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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[Early Review] Detroit (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie

Screenplay: Mark Boal

143 mins. Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.

 

Folks, I just saw Detroit the other night, and I have to talk about it.

Detroit is the newest film from acclaimed director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and her frequent screenwriter Mark Boal. It offers snapshots into the Detroit Riots of 1967, specifically the events that took place at the Algiers Motel over the course of a very dangerous and bloody evening. Security Guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Circle) simply attempts to offer coffee to his fellow armed forces, but he is quickly forced into a situation where he does not know the right call to make, or if he is even able to make it. Racially-charged officer Philip Krauss (The Revenant, War Machine) finds himself taking multiple people hostage at the Algiers Motel, including singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith, Earth to Echo, Let It Shine), whose night quickly turns from dream to nightmare.

While the events of the Detroit riots are known to this writer, I wasn’t particularly aware of the Algiers Motel incident until just recently, and Kathryn Bigelow expertly handles the story in a respectful but unforgiving manner. This is not an easy movie to watch, but I found myself unable to look away when I was exposed to the atrocities committed. At the screening I attended, an elderly African American woman frequently sobbed during the disturbing altercations between the white cops and their hostages.

John Boyega’s turn as Dismukes is amazing, and the way his character handles the situation with careful attention is shocking and difficult to witness. His scenes with Poulter are definitely powerful, as Poulter steals the screen with every scene. But it is Algee Smith, who plays Larry, who has the most compelling story of the film. The heartbreaking and nuanced performance Smith gives is unforgettable and should garner him some attention come award season.

I cannot say anything bad about the performances in this movie, and I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t recognize the great work from Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island), John Krasinski (TV’s The Office, 13 Hours), and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War, All the Way) in supporting roles. The film is just that good. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, even with the lengthy runtime.

The only true flaw in the film is the reliance on shaky-cam cinematography, something that Bigelow has notably used in her most recent films, and it does tend to distract at times here. Overall, this isn’t a film-killing amount of shaky, but it does detract.

Detroit is in many ways like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, also released this year, in that it chooses to take a major event and boil it down to the characters, the people, that lived it. This isn’t grandiose filmmaking but personal storytelling. Bigelow’s film shows heroes and villains on both sides of the racially poignant film. Detroit is indeed a film you need to see, but it isn’t one you will necessarily want to see again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Atomic Blonde (2017)

Director: David Leitch

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman

Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad

115 mins. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.

 

I saw Atomic Blonde the other night, and I was heavily intrigued walking into the theater. After all, David Leitch has proven he knows action and the trailers had a lot of bite, so how was the film?

Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fate of the Furious) is sent to Germany in 1989 right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall to retrieve The List, an important piece of intel containing information about all current operating spies. Lorraine is ordered to work with David Percival (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Split), a Berlin station chief who has gone native, in order to retrieve The List and take down a powerful group of spies in the process.

Atomic Blonde has some of the best action sequences of any film in the past few years. Charlize Theron proves herself yet again capable of playing a strong kick-ass female protagonist, and her scenes where she is whooping her adversaries are incredibly strong. The rest of the film, however, falls flat rather quickly. We are introduced to interesting characters like Til Schweiger’s Watchmaker and Bill Skarsgard’s Merkel and then instead are subjected to poor villains (and far too many) that are underdeveloped. It’s as if somebody said, “Yeah, there are Russians and Germans and it’s set in the Cold War,” and somehow that was enough. But it wasn’t. I actually would have liked to see more inclusion from Broughton’s allies, including Toby Jones as Eric Gray, her handler, and John Goodman (Monsters, Inc., Bunyan and Babe) as Emmett Kurzfeld, a CIA agent. Sadly, these two great supporting players are relegated to a small role that amounts to little more than a framing device.

The plot is overly convoluted with twists and turns for the sake of having twists and turns, and every time that the bullets stopped flying, I lost interest. This is especially apparent near the end of the film when everything Shyamalans pretty hardcore. By the time the ending hit, I was mostly out of it.

That’s not to say it’s the worst film ever. I liked some of the more stylistic flairs like the titles displayed as spray painted Berlin Wall-esque touches, and the soundtrack is exceptional and worth listening to, but there just wasn’t enough outside the fight scenes to cling to, and Atomic Blonde suffers from it.

Overall, Atomic Blonde is mindless action, but its major detractors are its plot, and no film should have that noted. Charlize Theron does better than I expected again, and she is surrounded by capable players that have nothing to do.  The film quickly finds itself out of excitement and it isn’t something I see myself wanting to watch again.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

 

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[Early Review] War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves

140 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes opens tonight, but I got a chance to catch it earlier in the week following a rewatch of the previous two installments. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one that I enjoyed, but it has since really grown on me a lot more. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one I already loved but seeing it again on the big screen only increased my respect of the film. So what about War?

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) returns to helm this third chapter in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise. In it, Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Adventures of Tintin) leads a vengeful rampage after his home is attacked by a team of human soldiers led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson, No Country for Old Men, Wilson). Along the way, he comes across a mute little girl and a new ally nicknamed Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Fantastic) in his mission to take out the human threat, but he underestimates the horrifying tactics the Colonel is willing to use in order to save the human race and keep Earth from becoming a Planet of Apes.

Damn. War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. It’s so rare to find a trilogy in which each installment gets better and better, but this Caesar trilogy actually does it. Even the second and third installment, both from director Reeves, prove to be different films that each tell a different story with a different flavor. The first film is a film about the dangers of science and the mistakes of hubris. The second film is a Shakespearian tragedy about leaders trying walking a dangerous tightrope in effort to avoid conflict. With this third film, Reeves hits elements of classic Westerns while also hitting homage to Apocalypse Now and other classic war films.

The performance from Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn using motion capture is unmatched, as are the other MoCap performers, but it is the scenes Serkis shares with Harrelson that create electricity on the screen. You forget that you are watching a MoCap performance here, and it is incredibly engaging and moving.

There’s also the element of Donkeys that Reeves uses in the film. War features apes, remnants of Koba’s faction, who fight for the humans, termed Donkeys. The interesting parallels created by Reeves and co-screenwriter Mark Bomback are interesting, intense, and unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory.

War for the Planet of the Apes is another fantastic release in 2017. It is the end of an amazing trilogy, one of the best ever put to screen. You need to see this movie for its incredible performances, the gorgeous cinematography, and the unbelievable advances in motion capture. It’s an experience I’m not likely to forget, and with the exception of a little pacing in the second act, it’s a near-perfect film.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

For my review of Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

[Early Review] The Big Sick (2017)

Director: Michael Showalter

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher

Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

120 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

 

The Big Sick opens in several markets tomorrow, and I was lucky enough to catch an early viewing of the film. What did I think? It just might be the best film of the year.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, TV’s Silicon Valley, Fist Fight) is a struggling comic living in Chicago when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks, Our Brand is Crisis). The two build a romance, but Kumail’s Pakistani family are regularly setting Kumail up with other women in an attempt to force an arranged marriage. It forces Kumail and Emily into a breaking point, but when Emily ends up in the hospital sick with something the doctors cannot diagnose, Kumail takes up residence at her side while creating conflict with Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter, The Incredibles, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Terry (Ray Romano, TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond, Ice Age: Collision Course).

The Big Sick is a touching, beautiful, and very funny look at the goings on of an American relationship, the central focus of the film being adapted from Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s actual courtship. It holds actual emotional resonance and is capably handled by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris, The Baxter).

I think the biggest win for The Big Sick, apart from its excellent screenplay, come from its performers. This is a standout performance for Nanjiani, but Hunter and Romano are excellent as the awkward and impersonal Beth and Terry. This should be a year of nominations for both.

The third act does run on a bit longer than it needs, but The Big Sick is an excellent character piece. I fell in love with these characters and I can’t wait to see this film over and over again, and I  think you’ll agree. This film has become my favorite film in 2017 (sorry Okja).

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] The Beguiled (2017)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning

Screenplay: Sofia Coppola

93 mins. Rated R for some sexuality.

 

The Beguiled is the second adaptation of the 1966 novel A Painted Devil (rather than a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood) and features Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as a Civil War soldier taken in by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman, TV’s Big Little Lies, The Hours) after he is found injured nearby. Miss Martha runs a girls’ school in Virginia, and Corporal McBurney is the first interaction many of the women have had with the war. Miss Martha is untrusting of the man and how quickly he gains the trust of teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man, Hidden Figures) and the girls of the school. Miss Martha continues to remind him that he will leave as soon as he is healed and repeatedly threatens to turn him over to the Confederate Army. The house is very quickly altered by McBurney’s presence, bubbling with sexual tension and jealousy among the inhabitants until finally it takes a shocking and unexpected turn, putting them all in grave danger.

I had to really tiptoe around this synopsis as I dare not spoil the events depicted in this new film from Writer/Director Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, A Very Murray Christmas). I would also advise you to avoid trailers for the film as they give away a bit too much. Overall, I enjoyed The Beguiled much more than I expected to.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like about the film. First, the writing of Colin Farrell’s character. I love Colin Farrell when he gets it right. Sure, he’s had stumbles in his career, but when he nails it, he really nails it. And he is great in The Beguiled, but the manner in which his character is written doesn’t feel like a fully-formed arc. His performance is top notch but there isn’t enough screen time for us as viewers to accept the journey his character takes.

I also didn’t really like the ending. It felt almost too easy, and there’s a near-horrific plot point that gets brushed away too easily that would’ve made things more interesting. Overall, the ending does linger with you, but I think there could’ve been more to it.

Everything else in the film is amazing, most notably the incredible performance from Nicole Kidman. Coming off her Oscar-nominated performance in Lion, Kidman is chillingly cold as Miss Martha, a motivated and strong woman who takes charge of her situation. There’s a beauty to her performance with an underlying uneasiness, especially when she shares the screen with Farrell. The rest of the performances are great as well, but I want to recognize Elle Fanning (Maleficent, 20th Century Women) and Angourie Rice (who you may remember from last year’s The Nice Guys, if anyone else actually saw it) for their turns as members of the school. Both of these actresses give impressive turns in every film and The Beguiled is no exception.

Sofia Coppola became the second female director ever to win Best Director at Cannes (and hopefully we won’t wait 50 years for another), and The Beguiled is a worthy film of such an award. Its tension and drama is all based around its characters , usually a win for Coppola. The film stumbles rarely, but manages to pick itself up rather quickly and recover. It’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year, and it is worth your time to catch it when it expands to wide release this weekend.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Director: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon

Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker

Screenplay: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio

90 mins. Rated PG for action and mild humor.

 

Despicable Me 3 opens with Gru (Steve Carell, Foxcatcher, Café Society) losing his job at the AVL (Anti-Villain League) for failing to capture Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Team America: World Police), a child-star-turned-villain bent on stealing the world’s most expensive diamond. Now Gru, Lucy (Kristen Wiig, The Martian, How to Train Your Dragon 2), both jobless, are invited to meet his long-lost brother Dru (also voiced by Carell), a successful, rich, and slightly better looking twin who wishes for Gru to train him in the family business: villainy. Gru decides to utilize his brother’s impressive cache of expensive technology to capture Bratt and get back into the AVL. Also, there are minions.

If you were looking for anything new or shocking in Despicable Me 3, take this as a warning. For the most part, you won’t find anything that rockets this franchise to the next level short of the excellent voice work by Parker, who is mostly known for his foul-mouthed presence on the popular Comedy Central series South Park. That being said, writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (The Secret Life of Pets, The Lorax) asked themselves, “What is this franchise missing?” and answered in unison “More Gru!” Sadly, the Gru/Dru story fizzles out. It’s rather cliché and doesn’t really add anything new.

On that note, I also felt like the film was rather overstuffed with plot threads. Gru has Dru, Lucy has a uninteresting arc of a new mom learning to become a new mom and it doesn’t really surprise and interest. The three girls gets short little arcs that kind of work but feel underdeveloped. At least the minions have a lot of fun on a somewhat solo adventure after leaving Gru when he chooses not to return to the life of villainy. Their plotline feels similar to Scrat from the Ice Age films when Scrat actually worked.

You might think I hated the film, but I didn’t. In fact, I rather enjoyed myself for one exemplary reason. I love these characters. And while I hate on Gru quite a bit, it’s because he works better when played off another, and that’s why his story with Dru might have worked better if they hadn’t been twin brothers and it someone other than Carell had voiced him. I also enjoy Lucy and the girls even if they  don’t have enough to do. I was sad at the absence of Dr. Nefario from the previous installments but I felt like the minion sections of the film learned a lot from the experiment spinoff feature that they had a few years ago. They are given enough screentime to really play around without the film relying too heavily on them.

But I must return to the impressive work Trey Parker as Balthazar Bratt. His role was so much fun as an over-the-top villain obsessed with his past (a nice parallel to Gru’s journey) and addicted to the 1980s. A big win for me as I was unimpressed with the villain of Despicable Me 2.

Now it sounds like Despicable Me 3 may be the last of the official series with Steve Carell said in an interview that he may not return as Gru outside of another Minions cameo, so if this is it, it ends on an okay note. Again, the finale of the film is nothing original, but I’m also thinking I’d rather end it there rather than see what happens next. Overall, Despicable Me 3 was a lot of fun and I did enjoy myself. This is the entry that gets closest to the original with some big wins and a few classic sequel misses, but if you’ve enjoyed this franchise so far, I see no reason to miss this one.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe