Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Movie Review - "The Shape Of Water" (2017)

One of the reasons I adore cinema so much is because filmmakers can use it as a platform to say anything they want about the world. Whether they want to talk about how the world needs journalism in "The Post," make a statement about growing up in a Post-9/11 world in "Lady Bird," or something as simple and relatable as growing out of adolescence and discovering yourself in "Call Me by Your Name," film can be a gateway into our society as much as it is into our hearts and souls. But with all of these profound statements and new perspectives on life, we so often forget just how beautiful and joyous film can be at its most basic and simple level.

Sometimes you don't need to remind the audience of the world we live in or our dilemmas. There are times when the most powerful films are the ones that remind us that there is magic and wonders in this world, and we're watching one of those right now.

For this reason, I have no problem saying that Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" is not only the best film of the year, but one of the greatest fantasies of all time. This is a film built on passion and raw unbridled love for movies in its purest form. Every shot of this film is gorgeous, perfectly thought-out to the point of being visual poetry. The music is phenomenal as it adds an even bigger emotional weight to the story, which is where fantasy and reality blend together flawlessly in a way that only del Toro can. Even performances that range from stellar to some of the most emotionally captivating I've ever seen. "The Shape of Water" is an excellent example of why we adore cinema.

The film follows Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a mute who works as a janitor at a secret government lab in Baltimore. Even though she doesn't have the most glamorous life, she still makes the most of it, living above a movie theater while spending time with her elderly neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) as they watch classic movies and television, and enjoying her conversations with co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) while trying to master the dance moves she sees on television.

But her life becomes very difference when the very controlling Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a top secret specimen into the lab that he's brought all the way from South America. Elisa quickly finds out this specimen is alive and intelligent, and she develops a close friendship with the creature (Doug Jones) despite the watchful menacing eye of Colonel Strickland.

I would describe "The Shape of Water" as "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" meets "Edward Scissorhands," with Guillermo del Toro's unique film style for blending reality and fantasy in a fairy tale-like way. The film harkens back to a time long since passed, admiring some aspects like the simplicity of the time, without shying away from some of the harsher uglier parts of the early 1960s. While at other times, there are moments of true horror that one can only get from a monster movie, blurring the line between whether the true monster is man or creature. All the while never losing its love and passion for movies and its style.

The main reason I think "The Shape of Water" works is due to Sally Hawkins' performance as Elisa and how she gives the most emotionally gripping and raw performance I've ever seen. Every scene Hawkins is in, she is acting her heart out and without ever saying a word. It feels like a silent film performance but with far more emotional weight than any silent role I can remember. There were at least three scenes that almost made me cry in this film, and it was always because of Sally Hawkins breath-taking job as showing us a woman that just wants to have her chance at happiness. Whether she's bursting with joy, upset beyond all reason, or wallowing in despair, Hawkins gives this role everything she has.

Then again, every single performance in "The Shape of Water" is a standout. Richard Jenkins is lovable in his attempt at trying to find some sort of meaning in his old age, Octavia Spencer gives us her usual fiery attitude that I can't help but love, even Michael Stuhlbarg plays a scientist who wants to protect the creature and he has a great duality to his character.

But the two other stand outs are Michael Shannon and Doug Jones. Shannon is ruthless, selfish and completely absorbed in his own ego that it makes his evil actions just as entertaining to watch as Hawkins' performance. Strickland is one of the best villains I've seen in a long time and is the slimy glue that holds this film together. Jones plays the creature and adds a charm to the character that this story truly needed. Even under all of that makeup and latex, Jones creates something that is both imposing and surprisingly kind.

Overall, I love every second of "The Shape of Water." It is bursting with vibrant and colorful storytelling that blends together fantasy, horror and reality in a way that leaves me speechless. The film is ruthless and gross at times, but packs just enough of an emotional punch to make those moments stand out even more. These are all some of the best performances I've seen all year and they make this story of love and passion in the face of a ruthless world so much more powerful than it already was. While this may not be a film for everyone, there's no denying that "The Shape of Water" passion for filmmaking will leave an impression on most audiences as it did with me.

Final Grade: A+

Monday, January 29, 2018

Movie Review - "Call Me by Your Name" (2017)

I have never seen something quite like "Call Me by Your Name" before that made it hard to turn away from. While there have been plenty of coming-of-age tales and movies that depict a summer romance, "Call Me by Your Name" not only goes all-in on the lust and passion these characters feel for each other, but I've honestly never seen something like that done with a homosexual relationship. This might turn some people away, but for those who want to see a film give us every bit of love and desire it can muster then this film will not disappoint.

Set in Northern Italy in 1983, the film follows 17-year old Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) on summer vacation with his parents out in the country. Elio's father is a professor of archaeology and invites American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) to live with them for the summer and help with the professor's work. Elio and Oliver initally butt heads due to their vastly different personalities, but eventually develop a solid friendship that very quickly becomes much more than that.

