Movie Review: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Delivers What it Promises, But It’s a Huge Mess

1 Comment

CREDIT: Warner Bros./YouTube

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Straitharn, Ziyi Zhang

Director: Michael Dougherty

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Monster-on-Monster Smashing and Even Some Human-on-Human Violence

Release Date: May 31, 2019

As promised, there are plenty of massive beasts in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but there are also a lot of human beings, and they’ve got plenty on their to-do list. They debate which monsters are friends and which are foe, and they retrieve some objects that may or may not be MacGuffins, and honestly I could not make heads or tails of what they’re trying to do. This is a murderer’s row of heavy hitters wading through incomprehensibility. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, though, because when you come to see a Godzilla movie, you’re there for the monsters.

But here’s the thing: the fight scenes are just as incoherent! They’re distressingly dark, and edited way too quickly to make sense of what is going on. Every once in a while, there’s a really satisfying chomp or smackdown, but for the most part the splendor of the kaiju is obscured by too much visual clutter. King of the Monsters put me most in mind of the third Transformers flick, Dark of the Moon, a good chunk of which was an interminable clash of metal on metal. King of the Monsters is marred by sound design that is just as off-putting. In theory, I can understand why people would enjoy Godzilla getting into a battle royale with Mothra, Rodan, and the like a lot more than I can understand the appeal of robots clanging against each other. But this numbing onslaught is far from the best that this genre can offer.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is Recommended If You Like: Non-stop giant monster battles

Grade: 2 out of 5 Roars

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Destroyer’ is Worth Admiring for Nicole Kidman Inhabiting a Detective Whose Soul and Psyche Are Paralyzed by Undercover Work

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Sabrina Lantos/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Jade Pettyjohn, Bradley Whitford, Scoot McNairy, Toby Huss

Director: Karyn Kusama

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for The Nasty Violence, Sex, and Drugs of Police Work at Its Most Unmoored

Release Date: December 25, 2018 (Limited)

Destroyer plays a bit like Memento, with its irregular temporal structure and out-of-sorts lead character investigating some unsavory behavior in Los Angeles. But besides a few moments in which everything clicks into place, Destroyer‘s narrative approach is more maddening than brain-tickling. Where Memento‘s backwards arrangement was both revolutionary and strikingly purposeful, Destroyer‘s propensity towards flashbacks and withholding information just feels haphazard. Perhaps director Karyn Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi had a clear purpose in mind, but that does not really come across in the final product. But at least they have a typically riveting performance from Nicole Kidman to hold everyone’s attention.

Kidman plays LAPD detective Erin Bell, who is basically the epitome of someone whose life has been destroyed by working undercover. The events cut back and forth between her time infiltrating a criminal gang and nearly two decades later when the leader of that crew re-emerges. With perpetually puffy eyes, chapped skin and lips, and dusty hair, she is a walking husk of a person, and you get the sense that she has been that way every day for quite some time. The message seems to be that the lying and identity warping of undercover work cannot possibly be worth whatever good it accomplishes, to which I say: you didn’t have to make an entire grungy movie to convince me! There are a few pleasures to be had when you finally realize why certain memories are as traumatic as they are for Erin and why the opening scene is what it is. But it is a big ask to go down into the muck with Kidman for two hours, although she is at least decent company.

Destroyer is Recommended If You Like: Appreciating the full range of Nicole Kidman’s oeuvre, The dry skin-cracking Los Angeles sun

Grade: 3 out of 5 Spoiled Relationships

 

This Is a Movie Review: The Defense of Journalism Mounted by ‘The Post’ is Admirable and Often Rousing, But Almost Quaint

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, David Cross, Alison Brie, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Jesse Plemons, Carrie Coon, Zach Woods

Director: Steven Spielberg

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Deadline-Related Light Profanity

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide January 12, 2018

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees some fundamental freedoms, but certain limits on those freedoms are understood. Hate speech is not protected by free speech, for example, and human sacrifice is not protected by freedom of religion. But there is not quite the same shorthand for limits on a free press. Publishing anything demonstrably libelous is certainly unacceptable, but when is it inappropriate to print what is in fact true and has hitherto been hidden? This question is at the heart of so many present-day media matters, so in comes Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which examines a time when this conflict was a momentous occasion and not an everyday one.

In 1971, The Washington Post finds itself in possession of the Pentagon Papers, a trove of documents detailing the United States’ involvement in Vietnam over the past few decades. Executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his team of journalists think the public deserves to know this information. The federal government says it would be a felony to print it. There is no mistaking where The Post (both the paper and the film) comes down on this conflict. This is not new information and thus serves no imminent threat to American troops in Vietnam. The only harm it can cause is embarrassment for former presidents. The actual conflict that The Post grapples is the attempted reconciliation between ethical and business concerns.

The constant struggle of press outlets, even institutions as big as The Washington Post, is figuring out how to make money by delivering the truth. That struggle is writ large when making a public offering, which is what we’ve got here. Do you make a stronger case to your investors by laying low or by making a ruckus in the course of standing up for your principals? As publisher Katharine Graham, Meryl Streep is all contorted faces and knotted anxiety as she takes the lead to make the decision of printing the Papers or not. The drama is wrung in screwball fashion, with Bradlee appealing to her over the phone at the last a minute, as a gaggle of other interested parties hop on the line.

For as grand as The Post’s ambitions are, it is strange to consider that most of it takes place over the course of just one day. It all then feels almost inconsequential, but of course, certain individual moments can change the course of everything. When that is the case, there has probably been months, or even years, of work behind the scenes setting up those moments, as conveyed by an early scene of Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) gathering and absconding with the Papers. Also delivering the dynamic agita is Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, an old buddy of Ellsberg’s who tracks down the delivery. Odenkirk’s comedic background is an asset – he moves about with a paranoid shuffle that is somewhere between absolutely necessary and hilariously unnecessary. Also rousing is a typesetting montage following the decision to publish the Papers. This mechanical peek at how things are done is a valuable reminder of underlying structure in much the same way that Michael Mann’s Blackhat spent so much visual space on the wires that undergird the Internet.

Ultimately, while The Post’s advocacy for journalism is timeless, its story feels small-scale, a prelude to the much bigger fallout of Watergate and all the modern-day scandals that use -gate in their nomenclature. The Richard Nixon of The Post is only ever seen from behind and through a window. His fight against the press was fought in the shadows, but today his same tactics are being employed right out in the open. The Post’s lessons are ones I hope everyone takes to heart, but I wonder (despair?) how useful they are when the sorts of secrets exposed by the Pentagon Papers are now nonchalantly tweeted every day.

The Post is Recommended If You Like: All the President’s Men, Spotlight, a Free Press

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sealed Documents

This Is a Movie Review: The Partnership Between ‘Megan Leavey’ and Bomb-Sniffing Rex is One for the Ages, Elevating an Otherwise Ho-Hum Biopic

Leave a comment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Kate Mara, Edie Falco, Ramón Rodríguez, Common, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Medium-Grade Explosives Injuries

Release Date: June 9, 2017

There is plenty of research and apocryphal evidence suggesting that dogs experience genuine emotions and form interspecies bonds much the same way that humans do. This always comes with the caveat that we can never exactly know the accuracy of those conclusions, as none of us has ever literally been inside a dog’s head. Most of the research I have encountered has included little, if any, reference to military bomb-sniffing dogs, which is a bit of a lost opportunity as that high pressure occupation surely has a noteworthy effect on the canine psyche. But at least now we can examine the compelling evidence of Marine Corporal Megan Leavey and her dog Rex.

Megan Leavey is a fairly straightforward military story, but it distinguishes itself with its high-class casting and its crew of sniffers. Kate Mara is sufficiently lived-in as the title character, imbuing actual personality into voiceover about how she needs to escape her boring New York town. As her parents, Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford do as much as they can with underwritten, limited screen time. And a fellow soldier (Ramón Rodríguez) strikes up decently sizzling chemistry with Leavey, despite the extent of their attraction consisting of an opposites attract thing where she’s a Yankees fan, and he’s a Mets fan.

But forget about the humans, we’re here to talk about Rex! We can also discuss Megan a little, so long as she bonds sufficiently with Rex. Obviously, she does, given the film’s whole premise. The two save a lot of lives in their bomb detection efforts and in the process grow as close as any human and dog experiencing intense stress together could.

After retiring from the service, Leavey fights through bureaucracy all the way to the U.S. Senate to change Rex’s “unadoptable” classification. It is not hard to get the audience on your side in such a mission, but it can be challenging to avoid schmaltz. This film makes you tear up, but it also earns your respect. Megan enters therapy to deal with her PTSD and her grief over missing Rex, and both ailments are treated with the dignity that they deserve. Their ultimate reunion is affecting not just because it is always adorable to cuddle a dog, but because Mara thoroughly convinces us that Leavey really did learn how to love from Rex.

Megan Leavey is Recommended If You Like: The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, Homeward Bound

Grade: 3 out of 5 Good Boys

 

This Is a Movie Review: Get Out

2 Comments

get-out-daniel-kaluuya

Get Out did not have me getting out of my seat from fright, which is unsurprising because I generally don’t get too scared at horror movies. But I imagine most people will not be frightened, as its techniques are less about jump scares (though it does have those) or general dread than about mindbending. Its signature concept (“the sunken place”) is a killer example.

This is basically cultural appropriation as body horror. Knowing that it is from Jordan Peele makes it easy – and sensible – to say that this concept could have started as a comedy sketch that evolved into a fright flick. And indeed, as the reveal plays out, it is clear that this actually has been done as comedy before.

I have a slight problem with a couple of moments that are endemic to the evil genius genre, in which small mistakes inexplicably give the hero a fighting chance. But I don’t want to quibble too much, because this is a clever extreme dramatization of a real societal fear, which is what the best horror movies do.

I give Get Out 18 Awkwardly Casually Racist Remarks out of 20 Days.