Gloria Bell (2018)

Director: Sebastían Lelio

Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Sean Astin, Holland Taylor, Chris Mulkey

Screenplay: Alice Johnson Boher, Sebastían Lelio

102 mins. Rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use.

 

Gloria Bell isn’t exactly a movie for me, but I found the trailer quite intriguing. I adore Julianne Moore (The Hours, Bel Canto), but part of me will always assume a movie about aging will be terrible. After all, so many of them are, and it wouldn’t have shocked me if Gloria Bell had taken a similar track. Thank God that didn’t happen.

Gloria Bell (Moore) is an divorcee in LA who spends many a night out at the nightclubs for older ladies and gentlemen, clubs that play songs from a more youthful time in Gloria’s life. Gloria seems very unsure of herself when she meets another divorcee, Arnold (John Turturro, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski), and is quite taken with him. As the two form a budding and affectionate relationship, though, Gloria starts to learn some strange pieces of information about Arnold and she wonders if the two have as close a connection as she is hoping for.

The film is, at its core, an emotionally powerful character piece about a woman searching for love of herself again and love for life. As I watched her in the nightclub scenes early in the film, you can see she is feeling herself in the music but not really letting loose or freeing herself up to it. She knows she loves it, and she loves a great deal of life, but after becoming single again and losing her children to their own respective journeys, Gloria is merely asking an important question: is there a point in starting over now?

This emotionally arresting character arc is made by Julianne Moore’s award-worthy portrayal. For someone like me, who may not truly understand this part of her journey as I haven’t had to experience it, I was taken in by her subtle and nuanced performance. There are layers to the way Gloria uses her line of sight in the film. I kept following Moore’s eyes as she examined the world around her, and I was enthralled by it.

The film, directed by Sebastían Lelio (A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience), remade from an earlier film of his, is a little by-the-numbers, and without a strong central cast, it may not have worked as well, but Lelio is very collaborative with his performers, and that may stand as to why the movie works. He has a vision that is palatable across languages and cultures, and he understands character, and that’s what makes Gloria Bell such an interesting character.

Gloria Bell works because of a director who lets his performers perform and doesn’t offer a ton of flair and a central performance that should not be underestimated. While the story is less memorable that it should be, it’s the journey of its lead that carries the audience, supported by a truly incredible cast that help Moore shine. This is worth checking out if you missed it and need a little self-love.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2017oscardeathrace] Hell or High Water (2016)

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Director: David Mackenzie

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan

102 mins. Rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Jeff Bridges) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]

 

Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, The Little Prince) is known most recently for two personas. The first is a hippie, as seen in his landmark role of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. The second: The cowboy. In Hell or High Water, from director David Mackenzie (Starred Up, Perfect Sense), we see the latter. That isn’t to diminish the role, far from it. In fact, each time Bridges personifies a cowboy, he brings something wholly new and unique to the role.

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Hell or High Water follows two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine, Star Trek, The Finest Hours) and Tanner (Ben Foster, Warcraft, Inferno), who become bank robbers to afford the reverse mortgage on their mother’s land, where oil was recently discovered. As the two brothers get hasty, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton comes onto the case with his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham, Twilight, The Space Between Us) to track down the masked robbers.

My big fault with Hell or High Water is the simplicity. There is an allegory about debt here that’s nice, but mostly, the film is pretty straightforward, and it didn’t really surprise me much in the way it played out. It was still quite enjoyable, and the performances from its main cast, particularly Chris Pine, who rises above preconceived notions to put out an award-worthy showcase. Foster and Birmingham are exceptional here as well, and Bridges earned his nomination, but for me, it just didn’t have that feeling of a Best Picture nominee.

An unexpected win for the film is it’s cinematography and editing, both top notch characters of their own, they elevate the simple story and are more than likely the main reason Hell or High Water was recognized with a Best Picture nomination. It is gorgeous filmmaking from David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario).

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I don’t want to give away the film’s climactic ending, but suffice it to say that this character piece is well-worth your time, especially for fans of modern westerns, a subgenre becoming more and more pronounced due to the talent contributing to it. Check out Hell or High Water, which slid under the radar for much of 2016; it deserves your attention.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness Monday] Still Alice (2014)

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Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parish

Screenplay: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

101 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Julianne Moore]

 

Well, there simply aren’t enough days during Oscar season to talk about movies. There aren’t. So, on the occasion when I feel like it, I’ll be talking with you on some Mondays about films the Academy has deemed worthy of admiration. Today, an Oscar winner from this most recent awards ceremony: Still Alice. So let’s begin.

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Alice Howland (Julianne Moore, The Big Lebowski, Freeheld), a brilliant linguistics professor, lives for her mind. Her world is that much more shattered when she is diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Now Alice must learn to lean on her family, including caring husband John (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and strained daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart, Twilight, American Ultra) as she slowly loses the parts of her that make up who she is.

Still Alice isn’t a perfect film. It has faults, to be sure. I find that the runtime could be shortened. A few of the character arcs are believable. A few of the story points are cliché. But none of that really matters.

This is Julianne Moore’s film. She controls the screen in perhaps her most captivating roles. She takes viewers on a journey with her as we see Alice slowly deteriorate in front of her family’s eyes. Seeing her in her place of zen, a cabin by the beach with husband John, struggling to remember where the bathroom is. The scene is heartbreaking. There is a difficult and triumphant sequence in which Alice attempts to give a speech on her disease. Her character’s emotional and physical transformations are on full display, and Moore’s nuanced performance carries this film, so much so that the problems I encountered bothered me a lot less.

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Still Alice is one of those difficult movies. Like Precious or 12 Years a Slave, it isn’t a film I like to watch. That doesn’t stop it from being an important and challenging piece, moving in its own right. Julianne Moore owns the screen and her statue due to an unparalleled and unstoppable command of the craft.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

King Kong (1976)

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Director: John Guillermin

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph

Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr.

134 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some people say nothing is off limits for a remake if you do it right. That’s true, but it doesn’t do anything to save me the pain from the remakes that are less-than-right. 1976’s King Kong is a remake that did some great things, but it also did some bad things. Today, we will dissect King Kong in all its cheese.

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King Kong follows a similar plot to its predecessor. A ship and its crew, on the search for petrol, comes across an uncharted island and a great ape who presides over it. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin, Beethoven, The Ex) sees opportunity for capital gain, while stowaway hippie-man Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son) wishes to protect the island and its inhabitants from the dangerous hands of man, while the beast known as Kong has his eyes set on the beautiful and exotic actress named Dwan (Jessica Lange, TV’s American Horror Story, Big Fish).

I find that the root of all the problems with the film stem from a flimsy and cheese-induced screenplay from Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Papillon, Flash Gordon), who has a shaky reputation for greatness. His screenplay has a lot of set-ups that flop and very few payoffs earned. For starters, the character Dwan, played by Lange, is awful. She is written to be annoying and unlikable, with no help from first-time actress Lange. It would seem that Kong’s entire infatuation with her is similar to the audiences: not a bad gal to gawk at. That’s about it.

I enjoyed Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin, who seem to understand the camp of the film they are a part of, though I still don’t think the tone of the film works at all. And then there is Bridges’ mane of hair, which comes off looking like 70s Teen Wolf mixed with The Lion King’s Simba. Seriously, did no one see him and giggle a bit, perhaps enough to realize that his look just was not working?

Now, as far as the ape goes, I like it. It mostly works well. I like the animatronics utilized here. I think the realism of the beast works enough, but the special effects of placing him in scenes get the size all over the place. Some shots he looks practically normal-sized while other sequences completely overload his presence. I still don’t really know the size that they wanted.

King Kong is probably the third best King Kong movie. That being said, it helped further the world of animatronics and for that it should be thanked. Just not very loudly.

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PS: If anyone out there uses editing software, can you create a video of Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott performing The Lion King soundtrack. Just a thought.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Iron Man (2008)

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Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Gwyneth Paltrow

Screenplay: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holiday

126 mins. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and adventure, and brief suggestive content.

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

So, let’s talk Iron Man, Marvel Studios’ first, and arguably biggest, gamble.

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes, The Judge) is a billionaire genius, a more asshole-ish version of Bruce Wayne. He is the ultimate playboy, in charge of his father’s company, Stark Industries, maker of weapons of all sorts. But when a routine weapon demonstration in Afghanistan leads to Tony’s being taken captive, Tony must use all his cunning and a little bit of luck to escape. He builds a suit of metal to make this escape, and in the process, Tony Stark becomes Iron Man.

Was there ever a doubt in my mind that Robert Downey Jr was the right man to play Tony Stark. He is the perfect embodiment of this character and just understands it to the extreme. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow, Se7en,  Mortdecai) is one of general endearment, complete sweetness. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son) gives a slightly over-the-top yet wholly understandable performance as Obadiah Stane, mentor and friend to Tony, a man who is out to protect Stark Industries from all threats.

Then there’s Terrence Howard (TV’s Empire, Prisoners). I don’t think Terrence Howard understands this movie, or in fact, this role. I just don’t think he gets that this is a good time at the movies. He’s far too serious at all the wrong time.

Jon Favreau (Chef, Cowboys & Aliens) directs this film with some perfect flair. Were I the heads at Marvel Studious (I’m looking at you Kevin Feige), I wouldn’t have trusted someone like Favreau to make or break my company with this picture, but that’s why I’m not making the big bucks. Jon Favreau gives this film a big style, everything here is crazily over-the-top, and the funny thing is how much it works.

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Now, the film does run on a bit, and Tony Stark is rather annoying for a bulk of the film, but this is still one of the funnest (that’s right, I said it) times at the movies. It isn’t my favorite of the Iron Man films, but the first in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a great place to start.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

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

The Giver (2014)

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Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Cameron Monaghan, Odeya Rush, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift

Screenplay: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence.

 

The hotly anticipated adaptation of the dystopian novel The Giver has arrived and initial response has not been great. What did I think? Well, wouldn’t you like to know?

The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus, Maleficent), who lives in a normalized version of reality set some time in the future. His world is one of plainness, of emotionless life filled with routine followed by more routine. It exists without color and without free thought. Life is good. Jonas is about to go through a life-changing ceremony along with friends Asher (Cameron Monaghan, TV’s Shameless, Click) and Fiona (Odeya Rush, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, We Are What We Are). This ceremony grants each of them jobs in their society, and Jonas has just been granted the most important role of all as Receiver of Memory, a role of passing down information from a man known only as The Giver (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski, R.I.P.D.), who has some very valuable information for Jonas.

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The Giver isn’t a bad movie as much as it is a rough one. I get the sense that this movie wasn’t fully completed. I also feel as though the book, through fantastic, was not made to be adapted. There is just too much that feels like it would work until you actually see it.

Jeff Bridges is wonderful in the titular role, and he should be, as he has been trying to get the film out of development hell for almost two decades. He even previously filmed a version using family members in the roles to prove that the film was doable.

We also get some great, though very underutilized work from Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada, Into the Woods) as the Chief Elder, a woman who has her own secrets and doesn’t really trust that Jonas will stick to the guidelines of his role, just like ten years previously when a young girl named Rosemary (Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day, The Lorax) failed as the Receiver of Memory.

Brenton Thwaites is passable, though very underwhelming at times. The saving grace is Odeya Rush as Fiona, a girl who helps inspire emotion with ease.

As for the parental units, Father (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s True Blood, The East) is pretty good while Mother (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, Jack and Jill) poses too many questions, the most important being, “How does Katie Holmes keep getting work?” Seriously, I haven’t seen a passable performance since…wait, give me a minute.

As for Taylor Swift, come on. Not good. Not horrible, but definitely not good.

This adaptation was trouble from the start. The entire civilization is without emotion so much so that watching it would be kind of boring. Then again, add any noticeable emotion and people will claim that it breaks its own rules.

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I personally enjoyed myself over all, but the film is not without its problems. That much I can promise you. I just keep thinking. It could have been so much more.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 2 – Urban Legend (1998)

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Director: Jamie Blanks

Cast: Jared Leto, Alica Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Tara Reid

Screenplay: Silvio Horta

99 mins.  Rated R for horror violence/gore, language and sexual content.

 

If I had to classify the 1990s with a specific kind of horror film, it would most definitely have to be the slasher film. In the 90s we had classics like Scream and its sequel, we had messes like I Know What You Did Last Summer, and we had Urban Legend, which exists somewhere in the middle.

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Urban Legend is essentially Scream in practicality, but instead of horror film staples as the moniker, we get urban legends, the scary stories that everyone swears happened to someone who knew someone they know. Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt, Two Weeks Notice, A Madea Christmas) gets entangled with the killer after several close classmates get picked off, but who is it? Is it Paul Gardener (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), the strange school paper writer, or is it best friend Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart, Jawbreaker, G.B.F.), or perhaps party king Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum, TV’s Smallville, Hit and Run), or could it be radio student Sasha Thomas (Tara Reid, The Big Lebowski, Sharknado 2: The Second One)? The answer is simple, if you know latin. In fact, in a SPOILER ALERT but not really SPOILER ALERT note, the killer’s identity is actually revealed in the school motto in latin.

The plot and slasher tool of Urban Legend isn’t all that bad. In fact, it can have some meta connotations in that the very belief of urban legend is that they are true, so turning fiction to fact would be a very interesting to play with, but screenwriter Silvio Horta (TV’s Ugly Betty) doesn’t play with it as much as just present the idea in its plainest of ways. That’s the real death of the story in that it is wasted. The main concept becomes little more than campiness on a stick.

None of the performances are very good, nor are any of the characters very likable. The greatest win of the acting in this film comes from the many cameos associated with horror films, from Brad Dourif (Chucky the killer doll) in the opening, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) as the professor everyone admires and fears, and Danielle Harris (Michael Myers’ niece Jamie Lloyd) as the goth dorm mate to Natalie.

Take an opportunity to enjoy the 90s soundtrack as it pulsates of musicians you might find at The Bronze from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The sets are interesting. I love the university, it just oozes creepy.

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My advice, watch this movie as it does have some thrills to it (the opening itself is nearly perfect) but be warned that it is far from far from perfect. You heard that correctly, far from FAR FROM perfect. That is twice removed.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more from the 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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