The Circle: Knowing how to make heads spin
The Circle is a 2017 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Dave Eggers. The film stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega and is directed by James Ponsoldt. Bill Paxton also stars in what would be his final film role (may he rest in peace).
One thing you should know about me is that Tom Hanks is my favorite actor. I think he is one of the finest actors of his time, and I have at least partially enjoyed just about everything that I have seen in him. However, he seems to have developed a bad habit of starring in thriller-based film adaptations of books that some people might not be able to fully accept. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code trilogy does not sit well for a lot of people, and the film adaptations don't do them any justice. Dave Eggers' The Circle takes a more sci-fi approach by tackling ideas of privacy and the potential dangers of an ever-growing network of technology. Sounds more thought-provoking than controversial. Tom Hanks looks to be in a good spot. Plus, Emma Watson, fresh off the highly successful Beauty and the Beast, is coming along for the ride. This has just got to work, right?
The story centers on a young woman named Mae Holland (Emma Watson) who is working a dead-end job answering the phone and talking to angry customers. Her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) is able to land her a job at the Internet techno corporation known as The Circle. Mae is able to rise up through the ranks to eventually become one of The Circle's most popular figures. As Mae is riding on The Circle's cloud nine, she begins to realize that the choices she makes will affect not only her own community, but people all over the world as well.
The Circle is an example of a movie that I went into hoping to be amazed by, but came out from with a ringing sense of disappointment. The hardy themes of privacy invasion and the power of technology in today's society really lay the foundation for a potentially stupendous film. That's because we now live in a time where people can't seem to go at least 30 minutes without checking the Internet or browsing something on their phones. What disappointed me the most about The Circle was how it goes around and around with its great ideas, but never proceeds to stop and tell us how it all ties together. Everything keeps spinning and spinning until it all comes to a crashing halt in a messy finale.
- Tom Hanks delivers the best performance in the film, combining humorous remarks with convincing speeches. It's a sign to me that Hanks was giving this film his best shot, probably in hopes of making people forget the tragedies of his previous book-to-film installment, Inferno. I guess I am a little biased, because Tom Hanks just seems to find a way to win me over no matter what kind of role he is playing. The Circle does give us a very rare example of Tom Hanks being placed in a more villainous position, and The Circle could have enhanced its advertising more by emphasizing Hanks being in such a position.
- I found myself most invested in the movie when it was making direct attacks on the effects of technology being everywhere. Mae is visited one day by her friend, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), and he informs her of how frustrated that he is about how their friendship has waned. He also chastises Mae for how she has allowed herself to be fully exploited by technology, further saying that she does not need to have advanced technology around her so much. The two have their conversation while being watched and recorded by several bystanders. To be fair, the movie never attempts to be subtle with its attacks on technology, but given the fact that people seem so oblivious to things such as constantly staring at their phones, they might only get the message if you throw it right in their faces.
- The Circle has great ideas, but it does not fully capitalize on these ideas and their terrific potential. One moment the movie is talking about the wonders of networking and communication. The next moment it is discussing privacy and how secrets are holding humanity back from its fullest potential. Aside from this inconsistency, The Circle also never tries to bring everything together so that we can better understand and appreciate the technological world that it has built, and what it might mean for us in the near future. It leaves its ideas scattered all over the place, picking and choosing which ones to use with no rhyme or reason.
- The ending is heavily unsatisfying. Whatever climax that the movie was building up to crashes and burns in the final minutes right before the end credits roll. I left the theater still confused about what exactly the ending was supposed to mean in terms of how everyone either benefits or suffers from non-stop technology and a lack of true privacy. No matter how much I processed it, my brain refused to fully accept the ending.
The Circle rides along smoothly at times, but it quickly deflates like a flat tire when it becomes clear that it has no idea how to properly structure and communicate its worthwhile ideas. Tom Hanks delivers a fine performance himself, but Emma Watson fails to fully support him, delivering a middling performance that really did not have me buying into Mae Holland as a character worthy enough to rise the corporate ladder and go from a nobody to a borderline celebrity in no time. It's one of my least favorite kind of movies; you see a lot of shiny potential on the table, but once you watch the film, it is clear that full-on execution is sorely lacking. The Circle says knowing is good, but it's obvious that James Ponsoldt and his team did not fully know what they were dealing with, which is bad. Advice for Tom Hanks; stay away from book-to-film adaptations for a while.
Recommend? No, unless you're a big fan of Emma Watson and/or Tom Hanks.
A menace to fanboys everywhere
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is the first episode of the Star Wars series, although it is the fourth film in the franchise to be created, being released almost 20 years after 1983's Return of the Jedi. Phantom Menace stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman.
There are not a lot of films that I know of that people seem to attack so much as the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Regardless of which one of the prequels you think is the worst, anyone who considers themselves even the tiniest bit of a Star Wars fan seems to be on a personal mission to subjugate the prequels, so much so that fans hope that their overall hate tour will be enough to make George Lucas toss and turn every night, consistently losing sleep over having created such ghastly abominations. Why all the hate in the first place? It's because George Lucas makes the prequels too easy to hate. Through the eyes of hardcore fans, nearly everything about them violates what everyone loved so much within the original trilogy, and since Phantom Menace is technically the culprit that started it all, fans will naturally sling most of their rotten fruit at it. Now not every wrongdoing of the prequels is solely confined within Phantom Menace, but it certainly doesn't help with getting your spirits up about the films getting better with each episode.
I add absolutely nothing new by saying that a lot of hate for The Phantom Menace gravitates toward the buffoonish Jar-Jar Binks as well as the wooden Jake Lloyd, the little kid who portrays young Anakin Skywalker. A movie should not be automatically dismissed as bad just because one measly character happens to annoy you. Scarlett O'Hara was sometimes annoying in Gone with the Wind, and who in their right mind concluded that Gone with the Wind was bad solely because of Scarlett? There's much more at work with The Phantom Menace aside from the annoyance factor. Problems with characters, acting, and story are also hiding under the surface.
Let's start with the story. A trade dispute is taking place between the Trade Federation and the peaceful planet of Naboo. The Trade Federation has established a blockade around Naboo, which attracts the services of Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan escape an attempt on their lives and flee towards Naboo, where they meet the Gungan Jar-Jar Binks and rescue the Naboo leader, Queen Amidala. The ship used to escape from Naboo gets damaged, which results in a forced landing on the desert planet, Tatooine. Qui-Gon scouts nearby Tatooine towns for new ship parts and meets the young Anakin Skywalker, who, along with his mother, serves as a slave to the greedy junk dealer, Watto. Qui-Gon senses that Anakin might have a hidden relationship with the Force. Elsewhere lurks a dark presence which signals the return of the Sith, presumed to have been extinct.
The Phantom Menace introduces the wonderful world of politics into the Star Wars universe, which is a drastic change-up from the more family-oriented approach of the original trilogy. Episodes IV through VI have a simplistic plot involving rebels fighting an evil empire, but we all love the original trilogy so much because of how it takes the time to develop its characters, give them reasonable motivations, and present to us sci-fi action sequences that have purpose. It's apparent in the prequels that George Lucas was trying to enhance Star Wars by adding more adult-oriented ideas, so that the parents and older viewers could have something to chew on while the kids marvel at the lightsabers and blaster guns. It's not that addressing politics in a fictional space world is always bad, but in the case of The Phantom Menace, it's highly problematic. Take some messy characters and cardboard acting and add them along with a problematic story, and, well, you've got an even bigger problem on your hands.
- George Lucas didn't hand us a new Star Wars dish without making sure that there were at least a few appetizing treats on the menu. The movie's best sequence is the lightsaber showdown featuring Darth Maul (Ray Park) against Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The choreography is fluent and crisp, and the accompanying music further enhances the excitement. Ray Park shows off his impressive martial arts background, with Darth Maul performing various flips and spins to make him seem like an elusive ninja Sith. Maul's dialogue is minimal, because he lets his lightsaber do the talking.
- You could write a 50 page thesis on why Jar-Jar Binks is the most annoying character in the film. The only thing that I will say about that is that Jar Jar's clumsiness loses its humorous appeal really fast. He steps into a pile of animal dung, and keeps finding various ways to make himself look like a total clown. It's funny for maybe 3 minutes. After re-watching this film several years later, I have reached the conclusion that indeed Jar Jar is annoying, but the worst issue is that he is borderline unnecessary. Qui-Gon accidentally runs into Jar-Jar while running from droids on Naboo, and about the only form of help that Jar-Jar provides is helping Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan navigate through Naboo and bringing them to the underwater Gungan city. When the movie is not on Naboo, Jar-Jar does not contribute a dang thing to help progress the plot forward or enhance other characters. I am not kidding. I could not locate even one specific thing that Jar-Jar did outside of Naboo that was at least semi-important to the story. This is why I vouch for people to consider Jar-Jar as not strictly annoying (and he is VERY annoying), but that he is mostly disposable. If Jar-Jar only made appearances during the Naboo parts of the film, I would bet on him not getting such a scathing response from Star Wars fans.
- The Phantom Menace really dropped the ball when it came to introducing us to the young boy that would eventually become one of cinema's most famous villains, Darth Vader. Jake Lloyd's wooden performance really does not put us in the right direction when it comes to building up to the menacing Vader. Lloyd's emotions are completely uniform, showing little to no concern when put into dangerous situations that would send any little kid like young Anakin into a crying fit in which they howl for their mothers. I am aware that Anakin has a strong connection with the Force, but Lloyd does not even attempt to make Anakin seem slightly nervous, or, at the very least, noticeably excited. It's actually worse than Jar-Jar's buffoonery because Jar-Jar would slide into the background in the next two films, while Anakin becomes a pivotal character whose decisions affect the remaining course of the franchise.
The Phantom Menace does certainly try to deliver to us the visually-pleasing space candy that Star Wars is known for, and when it is rigid about being entertaining, it hits its mark. The climactic lightsaber fight near the end is one of the better ones in the entire franchise, and we also have some enjoyable space battles, as well as a pod race. Unfortunately, nothing that can pass off as sheer entertainment in the film can be fully appreciated since we also have to struggle with characters like Jar-Jar Binks and young Anakin who drag the film down significantly. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor really do try with what the script gives them, but their performances are nowhere near being career defining moments. Natalie Portman has zero chemistry with Jake Lloyd, which is unfortunate because of how the two's characters get together many years later. The story is a puzzle, because it seems to be going for a more mature approach by incorporating politics. What young-ling in the Star Wars fan-base would ever care about trade issues and Senate meetings? I myself was not one to care. The movie never really gave me a reason to care. Let's just say that, despite some enjoyable moments, The Phantom Menace should not be anyone's first exposure to the world of Star Wars.
Recommend? See the original trilogy first before you think about watching it. If you absolutely loved the original trilogy, then I'd say go ahead and give this one a watch. If the original trilogy wasn't to your liking, then avoid this movie at all costs.
Three's a crowd
Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster introduces one of the most famous monsters of the Godzilla-verse; the golden, winged, three headed dragon named Ghidrah (or Ghidorah) who can shoot lightning from his mouth and is considered to be Godzilla's arch rival. Rodan and larva Mothra also make appearances alongside Godzilla.
Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster is quite special because it marks some rather radical changes in the Godzilla-verse. It's the first Godzilla movie that involves extraterrestrial science fiction. In other words, non-Earthly forces make their way onto planet Earth, and they end up getting Godzilla's attention, one way or another. Aliens in a Godzilla movie will be a recurring plot element from here on out. This is also the first Godzilla movie in which the monsters have strangely acquired human traits. More on that later.
What we also get is our first example of a large-scale monster brawl, not just two monsters wrestling to the death. Actually, the monster fights begin to more progressively resemble WWE wrestling matches instead of giant monster sumo wrestling. Hold on, have giant monster fights always been some form of wrestling? Ah, screw it, who cares?
Ghidorah has probably one of the thickest stories that you will ever get from a Godzilla movie. A meteorite crash lands in the mountains of Japan one night, and a team of scientists, led by Professor Murai (Hiroshi Koizumi), go out to investigate. They find the meteorite and discover that it behaves like a magnet. They also realize that the meteorite is growing in size. Meanwhile, police detective Shindo (Yosuke Natsuki) is assigned the task of protecting the Princess of Selgina, Selina Salno (Akiko Wakabayashi). Shindo is informed that there may be a potential assassination attempt on the princess. Princess Selina is seen flying to Japan, but we find out that a bomb has been planted on the plane. A strange voice calls out to Selina and tells her to leave the plane, which explodes, moments after she escapes. Selina then surfaces in Japan, claiming to be a Martian and warning people of an impending disaster. The group of assassins behind the plane bombing, led by a man named Malmess (Hisaya Ito), head to Japan to find the princess and kill her.
That's all the main story bits that don't exactly involve the giant monsters. The giant monsters do come into the picture when Rodan emerges out of a volcano, and Godzilla surfaces from the sea. Godzilla notices Rodan flying through the skies and decides to chase after him. Godzilla and Rodan eventually get into a massive fight. Why are the two fighting? I don't know, but I think I recall hearing somewhere that Rodan was trying to convince Toho to let Gamora take over the franchise and, obviously, Godzilla wasn't having any of it. The fighting between Godzilla and Rodan calls the attention of Mothra, who is still in larva form. Why does Mothra care about Godzilla and Rodan? Because that magnetic meteorite that I mentioned before eventually explodes and turns into the three-headed space dragon, Ghidrah (or Ghidorah, if you prefer). Ghidrah begins to wreak havoc on Japan, and Mothra tells Godzilla and Rodan that the three of them must team up to expel Ghidrah from Earth.
That is quite a hefty amount of story to keep up with; a rarity for a monster movie which are movies that are normally as straightforward as can be. The humans bring elements of spy and drama to try and complement the action and sci-fi aspects brought by the monsters. Call the film a cluttered mess or call it a delicious monster movie pot roast. It all depends on how much you care for humans in a movie that can brush them aside with the easiest of efforts.
- Roger Ebert once said that a movie is only as good as its villain. Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster's titular villain is a good villain, largely because of how freaking cool he is. Ghidrah's design is really neat, with a body of bright, golden scales and three active heads that can shoot lightning. Honestly, how much better can you get than a monster villain that is a three-headed dragon that destroys everything with lightning beams? There's really not much to say, because Ghidrah owns the film whenever he's on screen. It's a bummer that he doesn't make his first physical appearance until 45 minutes into the film.
- This is one Godzilla movie that definitely gets it right when it comes to having fun. The fight between the 4 monsters is still a bundle of great entertainment, even over half a century later. Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra make coordinated efforts to go about fighting Ghidrah, but Ghidrah is able to hold his own long enough to make the fight not seem too one-sided. It's also amusing watching Godzilla and Rodan go at it, which is one of the very few times in the entire franchise that the two duke it out. In fact, I think it's the only time that the two have a one-on-one fight. Admittedly, there are segments of the fighting that are super cheesy, but it all amounts to good, spirited fun.
- The application of human traits to the monsters takes the franchise on a rocky train ride that would last, at least, the rest of the original Showa series. All of the weirdness involved is most easily identified in the scene when Mothra has a monster conversation with Godzilla and Rodan, trying to convince them to fight together against Ghidrah. Giant monsters apparently have their own language and are now capable of having conversations. Lucky for us, the twin fairies understand monster talk and give us a translation of what the monsters are saying. If the monster conversation alone wasn't enough for unintentional laughs, the fairies (at least in the English dub) make a funny comment saying "Oh Godzilla, what terrible language!" which I actually think is the funniest line in the entire film. I have always been curious about what exactly Godzilla said and how he phrased it.
When Mothra makes her way up to where Godzilla and Rodan are fighting, she proceeds to watch the two play volleyball with a boulder (it's WEIRD). She then blasts Godzilla with her silk spray, and Rodan proceeds to start laughing. Rodan isn't laughing for long because he also gets sprayed, and Godzilla proceeds to cackle with laughter too. I am not sure what director Ishiro Honda and the screenwriters had in mind by making the monsters seem more human. The illusion that the monsters we see on screen are hundreds of feet taller than us is now heavily impaired. The monsters, now more than ever, actually seem like humans working inside a monster suit. It is frustrating and a detriment to several more Godzilla films. Thank goodness that Ghidrah avoids being portrayed in the same fashion (well, at least for this film).
- The human villains in the movie are shallow and fail to amount up to much of anything. The main assassin, Malmess, looks like he belongs in a Matrix movie, as he never removes his dark-covered glasses. There's also a scene where he and his partners catch the princess inside a hotel room, but decide to retreat when the lights suddenly turn off. They just let the princess go free and decide to kill her next time. I was under the assumption that the only job on their to-do list was to kill the princess, but I guess that simply slitting her throat in a dark hotel room wasn't dramatic enough or punctual enough for these assassins. Plus, the true villain of the movie is a lightning-spewing three headed dragon from outer space, so it's only too obvious that the assassins take a backseat. But I must ask, is it a little too much to request another reason to root against these assassins other than them trying to kill a princess because of politics?
There is a lot to keep up with in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. The humans and the assassination attempts on the princess are a gluttonous vacuum sucking up the majority of the film's limited 90 minute run time. Throw in the monsters acting weird in ways that you never thought imaginable, and, boy, do you have one bizarre and disorganized monster flick. Ghidrah is the film's saving grace, as he is able to prevent the movie from turning into a total disaster. The 4 monsters going at it provides for some giddy fun, and it would be the first of several large-scale monster fights that would follow down the road. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is a lot of things. Fun is one of them. Weird is another one. How about problematic? The answer is yes, but if you can accept the film for its moments of unintentional comedy and its bloated story, you might just have yourself a wacky, good old time.
Recommend? Yes. I think this is one Godzilla movie worth seeing eventually.
How Godzilla met your Mothra
Mothra vs. Godzilla is another Godzilla film that gets yanked around with several titles, the other relevant one here being Godzilla vs. The Thing. Some might also just call this one Godzilla vs. Mothra, but there are too many later Godzilla movies featuring Mothra with some variation of Godzilla vs. Mothra in the title that I will just stick with Mothra vs. Godzilla here.
I have a special relationship with this Godzilla movie because it is the first time in my life that I was ever exposed to Godzilla. I remember the shaking nervousness that I had when Godzilla was on screen, and looking back on it several years later, I can understand why I felt so terrified.
But first, the story: A massive typhoon rages a Japanese coastline one night, and along with massive piles of debris, the typhoon brings a giant monster egg which several fishermen notice floating in the open water. The egg is brought ashore, and a greedy Japanese businessman named Kumayama takes the egg for himself to put on exhibitions in hopes of accumulating big bucks. Kumayama and his behind-the-scenes partner, Torahata, are confronted by the tiny twin fairies who serve as Mothra's caretakers, with the fairies demanding that the egg be returned to the island where Mothra resides. A reporter, Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada), his photographer assistant, Yoka (Yuriko Hoshi), and a scientist, Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi), meet the fairies and promise to help them. The five try to persuade Kumayama and Torahata to return the egg, but to no avail. Everything changes, however, when Godzilla suddenly surfaces on a beach and begins another tour of destruction through Japan.
Mothra vs. Godzilla is usually regarded as one of the better Godzilla movies in the franchise, which is definitely true, but I'd like to say that it also has one of the "better" Americanized versions. For one, any alterations are minor, with the most notable one being an additional scene in which American ships launch rockets at Godzilla, which proves barely effective. It's really just fan service because we are given no proper explanation as to who these American people are and how they came onto the scene so fast. As soon as it is clear that the rockets don't work, the American military men are not seen or referenced again. It's nothing more than an extra 2 minutes of watching fruitless efforts by the military trying to stop Godzilla.
Unlike King Kong vs. Godzilla or some future Godzilla installments, the dubbing in Mothra vs. Godzilla is actually not that bad! The characters still have a small, lingering trace of nonchalance in them, and some of the dialogue is laughable (one character is told that he is a genius for proposing that Mothra should fight Godzilla), but for the most part, the dubbing is tolerable, which is a success in my book. Regardless of which version you watch, Mothra vs. Godzilla is short on details and plot elements, but heavy enough on monster action. The story refuses to get too chained down with problems involving human characters, and it wastes literally no time in getting from necessary destination to necessary destination.
