REVIEW: GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Sequel takes place five years after the events of Godzilla 2014 with Godzilla keeping a low profile and being monitored diligently by the Monarch organization. Other creatures, or “Titans” have been discovered across the globe and the military wants them all destroyed, while Monarch believes they represent a balance in nature. Eco-terrorist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) feels the Titans should all be freed to restore that balance and plans to steal the Orca…a device capable of communicating with, and possibly controlling the monsters…to accomplish this. He kidnaps Orca creator Dr. Emma Russell (Verga Farmiga), her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her invention and thus sends Monarch and Emma’s estranged husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) in hot pursuit. But Jonah gets more than he bargained for, when he uses it to release the three-headed space monster Ghidorah from his icy prison and the beast challenges Godzilla for the title of King of the Monsters. Add in the Queen of the Monsters Mothra and the fire demon Rodan and earth soon becomes a monster sized war zone.

Trick r Treat director Michael Dougherty takes over from Gareth Edwards and seems to have a far better grasp of the material. He also does script duties along with Zach Shields, from a story by they and Max Borenstein. What we get is far closer to a Toho Godzilla film than the 2014 flick and one that is a lot more fun. Sure the plot is a bit goofy, but no goofier than an alien race building a robot Godzilla or a creature created completely from pollution. It’s filled not only with tons of fun references to Godzilla flicks of the past, but we get all the traditional story elements like devious villains, stalwart scientists, brave military types and a smarter than the adults kid. Not only are all the tropes proudly paraded out for those familiar with the series, but it has some of the most spectacular monster battles ever presented, as Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra all converge to duke it out and destroy everything in their paths. The final showdown in the city of Boston is absolutely amazing and Yankee fans might even get a giggle over Godzilla and Ghidorah throwing down in the middle of Fenway Park. It’s also a true popcorn blockbuster, so even those not too familiar with the Big G and his 65 year history, can still enjoy the flick on a purely entertainment spectacle level and monstrously entertaining it is. Not to mention, the film’s final image is something every Godzilla fan has wanted to see from day one. On a technical level, the SPFX are amazing, the monsters are truly titanic and majestic and their destruction is on a totally massive scale. The score by Bear McCreary is far more fitting than Alexandre Desplat’s ho-hum score for Zilla 2014 and delightfully mixes in some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla themes to add a nice touch of nostalgia to the film.

The cast are good and all of them get the material. They play it seriously…but not too seriously. Leads Farminga, Chandler, Brown and Dance all do well in essaying their roles. Vera Farming as the scientist with a personal reason to get involved, is solid and helps us understand her decisions, even when they are the wrong ones. Chandler is fun as the father and husband trying to get his estranged family back. He’s a good lead and his old fashioned character fits this kind of movie well. Charles Dance is impeccable as ever as the villainous Alan Jonah, who like Thanos, thinks he is doing the right thing by trying to unleash these creatures. Millie Bobby Brown is especially endearing as Madison and in many ways is the emotional center of the flick. The supporting cast are all good, too, especially Ken Watanabe returning as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa and Zhang Ziyi playing Dr. Ilene Chen, a character who pays tribute to a familiar Mothra trope in a very fun and clever way. A good cast that even give some very corny dialogue a little dramatic weight.

Overall, this was a really fun and action packed sequel to a film widely criticized for skimping on the monster action. It has monster battles to spare, but still gives us some people time along with a very Toho-esque storyline. Michael Dougherty keeps the 132 minute flick moving very fast and pays loving tribute to the classic Godzilla flicks in some fun and very clever ways. Stay through the credits for not only an end credits scene, but for some amusing interwoven news items that echo what is to come. A gargantuan blast of a good time!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) King of the Monsters.

 

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BARE BONES: THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018)

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THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018)

Another flick bearing the Cloverfield name and while also not a direct sequel, it is better connected to the original Cloverfield…in ways I won’t spoil…than 10 Cloverfield Lane. This flick has a six person team on board an orbiting space station trying to prevent global war by initiating the Shepard Particle Accelerator and bringing unlimited energy to an Earth fighting over fossil fuel. The activation of the device causes a dimensional disturbance hurling the station across dimensions and space and endangering the world they set out to save.

Written by Oren Uziel and directed by Julius Onah, this is an OK sci-fi thriller. It has a few of it’s own ideas, but sadly would rather fall back on the clichés and familiar tropes of previous flicks. The effects of the dimensional disruption never seem to make sense, as they sometimes appear random and other times occur just at exactly the right…or wrong time. Basically they are just plot devices to hinder or help our beleaguered crew depending on the needs of the weak script. Sometimes they don’t make any sense at all, like a dismembered arm delivering a written message. It’s just silly, aside from being contrived. The cast handle their two-dimensional parts well enough, though it seems like a waste of talent for a few familiar faces. The FX and sets are top notch and while it is better connected to the original film, the previous installment in this universe was a far better movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE GRANDMASTER (2013) and IP MAN (2008)

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THE GRANDMASTER (2013)

I debated as whether to file The Grandmaster under the generic reviews section as I unfortunately saw the edited American 108 minute cut of the film and not the official Chinese version that runs 130 minutes. But it is still an Asian film and no Western footage added, just some removed…and while I am very much against editing foreign films for US release, upon watching this flick I can understand why they did it. Let me explain…

The Grandmaster is Wong Kar-wai’s telling of the story of Ip Man (Tony Leung), Grandmaster of Wing Chun style martial arts and the man who taught the legendary Bruce Lee. I don’t know enough about his story to tell how historically accurate the film is, but it traces his life in Foshan, which was renown for it’s martial arts, through the Japanese occupation in the late 30s to mid 40s and finally to his settling in Hong Kong, where he opened a school of martial arts. And while the movie is sumptuously photographed and has some beautifully choreographed fight scenes, it is also a tedious and self indulgent film even at 108 minutes. First problem is that the narrative, at least in the version I saw, is more like a series of vignettes than a complete film. The film only barely follows a traditional storyline and then an hour in, it jarringly shifts focus from Ip to Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) a female martial artist who once bested Ip in a friendly duel and has feelings for the married martial arts master. It flashes back to her feud and eventual duel with Northern rival Grandmaster Ma San (Zhang Jin) and stays with that till the last minutes where the focus returns to Ip Man in Hong Kong. The jumbled narrative makes it hard to become involved in the story and it doesn’t help that Wong Kar-wai has to present every other shot in slow motion, even during the non-fight scenes. It really slows the pace and just gets tiresome after a while. The same goes for the fights. The cinematography is beautiful and there are some gorgeous shots, but every other shot is either in slow motion…a close up of a shoe or drop of moisture falling…or a slow motion close up. The director’s overindulgence and over-stylizing brings even the martial arts sequences to a snail’s pace and removes any excitement from them. Also, there are a number of what you would consider key moments in Ip’s life that are presented as almost an afterthought, such as the death of Ip’s daughters due to the Japanese occupation and…the Japanese occupation. Again, I can’t tell if this is due to the editing by The Weinsteins or is Wong Kar-wai just not an effective a storyteller as he is at setting up his exquisite shots or filming things in slow motion.

He has a good cast, but for me, their performances were intense but flatlined. They convey the same emotions in each scene and while Leung and Ziyi are good actors, they never display the range they are normally capable of. It’s like the director wanted the characters to wallow in melodrama and thus the film overdoses on it and never does it draw us into their tales. Even when the characters are in a happier moment, they appear intense and sad. It overall makes for a tedious and meandering film despite the scenes of martial arts and Ip’s importance as a historical figure…and even when cut down to 108 minutes. And that’s why I hesitantly say, I don’t approve of The Weinsteins removing a good 20 minutes from the film, but I understand why they did it. The average American audience member reared on MTV and Michael Bay movies would have little patience for over 2 hours of slow pace and slow motion close ups. I understand, but still don’t agree with their cuts.

A beautifully filmed but tedious and over-stylized telling of the tale of a fascinating man’s life. I much prefer the Donnie Yen starrer Ip Man (review below) which is more of an action film that takes a lot of liberties with the story, but is entertaining and somehow conveys Ip Man’s historical importance a lot better and without being depressing and over indulgent.

2 and 1/2 throwing stars… a little slack cut for the beautiful cinematography and since I did not see the complete film.

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BONUS REVIEW

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IP MAN (2008)

Martial arts movie legend and real life martial arts master Donnie Yen really gets to show why he’s earned that status in this history-based flick and that, after so many years in film, he hasn’t lost a beat. Not only is this a feast for those who enjoy a good old-fashioned martial arts epic, but it is also an involving fact-based drama about real life Wing Chun martial arts Grandmaster Ip Man (Yen) among whose disciples is the legendary Bruce Lee himself. Wilson Yip’s action/drama focuses on the years during the Japanese occupation and mixes the action and drama perfectly as it portrays the efforts of the martial arts master to stand up to the Japanese invaders who are ravaging his land and abusing his people. We are given a strong villain in the Japanese, including their martial arts expert General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), who we know Ip will eventually face one on one, and Ip himself is a strong and valiant hero to root for. The production is lavish and takes us back to another time and place and Wilson Yip does a great job balancing all the elements nicely and evoking good performances from all the cast.

Yen is a likable and noble hero as Ip Man and is still awe inspiring to watch in his action scenes. Ikeuchi makes a strong and powerful villain who can be cruel, but does have an honorable streak. And we even get another Hong Kong cinema favorite Simon Yam as Ip’s best friend.

Sure this flick is more martial arts action-ere than historically accurate drama, but the movie is filled with exciting fight scenes…choreographed by yet another Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung…and is dramatically sound enough for you to become emotionally invested in the characters and the story, whether it is really just a fictional telling of the story of a historical figure or not. A fast-paced action flick based on real-life people and events that does what it sets out to do…entertain…and it does that very well. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer this fun martial arts version to The Grandmaster’s over-indulgent, arthouse telling any day. A really good martial arts flick with Yen at his best!

3 and 1/2 swords

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