Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2021

Well, last year was…a little better…right?

Hello again, everyone! We’ve reached the end of 2021 and it’s time, just like every year, to discuss the best in movies from last year. 2021 was an overall improvement of a year, and I also happened to see a lot more movies in 2021 than the year prior. In 2020, I think I saw 30 movies. 2021 was a lot closer to 90.

More than anything else, 2021 was the year I got to go back to the movies. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that would happen. This year, the theaters reopened (and had movies to show), and I got vaccinated. To be honest, it was tough for me to even consider going to the movies again once they reopened until I was vaccinated. That’s not me preaching to any of you; it’s more me saying that I didn’t think I could lose myself in the movie without thinking of COVID.

That means I missed seeing theater-worthy movies like Godzilla vs. Kong, but I was finally convinced it was time to return to the cinema for Spiral: From the Book of Saw was released. Saw was such an important franchise for me, I couldn’t miss it.

Yes, I finally went back to the theater in June, and I haven’t looked back. It’s been a really solid element in my mental health to be back at the cinema (I’ve stated many times that the theater has been a place of solace for me when the world becomes too much to handle). I’m not alone in this regard, as audiences flocked back to the theaters back in the 30s in the height of the Great Depression. Well, 2020 and its sequel were rather Greatly Depressing, and I used the theater as a tool. Great movies or terrible ones, it really didn’t matter.

All of that is a long way of telling you that I saw a great many movies, and I feel better talking my Top Ten Films of 2021. So let’s not waste any further time and get right into it.

Now, in order to properly begin, we have to state the obligatory forewarnings:

  • I did not see every film released in 2021. In fact, there are still a few films released very quietly in 2021 that many reviewers have not been able to see, like The Tragedy of Macbeth and Cyrano, and I am unable to include those films in my list. If you know of a film that belongs on this list but you don’t see it, it just means I didn’t see it…that, or it doesn’t belong on my list.
  • On that note, this is my subjective list, not yours, and not objective whatsoever. They are MY personal picks for best of the year. These are the films that spoke to me as a filmgoer. There are better made films that came out in 2021, and there are some films on this list that did not get Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and quite a few that will miss the Academy’s selection process for Oscar-worthiness. They are MY picks and mine alone, so don’t be upset if a film is on your list that isn’t on mine. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
  • Along with all that, I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So let me know by commenting below with your Top Ten Movies of 2021 (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.

Alright, without further adieu…

  1. The Sparks Brothers

-In less than 2 1/2 hours, Edgar Wright turned me, someone who had heard one Sparks song but couldn’t even connect it to the band, into a lifelong fan who spent his entire summer listening to the band as if he was trying to play catchup for time lost. His documentary is equal parts biography, concert film, and fever dream, and it all seems to work quite well. It’s also an incredibly watchable film, an entertaining instruction manual on first watch and a celebration of the band for those viewers who had discovered the incredibly prolific but under-appreciated musicians.

  1. Spencer

-Who would’ve guessed that the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart would end up being a horror-thriller Christmas film? Well, okay, it isn’t so exact as that, but this is a Christmas-set “biopic” that is less concerned with the details and minutiae of a life’s timeline and more set on a story that captures the character and person that Princess Diana was. Set during the last holiday season of her time involved with the royal family, the film sees Diana breaking apart at the seams while she struggles to maintain a strong face for the sake of the Crown. She’s there for her children, the one piece of her life in this world that still has good in it. I also have to credit the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, a piece of acting prowess that captures her spirit and soul more than her mannerisms and speech patterns, but I was completely lost in her performance and never once doubted that I was seeing Diana on the screen. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the unsung actor from the film, Sean Harris as McGrady, the Royal Head Chef, and one of the best scenes of the year, in which McGrady confesses how the staff really feels about Diana, and don’t forget the single best needle-drop of the year as the film comes to a close.

  1. The Last Duel

-Ridley Scott dropped two bangers in 2021, and one of them ended up on this list. I didn’t have the highest hopes for The Last Duel because, for me, Ridley Scott can get a little divisive. Every film he makes, the film gods flip a coin. As bonkers as House of Gucci ended up, The Last Duel is an elegant and intense view at altered perspectives done in the style of Rashomon. I have minor faults with a few elements in the overall film, and I argue that “kids-on-their-phone” is so old man and silly. The reason that The Last Duel underperformed is that we are in the middle of a pandemic and many filmgoers are forced to make choices of what they want to watch. Several great films slipped between the cracks this year, and a movie that portrays a rape (not once, but twice, mind you) may not be the type of film that audiences wanted this year. That’s one of the factors why a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home did so well this year while bleaker fare like Nightmare Alley and The Last Duel struggled to find a presence. Beyond all that, though, the film is fantastic. It’s a tough sell to do a film that covers a painful and intense event from multiple viewpoints. You have to keep the film fresh while essentially telling the same story. Scott’s film teases us with the titular duel and then presents these views in a captivating way, and each retelling sought to alter the narrative in interesting ways.

