Shin Godzilla (2016)

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This is why it’s imperative to never expose your rubber duckie to radiation.

The mere fact that a movie about a massive monster wreaking mayhem upon a major metropolis begins with roughly half an hour of solemn and serious politicians blathering slightly too quickly in a series of utterly forgettable conference rooms should seem like a bleak sign. Even considering how many movies in the Godzilla series focus heavily on a human story almost to the exclusion of kaiju action, none have been quite so fascinated with the minutiae of governmental process. But this political thriller is less C-SPAN than Armando Iannucci, blending the anti-nuclear message of the 1954 Godzilla with a dry satire of the current state of Japanese politics, particularly their response to crisis. The main character is not a stalwart soldier or brilliant scientist, but a bureaucrat responsible for coordinating the reaction to a natural disaster, albeit one involving a gigantic and rubbery sea creature that spews fire and radiation. Caught between the indecision of his superiors and the call for a scorched earth response by the US-led UN, young prime ministerial aide Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) must find a way to defeat this monster with the help of a team of scientific rejects and crackpots. Continue reading Shin Godzilla (2016)

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Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Lorraine could only vaguely remember last night’s David Hasselhoff concert…

Atomic Blonde is another in a line of films that includes Edge of Tomorrow and Kingsman: The Secret Service, insofar as it seems to be an original, non-franchise genre movie in a sea of sequels and remakes. Like those movies, a slight adjustment of the viewer’s abysmal ignorance reveals that it is another relatively obscure comic book adaptation, based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City. Set in snowy Berlin in the days before the Wall came down, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is tasked with retrieving a vital, watch-shaped MacGuffin that could reignite the dying embers of the Cold War. Given that the city is a powder-keg brimming with political unrest and sporting representatives from at least five different spy agencies, including fellow Brit David Percival (James McAvoy), French naïf Delphine LaSalle (Sofia Boutella) and CIA interloper Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), horrific, deplorable violence and backstabbing a-plenty abound. As loyalties twist and switch, and Broughton must discover exactly who she can trust. Continue reading Atomic Blonde (2017)

The Ring (2002)

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The possible advantages of a remake are clear if only we can look past the deep personal offence of daring to meddle with beloved source material in the first place. Translation of a story into a new context can endear it to new audiences, and potentially lead them to revisit the original. Flaws can be addressed, and underdeveloped threads can be explored by shifting the film’s focus. This is a best case scenario; more usually, something goes missing in transit. The Ring is less subtle, less visually appealing and less complex than its Japanese predecessor. Comparisons are not kind, but when the same idea has been executed more capably before, they are difficult to avoid. The crime is not in being a remake, but in being an inferior remake. Continue reading The Ring (2002)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

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Pictured: One of the worst conceivable ways of breaking the ice.

If horror movies are to be believed, nowhere is truly safe. Cities are lousy with sadistically creative serial killers and sewer monsters. Suburbia is riddled with masked murderers and ironically sinister denizens lurking around the white picket fences. But perhaps worst is the great outdoors; if the vicious cryptofauna doesn’t get you, the psychotic satanic cults and clans of cannibalistic country folk will. This is, naturally, slanderous propaganda. Despite the curious voting habits of rural types, they are just people like anyone else, roughly as likely to kill and eat you as any espresso-swilling metropolitan. Tucker and Dale vs Evil seeks to redress this continued misrepresentation, perpetrated by out-of touch coastal elites, by showing the terrible consequences of this potentially fatal consequences of this baseless prejudice.  Continue reading Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

Colossal (2016)

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Where’s the Kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Kaboom!

Some genre mash-ups seem effortless. Space is an environment perfectly unsuitable to human life and probably full of things that want to eat, brainwash or melt us, hence the ease of sci-fi/horror. A world steeped in testosterone, where every problem can be solved by the conscientious application of automatic weapons is inherently ridiculous, making action/comedy a no-brainer. A dramedy about a person dealing with addiction and failure is, surprisingly, not an apparently natural complement to an effects-heavy, destruction laden kaiju flick. Colossal is one of the most original films to come along in a while, at least partially because it has some of the trappings of a science fiction movie without really being sci-fi. The giant monster stuff is symbolic and mostly background to the real drama, though still contains roughly as much kaiju action as 2014’s Godzilla. Continue reading Colossal (2016)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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The greatest friendships are built on a foundation of laughing at others’ misfortune.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been likened more to a mega-budget serialised TV show than a bona fide film series. Each installment juggles the task of telling a story of its own, while both relying upon and providing story elements from the movies before and after. This has the advantage of being able to tell longer stories with characters already familiar to dedicated audiences, in a fairly consistent world sprinkled with references and in-jokes. However, there is a significant weakness in this narrative lattice insofar as it can make the films inaccessible to casual viewers. This is an issue largely avoided by the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, easily the most remote films in the MCU. Because of their extraterrestrial setting, the original and the newly-minted Vol. 2 have the space to tell their own outlandish tales, and feel complete and self-contained. Under the direction of a filmmaker like James Gunn, they have a distinctive and irreverent style, and stand-out as satisfyingly original with a cinematic universe that can sometimes feel increasingly homogenous. Spoilers ahead. Continue reading Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Aliens (1986)

Holidays are one of the best reasons to watch movies, among the literally trillions of other reasons to watch movies. Christmas offers a cornucopia of choice, from timeless classics like It’s A Wonderful Life, to adopted festive films like The Wizard of Oz and Jurassic Park, to the best and least-festive Xmas flick of them all: Gremlins. Other occasions do not offer so many options. For my money, Mother’s Day offers only one serious option, one of the greatest sequels ever made, James Cameron’s Aliens. If Alien turned Ellen Ripley into a hero, Aliens is where she ascends to the status of true badass, one of the Holy Trinity of amazing sci-fi movie heroines alongside Sarah Conner and Leia Organa. Aliens expands upon the original concept into a very different kind of film, and confidently ticks every box on the ideal sequel checklist. Continue reading Aliens (1986)