The Bigger They Come Part 14 (Godzilla, the King of the Monsters, 2019)

Godzilla_King_of_the_Monsters_PosterReturning to the present after Kong Skull Island’s 70’s setting, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is our chance for some giant monster against monster action.

With a quick revisit to the destruction of the end of 2014’s Godzilla by Gareth Edwards, we meet the Russell family who are searching for their son while Godzilla fights the MUTOs.

Jumping to the present, Mark and Emma Russell are estranged, with Emma continuing her scientific work with Monarch. When Emma and their daughter Maddie are kidnapped by Echo-Terrorists, along with a weapon that allows for some communication with the titans, Mark is recruited by Monarch to help get them back.

It turns out to be more complex than that, some believe that the Titans are the key to healing the planet.  But their confidence lacks important data that could doom the planet and humanity.

So… One of my complaints with Edward’s Godzilla was it’s slow drawn out reveal of Godzilla. This was the umpteenth version of Godzilla and the slow reveal was unnecessary and pretty annoying. Here, we get to start seeing the titans very quickly and dramatically.  Director Michael Dougherty knows that a movie called Godzilla: King of the Monsters will need to deliver on the monsters.

And boy does he.  The film has several exciting sequences as Godzilla fights the new renditions of classic ToHo monsters. The designs of the creatures are great, they have a sense of life and threat.

I also liked the human characters in this film. It was nice to see Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins return from the previous film. Chandler is solid as a character who would just as soon see the titans all dead, but is forced to confront his anger and bitterness to save his family and the world. Vera Farmiga is both sympathetic and frustrating as Emma, who loves her family, but seems to skirt the line of ethics in her choices.  And Stranger Thing’s Millie Bobby Brown is very good as the surviving child who really wants to do what is right and also honor her lost brother.  The film has a fun supporting cast as well.

I really enjoyed this film.  The myth building, the action and the characters came together for crazy monster bashing fun.

 

Pokémon Is a Mystery (Pokémon Detective Pikachu, 2019)

Pokemon_Detective_Pikachu_PosterI will be honest…I went into this film knowing very little. Pokémon rose to prominence at a time where it passed me right by. So, I sat in the theater basically knowing that Pokémon are super powered animal things that people catch or somethings.

Thankfully, Pokémon Detective Pikachu gives you just enough information to make it easy enough to follow.

Justice Smith is Tim Goodman…a young man who once aspired to be a Pokémon Trainer, but after his mother dies and his relationship with his father fell apart, he never even took on a Pokémon partner.

After he is informed his father is dead, he finds his father’s Pikachu, who has amnesia, but is certain that Tim’s dad is alive.  Unexpectedly, Tim is able to speak with Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Reluctantly, the two try and determine what has happened to Tim’s dad.

This brings them into contact with Lucy, an aspiring reporter who is certain she is onto a dark secret involving Pokémon.

After the debacle involving Sonic the Hedgehog, it is interesting to see how successfully the filmmakers adapted the aesthetic of the cartoon designs to a live action setting.  The various Pokémon simultaneously are cartoonish, but feel very plausible in the world we are watching.

The humor is well played throughout the film, embracing the absurdity of it’s premise.  And there is a really good chemistry between Smith and Reynolds, they play off each other really well.

All in all, as someone that had no attachment to the Pokémon franchise, I had a lot of fun watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu.  It was goofy fun, And the reviews from my two nephews (six and eight) was that they loved it.

 

The Bigger They Come Part 2 (Godzilla, 2014)

godzilla_2014_posterGodzilla has always seemed to have some trouble when Hollywood takes the reins.  1998’s misguided spectacle is the pinnacle of this.  Gareth Edwards and his team opted to take a step back.  They did not, of course, go with the “Man in Rubber Suit” approach…but their digital Godzilla is far more in line with the traditional Godzilla.

Starting in 1999, there is a mysterious and horrifying event at a nuclear power plant in Janjira, Japan.  American employee Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife (Juliette Binoche) in the event, while his relationship with his son Ford becomes estranged as the years pass and Cranston’s obsession with the accident grows.  In 2014, Ford is in the military and returning home to his wife and son.  He gets a call that his father (still in Japan) has been arrested.  The location of the event is off limits to the public, due to claims of radiation.  Joe convinces Ford to explore Janjira one more time…and they discover a a secret research facility and some large monster referred to as a Muto that appears to be in hibernation. Of course, it wakes up and starts seeking it’s other half.

This results in the awakening of something else that comes in to fight these giants.  You know…Godzilla.  Godzilla is setup in this film as the hero, with no questions by the end of how people see him.

Edwards takes a very slow reveal approach.  This serves the film well, making it very satisfying when the audience gets to see Godzilla in full monster lizard glory.  At the same time, the film’s primary focus is on Ford and nurse (and wife) Elle.  And honestly?  They are tremendously boring characters.  So, when the film does not have Cranston or Ken Watanabe or Godzilla on screen, things get dull fast.

The opening credits are really nicely done, giving the audience old news reels indicating the existence of monsters…we get brief hints of Godzilla (mostly his back-plates) and evidence the military attempted to kill him.

Overall, the story is pretty simple, giant monsters appear and fight and cause destruction.  It is a fairly strong attempt to capture the feel of older Godzilla films, and in some ways does it smashingly well.  It is the centering of Ford and Elle that lacks any emotional punch that is needed in a film like this.  What makes it a bit more disappointing is Cranston and Binoche do have chemistry that makes them compelling…and they pull it off in about ten minutes of screen time.

When I Was a Kid (Batman Begins, 2005)

Batman-Begins-posterIt took until 2005 for Batman to return to the big screen.  From the start, we knew this was going to be a more serious take on the character than the previous films.  They were starting over and taking their inspiration from Batman: Year One.  Warner Brothers brought in Christopher Nolan (director of Following and Memento) to craft a Batman for the modern movie age.  They started to announce their cast and people started to get excited.  Christian Bale. Gary Oldman.  Liam Neeson.  Literally the most controversial casting choice was Katie Holmes…and that was more after the film was released.

Batman Begins is a refreshing take on the character.  It followed closely the stories such as Year One.  And instead of going with villains we had already seen, they opted for two that had not been used in film before.  Ra’s Al Ghul was a longstanding comic book Bat Nemesis who ruled over the elite league of assassins.

Young Bruce Wayne struggles to come to terms with the death of his parents at the hands of low level thug Joe Chill.  He plots to kill Chill, but is convinced by Rachel Dawes (Holmes) to not give into the revenge.  So Bruce drops off the grid and wanders the planet  getting into scrapes and apparently lots of prisons…until he meet Ducard, the mysterious emissary to Ra’s Al Ghul.  After training with the league of assassins, Bruce discovers that the League has plans to erase Gotham off the map, believing it is beyond saving.

When Bruce returns to Gotham, he decides that he needs to use his training to combat the decay of the mob and other criminal activity.  The film also focuses on Detective Jim Gordon and his attempts to deal with corruption inside and outside his force.  As Batman, Bruce Wayne realizes he has an ally.  Of course, the League of Assassins has no intention of giving up their plan.

Nolan was not known for being an action film director prior to this, and it shows.  Sometimes things are to tightly framed making the action hard to follow.  There are great action sequences, but there are times where they are not as easy to follow.

The story is not hard to follow, and unlike previous Batman films, the multiple villains  does not ruin the pacing.  And how the villains are tied together makes sense.  Nolan and his time understand how to intertwine the elements of a tale.

The film is also nearly perfectly cast.  Bale sells the notion of a man with a singular purpose.  Michael Caine’s Alfred is a new and unique take on the character in film and television.  He is a bit rougher and has a military background.  You can see he was hired as much for his strength as his support.  He can be tough, wise and gentle when it is called for.

And then there is Gary Oldman’s Detective Gordon.  He is struggling to try and keep things together, but not out of incompetence, but simply because Gotham is falling apart and the seems, and at times, he seems alone in trying to stem the tide.  It is great to see the movies finally elevate his presence.  He is a far more important to the Bat Mythos than Burton or Schumacher ever seemed to realize.

As Ducard, Neeson brings an self righteous arrogance that sees him in a role of dangerous judge and jury.  Lucius Fox is played by Morgan Freeman in one of those Freeman roles where he is wise and underestimated.   Cillian Murphy’s psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane is creepy, even before he dons his Scarecrow mask.  Holmes is the weakest link.  It is not that she is terrible, but she is out of her depth with the rest of the cast.

Gotham is no longer a hyper stylized city with crazy architecture.  Instead, it is a rundown city, with a recognizable look that could be the streets of a large metropolis.  It is very effective.

Batman Begin’s is a solid start to a new series of films.  It is the path I wish Bryan Singer had followed with Superman.  We are introduced to an exciting world with much potential (as hinted in the final moments of the film).

Diversify

So, last Sunday’s Oscars happened.  There was much questioning in advance of how Chris Rock would address the #OscarsSoWhite controversies.  Some felt he should drop out.  Some felt he should use the the night to stick it to Hollywood racism.  And, he did pretty good.  Rock had some good jokes that called out the racism at play…Hollywood’s “Sorority style Racism” as Rock noted.  But Rock’s bits could have been better.

It started to become apparent that Rock’s calls to diversity were somewhat single dimensional.  In fact people on twitter started noting that Diversity is a bit bigger than Rock’s focus.  Aasif Mandvi tweeted:

hey , diversity is not just and .

He was met with a response that stated that because Chris Rock is black, he was focusing on black performers.  Which, to be frank, is a pretty bullshit excuse.  Rock was hosting the Oscars to a broader public.  Asians and Latinos (just to name two groups left out) had every right to be frustrated by Rock’s extraordinarily narrow observations.

In a bit of irony, Rock’s race themed bits all highlighted white versus black.  He only spoke of black actors vs white actors.  There was a distinct lack of diversity.  Heck, it even looked as if he  and his writers lifted the Martian Gag from the Nightly Show.*

All of Rock’s bits would have been funnier with an expanded racial scope.  Of course, pointing this out has gotten some hit with accusations of saying the same thing as “All Lives Matter”.  Which is absolutely false.  Let me cut folks off at the pass.  This is false.  Period.  There is no discussion to be had.  Pointing out that other races were not recognized by Rock is not the equivalent of saying all lives matter.  Why don’t we look at some facts  about Oscar Diversity.  It is not a pretty picture.

There has not been an Asian Best Actor nomination since Ben Kingsly in 2003.  There has not been an Asian Winner since 1982, which was also Ben Kingsly.  It was 26 years earlier that there was another Asian nominated.  That was Yul Brenner in 1956.  And he won.  You have two Asian winners in the Best Actor category.  There was one Asian woman nominated for Best Actress.  Merle Oberon in 1935. Not a single Asian Actress has been nominated since.  Not even from the Joy Luck Club, which got no nominations for it’s actors.

Surely it is better for the supporting roles, right?  Between 1957 and now?  Best Supporting actor has nominated Asian Actors six times.  Of those six?  Two are Ben Kingsly.  The only win was Haing S. Ngor for the Killing Fields in 1984.  The last nomination was Ken Watanabe in 2003.

Supporting Actress?  Since 1957? Again, six.  The last being Hailee Standfield in 2010’s True Grit.  Only one win, that was to Miyoshi Umeki in 1957.

So, what about Latinos?  Surely, they fared way better in acting nominations and wins, right?

Well, for best actor?  Five since 1950.  Last nomination was Demián Bichir in 2011.  Last win? 1950’s José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac.  For supporting role, there six nominations. One was for José Ferrer in 1948.  Anthony Quinn was nominated and won twice.  Andy Garcia and the other two went to Benicio del Toro, who won in 2000 for Traffic.

Best Actress had three nominations between 1998 and 2004.  That is all, no wins.  Just three nominations in the history of the Oscars.  Supporting Actress?  Six nominations between 1954 and 2013.  And I bet that 2013 nomination would catch people off guard, because it is Lupita Nyong’o.  She and Rita Moreno are the only wins.

Native Americans have three nominations in the history of the Oscars.  Three.

While looking for that last one I found this article which sums all the information up nicely.

Chris Rock focused heavily on the lack of Black actors.  Since 1958, there has been 18 nominations.  This includes Will Smith (Twice), by the way.    Morgan Freeman was nominated three times.  Denzel Washington four times.  There have been four wins (Sidney Poitier, Washington, Jamie Fox and Forrest Whitaker).  Best actress has only had ten nominations since 1954 and only a single win (Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball in 2001).

Best supporting actor has seen sixteen nominations and four wins since 1969.  The wins were Louis Gossett Jr., Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr and Morgan Freeman.  Best supporting actress?  Eighteen nominations with six wins (Hattie McDaniel, Whoopie Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o) between 1939 and 2013.

Going by the actual numbers, those individuals who were telling Asians, Native Americans, Latinos and other minority groups to just accept that they were being ignored?  They have the bigger gripe.  Asians, Latinos, Native American performances are far less recognized.  In comparison, black performers are getting more of the opportunities.

Hollywood needs more diversity.  Hollywood needs to expand it’s recognition.  But Rock made his bits all about black actors, every single bit featured only black actors (or in one case Black “Man on the Street” interviewees), and Rock gave no recognition to the lack of diversity other races (who have had even less recognition in Oscar History).  But he did manage a racist Asian joke.  Way to go with the appeal to diversity.

*The Nightly show did the “What if Mark Watney Was Black” gag a few weeks back.  It is entirely possible that the Oscar version was recorded in “competition” and it was coincidence…but it was the exact same joke, just the Oscar version got the original white actors.

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