Kaiju is an artifact designed for space travel.
Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is directed by Kensho Yamashita and stars Megumi Odaka, Jun Hashizume, Zenkichi Yoneyama, Akira Emoto, and Towako Yoshikawa.
Upon re-watching Godzilla vs. Biollante some months back, I was at least somewhat convinced that that film was the worst the Heisei Godzilla series had to offer. I have come to rescind that statement, because, oh boy: if Godzilla vs. Biollante was a chore to watch, then Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is a chore and then some to sit through. I suppose the one thing Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla has over Godzilla vs. Biollante is that the former is never straight-up boring, but when speaking in terms of pure technical prowess, Godzilla vs. Biollante takes the cake. After bringing many of the classic Showa series kaiju up to speed, the Heisei series would ride off into the sunset with two films, each featuring a new monster for Godzilla to take on. The first of these monsters is an outer space version of Godzilla with the impressively un-creative name of SpaceGodzilla, and if you were thinking that Godzilla gets to travel to outer space to go toe-to-toe with this new monster, I'm sorry to say that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is unwilling to give us such a luxury, despite the fact that Godzilla has already fought in space before. It's also worth noting that Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla continues the process of having the demise of one monster plant the seeds for the birth of a new monster. The end of Mecha-King Ghidorah brought about the rise of the new MechaGodzilla, and the end of MechaGodzilla gave way to the new giant mecha, M.O.G.U.E.R.A. So how did SpaceGodzilla come into existence, you ask? Well, it turns out that Godzilla cells from Biollante and Mothra somehow made their way to a black hole and were exposed to radiation, thus generating a space monster that is practically identical to Godzilla.
That's just scratching the surface of how bizarre and crowded the plot is for Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. The human side of the story concerns three members of the United Nations G-Force: Koji Shinjo (Hashizume), Kiyoshi Sato (Yoneyama), and Akira Yuki (Emoto). The three travel to Birth Island to execute Project T: a plan to stop Godzilla from attacking cities by controlling his mind with telepathic powers. The plan goes awry when SpaceGodzilla arrives on the island, attacking Godzilla and imprisoning Godzilla's offspring: Little Godzilla (again, impressively un-creative). SpaceGodzilla then departs to go and lay waste to Japan, with Godzilla in hot pursuit. Godzilla isn't alone in his fight, however: the Japan Self-Defense Forces send their new mecha M.O.G.U.E.R.A. to assist.
So you've got a couple human characters and a handful of monsters. Sounds like a typical day at the office for Toho, except that the film flies by at an almost breakneck pace, and the script by writer Hiroshi Kashiwabara crams in so much extra material that it's next to near impossible for any of the film's story-lines to breathe. The whole Project T bit eventually morphs into an in-your-face message about how, "all living creatures have feelings", which serves as a continuation of the environmental messaging from 1992's Godzilla vs. Mothra. Speaking of Mothra, the twin faires (aka The Cosmos) like to show up every now and then to provide encouragement for our recurring psychic character Miki Saegusa (Odaka), and it's about as pointless as poor Little Godzilla, who does nothing but walk around and look cute until SpaceGodzilla shows up and takes him out of the movie entirely. I truly don't know the reasoning behind why all these later Heisei Godzilla series insist on having a baby Godzilla be present. At least Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II made the baby Godzilla feel somewhat integral to the plot, while Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla simply uses a baby Godzilla as a means to put another monster into the movie, no matter how useless said monster is. But anyway, we've got Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, a baby Godzilla, telepathic powers, and a pro-animal, pro-environment message all to worry about, and it all adds up to one cluttered monster movie.
- The good news about Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla is that, once SpaceGodzilla shows up on Earth, the monsters pretty much take over the movie, which isn't too long of a wait. The monster fights and special effects though are all over the place: shots of Godzilla using his atomic breath or SpaceGodzilla using his lightning(?) blasts make for some fairly entertaining monster action. Unfortunately, there's next to nothing in the ways of choreography: Godzilla and SpaceGodzilla just stand still and keep blasting each other, while M.O.G.U.E.R.A flies around and launches a few attacks every now and then. The only part of the monster fights with some sense of choreography is when M.O.G.U.E.R.A runs towards SpaceGodzilla and uses a drill attack, and then back off once SpaceGodzilla retaliates. By the way, the M.O.G.U.E.R.A mecha in the film is an updated version of the same robot character that first appeared in the 1957 film The Mysterians. Anyway, the special effects during the monster fights are standard fare for a 1990's Godzilla film, but there's also the occasional ugly green screen shot, particularly during some scenes of Little Godzilla walking around and the Cosmos coming down to speak with Miki in the form of a tiny Mothra. Some shots of the giant SpaceGodzilla crystal flying through space are a bit of an eyesore as well. With the monsters taking over the movie at a relatively early point though, it means that there is plenty of building smashing, colorful lights, and kabooms to satisfy. I wouldn't go as far as to call the monster action enthralling, but it's what you came for, and it's what the movie gives you plenty of.
- Much like the English dubbing, the screenplay for a Godzilla film almost always leaves a few holes to address (although the dubbing is more like a gigantic sinkhole). What hurts this Godzilla movie most of all however is its pacing, in which the absolute bare minimum is done in order to get from Important Plot Point A to Important Plot Point B. No better example than this: there's a scene where Miki is kidnapped by the Yakuza and literally a few minutes later, Shinjo, Sato, and Yuki are attempting to rescue her. Travel time and distance are complete non-factors here: SpaceGodzilla is probably the galaxy's fastest space traveler, and M.O.G.U.E.R.A proves to be quite the space traveler himself, since he can fly out to space, intercept SpaceGodzilla, have a fight, get badly injured, and then return back to Earth all in one perfect run. I know I'm digging too deep into something that doesn't deserve to be nitpicked, but the movie is trying to do so much in so little time, there isn't anything to latch on to and absorb, and thus, the pacing feels wildly off. Kensho Yamashita and Hiroshi Kashiwabara stated they wanted to make the film more lighthearted and to put more emphasis on character development. That sounds nice and all, except that the movie seems to be doing anything and everything to try and get to the monster action, so the whole character development part kind of fizzles out. There's also not much room in the ways of humor, so I am unsure exactly as to where Yamashita and Kashiwabara thought the film was more lighthearted. The movie falls way short of its most ambitious goals, which is a disappointment, because this maybe could have been one of the best Godzilla films ever if Yamashita and Kashiwabara had achieved what they set out to do.
It's a bit much to call Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla a disaster; the movie succeeds at being entertaining from first frame to last frame, with plenty of kaiju action that no Godzilla fan in his or her right mind can complain. Everything else though? Not so great: The special effects are a mixed bag, the story is bloated by Godzilla movie standards, and the pacing is incredibly off. It isn't anywhere near as bad as the likes of Godzilla vs. Megalon and Godzilla's Revenge, but Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla unfortunately takes the crown for worst Godzilla film of the Heisei series. SpaceGodzilla is an okay monster; I like the look of the giant crystals on its shoulders and the alligator-like face that gives him enough distinction from Godzilla. Under the right circumstances, I think this is a monster that Toho could sell. The story we have here from Yamashita and Kashiwabara however, isn't the one to make SpaceGodzilla work. It tries to be a story about telepathy, about how animals have souls, and about Godzilla facing off against an extraterrestrial version of himself. It's never straight-up boring, but watching Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla tends to be a bit of an arduous chore, kind of like a long flight through outer space. If only NASA had SpaceGodzilla's speed.
Recommend? No, but the movie can make for some entertaining monster action.
The Intruder is directed by Deon Taylor and stars Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, and Dennis Quaid.
If there are any trashy thrillers yet to be released in 2019, it's hard to imagine how any one of them could top The Intruder: a movie whose appeal solely relies on the concept that, "Dennis Quaid is a psycho who comes after a married couple." On paper, psycho Dennis Quaid is a fairly amusing concept, but the fact of the matter is that this concept only goes so far on its own: we don't want to watch Quaid just act as a mindless serial killer; you've got to have the pieces around Quaid to make the concept work. In the case of The Intruder however, the presence of psycho Dennis Quaid is its one and only asset. Everything else in The Intruder amounts to a steaming hot pile of garbage, and thus, you've got yourself a near dumpster fire of a film, only to be remembered because of the commitment of its most recognizable star.
The film tells the story of married couple Scott (Ealy) and Annie (Good) Howard. The two purchase a home out in Napa Valley from the home's long-time owner, Charlie Peck (Quaid). Charlie tells Scott and Annie his wife passed away from cancer two years ago, and that he will be moving down to Florida to live with his daughter. Scott and Annie seem to easily adjust to their new home, except for the fact that Charlie insists on showing up at the house again and again. Charlie explains that his move to Florida got delayed, but it soon becomes clear that Charlie has a different agenda in mind: he refuses to give up the house and will go to whatever lengths necessary to take it back from Scott and Annie.
It's one thing to have an over-the-top Dennis Quaid. It's another thing though to put him in a movie with this kind of ridiculous plot: one that seems incompatible with a title such as The Intruder. I guess in a literal sense, The Intruder is the most appropriate title this movie could have: Charlie Peck is intruding on a property that no longer belongs to him. What's problematic though is that the movie, for at least half the running time, treats Charlie like he's that annoying neighbor who won't leave you alone, as opposed to a clearly deranged psychopath that is secretly plotting to kill or kidnap you. To be fair, The Intruder gives you details illustrating that Charlie has always been a psychopath, but they're so paltry that, had it not been for the title, you wouldn't have any clue of his true motives until around the last half hour of the film.
- It's not all bad: Dennis Quaid's performance gives the movie some value as an unintentional comedy. It's not so much that Quaid doesn't fit the role; it's the poor direction given to him by Deon Taylor, who seems to believe that acting psychotic means Quaid twitching and giving as many goofy smirks as humanly possible. And this is not smirking that would remind you of Norman Bates's "she wouldn't harm a fly" smile. No, this is the kind of smirking you would likely see from a adolescent teenage boy watching a porno for the first time in his life. It's supposed to be scary (at least I think it is), but it only gets funnier the more times you see it. Nonetheless, Quaid is trying to do whatever he can to breathe some life into the film, so the effort is definitely there. Quaid alone makes the film entirely watchable, and who knows? You might actually have a good time with it.
- We can rip the screenplay by David Loughery to shreds, because it's about as brainless as you can possibly imagine. Entire subplots and other important details that the movie draws attention to are discarded completely at one point or another. Scott getting in trouble with Annie because he goes out to a bar to have some drinks with his clients? Nah, we can just do away with that as if it never happened. How about Scott being paranoid around guns? Well, the ending of the movie suggests this is a lie. The Intruder suffers from short-term memory loss, only worrying about the here and now and not anything like foreshadowing or character development. If it doesn't benefit what's happening in the plot RIGHT NOW, it's not important. If that weren't enough, the script is also doing whatever it takes to pad the movie up to its 102 minute run time. Entire scenes of Charlie visiting the house or scenes of Scott and Annie having sex could be cut out of the movie entirely, and it would do absolutely nothing to alter the plot. This exact same story could be told in 85ish minutes with the same piss poor level of execution. It's an all-around terrible script that holds nothing creative or insightful.
- Believe it or not, but the screenplay isn't the worst thing about The Intruder, although there certainly is an argument to be made for why it is. The worst thing about The Intruder is its utter incompetence in regards to building suspense. The only thing that comes close to resembling suspense in The Intruder is the curiosity of when Charlie Peck is finally going to snap. Everything that tries to build up to that conversion to pure insanity only fuels the movie's unintentional hilarity. Uh-oh! Annie spots Charlie outside mowing the grass! What's gonna happen the next time Charlie sees Annie's lawn in poor condition? Oh no! Charlie brought over some pies! Then he brings over a pizza! Is he going to start cooking for Scott and Annie? All these scenes of Charlie visiting the house only show him acting courteous or helping Annie with mundane, everyday tasks, none of which are designed in a way to help improve the fear of Charlie being a psychotic killer. It's essentially the same scene being recycled over and over again, only each time, Scott starts to get a little more suspicious, while Annie continues to act as hospitable as can be, completely oblivious to the weirdness behind Charlie's frequent visits. When the movie decides to finally have Charlie snap, nothing has been done to make his character at least remotely scary, which should still be at least somewhat possible, despite the fact that Charlie is being played by an over-the-top Dennis Quaid. Yes, the plot is fairly predictable and has been done before in other movies. That doesn't mean the journey from Point A to Point Z has to take all the same twists and turns. It's all about the "how", not the "what".
If it weren't for Dennis Quaid and his over-the-top performance, The Intruder would likely have just come into theaters, make a few quick bucks and change, and then slink off slowly into the $5 DVD Bargain Bin. It's a garbage film: a terrible screenplay, idiotic characters, and a complete inability to build suspense. However, it's a perfectly watchable garbage film, and it's all thanks to Mr. Quaid and his ability to give the film the silliness it needs to give you at least a few good laughs. These type of domestic thrillers sneak into theaters at least once or twice every year, and I don't think you'll find a more perfectly trashy domestic thriller in 2019 than The Intruder. A concept like psychotic Dennis Quaid could work with the right group of people. Quaid is perfectly talented enough to play a villain role like this one. For the sake of unintentional hilarity though, it couldn't have ended up much better than this.
Recommend? It's good for a few laughs on a boring, slow day.
Any man who says 'I am King' is no true king.
The Kid Who Would Be King is directed and written by Joe Cornish and stars Louis Ashborne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Patrick Stewart.
For some odd reason that I can't put my finger on, 21st century cinema has not been kind to the medieval legends of King Arthur. To my knowledge, only three major films have been released in American cinema over the past twenty some years that directly deal with the tales of King Arthur, the legendary sword Excalibur, and the Knights of the Round Table. The first being the 2004, Antonine Fuqua-directed King Arthur: a dreary and generic action flick. The second is 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: an immensely boring Guy Ritchie film that foolishly tries to set up a multi-film series without trying to be something special on its own. The third film is what I am dealing with here in this review: 20th Century Fox's The Kid Who Would Be King, something of a King Arthur film targeted at children. Make of that whatever you will. So when I say that the 21st century has been unkind to the tales of King Arthur, that's to say that all the films I just described above are rather unpleasant movie-watching experiences. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is easily the worst of the trio, and The Kid Who Would Be King is considerably the best. That's not saying much though: to say that The Kid Who Would Be King is the best wide release film of the 21st century thus far that directly deals with the legends of King Arthur is like saying getting one wisdom tooth pulled is more enjoyable than getting three or four pulled. It's a less painful experience, but you're still going to hate having to go through it.
The trailers for The Kid Who Would Be King first dropped back in mid-to-late 2018, and, aside from the utter bewilderment of watching a bunch of English schoolchildren preparing to fight an enchantress and her magical army, when I saw that the movie was targeting a late January 2019 wide release, the cynic in me jumped out and already declared the film to be one of the worst new releases of the year. You can imagine my additional shock when I saw the critical acclaim that The Kid Who Would Be King was getting in the few weeks prior to its release. Now having finally seen the film months after its poor box office run, I take a fair amount of solace in sticking with my initial cynicism. The Kid Who Would Be King, while not flat-out dreadful, is an unsatisfactory take on the King Arthur lore, lacking the subtlety and charm that would make it worthwhile for children and adults alike.
The Kid Who Would Be King opens with narration on the infamous King Arthur and his quest to acquire Excalibur and gather his Knights of the Round Table. Arthur had succeeded in putting an end to the war that ravaged the medieval times, turning several of his enemies into friends. The only one who stood in Arthur's way was his half-sister, Morgana (Ferguson), an enchantress who wanted to take the power of Excalibur for herself and use it to rule the world. Arthur and his allies defeated Morgana and sealed her away, and she would not return until the world was divided and leaderless once again.
Fast forward to present day England, where the world is divided and leaderless once again. We meet the twelve-year old boy Alexander Elliot (Ashbourne Serkis). Elliot lives with his mother (Denise Gough), both of whom struggle with the absence of Elliot's father, who Alex hasn't seen since he was five years old. Alex also struggles with bullies at school. Two bullies in particular Alex finds himself up against are Lance (Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). One night, when Lance and Kaye chase after Alex, Alex retreats to a construction site, where he finds a sword positioned in a giant rock. Alex pulls the sword out of the rock and takes it with him. The next day at school, a teenage boy enrolls in Alex's classes, but this is no ordinary teenage boy: the boy is actually the ancient wizard Merlin (Taylor/Stewart), and he discovers that Alex was the one who pulled the sword from the rock. Merlin tells Alex the sword he pulled is the one and only Excalibur, and that he must stop Morgana from taking the sword and enslaving all of England. Thus begins an epic adventure for Alex and his friends: battling evil demons and learning how to live the famous Arthurian code of chivalry.
- The best things The Kid Who Would Be King has going for itself is its convincing special effects and its decent action scenes. Morgana's fiery demons are well-detailed and about as good of a CGI creation as you'll get in a PG-rated film. There's a scene where Alex and his friends are training in swordsmanship with the help of living, moving trees, and the CGI trees are composited quite well with the characters. The actors show us convincingly they know how to interact with whatever stand-in object was used for the trees behind the scenes, without any direct signs of visible confusion/uncertainty. The action, meanwhile, is primarily filmed in a clean wide-shot format: whenever Alex or someone is trying to run away or slash at an incoming demon, Joe Cornish usually has Alex and the demon in the frame together. Basically, every shot during an action sequence is detailed enough so that you can get a perfect awareness of where the characters are and how they are moving. It's more than enough to keep the film from ever becoming boring, and for that alone, I am thankful.
- I would have appreciated The Kid Who Would Be King a lot more if it wasn't as self-serious as it turns out to be, because the movie's clear attempts at comedy do not work at all. Just about every joke is either set up poorly or has a weak punch-line, and even worse, the movie doesn't seem to have any idea about how to balance its comedic moments with its dramatic ones, the latter of which heavily outweighing the former, and thus, throwing the movie's status as a comedy into question. Alex has a line fairly early on in which he tries to dismiss the ridiculous idea of him becoming king, citing that he is only twelve years old. This is the kind of self-awareness that I wanted to see more of from the film, because then the movie would make it clear that it's poking fun at its premise that, let's not kid ourselves, is pretty ridiculous to begin with. A bunch of English schoolchildren embracing the power of King Arthur and tasked with stopping a demon from taking over the world? I'm pretty sure a lot of those children would run in terror if they saw a bunch of fiery demons on horseback charging at them, rather than embracing danger like it was a day off from school. Not being boring is different from being fun and delightful.
- The Kid Who Would Be King's greatest crime, however, is its annoying and undesirable characters. Alex is supposed to become king, except the movie never gives us any valuable insight as to who exactly Alex is and why he would make a good king. Most of the time, Alex is either moping about how much he misses his father or giving a pessimistic outlook on him becoming king, like he's a modern day Jon Snow (the brief Game of Thrones mention put into the movie is not funny, by the way). There's just next to nothing the movie does to make Alex charming, and that's why it's harder to feel engaged with his quest. Alex isn't the worst character in the movie though. That title belongs to Alex's best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo): an utterly useless character who does nothing but follow Alex around and play the role of moral support. Chaumoo's squeaky voice and dopey facial expressions are more likely to induce anger and annoyance than they are to induce aww's like when someone sees an adorable puppy. Seriously, he serves NO PURPOSE to the movie, other than to be the obligatory best friend character. Lance and Kaye are generic bullies, and even when they become Alex's knights, they still struggle to develop anything resembling a personality. On the other hand, Tom Taylor and Patrick Stewart are perfectly watchable as the young and elderly Merlin, respectively, while Rebecca Ferguson proves she has what it takes to play a convincing villain. Taylor knows how to be goofy, playing a fish out of water kind of role as the younger Merlin, and Patrick Stewart just needs to be himself to play the elderly Merlin. Ferguson brings a slithering, snake-like persona to her role, and she's pretty damn good at it when the movie gives her the chance. Too bad the script doesn't care much to show Morgana in her human form, meaning poor Ferguson is given a stingy amount of screen time to show studios that she would make a good villain in future films. Maybe it's not that much of a surprise that the best characters are those played by the more familiar actors. Louis Ashborne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, and all the other younger actors certainly have bright futures. They just don't have the experience yet to take a shakily written character and turn it into something convincing.
I do wonder how much confidence 20th Century Fox had in The Kid Who Would Be King, considering they released the film in January: arguably the most reviled month of the cinematic year. The failed box office run of 2017's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword ought to have been enough proof that 21st century audiences aren't exactly raving and screaming about the King Arthur legends, and seeing how The Kid Who Would Be King tanked at the box office, that sentiment still holds true in 2019. It's not a terrible film: the CGI and action are strong enough that the film is never boring, but with an unlikable cast of characters and very little to offer in terms of comedy, The Kid Who Would Be King is a misguided take on the King Arthur legend, believing that simply targeting messages of honor and chivalry at children is enough to give itself a pat on the back. Sure, it means well: always telling the truth, never giving up, and respecting those around you are important lessons that we should be teaching to children. It is entirely possible, however, to get these same points across without having to rely on ridiculous concepts such as putting the King Arthur legend in modern-day England and having an entire school be tasked with fighting a magical army of demons. Charming? Fun? No, I do not think the premise is either of those things, but it sure as hell could be, if the movie wasn't so self-serious. The King Arthur legend could definitely work as a film, but as something like The Kid Who Would Be King? No thanks. This is one King I would not vote for.
Recommend? No. The movie isn't boring, but it isn't exactly pleasant viewing either.
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.
The Deer Hunter is directed and co-written by Michael Cimino and stars Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage, along with John Cazale, Meryl Streep, and George Dzundza. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.
Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is considered by many to be the pinnacle American film about the Vietnam War. With its breathtaking cinematography and meditative outlook on how war can drive man to pursue his own worst instincts, it's certainly a magnificent analysis of the darkness of human nature and of what was an odious period of American history (and world history, if we want to be honest with ourselves). With such a powerful film being released right at the end of the 1970's, it's easy to forget that a similarly powerful Vietnam War film came out the year before, winning the Oscar for Best Picture no less: Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. I do not wish to spend the majority of this review comparing and contrasting The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, but it's next to near impossible to do at least a little bit of comparing and contrasting, especially when the two films were released less than a calendar year apart. I am not here to judge which of the two is the better film, but what I will comment on is that, from what I've seen, The Deer Hunter doesn't come up nearly enough in conversations about the greatest Vietnam War film. Everyone just assumes Apocalypse Now has a monopoly on the Vietnam War movie market, that it's not worth the time or effort to try and suggest otherwise.
Perhaps in terms of pure analysis, Apocalypse Now has The Deer Hunter beat, but when comparing based on controversy and emotional weight, I think The Deer Hunter takes the cake. The Deer Hunter is a marathon of a film: three hours in run time and dishing out several emotional gut-punches along the way, which is why I do not recommend it for the faint of heart. It's not without flaws though: the three hour run time serves to hinder the film more than it does to enhance it, and the movie is largely told from one character's perspective. Nonetheless, the movie cuts deep with its depiction of the Vietnam War's brutality and the effect that brutality had on the men involved. We could spend this entire review talking about The Deer Hunter's production history, because around the mid 1970's when the film was being planned, the Vietnam War was still heavily frowned-upon by major Hollywood studios. The English company EMI helped finance the film, and Universal didn't jump on board to get the movie produced until much much later. On top of trying to finance and produce a controversial film about a war America was still hot and bothered about, there were plenty of stories that came out painting Michael Cimino as something of a control freak during production. That shouldn't be much of a surprise if you know at least a little bit about Michael Cimino; the man was criticized his whole career for being an egotistical S.O.B who took on an authoritarian approach to directing. Is it surprising or not surprising at all that nothing notable came from Cimino's career following The Deer Hunter? All his directorial features after The Deer Hunter were box office bombs, and not one of them is a film I envision myself ever reviewing on this blog.
So anyway, The Deer Hunter tells the story of three men from a small, steel-working town in Clairton, Pennsylvania: Mike Vronvsky (De Niro), Nick Chevotarevich (Walken), and Steven Pushkov (John Savage). The three men are preparing to enter into military service and assist in the Vietnam War, but before that, they enjoy their free time hunting deer up in the mountains and hanging out at a local bar. Steven marries his girlfriend Angela (Rutanya Aida), and the town holds a giant wedding reception to celebrate Steven and Angela, and to wish Mike, Steven, and Nick farewell before they leave. Fast forward to Vietnam, and Mike, Nick, and Steven find themselves in a POW camp, where they are forced to play Russian roulette.
This is a difficult plot to write a synopsis for, mainly because I'm not sure what can be categorized as a "spoiler". The Deer Hunter's story has a three act structure: the first act is the opening in Pennsylvania, where Mike, Nick, and Steven enjoy the company of their family and friends. The second is the sequence in Vietnam, when Mike, Nick , and Steven are held prisoner. The third act is the aftermath, particularly watching Mike back home, as he grows closer to Nick's girlfriend Linda (Streep) while trying to reconnect with those he's been separate from for so long. Each act makes up about an hour of the film, designed to first inspire hope and confidence and then crush said hope and confidence into tiny piles of dust. The last act is supposed to be like a recovery period, until Cimino decides to throw you back into the fire at the very end, and when the end credits finally roll, you are so beaten and broken that you never want to hear the words 'deer hunter' ever again.
- There was criticism aplenty for the film's extended Russian roulette scene, most of which revolved around the fact that there were no documented cases of the Vietcong forcing prisoners to play Russian roulette during the Vietnam War. Controversy aside, the Russian roulette scene is where The Deer Hunter is at its best, because it's the ultimate metaphor for what the film is trying to say about the Vietnam War.
Robert De Niro holding a gun to his head during the controversial scene.
The Deer Hunter wants to tell us that the stakes and the outcomes of war are similar to those of Russian roulette: death is right in front of you, and you'll only survive if you're lucky enough. The player holding the gun to their head represents the soldiers fighting on the battlefield. The other player who just sits and watches represents those of us waiting and praying back home. One of two things happens: either the soldier gets a loaded chamber and dies, or he miraculously survives, only now he's traumatized from having such a near-death experience. Either way, someone loses. It's unfair, makes no sense, and ends badly for everyone, but that's exactly what the Vietnam War was. For as much flack we could give Cimino for being a grade-A asshole, there's no denying that the direction for this sequence is top-notch. Everything is raised to a fever pitch: the Vietcong verbally and physically abusing the players and the players ranging across a series of extreme emotions like red-hot anger and panic-inducing fear. Cimino primarily relies on shots that are relatively close-up, to evoke the sense that we are also at the table participating in the game. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography takes on a murkier, water-like display that achieves the two-part goal of capturing the scene's pure un-pleasantry and to give us the sense that this is a hot, humid jungle that we would rather no spend our time in. It's a scene meant to disturb you and put you out of your comfort zone, and Cimino nailed it.
- The other thing I didn't mention about what enhances the Russian roulette scene so much is the acting, especially from De Niro and Walken. The great acting is over the course of the whole movie, and The Deer Hunter ought to be the prime example as to how and why Christopher Walken is, in all seriousness, a very talented and committed actor. Movie choices over recent years has strongly suggested that Walken has stopped taking his career as seriously, and thus, people are more prone to view him as goofy and unhinged. The Deer Hunter puts Walken's Nick through the wringer, and Walken is magnificent in showing us the impact that the Russian roulette game and overall Vietnam War experience is having over Nick. This is most evident in a scene in a military hospital, where a man walks up to Nick and asks him some general questions. Nick can't find the words to respond, instead breaking down into tears. Later on, Nick grows completely numb to his surroundings, and to see what Walken put himself through physically to achieve Nick's ghostly look is something that will stick with you for a long time. Through his words, facial expressions, and general physical acting, Walken better than anyone sells the heartbreaking tragedy that Cimino wants the film to portray.
- No matter how much I praise the film for how powerful it is with its depiction of the Vietnam War, The Deer Hunter suffers from its three-hour length, specifically in that the film takes way too long to get started. The wedding reception in the film's first hour is an unreasonably long sequence that is comprised of too much dancing and celebrating and not anywhere near enough story telling that at least gives you impression that the movie is moving forward. To be fair, this scene is important, because it gives us valuable insight of these characters' personal lives and how they feel towards each other. The problem is in that Cimino doesn't know how to prioritize quality over quantity. The major beats of the wedding reception, such as showing us the love triangle between Mike, Nick, and Linda, and foreshadowing that Steven and Angela's marriage is not going to end well, could all be done by focusing more shots on these specific characters laughing and dancing, while doing away with other moments of characters just goofing around. and making small talk. Why focus time and energy on characters that we know aren't going to have much bearings on the plot in the long run? Once the movie gets to Vietnam though, it picks up considerably and never lets up.
- The other issue with The Deer Hunter is its one-sided point of view: the Vietcong are portrayed as sadistic, money-grubbing racists who don't have a shred of humanity in their bodies. Multiple bits of trivia have suggested that Cimino had a difficult time finding Vietnamese actors who were willing and able to act in the film's Russian roulette-Vietnam scene. It is also said that many of the slaps during the Russian roulette game were real, and the reactions by De Niro and Walken were genuine. What makes the portrayal of the Vietcong so problematic is that it turns The Deer Hunter into an unnecessarily political and borderline offensive film, despite Cimino's claims that The Deer Hunter is not political, literal, or anything else like that. The one-sided point of view makes the film extremely pro-American, and suggests it has little to no regard to accounting for the general attitude that Vietnam and America had toward the war. America is painted like it's a pure victim without fault, and while it may be unintentional (according to Cimino), it's still a lingering effect that weakens the film's overall impact.
Overall though, The Deer Hunter is extremely ambitious and does not hold back in its quest to pursue its ultimate goal: show us the the brutality of the Vietnam War in all its hellacious fury and thoroughly crush our spirits while doing so. The inflated three hour length and the questionable depiction of the Vietcong prevent the film from achieving true masterpiece status in its execution, but the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, and that's why The Deer Hunter should be right up there with Apocalypse Now as one of the greatest films about the Vietnam War. The Russian roulette game is one of the most memorable scenes you'll ever find in a war film, and the acting, especially from Walken, is the kind of material all aspiring actors can be inspired by. Make no mistakes about it though: this is not a happy film; the ending may very well leave you in a depressed state as you go about the rest of your day. But what happiness is there to be found in war? The Deer Hunter knows what it wants to say about war, and my gosh, does it get the point across. War is hell, and everyone is a little worse for wear because of it.
Recommend? Yes. If you can somehow find three hours on a quiet day, the film is definitely worth watching.
Crawl is directed by Alexandre Aja and stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper.
It is an ironic thing that a creature-feature horror film like Crawl, a film with B-movie potential, could do the seemingly impossible and not only meet basic expectations but surpass them as well. 2019 has been pretty beefed up with blockbuster movies, though July is shaping up to be the most barren month of the year when it comes to new releases that everyone can get excited about. A movie like Crawl, however, is one that is needed at this point in summer: a film whose premise and setting perfectly match the summer season, while also being a perfectly good way to spend an hour and a half when its usually too hot or too rainy to do anything outside. Had Crawl been a run-of-the-mill horror flick in which hapless humans find themselves up against some hungry monster(s), no one would give it a second thought two weeks after its opening weekend. It might as well have been delegated to the Thursday night, 8 PM slot on the Syfy Channel. Here's the thing though: Crawl is much more deserving of a wide theatrical release, because its technical prowess and all-around execution is so much better than it has any right to be, and that alone is enough to tell the Syfy Channel to go take a hike.
The story of Crawl is nothing complex: University of Florida (Get it? 'Cause they're the Gators?) swimmer Haley Keller (Scodelario) gets caught in a Category 5 hurricane, and her father Dave (Pepper), also living in Florida, isn't answering her calls. Haley drives over to her old family house and finds Dave, passed out and bloodied, in the house's crawl space. Just as Haley is about to get Dave out of the crawl space, two giant alligators emerge and attack. Haley and Dave must find a way to outmaneuver the gators, while the hurricane intensifies and the crawl space begins to flood.
For the record, there are more than two human characters and more than two alligators in the movie, but for the majority of the film's 87 minutes, that's all you really need to know. If Alexandre Aja is not a name you recognize, he is the same director behind Piranha 3D: a 2010 comedy horror flick that was definitely trying to be as funny as possible. Whether killer piranhas were your thing or not back in 2010, I assure you that Aja does not bring the same sort of comedic approach to Crawl as he did to Piranha 3D. Crawl is bloody and horrific without any major comedic undertones, but it's also self-aware enough that the movie is completely acceptable to laugh at. Nothing like watching gators team up and make lunch out of hapless humans, even if those humans are not naked women at the beach or dumb teenagers who choose to go swimming at the worst time imaginable. These are also gators that gain a better advantage as the film goes on: the more the flood waters rise, the more access the gators have to both the house and the streets.
- Everything about why Crawl works as well as it does is in the execution. First and foremost, this is a competently made horror film from top to bottom: no major setbacks in areas such as directing, acting, or special effects. Alexandre Aja finds a way to take what little plot he has and turn what could be tiny, forgettable scenes into something of greater value. There's a scene where three people are stealing an ATM machine and robbing an abandoned convenience store. Normally, this would be a pure, "monster kills dumb humans" scene, and while the gators do chow down on these three people, it also happens that these people are close by the house where Haley and Dave are trapped, and Haley manages to get their attention, only for the gators to show up and crush Haley's hope for escape. The acting, primarily from Scodelario and Pepper, is well-rounded and convincing enough that we can be more invested in their characters' peril. As for the alligators, they are about as real-looking as they could be for a film with a reported $13.5 million budget. There aren't too many close-up shots on the gators nor much human-gator wrestling, but the gators never look like stiff mechanical models nor CGI cookie-cut outs, and that's about as much as I or anyone else could ask for from the visual effects crew. It is clear that experienced professionals worked on this movie, and they treated just about everything in this movie with care and patience. That kind of stuff matters so much in the final product.
- Crawl deserves praise for its execution, but that doesn't mean the movie is without its head-scratching moments. First and foremost, the design of the house where much of the movie takes place: the basement walls have cross-shaped openings, which means water can easily flow in during a hurricane or a flood, and, unless I've been seeing things on TV and reading the news incorrectly all my life, Florida is a common hot spot for hurricanes and floods. If I was Dave, I would have filed a lawsuit against the designer of the house, because while the house doesn't have to be impervious to hurricanes, it should not be an open invitation to flood waters. There's also a scene where Haley comes across some alligator eggs, and that would have been a nifty little scene had Haley found herself up against a couple hungry, baby alligators. Unfortunately, such a scene never happens, which makes you wonder why they bothered to show an alligator nest at all. Haley doesn't have a big fight with a gigantic momma alligator, so what's the point in showing us that one of the alligators is laying eggs? Confusing little moments like these are sprinkled throughout the film and slightly diminish the horror aspects, which is why I can't say this film is terrifying or anything to that extent.
I sort of wanted to take a break from all the sequels and superheroes when it comes to new releases, and I am grateful that a film like Crawl came along to satisfy my craving. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but Crawl is the type of movie you want to get at least once every summer: short, simple, and a whole lot of fun. Alexandre Aja's direction, the acting, and the alligators serve up a chomping good time that offers plenty of bang for your buck. The overall execution is better than it has any right to be, and while moments of stupidity are here and there, this creature feature far surpasses its B-movie possibilities. Time will tell if we can say this movie is memorable or not, and if the answer ends up being no, well, at least these gators took a nice bite out of summer 2019.
Recommend? Yes. This movie is nasty, bloody fun and is worth your time.
Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soulmate
Annie Hall is directed and co-written by Woody Allen, and also stars Allen. The film also stars Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, and Colleen Dewhurst. The film won the Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress, along with Best Picture.
Woody Allen is a filmmaker that I have no sort of real relationship with, at least, not in the same vein that I have a relationship with someone such as Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino. For certain directors, writers, actors, and/or studios, I know the frame of mind I will get myself in when I hear about a new release from said director, writer, actor, or studio. Christopher Nolan is coming out with a new film? I expect it to be one of the best films of the year. Colin Trevorrow is writing the screenplay for a new film? Well, let's hope there's at least some semblance of logic and common sense. I am, at the time of this writing, unable to have such a mindset when it comes to Woody Allen films, mostly because I am not overly familiar with Allen's filmography and the kind of style he tries to bring to every one of his films. So that is to say I can only approach one of Allen's films like the 1977 Best Picture winner Annie Hall with an open mind with no real expectations. Actually, having no expectations is an incorrect notion: of course you should have some kind of expectation when you're dealing with a Best Picture-winning film.
Annie Hall is the second romantic comedy film to win Best Picture, the first being 1960's The Apartment. And yet, Annie Hall is known for being one of the most famous anti-rom-com's: we are told right away that this is a romantic relationship that isn't going to work out, so don't expect any happy, "drive away in the just got married limo" for these two love birds. It's so fitting that this kind of film would win Best Picture during the 1970's: the decade that really helped the award escape the grasp of mawkish romantic dramas and dated, biographical snooze-fests. Sure, Annie Hall is full of romantic scenes, but it's also a genuine look at how things are in real life when it comes to dating, romance, sex, and pretty much anything else that has to do with love. The film has a complete disregard for the whole soulmate narrative and the idea that two certain people are meant to be together. It's simply giving us an honest and effective assessment on a hard truth: a lot of relationships don't work out, because they weren't meant to be. Maybe it is a tad cynical, but that's the attitude that the 70's had.
So, Annie Hall is the story of comedian Alvy Singer (Allen) and his relationship with Annie Hall (Keaton). The two are smitten with each other at first, but over time, their relationship falls apart. Alvy wonders how it all went wrong. It's hard to say that there's something resembling a plot here: the film is told in a more non-linear format, going back and forth between various moments in Alvy and Annie's relationship, as well as showing us moments of Alvy's childhood, such as Alvy questioning his mother on existence and other philosophical questions that have no clear answers.
The one other film that comes to mind when thinking about Annie Hall is Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer, and if you've seen (500) Days of Summer, it's easy to see how Annie Hall was a major source of inspiration. Both Annie Hall and (500) Days of Summer are told from the perspective of the male protagonist, in which they ponder the story of a failed relationship: how it started, the good times that were had, and how the relationship went wrong in the end. What's important to remember is that neither Annie Hall nor (500) Days of Summer are told from a male perspective because they have some sort of agenda against women, but because they want to show us that Alvy Singer and Tom Hansen can't use their respective lovers as objects to project fantasies on to. Since we're talking about Annie Hall, I think I should just stick with that film. Anyway, Annie Hall tells us early on that Alvy Singer has never been one for love and relationships, but even when he does find someone he loves, he cannot get away with thinking that Annie is there to put him on cloud nine and to be that magical figure that can cure all his woes. Annie is still a living, breathing human being who eventually sees Alvy's insecurities, and that they're only making the relationship more difficult to maintain. The film primarily shows us Alvy's side of the story because it's his own failures that contribute the most to the failed relationship.
- The role of Annie Hall was written specifically with Diane Keaton in mind, so it's no wonder that she provides the best performance in the entire film. The thing that makes Keaton's performance so great is how down-to-Earth she is allowed to be. She doesn't need to act overly cheery or mopey because the plot demands for her to do so; she is able to treat each scene with genuine emotion, and that's why the relationship between Alvy and Annie feels whole and incredibly realistic. I think Woody Allen was very meticulous in the way he went about writing the Annie Hall character, with the mind set that Diane Keaton would agree to the role, and assuming she agreed, she could feel as if she was playing herself and not a character that would require extensive behind-the-scenes research and be something completely out of her comfort zone. Although the character was conceived by Woody Allen, Keaton is given the freedom to approach the role and act in it the way she sees fit. In other words, Allen handles the concept; Keaton makes the true magic happen in the execution.
- Woody Allen brings an unconventional style to the film, one that not only is meant to bolster the film as a comedy, but one that also likes to play around with the typical romance narrative. The film's opening scene is Woody Allen talking directly to the audience, which is just the first of many occasions in which the film passes right through the fourth wall. It's not just breaking the fourth wall- this happens repeatedly with characters stepping aside to speak directly to the camera-, though I will say that Woody Allen breaking the fourth wall is his way of getting through to the audience; he wants to interact with us and intrude our viewing space. Allen also makes satirical work out of moments that you could say are formulaic in other rom-coms. For example, there's a scene where Alvy and Annie are having their first extended talk, drinking wine and laughing together out on a balcony. In a typical romance film, this would be the, "first-meeting that is also a bit flirtatious" scene, but instead of just Alvy and Annie making friendly conversation, we see mental subtitles that tell us these two are having inner doubts, which comically contrasts with the seemingly happy and romantic small talk. There's also several moments where we see the modern day Alvy and Annie actually watching moments from Alvy's childhood. Alvy's mother would bicker with his father, and Annie would ask, "Did your mother really say that?" No matter what wacky or unexpected style trick that Woody Allen throws at you, it always has purpose and never takes you out of the movie.
- In what is an extreme rarity for older Best Picture winners, Annie Hall is nice and short at only 93 minutes. So it's odd: despite the short running time, the movie starts to drag in its second half. This is the downside of Woody Allen playing around with an unconventional narrative structure and giving the movie no semblance of a plot outside of Alvy and Annie getting together, having several romantic experiences, and then breaking up. It's fine and all that Annie Hall likes to be non-linear and go back and forth at various moments in the story, but the problem is that Woody Allen doesn't know how to keep everything organized, so that we can still see where the story is going and where it will be when all is said and done. The movie reaches a point where it's aimlessly spinning its wheels, because we're still watching the exact same thing we did in the first half: Alvy and Annie having a good time, then arguing, and then having a good time again. This cycle keeps going and going up until a discussion between Alvy and Annie in Los Angeles that represents the movie telling us, "okay, this is the end of the relationship." At least in (500) Days of Summer, we had something of a timeline so that we could keep track of the central relationship and know how much longer it will last. No such luxury in Annie Hall, which mightily struggles to stave off boredom and monotony in its second half. It's unfortunately a case of a short film feeling a lot longer than it actually is.
Even after watching Annie Hall, the 1977 Best Picture winner and Woody Allen's arguably best film to date, I still don't think I have a clear picture of how I think I should feel towards Allen and his artistic, film-making decisions. I certainly have no animosity towards the guy, and especially not towards Annie Hall: an enjoyable, anti-rom-com that is bolstered by a stand-out Diane Keaton performance and an unconventional narrative structure, where Woody Allen wants to be part of your viewing experience as much as possible. Sadly, the movie loses a lot of momentum in its second half: where the lack of a concrete plot starts to rear its ugly head. As much as the movie has to fight off boredom, it's never a complete chore to sit through, especially at just 93 minutes and when Diane Keaton's undeniable charm could carry the movie on its own. It's a very fitting film for its original time of release: the 70's. I might have a hard time though, saying that Annie Hall is an all-time classic that should sit at the top of the rom-com pedestal. Maybe it's at the top of Woody Allen's pedestal, but other wildly prestigious honors are a bit too far out of its reach.
Recommend? Yes. Watch it for Diane Keaton's performance and Woody Allen's unconventional narrative structure.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is directed by Takao Okawara, written by Wataru Mimura, and stars Masahiro Takashima, Ryoko Sano, Megumi Odaka, Yusuke Kawazu, and Daijiro Harada.
The Heisei Godzilla series finally found its footing after Toho brought back some of the classic kaiju monsters: King Ghidorah and Mothra in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Mothra, respectively. If audiences liked seeing these familiar monsters back on the big screen with more up-to-date technology, why not keep it going? Toho continued the "digging through the memory box" trend in the fifth film of the Heisei series, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, bringing back not one, now two, but three of the classic Godzilla era monsters: Mechagodzilla, Rodan, and Baby Godzilla. On one hand, you could be upset that Toho was unwilling to think up new, original monsters for Godzilla to face off against. On the other hand, you could be happy that Toho was not going to let some of the Godzilla series' most famous monsters be forever stuck in the past. Whichever way you may feel, the classic monster revival formula was still working: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was another commercial and critical success.
I'm not sure what it is about Mechagodzilla, but it seems like whenever he battles Godzilla, Toho is giving one of their better efforts. The 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is easily one of the best Godzilla films to date, and while 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla was a disappointment, every Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla film afterwards has been, at the worst, competent. If competent is the absolute worst that it gets for a Godzilla film, you are in a good spot, my friend. So yeah, that is to say that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is perfectly competent. It's also very entertaining and one of Toho's best efforts during the Heisei series. I now feel even worse when, at a younger age when I was watching all these Godzilla films for the first time ever, the local video rental store nor my local library had this film on DVD for me to check out. Thus, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was the one Godzilla film that always dodged me, until I discovered the Internet and its capabilities.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II serves as a sequel to Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah: a new anti-Godzilla team known as the G-Force retrieves the robotic head of Mecha-King Ghidorah, using reverse engineering to learn about the head's technology, paving the way for the creation of two new Godzilla-fighting machines. The first is a gunship called Geruda. The second is a giant mech called Mechagodzilla. Two years after Geruda and Mechagodzilla's conception, a Japanese team travels on a mission to Adona Island, where they come across a giant egg. The egg gives off a signal that attracts Godzilla and Rodan who do battle while the humans escape with the egg. The egg later hatches to reveal a Baby Godzilla, which gives off psychic calls that brings Godzilla to Japan. Godzilla's destructive tour through Japan brings him face to face with Mechagodzilla, later transitioning to a fight involving Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla.
Hold on a minute. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is a sequel to...Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah? Once again, titling issues cause unnecessary headaches for a Godzilla film, and let's just get it on record that this titling issue is never going away. The Japanese title of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is just Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and the reason for the 'II' in the English title is because Western markets like TriStar Pictures did not want to have different films in the same series to have the same name. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was already taken by the 1974 film, so despite the fact that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is not a sequel to the 1974 Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, nor does it have any affiliation with that film whatsoever, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is the title that was released to Western audiences. This same titling issue would appear yet again with 2002's Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, which also had the title Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in Japan. Bottom line: the title Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla makes almost no sense anymore.
- The entertainment level is sky-high in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Kaiju action is aplenty, and the special effects are (for the most part) about as good as they could be for the early 1990's. The absolute worst the effects get is some embarrassing green screen shots of Rodan flying over Japan. Oh, by the way, the English dub calls him Radon, which is technically his official name, but because previous English dubs always referred to him as Rodan, it doesn't sound right to hear everyone say, "Look! It's Radon!" Anyway, Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla go about fighting each other by basically blasting each other to bits. Godzilla's atomic breath is his best friend in this movie, and, for whatever reason, Rodan gets his own atomic breath to use late in the film. Mechagodzilla has a colorful line-up of weapons, and he sure puts all of them to good use. There's not much in the ways of monster movement; the fights are comprised of Godzilla, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla mostly standing in place and trying to fire their weapons at each other. The only physical fighting the monsters do is a couple body slams and Rodan pecking at Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. That may not sound like overly interesting monster action, but Takao Okawara always finds a way to have one monster get the upper hand and generate an end result that feels like it matters, which is enough to ensure that all the monster action ends up contributing to the plot in some way.
- It's strange to not have really much of anything to criticize in regards to the story or the monster action. The story is as straight-forward and sensible as they come for a Godzilla film: Humans create a giant mech called Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla and Rodan show up to cause a ruckus. Basic stuff. What I will criticize though is that Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II really tries to make something of value out of its interest in telepathy, and it's all for naught in the long run. Miki Saegusa, a recurring human character throughout the Heisei series, is mostly known for having telepathic powers, but Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II gives her basically nothing to do with her powers until the climactic battle. There's also the matter of Baby Godzilla having the same kind of power, which he uses to call upon Rodan and make significant things happen on the fly. Baby Godzilla's role in the film doesn't extend anywhere beyond, "the adorable newborn is put into perilous situations because he's/she's special." Why don't Miki and Baby Godzilla spend more time together, especially if they have similar powers? Telepathy in the film is only used for the sake of the plot, and not to give us some deeper meaning on Miki's character nor add an extra layer or two to Baby Godzilla. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II has a strong disinterest in its human characters, but I think there was some missed potential with all the telepathy business, especially since a human and a monster character share in it. Perhaps the film could have made brief commentary on Baby Godzilla having telepathy, such as the telepathy is supposed to be like a psychic bond between a parent and child. Maybe there's something more to be said about why Miki has some supposed psychic connection with Godzilla? I'm not asking for dense thematic content here. I just think everything the movie has regarding telepathy could have added a little more meat to the story.
But you know what? The telepathy business is small potatoes when you look at the big picture: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II excels with its monster action and its overall entertainment value, and when you throw in the fact that the story has next to nothing that is utterly ridiculous, this shapes up to be a damn fine addition to the Heisei series and the Godzilla series as a whole. I guess I should also comment a little bit on the all the monster suits, because those are always a notable part of a Godzilla film. Godzilla and Rodan look just fine for their early 90's renditions. Baby Godzilla is nowhere near the terrifying beast that was Minilla from the late 60's Showa series, though he is kind of bug-eyed in a way that is slightly off-putting. Mechagodzilla is also acceptable, though his roar is now some fine-tuned machine noise that isn't at all menacing and is a far step-down from the shrill, metallic screeches of the 1970's Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla's face also now slants downward slightly as opposed to sticking straight out, which doesn't make him as intimidating as the 1970's version. Though since Mechagodzilla is technically a good guy now, I guess that was kind of the point. Whether he's a good guy or a bad guy, Mechagodzilla seems to bring the best out of the Godzilla filmmakers. That, or you just happen to have the right people working at the right time. Sadly, this would be Mechagodzilla's one and only appearance in the Heisei series, before he comes back for a couple more appearances in the Millenium series. While I think King Ghidorah will always be Godzilla's arch-rival, Mechagodzilla will always be a worthy challenger to that title. None more proof is needed than the higher quality of the films the robotic monster has starred in over the years.
Recommend? Yes. This Godzilla film is well worth your time.
Gonna Fly Now
Rocky is directed by John G. Avildsen, written by Sylvester Stallone, and stars Stallone as the titular Rocky Balboa. The film also stars Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, and Carl Weathers. The film won the Oscars for Best Director and Best Editing, along with the Oscar for Best Picture.
The 1976 sleeper hit Rocky is one of the most iconic sports films ever made, and is considerably the best film of Sylvester Stallone's acting, directing, and writing career. Shot over the course of just 28 days, with Stallone writing the first draft of the script in only three days, it's still pretty amazing to believe that a movie made in such little time and with seemingly no expectations could somehow end up with the most coveted Oscar of them all. Rocky remains as influential and feel-good today as it did back in 1976, with a sprawling franchise that is still punching and kicking with the two (and counting) recent Creed films. At this rate, the Rocky/Creed franchise is going to keep going until either Sylvester Stallone seizes total control of the rights and shuts down the franchise for good, or the box office results flame out so hard, that no one will want to hear the name 'Rocky' in a movie ever again. Whatever the case, Stallone has cemented his film making legacy, and will always be remembered as the underdog boxer who got a shot at the world heavyweight title.
This is one of those films, where, unless by some miracle you have not seen it or, unless by some even greater miracle you have never heard of Rocky, I don't feel the urge to really give a plot summary. Plot: that's something Rocky isn't all that concerned about, although I'd be lying if I didn't say that Rocky certainly has something resembling a plot. If we want to talk about the plot of Rocky, then we should talk about how much of a non-sports plot it really is. Outside of the big title bout at the very end, Rocky doesn't offer too many scenes where we see Rocky or someone else actually box, and why should it? If much of the film was composed of Rocky training montages and monologues of, "this fight has some greater meaning", it would be almost impossible for the film to distinguish itself from other, cliched sports films. One of the main reasons so many sports films try to be like Rocky and fail is because they fail to realize that less is more: the less trite, sentimental sports moments, the better.
- Everything about how Rocky succeeds as a sports film by having a non-sports plot ties back to an astounding screenwriting effort. I would say 'effort by Stallone' but even though Stallone got solo credit for the screenplay, word is is that the first draft that Stallone completed in three days went through multiple rewrites. Perhaps the better way to say it is an astounding screenwriting platform by Stallone, which then got however many patch-ups it needed before John G. Avildsen brought it to life. Anyway, Rocky spends most of its time focusing on Rocky Balboa, the human, and not Rocky Balboa, the boxer. The screenplay doesn't want to show us Rocky in the ring, unless it believes it has earned the right to show Rocky with the gloves on. In reality, there are only two scenes where Rocky is actually boxing another opponent. The first is in the opening scene, and that's because the movie is simply introducing us to Rocky. The second is the fight with Apollo Creed, which the movie has been building to for the better part of two hours.
Between these two fights, we watch Rocky work his day-to-day job as a debt collector for a loan shark, helping kids stay out of trouble, and build a relationship with the shy, pet store worker Adrian. These scenes are treated with a careful and caring human touch, which is why not a single one of them is boring. All these scenes serve the purpose of what the screenplay is trying to do most of all: have us care about the man who is fighting in the ring. It seems so simple, and yet, Rocky is so effective with accomplishing this task. The final fight is so much more intriguing because of what the movie has worked towards, what it made us want to feel for the Italian Stallion.
- It's not only the screenplay: Sylvester Stallone brings such a charming, down-to-Earth persona to the title role, that you easily fall in love with Rocky as a character. He's a hulking fighter with a heart of gold, and Stallone is the perfect fit. Stallone has never made a career out of other-worldly acting performances, but don't listen to anyone who tries to tell you that Stallone can't act. This film, and Stallone's performance as an elderly Rocky in Creed -both of which earned him a nomination for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively- are living proof that Stallone is capable of great acting. The role of Rocky is where Stallone has made the best of both worlds: his hulking frame and his charming, humble demeanor. The vast majority of Stallone's filmography has been about him showing off his hulking frame: Rambo, The Expendables, Cliffhanger, Cop Land, etc. so it's understandable why many would view him as another Arnold Schwarzenegger or Hulk Hogan. I'll say it again, though: Stallone can act, and when given the right role, he is damn good at it.
- I shouldn't get carried away with lauding the screenplay, because it does come up short in regards to a few characters, which negatively impacts the movie as a whole. Adrian's brother Paulie and Rocky's trainer, Mickey Goldmill, are developed as if they are both going to have something major to contribute to the film: Paulie is portrayed as a drinker who verbally abuses Adrian and gives in to emotional outbursts. Mickey manages the gym that Rocky trains in, but gives Rocky's long-time locker to someone else because he saw great potential in Rocky, and was angry that Rocky never capitalized on it. After hearing that Rocky was getting a fight with Apollo Creed, he approaches Rocky, asking to be his manager. Both Paulie and Mickey are given promising direction. Unfortunately, the movie loses track of what exactly it wants to do with both of them, as they end up just being on the sidelines supporting Rocky, without any sense of closure. What was the point of Paulie being a drunkard and having a bad temper? Was there supposed to be some kind of redemption for Mickey? It shouldn't matter how much more we get to see of Paulie and Mickey in the Rocky sequels: there should be some kind of beginning, middle, end arc for the two of them in this film, and I'm hard-pressed to say that either of them have one.
So the other way I would describe the low point is that Rocky struggles with its supporting characters, but hey, the film is called Rocky, because that's the man we should care the most about when all is said and done. Unlike many other sports films, Rocky spends most of its time developing and focusing on who exactly is the man that is boxing inside the ring, quarterbacking the football team, or pitching in the baseball game. We don't need endless victory montages nor any sappy monologues to understand that Rocky is a good fighter. The fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed at the end is so engaging is because the movie spent the better part of two hours showing us Rocky the man. The sports action will take care of itself.
It sounds strange, I know, but the reason Rocky works so well as a sports film is because of how un-sports like of a film it is. There's not a whole lot of actual boxing in the film, but there doesn't need to be. With careful direction from John G. Avildsen, a stand-out lead performance from Sylvester Stallone, and a screenplay that hits many, if not all, the right punches, Rocky hasn't lost an ounce of its charm, its heart, or its inspiration nearly forty five years later. It's the type of underdog, rags-to-riches story that every underdog, rags-to-riches story should strive to be like. It's also the type of sports film that every sports film should strive to be like: the focus is on the person/the people and not the gameplay. It worked back in 1976; it can work today. Thrilling sports action comes and goes, but charming, memorable characters last forever.
Recommend? Yes. While not entirely flawless, it's a sports film definitely worth your time.
Toys R Us
Toy Story 4 is directed by Josh Cooley and stars the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, and Joan Cusack.
Toy Story 3 was about as perfect of an ending to the once-believed-to-be trilogy of Toy Story. By all means: Pixar could have ended things right then and there for one of the most beloved animated film series in existence, and no one would question if there was still a part of the story left untold. We would all happily go on with our lives, fully content with how it all worked out: each film in the trilogy was Pixar at their very best, the first one forever being a watershed moment in animated film history.. Then came the news in November 2014: a fourth Toy Story film was being made. Needless to say, the reactions and speculation in the years leading up to the film's 2019 release were mixed. Should we be super excited that we would get one more chance to watch our favorite animated toys Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Hamm, Rex, Slinky Dog, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, etc. on the big screen, going on another wacky, hilarious adventure? Or should we be skeptical that Pixar was going to run the risk of tainting what would have been a perfect trilogy? All the big-name voice actors were returning, and infamous Pixar director John Lasseter had a hand in the story's conception, so, at the very least, there was promise that Pixar would find a way to deliver yet again.
Whether you want to consider it a surprise or to consider it no surprise at all, Toy Story 4 hit theaters to massive critical acclaim, and looks to be a pleasant success at the box office too (if not a total smash hit). I myself walked away very impressed, not just in how Pixar was able to put together something that we can easily call a worthy follow-up to the most perfect trilogy closer in Toy Story 3, but in how Pixar was able to find even more precious, memorable story-telling with these characters, when it seemed like the previous three films had exhausted every worthy theme imaginable for a premise that deals with the relationship between kids and their toys. The thing is, Toy Story 4 alters the story-telling to being not so much about how meaningful a toy can be to his or her kid, but towards a more inward look at the toys themselves, and how they view their own purpose in a world where they only come alive when their human companions aren't around.
The film takes place two years after Andy donated all his childhood toys to the young girl Bonnie. Woody and his pals are enjoying their new home alongside Bonnie's other toys. However, Bonnie starts to use Woody less and less during her play time, and she is about to start kindergarten. While the toys worry that Bonnie will be overwhelmed and won't make any friends in kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to accompany her during her orientation. At the orientation, Bonnie uses a spork from the trash along with some arts and crafts supplies to make a new toy: Forky (Tom Hale). Forky comes to life, but believes he belongs in the trash, causing headaches for Woody as he tries to keep Forky from running away during Bonnie's family road trip. While on the road one night, Forky throws himself out a window, and Woody follows him. The two wind up at an Antique Store, where they come into contact with a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). Gabby Gabby notices Woody's voice box, revealing that she wants to take it and replace her own, broken voice box. Woody manages to escape Gabby Gabby and her ventriloquist dummies, but Forky gets left behind. Not to worry: Woody reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who has been living a free lifestyle ever since Andy's younger sister gave her away years ago.
The return of Bo Peep is no kind of spoiler; the only way her return could surprise you is if you went into the movie having not seen any posters or seen any of the trailers. Of course, there's also the opening flashback scene that shows us Bo Peep being given away, which should automatically tell you that she is going to resurface later on in the movie. So taking all that into account, let's just say that Toy Story 4 does not care at all to try and surprise you with Bo Peep coming back. What you may not expect at first is that Bo Peep turns out to be quite important to the narrative, and not just coming back for the sake of fan service. Her presence creates a fine line that introduces the idea of toys craving possession to their child owners versus toys that no longer have that desire to be played with, wishing to live life on the outside. It's this fine line where Toy Story 4's narrative is at its peak, which, without spoiling any specifics, Pixar executes on gracefully without a hint of cynicism.
- Disney and Pixar's animation has reached such an advanced state and has been firmly established for years as the animation paragon, that it's just utterly pointless now to continue lauding the animation of their feature films. The animation is so impressive that it has basically become a form of photorealism, backgrounds and textures looking like something that was shot in live action. No, really, what is there to say?
- All the Toy Story films have wonderful voice casts and colorful groups of characters, and I took a special liking to the particular group of characters in this film. Not a single new character in the film, whether it's Forky or Gabby Gabby, came off as annoying or useless, the screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton doing an impressive job of fleshing out enough of these new characters' personalities and motivations in a 100 minute span. Each Toy Story has been impressive in the way they've each had a memorable villain, and Gabby Gabby, although I use the word villain lightly, is no exception. Her and Forky fit right into the film's narrative concerning a toy's internal dilemma, with Gabby Gabby wanting to take Woody's voice box so that she can no longer be a "broken" toy, while Forky struggles to understand that, while he was made from pieces and parts that were thrown away in the trash, he should not think of himself as trash. The other thing that made these characters more memorable to me is the passionate voice performances by Christina Hendricks and Tom Hale. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and all the returning veterans are great as usual, but Hendricks and Hale are so invested in their respective performances, that their charm permeates across the entire frame, whenever their characters are talking. Hendricks and Hale obviously benefit the most because they are brand new voices to the franchise, but it's the kind of fresh life blood that prevents Toy Story 4 from seeming like more of the same. It's new characters that we can fully get behind, both from a voice acting and screenwriting perspective.
- I wish I could have the same high praise for other characters in the film as I do for Gabby Gabby and Forky. Poor Buzz Lightyear is reduced to supporting character, with the likes of Jessie, Hamm, the Potato Heads, Rex, and Slinky Dog all given next to nothing to do during the entire film. That's just the unfortunate reality when you gather so many different, notable characters together in the same environment: at least a few of them are going to take a backseat. I normally would be forgiving, but I couldn't help but feel irked by what the movie does with Buzz, mostly because of how Buzz was so integral to the plots of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. How could Buzz Lightyear, arguably Woody's equal in this franchise, could get knocked down to a mere supporting role? To be fair, Buzz isn't completely irrelevant, but the problem is that every meaningful thing he does in the film is not given the time nor the attention it deserves. Retrieving a lost key? Nah, we'll just have the person place the key down right next to Buzz, for the sake of a joke. He doesn't need to fly through the air and do some crazy stunt to get the key. Buzz does no kind of clashing with Woody; whatever Woody proposes, Buzz agrees to it. Just because the two are best friends doesn't mean we can't stop having any sort of conflict between them. I think something that could drive the plot like a heated disagreement between Woody and Buzz would've been very interesting to see. And while we're at it, we could have Jessie, Hamm, and the others all try to do something on their own, something to make this wacky adventure even more crazy. I'm not asking for too much, am I?
The anticipation leading up to Toy Story 4's release was one of the weirdest ones in recent memory. Were we supposed to be excited or skeptical that Pixar had the audacity to say, "Oh no, Toy Story 3 wasn't the end, despite the fact that it very could have and should have been the end." Whether you were excited or skeptical (or both), the decision turned out to be a successful one. Toy Story 4 achieves the seemingly impossible feat of being a worthy follow-up to one of the most pitch perfect trilogy endings in Toy Story 3, loaded with plenty of humor and heart that is perfectly suitable for people of all ages. Christina Hendricks and Tom Hale are superb in the way they bring the franchise's new characters to life, although several veterans like Buzz and Jessie are unfortunately shoved to the sidelines without much to say or do. Regardless, this is still great stuff by Pixar, and it's exciting to hear that now they want to focus on getting back to making more original works, because making non-stop sequels can only work for so long. As for the Toy Story franchise, Toy Story 4 surely will be the final film, at least, that's what we'll all be thinking for the foreseeable future. I highly doubt a Toy Story 5 will ever happen, but in this day and age, you can't rule out any conceivable film idea. Who knows? Maybe a Toy Story 5 will happen one day, and we'll watch it, love it, and think to ourselves, "How does Pixar keep doing it with these characters?" We've known and loved these toy characters for almost twenty five years now. They set the example for what computer animation could be way back in 1995, and for that, we'll always remember them. Instead of being upset that the franchise didn't end with Toy Story 3, Pixar fans should be grateful that these toy characters have continued to hold up, even all these years later.
Recommend? Yes.Be sure to have seen the previous three films.
Escape Room is directed by Adam Robitel and stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani.
Escape Room is something of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Over the course of the film's 100 minutes, you can get a good idea of what kind of picture the movie is trying to create. The only trouble is: it's a picture that is still missing several parts by the time the end credits start to roll. The poster, consisting of Taylor Russell's jigsaw face with some pieces missing, is about as appropriate (albeit unintentional) of a visual as you can get. I didn't catch the film when it first hit theaters back at the very start of 2019, and now that I've seen it several months later, it doesn't appear that I missed all that much. Here we have the fourth directorial feature of Adam Robitel, the same director behind Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Insidious: The Last Key, so you were excused from going into Escape Room with anything resembling expectations. While Escape Room is easily the best of Robitel's three latest directorial outings, it doesn't mean the film is any sort of work of art.
The film takes place in Chicago and tells the story of a group of people who are each invited to the Minos Escape Room Facility for a chance to win $10,000. The people invited are genius college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), grocery store worker Ben (Logan Miller), Iraq veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), daytrader Jason (Jay Ellis), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), and escape room veteran Danny (Nik Dodani). The group gathers in the facility's waiting room, but quickly discovers they are trapped inside. This is no ordinary escape room: this escape room means death, unless the players are able to find all the clues and advance.
Not a very deep film by any means. Escape Room doesn't care one iota for giving its mashup of cliched characters some semblance of charm, except maybe for Amanda, whose backstory on fighting in Iraq and being traumatized by her war experiences is at least something to grab on to. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik is concocted with the mindset of showing us what sort of personalities would be fun to watch in an escape room setting, and not first showing us a person, and then developing the person in a way such that putting the character in an escape room makes sense. Take Zoey for example: the screenplay wastes no time in telling us that Zoey is super smart. All well and good, except the screenplay never bothers to do anything else with Zoey's supreme intelligence, other than let her be the genius that figures everything out, thereby diminishing the relevance of the other characters, as well as destroying anything resembling suspense. If Schut and Melnik had told us that Zoey was a genius, and then do something in addition to that such as flesh out the idea that Zoey is uncomfortable with being put on the spot and/or that she struggles under pressure, then the movie would have something interesting to work with. But no: to Robitel, Scut, and Melnik, it's all about what happens inside each escape room, and they couldn't care less how flimsy the characters they put into the escape rooms are.
- When it comes to the actual escape rooms, they are all pretty fun and show at least a few ounces of creativity. From opening doors to finding keys to avoiding untimely death, Escape Room always manages to keep each new room totally fresh, offering up various puzzles so that no two rooms play out exactly the same. Some of the escape rooms are also pretty impressive when it comes to visual and production design, my personal favorite being a black and white room in which two characters go into a psychedelic daze. Boring is definitely something the movie is not, and that's largely because the movie also strives to be kind of an interactive experience, in that you want to solve the puzzles yourself, and you can feel all smug by figuring out the puzzles before the characters in the movie do. I wouldn't say the puzzles are the most challenging ones you'll ever find, and the movie never makes it clear if it's ramping up the difficulty as the players move from one room to the next. All in all, there's fun to be had, and that's what mattered most to Sony and the filmmakers involved.
- So I already mentioned the wasted opportunities that Escape Room had when it came to its characters, but that's nowhere near as bad as the film's final twenty-ish minutes, where things really go downhill. The worst crime of all is how lackluster of a job the movie does in communicating its main ideas, which come almost smack-dab out of nowhere and not like anything the movie was building up to. The plot goes from escape room to escape room, but hardly without any subtle hints towards who's the main villain and what this whole predicament was about. When we finally learn what the perilous escape rooms were all about, the message comes in the form of a rushed monologue that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and instead of giving you time to process what you just learned, the movie bolts it way towards its ending, which is as on the nose about setting up a sequel as is Alita: Battle Angel's ending. Is this a new thing that started in late 2018 and early 2019: movies ending by screaming, "We are planning for a sequel!" straight to your face? I saw it in the 2018 Robin Hood, Alita: Battle Angel, and now in Escape Room. What other 2019 films are going to do this?
Sure enough, Escape Room has a sequel scheduled for release in August of 2020, and chances are pretty good I won't be there to see it. The movie is kind of fun with all its different, interesting escape rooms, but the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik leaves so much more to be desired, mostly in its half-baked characters and in its lack of execution when it comes to main ideas. I'm a huge lover of puzzles, and I've done several escape rooms in my own life that I can speak for how fun they can be, so I was pretty intrigued when I first heard about a movie in which it takes escape rooms and adds the extra layer that, if you fail to escape, you die. Unfortunately, the movie settles for the safe PG-13 route, with little to no blood and gore. At least this movie could be something of a fun spin on the Saw franchise, but no, Sony loves their PG-13 rating for movies that clearly should be rated R (*cough cough* Venom *cough cough*). But anyway, Escape Room is still completely watchable, which is enough to keep me from knocking it down too hard. It may not be a very complex puzzle, but it's still a puzzle you can enjoy doing and not feel like you're wasting your time.
Recommend? Only as a good time-waster on a free weeknight or slow weekend.
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: