Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Director: André Øvredal

Cast: Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Lorraine Toussaint

Screenplay: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Guillermo del Toro

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references.

 

I remember reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I had all three books, and I vividly recall the striking imagery. It was one of those first experiences that attributed to my love of horror, alongside watching Halloween with my mother when I was four and the Goosebumps book series from R.L. Stine. It was a pivotal part in shaping my fascination with fear and the macabre as ways of telling real stories, and they were damn entertaining too. Now, producer Guillermo del Toro, coming off his Oscar wins for The Shape of Water, is bringing us the film adaptation of this classic book trilogy with director André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) behind the camera.

The story begins on Halloween night 1968, with Stella (Zoe Colletti, Annie, Skin) and her friends, Auggie (Gabriel Rush, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Chuck, who discover an old book in the supposed haunted home of the Bellows family. This book contains several scary stories and a lot of empty pages too. Stella takes the book home and discovers that new stories are appearing in it. At the same time, each of the kids that stepped foot in the Bellows home is in a story being written, one that comes true. Now, Stella and her friends are running out of time to get the book back home and break the curse of Sarah Bellows and her book of scary stories before they become a part of it.

As with many anthology films, which Scary Stories loosely is, the individual stories are one piece, and the framing device another. Of the many scary stories featured in the film, I think they all work quite well. The creature design is pretty awesome, some visual treats I haven’t seen before, and I think they, for the most part, work really well.

The main problem with the movie is the framing device. The whole story of Sarah Bellows and the book of scary stories should work on the surface, and it adds a nice layer of tone and flavor to the 1960s setting. The problem is that the framing device isn’t as strongly written as the stories that appear within the film, and this main plot of Stella and her friends is given far too much of the runtime of the film. It easily could have been cut about 20 minutes to streamline the plot more.

I also didn’t connect with Stella very much. She is a little flatly-written, and I was far more interested in the secondary characters like Auggie and Chuck as well as archetypal bully Tommy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns, Brad’s Status).

For the problems with the screenplay, Øvredal does a great job with direction, setting tone and mood down to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of reading the stories as a kid. The film reminded me of reading Goosebumps or watching the television series for Are You Afraid of the Dark? He crafted a creepy atmosphere oozing with unsettling imagery. Much like The House with a Clock in its Walls from last year, this is a kid’s horror film that doesn’t shy away from some truly haunting imagery. Whereas The House with a Clock is closer to a Hocus Pocus, Scary Stories almost aims for It or The Monster Squad, definitely something more adult than I expected. I would caution potential viewers by saying the film has some disturbing elements, but all the same, this is exactly the kind of movie experience that adolescent Kyle would have been all over.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a winning horror experience. While the film struggles in building new mythology and setting the framing device into play, it mostly wins with the actual scary stories. It was a hellishly fun viewing experience that perfectly sets up more stories to come. Hopefully the filmmakers can course-correct some of the problems of the film for a sequel should one arise. I still had a lot of fun and would urge filmgoers looking for a nostalgic horror throwback to check this one out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Director: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Straithairn, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.

 

The MonsterVerse is one of the more successful cinematic universe to rise out of the shadow of Marvel, probably the fourth best one after the MCU, the DCEU, and The Conjuring Universe. It’s also the one that feels more easily connected, but it also feels like if has nowhere to go after next year’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. That is, until King of the Monsters blew open the floodgates for franchise expansion.

It’s been five years since Godzilla faced off against the MUTOs, and the world has been trying to recover, until a group of eco-terrorists under the command of Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Gosford Park, Johnny English Strikes Again) kidnap Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Annabelle Comes Home) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, TV’s Stranger Things) with the intention of using them to help wake up the numerous Titans slumbering all around the world. Now, Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler, Argo, First Man) has been tasked by MONARCH to help track them down, but he wants nothing to do with Titans after the death of his son during the attacks of 2014. He is forced to come to terms with his hatred for Godzilla as the Titans keep waking up, from the fiery Rodan to the great alien beast King Ghidorah, in order to stop them and save the human race from possible extinction at the hands of the kaiju.

