Tag Archives: monster movies

King Kong (2005)

king_kong_2005Even if you haven’t seen King Kong or its many remakes (like me, until yesterday), you probably know the story. A struggling filmmaker (Jack Black) leads a rag tag crew on a voyage to a forgotten island where he’s going to complete his movie against the studio’s wishes. While there, the filmmaker and his cast encounter a mess of overgrown B-movie creatures including dinosaurs, bugs, lizards, bats, and of course, the giant gorilla who rules them all.

In the course of this grand adventure (which ought to have killed everyone involved several times over), the gorilla falls in love with the lead actress (Naomi Watts), now the damsel in distress, who already has a thing for the screenwriter (Adrien Brody). That leads to a very awkward love triangle.  Things get even more awkward when the filmmaker conspires with the ship’s captain to bring the gorilla back to New York City as a way to salvage the mission once his camera and footage (and film crew) are destroyed.  Indeed, once back in NYC the situation gets so bad that Brody’s character even starts to feel sorry for Kong, as Kong is now trapped in the Empire City with nowhere to go but up (and then a long way down).

Peter Jackson helms this remake and it shows.  That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, it just means there’s a three-hour-plus runtime, a lot of CG rag dolls flying across the screen/into walls/off cliffs during action scenes, and a significant number of emotional orchestral swells combined with ethereal vocals and closeups of teary eyed actors to make sure we feel sad at the proper times.  For better and for worse, he delivers a movie that feels like a throwback to classic Hollywood cinema.

But the “for worse” is really, really bad.  Black “savages” feeding a white lady to a monster bad.  It is possible that the issue of systemic racism is particularly fresh in my mind right now thanks to BlacKkKlansman (which, if Jay’s review wasn’t clear enough, you should see immediately),  but a movie pitting backwards black natives against righteous white people only reinforces racist stereotypes that we need to eliminate from our society.   One way to help eliminate those stereotypes would be using discretion and thoughtfulness when remaking old movies to ensure we don’t recycle harmful racial stereotypes.  Jackson failed in that respect, and his failure gives power to those stereotypes instead of helping to put them to rest once and for all.  It’s a glaring mistake.

That Kong contains such racially insensitive scenes is truly a shame, on at least two different fronts.  First, it’s a shame because the Kong that Jackson and Andy Serkis created is absolutely amazing.  Even though many of the other special effects in this movie have not aged well, Kong remains a marvel, an expressive and lifelike CG character who’s worthy of being the hero of this picture.  Of course, hero status is Kong’s by default, since the humans in the film are consistently terrible, destroying everything they touch, acting entitled all the way through the carnage, and worst of all, blaming Kong’s unfortunate ending on beauty rather than the beasts who tried to exploit nature for personal profit.

Which brings me to the second disappointing aspect of the film: but for the racism, the film’s main message would have been as suitable for our times as it ever was, but the presence of racism or at least racial insensitivity makes this film one that is better left in the past.

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The Cloverfield Paradox

So this is what “straight to video” looks like in the Netflix age. Honestly, I am surprised at the drastic drop off in quality from 10 Cloverfield Lane to The Cloverfield Paradox, if only because I gave 10 Cloverfield Lane a 3 out of 10 and by comparison to Paradox, Cloverfield Lane is a masterpiece.

Basically, The Cloverfield Paradox is a less entertaining, less scary, and less interesting version of Event Horizon, a movie that really let me down 20 yeGDP-08575.rafars ago, and that I am sure has not improved over time. That The Cloverfield Paradox falls so far short of that (very) (very) (very) low bar is damning indeed.

For a “franchise” that I didn’t much care for in the first place, Cloverfield has managed to sink to new depths of awfulness with each new entry, especially with the two “sequels”, which were clearly written as standalone movies, then got stamped with just enough giant monsterness to justify the Cloverfield name.

At least at this point we can be fairly sure we’ve reached the end of this disappointing series. It is a sad state of affairs that I can’t totally exclude a reboot in five or ten years, but that’s a rant for another day (and one I’ve probably already written out three or four times in other reviews so I’m sure you can find it without too much effort!).

Goosebumps

20151007fdGoosebumps.6c5f8Turns out, it’s Jack Black week around these here parts. Today’s instalment is Goosebumps, a movie written for (and possibly by) people a third of my age or less. And those damn tweens must have seen this one a LOT of times because a sequel is coming out this fall just in time for Halloween.

First things first: Goosebumps is not scary at all. Planet Earth II is more harrowing.  Though in fairness, the Planet Earth segment with the snakes chasing an iguana is one of the scariest things ever:

There is no chase sequence in Goosebumps that even comes close to that level of terror, but that’s by design. Goosebumps is completely non-threatening right down to its protagonist, who you might recognize as the non-threatening guy from 13 Reasons Why if, like me, you watch too much Netflix.  He is perfect for Goosebumps because in his spare time he is a singer/rhythm guitarist for a band that got its break at a social inclusion and autism awareness concert (that’s right, two non-threatening causes at once)!

There are monsters in Goosebumps but they are the kind that chase you with a smile on their face. The kind that Jay would adopt and make me build a shelter for in our backyard. The kind that I can watch with my nephews and not get dirty looks from their parents. The kind that must make Goosebumps author R.L. Stine pat himself on the back for being as non-threatening as the guy from 13 Reasons Why (it helps immensely that Stine has written dozens of joke books and G.I. Joe choose-your-own-adventures under the pen names “Jovial Bob Stine” and “Eric Affabee”).

The only way Goosebumps will give you goosebumps is if you watch it while your furnace is broken. But I’ll take that over nephew nightmares any day of the week.

 

Pacific Rim

Some sort of portal opens up in the ocean’s floor, and the aliens that flow through are immense monsters called Kaiju. A war ensues that humans seem poised to lose until they develop humongous robots called Jaegars controlled neurologically by two synched-up pilots. The world’s resources are devoted to these specialized weapons, but the Kaijus only up the ante. Now, with resources dwindled and the world seeming defenseless, we’ve got one last chance, with a fallen, washed up pilot in Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and a complete novice in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).

Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) runs the last-ditch program but even he doesn’t have confidence in the only option they’ve got left. And two wacky scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman) on his team are devoting their time and energy to connecting neurologically to the Kaiju, which is either a brilliant idea that will reveal the Kaiju’s plans or a terrible idea that will spoil the only thing the human race has going for them – the element of surprise.

Pacific Rim is a send-up to the fantastic monster movies of yore with the benefit of tumblr_mgeodlgqPl1qcga5ro1_500.gifmodern effects and technology – and yes, it looks slick as hell. It’s basically Transformers fighting dinosaurs, which appeals to the little boy that exists surprisingly near the surface of nearly every man I know. This movie was released just before my dear sweet nephew Ben was born, but it strikes me now as made especially for him. I know one day we’ll watch it together, and my old bones will creak for the next six months as we painstakingly recreate every battle scene without the benefit of CGI.

I may prefer del Toro’s smaller films, but his visionary genius means that when  you give him a pile of money to make a monster movie, he’s going to make you feel every inch of the enormity on screen. The scale is astonishing. Del Toro likes to create huge sets, giving his actors plenty of real stuff to react to, so though this movie is of course effects-heavy, it’s probably not as heavy as you think. There’s loads of practical stuff in there too – miniatures, and models, whole sets built on hydraulics so things will jostle exactly as they should when a mega monster stalks by. Guillermo del Toro is a world builder, and Pacific Rim has a lot of his usual hallmarks, just swathed in the gleeful fantasies of his inner 10 year old child.

This is likely the movie that keeps Michael Bay up at night, eating too much Häagen-Dazs: it’s the movie he always means to make but never knows how to.

You may have heard that a new Pacific Rim sequel (“Uprising”) is about to drop – without del Toro at the helm. He’s still producing but declined to direct in order to make The Shape of Water instead (good call, Guillermo!). Charlie Hunnam isn’t returning either (opting to do Pappillon instead, with Legendary’s blessing), so instead John Boyega fills his shoes as Stacker’s son and Mako’s new partner. Are the monsters back? Substitute director Steven DeKnight will attempt to answer – but as a noob, he seems at an immediate disadvantage. I mean, he did direct one episode of Daredevil and 2 of Smallville, so as a white male, that more than qualifies him to have a go at a $150M project. I can’t imagine that he’ll replicate anything like Guillermo’s instinct and soul, but we’ve not got long to wait: Uprising drops in March 2018.

 

Mission Impossible: Make The Mummy Good

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, The Mummy sucks.

This was supposed to be Universal’s Iron Man, ie, the first movie in a successful franchise. Rather than the Marvel Universe, this one was dubbed the Dark Universe, and Universal NE82E04v4jQpaf_1_1had plans to introduce all kinds of monsters from the vaults, including Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster. With MCU releasing both Guardians of the Galaxy 2 AND Spiderman: Homecoming this summer, and an uncharacteristically strong showing from the DCU with Wonder Woman, Universal was distressed. In the rush to save The Mummy, which they knew was bad because they let Tom Cruise have creative control, they released this photo-shopped cast photo just to douse the flames. It didn’t help.

Yes, Tom Cruise’s over-involvement likely hurt the film. He finds a way to roll all of his most obnoxious roles into this one. Notice that Tom Cruise always plays a “regular guy” who for some reason has superhuman traits. He can run super fast. He can beat up many men. He can hold his breath an unnaturally long time. It feels like Tom Cruise has always wanted to play a super hero, and in this film, he tries his best to turn The Mummy into one.

Another big problem with the movie is the exposition, and I’m not sure we can blame that one on Tom Cruise. A pretty good rule of story-telling is “show, don’t tell” but the dyslexic screenwriters seem to have gotten this backwards. They tell. They tell a lot. They tell some more. Then they bring out Russell Crowe to mansplain some more.

And it likely doesn’t help that exactly 0 people were clamouring for a reboot of this franchise. Like, precisely none. In the wistful, wonderful 90s we were somehow charmed

bfl

Brendan Fraser, reading the reviews for Tom Cruise’s The Mummy reboot

by the Brendan Fraser version for a nanosecond and a half. Apparently. But we’re not so easily amused anymore. If Tom Cruise thinks he’s still got it, the worst thing he can do is stand alongside Chris Pratt, Gal Gadot, and Tom Holland, and pretend to be their peers. He’s amazingly ripped for a 55 year old, but with his shirt off, he’s veering quickly into Iggy Pop territory.

But at the end of the day, the Dark Universe feels trapped in the no man’s land between the MCU and the DCU. It lacks the camp and fun of Marvel, but nor does it have the edge of the DCU. It’s neither. It’s miles from funny (Jake Johnson does his best) but also lacks any real thrills, which seem like a monster-movie must. The Mummy is dead on arrival.

Iggy+Pop+Iggy+Stooges+Perform+Hyde+Park+6Rh-y9jlWbql

 

 

SXSW: Colossal

colossal-F71894Other than a major difference in size, Godzilla and a drunk have a lot in common.  They both stumble around erratically, they both have a temper, and they both wreck a lot of stuff.  Though Colossal does not feature Godzilla, presumably due to licencing issues, it does feature a giant monster terrorizing an Asian city (though this time it’s Seoul, Korea instead of Tokyo, Japan).  As you’d expect, the monster’s appearance is big news, so even Gloria (Anne Hathaway) hears about it eventually.  It takes a while for her though because of how drunk she got the night before.

Gloria’s got a lot of problems.  She’s just been kicked out by her longtime boyfriend for drinking too much and she’s been unemployed for way too long.  She’s got no direction and no prospects, so after losing her relationship and place to stay, she heads to her hometown and meets up with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  Since Oscar owns a bar, Gloria stays there all night drinking, and a giant monster appears in Seoul about the time she’s stumbling home the next morning.

Colossal is different than I expected, which is not a bad thing.  Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has created something unique, something much different than any kaiju movie I’ve ever seen.  Colossal is slow paced and focuses largely on people, not monsters, and the characters’ personal growth (/lack thereof) is a very important part of the story.  I don’t want to say more about what Colossal is or isn’t, as I think trying to figure out this movie is part of the fun.  There are definitely some surprises along the way, and those were high points for me.  It’s always interesting when a movie takes an unexpected turn and Colossal offers a few of them.

In support of the unique story, Hathaway and Sudeikis both deliver excellent performances, and the quality of those performances is why this movie works so well.  Seeing Gloria and Oscar reconnect after all these years, discovering each other as adults, is something we can all relate to but we soon learn that the stakes are a little higher here, because Seoul is in peril every morning.

Colossal is set to be released in North America on April 7, 2017.  If you’re interested in seeing a different kind of kaiju movie, one that is more character study than city-destroying rampage, then Colossal is worth watching.

Victor Frankenstein

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe both turn in top-notch performances, but they aren’t enough to make this film worth watching. McAvoy’s outsized talents are downright wasted with this clunky material, and that’s enough to make me mad. To hold a grudge, even. I’m an epic grudge-holder. But first, let me say this: I find myself once again calling out Daniel Radcliffe for an outstanding performance.

victor-frankenstein-gallery-01-gallery-imageI never watched Harry Potter, but out of the goodness of my heart, I don’t hold it against him. He did a very difficult thing: he grew up in front of us, and he did it in the most type-castiest of roles. And yet he’s managed to turn himself into a notable and note-worthy grown-up actor who consistently makes interesting choices. In Victor Frankenstein, he takes on the role of Igor, usually a one-note sidekick, and gives him a fresh and humane spin. Igor becomes the voice of reason, and of humanity as Frankenstein slowly loses his in the pursuit of creating life where it didn’t belong.

You all know the story of Frankenstein and his monster. It’s grosser than ever in this movie, but it’s not exactly new. It’s trying to be steampunky and superheroic with its cool quirk and over the top action sequences, plus some horror notes just to thicken the sauce. You can get a whiff of all these ingredients, which is what makes it all the more frustrating when the recipe fails to victor-frankenstein-gallery-02-gallery-imagecook up anything palatable.

With every jolt of electricity they send through the monster’s dead body parts, you kind of wish some of the sparks would light up the movie. It’s got a beating heart but not much of a brain. McAvoy’s mad scientist and Radcliffe’s sympathetic servant deserve a better medium than this, but you get the sense that the writer and director were ambitious beyond their means. It never quite pulls together. This is one story that was better off not being reanimated.