When elite underwater rescue guy Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham, GHOSTS OF MARS) tries to save his friends from a damaged nuclear submarine, he makes a controversial decision to shut a door and leave behind some of the crew, saving eleven others from an explosion. His career and life are ruined by that hard choice. And also because he believes the sub was attacked by a monster and everybody thinks he’s nuts.
Years later he lives in Disgraced Hero Exile in Thailand, drinking all day in his Thai farmer hat, running a small fishing boat. It’s clear that he’s a sweetheart when some little kids wave at him on his motorcycle and he makes a funny face for them. I liked this little touch, though it kind of undercuts the later badass juxtaposition of his friendship with a little girl named Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai).
Of course he’s resistant at first when his old buddy Mac (Cliff Curtis, DEEP RISING, WHALE RIDER, THE POOL, RIVER QUEEN, THE FOUNTAIN… he does alot of water related movies, is my point) shows up to recruit him for another rescue. This time it’s people working for a high tech underwater lab who lost radio contact. And one of them is his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee, THE LOVED ONES). In a refreshing swerve from standard action movie protocol, he just likes and respects her, and is not trying to win her back. He does get to tell her “I told you so,” of course, when they all see that giant monster that they spent years telling him he didn’t really see. (read the rest of this shit…)
This is weird, there’s a JURASSIC PARK sequel that came out 2 1/2 months ago and I didn’t get around to seeing it until this weekend, when it’s down to two showings a day. I think I saw all the other ones opening day or weekend. But maybe it was a smart move on this one because it benefits from the lowered expectations of everyone telling me it was trash.
In JURASSIC WORLD, you remember, they reopened the dinosaur park and the dinosaurs reattacked the new park and there was a new guy named Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, WEINERS) who was real macho and always trying to show off the size of his forearms. And he trains raptors and has a contentious bickery love with an uptight lady who works at the park named Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, TERMINATOR SALVATION).
In FALLEN KINGDOM, the dinos are still loose on abandoned Isla Nubar, where a volcano is about to erupt. Claire is now a dinosaur rights activist trying to convince the government to act to save these endangered dinosaurs. She’s contacted by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall, GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS), who runs the estate of John Hammond’s dying partner Lockwood (James Cromwell, SPECIES II; also played Howard’s father in SPIDER-MAN 3) and wants to fund the rescue mission. But he especially wants to find Blue, the most intelligent raptor, and knows that Owen is the only person who could track her. (read the rest of this shit…)
“We got approached with GODZILLA, and Dean was really in favor. I said, ‘Are you crazy? Have you seen a Godzilla film? How does the monster look? They put a guy in there.'” –Roland Emmerich
Man, LOST IN SPACE was a terrible summer blockbuster, but I was kind of excited to take a look at it because I had skipped it at the time and there was 20 years of curiosity build-up. And there’s another one coming later in the summer that I despised at the time, but it ended up being influential and kickstarting an in-my-opinion-bad-but-oddly-fascinating filmography, so I’m looking forward to finding out how I’ll feel about it now.
GODZILLA has neither of those factors going for it. I thought it sucked then and it has not grown better or more interesting. Director Roland Emmerich (WHITE HOUSE DOWN) has gone on to make fairly successful (but widely mocked) FX movies, often in the disaster genre. The only significance to this one is that it deflated his premature ascension to blockbuster-A-list after the still-befuddling-to-me smash success of INDEPENDENCE DAY in 1996. TriStar Pictures managed to build up fevered anticipation with a series of teasers that kept the design of the monster a secret. I remember one used the scene where the fisherman runs down the dock as Godzilla’s spikes tear through it. The tagline “SIZE DOES MATTER” simultaneously promised thrilling spectacle and giggled “ha ha, you get it, because of penises.”
I was skeptical on account of my belief in the auteur theory. I was one of the rare wet blankets who hated ID4 (which stands for “Independence Day takes place partly on July 4th”) and as much as I wanted to see a cool modern Godzilla movie I didn’t think this guy had the skills to do it. On May 20th most of the world ended up agreeing with me. (read the rest of this shit…)
A QUIET PLACE is a really effective monster movie that goes a long way just on the strong execution of a simple, cool premise. 89 days ago as of the opening scene, civilization as we know it ended under the sharp teeth of some GREAT WALL-esque man-eating monsters. They’re blind, but they have great hearing and they run fast, so they’ll zip in and munch on anybody who makes any kind of noise. That could be some librarian’s bedtime story to keep the kids in line, but it feels a little more like THE ROAD or something.
We follow a family who have already developed methods to survive in this dangerous new reality. They live on an isolated farm, they speak in sign language. Their daughter (Millicent Simmonds, WONDERSTRUCK) is deaf, so she’s good at being silent, but of course she doesn’t necessarily hear if there’s a monster behind her or someone else is making a sound that’s gonna attract one. They’ve developed warning systems involving lights, torches that seem to communicate with other survivors (though we never see them) and various emergency backup plans. When they need to go into town to scavenge they walk barefoot on trails of sand (I wonder where they got all that from?) It shows just how serious this is, and how much work they have to put into it, and also it’s a cool visual. (read the rest of this shit…)
You know who had a hell of a studio? Those Shaw Brothers. As far as a company that develops a formula and evolves an artform into a recognizable “brand,” those guys were tops. Within their voluminous catalog are hundreds of period martial arts films, including some of the best ever made, THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN and THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER being my favorites of the small percentage I’ve seen. I’m sure I’ll be watching these for the rest of my life and never see all of the good ones or get tired of their approach.
But it’s still a special treat, an exotic delicacy, a rare limited edition collectors item when you see one that breaks out of the usual template. For example I love SUPER INFRA-MAN, their version of a kaiju movie. MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG – the third film directed by Wong Jing, who recently did CHASING THE DRAGON with Donnie Yen – isn’t as unique as that, but it’s a beautiful thing: the talents of the Shaw Studios stunt teams and choreographers applied to a contemporary ’80s story with guns, grenades and motor vehicles. It came out in 1982, same year as FIRST BLOOD, but seems to predict that post-RAMBO-2 period with its Vietnam vets putting the team back together and returning to the jungle to fight drug lords. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as Sammo Hung’s amazing EASTERN CONDORS, but it’s a similar vibe of seeing tropes we love from American action being elaborated upon using techniques unique to Hong Kong cinema. (read the rest of this shit…)
(may contain traces of spoilers)
THE SHAPE OF WATER is kinda like Guillermo del Toro’s version of AMELIE, and obviously in his version Amelie fucks a sea monster. Sally Hawkins (NEVER LET ME GO, GODZILLA) plays Elisa, a mute (but not deaf) lady living a quirky life in Cold War era Baltimore. Her apartment is above a beautiful one-screen movie theater showing THE STORY OF RUTH. Her next door neighbor and best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins, BLUE STEEL) is a gay painter of magazine advertisements who lives with a bunch of cats. In the opening scene, a nearby chocolate factory is on fire, so he’s even given an impression of how the place smells (shoulda seen it in 4DX).
Elisa’s job is mopping floors in an aerospace research lab, and one night the bosses bring in “The Asset” (Doug Jones, FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER), a creature from the unspecified lagoon in a metal tube, for top secret experiments. Elisa and her co-worker friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer, HALLOWEEN II, DRAG ME TO HELL) don’t see it at first, but they hear its roar and have to clean up its bloody mess when it removes two fingers from sadistic head of security Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, BAD BOYS II) without getting his permission.
We all know del Toro loves his creatures, and we’ll get to that. He also delights in contrasting them against depraved monsters of the human variety. Strickland is one of these, an aggressive bully who likes to talk about “signs of weak character” and the brand and stats of the cattle prod he carries around. You know you’re a bad person if you have a little speech prepared about your favorite candy that you can suddenly go into while intimidating somebody so they’ll think “Oh good, he changed the subject to candy all the sudden, I don’t understand why but maybe we are going to eat candy now or something” and then “Oh no, I should’ve known, he only brought up the candy as an analogy for his philosophy of brutal torture.” (read the rest of this shit…)
(also being called WOLF WARRIORS II)
Some time in the last year or two I saw WOLF WARRIOR, the 2015 sophomore directing vehicle of martial arts star Wu Jing (KILL ZONE 1 and 2, FATAL CONTACT), but I barely remember it. Scott Adkins was the mercenary villain, and I remember it was cool to see him play a bad guy in a Hong Kong movie again, and that their fights were pretty good. But otherwise the movie made such little impression that I didn’t even feel like I had enough thoughts about it to write a review.
But now there’s a WOLF WARRIOR II and it’s such a big deal in China that it has already beaten THE MERMAID‘s record as their highest grossing film ever. And rather than making us wait for it to come over here later, they have it playing at the AMC theater downtown. Meanwhile, some people on Twitter were talking it up, and promised me that they enjoyed it without having seen the first one, so I decided to give it a shot. (read the rest of this shit…)
SHIN GODZILLA – or NEW GODZILLA, or TRUE GODZILLA, or GOD GOZILLA – is the new Japanese Godzilla movie, a regular rubber suit one even though it’s from acclaimed anime director Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) (co-director Shinji Higuchi has worked on anime and live action and live action anime and did effects for the GAMERA trilogy). They’d stopped making Godzilla movies in Japan, I guess, but the recent American one by Gareth Edwards got them itching to start over again. So this is yet another do-over where they discover the King of the Monsters for the first time and he doesn’t have another monster to fight. He just has Tokyo.
There is plenty of computer animation, but also alot of the old rubber suit, animatronics and miniature models, sometimes deliberately, nostalgically old school. When Godzilla first emerges he’s in a comically fucked up form with crazy googly eyes, little nubs instead of arms and a chest that expands and contracts like an accordion. He evolves through several stages throughout the movie, so by the end he’s absorbing power and firing energy beams out of his spines like a laser show. And according to my research he is the tallest Godzilla ever, and the one with the longest, weirdest and most fucked up tail. But his eyes never quite stop looking like a turkey’s. (read the rest of this shit…)
KONG presents SKULL ISLAND is a goofy, pulpy monster movie that doesn’t live up to the hallowed cinematic legacy of KING KONG, but hey, it works as a more exploitative sequel. I think my expectations for this were more inflated than most because of how much I dug director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first movie, THE KINGS OF SUMMER. That was an original comedy with wise, relatable insights into humanity, masculinity and growing up. I don’t think there’s any reason why a punching gorilla monster movie can’t have that kind of substance behind it too, but to me this feels less human and more like the work of one of these distanced, pop culture loving whippersnappers.
In an unusual but arguably tasteless move, Vogt-Roberts set the movie at the end of the Vietnam War, an international disaster that he treats like a cool movie reference. The talk about senseless loss of human lives feels less impassioned and emphasized than the orange APOCALYPSE NOW sunsets and helicopters and the soundtrack that largely comes straight off of the Songs That Movies Use As Shorthand For the Vietnam Era, Volume I 2-CD set.
But to be fair, “Down On the Street” by the Stooges and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath are two heavily-featured songs that wouldn’t be on the Robert Zemeckis version of this. And believe it or not alot of it was filmed on location in the actual country of Vietnam, unlike any Vietnam War movie I know of. Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong (3oo, SUPER 8)’s bright orange, yellow and red skies make it stand out visually from any other giant monster movie. (read the rest of this shit…)