Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Screenplay: Martin McDonagh

115 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

 

Writer/Director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) definitely has a flavor to his work. His is a violent, darkly comedic world, one this writer wouldn’t want to live in. But I’ll definitely watch others live in it.

McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, introduces us to Mildred (Frances McDormand, Fargo, Hail, Caesar!), a grieving mother who decides to question local law enforcement’s handling of her daughter’s murder case when she rents and erects three billboards in a quiet part of town, asking if the cops have done enough in their search for the killer. This brings her to a head with Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, Lost in London, TV’s True Detective) and hotheaded officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Moon, Poltergeist). As the public takes sides in the matter, arguments and violence ramp up and Mildred and Dixon are forced to confront their anger and their past in order to move forward.

Martin McDonagh is a very accomplished character storyteller. His characters live by the principle that a character doesn’t have to be likable as long as she is interesting. Mildred isn’t very likable. Willoughby isn’t very likable. Dixon definitely isn’t likable. Dammit, though, they are interesting, as are the supporting players, particularly Peter Dinklage (Rememory, TV’s Game of Thrones) as a man who takes a liking to Mildred but can’t quite match her level of motivation.

McDonagh uses his characters and his hyper-violence to tell a deeply personal story, more so than either of his previous features. Mildred has deep personal pain and her motives are admirable, There’s a lot that makes sense in the confines of the story, with the exception of one thing.

If there is an issue with the film, it’s the ending. McDonagh chooses an ambiguous ending to his story, one that leaves character plot threads unresolved. In some cases, this can work, but after spending two hours with these people, the question he is asking is a no-brainer. The film ends with two possible paths, but one path would completely betray the character arc, so it doesn’t make sense to leave it open.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is another fascinating character piece from writer/director Martin MacDonagh. This film should be praised for its performances, particularly McDormand and Rockwell, but it is the brilliantly written screenplay that gives them so much to work with. This is a story for anyone who has ever done something crazy out of grief, and its deeply moving and yet somehow completely unhinged, and I highly recommend it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri? What did you think? What’s your favorite performance from Frances McDormand? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, click here.

 

 

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Marshall (2017)

Director: Reginald Hudlin

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown, James Cromwell

Screenplay: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Koskoff

118 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War, Gods of Egypt) has played a lot of biopics, this one being the fourth time. Is it his best?

Marshall is the story of Thurgood Marshall (Boseman) and his teaming up with Insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad, Frozen, Beauty and the Beast) to defend Joseph Spell (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, TV’s This is Us), a colored man accused of raping a woman he works for in one of Marshall’s early cases.

There are no noticeably poor actors in the film, but the standouts come in Boseman and Brown.  Brown himself turns in an incredible performance as Spell, a man who is so terrified of his situation that he doesn’t know to trust, who to talk to, and how to act. His is a stoic thoughtful performance. Boseman, too, disappears into his role as Thurgood Marshall. Boseman is no stranger to playing real life men, having already become James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Floyd Little in his career, and his performance as the future Supreme Court Justice is exemplary.

Credit should be given to Josh Gad, Dan Stevens (Kill Switch, TV’s Downton Abbey) as the prosecutor Loren Willis, and James Cromwell (The Green Mile, The Promise) as Judge Foster, a noticeably bigoted man who attempts to stop Marshall and Friedman at every attempt to prove innocence.

Director Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Serving Sara) hasn’t had a lot of experience in directing these types of films, but he holds his own quite nicely. There isn’t a lot of visual flair, but his attention to detail aids the intensity. I remember a moment when the inclusion of car lights outside made me uncomfortable for the characters knowing the situation these two men were in. The car lights were unneeded, but having them raised the intensity level just a bit more. The cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel again has moments of greatness littered throughout mixed with the restraint that you often see in courtroom dramas. The same can be said of the music. Sometimes it really works, but it doesn’t jump out at you.

Marshall is a great character piece, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find Boseman and Brown on the Oscar ballot come January, and the rest of the cast performs rather admirably. There isn’t a lot of technical flair on display here, though that isn’t really a bad thing. Marshall is a strong outing, a biopic focused on one incident and how it changed those involved. This is a film that you won’t want to miss.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Marshall yet? What did you think? And what’s the best Chadwick Boseman-led biopic? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

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American Made (2017)

Director: Doug Liman

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Screenplay: Gary Spinelli

115 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity.

 

After The Mummy, is Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation) back on track?

