[#2017oscardeathrace] Fences (2016)

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Director: Denzel Washington

Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney

Screenplay: August Wilson

139 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay

 

You’d think, after 114 performances of Fences on the stage, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters, Antwone Fisher) might not to partake in a screen version, and you’d be wrong.

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Washington directs from a screenplay by the late August Wilson (The Piano Lesson) and also stars as Troy Maxson, a former baseball player in the Negro Leagues who now works as a garbage collector. Viola Davis (TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, The Help) is Rose, Troy’s wife, who does her best to keep the peace in the volatile Maxson home. Troy’s son from a previous relationship, Lyons (Russell Hornsby, TV’s Grimm, Something New), is always coming over asking for money that Troy doesn’t think he’ll ever pay back. Cory (Jovan Adepo, TV’s The Leftovers), Troy and Rose’s child, wants to be a professional football player, and he really has a shot at the NFL, but not if Troy has anything to say about it. Then there’s Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson, Con-Air, The Purge: Election Year), Troy’s brother, who suffered an injury in World War II and was mentally impaired by it. With all the happenings going on at the Maxson house, Troy focuses his attention on a fence extending around his property. But a simple fence doesn’t keep secrets and regrets and frustrations from releasing themselves and forever changing the entire Maxson family in the process.

I recall seeing Fences some years back in a smaller production and absolutely enjoying it, but this play has become Washington’s and Viola’s permanently. Each of them brings a gravitas and strength to the story that is shockingly heartfelt and heartbreaking. The chemistry between Troy and Rose is the best strength of the film.

Honestly, the most frustrating element of the film is Washington’s decision to copy and paste the play on the big screen. It’s a great play but it is not adapted into a film. Washington chose not to risk compromising any of Fences impact by not making it a movie, and for me, that’s where the film suffers. I’m not talking about fundamentally changing the way the story is, but there is zero attempt at creating a film. That being said, it’s a great play on film.

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Overall, Fences is a very important film which captures Wilson’s original story quite well. It doesn’t really try to adapt the play so much as copy it perfectly which has some issues for me, but the film is largely focused on its incredible performers, notably Davis and Washington. This is their movie and their story is an unforgettable one.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Nice Guys (2016)

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Director: Shane Black

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Screenplay: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

116 mins. Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

 

It’s a great feeling when an artist takes on a project so perfectly in his wheelhouse that it’s all you can think of. I’m a big fan of director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). My fandom is really from his writing, as I grew up watching Riggs & Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, a film written by Black. The franchise is very near and dear to my heart, partly due to the brilliant writing and realistic dialogue crafted by the writer. I also really enjoyed Black’s foray into the MCU with Iron Man 3, but when I heard he was heading back to the buddy-cop-ish genre he helped perfect, I was floored. Sure, our leads aren’t extremely likable guys, but it is their flaws that make them so fun to watch, and the decision to set The Nice Guys in the 1970s…well, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Holland March (Ryan Gosling, Drive, The Big Short) has been hired to find Misty Mountains, a porn star who actually died days earlier. His search for answers brings him into contact with enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe, Gladiator, The Water Diviner), who has been hired by one of the women Holland has been tailing. When the two discover something much more sinister is afoot, they join forces, and the unlikely pair, aided by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, Walking with Dinosaurs, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows), attempt to discover the connection between this dead porn star and a secretly made adult film featuring a now missing young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley, TV’s The Leftovers, Palo Alto) in 1977 Los Angeles.

The Nice Guys feels like a movie that so perfectly encapsulates Shane Black’s storytelling style, but it might be his riskiest movie yet. He takes several chances on pushing the envelope of the viewer and most (but not all) really work. Black has a gift of dealing with somewhat taboo subjects like porn without glamorizing or debasing them. There is a level of respect given to his seedier characters as well that doesn’t treat them any differently than how he’d treat any others.

In Crowe and Gosling I found the most unlikely chemistry from two leads that I’m likely to find this year. Both come from different cinematic backgrounds and mesh so damn well. Crowe is seemingly directed at being the lead here but it is Gosling’s performance that shines, and the way the two characters interact with Angourie Rice, who plays the young yet mature Holly March that shows the depths of Black’s character development range. The trifecta of characters are tested by a cadre of interesting secondary characters played by Matt Bomer (TV’s White Collar, Magic Mike XXL) and my personally proclaimed screen legend Keith David (Platoon, Cloud Atlas) in great supporting roles.

As a director, Shane Black is still fairly new, but he has tested the waters already and jumps right in, exploring some really interesting cinematography and musical choices that showcase the 1970s without throwing at you.

The flaws with the film? The editing is a little looser than it could be. Certain sequences should’ve been tightened a bit more to create a more cohesive pacing to the film. Black chooses to linger on some moments that I didn’t need him to linger on. There’s also a reveal at the end that I found both unsurprising and a little clichéd, something I didn’t expect to find here.

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The Nice Guys is a mostly fantastic romp through an often overdone time frame, but Shane Black chooses to populate his film with likably unlikable people and a few moments of genuine heart. It is the characters and their relationships with each other that drive this film to a pretty exciting conclusion. One can only hope that this has the making of a new franchise, and this reviewer would be more than happy to see the further adventures of The Nice Guys.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen The Nice Guys? What did you think? And what’s your favorite buddy pairing in film? Let me know!

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Director: Louis Letterrier

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell, William Hurt

Screenplay: Zak Penn

112 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action violence, some frightening sci-fi images, and brief suggestive content.

 

In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began in a silent but deadly fashion with two superhero releases: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. The former was a major box office winner and critical darling. The latter was largely dismissed, like every previous incarnation, and hasn’t been referenced much since, due in large part to the difficulties in crafting the film and the replacement of the title actor in The Avengers. The difference between this version of The Incredible Hulk and the previous 2003 film Hulk is that the 2008 film is actually pretty damn good.

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The film is presented in a “Requel” of sorts, chronicling Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, Fight Club, Birdman) and his journey off-the-grid. He has estranged himself from his love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler, TV’s The Leftovers, Armageddon). Betty’s father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt, Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), continues his obsession with finding Banner and tearing him apart. Ross enlists Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction, Selma), a military mercenary, to help hunt down Bruce. In the process, Blonsky is given some of the same gamma radiation that turned Bruce into the raging creature known as The Hulk.

First off, I’m not going to try and convince you that this is a Best Picture quality superhero film. It isn’t. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still, to me, a far superior film to Iron Man, but most won’t agree. I find Bruce Banner to be a more likable character. The relationship between him and Betty Ross is powerful and layered. I also find Tim Roth’s portrayal of Emil Blonsky to be a strong and villainous performance and it helped start the trend of strong villains in Marvel films. Director Louis Leterrier (Now You See Me, Clash of the Titans) even helped set up future villains in the process (though so far none of these have come to pass).

Norton’s portrayal of Banner is great, but the problem with him came from constant rewrites and the fact that Edward Norton is a terrible person to work with on a film set (see Birdman for more info). I can completely understand his replacement with Mark Ruffalo, though it still was a bad way to create this character.

As far as this film’s relationship to the MCU, there are references in there, but they are very quick and underplayed. A lot of references are found to Stark Industries in the opening credits. Then there is the major callback to Tony Stark in the final scene. There are also some moments of setup to the future Captain America: The First Avenger, even a cut scene revealing his fate. Captain America and The Incredible Hulk have a lot in common, so it helps to introduce both at the same time. We will get to finally see some more connective tissues in next year’s Captain America: Civil War when William Hurt returns as General Ross.

The majority of callbacks and references in the film actually highlight the long-storied past of the Hulk on film. There are many moments that call back The Incredible Hulk television series by way of the score and the cameos.

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The Incredible Hulk works as a Requel, meaning it could be a sequel if you enjoyed 2003’s Hulk. If you didn’t, it’s a great opening act. Director Leterrier isn’t anything special, but the film employs some great performances and a terrific screenplay from superhero screenwriter Zak Penn (TV’s Alphas, X2: X-Men United). If you skipped The Incredible Hulk when it came out, take some time to visit it. If it has been a while, take some time to revisit it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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

 

You can find Kyle A. Goethe on Twitter @AlmightyGoatman

[#2015oscardeathrace] Gone Girl (2014)

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Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon

Screenplay: Gillian Flynn

149 mins. Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Rosamund Pike) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) can really do it all. I’ve seen footage of him on set directing, and he knows his stuff. He understands the complex process of lighting, cinematography, editing, music, everything. Perhaps that is why his films are so totally tonally jarring.

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, Argo, Runner Runner) is about to celebrate his fifth wedding anniversary with wife Amy (Rosamund Pike, Pride & Prejudice, Hector and the Search for Happiness). When he arrives home after checking in with sister Margo (Carrie Coon, TV’s The Leftovers), he discovers that Amy is gone. The living room shows signs of a struggle, and the door is wide open. Now, the police are investigating and Nick is dodging questions and lying. He can’t explain his whereabouts when Amy went missing, and the media firestorm is heating up. So the question is: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?

The first thing I fell in love with in Gone Girl is the opening titles. I always look forward to a great opening from Fincher. The man knows how to set a scene, but in Gone Girl, we just got little flits of names, roughly half the time needed to read them. I missed a few even. They pop up and then boom!, they are gone, like the girl in question.

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Ben Affleck is absolutely perfect as suspected husband Nick. He plays the role so well, that it becomes entirely believable that he may have kidnapped and killed his wife. But did he? He plays both sides so well that it is impossible to know for certain until the answers come forth. When I saw Ben Affleck channeling the likes of Scott Peterson and playing to the faults and wins of Nick, I got chills.

Rosamund Pike isn’t so much a leading lady as she is a presence on the screen. Totally deserving of her Oscar win as the film presents Amy’s side of the story through journal entries chronicling the ups and downs of their love story. She commands her scenes.

Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s How I Met Your Mother, A Million Ways to Die in the West) is a creepy presence as Amy’s ex-love Desi, who has an alibi but to Nick seems to be hiding something nonetheless.

Then there is Tyler Perry (I Can Do Bad All By Myself, The Single Moms Club), who needs to do more acting in movies he isn’t directing. Seriously, I enjoyed the small screen-time he had in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, but he just nails it in the role of Tanner Bolt, a big-shot lawyer who takes on impossible cases like Nick’s.

I should also point out the great additions of relative newcomers Carrie Coon and Emily Ratajkowski. Coon is convincing as Nick’s sister Margo despite the age difference, and Ratajkowski plays to her strengths as the college girl who wants more from teacher Nick than just lessons.

The novel’s writer Gillian Flynn is responsible for adapting the screenplay, and she does well. Without losing the structure, she adapts the novel quite well, excelling at picking the right moments to adapt without just throwing the novel at the screen. The screenplay took some slashing before filming began, and perhaps it could have been tipped a few more times, but the pacing is still pretty solid.

The score, from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, their third collaboration with Fincher, works perfectly here. I enjoyed their work in The Social Network but felt that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo missed some cues that could’ve been more exemplified. It is equal parts tonally exhilarating and utterly unnerving.

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Gone Girl is a near-perfect adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel that stays true to it from every angle. Fincher is the perfect man to bring it, and Affleck’s manhood, to the screen. See this movie. You may love it, you may hate it, but one thing you can’t argue about, you can’t forget it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 7 – World War Z (2013)

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Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox

Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images.

 

Last year saw the release of World War Z, the adaptation of the book by Max Brooks (that is, son of Mel Brooks). World War Z, the book, was a written account full of transcripts, interviews, and news information pertaining to a worldwide outbreak of the living dead and the many people who contributed to finding a solution. World War Z, the film, is a bland and tasteless attempt at a popcorn flick with virtually none of the subtext of the novel for which it is based. There is one main character as opposed to the books cadre of first-person POVs.

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It stars Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds, Fury) as Gerry Lane, a scientist who just might be able to solve this epidemic, if only he would stop risking his neck and almost dying. We are talking about someone that allows his wife (played by Mireille Enos of TV’s The Killing and If I Stay) and children come dangerously close to death themselves because he cannot protect them. These are really unmotivated, undriven, and underdeveloped characters.

Matthew Fox appears in the film as Parajumper, a role significantly reduced by rewrites from Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods, Cloverfield) and Damon Lindelof (TV’s The Leftovers, Prometheus). Matthew Fox’s character was initially very multifaceted and was supposed to be setup as the villain for a sequel. He was so rewritten and removed from the film that he now has five measly lines of pseudo-exposition. The irony here being that both of these writers worked on Lost, and removed its star from this film completely.

The newly formed screenplay gleans very little from the novel, so much so that the film is practically unrecognizable at this point.

The only major win here is that this film featured Peter Capaldi as W.H.O. Doctor, an in-joke as the filmmakers were well aware of his appointment as the new Doctor Who. Kind of made me giggle.

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I hold out hope that the possibility of World War Z 2 may actually get it right, but I don’t know how long I can hope on that. Skip this disappointing fair. There are better zombies.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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