Long Shot (2019)

Director: Jonathan Levine

Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, June Diane Raphael, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgard

Screenplay: Dan Sterling, Liz Hannah

125 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.

 

Long Shot kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t think anyone expected to be such a crowd-pleaser but reviews have been pretty solid for the film. I finally got a chance to catch it in the theater, and while I don’t it is ground-breaking comedy, it was still quite a chuckler.

Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron, Monster, Atomic Blonde) is planning on running for President when currently-seated President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk, Incredibles 2, TV’s Better Call Saul) decides not to attempt a second-term run. Charlotte’s biggest opportunity heading into the race is that she is considered cold and the public doesn’t connect with her, so when she comes across someone she knew from her youth, recently-out-of-a-job journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth, Rogen, This is the End, Like Father), she takes him on as her speech-writer to help connect her to voters. Then, as they work more and more closely together, they find that they each bring out the best of each other, but is Flarsky a liability for Charlotte’s White House run?

The term I would use to describe the central relationship of Long Shot is cute. I genuinely believed the chemistry between Theron and Rogen, and their scenes together were cute. I think director Jonathan Levine (50/50, Snatched) mined the relationship and the screenplay from Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah for some pretty solid comedy gold. This is a surprisingly good role for Charlize Theron, considering we haven’t seen much from her in a romantic comedy aspect. Yes, there have been films like Young Adult and Tully, but those roles have been much more tied into her dramatic performance than the guffaw-style laughs she goes for here.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a level of drama to Long Shot, but it is clear that the film is not taking itself as seriously as the films I have previously mentioned. It’s taking shots at our current political climate, lampooning and laughing at the current administration with its President Chambers, and Alexander Skarsgard (The Aftermath, TV’s True Blood) is rather silly and playful as the Prime Minister of Canada. Not everything works in the film, and some of the comedy dries up near the end as the film somewhat struggles to find its ending, but the last ten minutes were a fantastic finale that plays into its romantic comedy elements while also remaining somewhat unexpected.

The film also features a scene-stealing performance from the enigmatic and often-unrecognizable Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Peter Wembley, a media mogul who bought the paper that Fred previously worked for and also wants Charlotte on his team, politically-speaking. He doesn’t have a lot of scenes but every time he popped up, I lost it laughing. His performance is the best of the film, and some of the things he does are slimy as can be.

Long Shot limps a bit in its second act. It struggles to find its footing in order to get to a reasonably-satisfying conclusion, but thankfully it finds a great ending to land on, saving a fun romantic comedy that strives to be about more than just romance and comedy. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how successful it is in that respect, but I found it quite funny. I would temper your expectations for all the people saying it’s the best romantic comedy in years, but it works quite well all the same.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Rocketman (2019)

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

Screenplay: Lee Hall

121 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.

 

It’s about damn time we got an Elton John biopic, and boy was this one worth the wait.

Elton John (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sing), in classic biopic form, needs to go to rehab, and while he’s there, he recounts all the moves in his life that led him to this place, from his friendship with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot, The Adventures of Tintin) to his explosive working relationship with music manager John Reid (Richard Madden, Ibiza, TV’s Game of Thrones). In his recollection, Elton begins to see that the biggest obstacle in his happiness might just be the reflection in the mirror.

Rocketman might just be the best musical biopic I’ve seen in a long time, and perhaps the best one, though I’m speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed it and just saw it. Director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, Sunshine on Leith) has seemingly craft a film that is equal parts musical extravagance and true life biopic storytelling. The events are somewhat incorrectly placed on a timeline, but it is done in the service of the character and the story, and I didn’t mind. What Fletcher does so well in this film and in previous work is that he has such a flair for making his style its own character without sacrificing the story and characters. His style has the similar effect as what Quentin Tarantino does with his musical choices. He uses them to aid his characters. If he has a flaw in the film (and it’s really only a nit-pick), it’s that he goes full classic biopic by having the main character recount his entire life in rehab, a move that almost feels cliché now, but I brushed past it.

Taron Egerton is on fire here. It’s his best performance of a small but impressive career. He owns the screen in every scene, aided by John’s impressive wardrobe (someone start talking Best Costume Design here), but it is his performance, a richly-layered look at Elton John on the inside and outside, that is the biggest takeaway from the film. He blends into Fletcher’s visual storytelling so well, and the chemistry between him and the supporting players is astounding. Then there’s the singing (Egerton does his own in the film), which, although not sounding exactly like Elton John, aids the character he is playing and has a real feeling to it that doesn’t feel like he’s just trying to match someone else. I’d rather have it this way.

The supporting cast does a great job when not overshadowed by the grandiose nature of Elton John. I really like Jamie Bell and it is great to see him get some impressive moments to shine in conversations with Egerton. Richard Madden needs to be in more movies after work in Game of Thrones and Bodyguard, and he plays John Reid in such a menacing and cruel way that works well without seeming completely mustache-twiddlingly villainous. Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, A Dog’s Way Home) appears in the film in a physical transformation as Elton’s mother Sheila, and it’s some of her best work as well. Dexter Fletcher has a knack for collaborating and getting the absolute best from his actors, and it’s on full display here.

Rocketman has become my favorite film so far this year. It’s an impressive feat that showcases why filmmakers like Dexter Fletcher need to be getting more work, and it is a great standout performance from Egerton. See this one as soon as you can. This is one film we’ll be talking about for some time.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke

Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.

 

Well, Black Panther’s finally here. Compared to every other MCU film to date, Black Panther is one of the titles I hadn’t read until the film was revealed. Like Iron Man before it, I just didn’t know much about the character or the comic, but as soon as I heard about the adaptation and the inclusion of director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), I wanted to read as much as I could. Black Panther is under a lot of pressure to be good. Expectations have been abnormally high on this one. How did it turn out?

Picking up about a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall) arrives home in Wakanda to claim his birthright as King. He is reunited with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), an old flame who sees Wakanda’s secretive advances in technology as a tool to help the world, but T’Challa believes that revealing Wakanda for what it is puts the country in jeopardy and creates enemies. One such enemy is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, War for the Plane of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), a smuggler and arms dealer, has allied himself with the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), who has his own reasons for wanting to reach Wakanda.

Black Panther is one of the most-layered films in the MCU, and it excels in two areas that MCU films regularly fail: the villain and the music. First, the villain is an interesting and flawed character who has understandable motives in his ultimate quest. Just like Civil War before it, Black Panther presents a very interesting dilemma that has merits on both sides of the argument, and T’Challa is just as flawed with his decision as Killmonger.

The music is also a major step up from previous MCU films in that Black Panther has a theme, courtesy of Ludwig Goransson, and its complimented by Kendrick Lamar’s music supervision of the soundtrack. This film has a unique feeling that stands on its own while embracing the tightrope act of the larger MCU framework.

Coogler presents powerful themes in the film like Responsibility and Legacy. While T’Challa doesn’t want to lead from a throne, he is challenged by what has come before. He would rather be out hunting for Klaue himself. He looks up to his father but he is challenged by the difficult decisions T’Chaka had to make as king. T’Challa is forced to confront these difficult decisions and their aftermath, further conflicting his views on the legacy that his father left. The way he interacts with Killmonger, too, brings forth conflicts in identity and the question of nature vs. nurture in their lives.

I think Black Panther is a hell of a showcase of its principal cast. It’s proof of the incredible amount of top-notch performers of all races. Each role was cast with purpose, from Danai Gurira (The Visitor, TV’s The Walking Dead) as Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, an all-female team of protectors, to Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival) as Zuri, a spiritual figure in Wakanda who protects a special and powerful herb. Every performer in the film is so precisely cast that you couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. I was especially impressed with Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario) as W’Kabi, friend to T’Challa. Up until his role in Get Out, I did not know Kaluuya, but with such a small amount of screen time, he creates a lasting impression in the film.

For all the amazing things Ryan Coogler did with Black Panther, one cannot forget that this is a superhero movie in a crowded genre at the beginning of the year. He should be recognized too for the absolutely incredible experience of watching the film. Black Panther was downright fun to watch and be a part of. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d advise you to head to your theater immediately to see it in the largest crowd you can. This is probably my favorite film so far this year.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

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

For my review of Anthony and 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 James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

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

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

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

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

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2018oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]

 

I guess it’s true. No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. This movie was divided as hell, but does The Last Jedi deserve the hate or is it missing the praise?

Picking up moments after the events of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Only Yesterday) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Brigsby Bear, Bunyan and Babe) on Ahch-To to discover that he has abandoned the Jedi code to live out his days in quiet solitude. Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy) leads the resistance forces away from D’Qar as a First Order fleet arrives to take them. Now, they are on the run from First Order forces. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, Suburbicon) makes a costly mistake in the defense of the convoy and falls into a path of mistrust when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, Wild, TV’s Big Little Lies) assumes command of the Resistance forces. Now, as the First Order closes in, Finn and Poe attempt to save the convoy, Rey finds herself drawn ever closer to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, TV’s Girls) and the truth about her past.

Okay, so I’m not a Star Wars apologist. I find the prequels to be extremely middling in quality, and even though I love all the Star Wars films, I’m not above finding glaring issues that stick out. That being said…

I loved The Last Jedi. It completely changed the game and added so much to the mythology by driving the film forward rather than looking to the past. This is an incredible addition to the Star Wars Saga. Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) came to the table and took what J.J. Abrams created with The Force Awakens and pushed it further. It’s definitely not like its predecessor in that it isn’t how I expected it. In fact, that’s what I love most about the film. I walked into it with all these preconceived ideas about how the movie has to go, and I would say just about all of them were wrong. I love The Last Jedi because I was shocked and surprised when I watched it, and that hasn’t happened since The Empire Strikes Back.

The film’s performances and cast are top-notch yet again, particularly leads Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, this being her final Star Wars outing. Hamill could easily have been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars with his most subtle and tortured performance in his entire career. Skywalker is broken by his failure to save Ben Solo.

There’s also some really great work from Ridley and Driver, especially in their shared scenes. We see some darkness in Rey and some potential good in Kylo. It’s clear that these two have not fallen into their roles as enemies yet. There are some nice flaws showcased on both sides here.

I also have to say some about Andy Serkis (War for the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin) as Supreme Leader Snoke. He doesn’t get as much to do in this new installment, much like The Force Awakens, but the way he is utilized in this film is far superior to Episode VII. Unfortunately, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe) and Gwendoline Christie (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, TV’s Game of Thrones) feel shoehorned in as Maz Kanata and Captain Phasma, respectively.

But the film was always going to be divisive. I just wasn’t prepared for how divisive it would be. Even Mark Hamill expressed concerns to Johnson about the direction of the film, but after seeing the finished product, it sounds like he has since been won over.

And there are things I take issue with in the film, but they are merely nitpicky things like a particular Leia scene that comes across a little silly. There’s a moment early on with Luke that could have emotional impact but instead falls to cheap comedy. These are mere nitpicks and, in the scope of the film, this being the darkest film in the saga, I can understand the reliance on some levity.

The Last Jedi honors what has come before while also paving the way to what’s yet to come. It’s a unique Star Wars film, and it’s the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson’s attention to detail and the film’s connective tissue with the rest of the sage, including Rogue One, is just another reason that this film works as well as it does. With this film, Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) becomes the only actor to appear in all the Star Wars live-action releases. I unabashedly loved the theater experience of seeing The Last Jedi, so much so that I saw it an additional two times. See this movie. Three Times.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves

140 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes opens tonight, but I got a chance to catch it earlier in the week following a rewatch of the previous two installments. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one that I enjoyed, but it has since really grown on me a lot more. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one I already loved but seeing it again on the big screen only increased my respect of the film. So what about War?

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) returns to helm this third chapter in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. In it, Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Adventures of Tintin) leads a vengeful rampage after his home is attacked by a team of human soldiers led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson, No Country for Old Men, Wilson). Along the way, he comes across a mute little girl and a new ally nicknamed Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Fantastic) in his mission to take out the human threat, but he underestimates the horrifying tactics the Colonel is willing to use in order to save the human race and keep Earth from becoming a Planet of Apes.

Damn. War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. It’s so rare to find a trilogy in which each installment gets better and better, but this Caesar trilogy actually does it. Even the second and third installment, both from director Reeves, prove to be different films that each tell a different story with a different flavor. The first film is a film about the dangers of science and the mistakes of hubris. The second film is a Shakespearian tragedy about leaders trying walking a dangerous tightrope in effort to avoid conflict. With this third film, Reeves hits elements of classic Westerns while also hitting homage to Apocalypse Now and other classic war films.

The performance from Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn using motion capture is unmatched, as are the other MoCap performers, but it is the scenes Serkis shares with Harrelson that create electricity on the screen. You forget that you are watching a MoCap performance here, and it is incredibly engaging and moving.

There’s also the element of Donkeys that Reeves uses in the film. War features apes, remnants of Koba’s faction, who fight for the humans, termed Donkeys. The interesting parallels created by Reeves and co-screenwriter Mark Bomback are interesting, intense, and unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory.

War for the Planet of the Apes is another fantastic release in 2017. It is the end of an amazing trilogy, one of the best ever put to screen. You need to see this movie for its incredible performances, the gorgeous cinematography, and the unbelievable advances in motion capture. It’s an experience I’m not likely to forget, and with the exception of a little pacing in the second act, it’s a near-perfect film.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

For my review of Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] Spectre (2015)

 spectre2015a

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth

148 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Writing’s on the Wall”)

 

Well, let me assure you by saying that Spectre is the third best Bond film…featuring Daniel Craig (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin). Okay, I’m playing now.

Spectre opens with one of the single most impressive shots and sequences of the entire Bond franchise, due in large part to the masterful directing of Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Away We Go). Sadly, it is the film’s best moment, and while the rest of Bond 24 is exciting, it is missing something.

spectre2015b

James Bond has lost someone very close to him. In her place, he now has M (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Invisible Woman), who has bigger fish to fry when MI6 comes under political scrutiny. While M and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later…, Southpaw) try to protect the organization, Bond is off to discover the mysterious plans of the criminal syndicate known as SPECTRE, and his connection to its apparent leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Big Eyes). There are a lot of spoilers to stay away from, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Sam Mendes described Bond’s dedication to uncovering SPECTRE as a more focused passion, and if that is the intention, I did not see it. Daniel Craig feels bored in this entry.

Christoph Waltz brings a healthy dose of fear to the villainous Oberhauser, and his henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) feels nicely reminiscent of Oddjob from the glory days of Goldfinger, a much better version of homage than the way Die Another Day beats you over the head with it.

Fiennes, Harris, and Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, In the Heart of the Sea) as Q do their collective day’s work nicely, but the film rests far too much on a personal story for James, and Craig’s best work is when he is being tortured.

Director Mendes gives us a gorgeous Bond film, even after losing the incredible Roger Deakins to other projects. In his place, we get Hoyte van Hoytema, who does some better than expected work but fails to properly convey his visual medium to the story correctly. It isn’t easy, and he certainly tries.

In Bond girls, we get some of the most well-crafted Bond girling from Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and some of the most underutilized work from Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Revolutions, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).

spectre2015c

Maybe that’s the problem with Spectre. It’s just so uneven. There are some truly incredible sequences, and there are some snoozy moments. It just didn’t keep me the way previous entries have. Not a bad Bond film, but a step down for the franchise, its director, and Craig (who gave us better work this year in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; oh, you didn’t know that?).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Spectre? What’s your favorite James Bond movie? Let me know!

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