Godzilla 2014 had a problem with the handling of the title creature. Godzilla movies actually do not feature a lot of the great kaiju, but when he is used, it is wonderful. The way Godzilla was hidden for a bulk of the film didn’t work all that well for me, so I’m glad to report that King of the Monsters puts those kaiju on display from the opening scene to the epic finale. In fact, while I liked the previous Godzilla film, it seems like all the problems of the last film are somewhat corrected or at least bettered by King of the Monsters.

The human characters are nothing really special in the sequel, but compared to the human story of the first film, I prefer this rag-tag group of monster hunters trying to track the kaiju awakenings around the work. From Chandler’s Mark to returning favorites Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water, Paddington 2) and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu). I at least generally liked this group of humans, and I wanted to see them succeed, with one exception.

The way Emma’s character is written is downright terrible. It would be nearly impossible for her character arc to work well given the arc she is given, and Farmiga does what she can in the role, but the character just flat-out doesn’t work, and it takes a lot out of the film given that she’s one of our human leads.

Thankfully, though, this Godzilla movie is about the kaiju, and that’s what really matters. Looking back at the mission statement of this site, to look at what a film is trying to accomplish, King of the Monsters is about the kaiju, and for that, the films works quite well. Godzilla has a fully realized arc, and he is most definitely the king and star of the film. Where director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) shines here is that he gives great attention and love to the lore of the Godzilla expanded franchise. He picks his versions of each of the kaiju quite well, especially where he takes on Mothra. Mothra can be a trickier kaiju to stay grounded with because of all the mythos of the character, but Doughtery showcases his love of this world with his incredible attention to detail.

Dougherty’s favorite kaiju is Rodan, and he takes the opportunity to include the famed creature in his film. The only problem is that Rodan has such a rich history and stands as a kaiju I really love, and I don’t think it has any purpose in this film. For a character with such an interesting background, Rodan could be a film’s main antagonist, but in this film, it stands as just another lackey of Ghidorah, and I didn’t like the way it was put in the film. It could’ve been replaced with just about any other kaiju and the film would feel the exact same.

The director and his co-screenwriter Zach Shields had to expand upon this world, and in that way, the world feels extremely well expanded for future films. There are so many kaiju in the film, and they are merely cameos or introductions to monsters we may see in future films, but the groundwork has been laid quite well. I can see a lot of possibilities for the future of this cinematic universe, using both established characters or the new ones created in this film. It even nicely lays the groundwork for the next film in the franchise without forcing it by introducing the idea that MONARCH has been following Kong’s life since Skull Island. This is a problem tackled in this film that many fledgling cinematic universes can’t get past. BvS and Iron Man 2 tried to shoehorn a cinematic universe together with references and connections abound, and it could have buried their universe. The Mummy tried to do all that in the first film and killed its franchise. What needs to be done is to make a fun and entertaining experience first, and give blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details next while using your credits to set up the future. That’s why I never understood the aversion to post-credits scenes after the success of the MCU. It’s like a teaser for what comes next without ending every film on a cliffhanger. King of the Monsters is one of the most successful universe-building installments ever.

Dougherty has fun with the film because he understands the tone of his stories, and that’s what has made him such a fun storyteller to watch, from his work on Trick ‘r Treat to Krampus, he’s just a blast of a filmmaker. He finally used the Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla, and he used it well!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a better film than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t perfect the art of kaiju films with its occasionally flawed characters and reliance on spectacle over story, it’s a damn fun movie, one that kept me looking on with childhood glee and praising its visual sense and creative creature design. This is a fun movie, done.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

Bradley Cooper Takes a Stroll Down del Toro’s Nightmare Alley

So it appears that Bradley Cooper is in heavy talks to join Guillermo del Toro’s next project, Nightmare Alley. Originally, it was reported that Leonardo DiCaprio was set to lead, but a deal was not reached and he ultimately left the project.

Del Toro will direct from a script co-written by himself and Kim Morgan, which is itself based on William Lindsay Gresham novel.

Not much else is known, and a get from Cooper would be a significant win for the auteur director who most recently directed The Shape of Water, which of course won Best Picture at the Oscars.

Cooper, coming off a rather big win himself for A Star is Born, is looking to star in and direct the Leonard Bernstein biopic Bernstein, but he could easily make room for Nightmare Alley while that project develops.

So what do you think? Is Bradley Cooper the right fit for Guillermo del Toro’s next project, Nightmare Alley? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early TV Review] The Hot Zone: Episodes 1 & 2 (2019)

Director: Michael Uppendahl

Cast: Julianna Margulies, Noah Emmerich, Liam Cunningham, Topher Grace, Paul James, Nick Searcy, Robert Wisdom, Robert Sean Leonard

Screenplay: James V. Hart, Brian Peterson, Kelly Soulders, Jeff Vintar

96 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

I had the pleasure of viewing a press screening for the premiere episodes of The Hot Zone, a new miniseries based on the book by Richard Preston. My wife loves the book and has read it a few times, but I knew very little about the story save that it was based on true events. Nevertheless, I was probably more excited because of how little I knew, and upon seeing the first two episodes, I really want to see the conclusion.

The year is 1989. The Ebola virus appears on U.S. soil, in close proximity to the White House, in a group of chimpanzees in a research lab. There is no known cure. Dr. Nancy Jaax (Julianna Margulies, The Upside, TV’s ER), a U.S. Army scientist, puts herself in danger in order to try and cut off the potential outbreak before it reaches the general population.

The first thing I can say about the episodes I watched is that they are generally not for the faint of heart. If you know anything about the viruses depicted in the show, then you know that there are a lot of nasty things happening to its victims. It’s not a joy to watch, but it looks incredibly real and detailed, and the mystery and danger around it is quite exciting.

For the most part, the acting works. It’s a good crew of principal performers, and Margulies does a capable job of believably keeping the focus on a threat, but there are time when she and Noah Emmerich (Super 8, Jane Got a Gun), who plays husband Jerry, feel like they missed the chemistry and, in doing so, the performances get a little wooden. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it kind of takes you out of the story.

Everyone else is mostly on par with things here, with specific attention thrown to Liam Cunningham (Hunger, TV’s Game of Thrones). Cunningham plays Wade Carter, former mentor to Nancy, who has secluded himself from this kind of work but now finds himself back in the game. Cunningham gives an intense and powerful turn as Carter, something not so surprising after his great performance in Game of Thrones.

Director Michael Uppendahl, known for his work on TV’s The Walking Dead, directs all six episodes in the miniseries, and his work in the first two is quite good. I was pretty enthralled and interested in seeing where it leads. It’s tough to see his follow-through on only a third of the work, but most of the audience at our screening was pretty captivated by his storytelling on display.

The screenplay is written with good pacing, but there are questionable choices made on the writing of Peter Jahrling’s character. Jahrling, played by Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, Breakthrough), should be a smart man, and he is portrayed as a rather cocky man, but he does some stupid things out of fear, and I would need to find out if what happened in the miniseries with his character is completely truthful, but I feel like it was written in a way that didn’t make is arc completely believable in the series, and something should have been done to elevate it.

The Hot Zone has an engaging and exciting opening pair of episodes that should keep viewers enthralled to see its conclusion. It always feels like TV, but it’s pretty solid TV overall. The performances are mostly good most of the time, the standout being Cunningham as well as the always entertaining Nick Searcy (The Shape of Water, The Best of Enemies). It’s a gruesome story at times, but always for the sake of realism and never to extreme excess to shock the viewership. I’ll be looking forward to its conclusion. You should be looking forward, too.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2018oscardeathrace] The Nominees for the 90th Academy Awards

 

My favorite time of the year for film: The Oscar Death Race. I’m ready for it this year, are you?

The Oscar Death Race is a yearly attempt to see all or most of the Oscar Nominees. It officially kicks off after the nominations, which were announced early this morning.

Here are the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards, hosted again by Jimmy Kimmel.

