Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla resurges from the depths of the ocean once again to face off against monsters like King Ghidorah to claim dominance over the other Titans and determine the fate of humanity and the Earth.

In 2014, Godzilla introduced us to a new MonsterVerse from Warner Bros. with exciting monster action from the new wave of Hollywood blockbusters. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, well, succeeds at making that film and every monster movie that came before look like an absolute joke. The stakes and scale are raised to an all-time high, with cities submerged underwater, millions in peril, and nuclear blasts that could cover oceans. Nothing ever looks or feels delicate because of the amount of destruction that occurs here. The vibrant blue and orange colors paint the screen and the visuals on the monsters look even better than before, as they battle and wreak glorious and enormous havoc. The visuals feel like a real achievement for the genre and always stand out in a way unlike most action films today where the CGI often feels taken for granted and not treated with such meticulous care like here. The director also did a great job of topping the action from the last film, with epic sequences fans have likely dreamed of that will immerse you with loud monster sounds and excite you with impressive visuals and fights.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters works as a fun monster movie — if only the story was able to keep up. The first act starts out as an intriguing and decent film but once the focus turns away from the main characters and toward the philosophies of whether or not the Titans should be let loose in the world, it gets extremely tiring and all the character drama gets lost in muddled story and irritating side characters who do nothing but explain things about monsters and nuclear science. Once a character’s motives are revealed, there’s an extremely frustrating second act that makes you want to get lost in all the loud music and monster extravaganza rather than care about what’s going to happen. Most of the cast is pretty underutilized except for the lovable Millie Bobby Brown, who does a great job as one of the only characters in the film who doesn’t keep making questionable decisions. Every other cast member that you want to love is either given poor dialogue or just not given good screentime or an interesting arc. Thankfully we are given time in the end of the film to enjoy yet another big battle, with an awesome finale and a grand final shot that leaves me excited for the potential of the next sequel — I just wish that they can make sure the script isn’t sacrificed next time in order to make a rewarding visual treat.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters fulfills its purpose of being a huge monster mashup with plenty of destruction, violence, and excitement, but the story is often second to fun eye candy — so come for the monster action, stay for that and not much else.

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Aladdin (2019)

A modern rendition of the beloved story of a thief who meets a beautiful young princess, finds a lamp and befriends a Genie, and must fight against the evil royal advisor Jafar.

There is no real reason as to why Disney’s new wave of live-action remakes is needed, other than for the studio to gather more money, but some have even shown potential and paid off like The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. We’ve also recently gotten Dumbo and will soon have a CGI Lion King. However, Aladdin was the one I was most skeptical about because of how close to my heart the original was and how many times I’ve viewed it. There’s so many aspects that can’t be changed or replaced, especially not Robin Williams’ Genie. This live-action rendition finds some highs and lows but ultimately never justifies its existence, but then again, I wasn’t really expecting it to. Aladdin plays it mostly by the books but even when it tries to reinvent itself, it often fails. The musical numbers don’t have much energy into them with weary long takes that don’t feel engaging, and attempts to “modernize” some of the songs with the addition of a drum backdrop was not a good call. We didn’t ask it to beat the original, but we certainly didn’t ask for an autotuned Will Smith singing “Arabian Nights” or a credits version of “Friend Like Me” that includes DJ Khaled. I know, I don’t believe it either. The cast finds some faults to but also brings the film its greatest strengths. Mena Massoud feels like the perfect embodiment of how a live-action Aladdin should look and sound. Naomi Scott is fantastic as Jasmine, who not only has a powerful arc as she seeks to bring Agrabah the true leadership it deserves and speak out against those who silence her and say she is better “seen than heard”, but the actress also has a gorgeous look and singing voice that make her one of the best parts of the film. Will Smith is also one of the most entertaining parts as the Genie. Does he live up to the performance of the role by Robin Williams? No, nobody ever can and it’s too much to ask from someone to do so. However, Smith still captures the fun spirit the Genie has and embraces every moment he has on screen, even though the horrid CGI on his blue form takes some getting used to. My main problem with the cast is definitely Jafar. Growing up, Jafar was one of my favorite Disney villains because of his menacing and thundering presence and how intimidating he felt. Jafar’s execution in this remake is rather weak and annoying, with his monotonous delivery making him feel extremely generic and unlikable. Other great actors cast in the film are Nasim Pedrad, Navid Neghaban, and Billy Magnussen, but they all have to do weird voices throughout the whole film. Pedrad’s new character is a highlight but her unnecessary “elegant” accent slightly bothered me, Neghaban was a good choice for the Sultan by doesn’t have the hilarity and over-the-top personality the Sultan is known for having, and Magnussen had no reason to be in the film and his terrible German accent makes you dislike his new and unnecessary character — he was definitely better off doing other projects.

Aladdin’s real main selling point is nostalgia, as for all of these remakes. Kids will find themselves bopping their heads to tunes like “Friend Like Me” or being enamored by the beloved anthem “A Whole New World”, but when this classic animated adventure was converted to the live-action treatment, it feels like a lot of the wonder was lost. Aladdin and Jasmine’s chemistry, is still there, as well as the friendship between the Genie and the titular character, but what feels loss is the character’s iconic journey from a street thief who steals for himself but also just cares for the other poor people around him, to a selfless, courageous hero who will fight for his love and the kingdom. His arc just doesn’t feel as effective and the movie doesn’t leave us thinking about the films’ themes and emotions like the original did for me all those years. It’s not like all animated stories can perfectly stay effective in all mediums, but Aladdin does definitely suffer from being too close but also changing too much of the wrong things. However, one thing that does land is the humor. There are some fun humorous moments that I did not expect, especially a scene involving a dance. There’s definitely some pacing issues that this remake faces, though. Since the original is 90 minutes but this remake is 130, there feels like a lot of unnecessary filler added to the third act which just makes it tiring and it drags on and doesn’t find much of a point until the climax. The visual look isn’t very impressive either. The cinematography looks so bland, sometimes almost as if someone went to the desert and started shooting on their iPhone. But even the production design isn’t very convincing and it all clearly looks shot on a film set. The movie also fails to capture the vastness of Agrabah that was so intriguing in the first film. Here, everything feels a lot smaller and less striking to the eye, as well as poor CGI for the Genie as well as a few action sequences which aren’t enticing at all. There’s even a character in the final battle who looks like all the DC Extended Universe villains combined, and believe me, that’s not a good thing. Making Iago look like a real parrot takes away all the humorous and cartoonish feel that’s made him a classic role, same with Raja, who’s just a tiger rather than a trusty sidekick for Jasmine. Guy Ritchie’s new Aladdin doesn’t necessarily ruin the film that inspired it, but it certainly doesn’t honor the beauty of the glamour and the story that’s taken us all by awe like something like, say, the new Broadway musical adaptation.

Aladdin clearly didn’t need to be made, but kids will still enjoy a remake that’s, not really different from the original and in the end is just an inferior rendition of a magnificent gem that came before. Despite some entertaining moments but mostly frustrating changes and updates, there isn’t too much to take away except lovable songs you already know, and a strong, fresher arc for Jasmine as well as a standout delivery from Will Smith.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

After being excommunicated from the hitman underground, John Wick finds himself on the run from legions of assassins after a $14 million contract is put on his head.

This third installment ups the ante again with unimaginably epic action scenes and set pieces, and a once again powerhouse delivery by Keanu Reeves and the incredible stunts team. The fight choreography has so much dedication put into it and the visual style and cinematography stand out. Those who love the first film for its vibrant action won’t be let down by Parabellum at all, as all the blood and excitement is still very much present thanks to Chad Stahelski who has wonderfully directed all three films and helped make this franchise one like no other. Reeves’ performance as always awesome but also deep, and he puts so much commitment into the role that it’s clear how much he loves playing John Wick. Another win is Halle Berry, who owns her scenes and shares some great scenes with Wick. The way they handle the plot is mostly interesting, although flawed. The themes sometimes get muddled and confusing, and it feels like a lot less development happens than in the first two, because while still exciting, it feels cut a tad short. The ending unfortunately just makes the movie feel like a bridge between Chapter 2 and 4, and considering I had been waiting for 2 years to see how the ending of Chapter 2 is resolved, it’s a little frustrating for them to make us wait another two years to give us closure because ultimately, a lot less changes by the end of this installment. Also, the fights in the third act do get repetitive or overly extended at one point where the intensity slightly drops, and the villain shows up out of nowhere in the middle of the movie and doesn’t feel interesting at all, rather just another random pawn John has to fight through but with more extended screen time and wise-cracking lines. The only characters you’re really still invested in are the protagonists, like the characters played by Reeves, Berry, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have that same spark the first two did, but the action still makes this one a worthy watch, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what will go down in Chapter 4 (spoiler alert: he’s probably going to kill a lot of people again).

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum‘s plot sometimes fails to catch up to the brutal and enthralling action and set pieces, but is still worth a watch for action moviegoers, fans of the previous films, and those who just love seeing Keanu Reeves do his thing, and I for one am looking forward to seeing more of his dedication and presence in the future.

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Avengers: Endgame

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After the decimation of half the universe at the hands of Thanos, the Avengers must fight to restore order to the universe once and for all in the conclusion to an 11-year, 22-film-long journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you’ve ever felt like all these shared universes and year-long franchises have been leading up to something, then, well, it’s here. The moment fans have been waiting for since 2008 has finally arrived, culminating an already enormous franchise in a gigantic finale that’s everything I wanted it to be and more. It’s the most shocking and emotional movie out of the entire superhero genre, but also brings all the excitement and fun Marvel knows for while having a more somber tone than most Marvel films as well. This movie brings eleven years of cinema in a cinematic event that pays off every minute dedicated to waiting for, watching, and discussing Marvel films over the years. If you think you could get away with only watching a few of the previous films before this one, then you’re wrong — in order to truly grasp the substance of Endgame like the movie wants you to, you are required to watch every film from the Iron ManCaptain America, and Thor trilogies to all the other connected adventures such as Guardians of the GalaxyDoctor StrangeAnt-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel, and of course, the first three Avengers film. After all, it has been an eleven-year adventure and, to be honest, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the center of popular culture for as long as I’ve known about it and have been following it. In case you don’t know, I’ve seen every Marvel movie in theaters since 2012 and this franchise has always had a special place in my heart. This movie is one that everyone can love, but simply going to see Endgame without any prior knowledge won’t bring you as much joy and emotional payoff as that which so many fans in my theater, including myself, experienced when watching this film. The performances are all spectacular, including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans reprising their beloved roles as the leading names of the Avengers, which have easily become the greatest characters in modern cinema. The movie does a wonderful job continuing every character arc from the previous films but still takes characters in unexpected directions, which may be why characters like Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Thor are such highlights as well. Every actor wonderfully reminds us why they were so perfect from the role, including the previously mentioned actors, as well as Mark Ruffalo who is always so enjoyable as Bruce Banner. Not to mention Paul Rudd, who is perfect comedic relief but also delivers a terrific performance overall as his character Scott Lang, better known as Ant-Man. Another character I was very impressed by is Nebula, who originates from the Guardians of the Galaxy films and is most deeply connected to Thanos from all the characters in the film. Nebula’s arc has always intrigued me though many have overlooked it, and the script takes advantage of what makes her great very well and transforms her into a real hero, as opposed to her darker, villainous personality when her journey began in Guardians of the Galaxy. Telling you who else is in the film would already be a spoiler, but every cast member that does appear in the movie perfectly utilized and is very much welcomed every minute they’re on screen.

Remember when Avengers: Infinity War came out and everyone called it a cinematic landmark because of the incomparable scale and stakes? Well, Avengers: Endgame succeeds at topping that scale by creating something even more unimaginably enormous and climactic. Moments fans have awaited for years and buildup waiting to be payed off, it’s all rewarded here in scenes you would never think to picture in your head but finally can. Audiences will continuously clap and cheer as the past films are referenced and heroes do awesome things you’ve always wanted them to do. This movie made me react like no movie before, and I had a huge smile on my face in some scenes that I just couldn’t get rid of. Even after twenty-two films, Marvel takes unexpected directions that you wouldn’t have thought of but still remain true to the long-lasting story arcs. This results in an emotionally surreal experience where you cannot tell what will happen next, or if Hollywood can ever top such a glorious event. The way Endgame handles its story serving as a climax of eleven years of cinema and as a 3-hour movie lover’s dream, well, it convinces me that this is the peak of filmmaking history here. Every movie in history has always promised to “up the ante”, but after Endgame, it’s hard to see how the scale, stakes, and weight of this film can ever be topped. But that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it just means that we lived in the right time, to witness such a grand phenomenon unfold in front of our eyes, and that we’ll be able to tell those who come after us of the adventure we went on with these characters over the years, and the conclusion of their stories that we see here, wrapped up terrifically in one of the greatest superhero movie endings of all time, which in turn helps make up the greatest superhero movie, and one of the most astonishing action movies and blockbusters put to film in this day and age.

Avengers: Endgame is a cinematic event that must be witnessed on the big screen, marking the end of an era for Marvel but one that still exceeds expectations with fantastic writing, emotional value, nostalgia, and visuals and set pieces that will be remembered for the rest of however long superhero and action movies continue to be made. Thank you, Marvel Studios, for making such a sensational universe and making the experience of being a fan an unforgettable one. I’m sure more people can agree with me on that than Thanos can snap away. You’ve definitely already heard of Avengers: Endgame and now that you know why you should see it, what are you waiting for?

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Pet Sematary (2019)

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Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home.
This latest adaptation from a work of genius author Stephen King proves to be a missed opportunity. The trailers teased something dark, unpredictable, and memorable, but what we got instead was a terribly written film with poor direction and no attempt to fulfill any promises it sets up. The film has some nice atmosphere building in the start, but ultimately falls into too many horror cliches, like the family moving to a new place for a “fresh start”, and the older, wiser, “exposition dump” character who conveniently knows everything. The marketing not only gave away every surprise there as about the movie, but made me believe this would be a brutal and unsettling horror film. Unfortunately, there are few truly scary moments and every important death happens either off screen or too dramatically to be taken seriously and emotionally. Jason Clarke’s acting never stands out, and he’s an actor who’s unfortunately found himself stuck in the limbo of playing the boring characters in reboots, and like I said, John Lithgow is just there for exposition purposes. There’s also an arc for the female lead which becomes super repetitive and involves unnecessary flashbacks that provide the only possible scares this movie had. There’s also some aspects, like a frightening opening hinting at a cult of some sort or more resurrected animals or people, but this buildup ends up leading nowhere. Pet Sematary ultimately becomes frustrating in its climax and I was happy when it was over. It unfortunately fails to dodge any cliches of the genre and misses out on any emotional response it could have gotten out of its audience, which is disappointing because I had hopes for this one. You’re best off watching the trailer and leaving it there, because the 2-minute teaser was far more entertaining than the actual film was. Let’s hope the King adaptations improve when It: Chapter Two and Doctor Sleep are released in the fall.
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Hotel Mumbai

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The true story of the Taj Hotel terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008. Hotel staff risk their lives to keep everyone safe as people make unthinkable sacrifices to protect themselves and their families.

Hotel Mumbai is a terrifyingly realistic and relevant look at the awfulness of the world and a terrible act of hate. However, it also puts the spotlight on the courage of the protagonists, the workers and guests at the hotel being held hostage. We see in numerous scenes where several characters make the difficult choice to put their guests’ lives ahead of theirs, as they claim “Guest is god”, and that the hotel is their home and they would not leave without first ensuring the safety of others. The guests also are seen never giving up to be with their loved ones and protect them, even if it costs them their own lives. Even though we’re also reminded of the horrible, blind beliefs that radical terrorists follow, even they are given brief moments to remind the audience that they’re also human beings, like a terrorist who is critically injured and calls his father tearfully when he realizes it’s unlikely he’ll make it home. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer deliver solid performances, but a surprising standout is Anupam Kher as the head chef at the hotel who constantly displays leadership, courage, and selflessness during the attack. The dirtector also does a great job building sitatuions of tension and showing certain characters in the same shot to make us uncertain who will make it out alive. Despite being an effective thriller, Hotel Mumbai does unfortanely fall into some “true terrorist attack film” cliches, like the main character who’s new at his job, the white guy who’s mostly there to make more money, the couple who gets seperated, the rich guy who’s kind of an asshole, the brave but foolish cops who are the first to arrive at the scene and the seasoned worker who always maintains his dignity. Though it’s easy to tell where it’s going and who’s likely to die or make it out alive, Hotel Mumbai still remains an intense dramatization that does its job of reminding us of the terror that’s happened in this world and continues to happen today.

Hotel Mumbai is strongly acted, well-directed, and feels very realistically and executed. However, it sometimes falls into cliches of films in the similar genre, while thankfully still remaining intense and timely for audiences.

 

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Shazam!

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Billy Batson is a streetwise 14-year-old who encounters a wizard that lets him turn into an adult superhero by simply saying the word “Shazam”. His newfound powers soon get put to the test when he squares off against the evil Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.

By focusing less on world-building and more on humor and heart, Shazam! turns out to be one of the DC Extended Universe’s greatest successes yet. It immediately establishes itself as a funnier DC movie but also uses the light tone to convey some real sweetness in its themes. Zachary Levi owns his role with plenty of charisma and perfectly portrays a superhero discovering his powers and size for the first time, which makes for the most enjoyable sequences of the film. Even though you spend so much time with Levi that there isn’t enough unity felt between him and the younger actor playing Billy, both performances are skilled on their own. The movie takes themes that feel rather family-friendly, such as the importance of family and sharing, and perfectly intertwines them with the aim of a PG-13 audience of a live-action superhero film, making for a very heartwarming and cheerful experience, especially in the final half. The one major thing that will bother some viewers is the villain — sure, envy and greed are good motives, and Mark Strong is a great actor, but the execution of the character is ultimately dull and felt so inferior to everything else in the movie, where everything else says “Check me out, I’m awesome!” while the villain’s writing is basically “By the way, I’m evil and I’m doing evil things.” His execution feels really one-dimensional and we never really feel the rage or jealousy of him, and even though we see his backstory, he just feels heartless and mean later on, ignoring the layer the writers could have offered to the character. Also, some of the production design and CGI aren’t very pleasant to look at, such as a wizard’s lair that looks to obviously like a film set and has little to no realism to it. Perhaps a larger budget to make the visual appeal much less underwhelming would have helped. However, Shazam! has a way of playing on cliches, making its audience die of laughter, and humanizing seemingly unimportant side characters and making them feel like emotionally potent roles, as well as giving foster kids representation on the big screen in a superhero movie for the first time.
Shazam! is arguably DC’s greatest win since The Dark Knight, and — surprisingly — the better movie based on a character named Captain Marvel this Spring. More uplifting than Aquaman or Justice League, and definitely more interesting for tweens than Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. It’s definitely up there  with Wonder Woman as the DCEU outings that have definitely hit their mark, and for once makes you look forward to the next wave of films starring Levi as the titular character. It isn’t perfect as some of the production could’ve used improvement and the villain and plot structure are familiar, but under it all is a message that will reach viewer’s hearts and also make for a damn good time — go see it with family and friends when it’s out on April 5!
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