[Early Review] Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

161 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.

 

I’m a sucker for movies about making movies and Hollywood. I also adore the 1960s as a setting. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film seemingly tailor-made for me, including having my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) at the helm. So what did I think?

The year is 1969. The once-bankable film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, The Revenant) is making his living by appearing in guest roles on various television series, usually as the villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino, Serpico, Paterno) doesn’t think these roles are helping his career, and he tries to push Dalton into doing Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Rick’s stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Deadpool 2) is searching for work himself as Rick needs a double less and less, but he has a bad reputation in the industry. Rick’s concern over his career is causing him to have a personal crisis, but he is reinvigorated when he discovers that he is living next to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots). All the while during this, out on the Spahn Movie Ranch, a cult is forming led by Charles Manson.

Many have come to the belief that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a central element to the film. Her character, in fact, is a lot more like a looming presence that the 1960s and the free-love hippie culture are coming to an end very soon. She’s not featured as much as one might think in the film, and neither is Charles Manson, who barely has any dialogue whatsoever.

The stars of the film are DiCaprio and Pitt, and they are the two characters that are most engaging, and they are the two with the best chemistry in the film. Don’t kid yourself about this being a Manson family film because it isn’t, and that’s fine because the incredible Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are worth the price of admission alone. They are two fully-realized, equally flawed, and equally enthralling. These two are some of Tarantino’s best characters in his entire career, and both actors put their all into it.

The third big character in the film is Hollywood, and it is gorgeously shot. This is Tarantino’s love letter to a world that has changed and, for the most part, disappeared. It’s a rare glimpse into an aging has-been’s world as it begins to crumble and the stunt-double/driver/entourage/friend who tries to keep him in one piece, and without the amazing production design, costuming, and cinematography, the film wouldn’t work half as well.

The pacing is rather strong here as well. I didn’t notice the time flying by and I was surprised when the film had concluded because I didn’t think nearly three hours had gone by that quick. It’s a testament to the world that Tarantino puts to the screen, and it didn’t take me out of the film to see actors I knew from today playing actors I know from decades ago because each was so meticulously collected for the cast, and it’s an impressive damn cast.

If there’s a flaw with the film, it’s only that I’m somewhat divided on its conclusion. I will have to see it again to know for certain how I feel about it. I’m not going to get into any specifics but it is definitely an exciting finale to say the least.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a very strong Quentin Tarantino that’s more melancholic and thoughtful. He takes his time building the story and seemingly every sequence has a purpose in developing character or moving plot. This is a film that may divide audiences more than some of his previous outings, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about everything that takes place, but I loved the theatrical experience, the characters, and the world. Go see it as soon as you can…and don’t spoil it for others.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 5 – Dark Was the Night (2014)

Director: Jack Heller

Cast: Kevin Durant, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Nick Damici, Sabina Gadecki, Steve Agee, Heath Freeman

Screenplay: Tyler Hisel

90 mins. Not Rated.

 

I came across Dark Was the Night this evening while looking around on Hulu for something scary to watch. I had never heard of the film, but being a fan of Kevin Durant (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Noah), I had to give it a go.

Sheriff Paul Shields (Durant) awakens one morning to find what appear to be hoof prints moving all through his small town. What’s more disturbing is that they do not appear to match any animal on record and seem to be from a two-legged beast. Paul and his deputy Donny Saunders (Lukas Haas, Inception, The Revenant) to tackle the mystery of the hoof prints, but they do not have much time, as people in town are starting to go missing only to end up dead hanging 30 feet up in the trees of the nearby woods.

Dark Was the Night has a simple enough premise aided by a capable albeit slightly bloated screenplay from Tyler Hisel (Safari). I feel like 90 minutes was a little too lengthy for this film. A tighter 80 minute runtime would have made this thing just cruise.

The source material for the story is an old unsolved mystery known as the Devil’s Footprints back in 1855, in which similar strange footprints were found in a town in England. It’s an interesting place to take a film, and it mostly works.

Durant is the definite star here, an actor who rarely gets center stage. He does a fine job here as the haunted sheriff, a man with demons who is strong enough to do the job he was put on Earth to do. His scenes with Haas showcase two great buddy cop chemistry.

Outside of these two, I feel like many of the citizens of the town do not get fleshed out and kind of just morph together in an amorphous townsfolk. I would have liked to know more about who they are and how this mystery affects them.

My only other major fault is the visual effects. An easy lesson here is if you don’t have the budget for high-end CGI, then utilize lighting. When the “thing” Shields is hunting for is uncovered, it is obvious not-so-great CG. Not terrible, but ineffective.

Dark Was the Night has some classic low-budget horror faults, but its unique mystery and some solid acting from its leads make for an experience worth having. An imperfect film it is, but one I think is worth the risk.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Dunkirk (2017)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan

106 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language.

IMDb Top 250: #209 (as of 1/16/2018)

 

Dunkirk is a departure for Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar). The director is known for his high-concept sci-fi epics and comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight. Now, he turns his keen eye for storytelling to history in a film based on the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II.

Dunkirk’s story is laid out in three different perspectives. First, on the beach, where Tommy (Fionn Whitehead, Him, The Children Act) and other soldiers await rescue from the sea. At sea, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies, The BFG) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney, TV’s The Last Post) are joined by Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, ’71) in their small civilian boat headed from Weymouth to the beach to rescue the stranded soldiers. In the air above the beach, the pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy, The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road) flies his Spitfire plane and tries to take out as many enemies as possible with his limited fuel depleting. As the three plots intermingle, director Nolan shows a multi-layered view of the intense rescue mission that could save or doom the lives of 400,000 men.

As per usual, Nolan picked an interesting layout for the film by introducing the triptych nature of three interwoven stories that each runs on a different timeline. For example, the story of the pilots occurs over the course of an hour or so but in the film, Nolan runs this concurrently with the story of Mr. Dawson, which takes place over the course of a day. The time on the beach runs about a week in length. The nature of the timeline can get rather confusing for some viewers, but in running all three pieces together, it gives equal weight to everyone’s contributions and creates an interesting puzzle to put together, one I rather enjoyed.

The characters in the film have virtually no dialogue and no character development, something that I grew to appreciate on my second viewing of the film after understanding Nolan’s intention, but I feel like having something, anything, to make us care about these characters outside of their present debacle would have been better.

Dunkirk is a technical masterpiece, and if you missed the chance to see it in IMAX 70 mm, then I am sorry. The film is run time makes it a tight and exhilarating marvel to behold, and, combined with Darkest Hour, would be a splendid double feature. My heart jumped several times during the viewing, and even with the loss of character-building, I was entertained wholly by the film’s presentation. This is a powerful story that I knew very little about until seeing Nolan’s film. Dunkirk comes highly recommended.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

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

Director: Robert Eggers

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

Screenplay: Robert Eggers

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Detroit (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie

Screenplay: Mark Boal

143 mins. Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.

 

Folks, I just saw Detroit the other night, and I have to talk about it.

Detroit is the newest film from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and her frequent screenwriter Mark Boal. It offers snapshots into the Detroit Riots of 1967, specifically the events that took place at the Algiers Motel over the course of a very dangerous and bloody evening. Security Guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Circle) simply attempts to offer coffee to his fellow armed forces, but he is quickly forced into a situation where he does not know the right call to make, or if he is even able to make it. Racially-charged officer Philip Krauss (The Revenant, War Machine) finds himself taking multiple people hostage at the Algiers Motel, including singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith, Earth to Echo, Let It Shine), whose night quickly turns from dream to nightmare.

While the events of the Detroit riots are known to this writer, I wasn’t particularly aware of the Algiers Motel incident until just recently, and Kathryn Bigelow expertly handles the story in a respectful but unforgiving manner. This is not an easy movie to watch, but I found myself unable to look away when I was exposed to the atrocities committed. At the screening I attended, an elderly African American woman frequently sobbed during the disturbing altercations between the white cops and their hostages.

