27 April 2021

93rd Oscar Predictions - CORRECT!

Ah the Oscars have come and gone. This website might be a pleasant microcosm of the descent of these ceremonies over the past ten years. In 2011 I had a whole OSCAR ZONE feature and broke down every major category, and even the screenwriting. I live blogged the ceremony with my reactions in real-time, which grew into a fun tradition.

This year, uhhh....I checked Twitter the day after. I watched about a half-hour at the beginning and couldn't fathom how bored I was. It felt very disconnected and I couldn't tell why, until I realized that they were starting with screenwriting while showing no clips and instead favoring inane, self-congratulatory banter. We are in the self-aware age, folks, and the Academy, for all its attempts to be a bastion of liberal hope, still has far to go, but more on that later. Anyway, Oscars = bad is far from a hot take, but suffice it to say that I agree for all the reasons why everyone else agreed. Some of that was COVID protocols, some of it wasn't.

Most of it was the fact that there was just literally NO movie in this lot that the majority of people had seen. I am a nerd so I was pumped up and cheering for Another Round (2020), which I really enjoyed while my wife sat there like "whaaaa??" Same with...pretty much everything here. Nomadland (2020) is a legit movie and so deserving of its praise. No one watched it. They SHOULD watch it, but they have not, so this what we get.

Prediction Analysis:

Here is how I have done in all the years since starting this:

2020: 13/24
2019: 13/24
2018: 16/24
2017: 13/24
2016: 14/24
2015: 13/24
2014: 20/24
2013: 14/24
2012: 16/24
2011: 14/24
2010: 12/24

Yeah - I am not actually very good at this. I have actually always been above .500 the last few years barely so. This year...I add to that monumental streak. We had one less category, so 23 total, which is a number that feels very weird. But I'm 12/23! Hooray! Let's run through this with some quick thoughts:

Correct - 12

Director - I am pumped for Chloe Zao, not only because she's somehow only the second woman all-time to win, and the first Asian American Woman, but Nomadland is a legit achievement and I sat there thinking, "Who directed this?" Oh yeah, Chloe Zao! That whole thing! She has the high profile Marvel movie The Eternals (2021) coming up, which is a tough act to follow, because that movie will almost certainly be bad, but I'm a little more excited now.

Supporting Actor - Daniel Kaluuya is great and this is a nice nod after a lot of underseen and overseen work he's done. I still find it weird that neither of the headling actors in Judas and the Black Messiah (2020) were considered leads. But this is great.

Original Screenplay - WHAT DID I SAY?! Promising Young Woman (2020) was the second best movie of the year, so it gets this compensation award. Boom, that's it.

Production Design - A direct quote from my prediction post: "...it almost always goes to some random period drama in recent years. Mank fits that bill, and there are enough fogies that reminisce about old Hollywood." Yep. All of that happened.

Sound - another no brainer, but glad Sound of Metal (2020) got the nod. Sometimes NOT having an upset is something to celebrate.

Score - went to Soul (2020), deserving, not much competition here this year, again, no brainer, but glad it came through.

Visual Effects - I am very proud of my predictions. TENET is deserving, but also totally fulfilling the trend of original Nolan movies winning this award. It was definitely a blockbuster-free year, but TENET's effects are really cool.

International Film - Another Round was the most high profile International Film in the lot, and it's so good. Great win.

Live Action Short - Let's have another direct quote, which sums this up: "Time loops and cops killing black people are in right now and 'Two Distant Strangers' has both!" I'm just glad to get one of the shorts right. They are always so all over the place.

Animated Feature - I am pretty sick of Pixar, because they're well past their prime at this point, and it's actually really weird that the Academy just defaults to them. Wolfwalkers (2020) was better, but this was always going to SOUL.

Best Picture - Heyyyy I got a BP guess right for the first time in seven years! Go me! This was maybe the most in the bag a BP has been in the last few years, but then again, I've thought that a lot over the ages here.

Best Actress - I actually wasn't so sure about Frances. She seemed so ahead all season but she also has two awards already, one very recent. Well, now she has three, and becomes one of the Academy's most honoured actresses. It's great, deserving, and no upset. Now, ahem...

WRONG - 11

Supporting Actress - listen, everyone predicted Youn Yuh-jung and it wasn't an upset, and people clearly liked Mank, it picked up two other awards. Whatever, I was trying to call an upset and got the category wrong.

Adapted Screenplay - Do I need to watch The Father (2020)? Most of my fault came from undervaluing this film. I guess Nomadland really wasn't in a position to sweep, as few BP's are these days (the last film to win more than four categories was The Artist [2011]). This was a gap and I paid for it.

Original Song - Will Ferrell was clearly robbed. I don't have an explanation for this, other than One Night in Miami... (2020) was clearly seen and cared about less than Judas and the Black Messiah. I still think this should have gone to "Speak Now" and would have called that had I made predictions again today, but whatever.

Cinematography - Meh, see my misstep on Adapted Screenplay. Nomadland was winning, but wasn't going to win that much. I'll reiterate, "This will probably go to Mank or something stupid."

Costume Design - Listen, my predictions are truly phenomenal. "Ma Rainey would be fun, would the Academy give this to the Black Period Piece? I mean, why trust them now?" That movie really didn't stand out to me, but it clearly did with some of these technical bits.

Editing - It became unfortunately clear that Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) wasn't going to win anything. This is a sweet win for Sound of Metal, who I said might be in the running. I still really enjoyed Chicago 7. Oh well.

Make-up and Hairstyling - Peeved on this one, dude, this always goes to crap like Hillbilly Elegy (2020). Ma Rainey is much more well deserved, though, so even thought I got this wrong, I can be happy it went to a good spot. I guess with the team of virtue signaling caring about diversity for three hours this was never going to go to a Hillbilly movie.

Animated Short - I called "If Anything Happens I Love You" too traumatic. I really seemed like I thought this out. Oh well, this is always such a toss up.

Doc Feature - I should have guessed this would go to the most memeable entry with the weirdest name. I already forget what Collective was about. Keep it simple, man.

Doc Short - "Collette." Fine.

Best Actor - Alright, this fuckin shit. Damn, guys. You know, Chadwick Boseman isn't going to get another shot at this! But hell, Anthony Hopkins probably isn't going to either. Hopkins is a revered actor who deserves all the praise in the world and a head to toe class act, but there is something sublime about a ceremony designed to show the world how inclusive and diverse the Academy is now, that builds for three hours to this award which totally intended to honor a dynamic actor taken far too soon, only to give it to the oldest whitest male winner of all time. Hopkins was apparently sleeping and found out the next morning, which is straight adorable.

Again, any other year an Anthony Hopkins win would be great and something to truly celebrate. Ageism is a thing in Hollywood, too. But yeah, this undeniably should have gone to Chadwick. This is a big, sincere whiff that leaves a sting only slightly less than the loss of Chadwick himself. His loss still makes me sad. Hopkins will probably die soon, too, so I dunno.

Both top acting award winners were people who appeared in Michael Bay Transformers movies, too. Does that mean Jon Voight, Rainn Wilson, or Rosie Huntington-Wheatley will get the nod soon? You had better believe it. At least Anthony Anderson.

Well that's it for this year! Godzilla vs. KONG (2021) will surely sweep a la Return of the King (2003) in 2022. We'll be there. I guess.

24 April 2021

First Impressions: Mortal Kombat (2021)

So maybe I'm just doing Impressions of all HBO Max Movies now. I don't know if this will always be a thing, but at least the big franchise films that were originally scheduled to have a theatrical release feels right, at least for the time being. Mortal Kombat (2021) is fun because I definitely would not have seen this in theaters, but on a bored lazy Saturday morning it really was perfect. SPOILERS, but seriously, who cares.

I don't actually have a ton of history with Mortal Kombat. I don't know if my parents would have let me play it or not, probably not, but I was far too busy playing Donkey Kong in the 90s instead. I did dive head-first into the lore, which is an insane thing to say, but the concept of various competing realms and Outworld and Elder Gods was always fascinating to me. I watched bits and pieces of the 1995 film, and bad acting compilations of everything else. I dug the Rebirth and Legacy web series enough that I became familiar with every character through my fantastic aptitude for cultural osmosis. But I am a true poser, I really haven't played the games all that much. My main is Reptile, though. I like reptiles.

Here's my initial bold take - Mortal Kombat '21 succeeds Mortal Kombat '95 as the best video game movie ever made. It is still not close to being a GOOD movie, by any stretch, but I'd call it better and it deserves the title. Well, Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) may still have an edge.


I was most impressed by how closely it actually adheres to the lore and story line, with subtle jokes and Easter eggs. The film focuses on a descendant of Scorpion as a protagonist, which I know, undoes a lot of what I just said, but it combines Hanzo and Bhi-Lan's original blood feud with the feudal Japan elements from Legacy. It works here to suggest that this feud is hundreds of years long. It also allows Scorpion to remain a tragic hero, but we're not exactly cheering for a man who escaped hell bent on revenge. I am glad a true Scorpion showed up at the end - the other guy in the golden armor was fine, but honestly, when he just manifested sharp tonfas I was a little bummed out.

The film does a good job of creating a mostly new mythos but not ignoring the things we NEED to see in any Mortal Kombat adaptation. At this point that's basically a "GET OVER HERE" and then some thumping techno. There was the slightest motif during the final Sub-Zero / Scorpions fight, but then the end credits went full 90s, with a slight modern EDM flair, which was very satisfying.

The premise of the movie isn't that crazy - it's the 10th tournament, Outworld has won 9 in a row and if they win #10 they get to konquer Earthrealm. Don't think about this too hard. Yeah, they just win the right to conquer, it's not automatic. And it's also clear that they are following rules of Elder Gods who have clearly long since stopped paying attention because Shang Tsung breaks all these rules and no one cares. Also, a tournament definitely never even takes place, they just kind of fight each other beforehand.

This starts with some big brawls and there are plenty of great match-ups. I'm actually at a loss for how to describe it. When you see Jax with arms fighting Sub-Zero you just know he's going to freeze that motherfucker's arms off. And he does. But it's still great. Maybe it's just a complicated sort of Chekov's Gun? If you put an ice guy on screen he had better freeze some arms off, simple as that.

In the end they effectively replicate the game by Raiden's ability to Lighting-Port any fighter to any location and dropping two kombatants in random, definitely video-game-y locations and letting them go at it. There are some nice match-ups. Sonya definitely just fights the other girl, Mileena early on, and then when she asks if she'll fight her again, Baby Scorpion says, "No, you actually have a backstroy with Kano, fight him!" which is a nice way to buck a trope in favor of actually wrapping up an arc. More on the kharacters later.

Makin' Soup!

There are other subtle improvements. Kung Lao gets a flawless victory that is actually a flawless victory, unlikely when '95 would just through that in at random to sound cool. There are tons of fun bits and nods to fatalities like Kano ripping out Reptile's heart, Liu Kang's fire dragon, "Test Your Might" and Reptile's invisibility. This is stretching it, but I even love Sub-Zero ending the movie all burnt up and black, ready to come back as Noob Saibot.