American Made is the true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a pilot who worked for TWA until the CIA came calling in the form of the mysterious Agent Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, mother!). Then, he works for the CIA until Pablo Escobar and company come calling. Then, he works for Pablo Escobar, the CIA, and himself as he attempts to swindle just about everyone with his faux delivery company. And Barry Seal is the man who delivers, as long as he keeps the biggest secrets from his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright, 21 & Over, TV’s Marry Me).

I had little to no real expectation for American Made. I respect Tom Cruise, but outside of Mission: Impossible, I haven’t been reeling for much from the star recently. Well, I’m glad to have been wrong. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) directed the hell out of this movie, capturing a true tonally strong sense of the late 70s/early 80s. From the moment the film starts, we get an injection of VHS tape fuzz running over the titles and from Barry’s self-recorded confessional tapes.  With all the globetrotting in the film, Liman presents a handy-dandy map of all of it to make more sense to the viewers, and it works well. Every scene in the film had care for the tone and feel.

Tom Cruise was great as the lead. He plays Barry Seal with a king of genius stupidity that echoes throughout the accidental shenanigans he finds himself in. The voice he uses is pretty solid, but you can tell he really isn’t putting the pieces together until it’s too late. In fact, he seems to be just barely skating by on luck.

Though Cruise holds much of the attention, the supporting players turn in some really enjoyable work. I’m referring specifically to Domhnall Gleeson and Caleb Landry Jones, who plays Barry’s brother-in-law JB. Gleeson is smarmy and sleazy in all the right moments and from the moment JB enters the picture, you know exactly who he is, what kind of trouble he’s about to cause, and how much you are going to hate him. All compliments, of course.

American Made is a fine film, reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street at times, and perfectly enjoyable. Its one true flaw is that it seems to go on too long, though I’m not quite sure where to cut it down. It just feels bloated even though its pace is so swift. All in all, there isn’t much to hate in a film like this, and it’s a nice opportunity to learn more about America’s estranged past.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen American Made yet? What did you think? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

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Wonder Woman (2017)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya

Screenplay: Allan Heinberg

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.

 

Well, DC did it, everyone. They finally won one. In the race to create the first good female superhero film, DC just crossed the finish line before Marvel. Kudos all around. But is it actually good?

On the mystical island of Themyscira, Diana (Gal Gadot, Fast & Furious 6, Criminal) has grown up surrounded by strong and powerful Amazonians, but when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek, Hell or High Water), an outsider, washes up on the island, Diana finds a call to action as the rest of the world need her help. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, Gladiator, 3 Days to Kill) forbids her from leaving but Diana believes it her duty to help Steve end The War to End All Wars. Once she arrives in London, Diana is met with an entirely alien culture and new adversaries in German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Big Eyes) and Spanish chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In, The Infiltrator), and it will take all Diana’s might to defeat them and bring peace back to the world.

Finally. Finally, we have an excellent super heroine film. Wonder Woman is damn good, everyone. Hearkening back to the spectacular Superman: The Movie of 1978, Wonder Woman is a fairly straight-forward telling of Diana’s backstory. It is very close plot-wise to the pilot of the Lynda Carter Woman Woman series from the 70s, but it is more successful in its adaptation of the source material.

Director Patty Jenkins (Monster, Exposed) directed the hell out of this movie, focusing on Diana’s character traits and flipping the traditional idea of the hero and the damsel. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg (TV’s The Catch) plays Diana as the hero and Steve Trevor as the damsel in distress, and Jenkins pushes it as far as she can.

Gal Gadot gives serviceable work here as Diana. She probably isn’t the best actress for the role, but she is showing signs of improvement with each installment of the DCEU. Chris Pine helps by giving fully to his performance and director Jenkins knows how to get the best from her leading lady. It also helps to have a well-balanced supporting cast of players like Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, TV’s House of Cards), Danny Huston, David Thewlis (Naked, TV’s Fargo), and Connie Nielsen. Surround yourself with greats and you will be great, and Gadot is extremely entertaining and charismatic to watch.

Now, the final act of the film falls apart quite a bit, but it is the character piece that Jenkins has presented that makes Wonder Woman such a treat to see, and being the first well-reviewed of DCEU’s slate, this bodes well for the future of the franchise and its star performer.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

What did you think of Wonder Woman? Has all the world been waiting for her? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

 

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Director: Jon Watts

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei

Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive content.

 

Spider-Man is back. For the third time. In 15 years. Good lord, I hope this one works out.

