REVIEW: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

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Simply put, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The film does have a few flaws, but the last act is some of the best Star Wars you’ll see and some of the most exciting action in the saga’s illustrious 40 year history. It feels far more like a Star Wars film than J.J. Abrams’ weak and disappointing Force Awakens. Film is a prequel that tells the story of The Rebellion’s discovery that The Empire is building a super weapon that we fans will come to know and love as The Death Star. The film traces the efforts to get to a key scientist, Gaylen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is reluctantly working on the project and has warned them of it’s creation. They do this by tracking down and freeing his rebellious daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) from an imperial prison and sending her on a mission with a rag tag group of rebels to find him and discover a weakness in this weapon of mass destruction. Circumstances then lead Jyn and company to go against rebel command orders and infiltrate an imperial outpost and steal the plans for this planet killer, all the while with the Death Star’s project director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in hot pursuit.

Flick is well directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) who brings far more of a Star Wars feel to this than the mediocre Force Awakens, even with it’s darker and edgier tone and new characters. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy creates a story about incidents mentioned briefly in a few of the previous flicks, yet integral to A New Hope’s classic climax ever occurring. The story also gives us the opportunity to revisit some familiar faces, such as Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), an incredible CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton) and Darth Vader himself (James Earl Jones returns to voice while Spencer Wilding wears the suit), aside from creating a group of new and very endearing characters such as Jyn, rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), smart aleck robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Hong Kong cinema legend Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, who is like a Shaolin Monk who follows The Force. And it’s these endearing new faces that give Rogue One some nice emotional depth that the series hasn’t had in quite some time. The film also takes us to new places that actually look like alien worlds unlike Force Awakens’ dull settings and the action is fast and furious, especially in the amazing last act. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the first half sometimes appears a bit choppy and rushed as it races to the spectacular second half, but the climax is so exciting that you can forgive a slightly uneven start. And that’s what makes this work so well and where director Edwards really shines, is that he makes the last act so incredibly suspenseful, even though we know it’s outcome, as this is a set-up for the climax of Episode IV after all. But we like this motley band of rebels so much and the action presented so well, that we are on the edge of our seats rooting for them as they go up against incredible odds by entering a hornets nest to retrieve those now legendary Death Star plans. The film has one of the most effecting endings of any Star Wars film and leaves us at a point that will have fans in Force induced elation, while leaving not a dry eye in the theater. The SPFX representing this story are impeccable, in recreating ships and places both familiar and new and Michael Giacchino gives us an original score which still evokes a Star Wars film, even without the magnificent work of maestro John Williams.

Character-wise, the film is filled with endearing new additions to the series canon, with Felicity Jones carrying the film well on her petite shoulders as Jyn. She is a true heroine in the Star Wars mold, strong, rebellious and intelligent and Jones really makes her memorable and proves herself quite an action hero and a certified star. Diego Luna is likable as Captain Cassian Andor, rebel intelligence officer and the man sent to command this desperate mission. He isn’t quite as strong as his leading lady and does get overshadowed by she and some of the supporting cast, such as Donnie Yen, who is a delight as the scene stealing Chirrut Îmwe and his compatriot Baze Malbus, a mercenary played with charisma by Jiang Wang. Mendelsohn also makes a great bad guy and his leering menace makes him a good fit along with Vader and Tarkin, who he holds his own with. A strong villain always makes a flick like this work better and Krennic is a good villain. If any character is underdeveloped and weak it’s Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, a warrior and friend of Gaylen Erso, who has an air of nobility and mystery, but we never really get to know him very well before the character is left behind in the action. It’s a shame, as he was intriguing and Whitaker was good in a different role for the versatile actor. As for Mikkelsen, his Gaylen Erso has brief screen time, but the actor makes an impression as he always does…and let’s not forget the voice work of the talented Alan Tudyk as smart-ass droid K-2SO.

A few flaws early on in the pacing and flow of the film aside, this is simply one of the best of the Star Wars films. True it’s not technically part of the main series, but it’s a spin-off that carries the best of what this series is so beloved for. It has noble heroes, spectacular action, vile villains and a wonderful sense of nostalgia that The Force Awaken’s just didn’t have. It has a strong Star Wars feel, despite a darken and edgier tone and a last act that is simply some of the best action and suspense this series has yet to offer. It gives us some great new characters, while presenting the return of some classic characters, both expected and not. We are treated to a story that sets a major part of Episode IV in motion and leaves us at a truly euphoric moment in Star Wars history, even after giving us a sequence that will leave nary a dry eye in the house. One of the best films of 2016 and one of the best films of the entire Star Wars series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Death Stars.

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BARE BONES: MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT and CHALET GIRL

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MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT (2014)

Sequel to Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards’ Monsters takes place years after the first film with the monsters spreading to the Middle East. As the U.S. military attempts to eradicate the creatures, the heavy bombing of Arab cities has not only produced a lot of civilian casualties but, a rising anger towards American troops and a growing and dangerous insurgency. The film focuses on a group of soldiers from Detroit whose squad goes deep in enemy territory to find some missing troops. They face danger on all sides as they are surrounded by monsters and insurgents alike. Sequel is actually not a bad movie though, it is a very somber and bleak one. It focuses on the human element much like Edwards’ first film and presents a seemingly hopeless situation as the monsters are spreading and so is the division between those trying to stop them. It raises questions about U.S. involvement in Middle East affairs while presenting a fairly engaging film about troops being overwhelmed by the horror of war both on the human and inhuman fronts. Definitely about 10-15 minutes too long but, actually far better than expected from some heavily unfavorable early word. Film is written by Jay Basu and competently directed by Tom Green.

3 star rating

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CHALET GIRL (2011)

A really engaging cast elevates this routine British romantic comedy about skater girl Kim (an endearing and adorable Felicity Jones) who becomes a chalet girl in the Austrian Alps to help support her out of work, widower father (Bill Bailey). There she finds friends, love and her inner ski boarding champion amongst the rich vacationers and the free-spirts who work for them. The flick is harmless and fun and actually very energetic as directed by Phil Traill from Tom Williams script. But, it is a top-notch cast including Brooke Shields, Ed Westwick, Sophia Bush and the incomparable Bill Nighy, the really gives this a heavy dose of charm. It’s harmless and cute and never takes itself too seriously and the fun the cast appear to be having making it…no more evident than the outtakes during the credits that illustrate the actors’ camaraderie…translates to the screen. A very enjoyable little movie that is a lot of fun and has a cast that lifts it above it’s familiar trappings.

3 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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COOL STUFF: GODZILLA 2014 on BLU-RAY

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GODZILLA 2014 Blu-Ray

I liked Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot (see full review here) but, I didn’t love it like the Godzilla fan in me wanted to. It split audiences and fans alike but, did fairly well at the box office, especially overseas… but, is it worth owning? if you like the film, I’d say yes.

Obviously, as with most HD releases of these Hollywood blockbusters, the picture looks great… though the night scenes seemed a tad too dark… and the colors are rich and sharp. Gareth Edwards has a nice visual eye and so, the shots all look good and the King Of  The Monsters does look quite majestic when he finally is on screen… more on that later. The sound is really good, though I don’t have a top of the line sound system so, I can’t comment on the maximum effect as it may be enjoyed by someone who has the full 7.1 set-up. But, I think it should sound splendid.

The movie aside… extras are a mixed bag with there being three featurettes focusing on Monarch and the M.U.T.O. cover-up conspiracy in the Monarch Declassified section. These are thankfully short as they are only moderately interesting and get repetitive when you watch them together. The extras recover with a lot of cool stuff in the Legendary Godzilla section which has 4 behind the scenes features on the making of the film with a lot of interviews and production footage that takes you deep into the creation of the movie and it’s monsters. As for Godzilla’s limited screen time… told you I’d get to that… You get to hear Gareth Edwards explain his reasoning for Godzilla’s significantly limited appearance in his own movie, as well as, the cutaways from the action that many found frustrating. I can’t guarantee you’ll agree with his methods and reasoning, but, he does explain himself. Over all, this segment more than makes up for the lackluster Monarch section though, I was still disappointed that there were no deleted scenes or gag real.

So, If you liked this movie, the disc is definitely worth owning. The movie looks and sounds great and the extras may be uneven when viewed separately but, even out as a whole. It is a fun movie and entertains well enough though, not the ultimate screen appearance of Godzilla that his many fans, like myself, were hoping for.

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REVIEW: GODZILLA (2014)

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GODZILLA (2014)

HARD TO REVIEW THIS WITHOUT SOME DETAILS SO, THERE MIGHT BE SOME VERY MINOR SPOILERS HERE, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. 

I have been a Godzilla fan since seeing my first Godzilla flick… Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster… on TV in the late 60s. And one of the things I have always wanted to see was a big budget Godzilla with all the bells and whistles that come with it. After being horribly disappointed by shlockmeister Roland Emmerich’s awful attempt in 1998, I was really looking forward to this new reboot attempt by Monsters director Gareth Edwards. And while the film has it’s flaws, I did enjoy the new Godzilla, maybe not as much as I’d hoped but, I did really like a lot of it and at least it was a Godzilla movie.

The film opens with footage from 1954 of a massive creature sighted in the South Pacific and the use of the H-Bomb in an effort to destroy it. This incident was obviously covered up by all governments involved and the beast thought dead. We then cut to 1999 with the discovery of a giant skeleton in an underground cavern in the Philippines and two mysterious egg sacks that are in proximity. One sack vacated, the other appears dormant. Across the Pacific in Japan, seismic disturbances are being monitored at a nuclear power plant emanating from the Philippines and drawing closer. Nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) fears the worst and his fears come true as the plant suffers a mysterious reactor breach and he barely escapes with his life, though his wife (Juliette Binoche) tragically does not. The area is then permanently quarantined. Now in 2014, Joe is still obsessed with finding the answers to what actually happened and it gets him in trouble bringing his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to Japan to bail him out. But, Joe is persistent and they soon find themselves back in the quarantined zone and incarcerated at the supposed dead reactor. Upon meeting a Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), they finally learn the horrifying truth. Something primordial and quite deadly… designated a M.U.T.O.-Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism… sleeps cocooned around the reactor feeding on it. And when the M.U.T.O. awakens and escapes before their eyes, Godzilla, the massive creature long thought destroyed in 1954, rises again from the Pacific ocean to hunt down the monstrous abomination and it’s even larger mate which has been laying dormant and hidden by the U.S. government in the Nevada desert… with the world hanging in the balance as the three are destined to collide.

I’ll get the negatives out of the way first…The thing that really holds Godzilla back from being the monster masterpiece I have always dreamed of, is the same problem that left me a little cold to Edwards’ first flick… his human characters and drama is weak. It is the same here. I was never bored and I really liked the way Max Borenstein’s script cleverly updated the mythos… though I was not really sold on Serizawa’s insistence that the M.U.T.O.’s awakening would draw Godzilla up from the depths to destroy them, how did he know this?… but, Edwards really doesn’t give the scenes of human drama the strength it needed to rivet us till Godzilla and Mr. and Mrs. M.U.T.O. have their triple threat match in San Francisco. The characters were fine but, weren’t really endearing. Maybe they were a little too down to earth and low key. Except for Cranston’s Joe Brody, no one else seems all that shocked or emotionally distressed that there are now three massive creatures stalking the earth and two are ready to repopulate the planet. Edwards handles much of the film well and has a great visual style but, he needs to get more life out of his cast and add more impact and intensity to the proceedings, Other minor gripes include the relative confidence that the military has that Godzilla is an ally or at least not a immediate threat. Having never faced a creature like this, they seem to be fairly unconcerned with his appearance and it does neuter his badass persona a bit till we get to see him in action. And once Godzilla makes his big entrance, which Edwards does make us wait till the second act for, his first encounter with the male M.U.T.O. is relayed mostly from news footage after the battle is over. We could have used an opening bout to get the audience warmed up for the main event. And finally the hands down weakest part of the film is Alexandre Desplat’s completely generic score. It really is underwhelming and a far stronger score could have helped pick up some of the weaker moments and add even more strength to the stuff that really worked.

Now to the good stuff. First off, unlike the 1998 joke, this is a Godzilla movie. And as with Edward’s Monsters, Godzilla really comes to life when the creatures are on screen. The film is visually spectacular and while I understand Edwards using a slow burn to build the anticipation, he could have given us a few more minutes on some of the earlier monster action scenes because, they really rock and needed more time to resonate. I wish his humans had the personality of his beasties. The thing that really won me over with this flick is the monster stuff and the massive throw-down that takes up the last act of the film. Here we get what we came for and in the last act, I was glued to my kaiju loving chair as San Francisco is laid to utter waste as Godzilla does what the does best in all his atomic fire breathing glory. The battle is massive and the SPFX are top notch as three colossal animals fight tooth and nail between, over and through the buildings of one of America’s most beautiful cities. It was as epic as I’d hoped for and made up a lot for the first 90 minutes not having the impact to make this a real crowd pleaser. Godzilla is excellently rendered and has a lot of personality despite not a lot of screen time… though I just watched the original Gojira and he really isn’t onscreen much in that either and it also takes him an hour to show up in the 1991 Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah so, it’s not the first time he’s made us wait. The M.U.T.O.’s are dangerous and threatening and ooze malice and it adds to their creepiness and effectiveness when they coordinate their attack on the Big G and act as a vicious unit. And the throw-down does get vicious. Their design evokes some classic kaiju but, are still unique enough to be fresh. And the last act battle with Godzilla was worth the price of admission alone.

As for the cast, obviously they all could have used a little life from Edwards. Cranston is the only one that knows what to do and gives his character some passion and fire. He plays a man obsessed but, not crazy, very well. Taylor-Johnson is OK. I didn’t mind him as much as some early word indicated but, he could have simply emoted more like he really was concerned that this wife and child were at the center of a monster mosh pit. He was much livelier in Kick-Ass and hopefully Joss Whedon gets some more out of him in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Same can be said for Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife, Elle. I have seen her give strong performances especially in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Here she plays the long suffering wife and isn’t required to really do much but, look upset and scared. An underuse of a talented actress. Ken Watanabe is fine but, again, could have used a little passion in his performance. His Serizawa has a lot of exposition and he sometimes seems a bit distant, when his scientist should be more excited/frightened about what is transpiring. Rounding out the main cast is David Strathairn as a navy admiral who is another character that is way too calm and confident despite that giant monsters actually exist and are wrecking some of our most famous landmarks while ignoring military firepower. Again, Edwards needing to inspire his actors to perform with more urgency to get the audience to feel more excited/frightened about what is occuring. It is the emotions of the characters that provoke the audience into sharing in their feelings and the audience I was with was pretty quiet throughout… though seemed to generally like it, once it was over.

So, overall Godzilla is dramatically weak early on, though I did like the story, but, more then makes up for a lot of that with a truly spectacular monster battle last act that is as visually stunning as it is exciting. I only wish the human drama came close, then this would have been an Avengers level entertainment. I did really enjoy Godzilla. It had enough interesting ideas, a larger scale then any other Godzilla production and a unique approach to a monster flick. And when it finally delivered, it delivered big. I’d like to see Gareth Edwards tackle a sequel but, this time don’t hold back on the monsters and give your drama a bit more juice and inspire your cast to emote stronger. I still recommend it highly but, just turn down the expectations a few notches and you should enjoy it. A fun summer flick though I was hoping for more.

A generous 3 and 1/2 Godzillas because I got to see the monster throw-down I always wanted to and Godzilla himself was epic.

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EMPIRE MAGAZINE GIVES US THE BEST LOOK AT THE NEW GODZILLA YET!

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Empire magazine gives us our best look yet at the new Godzilla design from Gareth Edwards upcoming monster mash which opens on May 16th 2014! High hopes a new trailer will arrive soon!

UPDATE: Click on this link to hear the new version of his classic  roar…  https://soundcloud.com/godzillamovie/roar

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UPDATE 2: The voice of Bryan Cranston hints at a possible new trailer tomorrow…

Source: CBM/Empireonline.com

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