[Oscar Madness Monday] Onward (2020)

Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
Screenplay: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin
102 mins. Rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Animated Feature Film

Onward has a notable distinction as being one of the first films heavily impacted by the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, a piece of history that has changed cinema and the theatrical experience for years to come (and make no mistake, its effect on cinema is not the most important effect of the pandemic, but it is notable that this event has and will change the landscape). It had a release date, it met said date, and then it underperformed. I skipped the early screening due to the mounting concern that this virus might be hitting the US any day, and I only ended up going to the theater once more before the shutdown officially took place (I was concerned that it may have been my last chance to see a movie in the theater for some time, a notion I ended up being right about), and it wasn’t for Onward. Onward’s under-performance should forever be met with an asterisk and an explanation for why it seemed to fail, but time tends to smooth out the details and forget the context. Future generations will likely see this film as an underperforming Pixar film, a rarity for the company, and something that I was sad to have missed in theaters. Barring the Cars franchise, I like most of the Pixar slate, and I really wanted to see Onward after catching the trailer, and even though the film is overshadowed by the superior Soul (the other 2020 Pixar film), I still found the story to be heartfelt and the adventure enjoyable enough.

Onward is set in a fantasy world that has seemingly lost its magic. Technology has replaced mystical forces here, and the world has adapted. Unicorns are feral creatures that rummage through garbage cans, pixies are now part of motorcycle gangs, and the remnants of what came before are now a fantasy role-playing game. Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Cherry), a high-school age elf dealing with a massive confidence issue, lives in New Mushroomton with his mother and brother. Ian never met his father, Wilden, who passed away just before his birth, but on his sixteenth birthday, his mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Drefus, Downhill, TV’s Seinfeld) gives him a gift from his father, a magical staff capable of bringing his dad back to life for one day. When the spell is stopped midway, Ian and his brother, Barley (Chris Pratt, The Lego Movie, TV’s Parks & Recreation), are left with only the bottom half of their father. Now, on a race against the clock, these two brothers must embark upon a mythical quest to complete the spell and see their father before the day is up.

It’s interesting that Pixar has never taken on high-fantasy before. The closest they’ve gotten is Brave, a film with fantastical elements but never to the extent that Onward gets. I really enjoyed this world that director/co-writer Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) has given us. There is a genuinely interesting world that’s been created for this film with a level of meticulous detail that Pixar is known for. Scanlon showcases a love for all sorts of fantastical elements including iconic references to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons, and it never feels like a cheap shot or dunking on the accomplishments of these creators in the fantasy genre. If anything, Scanlon goes at these elements with a Mel Brooks-ian eye for having fun with the material while showing respect to it.

Within the confines of that unique and enjoyable world-building, I did like what Scanlon and his co-writers were going for with the familial story of these two brothers. This is a pretty heady little movie with an emotional punch that I expected and was still surprised by. What I really like about the quest is how it showcases for these two characters what is most important following the immense loss of a father figure, and it also doesn’t exactly go where I expected it, offering a gut punch in the film’s third act that strengthens the movie and ends it on a captivating and perhaps controversial note.

The journey in getting to that captivating finish, however, is a little simplistic and paint-by-numbers. There were many plot points in this film that I could see coming from miles away, a lot of setups that have easy payoffs, and a lot of character beats that I was expecting. That’s not to fault the film for trying, but outside of its finale, I was not surprised by anything in the journey of the heroes. There’s fun to be had, no doubt, and I don’t want to compare it to other Pixar films but I’ll say that so often recently, I have found myself shocked by many of the Pixar storylines (I’m looking at you, Coco), and their willingness to play with expectations, and though the film ends strong, I just feel like so many of the journey plot beats feel like unused Shrek story beats. In that way, the film is extremely accessible but, at times, a bit too easy and perhaps forgettable.

Onward feels like a gateway fantasy film that will likely convert non-fantasy children to this kind of storytelling. There’s a definite love for the genre on display here, and a genuine and compelling emotional work for its characters here, even if the film’s plotting feels a little too easy and expected throughout. Onward ends on a beautiful and risky note that will likely allow audiences to wipe away their tears and really think on the film’s message for some time after, though the bulk of the middle of it is forgettable. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt have some nice vocal talents for a film like this, and Onward comes with a recommendation from this film fan.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Dan Scanlon’s Monsters University, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] The Final Girl: Ranking the Best and Worst of the Month

Hey everyone, we are a few days removed from October, and as we look toward the next holiday and the rest of the year, I thought it would be fun to look back at the 5 worst films of this year’s 31 Days of Horror as well as picking the Top 5 from the month as well. It’s a grab bag of randomness, so don’t take any of this all that seriously, but it’ll be fun nonetheless.

Let’s get started.

 

Worst 5 Films of the Month:

5) Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation

  • This was probably the worst film of the franchise so far (I still haven’t caught part 5), and it’s too bad that it really doesn’t embrace that Christmas flavor. I have no fault if anthology is the direction this franchise took, but this film has virtually nothing to do with the holiday. It doesn’t even really feel like it’s set during the holidays outside of one scene. All that aside, the film is kind of boring and not well-acted or well-written. Outside of a few cool effects sequences, this one is a real dud.

4) Schizoid

  • I really wanted to like Schizoid, and there are moments that feel like the story is about to head somewhere really cool, but it never quite realizes that dream. I genuinely felt interested in the whodunnit of it all because just about every character seemed potentially off-putting enough to be responsible for the killings depicted in the film. It’s just that it’s tonally boring and not enough really happens to keep my interest in this film. Klaus Kinski is a scene-chewer and it was cool to see Christopher Lloyd doing some smarmy work here, but Schizoid‘s just a loss overall.

3) The Field Guide to Evil

  • The Field Guide to Evil looks great, but it’s more like a really pretty shell that’s hollow. I didn’t think any of the shorts had a good ending, the film just feels like wasted talent all around. As the film progressed, I was just hoping it would be done soon. I feel most disappointed by The Field Guide to Evil because it just felt like a winner and ended up being a loser.

2) Father’s Day

  • This month started out with a real dud of a film in Father’s Day, the sendup to grindhouse exploitation films that thought it was better than it was. I liked the aged appeal of the film but the story was obnoxious and just not very enjoyable. Father’s Day just could’ve been so much more, and I’ve seen better work from many involved.

1) Seventh Moon

  • Seventh Moon is the absolute bottom of the barrel here. There’s not a single merit I can give this film, and that’s a real problem. The cast is terrible, the shaky-cam found-footage-that-isn’t-supposed-to-be-found-footage approach to the film is awful, jarring, and unpleasant, and the story, which seems like it could be good initially, is completely wasted here. This is an absolute skip in every way.

 

So there you have it. The worst 5 films of the last month. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Top 5 Best Films of the Month:

5) The Autopsy of Jane Doe

  • The Autopsy of Jane Doe feels like it could be perfect for quite a good portion of the film. Where is faults itself is that’s overall mystery isn’t all that meaningful and the ending is a bit messy. Outside of that, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is anchored by an excellent tone from its director and two powerhouse performances from Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as a father and son who are dealing with horror in the workplace.

4) House

  • House is a classic in my home. I watch it every year around Halloween, and I absolutely love it. I think it’s perfect (it’s not) to me, and I just enjoy the hell out of it. Maybe it’s that I saw it when I was a kid and didn’t see the humor, so now as an adult, I’m focused on the creatures and horror of the film. I like Roger Cobb as a character, and I wish we got more appearances from him in a franchise, but this series just did not work as well as its first film. House, though, is damn incredible, and probably my favorite haunted house movie.

3) Zombieland

  • I rediscovered Zombieland this year in anticipation of Double Tap, and this is a tight 80-minute movie that fires on all cylinders and packs so much content into the film. Zombieland is built by four strong lead performers and a lot of cool set pieces. This is the epitome of the “fun apocalypse” film, and it likely led to the craze of people talking about how they would survive a zombie apocalypse (you wouldn’t) situation. Don’t blame Zombieland for that. This is a flavorful action/horror/comedy that works amazing well, even 10 years later.

2) The Fog

  • You all know I love John Carpenter. The Fog is probably in my Top 5 Carpenter films, and I believe he has made several perfect films. The Fog is one of those films. Honestly, I was back and forth about whether this film deserved the top spot of the year of second place, and there was just a more-perfect film that I saw this year. For The Fog, though, it’s impressive to see how Carpenter turned a B-movie into an A-movie. There are giant Jawas going around town killing and haunting, and it should be stupid-looking, but it’s just so incredibly effective.

1) Young Frankenstein

  • Young Frankenstein is the best film I watched this past month. It’s a comedy that embraces the horror elements of the films it is lampooning. It always remembers that it’s making fun of the Frankenstein mythos. Gene Wilder is a perfect Dr. Frankenstein, and Mel Brooks shot enough footage that he was able to be picky as to what scenes he would include in the finished product. Young Frankenstein just works in every way and it’s a benchmark of satire and parody.

So there you have it. These are the best films from 31 Days of Horror this month. I had a lot of fun recounting these things, and I hope you found some new gems to add to your Halloween rotation. See you next year.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 21 – Young Frankenstein (1974)

Director: Mel Brooks

Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Khan

Screenplay: Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks

106 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted from Other Materials
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Tonight, I need a laugh, so I did what any smart person would do in the middle of October looking for a spooky-good laugh: I took out my copy of Young Frankenstein.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers) is struggling to escape his family’s horrible legacy. Supposedly, his grandfather notoriously created life from dead tissue, and all his life, Frederick has never been able to get out from under the family shadow, but when he is personally invited to Transylvania to his grandfather’s castle, he discovers that maybe his family wasn’t so crazy after all, or maybe they were…

Young Frankenstein is absolutely brilliant, a perfect movie experience built around a career-best performance from Gene Wilder. Wilder also co-wrote the script with director Mel Brooks (Spaceballs, Dracula: Dead and Loving It), so it very much is his baby. His portrayal of Frederick flip-flops between nuance and over-the-top insanity. He also has perfect comedic timing. Scenes that shouldn’t work end up brilliant. This is a comedy genius at the height of his power.

The entire supporting cast is amazing as well, from Marty Feldman (In God We Trust (or Gimme That Prime Time Religion), The Last Remake of Beau Geste) as the eccentric and odd Igor to Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show, The Croods) as Frau Blucher, the housekeeper of the castle. Both characters would be iconic enough as stars of the film, but both combined with Wilder’s Frankenstein make for a unique and original comedic gem.

Mel Brooks apparently had a rough cut approximately twice the finished run time, and he went through the film, removing the least funny scenes as he came to them. It’s a great idea and good info for practicing comedy directors. Shoot a shit-ton of footage and then just cut out the worst stuff. He was even able to get the original Universal Frankenstein props from a prop designer who worked on the 1931 film to create that authenticity.

Mel Brooks once said that in order to parody something well, you have to love it. That love is especially apparent for both Brooks and Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Two master storytellers combining their efforts to create something truly special. This is a rarity of a film, one that I think is absolutely perfect and only gets better with time. See it. See it now, again and again.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 5 – Psycho Beach Party (2000)

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Director: Robert Lee King

Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Nicholas Brendon, Thomas Gibson, Amy Adams, Matt Keeslar

Screenplay: Charles Busch

95 mins. Not Rated.

 

So, I let my fiancé pick the movie today. I’m not sure I’ll let that happen again.

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Psycho Beach Party is a satire of Beach Movies and Slasher Films. Florence Forrest (Lauren Ambrose, TV’s Six Feet Under, Wanderlust) is a young beach bum who wants to learn to surf. When Florence starts showing signs of multiple personalities, she begins to look like the prime suspect in a series of slayings all happening in her small town. Surfing legend Kanaka (Thomas Gibson, TV’s Criminal Minds, Son of Batman), college drop-out Starcat (Nicholas Brendon, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Coherence), and his girlfriend Marvel Ann (Amy Adams, Man of Steel, Big Eyes), and others must unite to discover the identity of the real killer in his not-so-hilarious send-up of the genre.

Damn, this movie is boring. My fiancé had last seen it when it released back in 2000, and she suggested it from fond memories. Those memories disappeared for her soon after starting the film. This movie was boring, cliché (even from a satirical perspective), convoluted, and unfunny. Even performers like Ambrose and Adams are wasted in this truly disappointing spoof.

The principal issue with this film is one that plagues most spoof/satire films in recent memory. I remember reading a Mel Brooks interview where he was asked how George Lucas felt about his film Spaceballs. Brooks said something about how in order to satire something, first you have to love it, and you have to make it the best you can, and that Lucas could see that. Mel Brooks loves the films he’s satirizing, and he doesn’t make bad movies. This movie thinks in order to make a cheesy movie that you have to aim for cheesy. It isn’t like that. In order to make a B-Movie, you have to make it like it’s an Oscar-Winner. The satire will reveal itself. Psycho Beach Party aims for so-bad-it’s-good but instead finds so-bad-it’s-worse.

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Psycho Beach Party has a lot to like. Wait, no, I said that wrong. Psycho Beach Party is awful. There, that’s better. It’s on Hulu right now, but I wouldn’t suggest subjecting yourself to it. I just saved you two long boring hours. These are some of the services I offer.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 22 – Clue (1985)

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Director: Jonathan Lynn

Cast: Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren

Screenplay: Jonathan Lynn

94 mins. Rated PG for violence.

 

Everyone out there is discussing the possible upcoming video game boom. I’m just over here thinking about the board game boom.

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Clue is the story of six people, a butler, a maid, a cook and a man named Boddy. Mr. Boddy has gathered Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan, The Sting, Murder by Death), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future, A Million Ways to Die in the West), Mr. Green (Michael McKean, TV’s Better Call Saul, This is Spinal Tap), Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull, TV’s Dads, Mrs. Doubtfire), and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren, Secretary, Jobs) together to discuss something. Before he gets the chance to do so, he is murdered by one of the attendees in the room. Now, these conveniently placed people, each with a motive for murdering Mr. Boddy, each with a weapon of choice, have to discover who is the killer? Was it Professor Plum in the billiard room with the revolver? Was is Miss Scarlet with the rope in the kitchen? And what about Wadsworth (Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Burke and Hare), the butler? Is he involved?

My favorite aspect of this film is that writer/director Jonathan Lynn (Nuns on the Run) found interesting  yet convoluted ways to make the board game adaptation actually work. Things like the corny names and the motives, the general campiness of the game/plot, all of it really works well. He even found a way to work in multiple endings (depending on your home video release, you may have a version with all three endings sewn together or one that randomly picks an ending; both are great options).

Now, the decision to cast comic actors who can handle drama seals the deal here. What a terrific cast! Mel Brooks could have directed this film, that’s how impressive our players are. Add to that an impressive direction from Lynn and you have the reason why Clue is such a masterfully beloved cult classic.

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Clue is a classic, even if you present me with a less-than-stellar Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s a classic and I don’t care what you say. See this film and then, hell, play the game. It makes for a fun evening.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 13 – The Fly (1986)

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Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg

96 mins. Rated R.

 

I’m so happy that I am able to include this film on the 31 Days of Horror this year. David Cronenberg’s The Fly is and will always be one of my favorite horror films. I love the cautionary tale mixed with genetic experimentation and the effect of playing God on human sanity.

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The Fly, a remake of a 1958 Vincent Price horror gem, is the story of Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, The Grand Budapest Hotel), a brilliant man of science who has just invented a teleportation device, but due to a horrific accident in which a fly gets into the teleportation pod with him, his DNA is forever altered. Seth chooses to document and study his terrifying metamorphosis into a creature he calls “Brundlefly” as his relationship with the beautiful reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis, Beetlejuice, In a World…) is forever scarred.

I’m not the greatest Cronenberg fan. I don’t love everything he touches. I wasn’t really a fan of Scanners, and Eastern Promises made me very bored. On the other hand, I absolutely loved A History of Violence and find his adaptation of Stephen King with The Dead Zone to be particularly creepy. So I went into The Fly with mixed possible feelings. I didn’t know much about the film, except that funnyman Mel Brooks produced it, which was odd. I later read that Brooks tried to not discuss his involvement in the film due to its genre being something he isn’t usually associated with. When fans discovered he produced the film, he thought “to hell with it” and showed up the premier with fly antennas to give out to fans.

When I saw the film, it shocked me. But more than that, it broke my heart. I was so terribly saddened by the emotional journey between Seth and Veronica throughout the film that as I exited the theater, I couldn’t even speak. I had to words. The film just destroyed me.

From a physical aspect, the film is gorgeously oozing with feeling and ambience. The creature effects by Chris Walas are so good that I was happy to see his name first in the credits due to his excellent work in the film. I’m not surprised by his Oscar win for the either.

The film bothered me, and I suppose that it because of how perfect it is. I sometimes wonder how the film would have turned out under the steady hand of master-of-oddity Tim Burton, who the project was originally envisioned for. I just think that Cronenberg understood the cerebral which was inlaid with all the fantastic out pain. He injected this film with plenty of inner pain. I also think about The Fly: The Musical, a stage musical version of the film, and wonder how this movie would translate in such a way.

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From the opening titles (I love the fly vision as the film comes into focus at its intro) to the heart-wrenching finale, The Fly is a masterpiece, a wholly realized vision of terror that few could ever berth. David Cronenberg was definitely not the choice I would’ve had for director, but I can honestly admit I would have wrong in that decision. This film is perfect.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 7 – World War Z (2013)

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Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox

Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images.

 

Last year saw the release of World War Z, the adaptation of the book by Max Brooks (that is, son of Mel Brooks). World War Z, the book, was a written account full of transcripts, interviews, and news information pertaining to a worldwide outbreak of the living dead and the many people who contributed to finding a solution. World War Z, the film, is a bland and tasteless attempt at a popcorn flick with virtually none of the subtext of the novel for which it is based. There is one main character as opposed to the books cadre of first-person POVs.

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It stars Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds, Fury) as Gerry Lane, a scientist who just might be able to solve this epidemic, if only he would stop risking his neck and almost dying. We are talking about someone that allows his wife (played by Mireille Enos of TV’s The Killing and If I Stay) and children come dangerously close to death themselves because he cannot protect them. These are really unmotivated, undriven, and underdeveloped characters.

Matthew Fox appears in the film as Parajumper, a role significantly reduced by rewrites from Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield) and Damon Lindelof (TV’s The Leftovers, Prometheus). Matthew Fox’s character was initially very multifaceted and was supposed to be setup as the villain for a sequel. He was so rewritten and removed from the film that he now has five measly lines of pseudo-exposition. The irony here being that both of these writers worked on Lost, and removed its star from this film completely.

The newly formed screenplay gleans very little from the novel, so much so that the film is practically unrecognizable at this point.

The only major win here is that this film featured Peter Capaldi as W.H.O. Doctor, an in-joke as the filmmakers were well aware of his appointment as the new Doctor Who. Kind of made me giggle.

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I hold out hope that the possibility of World War Z 2 may actually get it right, but I don’t know how long I can hope on that. Skip this disappointing fair. There are better zombies.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Joan Rivers Passes Away at 81

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Sad news for star-gazers today…we lost Joan Rivers.

According to reports, Rivers passed away during an operation after going into cardiac arrest. She was admitted to Mt. Sinai Hospital earlier this week leading up to her death today at 1:17 PM.

While I didn’t always agree with Rivers and oftentimes I didn’t pay much attention to her doings, Joan Rivers was absolutely important in influencing in the world of women’s comedy. She brought us to a completely different area from a comedy standpoint, a fashion standpoint, just all around important to our culture.

I’ll say it right now, the most important thing I will remember her for is the portrayal of Dot Matrix in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. What a great film.

Joan Rivers, you will be missed.

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