If there is one word that describes "Call Me by Your Name" it would be desire. While Elio is an introvert and Oliver is extreme extrovert, it is clear that both of them want more out of life and are looking for the opportunity to explore everything that it has to offer. And once they've had a taste of passion and lust, they can hardly contain themselves. They treat life like it's one big firework and give it everything they have, even if it all explodes at once. These characters are curious and horny, which makes their quiet and tender scenes so fascinating to observe.

I have never seen romance done quite like this before in a movie, where so much heat and appetite is on display, but they're so gentle with each other. We all have an idea of what love looks like in the movies, and "Call Me by Your Name" turns that on its head in more ways than one. From the way Elio and Oliver talk about classical music and what they want to do with the summer to the kind way they touch and hold one another, this is not what you would expect out of an Italian romance.

For this reason, I would certainly recommend "Call Me by Your Name." It respects the different ways these characters show their affection for each other. It also gives us some great acting from Armie Hammer and a breakthrough role for Timothee Chalamet as a confused quiet boy who goes through one of the most difficult and painful paths a teenager can take and comes out of it a much stronger man. I respect "Call Me by Your Name" for the many chances it takes and its approach to the Hollywood romance, and this is certainly a film worth your time.

Final Grade: B

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Movie Review - "Phantom Thread" (2017)

This is one of the few times I went into a movie knowing absolutely nothing about it. All I knew was that Paul Thomas Anderson, the mind behind "There Will Be Blood," "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," directed it and that this is supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis' last film role. What I got out of this was a film that didn't immediately seem attractive to me by setting it in the world of women's dressmaking (if there's one thing in this world I don't care to learn about, it is fashion), yet "Phantom Thread" takes a strange psychological thriller turn that almost feels like a dark modern fairy tale.

In a odd way, you have to respect "Phantom Thread" for taking a subject that would turn most people away and making it into a film that's hard to take your eyes off of. P.T. Anderson does this by creating an unsettling atmosphere and giving the film a meticulously slow pace, almost like we can see the rusty gears in these characters heads turning methodically. It also helps that Daniel Day-Lewis' performance adds a layer of quiet class, while still coming off as questionably creepy when left to his own devices. In fact, that's the word I would use to describe "Phantom Thread" - creepy.

Set in 1950s England, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is one of the most prestigious dress makers in the world, crafting all sorts of gorgeous ball gowns and wedding dresses for the most elegant women around the globe. Reynolds is a skilled designer who likes to keep to himself and his work, but is also very controlling and set in his ways. He keeps having dreams about his mother watching over him from heaven, causing him to lose focus on his work. His equally controlling sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) orders him to take a break and stay out in their old home on the country side, which he does and has a chance encounter with a waitress at the local restaurant, Alma (Vicky Krieps). The two hit it off, even after he introduces her to the world of fashion, but things very quickly become tense and awkward as their lives become more and more integrated.

A lot of the power in "Phantom Thread" comes from what isn't said or addressed, or rather what is said through the fashion and the quiet distance between these characters. Reynolds and Alma's relationship is one built on passion and admiration, but at the same time they hardly address the hidden contempt they feel for each other outside of the dresses and garments.

But the strangest relationship of all is between Reynolds and his sister Cyril and how it comes across like they share the same mind at times. How there's this undeniable love and trust between the two of them, built on years of growth and business, yet at the same time an undertone that there might be something more than that, which goes unaddressed, only adding to the creepy factor as Cyril looks at Alma like she's contemplating how to kill her.

Oddly enough, the main reason "Phantom Thread" works as a strange eerie thriller is because of P.T. Anderson's direction. Even though he's never made a film quite like this, only he could handle this subject with such personal passion and yet a flawed hubris.

He always paints his characters in such a selfish light that makes it hard to root for them, like Daniel Planview in "There Will Be Blood" or Frank Mackey in "Magnolia," but at the same time there's an undeniable strive for greatness in all his characters that make them so human. Reynolds Woodcock and Alma are the essence of that, set in a cutthroat world while the two make that world more difficult for the other.

Overall, "Phantom Thread" was not at all what I expected it to be, but was enthralling nonetheless. The atmosphere is toxic and unnerving, and the slow pacing only makes the mood more unsettling. The three lead performances are subtle when they need to be, and over-the-top to make the more dramatic moments stand out. Anderson's direction is the icing on the cake to make this the best thriller in recent memory. Even if you know nothing about this movie like I did, or turned away because of the subject matter, I would suggest giving "Phantom Thread" another chance to impress you.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, January 26, 2018

Movie Review - "Darkest Hour" (2017)

I get a similar feeling about "Darkest Hour" as I did with "The Theory of Everything" - a historical biopic about one of the most fascinating men in the history of modern society that is held together almost entirely by one stellar performance and is otherwise an above-average movie-going experience. Like with the tale of Stephen Hawking's youth and journey through science and faith being bound by Eddie Redmayne's performance, "Darkest Hour" gives us a bleak tale about Winston Churchill's struggle to keep the British empire together when it needs hope the most and its biggest claim to fame is Gary Oldman's role as Churchill and how he practically disappears in Churchill's enormously impressive shoes.

But outside of Oldman's performance, there really isn't much to "Darkest Hour." While the atmosphere is heavy and filled with a sense of looming dread and the dialogue can be fun and inventive, the cinematography is drab, the pacing is tedious, and the acting outside of Oldman ranges from okay to passable. The main reason to watch "Darkest Hour" is to see just how Gary Oldman was able to pull this performance off and to hear all the witty and intelligent dialogue he has.

Set in May 1940 as the Nazis take hold over France and begin to take over Western Europe, the British Parliament grows more worried every day that their current prime minister is unfit to lead when war is on its way and demand that he resign so they can choose a new prime minister. After much deliberation, Parliament reluctantly chooses Winston Churchill (Oldman) to be the new prime minister, because he's the only one the opposition would approve of. Churchill, being a difficult, stubborn man who does everything mostly for himself and his pride, does not want to be prime minister, especially during a time of war. But, with no other choice and England running out of time, Winston agrees despite not having the support he truly needs to succeed.

Oldman is brilliant as Winston Churchill, practically disappearing into his role and showing us a man who was far more than just inspirational quotes. I will give the movie credit for taking a difficult man who refuses to change and turning him into such a likable, relatable character, and I feel like we can thank Oldman's subtle gestures and fiery moments for that. Even if I wasn't able to understand every mumbly word he said, the passion in the way he talked and the emotions on his face conveyed everything he was trying to say, from anger and heartbreak to compassion and trust.

There is certainly a quiet power to "Darkest Hour" and how it perfectly reflected the mood and atmosphere of England at that time, while also showing what Winston Churchill brought to that mood. Some of the better moments in this movie are shots and scenes of average people walking in the street and seeing how they're taking this news, to see how the war is affecting the homeland and its people, wondering if they'll even have a homeland soon enough. Churchill's secretary, Ms. Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) adds a breath of fresh air to the film by keeping it grounded in reality, reminding us that there is more at stake here than just faceless soldiers and one man's pride.

However, the pacing does really bring "Darkest Hour" down, as it slows some scenes down to a crawl. Some scenes go on far longer than need to, like many of the encounters with the former prime minister, while others repeat many of the same beats that make the film feel repetitive at times. While the pacing starts out nicely, building up Churchill's reveal and his rise to power, it does get steadily worse as the film goes on.

Overall, "Darkest Hour" is an above-average war film that analyzes the political and domestic effect WWII had on Britain, bolstered by a top-class performance from Gary Oldman. Even at its worst, the film is still serviceable as a bio-pic of Winston Churchill. While it can be bleak and unforgiving at times, it offers a harsh look at Britain that is often overlooked, which makes this one worth seeing.

Final Grade: C+

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Movie Reviews - "The Sheik" (1921) and "Son of the Sheik" (1926)

Imagine if "The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" combined with the creepy factor of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and you'd probably be left with something like these two films "The Sheik" and "Son of the Sheik." Both of these films propelled its star Rudolph Valentino into the realm of living legends at the time, having previously been known for the tango scene in "Four Horseman." But what Valentino had was a very strange aura of sex appeal - he wasn't macho or damaged, but he was brave and vibrant, almost brooding, like James Dean.

Both of these films follow Valentino's titular Sheik, an Arab leader that roams the deserts of North Africa along with his faithful soldiers, taking what they want along the way. In the first film, the Sheik kidnaps a young, independent woman from London and attempts to woo her so that he may win her heart. The second film follows the Sheik's son (also played by Valentino, who also reprises his role as the Sheik), as he attempts to do basically the same thing his father did, only this time he tries to win the heart of a woman that wronged him.

In other words, like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," these films' version of romance is to have men kidnap women that they find attractive, hold them against their will, and just wait until they ultimately fall in love with their captors. Because Stockholm Syndrome is the greatest form of love!

Ultimately, I couldn't get into either of these films, mostly because of how these romances are formed on such terrible barbaric acts, yet they try to play it off like the Sheik was acting purely out of love and that he was doing the right thing, when he most certainly was not. Valentino's performances only make this even creepier when he has this face that looks like he's one bad day away from becoming the Joker.

I would say that "The Sheik" is slightly better than "Son of the Sheik," if only because of how the title cards make the desert feel far more alive than it should, with very detailed descriptions to give this pile of sand its own character. It also uses tints of different color to effectively describe the mood and tone of a scene, while "Son of the Sheik" is entirely black-and-white. While that film has double the Valentino and some better comedy, all charm and charisma he had at that point was thrown out the window when he fell in love with the woman that ruined his life for good reason.

I'm not sure if I would recommend these films to anyone outside of film buffs who want to see how Rudolph Valentino became a big star in the 1920s. They're not bad movies, but they are uninteresting and dull movies. While the Stockholm Syndrome romances made these ones feel icky, they just feel like uninspired action set pieces of the silent era.

Final Grades:

"The Sheik" - C

"Son of the Sheik" - C-

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Movie Review - "Apollo 13" (1995)

Picture yourself in the year 1970 - The space race is over and we've already successfully landed on the moon twice. John F. Kennedy's goal of, not only putting a man into space, but on the moon, has been achieved and then some. So when NASA tries to do it again, why would we care? No one remembers the third ship to discover America. But suddenly, all of that goes out the window when tragedy strikes - there's been an explosion onboard the space craft and the astronauts are running out of air.

The events of Apollo 13 were the antithesis of the initial moon landing, when triumph and excitement was replaced with fear and hopelessness. Instead of the world coming together to celebrate, we came together to pray and hope that our fellow men returned home safely.

I feel like this is the driving force behind Ron Howard's film version of "Apollo 13," how it was a reflection of the society at the time and showed our strength in a moment of absolute terror. For all of its amazing technological achievements, especially making it look like most of the film takes place in zero gravity, the most effective moments in this film are on Earth, dealing with the very human and fragile reactions to this tragic news. From Ed Harris and Gary Sinise working tirelessly to find ways to bring them home, to the wives and families of these men and how they deal with the trauma and the press hounding them for reactions, to even stock footage of Walter Cronkite add to the love and affection of this moment in time.

And while the effects of "Apollo 13" are still impressive to this day, and the performances from Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton are effective when they need to be, they're ultimately crammed into a small metal box and given orders on how to survive freezing to death and living on the very little oxygen they have left from their crew back on Earth. If this film was just from the perspective of the three men trapped in the lunar capsule, with no interactions from the men back in Houston, I don't think "Apollo 13" would be nearly as effective.

Overall, "Apollo 13" is a loving time capsule to a near tragic event that turned into a triumph of science, quick thinking, and ingenuity. Ron Howard went to amazing lengths to make sure every aspect of the film was technically and physically accurate to how it actually happened, and it really shows, even down to the small details in the set design. There is a lot to respect about this movie, and it deserves every bit of praise it gets.

Final Grade: A-

Monday, January 22, 2018

Godzilla-thon: Top Ten Best Moments from the Godzilla Series

Now that I have looked at every single Godzilla film (with the exception of the newest movie, "Godzilla: Monster Planet" but I'll be getting to that one soon enough), and given my thoughts on each of them in extensive detail, to the point that all of my reviews would probably be the length of an entire novel, I feel like I can take the next step and do one last thing with my Godzilla-thon.

In this case, that would be to look back at the series one last time and look at the finest moments from the entire Godzilla series - these are my top ten favorite moments from the Godzilla series.

The criteria for this top ten is simple - if it happened in any of the 31 Godzilla movies, it can make this top ten. I will be limiting each film to one entry at most, otherwise this countdown would probably be filled with nothing but scenes from "Shin Godzilla," "Son of Godzilla" and "Mothra vs. Godzilla." Other than that, these are the scenes that I remember fondly when I think of Godzilla and monsters, the ones that perfectly capture everything that is awe-inspiring and fun about this series.

Let's start things off with...

Number Ten: The Final battle from "Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster"

While I had some problems with the plot and sillier moments in this movie, the final fight between Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra going up against King Ghidorah makes the whole thing worth it. I love the build-up to the fight and that it introduces that Godzilla and Rodan have egos that they must maintain for some reason. But I especially love the unique way all three monsters fight the golden space dragon, with Godzilla's brute force and direct tactics, to Rodan's stealthy yet swift moves, to Mothra's intelligent yet limited decisions. They each have some great moments throughout this fight, but it truly shines when all three work together to fight an enemy none of them could take on their own.

Add in a wonderful score from Akira Ifukube and great suit acting all around, and you've got one of the best monster fights in the entire series.

Number Nine: Godzilla vs. Fake Godzilla/MechaGodzilla's reveal from "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla"

To me, this scene is drenched with style. First of all, it finally gives us a fight fans have always wanted - Godzilla vs. Godzilla. In that regard, the fight doesn't disappoint, as the oil refinery around them blows up, as if the earth itself is in awe over their fight. But when the Fake Godzilla sheds its skin and to reveal the decked-out MechaGodzilla and that saxophone starts up, I get goose bumps every time. I love that it comes out of no where, yet makes the fight even better now that MechaGodzilla can fight at his maximum potential, whipping the floor with Godzilla with just a few missiles and eye beams.

A great introduction to my favorite Godzilla villain.

Number Eight: Godzilla vs. Mecha-King Ghidorah from "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah"

While I think the human scenes in "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" are laughable at best and cringe worthy at worst, the monster scenes are some of the best in the entire series, especially when Godzilla and King Ghidorah are fighting. But if there's one stand-out scene, it has to be the final battle between Godzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah. From the mechanical three-headed dragon emerging from a hole in the sky to his epic theme song, to Mecha-King Ghidorahs' cyborg-like design, to its intense struggle with Godzilla that leaves most of Tokyo in ruins, this is one of the most tense scenes in the entire series, and easily one of the best battles in the entire Heisei series.

Number Seven: Mothra's sacrifice/King Ghidorah's revival from "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack"

I feel like this one makes the list due to its stellar effects and soundtrack alone. These two elements combine into something more than just another action sequence, but tells a very emotional short story of sacrifice and revival with very few words and awe-inspiring visuals. This is one of a few grand scenes in "GMK," all of which take full advantage of scale and scope to leave us feeling small and helpless, but is certainly the scene from "GMK" that I fondly remember above all the others.

Number Six: Godzilla vs. Kong on Mt. Fuji from "King Kong vs. Godzilla"

This one is so high on the list mostly for nostalgic reasons, but also because it is just a cool power struggle between two iconic movie monsters. I love how it starts at the top of Mt. Fuji and slowly works its way down the mountain until the two are fighting over a pagoda, each getting the upper hand over the other several times throughout the fight to always make it feel like its evenly matched. The two monsters are honestly pretty brutal to each other at a couple points, especially when Godzilla buries Kong in rocks and lights up the forest around him, or Kong shoving a tree down Godzilla's throat. If there's any scene in this series that makes me feel like a kid again, it is the final battle in "Kong Kong vs. Godzilla."

Number Five: Godzilla vs. the two Mothra Larvae from "Mothra vs. Godzilla"

I had a very hard time deciding between this fight and the one between Godzilla and the adult Mothra, but went with this one for a few reasons. One is the brain vs. brawn battle going on between these monsters and how satisfying it is to see Mothra's offspring get the upper hand over the evil Godzilla. Another is how great it feels seeing Godzilla all wrapped up in Mothra's silk, which is one of the most iconic images of the entire series. But I think the main reason is that serves as the perfect cap to a movie that is entertainment from start to finish, giving us a climax that wraps up everything nicely. It is more than just your standard monster overpowering another, but a war of wits and strategy, something you don't get too often in these films.

Number Four: Rodan's sacrifice from "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II"

These last four scenes are perfect examples of every aspect coming together to create scenes that are nothing short of masterpieces. While the rest of their films may have their fair share of problems, these particular scenes hit every emotional note to give us a truly memorable scene. And we start with my favorite scene when I was a kid and still love to this day. Maybe it's because of the hauntingly sad score that Akira Ifukube provides, or it could be Rodan's utterly selfless act, providing us with one final development to an underrated interpretation of Rodan. It is touching, heart-breaking and makes Rodan far more than just another kaiju. Plus, it leads into one of the most badass sequences in the entire series as Godzilla and Super MechaGodzilla fight after Godzilla is brought back from the dead and given a massive power upgrade. Is it silly? Absolutely. But it takes itself seriously in all the right spots for this to be an effective and awesome sequence.

Number Three: Yashiori Strategy from "Shin Godzilla"

Goddamn, I love this scene!

This is the filmic definition of "triumph" and serves as the perfect cap to an impossible struggle for the Japanese people. While the scene of Godzilla using his atomic breath for the first time is terrifying, this scene never fails to bring a smile to my face. I love how the Japanese people work out this intelligent battle plan without sacrificing on stellar visuals. And that music! I adore the Ifukube military march they used and how it adds an emotional punch to every move the defense force makes against one of the scariest monsters (in both design and concept) I've ever seen. In a film about Japan's fight for an identity in the face of bureaucracy, red-tape and an ever-evolving monster, this scene wrap up all of that in the most satisfying way possible.

Number Two: The Final scene from "Son of Godzilla"

This is not just the only scene in the entire series that makes me cry, but also one of the few scenes in all of cinema that makes me cry. Even with great endings from films like "Mothra vs. Godzilla," "King Kong vs. Godzilla," "Terror of MechaGodzilla" and "Shin Godzilla," this is my pick for the best ending in the entire series, as we finally see Godzilla receive character development in a scene that makes you forget this tender moment is between two actors in rubber lizard suits. This is the sweetest moment in the series from one of the most underrated monster films of all time.

Number One: King Ghidorah vs. the Earth Monsters on Mt. Fuji from "Destroy All Monsters"

You know, I thought long and hard if there was any scene that I felt was better than the final monster battle from "Destroy All Monsters." And even though I love every single scene in this top ten, I couldn't think of anything that encapsulated Godzilla and daikaiju films in general than watching this all-out brutal yet awesome struggle between nearly a dozen different monsters. When I think of Godzilla, this scene is typically the first thing that comes to mind. I love the effects, the Mt. Fuji backdrop, the music, the unrelenting pace, and especially how each monster chooses to fight in a battle that perfectly summarizes an entire universe of monster movies. It takes what "King Kong vs. Godzilla" started and cranks it up to eleven, giving audiences the all-out battle we've always wanted.

There are of course loads of other scenes I adore from the Godzilla series, especially from films like "Godzilla vs. Hedorah" and "Invasion of Astro-Monster," but I think this top ten encapsulates the best the series has to offer. Whether it is because of effects, tension, music, development or anything in between, these are the scenes that remind me how great and powerful Godzilla can truly be.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Movie Review - "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters" (2017)

So yeah, there's a new Godzilla movie out on Netflix. Not only that, it is the first animated Godzilla film and it is the first part in a trilogy of movies that takes a drastically different turn with the series.

So why do I feel like the first installment, "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters," was a bit of a disappointment? Well, more accurately, the word I would use to describe this film is "underwhelming."

As the first part of a trilogy, it does its job of setting up this whole new world of monsters and the conflict our characters face. But it does everything so by the numbers that it doesn't feel like it has any life to it, especially from these dull and rather emotionless characters. And then there's Godzilla, who doesn't really do anything Godzilla-related other than be big and imposing. They could have literally removed the word "Godzilla" from this movie and nothing would have been lost, which is extremely disappointing after "Shin Godzilla" breathed new life into the franchise.

In the late 20th century, the planet is overrun with giant monsters (all of which are Toho monsters from other films including "Godzilla 2000" and "Dogora"), causing the governments of the world to throw everything they have to defeat these monsters. Eventually though, they're all defeated by the most powerful monster of all - Godzilla. In a desperate attempt to stop the final monster, the world leaders unleash everything they have at Godzilla, launching nearly 200 nuclear missiles at him - they don't even leave a scratch on him.

Since their last hope failed, Godzilla now roams the planet unopposed, destroying everything in his path without remorse or concern. With the after effects of 200 nuclear missiles looming in the atmosphere and no chance of defeating Godzilla, the human race flees the Earth in a desperate attempt to locate a suitable planet elsewhere, leaving Godzilla the lone ruler of Earth.

All of this is told to us through flashbacks in the first few minutes of the movie, along with humans getting aid from alien races that also want to call Earth their home and want to fight Godzilla. Honestly, this is the most interesting part of the movie - simply hearing about how the human race collapsed in the face of giant monsters and their impossible fight against Godzilla. I want to see that as the movie, at least then we'd get to see Godzilla fight monsters like Dogora and Dagarha from "Rebirth of Mothra II."

Instead, what we get is a hard cut to 20 years in the future, when the surviving human race makes it to a planet they always thought was going to be their new home, only to find out the surface of this planet is uninhabitable. With the ship running low on supplies and fuel, the leaders calculate that it would be impossible to find another suitable planet before they all died from starvation or running out of oxygen. They come to one conclusion - return to Earth via a subspace warp jump and hope that conditions have returned to normal and that Godzilla is long gone.

So now Godzilla is taking technology directly from Star Trek? I'm surprisingly okay with this development.

As it turns out, the scientists miscalculated how much time would have passed while they were in subspace. They thought only 1,000 years would pass, but it ends up being around 20,000 years and the Earth has changed significantly. The surface is still inhabitable, but it is covered in a thick fog (that turns out to be plant spores that release radiation into the atmosphere) and Godzilla-like dragons fly throughout the skies.

The whole idea of this trilogy seems to be that, while leaving Godzilla unattended on Earth for 20,000 years, he has become the top of the food chain and now the planet bends to his presence. An interesting concept that the film tries to explore, especially when we learn more about how Godzilla has changed the course of the planet and what that has done to him. But they don't put a big focus on this, instead going for the humans' struggle to retake the planet and their battle plan against Godzilla.

Everything about these characters feels utterly generic that it feels forced. Our protagonist is an angsty young man that wants revenge against Godzilla for killing his parents and constantly makes dumb speeches about how humanity needs to fight Godzilla to get our home back.

Great, another young adult main character that exists only to even the score against a giant fire-breathing monster! It's not like that's exactly the same motivation for most protagonists in the Heisei and Millennium series. Oh wait...

I'm also not a fan of the animation style at all. Everything about it feels block and unnatural, like everyone is a computer with very robotic unrealistic movements. It's like I'm watching old PlayStation 1 video game cut scenes, not an animated film that came out in 2017. I realize this CG-style is faster and cheaper than hand-drawn animation, but this style has no polish or life to it. None of this film looks good, it is an ugly CG-filled mess.

Now that I've officially looked at every Godzilla film and ranked them from best to worst, you're probably wondering where I would rank "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters." Well, after watching this film only once, I would say this film is probably somewhere in the mid-20s, right around "Godzilla X MechaGodzilla" and "Godzilla 2000." It is not the worst thing that involves Godzilla, certainly not insultingly bad like the 1998 American film or "Godzilla: Final Wars," but it is so bland and uninspired that I can't say this is a good Godzilla film either.

Granted, this is just the first installment in a trilogy that tells one continuous story, so we've only seen a third of the full picture. For the time being, I'll cut "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters" some slack, especially with a reveal at the end that was genuinely shocking, and wait patiently for the final two installments. However, I still feel like the opening flashback was the best part of the film and that should have been the focus of this first entry.

My biggest complaint is that it doesn't seem to care about what made the Godzilla franchise so endearing and memorable, for-going most monster interactions and instead tell a forgettable story told in the most unimaginative ways using piss-poor animation. If you're a long time Godzilla fan like me, or even a casual fan of monsters or Godzilla, you probably won't care for "Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters." Here's hoping the rest of the trilogy gets better.

Final Grade: C-

Friday, January 19, 2018

Best of 2017

And so another year of cinema has come and gone. While I didn't see as many movies in theaters as I would have liked to see, I would still say that 2017 was a very eventful year for movies. A lot of great movies started out the year, with films like "The Lego Batman Movie," "Get Out" and "Logan," while having a bit of a dry summer that led into a captivating fall and winter that had more than enough movies to keep us interested.

At this time, there are still plenty of movies from 2017 I haven't seen, including "Shape of Water," "Call Me By Your Name," "Phantom Thread," "All the Money in the World" and "Darkest Hour," just to name a few. But, in the mean time, it's about time we went over the best (and worst) films of the past year. As always, I've broken down films into certain categories that determine how I'll remember this past year.

So let's start things off with...

Biggest Surprise - "Get Out"

I'll be honest, when I initially saw the trailer for "Get Out," I laughed at how serious it was taking itself, while the trailer kept repeating "Get out! Get out! Get out!" It wasn't until I saw the stellar reviews the film was getting that I started taking it seriously. And the entire time the film was going, I was transfixed, adoring how it presented a perspective and fear that I had never seen before or since. I left that theater absolutely loving every minute of this movie and respect how intelligent and well-thoughtout it was.

Most Technologically Impressive - "Coco"

While there weren't a whole lot of films that I was impressed with on a technical level this year, I guess the one that stands out is the animated film that felt like it invented all sorts of new colors. I swear, "Coco" used such a vibrant color scheme that I saw shades of neon I've never seen before, like the whole film was this never ending technicolor rainbow of varying colors. I would consider that more impressive than anything any other film has done technically this year.

Most Fun in Theaters - "Thor: Ragnarok"

The best popcorn film of the year was such a blast! If I wasn't laughing at the witty banter or great jokes, I was enthralled by the use of norse mythology and/or colorful alien worlds. Korg might be one of my favorite characters in the entire Marvel universe now, and we finally get a Thor film that never took itself seriously, leading to some really awesome action sequences that take full advantage of their wacky scenarios. This film was this year's definition of fun.

Sleep Inducer - "Colossal"

This goes here because I'm pretty sure I fell asleep at one point. This is a boring, hateful movie that never fully embraces its genres of comedy and giant monsters, turning into a forgettable and sometimes hard to watch film that I'd rather forget about. Save yourself the trouble with this film and just watch "Shin Godzilla" instead.

Need to See Again - "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

I really wanted to see the newest Star Wars in theaters again when I had the opportunity, but that chance hasn't come quite yet. I feel like, in order to fully get Rian Johnson's vision of Star Wars and what he really wanted to add to this universe, you need to see this film twice (again, very ingenious move by Disney). It felt like it added so much more to this sci-fi fairy tale that I missed on my initial viewing, so I do think a second watch is in order.

Funniest Film - "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2"

I would have said "Thor: Ragnarok" again for this one, but I don't want to repeat myself, so instead I'll go with the film that honestly did leave me in stitches at a couple of points. Watching "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is like watching Abbott and Costello trying to travel across the galaxy - the comedic timing between all of the main cast is pitch perfect and their witty banter is some of the best I've heard in any Marvel film. Plus, this film gave us the iconic line, "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!" You really can't go wrong with Yandu.

Biggest Disappointment - "Power Rangers"

As a longtime Power Rangers fan, this film was nothing but a big disappointment. While I didn't have many expectations going into this film, I did expect to be entertained by some classic Power Ranger stuff, and we didn't even get that. Instead it was teen angst and Krispy Kreme, never delving any deeper than a plastic spork on solid volcanic rock into what made the Power Rangers so great and memorable. The ultimate problem with this movie is that it doesn't understand what made Power Rangers so iconic, even though it is something very simple that even the 1995 terrible movie understood. Hell, I'd take that turd of a movie from my childhood over this crapfest.

Most Forgettable - "American Made"

I completely forgot I saw this film until I looked through all of my reviews of 2017. My picks for this category are always the film that left literally no impression on me. They weren't terrible enough to remember, nor did they have anything good to talk about to others. They just exist in the ether that means nothing to me. While "American Made" wasn't a bad movie, it certainly wasn't good either. Just a forgettable okay. And sometimes, that can be even worse than being a bad film.

At least I remember how bad "Power Rangers" made me feel. I can't remember anything about "American Made" other than Tom Cruise flew a plane.

Most Overrated - "War for the Planet of the Apes"

I thought about giving this spot to "The Post," but I think that film does deserve most of the praise it is getting. "War for the Planet of the Apes" on the other hand had very little going for it outside of its continued technological breakthroughs. The world was detailed and emmersive and the effects were stellar, but the story was almost nonexistent and the pacing was horrendous. After a certain point, I just stopped caring about everything these apes were fighting for. While this is a visual masterpiece, this film left me feeling pretty cold by the end.

Most Underrated - "Logan"

While we raved about this film when it came out, it feels like opinions on "Logan" have died down since its release. And while I gave this film an okay review back in March, my opinion on this film has only grown since then as I've realized that it's not just a great comic book movie, but a wonderful conclusion to a story that was told over the course of nearly 10 movies and gave us one of the best unconventional westerns of all time. I love the bitter-sweet feeling to it all, as well as the heartache it provides as everything gets wrapped up. It may not end the way fans wanted it, but I honestly can't imagine this ending any other way.

Best Performance - *Tie* James Franco as Tommy Wiseau in "The Disaster Artist" and Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Two men who put everything they have on the screen for us to bare witness to, letting us judge not only their characters but their very souls. Both of these men were funny, heart-breaking, thought-provoking and always the center of attention when they were on screen. James Franco disappeared in this role as Tommy Wiseau, while Sam Rockwell gave us a performance that made you similtaneously love and hate this man. So I applaud both of these actors for giving us the year's best performances.

Best Scene - Kong's reveal and initial helicopter fight in "Kong: Skull Island"

While there were tons of scenes that I vividly remember, the one that reintroduced us to King Kong might be my favorite. From the camera movement, to the ballet-like movement of the helicopters to the orange and yellow color palette, this scene made me fall in love with Kong all over again.

Most Anticipated Film of 2018 - "Avengers: Infinity War"

How could I not be excited for a film that's been building up for ten years? Litreally everything that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up since "Iron Man" is coming together in this one movie. The castlist of stars alone is enough to cover up two posters, and it's made by the same guys that did the last two Captain American movies. I cannot wait for this film to come out and see exactly how the heroes will combat the greatest evil they've ever faced.

Worst Film - "Kingsman: The Golden Circle"

This film was infuriating and insulting on more levels than I thought an action movie could be. It's one thing if it's a brainless action film, but it's another thing entirely when an action film talks down to you, makes snap judgments about the world around us, and paints us all as incompetent morons would couldn't save ourselves even if we tried. This film made me want to throw up, and made me hate Elton John! How dare you?!

Now before we get to my top five films of 2017, there's still one question I always like to ask at the end of every year - Was this past year a good one for movies?

My typical criteria for defining what makes a "good year for movies" is the number of stellar or outstanding movies. Ones that weren't just great entertainment, but ones that I'll remember fondly years from now, long passed their initial run in theaters. A good year typically has at least three or four of these types of films, while a great year has five or more. Last year was a pretty good year, with films like "La La Land," "Arrival," "Moonlight" and "Shin Godzilla," though not nearly as good as 2015 with an amazing ten wonderful movies.

But this year? I would say 2017 was a great year. As you're about to find out, I would say there are at least seven or eight movies that are amazing and truly worth everyone's time. And this is without seeing movies like "Shape of Water" or "Call Me By Your Name." It was a year of movies that I felt told honest yet extremely human stories, about people who risked everything they had ever believed in, and offered us their flawed souls. Even blockbusters like "Wonder Woman" and "The Lego Batman Movie" did this exceptionally well.

Which brings us into my picks for the five best films of the year. This proved to be difficult for some of these picks, though I didn't have a problem picking numbers one and two - they were, in my opinion, clearly the best films of the year.

Top Five Films of 2017 -

5. "The Disaster Artist"

This is not only the best movie about movies since "Ed Wood," but it feels like a love letter to one of the most bizarre tales in all of Hollywood. It has one of the best performances of the year from James Franco that transcends the typical Tommy Wiseau impression that everyone has these days and a great sense of humor that never lets up. The ending sequence is the reason we go to the movies, offering a visual affection for one of the best worst films ever made.

4. "Lady Bird"

The best coming-of-age tale of the year, and one of the most relatable tales since "Boyhood," "Lady Bird" feels like an entire generation wrapped up in one picture, with all of their dreams, fears, insecurities and style all on full display. With some of the best authentic writing that comes across as both humorous and heartwarming, I have no problem saying this is the film I respect the most in 2017.

3. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

I honestly did not see this one coming. "Three Billboards" was just the right kind of different and weird that I wanted to see, while still remaining honest yet brutal. It doesn't pull any punches while not giving the audience a clear answer about its morals and ethics, showing us characters that constantly act like villains but never feel like anything less than flawed humans. It has three wonderful performances and the pacing never lets up. It is my pick for the best indie film of the year.

2. "Blade Runner 2049"

"Blade Runner 2049" makes the number two spot almost because of cinematography alone. Without a doubt in my mind, this is the best visual spectacle of the year and probably the best since "Gravity." The story world is just as fascinating though and is explored in beautiful and loving detail. The mystery is extremely fascinating and Ryan Gosling's character makes for a wonderful evolution in this world where the line between android and human is getting thiner every day. While I feel it does have pacing problems, that is not nearly enough to dissaude me from saying that everyone needs to see this movie and see how science fiction is done right.

1. "Dunkirk"

Visual storytelling at its finest. "Dunkirk" feels like if Alfred Hitchcock made a big budget silent war film - it is eerie, tense, heart-pounding and makes you feel like you're there with these men fighting for their lives against a faceless enemy, and all without hardly ever saying a word. This might be my pick for Christopher Nolan's best film, because of how masterfully he weaves in and out of his three parallel stories to create this dynamic and very human struggle for survival.

Honorable Mentions - "Logan," "Wonder Woman," "Kong: Skull Island," "The Lego Batman Movie," "Thor: Ragnarok," "Get Out" and "It."