[#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.

Bombshell (2019)

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Charles Randolph

109 mins. Rated R for sexual material and language throughout.

 

Bombshell is a movie I was very excited to see as soon as I caught the trailer. First of all, I didn’t realize it was Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde) under all that makeup, and that shocked and excited me. Also, I was a big fan of Vice, which follows people I don’t much like doing bad things, and I felt like Bombshell had a lot in common with Vice tonally, so that made me all the more excited.

It’s 2016, and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly (Theron) has made an enemy of Donald Trump by asking him about his comments toward women. Meanwhile, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Big Little Lies) has been removed from her place on Fox & Friends, and she is contemplating a lawsuit. At the same time, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Peter Rabbit) has just been hired and she wants to get to the top. When she reaches out to the Head of Fox News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun), she is put into an inappropriate situation by Ailes. Soon after, Gretchen begins a firestorm when she comes forward with sexual harassment claims against Ailes, and Fox News begins to implode in the process.

This movie was painful to watch, and that’s kind of the point. The film’s trailers presented a very chic and stylized film, and while the style is definitely there, the story made me really uncomfortable, and in that way, I really found it to be an effective drama. It’s hard to really explain the techniques, but I think mostly it came from the tremendous acting work across the board and the sharp writing from Charles Randolph (The Big Short, Exposed). Director Jay Roach (Trumbo, All the Way) also elected to focus his camerawork on the performances and the story, which I really respect. The film’s overall effect on me was powerful.

Our three female leads are all incredible, each one owning their screen time quite well. The fact that Margot Robbie is able to hold her own against Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is astounding considering the latter two actresses have been around for awhile and are playing real-life humans, whereas Robbie is an amalgam of other people. Their interactions are fiery and full of so much humanity. It’s astoundingly-performed.

John Lithgow is a disturbing presence as Roger Ailes. I never would have placed him in the role, but he is incredibly slimy and full of so much villainy. His makeup as well as that for Theron and Kidman is incredible, and their strong performances work all the better for the makeup. Having seen recent films like The Grudge, I can say that a poor makeup prosthetic can ruin a good performance and a good one can elevate it.

I also have to throw some love to Connie Britton (American Ultra, TV’s Dirty John) because she won’t get the attention she deserves for her work as Beth Ailes, Roger’s adoring wife. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes in the film, but with that time, she disappears in this role and showcases a woman who believes with all her heart that her husband couldn’t have done anything wrong (that, or she willing ignores it), and it’s shocking how long she is able to keep up with the scandal. In a lot of ways, we like to believe that our loved ones could never do anything to hurt us, and Britton exemplifies that.

Outside of the writing and acting work, there’s nothing too flashy in the film other than the strong production design, which recreates an environment like Fox News, and I think it creates a sense of realism in the film. Director Jay Roach also capably creates connections with people that I don’t really know and makes them realistic.

Bombshell is a strong performance-laden film with some shockingly-good acting work from pretty much the entire team, and its screenplay is incredibly well-constructed to connect with its audience on a cerebral level. It’s not an easy viewing experience but it is well worth it. Outside of those elements, there isn’t a lot of notable wins here, but I highly recommend the film to anyone, whether or not you like the people being portrayed.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jay Roach’s All the Way, click here.

Pet Sematary (2019)

Director: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Jeff Buhler

101 mins. Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language.

 

Pet Sematary is a haunting novel by Stephen King, one which he claims he almost regrets publishing because it was too dark, even for him. Now, that sounds like a lovely little marketing statement. In all fairness, the novel stayed with me long after finishing it. The original film was fine enough, and it surprisingly retained a lot of the more disturbing elements that one would possibly try to avoid, but I think it’s fair to say that someone should take another crack at it. This year, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes, Holidays) did just that.

Louis (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, Serenity) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color, Wild Nights with Emily) Creed have just moved into their new home in Ludlow, Maine with their kids and pet cat. Louis has a new job working at the university hospital. After some time in the new home, the Creed family cat, Church, dies, and their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, Late Night, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) brings Louis to a space located just beyond the Pet Sematary behind the house. Louis buries Church there, and soon after, Church is up and walking again. But something is different with the family cat. He smells like rotted flesh and bites and scratches whenever possible. Louis begins to learn a painful secret about the Pet Sematary, one that will stay with him as further tragedy strikes: whatever is buried out beyond the Pet Sematary comes back, just not the same as it was, and sometimes dead is better.

I would have liked to see Andy Muschietti’s interpretation of the classic novel. The It director had expressed interest in attacking this one, but Kölsch and Widmyer got to it first, and the result is…fine. It has an awesomely grim view of the Creed family saga, and the changes to the story are interesting, but I failed to understand why such changes needed to be made. In effect, the changes to the story for this version of the film almost make it tamer than the previous film, an odd thing that I had not expected.

What’s confusing about the changing of most of the back-half of the film and the ending, apart from the notion that it really offers nothing new to the story, is that the film frequently makes small, almost unnoticeable references to the source novel and how it plays out. It kind of just reminds you of how the story is different, and that doesn’t work well for it. The film of course makes plenty of references to King’s other works, but it is the ones that reference tiny details of the novel that seemingly have no point being in the film.

Clarke and Seimetz are perfectly fine with the material, and Lithgow is expertly cast in a way that he offers an interesting character from the book a very unique and welcome interpretation. His is the best performance in the film.

There’s still a lot of the film that works really well, too, from the performances of the two children and the several real cats that played Church to the constant sense of dread that the directors placed over the proceedings. The scares are still there, and there’s some gruesomely haunting imagery in the film, all of it serves to unnerve its audience quite well. I found the experience quite enjoyable, but the problem was, about a day after seeing the film, I had forgotten much of what I really liked about it. The film didn’t stick with me the same way the source novel did, and that’s a damn shame.

Pet Sematary is an enjoyable albeit disturbing little movie that I enjoyed upon seeing. It’s also a forgettable experience that won’t leave much of a lasting effect on its viewers. Some of you may actually like that, as it deals with not-so-fun topics at times. I am saddened that it didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, but it also wasn’t all that bad either. The film is fine. Just fine enough to warrant a viewing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Box Office Report] Secret Life of Pets and Dark Phoenix Win the Weekend in Underwhelming Openings

The new releases of this past weekend failed to make a large impression at the domestic box office. The Secret Life of Pets 2 opened to $47.1 million. To compare, the first film knocked it out of the park with a $104.3 million opening weekend, a record-breaker for original animated properties. So I didn’t expect the second film to hit that, but it is surprising how not-close it got, especially after opening on 4,561 locations, second highest theater count ever to Avengers: Endgame. I found the first film’s marketing to be much better on an underwhelming film experience. I expected the original film to be about the secret lives our pets have when we aren’t around, much as the titles suggests. Instead, it was a cheaper less-interesting version of Toy Story.

Fox’s last outing with this iteration of the X-Men, Dark Phoenix, opened to a disappointingly low $33 million, making it the lowest-opening of all the X-Men films and an absolute disaster set to perhaps even lose money, close to half the $65.7 million for X-Men: Apocalypse. News and rumors of the production nightmares as well as the reshoots and release date changes spelled potential doom for this film long ago, but I don’t think I expected it to fail on opening weekend. I had assumed that on its second weekend, we would see a higher drop-off, but this was a surprising turn of events. I checked out Dark Phoenix on Thursday night, and while I felt it was far from the worst in the franchise, it was still in the lower half of rankings, with a disappointingly soulless reinterpretation of the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Disney’s live-action Aladdin claimed third place this weekend with $24.5 million on its third weekend of release. The newest of Disney’s live-action interpretations of their famous properties, Aladdin stumbles in a few places but overall is a fun nostalgic ride that aims to try something new with the story, and I really enjoyed it. Globally, it sits at $604 million, which is currently the fourth highest-grossing film of the year behind Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and China Film Group’s The Wandering Earth.

Fourth place this weekend is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third film in the MonsterVerse behind Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, with $24.5 million. King of the Monsters has struggled in its release even though I felt like it was a major step up from the 2014 Godzilla, including all that kaiju which I love so much. The film has issues with its human characters but I liked them more than the blander humans of the 2014 film. It’s doing just fine globally, but its domestic run has been a rough one.

Rocketman nabbed fifth place this weekend, the musical biopic of Elton John claiming $14 million. I caught the film yesterday, and I absolutely adored it, and I hope it holds onto the Top Five for a bit longer.

Late Night opened in limited release with $249 thousand in four theaters. I quite enjoyed Late Night, and it should see some recognition for Emma Thompson’s incredible performance as an aging late-night talk-show host.

Next weekend should be an interesting one as Men in Black International drops alongside the newest Shaft sequel and Jim Jarmusch’s zombie film The Dead Don’t Die. Late Night will also open in wide-release.

So what did you see this weekend? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Late Night (2019)

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Screenplay: Mindy Kaling

102 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.

 

Late Night had a lot of strong buzz coming out of Sundance earlier this year, most of it focused around Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Missing Link) and the screenplay from co-star Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time, TV’s The Office). I was able to catch the film last night at an early screening, and the buzz is absolutely correct.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been the host of a late night talk-show for decades, but she comes to realize under the ownership of new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, Birdman, Beautiful Boy) that she has lost her passion, and she learns that she is soon to be replaced. Challenged by this fact, she hires a woman, Molly Patel (Kaling) to her writing staff with no writing experience. Molly’s equally challenged by the entirely male-dominated writing staff. She buts heads with Monologue Writer Tom (Reid Scott, Venom, TV’s Veep) and starts up a fling with the handsome Charlie (Hugh Dancy, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, TV’s Hannibal). But Molly quickly learns that she is in the lion’s den, and the leader is Katherine, a host who has never brought her personality, beliefs, or background, into the show, and the two women slowly find that they can learn a lot from each other, if they can survive each other.

This is Thompson’s movie, hands down, and it’s one of her most surprising and charismatic performances in a long and varied career. Her take on Newbury is interesting and nuanced. She says early in the film that she only ever really cared about two things: the first being her husband Walter (John Lithgow, Pet Sematary, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the other being her show. It’s sad to hear her say it because of how she is frequently on the edge of losing both, Walter to his illness and the show to a younger, dumber host. At the same time, she fails to understand that she is self-sabotaging herself. It is only in her struggle to find an understanding of Molly’s feedback that she is able to grow, if she decides to listen to it.

Molly’s an interesting character. For the most part, her character’s inclusion in the film is a bit of a conceit, and not very realistic, but I was able to push past it for the needs of the narrative. Her character and Kaling’s performance shine in the ways that Molly is so much like Newbury. She knows not to hook up with the handsome writer she now works with, and she states that this is her dream job, and then she too self-sabotages.

The writer’s room cast of characters are all quite funny here. It’s great to see Paul Walter Hauser show up; he’s an absolute delight in everything. I think we get a nice crew of writer/showbiz archetypes that never feel flat because of the diverse collection of performers placed in the roles. Kaling’s screenplay gives most of them something to do without resorting to grouping them all together.

Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Pete’s Christmas) capably handles the film, and while her style here is nothing flashy, it is her focus on the characters and relationships that keep the whole thing afloat and moving, and the film just flies by thanks to some strong editing and tight storytelling.

Late Night showcases another powerhouse acting performance for Emma Thompson, one I expect that will be talked about in the next few months as we tick closer to the awards season. Kaling’s screenplay doesn’t provide as many laughs as I had expected, but there’s so much heart to it, and some of the funnier bits come out of the real situations she places her characters. It’s a sweet and occasionally funny trip to a part of our entertainment process not so often looked at. This comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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