Earlier tonight I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Godzilla, the new motion picture from Legendary and Warner Brothers. The film has a lot going for it and certainly does a fine job of erasing the memory of the horribly maligned 1998 Tristar take on the character. While the marketing for that film was much better, this movie has managed to be a bit deceptive in it’s marketing because it’s not nearly as visceral as the advertisements would have you believe. Godzilla the movie isn’t so much about the creature itself and it’s certainly not the “Gojira” remake that some of the promos seem to make it out to be.
Instead, Godzilla is largely a paint-by-numbers “Godzilla movie”, following the basic formula of a dozen or so other entries in the series. Of course, this time it’s with a bunch of Americans in the central roles and no invaders from Planet X, but you get the idea. Even the scenes in Tokyo, seem to be filled with more English speaking actors than not. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just very much catering to a Western audience.
Without going into specific plot points, it’s fair to say that Godzilla has to tangle with another monster, as has become a hallmark of the franchise. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where Godzilla doesn’t quite deliver as strongly as it should. The problem with this Godzilla movie is pretty much the same problem that every Godzilla movie has had… Not enough monster fighting.
The difference between this entry and other efforts, is that the monster fight potential here is huge but it’s largely squandered. We see lots of aftermath, but very little of the battles themselves. And for as much as the destruction is evident, we never really get that beauty shot of city smashing. At times it almost seems like Godzilla is a ninja, stealthy appearing out of nowhere, despite his increased size in this film. This is one shortcoming from director Gareth Edwards, who at times slavishly recreates the classic Godzilla style, but omits a few key parts that leave you feeling a bit like your prom date skipped out before the hotel.
The most heinous offense is when Edwards forgets to include the first monster skirmish about 40 minutes into the film to hold audiences over. Typically this sets up the climatic final battle, but here we’re teased with a first battle, only to have the film cut away to much less interesting human subplot. Sadly, this as with most of the films in this genre, is a bit of a letdown. He then repeats this a few times over.
Bryan Cranston puts in a pretty strong performance, but despite all the advertising, he’s not the main character of the film. The main family that becomes the focus of the film couldn’t be more uninteresting if they tried. On the plus side, at least it’s not Channing Tatum in the “hero” role. Ken Watanabe also does a fine job, but he’s given absolutely nothing to work with. It’s a shame, because his character could almost be interesting, but instead he’s mostly there to try and give the film a “message” and explain perfunctory dialogue. Continue reading
Directed by Don Mancini
Starring Fiona Dourif, Brad Dourif and Danielle Bisutti
Available on Blu-Ray, DVD and RedBox
I’m kind of an odd fan of the Child’s Play films. While I don’t own any Chucky merchandise, I can actually appreciate the films. I believe the first three Child’s Play movies are all quite good, which is rare for any slasher horror franchise. Bride of Chucky was an odd film, that came at a time when the modern horror movie monsters were dying off. Bride of Chucky reinvented Chucky and made him a bigger star than he had ever been before. It was a brilliant move by Don Mancini and it cemented Chucky among the top tier of slasher icons. Unfortunately it came at the cost of Chucky no longer being “scary”. Seed of Chucky followed and arguably should have been the death of the franchise. Seed played up on the elements that made Bride funny, but took them too far and ultimately ended up with a movie that was neither funny nor scary.
When Curse of Chucky was announced for direct-to-video, I didn’t put much stock into it. Seeing it released this past week, I decided to give it a watch. Some have called this a “soft reboot” but it’s definitely a direct sequel, actually tying this film to every one before it. Granted it doesn’t spend much time focusing on it, but it definitely is more tied to Child’s Play than the last few efforts. What’s so amazing about this movie, is that it manages to capture the spirit of the old Child’s Play movies and taps into some very scary other areas, without pretending the last two films didn’t exist. Don Mancini has done it again, reinventing Chucky back as that scary doll gave you nightmares in the early 80’s.
Fiona Dourif stars as Nica, a paraplegic girl who is frustrated with her life living under her mother’s care. Her mom appears to be a bit unbalanced and shortly after a mysterious package arrives containing a Good Guy doll, Nica’s mom falls to her death. Nica’s older sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) and her family arrive to help Nica with the funeral and slowly they begin to notice strange things happening with the doll. Of course, sure enough the doll is Chucky, who engages on a killing spree, turning the old home into a house of horrors.
What works so well in this film is that they don’t rush anything. We know from the moment that Chucky shows up that he’s a killer doll, but we barely see him move for a long time. This isn’t because there’s no budget like the recent Puppet Master films, but rather to create an atmosphere. It’s amazing that they’re able to do it, but they succeed. The acting is all quite good and the set helps play up the creepy aura of the movie.
For years Chucky was after Andy Barclay, so it’s easy to wonder why he would seek out this new family in Curse of Chucky, but thankfully all is explained in a rather well done backstory. Brad Dourif even gets some screen time reprising his role as Charles Lee Ray. Some of the story is a bit forced, but it works well enough and some flashbacks from the original Child’s Play film help set the scene. Dourif and his daughter both play their roles well, with Chucky causing menace to Nica on both a psychological and physical level.
I’ve heard complaints that the movie is slow, but trust me it doesn’t lack in gore. It builds up to a crescendo of violence that includes some of the most insane death sequences I’ve seen in any movie for quite some time. The kills are fun and unexpected at times. The special effects are also top notch for the death sequences, including some of the best fake heads that I’ve seen on film. Continue reading
It would seem we are in something of a Golden Age of superhero film. It seems like every other blockbuster is based on the exploits of a Marvel or DC Comics character, especially since 2008 when The Dark Knight was released and Iron Man began the march toward The Avengers. Conspicuous in his absence was the granddaddy of all superheroes, Superman. Though the first two Superman films are fondly remembered, the 2006 continuation Superman Returns fell flat and left the series in limbo. Now Man of Steel hopes to start an all new Superman film franchise. Is this a shiny new beginning for our oldest superhero, or another non-starter? Here are my mostly spoiler-free thoughts.
Man of Steel is very much Batman Begins for Superman, even relying on flashbacks to explain the backstory. This is not a slight against Man of Steel, the Superman story needed to be rebuilt from the ground up on film, just as Batman needed it. The choice of Zod as a villain is a bit interesting, because he is better known from the original films than he ever was in the comics. The sequel focused mindset dictates that Lex Luthor cannot be featured until movie #2 or #3 (though you are likely to spot some LexCorp logos throughout Metropolis).
The nonlinear exposition was actually refreshing for me, because I was prepared to sit through a full Smallville retread of the Superman origin. The prologue on Krypton at the start of the film does its best to reinvent the dying planet, but I found the execution a bit too Star Wars-prequelish. I say that as a fan of those movies, but the pure amount of CGI-candy, and action hero Jor-El, in that sequence gets to be a bit much. Continue reading
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Starring The Barbarian Brothers (Peter & David Paul), Michael Berryman, Eva La Rue
Available on VHS
I’ve gotten into a bit of a barbarian movie kick lately, so I thought I would revisit this movie from my youth. If you’ve never heard of the Barbarians, then consider yourself lucky. The Barbarians was a vehicle for the “Barbarian Brothers”, released in 1987 by Cannon films. Peter and David Paul, a couple of bodybuilders, were dubbed by someone as the “Barbarian Brothers” and somebody, somewhere thought they were going to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger multiplied by two. One would imagine that this was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Conan films, but barbarians in general were popular during the 1980’s, so it’s hard to say for sure.
If you grew up in the 80’s-90’s you probably remember seeing the Barbarian brothers show up in a variety of low budget movies. Although they were officially billed as the Barbarian brothers, this is to my knowledge, the only movie they ever did that was about Barbarians. The rest of their films were basically the type of stuff that even Hulk Hogan’s agents would turn down. I have no idea why these guys were famous, aside from the fact that they were muscular twins. I guess that’s a thing. Stick around until the end of the review and I’ll tell you what the Barbarian Brothers are up to now. Also, this contains spoilers to a 26 year old movie… So you know, be warned!
The movie starts off with some narration setting the scene that this is in fact, a time before time. It was a dangerous era, but one tribe of people were protected. They were known as the Ragnicks and they are for all intents and purposes a traveling circus. Why is a traveling circus protected? Best we not worry about that. Just know that they have an ancient ruby that only their queen can possess, which protects them.
This magic ruby sure sounds neat, so naturally the evil warlord Kadar wants it. He ambushes the circus (so much for that whole “protected” thing) and kills a bunch of them. This sequence is actually REALLY long and not needed for the movie. The entire thing could have been accomplished in half the time, but I digress. This whole movie is basically a lot of time wasting. Somewhere in here is a story and I’ll explain it in my review, but please realize that the actual movie does a poor job of explaining anyone’s motivations or the basic plot.
Kagar wants the ruby, but the circus queen, Canary refuses to give it to him. In fact, during the battle she sent one of her men off with the ruby to hide it. Unbeknownst to Kagar, of course. He insists that she give him the ruby, but you know how carnies are. It’s like when you win at the bottle toss and they try to claim you stepped over the line. As my Momma always said, “don’t trust people from the circus or the carnival”. Continue reading
It may not officially be summer yet, but it sure feels that way as the blockbuster season kicks off with the release of Iron Man 3. After the overwhelming success of The Avengers last year, Iron Man 3 has some big shoes to fill. If you are looking for a continuation of the team-up fun, be prepared to keep looking. Iron Man 3 is a much more personal tale about Tony Stark and the people he cares about facing their most personal threat yet. So to recap, this time… it’s personal.
It is not as though the movie ignores or downplays the events of The Avengers, it just does not use the success of that last film as a crutch. Instead, the amazing experiences that Tony was a part of have left him damaged and unsure of his place in the larger universe. He compensates by throwing himself into his suit building, which culminates in his most impressive technology yet. You get the feeling that he has withdrawn from world events for a time, with the US government relying more on War Machine (now rebranded as the red, white, and blue Iron Patriot) as their armored deterrent. It will take something drastic to get him back into the action, and it isn’t long before that threat arrives.
The plot is largely inspired by the “Extremis” story arc that helped redefine Iron Man for the 2000s, but it expands the story to amalgamate several other elements of comic history. Longtime Marvel readers will recognize a variety of character and organization names. The movie cleverly begins with a flashback that serves to remind us of of the irresponsible party boy persona that Tony has gradually outgrown, while also establishing the demons that will come back to haunt him throughout the film. By now the man Tony was before his kidnapping in the original Iron Man has begun to fade, and this glimpse into the past allows us to appreciate his journey. In the present, Tony struggles with the revelations of The Avengers, while the shadowy Mandarin has begun a global campaign of terror. Events conspire to return Iron Man to his origins, isolated from his vast resources and forced to rely on wits and improvisation as he tries to unravel the mystery of the Mandarin.
The new and returning cast are all in top form, although they certainly benefit from a sharp script. If there were any thoughts that Robert Downey Jr. might be in danger of wearing out his welcome after four movies, Iron Man 3 should put them to rest. The usual supporting cast of Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, and James Rhodes are all present and fairly well utilized, but I was surprised that the War Machine AKA Iron Patriot character did not see more action after all the marketing material. Rhodes does get some great interaction with Tony though, with what is almost a buddy cop movie dynamic. Continue reading