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

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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: ‘First Man’ Captures All the Stresses of Neil Armstrong’s Trip to the Moon

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CREDIT: Daniel McFadden/Universal

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

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Wigham, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Olivia Hamilton, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Psychological Fallout of Preparing for Space Travel

Release Date: October 12, 2018

There are a few things I want to say about First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic. First of all, it’s the best I’ve ever seen a film portray the stresses of going up into space. That certainly is not to say that the likes of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 have made takeoff and its aftermath look like a cakewalk, but in focusing on one individual, First Man burrows in and exposes so many extra levels of intensity. We’re right there with Neil as he staggers to the bathroom following a stint in a g-force simulator, and when he endures multiple tragedies. This is a man who must deal with the accidental deaths of multiple colleagues as well as the loss of a young daughter from disease. Accordingly, Ryan Gosling plays him as a man wearing the weight of the world on his face for basically 2 hours straight.

Next, I have plenty to say about Claire Foy as Neil’s wife, Janet. She gives a hell of a performance, displaying the sort of fiery emotion and desperate toughness that you can’t look away from. She is definitely enough of her own person that we can clearly see her as more than just a wife and mother. But this is very much Neil’s film with everyone else orbiting around him, and as such, Foy is playing The Wife. One example of such gender disparity between lead and supporting roles is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it is part of a Hollywood history that favors men’s over women’s stories. This is an issue that is better discussed than pontificated upon, so please, let’s continue to have these conversations. And let’s not place too much blame on First Man in the meantime, but instead work to expand what stories are valued by the historical record.

Finally, a note on some technical matters. Composer Justin Hurwitz triumphs with a quiet, but forceful score that gives First Man the stamina it needs to maintain its intensity over 2-plus hours. It is a bit of a lullaby that plants the expanse of space right into our souls in a way similar to how it surely felt for Armstrong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography, on the other hand, while similarly technically accomplished, is more than a little exhausting. A constant (subtly vibrating) handheld setup is just too much to bear for such a significant running time. That’s just one little bit of too much intensity in a film that’s otherwise so acutely calibrated.

First Man is Recommended If You Like: Intimate Biopics

Grade: 3.75 of 5 G Forces

 

This Is a Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

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This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Running Time: 137 Minutes

Rating: R for Adult Themes Discussed and Left Undiscussed

Release Date: November 18, 2016 (Limited)

In Manchester by the Sea, Boston handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) must return home to his Massachusetts fishing village hometown after the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). He is then shocked to discover that Joe has entrusted him as the sole guardian of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). As he struggles to settle back into life in Manchester-by-the-Sea, he must deal with returning to a place where his existence is practically an urban legend and crossing paths with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) after their marriage ended in tragedy.

That sounds like a formula for a bummer, and indeed the emotions are often heavy. But if you come in stealing yourself for non-stop depression, like I did, then you will be pleasantly surprised by how much humor there is. At times it plays like an odd couple buddy comedy between Affleck and Hedges, even when long-simmering familial tensions are at their most contentious. The two even act as impromptu wingmen for each other. The film’s sexual politics involving adolescents and how much parents are privy to them are both progressive and screwball.

But Manchester by the Sea undoubtedly belongs to Affleck. I had heard his is one of the best performances of the year. So I was on the lookout for any clear techniques that would show off his emotional prowess, which are not obvious. Do not be fooled though. I have been won over, even though I cannot pinpoint any one at which I would say, “There it is!” Perhaps you will feel the same way.

The question of why Lee’s life has ended up the way it has is pressing at every turn. He has been the victim of multiple tragedies, but that can hardly be the entire source of blame, as his hotheadedness is constantly betraying him. For anyone who has ever had loved ones drag themselves and everyone else down, take a breath, and then take several more, as you stick with the duration of this film. It will reward you for your patience.

Manchester by the Sea is Recommended If You Like: Hanging out with the family, Bah-ston accents, A Surprise Cameo from a Cinematic Icon

Grade: 4 out of 5 Sucker Punches from Casey Affleck