Movie Review ~ Godzilla: King of the Monsters


The Facts
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Synopsis: The crypto-zoological agency Monarch faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds, Zhang Ziyi

Director: Michael Dougherty

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I guess I never knew quite how popular Godzilla was until I started doing my homework in prep for seeing his latest Hollywood endeavor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. While this film is only his third movie to be produced by a major Hollywood studio, it’s the 35th overall to feature the big green lizard/dragon/sea beast that smashes big cities with a mere flick of his craggy tail. That’s pretty impressive for a mega-monster originally conceived in 1954 as a cautionary tale on nuclear technology. As the world changed, so did Godzilla’s alliances, though his popularity waxed and waned over the ensuing decades, getting revived very few years to keep him in the public consciousness.

After a disastrous attempt at bringing him to life for American audiences via a 1998 soggy blockbuster, in 2014 director Gareth Edwards found a formula that worked with the impressive, popcorn-chomping, good-time fun of Godzilla. Always hungry for the next big franchise, Warner Brothers was already in the works on a sequel to their hit film when they decided that 2017’s Kong: Skull Island would be a tie-in experience that was slightly retro-fitted to expand upon their “monster-verse”. With two titans now in their corner and plenty of foes from the subsequent canon of sequels (official and cheapie otherwise), the studio went all in with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The resulting product is one that doubles down on the monster mayhem but misses the mark on the human element that its predecessor made time for.

Five years have passed since Godzilla went head to head with two massive creatures that left much of San Francisco destroyed. Returning to the depths of the ocean, Godzilla hasn’t been seen since, nor have any more ghastly beasties risen from the ground to wreak havoc. Still, crypto-zoological organization Monarch has been continuing their covert work on the titan project that began years earlier. The discovery of Skull Island helped them pinpoint other locations around the globe where sleeping beasts may lie and outposts have been set-up in these areas to study these creatures and protect the outside world from disturbing their slumber.

Paleobiologist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobbie Brown, Stranger Things) live on one of the Monarch outposts and as the film opens they are present for the birth of Mothra, a giant caterpillar creature that Emma has developed a way to communicate with. No sooner has contact been established when an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, playing his umpteenth villain) bursts in, abducts mother and daughter, and makes off with the device that not only can communicate with the titans but can also rouse them from their rest and send them on a rampage.

As the titans are let loose, including Rodan and the alpha-est alpha of them all, the three dragon-headed beast King Ghidorah, it calls forth Godzilla from the fathoms and he doesn’t seem too happy about cutting his watery rest short. Audiences should be pleased, however, that Godzilla gets far more screen time in the sequel and actually gets to be the bona-fide star of his own film. He definitely gets more screen time than some of the top-billed stars, many of whom seem to have signed up only to stand with their mouth agape on the bridge of a ship/aircraft carrier/submarine and occasionally throw out bits of trivia (I’m looking at you Zhang Ziyi, The Grandmaster). At least lead player Kyle Chandler (The Spectacular Now) is a marked improvement over the teeth-gnashing overacting of Bryan Cranston in the first film…but the scenery is still chewed to the bone by Bradley Whitford (Saving Mr. Banks) who manages to not only play the same irksome character in each movie but wear the same athleisure wardrobe as well. The only two notable actors reprising their roles are Ken Watanabe (Pokémon Detective Pikachu) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) as Monarch scientists and both seem to be squeezing each others hand for moral support for much of the picture.

Cutting his teeth successfully on smaller films like Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, director Michael Dougherty graduates to the big time in a big way. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an overwhelming film and at times it feels like you’re getting swept away into a vortex along with everyone else in the movie. Surprisingly iffy special effects at times go hand in hand with stunningly rendered creature feature work – when Godzilla and King Ghidorah charge each other (seen in the previews but even more exciting in context) there a definite electric charge that ran through the audience.  Dougherty is best when the action is pulled back on a massive scale to see the creatures in their full glory — it’s only when we get up close and personal that you begin to see the seams…the man in the rubber suit as it were.