- Godzilla returns to his role as an unforgiving monster of destruction, and it is a role that is embraced with pure villainous glory. I mentioned before that I was pretty terrified when seeing this movie for the first time at a young age, which was also my first time ever seeing Godzilla. I am not surprised, because I still felt slightly shaken when watching Godzilla in this movie several years later. Godzilla resembles an antihero more than a pure villain in King Kong vs. Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again, but there is no mistaking that he is a true bad guy in this film. There is no goofiness about Godzilla, playing the villain part effectively with angry-looking eyebrows and a face that reads, "I will destroy everything and I couldn't care less who I kill in the process." The many failed attempts of the military also emphasize Godzilla being simply indestructible, as he brushes off tanks and planes like flies and endures multiple jolts of electricity. Speaking of electricity, I'm not sure what exactly is Godzilla's vulnerability to electricity. He marches through electrical wires like they were annoying cobwebs in this film and in the 1954 film, but in King Kong vs. Godzilla, it's effective enough to make Godzilla retreat towards Mt. Fuji. It has yet to kill him, so I'll just assume that electricity doesn't work on Godzilla. Anyway, Godzilla just marches through every obstacle thrown at him, and everything seems hopeless.
The strange thing is that this is probably the only Godzilla movie where I can't see Godzilla as the giant fire-breathing monster that the world has come to know and love. Instead, I see Godzilla as an embodiment of pure, unadulterated terror. This stems from how rarely that the franchise depicts Godzilla as a seemingly unstoppable, no-questions-asked villain, which makes Mothra vs. Godzilla all the more special. I do think another small part of it is also how terrifying that Godzilla seemed to me when I first saw this movie, something that I'm not sure if I'm ever going to get over.
- The story, as a whole, is noticeably uneven. Godzilla polarizes the story towards him once he surfaces about a half hour into the film. We go from curiosity and human squabbling over an egg to a consensus effort in stopping Godzilla. The egg only becomes relevant again when Godzilla is threatening to destroy it. Outside of the title screen, the only other thing within the first half hour of the movie that would remotely hint at Godzilla lurking around is a piece of radioactive material that Sakai and Yoka stumble across while searching the typhoon debris. Any and all subplots involving human characters are pretty much crushed by Godzilla's trampling feet, and whatever character development we were getting stalls altogether. Then again, whoever really cared about the humans in a giant monster movie anyway?
The story of Mothra vs. Godzilla is about as bare bones and straight-to-the-point as you will ever find in a Godzilla movie, but it does have the advantage of missing anything totally ridiculous or over-the-top. That's not to say you can't laugh at anything within the film. One character keeps making a point of eating hard-boiled eggs. See? It's funny because everyone is talking about a giant monster egg! Godzilla also has some clumsy moments such as getting his tail stuck in a tower and losing his balance and ramming into a pagoda.
Godzilla's presence as a ruthless villain is where the movie really flexes its muscles, and I encourage you to really soak it in because Godzilla starts to really change in the upcoming movies, for better or worse. The American English-dubbed version is perfectly acceptable to watch as well, with some of the most tolerable dubbing that you might ever hear in a Godzilla movie. The plot might radically change once Godzilla appears, but there's plenty of monster action and excitement that avoids being total cheese, which elevates this Godzilla film as one of the best in the entire series.
War on aliens
Aliens is the 1986 sequel to the 1979 original sci-fi horror classic, Alien. This one is directed by James Cameron, and stars Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as Ellen Ripley. Aliens also stars Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton (rest in peace). Weaver was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, an incredible accomplishment at a time when science fiction films were basically an afterthought to the Academy.
After the events of Alien, Ripley remains in stasis, and her ship wanders through outer space for a whopping 57 years. Her ship is eventually recovered by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and Ripley finds that civilization has significantly advanced in the time that she was gone. She learns that her daughter passed away, and that the moon planet, where the Nostromo crew discovered the alien eggs, is now being colonized. When contact with the colony is lost, a group of Marines are sent to go and investigate. Ripley is approached to serve as an adviser, but she refuses. She changes her mind, though, after experiencing recurring nightmares of her previous alien encounter. The marines are ready for battle, fully loaded with plenty of advanced weapons,. Problem is, the alien threat has grown substantially...
I think we can all agree that watching movies is not meant to be a physically strenuous activity. We go to the gym or play a sport if physical exercise is what we want. Movies are a mental, thinking affair. They might play heads games with us, if the subject material is disturbing enough. They might also make us cry tears of joy, if it's, say, a moving romance film, or maybe they make us cry tears of boredom, if it's a dull drama.
I could not believe how I was feeling after I finished watching Aliens. I turned off my TV and went to bed, and as I was falling asleep, I felt physical exhaustion. The film had worn me down, both mentally and physically. James Cameron has a special technique when approaching his big budget action spectacles. He treats the movie like it's an event. It's not a movie that you can just grab off the shelf one rainy afternoon and decide, "I'm bored, so I think I'll watch this." It's a movie event that you have to plan beforehand, not only because it has a lengthy running time, but also because of the giant spectacle action sequences that don't feel wholly satisfying if you just watch them on Youtube without watching everything that precedes them first. Without the build-up of Jack and Rose's romance, could the Titanic sinking feel as emotional and impactful? How invested could we get in the fight between the T1000 and the Arnold Terminator if we don't initially see how Arnold develops into a guardian father figure for the young John Connor?
The use of this build-up is what makes James Cameron's action films (okay, Titanic is not a straight-up action film, but it has an exciting second half) stand out from mindless popcorn flicks. Cameron's films can be viewed as popcorn flicks, but they aren't totally mindless. Aliens has the benefit of being the first major example of what I like to call one of Cameron's "event films", and the fact that it so strongly follows up on a previous cinematic milestone, Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien, further bolsters its resolve and its contribution to the science fiction and action genres. The way that Alien ended created the perfect sequel set-up for someone like Cameron to jump on.
- Sigourney Weaver. Never mind all of the action details for a moment. However good that Weaver was as Ripley in the first film, she magnifies the role ten-fold in this film. Ripley is required to play a multitude of roles: adviser to the marines, soldier on the battlefield, and mother to the little girl Newt that is found lost and alone on the planet. Weaver expertly goes back and forth between these roles when need be, all the while avoiding over-the-top freak-outs that would diminish her presence. Isn't it interesting how James Cameron seems to know how to develop powerful female leads in blockbuster flicks like this one and Terminator?
- James Cameron's use of build-up is usually effective, but it might be just a slight drawback in Aliens. Some of Cameron's other large-scale action films, primarily Terminator 2, feature brief action sequences to keep our brains nourished and entertained enough until the main action sequences come around. The first hour of Aliens strictly involves getting ready for all of the alien carnage that goes down in the film's second half, and while it's certainly not boring, it does leaves us slightly impatient. Thankfully, Cameron rewards our patience with enough bullets and alien guts to make any action junkie satisfied.