 

Best Picture

 

Best Director

 

Best Actor

  • Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  • Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

 

Best Actress

 

Best Supporting Actor

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

 

Best Original Screenplay

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

 

Best Animated Feature Film

  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco
  • Ferdinand
  • Loving Vincent

 

Best Foreign Language Film

  • A Fantastic Woman
  • The Insult
  • Loveless
  • On Body and Soul
  • The Square

 

Best Documentary Feature

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  • Faces Places
  • Icarus
  • Last Men in Aleppo
  • Strong Island

 

Best Documentary Short

  • Edith + Eddie
  • Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
  • Heroin(e)
  • Knife Skills
  • Traffic Stop

 

Best Live Action Short Film

  • DeKalb Elementary
  • The Eleven O’Clock
  • My Nephew Emmett
  • The Silent Child
  • Watu Wote/All of Us

 

Best Animated Short Film

  • Dear Basketball
  • Garden Party
  • Lou
  • Negative Space
  • Revolting Rhymes

 

Best Original Score

 

Best Original Song

  • “Mighty River” from Mudbound
  • “Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name
  • “Remember Me” from Coco
  • “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall
  • “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman

 

Best Sound Editing

 

Best Sound Mixing

 

Best Production Design

 

Best Cinematography

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Darkest Hour
  • Victoria & Abdul
  • Wonder

 

Best Costume Design

 

Best Film Editing

 

Best Visual Effects

 

There you have it. I better get started.

#2018oscardeathrace

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois

Screenplay: James Ivory

132 mins. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language.

 

Call Me By Your Name has been one of the most-talked about films of the year as far as festival favorites go. I only very recently was lucky enough to catch a screening of the film. So does this awards-season heavy-hitter stack up?

Elio (Timothee Chalamet, Interstellar, Lady Bird) is a 17-year-old living in Italy. He is introduced to his father’s new assistant from America, Oliver (Armie Hammer, The Social Network, Cars 3). At first, Elio finds Oliver to be rather strange and a little off-putting, but as the two form a closer bond, Elio and Oliver’s friendship grows into a passionate love affair, one that both men are not expecting and one they must keep secret.

I found myself liking a lot of aspects of Call Me by Your Name, the most impressive being the cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. This is a gorgeously shot film, and relies very heavily on the excellent visual aesthetic of the Italian locations where the film was shot.

The performances were strong, particularly the two leads, but I feel as though not enough love has been given to Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, The Shape of Water) for his subtle and nuanced performance as Elio’s father. There is a scene, and you will know which one I mean when you see it, where Stuhlbarg bares his soul on the camera and it is one of the most beautiful monologues I’ve ever seen.

The issues that ended up taking me out of the film happened around Elio’s journey in the film. I found myself not connecting and following along with his decisions as he progressed through the story. I would have liked to have seen the internal conflict he is faced with, but I didn’t connect with him as a character until the latter half of the film. I’ve been called crazy for this, but it’s just how I felt as a viewer.

Call Me by Your Name is a beautiful love story filled with terrific performances all around. The faults with the film, to me, lie with the characterization of Elio and a narrative that needs tightening. Overall, I still rather enjoyed the film, but I don’t personally see it as a Best Picture kind of experience.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2018

 

Since I’ve already seen one of 2018’s releases, I’m probably a little late on presenting my most anticipated list for 2018. Don’t worry, it hasn’t changed much. Let’s start off with a note:

  • This list is more anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to as of right now, so there will be more blockbusters than indies because that’s just how it plays out. So, with that being said…

 

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN BUT A LIST.

 

Annihilation

-I thoroughly enjoyed director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina from 2015, and on that film alone, I cannot wait to see Annihilation. Garland has had a run of pretty solid work in the last few years, and getting top talent like Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac involved is only making this more hyped for me. I don’t know much about the film’s plot outside of the lone trailer I’ve seen, but getting a chance to see a great storytelling weave a yarn in his own sandbox is always a great thing.

 

Pacific Rim: Uprising

-I’m very sad that Guillermo del Toro isn’t returning to helm the sequel to his underappreciated Pacific Rim, but that’s what it took to get The Shape of Water, so what can you do? At least he is staying on in a producer role and the franchise is continuing. I’m not sure how to feel about Uprising as the film looks drastically different from the original, but John Boyega playing Idris Elba’s son looks interesting enough, and genre favorite Steven S. DeKnight behind the camera is setting the film up for success. I’m very excited to see an expanding of this mythology and more Jaeger/Kaiju action.

 

Ready Player One

-I’m just starting the book right now, and the trailers for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One have been fascinating. I just don’t know how to feel but the film looks bonkers. There is absolutely no reason not to be excited for more Spielberg but this one feels so familiar and yet so different from what we’ve seen recently from the director. As long as there are enough weird Easter Eggs, I guess I will keep plenty busy at this one.

 

God Particle

-Yeah, this one was on my list for 2017, but it got bumped back. God Particle is all but confirmed to be the next Cloververse film after Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Since I loved both of its predecessors and I enjoy dissecting theories about this quasi-anthology, God Particle should be a fun and interesting ride.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

-What do I say that hasn’t already been said? Almost 20 films in and we are getting this massive film. I have no words. I doubted that this franchise could or would work, and I was wrong. Pop in Black Panther and Ant-Man & the Wasp (I didn’t want to have more than one franchise installment on this list but I’m stoked for all three) and this should prove to be another exciting year for the MCU.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

-All the drama behind-the-scenes has made me rather nervous for Solo, but I trust the minds at Lucasfilm because I’ve enjoyed all three Star Wars adventures since their acquisition by Disney, so I trust that they acted at the right time installing Ron Howard as the new director to fix this anthology film. What does make me nervous, though, is the lack of the trailer with only four months to go.

 

Deadpool 2

-I elected to pick Deadpool 2 over The New Mutants and Dark Phoenix because of how surprising the original Deadpool was in 2016. With the shuffling around behind the camera, the exit of Tim Miller, and the addition of David Leitch, it is interesting to see how this one plays out. If the teaser or short that were released are any indication, I think we are in good hands here.

 

The Predator

-Trust me when I say that all of my excitement for this film is riding on Shane Black. I always love a new Predator film, but Shane Black is the reason this is on the list. I love Black’s storytelling sensibilities from his writing of the greatest action film of all time (yeah, I’m calling it for Lethal Weapon) but also his work as a director with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys. Some people aren’t aware that Black even co-starred in the original Predator, so he has a good tie to this series.

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was quite a surprise. I love Harry Potter, but the idea to expand the mythology with an adaptation of a textbook was weird. Turns out, J.K. Rowling has a few more stories to tell. The flaw with the first film, though, was Johnny Depp’s cameo as Gellert Grindelwald. I didn’t like his appearance and I don’t have as much faith in him as an actor, so seeing him take on the second-biggest villain in the Harry Potter universe was an odd choice. With The Crimes of Grindelwald, Depp will be taking on a much larger role, so I’m interesting if a little nervous to see what comes of it.

 

Mortal Engines

-Though the trailer didn’t have much to offer (as the film is still about a year out), seeing Peter Jackson’s name onscreen again is always a welcome sight. He’s taking on a producer and screenwriter role this time with Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel series by Philip Reeve. Jackson and his team are incredible writers, so a nice foundation to this film is enough to spark my interest. We will have to wait for another trailer to see how it is all shaping up, but Mortal Engines has a lot on its plate.

 

So there it is. What film are you most excited for in 2018? Let me know/drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2017

 

Hey folks, another year has come and gone and here we sit, at the end of it, looking back on what was. 2017 had some truly great films and I’m going to count down my top ten today.

Just a couple notes before we get into all this:

  • These are my personal top ten films of the year from the many I have seen. I judge the films from my list in their success as a film in what they are trying to accomplish.
  • I haven’t seen all the movies released in 2017. If you read this list and find that something is missing, let me know, drop a comment, and start the conversation. Everyone loves a good recommendation.
  • Due to some of the heavy-hitters of Oscar season still on the way, this is a tentative list and it will change as more limited release films open up.

There, with all that out of the way, my Top Ten Films of 2017.

 

  1. Wind River

-I was not entirely excited about Wind River. That’s not to say anything wrong about the marketing, but I didn’t know anything about it and, living in an area with intense cold several months of the year, I wasn’t all that interested to see it in the summer. Thankfully, my other plans fell through and I ended up at the theater. Wind River is the powerful tale of a murder on an Native American Reservation and the unlikely duo who team up to solve the mystery. It’s been said a lot but this is Jeremy Renner’s best performance of his entire career. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario) jumps into the director’s chair this time around and crafts a tightly-paced and shocking look at these characters and their world. It’s emotional, exciting and thought-provoking in every stroke.

 

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi is an incredible new addition to the Star Wars lore for the simple fact that it surprised me. I haven’t been genuinely surprised in a Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. Writer/Director Rian Johnson created a follow-up that subverts expectations while simultaneously honoring what has come before and driving forward on a new path. Not everyone loved it (someone once said that the people who hate Star Wars the most are the fans) but I enjoyed it for all the reasons that others didn’t love it. It’s exciting, emotional, and funny, and I cannot wait to see it again.

 

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

-With Thor: Ragnarok, Director Taika Waititi and Marvel Studios have given the public the closest thing to a new Flash Gordon that we are likely to get. A rollicking 80s road-trip style space movie with everyone’s favorite god of thunder and his pal the Incredible Hulk,  Ragnarok embodies the best of what the MCU has to offer, an incredibly fun and riveting blast of a film that stands on its own while contributing to a larger narrative. In Hela, we get an interesting villain with ties to Thor, and new characters like The Grandmaster, the Valkyrie, and Korg keep the thrills light and fluffy.

 

  1. Okja

Okja is one of the best films that Netflix has ever released. It is a strange tale, a unique tale, a funny-at-times tale, and a heartfelt tale. It’s the story of a girl and her superpig Okja. The company that created Okja , Mirando, has invested a lot of money in crafting a creature that is environmentally conscious with a minimal carbon footprint that tastes great, and now they plan on harvesting Okja to make billions for themselves, but Mija is not about to let the company take her friend. The film is one of the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time, but thanks to top-notch directing from Writer/Director Bong Joon-Ho from a great screenplay by him and Jon Ronson, Okja is a powerful ride from beginning to end.

 

  1. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a film made for the theater experience. I was lucky that a colleague of mine got tickets to the 70mm/IMAX presentation and I was floored by the majesty of it all. The scenes in the air were breathtaking. The sequences on the beach were thrilling. The scenes on the boat were emotional. The whole film experience was astounding. Then, I watched it again when it hit home video. The film is still exhilarating. Even with the loss of the massive screen, this is a tightly-packed narrative that has so much going on but still feels so focused.

 

  1. Blade Runner 2049

-Who would’ve guessed that a sequel to a cult classic sci-fi thriller would be good? Blade Runner 2049 is even better than the original! How the hell did that happen? Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) takes what works about the original film and crafts a companion piece that stands on its own and connects really nicely to the original film. Blade Runner and its sequel become two sides of the same coin, a breathtaking double-feature that is well worth the lengthy runtime. Harrison Ford returns as Deckard and joins Ryan Gosling’s Agent K, providing some of the best work in either of their careers.

 

  1. Lady Bird

-Greta Gerwig directs Lady Bird with such realism that it brought me back to a time in my youth when I was very much like Saoirse Ronan’s Christine. This incredible coming-of-age story feels like it’s the first of its kind in a world where dozens of similar films are released each year. The terrific chemistry between Christine and her mother is palpable and real. The film wanders through Lady Bird’s life as she encounters situations that many of us have been through in this interesting semi-autobiographical look at adolescence from a fantastic up-and-coming director.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes

-How the hell did Planet of the Apes craft one of the best trilogies of all time? How does that happen? Matt Reeves takes on his second film in this franchise following Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and after having seen a few times, I can honestly say that War tops it. Andy Serkis is an actor who deserves performance credit for his role as the immensely complex Caesar, and he is matched on the battlefield by the chameleon that is Woody Harrelson, a man that can be joyful in one instant and terrifying in the next. Matt Reeves should be considered one of the hottest acts in Hollywood right now for his recent track record, and I look forward to his take on The Batman (if it ever does happen).

 

  1. The Big Sick

The Big Sick has been a critical darling since it was released in early 2017. The story, based on true events, is a dramedy based on the relationship of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily. The movie mixes emotion and comedy to present one of the best and truest representations of love I’ve ever seen. The performances in it are all fantastic, especially Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. The Big Sick has a lot of award consideration and I’d be more than happy to see it take away some Oscars when the time comes as it hasn’t had a wide viewing outside of the general film community, and a few statues may help with that.

 

  1. The Shape of Water

-I hadn’t even heard of The Shape of Water at the beginning of 2017. In fact, it was only during an interview for The Bye Bye Man that Doug Jones even dropped he was working on a fish romance film with Guillermo del Toro that I even knew of the film’s existence but little else. Thankfully, late last year I was able to catch a screening for the film, and I just fell in love with it. I had always said that Pan’s Labyrinth would likely be del Toro’s masterpiece, but The Shape of Water is just so personal and lovely and strange and beautiful that I couldn’t get it out of my mind long after my initial viewing. Doug Jones, like Andy Serkis, won’t garner awards recognition for his work here and that’s a shame. Thankfully, Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Shannon turn in career-topping work here and the film is getting a lot of talk now. See this movie. It’s the best film of 2017.

 

Well, there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I look forward to #2018oscardeathrace to begin, and I may see a few favorites get knocked off as I continue catching up on what I missed in 2017, but overall, it was another great year for films. We’ll see you in 2018 (which is like, right now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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The Shape of Water (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

123 mins. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

 

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is a director known for his visual flair and attention to detail, but he has yet to cross the barrier into household name. His newest film, The Shape of Water, is his most deeply personal and intimate. The film is garnering some critical and festival praise right now, but is that warranted? This writer has been excited for the film since early this year, and I was overjoyed to catch a screening of it earlier this week.

The film stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Godzilla) as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works overnights as a janitor for the Occam Aerospace Research Center. She is perhaps too curious to discover that a strange new asset has been delivered to the facility one night, a dangerous new creature discovered in South America. As the creature is unable to communicate with sound, he quickly takes to Elisa’s use of sign language as well as the gifts of boiled eggs she brings him. When Elisa learns what the creature’s handler, Strickland (Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), plans to do with him, she hatches a plan to save the amphibious being and, along the way, discovers that her affection for the creature has grown exponentially.

I’m going to say it right now: The Shape of Water is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The plot is familiar enough in its simplest terms, but del Toro proves yet again that isn’t the story you tell but rather how you tell it that makes a masterpiece, and this one might be the director’s best work to date. The story he tells is one of love, attraction, repression, and loneliness using the central relationship between Elisa and the amphibious creature, played brilliantly by del Toro favorite Doug Jones (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery).

While Elisa and the Creature are the central relationship of the film, the secondary relationships give a nice contrast, showing Elisa’s friendship with chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Divergent Series: Allegiant) and the tenderness of her friendship with neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, LBJ). The web is stretched further to show the way that Zelda behaves toward her husband and also how Giles, a closeted homosexual, pursues an attraction in an era where repression has made him self-conscious and very lonely. Then, there’s the polarized opposition of Strickland’s family dynamic and the way he treats his colleagues, specifically Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man, Arrival). The film’s near-constant unraveling of every relationship is fascinating and introspective in all the right ways.

The Shape of Water might be the best film I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot to unpack, and it feels like I need to see it again to fully connect to it, but the film, while a bit lengthy in its second act, is an exemplary look at love and attraction presented in its most unique fashion. This movie will challenge audiences and I hope you leave with as many questions as I did. That is, after all, the beauty in it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? What’s your favorite relationship in the film? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

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