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Tue11122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Filmmakers somehow found a way to totally muck up the greatest Godzilla premise ever with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a movie that is all things great and terrible at the same time.

The movie has some terrific monster battles, and the special effects are mind-bogglingly good. Godzilla squares off against legendary foes including the multiheaded Monster Zero and Rodan, while getting some much-needed assistance from the great Mothra. All of these monsters, including the title character, are wonders to behold. As for the online bitching about the movie’s appearance being dark and murky, the darkness was actually fitting, made things scarier and didn’t diminish the effects.

But … and this is a big but … I cannot endorse this movie. The human stuff in between and during the fighting is DREADFUL. Homo sapiens get too much screen time. The writing and staging is so bad that the film gets derailed every time it goes to military types in a war room.

The plot has the world in a state of disarray after the 2014 attacks on San Francisco and Las Vegas depicted in Godzilla. OK, that’s kind of cool. How do we dust ourselves off and find a way to co-exist with the likes of Godzilla and big-monster-moth things after the decimation of the Bay Area? Apparently, according to writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus), we deliver inane dialogue very slowly, and inexplicably play with a sonar gadget that calls out to the monsters in a manner that either chills them out or fires them up.

That gadget is created by Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who lost a child in the San Francisco attack and is attempting to talk to the monsters with her daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) while husband/dad, Mark (Kyle Chandler), is off taking pictures on safari. There’s a moment when Mark seems to be sort of getting off while listening on headphones to the sounds of wolves tearing into the flesh of a dead deer. It’s a strange moment; I think he has some issues.

The gadget thing sends out a call that basically kicks off the monster apocalypse, and the action goes from full-on, nicely staged monster battles featuring beautiful close-ups and battered landscapes—to a bunch of lost actors sitting around in a situation room observing and commenting.

Bradley Whitford basically gets the role Jake Johnson had in Jurassic World—he’s the nerdy guy cracking wise from afar while monsters eat people, and military folks scratch their heads. While Johnson had great line deliveries and some funny moments, Whitford looks like the victim of a director who said, “Hey, Bradley, say some funny shit about monsters!” and Whitford had nothing.

Millie Bobby Brown is OK, but there’s not much she can do with material so bad. She has the movie’s dopiest moment: When fleeing Monster Zero as it is destroying Fenway Park, Godzilla comes up behind her; she turns and offers a calm, satisfied smile. There’s no paralyzing fear, and no screaming in terror at being between two massive charging monsters. Instead, there’s a calm, movie-star smile, because Godzilla might be her friend or some shit like that. Give me a break.

Brown has already completed her shots for Godzilla vs. Kong, due out next year, so she’s not escaping this franchise. Dougherty, who messed up this movie, has a resume with some OK low-grade horror films (Krampus, Trick ’r Treat). The next film’s director, Adam Wingard, is also a director of horror films (You’re Next, the awful Blair Witch reboot). Dougherty, who co-wrote this messy movie, helped write the next film as well. These are not good signs.

Perhaps Warner Bros./Legendary should stop putting large blockbusters into the hands of relatively new and mediocre horror-film directors. They got it right with Gareth Edwards on Godzilla (2014). They blew it with Dougherty, and I fear for the future.

Seriously … how is it possible to produce suckage with a great-looking movie featuring Godzilla, Rodan and Monster Zero in it? How does that happen? My summer is ruined, and it isn’t even summer yet.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Perhaps the most important journalistic battle in American history gets the Spielberg treatment in The Post, featuring a stellar cast that includes Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

The film explores The Washington Post’s decision to print the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam in 1971, a move that raised the ire of then-President Richard Nixon, and put the careers of people like paper owner Kay Graham (Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) in major jeopardy. Of course, Hanks isn’t the first movie star to play Bradlee: Jason Robards also played him in All the President’s Men, the classic film that covered the Watergate scandal. Bradlee, who died in 2014, was a journalism giant.

The movie starts in the mid-’60s with Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a member of the State Department who is a study for then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) in South Vietnam. Embedded with American troops, Ellsberg sees all sorts of atrocities and is a firsthand witness to the growing failure of American participation in the Vietnam War. His forecast about the war’s outcome is bleak, but McNamara and President Johnson (and three presidents before him) share a rosier—and false—version with the American public.

In 1971, with Nixon in the White House, Hanks and Streep get their first scene together: They’re in a restaurant having breakfast, discussing their big controversy of the day—the White House’s meddling with their ability to cover the wedding of Nixon’s daughter. Bradlee refuses to bend to Nixon’s request to restrict a certain reporter, while Graham wonders what the big deal is. This scene is long, dialogue-rich take—and it’s basically a school in great acting.

Things progress from troubles with weddings to the war, with the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers by Ellsberg, and The New York Times printing a story about them. This move gets the Times in trouble with the Nixon administration. Bradlee and his team come into contact with Ellsberg and get the opportunity to go through thousands of pages of classified documents. They have two options: Print a deeper story on the classified documents and face potential treason charges; or bury the story to help preserve the paper, which is going through an initial public stock offering and would likely be harmed by any negative controversy.

History has told us what Graham, Bradlee and their team of reporters did—but that doesn’t make The Post any less thrilling. Spielberg not only uses The Post as an opportunity to put great actors in play; he makes The Post a grand testament to the golden age of print journalism.

It’s not just the risk-taking of editors, owners and journalists that makes The Post such an absorbing piece of history. The mechanics of producing a story for the masses in the 1970s were a little complicated by today’s standards: Journalists seeking leads with rotary phones and pay phones, and hard deadlines that had to be hit because it took a lot of time to actually publish a newspaper each day, play a big part in the storytelling. Spielberg relishes the chance to show a story getting rolled up on typed paper, shot through an internal delivery system to an editor, edited by a man with a pencil, and then placed on a costly template for publication. The sight of massive amounts of paper getting printed and then bound to be taken to the streets is one of Spielberg’s most impressive technical filmmaking feats in years.

The supporting cast includes Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, the legendary TV comedians of Mr. Show. It’s a trip to see them onscreen together in a Spielberg production. Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Coon and Sarah Paulson round out the cast.

The Post is the best Spielberg offering since Munich, bringing to an end one of the weaker stretches in his career that included the lackluster Lincoln, Bridge of Spies and The BFG. It’s an impressively staged account of a pivotal moment in our history—at a time when the freedom of the press is again being actively challenged by a sitting president.

The Post is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Jordan Peele, the comedic performer from TV’s Key and Peele and the adorable/funny cat movie Keanu, delivers a huge cinematic surprise with Get Out, a twisted, darkly satirical horror film that pulls no punches when it comes to race relations and dating.

Peele has cited Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives as inspirations for this journey to the dark side of his creative soul. Those films’ influences are detectable; you could also throw in a pinch of Rosemary’s Baby and a side of Being John Malkovich.

Two of the hardest things to accomplish with a movie are making people laugh, and getting them legitimately scared. Get Out manages to do both throughout its running time. Peele takes taboo subjects and stereotypes, and doesn’t let his pen get restricted by a fear of offending anybody. This is an appropriately evil, scabrous movie.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American man, is a little nervous. He’s going to visit the parents of Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), his white girlfriend. Allison is relaxed about the trip, but Chris is a little on the anxious side.

Upon their arrival at her family’s large estate, Rose’s parents like Chris. They really, really like Chris. Actually, parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) like Chris at a level that is a bit unsettling. Chris shrugs it off at first, as does Allison, but strange things start happening.

For starters, Walter and Georgina (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel), two black people employed by the Armitages, have personalities that are a little off. They have vacant stares; they are overly polite; and Georgina can cry projectile tears while smiling and carrying on a conversation. Something is definitely wrong with them.

Chris smokes, and Missy doesn’t like that. When he gets up to sneak a cigarette in the middle of the night, Missy offers to hypnotize him. Chris is reluctant, but eventually finds himself under Missy’s anti-smoking spell. Or does the spell cover more than just smoking? I won’t give too much away other than to say Missy and Dean are not what they seem, and this movie will put a lot of people off of using hypnosis as a means of quitting smoking.

Kaluuya (Sicario) delivers a performance that should put him on the map for a long time to come. The role requires him to go to many extremes, utilizing both his comic timing and his ability to appear paralyzed with fear. His big scene with Missy is an acting powerhouse, with Keener setting the pace. It’s going to go down as one of the movie year’s most memorable scenes.

Williams absolutely nails her part. The movie simply wouldn’t work if Williams delivered one wrong note with her work. What she does here is a deft class on how to act in a horror movie. She will knock you on your ass.

Providing solid, pure comic relief, Lil Rel Howery is the perfect goofball as Rod, Chris’s TSA friend who thinks his buddy has been sold into sex slavery.

Stephen Root has a couple of memorable scenes playing a blind man, something he did so memorably in O Brother, Where Art Thou? His character is among the horde of people who show up for a family gathering. Also in attendance: Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), another oddly behaved black man who really hates it when you take his picture.

Whether it’s trying to make you laugh, make you squirm or just plain freak you out, Get Out is a victory on all the horror and comedy fronts. Peele demonstrates a keen sense of what is scary and funny, and has also made one of the better-looking horror films in recent years. It should be pointed out: This is his first movie as a director. When it comes to daring, risk-taking directing debuts, Peele is toward the top of the list.

This is one of those times where a groundbreaking piece of work just comes out of nowhere and bedazzles. Don’t miss Get Out.

Get Out is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews