[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 5 – Dark Was the Night (2014)

Director: Jack Heller

Cast: Kevin Durant, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Nick Damici, Sabina Gadecki, Steve Agee, Heath Freeman

Screenplay: Tyler Hisel

90 mins. Not Rated.

 

I came across Dark Was the Night this evening while looking around on Hulu for something scary to watch. I had never heard of the film, but being a fan of Kevin Durant (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Noah), I had to give it a go.

Sheriff Paul Shields (Durant) awakens one morning to find what appear to be hoof prints moving all through his small town. What’s more disturbing is that they do not appear to match any animal on record and seem to be from a two-legged beast. Paul and his deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas, Inception, The Revenant) to tackle the mystery of the hoof prints, but they do not have much time, as people in town are starting to go missing only to end up dead hanging 30 feet up in the trees of the nearby woods.

Dark Was the Night has a simple enough premise aided by a capable albeit slightly bloated screenplay from Tyler Hisel (Safari). I feel like 90 minutes was a little too lengthy for this film. A tighter 80 minute runtime would have made this thing just cruise.

The source material for the story is an old unsolved mystery known as the Devil’s Footprints back in 1855, in which similar strange footprints were found in a town in England. It’s an interesting place to take a film, and it mostly works.

Durant is the definite star here, an actor who rarely gets center stage. He does a fine job here as the haunted sheriff, a man with demons who is strong enough to do the job he was put on Earth to do. His scenes with Haas showcase two great buddy cop chemistry.

Outside of these two, I feel like many of the citizens of the town do not get fleshed out and kind of just morph together in an amorphous townsfolk. I would have liked to know more about who they are and how this mystery affects them.

My only other major fault is the visual effects. An easy lesson here is if you don’t have the budget for high-end CGI, then utilize lighting. When the “thing” Shields is hunting for is uncovered, it is obvious not-so-great CG. Not terrible, but ineffective.

Dark Was the Night has some classic low-budget horror faults, but its unique mystery and some solid acting from its leads make for an experience worth having. An imperfect film it is, but one I think is worth the risk.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] American Pastoral (2016)

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Director: Ewan McGregor

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Rupert Evans, Valorie Curry

Screenplay: John Romano

126 mins. Rated R for some strong sexual material, language and brief violent images.

 

I was blessed to have seen American Pastoral last night with a friend. Not a film that I had heard much news from, I was aware of the novel written by Philip Roth. I hadn’t read it, but I’d heard good things. So with American Pastoral the film, I was more intrigued by Ewan McGregor’s directing debut. Nowadays, many actors are finding themselves as successful or more behind the camera, and I was interested by McGregor’s choice to start here.

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Seymour “Swede” Levov (McGregor) had always been remembered as the star athlete from high school, the man who married high school sweetheart and beauty queen Dawn (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind, Noah), a man who seemingly had the perfect life. But as Swede’s brother Jerry (Rupert Evans, Hellboy, The Boy) recalls, things changed pretty quickly for Levov not long after starting a family. As his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning, War of the Worlds, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) matured, she began to think more radically and hang out with a more dangerous crowd, a decision that would tear the Swede’s world apart.

American Pastoral almost holds it all together. Almost. It starts with a great performance from McGregor, and as the film progresses, you can see hints of genius, but they are muddled down with inexperience. The entire first act of the film is strangely unhinged. It starts with a poorly hewn together framing device featuring David Strathairn asking about the Swede at a high school reunion. The framing device isn’t unnecessary, but it isn’t done well. It features Strathairn as a writer relaying through voiceover and it feels so Lifetime Channel-y. That leads into the first act where it feels like people are reading from cue cards. It isn’t until the plot’s true inciting incident where the film comes together, and from there, it does get better, but everything before comes off a little too perfect.

The performances get better as the film progresses, but I have to point out the solid supporting work from Peter Riegert and Uzo Aduba as Swede’s father and his top employee, respectively. Valorie Curry (TV’s The Following, Blair Witch) is also enchantingly disturbed as a woman with connections to Merry’s radical group.

The cinematography and editing make the film a little too plain, not something exciting and powerful, which is how the story should feel. This is difficult subject material, and there are many times when the film is full of pain, but the film doesn’t convey it well to the audience. The issue of the makeup effects too looks bad, particularly around Rupert Evans in the present-day scenes.

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Sadly, American Pastoral shows signs of greatness, but there just isn’t enough of it, as the film dances around in monotony and sinks in uninspired bliss. Ewan McGregor and Dakota Fanning shine in their performances, but it isn’t enough to push this film over the finish line.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Harry Potter Day] [Oscar Madness Monday] Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Steve Kloves

152 mins. Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Happy Harry Potter Day, everyone! Why is today Harry Potter Day? Well, for diehard fans of the series, today coincides with a major battle that took place that, for spoilery reasons, I will not completely jump out and discuss. I imagine some of you have yet to read or see all of the story, and that may be why you are reading, so I will let you get there in good time. No matter…

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Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, Trainwreck, Victor Frankenstein) doesn’t have a great life. His parents are dead. He lives with his dreadful Aunt Petunia (Fiona Shaw, The English Teacher, The Tree of Life) and Uncle Vernon (Richard Griffiths, Hugo, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) in the closet beneath the staircase of their home. All that gets turned upside down when an onslaught of letters arrive at the home for Harry and a towering behemoth named Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane, Brave, Arthur Christmas) arrives to tell him that he is a wizard, just like his parents before him. Harry’s world quickly changes around him as he discovers that he is a wizard of legend, is whisked off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, gains new friends in Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint, CBGB, Charlie Countryman) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, Regression, Noah), and learns of a new enemy in He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a dark wizard with a terrifying connection to Harry.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had a hell of a task to accomplish. A film and series with this much scope had not been attempted in some time if ever. Director Chris Columbus (Pixels, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) had a lot on his plate. So when I tell you that this first film in the eight film saga ranks as the seventh best, don’t let me stray you from my appreciation of it.

Working with child actors isn’t easy, especially when you have so many. Columbus had been praised in the past for his ability to work with children and get the most from them. The three main stars were still pretty new to acting, and they don’t give bad work, but it is clear from later entries that they were to make leaps and strides as the series continued. Thankfully, they are aided by a top notch supporting cast like John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Planes), Richard Harris (Gladiator, The Count of Monte Cristo) and John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Hercules) to help add strength and impact to their scenes.

The screenplay too had some difficulty in narrowing down exactly what was important. At the time of release, there were only four books published of the seven books planned. J.K. Rowling was very helpful in plotting out the series trajectory with Warner Bros., a fact that saved several plot holes through the filmmaking journey. Sadly, though, the film feels bloated at times and Columbus doesn’t direct it but merely meanders through it, spending too much time on trivial moments that slow the movie down.

Columbus also looks back on the visual effects, which are rushed but not to the point of ruining the movie. He learned a lot about handling such a big budget and vowed to hone his visual effects for the follow-up (a fact that I laughed at when noting some of the other issues that the director seemed to have missed).

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Still, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is looked on more critically because of how great the series would become by its end, and the film itself is a triumph in many ways, showing fans and newcomers alike that movies can still leave one with a sense of awe. I absolutely love watching this series and harbor no ill will towards its more humble beginnings, because it is still an enjoyable experience by all.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 5 [Oscar Madness Monday] – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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Director: Jonathan Demme

Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine

Screenplay: Ted Tally

118 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Anthony Hopkins]
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Actress in a Leading Role [Jodie Foster]
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced

iMDB Top 250: #23 (as of 10/5/2015)

 

This year, I wanted to ensure that I presented you with top-tier fear and what better way to do that than merge Oscar Madness Monday with the 31 Days of Horror and present Jonathan Demme’s 1991 masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in the 1991 film “Silence of the Lambs.” Photo Courtesy: MGM Home Entertainment

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, Elysium, Carnage) has been tasked with completing a psychological profile on the infamous serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, Thor, Noah) and, without her knowledge, discover his possible connection to the new killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” in the process. Clarice is naïve and accepts the responsibility, unwittingly placing herself within a game of wits and murders with the two serial killers. Dr. Lecter develops a wanting to help Starling, and Clarice as well as Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn, The Bourne Ultimatum, Sucker Punch) take the opportunity to hunt the elusive Buffalo Bill before he claims his newest victim.

The Silence of the Lambs is one of three films in the history of the Oscars to win the Big Five, and deservedly so. This film is staggering and cold. When my girlfriend and I were revisiting it, we couldn’t stop developing shivers and chills before the most disturbed sequences occurred, as though we were prepping for them. It didn’t help, as large sections of the plot are unnerving and difficult to view. In that, however, we get some excellent performances from a seasoned and respectable cast including Jodie Foster, a cold and untrusting Clarice who wishes to further her career by proving her worth, and Anthony Hopkins owns the role originally performed by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Lastly, the work by Ted Levine (Shutter Island, Little Boy) as the unhinged killer is absolutely unsettling in all its madness.

The film is a slow burn, but at no point was I bored. The pacing set up by director Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Ricki and the Flash) and screenwriter Ted Tally (All the Pretty Horses, The Juror) slithers through this dark and sad landscape of disorder, landing on a finale that is pulse-pounding to the very core.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray Screenshot

The Silence of the Lambs is one of those films that lands on many lists of Best Films Ever Made, and it should be. Just about every aspect of the production was critiqued and perfected by the veteran cast and crew, resulting in one of the most unforgettable movie experiences you will ever have. See it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

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Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth

Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sequences of sci-fi action, some suggestive content and partial nudity.

 

I have been a fan of The Wachowskis (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) since the original Matrix film (it took three viewings for me to properly enjoy it, but it matters not). I loved the entire Matrix trilogy, and I count Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas as two of my all-time favorite films (even if the rest of the population would rather the two films not exist), but when I saw the trailer for Jupiter Ascending, I was so excited to have the sibling directors release a new film that would draw the audience back in. For some reason, moviegoers just haven’t embraced these filmmakers since their breakthrough with The Matrix, and I was hoping for Jupiter Ascending to change that.

And then it was pushed back. Whether or not a film is good or bad, pushing it back, especially to the graveyard of the late winter months, is a death sentence. When it came out, fans gave it that death sentence. I was nervous to see the film as it has so much riding on it.

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Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, TV’s Family Guy, Black Swan) is an illegal alien working as a janitor with her widowed mother. She lives an unlikable life. That is, until she is swept off her feet by Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street, The Book of Life), a hybrid humanoid creature made by splicing human DNA with wolf DNA. Caine informs Jupiter that she is the inheritor of the Earth which is currently being held by the Abrasax family who each want the Earth for themselves and want Jupiter out of the picture. They seek out help from Stinger Apini (Sean Bean, TV’s Legends, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), another hybrid, who recognizes Jupiter’s importance, and the three set out to lay claim to the young woman’s planet.

Channing Tatum has really grown as a performer in the years since bursting onto the scene, and his physicality and charismatic approach to Caine really give us a unique character to connect. His chemistry with Mila Kunis’ Jupiter is pretty strong as well. Kunis is a great everywoman, even if I wasn’t quite convinced that she was a janitor.

On the other side of those performances, I wasn’t all that content with Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Les Miserables) as the eldest Abrasax, Balem. His delivery came off in shouts and whispers but never in a cohesive way. I also absolutely hated Douglas Booth (Noah, Romeo & Juliet) phoning his performance in as the youngest Abrasax, Titus, a sensual and foolish child.

I felt the notion of water throughout this entire film. From the cinematography, where the shots all flow in such a cyclical way, like liquid through the inside of a pipe, to the action sequences, played out like the spinning of a top, everything was just gorgeously mapped out.

Michael Giacchino’s score is another win here, with elements from Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz (two major influences on the film) in his score.

Now, the pacing is a bit off, some sequences rocketing from beginning to end, while others hitting a wall and staying there, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

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The Wachowski siblings are known from creating worlds, especially worlds that cause the audience to think and interpret, and many don’t like that. Nowadays, we as an audience ask for original content and then choose not to embrace it. Audiences and critics complained about a lot of the things in this film that don’t work (the bee scene with Kunis was rather strange, I’ll admit) that they forget about all the things that work so well here. The film is not perfect, and it doesn’t stand as the toppest of tiers for these filmmakers, which is sad, because Jupiter Ascending may serve as a death knell for these original artists, especially if their upcoming Netflix series Sense8 doesn’t work as well. I hope you see this film, I hope you embrace it, and I hope you like as much as I did, or more.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Unbroken (2014)

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Director: Angelina Jolie

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock

Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

In Unbroken, based on the true story, Olympic athlete and World War II airman Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire) is captured behind enemy lines after his plane is shot down. The film, from director Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey), chronicles Zamperini’s time after the crash leading up to and including his time at a POW camp and his altercations with the Japanese soldier Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).

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I found myself checking the time several times throughout Unbroken. It seemed to meander far too long on events that should have been more exciting and climactic than they ended up feeling. It also looks too glossy, and it doesn’t end up feeling real, but more like a Lifetime presentation of the Zamperini story.

Now, I won’t bash the entire film. I liked Jack O’Connell’s performance, as well as supporting work from newcomer method Ishihara. Even the smaller roles played by Domnhall Gleeson (About Time, Ex Machina), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis) and Finn Wittrock (TV’s American Horror Story, Noah) were all spot-on.

So what makes the film so underwhelming? Is it the screenplay from the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson? No, not at all. Then what? I think Angelina Jolie had a lot of great elements to use, but they just weren’t put together the right way. As I said before, the cinematography was great, but the sets and costumes captured felt fake. They just didn’t have the look they needed. The pacing is off as well. It’s disappointing from my initial hopes of the film.

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Unbroken is broken in several ways. Like a puzzle with too few edge pieces, it just has a lot of trouble fitting together. Angelina Jolie has proven before she can handle the directorial duties, but this film isn’t a great representation of that handle. For my money, there are better war films…American Sniper, anyone?

