[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 4 – Tales of Halloween (2015)

 

Directors: Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Hasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp, Paul Solet

Cast: Adrienne Barbeau Grace Phipps, Lin Shaye, Booboo Stewart, Caroline Williams, Barbara Crampton, Greg Grunberg

Screenplay: Axelle Carolyn, Dave Parker, Clint Sears, Greg Commons, Lucky McKee, Molly Millions, John Skipp, Andrew Kasch, Mike Mendez, Ryan Schifrin, Neil Marshall

92 mins. Rated R for strong bloody horror violence throughout, language and brief drug use.

 

Okay, not a ton of time tonight so I will make it quick. Go to Netflix and watch Tales of Halloween. I’m not suggesting it because it’s perfect, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Tales of Halloween is an anthology of ten shorts all centered around the same town on Halloween night. Characters intersect occasionally throughout, and a lot of people are watching Night of the Living Dead. The tone is mostly horror comedy but each short feels all its own while still belonging to the collection. There are tremendously talented people both in front of and behind the camera, like directors Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Abattoir) and Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion).

I won’t get into what each short’s plot is, it is far more fun to see it all, but they are mostly independent while still serving a larger mythos, primarily aided by a Radio DJ (Adrienne Barbeau, The Fog, Beyond the Edge) and other elements. Most anthologies live by the “not-all-of-them-will-be-good syndrome” which is also true to this one, but unlike other anthologies, these pieces are less than ten minutes, so if you don’t like one, it doesn’t take away from the experience. The one unholy flaw of this film is the awful animated credits piece which feels ripped out of Creepshow III. The opening introduces the titles of each tale and its director, but I would have rather seen that before each piece begins in order to separate them more.

Tales of Halloween is imperfect, but dammit I enjoyed myself. There is a lot to love here (and a little to despise) but all well-attempted nonetheless. Check this one out as it will still likely be on Netflix.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of Lucky McKee’s The Woman, click here.

For my review of Mike Mendez’s Big Ass Spider!, click here.

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

Director: Robert Eggers

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

Screenplay: Robert Eggers

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Oscar Madness Monday] Straight Outta Compton (2015)

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Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

Screenplay: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff

147 mins. Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

Who would’ve thought that Straight Outta Compton would be an Oscar contender? 2015 was great.

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Straight Outta Compton is the story of NWA, specifically Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, Keanu, Broken City), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins, Non-Stop, Romeo and Juliet), and the effect that they made on the music industry in the 1980s and 90s. It also tells of NWA’s involvement with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, Sideways, Ratchet & Clank), the manager of the group.

Straight Outta Compton seemingly came out of nowhere. I didn’t think it would be very good. I was wrong. This was more than just a fun movie. This was excellent film making. To be honest, my immediate dismissal of this film came from F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Law Abiding Citizen). I enjoyed The Italian Job somewhat, but I absolutely hated Law Abiding Citizen. So I wasn’t too keen. I was, as I said, wrong.

The best elements of the film, though, come from the leads. Jackson, Hawkins, and Mitchell were all amazing, and their performances were aided by Paul Giamatti and his pitch-perfect portrayal of Jerry Heller.

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Straight Outta Compton chooses to cover every side of the beginnings and ends of NWA and everything in between. This movie is a lot of film. It runs a bit lengthy, so spend some time to watch this behemoth. It is worth it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

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Director: Billy Ray

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Alfred Molina

Screenplay: Billy Ray

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.

 

Secret in Their Eyes is an American remake of a 2009 Oscar-winning foreign language film. The original 2009 film is a celebrated masterpiece (honestly, this writer has not seen the original film, but hey, I just watched the remake), and the remake stars three big players in the acting world. What could go wrong?

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Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) and fellow investigator Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts, Notting Hill, The Normal Heart) respond to a report of a body found near a mosque they are monitoring back in 2002, three months after 9/11. When the body found is Cobb’s daughter, their lives are forever strained and torn as Ray finds his allegiance to a counter-terrorism task force pulling him away from uncovering the truth about the murder. He is further tormented by the love he has for superior Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, Before I Go to Sleep). Years later, Ray’s lust for answers brings him back to the case and a shocking realization he isn’t quite ready for.

Secret in Their Eyes starts out interestingly enough. I really wanted to uncover the truth after a fantastic scene where Julia Roberts becomes hysterical at the sight of her daughter’s body. After that powerful sequences, the film comes to a crashing halt as the film seemingly goes nowhere for the next ninety minutes. Damn, it got boring real fast.

Ejiofor and Kidman are barely awake in their roles, and Roberts bounds between incredible performance and out-of-tune dialogue that she cannot latch onto. It would seem that Secret in Their Eyes has everything going for it, and yet nothing here works. Writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach) has a poor screenplay and cannot seem to handle his actors, even while maintaining moments of sheer beauty in the cinematography and the occasional gripping sequence.

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Overall, Secret in Their Eyes struggles to find a purpose, even after having tailored itself to a tragic period in recent American history. The film scours for reason and just cannot find it. Everything that it tries to accomplish is outdone by a similar film Prisoners, which came out back in 2013. The performances are bland and the story goes nowhere. A true disappointment.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Green Room (2015)

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Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Screenplay: Jeremy Saulnier

94 mins. Rated R for strong brutal graphic violence, gory images, language and some drug content.

 

I’m hardly the first person to see Green Room. It premiered last year at Cannes to solid reviews. But, I was lucky enough to be a part of an advance screening last night, and let me tell you, it was worth it.

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Green Room is the story of a band called “The Ain’t Rights” as they, desperate for income, pick up a quick gig near Portland, which they quickly discover is a skinhead Neo-Nazi bar. When Pat (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek, Burying the Ex) goes back to the green room to collect a cell phone, he unknowingly stumbles upon a horrific scene, and now, he and his bandmates are in for the fight of their life, holed up in the green room as the skinheads, led by Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart, TV’s American Dad, Ted 2) attempt to tear them apart in order to cover their tracks.

Green Room is absolutely intense during the entirety of its 94-minute runtime. I found my hands shaking and sweating as I reeled in my seat. Anton Yelchin is a great lead as the de facto brave leader of the band. His guttural performance left me with chilled to the bone. On the other side, Patrick Stewart plays a monster in a man’s body as the ruthless villain Darcy. He gives such a creepy and nuanced performance without falling into cliché.

Imogen Poots (Need for Speed, Knight of Cups), who also appeared with Yelchin in the Fright Night remake a few years back, plays Amber, another witness to the murder in the green room, and she finds herself joined up with The Ain’t Rights for survival. Poots gives great work as Amber and provides an uneasiness to her unhinged character.

I saw director Jeremy Saulnier’s early film Murder Party, and while it has been some time, I recall enjoying that one quite a lot, though in tone the two films find themselves somewhat distanced. Saulnier’s screenplay gives out some awkward chuckles that relieved me in between the moments of sheer animosity. Even with the comedic elements, the shock and horror felt unrelenting. The faults with the film line up with a simple setup made somewhat more confusing at the beginning. It took me a bit longer than it should have to put the pieces of this film in place, but it didn’t detract from my viewing.

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I’m happy to say that Green Room is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a theater in some time. I really enjoyed myself and cannot wait to see what this filmmaker has next. His use of top notch performances with a terrifying environment in a film I’m not sure I can even compare to another. It was a great time at the movies and an exhilarating experience overall.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Daddy’s Home (2015)

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Director: Sean Anders

Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini

Screenplay: Brian Burns, Sean Anders

96 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, crude and suggestive content, and for language.

 

Will Ferrell (Step Brothers, Zoolander 2) is a polarizing comic actor. To most, he creates comedy gold, but his comedy makes no apologies and doesn’t try to win over his detractors. I, personally, enjoy Ferrell more than chastise him, so what did I think of his newest flick with Mark Wahlberg (Boogies Nights, Entourage)?

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Brad Whitaker (Ferrell) is happy to be a father. Well, er, stepfather. His beautiful wife Sara (Linda Cardellini, TV’s ER, Avengers: Age of Ultron) has two children, and since Brad can’t father his own, he is more than happy to be a surrogate parent to them, but just as Brad is beginning to win them over, the family receives a call from actual father Dusty (Wahlberg), who is coming to town. Afraid to lose his family, Brad attempts to stand his ground with Dusty, but can Brad be the tough guy that Dusty? Can he be the real daddy?

Daddy’s Home is a simple premise, one that is fairly relatable. The problem is that it can’t decide what type of comedy it wants to be. When a film runs on for some time before making me laugh, I had a tendency to count the number of times I actually chuckle. Four. Four times. The movie just isn’t funny. I admire the comedic elements of the script, but they just don’t work for Ferrell’s comedy chops, and Wahlberg falls flat on every joke. There isn’t a ton to like here.

Linda Cardellini is a funny actress, but she has nowhere to play here, and the cast is joined by Thomas Haden Church who appears to pick up his cell and is actually phoning in a performance (okay, not really, but did he even learn his scenes?).

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Daddy’s Home has elements that work; there are just too many other elements that don’t. I want to like it, but the sad truth: director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2, That’s My Boy) just can’t seem to find a funny bone, and the film suffers from it.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Brooklyn (2015)

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Director: John Crowley

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Saoirse Ronan]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

It seems that every Oscar season, a film comes along, usually with a Best Picture nomination, that I just don’t think will be any good. Some years, I get pleasantly surprised (thinking Philomena here) and other years, I get The Grand Budapest Hotel (which, I get it, many of you enjoyed, but I most certainly did not). This year, that film was Brooklyn. But do I have a winner here or more of the dreckish variety?

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Brooklyn features Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Lost River) as Eilis, an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The film follows her leaving of Ireland and learning to adapt to the American lifestyle. It also shows her finding love in Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Gambler), a nice young Italian man she meets, and how their relationship is tested by her family, her situation, and her past. In comes Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a more comfortable alternative to Tony and Eilis finds herself in a painful position where one heart is destined to be broken.

Brooklyn feels from the surface like a film we’ve seen before, and in fact, from the very beginning, I was doubting its ability to keep me interested. Indeed, it did take me about 10 minutes to be absolutely sucked in, and I was. The film’s pacing picked up almost immediately and didn’t drop off.

Saoirse Ronan commands the screen in her portrayal of Eilis, a young woman torn between the promises and duties she has been tasked in life. Eilis is a woman who doesn’t not own her life at the beginning, but she learns to take charge in order to survive.

Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson play two perfectly opposite sides of the coin, each presenting Eilis with an entirely different complete with pros on cons. Both actors seek to aid Nick Hornby’s (An Education, Wild) excellent screenplay.

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Lastly, the musical score is a beautiful bow to place on this film, which pollinates multiple genres without truly sticking with just one. Brooklyn is a wonderfully nuanced and performed film with a terrific script backing it up. Saoirse Ronan may not walk away with the trophy for her work here, but Brooklyn is another great showcase of the young actress’s multi-layered skills.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

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The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

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Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

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Director: Liz Garbus

Cast: Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite, Lisa Simone Kelly

101 mins. Not Rated

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

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Netflix certainly has their documentary game down. This is the third consecutive year where Netflix has a doc in the Academy Award race.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is the 2015 look at the life of legendary musician and activist Nina Simone and lifelong journey she takes. The film is packed with performances and interviews with Nina and her family/friends/acquaintances alongside previously unseen footage from the entertainer’s life. It paints a mixed portrait, sometimes uplifting, often tragic, of Miss Simone’s world.

I’ve known about Nina Simone’s music for some time, and I’ve often found her to be a terrific musician. I did not know much about her from a personal standpoint. Much of the documentary is interesting but I did find it to drag at times trying to get the most out of its runtime. The pacing is off, and the film does suffer because of it. The look at Simone’s career and activism does remain unbiased, though, in areas where it would be all too easy to drag in one direction.

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Looking back on it now, it seems an all-too-fitting film to be a part of the Oscar race. In an Oscar race where people look to the #OscarsStillSoWhite actors but fail to see the powerful documentary about the African-American activist and the ethnicity of the people behind the cameras of some of the best films of the year, and while I didn’t exactly love this picture, I agree that it is an important film for our time and very fitting for such a world that we live in.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe