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Entries in Hollywood (3)

Wednesday
May292019

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, CCH Pounder, Joe Morton and David Straithairn.
Writers: Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields.
Director: Michael Dougherty.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

In 2014, director Gareth Edwards endeavoured to take schlockbuster icon Godzilla down the same credibility path that Marvel guided their goofy comic-book properties; the resulting film was beautiful and earnest and a bit dull. Five years later, new-kid-on-the-studio-tentpole-block Michael Dougherty punches up the action (and the decibels) while dumbing down the dialogue in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If the look of the big lizard and his fellow fantasy titans owes much to Edwards’ eye, the script harkens back to Roland Emmerich’s ear, it being attached to the writer/director of Sony's much-maligned 1998 incarnation.

The sequel picks up four years after the destruction of San Francisco by Godzilla’s wrath. The government agency Monarch is getting drilled by the U.S. Senate for not having found and offered up the head of the big lizard for the damage it had done. What the Senate committee members don’t know is that the Monarch team are not only tracking Godzilla, but have several other ‘titans’ in lockdown at key sites around the world. Scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) lords over one such site, in China; she lost her son in the 2014 San Fran attacks, her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to booze in the wake of their tragedy, and clings to strong-willed teen daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown).

Emma is overseer of an audio-pulse generator called The Orca, which streams a frequency that controls her titan, the larval stage behemoth that will ultimately take flight as Mothra. Just as it begins to stir, a mercenary outfit led by the ruthless Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) storms her outpost, stealing Orca, Mothra, Emma and Maddy. With a surly Mark now back on board, the Monarch team – stern lead scientist Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe); offsider Dr. Chen (Ziyi Zhang); wisecracker Dr Stanton (Bradley Whitford); and, nerdy bureaucrat Coleman (Thomas Middleditch) – need to retrieve The Orca and save mankind from Emma, who has gone full-Thanos with a plan to wipe the planet of the virus that is mankind and restore the human/titan balance.

The whip-smart mind behind cult items Trick ’r Treat (2007) and Krampus (2015), Dougherty works hard to give all these cast members something to do and say. He has them address each other in a combination of mostly single-line observations or exclamations that largely serve to move the plot from one kaiju-related predicament to the next. There is no character depth or dimension – so cornball is some of the dialogue it recalls the Irwin Allen disaster epics of the 1970s – but it does ensure the real stars of the film are not offscreen for too long.

Most dominant amongst the mythological beasties is the three-headed King Ghidorah, a dragon-like lightning-breather who has it in for our leading man-monster from the get-go; barely freed from his icy tomb, Ghidorah battles it out with Godzilla in one of the loudest and most visually stunning/confusing action sequences in recent memory. We are soon introduced to Rodan, a pterodactyl/hawk crossover-creature who lays waste to a Mexican town when it emerges from its dormant volcano tomb, and the ethereal shimmering wingspan and deadly spikes of the aforementioned Mothra. Each has their own moment in the spotlight, with their human co-stars largely reduced to looking upwards and dodging debris; perhaps best served is Stranger Things’ breakout star Brown (pictured, above), who earns her ‘real world emoting’ badge when given the screen time to do so.

Of course, it’s all about the beast that is Godzilla in any Godzilla movie, and Dougherty and his effects team have conjured a titan who balances a screen persona that is equal part ‘rampant destroyer of cities’, ‘noble ally of the righteous’ and ‘scaly, snarling action hero’. If you’re paying for a ticket to a Godzilla movie, what needs to work most of all is your anti-hero’s rock ‘em/sock ‘em presence, and King of the Monsters gets that right. If Edwards’ big lizard was a bit too precious with the property, and Emmerich’s a bit too flippant, Dougherty respects both the B-movie beats of the big guy’s film history as well as the environmental subtext that Godzilla has always represented.

      

Thursday
Aug092018

THE MEG

Stars: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Shuya Sophia and Masi Oka.
Writers: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber.
Director: Jon Turteltaub.

Rating: 2/5

For a movie so cynically calculated to hit all-important commercial KPIs, so much feels miscalculated about The Meg. The cheapest looking US$125million film ever made, joyless journeyman Jon Turteltaub’s big-shark movie drags the anchor for most of its interminable 113 minutes.  From the bored action lead routinely grimacing, to the beast itself, blessed with the natural skill to change size at will, The Meg seems destined to only find favour with snarky podcasters seeking schlocky targets for ridicule. 

The central ‘plot’ concerns a boozy ex-diver called Jonas (think about it…actually, don’t), drinking his life away in Thailand having lost two colleagues in the film’s lackluster prologue. Jason Statham plays ‘PTSD grief’ as script directions to be ignored; when called upon to return to the ocean depths to save a stranded submersible that contains his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee), he monologues with a grin about why he won’t do it, then jumps on board a helicopter to do it.

The clincher is that his ex may have just seen the same prehistoric beast that Jonas claimed was responsible for his crew’s death. Soon, he is on board the Mana One, an underwater research facility overseen by scumbag entrepreneur Rainn Wilson and peopled by Cliff Curtis’ boss-man, Ruby Rose’ feisty operations manager, Page Kennedy’s shrill nuisance DJ (the film’s most thankless part) and Li Bingbings’ single mother scientist (asked to pull off some excrutiating sentimentality with her on-screen daughter, Sophia Cai, and some chemistry-free romantic sparks with her leading man).

It takes Turteltaub and his trio(!) of writers 40-odd  minutes to shoehorn their moneymaker into the action, the Megalodon’s first appearance recalling the T-Rex reveal in Jurassic Park (the first and last time the movies will be compared, rest assured). The special effects that bring the Meg to life run the gamut from state-of-the-art (a midpoint sequence in which the shark closes in on Statham and Bingbing as they are being reeled in is the film’s best action) to Jaws-3 clunky. The PG-13 framework means kills are meagre by any horror buff’s measure; barring one legitimately hilarious sight gag involving a helicopter pilot, humour is barren (note to the producers – you owe the Sharknado franchise an acknowledgement for stealing their closing shot gag).

Everything about the movie – the cool posters, the fun trailer, the decade-long development history, the mystery behind what horror auteur Eli Roth once might have seen in the insipid material  – is infinitely more interesting than anything that made it into the movie. The Meg is so bound to the ‘studio blockbuster’ template, it never breathes; that’s perhaps appropriate, given its waterlogged staidness, but it leaves this hulking behemoth dead in the water.

Wednesday
Jun032015

ENTOURAGE

Stars: Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Billy Bo Thornton, Haley Joel Osmant, Perrey Reeves, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rex Lee, Debi Mazar, Ronda Rousey and Emily Ratajkowski.
Writer/Director: Doug Ellin.

Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 3/5

The Y-chromosome fever dream that is the world of Entourage heats up from frame 1 in series creator Doug Ellin’s bigscreen adaptation of his hit property.

A barely-clad Nina Agdal, the most current incarnation of supermodel hotness on the planet, gives a sly grin as her binoculars focus in on Turtle (Jerrry Ferrara), Drama (Kevin Dillon) and E (Kevin Connolly) speeding towards the multi-million dollar party-cruiser moored in the azure playground off Ibiza. The boat belongs to Vinnie (Adrian Grenier), who has bounced back from a fleeting flirtation with marriage by bedding Agdal.

The supermodel knows that, like all of us who have followed the lads through their LA adventures over eight HBO seasons, Vinnie is really only a complete man when conjoined with his ‘bros’. When the lads are unified, this long-in-development, short-on-narrative feature is at its best, too; like much of the west coast movie scene, it is high on boisterous personality and lavish adherence to base instincts.

But Ellin’s more expansive take on Hollywood life has not transitioned to the 2.35:1 scope seamlessly intact. The punchy energy and ironic verve that was the trademark of the 30-minute episodes is gone, replaced by some meagre plotting that sees the boys seeking the sweetness of romance and ushering them into the responsibilities of growing old.

Vinnie’s $100million directing debut, a wannabe-tentpole called Hyde has been shepherded through production by ex-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), who has graduated to studio head and rolled the dice on his old client’s vision of a blockbuster. None of this rings very true, which is at odds with the insider smarts that was one of the most endearing traits of the series. Needing fresh funds to finalise the film, Gold heads for Texas to woo financier Billy Bob Thornton, who puts his scumbag son Haley Joel Osmant in charge of the decision-making. Contrived machinations (mostly to do with the allure of it-girl Emily Ratajkowski) threaten Vinnie’s film and Ari’s job, as is to be expected.

As Vinnie’s business manager and first-time producer, Connolly’s E does very little of either, instead lumbered with a ‘babies vs boobs’ subplot that introduces some down-home moral goodness into the seething immorality of everyday A-list excess (perhaps to appeal to a broader movie-going base than the basic-cable followers of the series). Detractors who have wanted to nail Entourage for some borderline misogyny over the years get plenty of ammo in the form of two sexy starlets, who connive to frighten E into thinking he has fathered an unwanted child and caught an STD in the process.

Turtle romances cage-fighter Ronda Rousey, playing herself; Drama gets a few laughs doing what Drama does, struggling to build a career in the wake of his hotter, younger brother (as good as Dillon is, this should be the last time he plays an idealistic acting hopeful). Other series regulars (Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rex Lee, Perrey Reeves, Constance Zimmer, Debi Mazar, Rhys Coiro) are all shoe-horned in; celebrity cameos abound.

Just as Time Warner resurrected its other HBO cash cow, Sex and The City, so to it does with Entourage. Given the general mediocrity of both, their bigscreen re-emergence hardly seemed warranted; only time will tell if Entourage earns its existence as Sex... did. Marketers will reaffirm that this “is one for the fans,” and it certainly is warmly familiar (and, yes, this three-star review is unashamedly seen through the rose-coloured glasses of a fanatic). The brand will gather a second wind, DVD box-set sales will get a jolt, and Vinnie’s crew can now fade into the pop-culture ether.

One hopes they don’t make the same sequel-mistake as Carrie and the ‘girls’ made. The next real-world step for these ‘boys’ will be settling into the comforts of their wealthy west-coast lifestyles, firming up career opportunities and foregoing their wild ways in favour of maturity. If they don’t, it would be sad. And I wouldn’t want to watch it.