[Early Review] Stillwater (2021)

Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin
Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
140 mins. Rated R for language.

I’ve been waiting on a follow-up to Spotlight for some time now. Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler) exploded as a director with his film about the Boston Globe uncovering the Catholic Church’s history of child molestation cover-ups. I’ve heard mostly solid things from my colleagues on McCarthy’s newest film, Stillwater, but I had no real intel on the film, and I didn’t know much going into it save for Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot) being oddly cast as an oil rig worker. Surprisingly, Damon is among the better performances in this film that mostly succeeds even with a more muddled climax.

Bill Baker (Damon) has been back and forth between his small town of Stillwater and Marseille to visit his incarcerated daughter Alison (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland: Double Tap), who is in prison for murder. When new information surfaces but the lawyers refuse to look into it, Bill takes it upon himself to investigate the info, and he gets the help of Virginie (Camille Cottin, Allied, TVs Call My Agent!) to assist him with navigating the legal system and the language barriers that exist with the differing cultures.

It’s hard to play a character that doesn’t seem to talk throughout the entire run time of the film, and yet Matt Damon tackles the role of Bill Baker in a surprisingly honest way. He doesn’t speak long emotional monologues, but he speaks in every gesture, displaying the wide array of emotions through a quiet and more subdued performance of visual tics and believable character building, and while I don’t agree with his choices throughout parts of the narrative, I can understand his reasoning, however flawed it can be. I can’t deny that even as I watch Bill lie to his daughter in the opening moments of the film, anger fueling me at the sheer stupidity of his false hope, I can still totally see why he would act that way.

There’s significant chemistry between Bill and his newfound friendship with Virginie as they play two entirely opposite people that have little in common other than the common decency of select humans. I was unaware of actress Camille Cottin before seeing here in Stillwater, and I was quite impressed with her turn as the actress aspiring to make ends meet for her child. The child, Maya, played by Lilou Siauvaud, is another standout performance here, specifically her scenes with Damon as he discovers a change to be a better father figure to her than he was with Alison.

Something else that struck me as quite powerful in Stillwater was the examination of culture, specifically in how it married the Oklahoman Bill Baker, full of Americana, burger-eating, and country-music-listening, to Marseille and the world that exists beyond our shores. The ways that McCarthy’s film examines the similarities and contrasts of the two worlds was quite effective and made for an interesting experience in viewing Stillwater.

Where the film falters is in its run time and its ending. For starters, this film is far too long, and to be fair, there’s a lot of film packed in here, but there’s simply no need for this movie to run 140 minutes. There’s an important plot adjustment in Act II that puts the film in a meandering state, where I felt that the character journeys took center stage at the detriment of plot. The character arcs are all quite interesting, but I was left wondering when we were getting back to what this movie was about. In fact, I had almost started wondering if the story would return at all before it did in a grand way. Unfortunately, the film’s main climax left me with too many questions about how events unfolded, what happened to certain characters, and the overall reality of the plot progression. I wouldn’t say any of this ruined the finished film, but my level of confusion and questioning caused me to try and make plot points fit together on the ride home from the theater. I’m not sure if some of this connections were in the script but excised in the editing bay or if they were never written in the film to begin with, but they pulled me out of the film.

With shades of Sean Penn’s The Pledge, Stillwater is full of pain, reckoning, and the forced acceptance of mistakes, and thankfully McCarthy injects a tiny bit of comedy in places where he can, or the film would be a drag of depression throughout. I really liked Matt Damon’s performance, and the think his character arc and the story are challenging and captivating, even if the ending drops off a bit. Stillwater is an interesting story, one we’ve seen before, but the infusion of cultural parallelism and a flawed but intriguing lead character make for an engaging film that I recommend.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

New Episode of Kyle & Nick on Film Discusses Ford v Ferrari

Hey everyone! There’s another new episode of my web series, Kyle & Nick on Film, where Nick Palodichuk and I discuss the merits of Ford v Ferrari and get into the unusual Oscar campaign being run for Matt Damon and Christian Bale as co-leads.

I’ve embedded the video below, so take the time to give it a view if you can, and help support independent content creators by liking, commenting with your thoughts on the film, and subscribing so you don’t miss our next episode!

Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you next time!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for some language and peril.

 

It’s weird how much I love racing films and movies about cars because I really have no interest or knowledge of them in real life. It doesn’t matter to me if they are true stories, like the one we’re going to talk about today, or if they exist in varying degrees of over-the-top insanity, like the Fast and the Furious franchise or Speed Racer. I just love car and racing films, so I was very excited to see Ford v Ferrari. I heard a lot of festival buzz and award love coming from my colleagues, and now I’m ready to talk about it.

Ford Motors is looking for a way to boost their sales, and Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Accountant) has an idea: purchase the financially-struggling Ferrari, but when their offer is declined and they are made fools of, Henry Ford II orders Iacocca to assemble a team capable of beating Ferrari at the difficult and dangerous 24 Hours of Le Mans. Iaccoca goes to Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot), who actually won Le Mans some years earlier, to help with this daunting task, and Shelby goes to the difficult-to-handle racer and mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) to get behind the wheel. As race day nears, time is short and concerns run wild, and Shelby and Miles learn that the difficulties in winning the race may come from Ford itself.

Ford v Ferrari is damn good, and a lot of that comes from the performances of both Damon and Bale. Damon biggest reason in taking the role of Shelby was getting the chance to work with Bale, and the two have very strong chemistry as they go at the various problems of their quest from different angles. Damon’s performance is rather subdued and subtle, whereas Bale’s is more flashy and juicy, but that isn’t to knock either. They both play to exactly their strengths and exactly the character they need to, but neither is trying to steal the spotlight from the other.

The unspoken star of the film is Bernthal as Iacocca. He’s the unspoken star of just about everything he’s in, and he never gets the credit he deserves. His way of dancing between friend and for in an effort to complete the monumental task he is assigned is really interesting and strong, and it’s only because of Bernthal that the character is as memorable as he is.

Director James Mangold (Logan, Knight and Day) certainly understands how to direct action from his time on films like 3:10 to Yuma and the X-Men franchise, and he does not disappoint here. It’s tricky work making a race look cinematic, although Mangold’s handle on it makes it look easy. Remember this is a film about people driving in circles for 24 hours, and yet, I almost never noticed that realization.

My biggest faults with the film lie in the somewhat bloated run time and the way it orchestrates its final scenes. This film did not need 152 minutes. It could have easily chopped off 20 minutes or so. In fact, they could cut the last few minutes quite simply as well. There’s a few scenes at the end, after the race is over, that I feel are unneeded and don’t serve the narrative. You can say that the sequences shown are important information, but we must remember that this is a film and the characters need to serve the story. I don’t feel like the last few minutes of the film do that, but that’s just me.

James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is an excellent racing movie, and it’s an excellent story of friendship between two unlikely men with a shared passion. Both Matt Damon and Christian Bale are great together, and the film is supported by some impressive supporting players as well. I highly recommend this one.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s Logan, click here.

[Early Review] Ad Astra (2019)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Live Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

 

I’m assuming Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, World War Z) saw his Ocean’s Eleven costars George Clooney and Matt Damon receive acclaim for making a space movie, and he got incredibly jealous. Well, be jealous no more Brad. The balls in your court now, Julia Roberts.

Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Pitt), astronaut and son to the famous H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Just Getting Started), who disappeared on a secretive interstellar expedition some 30 years ago. Now, in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by a series of power surges believed to be caused by Cliff’s secret experiment, The Lima Project. Roy has been tasked with traveling to Mars to deliver a message to space, hopefully reaching his possibly still living father, in order to put an end to the power surges before they threaten the entire solar system.

I admire the idea of taking Heart of Darkness and moving it into the sci-fi genre. It worked so well as a war film when Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The problem for me came out of an unimpressive shell for this film. I don’t think we got enough insight into The Lima Project or The Surge or many of the science fiction elements that would have enriched this telling of the classic story. The film kept being marketed as the closest thing to actual space travel, but then I kept getting hung up on the sound work every time there was an explosion. The film looked gorgeous, but my investment was wavering throughout.

Brad Pitt is incredible as Roy, giving a subtle but impressive performance as a man who hasn’t taken much care in his world as he sinks himself into his work, ignoring all outside relationships and distractions. The whole film is carried by Pitt as no other character is given much screen time to match him. In fact, Pitt’s performance is so internalized that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting at all. I liken his work here to another space film from last year, First Man with Ryan Gosling. Comparing this subtle work to Pitt’s other major film this year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, just goes to show that this is an actor who really can do it all.

There’s a lot to really love about Ad Astra. I think, from a technical view, everything is seemingly executed quite well, but I just wasn’t drawn in by the story in the way I wanted to. It’s magnificently shot and the score is impactful and deep. The effects were strong, but the story just didn’t take me. Still, I would recommend you checking it out if you’re a fan of sci-fi, as this contemplative opera showcases another incredible performance from Brad Pitt.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] The Great Wall (2016)

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Director: Yimou Zhang

Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau

Screenplay: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence.

 

The Great Wall, from director Yimou Zhang (Hero, The Flowers of War), hits American theaters tomorrow, and I got the chance to see if last night. In the best sense of the phrasing, if you enjoyed the trailer, then this is the movie for you.

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The two survivors of a group of mercenaries, William (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, The Martian) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal, TV’s Narcos, Bloodsucking Bastards), have come to the Great Wall for protection from Khitan bandits and a strange creature that attacked them the night before. They are taken in as prisoners but soon prove themselves when the wall is besieged by large green creatures called the Tao Tie who rise every 60 years as punishment for man’s greed. William soon forms a rocky partnership with the Nameless Order and one of its commanders, Lin (Tian Jang, Special ID, The Man from Macau), but he is torn when a European, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, Finding Dory), shows him and Tovar black powder, the substance their group has been searching for. Struggling between his task to steal the black powder and the hero lying within him, William must decide who he really is, and time is running out.

The Great Wall trailer does a great job of advertising this film. It doesn’t lie, this is a movie about Matt Damon fighting monsters on the Great Wall. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Director Zhang inject eastern sensibilities and style in a dual-production from America and China in order to create a truly unique legend of The Great Wall. I really enjoyed the visual flair and Matt Damon’s excitement for his character, and who doesn’t love Pedro Pascal here. Jian Tang is the real star here, holding her own with big names and stealing scenes with her focus, determination, and passion as Commander Lin.

On the downsides, Willem Dafoe is completely wasted on a subplot that had no place in this film, and Pedro Pascal spends too much time out of the focus of the film. It is when Damon and Jang are together that the film hits its highs. The film’s visual effects are nothing to get really excited about, but it also didn’t take me out of the film.

Now to the controversy. It shouldn’t exist. There should be no controversy. Watch the film first and you will see. Zhang has in recent films tasked high-caliber actors regardless of race to fit roles leading the film. It sells tickets, and William was never meant to be Chinese.

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The Great Wall was a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had so far in 2017 at the theaters. It isn’t trying to win you over, so if the trailer did nothing for you, the movie probably won’t change that. I, personally, enjoyed it immensely.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

“The Martian” Trailer Has Landed!

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Well, boys & girls, here it is: the trailer for Ridley Scott’s The Martian has been released, and I am excited. It stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who was killed when his Mars expedition went awry. The only thing is…he survived, and now he is trying to survive by himself and get a message back to Earth to tell them he is still alive and still out there.

My thoughts on the trailer…I loved it! I am so excited to see this film in all its glory soon!

First of all, let me just say…the cast. Have you seen this cast? Matt Damon, Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan…good lord! These people from all walks of acting here to give a sci-fi experience. When you see the trailer, too, they mesh so well together when I wasn’t sure they could have.

Another thought from this trailer…I’m not so sure you should see it. I think you need to accept that this film should be seen and just go see it. The reason for it is that I feel like this trailer has given away a bulk of the plot points for the film. I could be wrong, but I think I saw the film’s ending revealed.

In all fairness, The Martian is going to be a film to see, even if it might be Interstellar 2 (Matt Damon should just avoid going to space). See the trailer before (if you dare) and let me know your thoughts.

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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