[Oscar Madness Monday] Gangs of New York (2002)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson

Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

167 mins. Rated R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Daniel Day-Lewis]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song

 

I’ve really wanted to revisit Gangs of New York for some time. I recall catching it back in college, and I also recall not liking it very much. Since college, I’ve grown to love and respect Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Irishman) and his filmography. He’s since become a director, in my eyes, that I would place on a Mt. Rushmore of all-time directors, but a few films by the director just didn’t click with me at the time, but I’ve wanted to watch those films again. Gangs of New York is one such picture. During this time of social distancing, I now have that time to rewatch Gangs of New York. Let’s see how this plays out.

The year is 1862, and Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) has return to New York City, to a place called the Five Points he fled from years ago. Vallon only has one goal in mind: to kill Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), the man who killed his father in a brutal gang fight when Vallon was a child. Vallon finds himself infiltrating Bill’s inner workings in order to gain his confidence and get his vengeance, but matters are complicated when he comes into contact with an attractive pickpocket named Jenny (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and the lines are blurred among the Five Points.

It’s impressive that Leo is able to maintain a presence onscreen with Day-Lewis. This is still a film relatively early in the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, and his subdued yet strong performance is still able to hold his own. I really like DiCaprio here because he is able to portray Amsterdam Vallon’s internal flaws, which is something that becomes more complex as the narrative unfolds. Vallon’s emotional strain is stretched to the snapping point by what he is forced to endure at the hands of Bill “The Butcher” throughout the film.

Make no mistakes, though, no one is outshining Daniel Day-Lewis here as Bill Cutting. His fast-talking molasses-drawled speech is engaging, and his menacing visual performance is so catching and engaging. I love how DDL stays in character throughout shooting (he reportedly had dinner with Scorsese and DiCaprio in character after shooting wrapped for the day), and it seemingly helps his performance because he owns every film he appears in.

I know I’m beating a dead horse with this, but because of all the performing prowess displayed by not only DiCaprio and Day-Lewis but most of the supporting cast, it is quite noticeable how out-of-her-element Diaz is. Her broken accent as Jenny Everdeane is only overshadowed by her seeming disinterest in her character or the film she’s in. She just doesn’t engage on an entertainment level.

The screenplay for Gangs of New York is from Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. There’s some prowess to this screenwriting crew, but I have a lot of problems with the screenplay. I feel like it was written very capably but it isn’t accessible. It’s a screenplay made for the audiences of 1862 instead of for today. The first time I watched it, I just couldn’t get into it, but I will say it was much better on the second viewing, but even then, I find some real problems with the screenplay. There’s a lost quality to the narrative at the beginning and near the end, with the second act of the film finding its footing.

Martin Scorsese is really trying something new with Gangs of New York. His directing style is a little more erratic, ambitious, and violent. Not all of it works within the confines of the film, but it showcases Scorsese’s interest in evolving. You can complain all you want about Martin Scorsese as a gangster filmmaker, but he is so much more than that, and Gangs of New York is a very different gangster film, or film in general, than anything else in his oeuvre. As stated, not all of the visual storytelling Scorsese presents here works, and I think, again, it works on a second viewing better than the first time around.

Gangs of New York is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s more positive than negative in all this, but it still struggles getting going and finishing strong. There’s a lot of good meat to the film, but it both works and doesn’t work, with the positive outweighing the negative. I enjoyed it on the second viewing way more than the first, mostly from the incredible work from DiCaprio and DDL. This will work for historical buffs or anyone with a bloodlust for bloody violence as well, to varying degrees.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, click here.

Green Book (2018)

Director: Peter Farrelly

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Screenplay: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.

 

Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, TV’s Loudermilk) kind of came out of nowhere with Green Book. The director, known for working with his brother on low-brow comedies (some of which are quite good), really showed up to bat on his latest film, a solo venture about two men in the 1960s who couldn’t be more different on the surface. It’s quite something.

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Captain Fantastic) is a New York bouncer without a job after his latest club shuts down. He ends up with a job he never expected, driving Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, TV’s House of Cards) on a tour of the Deep South for eight weeks. Given the racial tensions of the Deep South, this proves to be a difficult job that brings these two men closer.

Green Book is one of the most interesting and enjoyable tales of friendship put to film in recent memory. It all boils down to the relationship formed between our two central characters. Tony is a smarmy low-brow guy who cares deeply for his wife, played by Linda Cardellini (Brokeback Mountain, A Simple Favor), and only seeks to do right by her. When he takes the job with Shirley, he is able to look introspectively at himself, see his flaws, and seek to better himself. The whole film, he is looking at Shirley through racially-tinted sunglasses, seeing only what his limited, and incorrect, perception of the culture is.

Mahershala’s portrayal of Dr. Shirley is a proud man, one who sees his placement in the broken American machine, and he seeks protection on his tour of the South. What he finds is the ability to find joy in moments and appreciation for who Tony is. He also has secrets that he wishes to keep and sees those secrets as faults. He is a multi-layered character and Ali is worthy of the performance.

Outside of their relationship, Green Book is pretty straightforward. Farrelly has no bells and whistles and just lets the camera focus on the two leads, and that’s a good call. It doesn’t really delve too deeply into race of the 1960s, and I will leave that open as to whether or not it was the right call, but it doesn’t injure the film’s central focus.

Green Book is a fascinating tale of friendship set against the backdrop of a difficult time in America. It’s led to two amazing performers who consistently left me smiling with their interactions. It’s a joyful film and a thought-provoking one that left me hopeful for the future.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, click here.

For my review of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Fever Pitch, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language.

 

The Insidious franchise is now four films in, and the newest installment, The Last Key, had me a little concerned when it was bumped back to January, oftentimes the graveyard of shitty horror films. I happen to be a big fan of this franchise, and I want to see it continue with more well-received reception. So I entered the theater with some trepidation tonight.

Shortly after the events of Chapter 3, Elise (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Abattoir) and her newly-formed team of Specs (Leigh Whannell, Saw, The Bye Bye Man) and Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road, TV’s Shut Eye) are drawn into a new case set in Five Keys, New Mexico. Elise initially turns down the case when she discovers that the house being haunted is her childhood home, a place with horrific memories from Elise’s past, but she quickly realizes that she has a responsibility to help others, and her team sets off on a trip through Elise’s past, where she will encounter familiar entities and new horrors.

The great thing about the newest installment in this franchise is the focus on the character of Elise. It’s become quite clear after four films that the star of the series is Lin Shaye, and choosing to further develop her is a terrific idea, as much as I’m turned away by the prequel aspect of the recent two films. Shaye’s performance is a powerhouse of the genre, and we spend a lot of the film focused on her inner demons, particularly surrounding the relationship with her father, Gerald (Josh Stewart, Interstellar, War Machine).

The big feeling I felt leaving the theater was one of calmness, though, and the lack of true terror in the film is noticeable. The previous installments all kept me close to my seat, but The Last Key is missing a lot of that. While there are indeed some incredible moments in the film, there just isn’t enough to spur up any actual dread. Diehard horror fanatics may find themselves unfulfilled in this respect.

Thankfully, director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) keeps the pace moving and the plot thread twisting and turning enough to make the movie interesting, but it just isn’t all that scary.

Insidious: The Last Key is a classic fourth installment, searching for a place of purpose and struggling to find a tone. The film is entertaining and I think it will please fans of the series looking to unravel the mystery, but the general public and hardcore horror hounds may not find this scary enough to please.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Wan’s Insidious, click here.

For my review of Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 16 – Big Ass Spider! (2013)

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Director: Mike Mendez

Cast: Greg Grunberg, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau, Ray Wise, Clare Kramer, Lombardo Boyar, Ruben Pla

Screenplay: Gregory Gieras

80 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and gore.

 

Apparently Mike Mendez (The Gravedancers, Tales of Halloween) fought like hell to keep the title Big Ass Spider! He was right, though unfortunately there is little else to draw one in.

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Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg, TV’s Heroes, Super 8) is an expert exterminator (ignore the part at the beginning where he is bit by an apparently lethal spider). His expertise comes to great importance as the hospital that he’s in has an extremely dangerous spider that quadruples in size at an alarming rate. Now, Alex and his de facto partner Jose (Lombardo Boyar, Happy Feet, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) attempt to stop the mammoth bug while a team of government agents led by Major Braxton C. Tanner (Ray Wise, RoboCop, The Lazarus Effect) attempt to blow it out of the sky, putting millions at risk.

This title brought me in. The film put me out. I actually really like Greg Grunberg but I don’t feel like he is ready to lead a movie, even one like Big Ass Spider! He is joined by Boyar who plays off as a cliché token Hispanic. The only man who plays to this film’s strengths is Wise, who delivers a goofy satire of the by-the-numbers Major. I also enjoyed the “cameo” by Lin Shaye (There’s Something About Mary, Insidious: Chapter 3).

Big Ass Spider! has some actually engaging effects, but the screenplay didn’t move along in any way that actually interested me, choosing to embrace its B-Movie possibilities rather poorly.

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All in all, get a laugh out of the fact that somebody actually made a movie called Big Ass Spider! No, you don’t actually have to watch the movie.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hayley Kiyoko, Lin Shaye

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements.

 

Horror sequels are often looked at as a lesser film than the original. Horror prequels have it even worse. So how does Insidious: Chapter 3 (a sequel that is actually a prequel) stack up?

