30 June 2019

NMW Mid-Year Review!

2019 has been a wacky year so far and I'm excited to see my stats. See, I keep track of everything I watch, which you may follow for some reason right here. This is more a personal feat than anything, but it's actually been surprising to put some hard data to trends both in what I've watched but how I've watched it. Television is basically non-existent as streaming has exploded over the past few years. See, I say this not as general prognostication, but actually reporting how I've consumed. So, let's take a halfway look:

Total Movies Watched: 112
First Time Viewings: 72 (65%)
Repeat Viewings: 39 (35%)

How does this compare with the last few years? Well, at the mid-point in 2018 I had 127 movies, which is a 12.5% decline. This is actually impressive - I felt I was chasing so many movies in 2018 that I really lost time for anything else and was needlessly stressed. 2019 has felt much healthier, but the numbers aren't down all that much. In fact, I hit 112 by this time in 2017, which...holy shit in a handbasket.

My new viewings in 2017 was 58 (52%), while 2018 was 83 (65%). So, as you can see, even though my first time viewings are down in number from last year, I'm actually right on the money in terms of percentages.

Here is a breakdown by media:

Netflix Streaming4540%
Netflix DVD2119%
Delta Airlines44%
Google Play11%
Redbox DVD11%

My total streaming is actually down 4% from last year, which was surprising. Everything else is pretty stable, except my Theater viewings actually suck. I've watched as many movies in the theater as I've seen movies on airplanes this year. That is not good. See, that's why we do this - I need to get off my ass more in the second half of the year.


So last year I made a huge effort to watch a film from every year 1970-2018. That turned exhausting so I gave it up. It shows. I've actually seen more 90s movies, and real old films are comparable to years past (still crazy low), but my 60% 2010s is an 11% increase from this time last year. When looking at movies for the past two years, my number has gone up from 31% to 48%.

Is that a bad thing? Being more up to date with modern cinema? Maybe. I'd like to increase my older viewership, but the catch is that as years actually progress it's harder to find old movies I haven't seen. They aren't exactly making new movies from the 1970s. I've sniffed out some classics like Logan's Run (1976) this year and there are still others I could find. This is perhaps just all an excuse to watch newer movies instead. It's an eternal debate. What do you think?

Lastly, we've gotten into a habit of ranking all the movies I've seen in the Calendar year for the first time. This disregards any kind of actual release date, but simply the best I've personally seen. I always think these lists are fun for maybe introducing a hidden gem I missed years ago or re-discovery of a classic.

American Animals201810
Cool Hand Luke19679
Godzilla: King of the Monsters20198
The Perfection20197
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote20196
The Clovehitch Killer20184
Free Solo20183
In the Loop20092
Assassination Nation20181
Alright - two things. First, a product of 48% of new movies watched so far this year bent this list HEAVY towards 2018 and 2019 releases. What's the point, man? Second, without totally realizing it I kind of got into rape revenge fantasy thrillers I guess? The Perfection, Revenge, Assassination Nation (kind of). All three were really captivating, interesting movies that stayed with me for a long time. That's good, but now I'm wondering if we can have some women stories that aren't exploitative? I narrowly left out Support the Girls (2018), which was also fantastic.

2019 Movies so Far:

I haven't seen a ton of 2019 movies. I'm pretty reliant on Netflix DVD service and will crank a lot of them out by year's end. But here's a Top Ten so far:

Actually, screw it, I've only seen fourteen 2019 movies. Just wait until December, folks.

What about the worst movies?!

There are some clear candidates. Polar (2018) was really wretched in all the worst ways with a plot that made no sense but tried so hard to be cool and edgy. I watched Exposed (2016) because I was excited about everyone in the cast but it was so boring I literally forgot that I had actually watched it and almost put it my queue again. I also crushed some truly terrible comedies. That's what I get for giving movies a chance and trying to understand if they're actually underrated gems. No, there's a reason why everyone hates Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999) and In the Army Now (1994). There's more to suss out what exactly makes these movies terrible and other Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler comedies great, but I have yet to pin that down.

And that's it for 2019! The first half! What have you seen this year?! It's clear I have a little course correcting to do, but the rest of the year will be a good one! Maybe.

26 June 2019

For No Reason Let's Look at G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

We are actually approaching the ten-year anniversary of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), which is amazing and as good of a reason as any to ramble about this lost gem of American cinema. But truly, I just saw it pop up on Hulu and will still contend that it's one of the greatest action-adventure movies of the modern era. It gets a lot of flack just because it's really stupid and has pulpy source material, but none of that actually matters. Top to bottom this flick is amazing. Come, dear reader - let me tell you why.

This all starts with Transformers (2007). Some might call it the pioneer of blockbuster 80s toy adaptations. It made a ton of money, soaked up all of Michael Bay's time for ten years, and was lauded for its incoherent visuals and complete disregard for plot or taste. This was a formulative moment in cinematic history. At the very least it gave Hasbro the idea that it could convert all of its toys into movies.

Ninja fights!
Now, the original source material for all this crap is pretty bad. Nostalgia takes over, but neither Transformers nor G.I. Joe nor Thundercats or Voltron were any good. They were all pretty cheap cartoons all made expressly to sell toys. That's really it. It did form this vague collective memory, though that allowed us to partly dip a tow in the nostalgia market while also staying far enough away so that fans wouldn't be pissed. Beyond Optimus, Megatron, Starscream, and Bumblebee I'm not sure any casual fan remembered any other Transformer. Except Hot Rod and it took until the fifth fucking movie for him to debut. G.I. Joe is even worse. Was the lead character even named Joe? No one cares. We just remember Snake Eyes.

This put Rise of Cobra in a fun position. It could trade heavily on the Joe name while being its own ridiculous thing. And G.I. Joe is inherently insane, even to parody. It's hard to think of joke names because a lot of Joe names really were joke names. Who better to take the reigns of this epic attempt at making money than Stephen Sommers? He had quite a few random movies in the 90s until he found his magnum opus in The Mummy (1999). One need only watch this throwback adventure tale to understand what brings Sommers above his contemporaries - an understanding that movies are fun.

Sommers also gave us The Mummy Returns (2001) and Van Helsing (2004), and before you ask, yes, that's about it. These are epic, studio-driven films that revel in their own stupidity. There is no shame or reluctance to his filmmaking. He'll throw everything against the wall and keep only the fun, epic parts. There's such an earnest quality to his movies. Sure, they don't really have...plots, but that hardly matters. He's well aware of the pulpy realm he exists in and has a lot of fun with it. I'll also shout out Odd Thomas (2013), a fantastic small little movie starring the late Anton Yelchin that maintains Sommer's flair.

All this percolated in Rise of Cobra to create one of the best pure action-adventure films of the modern era. It surely didn't last that long in a post-Dark Knight (2008) world that suddenly took everything dark, serious, and brooding, but my appreciation has only grown. As a movie, while there are certainly leaps in logic and quickly bypassed character development, it still establishes simple but potent stakes very early, sticks by them, and crafts an insane yet sincere world for its toys to play in.

Before watching this, I had never seen a film that so purely put playing with action figures on screen. There are implausible secret bases, evil nano-technology mind-controlled soldiers, submarine armies, and so much more. It took a kid's imagination and gave it a $175 million budget for some reason. The only other film that's come close was actually last month's Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), which gave me the same feeling. Both films throw plausibility to the wind and truly don't care about doing it. How do these organizations get funding? How do these characters figure out where everyone else will be? Where do these skills come from? Nobody cares. If it's not pure cinematic fun, it's left on the cutting room floor.

And to be sure - this is a tricky line to walk. There are Sommers-esque directors who fail. Look no further than John M. Chu's G.I. Joe: Retaliaion (2013) which somehow too the exact same source material, added The Rock and Bruce Willis and then totally whiffed. There's a difference between treating the source material seriously and making a serious movie. Rise of Cobra relishes its world but knows that that world is inherently silly. Save a few clever scenes, Retaliation never felt like it knew how to loosen up and be fun. There are many more problems with that that we'll get to, but it also lacked focus, which is surprisingly always crystal clear in Rise of Cobra.

The film takes four minutes to establish stakes. I timed it. And those stakes never change. There are nanomite warheads that can destroy a city if they fall into the wrong hands. That's it. The whole movie chugs along with that underlying danger (EXCEPT the big twist is that this isn't actually Cobra's plot at all, in a stroke of genuine brilliance - more on that later). The warheads are basically a MacGuffin in the sense that everyone in the movie is chasing them and they drive a lot of the plot, but they also actually have a function rather than just being an obscure jewel or something. Also, the MacGuffin becomes a Red Herring! It's awesome!

Also, Dennis Quaid is here for some reason!
Within the first 21 minutes we hear, "Knowing is half the battle", "Real American Hero", and "Kung Fu Grip." That's all we need. Each member of the Joes has a little gimmick like the hacker, the bombs guy, the woman with the head-exploding crossbow. It's almost as if they lacked a white man until Channing Tatum comes in, with the power of being white and leading them. There's a scene of Channing Tatum watching a funeral in aviator sunglasses in the pouring rain while riding a motorcycle. It's sublime.

Tatum is ostensibly the protagonist, although this is an ensemble more than anything, and he's actually the one captured and who needs saving at the end. This is way too late, but SPOILERS for this 10-year old movie that no one cares about, I guess. Marlon Wayan is also here, with some cringy hitting on the non-sportscaster Rachel Nichols after she says no. How did we not realize until like 2017 that women are capable of independent agency? Other than this awkwardness, which was standard then (and still now), Wayans actually does a nice job balancing comic relief and genuine action chops. You could say he was the original black best friend. Shit that goes back a ways actually.

We also have great ethnic character actors in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Croc from Suicide Squad [2016]) and Saïd Taghmaoui (The same exact character in Wonder Woman [2017]) doing their thing. Most importantly, Akinnuoye-Agbaje also featured in The Mummy Returns, and this movie is an insane reunion of Mummy actors. Kevin J. O'Connor, who played the weasel Benny in The Mummy appears as the best named character, Dr. Mindbender. Arnold Vosloo is actually downright charming here as the sadistic murder / master of disguise Zartan. And Brendan Frasier even appears on a little ATV-thing during the best training montage ever. It actually took me a while to realize they weren't even playing "Bang a Gong" in the background. I still think of this montage every single damn time I hear that song. It perfectly encapsulates the fun sincerity of this film. Was Rachel Weisz unavailable? She also was absent from Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). You now John David Hannah was available.

Rounding out the cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the hammiest performance of all-time as Cobra Commander. Of course, you don't find out he's Commander until the last scene, but the lead-up to his ascension is awesome. He always seems like just this weird creepy nano-doctor who is obsessed with snakes. Christopher Eccleston is Destro for most of the film and the main antagonist, wielding power in the form of a billion-dollar weapons empire and somehow super-advanced energy bubble gun technology. He's also a moustache-twirling insane person. This is Sienna Miller's best movie. She's the Baroness, although I do sort of wish she wasn't mind-controlled, just actually evil. It makes it a little weird when Channing Tatum has to save her with his mighty man charms, but she's also still straight up in jail by the film's end.

Finally, the two best characters. See, this is largely a NATO vs. Terrorists show of military propaganda (nominally - you can read NATO pretty transparently as USA and Cobra as...there's no real analogy there), but this is also an intense Ninja Revenge drama. That's the awesome thing about G.I. Joe. For some reason it really boils down to all Good Guys vs. all Bad Guys. Like, it doesn't matter if they have military affiliation or not. This film spares us weird snow people, but preserves good ninja vs. bad ninja.

Meet Snake Eyes, a white guy who wears black and never talks and Storm Shadow, a Japanese (ok - Korean actor) guy who always wears white and talks sometimes. Snake Eyes took a vow of silence after Storm Shadow killed their sensei, the Hard Master (fuck these names...), although that is retconned in a way that severely undermines his character and arc in Retaliation.

Played by Byung-hun Lee of The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008), it's both the best acting and best character in this movie. While Ray "Darth Maul and Toad" Park is Snake Eyes as a quiet spirit of vengeance, you feel all the anger and pain Storm Shadow feels from being in this dumbass rat white kid's shadow for like twenty years. He's competent, brutal, merciless, but does have a code of honor above his other Cobra people. You kind of wonder what the hell his motivation is in helping these people, but you also get the sense that he's just a lost soul just looking for an excuse to kill Snake Eyes. And the kid version is played by the kid Heroin leader from Tropic Thunder (2008)!

One thing I always liked though is that the good guys are actually as cool as the bad guys. Ohhh the bad guys are always the coolest. Snake Eyes pushes the Joes over the top, though. As do Ripcord and Scarlett. The two of them seem to be able to figure out what Cobra's doing at any turn. I think some of that is gearing this film towards a younger, dumber demographic. Like, how the fuck does Scarlett speak fluent Celtic to save the day at the end? That's downright bizarre. It's just to keep the plot moving, it's okay.

Sommers, known also as the King of Shitty CGI, fills this movie not only with childhood characters but childhood playsets. The CGI is so bad. Are you ready for the worst in the movie? It's right here. This is 2009 and this movie again cost $175 million! What the fuck? But this vehicle, with all its gadgets fits perfectly as a play accessory. And that Paris chase sequence is fantastic. Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans don literal Iron Man suits, blast through Paris, fail to save the Eiffel Tower, then get arrested and are banished from France forever. This is all straight up what happens in this movie.

It's a little hint towards the end that the Joes actually fail here. Quite a bit actually. They are continually outmatched by Cobra. First they get their asses handed to them in the opening scene. When they slink away, they are outwitted once more, accidentally activating a homing beacon that reveals their secret base's location (this however, leads to the single best scene, when a door explodes because of bullets). They can't get the warheads back in Paris and the city is nearly destroyed.

Oh yeah - the bases. The Joes live in a secret base under the Sahara desert in Egypt, which seems to have been picked with total disregard towards actual Middle Eastern geopolitics. But the Cobra base - that was when I knew I was watching something special. A giant underwater base beneath the Arctic Ice Cap?! How? Why?! It's completely impractical! As the Joes say, though, impossible to detect! Except for when they detect them immediately!

