Out of Clown
It Chapter Two is directed by Andy Muschietti, written by Gary Dauberman, and stars Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean. The child actors from the first film: Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Wyatt Oleff all return to reprise their roles from the first film.
The question was never, "Would 2017's It have a sequel?" There was always going to be a sequel, because no filmmaker in his/her right mind could take Stephen King's 1000+ page horror novel and turn it into reasonable one film marathon. No, the question was more so, "Would there be optimism or pessimism heading into the release of It Chapter Two?" The 1990 It miniseries starring Tim Curry was far from a seamless execution of King's novel, which is why it's easier to get behind this more up-to-date version of King's novel. It Chapter One was a big hit at the box office for Warner Bros., so optimism should be the answer to the above question, except that the It miniseries and the book itself to a certain extent are notorious for their kind-of-sucky second-act(s) when the Losers become adults, so perhaps that optimism might need to be sprinkled with a little pessimism. It's not worth wasting time comparing and contrasting the novel, the 90's miniseries, and this dual-movie adaptation, but the point being is that history suggests this second chapter/act of King's novel doesn't have too much history on its side.
Before I sound too much like a debbie-downer, it should be stated right now that I did find myself enjoying a lot of It Chapter Two, at times debating if I liked it more than the first It. Much criticism has been laid at the feet of the film's sprawling 169 minute run time, but I am not one to add to that critique pool, simply because the film felt to me like it was only about two hours, which I guess is my way of saying the film is not boring or that it drags. I also don't want to add to the critique pool that is directed towards the film's opening hate crime scene, in which a group of thugs attack a homosexual couple and throw one of them off a bridge. It's a scene straight out of the novel and was put in the movie presumably because Muschietti and company found this to be the best and most faithful way to reintroduce Pennywise.
27 years have passed since The Losers Club defeated Pennywise, but now the evil clown is back and ready to unleash his reign of terror on the helpless folks of Derry, Maine once again. Mike Hanlon (Mustafa/Jacobs), the only one of the Losers that stayed in Derry, first learns of Pennywise's return and calls the other Losers- Bill (McAvoy/Maetell), Beverly (Chastain/Lillis), Richie (Hader/Wolfhard), Ben (Ryan/Ray Taylor), Eddie (Ransone/Grazer), and Stanley (Bean/Oleff) to come back to Derry. All but one of the Losers agree to return; Stanley commits suicide after his call with Mike, unable to confront his fear of the creature he and his friends defeated so many years ago. The Losers reunite in Derry and learn from Mike that there may be a way to destroy Pennywise once and for all: The Ritual of Chud. In order to perform the Ritual, the Losers must find and sacrifice a "token", aka something from their past. The Losers then split up to search Derry for their respective tokens, but quickly realize that Pennywise is out and about, terrifying each and every Loser with haunting visions.
- There was plenty of excitement to be had surrounding It Chapter Two's casting call, and it does not disappoint in the slightest. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgard, and company all deliver terrific performances, Hader being singled out for a performance that has many chattering about a possible Oscar nomination for him next year. At least up until now, Hader has been mostly known for his voice acting and comedy roles, but playing an adult Richie allows him the opportunity to not only show off more of his comedic talent, but also show off some dramatic flare. Hader balances the comedy and horror behind his role perfectly; it's quite the unexpected surprise among a talent-rich cast. Skarsgard, meanwhile, is fully immersed once again into his role as Pennywise, and it makes for a lot of terrifying fun, watching him torment every one of the Losers. There's not one weak link in the cast; they are the glue that holds everything together.
- I am more on the unpopular opinion side, because I found It Chapter Two's scares to be much freakier and nightmarish than those from It Chapter One. The main issue with It Chapter One was the movie's relentless assault of jump-scares, to the point that they started to lose their scare factor. It Chapter Two, while certainly chock-full of jump scares, makes an effort to make the imagery appear larger, more disturbing, and as in-your-face as possible. Muschietti relies more heavily on low-angle shots to make Pennywise and his transformations appear more menacing, as opposed to having Pennywise just rush the camera at blazing speed. It makes sense to take this kind of approach, as it becomes clear that the movie likes to use the idea that fear makes someone seem smaller and weaker. For It Chapter Two, it's never about when will the jump scare happen. You always know when the scares are coming. More so, It Chapter Two builds it scares by making you wonder what sort of ghastly figure is going to appear next, and who is it going to come after.
- The cast is certainly the best part of It Chapter Two, but the characters they're playing end up being the worst part. A lengthier running time would lead some to believe that the movie wants to take extra time to dive more into each of its characters, except that we only get a brief glimpse of such potential characterization early on in the movie. Once the Losers all reunite in Derry, it's basically like watching the exact same people we saw from It Chapter One, the only difference is that now they're all adults. Bill is the stuttering leader who still struggles to cope with Georgie's death. Beverly continues to find herself stuck in the grasp of an abusive man. Richie is a joker who never knows when to shut up. Eddie is uptight and paranoid about his well-being. 27 years is a long time, so it seems odd that the adult versions of these characters still seem to have the same fears and anxieties that they had as children.
What would have enhanced It Chapter Two's scares even more is if Pennywise preyed on the more adult-oriented fears of Bill, Beverly, Richie, Eddie, and so on. What if Richie was now fearful that he chose the wrong career and now won't be able to make anything of his life? Wouldn't Beverly be afraid that she would never fall in love with the right person, and thus, find herself forever feeling alone and loveless? Would Mike feel any sense of regret that he decided to stay in Derry his whole life, never travelling anywhere or at least seeing other people? These are all real-life fears that thousands, hell millions, of people around the world feel or have felt, and if Pennywise was able to terrify Bill, Beverly, Richie, and so on, based on such fears, it would really be a neat way for the movie to tell us that fear is something that never goes away, even in adulthood.
Another issue involving the characters is that, even with the expanded running time, the movie has a hard time juggling every one of the Losers and giving each of them reasonable screen time. Mike is virtually taken out of the movie once everyone goes to search for their tokens, returning only when the movie heads to its finale. Poor Beverly ends up being caught in a love triangle with Bill and Ben, and while we get a clear answer as to who she wants to be with by the end of the movie, it feels rather anticlimactic and underdeveloped. Again, I am not going to read into how faithful the film is to the second half of the book; the movie lacks the true characterization it needed to make the Losers feel whole and realistic in their adulthood, and thus, why they seem almost like carbon copies of their childhood selves. They say some people never change. I say 27 years is a long enough time for anyone to go through some kind of change.
If I were forced to pick which It movie I liked more, I might have to give the slight edge to It Chapter Two, although that choice is slightly influenced by my most recent re-watch of It Chapter One. The jump scares wore off much quicker than the first time I saw the film back in September 2017, and I found Finn Wolfhard's Richie a lot more annoying than before. It Chapter Two's biggest flaws all find their way back to the way the film treats the adult Losers: not giving them proper characterization, struggling to keep them all on equal footing, and worst of all, showing them as almost total copies of their childhood selves. Regardless, the cast is excellent, and the scares are more effective the second time around, offering a lot more disturbing imagery and nightmare fuel. Due to its near 3 hour runtime, It Chapter Two likely has very low replay value, but coupled with the success of Chapter One, this two-part film series proved to be a successful up-to-date adaptation of King's novel. Warner Bros. has made mentions that this may not be the last we see of Pennywise, although I'm not sure what else they could really do with the It mythology. Whether it's a prequel or another sequel of some sort, let's just be happy that Andy Muschietti's It films are true stand-outs in the not-so-rosy group that is Stephen King film adaptations.
Recommend? Yes. I recommend though that you have the first film fresh in your mind and that you set a couple hours aside, due to the long runtime.
Some monsters just want to watch the world burn
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah is directed by Takao Okawara, written by Kazuki Omori, and stars Takuro Tatsumi, Yoko Ishino, Yasufumi Hayashi, Sayaka Osawa, Megumi Odaka, Masahiro Takashima, Momoko Kichi, and Akira Nakao.
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah marks the end of the Heisei Godzilla series, and that's exactly how the movie is presented: like an ending. Marketed as the movie in which Godzilla dies (even though Godzilla died once before in the original 1954 Godzilla), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was meant to be the final Godzilla film produced by Toho until the character's 50th anniversary in 2004. In the meantime, a trilogy of American Godzilla films starring Matthew Broderick was to be made, but this plan backfired so hard that it convinced Toho to bring Godzilla back much sooner than they had originally anticipated. So in hindsight, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah's sense of finality isn't as strong as it planned to be, but that doesn't stop the film from being one of the best of the entire Godzilla library.
In the summer of 1995, producer Shogo Tomiyama announced that the next Godzilla film would be the final installment of the series. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla were unable to generate the sizable audience turnout that Godzilla vs. Mothra succeeded in generating, so it made sense for Toho to send Godzilla on another hiatus, not wanting to further diminish the character's popularity and drive him into the ground again like they did at the tail end of the Showa series. The original plan was to have the Heisei Godzilla face off against a ghost version of the original 1954 Godzilla, but the idea was scrapped because the producers didn't want to have three straight films in which Godzilla faces off against some alternative version of himself (robot Godzilla, space Godzilla, and then ghost Godzilla). However, the idea to callback to the original 1954 film was kept in place, and believe me: the original 1954 film will get brought up A LOT when discussing all the modern-day Godzilla films. The callback to the 1954 film primarily deals with the Oxygen Destroyer, the weapon that killed the original Godzilla and, as we quickly learn, gives birth to Destoroyah.
The movie opens with Godzilla going on a rampage through Hong Kong, but there's something wrong: Godzilla is covered with bright, fiery spots, and his atomic breath has now turned a red-orange color. It turns out that Godzilla is undergoing a nuclear meltdown: his heart acts a nuclear reactor, and when his temperature reaches 1,200 degree C, he will unleash a nuclear power capable of setting Earth's atmosphere ablaze and burning the entire planet's surface to the ground. The JSDF scrambles to find a way to prevent this nuclear meltdown, but Godzilla's meltdown isn't the only problem. Scientists discover that the Oxygen Destroyer has mutated organisms living in Tokyo Bay, and these organisms quickly evolve into giant creatures that start to wreak havoc. The creatures eventually merge together to form one mega monster the JSDF dubs "Destroyer", which soon comes into contact with Godzilla. I should also mention that Godzilla Junior is present, which should be totally expected, given that these late Heisei Godzilla series all seem to love having a baby Godzilla involved.
- Godzilla vs. Destoroyah wants to be as grandiose and hard-hitting as possible given the stakes involved in the plot, and it hits the nail right on the head with its action and special effects. While there may not be much in the way of monster choreography, the monsters exchange massive blow after massive blow, and there's no shortage of blood and graphic monster violence. The addition of steam and glowing orange spots are nice touches that properly evoke the idea that Godzilla is melting down. The Godzilla suit is also one of the best ones of the Heisei series: a firm, well-rounded head and dorsal fins that maintain their standard shape, but also look like they're about to melt off at any moment (as they should). The best feature is Godzilla's eyes: a bright orange color to match his atomic breath, as well as make Godzilla look like a fearsome hellspawn. One of the most impressive effects is a transition effect that occurs when the JSDF temporarily freezes Godzilla using their advanced Super-X III fighter jet. For 1995, it's an effect that still holds up extremely well showing a face going from unfrozen to frozen. Obvious green screen is basically nowhere to be found in the film, and the use of enough low camera angles and framing techniques do a nice job of giving the necessary impression of the monsters' size. If this movie was being graded on special effects alone, it would get an A+ without question.
- I do hope that Toho can bring Destoroyah back at least once or twice in future kaiju films, because this is one of the coolest monsters that they've pitted Godzilla against. Starting off as a microscopic trilobite creature, Destoroyah first evolves into several large crab-like creatures, then into a flying super crab, and finally, a massive bat-creature that looks like it could be mistaken for the devil. It's no coincidence that both Godzilla and Destoroyah look like they've been pulled out of hell; they're about to burn all of planet Earth to the ground. Destoroyah has a neat line-up of powers: he has a pinkish breath that, I assume, sucks the oxygen out of anything it touches. He also can use his horn as a glowing katana blade (he only uses it once or twice though). Destoroyah can also devolve back into the crab-like creatures he was previously, and he also uses his long tail to drag Godzilla around and choke him. This is truly one of the most evil, merciless monsters that Toho has created, and there are various moments where he overwhelms Godzilla, even when it seems like Godzilla is gonna blow any second. Everything about Destoroyah backs up his ridiculously awesome name, which is why it's a huge bummer that the English subtitles and dubbing continue their notorious tradition of butchering various kaiju names, referring to Destoroyah as just Destroyer. Just doesn't have the same kick to it.
- If I would say that there is anything noticeably wrong with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, it would be that the movie has a series of bizarre moments that beg an explanation. The scene of the JSDF facing off against the Destoroyah crabs is an action scene straight out of Aliens, and there's a true head-scratcher when one of the crabs tries to kill one of the characters that gets trapped inside a car. The crab tears the car apart and has a clear opening to make the kill, but it doesn't follow through. There's also a goof that kind of ruins a moment when Destoroyah bites a big hole in Baby Godzilla's chest: the chest wound is just magically gone a few minutes later. The climax of the film also transitions from day to night rather abruptly, but given the film's plot and tone, it's perfectly understandable why most of it takes place at night. In summary, there are a series of little moments here and there that don't really make a lot of sense, but these moments are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, so it's not worth harping on them too much.
Being advertised as the film in which Godzilla dies, Toho ended the Heisei Godzilla series on an absolute high, delivering one of the best films of the entire Godzilla series, maybe even the best since the original 1954 film. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah offers just about everything we could ask for: terrific special effects, a plot with perfectly fleshed-out, and a new monster in the malevolent Destoroyah that Toho should seriously consider bringing back in future Godzilla and/or other kaiju-based films. There are some weird moments during the film that don't make a whole lot of sense, but when you've got the kind of explosive action this film offers and not have to worry too much about characters and story, it's easy to just sweep those confusing little moments under the rug and fully enjoy the film for what it gives you. Toho went all out with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, and while this "ending" for Godzilla didn't quite work out the way Toho had hoped in regards to when they hoped to bring the character back, it doesn't diminish the film's emotional weight, its ambition, nor any of its achievements.
Recommend? Yes. This is a must-see for all Godzilla fans.
The Games We Play
Ready or Not is directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and stars Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O'Brien, Henry Czerny, and Andie MacDowell.
In what has been a rather bizarre turn of events, the summer 2019 season for me has been highlighted by a series of short, fun, and bloody horror-thrillers that aim to be nothing more than a good time at the theater. January through May 2019 was more bulked up than usual when it came to new releases that I felt the urge to see and review here on this blog, but then came June, and the new releases slowed down big time: Toy Story 4 ended up being the only true must-see. For those who are reading this wondering why in the hell have I not done a review for the live-action adaptation of The Lion King, it's because of two different reasons.
1.) Disney's non-stop greed has brought about a continued onslaught of everything sacred in their history books; these live-action remakes demanding that you give them your hard-earned money by succumbing to your childhood nostalgia.
2.) I am not a fan of the original Lion King.
So as you can tell by the lack of new reviews throughout this summer season, there's not been a whole lot of action at the theater, adding new meaning to the phrase: "the dog days of summer". Not to worry: the fall 2019 season looks to be offering a fresh batch of worthwhile new releases, so I hope to be getting back into a more consistent routine from here on out.
Now then, moving on to the actual review part of the review. I'm a little hesitant to call Ready or Not a horror movie; there isn't a whole lot going on that can be appropriately considered scary. As the title implies, Ready or Not is a horror-movie version of the game hide-and-seek, where the "seekers" are savage murderers who plan to kill you once they find your hiding spot. Thing is, there's much more to the plot than just watching Samara Weaving outsmart a group of killers. Samara Weaving plays Grace De Lomas. She has just married the filthy rich Alex De Lomas (O'Brien), and, per the De Lomas family tradition, the newly weds must play a game in order for the bride to become fully initiated into the family. Samara draws a card that says hide-and-seek, meaning Grace must go hide while the rest of the family tries to find her. Now, the De Lomas wedding night tradition was first started a long time ago by a man named Justin Le Bail, and Bail had declared that, if the hide-and-seek card was chosen, the family must deliver the bride as a sacrifice before dawn or else they will all die. Grace soon learns what the family intends to do with her, and so, she must evade capture and escape the family estate.
When looking purely at it from a conceptual point of view, Ready or Not is kind of a dumb film. Why did Justin Le Bail curse the De Lomas family such that if they played hide-and-seek above any other game, they would have to offer a sacrifice? The reason that Ready or Not is not a dumb film is because of the way it works from the point of view that's more important: the execution point of view. Ready or Not is described as a satirical outlook on the wealthy, the 1% to be more specific. What the movie wants to drive home is that the super rich are a particular brand of people that are so caught up in their meritorious status that, in the face of danger or some other kind of threat, they will go to whatever lengths necessary to maintain that status. To the wealthy, being wealthy means being like God, like you are on a higher, divine plane that you deserve to stay on your entire life. The great thing is that Ready or Not generates this commentary by being subversive with its story and without having to resort to any sort of shove-it-down-your-throat approach.
- Samara Weaving makes a case for why she could be one of the future's brightest stars, delivering a performance that is equal parts charming, funny, and spine-tingling. The plot likes to throw Grace around like a rag doll: her wedding dress gets ripped to shreds, she busts up one of her hands pretty bad, and she keeps having to find ways to outmaneuver members of this family that want to sacrifice her. Weaving handles it all like a champ: convincing, ghostly facial expressions, grisly shrieks of pain when she gets hurt, and speaking various lines like someone about to have a panic attack. One moment that really sold me on her performance is a scene in which Grace is hiding in the kitchen from the family butler. Grace has a gun she is trying to load with bullets, and as the butler is whistling and making tea on the stove, Grace tries to load the gun, and we get a close-up shot of her eyes, darting in every direction imaginable. Great acting comes in more than just the dialogue being spoken. In this scene, Weaving is playing a character who is making a tough decision (preparing a gun to try and kill someone) in the middle of a perilous situation, so of course she can't quite maintain all her composure. Weaving goes beyond just looking scared and screaming during these kinds of scenes. She adds these extra little details to better encapsulate what someone like Grace would be feeling if they were trapped in a house with several people trying to kill them. Could Samara Weaving be a new Scream Queen? I think Jessica Rothe has a bit of an edge over Weaving at the moment, but I think the potential is definitely there.
- For some odd reason, Ready or Not has an ongoing subplot regarding Alex's brother Daniel, whom we are told is a heavy drinker that has an awkward interest in Grace. The later stages of the plot are heavily influenced by Daniel, and it feels completely forced and unnecessary. Daniel acts strangely throughout the whole movie and is nothing more than a glorified side character, so I am unsure as to what the screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murray was hoping to achieve by giving significant scenes to a character that does basically nothing up until said significant scenes. It would be like if Dak Ralter, Luke Skywalker's co-pilot during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, was given the exact same amount of screen-time leading up to the battle, but instead of getting killed in battle, Dak would have a brief lightsaber duel with Darth Vader first. Why is this particular character altering the plot's primary chain of events? Because I have no idea. There's only so much you can do with your characters in a 90-95 minute span, but this was not the course of action to take.
All in all, Ready or Not is a fun little horror-thriller that is far more enjoyably goofy than it is legitimately scary. Samara Weaving steals the show with a knockout performance that ought to help establish her as one of cinema's new aspiring actresses, and the movie has a neat and thoughtful criticism on the super rich, providing said criticism with a darkly humorous bite. The writing decisions made with Daniel De Lomas late in the movie are awkward and take away some from the film's story-telling, but this is still the kind of summer-time movie that you can watch and feel rewarded by. It's honestly the best of both worlds: the movie is fun, bloody, and short, and it provides some nice food for thought. That's not a bad way to spend part of your day at a theater, if you ask me, especially in the waning days of summer.
Kaiju is an artifact designed for space travel.
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is directed by Kensho Yamashita and stars Megumi Odaka, Jun Hashizume, Zenkichi Yoneyama, Akira Emoto, and Towako Yoshikawa.
Upon re-watching Godzilla vs. Biollante some months back, I was at least somewhat convinced that that film was the worst the Heisei Godzilla series had to offer. I have come to rescind that statement, because, oh boy: if Godzilla vs. Biollante was a chore to watch, then Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is a chore and then some to sit through. I suppose the one thing Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla has over Godzilla vs. Biollante is that the former is never straight-up boring, but when speaking in terms of pure technical prowess, Godzilla vs. Biollante takes the cake. After bringing many of the classic Showa series kaiju up to speed, the Heisei series would ride off into the sunset with two films, each featuring a new monster for Godzilla to take on. The first of these monsters is an outer space version of Godzilla with the impressively un-creative name of SpaceGodzilla, and if you were thinking that Godzilla gets to travel to outer space to go toe-to-toe with this new monster, I'm sorry to say that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is unwilling to give us such a luxury, despite the fact that Godzilla has already fought in space before. It's also worth noting that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla continues the process of having the demise of one monster plant the seeds for the birth of a new monster. The end of Mecha-King Ghidorah brought about the rise of the new MechaGodzilla, and the end of MechaGodzilla gave way to the new giant mecha, M.O.G.U.E.R.A. So how did SpaceGodzilla come into existence, you ask? Well, it turns out that Godzilla cells from Biollante and Mothra somehow made their way to a black hole and were exposed to radiation, thus generating a space monster that is practically identical to Godzilla.
That's just scratching the surface of how bizarre and crowded the plot is for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. The human side of the story concerns three members of the United Nations G-Force: Koji Shinjo (Hashizume), Kiyoshi Sato (Yoneyama), and Akira Yuki (Emoto). The three travel to Birth Island to execute Project T: a plan to stop Godzilla from attacking cities by controlling his mind with telepathic powers. The plan goes awry when SpaceGodzilla arrives on the island, attacking Godzilla and imprisoning Godzilla's offspring: Little Godzilla (again, impressively un-creative). SpaceGodzilla then departs to go and lay waste to Japan, with Godzilla in hot pursuit. Godzilla isn't alone in his fight, however: the Japan Self-Defense Forces send their new mecha M.O.G.U.E.R.A. to assist.
So you've got a couple human characters and a handful of monsters. Sounds like a typical day at the office for Toho, except that the film flies by at an almost breakneck pace, and the script by writer Hiroshi Kashiwabara crams in so much extra material that it's next to near impossible for any of the film's story-lines to breathe. The whole Project T bit eventually morphs into an in-your-face message about how, "all living creatures have feelings", which serves as a continuation of the environmental messaging from 1992's Godzilla vs. Mothra. Speaking of Mothra, the twin faires (aka The Cosmos) like to show up every now and then to provide encouragement for our recurring psychic character Miki Saegusa (Odaka), and it's about as pointless as poor Little Godzilla, who does nothing but walk around and look cute until SpaceGodzilla shows up and takes him out of the movie entirely. I truly don't know the reasoning behind why all these later Heisei Godzilla series insist on having a baby Godzilla be present. At least Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II made the baby Godzilla feel somewhat integral to the plot, while Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla simply uses a baby Godzilla as a means to put another monster into the movie, no matter how useless said monster is. But anyway, we've got Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, a baby Godzilla, telepathic powers, and a pro-animal, pro-environment message all to worry about, and it all adds up to one cluttered monster movie.
- The good news about Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is that, once SpaceGodzilla shows up on Earth, the monsters pretty much take over the movie, which isn't too long of a wait. The monster fights and special effects though are all over the place: shots of Godzilla using his atomic breath or SpaceGodzilla using his lightning(?) blasts make for some fairly entertaining monster action. Unfortunately, there's next to nothing in the ways of choreography: Godzilla and SpaceGodzilla just stand still and keep blasting each other, while M.O.G.U.E.R.A flies around and launches a few attacks every now and then. The only part of the monster fights with some sense of choreography is when M.O.G.U.E.R.A runs towards SpaceGodzilla and uses a drill attack, and then back off once SpaceGodzilla retaliates. By the way, the M.O.G.U.E.R.A mecha in the film is an updated version of the same robot character that first appeared in the 1957 film The Mysterians. Anyway, the special effects during the monster fights are standard fare for a 1990's Godzilla film, but there's also the occasional ugly green screen shot, particularly during some scenes of Little Godzilla walking around and the Cosmos coming down to speak with Miki in the form of a tiny Mothra. Some shots of the giant SpaceGodzilla crystal flying through space are a bit of an eyesore as well. With the monsters taking over the movie at a relatively early point though, it means that there is plenty of building smashing, colorful lights, and kabooms to satisfy. I wouldn't go as far as to call the monster action enthralling, but it's what you came for, and it's what the movie gives you plenty of.
- Much like the English dubbing, the screenplay for a Godzilla film almost always leaves a few holes to address (although the dubbing is more like a gigantic sinkhole). What hurts this Godzilla movie most of all however is its pacing, in which the absolute bare minimum is done in order to get from Important Plot Point A to Important Plot Point B. No better example than this: there's a scene where Miki is kidnapped by the Yakuza and literally a few minutes later, Shinjo, Sato, and Yuki are attempting to rescue her. Travel time and distance are complete non-factors here: SpaceGodzilla is probably the galaxy's fastest space traveler, and M.O.G.U.E.R.A proves to be quite the space traveler himself, since he can fly out to space, intercept SpaceGodzilla, have a fight, get badly injured, and then return back to Earth all in one perfect run. I know I'm digging too deep into something that doesn't deserve to be nitpicked, but the movie is trying to do so much in so little time, there isn't anything to latch on to and absorb, and thus, the pacing feels wildly off. Kensho Yamashita and Hiroshi Kashiwabara stated they wanted to make the film more lighthearted and to put more emphasis on character development. That sounds nice and all, except that the movie seems to be doing anything and everything to try and get to the monster action, so the whole character development part kind of fizzles out. There's also not much room in the ways of humor, so I am unsure exactly as to where Yamashita and Kashiwabara thought the film was more lighthearted. The movie falls way short of its most ambitious goals, which is a disappointment, because this maybe could have been one of the best Godzilla films ever if Yamashita and Kashiwabara had achieved what they set out to do.
