[Early Review] Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Director: Morgan Neville

Cast: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, McColm Cephas Jr.

94 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

 

I think we all remember Mr. Rogers. I grew up watching the reruns as a child. The unlikely star of the show was interesting, informative, and entertaining. Director Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, Keith Richards: Under the Influence) seemed to have been moved by Mr. Rogers as well, as his love letter to the man expertly shows.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? showcases Fred Rogers and his amazing life, detailing aspects of his upbringing, the importance of love and respect for our children, and the emotional difficulties he faced while creating such a game-changing program for youths.

Let me start this off with…I laughed. I cried. I did both at the same time. This is a powerhouse examination of one of the more fascinating humans in recent memory. Director Neville elects to provide a mixture of important moments from the television program’s decades-long history and show the context and intent in their creation. He adds in memories from Fred’s crew, family and friends with snippets of archive footage and interviews with the man himself.

This is an expert example in biographical documentary. There is the presentation of a life with an emphasis on how that life contributed to the world, and Fred Rogers indeed influenced the world. I was particularly moved with the way he interacted with the cast and crew of the show as well as the lessons he taught and how Neville uses them perfectly to convey how Rogers would have wanted to convey them anew.

It’s hard to describe the film without just flat-out describing all the ways it has changed my perception of myself and others. The best way to do so would be to simply tell you to see this movie. I know there are a lot of big films in cinemas right now but I implore you to choose Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It’s one of my favorite films of the year, a joyous celebration of love from a man who gave so much of it. See this now.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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[Early Review] Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotomo

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

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

 

I was blessed earlier this week with the opportunity to see Solo: A Star Wars Story before its initial release. I cannot express in words the feelings I had sitting in a theater with my best friend and taking in the experience. I’ll get to it another time.

Solo has had a long and difficult journey to get to the big screen. After original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the project, seasoned director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Inferno) stepped in to complete filming. By that, I mean to reshoot most of the film. So after all this, and making its May 25th release date, is Solo a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise?

The film picks up about ten years before we meet the titular smuggler in A New Hope and witnesses the major events in his life leading up to that point, from his joining up with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotomo) to his initial interactions with con artist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, TV’s Atlanta). Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply) struggles between making the right choices and the smart choices, and he finds that the good in him is capable of outweighing the bad.

So, there’s still a lot of spoilery territory with Solo, so I’ll tread as best as I can. First of all, I can say that this film is not an improv-heavy comedy. It’s probably the funniest Star Wars film in some time, but it never hinges too heavily on it.

The best sequences in the film rely on the relationship built between Han, Chewie, and Lando, and thankfully these three performers steal the film. There was a lot of talk about Ehrenreich’s performance and his need for an acting coach, but the final product was some solid work from the actor. I have to imagine there is a great deal of stress in taking on the mantle of a character from four previous films and dozens of books and comics, and I’m sure it was difficult to switch director’s and styles as much as I’m sure he had to, but I thought he did quite well in the role, never falling into Harrison Ford impressions.

Joonas Suotomo has had some practice as Chewie from the past couple Star Wars installments, and he provides Chewbacca with youthful charisma that meets, but never passes, Peter Mayhew. Donald Glover is excellent as Lando, again never falling into caricature, but driving his own path that makes for some truly smarmy work from Glover.

The supporting cast is admirable as well, with specific love given to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s True Detective) as Beckett, Han’s mentor. The scenes he shares with Val (Thandie Newton, Crash, TV’s Westworld) are tender and joyful. There is also an interesting parallel to the relationship between  master and apprentice in both Jedi and Sith lores.

I also want to touch on the score. While I enjoyed the previous non-Williams score from Rogue One, Solo’s score from John Powell is fantastic and thrilling and feels more like it is a part of Star Wars. John Williams crafted the Han Solo theme and then handed off duties to Powell, and the partnership created something truly special.

Solo is not without its faults, however, and the issues with the film are particularly glaring when they happen. First, the film has some serious pacing issues. This is an issue Ron Howard’s films tend to have. It just feels like it went on far too long and when I thought the finale was coming, it didn’t.

There’s also a checklist feeling to the film. One thing I really enjoyed about Rogue One was that they took a sentence, a mere moment, of the lore and expanded it for a film. Solo instead chooses to hit every major Han Solo milestone in one film, and it feels like someone at Lucasfilm has a checklist and is checking items off as they happen in the film:

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

                “Oh, he has to do this major event.”

                                “Oh, we have to explain this throwaway line.”

The film suffers from it, and they should have just picked one major event or relationship from his life to dive into. I disagree with reviewers saying this adds nothing new to the franchise, but I can also kind of understand what they mean.

Finally, there’s a scene at the end, when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean, where the film takes a major turn down a different path and it feels both forced and confusing, and while I, a major Star Wars fan, get it, I feel like casual fans won’t. Not that they can’t understand it, but it felt very out of place. While I won’t divulge this scene, but you will definitely know what I’m talking about.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thrilling adventure, one that I quite enjoyed. While it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more unique, and I still can’t claim that we needed this film, it was a nice pallet cleanser for the serious tone of The Last Jedi. There are some fine performances and some really cool sequences, the film still feels like it’s trying too hard to do too much. That being said, I cannot wait to see it again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

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

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

 

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[Harry Potter Day] Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Kenneth Branagh, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Steve Kloves

161 mins. Rated PG.

 

In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, I present to you tonight my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second film in the Wizarding World franchise.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man, Jungle) is not having a very good summer. He hasn’t received letters from any of his new Hogwarts friends like Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint, Moonwalkers, TV’s Snatch) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and the Beast). When he comes across a house-elf named Dobby in his bedroom with a warning, things get a whole lot worse. It seems that Harry Potter is in grave danger as he returns to Hogwarts for a second year. Stories of a Chamber of Secrets and an Heir to Slytherin returning to kill wizards with non-magical parents flitter through the school, and the addition of new Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn, Dunkirk), a wizard with an elaborate background of adventures and near-death, Harry finds that he will need his friends more than ever.

Director Chris Columbus (Pixels, Percy Jackson& The Olympians: The Lightning Thief) returns to helm this sequel, and it’s without question the most bloated film in the franchise. Columbus keeps things a bit too light and fluffy even with his decision to aim for a darker tone this time around. There’s the sense that Warner Bros. does not have a clear and concise direction as only part of the book series had been published up until this point. To have the shortest novel in the series be the lengthiest film is quite a feat, and the film slogs a bit throughout.

Kenneth Branagh plays Gilderoy Lockhart perfect, just as I had envisioned him while reading the books. Other new additions in the film include Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery) as Lucius Malfoy, father to Harry’s rival Draco, and Toby Jones as Dobby. Both performances are spot-on with the tone of the series and make for two characters that I wanted to see return as quickly as possible. Isaacs plays Malfoy with a clean-cut sliminess and Jones rides the line between annoying and goofy with Dobby, never straying too far to either side (there’s a rumor that Russian President Vladamir Putin disliked Dobby as he thought it was a caricature of him).

Overall, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets furthers the mythos with an ending that is incredible, exhilarating, and worth the wait. It is likely the least impressive film in the entire Wizarding World franchise, though, and it could’ve been better with a more-skilled director at the helm. Columbus is better suited to a storyteller and writer than he is behind a camera. The film should entertain fans and steers more to younger audiences than the sequels do, but it’s not technically a bad film. Just a little bit much.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

For my review of Chris Columbus’s Home Alone, click here.

 

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[Friday the 13th] Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Cast: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renee Jones, Kerry Noonan, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley

Screenplay: Tom McLoughlin

86 mins. Rated R.

 

How do you continue a slasher franchise when the killer was dead the entire previous installment. Well, you Frankenstein the hell out of him!

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI makes no question of whether or not Jason Voorhees is back. Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews, The Return of the Living Dead, The Peacemaker) killed Jason years ago as a child, and now, as part of his emotional recovery from the past, he returns to Jason’s grave to destroy Jason’s body forever. When he inadvertently causes the resurrection of the masked killer, he finds that no one believes him. Sheriff Garris (David Kagen, Getting Even with Dad, Boris and Natasha) has him arrested, believing him to be just as dangerous as the undead Jason. Thankfully, the sheriff’s attractive teenage daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke, Covenant, TV’s V) has her eyes on Tommy and believes him. Now, the newly renamed Camp Forest Green has opened, and the youthful campers have arrived at what could be a murderous buffet for Jason, and time is running out.

Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin (The Unsaid, At Risk) delivers the most meta and self-aware horror film of the Friday the 13th franchise and perhaps all of horror at that point. McLoughlin infuses his film with all the elements that this franchise needed. First of all, it made Jason a zombie, further explaining his unkillable force at work. He brought actual campers to the scene, a first for the series, adding a level of terror and suspense to the proceedings. The best element, though? He has fun with the material while never truly bastardizing the horror elements for a laugh. This is a tough line to walk, but McLoughlin walks it perfectly. Let’s face it. After six films, this formula would be wearing thin if not for a fresh flavor, and that’s what we get. Jason Lives is the best film in this franchise (there, I said it).

