‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

In the interest of full-disclosure, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is not usually the type of film I’m known to seek out.  While I try to keep an open mind about every film, which I believe is one of the most vital parts of being a film critic, there are certain genres that are not my cup of tea.  On paper, however, this film had a lot of good things going for it: Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “Blair Witch“ and “The Guest”) as director, a stellar cast, and a concept which was ripe for a 21st century upgrade.  In the end, I’m glad I watched it because I can say I’ve seen it, but my feelings about most big blockbuster science fiction movies remain unchanged.

The major problem with the film lies in the severely unwritten and undeveloped characters we are spending time with here. With five writers attached to the film in some way, I’m not quite sure how they overlooked such an important aspect.  Perhaps they were too focused on the main event stars of Godzilla and King Kong.  When you have actors like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Demián Bichir and even Kyle Chandler, they need to be more fleshed-out.  There is a lot of talk in this movie, but not a lot of it means anything or amounts to much.

Keep in mind, I barely remember any “Godzilla” or “King Kong” films, so I can’t vouch for how it holds up compared to older versions or how faithful it is.  I know it is big with a lot of genre fans. In “Godzilla vs. Kong,” King Kong is being watched very closely by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), an expert on all things Kong, linguistics and anthropology. She has an adopted hearing-impaired daughter named Jia she looks after who is played brilliantly by Kaylee Hottle. Much like Ilene, King Kong feels a special bond with young Jia.  Jia and Ilene Andrews sign to one another, and Jia is able to describe when Kong is scared or angry. Kong takes care of Jia in his own sweet, fatherly way.

There is also another side-story which is completely unnecessary and all over the map involving a conspiracy theorist podcaster played by Brian Tyree Henry.  He’s a tremendous actor with great range, and he is a true force on the hit FX show “Atlanta,” but here he’s unfunny and just silly.  While comic relief can be necessary at times, in a film like this it feels so forced by the screenwriters. It’s not his fault the dialogue written for him is flat out lame. He’s doing the best he can with a really bad script. Two young teenagers played by Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison join him in his quest to find out why Godzilla is acting so strangely. It just seemed a bit odd to have a grown man running around with two teenagers. In today’s day and age of children being safe on the Internet, it’s just not a good idea to put in a film.

There is also Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), another Kong expert much like Ilene with vast experience in maps and geology. He’s a bit of a goofball, and at times his performance feels goofy and like he’s hamming it up.  Once again, I’m going to blame the writers.  Of course, there are evil mustache-twirling villains in the film who are once again overplayed, and they just ruin the film.  Even though I’m putting a lot of blame on the writers, as actors can only deliver their lines as written, maybe they could have brought something a little extra to the proceedings.  It would have been nice if the actors at least tried to make something out of this mess.

As for the battle scenes with Godzilla and Kong, they are pretty forgettable.  While I’m a huge fan of director Wingard, I can’t help but wonder if he was really the right guy for this project.  He’s mostly known for horror films, and this is not to say he can’t branch out and try different genres. Visually and stylistically, I don’t think he brought a whole lot to the film. It has a lot going on from start to finish, but it jumps back and forth between characters, stories and events. There are things to like in “Godzilla vs. Kong,” but they are few and far between.

* ½ out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Godzilla vs. Kong” is released on a two-disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The combo pack also comes with a digital copy of the film as well. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language.  It has a running time of 113 minutes.

Audio and Video Info: The film is presented in 1080p High Definition.  The audio is Dolby Atmos True HD: English, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, English, Spanish, and French.  It also has subtitles in English, Spanish and French.

Special Features:

Kong Discovers Hollow Earth

Kong Leaves Home

Behold Kong’s Temple

The Evolution of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World

Godzilla Attacks

The Phenomenon of GŌJIRA, King of the Monsters

Round One: Battle at Sea

Round Two: One Will Fall

Titan Tag Team: The God and the King

The Rise of MechaGodzilla

Commentary by Director Adam Wingard

Should You Buy It?

I’m so disappointed to have to give this film such a negative review and rating.  I don’t think you should buy it, and I don’t even think it’s worth a rental.  Maybe I’m not the audience for this film.  I can recognize and acknowledge that.  If you like these types of films, maybe you will enjoy “Godzilla vs. Kong,” but I found it laborious and quite tedious.  I received very little enjoyment out of it.  I will say there are plenty of special features on this Blu-ray Combo Pack.  So, if you did enjoy this film and are a fan of Godzilla and King Kong, maybe you will see in the film what I didn’t. I’ll say this, if you were not a fan of these two superstar monsters before watching this movie, I don’t think you will become a fan after watching it.  There isn’t much to hang your hat on here.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Cloverfield’ Lives Up to the Hype

Cloverfield

The fact that “Cloverfield” is any good is something of a miracle. This movie was released in January, a month where Hollywood tends to dump all their crappy movies because they have no idea of where else to put them. Plus, this is a movie which could have easily collapsed under the height of anticipation and expectation which preceded it with its brilliant marketing strategy. We all saw the brilliant teaser trailer showing the severed head of the Statue of Liberty being thrown down into the middle of Manhattan. We didn’t see the title for the film until months later, and we couldn’t stop thinking about it. This trailer was analyzed like it was the equivalent of the Zapruder film which captured the Kennedy assassination, but now the movie is finally here and has gotten 2008 off to a strong start.

“Cloverfield” takes place in the city of New York which has seen its fair share of destruction on and off the big screen. It starts off with some color bars on the screen and there is a message stating the footage we are about to see is from the area “formerly known as Central Park.” Those are ominous words indeed, and it leaves us in a state of suspended tension as we already know something very bad is going to happen. We first meet Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David) as he is filming the apartment of the woman he just slept with, Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman). We see them hanging out in Coney Island throughout, but the movie then jumps ahead to a month or so later when Rob is about to leave New York for a new job in Japan. It turns out Beth and Rob never really hung out with each other again after the great day they had, and the time they had together is always on their minds. But just as they try to sort out their personal issues, the earth shakes beneath them and, of course, all hell breaks loose.

The movie does take its time getting started which is not a bad thing as it takes time to establish the main players and their backgrounds. The script doesn’t flesh them out completely, but they are fleshed out enough to where you do care about them. The big surprise party thrown for Rob is filled with people who look like, at the very least, got a callback for one or more of the shows on the CW network. It would have been nice to see the filmmakers add more ordinary people into this party who did not have the perfect body or such Noxzema clear faces, but anyway.

What makes this monster film particularly effective is how it is told from the ground view. We are there with the people as they experience this disaster firsthand, and the characters are not just simple clichés who look and feel like they belong in a typical watered-down sitcom. This is what drove me nuts about Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla.” Like Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” it is not caught up with the military as they make decisions on how to destroy this enormous beast. It is more concerned with people like you and me and how we might struggle to survive in this situation. The adrenaline keeps running high as Rob and a few others make their way through the decimated city to get to Beth who is trapped in her high-rise apartment.

Another key factor is that “Cloverfield” doesn’t show us the monster right away, and this as a result makes the thought of the monster becomes more terrifying than anything else. We do get to see the monster eventually, but not in its entirety until the latter half. I would love to describe the monster to you, but I’d rather you discover it for yourself as I really don’t want to spoil the surprise. Nothing will compare to the first time you watch this movie.

The movie is also dominated by the shaky cam work which threatens to become an overused method of filmmaking these days. For those of you who have serious motion sickness problems, don’t sit too close to the screen. As for myself, I actually dealt with it just fine. I was starting to think I might have reached my limit with shaky camerawork after watching “The Kingdom,” and it fails in comparison to the brilliant camerawork accomplished in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” But here, it’s fine and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.

“Cloverfield” is not exactly brilliant filmmaking, but it does get the job done and with no real music score might I add. We don’t get to hear a score until the end credits where Michael Giaachiano composed a piece of music which serves a tribute of sorts to the monster movies of the past. Credit, however, should go to director Matt Reeves who directs his first movie here since “The Pallbearer” which was made back in 1996. He keeps the action grounded enough to where we have no problem following the characters even if their situation is not entirely probable. Anyway, we go into a movie like this to have a good time, not to think too hard about everything going on.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Godzilla (1998)

godzilla-1998-poster

I originally wrote this review on May 20, 1998, not long after I watched this “summer blockbuster.”

The momentous day has finally arrived! Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” has finally hit the big screen in all of its reptilian glory. Trailers for this movie have been up and running for over a year now, and the past few weeks have had us bombarded with television commercials from Taco Bell with the Chihuahua, hoping to cash in on this film’s predicted box office success. But now the wait is over and the film has finally hit the big screen. Everyone is waiting to see if the movie will suck in the biggest opening in box office history and outdo “Titanic” as the highest-grossing movie of all time…

What can I tell you? “Godzilla” sucks! I even wrote it up on the dry erase board in the main hall of my college dorm for everyone to see:

GODZILLA SUCKS!!!

People need to be warned because, unlike “Titanic,” this was not worth the wait. For me, this was a very depressing cinematic experience and one of those movies where the trailers for coming attractions, in this case “X-Files – Fight the Future,” “Lethal Weapon 4” and “The Mask of Zorro,” were far more entering than the main event. I read a review somewhere which quoted one patron as saying it made “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” look like “Citizen Kane.” I couldn’t agree more, and I liked “Jurassic Park: The Lost World,” a movie many consider to be one of the worst Steven Spielberg has ever directed.

Where do I start? The characters were all clichés, barely registering as humans. Kevin Dunn plays the military commander who is always in a bad mood and barking out orders, Michael Lerner is your typically clueless mayor, and Matthew Broderick portrays the nerdy scientist who is the polar opposite of Ferris Bueller. Maria Pitillo, who looks a lot like Heather Graham, was cute, but her television reporter character really belongs in a sitcom instead of a movie like this.

I blame this all on the direction of Roland Emmerich, a director who never seems to understand just how cheesy his movies are. “Independence Day” tried to be the next “Star Wars,” but it ended up being an overproduced B-movie. Still, it’s a classic of American cinema when you compare it to this overhyped mess.

There’s a scene in the beginning of the movie where three fishing boats are pulled backward underwater into the water – a direct rip off of “Jaws.” Now on one hand, I liked how Emmerich was never quick to show the giant mutated lizard, but on the other the “Jaws” reference came to illustrate all the things that “Godzilla” unforgivably lacks: great actors, strong characters, and a good storyline. Special effects by themselves can’t save a movie, especially one as crappy as this one.

Furthermore, the music score by David Arnold was way too much, and less could have been a lot more. In fact, everything about this movie was overblown, robbing it of whatever suspense it could ever have hoped to generate. There were moments where things did quiet down, and that was a relief and also showed some promise this movie might actually become exciting to watch. But then the screen became overwhelmed with countless explosions and massive destruction which we have seen in far too many movies to keep track of. Heck, the special effects in those movies are infinitely better than any in “Godzilla.” Trust me; the money is not up there on the screen.

Producer Dean Devlin and Emmerich appear to be big New York haters as they again lay waste to the city’s most famous monuments just like they did in “Independence Day.” But then again, New York seems to be the target of destruction this summer judging from the trailers I have seen for “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon.”

Now for Godzilla himself (or herself if you are not sure). When we do finally get to see the big lizard, it really proves to be nothing more than a big special effect. The more you are aware of this, the less threatening Godzilla becomes, and the action sequences end up lacking a lot of friction. I really loathe digital imaging and effects because they are too obvious on the big screen. In retrospect, I would have preferred seeing a guy in a suit instead.

There’s one moment where Godzilla jumps into the ocean, and it looks like it was lifted directly from a scene in “Alien Resurrection.” Originality is not in existence in films these days, but what else is new? I did not go in expecting a great movie, but I was at least hoping it would be exciting and intense. It was neither.

Furthermore, the look of Godzilla was nothing particularly impressive or horrifying. It looked like a cross between a Tyrannosaurus Rex that had an amazing growth spurt and the kind of lizard I saw crawling all over the place in Ibiza. Once again, originality is nonexistent and we have “Jurassic Park” all over again.

The only part that really scared me some was when the main characters discovered all the eggs Godzilla had lain in Madison Square Garden. What could we expect to see when they hatched? But hatched they did, and they all came out looking like Velociraptors or Velociraptor wannabes.

You’d think after a film like “Independence Day,” which was a huge hit worldwide but not exactly a critical success, that the filmmakers would learn from their mistakes and make a better movie. But no! We get one which is even worse and yet is still bound to make tons of money. But having seen “Godzilla,” I am more than confident that it will not dethrone “Titanic” as the all-time box office champ. Hey Tri-Star Pictures! Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!

A lot of people say that James Cameron is a big egomaniac and a jerk to his cast and crew on each movie he has directed. Maybe he is, claiming he can make these kinds of movies better than everyone else. But after “Godzilla” ended, I think Cameron can brag all he wants until he makes a tremendously crappy movie like this one. I don’t care how bad you thought the dialogue was in “Titanic;” “Godzilla” is the bottom of the barrel in the screenplay department. How many writers did it take to come up with this script anyway?

And, of course, we have the obligatory ending where Madison Square Garden is destroyed, but for some bizarre and unexplained reason there’s an egg which was somehow undamaged (go figure). The baby burst out of the egg just as the movie faded to black, and I imagined a lot of audience members probably thought the following when they saw it:

“Oh no! It’s a baby!!!”

But I just stared at the screen and thought to myself:

“Oh no! It’s a set up for a sequel!! SAVE US NOW!!!”

Just how many times can you destroy New York in the movies anyway?

½* out of * * * *

Godzilla (2014)

godzilla-2014-poster

The stench which emanated from the sheer awfulness of Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” has haunted me ever since I saw it on the big screen in 1998. For a time, it dampened my spirits in terms of where movies were headed as I was afraid many more of them would be dumbed down like Emmerich’s movie was. Had it been an even bigger hit, I feared more summer blockbusters would look exactly like it; filled with lame one-dimensional characters and special effects which look no different from the video games we play at home. But in the end, it was so critically reviled that even Toho, the company that owns Godzilla, looked at Emmerich’s version of the monster as a separate, stand-alone character whom they renamed Zilla. It was if they were saying, “Oh no, that was so not Godzilla. That was a cousin or a step child or maybe the product of a one-night stand.”

But now that stench has vanished as Gareth Edwards has given us his version of “Godzilla,” and it makes for one of the most entertaining movies of the 2014 summer movie season. Instead of having this enormous Japanese monster chase after characters who look like they were part of a rejected sitcom pilot, he stays true to the style of the Toho series of Godzilla films and manages to weave in some commentary about nuclear power. Just as the original “Godzilla” served as a metaphor for Hiroshima, this one doesn’t dare hide away from what happened in Fukushima where nuclear accidents occurred after the massive earthquake and tsunami which occurred there.

The movie starts off with the terrifying destruction of a nuclear power plant, one which ends up dividing a father and his son. We then move to several years later when Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the US Navy, comes home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son after a long tour of duty. Their reunion, however, is cut short as Ford gets word his father, nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), has once again been arrested in Japan for trespassing into areas blocked off to the general public as the area surrounding the power plant isn’t all that different from Chernobyl when it suffered a meltdown.

Joe is still convinced the power plant accident was really a cover up for something, and he and Ford come to discover what’s left of it has been converted into a laboratory of sorts. Scientists led by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) reveal they have been housing a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) and are trying to keep it contained by giving it doses of radiation. But, of course, all hell breaks loose when the MUTO breaks free of its captivity and heads out to sea, and it is then we learn another MUTO (this one a female) has been held in the United States and has also escaped and quickly laid waste to Las Vegas. Like Natasha Henstridge’s character in “Species,” she is looking to start a big family with offspring which will surely destroy all of humanity, and it’s only a matter of time before she finds her MUTO mate. Clearly, safe sex is not on their agenda.

This is where the iconic Godzilla comes in. Now in the past, this gigantic creature has been portrayed as an enemy to all of humanity and as an antihero who looks to take down any other monster who foolishly thinks it can defeat him. But in Edwards’ movie, Godzilla is really the good guy who, as Dr. Serizawa puts it, is here to “restore balance” to the world, and he doesn’t even bother the battleships which sail alongside him as he swims from one country to the next. We all know Godzilla will end up destroying a lot of expensive real estate which will cause many insurance companies to go bankrupt, but we’re still on the monster’s side as we know the military won’t have enough firepower to bring down the MUTOs.

Edwards takes his sweet time in revealing Godzilla to the audience, and we don’t really get a good look at him until almost an hour into the movie. When he does finally appear onscreen and let out the biggest of roars anyone has ever heard, the audience I saw this movie with broke into a tremendous applause. This is the fiercest Godzilla has looked in many years, and the way he towers over the tallest of buildings had me in awe. This is the way Godzilla should look and feel.

One of the many problems I had with the 1998 “Godzilla” is it never felt like I was watching a real monster on the big screen. It felt more like I was watching a big special effect to where the creature didn’t even fill the least bit threatening. But in 2014’s “Godzilla,” the creature looks and feels real to where I kept praying the human characters would keep themselves from standing underneath its feet. The thought of being crushed by a creature that big is horrifying.

As for “Godzilla’s” human element, it’s not altogether strong, but I still liked how the characters came across as relatable even if they were at times clichéd. I also have to give the screenwriters credit as the movie starts as one thing but surprisingly turns into something else. Just when I thought I knew what kind of movie this “Godzilla” was going to be, it continued to surprise me as it went along. Yes, we all know how things will end, but getting there proved to be more fun than I expected.

It also helps there is a terrific cast of actors to keep us emotionally involved in the characters before and after Godzilla makes his grand entrance. You can never go wrong with Bryan Cranston whether it’s “Breaking Bad” or anything else, and he makes his character very empathetic when he could have been easily laughable. As for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, I almost didn’t recognize him after getting so used to how he looked in those “Kick Ass” movies, and he does good work portraying the typical heroic military character we always see in “Godzilla” movies. Ken Watanabe remains a tremendously gifted actor, and even though I thought stared in horror one too many times in this movie, he is a very welcome addition to this cast. And then there’s David Strathairn who plays Admiral William Stenz, and he can always be counted on to give the military leader the gravitas and humanity a character like this deserves.

As for the female characters, their roles are a bit underwritten and I didn’t get to see as much of them as I would have liked. Still, you have actresses like Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche and Sally Hawkins making them into memorable characters when they could have been ones who were easily forgettable.

This “Godzilla” does have its problems, and there are times I wished Edwards and company had injected just a little more humor into the proceedings. Also, the big fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs never seems to come soon enough. There’s a moment where it looks like the fight will begin, but then a door closes on the characters and on our view of the monsters, and that was really frustrating. The human characters may have wanted the door shut, but everyone in the audience was clamoring for it stay open so we could see one enormous mutated creature beat the crap out of another. And yes, there probably are some plot holes and gaps in logic in the story, but I really didn’t care. You don’t always go to these movies expecting a whole lot of logic anyway.

What makes this “Godzilla” work is how it is clearly made by filmmakers who have a great love of monster movies. Edwards, whose previous directorial effort was British science fiction film “Monsters,” has talked about just how much he loves those kinds of movies, and he does an excellent job of making Godzilla a truly terrifying force of nature. After being absent from the big screen for over a decade, it is great to see this iconic monster make such a tremendous comeback.

I also got to say watching “Godzilla” makes me really happy that I do not work for an insurance company. Seeing all those destroyed buildings and roads, I can see claim adjustors going nuts as they field one phone call after another regarding totaled Hondas, decimated condos and bridges which now really lead to nowhere because they’ve been destroyed. You can bet no one’s going to take any guff from someone who tells them their insurance policy doesn’t cover attacks from giant mutated monsters!

* * * out of * * * *

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