[#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.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Screenplay: Taika Waititi

108 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.

 

From the moment I first heard that Writer/Director/Actor Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) was planning on writing, directing, and acting in a Nazi comedy about a boy with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler, and that Waititi would be playing Hitler, I was immediately concerned, confused, and a little unsure what to think. Then, the first still came out, and it didn’t really help. In my mind, I’ve never been let down by Waititi, but it’s a tall order to accomplish something like Jojo Rabbit. Thankfully, wonderfully, Waititi is able to do the impossible yet again, making a film about hate that becomes about so much more.

Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) doesn’t have many friends outside of his buddy Yorki and his imaginary friend, Adolf. When he attends a Hitler youth training camp, he hopes to impress Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) by showing off his fierceness and prowess, but things do not go the way he plans. His mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson, Her, Sing) seems to have an alternative idea of the war and Nazism, but she hides it. Jojo learns that’s not all she hides when he comes across a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace, The King), in a hidden space in her room. As Jojo struggles with how to treat his treasonous mother and the girl in the crawl space, he is forced to make a choice that could alter everything he’s ever known.

It’s been stated a lot, but the first ten minutes of this movie made me pretty uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the very way it sets up the world of wartime Germany near the end of WWII. It puts you right in Jojo’s world, and that world was not one I felt okay being in until the plot really started to move. Davis does good work in his first major role as Jojo. It’s a tough character because even though he’s a child and seemingly doesn’t know any better, he’s still a Nazi child. His worldview has been painted for him with signs of Jewish evil and demons and some truly disturbing things. It’s not an easy viewing and even though it has some really funny moments, it’s also a movie I felt strange for laughing during.

As with a film like 1917, which I recently reviewed here, Davis is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, ranging from Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic) as Fräulein Rahm, an instructor at the youth camp (the best she’s ever been), to Alfie Allen (John Wick, TV’s Game of Thrones) as Finkel, the second-in-command to Rockwell’s Klenzendorf, who finally gets to stretch some comedic muscles and does a very fine job. Rockwell is awesome in this movie, and he yet again excels at playing those fringe characters who are really bad guys but he puts an emotional spin on them to really connect with the audience.

It is Waititi’s Adolf that is most interesting in that he’s playing an imaginary friend who looks like Hitler but is very much just a visage of Jojo’s interpretation of how Hitler would be to him, a child. Waititi’s portrayal of this imaginary friend rides the line very nicely between silliness and seriousness, and he’s essentially just Jojo, so it never felt like an out-of-place idea to have Hitler appearing in the film.

I can’t think of anyone else that can make a movie quite like Taika Waititi. His eye is unique and his style works well with certain stories. With Jojo Rabbit, he mines real-world events and circumstances for comedy, pointing out the ridiculousness of the beliefs that Jojo has, and he pushes them into the audience consciousness. He views wartime Germany as a bustling and more happy place that most films have chosen to, but it makes sense. To Jojo and the other townspeople, they are really winning, whether they really believe it or not, their wanting to believe it is too strong for most. There is a bubbling-under-the-surface fear that is present and permeating, and that foreboding feeling like things will not turn out that way, but it’s covered in a layer of liveliness, something that we don’t usually get in these types of films.

Jojo Rabbit is surprisingly good, but after this any hits, it’s tough to doubt Taika Waititi’s abilities in any way. He has consistently made great films across his career, and Jojo Rabbit is no exception. This isn’t always the happiest viewing experience (Waititi mixes tones elegantly enough to hit hard when the film requires it), and I found myself more nervous-laughing than downright bellying over with giggles, but that’s not what this film requires. What it does require is your attention, though. Go see Jojo Rabbit as soon as you can.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

Vice (2018)

Director: Adam McKay

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons

Screenplay: Adam McKay

132 mins. Rated R for language and some violent images.

 

At the end of Adam McKay’s (The Other Guys, The Big Short) film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the narrator informs the audience that Brick, the character played by Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, TV’s The Office), got a job working in the Bush White House. It’s nice to see McKay sticking with the narrative.

Vice is the first film about the life of a US Vice President, and it explores the political upbringing’s of the most powerful and dangerous Vice President in history, Dick Cheney (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle). It’s the tale of a man of immense power and the way he ran his political career with wife Lynne (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) at his side. It’s the true enough tale of his time learning from and working with Donald Rumsfeld (Carell), spanning from his time as an intern to the most powerful man in America.

What works so well in Vice is McKay’s storytelling style. He adopts what worked well in The Big Short for this larger-than-life vision of Cheney’s life and career. His film informs the audience early on that this film is as true as it can be given Cheney’s guarded and secretive life, and he puts as much truth to the screen as possible and lets his performers and absurdist storytelling gifts fill in the rest. McKay’s far-reaching ambition is on full display here, including his post-credits scene which brings us all the way to a discussion of present-day politics.

Bale is at his best here as he disappears behind his character. The weight gain workout regimen as well as the makeup effects work wonders here, but beyond that is Bale’s amazing quality to become his character, something he does quite well here. Adams is great here as well, a loving wife who has expectations for the man she marries and will not accept anything less than perfection from him.

The supporting cast is another strength of this film, littered with special performances like Carell’s. Sam Rockwell (Moon, TV’s F is for Family), just like Bale, expertly assumes the form of George W. Bush. Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, The Star) becomes Colin Powell. The performances in Vice are top-notch.

If there’s a fault in the film, it’s the difficulty in making such an unlikable man the focus of a 2-hour-plus runtime. McKay sticks close to the rule of characters: if you can’t make them likable, make them interesting, and he does just that, but as the film wears on, it does become difficult to maintain focus on Cheney with the same lightheartedness that permeates the early part of the film.

Vice is another strong outing for Adam McKay, a filmmaker who has proven to be as exciting now as he was over a decade ago when his satirical eye was used only for the purpose of comedy. His funny approach to unlikable characters offers up a different side of the coin to a filmmaker like Oliver Stone, and it is this keen eye for teaching through absurdity that makes this biographical drama such a winner. It’s runtime hurts the film a bit but McKay keeps things going pretty good aided by some astonishing acting from its principal cast. See Vice now before someone gets sued.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Screenplay: Martin McDonagh

115 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

 

Writer/Director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) definitely has a flavor to his work. His is a violent, darkly comedic world, one this writer wouldn’t want to live in. But I’ll definitely watch others live in it.

McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, introduces us to Mildred (Frances McDormand, Fargo, Hail, Caesar!), a grieving mother who decides to question local law enforcement’s handling of her daughter’s murder case when she rents and erects three billboards in a quiet part of town, asking if the cops have done enough in their search for the killer. This brings her to a head with Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, Lost in London, TV’s True Detective) and hotheaded officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Moon, Poltergeist). As the public takes sides in the matter, arguments and violence ramp up and Mildred and Dixon are forced to confront their anger and their past in order to move forward.

Martin McDonagh is a very accomplished character storyteller. His characters live by the principle that a character doesn’t have to be likable as long as she is interesting. Mildred isn’t very likable. Willoughby isn’t very likable. Dixon definitely isn’t likable. Dammit, though, they are interesting, as are the supporting players, particularly Peter Dinklage (Rememory, TV’s Game of Thrones) as a man who takes a liking to Mildred but can’t quite match her level of motivation.

McDonagh uses his characters and his hyper-violence to tell a deeply personal story, more so than either of his previous features. Mildred has deep personal pain and her motives are admirable, There’s a lot that makes sense in the confines of the story, with the exception of one thing.

If there is an issue with the film, it’s the ending. McDonagh chooses an ambiguous ending to his story, one that leaves character plot threads unresolved. In some cases, this can work, but after spending two hours with these people, the question he is asking is a no-brainer. The film ends with two possible paths, but one path would completely betray the character arc, so it doesn’t make sense to leave it open.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is another fascinating character piece from writer/director Martin MacDonagh. This film should be praised for its performances, particularly McDormand and Rockwell, but it is the brilliantly written screenplay that gives them so much to work with. This is a story for anyone who has ever done something crazy out of grief, and its deeply moving and yet somehow completely unhinged, and I highly recommend it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri? What did you think? What’s your favorite performance from Frances McDormand? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Wins Audience Award in Toronto

The newest film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The award, an indicator of Oscar chances, sounds good news for McDonagh and his film.