As you might guess, this all leads to a massive underwater submarine fight that would go unmatched until Aquaman (2018). There's one point where Sommers actually does a match cut between a barrel-rolling jet in the upper atmosphere and a Manta sub in pursuit of Cobra Commander. It's amazing. At one point Cobra detonates the ice shelf and everyone needs to escape BECAUSE THE ICE SHELF WILL FALL ON THE UNDERWATER BASE. They eventually get away and disable the base's mega-cannon and capture the elusive new Cobra Commander.

BUT - and here's the final twist. This was all just bullshit. See, Destro has also built the President's bunker, which he knew would be protocol once a warhead was aimed at Washington, D.C. The entire warhead was a production - a big ruse to trick the Joes and America into doing exactly as they wanted. For lo and behold waiting for President Don Quixote in the Destro Bunker is Zartan, disguised as a perfect copy. It's basically a David Tenant / Mad-Eye Moody situation. So while the rest of Cobra appears dismantled and defeated, they have a man in the White House and no one is the wiser. That's how the movie ends! The bad guys win! And no one knows! I was actually blown away and really excited for the sequel.

Rachel Nichols taught me what puberty is from this movie
Retaliation sucked. It didn't help that they either killed everyone or replaced the competent, likable cast. In a fun twist, Channing Tatum spent the intervening years becoming the 21 Jump Street (2012) Tatum, suddenly a reliable and unique leading man with charms they failed to deploy in Rise of Cobra. They kept Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee, thank goodness, but fucked with their Ninja background and made their decades long grudge make no sense. In a true way of trying to sell more toys, though, everyone else fell by the wayside. You can't replace Joseph Gordon-Levitt with Luke Bracey and expect it to be any good. He's Cobra Commander! An iconic 80s villain on par with Skeletor, Megatron, and Mum-Ra! How could they find no one of high caliber to take that role. It's such a good, meaty, campy, insane role to play.

They added The Rock and Bruce Willis and they're okay. Adrian Palicki, Elodie Young, and Ray Stevenson are all good additions, but it's really hard to just start over. They could have all been additions to the cast instead of wholesale upgrades. Why can't this team have two women on it at the same time? Speaking of that - the Baroness nano-brain cliffhanger is never brought up again. I still think it would have been some better character development if she had made a conscious decision to be super evil, but this film doesn't have time for that.

And while I remember the ending of Rise of Cobra so well as the greatest ending ever, I have no idea what happens in Retaliation. I've watched it twice. It doesn't stick in my brain. It feels like a cheap movie made on the fly that no one cared about.

Okay, okay sure - let's get cynical. Sommers is a hack and Rise of Cobra was designed to capitalize on Transformers' popularity and sell toys. There are loads of problematic narrative shortcuts and an uneasy comfortability with the military-industrial complex. Everyone knows this. But true globe-trotting adventure movies that are fun and earnest are really rare. You would be hard-pressed to find a movie like this these days, which is partly why I was so excited by Godzilla: King of the Monsters. They're movies who aren't afraid to be movies, and that's something I really appreciate.

What do you think of this movie? Am I crazy? Is this trash? I could watch this every day of my life.

24 June 2019

Summer Jam 2019 Week 7: He's Gone

We got a bunch of new jams and some very old ones this week all combining to make a perfect flurry of Summer Pop-ness. We're deep into June at this point and rounding the third-way Summer barrier. What song will we always remember as Independence Day 2019? Well, keep listening next week for that one, but for now here's what's hot:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Rodeo" by Lil Nas X ft. Cardi B

Okay, so it's fairly clear at this point that Lil Nas X isn't going to have another "Old Town Road." I hope he's good at saving his money. Throwing Cardi on this track is a no-brainer but also feels very 2018. Nas X dropped like three songs this week and they all suck pretty hard. "Rodeo" hits that Country / Hip-Hop vibe the best (some call it "hip-haw", which I like). This is actually kind of a cool jam but I wish he'd make something longer than two minutes.

"You Need to Calm Down" by Taylor Swift

Hey, Taylor. You know I've been a big fan for a while. What is this? Is it a gay rights anthem? Is it you squashing your random pop beefs that no one really cared about? There's something passive aggressive here - like telling someone to calm down has never had the effect of calming them down ever. Her lyrics of yesterday were so witty - this jam falls flat. I spent more time wondering when Taylor re-positioned herself as an LBGT icon than listening to this message, which is maybe a petty thing to do. I did like the Pop Queen Drag Show. Like most things, The Onion has the best take.

"Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish

This is still kicking it and it's clear that despite being a perennial runner-up to Lil Nas X in this moment, Eilish has enough pop grit in her to crank out some great songs for years to come. I did not realize how young she was, but there's a lot of punk in her pop that's new and refreshing and exciting. She just needs to break away and have a moment that's only hers.

"Cool" by Jonas Bros

Is this song actually cool? I kind of like it. It does seem like you're not really cool if you think you're cool. Billie Eilish is cool. I'm not sure the Jonas kids are. Props for them not turning out to be total weirdos and preserving, even maturing most of their early boy band sound into whatever this is. Good enough for me to sing their praises here.

"Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray

Yep this is still around, still exists, but fading at this point. I think it's done a fair amount of damage so far to make a great claim, but we'll see how recency affects the latter two thirds of summer. Historically it's been tough for a May / June breakout hit to keep momentum through Labour Day. Keep those horses high!

"Happier" by Marshmello ft. Bastille

I told you we were going old. This song, which I'm sure your grandparents had fun dancing to, seemed to crop up a lot this week. And I'm at the point where I can totally sing it without thinking about it. How did that happen? It wormed its way into my brain. This is how seemingly innocuous pop takes over the world, people. It's scary.

"High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco

Same with this song. I hate grammatically incorrect names like this and fun. Also that voice, jeez, man. This is terrible. But still everywhere, somehow increasing Hot 100 position and still on the radio everywhere. I'll switch to Spotify next week, I swear. Then this list is going to be full of Tyler the Creator and Lizzo. I should have looked closer this week.

"Glad He's Gone" by Tove Lo

This song was in my head all week and it got a video companion. I actually dig this a lot - it really hasn't done much damage on any kind of chart or for anyone who is not me, but I like the flow, the message, everything is good. Also nice to see Tove Lo have another hit. And by hit I mean song that I've heard. I don't think this has serious Summer Jam potential and we're probably throwing everything out of whack here, but who cares, this is cool.

Next week...

There is still Khalid and Normani tunes out there that I ignored this week. Aforementioned Tyler and Lizzo. Lots that could crop up. "Old Town Road" may not be as dead as I suggest, and no one else has really made a move for the throne yet. You just know Taylor wants to, though. Stay tuned to find out! This has been Norwegian Morning Wood, your definitive contemporary pop music source.

21 June 2019

Toys Come to Life Weekend

Hey there. So we used to discuss the cultural, critical, and commercial prospects of each new film each and every Friday around here. So, that - but the short version because there isn't all that much to say beyond the fact that this weekend bizarrely features both the adorable and horrific aspects of toys coming to life. Toy Story 4 (2019) and Child's Play (2019), everyone!

So, these toys are immortal, right? Will we eventually reach
a Highlander-type situation?
I am a Pixar fan because I am a living, breathing human being with a heart, but the studio isn't without their problems. I just mentioned while talking about Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) that the studio tends to be averse to the more cartoony aspects of animation, relies on cheap tearjerkers as excuses for depth (despite them mostly being earned, which is why their movies are genuinely good), and lately have traded in original stories for easy sequels that just don't the same panache.

And then they crank out COCO (2017) which is the most underrated Pixar movie ever, but also completely out of the Pixar tearjerker playbook. Sad doesn't automatically equal great, although like I said, COCO's tears are mostly earned, so it works.

I tried to get into their sequels, I really did, but they're just not all that good. I don't know why they've decided to go back to the well so often, either. They had a $200+ million streak from Monsters, Inc. (2001) to UP (2009). Even original films since like Brave (2012) and Inside Out (2015) have made consistent bank while the Cars series has had diminishing returns (but way more merchandisable than Princess Merida). Still, the big nostalgia jerkers - the Toy Stories, Finding Dory (2017), Incredibles 2 (2018) - those are making the kind of money that really gets attention. It's not about $200+ million anymore. It's about hitting that Billion Dollar worldwide mark.

So despite having the most satisfying cathartic ending of any movie in history here we are at Toy Story 4. Great. Half the original cast is dead. I honestly haven't even been interested in the trailer. My life if so complete with Toy Story 3 (2010) being the endpoint. I'm trying not to just be a whiner but I'm moved on. I can't even conceive of another adventure for these characters that would feel momentous enough to earn another outing. I'm glad they got Keanu Reeves. I'm sure he's great. I can't get hyped for this.

On the other end of the aisle is the new Child's Play which is totally a thing I didn't realise was happening until I randomly looked at what new releases we had this week. I knew this movie was coming, but Friday? Holy shit! There's Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tee Henry, and Tim Matheson (better known for being the best part of A Very Brady Sequel [1996]). Mark Hamill as Chucky?! Let's watch this!

I feel like I could have told you this doll is evil.
Ooooh he looks like Thunderbirds!
Chucky is so stupid. Just kick the doll away. Once the series started getting campy and insane with Bride of Chucky (1998) it definitely became more its own thing. I don't know if Chucky is a horror icon - I guess so? I'm surprised this hasn't had a more mainstream reboot, but in researching this I was surprised to learn it has had a fairly steady Direct-to-DVD presence. That's not really surprising.

So, let's talk cash, cultural cache, all that stuff. Toy Story 4 is going to make a lot of money this weekend. There's been no great financial juggernaut in a few weeks and there's really nothing next weekend, either. Chucky is great counter-programming and Summer Horror can work, but it's also a property that I don't think that many people care about. We will eventually reach a point where this movie is just debuted on streaming services and we coordinate enough that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle of hundreds of other low budget horror movies on streaming sites. That's not this weekend, though.

Will these movies have cultural weight? I don't think so. How often do you reflect on Monsters University (2013) in your life? It was nice to remember Bride of Chucky. That movie is fun as hell. There might be a little of that going on here - with a much more violent streak. It's a tough tone to do well, and it might get a bit of a cult following. A...Cult of Chucky (2017) following? Eh? EH?!

What are you going to see this weekend? I mean, this is the longest day of the year, do you want to spend it on this crap? Go watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). Let's keep that franchise alive!

20 June 2019

First Impressions: The Secret Life of Pets 2

That's right. This was...such a weird movie. In reality it wasn't actually a movie at all. It was more three unrelated stories strung together for eighty minutes. But more on that later. SPOILERS to follow about The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019).

I actually just watched The Secret Life of Pets (2016), so that was nice and fresh. In the intervening three years a lot has happened, namely lead little dog voice actor Louis C.K. was out, Patton Oswalt in. Kevin Hart is still here as a maniacal little rabbit named snowball. Is he still okay to like? Take of that what you will.

The Secret Life of Pets was a pretty surprise hit back in 2016. Never underestimate the appeal of a bunch of cute animated talking animals. It comes from Illumination, which is NBC / Universal's animation branch, primarily known for Minions movies. Pets has little hints of this, and a nice minion introduction just to remind you of the studio's bread and butter. Twinkie and butter?

Snowball's superhero name is Captain Snowball.
Next up, Captain Steve Rogers.

Unfortunately, the studio has then become known for somewhat diminishing returns. Despicable Me remains their highest rated (81%) and most sentimentally adored film. That being said, they haven't quite entered DreamWorks levels of pop culture regurgitation and celebrity worship, but they're close. More importantly, though, their films tend to find a way to become financially successful. How the hell did Dr. Seuss' The Grinch (2018) find a way to $270 million last year?

From an animation standpoint I tend to be turned off by Illuminations' fan of giant heads and bodies with tiny feet and arms. It's off-putting to me for some reason. Having said that, their backgrounds are awesome. I loved Pets' interpretation of a massive, endless glistening New York City. There is a sense of frenetic action and purposeful unrealism that modern CGI, namely Pixar tends to avoid. SONY Animation, for all its wretchedness actually does animated slapstick really well. It keeps me interested in the Hotel Transylvania series of all things.

The heavenly depiction of New York in Pets borders on irresponsible with how clean and crime-free it looks, but that movie found contrast between the silver shine of the city and the grimy underground of flushed and forgotten pets. This all came together into a coherent story of Louis C.K. dog loving his master until a newer, bigger, wilder dog is introduced. They then get lost, find the misfit pets and need to escape to get back before their master notices them gone.

Holy shit.

Sorry, I just realised this is the plot of Toy Story (1995). Okay, okay - moving past that.

It's fine and entertaining and full of really genuine pet / owner moments that earn a handful of chuckles. It's not thematically dense or anything, but it's also really not trying to be. We often talk around here of how a film can accomplish its own goals, which I think Pets does, it's just not a far goalpost. To be real honest, it was a whole lot better than I had been led to believe and I could stand to have this play in the background for like two months straight if I had kids who got into it.

Pets 2 mystified me. The basic premise is that Patton Oswalt dog's owner gets hitched and cranks out a baby, which the pups are at first wary of, but then grow to love and eventually be overprotective. The helicopter parent analogy is pretty clear here. They then journey out to the farm for reasons that are never explained (I suppose that keeps with the dog's perspective and it also doesn't quite even matter) and meet a dog voiced my Harrison Ford who thinks the city dogs are pussies (ha) and is way more into an old school way of parenting.

It wasn't until long after the cinema that I found myself wondering who this plot was even for. Are kids like "Yeah, mom and dad - don't raise me like that!" Would they even pick up on it? I liked that it was at least an indictment against helicopter parents and not Millennials, which tends to be an easy target in films like this filled with old folks who don't understand that thar Ol' Intranets. And Harrison Ford actually does a fantastic job and doesn't even sound that grouchy.

There are good sheep jokes but there is truly no place for Eric Stonestreet dog. It's tough when his very presence was the central conflict of the first film. He just kind of exists here. They could have developed him a little more - say he sides against Oswalt dog and when Harrison Ford shows up there's more conflict there when he justifies a lot of what he's been saying the whole movie.

Apparently they didn't have time for all that, though, because there are two whole unrelated stories at play here. The first is Jenny Slate dog learning how to pretend to be a cat in order to infiltrate an old cat lady's apartment to steal back a chew toy Patton Oswalt lost.

And don't get me wrong - this bit is hilarious and works exceptionally well as its own 20-minute short. But what the hell is this doing intercut with two other unrelated stories in a feature-length film? The old lady gangsta pay-off as she kills the Evil Circus Owner at the end who she definitely did not know is fantastic, but narratively this film is insane.

Yes, Evil Circus Owner - voiced by Nick Kroll and dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West for some reason. Russian because Evil German was too on the nose I guess, but the last vignette involves Kevin Hart Snowball bunny dressed as a superhero (because superheroes are popular) teamed up with Tiffany Haddish (because Haddish is popular) to free an imprisoned White Tiger. Again, this all works better than it sounds. Haddish is a little miscast - her character is surprisingly relaxed and calm and doesn't seem to take advantage of her raspy, excitable voice. Still, it's a fun Night School (2018) reunion. Did ya'll see Night School?

This Tiger-saving ends up being the thing that Oswalt dog needs to do to prove his bravery at the end of the film, but considering he has never met this Tiger or Tiffany Haddish it feels really weird and empty. All the stakes are there and even the proper build-up, but then they switch out the hero for one who is in better need of the hero moment. It's bizarre. Like, it fits Oswalt's story but...isn't.

Pets 2 works as a series of vignettes and it's fun to play around in this world for a little bit. That's essentially all that's going on here, though. It's playing and spending a little more time with these characters. The jokes land and kids will be entertained (I think a little more by the latter two vignettes, but whatever), but this is such a weirdly structured movie. It's like as if Four Rooms (1995) or Amores Perros (2000) was set in the Secret Life of Pets universe. I'd actually like to see a little more of this. I suppose what threw me off the most was waiting for these stories to intersect or to find meaning in parallel to each other. Like, imagine if Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (2019) is just three separate stories in the Star Wars Universe. Okay, that might actually be awesome, but my brain spent more time trying to piece together what was happening than enjoying the cuteness.

Anyway, I've whined a lot but I generally liked this for the same reason I liked the first film. They just nail pet/owner relationships so well, it's a familiar chuckle, and Lake Bell, Harrison Ford, Dana Carvey, and Jenny Slate all give some legit great voice performances. Upon second viewing it would be nice to relax and enjoy cuteness. Also notable is the simple fact that this film made no attempt to simply re-do the plot of the first film, which often befalls these kinds of movies. It knows what it wants to be and then is that. Tougher than it looks.

What did you think of Pets 2? What the hell will they do with Pets 3

19 June 2019

10 Years Gone

Well folks it's been ten long years. More like ten short years - it feels like just the other day I decided to start jotting down all the insane pop culture ideas in my head for the whole Internet to enjoy. Technically our first post was two days ago, but most of those early posts were just random collected thoughts that I had written elsewhere. There are lots of formats for a retrospective, and we've done the "Look back at our best posts" kind of thing before.

Sandsuckin Motherfuckin MonsterTruckin Devastator

During the Seven-Year I just did a word count test. And just to update that here, let's rank again. A few early posts felt too long so I split them up. What folly. As usual, here is our Top Eight:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): 3757
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009): 3981 (two posts)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017): 4250
The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 4488 (three posts)
Seinfeld (post from 2009): 4557 (three posts)
Prometheus (2012): 4607 (three posts)
Avengers: Endgame (2019): 5410
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017): 5598

But let's travel back to June 2009. The major things I remember was being super into Parks and Recreation and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I really have a problem with how much I was amped and then subsequently liked that movie. It's objectively moronic, but there's a gleeful fun to it that I responded to.

The origins of Norwegian Morning Wood lie in a series of Facebook notes I wrote that all wound up in those early June 2009 posts. I'm not sure how exactly I settled on "Norwegian Morning Wood" but I did want to turn my favorite Beatles song into a boner joke, thus setting the stage for the cultural interplay this blog would represent. I would take something beautiful and make it stupid, and likewise take something stupid and elevate it to high art.

If you look at posts year after year you can see that we've never quite matched that initial outburst of creativity in 2009 and 2010. Since then we've been pretty steady. We got into a good rhythm of weekly Road to Blockbuster rundowns and Summer Jam Countdowns. I'd like to end Summer Jam in 2020 at the 10-year mark of that column because its exhausting, but also honestly pretty fun. Even if it's totally the least popular column ever.

To be honest, 2019 has been a year full of so much life that this blog has fallen HARD by the wayside. End of year re-caps are still one of my favorite things to do ever and I always want to doll out impressions of whatever I see in theaters. I can't even say that it's tough to come up with material, because it's clearly not, but it is hard for this blog to remain a priority when real life happens. There's been a substantial difference in my life at 32 than it was at 22 and kind of doing nothing all day.

To some extent I think my tastes in movies have changed as well. I'm hesitant to say that movies themselves have changed, because I think that's where nostalgia takes over and our biases are corrupted. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is and always has been incredibly stupid. I'm not sure Power Rangers (2017) and Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) are any different strictly in terms of quality, but maybe there is some derivation, exhaustion, or laziness there? I'm not exactly sure, but I have no desire to watch any of these films.

I remember the moment it happened to - Warcraft (2016). That was the first blockbuster (okay, I use that term pretty loosely for that bomb). I had no desire to see that and join the cultural zeitgeist and conversation. This is coming from a man who will still sing the praises of The Lone Ranger (2013). Even though these films were terrible, I always wanted to be part of that conversation. I suppose two things: 1) That conversation has shifted so that shitty movies like Warcraft aren't actually a part of the online dialogue any more and 2) It takes a much higher degree of creativity to appeal to me. I'm more a Swiss Army Man (2016) and Sorry to Bother You (2018) kind of absurd, surreal move-goer now.

This is probably worth its own post. But I'm proud of what this site has down in ten years and I hope that it may continue in whatever form it takes for the next ten years. I have vowed to not go more than a month without a post - I think it would just slip if that happens.

Are there any topics ya'll'd like to see covered in the future? Is it weird that I enjoyed Revenge of the Fallen so much more than Bumblebee (2018)? Leave a comment below!

17 June 2019

Summer Jam 2019 Week 6: Chat

We're in the heart of it now, folks! As we approach the thirdway-mark the race is heating up. "Old Town Road" is still a powerhouse, but a wee bit neutered at this point. It's the old guard, old news - the OLD town road. We need a new town road. Let's start with this fat British guy:

Hot Jam of the Week: "BiGGY" by BiG HEATH

Dude can drop some bars. I'd love to see this gain some traction somehow. It's actually a bit old by now but I'm down for how simultaneously furious and doofy it is. The beat could be fleshed out a little more but I think they wanted some room for how mad this cat's vocals are. You likely won't hear much more from this, but let this be NMW's reco of the week.

"Sweet but Psycho" by Ava Max

Maybe getting towards the point of irrelevance, but this track still propped its head this week and was still super addictive for me to listen to. It sounds like it should have been around forever and I really can't actually pinpoint when I first started jamming to it. It's around, not dominating - that sounds about right for right now.

"Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish

Still here, still a fantastic track, but "Bad Guy" was definitely starting to settle as a default #2. That seems to be where she's found herself on the Hot 100, but this just didn't do as much for my life this week as it has in the past. This jam has already made a great case for itself this summer and could jump back up at any point. We'll keep listening.

"Cool" by Jonas Brothers

Was peak Jonas really like ten years ago? I really don't know anything about the Jonas Bros outside of South Park and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2018). Is this good throwback Jonas? Well, who cares. This is a great pop song with weird Jane Fonda lines that I found myself humming quite a bit this week. The Game of Thrones reference is pandering as hell, but this list isn't made to judge these tracks. Well, okay it definitely is, but it's still rising across the charts.

"Cross Me" by Ed Sheeran ft. Chance the Rapper & PnB Rock

It's a bad sign that I totally thought this was Bieber. Maybe he picked up too much from "I Don't Care." Or we've unleashed a terrifying new wave of Sheeran vocals applied to more EDM music. Despite all this, this jam is catchy as hell even if the lyrics kind of mystify me. Who is crossing Ed Sheeran's girl? It's got lots of fun cross metaphors. I guess. If you can turn your brain off to that, it's a pretty fun track that is pretty fresh for the summer.

"Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray

I still pretty much love this, but like I said, it's getting old hat. There's no way this jam leaves this list for a while and it could climb back on top, especially since there's not really any serious other pressure from classic pop idols. Yet. This is a kind of genre-busting song that feels like listening to the future by way of the past. It's a lot to take in. Wrangler on my booooty.

"Dancing with a Stranger" by Sam Smith ft. Normani

My girlfriend is in this for Sam Smith, I'm in it for Normani, and everyone's happy. I feel like whoever is spinning tracks on my local radio station and I are the only people listening to this - it's not a huge boppy party jam or anything, but wins a place here out of ubiquity. Like any and every good jam does.

"Talk" by Khalid

That's right! Just when you think you've figured this list out. This jam really got at me today - it feels so much like a mid-90s R&B jam. It's so damn listenable, especially in the sense that it sounds like an old classic jam hitting the radio after years on the bench. What a wonderful track. Probably not actually deserving #1 but I dug it enough today for it to earn the spot.

Next week...

Tay Sway just dropped a fantastic gay pride jam that reminds me a little of Conner4Real, but is hip enough to do something. Katy appears in the video in what can only be an attempt at squashing a beef that these two stars must have realized no one cared about against he backdrop of their increasing irrelevancy. Speaking of that, Katy Perry is still around and I need to start paying more attention to Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" which is as awesome as it is old. Maybe that shouldn't matter. Other than that, we have our usual crew of "The London" and Post Malone hanging around. Anyone can poke their head in. Stay tuned, listeners!

10 June 2019

Summer Jam 2019 Week 5: More of the Same...and MORE!

As we approach the 1/3 mark of Summer we have all our contenders so far laid out plain as a summer day. There were a lot of new challengers last week but none have really had staying power quite yet. So this week we're going the exact opposite way - here are some of the classics of Summer 2019!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Sister" by K.Flay

I saw K.Flay open for Snoop Dogg in 2010 - she's solid and someone to listen to. "Sister" popped up this week as a pretty cool track with weird slide whistles, a sultry vocal melody, and an all-around pleasing rhythm. Take a gander with your earballs.

"Talk" by Khalid

This has been around for a minute and sounds like an older R&B song, so I think it's kind of snuck into the back of my brain instead of the front where it belongs. It's a jam-worthy, seductive track and an underrated Summer Jam contender, at least from this column. It's been on the radio and charts for quite some time now.

"ME!" by Taylor Swift ft. Brendan Urie

I don't know why this doesn't feel as ubiquitous as other Tay Sway songs. Has she rolled over? Reputation did fine sales-wise but certainly left a more bitter taste in my mouth than Red did. Then again - how could anything not? This is a fun jam, though, and contagious as hell. It keeps sneaking back on this list.

"Dancing with a Stranger" by Sam Smith ft. Normani

Back again is Sam Smith and Normani, providing a pretty consistent Summer Jam track here. I could take or leave this one, but Jam is Jam my friends! Sam Smith does have a hell of a voice and it's nice to see Normani in more and more things. I don't really see this going anywhere but likely not climbing that much higher.

"I Don't Care" by Sheeran & Bieber

I heard this a ton this week and my sentiment is essentially that - I don't care! Whatever, this song kind of blows but it a super star heartthrob collabo. The beat is typically too fast for Bieber, but this is a little new territory for Ed. At this point, though, it's definitely a thing and doesn't quite show any signs of slowing.

"Sweet but Psycho" by Ava Max

This song is back again and to be honest, is so damn catchy. I find myself singing it all the time. It's great. It has had steady chart performance but not much spotify love. I wonder how much people actually listen to this. I dig it, though, and it's good enough to have earned this spot, perhaps on a more perennial basis.

"Bad Guy" by Billie Ellish

This was a tough call this week between the #1 and #2 slot, and they've been locked this way for a while now. There is just no other obvious choice. I saw a lot of this track this week and it seems to have a little bit more mainstream appearances than the #1 track, but the charts and general meme-ability doesn't quite back that up. Still, this could break into the #1 spot at any time and likely will before Summer is through.

"Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X ft. Chad Kroeger

Obviously when I discover the Nickelback remix it's time to get the #1 spot again. This is maybe fading, but still sound so damn fresh. Of course, its beat is actually quite malleable and derivative, but that's part of the fun! It's just a gigantic song right now and is making the strongest case for early Summer Jam King. Of course it's tough getting an early lead. Will we remember and care by September? We never do. We'll keep our ears open, but this might be more a Spring Jam. And no one cares about that.

Next week...

I almost put Katy Perry here, but she really just missed it this week. There is a new Black Eyed Peas song that doesn't include Fergie, and is also super weird, so that's a thing but not really. Stay tuned, folks for more and more excitement as the Summer Jam Continues!!

03 June 2019

First Impressions: Godzilla: King of the Monsters


This is going to be an interesting impression because there's already been some weird divisiveness towards this movie. This past weekend I saw Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and it instantly became one of my favourite movies of 2019. I don't see any way this doesn't make it on to my Best of 2019 list. Like, Avengers: Endgame (2019) will come close, but this is a lock.

Hail Hydra

Imagine my surprise then when I see this thing only has 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, somehow underperformed when compared to both Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla (1998), and has had a general cool reaction from casual and hardcore fans alike. I read criticism and can't believe we watched the same movie. So, let's explore this crap with lots of SPOILERS forever.

So, this may come as a shock if you read about my long-time Marvel fandom (and long-time Star Wars fandom), but I've also been a Godzilla fan since I could walk. Almost every week in my youth my folks and I were journey to Blockbuster and pick up another Showa-era cheesefest to watch, which is now a very old-fashioned sentence. I watched literally all of them. Every bad, dumbass rubber suited monster mash. Heisei Films were notoriously more difficult to obtain on VHS, despite being the then-contemporary Godzilla films premiering in Japan, but I've since caught up on most all of them thanks to the Internet. Oddly enough my biggest gaps are now Millennium Godzilla films like Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) and Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001). I've played Godzilla video games, read graphic novels, played with toys - it has never ended.

This is all to establish some cred. I can tell you the difference between Kumonga and Kamacuras and pick out a Xilien and Kilaak from a line-up. And I tell you, at its core, Godzilla is so damn hokey, dumb, and campy. It revels in B-movie science fiction and I have no idea why this series has become so popular. Godzilla is recognized as a Japanese Icon worldwide. I think that's in part because of the legitimacy of the original 1954 metaphor, the genuine evolution of the character over time, from villain to hero to anti-hero and repeatedly back again, often in the same film (here's looking at you, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah [1991]!) and simple monster mashing wish fulfillment which is fun as hell. This series ranges from thoughtful metaphor to pure low budget camp and a whim. It can be anything, from alien to time travel to environmental metaphor, there's something for everyone.

For whatever reason we've moved away from this campiness into a very self-serious mode. This has presented a struggle when these films weren't fully engaged in what they are. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) was the final Heisei film which is kind of a mess but presents the tragedy of a Godzilla doomed by his own radioactive meltdown (more on how King of the Monsters directly references this flick to come) and death. It's campy only in its low budget, but treats its subject matter pretty seriously.

The Americans took over with Godzilla (1998) and seemed to get everything wrong. There are many reasons why that movie failed, but suffice to say that director Roland Emmerich didn't really understand what makes Godzilla appealing and blatantly didn't care. While there is awkward CGI, annoying characters, and a nonsensical plot, a lot of that would have been masked with a Godzilla that had personality and fit with audience expectations.

Toho answered back with the Millennium series of films and Godzilla 2000 (1999) was a very classic Monster v. Monster plot. This all culminated in Final Wars (2004) which contained this cherry scene. We had a decade long hiatus before another American attempt in Godzilla (2014).

I have thought long and hard about 2014 Godzilla. My initial impressions were pretty positive, but I'm stuck on the JAWS (1975) parallel. Like...why? The naming of characters and themes are too close for it to be coincidental, but the rationale doesn't seem to line up. JAWS' withholding of the shark was obviously for practical reasons, but it also built fear, tension, and this slow idea that the mindless animal shark was a thinking, plotting, conniving creature. There's no reason to do this with Godzilla. It just feels like a rip-off, a shallow attempt at emulating a successful film technique without the context to back it up. I think myself in circles because I liked the movie enough I don't want to admit it was shit.

And to be fair, the final fight and unleashing of the fire breath is well-worth it and a truly awesome moment. I think Godzilla 2014 falls apart because SPOILER Bryan Cranston, the most interesting character with the strongest motivation, perishes far too early, and we're left with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who doesn't really have any kind of arc. All the while we're spending time with this jackass instead of diving into the Monster Mash we want to see.

Of course, after this we got Shin Godzilla (2016), which was like Toho's reaction to the ten-year hiatus and mixed Legendary reviews by cranking out the greatest Godzilla movie ever - one that shuns Kaiju flinging mayhem for an extended treatise on Japanese bureaucracy, arrogant American interference, and the Fukushima Nuclear Plant Disaster. It also give us the greatest Godzilla design departure ever and a truly horrific presentation.

Are ya'll ready to actually talk about King of the Monsters? All this background is important because King is exactly the opposite of Godzilla '14. At least, I thought so, although for some reason it's gotten the same criticism - dumbass human characters that distract from the Monster mash. I can't say we were watching the same film because I have never witnessed this level of spectacle on screen.

About halfway through I realized that my jaw had been on the floor for thirty minutes. It's one thing after another in a non-stop action fueled Kaiju mayhem. Every bit of this movie is spectacular. My hopes were pretty high but they were just blown away. This movie is like throwing $170 million at insane B-movie material and loving it. For all its weird misplaced JAWS-ness and sparse moments of fun, the real problem with Godzilla is that it was trying sooo hard to be a complex human family drama when it really should have known where it's coming from. Seatopians! Dorats! Imaginary Gabara on Monster Island!

The star here is really the introduction of King Ghidorah, who with fairly little dispute has earned the title of Godzilla's longest and most powerful foe. It's Ghidorah at the forefront of the enemies, from Destroy All Monsters (1968) to Final Wars (2004) and it's fitting that he's positioned as the eternal combatant of the MonsterVerse's version of Godzilla. I was so pumped when they deduced Ghidorah's alien origins. It's that moment where Hollywood is finally stopping its attempt to over-explain everything and provide rationale for all its long-term properties campiness that movies like Casino Royale (2006) and Batman Begins (2005) attempted so hard to craft. He's an alien. Deal with that. It's no less weird.

This alien-ness, though, also drives a lot of the plot. By the way, the main bad dude trapped in ice for centuries and being studied by human scientists totally felt like Megatron in Transformers (2007). But from the moment of Ghidorah's introduction something is off - the unworldly yellow lightning, the constant hurricane around him, the immunity to the Oxygen Destroyer. The film creates its world and then sticks to it. Ghidorah proves to be on the most powerful cinematic villains ever. His presence literally creates a constant massive storm around him that destroys everything. He's a walking hurricane!

This film also does not hold back with global city destruction. DC is toast. Boston totally destroyed. There was a brief moment where it seemed like they'd go all War of the Worlds (2005) on us and leave the protagonist's house as the one untouched spot in Boston but nope, wiped out instantly. The metaphor gets a little clunky - like are these monsters supposed to be increasing environmental disasters or bring balance to a destroyed world? The human hubris angle gets a little twisted and tacked on, but that's easy to ignore.

The first moment where Ghidorah raises his wings though...I never thought I'd see King Ghidorah in a major American picture, much less one re-created so faithfully. The one really great thing Godzilla '14 did was provide a sense of scale, and this film continues that, although it's less about the human perspective of sheer awe and more about letting these things wreck the world. Ghidorah is massive and his Gravity Beams are devastating. It was a nice touch that Ghidorah seems to be sadistically acting on his own accord, which is actually rare. From the Xiliens to Futurians, Ghidorah is usually mind-controlled. It's all him here, though.

On the topic of character introductions - each monster gets a pretty spectacular one. We first meet Mothra, who as a giant moth in a world full of pterodactyls and golden dragons has always been lame. Still, seeing the larvae and its power, then the full graceful wings under the waterfall is awe-inspiring. We first see Godzilla as his spines pulsate in the blackness of the deep ocean and then his grand debut above the surface. Rodan blasts forth from an erupting volcano. Each into is epic and memorable, befitting its subject.

We're also informed by human reaction. Characters have weight, monsters have consequence, and you see the pain they've gone through as a result of Godzilla. There's some sloppiness here on who the actual protagonist is. It feels like it's going to be Eleven's story, but then Bruce Baxter sort of takes over. I would have liked to have remained with Eleven's perspective, to see her more gradually realize her mom is totally bonkers and also to have Vera Farmiga go all the way bonkers. I mean, she is - she is ushering forth the apocalypse (although kind of not at the end?) but this film stumbles a bit in providing a clear motivation for her mania.

Not to mention Charles Dance, who seems like the big bad human guy, but totally takes a backseat to Vera Farmiga and then actually straight up leaves the picture until the end credits. His organization's motives are never fully clear and I don't know why he did anything in this movie. Still, you don't necessarily notice that until hours after the movie ended. The ending is so focused on Godzilla and Ghidorah that everything else is okay to be left by the wayside.

Bruce Baxter does have a complex arc he goes through, torn between revenge on Godzilla and the knowledge that he might be needed for a greater good. All the core family members grow and make some satisfying decisions - eventually. Unlike Godzilla '14 where the main characters seemed to just keep popping up suddenly next to Godzilla, there's also a much more plot-driven reason why they're interacting with these monsters. And sure, the Orca is lame and totally impossible but the power to control Titans in this new world is a weapon of mass destruction heretofore unprecedented.

A small note here - with O'Shea Jackson, Jr appearing here, somehow all the principal cast of Straight Outta Compton (2015) has appeared in the MonsterVerse. Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) were both in KONG: Skull Island (2017). If MC Ren and DJ Yella aren't in Godzilla vs. KONG (2020) I'm going to be very disappointed.

There are great turns by Bradly Whitford and Zhang Ziyi, who is aging like Paul Rudd. All the human characters are pretty fun, even if they introduced so many that I expected more to be eaten. Ken Watanabe is clearly having a great time delivering so many trailer lines that Bruce Baxter eventually calls him out on it and he says he got it from a fortune cookie.

There's just enough zaniness like that to know that the movie is a little aware of how ridiculous it's being. My favourite part is when they journey to the Lost City of Atlantis and find Godzilla's home in a hidden underwater radioactive air bubble. It's very telling that this is an American production because their solution to awaken the injured, sleeping Godzilla is to nuke the shit out of it. This is where it gets a little Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah combined with Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.

In the former film, Ghidorah replaces Godzilla in the H-bomb tests and then arises as Japan's destroyer. In the present our heroes need to nuke the Godzillasaurus to turn it into Godzilla to become Japan's protector (yeah, that doesn't work out at all, but whatever). In the latter, Godzilla has a meltdown and dies, but the humans are worried that a Godzilla explosion will ignite the atmosphere while a meltdown will melt through the planet's crust. No one's really worried about that in King of the Monsters, and the big G access Burning Godzilla mode to lay a beat down on Ghidorah, instead of you know...melting to death.

There is also a big reference to the Oxygen Destroyer, which killed the original original Godzilla and later produced the monster Destoroyah, one of Godzilla's fiercest foes. There's enough groundwork laid here for Destoroyah to make an appearance, which is one of the few steps up from Ghidorah we could get. The other, of course is Mecha-King Ghidorah, which seems to be where Charles Dance is heading in the end credits scene when he obtains Ghidorah's lopped off head. That could go in a few different ways.

All of this is total hardcore fan wish fulfillment. This movie offers not one, not two, but three full-on Godzilla / Ghidorah fight sequences. It broke my heart, though to see Rodan fighting Mothra and under Ghidorah's control. It was a gross feeling. Rodan is Godzilla's best bud! Get that motherfucking lackey Gigan in there to be Ghidorah's lap dog. It was good to see Rodan convert and bow at the end, but I hated that. Rodan even teamed up to fight Mechagodzilla II! I need to lie down.

As far as other Kaiju go (I need to start calling them "Titans") we got way more than I thought. 17 in total!? We get good glimpses of a handful - none of which were classic Showa Kaiju, but some came close. "Scylla" seems to be a Kamacuras / Kumonga mix. "Methuselah" is clearly an Anguirus analogue. I hope. "Behemoth" is really out there - a gorilla / Mammoth thing. Then there's another MUTO. Really? Throw in fucking Varan or something, man. It is cool to see new Titans and I'm curious where this will all go.

Judging all this is the shady organization Monarch, which I loved. There is no explanation - they're just some international paramilitary organization with the most advanced technology on the planet, a giant mobile undersea base, and a crazy army that answers to no world government. It's the kind of ridiculous camp that goes even beyond the JSDF and whatever else the old movies could conjure up. It's also just straight up S.H.I.E.L.D. but with so much less in terms of a backstory or reason for existing. I loved it. I love when movies stop caring about this shit. It feels like a sandbox where things don't need to make sense. We can just mash our toys against each other and see our imagination on screen. It's extremely fun.

Strangely, that doesn't seem to be part of the common criticism. For as crazy as the actual plot mechanisms were, and despite how this movie doesn't understand what metaphor it's pursuing, there was a nice action / reaction flow and no choices seemed arbitrary. There was nonsense like flying from China to Antarctica in like a day, but that shit doesn't matter - no one wants to get caught up in the logistics of that. It's okay for movies to use shorthand like that. It's nitpicking type stuff.

The bigger issues are the human characters and how the film can't seem to focus on anyone. My counter is to ask you to name a single human character from any of the previous 34 Godzilla movies. I'll wait. No one cares! The human parts are always the worst. So why do we even need them? Well, there's only so much you can really do with giant monster fights. The novelty is there, but you can't really craft a movie over it. Well, we have, which is why all these movies are terrible. King of the Monsters is so full of epic moments and spectacle, and does genuinely give its human characters enough background that we care about them and their motivations. It's not high art, but it's a huge step forward.

And Gadzooooookiiieeee!!

I've also heard issues with the CGI and Legendary using rain and darkness and snow to mask its monsters. Fine. Go watch fucking Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) if you want bright daylight monster fights. They look terrible. CGI just isn't there yet. Every great use of CGI is great because it all actually sucks and we need to mask it in darkness to sell it. This is true from Godzilla to Pacific Rim. People tend to not have this issue when the movie is actually good, and I had no issue here. I think there is something else that folks don't like about this, so they blame CGI.

To be really honest, I'm usually good at sniffing this out, but I'm stumped here. It has a decent audience score right now (87%) compared to the critical 39%, so that's something. Still, it really just didn't do the Box Office business a movie like this deserved. Perhaps the Aladdin (2019) pressure was too much, as it barely edged the Disney remake. I worry about Dark Phoenix (2019) this upcoming weekend as well, which I don't think will really do well at all, but will draw enough of the crowd away. It's actually exactly like 2014 when we had Godzilla, Days of Future Past, Maleficient, and Edge of Tomorrow back to back to back to back. We'll see what this movie can do, but I've never been cheering for a movie so hard.

Am I crazy? Living in the Toho bubble? This was one of the greatest spectacles I've ever seen. Everything had weight, power, logic within its own world, fan service pay-off, and really epic effects and monster moments. I loved this movie more than almost anything else I've seen this year. I hope it can find its way and rise above criticisms of it being another case of shallow Hollywood excess. We'll see.
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