Brightburn (2019)

Director: David Yarovesky

Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner

Screenplay: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn

90 mins. Rated R for horror violence/bloody images, and language.

 

Brightburn is an excellent example of a “What-If?” kind of film, one that takes a previously established archetype and turns it on its head. For this scenario, the film takes a look at superheroes, most specifically Superman. No, they’ll never be able to say it’s Superman, but c’mon…it’s Superman.

When a spaceship crashes onto a small farm in Brightburn, Kansas, Tori (Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) and Kyle Breyer (David Denman, Puzzle, Logan Lucky) discover a baby boy inside the wreckage. The two adopt the baby, naming him Brandon. Flash-forward twelve years and Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn, Avengers: Endgame, Gone are the Days), now nearing puberty, is becoming disobedient and troublesome. It is during this time that he starts to notice that he isn’t like all the other kids. He has superhuman strength and a violent temper. Tori and Kyle are forced to discover exactly what their son really is.

Imagine Superman…but he’s evil. It’s as simple as that. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a very interesting idea to explore in a film, and I mostly dug it. Perhaps the film’s biggest problem is that I don’t think it really explores the idea fully, and it doesn’t offer up enough twists and turns to maintain investment. I knew where it was going the whole time, and nothing really surprised me about the film. Near the end, it just kind of lost my focus. Something like Brightburn would be better as a short film or an episode of some horror anthology series. If you told me to come up with a story about an evil Superman, I’m pretty sure I would hit all the same beats as the film hit without much trouble.

I really enjoyed Banks and Denman’s chemistry and performances as Brandon’s human parents. Their journey of understanding who Brandon really is works pretty well, and I was invested in their conflict. The best aspect of the film is that question of what to do about him. That’s where the ethical discussion would come into play, and I wanted that further explored.

The rest of the film works fine enough, and it sets up where a potential would go, which excited me. Brightburn gives us some likable characters and a really tough premise, and it hits those horror notes really well. There’s some pretty gory stuff in the movie, and director David Yarovesky (The Hive) holds the tension very well.

Brightburn is a fun little experiment in the deconstruction of the superhero mythology. It works pretty well as a fun little horror movie, but my one major problem with the film is that it didn’t surprise me. Everything that happened in the film is exactly what I expected to happen, and that made me less interested in the narrative because I saw all the plot beats way ahead of time, and I would have liked something with a bit more to its plot. I still recommend it to horror fans and superhero fans for a good little time, and I would be totally into seeing a sequel.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2018oscardeathrace] I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie

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

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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