John Boyega’s turn as Dismukes is amazing, and the way his character handles the situation with careful attention is shocking and difficult to witness. His scenes with Poulter are definitely powerful, as Poulter steals the screen with every scene. But it is Algee Smith, who plays Larry, who has the most compelling story of the film. The heartbreaking and nuanced performance Smith gives is unforgettable and should garner him some attention come award season.

I cannot say anything bad about the performances in this movie, and I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t recognize the great work from Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), John Krasinski (TV’s The Office, 13 Hours), and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War, All the Way) in supporting roles. The film is just that good. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, even with the lengthy runtime.

The only true flaw in the film is the reliance on shaky-cam cinematography, something that Bigelow has notably used in her most recent films, and it does tend to distract at times here. Overall, this isn’t a film-killing amount of shaky, but it does detract.

Detroit is in many ways like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, also released this year, in that it chooses to take a major event and boil it down to the characters, the people, that lived it. This isn’t grandiose filmmaking but personal storytelling. Bigelow’s film shows heroes and villains on both sides of the racially poignant film. Detroit is indeed a film you need to see, but it isn’t one you will necessarily want to see again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

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

IMDb Top 250: #74 (as of 1/24/2016)

 

I’m still a little shocked that I’m sitting in my chair writing a review for a NEW Star Wars film, here in 2015. It’s a strange feeling knowing that the stories that inspired me to tell stories are back and big and (hopefully) glorious. Well, I won’t waste time covering all that I love about this franchise, and I’ll leave that to the previous reviews that you can check out below. Instead, let’s just focus on the elephant in the room: Is The Force Awakens any good?

Happily, yes.

It’s been thirty years since the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of the villainous Emperor and his disciple Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness, Kingsman: The Secret Service), the face of the rebellion, is missing. In his absence, the Empire has reformed into the First Order, and new evils Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Age of Ultron), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time, The Revenant), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) have brought their special form of tyranny to the galaxy. Leia (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, Sorority Row) has dispatched rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina) to find her missing brother. As Poe finds new allies in ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block) and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), they begin to uncover the mystery of Luke Skywalker’s location.

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I’m going to leave the plot details to this, which is probably too much already, but you probably should’ve seen the film by now. Where have you been?

So let’s look to our director, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness). While the film has been criticized as being too similar to parts of the Original Trilogy, I found it to be more of an homage of where we’ve come in this franchise and where we are going. The Force Awakens is a transitionary film, and a lot of that can be credited to Abrams, plus most people forget about all the new elements to this film.

The film relies a lot less on the seasoned performers than I’d thought. Instead, we meet so many colorful characters to liven up the franchise and move it forward. Daisy Ridley is the most impressive to me as Jakku scavenger Rey, who finds herself in a much lonelier place that Luke Skywalker did at the beginning of A New Hope. She lives a solitary life on the planet of Jakku, where she steals from the relics of the previous Empire and uses it to survive on the desolate desert planet. Her emotional resonance as a forced heroine is astounding and impactful and her character is the strongest female we’ve seen in this franchise so far.

Also throw in John Boyega, who provides a nice amount of true terror and comic relief without becoming a stock character. Finn has to deal with a life he learns he doesn’t want, and while I feel like the start of the film doesn’t do him justice, he grows to be lovable by the film’s climax.

Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver aren’t novice performers even if they aren’t exactly household names, and both turn out incredible performances as Poe and Kylo, two opposite ends of a spectrum. Poe could be a repeat of Luke but becomes something entirely different. Kylo Ren could just be Darth Vader 2.0, but the film is as much his origin story as it is Rey’s, and Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He is angry, spiteful, emotionally unstable, and mentally broken, which makes his character’s evolution something very interesting to see in the film.

Now, our returning actors are top notch as well, and of them, this is Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) film. It’s nice to see Ford really giving it all to this franchise again, and even his relationship with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, Killer Ink, Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Journey) has grown and changed in the past three decades. On that note, Chewie gets a lot more development in this film than I expected.

Abrams isn’t afraid to bring something new to this franchise (and I don’t mean lens flares, though there are a few), and that can be seen from his choice in cinematography and editing. Though this feels like a Star Wars movie, it has a lot of updated choices to its camera movement and pacing that add to the excitement.

John Williams returns to the franchise, too, and his score, which has been nominated for an Oscar, is astounding. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of new music Williams created for the film, which has its cues in the themes we’ve had before, but so much more, and it makes him deserving of the gold statue.

From a production standpoint, it’s easy to see the attention and care given here by the use of practical effects, which also elevate the visual effects and style of the movie throughout.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an awakening to the entire franchise, bringing us back to that childhood wonder of the original film while scoring a path to future adventures. It angers me that I find myself more excited for the next installment because of how much I enjoyed this one. Now, the film is imperfect in a few ways. I didn’t feel like every new character landed the way they were intended to, and some of the film’s most climactic moments (in the spoilery territory) faltered and their impact lessened. That being said, I found myself nitpicking Episode VII because of how much fun the movie was. Why haven’t you seen it yet? If you have, why haven’t you seen it again? Go. Go now!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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

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

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

For my review of George Lucas’ 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.

“The Revenant” about to unseat “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” this weekend!

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Reports have been coming in all weekend claiming the bitter feud between Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s new drama The Revenant and J.J. Abrams’ newest entry in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens. It would seem though, according to the numbers I have been seeing, that The Revenant is out in front, if only slightly.

We were all wondering what film would unseat The Force Awakens, and many, like myself, saw February’s Deadpool as the first likely contender, but perhaps we were wrong, as many in the box office tracking community saw The Revenant coming in at a respectable but lower $20 million. It now appears like the possible Best Picture contender is racing for somewhere around $37-38 million.

For star Leonardo DiCaprio, the recognition must feel good. DiCaprio, often thought to be cursed from ever getting a Best Actor Academy Award for his countless wonderful performances, seems to be, for now at least, considered one of the front-runners.

The Revenant, a definitely on-the-radar film for the Oscar season, is directed by Inarritu, known for last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman, and stars DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson, and was in a very limited release starting Christmas Day before opening wide on Friday.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, of course, the newest entry in the long-thought-dead film franchise, renewed by Disney in their purchase of Lucasfilm. It also feature Gleeson, who, no matter what this weekend, comes out a winner.

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Both films are in wide release right now.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what do you think? Does Star Wars deserve another week at the top or are you out in the wild with Leo fighting to take the #1? Let me know!

Preliminary Visual Effects Shortlist Revealed!

 

On location in Jordan, Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon, in THE MARTIAN.

Hey everyone, the 88th Academy Awards list of films to be nominated for Best Visual Effects has been narrowed down to twenty for the Academy to officially nominate. Here they are:

 

Ant-Man

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bridge of Spies

Chappie

Everest

Ex Machina

Furious Seven

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

In the Heart of the Sea

Jupiter Ascending

Jurassic World

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The Revenant

Spectre

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Terminator Genisys

Tomorrowland

The Walk

 

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What do you think? Me personally, I believe that the frontrunners here are obviously the soon-to-be-seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road, which I saw earlier this year and should almost guarantee a win for the perfect blending of practical effects and minor digital retouching.

What films do I expect to not see on the final ballot? Chappie, Everest, Terminator Genisys, and Tomorrowland as well as Furious Seven. They just won’t be able to convince the academy that they are worthy of the final five.

It also remains to be seen if the upcoming releases for In the Heart of the Sea and The Revenant will gain any recognition once the films bow later this month.

The process of selecting nominees is a larger one than most would know, as the list will be further thinned to 10 and then each finalist will be able to vie for the role one last time.

Many have pointed out the biggest films missing including Cinderella, Crimson Peak, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and San Andreas.

The most recent winners of the award are Interstellar, Gravity, and Life of Pi.

I don’t know about you, but I am marking my calendar for January 14th when we will get the final list of nominations and begin death-racing toward the February 28th-dated awards ceremony.

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So kids, what do you think? Which films do you expect to see on the final ballot and what are some other films you saw from this year with impressive visual effects? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

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