  1. Dune

-I try not to hinge my thoughts on one film based upon another, but it’s nearly impossible to do so in the case of Dune, or Dune: Chapter One, or whatever it will eventually be called. We knew going into this film that it would be an adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, but we also went into it knowing that the second half of this story was uncertain. It’s a lot of baggage to carry for a single film, and that’s not even diving into the quality of the film itself. Well, Denis Villeneuve surprised us all yet again by turning the oft-believed-unfilmable novel into a science fiction masterpiece on the level of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Well, potentially one day, but it’s a beautiful and elegant masterpiece of cinema nonetheless, but it needs to be stated that this is the first half, and it carries a level of understanding. Dune was not filmed back-to-back with its sequel like Back to the Future II & III or The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions or even the previously mentioned epic production of The Lord of the Rings. Dune was also not handled like the recent 2-part It adaptation. With that film, had we not gotten It: Chapter Two, the first film would stand on its own. Dune: Chapter One hinges on that sequel more than any other two-parter that I can recall. Had that sequel not been announced, I’m not sure this film would be on this list, but it was announced, and it will (likely) happen. With all that, I can’t wait to see this story come to an end and rewatch the first film a bunch when it drops on home video.

  1. The Suicide Squad

-Okay, I trust James Gunn to make a solid and entertaining film, and I trust the recent moves of the DCEU (overall, I’ve been positive on most of the universe, but the recent stuff has been the best), but I didn’t expect nearly as entertaining a time as I got with The Suicide Squad. Early reviews were very positive, and when I finally caught the film at a press screening, I was initially worried the hype was too hyped. Nope, this is an excellent time at the movies, a mean-spirited and bonkers action film that has shades of gritty 70s action pictures. Essentially, Gunn has made a big-budget Troma film, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life with his characters. A more stacked cast than his previous Marvel films, he’s able to give each of his “Squad” a moment to shine. By shine, I’m referring to debauchery or sin, but you get what I mean. The Suicide Squad is a wild ride of entertainment that, dare I say it, is damn beautiful and makes me excited for Peacemaker later this month.

  1. Candyman

Candyman was the last new movie I saw in 2021, and I’m surprised to see it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original film quite a bit, but I did not expect the hit on this legacy sequel just waiting for me to watch it. A little context for you: I’m big on franchises and I don’t like the idea of the legacy sequel (it feels lazy and oftentimes falls into the same pitfalls as the films it ignores), and the only reason I waited on Candyman 2021 was that I hadn’t watched Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead, so last week, I binged the whole franchise, and I must say, this newest film is the best film in the series by a stretch. The clever screenplay, co-written by Jordan Peele, paired with the picture-perfect directing from Nia DeCosta (I can see why she was so quickly snatched up by Marvel). It’s a legacy sequel that chooses to build on the mythology in a way that doesn’t retcon anything that came before but instead decides to add and validate what came before while challenging the history of the series at large. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and thought-provoking to the very ambitious ending.

  1. Halloween Kills

-This is the part when everyone stops reading, so let me remind you that this is a subjective list, and I would be wrong not to put Halloween Kills on the list. I’ve said it before, but Halloween is my all-time favorite horror film, and I have a special place in my heart for the rest of the franchise, convoluted and deeply-flawed though they may be. For Halloween 2018, I was interested but, as stated above, I don’t like the retcon aspect. All that being said, I get why the rest of this franchise was retconned, as most audiences did not keep up with the mythology as much as I did, and trying to make sense of it all would’ve been a bit of work. Also, Laurie Strode was dead in the previous films. Well, I saw Halloween 2018, and it is easily the best-made film since the original, but I felt like it was more of a Greatest Hits album of Halloween, sending up a mashup of great scenes and references from the other non-canon entries, but really not doing a whole lot to distance itself. Well, I revisited Halloween 2018 right before Kills came out, in what amounted to a quick trilogy binge (1978/2018/Kills). Halloween Kills, while being less-polished than David Gordon Green’s previous film, is all the better for its ambition. Sure, it does tread some of the same waters and ideas, but it uses them in a wholly different way. Here, we see Haddonfield as a real town full of interesting characters (I love that many of the background characters of 2018 show up again in Kills), and it’s a town dealing with its trauma in an unhealthy way. This sequel speaks to the question of how we react to fear, and it pushes the Halloween story into delightfully bloody new directions while making its predecessor much better and more palatable as a chapter in Green’s story.

  1. The Green Knight

The Green Knight was a movie that almost seemed to not want me to watch it. It didn’t have a lengthy run at my local theater, and the weekend my wife and I had planned to see it ended up with me self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID because I was very sick. I ended up being negative but by the time I ended up feeling better, we didn’t have a free night to see it, so we missed its theatrical run. Thankfully, I ended up with a 4k copy of it, and I was actually able to watch it. Also thankfully, the movie is excellent. The way The Green Knight takes the classic fable and legend and reconfigures it to fit David Lowery’s filmmaking sensibilities and give us a Gawain who is essentially a hopeful hero without any heroic skills, a leader who only takes the killshot because he can, a man who cannot take responsibility for his actions and flees at the sight of danger. It’s also a technically stunning piece of medieval fantasy with terrific performances and a haunting visual aesthetic. If you missed it like I did, rectify that immediately.

  1. Belfast

-There’s an argument out there that Belfast is not as hard-hitting and serious as the events it is depicting require, and I can understand it. The reason the film works for me is that it’s not about those events specifically; it’s about the family at the center of it, specifically young Buddy (played by newcomer Jude Hill). Seeing these traumatic events through the eyes of a child was something very effective for me. For Buddy, everything going on in his world is strained through the filter of his family, and that’s all he wants. He wants things to go back to normal, he wants to stay in Belfast, he wants his life to go in the direction it has been up to now. That’s his reckoning in the film, and it’s a small story against a big backdrop, and it was a joyful (as joyful as it could be, given the surrounding political unrest of the time) coming-of-age story that I want to share with my family, friends, everyone.

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

-No, I’m not a Marvel fanboy saying it is better than everything ever made without discussion ever. The last time I had a Marvel film on my Top Ten, it was back in 2011 and it was Thor. If you look at my list, there’s a good number of acclaimed films in Oscar contention as well as some really entertaining popcorn movies. Shang-Chi is the best of both worlds, and if there were to be a superhero film in the Best Picture race, it would be Shang-Chi. The film has an important cultural touchstone, and it showcases a terrific starring turn from Simu Liu as the titular hero, but the film has so much more. It has a terrific friend/potential love interest in Awkwafina, and it has one of the MCU’s best villains in real Mandarin Xu Wenwu. The film has loads of excellently-choreographed action, nods to wuxia, and it plays off one of the MCU’s best arcs in the Mandarin, especially with how the character ties to Iron Man 3. I even find the finale to be much more than a CG mess that most superhero fare gets lost in. Shang-Chi ends with a bang, but it is character-driven all the way through. Gosh, I can’t wait for a sequel to this film. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is all-around excellent, and it’s my favorite movie of 2021.

There you have it. My Top Ten Films of 2021. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. What are your favorite movies of last year? Leave your favorites below! See you next year.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 1 – The Frighteners (1996)

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
110 mins. Rated R for terror/violence.

Happy October! We’re back with the 31 Days of Horror, and while we may not actually take Manhattan, it’s been 8 years of this event that I look forward to for 11 months, and this year especially, I have a number of treats in store and so much more expanding to the site and what I’m hoping to add to the YouTube channel as well, so check that out. Let’s start with an absolute classic (at least, to me it is) with The Frighteners!

Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox, Back to the Future, See You Tomorrow) has quite the career. He makes his money staging hauntings at local homes and then going in to exorcise the ghostly presence and make some quick cash. Sure, the ghosts are real, and Frank can really see them, and a good portion of locals see Bannister as a con man, but when he discovers a presence that appears to be the Grim Reaper on the killing spree in town, Frank will have to work alongside his ghostly friends and a newly-widowed resident to discover who is responsible, and hopefully put a stop to them. He’s also trying to evade an unhinged FBI agent, Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs, Re-Animator, Unbelievable!!!!!) who seems to have a vendetta against Frank.

I discovered The Frighteners when I first came across the magnificent VHS cover as a youth perusing my old video store. It had a 3D effect of a creepy ghost fact protruding from the box, and I knew I had to see this movie, and I was not disappointed. This movie is full of that enjoyment factor, something that director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, They Shall Not Grow Old) has cultivated throughout his entire career. Beyond anything else, his films are engaging and exciting. He also has a notable ability for world-building, and there’s plenty of that at play in this film. Sure, it isn’t a Middle Earth-worth of world-building, but he and co-screenwriter Fran Walsh have built a town on the water with a multitude of interesting and odd characters and an inversion of the classic ghostbuster-type story. The inclusion of this Grim Reaper killer and a wealth of foreshadow and mystery elements make for an exciting and worthwhile whodunnit, and sure, in hindsight perhaps it feels a bit on-the-nose of a mystery, but when I was younger, I didn’t put it all together until the very end. In that way, the film is a lot like Malignant, with so many exciting reveals that you may catch a few, but not all of them, and the pace moves along so well that figuring out some of it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment factor.

This was Michael J. Fox’s last leading role in a feature film, as he became too disillusioned with being away from his family for so long. From here on, he moved onto television with Spin City. It’s too bad because the role of Frank Bannister works so well because of Fox’s inherent ability to translate very unusual characters and settings in a realistic way. He took that on with Marty McFly, and he took that on with Frank Bannister. The two have that classic Fox charisma, but there is a lot of heavy lifting to both, and I don’t think either film would work as well with another actor in the role. Bannister isn’t always likable, but Fox makes him consistently interesting and engaging.

The rest of the cast is filled out nicely with well-layered character performances. No one but John Astin (What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole, TV’s The Addams Family) could possibly play The Judge, a long-dead gunslinger with a Yosemite Sam approach to gunplay. Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, DIVOS!) is an inspired choice as the demented Johnny Bartlett, a serial killer searching for a high score (side note: I met Busey at a convention a few years back, and I can conclude that his acting abilities are quite strong, as he is known for his villainous personas, but is generally one of the nicest people I’ve met in the business). There’s a cemetery-bound Drill Sergeant in the film that wouldn’t have worked well with anyone outside of R. Lee Ermey (the role was written to satirize his character in Full Metal Jacket). It also seems like Jeffrey Combs was just told to do whatever he wanted with Milton Dammers, as his secondary antagonist is one of the most disturbing and unusual I’ve ever seen put to film.

From a technical perspective, The Frighteners represents an end of Early 90s horror films, whereas Scream, which came out a few months later, would mark a turning point for the decade. Jackson’s film is nicely shot, but it has a sleepy town visual aesthetic more in line with the works of Stephen King’s Derry and Castle Rock, and it just looks more classically eerie. The pacing is quick and consistently evolving the narrative. Just like From Dusk Till Dawn’s genre switch, The Frighteners makes a hard turn into horror from the more darkly fantastical comedy that the movie starts as. This couldn’t have been done with the steadily built narrative that takes its time getting the viewer adjusted to the world (I would recommend the Director’s Cut, but both versions do this well), and the editing that holds the framework together. In fact, the tone makes sense for a film that was almost a Tales from the Crypt movie. The score is memorable and fitting, and it evolves with the narrative.

The Frighteners holds a distinctive place as being one of the most CG effects-laden films at that point, and when the amount of effects work became apparent to Peter Jackson as he prepped for the film, he just said, Buy More Computers! Weta Digital, his effects workshop, went from 1 computer to 35 in the span of making this film. In fact, because of this wide-scale purchase, Jackson had to find a use for these computers once post-production was complete, and it was there that he settled on the idea to make a fantasy epic as a follow-up, so we wouldn’t even have The Lord of the Rings without The Frighteners.

That’s really the only place I could fault the film. In the years since The Frighteners has been released, CGI has moved at a rampant pace, and not all of the effects work as well. They have an endearing quality to them still, and some have held up quite well, but there are moments where the age of the movie is noticeable all the same, and we have to look at it through the lens of time to see if it still holds up today. Thankfully, the more bombastic tone of the narrative doesn’t get bungled up by the aged effects, but they are there still, and it could turn some viewers away.

Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners is an excellent little horror movie that showcases that further transition from Splatstick horror like Dead Alive and Bad Taste to the more mature and thoughtful execution of The Lord of the Rings and King Kong that Jackson would go on to. I absolutely adore this film and it’s a staple in my home to this day. I would recommend checking out the Director’s Cut, if you can, as it offers a bit more world-building and expansion on the story, but both cuts are well-worth your time, and outside of some aged effects, the movie holds up.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe


For my review of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.
For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

[Hobbit Day] The Hobbit (1977)

Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr.

Cast: Orson Bean, Richard Boone, Hans Conreid, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Cyril Ritchard, Theodore, Glenn Yarbrough, Paul Frees, John Stephenson, Don Messick, Jack DeLeon

Screenplay: Romeo Muller

77 mins. Rated TV-PG.

 

It’s still interesting to me to hear that most film fans, even fans of the Peter Jackson films or the J.R.R. Tolkien novels, are unaware that they were previously adapted: The Lord of the Rings into two animated films of drastically different tones in The Lord of the Rings and The Return of the King, and The Hobbit into the film we are going to talk about today. I’m not talking about short films or student films or experimental pieces like Leonard Nimoy’s Bilbo Baggins song (it exists). No, it’s a TV movie released in the 1970s from those guys that made all your favorite Christmas specials, but now, over 40 years later, there’s are some interesting comparisons and contrasts to Jackson’s films. They are uniquely opposite interpretations in execution and finished product, but these older, almost forgotten takes on Middle Earth still carry a lot of weight.

You know the story, but I’ll remind you again. In the Shire, there lives a comfortable enough Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Orson Bean, Being John Malkovitch, InnerSpace) who is rather happy with his cozy uneventful existence, as many Hobbits are, and he is looking for no reason to change it. Everything changes, though, when he is visited by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Chinatown), who enlists his burglary skills (of which he has none) to help Thorin Oakenshield (Hans Conreid, Peter Pan, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) and his band of dwarves to reclaim their home and their dwarven treasure from the villainous and greedy dragon, Smaug (Richard Boone, Vicki, Hombre). Along this journey, Bilbo will encounter trolls, goblins, and a frightening creature by the name of Gollum (Theodore, The ‘Burbs, Nocturna) who carries a nifty magic ring.

The first noticeable difference between this film and Jackson’s trilogy is just that. One is a film running just under 80 minutes, and the other is a three-part film series that comes in (extended cuts and all) at just over nine hours! For many people, Jackson’s Hobbit films are bloated and stuffed with pieces that were unnecessary. They believe that the films are simply too long and undeserving of a full trilogy of films to tell their story. To that extreme, I’ll throw back The Hobbit 1977, a film that I believe loses a lot of its grandness in swiftly running through events like a checklist. This Hobbit interpretation is too short. I personally like the heft of Jackson’s trilogy (yes, flawed as they are, if I enjoy a world, I could live there forever), but I will attest that neither adaptation perfected the length of their story to match Tolkien’s.

There’s also the animation aspect. I’ve always preferred live-action, but the Rankin/Bass animation of this version is rather endearing and warm. There’s a certain charm to the animation style of The Hobbit (though I also prefer Bakshi’s batshit crazy Lord of the Rings animation style), and it works to better effect here than in The Return of the King.

I like the voice cast of our central players. Orson Bean is a positively inspired choice for Bilbo Baggins, and John Huston’s take on Gandalf works wonders (it’s also different enough from Ian McKellan’s take on the character to allow both versions to flourish nicely). The consistently unusual performer Theodore does fine work as Gollum in a role that I wouldn’t have thought to work from a performance angle. I’m just not a fan of the flat characterizations of the company of dwarves. Don Messick (The Last Unicorn, Pufnstuf) and Jack DeLeon (Temptress, Allyson is Watching) voice most of the dwarves and we just don’t get much time to care that they’re on the journey with us. It asks the question of why we care about anyone else on the journey except for Bilbo, Thorin, and Gandalf. Not enough time is delegated to any of the secondary dwarves in this adaptation, but they are there anyway because that’s how the book did it. I understand as well that the book didn’t always give a lot of attention to the secondary dwarves, but if you can’t make them compelling characters, just don’t put them in the movie. It’s an adaptation, not a translation.

Among all that, I still quite liked The Hobbit. It’s a good family-based version of events, and without the Jackson films to compare with, it’s cute and warm and enjoyable. Sure, it’s a nearly forgotten take on Middle Earth, but I find that I keep coming back to it, flaws and all, and enjoying myself. I think you could too.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, click here.

For my review of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.’s The Return of the King, click here.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action.

 

Well, we’ve come to the end, haven’t we? I guess, in the grand scheme of things, this is the third end, but who is really counting? With Episode IX, the Skywalker Saga has come to an end…for now, at least. Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) came on to an impossible task of ending the nine-film saga, the sequel trilogy itself, and make a less-divisive film than The Last Jedi. He also had to work around the death of one of his stars, Carrie Fisher (Maps to the Stars, TV’s Family Guy). He also had the, perhaps unfair, perception that he’s much better at starting a story than finishing one. So with all that, is The Rise of Skywalker the perfect film that delivers on all of its goals. As it turns out, it’s more of a mixed bag.

It’s been a year since The Last Jedi, and the crumbling resistance fighters have gained a few additions but still pale in comparison with the size of the dreaded First Order, now under the leadership of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Paterson, Marriage Story). Now, a strange message has been sent across the galaxy, seemingly coming from the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, The Lost City of Z, Sleepy Hollow), and it’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express, Ophelia) and her friends to discover his location before he unleashes his new Final Order upon the galaxy.

I think the best way to describe this final film in the Skywalker Saga is “Great Story, Poor Execution.” I had loads of fun in this movie, and I quite enjoyed the experience when I saw it a second time, but there are a lot of strange choices made, particularly in the screenplay and the editing, that I just didn’t understand. I don’t need everything explained for me in a movie, but some of the plot progression happens just because…

The inclusion of Carrie Fisher in this film had to come as a difficult decision. Ultimately, Abrams decided to utilize unused footage from The Force Awakens to create a performance for Leia in the film. Does it work? Kind of. I still stand by my thoughts that it would have served the character and the story better to just not have Fisher in the film and announce in the opening crawl that “Our princess has passed” or something similar. I think for what he tried to do, I can commend Abrams for getting Leia in the film, and the second viewing softened my criticism in the realm of Leia.

Adam Driver is absolutely stellar as Kylo Ren. I don’t agree entirely with the route taken in this film with Kylo Ren, but Driver’s performance sold me on it. Again, Kylo’s arc is one I felt would be better going one way, but the filmmakers decided to take it the expected route. Overall, he surprised me yet again as Ren.

J.J. Abrams did manage to get the galactic Scooby gang together for a bulk of this film. It was crazy to me that Rey and Poe (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina, The Addams Family) met for the first time officially in The Last Jedi at the end of the film. The Last Jedi also managed to keep most of our heroes separate for a bulk of the runtime, so it’s great that they are all on a journey together. These areas are where a bulk of the lightheartedness of the film takes place and elevates what could be a very dreary story.

Daisy Ridley’s arc as Rey is another tough one to pull off, and I think her performance rises above expectations because of Ridley’s inherent charm onscreen. She’s a fun character and one that the audience has no problems rooting for. Again, there are some twists and turns to her character arc, some I did not expect and didn’t think would work, and they mostly did.

As far as legacy characters go, no one had a better showcase in this film than C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle, The Lord of the Rings). This is 3PO at his most funny and probably most utilized since the first film. Anthony Daniels continues to prove why this franchise continues to go to the C-3PO well.

The rest of the cast all perform ably, and any faults can be attributed to the screenplay. Newcomers Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth, Yardie) and Keri Russell (Waitress, TV’s The Americans) are both quite entertaining, but their characters seek only to convolute an already bloated screenplay. The subplot involving General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, Frank, Peter Rabbit) and General Pryde (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is well-acted, but it didn’t need to be in the film and is ultimately meaningless. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams (The LEGO Batman Movie, The Man in 3B) back as Lando Calrissian, but he isn’t given a whole lot to do, and one wonders why he wasn’t included earlier. It seems odd for him to just show up now.

Ian McDiarmid’s return to the franchise does give an overall feeling of cohesiveness to the saga, but Palpatine’s plans for Rey and Kylo just don’t really make sense all around. I love the visual look of Palpatine and the environment he appears in (in fact, some of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused concept art from decades ago was put to good use here), but again, it feels like lazy storytelling and I didn’t get the sense that there was detail in the screenplay because the story lacked a lot, not in how Palpatine is back, but why he waited until now and how he manages to do what he does in the film.

I think the problems of The Rise of Skywalker all stem from the fact that Lucasfilm did not have a plan for this trilogy. By not putting the three directors in a room with someone like Dave Filoni who can offer guidance in crafting a cohesive long-form story. Not having a plan forced Abrams to do a lot of heavy lifting here and it created a film with an interesting and exciting finale that lacked direction because so much is jammed into a movie. Having Chris Terrio as a writer may also have created some problems in the screenplay. While I think Terrio is quite talented, he seems to have a lot of trouble with franchise storytelling, most notably from his tie working on the DCEU. It also feels like The Rise of Skywalker would have fared batter as a three-hour film. That and tightening up the MacGuffin-filled narrative would have helped the film to be more successful in its execution.

I still think The Rise of Skywalker turned out better with Abrams than it would have with Colin Trevorrow behind the wheel. The number one thing here is whether the film is entertaining an enjoyable, and problems and nitpicks aside, there’s a lot to love in this finale. The film is filled with fun surprises, callbacks and appearances, and the score from John Williams is absolutely awe-inspiring. A better screenplay and some more cohesive editing could’ve helped quite a bit, but this is a hell of an action-packed conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.

 

3.5/5

-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 Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, 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 my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

Lord of the Rings TV Series Begins Casting

Little is still known about the Lord of the Rings series over at Amazon, but casting has officially begun, something that should shine light on the upcoming project.

Variety is reporting that Markella Kavenagh is being looked at for a role in the fantasy series as a character named Tyra, though that it all the information given and it isn’t know if Tyra is a human of one of the many other creatures in the vast world of Middle Earth.

JD Payne and Patrick McKay are developing the series with Bryan Cogman of Game of Thrones as a consultant. J.A. Bayona will be several episodes.

For me, I know very little about Markella Kavenagh, but I like that they are searching out people who may not be household names for two reasons. This show will be very expensive, and this will be great at keeping costs down. Also, this will help ease audiences back into Middle Earth because they won’t keep seeing big names everywhere. Still, Tyra may not be the lead, so who knows?

All the same, I think this is a good sign, and I’m hoping for the best. I loved The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, so I am quite excited to revisit this world.

So what do you think? Is this a smart casting choice for The Lord of the Rings series? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Mortal Engines (2018)

Director: Christian Rivers

Cast: Hera Hillmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action.

 

So if you look back at my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 List, you will find that the final spot on that list was given to Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel by Philip Reeve and the first of a series of stories. I saw the teaser trailer at an opening night screening of The Last Jedi, and I didn’t know what to think initially. It was a crazy few moments of giant city-like machines chasing each other. I’d never read the books and had no context to place the film other than the name Peter Jackson. That was enough for me.

Mortal Engines follows Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, Bad Samaritan, TV’s Love/Hate), an apprentice historian from the giant “predator” city of London. Tom once dreamt of more with his life before the death of his parents, but now he resides in pillaging through the garbage of cities London has ingested. Now, when a mysterious woman makes her way into London and attempts to kill Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Hacksaw Ridge), Tom finds himself embroiled in their feud as he learns a horrible secret from the woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hillmar, Anna Karenina, An Ordinary Man), that changes his view on everything. Now, he and Hester are searching for a way to stop Valentine from unearthing a great weapon while being endlessly pursued by a Stalker from Hester’s past named Shrike (Stephen Lang, Avatar, TV’s Into the Badlands).

The greatest strength of Mortal Engines comes down to its world-building. This is a fully realized environment, one that I really enjoyed spending time in. This of course comes from Philip Reeve’s source material, aided by the powerhouse writing team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones). I craved more information and wanted more time to be spent here in this world.

Though the world itself is really well built, it is inhabited by flimsy characters. I didn’t really get any of Valentine’s motives for his actions in the film, both in flashbacks and present. I didn’t really feel like any of the characters were likable enough to connect to or interesting enough to keep myself invested. They are people just kind of doing things for two hours.

There was so much more I wanted from this film. I feel like the biggest mistake was keeping such a short prologue at the beginning to set up the story. There is a voice recounting the Sixty-Minute War in shockingly lack of detail that it doesn’t really serve its purpose. An effective prologue can work wonders as we’ve seen previously with The Lord of the Rings films, written by the same writing team. I wanted to have the Shrike and the Stalkers set up more. I wanted to have the predator cities and the static settlements explained more to just get things going. It would have taken the great world-building and used it as a tool to drive story and develop character.

I think the lack of character depth comes from a very fresh and new director in Christian Rivers (Minutes Past Midnight) and a lot of new talent that hasn’t been tested in this large of an arena yet. I think Rivers has an excellent knack for capturing visuals (his film background up until now would show that), but I don’t think he pressed hard on character and performance. Hillmar and Sheehan have virtually no chemistry in the film and not a lot of depth. They perform as well as they can but they never develop that chemistry piece that is either miscasting or lack of time spent on directing performance.

Mortal Engines is capably enough put together to the point I would want to see a franchise continue based on the other books. The film is bursting at the seams with ambition. There is a world here that looks gorgeous on film and I want to spend more time in it, but there are problems in this film. It is far too rushed, it needs character direction, and it lacks enough power in its story. I thought the film was just okay, and I wanted to love it, but I was entranced enough by its strengths that I still want to see more.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of the anthology Minutes Past Midnight, 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,

[Hobbit Day] The Return of the King (1980)

Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.

Cast: Orson Bean, John Huston, William Conrad, Roddy McDowall, Theodore Bikel

Screenplay: Romeo Muller

98 mins. Not Rated.

 

Happy Hobbit Day, y’all. September 22 is Bilbo Baggins’s birthday and Tolkien fans around the world celebrate with all sorts of fun festivities. Well, I thought we would take a look at the Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of the back half of The Lord of the Rings today.

But first, a history. Hobbits love history. After Ralph Bakshi’s sequel to The Lord of the Rings was cancelled, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (The Last Unicorn, Frosty the Snowman) took on the task of adapting the follow-up. They had previously adapted a version of The Hobbit. The style between the two directors is drastically different in almost every way.

The Return of the King opens at the end of the tale after the ring has been destroyed and recounts the events that caused the end of the ring and Sauron (an interesting idea but one that is not wholly successful in the larger framework of the work) as Frodo (Orson Bean, Being John Malkovitch, TV’s Desperate Housewives) explains how he lost ring finger and became “Frodo of the Nine Fingers.” He tells of the bravery of Samwise Gamgee (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes, A Bug’s Life) taking on the role of ringbearer in his absence. Meanwhile, Gandalf (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Black Cauldron) escorts Pippin to Minas Tirith to bring warnings of war to Denethor (William Conrad, The Killers, TV’s Cannon).

Overall, The Return of the King has some major missteps in its adaptation. The choice to place a framing device on the story further separates itself from the interesting and far superior Bakshi film. Rankin and Bass said they always planned to follow-up their adaptation of The Hobbit with The Return of the King, but I call bullshit on that one.

Then there’s the issues of the characters. Aragorn (Theodore Bikel, My Fair Lady, The African Queen) barely has a presence in the film and Legolas and Gimli do not appear whatsoever. It’s as if they for forgot to include them at all. I get it, they have less purpose in the latter half of the story, but to omit them completely is an extremely poor choice.

Now, there are some nice musical interludes (an area where the Rankin/Bass adaptations usually make good on the source material), and I rather enjoyed the Denethor scenes, but the wins of this film are too few and far between.

The Return of the King is easily the lesser of the three animated Tolkien films. It just misses the mark on so much that anything good to say is quickly overshadowed by its flaws. Even Rankin/Bass’s work on The Hobbit is far better. Sadly, this is a poor finale to an interesting animated journey.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, click here.

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Hobbit Day] The Lord of the Rings (1978)

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Director: Ralph Bakshi

Cast: Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scoles, John Hurt, Simon Chandler, Dominic Guard, Michael Graham Cox, Anthony Daniels, David Buck

Screenplay: Peter S. Beagle, Chris Conkling

132 mins. Rated PG.

 

Wait, so what is Hobbit Day?

thelordoftherings1978c

Hobbit Day is September 22nd, the birthdays of both Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins. I thought, since I have never seen the animated Ralph Bakshi (Wizards, Cool World) film version of The Lord of the Rings from 1978, why not today to celebrate?

That being said, Tolkien Week is the Sunday through Saturday containing Hobbit Day, so unbox your extended editions of the Peter Jackson-directed films too!

The Lord of the Rings covers roughly two thirds of the saga originally crafted by JRR Tolkien. It begins with the passing of the ring from Bilbo Baggins to his nephew Frodo (Christopher Guard, Memoirs of a Survivor, The Haunting of Helen Walker). As Frodo begins his journey with Samwise Gamgee (Michael Scoles, Sweeney 2) to Rivendell, Gandalf the Grey (William Squire, Where Eagles Dare, Anne of the Thousand Days) travels to Isengard to discover what type of Ring of Power they are dealing with. Eventually, Frodo’s journey brings him to the creation of a fellowship also containing Aragorn (John Hurt, V for Vendetta, Hercules), Legolas (Anthony Daniels, Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope, The Lego Movie), and Gimli (David Buck, The Dark Crystal, The Mummy’s Shroud), all headed to Mount Doom in Mordor to destroy the One Ring before the ring finds its way back to Sauron.

thelordoftherings1978d

The Lord of the Rings was unique and very important when it was made. It was the longest animated feature film of all time as well as being the first fully-rotoscoped animated feature ever. What is rotoscoping, you ask? Well, it involves filming actual actors in black-and-white and then animating over it. That’s what gives the finished product such an unusual and unique look.

The voice work from many of the performers is pretty solid, especially John Hurt and William Squire. The real issue of the finished film is in the pacing. The gorgeous and intricate cinematography is troubled by pacing issues. Director Ralph Bakshi was more focused on creating stunning visuals than he was with putting it all together. He did have a vision, and I can’t take that from him. He originally envisioned Led Zeppellin music as a score to the film (many Zep fans will note that the band had a lot of Tolkien imagery associated within their lyrics).

thelordoftherings1978b

The Lord of the Rings was a daring endeavor, one that is beloved by many. It even created some images so iconic they were even replicated for the Peter Jackson-directed live action saga. On the plus side, it is an adult look at the saga, treated with respect and vision. On the opposite hand, it tries to jam too much together into such a small space that the editing and pacing of the finished product suffer and pull the viewer out of the film. Overall, this is a flawed but very interesting take on Tolkien’s classic world.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Christopher Lee Passes at 93

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Sad news to report today as legendary actor Christopher Lee has passed away. Lee was 93 years old and died four days ago. Lee had amassed 282 acting credits in his career according to his iMDB profile and is a notable performer of such characters as Count Dracula, Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes and villains from The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars franchises, as well as teaming regularly with director Tim Burton later in his life. His most recent major role was in The Hobbit trilogy with director Peter Jackson.

Thank you, Christopher, and you will be missed.

 

Selected Filmography:

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