There's not much else to the plot here, everything just sort of exists to get these characters to fight each other. It's fairly constantly brutal and everything we'd want from a Mortal Kombat movie.


As I mentioned, the movie handles how Scorpion can be a troubling protagonist well, especially since most people know him as an undead fire head demon, this works. I also love in general how Sub-Zero represents ice and Smoke has smoke powers, Reptile is green, but the yellow ninja represented by hellfire is named Scorpion? It is a cool name. At least he's not Ermac. Why would you ever make the red ninja fire based, anyway?

That said, Baby Scorpion is a bit of a wiener, but his actor is serviceable enough. I did like his wife, who is just some random woman I suppose get a nice axe into Goro's side. She's later kidnapped and frozen, which is a trope I wish we could move beyond, although it does thematically and literally parallel Daddy Scorpion, his ancestor. For real, these are literally women in fridges to motivate the male characters.

I can't really say the same for the Jax and Sonya actors, but they are also burdened with the clunkiest exposition to say. It was a little rough seeing the black guy die first...again...but then as it turned out, his arms were cauterized by the burn so it's fine! Also, how do some superpowers manifest in cool fire moves and Jax just like...grows metal arms? Is Kung Lao's power psychic control of his spinny razor hat? Baby Scorpion got golden armour and that's pretty much it? For a second I thought he was going to go Black Panther and redirect the kinetic energy. Kano steals the show, though, as the totally off the wall and off color Australian.

Now, I know that Kano is traditionally a very bad dude, but I actually thought they were going to head in another direction here. He's tempted to switch sides by Kabal, which also doesn't make sense, because Kabal says intimidatingly that Kano put him in the life support armour he's forced to wear now. He's like "I'll go talk to him!" Which he literally does, it's a charming conversation, it works, and then they're friends. I really thought Kano would be a loveable rascal who would repent and find some redemption. Again, I know Kano is the biggest dick in MK history, but it would have made for a more interesting movie.

Of course, then we wouldn't get Sonya killing him and earning both her Dragon Birthmark and energy wrist wring shooter things. She doesn't get to use them too much, but the shot of Mileena's spine through a hole in her stomach felt very Mortal Kombat X. Again, these powers are totally random. I don't know why movies feel like they need to explain this shit. We get it, everyone's weird, whatever. What's weirder is Kano shooting a laser out of one eye for no reason.

Goro is here, and he gets a cool shadowy intro and a good fight, but honestly, I wish he were more of a threat. We do see a painting of him ripping an Earthrealmer in half and then he looks like he is about to do the same to Baby Scorpion, so that's fun. But I think we needed more of a continual threat or use him as a final boss-type foe. The effects are decent, and the '95 Goro was notably a giant animatronic, honestly a decent technical achievement for the time. Thank goodness they didn't try to CGI that Goro.

This film really does dip into the well, though. I enjoyed it. Just when you think all the fighters are set, Shang Tsung throughs Nitara and Reiko at us, who are both so obscure, but worked well. Notably, Nitara flies, which she never does in any game, despite her vampire wings. Kabal has been around for a while with an interesting backstory but has always been a minor character. He is pretty cool here. Again, I actually though he was Sektor or another robot at first. I guess they're just too scared for Sektor.

Then of course, my favourite, Reptile. I just like reptiles. He's obviously a TON better than he was in 1995. Oof. He's got acidy spit, long gross tongue, and can turn invisible at will. It's all very cool and great. They were under no pretense that he is a ninja. He's also a challenging foe, but is still dispatched as the henchman he is.

Liu Kang doesn't get all that much screentime or focus, and is kind of a wiener goodie-too-shoes instead of the Fire God he'll eventually turn into. Liu Kang or Johnny Cage have always seemed like the ostensible protagonists of this series, so it's actually a little refreshing to refocus things on a character with a darker backstory. He gets some fun moments wielding fire dragons and training dumb humans here, but there's just not that much else to him.

And yeah, uh, Johnny Cage! The most glaring omission, after a while I realized that they just weren't going to fit him in. There was a significant tease at the end that he'll be recruited in the next film, but is a sequel even happening? I guess? I wonder if they will attempt to get some washed up actor to play him, akin to who Cage is supposed to be within the fictional setting. Like a...Nicholas Cage?! Or JCVD, but both these folks are getting a little too old and washed up to play even old and washed up John Cage. We'll see.

Luckily there are plenty of big bads to choose from, from the obvious Shao Kahn, to Shinnok, or Kotal Kahn, or the recent Kronika. There's always someone more dangerous around the corner in this universe, plus Shang Tsung really wasn't defeated, like at all. But I like Chin Han in Batman and Contagion (2011), but honestly I think he was a little miscast here. Maybe its just that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa leaves a long cast shadow of absolute menacing hamminess that's hard to follow.


This was fun, it was stupid, but also weirdly satisfying. It gives MK fans what they want with enough original takes that push the mythos forward in interesting ways. I was never angry, only occasionally bored, and had a good time. The effects are modern and solid, and it delivers on the kind of gore and fatalities that the game franchise has bent towards in the past ten years.

I can't believe some characters like Cassie Cage, D'Vorah, and Kotal Kahn are so recent - I'd love to see them in something, but obviously it gets a little weird with someone like Cassie Cage, whose existence requires a thirty-year break.

Like I said, this isn't really remotely good. A lot of the fights are contrived, plot points and arcs are rushed, dropped, or downplayed, and yeah, weird deployment of Chekov's Gun. Some of that is just going to happen with a film like this with so many characters who really just exist to do their special weird power or gimmick and then get brutally executed. That's what this is, and if you are looking for something else, keep walking.

Hey! Oscars tomorrow!

18 April 2021

First Impressions: Godzilla vs. KONG

 Here we go, folks - one of my most anticipated films of the year and it did not disappoint! It disappointed a little, but we'll get into that. Godzilla vs. KONG (2021) exists in such a weird context in every possible way, but we'll discuss that as well and dive into the biggest film of the year so far! SPOILERS for any Godzilla-loving fan out there, so be warned, feable populace.

Smashy smashy!

I am a Godzilla fan. Have been one since I was a little kid. I can tell you the difference between Kumonga and Kamacuras and eat up pretty much everything TOHO spits out. This mentality colors my reaction to these new films quite a bit. I am not a purist or anything, I think the Godzilla mythos can evolve and change, although there are some ridiculously bad interpretations, both recently (and out of Japan), and the more famous American 1998 version (that did, however, lead to a pretty good cartoon show). When dealing with Godzilla, you also always have to remember that the series has always been corny and campy and the best films have a nice dose of both the serious destruction as well as the lampshaded nature of how bonkers the whole premise of giant fire breathing lizards are.

The Legendary Studios' Monsterverse, kicked off in 2014, has had more good entries than bad, with each subsequent film arguably getting better than the one before it. Each subsequent film has also gotten much much crazier. Godzilla (2014) is mostly the world's reaction to a giant creature re-appearing today, and it is safe to say now that all the JAWS (1975) parallels were pretty misguided and the whole thing is pretty boring until the ending fight, which is still top notch. Then KONG: Skull Island (2017) got its due to introduce a giant ape, and it ratcheted up insane set pieces, monster fights, and presents a pretty fun movie with a renowned but game cast. I have gushed quite a bit over King of the Monsters (2019), which to me was a perfect representation of the campy fights from the Showa Era with the budget and backing of a major studio blockbuster.

Slowly, though, this universe has introduced more and more sci-fi elements which have just exploded by the time we get to Godzilla vs. KONG. In Godzilla (2014) we maybe had barely nuclear capabilities. In GvK we are traveling to the center of the earth inside anti-gravity spaceships. It's maybe not wackier than the giant submarine base and airship from KotM, but there is a heightened campiness on display that is either fun or world-breaking, depending on your viewpoint. I am all about it. I love unexplained giant bases and corporations that fund insanely complicated enterprises that bend reality. The film wisely doesn't get hung up on this logic, and if you've already entered the Godzilla vs. KONG door, you shouldn't either.

The film certainly takes some liberties with its premise. KONG is now in an enclosure - who the hell knows how they set that thing up. It's not outright said that Godzilla has murdered all the other Titans from KotM, I would be saddened to hear that, but it seems as if he does require all other Titans to bow to him, something that KONG would never do. So Rebecca Hall, who I only just realized now has not been in a great movie in a very long time, has tried to keep him hidden away.

Meanwhile, Godzilla is seemingly attacking human settlements unprovoked, but clearly these humans are up to no good and challenging his supremacy. It is a little weird that this movie is primarily driven by conflicts over pride - Godzilla basically just wants to continuously decimate any potential rival. But really, isn't that the basis of most human conflict? Almost as if the biggest monster...is ourselves.

The film wisely paints Godzilla as the antagonist half of this titular brawl. Not only is KONG more relatable from just an ape to human sense, but he's the clear underdog here. Godzilla is bigger, tougher, and has one of the most potent weapons in cinema in his atomic breath. The film does a great job of letting us into KONG's mentality, which is basically a desire to just sit around and eat bananas, but also a homesick loneliness for his long lost kind. He's also visibly older, not just bigger, but greyer, with a big beard. We get not one, not two, but three major Godzilla vs. KONG fights, which is fantastic. It's rare that a film billed as a crossover match-up actually delivers on satisfying goods, and this does so very well.

Godzilla is a terrifying enemy. The first fight is also completely on his turf, in open water as the scientists sail KONG away to try to find the center of the earth. Godzilla effortlessly dismisses the human navy and beats the hell out of KONG, who does get some fun platforming in, but you really do feel how the odds are stacked against him. Again, there's no real reason for their conflict besides Godzilla just being sort of a dick who can't share, but we can't get hung up on complexity here, it's just not that kind of movie. And again, there are so many human conflicts that get caught up in the same kind of non-logic. Like...all of them.

It really is such a perfect match-up though. Apes and alligators are natural enemies, from Donkey Kong and K. Rool to King Kong and those pesky dinosaurs. Okay, so both these examples were Kongs, but my point holds up. Even us humans, as primates naturally fear and fight the reptiles of the earth. Godzilla does seem very gator-ish in this, with an unusually high amount of biting and crawling.

The human story is so bad and uninteresting, but I might say not nearly at KotM levels or Godzilla (2014). The film also wisely splits them up into a KONG half and Godzilla half. The KONG half features Rebecca Hall, Alex Starsgard, and a young deaf native girl trying to reunite KONG with his ancestral homeland so that they may siphon ancient mystical life force power into a human-made Supremacy module. Not every character knows that at all times, but it's enough to push this story forward and they don't get bogged down in their petty garbage too much.

On the Godzilla side, though, Brian Tyree Henry's conspiracy theorist comes off a little played out - I kept thinking of Woody Harrelson in 2012 (2009). Also in an age where conspiracy theories are widely believed and disseminated, I'd like a film to not indulge big conspiracies as true. Millie Bobby Brown is also there, she doesn't really do much and is a rare continuation of the same character from one film to the next in this series. I have no idea why the Monsterverse has been so reticent to retain characters, but I kind of like it. We're here for the monsters, not the people. Including Kyle Chandler who is I guess leading Monarch, now? And Lance Reddick who, oof, way to get into the opening credits and then appear for one line in one scene.

We can complain about this all day, but get real, the human characters in Godzilla films are always, always, ALWAYS hot garbage. It is a shame. I don't know why giant monsters fighting each other can't carry a film. That story arc of a centuries-long battle for Titan supremacy is interesting and it's what we're here for. I can't say enough how bad this plays out in the Godzilla Earth Anime Trilogy. I really tried to give those movies a chance because the themes at work seemed really interesting, but crap, those humans are insufferable and indistinguishable.

It isn't the greatest excuse to say that it's okay that this film grinds to a halt every time we go back to the Godzilla humans and their conspiracy meetings because that's the case with every Kaiju movie and its humans. It'd be nice to have at least one movie with interesting humans. I guess I'm still partial to KotM's Bradley Whitford and Ken Watanabe. Not so much Charles Dance and Vera Farmiga, whose motivations just didn't resonate well. I feel like good humans are possible. Maybe not, because they can't really fight or take interest away from the giant monsters. Unless you give Mark Wahlberg an Alien Sword! It's all right there.

KONG eventually meets up with Godzilla in Hong Kong, and despite Pacific Rim (2013) seemingly cornering the market on rainy, neon Hong Kong fights, it proves ample ground for another marquee match-up. There are a lot of great moments. Godzilla uses his atomic breath to burn a hole through the earth's crust. KONG finds an axe that he swings like THOR. It's all sorts of fun. And impressively, the movie actually gives us a winner - Godzilla pretty much puts the smack down on KONG and proves he's the dominant species. BUT....that's not all that this movie has in store for us...

So, the fictional company APEX is trying to use secret planet Titan life force to power its own man-made dominant predator....Mechagodzilla! I did get a little spoiler, but I was pumped to see Mechagodzilla here. And somehow the transition from title fight to team-up fight isn't as contrived as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), who also paused to fight a giant grey villain at the end. If only we had a Lady Godzilla join the fray! Then the movie would be complete.

I am a big Mechagodzilla fan, the Showa version was such a sinister capper to the era, and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1974) remains my favourite film of that run. It was always run by the Black Hole Aliens, though, and lacked a real personality or even antagonism of its own against Godzilla. Super Mechagodzilla and Kiryu were human creations to try to combat Godzilla, and I hate to say that this modern design does not beat Kiryu in pure coolness. The GvK Mechagodzilla (what do we call this? Mechagodzilla 4? Please exclude Ready Player One [2018]) combines some of these ideas. In Terror of Mechagodzilla the robot was piloted by a human brain (the daughter of a humanity-hating scientist, whose life the aliens saved through cybernetics, it's...um....it's complicated). In Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2003), Kiryu is built around the 1954 Godzilla's skeleton, whose soul periodically comes back to life and takes over. It's never as bad as GvK and is ultimately a weird plot point in the two films it starts in without much consequence.

In one of the many bits of mangled continuity that makes no sense, here Mechagodzilla 4 is built around one of two King Ghidorah heads, the other being the basis for a telepathic link-up and piloted by a Japanese guy who never speaks (okay - it was Serizawa?! As in THAT Serizawa's son? This is literally never mentioned in the film!). It feels only slightly Pacific Rim-y (2013), but is actually a creative use of something never really explored previously, but how the hell do the three Ghidorah heads work. From there we get a little Megatron taking over Galvatron action a la Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), where Ghidorah starts running the show and destroys its creators. Yeah, maybe a little Frankenstein in there, too.

It works well as narrative shorthand. Godzilla recognizes his mechanical counterpart as both a threat as an APEX predator and the remains of Ghidorah. They fight, and Mechagodzilla kicks his ass, although he was pretty weakened from the fight with KONG. It reminded me of an age old tale where both combatants are too busy fighting each other to realize that they need their full strength to beat their REAL enemy. Teamwork. These movies have messages.

KONG is able to swing the axe, powered by Godzilla's fire breath, with lethal precision, dicing his way through Mechagodzilla and eventually chopping its head off. I don't know what it is with this series and lopping heads off. Godzilla did it to the MUTO in his first movie, they do it do Ghidorah, and again here. They also seem to like the idea of opening mouths to pour in fire breath. I suppose with relatively resistant outer skins the easy way to defeat a Titan is to burn them from the inside out. Mechagodzilla maybe goes down a little too easy, especially considering how fast it dispatched Godzilla. I'd also like to get a better look at it - I'm just a fan and felt like we never got to sit down and take in its glory or really see it be a huge evil dick, but as a last minute inclusion and way of bringing back Godzilla and KONG together, that wasn't going to happen.

Yeah, there's a bit of begrudging respect at the end. Godzilla could still annihilate KONG, but doesn't out of respect for KONG taking down the Mecha. It's actually a decent arc, and one that I appreciated. It was nice, and honestly rare, to have both a definitive winner and a satisfying ending to this hyped up mega-match.

My mind wanders to the other "great" mega-match marquee films. Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Alien vs. Predator (2004). Batman v. Superman. And of course, the original King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), which sorry, folks, is truly terrible. I hate that I actually like a lot of these. Godzilla vs KONG might be at the top, though. That isn't actually high praise, but this film was pretty good, pretty fun, and a great Friday night at home.

That's right - let's dig into that one! This did get a theatrical release, which has gotten some people back to the theater, but not enough quite yet to justify many studios confidently arranging their release schedules. The big nod, though, was HBOMax, where it was the most widely watched movie in that platform's short history. We are certainly at an odd crossroads right now. On the one hand we simply have all these leftover massive films stacking up from pandemic delays that studios will eventually burn off one way or another. It's hard to exactly see the economic impact from shuttering towards streaming. I can say that I am at least appreciative - this is undoubtedly the kind of movie built for the big screen, but I am perfectly happy not driving somewhere, paying a ton of money for drinks and snacks, being able to pause whenever I need a restroom break, or interacting with any human being at all. It's all bliss and I'll give HBOMax all the money in the world to release all their movies on this platform for all of 2022 and beyond.

The future of the Monsterverse is also up in the air. In the post-Avengers (2012) world every studio wanted their own shared universe, and it is once again an impressive statement to say that the best one is this scrappy little Legendary Kaiju corner. It really even beats the DCEU by a good margin. What's the worst movie? Godzilla (2014)? That's not bad at all, folks. It has never really lit up the box office, although it's certainly finding a cultural moment to shine right now with a dearth of other big shared cinematic experiences to talk about.

I'm in a weird spot - I would love to see more of these films, especially developing other Kaiju and giving them the big screen modern mega-budget treatment. We've gotten to see quite a bit by now, but I'd be into developing some kind of Monster Island (this seemed like it would be Skull Island for a while, a notion not really dismissed until this film made that clear). One of the biggest things I left KotM wanting to see more of is each Titan, their backstory and how they interact. It's weird but one thing I really loved about the Showa era, and even Heisei films like Godzila vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) was how Godzilla seemed to hang out with his buddies, Rodan, Mothra, and Anguirus.

The movies so far have burned through his more famous archenemies, but I'd still be into two big bads he has left - Space Godzilla and Destoroyah, the latter of which was foreshadowed with the mention of the Oxygen Destroyer in KotM. Although that could have also just been a reference to the 1954 Godzilla, which itself was referenced in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). There's a lot of places it can go, and one of the most fun ways might just be being content to throw up a few Monsters of the Week like Megalon and Gigan into the mix. It does feel weird since these movies are such events. It's a little different when they take so long to produce and need to feel so epic when they're out. It's not like rubber costumes in the 60s that TOHO just cranked out with low budgets. I'm not sure how this scale could ever do small character-driven breaks like Marvel does with Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) in between its giant epics.

Or maybe it's done. It sure felt that way after King of the Monsters. Its box office wasn't really there, and no one seemed to care. Godzilla vs. KONG definitely doesn't have the money to back it up, but that's not its fault. This is really going to come down to whether or not Warner Brothers wants to milk more out of this IP with more obscure or possibly new characters in a post-pandemic world or put it to rest. There's no telling.

Godzilla vs. KONG was really fun, it's a nice cure for COVID shut-in blues right now, and quite honestly, just great to see a big new escapist action film again. Obviously this was made pre-COVID but I'm curious if it is building a trend of absolutely un-realistic action adventure blockbusters that take us away from our horrible lives, and in many ways a complete reversal of the grounded, serious, grimdark action adventure we had for most of the last 15 years or so. Time will tell.

Go watch it! It's free, who cares.

06 April 2021

First Impressions: Zack Snyder's Justice League

We are fast arriving at an era where we sorta need to move on from reserving our Impressions reviews only for movies seen in the theater. The last movie I saw in the theater is still Rise of Skywalker (2019). Ugh, kill me. Thanks to HBOMax, which I am 100% on board with right now, we are getting a steady stream of dumb action comic book movies, so I'm game. Let's start this party with Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021), which is in a world all on its own and perhaps becoming one of the more famous "re-dos" in cinema history. SPOILERS I guess, kind of for this movie that's like four years old but also brand new?

Chill, man! It's not that artistic!

Re-reading my initial impressions of Justice League (2017), it's amazing how much a few things stick out. First is just how snarky I was. Maybe I still am? But that movie just had so, so, so much baggage. The news at the time was more about Snyder leaving due to an imaginable family tragedy, Joss Whedon entering to lighten everything up, and Henry Cavill's CGI de-moustaching. With four years of hindsight it's clear that Snyder was very much forced off the project, Whedon was a horribly misguided choice, and the moustache thing wasn't all that big of a deal.

Let's just dive into this, which is what everyone wants to hear - how did this thing come about, was it worth it, and what is really different? I will reiterate that it is a true miracle that Snyder got the opportunity to get back in there and indulge everything he wanted to ever do, but it's also very much a product of a different world. As I mentioned in 2017, Justice League was just chasing Marvel. Amidst a great year for superhero movies, the biggest DCEU team-up event was an afterthought. In the years since, they've somewhat righted the ship with Aquaman (2018) and SHAZAM (2019) being pretty good and Bird of Prey (2020) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) being pretty okay. They're all better than Snyder's early efforts, which are truly, truly awful.

With this big negative wave it wasn't that crazy to bring Whedon on to the project. At the time Snyder was seen as this dour, pretentious, and self-serious auteur, which is all the more insane because his movies are completely bonkers and could be successful if they took themselves less seriously. Whedon was coming off of The Avengers (2012) and appeared as this superhero wunderkind, but really we should have been wise to the cracks in his armor. In the past four years his career has fallen hard, mostly because the man who we all thought could write strong female characters hasn't held up under scrutiny. The jokes that worked in Avengers also feel so cringey in Justice League. There are plenty of possible reasons why - they didn't mesh with Snyder's script, they're forced in general, the cast wasn't on board, or maybe Whedon was never really that great to begin with.

I will gladly hop on the "never liked Whedon" train. I never watched Buffy or Firefly. I don't know why neither of those shows ever really appealed to me. I was probably too young to buy into Buffy initially and now I'm too old. I did watch a little Firefly, but I can't remember a thing beyond Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk being in it. He was always praised for his writing, but nothing ever stood out to me as that clever or ground-breaking. I really liked Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012), both of which I DO think are clever and ground-breaking, though.

All this set up The Avengers, which looking back on it, was such the most mass-marketed appealing and safest movie ever. That's not totally a criticism, I mean, it's literally the point of these movies. But the jokes are broad, the action is broad, the themes are broad, and it's shot like a TV show. When these elements were brought to Justice League and mixed in with a very distinct vision, which we see now, it's no wonder this movie was really really bad when it came out. There just isn't clarity of purpose or motivation, shots are compromised or flat due to lighting changes that don't match set and costume design, and there's a general lighter tone that dilutes the stakes. The Avengers still had an epic feel, Justice League just feels like warm mush.

So, that movie came out, it was a mess, people forgot about it, and we moved on with our lives. But thank you Internet Trolls for screaming for the fabled "Snyder Cut" for years. There is a lot of nasty context here, Snyder appeals to that Internet Bro crowd that likes carrying tiki torches and has nothing better to do on January 6th. It's all kind of Fountainhead, superheroes are inherent gods and better people kind of stuff. Yeah, he made Watchmen (2009) but without a ton of Alan Moore's self awareness about these topics. Whedon isn't quite there but he does exhibit the other side of the coin with male gaze, playful sexual harassment jokes, and that kind of "I'm an ally, why won't you sleep with me!?" type of male thinking. I know this is a really hot take, folks - all of Hollywood might be sexist.

There is a degree of problematic thinking then, went Internet bros complain and then get what they want. But IS it that bad when the Snyder Cut is actually this good. That's right. I really actually enjoyed the hell out of this movie. After years of whining, a pandemic where we had nothing else to do but watch directors re-edit old movies and launch fledgling streaming services like HBOMax, the Snyder Cut was the perfect big blockbuster, new but sort of also old, a sure novelty to peak interest, but also a tremendous showcase for think pieces like this to get the Internet buzz in full swing in a world still taking a big breath after a dearth of Marvel films. Everything just aligned with this one.

This film is undeniably better than Justice League. It has far more context, a more coherent, unrushed story, an epic scope, and actually a whole ton of fun. I don't know what would have happened if this had come out in 2017, all four hours of it. I watched it, but I will admit that my joy was fueled in part by my ability to take bathroom breaks, make dinner halfway through, pause to watch some NCAA March Madness, and then finish it up. I will say that somehow it is actually one of the fastest four hours I've spent watching a movie.

It's helped by breaking up the film into many smaller character moments and origins, and this is a good and bad thing. Newly introduced characters like Flash and Cyborg could have used their own lead-up films, but quite honestly, we know enough about Flash from the CW show, and this movie serves as a pretty good Cyborg origin. We're probably okay. Aquaman has the deepest, wettest backstory, and it's fairly incomprehensible in Whedon's cut. His own solo adventure as well as more context here is very helpful. It's important to remember that people will sit through four hours of movie, they just won't sit through four hours of bad movie. I made a note of the time stamp - Batman shows up in costume for teh first time around two hours in, which is about the time that Justice League ended.

This all helps it just become epic. No one would pay attention to the Lord of the Rings if it were a crisp 90 minutes. It's supposed to be an investment. Now, that investment only works when the story isn't stretched thin (sorry, Hobbit movies), but a film like this, that was supposed to stand against Avengers movies, needs to feel a little more substantial.

The other benefits of more time to breathe and more context include the villain, Steppenwolf, who is more suitably treated as the middle-management tool that he is. He's not a very good villain, but that's the point. He's a groveling sycophant, and how he cowers to Darkseid is supposed to indicate how badass the REAL villain actually is. It was great actually understanding his motivation as atonement for some blunder in the past. Now, Darkseid's general "conquering worlds" is as cliche as they come - getting into the Anti-Life Equation is a little it more nuanced, but it's basically the same thing. It's not quite as catchy as an Infinity Stone, is it?

Ohhhh, you know I've got to compare this to Marvel, I mean, that's the whole point, right? I mean, this isn't new. Steppenwolf is still a villain without much connection to the main heroes, at least until he kills Cyborg's dad, but that's also sort of the point. He just exists until Wonder Woman cuts his head off, and then no one cares that he's dead. However, he's still a huge threat that no one can beat.

Except Superman! And I will tell you, we all thought Whedon's interpretation via Cavill in Justice League was the one great thing about that movie, but he's actually just so fantastic here. Justice League was all about, "Well, we formed this team but we suck, so we need to bring Superman back." The Snyder Cut is still about that, but it's subtler and forming the team is still the first priority. Bringing Superman back is more an organic development as they explore the possibilities of the Mother Box.

Now, the core conceit is still shaky, but that's not this movie's fault. That would be the fault of Snyder's other two movies. First, Pa Kent's whole "Don't save people" schtick, which makes no sense any way we've thought about it in the past eight years now, then the fact that Superman was a huge jerk, and then they made a whole movie called Batman v. Superman (2016) which was ABOUT how no one is really into Superman. Now we regret him when he's dead. He just wasn't around enough to be honored by the world the way this film honors him. Also, all tension is removed both from the first few scenes here and retroactively BVS because you just know he's coming back. Like, Death is usually a joke in comics, but it's egregious here. It's tough to get past this, because it's literally what is kicking off this movie, but once you start rolling it's fun.

Everyone else gets a little moment. Aquaman has Norwegian people sing about him, which is the most cuttable scene in cinema history. Go Zack, go! The Flash saves a girl and hotdogs from a car crash. It is a little creepy, but I didn't think it was horribly so. Cyborg gets a ton to do, from manipulating the global economy through digging holes via punches, which is also so Snyder. No, the most Snyder thing is literally playing "Hallelujah" over the credits. I can't believe he did that again. Actually I mostly can't believe that it works and was an emotionally apt choice in that moment. I still laughed out loud.

But I will give this guy some credit! The Wonder Woman bank robbery scene I expected to be in slow motion but there was actually a lot of fast motion! They really showed off her strength and speed, which we hardly ever get to see. She also definitely destroyed that whole room unnecessarily, but whatever. It was a lot of fun, and maybe the best action scene of the movie as she deflects a whole automatic rifle's magazine from killing innocent bank people.

I love that J.K. Simmons got jacked for this role. Do you remember that? Or maybe he's just a gym rat actually. But he's in this for a split second and does not need to be. This movie is full of that. Willem Dafoe! Billy Crudup! Robin Wright! Zeus! I mean, cool I guess. Ben Affleck is fine, again, his character arc is just in a weird place because of how insane he was in BVS. We never knew what we were missing with consistent characterization, though. I forgot just how bad and out of place some of these Whedon jokes were. It is true that he doesn't have a ton to do besides be rich. Other stories tend to find a way for him to do something cool. He could surely do something here besides fire laser guns.

Anyway, the ending is a whole lot better. The heroes actually have a plan, each has a role and gets a cool set piece. And then they actually lose! I wonder if that was before or after Infinity War (2018). I guess it had to be before, right? I don't think Snyder actually wrote or filmed too many new scenes (oh, but we'll get to THOSE in a second). But surely the heroes losing and then going back in time is a little too coincidental to do twice, right? The Flash does this a whole lot easier than Ant-Man, though. He just kind of runs. It is a really cool scene, not trying to hate, and there is a ton of precedent in comics. For the record, when watching it, it didn't feel like a rip-off.

So let's get into this desert crap. I don't think it works at all. End the damn movie with the team on top of Chernobyl or whatever. Beyond the awkwardness of Jared Leto in general, his Joker really just doesn't work. I don't know why his vulgarity is so off-putting. It shouldn't be, it's the Joker. Maybe it's just the delivery, which is devoid of nuance, implication, or comic timing. The Joker is best when he's actually witty. It's also really hard to believe that Batman and Joker would ever team up for any reason. This might be more on the Joker's side - he's not working with anyone. The whole thing is also a shitty tease for something we're never going to see. I don't quite understand why it's in here.

Mroe like DORKseid LOL

Snyder's future plans seem pretty out there. I'm not sure Batman and Lois would have worked, but someone like the Joker killing Lois to send Superman over the edge makes sense. Hmmm... Evil Superman is fun, but it's also something that's been done a lot before. Including like...in this movie. Also in The Boys. And Brightburn (2019). We can't really complain about something that we haven't seen yet and also never will, but I'm maybe grateful we missed out. I'd still like to see the League go up against Darkseid. We've gotten so many good animated stories at this point, including the recently great Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020). I don't know why "What if Superman but Evil" feels played out but "Fight Darkseid Planet" doesn't, as I am realizing I can't logic my way out of this. Literally the point of oversaturation feeds one idea and drowns the other. I want Darkseid, get Michael Ironside to play him and be done with it.

Martian Manhunter has no role in this movie. Him impersonating Martha Kent has all sorts of horrible fridge logic and looking back, if he was the General this whole time, that doesn't really add anything because we don't know what he's working towards. Maybe if he actually showed up and fought somebody. Morphed into a dragon or something. He's so weird. Also, his codename is so awkward, there is a reason why even Justice League Unlimited always called him J'onn J'onzz instead.

Wrapping up, there is a lot of slow mo and epic treatment of innocuous scenes, most notably Aquaman walking into the ocean, but this is Snyder we're talking about. That's going to happen. There is a little more blood and two fun fuck words to give us an R-rating for some reason. The plot still pretty much doesn't make sense, but it's fine when it gets rolling. Most of all, this is a really enjoyable movie. Motivations are more clear, characters have more weight, and despite telling like five stories at once, it actually does all feel pretty balanced and never bloated. It's indulgent as all hell, but never bloated. Except for that Norwegian Song. They need a little morning wood! I really liked this, I would watch it again, and that's so much more than I can say for a lot of other movies these days.

I hate what this implies. No, we should not get the Ayer cut of Suicide Squad (2017). It's already weird enough we're getting another redo chance there this year. I don't think it's very fair that studios can screw up big time and then just make another movie. But it's also like, ugh, these films are so clearly better. Just get it right the first time! This isn't totally without precedent. Just look at the hundred versions of Blade Runner (1982) or Apocalypse Now (1979) or every single Terry Gilliam movie ever made. It's weird that nothing will really come of this and the DCEU is largely moving on from its key components and just doing whatever it wants. I suppose that's fine, but Joker (2019) was still not very good.

Now for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)...
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