Like most of Cameron's other mainstream films, Aliens feels like an event, rather than some typical movie that you can just halfheartedly pop into your Blu-Ray/DVD player on a Wednesday night. It wears you down with mental and physical exhaustion, and provides a stand-out performance from Sigourney Weaver to boot. The action, when it finally kicks into gear, is high-octane and relentless. Examples of sequels matching, or sometimes exceeding, its predecessor are few and far in between. Aliens, though, is one of those rare examples.
Recommend? Yes! Watch Alien first though
Going ape with Godzilla
King Kong vs. Godzilla! How could you go wrong? The 1962 Japanese kaiju film sees the two most famous giant monsters of all time going at it in what was Godzilla's first appearance since 1955 and King Kong's first major on-screen appearance since 1933. Actually, a lot went wrong. So much so that I seriously cannot wait until 2020 when Godzilla and Kong duke it out again, but now under the guise of 21st century technology. Since I have no easily accessible way to view the original Japanese version, I, regretfully, am forced to sit through the dubbed American version which is about 8 minutes shorter and, like before, makes some heavy alterations.
Regardless of which version you watch, the general story goes something like this; a man named Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), who is the head of a Japanese company called Pacific Pharmaceuticals, is upset because of how awful the TV ratings are for the shows that his company is sponsoring. He gets word about the discovery of a giant monster on the distant Faro Island, which makes Tako send two men, Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takishima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki), to go to the island and retrieve the monster. Elsewhere, an iceberg falls apart, and out comes Godzilla, who had been frozen since the end of Godzilla Raids Again. Godzilla destroys a small military base, and eventually begins to make his way towards the Japan mainland. On Faro Island, Sakurai and Kinsaburo engage with the island's native people, and discover that the monster is King Kong, who is worshiped like a god by the natives. Sakurai and Kinsaburo are able to get Kong on a raft to take him back to Japan, but Kong escapes and makes his own way to the Japanese mainland, where an encounter with the incoming Godzilla is inevitable.
When I first saw King Kong vs. Godzilla several years ago, I shudder to think as to how oblivious I was to just how atrocious the American version truly is. We are talking super cheesy, so-bad-it's-good B-movie atrocious, with horrendous dubbing and additional English-speaking actors being spliced in to give the film a more, shall we say, global perspective. It's as if English producer John Beck loved watching Raymond Burr narrate in Godzilla, King of the Monsters so much that he figured it would be a good idea to recycle the same adjustment, only to add a couple more people and have them discuss Godzilla and King Kong like it's a global news broadcast that us as viewers are tuning in and watching. One of the English actors, Dr. Arnold Johnson being played by Harry Holcombe, attempts to explain Godzilla's origins and motivations, claiming that Godzilla keeps attacking Japan because he think's he's heading home. He also says it is "scientifically interesting" that Godzilla and King Kong have surfaced at the exact same time, and that, because the two are "instinctive rivals", they are bound to destroy one another. You know, because there is apparently scientific evidence to claim that Jurassic dinosaurs and giant gorillas were big rivals back then? Dr. Johnson also claims that Godzilla has a brain about the size of a small berry, because he is sheer brute force. Wherever all of this comes from is beyond me, and it only just scratches the surface as to how bad the English version is.
- Before I sink my claws into all of the horrific wrongs of this movie, let me address what is at least good about it first. The final 10 minutes when Godzilla and Kong fight on Mt. Fuji is easily the climactic highlight, although there are some glaring red flags in regards to cheapness. Kong is taken to Mt. Fuji by balloon travel (yes, he is tied to a bunch of balloons and transported to Mt. Fuji) and is literally dropped onto a mountain-side where Godzilla is wandering. Kong then slides down the mountain and runs into Godzilla, but when he actually collides with Godzilla, it looks like two monster toys bumping into each other, which is then followed by a shot of the Godzilla toy tumbling down the mountain. Later on, Godzilla and Kong look like two stiff puppets that don't even appear to be fighting each other (Can puppets fight at all?). Either the budget ran out by the time that the big fight was being filmed, or director Ishiro Honda and Toho got super lazy. There is one cool moment that must be paying homage to Willis O'Brien and his success with stop-motion animation in the 1933 King Kong, in which Godzilla, in stop-motion animation, hits an also stop-motion animation Kong with a flying kick. It only lasts about 2 seconds, but I thought it was pretty neat. Aside from the cheap moments, Godzilla and Kong do have a pretty-well coordinated fight that doesn't feel overly forced, and it is fairly entertaining, to say the least.
- The Godzilla suit used in this film is, in my opinion, one of the best ever used in Godzilla's film history. The big G looks tall and bulky with especially muscular legs, although the jaw hangs a little loose. I'm not sure why the suit was never used again in later Godzilla movies. Maybe Haruo Nakajima, the actor inside the suit, once again had an issue of the suit being too heavy.
- The dubbing. Oh my goodness is the dubbing bad. The worst part about it is the fact that all of the Japanese actors sound as nonchalant as possible, with everyone just moseying along as if they all think that having two mega monsters running around is just as exciting as watching paint dry. But at the time when this movie is supposed to take place, Japan has already survived two previous Godzilla encounters, as well as the fury of various other monsters, so I guess that everyone has gotten used to monsters making Japan their own personal playground.
The bad dubbing gets further dragged down by some horrendous dialogue. While Kong is rampaging through Tokyo, one of the Japanese characters mentions that the atom bomb is ready and waiting, and there is no tension or fear in the dubbed voice whatsoever. You know, because dropping a destructive bomb putting millions of people at risk is no big deal. The native people on Faro Island get attacked by a giant octopus, and when everyone is scrambling to fend it off, Sakurai wakes up a sleeping Kinsaburo and, with little nervousness or excitement, tells him, "Giant octopus. It's after the berry juice!" Oh, did I forget to mention that there are special berries on Faro Island that are of interest to the English reporters and the Japanese visitors? It's a subplot that gets left behind after Kong is taken away from Faro Island. I'm sure Sakurai is nobody new to giant monsters, but I would think when you see a new giant monster for the first time ever, you would at least say something simple like, "What the? That's a giant octopus!" Also, how he knows that the octopus is after the berry juice is beyond me.
The other moment that I just cannot let go is early on when the Japanese reporter who is speaking English makes an early report after Godzilla attacks a military base. He watches Godzilla's destruction from a TV, and proceeds to tell us that, "The situation is grim." Seconds later, he then tells us, "Please remain calm." Right, because everyone will remain calm in a grim situation like one such as a giant monster coming to kill you.
- The Kong suit being used in this movie is quite a head-scratcher. Kong's gray face looks half-drunk most of the time, which is combined with scruffy, brownish fur and circular spots on his chest that gives us a bizarre display of his nipples. The suit looks like one of those knock-off gorilla Halloween costumes that you might find at your local thrift store.