If only that pesky plot-stuff didn’t pop up to get in the way of all of the chaos from these colossuses, right? While the crux of the plot has the whiff of something audiences already explored in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Dougherty penned the script along with returning screenwriter Max Borenstein and franchise newbie Zach Shields.  The film feels like a hodgepodge of ideas and necessary exposition to get us caught up to where we need to be before the next film, Godzilla vs. Kong, arrives in March 2020.   There’s a whole lot going on here and not a lot of time for anything to sink in. Major plot points are glossed over — don’t blink or you’ll miss that a character has a twin who appears in one scene while two major characters perish in separate parts of the movie and we barely notice because it’s so hard visually to see what happened.  As is the case with many sequels, there’s more mythology to explain and some of it (such as where Godzilla goes when he isn’t in battle mode) is quite interesting but we’re yanked away so fast it begins to feel like Daughtery is contractually obligated to get to the next big clash.

This is one of those pure entertainment films that doesn’t ask much of you outside of 2 ½ hours of your time and the price of a ticket. It’s escapist stuff that’s big, loud, silly, but ultimately a fun watch. If you’re spending time thinking about why the actors are doing what they’re doing then you’re missing the point of it all – just wait a few minutes and Godzilla will be back to show you why he’s king of the monsters. Bow down.

Movie Review ~ Pokémon Detective Pikachu


The Facts
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Synopsis: When a private eye goes missing, his son is prompted to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Pokémon and Harry’s former partner: Detective Pikachu.

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Ken Watanabe, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Chris Geere, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora

Director: Rob Letterman

Rated: PG

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: By the time Pokémon made its debut in 1995, I had graduated from being the target audience for the global franchise. Starting as video games, as so many million-dollar empires do, before expanding into books, tv shows, comics, toys, etc. the brand was revitalized in 2016 when Pokémon Go became all the rage. Finally tapping into a more adult base, this scavenger hunt game was a sensation and the subject of many issues with players traversing onto private property or into oncoming traffic to “capture” their Pokémon. During the summer of 2016, you were either playing Pokémon Go or rolling your eyes at those who were.

If there was one area left for the Pokémon to conquer, it was live-action film. Over 20 animated films were released over the past two decades but when Pokémon Go reignited interest in this country, studios looking to capitalize on the craze sought out the rights to bring the characters to new life on the big screen. Using the popular 2016 game Detective Pikachu as inspiration, four screenwriters collaborated on Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Warner Brothers locked down an A-list star to provide the voice for it’s title character. Now…would the audiences come out and play?

The relationships between humans and Pokémon have evolved at the start of Pokémon Detective Pikachu. While they still “choose” their own Pokémon who become their semi-sidekicks, humans are no longer training them to do battle against others. This is all thanks to the vision of Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy, About Time), the creator of Rhyme City where everyone co-exists in harmony. In the prologue, an experimental laboratory comes under attack and a dangerous next-gen Pokémon is released, causing mayhem and what looks like a deadly car crash.  Jumping outside of Rhyme City, we catch Tim (Justice Smith, Paper Towns) and his friend Jack (Karan Soni, Safety Not Guaranteed) trying to locate a Pokémon for Tim. Once interested in being a trainer, now Tim has his eyes set on climbing the corporate ladder for the insurance company he works for. Everything changes with the news his private detective father has died in Rhyme City, and when Tim starts to dig into the secrets his father was trying to expose it brings him face to face with his father’s Pokémon, Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Life).

Usually, only the human that choses the Pokémon can understand what their little friend is saying but somehow Tim hears Pikachu loud and clear. Pikachu has lost his memory, only being able to piece together that he was also in the crash with Tim’s father. Just as invested in finding the evil Pokémon and who might be behind their actions, Pikachu teams up with Tim and they begin to sleuth around the city for answers. Along the way they encounter an eager junior reporter (Kathryn Newton, Ben is Back), a gruff police detective (Ken Watanabe, Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a plethora of wacky Pokémon.  In one particularly notable bit, Pikachu and Tim have a run-in with Mr. Mime, an excellent but mischievous pantomime with an act that was a highlight of the film.

Director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) knows how to work with blending live action and the computer animated Pokémon creations and most of the visual effects are impressive. It’s not as seamless as it could be, though, and that gives the film a second-tier feeling that doesn’t befit a release from a first-rate studio. The screenplay is fairly basic and hinges on a twist that becomes rather obvious within the first thirty minutes. Smith is not that appealing as a leading man (already proven by audiences actively asking for him to be eaten in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and the charismatic Reynolds is relegated to being merely a voice which only gets at half of what makes him so engaging. Yet, the film bounces along, working almost in spite of itself with a handful of nice gags and chuckle humor that was appealing. It’s not the raucous comedy of Long Shot but it doesn’t elicit deadly silence either. For what it’s worth, my audience absolutely roared with laughter at obvious insider Pokémon references that went right over my head. One thing is clear, the film wants you to invest in the Pokémon brand – it’s almost a feature length commercial for their line-up of characters which will equate to mass dollars being spent on products.

I can’t honestly tell you what a fan of Pokémon will think about Pokémon Detective Pikachu but as an uninitiated viewer I found the film to be sporadically funny, rarely boring, but almost instantly forgettable. The kind of ho-hum pre-summer flick that arrives before the bigger players in the hope of cashing in quickly before vanishing from screens in time to be a back-to-school gift on BluRay. There’s nothing particularly bad to report but it’s all so pedestrian and uninspired you’d think a little more effort would be put in to mask the blatant consumerism on display.

The Silver Bullet ~ Bel Canto

Synopsis: A world famous opera singer becomes trapped in a hostage situation when she’s invited to perform for a wealthy industrialist in South America.

Release Date: September 14, 2018

Thoughts: It’s been four years since Julianne Moore won her long overdue Oscar for Still Alice and she’s largely avoided the Best Actress curse popping up in interesting, if underperforming, films like Wonderstruck and Suburbicon.  In 2018 she’s back with two interesting projects: Gloria, a US remake of a popular Chilean film and this adaptation of Ann Patchett’s bestseller which casts Moore as a opera singer who becomes a hostage and political chess piece in a South American uprising.  Written for the screen and directed by Paul Weitz (Admission, Grandma, Being Flynn) and co-starring Ken Watanabe (Godzilla) I have to say this looks more important than entertaining.  Also, while I’m glad they are being transparent that Moore’s singing voice is dubbed by the legendary Renee Fleming based on the few shots of her singing I’m a bit nervous it’s going to look too fake-y.  In the end, it’s Moore that appeals to me so I’m always interested in her work…but Bel Canto feels like it has an uphill battle in front of it.

Movie Review ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, T.J. Miller, Han Geng, Titus Welliver, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, Robert Foxworth, Reno Wilson

Director: Michael Bay

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 165 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Check out my interview with stars Jack Reynor & Nicola Peltz here

Review: In the days that have passed since taking in Transformers: Age of Extinction I’ve been slightly amused by all the critics flapping their gums about how big, dumb, loud, and long director Michael Bay’s fourth film in the Transformers franchise is. My response to that is: What else were you expecting? I mean, if the series had shifted to the hands of a new director as was originally rumored, I could see some validity in the outcry that the series truly was just fodder for deafening explosions and nonsensical action sequences.

This is Michael Bay we’re talking about here and he’s delivered exactly what he was hired to do. Now, I’m not saying that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the kind of movie you should get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars for because it only barely passes the litmus test of summer blockbuster. I’m just asking that you consider the franchise in question as well as considering the director behind the camera.

If I tell you that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the best of the series so far I’d imagine you’d take that with a grain of salt because the first three were so tremendously dumb that they’d make instructional videos on sealing an envelope look like NASA training material. Featuring the increasingly unlikable Shia LeBeouf and a parade of actors culled from the covers of GQ and Maxim magazines, the original trilogy were all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This fourth film seeks to reboot the franchise…or at least take it in a new direction. Major points are given off the bat for jettisoning LeBeouf and the walking mannequins in favor of, well, similar looking actors that always appear to be fresh from the gym and tanning beds. That they are all a notable improvement over any of the previous cast members should say something significant about the casting department over at Paramount.

Though you may scoff at Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor) playing a goofy Texas inventor that obviously spends an equal amount of time lifting weights as submitting patents, the actor acquits himself nicely by rising above Ehren Kruger’s willy-nilly script and applying the appropriate amount of muscle in tandem with a surprising pep in his step. This may be Wahlberg’s most big budget, high-profile film to date and even if he winds up being another chess piece in Michael Bay’s endgame, he comes out mostly unscathed.

Though they aren’t technically replacing anyone, Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) and Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) are obviously filling in for the archetypes vacated by LeBeouf and Megan Fox. It’s nice to report that both are engaging presences and that spunky Peltz is given way more to do than Reynor’s rally car driver whose character seems to only be good at shifting gears at the right moment. Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer) pops up with another character in his canon that’s more about the outer appearance than anything going on under the skin. Too much time is spent with Tucci, just another way the film manages to waste quite a lot of the early momentum it builds.

Pacing has never really been of much concern to Bay (nor is his ongoing rampant misogyny) but here he really needed to let go of at least 45 minutes of material. The film has so many endings culminating in one of the longest finales I’ve ever witnessed outside of when I still watched American Idol. Compounded with the deafening sound design and above average use of 3D effects audiences will most likely be seen exiting the theater nearly comatose from overstimulation.

While most critics are giving Bay crap about the film, I’d like to publicly state that I found his previous film (Pain & Gain) to be even more of a punishing experience…and that film didn’t even have Dinobots! Look, Transformers has always been and will always be a series made up of a lot of hollow parts. Transformers: Age of Extinction doesn’t add any meat to the bones of the franchise but it’s a helluva lot better than its predecessors and delivers true bang for your buck.

Just please…don’t ask it to be something it’s not.

The Silver Bullet ~ Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots and Decepticons – and a paranoid government official – on them.

Release Date:  June 27, 2014

Thoughts: Since the filmmakers behind the Transformers series seem to have hit the soft reset button, I figure I can do the same on wiping out the memory of the previous three films that have been box office hits but were  hollow as the cheap chocolate bunny I always get at Easter.  With a new star on board (Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor,  Contraband) and no sign of stinkers Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, I’m hoping that the fourth entry about those shape shifting alien robots will be more than just a big budget excuse for director Michael Bay (Pain & Gain) to level cities and showboat with his camera.  

MN FANS!

Nicola Peltz & Jack Reynor, stars of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, will be at Mall of America on Sunday, June 8th at 2pm!  Nicola & Jack will show clips from the film, sign autographs, & answer questions from fans!  Visit mallofamerica.com for more information.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION begins after an epic battle left a great city torn, but with the world saved.  As humanity picks up the pieces, a shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history…while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs.  With help from a new cast of humans (led by Mark Wahlberg), Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet.  In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world.  TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION in theaters June 27.

Website:  www.TransformersMovie.com

Movie Review ~ Godzilla (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence

Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Director: Gareth Edwards

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 123 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Boy, do I love a good blockbuster. Personally, I don’t lump the superhero films featuring men who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and hulky iron men teaming up with American captains quite into the same category as the epic scale movies that remind me of all those summer films I so eagerly anticipated back in the 90s. Give me a Jurassic Park over another Marvel film any day of the week, not that the Marvel films aren’t enjoyable in their own right.

Though I wasn’t yet born when 1975 became the summer of the shark (Jaws) and created the blockbuster event film, I do remember seeing Jurassic Park in theaters and I found myself flashing back to Spielberg’s dinosaur adventure as the reboot of Godzilla played out before my eyes. Here is a film that knows its audience, takes its time, and seemingly says “You want your money’s worth…OK…we can do that.” Setting a high bar for every other film to come in summer 2014, Godzilla is that must see entertainment that even people who only venture into a dark theater a few times a year will want to put on their list.

You know you’re in good hands right off the bat with a smart credit sequence that covers a lot of ground, showing newsreel clips from history about the A-Bomb testing and eventually making the suggestion that the bomb was actually used to subdue a threat to humankind rather than making a case for scientific advancement. From there, the film uses a lengthy prologue to its advantage as it hops continents, laying the groundwork for our titular monster to rise again from the ocean depths.

Not too long after an estranged scientist father (Bryan Cranston, Argo, Rock of Ages) and his military son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick Ass 2, Savages) are reunited in Tokyo, the men get swept up in a closely guarded multi-government secret involving, well, here’s the rub…I could tell you what they find is being contained in an abandoned nuclear power plant but that would give away one of the secrets the marketing department over at Warner Brothers has wisely kept out of sight. Let’s just say that it ain’t good for anyone involved. What they find there sets into motion a good old fashioned creature feature as a hunt ensues with edge of your seat thrills and the kind of massive destruction of major West Coast cities that only a fire breathing lizard could be forgiven for.

Director Gareth Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein take a page from Spielberg’s Jaws (even naming of the leads Brody) and keep Godzilla out of sight until almost half the movie has gone (flown, really) by. When he’s finally shown in full, the effect is similar to the first time the shark in Jaws rears up to say hi to Roy Scheider – that of a giddy release that the great beast is actually as satisfyingly menacing as we imagine him to be. Impressively rendered via state of the art visual effects, this 2014 Godzilla is a mash up of many different versions of the beast over the years. Edwards and company did their research and have produced a greatest hits Godzilla, and the overall effect is spot-on.

There’s a lot going on in the film and if the end result is that the flesh and blood characters get a little short shrift, I’m totally OK with it…especially when you have a scenery chewer like Cranston on board. Much like Jon Hamm in Million Dollar Arm, Cranston proves that he’s no movie star (something he seems to have been making a case for in a series of disastrous supporting roles the last few years) thanks to a hammy, overly emotive performance. When Godzilla’s performance can be described as more subtle, you know you’re on the wrong track. It also doesn’t help he seems to be wearing two of the least convincing wigs in recent memory…the first making it look like he has the same haircut as Juliette Binoche.

The rest of the players seem to be content with playing second fiddle to the lizard. Taylor-Johnson’s cardboard performance oddly works for the film and Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy) does what she can as a woman always either crying or on the verge of tears. As in-the-know scientists, Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins) are called on only when needed but lend a head-scratching gravitas. Even with Cranston, Edwards has pulled together a unique cast, one that you wouldn’t instantly think “Monster Movie” if you heard their name.

Don’t get too wrapped up in the human element of the film because this is an old-fashioned yet decidedly modern monster movie through and through…and a damn entertaining one at that. The first half of the film is largely a set-up for the mayhem of the second hour and the wait is both involving and well worth it. By creating a believable back story and letting his star shine, Edwards has done what Roland Emmerich’s soggy 1998 attempt couldn’t…have its lizard cake and eat it too. April showers truly brought May flowers as Godzilla stakes an early claim as the best film of the summer.

The Silver Bullet ~ Godzilla (2014) Trailer #2

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Synopsis: A giant radioactive monsters called Godzilla appears to wreak destruction on mankind.

Release Date:  May 16, 2014

Thoughts: Even after the impressive teaser trailer for Warner Bros. big (like really big) budget reboot of Godzilla I remained a tad skeptical.  Sure, the preview was edited in such a fashion that kept the title character a mystery until the final shadowy moments but would the movie just be effects-heavy rehash of the famously goofy Godzilla films of the past?  Well, the second trailer has arrived and it stirs a greater excitement in this viewer, suggesting an edge of your seat sci-fi action epic as much about the radioactive beast as it is about the havoc he leaves in his wake.  Roaring onto the screen at the start of a busy 2014 summer season, Godzilla is quickly moving to highly anticipated status in my little black book.

The Silver Bullet ~ Godzilla (2014)

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Synopsis: A giant radioactive monster called Godzilla appears to wreak destruction on mankind.

Release Date:  May 16, 2014

Thoughts: Though he first arrived in 1954 in one of the many campy big rubber monster movies, ever since 1998’s Hollywood-ized version of Godzilla belly flopped at the box office that mean ole monster has been keeping a low profile here in the states, retreating to the deep waters from whence he came with his powerful tail between his legs.  Warner Brothers is giving the big guy another go in 2014 and this first teaser is a nicely compact taste of what audiences can expect from a new millennium Godzilla.

With a story by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel) that led to a script Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) put a shine on, and featuring cast members like Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Bryan Cranston (Argo, Rock of Ages), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson(Savages, Anna Karenina), actors so diverse that you’d think they were in a spoof video on Jimmy Fallon, I’m digging what I’m seeing, finding this to be an effective first glimpse at Godzilla’s next bid for domination.