Now, let’s be honest here. The Grolsch award is awarded based on people that bought a ticket and then put that ticket stub in a box after the film. There isn’t a lot of hardcoded deliberation. All that aside, I’ve been looking forward to seeing McDonagh’s latest as the trailers have all been unique and engaging. McDonagh, known for black comedies like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, has assembled a unique cast with Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson and hits theaters in November.

I’m very excited to see this news, and while I don’t put much stock in the Grolsch as a Best Picture predictor, it is certainly nice to see this director getting some critical acclaim come the start of awards season.

What do you think? Have you seen the trailers for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri? Will you be seeing it in November? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Iron Man 2 (2010)

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Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Justin Theroux

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Remember way back when the MCU just had a few films and we were shocked to find that there was already a sequel? Oh wait, we were still shocked that there was a cinematic universe…

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Iron Man 2 picks up six months after the first film (running somewhat concurrently to The Incredible Hulk) as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef) opens the Stark Expo to continue his father’s legacy to create new technology to change the world, but he is facing an internal problem: the palladium core in Tony’s arc reactor is slowly killing him. As Stark places Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Se7en, Mortdecai) in the role of CEO for Stark Industries, he is also faced with vengeance from a new villain: Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), the son of a man wronged by Howard Stark, who has taken on the moniker Whiplash, to punish Tony for the sins of his father. To put it short, Tony Stark is having a rough time.

Iron Man 2 gets a lot of flack for being a lesser film than its predecessor, but I prefer it. Tony Stark is faced with a lot of conflicts in the film and it gives him the opportunity to be a good person, something he wasn’t given the ability to do in Iron Man. I enjoyed the villains in the film (again, something that others didn’t care for), and I really liked how it set up the rest of Phase 1 of the MCU. It’s strange, that same tactic was unimpressive in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but here it really worked for me.

Iron Man 2 adds so much to the mythology with new heroes Rhodey (Don Cheadle, TV’s House of Lies, Crash) becoming War Machine and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Hail, Caesar!) showing up as Natalie Rushman. There’s the building up of SHIELD and the references to upcoming installments Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

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Iron Man 2 has detractors (the film hasn’t aged well), but overall its a pretty damn fun time, and while it was mostly a transitional film for the MCU as it found its footing. I liked it a lot, but I can kind of see what others don’t like.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Chef, click here.

 

[Happy 10th Birthday!] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

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Director: Garth Jennings

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, John Malkovitch

Screenplay: Douglas Adams, Karey Kirkpatrick

109 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, action and mild language.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was perhaps doomed from the start. A big-budget adaptation of the wackiest space adventure ever conceived could only accidentally succeed or admirably tank.

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Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) is fed up. His home is about to be demolished to form a hyperspace motorway, and he barely escapes thanks to a friend named Ford (Mos Def, The Italian Job, Begin Again) who might not even be human. As the two hitchhike across the galaxy alongside fellow Earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel, TV’s New Girl, Elf) and Galactic President-turned-fugitive Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, Moon, Better Living Through Chemistry) in an attempt to find the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

From a script by original author Douglas Adams aided by Karey Kirkpatrick, the film has everything that made the novel great. The performances are quirky enough to serve the source material while real enough to fit the film. I love that director Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) seamlessly blends the main story with interjecting narration from the talking Guide (voiced by Stephen Fry).

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I think the major problem that people had with this film is that if you hadn’t read the book, you didn’t know what you were getting into. The novel was considered somewhat unfilmable because of its innate sense of insanity. Many thought they would get an interesting sci-fi comedy but they hadn’t expected to see anything like the finished product, because there really is nothing like this finished product. Another example of a film being misrepresented by its marketing. Another example of a great franchise squashed far too early.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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