It's a bit much to call Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla a disaster; the movie succeeds at being entertaining from first frame to last frame, with plenty of kaiju action that no Godzilla fan in his or her right mind can complain. Everything else though? Not so great: The special effects are a mixed bag, the story is bloated by Godzilla movie standards, and the pacing is incredibly off. It isn't anywhere near as bad as the likes of Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla's Revenge, but Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla unfortunately takes the crown for worst Godzilla film of the Heisei series. SpaceGodzilla is an okay monster; I like the look of the giant crystals on its shoulders and the alligator-like face that gives him enough distinction from Godzilla. Under the right circumstances, I think this is a monster that Toho could sell. The story we have here from Yamashita and Kashiwabara however, isn't the one to make SpaceGodzilla work. It tries to be a story about telepathy, about how animals have souls, and about Godzilla facing off against an extraterrestrial version of himself. It's never straight-up boring, but watching Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla tends to be a bit of an arduous chore, kind of like a long flight through outer space. If only NASA had SpaceGodzilla's speed.
Recommend? No, but the movie can make for some entertaining monster action.
The Intruder is directed by Deon Taylor and stars Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Dennis Quaid.
If there are any trashy thrillers yet to be released in 2019, it's hard to imagine how any one of them could top The Intruder: a movie whose appeal solely relies on the concept that, "Dennis Quaid is a psycho who comes after a married couple." On paper, psycho Dennis Quaid is a fairly amusing concept, but the fact of the matter is that this concept only goes so far on its own: we don't want to watch Quaid just act as a mindless serial killer; you've got to have the pieces around Quaid to make the concept work. In the case of The Intruder however, the presence of psycho Dennis Quaid is its one and only asset. Everything else in The Intruder amounts to a steaming hot pile of garbage, and thus, you've got yourself a near dumpster fire of a film, only to be remembered because of the commitment of its most recognizable star.
The film tells the story of married couple Scott (Ealy) and Annie (Good) Howard. The two purchase a home out in Napa Valley from the home's long-time owner, Charlie Peck (Quaid). Charlie tells Scott and Annie his wife passed away from cancer two years ago, and that he will be moving down to Florida to live with his daughter. Scott and Annie seem to easily adjust to their new home, except for the fact that Charlie insists on showing up at the house again and again. Charlie explains that his move to Florida got delayed, but it soon becomes clear that Charlie has a different agenda in mind: he refuses to give up the house and will go to whatever lengths necessary to take it back from Scott and Annie.
It's one thing to have an over-the-top Dennis Quaid. It's another thing though to put him in a movie with this kind of ridiculous plot: one that seems incompatible with a title such as The Intruder. I guess in a literal sense, The Intruder is the most appropriate title this movie could have: Charlie Peck is intruding on a property that no longer belongs to him. What's problematic though is that the movie, for at least half the running time, treats Charlie like he's that annoying neighbor who won't leave you alone, as opposed to a clearly deranged psychopath that is secretly plotting to kill or kidnap you. To be fair, The Intruder gives you details illustrating that Charlie has always been a psychopath, but they're so paltry that, had it not been for the title, you wouldn't have any clue of his true motives until around the last half hour of the film.
- It's not all bad: Dennis Quaid's performance gives the movie some value as an unintentional comedy. It's not so much that Quaid doesn't fit the role; it's the poor direction given to him by Deon Taylor, who seems to believe that acting psychotic means Quaid twitching and giving as many goofy smirks as humanly possible. And this is not smirking that would remind you of Norman Bates's "she wouldn't harm a fly" smile. No, this is the kind of smirking you would likely see from a adolescent teenage boy watching a porno for the first time in his life. It's supposed to be scary (at least I think it is), but it only gets funnier the more times you see it. Nonetheless, Quaid is trying to do whatever he can to breathe some life into the film, so the effort is definitely there. Quaid alone makes the film entirely watchable, and who knows? You might actually have a good time with it.
- We can rip the screenplay by David Loughery to shreds, because it's about as brainless as you can possibly imagine. Entire subplots and other important details that the movie draws attention to are discarded completely at one point or another. Scott getting in trouble with Annie because he goes out to a bar to have some drinks with his clients? Nah, we can just do away with that as if it never happened. How about Scott being paranoid around guns? Well, the ending of the movie suggests this is a lie. The Intruder suffers from short-term memory loss, only worrying about the here and now and not anything like foreshadowing or character development. If it doesn't benefit what's happening in the plot RIGHT NOW, it's not important. If that weren't enough, the script is also doing whatever it takes to pad the movie up to its 102 minute run time. Entire scenes of Charlie visiting the house or scenes of Scott and Annie having sex could be cut out of the movie entirely, and it would do absolutely nothing to alter the plot. This exact same story could be told in 85ish minutes with the same piss poor level of execution. It's an all-around terrible script that holds nothing creative or insightful.
- Believe it or not, but the screenplay isn't the worst thing about The Intruder, although there certainly is an argument to be made for why it is. The worst thing about The Intruder is its utter incompetence in regards to building suspense. The only thing that comes close to resembling suspense in The Intruder is the curiosity of when Charlie Peck is finally going to snap. Everything that tries to build up to that conversion to pure insanity only fuels the movie's unintentional hilarity. Uh-oh! Annie spots Charlie outside mowing the grass! What's gonna happen the next time Charlie sees Annie's lawn in poor condition? Oh no! Charlie brought over some pies! Then he brings over a pizza! Is he going to start cooking for Scott and Annie? All these scenes of Charlie visiting the house only show him acting courteous or helping Annie with mundane, everyday tasks, none of which are designed in a way to help improve the fear of Charlie being a psychotic killer. It's essentially the same scene being recycled over and over again, only each time, Scott starts to get a little more suspicious, while Annie continues to act as hospitable as can be, completely oblivious to the weirdness behind Charlie's frequent visits. When the movie decides to finally have Charlie snap, nothing has been done to make his character at least remotely scary, which should still be at least somewhat possible, despite the fact that Charlie is being played by an over-the-top Dennis Quaid. Yes, the plot is fairly predictable and has been done before in other movies. That doesn't mean the journey from Point A to Point Z has to take all the same twists and turns. It's all about the "how", not the "what".
If it weren't for Dennis Quaid and his over-the-top performance, The Intruder would likely have just come into theaters, make a few quick bucks and change, and then slink off slowly into the $5 DVD Bargain Bin. It's a garbage film: a terrible screenplay, idiotic characters, and a complete inability to build suspense. However, it's a perfectly watchable garbage film, and it's all thanks to Mr. Quaid and his ability to give the film the silliness it needs to give you at least a few good laughs. These type of domestic thrillers sneak into theaters at least once or twice every year, and I don't think you'll find a more perfectly trashy domestic thriller in 2019 than The Intruder. A concept like psychotic Dennis Quaid could work with the right group of people. Quaid is perfectly talented enough to play a villain role like this one. For the sake of unintentional hilarity though, it couldn't have ended up much better than this.
Recommend? It's good for a few laughs on a boring, slow day.
Any man who says 'I am King' is no true king.
The Kid Who Would Be King is directed and written by Joe Cornish and stars Louis Ashborne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Patrick Stewart.
For some odd reason that I can't put my finger on, 21st century cinema has not been kind to the medieval legends of King Arthur. To my knowledge, only three major films have been released in American cinema over the past twenty some years that directly deal with the tales of King Arthur, the legendary sword Excalibur, and the Knights of the Round Table. The first being the 2004, Antonine Fuqua-directed King Arthur: a dreary and generic action flick. The second is 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: an immensely boring Guy Ritchie film that foolishly tries to set up a multi-film series without trying to be something special on its own. The third film is what I am dealing with here in this review: 20th Century Fox's The Kid Who Would Be King, something of a King Arthur film targeted at children. Make of that whatever you will. So when I say that the 21st century has been unkind to the tales of King Arthur, that's to say that all the films I just described above are rather unpleasant movie-watching experiences. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is easily the worst of the trio, and The Kid Who Would Be King is considerably the best. That's not saying much though: to say that The Kid Who Would Be King is the best wide release film of the 21st century thus far that directly deals with the legends of King Arthur is like saying getting one wisdom tooth pulled is more enjoyable than getting three or four pulled. It's a less painful experience, but you're still going to hate having to go through it.
The trailers for The Kid Who Would Be King first dropped back in mid-to-late 2018, and, aside from the utter bewilderment of watching a bunch of English schoolchildren preparing to fight an enchantress and her magical army, when I saw that the movie was targeting a late January 2019 wide release, the cynic in me jumped out and already declared the film to be one of the worst new releases of the year. You can imagine my additional shock when I saw the critical acclaim that The Kid Who Would Be King was getting in the few weeks prior to its release. Now having finally seen the film months after its poor box office run, I take a fair amount of solace in sticking with my initial cynicism. The Kid Who Would Be King, while not flat-out dreadful, is an unsatisfactory take on the King Arthur lore, lacking the subtlety and charm that would make it worthwhile for children and adults alike.
The Kid Who Would Be King opens with narration on the infamous King Arthur and his quest to acquire Excalibur and gather his Knights of the Round Table. Arthur had succeeded in putting an end to the war that ravaged the medieval times, turning several of his enemies into friends. The only one who stood in Arthur's way was his half-sister, Morgana (Ferguson), an enchantress who wanted to take the power of Excalibur for herself and use it to rule the world. Arthur and his allies defeated Morgana and sealed her away, and she would not return until the world was divided and leaderless once again.
Fast forward to present day England, where the world is divided and leaderless once again. We meet the twelve-year old boy Alexander Elliot (Ashbourne Serkis). Elliot lives with his mother (Denise Gough), both of whom struggle with the absence of Elliot's father, who Alex hasn't seen since he was five years old. Alex also struggles with bullies at school. Two bullies in particular Alex finds himself up against are Lance (Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). One night, when Lance and Kaye chase after Alex, Alex retreats to a construction site, where he finds a sword positioned in a giant rock. Alex pulls the sword out of the rock and takes it with him. The next day at school, a teenage boy enrolls in Alex's classes, but this is no ordinary teenage boy: the boy is actually the ancient wizard Merlin (Taylor/Stewart), and he discovers that Alex was the one who pulled the sword from the rock. Merlin tells Alex the sword he pulled is the one and only Excalibur, and that he must stop Morgana from taking the sword and enslaving all of England. Thus begins an epic adventure for Alex and his friends: battling evil demons and learning how to live the famous Arthurian code of chivalry.
- The best things The Kid Who Would Be King has going for itself is its convincing special effects and its decent action scenes. Morgana's fiery demons are well-detailed and about as good of a CGI creation as you'll get in a PG-rated film. There's a scene where Alex and his friends are training in swordsmanship with the help of living, moving trees, and the CGI trees are composited quite well with the characters. The actors show us convincingly they know how to interact with whatever stand-in object was used for the trees behind the scenes, without any direct signs of visible confusion/uncertainty. The action, meanwhile, is primarily filmed in a clean wide-shot format: whenever Alex or someone is trying to run away or slash at an incoming demon, Joe Cornish usually has Alex and the demon in the frame together. Basically, every shot during an action sequence is detailed enough so that you can get a perfect awareness of where the characters are and how they are moving. It's more than enough to keep the film from ever becoming boring, and for that alone, I am thankful.
- I would have appreciated The Kid Who Would Be King a lot more if it wasn't as self-serious as it turns out to be, because the movie's clear attempts at comedy do not work at all. Just about every joke is either set up poorly or has a weak punch-line, and even worse, the movie doesn't seem to have any idea about how to balance its comedic moments with its dramatic ones, the latter of which heavily outweighing the former, and thus, throwing the movie's status as a comedy into question. Alex has a line fairly early on in which he tries to dismiss the ridiculous idea of him becoming king, citing that he is only twelve years old. This is the kind of self-awareness that I wanted to see more of from the film, because then the movie would make it clear that it's poking fun at its premise that, let's not kid ourselves, is pretty ridiculous to begin with. A bunch of English schoolchildren embracing the power of King Arthur and tasked with stopping a demon from taking over the world? I'm pretty sure a lot of those children would run in terror if they saw a bunch of fiery demons on horseback charging at them, rather than embracing danger like it was a day off from school. Not being boring is different from being fun and delightful.
- The Kid Who Would Be King's greatest crime, however, is its annoying and undesirable characters. Alex is supposed to become king, except the movie never gives us any valuable insight as to who exactly Alex is and why he would make a good king. Most of the time, Alex is either moping about how much he misses his father or giving a pessimistic outlook on him becoming king, like he's a modern day Jon Snow (the brief Game of Thrones mention put into the movie is not funny, by the way). There's just next to nothing the movie does to make Alex charming, and that's why it's harder to feel engaged with his quest. Alex isn't the worst character in the movie though. That title belongs to Alex's best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo): an utterly useless character who does nothing but follow Alex around and play the role of moral support. Chaumoo's squeaky voice and dopey facial expressions are more likely to induce anger and annoyance than they are to induce aww's like when someone sees an adorable puppy. Seriously, he serves NO PURPOSE to the movie, other than to be the obligatory best friend character. Lance and Kaye are generic bullies, and even when they become Alex's knights, they still struggle to develop anything resembling a personality. On the other hand, Tom Taylor and Patrick Stewart are perfectly watchable as the young and elderly Merlin, respectively, while Rebecca Ferguson proves she has what it takes to play a convincing villain. Taylor knows how to be goofy, playing a fish out of water kind of role as the younger Merlin, and Patrick Stewart just needs to be himself to play the elderly Merlin. Ferguson brings a slithering, snake-like persona to her role, and she's pretty damn good at it when the movie gives her the chance. Too bad the script doesn't care much to show Morgana in her human form, meaning poor Ferguson is given a stingy amount of screen time to show studios that she would make a good villain in future films. Maybe it's not that much of a surprise that the best characters are those played by the more familiar actors. Louis Ashborne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, and all the other younger actors certainly have bright futures. They just don't have the experience yet to take a shakily written character and turn it into something convincing.
I do wonder how much confidence 20th Century Fox had in The Kid Who Would Be King, considering they released the film in January: arguably the most reviled month of the cinematic year. The failed box office run of 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ought to have been enough proof that 21st century audiences aren't exactly raving and screaming about the King Arthur legends, and seeing how The Kid Who Would Be King tanked at the box office, that sentiment still holds true in 2019. It's not a terrible film: the CGI and action are strong enough that the film is never boring, but with an unlikable cast of characters and very little to offer in terms of comedy, The Kid Who Would Be King is a misguided take on the King Arthur legend, believing that simply targeting messages of honor and chivalry at children is enough to give itself a pat on the back. Sure, it means well: always telling the truth, never giving up, and respecting those around you are important lessons that we should be teaching to children. It is entirely possible, however, to get these same points across without having to rely on ridiculous concepts such as putting the King Arthur legend in modern-day England and having an entire school be tasked with fighting a magical army of demons. Charming? Fun? No, I do not think the premise is either of those things, but it sure as hell could be, if the movie wasn't so self-serious. The King Arthur legend could definitely work as a film, but as something like The Kid Who Would Be King? No thanks. This is one King I would not vote for.
Recommend? No. The movie isn't boring, but it isn't exactly pleasant viewing either.
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.
The Deer Hunter is directed and co-written by Michael Cimino and stars Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage, along with John Cazale, Meryl Streep, and George Dzundza. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is considered by many to be the pinnacle American film about the Vietnam War. With its breathtaking cinematography and meditative outlook on how war can drive man to pursue his own worst instincts, it's certainly a magnificent analysis of the darkness of human nature and of what was an odious period of American history (and world history, if we want to be honest with ourselves). With such a powerful film being released right at the end of the 1970's, it's easy to forget that a similarly powerful Vietnam War film came out the year before, winning the Oscar for Best Picture no less: Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. I do not wish to spend the majority of this review comparing and contrasting The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, but it's next to near impossible to do at least a little bit of comparing and contrasting, especially when the two films were released less than a calendar year apart. I am not here to judge which of the two is the better film, but what I will comment on is that, from what I've seen, The Deer Hunter doesn't come up nearly enough in conversations about the greatest Vietnam War film. Everyone just assumes Apocalypse Now has a monopoly on the Vietnam War movie market, that it's not worth the time or effort to try and suggest otherwise.
Perhaps in terms of pure analysis, Apocalypse Now has The Deer Hunter beat, but when comparing based on controversy and emotional weight, I think The Deer Hunter takes the cake. The Deer Hunter is a marathon of a film: three hours in run time and dishing out several emotional gut-punches along the way, which is why I do not recommend it for the faint of heart. It's not without flaws though: the three hour run time serves to hinder the film more than it does to enhance it, and the movie is largely told from one character's perspective. Nonetheless, the movie cuts deep with its depiction of the Vietnam War's brutality and the effect that brutality had on the men involved. We could spend this entire review talking about The Deer Hunter's production history, because around the mid 1970's when the film was being planned, the Vietnam War was still heavily frowned-upon by major Hollywood studios. The English company EMI helped finance the film, and Universal didn't jump on board to get the movie produced until much much later. On top of trying to finance and produce a controversial film about a war America was still hot and bothered about, there were plenty of stories that came out painting Michael Cimino as something of a control freak during production. That shouldn't be much of a surprise if you know at least a little bit about Michael Cimino; the man was criticized his whole career for being an egotistical S.O.B who took on an authoritarian approach to directing. Is it surprising or not surprising at all that nothing notable came from Cimino's career following The Deer Hunter? All his directorial features after The Deer Hunter were box office bombs, and not one of them is a film I envision myself ever reviewing on this blog.
So anyway, The Deer Hunter tells the story of three men from a small, steel-working town in Clairton, Pennsylvania: Mike Vronvsky (De Niro), Nick Chevotarevich (Walken), and Steven Pushkov (John Savage). The three men are preparing to enter into military service and assist in the Vietnam War, but before that, they enjoy their free time hunting deer up in the mountains and hanging out at a local bar. Steven marries his girlfriend Angela (Rutanya Aida), and the town holds a giant wedding reception to celebrate Steven and Angela, and to wish Mike, Steven, and Nick farewell before they leave. Fast forward to Vietnam, and Mike, Nick, and Steven find themselves in a POW camp, where they are forced to play Russian roulette.
This is a difficult plot to write a synopsis for, mainly because I'm not sure what can be categorized as a "spoiler". The Deer Hunter's story has a three act structure: the first act is the opening in Pennsylvania, where Mike, Nick, and Steven enjoy the company of their family and friends. The second is the sequence in Vietnam, when Mike, Nick , and Steven are held prisoner. The third act is the aftermath, particularly watching Mike back home, as he grows closer to Nick's girlfriend Linda (Streep) while trying to reconnect with those he's been separate from for so long. Each act makes up about an hour of the film, designed to first inspire hope and confidence and then crush said hope and confidence into tiny piles of dust. The last act is supposed to be like a recovery period, until Cimino decides to throw you back into the fire at the very end, and when the end credits finally roll, you are so beaten and broken that you never want to hear the words 'deer hunter' ever again.
- There was criticism aplenty for the film's extended Russian roulette scene, most of which revolved around the fact that there were no documented cases of the Vietcong forcing prisoners to play Russian roulette during the Vietnam War. Controversy aside, the Russian roulette scene is where The Deer Hunter is at its best, because it's the ultimate metaphor for what the film is trying to say about the Vietnam War.
Robert De Niro holding a gun to his head during the controversial scene.
The Deer Hunter wants to tell us that the stakes and the outcomes of war are similar to those of Russian roulette: death is right in front of you, and you'll only survive if you're lucky enough. The player holding the gun to their head represents the soldiers fighting on the battlefield. The other player who just sits and watches represents those of us waiting and praying back home. One of two things happens: either the soldier gets a loaded chamber and dies, or he miraculously survives, only now he's traumatized from having such a near-death experience. Either way, someone loses. It's unfair, makes no sense, and ends badly for everyone, but that's exactly what the Vietnam War was. For as much flack we could give Cimino for being a grade-A asshole, there's no denying that the direction for this sequence is top-notch. Everything is raised to a fever pitch: the Vietcong verbally and physically abusing the players and the players ranging across a series of extreme emotions like red-hot anger and panic-inducing fear. Cimino primarily relies on shots that are relatively close-up, to evoke the sense that we are also at the table participating in the game. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography takes on a murkier, water-like display that achieves the two-part goal of capturing the scene's pure un-pleasantry and to give us the sense that this is a hot, humid jungle that we would rather no spend our time in. It's a scene meant to disturb you and put you out of your comfort zone, and Cimino nailed it.
- The other thing I didn't mention about what enhances the Russian roulette scene so much is the acting, especially from De Niro and Walken. The great acting is over the course of the whole movie, and The Deer Hunter ought to be the prime example as to how and why Christopher Walken is, in all seriousness, a very talented and committed actor. Movie choices over recent years has strongly suggested that Walken has stopped taking his career as seriously, and thus, people are more prone to view him as goofy and unhinged. The Deer Hunter puts Walken's Nick through the wringer, and Walken is magnificent in showing us the impact that the Russian roulette game and overall Vietnam War experience is having over Nick. This is most evident in a scene in a military hospital, where a man walks up to Nick and asks him some general questions. Nick can't find the words to respond, instead breaking down into tears. Later on, Nick grows completely numb to his surroundings, and to see what Walken put himself through physically to achieve Nick's ghostly look is something that will stick with you for a long time. Through his words, facial expressions, and general physical acting, Walken better than anyone sells the heartbreaking tragedy that Cimino wants the film to portray.
- No matter how much I praise the film for how powerful it is with its depiction of the Vietnam War, The Deer Hunter suffers from its three-hour length, specifically in that the film takes way too long to get started. The wedding reception in the film's first hour is an unreasonably long sequence that is comprised of too much dancing and celebrating and not anywhere near enough story telling that at least gives you impression that the movie is moving forward. To be fair, this scene is important, because it gives us valuable insight of these characters' personal lives and how they feel towards each other. The problem is in that Cimino doesn't know how to prioritize quality over quantity. The major beats of the wedding reception, such as showing us the love triangle between Mike, Nick, and Linda, and foreshadowing that Steven and Angela's marriage is not going to end well, could all be done by focusing more shots on these specific characters laughing and dancing, while doing away with other moments of characters just goofing around. and making small talk. Why focus time and energy on characters that we know aren't going to have much bearings on the plot in the long run? Once the movie gets to Vietnam though, it picks up considerably and never lets up.
- The other issue with The Deer Hunter is its one-sided point of view: the Vietcong are portrayed as sadistic, money-grubbing racists who don't have a shred of humanity in their bodies. Multiple bits of trivia have suggested that Cimino had a difficult time finding Vietnamese actors who were willing and able to act in the film's Russian roulette-Vietnam scene. It is also said that many of the slaps during the Russian roulette game were real, and the reactions by De Niro and Walken were genuine. What makes the portrayal of the Vietcong so problematic is that it turns The Deer Hunter into an unnecessarily political and borderline offensive film, despite Cimino's claims that The Deer Hunter is not political, literal, or anything else like that. The one-sided point of view makes the film extremely pro-American, and suggests it has little to no regard to accounting for the general attitude that Vietnam and America had toward the war. America is painted like it's a pure victim without fault, and while it may be unintentional (according to Cimino), it's still a lingering effect that weakens the film's overall impact.
Overall though, The Deer Hunter is extremely ambitious and does not hold back in its quest to pursue its ultimate goal: show us the the brutality of the Vietnam War in all its hellacious fury and thoroughly crush our spirits while doing so. The inflated three hour length and the questionable depiction of the Vietcong prevent the film from achieving true masterpiece status in its execution, but the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, and that's why The Deer Hunter should be right up there with Apocalypse Now as one of the greatest films about the Vietnam War. The Russian roulette game is one of the most memorable scenes you'll ever find in a war film, and the acting, especially from Walken, is the kind of material all aspiring actors can be inspired by. Make no mistakes about it though: this is not a happy film; the ending may very well leave you in a depressed state as you go about the rest of your day. But what happiness is there to be found in war? The Deer Hunter knows what it wants to say about war, and my gosh, does it get the point across. War is hell, and everyone is a little worse for wear because of it.
Recommend? Yes. If you can somehow find three hours on a quiet day, the film is definitely worth watching.
Crawl is directed by Alexandre Aja and stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper.
It is an ironic thing that a creature-feature horror film like Crawl, a film with B-movie potential, could do the seemingly impossible and not only meet basic expectations but surpass them as well. 2019 has been pretty beefed up with blockbuster movies, though July is shaping up to be the most barren month of the year when it comes to new releases that everyone can get excited about. A movie like Crawl, however, is one that is needed at this point in summer: a film whose premise and setting perfectly match the summer season, while also being a perfectly good way to spend an hour and a half when its usually too hot or too rainy to do anything outside. Had Crawl been a run-of-the-mill horror flick in which hapless humans find themselves up against some hungry monster(s), no one would give it a second thought two weeks after its opening weekend. It might as well have been delegated to the Thursday night, 8 PM slot on the Syfy Channel. Here's the thing though: Crawl is much more deserving of a wide theatrical release, because its technical prowess and all-around execution is so much better than it has any right to be, and that alone is enough to tell the Syfy Channel to go take a hike.
The story of Crawl is nothing complex: University of Florida (Get it? 'Cause they're the Gators?) swimmer Haley Keller (Scodelario) gets caught in a Category 5 hurricane, and her father Dave (Pepper), also living in Florida, isn't answering her calls. Haley drives over to her old family house and finds Dave, passed out and bloodied, in the house's crawl space. Just as Haley is about to get Dave out of the crawl space, two giant alligators emerge and attack. Haley and Dave must find a way to outmaneuver the gators, while the hurricane intensifies and the crawl space begins to flood.
For the record, there are more than two human characters and more than two alligators in the movie, but for the majority of the film's 87 minutes, that's all you really need to know. If Alexandre Aja is not a name you recognize, he is the same director behind Piranha 3D: a 2010 comedy horror flick that was definitely trying to be as funny as possible. Whether killer piranhas were your thing or not back in 2010, I assure you that Aja does not bring the same sort of comedic approach to Crawl as he did to Piranha 3D. Crawl is bloody and horrific without any major comedic undertones, but it's also self-aware enough that the movie is completely acceptable to laugh at. Nothing like watching gators team up and make lunch out of hapless humans, even if those humans are not naked women at the beach or dumb teenagers who choose to go swimming at the worst time imaginable. These are also gators that gain a better advantage as the film goes on: the more the flood waters rise, the more access the gators have to both the house and the streets.
- Everything about why Crawl works as well as it does is in the execution. First and foremost, this is a competently made horror film from top to bottom: no major setbacks in areas such as directing, acting, or special effects. Alexandre Aja finds a way to take what little plot he has and turn what could be tiny, forgettable scenes into something of greater value. There's a scene where three people are stealing an ATM machine and robbing an abandoned convenience store. Normally, this would be a pure, "monster kills dumb humans" scene, and while the gators do chow down on these three people, it also happens that these people are close by the house where Haley and Dave are trapped, and Haley manages to get their attention, only for the gators to show up and crush Haley's hope for escape. The acting, primarily from Scodelario and Pepper, is well-rounded and convincing enough that we can be more invested in their characters' peril. As for the alligators, they are about as real-looking as they could be for a film with a reported $13.5 million budget. There aren't too many close-up shots on the gators nor much human-gator wrestling, but the gators never look like stiff mechanical models nor CGI cookie-cut outs, and that's about as much as I or anyone else could ask for from the visual effects crew. It is clear that experienced professionals worked on this movie, and they treated just about everything in this movie with care and patience. That kind of stuff matters so much in the final product.
- Crawl deserves praise for its execution, but that doesn't mean the movie is without its head-scratching moments. First and foremost, the design of the house where much of the movie takes place: the basement walls have cross-shaped openings, which means water can easily flow in during a hurricane or a flood, and, unless I've been seeing things on TV and reading the news incorrectly all my life, Florida is a common hot spot for hurricanes and floods. If I was Dave, I would have filed a lawsuit against the designer of the house, because while the house doesn't have to be impervious to hurricanes, it should not be an open invitation to flood waters. There's also a scene where Haley comes across some alligator eggs, and that would have been a nifty little scene had Haley found herself up against a couple hungry, baby alligators. Unfortunately, such a scene never happens, which makes you wonder why they bothered to show an alligator nest at all. Haley doesn't have a big fight with a gigantic momma alligator, so what's the point in showing us that one of the alligators is laying eggs? Confusing little moments like these are sprinkled throughout the film and slightly diminish the horror aspects, which is why I can't say this film is terrifying or anything to that extent.
I sort of wanted to take a break from all the sequels and superheroes when it comes to new releases, and I am grateful that a film like Crawl came along to satisfy my craving. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but Crawl is the type of movie you want to get at least once every summer: short, simple, and a whole lot of fun. Alexandre Aja's direction, the acting, and the alligators serve up a chomping good time that offers plenty of bang for your buck. The overall execution is better than it has any right to be, and while moments of stupidity are here and there, this creature feature far surpasses its B-movie possibilities. Time will tell if we can say this movie is memorable or not, and if the answer ends up being no, well, at least these gators took a nice bite out of summer 2019.
Recommend? Yes. This movie is nasty, bloody fun and is worth your time.
Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soulmate
Annie Hall is directed and co-written by Woody Allen, and also stars Allen. The film also stars Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, and Colleen Dewhurst. The film won the Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress, along with Best Picture.
Woody Allen is a filmmaker that I have no sort of real relationship with, at least, not in the same vein that I have a relationship with someone such as Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino. For certain directors, writers, actors, and/or studios, I know the frame of mind I will get myself in when I hear about a new release from said director, writer, actor, or studio. Christopher Nolan is coming out with a new film? I expect it to be one of the best films of the year. Colin Trevorrow is writing the screenplay for a new film? Well, let's hope there's at least some semblance of logic and common sense. I am, at the time of this writing, unable to have such a mindset when it comes to Woody Allen films, mostly because I am not overly familiar with Allen's filmography and the kind of style he tries to bring to every one of his films. So that is to say I can only approach one of Allen's films like the 1977 Best Picture winner Annie Hall with an open mind with no real expectations. Actually, having no expectations is an incorrect notion: of course you should have some kind of expectation when you're dealing with a Best Picture-winning film.
Annie Hall is the second romantic comedy film to win Best Picture, the first being 1960's The Apartment. And yet, Annie Hall is known for being one of the most famous anti-rom-com's: we are told right away that this is a romantic relationship that isn't going to work out, so don't expect any happy, "drive away in the just got married limo" for these two love birds. It's so fitting that this kind of film would win Best Picture during the 1970's: the decade that really helped the award escape the grasp of mawkish romantic dramas and dated, biographical snooze-fests. Sure, Annie Hall is full of romantic scenes, but it's also a genuine look at how things are in real life when it comes to dating, romance, sex, and pretty much anything else that has to do with love. The film has a complete disregard for the whole soulmate narrative and the idea that two certain people are meant to be together. It's simply giving us an honest and effective assessment on a hard truth: a lot of relationships don't work out, because they weren't meant to be. Maybe it is a tad cynical, but that's the attitude that the 70's had.
So, Annie Hall is the story of comedian Alvy Singer (Allen) and his relationship with Annie Hall (Keaton). The two are smitten with each other at first, but over time, their relationship falls apart. Alvy wonders how it all went wrong. It's hard to say that there's something resembling a plot here: the film is told in a more non-linear format, going back and forth between various moments in Alvy and Annie's relationship, as well as showing us moments of Alvy's childhood, such as Alvy questioning his mother on existence and other philosophical questions that have no clear answers.
The one other film that comes to mind when thinking about Annie Hall is Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer, and if you've seen (500) Days of Summer, it's easy to see how Annie Hall was a major source of inspiration. Both Annie Hall and (500) Days of Summer are told from the perspective of the male protagonist, in which they ponder the story of a failed relationship: how it started, the good times that were had, and how the relationship went wrong in the end. What's important to remember is that neither Annie Hall nor (500) Days of Summer are told from a male perspective because they have some sort of agenda against women, but because they want to show us that Alvy Singer and Tom Hansen can't use their respective lovers as objects to project fantasies on to. Since we're talking about Annie Hall, I think I should just stick with that film. Anyway, Annie Hall tells us early on that Alvy Singer has never been one for love and relationships, but even when he does find someone he loves, he cannot get away with thinking that Annie is there to put him on cloud nine and to be that magical figure that can cure all his woes. Annie is still a living, breathing human being who eventually sees Alvy's insecurities, and that they're only making the relationship more difficult to maintain. The film primarily shows us Alvy's side of the story because it's his own failures that contribute the most to the failed relationship.
- The role of Annie Hall was written specifically with Diane Keaton in mind, so it's no wonder that she provides the best performance in the entire film. The thing that makes Keaton's performance so great is how down-to-Earth she is allowed to be. She doesn't need to act overly cheery or mopey because the plot demands for her to do so; she is able to treat each scene with genuine emotion, and that's why the relationship between Alvy and Annie feels whole and incredibly realistic. I think Woody Allen was very meticulous in the way he went about writing the Annie Hall character, with the mind set that Diane Keaton would agree to the role, and assuming she agreed, she could feel as if she was playing herself and not a character that would require extensive behind-the-scenes research and be something completely out of her comfort zone. Although the character was conceived by Woody Allen, Keaton is given the freedom to approach the role and act in it the way she sees fit. In other words, Allen handles the concept; Keaton makes the true magic happen in the execution.
- Woody Allen brings an unconventional style to the film, one that not only is meant to bolster the film as a comedy, but one that also likes to play around with the typical romance narrative. The film's opening scene is Woody Allen talking directly to the audience, which is just the first of many occasions in which the film passes right through the fourth wall. It's not just breaking the fourth wall- this happens repeatedly with characters stepping aside to speak directly to the camera-, though I will say that Woody Allen breaking the fourth wall is his way of getting through to the audience; he wants to interact with us and intrude our viewing space. Allen also makes satirical work out of moments that you could say are formulaic in other rom-coms. For example, there's a scene where Alvy and Annie are having their first extended talk, drinking wine and laughing together out on a balcony. In a typical romance film, this would be the, "first-meeting that is also a bit flirtatious" scene, but instead of just Alvy and Annie making friendly conversation, we see mental subtitles that tell us these two are having inner doubts, which comically contrasts with the seemingly happy and romantic small talk. There's also several moments where we see the modern day Alvy and Annie actually watching moments from Alvy's childhood. Alvy's mother would bicker with his father, and Annie would ask, "Did your mother really say that?" No matter what wacky or unexpected style trick that Woody Allen throws at you, it always has purpose and never takes you out of the movie.
- In what is an extreme rarity for older Best Picture winners, Annie Hall is nice and short at only 93 minutes. So it's odd: despite the short running time, the movie starts to drag in its second half. This is the downside of Woody Allen playing around with an unconventional narrative structure and giving the movie no semblance of a plot outside of Alvy and Annie getting together, having several romantic experiences, and then breaking up. It's fine and all that Annie Hall likes to be non-linear and go back and forth at various moments in the story, but the problem is that Woody Allen doesn't know how to keep everything organized, so that we can still see where the story is going and where it will be when all is said and done. The movie reaches a point where it's aimlessly spinning its wheels, because we're still watching the exact same thing we did in the first half: Alvy and Annie having a good time, then arguing, and then having a good time again. This cycle keeps going and going up until a discussion between Alvy and Annie in Los Angeles that represents the movie telling us, "okay, this is the end of the relationship." At least in (500) Days of Summer, we had something of a timeline so that we could keep track of the central relationship and know how much longer it will last. No such luxury in Annie Hall, which mightily struggles to stave off boredom and monotony in its second half. It's unfortunately a case of a short film feeling a lot longer than it actually is.
Even after watching Annie Hall, the 1977 Best Picture winner and Woody Allen's arguably best film to date, I still don't think I have a clear picture of how I think I should feel towards Allen and his artistic, film-making decisions. I certainly have no animosity towards the guy, and especially not towards Annie Hall: an enjoyable, anti-rom-com that is bolstered by a stand-out Diane Keaton performance and an unconventional narrative structure, where Woody Allen wants to be part of your viewing experience as much as possible. Sadly, the movie loses a lot of momentum in its second half: where the lack of a concrete plot starts to rear its ugly head. As much as the movie has to fight off boredom, it's never a complete chore to sit through, especially at just 93 minutes and when Diane Keaton's undeniable charm could carry the movie on its own. It's a very fitting film for its original time of release: the 70's. I might have a hard time though, saying that Annie Hall is an all-time classic that should sit at the top of the rom-com pedestal. Maybe it's at the top of Woody Allen's pedestal, but other wildly prestigious honors are a bit too far out of its reach.
Recommend? Yes. Watch it for Diane Keaton's performance and Woody Allen's unconventional narrative structure.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is directed by Takao Okawara, written by Wataru Mimura, and stars Masahiro Takashima, Ryoko Sano, Megumi Odaka, Yusuke Kawazu, and Daijiro Harada.
The Heisei Godzilla series finally found its footing after Toho brought back some of the classic kaiju monsters: King Ghidorah and Mothra in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Mothra, respectively. If audiences liked seeing these familiar monsters back on the big screen with more up-to-date technology, why not keep it going? Toho continued the "digging through the memory box" trend in the fifth film of the Heisei series, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, bringing back not one, now two, but three of the classic Godzilla era monsters: Mechagodzilla, Rodan, and Baby Godzilla. On one hand, you could be upset that Toho was unwilling to think up new, original monsters for Godzilla to face off against. On the other hand, you could be happy that Toho was not going to let some of the Godzilla series' most famous monsters be forever stuck in the past. Whichever way you may feel, the classic monster revival formula was still working: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was another commercial and critical success.
I'm not sure what it is about Mechagodzilla, but it seems like whenever he battles Godzilla, Toho is giving one of their better efforts. The 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is easily one of the best Godzilla films to date, and while 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla was a disappointment, every Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla film afterwards has been, at the worst, competent. If competent is the absolute worst that it gets for a Godzilla film, you are in a good spot, my friend. So yeah, that is to say that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is perfectly competent. It's also very entertaining and one of Toho's best efforts during the Heisei series. I now feel even worse when, at a younger age when I was watching all these Godzilla films for the first time ever, the local video rental store nor my local library had this film on DVD for me to check out. Thus, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was the one Godzilla film that always dodged me, until I discovered the Internet and its capabilities.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II serves as a sequel to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah: a new anti-Godzilla team known as the G-Force retrieves the robotic head of Mecha-King Ghidorah, using reverse engineering to learn about the head's technology, paving the way for the creation of two new Godzilla-fighting machines. The first is a gunship called Geruda. The second is a giant mech called Mechagodzilla. Two years after Geruda and Mechagodzilla's conception, a Japanese team travels on a mission to Adona Island, where they come across a giant egg. The egg gives off a signal that attracts Godzilla and Rodan who do battle while the humans escape with the egg. The egg later hatches to reveal a Baby Godzilla, which gives off psychic calls that brings Godzilla to Japan. Godzilla's destructive tour through Japan brings him face to face with Mechagodzilla, later transitioning to a fight involving Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla.
Hold on a minute. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is a sequel to...Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah? Once again, titling issues cause unnecessary headaches for a Godzilla film, and let's just get it on record that this titling issue is never going away. The Japanese title of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is just Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and the reason for the 'II' in the English title is because Western markets like TriStar Pictures did not want to have different films in the same series to have the same name. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was already taken by the 1974 film, so despite the fact that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is not a sequel to the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, nor does it have any affiliation with that film whatsoever, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is the title that was released to Western audiences. This same titling issue would appear yet again with 2002's Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, which also had the title Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in Japan. Bottom line: the title Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla makes almost no sense anymore.
- The entertainment level is sky-high in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Kaiju action is aplenty, and the special effects are (for the most part) about as good as they could be for the early 1990's. The absolute worst the effects get is some embarrassing green screen shots of Rodan flying over Japan. Oh, by the way, the English dub calls him Radon, which is technically his official name, but because previous English dubs always referred to him as Rodan, it doesn't sound right to hear everyone say, "Look! It's Radon!" Anyway, Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla go about fighting each other by basically blasting each other to bits. Godzilla's atomic breath is his best friend in this movie, and, for whatever reason, Rodan gets his own atomic breath to use late in the film. Mechagodzilla has a colorful line-up of weapons, and he sure puts all of them to good use. There's not much in the ways of monster movement; the fights are comprised of Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla mostly standing in place and trying to fire their weapons at each other. The only physical fighting the monsters do is a couple body slams and Rodan pecking at Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. That may not sound like overly interesting monster action, but Takao Okawara always finds a way to have one monster get the upper hand and generate an end result that feels like it matters, which is enough to ensure that all the monster action ends up contributing to the plot in some way.
- It's strange to not have really much of anything to criticize in regards to the story or the monster action. The story is as straight-forward and sensible as they come for a Godzilla film: Humans create a giant mech called Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla and Rodan show up to cause a ruckus. Basic stuff. What I will criticize though is that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II really tries to make something of value out of its interest in telepathy, and it's all for naught in the long run. Miki Saegusa, a recurring human character throughout the Heisei series, is mostly known for having telepathic powers, but Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II gives her basically nothing to do with her powers until the climactic battle. There's also the matter of Baby Godzilla having the same kind of power, which he uses to call upon Rodan and make significant things happen on the fly. Baby Godzilla's role in the film doesn't extend anywhere beyond, "the adorable newborn is put into perilous situations because he's/she's special." Why don't Miki and Baby Godzilla spend more time together, especially if they have similar powers? Telepathy in the film is only used for the sake of the plot, and not to give us some deeper meaning on Miki's character nor add an extra layer or two to Baby Godzilla. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II has a strong disinterest in its human characters, but I think there was some missed potential with all the telepathy business, especially since a human and a monster character share in it. Perhaps the film could have made brief commentary on Baby Godzilla having telepathy, such as the telepathy is supposed to be like a psychic bond between a parent and child. Maybe there's something more to be said about why Miki has some supposed psychic connection with Godzilla? I'm not asking for dense thematic content here. I just think everything the movie has regarding telepathy could have added a little more meat to the story.
But you know what? The telepathy business is small potatoes when you look at the big picture: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II excels with its monster action and its overall entertainment value, and when you throw in the fact that the story has next to nothing that is utterly ridiculous, this shapes up to be a damn fine addition to the Heisei series and the Godzilla series as a whole. I guess I should also comment a little bit on the all the monster suits, because those are always a notable part of a Godzilla film. Godzilla and Rodan look just fine for their early 90's renditions. Baby Godzilla is nowhere near the terrifying beast that was Minilla from the late 60's Showa series, though he is kind of bug-eyed in a way that is slightly off-putting. Mechagodzilla is also acceptable, though his roar is now some fine-tuned machine noise that isn't at all menacing and is a far step-down from the shrill, metallic screeches of the 1970's Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla's face also now slants downward slightly as opposed to sticking straight out, which doesn't make him as intimidating as the 1970's version. Though since Mechagodzilla is technically a good guy now, I guess that was kind of the point. Whether he's a good guy or a bad guy, Mechagodzilla seems to bring the best out of the Godzilla filmmakers. That, or you just happen to have the right people working at the right time. Sadly, this would be Mechagodzilla's one and only appearance in the Heisei series, before he comes back for a couple more appearances in the Millenium series. While I think King Ghidorah will always be Godzilla's arch-rival, Mechagodzilla will always be a worthy challenger to that title. None more proof is needed than the higher quality of the films the robotic monster has starred in over the years.
Recommend? Yes. This Godzilla film is well worth your time.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: