[Early Review] Dark Phoenix (2019)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

Screenplay: Simon Kinberg

113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some gunplay, disturbing images, and brief strong language.

 

Dark Phoenix may very likely be the last installment of this iteration of the X-Men franchise. We may never see The New Mutants, so this is our swan song, or Phoenix song, to the franchise. It’s almost fitting that it’s the first installment to be directed by longtime franchise writer Simon Kinberg, but is he able to send out this franchise on a high note?

It’s 1992, and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Split, Sherlock Gnomes) has aged remarkably well (seriously, trace the amount of time spanned between First Class and now), and his work with human/mutant relations have made him a bit of a mutant celebrity among politicians. His team of X-Men, led by Raven (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games, Red Sparrow) have saved countless lives. When he sends them on an outer-space mission to save some stranded astronauts from a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, Josie, TV’s Game of Thrones) is caught in the trajectory of the flare and should have been killed, but when they return her to Earth, she appears fine. At least, for a little bit. They soon learn that something is very wrong with Jean. She is unable to control her power, which has spiked significantly since her incident in space, and secrets from her and Charles’s past are coming back to haunt them both. Now, the X-Men face their greatest threat in one of their own, and it’s a fight they may not walk away from.

Reviews are hitting Dark Phoenix pretty hard, and the signs have been clear for some time that this was not going to be the big explosive finale to the Fox X-Men Saga (an entire year of pushbacks do not exactly inspire confidence, even if there was good reason), but I think the backlash is a little excessive. Dark Phoenix is not a bad X-Men movie. The biggest problem is that it’s somewhat soulless. It doesn’t really make me feel one way or the other. In a way, it feels like Kinberg and Fox dug themselves into a hole by redoing the Dark Phoenix Saga, a storyline we’d seen played out on the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. If you’re going to do redo a storyline that you’ve already covered in the same franchise, you better make it damn good. It can’t be just okay; it needs to show the audience why redoing it was the right call, and while Dark Phoenix is a better film and a better version of the story than The Last Stand, it still isn’t that much better. It’s a perfectly okay film.

The movie just lacks a lot of soul. The only area where its style really works is in its score from Hans Zimmer (who came out of superhero score retirement for this film), and he crafted a score that feels very apocalyptic and sets the tone of the film more separate from the extravagant scores of the previous X-Men films. Other than his music, there just isn’t anything of flair to the film. Things just happen, and plot points don’t feel very surprising or shocking. Things just happen. The best part of the film happens to be the finale, something was entirely reshot and revamped during the reshoots. It’s an excellent-looking action set piece but again, it lacks enough story at that point.

McAvoy and Fassbender do just fine with the material given to them, as does Sophie Turner, coming off Game of Thrones, as Jean Grey. It’s nice to see her get some major screen time here, but again, her scenes lack narrative tone. I also have to mention Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, Tolkien), who has the best scene in the film in a deeply emotional conversation in the kitchen. On the flipside, it was quite obvious that Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t give a shit about this franchise anymore (it was quite obvious in X-Men: Apocalypse), and it’s all the more apparent in this installment. With that, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) is utterly wasted in the film as Vuk, a shapeshifting alien who, along with her cohorts, are essentially plot devices. It’s too bad, because, again, if you’re going to get Jessica Chastain, give her something to do. I feel as though Vuk is an overly-complicated villain without any backstory or reason for being in the film, somewhat of a paradox.

From all that, though, the stars of the film being McAvoy, Fassbender, and Turner, I got enough enjoyment from this installment to give it a “meh” as a recommendation. It’s neither good nor bad, but for fans of the X-Men franchise, there should be enough enjoyment in Dark Phoenix. We should also remember that, if one is marathoning the X-Men series chronologically, then Logan comes last, which is a blessing, because Logan is a far better finale to this hit-or-miss series than Dark Phoenix.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, click here.

For my review of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United, click here.

For my review of Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, click here.

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

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, click here.

For my review of Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse, click here.

For my review of Tim Miller’s Deadpool, click here.

For my review of David Leitch’s Deadpool 2, click here.

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

Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2019

Well, 2018 is done. What do we do now? Talk about 2019.

Just a couple of quick notes again this year:

  • This list is most anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to as of right now, so there will be more blockbusters than indies because that’s just how it plays out. With that being said…

NOTE: I’M GOING TO TRY THE COUNTDOWN THIS YEAR RATHER THAN JUST A LIST.

 

10. Captain Marvel

-What excites me so much about Captain Marvel is its timing. This will be Marvel’s second true prequel in setting the film in the 1990s. I like the idea that this film could tie into Avengers: Infinity War and Guardians of the Galaxy. I love Brie Larson and I think her addition to this story is very exciting. This just feels like a great space adventure that we are less likely to get for some time now that the third Guardians film has kind of disappeared. This one is a blockbuster want for me.

 

9. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

-I’m happy that Guillermo del Toro has a Best Picture under his belt so he can do what he wants. One of the exciting projects from him in 2019 is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, based on the popular horror story collections for youths. I grew up reading these stories and they gave me chills and have kept me awake at night. I chose this over Nickelodeon’s big-screen version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? because I think del Toro will push the horror whereas I worry that Nick will not take the horror seriously. We are seeing a small possibility of scary children films due to The House with a Clock in its Walls in 2018. This one excites me.

 

8. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

-This is the batshit crazy film of 2018. Until I saw the trailer, I was not looking forward to it. Why would you choose to make the first live-action Pokemon about Detective Pikachu instead of a traditional Pokemon story? Why would you select Ryan Reynolds to voice Pikachu? Why? Well, the trailer seemed like a lot of fun. I’m still not sure about the film as a whole, but I want to support a Pokemon film universe, and if that starts with Detective Pikachu, so be it.

 

7. Pet Sematary

-This new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel (it’s my wife’s favorite King novel) is getting me very excited. As much as I enjoy the original adaptation, I have to admit that it didn’t follow the masterful source material as much as it could. This new film features the incredible Jason Clarke and John Lithgow, and the first trailer got me going. I love the look of Church the cat, and I love the visual look of the film overall.

 

6. Glass

-Where the hell did Glass come from? How did this happen? When Split came out, nobody expected the [SPOILER ALERT] twist that Split was connected to Unbreakable. Nobody expected that this would further in a third film called Glass which would bring together Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, and Anya Taylor-Joy for a final confrontation. Glass is one of the most unexpected films of the last few years, and I’m overjoyed to see what it brings.

 

5. It: Chapter 2

It was a film that surprised everyone. I enjoyed the trailer even though the first images were lacking that bite. Director Andy Muschietti brought a much more emotional experience to the film than I expected, and while it doesn’t contain literal translations of some of King’s massive tome, it does translate the feeling and tone of the book quite nicely. Breaking It into 2 films is strange because a bulk of the film is set during the childhood, so I’m curious where it could go with that. The second half of the 1990 miniseries is where it loses me, so Muschietti has a lot on his plate for this follow-up.

 

4. Avengers: Endgame

-Okay, this had to be on here somewhere, right. It’s a testament to the great plate of films we have before us in 2019 that Avengers 4 is below three other films. Yes, we have to find out how this thing finishes. We knew a lot of where Avengers: Infinity War was going to travel, but I have no idea where we go from here. Yes, I feel like we will have a lot of the third film reversed, but I cannot deny the palpable excitement for this one.

 

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

-When Quentin Tarantino makes a film, I get excited. When he sets it in the 1960s, I get more excited. When he compares it to Pulp Fiction, I lose my freaking mind. Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie star in this new film from the master which also features Al Pacino in his first collaboration with Tarantino. Not much is known still but I cannot wait.

 

2. Us

-In about 3 minutes, Us became one of my most-anticipated films of 2019. That trailer. That trailer! Oh! I was already looking forward to this follow-up from the director of Get Out, and then I saw that trailer. His usage of popular music in a horror setting with some oozingly creepy imagery is what made me most excited for this film, and it comes out on my birthday too. So much win.

 

1. Star Wars: Episode IX

-C’mon, you had to know this. It’s been called the culmination of the Skywalker saga, and it brings back J.J. Abrams who killed it with The Force Awakens. After The Last Jedi (my favorite of the new films), I simply cannot wait to see where this new film goes, and it just has so much riding on it. It has to be Star Wars. It’s my most anticipated film of 2019.

 

So there you have it. What are you most excited to see in 2019? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 3 – The VVitch (2015)

Director: Robert Eggers

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Granger, Lucas Dawson

Screenplay: Robert Eggers

93 mins. Rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity.

 

I was a little late getting into The Witch. It seemed that everyone was telling me how good it was but then they also tempered my expectations by warning me that the trailers were incorrectly marketing the film. So it was amazing but it isn’t the movie you have been following. How do I deal with that?

The Witch centers on a family. The patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson, Kingsman: The Secret Service, TV’s Absentia) has been banished from their plantation over a religious dispute. He, wife Katherine (Kate Dickie, Prometheus, TV’s One of Us), and their children begin the challenging work of building a farm and learning to subsist. When a horrific event rocks the family, they start believing that a witch is at work. Twins Mercy (Ellie Granger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) believe it to be oldest sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, Split, Barry) but Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw, Oranges and Sunshine) defends her, but as the details and clues begin to add up, it becomes very clear that a dark force is involved, but who?

I would say the only major lie in The Witch’s marketing is that this film is not hinging on jump scares. It is a mood horror film, but it is exemplary. Every detail of the environment is so strong, you forget you are watching a film and fall right into it. Anya Taylor-Joy again proves that she is a capable lead and has an exciting career ahead of her. She is aided by character actors Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie who fit perfectly into the film. The casting is perfect, the tone and pacing are very nice (films such as this almost always tend to run on long, but The Witch is a tight 93 minutes), and the scares are visceral and moody, staying with you long after the end.

Like The Revenant, The Witch’s shoot is mostly natural light, and it shows in an excellent visual representation, shot in 1.66:1 no less. There’s just so much care put into each shot of the film. Everything is important, even if it doesn’t appear at the moment. There’s a scene into the film where everyone is reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and I didn’t think much of it, but then I saw an interview where someone had stated that, at the time, it was believed that a witch couldn’t recite the Lord’s Prayer fully. I looked back at the scene, and it all flowed together.

A large portion of The Witch is steeped in memory, legend, and history, and that may be why it feels so real. This is definitely a film to check out. I absolutely loved it, it is one of the best horror films in recent memory, a tough feat as horror has been riding such a high. Check out this one as soon as you can, but avoid the trailers.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad

115 mins. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.

 

I saw Atomic Blonde the other night, and I was heavily intrigued walking into the theater. After all, David Leitch has proven he knows action and the trailers had a lot of bite, so how was the film?

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fate of the Furious) is sent to Germany in 1989 right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall to retrieve The List, an important piece of intel containing information about all current operating spies. Lorraine is ordered to work with David Percival (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Split), a Berlin station chief who has gone native, in order to retrieve The List and take down a powerful group of spies in the process.

Atomic Blonde has some of the best action sequences of any film in the past few years. Charlize Theron proves herself yet again capable of playing a strong kick-ass female protagonist, and her scenes where she is whooping her adversaries are incredibly strong. The rest of the film, however, falls flat rather quickly. We are introduced to interesting characters like Til Schweiger’s Watchmaker and Bill Skarsgard’s Merkel and then instead are subjected to poor villains (and far too many) that are underdeveloped. It’s as if somebody said, “Yeah, there are Russians and Germans and it’s set in the Cold War,” and somehow that was enough. But it wasn’t. I actually would have liked to see more inclusion from Broughton’s allies, including Toby Jones as Eric Gray, her handler, and John Goodman (Monsters, Inc., Bunyan and Babe) as Emmett Kurzfeld, a CIA agent. Sadly, these two great supporting players are relegated to a small role that amounts to little more than a framing device.

The plot is overly convoluted with twists and turns for the sake of having twists and turns, and every time that the bullets stopped flying, I lost interest. This is especially apparent near the end of the film when everything Shyamalans pretty hardcore. By the time the ending hit, I was mostly out of it.

That’s not to say it’s the worst film ever. I liked some of the more stylistic flairs like the titles displayed as spray painted Berlin Wall-esque touches, and the soundtrack is exceptional and worth listening to, but there just wasn’t enough outside the fight scenes to cling to, and Atomic Blonde suffers from it.

Overall, Atomic Blonde is mindless action, but its major detractors are its plot, and no film should have that noted. Charlize Theron does better than I expected again, and she is surrounded by capable players that have nothing to do.  The film quickly finds itself out of excitement and it isn’t something I see myself wanting to watch again.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

 

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[Early Review] Split (2016)

split2016a

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley

Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

 

Good, I needed to wash disappointment of The Bye Bye Man away…

In Split, the newest horror film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Visit), three girls are kidnapped leaving a birthday party and awaken in a strange and unknown room. Their kidnapper is Dennis (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Victor Frankenstein), a creepy and unstable man with an interest in watching girls dance naked. But it gets worse, because Dennis is also Patricia, a woman who strives for perfection and has a dark plan for the girls. Patricia is also Barry, who loves fashion and shows his sketches to his doctor, Karen Fletcher (TV’s Eight is Enough, The Happening). Dennis, Patricia, and Barry are just three of the twenty-three identities within one man, Kevin. As Dennis and Patricia put a plan into action to have the girls killed for a higher purpose, one of them, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, Barry) uses her wits in an attempt to free herself and the others before a 24th personality, known only as The Beast, is unleashed upon them.

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I didn’t see The Visit. The last film from Shyamalan that I partook in was The Last Airbender, so as I recall, the breakup was pretty rough. Well, I’m glad to say that, with Split, M. Night is back and at his most loony. Split is a fun, taut thriller that plays like something out of the annals of Tales from the Crypt. It begins with an interesting idea, slightly unhinged, with excellent and engrossing characters, and a twist that works so well and only adds to the fun of the film rather than take away like The Village did.

McAvoy is at the top of his game here as he is given the ultimate acting showcase, switching between identities at will without dropping a note. And each identity is given so much character and charisma that it’s easy to see who is in charge of Kevin at any given moment. That’s the real win with his performance. I look at films like Transformers (wait, hear me out) and it often becomes difficult to ascertain which character is which when all the robots are fighting because they all look so similar, but in Split, it is perfectly clear at all times, even when Kevin is having a disagreement with himself.

Supporting players Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley are also notably great. Taylor-Joy is really quickly rising up the fame ladder, appearing in 3 films of merit last year and The Witch the year before. She is impressively smart and skilled as Casey. Buckley has been a mainstay of film and television for some time stemming back to her first role in Brian DePalma’s Carrie. The level of gravitas only seeks to make the film more believable especially when it hits the height of its lunacy.

The film is not without its detractors. My fiancé, for example, who has a background in the medical field, found that the suspension of disbelief was too much for the central plot to work. I disagreed with her, but I do understand how someone more aware of Dissociative Identity Disorder might not buy in. For me personally, with my background and understanding of Shyamalan’s inspirations, it worked very well.

I didn’t enjoy having the 23 identities always tossed around when we really only get to meet 6 or 7 of them. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to at least glimpse the others at some point as it was an expectation I had due the constant reference to so many personalities. But I think 23 personalities sells better than 6 or 7.

I also wasn’t too keen on the ending, and I don’t mean the twist, which I enjoyed, but the ending itself. I felt like Casey’s flashbacks didn’t go far to add much to the plot, and I feel like it was really supposed to mean something, but it didn’t. The reason why the twist worked so well is because if you don’t get it, and trust me, not everyone will, but if you don’t get it, it doesn’t take anything away from the film. For attentive viewers, the payoff is worth it.

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Split was so much fun, and I really enjoyed that all the characters, including but not limited to the ones on McAvoy’s head, were so vivid and real and helped to ground the unreal story and keep the momentum. My frustrations didn’t ruin the experience for me at all, and in fact, I rather enjoyed the film and can’t wait to see it again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Split? What did you think? Let me know/Comment below!

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