The MCU proudly welcomes Spider-Man to their slate of Phase 3 with Spider-Man: Homecoming, featuring a teenage Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible, Edge of Winter) trying to prove to de facto mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Chef) that he has what it takes to be an Avenger. Peter also the task of balancing his heroics with a failing social life and his schoolwork. Meanwhile, Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton, Birdman, American Assassin) has been acquiring alien tech with the help of his villainous crew and a mechanical winged suit. Peter thinks he has what it takes to unmask the Vulture and defeat him, but Tony knows better. But as Peter makes foolish mistakes that risk his own safety as well as the safety of his aunt May (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler, Spare Parts), he finds himself coming closer to the Vulture…and closer to losing it all.

Spider-Man: Homecoming proves that as a franchise continues, it doesn’t necessarily have to get bigger. The Vulture is a real villain (with unreal tech) who only wants to provide for his family. There is a heart to his mission even if it is a villainous one. He’s relatable, except that he flies around in a Vulture suit.

The tone of the film is nicely executed by director Jon Watts (Cop Car, Clown) and gives off John Hughes vibes which was the goal of the film. Spider-Man: Homecoming never gets bogged down by heavy exposition or darkness. It always stays light and fluffy and fun.

And did anybody miss the origin? I didn’t, and the film is better for not being an origin story. Spider-Man fans and non-fans all know the origin, and if they don’t know it, they can just watch one of the other Spider-Man films. We don’t need to be reminded of Uncle Ben. We don’t need an unnecessarily convoluted subplot with Peter’s parents or with Aunt May. In fact, Tomei’s portrayal of Aunt May is fresh, too. She comes off like a big sister. Ignore the origin. And don’t force Oscorp in just because it’s Spider-Man. I’m curious to see how they play Harry Osborn if they ever do it, but it would have been unneeded in this film.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is imperfect, but it does make a lot of gains for the character and franchise now that he is firmly in the MCU. I didn’t feel like every joke landed and there are some untied up plot threads I would rather see finished, but overall, this is my second favorite Spider-Man film (I really love Spider-Man 2 and Doc Ock). A worthy addition to the MCU.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So what did you think of Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: Homecoming? Is the MCU the right home for Peter Parker? And what’s your favorite Spider-Man film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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Sleepless (2017)

Director: Baran bo Odar

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Gabrielle Union, Scoot McNairy

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

95 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

Sleepless is the story of Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Baby Driver), a corrupt cop who steals a cocaine shipment from Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Dirty Grandpa). When Rubino’s men assault Vincent and kidnap his son, the crooked cop needs to retrieve the coke and return it. Matters are further complicated by Internal Affairs agents Bryant (Michelle Monaghan, Source Code, Mission: Impossible III) and Dennison (David Harbour, Suicide Squad, TV’s Stranger Things). Now, time is not on Vincent’s side as he navigates the city in order to save his son and keep his cover from being blown.

It’s hard to defend a movie when its star can’t even find good in it. Jamie Foxx has come out numerous times refusing to give any merit to Sleepless, and he’s right. There isn’t anything good here, including Foxx’s performance. He is one-note, unlikable, and uninteresting.

That’s not all. I didn’t really like anyone in the film. Mulroney and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire) are both flat villains, not given enough room to play. The Internal Affairs agents are both fools for not being able to put together that Vincent has been crooked. There just isn’t anything good in this remake of the foreign language Sleepless Night.

Director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I, The Silence) has delivered a hollow husk of a thriller that is neither thrilling nor redeemable. The screenplay, from Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father) trips over itself, falling into cliché. The final twist does nothing to the plot or the characters worth speaking about.

Sleepless is, not surprisingly, bad. It starts with a premise not all that good and underwhelms sluggishly to its end. This is a forgettable experience. I’d certainly like to forget it.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay: James Gunn

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.

 

Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is now available on home video and streaming platforms, and this film was universally liked but not universally loved. I took another look at it to see how I really felt.

Set a few months after the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Passengers) and the team find themselves on the run from the Sovereigns when they come across a being known as Ego (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) who announces that he is Peter’s father and has been looking for him. Peter takes off with Ego and brings along Drax (Dave Bautista, Spectre, Enter the Warriors Gate) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Avatar, Live by Night), leaving Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, Furious 7, Riddick)  to fix the ship and keep an eye on their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus, The Circle) who is very much alive. While Peter learns much of his heritage from Ego, there is something strangely perfect looming over their time on the living planet while Rocket and Groot are hunted down by the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger, The Belko Experiment). With the team split up, they soon learn that they are at their strongest when they stick together in this sequel helmed by James Gunn (Movie 43, Super).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 an improvement over the original? No, but does it have to be? No. I’m tired of these comparisons that say that a sequel or follow-up is not successful unless it surpasses the original. It doesn’t have to. But there are some things that are better. First off, I think the film’s coverage of its secondary characters is better. We get a much better look at Yondu that’s more than the somewhat one-dimensional character we had in the original. Michael Rooker is a masterful and often forgotten character actor and he absolutely shines here.

