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

Director: Morgan Neville

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

Director: Ron Howard

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

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

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

Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

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

Screenplay: Alex Garland

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2018

 

Since I’ve already seen one of 2018’s releases, I’m probably a little late on presenting my most anticipated list for 2018. Don’t worry, it hasn’t changed much. Let’s start off with a note:

  • This list is more anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to as of right now, so there will be more blockbusters than indies because that’s just how it plays out. So, with that being said…

 

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN BUT A LIST.

 

Annihilation

-I thoroughly enjoyed director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina from 2015, and on that film alone, I cannot wait to see Annihilation. Garland has had a run of pretty solid work in the last few years, and getting top talent like Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac involved is only making this more hyped for me. I don’t know much about the film’s plot outside of the lone trailer I’ve seen, but getting a chance to see a great storytelling weave a yarn in his own sandbox is always a great thing.

 

Pacific Rim: Uprising

-I’m very sad that Guillermo del Toro isn’t returning to helm the sequel to his underappreciated Pacific Rim, but that’s what it took to get The Shape of Water, so what can you do? At least he is staying on in a producer role and the franchise is continuing. I’m not sure how to feel about Uprising as the film looks drastically different from the original, but John Boyega playing Idris Elba’s son looks interesting enough, and genre favorite Steven S. DeKnight behind the camera is setting the film up for success. I’m very excited to see an expanding of this mythology and more Jaeger/Kaiju action.

 

Ready Player One

-I’m just starting the book right now, and the trailers for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One have been fascinating. I just don’t know how to feel but the film looks bonkers. There is absolutely no reason not to be excited for more Spielberg but this one feels so familiar and yet so different from what we’ve seen recently from the director. As long as there are enough weird Easter Eggs, I guess I will keep plenty busy at this one.

 

God Particle

-Yeah, this one was on my list for 2017, but it got bumped back. God Particle is all but confirmed to be the next Cloververse film after Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Since I loved both of its predecessors and I enjoy dissecting theories about this quasi-anthology, God Particle should be a fun and interesting ride.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

-What do I say that hasn’t already been said? Almost 20 films in and we are getting this massive film. I have no words. I doubted that this franchise could or would work, and I was wrong. Pop in Black Panther and Ant-Man & the Wasp (I didn’t want to have more than one franchise installment on this list but I’m stoked for all three) and this should prove to be another exciting year for the MCU.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

-All the drama behind-the-scenes has made me rather nervous for Solo, but I trust the minds at Lucasfilm because I’ve enjoyed all three Star Wars adventures since their acquisition by Disney, so I trust that they acted at the right time installing Ron Howard as the new director to fix this anthology film. What does make me nervous, though, is the lack of the trailer with only four months to go.

 

Deadpool 2

-I elected to pick Deadpool 2 over The New Mutants and Dark Phoenix because of how surprising the original Deadpool was in 2016. With the shuffling around behind the camera, the exit of Tim Miller, and the addition of David Leitch, it is interesting to see how this one plays out. If the teaser or short that were released are any indication, I think we are in good hands here.

 

The Predator

-Trust me when I say that all of my excitement for this film is riding on Shane Black. I always love a new Predator film, but Shane Black is the reason this is on the list. I love Black’s storytelling sensibilities from his writing of the greatest action film of all time (yeah, I’m calling it for Lethal Weapon) but also his work as a director with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys. Some people aren’t aware that Black even co-starred in the original Predator, so he has a good tie to this series.

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was quite a surprise. I love Harry Potter, but the idea to expand the mythology with an adaptation of a textbook was weird. Turns out, J.K. Rowling has a few more stories to tell. The flaw with the first film, though, was Johnny Depp’s cameo as Gellert Grindelwald. I didn’t like his appearance and I don’t have as much faith in him as an actor, so seeing him take on the second-biggest villain in the Harry Potter universe was an odd choice. With The Crimes of Grindelwald, Depp will be taking on a much larger role, so I’m interesting if a little nervous to see what comes of it.

 

Mortal Engines

-Though the trailer didn’t have much to offer (as the film is still about a year out), seeing Peter Jackson’s name onscreen again is always a welcome sight. He’s taking on a producer and screenwriter role this time with Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel series by Philip Reeve. Jackson and his team are incredible writers, so a nice foundation to this film is enough to spark my interest. We will have to wait for another trailer to see how it is all shaping up, but Mortal Engines has a lot on its plate.

 

So there it is. What film are you most excited for in 2018? Let me know/drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Early Review] Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language.

 

The Insidious franchise is now four films in, and the newest installment, The Last Key, had me a little concerned when it was bumped back to January, oftentimes the graveyard of shitty horror films. I happen to be a big fan of this franchise, and I want to see it continue with more well-received reception. So I entered the theater with some trepidation tonight.

Shortly after the events of Chapter 3, Elise (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Abattoir) and her newly-formed team of Specs (Leigh Whannell, Saw, The Bye Bye Man) and Tucker (Angus Sampson, Mad Max: Fury Road, TV’s Shut Eye) are drawn into a new case set in Five Keys, New Mexico. Elise initially turns down the case when she discovers that the house being haunted is her childhood home, a place with horrific memories from Elise’s past, but she quickly realizes that she has a responsibility to help others, and her team sets off on a trip through Elise’s past, where she will encounter familiar entities and new horrors.

The great thing about the newest installment in this franchise is the focus on the character of Elise. It’s become quite clear after four films that the star of the series is Lin Shaye, and choosing to further develop her is a terrific idea, as much as I’m turned away by the prequel aspect of the recent two films. Shaye’s performance is a powerhouse of the genre, and we spend a lot of the film focused on her inner demons, particularly surrounding the relationship with her father, Gerald (Josh Stewart, Interstellar, War Machine).

The big feeling I felt leaving the theater was one of calmness, though, and the lack of true terror in the film is noticeable. The previous installments all kept me close to my seat, but The Last Key is missing a lot of that. While there are indeed some incredible moments in the film, there just isn’t enough to spur up any actual dread. Diehard horror fanatics may find themselves unfulfilled in this respect.

Thankfully, director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) keeps the pace moving and the plot thread twisting and turning enough to make the movie interesting, but it just isn’t all that scary.

Insidious: The Last Key is a classic fourth installment, searching for a place of purpose and struggling to find a tone. The film is entertaining and I think it will please fans of the series looking to unravel the mystery, but the general public and hardcore horror hounds may not find this scary enough to please.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

For my review of Leigh Whannell’s Insidious: Chapter 3, click here.

 

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