Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2021

Well, last year was…a little better…right?

Hello again, everyone! We’ve reached the end of 2021 and it’s time, just like every year, to discuss the best in movies from last year. 2021 was an overall improvement of a year, and I also happened to see a lot more movies in 2021 than the year prior. In 2020, I think I saw 30 movies. 2021 was a lot closer to 90.

More than anything else, 2021 was the year I got to go back to the movies. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that would happen. This year, the theaters reopened (and had movies to show), and I got vaccinated. To be honest, it was tough for me to even consider going to the movies again once they reopened until I was vaccinated. That’s not me preaching to any of you; it’s more me saying that I didn’t think I could lose myself in the movie without thinking of COVID.

That means I missed seeing theater-worthy movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, but I was finally convinced it was time to return to the cinema for Spiral: From the Book of Saw was released. Saw was such an important franchise for me, I couldn’t miss it.

Yes, I finally went back to the theater in June, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been a really solid element in my mental health to be back at the cinema (I’ve stated many times that the theater has been a place of solace for me when the world becomes too much to handle). I’m not alone in this regard, as audiences flocked back to the theaters back in the 30s in the height of the Great Depression. Well, 2020 and its sequel were rather Greatly Depressing, and I used the theater as a tool. Great movies or terrible ones, it really didn’t matter.

All of that is a long way of telling you that I saw a great many movies, and I feel better talking my Top Ten Films of 2021. So let’s not waste any further time and get right into it.

Now, in order to properly begin, we have to state the obligatory forewarnings:

  • I did not see every film released in 2021. In fact, there are still a few films released very quietly in 2021 that many reviewers have not been able to see, like The Tragedy of Macbeth and Cyrano, and I am unable to include those films in my list. If you know of a film that belongs on this list but you don’t see it, it just means I didn’t see it…that, or it doesn’t belong on my list.
  • On that note, this is my subjective list, not yours, and not objective whatsoever. They are MY personal picks for best of the year. These are the films that spoke to me as a filmgoer. There are better made films that came out in 2021, and there are some films on this list that did not get Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a few that will miss the Academy’s selection process for Oscar-worthiness. They are MY picks and mine alone, so don’t be upset if a film is on your list that isn’t on mine. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
  • Along with all that, I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So let me know by commenting below with your Top Ten Movies of 2021 (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.

Alright, without further adieu…

  1. The Sparks Brothers

-In less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me, someone who had heard one Sparks song but couldn’t even connect it to the band, into a lifelong fan who spent his entire summer listening to the band as if he was trying to play catchup for time lost. His documentary is equal parts biography, concert film, and fever dream, and it all seems to work quite well. It’s also an incredibly watchable film, an entertaining instruction manual on first watch and a celebration of the band for those viewers who had discovered the incredibly prolific but under-appreciated musicians.

  1. Spencer

-Who would’ve guessed that the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart would end up being a horror-thriller Christmas film? Well, okay, it isn’t so exact as that, but this is a Christmas-set “biopic” that is less concerned with the details and minutiae of a life’s timeline and more set on a story that captures the character and person that Princess Diana was. Set during the last holiday season of her time involved with the royal family, the film sees Diana breaking apart at the seams while she struggles to maintain a strong face for the sake of the Crown. She’s there for her children, the one piece of her life in this world that still has good in it. I also have to credit the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, a piece of acting prowess that captures her spirit and soul more than her mannerisms and speech patterns, but I was completely lost in her performance and never once doubted that I was seeing Diana on the screen. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the unsung actor from the film, Sean Harris as McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, and one of the best scenes of the year, in which McGrady confesses how the staff really feels about Diana, and don’t forget the single best needle-drop of the year as the film comes to a close.

  1. The Last Duel

-Ridley Scott dropped two bangers in 2021, and one of them ended up on this list. I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Last Duel because, for me, Ridley Scott can get a little divisive. Every film he makes, the film gods flip a coin. As bonkers as House of Gucci ended up, The Last Duel is an elegant and intense view at altered perspectives done in the style of Rashomon. I have minor faults with a few elements in the overall film, and I argue that “kids-on-their-phone” is so old man and silly. The reason that The Last Duel underperformed is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many filmgoers are forced to make choices of what they want to watch. Several great films slipped between the cracks this year, and a movie that portrays a rape (not once, but twice, mind you) may not be the type of film that audiences wanted this year. That’s one of the factors why a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home did so well this year while bleaker fare like Nightmare Alley and The Last Duel struggled to find a presence. Beyond all that, though, the film is fantastic. It’s a tough sell to do a film that covers a painful and intense event from multiple viewpoints. You have to keep the film fresh while essentially telling the same story. Scott’s film teases us with the titular duel and then presents these views in a captivating way, and each retelling sought to alter the narrative in interesting ways.

  1. Dune

-I try not to hinge my thoughts on one film based upon another, but it’s nearly impossible to do so in the case of Dune, or Dune: Chapter One, or whatever it will eventually be called. We knew going into this film that it would be an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, but we also went into it knowing that the second half of this story was uncertain. It’s a lot of baggage to carry for a single film, and that’s not even diving into the quality of the film itself. Well, Denis Villeneuve surprised us all yet again by turning the oft-believed-unfilmable novel into a science fiction masterpiece on the level of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Well, potentially one day, but it’s a beautiful and elegant masterpiece of cinema nonetheless, but it needs to be stated that this is the first half, and it carries a level of understanding. Dune was not filmed back-to-back with its sequel like Back to the Future II & III or The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions or even the previously mentioned epic production of The Lord of the Rings. Dune was also not handled like the recent 2-part It adaptation. With that film, had we not gotten It: Chapter Two, the first film would stand on its own. Dune: Chapter One hinges on that sequel more than any other two-parter that I can recall. Had that sequel not been announced, I’m not sure this film would be on this list, but it was announced, and it will (likely) happen. With all that, I can’t wait to see this story come to an end and rewatch the first film a bunch when it drops on home video.

  1. The Suicide Squad

-Okay, I trust James Gunn to make a solid and entertaining film, and I trust the recent moves of the DCEU (overall, I’ve been positive on most of the universe, but the recent stuff has been the best), but I didn’t expect nearly as entertaining a time as I got with The Suicide Squad. Early reviews were very positive, and when I finally caught the film at a press screening, I was initially worried the hype was too hyped. Nope, this is an excellent time at the movies, a mean-spirited and bonkers action film that has shades of gritty 70s action pictures. Essentially, Gunn has made a big-budget Troma film, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life with his characters. A more stacked cast than his previous Marvel films, he’s able to give each of his “Squad” a moment to shine. By shine, I’m referring to debauchery or sin, but you get what I mean. The Suicide Squad is a wild ride of entertainment that, dare I say it, is damn beautiful and makes me excited for Peacemaker later this month.

  1. Candyman

Candyman was the last new movie I saw in 2021, and I’m surprised to see it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original film quite a bit, but I did not expect the hit on this legacy sequel just waiting for me to watch it. A little context for you: I’m big on franchises and I don’t like the idea of the legacy sequel (it feels lazy and oftentimes falls into the same pitfalls as the films it ignores), and the only reason I waited on Candyman 2021 was that I hadn’t watched Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead, so last week, I binged the whole franchise, and I must say, this newest film is the best film in the series by a stretch. The clever screenplay, co-written by Jordan Peele, paired with the picture-perfect directing from Nia DeCosta (I can see why she was so quickly snatched up by Marvel). It’s a legacy sequel that chooses to build on the mythology in a way that doesn’t retcon anything that came before but instead decides to add and validate what came before while challenging the history of the series at large. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking to the very ambitious ending.

  1. Halloween Kills

-This is the part when everyone stops reading, so let me remind you that this is a subjective list, and I would be wrong not to put Halloween Kills on the list. I’ve said it before, but Halloween is my all-time favorite horror film, and I have a special place in my heart for the rest of the franchise, convoluted and deeply-flawed though they may be. For Halloween 2018, I was interested but, as stated above, I don’t like the retcon aspect. All that being said, I get why the rest of this franchise was retconned, as most audiences did not keep up with the mythology as much as I did, and trying to make sense of it all would’ve been a bit of work. Also, Laurie Strode was dead in the previous films. Well, I saw Halloween 2018, and it is easily the best-made film since the original, but I felt like it was more of a Greatest Hits album of Halloween, sending up a mashup of great scenes and references from the other non-canon entries, but really not doing a whole lot to distance itself. Well, I revisited Halloween 2018 right before Kills came out, in what amounted to a quick trilogy binge (1978/2018/Kills). Halloween Kills, while being less-polished than David Gordon Green’s previous film, is all the better for its ambition. Sure, it does tread some of the same waters and ideas, but it uses them in a wholly different way. Here, we see Haddonfield as a real town full of interesting characters (I love that many of the background characters of 2018 show up again in Kills), and it’s a town dealing with its trauma in an unhealthy way. This sequel speaks to the question of how we react to fear, and it pushes the Halloween story into delightfully bloody new directions while making its predecessor much better and more palatable as a chapter in Green’s story.

  1. The Green Knight

The Green Knight was a movie that almost seemed to not want me to watch it. It didn’t have a lengthy run at my local theater, and the weekend my wife and I had planned to see it ended up with me self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID because I was very sick. I ended up being negative but by the time I ended up feeling better, we didn’t have a free night to see it, so we missed its theatrical run. Thankfully, I ended up with a 4k copy of it, and I was actually able to watch it. Also thankfully, the movie is excellent. The way The Green Knight takes the classic fable and legend and reconfigures it to fit David Lowery’s filmmaking sensibilities and give us a Gawain who is essentially a hopeful hero without any heroic skills, a leader who only takes the killshot because he can, a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions and flees at the sight of danger. It’s also a technically stunning piece of medieval fantasy with terrific performances and a haunting visual aesthetic. If you missed it like I did, rectify that immediately.

  1. Belfast

-There’s an argument out there that Belfast is not as hard-hitting and serious as the events it is depicting require, and I can understand it. The reason the film works for me is that it’s not about those events specifically; it’s about the family at the center of it, specifically young Buddy (played by newcomer Jude Hill). Seeing these traumatic events through the eyes of a child was something very effective for me. For Buddy, everything going on in his world is strained through the filter of his family, and that’s all he wants. He wants things to go back to normal, he wants to stay in Belfast, he wants his life to go in the direction it has been up to now. That’s his reckoning in the film, and it’s a small story against a big backdrop, and it was a joyful (as joyful as it could be, given the surrounding political unrest of the time) coming-of-age story that I want to share with my family, friends, everyone.

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

-No, I’m not a Marvel fanboy saying it is better than everything ever made without discussion ever. The last time I had a Marvel film on my Top Ten, it was back in 2011 and it was Thor. If you look at my list, there’s a good number of acclaimed films in Oscar contention as well as some really entertaining popcorn movies. Shang-Chi is the best of both worlds, and if there were to be a superhero film in the Best Picture race, it would be Shang-Chi. The film has an important cultural touchstone, and it showcases a terrific starring turn from Simu Liu as the titular hero, but the film has so much more. It has a terrific friend/potential love interest in Awkwafina, and it has one of the MCU’s best villains in real Mandarin Xu Wenwu. The film has loads of excellently-choreographed action, nods to wuxia, and it plays off one of the MCU’s best arcs in the Mandarin, especially with how the character ties to Iron Man 3. I even find the finale to be much more than a CG mess that most superhero fare gets lost in. Shang-Chi ends with a bang, but it is character-driven all the way through. Gosh, I can’t wait for a sequel to this film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is all-around excellent, and it’s my favorite movie of 2021.

There you have it. My Top Ten Films of 2021. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. What are your favorite movies of last year? Leave your favorites below! See you next year.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung
Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language.

There’s been a level of uncertainty surrounding the MCU following the finale of the Infinity Saga. As Avengers: Endgame came to rest, fans everywhere were overjoyed by this conclusion to the story, and a few of us were left wondering, “Where do we go from here?” It’s a fair question, of course. No cinematic universe has been more ambitious or successful as the MCU, but even so, how could they top that ending? As solid as Spider-Man: Far From Home was, it was seen as an epilogue to the story, instead of being a jump-start to the next film. Then, 2020 and COVID gave us the first year since 2009 without an MCU installment. Even 2021’s Black Widow was set during Phase 3 and acted more as a sendoff to a beloved character than a true starting point for what was next. We were fools, of course, not to trust Marvel, a studio that has consistently triumphed in spectacle and action and also seems to be consistently gaining speed in the general artistry of their epics. The newest installment, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, feels like a breath of fresh air and a reminder that this world is far from stale, and it’s indeed the best origin story the MCU has had in years.

Shaun (Simu Liu, Women Is Losers, TV’s Kim’s Convenience) and his friend Katy (Awkwafina, Ocean’s Eight, TV’s Awkwafina is Nora From Queens) are virtually inseparable. They both work together as valets during the day and spend their evenings hanging out, living in the moment, and trying to make ends meet, and it doesn’t seem like this cycle will break anytime soon. That is, until a group of trained killers board their bus, looking for Shaun and a necklace he’s wearing. After dispatching the foes with a blend of incredible martial artistry, Shaun is forced to reveal that his real name is Shang-Chi, and he’s a trained master of martial arts and son to a criminal mastermind, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung, In the Mood for Love, Europe Raiders), known as The Mandarin. Now, Shang-Chi and Katy are on a mission to reunite with his long-lost sister and foil his father’s dangerous plan. In doing so, Shang-Chi will be forced to confront a past he ran away from and a legacy he has tried to hide.

I’m very unfamiliar with Shang-Chi, the local bookstore where I would hunt down old comic books never had any back issues as far as I knew, but I knew just bits and pieces and hoped for the best here, and I was blown away by this film. It’s a classic action epic fantasy more so than any singular superhero tale, dealing with strange new environments, lots of mythology and mysticism, and spectacular creature design. If you removed the MCU connections, this movie could very much stand on its own and be just as entertaining, but know that Shang-Chi is stepping into a larger world only makes me more excited for where this character is headed, and all of that stems from an incredibly strong lead performance from Simu Liu. This is the first time I can recall seeing Liu perform, and I was enamored with his ability to flip between the serious emotional family drama on display and the playful Marvel tone so easily. He never stumbles, and none of the drama or comedy feels forced into the situation. When I’d heard that Marvel had cast the guy that tweeted them for the role, I was very uncertain, but Liu’s ability to hold his own against Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Boss Level) confirms to me that he has a long career ahead of him.

Another aspect of the film that concerned me on the outset was the decision to revamp the character of the Mandarin. I am a huge fan of Iron Man 3 and I actually loved how they pulled the rug out from under viewers, revealing that the Mandarin was really Trevor Slattery, a cheesy character actor playing up to the more stereotypical aspects of the villain, and he was used as a front for Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. The Mandarin is a tricky character in the comics, a very stereotyped character that plays to the offensive fairly often, so I found the Slattery reveal to be a high point of the Shane Black sequel, and when I heard that this film would retcon the Mandarin, I was pretty frustrated, but the combination of Tony Leung’s performance and the way he is incorporated into the already laid-out mythology of the MCU’s Mandarin is so classy and interesting without a hint of disrespect to what came before. In fact, they honor the previously-established mythology so well that I giggled with glee throughout most of Leung’s scenes. I’m a big fan of Leung’s work already, and I already knew he was going to knock his performance out of the park, but Xu Wenwu will likely go down as one of the stronger MCU villains, showing that the studio is again willing to learn from its villain problem and create a nuanced character antagonist. Part of that stems from the collaboration between director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) and Leung in crafting the character, with Leung given more control than most to create the villain, and he’s a sympathetic, but never weak, villain that you can understand even if his actions cannot be condoned.

It also cannot be overstated how much Awkwafina adds to this movie. Almost more egregious than their villain problem is Marvel’s way of dealing with the romantic leads in their films, and though I wouldn’t state that Katy is a romantic lead even though there’s an obvious hint at something under the surface, she’s dealt with significantly better than Thor’s Natalie Portman or Doctor Strange’s Rachel McAdams, to name a few. For starters, Katy is given way more to do in the film, and there are several sequences, particularly in the film’s third act, where she is given the spotlight and it all works just as well. Her character arc still runs alongside Shang-Chi’s, but she consistently plays a part in the narrative and is never discarded or forgotten in the story, playing an integral role in the story, as well as a healthy dose of comedic relief and some of the best chemistry of all the MCU in her scenes with Liu.

I saw Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings after only catching the first trailer (one of the benefits of closed theaters for all of 2020 was not getting beaten over the head repeatedly with spoilery trailers), and I think it’s best to avoid ruining some of the many surprises in store for viewers, so I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say that the fight scenes are intense and beautifully shot, there are battle sequences that feel on par with other fantasy epics, and the creatures in the film vary from cute and cuddly to horrifying and monstrous, and I was never bored at all throughout the film. There’s always a worry when a filmmaker steps up to the blockbuster plate after being so successful at indies (while many are able to accomplish this feat, not all of them are able to), so I’m pleased that Cretton takes the independent film sensibilities he’s used all his career and applies it to a big budget studio tentpole, creating one of the most unique tones and experiences of the entire MCU. This one stands on its own two feet but leads to some interesting places for where the character and series can go from here.

I grew up watching a lot of movies that featured people that looked like me, and as I get older, I tend to find the more interesting stories tend to be the ones surrounding people who don’t look like me. Shang-Chi features a lot of amazing mythology that feels like a window into another world, and it’s also really important that the MCU, 25 films deep at this point, finally has an Asian Leading Superhero. Shang-Chi had many failed attempts to get to the screen stretching all the way back to the 1980s with an adaptation in the works that would’ve features Brandon Lee, and there was an attempt back in 2001 as well with numerous directors entering and exiting the project. It took a long time, but at least the film we’ve been waiting decades for is pretty much the best case scenario, a movie that expands on that classic Marvel storytelling formula but goes in some completely unexpected directions. I had loads of fun with this character and this world, and I’m so excited to go back to the theater when this opens to see it again. Much like DC’s The Suicide Squad, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings showcases a bright future for the MCU, and this film comes with my highest recommendation.

5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.
  • For my review of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Leythum’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.
  • For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.
  • For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, click here.

[Early Review] In the Heights (2021)

Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Screenplay: Quiara Alegría Hudes
143 mins. Rated PG-13.

We are starting to return to a level of normalcy. Projects that I’ve been excited about for many months are actually coming out, and they are coming to theaters (and, in some cases, HBO Max at the same time). Last week was the first official time I’ve been in a theater since March 2020. I went to see Spiral (From the Book of Saw). A few days later, I attended my first Early Screening for another anticipated film, In the Heights, which we’ll be discussing today. In the Heights is an exciting movie for me in many ways. Following up on Crazy Rich Asians, I was very excited to see what director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) would direct next. I’ve also become a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda (even though, I’ll say it, I haven’t seen Hamilton yet), and I’ve enjoyed the music and elements he has added to productions like The Force Awakens and Moana. I’ve also been following the trajectory of Corey Hawkins (BlacKkKLansman, Iron Man 3), who has consistently impressed me. The trailers also continued to raise my interest in the project (I love a stylish new musical), and thankfully, upon seeing the finished product, I have to consider it (mostly) successful.

Set on the streets of Washington Heights, New York, we follow several intersecting stories in the days leading up to a massive blackout in the hot summer. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, A Star is Born, Hamilton) strives for identity as he searches for a way out of Washington Heights, all the while working up the courage to utter just a few words to Vanessa (Melissa Barrera, L for Leisure, Two Times You), a frequent customer in his bodega. Benny (Hawkins), a taxi dispatcher, finds his situation further complicated when his ex, Nina (Leslie Grace), returns home from Stanford unexpectedly. Nina’s father Kevin (Jimmy Smits, The Tax Collector, TV’s NYPD Blue) has been scraping and surviving to help pay her college, but in doing so, he is losing a portion of himself. As the days get hotter and we head toward that inevitable power outage, the residents of Washington Heights are all in search of their passions and worth in a society that seems so often to forget them.

A film adaptation for In the Heights has been in development since 2008, and several directors have stepped in to attempt to get the project off the ground, and off the success of Miranda’s Hamilton, the project finally saw some movement, and director Chu at the helm was the perfect choice to capably adapt the musical for theater audiences. There’s an understanding from Chu that adaptation is not perfect translation (a stage musical is very much not the same thing as a film), and he adds stylistic flair to the film, especially during the many musical numbers, that showcase that this is indeed a throwback to classic Hollywood musicals and their occasional excessive grandeur. Specifically, I really liked the added animation as our cast of characters head toward the pool, and I wish the film did this more often. Chu has a notable gloss to his visuals, sometimes to his detriment, but in a film like In the Heights (and his glamorous predecessor Crazy Rich Asians), it provides a joyful and entertaining bit of movie-making that’s just beautiful to look at. The cinematography, in conjunction with the impressive dance choreography, is stunningly on display here.

The musical numbers may not work for everyone who doesn’t like the speed of rapid-fire rap dialogue, but I rather enjoyed them, even if I admit to have missed a lot of information being relayed in each song. The film’s simultaneous release on HBO Max may actually work to its benefit (the experience is best in theaters, but I’m excited for a free second viewing on my HBO Max account on release day just to put subtitles on and re-experience the music this way). Most musicals require a second viewing for a full appreciation (or at least some repeat YouTube plays for some of the more memorable numbers) and In the Heights is no exception, but at least you have the option of that second viewing at home. I’m particularly looking forward to revisiting “96,000” (seriously, knowing nothing of the film, I wondered how a song with that title could be enjoyable, and I admit defeat in this arena).

It’s obvious that the director took inspiration from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in presenting Washington Heights in the hot summer sun. Whereas Lee’s film showed the heat heading to a boiling point, Chu’s less-stressful film instead allows the resiliency of his characters to be whittled away amid the heat. Keeping all the action on these streets and using the ticking time-bomb of the blackout, similarly to Tarantino’s countdown to the Manson murders of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, is very effective and consistently reminds the audience that we are heading to a collision, uncertain of what exactly will transpire when the lights go out on Washington Heights.

Let’s talk about the characters, starting with Usnavi. Screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes (who wrote the theatrical production as well) captures something very exciting about Usnavi, and her creation of the character alongside Anthony Ramos’s earnest portrayal gives a larger-than-life character that still feels so human and relatable. I foresee a solid future for Ramos, who stayed memorable with limited screen time in A Star is Born and truly shines here. The framing device works even if it is something we’ve seen before and know where it’s heading the whole time.

Corey Hawkins and Jimmy Smits both consistently turn in exemplary work, no matter the project, and here again is no exception. Hawkins takes the musical stylings he learned while working on Straight Outta Compton and turns Benny into a likable albeit flawed man who oversteps his bounds when his heart is checked, and I liked the back-and-forth with Smits’s Kevin Rosario, who mines the tension from their working relationship and the complication of his daughter Nina. Smits is never not putting forth the effort and elevating the work around him.

For me, the absolute surprise breakout of In the Heights has to be Melissa Barrera as Vanessa. I’m unfamiliar with anything she’s done previously, but I was unable to take my eyes off her throughout most of her screen time. Hers is an honest and passionate portrayal of someone who feels the unflinching hands of time working against her and life goals, and I felt for the confusion she is facing as multiple major life decisions come upon her. She never once feels overplayed or cliché, even in a film that has more than a few plot conveniences.

I can’t think of a single performance in In the Heights that was underwhelming, and the biggest flaw with the film is not the performances of the characters but perhaps a bit too much focus on too many secondary characters. In the Heights is overly long, and it feels lagging after the major blackout begins. The night of the blackout is full of interesting plot movement, but the days following the blackout up until when the electricity finally returns to Washington Heights feel unnecessary, seeking to service too many characters that don’t have the impact of our leads. I kept wondering why the film continued, and it wasn’t until the final time jump following the blackout that the film finally reeled me back in. In the Heights does not need to be over two hours, and while some of the secondary characters perhaps had more purpose in the theatrical production, I just didn’t need to see an ending for some of the secondary characters like Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega, Wild Things, Sex and the City), and it didn’t really grab me until we returned focus back to Usnavi, Benny, Nina, and Vanessa. I like the vignette-style of the film, but I didn’t feel the need to keep checking in on certain characters. Look at the Piragua Guy (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). His character shows up a few times, gives some lightheartedness and musical delight, and then recedes. I needed nothing more from his character, and the film didn’t necessitate an arc for him. That same mentality could have been given to Daniela and the salon girls. They provided some great character beats early in the film, but the meandering post-blackout story for both them and other secondary characters gave me nothing of interest to grasp onto.

In the Heights was a breath of fresh air, and it seems like the perfect film for this time. Not only is the Midwest experiencing an epic heat wave (power, don’t fail me now), but as we continue our return to normal life and, for many of us, return to the cinema for the first time in months, In the Heights is a joyful welcome back, full of captivating characters, an accessible and relatable story, and a significant reflection on the immigrant experience in America. I don’t have to tell you that, as a straight white male in society, I am represented to an overwhelming extent within the entertainment industry, but I love seeing the full representation of other races that movies like In the Heights and Crazy Rich Asians brings to cinemas. Though the finished film drags a bit, In the Heights was the enjoyable experience I needed as life returns to some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy, and I think you’ll find something to love here too.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Benedict Wong, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow

Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

181 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

 

Well, here it is. I’m going to try not to use the word culmination like everyone else has, but I cannot make any promises. This is the end of The Infinity Saga, the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The culmination-dammit…

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes, Chef) is drifting through space with Nebula (Karen Gillan, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, TV’s Selfie). On Earth, what’s left of the Avengers have collected at the compound, unsure of what to do next. Thanos (Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men, Deadpool 2) succeeded in his plan, obliterating half of the universe in a single snap of his fingers. As they each come to terms with the enormous loss that they and the universe have incurred, an old ally appears with an idea, a crazy crackpot idea that has no chance of working. Well, almost no chance. The Avengers, or what’s left of them, assemble on one final attempt to fix everything, and if they fail, they’ll do that together.

I’M TRYING TO AVOID AS MANY SPOILERS AS I CAN, BUT BE WARNED THAT  A REVIEW LIKE THIS WILL ALWAYS HAVE SOME SPOILERS. SEE THE FILM FIRST IF IT CONCERNS YOU.

THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING.

Avengers: Infinity War set up an almost impossible task. Let’s give the villain his own movie and test out characters like they’ve never been tested before. I think that’s the importance of the Avengers franchise of the MCU. Much like any team-up movie, I think it’s important to have the team tested in a unique way, and they should almost always come out of the film with more people on the team or less, because that’s one of the only ways to change the story trajectory. Well, Infinity War had tested the Avengers, and they certainly came out of the film with less characters, but it was also an even bigger test for Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me, and Dupree, Welcome to Collinwood) as well as the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Pain & Gain), who now had to bring in the fourth Avengers film on a solid landing and end the story. We knew that they had to do something to save some of the dusted Avengers. Hell, there was a Spider-Man trailer out weeks before the film’s release, and even though we joked about it possibly set before Endgame, everyone knew that Sony would not let Marvel kill their most popular character. Certainly, Black Panther’s story would not end after one solo film, but how was this all going to happen, and what’s the cost?

So let’s start with that impossible task. Knowing all the things that had to happen in the follow-up, it’s incredible how the Russos and the writing team actually pulled it off and made it captivating, exciting, and heartbreaking. From the shocking opening of the film to the final act, a dauntingly epic ending that takes up a large chunk of the film’s three-hour runtime, Avengers: Endgame just cruises on by. In a lot of ways, it’s the flipside of Infinity War’s coin, and it’s a good thing that they changed the titles from Infinity War Part 1 and 2 because as much as they rely on each other, Endgame is a completely different film, and that’s why it works so well. Infinity War was a film that gave each of its characters at least one moment to shine, and Endgame does that too, but Endgame even gives each film before it time to shine. There’s references to Iron Man 3 in this film and Thor: The Dark World, two films that don’t even end up in the upper 80% of most MCU fan rankings of the franchise (full disclosure, though, I love Iron Man 3). It’s a love letter to the 11 years of this franchise and the fans that stuck with it for so long.

The performances from the entire cast are solid, but I want to discuss the ones that I think deserve to be discussed, good or bad. Let’s start with Robert Downey Jr. His performance here is a series best (quite a feat for the actor that has not beaten Hugh Jackman for most appearances as a superhero in a franchise), even better than Tony Stark struggling with PTSD in Iron Man 3 (see, I love that one). There, he’s dealing with the knowledge he obtained in The Avengers that Earth is not alone in the universe, and now, he’s dealing with the failure in saving billions or trillions of lives. He becomes weak, and he cannot hold blame. He keeps going back to wanting to put a suit of armor around the world with Ultron. He’s beaten and broken and still hasn’t forgiven Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Gifted, Before We Go) for abandoning him even though he is just as responsible. He’s also dealing with the loss of Peter Parker on Titan. Tony needs some hard truth at this point on his journey, and he gets it in Endgame.

Steve Rogers watched many of his friends die right in front of him. He’s a man who fell out of time into a confusing one and did the best he could, but he comes to realize that his failure to stop Thanos has hit him just as hard as Tony, but in a different way. He’s running a group that helps people to cope with the loss, and he’s going just as much for himself as anyone else. Chris Evans consistently does the impossible with Steve Rogers/Captain America; he makes this superhero a human. He makes the goody-goody Rogers an actual human being, with plenty of flaws and pain. This is the story that tests him and his need for hope, and there’s no one I’ve seen outside of Christopher Reeves playing Superman that embodies that struggle for hope so well.

Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) has taken control of the remaining Avengers, and she’s stopped taking care of herself. She’s dealing with the loss by diving into work, hunting down a rogue Avenger who needs her help, but she’s sputtering on exhausted wheels. She’s just looking to make right on a career filled with wrongs. All the bad things she has done before finding her home with the Avengers have led her here, and she couldn’t do anything about it.

This is a film that gives Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right, Now You See Me 2) so much to do with the Hulk character, probably the most unique shift for the character in the MCU, and he does a spectacular job with it. It isn’t what I would have done, but I admire the character arc he takes.

One character that doesn’t get much to do is Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Snow White and the Huntsman, 12 Strong). This is a man who lost his father still very recently, his brother died in front of him, and half of his people are slaughtered after losing their home. He’s another hero dealing with failure. He should have aimed for the head. He came so close to saving everyone and then he didn’t. He should be dealing with the most pain of anyone in the story. Instead, he is used more so for comic relief than anything else. I get it, Chris Hemsworth is really funny, but I know he can play to drama as well. He just doesn’t get the emotional beats that I wanted him to have. It’s similar to what is done with him in Infinity War, where he just doesn’t get the time to develop his trauma. His alcoholism in Endgame could have some serious consequences and bearing on him, but it just doesn’t.

Lastly, I want to talk about Karen Gillan’s performance as Nebula. I’ve never been a big fan of the character, either the way she’s written or the performance. Nebula always reminded me of a fly that comes in the window in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep. You swat and swat and just can’t get rid of her. In Endgame, though, her character is expanded upon so much more because of how we see her and the presentation of how far she has come as a character since we saw her in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. People forget that vol. 2 takes place just a few months after the first one, so it’s been a long time since we’ve really seen Nebula in the MCU, and Gillan’s subtle broken performance is terrific.

From behind the lens, the Russos directed the hell out of this thing, and there’s a lot to be said about the strength of their storytelling as it has evolved over the years. Their cinematography is so clean, especially when it needs to be, in some of the heavier action set pieces. It’s safe to say that there’s a lot going on in this film; there has to be, but the way the Russos keep the focus on where it needs to be to progress the story is great, and the way they handle the set pieces are very focused and strongly laid out. There’s a heavy possibility, especially in the third act, to lose sight of what’s going on and where we’re at from a narrative perspective, but they never let the film lose sight of its goal, a tremendous feat.

With that visual storytelling comes the editing, which is very strong. The film never feels long. It’s the enjoyment factor, no doubt, but clocking in at just over three hours, the film almost should feel long, but it doesn’t. Not once. After seeing it twice, I can say with certainty that there’s only one scene I would cut earlier in the film to tighten it more, and it probably would only save 30 seconds or so.

No offense to Danny Elfman, but I’m really happy to hear Alan Silvestri’s score here after being absent from Age of Ultron. Silvestri’s score takes notes from The Avengers and especially from the ending of Infinity War, but it dives deeper into the depression, loss, and hope that permeates the film, and his score has a note of finality to it. If this is indeed the last time we’ll see some of our favorite heroes, Silvestri sends them out on a high note.

Avengers: Endgame accomplishes the most difficult task assigned to it. It has an ending. This is the end of a big part of this franchise without feeling the need to really set anything else up. For the most part, there isn’t an MCU film that hasn’t had the need to at least set up something in the end credits, but not Endgame, and that’s a strong and restrained decision because the film should speak for itself and everything that comes before it, and boy does it have a lot to speak on. This is an absolute cinematic achievement, and barring a few small hiccups, it comes off without a hitch. The ending raises some questions that we won’t really have answered until Spider-Man: Far From Home (the true last film in Phase 3), but beyond all that, I loved watching this movie and cannot wait to see it again, if only to catch some more of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. If you haven’t yet, then seriously, why not?

#ThanosDemandsYourSilence #Don’tSpoilTheEndgame

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.

For my review of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Leythum’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon

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

 

It took me over a year to finally watch Justice League. I picked up the film last year, and I just didn’t have the nerve to see it. After all the craziness going on behind the scenes, it felt as though this film just got destroyed by problem after problem. I read some reports from early set visits on Justice League, and the overall mood was quite good. Then, the problems began. Not all of these can be blamed on any one particular person. Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) had to step away from the film after the sudden death of a family member, a move I will never blame him for. So as far as the finished film goes, how does Justice League fair?

It’s been some time since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Fallout) at the hands of Doomsday, and the world has mostly moved on. But Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, The Accountant) cannot. He is haunted by the power he witnessed by the enemy due to a dream he witness of winged creatures and an Armageddon in the potentially near-future. His mission is to build a team of protectors. With Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Furious 7, Ralph Breaks the Internet) already joined up, they focus on recruiting Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian, Braven), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, TV’s True Detective) to the cause. Bruce and Diana find their mission ever more difficult with the arrival of Steppenwolf, a military officer from Apokolips, in search of the mythical Mother Boxes, three cubes capable of immense power.

I’m not usually a guy for high expectations with blockbuster fare. I personally find that smaller films can have just as much impact as larger ones in the blockbuster landscape. For example, Ant-Man is a fairly low-stakes superhero film when compared to something like Avengers: Infinity War (sorry for making my point with MCU films here). The one area where this thinking doesn’t count is the team-up films. When you have a film like Justice League, it needs to be big. It needs to have those memorable set pieces. Justice League’s biggest problem is that it’s forgettable. I just watched a night or two ago and I have trouble placing most of the action. Not much of the set pieces register in my mind. That’s a problem. This should be the one that reminds fans that the DCEU has stumbled in the past but they’re making up for it here and into the future. Snyder’s departure from the film didn’t cause this problem. Warner Bros did.

In response to criticism, Warner Bros stated that Justice League would have a shorter run time. At least, that’s the statement. At no point in any of the DCEU films, outside of Man of Steel, was the run time every really an issue for me. They are lengthy films but the DCEU always kind of branded itself with an epic quality maybe even more so than the MCU was. Warner Bros responded to criticism that wasn’t really there and shorted the run time, allowing for more butts in seats to see this movie. They responded to criticism that the films are too dark. Again, not an issue that I encountered outside of the brooding Man of Steel, but I just think they respond to any criticism big or small and it damages their plan.

I found Justice League, at the time I watched it, to be more enjoyable than anticipated. I feel like it sets up the team dynamic pretty nicely, and I like where it set the trajectory of future installments of the DCEU, but as a film, it also suffers some of the problems of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it completes some arcs we’ve seen started and starts some new arcs but the meat of the film is missing. This is especially apparent with the portrayal of Steppenwolf, performed through Mo-Cap by Ciaran Hinds, a tremendously gifted actor. Steppenwolf’s scenes were altered and sliced up, turning a potentially frightening villain into a flat, one-dimensional CG target. It kind of makes Justice League seem like another example of Suicide Squad, a film with great heroes on a flimsy mission.

I really enjoyed the few moments of interaction between members of the Justice League themselves. I just wish we had more of them. For example, Superman is on the front cover and appeared in the trailers, so it’s safe to say he’s in the movie. He’s been through a lot in this cinematic universe, and I feel like he needs screentime to really showcase it. I would liken his struggle closer to Tony Stark’s from Iron Man 3. He’s been through some shit, but he never gets the time for us to connect with him. They could have utilized Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) to connect us to this higher being, but they choose not to.

Ben Affleck is yet again at the top of his game here with Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’ve been saying for a long time now that he’s the best part of the DCEU and I stand by that claim. It’s a shame he’s been brunted with all these problems that have soured his experience because he’s a damn capable actor/director/writer who really could have spear-headed this whole world, but alas, that’s the way it goes.

Gal Gadot is also quite well-suited for her character. She plays Diana with a sense for saving and protecting, and it doesn’t come off all that cliché or silly. She gets more to do here than she did in Batman v Superman coming off her solo film with such high praise.

The real standout for me was Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry. He played Aquaman in such a different way than I had planned given what little the audience has to go on so far. I didn’t expect to see such a pessimistic asshole interpretation, but it’s all done in jest with an understanding of his place within the team, and I loved every scene with him as they all brimmed with fun.

I think the plotting of Justice League wasn’t wrong from the beginning, though. I remember hearing word from some of the involved crew that the film was initially to open with the large-scale battle for the Mother Boxes and a Lord of the Rings-style opening narration to set up the mysticism around these items. That intrigued me, the idea that DC was perhaps treating this film like an epic in the style of Lord of the Rings was very exciting. The finished film opens with a live-video of Superman that really just doesn’t sit well.

Justice League stumbles a lot throughout, and it had a rocky road leading to its release (can you say Mustache-gate?), but it isn’t the worst thing to come from the DCEU, and maybe that’s its biggest sin. This should have been IT. This should have been the one to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s mildly forgettable and very simplistic. It makes me sad because, while I still enjoyed it, there’s issues abound and I really want the DCEU to survive and thrive. This just isn’t doing it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

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

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

The Nice Guys (2016)

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Director: Shane Black

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

116 mins. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

 

It’s a great feeling when an artist takes on a project so perfectly in his wheelhouse that it’s all you can think of. I’m a big fan of director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). My fandom is really from his writing, as I grew up watching Riggs & Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, a film written by Black. The franchise is very near and dear to my heart, partly due to the brilliant writing and realistic dialogue crafted by the writer. I also really enjoyed Black’s foray into the MCU with Iron Man 3, but when I heard he was heading back to the buddy-cop-ish genre he helped perfect, I was floored. Sure, our leads aren’t extremely likable guys, but it is their flaws that make them so fun to watch, and the decision to set The Nice Guys in the 1970s…well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

theniceguys2016d

Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Big Short) has been hired to find Misty Mountains, a porn star who actually died days earlier. His search for answers brings him into contact with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, The Water Diviner), who has been hired by one of the women Holland has been tailing. When the two discover something much more sinister is afoot, they join forces, and the unlikely pair, aided by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows), attempt to discover the connection between this dead porn star and a secretly made adult film featuring a now missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV’s The Leftovers, Palo Alto) in 1977 Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys feels like a movie that so perfectly encapsulates Shane Black’s storytelling style, but it might be his riskiest movie yet. He takes several chances on pushing the envelope of the viewer and most (but not all) really work. Black has a gift of dealing with somewhat taboo subjects like porn without glamorizing or debasing them. There is a level of respect given to his seedier characters as well that doesn’t treat them any differently than how he’d treat any others.

In Crowe and Gosling I found the most unlikely chemistry from two leads that I’m likely to find this year. Both come from different cinematic backgrounds and mesh so damn well. Crowe is seemingly directed at being the lead here but it is Gosling’s performance that shines, and the way the two characters interact with Angourie Rice, who plays the young yet mature Holly March that shows the depths of Black’s character development range. The trifecta of characters are tested by a cadre of interesting secondary characters played by Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar, Magic Mike XXL) and my personally proclaimed screen legend Keith David (Platoon, Cloud Atlas) in great supporting roles.

As a director, Shane Black is still fairly new, but he has tested the waters already and jumps right in, exploring some really interesting cinematography and musical choices that showcase the 1970s without throwing at you.

The flaws with the film? The editing is a little looser than it could be. Certain sequences should’ve been tightened a bit more to create a more cohesive pacing to the film. Black chooses to linger on some moments that I didn’t need him to linger on. There’s also a reveal at the end that I found both unsurprising and a little clichéd, something I didn’t expect to find here.

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The Nice Guys is a mostly fantastic romp through an often overdone time frame, but Shane Black chooses to populate his film with likably unlikable people and a few moments of genuine heart. It is the characters and their relationships with each other that drive this film to a pretty exciting conclusion. One can only hope that this has the making of a new franchise, and this reviewer would be more than happy to see the further adventures of The Nice Guys.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen The Nice Guys? What did you think? And what’s your favorite buddy pairing in film? Let me know!

AlmightyGoatman’s 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2016!

 

Note* This list is not the countdown so these are not numbered. This list contains films that have a release date for 2016 and will not contain the 10 films I believe will be the best. This is the films I have become aware of that I am looking forward to. No, your indie film didn’t make the cut because I just haven’t heard much if anything about it. I’m sorry, but you have a whole year to change my mind.

 

Honorable Mentions: Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, The Free State of Jones, Connor4real, The BFG

 

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Hail, Caesar!

I love the Coen Brothers. I don’t always love their movies, but I love that these two great artists can conjure up so much grandeur while at the same time creating so many personal stories. Hail, Caesar! is an exciting farcical comedy about a kidnapped actor back in the heyday of show business and the studio man tasked with finding him. There is a lot of madcap, a lot of fun in the trailer alone, and a lot of Coen.

 

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m not even all that convinced that this movie will be good. The trailer didn’t entirely convince me and I wasn’t a big fan of Man of Steel by any means. I’m mostly excited to see this film because it appears to be the must-see popcorn flick of 2016, much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. The only problem: I was convinced by the great marketing campaign for Star Wars. Batman v Superman, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a big supporter of Zack Snyder (loved Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, even liked 300) but lately, he just hasn’t been hitting the mark.

 

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Snowden

I actually know very little about this project except the touchy subject matter and Oliver Stone, who has become the king of the biopic. With so many great ones under his belt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead, Snowden looks to be an interesting property for this year.

 

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The Nice Guys

When I say Shane Black, you say what? Exactly, he isn’t a household name yet, but I feel in love with his style based on Lethal Weapon alone. He’s been hitting it out of the park lately with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang several years back and then 2013’s Iron Man 3, and now, a 1970s highly stylized buddy cop picture with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Yes, please.

 

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The Conjuring 2

I tried to pick the most interesting horror film of the mulch this upcoming season, and The Conjuring 2 is it. Never mind Annabelle (truth be told, haven’t seen it yet), The Conjuring is an excellent horror film that learned from all the great work and all the mistakes of director James Wan’s career, and coming off of Furious 7 (a difficult production giving us one of the best in the series) and you have me excited.

 

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Suicide Squad

Even if Batman v Superman is a dud or a hit, 2016’s real pressure of the DCEU is Suicide Squad, the third film in the Expanded Universe features some of its best villains, and they aren’t even the villains of the film. Confusing, I know, but at this point in the MCU, we were getting Iron Man 2, and we hadn’t even dipped a toe in the pool yet. The real test of the DCEU is Suicide Squad, so baby, dip that toe!

 

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A Monster Calls

An interesting property with Liam Neeson playing a monster. Yeah, a monster, and Juan Antonio Bayona (recently off of World War Z 2, dodged a bullet there) at the helm, A Monster Calls seems on par with a Boy and his Dog vibe and the magic of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Check out the teaser if you get the chance; it slipped right in under the radar last year.

 

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Doctor Strange

The reason I didn’t include Captain America: Civil War on the list this year was because of Doctor Strange, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as our new Marvel hero, Mads Mikkelson as the villain, and horror director Scott Derrickson at the helm. This has the potential to be what Fantastic Four, or Fant4stic, or whatever it was last year, tried to be.

 

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

These last two are no-brainers. Of course I am excited to see where JK Rowling and director David Yates take us in the ninth installment of what is becoming the Harry Potter expanded universe. Everyone’s doing it! I like the idea that you can play with a new tale in a world already established with rules made to be bent. Add in Academy Award Winner Eddie Redmayne, fresh off The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl (which will likely garner him another nomination tomorrow morning), and you have made a delicious nerd soufflé, and I can’t wait to try it.

 

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

See Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for my reasoning behind this film. Let’s face it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great, and this will be the first opportunity for Disney to actually experiment with the formula without killing our hopes and dreams. And what a story to tell, featuring a tale between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope about the plot to steal the Death Star plans. Expect to see some hints dropped at Star Wars: Rebels and The Force Awakens, perhaps even a cameo or two. Sounds like an exciting December.

 

Hell, sounds like an exciting 2016!

So what do you think? These are just my choices. What are yours? Leave me your own 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2016 below in the comments and I look forward to talking this year with you for at least 12 months…

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

@AlmightyGoatman

Mortdecai (2015)

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Director: David Koepp

Cast: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Munn, Paul Bettany, Jeff Goldblum

Screenplay: Eric Aronson

107 mins. Rated R for some language and sexual material.

 

When Mortdecai’s first trailer was released, I was confused. I thought the movie looked horrible, but I couldn’t place why so many people would join this film. I thought to myself, “There has to be a reason” when it turned out that the film just plain isn’t good.

Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) und seine Frau Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) - Copyright: David Appleby

Mortdecai (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Into the Woods) is an art collector with a fascination with growing a perfect ‘stache. His relationship with wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man 3, Contagion) becomes strained when he is tasked with finding a missing rare piece of artwork by MI5 agent Martland (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Last Days in the Desert) who just happens to be in love with Johanna. Now, with the help of his personal handyman Jock (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, Transcendence), Mortdecai has to track down the culprit who stole the missing painting.

This film looks so cheap that I’m sure it would have been a VOD release had it not been for the star-studded cast who just butchers these roles. Johnny Depp’s performance is so annoying I didn’t even bother listening to the dialogue after a while. Paltrow’s accent work flops around like a fish on dry land. I did rather enjoy Paul Bettany’s Jock and the extended cameo from Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but overall the performances are cringe-worthy to the extreme.

Director David Koepp (Premium Rush, Ghost Town) proves that maybe he should just sit behind a desk and write stuff for better filmmakers. Seriously, how did he think this was going to be any good? I laughed maybe twice and I think they both came from me guessing what would happen next.

I think the most interesting piece of style in the film comes from the wacky transitions as they traverse the globe and the problem with them is that they don’t exactly fit every time they are used.

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Mortdecai is an incredibly disappointing film that seeks to become the Johnny Depp Goofy Hour that actually lasts 107 minutes. Very few elements here even work and they work even less when smashed together. I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. I’m fairly sure you won’t like it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think about Mortdecai? Have you seen it? Did it steal your attention or was it artless? Let me know!

 

Jurassic World (2015)

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Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

It has been 22 years since the events of Jurassic Park, and now John Hammond’s vision has been fully realized. Jurassic World has been up and running for about a decade, and has been run by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, 50/50) to great success. Now, though, with declining numbers, the park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man) wants something new and bigger to boost attendance. He has enlisted Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Mulan, Focus) with the task of genetically hybridizing a new dinosaur species called the Indominus Rex, but this new species is much smarter than they could have realized, and now a raptor trainer named Owen (Chris Pratt, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy) must help Claire find her nephews, Nick (Nick Robinson, TV’s Melissa & Joey, The Kings of Summer) and Gray (Ty Simpkins, Insidious, Iron Man 3), who are missing in the park.

In this third sequel to the Jurassic Park franchise, we see something that has been almost promised for just as long: a fully functioning theme park, exactly what John Hammond would have wanted. It is a completely new experience for fans of the series, and it offers a cadre of new set pieces for director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) to completely destroy.

Chris Pratt gives another leading man performance that proves he has the chops to continue raking in the dough. Now Owen isn’t played as well to Pratt’s strength, and he comes off rather wooden at the beginning of the film before really finding his character beats as the film progresses. His chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is pretty strong, though the developed romance between feels way contrived in the grand scheme of the story.

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The supporting players all mostly give in to the conceit of the film and perform admirably. Our child actors Robinson and Simpkins do enough to get by, though Simpkins underwhelms when compared to previous work in the Insidious franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Run All Night) is great as the slimy Hoskins who wishes to use Owen’s raptor skills to train the beasts for militaristic purposes. He is matched perfectly by Irrfan Khan’s Masrani, an eccentric billionaire very similar to Hammond and who wishes to follow in his footsteps and do right by him. The term “Spare No Expense” comes to mind several times.

B.D. Wong returns to the franchise from the original film as the genius Dr. Wu, a character much expanded upon from the original source novel by Michael Crichton. In this film, Wu defends his place in the history books as the clever mind behind many of the park’s greatest attractions.

Now the dinosaurs here as missing much of the Stan Winston touch that made them so magical in the 1993 film. They still look amazing from the terrific visual effects work, and some of them, like the mighty aquatic Mosasaurus, but it is something I missed. Looking back on Steven Spielberg’s original film, I still look in wonder at the magic on the screen, whereas here I know I am seeing CGI.

Michael Giacchino’s score is also a great feature of the film, subtly using John William’s original themes while adding notes of grandeur and chaos to reinvent it. When we first see the gorgeous set pieces accompanied by the original music, it made my heart skip a beat.

Flaws? Yeah, there are several. The use of the Gyrospheres being completely controlled by the attendees? Yeah, no safety features required there…not! This film makes several of the same mistakes that we’ve seen before, making the characters seem like they paid no attention to the mistakes made in previous installments.

JURASSIC WORLD - 2015 FILM STILL - Pictured: The Indominus rex dominates all creatures in her path - Photo Credit: Universal Pictures   © 2014 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Thankfully, the film is much saved by how great the wins are. There are several faults at play, but overall this is the best film in the franchise since the original. The little pieces of homage to the T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Mr. DNA, John Hammond, and Ian Malcolm help validate this film as a strong installment in the series that holds its own and opens new avenues for the future of the story.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen Jurassic World? What did you think? Did this film’s life find a way or go extinct in the process? Let me know!

 

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

 

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