I also think the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is the best one in his entire filmography, which, at this point, is a pretty impressive feat. James Gunn’s choice to overload the end credits with five mid and post-credit scenes is brilliant and it adds to the insanity. I think overall, Gunn’s choice to embrace the flavor of what he brought to the screen is the winning element of the Guardians of the Galaxy series. You probably saw the music video for Inferno, the Guardians theme, recently, and I love that this kind of marketing and viral social meeting presence is available to fans.

I also felt that the relationship between Star-Lord and Ego is an interesting and complex one. Chris Pratt said in an interview that this film helped him to get over the death of his own father. Theirs is the driving force of the film and everything feeds off it. In fact, this is a film about fathers and the families we create, whether by blood or not (oh, and the de-aging of the devilishly handsome Kurt Russell is pretty impressive).

Things that altogether weren’t as good as they should have been? Really, it’s a small list, but I wish Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Oldboy, Hacker’s Game) could’ve done more. I think we will see more of Mantis later, but I felt like she was underused. I also was never a big fan of the Nebula/Gamora dynamic and I hope more relevance comes to this when Infinity War hits. Then there’s the loss of Nathan Fillion’s terrific cameo. I wish there had been a place to squeeze him in, but the film is rather bloated. Maybe that’s it. There’s so much going on that the film feels a little bloated. Yeah, that’s it.

“I am Groot.” -Groot

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a fine film and a fine addition to the MCU. I love these characters and treasure further adventures with all of them. The soundtrack is subtle and important and stays with you long after the film ends (I’m still humming it). Yeah, it’s just a damn fun time at the movies and in that respect, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & 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 Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

 

 

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The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium (2017)

Director: Stan Lathan

Cast: Dave Chappelle, Morgan Freeman

Screenplay: Dave Chappelle

67 mins. Rated TV-MA.

 

Dave Chappelle (Half Baked, Chi-Raq) made his triumphant return to the stand-up special this year with two shows, the first of which we will talk about today. The Age of Spin is Dave Chappelle’s show at the Hollywood Palladium and it is a doozy. Chappelle warns his audience early by telling them to “man the fuck up” because this is Chappelle at his most unrestrained. During his time on stage, Chappelle chronicles his thoughts on LA Cops, his current standing in the black community, his feud/not feud with Kevin Hart, and his examination on Bill Cosby.

The strongest part of the show is Chappelle promising to tell his audience about all four times he met O.J. Simpson. And he delivers on that promise well. The four meetings each set up another piece of the layered puzzle of Chappelle’s life. This is a comedian who is offensive, unforgiving, and most of all, absolutely hilarious.

And yet, the entire show feels like a conversation with an old friend you haven’t seen in some time. You invite him into your home (thanks to Netflix) and he catches you up on what he’s been doing as of late. It’s like grabbing a cup of coffee with a pal. Okay, maybe a smoke and a drink.

The Age of Spin is an incredible return for Dave Chappelle. He is unapologetic and his audience is all the more thankful for it. But he is respectful in his craft, pausing at the end of his show to ask for a moment of silence for the loss of Garry Shandling which occurred the same week as the taping of the special.  This is one stand-up special that stays with you.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vog-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief language.

 

Creating a MonsterVerse (I believe that’s the working title) is nothing new. As far back as the third entry in the Japanese Godzilla franchise showed the big kaiju taking on King Kong. But in the world of cinematic universe, at least this one is taking a little time.

Set in the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island sees a group of scientists and soldiers , led by former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers, The Night Manager) and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Incredibles), make their way to the mythic island in search of adventure. In the process, they learn that the island already has an owner, the mighty Kong, who does not want visitors. Other inhabitants of the island include giant monsters dubbed Skullcrawlers as well as missing-in-action Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Wreck-It Ralph). Now, cut off from the rest of the world and possible stranded on Skull Island, the team must find a way to escape before they are ripped to shreds by the many creatures residing on the island.

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is a rather simple one, and it may be the film’s cardinal sin. The simplicity of the put-a-bunch-of-people-on-an-island-and-pick-them-off-one-at-a-time idea feels unoriginal in a film that takes a familiar monster in King Kong and tries to break new ground with it. I can applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something original melding a bunch of the most famous King Kong works into one (seriously, there are parts of all three major King Kong films here as well as belting out references to Apocalypse Now and setting up more of the MonsterVerse). It’s safe to say that there are a lot of moving parts to Kong: Skull Island.

The film is entertaining though. The action sequences are beautifully shot and a lot of fun to watch. Kong is the star of the film and every scene that features him showcases the great motion capture work from Terry Notary (Warcraft) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls). Kong works, and therefore the film works.

I hope that as the MonsterVerse continues to build, the filmmakers working within it try to marry great human characters with the intense action sequences the franchise is likely to be known for. Between the two MonsterVerse films we have, I find Kong: Skull Island to be a much more entertaining film, and I hope the upward trajectory of this franchise continues all the way to the long-awaited mash-up, Godzilla vs. King Kong. Kong: Skull Island is a fine action film that is great at what it needs to be great at…action. Now, if they could only make the humans more interesting, the film would feel much fuller.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Nick Offerman: American Ham, click here.

 

 

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[Early Review] Annabelle: Creation (2017)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Talitha Bateman, Anthony LaPaglia

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

109 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

Hey everyone, I had the chance to catch an early screening for Annabelle: Creation, the prequel to a prequel to The Conjuring. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Real quick, let’s track this franchise…

There are further planned films in The Conjuring Universe, including a third Conjuring film as well as further spin-offs for The Nun and The Crooked Man, but I’m digressing…

Annabelle: Creation is the story of a nun, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman, Spectre, Once Upon a Time in Venice), and a few orphaned girls who are taken in by the Mullins, Esther (Miranda Otto, TV’s 24: Legacy, War of the Worlds) and Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia, TV’s Without a Trace, The Assignment). Janice (Talitha Bateman, Nine Lives, The 5th Wave) immediately begins witnessing strange and unexplained events, seemingly surrounding a doll made by Mr. Mullins. Soon, Linda (Lulu Wilson, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Deliver Us from Evil), Janice’s best friend, starts to see it too, and she fears for Janice’s safety. It becomes clear that Mr. and Mrs. Mullins have a terrible secret hidden in their past that is about to break free and put the orphans in unimaginable danger.

First off, I have to say that I was very nervous about another Annabelle film. While I thought the first Annabelle film was okay, I understood that it existed within the larger framework of The Conjuring which was a truly excellent film and the difference in quality was just too wide. Then, I noticed that the prequel had the same screenwriter as the first film, Gary Dauberman (Swamp Devil, Within), and I assumed that we wouldn’t see anything too different from the original. Finally, I noticed that the film was pulled from its original release and placed in August. The studio reasoning for this was to avoid competition with Alien: Covenant, which made sense but also could’ve been a really good spin on the story.

But there was also good news bits. First, James Wan, director of The Conjuring and producer for Annabelle, explained that they had heard the reviews for Annabelle and were going to use the feedback to craft a stronger film. Then, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) came aboard the project as a director. This is what kicked my excitement into full gear.

The finished project is a definite step up for the Annabelle series. Sandberg fills his film with frights and mood that stacks as the film progresses into an amazingly tense nail-biting finale. The performers were also very strong. We are seeing an amazing year for young female performers from films such as The Beguiled, and Bateman and Wilson are no exception. Their work, particularly in the scenes they share, is exemplary. Annabelle: Creation also holds strong with seasoned performers like Otto and LaPaglia that help to elevate the girls’ acting.

The film is not entirely without flaws, however, and Annabelle: Creation does suffer due to its somewhat simplistic storytelling. There isn’t a lot of shock to the film’s narrative and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to engage its audience. Thankfully, Sandberg knows how to get the best that he can from his characters, but there are moments when Annabelle: Creation falls back on its tropes. There is just enough in the film that works that it didn’t ruin my enjoyment when the plot sauntered into cliché.

I also felt like the ending didn’t stand on its own but relied rather heavily on the audience’s awareness of the franchise. I don’t really want to get into it but the film doesn’t feel like it has an ending.

Overall, Annabelle: Creation is not likely to disappoint fans of the horror genre. There are genuinely creepy moments especially in the finale that work really well. For Sandberg, this isn’t a better outing than Lights Out but it proves that the director is capable of stepping into someone else’s sandbox and playing nice with it. Annabelle: Creation both excites me for Sandberg’s next project (Shazam for DC) as well as the further widening of The Conjuring Universe. I would advise horror fans to give the one a try.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Annabelle: Creation? What did you think of it? And what spin-off from The Conjuring are you most excited for? The Nun? The Crooked Man? A possible Annabelle 3? Let me know! Drop a comment below!

 

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

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

 

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