired for this sequel. Instead, New Line thought it best to get an extra or stuntman. Thankfully, that mistake was rectified a few weeks into production and we now have the franchise and character we know and love.

I want to shift focus now to the screenplay and David Chaskin. For those of you that have watched the brilliant Never Sleep Again documentary that chronicles the making of this franchise, you will already know that in its time since release, Freddy’s Revenge has been discussed heavily for its homoerotic themes. Director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, 12 Days of Terror) has vehemently denied any knowledge of it, and screenwriter David Chaskin (Midnight Child, I, Madman) has only recently taken credit for the themes in his screenplay. Couple that with Mark Patton’s performance (Patton himself claimed he was the first male screen queen) and you can see the layers of sexual repression and how Jesse just wants to bottle up all the anger and hatred and fear that one would experience after coming out and you can see where this is all coming from. It’s an interesting theory but I have to call bullshit on David Chaskin. I don’t believe for a second that Chaskin chose to put this in the screenplay. Chaskin, in interviews, comes across as a smarmy liar who wants credit for everything good in the film but takes no blame on any of its faults.

I think what angered a lot of people about the way Freddy’s Revenge conducted itself was that it seemingly threw the rule book out and took the mythology in a completely wrong direction. In certain circumstances this could work, but for Freddy’s Revenge, it took all the magic out of a film and turned Freddy Krueger into a traditional slasher. He loses all his power. There’s some cool new pieces to the mythology but overall it’s a disappointing installment.

That being said, this installment happens to be my fiance’s favorite and I have a special place in my heart for it being that a sequence in the film was so frightening that I had nightmares for years as a child. Can you imagine if I had been deranged?

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 3 – Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)

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Director: Eli Craig

Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

Screenplay: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson

89 mins. Rated R for bloody horror violence, language and brief nudity.

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about horror and comedy. They are similar in a lot of ways but in order to meld the two, you don’t just make fun of horror elements. That isn’t how it works. Effective horror comedy comes from playing the comedic moments as seriously as possible, as if the characters are just in a regular horror film. Few films are able to master the art. One that does is 2010’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.

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Tucker (Alan Tudyk, TV’s Con Man, I, Robot) and Dale (Tyler Labine, TV’s Deadbeat, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) have one goal in mind: to enjoy their new vacation home, an aesthetically unpleasant cabin in the woods. But when a group of foolish college students mistakes them for monstrous murdering hillbillies, this tale of mistaken identity is about to go off the rails. Dale comes across injured swimmer Allison (Katrina Bowden, TV’s 30 Rock, Nurse) and rescues her. Chad (Jesse Moss, Final Destination 3, Extraterrestrial), who wants Allison for himself, believes them to be kidnapping her for their twisted pleasures and mounts a rescue mission, but these college students are rather clumsy, and as they accidentally die, Tucker and Dale seem to be at fault. This tale of judgment and mistaken assumption culminates in one of the more interesting horror comedies in recent years.

Gosh, not enough people have seen Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and that’s a damn shame. Folks, this movie is on Netflix. You’re already paying to watch it. First of all, our two leads are terrific. Tudyk and Labine play off each other so well. Add in Katrina Bowden, who does a fairly convincing performance as the attractive Allison, a woman who would never have anything in common with our Reddest-of-Neck leads. The other cliche college brats are worthy enough but don’t really get enough time to conjure up a real character. That being said, this movie isn’t really about them. It’s about Dale and Tucker and their quest to enjoy their lovely vacation home.

Director Eli Craig gave his actors free range to build their characters, and it’s one of the reasons that they are as enjoyable as they seem. His focus on turning the genre on its head works to wonders here, even if the ending falls apart a bit. Altogether, though, Craig does great work playing each scene for all its worth. He holds his camera on Tudyk and Labine to get the best reaction to each horrendous “accident” and pulls the uncomfortably tense moments to full effect.

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As I said before, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts, but all in all, this is one of the more enjoyable takes on the horror genre. Similar to Cabin in the Woods, this movie is more of a love letter to the genre as opposed to a slap in the face that some spoofs end up being. This is a worthy collection to your Halloween marathons.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

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Director: George Miller

Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence

Screenplay: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant

95 mins. Rated R.

 

Back when Ozploitation was making its way to America, a property known as Mad Max went with it, but many Americans hadn’t seen the original film. So the American distributors decided to drop the Mad Max 2 title and go with an original title, The Road Warrior. It helped to create a modern day post-apocalyptic classic.

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Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson, Braveheart, The Expendables 3) has been drifting across the wasteland of the remnants of the Earth for five years since the loss of his family. When he comes across a Gyrocopter Captain (Bruce Spence, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, I, Frankenstein) and meets a group of survivors being terrorized by the villainous Humungus and his team of gas-hunting murderers. Now, its up to Max to help the survivors get to refuge and protect their gasoline.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior takes the best parts of the original film and elevates them to a new level while simultaneously fixing the flaws of the first film. Mel Gibson absolutely kills it at this role in his second film of the series. We also get the terrific inclusion of character actor Bruce Spence.

The best parts of the film are the tonal shifts and the mood of the film. The sparingly used dialogue allows for the carnage to be fully realized and displayed.

Now apparently some have questioned the real identity of Humungus that was originally a large part of the story. I’ll let you know about it some time.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is one of the greatest post-apocalyptic spectacles of all time. The notable chase sequence with the gas truck is a fantastic sequence that left me breathless. It would be nearly impossible to top this film (although Mad Max: Fury Road was able to accomplish the feat decades later). You don’t have to see The Road Warrior to fully appreciate this year’s reboot to the Mad Max franchise, but it is a film that demands respect.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Miller’s Mad Max, click here.

 

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

Big Hero 6 (2014)

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Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph

Screenplay: Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird

102 mins. Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

 

After tragedy strikes and takes everything Hiro (Ryan Potter) thought he’d never lose, he befriends Baymax (Scott Adsit, TV’s 30 Rock, St. Vincent), a robotic caregiver built by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Last Stand), and the two set out to find an invention of Hiro’s that has been stolen to be used for evil. Along the way, Hiro gets help from a ragtag group of nerdy geniuses that would soon come to be known as Big Hero 6 in the newest Disney animated feature from directors Don Hall and Chris Williams.

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Baymax is 2014’s answer to Frozen’s Olaf. He is a lovable and sweet companion who is challenged in his quest to heal others by Hiro’s wanting of vengeance against those who wronged him. Young Ryan Potter does great work as Hiro, and he gets great help from veteran voice workers like T.J. Miller (How to Train Your Dragon, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Alan Tudyk (TV’s Suburgatory, I,Robot). I do wish the supporting characters weren’t just relegated to minimal development based around the tech they are currently working on, and I hope that if this becomes the first Marvel-Disney franchise that these superheroes are further developed. The world of San Fransokyo is pretty cool though, taking cues from anime masterpieces like Akira.

Big Hero 6 isn’t Frozen even at its best, though I am happy to see a Disney film willing to deal with death. Although I don’t think they should’ve danced around the subject so much, always referring to the deceased as “gone” when they should take the high route and understand that kids can handle it.

The visual style is neat and it presents a pretty great number of action set pieces for our heroes to defend their beloved city, and it just looks good.

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Big Hero 6 is one of the more enjoyable films of 2014, but it has a lull to it around the second act. Even though it is a Marvel property, it tends to borrow a bit too much from previous Marvel fare like Iron Man instead of drudging a new route. There is a fun post-credits scene, so wait around for that. Big Hero 6 should satisfy parental units as well as kids thought, which is a tough feat to make.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

John Wick (2014)

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Director: Chad Stahelski

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alife Allen, Adrienne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe

Screenplay: Derek Kolstad

101 mins. Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use.

 

You have to give credit to Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, 47 Ronin). As soon as he has convinced you that he has nothing more to offer, along comes a film like John Wick, and he totally redeems himself.

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John Wick stars Reeves in the titular role, a man who has just lost his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan, TV’s Blue Bloods, I, Robot). When he makes an enemy of Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen, TV’s Game of Thrones, Atonement), son of the terrifying Russian mobster Viggo (Michael Nyqvist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Europa Report), John decides that he must come out of retirement. John’s previous job: professional and international hitman, and he is very good at what he does.

Keanu Reeves owns this role and he has a lot of fun in it. Apparently, when you turn on John Wick’s violent switch, it isn’t so easy to turn it off. It does help that he has such a versatile group of supporting players from genre favorites like Ian McShane (Kung Fu Panda, Hercules), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, Chef), and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Fault in Our Stars), who all supply some deliciously cheesy hype for the man named John Wick (though, I should point out, be prepared to hear this name constantly throughout the picture; people cannot stop uttering it).

I enjoyed the plot of the film, the classic revenge tale with elements of secret societies and a code of honor involving a hotel sacred ground for hitmen. I wanted to have more elements of this world fleshed out further, but John continues on his mission. Did the film run on too long? You bet your ass it did. There was a clear-cut ending twenty minutes earlier that would have been perfect and set up the franchise well, but it just kept going.

Director Chad Stahelski, relative newcomer, offers up an interesting vision of his created world, and the cinematography adds elements of action from martial arts to Matrix-style gunplay, which Reeves knows all too well at this point. The film did spend a bit too much time on unimportant exposition as to playing to its strengths.

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All things considered, John Wick is a pretty fun flick that is a bit too long but has the makings of a new franchise. It is nice to see Keanu back in action and I hope this series continues providing stylistic action and exploring its world a bit more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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