Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Posted on March 28, 2024 at 12:46 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for creature violence and action
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended monster-style peril and violence, some disturbing and graphic images
Diversity Issues: Some insensitive stereotyping

Remember, they’re not monsters; they’re titans. Earth has become accustomed to living with gigantic beasts, and even allows Godzilla to sleep in Rome’s Coliseum, curled up like a puppy on a dog bed, after a hard day’s work protecting the Eternal City from bad titans. Godzilla’s nemesis from the last movie, King Kong, is safely unreachable in Hollow Earth, a pristine world of exotic creatures, with a few human scientists to study and monitor, led by double PhD Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall). The human encampment is so large and complex there is even a school for the children of the people working there. Andrews has adopted the mute girl with the telepathic connection to the giant ape, Jia (Kaylee Hottle).

Something is wrong. Jia is having disturbing visions, creating drawings that track the anomalies showing up in the scientists’ instruments. Andrews asks conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to come to Hollow Earth to help. Trapper (Dan Stevens), Andrews’ classmate and former love interest, now a freewheeling veterinarian dentist to the Titans, arrives in Hollow Earth to replace Kong’s infected tooth. We know Trapper is a free spirit because (1) his name is Trapper, (2) he replaces the tooth while hanging from a helicopter AND ENJOYING IT (one of the highlights of the film), and (3) he wears a Hawaiian shirt over a hipster t-shirt and leather cord necklaces.

That is about all you need to know about the humans in the story, except that Jia has one other connection with Kong. They are both believed to be the last of their kind. That will turn out not to be the case.

There are a lot of titans in this movie. It’s like the “Avengers: Endgame” of gigantic beasts and I admit I got lost in trying to remember who was on which side. I suspect the titans did, too. And there are so many of them and they all have different powers, you need a spreadsheet. It’s getting to be kind of like Pokemon, if Pickachu was the size of a skyscraper and could breath atomic radiation.

Let’s face it. The humans are here for (1) scale, so that when Kong holds out his hand to Jia, her hand goes only partway around his fingertip, (2) exposition, to say things like, “Something down there is calling for help,” and “You’re going to think I’m completely insane,” and use words like “anomaly” and “intensity increased,” (3) looking worried or afraid (poor Jia is stuck with one anxious eyebrow expression through the whole movie, and (4) running from various dangers. Or, not be able to escape. Just like you never want to be the character in a horror movie saying, “I’ll be right back,” you do not want to be the one in the monster movie saying, “I’m the one in charge, so everyone has to do what I say.” Oh, another purpose for the humans — (5) being the chosen one from the ancient prophesy.

The monsters/titans are here to fight, and let’s face it, we’re here to see them fight. Creature designer Jared Krichevsky and the talented crew of designers and CGI experts have created titans that are true to the spirit of the classics but take advantage of the capabilities of current technology. I’m a fan of Kong’s roundhouse punches, especially with his augmented mechanical arm. And there is a titan that breathes ice, a sea serpent, and one I won’t spoil except to say it’s in the classic Kaija top ten. I admit I got a bit confused by the overwhelming number of creatures in the various locations (Rio seems to be there just for reason (6): to wear bikinis), and did not always remember who was on who’s side, but the fight scenes are as much fun as the fans could hope for.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and sometimes graphic creature violence, injuries and deaths of a human and many monster characters, and brief strong language. Audience members may be concerned over racial stereotypes, with the one Black main character relegated to comic relief for being terrified and the stereotypical portrayal of the indigenous people.

Family discussion: Why does Dr. Andrews trust Bernie Hayes? What does Jia learn from meeting other members of her culture? Why are there apparently no female giant apes?

If you like this, try: “Godzilla Minus One,” the original 1954 “Godzilla,” and the 2005 “King Kong”

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Bullet Train

Posted on August 2, 2022 at 9:57 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very graphic peril and violence with spurting blood and many murders, guns, knives, poison, fire, crash, snake
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 5, 2022

Copyright 2022 Sony
The Japanese bullet train goes 200 miles per hour. Its namesake movie goes even faster. On the train is a briefcase stuffed with millions of dollars and a passenger list that includes an assortment of thieves and assassins and the kidnapped son of a crime kingpin called White Death. Action fans will understand that the over-the-top violence is exaggerated as an R-rated version of Looney Tunes, expertly crafted and often hilarious.

Brad Pitt is sensational as an all-purposes soldier of fortune trying to find something simpler and less violent than his previous jobs. His handler, Maria, tells him this is just the job for him. All he has to do is get on the train, grab the briefcase, and get off. She gives him the code name Ladybug. This is either to cheer him up or add some snark because he insists he is unlucky (as he steps into a puddle) and in Japan the ladybug is a symbol of good luck. Or both. Either way, that is the only name we know for him, an emotionally exhausted man described by another character as looking like every homeless white guy, trying to do better without having decided what better means.

At the train station he opens a locker to pick up the equipment Maria has left for him, but he decides to leave the gun behind. And he boards the train, reciting therapeutic mantras to remind himself to stay calm, determined to “put peace into the world” while all he has too do is steal a briefcase. The trick, though, is that it already belongs to someone to whom it is also valuable, and several other people who are equally experienced in smash and grab, emphasis on the smash, would also like to have it, too. There are assassins from all over, a veritable It’s a Small World of assassins.

I really want to avoid spoilers here, so I will not disclose the superstars who show up in small, funny cameos (you will probably recognize the voice of the Oscar-winner on the other side of the phone calls with Ladybug), the actor we don’t see without a mask until the last act, or some of the funniest twists. I’ll just say that stuntman-turned director David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde”) is as good as it gets in fight scenes and these are a blast, and that there are some well-chosen needle drop songs on the soundtrack. The bullet train setting is also a lot of fun, with a quiet car, a car for families with young children, and a bar car, and stops of only one minute at each station.

I will, however, take a moment to discuss Brad Pitt, who shows once again that he never brings less than the best to every role. No one is better at precisely calibrating his own movie star charisma and here he plays off of it to hilarious effect. The acting in the stunt scenes is as important as the punches. As we have seen in Tarantino and some other films, countering shocking, graphic, brutality with transgressive but workmanlike casualness can be very funny. The entire cast is excellent, including Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as “the twins,” the assassins delivering (or trying to) the White Death’s son (Logan Lerman channeling Jared Leto) and the briefcase full of ransom money, Bad Bunny as a Mexican drug cartel operative, and Hiroyuki Sanada, Zazie Beetz as characters I won’t spoil.

Buckle up, everyone. This is what they’re talking about when they use the term “wild ride.”

Parents should know that this movie is non-stop action with guns, knives, poison, fire, a deadly snake, crashes, and many brutal and grisly deaths and disturbing and graphic images. A child is badly injured (but survives). Characters are hired assassins and crime kingpins and their henchmen. They use very strong language. There is a brief scene of nudity and sex.

Family discussion: Who are we rooting for in this story and how can you tell? What do you think of the Thomas the Tank Engine approach to classifying humanity? Why don’t we ever learn their real names?

If you like this, try: the book by Kotaro Isaka, the “John Wick” series, “Kill Bill,” “Boss Mode,” and “Shoot ’em Up” You might also enjoy a less violent film involving a crime and a train, “$” with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn.

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The Outside Story

Posted on May 4, 2021 at 2:17 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild, including arrest of a Black Man
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

Copyright 2021 Samuel Goldwyn Company

It takes a long time to make a film, from concept to screenwriting to financing, casting, and shooting and distribution. Even the fastest, lowest-budget film takes months, if not years. You’re always creating something for an audience in a future you cannot predict. And yet the magic of the best films is that they arrive at exactly the right time.

“The Outside Story,” a slim little gem under 90 minutes long, is about a man who leaves his apartment after a long time inside, and it comes just as many of us are venturing out of our homes post-vaccination, almost having forgotten what it feels like to be out in the world, blinking and disoriented like the returnees at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And here, gently encouraging us, is this love letter to its characters, its performers, its Brooklyn setting, and to going outside into the world.

Bryan Tyree Henry has been a standout in films like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Widows,” on television in “Atlanta” and other shows, and on Broadway, where he was nominated for a Tony for his performance in “The Book of Mormon.” In his first lead role, he is never less than outstanding as Charles, a man whose ambitions have shrunk as he has been more and more homebound. Once working on a documentary about artificial intelligence and being a friendly and outgoing attendee at parties (where he brought homemade desserts), he now works for Turner Classic Movies putting clips together for pre-obituary tributes to filmmakers and actors who seem like they might die soon. A (fictitious) big star named Gardner St. James is reportedly near death and Charles’s boss is sending him a series of urgent texts insisting he send the tribute in immediately, but Charles is still tinkering with it, trying to get one last clip to convey the star’s career.

Charles is also distracted and depressed. He has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Isha (a radiant Sonequa Martin-Green), because she cheated on him. He is waiting for her to pick up her stuff, but, per the central imperative that rules the lives of New Yorkers, he has promised to move her car to comply with the alternate side-of-the-street rules and keep her from getting a ticket. When his take-out food order arrives, he doesn’t have enough money on hand for a tip, annoying his regular delivery guy. Back in his apartment, he discovers some extra cash in a pants pocket, and goes running after the delivery guy in his stocking feet to give him a tip. He grabbed his keys on the way out of the door, but it turned out they weren’t his keys; they were his ex’s car keys. And he is locked out.

The guy who would not leave the apartment cannot get back in. And the rest of the movie is just his encounters as the day goes on with neighbors who mostly had never seen him before. Each one is a little haiku of a scene, gorgeously acted, especially by Sunita Mani (“GLOW”) as the cop issuing parking tickets, Lynda Gravatt as a feisty widow, and the superb Olivia Edward as a young girl living with a mother who is somewhere on the continuum between high-strung and disturbingly unstable. The smart script by writer/director Casimir Nozkowski unfolds with distinctive, illuminating details (I love Charles’ job) and subtle shifts in Charles’s attitude, as he begins to open up to the world.

Henry is a knock-out in the role, utterly present for everything the outside world throws at Charle, adjusting to each situation initially in whatever way he thinks will help him get back inside, though not always hiding his frustration, and then starting to listen, to find ways to help others, to connect. It is like watching a flower bloom in time-lapse photography. When he is unexpectedly given a chance to hear some music, it is powerfully moving to see him so moved. Flashbacks give us insight into his relationship with Isha, and how it relates to where Charles is now and what he is learning.

Increasingly, some of my favorite films can be described as “Nothing happens. And everything happens.” That’s this film, and it is a joy to watch.

Parents should know that this film includes explicit sexual references, including infidelity and polyamory, and some strong language. A parent appears to be unstable and abusive.

Family discussion: What changes for Charles during the day and why? Why didn’t Charles want to go outside? Have you ever been locked out? What did you do?

If you like this, try: “Columbus,” “Pieces of April,” and “The Day-Trippers”

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