The performances here are serviceable at best, but that’s also something we’ve come to expect. The true star here is C.J. Graham’s Jason. Graham had never acted before, but his background in the military makes Jason an unstoppable killing machine. There’s a scene where Jason brutally murders some paintball-playing adults, and he stops for a moment to realize that he is more powerful than ever. Graham’s stoic performance is subtle enough to never fully steal the show, but he is a worthy addition to the long line of Jasons.

So there we have it. Six films in, and the franchise feels fresher than ever. The formula isn’t going to win a lot of new fans over, but this is a Friday the 13th for the die-hard fans, a celebration of the series. It’s fun while never being too funny, and it’s scary while never trying to over-complicate things. It’s just a fun film to watch, particularly in a large group. Check it out this Friday the 13th if you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.

 

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Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke

Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.

 

Well, Black Panther’s finally here. Compared to every other MCU film to date, Black Panther is one of the titles I hadn’t read until the film was revealed. Like Iron Man before it, I just didn’t know much about the character or the comic, but as soon as I heard about the adaptation and the inclusion of director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), I wanted to read as much as I could. Black Panther is under a lot of pressure to be good. Expectations have been abnormally high on this one. How did it turn out?

Picking up about a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall) arrives home in Wakanda to claim his birthright as King. He is reunited with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), an old flame who sees Wakanda’s secretive advances in technology as a tool to help the world, but T’Challa believes that revealing Wakanda for what it is puts the country in jeopardy and creates enemies. One such enemy is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, War for the Plane of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), a smuggler and arms dealer, has allied himself with the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), who has his own reasons for wanting to reach Wakanda.

Black Panther is one of the most-layered films in the MCU, and it excels in two areas that MCU films regularly fail: the villain and the music. First, the villain is an interesting and flawed character who has understandable motives in his ultimate quest. Just like Civil War before it, Black Panther presents a very interesting dilemma that has merits on both sides of the argument, and T’Challa is just as flawed with his decision as Killmonger.

The music is also a major step up from previous MCU films in that Black Panther has a theme, courtesy of Ludwig Goransson, and its complimented by Kendrick Lamar’s music supervision of the soundtrack. This film has a unique feeling that stands on its own while embracing the tightrope act of the larger MCU framework.

Coogler presents powerful themes in the film like Responsibility and Legacy. While T’Challa doesn’t want to lead from a throne, he is challenged by what has come before. He would rather be out hunting for Klaue himself. He looks up to his father but he is challenged by the difficult decisions T’Chaka had to make as king. T’Challa is forced to confront these difficult decisions and their aftermath, further conflicting his views on the legacy that his father left. The way he interacts with Killmonger, too, brings forth conflicts in identity and the question of nature vs. nurture in their lives.

I think Black Panther is a hell of a showcase of its principal cast. It’s proof of the incredible amount of top-notch performers of all races. Each role was cast with purpose, from Danai Gurira (The Visitor, TV’s The Walking Dead) as Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, an all-female team of protectors, to Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival) as Zuri, a spiritual figure in Wakanda who protects a special and powerful herb. Every performer in the film is so precisely cast that you couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. I was especially impressed with Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario) as W’Kabi, friend to T’Challa. Up until his role in Get Out, I did not know Kaluuya, but with such a small amount of screen time, he creates a lasting impression in the film.

For all the amazing things Ryan Coogler did with Black Panther, one cannot forget that this is a superhero movie in a crowded genre at the beginning of the year. He should be recognized too for the absolutely incredible experience of watching the film. Black Panther was downright fun to watch and be a part of. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d advise you to head to your theater immediately to see it in the largest crowd you can. This is probably my favorite film so far this year.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] The Florida Project (2017)

Director: Sean Baker

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Screenplay: Sean Baker, Chris Bergen

111 mins. Rated R for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role [Willem Dafoe] [Pending]

 

Many critics believe that The Florida Project was snubbed for Best Picture this year. Let me weigh in yet again.

The Florida Project follows Moonee (Brooklyn Prince, Robo-Dog: Airborne) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) who live in the Magic Castle, a cheap motel near Disney World. Moonee is not disciplined by her mother and takes part in mooching, stealing, and rudeness with friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky. Magic Castle’s manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe, Shadow of a Vampire, Death Note) tries to keep the peace, but Halley’s inability to take responsibility for her child causes many guests to complain. Bobby is torn between his duties as a manager and his concern for the well-being of the children.

I wasn’t a big fan of The Florida Project. As I say a lot, a character doesn’t have to be likable as long as they are interesting. The only character I found to be compelling and interesting in the film is Dafoe’s Bobby. His performance is strong and real. You can see the strain of his decisions weighing on him.

I really didn’t like Halley as a character. I felt bad for her child as I’ve seen this kind of thing play out in real life. The film was real and believable in a lot of ways, but these weren’t compelling characters that I wanted to spend time with, and Halley especially was more annoying and one-note.

The technical aspects are strong, though, with director Sean Baker (Tangerine, Starlet) again using his strong visual sense to fill the screen with gorgeous albeit tragic images. It’s one of the saving graces of an overall disappointing and depressing film.

I might catch some flack here for my opinion on The Florida Project, but overall, I wasn’t nearly as taken by the film as others clearly were. That’s the great thing about film. I hope you enjoy it, but I certainly didn’t. Short of Dafoe’s incredible work and the lovely cinematography, The Florida Project didn’t work for me.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Screenplay: Alex Garland

115 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

 

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a director to keep an eye out for. He is mostly known for his writing on films like Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later, but now that he is directing, his vision has never been more focused.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie, Song to Song), a biologist who signs up for a dangerous exploration of a mysterious area called The Shimmer to find out what happened to her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). What she quickly discovers upon entering is that The Shimmer does not operate by the standard laws of nature, and there is something else alive inside.

Okay, so I just got home from Annihilation and there’s a lot more to unpack before I really understand. Don’t worry, no major spoilers here. In fact, I did a pretty good job tiptoeing around spoilers in the above description. Suffice to say, Annihilation is an impressively ambitious mind-bender. I was enthralled as the film’s chess pieces moved into place and the ending was strange, beautiful, haunting, and confusing in all the right ways.

As the film moves along, there are some tremendous set pieces and some truly disturbing imagery. One of the flaws of the film, though, is that it takes a bit before it starts rollicking along. There’s some heavy exposition chunked up at the beginning of the film, and it isn’t until they enter The Shimmer that the film really takes off.

Annihilation is bolstered by tremendous acting performances from Portman as expected. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Amityville: The Awakening) plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition. Leigh is cold and broken as Ventress, a haunting portrayal of a woman driven to discover. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) is also brilliant as Josie, another member of the expedition.

Annihilation has a lot in common with other sci-fi fare on its surface, but what makes it different is the calculated pacing and the slow build of tension that is at times horrific and shockingly beautiful in equal measure. The questions it asks are not easily answered, some are not answered at all, but for all of its inquisition, Annihilation is a beautiful examination of ideas and thoughts. This one is likely to keep viewers dissecting and reassembling the piece long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Baby Driver (2017)

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Edgar Wright

112 mins. Rated R for violence and language throughout.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [Pending]

 

I missed out on Baby Driver last year. I made the attempt several times to get to the theater to catch it, but each time, I ended up missing out on it. It hit home video and I picked it up, and for months, it sat on my watch pile. Thankfully, I needed to check it off my Oscar Death Race. So here we are.

Baby (Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars, Allegiant) is a getaway driver who works somewhat freelance for Doc (Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, TV’s House of Cards). He suffers from tinnitus, and he plays music to drown it out. He is working his way toward paying off a debt to Doc and finally being free when he meets Debora (Lily James, Cinderella, Darkest Hour), an attractive diner waitress he falls head over heels for. Baby sees a future for him and Debora that is without crime, but when Doc pulls him back in, Baby finds himself in a situation where he is forced to betray everything he knows to escape.

This is the first film from writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) since completing his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, and it’s a hell of a way to break out of the wheelhouse. Wright’s direction is strongly tuned to the music (he reportedly wrote each scene with a specific song in mind and sent an iPod with a playlist out with each copy of the screenplay) so that the film feels like a big concert action film. His writing gives the feeling of larger-than-life characters existing within a realistic landscape.

Ansel Elgort shines as Baby with a performance mostly physical. Elgort uses his body language as dialogue here to react to the building tension, especially in the final act of the film, but everyone in this film feels so strongly placed, from Lily James’s Debora to Jon Hamm (Marjorie Prime, TV’s Mad Men) as Buddy (Buddy was written with Hamm in mind, and rightfully so). I also really liked Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, Pilgrimage) as Griff, though I would have liked to see more of him. To be fair, though, Jon Bernthal should be in every film.

I wasn’t all that taken with Jamie Foxx (Ray, Sleepless) as Bats, though. It just felt like he took his character from Horrible Bosses and reused him here. He isn’t terribly interesting and I would have liked to see someone else embody that psychotic thief.

But the real star of the movie here is the soundtrack and Wright’s expert handling of the action set pieces. This movie got my toes tapping more than once throughout the runtime. Wright’s focus on practical driving over CGI as much as possible helps to maintain a good pace for the film, one that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Baby Driver is one of the best action films of the last decade. It’s an enjoyable romp with terrific performances and a lot of heart both in front of and behind the camera. A passion project from Wright, the movie is similar to the director’s previous work in that it’s wholly rewatchable and endlessly fun. This is one to seek out if you missed it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] The Greatest Showman (2017)

Director: Michael Gracey

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya

Screenplay: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon

105 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) “This is Me” [Pending]

 

Musicals are getting a comeback recently thanks to La La Land. In 2017, the same lyricists contributed to The Greatest Showman, a musical biopic based on the life of P.T. Barnum. So can the film stand up to meet the music?

Phineas T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables, Logan) came from nothing. When his father died, he was forced into a life of stealing bread and selling old newspapers just to survive, but his hard work and determination to give his beloved Charity (Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea, All the Money in the World) the life she deserves brings him to the creation of P.T. Barnum’s Museum, a building of curiosities and unique people. When Barnum’s successes lead him further away from his family, he is forced to confront what is most important in his life.

Okay, so the music is incredible here. I could not stop tapping my foot all throughout the film, and I did actually enjoy myself. The best songs in the film are the opening number and, of course, “This is Me.”

The biggest problem with the movie is that the story hits familiar beats all too often. There is a lot in P.T. Barnum’s life to cover, but the screenplay focuses on some paint-by-numbers plot points like the way Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Snowman) influences the plot and the love story between Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, The Disaster Artist) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zapped).

Hugh Jackman is, thankfully, a tremendous force in the film. In prepping for his role as Barnum, he read over 30 books on the famous showman. His role is joyful, emotional, and full of life. The Greatest Showman has been a passion project for Jackman since 2009, and his passion shows through here.

I left the theater with a big damn grin after The Greatest Showman ended. Much like The Disaster Artist, the film is about the need to perform and create, and in that way, Jackman’s performance shines through. He and the rest of the cast give their all in their acting and singing, but the screenplay hits a few too many beats. That being said, this is still a lovely time, especially in the theater.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigot-Smith, Paul Higgins

Screenplay: Lee Hall

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]

 

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Florence Foster Jenkins) seems to surprise me with his films. He has regularly directed films that, on the surface, seem very boring, but when I see them, I’m often shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed them. Victoria & Abdul is another such film that seemed rather boring from what I’ve seen. But did the finished film actually work?

Victoria & Abdul is the story of a friendship between an aging Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal, Murder on the Orient Express) and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, Furious 7, Fukrey Returns). This friendship is resented by son Bertie (Eddie Izzard, Ocean’s Thirteen, The LEGO Batman Movie) and others in England, who devise several plots to get rid of Abdul and send him back to India.

Frears’s new film suffers from the same issue that some of his previous films have: their pacing. Victoria & Abdul should’ve been tightened down by cutting around 20 minutes from the film. There is a sizable chunk in the middle that doesn’t develop either character and also doesn’t advance the narrative.

What saves the film is the central relationship between Queen Victoria & Abdul Karim. It is the scenes with these two that are so spectacularly well-acted that it makes the entire viewing experience all the more enjoyable. Dench and Fazal put in some of the best performances of 2017, hands down, and their chemistry is terrific.

On the other side of that coin, I didn’t find the supporting “antagonists” of the film to be very well-written. I didn’t really understand their motives outside of them just being mad or jealous. It just didn’t work for me and I didn’t find them interesting or compelling enough to support the narrative’s driving force.

Victoria & Abdul showcases its two leads and their central relationship, and while the “villains” were less than stellar and Frears still hasn’t solved his pacing issues, Dench and Fazal have so much infectious chemistry that it still makes the film worth it. The technical merits of the film are finely-tuned here and the story is a very enjoyable character piece. Check this one out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stephen Frears’s Philomena, click here.

 

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