Godzilla (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: May 16, 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards

A Japanese power plant is destroyed by an unknown force in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) narrowly avoids death, but his wife is not so lucky. Years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Joe’s son,  has mostly severed contact with his obsessed father, who searches for answers to the disaster in Japan. When Joe is arrested, Ford reluctantly travels to Japan to bail him out and the two of them find themselves witness to the awakening of a creature who lurks in the ocean’s waters underneath the radioactive ruins of the Janjira nuclear plant. To battle this new menace, Godzilla rises from the deep once more.

There are a couple of weird things about this movie.

1. It’s more of a disaster movie than anything else.
2. Godzilla, for whom the movie was named, is barely in it.

With that said – this movie was very enjoyable, at least to me. It was by no means perfect, but considering all the Godzilla and Godzilla-inspired garbage we’ve had to collectively endure since the big lizard made his debut back in the day, I’ll take that as a solid win.

Gareth Edwards and the screenwriters made the right decision by including more of the human side to get us, as the audience, invested in what’s happening. Sure, it could’ve been all “Hey, it’s Godzilla – lets have him pound on an irradiated unicorn to Nikki Minaj’s Anaconda as the backdrop for 45 minutes”, and maybe that still would’ve been fun…but when we know the humans who are about to take a dirt nap, we care a bit more. Still, I think they could’ve brought in Godzilla a bit earlier, or at least stretched out Bryan Cranston’s part a bit more. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was pretty vanilla in his depiction of a son with a dead mother and an insanely obsessed father, which made Cranston’s small screen time seem like the entire focus of the film for the first hour or so.

When Godzilla finally does emerge from the sea and start kicking kaiju ass, it’s handled very well. There are casualties that one would expect from big monsters duking it out in the city. They also managed to give Godzilla a decent look and the special effects were pretty nice as well, despite being CGI. They integrated that aspect much better than some other films out there.

If you’re looking for some decent kaiju action or if you are a Godzilla fan or even a disaster movie junkie – give this one a try. It’s just enough to satisfy and well-done enough to not leaving you feeling empty like some of its predecessors managed to do.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Godzilla

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Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: May 19, 1999
Director: George Lucas

Two Jedi Knights – Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) – are in the middle of a trade dispute and narrowly escape a hostile blockade by the Trade Federation army. Making their way to the desert planet of Tatooine, the two Jedi warriors find a young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) who may be the one prophesied to bring balance to the Force. Qui-Gon takes an interest in freeing the boy from a savvy gambler named Watto (Andy Secombe), but meanwhile the threat of the Sith is rising – with a vicious Sith lord, Darth Maul (Ray Park), hot on the heels of the two Jedi.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I used to have hand-me-down action figures from my uncle. They came in a carrying case shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet and I would play with them for hours. So, naturally – when this movie came out during my high school years – back in 1999….I was more than excited. I’d seen previews where Darth Maul was speeding across the desert surface of Tatooine, only to leap from his speeder and attack some Jedi and it gave me goosebumps. Darth Maul truly looked like a badass.

The real experience in the theater wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. There was a certain quality to it that I didn’t like. Everything was too clean – even in the dirty, rundown slums of Tatooine. The CGI looked out of place for the Jim Henson style Star Wars experience I remembered as a kid. Everything was bright. The ships were polished and sounded like high-end vibrators. (Not that I’d know about that or anything)

In short, it didn’t feel real. Despite the excitement of the initial ambush sequence and the eventual podrace – I fell asleep in the theater. This is, to date, the only movie I’ve ever fallen asleep to during the time it was showing on the big screen. This hasn’t changed fifteen years later. The film boasts one of the best fight scenes in Star Wars history between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon – but other than that it’s a lot of politics and talk of trade embargoes and underhanded dealings. Jar-Jar Binks is MUY ANNOYING and seeing Darth Vader as a youngster is sort of a letdown. And don’t get me started on Midichlorians.

Recently, I’ve reverted to watching the Star Wars films in the “Machete Order“. I recommend you do the same, which enables you to skip out on Episode I entirely. As snarky as some hardcore Star Wars fans are about the prequel films – there is actually some decent stuff in them. When combined into a single narrative with every film aside from Episode I – it actually makes a lot more sense and is more enjoyable to watch.

In any case, after all the hype – Episode I just has way too many problems as a film – let alone as an installment of a beloved franchise. So, while I may watch it once in a while (mostly for the fight scenes), I will usually avoid this Lucas offering altogether.

PS – In case you didn’t know – I cosplay as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Exhibit A

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I was recently at Super Megafest 2013 in Framingham, Mass last November and I ran into Ray Park (the actor who played Darth Maul in Episode I) at his booth. He was only doing one photo per person, but after finishing with mine (I let him use my lightsaber) he told me to pretend I was being impaled so he could get his “revenge” on me. Exhibit B

Me with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One) at Super Megafest

Me with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One) at Super Megafest

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JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand (2011)

Jim Henson's Tale of Sand (2011)

Mac, the mysterious main character, finds himself involved in a cross-desert race with only a rucksack full of odds and ends to aid him. In the meantime, he is doggedly pursued by another mysterious man known only as “Patch”, who seems to be paying everyone off. His end goals are unknown, only that he needs to somehow make it to the finish line – wherever that may be.

In this existential dark comedy, Ramon Perez and Ian Herring beautifully and expertly bring to life the only un-produced full-length script by Jim Henson (Muppets, etc…duh) and Jerry Juhl (Muppets, Fraggle Rock). Written between 1967 and 1968, the creators take you through what feels like a Terry Gilliam dreamworld fantasy rife with surreal and amazing images.

Though the dialogue is sparse, it’s meant to be that way. What really shines are the images with Perez’s pencils and Herring’s colors bringing us as close as possible to a full cinematic experience. From Arabs, to cowboys to football players you’ll be caught up in Mac’s dreamlike experiences right up until the last page.

If you love Jim Henson, you owe it to yourself to check this out. However, it IS dark and it’s not something that’s quite for the kiddos. There’s violence, gunfire and sexual themes (boobie alert) and undertones. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Original Theatrical Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Zack Snyder

Kal-El was sent from his dying planet, Krypton,  as an infant by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his mother Faora-Ul (Ayelet Zurer). With him, they sent the hopes and wishes of their entire Kryptonian race. Raised by human parents after crash-landing on Earth, Kal-El was renamed Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and eventually had to come to terms with his extraordinary and god-like abilities, using those abilities to help others though they didn’t always realize it. However, when another survivor from Krypton – Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up and demands that Earth give up this “Superman” or face dire consequences, Clark/Kal must choose a side. The Kryptonians or the Earthlings.

Now, before I get down to brass tacks, I need to say something: I am not the biggest Superman fan in the world. Don’t get me wrong. I love the basic idea of his character, and his abilities are cool for the most part…but the dude is just too invulnerable. Sure, he’s got his weaknesses but they sort of change over time depending on the needs of the story line (in the comics, anyway). Plus, they’re really specific weaknesses – like Kryptonite, a rare green rock from space – really?! Also, Superman is an alien and it’s hard to identify with him already on account of his insane god-like abilities – but when you also throw in the fact that he’s not even human, then there is definitely a disconnect.

With that said, I don’t think this was the worst Superman movie I’ve ever seen.

I came into this film with no real expectations other than to be entertained for a while. I was entertained for the most part, for sure. Zack Snyder’s direction was the usual fare of fight sequences and thoughtful, introspective scenes. The writing by David Goyer was decent, but some of the elements were too clearly designed to be almost like a parable. The acting was decent by Henry Cavill and the rest of the cast, and it was nice to see Russell Crowe back in shape a little bit. He’d been looking a little chubby the past few years. However, some of the special effects were wonky and some of the story elements had me going “really?”, and that’s all on top of the movie being way too long. Two and a half hours with not much really to show for it.

Now, I had been entertaining the idea that this would be sort of a darker version of Superman, sort of how Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to his gothic roots. I was right in a way, but wow…I was not expecting the level of wanton destruction Superman caused during the fighting with Zod. In other incarnations of Superman, Supes would have tried to direct the fight to the countryside or somewhere uninhabited….but in the film, Superman uppercuts his opponents through skyscrapers, toppling the buildings, and he doesn’t have time to save anyone. Crazy. My other gripe was the way in which Jonathan Kent’s (Kevin Costner) character was handled. The writers wanted him to be “Uncle Ben” to Clark but it didn’t translate nearly in the same way as the poignant character of Uncle Ben did to Marvel’s Spider-Man.

All in all, it was decent as an action flick. I wouldn’t go in thinking much more than that, even if you’re a Superman fan. I am interested to see if they change anything up during the sequel. Guess we’ll find out! (EDIT: I’m feeling like the upcoming sequel will be a shit show, but I hope they prove me wrong. They are CRAMMING IN so many characters. It’s crazy.)

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Man Of Steel