500 Posts! Thank you!

 

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 500 posts since I started this thing three years ago! Thank you so much to everyone that has been a constant reader or even those of you that are new! I wouldn’t be here without you!

Here’s a look back at the most popular reviews since this whole thing started.

 

  1. Turbo Charged Prelude (2003)
  2. Poltergeist (1982)
  3. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
  4. Frankenstein (1994)
  5. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  6. Leprechaun (1993)
  7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  8. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
  9. Horror Express (1972)
  10. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

 

You keep reading and I’ll keep writing…

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren

Screenplay: Chris Morgan

136 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggested content, and language.

 

Trust me, you need to understand what kind of film you are about to see.

Dom (Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) and new wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Avatar, The Assignment) are enjoying their honeymoon in Cuba when a mysterious woman shows up and tells Dom that he is going to work for her. When Dom is on a mission with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, Moana, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) and the rest of the crew, he turns on them, showing allegiance to the mystery woman called Cipher (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Kubo and the Two Strings) and in the process, shattering his familial bonds. Now, Hobbs, aided by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight, Deepwater Horizon) and forced to join up with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, The Transporter, Spy), must track Dom and Cipher in an effort to save their fallen brother or take him out.

As I’ve stated before, the important thing to remember about this franchise is that it is very unique. Action spectacles are no new thing in Hollywood, The Fast and the Furious, as a franchise, is a B-Movie franchise with an ever-expanding budget. That sort of thing just doesn’t really happen. What sets it apart from others is the focus on a recurring theme (family) and the set pieces that aren’t focused on realism in the slightest but instead, these action beats are asking the question: How can we make this more ridiculous? And that’s what works here.

The cast does admirable work here as the likable family members while newcomers Scott Eastwood (Gran Torino, Snowden) as Mr. Nobody’s new recruit and Charlize Theron as Cipher. There is a notable exclusion made by the absence of Brian O’Connor (played by the late Paul Walker) but I completely understand what happened and I still feel like his character is honored here in a pretty touching albeit predictable way.

Incoming director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton), fresh off his recent success with the NWA biopic, teams up with previous collaborators in Diesel, Johnson, Theron, and Statham creates a kinetic energy that runs rampant through this film, creating some of the darkest plot threads of the series while also some of the most hilarious action scenes too. Gray’s direction results in a unique experience without pushing too far.

Through it all, though, there are times when The Fate of the Furious feels unusually restrained (hear me out), as if the film itself is trying to top the craziness from the superior Fast Five and Furious 7 but just can’t quite get there. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something felt off at times throughout, and perhaps that’s due to Diesel’s character being tied up with Cipher rather than the crew we all find him more enjoyable with. I was very happy to discover that the unusual plot line of betrayal actually kind of makes sense within the larger scope of The Fast and the Furious franchise (I had been very worried when I saw the initial trailer).

I was very impressed with The Fate of the Furious. This entry in the series isn’t the best one to come along, but it definitely rest higher on the ranking. This is a franchise that isn’t trying to win over new fans (though it doesn’t seem to need that), and this newest installment only proves that this is a franchise for the fans. I enjoyed it and the numerous surprises that this film has in store. I highly suggest an opening weekend viewing.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, click here.

For my review of Philip G. Atwell’s Turbo Charged Prelude, click here.

For my review of John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, click here.

For my review of Vin Diesel’s Los Bandoleros, click here.

For my review of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s Furious 7, click here.

For my review of F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, click here.

[Early Review] Life (2017)

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

103 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and horror.

 

Yeah, I’ve seen Life. I saw it last night, and I really want to talk about it, but don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it, and count yourself lucky for that.

Life has a similar premise to many before it. A group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station come across irrefutable proof of existence beyond Earth when they discover a microscopic being on a Mars probe. The crew mistakes the lifeform of being friendly when they soon discover it will do anything to survive and grow.

Let’s talk about all the good in this movie because the good outweighs the bad. First of all, hats off to the marketing department for not ruining all the exciting twists and turns of the film in the marketing and trailers. I still saw some of it coming a mile away, but it helped to not have it flat-out ruined for me.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Nocturnal Animals) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Criminal) absolutely steal the show in this ensemble piece but all the performances are above par here. I particularly found myself intrigued by Ariyon Bakare (TV’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Hugh, a paraplegic charged with studying the lifeform, coyly nicknamed Calvin.

Props to director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) for the pacing and getting as much as possible from the premise and the set. He allows the confined set to breathe and flourish. There’s some gorgeous camerawork similar to 2013’s Gravity, but it is impressive nonetheless.

And I would be disappointed in myself for not recognizing the excellent score from Jon Ekstrand. His music jumps between grandiose space epic and claustrophobic horror film, and it works really well.

Okay, so let’s talk negatives, because there are two. The biggest, and most disappointing, is the screenplay. I can’t even believe I’m saying this, because I love the writing of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but the screenplay hopped between exciting and completely stupid. There are things that characters, and we’re talking NASA-trained astronauts, do in this film that are so shockingly stupid that it’s hard to ignore. Then, there are moments that are meant to come across as genuine and heartfelt that would be difficult for anyone to glean. For example, Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan reads from Goodnight Moon, and it doesn’t work at all. I can’t blame for Gyllenhaal for trying, because the scene just doesn’t work. And the ending. The ending is just plain wrong. A big copout poorly written that comes off as expected and uninteresting.

The other issue with the film is the release date. This film is coming out too close to Alien: Covenant in a world where we’ve already seen Prometheus and Gravity, and Life comes off as a carbon copy because of it. Simple mistakes like the way the title is displayed hearken back to Alien, and it makes Life look bad by comparison. It’s just bad timing.

Life has more wins than losses, but it just doesn’t excel where better films have. Still, 2017 hasn’t had the best start, so it’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year. This movie is worth checking out in theaters, preferably as soon as possible to avoid spoilers for the most shocking moments.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Life? What did you think? And what’s your favorite first contact moment from film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

[Early Review] The Great Wall (2016)

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Director: Yimou Zhang

Cast: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau

Screenplay: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Tony Gilroy

103 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence.

 

The Great Wall, from director Yimou Zhang (Hero, The Flowers of War), hits American theaters tomorrow, and I got the chance to see if last night. In the best sense of the phrasing, if you enjoyed the trailer, then this is the movie for you.

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The two survivors of a group of mercenaries, William (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, The Martian) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal, TV’s Narcos, Bloodsucking Bastards), have come to the Great Wall for protection from Khitan bandits and a strange creature that attacked them the night before. They are taken in as prisoners but soon prove themselves when the wall is besieged by large green creatures called the Tao Tie who rise every 60 years as punishment for man’s greed. William soon forms a rocky partnership with the Nameless Order and one of its commanders, Lin (Tian Jang, Special ID, The Man from Macau), but he is torn when a European, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, Finding Dory), shows him and Tovar black powder, the substance their group has been searching for. Struggling between his task to steal the black powder and the hero lying within him, William must decide who he really is, and time is running out.

The Great Wall trailer does a great job of advertising this film. It doesn’t lie, this is a movie about Matt Damon fighting monsters on the Great Wall. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Director Zhang inject eastern sensibilities and style in a dual-production from America and China in order to create a truly unique legend of The Great Wall. I really enjoyed the visual flair and Matt Damon’s excitement for his character, and who doesn’t love Pedro Pascal here. Jian Tang is the real star here, holding her own with big names and stealing scenes with her focus, determination, and passion as Commander Lin.

On the downsides, Willem Dafoe is completely wasted on a subplot that had no place in this film, and Pedro Pascal spends too much time out of the focus of the film. It is when Damon and Jang are together that the film hits its highs. The film’s visual effects are nothing to get really excited about, but it also didn’t take me out of the film.

Now to the controversy. It shouldn’t exist. There should be no controversy. Watch the film first and you will see. Zhang has in recent films tasked high-caliber actors regardless of race to fit roles leading the film. It sells tickets, and William was never meant to be Chinese.

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The Great Wall was a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had so far in 2017 at the theaters. It isn’t trying to win you over, so if the trailer did nothing for you, the movie probably won’t change that. I, personally, enjoyed it immensely.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Before I Fall (2017)

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Director: Ry Russo-Young

Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Elena Kampouris, Diego Boneta, Jennifer Beals, Liv Hewson

Screenplay: Maria Maggenti

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language-all involving teens.

 

Before I Fall is a new young adult drama that premiered at Sundance last month and is set for a wide release on March 3rd.I got the chance to see it yesterday, and it was everything I thought it would be, which in this case isn’t exactly a compliment.

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Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch, Dirty Grandpa, Everybody Wants Some!!) is a popular senior who is on her way to graduation. She has a close-knit clique of girls, a jock boyfriend, and a perfect life. That is, until she dies in a horrible car accident. Then, Samantha wakes up like nothing had ever happened. Soon, she discovers that she is reliving the same day over and over again. Sam needs to put the pieces together and make the best day she can in order to correct the passage of time and right the wrongs of her life.

I should begin with my frustrations at the screening I attended. Upon leaving, I overheard another guest exclaim “Wow! That was so unique! The coolest idea for a movie ever!” She wasn’t kidding, too. This was the most cliché film I’ve seen in a long time! Not only did a similarly structures Edge of Tomorrow come out just a few years back, but has anyone heard of Groundhog Day! Come on! Setting this film in February didn’t help as it only sought to remind me why Groundhog Day was better.

Before I Fall had Zero likable characters, Zero interesting plot points, and Zero redeemable qualities. Sam is not someone I’m rooting for, her motivations were not clear at several points, and her catharsis is neither earned nor sensible in the slightest. The entirety of the film is a meandering slog which didn’t make its repeating day any better.

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“My thoughts exactly, napping background student. My thoughts exactly…”

 

Before I Fall might be the worst movie of 2017 were it not for the performances, which are not good but at least exceed worse fair like Rings and The Bye Bye Man. You can do better than this film. A lot better. Big skips from this reviewer.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Rings (2017)

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Director: F. Javier Gutierrez

Cast: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan

Screenplay: David Loucka, Jacob Estes, Akiva Goldsman

102 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material.

 

It’s been 12 years since American audiences were given another installment in The Ring franchise. Maybe we should’ve waited longer.

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In Rings, we are treated to several teases before a convoluted plot actually begins. Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Summertime, L’Universale) and Holt (Alex Rose, The 5th Wave, Sniper: Legacy) are high school sweethearts, but when Holt goes away to college and subsequently goes missing, Julia tracks him down to a group who passes around a video tape that promises to its viewers that they will die in seven days upon the initial viewing. The cursed must then make a copy of the tape, or in this case, video file and show it to someone else. When Julia is cursed, she does whatever is possible to end the curse without passing it along to someone new. But can she learn the secret of Samara (Bonnie Morgan, Minority Report, The Last Witch Hunter) before it’s too late?

Rings is the third installment of the American version of this franchise, and the best thing I can say about it is this: it isn’t the worst. At least, I think it’s not the worst. I do not remember much of The Ring Two except being bored the entire time. Rings is less terrible but still pretty bad. It’s leads are absolutely dreadful (think The Bye Bye Man dreadful). Even though they aided by the somewhat-capable Johnny Galecki (TV’s The Big Bang Theory, In Time) and the strangely popular franchise Viagra in Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent, The Magnificent Seven), the film flounders in its attempt to reinvigorate an unwanted franchise. Most fans of even the original American classic from Gore Verbinski pine for its Japanese predecessor, and Rings does little to sway any new fans to its cause.

First of all, the film is poorly edited. There is an opening scene. Then, there is another opening scene. Finally, we meet our actual leads in a third opening scene. The film could have these moments appear less monotonous if it only juggled some of this exposition to later in the film.

Then there’s the issue of the mystery, which seems interesting as it starts to unravel before ultimately turning the story into a mixture of clichés from more recent better films and before too long, Rings becomes a standard slasher flick with no substance.

Finally, there’s the pacing. At around 100 minutes, this movie felt like it would never end. I sat there, wishing I could check the time before realizing I would be asked to leave (pre-screenings do not allow phone usage). Then, I almost thought to do it just to get out of the theater, but I stuck it out for you, readers.

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I won’t even get into all the new images in the actual video tape that look like CG from an early 1990s video game version of The Ring because it just hurts. Rings was supposed to jumpstart a dead franchise. Sadly, it just convinced the world to keep it dead. And it didn’t even take seven days (but it sure felt like it).

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

 

So have you seen Rings? What did you think? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

[Early Review] Split (2016)

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Betty Buckley

Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

 

Good, I needed to wash disappointment of The Bye Bye Man away…

In Split, the newest horror film from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Visit), three girls are kidnapped leaving a birthday party and awaken in a strange and unknown room. Their kidnapper is Dennis (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class, Victor Frankenstein), a creepy and unstable man with an interest in watching girls dance naked. But it gets worse, because Dennis is also Patricia, a woman who strives for perfection and has a dark plan for the girls. Patricia is also Barry, who loves fashion and shows his sketches to his doctor, Karen Fletcher (TV’s Eight is Enough, The Happening). Dennis, Patricia, and Barry are just three of the twenty-three identities within one man, Kevin. As Dennis and Patricia put a plan into action to have the girls killed for a higher purpose, one of them, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, Barry) uses her wits in an attempt to free herself and the others before a 24th personality, known only as The Beast, is unleashed upon them.

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I didn’t see The Visit. The last film from Shyamalan that I partook in was The Last Airbender, so as I recall, the breakup was pretty rough. Well, I’m glad to say that, with Split, M. Night is back and at his most loony. Split is a fun, taut thriller that plays like something out of the annals of Tales from the Crypt. It begins with an interesting idea, slightly unhinged, with excellent and engrossing characters, and a twist that works so well and only adds to the fun of the film rather than take away like The Village did.

McAvoy is at the top of his game here as he is given the ultimate acting showcase, switching between identities at will without dropping a note. And each identity is given so much character and charisma that it’s easy to see who is in charge of Kevin at any given moment. That’s the real win with his performance. I look at films like Transformers (wait, hear me out) and it often becomes difficult to ascertain which character is which when all the robots are fighting because they all look so similar, but in Split, it is perfectly clear at all times, even when Kevin is having a disagreement with himself.

Supporting players Anya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley are also notably great. Taylor-Joy is really quickly rising up the fame ladder, appearing in 3 films of merit last year and The Witch the year before. She is impressively smart and skilled as Casey. Buckley has been a mainstay of film and television for some time stemming back to her first role in Brian DePalma’s Carrie. The level of gravitas only seeks to make the film more believable especially when it hits the height of its lunacy.

The film is not without its detractors. My fiancé, for example, who has a background in the medical field, found that the suspension of disbelief was too much for the central plot to work. I disagreed with her, but I do understand how someone more aware of Dissociative Identity Disorder might not buy in. For me personally, with my background and understanding of Shyamalan’s inspirations, it worked very well.

I didn’t enjoy having the 23 identities always tossed around when we really only get to meet 6 or 7 of them. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to at least glimpse the others at some point as it was an expectation I had due the constant reference to so many personalities. But I think 23 personalities sells better than 6 or 7.

I also wasn’t too keen on the ending, and I don’t mean the twist, which I enjoyed, but the ending itself. I felt like Casey’s flashbacks didn’t go far to add much to the plot, and I feel like it was really supposed to mean something, but it didn’t. The reason why the twist worked so well is because if you don’t get it, and trust me, not everyone will, but if you don’t get it, it doesn’t take anything away from the film. For attentive viewers, the payoff is worth it.