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[Happy 15th Birthday!] Requiem for a Dream (2000)

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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald

Screenplay: Hubert Selby Jr., Darren Aronofsky

102 mins. Rated R for intense depictions of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ellen Burstyn)

iMDB Top 250: #90 (as of 1/24/2016)

Damn, this is a tough movie to watch. Warning: This isn’t a movie that will make you happy.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn, Interstellar, Draft Day) just found out that she is going to be on television. Her son, Harry (Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. Nobody), an addict, is about to make some primo money selling drugs. His friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, White Chicks, A Haunted House 2) just wants to be a good kid. Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind, Winter’s Tale), wants to design clothing. Each has dreams of becoming better than they are, but unfortunately for them, they are all addicts slowly falling deeper and deeper into their delusions of happiness in this film from director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Noah).

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Damn, I’ve seen Requiem for a Dream a couple times now, and it doesn’t get any easier, but this is a work of pure art that almost requires itself to be seen. It isn’t an easy film, and no one is walking out happy, but if you want a truer depiction of addiction, you will not find it anywhere else.

Ellen Burstyn is pure magic as Sara, the matriarch who needs to cut her addiction to fatty foods and in the process finds a new vice. Jared Leto is a kid with one foot in the grave who keeps slipping deeper and deeper into it. Jennifer Connelly’s Marion has so much drive but can’t seem to break out of her chains.

Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore, About Last Night) was perfect casting as Tappy Tibbons, a TV personality trying to sell his new books to the masses. He is unnerving and terrifying and everything he needs to be to those who need him.

Aronofsky’s film is jarring and painful to watch, mostly because it is a visual drug trip happening in real time. When the characters shoot up, you shoot up. When the characters make love, you make love. When the characters lose all self-respect, guess what. So do you. It isn’t easy, but it is real.

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The dreamlike qualities combined with the realism about vices and the drugs that surround us all make Requiem for a Dream one of the most painful experiences in film history. That’s about as complimentary I make it sound. It is stunning and gruesome and works perfectly at everything it tries to be. If you can, see this film.

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, click here.

Interstellar (2014)

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Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine

Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

169 mins. Rated PG-13 some intense perilous action and brief strong language.

 

Just give me one more minute so I can calm down, then we can discuss this movie.

Okay. Okay. I think I’m good now.

Interstellar. Wow. A film that needs to be seen once and then most likely again right after. This movie just took my breath away.

The world is dying. The last of the renewable food sources is almost depleted and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, TV’s True Detective, Dallas Buyers Club) is on his way through a black hole with a crew of scientists to find a new planet capable of sustaining human life. I don’t want to give away too much here, because this film requires you to be a participant in it.

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The plot here is one that pulls you in and keeps you there the entirety of the film. The screenplay from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception) and his brother Jonathan is just incredible, presenting ideas that are grounded in real science and also contribute to a grander understanding of the universe.

McConaughey’s Cooper is an incredibly faceted character, one that could only be played by the Academy Award winner. He is a man who is forced to make decisions that cause him and his family pain in order to save the human race, and he is not without his pain. It is as though he is constantly suffering from survivor’s guilt in a way similar to Russell Crowe’s performance in 2014’s Noah.

Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, Rio 2) gives a tormented performance as Brand, a woman who is emotionally just as weak as Cooper but chooses not to see it as a connection between the two. These two are both willing to give up great happiness in the goal of the mission, and they both pay dearly for the sacrifices.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, A Most Violent Year) and Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, Draft Day) add to the strength of this cast, but the real surprise here is TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rachel Getting Married), an artificial intelligence assisting Cooper and Brand in their mission. TARS is a unique robot reminiscent of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, a lot of this film pays homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece. TARS provides comic relief while being a fascinating creature in this world created by Nolan.

The cinematography is spectacular here, and presents a quiet and lonely universe, one where the only friend you have is the mission. It is a quiet empty space with beautiful visuals that deeply sadden the viewers while maintaining a bit of wonder.

The score is equal parts quiet and enveloping. Completely engrossing and altogether despressing.

Just a note on visual effects. It’s winning the Oscar, just prepare for it.

Interstellar is one of the best films ever made. It is one of the best films out this year and I will be looking for it on the list of Best Picture nominees. Not only does it present a dismal future but also a hopeful future, and it comes down to a beautifully realized and wholly engaging story with incredible performances and some terrific surprise cameos too. Watch this movie.

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Now, I’m off to see it again.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Have you seen Interstellar? What did you think? Did you find a hit through the black hole or a extinction of film? Let me know!

Top Ten of 2014 (incomplete)

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You might notice this list is incomplete. Here’s how it works. This list begins in January and continues until the midway through 2015. There are a lot of films still being released and becoming available from 2014, so this list will be adjusting as time goes on. Here it is so far…

 

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. The Lego Movie
  3. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  4. Noah
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy
  6. Draft Day
  7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
  8. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
  9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  10. Sex Tape

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