- The movie has an absurd number of deus ex machina moments. Our apathetic Japanese characters always seem to have a solution for everything right at their fingertips, with the movie never proceeding to give us any background or proper explanation as to how things could possibly get resolved so quickly. When Kong is running loose through Tokyo, Sakurai gets an idea to put Kong to sleep by using the berry juice from earlier, and to play music that imitates that of the Faro Island natives. The Japanese military just happens to have berry juice-filled rockets ready to launch, and Sakurai miraculously has a set of drums and megaphones on the spot which he can use to play and amplify the music. Yes, because we saw how much Sakurai was invested in the Faro Island natives chanting and drum-playing. Then after they do put Kong to sleep, they are able to get him up in the air on balloons using the wire that Fujita briefly showed us early on. Once again, the military made sure to have tanks full of helium and giant balloons capable of transporting a giant monster available, just in case someone suggested that it was a good idea. Kong also gets bailed out by a convenient thunderstorm (yes, Kong somehow gets stronger by consuming electricity) when Godzilla has him on the ropes during their fight. An explanation for all of this stuff was just too much for the screenwriters, I suppose.
The movie does make various attempts to give Kong the characteristics that he had in his 1933 movie. He is worshiped like a god by tribal people living on the island with him, until he gets taken away after being put to sleep. Kong also takes a curious interest in a human female, Fujita's girlfriend Fumiko, who Kong finds on a train while traversing through Tokyo. He also climbs atop a tall building while holding Fumiko in his hand. All of this adds up to the unfortunate reality that the movie is like a repeat Kong movie, only it takes place in Japan, and Godzilla just happens to be in it too. Back then, this should've been the biggest monster clash ever, but even by 1962 standards, a lot of moments just look poorly contrived. The giant octopus attacks some of the Faro Island natives in some truly unconvincing stop motion animation. Characters that happen to be in the vicinity of Kong or the giant octopus are sometimes outlined in a bluish color that looks like bad green screen.
I want to be forgiving of an older film when it comes to special effects that look laughable by today's standards. What I can't forgive is how the American version makes such provoking alterations that make the film much more insular and low-quality than it might've already been. The only upside to the alterations is the new music, which usually fits what is going on during the film. This is one Godzilla movie that actually makes me feel a little bad for Godzilla, because of the countless number of underlying problems that really diminish the build-up and excitement of his supposedly epic fight with King Kong. King Kong vs. Godzilla is an undeniable mess of a cheesy B-movie monster flick, and I just cannot wait for these two monsters to get the modern-day upgrade that their duel truly needs.
Recommend? Only if you know you are going to see Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. Otherwise, stay away
Gigi is a 1958 musical romance film directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars Leslie Caron, Louis Jordan, and Maurice Chevalier.
The film takes place in 20th century Paris and centers on a happy-go-lucky, carefree young girl named Gigi (Leslie Caron), (Oh what? You couldn't figure that out on your own?). She livers with her grandmother, Mamita, and the two get frequent visits from the wealthy and nice-mannered Gaston (Louis Jordan). Gaston finds life to be a total snooze, while Gigi is sent to her snobbish Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) to learn lessons in etiquette and how to be a mature, upstanding young citizen. Gaston is in a rut after spending time with various mistresses, but his life is given a new spark as he begins to spend more time with Gigi, visiting her and her grandmother more often. A mutual love develops between the two, but their relationship doesn't come without some outside opposition.
It really bothers me how much that I really wanted to love Gigi. I find Leslie Caron to be a charming and attractive actress from her time, and I am one to admit that I do love an aww-inducing love story every now and then. The fact that this movie could feature both of those things, and also the fact that it's a Best Picture winner had me hopeful that I could love and adore it. I didn't hate Gigi, because there are parts of it that I liked. It might be heavily reliant on some generic love story elements, but it's just so dang sweet that I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least somewhat charmed by Leslie Caron and Louise Jordan as an on-screen couple. Their age range might be large enough to make some viewers uncomfortable, but I didn't let it be a distraction. I find Gigi to be a rather unique musical experience, because almost every song is sung by a lone character with no flashy dancing or assistant vocals in the background. It isn't bad, it's just...unique.
- Leslie Caron is lovable and bubbly as the innocent and carefree Gigi. Gigi is constantly smiling and has a general upbeat feel to her. You should have a likable main character if the center plot point is the blooming of an intimate relationship between them and someone else.
- The film has colorful cinematography, having an overall artsy feel to it. The settings look ripe with fresh colors, and they create a positive vibe to complement the romantic aroma that the film wants to maintain. Visual eye candy isn't always a bad thing, right?
- There is an underlying message within the film and it is not a nice one at all. The film opens with Gaston's uncle, Honore (Maurice Chevalier), who remarks that marriage isn't the only option for wealthy boys like Gaston. He then proceeds to sing a song titled, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls", and if that title alone doesn't eventually send your mind into a bad place, lyrics such as, "Each time I see a little girl / I can't resist a joyous urge" or, "Those little eyes / So helpless and appealing" will. I am not sure if Vincente Minneli was aware of these lyrics and the fact they appear to be promoting pedophilia. The fact that an older man is singing the song doesn't do any favors in helping the cause. I want to think that it was screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner's intention on creating an optimistic outlook on the future for little girls, thinking that the lyrics are implying that we should be happy for them because they will do great things in the future. Still, when the lyrics imply that the singer gets happy urges whenever he sees a little girl, that is not going to be taken very kindly by a lot of people.
Gigi is sweet and colorful enough to make you feel warm and cheerful inside, but the fact that the film is suggesting to cater to and win over little girls is too much to ignore. It must've been unintentional, I guess. Nonetheless, the hazy message regarding pedophilia blocks Gigi from ever achieving the status of classic love story. I myself am disappointed, because I really did want to love it!
Recommend? It has its moments. I'd check it out if you get the time to.
More Godzilla. More monsters
Godzilla Raids Again is the 1955 sequel to the 1954 classic original, Godzilla. This one stars a new monster, Anguirus, and introduces the concept of monster vs. monster, which would become a staple in nearly every Godzilla movie from then on. The movie was released in the United States under the title, Gigantis the Fire Monster, and was heavily altered. Some changes include an opening prologue with footage of atomic bombs, and footage from educational films and earlier U.S. films displaying dinosaurs, which were played before footage from the 1954 Godzilla.
Once again, the United States got its grubby little paws on what seems like a perfectly harmless Japanese monster movie and altered it in ways that are easily noticeable if played adjacent to the Japanese version. Like the 1954 Godzilla, I am reviewing the Japanese version, because it's pretty much a different film altogether, and a superior one at that.
The surprising truth is that Godzilla would go into a 7 year hiatus after the release of this film. During that hiatus, Toho decided to experiment with various other monster flicks, such as Rodan, Mothra, Varan the Unbelievable, and The Mysterians. Every monster that appeared in these non-Godzilla films would eventually be staged alongside Godzilla in future films, some more than others. It's cool that Toho was able to focus on other monsters for a while, but were people already sick of Godzilla after just two movies? Was Godzilla Raids Again really that bad? It is far from being the absolute worst Godzilla movie, but the film is at fault for having the dark tone and horrifying atmosphere of the previous film vanish without a trace. A lot of that would have to do with how rushed the film was with its production. It came out a mere six months after Godzilla was released.
The films opens with two pilots flying over the ocean, searching for fish to be given to a tuna cannery company. One of the pilots has his plane malfunction, and is forced to make an emergency landing on a nearby island. The other pilot gets word of what happened, and lands on the island as well. While there, the two pilots come across Godzilla, but notice that Godzilla is engaged in a battle with another monster. The two monsters fall from a cliff into the water and disappear. The two pilots get back to shore and learn that not only is the Godzilla they saw another member of its kind, but that the other monster that Godzilla was fighting is another ancient creature called Anguirus. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura), who witnessed Godzilla's destruction of Tokyo from the previous movie, is pessimistic because he knows that there is no longer a sufficient way for Japan to kill Godzilla. He proposes using flares to draw Godzilla away from shore, knowing that Godzilla is attracted to bright lights. This plans works, until a group of foolish criminals try a getaway, resulting in a massive fire breaking out in Osaka, which lures Godzilla back. As Godzilla is about to tear apart Osaka, Anguirus arrives and engages Godzilla in a fierce battle.
Godzilla Raids Again can be put in this way: a great Godzilla movie is trapped inside the body of a so-so Godzilla movie. For every good attribute that the film has, there is a disappointing one to go along with it. Godzilla has an entertaining fight with Anguirus, but the fight surprisingly happens barely halfway into the movie. The final sequence in which pilots attempt to bury Godzilla in snow is preceded by uninteresting character drama that drags on far longer than necessary.
- The fight between Godzilla and Anguirus is easily the best part of the film. The fight is effective because Godzilla and Anguirus really do fight like two wild animals that are trying to kill each other. Anguirus keeps trying to bite at Godzilla's neck, while Godzilla keeps trying to hold Anguirus down. Some might say that the fight looks awkward because, at times, it looks as if Godzilla and Anguirus are just pushing and shoving with no real coordination. These are savage animals. How in the world would they know how to punch and kick the way a martial artist would? My dog once got into a fight with a groundhog, and she didn't try doing crazy kung-fu moves on it. I would vouch for saying that this fight is one of the better ones in the franchise, because it perfectly embodies what a fight might look like between two animals that can't stand each other. Plus, buildings get destroyed left and right, which is where all of the building smashing is within the film. A Godzilla movie isn't a Godzilla movie without buildings getting destroyed.
- Anguirus barely gets any attention, outside of when he's fighting Godzilla and when some characters are reading a book about him early on. There's not a lot of intrigue and curiosity about Anguirus, and if characters talked about him more than they actually do, he could've served a better purpose than being just a monstrous plot device.
- The dark tone and horror aspect from the previous film are flat-out gone. Godzilla fighting Anguirus and destroying Osaka fits into popcorn entertainment instead of pure terror. There's no moment of characters watching the monsters fighting and quoting Colonel Kurtz, "The horror. The horror." There's even a supposedly happy moment of the main characters laughing and joking not long after the monster fight ends. I guess the choir of girls demanded too much of a pay raise.
- There are some signs of cheapness throughout the film. Godzilla travels to a snowy island near the end of the movie, and we get some overhead shots where he looks like a tiny black shadow that is standing totally still. There also isn't a notable shot that gives a sense of how large that the monsters really are. The first movie had several shots with Godzilla being filmed at a low angle while people are running and screaming. I don't know about you, but I think giant monsters are much more terrifying when you get some sense of how big that they are made out to be.
It's not that Godzilla Raids Again is terrible, it's that it is heavily disappointing, especially because of how soon that it follows Godzilla. The film is quite short at only around 80 minutes, so it's not like you can be overly upset if you feel like it's a waste of time. The big monster fight is entertaining, but the human characters are forgettable and provide an awkward gap between the monster fight and the film's final sequence. There is a great Godzilla movie stuck inside somewhere, and maybe if this movie wasn't speed lined to the theaters, that great Godzilla flick could've been found.
Recommend? No, but the film is totally watchable if you're really curious
The Big G's big debut
Gojira, also known by the title of its American version, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a 1954 Japanese science fiction kaiju film, and is the first major on-screen appearance of Godzilla. The American version stars Raymond Burr, but the one that I am reviewing is the original Japanese classic.
I am one to vouch for the original Japanese Godzilla movie to be, at least, in the conversation of greatest monster film ever made. Others might argue that the 1933 King Kong deserves such a title, given its visual achievements with stop-motion animation and a legendary soundtrack by Max Steiner. King Kong does have impressive credentials, but I find the fact that Godzilla was inspired by one of the most catastrophic events of the 20th century to be too much to overcome. Japan may have been the most ballsy country back then. Not even 10 years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they create a film about a monster who reflects the destructive and horrifying nature of nuclear weapons.
Godzilla, though, is not literally a nuclear weapon. It's what he does and how he does it that resembles what nukes can do. He sprays atomic breath that engulfs everything it touches in flames. Buildings and monuments will crumble as soon as they cross Godzilla's path. Tanks, missiles, and guns are useless to stop his widespread impact. Everyone runs in terror.
I think the metaphor of nuclear weapons is a forgotten reason about why people gravitate to Godzilla so much. Seeing how Godzilla' entire history has played out, I can't fault someone for seeing Godzilla nowadays as just a fire-breathing lizard that beats up other monster baddies and maybe save the world, if he feels like it. Of course, a lot has happened in history since 1954, so as the human world changes, so should Godzilla.
Now onto the movie itself. The film opens on a ship where the passengers are blinded by a shining light coming out of the ocean. The ship is mysteriously destroyed, as are other ships within the general area. A nearby fishing village discovers that no fish are being caught, which one of the village elders blames on an ancient sea creature called Godzilla. Soon enough, a massive reptilian creature emerges and rampages the village, and later setting its sights towards Tokyo Bay. The Japanese military scrambles to find a way to stop Godzilla, but is met with opposition from Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura), a zoologist who wants to study Godzilla.
- The best scene in the movie is one that doesn't even have Godzilla in it physically. It's the sequence right after Godzilla destroys Tokyo, in which we see the destruction left behind, and shots of people injured and grieving being tended to in a hospital. A little girl is crying in a woman's arms, and we also see a choir of little Japanese girls singing a prayer for the violence and destruction of Godzilla to come to an end. This entire scene is like a flashback to the aftermath of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The true horrors of war and nuclear weapons are on full display in this one scene, and I found myself getting slightly emotional while watching. Godzilla's appearance is rightfully treated like an epic disaster, which is an aspect that almost none of the future installments are able to fully recapture.
- I can't say that there is really anything within the film that I thought dragged it down in any alarming way. Godzilla's eyes look wonky in some low angle shots, and the last thing that you'd want in a movie as grim as this one is to make Godzilla look goofy. There is also a good 25 minutes or so in which Godzilla doesn't appear, but considering that his rampage through Tokyo is a long sequence that doesn't cut away to anything unnecessary, I was perfectly fine with it. Plus, it's not like they can have nothing but Godzilla just trampling buildings for 96 straight minutes. There's a budget to be mindful of.
It's not that Godzilla is only a great monster movie. With themes regarding the dangers of nuclear weapons, and how a nation reacts in the midst of a terrifying crisis, Godzilla is also an emotional and memorable metaphor for some of humanity's greatest fears. I can't say that it's a perfect movie, and yes, the special effects are dated, but I can say that if anyone you know would ask, "Why is Godzilla so popular?", "Why does Godzilla have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?", or "What is so great about Godzilla?", point them in the direction of this film. The fact that Godzilla is still appearing in new movies today must mean that the Big G has always been doing something right. Whether to say that it's the absolute best Godzilla movie is up for interpretation. I would say that it may be the most important one, and for that, it demands respect.
No longer driving in the Fast lane
Fate of the Furious, also going by the abbreviation F8, is the eighth installment in the Fast & Furious franchise, starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron.
I would not have been overly upset if the Furious franchise had retired after Furious 7. The tribute to Paul Walker was easily the most touching moment in a franchise that isn't exactly known for pulling your heartstrings. Plus, Walker had been the face of the franchise for oh so many years, so I would've been perfectly understanding if the filmmakers told us that there would be no more Furious films because the franchise would not be the same without Walker, and that they wanted to honor his memory by closing up shop. But you know, Furious 7 made all the money, so the street racing must go on!
Anyway, what is everyone's favorite gang of street racing criminals up to this time? Dominic Toretto and Letty Ortiz (Diesel and Rodriguez, respectively) are now happily married, and are enjoying their honeymoon down in sunny Cuba. Brian O'Connor has retired from the game. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is looking after his daughter and coaching her soccer team, the Red Dragons. The other teams members are who knows where. Everything seems great, until Toretto comes across cyber-terrorist, Cipher (Charlize Theron), who has the means to strong-arm Toretto into working for her and turning his back on his former team. Let's just say that what she hopes to achieve involves an EMP and some nukes. Toretto's team joins forces once again, and not only must they find a way to stop Cipher, they must also uncover the reasoning behind why Dominic decided to go rogue and serve the bad guys. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who was put away in prison at the end of Furious 7, is recruited to join Toretto's team, having a beef with Cipher over past affairs.
At this point, the Furious franchise knows exactly what it is: fun, action-filled spectacles that consistently deliver us flashy speeding cars, one liners, and a female buttocks-obsession, all with shameless glee. But now that the franchise has reached its post-Paul Walker stage, you would think that the franchise is trying to turn over a new leaf. Actually, I think it turned over a new leaf after Fast Five, which is when it became clear that gone are the days of watching pure street-racing and criminals pull off heists and run from the cops. Now these former street criminals are basically responsible for global security, because the nations of the world must rely on a small group of people who really know how to drive a racing car and throw a few good punches. If this wasn't clear after Furious 6 or 7, then F8 will really drive the point home. F8 is a mixed bag, but it's a mixed bag that you can accept and go home with, feeling relatively happy.
- Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. These two take verbal jabs at one another throughout the film, and it is hilarious. Since his time in WWE, I find Dwayne Johnson to have effective comedic taste, which I cannot say for every mainstream action star today (*cough cough* Vin Diesel *cough cough*). Jason Statham, who is not exactly a comedy goldmine, is provided insulting dialogue towards Johnson that I thought he delivered quite effectively. The two also keep mentioning how much they want to meet in a closed location and duke it out while nobody else is around. You know, because one short fist fight between the two in Furious 7 wasn't enough? The best humor in the film came from Johnson and Statham, and I appreciated the two going at it mainly because the script doesn't overdo it. No, the script overdoes it by making Tyrese Gibson once again act as over-the-top as possible, because he's supposed to be the primary comedic relief.
- When I mentioned that the Furious franchise appears to be turning over a new leaf, that's because it seems that director F. Gary Gray and the screenwriters are trying to make everything darker and raise the stakes even more. At the same time, they're trying to hold on to the humorous edge that fans have come to know and love. This all amounts to a notable problem in F8, which is that the tone is incredibly erratic. In one scene, the team is discussing how to find Dom and Cipher using the God's Eye (that super-techno device from Furious 7), and Gibson is humorously mocking Mr. Nobody's (Kurt Russell) new recruit, who is trying to help in any way he can. Shortly afterwards, Dom and Cipher attack the facility that everyone is hiding in, and they steal the God's Eye. When this is happening, we get a supposedly dramatic moment in which Letty asks Dom, "You gonna turn your back on family?" which is followed by Cipher coming over and passionately kissing Dom.
There are a lot of other dramatic scenes, most of which involve Dom bursting out and shouting with anger, a rarity for a character that is always either preaching about family or mumbling words under his breath. I appreciate the film trying to provide a more emotional edge, but when everything beforehand has always been over-the-top, wacky fun, a serious-minded dramatic component is something that almost nobody is going to buy into. Stick with the formula that's worked for so many years now.
- There is a lot of nonsensical action in the franchise, but wow, does it reach a new low in this one. For the most part, the car chases, fist fights, and explosions are once again the eye-candy that we've come to know and love, but once too many, the action sequences have moments that are not acceptable by the franchise's own ludicrous standards. During a scene in New York, Cipher is able to hack into thousands of driver-less cars, and use them to hunt down a car containing nuclear codes that she wants. For starters, it seems that everyone in New York drives a nice-looking sports car. Also, Cipher just happens to have a computer program that is able to maneuver the thousands of said-cars with little to no trouble (okay, so she's intentionally making them crash, but so what?). I guess she was lucky that everyone in New York not only drives a fancy-looking car, but that they are all designed in a similar, advanced enough way for her to take control of all of them. Makes perfect sense, right?
It also amazes me how Dom's team, who always go about their business in regular street clothes, can get shot at and get involved in violent car wrecks without suffering any broken bones or significant injuries. Maybe they're all secretly ancestors of The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, because a flesh wound is probably no biggie to any of them.
I have no reason to deny that the Fate of the Furious will not be able to make bank, because it does succeed in delivering the treats that everyone has come to expect. Unfortunately, the uneven tone and sheer ridiculousness of some of its action may be early signs that this franchise's days are numbered. You can go into the film just wanting to turn your brain off for 2 hours, and no one will judge you wrong. After all, this franchise isn't built on making us smarter.
Recommend? I'd go check it out if you're a big fan of the franchise. If not, I wouldn't bother.
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: