Crawl (2019)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark

Screenplay: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen

87 mins. Rated R for bloody creature violence, and brief language.

 

I was a big fan of director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The 9th Life of Louis Drax) when he burst onto the filmmaking scene, even if I didn’t love his remake of The Hills Have Eyes (though it is a superior film to the original). I respected his eye for horror, and I think his Piranha is one of the best horror films ever made. He disappeared for a few years, but now he’s resurfaced with another creature-feature, this one inspired by actual events that took place during Hurricane Florence.

Crawl is the story of Haley (Kaya Scodelario, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), a competitive swimmer, searching for her father Dave (Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan, Maze Runner: The Death Cure) as a Category 5 hurricane sets in. Haley finds herself trapped in the crawl space beneath the main floor as it quickly floods and having to protect herself from deadly alligators.

Crawl had a great trailer, but one wonders with a film largely set in one location whether the trailer is really showing everything, and I will say this: if you are interested at all in this film, don’t watch the trailer as it does give away some third-act plot points. Overall, though, Crawl is an excellent single-location thriller with two standout performances and a whole lot of shocks and intensity.

The screenplay, from Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (The Ward, The Inhabitants), bolsters a strong storytelling speed that keeps the momentum up for most of the film, save for a good fifteen minutes at the start as the pieces are put in place. It’s an important fifteen minutes but it is a slow start.

Director Aja is known for pulling as much tension and horror from a premise as possible, and he’s knocking it out of the park here, but he is able to pull some emotion from this struggling father-daughter relationship as well, something I’ve not seen him as successful with in the past.

Our two leads in Scodelario and Pepper work very well together. You can feel their strained relationship as they work together to escape this potentially impossible situation. It’s a frustrating movie but only because it always feels unwinnable, and none of their attempts go without risk or pain. There’s a lesson I once learned about creating great characters, and it is that you cannot let your characters win without suffering. These two suffer a lot in this film, and I’ll leave it open-ended whether or not they “win” after all that suffering.

Crawl is an excellent thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The film races along, creating obstacles one after the other. This is a pull-out-your-hair movie at its finest, and a terrific theatrical experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Alexandre Aja’s Piranha, click here.

[#2018oscardeathrace] The Post (2017)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys

Screenplay: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Meryl Streep] [Pending]

 

Only Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) could accomplish The Post in the time that he did. The film went through Production, Post-Production, and Release just in the Post-Production of his Ready Player One, the other film he was working on. Not only that, but to have that film go on to be nominated for Best Picture is exemplary.

The Post is the story of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady, Florence Foster Jenkins), the owner and publisher of The Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump, Toy Story 3), the editor-in-chief as they come to a decision on how to proceed with the publishing of sensitive materials pertaining to a cover-up spanning four U.S. Presidents. As the weight of the decision falls on Kay, she is met with arguments on both sides and mounting tensions that could send multiple colleagues to prison for treason or ruin The Post’s reputation permanently.

For the most part, The Post is exactly what it needs to be, and it works very well. I really like the usage of Nixon’s actual audio in his portrayal. I loved how it leads right up to the opening of All the President’s Men, which almost makes The Post an unofficial prequel.

But the best part of The Post is its performances. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are amazing, but its supporting players are equally strong. I would have loved to see Bob Odenkirk (Girlfriend’s Day, TV’s Better Call Saul) nab an Oscar nomination for his work as Ben Bagdikian. The same should be said of Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) as Robert McNamara.

The script is mostly strong and Spielberg has restrained and calm direction to give the floor to his performers which works. One sequence that doesn’t work is the opening. The film begins in Vietnam with an action sequence that feels very out of place. Perhaps it would work better somewhere else in the film as a flashback because it feels unneeded and very disconnected from the rest of the film.

Overall, The Post is a fine film and very important to the political landscape we are currently in. Is it a Best Picture? I’m not so sure. That being said, Spielberg’s film is very worthy of a lot of its credit. This is a need-to-see film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Extraterrestrial Abductions Day] Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg

137 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actress in a Supporting Role [Melinda Dillon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

With today being Extraterrestrial Abductions Day, I wanted to look back at a Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) film that I didn’t have much exposure to: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I didn’t see the film until after college, and I didn’t recall liking it very much. So, today, I thought, let’s give it another try.

Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws, Madoff), an electrical lineman in Indiana, is forever changed after he experiences a close encounter with an unidentified flying object while investigating an outage. He develops a thirst to discover exactly what he witnessed that consumes him entirely, causing rifts in his marriage to wife Ronnie (Teri Garr, Tootsie, Aloha, Scooby Doo!) and his children. Roy’s search for answers takes him across the country where he meets Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, The 400 Blows, The Green Room), a French scientist also enamored with the possible discovery of alien life.

My frustrations with Close Encounters of the Third Kind do not lie on the technical side of things. I happen to find the visuals and sound design to be superb, some of the best put to film (coincidentally, the film was released the same as the original Star Wars, which nabbed a number of technical awards at the Oscars). I enjoyed the performances from Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story, Reign Over Me) as Jillian, a single mother who shares in Roy’s journey for answers.

My issues, though, come from Spielberg’s screenplay and how he chose to direct it. Roy does some pretty shitty things in the film, he isn’t a character I like or feel for, and yet Spielberg chooses to give the film such a light-hearted tone. It’s as if to say to his audience, “Look at this funny guy pushing his family away! My, isn’t he strange?” It just didn’t work for me. I want to feel for him and what this journey is doing to him, but I don’t.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a beautiful film, one that furthers the abilities of the artist with its progressive sound design and visual effects, but I just didn’t like the emotional arcs of the characters. An impressive technical marvel to this writer, but one without true substance.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

[Happy 10th Birthday!] War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

Screenplay: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

 

Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) has always been an alien fanboy at heart. Periodically throughout his career, he continues to return to the genre of the extraterrestrial. He even owned a copy of Orson Welles’ original radio play for War of the Worlds. After many attempts to get a story off the ground, Spielberg was eventually able to do so in 2005.

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Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Top Gun, Edge of Tomorrow) isn’t all that great of a father. He loves his kids, but he just doesn’t really know them. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Coraline, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, TV’s Shameless, The Invisible) don’t enjoy staying with him. But when the Earth is attacked by forces from beneath and beyond the planet’s surface, Ray is forced to grow up and become the father he is supposed to be as the family evades invading extraterrestrials who want the world for themselves.

This is a very different film for Steven Spielberg. For starters, the plot runs in a very different way. Rather than unfolding as the film progresses and evolving based on the character choices, War of the Worlds is much more of an action onslaught like previous fare Mad Max: Fury Road. The plot is revealed rather quickly and then takes a step back to the high action spectacle that unfolds for our hero. It was new terrain for the filmmaker.

Tom Cruise does his best to play to his character’s weaknesses here. He isn’t entirely a likable guy but when greatness is thrust upon him, Ray needs to step up and protect those around him from harm. Dakota Fanning plays Rachel to the truest understanding that a nervous child would have during these events. Unfortunately, she is rather annoying in this film. I get that you’re scared, but she is always screaming! Then there’s Justin Chatwin, who has more of his father in him than he realizes as he is conflicted in what he thinks makes a man. Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I, Frankenstein) gives serviceable work as the ex-Mrs. Ferrier and Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Welcome to Me) gives one of the best albeit small performances I’ve seen from the actor.

War of the Worlds benefits from having Spielberg’s terrific flair for capturing events on film. The sequences are well put together, so much so that you miss some of the inconsistencies in the flow of the film. The sound mixing and editing, for which the film was nominated for an Oscar, are also booming. The invader ships, or Tripods as they are referred, make this unsettling sound as they destroy humanity. That, mixed with the top notch visual effects, give this film a unique flavor and an intensity that continue throughout its runtime.

I wasn’t all that impressed with John William’s score here as it comes off as more sounds mixed into the film than a bona fide music track.

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I can completely get why some didn’t enjoy War of the Worlds. Many called out the underwhelming ending, which is actually taken from the source material and considered one of the best endings ever. I enjoyed, but perhaps the reason is that I knew this was the ending going in. I think without the great irony of the film is that by knowing the ending, it makes it better but not necessarily as thrilling, but by not knowing the ending, it feels like a cop out but is entertaining throughout. My suggestion to best enjoy the film is to read the book first (seriously, this is me suggesting that you read, and that will anger some of you). The film doesn’t necessarily follow the novel’s story at all, but it retains the key themes that should enrich your viewing experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

Furious 7 (2015)

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Director: James Wan

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham

Screenplay: Chris Morgan

137 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.

 

And here we are, after six films, we arrive here at Furious 7, the latest installment in the high-octane series of car action films started with The Fast and the Furious some many years back.

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In the newest adventure, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Saving Private Ryan, Guardians of the Galaxy) and his family have returned to the United States after gaining amnesty for their previous offences. As new parent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions, Hours) adjusts to the simple life with wife Mia (Jordana Brewster, TV’s Dallas, Home Sweet Hell), he and Dom discover that Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, The Transporter, Spy) is seeking vengeance on them for his comatose brother. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, WrestleMania) is dispatched, the group realize that they need help. In comes a mysterious government agent (played by Kurt Russell, The Thing, Poseidon) who need them to find a piece of high-tech gadgetry that has been stolen by the villainous Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, Gladiator, Seventh Son). The deal is simple: retrieve the tech in exchange for cart blanche to defeat Shaw.

I really enjoyed Furious 7. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious: Chapter 2), known for his abilities as a horror director, supplies the film with much-needed cheese with an incredibly exhilarating experience. The returning cast has grown so close that the chemistry here is great. Diesel’s journey of reintroduction with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, Machete Kills) is one of the better stories to come out of this series, and it ties into the franchise well. I had a lot of fun watching the banter between Roman (Tyrese Gibson, Transformers, Black Nativity) and Tej (Chris Bridges, New Year’s Eve, No Strings Attached). Newcomers Kurt Russell and Jason Statham provide a lot of fun to the equation. Russell’s Mr. Nobody is an interesting new character I’m excited to see further fleshed out. Statham’s Shaw comes off a bit on the cheesy side, especially with his introduction, but overall it works.

Now onto what most people are interested in hearing about: dealing with the death of Paul Walker. Did it work? Suprisingly well, actually. I expected Walker’s role to be relegated to a glorified cameo, but I was wrong. With brothers Cody and Caleb, alongside some terrific digital effects, helped to provide some resolution to Brian’s story in an appealing way. The finale of the film definitely pays tribute well with a closing musical number with a montage of Walker’s role in the franchise served to button up his story and send him off to the next place without coming off as a wasted opportunity. Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” works well here, too.

I like that Furious 7 helps tie the franchise back together with references to Toretto’s relationship with Letty before her “death” and the rarely-seen Race Wars from the original film. The best thing about this franchise is that the crew learns from previous mistakes to make the best film possible.

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Furious 7 isn’t the greatest film in the series (that honor lies with Fast Five), but it definitely takes a step in the right direction after a few missteps with Fast & Furious 6. It serves to provide closure to Paul Walker’s character and career well without sacrificing plot and sets the series up for further adventures which will continue with the upcoming Furious 8 (yeah, it’s happening).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

 

You can follow Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

[Oscar Madness] Jurassic Park (1993)

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Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Michael Crichton, David Koepp

127 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense science fiction terror.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

I’m going to tell you a story now. When I was a young child, I was positively blown away by Jurassic Park. I just always wanted to watch it. Unfortunately for me, I was absolutely terrified of the film. I never got past the famous T-Rex sequence without running out of the room as fast as possible. Finally, when my next-door neighbor volunteered to babysit me one night, he made me a promise: We were getting through Jurassic Park tonight. And we did. And it remains one of the most thrilling examples of perfect filmmaking even now, 22 years later.

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, TV’s Peaky Blinders, The Hunt for Red October) and his colleague Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, The Fault in Our Stars, Wild) have just been hired by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, The Great Escape, Elizabeth) to look into his newest project, an amusement park on the island of Isla Nublar. They are joined by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day, Mortdecai), an observer of the Chaos Theory, as the three discover that Jurassic Park is filled with genetically cloned dinosaurs. When the island’s security defenses go down, the dinosaurs are unleashed, and the scientists must find a way off the island before chaos takes them out.

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First of all, I want to discuss the screenplay from Michael Crichton and David Koepp. I love the original novel and this adaptation is pretty damn close in the overall scope and the tone conveyed. There are a few changes and a few scenes omitted in the name of time, but the script is pretty great for both an adaptation and a film in general.

The list of performers, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough are so perfectly cast that it amazes me. Add in veteran character actors Bob Peck (The Black Velvet Gown, Slipstream), Martin Ferrero (Heat, Air Bud 3), and Wayne Knight (TV’s The Exes, Space Jam), and you have some genuinely perfectly cast players.

Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln) had so much invested in this project, and so much faith in it at the same time. It is refreshing to find a director that cares so much about a project. His care for pushing the visual effects envelope while maintaining his style and flair for the suspense and the fantastic.

The look and sound of the dinosaurs literally created the modern view of dinosaurs in film. The incredible sound work (the noises of the velociraptor hatching were created by cracking an ice cream cone and the squishing of a cantaloupe and pineapple) is what earns this film the realism that Spielberg so desperately wanted.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss the famous scene in which the T-Rex’s movement causes a water ripple in a glass. The sound originally came to Steven Spielberg while listening to Earth, Wind & Fire. His production team eventually, after many, many failures, created the effect with a guitar string placed underneath the fake dashboard.

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Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park stands as one of the most groundbreaking and equally effective films of its or any generation. The film still looks gorgeous and has stood the test of time. The special effects haven’t even aged all that much. My hope is that Jurassic World is even partially as good as this one.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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