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Set two years before the haunting of the Lambert Family, Insidious: Chapter 3 follows Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney, TV’s Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and his daughter Quinn (Stefanie Scott, Wreck-It Ralph, No Strings Attached). Quinn has been trying to contact her deceased mother, but something else has reached back. She needs the help of gifted but retired paranormal investigator Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Ouija).

Being a prequel limits this installment to certain franchise pitfalls. Many prequels make the mistake of referencing future events in a tongue-in-cheek way. This is one area where, for the most part, the film doesn’t disappoint. There are two scenes at the end that make this mistake, but the earlier sequences of the film that make reference to the Lamberts and the haunting. It is a smart decision to tell an original story within the series as opposed to tell a story that leads directly the opening of the first installment.

New director Whannell, known for writing the first three installments of the Saw franchise, Dead Silence, and all three Insidious films, takes over for directing partner James Wan who makes a cameo known but was busy on Furious 7 at the time. He does a somewhat mediocre job handling the many hats of a filmmaker, but there is some serious potential here. The film’s scary sequences are hit-and-miss, but Whannell shows that he can learn from mistakes, so I have faith in his abilities.

The big winner here is Lin Shaye, who has an exploding career so far into her career. She carries this film so well that it is easy to overlook many of the failures, and it is fun to see her initial interactions with Tucker (Angus Sampson, TV’s Fargo, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specs (played by Whannell).

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Insidious: Chapter 3 is the third best film in this franchise. It stumbles at times but shows definite talent for its cast and crew. I can see the forward trajectory of this series making its mark. Fans of the series should enjoy themselves; everyone else need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Insidious: Chapter 3? Did it take you Further or did you sleep well after? Let me know!

 

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Fever Pitch (2005)

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Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Cast: Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, JoBeth Williams, KaDee Strickland

Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

104 mins. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality.

 

In Fever Pitch, from directors Bobby & Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber To), we see a beautiful romance between Ben (Jimmy Fallon, Whip It, Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star) and a group of men known as the Boston Red Sox. Also, he falls in love with a woman named Lindsey (Drew Barrymore, Donnie Darko, Blended).  Lindsey and Ben desperately want to make things work, but Ben just can’t seem to make sacrifices for Lindsey, especially when it comes to his beloved team who hasn’t won a World Series since 1918. As Lindsey tries to balance her time with Ben with his time and the team, tempers start fueling and seek to topple the relationship.

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I enjoyed Fever Pitch, especially the timing of the film, which permanently place this film in a historic time frame for the Red Sox (it was being filmed right when the Sox won the 2004 World Series). Jimmy Fallon’s obsessed man-boy isn’t too far of an acting stretch for the comedian, while Drew Barrymore flubs around in an unlikable character. Most of her dialogue comes off as condescending when it really shouldn’t.

The Farrelly’s understand how to wield a camera and tell a fun story, though their recent efforts would persuade otherwise. Fever Pitch is slightly more in line with their earlier work, while not being as laugh-out-loud funny as There’s Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber. Best of all, the story is accessible. I see a lot of my own frustrations in the film. I am an obsessed individual (not with the Red Sox, mind you, that is a mere fascination). I talk about film constantly. My girlfriend knows this and sometimes she puts up with it to make me happy. In return, I try not to drag to every movie I want to see in the local theater. Compromise. That’s what Fever Pitch is all about.

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And it is kind of funny. Kind of.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Farrelly’s Dumb and Dumber, click here.

Sex Tape (2014)

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Director: Jake Kasdan

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe

Screenplay: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

94 mins. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.

 

Sometimes an actor or actress is a part of a film so bad that it really jars your experience of everything they do after for a long time. For Cameron Diaz, that film was The Other Woman. I really didn’t want to see Sex Tape. I didn’t want to get hurt again. When I finally did get around to it, I was pleasantly wrong in my assumption of it.

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Sex Tape is the story of Annie (Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and Jay (Jason Segel, TV’s How I Met Your Mother, This is 40), two lovebirds who feel like the magic has gone from their sex life. So they do what all-too-many celebrities do when the spark is gone: make a sex tape! They do, and Jay promises to delete it after. He doesn’t, and instead activates a program on his ipad which syncs it to every other ipad in his cloud. Jay gives out his old ipads to neighbors, families, and friends, so now everyone who wants to can witness the erotic masterpiece. Now, Annie and Jay have to get back all the sex tape copies before their mutual copulation becomes public domain!

Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher) creates some interesting work, and while it doesn’t always work, it is certainly worth a viewing. Sex Tape has a lot of humor and a lot of emotional truths that should hit a lot of relationships. Much of the humor lands nicely, but not all of it. There are some great over-the-top moments, like the sex book that the two decide to mimic for their tape, and the drug-fueled tirade Annie gets into with potential new boss Hank (Rob Lowe, TV’s The West Wing, Killing Kennedy). I like that this film gets into its own minutiae and creates conflict based on little errors in judgment.

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Sex Tape isn’t a perfect film. Far from it. It is, however, one of the finer comedies of the year and worth much more recognition than Diaz’s previous work with The Other Woman. We will call it performance redemption.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Shrek (2001)

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Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson

Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman

90 mins. Rated PG for mild language and some crude humor.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Animated Feature
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced.

 

It isn’t easy to pull off a family film that stands tall years later. It is tougher to make that film a satire and to have to comedy still funny. Shrek did it. Shrek did it wonderfully.

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Shrek (Mike Myers, TV’s Saturday Night Live, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is a simple ogre. He has a swamp and a boulder and he likes it that way. The local villagers leave him alone and in turn he keeps to himself. It isn’t until he runs into a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop, A Thousand Words) and is sent on a mythical quest to save a princess (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Sex Tape) from a dragon-guarded castle at the behest of the powerful Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock From the Sun, Interstellar) that Shrek truly learns what companionship can do to an ogre.

Shrek is a masterpiece and truly cemented Dreamworks Animation as being a powerful competitor to Disney’s Pixar. The voicework from Myers and Murphy is very strong here. They have a terrific chemistry (or lack thereof) during their scenes together. Lithgow really menaces here; until this movie, I hadn’t really seen anything from him proving that he could be villainous in nature.

Directors Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson created a wonderful enthusiasm that both satires and homages classic fairy tales. This was a precursor to shows like Once Upon a Time and Penny Dreadful, where we are treated to an alternate version of classic characters.

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Shrek is a master stroke of genius for family films and just comedies in general. I wish more films targeted at children had the boldness to provide laughs for all ages instead of pandering the way most of them do.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Puss in Boots, click here.

The Other Woman (2014)

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Director: Nick Cassavetes

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Kinney, Don Johnson

Screenplay: Melissa Stack

109 mins.  Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual references and language.

 

The Other Woman is the story of Carly (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie), an underdeveloped character who has just scored the man of her dreams in Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, TV’s Game of Thrones, Oblivion), until she discovers that she is being played when she meets Mark’s wife Kate (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up, Rio 2). The two create an unlikely (try impossible) bond over the fact that they are both still digging Mark even though they should hate him, which they also kind of do. The plot (if you can call it that) thickens when they discover another mistress (Kate Upton, The Three Stooges, Tower Heist) and the three of them join up to take vengeance in a strange mixture of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Saw. Pretty much, yeah.

I recall seeing the trailer for The Other Woman some time ago, and thinking about how much this movie was going to disappoint, particularly because I used to think Cameron Diaz was funny and I still usually find Leslie Mann to be a real treat. I think Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has some major chops from his performance in HBO’s Game of Thrones and films like Mama. This film is nothing like these previous works in that I liked the previously mentioned works.

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Cameron Diaz plays her way through this movie as one of the most unlikable characters in her kind of situation, and Leslie Mann acts as though she is trying to act in a musical from the 1950s. Everything is overdone. Boobs McGee, or (you may recognize her stage name more, Kate Upton) has a body and a voice for silent pictures, and she has the acting skills of a mop handle. Her function in this film is to convince husbands to see it. Don’t be fooled by the breasts behind the curtain, moviegoers, it just isn’t worth it.

Nicki Minaj (Ice Age: Continental Drift) is in this piece of horseshit as well. She had trouble acting her way through a Lonely Island music video. Everything she says falls flat and without resonance. Someone throw a tomato at this clown and get her off the stage.

Even Don Johnson (TV’s Miami Vice, Django Unchained) isn’t spared from the terrible acting virus, though it is hard to blame him. I imagine the conversation with his agent went something like this: “Wait! You’re telling me I can bone Kate Upton in this picture? I’ll take it!” This coming from a major fan of Miami Vice, too.

The music sounds like someone grabbed Now 51 off the shelf and put it into iMovie.

Such a skilled director as Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper) behind the camera, you’d think something better could be said here, but unfortunately, he just doesn’t have a handle on the bogus screenplay. Go home, Nick, you’re drunk.

And on the subject of screenplays, this one is a doozy. It is almost as if they finished a rough draft and forgot to do the rewrite where they actually add in the humor. The entire film finally shreds to nothing by the finale, a bloated, overly out there ending that involves not one, but two breakaway gas gags and the biggest nosebleed I have ever witnessed on camera. It was a dumb idea that got turned into a dumb screenplay that got turned into a dumb movie.

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The Other Woman is hands down one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and it is a big contender for worst film of 2014, folks, please stay away from this one. In fact, burn all copies you may come across.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of The Other Woman? Was it an affair to remember or did you feel cheated? Let me know!

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