[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

[Early Review] Breakthrough (2019)

or “Not a Great Remake of The Dead Zone”

Director: Roxann Dawson

Cast: Chrissy Metz, Josh Lucas, Topher Grace, Mike Colter, Marcel Ruiz, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell

Screenplay: Grant Nieporte

116 mins. Rated PG for thematic content including peril.

 

Breakthrough holds the historical distinction of being the first 20th Century Fox film released under Disney’s ownership. Fun factoid for you.

Breakthrough is based on the true story of John Smith (Marcel Ruiz, TV’s One Day at a Time), a teenager who fell through the icy lake and was without oxygen for an extended period of time. After being brought to the hospital, he was pronounced dead. His mother, Joyce (Chrissy Metz, Sierra Burgess is a Loser, TV’s This is Us) prays to God to help bring back her son, and miraculously, her son’s heart starts beating again, but John is still fighting for his life, and as the community rallies around Joyce and her family, prayer and hope become a fighting force.

I have gotten a lot of flak for my reviews of faith-based films in the past. I go into every film hoping for it to be a winner and I tend to put myself in the mindset of the film, asking “What does this film intend to accomplish?” For horror films, it’s usually to scare the pants off the audience. For comedies, it’s often to brighten someone’s day. It’s important to know a film’s intention before going in. When I see a faith-based film, I expect to have something inspirational or uplifting or at least something that challenges my beliefs to strengthen them. Most of the time, I don’t get that, and a lot of the time, it’s because the film doesn’t pull me in.

Breakthrough is one of the stronger faith-based films in recent years. It didn’t feel, to me, like the first feature film for a director, but it is. Director Roxann Dawson, a veteran of television directing for many years, tackles the subject material rather nicely.

The film’s biggest blunders come from its screenplay from Grant Nieporte (Seven Pounds). The script has some of the cringiest dialogue of the year, but there’s such a well-rounded cast performing that it isn’t as noticeable as often. That being said, there’s only so much that can be done with Chrissy Metz’s dialogue. She often has to deliver some really cheesy work and it falls flat at times and pulls you right out of the film.

The screenplay’s structure works pretty well in that it establishes our emotional conflicts in the film early on and plays with the relationships of the various characters as they maneuver in and out of the film. I respected the fact that Joyce doesn’t get along well with the new Pastor in town, played by Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3, TV’s The Hot Zone). Their conflict is a little goofier than I would have liked, but I still see the attempt. I also liked that the story attempts to tackle the idea that some people are saved by faith while others are not. It doesn’t wholly accomplish this, but again, it’s an area these films tend not to tread.

Perhaps the area where the film struggles in its overall narrative is placing Joyce at the center. I was much more engaged with her husband Brian (Josh Lucas, Sweet Home Alabama, Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House) and his struggle to accept that his son is fighting for his life. I would have liked to see his journey to faith be reclaimed). I also liked Tommy (Mike Colter, Men in Black 3, Extinction), the firefighter who saves John because he hears a voice telling him to keep looking. His problem is that he thinks God was talking to him, but he doesn’t believe in God. Either of these characters would have been stronger to place the load of the film on because they both have journeys to go on. We never see Joyce truly struggle in a realistic way and that makes her less of a dynamic character who is believable. Her struggle is not identifiable.

Breakthrough is altogether not a great film, but as far as films of this type go, I think this one is worth catching if you need a pick-me-up. It’s rather glossy and the dialogue needed a miracle at times, but it also made me feel good at times and inspired me in little doses. Breakthrough is not for everyone, but it will satisfy its core audience.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2018

 

Hey there everyone!

What a year 2018 has been, both personally and in the world of movies! Now, as the year draws to a close, I’m ready to take a look back and see which films made the cut of my personal Best of 2018.

Now for some stipulations and notes:

-I did not see every film to come out in 2018. I tried my best, but I was very busy this year and some films just flat out were missed. So if you don’t see something on this list, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. It just means I may have missed it…or it doesn’t belong.

-This is my personal selection of films from the year. These are not predictions for Best Picture at the Oscars or anything like that. Some films may have different placings than they would if I just ordered them by score, and some of them may have been flawed, but I just enjoyed them enough to look past it.

-Lastly, this is one of the first years in a while that my list feels so fluid. Don’t take my rankings too harshly as just about any one of these films could potentially have been a #1 film. It was a good year. Not a great year…a good year.

 

Alright, without further fluff, let’s dive right in…

 

  1. First Man

-Damien Chazelle knocks it out of the park again in this biopic of Neil Armstrong and the NASA Space Program leading up to that fabled first step on the moon’s surface. It’s a long movie covering many of the trials and tribulations of the race to space, but it spends most of its time with Armstrong, played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling. It’s a subtle nuanced performance that isn’t acting larger-than-life but stays true to its subject. The film spends some time asking the questions of value and cost in this race to the moon, and everything is a lens through which to understand our lead. We get great supporting work from Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, and Corey Stoll who plays to Buzz Aldrin’s particular brand of sarcastic wit quite nicely. For those of you that missed this one in IMAX, I feel very sorry for you, because the scenes on the moon’s surface took my damn breath away.

 

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk

-I loved Moonlight when it came out. I was so swept away in the style and simplicity of the story. Director Barry Jenkins has done it again with his character drama If Beale Street Could Talk. While not as strong as his previous outing, this is still top-notch filmmaking and incredible character-driven storytelling. The love story between Fonny and Tish is so emotional, and the performances from Stephan James and newcomer Kiki Layne bring that love out in such a beautiful way. The film is filled with terrific performances from Regina King, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, and so many more. The ending left me frustrated but not with the filmmaker for he did craft an ending meant to make you talk and get the conversation going. It’s a beautiful character piece.

 

  1. Green Book

-If there’s one thing to say about Green Book, it’s that the film from Peter Farrelly is wholly enjoyable throughout. That’s not a normal way to describe the story of two men from different races touring the Deep South in the 1960s, but it works. You can call it surface-level enjoyment if you wish but I call it great character-driven storytelling. Much like If Beale Street Could Talk, the performances are where this film thrives, particularly from its lead actors, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. They are both flawed humans with real fears and desires who come together with great chemistry to create a lasting friendship in this heartwarming tale. This is a movie that will make you think while it entertains you.

 

  1. Ready Player One

-Look, Ready Player One is perhaps more flawed than the previous films on this list, but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment with the film. It continues to grow on me the more I watch it and I find myself going back to it a lot in 2018. It’s a fun adventure dipped in nostalgia. This film is Steven Spielberg making a sundae and putting all the toppings on. The most important factor in the film is that it is just a damn fun time that captures the spirit of the source novel while going to some wildly different places. I enjoyed both the book and film as two sides of the same coin. Ready Player One leaves me with a big damn smile on my face every time I watch it.

 

  1. A Quiet Place

-I’m starting to see a theme in many of these films for my Top Ten. Character. Yes, there’s some high-concept in some, and A Quiet Place definitely has high-concept, but it’s all there to serve character and story. The family dynamic in A Quiet Place works so well, it would make the film watchable even if the sci-fi/horror aspects of the film did not. Thankfully, this is not the case. This is a tense film with real situations set against an impossible world, but it’s because I care about this family that A Quiet Place brings out just as many tears and shrieks. John Krasinski should be given for his terrific direction in addition to his work as male lead.

 

  1. A Star is Born

-There’s something magical to A Star is Born. We are looking at the fourth official version of this tale, and yet somehow this incarnation has connected with the audience in such a special way. Maybe it’s Bradley Cooper’s strong first outing as a director, or maybe it’s his hauntingly powerful performance as Jackson Mayne, a struggling fading star, or maybe it’s Lady Gaga’s powerhouse work as Ally, a rising star. You can give me all the crap for praising Gaga’s acting in this film, and you can say that she plays herself, but I heard a colleague point out that she gets on the stage to perform her first song and she’s absolutely terrified, something that Gaga would not be or likely hasn’t been in some time. She’s acting her ass off here, and it shows. Yes, the film finds itself in a lot of the same familiar beats we’ve seen before, but it’s been said many times that all stories have been told and what matters is how you tell it. I love how this story is told.

 

  1. Annihilation

-Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina is a sci-fi/horror masterpiece. It’s a beautiful striking moving painting filled with horrific and dazzling imagery. The story, about a group of scientists exploring a strange area called The Shimmer where biology, chemistry, and physics are unlike anything known to human understanding. This is a thinker of a movie, but it haunted me for days and I couldn’t stop telling people to see this movie. It likely isn’t for everyone, but I would encourage you to seek it out and give it a try. This is a What-The-Fuck movie experience for the ages that I haven’t seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

  1. Hereditary

-You know something? Screw anyone who says there isn’t enough great horror these days. Horror is on such an incredible ride in recent years, and there’s probably enough good horror for its own Top 10 list for 2018, and Hereditary would be at the top. Led by a career-best performance from Toni Collette, Hereditary is a shocking and disturbing story of loss, grief, and madness, all centered around a family caught in something out of their control. Beyond the shock of some of the film’s more frightening moments, there are some truly horrific moments of character development. This movie’s strengths cannot be understated and it is truly sad that Collette’s more of a long shot to the Best Actress Nomination this year because she without a doubt deserves. The only tiny complaint I have with the film is that it over-explains itself at the end, but it is merely a nitpick and actually saved a friend’s enjoyment of the film, so what do I know?

 

  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

-As I’ve said before, the movies that will likely be most remembered in 2018 are the Feel-Goods, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is at the top of that list. This documentary about the life of Fred Rogers is stunningly heartfelt and masterfully executed. It is a viewpoint of the man’s life, his beliefs, his goals, and his dreams, and it brought me back to moments in my childhood, memories that I shared with someone through a television set. I welled up with tears at several points in the narrative and connected with the film on so many levels. What makes this film stand out from others this year is that it asks its audience to take part in it near the end, asking us how we can be more like Fred, and I think it connects us with an incredible human being on a personal level, a touching tribute to a beloved neighbor.

 

  1. BlacKkKlansman

-Spike Lee is the best he’s ever been with BlacKkKlansman. You heard me. The best he’s ever been. I loved Do the Right Thing, but this film just barely edges it out for so many reasons. It’s an incredible well-acted film, especially from John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace. The screenplay and editing have turned this so-crazy-it’s-true story into something even more timely given the current state of the country. Lee makes it quite known what he wants his film to evoke and the finale of the film left my jaw on the floor. As soon as I left the theater, I wanted to turn back around and see it again. Spike Lee knows his craft so well that he is able to fuse lighthearted comedy into the shocking tale of a black cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, and this film is his masterpiece. It’s the best movie of 2018.

 

So there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I’m looking forward to the #2019oscardeathrace to begin, and the list may change a bit once that happens. No one sees everything. What is your Top Ten of 2018? I’d love to hear it! Thanks again for a great 2018, and we will see you in 2019 (which is right now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

 

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Director: Spike Lee

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace

Screenplay: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Wilmott, Spike Lee

135 mins. Rated R for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing violent material and some sexual references.

 

BlacKkKlansman kind of snuck up on me. I had no idea this film was coming out. I didn’t even know Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Rodney King) was working on a major project. This film just kind of appeared one day. It’s one of those films that you almost can’t believe is based on a true story. This one more so than most. I had a feeling it would be an interesting film when I finally did hear about it. The shocking thing was just how damn good it was.

The film is the so-crazy-you-won’t-believe-it true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, Monster, TV’s Ballers), the first black officer in Colorado Springs. Moving from a lowly records position to an undercover assignment, Ron ends up posing as a white supremacist. Using a “white” voice on the phone speaking with members of the KKK and another detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, TV’s Girls), posing as white Ron in public, he works his way up to the top of the KKK, eventually speaking to and sharing a room with David Duke (Topher Grace, Delirium, TV’s That ’70s Show), the Grand Wizard of the Klan. Now, Ron and Flip find themselves in an interesting and dangerous arena and must do all they can to expose the local chapter of the Klan before something unthinkable happens.

I read somewhere that when Jordan Peele told Spike Lee about the project that Spike didn’t really believe it, and to be fair, it’s a hard story to believe. When Lee finally signed on, he had several important elements he wanted to infuse in the story: he wanted to heighten some of the more comedic parts of this larger-than-life story, and he wanted to make his film as relevant as possible to the current political climate. If that was his focus, he was damn successful.

There are some historical inaccuracies in the film, namely that Stallworth apparently never used a “white” voice and it was just his own. The time the film is set was slightly adjusted as well. I don’t think less on the experience because I feel like these and other changes heightened the cinematic experience and impact of the story. True stories are never 100% true even if we try real hard.

John David Washington is flat-out revelatory as Stallworth. He disappeared into the role and the two became one. I completely forgot I was watching a movie, I was so engrossed. Partnered up with Driver in a supporting role and it just melded so perfectly, but I have to mention Topher Grace’s performance. This is not something that I ever pegged him for, but his smarmy attitude and sinister calmness was haunting and strange.

When Lee decided to infuse his story with even more relevancy than it had, he found a profound connection with our current political atmosphere, one that isn’t wholly new, but it is wholly unique to the director. There are references and lines, both major and minor, that firmly plant this story in present day, even though the film is set decades ago. There is a scene where two characters cast doubt that America will ever have a white supremacist for a President and it’s almost as if both performers looked directly at the camera and audience, pausing for desired effect. It’s unsettling with a dose of comedic.

What I can tell you is that Lee’s film starts with a bang, a long speech by Alec Baldwin as the incredibly racist and hateful Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard. It also ends with a bang, one I won’t ruin for you, but I can say that when this film came to a conclusion, my jaw was hanging. I was so incredibly shocked by the ending that Lee chose to put to the film, and I think it is powerful, disturbing, and the perfect ending for this film.

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is unlike almost any film I’ve seen this or any year, and it stands as one of my favorites. It seems to fire on all cylinders, and even though the first act takes a few minutes before it really kicks into high gear, I’m merely nitpicking an incredible experience, one that I hope you’re ready for. This is maybe one of the most important films of this year or any other. See this movie.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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