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Split was so much fun, and I really enjoyed that all the characters, including but not limited to the ones on McAvoy’s head, were so vivid and real and helped to ground the unreal story and keep the momentum. My frustrations didn’t ruin the experience for me at all, and in fact, I rather enjoyed the film and can’t wait to see it again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Split? What did you think? Let me know/Comment below!

[Early Review] The Bye Bye Man (2017)

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Director: Stacy Title

Cast: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway

Screenplay: Jonathan Penner

96 mins. Rated PG-13 for terror, horror violence, bloody images, sexual content, thematic elements, partial nudity, some language and teen drinking.

 

Welcome to 2017! I’ve got high hopes for this year!

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And they were trashed immediately after this film. Okay, just kidding, but wow, so bad…

Elliot (Douglas Smith, TV’s Big Love, Miss Sloane) is very happy in his new rental house with his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and childhood friend John (Lucien Laviscount, TV’s Scream Queens, Honeytrap). That is, until strange happenings begin in the home, all linked around a mysterious nightstand with markings on it, reading, “Don’t Say It Don’t Think It” repeatedly and a name, “The Bye Bye Man.” Naturally, upon learning the name of the creature, Elliot, Sasha, and John begin seeing things that aren’t there and Elliot finds himself followed by the mysterious entity (Doug Jones, Pan’s Labyrinth, Ouija: Origin of Evil) and his pet dog, haunted by the past and what he must do to stop it.

I was mildly irked through the first half of the film, which isn’t nearly that bad. There is a midpoint, however, when everything this film has spent time building completely unravels. I found myself practically getting up and yelling at the screen and all the stupid things these characters are doing. Why! Why would you do that? Why would you realize that everything you are seeing is a lie and still keep believing it? Why would that one girl do something so horrible and selfish for her own survival and then risk trying to save a family in a rollover right after explaining the Bye Bye Man’s abilities? Why, I say, Why!

As for the characters, they are more like caricatures. Elliot walks into clichés head-on, and Sasha and John are so poorly performed that it’s tough to believe anything. Sasha is seen as pretty dumb, and John is seen as kind of dickish. Why would I care about any of them? For supporting players, Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix, Pompeii) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown, The Seduction of Dr. Fugazzi) are wholly misused in the film, given nothing to grasp onto for any semblance of a story.

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The saving grace of the film is Doug Jones’ terrific performance under all that makeup as the titular monster, but he can’t bring up a sinking ship. The Bye Bye Man is pretty dreadful, and it hurt me, especially after such a great year for horror. I should try and remind myself that this film was shot over a year ago and sat on the shelves until now, so I shouldn’t have hoped for much.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror 3] Day 18 – Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

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Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Doug Jones, Alexis G. Zall

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard

99 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements.

 

Good evening folks, tonight I was privileged to have been invited to an advance screening for the upcoming release Ouija: Origin of Evil. Now, as many of you know, I wasn’t big on the original Ouija, but I went in with an open mind ready to embrace the fear. Now, did this sequel bring me in? Let’s take a look.

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This prequel follows the Zander family: mother Alice (Elizabeth Reaser, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, Hello My Name is Doris), eldest daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso, TV’s Cold, Captain Fantastic), and youngest Doris (Lulu Wilson, TV’s The Millers, Deliver Us From Evil). The Zanders run a faux seance scam out of their home. In an effort to increase the spectacle, Alice purchases a Ouija board from a local shop, and Doris immediately makes a connection to it. But her constant use of the board leads to frightening changes in her personality as seen through the eyes of Paulina and Father Tom (Henry Thomas, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dear John), the Principal of the local Catholic school. Then, people start dying, and all eyes are on Doris, but she couldn’t possibly be causing it, right?

Let’s talk about how this installment adds to the larger mythos of the Ouija franchise. In all fairness, I’m actually surprised by how well it ties to the original but also how it forges a new path. It does really feel like the filmmakers, specifically Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush), seemed to have taken the feedback for the first film and attempted to right the ship.

That being said, this movie has so many convoluted plot points and story pieces that, by the end of the film, it completely devolves, which is sad, but also not surprising considering I felt the same way about Flanagan’s 2013 film Oculus. The plot thread moves along fine enough for the first hour, but when the pieces start falling together, the film falls to pieces.

And then there’s the issue of the Ouija board. As the first film kind of devolved into a pretty lame ghost story, this prequel eventually becomes a mess of possessions and slashers and doesn’t do any of it particularly well. I wanted to like it, and there are elements that shine, but the Ouija board could’ve been removed from both films without changing the story one bit.

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Flanagan’s visuals occasionally shine through, and the film’s pace isn’t bad, but this outing feels like it took too much from other horror films that have been here before and done it better. I saw pieces of Insidious, The Conjuring, and The Exorcist here, and none of it done in a particularly memorable way. I’m glad that Ouija: Origin of Evil is a major step in the right direction, but the ending feels like it was forced to fit a certain way to match the first film, and in doing so, the story is badly damaged and crashes to the ground. On a budget of $6 million, I have no doubt that there will be a Ouija 3, so let’s hope they continue to make progress with this series.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stiles White’s Ouija, click here.

For my review of Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, click here.

[Early Review] American Pastoral (2016)

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Director: Ewan McGregor

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Rupert Evans, Valorie Curry

Screenplay: John Romano

126 mins. Rated R for some strong sexual material, language and brief violent images.

 

I was blessed to have seen American Pastoral last night with a friend. Not a film that I had heard much news from, I was aware of the novel written by Philip Roth. I hadn’t read it, but I’d heard good things. So with American Pastoral the film, I was more intrigued by Ewan McGregor’s directing debut. Nowadays, many actors are finding themselves as successful or more behind the camera, and I was interested by McGregor’s choice to start here.

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Seymour “Swede” Levov (McGregor) had always been remembered as the star athlete from high school, the man who married high school sweetheart and beauty queen Dawn (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind, Noah), a man who seemingly had the perfect life. But as Swede’s brother Jerry (Rupert Evans, Hellboy, The Boy) recalls, things changed pretty quickly for Levov not long after starting a family. As his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning, War of the Worlds, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2) matured, she began to think more radically and hang out with a more dangerous crowd, a decision that would tear the Swede’s world apart.

American Pastoral almost holds it all together. Almost. It starts with a great performance from McGregor, and as the film progresses, you can see hints of genius, but they are muddled down with inexperience. The entire first act of the film is strangely unhinged. It starts with a poorly hewn together framing device featuring David Strathairn asking about the Swede at a high school reunion. The framing device isn’t unnecessary, but it isn’t done well. It features Strathairn as a writer relaying through voiceover and it feels so Lifetime Channel-y. That leads into the first act where it feels like people are reading from cue cards. It isn’t until the plot’s true inciting incident where the film comes together, and from there, it does get better, but everything before comes off a little too perfect.

The performances get better as the film progresses, but I have to point out the solid supporting work from Peter Riegert and Uzo Aduba as Swede’s father and his top employee, respectively. Valorie Curry (TV’s The Following, Blair Witch) is also enchantingly disturbed as a woman with connections to Merry’s radical group.

The cinematography and editing make the film a little too plain, not something exciting and powerful, which is how the story should feel. This is difficult subject material, and there are many times when the film is full of pain, but the film doesn’t convey it well to the audience. The issue of the makeup effects too looks bad, particularly around Rupert Evans in the present-day scenes.

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Sadly, American Pastoral shows signs of greatness, but there just isn’t enough of it, as the film dances around in monotony and sinks in uninspired bliss. Ewan McGregor and Dakota Fanning shine in their performances, but it isn’t enough to push this film over the finish line.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe