I am not someone who is loved. I'm an idea. A state of mind.
Joker is directed and co-written by Todd Phillips and stars Joaquin Phoenix as the titular Joker. The film also stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, and Marc Maron.
There is something kind of refreshing about a film like Joker: one that takes place in an extremely familiar universe but is almost completely opposed to drawing attention to the mechanics of that universe. Yes, Joker takes place in Gotham City: known all too well for being the sight of the infamous Batman and his adventures in fighting crime. In Joker however, Gotham is just a name: the name of a city plagued with crime and unemployment, no different than say Los Angeles or Baltimore. Batman is completely nonexistent in this version of Gotham, and thus, anything having to do with superheroes is completely nonexistent in Joker. It's as anti of a superhero movie as you'll find, and to be placed smack dab in the center of this day and age of what I always liked to call the Superhero Renaissance, well, that does this man's heart some good.
Something else that Joker is: controversial, which I'm more convinced is due to the nature of today's hypersensitive media then it is Todd Phillips condoning some morbid branch of psychology that would have him thrown in jail and barred from working on a motion picture ever again. In a nutshell, the film's controversy is fixated on the dark tone and the portrayal of mental illness. Joker is not just doing a psychoanalysis on a person that is clearly suffering from some form of mental illness; the film is victimizing that mental illness, as if to say mental illness is something that immediately places someone in the category of the oppressed, the alienated, whatever other word you can think of to mean a victim. So in a way, Joker is taking a defensive stance on mental illness, and in a time where the news is rampant with shootings, bullying, and other forms of crime or oppression, it's to be expected that a lot of people will get a little hot and bothered. The last thing they want to see is a movie romanticizing one of these troubled people, regardless if it's one of the most famous villains of the superhero genre.
The story of Joker follows Arthur Fleck: a party clown who lives with his mother, Penny (Conroy). Arthur suffers from PBA (pseudobulbar affect), a disorder that makes him burst out with laughter at awkward or inappropriate times. After a gang beats him up in alley to start the movie, things look to be trending in the right direction for Arthur: his co-worker, Randall (Glenn Fleshler), gives him a gun for protection, and he starts to date his neighbor, single mother Sophie (Beetz). It all goes south in a flash, however: Arthur loses his job after having his gun exposed during a visit to a children's hospital, and he then shoots and kills three businessmen while riding home on a subway. News of the murders dominates headlines, and Arthur, seeing the growing number of protests against Gotham's elite, starts to embrace a life of crime and his identity as the Joker.
- Anything less than an R rating would have been unacceptable from Warner Bros., because Joaquin Phoenix should have no kind of handicaps in this type of role. Phoenix has received almost universal praise for his performance, so if you're wondering: no, I am not going to go into the whole Heath Ledger vs Joaquin Phoenix debate on who played the character better. Phoenix's Joker is easily the most "hardcore" rendition of the character in live action: brutal, graphic kills and the undeniable sense that this is nowhere near some goofy version of the Joker you'd likely find in a Saturday morning cartoon. This is truly an individual suffering from a disease eating away at him inside, and what makes it different from the Joker's presentation in The Dark Knight is the all-in focus on the Joker's state of mind and how it starts to unravel as the plot progresses. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is already immersed in his nihilistic beliefs, and the movie doesn't need to show him walking down that path.
So anyway, Phoenix is excellent with how a budding Joker would act: twitchy body movements, a shaky, fluctuating voice, and finding a delicate balance between what could be perceived as funny versus something kind of gruesome. Arthur will randomly burst out laughing and make light of a sticky situation, and at least for a little while, you feel like you can start laughing along. Then a split second later, Arthur performs a complete 180 on the situation and leaves everyone in stunned silence. As shocking as such a moment is, nothing comes off as awkward or nonsensical, because such moments perfectly capture the fear of what it's like to be close to someone who seems like they could lose it at any moment. Phoenix's Joker is a prime example of that someone, and, all controversy aside, it's highly effective because of Phoenix's great performance.
- Joker's cinematography looks like something straight out of an early 2000's superhero film, but for what the film is trying to be, it's a strength, not a weakness. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher looks to be out of his element here; he's the same guy behind the cinematography of raunchy comedies like The Hangover films, The Dictator, and Garden State. Despite his track record, Sher brings his A-game with making Gotham look as grotesque as humanly possible: inky color schemes, grimy set designs, and shadowy interiors every which way you look. It's almost nauseating to look at anything other than the characters on screen, which is why it's a bit unfair that Phoenix gets all the love. I guarantee Phoenix's Joker would not be as menacing if he was placed in some bright, rainbow-y imagination land and not home sweet home for Oscar the Grouch. Even scenes taking place in broad daylight look dark and unpleasant, as if Sher has a fond hatred for the Sun and wants to keep it out of the movie as much as possible. There are no warm fuzzies or happily ever afters in Joker; the cinematography blots out anything and everything suggesting love and happiness.
- For all its psychoanalysis and impressive cinematography, Joker ends up being nowhere near as deep as one might think it can be. Arthur's Joker turns into the symbol that inspires Gotham's oppressed to rise up and fight back against Gotham's elite. Meanwhile, Arthur's story becomes, "the hopeless loser who overthrows the system that so terribly wronged him." This isn't bad story-telling; the problem lies in the fact that there aren't enough juicy, unique details to help propel Joker over any other "the victim overthrows the perpetrator" story. What is it about the Joker character that encourages Gotham's low-lifes to don clown masks and start to stage protests? Is it just because he had the guts to fight back against a couple drunk guys on a subway? What exactly is it about a clown or clown-makeup that makes it the perfect fuel for a rebellion? In Batman Begins for example, Bruce Wayne overcomes a fear of bats, and thus, becomes a hero that helps his city overcome its fears.
Part of why the Joker is Batman's arch-nemesis is because the two are almost complete opposites: Batman is a figure of the dark who stays in the shadows and has motivations that are rooted in fear. The Joker is an outlandish figure that loves to be in the spotlight, creating fear from anything normally considered funny. Hardly anything of what happens in the 2019 Joker resembles what is typically associated with the Joker character, and while that's not a back-breaker, it does sting that what we do get boils down to nothing more than, "these people are tired of being treated like dirt, so it's time for them to take a stand."
What I think would have made Joker a masterful origin story would be to take a neutral approach to the Joker's mentality and what causes him to take up a life of crime. The controversy surrounding the movie deals with how it is seemingly taking a defensive stance on people who suffer from mental illness, and that it's openly welcoming people to take on acts of real-world violence. In a time where mental disorders are a buzzing topic, a movie like Joker, had it been nothing more than a pure analysis on what exactly might go on in a mentally unstable person's mind, would seem like the perfect movie. To a certain extent, the movie accomplishes this goal, mostly thanks to a terrific lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix and some excellent cinematography by Lawrence Sher. What's unfortunate though is the movie is nowhere near as deep as it thinks it is, which kind of sucks since Joker takes place in a well-known superhero setting, but has no interest whatsoever in the pizzazz of a superhero flick. That lack of superhero pizzazz is certainly doing nothing to diminish the movie's box office results, which, as of this writing, is setting records for an October release. Controversy or not, that's putting a smile on Warner Bros. face.
Recommend? Yes. Despite its flaws, the movie offers an excellent lead performance worth seeing.
Pretender to the Throne
Godzilla is directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich and stars Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, and Harry Shearer.
If one were to consider the 1998 American Godzilla to officially be a part of the Godzilla library, the question must be asked: what exactly is it about the 1998 Godzilla that is impressive enough to qualify it as a Godzilla film? Certainly, we are not dealing with the same Godzilla that made Tokyo and all of Japan his personal playground for the better part of the 40 years prior. No, this is a Godzilla that is making his presence felt in New York City: the perfect spot for a monster attack in the United States. So let me rephrase the question: is a Godzilla film, set in New York, and entrusted to none other than Roland Emmerich enough to qualify said film to be a part of the official Godzilla library? The answer, my dear readers, is a big fat no.
The 1998 Godzilla was the first of an originally planned American Godzilla trilogy; Toho was in the middle of their second Godzilla hibernation period, not intending to bring back the character until the start of the new millennium (I think it was around 2004 when Toho had planned on rebooting the series). Toho granted permission for an American Godzilla film to producer and distributor Henry G. Saperstein, and after jumps through many hoops, a Godzilla film produced by TriStar Studios, written by screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and utilizing the talents of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin was in the works, at least until Emmerich decided to throw out Elliott and Rossio's script and, with Devlin's assistance, create a new one from scratch. Emmerich made it very clear that, if he agreed to do the film, he would be granted total creative freedom with no worries about studio interference. Right then and there, Godzilla was doomed to fail, because if there's one thing we've learned about Roland Emmerich over the years, it's that the man is a savant when it comes to style-over-substance.
I was only knee high when Godzilla first hit theaters back in 1998, so I have utterly no memories of the film's rampant advertising campaign. You maybe have seen pictures or short video clips of it: buses, billboards, and other large structures with a poster for the film that read: his ____ is bigger than this ____. TriStar had no confidence the film would do well, evident in their refusal to give test screenings and set aside time to fix any flaws. Thus, their only hope was to market the crap out of the film and try turning Godzilla into the film that everyone was talking about, increasing the likelihood that people would go see the film just because they saw posters for it on every street corner, not because they thought it would be a great time at the theaters. Either way, it's a ticket someone pays for, and that's all that matters at the end of the day. When all was said and done, Godzilla walked away to the tune of $379 million, but given the fever pitch of the marketing campaign, this was nothing short of a disappointment. The planned sequels were cancelled, and Toho immediately began production on a new Godzilla film, leaving this Godzilla to be nothing more than an ugly scar on the franchise.
So let's take a bite right in: the film opens with sepia-tone footage of French nuclear tests, coupled with shots of iguanas crawling around on a beach. The first sentence of the Wikipedia plot summary contains the following: "an iguana nest is exposed to the fallout of a military nuclear test." The movie hasn't even started yet and we're already at strike one: the confirmation that this Godzilla is an iguana, and not the kind of T-Rex, stegosaurus hybrid we've known Godzilla to be. Roland Emmerich has stated that he wanted this Godzilla to represent a giant animal and not a giant monster, which sort of defeats the purpose of the whole thing, but I digress. We then move on to a giant sea creature attacking and destroying a Japanese fishing vessel, about the closest this film ever comes to honoring the original 1954 Godzilla. It's perhaps the only time you can watch the film and be optimistic that things won't turn out so bad, but no, it's all downhill from here. The film introduces us to Dr Nick Tatopolous (Broderick), a scientist who is out in Chernobyl, studying the effects of radiation on worms. He is greeted by the U.S. State Department and is taken to Panama and Jamaica to help study giant footprints and the remains of the fishing vessel. Nick deduces that the footprints and the shipwreck are not from a dinosaur, but from some giant creature that was subjected to nuclear testing. That very giant creature soon surfaces in a rainy New York, and needless to say, he's quite the unwelcome visitor.
- Godzilla clocks in at a whopping (and inexplicable) 139 minutes, but I credit Roland Emmerich for this: he does find a way to inject some kind of entertainment value into the film and keep it from feeling as long as the run tie suggests. Now, don't get me wrong: this is not a type of entertainment that will slap a silly smile on your face and make you want to watch the film over and over again. The best way to describe how Godzilla is entertaining is rooted in morbid curiosity: this is a film that believes it's something awe-inspiring, something that will have people talking for years. The most famous giant monster of them all is coming to America, and he's stomping around none other than the Big Apple, truly a must-see. For at least the first 10-15 minutes, you buy into the notion that this Godzilla will be somewhat awe-inspiring, an honorable addition to the Godzilla library, and that it was not a mistake for Toho to entrust their beloved kaiju with a Hollywood studio. Then you see Matthew Broderick driving and singing to the tune of Singin' in the Rain, then you begin to notice the questionable acting and the lame dialogue. Finally, you see the hideous CGI creation that is Godzilla. By this point, you have already given up hope that Godzilla will be decent, but you can't shake the notion that you want to keep watching, not because you're amused by what you're seeing on screen, but because you're fascinated watching Godzilla continue to go through its delusion of grandeur with shameless, childlike zeal. It's a movie so infatuated by being the first American film titled Godzilla, that it doesn't care one iota how many technical blunders it suffers along the way. It's about cranking out some kind of an audio-visual product, all for the honor of slapping the title Godzilla on the poster when all is said and done. It's like the filmmakers knew deep down this was a bad movie, but instead of hanging their heads and feeling sorry for themselves, they were going to embrace this misfire like a badge of honor. Yeah, this movie is a piece of shit, but it's OUR piece of shit!
A quick sidenote: Something else that helps is that Godzilla never takes itself too seriously: a barrage of one-liners and goofy character interactions is evidence that the movie is at least having fun with itself. Certainly, the movie is in the spirit of what Emmerich likes to do with all his blockbuster sci-fi films: have fun with little to no regard towards facts and logic.
- It seems unfathomable to believe that this Godzilla could be any worse than the likes of Toho's worst, such as Godzilla's Revenge or Godzilla vs. Megalon. From a pure film-making standpoint, this Godzilla is, in all seriousness, above and beyond what those films had the audacity to churn out. That's still not saying much though, because Godzilla's special effects, specifically its CGI, is simply unacceptable. Godzilla himself is as shoddy as can be, especially during the early scenes that take place during the day. It's no wonder that Godzilla ends up appearing mostly at night, that way Emmerich and crew can better conceal their hideous CGI. As an added bonus, Godzilla runs away nearly every time he appears, like he's the world's shyest giant monster. There was no faith in the creation of this Godzilla, nor was there faith in the equally shoddy baby Godzillas that make up the film's third act. The entire sequence in Madison Square Garden is a complete ripoff of the velociraptors chasing the children scene(s) from Jurassic Park, and it all adds up as just a way for Emmerich to pad the run-time. Good special effects is the one thing you'd think this movie would get right, but no, Emmerich can't even provide that to us. Would you believe Terminator 2 came out almost ten years earlier?
- So the misrepresentation of Godzilla as an iguana is strike one. The awful special effects was actually strike three. Strike two against the film is its pitiful lineup of characters and the equally pitiful acting performances to go with them. I commend Matthew Broderick and find the guy to be a perfectly fine actor. I have no clue though what kind of preparation he did for this role. Broderick, while able to convey Tatopolous's charming nerdiness, is incapable of showing anything resembling fear, as if Tatopolous is experiencing fear for the first time in his life and doesn't know what short of facial expressions and tone of voice are supposed to go with fear. Jean Reno isn't even trying to hide how much he is not taking the movie seriously, while poor Maria Pitillo looks like she has little confidence in her performance and is getting by on the bare minimum. It's unfortunate Pitillo's career never amounted to anything more prominent than this movie. I think the right director and the right script would have given the chance to deliver a performance to prove she did have some talent. But anyway, there's nothing really to like about any of these characters. Emmerich even goes as far as to put in Mayor Ebert and Assistant Gene: obvious parodies of film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I get that Emmerich was salty about the negative reviews Ebert and Siskel gave to some of his earlier films, but what I don't get is Emmerich not having the guts to have Godzilla squish these two like bugs. Emmerich was probably so despondent by the end of principal photography, that he no longer had the energy to do so. What a shame.
Kenpachiro Satsuma, the actor who played Godzilla during the Heisei series, walked out of a fan convention and gave a quote that I think perfectly summarizes the 1998 Godzilla and everything that's wrong with it: "It's not Godzilla. It doesn't have his spirit." This is not Godzilla we're watching; this is some giant, cowardly iguana creature that is so far off from everything Godzilla represents, it's best to think of this monster as one of he various names that fans have critics have dubbed the monster over the years: GINO, which stands for Godzilla In Name Only, or what Toho started to trademark the monster as: Zilla. I personally prefer Zilla, because I see it as a monster that thinks it's Godzilla but is unworthy of having "God" in its name.
All the signs were there from the start: the quick shooting schedule, the lack of test-screenings, and the reluctance of its director, co-writer Roland Emmerich. Was anyone that surprised that Godzilla was the disappointment it ended up being? While the entertainment value is there, Godzilla is heavily lacking in everything else: compelling characters, convincing special effects, and the spirit of the kaiju it's based on. It's a soulless film that believes it's something more special than it actually is, which is why you can at least watch it with morbid fascination. In the years since, Emmerich has stated he regrets taking the directorial role, and Dean Devlin admitted to he and Emmerich's script being the source for the film's failure. Failure is the only way this Godzilla will be remembered: a failure to bring Godzilla to American studios (until 2014 at least), a failure to honor what Toho spent the better part of 40 years on, and a failure to represent who Godzilla is and what he stands for. I will never consider it to be a part of the official Godzilla library, and based on the reactions of Emmerich, Devlin, and several of the actors over the years, they probably don't want to either. Godzilla In Name Only or Zilla, indeed.
Recommend? No. The only thing I can possibly recommend is if you're in the mood to watch a movie you can watch and make fun of for 2+ hours.
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.
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: